Age of majority

Social drinking is allowed

There are a variety of opinions about the age of majority. It is the age at which you are no longer a minor, and a part of the majority of the population. That is a relatively “ageist” concept, any age below fifty would qualify by that definition. The importance of the age of majority is that it is when you are considered an adult, so it seems a bit odd to some folks that we have at least two different ages of majority recognized in America.

At eighteen you can sign a contract, buy a rifle, vote, and enlist in the military. You can’t buy tobacco products, alcohol, or a handgun until you are twenty one. The age at which you can marry depends on the state you live in, and the age at which your brain is fully developed is generally recognized as twenty five; which is also the age to which you may remain on your parent’s health insurance. Perhaps you can see the disparities here.

Arguments continue over what age constitutes being a child, such as when it is appropriate to charge a person with a crime as an adult; i.e. an eleven year old who premeditates murder. Depending on one’s point of view, an eighteen year old can be a man if he is committing a crime, or a child if he is the victim.

Conflicts are natural. When I was younger the voting age was twenty one. The age to enlist in the military (as well as to register for the draft)  was eighteen. The argument to alter the voting age was “If they’re old enough to fight in war, they should be allowed to vote on the positions that send them to war.” It was a reasonable argument, so rather than raise the age to enlist to twenty one in the midst of the Vietnam war, the voting age was lowered to eighteen. The war ended, but people who are seven years away from brain maturity are still allowed to choose national leaders. I haven’t seen any improvement in the choices made.

Ruger LCP .380 MSRP $349.00

The other day, I heard a similar argument. The state of Kentucky is considering a bill that would allow eighteen year olds to purchase handguns. “If they’re old enough to go to war, why can’t they have handguns?” was the argument from many gun owners and veterans I spoke with. There is an incredible difference between an M16 and a .380 pistol, and as far as I can remember, there was zero handgun training when I was in the military. The people who complain when anti constitution people argue without knowing the subject were doing the same.

Ruger AR15, MSRP $799.00

 

The age to buy a handgun was raised in 1968, as part of the Omnibus Crime Control and Safe Streets Act of 1968 with the stated purpose of eliminating “Saturday Night Specials;” cheap pistols one could pick up without any background check. Anti-constitution people routinely confuse the AR15, the most common hunting rifle in America, with the M16, a fully automatic weapon of war.

 

An actual M16, sale price $31,399 plus licensing fees, assuming they are allowed in your state

 

If the bill in Kentucky should pass, an eighteen year old who could pass a background check and come up with about $500 for the pistol, ammunition, and a little time on the range could have a handgun. Cheaper guns are available, I received a .380 free when I joined a private shooting range in the 80s. The argument that they could be “sent off to war” is blatantly false, the first argument is that there is no draft, the military is a volunteer service. In addition, joining the military is not at all common. Seventy one percent of young people are ineligible for service, recruiters are missing goals, and the percentage of young people in the military is far below what many people believe it to be. Sharing this information with rabid gun rights enthusiasts resulted in replies suggesting I am on drugs.

What we, as a society, need to recognize is that age alone is not an indicator of maturity. I have known intellectually and emotionally mature teenagers, as well as immature and reckless grandparents. Our measure of maturity should not be based on our lives, we matured long ago. The world today is different, and it changes every minute. That is what we are supposed to have learned through our years of exposure.

Whatever ability, or “right,” is restricted by age may have millions of different reasons for the restriction; ranging from logical to ridiculous. The most logical path to me has to do with brain maturity, an easily measured arbitrator. Of course it does not apply to some people, nothing applies to one hundred percent of the population. Making the age of majority twenty five would be very inconvenient for most of America, but it would certainly be the safest route. Any age restriction assumes the tacit agreement that the years of restriction include education about the subject restricted. And that is where we as a society fail.

“Hot Topics” are avoided, resulting in shouting matches rather than informed discussion. Religion and Politics are more confused today than they were in my childhood, largely because they don’t get discussed. Even people who feel they understand a topic can be horribly misinformed. I strongly support the Constitution, and routinely find myself in arguments with people who claim to be on my side of the issue. One example is the legislation in Kentucky, held within a pro gun group. I was the only person against the legislation out of nearly four hundred responses. It hurts to realize that I am dissonant in an echo chamber made up of people I thought were like me. It makes me feel like the people I defend are not worthy of my efforts, they really are “gun nuts.”

The age of majority should be synonymous with the age of reason, but there is no way such a concept could be legislated. The majority is unreasonable.

 

 

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.

Resistance

 

On 18 February, a young Lutheran woman (Sophie, 21) and her brother (Hans, 24) were distributing pamphlets at the university they attended. It was night, so they were just leaving stacks of pamphlets in the hallway. Although Sophie had initially been a party enthusiast, restrictions on her freedom, such as being forced to teach kindergarten in order to be admitted to the university so she could study biology, caused her to speak against the party and the socialist government it had formed. A janitor saw them and called the police, who came and arrested them.

Like any activists, they had wanted their group to appear large and spoke of their movement as popular. Two others from their group had also been arrested. They were seen as enemies of the state and were questioned for four days, culminating with their trial, for which a special judge had been sent from the capital. They were found guilty of treason. They bravely faced their fate, Sophie saying “Such a fine, sunny day, and I have to go, but what does my death matter, if through us thousands of people are awakened and stirred to action?” After their trial, they were allowed to see their parents. Sophie smiled stoically, not showing any fear. Their mother offered Sophie some candy, which she accepted saying “Gladly, after all, I haven’t had any lunch!” Magdalena Scholl, told Sophie to “Remember Jesus” as she left.

Later that day, they accepted their sentences. Death by guillotine. Seventy seven years ago today.

The party which they had been protesting was the National Socialist German Workers’ Party, also referred to by it’s acronym, NAZI . The woman was Sophie Scholl. Their resistance group was called “The White Rose.” Over the following year several other members of their group met the same fate, for the crime of nonviolent resistance, writing and distributing pamphlets.

Today, I and millions of others wear a white rose (that’s mine above), as a remembrance Of Sophie and nonviolent resistance.  We resist different things, but we do so without violence. In my lifetime, I have been in several resistance movements, starting with the civil rights movement of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., who said “We adopt the means of nonviolence because our end is a community at peace with itself. We will try to persuade with our words, but if our words fail, we will try to persuade with our acts.” Dr. King was assassinated fifty two years ago. While violence has been used in pursuit of my various goals, it has been a last resort. As one of my colleagues said in the eighties, the conversation is over when you start shooting.

Champions of peace and nonviolence rarely die in their sleep. Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi was with his grandnieces in the garden when he was assassinated at age 78. He had been accepting of Muslims and was blamed for their violence.  John Winston Ono Lennon was assassinated as he returned home by a madman who wanted to be famous.  Bantu Stephen Biko was assassinated by South African police by way of twenty eight days of beatings.

Nonviolence is routinely met with violence, a sad irony. Most people picture “resistance” as the French resistance of World War Two, romanticized by Earnest Hemingway in For Whom the Bell Tolls. Little is said about places like the village of Chambon-sur-Lignon, which successful disguised the presence of five thousand refugees.

Hermine “Miep” Gies, the Dutch woman who helped hide a fifteen year old Anne Frank until betrayed by a neighbor, is not often recalled as a member of the resistance. Nonviolent resistance is quiet, acts of violence grab the headlines. The millions of LGBTQ+ people who have led successful lives under the radar are seldom thought of as a resistance members, because they resist the accepted norms of society by merely existing; when they are discovered they routinely pay with their lives, or at very least their social standing and vocation.

Most everyone has heard of “Pride” without recognizing its origin. The LGBTQ+ Pride movement originated in New York City, springing from the ashes of days of riots. Today millions gather for Pride events, proud they can be who they are without being victimized, seldom recognizing the brutality of the straight factions their forebears encountered. Today calling a trans woman “just a man in a dress” is seen as bigotry, when in my youth it would have been seen as victorious recognition, the alternative being death by beating.

Sophie Scholl was not the first person to resist tyranny, nor the last flame of an old idea. People have been resisting since Abel displayed his faith before his brother, who killed him with a rock. People continue to resist tyranny today all over the world. Resisting the President of the United States by revealing illegal behavior was met by an insistence to know the resister’s identity. No one thinks the President was going to shake his hand; that tyrant consistently destroys anyone who opposes him, calling for violence from his supporters or worse from foriegn governments.

Resist, even if it is only by your life continuing under oppression.

 

S

Evolution

Most people accept the theory of evolution to be true. It can be seen in many species, in some cases documented in progress. It is often used as the definition of belief in science; lack of “belief” in evolution is often a pejorative for poor education, or in attacks on fundamentalist Christians. I get that one, there is nothing in the Bible that is inconsistent with evolution. Why fundamentalists deny it does indeed point to a failure of education.

I am often confused as to why anyone would fight the actual process of evolution, and I see daily examples.

In case you don’t understand the process of evolution, organisms with beneficial genes survive to reproduce, those with detrimental genes do not. Often, detrimental genes do not prohibit reproduction; a gene which shortens life to thirty years could very easily be passed on by an organism which reproduces at age twenty.

Amy Schumer, who may or may not be a comedian depending on your sense of humor, recently spoke of her experience with In-Vitro-Fertilization (IVF). Doctors were able to retrieve thirty five eggs from her, of which twenty eight fertilized. Of those, only one was viable. On average, about fifty percent of fertilized eggs result in viable embryos; it appears nature did not want Ms. Schumer to reproduce, but she wasn’t interested in Nature’s opinion.

Science is a province of exploration, we often find ways to do things which are more harmful than helpful. A great example is nuclear weapons. Just because we can does not mean we should. If one’s genetic makeup causes infertility, why would one wish to pass those genes on to another generation?

There are certainly instances in which infertility is not caused by undesirable genes, or are there? When someone has cancer, and treatment makes them infertile, do we really want to spread a genetic chain which is susceptible to cancer? If someone is infertile due to their behavior, do we want the genes which caused that behavior passed on to our grandchildren’s world?

The Darwin Awards, so named because the participants have improved the human genome by removing themselves from it, are a humorous recognition of stupid fatal behavior. Unfortunately, most of the participants have already reproduced.  Not everything is caused by genetics, but I strongly believe that common sense is an inherited trait.

Medicine, in general, is a fight against genetics. Long after I had produced four children, I was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis (MS). There is no identified genetic link to MS, so it is unlikely I passed it on to my children. Other traits linked to genetics are frequently modified, starting with plastic surgery and continuing through geriatrics, in which we attempt to prolong life. An increasing amount of pediatric medicine is designed to allow genetically disadvantaged (depending on your definition, in this case I include Ms. Schumer) humans a long enough life to allow them to reproduce. Should we do that? I know it sounds cold and heartless, but condemning the offspring of genetically disadvantaged people to a lifetime filled with pain and disability is colder.

When I use the word “should,” I am not speaking of the moral issues involved; we all have different moral compasses. I am speaking of the impact such decisions have on our species. With our current inability to efficiently distribute resources such as energy, medicine, and food, does it make sense to further burden humanity?  I am not suggesting a Communist mindset, but what we are doing is abusing our resources. A wealthy person has a child for which they can afford to provide the medical resources required, but in doing so they consume the time and resources of the medical system which might be used to improve the lives of many productive members of society.

Homo Sapiens Sapiens is mildly arrogant in its assumption this planet was made exclusively for us, and foolish to believe that once we are gone, the planet has no future. Did Homo neanderthalensis consider the same? Something I found while researching this article is that one suggested cause of the extinction of Homo neanderthalensis is Climate Change. Life continued through evolution, adapting to the new environment. Our current Climate Crises will be survived through evolution as well.

We are aiming for a future of darkness. Infrastructure will fail, sources of energy will become increasingly difficult to sustain; an agrarian society, without electricity or medical technology, is a very possible future. Homo Sapiens Sapiens has developed too many weaknesses to survive radical change. By weakening our genome, we are developing the modern “Neanderthals”, while the future “Cro-Magnons” walk among us. Homo Evolutis will look back at our errors without the benefit of the internet. We are rapidly depleting our storage of information in non-digital form, books are no longer preserved. The age of narcissism has dawned.

Future archeologists may decode what we leave behind, will we appear to them as the progeny of ancient Rome, partying our way to extinction? I have heard before that porcelain does not biodegrade, will they only know us by our toilets?

I just hope we do not damage our hope for evolution by damaging the gene pool. It’s in bad enough shape right now.

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.

 

 

Privilege

As with most issues, the concept of privilege tends to be overblown while containing a measure of truth.

Donald Trump is not a member of the NAZI party, but some of his actions mirror their actions. Do not forget that NAZIs tied their shoes, tying your shoes does not make you a NAZI. Some factors apply in using the stereotype, many do not.

An article on Buzzfeed well illustrates that point. One single factor does not signify privilege, it is the cumulative amount of factors. I don’t think Buzzfeed has any more credibility than Psychology Today, but the survey, all by itself, is useful as a learning experience.

How Privileged are You? provides insight into what constitutes privilege. I have always felt offended when accused of “White Privilege,” because it has been based on the fact that I am white. I am more than just white, although hate groups such as Antifa don’t really care about facts. Physical assaults, verbal assaults, and prejudices have been based on supposition.

Not everyone is interested in learning. When my partner posted the survey on Facebook, for the purpose of comparison, most of her friends took the survey and compared their scores. One decided to go on a rant about Buzzfeed, shooting the messenger and in the process also the message. No, the results of a survey are not a diagnosis, but sometimes the act of sharing it can display prejudices you were not looking for. An excellent representation of this effect is “Some people can read War and Peace and come away thinking it’s a simple adventure story. Others can read the ingredients on a chewing gum wrapper and unlock the secrets of the universe.”  That quote comes from the 1978 film “Superman.” Most people do not consider superhero movies the source of deep philosophical observations; those people also fail to learn from “War and Peace.”

The first lesson in the survey comes with the first question, “Are you White?” I was a bit put off with that opening, then I considered that it was one factor out of one hundred. My total “score” was twenty nine, “underprivileged.” There were questions that seemed faulty, “Have you ever been called a Dyke” and “Have you ever been called a Faggot” should have been a single question. One of the many questions that should have been there is “When you see a rack of magazines, are the majority of people on the covers your race?” As I said earlier, anyone expecting a certified diagnosis from an online test is foolish. This survey should only be used as a comparison among peers, just don’t let Antifa see the results, a score of one would be adequate for them to burn your house.

As mentioned, I am white. I was born in the South. I am a Christian. None of these things make me a racist, but I accept that they are three points out of hundreds that would make me so. I learned over fifty years ago the difference between correlation and causality, and try to apply it to every interaction. As I aged and was exposed to dangers which could be life threatening, I found that in some instances correlation is sufficient. I don’t need to know what is in that backpack with wires hanging out, but I don’t need to kill the person carrying it; I can walk away. Responses require circumstances with which to justify them.

There are many factors which constitute an individual. It is often said that Hitler liked dogs, but that alone does not make him a good person. He also facilitated the deaths of over eleven million people, and while that alone may not make him an evil person, the methods he used to accomplish that goal certainly add up to that conclusion.

Our society, drenched in information, continues to celebrate single issue decisions. The quickness of determining the state of that decision is frightening. I can see an indicator and immediately know what it means, most people cannot. A friend recently posted two photographs in comparison. One was a color image of Donald Trump reaching out to shake the hands of supporters, the other, a black and white image of Adolph Hitler doing the same. My reaction to the implied statement they were the same was that I couldn’t think of a single celebrity who has not reached out in a similar fashion. Then, as others noticed inconsistencies, it became clear the photo of Hitler had been altered (there was an American flag in the background, a person dressed as Lincoln, and Hitler had no feet). Simply noting that this was not only a poor comparison, but it was also falsified, made me a Trump supporter so she immediately blocked me. The simple observation that if what one party is doing is despicable, mirroring that behavior is not excusable, brings me back to explaining to children “He did it first” is not a defense for doing the same thing.

I’ve been noticing a snowball effect, that right along with knowledge, maturity is rapidly declining at a geometric rate. Double standards are celebrated as “necessary.” Moral standards are as rigid as cooked spaghetti. I am overwhelmed with the examples provided by an intolerant population and a rogue president. Literally overwhelmed, I can not finish typing a blog entry without several examples of my thesis occurring, and not just because I type slowly. Noting these issues results in hatred rather than self reflection.

In many ways, the survey on privilege was contrary to my core beliefs. Confidence is seen as a privilege, questions such as “I have never lied about my sexuality,” “I have never tried to hide my sexuality,” and “I am always comfortable with P.D.A. (Public Display of Affection) with my partner” imply that comfort with who you are is a privilege. While I agree that living in fear is an indicator of lack of privilege, paranoia is an indicator of lack of psychiatric help. I have had physicians refer to my “Texan stoicism” as a defect.

Give yourself the privilege of being comfortable in your own skin.

The hive mind

I remember a conversation with a colleague in the summer of 2006. He was talking about a new resource, “Twitter,” with which you could ask a question of any nature, and if anyone within the “hive mind” knew the answer they would respond.

I loved this man as if he were my son, and I mustered all the enthusiasm I could; “That sounds great Carlo, let me know how useful it turns out to be.” What I was thinking was “You’ll get the same results by shouting your question into the subway.”

Fourteen years later my partner considers Twitter a news source. It is, indeed, a lane on the “information highway” (a term acknowledged as meaningless before it was even popular); people answer questions and pass judgements, but there is no certification suggesting they “know” the answer. You could randomly tap phone lines and receive answers of equivalent veracity.

Sometime in the 1990’s reality started its move to the backseat and “diverse ideas” took the wheel. I recall applying for a position on a “diversity council” sometime in the 2000’s. The requirements included being “a diverse employee” and I certainly was a member of that group, different from anyone else. It turns out I wasn’t, they were not looking for someone different than themselves, they were looking for a “woman of color,” indicating they were all white men who could not specify which color other than white they wanted this diverse person to be. They certainly were not interested in my observation of that fact.

Twitter is without question a news source, a conduit through which one might derive the news, but its accuracy is on the level of conversations overheard on an elevator. The individual discerns the credibility of the reports, based on what image the reporter chose to use as an avatar, or claims to be credentials. The information highway is indeed a channel through which most of the information collected by the human race flows. A similar description could be applied to a sewer.

Raw information, everything that is known about the Earth for example, includes the information that the Earth is flat.

In fact, since the birth of the internet, totally wrong information has flourished, largely because only one answer to a question is actually “correct.” If one were to ask “should I vaccinate my child?” the answers (including “why don’t you ask a doctor instead of the less educated masses) would range from the precisely accurate to the drug induced surreal. You guess which is which.

I fathered four children between the late 70’s and the late 80’s. When the anti vaccination documentary Vaccine Roulette was released in 1982, a young Sergeant told me I must watch the report on NBC news “if I cared about my kids.” I considered my knowledge of the Sergeant, an attention seeking loudmouth who regularly stated or implied he was a “company man” (bizarre in the sense we were all in the community and knew he had never been with the company), and decided to watch the program anyway. Immediately I could see the flaws, over blowing consequences by using raw numbers rather than statistics, failing to mention the enormous benefits, playing on visuals of ailing children. Heartstrings were grabbed by two hands and connected to a locomotive.

Millions were convinced that vaccinating a child was life threatening for the child. I made an extra effort to have my children’s vaccinations complete, there were going to be well meaning vectors of disease everywhere.

That was almost forty years ago. Yesterday there was a report of a child dying from the flu, because its Mother had decided not to vaccinate it against the flu; then when the child contracted the flu from its unvaccinated siblings, the Mother refused to treat it with antivirals. When the child showed the “initial symptoms” of the flu, including a seizure, rather than seek a doctor’s advice, she sought out an antivaxx group on Facebook. When none of the suggested natural remedies had any effect on the virus, rather than seek a doctor’s advice she asked the group again. Not one answer suggested seeing a doctor. A four year old boy in Colorado joined sixty eight other children who have died of the flu so far this season; evolution is proven as those disease vectors and the pro-disease ideas which ended their lives never have the opportunity to reproduce.

I might ask how to clean a cast iron pot on Facebook, but if my child had a seizure we’re going to the hospital.

You, more than likely, know nothing about me. If my words resonate with your common sense, I pray that you investigate further to verify them. Would you take my medical advice, and apply it to your children? Apparently, fifty nine percent of you would. People do not take the flu seriously because “No one dies from the flu.” I take the flu seriously because one of my earliest exposures to information on the subject was my Grandfather’s story about coming home from world war one and burying his brother (by himself, mortuaries were packed with the dead) during the 1918 epidemic.

In 1918, fifty million lives were lost to the flu (one fifth of the world population). Comparatively, twenty million were lost to World War one. Today, epidemics are measured by the percentage of total deaths caused by a factor, 7.2 is the threshold. The current rate of mortality in America caused by flu (which produces a cause of death known as pneumonia) is 7.1. Compared to the Spanish flu, today’s deaths are minuscule; but with a century of medical advances they should be much closer to zero. You might say “No one dies from the flu,” so far this season “No one” equals twelve thousand American lives. Yes, I still take the flu seriously.

The hive mind is concerned with the Corona virus, which has an even lower mortality rate, while ignoring the near epidemic flu virus. The wisdom of the hive mind has suggested the virus can be avoided by not drinking Mexican beer, as well as suggesting the virus is a deadly world pandemic. Neither is correct.

Perfectly safe, unless you were looking for a real beer

 

Don’t be a drone. Escape the hive and think for yourself.

The false god of science-lite

When I was young, I was enamored with the sciences. It was a great time, advances were being made in every field, many designed with the space program in mind. I studied chemistry (hard to avoid when your father is a chemist), astronomy, physics, and anything that smelled “cool.”

As I got older, my friends were also attracted to the sciences, going on to careers we each envied, as our careers were envied by them. Mutual admiration was common as we advanced in the world.

Then one day in 1972 a friend said his candidate was neither Republican (Nixon) or Democrat (McGovern); he supported the Peace and Freedom party. He didn’t know the name of the candidate, but the name of the party was appealing after a decade in Vietnam. I became aware that half of the population has double digit IQs, not everyone had musical talent of any kind, some people were interested in a thing because they liked the sound of the name.

I don’t know that 1972 was a pivotal year, it’s just the year I noticed. It did happen to be the last year we went to the moon. It is when I noticed that some of the people who claimed an interest in science did not know what a science was. Astrology was called a science, Homeopathy was a science. The language took a subtle change; more people were “interested in science” than “the sciences.” Science had become a God. As with most religions, the congregation had no connections to their God.

Over the years I have heard people claim science is the reason they don’t believe in a God, or that science supports their opinions. I have seen the scientific method tossed aside for opinion and speculation.

I could never see a conflict between science and God, but then I don’t expect the Bible to be a science text. It is a religious text, I don’t seek answers to religious questions in Einstein’s work, although I do appreciate his view of quantum physics, that God does not play dice.

In 1998, Andrew Wakefield published paper in Lancet claiming a link between the MMR vaccine and Autism. It took over ten years for the Lancet to retract the paper, but it was debunked almost immediately. By 2001 it was uncovered that Wakefield had started a company prior to the publication that would faciltate suits against pharmaceutical companies for a fee. His methodology was riddled with corrupt and false data.  There was no question that not only was he a fraud, he was a con-man; this was to have been his biggest con.

Today, twenty years after having been exposed as a scam, people claiming to be scientists are still hawking the same old wares, repackaged with fresh faulty data, basing complaints on ingredients which have not been used in forty years or are present in dosages that are meaningless. There is more Thiomersal in tuna than vaccines.

The antivaxx movement is stronger than ever, based on a lie that has turned into a moral imperative. Who can argue with a mother who will not expose her child to what she believe to be a poison? Perhaps the mother of an immunodeficient child who could die from the measles? Personally, if this was simply a choice by double digit IQs to leave their children vulnerable to deadly diseases, I would view it as evolutionary positive, removing those genes from the pool. But it is not. Unvaccinated children are the building blocks for epidemics among the immunodeficient community.

How many people are immunodeficient? A small percentage, who use the same medical facilities, placing them in contact with each other. Epidemics can move like wildfire through the community.

If the flu, Measels, Mumps, and Rubella were not threats to public health, why did we go to so much trouble to find a vaccine? The brilliant, privileged Antivaxxer will say that the diseases are rare, and rarely are fatal. Remind the buffoon that they are rare now because of the vaccines,  one hundred years ago fifty million people died from the flu. The deaths overwhelmed society so much that my grandfather had to bury his brother. Only a few die from Measels, which is of little reassurance for the over one million parents of children who died of Measels in 1990 (two parents per child).

Ingrid Newkirk as president of PETA, said “A rat is a pig is a dog is a boy,” demonstrating her lack of medical knowledge, and I might say spiritual knowledge as well. She was opposed to vaccines (indeed all medicines) because they are sometimes made with animal products, and always tested on animals. Apparently her childhood memories of a society plagued with childhood deaths and lifetime disabilities, then resolved by vaccines, lead her to believe that human life is cheap.

I once worked at an S.P.C.A. with a young woman who was under the impression she was a veterinarian. Her method of proof of death was to touch the eye of an animal to see if there was a reaction. One day we were discussing animal rights issues (like poking dying dogs in the eye), and she said “Well, I’ve researched this on my own. . . ” so I asked her which laboratory she had used for the research. She told me she didn’t need a laboratory,  she had “heard of” books on the subject. She had not even read the books, she culled her “knowledge” from the title and blurb, and called it “Research.” That was when I knew that the public understanding of what the sciences are is pitiful.

So today, when someone tells me they have two degrees in science, my initial impression is those sciences could easily be macrame and basket weaving. I know actual scientists, in fact I was raised around them, listening to conversations at cocktail parties my parents threw, and then in daily life. There are words they do and don’t use. So yes, I can determine your scientific background just from talking to you about a school play or a futbol match. This is not some superpower, you just have to pay attention to your sources of information. So I cannot understand why so many fail, then I remember how many people have double digit IQs.

It does not require genius to comprehend the sciences, just a mind open to new discoveries.

 

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.

 

World Pride Day

30 June 2019, 8th St at 6th Ave NYC

 

Pride Day became Pride week became Pride month. The culmination of Pride month was the weekend of 29/30 June in New York City. Janice and I arrived Friday and left Monday morning. It was a wonderful weekend in so many ways, the crash of backlash seems so incredibly offensive.

Fifty years ago a group of drag queens and other queers got tired of being abused by the police, so they fought back. The original Pride was days of riots. Today is a celebration, backed by corporate sponsors who occasionally have a horrible history of anti LGBT+ discrimination. The spin off march, Queer Liberation, works to remind everyone that the original Pride was a riot; and has no corporate presence. I really should have gotten up a few hours earlier and gone to that parade, but this was the big fiftieth anniversary of the Stonewall Riots so we wanted to see the main parade.

I am exceptionally grateful that I had the sense not to march in either parade. I’m not sure I could have kept it up. From the very first person to the last there were genuine smiles of joy. Everyone was smiling, there weren’t even any whining children despite many children being present. I had been standing for nine hours before I realized I had been standing for nine hours. Janice was starting to collapse, having been the center of attention on our block for nine hours. This is when we found that we should have stayed on the other side of the street. There were barriers to prevent crossing the street, and we were inside the perimeter of the celebration. When that last smiling marcher passed by around midnight, we were able to try to find our way home.

Fortunately, I remembered enough about New York Subways to avoid the frustration of finding a cab. As we entered the station, some idiot who thought he could take over the world monetary system was trying to use the ticket machine to do and a group of girls in line were fighting, so an exhausted NYPD officer unlocked the doors to get everyone onto the platform (for free!).

The vibe in the air was love, and acceptance. It was not unusual to see (or not) wonderfully sculpted garments that enhanced the beauty of the person adorned. There was a small amount of nudity, most women wore pasties and the majority of men kept their genitals out of view. I dressed properly.

Somehow I forgot sunscreen, I have the most unusual tan lines.

 

Janice, being full of excitement, actually got sunburn on her armpits from waving her arms in the air. Being exceptionally beautiful with rainbow heart pasties, she drew some surprising attention. Gay guys like boobies too, every camera that passed seemed to pause on her. Marchers would stop and cheer her “bravery,” often lifting their shirts to show they were already wearing pasties (or not). And perhaps raising our prestige on the street even higher, a couple of people marching and in cars for organizations made a point of talking to her from the parade, because they were friends involved in the same organizations. We even were noticed by a couple of professional photographers, one producing a story for a European magazine,  another the lovely Dianne Arndt, a New York based international photographer.

 

Courtesy Dianne Arndt

 

Being the fiftieth anniversary of the riots, New York was the center of World Pride Day. There were groups from many countries, but I only saw two Belgian flags (don’t read anything into that, I know plenty of LGBT+ Belgians). As well as other countries, other cities were represented, some just small towns I had never heard of.

 

 

One of the two Belgian Flags I saw in the parade

 

There were the traditional contingents of each variety of the LGBT+ community, and the corporate sponsors ranged from IBM to Fred’s Hardware. There were very few political statements, no matter how you regard LGBT+ folks, we come from every walk of life. The presence of church groups was nice.

Crowd estimates ranged from 800,000 people present to three million visitors to NYC for the purpose of the LGBT+ events.

 

Janice with a fellow “Pasties Pride” spectator

Of course, even after a wonderful weekend surrounded by my peers, we had to return to the real world. We came home, caught up with everyone who couldn’t be there or we had seen. Janice posted the above picture on her Facebook page. In addition to receiving almost a hundred “likes” from our friends, a relative of mine chose the occasion to make a rude remark. It felt weird blocking a relative. I have no idea what it will be like when we visit next so yes, I am appropriately intimidated. What I will not be is ashamed. Should she choose to argue (I have no idea what her problem is, I am loving a woman these days) I do feel better informed about her likely issue. Turns out the word “Homosexual” did not exist in the English Bible until the twentieth century. The word it is translated from is usually translated as “Child molester.” Early Bibles even contained the correct translation, some still do. Then there’s the clear words of Jesus when he tells people to grow, to love everyone, and hate no one.

I thought I understood the prejudice and harassment LGBT+ people live with. I was in that “privileged” group of Bisexuals who “pass” as straight. After all this time, people still don’t get it; what happens in my bedroom is as much of your business as what you do in yours is mine. I “came out” to more people who had simply ignored my previous attempts, and I can only imagine how difficult this must be for someone with insecurities. I’ve had friends cancel engagements, stop talking with me, and in a few cases end our friendships. So much for our enlightened society.

This year, I am Proud. I have a sense of community I have never felt before. People of diverse circumstance and sexuality joined in support of all who stand outside. I also feel a sadness for those who deny love when it doesn’t fit their understanding, I personally cannot see two humans expressing love for each other and not feel joy.

So get out there, straight, gay, or any variation and spread love.

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.

 

 

Adjustments

When I met Janice, we were both polyamorous. Now we find ways to justify the  title. Our lives are simple and sweet.

Pride Weekend at The Woods. All we are wearing are our Birkenstocks.

 

And kinky.

We have found what we never expected. Someone to Love, and be Loved by. Sure, we have a physical relationship that would wear out teenagers, but the warmth, comfort, and happiness we gain merely by proximity is typically thought to be once in a lifetime, and we already had our turns. I just couldn’t think about someone being as precious to me as Emma, and although I have said “I love you” to several women since she died, it never took me as long to say it. This is special, I was kind of afraid to say the words because they had meaning I had not thought possible. When Sam saw us together for the first time (only the second time I had seen Janice), she could see the energy between us, and proceeded to bail on our relationship. At another time I would have argued for her to stay, but I couldn’t wait for her to leave.

There are simple things, our shared preferences exceed those of any woman I have ever lived with. Yes, we are living together. We rarely spend a night apart, the location just changes. She can’t leave her home and responsibilities, and there is no way in hell I would ever make New Jersey my state of residence again.

Our shared passions are nearly identical, and have always been compatible. We’re even going to a baseball game together. She loves sports and I can identify the shape of the ball in each of them.

The passions that we share include our very being. We both have carried labels that were inaccurate, and are more free than ever to be proud of who and what we are. Sam had made quite the point of allowing me to explore “that” side of myself, what a joy to be with someone who is that side of myself, and understands it is not a side, it is all of me.

An interesting aspect has been the reactions. I was pretty sure everyone knew I was bisexual, or at least suspected. It wasn’t “important,” we never talked about it; I would just occasionally say something about an encounter that had not been with a woman. Janice was an activist with Queer Nation, she was very publicly out, so I held her hand thinking I was publicly out too. Apparently I have been too subtle all these years. A number of people distanced themselves from me, most were polite (at least they thought they were).

So I find myself coming out at age sixty. For those who chose to not remember the boyfriend I had at 19 (forty years ago), or the bi/poly household of 1985, it didn’t just go away. And I find it disturbing that my “open minded” conservative friends have had so much trouble understanding I have always been bisexual. Being in committed heterosexual relationships did not change that. I did not “pick sides” and choose Hetero, I just had no male lovers. When a heterosexual person is single, does that mean they are Asexual? Interest remains.

I am free. No longer constrained by domineering partners, I get to do what I want. I can go to a nudist camp for the weekend with my lover. We can go to a swinger’s party and share ourselves with like minded consenting adults. We can go to a hole in the wall adult bookstore and get a standing ovation for our performances. I am harming no one. I am measurably healthier since meeting Janice, both mentally and physically.

Janice and I are bisexuals. We are polyamorous in the sense that we have other lovers, but only as a couple; We “play” together. Just in case you were interested. I know the orientation and sexuality of almost everyone I know, why didn’t you know mine? And why do you think my mentioning my sexuality is “shoving in your face,” when I can’t breathe without enduring the countless examples of your sexuality being shoved in my face and being called “normal,” implying I am not. My sexuality remains an insult to this day. How would you feel if the same was true of you?

I am not asking you to understand me. I am asking you to accept me as your equal, treat me with the same respect you did last year.

Love is Love

 

Paperwork

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Challenges of Recovery

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Living with a cat

A few months old, in her perch by the window

 

For much of my life, dogs were the preferred pet. Because most of my life I lived in apartments, I only had a few dogs over the years. My second wife wanted a cat, so I brought one home from the SPCA. We realized he had been born around the Autumnal equinox, so we named him Autumn. He was a blonde tabby, exceptionally clever and playful I even taught him to fetch. When we divorced my ex-wife kept him. I was called when he needed to go to the vet, and when he eventually died, I buried him.

My third wife was a dog person, when we met she had a rottweiler. She wasn’t exactly afraid of the dog, but she feared he would one day attack me. One night we were playing and he snarled, and she decided to have him euthanized. I do not believe I was ever in danger, but fear is not a rational thing. She had a deep scar on her face from the dog, and didn’t understand that dogs could snarl during play.

We went a few years without a pet, then we started to see mice in our apartment. Emma was unusually frightened by mice. She genuinely believed they were taunting her. One day she called me at work, from atop a chair, to tell me to come home immediately because the mouse was laughing at her. I arrived home a few hours later and she was still on the chair. This is a woman who threw a meat cleaver at me once. I called the landlord and got permission to have a cat.

A woman who frequented the restaurant where Emma cooked rescued cats, and had just found a litter in a box next to the highway in Delaware. We chose a little tortoiseshell furball, and Emma decided to name her Autumn because she looked like a pile of leaves. When we took Autumn, she fit in the palm of my hand. Today she weighs fifteen pounds.

Autumn proved to be an excellent mouser, although she didn’t always clean up after herself. I found a dried carcass under the sofa, and one time she entered the bedroom with one in her mouth, holding it by the tail. At first we thought it was one of her play mice, then she casually flipped her head, throwing the mouse onto the bed.

Autumn is a cave cat, she likes to hide in small spaces. When she was little she would climb under the covers. She has always slept with me, at first on my chest, then between my legs (try turning over with a ten pound cat on top of the covers between your legs), now at my feet. When we get in bed she follows me into the room, and once I’m settled she jumps up and finds a place to lie against me. I don’t know precisely which year we got Autumn, it must have been around 2005, making her about fourteen now. She bonded strongly to Emma, who was home most of the time, and Emma loved Autumn possibly more than she loved me. Autumn would hide whenever we had guests, one time when a home nurse was administering an IV of Methylprednisolone we heard a muffled “meow” from the sofa, Autumn was hiding inside. When Emma was preparing to leave the hospital for home hospice, all she could talk about was sleeping in her own bed with Autumn. She didn’t make it home, and with the first grieving visitor Autumn came out to the guests.

Since then she has moved with me to Princeton, to live with my new family and their cats. Rascal and Leroy were large males, used to living on the street. I once saw Rascal casually walk across the street to block the path of a bulldog walking down that side. The two males let Autumn know it was their house, and were rarely friendly to her. When we all moved to another house it was Autumn who was the first to explore every nook and cranny while the boys stayed huddled in the cat room. They accepted her as an equal.

Autumn has seen several women pass through my door, first Emma, then Lieve, then a couple of girlfriends, and now Sam. Sam was not an animal person at all, but she has come to adore Autumn. It is comforting to have another human to occupy Autumn, I am always the one who administers medicine and takes her to the vet, so at times she doesn’t trust me much.

One thing I have taught Autumn to do is whisper. Sam didn’t believe cats could whisper, and was amazed to see her do it on command. She “guards” me, according to cat body language folks; standing next to me and facing away. When I come out of the WC, there she will be standing guard. Following my TBI she rarely left my side. My psychiatrist wrote a letter identifying Autumn as my support cat, which came in handy when we moved to a no pets building.

Autumn provides a great deal of emotional support for me. I cannot consider losing her. I can not. But she is sick, and I have been forced to consider life without her. She started vomiting in October, so I took her to the vet, who did blood tests and X-rays and gave her anti=nausea meds. The vomiting returned after the meds wore off, so we tried it again, more tests and meds, this time when it returned the frequency had increased to more than once a day. The vet recommended an ultrasound, so we took her for that and they found a thickening of her intestinal wall, which could indicate irritable bowel syndrome, or lymphoma. To determine which it is, they want to do biopsies. I took her for the appointment, but the feline internist didn’t want to do the biopsies without more tests, so she ran those. When the results are in we will talk about biopsies. In the interim, we’re keeping Autumn on the anti-nausea meds.

The question that flashed by was “how much do you want to spend on a cat?” Autumn is far more than just a cat, and it really isn’t costing that much money. Yes, I’ve spent about $2000 so far and the biopsies will run closer to $3000, but in her lifetime she has cost me very little. Vets, food, and litter probably run about $250 a year, so an additional $5000 amortized over fourteen years slightly more than doubles that amount. My greatest fear is she might have a bad reaction to the anesthesia. Biopsy would be either through endoscopy or surgery, the internist seems to prefer surgery, but to me that is too big of a risk. I prefer the endoscopy.

I never thought she would live forever, I just didn’t think about her mortality at all. I am fairly sure she’ll pull through this, I just hope whatever meds she has to take taste good. She hates the anti-nausea pills, even when I crush them and dilute them with a can of food.

I am here in the new year

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

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

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

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

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

They did refer to it as a “Soviet” hat

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

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

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

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

 

 

Antisocial media

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

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

Assault

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Conflicting memories

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

This is not a pipe

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

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

 

Genders

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

 

Lethal Narcissism

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

Synchronicity

As I approach Father’s Day, I am surrounded by synchronicity, a set of events which appear to have meaningful coincidences. I do not actually believe in the concept of coincidences in the first place, that they should be meaningful absent a cause is more a mind trying to make connections where they do not exist rather than a deep insight, it is, simply, a vibe. But I like the word “Synchronicity.”

My own father and I have had an unusual relationship. I say unusual because it does not seem to be the relationship my peers express experiencing. We’ve been close, distant, and close again for decades. From what people have told me, their relationships have been stable and unchanging. My father and I have both grown over the years, at some points we were on the same plane, others we were not.

Just last December, I was rather harsh with my father. I will make the excuse that I was exhausted from trying to explain the complexity of my brain injury when he popped in with an email of basically “Well what you should do…” after I had been struggling most of the year to do those very things, but I released fifty eight years of frustration on him. Regardless of what I perceived as aloofness, I went overboard. His response was precisely what I would desire, he didn’t make a big deal about it. Instead, when I told him about my surgery in April, he flew in to spend a few days.

 

Dad as I came out of surgery

 

I contrast this with several other paternal relationships in my life.

I would like to believe my relationship with my children is similar to that with my father, in the sense I love them no matter how much they turn away from me. Just last week my youngest son turned thirty four, we haven’t spoken in a few years, but last I saw him he was holding onto a coat of mine which he had borrowed on a previous visit twelve years prior. He said it was the only piece of me he had. Nolan has not communicated with me in years, but he has not (as his siblings have) blocked me. He is honest, if he were angry he might block me, he just doesn’t want to get caught up in the drama of his siblings disapproval of me. I’m still holding out hope for the siblings as well, but it’s hard to reach out to them while I’m blocked. I just know how I grew in my relationships and hope they will do something similar. They have a few years to go, I was about the age my eldest is now when I found a way to understand my father, but then I wanted to understand my father, I was a bit more curious.

My son Nolan (in my coat)

My girlfriend has a difficult relationship with her father, and as I examine that relationship and attempt to assist in the repair of it, I appreciate my father even more. Where our differences often were the result of one of us growing in a dimension the other had not (at the moment), Sam’s and her father’s issues appear to spring from a lack of growth. From what I can see, their relationship has not changed over their lifetimes, both seeking the ideal relationship and accepting nothing less; Sam seeking her vision of a proper father and Saul seeking his vision of a proper daughter, neither accepting the other’s frailties. I hear actual expressions of compassion from each of them, but each wants the other to change. This is the problem my children have, they resist changing their point of view for fear of it being perceived as weakness, an acknowledgement of their previous point of view being “wrong.”

These relationships, and those of other people I have been close to, tell me there is no “normal” father/child relationship any more than there are normal interpersonal relationships of any kind. It is certainly common for children to love their parents and vice versa, but as in any relationship, one party’s love does not obligate reciprocation.

I believe my father is proud of me, he recognizes my strengths and even though I did not follow the path he had in mind, I have been a productive member of society. I am certainly proud of the good works he has accomplished. Go back forty years and we were both difficult and less mature.

Times change. Some of the things I did forty years ago are unacceptable now, others were odd then but normal now. As I have come to reconcile my brain injury, one of my primary concerns was that I am not who I was before the fall. My neuropsychologist reminded me that no one is who they were last year or ten years ago, we change, the world changes, and the healthy among us adapt.

Some people refuse to let go of their pain. Some people find themselves trapped in a relationship in which their opposite clings to their pain. The healthy thing to do would be to walk away, but parental relationships can be as painful to walk away from as to endure. Parents tend to understand the delicate balance, which is why I had hoped my own children would see our relationship more clearly once they became parents. One more lesson in “just because it worked for you doesn’t mean anyone else will see it.” That is a lesson I need to relearn often.

If there is a secret, that is it. Learn and relearn. As each participant changes, and the world they live in changes, accept and forgive; this project never ends. It would be nice if relationships were simple, but they are not; they are the connections of two unique individuals. You can blame the frustrations on Fitzgerald, “So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past” or you can change the way you look at it. Leave the past behind, and focus on now, accept and forgive.

 

 

 

 

What’s in your wallet?

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

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

A 100 Ruble note ($1.69 USD)

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

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

And in coins;

A Susan B Anthony and “Gold” US Dollar

A 2£ coin

A 100 (old) Peso coin

A Canadian dollar

One French Franc circa 1970

A 2€ coin

An East Caribbean dollar

A two Drachma coin

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

A Septa subway token

 

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

 

 

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

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

 

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

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

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

 

 

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

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

 

 

 

 

I’m Batman

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

 

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

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

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

 

My bat, man 

 

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

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

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

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

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

The tide is turning

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

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

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

 

Misrepresentation of CO2 levels

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ten days out

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

12 April 2017, bandage removed

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

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

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

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

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

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

My father as I regained consciousness

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

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

 

Days go by

Days turn into years, sometimes it is hard to tell the difference.

1 April 1999. April Fools day, a perfect choice for a wedding date for two people who were each married twice before. If, as Oscar Wilde had said, “Marriage is the triumph of imagination over intelligence, second marriage is the triumph of hope over experience,” what are third marriages?

For Emma and I it was the triumph of passion over ego. There was not much we did not feel strongly about, for the most part we fell on the same sides of issues. There were a few things in which we found we held diametrically opposed viewpoints, but today, eighteen years and one brain injury later, I cannot recall anything to which we did not eventually find a peaceful resolution.

Our passions were intense. I recall meeting some friends at the winery a week before Emma and I met. I was in an unusually peaceful state, and Suzanne (there were five “Sues” at the winery, each addressed with a unique variant of the name) said “Blake must be with a new woman.” I smiled and shook my head “no.” I had no women in my life and was enjoying the freedom. I had just turned forty, and after a series of passionless relationships was happy to have nothing to complain about. She knew what I was looking for, Suzanne and I had talked about it so often she would drop into an imitation of John Lovitz as “Master Thespian” when she said “Passion!” The next week I took Emma on our first date, a Nouveau party at the winery. Suzanne saw us, and silently mouthed the word and thrust forth her hand. It was obvious from the moment Emma and I met.

Four months and two weeks later we married, another eleven years, three months and four days later I was holding Emma as she said “I can’t fight anymore” and stopped breathing. There was little I could do during those years other than to love her.

I truly did not believe I could continue without her. Depending on my state of cynicism I often believe I should not have tried. It has been six years and eight months since then; I remarried, divorced, and had a few relationships. My current girlfriend is similar to Emma in many ways, and radically different in many others. The passion is there. The ego is different, second generation American from Ukraine as opposed to Emma’s first generation American from Sicily, but they are both fierce.

This week, concluding with what would have been our eighteenth anniversary, I will be rebuilding Emma’s “shrine,” a glass case I prepared for her urn just after her death, which has been in a closet for the last six years. The spare bedroom at my new place will house both her shrine and her cat, Autumn. I was worried about keeping a cat in a “no pets” building, but there are provisions in the Fair Housing Act for therapy and support animals, and my doctors provided the required documentation. Autumn is all I have left of Emma, I suspect I will handle losing her much as I handled losing Emma.

As my memory has come into question, some memories seem stronger than ever. Weeks like this intensify Emma’s presence in my mind, although she is seldom distant from my heart. I picture her in her vision of heaven, with her mother and her first husband who she never stopped loving. My life has taken some strange turns of late, perhaps “stranger” would be more accurate; my life was never normal. I struggle to write, and recall that I started writing for the public for Emma. In the last year I have needed to redefine almost everything, Emma and Autumn have been my constants, my F if you will. After my injury Emma was heavily on my mind while little else was, as I prepare for cranial surgery reminders of her hospital experience surround me.

I don’t speak much now. Partially due to the effects of the SCD, partially due to my need to understand what everything, including my own thoughts, mean. Emma comes to me in the silence, and guides me towards light.

 

P3272402.JPG

Autumn, Therapy Cat

 

 

 

 

A new window

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

The third window

The “third window”

 

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

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

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

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

 

2017

Happy New Year. I am much happier today than I was one year ago, waking in the hospital with what must have been a wonderful assortment of drugs. I do not recall pain in my elbow, but it was still a few days until I realized I no longer had an elbow. It must have hurt, previous experience suggests morphine would have eliminated pain without clouding my memory, although the brain injury should have clouded my memory.

Today, that rebuilt contraption functions better than any of the doctors and therapists expected, better than most of them thought possible, better than any of them were capable of doing themselves. That is one of my triumphs, something I am proud of even though I had little to do with it.

It appeared, to everyone, that an inordinate number of performers died in 2016. David Bowie died on the day I started writing again. It is difficult to remember, I can’t remember writing, but the article exists and is accurate and not horribly written. The brain injury was apparently not clouding my memory at that point. I could only have been typing with my left hand, I remember frustration with using the mouse left handed, and I remember the initial reports on the internet. I remember Sam being there, and saying to her “I think Bowie died.” This is how my memory works now, bits and pieces. From what I have been told, my brain may take another couple of years to heal, perhaps I will have rich, full memories again. They still exist for some moments of the past, not as many as before, but none in the past year.

They tell me I will continue to get better, and that progress will not be linear. My goal, which I believe I have achieved, is to accept this. I no longer judge myself against two years ago, I judge myself against two months ago. I don’t always see the improvements, but people around me do. As many reminders I receive that TBI is an “Invisible injury,” I like to believe what others see as improvements.

There have been some disappointments, but I am certain I am not the only one to have been disappointed. I like to think I have become accepting and tolerant, and in reality one cannot be tolerant unless they are aware of what they are tolerant of. The election cycle appears to have been far more divisive than previous elections. I have friends who stepped away from social media altogether, many of whom have stated “All my friends became monsters.” I have seen a failure of civility, related to but not a part of the election. The route to proving one’s point has somehow degraded to insulting the opponent’s intelligence. It hurts a bit when you’re recovering from TBI, but it has been a learning experience, both in illuminating the character of people who claim my opinions are due to my brain injury, sometimes in crude and derogatory terms; and in learning not to argue with people who have no interest in reality. I am trying to open my own mind, I do not have the energy to open others.

I have not been as irritable as it appears is common in people with brain injuries, I have become more frugal with the energy I am willing to expend. It is fascinating to discover how much energy it takes to do nothing, I find myself exhausted after completing one or two simple tasks in a day. I shy away from meanness and anger, so perhaps I am more sensitive to it. People rarely feel they are cruel, telling them so makes them angry, so I have had to simply avoid some dear friends and family. This should tell me something about my former self, I have yet to figure out what I have learned. In some cases I wonder why I ever put up with them in the past, in most cases I see my own failure in enlightening them.

I have done enough. That’s just me talking, I really have nothing to say in the matter, but I have no desires of conquest. I intend to spend some time volunteering at the Brain Injury rehabilitation center down the road, I recall an ability to communicate with the non-verbal. I haven’t expected a long future for some time, but I can do my best with the days that present themselves. Who knows? Maybe I will fulfill my genetic predisposition and go another forty years. Time will continue, and all of this will eventually be meaningless.

 

 

 

 

Man of mystery

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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