Fictional Writing

Wherein the writer attempts, unsuccessfully, to return to writing fiction vignettes, producing swill and incoherent drivel instead.

Coleman Daniel Sprague was the first person convicted under the new thought-crime statutes. The charges against him were extensive. The first count with which he was charged alleged that he imagined sex acts with a woman who had not authorized such daydreams. The second count alleged he thought about thrusting a knife into the heart of Danny Tobler, the abusive husband of the woman connected with the first count. The third count was the most serious, alleging that he fantasized about assassinating the Co-Presidents of the United States, Mimi Huckabee and Robert Jeffress. Multiple other less serious charges were leveled against Sprague, as well: pondering the possibilities of entering a bank and demanding all of its cash; and contemplative road rage, wherein he envisaged dropping a ten thousand pound statue of the Buddha onto a Mazda convertible whose driver cut him off and shot him the finger.

Sprague’s bad luck stemmed from his newspaper’s exposé of the police chief of Curmudgeon Falls. The embezzlement charges against Chief Benedict Bright eventually were dropped, thanks to the fact that the chief’s son was the best friend of the District Attorney. But Bright didn’t forgive Sprague the chief’s brush with prison. So when,  after the thought crime statutes were enacted and  a Federal grant to purchase thought-reading equipment became available, Bright went after it. And he instructed the six members of this police force to put the equipment to exclusive use.

“I want Sprague to pay for his newspaper’s attack on me,” Bright told his officers. “That means I want every errant thought to be recorded. If anything he thinks is even remotely illegal, I want him arrested and booked. Go after him without regard to whether a charge is completely valid. With enough charges, something’s bound to stick.”

Predictably, the ACLU raised holy hell when the statutes were enacted. But by that time, the ACLU’s influence had dwindled to next to nothing. Newly-minuted attorneys were no longer the idealistic crusaders Sprague remembered from his youth. Lawyers fresh from passing their bar exams had no interest in social justice. Their motivations were money and power. If they had to ruin the lives of people as they stepped over bodies on their climb to the top, so be it. The fact that the legal profession was exempted from the thought-crime statutes exacerbated the exodus from decency.

When the time came for Sprague to enter a plea, even his court-appointed attorney recommended he not fight the charges. “Look,” the wet-behind-the-ears semi-solicitor said, “they’ve got your every thought recorded on magnetic media. If you insist on fighting it, you’re not only going to embarrass yourself, you’ll embarrass me as your lawyer. If you have a decent bone in your body, you won’t ruin my chances for a lucrative legal career.” Sprague’s silent mental response to his new lawyer’s statement earned him yet another charge: “attorney annihilation ambition” or “lust for lawyer lynching.” The politicians and lawyers thought their vacuous alliterations were clever, yet more evidence that intelligence was no longer a requisite quality for snollygosters and ambulance chasers.

 

Posted in Fiction, Writing | Leave a comment

Don’t Make Promises You Can’t Keep

Several weeks ago, I assured someone I would be happy to take him to doctor visits and other medical appointments when he needed me to do it. Last evening, I received an email from him, asking me to help him by giving him a ride (or rides) in connection with a medical appointment (a biopsy) scheduled for Monday, November 19.

That’s the day I have my cancer surgery scheduled. So I answered him that, as much as I wish I could accommodate him, I could not. And, immediately, I felt an overwhelming guilt that I had essentially promised this guy I would help him in his hour of need, only to refuse to live up to my commitment. Frankly, I don’t think I know anyone else who would fault me for saying I’ve got to tend to my own medical issues first. But I told him he could count on me. And, I guess, that was a lie. He could count on me “if it fit my schedule” might have been a more honest assertion. On one hand, I feel perfectly fine about opting to go forward with my surgery and ignoring his need. On the other, I feel like I didn’t follow through on a commitment. I followed up last night by asking him if he would like me to try to find someone else who could help. He responded that he would. So I’m trying to find someone to do it. I’m starting by asking other people I know he knows, people who share his appreciation of writing. And, perhaps, I’ll ask a few other folks who share our sphere. If they can’t help, I’ll expand the search to my neighbors in the “Nextdoor” community. There’s a service called “Village Scat” that I thought might be an option, but the transportation service only provides low-cost rides to and from appointments near the east and west HSV gates, so they won’t provide a ride to Hot Springs.

As I considered this fellow’s request, and the plight that led to it, it occurred to me that there exists a very small handful of people I would consider asking for the help he’s asking me to provide (which I offered without being asked, not thinking I might be unable to fulfill my commitment). It would be hard for me to ask for help from someone who’s not very close to me. I don’t know this fellow exceptionally well, but I suspect he may be of the same mindset. So, if I can’t help him or find someone to help, he may be in a pickle. I don’t know his financial situation. Perhaps he could easily afford a taxi. Or maybe he can’t. I’m not going to ask. I’ll just see what I can do to accommodate him. I believe one ought to be willing to seek an alternative way to meet one’s commitments if circumstances prevent fulfilling them as originally promised. And I rather like that about myself. Now, the trick is to see whether I can actually find an alternative.

Posted in Compassion, Empathy | Leave a comment

The Gravity of Justice

The way I got there is too convoluted to tell. Suffice it to say I made my way to a blog post that described the writer’s journey of being selected as a juror and then, just as the trial was about to start, excused when the defendant and the prosecutor agreed to a plea deal, the particulars are unknown.  At any rate, I read about the writer’s experience. And his experience made me think about how being selected to serve on a jury might make me feel.

Knowing me, at least to a degree, I know I would be extremely interested in the process. I know I would find the allegations and the refutations fascinating. I know I even the most mundane civil case would intrigue me. But a criminal trial would be even more riveting. The intricacies of the law and the ramifications to both parties of a verdict in favor of either party would capture my full attention. But, as I read about the writer’s experiences and thought about the consequences of a jury decision, either way, I realized how important it would be to me to ensure that my vote on the question of guilt or innocence  was right. I would not want to let a victim of a crime feel let down by the justice system. But I would not want an innocent person to pay for a crime he or she did not commit.

What really got me thinking about how crucial it is to “get it right” was my consideration of how finding a guilty person innocent would impact the life of the victim. He would not simply be let down. His reputation would be sullied. His friends and family might question he legitimacy of his claims. His employer might decide he doesn’t merit a raise or a promotion because…maybe he lied. And the victim might have good reason to fear a reprisal from the guilty party, who might want to “teach a lesson” to the accuser.

I can imagine turning that entire thought process around, too. If the accused was wrongly accused, yet it convicted, his life would be turned upside down. He would lose not only his freedom but his livelihood and trust and…on and on.

As I thought about the potential consequences to either party of a “bad” verdict, the weight of jurors’ responsibilities became far clearer to me. What had until just this afternoon been an abstract matter, a simple element of curiosity, evolved into something far more solemn than it had been before. Even a trial in which the life of a defendant is not on the line, the lives of everyone involved are, indeed, on the line. I would hope attorneys for the defense and prosecutors, as well, would feel the same sense that their roles are not simply jobs but are commitments to justice.

I’m sure it is easy to become jaded about justice, or its absence. But it is too important to allow indifference to ruin lives. I am not sure how I would perform as a juror. I’ve never been selected to serve on a jury. But, after deeply pondering the concept of justice this afternoon, I think I might approach the responsibility with the gravity it deserves.

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That Miserable Thought

I euthanized that miserable thought, that idea that reeked of the stench of rancid self-indulgence. I ran a spear through its heart and I severed its head. After a day, I threw the rotting corpse of that thought into a vat of caustic. The caustic was so incensed with the presence of the dead thought that it convulsively spewed a vaporous mist that melted the streams of air that carried it. The odor of melted air is so pungent that acrid tears form in the eyes and stream down the face in abrasive rivers, eroding canyons in the skin.

Posted in Writing | 2 Comments

Spontaneity

Spontaneity matters to me. Spontaneity is real. It mines desires and motivations and wishes from the substance of day-to-day life and turns that raw ore into experience. Friends who can adapt to spontaneity and who become part of it are the sorts of people I love and embrace and appreciate deeply. Yesterday morning (actually, this morning, as I’m writing this on Friday evening, to be posted Saturday morning), my wife agreed to my sudden surprise request that we take an utterly unplanned day trip. And, then, we invited friends who live two and a half hours away to meet us “halfway” for lunch as part of the surprise. They agreed. Even though they had the longer drive, they agreed. We met at a Mexican restaurant in Dardanelle and spent a couple of hours eating and talking and enjoying the company of friends. And then we went on our respective ways home.

We (our friends and all of us humans) ought to do that sort of thing more often. We should treat ourselves to surprises. We should be spontaneous. We should ignore the fact that spontaneity distracts us from schedules and does damage to our neat calendars and drags us away from boredom or routine or rote behavior. Instead, I say we should celebrate opportunities to break free of methodical treks around the clock. I say “should,” because I like spontaneity. But I shouldn’t be prescriptive about it, in fact. Do it if it feels good. Don’t if it doesn’t. Some people don’t like spontaneity. They find deviation from routine upsetting. But I find it uplifting. I find spur of the moment road trips exciting. I enjoy breaking out of routine and doing something unusual. Perhaps my reason for jumping on the idea today was the slim but real possibility that I either won’t recover from my upcoming surgery or I’ll come out of it with disabilities that I never realistically contemplated going in. Given that unlikely possibility, maybe I ought to break out of routine while I can.

I can think of many other things I might want to do, “just in case.” But many of them would be problematic, especially if the operation and recovery go according to plan. Obviously, I can’t go into those here. I can only say that one of the possibilities could land me in prison or worse. So, there’s a limit to the attraction of spontaneity. Unless the prognosis is dire and imminent. That sort of diagnosis could lead to an outbreak of human decency in high places. 😉

Back to spontaneity. Unexpected diversions tend to launch smiles and hugs and kisses. They tend to polish the edges of otherwise mundane moments and make them sparkle with reflective gems of happiness. Spontaneity produces giddiness.

I’m writing this, as I said, on Friday evening. I will schedule it to post sometime Saturday. Oh, the irony of scheduling a post on spontaneity!

I may write something on Saturday morning that will post before or after this. We’ll see how this compares to something written after a night’s sleep or sleeplessness. Maybe I’ll be spontaneous.

 

Posted in Philosophy | 1 Comment

Tells Stories and Believes Them

About four years ago, I wrote a very brief post that began, “Tells stories and believes them.” The quote was my memory (which I believe is correct) of a statement in a psychological inventory’s assessment of my personality. I didn’t recall then whether the quote was my “normal” behavior or my “behavior under stress,” but I’m pretty sure it described behavior under stress. I wonder whether my tendency to write and tell stories might be rooted in whatever that instrument’s measure triggered that statement? Could be. Though I don’t have full faith in the measure. But there was something to it. Maybe more than I was willing to accept at the time the report was made, when I was about 25 years old.

I think we tell stories about ourselves in many ways. One of the ways I believe I tell stories about myself is through the subjects I select to write about. My problem, of course, is that I don’t necessarily understand the plot line nor the message the story intends to convey. One such theme in my writing, whether fiction or journal or essay or what have you, touches on asceticism. Out of curiosity, I searched my blog for the word “ascetic” and got eleven hits. A quick scan of those posts confirmed that I have long been attracted to learning what asceticism might teach me. My repeated attempts at “doing without” something that’s normally part of my life speaks to that interest. And recollections of conversations with a college friend about trekking across India recall my interest in asceticism way, way back. I’ve written about cutting back my consumption (of food and luxuries, for example) many times. I’ve asked myself how my appreciation of the world in which I live might be radically different if luxuries I’ve come to consider necessities were truly hard to come by.

Something draws me to “doing without.” It’s as if refusing to allow myself luxuries might help me find a core within me that will reveal a secret I can’t get at otherwise. Perhaps it’s a sense that living simply would allow me to define myself apart from what I have and, instead, reveal the person beneath. Beneath the homeowner and automobile owner and electric utility customer and bank account holder and casual purchaser of things I think I want but know I don’t really need. But one cannot simply and suddenly shed one’s comfortable skin and live as an ascetic. People have wives and husbands and children and parents and siblings and friends and employers and so many others to consider. Society has bound us together to make it virtually impossible to explore what we can, really, do without. We can’t drag our families and social networks through the desert as we attempt to determine whether we can survive without shelter in the heat of summer.

Some people, though, willingly do live ascetic lives. Many of them do it for religious reasons. But some do it, I think, to get to know the person who resides inside their brain and brawn. I think they do it to test the limits of their ability to interact with the earth in a way that allows them, in a very real sense, to leave only footprints. On the other hand, many more people live not as ascetics but as impoverished victims because they seem to have no other choices. It may seem cold and hard to say this, but I wonder if many of those people could live better lives if they lived as our common ancestors did hundreds or thousands of years ago—forced to either scrape a life out of the earth through hard work and determination—or die trying. But, perhaps, that’s exactly what’s happening. They’re dying while trying to make lives from an unfriendly earth.

Like every other thought I have, I bounce between certainty and doubt and I argue against myself by calling attention to my own hypocrisy. I sit at my desk, warmed by electric heat and comfortable at my computer with a cup of coffee at hand, writing about asceticism. I long to know what and who I am at my core, yet if the opportunity presented itself, would I choose to live in a cave and find or catch my own food or starve?  Just moments ago, I thought “wouldn’t it be nice if I had a very small microwave so I could warm my coffee that I let cool as I was typing?” How can I—can anyone—speak or write about asceticism or poverty or living in harmony with the earth with any integrity unless they have experience with both luxury and crying need? I suspect it can’t be done, at least not believably.

Yet I keep coming back to it. The question seems to be, “if I strip away the soft flesh of a life of ease, would there be a worthy skeleton beneath?” Maybe that’s too dramatic. Maybe I’m not looking for worth but for reality. Would that skeleton comprise human bones or would it be composed of artificial fibers and flakes of plastic and stainless steel rods? I don’t know what it is. I know only that there’s a secret someone hidden beneath us all. And maybe I believe my stories because they are true. Perhaps my return to questions of “doing without” is simply a way to tell a story of who I think I want to be without knowing who I am. Riddles. Just riddles. There are no answers to questions asked of themselves.

Posted in Frustration, Materialism, Philosophy | Leave a comment

Senses and Sensibilities Sans Sanity

I wrote two other posts this morning before I got to this one. And I wrote three others last night before I saved them, expecting to return to them this morning and fix them. Instead, I discarded last night’s writing. And the future of this morning’s two earlier attempts at capturing my thoughts is in question. So I’m trying again, in the hope that I will be able to record thoughts I might one day want to recall or examine or otherwise use in some way.

I wrote about seeing, hearing, smelling, tasting, and touching. I tried to express my sense of wonder at each of them. I tried to articulate in some way the profound ways in which each of them brings joy to my life. But I simply couldn’t do it. Every one of my five senses is, by itself, overwhelming in its capacity to bring me contentment, pleasure, joy. Happiness. Woven together, the senses allow me to make sense of life. They make life itself an experience of joy. Granted, they can do just the opposite. But if I train myself to focus on accentuating the pleasurable forms of sensation and to minimize their painful twins, I can train myself to experience joy. Frankly, that sounds like so much “power of positive thinking” nonsense. But in spite of its birth as a Pollyanna concept, I think it’s true. Much is said about going into my surgery with a positive attitude. That’s not just an admonition to have a “stiff upper lip,” it’s a recommendation made seriously because one’s body tends to respond favorably to positivity and unfavorably to negativity. I didn’t intend for this post to drift back into the throes of my confrontation with cancer, but it just did. Sorry. John, get over it.

I’m listening to an album on Spotify entitled, “Mozart: Eine Kleine Nachtmusik Etc.” The piece that just finished, Pachelbel: Canon and Gigue in D Major, P. 37-1. Canon, was followed by Mozart’s 3 German Dances K605 and then a Bach orchestral suite.  Even fast-paced, joyful pieces are moving. They call upon the eyes to leak in appreciation. Exquisite visual art sometimes does that, too. I can look at some spectacular artwork by famed artists and be left unmoved; but some pieces can evoke emotions that seem to come from nowhere. It’s as if certain aspects of arts (and music) trigger responses that may have nothing whatsoever to do with appearance or sound; they just provoke responses.

The mechanical aspects of writing and playing music are beyond me, as are the mechanical aspects of creating visual art that reflects what my brain wants my hands to do. But I think there’s music and art in my brain that, if I could transplant my brain into the body of a talented artist, could be extraordinary. Of course that’s madness, because it’s the combination of creativity and technical skills and talents that lead to great art and music. If you’re missing one or the other set of requisite components, you don’t have what it takes to be an artist or musician. But you can still appreciate the works of people who do. And you can wish that, suddenly in a magical moment, you’d acquire the technical skills to bring the creative ideas in your head to life. Not gonna happen, sport. Get over your fantasies.

My creativity with words escaped me last night and hasn’t returned this morning. Instead of deleting this post and starting again or saving it with an eye toward later improving how I say what I want to say, I’m just going to post this and start something different another time. I’d hate to waste all these hundreds or thousands of keystrokes. Maybe they’re wasted anyway. But they’re now memorialized on the internet.

 

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Bowing to the Trees

There was a chill in the air this morning, with the temperature hovering around fifty degrees. A thin overcast and a brisk wind made it feel cooler. Billowing flurries of orange and brown and yellow leaves fell from trees in sheets as the wind gusts caught them. The air flow sent them away in torrents as if they were fleeing in terror from some invisible predator.

Perhaps they were. Perhaps we humans are arrogant in our belief that we understand “lower life forms.” Trees may have perceptual abilities equivalent to those processed by our brains and our nervous systems, only much more advanced. They may possess an understanding of the universe far deeper than humans can ever hope to achieve. We, it may turn out, are the deviant lethargic learners, the users of antediluvian nervous systems so primitive that trees and bushes and shrubs and even grasses find us humorous in our plodding ineptitude. We may be pawns, used merely for the entertainment of the denizens of forests and prairies and submarine life forms and other such creatures we consider lesser beings. We, not our dogs and cats, are the pets. We have been trained to feed them and breed them. We are servants, tricked into believing we are masters.

Plants and animals watch us in bemused detachment as we disassemble the planet we think we’ve conquered. We scramble to stop our own self-destructive behavior, occasionally thinking that we’re also destroying the planet for other creatures. We don’t realize we’re simply undoing the place suitable for ourselves. Other plants and animals understand they can and will regenerate this place they call home once we’re gone. Their only concern is where they will find their next pets and servants.

There’s “talk” among the other species about whether pine forests and tallgrass prairies should rise up against us. Most of the colonies of ants and the libraries of lichens argue against it, saying humans as entertainment demand they be kept as pets, if for no other reason. But, during a recent interspecies thinkalong, an exaltation of larks and a pride of lions spoke in favor extinction. Various kingdoms and phyla took positions simply for the enjoyment of argumentation. All of this right under our noses, as it were.

As I look out the window, I wonder if individual leaves on the trees outside can sense my presence in some manner and can, in fact, catalog my thoughts in the trunks of the trees on which they hang. Yes, I believe they can. If we were sufficiently advanced, we would be able to examine tree rings in a way that would reveal every experience the tree ever had. We could actually relive years past as if looking at a videotape of captured images. But there would be much more. The tree rings would have captured temperatures and tastes and relative humidity, along with light levels and the presence or absence of pollen and dust in the air. Oh, if we were as smart as trees, we would view the world from a different vantage point. And we would bow to the trees the way we ask nature to bow to our demands.

I learned all of these possibilities by watching the trees out my window this morning. It’s amazing what can flood into it when you open your mind to possibilities.

Posted in Imagination | 1 Comment

It Usually Turns Out Fine

Last night, after writing my post subsequent to visiting with the surgeon, I did additional research on Stage IIB lung cancer survival without treatment. The average, I found, was seven months from diagnosis to death. That’s considerably less than I expected. Seven months after my diagnosis would fall around June 3, 2019.

I looked at my calendar for that date and found a reminder that our passports are set to expire six months later. And Janine’s regular “Dancing Divas” line dancing practice and her normal Monday afternoon Mexican train and dominoes gatherings are on the calendar for that day, too. Looking at the calendar from the perspective that my life might end around that date, without treatment, offers a powerful incentive to go forward with surgery. Regardless of whether I have surgery, the prospects ahead do not look especially bright. Even after successful surgery, I’d have rounds of chemotherapy that would last at least until early April. My already less-than-stellar lung function/capacity would be adversely affected by the surgery. The possibility exists that the middle lobe might have to be removed, in addition to the lower lobe where the tumor is located. In that case, my lung function would be reduced even further. The surgeon said his rough calculations suggested that, if he had to remove two lobes, I’d be at the borderline of needing to walk around with an oxygen tank. Maybe I would, maybe I wouldn’t. He doesn’t think so, but can’t rule it out. Just so I’ll know.

Other online resources suggest I should have a second opinion. They say the doctors expect their patients to secure second opinions. And they say second opinions are wise because no doctor can know all the most recent advances in treatment of the various stages of lung cancer. On the other hand, my surgeon is telling me I need to act fast to avoid the risk that the tumor might spread to other organs or into the lymph nodes, if it hasn’t already. There’s no assurance that it hasn’t. He said yesterday he’s rarely seen a tumor so large that has not involved the lymph nodes; it’s possible, he said, that the PET scan simply didn’t pick up the microscopic evidence of that involvement. That’s why they recommend chemotherapy for tumors larger than 4 cm. I’ve decided a second opinion would add too much time to the process. A short while ago, I send him an email, asking if he could still fit me in on November 19. It didn’t take him long to respond. We’re on. He has an early surgical commitment that day, but slicing into me at a reasonably early hour is now on his schedule. Success! I’ll have at least the smallest, lowest, lobe of my right lung removed that day. If things go awry, he might have to take out more. I know the risks. I’ve signed on to them.

The inevitability of death is harder to face when one considers its arrival may be months away instead of being measured in years or decades.  The difficulty is not contemplating one’s own experience or his own end but thinking about the people left behind who will have to deal with it. I can’t bring myself to think about what I would leave for my wife to do on her own if I were to die. But, then, I have to think about it. I have to do what I can to ensure that, as hard as it might be, she has the resources and support necessary to get through it. Not that I plan to die. I don’t. At least not in the immediate future or the foreseeable beyond.

I’m writing this, when I should be doing something else, because I want to capture my confusion and my dilemmas and how I’m torn while I deal with this crap. I’m not writing it for sympathy or as a call for help or anything like that. I’m writing it for me. I just want to be clear about that.

I doubt anyone will dissect my lung. Although I did agree to let them keep and use any excess samples. Blood, tissues, etc., etc. Happy to let them put them to good use in research. I just hope they don’t go overboard. You know. Harvest my heart and my stomach and my liver at the same time. I doubt they’d do that. They’re much too decent folks to do such scurrilous things.

I make out like I’m not scared about this stuff. I guess I am. I don’t want to go to sleep and never wake up. I don’t want to go to sleep and wake up unable to speak or breathe or think or move. But you have to put your faith in people sometime. The way people sometime put their faith in you. You have to accept that everything will turn out fine. And it usually does.

Posted in Cancer, Health | 4 Comments

Staging My Attitude

The only real question now is: when? Will I go forward as we decided this afternoon, with surgery next Wednesday, November 14? Or will I wait a bit? After learning of the preliminary staging assessment (Stage IIB),  the potential dangers (including damage to the recurrent laryngeal nerve, a nerve involved with the vocal chord and the voice and requiring oxygen to stay alive), and the 5-year survival statistics (56%), I considered whether the risk to my quality of life was worth taking. Maybe I should just live the time I have left without the potential of ruining my quality of life? It would be a bitch to undergo surgery, only to be damaged for the remainder of my life, which might not last long anyway. But unless I change my mind, I’ll opt to risk surgery. My odds of survival beyond five years might be far greater than the average, too. Those odds include all victims of the cancer who are at the same stage; that includes people who are in far worse health, otherwise, than I. So my odds may be greater.

Anyway, about the time; I’m inclined to wait, just so I can wrap up some loose ends. The surgeon can schedule it for November 19 or December 4. I’m leaning toward December 4. I have things to do beforehand. Decisions to make.

Regardless of what we decide, the diagnosis of lung cancer has upended our lives. We decided I should defer collecting Social Security until I reach 70, with the objective of maximizing my income when I start collecting it. That calculated risk may have been a poor one.

Election night two years ago was horrible. This one, too, is shaping up to be horrible, but not for the same reason. And although Democrats are making progress, the disease afflicting our country is just as insidious as the disease afflicting my lung.

I may feel different tomorrow. Tonight, I don’t feel particularly hopeful. My wife said she would support me in whatever decision I make (to have surgery or not), but that if I decide to have it, she wants me to go into it with a positive attitude. I agreed that I would make sure to approach it with a positive attitude if I have the surgery. I’m leaning toward having the surgery. I have a hell of a lot of work to do on my attitude.

 

Posted in Cancer, Health | 3 Comments

On with the Day

Late yesterday afternoon, I got a message from the Little Rock surgeon to whom my oncologist referred me. I have an appointment late this afternoon. Maybe I’ll know more then. I have plenty of questions for the surgeon.

How am I feeling about this process, this battle against a tumor in my chest that I didn’t know what there until the doctors told me? It’s hard to say. I’m still surprised by it.

My oncologist said my cough was unlikely to be directly caused by the tumor. She suggested that it’s possible the tumor caused tissue around it to become inflamed, which in turn might be responsible for the cough. But the tumor itself? Not directly involved in the cough. Yet the cough is the reason I went to the doctor and the reason he ordered a couple of x-rays and, then, a CT scan and a PET scan. The cough was a lucky accident. Without it, the tumor might have continued to grow and spread unnoticed. I’m grateful for the cough. I’m grateful the tumor was spotted.

I’m grateful but extremely apprehensive. After reading a number of posts written by people who have undergone surgery to remove sections of their lungs due to cancer, I’m looking at this process as an ugly, painful, lengthy battle. People who have been through it have written about excruciating pain that was not managed by opioid drugs. Some have written about the pain involved in having chest tubes that drain fluids from the chest. Others have written about the loneliness of days in the hospital with no visitors. I’m familiar with some of what they described. I had chest tubes after my heart bypass surgery fourteen years ago. I can imagine the loneliness of being in the hospital for days. My brother’s recent very long stay in the hospital in Houston must have seemed like an eternity to him, especially when he didn’t get visits. With good fortune, I won’t run into complications that will keep me in the hospital for weeks or months. That could drive me bananas. I hate feeling confined to the house during bad weather. At least I can roam from room to room. But that’s not the case in the hospital. Why am I dwelling on the prospects for pain and boredom?

I can’t let my cancer and my fears associated with it consume every waking thought. That’s simply not healthy. But it’s difficult not to connect even mundane household chores to the disease. I won’t be able to blow leaves, so Janine will have to arrange to have someone do it; she can’t do it herself. Housecleaning will suddenly become a much more onerous task, with the things I do suddenly falling on her to do. And she’ll feel compelled to visit me in the hospital, more than an hour away from home. Maybe I can convince her to get a room at an extended-stay hotel near the hospital for at least part of the time I’m there so she can avoid a daily round trip drive of 125 miles. And exploring Little Rock a bit while she’s not in the hospital might take her mind off my plight.

If I focus my attention on what my experience might teach me, perhaps I’ll snag some information and ideas to incorporate into my writing. I’ve been utterly neglecting my fiction-writing of late, inattention for which I will pay in a decline in the quality of my writing. Practice makes palatable, I’ve always said. I have to practice my writing to make it possible for someone to stomach it. I might learn about hospital gadgetry that could find its way into stories I write about murderous nurses or amorous anaesthetists.  See, there you go: The Amorous Anaesthetist could be the title of a book. Or a short story. Or a poem? Maybe a haiku. I suspect it would take considerable effort and a great deal of focused attention to write a haiku worthy of that title. I’ll have to find out if the UAMS hospital room in which I’ll be confined has WiFi. I’ll have to insist on it. No WiFi, no surgery. That simple. How can I write and post to this blog, this testament to my ego, without WiFi? It’s ludicrous to even think it!

Speaking of this blog, if I had been smart (and I wasn’t), I would have used johnswinburn.com as a home for several subsidiary URL blogs (e.g., johnswinburn.com/fictionblog, johnswinburn.com/poetryblog, johnswinburn.com/journalblog) so I could separate my writing in a way that would give it some semblance of order. I could have added a piece at johnswinburn.com/cancerblog. But as it is, the blog is an expansive piece of chaotic internet real estate with no discernible theme, rhyme, or reason; just a reservoir of unfiltered junk that pours from my fingers. I could, of course, invest time and energy to imposing some form of order to the beast, but my mood at the moment isn’t suitable that kind of endeavor. Instead, I’ll just complain about my lack of foresight.

I took a break to make a breakfast of sausage, eggs, radishes, and tomato juice. That finished off the sausage (a rarity in this house that, quite probably, won’t be replaced for many months) and the radishes (which I consider an emergency, so I will insist on replacing them immediately). It’s odd, I think, that I have grown so attached to radishes at breakfast. It’s an attachment few others in my sphere (or, perhaps no others in my sphere) share with me. In fact, I recall a visitor who recoiled at the idea, looking at me as if I had lost my mind and had become a dangerous deviant capable of unspeakable horrors.

I prefer strong and stoic to weak and weepy, but my psyche doesn’t always cooperate with my preferences. My psyche has a mind of its own. Groan. It’s after 8:00 and I need to be productive this morning before I drive to Little Rock to see the surgeon. So, I’ll leave this mass of spillage and get on with the day.

 

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I May Have Suffered from Autopathagnosiasis

One often hears about people who, after reading or hearing about symptoms of potentially fatal diseases, believe they exhibit such symptoms. One term for such people is hypochondriacs. But what about people who dismiss the suggestion that their diagnoses may be serious or who downplay the potential that their diseases might be extremely challenging or even fatal? I looked for the antonyms of hypochondriasis and hypochondriac and found no suitable word. So, based on neologisms I found during my quest for the word, I developed my own set of words: autopathagnosiasis and autopathagnosiac. An autopathagnosiac is one who is unable to—or refuses to—recognize the gravity of one’s own illness.

The reason I searched for this word that apparently does not exist is that I learned this morning that I had convinced myself that my lung cancer diagnosis, while serious, was not really all that bad. I convinced myself that the tumor was relatively small. I convinced myself that it was discovered early in the process of cancer development. I convinced myself that whatever surgery would be required would be relatively minor and quite possible minimally invasive. I convinced myself that I would be out of the hospital in just a few days, maybe less. I convinced myself that I probably would not need chemotherapy. I convinced myself that I would be back to “normal” before Christmas if I could get the surgery scheduled quickly. This stuff was wishful thinking. I allowed myself to interpret some of what I’d read online and some of what I heard my oncologist say earlier to mean my cancer was almost trivial. So insignificant that I should be embarrassed to suggest it was anything but a minor inconvenience.

My appointment with my oncologist cleared up those misapprehensions. She said chemotherapy is triggered in virtually every case in tumors greater than 4 cm in size; mine is 6.4 cm. I can expect chemotherapy to start four to eight weeks after surgery. Four rounds, three weeks apart. She said she thinks I am a candidate for surgery, but only a surgeon can make that determination; it’s possible there could be multiple reasons I would not be a good candidate. It’s important that I see a surgeon soon to see whether I am, indeed, a candidate. She said I am most certainly not a candidate for minimally invasive surgery. “They’ll have to open your chest. It’s major surgery, like open heart surgery. They need to get at your lung and they will remove a lobe.” Or words to that effect. The size of the tumor suggests it has been growing for at least a couple of years. “This isn’t something that started just a few months ago.” Again, words to that effect. And thinking I might be back to “normal” by Christmas is a delirious pipe dream. “I can’t predict how long it might take you, but you have to assume it will be six months to a year, depending on how well you respond to treatment and physical therapy.” Or words to that effect. My hospital stay will depend on how well I do, but “I would expect at least five days, maybe longer…this is major surgery.” Somewhere along the line she slipped in a suggestion that this sort of surgery isn’t always survivable, but usually is.

The next step is to schedule a consultation with the surgeon. If I don’t hear from him by Thursday, she asked me to call her to intervene on my behalf. Lots of tests and preparations are apt to be required before surgery. My oncologist scheduled my next visit with her for four weeks from now; “hopefully you will be finished with all that” (meaning surgery and the hospital stay) “by then.” I sort of doubt it.

I asked what if I just didn’t have surgery; no therapy. She didn’t answer directly, but suggested that it would be unlikely I would survive five years. “The cancer would metastasize and cause other problems in other organs.”

This rearrangement of my understanding of the situation has done some damage to my attitude, but it hasn’t wrecked it. Now, I am aware that the challenges are considerably more onerous than I thought, but I am confident I will meet them. I just will not meet them quite as easily as I had hoped.

 

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Promises Promises

Over the years I’ve repeatedly made promises to myself that I’ve broken. The earliest one I remember was the promise I would stop smoking. I first made that promise when I was in my early twenties. It took me thirty years to finally keep it. I’m paying now, with my lung cancer diagnosis, for my failure to live up to that promise I made to myself. The promise that I would stop smoking was one of dozens and dozens I’ve made and broken. Maybe hundreds. Maybe thousands. I promised myself innumerable time I would exercise regularly. I promised myself equally as often that I would eat less and better. I promised myself I would…

lose weight
become fluent in Spanish
learn enough Spanish to “get by”
learn enough French to “get by”
learn enough German to “get by”
be less judgmental
become more self-confident
quit drinking so much beer
quit drinking so much wine
quit drinking so much hard liquor
quit drinking
control my temper
be slow to lose my tempter
look for value in people who behave in ways of which I disapprove
get back into the habit of taking long walks every day
run a marathon
donate time and money to multiple charitable endeavors
walk from Dallas to Oklahoma City
go a month without [coffee, meat, social media…too many to list]
keep my promises to myself

I haven’t simply abandoned all my promises. In some cases I’ve made improvements. But I can’t remember many promises I’ve made to myself that I’ve actually kept in their entirety. I did stop smoking. But I stopped too late to prevent it from doing the damage it did. Maybe it would have been far worse had I not stopped when I did. That’s how I’ll try to frame it.

What kind of person breaks with such consistency the solemn promises he makes to himself ? If I had been in the habit of breaking such promises to other people, I think others would consider me unlikable, unreliable, and an inveterate liar. I couldn’t bear others thinking that of me. Why can I tolerate it of myself? Why can I look at my promises to myself and be okay with thinking, “You are an unlikable guy, an unreliable liar”? Well, I can’t say that to myself. Or I won’t. But I do wonder why I don’t. Why is it not acceptable to let other people down but it’s okay to let myself down? It doesn’t feel any better being disappointed in myself than being disappointed in other people.

Maybe I do let other people down. No, there’s not maybe about it. I do let other people down. But not with any regularity. And not dismissively, as if it’s no big deal. As I think about it, though, I don’t dismiss my broken promises to myself as unimportant. They’re not unimportant. They matter. I get angry with myself. Too often, I view a single misstep not as a setback but as an utter failure. That virtually assures that promises made will be promises broken. When the standard against which I measure myself is absolute perfection, I virtually assure absolute failure. I know this. I am aware of this. My problem is that I continue to use that same standard. And when I inevitably don’t measure up to perfection, I tend to just give up and admit failure. Promise made. Promise broken.

Okay. I’m not alone. Everyone makes promises to themselves that they can’t or don’t meet. Maybe everyone does it routinely.But I suspect they don’t stew over it for decades. Instead, they behave like rational human beings and address the issue head on.

I think I know the answer to my dilemma. “The first step in solving a problem is recognizing there is one.” I think I’ve got that down. The next step is to solve it. Perhaps the key is not to promise myself that I’ll do something. Instead, I’ll promise others I’ll do something (or stop something or change something). By making a promise to someone else, I’ll put considerably more pressure on myself to actually fulfill the promise. If I don’t fulfill the promise, I won’t just be letting myself down, I’ll be letting someone else down. And I can’t tolerate that. So there you go. Problem solved. Perhaps. We’ll see. Maybe Ill be speaking Spanish like a native-born Mexican in a year or two.

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Questions for the Oncologist

I have a lot of questions for my oncologist during my appointment tomorrow morning. I’ve written a list:

  • Please verify the details of my cancer as I understand them:
    • 6 cm tumor in my right lower lobe, right?
    • the biopsy confirmed non-small cell adenocarcinoma, the most common type of lung cancer, true?
  • Is the tumor closer to the front or the back of the lung?
  • What is my prognosis?
  • What could I expect if I had no treatment at all?
  • What does the size of my tumor (6 cm?) say about how long it has been growing?
  • What is the stage of my cancer?
  • Are there options other than surgery available? Why one over another?
  • Would surgeons go in from the front or the back of my chest?
  • Is a minimally invasive surgery possible for me? If so, what are pros and cons?
  • If I undergo surgery, how long am I likely to need to stay in hospital?
  • When can I expect to hear from UAMS?
  • When can I expect surgery to be scheduled?
  • Would I be better off going to MD Anderson in Houston for treatment? Why or why not?
  • Assuming the tumor is excised, how likely is it to develop again?
  • What about chemo or radiation? Necessary? Advisable? Pros & cons? Pre and/or post surgery?
  • How long has my tumor been growing? (More or less)
  • Is a vegetarian diet or vegan diet apt to have any impact on recovery and/or prognosis?
  • How long before I’m back to “normal” if, indeed, that is something I can expect?
  • What effect will removal of part of my lung have on my quality of life?
  • After treatment, how frequently will I need additional treatment/follow-up?
  • Can follow-up be in Hot Springs or must I go to LR? (Or Houston)
  • If I were to decide to take two years to “see the country” or “see the world” after treatment, what constraints would I have to contend with?
  • How frequently should I be tested, subsequent to “cure,” for new cancer?
  • What can I do to make the process of treatment and recovery easier on my wife?
  • What is the likelihood of recurrence, assuming all the cancer is removed by surgery and/or destroyed by other means?

Some of these questions may be irrelevant, depending on answers to others. And some may seem absurd. But I have reasons for all of them. I suspect I’ll have other questions and I may well decide not to ask some of the questions I have so far.

I remember, after my bypass surgery, I was out of commission for two or three weeks. That was fifteen years ago, so the same surgery today might require far less recovery time. I wonder whether today’s lung cancer surgery has advanced considerably in recent years? And I wonder what impact the surgery will have on me today, at 65 years of age, compared to the same type of surgery at fifty-one? I guess I should ask those questions, too. I suspect some of my questions for the oncologist will have to wait to be answered by the surgeon. I’m anxious to get this process on the fast track so it can be over.  For reasons I can’t quite understand, I really want this to be over and done by Thanksgiving. That’s just two weeks and four days from now. I may be disappointed.

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Thanksgiving Planning

I was daydreaming for a while this morning, thinking about what we might do for Thanksgiving this year. What kind of non-traditional but celebratory dinner might we prepare? But then it occurred to me that I might learn during tomorrow’s visit with my oncologist that I might not be able to enjoy Thanksgiving at home this year. I may be recovering from, or preparing for, surgery to remove a piece of my lung. That thought had the temporary effect of ruining my temporary rush of happiness at thinking about a special Thanksgiving dinner. But then I recaptured my train of thought and went about daydreaming.

Regardless of whether I’ve already had surgery or am recovering from it, I do not want the celebratory meal to include an animal’s lung. Not that I know of any dish prepared from an animal’s lung. I understand that haggis uses lungs, so haggis is off the menu this year. I gather the USDA advises against eating lungs, anyway. But, then, other types of offal are okay. I read somewhere that brains are illegal; I’m certain that’s not true or, if it is, it’s a recent restriction.

Perhaps a vegetarian meal would be appropriate. Aren’t plant-based foods supposed to be good for people with cancer? And, I suppose, for people who would rather not have cancer. I could construct a replica of a turkey using sweet potatoes and carrots. I’d probably have to do that before any surgery, though, as I suspect surgery might negatively impact my ability to stand up and shape vegetables to look like a cooked bird. I don’t really like the idea of turkey for Thanksgiving, though. Maybe I could create replicas of guinea pigs—cuyes, in Spanish—so we could pretend to be eating a Peruvian delicacy. Hell, maybe I could just order cuyes from a purveyor of specialty meats. I think I’ve written before about a specialty purveyor that sells all manner of exotic carcasses. I seem to be drifting away from vegetarian. Maybe I should return to the healthy alternative.

Now I’m drifting back into that “what if” territory that has the potential for taking my mood down a notch or two. I should stop writing and return to my now-cold coffee. And daydream about Thanksgiving dinner instead of write about it.

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Warning: You Will Be Bored if You Read This

My attempt to go back to sleep after I returned to bed shortly after 3:30 was an abject failure. I did close my eyes and attempt to empty my mind of clutter. Instead, I closed my eyes and filled my mind with useless trivia and unnecessary trips down dark alleys strewn with broken dreams dressed as simple mistakes. Yes, I know the sentence I wrote is incomprehensible to the reader. Unless the reader is me. Which, at the moment, is me. At any rate, I did not get back to sleep. I didn’t even get comfortable trying. No matter whether on my back or either side, the attempted sleeping position was uncomfortable. Perhaps I spent too much energy paying attention to my physical discomfort and not enough clearing the weeds in my head.

The inability to sleep is not common with me, but neither is it especially rare. It just happens from time to time. There was a time not too many years ago that I would have gotten up and driven out to an all-night breakfast place, leaving a note for my wife about where I had gone. But on most of those rare occasions, my wife would have had the same experience and we might have gone out together. That’s no longer the case. She hasn’t wanted to go seeking a 3:00 a.m. breakfast in many years. The last time I remember such an adventure, we lived in Dallas and got up to have breakfast at either Waffle House or J’s Breakfast and Burgers. I preferred the latter, as it was truly a local dive, not an institutional, corporate dive.

All this talk of breakfast triggers thoughts about my “Breakfast Around the World” book, one of hundreds of books I’ve never finished writing. I’ve compiled recipes and written narratives about breakfast traditions in many countries, but haven’t finished the research nor efficiently organized the materials I’ve collected. I really should do that. I should finish something. Anything. You know, instead of writing bullshit posts in my blog that contribute absolutely nothing to the world in which we live. A book about breakfast around the world could be meaningful. It could highlight both the similarities and the differences between countries and cultures. It could call attention to the massive disparities that exist between resources available in rich countries versus poor countries. It could, perhaps, spark interest in learning just a bit more about different cultures. And it might help some people develop at least a modest understanding of how all people have much more in common than we think. Yeah, right.

“In a surprise turn of events, a book about breakfast caused peace to break out globally, as people of all cultures embraced one another, sang songs of togetherness and brotherhood, and broke break in an enormous love-fest. Details at ten.”

I talk about combining all my disparate writing into a collection of some sort, stitched together with a common theme (the substance and character of which remain mysterious). But that’s it. Talk. Or, rather, write. I write about doing it. I write about writing. I write about publishing. I think about it. And I do nothing. Damn me! Damn my laziness! Damn my propensity to lose interest so quickly in almost everything that intrigues me for a time. I don’t lose interest. That’s incorrect. I misplace it. I leave it with my keys and my billfold. I sometimes find that it’s hidden under my smart-phone that I inadvertently left in the car. Or it’s buried under a pile of papers that once held my interest and now simply clutter my desk the way their contents clutter my mind.

I’m losing interest in projects for which I’ve either volunteered or to which I was recruited and couldn’t say “no.” At the moment, I don’t care about the Hot Springs Village 50 year history and the book about that history that I was recruited to help write. I don’t care about long range planning. I don’t much care even about the church newsletter that I’ve felt rather good about since I started on it a year ago. And my lack of attachment to these projects isn’t related in any way to my medical challenges. I’ve just burned out on them, I think. Even though I’ve invested almost no time nor energy in some of them, I’m just no longer interested. But I committed to doing them. So I’m stuck between freeing myself of the responsibilities (and therefore feeling guilty and letting people down) and fulfilling my commitments (and resenting them for taking my time and robbing me of opportunities to do things that matter more to me). In fact, though, if I were to extricate myself from my responsibilities, I wouldn’t suddenly find myself enmeshed in things I desperately want to do. Instead, I’d dabble for a while in things that pique my interest and then leave them behind when I no longer find them exciting or interesting. I know me. I know how I am. No matter that I don’t want to be that guy, he is who I am. Unremarkable. I remember reading a surgeon’s comments after he performed an operation during which he removed a rather lengthy stretch of my intestines. He described the diseased bowel that he had removed and then he noted that otherwise “the patient was unremarkable.” Although I knew what it meant in the context of the report, I laughed at the thought that the guy wrote that I was blasé.

Lest anyone who might stumble upon this schizophrenic post think I’m feeling inadequate and unlovable (because that’s how I might read it if I stumbled upon it), that’s not how I feel. Rather, I’m feeling angry for allowing myself to trip over my faults instead of taking action to correct them. I’m not inherently inept. In fact, I think I’m pretty damn “ept.” Seriously, I’m a reasonably intelligent, competent person. I’m just angry at allowing myself to fritter away my intellect and my competencies. I have the capacity to examine my life (or any part thereof), analyze it critically, and take action to adjust the way I live it, with the objective of changing it for the better. Having the capacity and taking the action are different. Kicking myself in the butt is in order. And that’s what I must do if I truly want to emerge from this mood. And I will. I always do. I get in these moods and I bitch and moan for a while but, eventually, I spring out of it. I’m just pissed off that I don’t do it faster. I could. I could if I invested the mental energy. And perhaps I will.

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Up in the Middle of the Night

It’s just after 3:00 a.m. and I can’t bring myself to write what’s on my mind because I’m not quite sure I know. I woke from a bizarre, troubling nightmare. Rather than attempt to go back to sleep, I got up. That probably was a mistake. I may be up for the duration, but if I can’t figure out what to write, I might try sleep, instead. I’ve deleted a dozen paragraphs, each one the start of a post that paints me as weaker and less confident than I believe myself to be. At least I’ve deleted them instead of carrying them forward because, “you know, I’ve gone to the trouble of writing them, so I might as well.” No, when what I write is swill I will discard it the way one discards swill. Unceremoniously and without regret. At least that’s the way I think one discards swill. I’ve never actually known precisely what swill was, though I’ve called some foods and beverages swill and have treated them accordingly.

Well, my attempt at humor isn’t working, so maybe I’ll try something else. I spent a few minutes reading several Facebook posts made by a woman I may have met in person once or twice. Her several posts dealt with a recent exploratory surgery to determine whether some problem she has been having (I’m not quite clear just how the problem presented itself) was cancer. The surgery couldn’t confirm it, one way or the other. So, she’s scheduled for further surgery soon to excise whatever it is that may be cancer. Her posts suggest she had dealt with cancer on multiple occasions. And she is asking for prayers.  She’s obviously frightened, deeply afraid, of what the future might hold for her. I wrote that I wish her well and hope the doctors can remove any traces of cancer so she can go on with her life. She may not even remember who I am. Or she might. I feel compassion and empathy for her as I would for anyone in her shoes. But… But, what? I don’t know. I wonder whether talking about one’s prospective diagnosis of cancer is somehow off-putting? That could be it. It could be viewed as a desperate attempt for pity. Or something like it. I don’t know. So maybe now I’ll retract what I’ve told people about my diagnosis. “It was all a misunderstanding. It’s actually a ping-pong ball I inhaled during an especially violent game of table tennis.” My attempt to have humor rescue me from whatever it was the preceded it. Fell flat again.

Tomorrow morning I go to the church to help with the Autumn clean-up/spruce-up, followed by a couple of hours of long range planning committee work. And those who know of my recent medical issues will want to know what more I know. I think I’ll lie and tell them I know nothing more. Still waiting for results. Because I think people prefer uncertainty over an unpleasant certainty. Even when the unpleasant certainty probably is not the bad situation it could have been had I let the cough go unchecked for another four or five months.

A few friends have expressed interest in NaNoWriMo. I would like to have written a novel. I just don’t want to do the work to have written it. Not this month, anyway. I can’t even write a blog post that satisfies me or that begins to capture what’s on my mind. So I’ll try sleep again. It’s only just after 3:30 and I don’t have to be at church until 8:30. So, maybe up to four more hours available for sleep. But I’m almost always up by 6 or 6:30, so not likely four more hours. But at least a little more, maybe?

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A Nice Lunch and a Confirmation of Lung Cancer

My wife and I drove to Little Rock today with some friends today—Paul and his sister, Rose—for lunch at a place Paul mentioned to us last time we were together. It’s called Sauce(d), a new wood-fired pizza restaurant whose interior design is chic modern. Lots of bare wood, industrial metal, and black paint. The bar is huge and well-stocked. The selection of pizza is wonderful. The draft beer selections and wines on tap are inviting. Before lunch, we wandered the nearby Indian grocery (one of my favorite places to spend time in Little Rock). Just after eleven, we entered Sauce(d) and enjoyed an excellent meal. Paul and Rose shared a Quattro Stagioni, with San Marzano tomato, mozzarella, mushroom, olive, prosciutto, artichoke, and fresh basil. Janine ordered the same. I ordered the Some Like It Hot, with soppressatta, habanero honey, bacon marmelade, mozzarella, and basil. We also ordered a Some Like It Hot to go for Janine’s sister, Carol. After lunch, we stopped in to Colonial Liquor to have a look see. I did not buy a single malt Scotch, despite wanting to have done. Instead, I replenished our supply of Gilbey’s Gin. Because it needed replenishment. And then we drove home, taking the long way down a relatively deserted couple of highways, rather than jumping back on the freeway. It was a leisurely drive home. Once we dropped Paul and Rose at their respective houses, we stopped to get gas and to buy some gumbo from the Shell station that promotes gumbo as its Friday special. I’ve wanted to do that for quite some time. My wife knew this. She suggested we stop. She is wonderful and treats me better than I deserve.

Once home, we put a few things away and headed to Carol’s to deliver her pizza. Carol invited us in and offered us a glass of wine. We gratefully accepted. The three of us went and sat on her back deck to sip wine and chat. And then my phone rang. The caller ID said it was my oncologist. I answered the phone. And it was, indeed, my oncologist. Not her staff confirming my Monday appointment. It was my doctor. She asked if I was near her office. If so, she wondered if I would like to come in and talk with her, as she had information about my biopsy that she would like to share. I told her I was in Hot Springs Village, which is a good 35-40 minutes from her office. She said she thought it best to contact me as soon as she had information to share. She asked if I’d like to talk over the telephone, then, or wait until our Monday appointment. I wanted to talk then. Over the phone was fine. So she explained what she knew.

Just as she had expected, the biopsy confirmed that the tumor is malignant. The biopsy confirmed that I have adenocarcinoma, a non-small-cell lung cancer. She had already spoken to a cardiothoracic surgeon who would be calling me to arrange an appointment. That’s why she wanted to talk today; she wanted to speak to me before I got a call to arrange the appointment. She said she believes it is feasible to remove the cancer surgically. She recommends that I have it done at UAMS in Little Rock. The surgeon who would do it, she said (though I don’t have a name) specializes in removing lung tumors. “Not pancreas, not heart, not liver, not stomach, only the lung.”

I didn’t have the presence of mind to ask what stage, if they have determined it yet, nor when my surgery might be done, nor any of the thousands of other questions I’m sure to have. But I did ask if I could keep my Monday morning appointment with her. “Of course.”

Thus far, I’ve kept my emotions well in check. But I feel them battling to overwhelm me. Even though I believe, intellectually and emotionally, that we caught this early enough that it will be defeated, probably relatively easily, it’s more difficult than I expected. It is not as easy to deal with the actual diagnosis as I thought it would be. After having read what I’ve read, I was prepared for the diagnosis. I suspected it would be as previously advertised: it’s probably cancer. I suspect it’s at an early stage. I suspect that, given it’s early, it will involve a straightforward treatment. It won’t be horrendous. It will be annoying, but not horrendous. But none of the rational stuff seems to matter at this moment. I’m having to force myself to maintain my composure. I do not want my wife to watch me turn into a puddle over a diagnosis that is far less onerous than the one with which she dealt fifteen years ago. So I shall not. I shall, instead, write my emotions as if I were having them and not show them.

As strange as it seems, part of my upset is not the cancer so much as it is the inconvenience it will involve. Trips to Little Rock (where, I’m sure, the surgery will be done), frequent visits to the doctor (wherever those visits take place), insurance, out-of-pocket expenses, etc. etc. I should be more concerned about the treatment and the outcome than the inconvenience it will pose. What’s wrong with my thinking here?

I’m writing this almost in real time as I’m thinking about this stuff. I probably shouldn’t. I should wait and process it. But on the other hand I kind of wanted to document how I felt. But I’m not sure whether I really wanted that or not. What the hell. I’m writing and I’m posting. I guess that’s the way my mind works.

 

 

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Maggie’s Birthday Story as Told by the Son Barack Obama Didn’t Know He Had

Around two months ago, a post I wrote focused almost exclusively on a woman I dated once while I was a young, inexperienced kid. I have only a slightly greater reason to write about her today than I did two months ago.  Yesterday, you see, was Maggie’s birthday. So, I sent her my annual birthday message. I wished her well, said I hope she either has already or soon will be able to retire. And I otherwise dabbled in niceties. That’s what one does, I suppose, when one writes to someone one once dated when one and the other were both essentially children and when one hasn’t seen or spoken to the someone in forty years or more. How’s that for a difficult to follow sentence? It’s difficult for a reason. It’s hard to understand the sentence without taking it slowly and breaking it into pieces. The same is true of my periodic contact with Maggie. I checked my messages and discovered that, yes, it was exactly a year ago (I dropped the ball and missed her birthday by a day last year) that I last sent her a message. And she responded eleven days later, on November 13. My guess is that she finds it strange that I send her periodic messages. She may even consider me a strange, slow-motion stalker. Perhaps I should stop wishing her happy birthday. If she doesn’t respond this year, or if her response isn’t obviously and genuinely positive, I shall do that. I have no interest in frightening someone with my odd annual ritual. Now, about understanding the difficult-to-follow reason I have been writing to Maggie once a year for a few years. I don’t know. It’s that simple. I tend to get a person’s birthday stuck in my head and feel an odd compulsion to acknowledge it. It’s not true of everyone, but I’ve found it increasingly true of more people. Even people I don’t know particularly well. I think it might seem slightly upsetting. How would I feel about getting a birthday card from someone who’s essentially a stranger. Every. Single. Year. I probably would feel stalked. And worried that my stalker has some sort of unhealthy attachment to me. And I might call the police.

“Officer, I keep getting cards from a woman I barely know.”

“How often?”

“Once a year.”

“Once a year? And this worries you because….?”

“I don’t know. It just seems strange. I mean, it’s like she’s pursuing me.”

“Well, at the speed of once a year, I sort of doubt she’s going to catch you.”

“You’re not taking me seriously, are you? How would YOU feel if some woman kept sending you cards?”

“How would I feel if a woman sent me a card once a year? I’d feel like she works for my insurance company and is required to wish me happy birthday because I’m a customer.”

“Okay, you can cut the sarcasm. What can I do to stop the harassment?”

“Harassment? You call one card a year harassment? What would a phone call once a month be? Attempted murder? C’mon, you can’t be serious that you’re worried about her when she contacts you once a year. Can you?”

The conversation could go on, but you can probably tell that it would end badly for the complainant. Ultimately, he would be arrested for harassment of a law enforcement officer. During the process of the arrest, the complainant’s efforts to resist being handcuffed would lead to the officer being pushed against his patrol car. That, in turn, would lead to the complainant being severely beaten with a club and pistol-whipped by an angry police officer. Things would go little better in court during the trial, where he would be sentenced to four consecutive life sentences for attempted murder of a public servant.

I just can’t see Maggie doing that to me just because I remembered her birthday. But stranger things have happened. Look at the occupant of the White House. Who would have thought American democracy would have been brought to its knees by a few remarks made by the sitting presidents during the White House Correspondents’ Dinner…a few remarks jabbing a dinner guest for promoting a conspiracy theory suggesting that the sitting president was not legitimately a U.S. citizen?

I remember it well. I was at the Correspondents’ Dinner. The object of the President’s ridicule was livid, but he laughed, attempting to distance himself from the white-hot rage he felt at being mocked. Oh, but he was angry in the extreme. He pulsated with anger as he heard the entire room laugh at him as a Black man took repeated jabs at his intellect, his reality show personality, and his vocabulary, which was slightly less advanced than a six-year-old.

Unfortunately for the rest of us, the reality show nut-job revealed a deep flaw in democracy by enlisting others of his ilk to vote. You know, people who should not be permitted to vote due to their penchant for criminal insanity. But you may disagree that they shouldn’t be permitted to vote. That’s your inalienable right. Inalienable. Interesting turn of phrase, given that 5200 troops are about to amass along our southern border. I wouldn’t be surprised to see another 5200 along the northern border. Because Canada. Aliens. Invasion. And the rest, as they say, is history.

 

 

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Autumnal Experience

An attribute of autumn I once found delightful but now find depressing and burdensome is taking place as I write this. Trees are losing leaves as if the trees were rejecting poisonous attackers, flinging them to the ground in an attempt to survive the onslaught of climate-adjusted winter. Streets are slick with leaves, made even more slippery with periodic heavy rainfall. Driveways hide beneath thick layers of brown and orange and yellow and red exfoliation. Entryways to houses beckon visitors with colorful nests of leaves, the majority of which appear to have some sort of glue that is activated by footsteps and, then, is deactivated when the leaves touch floors inside houses.

I wouldn’t find leaf-fall so troublesome if everyone else would just let the leaves fall where they may. But they aren’t satisfied to do that. No, they must blow the leaves into piles, thrust them in large bags, and haul them away to a spot where the leaves will be dumped and sucked into the jet stream to be deposited back on the yard next to where they originally were collected. I’ve noticed this year that the vast majority of leaves are a sickening orange-yellow reminiscent of a certain someone’s hideous head of hair.

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As If Never Written

I wrote recently of the odd turn in my life of late in which my tendency toward self-diagnosed ADHD transformed into laser-focused fixation. Though not resolved, I’m able these days to direct my attention outside myself and to exclude cancer from every thought. (Yes, I know, but it only appears like I’ve just exposed myself as a pathological liar.)

The reason I know this to be true is that I’ve written posts with nary a mention of the beast and a few other ruminations with only a hint.  My mind has wandered down strange lanes strewn with the detritus from military parades and raucous celebrations of art in the clouds. Some of it, admittedly, was forced. Like the lengthy and badly written poem with which I attempted to put a round peg in a long, thin saw kerf one fifth the peg’s diameter. But, forced or not, my mind has drifted. That’s what I’m used to. I’m used to paying superficial attention to everything around me so that I know something is happening but I don’t know what. My state of mind is usually best described in the lyrics to a song:

There’s something happening here
What it is ain’t exactly clear…

And I don’t know whether I ought to pay closer attention. Would doing so transform me into a person whose knowledge is extensive and useful? Or would it make me into a monster whose head is so cluttered with irrelevant data that the only way to describe it would be:  extreme chaos? Well, I’m not apt to pay closer attention unless something mysterious and beautiful happens to my brain, so I’ll have to settle for lesser chaos.

***

For the record, I woke up yesterday morning at just a few minutes before 5:00 a.m. My wife was already up. She was getting ready to drive to Little Rock with me for my appointment. I had no coffee, no water, did not take my “morning pills.” I simply got dressed and we drove away. On the way, before we’d even reached the edge of the Village, we’d seen eight deer (five just down from our house) and a red fox (I watched it streak across the vast parking lot of one of the largest United Methodist Churches in the Village.) This morning, I’m in the process of trying to force down the remainder of a cup of cold coffee. It was hot when I started typing, but I tend to get wrapped up in what I’m writing and I let my coffee get cold. That’s just wrong. Coffee should be consumed when it’s at least moderately hot. Cold coffee has its place, but its place is in the company of ice cubes later in the day. For the record.

***

I seem to be developing a greater affinity for sugar than I’ve had in the sixty-four years preceding this one. I’m not crazy for the stuff, but on occasion I find myself wanting something sugary. This morning, I’m in the mood for a cinnamon roll or a piece of French toast. I’ll have neither, of course, because those are not things we eat around this house. At least not often. And I do not have the ingredients nor, more importantly, the inclination to make either one of them. I’d have to learn the ingredients first. I tend to learn by experimentation, so there’s really not enough time to experiment if I want to eat breakfast before my sixty-sixth birthday.

I noticed my increasing willingness to consume sugar when I brined a pork loin recently. Usually, I include only about a fourth of the sugar that the recipe calls for. This time, I used almost the entire amount. I noticed a difference in the flavor of the finished product, too. It was a little too sweet for my taste, but I could tell that if I’d used half of what the recipe called for, I would have hit the sweet spot. Groan.

***

Costumes are not required but are encouraged for tonight’s mystery dinner. My wife borrowed her sister’s cat outfit, consisting of  tail, a pair of cat ears (neither are real…don’t worry), and some makeup with which to paint whiskers and a black nose. I will try to find the revolting red makeup and paste-on gaping wound, turning myself into…what?…an injured person. I also have a mask I could wear, but it would hide the injuries and make me cranky because I can’t breathe while wearing the mask. I get cranky when I can’t breathe. I wish I’d given more than passing thought to this before now. Last year was the first time in memory that I went to a dress-up Halloween party. We won’t go to a party thrown by the same people ever again because, quite frankly, they are annoying and stupid in the extreme. But they removed the curse of dress-up, so they have that as a redeeming value. Absolutely the ONLY redeeming value. I’d rather like to learn they are moving away, perhaps to a little underwater retreat where they’ll try to learn to get by on the oxygen they get from the water with which they fill their lungs. Okay, I’ll stop. I shouldn’t wish such things on people, even mean-spirited dim-wits whose behavior suggests an affinity for an orange-haired tyrant. Okay, I’ll stop. No, really. We’ll see what I look like when it’s party time. Maybe I’ll post a photo tomorrow. Maybe. Probably not. Because it will look embarrassingly similar to the way I look without makeup. And there’s nothing attractive about me without makeup.

***

I wish Hemingway hadn’t used the title The Old Man and the Sea, because it’s the title I want for a book I may one day write. I blame the fact that the title already has been used for my inability to get started on my book. The title would have fit so perfectly with my book, which would feature Kolbjørn Landvik, a man about whom I’ve written several times before. I think I may have placed him in different times and in different roles, but the one for which I think he’s best suited is the one in which he sets out in his little boat and slips into the sea off the coast of Norway. Unlike Hemingway, I’m not going to use my character as a testament to male hormones (maybe I’m being a little harsh). Instead, I’m going to delve deep into his mind, where I’ll learn whether I’m right in believing the behavioral attributes we assign to maleness and femaleness are purely social constructs and have very little to do with our body chemistry, our DNA, or our core beings in any real sense. But Kolbjørn Landvik won’t be consciously pursuing the answer to that question. He’ll just be living as an actual human being.  I think he’ll have a granddaughter, though she is not a granddaughter by blood. She is the daughter of his adopted daughter, though he never really adopted his “daughter” nor does his “daughter” consider herself to be his child. She is, instead, in love with Kolbjørn Landvik, but he doesn’t know it. Nor does she, not consciously. It’s apt to be an impossible-to-tell story set in a place and time I’ve never been, exploring emotional ties I’ve never had. They say “write what you know.” And you should. But not always. Sometimes it is best to break the rules and dream. Only by the reactions of readers will the writer know whether he succeeded or not. My job, now, is to tame my ADHD and get down to writing this story so I can share it with someone willing to read it and give me feedback. I will do that. But I’ll have to wait until I’m a bit older before I do.

***

Some mornings, and this is one, I wish I had someone who shared my odd early-morning hours and with whom I could share my odd sense of what would make interesting conversation. Instead, I write fleeting, unconnected thoughts that few people read and fewer still read completely. Unfinished would-be conversations between me and someone who doesn’t exist. That’s what these expansive diatribes are. They serve as my journal of sorts. My moods, put down in the uncertainly unreliability of “the cloud.” One day, maybe I’ll back all this up again onto my external hard drive. Which will then be ruined when cold coffee is spilled on it. And all of my words will simply vanish forever, as if they were never written.

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Biopsy Biopsy, What Do You Show?

My moderate fear about the pain of the biopsy procedure was unfounded. Except for the insertion of the IV line. The nurse who did it, Andrew, was abysmal at finding a vein. His multiple attempts were absolutely excruciating. I’m glad his only role was stabbing me. Had he been on the actual biopsy team, I might have called it off. But he wasn’t, and it went quite well. The procedure seemed to be over in no time. But the follow-up, three hours in post-procedure observation, was boring in the extreme. Now, if only the results of the biopsy are similarly boring. Unfortunately, that’s not likely.

One oddity during today’s escapade was the announcement by the check-in staff that she could find no record of my oncologist in her system. Ultimately, she put my primary care physician in the record as the referring physician who will receive the results of the biopsy. I suppose I better talk to the group of doctors to ensure that the oncologist has the report in time for my visit with her next Monday.

The timing of the procedure coincided, unfortunately, with my wife having an awful pain in her lower back. She shouldn’t have been driving today, but I was required to have a driver. I suggested, when at 3:00 a.m. last night my wife was in agony, that we ask her sister to drive. She wouldn’t hear of it. I should have called Village Chauffeur, but it was too late and they wouldn’t have answered. Ach! But I should have done something. But I didn’t. I drove to Little Rock, but my wife took over behind the wheel after my procedure. I will drive her to the chiropractor tomorrow.

Tomorrow night, we participate in a mystery dinner. The mystery is that we have no idea where we’ll eat. We’ll get a call late in the afternoon, telling us where to meet. From there, I assume, we’ll be shuttled to our meal site. Interesting. I’m looking forward to it.

Monday is a long time coming. I want to know the results the moment they’re determined. But I won’t. So, another lesson in patience. I hate those lessons. I want them to be over. Now!

 

 

 

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Stratosphere

Now I’m getting angry. Last Friday, I thought I had finally broken through the clogged pipeline of medical bureaucracy and gotten the biopsy scheduled. It was set for Tuesday, October 30. Tomorrow morning, early. On Friday, I was told to expect to hear from the hospital with instructions and more details. I expected the call to come that day. It didn’t. I called my oncologist’s scheduler this morning and asked for the telephone number of the Little Rock hospital department where my biopsy is scheduled. I called sometime after 11:00 a.m. I finally got through the morass of misdirected communications and spoke to Steve in CT, who put me on hold for a few minutes, then came back and said he’s not sure they can do it “safely” because he doesn’t have the CT images taken in Hot Springs. “Our systems aren’t linked.” He said maybe I could bring in a disk with the images. I have no disk. I have other things to do today. He said he would talk to some other people and get back to me.

Meanwhile, as I waited for his return call, I called the oncologist’s office and expressed my frustration and my concern that, perhaps, I might be dealing with people who are either  incapable of communicating with one another or incompetent or both. The woman with whom I spoke promised, too, to look into the matter and get back to me.

I told my wife I am seriously concerned that this obvious ineptitude might be indicative of the kind of care I might receive by the hospital system. She thought I was overreacting.  Technicians and schedulers shouldn’t be the measure of the organization’s quality, in her view; it’s the quality of the physicians that count. My counter is that the competence of the technicians and schedulers is absolutely important, in that they are the face of the institution and, therefore, should be trained to represent it well. If they aren’t doing their jobs properly, are they supporting the physicians appropriately? Should I be confident in the management of the hospital if its cancer unit’s staff is unable to communicate properly with the imaging unit’s staff and coordinate the delivery of images?

So I continue to wait for a return call from someone. Anyone. And while I wait, I suspect my blood pressure fluctuates between high and stratospheric. Jesus! I could have cut the effing tumor out with my pocket knife myself by now and the wound would have had time to heal.

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Unfocused, on Steroids

My thoughts this morning seemed to come out of nowhere. As far as I know, no dream prompted my mind to wander over there. But there it went, off into an abandoned lighthouse on a tiny coastal island inaccessible except by boat. My image of the place was, no doubt, a romanticized version of a nonexistent reality. But it was my romanticized version of a nonexistent reality, so I went with it.

I live alone there. My living quarters—including a bedroom, a kitchen, a bathroom, and a combination living room/study—are at the top of a long spiral staircase inside the round granite structure. The kitchen window faces the sea. Next to the window is a huge door that, when opened, reveals a platform attached to cables and pulleys. On those rare occasions when I have visitors, my guests are sailors who deliver supplies on palettes that I hoist up to the platform and roll into the kitchen. Those rare supply deliveries fill every available storage space inside and beneath my living quarters. Nonperishable foods and foods that are slow to go bad constitute bout three-quarters of those deliveries. I catch or net my own protein.

Though the place is isolated, it has connections to the coast. I have electricity and water and modern plumbing. My mind sees this place as clearly as if I were standing inside my kitchen, looking out over the Atlantic Ocean. This place is as familiar to me as any place I’ve ever been, but I’ve never been here before. Only this morning did my mind wander to this remote spot called Lonesome Rock Light. But once my mind arrived, it knew where it was. It knew the history of the old granite tower. It knew how the light came to be abandoned. But my mind couldn’t answer the question of why I was there. My mind knew only that I had arrived at a familiar place, a place that meant something to me.

I’ve never spent time on the Maine coast. Oh, maybe I crossed over the border between Massachusetts and Maine one afternoon years ago, but I spent no more than a few hours in Maine. Yet in my mind this morning, I returned to  a place with which I was intimately familiar. And I knew my experiences there spanned more time than one man can live.  It was odd to know, for example, that the lighthouse has modern conveniences light electricity and lighting and plumbing, yet deliveries by boat were made by men who made their living as mariners in the late 1800s. Anachronistic aberrations. That’s what they are. I think I’ve recorded enough of my wakeful fantasy that I might come back to it one day and either elaborate on it or analyze why my mind drifted there this morning.

***

The rules of war, formally known as international humanitarian law, are beyond my comprehension. The concept that humankind would attempt to justify, yet limit, armed conflict is as staggering as it is absurd. On the one hand, we condemn violence. On the other, we accept it as a necessary component of the human condition. We try to camouflage the hideousness of our behavior by attaching “rules” to ostensibly limit the horrors we perpetrate on others.  We set limitations on the extent to which we can inflict excruciating agony on people. We establish guidelines that specify the extent to which it is acceptable to destroy property and social infrastructure. We pretend to narrow the scope of conflict to the military, while protecting civilian populations, but unintentional destruction of orphanages and neighborhoods and hospitals are merely errors that one must accept as a byproduct of war. We attempt to paint the face of war a humanitarian brush. It’s ludicrous. War is, simply put, a failure of humanity. It is an outgrowth of ineptitude and greed and egotism. The “rules of war” that might achieve peace would require the commanders who would wage war to do one final act before they issue the order to fight. They would submit themselves to die in the most agonizingly painful way possible as evidence of their commitment that war is the only answer to the conflict.

***

In only 47 minutes, I will have to stop drinking coffee (or any liquid for that matter) and eating anything until the CT scan of my head is complete. I’m relatively sure I will not expire by dehydration before the exam finishes. And, then, if time and inclination align properly, I will attend a meeting of the Village Writers’ Club. After that, I will conduct myself in a manner befitting preparation for tomorrow’s lung biopsy. I still haven’t heard from the hospital where it will be done. I was expecting to hear from them Friday, but they didn’t call. I hope someone calls me early today so I will have a better idea of what I’m getting myself into tomorrow.

***

Yesterday, I watched a documentary film about some people who have created four halfway houses. They are committed to helping people, even people who repeatedly find themselves in (and out) of prison or local jails. It was at once a moving, hopeful film and a depressing, upsetting one. It was particularly upsetting as I listened to one of the people involved in the experience explain that several of the people in the documentary who seemed to be getting their lives back together have relapsed and are back behind bars. They seemed so happy to be in control of their lives again. But then they lost control. Losing control of one’s life is a terrifying experience.

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Cultural Adjustments

Americans tend to overestimate their culture’s superiority and to underestimate the value of other cultures. I think two processes are going on that perpetuate these attitudes.

The overestimation of American culture is, I believe, trained into us. We are told from an early age that the U.S.A. is the world’s strongest superpower. We have the most powerful military, our economy is the envy of the world, our freedoms are unmatched, we created this experiment with democracy that lives on to this day, and we have the best medical care in the world. The problem with these things is this: some of them are outright falsehoods and others rely on subjective assessments that are not borne out objectively. Beyond that, the “superiority” of American society has slipped over time. We’ve allowed it to slip. Rather than correct deficiencies as they develop, we ignore them and continue making the claim that “we’re number one.” Ignoring deficiencies in one’s culture is a key element of unchecked nationalism and hyper-patriotism.  And that, in my opinion, is what leads to decline and disintegration. I can envision a cartoon in which, through a series of panels, a group of flag-waving super-patriots shout “we’re number one in healthcare,” with each panel showing an increasingly decrepit image of a hospital behind the crowds, until the last image shows a site littered with bandages and needles and broken equipment strewn about the ground; the banner behind it proclaims “we’re number one in healthcare.” It’s harder for me to describe it than it is for me to think it; if I were an artist, I’d draw it.

I am not sure how I’d correct the problem of training us to be blind patriots. I suppose I’d first eliminate the pledge of allegiance from public schools and public events. And I’d do something to minimize the flag-worship that hyper-patriots use to signify their diseased adoration of anything American, regardless of the stench of its immorality and inequity. And maybe I’d insist on replacing the pledge of allegiance with a screening of the response from Jeff Daniels’ character from The Newsroom, in which he responds to the question, “Can you say why America is the greatest country in the world?” Or maybe I’d start every public event by stating that the definition of patriotism is “The devoted love and defense of one’s country as it pursues becoming the best it can be in line with its highest values.” That was a definition stated by a member of my church during a discussion of what patriotism means.

I’d call attention to the fact that parents who love their children don’t defend every action of their children when their behavior is unacceptable; they correct that behavior in an effort to mold the child into the best person he or she can be. That is what parental love looks like. The same is true for one’s country. It’s not, “My country, right or wrong.” It’s “My country, striving to be the best it can be.” Or something like that.

Now, as for underestimating the value of other cultures, maybe I’d begin with language. There’s no English translation for the Japanese word kintsukuroi. There’s no English word that means what fernweh means in German. I’ve written about both before, so I won’t belabor them here. My point is that other languages articulate beautiful concepts that we can explain in English only with a sentence or a paragraph. And we’ve adopted so many words from so many languages to create this language we think is so special. I might point out that  far, far more people around the world speak Mandarin than English.

Maybe I’d suggest a two-year stint after high school during which students would spend one year in community service in the United States and one year in community service in one or more other countries. Learn about the world outside our little piece of it. Come to understand the that other cultures are rich with beauty and teem with good people who share many of our wishes and dreams.

I don’t understand the attitude that suggests denigrating other cultures is necessary to uplift our own. In my view, denigrating other cultures accomplishes just the opposite; it tends to degrade ours and turn it into a cesspool of egotists and narcissists. And the absolute refusal to acknowledge the ugly side of American culture is, in my opinion, treasonous; it’s not even remotely patriotic. That attitude engenders fear and hatred and ugliness of all sorts.

Despite my embrace of other cultures, I think I understand the fear of losing our own. I understand that people from other cultures must adapt to ours if they wish to live here, just as we would have to adapt to other cultures if we were to live in them. There’s a fine line between assimilation and transformation, I suppose. I wish there were a word for that sweet spot between having pride in one’s own heritage and honoring the supremacy of the culture into which one injects oneself. If there were such a word, I’d use it.

There, I wrote another entire post without any mention of health issues. Except psychiatric health.

 

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