More meanderings

I now understand why people pamper cats. It’s because cats are so enamored of luxury that it’s rewarding to give it to them. Dogs enjoy luxury too, but a dog would go through hell to be with his master, whereas cats are not so constituted. Therefore, what better thing can a person do than to pamper his cat?

I write about heavy subjects because that’s how I think. I’m forever absorbed by reflections pertaining to one idea or another, so I will write about it over a period of days, doing both revisions and whole new approaches to the subject. I love to play with words and ideas this way. In fact, it’s the main thing that keeps me going. I also need physical labor, but too much of it seems like dissipation. Trips to the mountains are also good.

Things you don’t know about me:

I bake my own whole-grain crackers. I got my first recipe from an Episcopal priest’s wife, and afterwards baked crackers for the Eucharist each week until a lady who attended regularly got throat cancer and the church went back to the melt-in-your-mouth “fish wafers.” I've continued to bake crackers for myself during the intervening 35 years, but I’ve branched out from the original recipe because cracker dough is very open to experimentation. I name my various crackers after their defining flavor, such as rye, corn, wheat, walnut, cheddar, and Parmesan. Before each of my three shoulder surgeries, I had to bake a big supply of crackers because it would be four months before I could roll out dough again.

I have memorized at least thirty poems including more than one apiece by Robert Frost, Edwin Arlington Robinson, and Edna St. Vincent Millay. Wordsworth's "Daffodils," Keat's "La Belle Dame Sans Merci," and Heine's "A Maiden Lies in Her Chamber" are three of my favorites by other poets.

I recently planted two clumps of bamboo and five of a variegated grass that grows nine feet tall. I’ve adored variegated grass for years but this is the first I've grown. I wake up each morning and look out the window at my variegated grass, and I smile. I take such joy in plants that I have no words for it. 

I try to get to the Cascades each year before the bears eat all the salmonberries. These resemble blackberries but are orange. They are also three times bigger and three times juicier. They practically fall into your hand when they're right for eating. Once in your hand, they flatten out, because they're hollow in the middle. The bears and I also compete for salal berries, but they grow best in the Coast Range. Once while biking down a logging road looking for berries, Peggy and I surprised a mother bear and her cub (and vice versa). Black bears tend to abandon their cubs rather than fight for them, and this one was already on her way, so I stopped the bike and said, "Oh, Peggy look," but she didn't answer. When I turned toward where I thought she would be, I caught a glimpse of her way down the road, pedaling as fast as she could in the other direction.

 I love wasps. The ones in yesterday’s photo (taken during soffit work) are typical of most Oregon wasps in that they’re so gentle that you can all but touch their tiny nests without fear of harm. I literally forget that they are there even when I'm working next to them. This is a night-and-day difference from the big and aggressive Mississippi wasps that live in nests of hundreds, yet I loved them too. I built the nesting box in the bottom photo for solitary wasps, and I have a bald-face hornets' nest hanging in my den. When people ask if it still has hornets in it, I tell them that, yes, it does, but if they keep their voices down, they'll be okay.

I eat two, 22 pound watermelons a week, all summer and into the fall. I prefer watermelon to chocolate, and that's saying a lot. I also have a weakness for mayonnaise, which I often mix with Parmesan and nutritional yeast and spread on whole-grain crackers.

Stoned ponderings on recurring themes: one after another after another

I would say that I have a good marriage, yet Peggy is a serious disappointment to me in some ways. For example, she’s a procrastinator who often expects me to help her with one project or another at the last minute when she’s under pressure, and I have something else I want to do. I don’t do pressure, and I become testy when someone rushes me, so it’s a bad situation that I blame entirely on her because she’s the one who’s doing the imposing. However, I finally had to give up trying to change her. Not that I don’t bitch and moan from time to time, but I would be an idiot if I expected anything but broken promises to come of it. The sad truth is that EVERYONE is like Peggy. Instead of expecting another person to be all but perfect and to love you forever, put your emphasis on deciding whether you even find them tolerable.
When I was in my teens and twenties, I would ponder all these heavy religious and philosophical questions, but my half-sister, Anne (my elder by eleven years), was the only person I ever knew who wanted to discuss them. I assumed from this that everyone else must already know the answers but for some reason wouldn’t share them with me. I made this assumption because I couldn’t imagine that questions which were so compelling to me could have escaped their notice altogether. When I finally—after many years—concluded that they had, I started to think less of other people and more of myself. I pictured everyone else as being like dogs or cats, nice enough in their way but sadly lacking nonetheless.
I was embarrassed to be a Mississippian long before I moved to liberal Eugene, where Mississippi and every white person in it is considered a joke. I would get mad when I heard people trashing Mississippi, not necessarily because I disagreed, but because they couldn’t have named the major towns, or pointed to The Delta on a map, or identified kudzu and fireants. They were simply relaying to me, a lifelong Mississippian, all the bad stuff they had heard. For awhile, I joined them; for awhile, I kept my mouth shut; now, I demand to know their sources because theirs is usually a case of prejudice based upon hearsay. It doesn’t even matter to me that a person is right; if his reasons for his beliefs are unfounded, he’s still a bigot.
Foolishness that is at least understandable in the young becomes inexcusable with age. I'm very aware that I'm a "senior" now and, except for the physical pain and limitations, I rather like it because at no time in my life have I experienced more of wisdom or contentment.
I just finished Hell in the Pacific by Jim McEnery. It wasn't the best war book I've ever read (that would be With the Old Breed at Peleliu and Okinawa by E.B. Sledge), but I'm glad I read it. The following passage will stay with me more than most: “I’ve never lost sleep over the enemy solders I shot or bayoneted or blew to bits with grenades—not even the wounded ones I put out of their misery…. I did it the same way you’d chop off the head of a poisonous snake that was about to bite someone.” I would call that a pretty good example of the dehumanization of war. Of course, the Japanese military went out of its way to earn such hatred (just as we did with our “Shock and Awe” bombing of Baghdad), but still… About three years ago, I heard an old man say with tears in his eyes that he had recently hugged a Japanese woman, her being the first Japanese he had touched but didn’t kill.
Someone wrote that I put unnecessary limits on my openness to experience by labeling myself an atheist. This ignores the fact that I used to be a believer, and that I don’t consider any of the experiences of God that I had back then to have been worthwhile. I went from being scared shitless of God when I was young, to hating him when I was a teenager, to not believing in him when I was in my twenties. That said, I should think that a person who is committed to believing in a particular version of god might be at greater risk than an atheist of limiting his experience of the divine. For example, what if God should come along but not look or act the way a person expects him to look or act; might not such a person fail to recognize God? Because an atheist wouldn’t be so committed, he might be better able to experience God than a lot of theists. After all, few atheists categorically say that God's existence is impossible; they simply say that they can't find a reason to believe in him.
Old times seem to look better with age when the sharp edges have eroded somewhat, and everything has been interpreted and reinterpreted so many times that reality is forgotten.

Photo by Manfred Brückels

A sensitive boy

I was what my mother called “a sensitive boy,” meaning that I got my feelings hurt way too easily. What I can tell you about being “sensitive” is that it doesn’t work worth a damn to go through life feeling slighted. This is why I gave it up. I no longer take much of anything personally. Even if it’s meant personally, I don’t judge an attack or a rejection as being a statement about me but simply as another person’s choice at a particular time in his or her life. If I can see how I unnecessarily contributed to any bad feelings, I will apologize without hesitation because honor requires it, and I do love honor because if a person has honor, most other virtues will follow. However, I don’t beat my breast in agony, and I don’t berate anyone. I also don’t give up on important friendships, and will, unless forbidden, continue to reach out from time to time for years after an important person has left my life. Not feeling hurt and needy has taken the stinger out of rejection, making this easy. It’s the former friends who never speak to one another again who are the walking wounded.

I have also found wisdom in allowing relationships to ebb and flow rather than being elated during the flow periods and interpreting the ebb periods as rejection. I would say to you that you don't know what's really going on with other people, so when they seem to be pulling away from you, let them go. They will either come back or they won't, and you can no more control the seasons of their lives than you can control the seasons of the year, although you can make a fool of yourself if you try. In all situations, remember your dignity because that alone is of far more value to you than any friend you will ever have. Even if you could persuade a thousand people to love you, you would be no less alone inside your head, so make yourself into someone whose company you cherish.

I stopped being “a sensitive boy” once I completely gave up the notion that other people have things to offer me that I need desperately but lack within myself. When I understood at the 100% level that my hurt feelings always had and evermore would be much ado about nothing and that no possible benefit ever did or ever could accrue from them, I found giving them up to be a profound pleasure. I won’t pretend to know how I might feel if Peggy should leave me after 42 years, but I’m quite sure that no one else can throw me off balance, and I really don’t think she can. It’s a marvelous way to live. It’s the difference between being sad at times versus being angry and despondent your whole life long over one relationship or another. 

I have just summarized in three paragraphs wisdom that took me several decades and considerable agony to learn, yet I don’t know if anyone else is capable of learning it in any way other than I did. If you're "sensitive," like I was, you've got a lot of hurt to look forward to, and you might as well at least try to cut it short by doing what now seems impossible, that is finding the ability to feel complete within yourself. This comes through remembering that you are ultimately alone, and that no one can save you. All the strength for living that you have at your disposal is already within you, and the only way for you to be saved is to develop it by thinking rationally about who you are and about who other people are in relation to you. Don't mistake them for being more than they are, and don't mistake yourself for being less than you are. Once you cast off your expectations of others, the feeling you will get is like going from black and white to color. Everything that was murky becomes obvious. You will wonder how it was even possible that you failed for all those years to see just how rich you are within yourself. At your deepest level, you deserve your fullest respect, and when you're at that level, being reviled or rejected is scarcely deserving of notice.

How to convert an atheist

First the bad news. No one can convert an atheist unless that atheist is poorly schooled in atheism. Otherwise, converting him—to Christianity, for example—would require not just changing his mind about one belief (God=Christ, Jehovah, and the Holy Ghost) but about the scores of assumptions that underlie that one belief. Believers are generally unaware of these assumptions. I know a Christian blogger who claimed to have converted three atheists, yet she confessed that she had never known an atheist who wasn’t thoroughly arrogant and overwhelmingly obnoxiousme more than most. If you think all atheists are alike, please allow me to disabuse you of that notion.

I’ll tell you frankly that atheists tend to be smart, educated, liberal, and mistrustful of authority. After that, they are very different from one another. I don’t even like most of them, but then I don’t like most people. Some atheists don’t view atheism as important in their lives. These tend to be the ones who grew up in households that were either atheistic or nonreligious. For those like myself who took religion seriously or suffered from the oppression that comes with living among religious people, atheism tends to be extremely important. I think about it everyday, and it influences my thoughts in more ways than you can imagine. I would even say that atheism is as important to me as religion is to a devout Christian.

Far from being simply a negation of other people’s beliefs, it is the backbone of my worldview because it makes it necessary for me to create meaning in my life. By contrast, believers have meaning handed to them on a platter, although how most of them behave is so much at odds with what they claim to believe are the two great greatest commandments (Love God with all your heart and love your neighbor—including your enemy—as yourself) that their bad behavior would be facetious if it didn’t cause so much pain. For example, all of America’s recent presidents have been Christians but with the exception of Jimmy Carter, this has never stopped them from slaughtering people by the thousands.

I hold atheism to be a very personal and precious aspect of my life, and I embrace it without regard for anything or anyone other than my desire to know and speak the truth. If I am wrong, then I am wrong, and any God worth is his salt will give me credit for having done the best I could. On the other hand, if many of you are right in holding that everlasting hell awaits me at the hands of a vengeful deity ("…the Lord will rejoice over you to destroy you…”), then I would ask you if you can in good conscience really and truly worship a being that would send an honest man to hell. If you say yes, then I would respond that any God who performs acts that are considered despicable when done by a human being* is better suited to play the demon in The Exorcist than to be worshipped as the Creator and Sustainer of the Universe, and I am glad not to have made his acquaintance.

I am sometimes asked why I write about atheism and religion so much. It’s because they’re important to me, and because decades of study and reflection have made me qualified to express an opinion. Atheism lies beneath many of my thoughts in many areas, and religion represents to me a very great evil—possibly the greatest—and I want to warn you about it even if you hate me for it. My question to you would be, given that you think so highly of your God, why don’t you write about religion more? Could it be that, although you think God should be important in your life, he really isn’t?

Now for the good news about converting atheists.... Sad to say, but I lied and led you on just as you might have expected a dirty little atheist** to do. You see, there is no good news about converting atheists. All of your arguments are as old as Methuselah and have already been considered and rejected. The only thing you can do for an atheist is to help him fight the oppression of those who claim to worship the same God you do. Do this one thing for me if for no other reason than that, if religious fanatics come for me today, they will come for you tomorrow if they decide that you too are an enemy of their private deity. Atheists are simply at the head of the line of people who—for the good of society—must be re-educated, locked-up, or eliminated.


**Teddy Roosevelt, an American president, referred to Thomas Paine (who is pictured at the top of this post), a guiding philosopher of the American Revolution, as "that dirty little atheist." Roosevelt's view was that all of the good a nonbeliever does is meaningless. A recent president, George H. Bush denied that atheists are citizens, or that atheists who distinguish themselves for valor in combat are patriots. Consistent with such hatred, some American states have laws preventing atheists from holding office or even testifying in court. Believers often claim that religion is a private matter, but this is not the case if you're an atheist in America because you are hated and discriminated against everyday of your life.

How to Keep a Lid on Your Pussy in Twelve Easy Steps

When I got Brewsky 18 months ago, I resolved to rid him of those failings that are so regrettably common to both cats and women, things like vanity, aloofness, selfishness, disloyalty, obsessive grooming, and a perverse refusal to obey simple commands. In short, I resolved to do with him what I have failed to do with Peggy after 42 years of unrelenting effort—I resolved to make him into a good dog in the hope that he would serve as an inspiration to her.

He is only influenced by immediate punishment, and even then the effects only last two or three minutes, after which he returns to doing the same thing for which he was punished. This is where technology is useful. For example, I installed an alarm system to keep him off the kitchen countertop. When I leave the room, I flick a switch and if he jumps up on the counter while I’m away, three diesel-strength airhorns emit 185 decibels of sound simultaneously. Except for urine on the countertop, cabinet doors, and sometimes the ceiling, this works amazingly well because he knows he can’t wear down technology the way he wears down flesh and blood people who have more to do in life than control a recidivistic cat.

Breaking him from burying his shit has proven to be a greater challenge. As I observed him in his toilet one morning, I reflected upon how pointless it was for him to bury that which I would have to dig up anyway, so I resolved to cure him of the habit. To accomplish this, I began carrying his litter box to whatever part of the house I was in, and when he would start to bury his poop, I would run at him screaming while using my Deluge-a-Kitty Water Cannon™  to knock him right out of the box and into whatever wall, chair, or table was within his line of travel. Now, he only shits in his litter box when I’m asleep or away from home. The rest of the time, he shits on my pillow. On the one hand, I have been largely successful in preventing him from burying his poop, but on the other, things haven’t worked out quite like I planned.  

I have also had excellent results in getting him to sleep during the night instead of keeping me awake by miaowing loudly while running full-tilt throughout the house (after which which he would sleep all day while I stumbled drowsily into walls). My method consists basically of locking him in a room with a vacuum cleaner everyday (he’s terrified of vacuums), and connecting the vacuum to a timer so that it will turn on for a few moments every fifteen minutes. Now, he’s the one who stumbles drowsily into walls, only he does so at night while I'm sleeping peacefully.

These are just a few examples of the kind of work I have done with him and the outstanding success I have achieved. If you would like further ideas, feel free to buy my $30 book How to Keep a Lid on Your Pussy in Twelve Easy Steps. You will find it anywhere good books are sold, which basically means that if you'll send me a check (certified only, please), I’ll send you a link to a Word document.

In closing, I feel it only fair to inform you that Brewsky appears to be losing his mind, as you might have guessed from his haunted expression. He cries piteously for hours, drools, refuses to eat or groom himself, and spends his every waking moment staring in transfixed horror at the same empty spot on Peggy’s bed. I suspect that the problem is hereditary, but since he was a shelter cat (I wanted a dog, but Brewksy was half-price so I got him instead), I have no idea who his parents were, so this is mostly conjecture based upon the absence of environmental stressors.

The point is to get woke-up, not fucked-up

I’ve written several times about the effects of marijuana, but for each piece that I posted, there were five that I didn’t because I know that many of you have little patience for the subject. This means that when I do write, I need to make it good, yet there’s nothing harder to convey than an experience that is completely alien to others, especially when they might judge it harshly, as is often the case with my posts about drugs and atheism. 

As you go through an ordinary day, how many new thoughts or insights do you have? I have few to none when I’m straight, but I’m awash in them when I’m high. I become so adrift within myself that I never know what new shore I’m going to land upon. I find myself visiting several per hour, and the rapid-fire intensity of my visions leaves me exhausted.

One person speculated—probably whimsically—that pot might lead me to God. I actually do have experiences that are akin to mysticism, and I enjoy them, but because I don’t believe in spirits, I don't interpret them spiritually. I’m open to seeing God, but so far I’ve only seen a succession of demons. That was 30 years ago, and I didn't believe they were real even as I was looking at them, although they still scared the hell out of me (ha). More recently, I all but see music, and I do sometimes see my surroundings pulse and shimmer. Often the drug starts by enveloping me within a heavy cloak of fear and anguish, which usually gives way to such an absorption in my thoughts that I completely lose contact with the external world. To better convey the profundity of the drug, I'm going to share what a friend wrote about her experience as she was nearing the end of a bad marriage.

“I was really losing it because I didn’t know what came next; I only knew I was, by necessity, going to be losing everything and walking away from it all. My son offered me some weed…. I smoked my first bowl in 30 years…and suddenly my life looked completely different. Suddenly, I could see inside. I understood. I am not talking about the delusions we consider that seem profound at the time, but that in reality are just that—delusions. These were very real revelations about myself, and along with those revelations came the emotions, the insights, the tears, the rants, the guilt, the anxiety, and finally and essentially…the very real ME I had been keeping hidden away for years….”

Unfortunately, marijuana increases right-brain depth and self-honesty at the expense of left-brain learning, memory, and problem solving, so I mostly use it when my left brain isn't too busy. I also need to be able to stop whatever else I'm doing to write because writing becomes my obsession when I'm high. Unfortunately, very little of what I put down is ever read by anyone, including myself, and this leaves me feeling more lonely and discouraged than I might otherwise feel, but it can't be helped. As Schopenhauer wrote:

“There is some wisdom in taking a gloomy view, in looking upon the world as a kind of Hell, and in confining one's efforts to securing a little room that shall not be exposed to the fire.”

In my fantasy, all of you are here with me, and we're high. Only what do we do next--go to our separate computers and blog? Well, why the hell not? I would argue that in most cases, writing is superior to speaking, if only because it gives a person time to reflect and, hopefully, to go deeper.

About the photo. The film canister contains unground flower buds (the most desirable part of the plant); the jar contains ground flower buds that are ready to smoke; and the silver thingy is a grinder. The open-top container holds matches. The pipe was made decades ago by a friend and is about as basic as it gets, but I don't smoke a lot. I mostly simmer marijuana in butter (the odor is so strong that it spills into the yard even with the windows closed) and then use the butter to make small sugar cookies that I cut into quarters, one quarter of a cookie being as much as I would ever want. Two quarters are pictured.