Is The Fat Lady Singing?


Vintage Creepy Clowns (10)

 

There are days when everything is simply too much. You don’t feel well enough to tackle a new project and the outstanding tasks seem onerous. It would be nice simply to take a day-long nap, but you know that won’t pan out either, because if you sleep all day you’ll toss and turn all night.

Today is one of those days. My headache is mild enough for me to forget to take an aspirin when I pass my the medicine cabinet, and the act of retracing my steps feels prohibitive. I have no appetite. I sip water.

Could this be it? Am I dying? Dengue? Brain tumor? There are no cures for these so there’s no point in bothering to get a proper diagnosis.

I could read but then I’d have to sit upright and pay attention.

After two days of this I go to a hospital clinic. A blood test confirms I don’t have dengue. They give me a shot to relieve my muscle pain.  The whole thing costs twice as much as I thought it would. It’s still about what a deductible would have been if I’d been in the states and insured. It was worth it to know that I don’t have anything seriously wrong with me.

When I feel better, I’ll get back to playing the piano, writing, cruising around on my motorcycle and taking pictures. Those are my only jobs nowadays.

 

 

 

Who Do I Have to Blow to Get a Cup of Coffee Around Here?


Our plan for today was simple. We would find an air-conditioned train down the coast, ride for a few hours and then rest at an interesting small city. But all the trains were full because it’s the day after the coronation of the new king. So we bought the only ticket we could, on a third-class train that was full to the breaking point. People were standing in the aisles. It was very hot and humid. We rode for two hours and then when we stopped at a fair-sized town, we bailed. Our tickets had only cost a dollar for the two of us.

I really needed a cup of coffee. They hadn’t had a coffee shop at the new Bangkok train station, which is under construction and due to be completed in a couple of years if they’re lucky. Well, there was one but it was closed. Thai coffee shops are often closed early in the morning. They think of coffee as something you drink later in the day, when you take a break from shopping. This city we got off in, Nakornpatom has only one coffee shop, butt it too was closed. There are ample opportunities to drink instant coffee, but I would rather drink sewage than that swill.

I don’t know if it’s the heat or the caffeine withdrawal but I’m not feeling well. We got a cheap hotel room next to the train station and I slept for two hours. I went outside to find a cup of coffee and walked for half an hour in incredible heat. Finally, I found a coffee cart with a real espresso machine.

In everywhere but here, there are too many coffee shops. Ten years ago, when I first arrived in Thailand, there were almost none. The coffee changed my mood. I began to look on the bright side. There is an amazing temple right downtown, that looks like something out of the set for the movie The Wizard of Oz, and a lot of 1960’s futuristic architecture that promises to make for interesting photography once the sun gets much lower in the sky.

THE SEDUCTION OF EVIL


 

 

All the absurdity and stupidity displayed every day on the news, then amplified and echoed on social media, has the ability to distract us from developments more worthy of our attention. Yes, our government is corrupt, surely everyone is aware of this. We could consider the present state of affairs a crisis, or we could simply acknowledge that there are problems for which we will need to find solutions and move on.  To allow ourselves to be absorbed by horror and anxiety serves no one. Maybe this permanent state of emergency is the plan the tyrants had all along. We can immunize ourselves by directing our attention at things that empower us.

 

I’m not talking about limiting ourselves to “happy news.” Being absorbed by the news in general, just like being too rabid a fan of any entertainment, is a large step on the path to powerlessness. What did people do with their free time before the Internet? Lots of different things that are still available to us now, if we can only look away from the fascinating horror that tempts us online.

 

 

 

 

Bored in Thailand?


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I’m retired and living in Chiang Mai, Thailand, a metro area about as big as Des Moines, Iowa. Every once in a while I worry that my life is too tame, too predictable, and that I’ve bitten off too little to successfully chew. Thai women are lovely and even young women will smile (sometimes suggestively) at this sixty-eight-year-old walking fossil, it never snows, it’s never cold, and I can ride my motorcycle into the hills on a moment’s notice.

 

But then I see a Facebook post from Iowa and am reminded that any ennui I feel here would only be amplified there. In the Northern Midwest it’s cold over half the year. The state is mostly flat corn fields. I recently saw a photo of Storm Spotter training session at a local church. The students were old people who want to become trained and certified Storm Spotters for their local television station. The church was full. I am reminded of the omnipresence of churches and community colleges, of dreary training and certification meetings. White bread and jello. Creamed corn.

 

Now that Wal-Mart has done away with greeters, I don’t think there would be any jobs available, and prices for most things in the States are five to ten times higher than they are here. I see the stick, but where’s the carrot?

 

I paid into Medicare for forty years, which I can’t access it over here, but luckily most medical costs here are ten to twenty times less than they would be in America. I’m still in good health, and so I’m reasonably confident I could pay for anything less than catastrophic surgery out-of-pocket.

 

All of a sudden, occasional bouts of  boredom don’t seem so bad.

Way Too Much


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Too much already so nothing matters
 
I keep thinking I should start a project that would take me months to finish, write and photograph a long piece, and then find somewhere to publish it. But then I look at the steady stream of detritus that flows through my laptop every day and realize that nobody needs any more writing or pictures. Nobody needs any more of anything.
 
I could delude myself into thinking that my diligent and purposeful activity would eventually make some sort of difference to somebody, but I think it would at best amount to self-deception.
 
There are too many choices for my limited attention. I subscribe to Netflix and there’s a lot out there for which pay a paltry sum. Last night we watched one of  the worst movies I’ve ever seen on Netflix. Last month we watched one of the best TV series I’ve ever seen, three seasons worth, thirty-nine, one-hour episodes.
 
I saw a movie in a cinema last month, but it was the first time I’ve been out to see a movie since we started up with Netflix.
 
I no longer “read” anything. I skim. I’m always browsing, hoping that something substantial and evocative will grab my attention for longer than a few seconds. That rarely, if ever happens.

Catholic or Buddhist?


 

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I grew up Catholic, baptized shortly after birth, educated in Catholic schools until I was eighteen, first by nuns, then by Jesuits. Our neighborhood revolved around the parish church and school. In St. Louis, people would judge your social class by your parish. “She’s from Our Lady of Lourdes.” Oh, that speaks volumes.

 

Now I live in Thailand, and here in Chiang Mai, Buddhist temples are even more omnipresent and important to the community than were Catholic churches when I was a boy. All directions are given regarding the nearest temple. Fundraising parties that last five full days abound. There’s literally a  temple every half mile in all directions. The first morning sounds I hear through our perpetually open windows are the gentle gongs of  monks walking down lanes, seeking alms.

 

There are school classrooms attached to many temples, but most education is done in public schools. Uniforms are compulsory here, up through University level. Thais love uniforms. Even employees of companies wear uniforms. Nurses wear nurse uniforms like we used to have in America before about 1960. Boy and girl scout uniforms abound.

 

Conformity is not frowned upon in Southeast Asia. There’s an Asian expression, “the nail that sticks up gets hammered down.” I chafed under the regulations that demanded I wear a uniform for the first eight years of schooling, but here I take comfort seeing students in uniforms.. It reminds me of home. I remember having the same feeling when I went to Ireland in 1971. I saw Dublin school girls waiting for a bus who were wearing the same color skirt and blouse the girls wore back at our Lady of Lourdes, in St. Louis.

Yes, You Will Die


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We will pray for you, if that’s any consolation. You ask “is there any way to avoid death?” In the long run, I’m afraid not. We are all on that journey, like cattle in a chute. We hear the frantic mooing of those who are ahead of us on the one-way path to the slaughterhouse. There, a man who holds a large hammer stands poised to strike.

 

What, you have other plans? Sorry, they amount to no more than wishful thinking. This world is a small part of a much greater cosmos. Will you persist? I can’t promise anything. To tell the truth, I don’t know what awaits us. I only know we’re in the chute. You can moo and kick the walls all the like, but you will move forward. See, you just took another step!

 

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Diaper Man


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If you had told me a week ago that I would be flown to Bangkok for 3 days to play an American cotton farmer in a Chinese diaper commercial I wouldn’t have believed it. But indeed this is what has happened. The location for the three-day shoot is a rich man’s estate with hundreds of acres of lagoons and gardens with carefully landscaped Lombardi pines. It looks like Versailles transplanted to Thailand. I am hardly the most important person in this project, in fact I am almost inconsequential, but they saw something in me I guess they could not find among the expatriates living in Bangkok.

Or maybe I just had a lucky break and a good Agent. The woman who plays the mother of the cute baby who needs my diapers is an incredibly beautiful young woman. She is so beautiful in that Thai way that a billboard sized picture of her could stop traffic.

The man who owns this estate is probably long dead. There is a bust of him on the landing and a huge oil portrait of him on the second floor, with photos of him and the royal family, but no one in the crew seems to know who he is, or care. We’re just using his house as a location for a commercial shoot.

Sic Transit Gloria Mundi. You can be rich enough to own Versailles but your house will be used as a location for a diaper commercial and no one will know who you are.

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Waking up to who you are


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“Waking up to who you are involves letting go of who you imagine yourself to be.” – Alan Watts

 

By the time we leave adolescence, most of us have a pretty set idea of who we are. We know our talents, our weaknesses, our proclivities. Other people let us know where we shine and where we don’t.

 

The jobs we’re offered, the feedback we get at work, the attention we get from possible romantic partners, the status we achieve in our community…all these things give us a pretty set and firm idea of who we are. At least we think they do.

 

Who we really are and the possibilities we offer are often not yet expressed. Clark Gable was an impoverished lumberjack as a young man. He had all of his teeth removed by the age of twenty and was wearing an ill-fitting and often painful set of false teeth. He had big ears. If we could zip back in a time machine and ask him to describe himself at that age, I imagine the details he would offer would vary substantially from what he would say a decade later.

 

Elvis at sixteen and Elvis at eighteen would offer the same extremes. These kinds of changes and rapid advances in self-concept and esteem don’t only happen to the young. There are probably more examples of delayed recognition for persistent effort than there are meteoric rises to the top. People who rate themselves as successful often say that continued and constant effort was the key to their success.

 

 

 

Keep Trying No Matter What


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I write a lot. Blogs, Kindle Books, things that I shoot out onto the worldwide web and then…nothing much happens. So I do it again. And again. Two or three people notice. Every month I sell two or three books. I’m actually losing money at it, because I’m using Amazon ads to boost sales. So far my book Retire Cheaply and Finally Relax has been seen 140,000 times, resulting in three sales. Hmm. I spent $35 to earn $9. Not much future in that.

 

But I will not give up. I will continue to promote these books and blogs because…what else am I gonna do? I’m retired, living on the other side of the world. Last time I checked, I was unemployable. In the years before my last attempt at holding a teaching job, I kept proving and reproving that fact.

 

I’m good at hanging out and doing what I want to do, which isn’t much. Today I accomplished shockingly little. I met with friends and swam a kilometer at my swimming pool. I took a nap. I wrote a couple of blog entries and painted a very small picture. I took a short walk. I spent far too much time scrolling through Facebook, posting funny pictures which I copied from other people’s posts.

 

No, I can’t do any less. If I had some inspiration to try something else, I might be able to do more, but first I’d have to have some guidance as to what that might be. You can’t just do more of the same things you’re already not succeeding at. Well, you can, but that would be obsession. Compulsion. Insanity.

 

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