Ten Years out




I have had several reminders about what I was doing ten years ago. I was not writing this blog back then, I was working on another one in which I was chronicling my wife’s experiences with Pancreatic Cancer. Most of this month I have been looking back at what I wrote during the last days of June 2010. Some days brought a smile, which at times were about the irony. Most days I wipe the tears from my eyes.

Looking back through Facebook, I can see my conflicted feelings. On one day, I wrote about a man in Liberty Park asking “Where is the Taco Bell” as a light-hearted moment, and later posted “I’m tired of having to go to the hospital to see my wife.”

On 5 July 2010 I wrote

My friend, confidant, lover, cooking teacher, music student and wife died this morning at 6 AM. She was sleeping peacefully and holding my hand when she stopped breathing.

She had a very rough night, I was glad that we were in the hospital rather than at home. Her pain medications were being updated on an hourly basis. Her kidneys had failed along with her liver, the pressure from the swelling made her feel the need to urinate but her bladder was empty. At about five she looked at me and said “I can’t fight anymore” and she closed her eyes. I held her hand as she lay sleeping, telling her that the time apart would seem to her like an instant from the perspective of eternity. I quoted Bible verses and reminded her of God’s promise. At about six she stopped breathing. I kissed her and called the nurses, there was no pulse.

I was able to stay with her as I tried to call friends and family, due to the hour and the holiday weekend I mostly spoke to answering machines. I held her hand the entire time, when it came time to wash her rigor mortis had set in, her hand stiff and curled around mine. I washed her, gently caressing the body that had once been so full of life, now just an empty container. I stroked her hair and kissed her face and neck, then helped place her body into the bag and onto the gurney. I watched as she was rolled away and packed her things, including the plant she had recieved just two days earlier.

This afternoon I stopped at the funeral home and realized how little I know about her family, I had no idea of everyone’s name that would go in the obituary, and decided that a generic “well loved by her many friends and family” would be the best route. I picked out an urn, actually only narrowed it down to three, I’ll have to go back with her cousin to make the final choice.

I grabbed a sandwich and now realize that I haven’t slept in a while. I have a lot to do this evening, but I know it will all be there tomorrow.

She is still alive in all of our memories. She is still alive in God’s loving arms. She made me a better person, and I must honor her by being the best person I can be until we are reunited.

Looking through her site at the condolences, I found this. It stood out then, and I have never forgotten giving, and receiving, this advice.

Blake,

Our prayers and thoughts are with you I hope your letter can be of some comfort during this difficult time.

Pat

From: Cash, K

Sent: Thursday, June 04, 2009 2:58 PM (Note: two days before I started Emma’s site)

To: Cash, Patricia

Subject: Grief

Patty,

Grief is a denial of our knowledge that your father is beyond suffering, with our Lord, where he is destined to be.

That does not mean that you should not experience grief, it is an opportunity to reflect on your father’s service to our Lord, in works as far away as Morocco, and as near as your heart. It is an opportunity to allow his children to show their strength, to support each other, to show what your father has given to them.

Prejudice is another opportunity to see our frailty. We justify our prejudices by calling them knowledge, by insisting that we have learned from the past. God has no prejudice, and he knows the future. He loves us no matter who we are, what we have done, or what we will do. Allow your loved ones to prove any prejudices you may have to be wrong. Allow God to guide your loved ones to step up and support you and your mother. Rejoice in the example your father gave us all. Do not falter in your faith due to the failure of another to live up to your expectations. Rejoice in those that do. We think of life as a gift, yet it is eternal life for which we strive.

When I lose Emma, please remind me of these thoughts.

The results from Emma’s biopsy are in, she has stage 3 pancreatic cancer. As much as she expected it to be even worse (stage 4), the news hit her hard, as if it was out of the blue. We see the oncologist tomorrow. I don’t know how she’ll get through this, but it does seem to make her feel better to talk to you.

Peace,

Blake



I stopped by her site quite a bit that year, grooming it into her book. A year later I wrote:


Our wedding rings, now in Emma’s shrine



Tomorrow it will be one year since Emma’s death. I wasn’t sure how I would deal with everything, I’m still not.


I have completed all my “mourning steps”. I’ve recounted the events leading up to her death ad nauseam, I’m certain everyone is tired of hearing about it. So I wrote a book about it. Still, the images won’t go away.


I sit with Lieve today, I’m writing the blurb for the back cover of the book, she’s designing the front cover, using the photograph above.


A few words about guilt. I felt a certain amount of “survivor’s guilt” for living after Emma, I’ve felt some guilt for enjoying life so much with Lieve, I’ve felt guilt for not letting go and putting more of myself into my life with Lieve, I’ve felt guilt for not “doing more” for Emma. This is not me. I’ve never really believed in feeling guilty, “accept and move on” has always been my creed.
I’m sure I’ll be overwhelmed by sadness a few more times this weekend, and there’s no reason to expect it to stop. Grief has no calendar. Emma was a huge part of my life, in time, in emotional attachment, in significant events. We didn’t break up. We loved each other more and more and then it was over, the film ran off the reel, white screen.


This will indeed mark the end of regular posting here. I have a life, and a wife who has been exceptionally understanding of my absent mind. There is no question that I loved Emma, and unlike a divorce, there is no reason to stop loving her. Except that she’s not here, and isn’t coming back. I could never forget Emma, but I can live a normal life, and share the love within me with someone who is here and can appreciate it.


I’ll stop by and post updates on the book’s availability, but there’s nothing left to say about Blake and Emma, she found peace, and now so should I.



What have I done since then?



Well, if you’ve been reading this blog, you know. I married again far too soon, and re-learned something Emma had told me; I am hard to Love. In the last ten years I have had four meaningful relationships, the first three echoed those words. Each woman looked me in the eyes and said those words. I expect Janice will someday as well, she’s in touch with her feelings more than most; she’s also a great deal more honest. I accept my complexities, I wouldn’t want to only see one point of view at a time. I could never be “normal.”

I spent a fair amount of time in Belgium, which led to gaining forty pounds. Later, I visited Mazzo’s, the Lebanese restaurant where Emma was one of the family. Mama kept saying “If Emma could see you! You look so healthy!” I learned a new language (Flemish) and was ever so close to emigrating, then at the very last minute had a change of circumstances.

I’ve moved from South Philly. I still drive by our old place whenever I’m in the area. I still go to Termini Brothers occasionally, and find other reasons to be in South Philly. The first few months, while I was still working, I found myself in and around the hospital far too often. First I went to Princeton, where I found the need for a driver’s license, then eventually to Elkins Park Pennsylvania, where I bought a condominium.

I’ve had my own medical issues, the ankle I twisted before Emma’s surgery persisted in getting twisted for at least two years, and halfway through the decade I broke my brain in a fall. That was spectacular. I wrote about it with the details, if you know me you know the intense detail with which I remember crises. The dispassionate way I write about tragedy did not originate with Emma. She hadn’t liked my fiction, but I hope she enjoyed the book I wrote about her.

Our cat, Autumn, has become an old lady. I believe she is fifteen or sixteen years old now, last year she beat cancer; which was traumatic for me more than her I think. Now she has a playmate, Janice’s cat Flash, who is only three and wants to play. Autumn has maintained her dignity; when she wants she and Flash will chase each other, when she doesn’t want to play she gives Flash a look and he backs down. Very little hissing or fighting.

I had a psychotic break last fall and loved it almost as much as I loved going to jail. Really, it was incredibly instructional. Who would have thought a mental hospital could be so calming. I learned a lot about myself, and how my brain does and doesn’t work. I realized I was still grieving Emma. Nine years on and I had not found balance; I was just pretending.

I no longer work. In the months following Emma’s death I developed the idea that if I couldn’t fix pancreatic cancer I couldn’t fix anything. Confidence is eighty percent of a technician’s skill, so I retired. Ended up needing income a few years later and worked at Amazon, then L’Oreal, then I broke my brain and have been on disability ever since.

I don’t know if I would have been a writer had Emma survived. I did collect a journal of her cancer, but I don’t think I would have been moved to have it published had she survived. I’m pretty sure I would not get much screen time, we always found better things to do. When I started this blog in 2013 I was writing no less than a thousand words a day, seven days a week. Now sometimes I miss an entire month.

I wonder what she would think about the President. I’m sure she would have voted for him, but she voted for Obama and hated him six months later. Emma told a story about running into Donald Trump and Michael Jackson in a hotel in Atlantic City. Michael said “Don’t you want my autograph?” and Emma replied “No, I want his (indicating Trump).”

Emma teased me about my sexuality, sometimes using it to start an argument, sometimes using it to turn herself on. That portion of my life has become far more open than it had been, with unexpected repercussions and benefits.

I did finally figure out which band was playing on her last night, it was The Roots, performing on the Benjamin Franklin Parkway. I’ve met some of the members of the band who also play with David Uosikkinen of The Hooters, who also played with Buddy Cash, who played at a restaurant called Tom and Jerry’s where Emma used to work. Everything intersects, is it any surprise I wander through multiple universes?

At some point late next year she will have been gone longer than we were together. Probably around Nouveau day, the day we met. I have no expectations of “healing,” the scars will last forever. The memories are softer now, I know she could be harsh but I can’t remember her being harsh. Emma and I are at peace, happy for each other. The vision I remember best is her lips in an “O” when she was excited.

My latest relationship has all the indications of being my last, Janice is a forever person. It is a good time in life to gather the wisdom of all the lives I’ve led over the last sixty one years and create something solid. The mother of Janice’s late husband lives with us, as does his brother. Janice’s daughter sometimes spends the evening, so we’re about at capacity. It feels warm.

I think of her every day. Part of that is because her shrine has traveled every step of my journey at my side. Sometimes I need to look at something, sometimes I need to touch it. Every now and then something will suddenly appear, a card or something she wrote will be in a stack of papers. Those are weird. I still look at Emma’s personal ad, through which we met.

Emma’s personal ad




I’m in a healthy relationship. I’m building a family. I’m surviving. That’s what she asked me to do. But sometimes I feel like the character “Griffin” in the film MIB3. Seeing everything and everywhere at once, knowing possible outcomes but having no control of his path. Then I remember I had a TBI and a psychotic break, so maybe I’m just crazy. Doesn’t bother me a bit.

But 4 July stopped being celebratory ten years ago, so I’m posting this today, it will be ten years tomorrow at 0600 EST, I’ll be awake.

Isolation

This thought occurred a few weeks ago, and has been coming up quite a bit lately due to COVID19. Everyone dies alone.

In the bright light of reality, this has always been true; in order to let go of life one lets go of the world. Surrounded by friends and family, in that last moment, we are alone. With quarantines and social distancing, we are no longer surrounded by friends and families. That time between letting go and changing dimensions is not greeted with a heart satisfied by the warmth of family. A cold empty hospital room is the last recorded memory of thousands, now tens of thousands, of lives.

Funerals, once a family retreat during a time of grief, are a thing of the past. Social distancing becomes of obvious need when you are burying a person who contracted COVID19 at a family funeral. Fears of enormous numbers of dead have played across everyone’s paranoia, from Soylent Green through Ωmega Man. The idea of riffing Charlton Heston films could fill a weekend, in the new parlance; tomorrow. When loved ones disappear into the medical complex fear of what will eventually happen is simply an extension of fear of the unknown.

What we may not have considered is that even though COVID19 is now the highest daily cause of death, total deaths, (you know, all those people who die in the darkness everyday), has doubled. We haven’t reached plague status, with carts collecting the dead. A stressed sytem (Mortuaries) gives up and just tosses bodies into mass graves? Unlikely, although there will be some changes to society that last longer than our memories of 9/11.

The suggestion that shaking hands will go the way of smoking cigarettes has already been suggested, and I suspect other casual contact will diminish as well. After generations of substituting television for parenting, many are willing and even desirous of substituting virtual contacts for real contacts. Many do it already. There is no crystal ball, but the possible changes could go anywhere, and being on quarantine we have plenty of time to travel those roads. I think of how the nation “came together” during previous disasters, how it fell apart just as quickly, yet some things remain. This time we come together by staying apart.

It is getting close to the tenth anniversary of Emma’s parting, and with all that unoccupied mind I have been thinking of her very much. In addition there have been other anniversaries in the household, the very concept of “time” has been turned inside out, causality is taking a beating, but coincidence implies uniqueness. Coincidence is common, we are far more connected than we allow ourselves to consider. Our societal evolution is moving in a different direction, less actual interaction, a redefinition of “actual.”

I doubt anyone will have the opportunity I had, to stay with Emma until I was the only one there, until she said “I can’t fight anymore,” letting go the world, so she could drop the weight of life. At least not for a while, quarantine will end eventually; but will staying with the dying come back into custom?

I think of my life only last year, parties with no prohibitions, and wonder what happened to those people? They were the type to party in defiance of quarantine, an odd paradox of probable viruses to contract. Will that level of closeness become natural again? Maybe not to me, but I’m certain it will for others. The world is changing in many ways, ways we do not consider, ways we might not notice until their consequences are upon us.

I was in a television show; Janice and I were hired as extras for a scene in the program “Dispatches from Elsewhere” on the AMC network. It was long before the show premiered, we had no idea if we would be interested in the final product. As it turns out, we may be the only ones who are interested. This will definitely be remembered in history as a “quirky” series, and it is still unfolding. I am fascinated by the reflection of the “real” world; the viewers I have interacted with may as well be unknowing actors with the show being a camera of their own life; equally unaware.

I found amazing, of many things, the “extra” effect, recognizing you really are just a face in the crowd. We were paid for ten hours, fed lunch, and in some cases made useful contacts. From all those hours on set, the rehearsals and filming, our scene takes about two minutes of varying points of view. If you take from that two minutes the moments when the camera was on our unique presence your heart has beaten twice. I believe we slowed it down to counting hundredths of a second in order to see any part of our bodies.

On film it looks even livelier, larger than the respectable crowd we shared the day with, and then it is pointed out to me. There. That edge of a flag? You’ll notice from the stripes it is a Philadelphia Pride flag. You were the only one present with such a flag. There. Those fingers holding the corner of the flag? Those are your fingers. That is the part for which you were paid ten hours of standard wages. And there are hundreds of thousands of fingers in the picture, each belonging to someone who thought they were the center of the universe at that moment.

Our perception of isolation is tied to our self image. I live in fairly large condominium, on an upper floor, surrounded by trees. This is how I choose to live. I do not feel isolated. Anne Frank lived in a dank back room in Amsterdam half of this size with three times as many people for two years. Times might get hard, but that is how we know when things are better; this is one crazy ride. Washed into numbness by the persistence of inquisitiveness, many seek details that hide the overwhelming beauty of the moment.  We forget that in the end Anne Frank died of Typhus in Bergen-Belsen.

When we die, we live on through the memories we have provided to others. Maya Angelou said “I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” In my lifetime, I have watched as recordings progressed from pencils on paper through electrons arranged in patterns. Monuments to life have withered, most lives archived as a box of dust. All that will remain will be ethereal, and our physical isolation will result in memories of patterns of electrons, any evidence of twenty first century life will evaporate in an electromagnetic pulse.

It took the Taliban to destroy monuments that had lasted fifteen hundred years, Buddhism didn’t care. There is more to Buddha than his physical image. As our lives vanish from tomorrow’s history, we will continue to exist. In a dimension with different properties branched from a dimension with entirely different properties, three or four times, we exist.

In the ways we made each other feel.







Splendid Isolation

As we isolate due to COVID19, various comments about the level of isolation we experience have been making the rounds. One in particular was a measurement of levels, one being “I haven’t changed anything,” to five being “total lock down.” My personal response was that I am at level four, or level one; I don’t go out much to start with.

The reactions to isolation are largely based on our pre isolation lives. The twenty four hour party people can’t go very long without an audience. Those of us who prefer to be left alone are in a state of bliss.

One irony of quarantine is that I now have to go to the grocery store. I used to have groceries delivered, but when everyone suddenly tried to have their groceries delivered the system was overwhelmed; I could not schedule a delivery. Ordering groceries for pick up is suddenly frustrating, shortages cause items to be out of stock by the time I complete the order. I leave home with several pairs of latex gloves and a container of Clorox wipes. I put on a pair before I leave the car and wipe the surfaces of carts and other devices (such as the self checkout). Then I remove that pair of gloves before entering the car, and drive to another store which might have items the first did not. Re-glove, repeat. Full shower and change of clothes after coming home. The stores are relatively empty, so distancing isn’t a problem.

At home we’re listening to more music, the television is fairly depressing with its reports of COVID19 prevalence, one thousand dead here, two thousand dead there, a party in New York State, nearby states rejecting New Yorkers. Individual responses have run the gamut, and stupid people are just not entertaining. We spent the early days of the quarantine watching films about pandemics.

One wonderful and/or awful thing about America is its spirit of independence and do it yourself attitude. It is wonderful to see people finding solutions , it is awful seeing people spread bad information. Among those spreading bad information is our president, who has contradicted doctors in favor of the economy. We don’t end quarantine on a financial calendar, we end it on a medical calendar. This is going to hurt. It is going to hurt everyone. We do better by exercising compassion for those without choices.

I see this pandemic, and the resulting quarantines, as a measure of our spirits. One does not quarantine oneself in order to avoid catching COVID19, one quarantines to avoid spreading COVID19. Incredibly self centered people violate quarantine to have parties, risking not only the lives in attendance, but the lives of everyone with whom they have contact.  I would like to believe this is evolution in progress, removing self centered people from the population. Those with compassion for others are far more likely to survive.

As with most events in America, suddenly everyone is an epidemiologist. This is a new virus, we cannot count on it behaving like other viruses. It is from the family of viruses that caused SARS and MERS, we already know that treatment for those viruses do not translate into treatments for this virus. The only weapons we have are the actual epidemiologists who are working directly with this virus. Have we not been using social media long enough to recognize false information? Again, perhaps an evolutionary moment, as we are freed of the burden of the gullible idiots among us.

Our “leaders” are showing their true stripes, in many cases to no surprise. Andrew Cuomo, governor of New York, displayed his self-centeredness when he took to the air complaining that his state, hit hard at the moment, could not have all the ventilators in existence. I would like to see his supply of toilet paper. The president has reverted to his childhood of bullying, allotting supplies to states with governors who are nice to him. Several voices have claimed that “old people” (the initial high risk group) would be willing to die to save their children. It doesn’t work like that, we are not bargaining with death. I would certainly trade my life to save one of my children from an eminent threat, so please don’t call me heartless when I say I would not roll the dice with a virus. We have learned that all ages are susceptible, yesterday an infant died of COVID19. There is no favored age range which we may sacrifice to save everyone else.

Ethics are being debated, as healthcare systems are stretched beyond capacity. This is why we quarantine, to avoid stressing our healthcare system. Triage is a basic element in healthcare, seeing the effects of triage is more than some people can handle. Every trip to the emergency room already undergoes triage, the guy in the car wreck gets treated before a doctor spends time on your broken toe. End of life triage is not a popular subject, but it has always been here. When resources are limited, so are responses. Italy had to deny ventilators to patients over sixty. We will do something similar here. We have fewer hospital beds per capita than Italy, to deny we will run out of hospital beds is foolish.

Recently in Philadelphia, the city requested the owner of an abandoned hospital (Hahnemann, closed a few months ago) to allow the city to use the space for overflow patients. The owner wanted a ridiculous amount for the privilege of using his worthless property.  The hospital stands empty. Some of us believe the owner will find a room in Hell.

The optimist within begs me to see all of this as a growth spurt, as humanity is reminded the value of being humane. Growth hurts, but in the end we are better developed. In the interim, we get to watch the evil we are trying to rid the world of take the spotlight.

We will come out of this better if we learn to cherish good rather than blame evil. Take this time of isolation to learn something, a new instrument or language, reflect on your values and relationships.

 

 

And most importantly, wash your hands.

 

 

 

 

How many Jews?

I am always amazed at those who fail to see the damage of the Holocaust. This was a major historical event that took place in some of our lifetimes, but the majority see it (rightly) as history. History, that boring class you could never see the point of.

In a survey taken in the United Kingdom, five percent denied it took place (illegal in many countries), while a slightly larger group feels its extent has been exaggerated. I found those numbers disappointing, until I read the next line “In the survey, 45% of those polled said they did not know how many people were killed in the Holocaust, while one in five (19%) believed fewer than two million Jews were murdered. The actual figure was six million.”

The actual number is close to twelve million. Six million were Jews, the others were just marginalized groups who have few mourners. Gay, Disabled, Unpopular were all reasons to be sent to what we now call “Death Camps.” Some of us view the Holocaust as enveloping World War Two, which included the deaths of seventy five million, about three percent of the world’s population. It should be no surprise that the 1918 Flu pandemic is hardly remembered, which “only” killed fifty million.

In the midst of a major culling of humanity, six million Jews were forgotten because they were a reminder of the twelve million humans the NAZIs killed in the shadow of the seventy five million who died in the war. They were not part of the seventy five million, they were in addition to the seventy five million.

Each one of those people was related to someone, although in many cases the relative was another of the six million. Some people only know that a branch of their family ended, others know stories of an individual. This was a large percentage of the entire Jewish demographic, which tends to be only two percent of the world population. Yeah, I was rather taken aback a few years ago when I found just how small the Jewish religion was; I always had thought is was around fifty/fifty Christians and Jews. Every Jew was touched in some way.

So no, the deaths of the relatives of what is now one hundred seventy six million people will not just go away. Sixty percent of the Jews in Europe, one third of all Jews in the world, and people forget? Even if it wasn’t taught, there are people who never heard about the losses of the Second World War?

I can understand isolation. Today, when a plane crashes, it is only on the news if Americans were on board. Malaysian Airlines Flight 370 would not have gained the public’s eye had not three Americans been among the two hundred fifty eight passengers. So when a religion you are not connected to is wiped out by people who you don’t care about, why would it stand out in your mind? The same is true today as small civilizations in South America are decimated by corporate interests.

One element about COVID19 has stood out to me. It is a disease the majority of people will not experience directly. Like the Holocaust it will predominantly be experienced indirectly. The precautions we take are not really for ourselves, even if you do contract the virus, the odds are on your side. The precautions we take are for others, who would be much more sick and possibly die if they contract the virus. This is the very core of the concept of “Public Health.”

Presented with a disease most people won’t be affected by, will they choose to vaccinate? In an average flu season, sixty thousand Americans die, yet only forty five percent of Americans get a flu shot. We all wear our seat belts and still thirty eight thousand Americans died in automobile accidents blast year. Will we take precautions for something we can not see? It would not be cynical to say “no,” it would be realistic.

All my life, I have been hearing about self sacrifice, giving of yourself to the benefit of others. I have not seen many examples. Perhaps due to the lack of examples, the public mood has moved to a “what’s in it for me” perspective. The nobility of self sacrifice is often denigrated. Issues lack importance until they are knocking on the door. COVID19 is tapping on the window. Bright glowing signs indicating we save ourselves by saving others go unnoticed.

In the end, those lost to COVID19 will never come close to the loss of Jewish lives in the Holocaust; but they may be remembered more. They will be people we know, our peers. Jews remained insulated after the Holocaust, the stories spread decades later as survivors influenced the world. I recall saying to my late wife, “You will be remembered.” She is, because I speak of her. All I needed was for someone to listen.

Six million human beings were killed because they followed a religion. That should be enough. The fact that six million more were killed because they were deemed to be “impure” should shake anyone who has ever doubted themselves. It does not make the Holocaust “random,” the people killed were killed because the state chose each of them, as individuals. The largest targeted group were Jews, would it be different if tomorrow the targeted group was Muslims? What if you lived in a country where your religion did not fit the majority? There are sects which call themselves “Christian” yet behave in abhorrent fashion, what if the state decided that Christians (in general) were a detriment to society?

Listen. Speak. Share the stories about what happens when a government is out of control. Share the stories about what happened to other people when no one cared about them.

Or be a super hero and just care about people different from you.

Cramming for finals

We live most of our lives feeling safe from the terrors of the world. If there were ever to be a problem, we would just roll with it and change the channel on television.

Life itself is the final examination. As I watch the panic around COVID19, I am amused by those not alarmed. COVID19 is a threat to old folks (like me) but younger people will experience nothing more than symptoms of a cold in most cases. This does not mean young people won’t be affected. Infrastructure is falling, all those work from home ideas that were too difficult to accommodate for disabled people are now being forced on all of us. Schools close not so much to protect the children attending, but to protect teachers and to inhibit the spread among children, almost all of whom have a parent or even a grandparent at home who would be at risk if they were exposed.

I watch the scroll of school closings on the bottom of the screen and wonder why they don’t just point out which schools are open. Every school in my county is closed, why list them individually? Philadelphia is resisting, even though many of their teachers are quarantined in Montgomery County; they claim the problem for students not receiving meals without daycare. Yes, you heard that right, The School District of Philadelphia has openly identified itself as “daycare.” Malls are closed, small businesses are closed, are these people being paid? Are we looking at a crises in thirty days when a large percentage of people cannot pay their monthly bills? As young people bemoan the weight of student loans, will the class of 2020 start off with bad credit? Some changes are going to have to take place, or an entire sector of the economy will fail.

I heard about my friend Sergey, he is lucid but unaware of the circumstances, very tired with another surgery scheduled for Monday. I can’t visit him, the hospital is closed to visitors. There are many ways to measure the impact of COVID19.

We are in crisis. Maybe the virus will not make you sick, maybe if it does it will be easy to survive, but the virus has affected you. Sports have simply been cancelled, and those contracts are being honored. All those people making less than forty thousand a year are not quite as comfortable. Those making twenty thousand are pretty much screwed. We’re talking about eighteen percent of wage earners. One in five people destitute. We thought we had a homeless problem before.

We are showing what is important to us. The same government which could not afford a healthcare for all bill because it was too expensive found one and a half trillion dollars to support the stock market. It worked for thirty minutes before dropping back to its fall. Thirty minutes. No point in crying over what could have been funded, just the knowledge that they can afford what they want to.

We are being tested. Put that in whatever frame of reference you want. The question of whether or not we as a species are graceful enough to vaccinate against diseases that are not likely to affect us directly was answered with what I consider a failing grade. Maybe COVID19 presents us with the question of “Do I care enough about other people to wash my hands and avoid contact?” The excuse of “It doesn’t affect me” has been re-framed. It affects all of us in one way or maybe many.

The callous declarations of youth should not be discarded, nor taken at face value. They are, after all not fully developed, and by that I mean to develop sensitivity to others, it helps to have a brain that is fully developed. In humans that happens around the twenty fifth year. They are a generation that has never fought for anything, that has no concept of struggle. Protesting for Marriage Equality may have been the most effort these people ever put into an issue, but I don’t recall any front line casualties in that fight. Life and Death have different meanings to people who have experienced them first hand.

The loss of one million Americans is a big deal. Anyone who acts like it is not should be quarantined from humanity. Diseases we normally feel take too many lives, take fewer than the projected mortality of COVID19. For perspective, only about three million people die in an average year. That is of all causes. The top two, Cancer and Heart disease, kill about one million people every year combined. An easy way of envisioning the factor of risk was posted by a friend the other day:

I keep seeing people, especially younger ones, say “most people that get it are fine, I’m not worried” or some variation of that. I get that we like to feel invincible. However, we’re not. There’s a reason for all this preparation, cancellation, so called “panic”.

To make the consequences of this virus more clear, I came up with an analogy in the form of a game. I’ve done my very best to base this game wholly on probable statistics as released by the WHO and CDC.

To start this game, we have to assume that you have contacted coronavirus.

Now, grab a two deck of cards. Remove the ace of spades from one deck and both aces of clubs. This leaves 101 cards. Each card is approximately equal to 1%.

You must draw one card.

If you are under 50 and healthy, if you draw the remaining Ace of spades, you must flip a coin. Heads you live, tails you die.

If you are under 50 and have heart disease, asthma, diabetes, cancer, or respiratory disease draw one card. If you draw any of the 8 kings, you’re likely dead.

If you’re 50 to 70 years old and healthy, draw one card. If it is any of the five aces you’re likely dead.

One last group, though there are others. If you are over 70 and have any of the conditions listed earlier, draw one card. If that card is ANY Spade or ANY Club, you’re likely dead.

Here’s the worst part. Statistically, if you had to draw a card because you have coronavirus, you have to make 2 or 3 more people draw.

My mother is 75 and has asthma. My grandfather is 99. Hell, I’m 56 and am a smoker (about to try to quit) and just had major dental work.

You may survive the game, but tell me, which of your loved ones are you willing to make play?

I pretty much quit gambling in the nineties, I bet on a horse race in Australia that was being broadcast, my horse had a good twenty yard lead coming into the stretch. Feeling victorious, the jockey stood in the saddle, then promptly fell off the horse. That’s why the horse was fifteen to one, the horse was good but the jockey wasn’t.

We can look at this as a two week vacation in the wilderness, if we can afford two weeks with no incomeWe can look at this as a “hoax,” an overblown non-event, if we are at low risk. We can look at this as a dangerous pandemic which will touch each of us in some way, if we are compassionate about the losses of others. We can look at this as Death chasing us again, if we are at high risk. We all have one thing in common.

We have no choice, we have to look at this.


 

Catering to illegal activities

 

I am so very pissed off right now. It appears everyone received a Medicinae Doctor in the mail, and mine never arrived.

Sure, I know the basic stuff, but the ability to diagnose without examination has been denied to me. I’m still maintaining my vaccinations and taking prescription medicine while the truly healthy folks are burning candles with the scent of Gwyneth Paltrow’s vagina. Medicare doesn’t cover them.

Store shelves are vacant of supplies for washing hands. Good thing I developed the habit as a child, and always have soap and water on hand.

I had my routine checkup the other day and my doctor asked if I had any questions about the corona virus. My doctor, a man who knows everything about me, asked if I had any questions; I was a bit put off. “You know I only drink Belgian beers” I replied.

He had another patient, about my age, who chose never to have a flu shot. The patient was rather proud he never had contracted the flu. During his checkup he had a number of questions about the corona virus. The doctor had asked him “What if I told you there is a virus that came to America which has already killed twenty two thousand people, and I have a vaccine for it?” The patient was surprised, “You have a vaccine for corona virus? I thought that was years away.” The doctor said “No, corona virus has only killed twenty Americans, I have a vaccine for the deadly virus, also known as a flu shot.” The patient was not amused in any way, and refused the vaccination.

My girlfriend belongs to a “menopause discussion group,” in which women discuss their issues with the progression of menopause. People who describe symptoms which fit textbook profiles of a malady, are told to try peppermint oil rather than seeing a physician. One thing I remember from my neurologist when I was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis is that I should not automatically blame any problem on MS. I can still get cancer or tear a muscle.

When Emma had cancer, the well meaning M.D.s out there gave her a variety of alternative therapies to explore. As apposed to hospitals as she was, she embarked on a path of radiation and chemotherapy, followed by surgery, then more radiation and chemotherapy. To their credit, no one said “you should have consumed more asparagus juice” after she died, but one friend said “so she went through all that for nothing?” No, those therapies gave her an additional eight months, no one lives forever.

Recently Philadelphia has danced around the idea of “safe injection sites” for heroin addicts. It is amazing how much local residents understand about addiction. The first, and most common complaint is that by providing safe injection sites, the city is catering to illegal activities (the hardest criticism came from people who need opioids for their condition and are affected by DEA recommendations to reduce dosages; when I was looking into employment at DEA an M.D. was not required) . The missed point is that by using the word “addict,” we are not talking about recreational use. We are talking about people who fit the American Medical Association (AMA) definition of “diseased.” Heroin addiction is no different than Cancer, it is a disease.

Other arguments were about the center being near a school (find a place in Philly that isn’t). They did not seem to grasp that a safe injection site would result in fewer needles on the sidewalk, they would be used and destroyed at the site. As far as “catering” goes, it would very likely be the only exposure addicts would have to actual health professionals, folks who gained their knowledge through schooling as opposed to the grapevine. These professionals would be guiding the addicts towards treatment to end the addiction, and would notice signs of other diseases common to intravenous drug users. For some reason those against preferred dead junkies in the playground.

A theoretical rise in street crime was presented by these criminologists. In fact, the increased police presence around such a center would make the neighborhood safer. Drug dealers would be likely to stay a bit farther away. The natural surveillance of officers seeing who came and went would provide intel for apprehending criminals, with or without a formal surveillance program.

The center withdrew, to the neighborhood’s relief. There are no plans for another site, building in an area where addiction is rampant poses problems for the safety of staff and supplies. If only the folks in South Philly could recognize how rampant heroin abuse is in their own neighborhood already. The center would have prevented it from becoming more like the Kensington area.

I will be wearing gloves when I attend a rally in Harrisburg next month. I’m pretty sure that will be more effective than eucalyptus oil, but smearing myself with garlic would probably work. It’s natural acidity is a proven antibiotic, and folks stay a bit farther away.

Since even the president knows more than the medical profession, I can’t quite figure out why I pay, from my Social Security check, for Medicare. The incessant chant from the masses is “We know Better than Doctors, they’re trying to kill us.” Why are both my taxes and my bank account funding medical services? I have a hunch there might be something behind this “medicine” stuff, something they’re not telling us. They do go to special schools for this nonsense, it sounds like a conspiracy.

It is a conspiracy. Total strangers meet at a special schools, and take oaths in a foreign language, “Primum non nocere.” If people could just figure out what that means, they could stop suggesting fruit diets to those with cancer.

Binary society

 

I gave some thought to this title. I considered “Digital society,” but that does not really convey the meaning I’m looking for. We have moved to a digital society from an analog society in the sense that nuances are seldom considered, things either pass or fail the judgements that are placed on them; but the pass/fail barrier is reached through a binary process, components can only be a single digital response, one or zero. When I say binary I am not talking about the code, in which 1/2/3 is expressed as 1/10/11, I am speaking of the digital logic of yes or no.

If you are X then you are Y. Not a little X and not much Y, once X turns from zero to one, Y equals one.

If you are a Republican you are racist, greedy, selfish, uncaring (sometimes reduced to hateful), and hypocritical. Not one or a few of those, all of those. If you are a Democrat you are pro-choice, socialist (sometimes reduced to communist), bleeding heart, hedonist.

The point you might have missed in that paragraph is the very basis of the decision is rooted in the assumption there are only two choices. (Hidden shocker, THIS is why we will never have a viable “third party.”)

Humans, and Americans in particular, have difficulty considering alternatives; life becomes one all or nothing decision after another. As one of the most basic insights into the phenomena, consider the average number of limbs on a human.

You thought “four,” with the logic people are people, I’m average, I have four limbs. The actual number is 3.97. As your brain tries to consider the specifics about that 0.97 limb, you are distracted by the equations for the various combinations of limbs possible. That took a little more time than just stating “four,” efficiency is antithesis to creativity. That may sound ironic, as part of my tours for a winery, I would compare efficiency to “lazy,” the easiest way to accomplish one’s goals. When a life goal is taking a selfie, efficiency is lacking in merit.

The origin of my thoughts today was an exchange on social media between a reader and a journalist whose career mirrored newspapers. In the reader’s defenses to her blatant radical sexism, she stated “Women are an enormous majority, I don’t understand how anyone can be anti-woman.” Now let me list the order in which the errors in that statement affected me.

First, I know that percentage is close to fifty (the actual number is 50.8). Second, I realized if there were more than two possibilities, 50.8 percent could be interpreted as “enormous.” Third, I realized mentioning that there are more than two possibilities would derail the conversation, the subject would become sexuality. Fourth, is anyone actually “anti-woman”? This sequence took less than one second.

I’m pretty sure, even with every possible variation, 50.8 percent can not be judged as enormous. Transgender people and various genetic deformations may create dozens of possible demographics. Sure, there are far more “women” than “intersex” people, but the default position is there are two possibilities, a trans woman is a woman, a trans man is a man. This of course blossomed into sexual orientations, and all the infinite ways we restrict a spectrum to a binary issue.

I grew up monogamous. As far as I knew, the alternative was toxic, destructive to participant’s souls. In being a faithful husband, I was betrayed. For revenge I betrayed my next wife. Neither time did I feel clean, I felt degraded, objectified. My third wife was perfect, life was perfect, then she died and I knew perfection existed, and was not restricted; I could love again. Somewhere a group of women gathered under the old moon to take their turns building me up and then cutting me off at the knees. Then I met a woman who was polyamorous.

Two old straight folk on the streets of NYC


Polyamory was a third choice, not binary. It helped me in seeing how many choices there are out there. I had always been bisexual, and I met the most incredible bisexual polyamorous woman in the world. The fact that when we went out, we looked like a straight couple was not lost on us. We were both bisexual and understood things are not always as they appear. So now we live in very cozily in a relationship that appears to be “monogamous” and “straight”. That’s not three choices, that’s like twenty seven.

American society only supports two choices. Give them three and you will be denigrated, give them twenty seven and you can be excommunicated.

Deep inside I believe Homo Sapiens is in the process of evolution. In the same sense I can separate the Old Testament God and the New Testament Jesus, I can separate the Binary human from the Spectral Human. Often the trait is not acknowledged, it may not effect the involved individual in any way they notice. One easy way to see from the outside is to observe their beliefs. How many positions are black and white, and how many are grey? If you are a spectral, you will be able to see where on the spectrum they are, depending of course where on the spectrum you are.

I rejected much of this thinking in my youth, feeling comfort in black and white. I didn’t have to think, leaving my mind clear for other pursuits. The efficiency of the growth process later yielded to a comfort in multiple dimensions, up/down, left/right, forward/backward, color, volume, tone, and infinite measurements.

I am not suggesting that anyone try to change who they are. It does not work, as evidenced by hundreds of “conversion therapy” clinics. You can stretch your mind no further than it is capable, there may only be four lights, you see what you see.

 

There are certainly more than two


The question might be, “What color are they?”

 

The Fairness of Life

Dr. Sergey Ryabichko, Helena Demkina and myself at Havana in New Hope



I haven’t written in about a week, my depression has been kicking in due to some triggers I have chosen to embrace. I started a few articles and may finish them, but something just hasn’t been right.

This morning, I woke up early to take Janice for an MRI. There was a message on my phone from a friend, who acts as a medium between me and my last girlfriend, Sam. I had only thought I was depressed.

My dear friends, Helena Demkina and her husband Dr. Sergey Ryabichko had been in an automobile accident. Helena had died from massive head injuries, Sergey was still in surgery.

The wedding Party, from left; Blake Cash, Samantha Carroll, Helena Denkino, Sergey Ryabichko, Yuri, and Amina



Right after my brain injury, Sergey and Helena had come to live with me. I had a large home and rented a room to them as Sergey completed his doctorate at Princeton University as a geneticist. They had arranged to rent the room while they were still in Russia, they arrived late in the evening straight from the airport. I had been renting out an extra room for a while, after the brain injury I needed to rent another room, which Sam and I prepared. I painted the walls with a disfigured arm; I know I did it, I have broken memories of it, I just can’t figure out how I did it without the use of my right arm.

They were a lovely young couple, after a few weeks they admitted they were not married. It was about that time I got Helena’s name right, with her accent I had thought it was “Eliana.” They were both slight of build, and very gentle in their ways. Sam and I fell in love with them, they were angelic, always smiling, their love for each other brightening the room. Part of my injury had been my loss of fluency in language, although I was still writing articles in English I don’t recall how I managed to complete them. Sam has told me I spent a week or so immediately following my accident speaking Flemish exclusively, now I struggle with all languages and am not entirely confident with English. I had asked my brain surgeon what I could expect to come back to me, and how to improve my chances. She told me to practice speaking with natives, and I had no idea how I would ever find natives with whom to practice. In that first year I had one tenant from Iran who spoke Farsi, two from France, Sergey and Helena, a Japanese and a Korean. I didn’t speak Japanese or Korean, but I wasn’t sure. It was a lovely time of remembering who I was.  

 

Gifts from Russia


Sam was familiar with a couple of Russian grocery stores in Philadelphia to which we brought Helena. She was excited from the moment we pulled into the parking lot and she saw the Cyrillic writing on the store. She would put her wrists together and clap her hands, laughing with joy. We came home with everything she was missing from home, and quite a few of mine and Sam’s favorites. They took a trip home at one point and returned with some incredible wheat vodka, or paint remover, it was hard to tell; it was one hundered and eighty proof I believe.

Sergey was working intense hours at the laboratory, often traveling when there was no public transportation; walking the mile and a half through the snow. The timing of his cultures was precise; he was immensely dedicated, making sure he was there for each process. Helena took an English course during the days, and would sleep on a schedule to match Sergey.

When the officiant finished, a nervous and wide eyed Helena said “Can we kiss now?”



In the Summer, they were married in my yard. Sam and I found an officiant and two of their Russian friends came for the ceremony. At the end of their lease they went home to Russia, then returned to Princeton a few months later to complete Sergey’s studies. They rented in another home, but still kept in touch and dropped by a couple of times. We would pick them up and take them to dinner and other events; one time we met one of Sam’s other boyfriends in New Hope, they made no judgements.

 

My original caption in 2016, “A glimpse of the sparkle that makes Helena so wonderful to live with”


Helena spoke about how Sergey had taught her to drive in Russia, but she wasn’t very interested in driving in the States. The last time I saw them they had purchased a car and had Driver’s licenses in New Jersey. Those thoughts swirl in my head now, wondering what happened. I have managed to survive about every type of wreck imaginable in my life, the thoughts of Helena’s last moments brings tears to my eyes. I don’t think I ever saw her express so much as discomfort, I can’t picture her in an accident. She had some severe stomach issues when she lived with us, the only way we knew was that Sergey told us, and we took her to the hospital, still smiling.

 

Our last meal together, celebrating Sergey’s doctorate and National Tequila day


The last I heard from them they had returned from another trip home to Russia, and even though we hadn’t spoken in almost a year they had a gift for me, a mink ushanka, from the Soviet era.





I invited them to join Janice and me at Havana in New Hope last summer; my friends had put together an Electric Light Orchestra tribute show; but at the last minute they called to say they couldn’t make it.

The first thing Janice said to me this morning, as she noticed I was reacting with sadness, was “Life isn’t fair.” Life is infinitely fair, fractally fair, as you break it down it is made of units of fairness. The ups and downs of life choose us all with equal fairness, sorry for going Biblical but Matthew 5:45 says it all. “That ye may be the children of your Father which is in heaven: for he maketh his sun to rise on the evil and on the good, and sendeth rain on the just and on the unjust.” I know these things, but when I say “It can happen to anybody” I never think that my friends and loved ones are “anybody,” I am “anybody.”

Helena in New Hope, “That’s the most gigantic salad I’ve ever seen!”



I have lost friends and loved ones before, for some reason I find myself crying as I write. I have only felt this way once before, as I wrote of Emma’s life.

A friend said to me “May her memory forever be a blessing,” those words have never felt so meaningful. I am forever blessed with her memory, the world isn’t quite as bright without her. I’ve been searching for information about Sergey’s condition, when I have it I will add it here.

I have news on Sergey, it’s been a week since the accident, and he’s conscious and lucid. He has not asked about Helena, and they’re waiting until he is a little more stable to tell him. I’m planning to visit him in the hospital next week. UPDATE Due to COV19, the hospital will be closed to visitors as of tomorrow (13/3/20) so I will not be able to see Sergey until the mass quarantine has been lifted.

Additional update. Sergey sent a message to me on 30 March. He sounded in good spirits, and was aware of Helena’s fate. He had good news, her organs saved seven lives. Now we have to get through quarantine.

Update 26 May 2020: Sergey is home, says he still has surgeries ahead but they are elective, which I take means cosmetic. He is COVID19 positive, but has no symptoms.

Standards

 

Dutch political poster. “Believe no poster. Inform Yourself”

 

 

I have been presented with a number of issues relating to the welfare of others. Universally I can see how American citizens are better off than most other populations. We have one right, secured from our government in its first documents. We have the right to complain.

Free speech does not imply educated speech, which in many ways is the point of our first amendment to the constitution. There are no standards, anyone can speak. It is our individual responsibility to discern truth from opinion. It remains our responsibility to determine the value of various opinions. For the most part, humans lean towards the definition of the borderline personality (severe leanings result in the label of “Borderline Personality Disorder”); thinking in a “digital” manner, black or white, good or bad, etc. Another faction of people understand that there is a grey area, yet that often leads them to believe that only three positions exist, black, white, and grey.

In my days as a photographer, I preferred studies of grey. Colors are often disputed, what I call purple you may call pink, yet the color of the object doesn’t change. The cones in your eye may produce a different sensation than mine, but the actual color remains the same regardless of the name we give to it. It does not have to be a matter of perception, we may have learned the names of colors from different teachers. Grey is not quite as easy. Grey is standardized, named by its reflection of light. Eighteen percent grey is referred to as “medium grey,” it is a photographic standard. It may be the shade that comes to mind when you hear the word “grey,” or anything that is neither black nor white.

A grey scale, drawn with pencils by my friend Vince Natale

 

Colors, including grey, give us visual standards. Words are radically different. Combinations of words are far more complex than combining colors, yet the same style of logic, “Black or White,” is applied. Good or Bad, Right or Wrong, Love or Hate, are all things we recognize as opposites, but should also recognize as spectra. Adding to the confusion is the popularity of creating new words, or new definitions of old words, the exact same script can mean different things to different people. The fact that a sense of humor is subjective causes even more confusion.

What is a joke? Is it funny (and again to whom?), is it satire (with what intention?), is it merely camouflage for hatred? Far too many times I have heard what I interpreted as an attack excused as “I was only joking.” I just can not find demeaning other human beings as anything resembling a joke. For my black and white contribution, forgiving hatred as a joke is merely expressing the same hatred yourself.

Our world is not black or white. There is good within bad things and bad within good. Much of the interpretation revolves around who is benefiting, and who is being persecuted. The love of my life was connected to the Mafia. She did not see the Mafia as “good guys,” but she did see them as acceptable. She began to see the level of conflict when one of our dear friends, a Lebanese woman who filled a maternal role in our lives, suggested that Hezbollah was a good organization, “just like the Mafia, helping out poor people.” Emma could see the parallels being drawn, she heard her own excuses for “her people” being used by our friend for her people. Emma was a very black or white thinker, she cut most of her ties to the Mafia. When the issue came up at family gatherings she would not participate.

In my experiences in the LGBTQ world, I am a Bisexual. the word “bisexual” gives the immediate impression of the root “bi,” or “two.” These days, such a definition is seen as restrictive, offensive to those not covered by the historic definitions of sex. These people (Pansexuals) believe that because they do not feel restricted to only two sexes, people who are bisexual are separate, lesser for their restrictions. Before I go any further, let me explain how wrong the belief is. The history of the LGBTQ population did not start in 1979, but that is when it became more acceptable to speak about it. By 1990, the presence of those of us who are not strictly attracted to one sex was recognized. The world is not populated by people who are heterosexual and homosexual, the spectrum includes many variations. Some homosexuals are only attracted to members of their own sex, some are not. The term “bisexual” was adopted by these outsiders and expressed in The Bisexual Manifesto. Within that document, is the conclusion “Nothing should be assumed about anyone’s sexuality.” The Pansexuals have made assumptions. Also within that document of thirty years ago is “Bisexuality is a whole, fluid identity. . . don’t assume that there are only two genders.” Personally, I prefer the label “Queer;” everyone can understand that word means “different.” To me, the issue of bisexuality v pansexuality is an extension of every other prejudice; assuming another group is inferior. There is no difference between these two groups, other than the egos involved.

When we look at immigrants, almost everyone imposes their own prejudices. Mine is fairly simple and straightforward, derived largely from my own sponsorship of an alien. She didn’t like the word “alien,” saying it wasn’t used in other countries. She had learned English in England, where “buitenaards” was translated to her as “Foreigner.” Other dictionaries translate it to the word “alien.” She was a white person from Northern Europe, her naturalization did not take long.  At her swearing in ceremony there were new Americans from all over the globe, one had been in America for thirty years; that does not mean she had waited thirty years to get through immigration. I had a German roommate at one time who had been in America for thirty years and had no desire to become an American.

I see a legal path to citizenship, and people not willing to undergo the process. Failing to follow the legal path is illegal, therefore those people are illegal immigrants. There are many sad stories told about illegal immigrants, some of them are true. Many of the people attempting to immigrate are well educated, the majority is not. Facing the hurdle of the Department of Homeland Security (which now handles Immigration) can be difficult for someone who cannot write in their own language. There are thousands of reasons people choose to illegally immigrate, but it is still a choice, a decision. So I do not have immediate sympathy for people unwilling to follow the legal path. Does that make me “bad,” or “heartless”? I am somewhere on the spectrum, and probably the worst judge of my self.

As we progress through this election cycle, you will hear many judgements. Consider that an exceptionally small percentage of the people making these judgements are qualified in any way to do so. Is the person saying that Biden is senile a doctor? Is the person saying that Sanders is crazy a psychiatrist? The list is endless. As the Dutch political poster above says, believe no poster, inform yourself. Use your standards, not someone else’s description of their standards. Their grey may be your purple.

 

 

 

Proper sentencing

Justice delayed is justice denied, but what exactly is justice?

Our judgemental society demands justice on a regular basis, largely because most people do not feel that justice has occurred. In addition, they do not truly wish for justice, they want revenge. It helps to understand the meaning of the word “Justice.”

Our old friend Merriam Webster defines justice as “the maintenance or administration of what is just especially by the impartial adjustment of conflicting claims or the assignment of merited rewards or punishments.” Simply put, justice is a process, not a result. People crying for justice most often want punishment, and most of the time they want a punishment which they define as “just.”

Donald Trump received justice in the form of an impeachment. He was found not guilty by a jury of his friends, which may not appear “just.” Had he been found guilty, there are many punishments which do not include being removed from office, and require that the defendant possess a conscience, one that includes the quality of shame. In truth, had he been found guilty and not removed from office, how many would feel that “justice had been served”? How many would be satisfied if he was censured?

Punishment largely depends on the person being punished. My partner tells the story of the worst punishment she ever delivered to her five year old daughter. She made her place her life size Barbie in the “time out” corner. Her daughter was horrified and behaved well for the following ten years. At one point I was incarcerated, and faced what could have been a substantial portion of my life behind bars. Perhaps because I am an optimist, I was not horrified by the prospect. I intended to write in my solitude, perhaps drawing inspirations from my fellow inmates. A suicidal person may not be deterred by a death sentence. At what point is the punishment of a life sentence recognized by the prisoner? On the first or last moment?

Life in prison is largely thought to be the most severe punishment. People tend to look at prison as an awful environment, a daily punishment. Many prisoners do not share that view. In my short time behind bars I saw the new prisoners arrive every day, and it was more like a reunion. Recidivism was the norm, everyone knew each other. This was not always a good thing, my cellmate recognized someone who had threatened him with violence previously.

Length of sentence is a factor, not because of the days inside, but because of the world outside. The common prisoner is not well educated or skilled, on release they may not be able to qualify for employment in a world that passed them by. They may not be able to function with the level of technology we take for granted. They may have lost loved ones, who continued their lives and became involved in other relationships; or children who aged, denying the prisoner their childhood. In determining length of sentence, much more should be considered than just the crime. A twenty year old sentenced to thirty years has had their life removed. A seventy year old sentenced to ten years may have well been sentenced to life. A life sentence does not necessarily mean death in prison.

The proper sentence for someone who has caused a death is often believed to be the death penalty. This is more “eye for an eye” than practical punishment. Those against the death sentence suggest life imprisonment, with the belief the prisoner will feel the guilt of their offense for the remainder of their life. If they feel no guilt they at least have the punishment of being removed from society. Today, a death sentence is unlikely to result in death, and the life sentence leaves many believing they will be released, either because of societal changes or appeals.

We form punishments based on what we fear, not what the criminal fears.

Harvey Weinstein was just found guilty in two of the five crimes he was accused of. He has lived under accusal for over two years, once charged he was allowed freedom with restrictions such as an ankle monitor. During this time, he has been removed from his company and watched it face bankruptcy. He has been unable to work, and with any luck unable to sexually violate other women. He wasn’t the picture of health to begin with, although I believe his apparent “disabilities” were falsified in the interest of leniency by the court. The man who once said “You’ll never work in this town again” will more than likely never work in that town again.

What would be a just punishment? Regardless of the comfort of his prison, it will never come close to his mansions. He will eternally carry the label of “Rapist,” although that has not slowed Roman Polanski much. With minimum sentences he will be in his mid seventies when he is released, assuming his health does not fail. His life, from what we see as his point of view, is destroyed, but is that enough? What if he’s an optimist?

Friedrich Nietzsche warned of the inherent dangers of prosecution, “Whoever fights monsters should see to it that in the process he does not become a monster. And if you gaze long enough into an abyss, the abyss will gaze back into you.” The truth within this is most often denied, which he also spoke of, “Sometimes people don’t want to hear the truth because they don’t want their illusions destroyed.”

Finding the proper punishment requires understanding the monster who is being punished. We consider these people noble because they have not become monsters themselves. Yet when they do not mete out the punishment we desire, we consider them monsters.

We all peer into the abyss, the result is most often known only by ourselves.

Conflicting interests

I am pro-life, and also pro-choice. You may ask “How can you reconcile those two positions?” Let me tell you.

I don’t like abortion, yet I recognize its necessity. When looking at Roe v Wade, the court stated the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution provides a fundamental “right to privacy” that protects a pregnant woman’s liberty to choose whether or not to have an abortion. This right is not absolute, and must be balanced against the government’s interests in protecting women’s health and protecting prenatal life.

As a bisexual male, the argument “You can’t legislate morality” has been my response to morality laws all of my life, because it is true. Abortions did not begin in 1974, they became legal. They became licensed and regulated. They became safe. Banning abortion only causes women to seek out illegal abortions, which more than likely will be second or third trimester abortions, endangering both mother and child.

Yes, I said child. I, along with the majority of scientists, believe that life begins at conception. Abortion is taking a human life. If one lacks the maturity to recognize that fact, one is clearly not mature enough to raise a child; it could be said such a person lacks the maturity to create a life. Yet children are created by the immature on a daily basis.

“How can you justify the taking of life?” In the same way I can justify killing enemy combatants on the battlefield. It is intellectually dishonest to think that good people do not sometimes do things which are not totally good. The health and welfare of the growing child must be weighed against its right to life. A woman unprepared for the responsibility of raising children is a poor choice as a parent. The child is worse off, and the mother is as well. If children could be taken and placed in loving families, taxpayers would be paying for the child rather than both of them. Life in the police state which would make that possible has few admirers.

I do not use the phrase “Pro-abortion” because I am not. There are many abuses of abortion. I knew a woman when I was younger who had three abortions in the space of one year. In my opinion, she should have been sterilized. She used no prophylactics, knowing she could always get an abortion. There are certainly many more abortions taking place than would be desirable, most “pro-choice” folks would agree. In addition to the inability to legislate morality, there is no way to legislate common sense either.

I remember a walk to the pharmacy on a cold winter day when my condom had broken to get the morning after pill. Not everyone wants to have a child at fifty. There are circumstances in which every precaution has been taken, and they failed. My youngest son was conceived through an IUD. An estimated forty percent of pregnancies are unplanned, which is not to say they are unwanted; none of my children were planned.

The impact of a child on an unprepared woman can be devastating. An already poor mother is not enriched by another mouth to feed. A homeless woman does not have better chances of finding a home with a child. A damaged relationship is not improved by a child. The revelation of a sexual assault can tear a family apart. We can require sex education for every child, just like we require education in history. How many days was William Harrison President? Education does not imply the information is absorbed.

Roe v Wade allowed for restrictions, so take a minute and think about how they affect a pregnant woman. Unless a woman has a menstrual period determined by a Swiss clock, she may not be aware she is pregnant for well over a month. If it is her first pregnancy, or if she is in denial that she could be pregnant, it could be eight to twelve weeks before it becomes obvious. There goes the first trimester.

If the woman lives in Kentucky, Mississippi, Missouri, North Dakota, South Dakota or West Virginia, there is only  one abortion clinic in the state, and Missouri is doing its best to make that number zero. It is highly unlikely that clinic will be nearby, adding more considerations. Does she have transportation? Can she disappear for the time required?

“What about late term abortions?” What about them? Late is a bit vague, but 1.2% of all abortions were performed after twenty one weeks, 91% were in the first trimester, 27.9% were non-surgical (drug induced) and there are no figures for the morning after pill. The horror stories about late term abortions (the only ones in which the fetus is recognizable as human) are a very small number of abortions, and they are already only performed when the life of the mother is in danger; not because of any law, but because of medical ethics.

On the other side of the coin, “pro-abortion” people do exist. Often these people have never made the choice themselves, and are using abortion as a political football. While many women are able to have meaningful lives and contribute to society because they were able to abort a child which would have destroyed their lives, very few celebrate their abortions. Those who do get a lot of press because they are unusual.

“Why not just adopt out the child?” If you think ending a life is a difficult decision, how easy do you suppose it is to let go of a child once it has been in your arms? I know a woman who gave her child up for adoption. Despite promises to the contrary, she was not given any information about her child’s placement. After many years she found him, he had been raised in horrible conditions and had been in trouble with the law. He did not want to hear from her, blaming her decision to try to give him a better life as a decision to curse his life.

How can I be pro-life and pro-choice? Because I believe life should be a choice.

 

 

That time of year

There are certain cycles that make you feel good, the Seasons each have their joy, either by arriving on ending.

I see other cycles, just as certain. The election of the President of the United States presents its own set of internal cycles, this year one has been a bit early. My friends, the people I trust, have left civility behind as they become partisan gargoyles. People whom I have chosen to call friends, the hundred or so that have remained admirable for years, sometimes decades, have left, some never to return. This brings me no joy. Rather than watch, I distance myself from the hatred.

Last time was particularly ugly, and there are no indications this time will be any better. I was ever so close to leaving it behind last time, prepared to the last detail to emigrate, and the opportunity was snatched away at the last second. I don’t have any reason to expect a similar opportunity to present itself, so I’m stuck here for the entire show, like Alex in “A Clockwork Orange.”

 

At least for Alex it was only a movie

 

I know it is only a seasonal madness, or at least I hope it remains so. Each cycle builds on the last, at some point it has to destroy the very union it was designed to support.

A decent, intelligent man thought it was funny to share the identity of the purported “whistle blower” in the Trump impeachment fiasco. A kind and thoughtful woman graphically compared Trump’s acquittal to the rape of justice. I know these people to be good human beings, but these are not the actions of good human beings. Protecting the identity of witnesses protects everyone. When that trust is denied, how many potential witnesses look the other way, perhaps witnesses who would have protected you, or revealed an improper act in which you would (now will) be the victim? When you equate a partisan play with rape, what do you think actual rape victims have suffered? Well, on second thought, actual rape victims watch the system betray them, with trials based on popularity rather than reality, so maybe there are some similarities; I just really did not need to see that image.

This is too much like the annual surprise when frozen precipitation falls from the sky; people believe it has never happened before and are therefore excused from knowing how to deal with it. Four years is a long time for a person to remember anything when they can’t remember how to drive if there is snow on the road. I forget my friends are human, and react to competition in the way of most humans.

And “competition” is precisely what national elections are. Sure, all the candidates talk about their superior moral stands, most of us understand that politicians have no morals. Most folks are interested in “what can you do for me” far more than any empty promises about human rights. The depressing thing about intelligence is recognizing the election has more in common with the Superbowl than “Mr. Smith goes to Washington.”

This year I find myself in the uncomfortable position of understanding the motives of Donald Trump. Not the paranoid fantasies about his personal hatred of the environment, or claims of undiagnosed mental illness, but an observation based judgement of his character. He is a vindictive bully. Remember his first year with the rotating cabinet? Why is anyone surprised that he fired the assistant who testified against him? He views people as either useful or trash. The character of his committed supporters reflect that trait.

So this year, in response to a vindictive bully, the Democrats are waging a war of pettiness. “Impeached” will forever be on his resumé, but he made it clear in 2016 his resumé was unimportant to his goals. His childish behavior has been met as a challenge to find who could be more childish. For an observer such as myself, this is a bounty of material for critique, I would be happy if this was not such a crisis. We are coming apart at the seems, it is no time for a pie fight.

I enjoy social media, and I use it to promote my writing. The problem is it becomes an echo chamber, diverse ideas are not readily accepted. I have had to block a few people who were rabid partisans, on both sides, but mostly I get blocked; again from both sides, predominantly from the left because I have had more friends on that side. Either way, my group of friends narrows itself to only include people who think as I. No one seems to accept the concept of an impartial observer.

So I have distanced myself from social media, passing through now and then to comment. I still post my blog articles, and intend to return in the winter; unless the fury over the results persist. Voting has changed from expressing support for a candidate who shares ones ideas to picking the winner. More so than Republicans, Democrats are incredibly poor losers, yet Trump has done his best to prove me wrong; I just hope his supporters are less like him in this aspect. This is just one more reason I support ending our two party process in favor of multiple parties. Perhaps that would allow more diverse views to remain pockets of small groups, rather than trying to please everyone with two possible choices. The system is beginning to mirror the Soviet Union’s idea of voting, everyone votes but there is only one choice. Americans have yet to discover their two choices are merely two sides of the same coin.

At any rate, there may be a choice which I find appealing within the Democratic party. Currently I favor Pete Buttigieg, but then in 2016 at this time I was supporting Gary Johnson. The last time my choice won was 2004.

 

Choose well this year, vote for a candidate who best reflects you; and on 4 November, try to remember it is not all about you.

Recognizing Big Brother

 

Some things stick in your mind, you can see them forming before others because the horror is too great.

The holocaust is an example of how evil can spread through a society, so the label of NAZI is thrown at anyone who appears to be authoritarian, or antisemitic. Unfortunately it has spread to include “anyone who thinks different than me,” diluting its horror. In our mis-educational system, how many graduates go forward thinking thirteen million people were killed by old men playing golf?

When college kids carrying tiki torches are compared to the Schutzstaffel, the horror just isn’t there.

 

George Orwell’s “1984” disassembled mind control. Most folks think the work was prophetic, but in fact it was a memoir of the fascist states of the early twentieth century, written after their culmination in 1944. Orwell had seen it happen, from seedling to rotting fruit. We have all seen the process, frozen at certain points in its development in various societies, yet we fail to recognize as it takes hold around us.

As a writer, language is of utmost importance to me. Words are my life. The variances, homonyms, synonyms, and multi-entendres are my life blood. Word meanings change over time, but the immediate alteration to fit a political misuse is far too reminiscent of Newspeak. Combined with deliberate misinformation, “reality” is no longer how things exist, but how they are meant to be judged.

I was never much for euphemisms, I prefer to be understood and avoid barriers. It does seem to put people off, I worked at an SPCA shelter where I killed dogs. I got out of the habit of saying “Euthanized” because most of the people I dealt with didn’t know what it meant. They were already upset, why make it worse by using a word they did not understand?

As I have been around a lot more LBGTQ+ people this last year, I’ve been a little shocked about the sensitivity to words. I am Bisexual, a term defined in the Bisexual Manifesto of 1990 (not to imply that Bisexuality was invented then), Sometime around 2000 folks started using the word “Pansexual,” then it became a prejudicial word. People who call themselves Pansexual today state that “Bisexual” is non-inclusive, because it only refers to two sexes or genders. Read the manifesto kids, “Pansexual” is the divisive term, as it claims Bisexuals are Transphobic (By the way, attaching “phobic” to everything is ridiculous, if you are prejudiced against something you are probably not afraid of it).

Often it seems when people are particular about the words used to describe a group, they are not the people described, but people who awarded themselves the mantle of Pronoun Police. As I looked deeper, sometimes it is only the Pronoun Police, and not the people being described; people from the orient tend to prefer “Oriental” to “Asian.”

Common in the news these days are stories about “Religious Freedom.” More often than not these are instances in which followers of one religion wish to force their point of view on followers of another religion. The constitution of the United States speaks clearly that there is to be no state religion, what many refer to as “Separation of Church and State.” As Americans we are free to choose whatever religion, or lack thereof, we wish. We have no right to impose our views on others, yet a fair number of people believe they are empowered to discriminate against people with differing beliefs. While many of our founding documents are developments of Abrahamic principles, it is still quite easy to see the differences in the Abrahamic religions.  A statute favoring a Christian point of view (or one ascribed to Christianity) does not support a Muslim or Jewish point of view. Freedom of Religion is best expressed as “Freedom from Religion;” we shall have no inquisition. An individual has no more right to impose staff led Christian prayer than they would to impose Sharia law.

This morning, we were discussing Death with Dignity. There has been a lot written about this, most obviously not by those who have practiced it. I was told that “suicide” is not the proper word, because suicide is an irrational act, those who rationally choose to end their lives, and fit certain medical criteria, have not committed suicide. So I read some of the things written, and they are all about providing euphemisms other that the actual word because it causes shame. I know these people mean well, they are speaking to and about the survivors, relatives and friends of the deceased. I was told the word “suicide” shames people who have made a difficult decision, implying they were irrational. After a quick look at the dictionary, followed by more intense probes into the word, I was unable to find any reference to the rationality of the person choosing to end their life.

It is difficult to talk about this without giving the wrong impression. I have no intention of committing suicide. However, the possibility exists that my Multiple Sclerosis may take a turn for the worse, or that any other event might make my life unlivable. Should that occur, I will thoughtfully decide whether or not to continue living. The very last thing in the world I would want to happen is to have control of my life taken from me while a panel decides if I am rational. When it is time, it is time. It is a difficult decision, and calling it anything other than what it is insults the sui, the individual who is taking action. I have known others that made the choice; one last stand of self.

The issue of abortion is buried in inaccurate descriptions. Both sides wish to make their points emotional, so we now live in a world where “Women’s health services” mean abortion clinics, and nothing else; a further erasure of the real world differences between men and women. About one of every four women will have an abortion in their lives, it is, much like suicide, a difficult decision. Because women who have had abortions are shamed for their decision, very few of those women talk about it, so those who do appear to be freaks. They can be dismissed because they have spoken about their “unusual” experiences, they are considered meaningless or extreme because “I don’t know anyone who has had an abortion.” You probably do, but your attitude is so judgemental they never told you about it. The pain, which they continue to experience, is amplified by the failure to console them.

Along that line of language, a local real estate agent is trying to alter my borough’s requirement of a Certificate of Occupancy prior to the sale of a home. He has manipulated the subject, using people whose experience was overwhelmingly expensive. In one case a woman was unable to afford the repairs required to make the home habitable, so his latest rant assaults the borough for ignoring women’s rights. He has framed the ordinance as “immoral,” because the expense of making a home habitable may exceed the value of the home; relying on the local school district’s failure to educate to provide him with supporters. The man who owned my last residence insisted that property values only go up, so he was asking for his purchase price plus ten percent. I bought a nicer condominium in the same complex for one third of his asking price; I am surprised a real estate agent does not understand the real estate market.

With that last example, I am suggesting that practice of corrupting language is not a venture only applied to large organizations. I have seen it used by governments as well as individuals. My first exposure to this type of propaganda was in the Air Force, when I tried to explain an issue to my father; he could not see my side of the issue. Then I realized that in English, my complaint sounded ridiculous. I had gotten used to speaking in Air Force language, I knew what the disguised words actually meant. The collapse of language sneaks up on you, you don’t always realize what you are saying sounds very different to someone expecting common meanings.

 

Rebel.

 

Resist Big Brother. Do not conform, do not participate in the denial of your right of free speech.

The Christians and the Pagans

So the Christians and the Pagans sat together at the table,
Finding faith and common ground the best that they were able,
Lighting trees in darkness, learning new ways from the old, and
Making sense of history and drawing warmth out of the cold.

 

 

For some reason WordPress is not formatting properly, this really is multiple paragraphs
Those of you who have been reading this blog for years know that I am a fairly serious Christian. You also know I rarely partner with fellow Christians, I enjoy the differences. I am far from typical.
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My current partner is a recovering Atheist. I say “recovering” because she has actually been fired from one atheist group she had been a part of for two years, and left the national and local groups within a few years of that. She still has no belief in any deity, but she also believes that insulting and offending religions are not values she wishes to identify with. American Atheism has become Anti-Theistic, to the point that factions are creating other names to avoid being connected to Atheism. Not that changing names changes habits; an angry person is still angry by any other name.
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Janice loves Christmas, not the religious part but the spectacle. She waits until the day after Thanksgiving and the decorations go up. She has many sentimental objects with warm stories behind them. As we had coffee that morning, she mentioned an article about a Muslim who was placed on the “No Fly” list because he refused to be an informant, and was suing because he had to fly as a part of his job. We discussed the limits of the Separation of Church and State clause of the first amendment, as the article pointed out that a win for the plaintiff would be a win for the “Religious Right,” allowing citizens to discriminate on religious grounds. It is a complicated subject, measuring the values of various rights.
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As Janice continued decorating, she came across an old stocking, and asked if she could hang it in the living room. It was green, with an image and the sentiment of a message to Christians that Atheists believe in Science instead of God. I told her not to hang it in the living room and she asked if it would be okay to hang it in the bedroom. It was not the location I objected to, it was the stocking itself. I personally found it offensive and Janice  couldn’t quite understand, “It’s just a joke between atheists” she said. When I replied “Like the jokes about Nig***s you can share with your friends?” I think she understood. Insulting other religions is not funny, and is often a display of ignorance. There is no disparity between Christianity and Science, as I have mentioned before.

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Old habits die hard. She tried to defend the stocking, saying “It doesn’t actually say that Christians do not believe in science.” No it does not, it implies it, that’s what you found so funny when you were an Atheist. I think once she recognized that behaving in the manner you imagine your “evil” opponent does is also evil, she could see what she was doing.
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Later, we discussed a Holiday Party, and decided to have an Open House on Christmas. I went on Facebook and announced it on both of our pages, Janice is off Facebook following another run in with Antitheists who believed, due to her open and friendly personality, that she was as filled with hatred towards religions as they were. The old “my friends are just like me” blindness. I invited everyone, it will be interesting to see if any of her friends respond.
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Later this Christian and this Pagan set out to enjoy the night together. We went to a Holiday show by Bob Beru, followed by a show at a local restaurant with the band “Sal’s Last Minute All Stars,” aka the best band that never played together before. Sal greeted us warmly and we stayed until 0100.
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For the most part, we all have the same goals, Peace and Goodwill. We have far more in common than not. It is easy to find the differences and build them into a rationale for xenophobia, the truly intelligent find the commonalities.

Sixty one

A few (six) years ago, a couple of friends got together for a birthday party at L’Archiduc in Brussels. Trulee was turning sixty, and her partner Samy rented the club, and some friends provided music. Blaine had just passed the sixty marker a week earlier, and if you notice in this extended intro, he asks “What comes after sixty?” to which you can hear Trulee call out “Sixty One!”

 

In a memorable evening, the simple obvious fact that sixty one comes after sixty remains a strong memory; life goes on. Now, I reach sixty one. I am reminded of the seasons of life as another friend of mine “retires” to Arizona, leaving behind fifty years of performances. I have also reached the time to rest.

The ride has been wonderful. Sure, I’ve visited the lowest places in the universe, I’ve also danced in the clouds. Balance is crucial in life; understanding that the good times will not last forever is healthier than crashing when they inevitably end. I expect them to end and come back, as they have several times. How am I supposed to write about all the different aspects of life if I haven’t experienced them?

The years have given the illusion of wisdom, more years illustrate the transient nature of the illusion. It works to remain calm, allow processes to run their course, listen rather than speak. I speak softly, and slowly; shouting dulls the senses. I give the appearance of being at peace. Usually I am.

I got to see the best bands, and some of the best concerts. I managed to be in the right (or wrong) places for some historical changes in society. I loved deeply and was loved as deeply. I played fair, even (maybe especially) when I was being treated unfairly. So now I get to enjoy myself. I am comfortable being anonymous, I don’t need to be noticed.

As I enter my sixty-first year, the changes that have taken place in my life are muted by the changes of the last year. So very much has taken place, I have not slowed down as I have aged; it has taken its price. There are good reasons to slow down consciously, rather than due to disability caused by not slowing down.

My desire to write is waning, in many ways my desire to communicate is drawing to a close. Too many people who honestly believe they know everything and want to argue without references are out there. I plan to withdraw from social media on my birthday, a present to myself, I can live much better without the vitriol. I am stuck here in the United States for the upcoming election year, and my capacity to overlook hate has been exhausted. I will still write the occasional blog, but I have no intention of becoming involved in the circus Americans refer to as “Politics.” I do rather enjoy checking the statistics on my readers, the other day one person read fifty of my articles.

As I write this, it has started snowing outside. The flakes fly in every direction from my view as various wind currents around the building carry it. The other day I watched every leaf on a tree in the complex fall off in under an hour, the area around its base covered with a green “snow.” There is plenty to see right out my window.

Janice and I will travel a bit, just in North America. We will still attend LGBT events, but as participants, on the street interacting with people. We intend to socialize locally with real people, as we turn our focus away from the internet and towards the real world. It’s a pretty cool place, I’ve spent a lot of time there.

Life is good, hope to see you along the way.

My Psychotic Break

I pretty much have to write about this.

A month or so ago, I found myself in a spiral of irritation. My sleep pattern slipped from not much to none at all. I was unsettled by something in my relationship and let it fill my mind. I spent the entire day of Sunday yelling at Janice. That’s what I remember.

In a lull of my mania, I asked for something to relax, Janice handed me a few of her pills. After that it gets hazy. The next thing I remember is the phone waking me. It was the police, they were outside my door and would like me to come out with my hands in the air. In my mind, I thought it was Sunday evening. It was Monday evening.

What I have been able to put together is that I was increasingly irrational, and threatened to kill myself quite convincingly. Janice was able to show me texts I had sent; I was horrible. But at this point in time all I knew was that I had fallen asleep and she had left.

I threw on some clothes, and slowly opened the door, revealing myself hands first. There was a nice little barricade set up down the hall, and the glint of laser sights from the rifles pointed at me. I invited them in, they placed handcuff on my wrists, and we took a ride to the hospital. My memory is still shaky at this point, I remember moments but not entire scenes. I know I was well mannered entering the hospital, and I know I lost all contact with reality shortly after arriving. I remember trying to bite one of the nurses, and seeing Janice through the glass door of my room. Later, they took me to a mental hospital, I had been involuntarily committed.

I arrived at the hospital Tuesday about noon, and suddenly realized I was missing an entire day. In my mind I was angry at Janice, thinking she had drugged and abandoned me. The conditions were as one might expect, a few steps up from Ken Kesey’s Oregon State Hospital, but the vibe remained. “Long Distance” calls had to be dialed from a special room, and for some reason anything out of the area code was considered long distance. It took another two days to get in touch with Janice. I think that was a good thing, I hadn’t quite figured out what had happened yet. She had been the person who had signed the order for involuntary commitment.

After release I was able to read the notes from my intake interview. I was described as having a flat affect. I remember slowly waking into reality, realizing the time lost, feeling shock.

It became rapidly apparent that the way out was to comply with treatment. I attended all the groups I could, making friends with the other mental patients. It was a fascinating microcosm of society, we had all, in effect, been equalized, stripped of our individuality. The depth of our mental illnesses determined our ability to recover. Some folks would obviously wait their time out and be released, some folks I seriously hope are never released, but I did not meet anyone who did not belong there. When I was able to realize that, I was able to realize that I belonged there, opening my mind to correcting my mistakes.

The groups were educational, not always about the subjects for which they were designed. One group about red flags put a bright light on one person’s attitudes about relationships, and also showed the folks paying attention that everything goes both ways. Had it not been such a hetero-normative group the message might have sunk in better.

I was (of course) open about my sexuality, I figured it would confuse the staff and spare me a room mate. It did, I was the only male without a room mate. A couple of women opened up about their sexuality, as far as I could see no one was uncomfortable in our group. We quickly became known as “The cool kids,” sitting at our own table at meals; then we slowly became “The old folks” as we dispensed our wisdom to the younger folks. The camaraderie helped us all.

As the week passed, new people arrived, most of them faceless, keeping to themselves, a few more aggressive, pointing out to us how we had felt during the early hours of our incarceration. I could see how I had been and was glad I had not been able to talk to Janice until after I calmed down. One person was particularly intimidating, and knew how to play the staff. He was what they called a “frequent flyer,” someone who had been there repeatedly. The staff knew he wouldn’t follow through on his threats, but we the patients did not. The tension was palpable, and I would like to think that my explanation to staff was a part of my release. I could see it from both sides and explained the difference between physical safety and emotional safety to a couple of nurses, people trained in the field who had just turned a blind eye to the purpose of the facility.

My medications were interesting. I received prompt attention because I take Truvada, an anti HIV drug. They wanted to know if I was HIV positive, so I was processed through medical quickly. Because I had drugs in my system (the ones Janice gave me) when I was admitted, they diagnosed me as a drug addict, and gave me anti-withdrawal meds all week. I received my anti-depressants as usual, but because Truvada and Fosamax are expensive they asked me to have them brought in. Remember the Long Distance issue? Knowing they would have to put out thousands for my meds helped me get permission to make phone calls.

That first phone call with Janice, on Thursday, was overwhelming. I was disgusted by the things she told me I had done as she gave me the timeline of my missing day. I thanked her for having me admitted. I was astounded that she cared for me, and missed me so much. I gave her the number to call in, so I could hear from her, and returned to my group. They could tell I had spoken to Janice, I was glowing. She called every evening, and for that time I was free, not incarcerated. She came to visit and time stood still.

I was released on Monday, and the morning was pure stress. I was told my regular psychiatrist had not been contacted, and I couldn’t be released without appointments with her in the next week. It was less than an hour before my scheduled release when I finally got my post hospitalization therapy schedule. We drove home and spent the rest of the day talking. I had the epiphany that the psychotic break was related to having never fully grieved Emma, and was up all night organizing her shrine, telling stories about each item.

As a result of my commitment, I am no longer eligible to own firearms. I agree. I had no idea what I was doing for over twenty four hours, had I chosen to resort to violence I had a solid arsenal and a couple thousand rounds of ammunition. The possibility I could have another break is higher after having one, so I have no issue with surrendering my weapons. The police were exceptionally nice, assisting with selling the firearms and returning items that were borderline inappropriate, like a set of rolling papers in packages designed by Olivia De Berardinas. I did like the expression on the detective’s face when he said how nice my rifles were, and don’t want to imagine the look when he entered the bedroom with the swing.

My doctors have been interesting, the “What happened?” opening was almost funny. Because what happened was not funny. My brain broke. You can call it a nervous breakdown or psychotic break or whatever makes you comfortable, but I did a hard reboot. I did things I do not remember any part of. I had conversations and wrote texts of which I have no memory. I am better, but the experience was moving. I am fortunate that Janice, against her normal intuition, called 911 and followed through in committing me. I needed the rest. I still need rest, but have spent the intervening month helping Janice move her mother in law (her husband passed away) into my home. I have watched my friend’s final performances before “retiring” to Arizona after fifty years in the music business and spent late nights hanging with musicians several times. I know I am slowing down relative to what I was before, but when I look at it I can not call it “slow.”

I know the path to illness and can avoid it, I am building my resources to be prepared.

 

Surprises and disappointments

It has been an interesting month. Let me supply you with some background.

I am sixty years old. Forty two years ago, at age eighteen, I had my first homosexual experience. A classmate, far more experienced than I. It was the seventies, the cusp of AIDS. He would take the train into Manhattan on the weekends to play in the bath houses.

I was intimate with him a couple of times, and “friendly” with some of my other gay friends. It was odd, in this small group of people who had been friends all their lives, a large number experimented with Homosexuality for a few years, some for life. I am still friends with a few of them.

I went on with life, got married, had kids, left for another woman, and man. My first wife was having an affair and trying to get me to leave, so I did. I moved in with a female coworker, platonic at first, then one night she climbed into my bed. Then her gay male friend climbed into our bed a few days later. Then I met some of her other friends. This may have been the first time I used the term “Bisexual.” My father actually came to our door to tell me to return to my wife. Something like “You can’t have Bisexual orgies the rest of your life, you have children.”

Life went on, I eventually tried to make things work with the wife, but things were working fine with her. I remarried a couple of times but all my wives knew I was Bisexual, even when it did not result in any activity on my part. I was ever so slightly effeminate, perhaps androgynous, and would mention some previous encounter when all the Heterosexuals were talking about theirs. I spoke often about how the Red Cross did not want my blood because I had had sex with a man. I was occasionally flamboyant.

A few years ago, at my fortieth High School reunion, a man walked up to me, a former football player and now retiring as a coach. He saw in his team young people coming to grips with their sexuality. He said he admired how I had been, and considered me to be “the brave one.” I really thought everyone knew I was Bisexual.

Then something happened. I met a woman.

Not just any woman, I met a Bisexual woman. I met a Bisexual activist. Janice is not “in your face” with her sexuality, it is simply a part of her life, like your sexuality is a part of yours.

I felt much more open myself around her. Pride month arrives. I decide to make some public statements, and get a bit flamboyant. I dye my beard in Bi-pride colors, get my fingernails and toenails painted bi-pride colors. I wrote about Pride and posted about our activities on Facebook. Not exactly in your face but vocal. I made friends on Facebook with a couple of Janice’s friends, and spoke more in public groups. In a SpecOps group I am in, there was a discussion about a pride flag being flown at a military memorial. What an interesting place to be lectured about sin.

I noticed there were fewer interactions, I know my ex-partner was saying negative things to people but this was noticeable. My blog has had fewer views, my friends for the most part avoid me, my family has been silent when they are at their best, anti-LGBTQ+ memes were rare, and the occasional comment about loving the sinner but hating the sin. People I have known my entire life, and who must have known I was Bisexual, suddenly backing away. I am the same person today I was last year, forty years ago, and most likely sixty years ago. Nothing changed other than my talking about it, during Pride month.

I find it amazing that in a society devoted to understanding each other, there are people who believe I should be exterminated among my friends and family. When I was seeing Janice, Sam said “You have your family.” She was right, Janice’s friends have overwhelmingly welcomed me.

We’ve had genuinely funny posts that were liked by literally hundreds of our friends, but only by two who were exclusively my friends. I have to believe this is about people distancing themselves from me. I sent emails to most of my closer friends, explaining the situation and offering to talk about any concerns. Two responses, one being “Who didn’t know?” Obviously my friends are from different places in every way, but to have so many back off is unexpected.

I find this sad. One month devoted to LGBTQ+ awareness. Eight percent of the year to recognize what is suspected to be eight percent of the population. All year long we live in a world where Heterosexuality is the “norm.” Art, literature, films, and media portray heterosexuality on a daily basis, yet one example of an alternative relationship and the world calls it “in your face.”

On 30 June there will be an event in Manhattan. The culmination of Pride month takes place at the site it began, Stonewall. In addition to the Pride parade, there will be a Queer liberation march and rally. There is a portion of the community that is suspicious of the corporate sponsorships and such. You may have noticed yourself, all the references to pride in the commercials this month, but a gay character? Never. I am finding myself aligning with that group. I thought the level of acceptance was much higher, should the subject come up everyone gives the politically correct responses, but in real life, it doesn’t work that way.

In many ways, I feel a level of resentment. I had been erased all my life. I thought I was being open and everyone knew who I was, but they just pretended it wasn’t there. Until I made some noise. Then I wasn’t there.

On the third anniversary of my brain injury this year, I promised myself to become more involved in life. That involvement has taken some unusual turns, but each has been revealing. Finding truth is always the mission, regardless of the truth discovered.

 

 

On being Queer

Years ago, when I was in my early fifties, my teenage step son called me a weirdo. He left the room in disgust when I thanked him.

I have always been “different,” even among the different. Even as an outcast the labels never fit.

I moved around a lot as a child, never feeling any place was “home,” it was just where I was. I was always an outsider. As close to having a home I ever have been was my grandparents house in Kingsland, Texas. I could always identify that place as my home, even though I never lived there. They built that place themselves, maintaining a large property that has now been divided, and the house itself has been razed and rebuilt by my cousin, who incorporated many parts of the original in the new building. I am almost certain that my grandmother’s piano is standing on the precise coordinates it has been for the last sixty years.

I am fairly effeminate. I can also produce an authoritative voice and brutal demeanor. When I was working as a digital technician in Philadelphia, some of my clients took to calling me “Dr. House.” It was a title of respect, I cut off explanations that went off-topic, and was generally short with people who wanted to tell me what was wrong with their printer. When I was finished, the printer worked as well as it ever had, and stayed that way for a while; it was unusual to see the same client twice in a month. I dug that moment when they went from being offended to appreciative. At one point I went through a phase of wearing nail polish, a gun metal grey that toner wouldn’t stick to, the only person who complained was my manager, who thought it was too “gay.” I only saw him once a month or less, so I cleaned my nails before going into the office.

I’ve done some unusual things with my appearance, partially because I still don’t like to be recognized but want to be noticed. When I lived in Wildwood, New Jersey for a summer in my twenties, I started wearing exceptionally revealing clothes, it wasn’t the first time people had called me a “faggot.” When they were available in the states, I would smoke Sobranie Cocktails, with their gold filters and pastel papers. In the seventies I had long hair that drew some remarks. In Kindergarten my creativity was mistaken for mental retardation. Gay guys have found me attractive since High School, and one girlfriend used to enjoy walking with me in New Hope Pennsylvania, a fairly gay community, because of the whistles I would receive. I liked it too.

My pastor as a child was exceptionally educated, breaking down scriptures through translation to original Aramaic, saying “but it could also mean this.” He was a questioner, and had found the answers in Christ. He told us to gather all the information we could and make our own decisions. I did. After practicing several religions, I developed a belief system of my own. I refer to it as “Zen Baptist.” In a more literal world it would be called Christian, as in I follow the teachings of Christ. His words as related by the New Testament of the Bible. The Bible is an easy book, if you can read a Stephen King novel you can read the Bible. I sure wish more “Christians” would. In religious discussions I have been called a Fundamentalist, a Muslim, a Bible thumper, and an Atheist. This helped me understand that labels are only meaningful to the labeler, not the labeled.

I even have different physical illnesses. in 1989 I was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis (thirty years and still going strong!). In my fifties I was diagnosed with Osteoporosis. Just a few years ago I suffered a Traumatic Brain Injury and the incredibly unusual condition of Superior canal dehiscence. There are people who think the changes in my lifestyle are related to my TBI, which is why I routinely give historical references to demonstrate I have always been this way.

I have had gay relationships, but I am not gay. I have had bisexual relationships (relationships based on a three way exchange of Love and responsibility), but I don’t consider myself bisexual because I don’t seek out men. The best description of me is Queer. I am different. I don’t fit your labels, and your labels might not mean what you think they do.

The benefits of Brain Injury

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The week journalism died

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

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

Most still images were this:

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

A red hat.

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

 

I am here in the new year

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

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

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

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

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

They did refer to it as a “Soviet” hat

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

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

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

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

 

 

Old Vulcan Proverbs

I remember the first time I heard this, how my girlfriend at the time laughed and I recognized the profundity.

I see the advertisements for the film “The Post” and can only laugh at the line “The untold true story.” I think we all know enough of the story to know that line is blatantly false, as a moronic Illuminati attempts to rebuild the reputation of the Washington Post.  I’m sure Jeff Bezos is proud, but the fact is the Pentagon Papers were released to the New York Times, the Post printed a story about it a week later. The president(s) whose dishonesty was displayed was not Nixon, it was the work of five previous administrations. In its rush for an anti-Trump metaphor, the film totally misses the mark, except in the minds of those so filled with vitriol they can’t be bothered with facts. Nixon acted with honor, defending the state secrets of the Pentagon Papers, not the actions reported; and by resigning in the face of impeachment. Trump is no Nixon, at least not in that sense.

Trump is the one who can go to Jerusalem. In 1995, without presidential signature, the houses of congress passed the Jerusalem Embassy Act of 1995. In the ensuing twenty two years, the implementation has been suspended every six months by the sitting president. Every. Six. Months. Both Bush and Obama did it sixteen times. Even Trump suspended the move on his first opportunity; and then he did not.

Pushed by Arab members to condemn the move in the United Nations, the security council tried, forgetting that the United States has right of veto in the Security Council. A second attempt was made in the General Assembly, and passed with a margin of 128 to 9, with 35 abstentions (some might count that as 128 to 44). Even formerly strong allies voted against the United States. While word spread in the media that the world was laughing at the United States, ten countries stated interest in moving their embassies to Jerusalem. It took eight years to formalize diplomatic relations with China following Nixon’s visit, nothing happens overnight. The first step was waiting to be taken, waiting while Clinton, Bush, and Obama pushed it aside.

Times are tough in America for those looking to think for themselves. There is very little thinking taking place. Discourse has been replaced with accusations, skipping past arguments and just leaping to insults. It is unfortunate that this lack of ability to communicate coincides with so many messages, or perhaps that is the point. The message of the last election could not be more clear, but very few heard it. Two indefensible candidates that continue to be defended to the death of many friendships. Politicians are politicians, regardless of background. Yet today, 65% of Republicans believe Trump will serve a second term while 45% of Democrats believe he will be impeached (Rasmussen). After everything, the concept of having a third choice is ridiculed. This is technically referred to as Cognitive Dissonance.

Trump is a clown. Only a fool would deny it. He is not Hitler. Only a fool would insist he is. He is a human being, as out of touch as anyone at his cocktail parties, which have been attended by politicians from both sides of the aisle, including his last opponent. This is my level of support for the president. He is the president. He has committed no crimes worthy of impeachment. He has followed the constitution in the administration of his duties.

After eight years of a president who hyped himself at every opportunity, starting with a Nobel Peace Prize for having a nice smile (“extraordinary efforts to strengthen international diplomacy” while a senator from Illinois) and ending his term by giving himself a medal, the expressed annoyance at Trump’s foolishness is disingenuous. And this is yet another lesson of the election which continues to be overlooked. The press is biased. Five minutes of air time was devoted the other night to dispel Trump’s claim that he was responsible for zero American deaths on civilian aircraft. Why? Let it go and move on.

After sixty five years, North Korea has developed a fusion weapon and an intercontinental ballistic missile to deliver it to the United States. At least Kim Jong-un believes so. He also believes that the Korean war is still active, along with a few odd ideas on social welfare. He is by almost any measure insane, yet the press would have you worry that Donald Trump has access to nuclear weapons. In case there is still someone who hasn’t noticed, Kim Jong-un has no interest in diplomacy. He makes threats, and is a dangerous individual who has murdered family members. He is more likely to respond to a reminder we not only have nuclear weapons, but have used them, than he is to appeasement. Trump is the president to deal with him. They speak the same language.

Just as the Dream Act was known in Paraguay before Pittsburgh, the news of Trump’s immigration policies traveled faster than the policies have been implemented. Illegal border crossings fell precipitously as soon as Trump took office. Talk of a great wall worked as well as an actual wall. There is clearly a place for tough talk, particularly when the speaker is  capable of inducing fear.

The incredibly ineffective Paris Climate Accord was rejected by Trump. Regardless of your opinion on anthropogenic global warming, the accord did zero to effect change, in fact allowing the countries with the worst pollution to pollute more. Only Trump could unsign the “treaty.”

The negative attitude pushed by the press is not healthy. Neither is the jubilant “everything is wonderful” chants of Trump’s supporters. It amazes me, that after all the presidential misbehavior which has come to light about damn near every president there is such faux outrage about Trump, but it shows the level of (in)tolerance and hypocrisy in society today. We have, as a society, become too demanding of each other. We demand perfection while acknowledging perfection is impossible. That is a recipe for frustration. As we close our circles ever tighter, we lose the ability to interact with “others.” People who don’t believe every single word of what we believe are “others,” the diversity of our melting pot has been reduced to including people who are left handed.

Trump is antagonistic and belligerent. He is precisely what we need in a president right now. We need to figure out how to deal with people who are different from us, because a lot of the time they’re the ones with solutions. I want to believe this experience will make us better people, but I am routinely an optimist when it comes to human interactions (four wives is a clue).

Wherever your sympathies lie, I am not asking you to reverse them. I’m just asking you to stop fighting. There are things you can change and things you can not, just as there are things Trump can do and things he can not. The world will not end, and just as conservatives said when Obama was elected, everything can change after the next election. Get out there and discuss, debate, build alliances that will weather any administration, it is unlikely this will be the last.

 

 

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.

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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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

Moving on

Flowers between the cobblestones, Gloucester MA 2010

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Save

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.

 

 

 

Bits and pieces

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

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

2004 at the Alamo.

2004 at the Alamo.

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

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

The Invisible Me

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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.

 

 

 

 

 

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.