A Writer’s Secret

Thought to self: do not fixate on any one idea or image that bobs to the surface of one’s pool of consciousness before spinning out of the eddy and disappearing into the mainstream.

Which person will connect the dots between Chinese senior citizens collecting recyclable trash, Central American children escaping unstable societies, Carlos Slim suggesting part-time work is good for you, Bill Gates suggesting an old collection of New Yorker short stories to read, Elon Musk selling a “people’s car” version of the Tesla and Erin Kennedy organising a robot party?

What about the algae that gives the atmosphere the oxygen we need to breathe?  How much water and algae do we need off-planet to terraform our new digs?

I saw the first USPS vehicle making deliveries on Sunday driving down our street just now — what Amazon purchase was so important that it had to arrive before Monday morning?

I essentially quit hanging out in the virtual community known as Facebook, having checked in a couple of times since I quit because I didn’t have contact information for people outside of Facebook.  Once that was completed, my time spent on Facebook is over.  Although I enjoyed communicating with people in that social media space, I lost track of me, spending more time managing my Facebook personality than spending with the flesh-and-blood body that has to eat and breathe.

Primarily, since I was a young child, I have lived in and with my thoughts.  I learned to convert thinking into writing, and then examined the labels of “thinking” and “writing” to discover for myself why I am the center of my own universe.

I never stop eating and breathing but I sometimes stop being me in order to please the person in me who thinks he has to please other people enough so they don’t see the real me who’d rather sit in a nest of his thoughts than listen to others’ opinions that I have to pick through to find something in common that minimises controversy, lessening the chance that I have to stay connected to a person for longer than I have to.

I am not unique.  I compromise like many people.  Even these sentences are a form of compromise, walking the minefield of libel, slander and inflammatory comments I could make were I less civilised.

I write because it’s the quickest form of communication for me to scan when I want to return to previously-recorded thought trails of mine.

Time to close my eyes and remove myself from words, experiencing the living minideath of meditation that sometimes becomes sleep, the temporary suicide of self that rejuvenates me enough that I can stand to be around people again for a while.

Only as strong as our weakest link

I am back alone in the sunroom, meditating upon the organisation of states of energy that surround this structure and expose solar energy-converting appendages we say are green leaves.

When I sat down on my grandfather’s chair to write, I moved an instruction manual for a GWFSM4GP FMS GP Simulator to keep it from sliding off the fake mahogany Chinese storage chest, which in turn pushed a solar panel-charged battery compartment attached to two LED lights (i.e., solar spotlight) into a spider’s web.

The spider, smaller in total size than my thumbnail, spindly little thing, sometimes called a cellar or attic spider, started a gyration that caused the spider to spin like an acrobat in a sky-high rope dance, my own personal Cirque du Soleil performance.

There’s not a lot in the way of ready prey for spiders here in the sunroom so I often find the dead corpses of tiny spiders in dust-covered webs.

How much energy did that spider expend while pretending to be larger than it is in its circus act?

Dozens of trees, some only a few feet from our house, are large enough to cause significant damage to our domicile should they fall.

As I slip into meditative silence, I look back at the last couple of years of my life and marvel at yet another “midlife crisis” I experienced as I felt young again amongst the company of people in their 20s.

The world was mine, the universe a mere blip on the radar of territory to explore.

I wanted to shout from the treetops and sing in the shower.

But the moment passed and now I return to the simplicity of domestic bliss.

I see the fast-approaching date of my impending death and smile.

All is well.

I have achieved my personal goals.

I have enjoyed activities out of reach of my imagination.

I have helped send people into orbit of our planet aboard spacecraft.

Now I can meditate once again upon the happiness of being, no longer feeling inspired to boldly go where no man has gone before, content to watch blue-striped skinks skitter and scatter across hot asphalt roofs and a variety of spiders spread webs, hanging out and waiting for their next morsels, like me waiting for a thought to meditate upon in the World Wide Web.

Book titles we can’t wait to read…

“I was tailor made to be a trailer maid”
“Novel naval navel”
“An astronaut and his pet rock collection”
“Ten easy steps to avoid death for less than 100 million dollars”
“My TV viewing diary for the last fifty years”
“A Messi divorce: the demise of a popular futbol player”
“The evolution of the selfie”

Poking along the ol’ desert trail

Striving For Efficiency

Undocumented love songs do appeal
To unrelenting robots at the job,
The automatic working people’s deal
About their heavy hearts’ (in stillness) throb.
You people! See your wasted VCRs!
Take comfort with the loved ones from the rain,
Wave pennants at the ballgame, and our cars
Shall eat the track. Replace oldtimer’s train
With progress’ routes, invented by the Old
Guard, so the New will build starcruiser ships —
The labored, never-ending future, cold
Beyond imagination — mindless trips.
The words we say, the plans we’ve made in haste,
Perspective bears their worthiness or waste.

[Published in Gallery 1985, a Walters State Community College publication, spring 1985]


The Farmer’s Almanac Guide to Shakespeare: A 1/2-Act Play

To be performed in a casual setting; the performer should wear an old hat, dirty overalls, and a wornout pair of boots and be holding a large book, preferably the works of Shakespeare.

Hi folks, I was gonna tell y’all about the weather and how my farm was doin’ and all that but this morning I picked up this stack of tall tales that’s been holdin’ up one end of my kitchen table ever since my daughter got kicked outta eighth grade for chewin’ tobacco.

The fellow in this here book says that old psychiatrists have gray beards, that their faces are wrinkled, their eyes all yellowed-over, their gums are red from gnawin’ and that they lack their sanity, together with having weak legs, so they have to hang onto the toilet when they pee (kinda like some of them politicians after they’ve had a few sips of my moonshine…er, I mean cough medicine). I don’t mean to insult the bunch of you but that purty well describes the rest of us here today. But as I was sayin’, you can tell this fellow has a lot on his mind, and he uses some purty fancy words to say all what he’s got to say. I especially like this story, called…

The Good Ol’ Boy Hamlet

[The performer makes a sound, clearing the throat, thrusts the book out in an overdramatic fashion and then pulls the book in close as if the words are hard to see, bending down to study the page for a few seconds before saying the following paragraph slowly, as if getting used to reading out loud.]

I heard this speech once, but it was never acted; or if it was, not more’n once; it didn’t please a lot of folks; it was like fancy fish eggs to the people: but it was — as I reckon, and others, whose judgments in such matters are much smarter’n mine — an excellent speech, every sentence put together purty well and set down with as much modesty as a cunning politician.

[The performer stands up straight and holds the book back out, then loudly enunciates the following, overacting as much as possible.]

To seed or not to seed the fields: that is the question:
Whether this brain of mine can suffer
The Cadillacs and Pierce Arrows of winnin’ the lottery fortune,
Or take pesticides against a sea of boll weevils,
And by sprayin’ end them? To die: to sleep:
No more; and by sleep to say I end
The heartache and the thousand bumps to my butt
That a tractor’ll do to ya, it’s a sitiation
Definitely to be wished fer. To die, to sleep:
To sleep: perchance to dream : ah, there’s the rub of Ben Gay;
For in that sleep of death what dreams may come
When I have taken off these dirty overalls,
Must give me pause: that’s the respect
That makes a calamity of this long life;
For who would bear the naggin’ and complainin’ of your spouse,
The government taxes, the businessman’s contempt for farmin’,
The pains of your ol’ sweetheart’s love, the delay of your farm loan approval,
The overbearin’ county commissioners and the free handouts
That lazy farmers whose crops fail take,
When I myself could quietly make
Out like a barefoot bandit? who would bear the burdens,
To grunt and sweat under this weary life,
But that the wonder of somethin’ after death,
The undiscovered country from whose boundaries
No traveller has returned, puzzles the will
And makes us rather bear those ills we have
Than fly to others that we don’t know of?
Thus conscience does make Christians of us all;
And thus the natural-born worldly will
Is replaced with Jesus and his cast of angels,
And enterprises of great importance and in regards
to this moment our thoughts run to God
And lose the love for the world. — Listen now!
My fair wife! She calls me back to the dinner table for some vittles.
Well, folks, I’d best be going afore she up and feeds my supper to the hogs.

– 19 May 1995

Guest post, posthumous, courtesy of Kurt Vonnegut, Jr.

HARRISON BERGERON by Kurt Vonnegut, Jr. 

THE YEAR WAS 2081, and everybody was finally equal. They weren't only equal 
before God and the law. They were equal every which way. Nobody was smarter 
than anybody else. Nobody was better looking than anybody else. Nobody was 
stronger or quicker than anybody else. All this equality was due to the 
211th, 212th, and 213 th Amendments to the Constitution, and to the unceasing 
vigilance of agents of the United States Handicapper General. 

Some things about living still weren't quite right, though. April for 
instance, still drove people crazy by not being springtime. And it was in 
that clammy month that the H-G men took George and Hazel Bergeron's fourteen- 
year-old son, Harrison, away. 

It was tragic, all right, but George and Hazel couldn't think about it very 
hard. Hazel had a perfectly average intelligence, which meant she couldn't 
think about anything except in short bursts. And George, while his 
intelligence was way above normal, had a little mental handicap radio in his 
ear. He was required by law to wear it at all times. It was tuned to a 
government transmitter. Every twenty seconds or so, the transmitter would 
send out some sharp noise to keep people like George from taking unfair 
advantage of their brains. 

George and Hazel were watching television. There were tears on Hazel's 
cheeks, but she'd forgotten for the moment what they were about. 

On the television screen were ballerinas. 

A buzzer sounded in George's head. His thoughts fled in panic, like bandits 
from a burglar alarm. 

"That was a real pretty dance, that dance they just did," said Hazel. 

"Huh" said George. 

"That dance-it was nice," said Hazel. 

"Yup, " said George. He tried to think a little about the ballerinas. They 
weren't really very good-no better than anybody else would have been, anyway. 
They were burdened with sashweights and bags of birdshot, and their faces 
were masked, so that no one, seeing a free and graceful gesture or a pretty 
face, would feel like something the cat drug in. George was toying with the 
vague notion that maybe dancers shouldn't be handicapped. But he didn't get 
very far with it before another noise in his ear radio scattered his 
thoughts . 

George winced. So did two out of the eight ballerinas. 

Hazel saw him wince. Having no mental handicap herself, she had to ask George 
what the latest sound had been. 

"Sounded like somebody hitting a milk bottle with a ball peen hammer, " said 
George . 

"I'd think it would be real interesting, hearing all the different sounds," 
said Hazel a little envious. "All the things they think up." 

"Urn, " said George. 

"Only, if I was Handicapper General, you know what I would do?" said Hazel. 
Hazel, as a matter of fact, bore a strong resemblance to the Handicapper 
General, a woman named Diana Moon Glampers. "If I was Diana Moon Glampers," 
said Hazel, "I'd have chimes on Sunday- just chimes. Kind of in honor of 
religion . " 

"I could think, if it was just chimes," said George. 

"Well-maybe make 'em real loud," said Hazel. "I think I'd make a good 
Handicapper General." 

"Good as anybody else," said George. 

"Who knows better than I do what normal is?" said Hazel. 

"Right," said George. He began to think glimmeringly about his abnormal son 
who was now in jail, about Harrison, but a twenty-one-gun salute in his head 
stopped that. 

"Boy!" said Hazel, "that was a doozy, wasn't it?" 

It was such a doozy that George was white and trembling, and tears stood on 
the rims of his red eyes. Two of the eight ballerinas had collapsed to the 
studio floor, were holding their temples. 

"All of a sudden you look so tired," said Hazel. "Why don't you stretch out 
on the sofa, so's you can rest your handicap bag on the pillows, honeybunch." 
She was referring to the forty-seven pounds of birdshot in a canvas bag, 
which was padlocked around George's neck. "Go on and rest the bag for a 
little while," she said. "I don't care if you're not equal to me for a 
while . " 

George weighed the bag with his hands. "I don't mind it," he said. "I don't 
notice it any more. It's just a part of me." 

"You been so tired lately-kind of wore out," said Hazel. "If there was just 
some way we could make a little hole in the bottom of the bag, and just take 
out a few of them lead balls. Just a few." 

"Two years in prison and two thousand dollars fine for every ball I took 
out," said George. "I don't call that a bargain." 

"If you could just take a few out when you came home from work," said Hazel. 
"I mean-you don't compete with anybody around here. You just set around." 

"If I tried to get away with it," said George, "then other people ' d get away 
with it-and pretty soon we'd be right back to the dark ages again, with 
everybody competing against everybody else. You wouldn't like that, would 

"I'd hate it," said Hazel. 

"There you are," said George. The minute people start cheating on laws, what 
do you think happens to society?" 

If Hazel hadn't been able to come up with an answer to this question, George 
couldn't have supplied one. A siren was going off in his head. 

"Reckon it'd fall all apart," said Hazel. 

"What would?" said George blankly. 

"Society," said Hazel uncertainly. "Wasn't that what you just said? 

"Who knows?" said George. 

The television program was suddenly interrupted for a news bulletin. It 
wasn't clear at first as to what the bulletin was about, since the announcer, 
like all announcers, had a serious speech impediment. For about half a 
minute, and in a state of high excitement, the announcer tried to say, 
"Ladies and Gentlemen." 

He finally gave up, handed the bulletin to a ballerina to read. 

"That's all right-" Hazel said of the announcer, "he tried. That's the big 
thing. He tried to do the best he could with what God gave him. He should get 
a nice raise for trying so hard." 

"Ladies and Gentlemen," said the ballerina, reading the bulletin. She must 
have been extraordinarily beautiful, because the mask she wore was hideous. 
And it was easy to see that she was the strongest and most graceful of all 
the dancers, for her handicap bags were as big as those worn by two-hundred 
pound men. 

And she had to apologize at once for her voice, which was a very unfair voice 
for a woman to use. Her voice was a warm, luminous, timeless melody. "Excuse 
me-" she said, and she began again, making her voice absolutely 
uncompetitive . 

"Harrison Bergeron, age fourteen," she said in a grackle squawk, "has just 
escaped from jail, where he was held on suspicion of plotting to overthrow 
the government. He is a genius and an athlete, is under-handicapped, and 
should be regarded as extremely dangerous." 

A police photograph of Harrison Bergeron was flashed on the screen-upside 
down, then sideways, upside down again, then right side up. The picture 
showed the full length of Harrison against a background calibrated in feet 
and inches. He was exactly seven feet tall. 

The rest of Harrison's appearance was Halloween and hardware. Nobody had ever 
born heavier handicaps. He had outgrown hindrances faster than the H-G men 
could think them up. Instead of a little ear radio for a mental handicap, he 
wore a tremendous pair of earphones, and spectacles with thick wavy lenses. 
The spectacles were intended to make him not only half blind, but to give him 
whanging headaches besides. 

Scrap metal was hung all over him. Ordinarily, there was a certain symmetry, 
a military neatness to the handicaps issued to strong people, but Harrison 
looked like a walking junkyard. In the race of life, Harrison carried three 
hundred pounds . 

And to offset his good looks, the H-G men required that he wear at all times 
a red rubber ball for a nose, keep his eyebrows shaved off, and cover his 
even white teeth with black caps at snaggle-tooth random. 

"If you see this boy, " said the ballerina, "do not - I repeat, do not - try 
to reason with him." 

There was the shriek of a door being torn from its hinges. 

Screams and barking cries of consternation came from the television set. The 
photograph of Harrison Bergeron on the screen jumped again and again, as 
though dancing to the tune of an earthquake. 

George Bergeron correctly identified the earthquake, and well he might have - 
for many was the time his own home had danced to the same crashing tune. "My 
God-" said George, "that must be Harrison!" 

The realization was blasted from his mind instantly by the sound of an 
automobile collision in his head. 

When George could open his eyes again, the photograph of Harrison was gone. A 
living, breathing Harrison filled the screen. 

Clanking, clownish, and huge, Harrison stood - in the center of the studio. 
The knob of the uprooted studio door was still in his hand. Ballerinas, 
technicians, musicians, and announcers cowered on their knees before him, 
expecting to die. 

"I am the Emperor!" cried Harrison. "Do you hear? I am the Emperor! Everybody 
must do what I say at once!" He stamped his foot and the studio shook. 

"Even as I stand here" he bellowed, "crippled, hobbled, sickened - I am a 
greater ruler than any man who ever lived! Now watch me become what I can 
become ! " 

Harrison tore the straps of his handicap harness like wet tissue paper, tore 
straps guaranteed to support five thousand pounds. 

Harrison's scrap-iron handicaps crashed to the floor. 

Harrison thrust his thumbs under the bar of the padlock that secured his head 
harness. The bar snapped like celery. Harrison smashed his headphones and 
spectacles against the wall. 

He flung away his rubber-ball nose, revealed a man that would have awed Thor, 
the god of thunder. 

"I shall now select my Empress!" he said, looking down on the cowering 

people. "Let 

the first woman who dares rise to her feet claim her mate and her throne!" 

A moment passed, and then a ballerina arose, swaying like a willow. 

Harrison plucked the mental handicap from her ear, snapped off her physical 
handicaps with marvelous delicacy. Last of all he removed her mask. 

She was blindingly beautiful. 

"Now-" said Harrison, taking her hand, "shall we show the people the meaning 
of the word dance? Music!" he commanded. 

The musicians scrambled back into their chairs, and Harrison stripped them of 
their handicaps, too. "Play your best," he told them, "and I'll make you 
barons and dukes and earls." 

The music began. It was normal at first-cheap, silly, false. But Harrison 
snatched two musicians from their chairs, waved them like batons as he sang 
the music as he wanted it played. He slammed them back into their chairs. 

The music began again and was much improved. 

Harrison and his Empress merely listened to the music for a while-listened 
gravely, as though synchronizing their heartbeats with it. 

They shifted their weights to their toes. 

Harrison placed his big hands on the girls tiny waist, letting her sense the 
weightlessness that would soon be hers. 

And then, in an explosion of joy and grace, into the air they sprang! 

Not only were the laws of the land abandoned, but the law of gravity and the 
laws of motion as well. 

They reeled, whirled, swiveled, flounced, capered, gamboled, and spun. 

They leaped like deer on the moon. 

The studio ceiling was thirty feet high, but each leap brought the dancers 
nearer to it. 

It became their obvious intention to kiss the ceiling. They kissed it. 

And then, neutraling gravity with love and pure will, they remained suspended 
in air inches below the ceiling, and they kissed each other for a long, long 
time . 

It was then that Diana Moon Clampers, the Handicapper General, came into the 
studio with a double-barreled ten-gauge shotgun. She fired twice, and the 
Emperor and the Empress were dead before they hit the floor. 

Diana Moon Clampers loaded the gun again. She aimed it at the musicians and 
told them they had ten seconds to get their handicaps back on. 

It was then that the Bergerons' television tube burned out. 

Hazel turned to comment about the blackout to George. But George had gone out 
into the kitchen for a can of beer. 

George came back in with the beer, paused while a handicap signal shook him 
up. And then he sat down again. "You been crying" he said to Hazel. 

"Yup, " she said. 

"What about?" he said. 

"I forget," she said. "Something real sad on television." 

"What was it?" he said. 

"It's all kind of mixed up in my mind," said Hazel. 

"Forget sad things," said George. 

"I always do," said Hazel. 

"That's my girl," said George. He winced. There was the sound of a rivetting 
gun in his head. 

"Gee - I could tell that one was a doozy, " said Hazel. 

"You can say that again," said George. 

"Gee-" said Hazel, "I could tell that one was a doozy." 

"Harrison Bergeron" is copyrighted by Kurt Vonnegut, Jr., 1961.

Barbara’s bartering banter

Barbara, tell us your story:

Bartering as a Lifestyle

I’ve learned to live on very little money in order to support my lifestyle as an artist. I haven’t had medical insurance since 1985 and luckily I’m very healthy but whenever I have needs, such as dental work, and once, a doctor, I asked around and found someone I could barter with. I’ve bartered for airline tickets, amazing places to live, places to stay while I’m traveling overseas and this continent, and car repairs. I usually barter my art, but I’ve met people with skills such as massage, hairstyling, jewelry making, and bookkeeping, to name just a few, who have done well with barter. If you are willing to work, create art, or have something to trade, then you’ve got something you can barter with. I’ve found that there are many times people might not want to spend money but will barter.

When I quit my systems analyst job and didn’t want to be stressed out about money, as a single person I learned that caretaking other people’s property allowed me the freedom to make my art. This lifestyle has landed me in extremely beautiful places, with my rent, utilities and, depending on the situation, food, salaries, vehicles, and use of swimming pools, as part of the deal. On this blog site I intend to tell my stories as well as those I’m collecting from other people, and pass on some web sites that will help you meet up with other people interested in bartering.

In my twenties I traveled around the world and found wonderful opportunities for work exchanges along the way. In Australia I lived for a couple of years in the outback where I rented a house on a two hundred acre farm for the low rent of $80 a month in exchange for keeping an eye on my landlord’s cows. In Bodh Gaya, India I spent a couple of weeks in a Thai Buddhist monastery, in exchange I spent an hour a day helping one of the monks with his university studies. In Israel I lived on a kibbutz for three months and did a variety of jobs in exchange for everything I needed. I learned that honest, loyal, hard working people were really appreciated and could get jobs anywhere in the world.

In my thirties I finally settled down and worked as a computer programmer until I sold two of my short travel stories to a magazine and a piece of art that I’d created was accepted for an important juried show the City of Los Angeles was sponsoring. I quit my job and began looking for ways to survive as an artist, which in L.A. meant long-term house sitting and scenic painting for movies.

In my forties my first creative work exchange was as a scenic painter for the New Hope Theater in Pennsylvania. I spent the summer painting sets in the Pocono Mountains while living in a beautiful resort hotel. I stayed for two months in an apartment in Venice Beach, CA in exchange for doing all the black and white still photography for a video project an artist friend was working on. On vacation in Jamaica I met a woman who lived in a beautiful villa on a hillside overlooking the Carribean and ended up house sitting it for a week when she had to go away. While there I learned wood carving from a local artist.

One of my favorite work exchanges was for a real estate investor in Bel Air, CA. For three years I worked two days a week as his office assistant in exchange for a salary and a nice little apartment in one wing of his house. I had full use of the grounds and swimming pool. It was while living in Bel Air that I began carving large sculptures for the Treepeople Park in Beverly Hills. I finally left Bel Air to do a summer work exchange at the Avondale Forest Park in County Wicklow, Ireland where I carved a large sculpture (see photo above) from a famous tree that had died. After this experience many of my work exchanges were art related.

Several times a week I will update this site with these stories and many more. I’m hoping to interview Ryan McDonald of The One Red Paper Clip fame, have a piece on house swapping, do an article on business barter sites, and much more. Don’t get me wrong, money is great, but if you don’t have much, there are alternatives with bartering. World travel, living in millionaire homes, the sky’s the limit on what you can manifest.

You can see some of my work on these blog sites:

If you have questions to can contact me at: byates3347@gmail.com

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Barbara’s Bartering Blog