U.S. Journal

7/12/2016

I am not super-duper excited about going to America tomorrow. It’s not that I’m lukewarm towards the holiday itself; there is much to look forward to. But, my excitement and anticipation are dampened by sadness about leaving the Christmas build up here, the Team of Pianists’ Christmas party, Christmas day family lunch and festive occasions with close friends.

8/12/2016

How do I productively use my time during a fourteen hour flight from Melbourne to Los Angeles? I guess sleeping, to minimise jetlag, is productive use of time. Playing Sudoku is a productive activity. What I am doing now also scores a tick, as would reading. Unproductive use of time must be earned. An episode of BBT or a bash at “the square” game must be earned. An occasional walk and stretch are needed too. Yup, they rate as productive. If one put aside my piano practice, this flight might not be significantly different from a day spent at home. Oh, apart from the physical exercise too.

Thankfully, the plane is not full. Bock and I have an empty seat between us. In front of us is a fidgety family. It is early days, and they may settle down. I like flying Qantas on long haul trips. It is not just the chummy Aussie service that appeals to me. The Airbus 380 has more leg room than many aircraft I have travelled in. This adds considerably to my overall comfort, and I disembark in a happier frame of mind, less tired, and with less stiffness and aches too. My anxiety levels are quite low at present. The significance of that last observation is better understood in the context of my previous trip to the US of A, when, all through the flight I was dealing with the prospect of driving in LA, on the wrong side of the road. The seeds of that anxiety were sown at the very moment, some weeks earlier, it was decided that we would be driving in America. The less scary option was to take the wheel myself while Bock navigated. Frightening as it was, it not as terrifying as the other way round. I was less comfortable about being Bock’s navigator. On this trip, the only driving duties I may be called upon to perform will occur in Tucson. There is plenty of time, with a lot happening in it, before we get to that point of our holiday. And, as I have already driven there, the prospect doesn’t fill me with terror.

I woke up early this morning, about an hour earlier than I needed to. I did not need to be out of bed at 5.30am to make it to the airport in time for an 11.15 international flight, given that our bags were packed and there was nothing urgent or time consuming to do. I was showered and ready by 6.30, Bock only a few minutes later. When our UBER cab arrived at 7.30 we were on the pavement outside our home. Our considerable travel experience came to the fore in preparing for this trip. We spread our packing over the last 7 days. Before that we attended to myriad other tasks like obtaining cash, loading money onto our Qantas cash cards, making hotel reservations, paying bills and arranging for friends to water our plants and collect our mail. With no anxiety to conflate with excitement I wondered if I was actually looking forward to this holiday.

10/12/2016

The ability to hone into the essentials of what confers individuality on a person is directly linked to one’s powers of observation. It is an incisively observant mind that can pick out the subtle idiosyncrasies in us. More on this later.

After two days in Washington D.C. what can I say about it? I picked up from overheard conversations that locals like to say they are from DC, leaving out Washington, expecting the implication to be obvious. It sounds like a form of sophistication. The city is very impressive. Grand, eye-catching buildings line broad boulevards tailor-made for pageants and ceremonies. Opulence and cleanliness are noticeable. The National Mall is a wide open space, beginning at the Washington monument and ending at the Capitol building. Flanking each side are mainly Smithsonian museums. The USA does museums very well. They are well thought out, informative, visually compelling, and never boring. The USA has a packed, eventful human history spanning the entire spectrum of human behaviour. At one end are the atrocities of slavery, the civil war, the ugliest expressions of racism. At the other end are liberty, civil rights, self-expression. And talent abounds in every imaginable field of endeavour. The USA is the greatest nation on earth, the greatest nation the earth has ever known. There are people who hate Americans, hate their belief in themselves, hate their collective self-importance, hate their ignorance of most things outside the USA, hate their outspokenness about themselves, what they are feeling, hate their “Attitude”.

11/12/2016

The palpable opulence of DC must be particularly tough on the homeless and destitute. To be homeless and destitute in such grand surrounds must shatter their spirits. There aren’t many but they are a visible presence. One of them greeted me this morning on Pennsylvania Avenue. After asking our names and where we hailed from, he got down to the main item: asking for money. I beat him down to three dollars from the five he requested. I did not feel I was being harassed, even though he was a very big guy, but I wondered why the system wasn’t fixed to prevent people like him falling through and being left with no money, no home, and no support, apart from charities which probably provided him with a meal often enough to prevent him and his fellow travellers from dying of starvation.      

 12/12/2016

 In a bus on the way to New York city. Bolts bus company offered more than it has actually provided. The amenities are basic, vanilla. The seats do not have extra leg room, although they are not uncomfortable. There is no on-board, free wifi, something the company claimed to provide. Time passes more quickly in a bus than in an aeroplane, I have noticed. It might be that the bus appears to cover ground more rapidly than an aeroplane. The fleeting glimpses of passing trees, vehicles and buildings create an illusion of a rapid passage through space and time. An aeroplane, travelling much faster appears to inch its way across the skies, and takes time with it at a weary, snail’s pace.

 Seating is not reserved. We had to line up in one of three queues, A, B or C. Which one it was for us was indicted on our tickets. The A queue was called up first, followed by B and C. One must have to pay extra for the A and B queues. Still, Bock and I were able to get seats next to each other. I was annoyed with the girl across the aisle. She sat in the window seat and placed her bag on the aisle seat. For a short while I wished that the bus would be full and she would be forced to give up the aisle seat. Well, she’s won. No one asked for the seat, and she is travelling in style. And I have moved on with my life.

 Are there any more impressions of D.C. I can record? It appeared to be a sophisticated city. I know that, like the east coast states to the north, it voted Democrat; I think it has always voted Democrat. Does that alone lend it sophistication? To a point, I guess. Lovers of culture and history are more inclined to be compassionate and generous than others. They are generally more well educated, more inclined to be aware of what is going on in the world and therefore more attuned to the concept of universal responsibility. There was a fair share of tourists around, especially at the memorials and in the museums and in the vicinity of famous, iconic buildings like the White House, Capitol, and Library of Congress. I don’t think any of them walked as much as we did. The weather was freezing, no question. Most of the guards, police and ushers in the museums were black people. The secret service personnel we saw around the White House were predominantly white. I did not wish to tangle with any of them. I regarded them all as potentially voluble in their reprimands, especially the black women, whom I likened to a delightful African American friend of mine. It would not be an enjoyable experience to be at the receiving end of a finger-wagging telling-off for not correctly attaching my back pack after being told how to and why. On the whole, they were all quite friendly and helpful, but I never felt I could take liberties with them. They may very well select people that emanate a “no nonsense” vibe, mainly because of the ever-present security threat.

 Weather-wise, the day could not be more suited to long-haul road travel. Damp and dreary, it is not conducive to outdoor activities. Baggage on this bus was not subjected to expected checks. I thought such checks would be standard. So, if someone wished to bring a bomb on board, they will be able to, I guess. Surely, there must be some form of screening, one would think. Doesn’t the bus company owe a duty of care to its passengers to take reasonable steps to ensure their safely? What if the bomb is detonated on a crowded New York street? I hope some form of screening took place.

 I think I will enjoy NYC more this time round. Back in 2008 the hustle and bustle of the world’s premier city overwhelmed me. I am more travelled now, and importantly, I have experienced many parts of the US since then. I am not overawed by Americans any more. And I feel a lot better about myself. I hope to be able to assess NYC objectively.

 13/12/2016

 The only thing going for the YMCA is the presence of people from all over the world. The less said about the toilet and shower facilities the better. But, a couple of young Germans in the bathroom this morning were of the opinion that the facilities here are better than somewhere else they have been to. So, it’s relative I guess. My point of comparison is the Eldon suite in D.C. Theirs could have been a YMCA hostel in Bucharest for all I know. Still, I am now all showered, shaved and dressed, and ready to take on this town, this mighty city, the Metropolis in Superman stories, Batman’s Gotham City.

14/12/2016

In good spirits, high energy, contemplating my need to regard brusqueness by others towards me as normal, without malice, just a communication device to promote clarity. I encounter it often enough in NYC. It throws me at first, and that is ok. It is the quality and speed of my bouncing back that I can work on. The swifter and more seamlessly this happens, the better the experience. In fact, the exchange may well be an enjoyable one.
Travelling with Bock has become easier. Not that there have ever been serious problems when we have travelled together. I think we just like each other’s company, and that mutual, positive feeling returns to smooth over any disgruntlement that arises. In any case, the issues are always trivial ones, there have never been any show stoppers. We look after each other, and regard each other’s interest and wellbeing as important as our own.
15/12/2016
What’s it like walking in seriously sub-zero weather? We found out.Today was the coldest day of my life. I cannot recall being out and about in colder weather. When we emerged out of the Metro in downtown Manhattan light snow was falling, another first for me: urban snowfall. It got heavier but lasted only briefly, leaving a thin white layer, slippery in some places, on the footpaths. The temperature was -7 Celsius, and I bet the wind dropped it a few more degrees. Thermal underwear and thicker gloves would have appreciably lessened our discomfort. We were not the only ones braving the weather to walk across the iconic Brooklyn bridge. Other intrepid souls were of the same mind, and seemingly the same determination, to cross the bridge come what may. We seemed to be the only ones though who continued on into the heart of Brooklyn, well, maybe not the heart, but close to it. We also decided to stay awhile. After a bowl of soup and some coffee we went shopping for bargains at Marshalls and Burlington, two bargain monarchs of the U.S. demographic of humble means.
I am at home in NYC. The people are polite and helpful, sometimes with attitude and brusqueness. One gets accustomed to it, even though I can never see myself being the same. My politeness is softer and gentler, my goodwill unambiguous. It is the way I am. My eagerness to please coming out? Only if I judge myself harshly. I like to be nice to people for its own sake.
We saw Fiddler on the Roof this evening, our first ever Broadway musical, seen at a genuine Broadway theatre. There were moments when I felt a bit emotional and teary. It did not spring from the musical itself. I think the memories it evoked caused a bit of choking nostalgia. It links to my late teenage years, but I don’t know what the emotional links are, not precisely. There is something about Fiddler which got under my skin way back in the seventies, and is still there, but in a nebulous, undefined form. It has something to do with me floundering on the threshold of adulthood with my family falling apart around me.
16/12/2016
The highlight of today was the arrival in NYC of the Singapore branch of Bock’s family. There were no dramas associated with that event, and now we are all ensconced in luxury at the Marriott Courtyard on the corner of W34 and 6th Avenue, opposite Macy’s, where Bock and I are shortly headed. Tomorrow the Tucson members of his clan are expected to turn up late in the afternoon.
The aforementioned highlight only just edged out our walk this morning in Central Park, in very cold weather. The temperature gauge said minus eight degrees Celsius. But, adequately rugged up, with the added protection of thermal underwear we bought yesterday, the walk became immensely enjoyable. We could easily have wandered in the park all morning. Winter creates a special charm. The bleakness, bare trees, begun-to-freeze lake and rugged up humans make the park a world away from the clatter and rush outside. Inside all is still, easy paced, there is enough time to pause to watch squirrels scampering across the sparse lawn or observe a woodpecker hammering away at a tree trunk in search of worms. I want to walk there every day. It is a great start to the day.
Macy’s is a shoppers paradise, a wonderland of bargains, a treasure trove of designer and sport labels many at affordable prices, or so it appears, until one does a currency conversion. But, a bargain is a bargain. It is hard to not be even a little attracted to a Ralph Lauren jacket discounted 75 percent. Especially if you like sports jackets, as I do. Discounted that much, even the currency conversion does not dampen its alluring appeal.
Watching Obama’s last press conference, I was struck by a profound but obvious truth about the infinite value of decency and integrity. People are fallible; they make mistakes. Everyone makes mistakes. Hindsight proves it, ensures it. Hindsight is of no use if mistakes are not made. The human brain is limited by the information it receives and it’s ability to process and analyse that information. But integrity and decency are driven by choice. The triumphant Trumpettes might think that a new age of insulting and bullying and offending and denigrating is being ushered in. But, the people who actually run things are going to find out that insulting and offending and denigrating and bullying will only create enemies and pledges of retribution. If they want to achieve anything worthwhile, they are going to have to resort to civility, trust, and being true to their word.
18/12/2016
Kate (almost 6) and Kai (2 and a half) represent, in full measure, the generosity and acceptance of me of Bock’s family. No baggage, no jealousy, no ulterior motives, no malice, no resentment directed at who I am and what I have done with my life. Why I like going to Singapore is a lot more than liking Singapore. I like Bock’s family and friends. Thoughts about my family surface often, particularly when I am having a good time, particularly when I am feeling good about myself, feeling that I can hold my own with anyone.

19/12/2016
What do I want to focus on? Briefly, I felt a bit down today. A familiar feeling, which I have often found difficult to surmount. Today was different. I did manage to shed it completely. How? I cannot remember the specifics of it, but I generally focussed on my personal qualities, the wonderful life I enjoy, the love of a loyal partner, financial stability, and exciting life ahead even at 65. These are privileges not shared by many people. And, most important of all why should someone else, like the pompous old twit at Bergof, be given the power to make me feel bad about myself? Enough about it, let’s move on.
I guess I could have made a case to do my own thing today, go to Harlem for instance. But, at no time did it provide a contest to the option of spending the day with Bock and his family even though we went to places I’d already visited, like Central Park and the grand central station and Bryant park. In short, I wanted to be with them. It wasn’t a decision I agonised over. I feel like a part of the family. They regard me as one of the family.
There is a socio-economic elitism evident here. The pompous git with his polished, purring accent provided the first example. My brief sojourn in Saks, in search of a toilet, provided the second. I was aware of better-dressed people there than at Macy’s, and one or two of them looked at me somewhat disapprovingly I thought, or maybe they wondered, “is he lost?” or “does he know where he wandered into?” Well, I look forward to the opportunity to show them up one day. Even if I don’t, fantasising about it is enjoyable enough.
I think I have a strong affiliation to family. Being part of a family is precious. My strongest links to my family are Julie and Sasha. But they are not the reason I value being part of a family. What is it and where did it come from? It is not an easy, cheerful affiliation. The knowledge that I belong and the need to belong are strong. Being part of a family, being regarded as one of the family, is comforting. Even when it is not comforting I have belonged, and I have fulfilled my responsibilities, never been just a fair-weather family member. I am happiest in the company of “family”. It is not much different with Bock’s family. Some cultural differences alter the dynamics a bit, but that is all. In Bock’s family I am a recipient of abundant generosity.
21/12/2016
On the train to Niagara Falls. The atmosphere is good, tolerant, accommodating. It is the sort of atmosphere I thrive in. I like to be in the company of humans just being human, being inclusive, being natural, being self-deprecating. It is how humans normally are. It is evidence that I am abundantly blessed with the common touch. It is my happy zone. People have a right to be comfortable with others, anyone, strangers, loved ones, friends, acquaintances, colleagues.
What makes Jane Austen so good? It is not just her excellent prose. It is a lot more than that. It is her keen insight into the ways humans behave, their thought processes, their motivations. Even when she states the obvious the statements are interesting, humorous and reveal fallibilities in a gentle, sometimes jesting but always non-judgmental way. The plots are of little consequence. Eventual outcomes are predictable; one can smell how things are going to turn out in the end. But, it is the journey to get there that arouses and holds interest. The twists and turns, the setbacks, the disappointments, the misunderstandings, are the stuff, the essence of her books. And after all that, there is the luxurious prose, the wonderful, picturesque writing that captures so well even the most banal and inconsequential of human motivations. So, what are valuable lessons to learn from Jane Austen? Personally, my writing can benefit most from emulating her avid inclusion of the banalities that many other writers would pass over because of their primary intent to convey the narrative, to unfold the tale itself. My writing, on the other hand, when it develops and matures will,I suspect, revel in those banalities. It will behove me well to keenly study her books.
Have I got anything new to say about New York, what I have not already mentioned? New York is brimming with zesty life. Living, experiencing, luxuriating in life itself is what it’s about. And children are included. Bring them along. If they are young enough it won’t cost anything. Don’t worry about housework, litter can be picked up later, after you have had fun walking along the streets, gawking at the magnificent buildings, enjoying a tranquil respite in Central Park, trying new cuisine, having a loud, boisterous discussion over a drink with friends, displaying open affection, and not forgetting to give a few dollars to help a homeless man. There are the uppity ones of course. They can be found in fifth avenue boutiques and Saks, dressed to the nines, looking down their noses at the really privileged sucking the marrow out of life in their Marshalls and Burlington gear. There is a lesson for me in this. I like to dress well. But, it is now opportune to discard that false, superficial value and get real. New York may not be old as London or Paris, but in the short, few hundred years of its existence its history is bursting with a myriad rich, interesting, significant events, people and culture that have affected the entire world. London is about empire, feudalism and snobbish aristocracy. Paris fares a bit better, mostly by virtue of the French Revolution that consigned executive monarchy to the scrap heap and Napoleon, a name familiar to most people. But New York is excitement in any language, any culture. It is the world capital.
22/12/2016
Travel by road and rail has a lot going for it. The train ride from NYC to Niagara Falls took almost ten hours, but it was more enjoyable and eventful and relaxed than a plane journey of similar duration. There are a few things I find stressful about air travel. First, airports. For international travel one has to turn up at least two hours early. Baggage weighing and checking-in, seat allocations are all potentially troublesome. I am always happy and relieved when it is done, especially if we are carrying a lot of stuff, and running perilously close to limits. An officious check-in officer could make life difficult. If one is carrying a lot of cabin luggage, being accosted soon after disappearing through the immigration doorway is a possibility. It hasn’t happened to us yet, but I never fail to catch my breath whenever we enter through that doorway, just in case the cabin luggage checker is on duty. Inside the aircraft nothing happens most of the time. There are breaks for meals and snacks, but you are left to your own devices to amuse yourself as you see fit. Inflight movies and TV can help the time pass a little quicker, but one can tire of it. I cannot envisage endlessly watching movies over many hours. Reading, writing, scrabble, sudoku are all intermittent activities. Where road travel by bus or train wins is the scenery one passes along the way. It creates a refreshing diversion from whatever activity one is engaged in.
I was definitely not underwhelmed by the sight of the Niagara Falls. They were truly spectacular, powerful, especially the horseshoe falls seen from the Canadian side. The river did not rush towards the falls; it moved at an even, unhurried pace, but the sense of unstoppability, relentlessness, inevitability was strong. No human force could make the water hesitate, let alone turn it back. It went over, a gigantic watery wall, taking everything with it that wasn’t firmly attached to the riverbed.
Waking up to a cold, white world was an enchanting, charming experience. Reasonably heavy overnight snowfalls had covered just about everything, not too thickly, or we may have struggled with it. There was enough snow to significantly alter the landscape but not enough to impede our progress as we made our way to the Falls.
23/12/2016
Americans shout, a lot. And they are voluble. Comes naturally to them, it seems. Why be well-mannered? why be patient? Time’s wasted that way. And, it’s much more fun to yell at someone. Besides, they don’t have the time for patience. Everywhere people are loudly exhorted to move quickly. Even their silence is loud, suppressed yelling, like the guy who gave me the paper cups for coffee. His silence yelled out his impatience. It wasn’t directed at me but it affected the ambience of our encounter. Unless he is affecting a studied, loud taciturnity, a quiet American is a dead American.
Everyday Americans don’t give the impression they belong to the greatest country on the planet. They go about their business like anyone else. They come in the same shapes and sizes, and their attire is indistinguishable from what one might see in downtown Melbourne. But, there are the odd ones, only seen in the USA. The usually wear cowboy hats over their long hair and sport Wyatt Earp moustaches. I saw one in Chicago airport earlier this evening, looking for all the world like a minor presence in one of the “dollar” movies. The Good, the Bad and the Ugly comes to mind, especially the last of that desperate trio. Yes, even the good guys would have been desperadoes at some time. They are obviously proud of the way they look. After all, it is hard to imagine that that look sprang naturally, without effort, without some guidance to achieve the desired result. The potential was strong, too, for turning mean and ornery. Or so I thought. He may be a mild mannered kitten for all I know, although he looked like he was forever plagued by itchy trigger fingers. I wouldn’t be surprised if his home was called the ok coraal or dodge city or even Boot Hill.
The gleaming whiteness of a snow covered expanse is an attractive sight. Yesterday and today was spent trudging and wallowing in snow. The wallowing was mostly mental. I watched, observed myself take in the experience. It was surreal at times, never ever before a part of my reality, except for infrequent visits to ski resorts and high country. This was suburban snow, a commonplace component of the lives of those who live there, in Buffalo and Rochester and Niagara Falls. The snow was all over. And it was cold, very cold. But I think I have become acclimatised to it. I welcome the opportunity to brave it, but also look forward to returning to indoor warmth afterwards.

25/12/2016
I was too tired to continue beyond the opening statement. Having arrived in Tucson well past midnight, local time, which was well past 2 am in Buffalo where we emplaned about 8 hours earlier, yesterday was hampered by insufficient sleep. All of us soldiered on to meet the needs of the day, entailing grocery shopping and preparation of Christmas Eve dinner. By 9pm we were all zonked out and bedtime could not have arrived sooner. An attempt to write served only to emphasise that my body and mind craved conscious inactivity until overtaken by sleep. And, despite regular interruptions to change position to alleviate shoulder pain I feel rested and refreshed at 10 am on Christmas Day 2016.
Considering a question I posed to myself yesterday, first, what do I understand by genuine compassion? Compassion as a core value is usually a first response to a situation which can arouse a range of emotions. The first emotional response to everything is critical because it more or less determines your attitudes, your behaviour, how you view the world, your levels of greed. That first emotional response is linked to your core values. I have a belief about this. It hails from my own thinking and is untested against what others say about it. I believe human beings are all born with a set of values which, if they are allowed to blossom and develop and find major expression in life, will promote harmony and equilibrium and temper excesses for the common good. Those values comprise love, compassion, kindness, generosity and probably all attributes we know to be good ones. They are promoted by all religions as values to be universally, not selectively, expressed. We do not need to learn those values. They are inbuilt, available from the outset, we are born with them. They are the components of human nature bestowed during gestation. But, they are not hard-wired, set in stone, rock solid. Why not? I don’t know. Maybe it is the way they are at this stage of our cognitive or even our physical evolution. In fact, their attachment is tenuous, easily discarded and replaced by baser attributes like greed, elitism, selfishness. These base characteristics are the fruits of nurture. They are promoted by the values of acquisitive societies which exalt greed, personal wealth and personal ambition. They are the sacred cows of right wing politics. It is all about the perceived needs and desires of the individual. I emphasise perceived needs because it has nothing to do with actual needs. If people were attuned and responded to actual needs there would be no poverty. The products of baseness in human nature are self-interest, suspicion of outsiders, bigotry, hatred. Even the religions that were founded on our archetypal nature have been tailored to give divine sanction to rank self-interest. Institutional religion is elitist, condemning of non-subscribers to a set of beliefs that purport to spring from love but actually promote hatred.
Christmas Day celebrates the birth of a person, worshipped by millions and whose example is not followed by the vast majority of them.
26/12/2016
My mind is not fixed on anything in particular, so I have an opportunity to just write, jot down whatever comes to mind, or choose a topic at random, and write about it.
Why do I regard George Michael as special? What is it about him that I remember most. I know about his sexuality. I was very attracted to his swarthy, smokey good looks when he was a young man. There was something beneath the surface that endeared him to me. The only song with which I have more than passing familiarity is Careless Whispers. I recall him being described as a musical genius. That description pleased me. It’s usage is not commonplace. Many brilliant musicians are not described in that way. I am sorry he is dead. There is nothing more I can say about him right now. Vale George. I guess, as fellow members of the openly gay brotherhood, we were joined in some way.
A well established fact about my life was given a chance to be further entrenched, not that it was needed, not in a broad sense. In a narrow sense, on the other hand, putting time aside to get my heart racing and my body producing sweat has always been difficult, when I’m on holidays overseas. Apart from Singapore. So it is of benefit to briefly dwell on how good I feel after a brief workout at the gym this morning. Just 30 minutes plus stretches and a few abs released enough endorphins to see myself differently, positively. Let’s hope I can find it I me to accomplish a reasonable workout tomorrow morning. And the day after, if we are not setting off too early.
I like shopping for clothes and shoes for myself. Finding something I like which fits me well is most satisfying. If it is significantly discounted so much the better. Nothing gives a bargain hunter more pleasure than shopping at factory outlets.
27/12/2016
My love of children is warmly and abundantly expressed in my relationship with Kate. Kate’s open, generous, affectionate nature engenders loving relationships.

28/12/2016
By the time we get to Phoenix it will be lunchtime. We are coasting along the highway in a large Ford van. Phoenix is just a stopover for lunch and a leg stretch. A longer four hour drive to Horseshoe Bend lies ahead. The terrain is flat for miles around, the road straight. Alluring mountains in the distance, a few closer to the highway, lend variety to the scenery, break the monotony. The mountains look barren, devoid of vegetation. The closer ones reveal a sparse collection of low bushes, perhaps those that become tumbleweed after they dry up and detach from the soil. Now and again the iconic cactus associated with these parts can be seen, reaching above the bushes and the scrub. I suspect there are little if any seasonal difference in the topography of this region. Arizona is largely a desert.
What does it take to be truly not bigoted? Is it natural to ascribe negative attributes to people on the basis of their gender or race or sexual orientation? I think that predilection belongs to the baser half of the ledger of human characteristics. It is impossible to be racist if you have a sense of shared humanity with other individuals regardless of anything about them that is different to you.. The antidote to racism is to regard your neighbour as yourself, with no qualifications or caveats. It does not stop you from leading your life on your own terms, but those terms are governed by compassion and empathy.
To describe Dinesh’s face as ugly would be a stretch, resorted to only by those predisposed to unkindness and one or two sworn enemies. Dinesh’s countenance was pleasant and inoffensive, the sort of face an aspiring bank robber might consider a distinct disadvantage, a face with little prospect of inspiring terror in bank tellers. Despite the ravages of a lifestyle not conducive to keeping at bay the lines, wrinkles and gravitational effects of middle age, it managed to retain an attractiveness that comforted if it didn’t exactly arouse, at first sight anyway. Not that it did not ever arouse, even as the jowls began to form, fan out and then droop around his mouth. Dinesh is a character I am developing for a story.

29/12/2016
Egoless writing: what is it, how do I practise it? Something to dwell on. Queuing for tickets for a tour of Lower Antelope Canyon. About eight or nine vehicles in front of us. People with tickets are being allowed to drive in through a barricade, so it seems. But, I may be mistaken. Anyway, here goes. Afterwards, magical, enchanting, what rain water has done to the sandstone here is unique, mysterious. Maybe, flash floods, known in these parts, have had an impact too. We were in a special place. Nature is awesome to all of humanity, transcending all differences and the hierarchies people are very adept at pigeon-holing themselves into.
To all you triumphant, trumpeting, trumpettes, hear this. If Trump proves to be a good president I will happily eat my words. Above all I want this world to be a better place, for those in need, not for the hideous, bloated, greedy, elitist cretins who are rubbing their fat bellies at the prospect of getting fatter, now that their man has secured the top job.
We are in anti-Obama country. I was surprised to see, in a Native American trading post, tee shirts displaying One Big Ass Mistake America. It hurt me that this sort of place would sell such offensive merchandise. Offensive only to people like me I guess. Offensiveness has a threshold specific to where you are. It is important to factor that in before launching off in outrage.
On the banks of lake Powell, which is actually a dammed up part of the Colorado river, outrage could not be further away. On a cool winters day, bright blue water, separated from a paler blue, cloudless sky by pinkish brown sandstone mounds and cliffs, provides tranquil, scenic splendour. Even human encroachment, represented here by sheds and little boats, popular I bet in summer, does not intrude upon the peacefulness of this spot.
Can all of humanity appreciate the wonders of nature? Today, at the two foremost natural features of Page, Arizona, people of a variety of nationalities and cultures turned up to see them. The commonality in all of them was the motivation to see these natural wonders, motivation that transcended their cultures, their backgrounds. Everyone has a connection with nature. The strength of that connection in the conscious mind is an individual characteristic, but it’s existence isn’t. Nurture can dull it, but not take it away. It is impossible to be completely apathetic to nature. The connection is involuntary, automatic. It stops you, whether or not you admit it. It is not entirely an emotional connection, but one’s emotions are deeply involved.

30/12/2016
Two days to 2017. My life will change next year. The RMIT course will impose more discipline and tighter scheduling. I will have less time to put my feet up. Not physically. I will have little time, if any, for mental idleness. I may have to incorporate study into my physical exercise regime. Audio books hold the key to a successful combination. I tried it once with Stephen Fry with limited success. Learning from audio books is sudden death with each and every meaningful phrase. It places a lot of demands on the listener, providing just one opportunity to listen, understand and absorb, with no chance to reflect. I think it takes acquired skill. Dickens’ bleak house was an unmitigated failure as an audio book. The reason is twofold: unfamiliarity with style and a far too hectic reading pace. But, I will have to resort to audio books to increase the amount of reading I do, even in general. It is difficult to luxuriate in narrated prose. One does that best curled up on the sofa with a book of the visual kind. Unless, there are devices sophisticated enough to give one capabilities and control similar to reading a book.
I’ve just seen the Grand Canyon for the first time. Again, an unforgettable experience, seeing wondrous, incomparable nature. It is a religious experience, without allegiance or reference to any particular man made religion. Those who attribute the wonder and mystery of nature to the handiwork of an intelligent entity are preventing themselves from receiving natures emotional gifts. Praising god serves no useful purpose. Treasuring nature for itself does. It motivates us to care for our environment, even to the extent of making sacrifices for it.
31/12/2016
Is old age catching up with me? In every facet of my life I am trying to be at the cutting edge, making progress, becoming better, remaining optimistic, looking ahead. But, my body is sending out the odd signal that, at the very least, I need to care for it more than I normally do. The signals are not harsh; just gentle ones, all physical, mostly aches and pains that do not go away. There is absolutely no frailty, no loss of mobility, no loss of general fitness. Mentally I have never felt stronger. In the interests of maintaining high levels of physical fitness I need to tailor my regime to more cardio-vascular and leg strength workouts. I think I am on the right track already.
I know what I must do, but what are my plans for achieving it all. What do I want to achieve? I want to maintain my fitness, strength and agility levels. I want to regularly practise the piano, I want to do more reading and I want to improve my writing. I also want to continue working three days a week.
Back to 2017 and what it holds for me. At 66 I am going to try and establish a toehold in the writing profession by learning how to write what people would like to read. There are two broad components to writing, in fact any form of effective communication: having something to say that is interesting and saying it crisply and clearly and to the point. I think my ambition is clear. I want to become as good as I can. Commercial success is not a motivator. Real success is actual, tangible improvement. It is what will make me most proud. Material gain and fame are fringe benefits. Where there is most room for improvement is in the realm of creativity, coming up with what to say. I’m well ahead in how to say it. Regular writing for a few years is bearing fruit in this regard.
I will have to be more disciplined than I am at present. I can overlap activities, like listening to audio books on my walks, do more reading and writing in my spare time, endeavour to optimise time usage. I must continue to play the piano and exercise regularly.

2/1/2017
Inauspicious start to 2017. Our plan to leave Las Vegas this morning for San Francisco was cruelly hit on the head by a burglar who broke into our van while it was parked at the LV premium outlets yesterday, some time between 1.30 and 7 pm. A new year harsh reality check that bad people lurk practically everywhere, and the possibility of becoming a victim is always a likelihood, more so in big cities than small townships. It could have been a lot worse, no one was physically harmed, and the tourists in our group were unaffected, apart from Bock’s mother whose bag, with the only item of value an expensive pair of spectacles, was stolen. But it was the theft of Evans’ bag that put the kibosh on the rest of our holiday. Amongst other things it held keys to their home in Tucson and their Range Rover. In any case, I think overcoming this interruption and continuing without changes to our itinerary would have been difficult. A replacement vehicle was obtained soon enough, but the theft was dispiriting and it kinda sapped our energy and enthusiasm, deflated us. At the tail end of a long holiday, and already worn and tired, we were more vulnerable to these abdominal kicks than at the onset.
Evans and Lilian are busily engaged in talking to all relevant parties to cancel the San Francisco accommodation, ascertain what can be claimed under travel insurance, organise new locks for their home and car and engage in a myriad points of discussion with the vehicle hire company. The removal of the back seat to create storage space for all our luggage will be one of those discussion points.
In the meantime we are hiding out in Tucson until the damage is under control.
What makes a good writer? It is about the words that are chosen to describe something. Cliches and hackneyed phrases should be avoided, like “damage is under control”. A good writer will have the necessary command and insight to find the most appropriate but novel words and phrases. My vocabulary is, I think, good enough to operate at this level. Don’t be satisfied with banal, ordinary words and phrases. Look for individuality but, in my case, stay away from the exotically incomprehensible. My target audience must be those who simply love a good read, not those who use highbrow literature to bolster their self-importance. Clever writing is all about finding the right words to convey the essence, the smell of what you want to say, not being as highbrow as you can, which is pure parading of impressive ability, self-judged, and has nothing to do with skill as a story teller.

3/1/2017

We were unable to visit San Francisco, but the LA leg is unaffected. We leave early tomorrow morning from Tucson, head to Las Vegas where we drop off the back seat of the first van, and after a break for lunch proceed to LA for two nights in an Airbnb house. On Friday evening we emplane for home. Kate Lim is a sweet, lovely girl with a beautiful nature. She is very loving to her family, her relatives and me.
I rarely reflect; I should do more of it. It is good to step back from where everything is happening and quietly try bring it all together, find common threads, look for method and purpose and direction. What can I reflect on now?
I think I have managed to be true to myself throughout this trip, and not be ashamed about anything. I am kind, gentle, tolerant, accepting, non-judgmental, non-critical, accommodating. I derive no pleasure from upsetting people. The key is not to be ashamed about the type of person I am. My perverse, dry sense of humour provides balance in my relationships with people.
4/1/2017
We set off this morning at 4.30. It is now 5.43 and the highway is crowded but not congested. The traffic, including our van, is speeding along without interruptions, without having to slow down. The last time we came to a halt was about an hour ago at a level crossing, where we were forced to let a goods train lumber through.
The experience of actually travelling in the US of A is a far cry from the impressions created by the media, which so often portray it as a violent country, where disputes and evil intentions are usually prosecuted with firearms. Apart from one incident we have been subjected only to politeness, helpfulness, yes, sometimes forthright and assertive but well intended, and also effective, and consideration. One wonders if the bad press is fair, if it is warranted. But, the violence, reported or not, has happened, and is happening as I write. The numbers are large and cannot be trivialised or ignored. It is a vast, wealthy, stunningly beautiful country. I must admit I have not glimpsed even a flicker of its violent underbelly. I did not see our van being broken into. And, it was an event one cannot rule out anywhere in the world. One might ask if we are experiencing, tasting the actual America. Where is the racism, the armed robberies, the car jackings, the shooting sprees, the muggings so frequently associated with this country? There is an actual America that is good and kind and decent. It goes about its business no different to anywhere else in the world where good, kind, decent people live. They are white and black, Anglo-Saxon, of African heritage, Asian, Indian, European. That this has been our experience says a lot about us too. We are a family, with two precious little ones in its bosom. We protect them with our lives. All of us may not enjoy travel equally, but we all equally enjoy going to places and doing things as a family. None of us equates enjoyment with thrills, spills, night life, high risk, the fast lane, dancing till dawn. What excites us is conservative, mundane by comparison. We all love a good feed, a good bargain and great scenery. A brief flutter in a casino is as close as we get to the high life. Above all, we enjoy each other’s company and we adore the children, who positively bask and glow in the affection they receive so abundantly.
Reflection and creative thinking are similar in that they are most productive when they happen spontaneously, through inspiration. Lazy fantasies and daydreaming block the creative channels. Triggers of creativity and inspiration are all around. To avail oneself of them one just needs to be tuned into the present. Curiosity, awareness, alertness absorb the triggers. No one knows what will follow.
We are in California heading towards the city of angels, where we have booked Airbnb accommodation for two nights before departing for Melbourne.We are now flying through LA suburbs. The traffic appears to be thickening, but our pace has not been affected. Not yet. As we approach our destination, not far from downtown, we will be forced to slow down. We should get there well before rush hour, a misnomer for that salutary period in which LA traffic grinds to a halt. Happens twice a day, they say.
5/1/2017
I found a doll that will engender pure delight in Sasha Rose. I bought it after agonising about it for a few minutes. I am happy I bought it. The chief cause of the agony needed to be dealt with. Current and temporary, it turned out be easy: introducing my purchase to Kate without a doll for her as well. Her reaction was wonderful. She liked the doll, was happy for Sasha Rose and showed no resentment or disappointment. She was happy to look at the doll catalogue. We both can move on with no damage to our association.
6/1/2017
Travel day. Our holiday is over and all parties are returning to their normal habitats and lives. My stress levels are high both on my own behalf and the others in the group. I have a strong emotional interest in everyone returning home safely.
Bock and I have passed through immigration and are now rustling up something to eat. Bock is in a queue for pizza; when he returns I will join a much shorter queue for a Caesar salad. Maybe I’ll first check the size of the pizza he brings back; I don’t relish standing in a queue. The salad queue is growing. It is now as long as the pizza queue when Bock joined it. I hope the size of the pizza allows me to forget the salad.
Los Angeles has a sense of non-iconic vastness which does not satisfy as a compact tourist experience. Wherever one beds down in LA one is isolated from large swathes of the city and surrounds because of very poor public transport and legendary traffic jams if one decides to risk life and limb on the highways.
What do you think of Donald Trump? Is it a good or bad thing that he will be the next president of the USA?
I am happy to be proven wrong, but I don’t think assholes are predisposed to doing good things for the world. It is good people that do good things. Generally assholes are in it for themselves. They have no passion to help anyone else. They often attempt to thwart the good things being done. Some good things take a long time to realise benefits, causing the people they are intended to help to become impatient. This impatience is exploited by assholes aspiring for leadership. It is the same with greed, xenophobia and racism, all exploitable, base human traits which assholes use to secure power. This is exactly what Trump is doing. He is offering quick fixes to temporary, transitional problems being faced by a few at the expense of many whose lives have improved from policies implemented by well intentioned leaders. The so called improvements offered by Trump are smoke and mirrors, high on table-thumping rhetoric, but not feasible in any practical sense.
It is almost the last hour of a fifteen hour flight from LA to Melbourne. By reserving a window seat and an aisle seat, we thought the seat in-between would not be taken because it is not exactly an attractive proposition and more people travel with others than by themselves. Our strategy has worked before, but this time it failed. On a full flight the seat was taken. The young man was quiet, kept to himself, and disruption by him was minimal. I think he got up only twice to stretch or visit the toilet. He seemed to quite considerate. Bock appeared to be asleep almost every time I cast eyes in his direction.
It’s a new year, for me a year of transition, a year of new ventures, a year when I plunge into a new life. The lure of a good salary will be difficult to relinquish, but not because I find it irresistible. Pressure will be brought to bear by others. Work for as long as you can is oft repeated advice, well intentioned and sensible for those who don’t have concrete plans for their lives after retirement. I will need to formulate a plan to fully transition from my mainstream work.

2 Comments on “U.S. Journal”

  1. Hi Gerry
    Loved reading your holiday adventure. I just wanted to say, we have not had a single day of regret in moving to retirement. I have just started doing a couple of hours voluntary work at the library and will do more volunteering as we get through more jobs in the house. You will see from Facebook that we have been busy. The most wonderful thing of all is being able to just go. To get out in the bush whenever we feel like it. To sit and listen to the world go by, birds lizards, emus etc. So why am I telling you this? Alan is 2 years older than you but still fit and healthy. We want to do those things while we still can. We gave up work at the right time for us. I am sure you will also know when the time is right. For me in the end it was that I did not have enough time for all the things I was more passionate about than work.
    Have a great day
    Regards
    Fiona

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hi Fiona,
      Thank you for reading my ramble.
      Your Facebook posts are indeed testimony to the full life Alan and you lead.
      The right time for me to give up work altogether is approaching. This week I began a professional writing and editing course at RMIT. At the end of the first semester I will know how successful I have been combining work with the course and my other interests. But, you have given me something else to think about as well, and that is the need to just take time out to enjoy the surroundings, smell the flowers. Take care, love, Gerry

      Like

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