Sustainability Tour of South America – Riders with the Storm – Volume 4

Hello everyone,

Here’s the fourth entry in a series of blogs from writer, rider, and environmentalist explorer, Michael Kristensen. He’s a native Dane riding through South America, exploring opportunities and cultural challenges to sustainable environmental practices.

His Facebook page is here.

The original blog appears here.

Every week (possibly more often) Michael will be riding through South America, remarking on his experiences, and blogging at length. We at Tessera Guild will follow him every step of the way. This week marks the fourth leg of his journey. His third week is here. 

Please note: these blog entries are direct from Michael. No editing. No proofing. As raw as any blog you’ll see.


 

“When you talk you only repeat what you already know, when you listen you might have a chance to learn something new”

Dalai Lama

The above is one of my favorite quotes, the truth in that is so simple, but yet so hard to live.  Whom shall speak and who shall listen, which person is the messenger of truth, and truth from which perspective, which truth is being reflected and how is it communicated?

My meeting with people has shown me another way, I have been frustrated because my plan didn’t play out the way I had expected. I wanted to visit projects and write about them, about people’s initiatives, their great projects and how people can inspire each other to do better for this planet we live on. Let’s say the people I have met have opened a door to another dimension…hmmm maybe just another perspective. It’s about communication. If we only manage to communicate to our peers and repeat what we collectively already know, are we then communicating or just nodding heads? Does the message come through?

We the urban climate-change warriors, yes us Westerns. Look at us! We tell the rest of the world what they must do the change the path we have guided them toward, the path of consumerism. We tell the farmers in Asia that they must stop using pesticides (which we have sold them and promoted) we tell them to grow organic, we tell the fishermen in Brazil to stop overfishing and not to pollute the water with their fishing gear while we trawl our own waters with enormous fishing boats. We the Westerns communicate that from our over-electrified cozy homes filled with stuff, “hygge” and Christmas decorations, while we tend our newly constructed urban gardens and Instagram it. Who are we to tell them anything, maybe we should start to listen instead? Why on earth would they listen to us, when we talk from that perspective?

We have everything they are told to strive for, what’s the argument for them not to get the same as us , we are so overwhelmingly rich on materialistic goods it’s sickening, do we feel hollow and need to find purpose in something, find a battleground for our bad consciousness? Can we start to live like they do, with less?

It’s not that we don’t have some of the answers, because we do, but what does that matter if we can’t communicate it? And more importantly if we don’t want to live it! The fishermen and the farmers that LIVE with nature they might also have some of the answers, but we have been so busy alienate them and make them our enemies, they have become criminals in the public eye, the farmers are polluting the soils and streams, even the oceans, with their pesticides and fertilizers. The fishermen have overfished the oceans without respect for the very element they live off. We tell the Ranchers in Argentina that their cows fart to much and it is killing the planet! Why would they listen to us the urban climate-change warriors, when we are communicating from that perspective?

Then there’s the fight among the different fractions, vegetarians against meat-eaters, vegans against everybody, political left against right, deniers against science (sorry had to do that) the middle-aged gray men against Greta Thunberg, governments against indigenous people, feminists against men. When do we stop fighting each other and start working together toward sustainable solutions we all can agree upon?

I met Ashley and her Husband Pat, on their farm in Uruguay, the couple originally from Chicago has done what most people just talk about, they moved away from the urban gardeners to live a more sustainable life on a farm. A life much more tough but also much more giving. I interviewed them to get their perspective, and to understand what had made them move away from the “easy” life of urban Chicago, to a remote spot in the back hills of Uruguay.

It was actually very easy to make that decision was their reply, they wanted to present another set of values to their two young daughters, than it was possible in the US. The hard part was to get acceptance from the family, and to get them to understand that a simple life on a farm added more value to their life than being part of the rat race at “home”. Ashley with a PhD in environmental sustainability, is well aware that she must fit in and be humble, she tells me that she spend most of her time listening to the farmers in the region, than trying to teach them how to grow their crops or treat their lands. She has a huge deal of respect for the farmers and are well aware that they have most of the answers, not her.

We had a great talk about how to communicate with the stakeholders, how important it is that we communicate by looking at the problem-task-issue-challenge from outside in, meaning that we the stakeholders stand shoulder by shoulder on the perimeter looking in, trying to find solutions together and most importantly we start by finding common ground.

Ashley and Pat have started the https://www.facebook.com/RizomaFieldSchool/ here in their own words(mission) : we hope to educate a network of individuals who can hack, subvert, create, resist and share strategies across contexts. Join us in envisioning and creating a world that can be continually better for all its inhabitants.

They have students coming to study from all over the world, the studies at totally hands on sustainable farming. Ashley has a theory saying that you can only learn so much from books at the University, the real knowledge will be imprinted in the students consciousness by being there and actually do the work, get your hands dirty and see the results of your hard work.

My next encounter with great minds in Uruguay was when I met the wonderful people of the  South American Institute for Resilience and Sustainability Studies (SARAS) http://saras-institute.org/ in their own words (mission) SARAS are designed to generate critical insights allowing South America to build sustainable futures. It seeks integration across a broad range of innovative approaches, combining disciplinary domains (social, natural and exact sciences), different sources of knowledge, and art-science interactions.

I was extremely privileged to be invited in, I came uninvited to a conference they held, I was welcomed in to participate in the conference which was about how to make the food industry in S.A more sustainable. there were scientists from all the South American countries and people from as far away as Sweden, Holland, Germany and the USA.

Interesting enough was one of the most important topics “communication” how to involve the stakeholders, farmers, fishermen, ranchers, manufacturers, scientists, producers ect. In a productive and constructive dialog across interests and try not to end up in a polarized political discussion, as they said their most important tribute was building bridges between the stakeholders, SARAS are trying hard to be the epicenter of knowledge sharing. I interviewed a small group of 7 persons, trying to get their opinion about the challenges we face regarding sustainable food in the future and how to deal with it.

The institute are planning a sustainable conference to be held in Uruguay2020, where every possible stakeholder from the food industry are invited and will have a voice. Hopefully some of the answers will be found at this at this event.

The good: All the amazing and super friendly people I have met, its been an amazing experience, even though I kind of know that meeting people with a smile and always communicate in eyelevel in a humble way, mostly result in a smile and compassion right back at you, it’s been overwhelming how welcoming people have been. I mostly stay in private homes found through Airbnb, and without exception have that been wonderful. I have had so many good experiences with people it will require a blog of its own to tell about it, but here is a few outstanding meetings. When I got robbed in La Plata a wonderful young teacher found some of my possessions laying on the street, among that my Green card, some other important documents and some of my clothes, he went through the trouble finding me writing me an email telling me he found the stuff and took time off work to come meet me and deliver it back to me, I tried to compensate him by offering him money, which he refused all he wanted was a picture of me and my bike and a big hug. In Rio we met some outstanding people as well my host Sergio what an amazing man, his outstanding hospitality he totally went beyond what can be expected, our friend Lily and their friends which gave us the most mesmerizing New years evening on the beach of Copacabana, with food drinks and they spend an hour at 3 in the morning finding us a ride back to the hotel, just wonderful people. I spend 5 days in Brazil without any cash because I was in the por part of the far south, people I met gave me credit for food late at night without a worry about me coming back to them the next day to pay up, I still couldn’t change money or find an ATM that would take my credit cards, so they found a guy that accepted my US $, the time I took a ferry and to my big surprise found out that they didn’t accept Visa cards, (we had already taken off) the ticket guy laughed told me to go to a bank when we arrived on the other bank, I did but they didn’t accept visa either, I waited 2 hours for the ferry to return, when they did I offered him US $ which he told me had no value to him , he told me it was a free trip from him smiled and went on with his business. They all did it with a smile and hugs not a bad word or any frustration, they wen out of their ways to help me out. As I wrote I can go on and on with these great encounters.

One more amazing thing is how the Brazilians are cleaning, everywhere I went, gas stations, Restaurants, homes even the beaches are spotless. Copacabana beach is the cleanest beach of that size I have ever been at. Good job guys 😊

The bad (Surprise) wauw the language barrier in Brazil has been far more extreme than I ever expected, hardly nobody speaks English at least not outside Sao Paulo and Rio D J. and they hardly ever speak Spanish either. I had trained my Spanish for a month hoping I could use it in Brazil but NO, and now after spending 5 weeks in Brazil returning to Spanish speaking countries, I have to relearn my Spanish once more very frustrating 😊 honestly it have been hard not to communicate with hardly anybody without google translate for 5 weeks, and my sustainability studies has suffered from that, that’s partly why I have been waiting to blog until I was back in Paraguay and Argentina. Another surprise has been how good the Brazilian drivers are, being on a motorcycle you really pay attention to other drivers, I must say that Brazilian drivers are very cautious and give room for MC¨s thanks guys for a wonderful road experience, I cant recall one bad incident in 5 weeks and traveling more than 3000 miles.

The Ugly hardly nobody has anything to say about sustainability, recycling is horrible, there is on obvious plan for climate change, and very few sustainability projects. The entire Florianopolis area is one of the most beautiful places on earth, but does not have a sewer system or use septic tanks, raw sewerage is being let in to the streams and out in the bay and ocean. I met with a professor that wrote her PhD about sustainability in the area, and it was horrific reading, not even the natives want to change and talk about sustainability, they want the short term benefits from selling parts of their lands to foreigners or expand their houses to be able to earn a few bucks by renting it out. The professor I talked to had given up, she tried to have the government listen to her and do something about the issues, but they had no interest in change, just looking for fast cash selling land to developers.

Beer prices are pretty good domestic beer 1,5 $ for a liter in the stores, 2,5 $ for a liter in bars , imports are 30% more expensive.

7 Fun Questions to Ask Your Kids

 At the dinner table.

 On road trips.

 On slow winter nights.

 Anytime. Anywhere.

 Put your kids’ minds in motion.

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7 Fun Questions to Ask Your Kids


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The Gift

Tomorrow, when you wake up, there will be an object in your bedroom.

This object will be the thing you want most in life, the object of your dreams.

It can be anything you desire, so long as it really exists in the world.

What is it?

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One Word Answers

For each of the following things, say one word to describe how you feel about that thing.

Dogs

Fast cars

The moon

Winter

The ocean

Brussels sprouts

Art

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The Vaccine

 

If you could pick one thing in the world to never, ever be able to hurt you…

What would it be?

You can pick anything—fire, water, falling, a broken heart, bees, spiders, the flu…

Anything you want, and it can never cause you any harm.

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My Life as a Meteor

 

Pretend that all objects in the universe are alive. Rocks, water, wind, stars, comets, space dust, all of it.

And pretend you could become any one of these you choose. You’ll live as long as the object will exist and you’ll see whatever it experiences.

Name your choice.

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The Newest Avenger

 

Pick one of the following superpowers you’d like to have:

Flying

Invisibility

Super Strength

Super Intelligence

Super Speed

Water Breathing

Shoot Fireballs from your Fingertips

Now…pick your superhero name.

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Explore THIS!

 

If you could pick one of the following places to explore, which would you choose?

The bottom of the ocean

Outer space

The center of Earth

The inside of an atom.

An alien civilization.

Why?

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Heart Emoji

 

Most than anything else in the entire world…

…what makes you feel loved?


 

Want enough questions to keep your kids’ brains busy for days?

Go here.

101 Questions for Humanity – Goodreads Giveaway!!

Goodreads Book Giveaway

101 Questions for Humanity by J. Edward Neill

101 Questions for Humanity

by J. Edward Neill

Giveaway ends March 19, 2019.

See the giveaway details
at Goodreads.

Enter Giveaway

Little Questions about BIG Things

Six Deadly Sins

 The 7 Deadly Sins are:

Envy

Greed

Sloth

Lust

Gluttony

Pride

Wrath

If you could destroy one of these forever, as in remove it from the consciousness of every human being for all time, which sin would you choose?

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180 Degrees

 Suppose a man dedicated the first twenty years of his life to being a vicious criminal.

He was a thief, a thug, an arsonist, a kidnapper, and even a murderer.

But then, for the next 50 years, he turned his life around.

He gave millions to charity. He found homes for orphans. He fed the poor. He traveled to war-torn nations and helped innocent people evacuate.

What is the value of this man’s life?

In your eyes, has he found redemption?

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Generations of Evil

 In certain cultures around the world, different generations are referred to separately.

For example, in America there exist such divisions as Gen-X, Baby Boomers, and The Greatest Generation.

It’s a common theme for older generations to criticize those who are younger, often with cries of, “Kids these days don’t know a damn thing!”

Is it true that previous generations contain people who are wiser, harder working, and more moral?

 Or has every generation that has ever existed contained similar percentages of stupid, lazy, and immoral people?

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The Conjecture Clock

First, here’s a few interesting measurements of time:

Attosecond – Currently the smallest division of time. Approx 10−18  seconds.

Megasecond – Approx 11.6 days

Galactic Year – The time it takes for the Sun to orbit once around the Milky Way’s center. Approx 230 million years.

Exasecond – Approx 31.7 x 10years. (more than twice the age of the universe.)

Now, the real question:

Does time exist?

Or is it simply a human construct?

When answering, take your time.

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The Sun will Rise Tomorrow. Won’t It?

 If you can, name three things or phenomena it’s acceptable to believe in without having actual objective proof of that thing or phenomenon’s existence.

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Did you enjoy these?

Visit here for more.

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50 Observations of Humanity


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Fifty Observations of Humanity


When people create more than they consume, things tend to work out.

In twenty years it’s possible ALL government will take place via Twitter.

99% of texted ‘lols’ are a lie.

Speed limits are also a lie. Until they’re not.

Hard work almost always trumps raw talent, except in the dating scene.

There’s probably a biological reason nice guys always finish last.

Success can often be measured by the number of trolls one accumulates.

Combined, humans have spent billions of years sitting in front of televisions.

Home isn’t a place. It’s a state of mind.

Don’t SAY you’re sorry. BE sorry. It’s better in the long run.

Complaining about other people’s generation (be they older or younger) is a useless gesture.

Complaining about anything on the internet is also useless.

…unless you post the complaint to Yelp.

…and Amazon.

The ideal length of time to carry a grudge is thirty seconds.

If you haven’t yet been ghosted, you’re in the minority.

The difference between country music and heavy metal is one fret and a few fashion choices.

You can’t count on Karma to bring your enemies to justice.

…but you can probably count on your personal misdeeds to come back to you one way or another.

Paid dating sites don’t really want you to find love. Think about it.

You don’t know most of the people on your Facebook page.

…and they certainly don’t know you.

At any given moment, 50% of the modern world is looking at their phone.

Chasing looks over personality usually ends the same way every time.

It’s easier for cat owners to take vacations than dog owners.

But far easier to land a date with a puppy than a kitten.

The worst kind of judgments are ALL of them.

Almost everyone is special to someone, but no one is special to everyone.

Most of us want the same things out of our lives (peace, love, dinner) and yet we start new battles every day.

Dogs’ greatest wish is to ride in cars with open windows – we should all be so lucky.

People’s favorite songs are usually entangled with people’s favorite memories.

If Google Maps went down tomorrow, 80% of modern society would forever wander the earth.

 Nintendo has made a massive fortune re-publishing the same five video games for thirty years.

Taking other people’s word for things is like playing Russian Roulette. If it’s so important, find out the truth for yourself.

Losing sucks, but it’s also highly educational.

The worst lie to tell is one told to oneself.

Everything is derivative, and it’s okay.

No one owes you anything. Not your spouse. Not the person you’re dating. Not your kids. Not your parents. Not the government. No one. Remember this, and be free.

…ok…well…you might owe the bank something. But that’s a different matter.

Morality is a useful, yet completely subjective concept.

The most powerful weapon in the battle for a happy life is the word, ‘No.’

It’s probable the only people who will forever love you are your children and your grandmother.

Vengeance usually injures the vengeful more than the target.

Based on the number of people who announce they’re quitting social media only to return the very next day, social media is harder to give up than cigarettes.

…meaning someone should probably make a new drug to help people kick the habit.

…and they should call this drug Cantclix.

The surest destroyer of happiness is insecurity.

…and the surest destroyer of red wine is refrigeration.

Complaining about the state of society from the comfort of a couch is pointless.

1,000 years ago you probably would’ve been dead at your age. Enjoy stuff while you can.

 

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Fifty observations aren’t nearly enough.

Here’s 101 more.

Bouncing Between Bottles – Memoirs of a Tipsy Author

He promises to drain one bottle per chapter. That’s the rule. There’s no breaking it.
And while deep in his cups, J Edward Neill takes readers on a sometimes funny, often poignant journey. Playful yet serious, humorous yet honest, his bounce between bottles delivers readers on a stroll through everything. It’s a lighthearted memoir blended with sharp philosophy. It’s social commentary blended with powerful cocktails.

Dating. Religion. Politics. That one time J Edward and his friend built a dam and met the world’s most relaxed water moccasin…
It’s all here.
One bottle per chapter.
One chapter every night…

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Now available for every e-device worldwide. 

7 Questions for Single Parents

7 Questions

For Single Parents

…or really any Parent

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Timing is Everything

 You’re a single parent, right?

(Even if you’re not, you can still answer this one.)

When dating a new person, how long should a single parent wait before allowing their new lover to meet the kid(s)?

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Think Fast!

Using one or two-word answers only, describe what you’d do in each of the following scenarios:

  • Your child walks in after visiting your ex and claims they now believe the exact opposite of whatever your religious beliefs are
  • Your ex withholds two months of child support, claiming a financial hardship
  • Your two children (ages 10 and 15) announce they want to live exclusively with your ex-spouse
  • Your one child (age 7) announces they want to live exclusively with you and never, ever see their other parent

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The Answer is 84

 At what age should a child have the legal right to choose to live solely with one parent?

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Mecha-Ninja Tech-Savvy Godzilla Mom

From the following, choose one or more descriptions that would best fit your style of single-parenting:

Tiger (High discipline, emphasis on structure and academics)

Free-Spirited (Lower emphasis on structure. Let the kid do almost anything they want…within reason)

Soccer Mom/Dad (Athletics, exercise, and physical activity)

Techie (Video games & devices allowed. Emphasis on computer skills)

Skill Builder (Teach the kids to follow in your footsteps. i.e.; fixing cars, hunting, fishing, cooking, sewing, et cetera)

Culture Warrior (Teach the kids to become highly involved in society.)

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Fight Club!

 You’re a single parent of two boys, ages 8 and 10.

You’ve had it with their constant bickering and sibling rivalry.

Your ex-spouse isn’t helping.

How do you handle their disputes?

  • Every time a fight goes down, I break it up and dish out the appropriate punishment.
  • I get involved in the serious conflicts, but let them handle the small stuff.
  • Ignore them. What kids?
  • I hand them each a sword and tell them to fight to the death!

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All Fridays become National Holidays for Grocery Shopping and Mario Kart

Here’s your chance.

Create a new nationwide law that will apply only to single parents.

Your new law can be beneficial or punitive; it’s up to you.

If your law goes against single parents in any way, describe the penalty for breaking it.

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Bragging Rights

 Do single parents have the right to be extra-proud?


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So…

You like answering these kinds of questions? Go here.

Or maybe you’re tired of talking about your kids. In that case, go here.

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Everyone is a Philosopher

Everyone is a Philosopher

(They just don’t know it.)

 

 

It’s 8:30 PM, and I’m at a party in suburban hell.

I’m not sure what I was thinking when I said, “Yeah, I’m in.” I mean, I’m at least ten years older than everyone else here, probably more than that.

I’m also single. I’m dressed like a douche. I’m tired. And I’m the only one in the room not glued to his phone.

Yeah. That’s the truth. I’m in a house with twenty people, most of them strangers, and everyone except three little kids is nose-deep in their phone. I count four Xbox controllers lying dormant in front of a paused game on TV. I see plates of half-eaten food and abandoned drinks. Even the music, probably something-something by Justin Bieber, thumps a little quieter in the background.

It’s as if the Biebs himself is ashamed to be heard at a party at which no one is talking, flirting, or looking up from their phones.

I figure I have three choices:

Leave. It’s not as if anyone will notice.

Drink a ton. And then hope a beautiful woman walks in the room in time for me to make a horrible first impression.

Or option three: wake the zombies from their phone-induced slumber.

The way I see it, one and two are boring.

Option three is where it’s at.

In a room full of twenty-somethings, I clear my throat and crack the overwhelming silence. People I’ve never met look up as if to say, “Who the hell are you to distract me from Facebook?” It’s ok. I’m not shy. I’m running on four Krispy Kreme donuts and three Solo cups of liquid courage. There’s nothing in the universe capable of embarrassing me now.

“Anyone here ever heard of the train question?” I blurt out.

Five, maybe six people nod their heads. Everyone else looks confused.

“You know, the train question,” I continue. “If you pull the lever, a mother and her son get smacked by a runaway train – if you don’t pull the lever, five random strangers get run over by the same train. Anyone know what I’m talking about? Anyone?”

At first, only a few people in the room start mumbling. Sure, they’ve heard of the train question. It’s just that no one has asked them anything philosophical since…ever. In this case, it’s the party’s host and his wife who chime in. Yes, they’ve got answers. She says pull the lever because only two people will die. He says, “Nope. Not pulling it. If I divert the train, I’ve directly killed five people.”

The room doesn’t know it yet, but they’re hooked.

Everyone is a philosopher.

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That was three years ago. The night turned out better than expected. People’s shells were broken. Phones were put away. Conversations – real conversations – happened.

And that’s what it’s all about, right?

Anymore, we spend so much of our time talking about weather, about news stories, politics and television shows, we don’t talk about life anymore. We pay attention to what other people are saying, and we miss out on our own stories.

Just under the surface, we’ve all got a story.

And it’s probably more interesting than we assume.

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Dusk approaches. I’m feeling a little fat after devouring a dinner of pasta and bread with my little one, the G Man. In truth, all the food inside me is a good thing. Like pretty much everyone else, I operate better with a full belly. In this case, a little extra full.

Fatter philosophers are better philosophers.

Maybe.

I’m sitting in my house. It’s a small suburban bachelor pad, all mediocre art and empty wine bottles. Tonight, my drink of choice is a Hook & Ladder pinot noir. It doesn’t have the most nuanced flavor, but I’m a fan nonetheless. Not all that long ago, my favorite bartender Sam suggested I try it, and I was sold from sip number one. Sam’s the type of human I really like. She serves a mean drink, carries conversations better than anyone, and served me cake at her kid’s birthday party.

We should all have a good bartender in our lives.

We should all have a Sam.

Sam’s bar, which we’ll call the M, is more or less my haunt. I’m not sure if people have haunts anymore, and I’m doubly unsure whether most people know what a haunt is. What I am sure of is that I spend a lot of time at the M.

I’m quite literally the guy whose name everyone knows.

The guy who helps other patrons with drink selections.

And the guy who’d prefer to dine at the bar with strangers than at a table with friends.

It’s amongst strangers I thrive. And while plenty of people would disagree, it’s amongst strangers at bars the best conversations can be had. One never knows what kind of person might co-haunt one’s favorite bar. And when alcohol hits everyone’s bloodstream, one never knows what might happen.

In my experience, plenty.

If we exclude the obnoxious types and people who are deadly serious about not being spoken to, we’re still left with a huge population of interesting bar-hopping strangers.

There’s the hopeful loner, awaiting someone, anyone, with whom to strike up a conversation.

There’s talkers, the types who will happily invade your conversation and let you invade theirs.

And we’ll find friendly couples, storytellers, broken-hearted romantics, and slightly-too-tipsy people. Most are willing to offer way too much information about their personal lives.

They’re out there.

You just have to know how to spot them.

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Continue?

The Day I Decided to Start Running

I remember one Friday.

A smoking hot Friday in the dead of July.

A hazy Friday.  A humid southeastern US Friday.  A Friday that promised to be hotter than Lucifer’s jockstrap.

Most Fridays like this one, I’d have been busy in my workshop painting. Or writing. Or mashing buttons on my Xbox controller.

But this Friday was my first truly free day in a long time. My son was away at summer camp. I didn’t have any plans. Any lunch dates. Any ideas. Somehow, someway, none of my borderline-alcoholic buddies had rung me up for a long afternoon of pounding scotch and making fun of my non-existent dating life.

In short, I had no effing idea what to do.

I guess maybe I should’ve known it was going to be a different sort of day.  I’d woken early – long before the crack of dawn. And I never wake up early. Bright-eyed and bursting with directionless energy, I’d trotted outside my tiny apartment and breathed the already-warm air.

I’ve been locked up in here too long, I thought.

It’s time for something different.

Flashback to a few years prior. A ex-girl of mine, a marathon runner, had mentioned a trail she liked to run. “In Suwanee,” she’d said. “Beautiful, wooded trail. Eight miles one way.” Back then I’d never cared much about running. I mean, I worked out and all, but usually in my garage. Or my attic. Or in an overpriced, sweat-scented gym. It’s not that I didn’t like the outdoors, just that I’d never much cared for sprinting along smoking hot sidewalks in the brutal Atlanta heat.

It hit me then.

I’d no idea why, but the idea of running bounced into my thoughts.

I remembered what my ex-girl had said. No, not that time she said I was an ‘real sh*thead.’ I remembered something else. The trail she’d talked about. The Suwanee Greenway. The place runners go to run when they don’t want to pound pavement.

And I realized I lived in Suwanee now. I’d just moved there. Not two weeks prior.

I gotta find this trail.

Today.

When I get ideas into my head, I go overboard. It’s either a fault, a virtue, or maybe both. Like that time I started a foam-sword fight club behind my house. Or joined an MMA gym and pounded my hands against heavy bags every day until they bled. So now, as I realized I might live near this fabled Suwanee running trail, a new idea took shape:

I want to run.

A lot.

I crashed into my computer like a breaking Pacific wave. My fingers moved like the wind, my search terms as sharp as seagulls’ beaks. ‘Suwanee Greenway running trail’ I hammered into the keyboard.

“0.1 miles away” said Google Maps.

I’d had no idea. I was pretty much an idiot. Sitting outside my apartment door, not a hundred meters beyond the stand of pine trees behind my parking lot, sat the Suwanee Greenway trail. It’d been there all along.

In a flurry, I popped into my ugly orange sneakers, slid into an even uglier tank top and shorts, and sped out the door.

I’d never been a runner before. I liked to keep active, don’t get me wrong, but I’d never felt the urge to run. Not in the summer heat. Not in the woods. Not alone. There seemed no reason to run other than to feel my heart hammer against my ribs. To get shin splints. To hurt.

And then I found it. I found the Greenway. The fabled land of trees, creeks, and north Georgia swamps.

The Greenway. A few hundred yards beyond my door.

You know those disclaimers? The ones saying ‘Consult a doctor before beginning any new exercise routine?’ Nah. I don’t listen to ’em, either. My feet hit the trail and within moments I’d forgotten everything else about my week. About my plans. About my life.

Yeah, it was hot. And yeah, the humidity made me feel like I was a macaroni noodle tumbling in about-to-boil water. But I didn’t care. Suddenly, as if my sneakers had worked some strange magic, I felt the pendulum move inside me.

I’m going to run.

I want to be a runner.

Forever.

I overdid it on that first fateful day. I ran six brutal miles in one direction, and walked six miles back. By the end, my breaths were ragged, tortured things. My calves were knotted up like old oak trees. My skin, which I’d forgotten to cover in sunscreen, sizzled the same as bacon in a cast iron skillet.

But I felt good.

No, not just good.

Trans-effin-cendent.

Let’s talk about the Greenway. It’s a place I wished I’d found a decade earlier, but was happy to discover when I did. They call it the Greenway because all eight miles hunker beneath the trees. In some spots, in the heavy shade beneath birch trees, the air is a full ten degrees cooler than in the sun. In others, the trail is almost dark even during midday, and the leaves so dense as to blot out the sun entirely. Parts of the trail are paved in wooden planks, and others with a softer-than-concrete asphalt/rubber hybrid. And in many places, the Greenway runs alongside creeks, small rivers, and a sopping wet marshland stocked with geese, ducks, bluegill, herons, and even the occasional beaver.

The Greenway – flanked by marshland on both sides.

Twelve miles later, I spilled back into my apartment. My body ached. I was cramped, hungry, thirsty, and tired. But I also felt sublime.  The ‘runner’s high’ my ex had talked about turned out to be a real thing. I felt as if I were floating among the clouds, my sneakers like Hermes’ winged shoes, my muscles singing with pain and pleasure.

Sure enough, not long after I finished my first run, a buddy called me. I rehydrated…and then spent the rest of the evening out on the town committing treason against my liver. I’m sure I didn’t once shut up about my experience on the trail. To my buddy’s credit, he just smiled and nodded.

He understood.

On that day, something had changed.

It was as if I’d reached back into my childhood and stolen some of the freedom my ten-year old self once experienced.

Out there on the Greenway, I’d been in heaven. No phone. No bills to pay. Not a care in the world beyond the next place my ugly orange sneakers landed.

Since that day, and for the last four years, I’ve been out there running. I use the Greenway most days, but also a number of other nature trails. In autumn, when leaves blanket the ground and the wind begins to bite, I’m alone in a season of my own. In spring, when every bird in the universe descends onto the marshes, I run to their raucous music of their honks, quacks, and cheeps. Most times I keep moving fast. But some days I stroll along without a care. Some evenings, I’ve only got enough daylight for three little miles, while others I head out early to conquer the entire trail. I prefer to run when I’m alone, but on particularly pleasant days I’ll find other people running with me, walking their dogs, or wheeling their twin babies along in awesome bicycle/stroller hybrids (here’s to you, bicycle/stroller guy.)

The absolute best days are the first days of the Atlanta winter…just before twilight…when crickets, owls, and leaf-stomping squirrels surround me. No one else is on my trail. No one else exists in the entire world. It’s just me and the road ahead.

And I’m as close to Heaven as I’ll ever be.


*

I run, and I also drink wine.

Join me on my bounce between bottles right HERE.

 

 

 

Reality is Best Served with $0.99 Books

Books to give as gifts.

Hilarious autobiographies.

The world’s funniest breakups.

Soft-hitting philosophy.

This spring from April 23rd – April 26th, get all my best non-fiction books for $0.99 or less. Read ’em. Love ’em. Review the heck out of ’em!

 

101 Easy Ways to Get Into a Political Argument

“Libtard!”

“Snowflake!”

“Orange-haired buffoon!”

You’ve seen these ridiculous comments on your Facebook feed. On Twitter. And pretty much everywhere else on the internet.

And now, the most inflammatory arguments in the world are all packed into one little book.

Introducing: 101 Ways to Fight About Politics.

*

Includes 101 prompts and questions to help you and your frenemies fight to the death enjoy a spirited political argument.

Ten sample questions are right here.

Start your argument today!

 

10 Ways to Start a Political Fight

Short of walking up to someone on the street and dumping a bucket of cold water on their head…

…the best way to start a fight is and always has been to launch a political discussion.


Is it Hypocritical to…

 Denounce global warming while driving a gas-guzzling truck?

Complain about society’s addiction to social media via Facebook?

Talk poorly about social welfare programs while driving on government-paid roads which are patrolled by gov-paid police?

Complain about the government after not voting in recent elections?

*

Awesome! Malevolent! Superfluous!

Preferably in the company of at least one other person, use exactly three words to describe the current Congress (or Parliament) which exists in your country.

**

Death by Catcalling

 In your own words, define what you believe Sexual Harassment means.

Do the same for Sexual Assault.

*

Up a Creek…

 There’s been a terrible war overseas.

Your nation isn’t directly involved.

But…

Two-hundred thousand refugees have fled this war.

They speak no English.

Their skill sets are unknown.

They need a place to live, or else most of them will die of starvation and disease.

What percentage of these refugees would you invite to live in your nation?

*

Simplicity

In ten words or fewer, state what you want your government to do for you.

*

The Right to Arm Bears

 You’ve been selected by your government to create a brand-new modern-day Bill of Rights.

In this bill, you’ll decide what basic rights are legally granted to each and every citizen of your nation.

What are the first three items you’ll add to the bill?

*

Juggle Three Flags while Kissing a Baby

 List the top five things every potential immigrant should have to know or do in order to be granted full citizenship in your nation.

*

Word Smack

 For each of the items below, say the first word that comes to your mind upon reading it:

Libtard

Fake News

Republitard

Snowflake

Communist

Leftist

Nazi

White Power

Black Lives Matter

*

The Wage Gauge

 The national minimum-wage for full-time workers should be:

$ ______________

 

Zingers

Choose one word to describe each of the following people:

Hillary Clinton

Jimmy Carter

Abraham Lincoln

Adolf Hitler

Winston Churchill

Justin Trudeau

Hugo Chavez

Donald Trump

*


If you’re thinking these questions are biased, you’re wrong.

They’re not.

The author doesn’t give a rip about partisan politics.

But…

If you feel like arguing even more, go here.

If you prefer to keep the peace, go here.

My life as an 8-year old misfit

“Sorry,” the pastor tells me. “You’ll have to sit in the back pew again.”

It’s ok.

The holy wafers don’t look all that tasty.

It’s about ten o’clock on a Wednesday morning. I’m at school, shuffling my way to the back row of wooden pews. Outside, the weather is warm and inviting. Spring is in full force. The school year is almost over.

But for now, I’m stuck in here.

Oh right. I forgot to tell you. I’m at a private Catholic school. It’s called Holy Family. I’ve been attending this school my entire life. It’s a pretty great place most of the time. Our classes are small. Our teachers are strict, but fair. And they’re really good at teaching.

The one small complication: I’m not Catholic. Nor do I believe in God.

I’m also the only student among several hundred who hasn’t been baptized.

Of all the stunning gothic churches in the greater Chicago area, it figures that the one I’m in is ugly. From my seat, I can see stained-glass windows, the pastor’s dais, and the little metal box they call the tabernacle.

But this place has no towers, no sharp spires reaching for Heaven, none of the classic Catholic architecture.

It’s cold. It’s boring.

It’s municipal.

I can’t wait for Communion to end so I can go to recess.

The other kids file past me. They’re all wearing their special uniforms. Their robes are white and black, their shoes fancy. But for me, it’s the same yellow shirt and navy pants I wear every day.

It’s cool. They’ll have to change clothes before playing kickball today. I won’t.

Lounging in the back row, squinting to see what’s happening up front, I stick out like a sore thumb. When my friend Tricia walks by, I make her giggle, but both of us are quickly silenced by Sister Alvina. The nuns here are all-powerful. No one giggles on Sister Alvina’s watch.

Not even me.

Communion continues. It’s a quiet affair, considering the room is stuffed with parents, kids, altar boys, and nuns. I’m not really sure what the fuss is all about. I guess I’m not all that curious, either.

The kids march up to the pastor in single file, eat a pale wafer, and sip some red juice. The pastor says, “Body of Christ, blood of our savior…” and some other important-sounding stuff, and then it’s done. Next kid up. Next soul in line for Heaven.

Is it really this easy? I wonder.

Is that all it takes to get into Heaven?

If I didn’t love this school so much, I’d have begged out of this place.

My friends are being indoctrinated.

And they don’t even know it.

Oh well.

If today was the only day I had to sit in the back pew, everything would be fine. I can get over one little day. For an eight-year old boy, I’m as patient as they come. If I can sit still for twenty more minutes, I’ll be out there in the sunshine, kicking the hell out of rubber balls.

But this is the tenth time I’ve been stuck in here. Watching the other kids. Not allowed to dangle my finger in the holy water. Not permitted to wear the sweet-looking holy ropes. Not sure whether the red stuff in the pastor’s cup is Kool-Aid or actual pinot noir.

I might not know what pinot noir is yet, but I’m pretty sure I could use some.

If my dad were here, he’d probably remind me for the hundredth time about his decision not to have me baptized.

“…let you make your own choices,” he’d have said.

“…can change your mind when you’re older.”

The last few kids march past. They’re mostly Irish, just like me. They’ve got names like O’Conner, McDonnell, and Thompson. They don’t look at me today. I don’t look at them.

Everyone knows the deal.

I’m not allowed to play with wafers and sip fake wine because no one splashed me with the magic water. It’s all good. Any sense of curiosity I feel is dulled by my exclusion. The nuns don’t pity me, which is good.

But…

I’m pretty sure they’re wary of me. As if I’ve got a disease. I don’t belong here, and everyone knows it.

Finally, it ends. The pastor utters a few holy words, and the kids disperse. Across the aisle, Tricia’s parents smile and glow. I’m just glad none of my family are here. My expression isn’t something they’d be proud of.

I’m hovering in the grey space between sleepiness and boredom. It’s written all over my face.

A few minutes later, I’m outside. There’s not a cloud in the great blue sky. A field of suntouched grass awaits me and my classmates. We’re not thinking about holy wafers and blood-wine any longer.

It’s time for kickball.

And yet, as I await my chance to crush the bouncy red ball into oblivion, I can’t help but wonder. It’s something Sister Alvina said. It’s something Miss Calvin has repeated. And though they’d never admit it, it’s something most of my family has signed up for.

Since I’m not baptized, I’m not really a Catholic.

And if I’m not a Catholic, I’m going to Hell. You know – that place where the souls of the damned burn for all eternity.

I wonder if the other kids believe it. I question, even though they’re willing to play kickball with me, whether or not they think I’m going to roast forever in a fiery pit.

I guess it’s easier if we don’t talk about it.

* * *

To continue the story, go here.

My Daily Struggle With Not Giving a F**k

Nothing matters.

Nothing at all.

Don’t agree?

I’ll explain:

Objectively speaking, our universe is infinite. Our solar system, huge as it might appear, is no more than a tiny pinprick in the fabric of our galaxy. And our galaxy, as absurdly vast as it seems, is just a small puff of gas and dust in an ever-expanding cosmos.

How’s the saying go?

You’re a ghost driving a meat-covered skeleton made of stardust, riding a rock, hurtling through space.’

*

And the other saying? The one by Carl Sagan?

‘The Earth is a very small stage in a vast cosmic arena. Think of the rivers of blood spilled by all those generals and emperors so that, in glory and triumph, they could become the momentary masters of a fraction of a dot.’  – Carl Sagan – Pale Blue Dot, 1994

What does this mean? Well… It means the sum of humanity’s value to the universe is nil. And the sum of an individual human – I scarcely want to mention it for fear of insulting everyone. We’re small. Really small. To call us grains of sand on an immeasurably huge beach is unfair to grains of sand everywhere. We’re tinier than that.

We’re meaningless.

I’ll say it one more time so you know I’m not kidding.

We have no objective value. None. Nada. Zilch.

See that tiny speck in the middle right of this Voyager 1 photo? That’s Earth.

*

Should our smallness bother you?

No. Not really. Go about your life. Have fun. It’ll all work out in the end.

Does it bother me?

Yeah. A bit.

Before we go any further, let’s define something:

ni·hil·ism (ˈnīəˌlizəm,ˈnēəˌlizəm/)

  1. The rejection of all religious and moral principles, often in the belief that life is meaningless.
    synonyms: skepticism, negativity, cynicism, pessimism

Pretty hard to stomach, right?

And yet here I am.

Anymore, waging war against my instinctive nihilism is my life’s defining challenge. I know I’m not alone in this, but I do tend to focus on it perhaps more than the average person. As I grow older and my comfort level with having no meaning deepens, I feel an increasing urge to escape this world. And no, I don’t mean die. What I’m looking for is an escape from society. From people. From places. From things.

But I’ve got two complications. And therein lies the struggle.

Complication 1.  I enjoy this life despite its meaninglessness. When I’m able to forget my smallness (or at least set it aside) life tends to be fun. And while I realize not everyone is as lucky as I am to enjoy life, it feels pointless to carry any semblance of guilt.

Complication 2.  We’ll get to this one later…

Life is fun. Until it’s not. The exhaustive circle in which I’m spinning is often tolerable…except when society’s weight comes crashing down upon me. As an author and artist who makes his living with books and paintings, I’m obligated to have a presence in the world. I have a Twitter feed. A Facebook page. An Instagram profile. And although I pour my daily passion into maintaining these things, they aren’t me. They’re not real. They’re smaller than I’ll ever be, and I’m pretty tiny. They’re more meaningless than everything else, even though that’s impossible.

And when I stare out into the world, whether through the internet’s lens or with my own two eyes, my struggle deepens. I see the world we’ve created and I find it hard to feel this thing people call ‘hope.’ I suffer an existential ache – a deep, dark sense of ‘Why am I doing this? What do I hope to accomplish in this place?’

The politics. The wars. The murder. The rape. The ideologies. The people who talk as if they know many things…

I can’t stomach them.

Pop stars. The next big TV show. GIFs. Selfies. Hashtags. Political correctness. The latest, greatest iPhone…

I can’t make myself care.

Memes are stupid. And yet…

*

And so it goes. There’s nothing I can do to stop these things. I can no more slow society’s never-ending march than I can leap across the galaxy and settle alone on a planet far from Earth.

I’m powerless.

We all are.

Sometimes, our powerlessness isn’t evident. Lacking meaning, humanity invents things to amuse ourselves, to distract us from our insignificance. We’ve constructed pantheons of culture for the sole purpose of entertaining ourselves. We’ve unearthed every possible form of distraction, to which we flock the moment our daily work of survival is done. And, speaking of survival (which might once have been the truest form of human meaning) most of us really don’t struggle to survive anymore. We’re harder to kill than ever. We’re seven-billion and spreading. We’re able to grow older than ever before, all the while coming no closer to knowing our purpose in this universe.

Which might be a blessing.

…considering no purpose exists.

But for all my talk, for all my desire to wander off onto some far and quiet beach in the middle of nowhere, there’s a reason I can’t. I call it complication number 2, even though it’s not a complication at all.

It’s my son, the G Man.

He’s six now, and he doesn’t know much about this crap-stew we call life. For as long as I can, I’ll keep it that way. I’ll let him savor his childhood. He’ll see none of my cynicism. He’ll not hear me talk about about grains of sand, pale blue dots, or the hopelessness of choosing one side (of anything) against another. He gets to make up his own mind about these things. To indoctrinate him to my thought process would be to kill a part of his individuality.

I won’t do it.

And yes, I realize the hypocrisy.

I guess I’m not a ‘true’ nihilist. Or any ‘ist’ for that matter.

*

In the beginning of this article, I talked about humanity’s insignificance. Yes, it’s true. We’re insignificant, all of us. It’s not a belief. It’s reality, and there’s no going around it. And yet I can’t help myself. When it comes to my child, I don’t want to punish him by teaching him the brutal truth. If he learns it on his own (and he likely will one day) it’s ok. But I won’t be a mentor in this regard. I’ll allow him to invent his own meaning, just as many other billions of people do on a daily basis. If he wants to be religious, so be it. If he wants to dance with the rest of society and listen to Justin Bieber albums all day, ok. I’ll not try to stop him.

In doing so, in playing the part of unbiased, open-minded dad, I’ll struggle. I’ll toe the line between not giving a f**k and teaching my son to genuinely care about the world he lives in. It won’t exactly be pretending. I do care. And I do think the world can be a wonderful place. But at the same time, I’m acutely aware of ‘pale blue dot’ syndrome. We’re small. We’re pointless. The only reason my son has meaning to me is because I decided it would be so.

*

If there’s one thing I hope, it’s that my kid won’t be like me. Not that I’m miserable or full of horrid judgments for humanity – I’m not. But I’d like him to be free of burdens, free to decide what’s meaningful for himself. I want him to give a f**k. And truly, I hope this for all humanity. If for no other reason than life hurts more when we become aware there’s no prize at the end of the game, I hope my son gives as many f**ks as possible.

This is where I’m at. Stuck in the grey space between ‘aware of my meaninglessness’ and ‘willing to pretend meaning so my kid doesn’t become exactly like me.’ It’s an interesting place to be. I get to care, but not care. I get to glimpse hope through the eyes of another, and sometimes pretend his hope is my own.

There’s no meaning but what we make for ourselves.

And maybe that’s enough.

For now.

J Edward

A Thought for Every Thursday – Deep Space Drama Part 2

Each of this week’s questions center on space and humanity’s relation to the deep dark cosmos.

The questions are straightforward.

Your answers…not so much.

(Deep Space Drama Part 1 is here.)

* * *

Interstellar

 Suppose the world will end in ten years. From today until that time, everything on Earth will be normal. But once the tenth year rolls around, all life will end instantly.

You can save your family by flying alone to a distant planet and terraforming it.

You’d have to leave tomorrow, and you’d never see them again.

 Will you get on that spaceship?

*

Wormhole

 If scientists opened a stable wormhole that could take you to any point in the universe via spacecraft, and if you were given a round-trip ticket to use this wormhole to visit the location of your choice, where would you go?

Explain your choice.

*

Solar Sailor

 Suppose scientists built and perfected a spacecraft capable of extremely quick travel to every corner of the universe.

It’s a three-person ship. You can go anywhere and see anything.

The ship is limitlessly stocked with food and supplies.

The only catch: due to relativity, every year you’re away will mean twenty years pass on Earth.

Are you taking a trip? With whom? For how long?

*

*

* * *

If you like these kinds of questions, try these on for size.

If you prefer something gentler, go here.

Past Thought for Every Thursday entries are right here.

Until next week…

J Edward Neill

A Thought for Every Thursday – Deep Space Drama Part 1

Each of this week’s questions center on space and humanity’s relation to the deep dark cosmos.

The questions are straightforward.

Your answers…not so much.

* * *

The Final Frontier

 In the modern era, the United States government has allocated as much as 4.41% and as little as 0.49% of its yearly budget to pay for deep space exploration and related sciences.

Given the choice, what percentage would you spend?

*

We Come in Peace (or not)

 Imagine you are earth’s emissary to a strange, faraway planet. Upon landing your spaceship, you immediately encounter what appears to be friendly alien life.

What are the first three things you say to them?

*

The Few and the Many

 Imagine the world will end in five years.

The government’s plan is to construct one spacecraft for each family. Each ship can hold a family of four. The ships will fly to a nearby star system and drop you off on a habitable planet.

The problem: You and your spouse have four children.

 Stay on earth and wait for the end? Leave two kids behind?

Or convince your spouse to send the kids alone without you?

* * *

If you like these kinds of questions, try these on for size.

If you prefer something gentler, go here.

Past Thought for Every Thursday entries are right here.

Until next week…

J Edward Neill

A Thought for Every Thursday – Do you agree with these 5 famous quotes?

Regarding quotes…

Most quotes you find on the internet are probably mis-quoted, fake, or attributed to the wrong person.

It doesn’t really matter.

What’s important isn’t who said something or when they said it.

It’s whether or not that something is true.

Think hard on the following quotes and decide whether or not you agree with each one.

Explain why or why not.

*

*

*

*

*

*

*

*

*

 And here’s one just for sarcasm’s sake…

 *

For my part, I think these quotes (and pretty much all quotes) are misunderstood and/or appropriate only in specific situations.

In other words, almost nothing we say is true 100% of the time.

The context of everything must be considered.

But that’s an argument for another time…

 

If you like these kinds of questions, try these on for size.

If you prefer something gentler, go here.

Past Thought for Every Thursday entries are right here.

Until next week…

J Edward Neill

What’s 1 Little Japanese Maple Worth?

It’s the summer of 2016, and I’m poolside.

I’ve been living in a swanky apartment for a few months now. It’s about as close to Atlanta one can live without technically leaving the ‘burbs. I’m across the street from a high-end bar. I can hear the highway traffic roaring by.

But look, there’s still trees.

And no smog.

Life is pretty good.

The pool is packed today. Since the G Man and I started swimming here, the water has never been this populated. I count at least thirty kids and forty adults. Both poolside grills are smoking. It’s sizzling hot beneath the sun, but no one seems to mind. I’m lounging beside a beautiful girl, observing our sons as they splash the day away.

It doesn’t get much better than this.

The G Man and I love swimming so much, we come here every day. Sometimes at night. Sometimes even when it’s raining.

As the afternoon deepens, I’m enjoying conversation with my pool-date. Her son and mine have hit it off well. So well, in fact, they’ve been splashing, water-blasting, and half-drowning each other for the last three hours. We’re waiting for them to tire.

It’s not looking promising.

And so we sit, relax, and soak up the rays. We may look like we’re talking, but our eyes never stray far from our kids. Everyone else in the world can drown if they want, just not these two.

As it turns out, no one’s drowning today.

Whew.

But there’s still trouble.

A crowd of kids has gathered in the shallow end. They’re all several years older than the G Man, and they’re packing all kinds of heat – in the form of giant water guns. One kid has a pump-action shotgun blaster. Another has a water gun as massive as a military-grade RPG launcher.

At first, I think maybe they’re planning an assault on G Man and his new friend. I’m no helicopter parent, but if their plan is to bully my boy, I’m ready to dive in and fight everyone to the death.

Nope.

They’re not gunning for the G Man.

Their target: the red Japanese maple growing just outside the pool. It’s in a huge ceramic pot, and the kids are hosing down its leaves.

Thing is – our perfect little pool is filled with saltwater. Too much salt, and the Japanese maple will wither. And at the rate these kids are blasting it, the little tree doesn’t stand a chance.

Should I stop these kids?

Or would intervening precipitate an argument with more dads than I can handle?

I’m in my lounge chair, taking too long to decide. This is G Man’s moment. When his dad waffles, he steps up.

“Stop!” he screams at a pitch no one else in the world can match.

The kids all look at him. He’s a small guy, just forty pounds. Most of them are twice his size. He’s got no chance if it comes to blows.

They keep shooting.

“Stop!” he shouts again. “That’s salt water. You’re killing it.”

Ok. I’m kind of impressed.

I don’t remember teaching my son about the dangers of salt water to terrestrial flora. It may be that I once mentioned it offhandedly, that we grazed the topic during one of our epic-length scientific discussions.

Doesn’t matter.

He knows, and he’s pissed.

“Take your guns and go to the other side of the pool,” he instructs. The kids look at him like he’s just slapped them. They don’t know who they’re messing with. They don’t understand how one little kid could seek justice…for a tree.

I sit up, but I don’t intervene. Not yet. I want to see how far he’s willing to go to protect this lonely little tree.

“Water won’t kill it,” one of the kids says. “Trees like water.”

“Not salt water.” G Man glares. “The salt will get into the roots. It’ll kill the tree.”

He’s not calm, but he’s not shouting anymore. Standing his ground, he stares the tree’s attackers down. They’re still not sure what to do.

And while they stand in the shallows, pumping water into their guns, but not yet firing, one of their moms comes over. She takes G Man’s side and redirects the ruffians to the pool’s far side.

As suddenly as it began, the standoff ends.

The tree is safe for now.

When I wade into the water to console the G Man – and commend his bravery – I expect him to be angry at the other kids. They tried to kill a tree, after all. He and I have had a thousand talks about protecting nature whenever we can.

But he’s not mad at them.

He’s angry with me.

He tells me I should’ve, “Kicked all the kids’ butts.”

And maybe he’s right.

Maybe I should have.

The tree, just one life among the many at the pool that day, was worth protecting.

Someone had to stand up for it.

And so he did.

We may think we’re teaching our children.

But often they’re teaching us.

* * *

For more stories like this, go here.

J Edward Neill

A Thought for Every Thursday – The 7 Quickest Questions You’ll Ever Answer

Pop quiz, hot shot.

Answer each of the following using five words or fewer.

Go!

*

When is war the answer?

*

If you could only teach your child two lessons in life, what would the lessons be?

**

Is the best defense a strong offense?

*

Name one thing that truly, utterly terrifies you.

*

Is there anything in the world worthy of worship?

*

For $1,000,000, would you agree to never have sex again?

For $10,000,000

For $500,000?

*

The three worst things humanity has done over the course of history are:

____________________

____________________

____________________

*

 Can both of these be true??

* * *

If you like these kinds of questions, try these on for size.

If you prefer something gentler, go here.

Past Thought for Every Thursday entries are right here.

Until next week…

J Edward Neill

A Thought for Every Thursday – Life and Death Shopping

It feels shallow on the surface.

But your answers reveal much more than just how you’d spend a hundred bucks.

Answer it yourself. Share it with friends and family.

It’s…

*

Life and Death Shopping

 You have exactly $100 to go shopping with. What are you buying?

$25 – One ‘Kill Someone Else Instantly’ Card

$50 – No Enemies, Ever

$50 – One ‘Avoid a Fatal Accident’ Card

$25 – Get Away With Any 2 Lies

$50 – See One Single Event Before it Happens

$100 – Lifelong Wealth

$25 – Cure Any One Person’s Disease Once

$25 – Avoid Any One Emotion (name the emotion)

$75 – Immunity to Fear

$50 – Immunity to Pain

$25 – One ‘Change Someone Else’s Mind Permanently’ Card

*

 

* * *

Past Thought for Every Thursday entries are right here.

If you like these kinds of questions, try these on for size.

If you prefer something gentler, go here.

Until next week…

J Edward Neill

The Book of Wine…and Life.

In J Edward’s latest book, he promises to drain one bottle of red wine per chapter.

That’s the rule. 

There’s no breaking it.

 And while deep in his cups, he takes readers on a sometimes funny, sometimes poignant journey.  Playful yet serious, funny yet honest, the bounce between bottles takes readers on a stroll through everything. 

Dating. Religion. Politics. That one time J Edward and his friend built a dam and met the world’s most relaxed water moccasin…

 It’s all here.

One bottle per night.

Every night.

At least…that’s the idea.

Now Available!

   
* * *

Reality is Best Served with Red Wine

Anecdotes and philosophy by J Edward Neill

That time I almost got murdered by an old guy in a Chevy

I’m nine years old, and life is pretty good.

For an early September day in the ‘burbs outside Chicago, the weather is stunning. The winds are milder than usual, and the great northern chill has yet to descend. My classmates and I adore it. A mob of us have just walked a few miles to school. We pour into the hallways just before opening bell. It’s a private school, and so the boys are dressed in matching gold shirts and dark pants, while the girls wear classic plaid skirts.

We look pretty slick, all things considered.

But…

The moment we pile into our classroom, we can tell something’s up. Miss Calvin’s late, and she’s never late. I hear people talking out in the hall. One of the voices comes from a man, a tall man. He’s wearing a police uniform.

That’s weird, I think.

After a few minutes, Miss Calvin and the policeman enter our room. No one asks us to settle down; we’re already quiet.

“Morning, kids,” the policeman says. He towers over Miss Calvin. He towers over everything.

“I’m from the JPD, the Joliet Police Department. Your principal and several of your parents have asked me to talk to you today.”

This is no big deal, I figure. We’ve had police visitors before. The message is always the same: don’t do drugs, don’t talk to strangers, look both ways when crossing the street.

I almost check out.

Almost.

“Kids, I’m here for a special reason today,” the officer continues. “You see, there’s been some trouble, and since so many of you walk to and from school, we think it’s important to have a little talk.”

At this point, the class is riveted. Even I, the class clown, am itching to hear what he’s about to say.

“Two children from the public school have gone missing.” He drops the bomb.

Gasps.

Open mouths.

Incomprehension.

“Both children were nine years old, and both were last seen approaching a late model Chevy Nova. It’s a smaller model, olive green. Other children have reported that the man driving this vehicle called the kids into his car while they walked home from school.

“And neither of the children has been seen since.”

He lets it sink in.

And then he goes on to explain that if any of us see a green Chevy Nova, we’re to get away as fast as possible. Most of us don’t know what a Nova looks like, but he describes it in detail:

“Small.”

“Sporty.”

“Loud engine.”

He also describes the alleged man inside the car. I’m only half listening anymore. Being a young kid, I’m sure this whole event will end up having nothing to do with me. I’m afflicted with the same sense of invulnerability most nine-year olds feel.

The only thing nagging me: the officer never tells us anything about the missing kids.

Not even their names.

The officer departs. The rest of the day is normal. We work on our multiplication tables. We play kickball. I manage to not get into any trouble. Everyone’s whispering about the man in the green Nova, but only for a while. Without knowing the missing children’s names, it’s hard for us to be afraid. The kidnappings are a thing that didn’t happen to us.

They happened to someone else.

We’re safe. Right?

A few days pass. Everything goes back to normal.

The weather stays nice. In fact, it’s perfect. We can’t remember the last time September stayed so warm, so sunny, and so ideal for walking to and from school. Late in the month, the same as every afternoon, I decide to walk home with my friends, Stephanie and Brenda.

We’ve walked this route hundreds of times.

Only…we’ve never walked it with a green Chevy Nova trailing us.

As we turn onto Lilac Lane, it’s Brenda who spots the car. Stephanie and I are too busy plotting out our afternoon’s mischief. We’d never have noticed a thing.

“You guys…” Brenda shakes us out of our daydreams. “Look.”

We glance to our left. There, just beyond a row of young oaks, gliding along the street at maybe five miles per hour, we see the ugly green car. We can’t believe it. It’s almost not real.

Brenda doesn’t wait for Stephanie and me to make up our minds. She bolts away from the road, skirt swishing as she vanishes between two houses. Within seconds, she’s gone.

Brenda’s pretty smart.

The car rolls closer. I’m trying to play it cool, as if my indifference can save me. Stephanie says something to me, but I tune her out. I think she’s shouting my name. It doesn’t matter. She takes off in the same direction as Brenda. Her house is the opposite way. I’m not worried for her. Everyone in our neighborhood knows everyone.

She’ll be fine, I figure. She’ll get home.

Still in disbelief, I finally give the ugly green car a good look. The man inside is older. He’s wearing a hat.

He looks exactly like the creeper the policeman warned us about.

I think I see him stop and start rolling down the passenger side window.

And I’m gone.

I’m a fast runner. Faster than Brenda and Stephanie. Faster than anyone in my class. In my neighborhood, among houses I know better than anyone, the old man has no chance of catching me. I’m gone in five seconds. I don’t even know which way I’m running. What’s important is that he’s gone, too.

You’re not stuffing me in your trunk, buddy, I think.

Not today. Not ever.

The next morning at school, we hear the announcement over our classroom speakers:

The man in the green Nova has been caught.

He’s in jail now, charged with several kidnappings. Not just the two kids from the public school. Several more.

The streets are safe again. Brenda, Stephanie, and I agree never to tell anyone about what happened.

But the thing that nags me for several weeks afterward:

No one ever says the names of the missing kids. I’m sure it’s mentioned on the news, but at our school, within our insulated bubble, no one ever speaks of it again.

It’s as if those kids never existed.

As if, because we didn’t know them, their lives weren’t as important as our own.

* * *

The story above is true.

Want more like it? Read Reality is Best Served with Red Wine.

J Edward Neill

A Thought for Every Thursday – Your Chance to Time Travel

In contrast to the deadly serious questions we’ve asked recently, we’re going to get scientific-lite.

Break out your beakers and glasses.

Let’s do this…

*

There and Back and There Again

 You’ve been given a time machine.

It will work three times before it breaks.

When and where are you going?

Do you use the final time to return to your present life?

***

Fight Club Time Machine

 Suppose you’re given the chance to travel back in time to fight any one historical figure to the death.

If you defeat them, the course of history will be changed in accordance with their absence.

The fight will be hand-to-hand. Your foe will be in their prime.

Whom will you fight?

*

Back to the Future

 You’ve built a time machine. It only goes one direction in time. Do you want to see how it all began? Or how it all will end?

*

 

* * *

Past Thought for Every Thursday entries are right here.

If you like these kinds of questions, try these on for size.

If you prefer something gentler, go here.

Until next week…

J Edward Neill

A Thought for Every Thursday – Are these famous quotes true?

Fact or fiction? Idealistic or realistic?

Each of this week’s questions centers on famous quotes from real life and literature.

And the pressure’s on you to answer…

*

Life Long or Die Hard

In Shakespeare’s play, Julius Caesar, the following line is uttered:

“Cowards die many times before their deaths;

The valiant never taste of death but once.”

 In other words, Shakespeare means to say that those who live in fear die a small death every time they back away from something that terrifies them.

Do you agree with this?

Why or why not?

**

That thing Thomas Jefferson said

 Are all men truly created equal?

If so, are they equal despite physical and intellectual differences?

If not, name the characteristics causing them to be less than equal.

*

Soul Armor

 J Robert Oppenheimer, creator of the atomic bomb, once quoted:

“In battle, in forests, at the precipice of a mountain,

On the great dark sea, in the midst of javelins and arrows,

In sleep, in confusion, in the depths of shame,

The good deeds a man has done before defend him.”

His point was that he hoped that all the good things he’d done in his life might shield him from the darkness of his bad deeds.

Do you believe a person’s goodness can protect them in any way?

*

 

* * *

Past Thought for Every Thursday entries are right here.

If you like these kinds of questions, try these on for size.

If you prefer something gentler, go here.

Until next week…

J Edward Neill

Water Under our Bridge

The year is 1992.

It’s raining now, just like I hoped.

In the heart of July, an afternoon that would otherwise be insufferably hot finds itself laid low by an unseasonably cool wind. The storms roll in from the north, dumping rain into the woods behind my tiny house.

Summer vacation. Can’t beat it.

As I stride between the maples and swaying pines, I know I’m living a different life than other sixteen-year olds. Most kids who attend Parkview High come from wealthy families, and are off vacationing at faraway beaches, mountain retreats, and golf resorts.

I don’t know anything about those places.

I’m right where I belong.

By the time Liam shows up, I’m thoroughly soaked. We hardly greet each other – just a shared grunt and a nod. We decide the day is too wet to enjoy our usual pastime of cul-de-sac Koosh ball, but far too perfect to flee inside and play video games.

“What should we do?” I ask Liam.

“Wanna play rain volleyball?” he says.

“Nah.”

“Wanna see if Tessa’s home? I know you like her, but she doesn’t know, so it’s—”

“Nah.”

“Ok.” He says with his hands on his hips. Liam’s a year younger than me, but at least four inches taller. He’d be imposing if he weren’t so skinny. “You got any other ideas?”

“Yeah,” I say. “See the creek over there?”

“Yeah.” He glances toward the narrow waterway trickling beneath a nearby bridge.

“Let’s dam it up,” I say.

He’s all in.

It begins. Without reservation, Liam and I descend to the creek. It’s a pitiful little thing, just eight feet across and six inches deep. Below the bridge, it trickles toward us through two huge concrete pipes. The pipes are big enough for us to walk through, but the dangling webs convince us we’d best stick to our side of the creek.

For now.

And so we do.

The thing about north Georgia is that it lies in the shadow of the Appalachian Mountains. The soil is mostly clay, and rocks are everywhere. Big granite stones mixed with quartz are strewn across the entire northern third of our lovely state.

We’re going to need some of those rocks.

That afternoon, Liam and I get the best workout of our young lives. We move hundreds of rocks, including several small boulders. We don’t have any tools. It doesn’t matter. The soil is rain-softened, meaning we’re able to pry rocks out with ease.

In just one little day, we build a two-foot high wall. It’s at least twenty feet long. The shallow creek slows and deepens. The water is up to our knees.

The hours slide past.

The outside world doesn’t exist.

We’ve never had so much fun in our lives.

“Again tomorrow?” Liam says.

“Definitely.”

Over the next few weeks, we meet below the bridge almost every day. Our parents don’t care – or really know. We’re both latchkey kids. His mom and my dad both work multiple jobs.

We’re as free as two teenagers can get.

Better still, it’s the wettest July we can remember. The rain crashes down on a daily basis, keeping the rocks loose and the creek flowing.

Our dam grows:

Two feet deep.

Three feet.

Up to our chests.

Deep enough to swim in.

We finish one dam only to start on a second. We’ve got a little waterfall going, tumbling from the tiny lake we’ve built into the pond we’re constructing below. Fish start showing up. Frogs, too. No one else in our neighborhood sees what we’ve built. The trees on either side of the bridge are too thick.

Sometimes I think this is as close as we’ll ever get to living meaningful lives.

Instead of planting ourselves in front of video games or getting into mischief – which Liam and I are known for – we’re building our own world in the woods. It costs nothing but our time, which we’re glad to give.

We expand our journey. We follow the creek into the woods. We even brave the pipes, using big sticks to clear away the giant spiders’ webs. We find a real lake downstream, complete with a snapping turtle. We claim a two-mile stretch of creek as our own.

And then one day, as we’re wading in our self-made pool, Liam looks at me with horror in his eyes.

I figure he’s just messing with me. We’re master pranksters, after all. It’s what we do.

But then I see what he sees.

A water moccasin, slow and serpentine, is in our pool. It’s swimming atop the water, winding its way between us. The water moccasin, otherwise known by its deadlier name – cottonmouth – looks calm.

But we’re frozen all the same.

The five-foot snake heads to our waterfall and slithers into the shallower pool below.

We survive.

After that day, we never stack another stone atop our dam. We never wade in its shallows again. And while we occasionally stroll along the creek and journey deep into the woods, our little lake is forgotten.

The school year begins.

The rain ends.

It all happens so fast.

* * *

Not all that long ago, I braved a trek back to my old neighborhood. Rocky Hill, it’s called, in the quiet suburb of Lilburn, Georgia.

Our dam was still there.

I wonder if the snake ever came back.

*

*

This story is true. It really happened.

For more like it, go here.

*

J Edward Neill

Creator of Coffee Table Philosophy

Painter of Shadows

A Thought for Every Thursday – 3 Absurd Scenarios

Let’s have a little fun this week.

In contrast to the deadly serious questions we’ve asked recently, this week’s trio will border on the absurd.

Three questions.

Three strange scenarios.

Go for it…

*

Magic Potion

Suppose scientists created a cheap and tasty beverage.

If you sip it once every morning, you’ll be relaxed, alert, and happy all day.

And you’ll sleep like the dead.

The only side-effect: whenever you’re under the influence of this beverage, your IQ is 10% lower than normal.

Drink or no drink?

*

Brain in a Bottle

 Imagine that scientists have developed a new technology for extending human consciousness.

After the body dies, a special device captures human intellect, emotions, and personalities. Bodies are replaced by humanlike robots, and brains swapped out for powerful computers.

Would you want to extend your life in such a way?

Why or why not?

*

Remember your Cardio

 A zombie apocalypse has occurred.

Society has utterly collapsed.

People are turning undead in droves of millions.

Considering the real-life location in which you live, what’s your plan for survival?

Think short-term and long term.

**

 

* * *

Past Thought for Every Thursday entries are right here.

If you like these kinds of questions, try these on for size.

If you prefer something gentler, go here.

Until next week…

J Edward Neill

A Thought for Every Thursday – Choose your God Carefully

Here we go.

More serious stuff.

This week’s questions center on religion and the pursuit thereof. Here at Tessera Guild, we typically stray from religious and political discussions.

Maybe these are non-inflammatory enough to sneak by our editors…

*

There Can Be Only One

 If tomorrow you learned that one of the world’s religions were absolutely and irrefutably true in every way, would you convert?

Assume this religion is not one you currently practice.

If you wouldn’t convert, explain why.

*

Describe your God

Set aside your current religion (or lack thereof.)

Imagine there is definitely one single god in charge of everything currently happening on Earth.

Given the modern world around you and everything you’ve observed within it, use five single adjectives to describe this god’s personality.

*

* * *

Past Thought for Every Thursday entries are right here.

If you like these kinds of questions, try these on for size.

If you prefer something gentler, go here.

Until next week…

J Edward Neill

A Thought for Every Thursday – We’re Probably ALL wrong

This week’s pair of questions center on truth, the discovery of knowledge, and whether or not people should be wary of those who claim they have the absolute correct answer to any of life’s mysteries.

 Question 1.

Think Twice

 French author André Gide once posed:

Believe those who are seeking the truth; doubt those who find it.”

Do you agree with this statement?

Have you ever believed you knew a significant truth, only to find out later you were wrong?

And are you more objective as a result of that experience?

*

Question 2.

End of Ages

 Is it possible (or even probable) that ages from now, much of the science and philosophy we now take for truth will be revealed as false, and a newer, truer system of knowledge be put into place?

In other words, could many of the things we think we know be completely wrong?

Also…

Is it possible (or even probable) that the only period of time during which humanity will know the truth of everything (or close to everything) will be mere moments before the end of our existence?

* * *

Past Thought for Every Thursday entries are right here.

If you like these kinds of questions, try these on for size.

If you prefer something gentler, go here.

Until next week…

J Edward Neill

A Thought for Every Thursday – Choose Your Own Adventure

This week’s A Thought for Every Thursday question continues along on our recent path of asking serious questions.

Don’t sweat it. We’ll come back to the light stuff eventually…

*

Choose Your Own Adventure

From the following, choose which one you hope is what happens after your death:

  • People who exhibit sufficient good in life go to a heaven of some sort, while everyone else suffers a worse fate
  • When we die, all that we are is forever lost
  • Reincarnation; either as a human again or a different animal type
  • We ascend to some higher form of consciousness, meaning we’re no longer human, but we retain some of what we once were
  • We roam as spirits either forever or for a period of time

 

  • And now choose which one you believe is most probably the truth.

* * *

Past Thought for Every Thursday entries are right here.

If you like these kinds of questions, try these on for size.

If you prefer something gentler, go here.

Until next week…

J Edward Neill

A Thought for Every Thursday – We Didn’t Ask to be Here

This week’s A Thought for Every Thursday question continues along our recent path of asking serious questions.

We’ll come back to the easy stuff eventually.

…maybe.

**

This particular question is a favorite of mine.

More than most Thought for Every Thursday questions, I really, really want your answer.

*

We Didn’t Ask to be Here

 Since we are, none of us, responsible for our own presence in this world, meaning that none of us created ourselves or willed ourselves into existence, does that reduce any of our personal responsibility in this life?

In other words, every human alive was given life without his or her consent. We didn’t ask for this particular existence, and in fact, if given a choice, many humans might have chosen a different existence altogether.

Does not having chosen this life allow for a certain moral flexibility?

Or…

Must we accept a moral responsibility whether or not we asked for it?

And if so, why?

 

* * *

Past Thought for Every Thursday entries are right here.

If you like these kinds of questions, try these on for size.

If you prefer something gentler, go here.

Until next week…

J Edward Neill