Ascetic Dreamer

I call it slow-motion impulse buying. It is a protracted process whereby an inevitable but utterly unnecessary purchase takes place following a period of weeks…months, sometimes…of ongoing self-persuasion and justification. So it was with my purchase of a 2010 year-old Honda Pilot, which I sold barely a year later. Several years afterward, the same process led to delivery of a pricey treadmill, its presence in my study coinciding with a recurrence of lung cancer and my inability to devote any appreciable effort to putting the device to use. If I were to devote enough thought to my history of slow-motion impulse buying, I am sure I could re-create a long list of embarrassing purchases that should have been avoided. For years, I have blamed my tendency to confuse want with need for my propensity to engage in such irrational behavior. But more recently I have begun to realize my desire to purchase an item is not strictly avarice or self-indulgence. It is not the acquisition of the item, itself, that prompts me to engage in a lengthy period of internal justification—it is my pipe-dream that the item will somehow allow me to change (or change certain aspects of me) into someone I would rather be. I take time to successfully delude myself into believing I will become a different person…if only I make this one purchase that will somehow transform me; either in my own eyes or in the eyes of others. But when the conversion fails to materialize, I look at myself in the mirror and see an unwelcome reflection; a weak and credulous sucker, an unsophisticated gullible mark who is too easily taken in by marketers who know how to appeal to people who buy into artificial images of who they could become. Of course, I also reckon I might be too hard on myself—I want that to be the case. But that self-forgiveness might be exactly the wrong response—self-pity tends to give rise more of the same. So, what is the solution? It’s obvious, isn’t it? Asceticism.

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I have a growing dislike of squirrels. Despite our efforts to dissuade them from emptying our bird feeders, the furry rat-beasts devour pound after pound of seed. Even the “spicy” seeds that used to keep the monsters at bay seem to no longer be effective. The birds liked the spicy stuff; the squirrels avoided it like the plague. But, now, the rodents gorge themselves on hot and spicy birdseed. I am considering the possibility of getting an air rifle. I would sit outside, on the deck, and wait for the demons to attack the feeders. I would aim the rifle at the creatures and fire away. I realize such behavior is inexcusable. But 357-magnum pistols make too much noise. And flame-throwers would endanger both the house and the forest. Shotguns, too, are loud and tend to attract angry police officers. Frankly, I am surprised the birds have not joined in the efforts to keep the squirrels away. They are faster and better beings than squirrels, as we all know. But, since our avian friends seem to be unwilling to fight the gluttonous varmints, perhaps it’s time to pull out all the stops.  I plan to publish an online notice on NextNoxiousNeighbor, offering temporary quarters to feral cats, ravenous foxes, and squirrel-hating raptors. That might do the trick.

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We began watching Killing Eve, the British spy thriller series,  last night. As usual, I made a very early night of it, but the beginning of season 1 was sufficiently interesting to make me want to continue watching…eventually. For some reason, I find it almost impossible to watch television (or films) during the day, so the times available for viewing are limited. I suspect my mother’s irrational addiction to daytime soap operas (which surprised me no end, inasmuch as she was a very intelligent woman) has something to do with my aversion to daytime TV. At any rate, Killing Eve is on my list of shows to eventually wade through. I have several dozen others of interest on my list, as well. At the rate I’m going, I may finish my list, in its present form, on my 137th birthday. We shall see.  Speaking of soap operas, The Resident is a nighttime soap opera. I laugh at its blatant disregard for reality (examples: doctors checking on emergency generators in the basement…presumably while janitorial staff fill in for them in operating rooms; first-year residents shouting at doctors that “this patient needs blood…NOW…or he could die!”). I do not watch the program with any regularity, but when I join mi novia on the loveseat while it’s on, I enjoy mocking its ridiculousness. But so many patients have ailments similar to mine…and those patients tend to die…that I think I may need to keep a copy of Merck Manual, Professional Edition readily available to consult in a pinch. For some reason, though, I seem to have lost interest in spending much time watching the big screen in the TV room.  I sleep, instead. And I dream. Last night, I dreamed I was planning on building a set of picnic tables and benches; the dream was set in a place like my Dallas backyard. My niece’s Paraguayan husband and I borrowed a pickup truck to search for lumber in an apartment complex under construction, where he stopped to teach some construction workers how to use markings on a tape measure. There was more. Much more. But it was too convoluted to attempt to document. There was coffee involved; different strengths for different members of my family. And a convenience store…where I accused the owner of overcharging for candy, clearly marked at 10¢ but for which he asked for 50¢ in payment. There may have been trouble brewing.

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Damn. I am ready for another nap. But so pleased I wrote so much, even though it is largely irrelevant.

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Narcolepsy, Perhaps?

Nothing—except sleep—holds much appeal for me lately. I am not necessarily as tired as I have been; I simply want to sleep. And the passion I usually have for writing…transferring thoughts from my mind to my fingers to the screen…no longer has the draw it had for such a very long time. From the moment I wake up and force myself to get out of bed, I have the urge to get back under the sheet and quickly fall asleep. Perhaps it is the fact that almost my only escapes from the house are visits to the doctor; simple boredom, I imagine. Yet even reading or watching television or film does not capture my interest. Sleep has become an increasingly attractive refuge from wakefulness. I explain to myself that I am tired, but that explanation is no longer as reliable as it has been since I started my chemo treatments in January. And all the supplemental injections and lab tests and bouts of pneumonia in the intervening weeks and months.  There will come a time when this dullness will subside and I will be able to look back at what I have written about this period and understand it better than I do now. That always happens when I experience prolonged periods of odd moods. I suppose I can legitimately call this an odd, moody period. Give it time and it will begin to make sense to me. In the meantime, I will try to relish as much sleep as I can get.

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Yesterday’s doctor visit seems to have taken place at the tail end of my sinus troubles. I am not coughing as much as I was, nor am I nearly as stopped up as before. But I was given another prescription for antibiotics, a seven-day course involving two monstrous brick-like pills twelve hours apart. I can barely stomach the enormous assortment of pills and tablets and capsules I am told to take every day. One day, I may simply abandon the prescriptions. I would probably be healthier and happier and more energetic. Western medicine, in which I have always placed a great deal of trust, is wearing thin on me. Healthcare has morphed into a rigidly-controlled regimen designed to pump vast supplies of wealth into the pockets of pharmaceutical and health insurance company executives. Beyond that, it has replaced outcomes with bureaucratic procedures. Medicine, as a “healing art,” is stifled by inflexible processes. Though Eastern medicine probably depends too much on ineffective spiritualism, I suspect its roots remain more closely aligned with the concept of “first, do no harm” than its Western companion. That phrase, by the way, is not part of the Hippocratic Oath. Apparently, though, it does originate with another of Hippocrates’ writings, Of the Epidemics.

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Today, while mi novia is out for lunch with a friend, I will remain home for a short visit with a home health nurse. I am not quite sure of the value of the home health service I was offered, but I imagine it cannot hurt. If nothing else, the impending visit will give me the impetus to take a shower. In the absence of the appointment, I probably would put that off until late tomorrow morning as I prepare for my visit with the oncologist. I guess I’ll shower twice in as many days, then. I’d rather sleep. According to multiple sources I’ve read, showering daily is not good for one’s skin; showering every other day is plenty, many experts say (whoever the hell they are). I selectively agree with the experts, especially when they share my opinions.

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Uninstructive Memories

Years ago, I was offered a job as executive director of an engineering association headquartered in Morgantown, West Virginia. The salary was good, its location—in a college town—was appealing, and I was ready to make a move. But when I received the employment contract for my signature, the offer’s attractiveness disappeared like a wisp of smoke in a high wind. Though my moving expenses were to be covered, the contract provided that I could be released without notice and without severance at any time—and the agreement did not provide for relocation back to the city from which I would have moved. Even if I had been fired within a week of moving. I could have responded to the employment contract more graciously, but I let my temper take charge. I expressed my dismay to the executive search recruiter who had recommended me to the board and who had arranged for my interviews. While I waited for the board to modify the terms of the contract, the offer was rescinded. Even today, as I think back on that experience, I am offended that the search consultant would have called the agreement a “contract.” It was an employment-at-will offer, with absolutely no protection for the employee. I doubted the board would modify the offer; the original offer told me more about the volunteer leadership of the association than I could have learned otherwise. Though I was a little disappointed in the outcome, I was grateful I had not been successfully lured into an untenable situation. I have never changed my mind. I am confident I would have gone head-to-head with that board from the very beginning. The experience should have long since evaporated from my memory—why does it occasionally rear its head, all these years later? Pointless recollections get in the way of relevant memories. And they interfere with things that matter. That job offer and its subsequent withdrawal has not mattered for more than a quarter of a century. But I suppose the fact that it remains wedged in my brain, surfacing every five or ten years, suggests it may have mattered more than it should. I guess the experience taught me something; maintaining one’s composure is preferable to losing one’s temper, even if the outcomes are the same. But, have I ever really learned that lesson?

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It is time to get ready for my visit with the doctor. I hope he has a magical cure for my troublesome sinuses and whatever else ails me. Already, I am ready to go back to sleep. This is getting so damn old.

 

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A Pinch of Cyanide

Creativity apparently can fall victim to…something. That something could be a response to massive repetitive doses of pharmaceutical drugs, excessive sleep, anxiety, allergic reactions to plant-based allergens, or a million other numbing influences. Whatever it is, my compete lack of imagination is evidence that some force is at work to stifle my rapidly declining ability to think originally. My thoughts—stuck in quicksand—are unable to free themselves from the muck that drowns them, as they sink beneath a sticky surface of ravenous goo. But stale, artificial memories seem to emerge from the gelatinous bubbles that explode in slow motion when they rise to the surface of the muddy, viscous slime. One memory reveals me as a smoker who, late on a Sunday afternoon, walks several miles to a convenience store to buy cigarettes and wine—only to find that those items cannot be sold on Sunday. And, as I walk toward my home in Dallas, a van-load of former co-workers offers me a ride and then laughs at me for forgetting the “blue” laws. Other memories so painful they will stay with me for days—and would return to haunt me for years—urge me to throw myself from a high rock formation in a western national park, a place I have never seen. Part of this tangle of creative wasteland and false memories feels like it is steeped in gasoline, waiting for a match to set it ablaze. Some it, though, is buried in a nutrient-rich soil that promises to give it an explosive spurt of growth more powerful than the most aggressive kudzu. I feel like a just-emptied balloon—once filled with air almost to the point of bursting—stretched and shriveled to the point that a single breath would cause it to be ripped to shreds, every bit of its elasticity lost. Creativity lost is like that ruined balloon. It no longer has any value, even as a scrap of membrane.

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I just called my primary care physician’s office. No appointments are available today, but I have been slotted in tomorrow morning…if they get a cancellation today, they will call. My sinuses are mistreating me. My cough is troubling. My perpetual sleepiness is getting on my nerves. Ach!

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The leaves on the trees outside my window are absolutely still. Their pollen-laden strings of greenish-yellow pearls look innocuous, but they are mean; a slight breeze and they will attack with a vengeance. I can imagine the county coroner’s report—Cause of death: multiple strings of miniature pearls strangled the decedent from the inside. I wonder which would be more deadly: the smoke and ash of a burned forest or the pollen forced into the lungs by an aggressive wind. Lime green is a more accurate descriptor of the leaves today, though chartreuse could be used in a pinch. A pinch; like a pinch of cyanide.

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Philosophical Mindweather

Does one find the purpose in life? Or, does one create purpose? Is the very idea of an intrinsic purpose in life simply wishful thinking? There must be thousands of philosophies relating to life’s purpose, most of which are based on the supposition that there is, indeed, a purpose. Many argue life’s purpose is not to find happiness but, instead, to identify one’s usefulness in the lives of others. But what does science say? Can science provide defensible answers? The answers may differ dramatically, depending on the question: what is the purpose of life; what is the meaning of life? It is quite possible that life has an intrinsic purpose. Unlike the more romantic answers to the question of meaning, though, the answer to life’s purpose may be strictly utilitarian. The purpose might be, simply, to provide nourishment within an enormously broad circle of life. Meaning, on the other hand, may be an artificial attribute humans ascribe to mysteries we cannot otherwise understand.  Similar questions may be asked of death, of course. Does death have a purpose? The answer, depending on the respondent, varies. Does death have meaning? The same is true, but the slant is different. Death is said, especially by people who accept spirituality or religion as more than simple notions, to give life meaning. But is there a corollary philosophy—that life gives death meaning? Does it matter?

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Only a couple of years ago, my resting heart rate was regularly between 64 and 72 beats per minute (bpm). More recently—around a year ago—it averaged between 78 and 85 bpm. Since the beginning of this year, it consistently has been 90+ bpm, with the occasional jump to the upper 90s or beyond. This morning, I was surprised to see 110 bpm. My exploration of the “meaning” of increasing heart rates yielded conflicting information; for my age and sex, it is not unusual to see it increase. Some resources suggest anything about 80+ bpm is an indication of an unhealthy heart; others say “it depends.” But when it gets high, the consensus is that formal medical assessment (not Google) is in order. And, one of the explanations for an increasing heart rate relates to pulmonary issues, with which I am dealing in spades. Fortunately, I am scheduled to see my cardiologist’s APRN a week from tomorrow. If there is anything of consequence to learn, I suspect I’ll learn it from her.

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I thought the completion of my “chemotherapy drugs only” regimen would end the fatigue. And it may, yet. But not yet. I sleep, still, for hours and hours and hours. I do not appreciate it. But, then, again, I do.

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Embrace

Today has been clear and warm, as I understand it. Outside, that is. Inside, I have remained hidden from the bright sun and have protected myself from the cool indoor temperatures by nestling beneath sheets and a moderately light comforter. Just another day inside that’s utterly at odds with the world outside my windows. Within the last day or so, I’ve ventured outside only a little—enough to wreck my sinuses, cause my eyes to become red and puffy, and introduce enough pollen into my lungs to put me in danger of choking to death. These experiences prompted me to search for the “best” locations for weather in the USA—as if I had the wherewithal to relocate to one of more of those “ideal” spots. Most of them are, as I expected, expensive in the extreme. And they are far more crowded than I would like. And various other of their attributes argue against considering them with any degree of seriousness. I just want comfortable temperatures, minimal issues with allergies/seasonal agony, and a social/political environment conducive to human decency. But I’m afraid that is too much to ask.

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I stayed home today from a memorial service at church, thanks in large part to my allergies and related discomforts. Had I stepped outdoors, I am afraid I might have succumbed to deadly yellow pollen. I suppose my chemotherapy drugs and related “stuff” has made me especially susceptible to seasonal attacks on my body. That’s what I’ve read…and been told. Chemo makes pollen and such matter particularly capable of wrecking many aspects of my life. Ach! Damn it. Not that damning anything is going to change the world.

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It’s almost 4:30 in the afternoon, a good eleven hours since I woke this morning. In the intervening hours, I have slept quite a lot. And my eyes have grown massively red; they feel like I have been dipping my wet fingers in ground jalapeños and then rubbing my eyes. That may be slightly better than ground glass and ground Carolina Reapers, but only by a tiny smidgen. I am breathing pure oxygen from a machine; delivered by tubes to my nose. I cannot tell that it’s making any difference. There is no point in trying, again, to write this afternoon. The output is dull and irrelevant. I have no interests, anyway. I wonder when my oncologist will have another CT scan and/or PET scan performed, enabling her to tell me what, if any, progress has been made? Between now and then, I would greatly appreciate sleep, enforced by sleeping pills and other devices to keep me from consciousness. Blah. I am not hungry, I am not thirsty, I am not ready to embrace the world. Just a long nap.

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Again

We classify what, where, when, how, and why we write, I suppose, according to our need for order. For the comfort of logic—and in accord with how we have been taught to think. The rationale underlying the words we record is so much more meaningful and clearer if we can attach a sense of organized complexity to it; but not too much. Not so much that the purity of its logic is hidden beneath confusing layers of intersecting or competing ideas. Or, worse, chaos. Reality, though, is inherently messy. A novel is not necessarily purely a novel; it can be a memoir in camouflage. A blog post can hide joy or torment. Even a a list can conceal thoughts not meant for public scrutiny. Today, the absence of a more meaningful post can illustrate the need for sleep. And it does. Again.

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Try Again

I have been sitting in front of my computer screen for fifteen minutes or more, trying to think of something to write. Nothing comes to mind. In fact, I realize I nod off every few seconds. There is nothing wrong with emptiness, I decide. Nothing fundamentally wrong with the mind’s inability to focus. No, especially after a grueling night of waking repeatedly to fits of coughing in reaction to clogged sinuses. Perhaps I can finally get a bit of rest as the clock drifts toward 6:30. Okay. I will try again.

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Totality

Thoracentesis is an invasive procedure that removes liquid or air from the pleural space—the gap between the inner chest wall and the lungs. Yesterday, after a quick review of an X-ray, the pulmonologist said he would perform a thoracentesis on me, using a needle inserted into the pleural space to drain accumulated fluid. When I reminded him that his associate—a resident named Bonnie—had been unable to find the build-up of fluid during my recent  ER visit—he said “oh, it’s there.” Both a recent CT scan and an X-ray had revealed a significant amount of fluid, but an ultra-sound did not confirm its presence. “Oh, it’s there.” He scheduled the thoracentesis in a hospital procedure room for 11 a.m., less than an hour later. Though I did not relish the idea of a needle being thrust into my back, if it would make breathing easier I was willing to tolerate the process. But, a short while later, after the doctor began exploring my lungs with the ultra-sound device, he said, “I hate to tell you this...” I waited for him to finish, but his voice trailed off. I worried. He followed up with, “there is not enough fluid to drain.” He went on the explain something to the effect that the appearance of pleural fluid on the X-ray was an artifact of the thoracotomy to remove the lower lobe of my right lung five years earlier. And, then, it was over. The doctor and his APRN left the room, the nurse who would have assisted him wiped the ultra-sound gel from my back, and I was sent on my merry way. No conversation about “next steps,” no discussion of follow-up, nothing. At least I was able to watch the solar eclipse a while later.

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During the period of totality, the eclipse was stunning. The darkness that accompanied the eclipse was not like the darkness of night. It seemed like an odd combination of pre-dawn darkness and the darkness that precedes the disappearance of the sun at the end of the day. But the eerie, dim light all around the horizon was unlike anything one expects to see in nature. And, during totality, at the dark sun’s six o’clock, a bright red-orange solar flare was visible shooting out from the black orb. All around the edges of the blackened globe in the sky were white rays piercing the darkness. The air temperature cooled dramatically as the moon shielded the sun. If I had not known that a naturally-occurring eclipse was taking place, I might have assumed I was witnessing the final moments of the sun’s enormous power. Many of the photos of the eclipse are breathtaking. I am so very glad I had the opportunity to view the event. And, to top it off, I was fed homemade pizza. Except for allergies and the occasional brush with lung cancer, life is good!

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A couple of hours outside, waiting for and watching the eclipse, wreaked havoc on my body. Even this morning, my eyes remain red and puffy; they keep trying to glue themselves shut. And I cannot breathe through my nose. My occasional sneeze threatens to tear my head from my body. I took a Claritin tablet around 10:30 last night, roughly five hours after I got in bed to “nap” in the hope I could sleep my way through this miserable allergy to air and pollen and water and light and all things natural. And I did sleep…some. But coughing and struggling to open my lungs to oxygen kept sleep at bay for much of the night. I would gladly accept the life-giving force of a hypodermic needle filled with allergy-erasers if such a gift existed. Why, I wonder, is there nothing readily available to me that would chase away my allergies to pollen? This Spring is,  by far, the worse yet for my reaction to the allergens in the air. At this moment, I long to be in a climate free of trees and flowers and pet dander and dust and other irritants that make me feel like I might as well be inhaling ground glass and powder-fine dust of dried ground Carolina Reaper peppers. I may be exaggerating; but just the tiniest bit.

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One badly-overripe avocado and three more that, I hope, have just reached the peak of perfection. I am torn between having avocado toast for breakfast and waiting until later to have bacon, avocado, and tomato sandwiches. There’s a pie in the fridge, too; so, if necessary, I could delay the avocadoes until lunchtime to give me the opportunity to have pie for breakfast. Or something entirely different. Ice cream, perhaps. Or a mocha-flavored Ensure or Boost. They want me to maintain or increase my weight, by God; I may do a little of everything. Whatever it takes. Just as long as I never have to go outside during allergy season again.

 

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Pass the Sodium Pentothal

The male of the human species is not necessarily shallow, but neither is he deep. If he daydreams—if he allows his mind to indulge in innocuous woolgathering—he generally keeps those distractions to himself. Explaining why he loses himself in fantasy simply is not worth the effort. Besides, he is not quite sure of his reasons. He vaguely suspects only that daydreams feed parts of his psyche that, in their absence, would otherwise starve. But attributing to him even those nebulous suspicions may suggest far greater scope to his intellectual complexity than is due. Yet there is something about his daydreaming that offers evidence he may have more depth than is apparent on the surface. If he would ignore his embarrassment about his private visions and freely discuss and explore them, he might learn something worth knowing. But he won’t. His grasp on masculinity is too fragile for that. He buys into the mindless lore that equates masculinity with machismo. And, in his mind, wakeful fantasies have no legitimate place in the embedded culture of maleness—except, perhaps, to provide a means of escape from the prison of prescriptive mindlessness.

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I do not relish the idea of going to visit the pulmonologist this morning. He is one of the doctors I saw a few times during my last hospitalization. I have no strong reason to dislike him, but I suppose I do not need a strong reason—any reason at all will do.  I suspect his patient-facing mannerism (AKA bedside manner) has more than a little to do with my displeasure with him. But the doctor’s ability to engage with me in a friendly way is not what I’ll be after. I want an iron-clad guarantee; certainty that he will provide me with an irrevocable cure for whatever ails me. If all goes according to plan, I should finish my appointment with him and be outside and ready to watch the commencement of the  total solar eclipse with time to spare. I will not stare at the sun. Nor at the moon blocking the sun’s impossibly hot surface. Why, I wonder, do we refer to the “surface of the sun?” Is the core of the star very different? Is the sun millions of degrees cooler a hundred thousand miles beneath the surface? I cannot imagine that the center of the star is not just cold, but exponentially frigid—a place where temperatures have ceased to exist and “absolute zero” would be equivalent to a hot day on the Sahara Desert.  Fantasies. Daydreams. Reverie.

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The speed of light is far slower than the speed of time. I find it far easier to move forward and backward in time—instantaneously—than to watch light from a star at the edge of the Milky Way galaxy as it reaches my eyes. The light takes far longer. When the extraterrestrials arrive—and they will—they will arrive in time “capsules.” I do not know what form time capsules will take, of course, but I would bet the future of humanity on their existence. And I would bet that a complex relationship between time and distance—far more complex than any other relationship we have ever contemplated—will be the vehicle enabling extraterrestrials’ arrival. I noticed, just the other day, that a massive squadron of time vehicles from the far edge of the universe had landed on the far side of our moon. The vehicles carried with them equipment that will be used to transform a huge chunk of Planet Earth (all of Africa, from the surface of the planet into its core) into an impossibly fine mist. Through gravitational effects, the remainder of the planet will collapse into the vacant space where Africa had been. In less than the time required for a hummingbird’s wing to flutter just once, our planet will disappear. For millennia, humankind has whispered about the “rapture.” We had it wrong. The proper term is the “rupture.”

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When I went to bed, very early as has been increasingly usual, my sinuses were stopped up. But dripping incessantly. Each of the seven or ten times I woke to pee during the night, the sheets were damp with cold sweat. What in the bloody hell is going on with my body? Tomorrow morning, I want to wake up—after a delightfully satisfying night of uninterrupted sleep—young, healthy, and dry as old leather (but with skin as soft and smooth as truth and generosity). Between now and then, though, I have to get out of my chair. And I have to shower. And go to the pulmonologist. And view the celestial apocalypse. And have a few chunks of cold watermelon.

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Good morning to you.

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Flippancy

A new set of sheets, freshly washed, and a new mattress pad, soft and lush from the dryer. When I got into bed last night, the luxury reminded me of the bedding experience one finds in the finest five-star hotels; Ritz-Carlton, Waldorf-Astoria, J.W. Marriott, Four Seasons, and so on. But when I woke around 4:30 this morning, the luxury had transformed into cold, wet discomfort. For the second time in a matter of days, despite the room’s pleasant temperature and an extremely comfortable bed, I woke to find myself—and the sheets beneath me—awash in sweat. My online research suggests the problem might be traceable to one of several causes, among which could be: 1) nightmares; 2) stress; 3) one’s body fighting off infection; 4) anxiety; and 5) a host of other medically-related triggers. I do not remember having had nightmares; not that I would necessarily remember them, had they been the cause. Many of the other prospective reasons could be responsible—so I have been unable to come any closer to an answer. Ach! In the broader scheme of problems one might face in life, night sweats probably is not one of the higher-ranking difficulties. But waking suddenly to a sensation of being surrounded by cold, wet sheets—and feeling cold water pooling on one’s chest—is sufficiently disturbing to merit more investigation. I do not want only answers. I want solutions.

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Before getting into my cozy, comfortable bed last night, we enjoyed dinner with (and delivered by) a couple of friends. A third friend had planned to come to dinner as well, but she fell ill yesterday and decided it best not to import to our house whatever ailment she might have. But she made the main course, anyway, and our other friends delivered it. I felt generally decent, but tired as usual, so shortly after dinner I excused myself from being social, opting to relax on the reclining loveseat in our television room while mi novia and our friends engaged in conversation. I would find it difficult to express more emphatically how utterly fed up I am with being constantly fatigued. Yet I have to constantly remind myself that I am fortunate, compared to people whose illnesses are far more taxing than mine.

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The only reasonable justification for sporting a thin, scraggly beard and moustache is the fact that facial hair minimizes the frequency of needing to shave. Men whose facial hair is dense and is amenable to serving as an attractive fashion statement can choose either to shave or not; either way, the “look” can be appealing. Others, whose facial hair is sparse, cannot—with a straight face—claim to make a fashion statement in the absence of a razor. They—we—are simply lazy. And they—I—may delude themselves into believing their thin whisps of facial hair are just as “attractive” as the thick beards of their hairier brethren. Delusional is, indeed, the operative concept. All of this is to say I am in the early stages of deciding whether to keep the pathetic mange on my face or, instead, to shave it off and return to some semblance of respect for my might-as-well-be-nude facial landscape. Time will tell.

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Phaedra, the cat, has spent the last few days being boarded at an off-site cathouse. The quietude in this house as a result is nothing short of delightful. No yowling, no sounds of claws tearing into expensive rugs and leather, no litterbox cat-stench infringing on the aromas of freshly-washed clothes in the laundry room. I realize this vacation from the felonious feline is temporary, of course, but it is such a welcome brief reprieve that I cannot help but celebrate. I would dance, if I could, to demonstrate my appreciation for off-site cathouses.

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The day has begun to dawn. It may be time for me to try to nap in the television room.

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Los Viejos Narcotraficantes

We have access to hundreds—perhaps thousands—of available sources for news around the globe, yet the number of unique topics emerging from them constitutes just a fraction of that larger number. Whether our news of choice is from CNN, FoxNews, the New York Times, MSNBC, BBC, NBC, CBS, etc., we tend to view the same news. Granted, the spin might be slightly different, but the stories essentially are limited in number and offer the same content. Conspiracy theorists might attempt to explain the duplication from one news outlet to the next by claiming the media are engaged in widespread efforts to limit and control what we see and hear—and by extension, what we think. I’ll admit a bias here; I think conspiracy theorists are fundamentally stupid, morally flawed, and consume far more oxygen than they are worth. My explanations for what appears to be a limited number of news stories delivered by an enormous number of outlets are these:

  1. the media have become extremely proficient at determining what is apt to appeal to news consumers—they give us what we want, whether we know it or are willing to admit it or not;
  2. limited resources available to news organizations compel them to make choices about topics to cover—choices that are forced on professional journalists against their most deeply-felt journalistic obligations;
  3. we—the consumers of news—have a limited appetite for thought-provoking news reporting, so news media must narrow the options they give us or else they will lose us to their competitors; and
  4. competition between news organizations is a critically important driver of their decisions in determining what topics to cover…making their choices to cover subjects already more than adequately addressed elsewhere more appealing than choices to cover truly meaningful new information.

If I were to give these issues more intense thought, I might come to different conclusions. But, for now, I do not have the energy nor the inclination to coerce my brain to be more discerning nor more intellectually demanding. So there you go.

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I got a follow-up phone call from my oncologist’s office after yesterday’s labs and infusion, informing me that an appointment had been made for me for early Monday morning to see a pulmonologist. Later in the day, I noted in my online portal that the appointment schedule had been delayed an hour…I hope to be finished in plenty of time to see the total eclipse play out. The nurse who called me emphasized that I should go to the ER if, between the time of the phone call and my Monday appointment, my breathing were to become difficult. I do not like to hear such ominous warnings at the beginning of a longer-than-usual weekend. But I assume the nurse was just being cautious. I have no reason to believe I will experience breathing difficulties before Monday.  I used to laugh under my breath at “old people” whose every conversation had connections to their health challenges. I now find that I mock myself with some regularity. I suspect there will come a time when my self-mockery will cease to be even remotely funny. That is when the ready availability of lethal doses of oxycodone or some other such drug will become of paramount importance. When ever-so-brief interruptions to matters of healthcare concern are the highlights of week after week after week, I will no longer see burglaries of pharmacies as the province of people who are addicted to drugs. Eighty- and ninety-year old cat burglars seeking supplies of Schedule 2 drugs like fentanyl may not become commonplace, but younger and more agile criminals may become geezers’ suppliers. I think a piece of fiction in which an aging group of terminally ill patients form a distribution network for morphine, etc. might be interesting. What would be a good title? The Geezanasia Gang?

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What the hell have I been thinking this morning? I haven’t taken my fistful of pills yet. That oversight must be addressed. And off I go to swallow my pride and a clot of multi-color pills. I’ll need plenty to drink to make them go down; just taking the pills will require  enough water to ensure that I will be properly hydrated for weeks.

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Dilemma

A headache sometime in the wee hours further disrupted an already less-than-stellar period of sleep. But the dream that occurred before or after the headache was even more disturbing than the headache. In the dream, I had just stolen a weighty sum of money—in the form of several small but heavy bags of coins—from an organization (no idea what kind) in which I was involved. I was terribly worried that the theft already had been discovered and that a trap was being set by my trusted friends in the organization to catch me. I slipped out of a meeting of the group and went looking for my car in a huge parking lot nearby. I had stashed the coin-filled bags in the trunk. But it was too late; apparently my friends had moved my car—if I went looking for it, that would somehow prove my guilt. My fear was not based on being arrested or jailed; I was terrified that I would be irrevocably judged as unreliable and untrustworthy by people who had placed their confidence in me. I remember wondering what could possibly have possessed me to steal money I did not need. My embarrassment at my dilemma was much more painful than the idea of being detained and arrested. And I was confused; horribly confused that I had committed an unforgiveable transgression for no apparent reason. The dream seems to have dissolved about the time my fears reached their crescendo. I awoke—more or less—with my chest drenched in sweat. I think it took me a few minutes to fully emerge from the dream. Ach! I am not sure I was drenched in sweat; I may have been awash in shame that felt would be impossible to shake off.

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Yesterday was another adventure in healthcare deviance. Before my infusion of magnesium, the nurse tending to me discovered that I had a slightly elevated temperature of 100.9°F. That discovery culminated in a series of conversations that led my oncologist sending me to get a lung x-ray, prescribing an oral antibiotic, trying (unsuccessfully) to find an antibiotic to be delivered intravenously, and having me stop at an urgent care clinic to get a COVID and flu test. Apparently, my history of pneumonia, coupled with my chemotherapy, makes me a candidate for potentially dangerous infections—hence the seemingly weird precautions. The urgent care clinic tests were negative. And when they took my temperature, it was its usual 97.9°F. I return for another infusion today. I hope all the excitement is behind me. I will not have to return on Monday; the cancer clinic is taking a total eclipse holiday (probably because traffic is expected to be triple the worst days of race season, or worse). Maybe Tuesday? Or, maybe, my hemoglobin and magnesium will have risen enough to make unplanned/unscheduled clinic visits unnecessary. My optimism is going wild.

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For dinner last night, I had about half of a larger-than-average chicken pot pie. I could not finish it, no matter how much I knew I should try. So, I finished it for breakfast this morning. Along with a shot of espresso and an oatmeal-raisin. I might wash it all down in a few minutes with an Ensure or Boost to pump me full of sugar-laden calories. It’s a shame that my newly-embraced and freshly-slimmed-down appetite has stripped musculature from my body, rather than melting away fat. Maybe I should just eat small protein-dense meals, thereby bypassing the problem of losing muscle mass in lieu of losing fat. I think I may have discovered a new approach to diet that, with the right public relations campaign and an endorsement by Dr. Oz, could make me a very rich and deeply flawed human being. My dream illustrated the flaws; all I need now is the money.

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Maddening and Edible

A piece of rare salmon, lightly sautéed in a pan on the stovetop and drizzled with fresh lemon juice, alongside a small dollop of white rice flavored with a mixture of soy sauce and wasabi. But that’s not all, of course. I would add a few slices of cucumber and a simple green bean gomaae (beans topped with crushed toasted sesame seeds infused with soy sauce and sugar) to accompany the fish and grain. There is nobility in that simple breakfast. But I have not felt that sense of nobility in far too long; I haven’t made such a Japanese breakfast in—how long has it been, years? Yes, years. Instead, I have grown used to bran flakes in almond milk—or slices of crispy bacon—or crushed avocados spread over rye toast—or pieces of melon—or bagels smeared with cream cheese loaded with scallions. Or pancakes or waffles or egg dishes or…the list is long and collectively dangerous. Low-calorie, nutrient-dense foods like a few of my Japanese favorites are far better for me, but I am a lazy, self-indulgent American. Back in the days when I viewed meal preparation as an entertaining, educational, healthful, exciting adventure, I felt the sense of nobility build in me as I explored what I called “international” breakfasts. Some of the breakfast diversions were not necessarily as healthful as my favorite Japanese meals, but they were intriguing and probably better for me than gooey cinnamon rolls. You know, those dense chunks of white flour drenched in sugar-infused liquid so sweet that people at the restaurant counter near me developed cavities simply by watching me eat the stuff. Ah, but those days seem to have gone by the wayside. Maybe I can bring them back, though, if I can discipline myself to again devote the necessary respect for the noble foods of globally diverse cultures. Indigenous peoples around the world, including those who were conquered by our mostly-European ancestors, revered the sources of their food and treated food as both a means of sustenance and a “spiritual” gift from the universe. Though I am insufficiently woo-woo to bring myself to call anything “spiritual,” I have become more open-minded about the idea during my lifetime—that long period of time I have spent abusing my body through gluttony and sloth. I now feel real gratitude for the fish and the farmers and the untended natural ingredients that sustain me. Though I have more than a little contempt for people who go overboard in their weirdly woo-woo worship of the “magic” of Earth-based nutrition (including supplements sold by money-hungry gurus who drive Lamborghinis and adorn their artificially-tanned bodies with diamonds), I am growing slightly more forgiving of their inexcusable flaws with each passing day-week-month-year-decade. And that’s all I have to say about that. For the moment.

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More magnesium today. And, if I understand correctly, more tomorrow. Along with another injection tomorrow, ostensibly to boost my body’s ability to produce red blood cells. And I think they want me back on Monday. At least I am awake for the moment; perhaps I will maintain that rare condition for awhile. Still more healthcare stuff. Maddening, methinks. Maddening.

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As Fogs Go

My estimate—that I would spend between one and four hours yesterday getting a blood transfusion—was low. From the moment I walked in the door until the conclusion of the process, six and one-half hours had passed. The transfusions—two units of blood—took about four hours. The ancillaries filled in the remainder of the time. I had hoped I would feel measurably better by the end of the process. Not so. But I’ve read that I might anticipate feeling a bit better twenty-four hours after the process was finished. So, maybe by 3 this afternoon? I hope. I do not feel “bad.” I simply feel tired. Still. Exhausted. Thrilled with the idea of undisturbed sleep…if there is such a thing.

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I walked away from this blog post early this morning and forgot I had started it. A few hours later, after yet another long nap, I nibbled on a few leftovers from a Mexican meal. Much of the meal remained on the plate, though, because it was not in the least appetizing. And, then, I called my oncologist’s office and left a message, asking for a return call. Seconds later, her office called. They wanted me back for another infusion of magnesium and another set of labs. Not just today, but tomorrow and Friday, as well. Ach. I thought the week was going to be mine; mine to sleep as long as I wished, with no oncological obligations. But, no. No. No. Back home now, though, in time to watch the afternoon news if the idea were to appeal to me. It does not. At least I am not the guy at the clinic who, when I left, was waiting to be taken to the hospital for observation. He had been receiving treatment when he felt something was wrong; the doctor gently asked him if he would object being hospitalized for observation. He agreed. His wife, waiting in the lobby, agreed as well. All I had to do was let the fluids drip into my chest, grumble about some slight discomfort, and go home after the magnesium treatment. I cannot complain; not legitimately, at any rate.

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As fogs go, the one I am in at the moment is not so very different from others. I just cannot seem to keep focused on matters that…matter. Instead, I bumble and stumble and do not appear to have the ability to decide what is worth thinking about and what is not. Pollen has begun covering every available surface, both outside and inside. I think the yellow stuff has gotten in my eyes and my chest and, somehow, has managed to burrow deep into the creases in my brain. My thoughts appear yellow, too, making me wonder whether I will ever again be able to see or dream about or contemplate more appealing colors. What if, I wonder, the world around and within me becomes infested with dirty yellow dust? What if smooth blue and green and red bottles disappear, replaced by glass etched by hideous  acidic washes tinted urine-yellow? Yes. What if? My eyes itch and burn from the nearly invisible pollen blown into them by fierce, chilly winds. If I am not careful, my eyes will take on the yellow hues the color the air. And the tiny fragments of pollen will scratch the corneas of both eyes. Jaundiced optical spheres etched by wind-blown clouds that behave like crushed glass. Damn. I would rather close my eyes.

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Early this morning, I watched a video in which a mongoose engaged in a deadly dance with a cobra. After numerous attempts at striking the mongoose, the cobra turned away from its adversary, dropping its guard in the process. In a flash, the mongoose bared its razor-sharp teeth and tore into the snake’s flesh, ripping the reptile’s skin. The outcome of the attack was hidden from view, though, as both creatures’ bodies slid beneath a rusting refrigerator. I suspect the mongoose won the day, but I wonder whether the snake’s fangs sank into the mammal’s body, delivering a deadly—or, at least, a dangerous—dose of venom. It shouldn’t matter to me, should it? And, in fact, it doesn’t. But, then, perhaps it does? Should I feel compassion for one creature or the other? Or both? And if I do not, what does that say about me? It’s worth a thought or two, at minimum.

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There Will Be Transfused Blood

Not long after I returned home from my oncologist’s office yesterday afternoon, where I had blood drawn and was infused with magnesium—the time was sometime between 4 and 5—I got a call from a nurse. She said the doctor’s APRN wants me at CHI hospital at 8:30 this morning for a blood transfusion. My hemoglobin levels, which have been quite low for some time, have crossed into critical territory, the nurse said. Apparently, the injections I’ve been getting have not done the trick; a blood transfusion is needed to treat the worsening condition. So, this morning, I will be tethered to a bag of blood. From what I understand, the transfusion should take between one and four hours; I’m hoping it will be closer to one hour. And I read that I should plan to return home and “rest” for between 24 and 48 hours after the transfusion. My patience is wearing thinner than I expected. I am not unhappy with anyone, of course, except my own body. It’s all part of the process, so I cannot attach blame to anyone, not even myself. My assumption, of course, is that the anemia is “treatable” or “curable” for the long term—another assumption is that the chemotherapy drugs are responsible for the ongoing decline in my hemoglobin levels. Those assumptions will be tested when next I am able to spend a few minutes with either my oncologist or her APRN. And, from there, my own plan of attack will be launched.

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Night before last may have been an aberration; I went to bed early again last night and woke a while ago feeling exhausted. Yesterday morning, just after I posted to my blog, my welcome level of energy dropped to the center of the earth. The news about needing a transfusion prompted me to investigate the many symptoms of low hemoglobin levels. Among them is fatigue, exhaustion, shortness of breath—many of the same symptoms I have had for quite some time and the responsibility for which I had believed were side-effects of pneumonia and/or COPD. Those symptoms may well have arisen from those lung-related matters, but they also may have emerged from a low red blood cell count/low hemoglobin. Or, perhaps, dozens of other causes. Best to let the medical professionals make the call, rather than rely on Google for answers, I suppose.

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There it is again. A raft of thoughts chained to health-related issues. I am getting so damn tired of EVERYTHING being tied to my illnesses. Unfortunately, though, those linkages are going to be with me for a while. So, I might as well get used to the idea. But the idea is deeply, annoyingly, thoroughly irritating. A snap of my fingers, leading to perfect health, would be a welcome respite from overexposure to the healthcare system.

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A break with the  past, the future, and the present might be all we need to change the direction of humanity. If we could scuttle all evidence of life and death, there would be no need to attempt understanding, because understanding can have no value in the absence of those two terminal conclusions. Nuclear fission and nuclear fusion have enormous potential, if only for a miniscule fraction of a second. Humankind cannot decimate the entire universe, but the potential to erase what we have long believed is the center of “everything” is well within our reach. The pain associated with that erasure would be so brief as to be, essentially, nonexistent. The arguments against eliminating “everything” have no basis in ethics; ethics emerged from fear, which will dissolve into a submicroscopic mist when the time comes. These are not difficult ideas to embrace, when the scope of their existence is measured in particles no wider than one-hundredth of a billionth of a proton.

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Finger-Thoughts

For the first time in quite a while, I returned to evening television recently. Until just a few days ago, my fatigue/exhaustion/extreme tiredness had me in bed, asleep, very early. But I managed to stay awake long enough to begin watching a newly-discovered third season of a Spanish-language series (with subtitles) entitled Entrevías (titled Wrong Side of the Tracks in English). The first two seasons (which we thought completed the program) were riveting. Three of the main actors in the series—José Coronado, Luis Zahera, and Laura Ramos—have become favorites of mine; when I have found programs in which they star or are featured, I have made a point of viewing them. When we discovered a third season, we were delighted. Though we have only watched one or two episodes of the third season, we are quite content to know a third season is available to us. I can do no better describing the set-up for the series than Wikipedia; here is what Wiki says about it:

Set in Entrevías, the poorest neighborhood in Madrid, the series follows Tirso Abantos, a former military man running a hardware store, whose monotonous daily routine is shaken when his unruly and rebellious adopted teenaged granddaughter Irene, of Vietnamese origin, along with her Colombian-immigrant boyfriend Nelson, agree to sell heroin from drug dealer Sandro. While the young couple had planned to sell the drugs and run off together, the plan goes wrong, and she is violently raped by Sandro and his thugs. Tirso then teams up with corrupt police officer Ezequiel to face up to the criminals in the neighborhood.

Just yesterday evening, I watched two Netflix documentaries. The first, Lover, Stalker, Killer, was about a man and his romantic interests who are stalked in an online dating scheme by a woman who made life a nightmare for the poor guy (and his girlfriends) in semi-rural Nebraska and Iowa. The second, a three-part docuseries entitled Crime Scene: The Texas Killing Fields, explored a series of serial killings of young women in and around the Houston/Galveston area from the 1970s through the early 1990s. Though I would rate neither program as a “must watch,” both were sufficiently engrossing to keep me awake much later than “usual.” I finished the third episode of the latter series around 10:00 p.m. last night, fully three-plus hours later than I have gone to bed recently. Whether that late night behavior continues is yet to be determined; but I rather enjoyed relaxing in bed, with the adjustable mattress at the “zero gravity” setting.

I hope my unexpected burst of energy yesterday afternoon/evening was the beginning of a return to normalcy of sorts, though I’m not going to count my chickens just yet. Today, I’m off again for an infusion of magnesium and more lab draws. The oncology clinic calendar shows me scheduled for two and a quarter hours, two hours of which are set aside for the infusion. One day—soon, I hope—my level of blood magnesium may return to safe levels so I can stop these incessant infusions. Then, if all goes according to plan, I will need only to have regular lab blood draws and infusions of a drug that is intended to help my immune system battle cancer cells. It may be too early to think about those chickens, but I do look forward to a time when fatigue/exhaustion/weariness is a distant and dimming memory.

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The unexpected loss of seven pounds over a one-week period recently caused the oncology nurse to be alarmed and led her to strongly recommend that I start regularly consuming multiple bottles of Boost or Ensure to stop the weight loss. I took advantage of her suggestion, along with her tip that I supplement the calorie-laden drink with ice cream, to satisfy my appetite for vanilla ice cream. I learned, though, that the vanilla-flavored calorie-supplement tastes the way I imagine poison would taste. The strawberry version is only moderately more tolerable, but when mixed with vanilla ice cream is acceptable. Since my somewhat-intentional weight-loss began about a year ago, I have lost more than fifty pounds; the nurse, though, says the more recent weight loss is mostly muscle, not fat, so I should not keep it up. That is too bad. I would be thrilled to lose five decades of accumulated fat, while increasing the amount and tone of muscle. I keep looking for the silver lining behind the cancer clouds, only to discover what I thought were shiny reflections are just imaginary. Bah!

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There’s something unexpectedly appealing to me in midwestern small-towns; rural and semi-rural places in Nebraska and Kansas and Iowa. I cannot quite pin it down, but the atmosphere I imagine in such places aligns with elements of my personality I did not fully realize were “there.” It is not the conservatism that appeals to me, though there may be certain characteristics I envision such places having that may be related in some ways to conservative concepts. Probably, though, it’s an imaginary attribute that tricks me into believing there exists a degree of “purity” in such places that either is hidden or does not exist in bigger, more cosmopolitan places. I find cosmopolitan places intensely appealing, actually, but I wish I could infuse such spots with humility or modesty to replace or supplement the all-too-common arrogance that seems to grow unchecked in what some people tend to call world-class cities. “Word-class.” Meaningless drivel, in my view. What, exactly, is “world-class?” It translates into arrogance. Bravado. Pretension. Small towns have their own kinds of undeserved pride, though, don’t they? I suspect their over-the-top self-esteem is a reaction to dismissive labeling by people like me who sometimes seem to think bigger and different equate to better. Too often, people are wont to label different as synonymous with better. I do that far too frequently, I am sure. But when I recognize that I am doing it, I feel the shame flow through me, as if my face is flushing bright pink. Does it stop me? Us? No. We too rarely allow ourselves the opportunity to experience humility. I need to explore these emotions in more depth. But not now; my mind is too cluttered with complex and competitive feelings to allow me to accurately assess how and what I feel. That is true so frequently; I wish I could better understand my own emotions. The labels attached to emotions are so often considered “weak,” when in fact emotions can be far more telling and more realistic than the way we feel about emotions. Enough of that.

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It’s after 8. Time to stop thinking with my fingers for awile.

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Fantasies in Fruitland

Twelve hours in bed. Roughly ten or eleven hours of sleep. Aches in both shoulders. My complains are minor, though. I woke to read news that a church friend has decided to go into hospice at home, following his lingering illness. He is the man whose devotion to the Computers for Kids (C4K) program has made the program such an exceptional success, growing well beyond service to children. Recognizing that the program will require dedication similar in scope—if not equal to his own going forward—he sought out and found people in recent months who agreed to volunteer to assume management responsibilities for the program. I am sorry to learn of the decline in his health, though a man of his age (90+) will eventually confront that reality.

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My niece and her mother have spent time with us over the last couple of days, a welcome visit to which I have been looking forward for some time. I wish I had been more energetic, but chemo and its after-effects continue to take its toll. Fortunately, mi novia and my sister-in-law happily stepped in to provide company and entertainment while I spent my time dozing, sleeping, and otherwise behaving like a sick old man is expected to behave. Despite my lack of energy, I have enjoyed our time together. At some point in the not-too-distant future I hope mi novia and I can make the trek southward to visit my niece and her husband, though any such trip will have to take place at times when I can slip away for just a while as my years-long treatments continue. Ach! I wish I could just skip the treatments…but that would be a mistake of unparalleled proportions, I am sure. Oh, well. It is what it is.

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Perhaps I will be able to force myself to write some odd fantasy stories in the coming days and weeks. If I could find a talented artist willing to draw/paint images to accompany my fantasy stories, I might be able to produce a series of pieces to appeal both to children and strange adults. I have written quirky stuff, in times gone by, that might appeal to both audiences and that probably do only minor harm to their respective psyches. As I think about old fairytales I recall from my youth, I seem to remember plenty of stories that would be classified, today, as dangerous and harmful to youthful minds. In my opinion, though, the stories are neither dangerous nor harmful but, instead, are valuable tales that have the capacity to expand children’s creative minds. Kids are subjected to far too much protection, I think, when what they really need are opportunities to explore a bit of youthful madness. But what do I know? After all, I forgot to have kids.

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If life were as pleasant as it should be, we all would have ready access to fresh, sweet watermelons year-round. That’s really what we need, isn’t it? I relish the idea of waking early and finding a big bowl of cold, freshly cut watermelon waiting for me in the refrigerator. There’s nothing better than a perfectly ripe watermelon to make one’s day begin with a broad smile. The problem, as I see it, is that watermelon season in most of the US is from May through September. That being the case, I have an entire month—at least—to wait for domestically produced, ripe, and sweet watermelon. Watermelons from Guatemala and environs are available, I suppose, but their ripeness is subject to variance; I want truly firm, ripe, sweet, cold watermelon. At this point, I happily would take Guatemalan or Honduran or other “an” watermelon, of course. Ditto cantaloupe. But I recently have had imported cantaloupe that was a far cry from ripe. I don’t mind having melons that are not quite ripe, but the flavor of utterly unripe melons is patently offensive. While I’m dreaming, I would love a fresh, ripe, cold, papaya right now—drizzled with fresh lime juice. It occurs to me that I might be better suited to live in Central America than in the US south/south-central. I adore fruits of many stripes, including citrus fruits such as oranges and grapefruits and their cousins. Life in Central America, where I could have ready access to such goodness, might be right for me. The heat and humidity, on the other hand, might be problematic. Yet conditioned air in such climates would make me quite comfortable, I suspect. Oh, and year-round fresh, ripe avocadoes would be marvelous. With juice drizzled on top, of course. And sea salt. Oh, yes. I could become non-carnivorous, I believe.

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I will not go to church today. Again. I might watch the service, either live or later. But being in the presence of large groups of people who could expose me to potential infections is not high of my list of must-do things today. I missed a church board meeting on Thursday, thanks to another treatment. And I will miss a church service today because of my concerns about infections. I realize I might be using excuses to avoid church, but I really do enjoy the people, so it’s probably not just excuses. One of these days my illness will, I hope, be a thing of the past. And I will then have access to all the fresh fruit I can imagine. Strawberries, blueberries, dewberries, papayas, grapefruit, oranges, bananas, watermelon, cantaloupe…and all the rest. Hmm. It sounds delicious.

 

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Balloons

The real estate business model, some experts claim, is being demolished by the settlement effectively accepted by the National Association of Realtors. The model, in which the seller pays the commissions for both seller and buyer, could drive home prices down considerably, according to some Realtors quoted by national news media. Some of the wealth now contained in housing prices might disappear. Census data indicates the median price of a home in the US is about $417,000. That figure may  include roughly $25,000 in brokerage fees which, if the NAR settlement is approved, could be reduced considerably. For many buyers and sellers, the reduction could have an enormous impact; the seller could lose money and the buyer could save—or something like that. For the moment, it’s a matter of waiting to see what actually happens. But both buyers and sellers (and, of course Real Estate agents) stand to experience a significant change in the costs of buying and selling homes. At this moment in time—just after 8:00 a.m. on a Saturday morning in late March—I am in the mood to test the market. A new home in New Mexico might be just the ticket. Or a little spread on the prairies of Nebraska or Kansas. Or, what the hell, maybe a cabin near the edge of a petrified forest.

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Helium-filled balloons filled the sky over the Texas panhandle. Longhorn cattle gazed up at the spectacle, wondering what had caused the sight to appear on that cold, late Spring morning. Bryson Mortimastic, a 32-year-old longhorn who had infiltrated the herd during the February stampede, cast a sideways glance at Gazy Mica, a much younger cow who was anxious to carry Bryson’s progeny. And thus ended the tail.

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Recuerdo: Más sabe el diablo por viejo, no que por diablo

Yesterday afternoon, again, I sat in a treatment chair at my oncologist’s office. A nurse plunged a needle into the infus-a-port in my chest, then attached to the port a hypodermic needle that flushed the port with saline solution. She then hung a large IV bag of magnesium-infused liquid (more saline, I assume) and set the flow rate of the device to empty into my chest, drip by drip, over a timeframe previously determined by the oncologist. One of the chemo drugs that has been pumped into me through the same infus-a-port during several previous sessions dramatically depleted the amount of magnesium in my blood. The IV infusions of the magnesium solution, along with twice-a-day magnesium tablets, are being used to replenish the necessary supply of the mineral. Even with all infusions, though, the level of magnesium has not returned to acceptably safe levels, so I return regularly so my blood can be checked and so that more of the stuff can be pumped into me. During the infusion processes, I close my eyes, hoping I might be able to sleep for a while. But usually I do not sleep. Instead, I think about all the other people who sit in the other roughly fourteen treatment chairs. I do not know what kinds of cancer the other people have, although I hear an occasional reference to taxotere, a chemo drug I learned about when my late wife was being treated for breast cancer a number of years ago. And my ears perk up when I hear mention that a bag of keytruda, a drug that has been used with me (and will be for another two years, if I recall correctly), is being delivered. I have overheard other patients chatting about their cancers: bladder cancer, liver cancer, breast cancer, lymphoma, etc., etc., etc. I wonder whether the treatments they are receiving are intended to cure their cancers or just to extend their lives? I do not ask, of course. I do not engage in conversation with other patients, though many of them seem quite happy to converse with others about their afflictions and the treatments they are receiving. I prefer to remain quiet, keeping to myself in my private cocoon. It is not uncommon to hear others speak of their faith that “God is in control.” I suppose those patients need or want assurances that the oncologists are being guided in their work by a divine hand. How many of those patients, I wonder, will be alive in two or three or five years? Yesterday afternoon’s session kept me from attending and leading the church board meeting. That is just as well, in that I was not in a state of mind to deal with church business. My term as president of the board has been, thus far, less than stellar.  Fortunately, other members of the board have risen to the occasion, so I doubt my lack of initiative and enthusiasm has done any lasting damage. In hindsight, I perhaps should not have been quite so willing to accept the role. The people who follow will no doubt inject the passion and commitment necessary for the organization to fulfill its potential. That reality, I think, is one of the benefits of democratic institutions. Bumps in the road can be smoothed and largely forgotten, or at least forgiven, in short order.  Ah…I have returned to my old ways, haven’t I? My stream of consciousness has “seamlessly” made the transition from chemotherapy to ironed-in-wrinkles in leadership to diversions and deviations in human potential. If there were a prize for randomness, I might take third place. And, now, I will reproduce a post I wrote several years ago. For some reason, I am somewhat proud of the way my mind worked back then.

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Here is a post I wrote in October 2019. I am reposting it because I rather liked it when I originally posted it. 

U.S. culture treats advanced age as a terminal illness and it treats those consumed by the “illness” as disposable. The quicker the better. Mexican culture, from what I understand, has a different perspective. Age equates to experience which, in turn, forms a foundation of wisdom. People fortunate enough to have survived many years of experience are, in Mexico, revered. This morning, as I was thinking about these conflicting cultural perspectives on age, I happened upon a Facebook post that included a few excerpts from a book by Paul Theroux, On the Plain of Snakes: A Mexican Road Trip. One quote from the book, a recitation of a Mexican aphorism, struck me as particularly interesting: Más sabe el diablo por viejo, no que por diablo. Roughly translated into English, that says, “The devil is wise because he is old, not because he’s the devil.

I wonder how it happens that some cultures hold the aged in high regard, while others view them as used-up, worn-out, and generally in the way? I wish I knew and I wish I knew how to reverse that perspective.  But I don’t. I suppose the best way to try is to model the behaviors one hopes to see in others.

Yet I feel just a tad sheepish about automatically giving respect to someone simply because he or she has managed to say alive for many, many years. I have encountered plenty of people whose lengthy lives are almost certainly accidental; only by pure chance have these people not stepped in front of buses or drowned in the shower. These people exemplify the concept that: “They do not have ninety years of experience; they have one year of experience repeated ninety times.” That is, they have learned nothing of consequence by living so long.

But more people than not do not fall into that category of old and stupid. More people have, in fact, learned a great deal over the course of their lives, thanks to their ability to associate the meaning of different experiences at many different times of their lives. That may be a hard sentence to digest; they can rely on experiences from years ago to help interpret and give meaning to experiences years later. Maybe that helps explain it.

As usual, I’ve wandered off course. Why do our cultures hold such diametrically opposed perspectives about age? And how can our culture change to be more closely aligned with Mexican culture? I suppose the first step is to change our collective attitudes about our cultures and other cultures. That is, we need to acknowledge that our culture is not always “better” and other cultures are not always “worse.” We need to accept that our culture can learn from other cultures and can improve by adopting some of their perspectives and practices.

I suppose we teach children, from an early age, that older people are not as valuable as younger people. We train people to believe we reach our intellectual peaks around age 45 and decline precipitously thereafter. Somewhere along the line, 50 became the new 99; once a person reaches 50, he is unemployable. His knowledge and capabilities leaked from his head and cannot be recovered.

I have no practical solutions. I just write to complain. I have nothing else to contribute. I’m just sucking in air that should have been made available to someone younger.

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Mulling It Over

Depression has stalked me intermittently over the years, although I usually tend to deny I am depressed. I remember a time, about fourteen years ago, when a friend suggested to me that I was in the midst of what she called a “dark night of the soul.” Though her religious beliefs molded her belief about my state of mind, I think the concept she attempted to explain to me mirrored what was really going on in my mind—a dull tangle of depression whose causes were impossible for me to understand. At the time, I felt dissatisfied and valueless; wishing I could pin down what was on my mind that was making me feel morose and disconnected and sensing acutely that nothing mattered. That sense of hollowness never completely disappeared, though it has ebbed and flowed over the years. I have never been completely able to pin down what triggers the wash of grey that sometimes overtakes me, nor what causes it to fade away. At the moment, I suspect the cycles of illness—cancer, pneumonia, COPD, pneumonia, cancer, etc., etc.—are the obvious contributors. But it is not simply sickness. It’s the absence of control over sickness or, perhaps, the apparent absence of control. Even though cancer and pneumonia seem to be in retreat, there is no assurance they will continue to respond to treatment. Apprehension gnaws at me, even though there is absolutely no point in worrying about something over which I have no control. Invariably, the depression (or whatever it is) subsides. Knowing that, I should just let it slide away according to its own random schedule. That is harder than it should be, though, because my treatments seem to be commanding even more of my time lately than they did in the beginning. Sleep. That’s the key. I need dreamless, uninterrupted sleep. Not today, though. A hospital follow-up visit with my doctor, another infusion at the oncologist’s office, and more of the same for the remainder of the week. Such is life, for now.

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So Very Brief

I had hoped and expected the chemotherapy regimen would have concluded by now, but my blood continues to be quite low on magnesium. So, at least four of five “work-days” this week will include a visit to the oncologist’s office, where I will be infused with the stuff. At the same time, the nurses will draw blood to determine the extent to which I remain low on the important mineral. Ach… Whatever it takes, of course. Whatever is necessary. Now that the majority of chemo treatment is ending, I will have roughly two years of immunosuppressant therapy; an infusion every three weeks intended to coach my body to attack and destroy rogue cancer cells. A seemingly endless series of treatments designed to extend my life for quite some time to come. If that series of treatments coincide with ongoing improvements in my sense of health and well-being, I will be well-satisfied.

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Sleep eluded me again for much of last night. I am tempted to return to bed to nap for a while, but I suspect I would continue to have difficulties falling and staying asleep. Bah. Even with relatively good news from the oncologist last week, my mood keeps slipping in and out of the place I want it to stay. The absence of pain is not the same as a sense of well-being. What that means is beyond me; it must mean something. This very brief post is a waste of the strength in my fingers. Again.

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Rest My Fingers

Disarray describes my desk. It’s not laziness that keeps me from organizing the piles of paper and assorted odds and ends littering my office. Lethargy, a non-blood cousin, is responsible. In my opinion, lethargy does not suggest apathy or indifference. Unlike laziness, lethargy does not carry with it a deserved, negative judgment. Lethargy is an affliction, whereas laziness is an embarrassing state of mind. I have been lazy, of course. But not now. Not today. Today, I am lethargic. I want energy, but energy eludes me. I think the chemotherapy drugs in my system are responsible for robbing me of the stamina and strength I crave. I do not wish for them to stop doing what they are doing, though, because simultaneously they are attacking and killing cancer cells. They are free to do the oncologist’s bidding in peace. I willingly accept their unpleasant side effects. But I would be even more grateful if they would fulfill their roles at the same time they cause my desk and my office to be well-organized and attractive. The universe is complex and mysterious. So is my office. So are we all.

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I have very little interest in anything. Nothing captures my imagination at the moment. If I could fall into a deep, dreamless sleep, I would gladly do it for as long as my body would permit. Emptiness. Blankness. Feeling nothing. Requiring no energy, no strength, no power. Just existence, without any obligations. Not even breathing. Not even a heartbeat. Well, I think I would want those to continue; but absent any responsibilities. I cannot convince myself that there is a way to accomplish this empty, dreamless state. If I could make an effort, though, without trying, I think I would. There’s no point in continuing to write about an emotional odyssey that refuses to cooperate with my own mindlessness. So, instead, I’ll pause for as long as it takes for me to re-emerge into reality. Until then, I will rest my fingers and my mind.

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Stink-Eye

A drink of cool water—before making espresso, before swallowing a handful of pills, before feeding the cat, before thinking about and then deciding to ignore a few dishes left in the sink overnight—welcomes me to pre-dawn darkness. We are fortunate to have ready access to that cool, clean, clear gift, yet we seldom take time to sit in contemplation of something so crucial to our comfort and our survival. When clean water is scarce, we want it all the more. And when we are sick, we clamor for health. If we are sinking in abject poverty, we seek wealth; or, at least, adequate prosperity. Sufficiency. Enough. That is all we really need. And that, I think, is the most we should try to obtain. The benefit of enough. Sufficient to meet one’s needs. We permit needs and wants, though, to be confused in our minds; we think of them as one and the same. How much is enough? Enough water may be far less than the amount we want. Does thirst for water signify the insufficiency of water, or is thirst merely an expression of want? Where, along the continuum of need and want, do the two intersect? Physics probably can be used to quantify that point, but the emotion of want may not be as easily measured through physics as is (or may be) need. I allow myself to think in circles; better than thinking in cubes, I suppose. Which calls into question the matter of ice—and where it belongs in this stream of consciousness meditation.

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When I went in to the oncologist’s office for my two injections yesterday afternoon (one to deal with a low volume of red blood cells and one to address a high volume of white blood cells), I learned I was again low on magnesium. So, I was infused with a bag of magnesium. The APRN told me the doctor was concerned that she may need to put me back in the hospital over the weekend to ensure adequate magnesium in my blood. But the nurse convinced the doctor to let me take pills until Monday. So, I was advised to pick up a new prescription for more magnesium pills and to return to get another infusion of magnesium on Monday. When I went to the pharmacy to pick up the pills, though, they were out. They will not receive a shipment until Monday, the pharmacy clerk told me. I am rationing the few magnesium pills I have left, hoping there are enough to keep me healthy until Monday. Damn pharmacy! The same pharmacy that repeatedly has failed me in the recent past. Apparently, one of the chemo drugs I have been on has the potential for consuming magnesium with a vengeance. I may try to find another source for magnesium today; there must be somebody out there who can be my supplier for the short term. Ach! Reading about the dangers of extremely low magnesium levels now has me a bit worried. I may try to reach my doctor’s on-call people to determine whether I need to do something more aggressive to boost my levels. The idea of a return visit to the hospital is not at all appealing; but someone else should make that call, not me.

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It is no measure of health to be well adjusted to a profoundly sick society.

~ Jiddu Krishnamurti ~

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A dull grey-blue sky behind a curtain of trees appears to be staring at me. What, I wonder, did I do to deserve getting the stink-eye from the celestial beyond?

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Doing the Trick?

My oncologist’s smile yesterday was a delight—she appeared genuinely happy to report to me the results of my Wednesday PET-scan. Although the cancer remains in evidence, the scan revealed that its presence was greatly diminished. Her follow-up written report, posted on the patient portal—tremendous response to therapy—gave me a smile. The treatment for my cancer is not expected to be a permanent cure, but it is being delivered as a means of extending my life for an as-yet-unknown period; a long period, I hope. Several years, if the universe cooperates with me the way I think it conceivably could. We shall see.

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With good fortune like I experienced yesterday, perhaps I should buy a Mega Millions jackpot ticket today, which could yield a lump sum of $413.5 million—$977 million if I were to choose the full payout. I cannot remember the last time I won either a full payout or a lump sum jackpot lottery; I would be happy with either, which would position me to be quite the philanthropist (and obscenely cash-rich, as well). Mi novia and I (and my friends and family and plenty of others) would be able to make a lot of lives far easier. Ah, yes; but in order for this to happen, I will need to buy a ticket—that has always been the obstacle, hasn’t it? I simply must overcome that obstacle today. Otherwise, the winnings will be no more than dreams.

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The factors that are squelching my efforts to write more extensive blog posts are beyond my understanding. I should know better why I am failing to write more—and more interesting—posts, but I do not. Instead, I simply wonder why I am at a loss to know what is keeping me from tapping into greater creativity. Does it have something to do with questions about my health? Might it revolve around anxieties that continue to perplex me? Or is it something completely unrelated? I just do not know. What I know is I am stumbling and bumbling as I try to spark at least a tiny sense of ingenuity, only to witness  embers dim into smudges, turning into whisps of cold smoke in the air. Something must change. And I am relatively sure it will. Eventually. In the interim, I will continue to wish for ashes to catch a breeze that will cause them to spark and burst into a few transformative flames. For now, I will sit at my desk, staring at the dull grey sky outside my windows—not even a whisper of wind to rustle leaves or branches on the trees outside. I see only a two-dimensional still life out there, awaiting a brush with wind to bring the emptiness to life.  Odd, isn’t it, that the thrill I felt with the oncologist’s happiness seems to have withered. Perhaps the recent tornado that ruined so many hundreds of pines and flattened so many acres that once were alive with possibilities just ripped the joy out of the air. Ach! I want to leave this desolation for something else; something alive and promising. How long will it take for the landscape to recover from this miserable desolation?

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More injections today at the oncologist’s office. And more hands full of pills to ward off the pneumonia that has kept me sick lately. When will I feel “well” again? Really well? I feel much better than I have in recent days, but still not as good as I want to feel. Off to have something tasty for breakfast. Maybe that will do the trick.

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