In Memory of Mr. Shelley

When I was very young, our neighborhood was a safe place. There was a cross street missing on our block, and there were about thirty kids within a few years of me living on both sides of the street of the double-long block. The grade school I attended was three blocks down the street, and we all walked to school and home every day. Most of us walked home for lunch and back as well.

About five doors down the street from our house toward the school, on our side of the tree-lined street, was a white-sided frame house with a front porch. The spring I was seven, I think — so that would be 1960 — an old man started sitting in a rocking chair on the front porch of that house during the warm part of the day. Walking back and forth to school at lunch, or home in the afternoon, I would wave at him and say “Hi!” because, well, because that’s who I was. He would wave and say “Hello there!”

School let out for the summer, and I missed saying “Hi!” to him, so I walked down there of an afternoon to say “Hi!” He was out on the porch, and I walked up the walk and introduced myself, and he introduced himself. He asked me how things were going, and I told him, but the doings of a seven-year-old weren’t terribly interesting. I asked about him. He had nothing much going on right now either, but he told me some story or other of his life.

This set a pattern for the summer, and, when the weather was nice, I would walk down there, and he would be on the porch, sitting in his rocking chair. I would sit on the steps, and he would tell me his stories. The lady of the house, his daughter-in-law, would often bring us out some lemonade and cookies, but she would retreat back into the house and leave us to talk.

Late in the summer, he stopped appearing on the porch. I went down there to look, and, though the weather was nice, he was not out. The second or third time this happened, his daughter-in-law came out and asked me if I wanted to see him. Of course, I said. So she led me into the house. In the dining room, the table and chairs had been pushed to one side and there was a hospital bed in the bay window. He was there, in the bed, with an oxygen tube in his nose. She pulled up one of the dining room chairs for me, and I sat by him.

He told me he was dying. His heart was failing. Apparently his son and daughter-in-law had taken him in for his last months, and his time was now short. I told him I was sorry, and must have looked terribly sad. He told me not to be sad, that he had lived a very long and happy life. He had had a wonderful wife and they had been tremendously in love for many years until she had passed. He had children and grandchildren who were all healthy and happy. He had lived a full life, the stories of which he had shared with me that memorable summer.

He said not to grieve for him, but to celebrate the wonderful life he had led and enjoyed so much, and to remember him.

We said goodbye for the last time that day. It was only a few days later that I saw the hearse parked in front of the house. I watched as they wheeled out his body on a gurney for the trip to the funeral home down the block.

I told my parents this story decades later. I had forgotten his name, but I remembered him, and I remembered that last talk in the sunny bay window of the dining room where he died. My parents were surprised, as they had known nothing about our relationship, but they knew his name. They called him “Old Man Shelley.”

I do remember you, Mr. Shelley, as you asked, even now, six decades later. I find your memory comforting as the years pile up.

When I see you next, maybe I can tell you some stories.

Category: Weird Thoughts on Repositioning a Book

We published Wendy’s first novel this year, in April. “Becoming Mia” is semi-autobiographical, in that it draws heavily on her experiences in the latter half of the 1960s, but it is not really about her. The most important part of the book for her is the Vietnam War backdrop, the resulting politics, and the struggle against gender bias in the STEM fields.

It also has a lot of romance in it.

So we positioned the book as historical fiction/biography. The categories, the keywords, the cover blurb, the Amazon blurb, the ad blurbs.

The eight months since release have been illuminating. When we look at “people who bought this book also bought,” we get a slew of romance novels.

Wendy’s book was also picked up by several local book clubs. She was invited to those meetings to discuss the book. And they talked primarily about the romance part of it.

One defining moment was when one of the women there, noting the book was somewhat autobiographical, asked Wendy what happened in her life after the book ended. Wendy answered that she had used her graduate degree in mathematics to have a very successful career in the computer industry.

“Yes, dear, but did you marry him?”

“Who?”

“Chip. Did you marry Chip?”

So it’s a romance, even though Wendy doesn’t think of the book that way. She’s a little nonplussed by it, but I told her the romance segment is much bigger, and they read a lot, so she should count her blessings.

The biggest challenge in marketing a book or author is finding your readers. Once you know who they are, you can target them. Absent that, you’re at sea.

And so, for 2019, we are changing the ad blurbs, and the Amazon blurb, and the back cover blurb, the categories, the keywords, and even the cover of the book. That’s the whole package that attracts readers — or doesn’t — to buy the book and read it.

The book itself hasn’t changed at all. We’ll see what repositioning the book brings.

 

Category: Weird Thoughts About Death

[First published on Facebook on February 11, 2017]

I’ve lost a number of close friends lately. Also, Wendy and I lost all four parents between 2000 and 2010. And there’s something that I have noticed again and again both with ourselves and talking to the families of friends who have died.

Guilt.

It comes in many forms. These appear to be the most common:

1) Survivor’s guilt. Why them and not me? This is usually with a spouse or someone else the same age.

2) “If only” guilt. If only I had pressed harder for the other treatment option. If only I had nagged more about getting a colonoscopy. If only I had <done this or that thing to change the outcome>.

3) Relief guilt. When someone is terribly ill, and suffering, we feel relief when their suffering is finally over. The next thing that sets in is guilt for feeling relief instead of grief that they have passed. And the corollary: Am I really relieved that their suffering is over, or am I a selfish shit who’s relieved that I don’t have to be their caregiver any longer?

4) Relationship guilt. When we think back over someone’s life, we also recall all the times that we weren’t the best version of ourselves. We feel regret and guilt for not having been a better spouse/child/sibling.

The common theme here is guilt. It seems to be a natural reaction to the death of a close loved one, and it hangs itself on the most convenient nail of the above.

There are some things that are important to realize here:

1) Guilt seems to be a natural human reaction to the death of a loved one. You aren’t unique. You aren’t alone. Based on my experience, this happens to almost everyone.

2) You most likely didn’t actually do anything wrong. Sure, there are outliers, just plain shit human beings who ought to feel guilty, but they probably don’t anyway. What I am talking about here are good people, who lead good lives. We are all human, and our relationships are human endeavors. The departed also fell short of the best version of themselves. Most of us do the best we can. As for “Why them and not me” it’s just the luck of the draw. In any case, there’s nothing to feel guilty about.

3) Our departed loved one, could we but ask them, would tell us that they don’t want us to feel this guilt, to punish ourselves with it. We loved them, and they loved us, as best we knew how, and that’s something to be celebrated, no matter that we both sometimes fell short of our own goals.

4) This artificial guilt gets in the way of remembering our departed loved ones with fondness, and of getting on with our lives.

Realize that the guilt you feel is very common in these circumstances — that it is wired into the way humans think, and feel, and love — and set it aside.

Celebrate what you had, remember them with fondness and love, and move on.

 

Some Things I Wish I’d Known Sooner

[I first posted this in my Facebook Notes section in July 2014. It’s worth a re-run.]

Just a bunch of stuff I learned over the years and wish I had known sooner.

Note for uptight bureacrats: None of this is “medical advice”.  Think of some of these as “things to ask your doctor about the next time you see him.”

– If you have migraines or frequent headaches, Norvasc may help.  My headaches stopped when I went on 5mg per day of Norvasc for blood pressure.  That’s the minimum dose.  I have since learned of others who were put on 10mg daily of Norvasc for headaches/migraines, and their headaches disappeared.

– This used to be printed on the Clorox bottle.  To get rid of fungal infections on the feet, including toenail fungus, use 3 tbsp Clorox in a gallon of warm water, and soak feet for 15 minutes.  Repeat daily for one week.  Yes, it works.  It has to be Clorox, which is a slightly different chemical than other bleaches.

– O’Keefe’s Healthy Feet is a very effective moisturizer, and also contains an anti-fungal to keep things under control once you have done the Clorox thing.  You will not believe the difference a day later after just one application.

– O’Keefe’s Working Hands is the hand moisturizer.  Excellent, especially for mechanics who use strong cleaners, or health professionals who have to wash their hands multiple times per day.

– If you are on warfarin, you know that your INR has to be checked at least monthly.  Vitamin K reduces warfarin’s effect, so if your diet changes around a lot, you could have your INR readings bouncing around.  If you take a daily vitamin (like Centrum Silver) to keep enough vitamin K in your blood so it doesn’t jump around so much, your INR readings will be more stable.

– If you have problems like those shown in the Preparation H commercials, the best fix is to use a bidet every time you go to the pot.  Absent that, a shower every time will work but is often inconvenient.  Instead, clean up with baby wipes.  Works for them, works for you.

– Do not carry your wallet in a back pocket so that you sit on it.  It forms a wedge under your pelvis that puts a curve in the bottom portion of your spine.  Sit like that in a car for several hours, and every jolt in the road turns into stresses in your spine, and over time you can dislocate a disk.  Carry your wallet in your front pocket instead.

– Some people’s skin eats away at metals like those used in watches and eyeglasses.  Those metals go into your skin and can cause skin reactions that turn into lesions.  Use plastic-framed glasses, and get a titanium or stainless steel watch.

– I bought lots of watches over the years, some expensive and some cheap.  I dealt with batteries, and winding, and having them react with my skin, and having them look like garbage after a year or two because I am very active and use tools and stuff and they get all beat up.  Sixteen years ago I bought a Citizen Eco-Drive titanium watch.  It uses a solar cell under the watch face to charge, and will run on as little as 3 hours of indoor lighting per day.  No batteries, no winding, sealed to 100 meters.  I have worn this watch 24 hours a day for 16 years, and it just keeps running no matter what and still looks great.  I bought one of the women’s versions for Wendy and she loves it.  Pick one that you really like the look of, because it will be the last watch you ever need to buy.  In stainless, $100 and up; in titanium, $200 and up; at Amazon.

 

Category: Weird Thoughts About Life

Well worth a read. Written by Erma Bombeck in 1979.

“If I Had My Life to Live Over”

Someone asked me the other day if I had my life to live over would I change anything.
My answer was no, but then I thought about it and changed my mind.

If I had my life to live over again I would have waxed less and listened more.

Instead of wishing away nine months of pregnancy and complaining about the shadow over my feet, I’d have cherished every minute of it and realized that the wonderment growing inside me was to be my only chance in life to assist God in a miracle.

I would never have insisted the car windows be rolled up on a summer day because my hair had just been teased and sprayed.

I would have invited friends over to dinner even if the carpet was stained and the sofa faded.

I would have eaten popcorn in the “good” living room and worried less about the dirt when you lit the fireplace.

I would have taken the time to listen to my grandfather ramble about his youth.

I would have burnt the pink candle that was sculptured like a rose before it melted while being stored.

I would have sat cross-legged on the lawn with my children and never worried about grass stains.

I would have cried and laughed less while watching television … and more while watching real life.

I would have shared more of the responsibility carried by my husband which I took for granted.

I would have eaten less cottage cheese and more ice cream.

I would have gone to bed when I was sick, instead of pretending the Earth would go into a holding pattern if I weren’t there for a day.

I would never have bought ANYTHING just because it was practical/wouldn’t show soil/ guaranteed to last a lifetime.

When my child kissed me impetuously, I would never have said, “Later. Now, go get washed up for dinner.”

There would have been more I love yous … more I’m sorrys … more I’m listenings … but mostly, given another shot at life, I would seize every minute of it … look at it and really see it … try it on … live it … exhaust it … and never give that minute back until there was nothing left of it.

Category: Weird Thoughts About [Over]Population

Sarah Hoyt had a recent blog post about overpopulation — or, more precisely, the lack of it — in which she said that humans are really good at scaring themselves with numbers. I think it may be a bit more than that. Human beings are mostly innumerate — they don’t understand numbers at all. In particular, humans are rally bad at linear versus volume measurements.

To prove my point, I ask you two questions:

  1. If you put all the humans on earth head to toe in a line, what portion of the way to the Moon would that line reach?
  2. If you gave everyone on earth a 20’x20′ living space, with an extra 20’x20′ for hallways and mechanical equipment and all that, how many times would that apartment building fill the Grand Canyon?

Now, the Moon is almost a quarter of a million miles away, ten times the distance around the equator, so that’s a huge distance. Let’s figure out the answer to my question.

Let’s take the UN’s inflated number of 7 billion people on the planet. (Third-world countries get a lot of their aid per capita, so the incentive is to inflate their populations.) Seven billion people, and average of five feet per person, that’s seven million miles.

So the line of people would stretch to the moon twenty-eight times! Holy crap! We’re way overpopulated! We have to do something!

Right? Wrong.

The Grand Canyon is a very large canyon, but it is a teeny-tiny spot on the globe. So let’s figure out the answer to my second question.

20’x20′ apartment. and an equal space for hallways and mechanicals. So call it 20’x20’x20′ per person on the whole planet. That’s 8000 cubic feet per person. Is that a small apartment? Well, 400 square feet per person is a studio apartment, while for a family of four it would be a 1600 square foot apartment. That’s about right.

So, 8000 cubic feet per person. 7 billion people. That’s 56 trillion cubic feet. Is that big? Well, let’s convert it to cubic miles. 380 cubic miles. Wow. So how big is the Grand Canyon?

A thousand cubic miles.

Yup. If we built an apartment building that filled the entire Grand Canyon — which is a big canyon but is still a very small spot on the globe — and we moved absolutely every human being on the planet into it, it would only be at 38% occupancy. It would take eighteen and a half billion people to fill it.

And the rest of the planet would have nobody on it. Anywhere.

Still think we’re overpopulated?

 

Category: Weird thoughts about Presidential Elections

I’ve noticed a couple of weird things about presidential elections.

First, since 1944, an odd pattern has developed. During Truman’s administration, the country passed the 22nd Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, which limits a president to two terms. But in fact, it seems to have made two terms the default.

Consider. List all the presidential terms since 1944 by whether the White House was held by the Democrats or the Republicans. Now, we’ve had assassination, resignation, things that changed who the president was, but not the party. So just list the party holding the White House, by term. I’ll put four on each line.

DDRR  Truman, Eisenhower
DDRR  Kennedy, Johnson, Nixon, Ford
DRRR  Carter, Reagan, Bush 41
DDRR  Clinton, Bush 43
DDR     Obama, Trump

Only one term, from 1980 to 1984, breaks the pattern. How weird is that?

Here’s a second weird thing. Consider the Democrats who won election for their first term:

Kennedy – first-term Senator from Massachusetts
Carter – Governor of Georgia
Clinton – Governor of Arkansas
Obama – first-term Senator from Illinois

None of these guys was on national radar until about four years before the election, and none had been active in national politics before then.

Consider now the Republicans who won election for their first term:

Eisenhower – general in command of Allied forces in Europe during WW2
Nixon – VP under Eisenhower, Governor of California
Reagan – movie actor, TV personality, Governor of California
Bush 41 – war hero, ambassador to China, head of the CIA, VP under Reagan
Bush 43 – Son of 41, Governor of Texas
Trump – entrepreneur, developer, TV personality

All of these guys were widely known to the public for at least a decade or two prior to being elected president.

When the Republicans ran people who weren’t well known (Dole, Romney, Ford) they lost. When the Democrats ran people who were well known (Hillary, Humphrey, Gore) they lost.

Now how weird is that?

So if the Republicans want to win in 2020, and even in 2024, they’ll run someone you already know. Trump in 2020. In 2024, maybe Nikki Haley, or Mike Pence. But it’s got to be someone who’s already famous.

And if the Democrats want to try to break that pattern above and win against Trump in 2020, they’ll run someone nobody knew anything about before 2018 or so. Not Hillary, not Bernie, not Biden. And their potential winning candidate for 2024 isn’t even on the national radar yet. Probably either a governor of a southern state or a first-term Senator (who won’t even be elected until 2020 or 2022) from a northern blue state.

Just some weird stuff I noticed. Will the patterns hold up? Who knows?

But it’s probably the way to bet.