Between Routine and Idleness

Covid and Feelings of Solitary Confinement

Another Monday is in the books, and although most Mondays are pretty unmemorable the Mondays of the past few months have been just plain forgettable. I decided to take a closer look at solitary confinement as a state of mind because of Covid (the lockdowns, quarantines, and such). That solitary state of mind was strong today which teetered between monotonous routine and forced idleness (like many previous Mondays).

My article “Chekhov on Solitary Confinement” argues that voluntary confinement is more difficult to endure than compulsory confinement. Most of us are doing our best to adhere to the various guidelines and requirements of Covid 19, but the nature of self-isololation, self-quarantine, and social distancing can be quite trying. If you are like me, you go to work every day, take care of family members, run errands, and so forth and so on. For most of us life has settled into a monotonous routine, and when we finish up with the daily routine there isn’t anything to do. With nothing to do the routine slowly moves to a forced idleness. It’s been a while since I’ve read the “Myth of Sisyphus” but I think the routine must be like rolling the boulder up the hill and the idleness must be the waiting for the boulder to stop rolling at the bottom of the hill (not much of a literary analysis there but I’m already well into my third rye whiskey).

So what’s the take away? I think one possible solution is in the previous paragraph. I recommended Chekhov’s “The Bet” in a previous post and after I’m finished here I think I’m going to reread the “Myth of Sisyphus.” Stories about individuals facing and surviving solitary confinement, physical and/or mental, can help us cope with our feelings of confinement, routine, and idleness. Any suggestions on what I should read after I finish the Myth of Sisyphus?


Some Thoughts on Solitary Confinement

When Life Becomes a Solitary State of Mind

Solitary confinement is a term you’d usually associate with the criminal justice system, but as we roll into the final months of 2020 and rapidly approach the one year mark of Covid solitary confinement is something that most of us now have some sort of experience with.

Whether it is a lock down, a self-quarantine, remote work (or job loss), distance learning, or some other form of isolation most of us have probably felt alone at one point in time or another over the past eight months. We have an abundance of social media communication tools available to us, but the Grams, Twits, Toks, Times, Books and numerous other apps just don’t seem to replace a face to face conversation with beers in hand and music on a jukebox. This “new normal” that has so many of us separated from friends, family, and loved ones has me thinking about seclusion and how it can be compared to solitary confinement.

The topic of conversation will focus on the idea of solitary confinement, not so much in a criminal justice sense, but as a state of mind. I’d like to hear what you have to say on the topic.


Some Thoughts on Caretakers

Those Who Look After Those Who Passed

There is a solitude to graveyards. That is a pretty obvious statement but one worth looking into, an idea worth developing. Death is a solitary event but we (most of us anyway) will spend our time after death (in the corporeal form anyway) in the company of others. But who looks after us after we die?

The obvious answer to that question is family and/or friends. What if there is no immediate family or there are no friends to look after a grave? I grew up near a graveyard, and as a child, I was fascinated by how old some of the graves were, many were well over one hundred years old. Growing up I often wondered if the deceased still had any living family to visit and tend to the graves. The church did a fine job of tending to the grounds but as a child and into adulthood I noticed that there were never many flowers or proof of regular visits. The graveyard felt, in many ways, as if it were a forgotten place until recently when I discovered that there is a small group of volunteers who have started tending to the graves of those who no longer have family or friends to do so. We’ve had some pretty serious storms out here in the Midwest of late, serious enough to damage several of the older tombstones. This group of volunteers worked for hours setting gravestones up right and patching them the best they could as the church saw to the removal of fallen trees. I found it heartwarming to see people dedicate their time and effort to individuals they did now know and are separated by one hundred to nearly two hundred years of history.

I read somewhere that one test of a society is to take a close look at how it treats its children. I think another test of a society is to look at how it honors its dead.


Some Grave Thoughts

The Return of Thrills and Chills

Graveyard, boneyard, and cemetery are just a few words used to identify a final resting place. This collection of synonyms (some a little more euphemistic than others) is just one aspect of the graveyard that fascinates me. A graveyard can be a bit of a contradiction. It is both a source of history and an end of it. It is a solemn place that is often ornately decorated. It is a place where people are both remembered and forgotten. The graveyard is both literal and symbolic. These contradictions are worthy of a close study and a bit of conversation.

“Saint John’s Cemetery”

We walk, pedal, and drive by graveyards on a regular basis. Some of you, like me, may live near or grew up next to a graveyard. They play important roles in our lives and in our art. Graveyards in one form or another exist in almost all cultures and throughout time. October is the ideal month to take a closer look at graveyards as place and idea.


A Final Thought on Bad Medicine

When Friendships Are Bad

So here we are on the final day of September about to roll into the witching month of October. I figure one last observation concerning bad medicine is in order before I shift to all things horror and Halloween. Been giving some thought to friendships of late and how they can be connected to bad medicine.

I wonder if picking bad friends can be habit forming? Bad friends come with bad advice, and bad advice is a lot like bad medicine. We often take both medicine and advice without thinking about possible side effects or if either is bad for us in the long run. Once we start taking that bad medicine and bad advice it may be hard to stop, even if we start to notice it’s bad for us. Bad medicine and bad friends have a way of making us feel good in the short run and that is the beginning of a habit.

So what’s the take away? Maybe I’ve just had a few more bad friendships than others (or maybe fewer, don’t really know you), but I do believe that if you aren’t careful you can find yourself with some bad friends that will leave you with some long term negative side effects.


Self Help as Bad Medicine

or The Value of Self-Help Books?

Is bad medicine the result of poor intentions, or good intentions that end poorly? A person may not start with the idea that he/she is using (or taking) bad medicine, it may just end up that way. But I don’t want to discuss medicine in the traditional sense of the word today. I want to scribble a few lines about advice as medicine and how bad advice can be just as harmful as bad medicine.

I noticed a co-worker with a self-help book the other day, and I thought of George Carlin’s bit regarding self-help books. I can’t do the bit justice so I suggest you open up another window on your interwebs and give it watch to get some context (I’ll be here when you’re done). … You’re still reading so I’ll assume you watched it. Funny stuff, yeah? Carlin’s idea is self-help books aren’t self-help because you are listening to and following the advice of somebody else. Carlin says this isn’t self-help, it’s just help. In think this insight can be tied to bad medicine (or how we use/misuse medicine). We buy, read, and study self-help books with the intentions of bettering ourselves. Like my co-worker, we have the best of intentions when we begin, but what of the advice these books provide? These self-help books are written by people we do not know and more importantly do not know us. These authors may have experiences similar to ours but their experiences are not our experiences. Although we may get useful information from a self-help book we must remember these books are only offering advice and not all advice is good advice, especially if that advice can’t be applied to our lives. Good intentions can have poor consequences if we try too hard to live a life based solely on somebody else’s advice

I’m not saying you should avoid self-help books (Hell, that would make me just another person giving out advice). I am saying that bad advice can be just as dangerous as bad medicine, and like bad medicine bad advice can be given (and taken) with the best of intentions.


Some Thoughts on Bad Medicine

The What, How, and When of Bad Medicine

What comes to mind when you think of bad medicine? If you are thinking about Bon Jovi then you are probably of a certain age, but Bon Jovi is not the topic of conversation (I did see them perform that song in concert though). I’ve been thinking about medicine of late, both good and bad, maybe good or bad is a better way to phrase it. Medicine is a thing, and like many things its use or misuse is what makes it bad.

Medicine comes in many different forms, both in theory and practice. It’s the bad (I feel like I should be putting quotes around that word) that I want to focus on. Alcohol, marijuana tobacco, cocaine, and morphine are just a sampling of medicines that have been viewed as good or bad (or just plain evil depending on who you talk to) at various points of time. What makes medicine good at one point and bad at another? Is it research, misuse, morality, or something else? If it isn’t good for you is it bad medicine? If it makes you feel too good is it bad medicine? These are just a few questions that come to mind when I think of bad medicine.

Personal experiences give us varying views of what makes medicine bad? What one thinks is bad may not be so bad for someone else. This is what interests me. I want to take a closer look at the use and misuse of various medicines and see what, how, or when a medicine becomes bad.


A Final Thought on Vanishing

Before July 2020 Disappears

It’s a few hours before another month vanishes, nothing left but memories and an old calendar page (if you are one of the few who still use paper calendars). I hope you have some good memories to take away from July and can scratch off any bad experiences as easily as deleting an old appointment form your calendar (for those of you who have gone digital).

Blue Morning #1 (P7000-editx19.04)
“Blue Morning”

I spent some time this month exploring the topic of vanishing, both literal and metaphor. Some things that vanish impact the individual and others an entire culture. It’s important to take notice of what vanishes whether it be a person, place, or something that we hold dear. We are all recorders of history in one sense or another. Maybe that is what history is, just trying to remember what has vanished.


An Absence of Place

When the Past Vanishes

Anybody who is familiar with my journos will know that I tend to sentimental sketches and ramblings at times. If you are new here consider yourself warned. I once read that if you sit in one place long enough you will eventually run into everybody you know (I’ve spent enough time in bars and coffee shops to think there may be some truth to this). I’ve also read that if you live in one place long enough you will see pieces of your own past vanish (I’ve lived long enough in one place to think there may be some truth to this).

Broken Dreams (#205-edit)
“Broken Dreams”

There used to be this just low class enough, just dive enough bar that I frequented in my early twenties. It was one of those kinds of places you would go with friends to drink heavily and try to meet someone (or a least be a wing man for one your friends who was trying to meet someone). It was the kind of place where you would spend a good chunk of your week’s pay on not too cold beer and watered down whiskey drinks. It was the kind of place that had a second rate DJ on Friday nights and third rate bands on Saturday nights. It was the kind of place with long lines at the bathroom and a haze of cigarette smoke (showing my age here) over the dance floor. In short, it was the kind of place that was the source of many good times with friends, many of whom have faded away over time.  It’s amazing how we move from being friends who drink together until 3:00 a.m. to friends who occasionally “like” each other’s social media posts.  If friendships of youth vanish it stands to reason that the places, those dive bars, would vanish too. There were many nights spent at Dreams with Brad, Chris, Dano, Drew, Ken, and others. Dreams is gone, a fire burnt it to a shell, and I’ve lost touch with most of those friends, two decades can cause people to fade away.

Burnt Dreams Nostalgia (D70-edit)
“Burnt Dreams”

An absence of place (an old dive bar) and friends (moved on or faded away) can make you feel as if a part of life has vanished. But life isn’t a collection of places and proximity. Life is experiences and how we react to them. I went to the upscale bar and grill that has replaced Dreams a few weeks ago. I bought their cheapest beer, took a sip, closed my eyes and realized that the important things will never vanish if you care enough.


Some Thoughts on Vanishing

Keeping Track of What Vanishes

Ever wonder where things go? Where do plans, places, old friends, and missed opportunities end up? Sometimes we can pinpoint the exact locations of these things, but other things simply vanish. There is the slow fade that we don’t notice until that thing we admire, desire, or hold close to us is gone. Then there is the quick vanishing act, as if some unseen magician has played some sort of cruel trick on us.

As I grow older it feels as if more and more things are vanishing (maybe I was too busy to notice them when I was younger). We live in a world of vanishing things such as objects, animals, places, and languages just to name a few. There are those things that have a personal impact on us when they vanish for one reason or another, and entire cultures are impacted when other things vanish. As I write this the word “thing” feels vague but when dealing with such a wide array of concepts what other word works (there are probably many better words that could be used but the 90 degree weather and the sixer of Miller High Life may be impairing my vocabulary)? Maybe the best we can do is to remember those things that vanish the best we can.

Empty Hospital (D70-editj17
“Empty Hospital”

Whether it is a slow fade out or quick disappearance things vanish all around us.  Some of these vanishing things impact us on a personal level and the vanishing of others may impact entire cultures.  This month is about those things that vanish and the impact their absence may have on us.


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