Knots

Clearly, all of us have lost our minds. There is no question about it. We go about our days as if there is nothing wrong with electing drunk, rabid alligators to manage our country’s affairs. The solution, of course, is to round up the reptiles, place them in an Olympic-sized swimming pool, and fill it with quick-drying concrete. But will we do it? No, certainly not. Instead, we will get as far as putting them in the pool, but instead of concrete we will argue over whether to fill the pool with hydrochloric acid, manure, or Jello, instead. Or maybe we will simply ignore the fact that we’re supplying the creatures with an endless supply of high-end Scotch. We should not be allowed to permit rabid beasts of any kind to engage in squabbles on our behalf. Our behalf? Hah!

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I have what some folks would call an ugly fantasy. I, on the other hand, consider it beautiful. In this fantasy, I have the ability to project invisible bolts of electricity from my eyes. And I can project them over enormously long distances. Those bolts are deadly. When they strike a drunken, rabid alligator, the animal’s body instantly turns to dust. Not ugly, in my opinion.

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A few years ago, I created some dummy magazine covers (I may have written about them recently…forgive me). The magazine covers were geared toward practitioners of specific criminal enterprises: car theft, burglary, bank robbery, financial market manipulation, and so forth. The titles of the magazines were modeled after Psychology Today. I do not remember all the details, but I believe I created covers (I used Photoshop to alter photos and text) for Auto Theft Today, Home Invasion Today, Bank Robbery Today, Securities Fraud Today, etc. I was more than a little surprised when someone saw images of those dummy magazine covers and said to me something to the effect that “I did not know you had been involved in publishing.” The comment was real. I wonder whether there might be a market for such periodicals? Today, of course, I probably would have to deliver them online; the cost of printing and distribution would be to great to produce hard-copy magazines.

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A great production of a black comedy is better than a mediocre production of a comedy of errors.

~ Tom Stoppard ~

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When I was younger, I wished for the ability to accelerate time—clear away the underbrush that kept the future so distant. I no longer wish for that capability. Today, I would prefer, at least, to slow time’s progress. Better yet, I would like to “rewind” time so I might revise who I was, how I behaved, risks I took, advice I ignored, and dozens of other experiences. But neither wish can be met, of course. It’s too bad, though, that all the mistakes cannot be blotted out of my memory, thoroughly forgotten so that the past would not hang over me like a guillotine. If only. If only. If only. The value of wisdom is recognized far too late. Time twists us into knots that cannot be untied.

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Quid Pro Quo

Gmail has about 1.5 billion users worldwide, according to Statistica. If a post on X (Twitter) had been proven to be legitimate (but, fortunately, the post was bogus), those users’ accounts would have disappeared with the closure of Gmail in August of this year. Google, thanks be to the gods of email communication, has publicly stated that Gmail is “here to stay.” But how would the world of Gmail users deal with the disappearance of the service, if it did shut down? I am essentially certain there would be a mad scramble to establish alternative email accounts. Other services, I suspect, would spare no expense in ramping up and promoting their offerings. While other services might fill the gap left empty by Gmail‘s closure, enormous numbers of users of the service would face the daunting task of notifying their contacts of their new email addresses. And, of course, many of those notifications would go unheeded or unrecorded or otherwise ignored. Email communications, especially for users who rely on the service for business interactions, could swirl into chaos. Could governments the world over step in to require Google to pause its planned closure of Gmail? Probably not, though I suspect they might try (and could well have some forceful, but limited, control). The pandemonium that the potential closure of Gmail could cause should give everyone reason to think about the consequences to our daily lives that the sudden (or even gradual) disappearance of ubiquitous services like Gmail could bring about. Not that we would have any control over such matters, of course. But we should give some thought to how we could prepare, at least to a limited extent, for such disruptive circumstances. Thinking about this possibility sparked my memories of the 1973-1974 Arab oil embargo and its impact on the price and availability of gasoline. The national 55 miles-per-hour maximum speed limit (since abandoned) was one response, as was the creation of the Strategic Petroleum Reserve. As I think about our response to the embargo, I wonder whether we would react to the closure of Gmail in the same way; by applying a band-aid to a gushing hemorrhage. Hmmm. Something to occupy my mind, when nothing else will do.

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Somewhere in the darkness outside my window, a mourning dove expresses its grief. Or could the sound I hear come from an owl? There was a time not long ago when I could easily differentiate between the two birds’ calls. I have forgotten how the sounds differ, though. I wish I were better acquainted with the natural world; knowledgeable enough to understand everything far better than I do. My understanding of the world around me comes through communications based upon layer upon layer of filters. Those filters were created by people and artificial experiences influenced deeply by bias and misunderstanding. So what I “know” is what I have surmised through interpreting misinformation or been taught by following an agenda-infused syllabus.

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I have enormous regard for people who not only live on the land but learn from it; and who share their wisdom without arrogance and pride. I respect people who consider farming, for example, not simply as an occupation but as an obligation to understand and tend to the products from and of the earth. Hmm. I remember a brief time when, in my late teens, when I thought I wanted to be a large-animal veterinarian. I was interested in animal husbandry. My interest was based on what I thought, as opposed to what I knew. I could not have known because I had not experienced. I am too old and physically infirm to learn by experience now. I remember those rare times I spent a few hours at a time visiting farms for one reason or another. The odors were at once oddly offensive and intriguing; what some of the people around me found disgusting I found inviting. Hard physical work, coupled with extensive knowledge of the way the natural world works, is required for survival in certain pursuits.

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I stumbled upon a video about a book—Comrade Sisters: Women in the Black Panther Party. And that led me to a brief excursion into reading snippets about other aspects of the Black Panther Party. Some of the names were very familiar to me—Eldridge Cleaver, Stokely Carmichael, Angela Davis, Huey Newton, Bobby Seale, et al—but my memories did not extend to specifics about their roles in the organization. I skimmed some articles that told me of their roles and their lives outside the Black Panthers, but I doubt I will remember much because I did not take time to absorb what I read. What is the point of skimming, when the material I read will not stick? Skimming is just a way to pass the time, I suppose; it attracts my attention away from less innocuous subjects, I suppose.

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When the missionaries came to Africa they had the Bible and we had the land. They said ‘Let us pray.’ We closed our eyes. When we opened them we had the Bible and they had the land.

~ Desmond Tutu ~

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I have never trusted missionaries. Their quid pro quo, whether hidden or obvious, troubles me.

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Sleep and Such

My intentions this morning were smothered in sleep. I woke late, giving myself so little time to get ready for church that I opted to stay home and view the service online. But not long after waking and having coffee with mi novia and my sister-in-law, I felt an overwhelming need to sleep again. And so I did. For a few hours. I can feel awake and rested one minute, only to suddenly feel fatigued and exhausted the next. My most recent chemo-therapy session was 2+ weeks ago, yet its effects seem to linger. While these sudden spurts of exhaustion frustrate me, the advice I receive is to just accept them as my body’s expression of how it needs to deal with cancer and cancer treatment. I will continue to view it from that perspective, to the extent I can.

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Even geology—the natural science that relies on facts, observations, and rational understanding—can be tainted with perverse opinions and infected with political greed. Oil. Precious metals. Even gravel pits. Every aspect of geological science can be twisted to serve the worst qualities of humankind—attributes once, perhaps, decent but now gone irreversibly rogue and awry. So is it any wonder that psychology and sociology and dozens of other disciplines are manipulated so readily? The question is asked, “is nothing sacred?” The answer?  No. Nothing is sacred. Nothing. Not even family, friends…nothing matters, except power and money. Or so it seems. But slivers of decency and honor may still have a chance, provided adequate numbers of the “common man” are willing to excuse certain murders. When the ballot has been stripped of its validity, power to the people may be restored only with sufficient pressure applied to a supremely sharp and well-placed razor. How can such ideas find a place in the minds of good people? Peering back in time to the very beginning, witnessing the evolution of humankind, how can they not? A slender smile crosses his face as he contemplates competing moral judgments and wonders which one will win. He knows, of course, for every “winner” there is a loser. And vice versa. For every fact, a falsehood waits with a dagger clenched in its teeth.

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Could a significant population of the U.S.—people who may not share ethnicity or religious beliefs or socio-economic position—find a way to collectively emigrate to a relatively unpopulated part of the world? Could this collection of otherwise like-minded people who share progressive beliefs and liberal perspectives become its own diaspora? I will never know, of course, because if a movement in that direction were to commence, it would take more time to come to fruition than most of us have left. But thinking about the possibility is intriguing. A pipe-dream that softens in our minds the realities that plague us today and the bleakness facing us in the immediate future.

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I sometimes think the pain I occasionally feel in the upper right side of my torso, creeping around toward my back and just beneath my shoulder, must be akin to the pain I would feel had a bullet pierced my body. I have no experience with bullet wounds; it’s just my imagination.  I suspect the pain of a bullet would be far more excruciating, too, and I think it would linger, unlike my actual pain. My pain, I think, is an artifact of my lobectomy of five years ago. The location corresponds to the long scar left from that surgery, but the pain is not limited to the surface; it feels like it is an inch or two beneath the skin. I am used to the periodic sharpness that jars me into awareness; five years is enough time to make the pain natural. But still not welcome. Tolerated, though. The diagnosis that my cancer has returned after five years probably makes me more aware of the pain, too. I am tired of it.

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I feel it coming on again. The need or desire for more sleep. The time is just after 3 in the afternoon. Damn.

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Uncertain

He would have turned 14 next month, but Flaco died before reaching that birthday. His last year of life was the only year he experienced freedom, courtesy of a vandal who shredded the wire mesh of his cage in the Central Park Zoo. Flaco, a Eurasian eagle-owl, was hatched on March 15, 2010, at the Sylvan Heights Bird Park in Scotland Neck, N.C. Less than two months later, he was transferred to the Central Park Zoo. The last year of his life, spent in Manhattan, thrilled New Yorkers and others when they managed to get a glimpse of him perched on terraces and rooftops. Flaco’s body was found yesterday. Apparently, he had struck a building, becoming a victim among the roughly 230,000 birds that die every year when they hit building windows. There’s more to the background and to Flaco’s story, of course. But this synopsis that I created after reading online about Flaco in this morning’s New York Times is enough to remind me that human interest stories sometimes involve humans only tangentially.

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A relaxing visit yesterday afternoon by friends was just what my psyche needed. And the visit yielded something else that is highly important: exceptionally tasty cake. Another visit, this afternoon, will provide an additional uplifting emotional infusion. I have not had a great deal of social engagement in recent weeks, thanks to how I have felt (blah) and to cautions that I should avoid being around people too much. I do not know what “too much” is, but I understand the cautions; my immune system is not up to par during my series of chemo-therapy treatments, so I am especially susceptible to potentially troublesome illnesses. I have been to church, off and on, and I have enjoyed restaurant meals on occasion (but I make a point of maintaining as much distance from others as I can). Just being conscious of the concerns has made me keep to myself (with mi novia, of course, and with a few friends). When, I wonder, will visiting with others—without concern—become common again?

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Friendship improves happiness and abates misery, by the doubling of our joy and the dividing of our grief.

~ Marcus Tullius Cicero ~

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Another infusion of poisons is scheduled for next Thursday. Though I call the stuff poison only in jest,  the liquids the oncologist and her team infuse into my blood are poisons. By regulating how much and how quickly the stuff is pumped into me, the oncology team controls the degree to which the poisons make me sick and minimizes the likelihood the liquids will kill me. Putting oneself at the mercy of people one does not know well—allowing them to inject deadly poisons into one’s bloodstream—requires trust, confidence, and a little spark of madness.

Assuming a repeat of the process used in recent infusions, some of the drugs given to me next Thursday (and/or the day after) will make me feel alive, alert, and energetic for a couple of days afterward. But, then, I will fall back into day after day after day of fatigue, exhaustion, and what seems almost round-the-clock sleep. I know this. If you have been reading this blog much lately, you know this. So why do I keep repeating it here? I suppose it’s because I am having trouble thinking creatively. Even when I feel reasonably alive and alert, my brain seems to be in something of a fog. Alert? Sort of…but not really…or…hell, I don’t know. It’s after 8:20 in the morning and I still cannot seem to write anything of consequence. I guess it’s just one of those days. Ach!

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My sister’s hip replacement went well, I’m glad to say. Interestingly and coincidentally, I lately have had increasing experiences of sudden, sharp but brief pains in what I assume is my right hip. But the pains are not sufficiently frequent, painful, or otherwise meritorious of a doctor’s investigations to warrant anything other than passing mention; and only to myself, though the fact that I am writing on the matter here exposes the issue to perhaps a dozen other people. I’m still unable to think and write. So I will stop. Instead, I will try to play Wordle and the NYT Mini Crossword. If my performance is atrocious in the extreme, I will keep it to myself. If only mediocre, I will keep it to myself. If superb, I may or may not share it. Apparently, my ego is on shaky grounds; I’m a little uncertain today.

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The Motion of Ideas

The last printed edition of the Encyclopædia Britannica was “the 2010 version of the 15th edition, which spans 32 volumes and 32,640 pages.” Though the resource continues now exclusively online, the cessation of the print version marked a significant acknowledgement about the way in which information is stored and accessed. The transformation of the Encyclopædia Britannica from a massive, multi-volume hard-cover collection to an expression of information in the form of zeroes and ones completed the erasure of who we were to who we are. Unlike cruising the internet, getting engrossed in a set of encyclopedias always seems personal; a far more intimate experience in which the physical, paper page shares information and ideas only with the person holding the books in his hands.  Millions of people simultaneously can access the same information online, of course, but the sensuality of those books in one person’s hands—the way they feel, look, smell—is far more appealing than the impersonal fire-hose of information that is the internet. That having been said, the internet is faster, more extensive (though not nearly as well-vetted), and the information it provides is far easier to store. When the choice must be made, I pick that faster, less personal resource; with regrets to the romanticism of a massive set of hard-bound books. Watch ideas and information spray throughout the dark universe.

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Last night, mi novia made a wonderful dinner, Miso-Mushroom Barley Soup, the recipe for which she found in the New York Times. It was nothing short of exceptional. I love all the noted, main ingredients, individually, but mixing them together, along with the marvelous flavors that blend and bind them all together, yields a soup so flavorful that I found it difficult to stop at one bowl. In fact, I did not stop at one; I topped off the meal with another quarter-bowl of the stuff. The fact that the soup’s ingredients include miso made me think of one of my favorite Japanese-influenced breakfasts: miso soup, rice, cucumber, radishes, and salmon filet. I doctor-up my miso soup, adding dried and diced wakame (a species of kelp with a distinctive flavor), sambal oleke, and a few muscular squirts of soy sauce. I am making myself hungry at this late hour (almost 8). I got up very late; after 6. I could kick myself; and I probably will.

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Let there be work, bread, water and salt for all.

~ Nelson Mandela ~

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I feel human at the moment. And I felt human yesterday, though I think I zoned out a few times, which I think signaled that I was not quite finished with my periodic exhaustion. Today, though, I am knocking on wood; maybe I will have a few days of normalcy before next Thursday’s chemo treatment. My sister, who lives far, far, far away on the western fringes of the continent, is having hip replacement surgery today; I send her positive vibes and I look forward to hearing that it was a spectacularly successful procedure. She has dealt with a painful hip for way too long.

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Periodically, I open FoxNews.com in an attempt to better understand the information that feeds people whose political perspectives generally are 180° from mine.  I took a look this morning. The term “information” is far too generous; the network is almost entirely a propaganda machine. Whether the “information” it spews is based entirely on lies, I do not know; I can tell, though, the moment I see the words on the screen that lies, bigotry, intellectual dullness, and all manner of other ugliness inform the network’s decisions about what to say and how to say it. I find absolutely NOTHING of any merit on FoxNews.com. But I’ll keep taking a look from time to time so I can have a better understanding of “the others.” There’s plenty of left-leaning propaganda, too, but I believe a majority of left-leaning consumers of the “news” can separate the wheat from the chaff; no so, I am afraid, on the other side. I try. I try. But maybe not hard enough?

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I can understand the genesis of blind rage. Exponential growth in the number of encounters with frustration can finally cause something—I do not know just what—to snap, releasing pent-up energy that cannot be contained. The frightening aspect of this is that the explosive release is not limited to a particular personality type. It can happen to almost anyone. But it need not happen. If only we just change the world for the better. That’s all it will take.

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Indeed Indeed

One’s personal freedoms are hard to measure, yet the scope of those freedoms correlate closely to the number of people in what I’ll call a person’s “sphere of experience.”  The correlation is a negative; the greater the number of people in one’s sphere of experience, the fewer personal freedoms one can enjoy/experience. For example, a person living alone has essentially no externally imposed restrictions on his or her behavior, but simply living with another person introduces a plethora of restrictions. No longer can one stand naked in the kitchen and howl at the moon at 3 a.m. because that behavior could intrude on another person’s peace. Add another person and the restrictions multiply; only one person at a time can use the single bathroom in one’s living space. Freedoms available to the person who lives and works and otherwise experiences the world around her disappear—or are drastically reduced—when another person (or other people) are introduced to one or more spheres of the single person’s experience. Yet in the majority of cases, it seems, the freedoms lost with the introduction of other people into one’s sphere of experience have less value to the individual than the values added through the addition of others. Over time, though, one’s judgment of added value may shift; the freedoms lost may regain their reduced appeal. Obviously, though, one determines that lost personal freedoms have less value than do additional and enhanced experiences. This is all speculative, of course. But it makes good sense to me. In my case, I miss feeling free to go to Waffle House at 2:00 a.m.; not that I would be likely to go, but living with mi novia restricts my sense that I am free to do so. So there you are.

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Would you judge me if I were to have leftover hummus, pita, and gyro meat for breakfast? Not that it matters, of course. Others’ judgment of my character on the basis of what I choose to have for breakfast is irrelevant to me. Of course, I doubt anyone outside my house and the limited readership of this post give my choice a breakfast even a fleeting thought. Yet what if, suddenly, my choice of breakfast was on the mind of every person in Garland County? What if strangers who pass me in the grocery story or post office knew about (and disapproved of) my breakfast and looked askance at me? Would that bother me? Probably, but only to the extent that I would think it incredibly odd that anyone else would know about and/or have any interest in my choice of breakfast foods. Why in the name of all that’s holy would this be on my mind this morning? Nobody knows. Not even me.

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Now is the time to trim crepe myrtles to maximize their explosion of flowers in the coming months. But I am not in a condition to do the trimming. Fortunately, we have a lawncare person who may do the trimming…and the removal of dead plants or parts of plants, plants killed by the monstrous freezes of January…plants that could have been saved had I arranged to have them protected. But I can be a lazy slug; not usually, but sometimes. Unfortunately, I was a lazy slug when it mattered to the poor plants that suffered from my sloth.

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This post is badly cracked and may well shatter in a thousand pieces if I do not finish writing it and publish it right away. But why would I do that? Why, indeed.

 

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Personal Musings

Yesterday, the dermatological nurse I visited prescribed an antibiotic and a topical medication for the rash behind my right knee. Shortly after that visit, my pharmacy called to inform me that the deductible for the topical would be $387 and asked whether I would like them to fill that prescription. I appreciated the call; it saved me a disappointing trip to the pharmacy because my answer was “no.” My call to the nurse has not been returned; I hope she prescribes something more affordable. Yet, if that ointment is the only option (which I doubt), I could pay the deductible. However, I learned the price of some other medications and related services yesterday that, if they were not fully covered by insurance, could easily bankrupt me during the course of treatment. The charges presented to Medicare and my supplemental insurance carrier, for a single chemotherapy session, amounted to more than $59,000. Only slightly less than $18,000 of that amount was approved by Medicare and Medicare paid only a bit more than $14,000; the difference between Medicare-approved and Medicare-paid was covered by the supplemental insurance. Had I not been covered by Medicare and my supplemental policy, I believe I would have been billed for the entire $59,000. For one treatment. But, if all goes well, I will need only four full-scale chemo treatments. While very expensive, I might be able to drain my savings and cover the costs. After those four treatments, though, I will undergo an additional 35 immunotherapy treatments over the course of two years. The cost of just one drug involved in that process is $31,400 for each treatment—$1,099,000, excluding several hundred dollars of ancillary drugs and services for each session.

It may sound absurd to say it while facing treatment for a potentially deadly disease, but I am exceptionally fortunate. Unless the situation changes dramatically, the disease may still kill me, but the treatments for it probably will not bankrupt me—assuming I do not reach a maximum coverage limit (if any such limit exists) with my supplemental policy.

What about people who have no insurance? Or people whose insurance is insufficient? Or people who are employed and must deal with the astounding cost of treatment while facing a loss of income because of the amount of time they must miss work? A single illness, injury, hospitalization, etc., etc. can bring financial ruin down upon them. I wish our society actually provided a safety-net for people who find themselves in such catastrophic circumstances.

I wonder what proportion of the costs of healthcare—especially extraordinarily expensive components of healthcare—flow toward corporate and individual investor profits? My guess—purely a guess—is that the proportion is staggeringly large. I am in favor of medical professionals, researchers, and others involved in healthcare being paid handsomely. But I am not in favor of massive profits flowing to any component of the industry, such as pharmaceutical companies. Healthcare should not be a profit-oriented enterprise, in my opinion. Ach, but my opinion doesn’t really count. And it won’t unless and until I do more than complain and wish.

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In a country well governed, poverty is something to be ashamed of. In a country badly governed, wealth is something to be ashamed of.

~ Confucius ~

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I wonder how those of us who live in circumstances of relative wealth can justify using that wealth to maximize our own enjoyment, rather than to minimize the pain of those who live in abject poverty? The justification I hear often suggests we “need” the fuel that pleasure provides to enable us to make meager contributions to relieving others’ pain. On one hand, I can understand and accept that argument, but I question just how much joy we “need” to feed our altruism. Who knows? I do not. Perhaps asking the question without taking action to seek an answer simply ingrains feelings of guilt in us. If that is all, the questions have no value and, instead, are unnecessary self-punishments. But maybe those questions, repeated over time, will eventually propel us toward action. Or, perhaps, others may see the guilt and shame embedded in those questions and take action themselves as a result. Or maybe the entire conversation is pointless and without value.

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If poverty were a man, I would have slain him.

~ Ali ibn Abi Talib ~

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And again, for innumerable reasons, here is Shakespeare’s Sonnet 116. It brings tears to my eyes every time I read it, for very personal reasons.

Let me not to the marriage of true minds
Admit impediments; love is not love
Which alters when it alteration finds,
Or bends with the remover to remove.
O no, it is an ever-fixèd mark
That looks on tempests and is never shaken;
It is the star to every wand’ring bark
Whose worth’s unknown, although his height be taken.
Love’s not time’s fool, though rosy lips and cheeks
Within his bending sickle’s compass come.
Love alters not with his brief hours and weeks,
But bears it out even to the edge of doom:
If this be error and upon me proved,
I never writ, nor no man ever loved.

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In the End, There’s Always Nudity

In yesterday’s post, I expressed my fiercely negative, deeply judgmental, extremely bigoted feelings about a woman I saw wearing a Trump sweatshirt. A while later, on Facebook, I came across a link to an article from a New York Times subscriber-only newsletter opinion piece by David French. The article, entitled “The Meaning of the Super Bowl ‘He Gets Us’ Ad,”  (I do not know whether the link will work for non-subscribers) is worth reading. Though I did not watch the Super Bowl—so did not see the ad—I have read a lot about it. Most of what I have seen echoes my bias against overtly evangelical, über-fundamentalist Christian messages. I assumed, of course, the collective condemnations were made by people who actually understood the intended message. French’s extremely thought-provoking article, though, gave me reason to re-examine my automatic rejection of the article. And it made me think about my bigotry in connection with the woman and her offensive (to me) sweatshirt. The messages in French’s article are too extensive and complex for me to summarize, but I found the following assertions from it especially provocative:

“It’s one thing to possess the courage to say what you believe, but it takes immeasurably more courage to truly love people you’re often told to hate — even and especially if they don’t love you back. There is nothing distinctive about boldly declaring your beliefs. Many people do that. But how many people love their enemies?

That’s what the Super Bowl ad is communicating. It’s not saying there’s no difference between the cop and the young Black man or between the oil rig worker and the climate activist — or that they shouldn’t speak about their differences. It’s saying something far more radical and valuable: I can love you and serve you even when I disagree with you.”

Though French and I have enormously different beliefs and backgrounds, I found myself in substantial agreement with most of what he wrote in his opinion piece. That surprises me, especially in light of one of the ways in which he describes himself:

“I’m an evangelical conservative who believes strongly in a classical liberal, pluralistic vision of American democracy, in which people with deep religious, cultural, and moral differences can live and work together and enjoy equal legal protection and shared cultural tolerance. In both my personal and professional life I strive to live up to the high ideals of Micah 6:8 — to act justly, to love kindness, and to walk humbly before God.”

Now, I wonder whether the sweatshirt-wearing woman and I could jointly embrace French’s message and engage, dispassionately, with one another? And love one another?! I am not sure whether I am a sufficiently decent human being to try.

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Nobody realizes that some people expend tremendous energy merely to be normal.

~ Albert Camus ~

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We tend to defend our intellectual flaws with faulty justifications. We would rather not acknowledge even the possibility that our opinions could have unsound bases. Our egos are largely responsible for our unwillingness to allow ourselves to question our own points of view. Because, “what if my position is actually invalid?” “What if?” In our convoluted reasoning, we seem to believe accepting that we might be wrong equates to an admission of an embarrassing imperfection. And an embarrassing imperfection is…embarrassing. Shameful. A heinous flaw from which we can never fully recover in the eyes of those who judge us. Or so we believe.

When I say “we” and “our,” of course, I mean “I” and “my.” Openly acknowledging imperfections can be extremely hard. It’s easier and less painful to place oneself in the company of other, equally imperfect, people.

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I hope today will be as close to “normal” as possible. Already, though, I know it won’t be quite the normal I want; I have an appointment to see a dermatological nurse about an ugly red rash behind my right knee. A week or so ago, I remember fiercely scratching a maddening itch there. That, I am sure, was a mistake. Despite using Neosporin, washing the area regularly, praying to the benevolent Skin Gods (not really), etc., the “rash” seems to have gotten worse. Aside from that matter, I hope everything else will be “normal.” No weakness, fatigue, sudden need to nap for hours, exhaustion, etc., etc. Just “normal.” But I still will try to avoid crowds (but that’s pretty normal for me, anyway). I hope for a day that is not defined entirely by medical considerations and related matters.

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Let me close this post by expressing my support for removing the stigma associated with public nudity. Clothes can be so damn confining. The naked human form, no matter its condition, is natural; we should not, in my opinion, treat it as if it were a hideous monster we must hide from view.

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Half the Day

I watch the woman saunter by, led to an empty restaurant booth by a harried waiter. Three or four men, all wearing baseball caps, follow her. Knowing almost nothing about the woman—nor the men who accompany her—I immediately make a judgment about her and her companions, saying to myself, “She is not only ignorant, she is stupid. And the men must be, too, simply by their willingness to be in her company in a public place. And they probably share her ideas and attitudes.” I realize, at that moment, that my attitude about them is extremely bigoted. And I realize it, still. But I cannot shake my opinion about them. The woman’s sweatshirt is imprinted with “Trump,” proudly proclaiming her support for a man for whom I have nothing but deep, boiling, almost overwhelming contempt. And fear. Fear that, if enough people like that stupid woman and her dim-wit companions go to the polls, he will unravel and set ablaze all the remaining decency that once defined a significant part of who we are as a nation. Damn him and all the mindless cultists who are in love with his derangement! I cannot blame him for my bigotry, of course. But I blame him and his mob of minions for unleashing it. We are at risk of losing what Ruth Bader Ginsburg identified as a characteristic of this country. I have mixed feelings about whether my bigotry puts that attribute in danger; or whether rage like mine is all that is keeping us from tumbling into the abyss.

America is known as a country that welcomes people to its shores. All kinds of people. The image of the Statue of Liberty with Emma Lazarus’ famous poem. She lifts her lamp and welcomes people to the golden shore, where they will not experience prejudice because of the color of their skin, the religious faith that they follow.

~ Ruth Bader Ginsburg ~

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The sudden, almost overwhelming, fatigue that overtakes me without warning will—eventually—disappear. I look forward to again being able to reliably predict that I will feel reasonably energetic from one day to the next; one minute to the next. I do not remember, from my treatments five years ago, that I felt exhausted for so long after each chemotherapy infusion. Memory, though, is unreliable. I cannot reliably remember significant experiences from twenty years ago. Or ten. Or five. That is not new. My memory has always been less than perfect.

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Once again, I am hungry. Ravenously hungry. But I know my hunger would be replaced by feeling full—too full—soon after attacking a plate of food. Maybe the fact that it takes less food for me to feel sated is responsible for my ongoing weight loss…well, no longer ongoing, it seems. I seem to have hit a plateau, finally, after losing roughly 30 pounds in the past year; 50 in the past two years. Though I am pleased to have lost the weight, I need to lose another 30 pounds or more to reach my “ideal” weight. As if there is such a thing as an ideal weight. One’s ideal weight must take into account muscle mass (or lack thereof), which can sway the “ideal” dramatically. Or so I think. Actually, I care less about my weight than about eliminating or, at least, stalling my cancer. Prolonging my life matters more to me than being svelte (I have never been svelte, but I would not reject achieving that condition, if the opportunity presented itself). Food, though. Something flavorful to eat. Something with the right mouthfeel. The definition of mouthfeel, by the way, is the tactile sensation a food gives to the mouth. Ice cream that has softened just enough, but not too much, from its fresh-from-the-freezer hardness has a very appealing mouthfeel. A rare steak, too, has a nice mouthfeel. So does steamed broccoli that has not been allowed to soften to the point of having absolutely no resistance to the tooth. I could go on and on. But I won’t.

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I woke late this morning; around 6. It seems like half the day is gone. Ach!

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Clumsy Thinking

When a person refers to this blog as a diary, I am startled at the characterization, but I should not be surprised by it. It has become precisely that. This diary, though, is not a private record of my thoughts and experiences. It is a public unveiling of my experiences, my emotions, the way I feel about life, and much more. This blog has morphed into a medical journal of late, coupled with a frequently dull accounting of my stream of consciousness. On occasion, my writing delves into philosophical territory, but it has changed over the last few years and now generally sticks to experiential matters and snapshots of my emotions as they oscillate between joy and sorrow. I realize, of course, my emotional life is unlikely to be of more than passing interest to others; often, it is of little more than that to me. But I go on writing about how I think and feel, as if writing about my own thoughts and emotions will eventually reveal myself to myself; as if I may at some point come to understand who I am. That theme always has driven my writing. Even when I write fiction, I realize I am attempting to unravel secrets about myself my brain seems intent on concealing from my consciousness.  What if, though, there are no secrets? What if I am no more emotionally or intellectually complex than sand on a beach? Then what? There are no answers to those questions, of course. Like all questions, they hide behind walls of curiosity and fear.

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My first diagnosis of cancer, five years ago, jolted me a bit, but I don’t remember thinking seriously about the possibility it might actually kill me. Maybe I have simply repressed that memory. Maybe not. This time, though, the way the cancer has expressed itself in multiple places in and around my chest causes me to wonder whether the disease can be eradicated. I am optimistic, as I’ve stated before, but I know the possibility—maybe a strong possibility—exists that it cannot be killed or controlled. From the start, the objective of treatment is to prolong my life; not to “cure” my cancer. That is a realistic approach, but it does not quantify how “prolonging” my life might play out. Might it mean two years beyond today? Six years? Ten years? Four months? These questions are pointless, at this stage. Only after more assessment might they become valid and be eligible for tentative answers. So, the best thing to do is not to worry; worry is warranted only if one has the ability to do something about the subject of worry, which is missing in this situation. So there you are. I am.

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I will not attend church this morning, despite feeling reasonably well at the moment. Experience of late suggests I should not rely on how I feel at any given moment to predict how I will feel an hour or two later. And, though I have not been consistent in avoiding crowds, my weakened immune system says I should; so, this morning, I will. I was to preside over a congregational meeting which will be held to elect members of a nominating committee; the VP has agreed to stand in for me. Mi novia will attend this morning’s service and stay to make a record of the election. I hope attendance is sufficient to establish a quorum to validate the election; but I will try not worry about that for now. I cannot control it, so I should not worry. That is the advice others give me. And the advice I give myself.

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The handyman we engage to handle odds and ends around the house worked yesterday to replace some aging water lines attached to the water heater in the crawl space beneath the house. He also leveled the slab on which the heater sits; ever since we moved in, the water heater has appeared poised to fall over. I think he installed a commercial grade dehumidifier we bought to control the moisture beneath the house, but that task may be scheduled for another time, when he can return. We have grown to depend on the guy to handle any number of such things that we either cannot or should not try to do ourselves. Unlike so many other so-called handymen in the Village, he is reliable and dependable and competent. And unlike so many others, he readily acknowledges the rare tasks he is not equipped to do or comfortable doing. Beyond that, he and his wife (who frequently works with him) are genuinely nice people. We enjoy opportunities to chat with them when they are here.

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Temperatures dropped abruptly yesterday, transforming what had seemed like an early spring day into a powerful reminder that winter still is with us. At the moment, according to The Weather Network, the temperature outside is a brisk 23°F. It should warm to 50°F before the day is out and toy with the 60s for most of the upcoming week, even hitting 70°F around mid-week. I will not bet on that forecast, though. Why should I? There is no reason to count on it. I expect to remain a medical prisoner in my house for most of the next twelve days, when I return to my oncologist’s office for my next chemotherapy treatment. My newly-implanted infuse-a-port will be put to its first use then, both to extract blood for “labs” and to infuse the cancer-killing poison into my blood. That “first use” represents an example of the kind of excitement I have come to appreciate in my life.

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Enough. Again. More enough. Time to rest my fingers and explore the possibility of breakfast.

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Song of Saturday

I read a New York Times online piece this morning. Entitled Jimmy Carter’s Long Goodbye, the article was classified as a piece on politics, but the writer’s focus was not on politics. Rather, it expressed what I sense is the author’s deep appreciation for Carter’s demonstration of surprising strength and stamina, and Carter’s impact on the world—even while in the midst of his year-long (so far) hospice care.  My opinion of Jimmy Carter has changed considerably over the years. Like so many others, I once thought his leadership was weak. I thought his devotion to his religious beliefs interfered with what could have been philosophical strength. But, over the years, I came to view Carter differently. While his obviously deep-seated religious beliefs do not coincide with mine, I now think those beliefs contributed enormously to an extraordinary strength I (and so many others) failed to see in him. In my opinion, one of the most significant differences between Jimmy Carter and other political figures (including presidents) is that Carter has lived his life based on his moral principles—which, obviously, are rooted in his strong religious beliefs. While other politicians claim to believe in and act in response to the guidance of moral codes, Carter did not need to make such claims; he actually embraced a set of morals that would guide his thoughts and behavior for, so far, roughly 99 years. Even the “nicest” politicians, the ones I generally have admired, often put on an act, I think. They express their morality purely as a means of generating support for their political careers; Carter’s exhibition of beliefs that guide his morality is no act. I wonder how the world might have been different if Jimmy Carter had been elected to a second term as President of the United States? Would the rabid Christian nationalism cultivated by the political right have grown so strong? Or, would Carter’s Christian beliefs and his overt embrace of people whose beliefs differ from his own have overwhelmed and suppressed those Christian nationalists I consider dangerous and fundamentally amoral? It is impossible to say with any degree of certainty, of course, but I think Carter’s leadership might have stunted the rise of so-called Christian nationalism. It may be useless to play the game of “what if,” but playing the game now might change how we, as a nation, respond to such threats in the future. Carter’s so-called weakness as a leader was, as I think back on his time as President, was simply a refusal to abandon his core beliefs. Whether I agree with all of those beliefs or not, that refusal is not a weakness at all, but a rare and welcome (too late in coming) strength.

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My low ebb of yesterday morning lasted all day and through most of last night. I stayed awake most of the day…I think…but felt dull and tired and generally exhausted. After a light dinner of tomato bisque and miniature saltine crackers, I went to bed sometime between 7 and 8. Aside from trips to the bathroom to pee, I slept most of the night. I woke sometime before 4, but drifted in and out of sleep for an hour or so and got around 5. I feel optimistic that I will survive the day without too many hours of napping, but I won’t count those chickens just yet. But I feel a little like celebrating that I do not feel utterly fatigued this morning. It has been a week and two days since my most recent chemo treatment, so I should be coming out of my long exhaustion…but my long exhaustion after the first treatment went on much longer than I expected. Mi novia tells me I should simply accept how I feel and not fight it; if I am tired, it’s my body’s signal that I should rest or sleep. She is right, of course, but I wish I could count on feeling good enough to go out. Yet, because the chemo can weaken my immune system, I should avoid being in crowds. This treatment had better work! If subjecting myself to the byproducts of chemotherapy were to fail in its intended outcome, my mood probably would become worse than cranky. I’ll assume the treatment is working. I look forward to getting the results of the oncologist’s assessment and determination of progress.

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The fact that I am hungry right now is a good sign. If I could snap my fingers and find a plate of breakfast in front of me, I would happily devour every scrap of it. I imagine a plate with spicy sausage, toasted English muffin or rye toast, baked tomato (make that 2), sautéed mushrooms, and half of a large Ruby Red grapefruit (I’m not supposed to eat grapefruit because it could negate the effects of one of my cardiac prescriptions, but just one should be okay…I will not tell my cardiologist). A large glass of tomato juice, suitably spicy with several drops of Tabasco sauce, would be a nice accompaniment. And a glass of cold water. And another demi-tasse of espresso. For some reason, eggs do not hold much allure for me lately; it’s not that I find the idea of eating eggs distasteful, only that they are not particularly appealing. I’d eat them, though, if put in front of me. And I might accept hashbrowns, as well. I could go for congee—or a nice Japanese breakfast consisting of a small salmon filet, sliced cucumber, radishes, a bowl of rice, and a cup of miso soup.  Oh, tea would accompany the Japanese breakfast; just plain black tea, not the more traditional green tea, which is okay, but not my favorite. I can dream, can’t I? Instead of all this, though, I’ll probably just have a banana; maybe some bran flakes, as well.

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When someone has cancer, the whole family and everyone who loves them does, too.

~ Terri Clark ~

Terri Clark is a Canadian country singer, in case you do not know her. Her quotation here is so very simple and so very true. It behoove me to remember that people who have cancer are not the only ones dealing with the disease; people surrounding them also essentially have cancer, in that they have to deal with it, both emotionally and physically. The person who actually has the disease has the obligation to lessen the burden of the disease on their loved ones. For one thing, in most cases cancer does not automatically equate to a death sentence. The patient ought to make a point of expressing that to the people around them. And in those cases in which cancer is a death sentence, the patient should do all they can to ease the transition for those who will be left behind to mourn. What that is—what they can do—probably varies according to the people involved, but whatever it is, it is a both a worthy objective to achieve and an obligation that must be met.

I hope this video, below, of this beautiful song can be seen and heard on my blog. I like this version, but I also am enamored of the version by Bonnie Rait and by Richard and Linda Thompson.

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Lessons

Rest last night has not diminished my fatigue this morning. I should be showering now, but my energy is at one of its low ebbs. If not for my appointment to have “labs” taken by the oncologist’s staff this morning, I would be back in bed, attempting to sleep through the feeling of exhaustion. Yesterday, if I napped, it was brief; I did not feel awfully tired. The only obvious evidence, yesterday, of my body’s response to so damn much healthcare were sore shoulders, sore throat (from the tube in my throat during my chemo-port surgery), and discomfort in my neck (where a tube was stabbed into a jugular vein) and my upper chest (where the surgeon made the incision to insert the port). Today, though, all of the little pains seem to have joined forces with my body’s objections to its cancer-related treatments. I am awake because I have to be awake. I await sufficient energy to shave and shower. One demi-tasse of espresso has not delivered enough vitality, yet, to make a shower seem even remotely appealing. I realize this paragraph is just an extended, embarrassing whine. It’s the best I can do at the moment. Perhaps a whine will spur me to behave like an adult; maybe it will prompt me to drop the grouchy baby act and “man up.” What does that mean? “Man up.” It’s an obnoxious phrase tied to the idea than “real men” should muscle through pain and other unpleasant experiences, rather than express their displeasure with discomfort. I can deal with the discomfort associated with cancer and its treatment; I would just prefer not to. I would prefer to be sedated during the entire process, waking after the cancer has been completely eliminated from my body (and my muscles have been thoroughly toned and strengthened during my extended nap). I would call that lengthy nap an “intentional recuperative coma.” There must be a market for such experiences. I think I would be willing to invest in one. But, as I reflect on reality, I realize my experience with cancer thus far has been far less taxing than many…maybe most…other people. Many people suffer through extreme pain, nausea, and a thousand worse experiences. My experiences are minor—extremely minor—in comparison. I should be, and am, embarrassed to spout all of this “woe is me” nonsense when, in fact, my experiences do not deserve even an acknowledgement. Ach! I should muffle the crybaby and just accept the minor inconveniences associated with the disease and its treatment.

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One is never afraid of the unknown; one is afraid of the known coming to an end.

~ Jiddu Krishnamurti ~

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I have only just encountered Jiddu Krishnamurti. Reading his words has been instructive. Educational. Thought-provoking. I value being forced to think beyond my usual, extensive, almost-overwhelming limitations.

In seeking comfort, we generally find a quiet corner in life where there is a minimum of conflict, and then we are afraid to step out of that seclusion.

~ Jiddu Krishnamurti ~

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I am optimistic, but I am a realist, as well. It is too early to tell how the remainder of my experiences will play out. But it is not too early to consider the possibility that now may be the best time to put the money I set aside for retirement to full use. That is selfish, I know, but what the hell? Yet using that money to make a difference for others may be even more gratifying. Ideally, that money would amount to much, much, much more. And it would have amounted to much more, if I had been  thrifty and more dedicated to savings and investments when I was younger. Wither and learn. Time is awash in lessons.

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Pink Sky Streaks Send Positive Signals

It is not light that we need, but fire; it is not the gentle shower, but thunder. We need the storm, the whirlwind, and the earthquake.

~ Frederick Douglass ~

I hear the sounds of a distant helicopter. Of course I could not see it, even if I went outside. The sky remains completely dark outdoors at this hour: 5:28. Why would a helicopter be flying above Hot Springs Village in the pre-dawn darkness? My only guess—that is is a medical helicopter landing or taking off from the helipad at lakeside by Coronado Center—but the sound seemed to come from the other direction. Noise play tricks in the forest, though. Sounds echo off of…or are absorbed by…the trees. Making accurate judgments about where they are coming from is impossible. The sounds are gone, now, and I have no more information than I did when I first heard the groan of a helicopter engine and the whip of its blades. I am left only with a vague memory of the sound and the dim imprint of possibilities; why it could be in the dark sky at this hour and where it could be going. I wonder: is it taking someone to the hospital, because a ground ambulance would be too slow when seconds might count between life and death? Or is a semi-retired business CEO who lives in a million-dollar-plus house on Lake Balboa being ferried off to a meeting or an early golf game in Little Rock? Or, God forbid, is it just my imagination, the same imagination that amplified the sound and vibration of my heartbeats so much last night while I tried to sleep that I wanted to scream loud enough to muffle my heart’s incessant, loud pumping? I often hear and feel my heartbeat. Probably some relationship to tinnitus—a sound one person hears, but nobody else can perceive. My curiosity caused me to do some research this morning (after the helicopter and in response to my memory of my heartbeat). My noises, I think, are symptoms of pulsatile tinnitus, which “occurs when the ear becomes aware of a change in blood flow in nearby blood vessels. These include the arteries and veins in the neck, base of the skull, and in the ear itself.” according to Medical News Today.

That explanation makes sense to me. The implantation of my chemo-port yesterday involved placement of the port in the right side of my chest and running a tube from the device, up the side of my neck, and into my jugular vein. Perhaps the tube jabbed into one of the jugular veins on the right side of my neck (either the anterior or the exterior jugular vein, if my understanding of a graphic showing the three jugular veins in the neck) amplifies the sound of the flow of blood near my inner ear. No one else could hear such a delicate whisper of noise, but because of its proximity to the tiny bones in my ear, I can. But I distinctly remember the sound pounding in both ears, so that explanation may be off course. Not that it matters, actually.

Not that anything I’ve written so far matters. Not just this morning, but this century. And the last. It is impossible to know whether something one has written matters unless it has some kind of immediate and substantial impact…or unless history places importance on one’s writing produced in times past. Current and immediate impact might be contents of newspaper or magazine or some other, electronically-distributed, ideas. Or it could be books, in whatever form, that become quickly and completely popular. Or some other contents that are recognized, at or near their moment of consumption, as meaningful in a broad, societal sense. These paragraphs are not that. Only time will tell if any of the other paragraphs I—or any of us—have written truly matter. By that time (if it ever comes), we’ll probably be long gone. That very slight possibility—that something we left is a legacy of words—is reason enough for me to wish for the opportunity to move far enough forward in time to enable me to look back to see whether there is, indeed, a legacy of any kind to view. Yet knowing that disappointment probably waits, is reason enough to be satisfied to leave the future alone.

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My fatigue, one week after my second chemo treatment, is not as overwhelming as it has been, but it tends to oscillate up and down in unpredictable ways; I don’t know from hour to hour how I will feel. For that reason, I decided not to go to tonight’s wine dinner that mi novia and I normally attend. Another reason is that I want to (and should) limit my exposure to crowds, some members of which may have COVID, flu, or other afflictions to which I should not be exposed. Anyway, mi novia invited my sister-in-law to fill in for me. I have an obligation at church on Sunday—presiding over election of members of the church nominating committee—that I may ask the vice president to handle in my stead. That function is one of only a few perfunctory acts assigned to the president; the presidency is not a position of power but, instead, of coordination and organization. Because of that, it is very easy for someone else to step in to perform the duties of the office. In spite of my occasional disappointment with the ritual and procedures and bureaucracy woven into the fabric of the church, the organization’s cloth is stronger and more lasting for it.

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I can have peace of mind only when I forgive rather than judge.

~ Gerald Jampolsky ~

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Phrased properly, opposing philosophies can be presented to me in such a way as to draw my agreement and praise. On one hand, that bothers me; one should be capable of selecting only one of two (or more) philosophical positions as one’s own. On the other hand, the ability to find both merit and logic in opposing philosophies may be evidence of one’s open-mindedness and/or one’s ability to lend complex analysis to and about competing ideas. There could be other meanings reasonably assigned to agree with competing ideas. I could spend all day thinking and writing about them. But I won’t.

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Enough of all this. I’ll have another espresso and, against my better judgment, a spoonful or two of Ben & Jerry’s Cherry Garcia ice cream.  I see a light pink streak in the dim blue sky, a signal that having a little ice cream on the morning after Valentine’s Day is an acceptable deviation from healthy eating. I hope your day is at least as good as mine. And I hope mine is at least reasonably good.

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EXPLANATION OF EDITS: I read the post above again. The number of typos I encountered was more than embarrassing; it was devastating. I hope they were typos. If the keys I hit were tapped on purpose, I am having trouble with my brain functions. Actually, that may be true even if I did not hit those keys on purpose. At any rate, I have attempted to correct the typos. If there are more, I will appreciate being notified. Gently.

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Nothing of Consequence

If my accumulated sleep during the past several weeks could be applied for later use, I might be able to get by without any sleep at all until sometime in late March or early April. Alas, I doubt that is a possibility, though I am not sure why not. I suppose one’s need for sleep is based on 24-hour cycles (or some such periodic measures). Sleep experts/ investigators probably could address that matter, but inasmuch as I do not know any such experts and do not have the discipline at the moment to do research on sleep requirements, my question will go unanswered. Was that really a question, though? It was an implicit question, I think, even if not phrased as a question.

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I woke to the alarm at 5:30 this morning, after long, long, long periods of sleep. We need to leave at 6:15 for the hospital, where a general surgeon will slice into me and jam a port into my chest. I hope he will not be so rough about it as my words might suggest. But I will be under general anesthesia (I think…oh, pleeeasse) during the procedure, so I will be unaware of whether his surgical manner is gentle or rough. Given the timeframe involved, this blog post must, of necessity, be very nearly finished. If I had awakened earlier, I could have written a much longer post. But I did not. So there you are. An almost wasted set of moments, with nothing of consequence on the screen. Such is life.

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Upright in My Chair

Exhaustion seemed to emerge from nowhere, after a day during which I felt moderately awake and alert. I went to bed very early last night, but awoke regularly; almost on the hour. Phaedra’s yowls woke me from a light sleep this morning around 5. I got up, fed her, and decided to take a shower, rather than wait for the 6 o’clock alarm (alerting me to the need to prepare for the trip to the hospital—finally—for my brain MRI). By the time I got in the shower, I felt absolutely spent. I had barely enough energy to stand in the shower. By the time I dried myself and got out, I had to lean on the wall to stay upright. But enough energy returned to enable me to get dressed and make my way into my study. I said good morning to mi novia, who was awake, as I passed from the bathroom into the bedroom; she said she would try to sleep another 30 minutes.

My medical schedule this week is not jammed, but full enough; brain MRI today, implantation of a medi-port in my chest (to simplify delivery of chemo drugs) very early (6:30) tomorrow morning, labs and various other oncological activities on Friday. Aside from medical obligations, we plan to go to a wine dinner on Thursday night, a church gathering on Friday evening, and a chili cook-off late Saturday afternoon (I committed to make a pot of chili). Considering the way I feel at the moment, I doubt I’ll make some of the social engagements; I do not feel bad, just overwhelmingly fatigued, as if every shred of energy has been stripped from my body. Maybe I will recover, though. Time will tell.

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I received a very nice card in the mail yesterday, a supplement to my wonderful soubhiyé mug. Thanks, Debbie (and John); you are a treasure. People who take the time to write notes, send cards, and otherwise express support deserve—and receive—my high admiration. I, on the other hand, tend to be a slug. I think of sending cards, etc., but rarely take action. Some friends from church make a habit of letting friends know they are on their mind. That is such a positive, supportive, morale-boosting way of letting people know they matter. But I…I think about it but do nothing, for the most part. I deserve to be lashed with a leather quirt.

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My energy refuses to let me continue to write. I want to, I wish I could, I should…but I am too damn tired. We’ll leave in half an hour for my MRI. I’ll probably sleep upright in my chair until then.

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Easy to Dismiss

White chalk, highlighted with charcoal, rusty orange, and dark green spikes. In between, lively grey stretches—almost barren and empty—attempt to represent the sky. The broken colors in my line of vision could be streaks of an incomplete painting, but they are not unfinished; they form stretches of my vision of the dull morning sky. Colors, without defined shapes, suggest abstractions. But abstractions do not behave the way these colors behave. These muted colors are precise in their placement in the sky, as if deposited with extraordinary intent. Yet most of the colors are not bound to the sky. Instead, they are hemmed in by the limbs and leaves and branches of trees. None of this is my imagination. I see reality clearly; until reality appears to be carefully woven of smoke and fog and dreams. And then? And then, indeed.

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The night was too long. It was so long it crashed into morning without warning. What sleep there was seemed abrupt and incomplete. I lacked the sustenance I needed to last, yet here I am, fully-formed and full of rage at the idiocy that defines what is perpetually missing. Ignore it. All of it. There is no point in trying to understand chaos.

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I could write rationally, but I choose not to do that this morning. Instead, I choose to sample madness; to experience thoughts that clash with sanity.

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This is, of course, a slap in the face of expectations. Hard to explain, but easy to dismiss.

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Scattered

Sleep remained elusive last night, despite the fact I felt tired—not exhausted, but sufficiently fatigued that I thought sleep would come easily. It did not. I slept a little, I’m sure, but not nearly enough. I’ll see what the day brings.

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My morning mistake, the one I make far too often, is to glance at news headlines. This morning—when my eyes paused on a headline with a quote from one of the most despicable human beings on the planet—I hoped for something horrible to happen to the monster. That hope remains; and it continues to grow. It’s only a wish, not a plan. But my imagination, if latched onto by someone else—someone who possesses the wherewithal and who is inclined to action, could rid the world of a malignancy that threatens peace and freedom and human decency. No matter how much I want to believe—to fully embrace—the concept that every person has worth and dignity, the words and behavior of some people argue persuasively against it. Hope is not a reliable lifeline for humanity, I am afraid.

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My sudden allergic reaction to the cancer drug, carboplatin, last week leaves me wondering what, if anything, will replace it in my treatment regimen. My oncologist, busy with other patients after my reaction to the infusion, probably did not have time at the moment to consider the options available to her/me. I am not scheduled to see her for a while, so unless I successfully attempt to reach her by phone, I will not know her thinking for a while. It is only my curiosity, of course. Knowing what she is thinking…or not knowing…really has no bearing on the way each day plays out. But my curiosity is quite high, so I may attempt to explore her plans before I am scheduled for another infusion of chemo drugs. Is that what to call them? Chemo drugs? I should know, having undergone chemotherapy five years ago and in the midst of chemo again now. But the terminology associated with cancer treatments is not necessarily very important to me. It’s the treatments’ impacts that are of greater concern. I think I may attempt to schedule fifteen minutes with the APRN who works with my oncologist, just to ask her a list of questions that I have yet to formulate. My curiosity builds by the day…hour. I guess the unexpected removal of carboplatin from my treatment regimen is largely responsible for my curiosity.  That and my unquenchable desire to to know what the future holds.

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My sister, whose hip has given her grief for far too long, is scheduled for a hip replacement later this month. From what I know about others’ experiences with hip replacements, the procedure is likely to give her significant relief from pain and to dramatically improve her mobility. Healthcare and medicine have advanced enormously in an incredibly short time. At the pace they have advanced, we should expect, within a matter of a few years, to be able to repair almost any injury and illness. Of course that expectation is just a dream. But it’s a pleasant dream. One all of us should share. Or should we? That question could be examined intensely for years without universal agreement as to its answer.

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We will go to church this morning. Afterward, if last week’s chemo kicks in fully, maybe fatigue will overtake me, enabling me to sleep. The last treatment did that; I slept almost 24/7 for days and days. Not that I want that, but sleeping is better than perpetual insomnia. Why are cancer and chemo and all the experiences surrounding them so fully on my mind this morning? I would like to cast all this aside and simply soak in the experience of being alive in the forest. And I will, at some point.

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My thoughts are scattered. Unfortunately, I don’t think they are worth reconstructing. I think my weight may have stabilized at around 30 pounds greater than I’d like (but almost 50 pounds less than a bit over a year ago). But maybe not. It’s hard to know what one’s body will do when fed an inconsistent diet. Okay. I’m done for now. And anyone reading this post probably is grateful for that.

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Think of Feathers

Yesterday, I replaced my cell phone with a much, much newer model of the same brand and same series (my old phone’s battery lasted only a few hours on full charge). Though most of the data were transferred from my old phone to the new, some applications will require human intervention to complete the process. I will need a new case; as it is, naked, the device is too thin and too slippery. My old case, though properly sized, will not work with the new one because lenses and button have been relocated; the holes in the case, which give me access to the buttons and lenses, are not synchronized between the two cell phones.

When are we going to agree on a new term that better describes what we now call cell phones? Those terms long ago ceased having legitimacy. How long did it take to replace horseless carriage with car or automobile? I do not know, but I doubt it took as long as it seems to be taking to select one or more new words to describe the instrument we use to make and telephone calls, send and receive text messages, listen to music, play literally hundreds (or more) games, take classes, engage in face-to-face meetings and other such communication, participate in guided meditation, perform mathematic and algebraic functions, learn languages, watch television and films, and many, many more experiences. Perhaps something as simple as second cerebellum would work…but it’s too long and the cerebellum is involved primarily with gait, posture, muscle tone, and the like. The fontal lobe is the thought processing part of the brain, which would be more appropriate, I think. (I once knew the functions of both the cerebellum and the fontal lobe, but I’ve long since let that knowledge slip; sadly, I had to look them up.)

Hmm. These instruments do not simply supplement brain functions; often, they exceed them (consider speed of calculating algebraic equations). And these devices can identify stars and planets simply by pointing their screens toward the sky. And they can identify birds (and other wildlife, I seem to recall) simply by listening to them. The devices represent, in many ways, enhancements and addenda to our capabilities and knowledge. I hope to develop an appropriate neologism soon; I thought I could do it this morning, but my mind is not working. I might try an AI app, but that would be cheating…wouldn’t it? Or would that be an appropriate use for these electronic marvels that quickly are replacing our need for a functioning brain? Wait. The term does not have to be based on anything; it can be created simply by arranging letters in a previously unused (or rarely used), but pronounceable, order. Something like scorvest. Or blisket. Or stankel. Or shnuck. I must be partial to “s” words.

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By three methods we may learn wisdom: First, by reflection, which is noblest; Second, by imitation, which is easiest; and third by experience, which is the bitterest.

~ Confucius ~

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Tomorrow is Super Bowl Sunday. I will be busy doing other things. Sleeping, perhaps. Or putzing around the house. Or pretty much anything else. I do not deny that the Super Bowl is an extraordinarily attractive event for many, many people. Just not me. Mi novia is not quite as disinterested as I, but I don’t expect her to want to watch it. It’s not just the Super Bowl l. The same thing applies to The World Series. And the tennis championships (I looked them up): Australian Open, French Open, Wimbledon, and U.S. Open. And the rest. My interest in sports has always been quite low. Though I have on occasion enjoyed a baseball game (in a stadium, not on television) and there have been times I’ve been intrigued by televised soccer games (for about 20 minutes). I sometimes wish I had an interest in some of the team sports that it seems most American men have a keen interest. I wish I could even feign an interest; enough to converse with guys who are into the sport. My utter lack of interest in sports is one of the reasons I generally am not successful in developing friendships, I think. Talk about sports, I suspect, is one of the most common introductory discussions between men; those discussions evolve into other topics, I imagine, that further develop into the meat and potatoes of friendship. Without the introductory component, the rest often fail to materialize. But I have a strong suspicion that, even if I were a team sports aficionado, I would find that I do not share many interests beyond that cluster. I have no interest in hunting, I’ve lost my youthful interest in fishing, I do not ride a motorcycle (mi novia would have me chained to 700 pound concrete block if I tried). I realize, of course, many men probably have interests that parallel mine, but getting there so often requires wading through the areas that I find boring. I don’t wade well, so I rarely get to those shared interests. I’ve written about this topic too many times. It’s beginning to bore even me; I cannot imagine how insufferable it must be to readers who have encountered it so many times. My apologies. I’ll move on.

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We cannot become what we need to be by remaining what we are.

~ Max de Pree ~

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I think we’re always afraid, whether we know it or—acknowledge it—or not. Fear drives us to a much greater extent than we think. It is wrapped around inside us like a venomous snake, ready to strike. But it hides from us, concealing its presence often enough that we experience it only on occasion. The fact that it springs on us quickly is evidence that it is already there, waiting. We’re afraid of living the way we live. We’re afraid of dying. We’re afraid of offending people. We’re afraid of people offending us. We’re afraid of an autocracy, a dictatorship…even when we live in one hidden right in front of us. We’re afraid of what we think. And of what we fail to think. We’re not paranoid, though. We have reason to fear the world around us and the world inside us. No matter how hard we fight them, they will win the war, no matter how many times we win the battles. Yet, we know the outcome from the start. We spend our lives trying to change the inevitable. The inevitable, we finally come to understand, cannot be changed. But our efforts to accomplish that impossible task fill us with enjoyment along the way. “Pleasure, with pain for leaven.” Or vice versa. It is always to our benefit to engage in the battle, regardless of the fear; because we do win plenty of battles.

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Feathers. Think of feathers today. Why not?

Paranoia strikes deep
Into your life, it will creep
It starts when you’re always afraid
Step out of line, the man come and take you away

~ Verse 4 of For What It’s Worth, written by Stephen Stills and performed by Buffalo Springfield ~

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My Desire Clashes with my Political Reasoning

Yesterday’s chemo treatment went well until the infusion of carboplatin. Not long after the infusion started, I began to have difficulty breathing—not terrible, but noticeable. But with each passing minute, it seemed to get more difficult. I started coughing occasionally; the coughing got worse. A nurse noticed the cough and asked it I needed something to drink. I said I did. She brought me water. The difficult breathing continued to worsen. Finally, I decided I needed help. Just then, one of the nurses asked if something was wrong. “I’m having trouble breathing,” I managed to say between short breaths. Suddenly, a crowd of nurses and my oncologist were standing around me. A nurse put a blood pressure cuff around my upper arm; I do not remember the readings, but I think they were either quite low or quite high. (I know, I should have recorded all this, but I simply did not think to do it…and later I just zoned out.) Someone slipped a pulse oximeter on one of my fingers. It registered 88%, a full 10%+ drop from my usual reading. Someone else hung a new drip bag on the IV stand and connected it to the cannula. Suddenly, the area around the IV insertion point on my left hand began to burn like hell and my wrist and hand, especially my palm, turned red. As these things were happening, the nurses and doctor explained what was going on. The IV fluid was, if I remember correctly, an antihistamine. The burning sensation was normal and would quickly recede. The pulse oximeter reading began to climb. It quickly reached 97%. Before long, I felt normal…as normal as possible as I normally feel sitting in a chemo infusion room full of extremely sick people and highly-focused nurses and doctors. I asked one of the nurses (who I think was a senior level person) whether I would get IV carboplatin. “No,” she said, “you will never get carboplatin again. After an allergic reaction like this, you will never be given carboplatin.” I asked her what might be given in its place. She said it might be another chemo drug or it might be nothing at all. That would be up to my oncologist (who, by then, had left to tend to other patients). Inasmuch as that was the last infusion for the treatment, a nurse flushed the cannula, removed the tape, needle (or whatever), etc. and sent me on my way. From the time I arrived for my appointment (first, a blood draw, then a visit with my oncologist, then the chemo treatment), four hours had passed. It was a very long day. I then came home, had a sandwich mi novia bought for me at Newk’s, and took a nap…which lasted until almost 5 this morning, when I got up. Apparently, the events of the day took it out of me. Today, my only obligation is to go to the ancillary office for Genesis Cancer Center Hot Springs Village, where I’ll get a post-treatment shot to ward off infections, etc. Because I was given steroids as part of the chemo regimen, my blood sugar increased considerably. And because of that infusion, I’ll probably be energetic today and maybe tomorrow. And then I will be exhausted, fatigued, completely worn out for at least a week…unless the after-effects are different from the last infusion treatment. While I was in the examination room before the treatment, I asked the cancer-specialist APRN whether my post-chemo immunotherapy treatments would be by infusions and whether they would be schedule to take place every three weeks, like the chemo. The answers were yes and yes. So, for two years after the chemo, I’ll follow essentially the same routine. Except the chemo after-effects will not take place (cheers and happy faces). This all assumes the chemo does its intended job. And I am counting on it doing it and doing it well. The APRN said, and I believe her, a positive attitude really does dramatically improve the effects of chemo. I’m counting on it.

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I encountered a term this morning while reading an opinion piece on CNN.com. The term: bête noire. According to Oxford English Dictionary, the definition is: “A person or thing that is the bane of a person or his or her life; an insufferable person or thing; an object of aversion.” Not only did I come upon a new term, I found a term that describes something, if it happens, I find deeply offensive—but fundamentally right and legitimate. And I find that conundrum a bête noire itself.

The term was used by the author in the context of compromises crafted by the Supreme Court that kept the court in high esteem not only because it was necessarily right, but because the perception was that it was acting responsibility. The author referred to previous decisions of the court that, he believes, may serve as models of the court’s likely (in his view) decision in the case before it (whether the Colorado Supreme Court’s decision that Trump is ineligible to be on the ballot on the upcoming presidential primary).

According to the author, the lines of questioning presented by the justices strongly suggests that they will rule in favor of Trump, arguing that the Supreme Court reasons that it does not have to decide whether he engaged in insurrection. Instead, the author believes the justices appear to focus on whether the Colorado Supreme Court can or cannot make that decision; and it seems they believe it cannot. I will not attempt in any more detail to explain what the author believes is the court’s political rationale behind its likely (in his view) decision.

I want—deeply in my heart of hearts—the Supreme Court to rule against Trump. I want his name stricken from all future presidential ballots. But, despite that desire, and after far too much consideration of the matter, I think the Colorado Supreme Court is not the body to make that determination; I think the U.S. Supreme Court may be the correct body. But it is not being asked to make that call—yet. It is being asked only if a state court can do so. And I think a state court cannot make the final call on a U.S. constitutional issue.

The legitimacy of the court’s right to make the call was not my original disagreement with the Colorado Supreme Court’s ruling. My original disagreement was this: Trump has not yet been found guilty—conclusively, after all appeals—in court of engaging in insurrection. If I understand the Colorado court’s rationale for its decision, it was based on its assumption of his guilt, relying on a district court’s ruling. Apparently (from what I have read—and my reading of the very, very, very long series of legal ruling is admittedly incomplete), his guilt or innocence is not an issue with the Supreme Court. The justices’ questions suggest they find the matter of what body makes the call to invoke Section 3 of the 14th Amendment of the Constitution to be a (maybe the) key issue.

Looking back at my initial reaction to the Colorado court’s decision, I both celebrated it and worried about it. My worry clung to an issue that may, in fact, be a non-issue; his guilt or innocence (his guilt is certain in my view, but not yet decided with any finality in court…which must ultimately be decided if we can legitimately have faith in our system of justice). Who makes the call? The 14th Amendment, like so much of the Constitution, is insufficiently clear on so many issues. I wish, every time the Supreme Court clarifies something vague in the original document, the court had (and executed) the power to revise the document accordingly. But, of court, that would be a mess. And the “originalists” would scream bloody murder (unless, of course, the clarification supported their interpretation of the original meaning).

I sometimes hate being inclined to listen to arguments on both sides of and issue and to be swayed by arguments that oppose my desired interpretation of those issues. But that is a necessary element of democracy, I suppose. Democracy is monstrously messy. It clutters the mind. Even when the system of governance we call democracy is not really democracy.

This bothersome mess is another reason I want to live on a secluded—almost impossible to reach except for supply planes dropping well-packed boxes full of materials to meet my every demand—cabin (more like a very roomy, well-appointed, Frank Lloyd Wright-adherent-architect-designed house). Where do I really live? In a fantasy world.

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I expected to feel extremely energetic this morning. And I did. For a while. But it’s not yet 7 and I feel very sleepy. Even after around 12 hours of sleep, with only a few interruptions to get up to pee, I am ready for some more sleep. Even after yesterday’s steroid infusion.  I’m sure the energy will kick in before long. Soon enough to have breakfast? I hope.

 

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Unnecessary

This post will be brief. I do not feel well, but then again I do not feel especially ill; just a little bit on the uncomfortable side of “blah.” Perhaps I ate something that doesn’t agree with me; but if I recall correctly, the last thing I ate was a reuben sandwich…sometime around noon yesterday. But I may be wrong about that. I may have eaten something else after that meal; I just do not remember. So what? Is my memory about recent meals important? Probably not. Certainly not as important as ongoing wars, famine, poverty, crime, and thousands of other intrusions on peace and comfort and human decency. Yet the degree of importance one assigns to any experience depends on context. The pain caused by a bayonet plunged into a person’s neck takes precedence over powerful hunger. But that pain probably pales in comparison to the bayonet’s cut made many times worse by the introduction of acid into the wound. I cannot understand why I would have these topics on my mind. At least I do not feel the burn of acid or the searing pain of a bayonet. But I have felt better. In fact, I usually feel considerably better. Maybe I will feel better after my chemo treatment. Just over an hour from now, I will head into town to the oncology center. Three hours later, more or less, the unpleasantness I feel now may have disappeared. And, perhaps, I will be hungry for something that now might seem unappealing. All of these words are simply unnecessary.

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It Ain’t Fiction, Calypso

One of the first things I do most mornings—after eating pills and recording my body’s behavior—is to skim various places on the internet. This morning, my skimming took me to a piece on the NPR website. Reading Linda Wertheimer’s goodbye note, announcing her retirement, brought tears to my eyes. I have enormous regard for her and for so many of her colleagues—some of whom have died—who have made the organization what it is…Cokie Roberts, Noah Adams, Bob Siegel, Susan Stamburg, Nina Totenberg, Scott Simon…the list could go on and on. All Things Considered has been one of my favorite programs, along with Morning Edition, Weekend Edition, and a host of lighthearted shows like A Way with Words; Wait, Wait, Don’t Tell Me; Car Talk; etc. But, regardless of my appreciation for so many of NPR’s programs, I have always held Linda Wertheimer in the very highest regard, above and beyond her context on the air. I will miss her. Maybe I should send her flowers to acknowledge her retirement and to express my deep appreciation for contributions to my understanding of so many things.

Don’t send me flowers when I’m dead. If you like me, send them while I’m alive.

~ Brian Clough ~

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Like so many nights of late, I went to bed quite early last night. When I got up at 4 this morning, I had slept with only a few brief interruptions (my bladder jars me awake from time to time) for about eight hours. Eight hours is said to be normal or what one’s body needs, but I have needed only six or seven hours for most of my adult life. Of course, last night’s eight hours followed on to several lengthy naps during the day. I will ask my oncologist, when I see her Thursday morning, why my need for excessive sleep has gone on almost non-stop since my first chemo treatment. I expected only seven to ten days of fatigue. She’ll probably say individuals’ responses to chemo vary; I think she may already have told me that, when I asked the same question a week ago. I do need to remember to ask her whether, after my chemo is completed, my immunotherapy treatments will require an hour or more every three weeks (for two years). I have so many questions. I wish I could spend an hour or two with my oncologist, when she is not pressured to tend to other patients, to ask those questions and the follow-up queries that arise when I hear the answers. Wish. Wish. Wish. Perhaps I should invite her to dinner. Her husband, a interventional radiologist, could come along. I suspect she wants nothing more than to spend even more time with a cancer patient after a grueling day treating so many patients, some of whom probably will die within weeks or months. That reality cannot be easy to live with.

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So many ideas are spinning through my head that capturing just one to explore is next to impossible. I want to write stories that integrate fact with fiction, something I enjoy, but a thousand other things clamor for my attention, as well. Grisly, unthinkable stuff competes with tender stories that cause tears to well up in my eyes just by thinking of them. Spy adventures vie for my fingers’ energy with as much power as do stories based on complex characters dealing with complex circumstances. And historical fiction, on occasion, intrigues me. But I so rarely finish writing, once I start. I lose interest. Or another idea overtakes the one in which I am enmeshed, causing me to set one aside for another…which I will set aside later. I could be a decent writer, I think, if I wrote better.

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I am scheduled for my annual physical in an hour and fifteen minutes. I should eat something first, because I am hungry. But I am hungry for a croissant, which I do not have, accompanied by another espresso, which I do. Perhaps espresso and a piece of rye toast with no-sugar-added peach preserves? That will do. Off I go.

 

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Woke

Fuzzy scenes from a dream last night: I was conversing with Leonard Cohen and a woman I did not know while we walked toward what appeared to be a blighted neighborhood. Cohen handed me a saddle-stitched and folded sheath of paper; it contained some of his observations about humanity, he said, that mirrored mine. He then went off in another direction while the woman and I entered a school library building. I took a seat at a long table, where I found several pages that, for some reason, meant a great deal to me; I picked them up and left the building in the company of the woman. We walked back in the direction from which we came. She told me she played golf. I told her I did not. As we talked, I realized I was missing the papers Leonard Cohen had given me, as well as the pages I had found in the library. I assumed they must be on the long table in the school library building. I wanted to go back and get them, but the route we had taken to get there had disappeared. We were in an unfamiliar place.

If you do not change direction, you may end up where you are heading.

~ Lao Tzu ~

That is all I remember of the dream. My memory of the dream is already fading; I feel certain the memory I recorded above is incomplete. My brain may have filled in missing pieces, too, so the recollection could be part real and part an attempt at reconstruction. My dreams never are complete. They have no beginning and no precise ending. Often, my memories of my dreams seem to contain only shredded segments of the dream experiences. I wonder whether the dreams, while I experienced them, were fully-formed events or were simply incomplete pieces that sprang into existence—no beginning and no end. The fact that I can never remember every moment of a dream—so that I could replay the experience, as if I were watching a video recording of that nocturnal illusion—frustrates me.

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I went to bed around 7 last night; I was not exhausted, just tired. People tell me it’s natural that I need so much sleep, but I wonder whether, so long after my chemo, I should still be subject to fatigue. Sleep will not hurt me, I suppose, so I try to just accept it; go with the flow. I woke for a while around midnight, then again a bit later. By 3, I was awake and knew I would be unable to get back to sleep, so I got up. Eight hours of sleep, give or take a bit. That schedule has given me an abundance of soubhiyé this morning; the whisper of dawn, when the house is still in slumber, allowing me to savor the stillness before the day begins. This morning’s solitude makes me feel an experience I have never had: gazing out the windows of a tiny room at the top of an secluded lighthouse on an isolated peninsula. I can hear the waves crash against the rocks below. I can feel the lighthouse tremble and shake when one of those monstrous waves slams against the building’s base. If I were writing a short story or a longer piece of fiction, I would write more detail about the experience. But this is just a short-lived fantasy.

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A few minutes ago, Phaedra just crept into my office and approached the cat tree house—the terrifying edifice she originally avoided as if it were the embodiment of a pack of vicious cat-hating canine killers. She sniffed at it gingerly, then clawed at the piece of rope that hangs from one side of it. Then she leapt to the top and sniffed all around. From there, she jumped down to the second-highest platform and sniffed some more. Apparently, that was all the excitement she needed for a while; she quietly jumped the floor and left my office. A moment later, I heard the familiar yowl of a cat that either wants food or playtime. I chose to give her food. She seemed satisfied with that. Where she went after enjoying a seafood medley from a can I do not know.

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It’s just after 6. Time for a nap after my first three hours of being “woke” this morning.  🙂

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We Are the World

Two days ago, mi novia bought a new cat tree house—an artificial, carpet-covered structure designed for a cat to play, exercise, relax, and sleep on—for my study. It replaces a small painter’s ladder Phaedra (the cat) often uses to peer out my study windows at the outside world. The tree house is almost identical in appearance to one we keep in the breakfast nook. Despite its outward appearance, though, something about the new structure is, apparently, radically different. When mi novia carried the cat into my study to introduce her to her new viewing platform, Phaedra turned into a growling, yowling, screaming, scratching, biting, fiend. I decided to make the introduction, with the same result. Phaedra hissed, bared her teeth, and made menacing noises reminiscent of Regan in The Exorcist. We assume the problem has to do with the fact that the tree house was visited by kittens that roamed freely in the store from which mi novia bought the thing. Regardless of whether the cat tree house is awash in kitten odors, pheromones left by feline rapists, or fierce demonic spirits, Phaedra wants almost nothing to do with the thing. Once or twice, she has approached it and sniffed around, but soon she turns and leaves the room. If we attempt to carry her near it, her satanic persona erupts; full-throated guttural growls, claws at the ready, etc., etc. Attempting to ease her into a relationship with the tree house is unwise and quite dangerous. We have decided to let her take her sweet time. Eventually, whatever demon that took possession of the tree house will leave…or the odors that trigger Phaedra’s murderous impulses will fade away. If not, though, we will remove the problem from the house. Beforehand, though, we will have to come to a mutual understanding of whether the problem is the tree house or its intended resident.

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Once upon a time, I thought my scraggly moustache and beard improved my appearance. Lately, though, I have begun to question my earlier perceptions about the hair on my face. I wonder whether they add even a single scintilla of attractiveness. And I wonder whether the time devoted to their occasional upkeep (trimming, shaping, etc.) is worth the effort. The facial real estate they save me from shaving regularly is fairly modest. When I wake each morning and look in the mirror, I see an unkempt homeless vagabond. Only after I spend a few minutes with a comb can I corral my facial hair enough to make it more or less presentable. At least not deeply embarrassing. All that having been said, I am giving thought to becoming clean-shaven again. I spent roughly 69 years without the demands of a moustache and beard; maybe I should spend the next 69 years the same way. I don’t know, though. I am not quite sure whether to shave or to give myself a few days or weeks to think it over. If I were to shave, then decide it was a mistake, it would take quite a long time to replace my thin, slow-growing facial hair. During that time, I would look like that unkempt homeless vagabond who visits my mirror almost every morning—not just in the morning, but around the clock. Ach! Is it just vanity? Who knows? Time will tell. Maybe.

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A photograph I saw yesterday showed the stark difference between the pickup trucks of several years ago and the ones that devour multiple parking spaces today. The older pickup in the photo looked like a tiny toy compared to the newer, monstrously large pickup next to it. Except for their tendency to drink gasoline and, lately, their size, I might want a pickup. Their size, of course, has quite a lot to do with their addiction to gasoline. An article in  I read this morning on euronews.com reported that Parisians have “voted to triple parking fees for SUVs to make the city greener and friendlier for pedestrians and cyclists.” Though the initiative to increase parking fees was triggered by a desire to improve the city in advance of hosting the Olympic Games, the tendency toward increasing the size of SUVs with every new model year probably had a lot to do with it. Parisian Mayor Anne Hidalgo said “The time has come to break with this tendency for cars that are always bigger, taller, wider.” I suppose I have bent to the desire for big, comfortable vehicles, but I was helped along by manufacturers that seem to enjoy doubling the size of vehicles every ten years. I would be delighted if I could snap my fingers to shrink the size of cars and SUVs (and pickups, of course). Our streets would be easier to maneuver, less crowded, and far friendlier to cyclists and pedestrians. My fantasy, though, is a waste of creative thought; it won’t be long before extension ladders will be required to climb into SUVs; they’re already necessary to get inside some pickup trucks. Bah! I believe I have transformed from the period of geezerhood to curmudgeonhood.

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Last night, we watched The Greatest Night in Pop, a documentary about the incredible complexity and skill involved in recording “We Are the World.” I was amazed at the number of recording artists involved in the process. And my admiration for Quincy Jones, who orchestrated the recording, grew exponentially as I watched the film. I felt the same appreciation for the critical role played by Lionel Richie in making the recording happen. The producers, director, artists, sound technicians—everyone involved—were beyond impressive; they were, in a sense, magicians. I was stunned by the speed of taking the idea from inception to completion. The documentary is quite entertaining and well worth watching, in my opinion. Oh, and moving.

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I wish We Are the World had brought focus to the famine in Africa and caused people the world over to reflect on the intense need for people on this planet to come together to solve our problems. Sadly, that is simply wishful thinking.  Every time I hear that song, I feel a catch in my throat and my eyes begin to glaze. So very sad that the message of that song did not change the world in a fundamental way.

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Time to abandon fantasy and, instead, confront the real world.

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Admiration

Fog makes the tops of pine trees in my line of sight look like smudges. Gazing intently at the more distinct outlines of trunks and branches, I allow the scene to become a painting in progress, in my head. The smudges in that imaginary painting must be the artist’s technique of establishing a background for what, later, will become clumps of pine needles and pine cones. The precise lines of the trees’ framework provides the artist’s vision of the broader scene. But the more I stare at the foggy scene in front of me, the less distinct all of it becomes. The fog is getting heavier and less translucent; the light of the invisible sun cannot penetrate the clouds and fog as well as it could just a few minutes ago. I can imagine that, if the fog continues to thicken at the same pace for another ten minutes, the world outside my window will be enshrouded in absolute darkness. But my experience tells me that will not happen. At least it has never happened before. At least not to me. And, of course, the fog now seems to be lifting slightly; but not for long. Wave upon wave upon wave of thick pillows of fog drift by, hiding the tops of trees for a moment, then revealing them for another. And, then, again the cycle repeats. I like to think about how fog behaves and how closely it resembles the behavior of some people. I had a conversation yesterday, during which my brain seemed to drift in and out of a fog. I hope that was only a brief attribute; I do not want to become, permanently, like those fog-people, whose words and thoughts meander between the irrational and the disturbing.

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Everybody knows that you love me baby
Everybody knows that you really do
Everybody knows that you’ve been faithful
Ah, give or take a night or two
Everybody knows you’ve been discreet
But there were so many people you just had to meet
Without your clothes
And everybody knows

~ Leonard Cohen ~

A stanza from one of my favorite LC songs, Everybody Knows. Cynicism can teach us, even when we do not want to learn. His use of paradoxes and impossible opposites was something about his poetry I have always admired. 

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I have always enjoyed hot, spicy food. But I can no longer tolerate the very hot stuff like I once did. It’s not my gut that’s impacted by the change; it’s my taste buds. I love the flavors associated with very hot peppers, but now when I eat the peppers they can seem a little like molten lava. I still like hot, spicy foods, but just not AS hot. I have never enjoyed foods simply because they are hot; their heat has to be both tolerable and necessary to the greatest enjoyment of the food. I do not eat whole Scotch Bonnet peppers or habaneros (are they one and the same?) or Carolina Reapers. This, too, just happens to be on my mind. That having been said, I could stand something hot and spicy to eat right now. But I doubt there’s anything quick and easy enough waiting for me to pop in the microwave…or whatever.

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The difference between expectations and demands can be vast. I remember that the expectations placed upon my staff and me by clients boards of directors, in the form of contractual obligations, often were far lower than their demands. Once I committed my signature to a contract, I committed to provide the services stipulated in the contract. But clients’ contractual expectations frequently seemed to be equivalent to “at a minimum…” Their true expectations, which transformed into demands, were far higher. When those demands significantly exceeded levels the fees could cover, I had to broach the topic of fee adjustments or limitations to services provided. Actually, the services rarely were limited; I tried to scale back on the time devoted to the client. But that rarely worked for long. The demands returned. And they grew. My experience with organizational boards of directors was not unique. It was simply an attribute of the kind of relationship that existed, and still exists, between boards and contract management. That relationship required constant attention; it had to be tweaked, revised, manipulated, twisted, etc., etc. on an ongoing basis. Some people find such relationships both challenging and fulfilling. I found them challenging and frustrating. And draining. And, over time, increasingly unsatisfactory. I retired at age 58, rather than waiting to the more traditional 65, so the pressure vessel that was my brain would not explode. Well, that was part of it. I had long wanted, desperately, to be free of work obligations. If I could have figured out a way to do it without starving and going broke, I would have done it earlier. I should have pursued a different field of endeavor that did not involve close, personal engagement with board members—many of whom considered their board membership evidence of their power and importance. There were plenty of dedicated, intelligent, reasonable, likeable board members, of course; but the many others sprinkled among boards provided enough discomfort and frustration to make escape an appealing objective. Fortunately, the board I lead today does not behave like those boards in my past. These matters flood my mind sometimes; so I document my recollections and my observations. They merit no more than a passing nod; what’s done is done.

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Church before long…and off I go.

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The Return of All that Matters

This is one of those days when I curse myself for allowing my software knowledge and abilities to wither from infrequent use. There was a time, not so very long ago, that I could quickly and easily burnish my understanding of software. But disuse over time has buried some of those capabilities under an almost impenetrable coating of dust. And where once I had an enviable degree of concentration that allowed me to take as much time as I needed to figure out how to make software work for me, there is now an enormous mound of impatience that leads not to solutions, but to frustration and abandonment. All of this is to say I have been unable to successfully resize some too-large photographic images so WordPress would allow me to upload them to this blog. Damnit! Had I been able to do what I attempted, this page would display images of two views of an insulated Yeti mug and one image of a Sweet Poppy Cat, a whimsical creature created from used cashmere sweaters. The mug and the Sweet Poppy Cat were surprise gifts from two very generous, caring, wonderful friends. If my patience allows, I will continue attempting to resize the photos I took and will post them here; the images say much more than I can with mere words. I should mention that the Yeti mug has “John” embossed (I think) on one side and the word “Soubhiyé” embossed on the other. Soubhiyé, for those who did not see or do not remember my blog post of January 26, is a Lebanese Arabic word, which when translated into English means the whisper of dawn, when the house is still in slumber, allowing one to savor the stillness before the day begins. Here is a link where images of the whimsical creatures may be seen of the Sweet Poppy Cat, in whose heart (I was told) I can place all my worries and be done with them. I hope the friends who gave me these precious gifts feel the intensity of my love and appreciation. Despite cursing the creeping Luddditism that prevented me from posting photos here, the two gifts boosted my spirits yesterday and they continue today. I am drinking coffee from my Yeti mug and feeling the gaze of my Sweet Poppy Cat, sitting on the bookshelf behind me.

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Some people may have noticed that I did not post here yesterday. I started the day unusually late, feeling approximately rotten, and continued on that path until late morning. During that period, I returned to my primary care physician’s office for pre-physical lab work, where the phlebotomist (who usually causes no pain when she stabs me) was off her game. After returning home to attempt a brief nap, I went to my oncologist’s Village office for an infusion of magnesium. By the time that process had been completed, I felt considerably better. That improvement was enhanced considerably by the arrival of a package (containing my Soubhiyé mug) and a short visit by a lovely friend, who brought with her my Sweet Poppy Cat. Care, compassion, and love are incredibly powerful. At any rate, I opted not to write a post for late in the day. Instead, I took mi novia out (well, she drove) for an early Japanese dinner. And then we watched a couple of episodes of Griselda (a dramatic miniseries based on the life of a real-world cocaine “godmother” whose network pushed $80 million per month in cocaine).

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I have serious mixed feelings about the U.S. response to the Iran-backed drone attack that killed three American soldiers and injured some 40 more. The fact that the U.S. is calling the response (which hit some 85 locations in several Middle Eastern countries) a “first step” is especially concerning to me. In my view, the response is far beyond “proportional”
and appears to me to be an invitation to an enormous upheaval in an already-dangerous situation. War—and its precursors and after-effects—cannot be legitimized by tit-for-tat retaliation. War is the province of idiots.

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War does not determine who is right – only who is left.

~ Bertrand Russell ~

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The fact that I have bounced from feelings of joy and appreciation to brittle anger condemning war and its indefensible excuses is reason enough to retreat into remote isolation with no access to news. If there is to be more conventional warfare or even thermonuclear war, let me learn of it only when it arrives with a blinding flash at my remote doorstep—so sudden that my knowledge of the cataclysm will last no more than a fraction of a second.

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Time is too slow for those who wait, too swift for those who fear, too long for those who grieve, too short for those who rejoice, but for those who love, time is eternity.

~ Henry Van Dyke ~

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Enough of this. I return to my celebration of friendship, love, and the beauty of care and compassion. Have a good day, please, and make it last for years and years.

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