Slow Down

Writing with a fountain pen on a postcard, copyright Paul MerrillI’ve discovered the joys of using a fountain pen. It gives me a unique sense of pleasure to feel the pen tip moving across the paper. The paper’s texture enters my brain in a way it never could if I was using my super-smooth ball-point pen.

My sister and her family raise chickens. Sure, it takes a lot more work to keep those birds happy compared to simply buying eggs at their local supermarket. I am sure that the eggs taste better – and that their kids are learning responsibility in a way that schoolwork alone could never do.

The book Words Onscreen (by Naomi Baron) advocates moving away from electronic books – and back to the old paper variety. At least one of the reasons is that printed typography can be better. I’m not sure I am willing to ditch my old Kindle, but it’s worth considering.

Walking or riding a bike to get somewhere takes a lot more time. Time is money, so it can be expensive too. But you’ll smell the roses along the way.

Brewing coffee with a French press takes longer than an electric drip machine. But I like the taste better.

I’ve started sending old postcards, by snailmail, to friends. I like using my fountain pen and making that small analog connection with humans. (Who doesn’t like to get something in the mail?) If you’d like to get a free postcard, send an email to me (with your address) at phmerrill at gmail dot com. Apologies, but if you live outside the USA, I can’t afford the postage – about four times more!

The photograph was taken by my daughter Rachel.



pulling a guitar stringTension can make or break us. Too much tension can ruin a relationship. Too little tension can bring on depression.

We are naturally drawn to seek tension, because it’s healthy. But we are also repelled by situations that  cause too much tension.

We all fall in a spectrum of desire too much or too little tension.

Benoît Lecomte plans to swim across the Pacific Ocean.  (He has already crossed the Atlantic.) Mr. Lecomte is seeking a huge amount of personal tension. I am not sure why he is seeking such levels of pain. He will either receive the fame that comes with being the first to complete such a feat – or he may lose his life. I appreciate how people like Benoît push the boundaries of humans accomplishment.

At the other end of the tension spectrum is someone I knew who died for lack of tension. They refused to exercise to the point of losing most physical capabilities. They insisted on their own way by refusing healthy choices, some of which resulted in their eventual death. Their driving motivation was to avoid pain.

You most likely fall somewhere in the middle. My struggle is not judging people at either extreme.

Another struggle I face is pushing myself from the complacent end of the spectrum toward the middle. I know that I need more tension, like in the area of exercise. In some areas of life, I need less tension.

Balance is elusive.



dreams - z's over a night sky“Dreams” often mean “desires” or “hopes” – or if we are serious with our intentions, “plans.”

Today I’ll refer to “dreams” in terms of what happens when we’re asleep.

I love dreams – at least most of the time. It’s fascinating to see how our brains mash up random bits of our past experiences with what’s going on in our lives.

My wife, daughter and I often ask each other first thing in the morning, “Did you dream anything?” It’s a fun way to start the day.

Lately I’ve been having a lot of dreams related to my job – the projects I’m spending my days working on. Sometimes those dreams are just variations on what is really happening and other times they go in random weird directions. A few weeks back I dreamed that I needed to bake several egg dishes and write down the recipes. (I’ve never been much of a cook.)

My favorite dream of the last several months was one that featured my mom. She passed away more than five years ago. In this dream, she talked with me, and it was very soothing. The part of my brain that was still rooted in reality knew that she was gone, but she came back for just a little while. It was really nice.

Have you had any good dreams lately?


How the other half lives

price upon request description in Wall Street Journal articleI love the looney tunes 1% of the upper 1% lifestyle stuff in The Wall Street Journal. You know – articles comparing camel hair coats – the cheapest being $1,195 and the most expensive being $3,550.

I was quite amused recently to see “price upon request.” I know that phrase. It means, “If you don’t know the price range in which this object is priced, you shouldn’t ask.” Or better, “Unless you drove to the store in a new Bentley, don’t ask.”

I know, I know, there are some good people in the top 1% of the upper 1%. And some of them keep the wheels of society moving forward.

But others are making their zillions off the backs of people who can’t afford to stay in a one-bedroom apartment in the worst section of town on what their wages will cover.

My own sister-in-law has been working for a large company that has given her only about 10c more an hour reward for the several years she has faithfully served.

What amused me most about, “price upon request,” was that for some reason, The Wall Street Journal didn’t take the time to request the price.

So why do I write this kind of post about something I can’t change? I may be “full of sound and fury – signifying nothing,” as Shakespeare said in Macbeth. I understand that the top 1% of the upper 1% will never read this. I know that there is very little you or I can do to change the injustice of major corporation CEO salaries.

But I am amused at some aspects of that lifestyle. And you may be amused at some aspects of my lifestyle too.