Just a few days after I took the photo of the leaves, here we are today with snow. The dove had a snow hat for a while along with a snow cloak, but it shook most of it off before I could get the photo. Dang.
I’m not sure I know what happiness is. When I think about it, I’m not sure I’ve ever experienced it.
I don’t mean that I am sad all the time. It’s just that I think happiness is a concept and not necessarily a reality.
I think I am more likely to be content. Or satisfied. Or fulfilled.
I can wrap my mind around those. But a good way to define happiness eludes me.
Then I looked online. Sometimes doing that is a good thing. Sometimes it is not. That’s just an observation. Has nothing to do with this post.
Verywellmind.com has this to say about the definition of happiness: “Happiness is an emotional state characterized by feelings of joy, satisfaction, contentment, and fulfillment. While happiness has many different definitions, it is often described as involving positive emotions and life satisfaction.”
This definition used some of the terms I came up with and by this definition, I have indeed experienced “happiness.” But I still think the whole concept is overrated. The element of “joy” could be left out and I would still be content. Happiness and joy can be very fleeting. But contentment can last. I think that is what matters most.
“I Contain Multitudes: The Microbes Within Us and a Grander View of Life” is written by Ed Yong.
Ed Yong (born December 17, 1981) is an award-winning science writer on the staff of The Atlantic. His work has also appeared in The New Yorker, Wired, the New York Times, Nature, New Scientist, Scientific American, the Guardian, the Times, Discover, Slate, and other publications.
His book not only covers the microbes that live within us. It also elucidates those that live upon us and around us in our environment.
He makes the point that microbes, in and of themselves, are not bad. It’s a label we apply to the ones that are blatantly pathogenic. But the vast majority of the microbes (bacteria, viruses, fungi, etc.) that we encounter in our daily lives are not pathogenic … and a lot of them are downright helpful.
This book entranced me and scared me. I came into it already a convert to the necessity of microbes for a healthy life. I came out of with a zeal for living a more all-encompassing life in harmony and cooperation with the microbes around me.
He makes a great case for nurturing and caring for these tiniest of lives. He shows how they are necessary not only to our health but the health of the entire earth and everything living on and in it. He recounts how Florence Nightingale discovered that her patients in hospital actually got well faster and better when she opened windows and let the world into the sterile hospital environment.
The thing that scared me the most about all that he wrote is how fragile it all is. How the balance can so easily be upset both within us and without us. And how crucial microbes are.
Because he is a science writer and has a massive bibliography at the back of the book, one might think the book will be a dry dissertation. It is anything but. He writes interestingly and kept my attention. I found myself sliding into one chapter after the other, anxious for each new revelation.
Yong sums it up this way in the very last paragraph of the last chapter of his book: “We see how ubiquitous and vital microbes are. We see how they sculpt our organs, protect us from poisons and disease, break down our food, uphold our health, calibrate our immune system guide our behavior, and bombard our genomes with their genes. We see the lengths to which animals must go to keep their multitudes in check, from the ecosystem managers of the immune system to the bacteria-feeding sugars in beast mile. We see what happens when those measures break: bleached reefs, inflamed guts, and obese bodies. We see, conversely, the rewards of a harmonious relationship: the ecological opportunities that open up to us, and the accelerated pace with which we can grasp them. We see how we might start to control these multitudes for our own benefit, transplanting entire communities from one individual to another, forging and breaking symbioses at will, or even engineering new kinds of microbes. And we learn the secret, invisible, and wondrous biology behind the gutless worms that thrive in an abyssal Eden, the mealybugs that suck the juices of plants, the corals that construct mighty reefs, the small stinging hydras that cling to pondweed, the beetles that bring down forests, the adorable squid that create their own light shows, the pangolin curled around a zookeeper’s waist, and the disease-fighting mosquitoes flying off into a bright Australian dawn.“
I think just about anyone would find benefit from reading this book. It’s an eye opener.
I thought I had my next great idea for a novel. I was writing every day. It was going well. I had about 24 chapters written and then it all just stopped. Yes, I came down with West Nile fever right about that time and was exhausted most of the time. Feverish. Achy. Pretty darn miserable. But that shouldn’t have stopped the ideas from flowing. Right?
I think that self-doubt is the problem. I’ve never written a story in this genre before. It’s a murder mystery.
Okay, so I’ve really only published five novels. Three of them are science fiction, one is what you might call a woman’s novel and the last one is a semi-autobiographical novel with a smattering of literary license. No great shakes really, but none of them are mysteries. Unless you want to count the mystery of why I wrote them at all. No clue. So don’t ask.
So I asked myself what makes me think I can write a murder mystery. That’s me. Always asking questions. Should have left that one alone and just kept writing.
But, you know, the same could be said for the science fiction novels or even the other two novels. Then there is the other question. The one I should never, ever, never ask myself and that is … what makes me think I can write at all.
What made me think I could write science fiction was the fact that I’ve read an absolute shit-load of science fiction over the years. I know what I like about the genre and what I don’t like. Then I got to thinking about mysteries and realized, I’ve read a lot of those too. Not as many as in the science fiction genre, but enough. Or at least what I thought should be enough.
So shouldn’t I be able to write a mystery novel? And why am I not doing that right now? Like right now, this minute instead of writing this.
If I could figure out the answer to that question, I might be able to move on.
I like squirrels and we have a lot of squirrels where we live. Our neighbors have named some of them. One of them is named Sam. He’s a cheeky fellow who will take peanuts from their hands, but hasn’t yet let me get that close.
We have a line of juniper trees in our backyard. I’m not sure if they were always meant to be trees or if they have just been trimmed and trained to be trees. The crowns of them are all intermingled and it’s easy for squirrels to go from one tree to the next.
We also have a cat. He was a stray. We have him mainly because he turned up badly injured one day. He’s got plenty of smarts, just not street smarts and we’re pretty sure he had some sort of altercation with a vehicle. I figure it was a pickup truck based on his very expressive dislike of pickup trucks.
We’ve made him into a house cat because he can’t be trusted not to get into trouble while out and about. So I let him in the backyard daily and monitor him the whole time.
A couple of mornings ago, I was standing a fair distance from the line of juniper trees when there was a commotion in the fourth tree away from me. Orange Kitty, also known as Mr. Fuzzy Pants, was stalking a grasshopper some distance from me with me between him and the juniper trees.
The commotion sounded like two squirrels having it out. And then one of the squirrels came down the line of trees toward me. The squirrel got to the last tree in the line, shot down the trunk, hit the ground and came running right at me only to pull up short about six feet from me with a look of total surprise on his face.
He sat up and stared hard at me. He was totally oblivious to Orange Kitty (OK) just a few feet from him in the squirrel’s five o’clock position. It was then that I saw that it was probably not Sam. Although, I’ve never asked our neighbors if Sam is short for Samantha.
Not Sam stood rooted to the spot for several seconds and OK became aware of her. I watched OK trying to decide what to do. Should he stay on the grasshopper that he was so close to catching? Or go after the squirrel? OK made up his mind, got into his I’m-going-to-pounce pose and then took after the squirrel.
OK got so close, just inches away, before little miss-I-don’t-know-what-to-do realized there was a cat behind her. She ran toward me and then realized that wasn’t really a good option and did an about face and headed for the juniper trees. She went right by OK but he couldn’t get a paw on her. OK never caught up. Squirrels are fast. I was relieved. I didn’t really want him to catch her.
In a flash she was up the tree, over the fence into the alley, and up the fence into our neighbor’s backyard where, hopefully, their dogs were not out. I didn’t hear a commotion, so I guessed that she was safe.
OK sat down in frustration and licked a few parts of himself and then seemed to forget about the whole thing. Right about then, a really big and noisy diesel pickup truck drove by (we live on a curve so we have a lot of exposure to the street in our backyard) and OK decided he’d had enough of the out of doors for the time being and nonchalantly, but very quickly, walked into the garage. He was standing at the door to the house and looked at me and said, “Are you going to let me in or what.” Except it sounded more like “Meow meh-rowww!”
The squirrels have had other encounters. Our dog, Maddie, alternates between being happy just to observe them and actively chasing them. My theory is that she is trying to confuse them so that one day she might catch one. Not going to happen. Maddie is fast. But the squirrels are faster. Thank goodness.
Thing is, none of this keeps them from coming into our yard, checking out the poplar tree where I put the peanuts and having a feast. And I’m really glad for that.
I did it. I hit the publish button. It still gives me the willies. Was it really ready to publish? Did we find all the errors? Did I make some good editorial decisions?
With KDP, you publish the paperback first. Or at least that’s how I always have done it. I’m thinking that publishing the eBook first might be better. They do a spellcheck for the eBook version. It found where I had typed “cococut” instead of “coconut.” How both Bernd and I missed that, I don’t know.
It also found where I left the “n” off the word “question.” Thank goodness for the find and replace function in the Microsoft Word program. KDP doesn’t give you a page number or anything. Just the sentence in which the error occurred.
There were five other spelling “errors” that it found, but those were made up words and I meant them to be like that. They have an ignore button next to the notation. Very handy.
So I fixed my digital manuscript and re-uploaded it to the eBook, but before I can make a change to the paperback, it has to go live. Then when I re-upload the manuscript, I have to wait again until it goes live again.
So maybe this announcement is a bit premature. Oh well.
I still feel a certain excitement every time I publish a novel. And so I just have to talk about it.
It was coming up on Christmas. I was in my first year at college and I needed to do some Christmas shopping.
I drove myself to the Whittwood Mall in Whittier, California. I figured they had enough different kinds of stores that I could find everything on my list. In the middle of all the shopping, I took myself out for lunch at the Jolly Roger.
I sat at the counter with all the other people eating by themselves. Many of them were employees, at the various businesses in the mall, taking their lunch breaks.
I felt very adult. It was the first time I ever had that feeling. There I was with all these other people, making their way on their own, taking care of themselves, getting things done.
Some time before I went on that shopping trip, I had splurged on a pair of shoes I had wanted for months. They were platform shoes with a chunky heel. The vamp was a woven white leather. The toe was closed but the heel was open. The heels were wrapped in cork. I loved those shoes.
But the thing about them was that you couldn’t walk fast in them. Your foot would come right out if you did. So you had to walk like an adult. No rushing about like a child. You had to walk with a stately purpose. And with poise. More than anything else, those shoes made me feel like a grown-up. Like a woman.
I’m nearly 70 years old now. But I can still remember how I felt on that day. I can still feel it in my body. In my heart.
There are days, more than I care to admit, that I feel like I am pretending to be an adult. I can feed myself and do the laundry. I can cook and clean. I can take care of my husband and our dog and cat. But sometimes it doesn’t seem real. Not nearly as real as it felt on that day so many years ago.
This is what I remember. I remember all the time between then and now. And it tells me that I am an adult and that I shouldn’t doubt. But I do.
Still, I’m doing okay, so I guess I will just be happy with that.
Every year, Dad would put on a real show. He would visit all the fireworks stands (yes you could actually buy them openly in California at that time and did not have to go to Mexico for them). He would select only the best rockets and fountains and whirligigs. There were fire crackers (how he would laugh when he set those off) and roman candles. He also got sparklers in every color and worms that Deb and I could light ourselves. He had it all choreographed. It was awesome. My sister, Deb, and I could not wait for the day to finally arrive because it was going to be glorious, let me tell you.
My dad was a veteran of World War II. He served in the Pacific. He flew reconnaissance. He wasn’t the pilot. He was the guy on his belly in the glass bubble taking the photographs. He and the rest of the team were the first guys in. They didn’t know what they would find or what might find them. Not all of them always made it back. I still have, somewhere, some of the maps printed on silk in waterproof inks that were the result of his photography. So, while Deb and I never gave a thought to what the fireworks really meant, I am sure that Dad did.
But before the fireworks display would begin, there was the barbecue. No steaks, rare and juicy for the 4th; no we had hot dogs and hamburgers with all the fixings. There was corn on the cob and potato salad (homemade – the best!). We ate more watermelon than we could really hold and the piece-de-resistance was homemade vanilla ice cream with chocolate syrup. We all took a turn on the churn and we always wished there was more.
I can remember running around the front yard after dark with several sparklers in each hand, jumping and twirling and watching the streaks of light. Deb would do the same. Our dog, Parky, would chase us around the yard barking and snapping at the sparks. It was the most fun. Even Mom and Grandma and Rod (Grandma’s beau) would join in with the sparklers. When we had worn ourselves out with that it was time for the show.
Dad would spend the morning in the garage preparing it all. We weren’t allowed in there while he was working and we were told not to peek when he was done. First he would stand and just look at all the fireworks. He was working it out in his head; what would be the perfect order? He had this big board that he used year after year until it had so many holes in it that he needed a new one. He would attach the fireworks to the board with wood screws, first drilling pilot holes through their bases. When we heard the drill running, we knew what he was doing. A shiver of excitement would run right through me to hear that drill on that day.
Just about the entire neighborhood was doing the same thing. All the barbecues were lit and the aromas in the air were wonderful. Some of our neighbors would start their displays sooner than us and some later. It was almost as if by agreement that the shows were staggered, the better to prolong the fun. As the evening progressed the sharp tang of gun powder would fill the air. The booms and snaps and crackles were almost overwhelming. When Deb and I could no longer wait for ours, Dad would drag out the board.
Both Mom and Dad smoked; they preferred cigarettes. But a couple of times during the year, Dad would have a cigar. The 4th of July was always one of those times. Dad would place the board in the middle of the front yard (we lived on a corner and the front yard was bigger than the back), and then he would light his cigar. That’s how Deb and I would know that the fun was about to begin. He would puff that thing until it was glowing cherry red and touch it to the first firework. We would hold our breaths. Then all of a sudden, there it was, the noise the light, the colors, the smells. It was heaven in our front yard. He never set them off one right smack after the other. There was always a pause. If we didn’t let Parky run up to the spent firework and give it what for before continuing, he would have a fit. Some dogs run and hide from loud noises, but not him. Parky would finish, Dad would puff, and BANG, off would go another one!
We never worried about the rockets. The entire neighborhood was out and on the alert for where they came down. Even so, Dad kept them to a minimum. I just loved it all, it didn’t matter what they were.
We ooohed and ahhhed. We applauded and yelled. And Dad just grinned this great big happy grin. He had done good and he knew it.
After it was all over, we would sit around the remnants of the coals in the barbecue and roast marshmallows. We would go over and over all the fireworks that we had just seen, extolling the beauty of this one or the loudness of that one. We would laugh at Parky as he would try to bury the spent fireworks and give him a roasted marshmallow for his perseverance.
These days, where we live now in Wyoming, our neighbors have access to nearly commercial grade fireworks. They are so much noisier than what my dad had. They also go higher in the sky and blossom bigger and brighter and more colorfully.
But I’m older now, and these “bigger and better” fireworks don’t hold the fascination for me. By comparison, my dad’s fireworks displays were paltry, but they still shine brightly in my memory and nothing will ever diminish that.