Return of an Old Enemy

At the Eastland Motel, Lubec, Maine

Looks innocuous, doesn’t it? It was here in the easternmost motel in the United States that my old enemy reemerged. Around one o’clock in the morning, I awoke gasping for breath. Martine didn’t hear anything because she habitually sleeps with earplugs. I sprang up in bed and felt an incredible tightness in my lungs. With every breath that I attempted, there was only a hideous whistling sound as my air intake appeared to have shut down.

Finally, after a minute or two thinking that I was going to collapse on the bathroom floor and die with a startled look on my face. (I was there staring at myself in the mirror over the sink with wide, frightened eyes.)

Eventually, after a few choking coughs, the breathing started up again, accompanied by awful wheezing.

The problem had begun a week earlier in Canada. We ran into several days of 100% humidity and intense rainstorms. Although I had had asthma before, it seemed finally to have dissipated in the 1990s. But now I had both a chest infection and a return of the wheezing that used to bedevil me, especially in the more changeable seasons of the year. (Yes, Southern California does have seasons of a sort.)

Finally, on Sunday, September 23, I checked in to the emergency clinic in Annapolis Royal, Nova Scotia. A Canadian physician prescribed a course of antibiotics (Clarithromycin) and prescribed Ventolin for my wheezing. The crisis arrived two days later in Lubec, where we stayed to see Franklin Roosevelt’s famous summer cottage on Campobello Island across the bridge in New Brunswick.

The Ventolin seemed to work, but I was still waking up with a choking series of coughs. Now that I am back in Los Angeles, here I sit at the computer at 2:00 am after having waken up choking. And now my Ventolin is out, and I have to call my physician later in the morning to see what she could prescribe to help me.

In a few minutes, I will stagger back to bed, where I am sleeping in a sitting-up position which helps somewhat. Eventually I will get to sleep, but I will wake up coughing several more times. Curiously, the worst always occurs almost exactly three hours after I’ve gone to bed.

I can hardly wait to get a full night’s sleep again—once I’ve managed to shake this old enemy, if such is possible.

Down Time

Hopewell Rocks, Bay of Fundy, New Brunswick, Canada

This will probably be my last post until the end of September: Martine and I will be heading out on vacation within a couple of days. As I do not own a notebook computer, and as I have qualms about taking something so heavy and so eminently stealable with me on a trip, if I post at all, it will be using whatever computers are available to me. Chances are that any posts I might make during the trip will be unaccompanied by photographs, especially if the computers do not permit me to use my thumb drive.

Not to worry, however: If the past is any predictor, I will return with somewhere between 500 and 1,000 digital photographs taken with my Nikon Coolpix S630. I’ve got the spare batteries and memory cards to flood Yahoo! Flickr with my work.

A quick review of my general destinations, in order: New Hampshire, Vermont, Quebec, New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, Maine, and back to New Hampshire. We will be avoiding large cities—mainly because accommodations and food there are too expensive. The largest city along our route is Québec City. We will be staying across the river, a quick ferry ride away, in Lévis.

TV An Ugly Business

The TV business is uglier than most things. It is normally perceived as some kind of cruel and shallow money trench through the heart of the journalism industry, a long plastic hallway where thieves and pimps run free and good men die like dogs, for no good reason.—Hunter S. Thompson

Series Business

On one hand, people are not reading as much as they used to. On the other hand, the one part of the publishing business that’s still booming is the Young Adult (YA) series market, as best exemplified by the Harry Potter novels, Stephenie Meyer’s Twilight series, and now The Hunger Games.

Without passing judgment, I think overall it’s a good trend, as it indicates that books do indeed have a future. Some of these series are good (I read all the Potter novels as they came out), and some are probably dreck. (But remember, I’m not naming names here.)

Even among adults, it appears that mysteries, romances, and science-fiction series tend to predominate. Certainly that’s the case for Kindle e-books. Currently on the Kindle best seller list are such series as Fifty Shades, the Hunger Games, Penryn & the End of Days, Bone Secrets, the Century Trilogy, the Inn BoonsBoro Trilogy, Books of Bayern, Songs of Ice and Fire, and Elemental Mysteries.

Now I have been partial to a number of series, most particularly:

  • Bernard Cornwell’s Sharpe Books and Saxon Series
  • The Inspector Dalgliesh novels of P. D. James
  • The George Smiley novels of John Le Carré
  • The Aubrey/Maturin novels of Patrick O’Brian
  • Dorothy Sayers’ Lord Peter Wimsey stories
  • P. G Wodehouse’s Jeeves novels and stories
  • Georges Simenon’s Inspector Maigret novels and stories

… and the list goes on—in fact for quite a while—because I guess I’m just as susceptible as YA readers to the power of sequels. When I’ve finished a challenging BAB (that’s technical for Big-Ass Book), I feel like relaxing with something that’s not too challenging and very like something else of the same sort that I’ve read and liked. For instance I’ve just finished seven days of Anatoly Rybakov’s novel Fear, about Stalin’s purges of the late 1930s—to the tune of 686 pages. Before I cut out on my trip, I’m going to want to read something that doesn’t send me dragging through any concentration camps or NKVD interrogation sessions.

Isn’t that funny? I started writing this post with the idea of lambasting Stephenie Meyer and her ilk, but I would have to point the finger of blame at myself for occasionally indulging in light reading. (Not that I avoid books of substance, but rather that I enjoy variety as much as anybody.)

I suppose that if I read nothing but Stephenie Meyer and Harry Potter, I would deserve a sneer from a literary snob such as I picture myself to be. Oh, well, let he who is without sin cast the first stone!

Simplicity, Patience, Compassion

Simplicity, patience, compassion.
These three are your greatest treasures.
Simple in actions and thoughts, you return to the source of being.
Patient with both friends and enemies,
you accord with the way things are.
Compassionate toward yourself,
you reconcile all beings in the world.—Lao Tzu

An Autumn Wonderland

The Farina Family Diner in Queechee, Vermont

As my vacation gets closer, I start daydreaming of being able to visit a beautiful country while being away from the constant pressures of work.It has been a hot several weeks in Los Angeles, capped off by the time we spent in a subtropical Hollywood during Labor Day Weekend. It would be a pleasure to not have to worry about the placement of fans in our uninsulated apartment at night. And then, by the time we return, it will start getting darker sooner—which means cooler nights and less heat build-up in the walls and attic.

I remember my four years as a student at Dartmouth College in Hanover, New Hampshire. It was around this time of year I would take the train and bus from Cleveland to Hanover, only to arrive in an autumn wonderland of cool weather, tangy apple cider, leaves turning colors, and a kind of crispness in the air that does not exist in Southern California.

Shown above is a place Martine and I stopped for lunch during our New England trip in 2005. (I hope it’s still there. The food, as I recall, was good.)

We Are Here To Unlearn …

Charles Bukowski

For those who believe in God, most of the big questions are answered. But for those of us who can’t readily accept the God formula, the big answers don’t remain stone-written. We adjust to new conditions and discoveries. We are pliable. Love need not be a command nor faith a dictum. I am my own god. We are here to unlearn the teachings of the church, state, and our educational system. We are here to drink beer. We are here to kill war. We are here to laugh at the odds and live our lives so well that Death will tremble to take us.—Charles Bukowski

Private Voices

House Overgrown with Vines

I haven’t written any blog posts incorporating poems since I moved here to WordPress. To remedy that oversight, here is a gentle poem by Denise Levertov entitled “Aware”:

When I opened the door
I found the vine leaves
speaking among themselves in abundant

My presence made them
hush their green breath,
embarrassed, the way
humans stand up, buttoning their jackets,
acting as if they were leaving anyway, as if
the conversation had ended
just before you arrived.

I liked
the glimpse I had, though,
of their obscure
gestures. I liked the sound
of such private voices. Next time
I’ll move like cautious sunlight, open
the door by fractions, eavesdrop

“Aware” by Denise Levertov, from This Great Unknowing. © New Directions Publishing, 1999. Reprinted without permission.

One place I like to check for interesting poems from time to time is Garrison Keillor’s website The Writer’s Almanac. Every day, rain or shine, you can see a poem selected by Keillor and read out loud in his sonorous voice.


“An Intellectual? Yes.”

An intellectual? Yes. And never deny it. An intellectual is someone whose mind watches itself. I like this, because I am happy to be both halves, the watcher and the watched. “Can they be brought together?” This is a practical question. We must get down to it. “I despise intelligence” really means: “I cannot bear my doubts.”—Albert Camus