Unknown Territory

A dimension not only of sight and sound but of mind

A dimension not only of sight and sound but of mind

 

I have been writing in this blog for almost three years, daily at first, slowing to a more random pace, trying to settle on no less than once a week. Three hundred and eighty articles in and I am on target. I’ve covered topics from Quantum Physics through Astrophysics, Cosmology through the End of the World, Religions, Politics, a little Sex, and a good helping of Music. In short, the things I think about. This last year has been increasingly personal, and this article may wander into the most personal dimension, not the thoughts in my mind but the matrix of my mind itself.

I have always had a strong memory, recalling the quantity and quality of the events I have witnessed with speed and precision. I have been told I possess a keen intellect, absorbing and analyzing information, then communicating said information in easily understandable terms to any audience. I tell you these things because I remember them, not because I am aware of their presence now. I am reticent to comment on the world today, as I am not secure my analysis stands on the same foundations I have relied upon in the past.

Imagine the way you think. The complex layers of a memory, the data from all of your senses wrapped in your intellectual perception connecting every fraction of a second. I have been told a human may only experience one sensation at a time, one sound, smell, touch, emotion. The brain switches between inputs so rapidly it appears all these things are happening simultaneously, yet even more is taking place outside of awareness. We possess filters, our vision shifts our perception of colors to believe light is white; try on some tinted lenses and see for yourself. We can hear a melody through static, separating out what we want to hear; the same can be true with words in a conversation, consider a single political speech as heard by one thousand different voters, each hearing what they want to hear. We have each had enough tactile experience to know physical sensations are relative. Emotions exist in a dimension of their own, no adjectives are adequate. Tuned by all these factors our memories reside not only in the instant they were formed but also in the moment they are recalled. A word describes this, it is originally Sanskrit. The word is māyā (माया), and in a sense we refer to as “poetic” it has multiple meanings, most commonly considered to be “The illusion of reality” in the sense reality is an illusion. It is “that which exists, but is constantly changing and thus is spiritually unreal”, and the “power or the principle that conceals the true character of spiritual reality.”

With this fabulous brain creating reality from our sensory inputs, it can be difficult to determine if one of the inputs is faulty, and often difficult to explain. Verbally explaining a vision issue to an ophthalmologist is near impossible, you don’t speak their language; twice in my life I have had to resort to visual aids, a smear on the lenses of the first, using my hands to represent my eyes to the second, and this because I had diagnosed the problem and needed them to confirm and treat it. They had been pursuing (and ruling out) a different diagnosis, and were not on the path to the problem with my vision. How do you determine if the fault is in your brain? The stimuli has passed through several filters, are you certain the processor is to blame? Are you likely to ever suspect the processor, as it creates the filters and references you use to judge reality?

So I find myself today. I know one of the functions which takes place in my brain is malfunctioning. I don’t know if this is affecting other functions, or if those are malfunctioning on their own, or if everything is fine outside of one malfunctioning segment.

I have always been an emotional person. I feel deeply, I am passionate both verbally and physically. When I got out of the hospital last month, once I started remembering things, I found myself surrounded by reminders of Emma. My grief was overwhelming, I cried so much I would leave the room so I could scream in the pain which was tearing me to shreds. Then I stopped. I didn’t feel anything. I felt no passion or desire for Sam, and although I knew I should have some level of emotion directed towards the woman who leapt from open relationship partner to full time caregiver while waiting for the ambulance, even the apparent emptiness of my soul only troubled me on an intellectual level. Nothing affected me, I used to cry over commercials, dance to rhythms of the road, laugh at inappropriate moments,  and suddenly I was flat.

I do not think it requires a leap of logic to suspect the remainder of your mental facilities when one function of the brain isn’t working properly following a concussion, and I don’t remember much of the week following the accident. This just seems to be a reasonable precaution, along with avoiding heavy machinery.

I am not sure in which way or ways I should approach the question; how to elicit an answer (tests), how to measure and interpret any results. My mind is a carnival, every barking dog and stick of candy floss an important part of the tapestry, which is the gold thread and which the brass ring?

Lacking any formal training, and allowing any lapses in judgement, it appears I will need to reconcile every item I find, taking inventory of what holds me together, should I care for that revealed or not. I should enlist assistance for the task, and a brief perusal of psychiatrists who accept Medicaid produced zero results within the state. I feel rather strongly no shortcuts should be taken, the blossoming questions rise as a cloud from a bonfire off in the field, drifting across the moonlight as it paints the faces awaiting the carnival’s fireworks display.

And I can’t tell if this prose is an elegant indication of wellness, or an abstruse intimation of infirmity.

 

 

I will be waiting a few more weeks for cognitive therapy, it seems odd to me there are so few therapists available, the need appears overwhelming. So many unconscious sufferers wandering aimlessly. I joined Luminosity at the suggestion of my neurosurgeon, at least I will be exercising my neural net, keeping blood and electrons flowing. The other practice I have been applying in trying to find my emotional base has been following “inspirational” web pages, reassuring thoughts and mantras usually presented as memes. The greatest power I realize from these memes is the recognition I am not alone, someone else has produced the same thoughts I am pondering.

 

"Soul Speaking" Inspirational page

Soul Speaking” Inspirational page

 

The eventual remedy lays in memory, remembering who I am, verifying the memory represents reality, and living the life of the man who not only has been this person in the past, but is this person today. Social therapy, spending time with people who know me, can only provide the strength to separate the music from the static, provide reminders of laughter and passions. When I find I can dance to the music I have uncovered, there will be reason to believe I am on the right path toward experiencing passions again. I can acknowledge the possibilities are endless, opening my mind to the breadth of the spectrum, but only one wavelength belongs to me. I think it is just about 400 nano meters.

 

 

It’s a wonderful carnival, I’m staying all night.

 

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Evaluating wellness

Shortly after I was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis I began to detest the question “How are you?”

“I’m fine” is not a proper answer, for one thing, hair is fine, not people. I might be pushing everything I have to appear I am operating within normal parameters, but I would never reveal this truth. If I have to tell you how hard I’m trying to stand up, then just standing up wasn’t good enough. I am almost certain the person asking does not really want to know all the things I am doing to look “fine” in the hopes no one will ask me how I am.

Today, almost thirty years later, the question is as difficult as ever.

After three decades of disguising myself as healthy, I don’t know what else to do. I have been fortunate in many ways, I do not appear to have aged, and I have played the part of reasonably healthy younger man well. I have not needed to adjust my act, and became emboldened by success. Then, like the roller coaster at the end of the ride, there was an immediate change of velocity. As one friend said of his experience “I woke up one morning and I was old.”

I woke up in the hospital and I was old.

This is the part I have found troubling, referring to it “like the roller coaster at the end of the ride,” feeling a sense of conclusion. Stuff happens, I have known this for thirty years at least. I have friends with Multiple Sclerosis who have lost the ability to walk, and have had to make a multitude of adjustments in life. I have known many people who were simply struck by ill fortune. I have known others who have not survived. I am, as I knew, fortunate. For some reason this has not made the adjustments any easier.

As I begin to recover from my “accident,” I am finding my recovery will not be as complete as I might have hoped. I will not be one hundred percent of what I was, but I will be closer to one hundred percent of the average fifty seven year old white male. Well, not in mass, but in many other ways. Even now, as I push my recovery, I am told I am doing too much.

I try to take this all seriously, because I am not certain about my mental facilities. What if they are right, and I really shouldn’t be trying so hard?

I gave driving a great deal of thought, determined to examine all the variables. I can turn the key, and although it takes both hands to move the gear shift, I only need to do that at slow speeds, such as parking. I have always driven with one (my left) hand. I can manipulate all the controls and see all around me. I do feel fatigued more quickly, driving a little more than an hour each way is all I care to try at this point. My doctor still feels it is a bad idea, not exactly chastising me for driving to an appointment the other day, but making his disappointment known. I knew I wasn’t ready to hit my old haunts (and their additional impairments), but now I feel the need to back off a little more, be a little safer.

I start physical therapy next Friday for my elbow, I’ve already been advised it will not be functioning as well as the other. I’ve been told a number of things about my body over the years and prefer to just see what happens, knowing the range of motion is expected to be reduced gives me a goal to exceed. My fingers are already moving fluidly, I’ll be making music as soon as I can figure out how to hold the guitar. Drumming is out for now, until extending my arm doesn’t make a sound of its own. I also begin “cognitive therapy,” which will be interesting and probably fun. Unless someone determines I have suffered excessive brain damage, which is bound to throw my confidence into a black hole.

My eyes, and the bones which hold them in place, are the subjects of Monday’s appointment. Something must be physically wrong for my vision to change the way it does, focus shifting as I stare forward. I just need everything to stabilize before getting another prescription for lenses. And there I go, assuming everything will stabilize. I spent my life making things work, I’ll hold my eyes in place with duct tape if I have to.

Wednesday we’ll be investigating why I can’t hear through my right ear. It had been getting a little weak, but since the accident the hearing on that side is gone, and although I was in a haze in the hospital, I do recall hearing one of the doctors saying he thought something was wrong which could be adjusted during the skull surgery (which didn’t take place because I kept healing).

The following week I begin catching up with all the health issues I’ve let go since Emma died. My new general practitioner was amazed I wasn’t reduced to dust in the fall, my osteoporosis has been untreated for seven years. So a new Dexa Scan and rheumatologist for treatment are in order. A new Neurologist seems an obvious choice, so an MRI is expected. The doc wrote prescriptions for my antidepressants, but a shrink is certainly on my horizon, there are a number of issues which need to be addressed; I am not the man I was 31 December, I know this for certain as my emotions have flat-lined. And of course there are still follow ups with the neurosurgeon to determine what physical damage to my brain still exists.

So, with my usual duality (good sign), my evaluation of wellness is I am better off this happened, it steers me towards treatments, but the happening itself has been awful. I have lost independence and ability, I feel “old.” I am not ready to feel old. I have a certain presence, a style which may need to be adjusted to fit an old man. It may be a mostly temporary situation, but the rest of me is not getting any younger. This is happening all at once, rather than complain I failed to prepare, I will try to rejoice I have been so healthy so long.

These are just the physical and emotional issues I am dealing with, a subset of the emotional issues are affected by the financial state of being unable to earn a living. I have never had to ask for help before; if you have not already, please stop by the GoFundMe page set up by a friend to help carry me through these difficult times. Even if you cannot help financially (maybe see it as supporting a suffering author?) perhaps you can use the “poster” button near the bottom of the page and print out a copy to share with friends. Great conversation possibilities there, and perhaps I’ll gain a reader through your good deed.

I once met Buddy Rich, his advice on drum solos was “take something simple and make it look hard, or take something hard and make it look simple.” This is hard for me, I hope I am making it look simple.

How am I doing?

Oh, and being able to shave would be nice

Oh, and being able to shave would be nice

 

Relationships

A few months ago I was driving through a section of New Jersey I rarely visit. I drove past a church I was once married in. It had been my second marriage, twenty nine years ago the day after I drove past the church. All told, there have been four marriages, ended by three divorces and one death.

I probably won’t do marriage again. I hang onto memories more than most people.

There are a number of factors steering me away from a fifth marriage, one I hadn’t even considered was brought up by a woman who said “I don’t want to be number five.” As it turned out, I didn’t want her to be number five either, but I understood her point. She didn’t want to be a number, my latest mistake. My father made a similar comment when I married my fourth wife, and it was equally meaningful, as he is married to his fourth wife and had at the time been married to her for thirty one years. Those guys who remarry can be a flaky lot.

 

number5ao7

A different number five

 

I enjoy the companionship of being married, and I do notice a difference in the relationship when I am living with someone compared to being married to them. As I have gotten older, that difference has changed, and/or I have changed, probably both. I am not terribly concerned about getting married now, yet I still desire the companionship.

Maybe one reason I have enjoyed being married is what is missing from my memories. I don’t tend to remember bad things, so with the exception of my first marriage, of which my ex-wife still feels the need to point out just what a miserable human being she is some thirty years after our divorce, I have good memories. I remember why I got married, not why I got divorced. Oh, I remember why I got divorced, I just don’t remember the reason causing friction or heartache. The “why”s gave me something to learn, adjustments to make in myself. Unfortunately, many people, such as my father and the potential number five, see my history as a series of failures from which I learned nothing. I think this says more about them than me.

It is not pleasant having a mind which works differently from “normal.” Perhaps with my recent brain injury that will no longer be a problem, but I don’t think so, it is getting harder to define. The other night I went to see Star Wars episode seven. A big night for me, my first big outing since the hospital, just a little scared the intensity (3D IMAX) might be too much for my brain.  Instead I kept feeling a smile on my face, memories of the first (episode four) film, memories of my first time seeing the first film. The next morning I wrote to the woman who had taken me to that first screening, thirty nine years ago in a little theatre in New Brunswick. She wrote back, she had a similar experience when she saw episode seven, her friends had been surprised she remembered not only the film, but where she had attended and with whom.

Good people create good memories.

Oscar Wilde said “Marriage is the triumph of imagination over intelligence. Second marriage is the triumph of hope over experience.”

Oscar Wilde

Oscar Wilde

 

It has been said we have similar appearance and wit, but no one mistakes me for Oscar Wilde. I have seldom allowed a failure to stop me from trying again, just in a different way. Experience builds hope, knowing what went wrong helps prevent that failure from happening again. There are just so many ways to fail in a relationship, my hope is I have found them all.

I like to believe I continue to learn, picking up something in each relationship which helps me recognize the same patterns should they show up again. Sometimes the pitfalls are my partner’s expectations, sometimes they are mine. Sometimes there are things to avoid, often there is something to repeat. I still believe humans are intrinsically compassionate, and I will always believe in the power of love.

I should also recall, as I consider my impressions, that I have recently suffered a concussion, and multiple opinions have been put forth on both sides of the question “Is Blake’s mind functioning properly?” My memories have summoned a kind person, I hope that is who I really am. My current emotional state is unrelated to my memories, I  believe I have felt this way, yet presently I am isolated, existing only within my mind, bereft of tangible desires.

From Oscar Wilde’s “De Profunis,” contemplations from his incarceration; “The final mystery is oneself. When one has weighed the sun in the balance, and measured the steps of the moon, and mapped out the seven heavens star by star, there still remains oneself. Who can calculate the orbit of his own soul?”

 

 

 

 

 

Finding my way home

The last month has held some difficult lessons. Fortunately, my attention has been focused, many things I first saw as “new” were simply reminders, I had let myself forget things I already knew.

The year started off with a bang, at least I suppose there was a noise as my head hit the stone floor. I don’t  remember much from those early hours of 2016, Sam has filled me in on a few details, and some are too horrible for her to revisit. Apparently it was spectacular, bright lights and doctors everywhere. And screaming, and blood, those are the parts Sam has chosen not to discuss much.

I am still evaluating the damage, both to my body and to my financial well being. It took a while to be clear headed enough to recognize what path to follow in order to recover. Some things are obvious, some are time consuming, and some are just unpleasant.

I found my choice of insurance plans was inadequate, the one that might have been sufficient was not approved by the “Affordable Care Act,” and I had not thought I would be able to afford the fine which would be imposed without approved coverage. Unfortunately, the only care covered by my plan was “preventative,” I suppose it is my responsibility to investigate how to prevent falling down the steps. I’m not sure what my prescription plan covered, but it did not cover standard antibiotics or analgesics after I was released from the hospital, and of course my five day stay with surgeries and multiple specialists was not covered. That fine for being “uninsured” looks much more attractive today.

I found my employer, Staffmark, a temp agency supplying associates to L’Oreal, was contemptible enough to mention them here by name. I was asked to resign so I could “remain in good standing,” I chose not to because resigning would make me ineligible for many of the government benefits I would require. Staffmark provided nothing, not even short term disability, and when I applied to the State for disability payments and was given a form for my employer to fill out, I was told by the Staffmark manager “We don’t do that, they’ll have to call for the information.” Fortunately, I received that response via email, which by the request of two government agencies was printed and attached to my applications. I wish no one ill, but I do hope the prosecutions promised by the requesting officers do take place.

I found Social Services, the only refuge available, to be a web of agencies lacking intercommunication. Not that I am in a hurry to do something else, spending hours chasing recompense does not interfere with my schedule, and gives me the opportunity to visit a slice of society I would have otherwise avoided. I am there, am I saying I would have avoided myself? There are not too many “nice” people in the waiting rooms, but there is a reasonable excuse for this situation. Before being eligible for services you must be destitute, and the services themselves support a sub-poverty level of existence. Anyone “surviving” on welfare is either cheating the system so they may realistically survive, or not actually surviving in the sense a civilized society should allow. I am trusting my situation is temporary, I will pull myself back up, but the only way to receive housing assistance is to be evicted, that is not an easy place to come back from. To receive food stamps I needed to show I have less than $1oo in my checking account, in the world I used to live I was charged if my balance dipped below $100. And getting Medicaid is not all it’s cracked up to be, not many doctors accept it, almost no specialists do; I can forget about advanced care.

I found I can ask for help. This is not “me,” I am Superman, I can deal with anything, I don’t need people to help me, I help other people. A friend organized a GoFundMe campaign to help with expenses. The response has been heartwarming. Friends, acquaintances, and total strangers have donated to a small fund which should prevent me from becoming homeless. I should be able to put gas in my car to go to Doctor appointments, maybe buy some extra food. I’ve tried to spread word about the campaign, but as I said, this is not me. You can visit the page and read the nice things Beth has said about me by clicking here, and you can see the names of the (at this time) three dozen people who have donated. You can even add your name to the list, or be listed as anonymous, or just feel good knowing there are other good people out there. Another friend is investigating an auction of Belgian beers which might provide proceeds, another may bill one of his gigs as a benefit. I’ve even stepped beyond my comfort level and asked a few people to consider employing me in whatever capacity I am able to fulfill after I recover.

It took a few weeks before my brain was operating near its normal level, I know I missed most of the first week and can tell there are moments missing from the second. I can still tell my mind is not 100%, I lose focus, cry more often than I used to, and can feel a fog of depression. The hearing in my right ear is totally gone, I hope it can still be repaired once I am able to get off Medicaid. My vision is impaired, this may be due to damaged orbits or residual swelling. My right arm is getting better, the doctor eased the restrictions on the brace so I have thirty degrees of movement, I don’t expect I will ever be at 100% again (and for now I’m typing with my left hand). My balance is hit and miss, most days I can walk with my cane, others I can barely stand up. I have no idea how this will progress, and how much is augmented by my existing Multiple Sclerosis. At very best, this will be the kick in the pants I needed to apply for total disability through Social Security, I’ll be able to get by and continue writing. I’m not thinking about worst cases anymore.

I have found good things, I have found good people, and although I am not there yet, I am finding my way home.

 

 

My Last Political Article

There is little doubt I will write about the effects political decisions have on society, or that I will mention politicians, but my relationship with politics has evolved; I expect this to be my last article on American national politics, specifically the 2016 elections.

I write to encourage thought, despite which there appears to be a shortage of thought in the political theater of today. Politics have moved into the space once inhabited by bitter hate-filled arguments. Agreements are not reached, they are forced, during the process redefining “agreement.” The meaning of the word “consensus” has come to be “shouted the loudest.”

There does not appear to be much interest in “leading” as an elected official. “Leadership” is another of those words lacking a meaning, what we used to call “managing” has taken leadership’s place, although I would like to believe even that concept is due for redefinition, managers once were required to demonstrate positive results. The driving force among politicians appears to be “getting elected,” which may at first sound like a simplistic statement. Of course they want to get elected, my issue is that is all they want. At first. Then it changes to “getting re-elected.” The accomplishment most desired while holding an elected position appears to be “creating a legacy.”

A legacy. Something tangible by which to be remembered. Left by someone who spent their life trying to distort reality.

If you have been following this blog, you are aware I intended to leave America a few years ago. One of the many reasons for leaving was to miss the election. I could see a wave of conservatism growing that would overwhelm liberal candidates. I happen to lean towards the conservative point of view myself, but this was destined to be mean spirited, with an ugliness of revenge not seen since Clinton vacated the White House in 2001.

This year’s unpleasantness has not been created by a party unwilling to leave power (yet), but by the all but presumptive winning party. Consider that fact, along with one of the recent quotes from the clown leading in the Republican primary polls, “I could stand in the middle of Fifth Avenue and shoot somebody and not lose any voters.” The acknowledgement his words and actions are inconsequential to voters could not be more clear.

A bad joke never becomes funny

A bad joke never becomes funny

Perhaps this should have been “The Sign.” The omen which revealed the onset of the apocalypse. The moment the New York Daily News told a joke with a punchline of reality pointing its finger at us and laughing.

The field turned out to be as many as twelve candidates and one rabid dog. At a moment more sober minds looked forward to unity following eight years of blatant divisiveness, one candidate leapt to the lead due to a history of graffiti; writing his name on buildings provided name recognition, and to connect the name to a face he ran before the cameras and insulted everyone he could. He started by attacking our neighbors to the South, then when a respected former prisoner of war defended them against his tirade the prisoner found himself under attack, called a “dummy,” and accused, despite his years in the “Hanoi Hilton,” of not being a war hero because he had been captured.

Typically, this type of behavior would draw a campaign to an end, but we do not live in typical times. With a wide and diverse field of candidates, the aberrant clown stood out from the sober, qualified contenders. Any threat to his name recognition lead was seen as a personal attack, to which he responded with vicious and vile ad hominem attacks.  His popularity grew as he attacked a debate moderator and eventually the entire debate process when his documented misogyny was questioned, then he demonstrated his misogyny by attacking a female candidate. He mocked a reporter with  physical disabilities. His personal attacks on other candidates intensified, but simply insulting his peers did not generate adequate press for this narcissistic ego.

Ignoring the first amendment of the constitution he was vying to uphold, Trump expressed a desire to ban an entire religion from America. In a nation living in fear of terrorism, he painted all Muslims as terrorists, be they refugees, immigrants, or native born citizens. Following terrorist attacks in other countries, he vilified the victim countries, not only France, but also the United Kingdom and Belgium. This is the man a majority of Americans feel should represent them in the theater of international diplomacy.

I am baffled. The same Americans who bemoaned Obama’s cult like following now abandon independent thought to join the Trump goose step.  I expected the worst the population had to offer, democracy is merely mob rule constrained by civility, and America has been proudly rejecting civilized behavior for decades, but the embrace of fascism shocks me. Some of my best friends support and defend Trump, refusing to see the hate he spreads like fertilizer for his campaign; so I have decided, in the same way I did in 2008, to step away from commenting.

Emma voted for Obama, and while I had found him interesting at first, I voted for McCain. We were able to discuss our differences without raised voices. Several other friends were incensed and insulting towards me because I didn’t vote for Obama, some of those friendships ended. A year after the election, Emma and a few of my friends found themselves regretting their votes and publicly renounced their former support. I do not believe there are the quantity of people capable of admitting they were wrong as there was back then.

There is no reason for anyone to suffer from hurt feelings because I don’t agree with their choice of candidate, we will all live with the consequences of the election.