October 11, 2015
Pack Creek Ranch – San Juan County, Utah
The second week of October, 2015
Heavy rain last week – maybe 3 inches – flash floods in some places – and when the clouds rolled away, the first snow capped the highest peaks.
SEX AND LOVE AND EPICTETUS
Though I’ve referred to Epictetus before in my writing, you may not have read those essays. So here’s a short biographical summary as background for the dialogue that follows:
Epictetus (Epik-teet-us) was born an ethnic Greek slave in about A.D. 55 in Phrigia (now Turkey) on the far edge of the Roman Empire. His master, Epaphroditus, went to Rome to serve as the administrative Secretary to the Emperor Nero.
Epictetus’ intellectual ability was recognized early on, and he was encouraged to study with the most famous Stoic philosophers.
He was freed from slavery and taught in Rome until A.D. 94, when many philosophers were banished by the emperor Domitian for encouraging thinking.
Epictetus lived out his days in exile in Nicopolis on the northwest coast of Greece. There he established a famous school of philosophy.
He was perceived as one of the truly wise men of his time.
Though he was crippled and never traveled, students from all over the Roman Empire came to him, including Marcus Aurelius, future ruler of all the Romans and author of a famous book of Meditations.
Epictetus died at age 80 in A.D. 135.
He never wrote a book, but his teachings were recorded by his student, Arrian, into a collection of discourses referred to as The Art of Living.
I often seek Epictetus’s companionship by consulting that book - because his way of thinking remains fresh and relevant almost 2,000 years after he first expressed it.
He thought the task of philosophy was to help ordinary people meet the challenges of daily life. Epictetus insisted that philosophy should be a Way of Life, not just a theoretical discipline. He offered only a Way of looking at one’s experience – one that reinforces my own Way.
During a long walk up the valley this morning, Epictetus came to mind.
His discourses were collected into 8 volumes, but only 4 are known to exist.
I’ve often wondered what was in those missing volumes.
Since Epictetus had candid, practical views about almost every subject relating to daily life, surely he must have held forth on sex and love, for example.
Using his existing books of thought as a guide, I have imagined what he would have said on these most fundamental human concerns.
Here’s this morning’s conversation:
* * *
F: Epictetus, there’s very little in your surviving writings about sex and love.
Did you include those subjects in your philosophical discourses?
E: Of course – sex and love are fundamental human concerns – and the young men who came to me as students were profoundly interested in the topics since they often found their desire for sex and their aspirations for love at cross-purposes.
F: Give me a summary of your thinking.
E: Sex is an elemental force of nature.
A biological urge built into the very core of Being.
All living creatures, large or small, are a product of that force in action.
Sex, in itself, is not right or wrong, moral or immoral, but the necessary mechanism for the ongoing reproduction of every living creature.
All creatures are sexual beings by virtue of their very existence.
One should not be for or against sex, but recognize that one exists through sex.
The urge to reproduce is nature’s insurance that life goes on.
F: That sounds like a basic biology lecture. If sex is necessary and wired into procreation, why is it such a troubling subject to the human race?
E: Sex is not troubling – it’s having sex for pleasure that’s troubling to humans.
As far as we know, we are the only species that has discovered pleasure in sexual activity. Once you posit the difference between recreation and procreation, then values get attached to sexuality. Morality enters in. Is copulation for pleasure and fun in keeping with reproduction? Is it in keeping with the will of the gods?
Enter the religious element and those who say they speak for the gods.
F: Forgive me for prying into your most personal life, but did you ever have sex with a women – to the point of intercourse?
E: Yes, as a matter of fact. Many times. You are surprised. I will explain.
When I was a slave and in my teens I was attractive, if I do say so myself. My master’s household was large – including a number of women – daughters, cousins, and other relatives. The women’s quarters were off-limits to men – except for slaves. On many occasions I was approached by and seduced by the young women in the master’s household. Even some of the more mature women were eager for my services.
F: How did you feel about that?
E: I admit that I enjoyed the experience. I was a well-endowed, virile young man with normal cravings. On the other hand, I was a slave – a non-person. And the young women didn’t want sex with me, Epictetus, the young man, but with a slave available as a toy – a plaything – a human dildo - a way of satisfying their own cravings without any emotional complications. A strictly carnal relationship.
I had all the sex I wanted. And it was safe – if my involvement was discovered, I could be punished, sold, or even put to death. My silence was assured. As convenient and pleasurable as the arrangement was, it left me in anguish.
F: Why was that?
E: I realized that what I really wanted was love.
F: Elaborate, please.
E: The euphemisms for intercourse are twisted.
We say we are making love when in fact love is not made by having sex.
Intercourse is quickly accomplished, satisfying a physical drive – engaging only the genitalia.
Orgasm is short and shallow.
The goal of a purely sexual encounter is short-term excitement.
The goal of love is long-term enchantment.
The purpose of having sex is orgasm.
The purpose of truly making love is engagement of the whole person.
By that, I mean love is a deeper, wider, stronger connection that takes time, and involves one’s whole Being – mind, soul, heart, and all the senses .
People think that there is merit in practicing open sexuality.
But I say that great grief comes from confusing free love with true love.
Free love is not free – it is paid for in the coin of self-respect and in the lack of respect for another.
I repeat. Free love is not True Love.
Free love is grape juice that quickly turns to vinegar.
True Love is fine wine that matures as it ages in time.
The free love I had as a young slave left me empty and alone.
The True Love I wanted as a mature adult would have filled my need for companionship – for a permanent best friend, partner, and collaborator in the quest for a flourishing life.
F: Did you ever find True Love? Were you ever married, Epictetus?
E: Alas, no. I had the inclination, but not the opportunity. I was born into slavery, and marriage was not allowed by my master. I was crippled at age 21 when I was run over by a grain cart, and limped about using a crutch. The ongoing pain put a troubled look on my face and a hump in my back. By the time I was a free man and could afford to be married, I had become quite physically unattractive to women.
F: What about young men? It was not uncommon in your day for older men to have an adolescent lover.
E: For that I had neither the inclination nor the opportunity. I’m sure that some of my younger students might have been eager to offer themselves to me – confusing admiration with affection. But my desires were heterosexual, I assure you.
F: So, you never experienced True Love?
E: Only in a second-hand way – as an empathetic witness to those couples who had a deep and abiding love. It was wide enough to include me sometimes – in that being with a couple truly in love gave me a sense of well-being and comfort. No sex was involved, mind you, just a vicarious connection that affirmed my hope for what human beings are capable of.
F: Be more specific about what you noticed regarding True Love.
E: One thing I noticed in the presence of True Love was a sense of humor about life and each other. They laughed a lot. There was strong evidence of trust, and a willingness to hold each other’s flaws and faults lightly – they were forgiving of one another – did not focus on negative aspects of their past but on the positive intentions they had in going forward. They willed their love to last and endure and prevail. Theirs was an active love – sharing mutual responsibility for being caretakers of something precious to them.
They made a covenant with one another and kept that covenant.
They would not betray that commitment to keep the fire burning between them.
They tended the fire – together.
As I have often noted, there is a big difference between saying valuable things and doing valuable things.
True Love is active, not passive – something you do, not just talk about or wait for.
This is what I mean when I refer to Making Love.
Having sex satisfies temporary desire and ends quickly.
Making love transforms the lovers into caretakers and caregivers for one another as long as they take their responsibilities and opportunities seriously.
It doesn’t take more than lust to get into bed.
It takes love to want to return to that bed again and again for fulfillment.
F: Aren’t you being idealistic?
E: Yes, of course. It is the business of the philosopher to seek ideals and to promote them. Having ideals is another way of saying one’s aim in life is to strive to live nobly, to seek the flourishing life that comes from attaining a virtuous sense of self.
Of course True Love does not always last – to fail is human - but to seek True Love – to truly make love
I said to my students over and over – Aim High. Seek the good. Avoid what is not.
link to this story
October 04, 2015
Pack Creek Ranch – San Juan County, Utah
The first week of October, 2015
Weather change – cooler, with clear, windy days, and the first mention
of the possibility of snow in the high country by week’s end.
This morning there was broken glass on the butcher-block island in my kitchen, and a broken wine glass on the floor, lying in a puddle of red vino.
Three rolled up newspapers lay in limp disarray by my reading chair.
And there were bloodstains in the kitchen sink.
No, the Taliban have not attacked my abode.
No, a wildcat did not invade the house.
No, a cat burglar did not sneak in during the night and wreak malicious havoc.
And no, there was no domestic violence – my wife is in Seattle.
The chaos in the kitchen was as I left it last night when I fled to bed.
I made this mess all by myself.
In pursuit of a relentless adversary.
This alien creature was only a quarter of an inch long, but it had the tenacious perseverance of an attacking Apache gunship locked in on its target.
The creature is a member of the species, Musca Domestica.
A fly – one single common house fly - that drove me mad..
The encounter ended when I went berserk last night in warrior mode.
And lost – until round two this morning.
After recently giving you a tour of where I bathe, where I sleep, and my art,
I intended moving on to where I cook and eat – the kitchen that’s also part of the main living room.
But I would be embarrassed to show you the condition it was in this morning.
Besides, you would immediately notice the bandages on the fingers of my right hand and would ask “What the hell happened?”
Last night I would have replied that I don’t want to talk about it, lest I break into screams or sobs or pound the walls.
But today, in the calm after the battle, I will admit that I tried to catch a flying wine glass in mid-air and crushed it in my palm.
“Why was the wine glass in mid-air?” you ask.
Because, in pursuit of my tormentor, I hit it with a fly-swatter hard enough to launch it into space, grabbed it in desperation, crushed it, and splattered a mixture of blood and wine across the kitchen table and on into the sink..
That was after I had swung at the marauder, hit the hanging lamp over the kitchen table hard enough to dislodge its light bulb, which smashed onto the table, leaving me swinging wildly in the semi-darkness of the kitchen.
I recall shouting,“Hold still, you cork-screwing son of a bitch! Give me a shot!”
Just a fly.
Just doing its thing – looking for a place to land on a human body to pick up a bit of salt to flavor its dinner digestion.
Just one single fly.
At first a nuisance that was brushed away in annoyance.
Then a pest that seemed obsessed with my nose, ears, wrist, and bare foot.
Leaving me mindlessly twitching in unfocused reaction, but unable to strike it dead without clobbering myself and smearing fly guts on my skin.
You know about this, don’t you?.
Surely you have been sitting, calmly reading a book, and this tiny flying creature selects you to tippy-toe around on and sample your bare skin.
No matter how often you try and brush it away, it comes back.
Sooner or later you get annoyed enough to take direct action.
Quickly I jumped up out of my chair and moved to the other side of the room where it couldn’t find me – playing hide-and-seek with a fly.
But in no time it tracked me down – I know it was the same fly – I saw it hunting for me – zooming in predatory circles across the room.
It lit on my hand, which I banged hard with my book, but missed the fly.
I wondered: “How can something so small and primitive have sensory organs so sensitive it can locate me when I move – what kind of sight and smell are hard-wired into its tiny brain?”
Some sloppy moves with a fly swatter proved useless.
This fly was really good – he had the moves.
But I’m a member of Homo Sapiens with a bigger brain and more resources than a common house fly.
So I went down to my writing studio and turned to the web for help.
I wanted to know more about flies.
And maybe this one would be gone by the time I got back.
Here’s the Know-Your-Enemy-Report:
Though flies come in a wide variety, 91% of all flies are members of the musca domestica. clan – common house flies.
They now exist world-wide, and have been around forever, according to fossil evidence. At least a gazillion years. They are survivors.
They mate once and live only a short time - 15 to 30 days – but in that time a single lady fly can lay 9,000 eggs.
Their size depends on the amount of nourishment they get in their interim larval stage, feeding on things like dung and dead animals and rotting fruit.
They are important to scientific research in genetics and infectious diseases.
They can be dangerous – are capable of carrying 100 pathogens on their little feet.
They are also dangerous because just one of them has the power to move a full-grown male member of the species Homo Sapiens into a deranged state.
While wandering around on the web I came across a site that inspired me to adopt a new strategy. “How to Catch a Fly With your Bare Hands.”
“Aha, I could outsmart a fly,” I thought. “This could be fun.”
Commander Fly was still there in the kitchen when I returned, ready to be airborne.
For an hour I stalked that sucker around the kitchen and caught nothing but air.
Tried the fly swatter again – nothing.
Tried my father’s method of using rolled-up newspaper – nothing.
Then I lost it and became a human windmill, striking madly out in all direction with fly swatter and newspaper, while shouting obscenities.
“No damned fly is going to outsmart and escape the Mighty Fulghum!”
And that’s how I came to hit the hanging lamp and the wine glass and cut my fingers.
Enough. I gave up and went to bed in frustration, thinking “I’ll get him in the morning if he’s still there.”
And also thinking about the common house fly in a calmer state of mind.
Their flying skills are amazing – no military combat plane can duplicate their agility or their ability to land and take off upside down or off vertical surfaces.
Under a microscope their eyes have hundreds of lenses that see more detail than our eyes do.
Sure, they carry germs and bacteria and disease sometimes, but so does my species, Homo Sapiens – and my group is even more dangerous – we have guns and bombs knives.
Flies are an annoying nuisance, but so are a lot of my group.
The fly does not bite – does not sting – it just has the capacity to drive a grown man out of his mind.
Their only real weapons are persistence and nimbleness.
Weapons I do not possess in abundance.
We’ve developed our own arsenal against them – poisons and sprays, and also an amazing array of fly swatters. Check this out: https://goo.gl/HQztD5
Sure enough, my nemesis was still in the kitchen this morning.
But it had been cold enough overnight to put it into a semi-sluggish state.
Before he could rise up and attack, I got him – wacked him with my bare hand.
Not enough to smash him, just enough to kill him.
You can see a photo of him on my Facebook page. https://www.facebook.com/robertleefulghum
Just another ordinary house fly.
link to this story
But I had a sense of remorse in that such a tiny creature had such command of my life and emotions and mind for most of an evening, and all I could offer was vengeful destruction.
Such a human response – it’s a nuisance – kill it!
Why didn’t I just open the door and chase him out?
I really don’t know. . . .
September 28, 2015
Pack Creek Ranch – San Juan County, Utah
The end of September in 2015
Mild weather, clear skies, full moon.
Note: If the following essay seems to begin way out in left field, that’s because it does begin way out in left field.
But fear not, it will arrive at a semi-sensible conclusion.
I invite your indulgence . . .
In the world of the dramatic arts, “Improv” is a working abbreviation for “Improvisational Theater.”
It’s a form of dramatic art where most or all of what is performed is created in the moment - neither scripted nor rehearsed. In its purest form, the dialogue, action, story, and characters are created collaboratively by the players as the improvisation unfolds in present time.
The form lends itself handsomely to comedy, but, then, the best comedy is a thin mask for serious ideas, as is often the case with Improv.
At the heart of Improv is anxiety – fear of the unknown, the unpredictable, the forbidden and all those things over which we have little or no control. So it invites actors into a world of surprise and adventure as a response to the status quo.
Though the history of Improv goes back to 391 B.C. in Rome, the modern version has developed a set of fundamental guidelines – not rules.
In fact, the basic rule of Improv is that there are no rules – only strategies that work to advance the action and retain dramatic vitality.
The action usually starts with the provocation of a single actor, addressing another.
For example, “I sometimes think of myself as a large rubber duck.” or “I have a sub-machine gun in my hand.”
The actor being addressed must:
1. Listen carefully – pay attention to the actor over there.
2. Accept and get into the mental space of the first actor.
3. Agree on the premise and say, “Yes . . . and?”
4. Not block the flow of the idea or change topic.
5. Encourage the expansion of the premise.
6. Include other actors onstage to participate – foster collaboration.
7. Focus on the relationship of the actors.
8. Not ask questions, but make suggestions.
9. Include action as well as dialogue.
10. Stay in character, no matter where the story goes.
It’s an affirmative, creative, imaginative form of theater.
It takes courage, imagination, and mental nimbleness on the part of actors.
When done well, Improv is immensely inspiring to witness.
When I think about it, it seems that Improv is a metaphorical model for real life.
What else is life but endless improvisation?
There’s never a script.
You never know from one day to another what’s going to happen.
You’re always having to deal with people you don’t know in places you haven’t been before, or people you do know whose behavior is unpredictable.
People are always saying things to you that don’t make sense.
You seldom have any control over the action.
And you never know exactly how it’s going to end.
You have to work with, expect, and appreciate everlasting surprise.
Life is Improv.
If you have children, you must be adept at improvisation.
Child-rearing is endless improvisation.
Improvisation is the heart and soul of jazz music.
The same is true if you’re a salesman, teacher, policeman, therapist, athlete,
politician, lawyer – whatever – most of what you do involves improvisation.
You take whatever comes at you and make the best of it, knowing that what worked yesterday won’t always work today or tomorrow.
If life is a stage – then what happens is mostly Improv Theater.
If you want your performance to go well, your job is to say “Yes . . . and . . .” whenever you can – to get out of yourself and into the space other people offer you, and to ride the adventure wherever it goes.
If you are lucky, you’ll encounter others who will reply to you in the same fashion, offering “Yes . . .and . . .” in return.
These people are Players.
Players are those with light hearts, good will, and an understanding that change is the essence of existence.
Only those who can change can continue.
* * *
(We’re pounding around the homestretch here – stay with me.)
What you’ve just read is the kind of thing I think about when I make art.
It’s what was on my mind this week as I worked on my sculptures.
First, take the tour.
I am an artist – which is to say that the desire to be creative in all things I do is paramount. Sometimes the art is expressed in words, sometimes in physical material, sometimes with paint on canvas, sometimes in the way I arrange my environment. Sometimes in the way I structure my day, and sometimes in the way I set the table for dinner.
An aesthetic sense informs my attitude about whatever I do.
And sometimes messing around with a lot of found objects to assemble them into an aesthetic form.
I’ve never tried to make a living from fine art, but to make life worth living by keeping its cutting edge sharpened with art.
The photographs on Facebook give you a tour of the part of my art devoted to making sculptures out of found objects that attract my attention.
Stone, steel, wood, bone, and sticks.
Beyond what I’ve shared, there are 62 other pieces – mostly stacked rocks – up the creek bed beside my studio. (Not now, another time.)
I suppose these constructions are rooted in the pleasure I found in playing with Tinkertoys, and Erector Sets as a child. Putting pieces together, taking them apart, and putting them together in another way. Seriously playing.
Now I assemble found objects – make something interesting from them – and then take them apart and recycle them into something new.
There is no final stage – only the process of making and unmaking and remaking.
The pleasure is in the process of using my creative imagination, not in the product.
It’s also a stage of writing – the physical act of assembling parts and pieces frees my mind to ramble around unfettered – and I carry a notebook when I’m in the sculpture studio to catch the flow of ideas that come.
Well, enough – I must have tried your patience by now.
Here’s a simpler, less wordy approach:
When visitors take a tour of my studio and the sculptures they often ask,
“What the hell is all this stuff?”
If they ask the question that way, then a long answer won’t do.
Not everybody gets it.
I just point to a stone with these words carved into it:
“IT IS WHAT IT IS.”
link to this story
September 24, 2015
Pack Creek Ranch – San Juan County, Utah
The last week of September in 2015
Mild weather, clear skies.
Big Moon Event coming – full moon, full eclipse this weekend.
The early bovines have appeared – a few independent-minded cows and their yearling calves have wandered down from their mountain pasture into the residential part of Pack Creek Ranch, marking the road with their manure plops.
Bears have also been sighted – one left its scat early this morning on the path between my house and studio.
And this is Gay Pride Week in Moab – a parade and carnival-style parties.
The cows and the bears and the gays set off alarm bells for some of the locals.
But I welcome wildlife of any kind – keeps things edgy and interesting.
Here’s another chapter in the stranger-on-a-plane conversation.
Now that we’ve covered bathing habits and had some good laughs over bathroom adventures, there’s still time to go on into other subjects not often discussed.
Sleep, for example.
What are your sleeping habits? Where, when, how long, with whom do you sleep?
I’ll go first.
For the last few weeks I’ve been sleeping nearly outside - alone in a king-size bed, from about 11 p.m. until around 3 a.m. – then up for a while – then back to bed until 7 a.m. when I wake at first light. (Explanation to follow – and photos on Facebook.)
First some random thoughts on sleep:
The big word heading this essay – polysomenography – refers to the study of sleep, a science that has existed only since the late 20th century.
Even the basic nature and need for sleep were not a subject of investigation.
Sleep got serious attention only when it was dysfunctional – insomnia, sleep-walking, sleep apnea, restless limb syndrome, and narcolepsy are just a few of the more common disorders that have been studied and named.
Now there are large, well-funded, sleep study centers in medical and educational institutions – and a number of books published on the subject.
After having read through much of the literature about sleep, and having been the subject of a clinical sleep study when I was suffering from severe sleep apnea several years ago, I share these factoids with you:
1. There’s still no scientific agreement on why human beings need to spend a third of every day asleep – a third of a lifetime – 25 years or more, depending on how long we live.
2. There is complete agreement that satisfactory sleep is as important to good health as exercise or diet.
3. Sleep research indicates that 50 to 70 million Americans suffer from some form of sleep disorder – many of which cause mental, physical and relationship problems – and many of which can be successfully treated if identified.
4. Most people have never discussed their sleep habits with a doctor or therapist, even though they probably should.
5. Half of the American population takes some form of aid to induce sleep – pills and supplements – and though the medications work on a short term, they often have long-term side effects that are counterproductive.
6. “Sleeping with someone” is a euphemism – but it’s not about sleep – it’s about romance, having sex, cuddling, or making love. The research is pretty clear that actually sleeping in the same bed with another person works against getting the best sleep – because everyone’s sleep needs and habits vary, and are often at odds with those of one’s bed partner.
7. If you do sleep in the same bed with a partner, it’s best that the bed be king-size and that you have separate covers. If you need to sleep in separate beds or in separate rooms, it’s not a sign of marriage incompatibility, but a sign of the importance of sleep – getting good sleep alone leads to good times awake together.
8. The best conditions for sound, healthy sleep, according to clinical studies are:
sleep alone in your own bed – in a completely dark room – in as quiet a place as possible – in a temperature range of 60-65 degrees. Don’t eat or exercise an hour before going to bed. Don’t watch TV in bed while going to sleep.
9. Sleep patterns vary greatly for every person from childhood through old age – and because of stress, health, diet, and use of alcohol.
10. And while dreaming has been studied in every way imaginable, and theories abound, it’s axiomatic that everybody dreams and nobody really understands why.
Back to the conversation on the plane:
I live about half the year in two radically different environments.
With radically different effects on sleep.
In Seattle, I dwell in a 4th floor condominium apartment in the heart of downtown.
I always said I wanted to live for a time right in the middle of the action.
And I got what I wanted, Big Time.
Four blocks away from the Pike Place Market.
Four blocks from the main fire station where the biggest trucks and several emergency aid cars launch forth day and night.
There are major one-way arterial streets on both sides of the block where I live.
Which means that fire and police and aid vehicles use the streets often.
Motorcycles and hot cars with loud mufflers also cut loose on these streets.
There’s an alley on the same side of my building as my bedroom – used by garbage trucks and commercial vehicles at night.
The main north-south lines of the Burlington Northern Santa Fe railroad are three blocks away – with major traffic at night – including diesel horns and the clanging of crossing signals.
The Elliot Bay waterfront is also three blocks away – and fog horns, the signals of arriving and departing ships are easily heard.
There is a neighbor on the floor above us, one on our west side, and another across the hall occupied by a young man who throws lively late-night parties.
As if all that wasn’t enough, our apartment is in the Belltown neighborhood, featuring bars and restaurants and music venues – rowdy on weekends.
Besides the noise factor, there’s a light factor.
Even with shades and curtains pulled, it’s never really dark inside our apartment.
The urban ambient light means I can get up in the middle of the night and navigate around without turning on the lights.
It’s never really completely dark.
To be able to sleep one must be prepared to cope with an environment that works against sound sleep – one must just expect the noise and light and get used to it.
My wife and I sleep in a king-size bed, with separate covers, ear plugs and sleep masks – and muster patience to accommodate our different sleep patterns.
We do not sleep well.
In fact I often go to bed anxious about not getting enough sleep.
We’ve paid for our excitement of being right in the middle of the vitality of an inner urban environment with the coin of peace and quiet and tranquility.
So far, we accept the trade-off.
But only for part of the year.
As I write, I’m at Pack Creek Ranch, in an isolated valley on the west slope of the La Sal Mountains – half hour away from the nearest town of Moab, Utah.
My house is isolated on a hill, with the few neighbors not only at some distance, but most are away traveling at present.
At night the silence is almost palpable, and it is so dark that I cannot walk around outside without a flashlight. (except this week when the moon is full.)
I am alone because my wife is in Seattle pursuing obligations to her art career.
This is about as much peaceful solitude as I can get or manage.
Come, then, I invite you into my bedroom.
Take a look before I describe and explain.
The house was designed with Japanese sensibilities – the doors and windows slide
into the walls, allowing the house to be so open that birds often fly through it.
The bedroom window/walls slide away on two sides to give the room full access to the outside – with sliding screens available for bug season.
At night no lights can be seen – only darkness.
The only sound is what the night birds make – wind in the pine trees, and water trickling from a fountain.
At dawn, there’s a view of the mountains from the bed on the east side, and a view from the bed across Pack Creek Valley on the north.
The window/walls are left open in spring and fall – even when it rains – or, as winter approaches, even sometimes when it’s snowing outside.
The bed itself is a room-within-a-room.
Canvas shades can be dropped on four sides from the overhead framework.
And there is a canvas roof suspended by bamboo poles.
This arrangement provides quiet privacy for daytime naps.
It’s a little hard to see clearly, but hanging from the overhead bamboo poles on little threads are a collection of inspirational objects of beauty or delight.
Autumn leaves, feathers, a humming bird’s tiny nest, pine cones, little samples of pine and juniper trees, dried flowers, and artifacts of curiosity too numerous to name and too mysterious to explain.
My sweet wife hung these ornaments and renews them when need be.
When she is not here, I look up and feel her presence, just before I turn the light off for the night. Whether she is here or not, I say the same thing out loud:
“Sleep well, sleep loose.”
And I do – how could I not?
Depending on the season and the temperature, I sleep on top of blue-striped sheets, and under a down duvet, an old blue-and-white checkered quilt or a red Hudson’s Bay blanket.
During the day I put my pillows and bedding out in the sun, so that when I climb into bed at night, the smell of sunlight greets me.
When I was younger, I usually slept nine or ten hours straight when I could.
With vivid dreams – often musicals complete with music and color.
Even my bad dreams were exciting – very rarely terrifying or threatening.
Now, as I’ve aged, I find I sleep about four hours, then wake up.
I visit the bathroom, then go into the kitchen for a glass of milk.
I sit in my favorite chair and read poetry until I feel sleepy again – usually no more than a half hour – and return to bed until dawn’s early light wakes me.
Six or seven actual hours of sleep at night seems sufficient now.
Plus a short nap in the afternoon.
My dream life now is mostly conversational – talking to other people or over-hearing their conversations. Interesting – but I miss the musicals of nights gone by.
There. That’s enough, I think.
I’ve never thought through or written down my sleeping habits or taken pictures of my bedroom to show other people. Nor has anyone else done this for me.
How about you?
I hope you enjoyed the tour.
As you may imagine, sleeping here at Pack Creek Ranch is blissful.
Here, unlike Seattle, I look forward to bedtime.
And as soon as I finish this, I’m going up to shower outside and go to my bed.
I wish you, as I will wish myself, “Sleep well – sleep loose.”
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September 20, 2015
JOURNAL/ ESSAYS / NEW STORIES – No. 3351
Pack Creek Ranch – San Juan County, Utah
The third week of September in 2015.
A magnificent storm rumbled through earlier in the week – lightning, thunder, wind, heavy rain – the works – and another promised for later this week. Yes!
Meanwhile, it’s the clear skies, mild temperatures, and warm sun of September – with more reds, yellows, and oranges on the trees up on the mountains every day.
You are about to read an essay that contains more than you ever wanted to know about something you have never seen and never thought to ask about. The subject is both universal and personal, but neither obscene nor taboo – just not a topic of public conversation.
This is not a warning or an apology – just a note to say “expect surprise.”
Imagine that you and I are seatmates on a cross-country flight.
Strangers on a plane. . . .
Suppose that we discover that we are both players– people with an easy sense of humor, open-minded, and a little loose and mischievous when it comes to kicking ideas around just for the hell of it. Ready to have the conversation we might not ever have with people we know well.
So. I’m going to risk asking you a question you’ve probably never been asked – on a subject you’ve probably never discussed with anyone.
What say you? Are you game?
Here’s the question.
What are your bathing habits?
Which is to say how often? when? and where do you bathe?
Tub or shower? Alone or with company?
You pause, thinking . . .
I’ll go first.
A quick summary is that I take a shower, alone, twice a day – early morning and at night before going to bed.
And I shower outdoors.
(Yes. Outdoors. An explanation follows along toward the end of this essay.)
But first, a meditation on bathing:
Bathing is such an ordinary human endeavor – everybody I know does it.
But I can’t remember ever talking to anybody about bathing.
It’s not something that comes up at a cocktail party or at the dinner table or as part of a profile in a dating encounter.
Yet bathing is an essential, normal part of our lives from birth to death.
Why do we bathe?
To get clean, of course – a matter of personal hygiene – for our own sake and to be acceptable in our public, social environment.
But there’s more to it than that.
For the majority of us, bathing is a chance to be all alone for a while – to experience and enjoy private solitude.
A good refuge to take anguish and sorrow sometimes or to sober up at othertimes.
Bathing is also an opportunity to indulge one’s self – with scented soaps and shampoos, conditioners, exfoliates – and to shave those places where we want to have smooth skin.
Bathing entails the satisfaction that comes from daily ritual – a regular, personal routine that begins the day – a ramping up – or ends it - a calming down.
Finally, there’s the therapeutic dimension of bathing – the soothing quality of steamy hot water – literally, it’s hydro-therapy.
Bathing is not an incidental part of our lives.
When we are very young, someone else bathes us – usually in a tub – and that often leads to bonding between child and parent.
It’s playtime – with toys, stories, songs, games.
And we reverse the roles when we have kids.
Which is why bathing often provokes nostalgic memories.
At the other end of our lives, someone else has to bathe us because we are too feeble to do it ourselves – return to the tub.
And, in many cultures, when we die our corpse gets washed and cleaned one more time by family.
It’s not the American Way, but I’ve seen it done in Greece.
Despite what you might think, it’s not a gruesome ritual at all.
It’s a final tender act of love, devotion, and respect.
In between birth and death are other stages of bathing:
When you graduate to take a shower with a parent, for example.
When you move into adolescence and you lock yourself in the bathroom so that nobody sees you naked or invades your privacy.
Somewhere along the way you discover the mass shower experience at the school gym, with all the embarrassments and moments of discovery that entails.
The gym experience may continue on into athletic endeavors well into life.
But at home, bathing is usually a solitary experience.
(I know – some people make love in the shower, but I’ll not go into that – it’s about sex, not bathing – and usually not a daily event.)
The ancient Greeks developed bathing as an art – and before that, human beings stood under waterfalls, or got into rivers or ponds to get clean.
The idea of basic personal sanitation has been around as long as people.
We just don’t talk about it much.
We just do it.
If we were riding along on a plane at 35,000 feet, with lots of time on our hands, we might riff on some side-bar topics that come to mind as I write.
Does the Pope bathe in a shower or a tub? Does he have anyone to scrub his back? What about the Dalai Lama? Is there a special Tibetan way of bathing? Queen Elizabeth must bathe – but it’s hard to imagine her in a shower. President Obama is surely a shower guy – he’s the athletic type – at home in gyms.
But I digress.
I live part of the year in a 4th floor condominium apartment in downtown Seattle.
When I’m there, I bathe in a standard shower-in-a-tub in a small bathroom.
My washing-up time is brief, my aim is efficiency, and I don’t give much thought to what I’m doing – it’s just a mindless task – usually doesn’t take much time.
The other part of my year is lived at Pack Creek Ranch in an isolated valley on
the slopes of the La Sal Mountains – where I am as I write this.
When my house was built, a space was constructed outside the main bathroom for an outdoor shower – open to the sky and the weather.
My house stands apart on a hill – there are no nearby neighbors.
So I’m at ease out there naked in the morning sun, in rain and sometimes snow, and under the starry sky at night – or bathing by moonlight.
I like the water hot – with lots of steam – from a big shower head.
At dawn I light incense and carry it outside – frankincense from Oman.
At night I light candles or an oil lamp – no electric lights.
My towel is left on the line all day in the sun – to have a fresh smell when I dry off – and I change colors of towels according to mood – orange, green, blue.
Oh, sure, it’s chilly out there sometimes, especially if there’s a breeze or it’s pouring rain or I’m pushing my luck when winter comes by showering in the falling snow.
But it’s a refreshing experience when the weather is rowdy.
Usually, showering outside is a slow, deliberate experience.
But doing it my way doesn’t really take long – it just takes attention.
It’s like being in a private sanctuary that’s open to the wide world.
I often think, as I defoliate my skin with a rough scrubber, that a layer of me is going down the drain and on down the river to the sea – rejoining the source.
A part of me is passing on and away.
It pleases me to bathe in an environment that is uncluttered, lovely to be in, and rich with smells and sounds and sights that showering outside brings.
It borders on a religious experience sometimes – giving me a sense of well-being and connection to the universe beyond my tiny place in it.
Watching for shooting stars at night while showering enhances that feeling.
Sometimes I sing in the shower – but mostly do a lot of thinking – often out loud.
A friend gave me a waterproof radio to use in the shower.
But I don’t use it – I’d rather have the news of the day that my senses give me.
In winter, after I’ve showered, I sit in a Japanese soaking tub for a while to prolong the simple joy of being centered and at ease.
Here’s a list of my bathing equipment:
Soap – often a fresh bar – German – 4711 fragrance I’ve used for years.
Shampoo – Pert – a wash and conditioner combo.
A red rubber head scrubber.
A white-bristled wooden nail brush.
A wash cloth.
Plus a rough-textured body-scrubbing mitten.
Toothbrush – hand operated - and tooth paste – Crest All-Purpose
These all fit into a small, Japanese wooden tub.
The act of bathing itself is a top-down ritual – head and hair, teeth, body, and finally toes, washed while sitting on a little Japanese stool.
The sun-dried towel is there when I’m ready.
And finally, a wooly terry-cloth bath robe.
In the morning, I walk out into the kitchen to make coffee, ready for the day.
At night, I walk slowly toward bed, relieved of the aches and pains and stress of the day – ready to lie me down in peace.
Granted, you have to use your imagination to envision me actually in the shower.
No video is available, not that you’d want to view it.
The only living creature that ever observed my ritual was a small brown bear.
It sat down and watched for a while, and then, bored, he ambled away.
So - there you have it – strangers-on-a-plane conversation.
And you? How do you bathe?
* * *
See my Facebook page for images: https://www.facebook.com/robertleefulghum
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