Lawns Are an Ecological Disaster

I’ve always hated cutting grass, from my teenage years when it was my only source of income to being a homeowner. And of course, they’re biological and chemical nightmares:

“I’ve heard lawns compared to a biological desert … That’s really unfair, because deserts can be very diverse places.”

Many years ago, I attended an exhibit on American lawns. A few squibs I remember:

  • Lawns are status symbols. A large expanse of lawn shows you’re rich enough to own such a large property and to tend it.

  • Lawns are security buffers. A large expanse of lawn, sans trees or bushes, means no one can sneak up on you without being seen. High-security institutions have big open fields around them.

I cannot wait for the day when I can sell off my lawn mower and never walk behind one of those damned things again.

See also

The American Obsession with Lawns - Scientific American Blog Network

Reading for Information vs Transformation vs ...?

Steve Edwards reads a lot into his bookstore visits:

In my twenties the question was never “What do I want to read?” but rather “Who do I want to be?”—and bookstores were shrines I pilgrimaged to for answers … Now when I wander the aisles, it’s not just some future self I imagine but a past one. There aren’t just books to read but books I’ve already read. Lives I’ve lived. Hopes abandoned. Dreams deferred. The bookstore is still a shrine but more and more what I find aren’t answers to questions but my own unwritten histories.

Later on, he discovers folks in the bookstore who do not seem buffeted by these gales of self-interrogation:

They scan titles and pull books from the shelf and study dust-jackets in deep concentration: older folks in their fifties, sixties, seventies, and beyond. People with far more stories than my meager few. Lifelong readers. Book addicts. I watch them sometimes and wonder what drives their choices. How does reading evolve? Are books to us as leaves are to trees, feeding us while we hold them, then decomposing and feeding us again after we’ve let them go? I’m heartened by my elders. Humbled. I wonder if instead of asking “Who do I want to be?” they ask themselves, “What do I want to read?”

If I read PG Wodehouse to answer the question “Who do I want to be?” then I was definitely asking the wrong question. But I think I was still reading the right book — for me, on that day, at that time.

At 57, my advice to Steve would be to follow Randell Jarrell’s imperative: “Read at whim! read at whim!” And relax, for God’s sake.

And Yet It Fools Everybody

Callow American reporter — and skeptic — Jack Walser ponders “half-woman, half-swan” Sophie Fevvers’ trapeze act and remembers ancient tricks he saw performed when he traveled the world:

In Kathmandu, he saw the fakir on a bed of nails, all complete, soar up until he was level with the painted demons on the eaves of the wooden houses; what, said the old man, heavily bribed, would be the point of the illusion if it looked like an illusion? For, opined the old charlatan to Walser with po-faced solemnity, is not this whole world an illusion? And yet it fools everybody.

Angela Carter, Nights at the Circus (1984) (Penguin reissue, 1993)

Tech Ailments in America


Just what tech-induced ailments do we suffer from, and how do we describe them? To answer this question, we conducted an extensive analysis of Google search trends and traditional media to identify how people talk about their conditions and how they search for relief.

A very clean set of infographics and analysis breaking down the search terms related to the most searched-for ailments of the (from most- to least-searched) thumbs, elbows, neck, eyes, and shoulders. Plus, which states searched the most on which type of ailments. North Carolina appears to be all thumbs, which is no surprise if you know our State Legislature.

Honorable mentions: nomophobia, phantom vibration syndrome, and smartphone pinky.

Batched Delivery of Gmails to my Inbox

I am always and forever tweaking how I use Gmail.

I wrote about a script to send an email on a schedule, but I abandoned that. It was too much trouble to use and I found that I had no real need for it. I can use Spark if I really want to schedule the delivery of an email.

I evaluated Boomerang for this option but Boomerang added too much overhead and clutter to my Gmail experience. However, Boomerang had a couple of neat options I’d not run across before: it could pause delivery of email to the inbox for a specified period of time (for when you really don’t want to be bothered by email) and it could deliver batches of email to the inbox at intervals defined by the user.

I’m the classic inbox-checking personality type, so withholding email from me so that I checked it less gave me a nice break.

Search on “pause gmail” and you’ll find a couple of paid options and a couple of free Chrome extensions that can handle that task for you.

I didn’t know about those options before implementing the following free, though techy, approach to roughly the same thing. MIT student Kenneth Friedman wrote a few lines of Google Scripts code that diverts incoming email from the inbox to a new label then, at a specified interval, moves the emails in a batch to the inbox.

Friedman’s code relies on Google Developer Code for the timing trigger, which is not as fine-grained or customizable as the commercial options. The commercial options let you specify specific times of day when email will be moved to the inbox (every 10am and 2pm, for example) and can make it easier to let emails from specific senders slip through the filter.

The Google Developer Code is not that flexible. I need to tweak the Gmail filters myself if I want to be sure to receive emails from specific people. And although timing intervals can vary (by seconds, minutes, hours, and so on), Friedman recommends selecting an interval of every 4 hours. Intervals of 2, 6, 8, 10, and 12 hours could be selected instead; finding the right interval is a personal call.

I chose an interval of every 6 hours; I think the 6-hour intervals began after I saved that choice, but I am not sure. In any case, my emails get delivered four times a day at roughly midnight, 6 am, 12pm, and 6pm. That’s a nice spread for me. (And if I really really need to check email urgently, it’s easy to just click on the All Mail label.)

If you’re not interested in technical challenges and mucking around in Google Scripts code, then don’t bother with Friedman’s process. Go for Boomerang or Inbox When Ready and pay $5/month; it’s easier, more precise, and a little less nerve-wracking.

Update, 2019-02-14: I’ve been involved in some intensive committee work that has been sending lots of emails my way and required me to check and answer my email more often. The way to cheat on this batching Gmail method is simply to view All Mail, which will display all the mail queued in the batch. I still like the system, though, so I’m changing the delivery time from 6 hours to 2 hours. This will allow me to respond in a decent amount of time without subverting the system. More later.

macOS: Ignore Ownership on an External Drive

I bought a 4TB external drive last year. I created two partitions: one to hold a Carbon Copy Cloner backup of my iMac and the other to be a generic external drive.

CCC has been working great but I have had the devil’s own time simply copying files to the external partition.

For security reasons that were a holdover from my MacBook days, I have created an Administrator user account and a Mike user account (which I use all the time). The Mike user does not have all the power of the Administrator, by design: if some bad software wants to write to the drive, it will not have the permission to do so. When installing software or making some changes, I have to enter the Administrator credentials to carry out the operation. It can be tedious sometimes, but it does not happen often and I’m used to it.

I think, too, Apple’s recent emphasis on security in its operating system releases have raised some barriers that weren’t there before. I don’t remember, for example, having this much trouble doing simple file management operations on an external drive. Even simply creating a folder or copying a file required me to enter my Administrator credentials for every single operation.

I finally got fed up this morning, Googled around, tried some things, and discovered the fix.

The first thing I did was follow Apple’s instructions for changing permissions in the Home directory and perform the same procedure for the external drive. No joy.

The second thing I did was so incredibly simple I almost wept: from the partition’s Get Info window in the Finder, check the option “Ignore ownership on this volume.” I checked the box and immediately was able to create folders, move and copy files, etc. O frabjous day! Thanks, Larry Jordan!

See Also

Clearing Automatic Album Ratings in iTunes

I tend to rate songs or tracks in iTunes or iOS Music with stars, as I’ve written about before. As Kirk McElhearn explains, recent versions if iTunes automatically calculate song and album ratings for an entire album even if you’ve manually rated only one song. This totally ruined Kirk’s — and my — smart playlists.

The only surefire way to solve the problem is to use Applescripts to clear the imputed album and track ratings — that appear in iTunes as gray stars — so that the only tracks that are rated are the ones I’ve manually selected — blue stars.

Two good solutions are the Album Rating Reset script from Doug’s Applescripts (I select “None/clear”), or the ClearAlbumAutoRating script from this Apple Support forum thread (scroll down to the post from “turingtest2”, which links to four Applescripts that both clear or restore auto ratings).

When I’m poking around inside iTunes and browsing albums, I find the ClearAlbumAutoRating script to be the easiest and quickest to use. Just select the album or a track, run the script, and the despised album rating disappears.

But for playlists or large selections of multiple albums, I like Doug Adams’ script. The beautiful aspect of Doug’s script is its simplicity. Run the script to display the Album Rating Reset window. Select a playlist or group of albums and the script gathers all the necessary track and album info; it told me, for example, that my 2-star playlist contained 125 albums. I selected an album rating of “None/clear”, clicked Apply, and saw my beloved playlist cleared of those gray-starred blemishes.

On Throwing Out My Old Memorabilia

Tonight, as part of our attic cleanup, I processed a box that I’ve probably not seen since I put it up there in, oh, 1995.

It contained stacks of memorabilia from when I was active in local community theatre in the early ‘90s. For each play, I had a large manila envelope that contained the script, signed programs, opening night and closing night cards and well wishes, any reviews, and so on. (Rather like Twyla Tharp’s boxes.)

On the outside of the envelope, I’d recorded director’s notes, schedule changes, reminders, and so on. I must have carried the envelope to every rehearsal, based on the different types of ink. I did not remember doing that so I was rather pleased, in a nerdy way, to see I was thinking of systems and managing/packaging information.

If I had come across a box like that in my 20s, even in my 30s, I’d have opened every envelope, read each card, thumbed through the script to read my highlighted lines, and soaked myself in the nostalgia of that time.

But today, at 57, I found it easy to smile at the memory of these artifacts, to put them back in the box, and to put the box by the door where it will find its way to the recycle bin.

I expect I will feel the same when I finally get to the box with my high school and college yearbooks. Liz will want to page through them to see what I looked like then. But I have no interest in them at all; in fact, I thought I’d already gotten rid of them years ago.

I don’t remember what Marie Kando says about processing memorabilia, but it’s easy to apply her question to such items: do they bring me joy? Right now? I know I delighted in receiving opening-night cards and gifts at the time; it was part of the fun of being in a production.

But they hold little to no emotional charge for me now. I see them as, again, artifacts. Or better: souvenirs collected by someone else living in a different time and place.

"Funemployment" During a Government Shutdown

As of this writing, we are in Day 19 of Dunning K. Trump’s shutdown of the government.

I’ve worked since 2005 as government contractor. Therefore, I’m subject not only to the whims of antagonistic branches of government, but also to my employer’s rules and regulations. During the last extended government shutdown, my employer actually paid for a week of our time, which gave everyone a morale boost. The contract has changed hands two or three times since then; my current employer will not, I believe, treat us that nicely. (But it is already treating us nicer than another firm we heard about: they laid off their staff during the 2013 shutdown and then hired them back at lower rates.)

The first 10 or so days of the shutdown, I was on Christmas vacation. So last week and this week have presented challenges in managing dark thoughts and staying busy.

  • I’m rather stoic about it all, I must say. There’s nothing I can do about the weather; there’s nothing I can do about this shutdown. All I can do is protect myself and hunker down. So I’ve not been troubled by gloom and doom thoughts because I know I’m OK.

  • Thanks to YNAB, I have enough money in the bank to help me meet my obligations for at least two months. So that preparation relieves me of a significant amount of stressed thinking.

  • One thing I’m doing differently this time is “hyper-scheduling” my days; I got the idea from David Sparks, who wrote a series of posts on the practice. Basically, you put your to-do list in the calendar, scheduling when and for how long you’ll do each task.

    During previous layoffs/unemployment, I would sometimes have whole days on my hands with nothing planned. This sounds wonderful until the 4th or 5th day, when I could feel the negative thinking start to kick up. Now, I plan the next day’s activities on the afternoon or evening before. Every hour is accounted for, whether it’s “Exercise,” “Yardwork,” or “Coffee and book.” Knowing the day’s contours ahead of time relaxes me; it provides a sense of purpose to the day so I’m not figuring everything out as I go.

    So far this week, I’ve cleared the front and back yards of leaves, taken donations to the thrift store, vacuumed the house and kept up with the clothes-washing, taken care of cohousing tasks, cleared miscellaneous errands, &tc. Estimating how long an activity will take really helps me to see that I cannot do it all in one day. I don’t know how I’d have gotten even half of these things done in a typical weekend.

    Tomorrow, I have a haircut, look in on a friend, review cohousing materials for an upcoming meeting, work out, process a box from the attic, write a blog post, and tinker with the vinyl digitizing software (my fun project for the winter). There’s loads more, but that’s enough for an example.

    Sparks’s post deals with the typical objections people make: what about when an emergency happens, aren’t you locking yourself in, &tc. He addresses those questions well.

  • My friend Bob shared a new word he’s heard: “funemployment.” Well, I won’t call it fun. But I am enjoying my time off and like catching up on postponed projects. In a way, this time has been an extension of my Christmas break. And I am grateful for being privileged enough to benefit from it.

Clearing Out Those "Someday" Projects

We’re downsizing in preparation for moving house in a couple of years. To that end, all those boxes in the attic and all those projects in the closet now have to be reckoned with. We thought we’d get to them “someday.” And so, right on its own schedule, “someday” has arrived.

From the attic, the first thing we’re doing is pulling down boxes and boxes of yearly receipts, tax returns, etc. I spent one afternoon sorting through 1990 and 1992 receipts: so much paper! Checkbook stubs, pay stubs, bills for utilities, credit card, medical receipts, &tc.

And it was astonishing to me to see how often my social security ID was used as an identifier on my bank statements, on some medical statements, and a few other items. I’m keeping the last 7 years of required receipts and tax returns, but am tossing the rest and shredding any paper with personally identifiable information.

We try, every weekend, to go upstairs and bring down one or two boxes of old papers or memorabilia to sort through and make decisions about. Usually I bring down a box for me to process and one for Liz. The goal is to not return anything to the attic. If it’s staying, it’s going into a sturdy, clear bin that will stand up over time better than old paper boxes.

The attic run is turning into an every other weekend trip, but still — one must start and keep starting.

As for my two office closets … One holds a giant metal 4-drawer filing cabinet, with a shelf of miscellaneous tech, software, stationery, and the like. I’m saving that closet for another day.

The second closet holds a shelf of blank books (I have way too many blank books) and binders (I went through a period where I binderized my progress on projects or collected info on specific topics into binders); a bookcase with books, old journals, Tarot decks. &tc.; a couple of bankers boxes of comics; a pile of backpacks, gym bags, and duffle bags “just in case”; and a set of shelves holding our combined vinyl collection and CDs. There may even be cassettes there, but I haven’t looked closely.

One of my 2019 winter goals is to digitize the vinyl. When we moved to this house in 1995, we had shed many of our albums but kept just as many. I had a very nice Sony turntable for a bit in my office but used it very little. There was no convenient way to listen to the old albums. And digitizing albums with the PC and Mac computers I had over the years was more trouble than it was worth. I gifted the turntable to a co-worker.

Late last year, my banjo teacher gifted me with a USB turntable he was not using. Hooking it up to my big iMac was easy, and there’s plenty of room on the desk to hold both. There is also much better software and guidance these days on digitizing vinyl than when I tried before.

I will wallow in the vinyl-digitizing swamp for a few days until a repeatable workflow emerges, at which point I’ll document it here.

As for the binders, the CDs, the books … in their own time.

The Dumbest Publishing Platform on the Web

Write something, hit publish, and it's live.

There's no tracking, ad-tech, webfonts, analytics, javascript, cookies, databases, user accounts, comments, friending, likes, follower counts or other quantifiers of social capital. The only practical way for anyone to find out about a posting is if the author links to it elsewhere.

Allen Jacobs notes in his newsletter that it appears you can’t edit what you’ve posted or take it down.

What you publish is also not scraped by the search engines. So, as the site says, “you can scream into the void and know the form of your voice is out there forever.“

Fill Every Single Empty Moment

Nielsen-Norman Group UX study conclusion:

This compulsion to fill the silence is related to the Vortex phenomenon, which refers to people’s lack of control over the amount of time they spend online, due to continuous digital temptations that pull them deeper and deeper into interacting with their devices. As people feel the need to fill every single empty moment, they are more and more drawn to their devices, as an easy way to satisfy that need.

I love my iPhone SE, but I have noticed recently how it has become a fidget device. In a theater waiting for the movie to start, at a pub waiting for our drinks, in the grocery store checkout line. I check it knowing that there will be nothing new to see and nothing I can do about it even if there is something new.

I’m noticing those moments more often, which I consider a good sign. When I notice that I’ve “woken up,” I put the phone down or back in my pocket, breathe, look around, and let whatever thoughts want to float by, float by. I remind myself to be grateful for where I am now. Nothing bad has happened yet.

(Via Allen Jacobs’ email newsletter)

Final Thoughts on Montaigne

From the final pages of Michael Perry’s Montaigne in Barn Boots: An Amateur Ambles Through Philosophy.

He quotes from Montaigne on one of his abiding meditations, death: Death, it is said, releases from all our obligations.

This phrasing…,with its use of the word releases, implicates us in our duty while we remain among the living. Montaigne may have retired to his castle, but he did not retire from every duty. “When he contrasts the solidity of acts with the futility of words,” wrote Starobinski, “he accepts the traditional moral teachings and opts for acts.” Even after he began essaying he continued to serve as a soldier, an advisor, and the mayor of Bordeaux. Even as he lay dying he had agreed to travel to Paris to counsel the king in some affair of state. “The world is inapt to be cured,” he wrote, but never forget he stood on that world, and forsook it at his own peril. I read Montaigne in my room above the garage and think I better start speaking up more. That I should make a few more ambulance calls. Take up the cause of uncertainty, if nothing else. If reading and writing about Montaigne has taught me anything, it is not that I am on some path to perfection where I never again grab the [electric] pig fencer. Montaigne is the pig fencer, jolting me out of my absentminded musing and into the recognition that through the examination of our imperfections I can better serve my obligations to others.

That, above all, is what I take from Montaigne.

I am obligated.

I must do better.

Amateurs Amble Through Philosophy

The only thing more fun than reading Montaigne, it seems, is reading what others say about Montaigne. (1) His admirers pop up when and where one least expects.

For example, Sarah Bakewell’s 2010 book How to Live: Or A Life of Montaigne in One Question and Twenty Attempts at an Answer was a bestseller that probably took everyone, including Bakewell, by surprise.

  <img src="" alt="" />

And over the Christmas break, I read Michael Perry’s 2017 Montaigne in Barn Boots: An Amateur Ambles Through Philosophy. Perry is a Wisconsin-based writer/musician/farmer/volunteer fireman/humorist and probably two or three more slash-somethings by now.

The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel’s review nicely recaps the book and highlights one of the best things about it: how Perry’s easy and personable approach so nicely matches Montaigne’s. Just as Montaigne took his instruction and sustenance from the ancient philosophers he read and quoted, so Perry draws from Montaigne’s life and essays some essential lessons for his own life. (2)

Perry the Humorist makes himself known often with anecdotes and memories, capping sentences and paragraphs with quips aimed at the back seats. I got a bit wary sometimes, recognizing when he was winding up for a pitch. But when Perry the Writer and Perry the Man wrestle with issues of weight — relationships with family and neighbors, responsibility, bodily and emotional pain, ego, leading a life of integrity along with the costs that that decision imposes — Perry’s own essays achieve a solidity and a quiet authority. Montaigne and Perry speak for themselves, and by doing so, give voice to many others. Both men are flawed; both are always trying to do better.

Montaigne in Barn Boots is not a biography; Bakewell has done that. Perry’s book is something to me that is more interesting: an intelligent person riffing on a classic from the past to help him live better for the future, laid out for us in the style and manner of his personal patron saint. I loved it.

(1) Or what Montaigne says about himself. My own personal favorite Montaigne book is Marvin Lowenthal’s The Autobiography of Michel de Montaigne, which stitches together Montaigne’s writings from the essays, letters, and other documents, to create a chronological self-portrait that is sometimes more fun to read than the essays. Montaigne’s essays and the Tao te Ching would probably be my desert island books (but don’t ask me to pick only one translation!).

(2) And a shout-out to Perry’s bibliography of books, articles, web pages, and even Twitter feeds; I love finding out that Montaigne had a Twitter feed (@TheDailyTry, though it’s not been updated since January 2018). This is exactly the sort of motley collection of links and blog posts I love to collect when I do a deep-dive into online research. I’m looking forward to many happy hours of reading.

More of, Less of

My typical New Year’s Day tool for many years has been selecting a Word of the Year, most often using Christine Kane’s process. This year, I already knew that my word would be Bold, as that is my current coach Mary Schiller’s word for the year. Bold is not how I think of myself; so it expresses a quality I want to call forth from myself this year.

But since I trust other peoples’ processes more than my own, I also pluck fruit from others’ gardens, give them a sniff, and see if they’re worth a taste.

One idea I liked came from a Michael Neill post on how he went about defining his most enjoyable year yet. The questions that prompted his imagination were:

Imagine it’s one year from today and you’ve had your most enjoyable year yet… 

What’s happened? What have you done? What’s different in your life now?

I started daydreaming about those questions and hit a wall pretty quickly. It’s similar to what happens when I’m asked what I want for my birthday or Christmas — I go blank. I have such a (it seems to me) dreamy temperament that I can’t think of wanting anything more than going with, or at least keeping up with, the flow. Which is kind of counter to the idea of Bold.

Then I remembered a Mark Forster technique for shaping vague goals into more actionable ideas. Namely: start with something you don’t want, then transform it into a positive. The essentials of a clearer goal or plan may emerge from this more productive line of questioning. So: “I don’t want a long commute” could be positively stated as “I want to live closer to my workplace” or “I want to work remotely from my home.”

From all this mental churn came the idea of asking myself what do I want more of in 2019 and what do I want less of. I had a clearer idea of ways I did not want to behave, or activities I did not want to fill my time with. That made it easier to define what I would prefer to do with the year ahead.

I filled about a page and a half in my journal on this so I’ll put only a few here. We’ll see if this is a list that lasts longer than the typical New Year’s resolution.

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More of Less of
In over my head Playing it safe
Vulnerability Fragility
In-person meetups Email
Space in my schedule Web page reading and email gardening
Making Consuming
Discomfort Safety
Unfamiliar and new Familiar and comfy
Self-care Self-denial
Action Repose
Writing Reading (on the Web, anyway)
Fun and play Discipline and duty
Blogging Reading blogs
Random Routine
Now Later
Less More
Sitting with a Teeccino YouTube
Responsibility Gravity, heaviness
Insight Thinking

Update: You should see a table of about 20 rows above this paragraph. On my iMac and iPhone, I see them all; on my iPad, the table does not appear in Safari but it does appear in Chrome.

"Vulnerability is the key to longevity"

Eddie Smith, from 2016:

Modern survival is antithetical to everything evolution programmed us for. Today we have to:

  1. Eat much less than is available

  2. Move much more than we have to

  3. Take many more daily risks than we have to

Today, complacency is the tiger rustling in the bushes. Vulnerability is the key to longevity.

Too often, I equate vulnerability with fragility. They’re not the same thing.

On keeping a one-line-a-day diary

Sophie McBain

There is no space for unnecessary detail. It also takes only a few minutes to write, making it the perfect journal for people with busy lives, short attention spans and limited self-discipline.

I just finished keeping a 5-year diary and this article prompted me to restart it. One of the more mundane but helpful uses I found for it was tracking the movies/TV series we saw each year, each book I read, etc. When I look back at the list of 2012 movies, I find I cannot recognize a majority of the titles. Most of the movies we see — and their titles — are not that memorable.

I wonder why people who advocate keeping a journal feel the need to cite research on the beneficial effects of keeping a journal. Since McBain is writing for publication, she probably had a word count to hit beyond the simple telling of her story and what she found beneficial.  Still, I have the feeling that keeping a record of one’s days is something one is internally prompted to do because they want to do it. Keeping a journal because you think it will be good for you is like buying a treadmill to lose weight; both objects very quickly become tombstones in the cemetery of good intentions.

I found that, even with my limited self-discipline, I could not maintain a daily diary practice. I tended to more easily record the details of visitors, events, trips, and so on. Re-reading these brief entries sometimes call forth memories, emotions, and sensations I did not know I had.

But too many of my days were mundane — the daily work routine, the commute, nothing of note that was worth noting. I suspect I was making the diary a too-literal record of my day. If I hit a day where nothing much happened, then I think I will fill the space with something. Anything. Three gratitudes, a quote, my state of mind, a haiku, a doodle. Every day a line.

Graveyard vs Cemetery

Driving down backroads from the Jordan Lake Christmas Tree Farm, we passed a white clapboard church with a gravel parking lot and a graveyard. On my thematic purity rating for backroad country churches, it rated a 9 out of 10. (Points are deducted for paved parking lots, brick churches, and modern architecture.)

But the sight made me wonder: what’s the difference between a graveyard and a cemetery?

We learn from Jakub Marian that for centuries, burials were the province of the church; thus, part of the church property was dedicated to yards with graves. Graveyards are therefore associated with churches.

But as the population grew, the need for burial sites exceeded the churches’ capacity. Towns and cities established much larger, standalone burial sites separate from churches and called them cemeteries.

So, as Marian says, a “graveyard is a type of cemetery, but a cemetery is usually not a graveyard.“

Cemetery is the older word, a Latinate form of the Greek koimētērion “dormitory,” from koiman “put to sleep.” According to Marian, graveyard is a later word that derives from the “Proto-Germanic *graban, meaning ‘to dig,’ and it is related to ‘groove’ but not to ‘gravel.’”

There is something satisfyingly heavy, sonorous, and Anglo-Saxon about the plainer “graveyard” — with overtones of solemnity (“a grave aspect”), the long and short “a” sounds bridged by that vibrating “v”, the hard ending of that “d.” The word’s sound and its image are well-matched. Cemetery is almost too pretty a word for what it describes.

[We recently toured the nearby Maplewood Cemetery, courtesy of Preservation Durham. Three large city-sized blocks of burial sites, mausoleums, funeral urns, and the like; you see the history of Durham’s street names in the headstones. When the cemetery was established, it was on the outskirts of a small town; now, a growing city surrounds it with apartments, subdivisions, commerce, churches, and a bit of Duke Forest. A portion of each block was set aside for a Potter’s Field, and — it perhaps goes without saying — the rich and well-to-do’s plots are always on higher ground.]

What I believe, for now

I believe in going to the funeral.

I believe in going to the wedding.

I believe some occasions, though ceremonial, can be important to the emotional health of the individual and the community.

I believe in making order out of chaos -- or, if possible, making the chaos a little less chaotic.

I believe there is more in heaven and earth than is dreamt of in Stoic philosophies.

I believe we are physical creatures evolved to live on this planet, in this universe, through a million-years long process. I believe we need to respect the soft animal within and what it needs. I believe the brain is a useful organ, but the socially programmed ego-mind can be a trickster.

I believe art is essential but not necessary.  

I believe art, creativity, spirituality, and deep religious feeling all draw from the same well and can evoke similar energy in its beholders.

I believe if I had started writing fiction seriously 30 years ago, and persisted, I would be a different person today. I believe if I had persisted if only for 10 years in any of the many artistic projects I took on, I would be a different person today. I believe I was a different person then and that I am a different person today. I believe I will be a different person next year. 

I believe whenever I feel envy or regret that I am feeling my thought in the moment. I believe that negative energy carries no truthful information for me and can be safely ignored. 

I believe there is a spiritual dimension to life that has been expressed throughout the centuries in such sacred texts as the Tao te Ching, the Baghavad Gita, the Dhammapada, the Torah, the Koran, the Bible, and other similar documents. I believe they all point to spiritual truths using the language of their tribes and times.

I believe mythologies are also sacred texts that express life's spiritual patterns and human psychology as noticed by sages and enlightened individuals over generations. I believe if you read them as poetry rather than as prose, as metaphors rather than instructions, as ambiguous rather than declarative, they will always have something new to teach.

I believe all sacred texts and mythologies are true or all have their own way in to the Truth.

I believe the Tao the Ching to be "my" Bible. 

I believe there are modern sacred texts also, but we're too close to know which they are. I believe time will tell.

I believe that, physically and psychologically, we make emotional decisions and then reason backward to justify and explain them. 

I believe thinking is a power tool that, when applied to matters of the soul or psyche, can make life worse or at least less fun.

I believe our human psychology and social programming separate us from an experience of the Divine. I believe we create our own experiences of the physical world and we call those experiences "reality." I believe that creating those experiences doesn't make them hurt less. I believe I can recognize that I am making up that experience in the moment and I can choose to see where that takes me. 

I believe that what we call "God" is the Tao, the Divine, Universal Mind, the Formless, the Source Energy that is the resonating frequency of the universe. Another word for this divine creative and generative energy is Love. I believe when we feel Love, we feel at one with the universe and everything.

I believe all matter in this physical universe was created from this Formless energy, so all of us -- even Donald Trump -- are connected to the formless and the eternal. I believe we can acknowledge this as truth or simply carry on as if it were true and we should never stop looking for evidence to prove or disprove. I believe knowing this should not stop us from doing what needs to be done to change conditions in the physical world, or our little piece of it, that need changing, for the highest good of all.

I believe that voting matters, particularly in local elections. 

I believe there are few things better in life than a good laugh. 

I believe in Science as a verb, as a process for analyzing this material world. I believe that expecting a Final Answer from Science on any question -- from diets to dark matter -- is a foolish expectation because organized, formalized knowledge is always being revised. 

I believe that what some people call Science is more properly called Engineering.

I believe scientists or engineers who have spent their lives studying a specific topic know some things to be true, even though they cannot prove them empirically. 

I believe in writing and mailing birthday cards, Christmas cards, and sympathy cards to friends and family. I believe doing this for its own sake is satisfying.

I believe the understanding that underlies the 3 Principles to be about as close to the spiritual, philosophical, and psychological truth as I understand it at this time. I believe I have no other need for a self-help or therapeutic method than to continue studying the implications of the 3 Principles. I believe there is also a spiritual component to the 3 Principles that, when it goes missing, makes the whole less than its parts.

I believe I have not had the "Holy Effing Mother of God" moment that some 3 Principles followers have talked about. I believe it will come when it will come.

I believe I am still asleep and have yet to wake up.

I believe that I feel and live better when I have less on my mind. 

I believe in randomness and synchronicity as phenomenon that point to an order I cannot separate from chaos. I believe Tarot cards and coin flips are as good a way to make decisions and know myself as anything else.

I believe writing is "thinking on paper" (or onscreen). I believe publishing what I write -- even to a blog at the end of the internet -- is essential for my creative and spiritual sake, if no one else's. 

I believe the Universal Mind, the Formless, the Tao, Source Energy is impersonal and indifferent to us and to what we want, but when we move in harmony with it, then it provides us with what we need in the moment. I believe that the inspiration I feel to create comes from the Formless, bursts into this material universe as thoughts I cannot control, and that my state of personal mind -- call it consciousness -- will make those thoughts look more or less real to me. I believe I can be the thinker, and the one who observes the thinker.  I believe when I identify with the latter, and do not take my thinking personally, I generally feel and perform better. 

I believe there can be snakes in the garden and that floods will come, so it's wise to be prepared. I believe if I let myself be led by intuition and insights "from the blue," that I will be better prepared for feast or famine than if I relied on reason alone.

I believe I am less fun than I used to be. I believe that when I ignore that type of thought, refuse to take it personally, and let it float by, another thought will come along. I believe that while I'm waiting for that next thought, I can chop wood, carry water, draw a picture, watch a Youtube video, or clean the papers from my office floor. 

I believe the Universe respects energy rather than justice. I believe the perfection and pleasure is in the doing. 

I believe people can do evil things in the world and to other people. I believe people can do good things in the world and for other people. I believe we have the capacity to choose either path. I believe when I'm in tune with the Tao or Source Energy, I will make the choice that's right for that moment.

I believe this list is inadequate, incomplete, thinly argued, and likely inconsequential. I believe it is the best I can do now, at this time. I believe this list points to something I cannot see or articulate. 

I believe some of what I wrote here is truthful. I believe some of it just sounded good to my ear. 

Audiobook: Mrs. Dalloway

My only experience with Virginia Woolf's Mrs. Dalloway is the exquisite 1997 movie. I'd tried listening to this audiobook version three or four times, and could never get past the first 30 minutes.

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For whatever reason -- a quieter mind, a longer commute -- I found the rhythm of it on this go-round, aided by the actress Juliet Stevenson's beautifully measured and performed reading. 

This is the first fiction I've experienced by Virginia Woolf. Listening to the book's numerous stream-of-consciousness passages felt very natural, with Stevenson dipping in and out the stream so elegantly I barely noticed the prose's bracing modernity and technique. 

What surprised me as a first-time reader was how much of the story was told, rather than shown, and, moreover, told through the consciousnesses of 20 or more separate characters. Sliding from one character's viewpoint to another in the course of a scene yielded deftly etched portraits of all the characters. The way Sally, Richard, Elizabeth, Peter, Miss Kilman, Lady Bruton all comment on Clarissa limns both her and them. Hugh Whitbread's shortcomings are funnier when detailed via the successive thoughts and impressions of Richard Dalloway, Lady Bruton, and Lady Bruton's stiff secretary Miss Brush, who despises him.

It's a book in which much is remembered and gone over, pondered and reconsidered, but in which not much happens, at least to the Dalloways and their set. The plot is minimal, there are no "stakes" to speak of. Ursula Le Guin wrote that we need to think of stories as having shapes and structures different and more interesting than the standard pyramidal rising action, climax, falling action. Mrs. Dalloway is a wonderful example of that. The individual streams merge to form a splashing river, with turns of phrase, images, and motifs shining out and taking my breath away when least expected.

And when I say "not much happens," that does not apply to the story of Septimus Warren Smith and his wife Lucrezia. Smith and Mrs. Dalloway were evidently intended as "doubles," according to Woolf, though they never meet and she only overhears the story of his suicide. 

Yet without Smith and Rezia, I think the novel would be only half as good, technically sterling but emotionally limited, as Clarissa and Peter's memories of their youthful summers and the winding down of their joys and possibilities are the sadnesses simply of time passing and growing older. Not insignificant themes yet not lapel-grabbers, either.

But Septimus. Poor Septimus. It's like he wandered in from a different story and refuses to leave until he's said his peace and shared his hallucinatory revelations. He lives in his hallucinations as Clarissa lives in her memories, but the anguish his shell shock causes Rezia, and the blinkered mishandling of his case by well-meaning medical men, brings emotional devastation and tragedy to the story. For me, its importance warps the gravity of the narrative flow. The description of Clarissa's party afterward feels like a dutiful epilogue; life goes on, yes, Clarissa has her epiphany, yes, but something vital has left the book. 

And too: I was surprised at how quickly the scene of Septimus' suicide went, at how little time Woolf spends exploring the aftermath compared to what one might expect today. Rezia sadly accepts that this has happened and is given an unasked-for sedative by the doctor. Peter Walsh, walking to his hotel, hears the sound of an ambulance, and another stream enters the river. It's a breathtaking moment.

Listening to this book became a thrilling experience, in its way, as I sought opportunities to spend more time with this book, its characters, and its world. I'm looking forward to hearing it again. 

Source: Naxos Audiobooks, via


Mom's Day Memory

At breakfast yesterday with my parents, my brother and his family, I asked about the first home we grew up in, an 800 square foot bungalow in Garner, NC. My mother remembered a story about the place that neither David nor I could recall. 

She and Dad woke up one night to hear some strange sounds coming from the kitchen. They went to investigate and saw that David and I had found where the soda crackers were stored in the food cabinet, had strewn soda crackers all over the floor, and were crunching them under our feet. 

She said what made it so funny was that we were not saying anything. We were very seriously walking around the kitchen floor, crunching the crackers under our feet.

"Did you spank them?" Melissa asked.

"We just laughed. It was so funny," my mother said.

Happy Mother's Day, mom.

Photo: Lone Peony

Taken by Liz with her iPhone 7, Sunday afternoon, on the kitchen counter. The only peony this year.

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In So Many Words

Richard Dalloway leaves his pompous colleague Hugh as they exit a jewelry store. Richard is struck by a desire to bring home a gift for his wife, Clarissa.

But he wanted to come in holding something. Flowers? Yes, flowers, since he did not trust his taste in gold; any number of flowers, roses, orchids, to celebrate what was, reckoning things as you will, an event; this feeling about her when they spoke of Peter Walsh at luncheon; and they never spoke of it; not for years had they spoken of it; which, he thought, grasping his red and white roses together (a vast bunch in tissue paper), is the greatest mistake in the world. The time comes when it can’t be said; one’s too shy to say it, he thought, pocketing his sixpence or two of change, setting off with his great bunch held against his body to Westminster to say straight out in so many words (whatever she might think of him), holding out his flowers, “I love you.”

Upon meeting Clarissa, he holds the roses out to her:

(But he could not bring himself to say he loved her; not in so many words.)

Instead, they sit and talk of the events of their day. He reaches out to hold her hand. 

He had not said “I love you”; but he held her hand. Happiness is this, is this, he thought.

I'm listening to a lovely reading of Mrs. Dalloway by the actress Juliet Stevenson. It's the third or fourth time I've tried listening to the book and I finally gave in to it on this go-round. I'm loving it. This little domestic scene of a long-married couple, comfortable in their silences, I heard today and my heart filled up. 


5 Updates and 1 Swivel

The Updates

Backups Update

The Time Machine backups to the Time Capsule are running flawlessly. I manually run the backup every Sunday morning.

The Backblaze initial backup is still running. I blame our lousy <1Mbps upload speed; also, I only run it full out when we’re not here. So it’s only running maybe 12 hours a day. Still, progress is progress.

The 5+ year old Western Digital 2TB drive is still connected to this Mac and it appears to still work, but I should just unplug it and recycle it. I should set up the newer 4TB drive, partition it, have Time Machine running continuously in one portion and set up a Carbon Copy Clone in the other partition. 

I should, but I haven’t.

At this time, I have no interest in spending time and money on a NAS device, though that seems the way of the future for file hoarders like myself.

Diet Update

I’m hovering at 210 lbs., neither gaining nor losing. I’m not practicing any particular eating strategy, apart from starting my 8-hour eating window at about 1:30 or 2 pm, and fasting once or twice a week.

I will try another stab at a full 3-day Potato Hack next week. Can I break through my 1.5-day limit?

CriticalMAS, in his post celebrating a full year of being 25 lbs. lighter, turned me on to the book Volumetrics. I have placed a hold at the library for this. I also like his Peasant Diet idea. 

Last week, I went back to my old Slow Carb lunch meals of chicken breast, lentils, and veg (splashed with apple cider vinegar, Tabasco, and seasonings). I found adding more chicken to the lunch kept me satisfied through the afternoon, with no crashing and no cravings. So my partial success with this lunch last year may have been due to not eating enough protein.

Fitness Update

Not walking 10,000 steps/day, not even close, some days not even half that. The nicer weather makes walking around the lake at work more attractive. My current audiobook is Mrs. Dalloway and that would go nicely with a walk.

Still alternating the kettlebell routines my coach mapped out for me, two or three times a week. Have been using the 35-lb. bell and that’s a workout; still not bored with it yet, still requires my full attention.

On Sunday, I did the 7-Minute workout (I use the Johnson & Johnson iOS app) just to vary my routine and see how I’d do. My goal was to do 2 sets of the workout, but I crapped out about a third of the way into the second set. This short, simple, high-intensity workout kicked my ass. My muscles are still sore.

What does this tell me? I’m not as fit as I’d like to think. (I’m fitter than I would be if I didn’t do all this stuff, though.) Adding the 7-minute workout to my regular kettlebell workouts to vary the conditioning is a good idea.

I realized recently with a shock that I’ve not been to a yoga class in maybe 10+ years. I need to get back to that; my muscles and posture would love me for it. 

Productivity Update

We met with a financial planner recently and I was shocked at how ill-prepared I was in pulling my info together.

To pull together what I needed for the meeting, I emptied my paper inbox into various piles on the floor and it was shameful, SHAMEFUL, a floor full of shame for me and me alone. Piles of paper. Months of postponed decisions. A midden of trapped energy. Sorting through all that paper, finding homes for everything, setting up some simple filing or even paperless systems so I feel on top of what’s coming in – that needs to go on my Now page.

Speaking of my Now page: I’ve stalled on the video editing project. My inspiration for it is not high right now. I could attack it from a point of low inspiration, but based on my experience with the last video, I know I’d have to redo it all and start over. I will wait for the carousel to circle back and then jump on the horse when my mood about the project is higher.

Diarizing Update

Still writing the 5-lines-a-day for our weekend exploits, but not bothering to record daily stuff.

Not using the 1-second daily video capture. Though I probably will when we go on vacation – that would be a neat souvenir.

Up till yesterday I had a pretty good record of blogging daily. But lately I’ve been splashing in the shallows, reposting links or adding to the Commmonplace Book quotes, settling for the good-enough post. (Lowering your standards is an underrated strategy.) 

We were so tired from our busy weekend that I decided to relax my self-imposed daily-blogging rule and think about what I wanted to do next with the blog.

Hence, the swivel.

The Swivel

The definition I like is that a swivel is omnidirectional, whereas a pivot is one-dimensional.

One of the Now page items I don’t refer to much in this blog is the Three Principles. The Principles are a form of spiritual psychology I’ve been reading and thinking about for the past 5 years or so.

I was thinking of starting an anonymous blog to do a bit of writing about the Principles. But to make the most of my Now goals of blogging daily and continuing my Principles self-study, I will start bringing the spiritual side of my life and thought to this blog.

I am frankly uncomfortable about this because I feel I can barely articulate my thoughts and feelings on this topic. I had a coach a few years ago give me the homework to “write something someone might criticize.” Spirituality is that topic for me. 

The blog will still feature ephemera and whatever catches my fleeting attention, it will still be a logbook and catch-all, but it will also start reflecting other interests and become a little more personal.