I stepped from Plank to Plank
A slow and cautious way
The Stars about my Head I felt
About my feet the Sea.

I knew not but the next
Would be my final inch -
This gave me that precarious Gait
Some call Experience.

Emily Dickinson, c. 1864

Sunday, January 29, 2023

Generating a post

Lake Padden yesterday

I had a hard time deciding what to write about today, because my head is simply brimming with possibilities. Should I write about the burgeoning windstorm that we here in the Pacific Northwest will endure for the next few days? Or what about the murder of that poor man in Memphis? Or maybe about, wait for it, the advances in artificial intelligence (AI)  that have recently taken over the internet, as well as all possible uses and misuses of the next new big thing, Chat GPT?

One of my blogging friends suggested that I consider using it to assist in writing my post, just to see what might emerge. I am tempted, really I am, but when I just now went over to the OpenAI website, I got as far as to learn that, at the very least, I would need to give out my email address and phone number in order to set up an account. There might be more, but I didn't go further into it to find out. 
Success in creating AI would be the biggest event in human history. Unfortunately, it might also be the last, unless we learn how to avoid the risks. —Stephen Hawking

Well, Stephen, we've done the first part by creating it, and now it's up to us to make sure that it is going to be developed to assist and aid humanity, rather than (thinking of the Terminator movie) it becoming self-aware and deciding that humanity is a nuisance. 

Chat GPT is the latest exciting bot to emerge, after having become available to the public at the end of last year. For now, signing up to use the service is free, but everybody thinks it will soon become only available for a price. Who knows? I found plenty on the internet to tell me about it, and the article I linked above will tell you everything you need to know to get started, if you want to try it yourself. I also read a good article on PC Guide that tells you even more about it.

Chat GPT has become a viral phenomenon – and it is no surprise. The online AI chatbot has blown the minds of the public and it seems that everyone is trying to check it out. As a result, Chat GPT servers have been struggling to handle all their user’s requests. Resulting in some people being temporarily blocked from using the service.

Well, that's one more reason to leave it alone for now. I am curious, because my friend in Seattle who mentioned it to me, sent me a comment on my other blog with a question that he generated from Chat GPT, asking where might be a good small city in which to retire in the Pacific Northwest, and it chose Bellingham and described it perfectly!

I then went to YouTube and watched a 30-minute video about how to use it with Chrome extensions, which was fascinating, but again I got a chill thinking about how much our world will be changed by this technology. I wonder what you might think about it, and whether or not you have ventured into its use. In any event, this post is generated completely from my fevered brain after a good night's sleep.

Yesterday Mel and I walked two times around Lake Padden, which is where I took that picture. It was still, almost, as you can see from the glassy surface of the lake. We saw a heron in a tree near the water and watched it for awhile. Plenty of people were out and about, enjoying the weather and, I suspect, wanting to get out before the forecasted wind hit. And it did: I listened to it howl through the trees all night long. A twenty-mile-an-hour cold wind from the northeast made it unpleasant to even think about being outdoors last night. It's moderated a little at this time before dawn, but it's still blowing. At least it's perfectly clear and cold, which means I'll be able to get a good walk in this afternoon, bundled up and watching my breath steam up the air as I walk. I have a nice three-mile walk that is mostly away from traffic, and I'll enjoy myself, I'm sure.

I can usually find ways to bring happiness into my life, but out of curiosity I looked online to see what others think are necessary to be happy. I found this:

  • Practice Daily Gratitude. Expressing gratitude has been shown to do more than improve your mood. 
  • Surround Yourself with Positive People. 
  • Do Regular Acts of Kindness. 
  • Spend More Time with Family and Friends. 
  • Spend Money on Experiences Instead of Things.

Most of these are regular occurrences in my own life. It's always uplifting to spend time with my guy, or with other friends, like my friend John who will pick me up this morning for our usual Sunday breakfast. I would also add to that list the importance of exercise, which always improves my mood, and my day.

And that will wrap up my post for this Sunday morning at the end of January 2023. The wind still blows but the day beckons and is pulling me out of my warm cocoon in bed, with my dear partner sleeping quietly next to me. I do hope this week will bring you happiness, dear friends, and until we meet again next week, I wish you all good things.

Sunday, January 22, 2023

Existential thinking

Taken on a December morn
There are two ways to be fooled. One is to believe what isn't true: the other is to refuse to believe what is true. —Soren Kierkegaard

When I was in my twenties, I became obsessed with learning what happened during the Holocaust, and I ended up reading volumes of books that chronicled the atrocities that were carried out against more than six million souls, mostly Jewish, during the 1930s and 1940s. I don't know why I got so focused on that period in history, but I suspect it might have been because I stumbled upon a book that simply fascinated me: Man's Search for Meaning by Viktor Frankl, written in 1948 about his experiences in a concentration camp.

It was a long time ago, and I know that I was pregnant with my first son during that time and was rather unhappy in my personal life. I was only eighteen and forced to get married when I found myself "in a family way" with someone I barely knew. But it was 1961, there weren't a lot of options for me at the time. So I immersed myself in the suffering of others, I suspect. Within a few months, my husband was transferred to an Air Force Base in Puerto Rico, and I was pretty much by myself as I waited to join him there. I read incessantly until I flew to Puerto Rico, six months pregnant.

When I look back at that time in my life, and in the historical period itself, I think that I needed to find a way to think about things that made sense. It was a difficult time for me, but there were also the events surrounding me: the Cuban Missile Crisis in 1962, and I was living in Puerto Rico when it happened. Then JFK being assassinated, and then so many other leaders being lost as well. I was just a kid, I realize now, trying to make sense of life. I continued to read incessantly, and after having studied the Holocaust, I turned to books that might help me understand how to think about things. I went in several different directions over the years, but I know now that the concept of existential thinking has brought me to my present belief system.

Existentialism: a form of philosophical inquiry that explores the issue of human existence. Existentialist philosophers explore the problems related to the meaning, purpose, and value of human existence, and personal agency. An individual person's phenomenological starting point is direct experience of life. (Wikipedia)

By the time I turned thirty, I had been married and divorced, lost my infant son to meningitis, and was the mother of a young boy who was forced to endure all those upheavals along with me. He is now also gone, but he lived to the age of forty before dying of heart disease. We became good friends, but I still live with the knowledge that I was not a good mother to him. When he was a teenager, he dropped out of high school and nothing I said or did would change his mind. I sent him to live with his father, and that helped somewhat. He went into business with his dad and I think it was the best path for him at that time. But as I said, I still feel a great deal of guilt for the trials and tribulations we both faced during those years.

Now I am old, and looking back on my life, I realize that I had to make an attempt at understanding what it is all about in order to stay sane. During all those years, I never stopped reading and went through several different periods of interest. I read long involved novels that would allow me to forget my current circumstances. I had to work all during those years, and I also went to community college to earn an associate's degree (but I didn't finish). It was surprising to me to find that I really liked chemistry, but it only served to give me another direction in which to focus my reading. 

When I discovered quantum mechanics and Buddhism, more recently, many of the concepts that had been swirling in my mind began to come into focus. To learn that all the precepts of Buddhism dovetail so perfectly into the ideas of quantum mechanics has been a revelation, and it makes me feel much more confident in continuing to read about both of them with an eye towards better understanding the world as I perceive it.

And now, today, my world is feeling pretty stable, with a dear partner who shared those skydiving years with me, and I continue to read quite a lot. These days, I usually read books on my Kindle, since my eyes are no longer able to spend endless hours over hard copy. But I still read and realize and am grateful for how much I have learned, and continue to learn, as I make my way towards the exit.

None of us knows for certain what the future holds, but I feel quite content in the life I have today. Of course, it could all be altered in a few minutes, but for the present moment I wouldn't change a thing. I wonder if the fabled earthquake will occur while I am still alive, or if we'll have our current political situation go kablooey, as it has in so many places around the world, or if it will continue along pretty much as it has for so many years now. Who knows? 

Since I have learned that my happiness does not come from external circumstances, but from how I perceive my life, it has made me feel much more serene in daily existence. I've had a lot of it now, many years to ponder and experience the vicissitudes of life. I've had many wonderful people over the years to share my life and thoughts with, and through the magic of the internet, I no longer feel the need to be present in corporeal form to have an entire community of friends.

My dear partner still sleeps next to me as I begin to wrap up this post and look to the day ahead. As usual, John will pick me up for breakfast in Fairhaven, and then I'll go bowling with my dear friends Lily and Ace. It's shaping up to become another wonderful day. I do hope you will have a lovely week ahead. Until we meet again next week, I wish you all good things, dear friends.

Sunday, January 15, 2023

Respite from the rain

Bellingham Bay yesterday

Melanie and I lucked out once again during our Saturday walk. We decided to head to Squalicum Harbor and make our usual five-mile walk through the area. It was simply a superb day, with mild temperatures and lots of sunshine. It felt like weather more reminiscent of late fall, rather than mid-winter. And it won't last all that long, since the rain is supposed to return tonight and be light but persistent on Monday.

The weather is so much worse in California, and I was actually hoping that we would receive part of that atmospheric river, to mitigate the effects in Northern California, but no, it's looking bad throughout much of the state. What an incredible amount of rain they have received: 
Mother Nature delivered 12.9 inches of rain to Oakland between Dec. 26 and Jan. 10, setting a new record for any 16-day period, according to the National Weather Service. San Francisco International Airport (11.59 inches) and Stockton (8.10 inches) also set new 16-day rainfall records. (NBC Bay Area, 11 Jan 23)

People have asked whether all this rain will end the decades-long drought the state has experienced, but everything I read says it will not. Although they have received massive amounts of rainfall in recent weeks, and has given some places more rain than ever before, it will mostly run off into the ocean, since it has no place left to go. It's not clear what will happen after these torrential rivers of water stop. One thing everyone recognizes is that extremes like this are becoming more common all across the globe. Most experts attribute it to climate change.

I myself think that one unremarked-upon situation has exacerbated the crisis: overpopulation. So many people are crowding out the natural habitats of most other species. In my own lifetime, we have added more than five billion people to the planet, growing from 2.3 billion to 8 billion. That has a massive effect on everything, and is the driving cause of climate change. How can anyone doubt it? 

During the mid-1300s, the Black Plague killed 75-200 million people in Europe, which was around half the population. This all happened within four years. It must have been a really horrific time to be alive and to cope with the disease. In comparison, we have had a pretty mild pandemic with Covid, with 6.7 million worldwide deaths estimated as of today. I guess pandemics are one of Nature's ways to cope with the planet being overrun. 

The natural lifespan of humans also helps control overpopulation, since we have such a limited time to spend here, a century being a long time, but in any case most people live long enough to experience the vicissitudes of aging as the years pass. I feel fortunate to have lived to eighty, and know that it's just a matter of time before I begin to lose my health and mobility. When I think of the massive numbers of fellow humans who are on the planet here with me, it makes me wonder whether it's really a good idea to think of extending our life spans. We need to make room for the young and vigorous, it seems to me at least.

Life is a gift, and a happy, safe and secure life is a gift given only to a small number of us. When I see the suffering in the world through the news, I always take a moment to be grateful for all my good fortune. Just to have a roof over my head and food to eat is not within reach of the vast majority of us, and it makes me very sad to realize it doesn't have to be this way. If we really cared about others, we could help so many more than we do. The Federal Reserve data indicates that as of the end of 2021, the top 1% of households in the United States have 32.3% of the country's wealth, while the bottom 50% have 2.6%. 

I really didn't mean to go off on this tangent this morning, but it's what is on my mind today as I wake to another beautiful Pacific Northwest morning, with my friend John taking me to Fairhaven as usual for our Sunday breakfast. It really does make a difference in one's life to think about the positive aspects of everyday existence, rather than looking at the world's woes and lamenting our inability to change much for the better.

I keep forgetting that there is only one place I can make a meaningful difference: right here in my own head, in my own surroundings. Instead of thinking about all that is wrong in the world, I can think about everything that is right, all around me. Why, just realizing that I am sitting in a warm bed, typing away on my laptop, ready to reach out to the entire electronic universe with these words, how can I not believe that the world is in a beautiful and perfect place? My dear partner sleeps next to me, and we will continue to laugh and cry together as we make our way into the days ahead. I wouldn't change much, if I look at what I can actually alter and have control over. 

Whew! I think I have finished this post, which started with the disasters in California and ends with this paragraph, realizing that the only thing I can actually change is my attitude. I hope that next Sunday we will be together again, looking at the world together, with love and hope for better days ahead. Until then, I wish you all good things, dear friends. Be well.

Sunday, January 8, 2023

The years fly by so quickly

Me, Wordle, and John

I didn't realize it's been more than a year since I started playing the New York Times game, Wordle, but here is a picture taken in February 2022, almost a year ago, and there I am, playing the game that I now enjoy once a day, usually in the morning. I'm now on a streak of 76 tries without a miss! (I hope I'm not jinxing it, but this streak does need to end somewhere.) I've learned that you if you miss a day of playing you lose the streak, and of course you can't miss the word or, well, you start over the next day at 1. John is obviously solving all the problems of the universe, judging by his expression in this picture.

I've gotten so obsessed with the game that if I cannot figure it out by the fifth try (you get six tries in total), I'll put it aside and hope that I can look at it again later and possibly figure it out. I have also learned that another regular coffee shop customer, Dave, has a really good eye for the solution. He figured out one that I couldn't get ("cynic") with just a quick look. John is always interested in seeing the word once I get it, but he's not a player himself.

Anyway, it's a nice pastime, and it joins several others that take me through the day. I am definitely a creature of habit, and really like to find ways each day feels similar to the day before. I don't know whether I've always been like this, or if it's because I have become more of a fan of routine as I age. I do know that when we lived in Colorado, I would get up each morning to bring in the newspaper, bring it back to bed and peruse it with a cup of tea as I began my day. These days, it's the laptop that joins me to read the news of the day. I've always been an early riser and early-to-bed person. Most nights I manage to get close to eight hours of sleep and really enjoy snuggling into my warm bed for a good night's sleep.

I stayed up a little later than usual last night to watch a special on CNN about January 6. It was probably delayed from its usual air time because of the four days that we watched the House of Representatives try over and over to elect a speaker. Finally, Kevin McCarthy wore down the rebels who didn't want him to win. Now the task of governing begins, and I sure hope that was the hard part, and now they will work together with one another and the Dems to make policies and laws for the good of the country.

Yesterday Melanie, Chris and I walked in the rain at Whatcom Falls Park for our usual Saturday morning exercise. It has been a while since we actually got seriously wet, but yesterday we sure did. Although only a quarter-inch of rain fell, and we were all dressed in appropriate gear, I had forgotten how much of a difference it makes to walk in serious rain. Nowhere near as nice as without it. However, in this part of the country you cannot wait for dry days; they come and go and make for a nice break from the usual winter precipitation. At least it's a warm rain right now, so I'll smile and be grateful for what I have, and be glad I have such good rain gear. And friends who also are willing to walk in the rain with me.
You have to accept the storms and the rainy days and the things in life that you sometimes don't want to face. —Bai Ling

Without the contrast of rainy days, the sunshine doesn't seem nearly as bright and cheerful, so I'll keep on looking for the rainbows that accompany the rain. It sometimes comes down to an internal conversation I have with myself: what is good right now in my life? Can I accept that I have so much more comfort and privilege than the majority of humanity without feeling bad about it? Of course I can, so that will be my mantra for the day: enjoy the soft rainfall that makes our Pacific Northwest such a green paradise in summer and enjoy whatever else the day might bring.

Plus, it seems like I barely get used to one year passing, and another has flown right by while I wasn't paying attention. It' already 2023, can you believe it? Since so few of my family members have lived as long as I have, I didn't expect to be around, but here I am, not only still happily living each day, but filled with gratitude for having my health, my dear partner, and all my friends, virtual and actual. It is a gift that I will enjoy for as long as I can. And I am also beginning to enjoy my status as an elder.

There's a silver lining somewhere in there

It won't be long now before we will start seeing little signs of spring popping up through the forest floor. Well, okay, maybe it won't be tomorrow, but with the ways the days, months and years have been flying by, it will happen that one day, while I'm out walking. I'll see the first primrose rise up to remind me that it's constantly changing from winter to spring, then summer and fall, and back once again to start it all over. It's a dynamic process, and I'm glad to have the ability to appreciate it, and to share the days with you and that special person sleeping next to me as I write this morning.

I got a late start, since I was up later than usual and woke a bit after my usual time, so I am feeling a little bit of time crunch. Before John gets here, I need to get out of bed, wash my face and brush my teeth, get my morning exercises in, and spend a little time in meditation. So that means I won't get to spend as much time as usual sitting here and pondering what to write. In any event, I am confident that by next Sunday, I will have caught up and will be back to my normal routine and will spend more time with you, my dear virtual friends. 

I do hope the coming week will bring you happiness, a bit of life's joy to remind you to smile and find the silver lining that is definitely there somewhere. Sometimes we just need to change our attitude to see it, but it's there. Until we meet again next week, I wish you all good things, dear friends.

Sunday, January 1, 2023

A new year begins

Our beautiful mountains

I've visited these lovely mountain views for many years now, and they never fail to inspire me as I contemplate their enduring beauty. I went looking for an inspiring picture among the hundreds I have stored on my laptop. Sadly, for me, I got caught up in trying to find just the right one to usher in our brand-new year. The time flew by, and now here I am trying to regain the time lost to reminiscence. Can't be done, so I'll just pick up the attempt from here.
Before we took down the tree each year, Dad would always say a prayer that we would be together the next Christmas. I cling to that prayer, which serves as a reminder that it's important to be grateful in the present for the people you love because, well, you never know. —Catherine Hicks

That's what is on my mind this morning: how many wonderful friends and acquaintances, as well as the celebrities, we have lost this past year. And as Catherine says, "it's important to be grateful in the present for the people you love because, well, you never know."

On this past Friday, as I was watching Judy Woodruff's final show as the long-time anchor of the PBS Newshour, I learned that Barbara Walters has died at 93. And just a few minutes later, the news flash came across the screen that Pope Benedict had also died. All at once, it sort of hit me about the brevity of life and how little we know about what is to come. The year 2022 was difficult in so many ways, but 2023 looks to be one where we might be able to pick up some of the lost days that the pandemic changed for all of us.

My resolution for the new year is to find a new yoga studio and actually attend the classes. I had gotten so accustomed to my familiar teacher and using Zoom to take the classes in my living room, that I realize how little I want to be in a crowded studio with others. I am still not feeling all that safe with the viruses circulating everywhere right now. I've narrowed my search to a couple that seem right up my alley, and one of them has a very extensive Zoom repertoire. But first I have to go in person and "feel the vibes." As I've said before, it's not that I don't know WHAT to do to keep myself fit from yoga, but I really like the yoga environment with others in the room to inspire me.

I'm thinking that I might also join a gym, since I miss the classes I attended at the Y, but the teachers I enjoyed are no longer there, and they have never reopened the women's locker room. A new place seems to be the answer, so that's my resolution for the new year as well. Writing it down helps me to follow through, you know?

I guess one shouldn't be surprised when dear hiking friends pass away, when you are already a senior, but it is still jarring to hear about old friends who are not only not hiking any more, but who have debilitating illnesses or worse. Of course it's part of life, but I keep forgetting that while I'm not paying attention, people are getting older and (in some cases) are no longer with us. 

You just never know what a new year has in store, both the good and the bad of our journey through life. Now that I have entered my ninth decade, I feel really fortunate that I am still able to do most of what I really want to do. Of course, that changes as one ages, too: I no longer feel the need to jump out of perfectly good airplanes, but I sure did for many decades. In fact, there was a time when I couldn't even imagine giving it up. It has become a distant memory, a fond one but from another era.

What I truly cherish and hope I can maintain for the rest of my time on earth, is my ability to remember and reminisce. I didn't know it until she died, but Barbara Walters had become very ill from advanced dementia. She joins the many celebrities whom I have admired who eventually became unable to continue their normal life because of it. I wonder what it is like, feeling yourself begin to slip away, little by little. One of my favorite books that describes the journey is Still Alice, written in 2007 by Lisa Genova. It was made into a movie starring Julianne Moore as Alice. It's well worth your time to read the book or see the movie, if you want to learn more about the illness that has taken so many wonderful people away from us.

It is one more thing to remind myself to be grateful not only for my physical health, but my mental and emotional health as well. The other day I couldn't remember the name of an old hiking friend who recently died, and after searching around in the nooks and crannies of my memory, feeling it almost emerge and then disappear again, I gave up. It made me realize that this particular event happens to me more and more often, which is normal as one's brain ages, but it's very disconcerting. I never did remember the person's name, until I asked my friend Melanie, who also knew him. Ah! The relief as I felt the name slip into place, feeling the blank spot in my memory become whole again.

We don't know what this new year will bring us, but I do have some real wishes and desires for what's to come. First and foremost, I hope that the war in Ukraine will come to an end, hopefully culminating in a just peace. Those people have endured so much suffering but continue to inspire the world with their resilience.

And here in this country, I wish that all who are suffering from homelessness can find their own way to safety. If our economy was not driven by so much greed, we would be able to feed and clothe the entire country. So I can add my own wish to those of many others, to find a way towards economic equity, or at least to make a start in that direction. Let's do it! I am reminded of a wonderful Margaret Mead quote that says it perfectly:

Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it's the only thing that ever has. —Margaret Mead

With that hopeful note, I will leave you once again as we start a brand new year with hope and joy in our hearts. My dear partner still sleeps quietly next to me, and it's time for me to begin the next phase in my own journey: out of bed and into the world. Until we meet again next week, dear friends, I wish you all good things.