The Big Questions

I think it worthwhile to review the “big questions” in life periodically. Partly because time moves on, and wisdom may drop from an apple tree. Mostly though, it’s good to check on the “big questions” right after a significant moment in life, perhaps even a challenge to life.

I have no reason to think that a brush with death would impart answers to life. In fact, I think it is mostly ironic that we remain clueless in the face of certainty. Still, maybe there is a small thing, maybe a slight gap. Something that Leonard Cohen sings about, “a crack, where the light gets in…”

The quick answer is that I haven’t been given the meaning of life, or even the purpose of my life. The Big Questions remain for some future time. But cracks have illuminated some things.

The first thing I think of is the love/care expressed. It is almost hard to receive. So many people have sent heart felt emotions, concerning my badly acting heart. There is a mystery there.

We interact at a given level that is direct/honest, but at some distance. Relationships are seen more healthy if somewhat cool. Otherwise, we seem “too involved”, needy, or downright cloying. And yet, this often isn’t honest. Certain people mean more in your life than you admit or talk openly about. It only comes forth when you are about to lose it.

I have redoubled my efforts to express my care, for those who I care about.

It’s funny, because it works both ways. Facing the abyss is often scary, but you can walk away with a new appreciation of loved ones, family and friends. Not because of what they have done for you, but because of who they are!

So, am I saying that a health crisis gives new vision? New vision is often the same objects, but seen from a different perspective.

This is an important distinction, because a different perspective can be easily lost. In a practical sense a new perspective can be gained by moving two steps to the left. You may gain some important insights, but if you step two steps back to the right they are no longer visible.

It is no wonder that the most common command in Scripture is “Remember!”.

It is just past Rosh Hashanah, the beginning of a new year, with a new heart, new perspectives, it is always the “right” time to start. You may never have the chance again.

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Driven by Fear

We are often driven by fear. We are taught that fear determines flight instead of fight. I think I still fear the fight.

In the course of a lifetime some fears are consistent and ever present. At the same time, old fears may fade away like last summer’s tan. Oh yes, and then there is the category of new fears! What to do with them?

What I have found lately is that the new fears are all about my current health situation. That’s understandable, considering some of the more helpless aspects of the circumstances. I can’t lift more than five pounds per hand. That includes pushing. This means that catching myself in the act of falling has become a major fear. Do I use my arms to break the fall (and rip my stitches so that my heart falls out), or do I just relax, fall and just break?

I don’t ponder this often, only when I stand up, move, or sit down. I had one slow moment standing near the washing machine searching for clothes. It turns out that a pile of laundry is soft and moveable, it does not provide a solid mountain to lay a hand on to rest or stabilize.

Perhaps I will fall, perhaps I won’t. I can’t know how bad it is until it happens.

So far I have identified three basic fears that are directly related to my heart surgery.

1. the fear of coughing. Wow, this was a big one. It was complicated with the necessity of coughing out the intubation tube within hours of the surgery. What? Can’t you pull it while I’m still under? You have got to be kidding me? Hands are on the tubing and pulling. My gag reflex kicks in and I cough. Yikes!

That was bad, really bad. I do not want to cough. I can feel something in my lungs, but it is going to stay there and become pneumonia.

2. The fear of throwing up. I have never been a fan of throwing up. Perhaps I’ve never been drunk often enough, or eaten in sketchy places. I just don’t have a long history of experience. The stomach is pretty far from the heart and lungs, but they’re neighbors! It’s all that involuntary action that is disturbing. I don’t want to do this right now, but my body overrules my control. I have a lot of empathy for women in pregnancy. Not today! Right!

3. the fear of sneezing. Okay, this is more specific to me. Most people are a one sneeze creature in my experience. My wife is a two sneezer. I rarely offer a blessing on the first sneeze. I wait for the second. And I’m very surprised when there is a third. I am not in that category. I go on a jag. I sneeze thirty or forty times. People have left the room by being embarrassed in offering a blessing. So what would that do for my sutures?

The trifecta of fears. I have faced two of them so far. Both are uncomfortable, but survivable, the involuntary action is scary, but it does end pretty quickly. The sneezing is still out there unexperienced. Maybe my body can stop it, maybe it isn’t as bad as I think. I wait in some fear!

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Tribute Wall

I’ve thrown paint at six canvases. I am really happy with about three. I could throw more paint and maybe get more happier! Or, it could be mud. I’m still happy!

For now I’m done. I don’t think I will be feeling like painting next week. In fact, this spurt may be it for awhile. I tend to go in bursts, flat out for awhile and then I’m on to other things. I’m okay with the almost finished pieces, some are more almost than others. I’ve got a lot to learn and recovery is a good place to start.

So the tribute wall is done for now. Thank you Vincent, for reaching out to touch me just a little. I tried to put just a little of you in each Canvas. More importantly is that I thought about you a great deal. Haha, I see you, and it matters to me!

Tomorrow I get a remodeled heart. A little scary, and a lot hopeful. More energy and better stamina. Maybe not so good for the first couple of days.

Anyway, not so much painting for awhile, not so much blogging either. I will be back shortly with new inspirations!

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In Progress…

I’ve got ten canvases, eight with some paint, maybe two that are completed. All in all, not bad output for the week!

Of course, it could take a month to finish. I am so over my head that I can’t put a timetable on it. Maybe throw some paint on the last two canvases. Haha, first thing, learn to paint!

Heading to Friday’s operation, probably I will get one more day to tackle some color, then an entire week of recuperation and maybe done study. If I’m trapped in a hospital bed, perhaps I’ll study. It could happen!

Worst student in the planet!

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Tribute Landscape #2 Final

Is anything final? Well, final for now! I got hypnotize laying in all those strokes. Too many, surely paintings aren’t the composite addition of tedious strokes? Don’t they just pop out after awhile? I’ve been digital too long, there must be some sort of action to program.

Now to move on to more terrifying subjects, self-portraits, portraits of family members. Paintings that are unforgiving. “That doesn’t look like them”. Landscapes are cool, drop your brush? Well that becomes a Bush! Portraits? “Who is that? Is this some sort of age progression?”

No, is it just creative incompetence! It’s a new category under the general Impressionist label. It only has one resident so far, so I can claim to be the originator.

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Tribute Landscape #2

Got the midtones down. When dry I will hit the highlights & shadows. Starting to figure this out just a little. Well, landscapes at least. Portraits, gahhh!

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Tribute Portrait

Hmm, okay, it’s not quite right. A little haunting, a little young. What’s the chances that painting will correct things? Gahaha! None whatsoever!! Hahaha, I haven’t the slightest idea of what I’m doing!!! It’s terrifying, and wonderful!!

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The Week

It’s a quiet morning. Saturday in California, and no fire nearby, and the sky is clear. Labor Day, and I haven’t labored in at least five years, and possibly forty years before that.

When was the last time I worked? By this, I mean hard labor for no reason other than the pay at the end of the week. It certainly has been a long time!

So Labor Day for most of my life has only been a sign post. The end of summer, school starts, football season begins, women can’t wear white… what! Where did that come from?

This is pretty much the year with no summer for me. Life has been so complicated and busy that I didn’t have time for summer. I never really thought about the partnership aspect. Dates on a calendar, even seasons, require the agreement of the people! Huh! That’s a weird sort of power. Of course it goes on for everybody else. It would be horrible if my missing summer impacted everybody in Florida for example. Ha, truly a self-centered concept.

So this week I spend painting, writing, pondering, and generally acting feckless. I’m retired, I can do that! Sorry I missed you Summer, see you next year!

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Save the Date

Sept 7

A new lease on life! Well, okay, maybe it’s just a remodel. My heart has been abused, but I get to replumb at least one artery that has been plugged for years. I thought I was just getting old and tired. I am, but in addition my heart was not getting enough oxygen. The stent fixed the heart attack, this bypass fixes being out of wind so easily. At least that is what they tell me.

Friday morning they crack my chest like a lobster and start swapping things around. I get a week in the hospital, a chest pillow so that I hug to remind myself not to use my arms for a week. I go home recuperating for a couple weeks, do some cardio rehab, and by Thanksgiving I’m back to hiking! Hah! At least that’s the plan!

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Common Phrases

Heavy Rain (around the World)

English- cats and dogs

Iceland- fire and brimstone

Greece- chair legs

Columbia- husbands

Catalonia- barrels and casks

Ireland- cobblers knives

Brazil- lizards and snakes

Czech Republic- wheelbarrows

Norway- witches

Denmark- shoemaker’s apprentices

Slovakia- tractors

France- ropes

Wales- knives and forks

Poland- frogs

Germany- puppies

I find this list terrifying to the extreme. I have lived my life with the fear of dogs and cats raining down from the skies, no doubt swept up by tornadoes in the Midwest. But “husbands” (and not wives), “shoemaker’s apprentices” ( and not shoemakers), Greek chairlegs?

It’s all too much, I have too many fears already, I can’t live in another country. The worst is raining French ropes. Ropes?.

(With thanks to James Chapman, soundimals.com)

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Connections

I’ve had a couple of recent conversations that have transcended the average level of communication. Not that I am above average. I have to try very hard to attain anything close to being average. By the very nature of “conversational” one tends to shy away from anything risky. All of us can worry whether what is being said, is what is being heard.

I once knew a person who was certain that everything said was actually a code, that meant something else entirely. Well, sometimes it was close to the real meaning, but lots of times it was even the opposite of what was actually felt. Wait, I think that person was me! No wonder I’ve been so confused.

My point is that too often we do not recognize the friend, the relative, the co-worker- and the value that they have brought to the relationship. Too much is left to the broad category, “it goes without saying”. I am actively on a campaign to eliminate that phrase in my life. It will be said!

Say it, risk it. We don’t need empty flattery, it can be nice on the surface, but we know it’s empty, and more importantly, we know it is untrue. Truth and honesty are best friends and will not be separated.

How much better is it to affirm the truth? Encourage one another by expressing the honest impact of knowing one another! It could change the world!

Okay, okay. Depending upon the day, I’m not ready for everybody to go all touchy feely. I sometimes revel in my solitude. I am a rock, I am an island. It’s a balance. But being a balance requires that periodically both sides are attended.

Not everyone that you communicate with gets the status of “special”. If everything had the same status, nothing would stand out. No contrast, no shape and no edges. My suggestion is simply to share the truth, and let people know their value to you. One of the most powerful things you can say to another is “I see you!” I would suggest that this be modified with an ending, “And it matters to me!”

It can be said that I’m on “the other side of Wednesday”, which causes more thoughtful thoughts. This could be true, but it also doesn’t mean that I’m delusional. It is a good thing to be thankful, an even better thing to be encouraging. Thanks and encouragement are sadly missing in this world. Be the change!

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Second Tribute

90% done on this landscape, lots of brush and palette knife. Learned a lot.

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First Tribute, part 2

Closer and closer. Surprising the amount of work goes into background. It’s a big space, and there are hundreds of tones. Still avoiding the flesh tones. Coward!

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On Paint

Today I will buy acrylics and attempt a tribute painting. A tribute painting is similar to a tribute band. They play music in the style of their favorite group, listening very hard in order to play their songs with accuracy.

Watching the movie “Loving Vincent” has caused me to go “medieval” and find canvas and paint instead of the usual digital media that I have used the last twenty-five years. Whoa, wait! Good grief, it’s been thirty-three years. Umm, is this doable?

I haven’t decided on a particular Van Gogh. I’m torn between one of the cypress trees, and the portrait of Armand Roulin. Different stokes emphasized. Right now I’m still breaking things apart. What color fields were laid down first? What were the edges like? Where was the light coming from? What would the “topographical map” look like?

I remember working on another “tribute work” when I was in Korea during the winter of 1973. I had a lump of plasticine that had carved into dozens of heads. Each one unique and challenging with various expressions. Each one lived for about a week before being mushed into a ball, ready for another head to come. Sometimes I would carefully shave them of all facial and scalp hair.

Once I removed the skin to reveal the facial muscles, and then I went down to the bone, leaving a plasticine skull. I had a lot of time on my hands. I also created a huge amount of sculpture but only one lump of plasticine to show for it. I still have that mis-shapened lump in my garage, embedded with decades of garage dirt.

One day I found a pretty complete kit of oil pastel sticks. Someone had returned back to the states, and left the somewhat messy oil sticks behind. I thought that I might try to copy something I liked.

I picked “Starry Night” by Van Gogh. I had a pretty decent sized print that I studied with a magnifying glass. I was determined to do my best to create the feel of the painting. It was two different types of media, but I could give a good color treatment, and some of the strokes came across pretty well. The real neat thing was that I began to “know” the painting. It was a very cold winter on the DMZ, but I was warmed by the “old light” of Vincent’s swirling skies.

I finished the work but didn’t bring it home. When I left I was hoping that it was a permanent going, but I couldn’t take the chance by packing up my personal things. I left everything in my part of the quonset hut, as if I would be back in two weeks. “Starry Night” was tacked up, on the curving wall, above my bunk. Defining space and star dust in a flat rectangle, but still gently curving as physics would demand. .

Okay, that was forty-five years ago. It’s about time for another tribute piece. I did do another digital tribute work of Michelangelo’s Adam touching God’s finger. Wow, did I learn about that painting. I never knew that God was bringing the gift of Eve wrapped up in his billowing cloak, tucked in with a few cherubs. Everyone is focused on the two fingers almost touching, missing the action under the cloak.

I thinking about getting some big tubes of yellow, so maybe my choice is made.

R

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On Marriage

Today, friends become one.

Not only is this miraculous,

But I’m honored to witness it.

Being witness to a miracle has its ramifications.

You must tell about it,

“Two have become One!”

You must support it,

“ I, and my house, are forever there for you!”

You must take it into your heart,

“Search me now, search me in the future, my heart is yours!”

Miracles are joyous, and miracles bring a response!

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The Selfish Self

I’m thinking about words. I’m thinking specifically of my ability to string words together to form a sort of communication. If I wanted to express and transmit an idea or thought, I need to find the right words, the words that can be understood at the other end. If I don’t consider the recipient, then my intention may be valid, but the success is questionable.

I have often recalled a story about Leonard Cohen while he was composing a song. The melody was complete, the lyrics were nearly done, it would seem like the song could be in the next album. It did not happen, Leonard was unhappy with one word, he was one word shy of completing the song. It remained uncompleted for 18 months.

At some point one could wonder if the right word existed in common language. Perhaps something not in English? And then, of course, because it was part of a lyric, the number of syllables in the word were an issue. And perhaps the perfect word can only be assessed by the artist.

I don’t write songs, but sometimes I put words together without regard to the audience. I am at times a selfish purveyor of words.

There is a “common fact” that the Eskimos have a 147 words for snow. It’s not a fact. It was only said that there were “many more” words for snow. And then somehow the amount was 50 words, which was then changed to over 100 words. Actually, in the Sami language of the Laplanders there are over 300 different words for states of snow.

And yet we try to live with “love” and a few adjectives.

And then it comes down to this- how is it that poets, songwriters, authors… how is it that they succeed? Not only do they succeed, but they soar!!

“I heard of a man

Who says words so beautifully

That if he only speaks their name

Women give themselves to him.

If I am dumb beside your body

While silence blossoms like tumors on our lips

It’s because I hear a man climb stairs

And clear his throat outside our door.”

Leonard Cohen spoke this between sets at a concert I went to. I was floored and wondered “What song is this?” It wasn’t a song, it was a short poem he had written fifty years earlier. I found it published in his first book.

“Blago bung, blago bung

Basso fataka”

From Hugo Ball and Karawane

I am reduced to quoting bits and pieces, the scraps of what I remember, from works that express the meaning where I have no words of my own. A serial quoter coming from the paucity of connection. (Okay, well, those three words were pretty good.)

Maybe the answer is in my motive. I reference back to the phrase, “I am a selfish purveyor of words” I spew for my own amusement”, I create only for my own pleasure. But I secretly wish that others would peak through the curtain.

Time to end this thread.

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Van Gogh

I’ve just seen something so amazing that I hardly have words to describe how I feel.

I don’t know what was the first painting of Vincent’s that I saw. I suspect it was one of his portraits. Perhaps the blueish one with the piercing eyes. His eyes were always piercing… whatever painting drew me in, it wasn’t long before I was on a mission to see everything. I didn’t know that there was nearly 800 painted within eight years.

So many favorites, so many meaningful works, filled with greatness, strokes of joy and loss. I couldn’t get enough. I could hardly find a way to talk about how a felt, viewing his work, understanding his life. Then Don McLean wrote his song “Vincent”. He understood, he caught the essence and found the lost words to express what I felt. How did he do that?

I had honored Kirk Douglas for his work in the movie about Vincent, but it was still not what the song did for me. I was happy that another medium had captured something of how I felt about the power of Vincent Van Gogh.

And tonight I saw “Loving Vincent”, and I am in shock. Please, if you have ever found that Vincent struck a chord in your life. Please see this movie to experience an orchestral event. It is moving, it is beautiful, it is inspiring… the work jumps off the screen and embeds itself into your soul. I feel much the same way as when I first heard the song “Vincent”, and here is this animated movie, with a version of the song at the end. It is perfect! Please see it soon.

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Movement

Okay, I’m having that illusion while sitting in a parked car, you know the one, where you are certain that something is moving, but you are not sure who. I have checked the parked car across the street at least ten times, and I have marked their hubcaps on my window frame as a reference. The invisible driver has somehow gotten the car back to the original position, from where I thought he moved. I don’t know how he does it. Very fast reflexes.

I know there is movement. It is a scientific fact that even if we think we are perfectly still, we are moving at approximately 43,000 miles per hour towards Vega. That’s me, and you, the Earth, the Moon, and the entire solar system. Of course everything is moving as well. Even Vega isn’t stationary.

Come to think of it, probably for half the year we are going a little faster. We are orbiting the Sun at 66,000 thousand miles an hour, so we could at the most, add them together to get almost 100,000 miles per hour towards Vegas (unless we are orbiting sideways). And then half the year we are actually in retrograde and heading away from Vega at 23,000 miles per hour (unless we are orbiting sideways).

I also forgot that we are spinning on our own axis at 1,000 miles per hour. I suppose that is petty compared to the cosmic movements. Still, 1,000 miles per hour should requires a windscreen.

I have read that we are also rotating around the center of our Milky Way galaxy at approximately 483,000 miles per hour, and I don’t know if we are sideways or not, but the possibility is that for at least some time we are traveling at almost 600, 000 miles per hour.

And if everything lines up just right, at some point in the galactic future, we can add that speed to the speed that we are making from the center of the universe, (the Big Bang) so it just possible that you, and I, and that parked car across the street are moving at 1.9 million miles per hour.

This totally makes sense. I knew that invisible driver moved fast, I just didn’t know how fast.

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First Trike Ride

First ride after heart attack. Wow, it’s hot out here. I’m in my granny gear of all grannies. I can’t be any slower, but I’m still moving forward, heart rate hovering at 95. So I’m good.

I’m only a block from home but it might take two hours. Hahaha! Hey, uphill is still uphill and I’m not using the motor. Can’t, the battery died. Hahaha!

And I had a flat tire while resting. BwaHaHa!

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Morris Graves

I have come to Morris Graves too late.

It should have been sooner,

I could have learned so much,

If I had only listened to Ferlinghetti in 1965.

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Public Speaking

I’m not good at public speaking. I’ve never been good. I understand that there are classes in this, and I suppose they have been successful. I wouldn’t know, I’ve never taken one.

I don’t know, I’m sure it is some kind of social restraint that takes place. I do have something to say. I’m voicing ideas in my head, so close to verbalizing, but no, I remain mute.

Who will I disappoint? Who will I embarrass? Why such restraint?

These are good questions and I have the answers. I will only embarrass myself, but I’m okay with that. It’s a process. I’m only going to disappoint myself if I remain mute and isolated. And I restrain myself because I do not wish to offend or make anyone uncomfortable.

I cannot help that I’m a fairly good sized man, and while older, I do have a full beard. I can see that I may appear threatening to some, so I need to be careful in my interactions. Speaking in public may trigger some individuals and I would wish to avoid that. It’s not worth it, no matter how important my ideas might be.

When I write that down it seems so controlling. It’s as if I am predetermined to get some limit in a perfect stranger. Perhaps I should reconsider and not self-edit.

Perhaps I could ease myself into the practice. I could wear dead headphones, or a disconnected. Bluetooth headset. That way no one could be certain that I wasn’t having a conversation with someone at a distance. At the very most I wouldn’t be threatening, just a little rude.

I may tackle this public speaking successfully! Perhaps I’ll be sitting at a table next to you in Starbucks!

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The End of the World

The air is unhealthy. They are a few things that must be right, and when they are not it becomes a problem.

We can’t control anything, that much has been proven. But we have learned to expect some basics. One of the more important expectations is that we should be able to breathe.

I currently live in California during the summer of 2018. It seems that most of the state is burning. It is the end of the world for thousands. If it is not burning then the smoke from fires is bringing visibility down to a few miles. It’s not just red sunsets, it’s grey leaden skies with only a trace of blue directly above.

The news has 17 fires that are being fought by 14,000 fire fighters. One fire is ten times the size of San Francisco, and started when a trailer had a flat tire. The metal rim shot sparks out thirty feet from the freeway.

Over 8,400 homes and structures have been turned to ash. Remarkably, with all this destruction there has only been 6 deaths. But ask anyone and that is 6 too many. There will also be be many who will be suffering from health issues because of the smoke.

It is not just wood smoke, there is toxic materials from many of the man made structures. There are thousands of acres of poison oak that most people have very intense reactions, and the smoke from burning plants is even worse.

There really isn’t a recovery from this, there is only living with the scars.

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Who Am I?

He broke into a huge grin and squeezed my shoulder. “You know what, “ Dick said with good humor, “I don’t have the slightest idea who I am!”

-excerpt from “A Carnival of Losses: Notes Nearing Ninety” by Donald Hall

One can’t really avoid the various groups that we are associated with. Some we join with enthusiasm, some we are delegated to with reluctance. Most don’t demand that we become card carriers, but the cards still exist. I only had to survive to become a card carrying AARP person. I still wonder why I would want to carry the card.

In academia in the 1950s you could become a card carrying member of the American Communist Party. I don’t think you got a discount at the drug store. I think that perhaps you could show it at faculty teas, in order to shock, or to prove that you thought for yourself. A few years later Congress would search high and low for the card carriers. They didn’t care about the intensity or commitment of your beliefs, they cared about what cards you carried, because that is who you are.

I once hired a card carrying Communist to work with me in a tiny 10×10 office with three desks. He wasn’t the politically correct modern Communist, he was proudly a Stalinist. He thought I should be retrained in a Gulag. I suggested it was ironic that I had served in the government that allowed him the freedom to be a Stalinist. He agreed completely, and said that was the flaw in the system, and the reason why he would eventually win. He tried to convert me by logic.

I look through my wallet periodically, to test the theory that I could be identified by what I carry. I tried to use the evidence forensically, as if I was a dead body washed ashore.

I see that there is a CDL, a California drivers license. It has an address, so it’s a good assumption that I live there. Behind the drivers license is a Washington state drivers license, same last name, different first name. It is my fathers driver’s license. We look similar but he looks older. It could be proof that I’m aging backwards.

There is also a red, white and blue identity card issued by the Veterans Administration, this may prove that I was once in the armed services, and qualify for medical coverage under the Veterans Administration. It doesn’t say that I agreed with military policy, or that I was patriotic. It only implies that I served.

I have two different health insurance cards, two different credit cards, a car club card for towing, a card to enter a bulk purchase warehouse, and a lifetime card to enter national parks for free. I also have nine business cards from the college. There are three different job titles.

On the whole, it says a lot, but it does not define. There should be more. I feel a need to add more. I want a fishing license from New Hampshire, a parking ticket from a Tuscaloosa train station, a library card from Sheridan, Wyoming, and a motel receipt from Juneau, Alaska. This would give a far more interesting picture should I ever wash up on a beach.

It reminds me of my days in crypto school, intensive top secret communication training. I went to class each day with a Russian ruble in my pocket. I perversely flipped it between classes. I wonder how close I came to everything changing?

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I Rise

Nordham Castle Sunrise by Turner.

Each morning I rise. My eyes open to reveal dim images of the room, even dimmer images of the backyard on the other side of the window, in the darkling of the morning. I rise at pretty much the same time each morning.

I lay on my side attempting to rotate what I see, in order to make sense. My first few seconds being amazed that I am in the conscious world, where reality is not at my bidding.

I have fallen into a routine. The sun is thinking about cresting the hill. It’s not there yet, but the rays are proceeding the intended path. The light that fills the room is ricocheting from over the horizon, adding to the starlight that filters through the bay leaves. Starlight is just old light, possibly already extinguished for centuries.

I rise to wander into the kitchen to grind beans, fill the pot with water and wait for the hot brown liquid to filter through. It takes time.

I rise to find a bowl to crumble a banana. I’ve rejected a knife and the clean discs that can be made. I crush the naked banana between my finger tips into irregular sized bits. It’s messy but satisfying. The bits are covered with rolled oats, which is then covered by water from the tap. After three minutes in the microwave I am ready to eat.

The rolled oats with bananas has become iconic. I wonder how much value would be added by using bottled water, which I then heat by fire to a roiling boil. Nuking the tap water seems so… quick.

Perhaps in the winter I shall chop wood, strike a fire, swing the kettle over the flames and make the morning a spectacle. Or maybe I will just write about the potential, and nuke things for the ease.

So my routine is mostly set. A solitary morning of oat meal and coffee, with the sun struggling to break into morning. The rest of the day will play itself out with phone calls, texts, family and friends. Anything can happen!

Because I rise!

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How to Paint a Wall

In the spring of 1968 I wanted to go to college. I had spent all of the summer after high school traveling around the western states, hiking and hitchhiking. By the time I returned home I was too late to register for any college, including my local community college.

I spent the fall semester of 1967 going to the library determined to read the entire stack that included philosophy and religion. I struggled with the Upanishad’s and Veda’s, handled Buddhism pretty well, got stuck on Oahspe and comparative Philosophy. So, naturally I decided to major in philosophy when I finally entered college. Great job opportunities in philosophy.

When the spring semester came around I tried to register. Still not being aware of what it was like to enter college I was far too late to register at the state school, so I tried to register at the local community college. I was late there as well, but they would let me register for two classes as a trial. If I succeeded I could continue as a full-time student in the fall, and get my draft exemption.

At least I was a college student with my two classes. I signed up as a philosophy major taking a humanities class, and a philosophy class. I felt well prepared. Both classes were taught by the same professor, Dr. Pasquale Anania. I better like this professor.

I did not like him, I loved him. He was like nothing I had ever experienced, radical in the extreme. He had two phd’s in the hard sciences, not those crappy phd’s in education that you can pay $10,000 from a diploma mill. He had an interesting background and was very well read. He was absolutely despised by his fellow faculty. I thought they were jealous.

Years later I found out the source of their dislike. They thought he was lazy, pompous, and mostly a liar. A really big fat liar. Lying in academia is the worst offense, it’s like plagiarism. They also found his teaching style suspect. He had an official outline, and handouts for every class. If you were brave enough to ask questions about the handouts he would answer directly. But if no student had questions he would lecture on anything that currently was on his mind. And his mind wandered.

That is what I really loved about him. I learned so much that wasn’t about humanities/philosophy. One day he started the class by asking, “How do you paint a wall?” Then he said he had spent the weekend watching professional painters painting his home. It seemed to him that they painted differently than what he had always done. Logic would state that there are five possibilities. 1) left to right 2) right to left 3) top to bottom 4) bottom to top, or finally 5) center outwards.

What Dr. Anania observed was none of these. Instead, he saw the painters apply a blob of thick paint somewhere on the wall, then every subsequent stroke of paint was directed towards it. You paint into the paint, you never drag it out. The wall is completely covered in one coat.

I am aware of Kant, Locke and Aristotle. I do not use their philosophies. I have painted dozens of walls with professional results.

After years of student with Dr. Anania I was aware of all the questionable stories of his personal life. I fully understood why many, or most of his stories were unbelievable. Speech writer for Harry Truman? Shipwrecked on a deserted island during WWII? His mother a famous opera singer at the New York Metropolitan Opera? I mean, come on, one amazing story after another.

In 1971 I found myself drafted, then reenlisted in the US Army. I was there in New Jersey at advanced training in crypto-electronics. I was also allowed to live off-post while going to school. I had a one room apartment, bath down the hall, on the second story of an old Victorian near the ocean beach. Mr. Carlo Ponti was my landlord, he was quite elderly and puttered in the garden on weekend mornings.

I watched him one Saturday and he suddenly burst into song. It wasn’t a meek muttering, it was fully operatic and wonderful!! I was mesmerized and decide to go downstairs to talk with him.

“Mr. Ponti, that was amazing! You could have been a professional!”

“I was a professional, for years I performed regularly at the New York Metropolitan Opera.”

Bells went off in my head, NY Met?

“Mr. Ponti, did you ever run into a singer by the name of Maria Anania?”

“Yes, of course. She was a great artist, and we became very good friends. I used to babysit her little boy, Pasquale!”

Years later Pat Anania and I became good friends. I never doubted any of his stories. I still give him credit of my knowing how to paint a wall.

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Thinking on Poetry

I’ve been victimized by my children. Again! It’s always something. Sometimes it’s family stories where things are discussed in low tones, I’m usually present, but I’m pretending to nap. Well, I am napping, but I’m also awake!

I hear sighs and laughter, then I hear my name, em… title. “Then Daddy went berserk and yelled at us.” Apparently most of their young life was living with a berserker, a seething mound of lava with a thin crust. This is a narrative that is completely new to me. Okay, once I gave two of my daughters knives, and told them to completely end their hate filled bickering, but I did that in a very calm voice and manner.

Not all of the victimization is false narratives. Sometimes they do things “for my own good.” It’s always out of thoughtfulness and love. I appreciate that.

Recently my wife did something similar. She had heard of an audition for movie extras and thought that I might like that. I do not like that, I have never liked that and I have never been interested. I told her absolutely “No way!”, she told me the movie was Jack Kerouac’s “On the Road”. I paused.

Okay, I called the casting director, heard the speal and deadline, then I said no. My wife had called to promise that she would drive me to fitting, then told me the casting director almost cried. I called again to say yes, she did almost cry.

The long and the short of it was that I finally went, dressed up as a drunk beat poet from the 40s, sat in a bar for the last scene, and that was it. My fifteen seconds of fame. Later I was cut on the editing floor, and replaced by a shot of a typewriter. No beat poet for me, drunk or sober.

Even more recently another daughter volunteered me to a producer collecting readers of poetry. She told him that she was an actress, but that her father had God-like qualities to his voice. Well, it was true that I did play an offstage voice from above in a local community college play. I just call it my late night jazz FM voice.

My daughter asked me to follow up if I was interested. I hate it when I know, that they know, when I’m interested. So I called. I had a great conversation with a retired gentleman about my age, whose mission in life was to record English speaking poets. He believes that there is something extra special about the poem being read aloud. I completely agree.

So far he has enlisted the aid of about 50 readers, some of them published poets, all of them lovers of poetry. He suggested that I read Donald Hall. I think he would like me to record some of his. I’ve never heard of him, but I looked him up, and I really liked what I saw. I also told him I liked Richard Brautigan. He was somewhat shocked to remember him and agreed he should be recorded.

Okay, I’m on his contact list, I may show up at his recording studio.

The website is www.voetica.com. Please poke around and let me know your thoughts.

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Vagus Nerve

…Its first stop was my stomach, whose complex work is under the control of what’s sometimes called “the little brain”, a network of neurons that line your stomach and your gut. Surprisingly, there are over 100 million of these cells in your gut, as many as there are in the head of a cat. Jul 11, 2012”

I once heard that some monkeys have a second brain that is dedicated to moving their tail. Flying and leaping through branches is a simple as getting both brains on the same wavelength. Well, maybe not that simple if you have to think about it… which brain is thinking?

This is one of those random things that stick around, generally being unvoiced, but being remembered for years. If you do voice these things you are branded as quirky at best, or incredibly boring or worse. So, why is this type of data so “sticky”. I forget important passwords everyday and I really need to remember them.

It’s possibly because one brain seems so incredibly inadequate. We need all the help possible. There was once a science fiction movie titled, “The Man with Two Brains”. It must be an issue or there would not have been a movie made about it. (I will write more about the sociological theory of movies documenting issues)

Yesterday I’m cruising through my random Google searches and I stumble upon that paragraph concerning brainlike cells outside the brain proper. And it references the size of a cats brain! I love it! I just knew that my gut feelings were smarter than my cat.

And that’s not all, there are deposits of these brainlike cells in the heart, near the lungs, packed next the spinal cord, even a suspicious lump near the tail bone. Lots of brain tissue in addition to the brain. Great, and I still feel I need help.

Now to read more about the Vagus Nerve. It seems that this communication highway may connect everything on a common party line. I’ve even been warned that pushing too hard while in the bathroom can cause a heart attack. What doesn’t cause a heart attack?

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Between the Waiting…

Life is what happens between the waiting. My dog has developed a bad habit. He watches the door. When someone leaves, he waits for them to come back. Most of the time they have gone out for the mail, to the car, or the garbage, and he is rewarded with their immediate return. This has happened often enough that he has been trained, so he waits. Sometimes for hours on end.

Time is such a complicated thing, worthy of a very long, possibly boring book. One of the longest boring chapters is probably the expectation of time. “Something is going to happen in the future, sometimes you are given a date, sometimes you are told to wait…” This is almost poetic!

News flash! Something is always happening. Between the expectations, something always occurs. We encapsulate an idea, make it important, then wait for the future important idea. The problem is that we would like to have blank space between the two ideas. Why is that?

Imagine if we had the ability to self-induce a coma. If we then had a toothache on Monday, and we were told that a root canal was planned on Wednesday, well… coma time! Extend that concept to having cancer, then treatment, then see the results in three months. Coma time?

The expectation of time… reminds me of the old joke, “Do you want to hear God laugh? Tell him your plans!” We are doomed at both ends. Either we make no plans between expected events, or we create elaborately detailed plans for something that may not ever occur. Okay, but what is worse? And by worse I’m thinking, what creates an unhealthy choice in living? Wow, such subjectivity! This is good, this is bad.

A conscious mind makes decisions. Decisions are based upon knowledge, values, and experiences. Sometimes these are connected, sometimes they are not. Having the ability to isolate events in time does not change time, time is a river, time flows. Shutting down between time events effectively removes you from the river. Don’t do that! You are not a dog!

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Heart Tales #3

An update from the heart attack… The word is wait. Not enough information. Apparently there are three things to consider.

1. The heart attack can damage the muscle. It would be nice to know how much is damaged. Better to force the heart to work overtime, and then measure the results. They call it a stress test. Better to stress out the heart after it has recovered. So, wait…

2. My right artery is huge. Most right arteries are larger. Mine is larger than large. The good news is that it will take a lot to close it back up again. They placed a wire stent to force it open but the body wants to cover the stent with tissue. The body will do that, but it can go wacky and keep covering the tissue with more tissue. It takes several months to know what is happening. So, wait…

3. Being in better shape, eating better, establishing a better lifestyle is always good. It took a long time of bad habits to get to the event. Controlling blood sugar, losing weight, reducing fat cells floating around, is all good. Developing good habits over time is better. So, wait…

If I had gone to the cardio hospital first, they probably would have done the triple by-pass, and I would have been recovered by now. Missed that by a couple of miles. I have been living a month to month existence for awhile, it looks like nothing is going to change. My focus will be to live a full life in between the waiting. That is a challenge, but doable.

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Follow the Leader

This may be the most basic of all childhood games. The rules are simple. Choose a leader, then do everything they do until a new leader is chosen. Leadership generally gets shared but creative, fun leadership sometimes trumps over boring a leader that brings boring activity.

I saw a Ted Talk recently, given by Lt. General Mark Hertling. It was an amazingly forward thinking talk, and it convinced me of two important things. It reminded me that I have had the privilege to know several military leaders that I would follow anywhere. And the second, is that some military leaders have the amazing ability to see a problem, and start to work on a solution long before anyone else is aware of the gravity.

Gen. Hertling has had a long a interesting career. The definition of a well rounded professional soldier can hardly find a better individual. Highly trained as a combat soldier, Hertling was promoted to a command for basic training.

I remember basic training. Eight weeks of grueling physical and mental training. I’m not sure the mental training was completed in time, but the physical training was well along the way.

I had already done a dozen or so extended hiking expeditions with a heavy pack as a civilian. The military training pushed that further than I have ever been. The spare tire that I was beginning to build disappeared pretty quickly. Morning PT before breakfast created an appetite, but that was burned off easily. We even had a twenty foot section of “monkey bars” to travel just in order to get to the mess hall door.

Imagine my surprise by hearing the general say that a huge majority of the initial new recruits failed to qualify physically, and were rejected. In the 70s we were mostly draftees and we still qualified. What was different?

Most of today’s physical rejection comes from new recruits being obese. Not just a couch potato, but a serious, video gaming, professional couch potato with no high school credits in PE.

Whaaa?

Somehow, boards of education all across the country have made PE optional in the last years of high school, so many students have “opted” out. At the same time, “screen activity” has increased to five or six hours a day on the average. Not only has cable options increased by hundreds of channels, but the video industry has captured several generations of youth.

I might add, captured, and placed in concentration camps. Oh, the camps are comfortable, because it is their own bedrooms and living rooms. And they also come with all the sugar drinks and snacks that one can eat.

But, if an enemy wanted to weaken a country, they don’t have to place the population in camps, they just have to invent a new addicting video game. It helps if you also cancel all high school PE.

This was basically the point that the General was making. He worried that he could not fill his slots for future soldiers. Less than one percent of the population is in the military currently and he didn’t think that this was sustainable.

There is a real crisis facing us. Can we still follow the leader? Or are we too winded for even the one percent of us that is needed? Watch the TedTalk.

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Backpacking

I used to love backpacking. No, that’s not right, I still love backpacking, it’s just that I haven’t done it in awhile. Not only did I love backpacking, but in many ways it can be seen as my life parable.

A good friend of mine is parable driven, using the words of our Savior to open up new thoughts about God. We share that perspective.

As a parable we can break backpacking down to some basic components. 1) there is a destination. 2) there is a need to go there as a self-contained entity. 3) time is an important consideration.

Backpacking takes planning. One of the first books that I read about backpacking was “The Complete Walker” by Colin Fletcher. This was a marvelous book by an English author that should still be read today. Colin broke the subject down in a slightly different way. He said the first concern was the “foundation” of successful backpacking, and that was the shoe. One cannot expect to travel hundreds of miles over different terrain without considering the types of shoes on your feet..

I took his advice seriously because I had spent two years hitchhiking the Western states in beat-up sandals. I may have gotten excessive when I purchased three pairs of expensive but ugly Pivetta Eigers. I was struck by the authors insistence of only having holes for the laces. Many of the hiking boots sported the metal clips that used a speed lacing technique. Colin said, “when you are fifty miles from the closest civilization, holes in your boots do not break.”

Back to backpacking as a parable.

1). There is a destination. If you plan to disappear into the wilderness the first obligation is to tell people where you plan to go. The reason is obviously based upon the possibility of accidents. Posting a hiking plan is a smart move, in some cases a necessary action. The forest rangers need to know where, when, and how long people are wandering in the mountains.

More importantly, backpacking without a destination doesn’t exist. You will arrive someplace after miles of hiking, if you don’t… then it is because you never left. There is a common phrase, “If you have no destination, then any path will lead you there!” This is a well-meaning phrase, but not accurate. If you have no destination, you are not traveling. Better to say, “If you don’t know where you are going, then any path will get you there.” This is an important difference.

Choosing a destination is often based upon the expectation of seeing or experiencing something specific when you arrive. It can often be a set trail for (XX) amount of days which may give dozens of difference experiences.

2 The choice in travel is to attempt self-sufficiency. This is not perfectly planned, there all always extenuating circumstances. Basically, this is not a day-hike where snacks are at the next store, and a place to sleep is prepared by using a plastic card to rent a motel room. You carry all the snacks you plan to eat, you carry your shelter and sleeping gear, and you carry all the water and food that you might consume.

One of the more interesting decisions is exactly how much food and water can you carry? Obviously you would eventually need to be resupplied. Unless there is a local grocery store in the mountains, you are restricted by how much food you have, the possibility of hunting and gathering is based upon skill and locale. A few wild mushrooms and herbs are a great find. And fresh stream bred fish can make a great breakfast. While I carry some line and hooks, I have used them three times in my 12,000 hours of backpacking.

Studies have shown the people may live as long as forty days without food, so long as there is still water. This could lead the backpacker to shift the balance by carrying more water. As important as water is, the general plan is to make use of local water sources. With proper filtration, even the muddy ditch can provide all the water needed for several meals, so I never carried much more than a quart. Of course all that changed when hiking terrain that was low on water.

Water was mostly foraged from running streams encountered while hiking. This is not true for the solid food of the meal. Aside from the rare fish, all food is carried in. In order to carry more, with increased nutritional value, some foods can be “freeze dried”, reducing the weight. Some companies have spent millions in order to have tasty, light weight prepared meals for hikers. I have made use of all of them, including raw brown rice and oatmeal. A tasty meal at ten thousand feet is a treat.

After boots, food/water there is a concern for shelter. A good, warm sleeping bag is the difference between joy and misery. I have spent much time and research in this area, and I have designed and sewn at least four artic-level sleeping bags. The most used project that I’ve ever created.

Several pounds of supplies fill out the remaining self-sufficiency needs. Maps, compass, first aid, optics, cords, safety rope, belt knife, etc are just some of the extras needed.

The lie, of course, is that I was now self-sufficient. What is true is that I might be able to delay my need to go shopping for a few days.

What strikes me now is, what made me gravitate to this activity? It’s possible it was extending into my adult-life the wonderful experiences of camping with my parents.

Perhaps it meshed with my ability to be alone with some satisfaction. Certainly I felt tested by the challenge of preparation. Maybe, I was also attracted to the visual delights of the wilderness.

Another truth is that many aphorisms created by hiking became important in a lifetime of choices.

“If you don’t have a plan for your life, someone else will step in to give you one, and you will be walking a path different from your own.”

“Spend a certain amount of time turning around on the trail and looking back. You may need to know what it looks like in order to get home.”

“Conserve your fuel until you need it. Drink your water often. Better to carry water on the inside, than in your pack.”

“Do not become ‘trail hypnotized’, look up and around, not only for enjoyment, but also to see where you are.”

“Make adjustment to the trail you are walking. Errors and poor choices can occur, correcting them early saves time and energy.”

“Walk lightly, don’t leave your garbage behind.”

I have made a quick estimate of my time commitment to backpacking. I have over 500 days and 12,000 hours clocked so far. I am ready for more.

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Heart Tales, No. 2

What do we know of the heart? We know it is achy/breaky at times. Sometimes it trembles. It is also strong and brave. The very word courage comes from the French root “cour”, meaning heart.

Apparently the heart thinks about things, or at least forms opinions. Like the stomach or intestines, we tend to rely upon the feedback. Although the heart appears to specialize in matters of emotions.

Proof of this comes around every February with millions of representations of hearts (sometimes with Cupid’s arrow) in cards, posters, and advertising. We seem to be good with this. I’m trying to visualize the same advertising with images of a brain pierced by a arrow, because we have used logic to choose a significant other. Not a pretty image.

The heart is a muscle, although in regards to being human it is rarely consumed. In general, the organs are classified as sweetbreads when consumed. It is a mystery concerning the root source of words. There has been several depictions of taking a bite of a human heart, and it is all wrapped up in the myth of the transference of power, bravery, and courage. Apparently in these cases it must be fresh and uncooked.

There are several dozen recipes on the net for beef heart. Much attention is applied to trimming anything “chewy”, even more to adding spices and different marinades. Apparently, to some folks, there is a slight metallic aftertaste, perhaps iron.

In general the whole area of consuming “sweetbreads” can be summed up by using the other categorical word “offal”. Yep, eating offal is awful.

Back to the heart as a muscle. We need to exercise this “muscle pump”, just like any other muscle. We need to push just a little past comfort if we are to gain strength.

My job for the next few weeks is to push, pause, reflect and listen to what my heart is telling me. The information I want is that my heart is healing. It wants to tell me, “Love is a many splendored thing…”

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Heart Tales, No. 1

It’s been a day since I spoke with the doctor who placed the stent in my right artery. I wasn’t allowed to see him, but I could talk with him.

It turns out that I went to the closest medical facility, instead of going to a hospital that was in my network according to my HMO plan. I am not an expert in medical insurance, and it is clear to me now that I will never be an expert. It’s obvious that people will be mostly ignorant until one uses the system by choice, or by emergency.

My medical plan is excellent, if it is an emergency then you are covered anywhere in the world. If it is not an emergency then you had better go to services in your network. Additionally, I got old and I’m covered by Medicare, that adds another huge level of complexity.

I used to think I was competent, well read, well educated… that may be, but it does not give you any understanding of how to weave through medical issues in today’s culture.

I am finished with the emergency, so now my coverage is different. The follow up appointment with the doctor who attended me is not in my network, so I can’t see him. I went to the appointment anyway, but I was denied at the reception desk.

I explained that I was also under Medicare, they don’t take Medicare. I asked if I could pay out of pocket. They said Medicare won’t allow it.

Just a little bit of Catch 22. The doctor recognized this and stepped out into the lobby to speak to me, he ended up saying exactly what he would have said in his office.

The long and the short of it is that I need to go back to the hospital at the end of the month for open heart surgery. They will cut and crack my chest, pluck out an artery from my leg, then stitch in a replacement for at least the arteries that are clogged.

I knew this from the beginning, but I had somehow convinced myself that I was better, and nothing more was necessary. Hah!

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Balance

Living life effectively is all about balance. Similar to a bicycle on a narrow path, you want to steer away from the edges, you can’t just arbitrarily jerk the handlebars away from the danger, you have to have balance, in addition to control. Transitions need to be smooth, slow and sure.

Balance is the artful way to live. Balance feels comfortable and secure. Balance is having the ability to see the path ahead and to make only slight adjustments in order to stay on track. Balance is the ability to stop, and not immediately tip over.

Balance is delicate, once obtained you can hold it forever, but the slightest shift can bring disaster. Balance is fair, ideas and actions are weighed and treated equally.

Balance is something learned, sometimes it comes quickly, sometimes it takes years.

My thoughts after this heart attack have mostly been about excess, balance, and the opposite of excess. It can be said that an excess of fats in my diet has led to the heart attack. Probably true, possibly if I had a better balanced diet, I could have kept my arteries healthier. Let’s say that every other meal has taste, then followed by a meal with ruffage for your heart. That would be balanced!

Instead, I am faced with trying to balance after I’ve already fallen off. Okay. I can do this. I’ve eaten well for 69 years, time to chew cud for awhile.

The same goes for exercise, sleep/rest. The formula is to careful build habits that does not fall victim to excess. The old “too much of a good thing is not a good thing”. The interesting thing about balance is that neither the good, nor the bad habits are to be prominent.

Is it true? Is it a good thing to completely remove bad habits? If we have the Ying and the Yang, does removing one of them create the sound of one hand clapping?

For the sake of effective applause, we should eat fatty cheese cake with our kale.

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Tests of Mortality

We are immortal, we are not immortal. No truer thing can ever be said. It seems at first impossible, two statements that are completely opposite. It is all contingent upon the word “we”.

“We”, generally refers to our physical bodies, an ever changing pile of flesh and bone. It is said that at least every seven years it is completely different, all cells have been replaced by… “replacements.” Therein lies the problem, the replacements are not necessarily “first string.” In other words, the replacements are like the players in a late quarter football game, when the score has already determined the game.

So, here I am, with several generations of “second string” replacement cells, trying to win, or at least, tie the game. No wonder I am not immortal.

More importantly, one can define “we” as the immortal spirit, created by God, completely incorruptible and destined for eternity. I am so convinced by this that I have no concerns and no worries. However, I don’t completely live there. I know it, but I am drawn back to the dilemma of my “second string” replacement cells.

I suppose it starts with stewardship. The immortal “we” is given custody of the mortal “we”. We are to care for the body, feed it, keep it safe, and to instruct it in the best way that we can in the Plan that has been created for us all.

How are we doing in that?

Lately I have been reviewing some events in my life where I haven’t been the best steward of my mortal presence. In others words, my life should have ended, like some Darwinian consequence, but instead, I have lived on.

This is certainly not a complete list, but here are some highlights…

1. At the age of eight I was fascinated with matches. Book matches, kitchen matches, long fireplace matches. I loved them all! Not that I loved the fire they created, it was the magic of combustion that fascinated me. Anyway, because of television or movies, I spent one afternoon trying to toss a lit match into the gas pipe of my father’s 1958 Chevy, two-toned, Bel Air, station wagon. I was obviously unsuccessful.

2. At 13, a couple of my friends and I discovered that the local pharmacy was willing to sell the ingredients that combine to make gunpowder. Against all odds, we did not blow our selves up. However, we did make a deadly “grenade” out of a used CO2 filled with ground sparkler dust made from hammering the common July4th firework. The galvanized garbage can that we tested it in was never the same.

3. At nineteen there was a “shooting” accident involving a Western gunslinger holster and a Ruger .22, single action revolver. The end result was a clumsy fast draw, and a bullet in my leg that still remains. While this is not life threatening, I was also shooting my father’s .357 magnum. That revolver would have penetrated my leg, shattered my thigh bone, severed my femoral artery, penetrated my other leg, breaking that bone and destroying that femoral artery. It would have been less than a minute to bleed out.

4. Of course, then there were several years hitchhiking the Western States. Not a particularly safe activity.

5. During this hitch hiking era there was a time that my friend and I took a day hike towards the middle Teton of the Grand Tetons. Some four hours later we were 3/4s of the way up the mountain, following a crevasse. We were hiking with no ropes, no safety gear, and I was wearing sandals. That should have not ended well.

6. And then there was the military. Too many incidents to mention.

7. At the age of 27 I finally experienced an event that was not my fault. A construction pickup truck broke free of it’s brakes, rolled down the hill, smashed through the barricade, then landed about a foot in front of me on the road below the barricade. The truck came down like some Acme safe in a Roadrunner/WileyCoyote cartoon. And there was all the redwood 8x8s that we’re flying through the air. Not a scratch on me, although it led to the ending of my marriage. Another story.

8. At 30 I was backpacking in the Sierras when I came upon a small stream to cross. It was a familiar trail to me, and I usually just boulder hop across. This time it was too early in the season and it was a raging torrent, three or four times the normal width. Instead of heading upriver to look for a better crossing, I simply forged ahead. Unfortunately my wife was along, and I endangered both of us with my actions. I crossed several times, carrying our backpacks, then roped my wife to my back while I crabbed sideways across the white water that was sometimes up to my neck. Nearly a case of hypothermia. It ended up being a great week in the mountains.

I just have to stop now. I’m suffering from PTSD.

Let’s just say that I have an obligation to be a better steward in the last half of my life. The first half was a disaster.

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Dung Beetle

We are who we are, and sometimes, we get to be who we aspire to be.

I had this random thought this morning. I’m not sure what was the cause or context.

I am home now, from the skilled nursing facility. I am no longer poked and prodded by nurses and CNAs. I poke and prod myself now. I prick my finger to test my blood sugar, I organize my medications for twice a day intake. I’ve counted the pills, some twice a day, some once a day. I take eleven pills!

Good grief!

I don’t use a walker, I can climb stairs slowly, I sit out in the backyard and enjoy the sunshine. It is all good!

Mostly I’m surrounded by family, and I can’t express how wonderful that feels! Much has been done at the home to make accommodations. A bed has been installed in the office so that I’m not isolated downstairs, and can easily slip in for a quick nap.

The big change was driving home into the garage! Actually room in the garage for a car! This way I take a short cut through the laundry room to take the stairs to the living area. It’s a real blessing.

It’s strange, because, while some things are different, most things are the same. I move through the house almost like a stranger. I wonder why that stack of books is on that shelf? There is a collection of random items in a bowl. Why hasn’t someone put that camera away? Wait, that would have to be me? The evidence of my eclectic sloth is overwhelming.

I recently gave an analogy combining the Myth of Sisyphus and the African Dung Beetle. The Dung Beetle moves about in his environment carefully rolling an ever increasing ball of crap. It’s very important to the Dung Beetle, so he tends the ball of crap and keeps it nicely organized. It that regard I am not like the African Dung Beetle.

And, like the Myth of Sisyphus, there is a hill to climb, and the ball must go before you, pushing, wedging, making sure the ground is gained. The trouble is, that it all comes crashing to a halt.

At some point, all the crap in your life breaks away and rolls to the bottom of the hill. The truth is revealed concerning the relative importance, and I am freed from the unending burden of pushing my crap in front of me.

Yet, I am now back from the hospital, back from the reality of what is life and death… I see all the little piles of crap all over, and I am oddly comforted. I don’t quite have the strength, but I am working hard to collect the little piles in order to push them ahead of me. Life goes on.

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My People

I am in a skilled nursing facility, recovering from a heart attack. Actually. I’m recovering a stent procedure given to stop the heart attack.

I don’t believe there was going to be a recovery, it was a major failure and quite scary. In either case, I only had a few days in the ICU, the rest of the time, before going home, is to be spent in a skilled nursing facility.

You could say nursing home. Probably because it is filled with nurses, and people from homes, who can’t get the care needed at home.

It is often viewed as a last place to go in order to die. Actually, there are hospice care facilities for that, but the tradition is long. This place is filled with people waiting, but not always waiting to be well.

It is not the Bedlam of Old London, but in the quiet of the night you can hear the plaintive calling out for attention, “Hello, hello?” There are bedside manual alerts, but when your need is great, there is no confidence that they are working.

I still have my usual sleeping habits, I nap, and I’m up at all hours of the night. Sometimes I peek out my door into the hallway to witness the late night environment.

There is the grey haired elderly woman, who is nearly mute, who pushes her wheel chair with one foot, while grabbing the wall rail to pull herself along. It is one in the morning and she has been doing this all day, recording a marathon of hallway journeys. Will this help to release her to her home?

There are more than a few nearly catatonic patients, victims of strokes, that are brought out into the public areas, hoping to create stimulation and response. They sit quietly, but they do not track the busy movement of patients or nurses.

I am one of the lucky ones, I am free from pain, I have very little demands, and I am clearly recovering. Still, I witness the group of people that I belong to, and I have great empathy.

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Gen Pop

I’ve grown up, I found a room in the regular hospital. They said it could come quickly, and it did, almost between bites of dinner.

The ICU was completely comfortably and very roomy. It was a little noisy and at times it was dramatic. Very dramatic. People die in ICUs. What was also true was that the staff was extremely dedicated. The doctors, the nurses . the hospital crew,were all professional and caring.

What happened next was being shifted to gen-pop, with a slight heart tinged after taste. Physical therapy could still find me but there were other issues. The one individual next to me was an escape artist. “Where are you going now?. Please get back in bed, and where did you find those cigarettes. You can’t have cigarettes in here!”

This is when the action folks descended upon me. Physical therapy, dietitians. Diabetics for life. Take your pick, take them all. My future is all “up in the action” folks.

Only, I can’t get a Bi-pap apnea machine because, although have been diagnosed with apnea, I have not been a part of a clinical study. I have to come back, get some sleep in his lab, then I get a bi-PAP Machine.

Mean time. I should be transferred to a nursing care facility to focus on the work of physical therapy.

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The Quiet Hours

It a strange time in hospitals, between 4:30 and 6:30 am. Mostly it’s sleeping, except there are several dozen individuals softly shuffling from room to room with their little baskets of vials, needles and tape. The blood collectors.

Some have taken on the characteristics of the Vampire Bat. No, not a scary, hairy thing with wings. The Vampire Bat slowly crawls up to you, nips the flesh between the toes and gently licks the blood flow. You never know they are there.

I know they are there. I can feel their soft hands gently uncurling my fingers. I can feel the faint prick of the needle, as vial after vial of blood is drawn from my body.

It’s a little game we play, they try not to wake me up, and I pretend that they succeeded.

It’s been a few days, I’m still in ICU. I might get a room today. I might be sent home. Someone is talking, someone is making the argument, but it’s not me, or the doctors that I’m talking to. That’s fine, lives are in the balance, the sick must be healed. I just wanted to know where to lay my head.

In hospital standards, I’m proven. I have given many gifts of urine, and I have successfully done Number Two. What more could they want from me?

Apparently I have to prove that I can shuffle the hallways, string together a series of short walks with my gown flapping in the breeze. Okay, sounds fair, but what about the other blockages? More stents? Or what?

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Life goes on

If you blog, you write what your experience. Sometimes you write what you think you’ve experienced. I’m always unclear about that little difference.

I’m currently lying in a hospital bed. I have nurses that are thrilled with my gifts of urine. I have other nurses that comment how much better I’m doing because I helped in the process of rolling to one side.

I’ve been poked, prodded, bled, squeezed, bundled, schelped, scanned, x-rayed, charted, and noted upon. I have generated reams if paper and tons of data. I am deep with the healthcare system. I like it.

I lie here in my hospital bed, being squeezed by my blood pressure cuff every fifteen minutes. I have calf wrappings that gently hug my lower legs rhythmically, first the left, then the right. I have breathing treatments that have a cool misty fog that reminds me of past mornings on the north coast. It’s wonderful.

And all I had to do to get here was to have a heart attack.

I’m afraid it’s going to be a boring few weeks while I relate my current experiences. Perhaps the imagined experiences will have some entertainment values. We will see!

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