I have been possessed by an earworm for the better part of a week, perhaps more.
There I will be, merrily typing along or picking apples from the trees in the front yard for Red to bake into pies or applesauce or any number of culinary delights, and all of a sudden I will hum or sing, “Nothing really matters, anyone can see,” or perhaps “Scaramouche, Scaramouche, will you do the fandango?”
The interesting thing is that the accompaniment I hear in my brain is not a piano and crashing electric guitars, but a banjo, fiddle, dobro, mandolin, acoustic guitar and standup bass. I seem to have become obsessed by the Petersens’ rendition of Queen’s “Bohemian Rhapsody.”
The Petersens are a family bluegrass band, three sisters, their brother, mom and a family friend, who have a popular show in Branson, Missouri, a boatload of videos on YouTube, and more than 1,400 patrons on Patreon. We have been enjoying the videos so much that we’ve talked about planning a trip to Branson someday soon to catch a performance.
At the risk of planting the worm in your own ear, I invite you to enjoy the video I’ve embedded with this post. Just be warned, you may also find yourself hearing the song in your head somewhat constantly for the next week or so. It’s a very, very frightening prospect, anyone can see.
I may believe in church and community food pantries, and you may believe in government-issued food stamps, but we both believe in feeding people who can’t afford a decent meal.
I may believe in schools at home or funded by voluntary donations, and you may believe in government-funded education, but we both believe in teaching our children what they need to know.
I may believe government is an instrument of force that needs to be limited in its powers, and you may believe government is a tool that should be utilized for all kinds of services and regulations, but we both believe necessary services must be provided somehow.
We are bombarded every day with messages intended to foment mistrust and hate against our neighbors. I’m here to tell you those messages are lies that suppress the fact that we agree on a common mission, which is to love our neighbors.
“We are all a little crazy, don’t you think? And the fact that we do think is why we don’t jump out of the chair and run down the street shrieking, ‘You’re all crazy, but that’s OK because I am a little crazy, too, and it’s the only thing that keeps us sane!’ We need that little bit of sanity to keep us on the edge instead of toppling over into the abyss.
“We set our goals and make our plans, and then all the pinballs start bouncing off of us and the flippers flip us in another direction entirely. But that’s all right, because we learn how to roll with the punches and the collisions that way.
“But seriously, don’t you just want to scream sometimes? Are you and I the only ones on the planet who’s not nuts? And frankly, I worry about you, because I’m pretty sure I’m a little nuts, too, and you’re the only sane one.”
As he continued along this merry line of thought, she twirled the wine glass between her fingers and started thinking about exit strategies. This would be very tricky, seeing as how she was married to him, but it would be of no benefit for the room to realize that they belonged together.
“You belong together,” they had said. Maybe that was when he started to believe everyone is a little crazy, because he must have seen as well as she did that they did. not. belong. together. He was a bit of a loon — a charming loon, she had to admit, but nonetheless a loon. She was rock solid cool reasoning in a smart and practical dress. But toasts had been toasted and winks exchanged and soothing coos kept cooing that they belonged together.
Maybe it was true, too. But not tonight. Not while he was rambling crazily about how we’re all a little crazy and on the verge of screaming down the street.
He stopped rambling long enough to look at her and say, “You’re awfully quiet tonight.”
And that was true, too, so she shrugged and said, “I guess so.”
“Do you know what I guess?” he said after a moment. “I guess there are a million million planets with some form of life or another, and on one of those planets — this very minute! — a couple of beings are having a conversation and one is saying to the other, ‘I think this whole thing is crazy, this nutty world where we’re always breathing ammonia and sitting on the verge of blowing each other up all the time, but don’t those seven moons look beautiful tonight?’ That’s what I guess.” He laughed. “Did you really just roll your eyes at me? You know, you are so cute when you roll your eyes, and I don’t blame you. I’m talking silly. I don’t know what I’m saying, it’s craziness, I sort of feel insane right about now, it’s like there’s this guy sitting with a beautiful woman and talking about going crazy in this crazy world. I can’t blame you for whatever it is you’re thinking.”
“Do you want to know what I think?” she said.
“Of course I do.”
“Do you really want to know what I think?” she said, a little louder.
“What you think is very important to me.”
“Do you really, really want to know what I think?” and now she stood and leaned over him, and she was so loud conversations stopped and people turned to hear his answer.
“Why, yes,” he said. “I really, really want to know what you think.”
She sighed. “I think they were right.”
“— about what?”
“We belong together.”
His eyes widened. “We do?”
“Yes, we do. I’m crazy about you.”
“And I’m just crazy.”
The room laughed, even though they weren’t joking. But no one went screaming down the street that night, and everyone went home smiling.
I keep returning to some themes. While browsing my old stuff the other night, I found this from Aug. 13, 2013 …
If not now, when?
What is it you’ve been meaning to do?
The time to do it is now.
“It can wait; I have time to get it done.” Perhaps. But time runs out.
The time you have left is already under way.
A couple weeks earlier on July 29, I posted:
While you can
So much to say, so much to do …
We all have the same number of minutes per day, but we don’t have the same number of days. We know how many minutes per day we have; we don’t know how many days.
Fret not over the reality that your days are finite; what can you say or do that is infinite, that lasts, that will still be making its impact when you are gone?
Say it. Do it.
Say what you can, do what you can, while you can.
And fret not that you could have done more: You did this.
– – –
Then, as now, I was preoccupied with getting things done. Around the same time I wrote a post about a couple dozen projects I had started but not finished. Procrastination was, then as now, one of my worst habits. The fact that my time on this planet is finite, then as now, weighed on my conscience.
Reading those old posts, I almost threw up my hands and thought that nothing has changed — I’m still the guy with big ideas he never gets around to finishing.
Then I remembered that when I wrote these posts nine years ago, I had published seven books — four with my name on it and three editions of works in the public domain. I now have 21 books out there — the 12th with my name on it comes out Oct. 18, and I’ve released nine public domain books. One of the original seven — The Adventures of Mike Phoenix — was a collection of four novelettes and a short story. It’s been replaced by Mike Phoenix: The Complete Novelettes, which is 16 novelettes and two short stories.
We can fuss and fret about the pace of progress, because we do have a limited time on this earth. Or we can open our eyes a little, celebrate the evidence of real progress, and get on with it. That was my advice to you and to myself in those two blog posts above, and it’s still valid.
Getting upset about our procrastination is just another way of procrastinating.
It caught me off guard, and I have no idea if anyone else even noticed. But it was an interesting omission.
I was at one of those events where they decided to start by reciting the Pledge of Allegiance. Everyone dutifully put their hands over their hearts, and the leader led the way.
“I pledge allegiance to the flag of the United States of America, and to the republic for which it stands, one nation, under God, with liberty and justice for all.”
I felt like I was the only one who thought, “Wait, what?” The event went on unabated, and no one remarked that the pledge leader had forgotten the word, “indivisible.”
The more I thought about it, the more I thought how appropriate a mistake it was.
Most people think the nation is more divisible than ever. For years the practitioners of practical politics have been working as hard as they can to drive a wedge between people, to the point where the phrase “civil war” finds itself on people’s lips and poll questions.
H.L. Mencken’s famous line is, “The whole aim of practical politics is to keep the populace alarmed (and hence clamorous to be led to safety) by menacing it with an endless series of hobgoblins, most of them imaginary.”
The pending civil war is another one of those imaginary hobgoblins, and the politicians who play with that fire are hoping the populace clamors to be led to safety from civil war by, say, suspending the Constitution and rounding up all the people who disagree with the party in power. By playing with that particular fire, of course, they risk getting us all badly burned.
The best way to counter the foolishness that is contemporary politics is not to take the bait. When someone tries to divide us into “us and them,” talk about how much we have in common. And you know what we have MOST in common? Most of us are sick and tired of people who try to divide us.
I think people in general are more indivisible than the politicians give us credit for.
And then every so often I have this urge to just write whatever wild story springs to mind about a pterosaur climbing out of the ocean and toppling skyscrapers and puny humans crying out for rescue. A heroic figure stands, arms akimbo, surveying the scene, and says, “I think I can do something about this.”
But suddenly cartoon flamingos from another dimension appear from nowhere and pull a previously unnoticed plug in the pterosaur’s heel, causing it to deflate like a Thanksgiving parade balloon.
“I didn’t see that coming,” the hero admits, not noticing the train thundering up behind him. A woman in a toga tackles him out of the way, and as they lie next to the train tracks, he gasps and says, “You saved my life again,” to which she sighs and replies, “I know. You’d be dead several times over without me, and that would be no fun indeed.”
Just as suddenly, the whole scene vanishes, characters and trains and dinosaur and all, and life goes on as if none of it ever happened, because, well, quite literally, it never did.
We entered a new dark age in 2020 when governments around the world closed down economies, restricting people’s business, pleasure and their very movements, citing the danger from a novel coronavirus not, it seems to have turned out, dramatically different from other viruses that had achieved pandemic status in recent years.
The coordinated attack on our freedom was so complete, sudden and unexpected that most people complied without thinking. Of course, then more and more people started thinking, and they thought even harder when it became clear that independent thought was being systematically suppressed and censored.
Starr O’Hara’s helpful little book lays down a concise summary of what happened, along with practical ways to maintain one’s sanity and independence in the resulting dystopia.
As I wrote the other day, I feel conflicted about introducing a book called It’s Going to Be All Right at this particular time. On the other hand, someone needs to encourage people to remain calm and think things through while alleged leaders are screaming messages of fear and loathing at us, waging proxy wars, and otherwise behaving as if they’d love to incite an apocalypse to reduce the surplus population. So I’m moving forward with plans to release my latest collection curated from this blog on Oct. 18.
In the meantime, I strongly urge anyone who is alarmed at the totalitarian excesses of recent years to get hold of Ms. O’Hara’s book — and to obtain a paper copy, as I have. It’s available as an ebook, but ebooks can be erased as if they never existed or lost if the grid goes down. They haven’t yet succeeded in burning every last book.