Leanin’ On

Life goes along following its own irregular paths, a smile and a laugh here, a stubbed toe here, sometimes for years … decades, in my case. And then comes an onslaught, a series of blows that threatens to rip hearts out of chests and minds out of order.

What I am ruminating about in these paragraphs is … what do we do when doing doesn’t work? When something very fundamental about our life is changing too fast to be accommodated and the doors are all left ajar for a time? When things cannot be “fixed.”

Perhaps a little background might be helpful as an illustration. There was a single year, thirty-six years ago, when:

  • My mother was dying of cancer
  • My father was dying of lung disease
  • A daughter was revealed as struggling with addiction and the outcome was yet unclear
  • My wife of twenty-five years left me

(Before we go any further, this is not meant to be a “poor me, poor me” recitation. Whatever afflictions I have experienced are no worse than those that have been felt by countless others. I know that my experiences are neither special or unique.)

At that time I believed that if one applied oneself, thought hard enough, read enough books, prayed long enough, and tried to ferret out God’s will that most problems could be ironed out, most damages repaired. When it became obvious that this large helping of unhappiness was going to continue to happen in spite of my efforts, I became partly unhinged. The only real sane environment I could find at that time was in my work, which for some reason I could still do as well as ever.

But when not working, I raged. Primarily at God. How could he … ? What had I ever done … ? The minister of my church invited himself over to talk to me one evening and I cringe when I think back on that evening. Pacing and ranting and refusing to accept any of what I felt were such hollow of words of comfort. Since God hadn’t shown up to be bullied I went after this poor guy as His representative.

Over many months I fulminated, I agonized, I broke a Commandment or two, I drank either too much or not enough. And then late one night I realized that something inside of me was changing. This poem, written in late 1987, tried to describe what was I felt was happening.

I have been tanned
I am an animal skinned out
Hanging on a cabin wall
Still recognizable as what I was
But tougher now
I’ll wear much
Longer as I am
Than what I was

I am a leaf on the breeze
Lighter than the air itself
Rising on a thermal
Fluttering from the tallest tree of all
Towards the ground all miles and miles below

I am baking bread, rising
Pushing against the confines of the pan
Promises still unfulfilled
A bit more heat and I’ll be done
Then you can take a bite
My friends

I am an empty suitcase open, waiting
Put inside the clothes we need
And we will take that trip
You’ve always wanted,
The one I somehow knew
Was there inside of me

So what is the point of all of this besides a loopy mishmash? I guess it’s that I have learned that hardship can be endured even when it seems unendurable. That it can open doors of the spirit that one didn’t know existed.

And that as a teacher, pain gets your attention like almost nothing else.

Lean On Me, by Bill Withers



So far this week we’ve had lovely Spring weather, temperature in the 70s, just enough clouds to be interesting without getting in the way of the warmth. Perfect but for one thing – the wind. Yesterday it blew my e-bike over and rearranged the patio furniture and several garbage cans in the neighborhood. It also spun our cats around and sent sent them back into the house grumbling and cranky.

Cats blame you for the weather. They really do. Here’s how it works. Poco pokes his head out the pet door, scans the yard for safety, and then walks out. His ears are laid back and he staggers out to the lawn. He sits there for a few seconds, squinting his eyes, and then runs back indoors. He will then seek you out and stand there in front of you meowing loudly as he makes eye contact.

The tone of his voice makes perfectly clear that he knows who is to blame for this damned hurricane, and he is taking names.


At the gym these days there is a husband/wife working out together. They are in their late sixties. His attention to her welfare is quite touching.

The woman is recovering from a mosquito-borne encephalitis and moves with halting and broad-based steps as her husband walks beside her holding onto a broad strap that is around her waist. He has become her own personal physical therapist. One trip around the walking track about does it for her. Her face is a study in fearful concentration as she moves forward, and his focus is absolutely on making sure she does not fall.

It is inspiring to watch. Humans being kind and considerate of one another. They are a team.



I now have twenty plastic Solo cups going, each with three tomato sprouts in it that are looking good. Eventually I will pluck away all but the hardiest-looking in each cup. Now, I can hardly wait to see what plague comes in through the front door and back into my office to wipe them out. Will it be Old Testament style with frogs and locusts? Will it be a technical disaster as the grow-lights suddenly lose their minds and put out some withering and fatal energy bandwidth instead of the salubrious one they promised? Will one of the mice that Willow brings indoors find them just too delicious to pass up?

It’s not that I am a fatalist or pessimist. It’s that it has been at least a half-century since I last tried to start my own seedlings, and that last time all those years ago … 100% of the plants perished. My cosmic tomato-starting score is therefore 0 for 1.


We have our own bookburners here in Paradise. Right now they are especially incensed about a couple of graphic novels at the public library which deal with young people who are gay or trans. But history tells us that the book police are rarely satisfied with getting rid of only two items. Once they get a fire started you can usually hear them hollering for more fuel. I give a lot of credit to our local library board for standing up for the thoughtful and rational policies that they have put in place.

We’re going through a rough patch in this country right now regarding sex. Those who are basically opposed to it have won quite a few rounds recently. These folks are convinced that all sex must be directed only at conceiving children, and it is just damned unfortunate that the process has any pleasure attached to it at all. In their eyes, a woman is a walking incubator and the state/church makes her reproductive choices for her.

Also, their eyes and minds being closed now for thousands of years, they believe that there are straight males and straight females and any talk of other versions of humans is nothing but the product of a mortally sinful imagination.

Mutineer, by Jason Isbell and Amanda Shires


Recently I promised a review of the Cheetos Mac n’ Cheese products and here it is. I tested the standard and jalapeño versions, but not the “flaming hot” one. (That is the only snack style of Cheetos that I dislike so … why would I ever ?)

Standard version: the cooking instructions suggested 7 minutes of boiling the pasta, but here at 5900 feet above sea level I needed 8 minutes. As to taste, blindfolded I don’t think I could have told this from the Kraft product.

However, we couldn’t do a blinded test because the pasta is spiral-shaped rather than elbow-shaped and even a fool could tell those apart.

Jalapeño version: same thing with the pasta, cook it a bit longer. But the mild spiciness was a real treat. It will be my first choice for packaged mac n’ cheese from now on.

(Truth is, Robin and I rarely have packaged mac n’ cheese at all. Mostly these boxes are brought out when children come to visit, and none of those children like spicy foods, so … I may have had the “cheesy jalapeño” flavor for the first and last time. Therefore, you may consider this post a public service, rather than a guide to our daily diet.)


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