The Great and Powerful Is

I have been asked if I believe in God and I reject the question out of hand. The question comes preloaded with a set of ideals and standards that no sane person would consider if they were laid out on the table.

The problem is one of selective blindness.

The Will of a Deity has driven people to murder and think that it is right. It has been used to enforce fear and hide secrets. Be your source recorded history or yesterday’s news, there is always an undercurrent of Divine Right. 

The belief that there is more to it than all this is the primal need of our giant brains. It has healed the sick and put people on a celestial body. The constant, relentless need to find ultimate truth has built and destroyed countless civilizations. It is a terrible yawning vacuum, this kernel in our psyche that asks, “Why?”

We each worry that question like a dog on a bone, and each world is unique based on the answers we find. We all end up with our big piles of Truths, and we constantly get at odds with others whose piles of Truth don’t stack the same as ours. Same question, different answers, and some of them might even be right.

Whether the world was created a few thousand years ago by a bored deity, or if we are the advanced carbon-based infection on a ball of rock hurtling through space, I still have a hell of a time matching my socks, even though they are all black. I always hit ‘snooze’ on an alarm clock, regardless of whether I thought that someone heard my prayers. If you’re calling out a name on a prayer chain or talking to your community, situations are addressed with an eye toward resolution.

What you have is this moment and the choices you make in it. Whether you chose ‘Good’ or ‘Evil,’ it is a choice that you are eternally making in the now. There is never a time when things have gone too far and you cannot turn back, because there is no time in the now. 

A recent study suggests that our reality is 15 seconds long. That’s it. The Great and Powerful Is simply boils down to ‘What _IS_ it that you are doing, right now, at this moment?’ Is someone watching you with an idea of final judgement? Does it matter? How would you explain this moment if asked?

Just then a man came up to Jesus and asked, “Teacher, what good thing must I do to get eternal life?”

“Why do you ask me about what is good?” Jesus replied. “There is only One who is good. If you want to enter life, keep the commandments.”

“Which ones?” he inquired.

Jesus replied, “‘You shall not murder, you shall not commit adultery, you shall not steal, you shall not give false testimony, honor your father and mother, and love your neighbor as yourself.” (Matthew 19:16-19 New International Version (NIV))

That’s not a bad list. Buddha had more. It is all in how quickly you can rattle them off.

‘Nope. Not killing anybody right now. Check! Not cheating on my wife right now. Check! Not stealing nor lying right now. Double check! I honor my father’s memory (despite his best efforts) and I love my mother. Check! I wave at the neighbors and they haven’t started shooting at me. Check!’

The whole list, completed! If one of my neighbor’s were to change their mind and shoot me, I am in.

Buddha’s list, though longer, is easier to cross-reference. What should I be thinking now? Right thinking! What should I be doing? Right action with right intentions.

Be good and don’t be a jerk.

There’s the old 80’s courtroom trope where a crime investigation reveals unrelated hidden activity. If the police suddenly appeared, and you had to explain what you were doing right now, in this moment, would you be able to without embarrassment or shame? How is that different between a Theist and an Atheist?

All people have some sort of internal gauge for right and wrong, even if they call it ‘legal’ and ‘illegal’ or label certain things as ‘sin.’ In the end, we understand the guidelines for acceptable behavior.  If these observances are adhered to, why should it matter so much what someone else calls their scale?

Now. The 15 seconds where every decision is made and every outcome revealed. Unless your life is a lot more exciting than mine, in the next 15 seconds, you will not be making a decision which will greatly impact the course of humanity. The age of the Universe and Quantum Mechanics will have very little impact on your next 15 seconds, nor will Origin of the Species or the edits from the Vatican.

Last I checked, you were too busy just trying to be good and not be a jerk.

If the one you admire most were to suddenly call your actions into question, what would you say? What would be your defense?

Everyone has a version of Mork’s Orson. I don’t see where that would change all that much, no matter what you believed.

So, if you still insist on knowing whether I believe in God, I would like to redirect you to the top of the page. Perhaps in another 15 seconds, I’ll have a better answer.

The Secret of Reincarnation

acala

Gather ’round, Children, and I’ll tell you how to find my next incarnation.

Yes, yes. I know that you were worried, with my poor health, but who knows how to run this organization better than me? I couldn’t leave you hanging like that. Regime changes are always a time of great upheaval. It would just be easier if I came back.

To this end, I have devised a secret test, the answer of which will be given to one person. That person will give every applicant the the test to find out which one is me. Of course, being the one who made the test, I will know the answer. All others will be given a nice parting gift of lingering suspicion.

When you find me, find me young. The younger, the better, for then I shall be granted longer time to study my way back up. Perhaps I shall reach my pinnacle sooner the next time.  Look for the spark that reminds you of me. You’ll know it when you see it.

Lock me away from all outside influences and give me only the writings of great thinkers, of which I shall list. Mix in some of my own writings for flavor. I will have a hard time remembering who I was, so this must constantly be reinforced until I no longer doubt it.

Mind you, do this with love. Still afford me every honor of the titles I hold, and continue to bow in reverence. It will be hard for me to relearn all that I know now, but it will be easier if I know that everyone appreciates the effort.

Continue that and you’ll have another me. Is it reincarnation? Perhaps. The energy that is me might continue on, and I will try my best to redirect it. If not, I have given you the recipe to make another one of me, because this is how I was made. I have made some improvements in my time in this role, and I shall pass it on with the collected knowledge of the ones who came before, in the hopes that I can do it again better next time.

On second thought, wait a while. Find me when I am a teenager. I have had some dreams of late that I will wish to pursue. I have a deep regret for what I might have missed back then…

What’s that? Yes, you are probably right, my friend. Dukkha. The earlier I start, the better chance I have of breaking free of the cycle and be changed. 43rd time’s a charm, right?

In the end, it is an ancient experiment. Pick someone with potential, give them every chance and resource to achieve in a completely sterile environment and see if you came make one transcend. Take notes and try again.

It was never about authority, though the time a reincarnated being has spent steeping in the foundations of the belief would put them ahead of most scholars, just generally.

The goal was to build an archtype. Every hereditary system uses this as the core. Kings promise to produce issue of their same caliber, and enlightened masters use this to provide a blue print to build another, only this time better.

It is a legacy of sorts, one which outlives buildings and trappings. An eternal bet against Fate, that it is just mapped out perfectly and every word is said at just the right time, I’ll win at this Game of Life.

I started out as a random kid once. This is what they achieved with that kid, and I almost made it. I glimpsed the other side and I know I can get there if I just take another route. Turn left instead of right. I am too old to make the journey again, but maybe next time…

What was that? Vote on it?! Hahaha! That is funny. An inner faction will hijack the experiment to the benefit of some know-it-all, another faction will disagree and then the thing splits apart. There is no accountability and little direction. Might as well grab someone randomly out of the hallway…

Come to think of it, that is not a bad idea. Grab the next monk that walks by and I’ll assign him the ‘Keeper of the Keys of Knowledge’ or some-such. I’ll teach him the three main precepts that I want preserved and give him the holy charge of enforcing it. Tell him that he can have a helper and that he should start a little club. I’ll give him one of these doodads here to make it feel official…

Sorry? Oh! The Test! I got a little distracted there. Yeah, don’t worry about it. We have time. If we don’t get to it, you’ll think of something…

Buddha Park

The Fox

fennec-fox_523_600x450

I caught a fox in the farm truck. At least, I am pretty sure I did…

It’s a wet, dark night tonight. The clouds still hang fat and grey in the sky, though they seem to be done dumping water on us. The remnants of a Supermoon peek through the cracks. A drenching like this is rare and the toads sound thrilled. At times like this, the desert is peaceful and sated, with a medicinal creosote scent hanging in the warm damp air.

When I opened the driver’s door on the old Amigo (1995’s nicest bachelor wagon), a light went off and an animal shape lept to the alert. I remember the vague shape and the dark eyes in the moments it took me to gently relatch the door.

The frenzy of escape took over, and the creature began to run about the inside of the cab as if inside an egg in space. It hit each window squarely with the back legs, as if to burst forth, the chase brightly lit by flashes of the moon. The underbelly was brilliantly white and the canine paws comically dainty.

Suddenly, stillness. I had long enough to wonder what to do now, before I heard a scrambling, and the creature escaped through one of the Jeep-like holes in the back. As it escaped out the back, I lept to see if I could see it clearly, but it was a shape lost in the desert night.

I reflected on what seemed a good omen and wondered about what made it lucky. Until that moment, I had no idea that a fox was in the area. This is important news to a chicken farmer. I’ll have to rethink my security, which has grown lax. I have a jump on things, though, because I spotted the fox.

In the Shinto mythos, the Fox would be Inari, a lucky god and patron of farmers. The Hindu would say that it had brought me a message, perhaps of great change from Kali. The Japanese, themselves, believe that it could really go either way and the Chinese believe simply that it is a messenger of bad luck. The Japanese counter this with statues of Oinari’s Messenger, Kitsune, that stand guard against these other bad fox spirits.

In Feng Shui, this would be Kimon, warning me that my current path was perilous and fraught with danger. The Tibetans would warn that the color portends calamity.  

Or, perhaps, it is simply a rainy night and it is good to get in out of it, especially when your home is a burrow in the ground.

If it needs meaning, I’ll call it Kitsune, our only defense against the demon gate of the Northeast. That sounds better.

fox mask

Of course, it was probably just one of my barn cats, who look like ‘Morris the Cat’ from the old cat food commercials, but that wouldn’t have been as good a story.

Morris-the-Cat

_/*\_

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Further reading: http://www.onmarkproductions.com/html/oinari.shtml

The stunning mask was the work of this artist: https://www.etsy.com/listing/94972453/white-okami-kitsune-mask-japanese-fox

Suicide is Painless (The Sad Clown, Part 2)

mork-orson

A friend of mine posted a statement this morning, in reference to the article Being Suicidal: What It Feels Like to Want to Kill Yourself“, which said simply “Honestly, cannot comprehend.”

This was before the more vivid picture arose of Robin Williams’ passing. We were left with so many questions, but this is one I had experience with, and could answer with some authority.

The closest example I can give you, … , is that one time you were so tired that your chest aches. All you wanted to do was close your eyes, and the very act of being upright and awake seemed like a Sisyphean task.

In a suicidal depression, your heart hangs like a heavy weight and it is almost impossible to lift it off the floor. At that point, every error and failing comes swooping in like a vulture, and even stupid things gain a soul-crushing gravity. The errors and sins pile in, more and more, until the idea of laying it all down sounds so sweet and peaceful. The self-preservation mindset is overridden with the idea that killing yourself is not nearly as scary as facing tomorrow. There is a gasping relief in the idea that it is almost over, and a peace that it is all in your control. The act gains urgency as the realization settles in that it had always been in your power to end it and there was really no need to suffer as long as you have already.

That is the tipping point. Sometimes, it can be held at bay with goodbye letters as you struggle to explain why this course makes the most sense, and the unexpected return of a close friend or a well-timed phone call can make all the difference. Even then, though, the sirens’ song of self-destruction lures you back to the rocks and it takes continued, pointed resistance to stay focused on staying alive.

When you are self-destructive, killing yourself is the easy part. Staying distracted enough to keep going is an almost impossible task.”

His reply is typical as a normal person, with a genuine love of life, grapples with this issue. He compares it to the most awful thing he can remember, but finds a way to hit the nail on the head with the following statement “Maybe I haven’t been miserable enough for long enough…. Even with that, I knew that things would improve, or that, at the least, I could manage to tolerate them. If I couldn’t, who knows what I might miss out on…? You can always kill yourself tomorrow, and I’m a bit of a procrastinator anyway…

I don’t seem to have the psychic makeup to be suicidal, too much curiosity, maybe. I mulled it over when I was younger — don’t all teenagers at least mull it over at some point? — and dismissed it when it realized that what I _really_ wanted was to both be dead and somehow get to stick around and see just how put out by the whole thing everyone was.

That clearly is unfeasible.”

That’s when it came back to me. I was horribly suicidal for a long stretch of my young adulthood, but there was a point when I suddenly got it to stop. The stupidly simple epiphany that lead me out of that particular darkness, and I haven’t returned for 14 years.

That was when everything changed for me. A local evening radio show (back when they were still competing with Howard Stern’s all-day radio stuff) played a comedian with music in the background. He started off by stating all the really good reasons for killing yourself before shifting gears and listing everything you’d miss. “You know how the Beach Boys say ‘Two Girls for Every Boy?’ That means that there will be four for me. A job would open up. An Apartment. Yet, you won’t get to see what the next marshmallow for Lucky Charms would be.” His list went on and on until I was weeping with the need to see what was next.

I gave it up then. I realized that, if I was willing to make such a drastic change, a less drastic change was to simply change everything. I still made a lot of bad choices and felt a lot of pain, but goddamn it, it wasn’t as bad as it could have been, because I was still alive. I packed a bag and walked out on life. I joined the carnival, of all things. Anything, just to get away from that life that nearly drove me to suicide. Sure, I still packed the biggest problem I had, which was me, but I learned to make peace with it.

You’re right. Curiosity is the perfect foil to suicide. Learning that depression is your psyche’s way of dealing with too many emotions at once is another.

I have spent 14 years searching the internet for that recording and I have never found it. I am starting to wonder if it even existed outside of my sad, dark little psychosis.”

The Professor has deep understanding. “Doesn’t matter. Clearly, it’s what you needed to hear at the time.

There have been times when I wished I could share it with someone else who needed it. It worked for me. I have become desperately, painfully alive, and I am going to live forever if I have anything to say about it.

… and that is one thing I can say is an “Absolute Truth.” I want to see where this thing goes. The world is full of awful and things seem at their absolute worst, but then something amazing happens, and you’ll want to be there for it.

From there, the best part is the sharing, as we spin the legends of our specific tribe. They grow in the telling as you realize that the listener is hooked so you had better make it good. Maybe I cannot make people laugh anymore, but I can still spin the lights of the universe and leave them in the dreams of children.

I had had a long dark winter that year. I had gone completely insane the year before, and I was having trouble putting that back together. I was writing goodbye letters and listening to the radio, every song a personal reminder of some failing. At the time, the evening show DJ’s were doing their best rip off of Howard Stern and played that piece I mentioned. The timing was perfect and I realized that I ran the risk of missing all the wonder that life promised.

I still lived a completely haywire life. I have been in fear for my life and have felt like the world was shitting on me and me alone. I have been the Atheist who prayed in the foxhole.  I have made awful decisions and left destruction in my wake as I burned bridges.

… but I never considered suicide again. When all is lost, suicide is a drastic change. It is less drastic to just drop everything and leave. If everything is lost, then everything can be changed.
robin rehab
What if Robin Williams had simply said, “Forget this,” and went to work at that Dairy Queen in Lindstrom, Minnesota? What do you think would have happened? I believe he would have been inundated with people who love him.  I can see people driving across the country just to meet him face to face. Shake his hand. Tell them how much he meant to them.

I would have been one of them. Without a father, I imprinted on Robin Williams, using him as the model for how I interacted with the world… and it worked. I did not find fame with it. I was not expected to always be the funny man, and did not alienate anyone when I couldn’t make them laugh anymore.

It was easier for me to walk away from who I was. I could find my way out of the darkness because there was no one demanding that I go back to retrieve any of it.

My wife is facing a second brain surgery for Geniculate Neuralgia, and my spinal bone spurs have to take a back seat until that is done. This leaves me in twisted pain as I try to find anything to make the pain stop. Sometimes I am left panting and weeping in misery, and I wonder if I am dying.

… but I can’t die yet. I have two daughters to give away if they decide to wed. Someone has to make sure to hold a shotgun and put the fear of the Godless into their Prom Dates. I have rediscovered old friends I had missed dearly and discovered new friends that fill my life with joy and love.

There is also my wife, who I first stood in the cold November rain for three hours with, just talking. She’s the cohort I always wished for, and the co-conspirator in so many good memories. We know each other’s humor and share each other’s dreams. I met her four years after I was going to kill myself. If I hadn’t heard that recording that night, we would have never made the connection that saved us both. We’ve broken each other’s hearts, and thought that all was lost, but as soon as we are together again, the bonfires blaze and we can’t stand to be away from each other, even for an hour, our heads bowed together as we snicker at the world that we hide from together.

I think Robin Williams felt that he had drifted away from too many of the people that he shared that with. In 2009, we heard that he was trying to reconnect with his first child from his first marriage. His failed TV show recently repaired him with Pam Dawber from the original series that launched his career. He was newly remarried, but so much of his life was behind a wall of pain and constant apology that he felt was impenetrable.

Why didn’t you just run off and have a crazy religious experience somewhere, Robin? Grow your beard out and become a rapper or wear a bag on your head and claim to be no one?

Just tell us that you quit, Robin. We would have preferred that to this.

So if this is some twisted version of the Celebrity-Protection-Program, when a star drops off of the map to hang out with Andy Kaufman, Tupac and Elvis, you win. My sappy farewell will be added to the clamoring and weeping that would make us all feel foolish if you poked your head up again to say, “Just Kidding,” but I deserve at least a post card one day, OK?

Otherwise, farewell Robin Williams. If there is more than this, I’ll look you up when I get there.
Robin_Williams_Canada

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To contribute to my wife’s second brain surgery, here is the link: http://www.gofundme.com/likeaholeinthehead

For The Sad Clown, part 1: https://grimmjest.wordpress.com/2014/08/12/the-sad-clown/

The Sad Clown

Mork calling Orson.... Come in Orson...

Mork calling Orson…. Come in Orson…

Robin Williams death hit me a lot harder than I thought it would. The trigger, of all things, was the local radio station playing Aerosmith’s ‘Dude Looks Like A Lady.’ I went from remembering Mrs. Doubtfire to weeping in my car.

It is an argument against sheltering your child.

Robin Williams was always quite open about his sheltered childhood. His parents were rich and doting, and kept him hidden from the world. When you get out of such a situation, everything you discover is “What else were they hiding from me?” It also can become scary and unknown.

The common thread can be seen in nearly every character he has ever played. He began as extraordinary but out of sync. He is mistaken for other than what he is, and he’s able to use this to ease people into realizing what he was, though the whole situation is doomed to spin out of control. You are given the reassurance, though, that there will be daily accountability.

In ‘Mork & Mindy,’ Mindy first mistakes Mork for a priest. Hijinks ensue, people laugh, until it ends up with them raising Johnathan Winters as a child. You are always promised an interesting ride before it inevitably goes off of the rails. He took this insanity on the road and it made him a star.

Now people are watching and you have to be ‘on’ all the time. Robin found that intoxicants could help him be ‘on’ longer. Quicker than you think, it becomes the ‘on’ before, inevitably, not being enough. Then, you’re in the dark again, alone and afraid.

Alone and in the dark, Mork is held accountable to Orson.

From pure insanity, Robin’s career began to try to explain him. The child who never grew up, forced into adulthood. He was crazy, but he meant well. There was always something different about him, slightly off. It was as if he were always hinting at the idea that he was some kind of fraud.

All that seemed to be lacking was the accountability.

Mrs. Doubtfire seemed to be the start of his apology phase. He had been a lousy father but he really does love his kids and would do anything for them. He went on to mad genius, winning awards until ‘What Dreams May Come.’ Sober and contrite, his popularity waned as he delved into more serious roles. His theme became revealing the darkness beneath.

Eventually, his dark introspective phase ended and he wanted us to invest in him one more time. He promised us he could be funny again, if we gave him one more chance.

Instead, his show, “The Crazy Ones,’ was cancelled after one season.

Being able to make people laugh is a powerful feeling. Your own heart bursts with joy and it feels like young love. It is a hard superpower to lose.

When my father left when I was four, I lead a sheltered life as my mother always feared that he would return to steal me away. I imprinted on this strange man as there is a slight family resemblance. I have been stopped on the street, all over the country, just to be told that I looked like him. As a child, I learned his routines to make the other kids laugh, so that there was some reason to like me when I never ran around the neighborhood with them or came over their houses.

Solitude can be a great peace to some, but to live in constant apology is another. The all-seeing eye of Orson is always there, waiting to see where you went wrong, reminding you of faults. There is not time in that empty place, and no hurt has healed with time. Time goes backwards there, and you feel the greatest regret for the safety of childhood, when all mistakes seemed so minor and the cares fewer.

We heard back from the mercy flight service, and my wife is cleared to fly across the country for her second brain surgery. She’ll be making this trip without me, it appears. For the past week, my pain has lessened, getting my hopes up, though it spreads to other parts of my body now. At least it is out of my head. Then another storm rolls in and I am dumped into twisted pain again. I can hear a -ping- when I turn my neck, like running your thumbnail down the teeth of a comb, when I turn my head the wrong way.

I needed cheering up, so I went online. Something told me to check the news, something I haven’t done in a week or two. Despite checking, I heard about it 15 minutes afterwards, from a friend. Robin Williams: Dead by Apparent Suicide.

I immediately had the thought, “If I had a time machine…” I have never done that before. Suddenly all the emotions on the screen from various films flew through my head as I reconstructed the final scene. It didn’t seem real. I double checked to see if it was a hoax, as it was in 2012.

If I could have talked to him, what would I say? Should I have written him a letter? Should I have watched his show? Didn’t he know how important he was to me?

You taught me that redemption was always possible. Why didn’t you believe it yourself?

Farewell, Robin Williams. The world is a darker place without you.

Further reading: Childhood – http://www.freep.com/article/20140811/ENT07/308110195/1996-interview-Robin-Williams-movie-Jack

Apology- http://www.theguardian.com/film/2010/sep/20/robin-williams-worlds-greatest-dad-alcohol-drugs

The Pace of Life

“They say you can’t live forever, but with my luck, I probably will,” mused the Pee-Wee Herman Marionette.

It was a completely random encounter at a ‘Grave’ (If they didn’t call Gothic Raves that, they should have) in Cleveland sometime in the late 90’s. Despite the fact that I was wearing a stretch velvet gown and leather armor, I felt that the gentleman was dressed strangely in a suit and bow tie and had perhaps wandered in by mistake. The rictus grin on his pale wooden face suggested a heart attack or a panic attack, and I figured that I would check in on him to make sure that he was OK.

(Women in vinyl catsuits have that effect.)

He turned out to be quite friendly. Though his delivery reminded me, distinctly, of some far off, chipmunk-like cartoon character, his words were a 15 minute cry-for-help routine that I am ashamed to say had me in stitches. He pontificated on the ineffectiveness of Xanax and other medications to treat his long term depression through humorous Sci Fi references, and as an angsty teenage disabled veteran attending something called a ‘Grave’ for fun, I could completely, laughingly relate.

His closing line has always stuck with me: the misfortune of eternity.

Whenever I hear about another centenarian, I always look up their birth year to see what the world was like. It was sobering, at the time, to find out that they had been born to a world before electricity and indoor plumbing. The learning curve of that learning curve seems absurd to me. To be born into a world where horses ruled the streets and the trains ran on steam, raise a family during the Industrialization of two world wars, grand-kids on the Moon and the promise of the Atomic Future, only to be dumped unceremoniously into our dingy little world.

At that time, though, I still considered myself technologically relevant. As a poor man’s Graphic Designer, or Pre-Press Department, in a Print Shop, I have handled all of the layouts for every piece of personalized stationary for national accounts, participated in the late night run of Adam & Eve mailers, and even did some printing for Bob Ross. We lived in a world of denial, holding fervently to the belief that dot-matrix printing would never catch up to computer output.

We were right. It was Laser Printers that destroyed the industry. That, and cheaper printing in Canada, China and Kinko’s.

compugraphic typesetter
The very first graphics machine I learned on was the Compugraphic Typesetter. This room-sized graphics machine had a custom keyboard, oblong screen and, with the help of a coffin-sized processor loaded with individual font cartridges, would output a long strip of your requested typefaced words which had to be developed and was light-sensitive. The resulting string had to be waxed, cut into pieces and manually applied to your layout.

It was the pinnacle of 1984 technology, and I was learning it in 1992. I suppose that the warning signs were there.

When the Printing Industry died, my technological savvy died as well. Being branded obsolete, I became a repository of useless knowledge. For example: Thermographic powder added to newly pressed ink bumps up when heated, and that is why you can feel the type on a business card. I have had to jump quickly as the business cards came out of the unit on fire, and I have also worked with the copperplate embossing that it is intended to mimic. Each card was pressed against a specially made copper plate to raise the letters of your choice. They didn’t catch fire, but you did have to wait for them to dry. Only very specific card stocks could take the process, and your etched copperplate had to be aligned perfectly with the print on the card, leading to inevitable, expensive waste. It was a holdover from an old status quo when Cleveland had been ruled by Self-Made Kings, and a business card had to tell someone who you are. (Eat your heart out, Jason Bateman.)

Out here in the Desert, I met a man who started out on letterpress. That is what you see in Period movies where sticks of lead, each with an embossed letter of a specific style, was loaded into a tray to be mass pressed as a newspaper. He told me that he remembered when a street I always thought of as the center of town was way outside city limits. It made me look at this desert town differently. The strange little one bedroom bungalows around city center suddenly became vacation cabins ‘way out on the edge of town.’ There is a stone-built school right in what I think of as Downtown that, when open, was considered so far outside of town that the parents were worried that the Natives would come and take their children.

If you ask at the Police station, they’ll tell you that, in the capture of Dillinger, they had already been alerted by a radio store who had served some suspicious characters. They had been hoping to build a radio receiver to listen in on the cop’s radio transmissions, unaware that Tucson Police Department worked off of free standing call boxes until the 1960’s. The streets weren’t even paved until the 60’s (though if you have ever had to deal with Caliche, you’ll understand that this wasn’t a big deal.

The problem is that I cannot help but long for a time like that. I can see it through shaky amber filters, like a life unlived. This dusty town in the desert was a hub for cowboy movies, and John Wayne himself wandered the streets of Tucson, looking for something to do. Lee Marvin regularly drove a beat-up army jeep into town from his house in the desert to buy milk. It was a quiet little mining town until it became quite popular during the Cowboy Craze for having lenient divorce laws.

Trail Dust Town

I worked security for a cowboy town set up by a local steak producer called Trail Dust Town. Set up like a western town, with an eye on authenticity, they serve up the best Wild West Show I have ever seen as well as a steak so fresh, it was probably eating cactus that morning. My job was to wander the streets of this tiny cowboy movie all night, ensuring vandals stayed away, while Roy Rogers tunes played softly on the PA system.  It was easy to get lost in the moment, and realize that it was probably a fair creation of a mining town, a tiny collections of stores and saloons that clung to a central square, when law men usually grew up with the bad guys they had to deal with in Epic fashion. Then again, many came and went in a handful of years.

I found out later that this tiny town occupied the old location of the Tanque Verde Swap Meet, which had moved to a much larger location, far from Tanque Verde Road, while retaining the name some time in the 80’s. If you want to visit this tiny slice of cowboy life, it is near the life sized Tyrannosaurus Rex getting take out from McDonald’s.T Rex gets McDonald's
The State of Arizona has only been an official state since 1912. One hundred and two years ago. There might still be a centenarian who was born here before that.

Would I want to live forever?

Just the other day, I happened across a picture of my Middle School being torn down. Unbidden, a childhood memory popped into my head, and when I got to the part where I misspoke, I winced in psychic pain. I am nearly 40 years old, and the thought of a childhood regret from 1988 can still cause my soul grief.

I had never, originally, intended to live this long, truth be told. Life changed, decided to renew my contract, and here I still am, watching the days slip by quickly, like an old movie camera spewing celluloid. The life of chronic pain can color the days sharply, so that they spill away from you with an unreferenceable blob of Past. When you constantly feel like you are dying, you make your peace with death.

“It’s not the pace of life that concerns me. It’s the sudden stop at the end.” -Random ‘No Fear’ Caption.

An overbearing sense of duty is what keeps me stumbling along. As a Husband and Father, there are people who depend on me. As a Farmer, there are animals in my care. I shuffle along like an old man, left weak by procedures that proved unsuccessful for addressing the constant pain, I drag forward under the power of regrets for the things I have not done yet. My apologies are the staff I use to keep my balance.

I don’t fear the sudden stop at the end. The days slip by, until making replacement parts with a machine becomes a possibility. They are planning a colony on Mars, and Sci Fi finally becomes our reality. Before I can figure out how to keep up, I’ll probably be mostly robot parts and genetically grown youthful vitality, though they might not waste the effort on me. I still use a phone that folds and, though I successfully ran troubleshooting on most major Smartphones for a giant wireless carrier, if you handed me one, I probably would not even know how to turn it on.

I discovered that one of my favorite astronauts, William R. Pogue, the Astronaut who went on Strike in Space to get more time to look out the window, died at 84 this past March. The computer I learned in Middle School is a museum piece that they use now to startle small children. My childhood hero, Russell Johnson, has died. The silver in my hair and beard remind me that the Illusion of Time rules this place, and I have no choice but to comply. I feel like a man out of place in the Timeline, a refugee from another world. An anachronism lost and adrift in the World of the Future.

When you ask if I would want to live forever, I would have to ask you if I had not already.

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What’s playing in my head?

 

The Stoicism of Pain

“A gem cannot be polished without friction, nor a man perfected without trials.” – Lucius Annaeus Seneca

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(I have to admit that it does not appear that the young man at the bottom of the painting is not paying attention to Seneca‘s words. It is very odd, and I have never noticed it before.)

I also have to admit that I own a new yet good friend an apology. My friend Zanzibar has been a relentless source of inspiration and information for me for some little bit.  Providing an unending stream of news, philosophy, culture, he also dabbles in the strange alchemy known as tech, which is far beyond anything I can comprehend with the inadequate brain I have been given.

Professor Zanzibar is, among other things, a proponent of Stoicism, and as such, in a heart of trying to help, provided me upon request an article on the Stoic approach to pain. Though the message was sound, I could hear the tender youth in the writer’s ideals, and I immediately took offense not with the message, but the teacher.

“He gained his knowledge of Stoicism from Poison Oak?” I scoffed. “A bad case of Poison Oak can last 6 months. That is not long enough to know if your ideals hold in the face of unrelenting pain.”

Chronic pain teaches you a level of Stoicism that can that can lead to your destruction.

You start out complaining about it, to doctors or concerned friends. Chronic pain is a blight of Biblical proportions. Imagine the worst pain you have experienced, and now imagine that the searing, crushing, burning awful pain won’t go away. Eventually, the futility of wincing at the pain goes away. You plaster a rictus grin on your face and prepare to meet the day, if you can.

No one likes to be around negative people, so you begin to swallow the misery as best you can, holding out the hope that the next prescription or treatment will shut off your pain like a switch. When doctors confide in you that you have reached the limitations of their experience, you lose hope. When they begin to avoid your calls, you get scared.  When being treated as a junkie is a sign that someone hasn’t looked at your file can be maddening. When that person is quickly excused by someone who does know your file, and they speak in calm, soothing tones, you get scared all over again. All of this gets shoved in the bottle until you can barely keep the cork in.

Chronic pain is always there. If someone had shot you, people immediately show concern over your condition, but that level of concern is difficult for anyone to maintain. The first stage of Loss and Grief  when coming to terms with Chronic pain is Isolation, and the chronic nature of the pain seems to be what causes this. It’s like someone is on fire in your living room. Initially, you will exhaust your resources to try to put it out, but when the person is burning week after week, you stop inviting the flaming Burning Man to parties. Not that he would be able to accept the invitation. If the burning has subsided enough to meet the appointment, the sheer effort to stay upbeat in a ‘How you doing?’ world can exhaust him for days.

The LA Times, last year, printed an Op-Ed “How not to say the wrong thing” by Susan Silk and Barry Goldman. It is a good chart to keep on you in the event of a major disaster happening to someone you know. “It works in all kinds of crises — medical, legal, even existential. It’s the ‘Ring Theory’ of kvetching.” The idea would have saved Yôb’s friends a lot of grief. The idea is that, when faced with abject misery, your job is to comfort all the people closer to the situation than you are while sharing your concerns and your own issues with only the people further from the situation than you are. You know, like at Thanksgiving.

The problem is that, for most people, if I can’t bitch to you, what good are you? When the pain never goes away, there is never a chance for you to tell me how awful your day was and your concerns talk a second place because they cannot compare. Mitchell and Webb used comedy to illustrate this:

 

Your friend list decreases as people fall off. It seems that the only ones who stay are those that carry their own pain. The other centers of the Care Circles gravitate toward one another in an attempt to give the comfort they need as well. Just like the delivery drivers and waitresses of the world count among some of the best tipper, people who know pain are the only ones who can relate to each other.

The goal of the person with chronic conditions have to constantly remind themselves that, when a suggestion is given, it comes from a place of concern, and though the suggestion can be quickly dismissed, it must be done with a gracious attitude in recognition of the spirit in which it was given. Relentless pain can set off the animal centers of the brain as we attempt to fight or flee the affliction, and it takes a calm that can be hard to find to unlearn the language of Pain.

Despite my snarling like an animal in a trap, Professor Z quickly filled my request for an ancient layout program that I had used in school. It was free, it loaded quickly and, within moments, I was staring at Aldus Pagemaker, the root creation program of the printer in training in the early 90’s. Old feelings rushed back into my heart as I looked on a program I had not seen since my youth, and the creative fires kindled quickly.

Upon use, though, I discovered the bicycle’s truism only goes so far and, after 20 years, I no longer had any idea what to do with the program. He had snickered at my request for the program, and asked questions pertaining to why, exactly, I would request such a thing, but he had filled my request, and here I was like a fish on a bicycle.

The last Stage of Grief is one of acceptance, but the problem is that accepting chronic pain doesn’t make it go away. I have had to realize that, just as I have forgotten the program I could make dance 20 years ago, life and all of its experiences change you, molding you and shaping you into the creature that will hopefully survive the next crisis. Even pain can have a function in changing you, even as it wears you away.

The grinding of a polishing wheel wears down a hunk of rock to reveal the polished nature of the gem. I have heard people who do it speak of gem polishing like a sculptor will describe the raw stone intended for a statue. Its beautiful nature lies within, awaiting the will to free it, and while it may involve some polishing, it involves a lot more cutting, breaking and grinding to make a masterpiece. The key is that the grinding has to be guided so that it doesn’t take over completely.

It is in that spirit that I ask my friend to forgive me my brashness and thank you for your patience.

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For more information on the Comfort Circle, see: http://articles.latimes.com/2013/apr/07/opinion/la-oe-0407-silk-ring-theory-20130407

For the full story of what is going on with us: https://grimmjest.wordpress.com/2014/05/15/sharp-stick-in-the-eye-or-a-hole-in-the-head/

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