Saturday, December 29, 2012

Perfect Friendship

Perfect friendship requires time, familiarity, mutual good will, and mutual sacrifice. Each friend has a genuine concern for the well-being of the other, and cares for the other because of his or her good character. Each assists the other in living a good life, a life of virtue and happiness. Since we are often prone to self-deception, or at least inaccurate assessments of our own characters, we need good friends who can help us see ourselves as we really are, and then help us make progress towards virtue and happiness.

- from "Chasing Happiness Together," by Michael W. Austin, in Running and Philosophy: a marathon for the mind, edited by Michael W. Austin.

Friday, December 28, 2012

"This Life Is My Only Life"

Suffering and adversity, instead of being avoided, should be crafted for practical advantage. Abundantly healthy spirits respect the order of rank based on merit, cherish opportunities for self-transformation through struggle and rich exertion, seek personal challenges from motives of joy and love of life, and scorn cowardly hopes for transcendental salvation. This life is my only life and if I confront it with aesthetic creativity and a full heart it will be quite enough.

- from "Long-Distance Running and the Will to Power," by Raymond Angelo Belliotti, in Running and Philosophy: a marathon for the mind, edited by Michael W. Austin.

Sunday, December 23, 2012

Today's Visit From Mother

(For some context on this story, read "Update: My Mother Is Still A Witch" from last month.)

So, my mother drops by the coffee shop today, and her first words to me are, "I know what I am fighting."

"What are you talking about?" I ask her.

"The bad luck that's chasing me. That made me break those candles when I was making your good-luck oil," she replies. "I know what it is."

My first thought when I'd seen her walking in the door was that we were going to talk about our Christmas plans, so this has completely thrown me. But I'm used to this kind of thing, so I recover quickly.

"What is it?" I ask.

"The doctor found another tumor on my bladder," my mother tells me.

"Your bad luck is a tumor?" I stammer.

My mother shakes her head, giving me an exasperated look.

"No, the bad luck is from someone cursing me," she explains, clearly irritated that she has to mention something so obvious. "But the curse has turned into a tumor."

Given my mother's medical history, this is horrible news, and the implications of what I've just been told must show on my face, because my mother pats my cheek and says, "Don't worry. Now that the bad luck is a tumor, I know how to fight it."

"What does the doctor say?" I ask, hoping to keep the conversation grounded in reality.

My mom shrugs.

"He says it's a very small tumor, almost too small to see," she answers. "Whoever is cursing me is not very good at it."

"Did your doctor recommend surgery?" I follow up.

Again, I get the exasperated look, as if I'm focusing on some minor detail, instead of what's really important.

"I have another appointment in two weeks," my mom tells me. "He'll tell me then."

"How do you feel?"

"I'm fine, J.J.," my mother says. "I'll be fine. I know how to take care of myself. I came here to warn you. You should be alert. Whoever is cursing me might give up and go after you."

"What should I do?" I ask, surrendering. I'm clearly not getting any more medical news out of her.

"You should pay attention," my mother tells me. "If they want to curse you instead of me, they have to meet you in person. So if they come to you, get their name and give it to me. Then I can protect you."

Suddenly, we're back on familiar ground. As long as I've known her, my mom has asked me for the names of my enemies. And, as long as I've known her, I've reassured my mom that I have none.

"That's what you think," my mother says after I once again repeat that no one, as I far as I can tell, is trying to curse me.

And, just like that, her visit is over. She mumbles something about needing to go to the store and starts shuffling towards the door.

I walk her to her car and hold the driver's side open for her, waiting for some last-second twist or revelation, but it never comes. She just wants to leave. She gives me a peck on the cheek and pulls the car door shut, giving me another quick wave as she drives away.

It's only then that I realize that I still don't know what we're doing on Christmas.

== UPDATE: January 21st, 2013 ==

(My mother had surgery last week to address her bladder cancer. According to her doctor, it went well, and my mother came home the same day as the operation.)

So I call my mother today to see how she's recovering, and the first words out of her mouth (after hello) are, "Who's been asking about me?"

Her tone is accusatory. I suddenly feel like I've been caught in some kind of lie.

"Um," I say. "Just the family. Everyone just wants to know how you're doing."

"No one else?" my mother asks.

"Who would be asking about you, Mom?" I ask.

"The people who follow me," she replies. "They're probably wondering why I haven't left the house in a while."

I already know where this is going, but I ask anyway.

"Who, Mom?" I ask. "Who is wondering this?"

"Probably the detectives trying to take my disability," she says. "Or the people trying to curse me. They probably think I am working on my psychic abilities. If they find out I'm just recovering from surgery, they might try something."

My mother is convinced that a task force has been assembled by the government to find ways to take away her Social Security payments and that detectives in unmarked cars follow her around, waiting for the moment she breaks some arcane federal regulation that will disqualify her from further payments. In fact, on her last visit to the coffee shop, she became very disturbed when I couldn't identify every car in the parking lot. She was sure at least one of them was a member of the task force.

My mother is also convinced that someone is summoning supernatural forces in order to do her some kind of harm. Whenever I try to find out why she would have such shadowy enemies, she always scoffs, as if such nemeses are a fact of everyone's life.

"Don't worry, Mom," I tell her. "The only people asking about you are family."

"Oh, that's good," she says. "You can tell them. But let me know if anyone else asks. They might be trying to find out something."

"Will do," I say.

"And be sure to get their name," my mother adds. "So I can put it on my list."

Sunday, December 9, 2012

Links I Like For The Week Of December 9, 2012

This week is the 40th anniversary of the "Blue Marble" photo taken by the astronauts of Apollo 17. It's a shame we haven't been back to the Moon, isn't it?

Tabatas are an integral part of my daily exercise regimen, and they're a big part of why I've been able to lose 80 lbs and 8 inches off my waist in the last year. This article gives a great comprehensive view of them.

RIP Dave Brubeck whose "Time Out" is an essential album of American music.

"Triumph" is a wonderful poem by Alan Shapiro.

This week, my personal earworms were provided by Everything But The Girl and their 1995 album "Amplified Heart," which contains 3 tracks that are always on my personal playlist: "Rollercoaster," "Troubled Mind," and the worldwide hit, "Missing." Tracey Thorn's voice just does something for me.

We'll see what next week brings. I hope we all make it...