The introspective humdrum life of an eccentric hexagenarian.

Visit my other blogs: "Elderberry Bike Rides of Delaware
," organized bicycle rides for families, senior citizens, and anyone interested in getting back into biking; and "Cloister Voices," the collected thoughts of modern and ancient hermits, eccentrics, solitaires, wanderers, mystics, and others who inhabit the monastery within.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Visit My New WordPress Blog

To read my new blog about the life of a fiction writer, scientist, bicyclist, and contemplative, please visit

I’ve just switched to WordPress so I’m still in the process moving over some of the most popular posts from my three other scattered blogs into one main blog.

Thanks for visiting!

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

My 4th Cousin Wiz

Yes, Wiz is my cousin, fourth removed and reported to be a White Crested Polish Chicken.  Wiz is only a couple of months old and is being raised by my 9 year old 3rd cousin, Lauren.  

I'll spare you the trip down genealogy lane and suffice it to say that Tom is my cousin who has a daughter, Tina (my 2nd cousin) whose youngest daughter is Lauren (my 3rd cousin) who has reared Wiz (my 4th cousin) from a hatchling for a 4H project in Newark, Delaware.

I consider Tom and his wife Nancy, their daughter Tina and her husband Don, and their kids Katie, Hailey, and Lauren to be a lovely family who makes me feel so very welcome every time I pedal on my bike from my house 3/4 of mile away to their suburban home where kids, dogs, gardens, charcoal grills, strawberry plants, mounted deer heads, the best iced tea on the planet, and love, laughter, and joy abound.  

I spent Memorial day with them for a picnic where I had a chance to get to know all of my cousins better, especially four of them who are of the poultry variety.

Two young ladies from the neighborhood dropped by to visit the chickens as well.  

 Lauren is very proud of her chickens.  The University of Delaware supplied the 4H with baby chicks from a variety of breeds.  The kids got to pick out the ones they wanted and Lauren and her family chose four very different breeds.  They all have names of course, Amy, Yoko, Wiz, of course, and I can't remember the 4th chicken's name since I'm so smitten with Wiz.  Here is a short audio recording of Lauren talking about her 4H project.  Oh wait!  I remember now.  The 4th chicken's name is Omelet.  But don't ask me who is who because my heart belongs to Wiz.

Press the arrow on the left to start the recording.

Lauren claims her chickens are unique; but I have to say that Lauren is equally unique.  She always has some project going whether it be raising chickens or setting up a very profitable vegetable stand in the front yard.  I stopped by tonight on my way home to notice a lemonade stand.  Also profitable.  Lauren hadn't come home from her softball game but that didn't stop a car from pulling up and asking if there was any lemonade left.


 Don's garden is a thing of beauty and bounty that will supply all of us with more tomatoes, lettuce, squash, cucumbers, and pumpkins than we will know what to do with.

 It's a wholly organic garden with a dump truck of mushroom soil worked into the soil that supplies all the fertilizer that is needed for the season. 

 Ummmmm, can't you just TASTE those lightly-battered, deep-fried squash blossoms...not to mention the thin slices of yellow crookneck squash sliced up in a salad.

 Along the side of the house is a very respectable strawberry bed which yields a quart or more of strawberries a day.  It's peak strawberry season now and the shortcake we had was delicious.

Meanwhile, Don was manning the grill with burgers and hot dogs.  Family and food just have a way of finding themselves together all the time.  It's another of my cousinly delights.

As the day wore down, Tom (my 1st cousin, in case you forgot) retired to a lawn chair to investigate my new iPad after he wrestled it away from the kids.

Let's all wish Lauren and Wiz good luck at the competition at the Delaware State Fair.  Naturally I will be following it closely with photos in a future blog.

Saturday, May 15, 2010

A No-Brainer for Bicyclists

Most of the time, my favorite dinner companion is my bicycle helmet.
It doesn't chew with its mouth open.
It doesn't argue about politics or religion.
It just sits there quietly, blinking now and then, so politely.

It's a no-brainer (no pun intended) that a bicycle helmet can often save you from a devastating head injury in a bicycle accident.  Umpteen studies have been done that support this fact.  However, for adults in Delaware, there is no law on the books requiring the use of a bicycle helmet.  I suppose Delaware assumes we are smart enough to know what to do.  It's up to us to decide if we want to protect our brain and life.

For more information on bicycle helmets and how to choose the best model for you and why, go to this site.

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Mining Autumn Gems

I am savoring the rereading of John Steinbeck's "Travels with Charley." It's a luscious experience. The book was never intended to be considered great literature; but in Steinbeck's masterful hands, even describing the crooked teeth of his canine traveling companion turns into a brilliant character study that has stuck with me since I first read the book three decades ago.

On my bus commute home a few days ago, a phrase caught me and something in me said, "Yes! Exactly!" Initially you are not sure why a particular turn of phrase has moved you to laughter, tears, or awe but if you pause for a moment, take a breath and close your eyes, it will come to you like a shy guest standing in your doorway.

What I've discovered about the process of rereading a favorite piece of writing is being able to tarry over a phrase or paragraph, backtrack and read it again...and again, and allow it to take me to those whistle stop personal memories or those delicious deja vu moments of amnesiac resonance.

Steinbeck was commenting on the awe-inspiring sight of New England fall foilage, the color and splendor of which you can't accurately remember, only newly experience it anew each time you see it.

"I can't even imagine the forest colors when I am not seeing them. I wondered whether constant association could cause inattention, and asked a native New Hampshire woman about it. She said the autumn never failed to amaze her; to elate. "It is a glory," she said, "and can't be remembered, so that it always comes as a surprise."

The paragraph transported me to my annual autumnal trip to the mountains. Criminals return to the scene of the crime: lovers return to where they once loved. Each year autumn found me heading back to the mountains and gemstone mines of western North Carolina Blue Ridge Mountains where both crimes and love were committed. I haunted the roads looking for the ghosts of the lovers Frankie and Johnnie, the mysterious Brown Mountain Lights, and instead found Juanita, a Carmelite cloistered nun on her Silver Jubilee Retreat, let out from her vow of silence convent to speak freely at will to anyone she chose and to spend a week in a mountain cabin. She chose me.

For someone who had not spoken freely and socially for twenty-five years, she did not hang back awkwardly nor did she spew words without thought. We fell into an easy week together of exploring mountain roads, gravel switchbacks that led to frigid mountain streams from which we drank our fill and dangled our pale white feet into water that gurgled and giggled more loudly than we did.

The autumn color arrived midweek and caught us by surprise as we rounded a bend to an overlook that displayed Mount Mitchell, Table Rock, and Hawk's Bill Mountain rising above colors that were impossible to describe without sounding hysterical.

Juanita inhaled sharply and exclaimed, "OH FATHER!"

Over the next few days, I would hear "OH Father!" each time we saw the orange, indigo, ruby red, and vermilion leaves set against the sparkling lapis lazuli sky. While she may have been freed to speak for a week about anything she wished with anyone and everyone she encountered, she never was far from her lifelong ongoing interior conversation with her Father.

On our last day together, I took her to a flume gemstone mine where we spent the day sorting through buckets of muddy rocks looking for rubies, garnets, emeralds, and amethysts. Juanita's brown Carmelite habit was soaking wet and muddy all the way up to her armpits and grinning face.

A cloistered nun cannot have personal possessions or covet any souvenirs or presents but Juanita broke that rule and returned to the convent in South Carolina with a small handful of mica and garnet encrusted rocks that she would put on her windowsill to catch the morning light.

It is true that you can't remember the precise spectacular color of autmn leaves; you can only experience them anew each time you see them. It's been enough years that I can no longer remember the exact shape of Juanita's beaming smile; but I can still hear the "Oh Father!" that now echoes in my own voice when I come across a moment, a glimpse of eternity, an expression of love from another person, a phrase in a book or from an overhead conversation; and as I read and find more gems to mine, I realize how true it is that "in the beginning was the word" and from there our lives unfold.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Bicycle Criminal Apprehended by Police

Pardes, a 63 year old bicycle commuter, was ordered off the Christian Care Hospital access road by a security officer on Sunday afternoon, August 30, 2009. She had just come from Performance Bicycle, an extremely family-friendly bike store on Churchman's Road, where she had added a new set of dual flashing rear bicycle lights in preparation for the shorter winter days when she would be commuting home from work as the Laboratory Manager for the Controlled Substances and Arson Laboratories at the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner.

Pardes was on her way to the DART bus stop in front of Christiana Hospital where she planned to put herself and her GT Transeo bicycle on the bus, travel to a nearby park and get another 10 miles of biking in before nightfall. Unfortunately, she was told by the Delaware State Police sworn Constable that she was on private property and bicycles were banned from the Christiana Care property.

Pardes works with law enforcement officers in her job at the Medical Examiner's office and has the greatest respect for them in their often dangerous and thankless job. Rather than argue or protest, and taking heed that this hospital officer was clearly in no mood for discussion, she followed his sharp and humiliating directive, “Now you just turn your bike around and go back out the way you came in!”

Pardes, a Boomer who campaigned in the 1960's for Nixon (Who knew?) rather than partake in sit-ins and demonstrations felt certain that this was just a misunderstanding and that Christiana Care, so active in encouraging healthy lifestyles would never, in a million years, have something as archaic as a “bicycles banned” policy. Sadly however, when she called the President and CEO's office for his email address, his secretary confirmed that there is, in fact, a “no bicycles” policy.

But surely, this also was just a misunderstanding. She would investigate, clear it up, and everything would be fine again.

However, it just being a misunderstanding did little to dislodge the feelings of being insulted, harassed, and talked down to as if she was a three year old by a security officer taking his position of authority too far. Still ... maybe he'd had a bad day. It can't be easy being a security officer...

Still there were many questions Pardes had: A bicycle is her ONLY form of transportation! How was she going to:
1.go to a doctor's appointment on Christiana Care grounds?
2.Visit a patient at the hospital?
3.go for blood tests at the lab?
4.Get an xray or MRI?
5.Get an eye exam?
6.Pick up her new glasses at the optician's office?
7.Go the emergency room or medical aid unit?
8.Catch DART bus 33 or 63 that has Christiana Care Hospital on their regular route?

And since she was forced to miss the bus, there was nothing to do but pedal home, have eggs for dinner rather than the fresh salmon she'd planned to buy at the grocery store accessed by DART bus 33. So, pedaling home and planning on eggs for dinner and the other comfort to take her mind of of the “challenges” of life, she decided to scan the web for information on precedents of private facilities invoking their private property rights ..... but nawww that was just way tooooo boring. She was, after all, 63 years old and there were only so many hours in the day left to explore the interesting things of life and not waste them on plotting civil disobedience.

Of course this did not deter her from running through all the things she WISHED she had said to the officer like, “Well Officer, if I had been a ten year old kid on a skateboard who had just t-boned some pour soul on their way into the emergency room with a severed finger in a bag of ice, well then I could understand you metaphorically grabbing me by the scruff of the neck and ordering me to “turn your bike around and go back the way you came,” but since I was obeying all traffic laws and pedaling on the access road to a legitimate bus stop on hospital grounds, well in that case I just don't understand.”

Or, “Young man, is that how you were taught to talk to your elders?” (Except he wasn't young either.)

Or, “There are no signs posted banning bicycles. So bite me.” (Oh yeah, like she'd ever say something like that.)

Instead, Pardes is left to smolder in feelings of being unjustly harassed and she realizes how it's not the legality of it, or please forgive her all you bicycle advocates, it's not even that bicyclists are being treated unfairly. It's that she realizes that she has a vested interest and sense of civic pride in Christiana Care Hospital and feels as if a friend has just wounded her. Mortally.

In 1994 Pardes had a headache one day. The next day she was in surgery at Christian Care to remove a meningioma brain tumor. The capable staff literally saved her life. Don't think she doesn't think of that every time she passes the hospital grounds.

In a less overtly dramatic way, Christiana Care, once again had a significant effect on her life two years ago. She was overweight, had high blood pressure, was sinking into the depression of physical inactivity from extremely painful arthritis and feared she was destined to a life of walkers and wheelchairs like her mother. Then one day as her bus passed the front of the hospital, she noticed their “Wellness Walk” sign and a friendly MUP (multi-use pavement) trail that ran the perimeter of the hospital.

With arthritis pain that left her gasping for air after only ten steps, she knew she couldn't walk a trail back to health; but there, just across the street, she also noticed a bicycle store, Performance Bicycle. The rest is history.

Twenty-one gears of bike later with a frame light enough to lift unto a bus, she pedaled out of Performance Bicycle and onto the glorious grounds of Christiana Care Hospital. Scared to death of traffic, she pedaled the back areas of the hospital roads and figured out how to shift up and down, how to stop disc brakes without launching herself over the front wheel, and how to keep her pants legs OUT of the gear rings. On a particularly hot day, before she discovered the need for adequate hydration, and nearly succumbing to heat stroke, she comforted herself with the fact that she was only a hundred yards from the emergency room entrance.

That was almost two years ago. Pardes is now road-hardened and can claim a lane with the best of them. For the past 14 months, she's commuted to work every day from Newark to Wilmington by bike/bus combo no matter the weather. She's lost 30 pounds, lowered her blood pressure, decreased the debilitating arthritis attacks to almost nil, and she's now enjoying that moderate sweet buzz of endorphins that regular biking engenders. In part she has Christiana Care to thank for that by posting the encouraging “Wellness Walk” signs.

However, since the original posting of the sign, one of the signs has been amended to this.

How sad, that on one hand, health is being encouraged, and on the other hand, trespassers are threatened.

Okay, Pardes confesses. Without knowing it, she has been a trespasser. Cuff me, Dano and read me my rights. Pass me the legal pad and pen and I'll list the infractions of the law I've shattered.

Let's begin with the illegal photographing of an elderly egret in a pond on hospital property. How do I know it's an elderly egret, an elderly gentlemanly egret? Easy. That comb-over attempt of his tail feathers is a dead giveaway.

There are, of course, worse sins than that. Pardes has been known to tarry at the gazebo near the Helen Graham Cancer center. She's also been known to take out a notebook and write about the spot for her blog.


The Garden of Hope

The expansive Christiana Hospital campus is between my home and a major shopping area I frequent. Today I discovered the "Garden of Hope" that has been newly added outside a new Cancer Treatment Center. There is a gazebo next to a pond with fountains and a Canada Goose conclave.

I stopped for my lunch picnic in the gazebo.

It's very peaceful and quiet. The fountains in the pond drown out all traffic noise and random thoughts cluttering your brian. I noticed a memorial in the distance.

I went to investigate and found a memorial plaque that made me catch my breath as tears stung my eyes.

I sat there for a long time taking it all in....the intense poignancy of it, the scores of women who lost their babies, the women yet to come who would add a name to a bronze leaf.

The surroundings of the memorial tree plaque had a distinct feminine feel to it. The keens and ululating of centuries of women who lost their babies hung in the air from the collective consciousness.

The leaves of the bronze tree appeared to be rustling in the breeze and dancing in the sunlight. I had to stand very close to see that they really were not moving, they were reflecting the sun.

Suprisingly it was not an oppressively sad place for only a few feet away was the Garden of Hope and the Walk of Hope pathway. It's what women do....pick up and go on, often with the camaraderie of other women.

But sometimes, we must go it alone and when no one is looking, and after the acceptable time limit that others will give us, sometimes we need to go alone to a private place and place a wreath for the anguish in our hearts.

And then we come back from that private journey with the instinctive urge to be with other women who know where we have been and may go again. There is such joy and beauty in that.

I want to honor all women who has loved and lost, and women everywhere

I worked a photo through Photoshop of fountain sculpture I found in a park. Women of all sighs and sizes who draw strength, humor, and knowledge from other women on the same journey.

Yes, I'm sure of it. Those bronze leaves that seemed to move weren't just reflecting the sun.

No, indeed. It's the babies definitely dancing.


If truth be told, I suppose the most egregious violation by Pardes that continues to this day is to sit on the park bench near the memorial wall and say a Rosary for all the dancing leaf babies who have passed on, their families, and all the patients and families journeying through their path of cancer.

Unfortunately Pardes is a criminal without remorse and regret for violating Christiana Care's private property.

Indeed, she is already plotting her next assault on the grounds of Christiana Care Hospital. It involves contacting Robert J. Laskowski, M.D., President and CEO of Christiana Care Hospital. He's reported to be “one of the 14 most influential people in Delaware” and surely must think outside the box for programs that support their mission statement of “caring for our neighbors, building a healthy community, and existing to take care of our neighbors in the community.”

Maybe Dr. Laskowski would be interested in an “Elderberry Bike Project.” Instead of emphasizing daycare for seniors, let's get 'em on bikes!

There are herds of thundering Boomers on the horizon with blown-out knees and hips from arthritis who could benefit from the charm, functionality, and health benefits of bikes. All that stands between Boomers and bikes as a way of life is getting over the hurdle of getting road-worthy.

So many people tell Pardes, “I used to love to ride a bike. I'd love to ride a bike again for exercise, but the roads aren't safe now.”

Well that's wrong. All wrong. It's knowing how to ride safely and make that leap of faith that you REALLY can get anywhere by bike. You really can go shopping and get to appointments and enjoy yourself in the process.

So what do you say, Dr. Lawkowski? How would you like to be the first and ONLY hospital CEO to initiate a program that will bring health and well-being to Delaware Boomers, a model program for all states? Biking is the best kept health secret there is. Just ask Pardes who is fond of saying, “I can barely walk fifty feet without pain but I can pedal forever!” What a thing to introduce to seniors who don't want to settle for less.

You will have everyone on your side, cheering for you....Pardes, all the local and national bicycle communities, a grateful Governor who bikes, and, perhaps there is even a remorseful security guard we could press into action.

Pardes will call and make an appointment with you. She really would love to be part of such a program. It would make her proud again of Christiana Care Hospital.

Of course there is that sticky problem of how she'll get to the appointment at the hospital on her bike since she's been banned from the property.... But don't worry, she'll get there. She's very resourceful.

Sunday, August 16, 2009


photo by Pardes 2009

On a below zero frigid night in Delaware last winter, I was waiting for my commuter bus to take me home. I was chilled to the bone and stamping my feet to keep warm when a young man walked up to the bus stop who caught my attention. He was eating a slice of pizza as he walked and seemed oblivious to the cold, oblivious to everyone and everything around him.

His suit jacket and slacks were black as well as his raincoat that was clearly not warm enough for such a winter night. He was neatly dressed and smelled of expensive cologne but his attache case was battered, of the out-of-style leather box variety. His billed cap in combination with his gold wire-rimmed glasses gave him more of an early 1900's eastern European air than that of a computer analyst from the large banking firm near the bus stop. He spoke to no one but did not appear reclusive or unfriendly. Yet there was something out of place, out of time about him ... so much so that I made sure I would be seated near him for closer observation. I patted my "stealth" Nikon 8400 camera in my backpack that would allow covert photos with its articulated LCD screen and low-light capabilities.

I needn't have worried that he would be disturbed by my observation or photographing him. As soon as he sat down, he opened his scuffed attache case and retrieved a speckled journal filled with pages of dated entries in black, red, blue, and green ink. I've been keeping a journal since I was old enough to hold a crayon, but somehow I was sure his was probably far more interesting. Why did I think that, I wonder?

I am not above eavesdropping on other people writings, particularly journal entries, but it was far too dark in the bus and my eyesight is limited by progressive lens bifocals. And so ... for the thirty minutes it took the bus to get to my bus stop, he wrote and I fantasized about what he was writing, what memories he was recording, or what existential questions he was wrestling with.

Within seconds I was sure he was a time-traveler from a Yeshiva in Poland in 1930. He had made his way to America and would send for his new wife and child as soon as he had enough money but somehow instead he found himself in Delaware in 2009 with a slice of pizza in his hand...

It was a silly fantasy but it took my mind off my nearly frostbitten toes that were stinging as they warmed up on the over-heated bus. I do not know who this young man is or anything about his history or ancestors, yet, in my mind when I think of him, I see a Rebbe rhythmically rocking and praying, Holocaust ghostly victims still shrieking without sound, the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse racing toward Jerusalem, the millions who continue to visit the Wailing Wall, and yet ... despite it all there is still a joyful Fiddler on the Roof reminding us to find love, beauty, dreams, and humor in every moment and in every stranger's face.

I wish this young man well and hope there is a new young wife and baby that he goes home to every night to share the dreams and visions that he records in his journal written in inks of many colors.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

The Coats of Many Colors

By the end of January, I am always beginning to feel bedraggled and dragged down by my annual experiment in testing out what I hope will be finding the perfect winter coat. However, after the freezing temperature of January has me in its icy grip, this year's model, like all coats of all other years ....soon becomes the coat from Hell.

I loved the sporty hunter green coat when I bought it three months ago. It's generous length went down past my knees, it was surprisingly lightweight for being tested and guaranteed to be cozy and warm at subzero temperatures, and best of all, with multiple zippers, snap flaps, velcro closures in every conceivable place, and loose-fitting sleeves big enough to fit over multiple layers of clothing, Gortex fabric that was waterproof and windproof to boot, AND the hood was big enough to wear over my bicycle helmet! ...well, what more could I ask? It was the perfect winter coat to wear while commuting to work by bicycle.

That is what I thought in late November, even into late December; but, every year something mysterious happens in mid to late January when the coat and I become mortal enemies. It happens every year and you would think I would remember the solution to the problem. But I never do.

I suffer for several weeks in misery convinced that winter is never going to end and someone will find me buried in a snowbank, cold and dead under the crushing canabilstic weight of the coat from Hell.

It's always this time of year that I fantasize about the perfection of summer lightweight clothes. I remember with frost-bitten taste buds, the delectable savor of the tall glass of freshly-squeezed lemonade that the chef makes for me to quench my hot summer thirst at the French Vietnamese restaurant that I pedal to on my bike when there is still daylight outside at 8PM.

photo by Pardes

The coat revelation always happens when I'm looking for something in the deep pockets of the coat. Today it was a quarter to round out the bus fare. I sunk my hand deep into the right lower pocket of my coat where I generally dump loose change, Chapstick, and the crumpled GTD paper thingy with the list of 37 things I need to do and never will.

The pocket seemed to disappear into a black hole. The deeper I plunged my hand, the more items I found, none of which were a quarter. I could hear the loose change rattling in the depths of the pocket, but the flotsam and jetsam was so deep, I could not reach it. A sympathetic commuter flipped me a spare quarter.

While strapping my bike to the front of the bus for the Interstate highway part of my bike commute to work, I plotted the demise of my winter coat. I grouped the coat in the same class as the snowsuit from Hell, that my mother stuffed me in before releasing me from the house to play in the snow.

You may remember the experience of paralysis of movement from your own snowsuit. Remember the gloves that were clipped to your sleeve and flapped in the breeze while you attempted and failed in trying to bend over to make a snowball? You couldn't bend your knees or elbows. You couldn't turn your head in any direction. The only thing you could do in a snowsuit was breathe.

Of course, once you get on the slippery slope of comparing the misery of winter with the perfection of summer, you begin to wallow in seasonal comparison that supports your contention that winter is surely going to kill all of us and no will live to see the summer sun again.

photo by Pardes

You long for the lithe responsive nature of the summery Trek road bike....

photo by Pardes

....and begrudge the lumbering nature of the Transeo winter mountain bike where you always seem to be biking in the dark...

photo by Pardes

You reminisce when you could swim with a horse....

photo by Pardes

....instead of cantering in a foot of snow.

photo by Pardes

....when you could walk barefoot in tender chartreuse grass ....

photo by Pardes

.... instead of freezing your toes while tracking runaway snowmen.

photo by Pardes

when you woke from a nap on the balmy August bank of the Delaware River as the Kalmar Nyckel silently docked fifty feet from where you slept ....

photo by Pardes

.... instead of commiserating with two seagulls who perhaps lost a leg to the now icy Delaware River waters.

photo by Pardes

The bellyaching doesn't last for long though because you know of a homeless person who does not have the luxury of middle-class whining. Swathed in so many conflicting layers of clothing, hats and scarves, slacks and skirts and sweatpants underneath a furry coat, you cannot tell the gender of this person; but you know for sure that dozens of forgotten quarters do not rattle in those pockets.

.... and then you pause for a moment of shame and promise to deliver all you other coats to the homeless shelter....

When I got to the lab, I decided to further explore the set of six deep pockets in my winter coat. No wonder I was feeling weighted down. The only thing I didn't find in those pockets was Jimmy Hoffa.

The items I piled onto the lab bench included: not one, not two, but TRHEE pairs of gloves; six tubes of Chapstick; two pairs of ear muffs; 22 voided bus tickets; one spare bicycle inner tube; 11 ballpoint pens; 2 CO2 cannisters for inflating bicycle tires; one completely flattened Reese's Peanut Butter Cup; an adjustable wrench; one Phillips head screwdriver; the iPod I've been trying to find for two months; a 4 GB flash drive; $14.27 in loose change; 2 letters I forgot to mail; 6 large rare earth magnets for an experiment in tripping traffic lights to change that the weight of a bike won't trip (the experiment failed); 2 sets of folding headphones (1 broken); 1 bottle of aspirin; 1 atomizer of Chanel No. 5; a Nikon point & shoot camera; 4 rechargeable AA batteries; and the most enigmatic of all, an unopened Christmas wrapped present the size of a matchbox. Some secret gift a friend of mine had left as a surprise for me.

For hoots, I piled the stuff on the analytical balance generally used in the lab for weighing cocaine and marijuana forensic evidence. All together the booty weighed a little under 7 pounds. When I added in the weight of the keys (lab, home and bicycle lock keys), wallet, Blackberry, and mini flashlight that I keep in my windproof, waterproof bicycle pants that I wear over my slacks, the grand total came to an extra ten pounds I was carrying around.

Consequently, like every previous year, I end up apologizing to my coat and assume full responsibility for the problem. Of course this will only last for a couple of weeks until the pockets get loaded down again; and I develop coat dementia again; and the coat and I will be back at odds with one another until Spring.

And that's okay, I tell myself as I plot not revenge on a coat this time, but a small gesture of surprise, perhaps even delight for someone else. I zip the still unopened Christmas gift inside the inner breast pocket to be discovered next winter when they pull this green coat off a rack at the Capuchin Friars Soup Kitchen Clothes Closet to be worn out into the frigid Wilmington night.

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Sunday, January 18, 2009

Diskgrinder, All Together Now

photo collage by Diskgrinder

Diskgrinder is an enigma. Not the kind of enigma that you burn to solve; but the kind of enigma that you want to savor like a good bouillabaisse where each note of flavor presents itself in its own good time.

His Internet presence is known as Diskgrinder. I never
thought to ask him his real name; possibly for fear of his response which would be so clever with his razor wit that I would be reminded that part of my fascination with him is his likeness to a grownup version of that kid we all knew in high school who could level you with one of his witticisms; but ahhhhhh if he liked you, it made you feel special and as witty and charming as he was.

You know the kid I'm talking about. The one who could even intimidate the teachers, the Principal of the school, the traffic cop who stopped him for a moving violation. He made the girls blush and the boy envious of his intellect, his feigned apathy, his extreme and unique coolness, and the creative spark that fired his interest in getting to the bottom of what he considered outrageous socially accepted norms. He was a mirror to our own insecurities so we kept him at a distance; far enough away to feel comfortable without the need to actualize ourselves; but close enough to garner the treasures he revealed.

I first found him on Twitter where we traded clever and terrible puns. Unlike many punsters, he is not a bully and often reveals his softer side; although, make no mistake, it sometimes takes spelunking to find it hidden in a cavern where fish are blind and echoes remain from the ancient ones.

We traded visits to each other's websites. I considered him somewhat bizarre, prone to swearing a lot, an artist, a musician, a perceptive observer of the human condition, a loving father, and most of all, an adult who never forgot how to play, and play with total abandonment of any worry of lo
oking foolish to others. I'm not sure, but I think he considered me a 63 year old woman who possibly smells like Ben Gay, but one who also knows how to play.

I issued a "call for papers" to write a
bout a hermit, mystic, or eccentric person and Diskgrinder responded with a wholly-unique Diskgrinder view of the eccentric known as Reg. It is an exercise in absurdity, irony, and reveals perhaps more about Diskgrinder than it does about Reg.

Impartial journalism can be a wonderful thing; but give me personal observations any day of the week. Sidney Jourard, the Humanist Psychologist, remarked that "disclosure begets disclosure." The limited expressions of Diskgrinder on the web consists of a few hundred often mysterious blog entries, a few YouTube videos, several scores of Flickr photos which is certainly not enough to fill out an accurate biography, not that the world is waiting with bated breath for a Disgrinder biography, nor is that my intention.

What I do note however, is that through Diskgrinder's description of Reg, the Hermit, and Diskgrinder's enigmatic presence on the web, the eccentric nature of the author himself is revealed and it makes the world a much less lonely place where we too as readers can be brave enough to reveal our own eccentric selves.

Reg said, "Most people think of the mind as being an intangible halo around their head, from which they call facts from the hot sponge in their skull. Like the brain is a bunch of liquid and dirty meat that keeps track, but the mind is this pristine glow that sees the track. But a recent theory is that the mind is Extended into legs and arms and maybe notes you write on the fridge, thinking's done within a yard. Your mind is in your fingers when you touch, in your local motion when you walk, there when you sniff. Which is why scent evokes memory." As Reg once said, "If your mind is in your head, why do you see everything outside, and not contemplate scenes inside?"
~~ Diskgrinder Tweets 2009

Art by Diskgrinder

Meeting a hermit
by Diskgrinder 2009

Back in the early eighties, when I was variously unemployed (an unemployed labourer, railway trackman, kitchen porter, painter) I met a man called Reg. He was an artist. He lived in Somerby, Rutland and refused electricity or gas, preferring instead to light his house with Gales honey jars filled with paraffin with a wick poked through the lid.

He was a mystic and a hippie,
which in eighties East Midlands bitter bleakosity was unwelcomed by most (remember that the Vale of Catmose is in the lee of Lincolnshire, flat panned reclaimed fens where the wind is directly funnelled from the Urals).

He was a fellow of the Royal Academy, and once drank an oak tree*** off a high shelf with Craig Martin.

His paintings were abstract, and fairly fucked philosophically by his insistence on parallels with eastern mysticism and overdo
sing on cough medicine. Had he referenced Lacan, structuralism and maybe the decentered self he could have been successful. As he claimed his inspiration came from Kundalini, Gurdjieff and kif, he was deeply unfashionable.

But still he had a kind of scrawny integrity
. He was a mountaineer, a painter and spliffster; a Barnsley ugly man with a feeling for colour, but no taste for the wank of art criticism.

I think he had a daughter, who lived in an inaccessible valley in Wales; inaccessible to him at least, as they were estranged.

***an oak tree: the text
reproduced by Ian Grant, Cambridge 8/7/2002 Michael Craig-Martin. An oak tree, 1973. In a room at Tate Modern there is a three-quarter full glass of water on a high shelf. It is a work by Michael Craig-Martin called An oak tree. Beside it there is the following text:

Q. To begin with, could you describe this work?
A. Yes, of course. What I've done is change a glas
s of water into a full-grown oak tree without altering the accidents of the glass of water.

Q. The accidents?

A. Yes. The colour, feel, weight, size ...

Q. Do you mean that the glass of
water is a symbol of an oak tree?
A. No. It's not a symbol. I've cha
nged the physical substance of the glass of water into that of an oak tree.

Q. It looks like a glass of water.

A. Of course it does. I didn't change its appearance. But it's not a glass of water, it's an oak tree.

Q. Can you prove what you've claimed to have done?
A. Well, yes and no. I claim to have maintained the physical form of the glass of water and, as you can see, I have. However, as one normally looks for evidence of physical change in term
s of altered form, no such proof exists.

Q. Haven't you simply called this glass of water an oak tree?

A. Absolutely not. It is not a
glass of water anymore. I have changed its actual substance. It would no longer be accurate to call it a glass of water. One could call it anything one wished but that would not alter the fact that it is an oak tree.

Q. Isn't this just a case of the emperor's new clothes?

A. No. With the emperor's n
ew clothes people claimed to see something that wasn't there because they felt they should. I would be very surprised if anyone told me they saw an oak tree.

Q. Was it difficult to effect the change?
A. No effort at all.
But it took me years of work before I realised I could do it.

Q. When precisely did the glass of water become an oak tree?

A. When I put the water in the glass.

Q. Does this happen every time you fill a glass with water?
A. No, of course not. Only wh
en I intend to change it into an oak tree.

Q. Then intention causes the change?
A. I would say it precipitates the change.

Q. You don't know how yo
u do it?
A. It contradicts what I feel I know about cause and effect.

Q. It seems to me that you are claiming to have worked a miracle. Isn't that the case?
A. I'm flattered that you think so.

Q. But aren't you the only person who can do something like this?

A. How could I know?

Q. Could you teach others to do it?
A. No, it's not something one can teach.

Q. Do you consider that changing the glass of water into an oak tree constitutes an art work?
A. Yes.

Q. What precisely is the art work? Th
e glass of water?
A. There is no glass of
water anymore.

Q. The process of change?

A. There is no process involved in the change.

Q. The oak tree?

A. Yes. The oak tree.

Q. But the oak tree only exists in the mind.
A. No. The actual oak tree is physically present but in the form of the glass of water. As the glass of water was a particular glass of water, the oak tree is also a particular oak tree. To conceive the category 'oak tree' or to picture a particular oak tree is not to understand and experience what appears to be a glass of water as an oak tree. Just as it is imperceivable it also inconceivable.

Q. Did the particular oak tree exist somewhere else before it took the form of a glass of water?
A. No. This particular oak tree did not exist previously. I should also point out that it does not and will not ever have any other form than that of a glass of water.

Q. How long will it continue to b
e an oak tree?
A. Until I change it.

As I understand it, this
text is not in itself the work of art, so I am at liberty to reproduce it here. Ian Grant, Cambridge 8/7/2002

And that is the end of words about Reg. Let us now return to Diskgrinder.

The corporate world was taken by storm with David Allen's, "Getting Things Done," GTD strategies to ... well, get things done. Diskgrinder levels both his barrels on the GTD hype with this blog entry. Only those of us, like myself, who have spent hours and days playing with the GTD paper thingy can appreciate the humor.

Trouble fuck to-do list GTD taskpaper
As you all know. Each of you have your own spiky thorns in your metaphoric pants. Clearly, you need to divest yourselves of the spiky-thorn-pant thing. How should we do that? I hear you ask. In fact demand.

Here's my to-do list of GTD spiky-thorn-pant issue resolution:

* Download the latest GTD application to your iPhone

* Fiddle with that for about an ho
ur: set some contexts; pinch some overviews; swipe some goals; above all, do that lip-sucking typy touchscreen thing inputting all your to-dos in before you realise it syncs with OmniFracas

* Download OmniFracas

* Marvel at its intuitive interfac

* Don't open it for a month; shit, now it's expired

* Zero inbox your inbox

* Read every email in the trash

* Print out the tiny list paper foldy thing to-do list

* Realize you're not a twat

* Screw it up and throw it in the fire (if you wrote anything on it you will get a MOMENTARY sense of closure)

* Send yourself increasingly sweary post-dated emails

* Stack bills behind the biggest ornament you have on your mantelpiece


* Keep on keeping on

* Occasionally apologise for not havi
ng done whatever the fuck it was

Oh, and change your pants

Diskgrinder's rapier wit is not only directed outward at the frailties of mankind. He is not above making fun of himself. Music is another important aspect of his life that he shares with his boys. However, as father, as mentor, as comedian to his boys he also demonstrates the absurdity and humor that comes with the hobby of music. Sigh #4 is the fourth in a series of videos about a musician who takes himself far too seriously.

Diskgrinder's boys, his little chaps who call him "Dad-face," are central to his life. I envy the noisy, racuous, musical fun they have on the weekends they spend with him.

There is music, there are light sabers, there is giggling humor and 24 karat gold memories being laid down for the future...

There is all of that before it is time to say goodbye for another week.

Diskgrinder said that he hopes that his kids say one day, "I grew up in a house full of music."

Indeed, his boys will say that. And they will also say that they grew up in a house full of m
agic and full of love.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Sony Digital Recorder and a Dragon - A Writer's Best Friends

Writing nonfiction articles for a blog cam be laborious if you collect a lot of references to use in the blog. First you search for the references that are on target, and then you dump them into a
subdirectory to be combed through later.

The problem is that going through them for nuggets of gold is a drag when you know you have hours of reading, highlighting ideas, developing the concepts into your own words, typing them into a draft file, and hoping that at the end of all of this you still even care about the subject.

I can't tell you how many subdirectories I have containing research material. They gather dust. The Kelpius subdirectory alone spurred the need to buy multiple flash drive to store all the data. I managed to squeeze out one paltry blog about Kelpius but it didn't satisfy me since so much of the material I had collected was just too cumbersome to review all of it.

Then I bought the Sony digital recorder and Dragon Naturally Speaking Recorder Edition version 9.5 voice recognition software. I was suspicious at first. I get a lot of "brilliant" organizational ideas that in actuality are sometimes just a ploy to avoid doing the actual writing. I am happy to report that in this case, that is not true.

Over the weekend, I've been thinking about an article titled, "The Memory of Water" that explores the mysterious, magical, mythical, and scientific anomalies about water. Good little researcher that I am, I compiled a subdirectory of about 100 references on "water."

You know how those subdirectories look with unintelligible filenames and sub-subdirecotries with miscellaneous gif files and the like that are part of saving a website view. It's enough to discourage anyone to look back at the garbled list of files and figure out how to begin.

No problem. I had Sony Dragon on my side. I just started at the top of the list of files, opened them one by one, scanned through them for ideas, put the concepts in my own words, and dictated it into the digital recorder. And then on to the next file and the next...

I then fed the file into the Dragon software and watched with amazement as my words were turned into text and magically typed themselves across the screen. Painlessly you have a workable draft file that avoids that "blank screen" terror when you are beginning a new piece of writing. After that, it's all downhill coasting as you edit, rearrange, re-edit, and finalize your piece of writing. Writing can be a solitary business but with the Sony Dragon you feel as if you have collaborators who are always willing to help you out at any time of day or night; they never get tired and cranky, and they never make fun of your writing.

However, there are moments of amusement while Dragon is getting used to recognizing your voice. This is when I discovered that Dragon is a hawk while I am clearly a dove.

I spoke the words, "The unique physical and aesthetic properties of water give it a mysterious component that fires mythological and religious ideas about water." (Okay, it's not deathless prose, it was a DRAFT, remember? Dragon doesn't give me a hard time like YOU do!)

I found it very sweet that Dragon didn't roll it's eyes at my draft copy; it just did its darnedest to accurately transcribe what I had said. Clearly though, Dragon still has memories of spitting fire and annihilating enemies because this is what it thought I said, "The unique physical and aesthetic properties of water give it a mysterious component that fires missiles and religious ideas about water."

Of course, now I have a new to trick Dragon into saying the most bizarre things. There ARE rules however to this game. No lisping is allowed (wouldn't that be like kicking someone in a wheelchair?) No foreign words are allowed which is good since I can't speak any. Of course Middle English is fair game. "Here Dragon, transcribe this: "Whan that Aprill, with his shoures soote, the droghte of March hath perced to the roote, and bathed every veyne in swich licour...."

Saturday, January 10, 2009

A Dragon Teaching Pardes to Sing

Sometimes there are concessions that need to be made. Sometimes these concessions, originally thought to be a trade-off of something not quite so good for a more coveted thing that we must give up are thought to be bad-tasting medicine that we must endure. Sometimes that is not true and the concession actually turns out to be a gift.

I took up commuting to work on a bicycle as a trade-off for not being able to walk to the bus stop due to the ravages of arthritis. (I had taken up walking to the bus stop in protest of rising gas prices and the desire to be more physically fit as well as to re-connect with my environment, the weather, and seasonal changes that I'd lost in the comatose practice of driving to work on the same road for twenty-five years.) It turned out to be one of the most profitable "concessions" that I've ever made. Imagine. Something good for me, and good for the environment turns out to be one of the most pleasurable activities of my life.

This triggered another concession that needed to be made. Spending more time on a bicycle means spending less time doing the other things I love. Like writing. Add to this the fact that cramped, arthritic hands can't keep up with the right lobe of my brain that floods the left part of my brain with more images and ideas than can be recorded.

Enter the Sony ICD SX68 DRG digital voice recorder to catch all those loose ends when my fingers can't. Stir the pot also with the bundled software that came with it. Dragon Naturally Speaking 9.5.

The result? While I'm trying to teach the Dragon to speak, I am hoping that the Dragon, in turn, will teach me how to sing.

The learning curve for both of us is steep. It irritates me that Dragon insists and demands that I speak each necessary punctuation mark and that I take the time to spell difficult words slowly and distinctly. I'm sure that my penchant for adverbs and sentences longer than most paragraphs irritates Dragon. Our irritation with one another is not toxic. Indeed, it's more like making a new friend who has to learn the nuances of each other's voice.

Naturally, such a friendship takes time. I'll be missing in action for a few days while the Dragon and I are holed up in a cave marveling at the echoes of our voices, discovering the real meaning of our words, and watching the shadows illuminated by the fire that dance on the walls.

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Call for Papers

I have added another blog, Cloister Voices, as a magazine style blog, a collection of stories and encounters with the unusual people we meet in our lives whether they be hermits, mystics, eccentrics, or a stranger who captivates us. I would love to add your stories and encounters to this "call for papers."

Scientific journals bulge with announcements for a "call for papers" so that scientists around the world can raise their heads from test tubes and standard deviation calculations and share their latest work with their colleagues around the world.

As a chemist, I've always been most interested in reading about the first stages of research where the final answer is not known yet and where hope and exhilaration of "the thrill of the hunt" activates the mind and imagination.

Cloister Voices would also like to announce a "call for papers" of another kind, an investigation into our memories of catalytic encounters with unusual people. When and where did you meet someone unique who provided you with synchronistic synergism enough to excite the electrons of your life into a higher orbital, perhaps even to the point where your life began to glow.

Please share these stories with Cloister Voices by submitting them to cloistervoices at gmail dot com.

Monday, January 5, 2009

The Women's Gallery of the Shul

As soon as I was old enough to speak, I invited myself along to the churches, secret meditation spots, or on the spiritual adventures of friends, neighbors, and even strangers. Most of them were flattered by the request, if not amused.

I was escorted to Kingdom Hall, Presbyterian buffets, Baptist "dinner on the grounds," fundamentalist snake-handler revivals,Catholic funerals, Buddhist sesshins, and Wiccan solstice celebrations. Some of my hosts tried to convert me to their "truth" but I remained the same within, the solitary daughter of an Agnostic who embraced the transcendent spirit without the need to name it.

The last of my forays into religious adventures was by far the most unsettling and ultimately the most fruitful in raising my heart from the dead. A Chosen One took me to his shul for a Resurrection.

The Women's Gallery of the Shul

where wives and children are sequestered witnesses
behind a door that groans each time it opens
to the second floor above male voices rising up incensed
and swirling round the rustling of long black
Sephardic Orthodox dresses with wigged tresses
bending to caresses of chanted Hebrew words.

In a charcoal ember skirt, the likes of which
I have not worn in thirty years, I contemplate
in quiet stillness and in reverent tears the primal
imprinting brand of the voice of man upon a woman.

Drawn to the railing of a sea of kippas and prayer shawls
below the wailing of the cantor orchestrates
the moments of harmony, the rhythmic movements of awe
in a controlled chaotic rendering of the Shema prayer
to "love with all your heart, all your might, all your soul."

In a slice of silence all women rise and bend as one
as they lean into the yearning to hear with discerning
that one voice rise above the others, standing out
in a whispered intimacy they've known since before
they were born. Their bashert and destiny.

I am torn between traditions, not of God
or burning bushes "as above, so below," but of man and woman
and the wishes of love so rarely spoken of and only known
by the separation of concessions made by the women
who will never hear that one voice and by their choice
are left to walk the second floor gallery railing of the shul
with nervous fingers and idle chatter that is so loud

I cannot hear the tenor bravissimo voice I strain to hear and know
who asked me to reveal the secret of women on a lake
moored where two loons floated round the point of his youth
spent in a summer home of adolescent discovery
and a lifetime of recovery from love now locked up tight
just beyond "no trespassing signs."

By design we are meant to love "with all our heart, all our might,
all our soul," but in a boat on the sea his kippa is no match
for the starboard breeze that lulls and rocks us to toasted
Carmel Kosher wine and I cannot define what is meant to be
for him, for me, or the ancient smile on a matron's face,
who as with me, strained to hear that one voice meant
just for her. Her bashert, her destiny.

By her choice in fantasy she scaled the railing
of the gallery ledge that is precisely a wedge the width
of a young woman's slender foot. She did a pirouette
and twirled on point. She danced the dance of seven veils,
let down her curls no longer gray but auburn now and full of lights

and when she stopped in front of me to bow the mirrors
of her Moroccan prayer cap reflected a sun warmed lake,
the echo of a gentle breeze, promises broken, promises made
while below in a sea of kippas and knotted prayer shawls
the Torah, Magic now unlocked was carried in love by men
with adoration while above two loons rose and took to wing,
banked and turned, and in their shimmering Shema prayer
rounded the point again.

~ Pardes 2006 ~
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