Rainy days are better days

Rainy day

“Rainy days are better days for hanging out inside.”

That’s a line from a John Denver song (“Cool An’ Green An’ Shady”) that came to me this morning as I drank my coffee and looked out on a somewhat dark, dreary, and definitely rainy day.

The gutters have yet to be cleaned from the winter. My kids don’t want to do it and I am not well enough at the moment to do it myself, so a lot of the rain overflows from our roof down the windows. This changes the view outside to one that is opaque and mottled, which is appropriate as it represents the way things are in life at the moment.

At the same time, there is something better about rainy days, especially in the Spring. Rain makes the many green hues glow more brightly, somehow. The green comes from new leaves on the trees and shrubs, and the newly vigorous grass in the yard. Ok, actually, grass competing with a multitude of weeds.

Something else that seems to be invigorated right now is various creepy crawly things, especially spiders. While sitting in an armchair, a large one crawled up my leg and then my arm the other day, causing me to yelp quite loudly as I couldn’t get it to stop coming at me. I saw another large one crawling up the bathroom wall yesterday, and then a third one on the computer desk in the living room scared my youngest while we were watching a movie last night. I don’t mind most spiders but please, spiders, stay in your lane and don’t come close. That’s when you might come to harm. I’ll leave you alone if you leave me alone, capiche?

Sundays lead inevitably to Mondays, and I’ve never quite shaken off the feeling of dread that stems from my student days when this time of the week comes around and I haven’t finished all of my school work. At this stage in life, unfortunately, that is still true, although I’m the teacher now and I’m behind where I should be in preparing for my first class of a new semester. Heck, I haven’t even finished grading assignments from last semester’s class. <sigh>

Obviously, the title of this post is aspirational…

Birdsong

White-breasted nuthatch

I have been spending a lot of time lately lying in bed due to ill health. Fortunately the weather right now where I live is beautifully mild and we are able to have the windows wide open. This means as I lay in bed, I can listen to all of the birdsongs.

One of my favorites is the call of the robin at dusk or in the early morning. Cardinals are also favorites. The harsh cries of blue jays are instantly recognizable as well. We have a lot of nuthatches and woodpeckers whose birdsongs I also enjoy. The soft and somewhat melancholy song of the mourning dove is distinctive and somehow reassuring, along with the busy chatter of the chickadee.

Birdsongs are an essential element in the background chorus of daily life, and I am grateful for them.

Distrust and verify

Recent events cause me to think, and then write, about the trustworthiness of what we read or what we are told or what we see. Thus, my post title’s twist on the slogan, “trust but verify.”

A simple example is the nonexistent G.K. Chesterton quote I wrote about a few days ago. I read the quote in the preliminary pages of a mystery novel and it piqued my interest. I then began to wonder where the quote came from and because many of G.K. Chesterton’s works are in the public domain, I figured that it would be a pretty simple matter of tracking down where he wrote those words. It wasn’t, because they don’t exist. And yet the quote has taken on a life of its own as a result perhaps of repeatedly sloppy or non-existent research. Distrust and verify.

Of course, there are more complex and substantive examples in our current world of rampant, weaponized disinformation. The fact that disinformation exists is not at all new, although its level of sophistication and reach probably is. Particularly troubling is its use by democratically elected officials and various sociopolitical movements, not just by authoritarians.

Another example: when the current leader of the U.S. made comments that seemed in favor of injecting disinfectant or bleach as a way to combat COVID-19. News media went crazy with reports of a spike in medical cases of poisoning and injury due to swallowing disinfectant or bleach following this person’s ludicrous statement. I should mention, nothing would surprise me here including the gullibility of some people. However, more recently, it was reported that the peak of this phenomenon actually occurred well before those remarks were reported. (See an Ars Technica report for more detail and specifics.) Distrust and verify.

What am I proposing, then? A cynical, distrustful perception of everything? No, not really, although I admit that it takes effort for me not to see the world through that kind of viewpoint given current difficult realities. Instead, what I think about quite a lot is the word “discernment” and what it means to discern things rightly. And then when I think about discernment, I am reminded of 1 Corinthians 2:13-15. I particularly like the way the Darby translation expresses it:

“…we speak, not in words taught by human wisdom, but in those taught by the Spirit, communicating spiritual [things] by spiritual [means]. But [the] natural man does not receive the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him; and he cannot know [them] because they are spiritually discerned; but the spiritual discerns all things, and he is discerned of no one.”

I don’t pretend to grasp or understand everything about these verses, but they point to something very important. Ultimately, discernment and understanding are divinely communicated through the Holy Spirit, and what we are told, what we see, what we read are all to be filtered through that lens.

Another scripture verse comes to mind in conclusion: “Some trust in chariots and some in horses, but we trust in the name of the Lord our God.” (Psalm 20: 7 NIV)

Snapshots in the brain

On a stormy night, my mother takes a call from my father asking her to pick him up at the farm. He apparently stayed late to get some chores done. I go with her and sit in the far back, in the flat cargo area of a navy blue Ford Galaxy station wagon. When we arrive to pick up my father, I see him walking to the car as lightning flashes across the sky.

Something wakes me up; perhaps a nightmare or bad dream or a noise. I see the kitchen with the fluorescent light above the sink left on and decide to head down the hallway to my parents’ bedroom. I don’t wake them. I just lay down on the floor next to their bed and fall asleep.

In my uncle’s house, many people are gathered in the living room, dining room, and kitchen. There is a casket in the dining room that people slowly walk past, many of them crying. Others talk in hushed voices. My grandpa is in that casket. Sometime later, my mother outfits my brother and me in matching suits that she has made. Suits, but with shorts rather than pants. We go to a cemetery and run around. I look down into the big hole where my grandpa will be buried.

These are some of the snapshots in the brain that I’ve carried with me for as long as I can remember. They are my earliest memories, and at the time, I was no more than three years old.

Although a bit faded like all snapshots eventually become, these ones remain strongly imprinted in my memory, and as far as I know, they are accurate and true. I’ve asked older siblings and my mother about details and they have confirmed them. It’s a bit weird. Also weird: the next time I visited that graveyard where my grandpa was buried but thirty years later, I knew exactly where to find his grave.

Memories are precious. Part of creating this blog is to preserve some of them.

A good quote…or is it?

Recently I read the following quote, attributed to G.K. Chesterton. I thought it a very good one, worth sharing:

“To love means loving the unlovable. To forgive means pardoning the unpardonable. Faith means believing the unbelievable. Hope means hoping when everything seems hopeless.”

The problem is that so far, I cannot verify that Chesterton ever in fact wrote it. This is driving the librarian in me crazy. If anyone knows the exact source — in which of Chesterton’s writings this statement is found — I’d be very grateful.

UPDATE: I’ve since determined pretty definitively that Chesterton never wrote this, or anything close to it. Thanks to an archivist friend, I found several sources, including this one, that debunk that notion.

Dogs are special gifts

Dogs are special gifts to us humans.

Take, for example, the dog shown in the featured photo for this post, a mini Australian Shepherd who happens to be deaf. She is one of three dogs in our household, and my favorite.

Although a family dog and one who loves everybody, she seems to enjoy my company, and I feel like I have a strong bond with her. She is about 18 months old, so she is mature in terms of growth, but still quite young.

Few things warm my heart as much as her excitement at seeing me after an absence, the way she greets me, and the way she often chooses to lay at my feet. Because of hearing loss, she is very visual as well as sensitive to touch. She has such a sweet nature, and isn’t one to make a lot of fuss, unlike our two other dogs.

Rather than handicapped, I view her as special, in the best sense of that word: a special gift.

YouTube bingeing

Like many others during this lockdown period, I’ve overdosed a bit on watching YouTube videos on nights and weekends. It turns out, though, that it’s not all a waste of time, of looking at mindless drivel. Some channels are quite interesting and educational. Others, like the seemingly endless number of Carol Burnett Show clips, are somewhat mindless but they most definitely are not drivel. Humor is really important and necessary, now more than ever, and few shows have ever been as consistently funny as that one.

My wife told me about Doing It Ourselves, a new channel on YouTube, and I have enjoyed each weekly installment. The channel documents a family’s experience with buying and fixing up a grand French chateau. The channel’s creator/narrator, named Michael, is amazingly gifted, and I particularly enjoy the fact that he has chosen an approach to telling his stories that is positive, interesting, and real, with a bit of humor thrown in for good measure from time to time. The amount of hard work put into the chateau and its environs is inspiring.

I also stumbled across a channel about a guy named Daniel who decided to chuck the rat race to build a sustainable life for himself in the rural West Country of Ireland. He bought a small property with a decrepit old cottage and some outbuildings a few years ago, and set about restoring everything. Mossy Bottom tells the story of his experiences so far, along with his faithful dog, Moss, and a growing menagerie of other animals. This series inspires, educates, and amuses in turn. I admire Daniel’s ethics as well as his vision for his life.

Then there are musicians who’ve decided to hold mini concerts from home since they cannot tour. These aren’t a big deal to me with the exception of a regular weekly series of performances by Mary Chapin Carpenter called Songs from Home. I like some of her music, true, but I especially enjoy what she has to say and how she says it, and above all else, her dog, a beautiful golden retriever named Angus. As Mary says at the end of each session: Stay strong, stay mighty.

These are only a few of the things I’ve been watching. Another good series is Dinner with the Gaffigans by the American comedian, Jim Gaffigan, who films his dinner table conversations with fellow comedian and wife, Jeannie, and their five kids in lockdown in New York City. There is a lot of dreck on YouTube, just as there is on social media and the Internet in general, but I hope these mentions show that there is also a lot of good stuff worth watching to expand the mind and lift your spirits.

So, what’s next?

After a low key debut a day ago for this latest blog effort, what’s next?

Many different thoughts are jumbled together in my head at the moment, and because of COVID-19, each day seems to blend into the next one without a whole lot of variation.

I’m thinking, for example, of how my living room window has become my TV, especially in the early morning as I sit in an armchair next to it, sipping my coffee and assessing the day ahead. We live on a hill with the living room on the steep side. This means that the view is over the rooftops of neighboring houses and showcases the many mature trees in our area, primarily large oak and pine trees. We are blessed (?) with many squirrels and raccoons, as well as a wide variety of birds, which are what I particularly like to watch. It all makes for interesting viewing, a mixture of drama and comedy and everything in between. The featured photo for this post was taken from that living room window on a recent gloomy and foggy day. The word ‘atmospheric’ comes to mind when looking at it.

Another thing on my mind at the moment is the amount of work I need to do to finish the class I’ve taught this Spring, and the constant weight of guilt I feel about how the class went. Even before COVID-19 hit, the semester seemed a mess. It was the first time teaching this particular class, however, and even in the best of circumstances, the first time is always extra challenging and difficult. Then, too, I don’t have much time to prepare for the next class I’ll be teaching over the summer, which starts in just a few short weeks.

Some days, difficult situations at work and at home get to be too much, so I decided to take Thursday and Friday as vacation. However, Thursday was spent trying to cope with a migraine, and Friday, I accomplished pretty much zero other than a long nap and creating this blog. The concept of productivity has also been on my mind a lot lately, and I’ve appreciated and learned from various articles in the news advising us to think differently about productivity during the time of the coronavirus. Actually, it seems to me that the coronavirus has nothing to do with it, or shouldn’t. By this I mean that the time is ripe for reimagining what accomplishments and productivity really mean, and whether they should have such an important place in our daily lives, regardless of living in a time of pandemic.

A final thought in closing is about the value and experience of counseling. I began counseling late last year with some trepidation, for the first time in my life. My reasons for seeking counseling are many and complex, but I think the most valuable aspect of it is in helping me to develop and strengthen good and healthy relational habits. Counseling is also helping me to come to terms with many long term and painful past experiences.

So, what’s next? My desire for what’s next is a more thoughtful and balanced perspective on life, and one that is also more redolent with peace, hope, and joy.

Welcome to a new blog

After a long absence and two previous blogs that I deliberately deleted out of existence (you won’t even find them on the Wayback Machine), here I go again. The About page explains my choice of blog name, so I won’t regurgitate that whole story here.

Writing is important, necessary, and sometimes, therapeutic. Doing it well is difficult and takes practice. For all of these reasons and more, it seems a good thing now to get some practice in via this latest blog. If I attract a readership, great, but that is not the only goal.

I think about a wide variety of topics, so don’t expect a consistent focus. But something I really hope to do here over time is to begin to flesh out stories of my family, of my growing up years. At this life stage, I frequently look back on my family history and realize there are many interesting stories to tell, and I want to somehow document them. Maybe someday my own children will read them and pass things along to their children. My childhood was very different from theirs, after all.

Other topics to come include questions about and experiences with faith and theology, exploring the natural world via photography, and reflections on librarianship and my extensive experience with teaching those who want to become librarians. The tone used will range from possibly profound to simply silly.