ODDS AND ENDS

I am delighted that we are making another connection with the mother country.  The engagement of Prince Harry and actress Meghan Markle proves out entirely on the plus side in my ledger.  It is, in a very small sense, a political alliance between our two countries.  But, in a far larger sense, it offers the opportunity of opening people’s minds a bit on the racial side.

This is important, because one British “journalist” panned the engagement, slyly stabbing that Markle, in an earlier era, “would have been the kind of woman the prince would have had for a mistress, not a wife.”  If that’s not racist, what is, exactly?

Ms. Markle has not been shy in pointing out the fact that she is bi-racial, and has spoken openly about the bald-faced abuse she suffered as a child from rude children . . . and ruder adults (who ought to have known better).  She seems to have an inherent grace about the way she handles herself and seems willing to continue the teaching moment, so I am chanting “Huzzah!  Huzzah!” in her favor and wishing the happy couple the best.  Change always comes little bit by little bit.  Here’s another little bit.  Bravo.

 

PROPORTION (AND THE LACK THEREOF)

I really don’t quite know what to make of this, but here goes.  Someone just bought the Christ-like painting “Salvator Mundi” . . . for nearly a half billion dollars!  What?  I know, it was possibly painted by Leonardo da Vinci.  I get that.  But $450 million?

That the critics don’t care much for the painting is almost irrelevant.  One tags its “meekness and monotony” and says that it “radiates no authority.”  He said, “This Jesus, far from saving the world, might struggle to save himself a seat on a crosstown bus.”  Zing.

In a way, it’s like the salaries currently paid to the best college football coaches, some nearing ten million a year.  For coaching football to kids?  When teachers struggle to survive, and have to reach into their own pockets to provide basic school supplies for their students (and are now threatened with losing their tax write-off for doing so) . . . what the hell is going on around here?  This strikes me as moral failure.

 

DOGS ARE GOOD FOR YOU

We knew this already, didn’t we?  Yet another scientific exploration has deduced—come on, work on stuff we don’t know!—that having Fido around the house (“Fido” comes from the Latin word for “faithful”) will help you to live a longer, happier life.  This Swedish study discovered that folks who live alone live longer and cut their risk of heart disease markedly by owning a dog.  “There are numerous studies showing that dog owners get more physical activity, which could help to prolong a healthy life,” said one researcher.  He also posited the possibility that “exposure to a dog’s germs, fur, and slobber could also strengthen the immune system.”  Who knew?  Here, gimme a kiss, pooch!

 

MORE VEGAN NEWS

Forgot to mention this in Tuesday’s post:  Oregon State researchers have created a new strain of seaweed that has three times the nutritional value of kale and, far more importantly, when cooked . . . tastes like bacon.  Now we’re talkin’!

©2017 Richard Paul Hinkle

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NEWS HARASSMENT

The level to which sexual harassment charges have gone is highly disconcerting.  The volatility of the whole thing tells us both how new this thing is and how titillating it is.  You have a range of charges that run from ridiculous—Garrison Keillor’s hand on the bare back of a co-worker and Al Franken’s sophomoric attempt at television humor—to the brazen criminality of genital exposure, forced sex and pedophilia.  Not cut from the same cloth.

There is no excuse for the former, which were social faux pas and, so far as is presently known, were forgiven by the offended parties.  The latter, however, are and ought to be criminally prosecuted . . . and that includes the sitting President and the former President.  To lose one’s job for a faux pas seems a bit harsh and disproportionate; not so the latter.

This is not to suggest that meting out punishment is easy, or cut-and-dried.  It is not, nor should it be.  But there ought to be some sense of perspective, weighing the offense, the intent, and the injury in order to find some sense of balance and equity.

Purely in party terms, Amy Davidson Sorkin, writing in the 27 November issue of The New Yorker, says it thusly:  “[Equating Judge Roy Moore and Senator Al Franken] shows not only who Moore is but what the GOP has become.  Franken has worked hard for progressive causes in his political life.  But, here, too, whatever points that earns him, or his colleagues, are not spendable in some market in women’s dignity.  The Democratic Party is better than that.”  As both parties ought to be.

This is echoed and, perhaps, better said by William Falk, Editor of The Week:  “But what we’re confronting should transcend partisan point-scoring.  In this watershed moment, we have an opportunity to establish stronger norms and expectations for male behavior, and appropriate penalties for those who cross the line.  Let’s hope we don’t waste it.”

 

THINKIN’ VEGAN

On a (much) lighter note—though its implications may be equally far-reaching in terms of global impact—I am leaning ever-strongly towards a vegan approach to my diet.  The evidence is overwhelming that raising and feeding food critters is an increasingly large insult to our planet’s resources.  Cows (and sugar [raising cane, as it were]) simply cost too much to the environment.  Add to the equation the fact that our diets do not require animal flesh and, in fact, that it is far better for our health that we eschew same, I am investigating mushroom recipes and their like.  Mushrooms taste great and may be the ideal meat substitute.  It’s going to be oh so difficult to change a lifetime habit and my mouth-watering inclination for a rare cut of filet mignon or a juicy hamburger, but I know now that there are alternatives and that they are measurably and markedly better for me.

I’m told that our friend Nancy has a pretty good recipe for vegetable chili, so I’ll be asking for it.  Meantime, wish me well.  I’ll need your encouragement and your support.  You may recall my motto:  “I’m slow, but I get there.”

©2017 Richard Paul Hinkle

THE CREATIVE SEED

The most fascinating transaction this life offers is creation, making something where there was nothing.  Whether it is a piece of art, a magazine article or a child, the very act and its result takes your breath away and a sense of awe washes across your existence.

Readers occasionally ask where the seed comes from that ends up being a post, or an article, or a book.  Sometimes it’s a single word.  The word “moral” cropped up a couple of weeks ago in the post “The Tax Thing.”  Relationships—viz. with my wife, with and among my children and their partners—are fertile jumping off points.  “Injustice” always gets my juices going.  Remember the post about those predator “guardians” in Nevada seizing the assets of those they were sworn to protect?  Aieee!

Sometimes just a number will do the trick.  Especially if that number is “six.”  If I’m really lazy, all I have to do is open a page, any page, of Confucius, Montaigne, Ben Franklin, or Mark Twain.  (Especially Mark Twain.  He’s always reliable for something provocative.)

Wouldn’t you have wanted to be a fly on the wall when that group of television producers started out their brain-storming session with the words “teen-age” and “turtles”?  And then threw in, just for zany good fun, yet sillier prompts like “mutant” and, better still, “ninja”?  Not to mention giving them the names of Renaissance painters and a fixed love of pizza?  How, exactly, does someone pull that one off . . . and come away wealthy?

Speaking of Leonardo—da Vinci, that is—his genius and creativity are being freshly celebrated by a couple of new books.  Both point to the inherent necessity of a curious mind to spur the seeds of creativity.  When you look at the vast and beguiling notes and drawings of da Vinci, you can see and feel the raging curiosity about everything that drove him to imagine and “see” new things and ideas, things that no one else had previously dreamt.  Wow!

Another thing readers ask about is the dreaded “Writer’s Block.”  My answer is simple:  nope, never.  The trick to avoiding writer’s block is basic.  It involves no genius.  It is just diving in without thought of difficulty or failure.  It is un-judgmental to the max.  You can write that lead sentence over and over again until you get it right.  In the old days, you’d just throw away page after crumpled up page of errant starts.  Today, it’s simply a matter of highlighting the offending sentence or sentences and hitting “Delete.”

Yet there are times when creativity requires planning.  When Edgar Allan Poe began writing his poem “The Raven,” he deliberately wanted a somber sense.  Writes John McPhee, “The idea began in the abstract.  He wanted to write something tonally somber, sad, mournful, and saturated with melancholia, he knew not what.  He thought it should be repetitive and have a one-word refrain.  He asked himself which vowel would best serve the purpose.  He chose the long ‘o.’  And what combining consonant, producibly doleful and lugubrious?  He settled on ‘r.’  Vowel, consonant, ‘o,’ ‘r.’  Lore.  Core.  Door.  Lenore.  Quoth the Rave, ‘Nevermore.’”

So, sometimes creativity requires meticulous planning (like Poe, with “The Raven”), and other times it’s all spontaneous, off-the-cuff, let ‘er rip.  Above all, creativity comes from curiosity, from wanting to know how something works or how something new can be fashioned from what we already know.  Creativity is how we discover something newer or bigger about ourselves or outside of ourselves.  What could be more fun than that?

©2017 Richard Paul Hinkle

NO FRILLS

I’m a no frills guy.  Everyone knows that.  Just give me the basics, with the absolute least amount of adornments, add-ons, or time-wasting “extras.”

I never wanted to have to commute to work (and have been exceedingly lucky in avoiding that time swamp).  Why would anyone want to take an hour or two out of their lives . . . every day of the work week?  I could never understand that.

I have also been blessed to have been chosen by a profession—I had no real choice in the matter, I had to be a writer—that allowed me the widest possible leeway in terms of dress code.  For most of my work life has been spent in shorts and a tee shirt or sweats and a tee shirt.  When I actually had to mingle in my work environment, a pair of “dress blue jeans” was usually sufficient.  Oh, there might have been someone who brushed it off with, “Oh, he’s a writer,” but I never really minded at all.  (There was one guy in our “wine writer” coterie who was a pretty snappy dresser, and I used to kid him, “You know, Andy, when you dress down and I dress up, we’re still one preppy apart!”)

Yeah, I like substance over form, the real over the fake or the façade.  I just don’t have patience for the flimsy, the easy.  Give me brick or rock over “siding.”  I want something that is sturdy, something that will outlast me, my kids and my grandkids.

I have an automobile.  It’s a pretty nice car, a sporty, 4-door Volvo S-60 with the coolest horn in town (it’s a klaxon, you know, the submarine air horn that goes “oooga, oooga”).  It’s almost twenty years old, but it’s still a very nice ride.  Except that I’d much rather walk or ride my equally cool recumbent bicycle.  One, I get good exercise, walking or biking, that I don’t get in the car.  Two, I’m not using up any fossil fuels by foot or by bike.  No non-renewable resource wasting there.  (I usually put gas in my car in January and June.)

In my work life, I was incessantly exposed to the finest in haut cuisine and the finest in fermented grape juices.  But I am happiest with the basics in food—our family meat loaf (the secret is in the Balsamic vinegar) or the tenderest of short ribs from a favorite nearby diner—and a decent $15 bottle of Russian River Valley Pinot Noir.

I like efficiency.  I hate wasting time.  I don’t go to a barber.  Because I’m okay with a severely short hair “style,” I can cut my own hair.  Takes me about four minutes, once a week.  No need to fret.  I know what I’m doing.  I worked my way through college as a professional barber.  Still have my Journeyman’s license.  It’s not current, but then I’m not going back to work any time soon.  Don’t shave in the morning, either.  Why would anyone willingly, intentionally face a sharp object early in the morning in the first instance?  Secondly, a very short beard is very easy to maintain, if you’ve got the proper tools.  I do my beard maintenance once a week, along with my haircut.  Very efficient.  No frills.

This is not to say that I have no sense of style.  I delight in reading the “Style” issues that the New Yorker and the Wall Street Journal put out every now and again.  But I am equally and exceedingly pleased to not be beholden to fad and fashion.  I’ll take the sweats and the tee—and the occasional need for my dress blue jeans—and be pleased as punch.  No frills for me, thank you very much.

©2017 Richard Paul Hinkle

WHAT IS THIS “HAPPY” THING?

 

No less than the Dalai Lama suggests that happiness is the supreme goal of life.  Which makes life easy for Diana Ross and her cohorts, but what about the rest of us, those of us who are not Supremes?

What are the elements of happiness on our little blue marble, suspended as we are on the outskirts of a universe so large that we are quite incapable of understanding just how small a speck we are?  I always liked the folks in Costa Rica, who greet one another with the words “Pura vida” each morning.  The “good life.”  The “enriched life.”  Which comes to them from a government that truly focuses on peace, health care, education, faith and big time environmental responsibility.  Pura vida.

We know, of course, that there are basics.  Water, sustenance and housing are the A, B and C of the cards we’re dealt.  Gotta have ‘em.  Good health and work that satisfies are pretty important, as is a compatible person with whom to share the basics with.

I remember reaching the age of twenty-five.  I vividly recall sitting down with myself and devising a short list of things that, fifty years hence, I would mightily regret not having achieved.  It became of the utmost importance that I reach those four goals by the time I hit seventy-five.

One, find a bright and interesting person to share my life with, the ups, the downs, and all the in-betweens.  Bev has been that person for the last forty-three years.  I did good on that one.  Really good.

Two, build my own house.  Hammer and nails, foundation to roof.  We did that one together, working with an excellent carpenter, whose innate perfectionism was tempered by his delightfully warped sense of humor.  When a small thing was just a hair off, he’d look at it closely, then declare, “You’ll never see it from a galloping horse!”  Chalk line to move in?  Ten weeks.  (I’m half German!  It’s the stronger half.)

Three, fly a small plane across the country.  (And back.)  We did that one together, too.  In a Cessna 152, a 100 mph putt-putt.  Twenty-four hours of flying, each way.  Three hours each morning; three hours each afternoon.  Pretty much bladder time . . . and fuel tank time.  Ha.  You come to a different understanding of the size of our country when it takes you a whole day to cross Texas, from Lubbock to Lufkin.

Four, write a book and have it published.  My first book was about the wineries of California’s Central Coast, from San Francisco to Santa Barbara.  There were about eighty wineries in the region in 1979; there are more than five times that number today.  I recall sleeping on winemakers’ couches, as we had a travel budget of exactly zero dollars.  But the people were delightful and the wines intriguing, then as now.

So, as I near seventy-five, I’ll have four fewer regrets than I might have, had I not identified those benchmarks as important, to me.  Sure, I’ve added a few to that list.  Kids (boy-girl twins).  Learning to speak Spanish.  Teaching myself to play the alto sax.  Pitching left-handed.  All in process, all fun and enriching.

Maybe that’s the whole key to happiness.  Becoming enriched, becoming healthy in all aspects of our lives.  If you look at the above, none of them is outrageous.  None of them is outrageously expensive, except perhaps in time and effort.  But that’s where the satisfaction comes into play, isn’t it?  In having a purpose in life.  In putting out for yourself, and for others.  If you make a concentrated effort, you get something out of it.  And that something is satisfaction.  Happiness.  It’s a good feeling, isn’t it?  Yup.  It surely is.  Pura vida.

©2017 Richard Paul Hinkle

 

TAKE A NAP

Take a nap.  Now!  I’m not kidding.  You probably need one.

You shouldn’t need me to tell you this, but the world is spinning way too fast for the human body, which needs the occasional respite.  If you’re not getting a good, solid seven to nine hours of uninterrupted sleep at night, then you are a prime candidate for nature’s palliative:  the nap.

Call it a “cat nap” if you must, but the principle is a sound as it gets:  When your body starts to nod off of its own accord . . . it’s time for a nap.

I’m lucky, I have a hammock on my deck, protected from the elements in inclement weather.  Rain or shine, I’m usually there every afternoon around three for a little light reading and, if my body says so, a short nap.  Or a long nap, if that’s what my body tells me.  I’m getting better at listening to my physical vessel.  Didn’t used to be able to listen.  Hard-headed German, don’t you know.  But the Portuguese half is starting to hold sway, hence the now-easy slide into napping.

The docs are all in favor, by the way.  They’ll tell you that there are two types of naps, voluntary and involuntary.  Doesn’t really matter which way you get there, each one is useful in correcting the physical imbalance of too little sleep.  Replenishing your body is always a good idea.

Dr. David Dinges is the chief of the Division of Sleep and Chronobiology in Psychiatry at the University of Pennsylvania Perelman School of Medicine.  Just that title, alone, would put most people to sleep!  Dinges contends that work hours and commute times are the primary causes of sleep debt for Americans.  He says that muscle relaxation is the first sign of an impending nap:  “First go the arms, then the hands, then the eyelids.  Next goes the neck, so your head falls over.”

Let it go.  Take that nap, if you can.  If your body is giving out that many signals, it’s wise to listen up and take that nap.  And build one into your daily routine, as soon as possible.

Dinges notes that, since most human civilizations evolved in equatorial climes, we tend to nap in the early afternoon when days are at their warmest.  No point in trying to work when your performance is less than optimal.  He says that even a fifteen minute nap will relieve some of your stress.  “Being awake is like carrying a bag on your back.  The longer you’re awake, the more bricks you add.  And when you take a nap, you remove some of those bricks.”

Now this may seem obvious beyond the point of obvious, but the successful nap requires the absence of electronic devices and a cool, dark (sleep shades are an excellent accessory), quiet, hopefully private place.  If necessary, set an alarm to prevent over-napping (it is theorized that there is such a thing).  But it’s better if you don’t need the alarm and can allow your body to tell you what it needs.  I know my body is telling me that I could use a short (or long) nap right about now.  Need to shed a few bricks.  Later.

©2017 Richard Paul Hinkle

MIND GAMES

One of the biggest red flags of the aging process crops up when you find someone letting their mind go to seed.  What’s worse that a stagnating mind?  Nothing that I can think of (providing I can still think).

Some folks just assume that, once they’ve retired, they are no longer required to think.  It’s an easy assumption to make, but I submit to you that your mental “self” is just like your other three “selves”:  You’ve got to feed ‘em, nurture ‘em, exercise ‘em . . . and then put ‘em to use, lest they atrophy and put you into the worst of all circumstances:  walking death.

The four “selves,” for those of you new to this post, are your mental, physical, social and spiritual selves.  My theory on this is simple:  To be a complete and wholly functional human bean—as opposed to a Lima bean or pinto bean—all four of those entities need to be alive and well, up-and-running at full capacity.  Otherwise, you’re damaged goods, a wounded beast out there among the lions and tigers who feast on weakened, non-functioning critters.

Which brings us to mind games, the best means known for keeping the old brain pan at full strength.  Doesn’t matter much which one you choose, do something that stretches your mental acuity.  Watch “Jeopardy” and challenge the contestants with the awe-inspiring breadth of your knowledge.  Do Sudoku and keep your numbers skills up to date.  Do the crossword puzzle in your daily paper.

That’s my game, the crosswords.  I love language and all that comes with it, especially word games.  When phone caller asks if my wife is around, I invariably answer, “No, she’s a trapezoid.”  (Sometimes they get it; many times they do not.)

Word games are a delightfully inherent part of the crosswords.  I delight in the built-in puns.  The other day, the answer to the clue “dead giveaway” was a will (as in one’s final testament).  The “baby talk” theme clues in the Wall Street Journal recently were, in order, “Baby goat at rest,” “Person squealing on a baby lion to the authorities,” “Baby bird’s fridge adornment” and “Bodyguard for a baby elephant.”  The answers, respectively, were, kidnapping, cub reporter, chick magnet and calf muscle.  Hilarious, to my way of thinking.

What is most helpful in solving crossword puzzles is the ability to see patterns.  When you see “ng” together, you can almost certainly figure there’s going to be an “i” just in front of that.  When you see a “u” as the next to last letter, or a “p” as the last letter, something is definitely “up.”  The letters “s,” “e,” and “d” are the most common final letters, so “seed” might be the ideal word for the bottom row of the across clues, or the right hand side for the down clues.

My failing is overthinking an answer.  Sometimes the most obvious answer is the correct answer.  If the clue is “transmit,” the four-letter answer is almost certainly “send.”  It has three of the most common final letters and, well, it’s obvious.  When confronted with the clue “Green feature,” I was all over the place with ecologically-based answers . . . until it finally dawned on me that they were talking golf and that the answer was “hole.”  Similarly, “err” is almost always the correct answer to “Do the wrong thing.”  It just is.

To further the challenge, I do even the New York Times puzzles in ink.  It forces me to slow down just a bit—entirely against my ADD/Aries nature—to check the cross-references before filling in my answer.  Deliberation is not a quality that comes naturally or easily to me.  I even, on occasion, do the far easier daily crossword in my head, without actually filling in the squares.  That’s a real mind- and memory-stretcher.  And memory may be the gift and capability most enhanced by mind games.  Which is, if I recall correctly, why we do these exercises.  Got to keep that mental self sharp, capable and useful.

©2017 Richard Paul Hinkle