I was watching an episode of Malcolm in the Middle on Hulu yesterday. It was the episode in which Malcolm finds himself confounded by the new girl at school, Cynthia. Malcolm finds she makes him happy, angry, amused, upset, and confused – worst of all, he just doesn’t know what’s happening to him. Talk about identifying with a character.
Christine Hodgekiss was my first crush. This was back in 7th grade I believe and she was one of my dance partners in my music class. I didn’t actually like her when that class began; she was just another classmate I knew who might as well been a GI Joe or Barbie doll from the waist down. Even as we danced – we did a lot of dancing and hardly any music appreciation and never played instruments – it was all completely innocent.
Then a new kid showed up, just some guy who had the misfortune of walking into a situation where he didn’t know anyone. As fate, or stupidity, would have it some of my friends and I got the bright idea to write the new kid a note saying Christine wanted to ‘meet’ him after school at the football field. Keeping Christine in the dark, naturally he would get stood up. For reasons I can’t explain, this idea was hilarious to us; maybe we were just dicks. But as the time approached to actually give the new kid a letter, I started to reconsider the idea, though I couldn’t place my finger on the reason why.
One of us went through with the note anyway and wouldn’t you know it, the poor sap bought it and got stood up. I remember seeing him walking down my block on his way home while some of my friends and I played football in the yard. (Your Honor, if it helps rehabilitate my character at all, when I saw him that day I felt like a jerk for helping to pull this prank on him.) A few days later – or maybe it was the next day – Christine caught wind of the prank and started talking to the kid. It was like someone lit a fire under the cauldron of my belly.
I remember sitting in the cafeteria one day, trying to eat but finding myself too confused to have an appetite. I kept asking myself, Why do I care?Do I ‘like’ her? Wait; what? That doesn’t make any sense. I went back and forth on this until it dawned on me and I accepted the fact that I did like her and not in the same way I liked my other friends. This made me petrified of Christine. What do I do now? Do I tell her? What do I say? How does this work? I had no clue. I didn’t have a whiff of a clue. And then we had to dance together.
When we started to dance and we held hands like we’d already done at least a dozen times, I must have been acting oddly because I remember her asking me if I was alright, or words to that effect. Jesus, no, I’m not okay. Total system failure in your proximity!But I can’t say that, can I?! Whatever the song was seemed to last FOREVER and I think I broke out in a sweat at some point. It was so bad I started to look forward to dancing with another girl I hated for being too tall for me. The class ended a few weeks later during which time I was a total basket case and never told Christine.
The crush didn’t last long after that. I soon found myself attracted to every girl who breathed my way. To quote a classic 80’s song, “I’m in love, yeah yeah, at least every minute or two / Until the next time a girl walks by, I think I love her too.” Oh, the names I remember. Unfortunately, if love were a game of chess, I finished out high school barely able to play checkers. As I would find out from some platonic girl friends years later, I had no game. As It turns out, I’m good with my hands so the jokes on everyone who missed out! Sigh, the wonder years.
What’s your story? I’d love to hear it. Comment below.
All Rights Reserved (c) December 2018 John J Vinacci
[I’ve heard it said it’s a good idea to write your own obituary to 1) Figure out exactly what you want to accomplish in life and 2) So that someone else doesn’t sugarcoat the real you. Okay, I made up number two but this is indeed what I want said about me when I die; the unvarnished truth.]
This weekend, John J. Vinacci went to finally get some goddamn sleep. He passed after robbing a series of banks and GOP coffers, giving all the money to the Make-A-Wish Foundation and Amnesty International, and driving off a cliff after being pursued by police.
He was born and raised in New York City – not by wolves as he often claimed – the son of an electrician and a natural multitasker, meaning, a woman. He is almost the youngest of four children but took pride in being his mother’s easiest birth and quietest baby back when they didn’t know to watch out for the quiet ones. Eventually moving to Long Guyland, John attended William Floyd High school whose rallying cry was “We is the champions.” It is amazing that John turned out to be a writer, among other things.
Soon after turning 18, John joined the army knowing that he’d do that someday and wanted to get it over with. It was in the army that he met people from all walks of life and learned that no matter where a person came from they were probably batshit crazy. With some of these batshit crazy people, John guarded warheads (hence the extra pinkie), drank beer, and even formed a garage band that practiced in an attic. John served a total of six years in military service between active duty and the National Guard, mostly out of his deep love for red tape.
John eventually married in his late 30’s, figuring his widowed wife was the least crazy woman he could find that would still be with him. Together they raised two permanent four year olds, meaning cats, Niles aka Crackhead and the immortal Knucklehead who refuses to die no matter how sick he gets. It was also around this time that John attended college at Portland State University as a Philosophy major who excelled at saying exactly the wrong thing at exactly the wrong time until the skill was perfected.
After completing his degree, John and his wife and their two fascist cats moved to Hawaii where John became a post-secondary teacher to students coming out of the nation’s worst high schools. As a teacher, John demonstrated incalculable patience as he taught students how to think and in some cases what not to believe. (This is to say that because a Youtube video asserts that 60 foot human giants used to roam the earth didn’t make such an assertion true.) Ironically, John was diagnosed with mental illness, which in American society apparently means equating reality with actual reality, and decided to go out with a bang instead of waiting to die at home. He is survived by his wife and two cats, his BC Rich guitar, his comic collection, and a collection of writings that have little to do with any previously mentioned reality.
His memorial service will feature a screening of The Matrix – always take the red pill – and a Tekken video game tournament. Music will be provided by the lesser-known 80’s hair-metal band Y&T. After the service his ashes will be spread wherever they are most likely to make people sneeze.
A glance over my fictional work and poetry reveals that much of what I write includes elements of time travel or time manipulation. I love sci-fi in general but it’s time travel that really gets my attention. I’m not exaggerating when I say I think I’ve watched every movie and show about time travel with the exception of Timeless, but that’s up next. It was just the other night after wrapping up the simultaneously brilliant and terrible 12 Monkeys, though, that I earnestly began to question myself as to why I find time travel stories so alluring.
Is it ‘nurture’ perhaps? I wasn’t even a teenager yet before I discovered Dr, Who. The Doctor has always been brilliant, a character who will avoid using a weapon if his brains will suffice in a dire situation. What’s not to love about that? Maybe I wanted to be like him (now her). But that’s just a character and has little to do with time travelling itself.
Maybe I like to travel. I’ve long had slightly more than a passing interest in different historical eras. Who wouldn’t rather actually visit ancient Rome than ham it up a Caesar’s Palace in Las Vegas? Who wouldn’t want to take a peek a thousand years into the future and see what today’s world evolves into? Of course such adventuring would be dangerous and perhaps that’s part of the point.
Is it the allure of power, how going back in time with your present knowledge could potentially change things? Sure, we could alter our own history but what about altering the fate of humanity? The potential to change history in any number of ways is an attractive idea, though, wouldn’t we all try to change something just to see if the universe would allow it?
I’m not sure what I would do or when I would travel to if I actually had the ability. It may be the case that this disturbs me as I think of myself as someone I know relatively well; I know the reason behind everything I do yet don’t know what I would do with this ability. Maybe it’s all of these things. It vexes me.
While I don’t believe time travel to the past is possible, it would be pretty cool if we could do that. Or, more likely, terrible assuming some nefarious person would get their hands on any such time machine. Maybe it’s the impossibility of it all – which is probably for the best – which makes the idea attractive. We always want what we can’t have.
Do you love time travel stories and if so, why? Kindly leave your thoughts in the comments below.
[Author’s Note: We vacationed in Japan from late May into the first week of June 2018. This was my second trip and my wife’s third.]
It had been 13 years since we last visited Japan and we were eager to return. Our trip in 2005 was nothing short of enchanting, experiencing a culture so new, so alluring, we don’t know why we hadn’t planned our return until now. Everything in its time, I suppose.
We arrived at Osaka Airport midmorning and quickly found ourselves unprepared not for the lack of English or readable signage, but for the volume of people we encountered. Having lived in Hawaii for six years now, you get used to a general lack of people being around. (Granted, we were a bit unnerved having almost forgotten a carry-on when we left the plane. Luckily, we were able to get back on the aircraft after everyone had deplaned without too much trouble. Thank you, Japan Airlines!) The lack of English was the ancillary problem; though I’d been studying Japanese for two months, everything went out the window the second I was actually in country. If we hadn’t been concentrating on getting where we were going so much, I would’ve been mad at myself. It is true that most Japanese can speak English and will ‘strike first’ if they suspect you are American, but I didn’t want to be that tourist. I was anyway, at least for now.
We took a bus from Osaka airport to Kyoto where we’d be staying a week before going to Tokyo for a few days. As we rode through Osaka, I couldn’t help but observe the many, MANY golf driving ranges dotting the metropolis. These people really like golf, I thought a least a dozen times. But my mind was more on Kyoto, which I loved far more than Tokyo our first go ‘round. Once we arrived in Kyoto proper, I was a little bit shocked to see the number of tourists; we certainly don’t remember so many of them last time though I understand Kyoto has risen as the ‘traditional’ Japan tourists desire, as opposed to cosmopolitan Tokyo. Off the bus, it was a perfectly pleasant day and found our AirBnB ten minutes away from the city’s famous train station with little trouble. Not a bad place and at least larger than the hostels we stayed in our first trip. Our little getaway also came with usage of the owner’s pocket wifi so we always had use of our smartphones, something we found to be absolutely indispensable. If you go to Japan and don’t speak/read Japanese, you’ll need pocket wi-fi.
After settling in, we were determined to have a good dinner since we had problems with food back in 2005. So, naturally, we wound up at an Indian food restaurant a half hour’s walk north of our abode. And this is one of my favorite things about Japan: You can walk around a strange city and feel safe while taking in things like small, simple shrines people place in front of their homes. Good thing, too, as we’d marked off more restaurants on Google Maps then we’d ever actually get to. (We might’ve gotten to more eateries if not for the fact that Kyoto Beer Lab was literally right around the corner from where we stayed, and that’s where we ended almost every day of our week.) While tiresome on the feet, just walking around Kyoto was a delight as it wasn’t unusual to see citizens vacuuming the sidewalk or using a broom to sweep canals. Interesting, while many Japanese building will be dirty or in disrepair, Kyoto’s people keep their streets and streams clean. Really clean. (Well, for the most part. Generally the more touristy an area the grubbier it gets, by Japanese standards anyway. More on this later.)
With six more days to go in Kyoto, we had to get out and about, doing our exactly-as-planned ‘temple and garden’ tour with a few new twists.
Day two – Ginkakuji/Silver Pavilion, Ryoanji shrine, Ninna-ji Temple, Arishiyama. The Silver Pavilion was small and crowded though we arrived before the gates opened. While we waited, we had our first of many doses of green tea ice cream cones whose first taste in years was like a shot of heaven straight to the brain. Then we congregated to enter the Pavilion, holding back, waiting for the hordes of school children to do their thing. (More on this later.) Ryoanji featured a small rock garden so bland it might as well have been pointless. Comparatively, Ninna-ji was a huge complex whose walkways were pretty neat and suspiciously light on people. Then we travelled clear across town to Arishiyama in a bid to find the mysterious Monkey Park we’d seen on Youtube. Arishiyama is a very touristy town but the climb uphill to the monkey park kept a good measure of people away. Once arrived, we found monkey’s roaming freely but not very camera friendly. Actually, they seemed to harass each other a lot, perfectly in line with their descendants. Fortunately the air was clear so you could catch a good glimpse of Kyoto below. Unfortunately, the town’s acclaimed bamboo forest walk later on was nothing to talk about; I’d seen better bamboo in Portand, in my backyard where I used to live. Day one’s dinner was a stop at a yakatori restaurant whose portions were so small I think they only used a quarter of the chicken. For a little more food, snacks really, we hit Kyoto Beer Lab again where one of the unpretentious co-owners turned out to be Aussie. Cool guy.
Day three – Kinkakuji/Golden Pavilion. My. God. The masses waiting to get into this place. How many people are there in this country? I thought they were all just passing through Kyoto Station. Do any of these people work? Do the school children ever go to school? The Golden Pavilion would be an amazing place without the people, but since there’s never not people there, it really is a shame. Then we walked across the city, to Indian food again, then Kyoto Beer Lab. We don’t actually drink as much as my recap suggests, except we do when we’re on vacation.
Day four – Kiyomizu-dera Temple in Kyoto’s foothills. The viewing deck of main hall that overlooks the city of Kyoto was closed for construction so I wasn’t willing to waste money going in. My wife did and while I waited, I figured I’d get some shots of the city from up here best I could. However, I was thwarted to this end as the best place to view the city from the temple steps was locked down by a European guy proposing to his girlfriend. She said yes and I said dammit as they embraced for what seems like the rest of their lives. I waited and they finally cleared out but before I could get to the viewing spot, it was annexed by two young Chinese ladies way too into themselves. Eventually I gave up as by the time my wife returned too many people had shown up. I don’t remember what we did after that but I’m sure green tea ice cream was involved. Oh yeah, we went up a super scary cable car to some trails in the foothills in another part of town where we somehow found ourselves in a French garden. What the heck, indeed, but then again this wouldn’t be Japan without random stuff like this around. And I don’t remember where, but my wife got a hold of a bell and rang it much to the dismay of some monks. Once we ran away and got back down into Kyoto proper, we had a terrible time trying to figure out the ticket machine which – with some help – found out you have to put your money in first before it’ll work. Then we ate dinner at Gojo Paradise restaurant, a place in Kyoto that seems to double as a hostel for Europeans. The food was surprisingly good, unsurprisingly small as is the case most places you’ll eat in Japan. This is how the Japanese stay thin, what with these portions also being expensive. EOD? KBL.
Day five – Phoenix Temple in Uji and Todaiji Temple in Nara. Uji is an under-rated town and I don’t say that because I successfully spoke Japanese here. The shops in this green tea haven are top-notch and I had the BEST green tea ice cream here as it was topped with matcha powder. That was followed by the best green tea gyoza ever, followed by the best green tea soba noodles ever. I mean, this little town fried my nervous system! Oh yeah, the Phoenix Temple was cool, too, an underrated attraction judging by the reduced crowds here. (Keep in mind we get everywhere early in an attempt to beat the rush.) From there we travelled to Nara to the Todaiji Temple that houses the largest indoor bronze Buddha statue. Todaiji is quite impressive despite the undulating masses that pass through its massive South Gate. But for me, Nara is always remembered as the place where the deer attacked me. Deer, regarded as messengers of the gods, roam the streets freely in Nara. If you want to feed them, you can purchase crackers from any number of vendors. But, my god, once the deer see you with the crackers, you’d better run. They will _ you up. Strangely enough, after fleeing the deer we ran into a German Octoberfest in the middle of town, so of course we had to have a few beers. (It was hot and we knew Kyoto Beer lab was closed today.) Somehow we made it back out of Nara with my nethers intact, but not before considering going into an owl café before deciding that was just too sad to elicit that business.
Day six – We got up early to hit my favorite place in all of Japan, Fushimi-Inari Shrine, trail of the thousand tori gates. In the quite of morning, this place is magical and words cannot convey what I feel when I am here. Near the top, which is nothing special really – you just come back down – there was a man playing Japanese flute and it sounded so beautiful. On our way out of the area, my wife began her hunt for authentic Japanese ceramic blue bowls. Meanwhile, I had more green tea ice cream. This would pretty much be it today as we were quite tired from running around the previous few days.
Day seven – Breakfast at a quaint little coffee shop in Kyoto called Murmur. French Toast with a dollop of vanilla ice cream with dripped-to-perfection coffee = heaven. Then onto the bullet train to Tokyo! where loud, obnoxious Indian tourists have no respect for local culture. At least the view of Mt. Fuji from the train was nice. We arrived in Shinjuku Station to even more mobs of people than we’d seen in Kyoto! We are they putting all these people? How is this many people even possible? Walking through Shinjuku Station is like being a human pinball. Somehow we made it to the Hyatt Regency which was decent enough, I suppose, though the staff is the standout there. After settling in, we navigated back through the train station to the touristy side of Shinjuku which reminded me why I hate Tokyo – it’s downright filthy while trying too hard to be chic. On a more positive note, Shinjuku does have Godzilla popping over a building and a Godzilla store. I did score some Godzilla underwear of all things but stopped short of buying the mask. Talk about regrets.
Day eight – Big day; first down to Kamakura south of Tokyo. We arrived in town and hit a bakery so we’d have something to nosh on as we trekked across town to a bamboo forest. At the temple near the train station, we sat down to eat some of our food when we see a hawk circling overhead. We’re sitting under a tree and don’t think anything of it. Then – I kid you not – my wife is handing a pretzel in a bag back to me when something slaps my ear, I hear a crunch, and next thing I see is the hawk flying away with our food! Up, up, and away. “Did that hawk just steal our food?” I blinked. I’ve been around four decades and nothing like this has ever happened to me; I was floored! Good thing it didn’t take anyone’s fingers off with its talons, if we’re being positive. (Even though we had been here before, we just now learned about Kamakura’s thieving hawks.) Flabbergasted, we walked almost two miles across this German-influenced town to a bamboo forest that hosts a tea house serving the best matcha green tea I’ve ever had (I’m saying that a lot, aren’t I?) thus turning the morning around. We made our way to the Great Buddha after that which – surprise! – was mobbed with tourists and school children. Don’t these kids go to school, ever?! We must have been here before Japan blew up as a tourist destination because you couldn’t just sit and enjoy the statue’s stature. I have to admit, this was my second favorite place I wanted to go and was sorely disappointed. Dejected, we left the temple but found a kebob place nearby, a hole in the wall really, that served the best kabobs…ever. And by an authentic Turkish man who was super polite. On our way back to Shinjuku, we aimed for an area of Tokyo known as Odaiba, a fledgling Disneyland of sorts. We found it to be a surprisingly large area, making the time we had left before the attractions closed scarce. We were able to see the Museum of Emerging Technology and caught a glimpse of the famous robot Asimov in action. While the giant Gundam was cool, too, the Statue of Liberty here felt out of place and we just didn’t have time for the ferris wheel. Just as well because it started to mother-of-god pour. Figures, too, as it was the one day we left our hotel without an umbrella, not that you’re ever very far from an umbrella in Japan; they’re weird that way…
Day nine – We didn’t get up much in the morning; just a jaunt over to Harajuku in the morning where the local kids weren’t in their usually Cosplay getups, presumably because it was too early. We did go to one of Tokyo’s popular cat cafes which proved to be nerve-wracking – the cats seemed pretty stressed out, probably because the employees give you a strict laundry list of rules to follow. Somehow I felt stressed for the buggers. The coffee? Predictably terrible so we went to another café, some vegan place that is quite the novelty in Japan. You see, the Japanese really love to eat meat (and rice). You’d think given their general size they’d eat more veggies but veggies are actually scarce in restaurants in Japan. Why, I do not know. Without Harajuku popping we headed back to our hotel for some pool time before getting ready for the big concert – Ludovico Einaudi – the whole reason my wife planned this trip. While the symphony hall itself was beautiful and the acoustics marvelous, Einaudi’s piano music just doesn’t translate into the arena rock type of show he tried to pull off. I hate to say it, but the guy’s music is better heard than seen. We finished the night spending entirely too much for small portions at the hotel’s restaurant while seated next to a table of very jubilant teenagers having a birthday party. Sigh.
Day ten – The trip home. We stocked up on food in Shinjuku station seeing how our twenty hour trip home would take a train, a bullet train, another train, a shuttle tram, a plane, another plane, and a shuttle ride home. Our cats may have been happy to see us when we arrived, until they sensed we’d been somewhere and cheated on them. Within two minutes they no longer cared. We longed to back in Japan already.
Some General Things I Noticed in Japan
1-They love steep stairs. Or very short, wide stairs. Or a strange combination of the two. They like stairs. Keeps ‘em fit.
2-Not as polite as I recall. Shop owners are, but the public in general, not so much. Given the influx and behavior of some tourists, I can’t say I blame them.
3-They like %$#&@ hot water. I’d forgotten but the blisters reminded me.
4-They love Cosplay, just not in the morning.
5-Their infrastructure can be interesting; they’ll build sidewalks upon sidewalks that have crumbled instead of repairing the whole thing. This reminded me of being in the army where we would just paint over anything sufficiently dirty.
6-They don’t mind capitalism inside their shrines.
7-Kyoto’s citizens dress very conservatively compared to Tokyo’s residents. Kyoto is the more modest of the two by far.
8-Indian tourists are the rudest tourists in Japan, that or we were just lucky.
9-Maybe my most fun experience in Kyoto was in Gion when I was interviewed by a schoolgirl wanting to practice English. None of the school kids claimed to know where Hawaii was, which lines up with Japan’s dark, secret underbelly. But I humored her when she asked what I like about Japan; let’s see, shrines, anime, and Godzilla. This gave her a good laugh. My wife was interviewed, too, and their teacher gave us gifts. Super cool Japanese!
All Rights Reserved (c) August 2018 John J Vinacci
A fundamental tenant of Buddhism is the insistence that the basic condition of life is suffering. Whatever joys there are in life are transient; we always fall back into our suffering condition sooner rather than later. Why then wouldn’t we pursue pleasure as often as we do, at seemingly great risk at times? Why do any of us decide to skydive or climb Everest when the risk includes death? Why does any spouse pursue an affair when the cost is the (relatively) stability of a relationship? Do we enjoy pain? Does uncertainty turn us on? Civilization says we want to avoid pain. Civilization says we should seek stability. But what we really want is to end our suffering and avoiding pain isn’t necessarily related to that. What we want is to feel alive. We want to burn.
Perhaps for many of us, life is not so bad. It could certainly be worse. But when we are caught in between a life that for all intents and purposes is neither here nor there, our lives are mundane, where what’s mundane is, in actuality, low level suffering. The crime is, many of us are aware of this fact. When we realize our lives are in fact mundane, trapped, we ask ourselves, “Is this all there is?” We want there to be more even if we don’t know what that ‘more’ is supposed to include.
When I was a child, I was not someone who gave much thought to the future beyond supposing I’d be married and own a home by the time I was 24. Although such an idea was overly optimistic in hindsight, at least I did not imagine I would ever be someone of any importance. I was never, in my own estimation, destined for great things. Don’t get me wrong, I wanted to be. I just never really saw it. My most ambitious goal was to get through life and at the end, be considered a good man by myself, my family and friends. If I hoped for anything in pursuit of that goal, it would have been for life to be more enjoyable than not along the way.
I remember playing in a rock band when I was in the army. We weren’t very good, which is a polite way of saying that we were awful. Despite our individual talents – Ford was a very capable drummer at only 19 years old, D.B. could play guitar and bass, Lee, the spirited girl-next-door led vocals, while I wasn’t too bad at arranging songs which allowed more talented people forgive my slushy six-string renditions of “Sweet Child O’ Mine” – we never gelled enough as a singular unit to warrant popularity outside the confines of our remote outpost in Germany. Still, we were considered by the rest of the troop to be something akin to rock stars, people other people wanted to be around, presumably because those people had nothing better to do even though they lived in Europe. To my amazement, this led to several ‘concerts’ in which we performed in front of a live audience. Our second ‘show’ is particularly memorable to me, as it was the first time we played on an actual stage. The idea of playing a gig always intimidated me as it could take a while before I settled down to play well before even a few people. On this occasion the heat of the stage lights quickly began to distract me as I’d never experienced such lighting before. By the third song into our set list, the stage lights were too hot for me, so before the next song I whipped my long sleeve shirt off to the mock cat-calls of first platoon. This annoyed me for just a moment until I heard Ford’s drum sticks click 1, 2, 3, 4. Then we launched into a cover of The Kinks “You Really Got Me” which seemed to whip first platoon into a frenzy. (First platoon was legendary for their drinking skills and subsequent madness.) They approached the stage en masse and began pounding their fists on the stage and snapping their heads to the beat of the music. Their thunder rocked the stage and reverberated through my bones. Their energy electrified me. They fed me and I fed them back. That’s when time slowed down. For a few seconds, long seconds, time slowed down as I looked across the hall we were playing in and noticed that the people in the back were also enjoying the show. I don’t recall finishing the song but I do remember that I was literally exhilarated on that stage. That memory is one of the few times I can remember in which I felt absolutely, truly, inexorably alive.
That memory is also fleeting. I remember it is there, that is was, but of what use is it to me now? A memory is intangible and re-lived speciously at best. Having slipped into that fateful pattern civilizations lay out for us, such moments of aliveness become fewer and further in between. Eventually, many of us float through life, comfortable in the knowledge of what we’re supposed to do, which I will grant keeps us safe. It has kept me safe. But the cost has become who I am, where what I am has only been revealed when I have felt alive. But the world is set up in such a way that I have spend much of my time not feeling alive. Halfway through my life, I have begun to see how dearly this has cost me, how much of my true nature has been buried so deep it feels like it cannot be dug up again. I have forgotten that my identity is not fixed by my perceptions or the perceptions of others. I have realized that the person I am that is happy is defined by the actions that make me feel alive. But it seems as though I have forgotten what those actions are. I am no longer alive because I do not practice the things that make me happy; I am no longer alive having foregone almost all risk. Or perhaps this is all a mental affliction that comes naturally with age, the search for an explanation to the loss of the vitality and promise of one’s youth. Perhaps it is the case that I cannot accept who or what I am – ordinary – not destined for great things, or worse, unable to do them. It is one thing to have foreseen this. It is quite another to actually live it.
What remedy is there? It has not proven fortuitous to wait for one’s luck to change. I have to do things. The older generations frown heavily upon millennials of whom they write such scathing headlines, Millennials spend more on experiences than home ownership. Of course the aged will curse the youth for doing what they should have all those years ago. But the lesson to be learned here is that I – you, me, we – have to do things. The world, as it swirls around me, is not enough. It is I who have to swirl around the world. We can’t both be vortexes. Or maybe we can. Of course, it would be an utter storm; risky. And maybe that riskiness would make me feel alive again. I – you, me, we – just have to pull the trigger. The gun might be loaded, but risking the worst is the only way to feel alive.
“Nothing in the world is worth having or worth doing unless it means effort, pain, difficulty… I have never in my life envied a human being who led an easy life. I have envied a great many people who led difficult lives and led them well.” – Theodore Roosevelt
Writers get this question a lot in relation to their fiction. The answer, of course, varies though I do think most of the time story ideas come from something a writer wants to say. (Well, at least until they learn to write what is marketable seeing how the two usually do not coincide.)
Story ideas come from many places. Myself, I get story ideas from other stories. I often get that “Wouldn’t it be cool if…” line breeze through my mind while I’m reading or watching something else. For me, I enjoy writing stories with a twist or try to turn convention on its head as I absolutely hate tropes. On the other hand, an idea often just pops into my head. It’s kind of sad to say I don’t have a muse to inspire me, at least not one I’m aware of.
I’ve heard other writers say it but I do not get any of my ideas from my dreams. As bizarre as they may be sometimes, my dreams aren’t usually compelling enough or coherent enough to tell a good story. Besides, life can be bizarre enough on its own if you let it. Nor do writing prompts usually work for me, I guess because I don’t like being told what to do. But, that’s me.
Where do you get your story ideas from? I’d like to know.
Vegetarianism has been on the rise for some time now, finally taking root in my own household. I am participating, so to speak, but it’s not that I find arguments for this eating lifestyle particularly compelling; I don’t. No, I participate mostly for the sake of supporting those who are enamored by the idea and because I don’t want to make my own dinner all the time. But why aren’t I completely compelled by the arguments for vegetarianism alone? Let’s examine the typical vegetarian’s arguments for abandoning meat in their diet.
To begin with, it’s fair to say that your garden-variety vegetarian finds the idea of farming animals for food repugnant. I can certainly understand this as I am generally against cruelty to any animal that isn’t human. Packing animals in close corners, feeding them something we wouldn’t eat ourselves, pumping them full of hormones, snatching calves from their mothers, wood-chipping chicks if they’re the wrong sex; well, it’s enough to leave a bad taste in any humane person’s mouth. While those of us who occasionally fall off the vegetarian food wagon hope against hope our chicken piccata roamed around happily clueless before being snatched from its bliss like a child in Indonesia, we really know better, and to know better – to know what’s really going on and be okay with it – kinda makes a person an asshole. And we’ve got enough assholes, truth be told.
Fortunately, I don’t find meat all that tasty, or at least not so tasty I couldn’t live without it. After my own father died of a massive heart attack given his meat-saturated diet (though there was the smoking and some drinking, too), I’ve never thought of meat as something I just had to have. And knowing an animal suffered for my culinary enjoyment kind of makes me nauseous when I think about it. Others disagree and their argument is often something like, “Then they (animals) shouldn’t be so damn tasty.” Yes, but if we suddenly discovered how tasty people were, would that suddenly make it okay to eat them? Sometimes this leads to the follow-up argument that God gave human beings dominion over animals (which somehow got translated into “Be shitty to animals”) so it’s all good; the Boss said so. I’m not convinced. It seems like people treat animals the way they’d like to treat other human beings ‘cept that those pesky societal norms stave off their more primitive desires. I’d say thank goodness if treating each other with some dignity weren’t becoming abnormal.
But I digress; I offer my own counter argument to vegetarians here: That eating a plant is equally or even potentially worse than eating an animal. Vegetarians seem content to take life so long as it does not possess a nervous system like most animals do. The reasoning is that if some lifeform is sufficiently close enough to being human, it is cruel to kill and eat that thing. But this is a completely arbitrary distinction. If you’ll notice, many vegetarians are content to include fish in their diet, citing that fish are sufficiently unlike human beings to warrant eating them. Having seen many a fish hooked and pulled out of the water, I’m reasonably sure they feel as much pain as any land animal. So the argument becomes, “I think X is like me (or worse, X is cute), therefore I will not eat it. Y however…” There is no solid delineation for what is sufficiently like a human being to warrant sparing its life and not eating that thing. Who gets to be the authority on such a matter? Arbitrary reasoning is not objective, so the ‘moral’ choice a person makes to become a vegetarian and how far they take it is based solely on subjective reasoning.
It is likewise subjective to assume that plants do not feel pain or suffer from what we do to them. We know that all lifeforms react to the environment around them and what we can pain are sensations the nervous system sends to our brain to tell us harm is taking place. It is therefore reasonable to assume that tearing or uprooting a plant adversely affects a plant and that they don’t somehow sense this. Granted, plants do not have a nervous system like mammals and other animals do, but certainly plants possess a mechanism to react to harm in much the same way they obviously react to positive conditions like sunlight. For all we know, uprooting a plant may make it feel something entirely worse than pain. We don’t know. In not knowing, we should err on the side of caution, not continue on our merry way and say, “Whoops, sorry, we were wrong about you” if we find out plants do feel pain. Then again, that is the tract the United States took in regards to its era of slavery so I guess there is precedent for behaving/eating the way we do.
Ideally then, we really shouldn’t eat anything that may potentially feel pain in our efforts to eat it, if we’re on a quest to claim some moral high ground. Fruits and nuts appear okay to eat then seeing how they are the attempt of plants to procreate and not ‘alive’ in and of themselves or cannot grow unless they’re given the proper circumstances or conditions. In the end, the so-called moral argument given by vegetarians is utterly lost on me; it rings as hollow as a gourd.
This aside, I do believe there are some good arguments to be made in favor of a vegetarian diet. First and foremost is the environmental argument. While a majority of human beings seem to care very little about how poisonous they make their own immediate environment…well, that’s just it. Look, the Romans didn’t know they were poisoning themselves with lead and this was a contributing factor to the fall of their empire. We don’t have that excuse anymore. We know what we’re doing to the environment and the vast majority of us still don’t care. We don’t care that the environment sometimes – maybe often – contributes to cancer yet people ‘race for a cure’ instead of doing the obvious, cleaning up a toxic environment. (I might also mention that people who constantly consume meat have higher rates of cancer than vegetarians.) I know full well that cancer is a horrible, devastating disease but there are steps we can take to minimize our risk to succumbing to it, and taking care of the environment should be chief among those steps. And this is to say nothing of the methane – a particularly nasty greenhouse gas – that is released into the atmosphere due to cattle farming. Shoot, sorry; I forgot rising temperatures aren’t mankind’s fault. (You know mankind can’t take the blame for anything it does to itself.)
As alluded to a few moments ago, there is also much evidence that a vegetarian or meat-restricted diet is healthier and this is a good reason to choose this dietary avenue. This is not to say that being a vegetarian doesn’t take planning, it does. Much of the protein (and to a much lesser degree vitamins, minerals and fats) we get easily from animal products are not readily found in plants, meaning a vegetarian must eat a broader range of plants to meet their essential nutrient needs. Given the downside of consuming so much meat, both for the environment and our health, taking the time to do a little planning couldn’t hurt. Facebook and Twitter will still be there after the ten minutes you’re gone doing some research.
There is sufficiently proper reasons to be a vegetarian but let’s not pretend that the ‘moral’ argument is one of them. Getting into an ‘conversation’ with a carnivore and bringing that argument up is only going to make said carnivore run out to the store and buy a cow’s worth of ground meat. Of course, hard core carnivores don’t care about being healthy either, so perhaps the point is moo-t. Vegetarians; do what’s right for yourself and let time win the battle for you. While you console the meat-eater in your family as they lay dying of cancer, you can say, “I told ya so.”
All Rights Reserved (c) January 2018 John J Vinacci