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Suddenly, a rosebush.

Move to sofa.
Put big cushion on lap for cat to sit on when one of them inevitably comes to help you meditate.
Place laptop nearby so you can check the time so you don’t meditate too long as your phone is still in the kitchen charging.
Close eyes.
Don’t think of anything.
Om.
(Or whatever)
The woodstove makes this… rushing sound. I guess that is the hot air rising up to the chimney? And crackles a little.
Most of the house is dark.
A cat purrs on the cushion on your lap already.
Another cat sleeps on the sofa.
Dong, the woodstove makes this bell-like sound as it heats up, calling you back to the moment like some kind of meditation bell.
Dong.
Therapist last night asked, what do you like about yourself?
Couldn’t think of anything.
Cat purrs like a little meditation helper calling you back to the moment.
Dong, goes the woodstove.
I, hmm, uh.
You are interested in a *lot* of different things, said the therapist, trying to be helpful.
Yes, but without any expertise.
Does that matter? asked the therapist.
Well, I was thinking recently, after reading something along those lines somewhere, what would your 15-year old self say if they met you now? and I thought, they would think I was cool, I have achieved all of their dreams, mostly, I have not only been to Europe, I have moved here permanently; I have a beautiful wife, I have 2 awesome kids, I live in a nice house, I have kissed a girl. Car of my own.
But would I want to hang out with myself? Isn’t that why I am in therapy, to get better at hanging out with myself?
Dong.
Why is the stove donging so much? Is it malfunctioning?
The cat purrs, calling me back to the present moment.
Is the stove leaking carbon monoxide?
That’s what it always says in the newspaper article, malfunctioning woodstove.
Dong. Like a meditation bell. Or a really short alarm bell announcing a carbon monoxide leak.
The cat purrs.
At least the cat is on my lap, with its nose lower than mine, so if it goes limp I’ll still have time to hurry to safety before the CO rises to my nose.
And can, like, try to revive the cat.
How do you resuscitate a cat?
Mouth to snout resuscitation?
Imaginary boss asks, wow, what happened to your face? You try to resuscitate a cat?
I have a tortoise, you would say.
A tortoise did that?
No, it was going to get too cold to leave the tortoise outside at night so I had to bring it in and when I bent over to pick it up, in the twilight, suddenly a rosebush.
Rosebush, imaginary boss says. Wow, be careful. Did you disinfect that? It looks like you tried to resuscitate a cat.
No, you say, ha ha.
Dong.
The fire crackles.
The hot air rushes up the chimney.
Om.

Sitting worms

Some of you are thinking, What? Worms don’t sit. Well you’d be wrong. They sit under leaves and other bio-trash in drawers in a friend’s apartment, okay, to us it looks like they are wriggling when you push back the compost and check on them because you can no longer stand the Schrödinger’s Worm situation, the uncertainty, am I even really caretaking anything actually alive etc etc.
But in another way you’d also be right, because this here is about me sitting worms. A friend went out of town and I stayed at her place for about 10 days watering plants and looking after her compost worms. It was kind of cool, I got lots of thinking done and whenever a plant died i could just feed it to the worms and no one was the wiser. The worst part was when a guy facetimed someone outside the window in the middle of the night and kept me up for a hour.
But then she had a falling out with her alpha worm sitter, who had minded the worms before I took over and was supposed to take back over when he returned from visiting her out of town, and I was promoted to emergency worm sitter.
What is an emergency worm, you ask? I don’t know. That’s not what this is about. Either a worm you use in an emergency, like you are suddenly inundated with stuff to compost, or it is a worm having an emergency. But this is about me sitting worms, now longer than planned, due to a small emergency. Mostly, though, it is about me exercising more, eating less junk, successfully reflecting about my own role in my misery and coming out of the whole thing slightly but generally improved.
The worms survived, the plants flourished, even the orchids after I figured out how to water them, the plant that did die died before I started my tour of duty and I am on the fast track to a house sitting career.
There isn’t really a punchline. I lost two kg. I didn’t burn the house down. My wife was still there when I got home, as were the cats and the tortoise. Saw the kids a couple times.

Exit, whistling

Man, Woman: (load catfood, dog treats and flea/tick ointment onto conveyor belt)
Cashier: (Rings up purchases)
Cashier: (Hands woman two envelopes of dog treats) We’re giving out these free samples today.
Woman: (Examines treats, hands them back) No, thank you. We don’t have dogs.
Cashier: (Glances at large bag of dog treats they just bought, looks puzzled)
Man: Oh, those are for crows.
Cashier: (Does that half-nod thing where your chin goes up but not back down again, remaining in up position while the wheels turn)
Man, Woman: (exit, whistling)

On fermentation

I bought a set of 2 one-liter fermentation jars last time I was at the mill shop.
They look more or less like Mason jars, slightly cheaper-looking, with 2 sets of lids – 1 normal, 1 with little rubber valves. I guess they are fermentation jars due to the valve lids and the glass weights you get to keep everything underwater.
Gamma likes the fermented Korean specialty known as 김치. Those partial to the Latin alphabet spell it kimchi, kimchee or gimchi, so to avoid confusion we will use the Korean spelling 김치.
I had been wanting to try fermentation and pickling (2 different processes, I gather) for a long time, since old-timey pre-lockdown times.
I did an Internet search, picked the easiest-looking recipe that still came from an Asian person and we went to work on our 김치.
Chopped up what is known here in Austria as Chinese cabbage, soaked it in a salt brine for a while, added chopped spring peppers and matchstick sized daikon only we didn’t have any daikon so we used Bierrettich which looks the same but is said to be spicier, but this wasn’t very spicy so we’re ok. Made a sauce out of Korean chili pepper flakes, soy sauce, ginger, miso paste, soy paste (I assume the same thing, just marketing? slightly different taste), I might be forgetting something, not sure. Garlic. Maybe something else. Didn’t use carrots due to some people in our target audience being allergic, mixed it all up (after draining the cabbage), put it in the (sterilized) jars, topped it off with brine, put the weights on top, and stashed it downstairs in the basement.
I am not a huge 김치 eater, and a novice fermenter, so it was not clear to me what my cellar would smell like when my project got going.
Nothing happened during the first two days, but when I went down there this morning the jars were standing in a puddle of brine that had leaked out the valves. And my basement smells like a 김치 factory.
Anyway, tonight I switch out the lids, to limit leakage, hopefully, and stick the jars into the downstairs utility fridge, which is used for beer, sourdough starter, photographic film, vegetable overflow, etc. And, now, 김치.

Christmas, day 1 minus 2

So tomorrow being 24 December, which is when we open presents here (stockings on 25 12) we all went in to quarantine 10 days ago so the kids could safely come over for the holidays and I was the lucky one who got to drive to their place and pick them up and drill 2 holes into Gamma’s concrete wall so she could hang a thing on her wall and drive them out to our place, on the way back telling them about my speeding ticket, “right about here where the speed limit changes from 130 (kmh) to 100 and I am always a little late slowing down; there’s no radar box around here so I assume they were right up on the overpass there, where that police car is now with the radar gun sticking out the window…” (checks speedometer, which unsurprisingly reads 120 in the 100 zone) “oh, man…” and then more stories about all the other new radar box traps we have been blundering into lately to the point where we are going to apply for a subscription; meanwhile my wife Alpha has apparently drawn the short straw and has to stay home and deal with making corn bread stuffing for the turkey we postponed from our canceled Thanksgiving (alas, the farmer said, he gained no weight between Thanksgiving, when he got his reprieve, and now — would you, I thought, seeing your friends slaughtered and knowing it was only a matter of time?) and dealing with the water filter man who was coming to sterilize our water filter after all the you-know-what backed up into the room where it is, and maybe touched it, and maybe contaminated all our drinking water pipes or whatever, as well as the rotorooter men who were coming over to investigate what caused the backup. When I got home with the girls the water filter man was practically already gone (he was fully gone when we got back from getting our covid tests (negative) at the doctor), and the rotorooter men were far, far jollier than you would expect rotorooter men to be. Friendly, happy young men.
Apparently someone had been flushing damp wipe cloths? I am translating but that’s what they’re called here? Feuchttücher? Which we don’t flush and rarely use and when we do use them (usually to wipe up cat pee) we certainly don’t flush them, we put them in the garbage and if we did flush them we’d flush them singly, single solitary cloths one by one so they could travel through the pipes easily rather than clumping and stopping everything else to the point that you get the Christmas fireworks we did. Waterworks. Whatever.
Oh and another thing, said the happy rotorooter men, you have a burst pipe too.
The boss rotorooter man is going to come over and see if it needs to be fixed, or if it’s only a minor burst. Apparently there are burst sewer pipes that are a real big deal, and others you can live with.
Is it nice to have the kids over? Just as nice as we expected, and we had high expectations. Presents are wrapped, I’ll make some mashed potatoes for tomorrow later today, and mix up some baking powder biscuits (taking into account the fact that Austrian baking powder is weaker than American baking powder, so you need more if you’re using an American recipe, and I’m using a Betty Crocker recipe) to be baked tomorrow, and getting some sourdough and pre-dough started to sit overnight so I can… watch it rise too long and lose heart and start to sag while the turkey monopolizes the oven, then the biscuits… maybe I should think about this a little… maybe I’ll postpone the sourdough a day…
Happy holidays, anyway, to those who celebrate holidays.

Gobble

As I mentioned already on Facebook, we cancelled Thanksgiving due to the pandemic and will instead eat club sandwiches via skype with the children on Saturday. The turkey we had ordered from the organic farmer down the road got a last minute reprieve and, cynical and disillusioned after having said goodbye to life, is presently hitchhiking somewhere with a beach to smoke French cigarettes and write existentialist poetry. Don’t worry, we ordered another one for Christmas, assuming the lockdown is over by then, and in preparation will all self-quarantine 10 days before getting together bc you can’t be too careful.

Anyway the turkey mailed me his first poem this morning, excerpt attached below.

GOBBLE
I

I saw the best fowl of my generation destroyed by farmers, gorged hysterical cackle,
dragging themselves through the angry yard at dawn looking for a trough of corn
angelfeathered hipsters burning for the ancient heavenly connection to the starry dynamo in the machinery of night,
who poverty and tatters and hollow-eyed and gobbling sat up clucking in the supernatural darkness of cold-water barns floating across the tops of cities contemplating jazz,
who bared their brains to Heaven on order before the holidays and saw the poultry angels staggering on barnyard roofs illuminated,
who passed through plucking sheds with now dead eyes hallucinating nothing, no more Blake-light tragedy among the scholars of carnivorism,
or those like me expelled from the slaughterhouse by some trick of pandemic and quarantine, left to wander
to cower unplucked in rooms in unfamiliar underwear, burning their poetry in wastebaskets and listening to the Terror through the wall…

II

What sphinx of cement and metal ax bashed off their heads and ate them up with sauce of cranberry and mashed yams?
Thanksgiving! Solitude! Filth! Ugliness! Ashcans and unobtainable dollars! Turkeys screaming under the stairways! Turkeys gobblesobbing in flocks! Old poet turkeys pardoned and weeping in the parks!
Thanksgiving! Thanksgiving! Nightmare of Thanksgiving! Thanksgiving the loveless! Mental Thanksgiving! Thanksgiving the heavy judger of turkeys!
Thanksgiving the incomprehensible prison! Thanksgiving the crossbone soulless jailhouse and kitchen of sorrows! Thanksgiving whose heaping platters are judgment! Thanksgiving the vast stone of war! Thanksgiving the stunned governments!
Thanksgiving whose mind is pure machinery! Thanksgiving whose blood is running money! Thanksgiving whose fingers are ten armies! Thanksgiving whose breast is a cannibal dynamo! Thanksgiving….

The Habits of Five Happy Couples

Have you ever caught yourself staring out the window, maybe your office window, watching someone younger than you get into their car up the street, or unloading groceries from their trunk, wishing for a little more peace, happiness, respect, joy, sex, love, agape, laughs, intimacy, happiness and peace in your relationship? Or perhaps, instead of giving mutual support you find yourself stuck (unstuck) inside a negative feedback loop itself unstuck (stuck) within a chronographic experiential time cycle in which you zoom around your life in circles, or figure eights, back and forth and around and around, experiencing the same pathetic, depressing conflicts over and over.

If that is the case, and for many of us it is, there is a good chance that you sometimes wonder why your relationships, and life in general, suck so bad while other people’s lives and relationships seem so awesome. And, statistically, you have at least three feet of shelf space in your home library devoted to self-help relationship books promising clarity about all the ways relationships fail, but look here’s the problem:

Smoothly functioning, harmonious relationships are only possible if one or more of the participants settle for less than they need, hold back, suffer in silence, give in all the time, or all of the above, or get even through indulging their bad habits.

While popular entertainment, and pretty much everything else about modern capitalist society seems desperate to convince people that people stay in love their whole life long and there’s something wrong with you if you feel differently, real relationships are more complicated than that.

Take John and Rebecca. John listens to 80s hair bands and plays air guitar. Rebecca farts before leaving elevators if she’s riding alone.

Or Max and Peter. Max bites his nails, Peter checks whether the front and back doors are locked about ten times every night before going to bed.

George can’t stop putting empty containers back into the refrigerator, no matter how much Jamie yells at him, while Jamie clips coupons and spends more on gas running to multiple stores to cash in the coupons than the coupons actually save.

Mike has a drinking problem and is addicted to internet porn. Martha is attending group therapy as part of a plea bargain following her arrest for shoplifting.

Home alone while her husband Donald is a coma following an opiate overdose, Gretchen steals packages delivered to her neighbors’ houses and stacks them in the spare bedroom and when it is full she drives them out to the desert and sets them on fire.