Category Archives: Uncategorized

Turn by Turn Directions

Imagine for a moment, that from the moment of your birth, there was a singular destination to which you were bound, and that the journey to that destination would occupy all the time and energy of your life.

Imagine further, that taking a wrong turn on that journey could have eternally dire and inescapable consequences.

That would suck.

Now imagine, once more, that as is often the case for us in this modern world of wonders, there were an App for that.

Sweet!

Life Directions

In this scenario, the algorithm behind the app is programmed in such a way that it not only knows where you are now and what direction you are heading, it knows about every obstacle and side street you will ever encounter.  It knows about all the other drivers, where they are heading, and when you will interact with them.  It knows about the traffic and weather conditions you will experience today, tomorrow, and every day for the rest of your life.

All of which would be profoundly handy, if the app could be expected to relay even a fraction of this information to you.

But that’s not how it works.

There’s no glowing blue dot on a map that moves when you move, and no artificially soothing voice badgering you to turn left in 300 feet.

The information is there, but by design it doesn’t display.

And there are no ‘In App’ purchases that will make it do so.

Seems a bit less convenient now, doesn’t it?

It gets worse.

The reason the algorithm knows about all the traffic holdups and twisting side streets to nowhere, is because it put them there.  What’s more, rather than directing you along the most direct and speedy route to your destination, the algorithm is designed to offer up vague guidelines and suggestions while purposely directing you through bad neighborhoods and into bumper to bumper traffic jams, all as a way to test your willingness to continue using the app.

You might think that the other drivers could provide some assistance, but you’d be wrong.  Most of them are too busy arguing about which version of the app you should be using and on which platform.  The dedicated UserGroups are typically more interested in increasing their own numbers, and less so with actual troubleshooting.

But the one thing they will all tell you, fervently, is that you’ve got to TRUST the APP.  If you don’t trust the app, you will never arrive at your destination.  At least, not the one you were hoping for.

And who’s fault would that be?

The other users will let you know, and with absolute certainty, that if you take a wrong turn along the way, or maybe you get sideswiped by a bus, you only have yourself to blame.  Obviously you couldn’t have been using the app correctly.

If, on the other hand, you navigate your way through some bad situation unscathed, that’s just the app doing its thing, and not something you should be taking any credit for.

Probably, you should think about making a contribution to the developer.

****

Occasionally, I feel the need to construct these little “What If’s” when trying to understand how Monotheists see the world.

Sometimes they are helpful.

Sometimes they are just entertaining.

Sometimes they scare the crap out of me.

All I can say about this one, is save yourself the trouble and don’t download the app.

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For God(s) and Country

I have, I feel I must confess, an unsavory fascination with watching Christians arguing amongst themselves about matters of morality and ethics.

I do try to stay away from these debates.

And mostly I am successful.

But occasionally I’ll find myself caught up in the tawdry spectacle.

And afterwards…,

I usually feel dirty, and a little disappointed with myself. The same sort of feeling I remember coming away with after watching an episode of Jerry Springer, when it first started to get popular and I wanted to see what all the fuss was about.

Most recently, I found myself reading an article, the link to which had been posted by an old high school friend, in which a Christian minister was trying to convince his extended flock that they ought to stop criticizing Donald Trump. Because ‘the Donald’ is our president, which means he was put there, by God, as all leaders are, for a purpose, and all the philandering, the tax evasion and lying, the caging of children and constant stream of reprehensible comments, is all completely beside the point.  It is the moral duty of every good Christian, he suggests, to fully support the President and his agenda.

Obviously, it was not an article written for me or mine.

No, it was a missive from Christians, to Christians, extolling the current President as an instrument of God for whom any moral qualms should be set aside.

secondcoming

And after I’d made sure that it wasn’t something published by The Onion, I read it again…,

…and double checked for signs of satire.

None.

Ooookay.

The President of the United States was placed in office by the Christian god.

They, the Christians, at least some of them, really believe this.

It seems unlikely, but it does bring up some interesting questions, like…,

How does that work with free will?

I mean, did God work his will upon just enough voters, in the right states, to sway the Electoral College? Should a vote even count if some random deity (who is not even an American citizen, by the way) has his way with your freedom of choice? Or did he work his dark miracle through the nimble fingers of Russian hackers and fake news accounts?

And what was the deal with Obama?

Did the Most High’s omnipotence come up short during those two elections?

Or did the Christian god decide to put the black guy in the Oval Office for those eight years. You know, the secret Muslim who wanted to destroy America, start a race war, throw all the republicans into FEMA Camps, cripple the economy, steal your money to pay for someone else’s healthcare…, THAT guy!

And if he DID put Obama into office, where was all that “He’s the instrument of God who’s failings you should ignore because it’s all part of God’s plan” bullshit that they trot out when it’s convenient for their agenda.

You’d have thought they wouldn’t have cared so much about a birth certificate, if he had a Biblical stamp of approval.

****

Sometimes I wonder how it would be different if we treated leadership as we did with the Celtic kings during pagan times.

The king was chosen not by any particular god, but by the elders of the tribe.

And in assuming kingship over the land, he ceremonially took the goddess of that domain as his wife. And if he pleased her, if he treated her well, with all the proper respect and worship that was due a woman and goddess, the soil would be bountiful, his wars successful, and his people, prosperous.

It’s an interesting line of thought.

But when I begin to consider how those among our present leadership actually treat women, the things they say, the decisions they make…,

No, it’s probably best we leave the true gods out of modern politics. We’re obviously not sophisticated enough for them.  Not just yet.

The time may come, however.

A time for gods and country.

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Flirting with Tyranny

ByCandlelight

It is easy for me to imagine them having dinner together on their anniversary.

The scene is dark and romantic, one of those undiscovered hole-in-the-wall restaurants that only the locals know, rugged brick walls and old wooden rafters, and the kind of food that men have quite literally died for.

They always come here.

Every year, the same restaurant, the same table even.

A happy tradition.

She’s wearing her favorite copper number.  

She wondered, earlier, as she pulled it out of her closet, if she shouldn’t start looking for something a little more fashionable, but sitting here now, basking in his smile, she knows she looks good by candlelight.

Mister top hat and tails, across the table, is looking pretty good himself.

Oh sure, he’s a little heavier and a little grayer around the temples, but he’s still the same sweet guy she’s carried a torch for these two-hundred and forty-two years.

Such a long time ago, and so much has changed.

Why, they were just children when they first met.

She was an entirely new idea, unrealized and untested in social situations.

And he was a brash bit of a country bumpkin, eager to get out from under daddy’s shadow, and prove his worth in the wide world.

The families were scandalized, she smiles to herself, enjoying the memory, but here we are, almost half way through a third century, and going strong.

He’s been talking to her, throughout her musing, chatting about work, or the neighbors or something, but now she notices that he’s stopped.

She’d been looking, not at him so much, as through him, and into memories of days bygone.

Now, she’s back, and along with the sudden silence, she notices that his eyes are no longer meeting her own, but are instead, glancing toward something just over her shoulder.

Something, or someone, behind her, at the bar.

And then, as if it had never happened, his gaze is back and he’s amiably chatting again, as if he’d never stopped.

But now she is studying him more closely, and listening more intently to the other voices in the restaurant.  She becomes aware of a group of male voices behind her, murmuring among themselves, and then the clear, bright laugh of a woman in their midst.

And his eyes move again, with the laughter, and she knows exactly what he’s looking at.

And his eyes come back, and she smiles and he keeps on with the small talk.

But they dart back again soon enough, as the noise behind her rises a bit.

She takes a sip of her wine, and then, while pretending to gauge its consistency by candlelight, she raises the glass to observe in reflection, the scene at the bar.

Half a dozen nation states, bumbling fools the lot of them, all fawning over a women she knows all too well.

Tyranny, in a little black dress, just soaking up the attention.

And not, mind you, from her little ‘admiration society’ at the bar.

Vamp!

Putting her glass down, carefully, she glances back to her husband, who seems lost in thought, his eyes averted.  And a moment later he snaps back into focus, guiltily, realizing he must have been caught.

“Yes Sam,” she says, using the old pet name, “you were saying?”

“Oh, well only that…,” he continues, with just the briefest look of relief.

And then just as quickly he is gone again, and this time his eyes narrow with the kind of obvious hunger she would have sworn, before tonight, that he’d kept for her alone.

“I wonder what that was,” she thinks to herself, “did she smile at him and toss her hair?”

“Or maybe she flashed him a little leg.”

“Or a military parade.”

She closes her eyes.

For just this moment she can’t bare to look at him, looking at Her.

She remembers him for a moment, as he was those many years ago, when he dropped to one knee in this very restaurant, and proposed.

“We hold these truths to be self evident…,” he’d said then.  She’d nearly swooned.

They’d had their share of troubles of course.

Early on, there was the slavery addiction that had nearly driven them apart.

Jim Crow, the Civil Rights Movement, McCarthyism…, just bumps in the road she’d thought.

Smiling, she remembers how he’d taken her hand, all those years ago, and suddenly she feels his touch again now.

She opens her eyes to find a look of concern on his face.

“Are you all right love?” he asks, tenderly.

“Yes,” she answers back, holding his hand tightly for a moment before releasing it.

What had he been saying a moment ago about work?  Something about detention camps along the border?  What else had she missed?

“The wine may have given me a headache is all.”

“Would you like to leave then, call it an early night?”

“Oh, no dear, we haven’t even had dinner yet.  I’ll be fine.”

“I’m glad,” he says, and seems to mean it.

Then he glances over her shoulder again and smiles, like the brash young nation he used to be.  The one who had told her that she was all he ever wanted…,

“Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness.”

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On this, our desexualized fertility festival

Religious holidays can be difficult things to explain to those who fall outside of one’s faith tradition.

Just pretend for a moment that you know nothing about Christianity and imagine someone trying to describe Easter to you…,

…think about it…

…a god briefly sacrifices himself to redeem humanity for the sins of two people who hadn’t been given a moral compass to know they were sinning in the first place…

…and Christians the world over commemorate these events by dressing up in their finery, spending an hour in church, watching their children gather colored eggs, and then filling up on a big ham dinner (just like the apostles would have done).

And yes, I’m glossing over all of the finer points, and it’s all in the presentation, but still…,

…it’s a lot to take in.

Now imagine the difficulty of describing a holy day for which there is no one accepted or even remotely authoritative description.

Welcome to Beltane!

So let us begin from an traditionalist perspective.

A well reasoned polytheist, using a reconstructionist approach, based solely on what we know of the folk practices of the pre-christian Irish, would tell us that Beltane, marked by the first blooming of hawthorn trees, was a time of purification and blessing.  It was a day when maidens collected the first dew of the season.  It witnessed the release of livestock into the summer grazing lands, but was certainly best known for the lighting of great fires, the light and heat of which was believed to provide magical blessings and protection to man and beast alike in the coming season.

Who?  What?  Why?!

That whole Easter thing doesn’t sound so crazy now, does it?

Again, I’m glossing over some of the finer points, but not by much, because the stone cold truth of it is, we really don’t know much about why any of those things were done.  And frankly, I’ve begun to wonder if we haven’t been a little too willing to take things that just happen to have occurred on or near Beltane, as being part and parcel of the holy day itself.

Was it really so much about the movements of cattle into the seasonal grazing areas?  Or is that just something that happened around the same time, and over the centuries we’ve colluded the two things.

It’d be a bit like assuming that watching American Football was part of the celebration of the Christian Sabbath in North America.  A scholar, in some post-apocalyptic future might conclude that feasts of pizza and libations of cheap beer were likewise, part of the weekly observance, based purely upon the evidence at hand.

Now there are a couple things going on here.

Firstly, there is the importance of honoring our ancestors and finding our own way to the traditions and beliefs that they held sacred.  We do this through careful examination of the evidence at hand, with an eye toward preserving and reviving that which they left for us through the ages.  In this way we do service to them and to the gods which called us to this path.

That’s part of it.

The other thing that is going on is a negative reaction toward anything which smells even vaguely of NeoPaganism.

Where the festival of Beltane is concerned, the general opinion seems to be that the old Victorian occultists who started the revival in Beltane observances, were really just looking for an excuse to shuck their knickers, alone or in groups, and that adding a ritual component to the lusty month of May was all the provocation they needed.  As their spiritual descendants, the NeoPagans may have picked up a reputation for treating Beltane as an orgy at fireside: all drum circles and gypsy dancing, while ignoring history and tradition.

And maybe that’s fair.  It might be a good idea to pop over to the Wiccasphere and see if there’s anything unseemly going on.  You know…, for science.

10 Ways to Celebrate Beltane

(oooh, this ought to be good)

Light a bonfire (a little on-the-nose, but okay)

Pick flowers (ooookay)

Wear a Flower Crown (at least those flowers from #2 aren’t going to waste)

Do some Divination (actually, that’s entirely historical, something’s wrong)

Dance (also appropriate to the holiday)

Leave out offerings to the Fae (am I reading from the wrong lists)

Decorate a tree or bush with ribbons (…)

Take a Ritual Bath (NOW things are finally getting saucy)

Volunteer at an animal shelter (what just happened?)

Roast Marshmallows

Marshmallows!  My hand to the gods, I saw this listed on two of the dozen or so lists I rooted through in the course of my “research”.  Sure, there were indeed a few references to fertility magic and love spells, but a good naked frolic in the wild seems to be largely off the menu.

That, or I’m just not being invited to the good parties anymore.

Either way, we’ve got a majority of folks advertising Beltane like it was your local craft fair, while a small but vocal minority would like to point out that Maypoles are an imported tradition from English and German speaking folks, and if you could all please just be careful with your frolicking, as you are likely to frighten the cows.

The truth if it, as usual, probably lies somewhere in the middle.

FeelTheFire

There are plenty of things to suggest that Beltane IS, among other things, a fertility festival.

Those maidens I mentioned earlier, collecting the first dew of the season?  They bathed in it.  A ritual intended to increase and preserve their natural beauty.

The light and heat from those Beltane fires, was believed to not only protect the herds from harm, but to bless them – to increase their bounty – make them more fertile.  I wonder what we are supposed to think that same light and heat would do to the men and women who danced around those fires?

I wonder how anyone could believe, after standing near a great fire, feeling the energy of it moving through them, that joining in dance around those flames and sharing in that energy, passing it each to the other, could be anything other than a sexual act.

Standing at to opposite end of the year from Samhain, during which we honor the dead, Beltane comes to us at that moment when the generative power of life is at its strongest.  The veil between this world lifts but twice a year, once to allow the spirits of the dead to transcend this mortal plane, and once again at May Eve, to allow them back in where they might find new life and new lives to inhabit.

Fire Festival – Fertility Festival – Craft Fair

Celebrate it however you like, but don’t deny the energies at the root of it.

Sex is in the air folks, otherwise my eyes wouldn’t be itching from all this pollen.

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The Land of the Dead: Regarding Your Recent Visit…,

I stopped writing.

There were reasons for the pause.

I needed to get my bearings, figure out where I was, and chart a course forward.

There were other reasons that cropped up along the way.

“Life stuff” – we categorize it, like it were something we could put in a box and slide under the bed, as if we weren’t swimming in it constantly.  Drowning even, when the waves catch us by surprise, and we find ourselves gulping for air.

So I stopped writing.

And I stopped reading.

And then there was a combining of households, and boxes to be filled, and what gets sold and what moves to storage, and…, life stuff.  Like I said.

But space, like time, was suddenly at a premium.

And the altar had to be put away.  All the bits and pieces carefully cleaned and wrapped and boxed.  Temporarily.  Until I can find the space for them.  Make space for them.

I stopped writing, and reading…, and talking.

To the gods.

To the spirits.

To the ancestors.

It’s the easiest thing in the world.

To let it all go, to be what this empty world we’ve created wants us to be.

I used to wonder, from time to time, about the Land of the Dead.

It is a place of dread that figures into so many of our mythologies: a grey void of a place where the dead wander, without purpose or meaning, hungry for the attention of the living.  I was never sure I believed such a place could exist.  It seemed so far removed from my personal experience of the universe we share.

The Otherworld, I had always been taught, always believed, is reflected in our own mortal realm, just as our world is reflected there.  Neither realm is wholly separate from the other, each profoundly present within and throughout the other, and still, for some of their inhabitants, frustratingly out of reach.

But where then, could we see any reflection of those ghostly fields where the dead are said to wander aimlessly?

Where, if not all around us.

Listless – Hungry – Craving.

I have found myself wandering among them in the grey realm from which they’d seek escape, if they only knew that they were trapped.  The Land of the Dead is not a mythological construct,  not even close.

We’ve built it, floor roof and walls, and we’re constantly furnishing it with all the ‘life stuff’ that we collect along the way.

And it’s not a terrible place to visit, from time to time.  We all end up spending time there eventually.  The important thing is not to get trapped there.  Never forget where you are.

Always be “Just Visiting” – because the alternative…,

JustVisiting

So here I am.

Writing again (and it’s harder to get started again, than I would have believed).

And reading.

And talking (to them, and you).

Still not sure of exactly how to get to where I want to be.

But at least I know where I was, and that’s as good a starting point as any.

Any day now I expect to receive my survey in the mail…,

“Regarding your recent visit to the Land of the Dead.”

I should probably give them a nice review.

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Time in a Bottle

I was sitting outside the other day, nursing the last few moments of a fifteen-minute break from work, just watching the traffic flow by, when my phone vibrated in my hand.

I looked down to see a text message from my wife, letting me know that she had two hours to kill between appointments and wondering if I needed anything.

In the second it took to ponder my response, I felt the huge weight of all the things that I need to get done over the next few weeks suddenly looming over me.

“I need those two hours!  Just pack ‘em up and we’ll use them later.”

I waited a few seconds to see if she’d respond to my little joke, and then I went back to work.

I’d run out of free time.

endlesstime

We have some funny notions about time.

We do our best to borrow and save and steal it, as if it were some tangible resource that we could collect and hold on to.  It is not.

Our scientists and statisticians study and measure it, seeking to quantify it and gain some measure of control.  We have none.

And with increasing frequency, we personify it, assigning to it both motive and malice.

This last year of the Common Era, 2016, seemed for many, to have provided both terrible events and heartbreaking loss in a greater than normal abundance.  The response to this, among the mostly Christian population of North America, has been to dance right past the standard platitudes regarding their own supposedly omnipresent and omnipotent deity and his grand plan for everything, and instead to spew their frustrations upon the year itself.

It wasn’t all that long ago that I pointed out how woefully out of practice this society is when it comes to idolatry.  There could be no better example than that of these last few months, wherein we’ve once again ignored a whole army of perfectly serviceable gods and goddesses, preferring instead to invent a new one upon which to vent our collective spleen.

The road back to Polytheism will surely be filled with unexpected twists and turns, but this…,

People got mad at a unit of time, and a few nights ago they celebrated its death – with the same fervor I’d expect in a blood sacrifice.

Folks, please.

Those who Spin and Measure and Cut must be rocking with laughter.

thefates

To the vast disappointment of all the numerologists in the crowd, the numbers are completely arbitrary and don’t mean anything.

Which year was it, that was our dread enemy?

AD 2016 is the popular choice – but that’s what exactly, two thousand and sixteen years after the birth of a fellow who may have been the hebrew messiah, or entirely fictional, or possibly both.  And what scant evidence we have suggests that we missed the mark by no less than a half a dozen years.  So that number is pretty meaningless.

There are other suspects, but they’re not much better…,

It has been 2769 years since the Founding or Rome in the old calendar.  But that date was also selected several hundred years after the fact and is an extremely rough approximation, so…,

Maybe we should blame 4714 of the Chinese Calendar.  The Year of the Monkey sounds like something given to causing a lot of trouble.  But if that’s the case we’d better hold onto our hats, because we are still under the gun until January 28th when the Rooster takes over.

And I suppose old 5776 on the Hebrew Calendar could be a likely enough suspect.  But this one is supposed to be counting up from the year the following the Creation of the Heavens and the Earth as depicted in the Book of Genesis, which I find pretty weird, seeing as I’ve personally visited ruins that are at least that old and geologic sites that are tens of millions of years older.

The year is a figment of our imagination.  It is a crude attempt to force time into a bottle.

But the truth is that Two-Thousand and Sixteen didn’t kill anyone, didn’t elect anyone, didn’t bomb anyone, or starve them, or spray them with rubber bullets…,

We did those things.

And we will keep doing them until we learn not to.

And if our past is any guide to the future, the numbers on the calendar won’t make a damn bit of difference along the way.

We lost some amazing people recently, Carrie and David and Prince and what seems like a thousand others, bright and powerful souls who touched our lives.  Our hearts ache with their passing, but there is no need to cast blame.  The pain we suffer is the sacrifice we offer up for the privilege of knowing them.  And my gods, the price is worth it, because I can’t imagine what our lives might have been like without them!

Nothing ended at midnight on December 31st.  Nothing began at 12:01am.

The Earth continues upon its path around the Sun.

The Fates work diligently upon the threads of our lives.

And time keeps moving.

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A Comprehensive List of All the Things Entirely Yours

Today is April the 15th, and for those of us in the United States, it is the last day to file our taxes (barring all the usual extensions and other means of putting the thing off, that is).

It’s a bit of a relief really.

Mine were dealt with weeks ago, but I’ll be glad to get a bit of a break from the complaints of my friends and neighbors.  Every year we seem to greet the spring with a rising chorus of, “They’re taking my money, they’re taking my money, they’re taking MY money….,” the inference being that your property is being stolen by people who don’t deserve it.

But does money equal property?

It’s not tangible.

The paper and the coins that fewer and fewer of us carry are nothing more than placeholders, effigies of a number which itself is a representation of a highly generalized valuation of the total output of goods, services, natural resources, expectations for future development, and compounded debt (yeah, let’s not forget about the debt), that is the product of our nation.

Which is to say that a dollar is worth nothing more than what we all agree it’s worth.

Money is not property.

Money is a social contract.

It’s the stuff that we’ve agreed to use instead of trading a clutch of chickens for a bolt of cloth.

You don’t own it.  It belongs to all of us.

And part of the price we all pay for using it, is that we agree to cycle a certain percentage of that which we have accumulated back to that body which does all the printing and tabulating for us.

If you’ve every tried to drive any distance with more than a few chickens in your car, you’d be glad to pay your share.

So, having come this far, I thought that, as a bit of a public service, I should just go ahead and list those things that, unlike the mighty dollar, really do belong to you.

Perhaps you will think of other things as well.  Feel free to suggest any additions in the comments below.

Land

Yeah, no.

Land does not belong to you.  I know, I know, you payed a bundle for it, and you slapped a fence around it and posted it with all kinds of big angry ‘PRIVATE PROPERTY’ signs, but really, no.  Your little patch of earth was here for hundreds of millions of years before you came along, and will be here again when the oldest of your decedents are nothing but dust.  At most, you are a temporary caretaker of those lands to which you hold the deed.

Looked at from this perspective, it becomes clear that instead of the land servicing OUR needs, we are responsible for its care and upkeep.

If anything, we belong to the land.  And we pay for the privilege!

Property

Okay, we’ve all got our stuff.  And it’s very nice stuff.  And we’re all very proud of it.  And eventually, with the exception of a few very nice or sentimental items, every bit of it ends up in the dump.

Do you still own a thing after you’ve thrown it away?

But sure, I guess we can put property on the list, even if fleetingly.

Children

Mmmm…, maybe while they’re still in the womb.

Honestly, the whole point of children is that they’re growing away from you bit by bit from the moment you have them.

Also, like it or not, the perspective with which society views us shifts dramatically when children come onto the scene.  Because “the children are the future” and with every day that passes they become a little less ours and we become a little more theirs.

What will they do with us in our dotage?  Which of our precious things will they allow us to retain?  Where shall they choose for us to live?

Our children, indeed.

We’ll hold the little ones tight and give them all the love we can, but let us not delude ourselves into thinking of them as truly ours.

Art

Ah the power of creation which we share with the gods themselves.  To take crude matter and shape it into the stuff of dreams and nightmares.  To write and rhyme and sing our ideas into being, bringing life and light into the hearts of our fellows.

To create art is to render a piece of yourself for all to share, and what could be more your own than something that is, by definition, an expression of your inner being and talent.

But does an idea, no matter how personal, belong to the artist who renders it for all to see?

Or does it become a shared commodity, with every viewer putting a little of themselves into it, seeing reflected there their own thoughts, their beliefs and biases.

Is art property?  Or is it the most deeply personal contribution one could make to the public good?

Our Thoughts

Yes!

We all have them.

Our thoughts and dreams, our fears and ambitions…,

They are ours, they exist only within us, and if we cling to them and keep them for ourselves, we can take them with us to the grave unsullied.

Congratulations!

I wonder though, what exactly is the value of a thought unexpressed?

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