I’m officially back!

After taking a short break for most of January, I’m officially back! I was unofficially back yesterday for a short musical interlude, but now I’m really back. So here’s what I have been up to the last few weeks.

I’ve been continuing to read the Inspector Montalbano series by Andrea Camilleri. In January I read the sixth, seventh, and eighth in the series, The Smell of the Night, Rounding the Mark, and The Patience of the Spider.

We got a new chair (electric, even with a USB port so I can charge my phone) for me and a new cat tree for our two cats (their first!).

A coworker also had some extra prints of photos from the western part of the U.S. that he wanted to give away to us for free. These are the ones I selected:

We caved (more accurately, I caved) to finally getting Disney Plus. I saw that The Muppets, the TV series, is coming later this month and it was too enticing for me to pass up. Plus I knew Kim would like to see The Simpsons. We also wanted to see Hamilton, but weren’t going to get the platform just for that. Now that we have it, we’ll watch it, but of course. Last night, the first thing I watched was Toy Story 2, my favorite Toy Story, especially for this scene, which has me in tears every single time:

Last night was no different as I bawled, from the first note. That’s all it took.

Today, I have zero plans beyond this. I don’t go back to work until tomorrow. We might watch Hamilton later today. We might not. It’s wide open. Usually on Feb. 2, we watch Groundhog Day, but this year maybe we won’t since we’ve already been living it for the last year.

Oops, added this in later: I forgot to include we watched the 1980s cult classic They Live. Kim had seen it, I had not, but when a mutual friend of ours mentioned it in conversation, we knew we had to watch it. It was over the top, but fun.

So what have you been up to since I’ve been gone? Reading, watching, listening to anything good? Share in the comments.

Gone ‘Til November

Earlier this week, my wife invited me to a news blackout on Election Day, and I accepted. To help in that endeavor, I also am taking vacation days on Monday and Tuesday that week. And now since I already have voted, and I don’t need or want to hear anything more on the election, I have decided to extend the news blackout backwards to start tomorrow. Along with that, I’m signing off here on the blog and on Instagram for the rest of the month until after the election.

So what will I be doing if I’m not thinking about the election or the news?

On the literary front, I have choices with plenty of books I already own on Kindle from which to choose and a few books I’ve checked out from the library, including Winter Counts by David Heska Wanbli Weiden and the third, fourth and fifth books in the Murderbot Diaries by Martha Wells.

On the cinematic front, I am thinking about a rewatch of the sixth season of Schitt’s Creek and continuing to watch the best episodes of Cold Case on The Roku Channel before the show expires at the end of the month. I miss Drunk History, but I’ll drown my sorrows with Mystery Science Theater 3000 and Rifftrax movies.

On the musical front, I am hoping that Lana Del Rey drops her new album Chemtrails over the Country Club before the end of the month and if not, I’ll continue to listen to Taylor Swift’s latest album folklore over and over again as I pretty much have been doing since it was released in late July.

I also will be continuing an online six-week introductory course for Christian Meditation that is being hosted by a group in Houston, Texas and to which I was invited by Deb Nance of the blog, Readerbuzz, and host of the weekly Sunday Salon. The group is part of The World Community for Christian Meditation. I admit that on the night of the election, I will be skipping as (my wife and) I will be “meditating” over a big bottle of wine or other alcohol-based libation.

…after the election (when hopefully we won’t have to move to Celine’s country).

Pushing Forward Back September/October 2020

Read

  • The Crime at Black Dudley by Margery Allingham
  • The Thin Man by Dashiell Hammett
  • The Moving Target by Ross Macdonald
  • Cadillac Beach by Tim Dorsey
  • Last Bus To Woodstock by Colin Dexter

Watched

  • Endeavour, Series 3 and Series 4
  • Eureka, part of Season 3
  • Mystery Road, Series One
  • The Song Remains The Same
  • The Train (1964)

Listened To

  • Gold Record by Bill Callahan
  • Comma by Sam Prekop
  • Shore by Fleet Foxes
  • Untitled (Rise) by Sault
  • Whole New Mess by Angel Olsen

Highlights of the Past Month

  • In bold in the lists above are my picks of the month as must-read, must-watch and must-listen-to, with the corresponding photos above each category. In the music category, it was close with Angel Olsen’s and Fleet Foxes’ new albums also more than worth a listen.
  • On a personal level, the big highlight of the month was the resolution of a dispute between the hospital and our insurance company from my knee surgery last year for a bill for $11,000. The short version is that after several months, we now owe nothing.
  • Other highlights included getting a light therapy lamp to help with Seasonal Affective Disorder, getting a meditation app called Insight Timer to help me be more mindful at work and at home, and getting rid of an old air conditioner and loveseat. Unfortunately in the case of the latter, while moving the loveseat out of the house, I dropped it on one of my barefoot toes (I know, really smart), which looks pretty gnarly. I’m going to see my primary on Friday to see if she thinks I need to get an X-ray.

Ahead to October

However, it’s not all bad or potentially bad for me for the month of October. I’m beginning the month continuing to read The Life We Bury by Allen Eskens and Wherever You Go, There You Are by Jon Kabat-Zinn, both of which I started this past weekend and both of which I’m enjoying. My wife and I also are looking forward to rewatching Season 6 of Schitt’s Creek, which drops Oct. 7 on Netflix. Of course, as I am writing this, I remember that we already own the sixth season on Prime because we couldn’t wait for it to come out on Netflix and bought it earlier this year so we actually can watch it again whenever. We also are awaiting the release of the new album, Chemtrails Over The Country Club, by Lana Del Rey that originally was supposed to drop in September, but hopefully will drop this coming month.

On a personal note, hopefully, thanks to the light therapy, I will be able to wake up earlier to journal, to walk and…well…just to be awake before going to work.

I’ll leave you with a taste of Lana with Matt Maeson:

How was your month of September? Read any good books, seen any good movies and/or TV shows, listened to any good music? What was the highlight of your month? What are you most looking forward to in October? Share in the comments.

Update, Friday, Oct. 2: My doctor said the top part of my toe was broken, even without having me getting an X-ray. She taped it together with the nearest toe and told me to take Tylenol or ibuprofen for the swelling and pain. She estimated it could take up to 12 weeks to heal. But that I might still be feeling pain in it for up to six months. If it looks bad after a couple of weeks, she said that I could call and she’d prescribe an antibiotic if infected.

Further update, Saturday, Oct. 3: After a little research, I ordered some toe wraps and a special shoe for the broken toe (middle toe on the left foot) on Amazon, all for under $50. I figured it couldn’t hurt to try to see if they help with the healing and, in the case of the shoe, keeping in mind while walking around the house to watch that I don’t bang into anything else with the broken toe.

My Own Personal Sabbath #21

Every Sunday since mid-May 2020, I have been taking my own personal Sabbath, where I tune out of the news and social media and turn off my ringer and all notifications on my phone. This past weekend, I started Saturday and am extending it through Tuesday, because of the presidential debate on Tuesday night. What follows is what I’ve been reading, watching, listening to, doing so far this extended Sabbath.

As the weekend began, I had lots of choice for what I might read, from Kindle deals I’ve recently purchased to ebooks I have checked out from the Free Library of Philadelphia that I thought I might read but hadn’t yet. After a few misfires throughout much of Saturday, I finally settled on beginning to read Wherever You Go, There You Are: Mindfulness Meditation in Everyday Life by Jon Kakat-Zinn, a recent ebook I picked up through a Kindle deal. There are three parts to the book. So far, I’ve read the first part and here are a few highlights from that first part:

TRY: Stopping, sitting down, and becoming aware of your breathing once in a while throughout the day. It can be for five minutes, or even five seconds. Let go into full acceptance of the present moment, including how you are feeling and what you perceive to be happening. For these moments, don’t try to change anything at all, just breathe and let go. Breathe and let be. Die to having to have anything be different in this moment; in your mind and in your heart, give yourself permission to allow this moment to be exactly as it is, and allow yourself to be exactly as you are. Then, when you’re ready, move in the direction your heart tells you to go, mindfully and with resolution.

If we don’t really know where we are standing— a knowing that comes directly from the cultivation of mindfulness— we may only go in circles, for all our efforts and expectations. So, in meditation practice, the best way to get somewhere is to let go of trying to get anywhere at all.

Nor are we forcing ourselves to be non-judgmental, calm, or relaxed. And we are certainly not promoting self-consciousness or indulging in self-preoccupation. Rather, we are simply inviting ourselves to interface with this moment in full awareness, with the intention to embody as best we can an orientation of calmness, mindfulness, and equanimity right here and right now.

The spirit of mindfulness is to practice for its own sake, and just to take each moment as it comes—pleasant or unpleasant, good, bad, or ugly—and then work with that because it is what is present now. 

TRY: During the day, see if you can detect the bloom of the present moment in every moment, the ordinary ones, the “in-between” ones, even the hard ones. Work at allowing more things to unfold in your life without forcing them to happen and without rejecting the ones that don’t fit your idea of what “should” be happening. See if you can sense the “spaces” through which you might move with no effort… 

Being in a hurry usually doesn’t help, and it can create a great deal of suffering—sometimes in us, sometimes in those who have to be around us. 

A non-judging orientation certainly does not mean that you cease knowing how to act or behave responsibly in society, or that anything anybody does is okay. It simply means that we can act with much greater clarity in our own lives, and be more balanced, more effective, and more ethical in our activities, if we know that we are immersed in a stream of unconscious liking and disliking which screens us from the world and from the basic purity of our own being. The mind states of liking and disliking can take up permanent residency in us, unconsciously feeding addictive behaviors in all domains of life. When we are able to recognize and name the seeds of greediness or craving, however subtle, in the mind’s constant wanting and pursuing of the things or results that we like, and the seeds of aversion or hatred in our rejecting or maneuvering to avoid the things we don’t like, that stops us for a moment and reminds us that such forces really are at work in our own minds to one extent or another almost all the time. It’s no exaggeration to say that they have a chronic, viral-like toxicity that prevents us from seeing things as they actually are and mobilizing our true potential.

Meditation does not involve trying to change your thinking by thinking some more. It involves watching thought itself. The watching is the holding. By watching your thoughts without being drawn into them, you can learn something profoundly liberating about thinking itself, which may help you to be less of a prisoner of those thought patterns—often so strong in us—which are narrow, inaccurate, self-involved, habitual to the point of being imprisoning, and also just plain wrong. 

TRY: Recognizing the ways in which you meet obstacles with harshness. Experiment with being soft when your impulse is to be hard, generous when your impulse is to be withholding, open when your impulse is to close up or shut down emotionally. When there is grief or sadness, try letting it be here. Allow yourself to feel whatever you are feeling. Notice any labels you attach to crying or feeling vulnerable. Let go of the labels. Just feel what you are feeling, all the while cultivating moment- to- moment awareness, riding the waves of “up” and “down,” “good” and “bad,” “weak” and “strong,” until you see that they are all inadequate to fully describe your experience. Be with the experience itself. Trust in your deepest strength of all: to be present, to be wakeful.

Concentration can be of great value, but it can also be seriously limiting if you become seduced by the pleasant quality of this inner experience and come to see it as a refuge from life in an unpleasant and unsatisfactory world. You might be tempted to avoid the messiness of daily living for the tranquility of stillness and peacefulness. This of course would be an attachment to stillness, and like any strong attachment, it leads to delusion. It arrests development and short- circuits the cultivation of wisdom.

Meditation does not involve trying to change your thinking by thinking some more. It involves watching thought itself. The watching is the holding. By watching your thoughts without being drawn into them, you can learn something profoundly liberating about thinking itself, which may help you to be less of a prisoner of those thought patterns—often so strong in us—which are narrow, inaccurate, self-involved, habitual to the point of being imprisoning, and also just plain wrong.

Dwelling inwardly for extended periods, we come to know something of the poverty of always looking outside ourselves for happiness, understanding, and wisdom. It’s not that God, the environment, and other people cannot help us to be happy or to find satisfaction. It’s just that our happiness, satisfaction, and our understanding, even of God, will be no deeper than our capacity to know ourselves inwardly, to encounter the outer world from the deep comfort that comes from being at home in one’s own skin, from an intimate familiarity with the ways of one’s own mind and body.

Dwelling in stillness and looking inward for some part of each day, we touch what is most real and reliable in ourselves and most easily overlooked and undeveloped. When we can be centered in ourselves, even for brief periods of time in the face of the pull of the outer world, not having to look elsewhere for something to fill us up or make us happy, we can be at home wherever we find ourselves, at peace with things as they are, moment by moment.

This past month, at the recommendation of my therapist, I started using a meditation app, Insight Timer. I’ve mostly been meditating with a Morning and Evening Examen from a website called God in All Things created by a married Jesuit lay minister named Andy Otto. I also took a guided course, Learn How To Meditate In Seven Days, on the app. So this is just a natural progression/next step on the journey to read more about mindful meditation.


Yesterday I also decided to try a show new to me, Mystery Road, an Australian show. An Acorn TV show, it had been available for free on Amazon Prime, but it’s not now so I’m watching it on Hoopla through the Free Library of Philadelphia. That’s also where my wife and I watched The Brokenwood Mysteries, a New Zealand mystery series. While you only can borrow four titles per month with Hoopla, what was good that each season of The Brokenwood Mysteries was four episodes long. Mystery Road is six episodes long, so I’ve now watched four episodes, but with it being the end of September, I won’t have to wait too long to watch the last two (with my wife, she’s catching up on it today with me).

The story seems simple: Two young men go missing from a cattle station. Detective Jay Swan, played by Aaron Pedersen, is called in to investigate with local copy Emma James, played by Judy Davis. Except, of course, it isn’t that simple as Swan and James discover. Both Pederson and Davis are excellent in their roles and the story, four episodes in, is very good since I want to see the rest of it and now have roped my wife into watching it.


Last night, after reading a review of Adele’s 21 (each Sunday Pitchfork reviews a significant album from the past), I listened to it again and it still is stunning for songs like this:


Tonight as we watch Mystery Road, Kim and I are enjoying a little (or maybe a lot of) wine as we celebrate the resolution of an $11,000 bill from my knee surgery last year. I learned in May, almost eight months after my surgery, that our insurance company denied the claim back in October shortly after the surgery and that the bill was under dispute. Since May, we have been going back and forth with the hospital and the insurance company, but on Saturday we received a letter from the hospital’s financial assistance office that I had been given a 100 percent discount backdated to September of last year and for the next three months. This morning, I called the financial assistance office to confirm that meant I didn’t owe anything and they said my bill was $0.