The Endless Heartbreak of Living Loss and Emptiness

Happy to have my short story, “The Café”, inspire G’s post

Daedelus Kite

Some unknown beauty.

Context: The Café

Beauty, like life, is a transient thing and the experience of it brings as much suffering as it does joy – an equation perhaps weighted to the darkness more than to the light and in the inevitability of the ends we all must face, this seems a certain truth. The sense of fragility and indefinable loss at the constant departure of life and love is, to me, the one binding experience we all share but rarely if ever feel emboldened to discuss. We are those implicitly emotional beings that are somehow too scared to demonstrate how we feel about our own life and subsequently spend our time wondering why we are endemically-oriented towards feeling so deeply and utterly dissatisfied and empty

Poets’ loves and poets’ lives are similarly marked and inflected by the visceral, implicit tragedy of discontinuous presence and absence, by the gradual…

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We live in uncertain times. We have always lived in uncertain times, even when we thought things were certain, sometimes they turned out not to be certain. Sometimes, they turned out to be something other than what we thought.

Some times are more uncertain than other times. Some times seem less uncertain than other times.

Living in uncertain times just means that you can’t always count on what you know to get you through the uncertainty. It’s like driving into a thick fog. You can’t continue driving at the same speed you did when the road was clear and well-lit. You have to slow down, sometimes to a crawl, and to be prepared for anything that might suddenly appear without warning.

Living in uncertain times also means that there are no experts on whom to rely to guide you. There are lots of people with opinions or wishful thinking who will tell you what to do. Some of them are even scientists who might be willing to tell you the partial results of some preliminary test or conjecture that has yet to be peer-reviewed.

The thing is, even though there are no experts yet to guide us through the global uncertainty of the Novel Corona virus and Covid-19, for instance, scientists are more reliable to guide us than politicians or our usual drinking buddies, since scientists are better trained in the relevant professions and they have access to better resources to whittle down the uncertainties.

In times of great uncertainty, the most prudent course of action is to proceed with small steps, testing as you go to see what works well and what doesn’t, and trying to change what didn’t work so well.

It is unreasonable to expect our political leaders to proceed through times of uncertainty, as though he/she were certain. When a political leader succumbs to the temptation of pretending he’s certain about the correct course of action when he is anything but certain, it is because he/she believes that is what we expect.

And that is tantamount to driving into heavy fog without taking your foot off the gas pedal.

Good luck with that.


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From Zero to Infinity

I want to say something rather important about rationality versus irrationality.

We all know that rationality is looking at the available facts and then drawing conclusions based on those facts, making a quick calculation of the value or chances of something in your head or on a paper napkin, or responding to something in a proportionate manner.

Irrationality is pretty much the opposite. It’s jumping to conclusions based on God-knows-what, the inability to calculate the value or chances of something, thinking it’s nothing or everything, or responding disproportionately.

Now it probably seems like rationality would always be desirable while irrationality would never be desirable, but rationality can only take you so far.

Take the set of finite numbers for example. In theory, you could count forever but you would never be able to count to infinity. The same goes for infinity: you could try counting backwards forever from infinity, but you would never reach any finite numbers. That’s in spite of the fact (or maybe because of it) that there’s an infinite number of finite numbers. You could draw a straight line that’s exactly six inches long, but there will always be an infinite number of points on that line.

Another example: sometimes we are faced with problems that are so complex that they are beyond our abilities to reckon, calculate, or solve them. Sometimes we are outnumbered, outweighed, outgunned, or we don’t have time or enough information to solve a problem.

Sometimes rationality persuades us that there is no solution to a problem. It’s like we are on a deserted island, the solution is on another deserted island, and there’s an ocean of impossibility between the two islands.

I’m not going to tell you that love, trust, belief, faith, inspiration, courage, or luck will solve any and all problems that rationality fails to solve. Neither is the list meant to be inclusive. Notice all the items on the list are irrational. Sometimes irrationality is not only an appropriate response – it’s the only possible response, if you are to survive, solve the problem, attract your Significant Other, make a friend, write a novel or a poem, save your buddies or yourself, or win the lottery.

Perhaps the rational thing to do is to realize when you’ve reached the limits of what rationality can achieve and then put it away temporarily so that your irrationality can try its hand. Hopefully, your irrationality will return the keys to the kingdom once it is no longer needed. If not, it might help to count to ten.

At least you don’t have to count to infinity.

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Policy in the Time of Corona: A Correction!

Since writing the following post, I’ve come across important information from the New York Times (Younger Adults Make Up Big Portion of Coronavirus Hospitalizations in U.S.) suggesting that critical illness, irreparable damage to the lungs, and even death can occur among adults of any age.

Therefore my policy suggestion to allow low-impact healthy people to acquire natural immunity to the new Corona virus while protecting high-impact (relatively high-risk of death) people until a vaccine or other treatment can be discovered, tested, and distributed to all is not viable and might lead to disastrous results as in Italy and the UK.

These are the facts so far:

  1. All adults are at risk of becoming critically ill or dying.
  2. The risks are even greater for people 70+ years old.
  3. People with coronary problems, diabetes, cancer, and/or smokers are more at risk than people 70+ years old.
  4. The rate of infection from Covid-19 (Coronavirus) doubles every 2-3 days. In the numbers will seem insignificant, then a week or two later the numbers will leap frighteningly until half the population are infected and then the infection rate will continue to grow but more slowly until it finally runs its course.
  5. It takes 2-14 days before a person infected by Corona begins to show symptoms. That means a person may think he is healthy but directly or indirectly infect people for up to 14 days before he knows he is sick. That’s up to 16,384 people.

“Until the virus runs its course” means until a treatment is discovered, tested, produced, and distributed to the population or until 66-70% of the population has been infected.

The following are the policies or strategies different countries have adopted to deal with Corona:

  1. Shutdown all business and services but the ones we can’t live without and order all people to stay at home. What about the homeless? This is not a viable long-term strategy: big and small businesses will bankrupt, most people will be unemployed, and government services will break down at all levels. People will panic.
  2. Close off all borders (air, sea, and land): first national, then state, then city, and then neighborhoods. People may resist or attempt to sneak through.
  3. Ensure hospital staff and service providers have adequate protective gear (biohazard suits, gloves, and N95 masks). If doctors or nurses become infected, they won’t be able to treat the influx of patients. Patients and their families will panic.
  4. Make sure hospitals are equipped with enough isolation rooms, beds, and respirators to handle the leap in numbers of infected populace who cannot self-medicate or are critically ill. Otherwise, staff will have to decide which patients to treat. Italy didn’t have enough respirators, so they had to take them from older patients and give them to younger patients. The older patients died without the respirators.
  5. Test hospital staff and service providers for Covid-19/Corona. How often?
  6. Test people who were quarantined for Covid-19/Corona to determine whether they can be released.
  7. Test the general population for Covid-19/Corona. How often?
  8. Test people who think they might have Corona symptoms.
  9. Same as #1 but make it voluntary instead of mandatory. Try to “flatten the curve” by slowing down the rate of infection in the population by increasing the stringency of policy measures over time. This might allow the government, hospitals, and critical services to ramp up their resources in time for the inevitable onslaught of infected people, but only if the government, hospitals, and critical services utilize that time and not just “buy time”.
  10. Same as #2 but monitor movements rather than controlling them.
  11. Do nothing about it. Try to cover it all up. China did that from November 15 until December 30. The truth will out. People will stop answering the phone. Bodies will start piling up in the streets.


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My #Channillo poetry series, "The Uncollected Poetry of Mike Stone" is also up and running!

My #Channillo poetry series, “The Uncollected Poetry of Mike Stone” is also up and running! You’ll get a poem a day from my 5 books: Uncollected Works, Yet Another Book of Poetry, Bemused, Call of the Whippoorwill, & Hoopoe’s Call..
Just click here:…/the-uncollected-poetry-of-mike-sto…/
The first installment is free, then only $4.99/month for unlimited subscriptions!

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My #Channillo sci-fi series, "The Rational Series" is up and running!

My #Channillo sci-fi series, “The Rational Series” is up and running! You’ll get a chapter a week from my four novels: Tin Man, Rats and Saps, Whirlpool, & Out of Time.
Just click here:
First installment is free, then only $4.99/month for unlimited subscriptions!

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When You Touch, a poem by Mike Stone from his collection, Call of the Whippoorwill

Jamie Dedes honored my poem and me on her lovely poetry platform!

Jamie Dedes' THE POET BY DAY Webzine

Courtesy of JR Korpa, Unsplash

These lessons come to me from dreams.
Dreams, like the fish in the sea
Or the birds in the sky
Cannot be taught
But they can teach us how to dance
When we’re alone.

Mike Stone

When you touch
You are touched by Otherness.
The soft grasses bend to feel your feet
The gentle breezes memorize your face
The clothes hold your nakedness in myriad hands
Whatever you feel feels you.
When you taste
You are tasted by Otherness.
The bittersweet tangerine tastes you in its spray
Your lover’s tongue in your mouth tastes you.
When you smell
You are smelled by Otherness.
When you breathe your lover’s breath
Her air is yours.
These lessons come to me from dreams.
Dreams, like the fish in the sea
Or the birds in the sky
Cannot be taught
But they can teach us how to dance

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Time and Evolution

So here is my current thinking on the subject:

Time is not a straight line. It’s more like an expanding shell. You can draw a radius from any point on the shell back to the Big Bang. Space and time (or space-time) were created at the Big Bang. There was no time or space before the Big Bang. That’s generally understood and accepted. There is no time or space beyond the shell. That’s my thought. You may accept it or not. It makes sense to me that there is no time beyond the shell, because the future hasn’t happened yet. Most likely it will happen as a consequence of present and past events, but it does not yet exist. Of course, I’m only talking about our universe, not someone else’s universe in the multiverse.

There has been a lot of speculation regarding the possibility of time travel. One argument against it that makes more sense to me than all the others I’ve read is that in order for me to travel backward in time we would have to move our entire universe backward in time, which would probably require more than all the energy in the universe. It seems to me that the same would apply to leaping forward into the future faster than our current rate of progress.

Maybe there’s not even any such thing as time at all. Maybe what we call time is nothing more than the duration of things. Maybe it’s nothing more than the artificial tick-tocks of the clock-like devices we produce. Maybe time is not a medium through which we can travel at all. All we can do is to be and then to continue to be, until we can’t anymore.

Back to the expanding shell. Look at every living thing around you: people, animals, trees, plants, fungi, and bacteria. We may also include viruses, for the sake the argument, but viruses are not really alive. They are passive. They float around until a cell’s receptor attaches them and imbibes them. Every living or proto-living thing on the expanding shell has evolved an equal amount of time to adapt to its current environment on the shell by means of its current form and content. There is no single timeline of evolution from amoebas to homo sapiens. There are a multitude of timelines expanding outward from that initial single cell some 3-4 billion years ago. Every single living thing on the expanding shell is a relatively successful adaptation to its environment.

We are no more successful an adaptation than any other living thing. We are no more exempt from the risks of extinction than any other living thing either.


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The Anthropocene is a conceit of human exceptionalism

Taking the long view …


Peter Brannen has an interesting piece in the Atlantic, pointing out that the Anthropocene is more of a geological event rather than an epoch, at least so far.

Humans are now living in a new geological epoch of our own making: the Anthropocene. Or so we’re told. Whereas some epochs in Earth history stretch more than 40 million years, this new chapter started maybe 400 years ago, when carbon dioxide dipped by a few parts per million in the atmosphere. Or perhaps, as a panel of scientists voted earlier this year, the epoch started as recently as 75 years ago, when atomic weapons began to dust the planet with an evanescence of strange radioisotopes.

Brannen’s point is that human civilization so far is a speck in the geological record, 10,000 years (in the most generous definition of “civilization”) compared to 500 millions years of complex life, or about 0.002%…

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The Two O’Clock

Professor Bartholomew Hartfeld sat in a tall leather backed chair behind a dark mahogany desk. He looked irritably at the clock on the wall opposite his desk. His 2:00 pm was late.

He flicked the button on the intercom. “Has my two o’clock called to say he’d be late?” Professor Hartfeld asked.

“No, sir,” Marta answered.

“Please let me know the moment he arrives,” the professor requested, “but have him wait in the waiting room for the time he made me wait.”

“Yes sir,” his secretary said.

Bartholomew’s eyes scanned his consultation office to make sure that nothing was out of place, that everything was in order. The clock showed 2:05. He checked his watch which confirmed that it was indeed 2:05, actually closer to 2:06. His irritation increased.

The professor spied something crawling up the richly upholstered blue chaise lounge chair beside his desk. He squinted one eye to see better what kind of creature it was. After identifying the culprit, the professor slipped off his right Oxford shoe and, standing up with right shoe in hand, he hobbled over to the lounge chair.

The cockroach reached the top cushion and moved toward the center.

Bartholomew raised the heavy shoe above his shoulder, taking careful aim in preparation to strike the disgusting insect. He hoped that his 2:00 o’clock wouldn’t walk through the door exactly at this moment and see him, one shoe on and the other raised to strike a cockroach on his expensive chaise lounge.

Suddenly the cockroach flipped itself over onto its back so that it was facing Bartholomew and hissed, “Stay your hand, kind sir, I implore you! I am your 2:00 o’clock client. I apologize for my tardiness, but it takes a while to crawl under the door and make my way across your carpet and up your chaise lounge. I announced myself to your secretary, but she did not seem to hear me.”

The professor was dumbfounded. Somebody must be playing a trick on him! He looked around the room again, trying to find the camera or recording device. He walked around the office, methodically checking behind every chair and underneath each piece of furniture. He even opened each of the drawers in his desk. Nothing seemed suspicious or untoward.

Bartholomew stumped back over to the chaise lounge and scrutinized the cockroach. The professor smirked jocularly for whoever might be watching him, asking the cockroach, “How do I know that it is you that is talking to me, and not some impish trickster with a hidden microphone nearby?”

“Ask me a question whose answer is six or less and a positive integer, and I will respond by raising my legs as appropriate,” the cockroach hissed.

The professor thought a moment and asked brightly, “how many fingers am I holding up?”

The cockroach extended outward three legs, keeping its remaining three legs folded over its abdomen.

The professor lowered one finger and the cockroach lowered one of its extended legs. Bartholomew thought to himself, well, whatever was going on, he’d play along. “Do you mind if I record our session,” he asked perfunctorily. “It’s something I do with all my clients for later review and analysis. I don’t want to miss anything.”

“I have no issue with that,” the cockroach hissed. “I know how disgusting we are to you, but could you be so kind as to help me turn back over onto my abdomen? It’s quite difficult for me to flip myself back over. I’m not as spry as I used to be.”

The professor felt a little less disgusted by the cockroach than he had before. He didn’t know why. Maybe it was the recognition of another conscious being, no matter what the form was, that stirred the soup of empathy. He slipped a sheet of yellow paper from his notepad carefully underneath the cockroach and held the sheet at a 45-degree angle so that it slipped down the page gently but with enough momentum that it was able to turn itself over.

“Thank you, Professor,” the cockroach hissed.

“Happy to oblige,” the professor said. He pulled one of the narrower chairs over to the chaise lounge, sat down, and turned on the recorder. “For the record,” he began. “It is 2:15 pm, Tuesday, July 22, 1958. I am in session with Gregory Samuels. What seems to be the problem, Mr. Samuels?”

“Please call me Greg,” the cockroach hissed. “I’ve been thinking a lot about suicide.”

The professor made a note of that and paused a moment before saying, “The mind entertains all the thoughts that are possible for it to think, but that doesn’t mean that we have to act on every thought we think or let a particular thought take over control of our mind.”

“I know that I don’t have to act on every thought I have,” Greg answered, “but I’m not so sure that I have the intellectual or emotional resources to prevent this particular thought from eclipsing all my other thoughts.”

“I would imagine you to be somewhat lonely, possibly cut off from the care and support of family and comrades,” the professor ventured.

“Not really,” Greg explained. “Could you close the curtains and dim the lights a bit? I have 350 siblings and thousands of close friends. We get together as often as we can. Most of us are quite gregarious and decision-making is easier and less stressful when we’re all together. The sex is good enough, I suppose …”

The professor wrote down some more notes, looked directly at Greg, and asked, “Could you expand a bit on your last sentence?”

“About the sex?” Greg glanced back at the professor.

“Yes, the sex,” the professor said.

Greg exhaled in a long hissing breath that almost turned into a whistle before answering. “It’s not so bad, really. When we’re ready for it, we give off a potent pungent pheromone so that willing partners may find each other. Then we have our courtship rituals, the usual posturing and stridulation. The copulation is both intense and prolonged. We go back to our friends who expect to hear all the intimate details about our partner, the courtship, and the copulation. The problem is that it seems so mechanical, so predictable, so meaningless. I feel like a damned fool.”

“So, you don’t engage in sex?” the professor asked incredulously.

“I do engage,” Greg admitted, “but I don’t run to my friends for debriefing or enthuse about it. In a word, it’s not my ultimate experience.”

The professor smiled wanly. “I suppose you just haven’t met the ultimate partner.”

Greg answered, “It’s more than that. We’ve been living like this for the last 320 million years: hatching out of our egg casings with 30 to 40 siblings, all of us gulping air in our initial shock of existence, crawling out on our own, feeding on whatever is to be had, morphing into adults, congregating, copulating, impregnating, dropping egg casings, and dying. Da capo al fine. We’ll probably continue living like this for the next 320 million years. There has to be something more than that.”

“Except for hatching out of eggs, it sounds like a good description of the human condition,” the professor said after a while.

“I beg of you,” Greg implored, “don’t make light of my plaints. I’m pouring out my soul to you. You are my last hope. After you, the long night of non-existence.”

“I swear to you, my words were wrung from the depths of empathy for your plight,” the professor chose his words carefully. “Is there nothing to which you look forward, for which you hope, to which you aspire?”

Greg spoke as if from another world. His words hissed out of him, “There is no beauty, no poetry, no aspiration or hope, no break in the boring continuity of existence, no lovely fictions to distract us from our dull repetitious lives.”

The professor countered, “How can that be? You seem to me a poetic soul.”

Greg explained, “Yes, that is my curse. I am the exception that proves the rule. I could be the Shakespeare of my species, another T.S. Eliot or Ezra Pound, an Yves Bonnefoy, and it would matter not an iota. Poetry’s coin is not legal tender in our society. I recite my poems to crowds of thousands, even millions, but they don’t even listen. They look at me dumbly and continue with their copulation and feeding on dung, or whatever the collective mind has decided this moment. I feel loneliest when I’m in such a crowd. It’s unbearable. If only I could have this poetry somehow removed from my brain.”

The professor scribbled notes as fast as he could. He raised the pencil to his lips and tapped the eraser against his lower teeth. When he became aware of what he was doing, he stopped and thought about what he had just heard. He asked, “I suppose it would be too much to expect that your species has doctors who understand the functions and anatomy of your brains, wouldn’t it?”

“Unfortunately, we do not,” Greg replied. “We don’t have so many different roles. There are no doctors. We don’t live more than a year or so, although I’ve heard of some of our distant cousins living as much as four or five years. If we get sick, we die and that’s that. End of story.”

The professor said, “It’s 1958. We don’t have the capability to do what you wished yet. We don’t even know where poetry is located in our own brains, let alone in a … forgive me … cockroach’s brain. Who knows when we’ll be able to map out our own brains or understand how they work? It will probably be hit or miss a long time until we finally get it right. A miss might render you speechless, unable to walk, or kill you.”

Greg hissed a long whistle of wonderment. “Why make the effort to stay alive as long as possible when life is so fraught with suffering and pain? It took an eternity before I was born. My life will end before I achieve anything worthwhile. Then I will be dead or non-existent for the rest of eternity. We are barely a blip on the vast radar of eternity. Why bother? Why continue after the fallacy has been uncovered?”

Professor Bartholomew Hartfeld glanced up at the clock on the wall. It was 2:50 pm. “I’m afraid our time for today’s session is up,” he said, not insensitively.

Greg flinched as if waking up from a dream, “Huh, what? Oh … yes,” he recovered his initial presence of mind. “I had forgotten about the fifty-minute hour.”

The professor added, “It seems like we’ve barely scratched the surface. There is much ground to cover.” Then he asked kindly, “Would you like for me to have Marta schedule an appointment for next week?”

Greg hissed ever so softly, “No, I don’t think so.”

“Next week’s session will be … shall we say … ‘gratis’?” the professor offered most generously.

The cockroach crawled slowly toward the edge of the chaise lounge and then down one of the legs to the carpet.

“What will you do?” the professor expressed genuine concern over the fate of his small client. “Please, don’t do anything drastic until we’ve had a chance to examine all the alternatives!” he implored.

The cockroach slowly made his way over the carpet until it reached the door and then crawled under it.

Marta’s voice over the intercom broke the ensuing silence as she announced, “Your 3:00 o’clock is here, Professor Hartfeld.”


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