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Tom Bentley

Covid-19 has changed so many things, even simple rituals

Photo: Getty Images/Alessandro Biascioli

The weekend nights are ours, but what lights anticipation’s fires? Those weekdays leading up. Maybe it’s denial, or restriction, or absence that sparks love’s thirst. But leave all that psychology or philosophy behind — think instead of fervid yearning, and think after that of yearning fulfilled.

And then think further: I’m not talking about my mad craving for my wife, or my girlfriend, or a fiery crush.

I’m talking about cocktails during the pandemic, a love so, so modern. Even in the Before Times, my girlfriend — I’m a polyamorist, I share cocktail love with sweet Alice — and I…

What’s That, Up in the Sky? No, Can’t Be!

Photo by Mark Chamberlain, courtesy of Liz Goldner

Much was made of Woodstock’s 50th anniversary a couple of years ago: it was a milestone in a tumultuous time, an anarchic cultural gathering that managed, despite many slips in the mud, to reflect essential goodwill between assembled members of a broad, colorful tribe.

I fretted, fussed, and plotted about Woodstock, frustrated that at 15, I didn’t have the means or the gumption to get there. I had to wait to buy the albums, hear the stories, and understand the significance. I had to wait a bit longer before I got…

Photo by author

A Timeless Hawaiian Moment

Blues, some blues so blue they shine on the very edge of the possible. These are the blues of Hawaii’s Big Island, these impossibly beautiful blues, created by water, wave, light and rock. I house-sat there with my girlfriend Alice a couple of years ago, and we did all we could to see — and get into — those waters. There are many, many beguiling coves, beaches and long stretches of coastline on the Big Island, where the hardened lava has shaped the waves and the waves have shaped it, and all combinations are sweet on the eyes.

One of…

The Captain Making the Rounds (photo by author)

Books Are Bridges

Lost books, as we all know, aren’t really lost — they’re just sleeping. An example: If I look out my kitchen window, I can see an old yellow trailer in my neighbor’s yard, where many volumes yet sleep. The trailer is big: it’s probably 35 feet long, up on concrete blocks. It’s filled with a collection of books, some of them in Chinese, though a goodly portion in English as well. Several years ago, the owner of all those books died.

I knew my neighbor James was a retired professor of American literature, who had fled mainland…

Trying out sunshine in a box

Photo: Paul Edmondson via Mint Images RF/Getty Images

I’m bathing in light at this moment—a warm 10,000-lux dunking. The flood of lumens is emitting from a narrow vertical panel about two feet from my desk, angled so it washes over my face but doesn’t blind me from typing. I’m going to continue this light splash every day this winter. It’s going to make me happy.

That’s the premise, at least. Perhaps I should say it will make me less sad, since this dose of radiance is intended to counter my seasonal affective disorder (SAD), a condition that affects an estimated 10 million people who, in the diminished winter…

It’s not cheating if she doesn’t have a body, right?

Photo by Tim Goedhart on Unsplash

Is it cheating? Alice and I are in bed, warm. We’re both waiting for the voice. But I think she hears it differently. Or perhaps hears the same words, the same tones, but for me, different chemicals sizzle. Jimmy Carter decried the lust in his heart; I worry about the lust in my ears.

The anticipation might be as good as the actual coupling. There’s the buildup of the night before — tomorrow, we’ll meet! Then, because it’s been a week, when she speaks, it’s a breaking dam—ahhhh! …

The original short story cover, illustrated by Alicia Neal

Sometime in 2013, I received this message from a friend:

Hey Tom:

In other news, an old college friend posted a phrase on Facebook, describing a large icicle that is quite simply a magnificent book title: “Swirled all the way to the shrub”

I can’t let it go. Here’s a crazy idea: Wanna write a short story together, with that title as the jumping-off point? I don’t have a lot of time these days, so I’m not proposing anything at breakneck speed. Could be a hoot though.

“Swirled All the Way to the Shrub”


Rick, who also has a…

Shwedagon Pagoda, Myanmar (And no, that gold isn’t paint)

There’s a plummy quote from Thoreau’s Walden that must open this discussion:

“Not till we are lost … not till we have lost the world, do we begin to find ourselves …

Henry David was centering on getting lost in nature there, and thus freed of some of the day-to-day material constraints and pressures, but the message applies well to writers, and to the value of getting “lost” in travel. …

Getting Rid of the Gun, but Grappling with the Ghosts

I love to watch birds in flight, and to hear the creative tilt and lilt of their calls. I often walk the trails on a nearby slough, which is a haven for ducks, coots, cormorants and pelicans, and for songbirds and raptors of all kinds. And there’s a water garden on my deck that draws lots of goldfinches, sparrows, warblers and jays — so many things about their spirited antics cheer me. …

Allison Rider doesn’t just keep track of time. He feels it. That’s because his workplace is a symphony of time-tracked sounds: bongs, chirps, and musical notes, some on the quarter-hour, others on the half, and a resounding chorus when synchronized hands hit the hour’s crest. Rider is a clockmaker, a craft that seems to be losing currency in a digital age. And age, an expression of time, is inherent in Rider’s work: at 88, his time is well past the half-hour.

Rider had the first of several heart attacks in the early 1970s, when he was a co-owner of an…

Tom Bentley

I'm a writer and editor of fiction, essays and travel pieces | Also a business copywriter | As well as a general balderdash tosser |

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