CareTake 2


Emery Ward couldn’t believe his luck. When his academic advisor mentioned a possible part-time job that included living accommodations, that was lucky strike number one.  That the accommodations were in the home of his intellectual hero, Dr. Clarice Tempest, was lucky strike number two.

Emery didn’t think Professor Hecking knew he and his dog Dilbert had been living out of his old VW van. He’d been doing a good job of keeping that a secret. But there were only so many times one could be found snoozing on the couch in the lounge of the philosophy building without raising suspicions.

The retired professor seemed surprised to see him when he stopped by at the scheduled time for his interview. Maybe she’d never met an otaku before.

“Why, you have ears!” said Dr. Tempest. She was adorable. “I mean, why do you have ears, young man?”


Emery giggled. “I’m nekomimi,” he said, “in tribute to Mochizuki.”

She turned abruptly, as if she hadn’t heard him. “Might as well come inside, Cat-ears,” she said over her shoulder, “so we can figure out if this will work or not.”

Emery realized he was being put on notice. Time for his best behavior, then. Time for the charm.


It was easy to charm Wittgy, Dr. Tempest’s handsome Australian shepherd, who leaned into him when he rubbed the pressure point above the right shoulder. Dilbert circled the way he does when he’s chosen a new four-legged friend.


Dr. Tempest was nowhere to be found, so Emery made himself busy in the kitchen, gathering up the forgotten coffee cups, cleaning the sink, unloading the dishwasher.


“Are you still here?” she said as he finished wiping down the counters. “Can you play chess?”

He couldn’t.

“A philosopher must play chess,” she said. “Might as well get started.”


He calculated five moves out.

“Did you really read my book?” she asked. He had.

“I even wrote about it,” he said. “I want to do my senior project on Wittgenstein.”

“It’s a dead end,” she said, and he didn’t know if she meant the line of study or the chess move.


When they finished the game, she told him to stay for a while. The interview wasn’t over.

“How about if you and Sharkfin stay the night tonight?” she asked. “The couch is comfortable. We have an extra supper bowl for your strange dog.”

She wanted to see how he was at fixing breakfast. “Most important meal, and all that,” she said. “I can never seem to cook the eggs right, anymore,” she said wistfully. “I forget to stir them. That’s bad, isn’t it?” She wandered upstairs.

Emery headed out back to check on the dogs.


They’d become fast friends. In fact, it seemed they’d developed a mutual crush.

“I always suspected you were gay,” he said to Dilbert, who was showing off, chasing his tail.


The lights upstairs went out, so Emery stripped down to his boxers and swam a few laps in the natural pool, under the moonlight.

He felt very free out there, very happy. Maybe, at least for a little while, this was an end to the troubled times. He began to think of breakfast–eggs! Hot eggs! And what if there were English muffins in the cupboard! And he could absolutely make coffee. Hot, steaming coffee! He could go to his ten o’clock class on a full stomach for once.


Heading back indoors, he saw the shepherd standing near the border of poppies and daisies. “Come on, Wittgy,” he said.

Something splashed.


“Oh! Pardon me!” He backed up quickly, so as not to see Dr. Tempest, who was bathing herself in the moonlight in the outdoor copper tub that was used to bathe the dogs.

He hadn’t seen a thing. He’d be sure to tell her in the morning.

He supposed he’d have to get used to occurrences like that, if the third lucky strike happened and he were offered the job. A retired philosophy professor is entitled to a bit of eccentricity, he thought to himself as he curled up on the couch and let himself settle into the best night’s sleep he’d had in ages.


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CareTake 1


After her retirement as professor of post-modern philosophy at the university, Clarice Tempest promised herself that when the tasks of daily maintenance caused too much physical pain to her arthritic hands and limbs, she’d seek a caretaker.

She put it off as long as she could.

When it hurt to use the manual can-opener, she bought an electric one. When she could no longer unscrew jars, she stopped eating processed foods–everything fresh was healthier, anyway. But when it began to hurt to hang the laundry on the clothesline, she realized that the time had probably come.

The forgetfulness didn’t help matters.


“What am I doing here, Wolfie?” She asked her Abyssinian when she found herself standing in the kitchen.

The electric tea maker beeped.

“What is that? What’s that noise?”

Wolfie meowed and pointed his nose towards the appliance.

“Tea, what a brilliant suggestion, cat!” She poured herself a steaming cup of green Darjeeling.


Tea helps everything, she thought. But it didn’t. It didn’t help her to remember, or if it did, not enough, and it didn’t make the pain go away, or if it did, not sufficiently. She needed more help than could be delivered by dried leaves steeped in hot water.


The boys, her neighbors, were glad to hear she’d come to her senses.

“About time,” said one of them. She could never remember their names.


Brant and Bradley. Brick and Breck. Brent and Brian. They had the same last name, though they weren’t brothers. She called them Sonny and Lad. Mr. Sonny. Mr. Lad. Nicknames were a face-saver, masking the repeated lapse.

At any rate, they were glad to hear she was ready to bring in help.

“Hallelujah!” applauded Mr. Sonny.

“We know just the person,” said Mr. Lad.


Clarice felt bashful. They were prepared for this? Had they been expecting it along? Was it that obvious that she couldn’t care for herself, her dog, and her cat any more?

“He’s one of Brant’s students,” said Lad. “Oh! You’ll like this! He’s a philosophy major!”


“I started asking around after we talked about this last,” Mr. Sonny said.

Wait. They’d talked about this? She’d asked him to help find someone? She played along.

“He’s a great kid,” Mr. Sonny continued. “Junior. Good student. I’m his adviser. Get this: when he was in my research practicum, he wrote his paper on your book.”

Did anyone even read The Paradox of Wittgenstein: Transcending the Limitations of the Dialectic? Apparently so. It was flattering and slightly worrying. Suppose the boy wanted to talk about her thesis. Could she even recall it?


They agreed that Mr. Sonny could arrange for the student to come by, if he were still interested.

“A short interview is all that’s needed,” Clarice said. “I’ll know right away. Either he’ll fit, or he won’t.”

When he showed up after classes two days later, with a white dog in an absurd red shark costume, Clarice wasn’t so sure. By appearances, this would definitely not work out. But still, appearances could be misleading sometimes. She had to concede that she didn’t know right away, but she was willing to give the boy, as ridiculous as he seemed, a chance.


The dog raced past her, through the open door and into the house, as she walked out to greet them. No matter. Her shepherd, Wittgenstein, would keep this rogue mutt in line.


It was his get-up that made the boy ridiculous–a clown-colored shirt on his body, baby blue Punjabi jutti on his feet, and cat’s ears on his head.


“I’m kinda excited to meet you, Dr. Tempest,” he said. “Like, as in, sorta thrilled!” He giggled.


“Pleased to make your acquaintance, young man,” she said.

“Oh, you can call me–” and he said a name. Surely it was a good name, starting with a vowel. Not an A. Maybe an O. Or maybe an E. Yes, it was an E name. But Clarice couldn’t remember it for the life of her.


She called him Cat-ears.

“Might as well come inside, Cat-ears,” she said, “so we can figure out if this will work or not.”


When they got inside, they found that Sharkfin–he had another name, but she could never remember it–was charming Wolfie and Wittgenstein.


“Aw,” said Cat-ears. “You’ve got a really pretty dog. I’ve always loved Australian shepherds.”

And Sharkfin didn’t even get jealous when his master knelt down to share some love with the spotted dog.


He was sweet, she had to admit that, and she’d always had a soft spot for sweet boys.

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Author’s note: What’s this? A new story? It’s another Bonus Short! I hope you enjoy it. The awesome Emery (Cat-Ears) and Dilbert (Sharkfin) were game-generated, in these lovely get-ups, as if the game knew what story it wanted me to write.

Forgotten Art: Jasper -Seth 3

A reply to: A letter from Seth


Hey, Seth. Thank you for your letter.

I hope the sun isn’t so hungry today.

I went out to the bluffs this evening. Here, the fog slides in from the bay, and even the wrens are still.


I liked these sentences you wrote: “The human species is a great big mirrored funhouse. It’s distorted projections of the self all the way down.”

This ties in with my response to your request:  “Tell me, about your words; when do you know they are lies, and when do you know they are true?”


I guess it depends on how one defines “lies.” I’ll assume that we both know what we mean by true. We feel it, right? Or at least, that’s how it works for me. For example, I feel the truth of your words.


If we take a lie to be an intentional diversion of truth, through misdirection, omission, or distortion, then my words don’t lie, for I don’t intend to divert the truth.


But if we take a lie to be a softening of the harshness of direct perception, then, yes. Sometimes, my words lead down a softer path, and that’s the only path I have the strength and resolve to follow, sometimes.


If we take a lie to be our accounts of our travels through the mirrored funhouse, then yes. All words lie. Or at least all of mine do, for my perception is colored by my existence in this form, with my particular and individual neurochemically driven responses and interpretations.


My wife, Bess, used to talk to me of the vertical and horizontal currents of energy. I never understood what she meant during her lifetime, but I am beginning to feel those currents now that I’ve been relieved from the demands of my career and I have time to feel.

I’ve been practicing qigong with a group that meets most mornings in the grassy area near my house. Qigong, according to my teacher, is about these two currents of energy, the vertical and the horizontal. What she says fits with what I feel.

The vertical channel connects us with the universe, with life energy, with the abstract, and with the earth. The horizontal connects us with the social.


It’s the vertical that’s got my attention right now and that I want to experience and explore. For me, that’s the connection with truth.



What happens–and it’s happening even now as I write this–is that as I try to translate my experience of that vertical channel of energy into the horizontal, so that I can communicate it with another person, the words tangle it. What I write feels like a lie, though I am intending to write the truth.


I don’t possess your genius for communicating unmediated truth.

Have you ever read Wittgenstein? I love that man. Six multi-part propositions, expressed in a treatise of nearly 70 pages, to lead to this single observation:

The right method of philosophy would be this. To say nothing except what can be said, i.e. the propositions of natural science, i.e. something that has nothing to do with philosophy: and then always, when someone else wished to say something metaphysical, to demonstrate to him that he had given no meaning to certain signs in his propositions. This method would be unsatisfying to the other—he would not have the feeling that we were teaching him philosophy—but it would be the only strictly correct method.

My propositions are elucidatory in this way: he who understands me finally recognizes them as senseless, when he has climbed out through them, on them, over them. (He must so to speak throw away the ladder, after he has climbed up on it.) He must surmount these propositions; then he sees the world rightly.

Whereof one cannot speak, thereof one must be silent.


I haven’t yet mastered the art of silence, though that is what I am working on now–though you can’t tell it’s part of my practice from my nonsensical ramblings in this letter!

I don’t know how to be a silent pen pal. Send you a blank sheet of paper, I guess.

Bess used to talk to me about etiquette. I had a phase, early in my career, when I was fed up with academic politics and anything that felt inauthentic. Etiquette felt inauthentic to me.

That’s when I stopped shaving. But I also took up expressing exactly how I felt exactly when I felt it to exactly whomever I was speaking.

My “bout with unmitigated authenticity” just about cost me my career.




Eventually, Bess got me to understand that the conventions for social communication helped to form a space for safety, and within that space, authenticity might occur.

We need to know the other person’s not going to stab us with a knife before we’ll show him our soft spots.


I hear a lot of pain in your words, a history of betrayal.

On this planet, so many people have been so hurt, and most of it, for no purpose and so avoidable. I am sorry to feel that you, too, have been hurt. This pain, caused by others, it is so often so needless.


We’re all so vulnerable, really. Soft, fleshy beings, with nothing between us and infinity but the structures of our minds, the chatter of our thoughts, that form a wall, a barrier against the indefinable silence.


At one point, a person can decide: I will do my best not to add to my own pain. Then they might decide: I will do what I can not to contribute to others’ pain. Then they might decide: I will do what I can, within the scope of my responsibility and path, to help alleviate the suffering of others.

Maybe I can do some good.


That’s the commitment I’ve made to life. Right now, my scope feels very narrow: my family. A few neighbors. I would like to help anyone that will let me, anyone that I have the capacity to help.

It starts here, with me, hooking up with life, the grand mistress. From there, maybe I reach out to as many as I can hold in my arms at one time: my niece. My grand-niece. My nephew, if he’ll let me.

Then, I walk through life, and I see who shows up. If I’ve got the capacity to show up, and another person has the capacity to show up, maybe we can help each other. Maybe, we hold out our hands–see? No pistol. No knife. Maybe, we can become friends.


I know you can read into my words, Seth. I hope that you can read into the silence beyond them.

I’m not wise enough to know when not to speak. And I hope you’ll forgive me for being a foolish old man.

With love and gratitude,


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