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.

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A day of firearms in America

Yesterday, 24 March 2018, was a day of firearms. Groups of children marched in the “March for our lives,” the latest anti-gun movement. I went to a gun show, and saw families shopping together. My cousin in law in Texas taught his five year old grandson gun safety.

Earlier in the week, the police in Princeton NJ murdered a man at the local Panera, which is now covered with signs blaming everyone except the Princeton Police Department. Apparently the NRA is responsible for the lack of negotiation skills in the upscale sanctuary city.

I do not believe it is correct to say “everyone is passionate about their position on guns.” The anti-gun nuts lose their passion a week or so after each tragedy. They dig the spotlight, but the actual work of overturning the Constitution is of little interest. Personally, I find it difficult to argue with people who are arguing based on emotion, they rarely bother to learn anything about the subject and lack civility. Their self awarded moral superiority tarnishes rapidly under the light of reality.

Remington Model 12 pump action .22 caliber

So while the kids were marching to ban guns, I went to a gun show. I’ve been to many, they are common. The rifles I would like seem to be overpriced, but I did pick up some cases and ammunition. I had a nice conversation with a young man who was choosing a shotgun for his daughter. She’s eleven years old, and very slight of build, but from what her father says she is very good at Trap shooting. It brought back pleasant memories of shooting with my daughter, who was a natural marksman. I spoke with a couple of young men who were selling Remington Model 12 rifles (one I am interested in). This was the first rifle I owned, at about twelve years old, but today they sell for as much as twenty two hundred dollars. We agreed it is a dependable small caliber rifle, but they had no intention of lowering the price, which was about average among the dealers present. I had a couple of conversations with dealers and other customers about the other rifle I was looking for, the Lee-Enfield model 4 in .303 British.

Lee-Enfield model 4 .303 British

It is difficult to find the Enfield with it’s original stock, and it just doesn’t feel right with modern wood. My last one had seen service in Korea, I sold it when money was tight after my second divorce, they go for between six hundred and seventeen hundred dollars now.  I still have cartridges in .303 British, and it is the most battle proven military rifle in existence, having seen service since WWI; the Afghani’s used it to repel the Russians in the 80s. My oldest daughter could put five rounds into the ten ring at one hundred yards with it when she was twelve.

There was a nice couple selling home made soap, they had some molded into the shape of a pistol which they said they sold out of in December, and plenty of other friendly people selling gun related objects.

My cousin’s husband used the day to teach his grandson gun safety. Because that is what responsible gun owners do. Even though his guns are safely locked away, little Noah may come across other firearms as he grows up, and needs to understand how to handle them safely. Intelligent people teach their offspring to respond to potential dangers with knowledge rather than fear. There is always the possibility Noah will grow up to be anti gun (although in this family it is unlikely), but he will always be safe.

Noah learns to handle a rifle

Meanwhile, in this wonderful Democratic Republic, crowds of children were encouraged to march in protest against gun ownership. Even the Pope got involved, maybe because he realized that America is not a theocracy and wanted someone who might be listened to speaking. Fear of guns is not far from fear of the dark. The unknown is scary, and to children, responsibility is scary. Congress, who only weeks earlier were calling on soap manufacturer’s to make their products less appetizing to children, is now being asked to listen to the wisdom of children.

As the logic twists further, the goal of this movement is to tell congress to listen to children because they have not listened to adults. They have listened, just not to people proposing violations of the Constitution they swore to uphold. The path to an amendment modifying the second amendment has not changed in two hundred and thirty years. It has not been approached, rather laws infringing on the right to bear arms have faced challenges in court, and routinely failed. All that has to happen is to pass an amendment and have it ratified by two thirds of the states, then the laws can change. Unfortunately, those wishing to ban guns pass laws which criminals do not (by definition) obey. Changing the Constitution would at least keep guns out of the hands of honest citizens, but that approach has not been tried.

Panera Bread in Princeton

Following the murder of Scott Mielentz by Princeton police, locals protested bread. Had Scott been a member of a minority, the town would have burned, but because he had financial troubles he was cast as an outsider, and the police exonerated by the locals. I have no sympathy for the Princeton police, they have the money and time to be properly trained.

The facts of the event are fairly straight forward. Mielentz was suffering from PTSD, which put him beyond the understanding of a police force that has never been exposed to trauma. He walked into Panera with a handgun, which some reports have referred to as “brandishing a gun.” Everyone in the store left, leaving Mielentz alone. Police blocked the streets for blocks around the store, and schools, some miles away, were placed on “lockdown.” For five hours, the police claim to have “negotiated” with Mielentz, with his only expressed statement that he be left alone. As shift change neared, Mielentz was killed by a single shot through the window, the only shot fired during the event. Mielentz posed no immediate threat, so the circumstances of the incident must be presented to a grand jury composed of 23 civilians for independent review by state law. If there is Justice in the state of New Jersey, the officer responsible will be tried for manslaughter at the very least. But expecting justice in New Jersey is foolish.

The signs outside Panera spoke directly to the children’s march, but I don’t suspect anyone was paying attention. “NRA there is blood on your hands” could have been crafted by my ex-wife, who ranted incessantly on Facebook after the Stone Douglas incident with the same words (with the opportunity  to respond turned off because that’s how you show how passionate you are, making statements that no one can respond to). There are a couple with AR-15s on them, which is most likely the weapon the police used. There is a sign which reads “Guns kill, not save” in which they misspelled “Police” as “Guns.” Lots of calls to end violence following a largely non-violent event. Oddly, there were no signs at the Police department.

America is a wonderful country, with a government restrained from tyranny by a perfect Constitution. I say perfect because built into the Constitution is a format for revising it. We realized people should not be property and enacted the thirteenth amendment. We realized that our former slaves were not equal until they could vote and enacted the fifteenth amendment. Fifty years later we realized that women were equal in rights and enacted the nineteenth amendment. If the populous was truly interested in banning guns, an amendment could be proposed nullifying the second amendment. So far, nothing.

In the meantime, we may react to the “gun problem” in many ways. Some will fight to ban guns, others will fight to protect the right to bear arms. I cannot think of a single instance in which a solution was reached by shouting, so civil discussions would be the best path to pursue, which requires education. Banning guns which do not exist helps no one. Banning guns based on how they look works the same. If gun owners are so stupid, how is it they understand the features of guns and the anti-gun nuts do not?

All of us need to treat our opponents with respect. Of course, if we really respected each other, guns wouldn’t seem nearly as scary, because the people owning them wouldn’t be as scary.

 

Assault

Some funny things have come out of the #MeToo campaign. Okay, I use the word “funny” to describe things which have no humor about them.

The stated intent was to show victims of sexual assault they are not alone. This result may or may not have been achieved. We are certainly aware a large percentage of people, both women and men, have been comfortable enough to say “Me too.” This is enormous. Although the campaign was originally supposed to be about women, many men have come forward as well, uncovering the secret that any discussion about sex includes all sexes. Unfortunately, even with the barrier lowered from “experienced sexual assault” to “experienced sexual harassment,” the experiences have been exposed as, and this should come as no surprise, personal. One person’s assault is another person’s compliment. This has been difficult to digest for a digital world unaccustomed to nuance.

Society requires sensationalism. It is no longer satisfactory to say Susan doesn’t like Charlotte (who happens to be black), Susan is a racist.  If Andy is uncomfortable with homosexuals he must be a homophobe.  If Henry lets everyone in the room know he’s available he’s a sexual predator. If Cindy voted for a conservative she’s a NAZI.

One of the reasons a large number of victims of sexual assault did not come forward in the past is because they did not feel they would be believed. There are two parts to the reason they felt so. The first is because the primary defense to such accusations was to blame the victim, and in cases of sexual assault the psyche of the victim had already been crushed once. The second is that a fair number of accusations were false, because even the accusation is enough to destroy some lives; one false accusation can be used by countless defenders of the genuinely guilty.

I do not like to denigrate anyone’s pain. We all have different tolerances, and while in many of the experiences described as “sexual assault” no assault took place, the victim was damaged in some way. The important thing to remember is that damage does not refer to the act, only the result. If Charlie walks into the office and says “How is everyone today?” and Norma is having the very worst day of her life, Charlie did nothing wrong. Neither did Norma, until she claims Charlie harassed her by asking. Making claims of abuse when none has taken place is abusive in itself.

Some of the more abusive claims I have heard in the last few weeks have included a woman who claimed her assault took the form of a man referring to her as “honey.” One word, one time, no other context. Another woman claims to have been sexually assaulted by former President George H. W. Bush, four years ago when he was eighty nine and confined to a wheelchair. Mind you, in both these instances the word “assault” rather than “harassed” was used.

My own most frightening instance of sexual assault was only intimidation, there was no physical contact. I was twenty, driving an ice cream truck through the projects in California when I was surrounded by a gang of Chicanos. One reached through the window and removed the keys, a couple other ones started rocking the truck, tipping it enough the wheels would come off the ground, and the leader hung on the window telling me how they were going to “bone” me. As it was, I had another key and was able to escape, but I was terrified as I lived across the street from the projects and parked my truck out front, it was altogether possible they would see me at some point. I quit that job and moved across town about a month later. So I understand that no physical contact is required to create fear, but I maintain the threat of violence (in any form) is a requirement in order to designate assault.

I have been party to other conversations in which I was told that a difference of opinion threatened the person’s very existence. Fear is present, with no threat. Fear is beyond understanding, it is irrational, which is why it holds little legal standing.

This is why words are important. Assault is a crime, claiming you were assaulted implies someone committed a crime. Falsely accusing someone of a crime is a crime by itself. The lesson we should all learn from the #MeToo campaign is communication is crucial, and without words that have common meanings communication is impossible, often at the time it is needed the most.

It is fairly normal to be uncomfortable from time to time (sorry millennials). The level of that discomfort is the measure of trauma involved. I feel safe in saying everyone has at some point in their lives been uncomfortable in a sexual situation. This does not mean everyone has been sexually assaulted, what it means is that we all deal with life differently. Each and every one of us. My first “sexual assault” (different event, heterosexual) might be described as someone else’s fantasy; I was just unprepared that time and it was outside my desires. It was however an assault, I had no interest and the woman forced herself on me. I would never consider the millions of times I have been referred to with “terms of endearment” as sexual assaults, anyone who does is in need of psychological counseling as they are incapable of social interaction.

My hope is that the #MeToo campaign encourages conversations (dialogues rather than monologues), and those conversations create understandings. Some of those understandings are going to result in trust, some of them may result in discovering over sensitivity, most will result in growth. That would be a good thing, and the world needs some good things.

 

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.

 

 

 

 

Rabies

In looking for an analogy for today’s topic, Rabies appears appropriate. Rabies is exceptionally rare, between 2003 and 2013 thirty four cases were diagnosed in the United States, and although three cases are listed as “survived,” I suspect the diagnosis in those cases, as there is no cure. Even though the rate of human infection is .00001 percent of the population, every pet is required to be vaccinated against Rabies, because the issue is not prevalence, it is mortality. I have been vaccinated against rabies after contact with rabid animals (twice) and as you can see I did not contract the disease. Had the virus taken hold in my system I would not be here, thankfully the vaccine regimen is much more simple than it was in my childhood; a series of four injections intramuscularly (deltoid) and one dose of Human Rabies Immune Globulin near the site of exposure rather than fourteen injections in the abdomen (a friend from Cuba had fourteen injections into his lungs).

My topic today is another “R” word, “Racism,” as expressed by a rag tag mob calling themselves “White Supremacists,” as well as a large number of people who consider anything with a scent of racism the work of White Supremacists, NAZIs, or the KKK.

This weekend has seen a couple of events staged by White Supremacists. An event in Charlottesville Virginia drew hundreds of them from all over the country, and thousands of counter protestors. There is no question as to which side is larger, for some reason the counter protestors express fear, giving the minuscule number of White Supremacists the power of intimidation. There have been counter protests in cities across the nation, proving to everyone the racists are outnumbered. In the analogy of Rabies, racism is skin redness, identifying as a Racist of any stripe is viral infection. It is rare but deadly. The victim is the soul.

There have been three fatalities reported, a woman struck by a car and two police officers in a helicopter that crashed. The wounded number far more, as any display of hate creates more hate. The kettle of hate is overflowing, as the present first lady echoes the last in saying “Our country encourages freedom of speech, but let’s communicate without hate in our hearts. No good comes from violence” more hateful hearts were busy accusing her of plagiarism than accepting the message of peace. The word “racist” is losing any meaning, as it is thrown around so freely to include “anyone who doesn’t agree with me.” There were actual racists in Charlottesville, free to express their “pride” under the cover of a population that has been called racist for the crime of being white in the South. In fact, slavery and racism are more likely to be encountered in the North, where foriegn nationals  are commonly “kept” as housekeepers and treated as sub-human. Human trafficking is a fact in every state, and every country in the world; it is not limited to people of color.

Addressing the 1968 race riots in Baltimore Maryland, President Lyndon Baines Johnson, who had signed the civil rights act into law just four years earlier, said “What did you expect? I don’t know why we’re so surprised. When you put your foot on a man’s neck and hold him down for three hundred years, and then you let him up, what’s he going to do? He’s going to knock your block off.” Blow-back from centuries of racism should be expected, and tensions do not disappear overnight. Racism is a human trait, tied to the evolutionary tool of Xenophobia. Human. I am as different from you as you are from me.

President Trump was criticized for saying there are many hate groups, Lady Gaga was criticized for trying to turn down the hate. The criticisms of both echoed hate rather than a desire to end hate. A shouting match has never ended in a peaceful resolution, no one has ever calmed down after being told to. This is what disturbs me. I feel we were closer to calming racial tensions in the 70s than we are now. Civility in social interactions is as likely to be seen as a Dodo delivering the morning paper.

It is as natural for people of color to distrust whites as it is for whites to distrust people of color. Neither side is “right.” Fighting creates wounds, which memorialize the pain, keeping the distrust alive. Both sides need to stop, and overwhelmingly they have. Pockets of hate, be they NAZI, KKK, BLM, or Antifa, are only pockets and do not represent society as a whole. Saying they do insults the people who are not part of those gangs, and ends meaningful conversation with them.

We have arrived at a time when words are weapons. Choose yours wisely and help stop the hate. Uhura said that in her century we will learn not to fear words.

 

To do so, we need not only to know who we are, but take satisfaction in who we are. To accomplish that, we need to extend the same courtesy to everyone else. It starts with me. Now it’s your turn.

Polyamory

As much as I loathe Wikipedia, I want to start with their definition, because it indicates the complexity.

polyamory (from Greek πολύ poly, “many, several”, and Latin amor, “love”) is the practice of or desire for intimate relationships with more than one partner, with the knowledge of all partners. It has been described as “consensual, ethical, and responsible non-monogamy”.


Both Greek and Latin roots? No wonder people have such difficulty understanding. Most people define polyamory by what it is not, an inefficient way to convey meaning, but polyamorists tend to over explain, part of trying relentlessly to make sure everyone is on the same page. I like Merriam Webster’s definition better

 

polyamory

plural

polyamories

  1. :  the state or practice of having more than one open romantic relationship at a time

This removes “intimacy” and replaces it with “romantic,” there are always misunderstandings around intimacy, which I have discussed recently. My opinion is that many people repress their sexuality, in most cases understanding very little about their own bodies. When faced with the subject of other people’s bodies the imagination runs wild, unfettered by common sense. H.L Mencken defined Puritanism as “The haunting fear that someone, somewhere, may be happy,” I might add, “and being not, the ensuing envy.”
My interest in polyamory came on the heels of three emotionally devastating relationships. I had been happily monogamous, in some instances fiercely so. I was jealous of the young men Emma allowed to flirt with her, which prompted her to toy with my emotional responses even more. When she died I tried to move forward in monogamy, recognizing the importance of communication. Next wife had little interest in communication (she was the one who would literally put her fingers in her ears to avoid hearing things she did not agree with), but she did say something as she was leaving that resonated. She commented about how difficult it was to love me. Her statement made no sense on its own, but was similar to something a woman between my second and third wives had said. The next relationship I had went much the same way, with Nancy saying “Loving you is hard” and then blaming me for her seizures because she was “too stressed out from lying to me.” It was all starting to make sense, so when the next girlfriend took $2,000 and went to Japan to see her grandson, I didn’t find it as disturbing as I should have. I didn’t even mind when she contacted me out of the blue about a year later, acting as if nothing had happened, I just told her I couldn’t see her anymore. I no longer expected honest communication.

I had decided the best way to reduce stress was to stop expecting fidelity, no one could ever blame me for causing them seizures again. I certainly did not expect what I found. When I met Samantha I knew she had other men in her life. There was nothing to hide. A month later I fell, suffering Traumatic Brain Injury as well as several other injuries. Samantha took a month off work to care for me, showing more devotion and care than most of my monogamous partners had ever shown. She has encouraged me to go out with other women, and I have, I just don’t have the desire for multiple partners. I’ve had drinks with one of her suitors, he invited us to come over for New Years Eve last year.

Most explanations of polyamory are centered on what polyamory is not. Part of that is because there are so many ways to be poly. There is no one right way, but there are several wrong ways. As I said earlier, poly people tend to over explain, often creating new terms so rapidly it is difficult to keep up. Sometimes they try so hard to be all-inclusive they can’t be followed, which is why Sam and I created a group for mature poly people. I think we’ve kicked four people out of the group, three for inappropriate advances, another for trying to tell everyone the right way to be poly, implying they were wrong. Our defining blurb includes “My poly may not be your poly, but part of the exercise is accepting that however we choose to live, we are all still poly. No shaming or denouncing the formats we have chosen. We all have opinions, display the level of respect with which you wish to be treated.” Our group presently has over three hundred members, several whom have told me our group is the only place they feel comfortable being themselves.

The universal rules of polyamory are centered in honesty. You do not get involved in a new relationship without talking with your partners about it. My relationship naturally carried that to “No secrets.” Polyamory is not to be confused with “Swinging,” or meaningless one night stands; sexuality is rarely confused with intimacy; having multiple partners does not mean having them simultaneously. One of the most common, and least appreciated, aspects of polyamory are “Unicorn Hunters,” people looking to add a third partner (usually female) to an existing relationship, for any number of reasons. People are not objects you take from a shelf to use until you tire of them, they are not a spice with which you can spice up your marriage. There are plenty of multi-partner households, but actively looking to “add a person” is unseemly.

Some polyamorous relationships are asexual, simply warm romantic relationships. The focus is on communication, not sexual activity (can I say that enough?). Of course, if you want to produce a television show about polyamory, sex still sells. It just doesn’t tell the story. Or it tells the wrong story. There are enough false stories about polyamory that we become a bit defensive, but the fact is, there are many ways to be polyamorous, so we don’t have a comprehensive argument. One difficulty is dating, the phrase “I’m in an open relationship” has been used by adulterers so many times that OKCupid, a large dating web site, has an accommodation for people who are polyamorous. You can link your profile to your partners profiles, there is no question that your partner(s) knows what is going on. Cheating is just as distasteful to poly folk as mono folk, because polyamory is about loving, not conquering.

I have been surprised by the people who show up at poly events, but then, I’m there. Polyamorous people come from every walk of life, every income bracket, and every political leaning. You may be surprised I am poly. It is a part of my life, not all of it.

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

Which gender is that water?

 

 

You’ve probably seen this ad on television. You probably didn’t pick up on the sexism it promotes.

It is allegedly an ad promoting clean water. It veers off that message when the actor says “Every day, women around the world spend millions of hours just collecting it” with the implication men do not gather water. I suggest this also reduces the urgency of the message, by providing no evidence gathering water takes a large amount of time. If millions (the ad purports 200 million) of hours are spent daily, worldwide, then of the three and a half billion women on the planet, the average time per woman would be less than three and a half minutes. This includes those of us in civilized countries with running water in the next room, so if water.org is being honest with their numbers, an exceptionally small percentage of women are spending a significant amount of time gathering water. The sexism of the message continues with “Stella Artois has partnered with us at water.org can help provide access to clean water to women and their families…” A quick scan of the small print reveals that the contribution of purchasing a glass will provide five years of water for one person, regardless of sex. The thrust of the statement is women, not water.

Not that I am a misogynist, I enjoy and appreciate women. I am also a big fan of honesty. I like Stella Artois, in fact it is my “go to” summer beer. Maybe not this summer. Back when “feminism” was about equality, I was a feminist. Today it is just a buzzword, often used in ways that have nothing to do with women. Everyone needs water, but Stella Artois and Water.org have managed to “gender” the water shortage, turning it into a women’s issue.

There is another group that no doubt sounds sexist to some people. Texas Baptist Men is a charitable organization, made up predominantly of men from Texas who are Baptists. For over twenty years they have been providing clean water to communities, with drilling and purification projects in over seventy countries. They don’t have commercials with celebrities, they just go out and help people. After the devastating hurricanes in 2008, they traveled to the Dominican Republic. When they left, there was more clean water available on a daily basis than there had been before the hurricanes. They didn’t seek recognition, they were just helping people, using their own funds. Attempts to help in Africa were often stymied by local politicians, yet they did make many attempts to demonstrate drilling techniques using simple local tools and techniques available to laymen. And laywomen, there was no discrimination.

“Gender politics” tend to be about discrediting a specific gender rather than empowering the other. Domestic violence is an example of an issue which has become gendered. Domestic violence is widely considered to be a women’s issue. Why? Women are twice as likely as men to report they are a victim of domestic violence; this does not mean twice as many women are victims, it just means they are twice as likely to report it. This may be due to the sensitivity accorded to female rape victims, society recognized that more rapists would be prosecuted if the victim wasn’t stigmatized. That the same might hold true for male victims was never publicized. Another factor often ignored is sexual orientation. Lesbians are far more likely to be victims than gay men. In those situations, lesbians are more likely to be the perpetrators than gay men. But ask anyone about domestic, intimate partner, or sexual violence, and you will hear how bad men are, we live in a “rape culture,” and perhaps the the most dissonant, “women are weaker.” What an incredibly sexist phrase to come from someone championing equality.

Last year an independent film, “The Red Pill,” was released. You probably haven’t seen it. It is the story of the film maker, a feminist, as she explored the world of Men’s Rights Activists. As happens with many artists, the project did not take her where she had expected. She had expected to show the evils of the Men’s Rights Movement, but as the project progressed, it was her fellow feminists who tried to get her to abandon the project. Once it became known that the film would not condemn the men’s rights movement, she was unable to find funding to cover the cost of the movie from traditional sources, leaving her to seek crowdfunding through Kickstarter. Showings of the film have resulted in protests and outright bans in some instances. The film is not anti-female, it is simply a balanced view of feminism and men’s rights. In a society that thrives on conflict, if you are not a misandrist you must be a misogynist.

I remain confused, as we seek diversity in all things, that the differences between the sexes are so contentious. It does appear, despite the reports in the media, the overwhelming majority of human beings tend to get along with each other.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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.

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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.

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.

 

 

 

The Invisible Me

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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?

 

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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.

 

 

 

 

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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.

Terror

On the eve of the second world war, with no idea of the horrors to come, a new president was inaugurated. In hindsight, we see his words as brave, while the story behind them had nothing to do with world war and more to do with his personal and hidden war. He spoke of the economic troubles following the Great Depression, yet he was unable to reveal his own infirmity. Near the beginning of his inaugural speech he said “So, first of all, let me assert my firm belief that the only thing we have to fear is fear itself—nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror which paralyzes needed efforts to convert retreat into advance.”

Fear is winning.

Today in America, college students are terrorized by the words “Trump 2016” written in chalk. People are scared, genuinely frightened, by food. Ingredients they are not even sensitive to, but they believe they are “dangerous” because they read somewhere they are “bad for you.” Yes, education has failed, they thought “bad for you” was directed at them, not just people who are sensitive to the ingredient.

What do they do when they see something designed to be dangerous and scary? I’m not doing their laundry, but I have a suspicion.

There was an horrific massacre at a club in Orlando Florida last Saturday. Rather than express sympathy for the victims or offer assistance to the survivors, Americans jumped at the opportunity to create political arguments, using the most ferocious weapon available, fear.

Within minutes of the massacre, 0600 EST, I happened to turn on the televised news and hear the initial reports. With twenty confirmed dead it was being called “the worst terrorist attack since 9/11.” I waited to gather a few reports. It had been reported the shooter had an Arabic name and used an AR-15 rifle, referred to as an “assault rifle.” He had allegedly called 911 and pledged allegiance to ISIS. The death toll (by 0700) remained stable.

I penned a short lament to the death of journalism. An Arabic name does not imply terrorism, an AR-15 is not an assault rifle, twenty casualties is not the worst attack since 9/11. It was a gay club, so I asked if gay lives matter more, making this attack “worse.”  Using the definition of terrorism “creating terror,” more were killed at an elementary school in Connecticut.

As the hours went by, more details came in. The death toll rose to fifty, making it the worst attack since 9/11, but the language changed to “worst attack ever.” Well, now the word games begin. In 1890, the federal government attacked the Sioux Indians of Wounded Knee, killing over one hundred fifty Americans.  With the assault weapons of the day. Under the auspices of gun control. There were twenty Medals of Honor awarded for that massacre of women and children. In 1993 the federal government murdered fifty two Americans and twenty four British citizens in a full on military assault in Waco, Texas. In an unthinkable turn of language, the Attorney General later said the massacre was carried out “for the children,” twenty five of which were victims of the government assault.

Oh yeah, and fifty people happened to be dead, but let’s focus on how horrible the attack was historically rather than the actual victims.

Another victim of the media was the motivation, because it is so much easier to spread fear if you have  big scary assailant. I believe there would be fewer conspiracy theories surrounding President Kennedy’s assassination if Lee Harvey Oswald wasn’t such a wimp.

As it turned out, Omar Wateen was indeed a Muslim. Not a good Muslim, but the guys who flew the planes on 9/11 allegedly hung out drinking at strip clubs when they were in flight training. He had called 911 and “pledged allegiance to ISIS,” and Daesh had in fact issued a warning of a Florida attack, along with a “kill list.” No one on the kill list was at a gay bar in Orlando at 0200, but speculation continued the massacre was influenced by Daesh. More digging revealed that in addition to pledging allegiance to ISIS, Omar also claimed to be a member of Al-Qaeda and Hezbollah. ISIS and Al-Qaeda are conflicting groups, and Hezbollah, being a Sunni Muslim group, is at war with both of them.

It also turned out that Omar, who was married, had beaten his wife and frequented gay dating sites, visiting the club he attacked several times. His father was derogatory towards him and had a history of having a bad relationship. My initial theory, that the shooter was upset over a failed love interest, began to gain some credence.

The argument over whether it was a terrorist act or a hate crime made no difference to the dead.

Oh yeah, and fifty people happened to be dead, but let’s focus on the motivation for the attack rather than the actual victims.

The overwhelming number of  arguments, involved gun control. Being a political year, all the candidates came forth with their well uninformed opinions, and the generally uninformed public rose to the fight, fueled by the uninformed media. Bernie Sanders went as far as to say he would demand a ban on automatic weapons, and had been fighting for a ban on automatic weapons for twenty five years.

Automatic weapons were all  but banned by the Firearms Control Act of 1968 (forty eight years ago), restricting them so severely they are figuratively illegal. I have seen two in civilian hands in my life, and I’ve seen a lot of civilians with guns.

The rifle used by Omar was a Sig Sauer MCX. To this hour, three days later, some media outlets are still calling it an AR-15 and an assault weapon.

The second rifle from the left could be an AR-15

The second rifle from the left (AK-47) could be an AR-15

 

I could debate this issue all day long, what is an assault rifle, what is a military weapon, what is an automatic weapon, what is a high powered weapon, why do vegetarians eat fish, but there is a larger issue.

 Fifty people happen to be dead, but let’s focus on the weapon rather than the actual victims.

The fear of guns has ignited, once again, the gun control “debate.” Debating has gone the way of journalism unfortunately. Both sides tend to be misinformed, on a scale of one to ten I would rate the credibility of pro-gun types to be seven, anti-gun types run close to zero. It is merely a shouting match. Nothing is going to change, and both sides are filled with fear.

Gun control legislation tends to have a reverse effect. The Gun Control Act of 1968 was aimed at removing “Saturday Night Specials,” cheap revolvers purchased on impulse, from the streets. That part worked. In the vacuum rose semi-automatic weapons, primarily of larger calibers. Police found themselves outgunned and created SWAT teams, drive by shootings became rampant, more people died. “Collateral” victims, who might have survived a missed shot from a small caliber (less than .38) pistol with only six rounds, were more likely to be killed by a larger caliber pistol fired sixteen times, or a rifle fired thirty times.

When there is a major shooting incident, two things happen. One group screams for gun control, another buys more guns. Gun purchases hit record highs following every massacre, the desire for self protection beats the desire for social controls every time. And the guns they buy? The scariest looking ones on the shelf, often called “assault weapons,” despite the fact they only look like assault weapons. The shape of the gun has no effect on the impact of the bullet.

I have one thing to say to those demanding gun bans. Following the lesson of the Gun Control Act of 1968, were firearms to ever be banned effectively, overturning the second amendment, the next available weapon would become popular. People are not going to stop killing each other because they don’t have guns, Cain used a rock. Knives might be scary, but a taste for mass killings has become popular among the fringe group that decided shooting up the school is better than slashing the principals tires. Explosives are already showing up.

In 1927, Andrew Kehoe, upset with the expense of a new school, blew it up, killing forty five, including thirty eight children. In 1995, Timothy McVeigh, a right wing anarchist, detonated a rental truck filled with home made explosives, killing one hundred sixty eight, including nineteen children at a daycare in the Murrah Federal Building. Getting rid of firearms will not decrease the bloodshed.

And in case you were distracted, fifty people are dead in Orlando. 

 

 

 

Sexuality

I was involved in a conversation the other day about sexuality, this one focused on the term “Sapiosexual.”

 The definition of sapiosexual is “a person who finds intelligence to be the most sexually attractive characteristic of another person.” Let me say “A” definition rather than “The” definition, as definitions themselves were a large and contentious part of the conversation. I did learn a new term, “SJW” or Social Justice Warrior, which I will define as “pretentious self-involved wanker with no experience, who tells others how to navigate society. No social skills, justice skills, or warrior skills required.” Apparently, my definitions are whatever I want them to be,  your definitions are whatever you want them to be, and as long as one of us is offended (how could we possibly avoid that?) the other is a racist.

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Without offense to anyone who identifies as a pussy

Without offense intended to anyone who identifies as a pussy

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 This conversation took place within a group of people who pride themselves on being intelligent and open-minded. Afterward it occurred to me, “who does not take pride in themselves as being intelligent and open-minded?” After all, we live in a world in which seventy six percent of people surveyed believe they are above average. I have actually heard that statement defended, based on the idea we all have an above average number of limbs. Most people have four, but some people do not, making average slightly less than four. That’s not how this works.
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Several years back, I overheard a conversation on the train into work. Two young ladies were discussing language, “what language do you dream in?” and such. One said “I do mathematics in German. I don’t know why, it just works for me.” I shared the experience with a coworker, who asked what the young ladies looked like. I said I didn’t know, I had not turned around to look, I just found the conversation attractive. He said, “Yeah, brains are sexy.”
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 A number of slow realizations have explained the labels I use to describe my sexuality, I now recognize this as the point I identified as a sapiosexual. It had always been there, this is when I embraced it, about fifteen years ago. Other aspects of my sexuality have been more, or less, obvious; certainly to look at my last three relationships you might doubt my attraction to intelligence, which is what makes discussions such as this so difficult.
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 There are many definitions and measurements of intelligence. There are probably more definitions of sexy, but we usually don’t cringe when someone says “She’s sexy,” even when the person being described is as far from sexy (to us) as we can imagine. We tend to recognize the subjective nature of attraction. The conversation I was having seemed to focus on the oppressive, and yes the adjective “racist” was used, nature of being sapiosexual. As a sapiosexual I have never felt so oppressed. This might be because this group is otherwise very sexually open and accepting, they might even find the word “tolerant” negatively prejudicial. There was no delay or shortage of the abuse placed on sapiosexuals, with “pretentious” being the very mildest insult.
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 I’ve dealt with this all my life. I can get along with anybody, but once I am “outed” as being what is now referred to as “gifted,” everything changes. I maintained a B average through school, so the only scorn I received was from parents and teachers who would say “You’re not performing at your potential,” and “I know you can do better than this so I’m dropping your grade.” I saw it in my eldest son, who was routinely beaten up at school, because not only was he intelligent, he told everyone about it. Being a child of the sixties it was easy to deny accomplishment and gravitate towards an earthier, grittier existence (not that the two are mutually exclusive). I recognized what other sapiosexuals recognize, intelligence isn’t about a number on an IQ test, it has more to do with understanding and wisdom. Funny how you can be respected as “wise” without being labeled “intelligent.” I want to believe this is because deep down folks can recognize intelligence has many presentations, even when they don’t admit it out loud.
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 I will agree that many who claim to be sapiosexual are pretentious, either seeking someone to compensate for their shortcomings, or attempting to compensate by the claim. In the arena of sexual preferences this is often the case, but this conversation went much farther than attacking pretensions, which although uncommon is not unheard of in this group. Portions of the conversation actually attacked intelligence itself, some were careful enough to attack the measures of intelligence as oppressively used by European males. Perhaps my judgement is off since the TBI, but I had absolutely no trouble seeing intentional offense. As disgusted as I felt, there was a certain sense of fraternity, humans tend to have the same frailty of hypocrisy, the most sensitive can still be aggressively offensive.
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There are many attitudes I do not have but can sympathize with, but I will never sympathize with the hatred for those who are different. I understand it, I know it takes place, but I have no sympathy. The only words I can come up with to describe the attitude are negative, there is no compassionate way to speak of it. Oddly, the majority of hatred for those who are different appears to originate from those who accuse others of prejudices, of disliking those who are different. The same people who are so very diligent about properly labeling everyone tend to use labels to segregate and negatively discriminate. I would say they must not be very smart, and some of them are not, but some are, which makes them evil.
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Our world is not binary, black or white. Being attracted to intelligence does not make the lack of intelligence disgusting. If you were to believe such, any statement of preference would also be a statement of prejudice against whatever would be opposite.
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I think we are all intelligent enough to see that.

Memories

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I have no memory of the moment, just a vague impression of the day less than a week after I came home from the hospital, when I heard David Bowie had died. My memories are difficult to explain, I have always been able to put myself into the moment, all of my senses involved, as opposed to simply recalling a list of events, the script of the moment. This is why now I can say “I don’t remember that” while still knowing exactly what took place. If I can’t touch it, taste it and smell it I don’t call it “having a memory.”

My brain is alien territory, my neurosurgeon tells me I should make myself comfortable, I will be here for a while. Maybe not forever, but I am better equipped if I familiarize myself with the terrain. To that end I am learning how to express myself, and taking care to explain my words. I am not ready to share opinions, I lack confidence in my logic. Much as in the way I am careful when speaking about the drugs used to treat Multiple Sclerosis, they did not work for me, but they do work wonderfully for some people; don’t take the fact I don’t use them to mean they don’t work at all.

The gap in my memories has grown, and I’m told this may just be a temporary fluctuation. Presently I have no memories of December or January, and November and February are fuzzy. Important within that statement is the fact my first evening with Sam was Thanksgiving. I am thankful for our relationship, having been abused in my last few emotional relationships, an “open” relationship seemed safer, an opportunity for honesty and communication to take the place of the deception the previous relationships offered. That Sam turned out to be more loyal and caring than the women I have trusted in “committed” relationships the last few years is both amazing and spiritually rewarding (not to imply open relationships are not committed, her level of commitment just astounded me following my previous “committed” experiences). She literally saved my life, then she nurtured me back to self-sufficiency.  This is a list of events to me, I don’t possess memories of any of it. I intend to explore the entire relationship in another article. Less important is that apparently I painted the bedroom in January. Not a horrible job, especially considering I didn’t have the use of my right arm.

A different set of memories started this article, falling about me like, well like purple rain. Now I just need to place these thoughts orderly, to find some rhythm of the falling rain. I used to be pretty good at that, identifying the synchronicities of life.

A large number of iconic musicians have died this year, working down the scale a scary number of musicians have died. While just under two human beings die every second, those of us in the arts seem to have taken a disproportionate amount of losses this year. A week does not pass that at least one acquaintance leaves us, sometimes several (Lonnie Mack died the same day as Prince). Each has some impact, when numbness starts to set in another icon leaves the stage.

Music binds the artist to memory, so these losses have to me been parts of myself. Prince held one such space. Which brings me to the other aspect of memories I want to explain.

With only one previous exception, I don’t stop loving people when the relationship ends. I have been told I should adjust this aspect of my life, but I can find no reason to deny how I felt for a person. If they can’t get over it and need to deny it ever happened that is their problem, more than likely the inability to accept reality is the reason we’re no longer together. Knowing a few people, one of them my last wife, another the woman who insisted I divorce her, prefer to pretend they never knew me helps me understand them better. Getting both of those messages in the same week is a synchronicity worth examining.

After I separated from my first wife, I lived briefly with the most adorable young woman. Very young woman, just a freshman in college. The song “Raspberry Beret” was popular, and mirroring my own love of hats Kay started wearing a raspberry beret, occasionally singing a few lines from the song. I think she bought it in a second hand store, she had incredible attention to details. If only she hadn’t been so young. I moved on to a woman a few years older, but for over thirty years I have seen Kay’s smile (and if it’s a quiet day I spend more time with her) every time I hear the song. We have written to each other, she’s doing well and also has fond memories of our time together.

The first time I heard the phrase “purple rain” was in the song “Ventura Highway” by America. Just now I am flooded with the memory of listening to the song in a raging storm as I drove up the Seaward Avenue exit in Ventura back in 1978. This is what I think of as a memory, the sky is violet and I can feel the wetness from the poor seal of the convertible roof of the Spitfire. There’s a steakhouse on Harbor avenue and I can smell the smoke even through the rain. I am there, and I am here, all because a phrase connected a memory.

I am certain this should be frustrating, knowing how my brain can work yet having sections that don’t work. In many ways I wish I was frustrated, but anger rarely has positive results, and right now I am focused on positive results.

Everything is connected, this is easier to see when you recognize everything is just different expressions of the same thing. I have referred to this as the matrix which supports the fabric of Maya, and as I explore the concept I find we each thrive in a universe of our own choosing. I’m comfortable with the sometimes gritty reality, others find the softness of a custom made fantasy more appealing. There is no “right” or “wrong” approach, nothing intrinsically “better” about exploring reality. It just works for me.

Prince didn’t allow his music on YouTube, so I don’t have a video today. If you get the chance to hear it, Warren Zevon’s cover of Raspberry Beret is a fitting interpretation.

 

 

 

 

Frustration

It has come to my attention I should take a break.

During a cognitive evaluation last week I mentioned my frustration with the results of my tests on Lumosity. I am not showing improvement, in fact some areas are showing a decline, and my best scores are in percentiles below sixty. I used to routinely rate in percentiles of the upper nineties, my IQ is well into the “genius” range. My arm is healing, why isn’t my brain?

The therapist suggested I step away from immediate results such as Lumosity, my recovery will take at very least a year, and there is no guarantee I will ever have the abilities I had just a few months ago. Watching the progress at this point is bound to be frustrating, and frustration can be a stumbling block in the process of creating new neural paths. I’m hoping she will also be speaking to the folks who approve my disability payments, they seem to think I’ve been away long enough, I can dress and feed myself, I should be healed.

I am not healed. Although my writing has been sporadic, what used to take a few hours to put together now takes several days, and my latest attempt sits in my “drafts” file, less than half complete after a week. I am quite frustrated.

HST at a similar crossroad

HST at a similar crossroad

My mind is filled with fragments, lines, and even paragraphs, but I can’t tie them together into an article. There is so much to write about, but I still want my thoughts to make more sense than the reality which inspires them. I will probably work on drafts and withhold publishing them until they are proper. Subscribing by email will ensure you receive anything I do manage to publish.

At the moment, frustration and depression are fighting for dominance, today would have been Emma and my seventeenth anniversary. I am aware I am not the man she loved, and question if love will be a part of my life again.

One more appeal, the bills haven’t stopped coming in and a future with a roof over my head depends largely on charity. Please share my GoFundMe campaign, little contributions add up.

I just can’t stare at empty pages right now.

 

Social Therapy

The therapies I have participated in since my accident have attempted to bring me back to a functional state. I was never merely functional, but they need a target.

Occupational Therapy has been trying to get my elbow and wrist to function in ways conducive to performing in an occupation. My mind is a bit fuzzy (more on that later) but I do not recall being asked which occupation I should be prepared for. My last position was in a warehouse, preparing shipments of fifty pound boxes of cosmetics. Prior to that I have done many things, both as vocations and avocations. Presently I can write, but I have never made much money writing (You could buy my book if you want to help). As much praise as I receive for my progress, I am nowhere near ready to pick and ship boxes heavier than three pounds. The other day one of the therapists was saying how well I am doing, I can touch my shoulder. I told her I really wanted my arms to match, and she asked what I could do. I wasn’t in the mood to show off, but I took my left arm, extended it to perfectly straight in front of me, lifted my arm straight up, brought my palm to the back of my head, and rotated my wrist clockwise and then counterclockwise, ending each twist with the back of my hand on the back of my head. These movements were based on the extrapolated extremes of the exercises I had been doing for my right arm.

Apparently this was not the goal they had in mind, as none of the therapists could reproduce the movement.

My Physical Therapy has been trying to get me to walk smoothly, without falling. I am not progressing quite as well here, I’ve always been a little wobbly and my gait can best be described as a controlled fall. I make them nervous, they keep thinking I’ll fall, but I saw there was a wall there and managed to bounce off of it. My days of ballet, or even expressive dance, are no doubt behind me. Yoga is still on my list, I can see it as a life long physical therapy project. If I’m lucky I will find a way for medicaid to pay for it.

My Cognitive therapy is as broken as I am. I have my first evaluation next week, and my comprehensive evaluation has yet to be scheduled. Parts of my brain are healing, enough that I am aware that things are missing. The entire months of December and January are now a mystery, and November and February are not as clear as they should be. In the interim I am taking the Lumosity training, and after a month my scores are as high as the fifty seventh percentile. I am well aware my mental acuity was previously in the ninety ninth percentile for some tasks, never below the ninetieth. There are languages in which I once could speak fluently and no longer can count to ten. I know what belongs in the kitchen but can’t think of how to put it together into an interesting meal. Emotionally, I am vacant, yet for some reason I feel an attraction to a woman who I had the police remove from my house last year.

My vision issues are slowly being narrowed down to the correct ophthalmologist, and my hearing tests have resulted in a “well that’s unusual” response from my doctors.

The most satisfying therapy I have tried has been “Social Therapy.” Spending time doing the things I am accustomed to, with people I am accustomed to. I hope I am progressing well, but my friends are not therapists, they may not be telling me about my failures.

I started out slowly, catching my friend’s “British Invasion” show, a chronological performance of the music of the 60s and 70s. They even had actors doing introductory skits, the opening had a great twist on “Who’s on First” substituting The Guess Who, The Who, and Yes as the acts of a concert.

Sam and I had a nice evening discovering garlic fries and I shot some video for the band. It was a good “first night out,” not too crowded or loud, and loads of memory laden music.

The next week we returned to see  my friend Buddy Cash play with his band and a couple of the guys from the band Squeeze. Buddy always packs the house, it was a busy and loud night, but it was great to see everyone again. Squeeze covered a lot of Led Zeppelin, which was an odd turn but interesting. With Buddy and two former bassists from Squeeze there was a plethora of bass players, unfortunately I didn’t shoot any video that night.

A few days later I met some friends from school I had not seen in decades.

Blake, Mike, and Kati

Blake, Mike, and Kati

My friend Michael Montgomery is a magician, he lives magic, always prepared for an illusion. It was amazing to watch him seamlessly flow from conversation to magic. Kati (Karena Walker) is a yoga teacher and singing bowl practitioner.  I attended a healing circle Kati and another yoga teacher put together a few months ago (although in my mind it is presently a fact and not a memory), it was exceptionally soothing. We had not all been together in nearly forty years, we met at Michael’s house, met his wife Paula, and had a wonderful evening rekindling memories. This is something I must do again, I carried a smile for days.

Tonight I’ll be seeing another friend, Ritchie DeCarlo, play with one of his bands, The Prussia Kings, at a club not far from Sam’s house (fortuitous planning). Ritchie’s musical directions are always interesting, and the club carries Chimay Premiere, so the evening is promising.

My friend Tribbee returns from Scotland this week, the Vernal Equinox arrives with Sunday,  April brings the Punk Rock Flea Market and Record Store Day. All of these things engage and stimulate my brain, providing much needed social therapy.

The road ahead is long and mysterious, much like my journey with multiple sclerosis I have no idea what to expect. I do know, at least I feel, I must regain my memories, exercise my brain, regain my mental acuity. I may appear to have recovered from the accident, but there remains a long, largely invisible, recovery ahead. Sam has said being with me is like being with my twin bother, we look the same and have similar characteristics, but we are not the same person.

I really want to be me again.

Unknown Territory

A dimension not only of sight and sound but of mind

A dimension not only of sight and sound but of mind

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

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

 

"Soul Speaking" Inspirational page

Soul Speaking” Inspirational page

 

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

 

 

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

 

Evaluating wellness

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

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

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

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

I woke up in the hospital and I was old.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

How am I doing?

Oh, and being able to shave would be nice

Oh, and being able to shave would be nice

 

Relationships

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

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

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

 

number5ao7

A different number five

 

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

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

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

Good people create good memories.

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

Oscar Wilde

Oscar Wilde

 

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

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

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

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