FRESH BITS 4/24: Interesting Things to Do and Read

It’s Friday. Time for another FRESH BITS. This week, seven fresh things across a range of topics for you to read, do, or just think about, plus four bonuses. I hope they help you enjoy this weekend a little bit more.

Imitate the trees. Learn to lose in order to recover, and remember that nothing stays the same for long. – May Sarton

  1. Now is a good time to be more educated on food expiration dates. Are they critical? Can you go past them, and if so, by how much? This NYTimes article sheds some light on the subject. You may be surprised to learn why food products are dated.
  2. Hamlet as a Vlogger, uploading soliloquies as breakdowns? If you’re a Shakespeare fan, you may enjoy this modern adaptation of the classic on YouTube. (Free-use image via Google Images.)
  3. In honor of Earth Day, which happened earlier this week, think on this thought as we are experiencing the wonder of what happens when humans stop polluting the Earth:

    Treat the Earth well. It was not given to you by your parents, it was loaned to you by your children. – Native American proverb

  4. Escaping into nature is a great way to take your mind off you-know-what. There’s a ton of virtual tours out there, but this one on the Brooklyn Botanical Gardens’ Japanese Garden with cherry blossoms in full bloom is delightful. The virtual walk through takes 18 minutes and is full screen with sound. This historic garden, one of the country’s oldest surviving public Japanese gardens, is worth some virtual wandering.
  5. What better example of nature’s glory than in America’s own backyard and our National Parks. But, of course, we can’t actually visit any right now, so another virtual tour opportunity exists via the The Hidden World of the National Parks. Currently, nine are available and perhaps one is your favorite park you can revisit and rekindle memories, or another you’ve yet to see.
  6. I seem to be on a nature kick this week, but it was Earth Day earlier in the week so why not. The University of the Pacific scanned and made John Muir’s fascinating journals available. Some serious study opportunity for the scholar, but easier by clicking Switch View to see a descriptive link about each page spread.
  7. While Neil Gaiman, in his well-known Make Good Art commencement address, promotes making good art when times are bad, Austin Kleon has a twist on the concept (especially apt in these different times):  Make Bad Art, Too.

    “Good” can be a stifling word, a word that makes you hesitate and stare at a blank page and second-guess yourself and throw stuff in the trash. What’s important is to get your hands moving and let the images come. Whether it’s good or bad is beside the point. Just make something. – Austin Kleon

 

BONUS BITS

  1. What I’m reading this week: Diving into some neglected books by a favorite non-fiction brilliant mind, Rebecca Solnit. Starting back into Wanderlust:  A History of Walking. That’s something most of us can still do and is the primary outdoors therapy these days. New:  I’ll be linking to Book Depository going forward instead of Amazon. I buy most books from my local indie, but for broader reach and tapping UK/European published books, can’t beat Book Depository. Good prices, deep US (and other stock), and free U.S. shipping.
  2. What I’m watching this week: Back to an old fav, Time Team. Amazon Prime Video released more seasons/episodes, so back to my friends (I’ve watched them so much I feel they are that) the dirt diggers.
  3. What I’m listening to this week: I follow a few podcasts, but one daily listen that’s been a faithful companion for probably well over 30 years is The Writer’s Almanac. Don’t know how much longer Garrison Keilor will recored these, and perhaps they’ll go the way of Car Talk (repeat broadcasts after one of the hosts passed away). In the meantime, it’s a daily five-minute dipping into writers, writerly news, and a daily poem. Great way to start the day.
  4. Poem of the week is a healthy thing, because poetry can help us understand and cope better with so many things. Plus, a good one may just become a lifelong friend.

The Guest House

This being human is a guest house.

Every morning a new arrival.

A joy, a depression, a meanness,
some momentary awareness comes
as an unexpected visitor.

Welcome and entertain them all!

Even if they are a crowd of sorrows,
who violently sweep your house
empty of its furniture,
still, treat each guest honorably.

He may be clearing you out
for some new delight.

The dark thought, the shame, the malice.

Meet them at the door laughing and invite them in.
Be grateful for whatever comes.

Because each has been sent
as a guide from beyond.

Jellaludin Rumi,  translation by Coleman Barks

 

Please comment and let me know what you think of this list. Also consider signing up at the right to follow and receive new post email notifications.

You-Don’t-Love-Me-Anymore Syndrome

Late last year, I sold the RV and bought a new Subaru Crosstrek. Love my new ride, and was looking forward to some serious road trips come warmer weather. Plus, plans were to add a Thule roof box and do some serious backwoods camping, too.

Fast-forward to life-as-we-now-know-it-now and not only are those dreams on hold, but I’m rarely driving my beloved Subie. Outside of the every 10 days Trader Joe’s runs, it sits idle, alone, in my complex parking spot. Abandoned, so to speak.

When I go by it on the way to my daily walks, I can faintly hear it whimpering, “You don’t write, you don’t call, you don’t love me anymore!” Yeah, not really hearing that, but these days daydreaming and imagination have to fill in for the entertainment void.

But, there’s hope.

My sketching friend TK reminded me it’s not only possible, but does work, to drive somewhere, sit in the car, and sketch. There’s even a hashtag for this rebellious activity:  #USkincar (USK is the acronym for Urban Sketching).

So don’t fret Subie, my pal:  we’ll start having some play dates ahead while I sit in your comfy seats and sketch something cool that’s on the other side of the windshield. Beats having to sit somewhere public and sketch while wearing the latest in face mask fashion.

Sunday, April 19 – Journal Snippets

More unedited bits from my journal this week. Sharing these helps keep me encouraged try to journal something every day. These Sunday posts also give me a concise weekly review of the more impactful journal moments.

 

April 13 – Nights, and bed times, come sooner when my day begins at 5! If this were indeed a monastery, my day would begin even earlier and in bed before dark. Not much different to what’s now.

 

April 15 – More strange, conflict dreams last night. They say dreaming increases during a crisis like this, with mostly restless bad dreams. But I contend my increase in embracing a stoic philosophy may simply be removing opportunities for negative thoughts, thus they are coming out more in my dreams instead. Eh…it’s a theory.

 

April 15 – Work ahead is necessary to settle direction and foundation. Past the “wonder when” phase and feel it’s now starting the “be like this indefinitely” phase.

 

April 16 – Walk today bubbled up some good thoughts about an ideal day’s structure for me:  mornings creating (writing), afternoon mechanics, evenings relaxing, reflecting, reading. Whether this is doable and sustainable remains to be be seen.

 

April 17 – Day by day mentality still working well and filling time with productive, relaxing, and reflective moments.

 

April 18 – Outside on back patio with sunshine! Yesterday a blizzard, today sunshine and blue skies. Michigan spring, I guess.

 

Are you journaling in these dark times? Let me know if you are in the comments, or if you’re just starting and have questions.

Journaling is not only cheap therapy and a useful (and safe) place to rant, cuss, blast this or that person…or it can be a great way to encourage your own actions and behaviors. Doesn’t matter how or in what. Some like journaling at the end of the day to capture what you did, what you thought, etc., others start their day journaling.

Either way, the most important thing is to just start and write down your thoughts every day. Consistency makes a big difference between journaling being just a diary and one with more reflective observations.

Dream

Free stock photo; sketch filter applied

In my dream, I was walking the familiar wooded paths nearby on a crisp, bright, winter’s day. Yet, something was different.

Being the only one patiently walking these leave-covered trails winding through hardwood trees was nothing new. Not hearing any road noise from nearby highways, however, was new.

Soon I stopped to let my mind wander. I gazed out through the tall standing, hibernating trees, silently awaiting nature’s spring command to “leaf forward.” As I stood there in my thoughts, a large, black crow flew down and landed on a limb near me.

  1. Crow: “Caw. Caw. What are you doing out here, human?”
  2. Me: “I’m walking as I usually do on a beautiful winter morning. What are you doing out here? Hunting for food?”

The sleek, jet black feathered crow hesitated and picked at something in his feathery coat with his big, jet black beak.

  1. Crow: “I flew down to see if my eyes were true: it IS a human walking.”
  2. Me: “Why is that a surprise, crow?”
  3. Crow: “Because there’s none of you left on Earth. Now it’s just nature and natural things, as intended.”

As those words sank in, I was not fearful, but surprised. It explained the absence of the usual noises, plus why I saw no one as I walked through my housing complex on the way to the woods.

  1. Me: “I’m the only one left? How can this be? And how would you even know that?”
  2. Crow: “Caw! Caw! Caw! Because you humans finally did yourselves in for good. The pandemic, so poorly prepared for made even worse by letting people out of homes too soon. Then more got sick and died. Then you stayed inside, then you let more roam too soon. Death, stupidity, death, stupidity. It’s a cycle we nature citizens have watched from you humans for so many millennia. Caw!”

I pondered on the Crow’s wisdom and insight, not wanting to believe it was true. But I could not deny or defend humanity’s poor behavior throughout the centuries and our creative ways to self-destruct and ruin the Earth.

  1. Me: “You may well be right, Crow, but I still have hope. Maybe I’m not the only one left. Maybe others are out there and we can start again, this time knowing how to do things better?”
  2. Crow: “We’ve been watching and knowing it was only a matter of time. If not something like this virus, it would be humans killing humans in senseless, total annihilation war. We wondered which would come first, or if you’d finally destroy nature enough to make the Earth unsurvivable for your kind.
  3. We nature beings are not sad it happened this way. This time, while you tried to protect humans by staying in for long periods, the Earth healed quickly. We thank you for that and leaving us with a clean world to thrive in.”

We both remained silent and unmoving. Soon, with a final, loud “caw” the crow extended wings and slowly ascended into the sky.

Then I woke up.

FRESH BITS 4/17: Interesting Things to Do and Read

Eight fresh things to read, do, or just think about, plus four bonuses. I hope they help you enjoy this weekend a little bit more.

Nature does not hurry, yet everything is accomplished. – Lao Tzu

  1. How to Tell Your Husband You’re a Witch is, perhaps, an odd Covid-19 essay, but perhaps what we need now are more witches! Heaven knows we have too many devils right now, so having more good witches couldn’t hurt. Am I right?
  2. Libby is an app from which you can borrow digital reads from your library. I’ve been using Libby for several years, but what a perfect time now to expand your book options. Here our library’s been closed for over a month, and Libby’s helped fill that gap nicely.
  3. This is way more than cool:  EXPLORE lets you pick and watch live webcams from all over the world by type of place, wildlife, etc. I can remember watching one of these years ago of a hawk’s nest with eggs about to hatch. The wonder of seeing that live was amazing.
  4. I’ve loved Fran Liebowitz‘s writing and way of approaching life since I discovered her decades ago. If you’re a fan of New York City and of this great thinker/curmudgeon/social commenter who’s a refreshing holdover since the days of Dorothy Parker, then you’ll love this interview with her in The New Yorker magazine.
  5. This fascinating aerial study of Hong Kong’s fountains is both art and mesmerism combined into one. Good art is always captivating and this explores a way of seeing these designs in a form that’s impossible from the ground.
  6. If you’re a fan of classic, black & white movies, you’ll enjoy this excellent montage of bloopers. How many films and stars of the golden years of Hollywood can you recognize? And fun to know they knew all the same, choice cuss words!
  7. Are you a fan of the Moomin world by Tove Jansson? Here’s a fascinating The New Yorker article that’s a dive into the author, her world, and how those delightful characters came about.
  8. Sage and timely from James Clear  (and just about all of the rest of us who practice meditation and mindfulness). Try it. I imagine afterwards you’ll be a bit less stressed, more relaxed, and what’s two minutes right now when we all have loads of time on our hands?

    Can you sit still, do nothing, and breathe deeply for the next two minutes?”

BONUS BITS

  1. What I’m reading this week: Digging into more stoicism with what is generally acknowledged as an easy-slope, intro book: A Guide to the Good Life: The Ancient Art of Stoic Joy by William B. Irvine. Like most of my stoic studies, about 80% is stuff I’ve been doing fo years naturally. Nice to learn, though, more of the history behind the stoics and fill in that other ~20%.
  2. What I’m watching this week: Working on getting into Amazon Prime’s Tales From the Loop, but not quite there yet. Too many surreal things going on in the real world to make fantasy/sci-fi seem like something different.
  3. What I’m listening to this week: My de-facto choice when doing a creative project (not fresh writing per se), or working the shop and order processing:  the 1857 Podcast:Two guys talking about analogue pursuits in a digital world – and a fair amount of nonsense too. Two guys, I should add, with delightful British and Irish accents. I could sit and listen to them read their grocery list and be enthralled.
  4. New feature: Poem of the week, because, you know, poetry can help us understand the foundations of our thinking and aid in healing. Plus, a good one may just become a lifelong friend.

Lost

Stand still. The trees ahead and bushes beside you
Are not lost. Wherever you are is called Here,
And you must treat it as a powerful stranger,
Must ask permission to know it and be known.
The forest breathes. Listen. It answers,
I have made this place around you.
If you leave it, you may come back again, saying Here.
No two trees are the same to Raven.
No two branches are the same to Wren.
If what a tree or a bush does is lost on you,
You are surely lost. Stand still. The forest knows
Where you are. You must let it find you.

David Wagoner (1999)

 

Please comment and let me know what you think of this list. Also consider signing up at the right to follow and receive new post email notifications.

Pandemic Perambulations

The trek to Trader Joe’s last week felt like going to Disneyland, but instead of Mickey Mouse and Goofy greeting me, gloved workers festooned with decorative face masks happily welcomed me in. Good to get out, drive, take in fresh scenery, and walk through the wonderland of newly stocked shelves loaded with that most privileged and appreciated commodity in these dark times: food.

Compared to daily walks around the complex or in the nearby woods, driving somewhere feels like I’m channeling Steve McQueen as he rides his motorcycle in his escape from the WWII prison camp. He eludes pursuers over hill and dale, but eventually gets caught trying to jump that final fence to freedom. Alas, like McQueen, I also have to return and continue the days ahead in semi-solitary confinement.

These periodic food runs and frequent walks outside the home remind me of things I miss doing and likely took for granted back then. The ability to go out on a whim, explore a museum, or think nothing of driving over an hour to Ohio for that pan of amazing coffee cake were delights I did not fully appreciate then. How could I, when they were anytime, anywhere options? Now it feels like a naughty pleasure to get out, triggering some religion-induced guilt for enjoying it so.

Once outside, I think I must be in a Twilight Zone episode, that one where everything looked normal and in place, except there were no people, anywhere. On some days, walks in the woods feel like I’m the last human on Earth. Except for the distant sound of highway traffic, it’s not a stretch to have those thoughts. But wait…up ahead, someone masked and gloved approaches. So I’m not the last. Soon those thoughts give way to the new, autonomic social distancing dance, once clumsy, but now just is.

My growing list of basic things now grateful for, perhaps not as much as before, finds walking at the top. Rewind back to 2004, my year of back surgery to correct a problem that evolved into being unable to walk without severe pain. After post-surgery recovery, there were still moments when I mentally wrestled with accepting I wouldn’t walk well again, but eventually those thoughts dissipated.

Since then, I’ve always been grateful for my recovered ability to walk freely, possibly that most precious of human abilities that opens doors to so many experiences and enables self-reliance. My love of hiking and walking, it seems, would not be denied and ever since, have been grateful for every step I could take.

“The geographical pilgrimage is the symbolic acting out of an inner journey. The inner journey is the interpolation of the meanings and signs of the outer pilgrimage. One can have one without the other. It is best to have both.” – Thomas Merton

The power to move from here to there, without mechanical conveyance, is a marvel and a lifelong art form. The fluidity of muscles moving in harmony with joints, driven by the lung’s unselfish in- and out-breaths in rhythm with the heart’s life-pump, are as mysterious and amazing as any modern technology.

As I walk and earn that magical moment, what those who jog call “runner’s high,” all cares slip away and only the moment is in focus. The sensory delights of surroundings combine with the meditative and therapeutic value of a good walk completes the experience. Having the capability and opportunity to walk freely during these dark times is my daily taste of freedom…for now.

“An Eskimo custom offers an angry person release by walking the emotion out of his or her system in a straight line across the landscape, the point at which anger is conquered is marked with a stick, bearing witness to the strength or length of the rage.” – Lucy Lippard, “Overlay”

“I stride along with calm, with eyes, with shoes,
with fury, with forgetfulness.”
– Pablo Neruda