Archive for the ‘Ramblings Off Topic’ category

#Sunday Sentence

January 9, 2022

This is one of my occasional participations in David Abrams’ Sunday Sentence project, sharing the best sentence I’ve read during the past week, “out of context and without commentary.”

For though she could make no sense of what was happening, the lucid serenity revealed by the lights of the town in the gathering dusk suffused her with tenderness, and she could not bear to rupture that moment.

Source: Keriichiro Hirano, A Man, translated by Eli K.P. William

uses of rhetoric

December 21, 2021

Long ago I competed in a speech contest sponsored by the savings and loan industry I was working in. I won the local contest and then won the state contest (held at a resort not in the state). This took me to the national contest, and the competition was intense. I didn’t win or place, but I had taken sufficient lesson from the experience.

I was a newlywed at the time, and at the urging of my father-in-law, my wife and I had attended a seminar about financial planning. I was naive and didn’t understand that such seminars are really intended as sales pitches rather than providing any real educational value. The seminar had four sessions, and by the third session I had figured out the rhetoric of what they were doing.

The first session was intended to scare the audience. Nothing they could do on their own could possibly prepare them for a good life with sufficient savings to live well, send their kids to college, and retire in style. The investment mechanisms available to and understood by the average person were insufficient for the job.

The second session was then designed to capture your heart by the canny instructor saying how his organization was there to help the hapless audience members navigate the confusing and perilous waters of sensible financial advice. It was all warm and fuzzy.

The third session then overloaded the audience with the myriad investment options available. The point of this session was once again to scare the audience into helplessness so they would flock to the investment company sponsoring the seminar.

And that was the point of the fourth session. We were told how the investment company could specifically help us go forward. By this time I saw their pattern and realized it was a sales pitch all along. Given that we had no money to invest anyway, I didn’t feel bad walking away from the seminar and ignoring the follow-up phone calls about opening an account.

But I did reflect on their technique. Frighten – Console – Frighten Further – Provide Final Consolation and Help.

And that was how I had crafted the speech I gave in the savings and loan contest. I started out by dismissing the common tools of a typical person’s savings life like a passbook account and an interest-bearing checking account. Then I said not to worry, the modern savings and loan could remedy that deficiency. I followed that with an overload of the new savings and investment tools the average person could utilize. And I finished up with saying how your neighborhood savings and loan could hold your hand and guide you through all of it.

It was an effective way to organize a speech, and it worked at least to get me to the nationals.

Looking at myself today, I am astonished that I would willingly get in front of a group of people to speak to them, much less to act as though I was an authority on a subject.

bits and pieces

December 6, 2021

I’m not sure how long it’s been since I posted a photo of a round rock. This one, in situ along the southern spillway, has a nice color contrast to its surrounding rocks.

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I received a piece of junk mail in my snail mailbox last week addressed to Roundrock Journal, which was the name of my old blog (gone now many years). Somehow a program somewhere tied the old blog title to my home address, which is a little chilling and a little not surprising. As I recall, it was for a phone plan or such a thing unrelated to the subject matter of Roundrock Journal. Is it all just random attempts to separate people from their money now? Has it always been?

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But speaking of Roundrock, I’m really enjoying listening to podcasts on the two-hour drive to and from my cabin. Why did I do this years ago? The time seems to pass more quickly. I have noticed, however, that I tend to speed more when I’m plugged in. I suspect it’s due to me not hearing the sound of the truck’s engine or the tires on the road. I suppose I used those to have a sense of my speed or at least when I was going faster than my usual speed. So I need to be mindful of that.

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Run right out and get yourself a copy of the December 2, 2021, issue of The Journal of Clinical Oncology. In it you will find an article titled “CD123 Expression Is Associated With High-Risk Disease Characteristics in Childhood Acute Myeloid Leukemia: A Report From the Children’s Oncology Group.” The primary author is an offspring of mine.

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I got my bike back from its annual tune up the other day (after two weeks in the shop) just in time for the cold weather to have arrived with the apparent intent to stay this time. I may head out for some short rides if the weather turns unseasonable, but I think the 5:00 a.m. treks of 26 miles on the trail are over until the spring.

After a tune up, I feel as though I have a totally new bike. Everything works well and the action in the pedals is smooth, something I don’t appreciate until it happens. This tune up included some new cables as well as the ball bearings in the pedal housing (or something like that). I do appreciate the difference, but it’s occurred to me that with one more tune up I will have bought that bike twice. It’s not an expensive, finely tuned bike, so I don’t expect it to be fussy and needing a lot of care. Thus, I don’t see how it can be “wearing out” that it needs so much work so often. I never go off the paved trail, and a hundred miles in a month is a lot for me. How did we ride (and not take good care of) our bikes when we were kids?

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I rented an electric-powered pressure washer a few weekends ago to have a go at my driveway and front porch, which are looking a little dirty. I was disappointed. The thing had no force. I might as well have used a Super Soaker. The big-box hardware store also rents gasoline-powered machines (like the one I used on my cabin a couple of years ago), but it’s a two-man job to lift one in and out of my truck bed. I’m on my own at home. (My wife doesn’t do any heavy lifting.) When my son was here for the holiday weekend, I had intended to conscript him for the job, but the timing was never aligned with the will to do it, so it didn’t happen.

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My grand plan to read through my old journals has stalled. I’m not sure what I was hoping to find among those pages, but it’s not very thrilling or compelling. I do get occasional glimpses at the person I was in those days (29 years ago currently), but I’ve only found a couple of gems among the dross. Other than that, it’s just pages and pages of droning entries about ideas for articles or stories I was going to write. But I’ll press on.

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The leaf blower continues to attempt to find a place in my heart. While it is great at the cabin, where I can blow dry oak leaves across open gravel with dispatch, it has proven less useful around the yard in suburbia. The grass tends to hold the leaves in place, and a directed blow on a single leaf sometimes just pushes it deeper into the grass. I was able to make a quick job of the dry beech leaves in my front yard the other day (though the beech tree let an equal number drop onto the ground after I was done), but it hasn’t proven as effective on the wispy leaves of the cypress in my back yard, and it has not proven effective against the “cones” either (which the dogs are bringing into the house between the pads of their paws). I also feel like a boorish suburbanite with my loud, gasoline-powered blower. Several of my neighbors have electric blowers, which are much quieter (and likely correspondingly less powerful), so I have to be mindful of when I use mine (and whether I should use it since a rake does a more thorough job). First world problems.

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I’m re-reading Moby-Dick again. This is my fourth voyage aboard the Pequod, and I expect the ending to be the same, but I’ll let you know. I know people have devoted their careers to this novel, and I certainly appreciate the wonder of it to my humble ability, but I can only read Melville sporadically. I get overwhelmed by the 19th Century narrative voice (and with this novel some of it goes back farther than that) and need a break afterward. Fortunately, a friend sent me an interesting-sounding novel that is waiting on the shelf for me next.

bits and pieces

November 15, 2021

It’s funny that when I get on my bike this time of the year, I never know if that will be my last ride of the season or not. The warm weather held well into October this year (warm being defined as 55 degrees or higher at 5:00 a.m.) so I had more opportunities to ride, but with travel by me and/or my ground crew, I didn’t always go out when I could have. Now the chill seems to have settled in and I’m resigned to not riding any longer. As a consequence, I took my bike to the shop to have it tuned up and ready for when I hop on it again in the spring. I had missed a spring tune up this year, so the job is overdue. I’ve noticed in the past that when I get on my bike after a tune up, it seems like a different bike altogether. Unfortunately, my legs and lungs will have enjoyed their time away, and my first few rides in the spring will be challenging.

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The image above is one of my round rocks. When these began forming hundreds of millions of years ago, minerals accumulated around a core stone, usually blue slate. When the round rock is broken somehow, the softer core will erode, leaving a bowl shape as above. I took that photo in 2006, and I still come upon that rock when I ramble on that side of the lake (though the acorns I had served in it are long gone). I don’t ramble on that side of the lake now because it’s close to the beaver den, and I don’t want to disturb them and cause them to move away. I am pleased to see that they are finally taking down some of the willows that have been invading the far shore.

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I had stayed in New York from Friday to Friday. My volunteer work at the marathon was on Sunday, so that left me a lot of time to visit with the grands, see their school, walk around their neighborhood, and such. It was just enuf time to start feeling comfortable with the very different way people live in a major city compared to life in Midwestern suburbia.

I did not see any of the touristy sights while in New York. Our days were tied to the grands’ school schedules. Nonetheless, one way I measure the goodness of a trip is whether I came home with more books than when I left, which I did. There are two independent bookstores in my daughter’s neighborhood, and I made a point to buy something from each. When I got home, my accumulated mail (collected by my neighbor) included a package from a friend with a book that he recommended. I’m set for a while.

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Have you read any works by Ursula K. Le Guin? A friend recommended her to me, and while I’ve known of her writing for a long time, I’ve never picked up any of her books. Where should I start?

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I’ve boarded the Pequod for the fourth time. I thought it would be ideal to read on the plane back from NYC, but my eyes seemed to have other ideas and closed for long periods. This reading is being accompanied by a book called Dive Deeper, which gives a chapter-by-chapter critical analysis of Moby-Dick. I had bought Dive Deeper on a trip to Powell’s Books in Portland, and it’s been many years since I was there, so I’ve been hanging on to this book for a long time, waiting to read Moby-Dick again. As with all of Melville (and Conrad and even Hardy), I’ll be satisfied when I’ve finished it, but I will also be done with 19th-Century prose for a while.

bits and pieces

November 3, 2021

I got my COVID booster shot over the weekend. It had been six months since my second dose, and I was eligible, so I scheduled it the first chance I could.

Coincidentally, I am participating in a clinical trial that is studying the efficacy of some tracking devices that measure bodily reactions to a stimulus. The stimulus is the shingles vaccine, which can increase heartbeat and temperature as the body accepts and incorporates the vaccine. I was given the vaccine and then slept on a sensor strip underneath my bed sheet as well as wore a sensor on my wrist. Plus I swallowed a transmitter each day for five days. That’s the transmitter in the photo above. (The purple pill, not the coin.) In the night it would measure changes in my body temperature and heart rate (and possibly other things), and this data would be transmitted to the sensors close by. The trial is studying the sensing devices; the shingles vaccine is already FDA approved as is the purple pill. I’ll repeat this regimen in early December (including getting the second dose of the vaccine), and then the scientists will make what they can of the data collected from me and several hundred other study subjects.

But the point of this blather is that the purple pill is the kind of transmitter that can go in a person’s body. It has a range of about ten feet and a life of about ten days. And it doesn’t stick around (one hopes). I don’t see how a transmitter of that size can fit in a syringe or be snuck into a person’s body, much less be useful for tracking a person’s movements. At least I didn’t see one when I got my COVID booster shot.

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My wife spent last week in Seattle with our son, his wife, and their two girls. She came home on Sunday, but her flight was supposed to arrive in Kansas City in the early afternoon. Due to a cascade of delays caused by another airline, her return flight was changed and she didn’t get in until 2:00 Monday morning! That meant I had to face the onslaught of the neighborhood kids on Halloween night alone! (Then grab a few hours of sleep before driving to the airport in the middle of the night to fetch her. Come home and be too awake to try to sleep any longer. I soldiered through Monday.)

She leaves on Friday to go to New York to stay with our daughter, her husband, and their three little ones to help with marathon related matters. My daughter is running the NYC Marathon on Sunday. My wife can stay with the kids as our son-in-law chases his wife around the five boroughs with energy gels, backup phone batteries, and encouragement. The kids will have school the following week, but my daughter will be in recovery mode then, so any help will be appreciated. (I ran the NYC Marathon with my daughter five years ago. I know a little about post-marathon recovery.) Just as with the Seattle trip, I’ll stay home and let the dogs out a couple of times a day.

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Yesterday I once again volunteered at my neighborhood polling station for our local election (mayor, school board, utilities). This is the third time I’ve done it. The day is long, and much of it is on my feet, darting around to help voters get checked in or to the voting booths or to the casting machine. But it’s a rewarding experience. There is a kind of purity in it. In the polling station there is nothing partisan. (We’re not even allowed to wear clothing that might suggest our own political affiliation, including the color of our clothes, and voters are asked to do the same, so if someone comes in with a shirt that expresses some partisan sentiment, they are asked to cover it or even turn the shirt inside out, voluntarily). Inside the polling station (a church gymnasium in my case) it is all about helping citizens exercise their right to vote. You don’t care how they vote but only that they vote. When I do this I feel that I am helping civilization in my small way and fulfilling my obligation in my community.

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Speaking of Halloween, my daughter in densely populated NYC instituted a “candy chute” last year. It’s a wide-diameter PVC pipe about ten feet long. They stand at the top of their stoop (four steps up) and drop the candy in the chute where it slides down to the waiting child’s bag at the bottom. They started this because of prudent social distancing standards and apparently it’s a hit in the neighborhood. In fact, this year a house down the block had a two-story candy shoot, loading the candy from a second floor window and sending it with great velocity at the little ones.

The novelty at my house is when I encourage the kids to stay in school. Not sure how popular that is.

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I have new neighbors to the north of my Ozark forest. In my tenure, this is the fifth owner of that 300+ acres. I don’t know if that’s typical turnover or not, but my long-standing neighbor and I were talking about it and the impossible prices the land in our area is fetching. I have no intent to sell my 80 acres — that’s something my children can fight over — but at the current market rate for land (and add my improvements of a lake and a cabin), I’m sitting on a surprisingly valuable asset (encroaching cattle notwithstanding). Fortunately, the tax assessment has not climbed the way the market has.

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In my post earlier this week about my battle with the cattle I neglected to mention that while at the cabin I had once again used the leaf blower. The leaves were still wet from the recent rains, and they would have been a chore to rake, but with the leaf blower I was able to dispatch them quickly. The wet leaves clung to each other and more folded and rolled ahead of me rather than being blown across the gravel. But even if that hadn’t worked, two passes to clear the leaves would not have been a problem at all.

I’ve used the leaf blower once in my backyard in suburbia, blowing all of the leaves into a corner of the fence where I then bagged them. Again, in a tenth of the time raking would have taken. I am a little reluctant to fire up that noisy beast in the sedate environs of suburbia, so I’ll probably wait for a heavy fall before I call it into action. LB is good for other uses. It’s handy for blowing all of the grit out of the corners of my garage, for example. And it’s made dusting the furniture in the house a quick job!

throwback Thursday ~ my journal journey

October 28, 2021

Yes, I continue to slog through my entries in my old journals. I’m up to journal #13 now, covering roughly the period from September of 1991 to September of 1992. #13 was written in a notebook from Loyola University in Chicago, which I think one of my nephews went to. Their mother was great about getting me a journal from whatever university her three children were in, and she kept me supplied for many years, but that’s all dried up now. (My oldest grand is about 11 years away from going to college, so I need to find some other resource until then.)

I must confess that some of my old entries make me cringe. Who was this naif who was scribbling these thoughts and ideas? Yet other entries still seem alive to me, ideas I could work on today. And in turn I wonder what I’ll think thirty years from now when I read the entries I’m making now.

I had begun my brief career as a comp instructor at the local community college around this time, and many of my entries in the journal are about this. Most are laments. How much work is involved. Not getting assigned the classes or times I wanted. Struggling to fill three-hour sessions. Grading papers. My journal entries reflect this.

But this was also the time that I had finished my M.A. I took a comprehensive written exam to complete it rather than take another six hours of classes (in the evening). There were quite a few entries anguishing about whether I would pass it, and then when I did I was several days late noting in my journal.

I continued to make entries about jobs I wanted to get and articles I wanted to write and even fiction I wanted to write. Plus I made lots of observations about my moods and outlooks at the time.

But what I’m not finding are real gems. Some forgotten idea that I can pick up and develop today with a broader perspective and maybe a bit more skill and confidence. I’m sure they’re in there; I mean, they must be. Forty years of consistent journal writing has to yield something, right?

bits and pieces

October 4, 2021

A photo from the archives. This is Harry the Heron. He stands in our backyard in suburbia though he had a nobler job once. I had first set him out in the shallow waters of the pond at Roundrock. (We have a small pond and a small lake there.) The idea was that it would attract other waterfowl if they saw one hanging out there. I don’t know if that ever worked. For the most part, any wildlife ran away when we arrived at our woods, and waterfowl especially. (Though a goose once had a nest on a tussock in the pond!) Anyway, one time we arrived at Roundrock and Harry was gone. I feared he had run away with the other waterfowl. We got out of the truck at the pond and checked around, and there he was, lying in the water on his side. Significantly, there were two punctures in his chest. My guess is that he was stalked by a bobcat and attacked. Once the bobcat figured it out, I suppose he took off. So now Harry resides in the comparative safety of our backyard (where I have never seen waterfowl either).

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We took out two ash trees from our backyard last fall. (Well, we hired someone.) Now that fall has returned, I revel in knowing that I won’t have to rake up all of those leaves this year. The cypress trees, however, have a bountiful crop of “cones” this year, which they mercifully hadn’t for the last two years. The cones themselves are spheres about an inch and a half in diameter and they’re not so offensive in themselves, but when they dry and break apart the pieces are sharp and sticky with sap. The dogs often bring them in the house stuck in their paws, causing them to limp.

This year our plan is to try herding them with a leaf blower. (I suspect it won’t work, spheres being good at ignoring outside forces.) I’ve been meaning to get a good leaf blower to use at the cabin; dry oak and hickory leaves against a wooden structure are not a good combination, especially with a neighbor to the west who practices prescribed burning on his land. So maybe we can have two uses for such a noisy machine. (I already have ear protection for when I use the weed whipper I have at the cabin.)

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Books read in September:

Silence is a Sense by Layla Al Ammar – The story of a Syrian refuge in London who has become mute due to the trauma she has suffered. She writes accounts of her flight for a local paper but hides behind an anonymous byline. A racist incident in her neighborhood sparks her into a more active life, and a medical crisis in her apartment block forces her to find her voice. A searing, unsparing work that I strongly recommend.

The Keep by Jennifer Eagan – A well-written novel that is framed within a frame and within another. The story itself is weird and almost Gothic, and it is all capped with a sort of epilogue that many readers found unnecessary and even unhelpful. I’d never read Egan before, but I likely will again.

The Ghost Writer by John Harwood – No, not The Ghost Writer by Philip Roth, which I love, but an actual Victoria ghost story (sort of) about a family legacy, jealousy, revenge, and various machinations. I pretty much worked out the twist at the end (as I noted other readers had who reviewed it). About one-third too long, it was compelling if you’re into that kind of thing, but I’m not sure what about it had attracted me.

The Game is Afoot, edited by Marvin Kaye – I had been picking at this collection of parodies, pastiches, and scholarly works about the great detective for months and happened to finish it on the last day of the month. Every bit of it is good, but it became much of a muchness and I found I had to take it in small doses. I’ve added it to my burgeoning shelf of Holmesian works.

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The world of podcasts continues to baffle me. I regularly listen to four of them now, alternating choices while on my treadmill (though often picking the one with the half-hour episodes because treadmill). For the most part I enjoy what I hear, and in a few cases I’ve pursued and read the works of the authors interviewed. (Though “interview” seems the wrong word for a podcast. I think “conversation” may be better. In one case I’ve learned at least as much about the host as about his guests.) I should probably up my podcast game and listen more and more widely. Maybe I even will.

thoughts on Substack

September 27, 2021

You may be familiar with an online publishing medium known as Substack. It began as a site where people in the know could publish “newsletters” about their topics, and subscribers would get an email whenever a new “issue” came online. While many of these newsletters are free, others charge a monthly fee — the minimum is $5, so $60 a year — to access the content. Consider that some of these “influencers” have thousands of subscribers and do the math. One of the biggest is posted by a man who writes about Chinese culture and politics.

So now creative people are joining Substack. Writers are posting their novels a chapter at a time as an alternative to traditional publishing. One of the newest celebrity members of Substack is Salman Rushdie, who will serialize a new work (and put it behind the paywall).

I had heard a very enthusiastic account of one person’s use of Substack on The Writer Files podcast. (Mostly half-hour episodes, which are perfect for my tolerance on the treadmill.) I checked on her subscriptions the other day and she has upwards of 1,200 people signed up. At $60 a year, she’s grossing $72,000. (Yes, Substack takes a piece of that, but what’s left is still hefty.)

A writer friend of mine is posting some of his short stories on Substack, though they are free. The thing about Substack is that if you want to charge a fee and make it worth your time and effort, you must have a substantial following of people who are willing to pay for the privilege. And to have that, you must be a hustler, a self promoter, someone who already has a name and a following. I am certainly not that kind of person.

Nonetheless, I am thinking about beginning to post to Substack. My novel One-Match Fire contains 23 chapters. which means I could serialize two a month and have a year’s worth of content. After that, I could post some of the stories I’ve written in that universe that are not in that novel to continue the content. Seems like a safe way to experiment with the medium. Maybe I could develop a following in that time. Perhaps then I could serialize a newer work (my impossible-to-publish metafictional stuff) and charge a fee. Then retire rich.

I know that Substack has gotten some bad press. It’s been accused of being a haven for right-wing crazies though I haven’t noticed such, and it seems easy enuf to ignore. There have also been some grumblings about the “advance” that Rushdie supposedly received for joining the platform. But I don’t see the logic in that. He’s going to get a bigger advance from a traditional publisher than a no-name would, and no one complains about that kind of thing. Maybe I’m missing something, but it seems like a good and safe place to experiment.

So what do you think? Do you have any experience or cautions you care to share?

throwback Thursday ~ my journal journey

September 23, 2021

I haven’t made a post in this category in a while because I’ve been slacking in my journal journey. I think because I wasn’t finding what I wanted and was finding what I didn’t want, I lost some enthusiasm for the project.

I am through Journal #11 now and it’s mostly more of the same. But along with the many ideas for stories and novels, as well as the increasing entries for articles I was writing then, I also found more personal entries about my state of mind or my job (including job hunting).

My job in St. Louis (way back when) was dissolving because the company was taken over and being torn apart for assets. I found (and then recalled) that my job at the time I was writing in Journal #11 was also dissolving (because the company was being shut down by the government). Many of my entries then were about this and my thoughts on how to find my next job. I suppose the prospects may have been grim at the time because I was also recording my moods more frequently.

In addition, I was in grad school at the time. There are entries in there about interactions with my professors and instructors, including one who would later produce a video of mine about prairie fires that was shown on our local PBS station.

And my listing of books read continued on the back pages. I read through that list and I recall most of the books, though some have left no impression on me.

I’ll continue my journal journey, though it hasn’t proven itself very fruitful yet. Maybe some surprises will be coming.

bits and pieces

August 18, 2021

The photo above is from 2006 (click to embiggen) and it’s something we encountered when we were nearly to our little cabin in the Missouri woods. One of the property owners along the common road had brought this mobile home in to set up on his property but couldn’t get it up the hill (to the left, not in the photo). In fact, he high-sided it when he tried to cross a small ravine. The front and back ends of the trailer rested on the ground while the wheels in the center were suspended over the ravine. The trailer sat like that for months, perhaps years, until a very strong rainstorm came through and sent a torrent down the man’s road, lifting the trailer from its perch and carrying it back down the hill, depositing across the common road.

On this visit we managed to get around the trailer by bushwhaking in the scrub on the left. As I recall, matters remained this way for several months until one visit when we arrived and saw a large pile of crumpled metal on the side of the road. Apparently the owner had hired a big machine to come in and tear the trailer apart to get it out of the way.

Interesting to me about this photo is the hillside you see beyond the trailer. It is now densely forested with cedar trees. It’s only in seeing this that I realize how much change has taken place in our years of coming here.

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I’ve noted here that I’ve been listening to white noise during my writing sessions as a way to cover the sound of the heartbeat in my right ear. I began to wonder, though, if constantly hearing such a sound was good for my brain, and it seems that it is not. I saw a recommendation for listening to pink noise instead. (I didn’t know sound could be color coded.) White noise seems to be a muted roar while pink noise is more of a hiss. Apparently pink noise is a more complicated sound, which is better for the synapses. So I’m giving it a try.

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Absolute Write is back but seems a ghost of its former self. I had ever only gone to its forums to ask this or that or to see what others had to say about this or that. So far, it doesn’t appear that members have flocked back.

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I continue to work my way through my old journals, but I’m not finding any profound observations or insights. In fact, a lot of it makes me cringe, but I guess I can take heart in knowing how far I’ve come since then.