The benefits of Brain Injury

I always have found the bright side of any situation. I learned things I would never have had the opportunity to when I spent some time in Prison. I was fascinated by the technology involved with oncology when Emma had cancer. My Traumatic Brain Injury has provided more insight into “Medicine,” Rehabilitation, Mental Health care, and aspects of society of which I was previously unaware.

There have certainly been things which I see as benefits. While I would never suggest that crushing your skull is something everyone should try, a TBI is not universally negative.

Frustration is so normal in TBI patients that the resulting anger is an expected symptom. I was never frustrated; I was depressed, but never felt there was nothing I could do. Instead of anger towards my changing conditions, I felt curiosity. I was exploring the “new” me. It helped a great deal with the transformation. Rather than wasting time in frustration over what I could not do, I was busy finding out what I could do.

One thing I learned from Emma’s Cancer journey was the importance of an advocate. Sam was my advocate in the months following the accident. She coordinated my benefits and assistance.

When my physical therapists told me I would be lucky to get a thirty degree extension of my arm, I did not set that as a limit, I did not aim for thirty degrees. When I reached zero degrees most of the therapists could not do the same. When I reached minus five degrees (hyper-extension according to the books) no one could. It felt good to do what doctors had said I could never do.

When the otolaryngologist told me my hearing was fine, I sought out another, who was able to diagnose the Superior Canal Dehiscence which had occurred when my skull was crushed. I found a surgeon I trusted to cut into my head and now my hearing is fine.

When the ophthalmologists could not understand that my eyes were not on the same plane, I saw a neuro-opthalmologist who prescribed lenses with prisms and tints (which I could not afford). Fortunately, vision therapy corrected my vision.

The mental fog and slowed processing speed has taken the longest to clear. I am probably as recovered as I am going to get, but that is not stopping me from exercising my brain as much as possible. A month ago I was not writing at all, since 1 January I have been writing close to twice a week. I have had no return of my abilities to play most instruments, but I can drum, well. I cooked last week for the first time in years. I’ve started collecting firearms and reloading shells; I’ve been to the range a couple of times and still can’t carve out the bullseye, but it gives me a goal to work towards. And, dating has become interesting again; as I feel better about myself, other people see me differently.

The accident was the result of my fall down some hazardous steps. I had mentioned the state of the steps, and requested a handrail, a couple of times before the accident. Following the accident the owners denied they had ever heard anything about the steps being hazardous, and had no intention, even after my fall, of installing a handrail. That was sufficient for me to file a suit for negligence, which I won quickly. The amount of the settlement was adequate to reverse my losses of the previous years, allowing Sam and I to purchase a condominium and live comfortably.

Due to the damage I sustained, I qualified for SSDI. I will never have to work again, which has reduced my stress level, which in turn assisted my recovery. Getting handicapped parking also made life easier.

I am calmer, much more understanding than I was before. One exception is truly stupid people, of whom I am less tolerant than before. By “truly stupid,” I mean people who choose to not know things. As with the incident at the Lincoln Memorial, it is understandable to be misled by false media reports, but several days after the truth is revealed you are truly stupid if you think the kids were racists and attacked the Native American.

The therapy I received helped me see that an actual “recovery,” in the sense I would be the same person I was before the accident, is impossible. We all change a little every day, I am not the person I was five years ago, nor are you. We just don’t notice when the changes appear over time. I woke up in the hospital and felt I had aged twenty years. I had, because I was able to exist as a thirty something, and now I was my age. Most people face the reality that they are no longer the football hero or cheerleader they were in younger days, I had to face the reality that I am mortal, because I had never “aged” before.

Admittedly, I am doing much better than most TBI patients with my level of injury after three years. I am doing better than most Multiple Sclerosis patients thirty years after diagnosis. All my life has been fortunate, including Sam finding me in the mudroom, where I would have bled to death by myself. This I place as a result of my relationship with God. Little tiny coincidences have made my life fascinating for sixty years, and I don’t believe in coincidences.

Three years after the accident, I appear normal to most folks. Because I am. I am not the whiz kid with all the answers, but “normal” was a pretty low bar to reach. Another couple of years and I might make it to “above normal,” but for now I am content.

Advertisements

The week journalism died

You are probably familiar with the above story. This particular video has the most unbiased point of view I have seen.

Yes, the eighteen minute video, made by some guy in New Jersey in his spare time. Not the multi billion dollar “news” industry, which propagated a false story to enrage the ignorant masses, pausing for a brief apology several days later after minutes of news time was spent vilifying the kids.

Most still images were this:

What I have found, is that even after a day of actual facts bouncing around to counter the original story, this picture tells the entire story. It does not tell the “MAGA kids harass Native American” story which is often the headline. But that Headline along with the picture is all many people needed. The story is “People will believe what they are told to believe.” Some folks didn’t even need to read the headline, the presence of a red hat lets their hatred flow.

A red hat.

I’ve heard stories about this kind of baseless rage before, groups of punks beat a man because he was wearing a red hat (and it was a Phillies cap, not the MAGA hat) in Philadelphia. Mostly I assign that kind of story to the “crazy stupid people” file, but the frequency has grown to where it is now “this week’s craziness.” Today two people, both intelligent enough to know the full story but willingly ignorant of it, seized upon the phrase “This is Trump’s America.” Retractions no longer matter, when the image resonates with the hatred within, intelligence leaves the building.

So yes, this is Trump’s America. A nation in which an aggressive vocal minority makes the rules for civility. Dear God let it be a minority. In a discussion sparked by my last blog post, a request for more civility was countered with “But Trump.” There is no “But” anything! Only abusers blame their victims! When you let the actions of someone else drive you to violence, you are responsible, you let this happen. An adult doesn’t let things happen. they make things happen.

I would like to believe that this wave of Trump Delusional Syndrome will only point out to the rational people how fouled the stream of information is. It is discouraging to realize that neighbors and friends are lemmings, following the herd over the cliff. To put that statement in perspective, it was so discouraging for Americans to believe that one man with an old German rifle and Marine training could kill the president that conspiracy theories have tried to tell a more palatable story for fifty five years. As a people, we can’t handle the truth. But this time it is dangerous, the delusions are leading to violence.

Another media failure this week is the now famous Gillette commercial. Well intentioned by some “beta-male,” the short film was an insult to every male who has never abused women. Apparently the man-bun sporting executive who approved the film was not aware he was offending the overwhelming majority of men. Or maybe not. Maybe the executive was a woman who had broken the glass ceiling and wants to show us how toxic we are. Not only men were offended though, so if Gillette thought it would cover the loss with lady shavers, they may have missed that lifeboat.

In response, several YouTube folks created videos running the gamut from a parody about Toxic Femininity to this one, from a watch company. “Lift me up if you want to see a change in me, don’t tear me down. These are the messages companies need to be showing and celebrating if they really care about change.”

 

Across the internet, women were tripping over themselves. Trying to “Womansplain” how “Toxic Masculinity” didn’t apply to all men, just the bad ones. They never got around to why it wasn’t just “Toxic Behavior” if it didn’t apply to all men. And of course the very possibility that “Toxic Femininity” could even exist was enough to end any pretensions of a civil discussion, despite the fact they thought the “Toxic Males” should be put to death.

Again, the optimist in me wants to see these huge mass communication failures as Toto revealing the man behind the curtain. I keep thinking that “Surely they will realize they have been manipulated.” Then the realist chimes in and reminds me the average person has an IQ of 100, which means fifty percent of the population has an IQ of less than 100. Then the Nihilist in me reminds me nothing has meaning. Having multiple points of view can be so difficult at times.

I feel somewhat content in my sense of self. I have spent the last three years remembering who I was, and figuring out who I am now. I have certain traits which have made this enjoyable; I am strongly egalitarian, which allows me to balance ideas. I do not bestow trust easily, nor do I distrust without reason. Most of all I value differing opinions. Bullying is not an opinion.

 

Looking through a Glass Onion

I have been an outsider since birth, so I don’t think about “looking in from the outside” as much as “how much more I can see since I’m not inside”.

I was born in a town which no longer exists. Trinidad Texas is a small town, population 866 in the 2010 census, and if you look at the map of it on google you will see a tiny strip on the island in the lake contained within Trinidad’s border. That strip was the company housing for Texas Power and Light, for which my father was a chemist. The plant shut down and the island was abandoned, when I visited last summer the bridge was blocked. I have memories of living on that island, which I left in 1963.

From there we moved to Dallas, living in an apartment at first. We usually think of apartments as transient quarters, but little five year old me was still an outsider. My father would travel on business, and brought home a toy airplane, the wings came off to expose a battery compartment in the fuselage. I took the toy down to the playground to show it to the other kids, and they smashed it into pieces. Fifty five years later I still recall this as my first exposure to senseless violence.

A year later I was in Kindergarten, where we made pilgrims out of construction paper cut outs. When I cut the face out, I ended inside the point where I had started, and realized I could keep this pattern going. Instead of a circle I cut a spiral, which I thought was pretty cool; I could create three dimensional shapes with it. The teacher was not thrilled with my creativity, and recommended I be tested for mental retardation. What a curse that was; it turned out my IQ was 148, in the range labeled “Genius.” For the remainder of my life I have been told I was not fulfilling my potential.

In second grade, we moved to Walnut Creek, California. This is when I embraced my outsider status. I had received a pair of cowboy boots for Christmas, and when I wore them to school, the other kids made fun of me on the playground. Cowboy boots have heavier soles and pointed toes, unlike the sneakers the other kids were wearing, so I kicked the kids who were laughing at me. School sent me home and my father offered to buy me another pair of shoes, to which I responded “Why? I already have cowboy boots.” The other kids never laughed at me again.

I was about fourteen, with hair longer than traditional, when a couple of street people singled me out, snarling “insults.” I felt sorry for them, and was not offended by being called a girl. It still happens to this day that people see the long hair and assume my sex, when they pay enough attention to notice my beard they are usually embarrassed.

My father’s growth in his corporation meant I moved every couple of years, maintaining the position of “New kid on the block.” I remember the first day of High School, with everyone talking about how long they had known each other. I hadn’t lived in one place long enough to know anyone for more than three years. I’ve kept that up, changing my appearance every year or so. When I was a technician it was always funny to hear about “the last guy,” because often I had been the last guy; they didn’t recognize me.
As I have gotten older, I have occasionally thought about coming inside, being part of the community. I have cultivated my outsider status so long I am beginning to believe it has become a part of me; what began as a lack of understanding is now my definition.

I moved to Elkins Park Pennsylvania with thoughts of disappearing into the community. I even ran for a position on my condominium homeowners board. I was too much of an outsider to be elected, but I may try again once people get to know me. Although based on some recent experiences I am not sure this is a community I wish to be a part of.

We have a couple of local community pages on Facebook, Elkins Park and bordering Jenkintown. Although both pages feature moderators and mission statements that sound wholesome and non-controversial, they are run by humans who are not accustomed to saying what they mean. Or for that matter, knowing what the words they use mean. Nonetheless, I have met some wonderful people on the community page. Yesterday, Sam and I had some unpleasant run ins with our digital neighbors.

First, I was dismayed at a posting asking for a female owned catering service. I commented that discriminatory wording was prohibited under the EEOC, and I hadn’t seen an ad specifying gender since the 60s. I was attacked by several women, who could not grasp the concept of discrimination when applied to men, because they believe masculinity is toxic. The arguments could be compared to stating NAZIs didn’t discriminate against Jews because the Jews were an inferior race. They went on attacking the post for most of the day, I stopped watching after a while. I was accused of gas lighting and deflection, when all I had done was to point out discrimination is discrimination. A few men commented overnight about the level of hate in a community plastered with “Hate has no home here” signs and that some animals were more equal than others, and the moderator interrupted with a reminder to not make personal attacks, then one of the assailants came back saying she didn’t want all men done away with, “Only the narrow minded and nasty/bullying “boys will be boys” ones. Those I will be thrilled to see under a hill.” totally unaware of her own narrow minded bullying.

While that was going on, Sam had commented on a post about the hardships federal workers were facing due to the shutdown. Sam had stated that the hype wasn’t real, no one was being evicted due to the shutdown because they had only missed last Friday’s paycheck, and were well payed with incredible benefits before that. Sam was treated worse than I had been, the name calling started with the second reply to her comment, and went on all day after she left the conversation. The funniest part was when they started calling her a Trump supporter. Sam is a lifelong Democrat who routinely points out Trump’s flaws. Then, one of the moderators threatened to expel Sam from the group due to her viciousness. Sam had simply made a comment, of factual nature, which didn’t fit the rest of the herd’s mindset. The viciousness was from those that attacked her. We don’t share a last name, so I messaged the moderator to ask what Sam had done that was vicious. She said Sam was worse by far, but refused to provide any examples. I’m not certain how one comment can be worse than twenty two attacking replies, but once most people lock their minds on a narrative, nothing else matters. This morning the entire thread had been deleted. Hate has found a home in Elkins Park Pennsylvania.

Mobs are historically scary things. Their reemergence as political tools only makes them scarier. Finding myself living in the midst of these mobs is terrifying. As we watch due process dissolve in our government, what are the chances it will miraculously appear in the mob justice which is becoming so popular these days?

Being an outsider makes me immune to group think. It also makes me an easy target for group hate. I can think of no reason to join the group, security is not worth my freedom.

Paperwork

 

I was in an automobile accident last September. I received the compensation from the other driver’s insurance yesterday, almost four months later. I don’t know how long it usually takes, I haven’t been struck by another vehicle in over twenty years, but State Farm appeared to be dragging their feet. The young woman who ran into me had not reported the accident to State Farm, so they knew nothing when I went to have the car repaired, but they went ahead and offered me eighty percent of expense. After the car was repaired, I sent them the estimate and photographs. Then nothing.

After a few rounds of sending them the documents, both from home and one of their offices, we determined their security was so thick they really could not do business with the general public. They could not receive my emails because I have a foriegn (Belgian) account and they could not accept the documents at the office because I had them on a flash drive, which they could not attach to their secure system. This was in November, after I wrote about the story on their Facebook page. They had a representative to handle my case contact me, and I was able to send the documents to her private email. Then nothing.

In early January I wrote another post about their lack of response on their Facebook page. I do not recall ever having to call out a company in public in order for them to do their job, apparently it is the way to get things done when dealing with good neighbors. I received a call from another representative, who explained the first representative was on vacation. She was able to locate the claim and authorize payment that day. Not only that, but she said due to the errors they had made, they would pay the full eighty percent rather than deducting for repairs they do not usually pay for.

I’m supposed to be happy at this point, but I realize that had I not written negative posts about State Farm on their social media page, nothing would have happened.

This all brought me back to the aftermath of my TBI, and the hoops I had to jump through while the physical wounds were still healing.

I was fortunate. I had met Sam barely a month before, and due to some unusually difficult relationships leading up to that point, I had taken the approach of total openness. When I was in the hospital she knew everything about me to the point the hospital staff thought she was my wife. They allowed her to stay the nights with me, which was good for everyone. Sam has told me about how I dealt with hospitalization; apparently I thought I had been taken prisoner, and was plotting a spectacular escape involving launching the oxygen tanks through the door. When I was sent home Sam took a month off work to take care of me, and helped guide me through the paperwork required to pay my expenses. I do recall saying “I don’t see how they expect someone with a brain injury to be able to do this stuff” when trying to fill out paperwork.

My first year of TBI was filled with blessings. An old friend set up a GoFundMe page to help with expenses. My landlords allowed me to sublet the extra rooms in my apartment, and I had wonderful tenants who spoke some of the languages in which I was once fluent. Sam helped me enroll in Medicaid and apply for SSDI. I had wonderful doctors.

There were plenty of bad things, it was after all a year I had planned to not be in America, but everything worked out beautifully. Today I am actually better off than I was at the moment of the TBI, my financial situation is restored, I own my home, I have Medicare for insurance, and I get better parking spaces.

I still watch the TBI pages on Facebook, trying to offer encouragement to fellow travelers. I see the frustration and expectations, and I can see again how fortunate I am. Sometimes it is simple, like the other day when a woman could not understand her teenager’s behavior. Her description was of a normal teenager, but she thought it was due to his TBI years earlier. I told her how lucky she was, that this is normal for a teenager and could be taken as a sign he is healing. Most of my recovery may be attributed to my positive outlook, I never presented the typical anger following a TBI, but I could see some of the possible causes of exacerbation. The “normal” world, unable to see physical manifestations, demands normality.

When applying for SSDI, an attorney is recommended. It is not something even a “normal” person is expected to be capable of. When it comes to applying for medicaid or unemployment, no aid is available, yet I suspect most people finding themselves in need may not possess the required competence to complete the process. My social worker was thankful Sam had helped me arrange all my documents, I don’t believe our appointment took more than half an hour.

Bureaucracy is not forgiving of the disabled. I believe that my handling of State Farm indicates that I am healing, if I had been in the daze I was in immediately following the TBI I would never have thought to write about the issue on their page (and I wouldn’t have been driving). It does appear that the anger typically following TBI would have led me in that direction, but I did not experience that anger. And things still worked out.

One other symptom of TBI is tangentalism, which my speech therapist tried to correct. This is when I feel I made a breakthrough. Tangentalism keeps my mind examining all the possible connections, it has always been part of my thought process, so I did not wish to “cure” it. The self evaluation I filled out when I completed physical therapy asked if and how often I say inappropriate things. My response was “no more than before the TBI.” Being inappropriate allows the ability to explore topics others shy away from. As I look over the six years of blog posts, I am comforted by my consistent inappropriateness.

Challenges of Recovery

The second greatest challenge about recovery is recognizing my limitations. The greatest challenge is recognizing I have limitations.

This was not an issue before the TBI, if something needed to be done I did it. Even in the immediate aftermath of the TBI, I needed a room painted for a tenant and was not happy with the job Sam was doing, so I took over and painted the room with my left hand, the right being immobilized.

Over time I realized that some of my limits were because I never recognized how difficult daily activities were. Driving, which was once as difficult as breathing, involves several portions of the brain simultaneously; I had to recover enough to realize I wasn’t doing it well. Today I limit driving to less than one and a half hours each way, with a rest period of at least as long as the drive once I reach the destination. My first attempt at driving on my own, when I was still in physical therapy, showed me the variables I had not considered. Sure, I could drive ten miles to my therapist, but I could not change a tire when I had a flat.

A good part of my time is spent weighing the possible hazards of any activity. I am not paranoid, but the majority of my various careers revolved on my ability to identify the worst case scenario, I’m good at it. Sam has noticed my energy limits, allowing me to budget my activity. I presently have less than five hours a day in which I can be physically or intellectually active, after which I am physically and intellectually exhausted. Breaking down events, allowing rest or at least inactive periods, allows me to go a full five hours. Pushing myself can bring that to three hours.

This weekend there will be a march in my old town of Princeton, NJ. It appears the town that invented “Jews vs NAZIs Beer Pong” was a natural for a white supremacist group. The Mayor and Police Chief of this Sanctuary town have advised against counter protests, on the surface claiming a public safety issue. Knowing the Mayor and Police Chief, I suspect the reason is to avoid making the national news, which might hurt enrollment at the University.  A friend is involved in the counter-protest.

When I heard of it last night, my first reaction was to ask “When and where?” with every intention of being on the front line. Even when Sam said we had guests expected that evening, I was working out a way to do both, and/or explanations why I couldn’t be home for the guests. In an odd nostalgic way I miss the taste of tear gas.

Another thing that (should) happen with TBI is the ability to slow down. As I slowed down and considered the possibilities, I realized it could easily be more than a five hour trip (one hour each way travel plus three hours on site). Emotions would be high, violence could be expected, and arrest was not out of the question. I am somewhat ashamed to say I would rather be incarcerated in my home town than in another state, but it is true. The Princeton Police have gone out of their way to prove their stupidity several times in the last few years, I do not wish to be their latest example.

When I woke up in the hospital I felt old, now that feeling is more of defeat. I have tried to publicize the counter protest, this article being one of the ways, and I have known that I am not up to front line activism for a couple of years, but there are NAZIs in my old neighborhood! I should be there! Not this time, but if they come to my neighborhood I will be out there in a wheelchair if that is the best I can do, depending on circumstances I may be armed.

Another challenge of recovery is accepting my current capabilities. I don’t like it, and see a couple of therapists and a support group to try to deal with it. Fortunately (?) I am actually old, turning sixty last November, and have had Multiple Sclerosis for thirty of those years; I would have become more cautious even without the TBI (maybe). Part of accepting change is recognizing how powerless we are to stop it.

There are many challenges on the road to recovery of TBI, the majority of which are mental. Unfortunately, following TBI mental faculties are typically lower than usual, making the recovery a longer path than originally suspected.

 

I am here in the new year

Good day. It has been six months since I last wrote, and three years since my TBI. Three years ago I woke up in the hospital, and when I say “woke up” I mean “regained my senses.” During the last three years I have continued to regain my senses, it has been a bumpy ride and there is no reason to believe it will ever end, the most difficult part of “recovery” is acknowledging it can never be complete.

As I look over my records, I have written fifty one articles for this blog during those three years, many of which I have no memory of writing, which is a large part of why I stopped. I could not remember what I had already written, and even at the exceptionally slow rate I was writing I felt I was repeating myself. I intend to thoughtfully chronicle my recovery process, and maybe turn it into a book. That sells. My last book didn’t sell very well, but its purpose was not to make money.

I can look back clearly enough to see I have had ups and downs during recovery, I have been better than I am now and have been much worse. It has not been a linear journey. There were times I was almost my “old self,” I know I have cooked meals for gatherings  and can see the words I have written, but I have been unable to do either for at least six months, I can’t recall the last time I prepared a meal.

One exceptionally positive thing I learned in the last round of therapy is that I am retaining information, my difficulty is retrieving it, finding where it is stored in my brain. One test was a panel of twenty items, drawn simply in black and white. After looking at the page of items for sixty seconds, I was asked to remember them. I remembered seventeen. We went on to other tests and then thirty minutes later the therapist asked me which items I remembered, and I was able to name sixteen of them. But it wasn’t the first seventeen minus one, I forgot some and remembered others. Ten minutes later she presented me with a series of cards, each containing an item, but this time there were forty, and my goal was to identify which ones were on the original page. I was able to identify all twenty, with no errors. The information was all in there, I was just unable to identify it all at once.

Among the things I have written off forever are the languages in which I was fluent, but every now and then a phrase slips out in one of them, usually unexpectedly. I still have fun trying to decipher words written in Cyrillic, but I cannot understand a word spoken by my Russian friends. They still presented me with a beautiful ushanka, for which I found a proper pin.

They did refer to it as a “Soviet” hat

A great deal has happened in the last three years, I have been observing but rarely commenting. The national election of 2016, which I had tried to avoid by emigrating to Belgium, was all I had expected it to be. The situation that foiled my “escape” from America has found my forgiveness. Folks are still running about spreading their version of hate and calling it love. I’ve been to a fair number of concerts, and can remember most of them without prompting; and I traveled a bit, visiting both parents with Sam, who had never seen Texas and very little of California before. The problem with my inner ear has been corrected, however, in return I lost a bit cognitively. I am no longer the smartest kid in the room, and I no longer need to be. Some strengths never faded, my sense of direction has remained, at least according to Sam, superior. My technical abilities remained intact, I have driven to a friend’s home over an hour away to repair her copier, and have done some small things in the local community. I have retained the ability to see through the fog of misdirection, which may or may not be a blessing.

I was exposed to so much kindness after my injury that I feel natural helping others out now. I gave an acoustic guitar to a young man in a rehabilitation facility who is suffering a TBI much more severe than mine, and just the other day someone in town asked on the community page if anyone knew how to assemble IKEA, and I volunteered, repairing the drawers in a dresser.

Today I look at a new year, and try not to laugh about the attention paid to a specific date. Every day is a new beginning, every day we are new people, so there is no reason to mourn the person I was before 1 January 2016. My ability to not worry about things I cannot change has been a benefit as I recognize how few things I can change today. It will be little things, creating ripples which hopefully are strengthened  by other ripples of the same frequency.

No promises on how often I’ll be writing, it would be lovely to once again write every day, perhaps that will happen some day. Three years ago I woke up as an old man, I have since been certified as disabled, but I feel neither old nor disabled today.

 

 

Antisocial media

I used to enjoy social media. It has been a great way to publicize my writing and to connect with old friends. I have made several new friends, the majority of whom are other writers. Just like your job, we do not all think the same, the difference is we are eloquent when we disagree, and we tend to use verifiable facts in our arguments. We also rarely misspell insults. I’m not “spoiled,” this is how it should be.

Over the last few weeks there has been a change. Those of us dedicated to accuracy have been run over by a mob of semi-literate terrorists. In the interest of maintaining my spectacular blood pressure of 110/80, I have abandoned social media. I remain disturbed, I cannot organize my thoughts through all the static.

The storm has been brewing for some time. Civil discourse was a precious commodity, shared almost sacredly among writers, although thoroughly unexpected when interacting with the masses. In public comment columns it is disturbingly normal to see retorts such as  “your stupid,” and “goggle it” (when a person is too lazy to provide references and demands you do it for him, while misspelling the name of the most popular search engine). Insults and attacks are on the rise (US representative Maxine Waters recently called for mob action), and much like when I was a child and heard Archie Bunker use words which I did not understand outside of the fact they got a reaction, the actual words used as insults are meaningless. “Racist” and “NAZI” have both been used so excessively they mean nothing (sad because actual racists and NAZIs actually exist and now can fade into the background), and rather than become more accurately descriptive, the insults have just gotten more vile (vile people use vile words. . .), now “motherfucker” has become the go to response for the inarticulate.

If it were only the language it would not bother me nearly as much as it does, it is the lack of reasoning that chills me. The above example of “goggle (sic) it “, represents an expectation to be believed without question. Skepticism, perversely, is both embraced and rejected, fitting for a schizophrenic society. Doubting news sources became a political pursuit some time ago, giving birth to fact checking websites, which almost immediately were identified as biased themselves. The first news source to be vilified via political leaning was Fox news, or as it’s detractors prefer “faux news.” I’m guessing the poet who created that name pronounces the two words the same way. Fox faced the spurious charge of being the only biased news source, allowing the following corollary; if everything Fox broadcasts is false (because it is a conservative viewpoint), everything else is true. In a world defined by virtue signalling, skepticism about beliefs that are unpopular is good, while skepticism about beliefs that are popular is bad, with “popular” becoming the new definition of “true.” Believing everything is either good or bad results in binary thought processes; a world of black and white contains no grey. Schrodinger’s famous thought experiment could not have been created by a binary mind, in fact, not many works of art or even engineering could exist without the ability to see in between the extremes.

I can understand Fox news being dismissed by a partisan mind, the partisan mind has no interest in accuracy. That goes for anyone, conservatives dismiss liberal news sources, liberals dismiss conservative sources. It has gone beyond that. Recently I saw several people dispute a memo from the Department of Homeland Security (DHS). In the frenzy of crying children which the main stream media considered “reporting” on the story of families being separated at the border (full disclosure, I have never been separated from my family at the border in scores of crossings, call it “citizen privilege”), DHS released a paper on what was actually taking place. You know, the people actually involved in separating families, arguably the best possible source of information. I watched several keyboard brown shirts dismiss that information as inaccurate, some citing a story in the New York Times (NYT) without a link to the actual story, which they claimed quoted a memo from the Attorney General. One possible story in the NYT which appears to be the one referenced does not actually contain the “proof” it is claimed to contain, which might be why it was not provided as a link.

I understand there are people who trust the New York Times more than the Department of Homeland Security. There is a remarkable number of people who believe the Earth is flat, they just don’t get as much support from the media. The NYT has a Wikipedia page dedicated to their retractions, while DHS has never found the need to issue retractions. The media, after a long process of building trust that includes Murrow, Brinkley, and Cronkite, has squandered their reputation with talking heads whose interests are ratings rather than accuracy. Print media has lowered itself to the point that USA Today, once a joke among journalists, is scolding AP and Time over their standards.

Retractions may appear to indicate integrity, but they do not. The recently “corrected” story in Time about children separated from families cannot be unread, the cover cannot be unseen. That information remains out there, and despite the notice stating it was “corrected” (for people who show no regard for language, they’re awfully careful about the words used to describe their activities), I have seen people produce retracted stories as evidence, twisting their interpretation of the retraction into meaning the story is true.

The internet has produced a breed of “citizen journalists” with no concept of journalistic integrity. Crowd sourcing the news only creates static, as the loudest voices push their point of view. It is the theatre of bullies.

 

 

I most likely will return to social media. I was silenced, but as I considered the words of Elie Wiesel, I realized I must speak. There are plenty of voices out there, the majority of which are misinformed, ill informed, or just flat out lying. I had left my inner warrior behind, but I cannot be silent as my country is torn apart.

I don’t want to know

My last wife had the most annoying habit. We had different political backgrounds, and she would make statements about mine that were false. When I would try to provide her with correct information, she would say “I don’t want to hear it,” and put her fingers in her ears. In a sense, I suspect this was the reason we divorced. She couldn’t handle constant reminders that the world did not revolve around her. I could not fathom a refusal of information, learning was part of why I loved her; she routinely presented ideas I had never considered, a few of them made sense.

Recently I found myself in something resembling her position. A person presented a thoughtful collection of data and studies that I refuse to entertain. The data was too well recorded and interpreted to throw it away out of hand, it may very well be true, or it could be false, I don’t wish to investigate. It is knowledge I refuse to possess.

The young (42) man who presented the information did so in a sincere manner. Having been inundated with claims of institutional racism being the cause of poor test scores among people of color, he sought out and collected data indicating that differences in intelligence are genetic, racial by nature, and not caused by environment. Were I to entertain this train of thought, it would tarnish my relationships with people of color (by the way, when did white stop being a color?). Certainly anecdotal evidence refutes the claim, I have known white people who were barely in possession of survival skills, and people of color who were brilliant, but I know anecdotal evidence is meaningless in the larger sense.

We discussed my refusal at length. I defended my thought process, which perhaps is a bit esoteric. He did not understand my position, and I realized I could not offer an argument he would understand. He rightfully sees himself as a victim, and seeks defense. For him, the facts are important, because they refute the false claim he (and all other people of his color) are racists. I am older, and simply don’t care what names I am called, because I know who I am.

In contrast, someone else said to me “Do you know that scientists have discovered a traumatic marker in mostly all African descendants in the U.S. that started in slavery in our DNA?” As preposterous as that concept is, I was curious. Was it possible that some incredible leap in genetics happened that I had not heard about? I asked for a reference to the data, but folks don’t really understand how to provide references so he sent some screen shots of the headlines of articles making the claim. From those I was able to find the name of the scientist who published the study which had been twisted into the claim. Rachel Yehuda, PhD, Professor of Psychiatry and Neuroscience at Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai, had done a study in 2015 of thirty two holocaust survivors and their offspring, coming to the conclusion that trauma can be passed on genetically. The idea was briefly popular, and then soundly debunked.

I wanted to believe this was possible. I looked farther than the initial claim, even without references. I could see the flaws in her initial study, but continued to look for supporting research. It just isn’t true, like many other ideas that are accepted because they sound like something that could make sense, it doesn’t stand up to scrutiny.

Another friend, reflecting on Matthew 26:11 ( For ye have the poor always with you; but me ye have not always.), brought up reasons for fighting an unwinnable war. We cannot eliminate poverty, but we can provide comfort for its victims. There are many fights worth fighting, as long as we don’t lose sight of the goal. When the goal becomes impossible, we are fighting the wrong fight and need to reevaluate the goal. By providing comfort to victims of poverty, we are fighting poverty.

I see these unwinnable wars overtaking civil society. For starters, can we de-escalate the rhetoric and stop calling them “wars”? As war like as many people wish to appear, they just don’t make good soldiers. Good soldiers fight to restore peace, most folks today fight for an opportunity to keep fighting. There was the war on drugs, the war on crime and the war on poverty; then suddenly everything was a war. Women, Blacks, Truth, Science, you name it, any difference was framed as a war. The main enemy being “people who don’t think like me.” The civilian, having been assigned the role of warrior, responds in the way he imagines a warrior would respond. The fights never end.

“What about” has become such a popular argument ruse that it has its own new word, whataboutisms. The idea that misdeeds can be mitigated when preceded by misdeeds of someone else. Two wrongs still do not make a right, and it is off putting to have to inform adults of this fact. This image trades on whataboutisms, but instead of continuing an argument it attempts to soften one.

 

I don’t think many people respond well to attacks. They become defensive and any exchange of ideas comes to a halt. We can disagree without insulting each other. No solutions are reached through snarling, one has to respect the person they disagree with in order for anyone to change their mind.

My old school

NPHS class of 1977

Nothing reminds you of the passing of time like a High School reunion. It has been forty years since I have seen some of these people, and we had a wonderful time reminiscing.

I have been thinking of abandoning writing. It is no longer easy, I have not written in a month, and I had already started the first draft of my exit. For perspective, I have never written drafts in the past, I just wrote. At a pre-reunion get together on Friday, I received several meaningful compliments, words such as “eloquent” and “thought provoking” were repeated. The very best came from my friend Carrie, who said “I don’t always agree with you, but you make me think.” What more could a writer ask for?

We have spread about the world, and a surprising number of us stayed nearby, some still in town. I’ve been out and back, some never left. Ten percent of our class has shuffled off the mortal coil, which seems high; although there have been a few instances in which I could have been a member of that group. We are, as a generation, perhaps the last of the risk takers.

My own memory is a bit damaged, I could not recall everyone, but I was warmed by the way I was remembered. One man, football player then, told me how he realized later how brave I had been. He spent thirty years teaching High School students and saw how difficult life can be for the outsider. I arrived in New Providence for my last years of High School from California, a long haired freak in a buttoned down community. Forty years later I am still the long haired freak, but the community has grown in many ways. Still some bickering over the election, but for the most part we are a mature bunch. Closing on sixty is a part of that I suppose.

Tied to this were packages from both parents, photographs and memories of my youth. There apparently was a period in my teens when I grew a mustache and goatee, I saw a picture of it a few years ago and my father sent me several others, in which I was wearing a yellow blazer of which I have no memory. I’m hoping they reflect a bad week, the combined photographs represent two moments.

I am fully aware that I do not remember everything. A bit of a disappointment, but considering the memories I have confirmed as true, it’s been a good life.

 

 

 

 

Eclipses and ellipses

Anything can be a hat

 

As you may have heard, there was an eclipse this week. I went out to observe it with my colander viewer, having located a spot with full sun the day before. Clouds came and went, we had a good image of the portion visible (or not visible, depending on your point of view) near the peak of the eclipse.

 

Eclipse arcs through the colander

 

I recall the camera obscura with a moving box in the 70s, and crossing polarized lenses in the 80s and 90s, but this may be one of the best views I have had. It seems to me odd eclipses are treated as once in a lifetime events, and the current hoopla with Millennials trying to frame themselves as the greatest generation certainly pushed the hype into overload. The next eclipse visible in the United States will be seven years from now, 8 April 2024, with a path running from Texas through Maine. I’m planning a trip to visit relatives in Texas for that, it runs straight through Dallas. This time I was fortunate to have a photographer friend in South Carolina who captured this photograph.

 

©Anna Bruce Martin

 

I often refer to eclipses as “God’s Thumbprint,” because the Sun is four hundred times farther away than the Moon, and is also four hundred times larger. The plane of the Moon’s orbit intersects the Sun, so occasionally the moon blocks the Sun perfectly (The Earth blocks the Sun from the Moon in Lunar eclipses). We have evolved to a point we understand the physics involved, ten thousand years from now the orbits will have decayed and total eclipses will be a thing of the past. Ten thousand years ago there would be no visible corona, the moon blocked the Sun with room to spare. Our relationship in size to our moon has yet to be found elsewhere in the universe, these ratios of size and distance and understanding point to a plan, or at very least a uniqueness in the universe in which we are truly alone.

The tendency to ascribe signs of the end of the world has always followed eclipses, even with our ability to predict them a good deal of foolishness made the rounds. Just a word about predicting eclipses. While it may be more difficult that predicting where the hands of your watch will be at 1200 tomorrow, it does involve clockwork. It is not theoretical physics, more like figuring out which day of the week 15 November will be in 2036. One theme I heard repeated was “Why does everyone believe scientists about the eclipse, but not about global warming (evolution/GMOs/chem trails/feminism/etc.)?” And I’m the one with the brain injury. . .

Speaking of which, I do not have a clever segue into ellipses. The ideas were simultaneous but not connected, and I like the way it sounds. In all the fury and hatred flying about, anyone can be a NAZI. Just don’t agree with someone and you’re a NAZI. I am becoming a grammar NAZI, and I’m worried my house will be burned down by Antifa. This is exceptionally stressful because I live in a fifth floor condominium, and the majority of my neighbors are elderly.

There is one form of punctuation that disturbs me when it is misspelled, and I have started to speak up about it. The ellipsis (plural ellipses) is used more and more these days, largely because people don’t know what to say. Three dots, . . . , should be simple, but I see three commas, two dots, seven dots, even four semi colons, and never the spaces between the dots. Some filter is failing because I have started correcting people. And guess what? No one wants to hear they misspelled a word, much less punctuation.

I mourn language. Text messages were once charged per character, so convenient abbreviations was a way to save money. That doesn’t apply anymore, so we are allowed to write complete words, no need to reduce your language to a Bingo game. Spelling is more important than ever, yet the other day, in a publication, I saw Your and You’re both used incorrectly in the same paragraph. A friend found a menu with a “Pre-fix” offering. Even my late wife the chef, who would often retreat to “You know what I mean” when I clearly did not, would never stand for misspelling on menus. If you can’t get the words right, why should I expect you to get the food right. Another friend said she was board. In my first writing class the instructor advised us to utilize spell check, ponder the alternate spellings and choose the right one.

This is nothing small. Those who control language control thought, and the population. Fascism used to mean totalitarianism, check out a dictionary published since 2009 and the definition has changed from “totalitarian” to “right wing.” So all these morons saying they are anti-fascist are not as deluded as we thought. They are anti right wing, because this is what they have been taught is fascism. That they miss the hypocrisy of their totalitarian approach provides both laughter and sadness. I’ve seen their training videos, there will be blood, mostly their own.

I am not really up for this battle. My weapon has always been intelligence, which I was told last year is fundamentally racist. When the opponent celebrates ignorance, intelligence is a useless weapon. I could write programs, identifying the players, but that would require an audience, and they have already decided who the fascists are. They are anyone who does not agree with them in totality, which makes the Antifa easily identifiable, folks who honestly believe physical violence is an appropriate response to words they don’t want to hear, or even imagine might be spoken.

At least I am prepared to live in interesting times.

 

Conflicting memories

There is this feature on Facebook called “On this day.” It is a collection of posts you made on the date through the years, I usually see things I am happy to be reminded of, even the less than pleasant moments show I have survived.

I used to be a photographer, and one of my influences was Henri Cartier-Bresson. Cartier-Bresson conceived the photographic concept of “decisive moment,” as he said “To me, photography is the simultaneous recognition, in a fraction of a second, of the significance of an event.” I took this to the mechanics of film photography, where an exposure could be 1/1000 of a second. There are nine hundred ninety nine thousandths in the second which are not captured in the photograph, along with the countless seconds, minutes, etc. in which no camera was present. A story can be told in 1/1000 of a second, and it may be a completely different story 1/1000 of a second later.

Some days I posted several times on Facebook, there was usually a mood I could get from reviewing the posts, a pattern which gave me some insight into that day. Some days I wonder what I was thinking, how those seconds reflected my mood.

On this particular day, three years ago, at 1003, I posted a video from the concert I had attended the night before (Beck). I remember how much fun we had, how we were dancing so much the video is hard to follow. At 1740 I posted “If anyone needs a roommate, or would like to share a nice place in Princeton, it looks like I’m single.” About an hour later I posted video of a song by the Cars I had taught my step-granddaughter to play on her toy xylophone fifteen years earlier, I commented she was in college by then (2014).

I looked through the comments on the “looks like I’m single” post, and realized again how abrupt it had been. A month earlier I had thrown a lawn party to celebrate Lieve’s American citizenship. We had met not quite four years earlier, and now three years afterwards we don’t speak at all. Somewhere along the line I should have gotten angry with her, I’m sure there were moments, but I had kept my happy memories, and continued to care for the belongings she left in America until she returned. She swept into my life, found what she wanted, and swept out.

Yes, there is insight from this. I am a doormat. I look only slightly deeper and see more similar behavior on my part, my next girlfriend moved in, spent most of her time in Florida, and abruptly moved out, then claimed she couldn’t trust me with her belongings after complaining about how I took care of Lieve’s things (her opinion had been I should throw it all out, we actually argued about it). That entire relationship took only six months, I had become a more efficient doormat. I still collected the things she missed when she left, and brought them to her door, delaying only to avoid leaving them in the rain. Looking farther back, through the lens of a brain injury which has left me even more peaceful, I can see that with the exception of Emma, my third wife, I have always been a doormat. Probably with Emma as well, she just didn’t take advantage of it. I see it as my quality, and find myself doing it even now; thankfully Sam does all she can to avoid treating me in the manner I fall so easily into.

I know I was miserable for months when Lieve left, but I don’t remember it. I know there were signs we were drifting apart, and although I have no memory of purposefully ignoring them I must have. It seems obvious to everyone I talk to about it, yet somehow I missed it. I remember a woman pretending to slap me across the face and calling me a doormat, people told me but I thought I was being a better person, turning the other cheek and not reacting to betrayal. I still believe this to be true, I appreciate the lessons I have learned from being walked upon, and although I have volunteered for a repeat performances, I now know how to avoid them. The surreal quality of all of this puts me in a peaceful state of mind, which may seem incongruous. I am comfortable in knowing I responded with grace despite the (sometimes literal) attacks.

The artist Rene Magritte said “Everything we see hides another thing, we always want to see what is hidden by what we see.”

This is not a pipe

This is an image of a pipe, it cannot be smoked, the first step in seeing what is hiding behind what we see is recognizing what it is we do see. I see a happy carefree life, and while I desire to see the reality of the moments I remember as happy, I don’t wish to enhance my existing depression. Fortunately, I am able to see it all as a path, I am happy now so this was one path to happiness, clearly there are others.

I let go. I let go of the pain, but not the memories. Not that such an approach has assisted me in avoiding repeats. I have started to let go of the memories, largely because they suggest to me some friendship or relationship remains possible, and that moment has passed. When I see a day such as the one represented by Facebook, I realize I must leave those kind thoughts behind, I do not wish for anyone to be hurt, including me.

 

Genders

There has been a great deal of discussion about gender lately, yet no information. By that I mean many people are speaking about gender, but actual pertinent facts are rare. I typically prefer to start with a dictionary.

gen·der
/jendər/
noun
noun: gender; plural noun: genders

1.
the state of being male or female (typically used with reference to social and cultural differences rather than biological ones).
“traditional concepts of gender”
synonyms: sex
“variables included age, income, and gender”

Okay, the first problem exists within the definition. Gender is synonymous with sex. Back to the dictionary. Synonymous means “a word having the same or nearly the same meaning as another,” and if more people could comprehend the difference in “nearly” and “the same” more issues would be resolved on this planet than I can imagine. Even the text of the definition, “(typically used with reference to social and cultural differences rather than biological ones)” waffles on a solid definition, and “the state pf being male or female” assumes there are only two genders to match the two sexes. So misunderstandings are understandable.

Within that problem is the key to several others, so many issues are considered synonymous with sex. In addition to being the term we use to differentiate egg and sperm carriers, it is also the term for combining sperm with eggs. How it is that Inuits have fifty words for snow while we have just one word for the most essential act of life is relatively easy to understand. People don’t talk about sex, so they don’t use many words. In the “sex-positive” community there are occasionally more words than I can keep track of.

Gender refers to the cultural differences between the sexes. So the parents of a baby girl with short hair hears “Is is a boy or a girl” because one of the few markers of sex at that age (hair length) is ambiguous. I have been called a girl many times because I have kept my hair long most of my life, sometimes it’s an honest mistake, sometimes it has been meant as an insult. Little girls who climb trees are often called Tomboy, society is demanding we conform to gender roles. My youngest son played with dolls, my youngest daughter played with trucks, and today they both display the depth resulting from being “allowed” to play outside their sex-roles.

 

Sex refers to genetic makeup, males have a Y chromosome where females have an X chromosome, resulting in what are often referred to as “secondary sex characteristics,” breasts, uteruses, and slighter builds for women; body hair, testicles, and greater upper body strength in men. If anyone believes those are the only differences between the sexes, discussions about the difference between sex and gender are pointless.

People who identify as transgender feel they are the sex opposite their biology. While that position was renamed “gender dysphoria” rather than “gender identity disorder” in 1973, thus removing the language of mental or sexual disorders; the fact we are taking about sex caused many to stop paying attention. Yes, we have all heard “Sex Sells,” but most folks would rather not talk or hear about it. A few years back when all the fuss was made about bathroom laws, the greatest fear expressed was that men would be allowed in women’s bathrooms. From a rational point of view this is ridiculous at even the basest level. If surgery has taken place the transsexual woman appears to be a woman. A “man” does not identify as a “woman,” so they would have no desire to use a women’s bathroom. In actuality this was an expression of distaste for transsexuals,  most people do not dance about the bathroom displaying their genitals, certainly not transsexuals, and a transsexual would receive no gratification from seeing the genitals which they identify with their own. The pretend issue was it would open the door to predators, that door has always been open. Fears about other people enjoying looking at something demonstrate the veil around sexuality.

As with anything involving humans, the discussion went from accepting the idea of three (male, female, intersex) genders to identifying every possible variant. This confuses people who confuse sex and gender, there are obviously only two sexes (generally, although I have known a couple of XXY people), so how can there be thirty one genders? For the same reason there are only four Cardinal points and thirty one flavors of ice cream at Baskin Robbins. The two words apply to different objects. There can be as many genders as there are people, it is the state of their social differences.

There is little that is binary in our world, with some investigation deviations can always be found. When it comes to sexuality, how could there possibly be only two choices? I doubt every straight monogamous couple approach sexuality in exactly the same way, so “normal” is only a range within the spectrum, not a specific act. When do you decide that someone’s behavior is deviant? When you want to be intimate with them and they don’t do it your way, you might call them deviant, but they might say the same of you. I manage a group of polyamorists, which we organized for mature adults, as most groups are filled with judgemental young people. Our central rule is acceptance, your poly might not be my poly, but you are free from condemnation in our space, hard to believe this is necessary in a lifestyle based on understanding. We have grown to about three hundred members in just over a year, and have only had to kick a handful of people out. There are a few strict rules in ethical non-monogamy, primary is ethical behavior.

Your gender is whatever you want it to be. If you want to be the opposite sex through surgery you spend a good deal of time in psychological counseling, the surgery is impossible to reverse, parts removed cannot be replaced, so it cannot be a whim. In reality, you can never truly change your sex, your forty sixth chromosome you received from your father is either X or Y, that cannot be changed. I have a few transgender friends, running the spectrum from simply being more comfortable in roles opposite their biological sex to undergoing surgery. In the same way I don’t stay up at night wondering if my cis friends are male or female enough, I give no thought to the sexuality of my trans friends. They are all people first.

 

Bigotry

I’ve noticed an increase in the use of the word “bigot” lately. I prefer this word to the misapplied term “racist” or the suffix “phobe.” It tends to be accurate in its application.

“Bigot” is defined by the OED as “A person who is intolerant towards those holding different opinions,” and “Bigotry” as “Intolerance towards those who hold different opinions from oneself.” Are these words not perfect for today’s society? “Racist” has been applied in situations that have nothing to do with “Race,” or even a twisted definition of “Race.” “Homophobe,””Islamaphobe,” and “Transphobe” rarely describe a phobia.

For instance, what would you call California’s recent decision to restrict official travel to states with LGBT laws they disagree with? It is clearly intolerant toward entire states due to differing opinions of the governments of those states. We created a United States rather than a single state to allow freedoms and differing laws. California has decided to ban travel to certain states, but still allows travel to China and other countries with active aggressive anti-gay laws. Like a death penalty for being gay rather than no protection from discrimination. I believe the design promotes tolerance, however the California decision is analogous to covering ones eyes and ears. Do not misunderstand, I certainly have no opposition to various sexualities, but denying commerce and communication is wrong on too many levels to count. California has forfeited the ability to be ambassadors of tolerance in perhaps the most ironic fashion.

I had a friend, we attended school together. We reconnected on Facebook a few years ago, and worked on a couple of charitable events together. She, like many of my friends, is a Democrat. Following the election she went non-linear, to the point I had to “un-friend” her on Facebook. I explained why to her privately, explaining there was no place in my life for her “smiling bigotry,” as she would post absolutely hateful things prefaced with excuses. We ran across each other after the shooting in Alexandria of Congressman Scalise. We have mutual friends, so we end up in the same conversations. Still as bigoted as ever, she continued to spew hate, and when she saw I was there attacked me because I had “called her a bigot.” Well, I guess I was right. She’s still smiling as she tells people that not enough Republicans were killed.

Collins Idehen, under the pseudonym Mr. Colion Noir, hosts a webcast for the NRA. He also writes about gun rights and responsibilities. In the aftermath of the Philando Castile verdict, he touched on bigotry, in this case comparing racism and gun control. “However, there is also a problem with some people in this country dismissing racism wholesale when it isn’t overt racial slurs or crosses burning on front lawns. Covert racism is a real thing and is very dangerous. Covert racism works the same way anti-gunners use coded language to push gun control. They say common sense gun measures, but we know what they really mean. We gun advocates spend our time trying to prove to the people that they don’t just want background checks they want to ban guns. The problem is, they don’t come right out and say,”give me all your guns” so no one believes us, but we know the effects are incredibly real. That’s what covert racism is and does.” What he calls covert racism (and anti-gunners) is best defined as bigotry. A decision on how to proceed based on the objects (Blacks, Guns) rather than the situation.

Another example of bigotry comes from a group that prides itself on inclusion. In fact they’ve appropriated the month of June as “Pride Month.” Three gay people who were also proud of their religious beliefs were not tolerated, and excluded from the “Dyke March” in Chicago for carrying a rainbow flag that also contained the Star of David. This time the bigotry is so strong it has overridden self preservation. Convinced by the “progressive” narrative that Judaism is equal to Zionism, and that Zionism is racist towards Arabs, they found the Star of David offensive. Never mind that the majority of Arab culture is Islamic, under which any deviation from heterosexuality is punishable by death, they found it unacceptable to not include Arabs, so they excluded Jews. Maybe the whole “No Hate” program has them thirsting for their natural drive to hate. I can’t really call this an example of bigotry, because I am not as quick to judge the parade organizers as they are to judge Jews, maybe they’re only jerks, and while most bigots are jerks, being a jerk on its own is not bigotry. Antisemitism often hides as pro-Palestinian or anti-Zionism, and each of those groups are bigots.

Bigotry is simply a negative prejudice, often played out as innocence or jokes. When I moved North, after living in Texas and California, I was shocked at the racism. Yes, there was racism in both previous states, but it was overt. You knew where you stood. In the North, it is covert, small bigoted actions which are less identifiable. Guess again folks, just because you’re smiling and claiming to care, you are still causing pain, and pain is easy to remember for most folks. The victims may not be able to identify the event, but they are aware of the pain, your shock when they respond just makes you appear even more false. Political Correctness is not a disguise for bigotry, it is a showcase.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Lethal Narcissism

My mail has been unreliable, apparently I missed the degrees in psychology everyone received. They’re being used irresponsibly, and the value of something that was freely dispensed to all humans can actually drop to a level beneath worthless. Nonetheless, I hear diagnoses and prognoses bandied about by folks who have had no contact with their target patient. Throw a few psychological terms about and people will think you know what you’re talking about; if they’re gullible, or you’re saying what they want to hear. In reality there are a large portion who will see through you, but there is still that seven percent who think chocolate milk comes from brown cows.

A little research reveals this to be a symptom of the narcissism which is running rampant in American society. Narcissists tend to be the first to judge, and the last to judge themselves.  Of course, recognizing there is a multi million dollar market for selfie sticks might lead you to the same conclusion. The problem with the uneducated psychologists is they do not realize you may display a symptom without having the full blown syndrome. Yes, we have taken a turn towards narcissism as a society, but everyone with a cubicle plastered with photos of themselves is not a clinically diagnosed narcissist. One diagnostic test that has worked for me is to present someone with a list of the symptoms of narcissism. If they do not recognize any of the traits within themselves, they are most likely a narcissist. A balanced individual will recognize their own faults.

We are not over run by people with Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD), but the number of people openly displaying aspects are unusually prevalent. They are:

  1. Grandiosity with expectations of superior treatment from others
  2. Fixated on fantasies of power, success, intelligence, attractiveness, etc.
  3. Self-perception of being unique, superior and associated with high-status people and institutions
  4. Needing constant admiration from others
  5. Sense of entitlement to special treatment and to obedience from others
  6. Exploitative of others to achieve personal gain
  7. Unwilling to empathize with others’ feelings, wishes, or needs
  8. Intensely envious of others and the belief that others are equally envious of them
  9. Pompous and arrogant demeanor

You see this all around you, just not at pathological levels. You can certainly taste it in my writing. Unfortunately, as with any psychological disorder, behavior that is not addressed self validates and increases. I am troubled for society, the expressions are becoming lethal. When national personalities call for violence, someone will be listening. If that person is less than well balanced, violence of some sort will follow. It starts with rhetoric, and when that rhetoric is challenged the response is ad hominem. I was in a discussion last week about politics, and one person went non-linear, eventually saying “I can have my opinions without factually reporting why I have them…” As I recall, the purpose of exchanging opinions was to convince people of your opinion. This person was under the impression that all that was required for me to accept her opinion as fact was her saying it. If there is truly a New World Order, this is it, “It’s true because I want it to be true.”

My ex-wife was similar. We would be discussing a subject and she would say something which had no basis in reality. When I corrected her she would argue. When I presented evidence she would say “Well, you’ve obviously done more research than I, but I still have the right to my opinion.” One time she actually placed her fingers in her ears because she did not want to hear anything which disproved her point. We’re divorced now. I don’t mind people who disagree with me, I’ve often learned new views, but when someone chooses ignorance over information there is nothing left to talk about.

The issue is not limited to a single group, discussions are becoming more difficult in general, and it’s not just my brain injury. I used to belong to several pro second amendment groups, but a few of them became unstable, with the “gun-nuts” often feared by the anti-gun crowd taking over. They disturbed me as well, so I left those groups. I’ve stayed with a few groups who promote responsibility, finding that conversations with responsible people are more satisfying regardless of topic, there is less a sense of being in an echo chamber when people speak freely and back up their opinions.

This is where narcissism can become lethal. The narcissist, in his arrogance, has isolated himself from other ideas, living in an echo chamber. He believes he is smarter than everyone else, and empowered to apply his concept of justice. The echo chamber is appealing to the narcissist. There are no voices of dissent. In many cases I find they have no intention of making sense, they just want to make noise. Louder is truer.

This week a breaking point snapped, and a man who believed his opinion reflected reality opened fire on a baseball team. He was the typical slacktivist, after firing fifty rounds the only casualty was the shooter. He did manage to wound six people, one seriously, another with a round to the foot. The story has revealed few details as the FBI has taken over the investigation, the rifle has been described as an “AK style weapon” by people who have most likely never held a firearm, and it appears he had been living on the street for several weeks. How he managed to conceal a rifle while witnesses who knew of him said all his belongings were in a bag is a bit odd, as well as how someone could live on the streets when they were carrying a $500 asset.

James T. Hodgkinson had a variety of reasons for believing Republicans should die. In his pocket was found a list of other pro-life politicians he planned to assassinate, because people who wish to preserve life should die. The logic reveals a streak of narcissism. His lack of concern for human life can easily be blamed on the severity of his mental illness, it can also be blamed on media figures who have encouraged violence through their rhetoric. Oddly (?), the media doubled down, suggesting the shooting was not enough. One Democratic member of congress responded to the calls for unity following the attack by saying she thought the shooting was funny. Why we might expect a more solemn response from a party with a history of violent acts indicates we are far more gracious than they are, even as we are portrayed as the bullies in life. This is narcissism showing, the belief they are superior, they have been wronged, no other opinion matters.

Where did this come from? One theory is that narcissists are born out of trauma, another that they are the result of “over-parenting.” I would like to think we can curb the progression from personality trait to personality disorder, but the nature of the process shields the narcissist from introspection. Contrary to popular opinion we are not all psychiatrists, and are ill equipped to counsel the mentally ill. Narcissists deny their own issues and accuse others of being narcissistic. In a defense of the shooting, Democratic Strategist James Devine said “We are in a war with selfish, foolish & narcissistic rich people. Why is it a shock when things turn violent?” Such a transparent statement, revealing his own narcissism.

Facing narcissists in my life for over fifty years, I eventually learned how to deal with them. Don’t. They either become more narcissistic or violent. They unwittingly isolate themselves, help give them what they want, complete isolation. As much as we may say “sticks and stones will break my bones, but words will never hurt me,” words do hurt. They can be an incitement to violence against a crowd, or against a single person.

 

 

 

 

 

 

What’s in your wallet?

I am well aware that I do not fit in to the definition of “normal,” the larger question of my sanity remains unresolved.

With a last name of Cash, I have always had an interest in currency. I keep coins and notes from various places in my wallet (European style with built in coin purse), as time has passed and the collection has become more diverse, I have adopted the rationale that when someone someday finds my body, they will be perplexed, it will be my final joke. An inventory this morning reveals;

A 100 Ruble note ($1.69 USD)

A 10 Euro and 5 Euro note ($11.43 and $5.71 USD)

A 1000 (old) Peso note ($0.05 USD)

And in coins;

A Susan B Anthony and “Gold” US Dollar

A 2£ coin

A 100 (old) Peso coin

A Canadian dollar

One French Franc circa 1970

A 2€ coin

An East Caribbean dollar

A two Drachma coin

One each one, two, five, and ten Ruble coins

A Septa subway token

 

Certainly the wallet of a traveler, perhaps a time traveler? Three passports, a couple of visas, don’t even know my real name? Well, most folks don’t, and I’m not entirely certain.

 

 

My days are scattered, this morning I am contemplating the relationship of Tachyons to Dark Matter, whether politically correct revisions at Disneyland foretell mankind’s loss of humor, why two regenerations of The Master are more troubling than multiple regenerations of The Doctor interacting on Doctor Who, whether my younger friends parents were listening to my favorite music when they conceived my friends, and if my new earplugs should be teal or pink. I settled on pink.

Folks will think these are hearing aids, when in fact they are the opposite

 

I had a friend around the turn of the century (this one), when I was working as a technician, and we often said our lives were like having seventeen video screens on at once. Recently I saw a meme about brain injury which used the same analogy, right down to the number seventeen. Maybe that’s why I am weathering recovery so well, I was already like this. I have recently discovered my inner ear is a rather precise barometer, one more thing on my mind as I verify my impression with the readout on my phone.

When I was very young, we had a willow tree in our front yard. In addition to learning one “lesson of the willow,” that it is better to bend rather than to break, I also learned that a willow switch stings more than a belt. Everything has a purpose or two, not all bring wisdom in the same way. In learning the second lesson of the willow, I learned third, that I should not take off with a friend to the ice cream parlor a mile away at five years old. What kind of teacher provides a single lesson? That is lesson number four. It’s an unending cycle, which can be traced back to a willow tree.

I live in a forest, surrounded by teachers and lessons. I remember just about all of them, and their connections form a beautiful matrix upon which hangs the curtain of reality, Maya. I have found that if you don’t recognize the curtain, you can’t look behind it. There is something about having widely disparate bits of information randomly connecting in your mind that either gives you innovative ideas or drives you insane. The trick is recognizing which has taken place. I try to keep an open mind on the subject, it is an exceptionally tight rope.

 

 

Society demands binary responses, so my way of thinking often frustrates others. My ability to determine which ideas are “good” and which are “bad” gets confused as the definitions of good and bad take on a life of their own. I consider ideas that some people would not, either because the idea had not occurred or they immediately dismissed it. I am starting to question why I don’t immediately dismiss ideas, and am only mildly concerned I have found no reasons to do so.

There is a good deal of waviness in my thinking of late, as long as I stay out of trouble I can believe I am still making rational decisions, but I see it in my writing, this article in particular, but also several that I wrote following the TBI.

 

 

 

 

I’m Batman

A few weeks ago, a friend brought up a program he had watched which stated you can tell everything you need to know about a person by their favorite super heroes. Yes, middle aged folks still have favorite super heroes. My favorite is Batman. To me, Batman is the epitome of duality. Bruce Wayne by day, Batman by night, both working towards the same goals.

 

Duality is central to my life. Sometimes I display it on purpose, other times it just occurs naturally. I have an androgynous personality, some tests identify me as male, others as female; a recent survey actually determined I was “undifferentiated – androgynous.” I was born and spent formative years in Texas, then moved to California, arriving in the bay area just in time for the Summer of Love. The cultures could not have been more different, I love them both. I was a peaceful little flower child who enlisted in the Air Force because I believed working in the Intelligence community would save lives. I embraced the duality, it works for me, most of my friends thought I had lost myself.

Following the superheroes conversation, along came Armed Forces Day, and in my group of Full Metal Jacket fans came the comments of millennials who failed to grasp the meaning of the film. Being millennials, they felt the need to lash out at other members, even the group itself, for failing to recognize what the film (made more than a decade before they were born about events from two decades prior to that) was about. It was about duality, children forced into the role of warrior. It was not necessarily an anti-war film, it was a war film, accurate in the effects of this duality on a range of personalities. In fact, the film resulted in increased enlistment. Being able to see more than one point of view is an advantage to those of us who embrace duality. Prior to the making of the film, near to the time reflected as I faced the possibility of conscription, I had a poster with a comment repeated in the film; “Join the Army, travel to exotic distant lands, meet exciting and unusual people…and kill them.”

A dark sense of humor is essential to dualism. The alternative is insanity. The rise of political correctness signaled the death of humor, dark humor is always the first target. I believe this speaks to almost all of the troubles of society, I had always heard that laughter is the best medicine, but cackling at the perceived weakness of others is not laughter. The dual mind sees absurdity standing hand in hand with necessity, laughter is the only sane response.

 

My bat, man 

 

The following week, I once again faced my inner bat. Clinging to a conduit in the hallway was a small (5 cm) red bat. I considered leaving it there, with the possibility he would never be noticed. Then I realized that when he woke up, he would have no way to escape, so I went back to capture him. Sam came out to watch, thinking I would need help mounting the step ladder to get close. My only caution to her was “I need you to stand here (2 meters away) and if he flies away just don’t freak out.” I have always been startled by people who are afraid of small animals, and if by chance she started screaming it would have drawn attention to the presence of the bat, which no doubt would have led to its demise. Everything went smoothly, the bat objected vocally to being moved but crawled into the coffee can I placed underneath it, I walked out to our balcony and released him. I think Sam was amazed that the little guy had such large wings, easily a 30cm wingspan. He stretched and glided into the woods.

At one time I was “Batman” for a group of communities outside Philadelphia, an Animal Control Officer, part “dog catcher” and part “Doctor Doolittle.” I would speak gently to animals and put them at ease, sometimes to capture them, sometimes to kill them. My acceptance of the duality of the position made it a positive experience. I earned the respect of every other member of the police department, not by being a tough guy, but by fulfilling my lifetime occupation of problem solver. Nothing was impossible, nothing required violence.

Most folks I meet cannot discern who I am, where I am from, what my motivations are. Pity, all they need to do is ask, I am the proverbial open book. Far too many people expect hidden agendas and deception, an honest and forthright person can hide in plain sight. Over the years I have never hidden my religious beliefs, but I have never insulted other religions, so most people think I share their beliefs. The other day Sam and I were on the balcony discussing the events of the year, and she mentioned how incredible it was I had found Dr. Wackym, who performed surgery on my inner ear. It was an indirect path, which allowed him time to arrive at the hospital where my neurosurgeon practices, who I asked for a referral just after he had arrived. Had I asked a month earlier he would not have been there, a month later and the waiting list would have been several months. Events in my life often work out that way, timing and connections. Sam, born Jewish and now a self described Hedge Witch, asked why I am so “lucky.” I told her. “Because my heart belongs to Jesus.” We don’t discuss religion often, she usually treats all religions with some level of disdain, I remain simple, direct, and devout.

As I welcome the return of my personality, clues to who I am come in waves, as these Batman/Duality clues have come. I am of the impression I was a gentle person, and I will be more so in the future. But I am still a warrior.

Though his mind is not for rent
Don’t put him down as arrogant
His reserve a quiet defense
Riding out the day’s events

The tide is turning

One of the initial “problems” following my TBI was separating symptoms. It seems odd to me, although many things seem odd to me, that my doctors appeared to be dodging responsibility, blaming various symptoms as resulting from a condition in which they did not specialize. “Oh you’ll need to see a (insert specialty) about that” was a shared mantra; was it the MS, or the TBI, or maybe something else? As I zeroed in on the diagnosis of SCDS, I found another area of overlapping symptoms. As I heal from that surgery, I find many of my TBI/MS symptoms relieved at least in part. Much of the brain fog has lifted, I am able to focus and organize thoughts better. My neuropsychologist discharged me from therapy the other day, satisfied that although my recovery is not complete, I have the necessary tools and coping skills to move forward on my own, I am capable of self evaluation.

As I considered the topic I will be writing about this time, it occurred to me that this may turn out more in the style of some of my earlier writing, a variety of events tied by synchronicity. It may end up appearing as the ramblings of a damaged brain, or it may be clear enough to communicate a hidden reality.

I want to start with the “March for Science” held this year on 22 April, at various sites around the globe. I wrote about the march previously, it had appeared to have lost a true science base, appealing to populists who talk about science without understanding it. Nonetheless, it appears some scientists did not care they were being represented by a steampunk contingent and a celebrity with a bachelors degree in engineering, or perhaps they were reacting to the farcical world in which anybody can call themselves a scientist. A group (thirty thousand) of scientists spoke out about global warming. They stated global warming is a hoax. A non-scientist friend disagreed, and presented the following graph.

 

Misrepresentation of CO2 levels

 

As someone with the dignity and respect for scientists not to call myself a scientist, I point out the features of this graph. The graph is properly indexed, with the first eight hundred thousand years of data identified as coming from ice cores. The last sixty years of data were drawn from another source, an observatory atop a volcano. The graph indicates a series of cycles, each roughly one hundred thousand years, in which the level of CO2 rises and falls. At the point the ice core samples revealed the latest peak, the data source changes to Mauna Loa observatory, which indicate higher levels of CO2 than had ever been recorded in an ice core.

There is no indication of the data from Muana Loa previously (largely because the data was not being collected), we have no idea how the measurements made there compare to samples from ice cores. All we know is in the last sixty years the levels from the Muana Loa data have been exponentially higher than any ice core sample.

We also do not know how this might suggest global warming, as actual temperature data from the last twenty years have shown steady  global temperatures. While there is a debate as to whether CO2 is a warming or cooling effect on the globe, the cyclic patterns which took place for six hundred thousand years before there was a species identified as remotely human would indicate humans had nothing to do with those CO2 levels. As those levels in Mauna Loa’s data peaked over the last one third of their data, actual temperatures have remained stable. But it is a shocking graph, until you read it.

When I was twenty, I drove an ice cream truck, for a company called Tropical Ice Cream. In one of the neighborhoods in my territory lived a man who owned his own ice cream truck, and was not a friendly competitor. One day a little boy was among the crowd at the window, and he said “Tropical Ice Cream is bad, they gave me wrong change.” Not recognizing the child, I asked him why he said that. “Bill (the other ice cream truck driver) told me.” Some folks just repeat what they have heard, without considering the facts. I’m sure the AGW fanatics will continue to argue about science with actual scientists, after all, they heard it from Bill Nye the science guy.

Another science based theme which has been pushed since the March for Science is the anti-vaccination cult. It took the British medical journal, The Lancet, nearly twelve years to retract Dr. Andrew Wakefield’s 1998 paper suggesting a link between childhood vaccines and autism, as “utterly false.” His license to practice was revoked six months later. But the anti-vaccination crowd will hear nothing of it, continuing to insist on various reasons vaccines must cause autism without any data to back their claims.

This attack on science is more direct. Rather than falsely claiming to be backed by science, the anti-vaccination crowd contends the scientists who have failed to find any data connecting vaccines and autism are corrupt, paid off by pharmaceutical companies. When it comes to anything even resembling facts in the matter, they are misunderstood or misconstrued. Nonetheless, the anti-vaccination front was represented at the March for Science. Of the many reasons I did not participate in the march, this hypocrisy is the epitome.

Science is designed to be challenged. It is designed to be challenged by other scientists, not celebrities and laymen. It will always be misconstrued or denied for political reasons, it took the Vatican three hundred and fifty years to apologize to Galileo. This year, after an election that highlighted false news, a populist March actually revealed truths; not from the lips of the marchers, but from the scientists to whom the marchers claimed the desire to provide a voice. Many of the marchers are like that little boy next to the ice cream truck, repeating what they heard. They tend to passionately defend the beliefs they have been told they hold, but the scientists are standing up, and their response has been “That is not what we said, that is not science.”

The tide is turning. It may require another three hundred and fifty years, but eventually science will be respected again.

Ten days out

This is me on 12 April 2017, two days after surgery, when my compression bandage was removed.

12 April 2017, bandage removed

It looks severe, and I guess it is, but it wasn’t painful. I’m told I received IV steroids during the procedure, which were supposed to make me feel better. My experiences with IV steroids in the past are radically different, they literally sucked the life out of me when I received them for multiple sclerosis, but I did indeed feel better when I left the hospital this time.

I felt too good in fact. I am supposed to limit myself, some limitations are obvious such as avoiding loud noise (no concerts for two months); some are less obvious, aimed at reducing cranial pressure. I can’t bend over to the point my head is below my heart, I can’t lift more than three kilos, I’m supposed to sleep at a 45 degree angle. I took a lot of scolding to settle myself down.

My symptoms are gone, no bone conduction sounds, no autophony, no pressure in my ear. I’m also less aware of my cognitive deficits, which I knew was a possibility but intend to withhold judgement for a month or two.  I do suddenly have tinnitus (out of curiosity I checked the frequency, ~3000 hertz), but that is an expected post surgery symptom which should resolve itself within a few weeks. My balance is a bit worse, so I’m using a wheelchair for the time being. It is fun, but a bit tiring. I can turn and spin as if I’ve been doing it forever, which should be good news; no dizziness or motion sickness. It has pointed out my only post surgery pain, the point on my left hand in which a catheter was inserted to measure blood pressure. The other catheter, made famous by my friend Barry Parham in his book “Why I Hate Straws,” was just a weird sensation, and I had to eat through straws the first two days.

As days go by there are differences. Not always pleasant but there is no indication they are permanent. The hearing is returning to my right ear incrementally. At first, higher tones came through as if they were transmitted by kazoo, scratchy and fuzzy like the teacher character in Charlie Brown. Today they sound more like whistles. I yawned for the first time about four days post surgery, which was a good sign, I could open my mouth fully, and I was tired. I’ve been sleeping a great deal, probably more than after the brain injury, but back then I couldn’t move much so perhaps I was resting more then. Opening my mouth meant I could try more foods, we found a new Mexican place one night that had wonderful food and great margaritas, ranging up to thirty two ounces. I ordered a smaller one but asked the waitress if I could see the thirty two ounce glass, it was a small fishbowl. I’ll have to visit again when I am fully recovered, they carry my favorite tequila.

We’ve been discussing the question, “Was it brain surgery or ear surgery?” in my SCDS support group. A little of both. The brain needs to be moved out of the way, so even though an otolaryngologist does the diagnosis and sometimes the ear part of the surgery, a neurosurgeon must be part of the team to handle the brain; or in my case, a neurotologist (with a T), which is a new specialty, who handles both parts. The condition of Superior Canal Dehiscence was only identified in 1995, it only affects about one percent of the population, and not everyone requires surgery, so it is rare to find a neurotologist, or even a neurosurgeon/otolaryngologist team, who can properly treat the condition. Some people I have spoken with went a dozen years or more seeking a diagnosis, as most otolaryngologists don’t recognize the condition. It took me four doctors, the second one made the diagnosis and referred me to a team I could not trust, so my fourth happened to be a neurotologist who had just transferred to my hospital from Portland. Perfect timing, his schedule is already filled. I saw him first on 15 March, already had the cat-scan which showed the hole, he said he had 10 April available for surgery so we did the audiograms and VEMP testing the next week. Other folks I have spoken with, searching years and finally getting a diagnosis, were depressed. The surgery is scary, I felt a bit of fear, but nothing was going to stand in the way of a solution.

There was more stress in the intervening weeks than I am accustomed to these days, my landlord lost all vestige of civility and kicked me out of the home where I have lived for four years, and the anesthesiology department demanded a full echo cardiogram a week before surgery because the EKG showed “minimal voltage LVH, may be within normal parameters,” which was difficult to schedule because in their request to my insurance they said “routine health examination” rather than “pre-surgical requirement.” We found a place to stay, moved, and laughed with the echocardiagram technician about healthy my heart is. Plus, just watching the echocardiogram was fascinating. The drain pipe in our new place broke about a week before surgerythe plumber came in while I was in the hospital. Even good news, like my father wanting to come out, caused a little stress because I knew I would be out of it most of the time he was here. At least he was able to see my oldest son while he was here.

My father as I regained consciousness

Sam did a wonderful job of preparation, stocking up on soups and broths and creating healthy food I could ingest through a straw, I was just able to eat solids too fast. She was able to have her father over the night I came home, so he met my father. She scolded me into slowing down, along with members of the SCDS group and some of my friends (special thanks to Vince Coviello, who put it bluntly, “Recovery is not supposed to be exciting. Just suck it up and listen to the Docs!”). Sam made sure the place we live is level, reducing the chance of falls, and has been of constant assistance. I’m going to need to do some exceptionally special things for her when I am fully recovered.

I am getting better. The overlap of symptoms with TBI and MS made me wonder what would change; I am pleased so far and have no doubts about future improvement.

 

Moving on

Flowers between the cobblestones, Gloucester MA 2010

With everything which has taken place this year, from the initial accident, trying to diagnose the myriad of problems which arise from fracturing the various bones of my head and elbow, and having an exceptionally difficult tenant, I have been blessed.

Despite osteoporosis, my bones heal rapidly. Despite the traumatic brain injury, I’ve remained calm and dignified. Despite a constant spinning of my world, wonderful things keep happening. Despite a horrible display of human cruelty, I have seen compassion in unexpected places.

I have been forced from my home, in what can only be described as an insane sequence of events. I do not possess the capacity to understand why this is happening, and have no desire to demonize the parties responsible. I am disabled, a month from a major surgery on my cranium, penniless after a year unemployed, and people I thought were friends have tossed me to the curb; in some ways I am thankful. This crisis has revealed the kindness of others.

My ex-wife was kind enough to take some furniture I would be unable to move. Other friends, including people I only know on line have helped. One woman, who I had never met in person and who has differing political views (she attended the Women’s March in Washington) provided her mini-van for a morning, and not only provided transportation, she helped move things. I learned a good deal about her during this time, and am quite pleased to call her my friend. It took a bit to process what had happened, and I found myself shaking.

Liz is a Democrat, who distinguishes herself with her recognition of “limousine liberals.” She doesn’t talk about people in need as she drives by, she stops and helps. This Vassar educated mother of three (two on the autism spectrum) spent her morning helping a conservative punker. Okay, neither of us fit the expectations of those descriptions, which is in many ways the point. Labels are irrelevant, souls are what matters.

We spoke about our experiences, she has children in the Princeton Charter School, which the Princeton Public Schools have declared the competition; and in what I have come to believe is a typical Princeton response the Public School Board is more interested in destroying the Charter school than improving their own students. I saw this trait expressed in a variety of issues in Princeton, ad hominem attacks rather than displays of any measure of superiority. Liz continues to attempt to bridge the divide, hosting meetings of both sides, opening her home (and sledding run) to everyone. We mourned the death of civil discourse, and although we differ in our beliefs of the cause, we share the loss of meaningful debates, recognizing the next step is authoritarianism.

Liz is what I had expected Princetonians to to be when I arrived (shortly after the picture up top was taken). Intelligent, well spoken, and civil. It took six years to find a person fitting that description, and I met her on my way out of town. My experience of Princeton was elitists, posers, and hypocrites. It is very reassuring to know people such as Liz exist in the wasteland of Princeton, reviving my faith in humanity; in a world as torn as ours is, there are still flowers growing between the cobblestones.

This month I have seen some of the best in people, and some of the worst. Life is always about balance. There is something important in there, as I configure what is left of my brain and work through increasing vestibular issues. The rose coloured glasses present an illusion, however the world is not filled with assholes clinging to hatred. There are people like Liz and I, not many, but perhaps enough to turn the tide. Perhaps, although I will never know the outcome. We accept the future is not predestined, rather it is malleable, to be improved with actions rather than curses. The core of meaningful conversations is mutual respect, the absence of respect begets rage, which I believe we can all agree is our present position. The world needs meaningful conversations, which should lead to people who will take actions rather than consider themselves virtuous because they are aware of the issue and have appropriately rebuked those who are not wearing the right colour ribbon. Hope lies in lifting each other up, not in putting each other down. Humans need hope.

There will always be the trolls, and it is altogether possible they will be the majority of the population. I may have thrown away my rose coloured glasses, but I will always believe that love outweighs hate, that one good person is more significant than one hundred bad people. They can destroy a person, but ideas live forever.

Save

A new window

I may have mentioned having some hearing issues since the accident.

I have now visited four otolaryngologists, in an attempt to diagnose and correct the problem. Well, two to diagnose, then two more to find someone I trust to perform the surgical correction.

The first otolaryngologist gave me a hearing test, which returned results consistent with an aging punk rocker. My attempts to explain my experience was not adequate to pull his eyes away from my chart, even though he did conduct the one tell tale office exam that should have pointed him in the right direction. He offered to write a prescription for hearing aids, even when it was evident they would not correct the problem.

The problem, you see, is that I hear too much. There is a “fullness” in my right ear, much like the pressure you feel when changing altitude, except swallowing doesn’t clear it. I hear my heart beat in my right ear from the time I sit up in the morning. The shower hitting my spine is deafening. My voice has a bass resonance in my right ear. Sound builds, so in a short time all I hear is the resonance (autophony). These sounds are heard through bone conduction, which is why I hear them and you don’t. Normal people hear sounds conducted through air, and entering the ears.

The test the first otolaryngologist performed that should have pointed him in the right direction was placing a tuning fork on my skull, then holding it over my ear. I could not hear the tone in my right ear, but it was loud and clear when the fork was placed on my skull. Opposite results for the left ear. So he suggested a hearing aid, and I suggested a different doctor.

Doctor number two recognized the symptoms right away. He called it “a third window,” a reference to an extra opening in the Superior Canal of the vestibular system, which is attached to the cochlea. The medical name for the condition is Superior Canal Dehiscence, or Superior Semicircular Canal Dehiscence, Syndrome (SCDS or SSCDS). I’ve learned lots of new words, but I’m still not sure about the pronunciation of “dehiscence.” As you can see from the CT image below, and probably guessed from the explanation, corrective surgery takes place within the cranium. The canal is a bony structure adjacent to the temporal bone, on the “in” side. A hole is drilled for access.

 

The third window

The “third window”

 

Doctor number two could not perform the surgery, and referred me to a specialist at the University Hospital in Newark, NJ. This doctor did more tests and did a CT scan of my temporal bone. She definitively diagnosed the SCD, but was so disorganized and scattered I wouldn’t trust her to open a can of tuna, much less my cranium. I remembered my neuro surgeon from the accident, and contacted her. She referred me to doctor number four.

Doctor number four is Dr. P. Ashley Wackym. I have seen a few dozen doctors in the last year alone, he is the first to impress me. Alright, he has a lead initial, so there is a sense of kinship, and he dresses well, a nice suit and sharp shoes; but what blew me away is that I did not have to explain my symptoms, he asked me about each of them with familiarity. Another thing which gave me an odd comfort is that many of the symptoms of my TBI are also symptoms of SCD, in other words, correcting the SCD may assist with the issues I am working on with the TBI. Wouldn’t that be lovely?

From what I have read, SCDS is very rare. This may be because it was only identified in 1995 at Johns Hopkins. An estimated one percent of the population has the dehiscence, and many do not develop into the syndrome. Not every doctor knows it even exists. Severity varies, and in the big picture my case is not serious compared to patients who cannot stand because their balance is impaired beyond therapeutic correction. I just have so much annoyance with my hearing that I would be most comfortable as a hermit. I am frustrated because going to hear a band requires a day of rest before and after. I have considered putting a spike in my ear to relieve the pressure, but other than that my life is not in danger. When I was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis it was relatively rare, largely because diagnosis was so difficult. With the advent of better diagnostic tools, we hear about people with multiple sclerosis every day. I knew a woman diagnosed at the same time as I, who had been searching for fourteen years, trying to maintain a grip on her sanity. The stories I hear from other SCDS patients are much the same.

I look forward to the surgery for a variety of reasons. An end to the noise will be wonderful, and the experience should be fascinating. I will spend two days in the hospital and recover at home for six weeks, and I’ll probably have a scar on the side of my head which will alter my choices of hair styles. Maybe it won’t work, I could lose my hearing completely (which would not be terrible if the autophony goes away), it could simply not work, or any of the myriad of surgical complications could happen. Anything could happen with the surgery, without it one thing is certain, the noise will continue until I lose my sanity and find a window large enough to leap from.

 

Man of mystery

From what I hear, I am improving rapidly. I don’t see the improvements themselves, but I see the results of the improvements. I have learned a good deal through this brain injury, one more counter intuitive duality of TBI.

I am more thoughtful, slowly forming opinions about everything. Being less sure of reality has benefits. I am not certain of my own history, so I am a man of mystery to myself. I have far more memories than should fit into a normal life, but most of them suggest my life was anything but normal. The ones I can verify are less concrete than the ones I cannot, so I lean toward believing all of them. My sense of caution tells me not to discuss a past I cannot verify, so for the most part I’m sticking with my cover story.

I know I am impaired, but impairment is relative. I would ever so much like to accept my present condition, there is no reason to believe I will be who I once was (whoever that may be), and frustration over my loss is allegedly  detrimental to progress. Of late my frustration has been over recognizing my disability. I am better than I was a few months ago, I may be better than the average person, but I am still not functioning as I once did, so people who expect that level of performance become frustrated with me, and in turn I become frustrated. I am the one with the brain injury, yet I am the one who is supposed to be understanding of others.

I received a letter from Social Security telling me I have been approved for Disability payments. Page two lists the amount of the past due payments, and the percentage that will be paid to my attorney. Page six states I have no past due benefits. I called the attorney for clarification, but they had not received the letter. I emailed a copy of the letter, and their response was “You have been approved for disability.” I knew that. No response to my question about past due benefits. But I’m the one with the brain injury. Apparently they finally received the letter, and I received a letter from the attorney, which included “I feel you should have received your past due benefits by now, if you have not, please contact the office.”  I contacted the office again, and was told I have been approved for disability payments and the letter from the attorney was a form letter. Thank you for keeping me in the loop. But I’m the one with the brain injury and all these wacky ideas about proper communication.

I feel compelled to meet new people, but my old habits of closing bars do not fit my current abilities. I can still drink more than the average American, but even sober I am uncomfortable driving in the dark. At Samantha’s suggestion, I have become involved in a couple of “Meetup” groups, and created a profile on OKCupid. A friend, who “tunes” dating profiles professionally asked if I was ready to date. I had not given it a thought, so I guess the fearlessness is returning, I may be the only person who values that return. I’m ready to be rejected again, and opening more of myself to attack. In one of my Meetup groups, “Beer Fridays,” I met a woman who does not drink beer. She wasn’t sure what the group was about. But I’m the one with the brain injury.

I have noticed a peculiar group developing. There is a small number of people who wish to overthrow the recent election. At first I thought they were Democrats, but I have friends who are Democrats, and these folks have little in common with polite society. A few of them have asked to be friends, which at first I found admirable. My heart remains open, I still enjoy intelligent discussion with those of opposing views. Apparently, I’m pretty gullible, they had no interest in conversation, only in someone to spew their hatred towards. Their aims seem to aligned with Daesh, the Intel specialist in me is a bit alarmed. I hope they learned, from my polite goodbyes, that grace is an admirable quality, but I strongly doubt it. This is one in which I can say “Yes, you do have a brain injury. Be careful, the world is not filled with nice people.”

Today, my Tecfidera, the medicine I take for Multiple Sclerosis, was delivered four days late, by United Parcel Service. My door is not easy to find, but that was not the problem as the driver left notes on my door. Right under the heavy knocker which he must have thought was ornamental, and across from the doorbell which eluded him. I’ve worked around UPS drivers in the past and know to require a signature on deliveries, their “loss” rate is phenomenal. I saw the truck pulling away, and went out to find another note. No contact information on the note, they really don’t want you to call. Sam found a way to contact them, and they sent him back; she went to the door when I saw the truck pulling in. He said to her “Well, if you’re going to have an attitude, I won’t deliver here anymore.” I cannot imagine why I was charged extra to have a driver come to my door and insult me, apparently that is the point of the notes, to avoid the driver. I know these drivers are under immense pressure, I saw one crack over a wrong address when I worked at the Police Station. This incident was inexcusable. I got a call from the local office wondering why I didn’t just go to their office and pick the package up. Apparently they only drive the trucks around as advertising. They said they would talk to the driver and get back to me. In the 90s I watched a driver walk through security at a UPS hub smoking a joint, the security guard just said “you’re not supposed to smoke in here.” You were not supposed to smoke in the entire multi building facility, and they allegedly had routine drug tests.  I will be specifying FedEx for future deliveries, and will lobby to drop UPS from the preferred carriers list, but I’m just an unreasonable crank. That guy with the brain injury.

Part of the difficulty in finding who I am is discovering what planet I am on. I have memories of a place where people strove to communicate with each other. It would be easy, and from what I have read from other TBI survivors quite common, to feel alienated. I am either an alien or severely confused about proper behavior, are these memories of a civil society false? When I was told that people with brain injuries often are irritable and cranky, I thought it was frustration about inabilities. Then I thought it was from frustration about the processes we have to go through, with a brain injury, to be accepted as having a disability. At this point, as I become increasingly irritable and cranky, I can see it is due to frustration about the inabilities of the world in general.

I have a brain injury, and am keenly aware of my impairments. I may even overcompensate in order to appear “normal.” The more I interact with people, the more I realize I’m trying too hard. “Normal” is nothing to be proud of. I am a stranger to this world, and rather happy to discover that fact. It is kind of cool being a Man of Mystery.

Flowers

Some memories are fluid, untrustworthy as they embellish themselves. Some are burned into my soul, so even as they hold beautiful moments, they are solid, comforting in their details. As time has passed this last year, some memories have been lost, and some have resurfaced, bringing me to tears. This is one which touched me deeply.

The memory is of tomorrow’s date, 20 November, in the year 1998. I had just turned forty and ended a relationship. The week prior, on my birthday, I had stopped by Chaddsford Winery, where I had worked for a few years and was part of the family. I had just had my tragus pierced, and was in a very good mood. My friend Suzanne said “You must have found a new love, you’re glowing,” to which I replied “Nope, no relationships, I’m taking a break,” much to the shock of the table. I had a well earned reputation as a ladies man, my friend Pete once exclaimed so loud my date heard him, “Where do you find these women?” I told her he was complimenting us both.

The memory of 20 November was inspired more by some flowers than the calendar, more on that later.

There was an event coming up at the winery, a Nouveau tasting, and I needed an escort. I found this ad in the paper.

Emma's personal ad

Emma’s personal ad

This was a world before the internet, with personal ads in newspapers and conversations by telephone. We eliminated the goal of “lifelong partner,” her husky voice informing me that there were two things I needed to know about her, she was Sicilian and she smoked. Ironically, I was with her for the remainder of her life.

I picked her up at her apartment, she didn’t want me to come to her door due to her dog, a two hundred pound Rottweiler. As I waited in the car she came out and first approached another car, she later told me she had asked if he was Blake and he had said “I sure wish I was.”

I drove us to the winery, there was a light rain. As we approached I told her I knew an alternate entrance, through an open park behind the winery. It had not occurred to me how strange it would be to drive off the road and through the woods with someone I had just met in person, later she told me her hand had been on the door handle the entire time.

We had a lovely evening, I’m fairly sure she was impressed with the way we were treated by Eric and Lee, the owners. We were kissing quite a bit in the barrel room and she suggested we continue at my place. I did not need to be asked twice. When we reached my room in South Philadelphia, a “trinity” with a winding staircase, she looked around and said “This won’t do at all” quite severely. I wasn’t sure what she meant, until she continued “You’ll have to move into my place.” I had been in her presence for about three hours, but had no reason to argue. I went down to the kitchen to get some food, and returned to find her on my bed in a lovely corset. At some point we slept, we awoke intertwined.

I drove her to a little pancake house near her place for breakfast. I had Belgian waffles, then I dropped her off and went to my weekend job at a florist North of Philadelphia. When I arrived at work my friend Beverly picked up my vibe and was ecstatic for me, preparing a bouquet for my new date that evening with Emma. Emma brought her handcuffs. It took almost a week to move into her place in Delaware county.

Now the flowers.

About a month later we traveled to Bloomsburg Pennsylvania to see my oldest son Leyland in a “A Christmas Carol.” The next morning she suggested we “stop by” and visit her friends Catherine and Bill in Staten Island. She never was much for directions, but my ex-wife had been rather rude the night before (she was under the impression I was coming to see her) so I was seeking a way to sooth her.

We finally located Catherine and Bill after dark, and had quite a bit to drink with them. At one point Catherine reached over and broke a piece off of a plant about six inches long, telling Emma it would root if she just stuck it in some dirt. Last month, eighteen years later, that plant finally died. It had flourished, and had been shared with several friends through the years. It is called “Crown of Thorns” and produces small pink flowers. At least ours did, no one else ever saw them, and Emma felt she had an intimate relationship with the plant, which was producing the flowers just for her.

When Emma was in the hospital, just a few days before her death, some friends brought a plant. It had a much thinker trunk, but it was the same species, Crown of Thorns. I have had that plant for just over six years now, and the other day it produced flowers for the first time. I was so excited Sam heard me in the other room. These flowers are white, but apparently there were pink ones previously, the petals remain nearby.

new flowers

new flowers

These flowers remind me of the entire story. So far the majority of my rediscovered memories have been pleasant, I always had trouble remembering bad times. I know Emma and I had disagreements, but we usually ended up laughing, like when she threw a spoon at me and it bounced off my head and embedded into the ceiling.

I worry sometimes that I dwell on Emma. Right now exploring memories feels safe, I don’t focus on a single moment and repeat it, I just have a wealth of pleasant moments with Emma. I have no desire to live in the past, I’m just glad I remember it.

 

Real World Problems

I have been attempting to put my personal issues into perspective, recognizing that my impairment is not the end of the world. In the meantime, the world ended.

I was once a fairly sharp analyst, at least two sets of memories indicate this to be true. One of the main reasons I had wanted to emigrate to Belgium was to miss the presidential election in America. As it worked out, the woman who left me behind returned in time to vote with her fresh citizenship. Had I been with her perhaps she would have stayed in Belgium, the equation is too difficult to approach.

So here I am, unable to endorse either major party candidate. I would like to make a change in our lexicon, changing the word “vote” to “endorse.” I suspect people would have an easier time accepting their role in the process if they realized the position was not solely their decision. My personal choice was Gary Johnson, the Libertarian candidate, largely because I overestimated the American voters, and thought all the folks who were upset about Bernie Sanders being cheated out of the Democratic nomination would actually vote for a third party candidate like they said they would. All that would have been required would have been for a third party to receive 5% of the vote, but that did not happen. They were all demanding honesty but couldn’t come up with any of their own.

Wednesday morning I woke to the news Trump had won, I had pretty much figured it out before I googled for the results, there was no “We Won!” fanfare from the liberals. I also had some messages from Belgium, one right wing politician was rather snippy about me and “my kind,” had I been in Belgium she might have figured out who me and my kind are. I was called a racist and a homophobe before I left for therapy, and couldn’t bear the wailing and gnashing of teeth on the radio so I put on something more comforting. I found that the bass tones on Courtney Love’s album “Live Through This” match my hearing disturbance and were quite soothing at high volume. “Asking For It” almost put me to sleep.

So there I am, at the Brain Trauma unit, and of course the elephant in the room was unavoidable. We work on mindfulness and cognitive therapies, ignoring reality is frowned upon. As I spoke with my therapists and other patients, I heard the phrase “You’re the most sensible person I’ve heard from all day” a couple of times. I have come to expect it from the other patients, coming from a therapist it was a bit unusual. Me, the guy with a brain injury, was the most sensible person she had heard from all day.

I remain impaired, plagued with neural fatigue after something as simple as a Lumosity session, as well as losses in processing speed and memory. I have regained my sense of humor, and the bloodwork indicates my hormones are once again balanced, but there has been no physical or emotional confirmation. I consider myself “better” because I can recognize I am unemployable. My neuro-psychologist says that high functioning brain injury survivors take the most therapy, because we have so much difficulty accepting our limitations. I understand, that is to say I know what is holding me back, and for the first time in my life I can’t conquer it. The astrategies which worked in the past, denial, working through pain, only make the problems worse and slows any actual recovery. Punching my way out only leaves me with bloody knuckles.

I can’t really ponder my future, fortunately I don’t care. I know I can’t sustain my lifestyle, I can’t even manage to make it to my friend’s gigs; last week I couldn’t accomplish a day trip to see the “Monkeemobile” at a local shop. I feel more isolated, but the physical isolation doesn’t trouble me. The mental isolation does, if you will excuse the comment I feel like the smartest kid on the short bus. It is all perspective. I do not expect to be taken seriously, I expect that anything controversial I say will be responded to with “Well you know, he has brain damage.”

In a society which so easily dismisses complaints as “first world problems” I try to point out the human element, the issues we all face. The turbulence following the election shows us pervasive arrogance and violence, which are real world problems, reaching across all social and economic barriers. The people claiming to be intellectually superior were suddenly made aware of the electoral college, one person standing on her degree in history claiming it had only been used five times previously (she did not realize it has been the method of election in all of the sixty previous elections, yet considers herself politically informed). I live in the Northeast, every year people forget how to deal with snow, I suspect some forget what snow is. After a lifetime of ambiguous sexuality and taunts of “faggot,” I was called a homophobe because I didn’t vote for Hillary. The problem is a failure of perspective, people who protest in the name of tolerance acting with no tolerance. It would be easy to blame this on a lack of education, but most of these people will tell you how educated they are, largely because they never bothered with the definition of education. To them it means they attended a particular institution, not that they learned anything useful. Someone told them they were educated, they never realized that the truly educated never stop learning.  They feel they are compassionate because they have seen compassionate people and it made them feel good, as they drove past. I cannot argue with such arrogance, it would be the equivalent of trying to convince a crazy person they were not sane.

I recognize I am probably not completely sane. Which in a counter intuitive way validates my sanity. I listen to people who do not listen to themselves. I guess I’m asking for it.

 

 

 

Running on Empty

I believe I have always been a gentleman, as well as a gentle man. That may be nearing an end. I am increasingly frustrated and irritable. I am not happy with the person I am becoming, but I see no way out, and I am looking hard.

I pictured it last night as a four engine aircraft running on three engines. Looks easy, but that is not how it was designed, that fourth engine had a purpose. The twin engines are fine with only two engines, there are plenty of single engine craft and helicopters. I should be happy with three engines, but I know I used to have four.

I attended a gathering last night, my big night out this week, and ran into someone I saw a few months ago. He remembered my name, we had met at a gathering of a related group which had been both of our first group forays. Of course I didn’t remember his name, and probably wouldn’t have without the injury. I was never good at names. After a while something happened which caused Sam to mention my brain injury, and he said “But you look okay.”

Yes, I look okay. Because what is wrong is something you cannot see. I falter, walk with a cane, am hard of hearing, can’t see very well, but those issues are common in people of my age. I have adapted. I smile, ask people to repeat what they have said or to speak more slowly, I have a beautiful cane, I connect abstract ideas on occasion, I dress well, I fit in. I can remember trivial events, which covers for the fact I forget what I am saying mid sentence. Writing does the same, you don’t stop every few words as you read this, you don’t know how much I struggle with each sentence.

A relative called the other night. I suspect he meant well, but there is enough of me left to feel critical of his aloofness. I can remember telling him about what I am doing, he acted as if he did not. He made some insulting comments, which I am sure he did not realize were insulting. When Emma was fighting cancer, another relative felt the need to casually insult the profession of restaurant server. When I reminded him that Emma had been a server most of her career, he doubled down, directly insulting my dying wife. Both of these people are related to me, not many of my close friends can believe it. I wanted to hang up, but I am too nice. I shook until I fell asleep, and slept poorly. The next morning when I could collect my thoughts I wrote him an email, explaining the pain he had caused. I knew better, nothing was going to change. He wrote back, I couldn’t bring myself to read his email. I asked Sam to read it, just to tell me if there were any questions to which I should respond. She said it wasn’t as bad as she thought it would be, but she hadn’t read my letter to him, so I let her read the email I had written. Her opinion changed, so I am glad I did not read his email. My words did not merit his response, which I had expected. This has nothing to do with my injury, it’s just a reminder of a disappointing relationship at time I need a more supportive one.

There are these kind of issues, the untangling of issues. I run into it with physicians, who try to separate my multiple sclerosis, traumatic brain injury, and advancing age rather than just treating the symptoms.  Insurance is even more frustrating, because it’s just a faceless voice on the telephone, giving their personal interpretation; if I call back I get another faceless voice with their own interpretation. Social Security Disability is scary, because from what I can gather it is a monolith, the unimpeachable opinion of one person determining my future, and that person has no medical training upon which to form this opinion. Personal interactions are the worst, everyone intends empathy, and I can finally understand the meaning of “You don’t know how I feel.” Depression is present, but I actually have brain damage. I can’t just think of things another way. I want to be gracious, but I don’t believe I can keep up the facade much longer. I don’t know how well I’ve kept it up so far, people have been falling away from me, no one has visited, I have received very little support from my fundraising attempts.

A few years ago, I visited Lieve’s brother in Belgium. She was never precise about his disability, but he was in his forties, living in an institution, wheelchair bound. He cannot speak, but he recognized me from a previous visit. We all had lunch in the day room, with the other patients. This was a residential care facility, there were no white coats, and most interactions were in Flemish. An hour or so in, I realized I could not tell the patients from the staff, and they probably felt the same of me. I was pleasant, attentive, but my English just sounded like gibberish, my Flemish was broken. I feel the same now, my adaptations and eloquence make me appear to be “normal,” I carry no physical scars, I look okay, but I am not.

I am scared. Not as much by my crumbling finances as my crumbling brain. I may end up homeless, if things continue the way they are certainly by this time next year, perhaps much sooner. I had once thought losing one’s mind would be peaceful, a gentle descent into forgetfulness. Sad that one of the last things I am to learn is the solitude of a broken mind.

 

14925575_1346719802019340_5225789069413413590_n

I always thought of myself as a warrior. I’m losing this battle.

 

 

 

 

 

Bits and pieces

You have heard the phrase, “One step forward, two steps back.” It is easy to picture in a two dimensional sense, but brain injury develops in a four dimensional matrix. My memory shows a glimpse of the past and I can’t process information as well, my balance improves but I can’t hear. My processing improves but my eyes can’t focus. Last week on the way to rehab, I heard a story on the radio about Pennsylvania, and my old drivers license number popped into my head. 20 329 373. Not many people know their current drivers license number, I haven’t driven in Pennsylvania since 1999. Later, at rehab, I scored lower in processing speed and attention than previously. I wrote a paragraph for my speech therapist in which I did not cover the issues of the assignment, but she went out of her way to say how well written it was. One step forward, one step down, one step sideways.

Today, 28 October 2016, would be Emma’s sixtieth birthday. I know what we went through together, I’ve read her original blog and the book I wrote, I can remember little things about her, the way she pursed her lips when she was excited, the way she quit smoking in one second, the way she let go of everything except my hand. I know but do not remember that I cried most of January over her, suddenly lost in loss again.

2004 at the Alamo.

2004 at the Alamo.

I can see her at sixty, having survived cancer, strong and defiant. I like to think she wouldn’t dye her hair, the grey looked rather nice on her, she would have bounced back from the damage of cancer. I try to imagine I will bounce back from this injury, what life would be like together again. I recognized this morning that in April this year I went to Record Store Day, standing in the cold for hours to get the release of a picture disc of David Bowie’s “Wild is the Wind,” her favorite Bowie song. Sam tells me I was still fairly oblivious back then, although I was living pretty much independently and had driven to New Providence to do some yard work with my shattered arm for a deceased friend’s mother. This was when I didn’t know how badly my brain was injured, I was worse because I felt better than I actually was.

 

 

I have little emotion of late, but I woke in the middle of the night thinking of Emma, and realized I was crying. The tears running down the side of my face gave it away.

Regaining my emotions may be a double edged sword, I so want to feel, but I know it will be beyond control. I see other people in my rehab who are irritable and angry, which I hear is the norm for people with brain injuries. I see all the anger in the world today and I want no part of it. I know I need to be upset with my financial situation, at very least I am too broke now to make irresponsible impulse purchases. I am making attempts to raise some money by begging, Emma would never approve. I don’t either, but there are no other options.

I had a doctor’s appointment this week, I know because there was a message on my answering machine. I assumed it would be on my calendar so I erased the message. It wasn’t on my calendar. The name on the caller ID was a neurologist, and I have no memory of making an appointment with a different neurologist, I know I made an appointment with a gastroenterologist. I have no idea which gastroenterologist I made an appointment with, and there is nothing on my calendar, so I guess I’ll start from scratch. Hard to explain how I feel on missing the colonoscopy I’ve been putting off for eight years, I am disappointed because I finally got around to making an appointment, but on the other hand, I am not excited about a colonoscopy in any way.

Bits and pieces flow in and out. One exercise I had in cognitive therapy was tracking random numbers floating on a screen and add them together. Life mirrors therapy, I could handle five numbers, and sums less than forty. After that it was more than I could handle.

I recall when I was a technician, my manager could not fathom how I managed to travel from point to point in such short time, once describing my velocity as “low Earth orbit.” I loved driving, the highway like a river, the cars flotsam and jetsam. I knew what everyone was going to do, I could tell the blue car three cars ahead on the right was going to make a left turn at the signal ahead, so I would change lanes not to be behind the people slamming on their brakes to avoid him. The red car three back to the left was going to accelerate and pull into my lane, so I would speed up a touch and let him fall in behind me. I floated down the road, rarely touching the brakes. Today I am able to recognize how many judgements were being made, quickly and seamlessly. I recognize it because I am unable to accomplish it, I know why I can’t, there is no compensation for my present state, and probably never will be. I’ll never be forty years old again either.

Much of my therapy is not what most people consider therapy. We’re not trying to return to where I was, we’re trying to compensate as much as possible, and to accept who I am. There is some mourning for who I was, but if my focus will be on surviving, which Emma inspired in every way, I have to accept who I am today.

 

 

 

The Invisible Me

14591662_538142499725514_6065443848925516777_n

I try to see the injury as a semi-colon

 

Brain injuries are called an invisible disease. You don’t see the effects of brain injury, and people being the kind beings they are tend to ignore minor frailties. We think if you have a brain injury you should be a drooling idiot, unable to dress yourself, so we don’t see the damage when someone is struggling with everything they have to appear “normal.” Brain Injury survivors don’t make it any easier, putting on a brave face, compensating for our deficits; we are accomplices in hiding brain injury. We are trying to keep going.

My injury hid from me. I didn’t see it but my personality changed a number of times, and probably still is changing. I realize my injury is invisible to others, which makes applying for disability, or asking for help, all the more difficult.

I have never been much for clothing, a few years ago a girlfriend commented about how I disrobed when I came home. As I remember, she was naked at the time; I have put up with a number of hypocritical girlfriends over the last few years. When I got out of the hospital, I was not comfortable naked and wore pajamas for the first time since childhood. It felt normal, and although I have returned to sleeping nude, I still cover myself when walking around the apartment. I’m sure my flatmate appreciates that. Possibly related, I have no desire to be intimate, I don’t even kiss Sam very often. It took a while for me to notice, it appears to be endocrine related, as I was once exceptionally passionate.

I am fairly certain I could speak a couple of languages. Not always fluently, when I visited my father in Mexico with my second wife, my Spanish was adequate, but I have never taken a lesson. Three years of French and I could follow and participate in a conversation. A short course in Russian and it was me, not the linguists, who published a guide to pronouncing Russian place names for my wing in the Air Force. A Rosetta Stone course and I could struggle through Flemish with my ex-wife’s family in Belgium. And of course I was eloquent and precise in English. Today, I don’t call my mother on the phone because I cannot maintain a conversation. I am uncomfortable meeting strangers because my speech is broken. I have moments when I speak clearly, but I never know how long they will last. I still fall into Flemish occasionally (and uncontrollably, subconsciously), but the others are fragments, words but not sentences. At one point I could not complete a vision test because I did not know what to call the letters. I was more comfortable using the phonetic alphabet, and then I slipped back into (and out of) the more common American English letters.

At one time I would wake up and watch the news (I can’t bear to watch now, with all the election hatred). Something would spark and I would write an article, polish it, provide links and images, and publish that day. My schedule has not allowed that since I went back to work in 2014, but I was still able to put a thousand eloquent words together on demand. Since the accident several minor issues have prevented prolific writing, at first I couldn’t move my arm and hand, I was typing with one finger. Then as my arm healed, my brain faded, my drives, the self-motivation which causes me to write, disappeared. This article has taken a week, and I’m pushing hard because the exercise is good therapy.

I never realized how exhausting simple thinking can be. I can recall multitasking quite easily, working in the field as a technician I kept two dozen unique machines in my head, and although I was unusual in remembering an incredible number of part numbers (I had figured out the pattern so they made sense, like another language), other technicians handled as many machines. Today, I do puzzles that would bore my grandchildren and I get a headache. At today’s conference of the Brain Injury Alliance I had to leave early, and won’t be moving for the remainder of the day. I cannot commit myself to more than one task at a time, “multi-tasking” means getting both the garbage and the recycling out on the same day, and having leftovers for dinner.

Some things are intermittent. I had good practice dealing with intermediate afflictions over the last thirty years of Multiple Sclerosis. I can “pass” as unimpaired, I don’t often fall to the ground, and typically keep up my sense of humor. My life is mostly free of stress, so I can prepare myself for outings. I will be attending a Halloween party at the end of the month, and I am already panicking. I am thinking the best idea is to tell people I have had too much to drink, and not touch a drop.

One of the intermittent things is my memory. I can’t remember if Biogen is delivering my Tecfidera next week or if I missed it last week, but I can remember a campaign ad for Lyndon Johnson which only aired once in 1964. Okay, that ad is infamous but I remember seeing it air, as opposed to seeing it discussed. There are quite a few things in my life that now seem incredible, some I can verify, others I cannot. Were it not for the ones I can verify, I would simply discount everything; now I question everything. This results in a good deal of confusion and hesitancy, and requires an enormous amount of energy. I am tired constantly, but a spark still exists which tells me to keep going, to push through. Bad spark, I drive myself into the ground when I should just take a break and rejuvenate. One thing a speaker at the conference said struck me, she had been a police officer and was able to talk about what she was wearing at the time of her injury; like me she has no memory of the days surrounding the injury. She rebuilt the scene from reports and protocol, it was a cold day so she would have been wearing certain items, her uniform consisted of certain items, she has read the reports of the incident. You might think she remembers it to hear her tell the story, but I recognized the crutches I use, “according to reports,” “I have been told,” “standard protocol required.”

I am getting better at admitting “I don’t remember,” I can recall, but the explanation takes too long; kind of like when someone says “how are you?” and you say “Okay” even when you are not. The stories are there but I have no ties to them, the number of incredible stories causes me to hesitate; is it a memory or hallucination?

So I keep going. In the words of Robert Frost, “In three words I can sum up everything I’ve learned about life; it goes on.” Just because my injury is invisible does not mean I need to be.

 

 

 

 

 

Who am I now?

 

14479588_1457052084310041_4123903267632978248_n

There are things I do remember, among them a love of quantum mechanics. Of late I have been running reality checks on life.

Of the things I know, my name has always been a problem. My Birth Certificate says Kenneth Blake Cash. but my parents never mentioned Kenneth was my name until after that first day in Kindergarten where the teacher called me by the “wrong” name. Turns out they wanted to name me James but didn’t want people to call me Jimmy, so they named me Kenneth and called me Blake. It made just as much sense then as it does now, so I am not questioning my ability to process that information. I have had identity issues all my life, so I should be well equipped to handle them now. I just can’t find my equipment.

I hear on a routine basis that I need to accept who I am now. Usually unspoken is “because you are not who you were,” sometimes with lovely imagery about being a new person every sunrise. Yeah, right. This is not a glorious dawn.

I am not precisely starting afresh every day, but more so than before, as far as I can tell. My short term memory is failing, I compensate by taking notes (when possible) and telling people I have difficulty  processing information due to a brain injury. This is supposed to be a good sign, I am accepting what I am not “allowed” to acknowledge. I am not supposed to say I am damaged, or that the efforts I make are unsatisfactory.  See, in what is left of my mind, being unhappy with a failure is a positive move towards self improvement, but I am not supposed to damage my own self-esteem. Hard to have self-esteem when you don’t have a self.

Who I am is based on what I recall about how I got here. Even the things I remember I don’t feel a part of, making it difficult to distinguish between memory and dreams. Last week I had a strong memory of flying a C-130, I could feel the trembling and see the ground falling away. Trouble is, I have no memory of attending flight school, and the possibility I actually piloted a C-130 is remote. This scared me deeply. How many of the unlikely things in my past did not happen? My “sense of self” is exceptionally weak.

As far as I know, I do not suffer hallucinations. I am considering verifying the presence of new people, and if I am ever aware a hallucination has taken place I will.

Most of my “feelings” are vacant, I have little emotion, and I am not chasing their return. I see enough people adamant about untruths and fierce about mistaken beliefs centered around the election, I don’t want that to be my life. Some of my facilities are returning, although their return can be fleeting; I am told they are an indication of “higher executive functions.” I have a sense of sarcasm, and I’m fairly certain that I can be humorous and people are not laughing at me (today). I am aware that testosterone is missing, and I am scheduled to see an endocrinologist to measure pituitary function, these would seem to be affecting my drive and will. Frustration occurs when I know I should accomplish something and just can not begin the project. I also have read that my serotonin levels should be addressed, but I doubt my own medical skills enough to leave the dosaging of SSRIs to professionals. Again, I know (or think I know) enough to see my primary physician is less than skilled in the administration of SSRIs, so for this and other reasons I am seeking out a psychiatrist.

I know I am not who I was, but I am not certain exactly who I was. This appears to be the perfect opportunity to redefine myself, but I know I will have no past. Seems like it was interesting, I hate to let it go.

I have read through my articles since the accident, I can identify a spirit believing it is healing. That spirit no longer exists, which in a way is odd; from what I am told, recognizing my deficits is an improvement over not recognizing them. So I’m better because I know I’m worse. You should not be surprised at my confusion. Expect incredulous questions about the election.

My desire at this point is to record these facets of brain injury, so that one day I will be able to collect and edit them into a book. What I am most aware of is I may not feel this way in the future. I certainly don’t feel as I did nine, six, or even three months ago. Writing is what I can do, and apparently I am a fairly good writer, although it does not feel that way now. I know I was married to a woman named Emma, and I blogged through her fight with pancreatic cancer, and I turned that into a book. I know this because I looked it up. It is nice having things written down.

My ability to see the future is on par with my ability to see the past, I have no way of knowing this will ever turn into a book, it is a dream, and I am told it is useful to have goals. One goal is to financially survive until Social Security approves my disability claim, I’ve been selling what assets I can on Ebay, and I have started a charity fundraising web page on “YouCaring.”  Please consider donating a few dollars, the theory is it all adds up.

For now, I am Blake to my friends, Kenneth to my ever growing army of doctors, K. Blake Cash to my readers, and KB to my social media contacts and grandson (he says “kib”). The man behind the name is developing, trying to establish an identity with a foggy history. I think he will be KB, my grandfathers were known by their initials, I am now the age they were when they met Blake, now Blake can meet KB.

The construction of KB will be on a foundation of those memories he can verify, woven with the beliefs which resonate with his presence. I can remember every printer I ever touched and long to take apart new ones (the psychiatrist has a Toshiba, cognitive therapist a Konica Minolta, Neurologist Kyocera Mita). I recall an astounding array of songs. I have a couple of bass guitars but I can’t get my fingers to where they are trying to go. I know it is acceptable to end a sentence with a preposition. I have a drum, and I know how to use it.

In just over a month I will have my 58th birthday, I don’t know who will be there.

 

 

 

 

Save

Vocabulary

Like that first step, there are first words. Another stumbling block.

You have probably been in the situation in which you try to explain something to someone who, for whatever reason, simply does not understand what you are saying. Communication is possible because we share a definition of the words we use. Telling someone something is beautiful is meaningless if by “Beautiful” you mean “green,” unless they also define “beautiful” as “green.”

I find that certain words have different meanings to me now than they used to. “Remember” is one of them. My memory is a collection of moments. I have always known my approach is different from that of other people, and from what I hear in therapy my “problem” is that my memory is now “normal.”

When I was teaching aircraft identification in the Air Force, I taught my form of memory. An aircraft is not just a list of features, it is an object. If you remember the object you can mentally walk around it and identify the features. This just seemed obvious to me. I have retained memories of childhood because they were events, one in particular, a motorcycle when I was four years old, moving from Corsicana Texas to Dallas. A young man had come over to say goodbye and was giving people rides on his motorcycle. It was a cold day, I can smell the exhaust and hear the engine. I have several similar memories from Corsicana, a toy, a party, a girl (wouldn’t you know, even at four).

Now my memories are mere recollections, I am aware something happened, but I have no sense of participating. I have the script, but not the experience. The clearest example is painting my bedroom last February. I know the room has been painted. I know I painted it. I know Sam and I went to Home Depot to buy the supplies. But I have no sense of actually doing any of these things, no memory of smelling the paint or holding the brush. I am aware that at the time my arm was so injured I could not move it, so I must have painted left handed. But no memory of left handed painting. No visions of paint covering the wall or dripping on the floor. I can imagine my personality telling Sam she wasn’t doing it right and taking over as she has told me I did, but no picture of those things happening.

The fog is expanding, more events are becoming lists in my mind. I know we went to the cinema to see the latest Star Wars film, Sam has said I was adamant from the time I was released from the hospital that I would see the film. I have been to that particular theatre many times. But I have no memory of going to the theatre or the film itself. I have fragments, I know the film was essentially episode IV recast, but I can’t recall any dialogue or tell you if we had popcorn. A strange twist, I was reminded of a blog entry from February (which I don’t remember writing) in which I mentioned seeing the film. At that time I could remember the other films in the saga, yesterday I watched episode VI and did not remember the film. I know there is an episode VI and that I watched it with Emma, but the scenes and dialogue are foreign to me. I do remember her distaste for science fiction in general and certain elements of the film in particular, she had been annoyed by the phrase “younglings,” hearing it brought back the script, but not the experience.

Other redefined words may exist, but I don’t know which words they are. I had a great deal of trouble explaining to the ophthalmologist what perceptions were missing, it was as if we were speaking different languages. This event I remember, so the memory issue is fragmented, and in fact we were speaking different languages, he was speaking ophthalmologist, looking for things manifested by different tests, I was speaking English, explaining things not revealed by the tests.  I had a similar issue with the otolaryngologist who is supposed to uncover the reason for my hearing loss. He is looking for an inability to hear measured tones at precise frequencies and decibels. I am experiencing interference, as if my ear was blocked. Most sounds come through with the density of bone induction.

The inability to communicate has caused a loss of confidence. I am not as sure of my thoughts, ideas, and judgements. I am not sure if I am communicating with myself in my internal exchanges. When I express my thoughts, what are those thoughts based upon? I have had a couple of conversations about morality, and I realize I am ill equipped to argue my point of view. Part of this is not my thought process, there appears to be a sector that believes the universe is defined by their personal standards, even the words “truth” and “moral” have a single meaning, the meaning they have assigned. Debate is reduced to disparagement, and thus from an educational standpoint, useless.

Part, if not all, of my cognitive therapy is designed to teach me to accept who I am today. I recognize that. Hoping to be who I was last year is as futile as hoping to be the person I was thirty years ago. I know that each day we are new, a fresh set of twenty four hours of experiences build us into altered beings. The accident was merely a new experience, a major, life-changing experience, but life is changed every moment. I have been aging since birth, this was just a rapid acceleration of the process. I never wanted to be normal before, now it is a goal.

normal

 

 

The war to end all wars

One hundred and two years ago, in July of 1914, the first tendrils of the flame which would become known as The War to End All Wars were sprouting. It was not an accurate name, later it was referred to as the first World War, even before we started numbering them, because it was recognized the world was at war. About 4600 years earlier, the first recorded war, the Battle of Ur, involved the world of the time. There is little doubt there were wars before that, the desire to write was never as strong as the desire to kill.

Humans have always been at war with each other, there have been more than one hundred major conflicts since the War to End All Wars. It can be difficult to tell when one ends and another begins, the “first World War” began as a conflict between Serbia and Croatia, which continues today despite numerous “peace treaties.” The latest spark being when the cases each had against the other for genocide were dismissed in February 2015. The Prussian military analyst Carl Von Clausewitz (1780-1831), in his book On War, calls war “a continuation of politics carried on by other means;” the Serbians and Croates always seem to find those means so something should be happening over there soon. And in Syria, The Ukraine, Afghanistan, Pakistan, The Democratic Republic of Congo, Sudan, Israel, Iraq, Nigeria, Libya, and The United States of America.

Yes, I am hearing the call here in the states. Credible calls which I shall not spread less I be accused of sedition. Hatred and mistrust is at an all time high in the states, look at a political candidate, the one who you won’t vote for, and realize that person’s supporters feel the same way as you. Their candidate has been unfairly vilified, the process was rigged against them, there are multiple conspiracies against them, and the other (your) candidate is the worst being to ever cobble together 46 chromosomes.

I am quite accustomed to hearing young people talk about revolution. I refrain from laughing out loud, they are often passionate, but direct action has no safe spaces.  When our forefathers signed the Declaration of Independence, they said “we mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes and our sacred Honor.” They understood the meaning of their words, they had lives, fortunes, and honor to pledge. The rumblings I am hearing today come from such people.

Recent events have been disturbing. Using a variety of ruses, the Bill of Rights has been under attack. In California, a law criminalizing speaking against climate change failed to pass, but the Department of Justice is considering civil actions to bypass the first amendment. The second amendment is dying the death of a thousand infringements. The third amendment, prohibiting forced quartering of soldiers, is in question in a case arguing that forcing land owners to allow government designated endangered species habitat is a violation. The fourth amendment has been all but overruled by the NSA. The fifth and sixth amendments, guaranteeing due process and listing rules of evidence and testimony, have been bypassed not only with drone strikes enforcing the death penalty against uncharged American citizens, but also in calls to use “no fly lists,” secret documents compiled without evidence, as reasons to deny second amendment rights. The seventh amendment, guaranteeing a speedy trial by jury, has not applied to the inhabitants of Guantanamo Bay or victims of countless other renditions, both within the continental United States and elsewhere. The eighth amendment, protecting against cruel and unusual punishment, was saved by a filibuster, narrowly preventing drone strikes on American soil. They are currently used on foreign soil to avoid renditions, which can cause bad public relations; better to kill than imprison. The ninth and tenth amendments have simply been ignored, as the federal government created new rights, sometimes (as in the case of Same sex marriage) overruling the voice of the people who passed contradicting laws by referendum. The president has scoffed at separation of powers with his statements of “I have a phone and a pen,” essentially saying “I can do whatever I want, nah nah nah.” The corruption revealed in the FBI and DOJ deny our intrinsic faith in the rule of law, and in any power the Constitution might still hold. Rules are meaningless without enforcement.

The calls for rebellion have many sources, the tinder already glowing. The first war encompassing the world started with a botched assassination in Sarajevo, the American revolution was sparked by a tax on a breakfast beverage.

The horns are blowing with the winds of change.

 

 

 

Poseurs

My first exposure to the word “Poseur” was from a friend (the Suicide Bomber) when he explained why he no longer wore earrings. “They used to mean you were a bit radical, now they mean you’re a poseur.” Other than my tragus piercing, I don’t wear earrings myself anymore, and poseurs have created an entire movement, going beyond trying to be “cool” by dressing like those of us who are, they tried to simply redefine “cool” by creating the ultimate poseur lifestyle, the “hipster.”

The scope has widened, and now poseurs infiltrate all walks of life. I’m sure this has always been true to some extent, but the definition “Poseur is a pejorative term, often used in the punk, heavy metal, hip hop, and goth subcultures, or the skateboarding, surfing and jazz communities, to refer to a person who copies the dress, speech, and/or mannerisms of a group or subculture, generally for attaining acceptability within the group or for popularity among various other groups, yet who is deemed not to share or understand the values or philosophy of the subculture.” no longer applies to a subculture phenomena, it is seen everywhere, as self identification has become popular. People simply say they are something, much like my old manager said his degree was in engineering in the days before the internet. He was an English major who had dropped out, but he got the job because no one checked.

My ex-wife, as the first example, continues to say she is a “good-person,” despite her self admitted anti social behavior and absolutely evil things she has done to me and other people who cared about her.  Lieve doesn’t remember having to repack the boxes for Belgium to remove my things, or that I learned Flemish and obtained the paperwork to become a Belgian citizen or that on our last visit we spoke to officials at the town hall in Leuven. She just says we never planned to move to Belgium together. She’s going with the “It doesn’t matter, I’m a good person because…I believe I’m a good person” line of reasoning. She poses as a “good person” rather well, until you have the opportunity to see behind the curtain.

My second example springs from that experience. Tired of being lied to I decided to look into an open relationship. Ethical non-monogamy or Polyamory. Not promiscuity or swinging, just open honesty between committed partners. My partner is free to do whatever she wants, and there is nothing to lie about so no need to lie. I’ve really come to detest lying, probably because I was blamed for causing my next girlfriend’s seizure, because he couldn’t handle the stress of lying to me. Polyamorists tend to over explain, and tell what some might consider too much. Polyamory is fairly popular in certain circles, and attracts the same predators as monogamy. There are a lot of guys who say “I’m polyamorous, my wife is okay with me dating” when in fact the wife thinks he’s out with the guys. Low lifes will use whatever tools are available. We started getting involved in discussion groups and found a large number of those kind of guys and girls, predominantly the younger ones. One person started a discussion aimed at people over forty, looking for more mature responses, and a fair number of people tried to join in with such statements as “I’m mature for my age.” They were not, having just “gotten engaged” to someone they met on line and would most likely never meet in person. Another said “I’m old, I’m twenty three.”  Well, we had said nothing about being “old,” and twenty three is far less than forty so the reading comprehension that comes with maturity was clearly missing. We eventually started a separate group, with Sam and I moderating, for people over forty and still had requests to join by people in relationships with partners who were over forty. I had to explain their partner was welcome, but they would have to wait. Who would have thought being older would be so fascinating? They have been posing as mature so long they believe it themselves.

Next I want to discuss education. I know many highly educated people, some of whom attended prestigious universities and have advanced degrees, others who obtained their education through life experience. None of them speak about how educated they are, they simply use the education to prove it. Maybe it is because it is an election year, and so many people are questioning the intelligence of their opponents rather than debating the issues themselves, but I am hearing a lot of people talking about how educated they are. Someone talking about how educated they are is similar to someone driving a Prius shouting to a person driving a Ferrari about how fast they can drive; if your Prius is up to it step on the gas and show me.

Most recently, an old acquaintance picked up the habit of starting statements with “My education tells me…” I know about his education, and his character, neither of which are anything to be proud of, but like many acquaintances I’ve known a long time there are sentimental reasons to maintain the relationship. His field of study was hospitality services, and while he never learned about being hospitable, he still feels confident in posing as educated. What troubles me, more than having an arrogant and ignorant acquaintance, is the growing prevalence of considering an education as something derived from being in the proximity of famous buildings. Students at my neighborhood university (Princeton) are under the impression they are all knowing merely because they were accepted as students. Even the university itself leans on the reputation of Albert Einstein, despite the fact his only association was teaching a preceptorial course (he didn’t even give the lecture) while he was a professor at the nearby Institute for Advanced Study. In the real world, an education is a reflection of the individual, not the institution they attended. 

We presently have a couple of candidates for President of the United States, both posing as civilized human beings. If you so much as scratch either of their veneers, you can see they are only posing, but oddly, only the Democrats can see the Republican for what he is, and only Republicans can see the Democrat for what she is. Just because you can each fool some of the people doesn’t mean they are all the same people, but it will be enough people to elect one of these clowns, because personal responsibility has been so degraded the thought there might be someone else qualified for the position has not occurred to an adequate number of voters.

Brian Williams, who spoke about the helicopter he was in being hit over Afghanistan, only to be corrected by other passengers that the other helicopter with them was hit, then brushed off his bald faced lie characterizing it as “mis-remembering due to the fog of war.” Poseurs are accepted by society. Okay, Brian lost his job, but Hillary was made Secretary of State after “mis-remembering” taking sniper fire in Bosnia.

When we don’t stand up for the truth, the truth dies. Do not be an accessory to murder.

 

 

God the Father

Father’s day is celebrated around the world, in various ways and with various spellings. The relationship each of us have with our own father is unique, for many reasons. We each define who our father is, what his duties as a father are, and how well he fulfills those duties. Some people spend time reflecting on their own responsibilities as children, and factor themselves into the equation. This all falls under the umbrella of understanding our father, fatherhood, and ourselves. Considering that at least one quarter of Americans have sought Mental Health assistance and folks most in need of help never seek it, I believe it is safe to say in general we do not know the participants in the father/child relationship well enough to make many judgements.

I know my children do not think I am a good father. I know many of the reasons why they think so, and the level of maturity they possessed when they made the decision, as well as the level of maturity I had hoped would reverse the impression. They haven’t gotten there yet, so I can only assume the situation is permanent. My relationship with my own father has changed a number of times over the years, which may indicate I am more flexible than my children (my impression), that they are emotionally damaged (a strong possibility), or maybe I am not a good father (always worth considering). The most definite pieces of information are they do not know me, and have made no attempt to know me, yet they harbor strong feelings about who I am (provided by their mother).

So earlier this week, when a dear friend made a statement about God, portraying it in a “paternal” image, in conjunction with the approaching holiday, my thoughts drifted to children and their illusions about fathers. The statement had been in the context of gun control, and he had said “every time it works, God smiles.” My God supports free will rather than denying it, so I don’t see God smiling in such an instance, and I started to wonder what made our perceptions about God so different.

The first thought was that the all powerful creator of the universe really doesn’t give a damn if you buy a gun or go bowling. Then I realized I was thinking of my God. I realized we all have different Gods, everyone sitting in the pew at church believes in a different God, because despite the holy texts, we each have to read and understand what we have read. We carry a banner (“Christian” in my case) but we have different beliefs, in some cases radically different. From what I’ve read, God wants us to live our lives according to his directions, and when we die we get to find out if we correctly interpreted the directions and how to follow them. Not before.

Some religions clearly don’t hold this view. Some people misunderstand their religion, and believe they are supposed to enforce God’s directions on Earth, even when the texts clearly state otherwise. Some people are just doing whatever they want, and waving a banner because it gives them a sense of authority. Problems arise from confusing terms, which inhibit communication. “God” is a concept, so when I say “God” it means the being that I imagine God to be, when Benjamin Netanyahu says “God” it means the being he imagines God to be, and when the leader of Daesh says “God” it means the being he imagines God to be. My theological mind argues we are all speaking of the same God, my psychological mind knows we are speaking about three different Gods, because we believe they are different, having in our minds created God and the differences between the Gods. We all believe God is greatest, if we speak Arabic we say Allahu Akbar.

I can be fairly annoying in arguments, because I tend to coach my opponents to make better arguments, I see all the sides.

I believe a part of my vision of God is based on my view of what a father should be, and my impression of myself as a father makes me believe I am doing it right. My children are each successful in their chosen fields. They are strong willed and independent. They don’t always do the things I would want them to do, but guess what? I didn’t do everything they wanted me to do. That doesn’t make them “bad children” any more than it makes me a “bad father,”  but they have placed themselves in judgement of my activities (which had nothing to do with them, particularly the ones that took place before they were born), so you might see how I can compare the relationship to that of God and Humans. They don’t know who I am now, how could they know anything about who I was then?

I consider the Christian Bible to be God’s word. I am fully aware the words themselves were written by human beings, and translated several times to accommodate various languages and ages. The Aramaic of 30 B.C. is unrecognizable to Arabs today, the English of 1611 would be unintelligible to an English subject today, Modern English is largely unintelligible to Americans. Many thoughts are ascribed to God in the Bible, they represent the message of the moment, not different Gods. The messages of the Old Testament are different from the messages of the New Testament. I suspect the punishment for arguing the order in which to prioritize its words would be similar to the punishment I meted out to my children when they brought up things I had said prior to their existence, it has nothing to do with the discussion at hand.

My beliefs have led me to understand God placed us on Earth to learn. Learning means making mistakes, and learning from them. There are sects which believe intent is an equal failure,  it may be, but I believe overcoming desire is the extenuating circumstance God will consider when it makes judgement. Jimmy Carter thought it was a sin to lust in your heart, but I believe acting on that lust is the sin God prohibited. Denying the opportunity prevents the sinner from making the decision to act. Allowing the opportunity gives the sinner the ability to redeem their heart. The same holds true in the gun analogy, Omar Mateen may have hated gay people, or just Americans, but had we prevented him from purchasing the guns, would it have pleased God? Would it not want Omar to have the opportunity to decide not to pull the trigger? Is it sad because you responded to Omar’s decision by arguing over his motives and methods rather than reaching out to his victims?

So on Father’s Day, which in America is celebrated on Sunday, considered to be “The Lord’s Day” by most Christians, get to know your father. Your father on Earth, and your father in Heaven. They both spent a good deal of effort on telling you who they are, but have no control over how you interpreted what they told you.

Get it right this time. It really is for your own good.