The Curve of Two Bodies

You turn one-half rotation away from me to face the dark
I set my trajectory to follow you through the vacuum
The shortest distance between two bodies is also a curve
Every move we’ve made is recorded on a continuum

I set my trajectory to follow you through the vacuum
Part of every revolution is a retrograde
Every move we’ve made is recorded on a continuum
What is made of less must always orbit what is made of more

Part of every revolution is a retrograde
Around and around the sun, around and around each other
What is made of less must always orbit what is made of more
The arch of time bends wide but spirals ever inward, and

Around and around the sun, around and around each other
Trying to find a fundamental formula to reconcile
The arch of time, bending wide but spiraling inward, and
This rapid osculation building over the surface

Trying to find a fundamental formula to reconcile
I find the concave of your collar, the convex of your hips, and
This rapid osculation building over the surface
Becomes a parabola rising on a plane, but other times

I find the concave of your collar, the convex of your hips, and
You turn one-half rotation away from me to face the dark
Becoming a hyperbola lying on a plane, and other times
The longest distance between two bodies is also a curve

This post was written in response to the WordPress Discover Prompt, Day 8: Curve

Photo by cottonbro from Pexels


Oh, you do me wrong. Would I do anything wicked? I’m a peaceful soul, bothering nobody and leading a gentle, herbivorous life. And my thoughts merely drift among the oddities and quarks of how things are (as I see them). I, humble observer of phenomena, plod along and puff my silly words into the air rather unspectacularly, I am afraid.”

— Tortoise, Godel Escher Bach, Douglas Hofstadter


Today is the last day of temperatures over 70 degrees for a while, they say. I can see a severe dip in temperature and snow in the extended forecast. I had hoped we could plan a hiking trip next week, but the trails will probably be muddy for a while after that. Oh well, there is plenty of time and the days are only going to go on growing warmer now.

The words weren’t flowing so well today so I gave myself permission to skip the writing so long as I promise to give it my best again come morning. I’m reading instead and have already finished On the Beach at Night Alone by Walt Whitman and am now sitting half-way through A Cup Of Sake Beneath The Cherry Trees by Yoshida Kenkō. With nothing else to do today, I think I’ll go ahead and finish it, then start on Borne by Jeff VanderMeer.

Some days all this time is welcome, some days it’s more than I can bear. Looking forward is anxiety inducing and imagining the sheer number of days to come that are filled with nothing paralyzes me. I have to take them one at a time. Time has to become irrelevant for now. There is just right now and what I have and the little I can do with it. It has to be okay. It has to be enough.

Hand-Washing in the Search for Absolution

“Will all great Neptune’s ocean wash this blood clean from my hand? No, this my hand will rather the multitudinous seas incarnadine, making the green one red.”

― William Shakespeare, Macbeth

Arguably one of the many things that set humans apart from the animal kingdom is the way the mind has been evolved, utilizing old connections and layers in new ways as we evolve and develop more and more complex societies and cultures. One such fascinating example is the connection between cleanliness and morality purity.

The word clean can be defined as both “free from dirt marks or stains” and “morally uncontaminated; pure; innocent” and multiple studies have found that humans associate both quite literally in the mind.

When we smell or taste food that may have gone bad or rancid, an intense physical reaction follows automatically. We back away quickly, we gag, we wrinkle up our faces; we rinse our mouths out, all of this is to protect us. The same happens when we touch or believe we have come into contact with a contaminate or contagion. We gag, wrinkle our faces, and wash our bodies, but have you ever noticed the same holds true for our encounters with ideas or people we deem immoral or shameful both from without and within.

It’s true. Study after study shows that morally disgusting ideas activate the same regions of the brain as an encounter with an object that is distasteful to any of our physical senses. The phenomenon is so well understood it has a name, “The Macbeth Effect” after the character Lady Macbeth in the Shakespear play Macbeth who obsessively tries to wash imaginary bloodstains from her hands after committing murder.

Cleaning can also calm the mind and rid of us a myriad of bad feelings. If you are feeling anxious or afraid, avoidant or even angry, you may feel the need to clean your house, organize the closets, or fold the laundry. When you lie you may want to brush your teeth and when you commit a crime or other immoral act, you feel the urge to wash the shame from your hands.

“When you’re too religious, you tend to point your finger to judge instead of extending your hand to help.”

― Steve Maraboli, Unapologetically You: Reflections on Life and the Human Experience

This act of washing can leave us with the feeling of achieving a clean moral slate without having to admit our guilt or make amends for our crime. It can also reduce our selflessness. One study conducted by Chen-Bo Zhong from the University of Toronto and Katie Liljenquist from Northwestern University found that after “recalling an unethical deed of the past reduced the motivation to volunteer, thus indicating that hand washing already restored a suitable moral self-image and, hence, reduced the desire to compensate the unethical deed by voluntary help”. If you already consider yourself morally pure yourself, then there is nothing to pay penance for, nothing left that you owe the world.

Cleansing rituals are common in many religions. Who has not heard the phrase “cleanliness is next to Godliness”? A person must be baptized to “wash away their sins”. A person of the Muslim faith must wash themselves before they can pray. Women are barred from entering temples while menstruating as they are considered “unclean”. Orthodox Judaism forbids even touching a woman who is menstruating, you cannot even touch items she has touched without sullying yourself.

These metaphors between what is considered clean and who is considered good can become so intertwined that people can soon come to look the same as contaminates and contagions and illicit the same visceral disgust and the urge to purify. It’s a red flag when we begin seeing the two interchangeably. When you hear leaders and politicians referring to the problems of the world ills, associating people to bugs, vermin, and disease that infect, the solutions, the way to bring us closer to morality, to purity, is always to begin “cleansing” the nation and the race.

We all carry our little prejudices and biases deep inside but be careful and especially aware whenever you feel fear, aversion, or disgust for another human or group. Examine your motivations whenever the urge to purge yourself of these “vermin” begins to seep into your political opinion.

“Out, damned spot! out, I say!… What, will these hands ne’er be clean?”

― William Shakespeare, Macbeth

So the mind has found a way to make us moral and good by making sure that both are the same as feeling as being clean, pure, or safe, but what do we do when the stains won’t wash out? What do we do when we always feel wrong and dirty?

Mental illnesses such as depression and anxiety can wreak havoc on a person’s personal hygiene habits at both ends of the spectrum. For most people, OCD or obsessive-compulsive disorder is one of the first we associate with the connection. The pop-culture understanding of the disorder brings to mind organization and sanitation, but often the compulsive hand washing (just one of many manifestations) is about much more than cleanliness. The obsessive washing can be an attempt to relieve or prevent anxiety or fear.

Post-traumatic stress disorder, particularly resulting from sexual assault, and other forms of anxiety can trigger excessive washing as well to reduce tension and re-establish feelings of cleanliness and safety.

There are just as many people who struggle with these and other types of mental illness and fall on the other end of the spectrum where they struggle to take care of their basic hygienic needs instead. Many report the reason to be fatigue or a simple lack of motivation, but with moral judgment and cleanliness so closely equated in our minds, might part of the reason be connected to the same equation? Might the same mental illnesses or distresses that make us want to wash be just as likely to make us crave the opposite?

Often, after a traumatic experience or stressful or painful situation, we can be left feeling soiled. We might even feel that is us who are the source of moral impurity and a lack of personal hygiene could be a way to validate the way we feel about ourselves inside.

If a person’s feelings of being inherently immoral, bad, disgusting, dirty, and even infectious, become too big, and it seems there is no amount of soap or water in Neptune’s ocean to make you clean again perhaps it might feel better to finally cease scrubbing at it and accept the stains as immutable reality. The dirt, the smell, the disgust, can also be a sign of what a person feels they deserve or a signal to others to keep away by provoking that visceral response of revulsion.

“There are surely limits to the absolution afforded by a bar of soap.”

— Chen-Bo Zhong and Katie Liljenquist

Humans, it appears, can associate too closely our personal judgments about what is clean and healthy physically and what is clean and good morally or socially on both sides of the coin. We can obsessively try to scrub away our own moral failings and shame, and we can cruelly try to purge others we deem different and therefore disgusting. We can interchange one for the other thinking a hand placed on someone “unclean” damns us and the simple act of hand-washing can absolve us of our sins. We can let that association go too far into and decide that what is unclean can never be made pure again and what is dirty is now contagious and must be eradicated, even if what is unclean is us.

There are limits to what soap and water, or the lack thereof, can do, and at some point, we have to move past metaphor to reality. People are not disgusting, they are not vermin, or bugs, or parasites, nothing a person is and nothing that a person has been through can be infectious and no one can be saved or made pure by the extermination of another. This applies not just to those others we would judge of lower moral caliber, but to ourselves as well.

You cannot simply or so easily wash your hands or your past or of who you are and no matter how soiled you feel or unpalatable you make yourself you cannot alter the most basic truth. The two are not equal and your hands can always be clean and you can always be pure, and good, and innocent, and righteous again and no amount of soap or water is required.

This post was written in response to the WordPress Discover Prompt, Day 6: Hand

Photo by Amaury Salas on Unsplash


The warm and sunny Spring weather continues. The morning birds chirping have returned and branches everywhere are budding and with it all brings small moments when I can forget, when I can pretend it is only Sunday rather than whatever day it is and that I am choosing to stay in to relax to forget about work rather than being forced.

Our plan was to grocery shop today, but there are warnings circulating about the coming weeks being the most important for social distancing. We are considering putting it off as long as possible. Near the end of the week we’ll head out to buy provisions for an at home birthday celebration. I’ve settled on steamed crab legs, artichokes, and cheesy risotto, cheesecake and a bottle of pinot grigio, if at all possible.

I’m back at the WordPress Discover prompts. I could not complete yesterday’s post but it is saved in my Google docs and I will keep chipping away at it until I get it done. I’m going to treat every day like that. I’ll do my best and write as much as I can. If I can finish something I will post it, whether I think it’s good or not. If I cannot finish it, I will keep at it until I do. My goal is all posts will still have been published by April 30th. I’m working out what a project in May might look like.

If We Were Having Coffee // The Best We Can Do Is Nothing

Hello, happy Sunday, and thank you for stopping by for a bit of caffeine and catching up. 

It’s getting easier to wake up early again it the mornings, though my will power is still unreliable and my energy levels are unpredictable. I’m not sure if it’s my body or my mind that is the problem, which I suppose is just me trying to figure out whether the failing is my fault or not. I’m leaning toward not, but it’s still frustrating not only to be stuck inside but to be so lethargic too.

I managed to get up early today, but I only moved to the couch and laid down and then back to the bed to sleep again. There are actual things I have to do today, so I had to force myself up after a while. I reminded myself that not all is bad and that the day is not lost. The sun is out, and the weather promises warmth and the smell of nature coming back to life all around.

Here, please, pull up a chair and fill up a cup. I’m throwing the curtains wide and opening all the windows. I have a fresh batch of blond roast brewed from the French press and silky smooth vanilla oat milk to add a touch of sweet flavor. Let’s talk about last week.

“There is nothing like being left alone again, to walk peacefully with oneself in the woods. To boil one’s coffee and fill one’s pipe, and to think idly and slowly as one does it.”

― Knut Hamsum

If we were having coffee, I would tell you that this week like many before has been a hard one. Many of us are on lock down, stuck indoors and doing our best to stay well and sane.

I’ve hardly left the house at all these past weeks and though I’m coping the very best I can, but each day is an emotional roller coaster. One day I will be just fine bearing the bad news and the uncertainty admirably, and other days I feel like I am suffocating under my fear and anxiety. The bad days are growing more frequent as the news grows more dire, the warnings more insistent, and the long-term trajectory pushed further and further out.

This week it was announced that school districts all over the city will complete the remainder of the year remotely. For the people like me who work in transportation or other departments deemed nonessential to classroom to classroom learning that means an “extended stay-cation” as my boss put it in the email. The district has promised to pay all employees until the end of the school year, but there is some debate about when that is.

I know I’m still one of the lucky ones and at the very least I have months to go before I really need to worry, but I am planning ahead now. Luckily with the lock down comes reduced spending.

If we were having coffee, I would tell you that another big change came this week when the CDC and the Governor announced recommendations that everyone who ventures out to grocery stores or anywhere that social distancing becomes difficult should wear a cloth mask or covering over their nose and mouth. Yesterday we had to run to the home improvement store and today I picked up some provisions for my mom to celebrate her birthday on her own.

Both times we wore our homemade masks and both times I noticed increased anxiety while it was on. I thought I would feel better with it on, more protected and I guess but it was very much the opposite. I felt even more in danger. I couldn’t breathe and I wanted to be out of the house even less than I already had to be. We’re thinking of postponing our grocery trip for the week as long as possible as coronavirus cases are expected to peak.

We don’t have a lot of food, but we can last a little while. My hope is that later in the week we can order essentials for delivery or pickup to reduce our exposure inside of the store.

The more I think about our circumstances, the state of the world, and everything that has changed in just the last month, I feel a sort of mental vertigo. I just can’t comprehend it. Mentally, I can only manage a very shallow examination of the present situation. Any more than that and I run up against disbelief, grief, and fear. I keep thinking how fragile everything turned out to be and how close to absolute ruin we all really are.

I want to believe it won’t come to that. I want to believe we’re all in this together and that no matter what there will be people to help my wife and I should we need it. I’m also working out how we can do the same for others while we are okay, but I think right now the best thing we can do is nothing.

If we were having coffee, I would tell you that I miss my family and friends very much. I did not think it would be so hard when everyone is just a phone call or social media post away, but these digital half measures don’t feel anywhere near the same.

I miss going to work where, even though there was so much stress, there was also so much laughter. My friends were there and when I was sad or needed anything, they knew just how to pull me out. I’m lucky that I am not completely alone, but people need friends as much as they do their spouses. Life is good here, but we both need more.

It isn’t just that either. April is a special month for me and as hard as I am working to accept it the truth is still hard to swallow. I will be spending my birthday here alone. I still have my wife and we’ll still make it special together, but I can’t help feeling a little bummed about it.

And it isn’t just me either. My mother’s birthday is next week, and she will be celebrating alone too. I did find some way to celebrate her though. Today we picked up some food from a local brunch place that included a “mimosa kit”. We got her a cake and some flowers and a small gift. I quickly dropped it all off and left. I still have to limit contact and keep her safe. There is no way of knowing who the asymptomatic carriers are now.

If we were having coffee, I would tell you that in the meantime I’m just trying to keep my mind busy and find a way to pass the days.

These last few days, and for the rest of April, I’m participating in the WordPress Daily Discover Prompts Challenge. So far I have been able to write and post something every day, though with the errands and this chat I’m not sure I will make it today. I’m giving myself permission and forgiveness to miss a day if I have to. I don’t want to stress myself over something that is meant to be a stress reliever, and I don’t want to ruin the fun either.

And it has been fun, or exciting anyway. It’s amazing how easily I was able to get back into my groove and find the ideas even if I couldn’t find the time to write them exactly as I wanted or the best I know I could if I had more than a day. But that’s okay too because I have realized something quite freeing and comforting about writing recently, you can write about the same thing more than once. I can take theses ideas and these half-cocked attempts and try again and again until I get it right.

So, this is more than just 30 days of blog posts, it’s 30 days of ideas and inspiration I am pulling out of myself, the hardest skill in writing to cultivate by far.

If we were having coffee, I would tell you that even in the midst of a global pandemic Sundays never seem to lose that old Sunday feel. There is still so much to do, even when there is nothing at all to do. Sundays around here are almost exclusively for cleaning. We’ve been out a few times, and it’s important to disinfect plus with so much time at home the clutter and mess seem to grow at twice the rate and if you let the mess grow to large, it can consume you. Cleaning is the most immediate cure for most woes, you know?

I hope you had a good week, but I know the reality is most of you probably didn’t. I hope you are at least well, that have been able to stay home, that you have been paid and if you haven’t, I dearly hope you can file for unemployment or that governments at all levels all over the world find a way to support you, their people.

Until next time.

Written for the #WeekendCoffeeShare link-up hosted by Eclectic Alli.

Photo by Julien Labelle on Unsplash