We need money. Kit is in the red, and, as the good noders we are, it's our obligation to help those in need! She was unfairly fired from her job, and she's forced to move! Naturally, a situation like this leaves people's wallets a little empty. So here's what I propose to you:

We give her some money. But that's the obvious bit, and as far as I know, people like getting stuff for their troubles. So I teamed up with ycky, and she's offering to make hats and scarves for those who donate more than $30! And her knitting is really, really good! In addition, to those who donate $5 or more (but less than $30), I'll send out a postcard to you, full of random little things. For $10 or more, the postcard says whatever you want, to whoever you want (as long as they're a noder, and have a listed address...).

Here's how you do it: Kit has a PayPal account at kit.shortforkitten@gmail.com. Just put your money there. If it's over $5, be sure to include an address with the payment, as well as your username. If it's over $10, include a message as well. Over $30, include what colors you want (from ycky's color chart) and whether you want a hat or scarf. Please don't forget to give us your username!

Let's bring her some money!

Note from yclept: If you can afford to give, please consider it. If you can't, no harm done. The hats and scarves are what I can give, as I'm cash poor. They're discounted from my usual price, and I'm absorbing the shipping costs. Oh, and for $50 or more, I'll make a matched set.

Note from Kit: This was not my idea, and the unkind softlinks are entirely unnecessary. When Tanis first suggested it, I put some serious consideration into just saying no. I'll also begin tithing to E2 from now on.

Recollections of Orlando
Part Three
Friends Not Forgotten II

Continuing my emotionally masturbatory recollections of Orlando before I return to New Hampshire.

Before I had been in Orlando a year, I landed what remains the best job I think I've ever had. It was a combination of co-workers, the job itself and the general atmosphere that made it special. I don't think I'll ever have another job that was as good as this one, except that I was only there for a six month tour of duty while the woman who usually held the job was out on maternity leave.

The job involved ice cream and for a while I was pretty much in control of much of the ice cream distribution in the Central Florida area. I coordinated routes and delivery for Haagen-Dazs. In addition to their own product line, they distributed for the majority of other ice cream companies, including Ben & Jerry's. Instead of a "hard clock" schedule, where you have to make sure you clock in before a certain time and wait for a certain time to clock out, we worked until we were done. If we had to stay late to get the job done, we did, sometimes until almost midnight, but on other days we would get done early and be out by two in the afternoon. I had an endless supply of free quality ice cream, which was effective in mastering the barter system Orlando's locals function on. Trading goods and services for goods and services is pretty much how it works in this city. The distribution center was laid back and everyone was friendly and everyone went out together for drinks when we got out early and the managers usually picked up the tab.

I became good friends with two of my co-workers, Doug, the district manager and Mark, one of the drivers. Mark spent one weekend teaching me the intricacies of crabbing, and we caught and ate many a crab that summer. We were the crazy trio, the three guys that the rest of our co-workers were often afraid to go out anywhere with because we were capable of anything. One night at a bar where the singer with the band was off-key to the point of making your beer glass tremble, Doug walked up on stage and took the microphone away from him and finished the set by speaking the lyrics instead of singing them. There were many adventures, but several months after my tour of duty at Haagen-Dazs ended, we drifted apart. Mark moved to Jacksonville and Doug bought a new house a couple hours north of Orlando.

From Haagen Dazs I landed at a distribution center for salon products. If you've ever noticed the rack of shampoos and conditioners and the like in your hair salon, we were the people who made them appear there. We received truckloads of product from the manufacturers and then turned around and sold it to salons according to their orders. I worked at almost every position in the warehouse, and spent two days doing nothing but making boxes.

Annelise was the company's receptionist, keeping with my running theme about dating waitresses and becoming pals with receptionists. We became close friends and spent a lot of time together, which in the warehouse environment eventually leads to the whole, "He's doing her" business. While I had a limited and work-related friendship with some of the guys I worked with, it was Annelise that I connected with. The rumors and innuendo hit a fevered pitch when we all went out for drinks one Friday night and Annelise's husband joined us.

"Dude, he is like six foot six.
You better stop screwing his wife."

After I left the salon warehouse and went to work mapping upgrades for the cable company, we saw each other more often. It was easier without the constant chatter behind our backs, although in some ways we enjoyed and encouraged it. We had once spent our morning smoke break pretending to make out behind a tree. When the engine blew in my Honda, she was the one who came out in the middle of the night to pick me up and drive me home, and it was a long drive home. Of all the people I've lost contact with over the years, Annelise is one of those I'd like to buy a little more time with and so she is one of those I've been trying to track down before I leave. The problem is that she actually did have an affair and her husband was quite convinced it was with me.

It would be while at the cable company that my life would hit a brick wall. The job itself was not bad, but my supervisor was extremely anal in her approach to management. She micromanaged everything, from timing breaks to exactly ten minutes to scheduling exactly what everyone needed to be doing every minute of the day. Her calculations of time requirements were always correct. If you took longer to complete a task, you weren't working hard enough. If you took less time than expected to complete something, you did not do it right. I remember wondering how anyone could live so tightly wrapped in a schedule, and one day while she was talking to me I think she read in my face that I was thinking about that. In keeping with the bizarre twists in my life, she hiked up her skirt to her waist and showed me the barbed wire tattoo that wrapped around her upper thigh and told me, "This is just one side of me. Don't be so quick to judge." The best part about it was that the next morning the director came to our office to inform us we were going to have a seminar on sexual harassment.

The cable company job ran for six months and I got to know my co-workers well, developing friendships with three in particular. Jodi worked for the contractor that did the work in the field for us and it was her job to bring the documentation to me so I could record it. She was this strange, openly air-headed surfer girl who belonged to some kind of religious cult. She constantly asked me out, telling me I seemed like the kind of guy she would be into. She gave me her phone number six times and several times arranged to meet me somewhere for dinner or drinks or whatever. She never answered her phone, never returned the messages and never showed up where she arranged to meet me, and yet the next week at work she would act as if she had no recollection of anything. Still, there was something about her I liked. I think it was her insanity, but it might have just been her ass. I'm not quite sure.

Then there was Angie. A lifetime employee of the cable company, she was into the whole positive thinking business. She was the girl in the office who puts up all those little signs and buttons that remind you to "smile" and "have a nice day." She wasn't really as sickening as she sounds. In getting to know her I came to realize she was trying to cheer herself up and not others and felt maybe creating a happy and positive environment would do that for her. Angie was a princess and she was a very good princess. If she could help a person in any way, she would. She would go completely out of her way to come to the aid of someone in trouble. When my life began to fall apart after the engine blew in my car and getting to work became an issue, she tried to find someone in the company who lived near me and convince them to give me a ride until I could get my car repaired or replaced. When she couldn't find anyone, she got up an hour earlier each day in order to drive forty-five minutes to pick me up and a half hour to drive us to work from my apartment. She was an angel and a princess. Angie was one of the truly good people I have met in my life.

Then there was Sara. She was twenty years old and took over the reporting of work done for the contractor, replacing Jodi after multiple complaints about her competence. Sara was in over her head, having no experience with what they were asking her to do, hired quickly because they needed to replace Jodi quickly. I guided her through it and she became a superstar, helping me to regularly get the daily reporting done in half the time it had taken with Jodi. The cable company gave the contractor glowing reports on Sara and she was given a raise after a month on the job. Then I found out she lived down the street from me and she replaced Angie as my ride to work.

My friendship with Sara lasted several months, even after I was let go by the cable company because they felt I simply was not reliable enough to hire on full time because of my transportation problems. Sara would volunteer as my taxi service, taking me where I needed to go until I could get back on my feet. She moved to Tampa with her boyfriend some time after and for a while we continued to talk, but the sands of time have had their way with us.

In July of 1999, I was let go by the cable company. Left without a car, a job or any means by which to pay my rent and my bills, it looked as if the journey to Orlando would become a complete failure, forcing me to beg for help and to run back north with my tail between my legs. My friends helped me avoid that, by embracing me and helping me and being there for me when I needed them. It would be a crime for me to forget these people and all they have meant to me. That was less than two years after I moved here, and I have now been here more than seven years. The first two years were the reason I came here. As time passed and the magic withered away, I knew the time for change was not far off.

There are things that are necessary (like food, sleep, water) and there are things that are unnecessary (like slicing emotional wounds). Though I suppose it would depend upon your perspective. It very well could be necessary to your survival to inflict pain upon a past love over and over again.

In my view, it is unnecessary and falls into the realm of cruel. I have been "blessed" with the misfortune of having fallen in love with the wrong man. The same man who left me 2 1/2 years because I wasn't what he wanted any longer and refuses to allow me the time to heal.

Once upon a time, I would have chalked it up to insensitivity and callous disregard. That was in the time before I was shown a different side of the man I had married. He was the boy who aimed for cats walking along the side of the road with his car. This was the boy I would smack on the arm and say "knock it off" while laughing because I was certain he was just teasing. And now, I wonder...

There is a calculating cruel streak to the man I once shared a home with. It was turned full force onto me during the most tumultous chapter of my life. He still likes to pick at the scabs, even now, long after the divorce he wanted, long after he left me for someone else. It is not something I can just shrug and get over easy.

"You are replaceable", he said.

Those words and the sneer on his face when he looked at me in disdain time and again are shadows that I have been unable to erase. Your mate is supposed to BE your mate, back you up, be your rock. That is what I naively believed.

For better or worse, in good times and in bad

I took those words to heart. The love of your life is not supposed to tell you that you are replaceable. Yet, here he was spitting those words at me like venom. Since that time, so long ago, he has continued pulling at my scabs once I have started to settle down. Once I get to a relatively calm pool in the struggle of moving on, he finds it necessary to do or say things that are designed to make me remember that he discarded me like so much trash. It is exhaustive, this continual guard I have to keep up to protect a badly bruised soul.

My life with him was such that I gave up everything that I was to become absorbed into his life. (If I loved him enough I would do this for him, right?) It was a slow process. He never had to give up anything. I was the one that had to, more and more with each passing year.

It's the wife/mother's job, it's not the man's.

And thus, his friends became mine, his social circle became mine, his neighbors became my neighbors, his family became mine. We even bought the house he had grown up in, lived in the neighborhood he grew up in. I agreed to raise our children Catholic so we could be married in his church. It was all about him. And when he left, he took it all away. It would have been one thing had he been content to just leave me stranded across the country, but it is quite another what he actually did do.

He returned home several weeks before I did and lied to everyone that we knew. My family and his, our friends, our neighbors. He made certain that when I returned, all that I once knew would be gone. I was attacked on several fronts. It is a painful thing to be attacked by people who you thought knew you, who you thought were your friends, who you thought knew better than to take one side of a story at face value. The trouble was, they had known him since he was a boy. Twice as long as they had known me. I did not give them "the other side" of the story. What occurred between my husband and me, was between my husband and me. There is a tacit understanding. It is implied in the marriage contract. You back each other up. You trust each other to keep things between you. That is what a marriage is.

I can almost understand the fear he has. He does not want anyone to think bad of him. If the truth were to come out, his friends, family, the neighbors would not think too highly of him. He has always been concerned about appearances. It is important to him that he is well liked. For his self preservation, he had to paint me in a horrible light to justify what he had done. I tell myself things like this, because I have to come up with a "why". There needs to be a reason for the hell he has put me through the past few years.

To me, what he did was unnecessary. It wasn't anyone's business but our own. We could have split amicably. He chose to breach that trust. He broke the contract.

The holidays are an especially tough time for me. It used to be a joyous time with family, friends, neighbors. There was laughter, there was friendship, there were gatherings, food, wine. Eat, drink and be Merry! It was my favorite time of the year. My house would be decked out with homemade seasonal crafts. Woodsmoke curling up the chimney, baked goodies cooling on the porch. It was a time of closeness and togetherness.

That is gone now. What few things I was able to save have been in boxes for five years. One day, they will grace the walls of my home. I do not feel that I have one now. I have four walls and a roof, for that I am grateful.

Thanksgiving the kids spend with him. Always. I spend it working my arse off, so I don't have time to mope and dwell that I am alone. I will have the kids Christmas Eve, but he takes them Christmas Day, always. There is no laughter, no more hugs and camaraderie with the family. No more laughing with the neighbors. It is all gone. That chapter closed. And this time of year, well, it hurts like hell. It is all I can do to get through it with a minimum of pain in my heart.

He did not just take himself from my life. He took my social structure, he took my family. And he replaced me with someone new. And he pushes her into my face every chance he gets. It is cruel and unusual punishment.

This year, he brings her back to town for the annual fire department christmas dinner/dance. This was something I did not need to know. This was something he made sure that I knew. He could have come to town, taken his "replacement", and left with me being none the wiser. He could not pass up the opportunity to wound me. This was a dinner/dance I had attended with him for over 17 years. This was my social circle. These were my friends. This was a part of who I had become. He erased me from this part and etched in a new partner. He drove from six hours away to my neck of the woods and had to push it in my face yet again that he had replaced me and was taking the girlfriend to a function that we had always attended together.

I cried for an hour last night, sobbing uncontrollably, inconsolably. Grieving, not for so much for him, but for a life I once had because of him. A life that had died.

My daughter came into the room, knowing what had happened. Knowing why I was upset. I had tried to hide myself away so she would not see, but she knew anyway. She said to me, as she hugged me tight...

"Mom, Daddy is not worth crying over."

I don't know which was the sadder thing that night. Me crying in pillows over a man who cast me aside, or her telling me her father was not worth any tears.

Today he comes to the house before returning from whence he came and hands me a small box and with a small smile says... "Please be sure to give this to our daughter". It is a small gold box with the fire department label on it. I suppose this could have been the innocent way of bringing an unexpected gift to his daughter. Experience tells me, it was his way of being certain, if I missed the reference the night before, of where he was and with whom. Today, I was not upset about it. Mostly today, I find the whole thing...unnecessary.

Hopefully, this doesn’t smack too much of hubris

We got some fantastic news this weekend but before I get to it there’s a couple of things that have danced in and out of my mind over the past number of years that need some airing out. Sort of like a recurrent theme that strikes mostly at night when I’m trying to put my head down and put a lid on the events of the day. My mind begins working overtime and unlike those same hours at work or the score at the end of a sporting event, there often seems to be no end in sight.

Maybe it’s the same nagging concerns that most folks have. Things like “are you living your life right” or the old “I coulda” or “I shoulda” done this or that argument that invades ones thoughts with the randomness of a lottery. When your eyes click open in the middle of the night and the attempt to get back to sleep doesn’t seem worth the effort. So you flick on the light and sit in the soft glow and try to pick up a book but your mind has got it’s wandering shoes on and any attempt to focus is feeble at best. I think most of us have had this happen to us on one occasion or another. Usually, whatever is bothering you eventually goes away and it’s replaced by something else. Maybe that’s part of the human condition that we all share.

For me, most of my concerns that keep me up wandering the halls at night center around the wee one. After all, the circumstances she’s faced with don’t make things too easy on her. She splits time with me and her mom on a week on week off basis there’s probably a whole lot of different rules that come with each of the territories. Maybe sometimes she feels as if she has obey two sets of them or become two people. What works for her in one place might not work in another. They might even be simple things such as chores or bedtimes or viewing habits. They might be complicated things such as a group of friends, religious and social issues or just an ear to bend. Either way, if I was in her shoes, at times I guess it’d be like walking the razors edge. What works here might not work there and so on.

Anybody who tells you parenting is easy is full of crap. Plain and simple. Oh there are books and advice columns and support groups and web sites and probably a thousand other things that are designed to get you through it or to guide you along the way. Believe me, I’m not discounting what they have to offer. Far be from me to ridicule anything that is designed to help but as the old saying goes, “until you’ve walked a mile in my shoes…”

So there I was, Saturday afternoon, sitting around with a friend, shooting the shit and sharing some holiday cheer when I decided to open an envelope that had come earlier in the day from her school. Most of these envelopes usually contain such mundane things as school calendars and requests for donations and maybe a hot lunch menu and that’s what I was expecting when I opened it. Little did I know.

I guess sometime back in October, the kids in Anna’s school had to take something called the “California Achievement Tests”. Yeah, I know, it’s one of those so-called standardized tests that don’t take into account a boatload of variables that fail to measure this, that and the other, but still, it was a big deal to her and marked the first time she was being graded by those outside her little world of the Montessori School. I’m not here to argue the value of those types of tests one way or another. I’ll leave that to the academics and the scholastic types amongst us.

The topics it covered consisted of the basics such as Reading, Language. Mathematics, Science and Social Studies. Like most other kids, she was sort of anxious about the results and kept asking if they had arrived. Like most other kids, this lasted only a little while and soon the questions stopped.

I opened the envelope and looked at the contents. It took a while to sift through the mumbo jumbo until I got to what I was looking for…

“The graph shows your student achieved a National Percentile of 96 in Reading. This means your student scored higher than approximately 96 percent of the students in the nation.”

It went on to list the results in the other categories: Language: 88 percent
Mathematics: 92 percent
Science: 97 percent
Social Studies: 98 percent
Total Score: 93 percent

I don’t know if I could’ve felt prouder. I somehow feel a little more justified in walking the face of the planet the last couple of days and that my existence seems to matter a little more. I guess it’s sort of nice to have an affirmation that whatever you’re doing is somehow paying off and even though road has been rocky at times, we’ve managed to make our way through it. I don’t know how this stuff bodes for the future and right now I don’t care what it might have in store. The look on her face when I told her of the results will be burned into my mind for as long as I live.

Oh yeah, the last couple of nights, I’ve slept pretty darn well.

Season's Greetings from me and mine to you and yours!

(A heartfelt thanks from the both of us goes out to many, many of you who has shown us some degree of support or offered up some much needed advice over the last couple of years here at E2. Hopefully, we shall not be disappointed.)

Saving Christmas

While driving to work this morning, I was thinking about how many movies and television specials there were dedicated to the concept of saving Christmas. The majority of them, like Santa Claus (1985), The Santa Clause (1994), Elf (2003), and Ernest Saves Christmas (1988), involve somehow rescuing Santa Claus. The Santa Clause, the Ernest movie, and an Amazing Stories episode all involve springing Santa from jail at some point.

As I thought about this, I realized that the point these movies and shows are pushing is that to "save" Christmas, Santa must be allowed to continue to ride his sliegh of "eight tiny reindeer" (well, nine if you count Rudolph) and deliver toys to all the boys and girls of the world. In fact, the story of Rudolph is yet another concerned with saving Christmas by helping Santa.

I know that the perennial legend of Santa Claus is a holiday staple and believing it adds to the fun of Christmas when you are a child (I, myself, was near traumatized when told the truth), but since when did saving the holiday in its entirety mean saving Santa? Elf, while a surprisingly funny movie, suggests that having the Christmas spirit revolves around believing in Santa Claus. Now I realize these are all light-hearted, whimsical confections of entertainment, but maybe there should be a movie with the phrase "saves Christmas" in the title that doesn't have anything to do with Santa Claus. How about a serious movie, well-written movie, as opposed to the multitude of sappy and crappy Lifetime or CBS made-for-tv movies, where Christmas is saved by somebody becoming popular for a simple, selfless act? Or maybe as an added twist, the movie is just about somebody trying to save Christmas, but fails and the selfishness and greed in the world is insurmountable. There wouldn't be a happy ending, I guess, but it'd be realistic.

I guess the main point I'm trying to make here, and maybe you can accuse me of saying something that's been said a thousand times before, is that I'd like to see more movies - more movies for kids - where saving Christmas doesn't involve saving Santa and involves good will and kindness and all that jazz.

Oh, and Christmas is also about the birth of Jesus. Well, actually it's not, but that's a different subject entirely...

After struggling for hours to write a paper for my Eurasia class, the only things I had were a blank Word document, a pounding headache, and eyes glazed-over with confusion; at one-thirty a.m., I decided to call it quits.

“I’ll never understand Eastern philosophy!” I wailed melodramatically. “I still have three other classes to study for finals, and the rest of the night’s pretty much shot. I’m going to bed. Maybe in the morning I’ll be able to muddle through this philosophical mumbo-jumbo.”

Half an hour later, the Hanover clock chimed two, and just as I felt myself dropping off into a dreamless sleep, I felt someone watching me and jerked awake. An ethereal-looking man in a bed sheet was standing at the foot of my bed.

“Hey, why are you here?” I asked.

“That, young one, is what we are here to discuss,” he said.

“No, I mean, how did you get in? Men aren’t allowed in the women’s dorms!”

“I’m Aristotle, the great philosopher,” he said, “and you are inciting me to crossness with your adulteration of my ideals! I felt an overwhelming desire to visit you and mend your misconceptions.”

“Great!” I chirped. “Then I can pick your brain for my Eurasia paper. For starters, how did it feel to be married to Jackie?”

“Argh. I can see I have my work cut out for me. Anything else?”

“Well,” I said, consulting my syllabus, “Professor Carrell talks about “the good life” all the time. What is that?”

“Ahhhh, eudemonia. A fair question, indeed. The good life is the only human value that can be considered the ultimate goal. The good life is ultimately a life of study.”

Confused, I queried, “How can someone ‘achieve’ this “good life,” then?”

“Live a life of happiness and well-being, with all your goings-on governed by reason, prosperity through logic,” Aristotle explained. I wasn’t convinced.

“Huh?”

With a look like one given to a belligerent toddler, Aristotle tried again. “To be happy and live a good life, you must fulfill your function as best you can, according to the virtues. For instance, a cow that eats grass and gives milk fulfills her purpose. She lives the good life.”

“So people are like cows?”

“I have not finished. Man has that which beasts do not possess: Reason. Man should use reason to decide to be virtuous.”

“But what determines “virtue?” I prodded.

“Virtue is the mean between one extreme and another. For example, take the virtue of courage. On one end of the spectrum, you have too much, and you are foolhardy. At the other end, there is a lack of courage, cowardice. Balance, and the mean of all virtues, determines what is good."

“Virtues such as...?”

Generosity. Beauty. Bravery. Magnanimity. Happiness is gleaned through such things. Anything else is mere pleasure, which cannot last.”

“This is all so confusing! All this philosophy is gonna kill me!” I bellowed.

“Nonsense.” He waved away my protests with a wave of his hand. “Philosophy never killed anyone,” and as an afterthought added, “Well, except for Socrates.”

With that, he turned and faded into obscurity. Musing upon the words of Aristotle, I found myself drowsing into a deep sleep. As the Hanover clock struck three a.m., I was awakened to yet another strange man at the foot of my bed.

“Gaaah!” I screamed. “Where in the hell are you all getting in?” Seemingly ignoring my query, he launched into a stoic introduction.

“I am Lao Tzu, teacher of Daoism,” he informed me in a thick Chinese accent. “I, like Aristotle, have gotten word of the error of your ideas about my beliefs.” As with Aristotle, I explained my confusion regarding “the good life,” which upon hearing, Laozi exclaimed, “Ah, wuwei! A topic with which I am familiar. The ultimate good is found in complement. Just as there is dark, there is light. As there is the earth, so there is sky.”

“Like boys and girls?” I asked.

“Yes, I suppose so. Everything must have its complement. It is logical necessity. Good cannot exist without its complement. Just as there is good, there must be evil. In order to eradicate evil, one must also eradicate good. To obtain the good life is to be ever desireless. Do not be “good” or “evil”—merely be.

“Like Yoda!” I cried. “’Do’ or ‘do not.’ There is no ‘try’.”

“Exactly. Only when you have no desire can you see the world as it actually is.”

“But how?” I asked.

“When we look at the world through a filter, which is our desire, it is like looking through muddy water to a fish swimming at the bottom. The fish may in fact be golden, but because it is clouded by the dirty water, the fish appears ugly. So is the world when we see it as we desire. When you overlay our desire over what is actually there, there is conflict. You will want the world to be a certain way, it will not be, and thus the conflict. If you accept the world for the way it is, therein lies truth.”

“Wait. Let me get this straight. So once you’re finally able to perceive truth, you will have eliminated the desire to do so?”

“Ironic, is it not?”

“Yeah, like jumbo shrimp!”

“That’s an oxymoron,” he said, rolling his eyes.

As he too left, the things that I had heard from the wizened Laozi caused me to ponder about “the good life” and what it entailed. Maybe there was more to “the good life” than crossword puzzles, Spaghettios, and my boyfriend. My head spinning, I quickly fell into a troubled sleep once more. As the Hanover clock chimed four, I was little surprised to see another figure in unfamiliar clothing at the foot of my bed.

“Let me guess, the Ghost of Christmas past, right?” I said sarcastically.

“Alas, no. I am Epicurus, and I have come to complete your training on “the good life.”

“Again, let me take a stab at the reason. I’m bastardizing your ideas and you’ve come to set me straight?”

“Precisely,” he shrugged. “I am loathe to use the phrase ‘Whatever makes you happy,’ but it works. In essence, anything that is valuable to one’s own pleasure is valuable, period. However, I recommend a life of moderation. Plain living, and a perfect union of body and soul, can bring you happiness, and the good life.”

“How do you mean?"

“The aim of all our actions is to be free from pain and fear; and once we have attained this, all the storms of the mind are calmed, seeing that the living creature has no need to go in search of something that is lacking nor to look for anything else required to fulfill the good of mind and body. When we are pained because of the absence of pleasure, then, and then only, do we feel the need of pleasure; but when we feel no pain, then we no longer stand in need of pleasure. Therefore we call pleasure the beginning and end of a blessed life. Pleasure is our first and closest good. It is the starting-point of everything we accept and everything we reject, and to it we come back, as we make feeling the rule by which to evaluate the good of everything.”

“Whoa. So you’re telling me that the only reason that pain hurts us is because it’s an absence of pleasure?”

“Precisely.”

“Okay, let me break this down and see if I understand what you’re telling me. You’re saying that to live well you must remove all pain, and thus all sources of pain, from your life. To do this you must live a life wisely, safely, justly, honorably, and all the rest. You must keep your life in balance to avoid as much pain as possible and to gain as much pleasure as possible?”

“Close enough. The greatest good is the pleasure of the self.”

“So is it for each person to decide for themselves?”

“More or less.”

“Okay,” I shrugged. “Thanks for the help.”

He turned as if to go, and remembering something, turned to me. “Oh, and Erin?” I perked up to hear what strange and wonderful wisdom would come from the mouth of the ancient philosopher. “I wouldn’t mind in the least if you mentioned some of the things you’ve learned tonight in your Eurasia essay. And I’m sure that Laozi and Aristotle wouldn’t mind if you incorporated their ideas into your paper, either.” As he turned and vanished, under his breath, I could’ve sworn he muttered, “Couldn’t be worse than the drivel she was writing before we visited,” but at four in the morning, one tends to hallucinate.

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