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Abiding Blog
Lucki Melander Wilder

Still digging the blogs. Keep up the good works.  -- Jim (a reader since the first-ever announcement)

These are personal ruminations on divers and sundry topics of interest to me and, I hope, also to you. Some are long, some are short. Some are silly, some are serious. Some are trivial, some are profound. Nor is it always easy to tell which is which, even for me. And all the opinions expressed herein are subject to change without notice.

Feel free to email me to subscribe and receive notice of new entries, with feedback, or if there are any topics you would like me to ruminate about. Not all feedback necessarily appears in this page, and may be edited for links, typos, multi-source redundancy, and relevancy. That doesn't mean, though, that we consider negative feedback irrelevant or refuse to post it, as negative feedback can often help us learn to do more and better.

2017-11-19 - 24
C H A L L E N G E   S E T   F O U R

"Thank you for challenging me to think it out and articulate it."  -- Lucki in Twigs of a Family Tree

11-19 Vying: Speaking of astonishment, were you astonished that I made it through three sets already? Eighteen November entries to date? 'Cuz I sure was. That's more entries so far this month than I'd done in any previous year in this blog. Or in Adding Insult, either. My usual goal is to post monthly at least. An average of 12 per year. And I haven't always managed that, even. Some years, I've actually had to combine both blogs to reach that average of 12. I gotta admit, though, that encouragement to "vie for excellence" is a great motivator.

If you continuously complete with others, you become BITTER; if you continuously complete with yourself, you become BETTER.That's a shorthand term that Bahá'ís use a lot: Vie for excellence. It reminds us of encouragement from the Writings. Bahiyyih Khanum (Khanum is an honorific, not a surname), Bahá'u'lláh's daughter, reminded us of how often that idea came up. How people were encouraged to "vie with one another in service". Shoghi Effendi's wife, Ruhiyyih Khanum, said of the Guardian, "He frequently quoted Bahá'u'lláh's admonition 'Vie ye with each other in the service of God and His Cause' and openly encouraged a competitive spirit in its noblest form." He also quoted the encouragement, "Vie ye with each other in the service of God and of His Cause. This is indeed what profiteth you in this world, and in that which is to come...."

OTOH, from another standpoint, I'm not really vying with the other Challenge bloggers so much as I am vying with myself. Vying against my own laziness. The fatigue that can come with age. Spotty time management. And not always the best prioritization. But give me a challenge?

For that matter, give the whole bunch of us bloggers a challenge, and.... 

I'm not going to finish that "and" just now. 'Cuz I'm saving a really salient quote for the lead quotation of my final set. Something Mead said (about a somewhat different subject) in Twigs of a Family Tree. You'll simply have to wait until Nov 25. (Ain't I just an ol' meany? LOL)

11-20 Lion: Other Challenge-blogger posts also reminded me of a song my grandMya's children's class sang at Chicago's Naw-Rúz celebration one year. The song as we originally heard it went: Make me fearless / Like a jungle lion, / Like a roaring ocean, / Like an eagle in flight. / Make me fearless / Like Mullá Husayn, / Like Táhirih, / Like Άbdu'l-Bahá.

But we changed it. Why? 'Cuz we realized there's essentially no such thing (at least any more) as jungle lions. Only savanna and mountain lions. In open forests and woodlands on rare occasions, yes. But not in jungles. So we changed the first two analogies to: Like a roaring lion, / Like a surging ocean. That also made it easier to do hand movements for "lion" and "ocean".

BTW, interesting how savanna lions, both African and Asian, are usually just called lions. While mountain lions have a bunch of alternate names, but are almost never just called lions. Some terms strictly regional. Some recognized, even used interchangeably, by almost everybody. American lion, American panther, catamount, cougar, mountain cat, mountain screamer, onca, painter, puma. Just sayin'. Anyway....

Roaring maned lion on the savannaNaturally, we didn't want to lose that regal feline image of both raw power and family unity. What Baha'u'llah talked about when He said, "Should it be God's intention, there would appear out of the forests of celestial might the lion of indomitable strength whose roaring is like unto the peals of thunder reverberating in the mountains." What 'Abdu'l-Baha meant when he talked about God making the weakest, lowliest of His servants into "lions roaring in the forest of knowledge and wisdom" and called steadfast teachers of the Cause "brave lions". (Although, let's don't forget his reminder that, "For her greater strength and fierceness, the lioness is more feared by the hunter than the lion.")

Now, analogies aside, there have sometimes been lions seen in the modern Ethiopian rainforests. But those don't really count as "jungle" lions because they're thought to just be savanna lions migrating through the rainforest during the dry season. There's also a small wild population of lions in one forest in India. Back when they started counting in the '60s, it was less than 200. With a breeding program, it's now above 500. (Even though, weirdly, some of the older lions who remember being hunted have, apparently intentionally, opted out of any breeding behavior at all.) But they're still endangered. And really, how well could they get on when dense "jungle" essentially short-circuits the normal hunting style of lionesses? To say nothing of males getting their manes irreparably entangled in all the spiky underbrush?

BTW again, they now think that size and thickness of mane is not strictly a genetic characteristic. That climate plays a role, too. Sort of makes it understandable why the most heavily maned lions survived on the grasslands. Not in jungles, where it was way too easy to entangle their mane. And also not in the rainforests, where the result of heavier shade and constant moisture is what your hair would be like if you kept it damp 24/7/365. (Yeeuucch. Fungi. Mushrooms in your mane!).

Anyway, we kept the change. 'Cuz savanna lions - with those big old thick, long, lush manes on the males - is what most people think of when they think lion. And believe me, when our children lifted their "paws" to lunge forward as they sang, those loving little lions really roared.

11-21 Ocean: Okay, since all that roaring was taken over by the lion, why a surging ocean? Once again, we turned to the Writings to see what would best fit. And found a wealth to work with.

Crashing waves of a surging oceanBahá'u'lláh talked about setting one's face "towards the Spot wherein the ocean of wisdom and of utterance hath surged". About "the billows of this surging and treasure-laden Ocean". Assured us that "This most great, this fathomless and surging Ocean is near, astonishingly near, unto you." And extolled "How resplendent the luminaries of knowledge that shine in an atom, and how vast the oceans of wisdom that surge within a drop!" He also taught us to beseech God "by Thy Name through which the ocean of forgiveness surged". To ask to be "immersed beneath the billowing oceans of Thine overruling providence and the surging seas of Thy holy unity". And reminded us (I'm thinking of this Thanksgiving week) that through His summons God "caused the oceans of inner meaning and explanation to surge from Thy heart in remembrance of Thy Lord, the God of mercy, that Thou mayest render thanks and praise unto Him and be of those who are truly thankful."

'Abdu'l-Baha also assured us that "The ocean of divine mercy is surging". That "the ocean of the Covenant hath surged and surged". Even that "the thoughts of men are being directed toward the welfare and unity of humanity. Daily the mirage of imitations is passing away, and the ocean of truth is surging more tumultuously."

So "surging ocean" it was. The segue of hand movement from the paws-up lunge of "roaring lion" to the rolling waves of "surging ocean" was obvious and easy. Even more so was the segue from that to the outstretched arms of our "eagle in flight". Yep, you guessed it. Gonna look at that tomorrow.

Khoda hafez,

email your feedback with ABIDING BLOG and the entry date as the subject


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Entries During

2017-11 Challenge Set 5
   11-21 Ocean
   11-20 Lion
   11-19 Vying
2017-11 Challenge Set 4
   11-18 Astonishment
   11-17 Tears
   11-16 Endowment
   11-15 Evolving
   11-14 Upgrading
   11-13 Debugging
2017-11 Challenge Set 3
   11-12 Confession
   11-11 Steps
   11-10 Persist
   11-09 Support
   11-08 Reflection
   11-07 Birthdays
2017-11 Challenge Set 2
   11-06 Lifeline
   11-05 Ask
   11-04 Heard
   11-03 Listen
   11-02 Time
   11-01 Godincidence
2017-11 Challenge Set 1

2017-10-29 Party!

2017-09-10 Strings
"True" Stories

2017-08-23 Half

2017-07-13 Hair

2017-06-02 Borderline
2015 Victoria, BC trip

2017-05-17 Westest
2015 Victoria, BC trip

2017-04-18 Westmore
2015 Victoria, BC trip

2017-03-22 Bruce
2015 Victoria, BC trip

2017-02-16 Un-Eel
2017-02-11 Silver
Cat Power

2017-01-01 Extensions


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2017-11-13 - 18
C H A L L E N G E   S E T   T H R E E

"It's both a challenge and a blessing."  -- Lucki in Twigs of a Family Tree

11-13 Debugging: I mentioned in my Nov 9 entry that I can usually read HTML well enough to debug my website glitches. Assuming they're mine to start with. May take a while; but I eventually get there. Comes from my background in programming, back in the dark ages when programs had to be elegant because the biggest commercial software-controlled machines -- which filled a large room -- were 64K. (After all, man first landed on the moon using only 72K. And the onboard landing computer itself was only 2K! Sheesh, my rinky-dink little stand-alone pedometer is more powerful than that. And has a longer battery life.)

Roomful of old computer, back in the dayBack when I started writing programs in COBOL, a high-level programming language, I still used assembly languages like HW's Easycoder (well, as it was very user friendly) and IBM's Autocoder (not so well, as it coule be a nightmare to follow) to debug. When I became a documentation specialist and wrote for business and pleasure using WordPerfect, I always kept "Reveal Codes" open to debug issues and keep things clean. I use "Reveal Formatting" in Word now, too, but don't get me started on how unhelpful that really is. And I eventually did work in markup languages like GML. All of which helped me evolve the mindset that made HTML easier to understand and use for debugging purposes when we started developing this website.

BTW, is it just me, or have you noticed how often something gets "improved" to the point where it's practically useless. Ask me about the company-forced switch from my old Hughes satellite box to DirecTV's "upgraded" model with the GUI that bites. No, wait; like I said, don't get me started.

Anyway, the company where I learned to program hired my former boss again, three decades later, to come in as a consultant and deal with Y2K. And he got in touch with me because "80% of everything you wrote there is still running." In that instance, it wasn't so much debugging as upgrading, but the ability to still read a lower-level language was vital to get the job done quickly. (Well, what also helped was that I'd documented my programs so well, the company'd had me document everything the two other programmers wrote, too. Which was probably the final foundation stone that set me on my path of becoming a career writer.)

What does this all have to do with a Baha'i topic? Glad you asked. Plenty. I'll tell you tomorrow. With today's teaser being a statement by Άbdu'l-Bahá: "All things are subject to re-formation."

Upgrade in progress throughout the whole world11-14 Upgrading: Humanity, too, sometimes needs to be debugged and/or upgraded on a spiritual level. We are given a message by a Voice of God. Over time, though, our memory becomes vague. Or our understanding veers off track. Yet our species keeps evolving. As does our society. But God has promised never to desert us, His children. Never to give up on us and leave us to our own devolving devices. So another Voice is sent. To remind us of the spiritual truths we may have lost sight of. And to offer us new truths. Or, more accurately, an expanded understanding of existing truths. And new methodologies. So that our spiritual evolution can keep pace with our physical and societal evolution. Nor are these Voices in contention. They are in cooperation. Like teachers in a school. Chapters in a book. Lamps in a home.

That whole statement by 'Abdu'l-Baha reads: "Religion is the outer expression of the divine reality. Therefore it must be living, vitalized, moving and progressive. If it be without motion and non-progressive it is without the divine life; it is dead. The divine institutes are continuously active and evolutionary; therefore the revelation of them must be progressive and continuous. All things are subject to re-formation. This is a century of life and renewal. Sciences and arts, industry and invention have been reformed. Law and ethics have been reconstituted, reorganized. The world of thought has been regenerated. Sciences of former ages and philosophies of the past are useless today. Present exigencies demand new methods of solution; world problems are without precedent. Old ideas and modes of thought are fast becoming obsolete. Ancient laws and archaic ethical systems will not meet the requirements of modern conditions, for this is clearly the century of a new life, the century of the revelation of the reality and therefore the greatest of all centuries."

Baha'u'llah Himself tells us that this is "the day when faith itself is renewed and regenerated by God, the Almighty, the Beneficent."

Too, Shoghi Effendi reminds us "that religious truth is not absolute but relative, that Divine Revelation is not final but progressive." In fact, Shoghi Effendi has a lot to say on this subject. I'll finish up with that tomorrow.

11-15 Evolving: Shoghi Effendi reaffirmed that, "The fundamental principle enunciated by Bahá'u'llá that religious truth is not absolute but relative, that Divine Revelation is a continuous and progressive process, that all the great religions of the world are divine in origin, that their basic principles are in complete harmony, that their aims and purposes are one and the same, that their teachings are but facets of one truth, that their functions are complementary, that they differ only in the nonessential aspects of their doctrines, and that their missions represent successive stages in the spiritual evolution of human society...."

He also stressed that the Bahá'í Faith "recognizes firmly and absolutely the Divine origin of their Authors, preserves inviolate the sanctity of their authentic Scriptures, disclaims any intention of lowering the status of their Founders or of abating the spiritual ideals they inculcate, clarifies and correlates their functions, reaffirms their common, their unchangeable and fundamental purpose, reconciles their seemingly divergent claims and doctrines, readily and gratefully recognizes their respective contributions to the gradual unfoldment of one Divine Revelation, unhesitatingly acknowledges itself to be but one link in the chain of continually progressive Revelations, supplements their teachings with such laws and ordinances as conform to the imperative needs, and are dictated by the growing receptivity, of a fast evolving and constantly changing society...."

Spiritual evolution, symbolized by hands upraised to the lightAnd he explained that, "Just as the organic evolution of mankind has been slow and gradual, and involved successively the unification of the family, the tribe, the city-state, and the nation, so has the light vouchsafed by the Revelation of God, at various stages in the evolution of religion, and reflected in the successive Dispensations of the past, been slow and progressive. Indeed the measure of Divine Revelation, in every age, has been adapted to, and commensurate with, the degree of social progress achieved in that age by a constantly evolving humanity." That includes the latest. To quote The Three Onenesses: "Not the only. Not the last. Not the 'holiest'. The latest." The Revelation of Baha'u'llah for this age. How awesomely hopeful is that.

And here I am, having reached the middle of the backstretch, halfway home from the Challenge's starting gate. (Only it's not a competition. It's a cooperation.) Keep checking in.

11-16 Endowment: Final thoughts on Progressive Revelation. As I said in Twigs of a Family Tree, "the Writings give me the biggest tool kit, the latest instruction manual, the most detailed blueprint, for living in this world. And for helping to make it better for myself and others." And they're "the most comprehensive and up-to-date operations manual I've found for living and thriving in God's physical and spiritual universe today." And if there's anything I learned right up front as a programmer, it's to read the manual. And then use the brains God gave me to apply it.

This great endowment from God: Intellect and wisdomSo something 'Abdu'l-Baha said really resonates with me. "Praise and thanksgiving be unto Providence that out of all the realities in existence He has chosen the reality of man and has honored it with intellect and wisdom, the two most luminous lights in either world. Through the agency of this great endowment, He has in every epoch cast on the mirror of creation new and wonderful configurations. If we look objectively upon the world of being, it will become apparent that from age to age, the temple of existence has continually been embellished with a fresh grace, and distinguished with an ever-varying splendor, deriving from wisdom and the power of thought."  Especially thinking about the spiritual as being equally important to the physical, mental, emotional, and societal. Having at least an equal, if not predominant, place in our lives.

For without including spiritual solutions to our ills and ignorances, we can find no lasting solutions at all.

11-17 Tears: Another Challenge blogger's writing reminded me recently of something I'd occasionally heard through the years: that tears come more easily to the old. I didn't really know what that meant. Did they become more depressed as they aged? Have weaker control over their emotions? Or simply weaker physiology? Feel for some odd reason more willing to shed tears? Laugh less, so people thought they cried more? Didn't know.

Through the years, from infant to agedStill don't know. Not for sure. But I've experienced it firsthand. Am experiencing it. Which is very disconcerting.

I spent most of my life making sure "they" never saw me cry. (Whoever the blazes "they" is.) 'Cuz I was, as I said in Twigs of a Family Tree, the girl/woman "Who had to be hard and cold to survive. Because that was the only way to ensure 'they' couldn't hurt her." I mentioned something about that in a long, convoluted blog entry in September. It was in passing, though, so you may not have noticed. I was talking about a fictional character who rings irresistibly true for me. And I posited several reasons why he may resonate so with me. This character whom, to the best of my memory, we've never seen cry. Even - especially - when he had reason to. And the ultimate possible reason for that resonance that I offered was "maybe just because I know what being a survivor - solitary, hard, emotionally frozen - is like."

I still don't know why that's changed. Not physically. Not mentally. Not emotionally. I just know it has. Age? Acceptance? Chemo-brain? Don't know. And sometimes I rail at my weakness. Don't get me wrong, though. I still laugh more than I weep. But I weep more these days. And occasionally I'm even willing to let someone else see it happen. Not always. Not often. Still rarely. But at times. BIG change.

I think I get why on a spiritual level. At least in part. Because it's a gift. Everything I experience can help me grow. In fact, it's often the worst of what I experience that helps me grow the most. After all, whatever doesn't kill us makes us stronger. And I'm learning that allowing tears doesn't kill us. (Though suppressing them might. 'Cuz unlike, say, reflex tears from chopping onions, or the continuous tears that lubricate our eyes, emotional tears not only can relieve us psychologically, they also remove toxic stress hormones from our bodies. Which actually helps our heart, our brain, our whole corpus.)

It's more than that, even. As I concluded in Twigs, the final facet of the gift - the part we find at life's end - is that, "whenever I do get to finally leave, that's one huge barrel of dammed-up, stuffed-down, unshed tears I won't have to lug along with me."

Baha'u'llah assured us that, "My calamity is My providence, outwardly it is fire and vengeance, but inwardly it is light and mercy." And He taught us to pray, "We would yield Thee praise and thanksgiving, for we have recognized and are persuaded that Thou hast ordained only that which will be best for us." Including tears.

11-18 Astonishment: Of course, not all tears are tears of anguish. As I also said in Twigs of a Family Tree, "When I experience prayer the way that [C.S.] Lewis described it. When the need to pray wells up in and pours out of me. Waking and even sleeping. Accompanied by tears of astonishment. (Which I admit doesn't happened often, 'cuz I've never been a weepy sort of person. But when it does, oh my!) That's when I change the most. For the better." Elsewhere in Twigs, I talked about personally experiencing, "Another case of tears of anguish turned to tears of astonishment. Pain to joy. Blight to beauty. Death to life."

A tear of astonishmentI also share in the book a story of something that happened at an AA meeting where I was the last one to read from the Twelve & Twelve and therefore "...the person to start our discussion with a short lead. It was short, all right. Thirteen words. 'x"We don't have to be alone any more." What more can I say?' And then I wept a bit. After the meeting, just about everyone in the room came to me to offer comfort. But I didn't need comfort. 'Those weren't tears of sorrow,' I told them. 'Those were tears of joy.'x" I think that was a first for me: Letting them see that. And then knowing what to call it.

As 'Abdu'l-Baha once beseeched a woman, "Be filled with joy, so that thine eyes may be overflowing with tears of happiness and beatitude,..." That too is a positive purpose of tears. What a gift!

New set and new topic start tomorrow. See ya then.

Khoda hafez,

email your feedback with ABIDING BLOG and the entry date as the subject


2017-11-07 - 12
C H A L L E N G E   S E T   T W O

"I wish you'd stop challenging me with so many ideas. No, no I don't!"  -- Lucki in Twigs of a Family Tree

As you can see, I decided that putting 30 entries in one long strand would be a bit too much. So I've divided the 30 days into a handful of sets. And, with this new entry, I''ve also made it through my first week of the Challenge. Enjoy!

11-07 Birthdays: New topic today. Sort of. It Godincidentally relates to what I've written about up to now. So it's a good way to close out my first week of the Challenge. It's about the actual date: October 20.

For nearly half a century, I celebrated the Birth of the Bab (the Herald of the Founder of the Baha'i Faith) on October 20. And the Birth of Baha'u'llah Himself on November 12. Because that's when they fell in the purely solar Gregorian calendar we use in the West. Easy for me, and all Western Baha'is, to remember. Eastern Bahá'ís, though, who grew up with the purely lunar Hijri calendar, celebrated those Birthdays according to when they fell in that calendar. Which meant those two Holy Days traveled around the year. Sometimes falling in one season, sometimes another. Sometimes even smack dab in the midst of the Bahá'í Fast. OTOH, it meant they fell on consecutive days. Which is what the Writings mean when they call these two august celebrations "the Twin Birthdays".

Twin Luminaries - two stars in the night skyThen, in 2015 AD, the Universal House of Justice brought the Eastern and Western Bahá'ís together for the first time in terms of celebrating the birthdays of these Twin Luminaries. The timing isn't easy for either group to remember. It takes calculating on an annual basis, much like the timing of the Seder in Judaism and Easter in Christianity. But, hey, isn't that why computers were invented? So the Twin Birthdays are now celebrated worldwide using a sort of combination of the lunar and solar calendars. Eastern and Western. Using the lunisolar Badi calendar. Which, when you think about it, is a cool demonstration of the principle of unity in diversity.

The Twin Birthdays will fall on different Gregorian dates every year. But they'll always be on consecutive days. And they'll always occur in the October-November range (so, for instance, they'll never interrupt the Fast). And one of the great bounties in my life was that the first worldwide celebration of the Twin Birthdays on consecutive days took place while I was on Vancouver Island. I was able to celebrate with Number Two Son and his family and friends. (If you haven't been reading about that trip all along, now's a good time to start.) Awesome celebrations bringing together the members of the seven small communities in his cluster.

Notwithstanding all that, I'm an old geezer who can wax nostalgic with no warning whatsoever. October 20 and November 12 still resonate as special for me. And I couldn't help but ponder why last year I was given the blessed opportunity to help someone so desperately in crisis on, of all days, October 20. Just sayin'.

11-08 Reflect: Having completed a week of the Challenge, I stopped yesterday to reflect on my experience so far. So far, my experience has been amazing. And frustrating.

ReflectingAmazing in being challenged to write about something every day. Sometimes wondering what the blazes I have to say that anyone would care to hear. Sometimes having so many thoughts flying that I fear I'll run out of calendar. In the first case, I simply stop wondering and start writing. In the second case, I simply stop fearing and start writing.

Yep, same response. For obvious reasons. Foremost being: It's the only way to fl... uh, blog. In order to write, I have to WRITE. And as 'Abdu'l-Baha said in Paris, "Writing is, in itself, a sign of the writer's soul...." So, to keep my soul uplifted by its engagement with the universe and others in it, I haven't missed a day yet. Despite an unusually hectic schedule. I've even managed to kickbash it all into shape despite the sometimes wonky vicissitudes of my website-building software. (Good thing I can read html code enough to debug. Usually.) To say nothing of the numerous browsers that don't agree with my software, or each other, on what the finished product is meant to look like.

Regardless, striving in the Challenge is its own reward. I'll talk about the flip side tomorrow

11-09 Support: Frustrating in that my Challenge interface seems too often ruled by Murphy's Law: The perversity of the cyberverse tends towards a maximum. For starters, though my Abiding Blog's URL was correct in the Challenge site's original table of contributors, it was wrong for quite a while in their right sidebar list, which is what most bloggers were probably using. The link had an extraneous hex-20 embedded at the end. So no one could use it to get to my site. They got one of those pernicious, unhelpful, error messages everybody hates. And once you've hit that two or three times, you don't bother to try the link any more. Took me a long while to notice 'cuz, like, I was using the sidebar to go to the other bloggers' sites. And the site managers aren't at fault for not noticing it, 'cuz you can't really SEE a hex-20; it's a blank. They've fixed it now, though, for which many thanx.

Working towards the common goal of completing a puzzleThe other, even bigger frustration is that I've gone to other contributor sites every day. And every day, something has moved me to comment. Sometimes more than one. But on some sites, I can't figure out how to comment. At all. Or I'm forbidden to comment (or sometimes even see) unless I've "joined" the site or some social-media group. Which I prefer not to do. In a case or two, a comment's awaited moderation for days. Or sometimes my submission apparently disappears down an oubliette, never to be heard from again. (And I don't copy comments to my drive before posting; so if they're gone, they're gone.) Some comments actually have seen the light of screen, so those bloggers know I'm there in their corner. But I fear many of my fellow Challenge-responders have no way of knowing I'm supporting their efforts. And I want them to know. 'Cuz I do support them. (Of course, it's not all that easy for them to comment to me, either, as my site doesn't yet have an app for that. So they have to use the email link at the bottom of each entry set. That's an extra bother for which I'm sorry.)

So, on balance, do I have what 'Abdu'l-Baha affirmed is needed to achieve a goal, as summarized in Century of Light: "the will to act and the faith to persist"? Tune in tomorrow.

11-10 Persist: Giving up on the Challenge is not an option. Not for a minute. I stand firmly for the very principle that drew me to the Faith in the first place: unity. I -- we -- just need to persist in our unified action of responding to the Challenge. "And," as Mead once said in Twigs of a Family Tree, "if we don't always succeed, that doesn't mean we stop trying."

Persisting with a large puzzleSo for me, it's about remembering what 'Abdu'l-Baha said, first quoting his Father: "'Verily, God loveth those who are working in His path in groups, for they are a solid foundation.' Consider ye that he says 'in groups,' united and bounded together, supporting one another. 'To work,' mentioned in this holy verse, does not mean, in this greatest age, to perform it with swords, spears, shafts and arrows, but rather with sincere intentions, good designs, useful advices, divine moralities, beautiful actions, spiritual qualities, educating the public, guiding the souls of mankind, diffusing spiritual fragrances, explaining divine illustrations, showing convincing proofs and doing charitable deeds."

No one responder to the Challenge is going to pull all that off. But together....  Our synergy doesn't have to (and, of course, humanly can't) be perfect. Just persistent. 'Cuz whatever we accomplish this month will inarguably be more than what would've been if we'd never started. Or if we stopped trying. So in this group endeavor, I persist.

11-11 Steps: This is another new topic. Still, it was sparked by my Nov 2  post. So there's a thin strand of connection there, too. Anyway, have you ever pondered why "confession of sins" isn't allowed in the Bahá'í Faith? (I have. 'Cuz I grew up immersed in Christian culture.) What exactly does that mean? And why doesn't it apply to 12-step programs? Let me address that last question first.

Step 5: Admitted to God, to ourselves, and to another human being the exact nature of our wrongs.

And Step 9: Made direct amends to such people wherever possible, except when to do so would injure them or others.

Also Step 10: Continued to take personal inventory and when we were wrong promptly admitted it.

In the 1986 letter I mentioned on Day 2, the Universal House of Justice also said that "there is no objection to Bahá'ís being members of Alcoholics Anonymous" and lauded AA for the great good it does. And as you know, AA is the mother of all 12-step programs. In a 4 June 1987 letter, the House of Justice reiterated, "There does not appear to be any conflict between Step 5 of the Alcoholics Anonymous program and the Bahá'í teachings concerning confession."

Confessing an error or fault of characterIn the notes to the Kitab-i-Aqdas (our Most Holy Book), the House of Justice further reminded us of how Shoghi Effendi himself affirmed that "…if we spontaneously desire to acknowledge we have been wrong in something, or that we have some fault of character, and ask another person's forgiveness or pardon, we are quite free to do so." So that's not what the Writings mean by "confession on sins" either.

What the Writings are talking abou not doing, to the best of my understanding, is the public or formalized confession of sins in an ecclesiastical/sacramental setting. Allowing someone else to sit in spiritual judgment. Especially with the purpose of obtaining absolution, a washing away of our sin, from an "agent" of God. Based, perhaps, on doing acts of penance as directed.

OK, so why not? Get into that tomorrow.

11-12 Confession: Through studying the Writings, I see and understand, at least in part, five reasons why not.

1. Sin isn't a thing. It's an absence. The absence of doing what was spiritually right. Sometimes through spiritual ignorance. Sometimes through spiritual sickness. 'Abdu'l-Baha said in Paris, "The only difference between members of the human family is that of degree. Some are like children who are ignorant, and must be educated until they arrive at maturity. Some are like the sick and must be treated with tenderness and care. None are bad or evil!" And obviously, the way to be rid of an absence, an emptiness, isn't to somehow try and dig it out or wash it away. It's to fill it. With what is good. Just like you can't vacuum the darkness out of a pitch-black room. To combat that absence of light, you have to fill the room with light.

2. No one has to mediate for us with God; we can go to Her directly. A note to the Kitab-i-Aqdas reminds us, "Bahá'u'lláh prohibits confession to, and seeking absolution of one's sins from, a human being. Instead one should beg forgiveness from God." Absolution and forgiveness from others are not the same thing and are not interchangeable.

3. No one but God can grant us absolution, a washing away of our wrongs, either. 'Abdu'l-Baha said in a letter, "No one has the power to receive confession of sins, or to give absolution." I can ask a person for forgiveness, yes. But even then, when I ask someone I hurt for forgiveness, I must be willing to hear them say "No." 'Cuz they need to heal in their own time and way.

4. Baha'i practices don't include any form of self-abasement. Bahá'u'lláh said in a letter that "such confession before people results in one's humiliation and abasement" and that God "wisheth not the humiliation of His servants" in any way. And yes, AA's Step 7 starts with "Humbly asked Him...." But humility and humiliation are not the same thing. In fact, being humble is the best inoculation against being humiliated. By anyone or anything. Ever.

5. No one else can decide what our heartfelt penance - or more to the point, amends - should be. It has to stem from our own spontaneous desire. 'Abdu'l-Baha also said in Paris, "Evil is imperfection." Well, you don't improve what you're working on simply by brushing away your mistakes. You keep working on perfecting it. Which includes working to avoid repeating your previous mistakes.

Forgiveness in a hugMy AA grandsponsor, who's also Baha'i, often reminds me that amends doesn't merely mean apologizing or making restitution, though one or both of those may be involved. To amend means to change. If I don't change my behavior, I haven't completed my amends. If I do something - especially grudgingly do something someone else demands - just to be forgiven or absolved, what have I really changed? Do I really think people don't recognize the difference? And respond accordingly? And how can any other person know for sure exactly what I need to do to change myself? Or what will motivate me? Don't I have to work that out with my Higher Power? She knows. Even when I don't.

That's my take on it all, anyway. Good place to end my second Challenge set.

Khoda hafez,

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2017-11-01 - 06
C H A L L E N G E   S E T   O N E

"But, oh, what a glorious challenge!"  -- Mead in Twigs of a Family Tree

Planned to post a special "anniversary" entry on Oct 20. Life had other plans. Two. One was the run-up to a book release party. Which wasn't even on my radar until October 10. I was up to my ears in alligators. Nice alligators, mostly. But alligators nonetheless. The other was learning about the Bahá'í Blogging Challenge. From Number Two Son. Mead. Who's also taking part, so be sure to watch his blog along the way, too.

So, since I didn't have time to post anything on that Oct 20 anniversary date, I decided to wait until today. Start it as my first Challenge entry. What follows may end up looking like one huge month-long blog entry. But that's just for technical/coding ease. It actually will encompass a month of daily entries, and various topics will be covered during the 30 days. Enjoy anyway, and check back daily to see how well I do.

11-01 Godincidence: My friend and co-author (we did a book of SF poetry together, entitled 2*4*7) Lillian Wolf taught me to use a slightly different word for, as the dictionary puts it, "a striking occurrence of two or more events at one time apparently by mere chance." She said sometimes it's not mere coincidence. Sometimes it's Godincidence.

Oxford UniversityI had one of those exactly a year ago today. One so striking that Mya even posted about it somewhere on FB. I didn't post about it here then. But I want to bring it up again now. Because it still is - and always will be - relevant.

At one point late that Thursday morning, I started watching an interview that took place at university in Oxford. (Yeah, where Mead was an exchange student back in the day.) It dealt with a number of topics: Career matters. Plans for the future. The then-upcoming Presidential election. Mental health issues. Etc. And a Q&A session with students. Just over halfway through the interview, though, I realized I had to stop. Had to get to one of my weekly meetings in the rooms of recovery.

Check back tomorrow to see what happened there.

11-02 Time: There I was, off to my Thursday meeting. Me with my Bahá'í attitude about the rooms of recovery. (About which the Universal  House of Justice, in a letter dated 26 August 1986, has clearly stated that "the sharing of experiences which the members undertake does not conflict with the Bahá'í prohibition on the confession of sins; it is more in the nature of the therapeutic relationship between a patient and a psychiatrist.") I didn't realize that an hour later, I'd need the last thing I heard onscreen. Need it when, after the meeting, a woman started crying. And responded to a question about what was wrong by raging at her life. Despite not really knowing her, a friend (the meeting secretary and a fellow Baha'i) and I stopped to talk with her. After about twenty minutes of the woman's erratic speech and behavior, my friend realized she had to immediately leave for work. She also felt that if she tried to call 911, the woman would bolt. I think she was right. Fortunately, she had the address of a nearby refuge. Within walking distance.

Time To ListenLong story short, I got the woman in crisis to express her feelings. To open up about wanting to end her life. To tell me what support would look like. And to walk with me. Slowly, by loud fits and flailing starts, I got her to a safe place. To people who could help. And it was worth it. Worth the 90 minutes it took to get her to open up, then to move with a goal in mind, and finally to accept help at the refuge. Worth the fear that her arm-waving, chair-kicking rage could become a physical attack. Worth the risk of saying or doing the wrong thing. Worth confronting my own dredged-up feelings in the process.

Check back tomorrow to see what, after the fact, my friend thought of all this.

Stop And Listen11-03 Listen: I called my friend when I got home, to let her know what happened. And she mentioned being glad that I'd been there, because she hadn't been sure what to do. She commented on how calm I was as the woman raged. On how I got her to respond to and then go with me. "You won't believe this," I said, "but that's all because the last thing I heard before coming to your meeting was someone talking about crisis. About not turning a blind eye in hopes someone will fix themself. About how to see. How to respond. How to offer support. What to say when you don't know what to say."

My friend's reaction: "That was a God moment."

Yes, it was. One I give thanks for. 'Abdu'l-Baha gave the friends in the Central States, where I live, a special morning prayer that starts "O Lord, my God! Praise and thanksgiving be unto Thee for Thou hast guided me...." Those words alone, a mere fifteen of them, that wonderful beginning sufficed me. It was exactly what I needed to say/pray. 'Cuz it wasn't me. And it wasn't my timing. I was guided. So was the person who gave that interview. And the person who gave me the link to it. A God moment. Godincidence.

There's more to say about this type of situation. Please keep checking back.

Being heard is so close to being loved that for the average person, they are almost indistinguishable.11-04 Heard: I remember my reaction the first time I saw that Augsburger poster. Tears welled up as I thought of someone who didn't cry for help. Didn't believe there was help to cry for. Didn't believe anyone would HEAR.

We are all "the average person" in one way or another. There are times when we feel unloved. Unwanted. Unimportant. Unheard. And we isolate. Which is the worst thing we can do. We can't be heard if we don't speak out. Cry out. Reach out.

Suicide prevention hotlines can work only when people call them. But they do work. Not all the time. But sometimes. Every "sometime" a gift. They work because someone is willing to listen. To hear. To support. And because someone is willing to be heard. To take the risk of being heard. To take the risk of feeling loved. Even if just for a moment. In those moments, if being heard is so close to being loved as to be indistinguishable, that's a good thing. That's a vital thing. That's a lifesaving thing. Therapy. 12-step programs. Self-care groups. Communities of faith. They all can work that way when someone works them.

What can you do? Tell you tomorrow. Because, as a pilgrim's note tells us 'Abdu'l-Baha once said, "Whatever is done in love...

Reasons I Speak - To help end the shame, the stigma, the silence11-05 Ask: never any trouble, and - there is always time." So if you encounter someone - family, friend, colleague, stranger - who (you feel or fear) is suicidal, deeply depressed, grieving life, take the time to get them to talk. Even if you're not sure how heavy their issue really is, get them to talk. And LISTEN to them. If you don't know what to say, tell them you don't know what to say. Ask them what they need you to say. Need to hear. And don't just suggest they get help. Get them to help. Or get help to them. 1-800-273-TALK (273-8255) can assist you with that.

Or if you are grieving life, deeply depressed, contemplating suicide, don't put up a good front. Don't think it's just you. 'Cuz it's not. You're not the only one. You're not alone in feeling what you feel. And don't think that what you're feeling is too small - or you are too unimportant - to matter. 'Cuz it's not true. Let someone know. ASK for help. Believe that it's there for you. 'Cuz it is. Believe someone cares. 'Cuz they do. We do. Believe that you matter. 'Cuz you do. You may think the world doesn't need you, but the world disagrees. For proof of that, call 1-800-273-TALK (273-8255). They will always take the time. And they will never think it's too much - or any - trouble. Promise.

Silence is not always strength. Or support. Sometimes it's anything but. Isolation can silence. Shame can silence. Fear of stigma can silence. And silence can kill. Break the silence. Please.

BTW, the person holding that sign is a survivor of more than one suicide attempt, starting in his mid-teens. He's now in his mid-40s. Helping others has been added to his list of reasons to keep living. High on his list. Empathy works. Service works. It may tip the scales. Final thoughts on all this tomorrow.

Lifeline: 1-800-273-TALK11-06 Lifeline: Twigs of a Family Tree is up on Amazon now. And there's a lot in there that is, in one way and another, directly related to this subject. Especially in my chapter. My story. Stories others have shared with me. And how the Baha'i Faith sees it. Which is not as some criminal act or unforgivable sin. For as 'Abdu'l-Baha even tells the grieving widow of (we are able to surmise) a successful suicide, after noting the "extreme pressure of anguish" that may have driven him to it, "He will be immersed in the ocean of pardon and forgiveness and will become the recipient of bounty and favour."

This is worth repeating one last time: Call for help!

The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline even has an online chat service. And the Lifeline asks that if you are in crisis/danger and cannot get through to a crisis worker via 1-800-273-TALK (273-8255), 1-800-SUICIDE (784-2433), or the Lifeline chat feature, do call 911 for emergency help.

Someone cares. Someone wants to help. All you have to do is ask. Now.

Thanx for sticking with me on this. New topic starts tomorrow.

Khoda hafez,

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P A R T Y !

"A book, too, can be a star, 'explosive material, capable of stirring up fresh life endlessly,' a living fire
to lighten the darkness, leading out into the expanding universe." -- Madeleine L'Engle

Twigs of a Family Tree front coverOn my way to a party. A book-release party. My party. For Twigs of a Family Tree. Today. At my friend Changiz's house.

You've been so patient. You need wait no longer. It's finally up on Amazon. In all its glory.

Or, if you live close to me, you may wish to buy it directly from me, person-to-person. (I'm in Chicago, near Evanston, very close to rapid transit, less than five miles from the Bahai House of Worship)

Why? Because.

Because (a) you won't have to pay tax and S&H; so even at full price, it'll be cheaper for you and you can get it faster.

Because (b) you'll be able to take advantage of my 4-tiered pricing options, based on your ability to pay.

Because (c) the proceeds will go to a much better cause than merely lining the pockets of you-know-what-megabusiness.

Because (d) you'll be able to get your copy personally signed.

And because (e) you'll even get to take a selfie with me, post it to your social media, and brag about knowing the author. LOL.

Gotta run. See ya soon.

Khoda hafez,

P.S. If you're in the Vicotoria, BC area, check out Mead's booth at First Chance this coming weekend. He plans to have Twigs of a Family Tree on sale there, too, at a discount from the price on Amazon Canada; and you can ask him to sign it and take a picture with you. More social-media bragging rights.

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Snart at the dead-man switch of the Oculus

***SPOILER ALERT*** If you're not up to date on the Arrowverse, especially Legends of Tomorrow, and if you're planning to binge watch or whatever and don't want to know anything about anything beforehand, skip this long spoiler. Maybe skip this whole article for now. If you wanna know how I got started with LoT, check this out.

That was Leonard Snart's dying declaration. Captain Cold's exit line. A soul's contention that it was not, ever, a puppet. The moment before the Oculus imploded and, we were told, a hero died to save his team. And the world. "There are no strings on me."

This master thief. This cold-blooded killer. This patricide. This emotionally frozen survivor. This abused, angry child trapped inside a brilliant, bent adult. This cynic with the Stinky attitude. The Snarky facade. And the Snarty heart. The heart Leonard goes back decades and warns Leo, his childhood self, about. "Don't ever let anyone hurt you. Ever. Not [touching his own head] here and especially not [touching Leo's heart] here." This villain who reveled in the discovery that he could see the bad in a hero (who let him). And yet...more importantly, that the hero could see the good in him (and he could let him). This man whose strong ethical code, finally given the chance, gives rise to an equally strong moral code. His ability to live with himself enriched by a new ability to live with others. To die for others.

So we've been told, Repeatedly. In Legends of Tomorrow. In various episodes of other shows in the Arrowverse. In interviews and blogs and social media. Even in his and the Arrowverse Wiki and Wikipedia pages. He sacrificed himself to save the team. He sacrificed himself to save the world. He sacrificed himself to save the future. Even his partner tells Snart that he died for his friends, just before Rory neuralizes him to return him to his proper lifeline.

Only one problem. Not true. None of it. Zip. Zero. Zilch.

Yet listening to the lines in such episodes, you wonder if even the writers don't get it. Which is disconcerting. 'Cuz it's the job of writers, directors, and actors to collaborate in telling a story that, even if it's fictional, is TRUE. Even, perhaps especially, when they make us face and feel things in watching that we'd do most anything to avoid facing and feeling in real life. When they illumine for us (as my friend, cultural anthropoligist Jean Mavrelis puts it) "humans being".

Snart would get it. Which is why, to my mind, when the Legion of Doom goes back in time and tells him how he'll die in a year to save the Legends, he doesn't trust it for a minute. Which is why he goes so ultra-snarky. (Maybe the actor got it, and it was his personal choice to deliver the performance that way. Maybe actor, director, and writer all got it and left it as a well-hidden mental/emotional Easter egg for the final contributor to the collaboration - the viewer - to find.)

Snart didn't die for others.

He didn't die to save the future. Any future important to him was already safe. He didn't die to save the world. The world, newly important to him, was already safe. He didn't die to save his team. His team - and it was his, important to him - was already safe. All that, already safe the moment Ray Palmer took on the task of holding down the dead-man switch in the Oculus. Equally safe when Mick Rory stepped up to wrest that task from Palmer's hand. And that's the crux - dare I say "the heart"? - of it.

The only person in that danger at that point was Rory. The only person Snart sacrificed himself for was Rory. Snart was perfectly willing to let anyone else take on the deadly task. Had Palmer's hand still been on the switch, Snart would've gladly escaped in the Waverider with the rest of the Legends. But leave Rory there? No. Not again. Never again. No way!

And so, when the Legion told him about his death, did Snart have some inkling of the truth? Of why he sacrificed himself? For whom? Was that the real reason he then clocked Rory, back there on the battlefield in World War I? 'Cuz down deep he knew? And he knew Rory knew? But he obviously, certainly, decidedly couldn't hug him. Kiss him. Anything like that. As he once told a tongue-tied Rory, "Mick, I don't do touchy-feely. If you got something to say, say it."

(And don't get me started on how our screwed-up culture of machismo and gender-policing has devastated generations of men by demanding, from at least kindergarten on, that they be gentle-touch avoidant among themselves. Well, actually I already did get started. Big time. Go read Twigs of a Family Tree. It's been put to bed as of today. What's left is just some Amazonian logistics. Yep, this is your stealth preview announcement.)

My grandMya initially watched that "Destiny" episode with me. Afterwards, I expressed my ire about Snart being killed off before the first season even ended. (Yeah, what was up with that? The actor leaving when/how he did never did ring quite true with me. But that's another story. And no, I'm not going to blog about it.) I think the writers shoulda figured out how to kill off Vandal Savage first, in the penultimate S1 ep, and then closed the season with the defeat of the Time Masters and the fulfillment of Snart's life. That way, the actor would at least have gotten full-season credits. And I think it would've been stronger in that order. 'Cuz I was mightily weary of Savage's arc long before then.

But Mya offered me a fresh perspective when she said that "Everyone will always remember his last line." She didn't mean everyone in the Arrowverse. They didn't hear his last line. She meant the viewers. Everyone watching. We'd all remember that line. And how the actor delivered it.

I don't know about that. Maybe. I don't haunt fan sites, but sometimes something will serendipitously come to my attention. And I do still watch Arrowverse shows. First-run, anyway. Sometimes. Fans have speculated on all kinds of reasons for this or that being the pivotal moment when Snart's willingness to sacrifice himself - "for the team", "for the world", "for the future", "for his friends [plural]" - took root. This moment when the Legion of Doom was defeated. That moment when the Flash delivered Snart back to Siberia. Some other moment when Rory didn't kill him. Etc. And so on. Ad nauseum.

I don't buy it. None of it. Not for a second.

I haven't seen anyone else with my take on the pivotal moment. Doesn't mean there isn't anyone else. Perhaps many anyone-elses. Just means I got here by myself and I haven't run across anyone else yet who got here too. Not exactly here. Looking down at this Easter egg in my hand.

The pivotal moment, the moment that confirmed Snart on his heroic journey, the moment that sealed his legendary fate, was when - having just lost his partner and protector/protectee and erstwhile conscience to the Oculus implosion - Rory goes back in time several years to tell the unsuspecting earlier Snart (who assumes he's talking to the Rory of his time) that "You're the best guy I ever knew. You may not think you're a hero, but you're a hero to me."

Dammit, Rory set Snart up to die. Not intentionally. (I hope...unless Snart actually schooled him too well). But he did. He even prefaced his statement with "This wasn't a good idea." But STILL he said it. He couldn't NOT say it. 'Cuz he meant it. And he needed Snart to know.

Sure as blazes was a big change from what an earlier Rory told Snart when they were both in the same present together in the midst of their common LoT trek: "You think you're some kind of hero, but deep down you're still the same punk kid I saved in juvie." Which, when you think about it, was equally true. (Article continues below.)

What Snart hears from Rory

Yeah. There were strings on Snart. One string, anyway. A heartstring. Connected to Rory. And it got pulled on. Without realizing what he was doing, Rory cursed/blessed Snart with the strength to sacrifice himself. That's why Snart lived up to his destiny. That's why he died a hero. Not through any world-embracing altruism. Team-protecting superheriosm. Sudden decision that these new friends were friends. No. For one reason. One. For one person. One. Because he loved someone. *END SPOILER ALERT*

I sat on this for a long time. But some reruns and a conversation with a friend brought it back up and I decided to try and write about it. Why? Why was it important enough to me that I remembered it all this time? Because the story, albeit fiction, was true. Because these characters, albeit fiction, were "humans being". And because....

In a TV or film (or even book) series, do you know what an "anchor" is? It's the one regular character that you as an individual viewer (or reader) anchor on. You may like and enjoy many characters, but you anchor on one. Everyone who gets deeply involved in a series, who keeps coming back to it, who even sits through the reruns (or rereads the stories), almost certainly has an anchor in that series. The one character they most identify with. Most care about. Most want to know. Love and/or hate the most.

Give you an example. Back in the dark ages, my friend David and I both started watching Blake's Seven when it was broadcast in the US. And by the end of episode 2, we both knew who our individual anchor characters were. David anchored on Olag Gan, a character described by Wikipedia as "having killed the Federation guard who murdered his girlfriend" and "courageous, strong and dedicated to Blake's cause." I anchored on Kerr Avon, described by Wikipedia as a computer genius, thief, and reluctant rebel who " distrusts emotion, and...attempts to pursue a code based on logic and reason...[which] frequently causes him conflict with Blake" and who "shows his readiness to put companions in danger in order to protect himself." (Although it says elsewhere that "Avon acts self-serving but in reality, when it comes to actions, he is more selfless than any of the others...." Heavens, another character of Snartish complexity. Am I in a rut, or what?) Not that any of that does much to describe the depth of either Blake's Seven character. To be honest, though, I doubt either David or I ever fully understood why the other anchored on the character s/he did. But I think we each understood why we had the anchor we did. Somewhat, anyway. 'Cuz a good anchorage is like an onion: there's always another layer to peel.

Anyway, Snart wasn't just my anchor in LoT. He was my anchor in the whole Arrowverse. (Hey, my anchor in everything CW that Berlanti Productions currently has a finger in the pie of.) When Snart died, nothing else in the Arrowverse was strong enough to make all those shows appointment viewing any more. Yeah, I still watch them. Sometimes. When I feel like it. And don't have something better to do. Or, for sure, when I know that Snart is going to be in an ep/rerun.

Don't know why the character resonates so. Remember, I started watching LoT because of Arthur Darvill. Unfortunately, Darvill is a bit too good at what he does. He's portrayed Captain Rip Hunter to a T. And it turned out I didn't like Captain Rip Hunter. In fact, Darvill's made it work so well that I really don't like Captain Rip Hunter. Wouldn't trust him farther than I could throw him. Wouldn't say I "like" Captain Cold/Leonard Snart, either. But I always knew that if you can just become psychically indispensable to Snart, like Rory did, he will ensure you survive. So I trust him. Always. 'Cuz he is exactly who he is. Always. He'll be himself no matter what. Even when he wears a mask, it's a mask of his devising. It's still really him. And all you have to do to survive in his world is know, understand, appreciate, complement, trust to who he always is. That resonates. He speaks to my soul. No one else in the Arrowverse (nor, for that matter, in any of the actor's other series and films) does. Not like that.

Maybe because I so value loyalty. Especially truly volitional loyalty. Maybe because he speaks his own truth. In exacting detail. Maybe because he can read your soul. And when he respects you enough to give you his true word, he keeps it. Maybe because no other Legend has seen their destiny change "for better or for worse" the way Snart has. And he's the one who saw/voiced that potential for them all. Maybe because I have a real-life inkling of what Snart felt. Both at the start and at the end. Maybe because I've been able to sometimes recognize unwonted, hard-won, even backhanded gifts. Or maybe just because I know what being a survivor - solitary, hard, emotionally frozen - is like. Dunno. Doesn't matter.

What matters is that Snart was able to make his choice, to become a hero as well as a legend, to crown the trajectory of his life with immemorial honor because in spite of everything - or maybe because of it - he loved someone. There's hope in that (true story). For all of us.

Khoda hafez,

P.S. Wentworth Miller and Dominic Purcell have always been able to pull this kind of thing off together. "Fake it till you make it." Hear that a lot in the rooms of recovery. And Miller and Purcell attest that, through their work together in Prison Break and in the Arrowverse, they have become brothers. Scofield and Burrows. Snart and Rory. Miller and Purcell. "Wentnic" is screen gold. I almost wish I were in the industry, 'cuz I have a couple of "Wentnic" projects I'd love to pitch. Preferably to Greg Berlanti.

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"My grandmother started walking five miles a day when she was sixty.
She's ninety-seven now, and we don't know where the heck she is."  -- Ellen DeGeneres

Did something special yesterday. Didn't start out that way. Or at least I didn't realize it did. I was just laxed out from having shipped the publication mockup of Twigs off to our authors' editor. So I didn't even bother with the computer for the day. I ran a bunch of errands, all within walking distance. I watched a bunch of TV. I had a long phone chat with a good friend. And I grooved to music. SonicTap. The retro disco channel. Dance, dance, dance. And by time the day was done (i.e., midnight Sunday to midnight Monday), I had logged an interesting number of steps on my pedometer.

Steps on my pedometer - walkingI started using my pedometer on April 22, 2015. For me, a mile is 3,520 steps. That's in a combo of walking and dancing. The ratio depends mostly on the weather. I felt that the dancing wasn't really as exercise-intensive as the walking, because the steps aren't quite as long. My physical therapist recently begged to differ. Walking, she said, is a natural movement. We've evolved for it. Our bodies are very efficient at it. Anything that takes us out of that normal forward direction, like dancing side to side, is less efficient and therefore harder work. Hmmm, learn something new every day.

My daily goal at the start was 5,000 steps. Never missed it. Even doubled it once. By July 1, I was ready to jack the goal up to 5,280 steps, 1.5 miles. Kept that up the rest of the year. Never missed it. Not even on my Vancouver Island trip. Even the days on the train, I got off to walk at every opportunity, plus walked back and forth through the quarter-mile of train a lot. Which ain't easy on the roll. Not until you get your sea legs. If ever. Elsewhen, doubled the goal several times. Tripled it once. Learned my time averaged out to about 1 minute per 100 steps, depending on things like surface conditions (walking), the beat (dancing), stopping a moment to do something (like get some H2O, or await a light). It made planning easier.

Steps on my pedometer - dancingAt the start of 2016, I upped my goal to 5,555, just for fun. Never missed it. Often doubled and tripled it. Quadrupled it a time or two. Even managed to quintuple it once. Also attended our Naw-Rúz party and got to dancing. Kind of amazed the bro I did most of my dancing with. By the end of the third long, fast dance, he was ready to quit for a bit. Well, to do him justice, he hadn't taken off his suit coat, so I think overheating accounted for most of it. I was dressed more lightly. But when he asked how I was so ready to keep going, I mentioned that all through the winter, when I couldn't go out walking, I danced for an hour or more every day. (I didn't bring up how the two sisters I danced a lot with were also staying on the floor, too. No need to rub his nose in the fact that men are built for high exertion, but women for long endurance.)

Anyway, by July 1, I was once again ready to jack it up. To 7,040, 2 miles. Amazingly, though, I actually always doubled it. Occasionally tripled it. Enough of that silliness, then. On January 1, 2017, I jacked it up to the present goal of 14,080, 4 miles. And I've still never missed it.

No, that's not quite true. I missed it once. By 108 steps. I was actually dancing at midnight. The pedometer zeroed out. But the song wasn't over yet, so I kept on dancing. By the end of it, I had an extra 154 steps. I added that back to the previous day's total of 13,972. Then zeroed out the pedometer again before heading off to bed. Yeah, I know: I cheated. Sue me.

All of which brings us to yesterday. So, Lucki (I hear you say), shut up with all the boring background and tell us what made yesterday special.

All right, I will.

Yesterday, I racked up … are you ready? … wait for it … OK … 46,394 steps! That's the equivalent of 13 miles 317 yards of footwork. A half marathon is 13 miles 192.5 yards. Which I beat. By 124.5 yards. Me. At my age. Guess I'm in pretty good shape for the shape I'm in.

Can't wait to catch that dude (those ladies, even) on the dance floor again.

Khoda hafez,

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"Trust the universe and respect your hair."  -- Bob Marley

Met a new friend in the Jewel's today. She struck up a conversation in the frozen dinners aisle. Complimented my dreads. I said thanx. We went from there. Talking about hair. A little about the politics of. A lot about the care and feeding of. She wanted to know where I'd been umpty-bump years ago when she was trying to grow locs. And was, she now discovered, carefully doing all the wrong things. She's enthused about dreads again. She's got my phone number now. She's gonna call. I look forward to some long, fun convos.

If anyone is interested in any care-and-feeding tips, lemme know. Maybe I'll blog on that a time or two. After all, why not pass on my couple of decades of experience. Some of it gleaned from other people's tips. A lot of it discovered by doing all the wrong things myself. Still sometimes make this or that mistake.

But for now, I just wanted to share two items that are more from the politics side of our discussion. Why? Not sure. Just feels worth doing.

The first is something that came up back, I dunno, somewhere just past the turn of the century. It happened when I was a frequenter of stage (American Moor, Coriolanus, Julius Caesar, Midsummer's Night Dream, Ruined, etc.) and screen (All My Children, Andromeda, Eyes Beyond Seeing, Noah's Arc, The Young & the Restless, etc.) actor Keith Hamilton Cobb's website message board. And also ended up writing the FAQ cum glossary for it: A to Z on the KHCMB. Enjoyed the day when he approved the final content draft and up it went. And stayed there as long as the MB itself did. The fans seemed to love it, too.

Keith Hamilton Cobb thenKeith Hamilton Cobb nowAnyway, back then Cobb was rocking an awesome set of leonine locs himself. These are his pix from then (left) in Andromeda and now (right) in American Moor. Sometimes he'd comment about his dreads on his MB. One day, he mentioned, with disdain, someone asking him how he washed his dreads. "With shampoo," he had snippily replied.

Well, I was one of the MBers known at times to beard the leonine in his den. Not 'cuz I thought myself privileged, writing something for him. Just 'cuz that's how/who I am. And I don't know whether he respected me for that and that led him to approve my writing, or vice versa. Or both. Or neither. It's not like we were so close I could suss it out. Or, for that matter, just plain ask him. Maybe someday. In any case, I took public issue with how he responded to his questioner.

Now, Cobb could've been absolutely spot on. He never really described the circumstances for us. His questioner might very well have been talking, writing, thinking in that wrinkled-nose tone of voice that says "I'm picking on something I can feel superior about" or "You're just so odd you belong in a zoo." In which case, a snippy reply could be considered the mildest of just deserts (or desserts, if you're into punning). But it's also possible the questioner was seriously curious. Really wanted to understand if there were special issues or techniques unique to dreads. (Which, yes, there are.) And was willing to ask someone they trusted would surely know. An expert through personal experience.

I've had people ask me essentially the same thing. They've ranged from uncouth to mildly curious to seeking comprehension to requesting advice. When the question is real, I'm willing to spend time giving a real answer. When it's not, I'm tempted to steal Cobb's response, file off the serial numbers, and....

Even maybe go change into one of those "Yes, I have dreadlocks. Yes, I wash them." T-shirts you can get all over the Net. In your face!

The other item is something that happened to me at a big business conference in a fancy hotel in the Loop. There I am in my business suit, walking briskly through the large entrance hall with my briefcase in my right hand and my conference materials in the crook of my left arm. And suddenly I'm tugged slightly aback by a hand on my dreads.

I'm in what my head expects is a safe place; so I don't instinctively drop my stuff and spin around swinging. I turn quickly, yes, but quell the adrenaline rush and hang on to everything. And before I can even voice a polite version of WTF, the white lady who'd sped up behind me and laid hold of my locs without a by-your-leave, or any warning whatsoever, starts berating me 'cuz she only wanted to feel what they were like and now she's got some kinda stuff all over her hand.

Well, shoot, sugah, if'n y'all 'ud axed me first kin ya mess wit' my hair, I might coulda warnedja 'bout de beeswax, like.

Who did she think she was? Entitled? 'Cuz this was definitely the modern business version of those smarmy, hair-brained whites who'd go around all the time rubbing the close-cropped heads of little black boys. Get off! I ain't your touchy-feely petting-zoo exhibit. Or your animate good-luck charm (name notwithstanding). Or even your obligatory educator in all things black(ish). Keep your frikkin' paws to yourself.

My Jewel friend laughed. And concurred. Imagine - hope - you do, too.

Khoda hafez,

P.S. Decided against getting a frozen dinner. Went home and cooked something. Cheaper. Healthier. Also pondered how Cobb is one of the "angels" who made Twigs of a Family Tree happen. Which is why he's on the dedication page. If they ever turn our family bio into a play or something (won't be holding my breath), hope he gets a juicy role.

P.P.S. Another time I took issue with Cobb on his MB was when he said something to the effect that since racism wasn't something we could solve on his MB, we shouldn't get into it there at all. My question was: If we can never bring it up anyplace where we're not going to right-there solve it, wherever will we be able to bring it up at all? And if we can never bring it up at all, how will we ever (even start to) deal with it? I'm pleased that this articulate actor has come a long way from that viewpoint of his. Maybe I contributed some infinitesimal iota to that growth, but that's neither here nor there. Point is, he seems very vocal about it now. Wherever he's offered a forum. That's why he wrote American Moor four years ago. Engages in post-performance conversations with his audiences. Takes advantage of other forums this offers him, such as speaking at a recent symposium on "Shakespeare, Race, and the Practical Humanities". Kudos.

Khoda hafez,

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"The love of one's country is a splendid thing. But why should love stop at the border?"  -- Pablo Casals

Seattle's King Street Station - exteriorSeattle's King Street Station - InteriorHalloween. Seattle. King Street Station. One of those "golf carts" for disabled passengers drove me and my luggage from the train, through the station, outside, and around the corner to the terminal for the thruway buses. I had some time to wait, but not enough to want to check my luggage and try going anyplace. Not even to eat. Those snacks from Vangie and the Metro Lounge sufficed. And I did some walking around the little plaza where the buses pull up. Gotta get in those steps every day, right?

While on the train, I'd been able to use Lily's cell a few times when we were in fairly large cities. Letting family and friends (and cats) know how I was progressing. For most of the three days, though, the cell phone made a great paperweight. No service. Not US service, anyway. And I couldn't take advantage of any towers from over the Canadian border, 'cuz the phone only had US service. So Seattle was pretty much my last chance to communicate with family and friends (and cats) until I made it to Mead's house. Unfortunately, I'd be too late getting there to actually do Halloween stuff with Shoghi. But, hey, can't have everything.

Unusual building in Seattle, WAIt was a pleasant wait for the Cantrail bus to Vancouver, BC. A Google search had shown me that Seattle does some oddball things with big buildings. As I sat with my snack and the cell phone, I was able to catch a good shot of one right near the train station. I suspect that on a clear day, it would be blazingly reflective. But Seattle is the cloudiest city in the contiguous 48. Averages 226 cloudy days a year. So no surprise that I arrived on one of them

The bus had two drivers. Dan was the trainer. Brent was his trainee. The one doing the driving. Brent wasn't learning how to drive. He already knew that very well. He had just moved over from Greyhound to Cantrail, and was learning the Seattle-Vancouver route and Cantrail ticket protocols. I sat in the second seat behind the driver and watched the training with interest. I was most surprised to learn that the driver has leeway regarding which routes to take in and between cities and over the border. Dan talked Brent along a specific route, and also described alternates he might want to use based on day, time, traffic conditions, and so on.

And yes, I saw the Needle. But contrary to the ubiquitous images from film and comic book, you really can't see it from absolutely everywhere in Seattle. In fact, I didn't see it until we were already past it. So I wasn't in a good position to try to catch a shot as we were moving. Not to worry, though. I expected I'd have a much better chance when we approached Seattle on my trip home.

I dozed for part of the way, so may have missed various somethings of interest. I did notice us going through a torrential rainfall. But the sky was clear by time we reached the Pacific Highway border crossing. Odd experience there. We filled out our declarations. All our luggage was unloaded from the bus, as we had to take everything with us into the building. There we answered a set of pro forma questions by a front-line agent. I was the only person from the bus who didn't pass the test. Had to go sit and wait for a next-level agent. Couldn't figure out why.

But while I was waiting, I watched the extended questioning of a young backpacker who'd apparently been there since before our bus even arrived. The gist of the situation was that the special agent he'd been sent to didn't believe this tourist was coming into Canada just to visit. Seemed suspicious that the young man was planning to enter illegally and disappear. The weird part was that the more he tried to convince the agent he was just visiting, the deeper a hole he dug himself. Even my untrained ear sussed that out. All wide-eyed and innocent-ish. Volunteer info. Back and fill. Volunteer something else. More and more off the wall. He was still trying to be persuasive as the upline agent with my passport fiddled with his computer for a moment, then called me up, simply handed me back my passport, and let me go. I suspect the "tourist" and his backpack never did get across that border.

I spent the rest of the ride feeling bad that I'd held everyone up. And trying to figure out what happened. And I think I got it. One of the questions the front-line agent asked was "Have you visited Canada before?" And my answer was "Yes." "When?" I was asked. I thought back. The first time I visited Canada as an adult and a passport holder was when three friends and I traveled to Detroit, then over to Windsor for the night. We were in a car. An agent came to the window, asked to look at each of our passports, asked us where we'd been born, and let us through. (This was obviously before computers ruled the roost.) Well then, that was an easy answer. "Decades ago. Windsor," I said. And that's when I got kicked upline.

Well, silly me. Asked if I'd ever been to Canada, I recounted my first time. To Windsor. Not my last time. To Winnipeg. For Mead and Marielle's wedding. But that Winnipeg trip is obviously the one that came up on the computer, while Windsor did not. And her protocol was to escalate the discrepancy up to the next level. But the upline guy probably figured I was old enough that either I had indeed also traveled to Windsor before computers were ubiquitous, or I was going senile and got the names Windsor and Winnipeg mixed up. Whatever. Plus which, obviously I'd gone home from the Winnipeg trip like I was supposed to. So me and my luggage got back in the bus, and off we went. Ten minutes late.

On to Vancouver. It was an awesome sight as we crested a hill, turned, and saw the towers of Vancouver spread out before us. We drove down and in among them so quickly that I never got a good shot. Or any shot at all. We rolled into the bus terminal still that ten minutes late. Leaving about five minutes to spare to get over to the second thruway bus that would take me to Vancouver Island. And that's where having two drivers really came in handy.

When I asked Brent to help me get to the second bus, Dan volunteered to take care of the first bus in Brent's stead. Dan opined that since the Seattle-Vancouver bus was the feeder to the ferry bus, they might have to wait for ticketholders anyway. But why take chances? So Brent, me, and my luggage made tracks for the thruway bus to the ferry and thence the island. And we made it to the appropriate Pacific Coach Lines kiosk exactly at the 5:30 PM departure time.

Which is where and when the Halloween Horror began.

Khoda hafez,

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"Water does not resist. Water flows. … Water is not a solid wall, it will not stop you.
But water always goes where it wants to go, and nothing in the end can stand against it. Water is patient.
Dripping water wears away a stone. Remember that, my child. Remember you are half water.
If you can't go through an obstacle, go around it. Water does."  -- Margaret Atwood

I'd planned to put a note of thanks in an enveloped copy of Infinite Blessings with my trip tip for Pete. The Whitefish, MT stop seemed the likely place. But it turned out to be one of the places we lost internal power. So that didn't work. And trying to write something neatly while a train is moving is messy. Essentially impossible. At least for me. So I hoped to wake up in Spokane, WA, and write during the half-hour stop. Before that, though, we stopped on a siding at one point to let a high-speed freight train pass us (for safety's sake, passenger trains go slower than freight). And I decided to take a chance and write my note then.

Good thing, 'cuz I didn't really wake all the way up in Spokane, despite the jostling and rocking as the cars were moved back and forth several times to decouple the Portland-bound engine, observation lounge, coach, and sleeper cars and recouple the Seattle-bound engine, sleeper, coach, and dining cars. (Yep, Seattle passengers were getting a full breakfast in the dining car. Portland passengers had to settle for boxed meals. GLOAT.) But at least I knew I was firmly in the Pacific Time Zone. Another lifetime first.

Lots & lots of rain
Thanks in part to all the rain, I missed our only stop in Idaho
"One Race - Human" T-shirt
She really liked the T-shirt she saw me wearing yesterday
Flashflood warnings
Because of flashflood warnings, our train was going very slowly

Rivers rising
They needed that rain out there, but not all at once like that

Rivers raging
The rivers were not only high & rising, they were raging

Puget Sound, very choppy
Even Puget Sound was very choppy

Little teeny spit of land for the train tracks
Our train ran along the very edge of that teeny, low spit of the land

THis strip of land between me and the waves
This thin strip of terra firma between me and the waves

Signs of heavy shipping
Signs of heavy shipping after a long dry-land spell

Double-decker rows of boats on the waterfront in Edmund, WA
Edmunds, WA - Double-decker rows of boats on the waterfront

Two paragrliders out over the water
Paragliders over the water. Yeah, there's two of them. Look hard.

Locks on the way to Seattle, WA
A set of locks on our way out to Seattle, WA

Thanks to power outage, darkness, eventual rain, and what-all, I'd missed our only stop in Idaho, Sandpoint. As well as most of  the Rockies, Marias Pass, the glaciers, and the third longest tunnel in the Western Hemisphere. Not to worry. In a couple of weeks, I'd becoming back through them during the daytime. But for now, the start of my final morning on the train, I found myself encountering a new Leavenworth, this one in Washington. With breakfast time about to start, I gave Pete his envelope as he helped move all of my baggage into one location near the lower door of the sleeping car.

I had breakfast with Charlotte. Then I sat with Frank and Vangie for a while. Also learned that by time I head back to Chicago, the Empire Builder menu will rotate. Different selections. What fun. Frank headed for the observation lounge. Vangie and I went back to their roomette and talked. She told me she really liked the T-shirt she saw me wearing yesterday, and we talked about the importance of the concept it sets forth. Along with a copy of Infinite Blessings, I gave her one of The Three Onenesses. She gave me two croissants. I shared one with her, and stashed the other with the snacks I'll have while awaiting the northbound bus in Seattle: a bottle of water from the train and one cookie and two Doritos snack bags saved from the Metro Lounge.

Because of flashflood warnings, our train was going very slowly. Slow enough for the engineer to personally see any dangerous spots and be able to stop. There were actually two types of danger. One easier to see than the other. The easy kind was anything across the tracks. An uprooted tree. An avalanche of mud. Like that. .The harder-to-see was nothing under the tracks. Places where the earthen support under the tracks might have been undercut and washed away. He was taking no chances. Just in case.

They needed that rain out there. But not all at once like that. Not only were the rivers high and rising, they were raging. Even Puget Sound itself was very choppy. All during that part of the trip, our train tracks ran along the very edge of the land. The coastal rocks. Looking out my roomette window and seeing this thin strip of terra firma between me and the waves was a bit queasy-making. On the other hand, It was nice to eventually see signs of heavy shipping after a long dry-land spell. And I got a chuckle out of the double-decker rows of boats on the waterfront at Edmonds, WA, our last stop before Seattle. Boats in the air. Like they had gone to high ground because of all the rain. It was also fun seeing the paragliders out over the water as the horizon showed some sunlight breaking through. They're something I haven't seen much of in Chicago.

Ya know, people don't think of Chicago as a sea-coast town, but it really is. There's a reason the Great Lakes (all six of them; everyone forgets li'l ol' Lake St. Clair there in the middle) is called an inland sea. And not just because the area used to BE sea bottom. The Great Lakes chain borders and separates two countries. It has been the breeding ground of extratropical cyclones with as high as 90-mile/hour hurricane winds and 35-foot waves. It has it's share of big, deep shipwrecks. Naval battles have been fought on it. It has yielded 300-pound fish. (I don't care if it ain't a shark. If it's eight feet long, I don't wanna mess with it.) It has a huge effect on both weather patterns and climate. The only thing lacking is salt water.

We crossed a set of locks on our way out to Seattle, WA. I also eventually saw the Victoria Clipper pier. The Seattle ferry directly to Vancouver Island. The pier really is far from the King Street train station. I was glad I'd instead chosen to go from Seattle by thruway bus to Vancouver, and then by ferry to Vancouver Island. After all, I'd probably never have another chance to see the real Hollywood North.

Midday-ish, we came into Seattle late but safe. I still had a few hours to wait for the bus to Vancouver. I bade my remaining car mates adieu. Also Pete. He called "Goodbye, Lucki" from the car door. He looked almost sad to see us go. I was sorry to see him go, too. But hey, life moves on. His. Mine. Everyone's. Next phase of my journey coming up.

Khoda hafez,

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"There is more to life than simply increasing its speed."  -- Mahatma Gandhi

As promised, the saga continues. I enjoyed sitting down to my lunch with Frank (again), his wife Vangie, and Ruby, who were close to finishing up theirs. After they left, I got to talk with Mike (again) and his table mates. Finally, I got to chat with Fen, his mom, and their table mates. At one point, one of them noted that it had been cloudy but was now sunny.

"After all," she concluded, "that was then and this is now."
"More like: that," I answered, "was there and this is here."
"Good point," she said.

Fen & Mommy in the next roomette
Fen and Mommy were in the roomette next to mine
Mary, dining car attendant, Portland end
Mary, dining car attendant,
Portland end
Some snow-covered ground
Finally, some snow covering the ground

Our eastbound sister train
Couldn't click fast enough to catch the front of our sister train

Some areas still had green ground cover
Some areas still had green ground cover

Havre, MT history - Great Northern Railway steam locomotive
Havre, MT - Great Northern Railway steam locomotive

Havre, MT history - Sculpture representing "US-Canada Friendship"
Havre, MT - Sculpture represent-
ing "US-Canada Friendship"

Sweet Grass Hills rising starkly from the plains
Sweet Grass Hills rising starkly from the plains

Striking, sun-washed flattop
Striking, sun-washed flattop; the sun shining through our windows

Fen and Mommy were traveling in the roomette on the other side of mine from Mike. When I had stopped by to introduce myself, Fen proved to be an amenable, willing child (though by the end of his trip, he was more than ready to be shut of the train). He came to me and even motioned me to pick him up. "Stranger danger" didn't seem to be part of his mental vocabulary. At that time, I gave his mom a card pointing to the children's stuff on this website.

Since we were at the Portland end of the dining car, Mary was our server instead of Lynne. The service was equally excellent. And I finally got to look out at some snow covering the ground. Or perhaps it's snow covering ice on a pond. Or maybe I was totally wrong and it was really a small salt flat. Because the next pond I saw was liquid. Hard to tell for sure when stuff goes by so fast.

Speaking of fast, that afternoon we eventually pulled onto a siding in the middle of nowhere. The announcement told us it was to let our eastbound sister train for the day pass by. So I was prepped for it. Seated in my roomette. Leaning against the window to see as far ahead of us as possible. Camera up to my eye. And that baby came by so fast I still couldn't click fast enough to catch the very front of it. And boy of boy, did that bow wave rock us!

We lost half an hour again getting stuck behind a freight train. But hey, it's their tracks we were using, so fair's fair. Pete said we'd make up the time by Spokane, Washington. I asked how his day was treating him. He said his back hurt sometimes, but he took some aspirin and that helped. He confirmed that the white stuff I'd seen was ice; the shallow ponds were icy, the deeper ones still liquid. Some areas still had green ground cover, even. He also confirmed that the weird landscape we'd passed through was indeed the Badlands that extend down into South Dakota.

Like many of the stations, Havre, MT was home to some interesting artifacts. Havre's were historical: a Great Northern Railway steam locomotive and a sculpture representing "US-Canada Friendship". Soon after, I saw the Sweet Grass Hills rising starkly from the plains of the US/Canadian border. Running fifty miles east to west, they can be seen for such incredible distances - staying in my view for over an hour - that you might reasonably mistake these buttes and their interspersed hills for part of the Rockies. But they're not. Soon after that cloudy vista, I got a good shot of a striking, sun-washed flattop, as the sun shone through the train's windows in moving bands onto the rolling land. And not too long later, I saw the first snow-covered peak. Well, hey, it's called Montana for a reason.

Enjoyed supper with Mark, his son-in-law James, and a fellow long-time 12-stepper whose anniversary had started the month. After supper, she and I went to a quiet corner of the observation car. Had a brief "meeting". Shared our stories. And I gave her, too, a copy of Infinite Blessings as an 11th-step gift. You see now why I wanted to carry some in my little purse.

Around 9 PM, I asked Pete when we'd reach our high point over the Rockies. Marias Pass. Within spittin' distance of a mile up. He told me we already had, and were on the down-slope. Missed it, and all of Glacier Park, in the dark. Wow, there I was, west of the Continental Divide for the first time in my life. And never noticed a thing. Guess those bananas really worked.

End of a long, full day. Time to hit the sack again. I was tired enough, despite the fact that the other thing those roomettes definitely are anything-but is sound-proofed. LOL

Khoda hafez,

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"I'm not fat, I'm sturdy!"  -- Ethel Mae

Grain elevators, old & new - an agrarian GormenghastWilliston - with its clusters of old and new grain elevators rising above it like some agrarian Gormenghast - was our last stop in North Dakota. And in the Central Time Zone. And it was here that I captured a pic of Bruce. With one of his people.

Along with his human couple, Bruce rode in one of the full-size rooms in my sleeper. The easy-going English bull dog was a trained seizure-service dog. At 60 pounds, he was a pretty hefty hound.

Yeah, I know, technically he's not in the Hound Group. The American Kennel Club puts him in Non-Sporting Group. Pretty ironic for a breed previously bred for the so-called sport of bull- and bear-baiting. The Kennel Club in the UK classifies him as a Utility dog. The United Kennel Club, with their emphasis on performance as well as looks, seems to get closest to the mark by putting him in the Companion Class.

Bruce the bulldog & one of his peopleThe dining car staff worked with Bruce's people every day to ensure he received nutritional, hydration balanced, low residue meals. After all, the train couldn't just stop 'cuz Bruce needed to go. But when we did stop, Bruce was right there at the car door, waiting to get taken for walkies. Obviously very relieved. (Arrgggh, horrid pun. Sorry.) Problem was, Bruce didn't always understand the pit-stop urgency. After all, stations didn't just have places one where one could conduct one's business. They were also full of doggie newspapers. Places to sniff to see who'd been there. What kind of a who they were. Gender. Health. Diet. Social status. And all the other things a canine nose knows. And Bruce also, I suppose, had his own internal pedometer. Exercise was important. Also slo-o-ow.

The attendants, conductors, and engineers were very cognizant of Bruce's needs. When he was out - and he was sometimes even able to go out when no others passengers could (at brief pick-up/let-off stops) - they'd watch carefully to ensure he had as much time as possible, yet always made it back in. He wasn't even necessarily expected to respond to the general all-aboard calls at the longer rest stops. Once all other passengers were in, if Bruce was still out, the engine staff would watches-watch until the last possible moment. But when the schedule said you have to go NOW or else, they had to go now. So they'd call out, "Now, Bruce. We gotta go now!"

I never did catch a pic of what happened when Bruce's person heard that final call. But I remember him - and you can picture it - suddenly picking up 60 pounds of startled bulldog in a tummy hold. And running for the sleeper door. Where Pete helped lift first Bruce and then his person into the car and slammed the door shut. And off we'd go, bulldog and all, the track, singular way out here, once more receding endlessly behind us.

Welcome to Wolf Point, MTIn what seemed a tribute to Bruce's ancestry, we eventually reached our first stop in Montana. Wolf Point. Don't know what it meant to him. If anything, beyond the usual relief. But it meant I knew for sure that I'd entered a time zone I'd never, ever been in before. And Rey wanted to fly me in a plane over all this? Pffft! Boy howdy, am I glad he was willing to change the plan. It was so interesting.

Before lunch, I started to doze in the observation car, then woke myself back up. After all, how would I know if I missed something? Like, say, the two colorful dinos in a yard just east of Malta, MT? Or those cows I told you about that ran away from the train west of Malta? Plus which, if I slept now, I'd likely be wakeful again tonight. Nope, sagas work better when you're awake for them. This one will continue next time.

Khoda hafez,

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U N - E E L

"Lucki, So far this year we've encountered four small copperheads up at the cabin. I've taken to hooking them into a bucket and relocating them far enough away that they should not return, but not so far that they can't find their den. Like the rattler, they're turning out to be quite laid-back and non-aggressive. Two of the four have been found on the same stone terrace as that rattler."  -- Tom Ligon

I ended my entries last year by telling you about animals wild and domestic seen on my train ride west. Mammalian and avian, that is. So as a segue from that to regaling you with the Bruce story and further highpoints of the journey, let me catch up on some old business of the reptilian kind. A capper to the ongoing sharing of snake stories, on and off this site, that famed SF author Tom Ligon and I started back in the dark ages.

Ah yes, laid-back pit vipers.

The last time I remember encountering one, many years ago, I was out swimming at a lake-side cabin after summer sunset. A friend on the bank called my attention to an eel swimming behind me. I touched bottom. Looked around. Saw from my angle that the "eel" was swimming on rather than in the water, head held high. Eels don't do that. Most snakes don't even do that. So instead of splashing at it to get it to move away, I got very still and quiet and watched it swim by. Triangular head and all.

Swimming cottonmouthActually, it wasn't that big a cottonmouth - water moccasin, as some people call 'em - only about a foot and a half long, maybe two feet at most. I was surprised to see one so far north. Wondered however did it get there. But that "cotton" mouth was a, um, dead giveaway. When it swam through the moonlight path on the water, its colors showed up, so it must have been fairly young. Maybe some idiot had brought it northward as a neolate and then let it escape, or dumped it when it got too big. Jerkwad. The idiot, not the adder.

It had apparently holed up in the rock retaining wall of the bank during the hot day, and was now on it's way to who-knows-where (probably the little wild island in the middle of the lake) to find supper. Or, in its case, breakfast. Plenty around for it to eat, especially in active foraging mode: island rodents, cygnets, baby snapping turtles, small fry in the shallows. Since I was too big to swallow and didn't threaten it, it was quite satisfied to swim on by about six inches away. Well, maybe a foot away. But it felt like half that. Or closer. Viper didn't even bother to stretch its intimidating whitish mouth all the way open, though. It seemed contented with its summery lot in life so far. But I doubted it'd make it through a New England winter.

You know, one thing I find interesting about the pit vipers is the tail's-end comparison. Because most rattlesnake species retain and add to their tail beads when they molt, they shake their noisemaker tail tips to warn off potential threats. Cottonmouths and copperheads will also shake their tails to distract predators into going for the tail instead of the head. On the other hand, sometimes they may, especially the young ones with their bright yellow tail tips, undulate or quiver or "rattle" their soundless tails to attract prey. It's easy to see the evolutionary link that nevertheless resulted in different, even opposite, uses.

And thanx, Tom, for giving me fodder for yet another Abiding Blog entry.

Butterflies, Viceroy & MonarchKhoda hafez,
P.S. In a form of possibly defensive mimicry in behavior, some non-poisonous snakes may also shake their tails to scare off predators who might think they've encountered a viper. Just like, it has been hypothesized, the viceroy butterfly's mimicry in appearance of the larger monarch butterfly may ward off predators who've learned by repeated experience that monarchs can taste bitter.

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"I knew Silver for my whole life and I will not forget…."

Preface -- This is how you calculate years for Felis silvestris catus: Take the number of human years. Multiple by 5. Then - and here's the part people usually forget - add 7. Because in their first year, cats mature at the rate of about 1 cat year for every 1 human month. After that, they slow down to 5 cat years for every 1 human year.

Sir Herrington Silverstone - Silver, for short - was a rescue. Most all my cats have ever been. I got him in his gawky juvenile phase. Around a year old. The equivalent of a human just about to enter their teens. Two neighbor kids were out with him. They never did tell me their name for him. Assuming they even had one, other than Gato. They asked if I wanted to take him. 'Cuz they couldn't keep him. I didn't know why at the time. But I said "sure" anyway.

I soon found out why. Silver had some kind of chronic bowel condition that caused incessant ploppiness. Which, of course, also led to dehydration. The vet told me I had to give him this special food that cost nearly ten times more than what I always fed my cats. The week's worth of packets I bought worked. I couldn't afford to keep buying that, though. Fortunately, I didn't have to. I decided to try a way-less-expensive, home-style remedy. To give canned pumpkin a chance. And it worked. So every November, I'd stock up on a year's worth of house-brand canned pumpkin at the local discount market. He got a heaping teaspoon with every meal. And he loved it. He'd eat the pumpkin first. And no more ploppiness. In fact, after half his life on pumpkin-inclusive meals, I learned that his bowel condition had cleared up and he didn't need it any more. Still occasionally got it as a much-loved treat, though.

Sir Herrington Silverstone (right) and Black Angelfish Princess - Silver & Angel, for short<-- BTW, that's my grandMya's Black Angelfish Princess - Angel - there in the picture with Silver. watching him do one of his "tricks". Standing up to nibble a treat. He had me well trained.

After his year with the family that saw fit to dump him instead of trying to help him, Silver lived with me for eighteen and a half years. (I'm not sure he'd have made it eighteen and a half weeks - or days - if he'd just been thrown into the alley to fend for himself. Not with that medical condition.) So he reached the equivalent of around 105.

About the last six months of his life, though, everything was failing fast. His kidneys shut down. Water went through him like, well, water. He lost his appetite. Weight melted off. He no longer kept his nails trimmed or coat clean and groomed. Had to do that for him. His bowel condition came back. Even pumpkin didn't help much. Occasionally, he couldn't even make it to the litter in time. Which made it a good thing I don't have carpets. That meant, though, that I didn't dare let him sleep in my bed any more. That was very sad, because he always loved cuddling under the covers with me, be it a light sheet in pleasant weather or a snug pile of blankets in winter.

But the one thing he always did manage, until very near the end, was to levitate up to and down from the top shelf (the "penthouse" at my eye level) of the five-level cat condo, which is directly under one of the heat/air vents in the living room. So, after he was too ill to sleep with me, he'd always sleep snuggled up there with Angel. Probably helped him stay warm.

And at 9:18 PM last Tuesday, he died. Quietly. In my arms. I called Mya right away to let her know. And after we finished talking, she posted this eulogy on her FB page.

Mya's eulogy to Silver on her Facebook page

She got a lot of sympathy emojis in response. And a number of text comments. Her dad's was the first, a couple of minutes after 10: a simple *R.I.P. Silver*. Mead's was two minutes later: "I'm so sorry to read this. Silver was such an awesome cat. I'm certain Shoghi will be sad, too."

Mead was right. Silver was awesome. He got along with everyone. He was bold. He was very, very vocal; and the range of sounds he could voice was amazing. He was a purr factory. He knew when his human needed a snuggle. He loved to lap sit. Sometimes, at my invitation, he would jump up. Keep his back feet on my lap. Put his front paws up on my chest. And just drape himself against my torso. He was accepting of a figure-8 leash when it meant we could go sit in the sun and breeze on the back porch.

Silver had more tricks than just getting treats. I'd sometimes find him in my fully-made bed. A lump under the covers. Which were otherwise totally undisturbed. How he managed that, I'm not quite sure. Teleportation? Telekinesis? Whatever, Angel never figured that trick out. She finally gave up trying, but would lie atop the covers next to the Silver-y lump. Twice, though, he apparently figured out how to get her in there with him. I was surprised when I threw back the covers to move him, and him was a them.

That eulogy's not all Mya did. There's a public FB site she sometimes frequents and occasionally comments on. A site with well over one and a half million (!) likes/followers. That site's owner posted, as part of a month-long daily self-care chronicle: Today self-care looked like a "share size" bag of peanut butter M&Ms I didn't share.  #sorrynotsorry  What did it look like for you?

And Mya told me she posted this response: I told Grams about your self-care chronicle, and she told me today self-care looks like wrapping 19-year-old Silver cat in a big towel and holding him close so that the last thing he knows is warmth and softness and the sound of a heartbeat (which is the first thing he knew even before he was born). Like letting him go gentle into his good night. Like not raging, raging against the dying of his light.

Yep, that's what I'd told her. It wasn't an easy thing to do, all that. But it was the right thing to do.

The week before Silver died, I went with David - as I had promised - to bury one of his cats, BW, that died of FIV. It had been a big, young, and beautiful, but unadoptable, male that David "inherited" - when cancer took her life - from the animal-care person he'd sometimes worked for. The day and the ground were cold. But not totally frozen. There wasn't even snow cover. We found a beautiful spot amidst a logfall, across the way from where we had buried Ascii years before. And as with Ascii, we noticed a couple of deer nearby, as we used big swaths of broken-off bark to form a protective little coffin for BW. David promised to bring me back to lay Silver in the same grave when it was time.

When Silver died, he was no longer young. Or big. Or even beautiful (body-wise). He was old. Worn down. Mostly skin and bones. He was ready to let go. And I let him. No traumatic vet visits. No intrusive measures to keep him alive just for my sake. He wasn't in pain. He was just winding down naturally. My job then was simply to make him as comfortable as possible. When he could no longer jump up to the penthouse, I made him a warm, soft nest a few inches off the floor. When he could no longer climb into the tall-walled litter box, I lifted and held him in it so he could relieve his final urge. When he could no longer lift himself out of the nest, or even stand in it, when all he could do was lift his head and weakly call for me, I wrapped him in a big warm towel and sat in my rocker holding him. He gradually faded away. I heard his last breath and saw the moment the life left his body. I said goodbye. And thank you. And called Mya.

David and I drove back to the burial site we'd created for BW the week before. Rey brought Mya and met us there. Mya was really torn up. Couldn't even look at Silver as we lowered him to rest atop the existing bark cover. She walked away. Stood with her back turned. Crying. But somehow, I was ready. Somehow, I did the right thing. I didn't downplay Silver's importance to her. Belittle her grief. Say he was only a cat. Tell her to buck up. Promise her time heals all wounds. None of that bushwah. But I'd brought a small vial of silver glitter with me. I invited everyone, especially Mya, to scatter a pinch of glitter on Silver before we covered him tightly with another layer of bark. That brought Mya back to us. Seemed to give her some kind of closure. Rey also said he thought that bit of ritual was "cool".

When I got home, I wanted to do something "closure-y" for myself. Something "sweet". Ah, yes, maybe a candy bar. I went to the store and saw some peanut butter M&Ms on sale. A share-size bag. That would do. I don't buy them much, PB M&Ms or Reese's. But they can be a go-to when I'm really, really sad. I decided to set aside a handful for Mya to enjoy next time she came over. Held out three each of the three primary colors. When I talked to her afterwards, I told her about having the candy, but not about saving her any. Wanted it to be a surprise. Still, telling her what I did may have been why her attention was caught by that public FB site post equating self-care with PB M&Ms. Enough that she decided to comment on it.

Later, she added this comment: This is weird. I posted on your "peanut butter M&Ms" self-care post about Grams's self-care when her cat Silver was dying. Grams told me later after we went & buried Silver, she went & bought a share size of peanut butter M&Ms. She didn't see your post or anyting. That's just what she wanted to do when she was feeling so sad. She doesn't buy them much, but they're her favorite kind, and she didn't share any with me either.

Of course, now she knows better. She has since eaten them. And thoroughly enjoyed them. Interesting coincidence, though. So, even dead, Silver added another gem to our family necklace of togetherness.

Good cat!

Khoda hafez,
P.S. Mya told me a little later that at my burial, instead of flowers, she's going to scatter a handful of black and green glitter on my coffin. And invite others to join her in doing so. I think that's very cool. Waydahgo Mya!

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"It's pretty scary to know how quickly time flies."  -- James Wan

I promised to keep you informed about the progress of Twigs. This is me doing that. Seems a good way to start the new Gregorian year.

As you know, we submitted the expanded manuscript for peer review at the beginning of last June. They'd helped us before, with the earlier versions of the manuscript. With all the new material, though, they asked us to allow two months for the follow-up review. We were fine with that.

In fact, we thought they were being overly optimistic. So we weren't surprised when August came to an end and they asked for another month. We were quite happy to give it to them. After all, our marketing consultant had advised that we'd be in good shape if we got it into print by end of year. Three months for the peer reviewers, the final three for us. Seemed fair.

Unfortunately, September also passed and our peer reviewers were still immersed in all that new stuff. For us, patience had to be the watchword of the day. They do good work, the reviewers. They catch important stuff. Best translations. Up-to-date sources and citations. Research biases. Foggy wording. Sneaky typos. The list goes on. Plus, it's not like anyone's paying them to help. It's a labor of love for them. As it has been for us.

Peer reviewersHave to admit, though, that when Halloween and Thanksgiving passed and we still didn't have everything back, we got angsty. How could we possibly make that end-of-year publishing deadline? Finally in mid-December, despite some software incompatibilities that drove everyone bonkers for a week or so, we had everything in hand. But there was more than we excepted to deal with. No way to finish it all in the two remaining weeks. What to do about that December 31, 2016 deadline?

That's what we've asked our marketing consultant. And she has responded that, while it isn't ideal, we can get away with a new deadline: Getting the book on the shelves before or on the one-year anniversary of our "Introduction" date. In other words, by May 10, 2017. We've already started working on clearing up those review issues. The hardest part is finding some more stuff to drop on the cutting room floor, so we have room for necessary clarifications and citations without upping our page count and thereby moving our price point out of the acceptable range. (In other words, friends, we don't want the book to become too expensive.)

Sorry it isn't more exciting news. But it is what it is. For now.

Just to keep things in perspective with a smile, though, remember that, as Terry Wogan said, "Time flies like an arrow, but fruit flies like a banana."

Khoda hafez,

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