Ten Years out




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

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

On 5 July 2010 I wrote

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Blake,

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

Pat

From: Cash, K

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

To: Cash, Patricia

Subject: Grief

Patty,

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

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

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

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

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

Peace,

Blake



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


Our wedding rings, now in Emma’s shrine



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


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


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


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


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


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



What have I done since then?



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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Emma’s personal ad




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

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

Isolation

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

In the ways we made each other feel.







Splendid Isolation

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

And most importantly, wash your hands.

 

 

 

 

How many Jews?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Catering to illegal activities

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Binary society

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Two old straight folk on the streets of NYC


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

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

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

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

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

 

There are certainly more than two


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

 

The Fairness of Life

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



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

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

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

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



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

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

 

Gifts from Russia


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

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

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



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

 

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


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

 

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


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





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

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

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



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

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

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

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

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

Proper sentencing

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Conflicting interests

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

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.

Recognizing Big Brother

 

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Rebel.

 

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

The Holidays

 

Which Holidays?

From our earliest social constructs, we learned to mark the seasons. Of greatest importance were solar positions, the Solstice was the end of the shortening days. The days would grow longer, but the cold was not yet at its deepest depths. The Solstice was a symbol of hope, there would still be bad days, but the direction was warmer.

As we developed religions, it continued to get cold in the winter. Religious holidays, messages of hope, gravitated towards similar events. The birth of Jesus was celebrated on the Solstice, The Faith of the Maccabees is celebrated over an eight day event around the same time. Kwanzaa, a totally fabricated modern holiday, is celebrated over a seven day period at this time of year.

As time progressed the actual dates of the celebrations changed, Constantine separated from the Solstice and the birth of Jesus was celebrated on the 25th of December. The calendar itself has changed a couple of times as well.

“Happy Holidays” applies to most people because we are all celebrating the same thing, Hope. We may give it different names and attributes, but on the darkest day humanity looks forward together. While sniping at each other for celebrating the wrong way.

Earlier this year I was reading about a religious leader who had been asked to deliver a non-denominational prayer. He responded he would not, non-denomination meant no denomination to him. In many ways I agree, while we all have so much in common, a prayer is directed to a deity, within the constructs of its religion, according to a particular denomination. At which deity do you direct a non-denominational prayer? A blessing to one may be a curse to another.

We are at our best when we recognize our similarities, and at our worst when we deny our differences. We are different individuals with unique DNA, our thoughts are built on disparate influences. The best we can do is accept each other, which should cause us to understand ourselves better.

I have learned a good deal from listening to people who do not share my beliefs. Sometimes what I learn reinforces my beliefs, sometimes it challenges them, but it is always refreshing to discuss beliefs which have not crossed the line in my partner’s mind into “facts” which are simply a matter of faith. The only thing I have been able to learn from people who believe their articles of faith are facts is that they do not understand what a fact is, and often do not understand what beliefs are either.

Use this season and its gatherings to learn about people who think differently than you, rejoice about your similarities and respect your differences.

 

 

 

 

The Christians and the Pagans

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

 

 

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

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

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.

 

 

A most wonderful companion

While I often reference my personal life and the people who pass through it, I would like to jump the shark and speak about a woman I met recently and find myself head over heels in love with. Sounds a bit crazy, but that’s my life.

I am polyamorous. I was in what I thought was a stable relationship, my primary partner had other long term lovers and a number of short term ones after my injury. Three years later I am recovering and start to see people, and my primary (Samantha) melts down, ending our relationship. I was disappointed. Interestingly, the reason for the meltdown of my primary is because she could feel that my new friend (Janice) was in love with me.

At this age we don’t admit it. Even I, who rushes into relationships as a hobby, have slowed down the speed at which a relationship progresses. I’m pretty sure I let Janice say “I love you” first. It only took a few dates. I’m still amazed this is happening.

I never expected to fall in love, yet here I am.

She is, of course, beautiful. As with most women she doesn’t see it, but she glows. Her energy and spirit are expressed physically. And that’s just her body. More on that later.

Her mind is fascinating. I described her the other day as “The most open-minded opinionated person I know.” She does many of the things I do, such as pointing out an opponent’s strongest argument. She recognizes her own party’s propaganda, at times saying “That’s just left wing propaganda.” She sees through the diversions and focuses on reality. She runs a Facebook page devoted to the scientific process.

Her personality is fascinating, and tuned to mine. She is polyamorous, she is bisexual, she is adventurous. She does things I would never have done without her. She has done things I would never do. She has darkness in her past. She has largely recovered from some of the most horrible abuse I have ever heard of. She has lived a life of adversity, and come away with few scars. Her strength shines through illuminating her path.

Some of the scars were deep, and she is disabled. She has had many medical experiences similar to mine. She exists on her Disability payments and rent from a boarder. She cares for the mother of her late husband; and her now twenty one year old daughter, who is breaking into the world. She maintains relationships for decades.

She is an activist, feet on the ground protestor and protector, having provided clinic defense for abortion clinics, helping women safely obtain a legal procedure. She is outspoken in the Bi+ community (Bi+ refers to all bisexual related groups, such as Omni and Pan). She is a leader in the local chapter of Americans United, a group devoted to preserving First Amendment rights.

She is an Atheist. She is the only Atheist who has ever convinced me they knew what they were talking about. She uses the most basic definition of Atheism, and it is a thoughtful process. I get to explain Christianity to her, and she hears a point of view she has not heard before.

About her body. She is properly proportioned, lush and soft. She is eager. She enjoys playing with our boundaries. She is a wonderful lover, expressing herself freely. She makes me feel twenty years younger. She came up with a word to call each other, because our relationship is unusual. She calls me BoyfriendLoverPartner, I call her GirlfriendLoverPartner.

We spend the majority of our time together, her presence is soothing. We share tastes in music, and go to performances frequently. We’ve been to several cultural events together.  We have made friends as a couple, and in fact are going to a party tonight. We are in tune.

We have mini vacations planned, a weekend at a LGBT nudist camp, a weekend in Manhattan for Pride weekend, a weekend in Rehobeth DE for a performance of a drag troupe.

In almost three months we’ve only had one major disagreement, and we worked together to resolve it.

At Magic Gardens for an evening event

 

I’ve been on a roller coaster since Emma died, this feels right on a molecular level. Her family likes me, her pets like me, I fit in.

I know this has become little more than a love letter, Janice has not received all the praise she deserves. She has opened doors that were previously blocked, she has helped redefine a few words for me, she has opened my eyes to things, and I hope I have shown her things she didn’t know.

This is what is happening in my life. I have found a most wonderful companion. I am happy.

Changes

Surprise. Things change.

I was just getting comfortable in this lifestyle to which Sam had introduced me. I had overcome many of my disabilities. I was, by most measures, healed from my TBI.

I was ready to explore polyamory from the driver’s seat. No more hanging back while Sam enjoyed her other relationships, I was ready to start seeing other people myself. As fate would have it, not only was I seeing a side of polyamory I had not before, Sam was as well.

It appears we were approaching polyamory from different points of view. I was taking it literally, “many loves,” while she was taking it as “many lovers.” I wasn’t allowed to have an emotional attachment because she only has physical connections. You know, the stuff monogamous people think polyamorous people do all the time. I am okay with anonymous encounters, but I really got into this to be involved with multiple minds.

The first two women I dated were okay with Sam, but the latest she thoroughly hates. I think it is because she fell in love with me, and Sam was jealous. As time has passed, I found myself loving Janice as well. We click. We have the same desires and attitudes concerning our sexuality. As much as I hate to say it, Sam pushed us together by pushing me away.

Sam went on a tirade, bad mouthing me to anyone who would listen, and some who wouldn’t. She made derogatory remarks about every aspect of my life in every forum she could. I understand jealous rage, I used to feel it. I was fiercely monogamous when I was younger.

What blew me away was when she attacked my morality for loving someone I was intimate with. Most of her attacks were meaningless, obviously designed to be hurtful or annoying, like when she said I was a lousy writer; but when she turned on the way of life she introduced me to I had no desire to pursue a life with her.

It was heartwarming to have people from our online page (which I gracefully exited) approach me as friends. They could see through the bluster of her attacks and saw the angry closet narcissist inside. Our page was supposed to be a drama free zone, accepting everyone. Her shaming of Janice and me was everything our page was supposed to be a shelter from. Janice and I were shocked, the hypocrisy was obvious.

It really got under her skin when I met a new woman for coffee, and spent three hours talking with her. She had settled down and could be civil, but another woman (while she was leaving) was too much for her. It was just coffee! (well, chai) and I was staying out of her way, but again, I failed to match her expectations. One might wonder why she cared, but that would take us down a rabbit hole in search of her true feelings.

Oddly enough, she managed to meet someone who she is now calling the love of her life. He had dumped her a year before she met me, and broken her heart. But he was still on the Swing Lifestyle site and they connected. I sincerely hope they are happy, or at least happy enough to leave me alone.

Closing this relationship has been easier than any of my divorces, I paid Sam for her half of the condo, and will let her store things here until she finds a larger space. In the immediate future, I will have to be home at least every other night to take care of Autumn, once she no longer needs medication every other day I’ll be able to stay away for longer periods.  And the entire meltdown only took about three weeks.

Don’t misunderstand me, polyamory is a beautiful lifestyle. It is essential, as in all relationships, that all participants be on the same page. Janice and I are polyamorous and have every intention of staying that way, she has desires I can never fulfill, and actually gets excited hearing about my dates. I enjoy seeing her satisfied, and we both enjoy pursuits which I will not talk about here, other than to say we do them together, using safe practices.

A number of people have said they are sorry for what I am going through. I am not. I am going through life, and the result of this incident is we are all happier.

Sam managed to move out quickly, so quickly she trashed the condo. She said she would come back and finish up the next week, then cancelled and said it might be a month. In what must have had tongues wagging, Janice came to visit the day Sam left.

So now I return the condo to a presentable state, and finally get to make local friends who can visit. I am, depending on the definition, single again. Janice and I are extremely close and spend most nights at my place, but there is no way we will move in together anytime soon. I will not move to NJ due to their firearms laws, and she is tied to a mortgage and two disabled roommates. Nonetheless, Sam gloated about us moving in together.

Life is good. It could never be perfect, but I am secure, involved with an incredibly complex woman who adores me. The woman I spent three hours with having coffee sees me about once a week. I am becoming involved with some of Janice’s activism, keeping myself active. Janice’s family actually enjoys my presence and is very welcoming. I cannot find anything that isn’t better since, not because, Samantha left.

 

On being Queer

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The benefits of Brain Injury

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.

 

 

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

Bits and pieces

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

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

2004 at the Alamo.

2004 at the Alamo.

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

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

God the Father

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sexuality

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

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

.

 

Without offense to anyone who identifies as a pussy

Without offense intended to anyone who identifies as a pussy

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

Memories

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

 

Social Therapy

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Blake, Mike, and Kati

Blake, Mike, and Kati

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

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

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

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

I really want to be me again.

Perception

Our perceptions, the way in which we understand things, shape the things we see. I see myself as a rock and roll type of guy with a punker edge, and carry the attitude through many aspects of my life. As the years have gone by and my hair has thinned I no longer have the beautiful flowing locks of my youth, but in my mind I still see the young man I was, and I have difficulty understanding why he is pushing a walker in his Doc Martens. I suspect most of us have delusions about ourselves to some degree, yet we tend to forget we have even more mistaken impressions about other people.

God is good to me, it shows me my faults by displaying them in other people. I see the behavior and realize it exists within myself, allowing me to forgive myself as human, forgiving the others while still correcting the behavior in myself.

Recently a friend died. I met her forty years ago, and the subtle lessons she taught me back then served me through my life. You know a lesson is valuable when you find yourself sharing it with others, I have shared Connie’s lessons repeatedly, and her most meaningful lesson she repeated from beyond.

Connie and I were seventeen years old, taking “Introduction to Psychology” at New Providence High School. The teacher was Coach Furey, a young teacher with longish hair and a beard. He wanted to be “the cool teacher” and allowed us to have a coffee pot in the room because first period was early even for him. The coffee debacle contained a lesson of its own, as a section of the class became “the coffee klatch;” there were others as the young teacher stumbled through the year, but my favorite was when we discussed dreams.

Connie didn’t walk, for many in the class she was the first experience with a peer in a wheelchair. Someone asked her how she saw herself in dreams, whether in a wheelchair or walking. A level of tension was evident, even forty years ago referring to someone’s abilities was considered taboo.

Connie displayed no discomfort at the questions, answering calmly and honestly. She had never walked, she did not miss walking or picture herself walking. The wheelchair was not part of her any more than our school desks were part of us. Her vision in dreams included the movement she was accustomed to, and on the occasions she saw herself in dreams she was floating, moving without making contact with the ground.

This was a powerful lesson in perception, one that has been borne out by research. People do not miss what they have not experienced, their life is all they know. Ask a twin what it is like to have a twin, and they might ask you what it is like to not have a twin. Some examples of our misconceptions about our own perceptions can be found in the wonderful book by Daniel Gilbert, “Stumbling on Happiness,” and throughout the writings of Oliver Sacks, whose book “Seeing Voices” details his experiences at Gallaudet.

One of the more demonstrative communities to address the issue of insulated perceptions is the Deaf. Suggesting a person suffers from deafness may result in an argument, as he tries to convince you that you suffer from hearing. A growing movement within the community sees deafness as a defining element of belonging to their culture. Other groups, born differently, follow the same logic. This is how God made you, it does not need to be “fixed.”

Reflect upon this. Consider the definition of “normal,” as Merriam Webster states “usual or ordinary : not strange,” and “according with, constituting, or not deviating from a norm, rule, or principle.” Now consider the definition found in Urban Dictionary, “A word made up by this corrupt society so they could single out and attack those who are different.” The Urban Dictionary definition is directly implied by the definition in Merriam Webster, “not strange.” I find some comfort in being called “weird,” which I suppose is weird in itself. Many people wish to be accepted by society, being told they are not normal sets them apart; human beings have a long history of xenophobia, parents have killed children with minor deformities. The stigma of being different can be a life or death matter.

A few weeks ago Connie made a generous donation to my own GoFundMe website, and had written a very touching response to the thank you note I sent to her. A few years ago she had participated in “The Ice Bucket Challenge,” using ice and not water so her power chair would not “short out and blow up” as she put it.

 

 

Connie developed a sore on her leg which became infected, she went to the hospital and had a fatal heart attack the next morning. I found the reactions to Connie’s death mildly disturbing, as people said things such as “Now she is walking” and “she will be perfect.”

Connie was always perfect. It is those of us who judge others by our own standards who are less than perfect. It takes a person like Connie to reveal my own imperfections, as she did so gently, with no malice.

 

 

Unknown Territory

A dimension not only of sight and sound but of mind

A dimension not only of sight and sound but of mind

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

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

 

"Soul Speaking" Inspirational page

Soul Speaking” Inspirational page

 

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

 

 

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

 

Evaluating wellness

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

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

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

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

I woke up in the hospital and I was old.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

How am I doing?

Oh, and being able to shave would be nice

Oh, and being able to shave would be nice

 

Relationships

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

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

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

 

number5ao7

A different number five

 

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

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

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

Good people create good memories.

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

Oscar Wilde

Oscar Wilde

 

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

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

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

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