What color is your “blue?”

Back in the early days, when the internet was trying to define itself, different web pages sometimes looked different on different brands of computer, depending on which browser was being used.

The pages would be “rendered” (drawn) differently, depending on algorithms used by both the sending and receiving machine.

For grins and giggles, let’s pretend that each “me” of us is a user, and what we think of as “what’s real” is simply the way our browsers (brains) render the input we receive from others machines that, in turn, have to render their inputs, and often do so imperfectly.

What’s drawn depends as much, or even more, on the receiving machine’s algorithm as it does on the dots and dashes transmitted by the sending machine. We all are building and changing our algorithms daily. Most of us, anyway. I know a few who haven’t changed much since the 70s, but that’s another topic.

I bring this up because it’s important to think about why we think the way we do, and to understand that we can hold fast to our “rendering” of reality without much certainty that it is “objectively” true.

In fact, there ain’t no such thing.


“More coffee?” I’m trying to prolong the conversation.

“No, really, I have to go,” you say.

“Me too,” I say. “How about we go together? Thailand?”  You give me a very strange look.

“Thailand? Thailand is half-way around the world.”

“Not quite. Halfway would be off the tip of South Africa. In the water. Not much of a vacation, but I’d probably go there with you.”

“That’s insane,” you say.

“Haven’t we covered that? I prefer crazy.”

“You prefer being crazy over being rational, maybe,” you say, almost like that’s a bad thing.

“You get it! I knew we had something in common!”

“We don’t,” you respond quickly, reaching for some clarity.

“We should,” I respond. “Look at all the fun we could have.” I have no intention of letting clarity anywhere near this conversation.

“You can’t ‘should have’ something in common. You do or you don’t,” you say with slight exasperation. That’s just one of the things I like about you, the way you show frustration with me so easily. Some try to hide it.

“It can’t be both?” I’ve got you now, but you don’t see it coming.

“Having something in common and not having something in common? No, that’s inconsistent.” You pride yourself on a consistency I’m about to turn into a hobgoblin.

“We have coffee in common,” I say.

“That has nothing to do with this,” the rising tone of your voice tells me you sense the trap.

“We don’t have lipstick in common,” I continue, as if you had not said a thing.

“Stop it.” You see it clearly, now.

“So, obviously, we have something, coffee, in common and don’t have something, lipstick, in common. Happens all the time. In fact, having and not having something in common is something we all have in common.”

“I’m leaving,” you say.

“We can be in Thailand this time next month if you’ll say ‘yes.’ ”

“Why Thailand?” you ask, closing the door again.

“Beautiful beaches, beautiful sunsets, good food, good times, laughter. Yadda yadda. All that, but more important, adventure!

“What happened to Bocas Del Toro?”

“You didn’t respond to Bocas. I’m upping the offer.”

“The food is better than in Bocas?”

“You ever go out for Bocas, or do you go out for Thai?”

“That’s not an answer.”

“There’s one in there somewhere. I might look for a boat there.”


“Thailand. Isn’t that what we’re talking about?

“I don’t know what we’re talking about any more.”

“Then let’s just sit here and enjoy each other’s silence. I like that, too. More coffee?”

You shake your head, but you’re still sitting here. I take that as a hopeful sign.

“Why a boat?” you ask a minute later, a little bit curious.

“Have to get home somehow.”

“You would take a boat back from Thailand?” you ask, with some incredulity.

“Not without stopping in New Zealand. Want to go?”

“Who are you again?” Now you’re trying to avoid the question.

“The guy you met for coffee. What do you think?”

“I think you’re very different than I expected.”

“In a bad way?”

“Not bad, just… different.”


“Would you like to go to Bocas del Toro in March? Let’s stay a month. Get out of winter.  I know a great little place on the water.”

“But I don’t even know you!” you said.

“You would after a month in Bocas.” I say this with a smile, but it’s pretty much true.

“But you don’t even know me!”

“I would after a month in Bocas.” I was being flippant, I admit it.

“That’s just insane.”

“I prefer crazy.”

“You can use either word,” you say. “They’re synonyms.”

“No, I meant, I prefer crazy. Prefer it over the ordinary, or the conventional, or the really truly rational. I’d rather not spend the last of my days being too rational.”

“Why do you say ‘last of your days?’ Are you sick?”

“No. Just crazy. And that’s not a synonym for sick.”

“So why are these the last of your days?”

“Each today is the last of your days. By definition.” I say this with a smile.

“That isn’t how that’s supposed to be used.” You’re getting frustrated.

“But that’s how I prefer to live.”

“What if you don’t like me?” you ask. I don’t blame you for being a little nervous.

“If I didn’t, I wouldn’t suggest we go to Bocas together.”

“What if I don’t like you?” you asked.

“I guess you go home. Or go to Belize. No, that’s not a good idea, I may go to Belize after Bocas, and if you don’t like me, there might not be room for both of us. It’a a small country. So how about it?”

“How about what?”

“Bocas del Toro. Or Belize. Thailand? Bali? Fiji? I’ll pay for airfare and the hotels. We’ll split meals unless we fall in love.”

“What happens then?”

“That would be a really great way to spend the last of our todays, no matter how many we have left.”

“May I think about it?”

“Of course, but don’t take too long.”

“Why’s that?”

“Because I don’t want to spend the last of my days waiting. That would be insane, and I’m not crazy.”

Kitzhaber stung by butterfly

On February 18, 2015, Dr. John Kitzhaber, former governor of Oregon, fell from a cliff 100,000 feet above the floor of the Willamette Valley. Though he was climbing with others, he fell alone. His legacy, found near the capitol in Salem, did not survive.

Many focus on the last moments of his climb, and wonder how an avid outdoorsman could succumb to such a fate.  An autopsy has shown, like many men of his age and “lone-wolfness,” Kitzhaber suffered a malfunction linked to the “Y” chromosome, leaving him vulnerable to a sting by the blind butterfly, Femme Fatale.

Femme Fatale has evolved attributes that attract the susceptible, usually a man with strength and resources who can contribute to her wing span and survival through summer storms. Attached securely to the back of his neck, the butterfly has access to neurons between brain, heart and testes.

There is evidence Kitzhaber may have been stung at least once before by a similar species, rendering him even more susceptible.

Those not exposed to butterfly venom will not grasp the reality-distorting vertigo it induces. Laws of physics seem suspended. Solid walls, inviolable boundaries, the very ground and certainly the mountain path traversed by the former governor, are as if painted on soft curtains that shift and billow in ever changing breezes churned by the butterfly’s softly pulsing wings.

From the outside, it’s as if the sufferer has lost touch with “what’s real” and is blind to appearance, context or consequences. From the inside, it’s as if “what’s real” is just out of reach, pushed farther and farther away by toxins of need, greed and illusion.

Inducing a state of false symbiosis, Femme Fatale attaches her goals to those of the victim, and values are twisted to appear mutual. The result is an exceedingly convincing illusion that the path towards her desires is a path shared and will bring fabulous, if intangible, reward.

The blind butterfly knows only that resources she needs to keep flying are available. Flying is her only goal. Often a butterfly will leave a trail of the broken until the day she loses her shimmer and is seen as another creature altogether.

Ultimately, that’s the tragedy. Right to the point where she takes wing again, those stung by Femme Fatale feel a wondrous future waits just around the next bend in the path. It may be a different path and a different future than they envisioned before the toxins took hold, but it becomes the only one they believe in.

It’s common for them to exclaim, as footing is lost in the loose dirt of illusion, “I love her!” just as the butterfly releases her grip and lets them fall to their fate, while she flies to embrace another.

Making memories

The new book is about half done. The first ten chapters and the last three are written, so I know how it starts and I know where it goes. Weird, but now all I have to do is draw the map between them.

To wrap it up, I pulled a phrase I’d uttered many miles ago to a someone I’d just met. “I’m not ready to let you go.” Later, she and I used that moment often as a reference point for how it all began.

Yesterday, I shared with her I’d used the seminal sentence, even though she and I have been through so much since then.

“I notice you put a lot of your own life into your writing,” she said.

“I hoped to make you smile,” I replied.

“I am smiling,” she said. I could tell from her tone it was true.

“I wanted to give the reader that same sense of hope, vulnerability. In the book it’s different in degree than when I first said it, but the same in what it meant.”

“Hmm,” she said, or something similar.

A couple of months ago, on our last trip over the mountain, she was engrossed looking at photos she’d taken on her phone of places we’d traveled. “It’s all about making memories,” she said.

I wanted to say, look at the snow in the trees, wet leaves on black pavement, take my hand in yours, make this a memory! Be with me! But I just drove, knowing that grasping harder would squeeze the remaining life out of what we had, not knowing how to keep her from slipping away.

So I put words I’ve heard and words I’ve said and wanted to say into the mouths of characters in a novel half finished. It’s a complete fiction woven of moments some of which are real, by a writer trying to make sense of what is and what’s not, using memories to create something that never happened.