“The cemeteries are full of indispensable people.”
What follows is a Walking Raven entry I wrote a couple years back. I found it the other day while performing the Sisyphusian task of organizing my virtual life. I fixed a few typos, but pretty much I decided to post as written. On this, the fourth anniversary of my transplant, I thought some of you might find it of interest. Not much has changed except, instead of WOW, I’ve been playing Skyrim. (I have measured out my life in video games.)
So, it’s June. 2011. Where have I been? Playing World of Warcraft (WOW) mostly, and my addiction to it may pretty much explain my absence, but I like to think there were other reasons, too – some of which I’ve decided I want to try and explain in what I hope proves to be a “come back” post. I doubt many of you will read much beyond this point (if even to this point). After all, what follows is way more than 140 or even 420 characters. So I write for me, and those few, those happy few I am honored to call my band of comrades.
As I think most of you know, several years ago I was diagnosed with severe COPD a/k/a emphysema. I spent the next few years managing that insidious disease. During that time I think/hope I learned how to die, or more specifically, learned I didn’t have to learn how to die. Nothing to learn. One just dies, or not.
During those years, I never read Sontag’s Illness as Metaphor. I’m not sure why. It seems so appropriate given my illness and obsession with metaphors. Perhaps someday I’ll choose it as my next “to read.” I’m unsure why I bring it up other than to acknowledge I thought about reading it, and maybe on some level to remind that sometimes an illness is just an illness.
I’ve just kept the promise to myself which was that I would write something first thing. WOW is off-limits except while watching various and sundry (usually these days) streaming videos. The next three books (four if one counts The Bible) are either begun or queued. I still have some things to attend to on my list and some significant nerd maintenance, but I will write through it all. I want/need to explain. Which explanation I will endeavor to tease out from the fabric of the written universe in the coming days.
It’s been about a year and a half since I underwent a single lung transplant. I received a new left lung, and at some point every day I wonder at my good fortune. By the end, I was pretty sick and pretty miserable, but I did it the way I did it to give me as long a life as possible. My initial evaluation as a lung transplant candidate occurred in June of 2002. I had been diagnosed a few years before and told that in five to ten years I would probably need a transplant. A change in health insurance providers resulted in a temporary pulmonologist change, and my new doc was much more proactive (in retrospect more an alarmist) concerning the transplant. He advised I should take steps to get “on the list” as soon as possible. At the time, lungs were allocated according to blood type, size, and seniority (on the list). The wait was approximately three years. He told me given the current state of my lungs I had two and a half, maybe three, years to live.
I was devastated. I really like being among the living.
Long story short, I immediately began to get my transplant ducks in a row. Because no New Mexico facilities perform lung transplants I pretty much had carte blanche where to go. Given my beloved sister lives just outside Minneapolis and University of Minnesota/Fairview is one of the premiere transplant centers in the United States, it was a no brainer I would start there. I arranged for an evaluation and spent several days being poked, prodded, and measured. The highlight was a heart cath accompanied by a Benadryl drip. Oh, yeah. At the end of it all, I met with an amazing surgeon who recommended I be listed for a bilateral sequential transplant. And so began the wait.
My pre-transplant pulmonologist advised that after my transplant I would need to find a new home for my wonderful yellow-naped Amazon parrot, Lexis. As it was, his presence in my life was causing irritation in my native lungs. I decided it would be difficult not to let the knowledge I would one day have to give him up interfere with our relationship, and so we found him a home with a young male member of the Parrot Clan at the Zuni Pueblo. Lex would be treasured. We were companions for 17 years. I still miss him, but know he’s had a good life, and will hopefully continue to have a good life for a few more decades yet. (Average lifespan for yellow-napes is 63 years.)
As I moved up the list, and just as I was about at the point when I could realistically be called, the rules changed from blood type, size, and seniority to “need based.” Would-be recipients with COPD were generally at the bottom as it was really impossible to predict how long any of us would hang on whereas cystic fibrosis and pulmonary fibrosis have fairly predictable life expectancies; e.g., no one with a certain type of pulmonary fibrosis lived beyond three (3) years. I was 50, and for me it was decision time. I asked my transplant center pulmonologist to give me survival odds with my old lungs. At the time my lung function was approximately 24%. She estimated a 45% 5-year survival. I asked the odds with transplanted lungs. 55%.
Knowing that no one has survived beyond 15 years after a lung transplant, I made the decision to stick with my old lungs as long as possible. I took my name off the list since seniority no longer mattered, and began the saga of managing the disease. The next five years certainly took their toll. Shortly after my decision, I contracted pneumonia and spent 10 days in the hospital as a very sick puppy. I was unable to do much of anything except lie in a fetal position, sleeping fitfully, waiting for my lungs to clear. Eventually, they did. I took a shower and went home. As I understand it, frequent hospitalizations of pneumonia was pretty much par for the course.
The culprit(s) were “mucous plugs” that periodically blocked whatever airways I had left thereby drastically reducing my already totally compromised lung function. The danger was I would not have the strength to clear the blockage (or, as the alarmist pulmonologist once remarked, sneeze and collapse a lung).
Amazingly, that was my only hospitalization. Over the years I would require ambulance transport to the emergency room, but after a blast of intravenous steroids and antibiotics I went home, as hospitals were full of nasty germs. At the insistence of my sister Mary, I acquired The Vest by Hillrom. Normally only used by cystic fibrosis patients, its user-base was slowly expanding to include other lung conditions. I am convinced it kept the infections at bay and I am grateful to my sister for her tenacity in this regard.
The amount of oxygen you are on is measured by litres. I went from 2 liters at rest to 3 liters. 4 to 6 with nearly any kind of exertion. By the end, I was having to crank my oxygen up to 6 (as far as my liquid oxygen home tank would go) just to walk down the hall to the bathroom. I rarely went out, in part because it was just too hard; in part because there were germs out there. Being an off-the-charts introvert, spending my days hanging out with various farm members (that at present total a greyhound, a whippet, and 5 cats) was actually quite pleasant. I rekindled my love of reading, watched the occasional video. In 2007, I began playing WOW. Until that day, I had managed to write at least a third of my novel, The First Voice. After that, not so much. Indeed, not at all. I’m still struggling with finding a balance. On some level I know I must let go, but the opportunity to make order and the vibrant graphics of WOW continue to suck me in. I am an addict. It’s pathetic. I am a willful, stubborn addict — but I leave my WOW addiction for another day, or not.
On December 20, 2009 at 4:13 p.m. I got the call offering me a lung. By 6:30 p.m. we were wheels up at the Albuquerque Sunport hurtling toward Minneapolis at the speed of a Lear jet at altitude. Ground transportation to U of M/Fairview awaited us there. Now, I’m something of a word snob, though notoriously bad about using cliches. One word I particularly dislike is “surreal.” But the only word to describe what awaited us at the Minneapolis airport is “surreal.” The flight nurse, EMT, Darcy and I were directed to a Hummer stretch limo the interior of which was illuminated by multi-colored neon which glinted off the bar and the several champagne glasses hanging overhead. By the time we made it to the limousine, though, the shock of what was about to happen had really set in. I was floating in metaphorical amniotic fluid. My fugue state continued once we reached the hospital where my sister Mary and brother-in-law Marc were awaiting our arrival. I have little memory of the next few hours. I know I was administered 1000 mg of Prozac out of the gate to suppress my immune system. And I remember my surgeon explaining that he thought it was a “good lung.” I thanked him, and distinctly remember him saying, as he walked out of sight, “That’s why I brought you up here tonight.” (Later, he would tell the family it was the most “pristine” lung he had ever seen.)
I rely on others who were there to describe the next few days. The surgery took approximately __ hours. I hated being intubated. The first day off the tube I was in exceptionally good spirits. Then it all fell apart. Apparently I had uncontrollable diarrhea that eventually developed into an excruciating case of diaper rash. My back, from an old injury, was killing me. They’d broken three ribs on my left side to gain egress and ingress into my thoracic cavity. I had chest tubes that kept getting entangled. I was, in a word, “miserable,” which is why my reaction was not exactly joyful when people would suggest the transplant was my “Christmas miracle.”
Moving from ICU to the regular hospital ward only made things worse as the bed and chairs were horribly uncomfortable. The new year came. I spent approximately 3 weeks sleep-deprived. For the first time in long time, I wanted to die.
‘Roid rage episodes led to the alienation of everyone with whom I came in contact — especially those nearest and dearest. It is most frustrating watching one’s self be a red-faced, saliva spitting monster berating everyone about one sort of incompetence or another. The medical staff warned us this might happen, but it had little effect. Though I am utterly sorry for the pain I caused, still it would have been nice if my targets had somehow been able to accept that I was possessed by demons and been able to avoid taking it personally. Truly an instance of being “beside myself.”
I also hallucinated for many days. I sat in front of a huge computer console that enabled me to control my world. I would call up on a screen wherever I wanted to go, hit a button, and go there. I tore a rift in the fabric of the universe and slipped over to the other side where I floated amidst the Jungian archetypes. There were also audio hallucinations. One day while sitting in a wheelchair outside my room awaiting transport to X-ray (or somewhere), I “heard” two men conversing in the room next to mine. One said, in a distinct Indian accent, “You have not formed a sufficient personal relationship with God. You need to take a sleep study.” If only it were that easy.
Eventually, the diaper rash, diarrhea cleared up; the chest tubes were pulled, a final chest X-ray taken, and I was on my way to the Argyle apartment complex on Delaware just a few short blocks away from the transplant center and the hospital. For a reasonable rental fee, U of M/Fairview kept a block of apartments available for patients who required extended care.
Arrangements had been made for 24/7 care — Tim and Matthew (two cousins of good friends) and my baby sister on weekends. I bought a Samsung flatscreen TV and PS3 to keep the boys amused. I spent the next 3 months more or less sleeping in between clinic appointments and rehab. I started the latest J.D. Robb title on the plane to Minneapolis. The suitcase brought with me on the plane had been mostly filled with many wonderful books. I finished the J.D. Robb the first week in March. In other words, my fantasies of spending those days reading, reading, reading were a bit off. My attention span was that of a gnat. All was not lost, however. My dear friends mjh and Merri Rudd arranged to ship my iMac so I could play WOW. (There’s always time and energy to indulge an addiction.)
I’d had a reaction to Cellcept, one of the immunosuppression drugs, early on, and been put on Immuran instead. A couple weeks after I moved into the apartment, I developed symptoms of pancreatitis as a side-effect of the Immuran. That led to intravenous drug administration, a switch to Myfortic, and another week in the hospital.
In mid-March, 2010, I purchased the 1997 Buick LeSabre Tim’s grandfather had passed on to him. It easily accommodated my stuff and Tim’s. The two of us drove straight through and arrived in Albuquerque the following day.
previous post: Progress
I can look a friend or family member in the eye, and say, matter-of-factly and without flinching, “I am really smart.” Yet, just the thought of posting such a statement to the world wide web causes me to wince. It feels, at best, arrogant, at worst, really arrogant. The audacity felt by some at such a declaration is nearly palpable, sending a shudder through certainly the Norwegian Lutheran members of my audience. As a group, we have rules to which there must be strict adherence. One of these rules prohibits an individual from any sort of self-praise unless it is accompanied by some sort of negation expression in the form of a self-depracating tone or gesture.
Well, I too, have rules. Some of these rules are specifically directed to breaking free from living what I best describe as a shame-based existence. One way I realized I could do this was to promise myself that if I wrote a Walking Raven post, I would publish it, no matter how flushed I became at the thought of doing so. In keeping with this promise then, I’m here to tell you all, “I am really smart.” There, I’ve said (so have I done) it. Anyone else out there care to give it a try? If you do, I’m fairly certain your heart rate, like mine, will eventually return to normal. If you’re not yet ready for prime time, then go stand in front of a mirror, look yourself in the eye and see if you can say it and mean it to the person returning your gaze.next post: The Comeback
Whether I am living the only life I’ll ever have, or this life is one of many I’ve lived/am living either linearly or concurrently, I am privileged to have been born into what Buddhists call a “precious human birth.” For me, this means that meeting my basic needs requires relatively little energy each day, leaving me time to pursue other interests. A few years back, I ran across what I consider to be the perfect term for what I’m writing about: “Cognitive Surplus.” Clay Shirky coined the term in Cognitive Surplus: Creativity and Generosity in a Connected Age. I’ve yet to read the book, but I’ve read enough about it to state unequivocally my life has taken place in the murk of a Gin Craze. Essentially, this means that over the years I have squandered nearly all my cognitive surplus engaging in mindless, dopamine- or endorphin-producing activities. The receptors in my brain chant relentlessly, “Feed me, Seymour.”
Every once in awhile, though, I emerge from the fog of television, video games, and trash fiction to think about “stuff,” and, on even rarer occasions, I endeavor to express these thoughts in ways that I hope others might understand. I’m convinced that providing the means for each inhabitant of this outlier planet to have sufficient cognitive surplus to create and to engage in an exchange of creative energy (in whatever form) is the answer to the question, “Why are we here?” It’s been decades since I’ve read Stranger in a Strange Land — Robert Heinlein’s saga of Valentine Michael Smith. I remember very little about it these days, back then it was a world-altering experience. I am convinced that our overriding mission on this earth is to grok one another in some fashion or another. See also Dean Moriarty in Jack Kerouac’s On the Road.
That said, opportunities for serious grokking are few and far between, better left between or among the grokkers. Communal grokking; i.e., shared expressions of cognitive surplus, ranging from random thoughts to whatever respective individuals espouse as the “highest form of Art,” is something else again. At some level, we humans as a whole are driven to transform our synaptic firings into external expressions of all sorts in the sure and certain that others will understand. [At this juncture some of you may want to pause and take a cognitive surplus moment to think about what is meant by the term “understand,” and how that concept entered the unconscious mind.]
Throughout the years, I’ve tried many ways to communicate with my fellow humans. [Remember “Reach Out and Touch Someone?”] I’ve had an AOL email account since 1995. [I have never changed the password. It was my first.] Ten years ago, with the invaluable assistance of my redoubtable Buddy Mark Justice Hinton, I launched Walking Raven: A Miscellany. With the advent of Social Media, the World Wide Web has played an increasingly important role in my efforts to communicate “stuff” – though mjh and I often commiserate on the lack of readers. Mostly, I feel like a voice crying in the wilderness. If I fall, will anyone hear? [That would be two clichés and a mixed metaphor. Yes!]
Yet I remain undaunted. And so I introduce my new Facebook Page: “Cognitive Surplus.” I decided to do so because lately I’ve become increasingly aware of instances where my brain train comes to a screeching halt and I find words or symbols have emerged from the tumult of words and symbols racing through my neural tissue, which words and symbols then hang suspended before me awaiting further attention. I feel a vast field of [dark?] energy swirling all around that I call the Mind. An opening at the base of my brainstem serves as a gateway that acts as a filter and makes thoughts manageable for a puny human such as myself.
I envision Cognitive Surplus as a repository for the random thoughts that in my youth were once shared with regularity over coffee or tea when my friends and I had time for such activity. Walking Raven remains my blog of choice for posting the more substantive musings I’ve shared with two, maybe even three, of you over the years (which two or three are in all likelihood the only ones who have read this far). [I'm not bitter. Noooooo.] I continue to be a proud founding member of the Edgewiseblog virtual community mjh established long before the days of Facebook and other social media sites. That said, meander on over to CS and check out my first official post. Oh, and feel free to come by Walking Raven Central for tea or coffee any time. Luddite Facetime is always appreciated.
previous post: Happy Bloomsday
“What’s in a name? That is what we ask ourselves in childhood when we write the name that we are told is ours.”
– James Joyce, Ulysses
previous post: Virtual Scroll: Take 2
On this date, at this time, four years ago, the music died.
This Much I Know
This much I know
To be true
With a certainty more certain
Than sure and certain hope.
I know it
I know it
This much I know.
My beloved brother,
Is still dead.
The rest is silence.
November 23, 2012
1:20 a.m. PST
previous post: Poem Upon Waking
The secret of life.
We all die.
Get over it. And live.
next post: This Much I Know
previous post: Oh, My Brother
“If Socrates leaves his house today he will find the sage seated on his doorstep. If Judas go forth tonight it is to Judas his steps will tend.’ Every life is many days, day after day. We walk through ourselves, meeting robbers, ghosts, giants, old men, young men, wives, widows, brothers-in-law. But always meeting ourselves.” James Joyce, Ulyssesnext post: Cognitive Surplus
previous post: Facebook
Hi everybody. Didja miss me? Didja? Um, no, not really.
I’m asking because some of you may have noticed that a couple weeks ago I announced, “I give up.” What I gave up was posting status updates or comments and “likes” concerning other people’s posts. (How hard is it to click “Like?”) I chose to become one of what I’m told some folks refer to as Facebook “lurkers.” Hence, I’ve spent the last few days lurking, posting the occasional link but refraining from offering quotes, observations, or even cute kitty pictures (metaphorically speaking, of course). Trouble is, I like doing those things. I realized this morning I was reverting to my past victim mentality of “I’ll show you, I’ll hurt myself.”
Moreover, while I agree that love (what early Christians named agape, but also eros) is the answer, the means to accomplish this end is to communicate in one way or another with one another. Facebook is one of those ways.
Going beyond Facebook and borrowing a term from my favorite Martian, the ultimate goal of communication is to grok one another. Robert A. Heinlein coined the term “grok” in his 1961 science-fiction classic Stranger in a Strange Land. According to Wikipedia, it is a Martian expression that can not be defined in Earthling terms, but can be associated with various literal meanings such as “water”, “to drink”, “life”, or “to live”, and has a much more profound figurative meaning that is hard for terrestrial culture to understand because of its assumption of a singular reality. From the novel:
Grok means to understand so thoroughly that the observer becomes a part of the observed—to merge, blend, intermarry, lose identity in group experience. It means almost everything that we mean by religion, philosophy, and science—and it means as little to us (because of our Earthling assumptions) as color means to a blind man.
The Oxford English Dictionary defines grok as “to understand intuitively or by empathy; to establish rapport with” and “to empathise or communicate sympathetically (with); also, to experience enjoyment.” I think of grokking as sentience which I believe is shared with everyone and everything on this earth as well as Earth itself, as explained by the Gaia principle.
While status updates and all will probably never rise to the level of grok, Facebook is a fine vehicle for communication. So, I’m back because it seems “meet, right, and salutary” to be so.
Oh, and for those of you who read this to the end, a treat: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Q34z5dCmC4Mnext post: Happy Bloomsday
previous post: Write My Novel — Please
A few years ago, I had an experience that resulted into the beginning of a memoir of sorts entitled Tink: An Epic. It started when I took a road trip to Los Angeles to visit my brother. I stayed in a hotel adjacent to the back of my brother’s apartment complex. One morning, I experienced an incident that prompted me to write the following:
Imagine a fish out of water. Now, imagine you are that fish. Panning out, you as fish are flopped on a king-size bed in a Comfort Inn on Sunset Boulevard in Hollywood California. Less than ten feet away is a closed door. Less than 10 feet from that door is the locked hatchback of a 2007 Tangerine Pearl PT Cruiser Touring Edition with indestructible seats and a beige interior. It just barely registers on the LA auto cool scale. Behind the locked hatchback is an ocean of air consisting of an LV30 tank of liquid oxygen and four or five standard E-cylinders. You delude yourself that you have options. You can (a) flop off the bed, somehow open the door, flop to the back of the car, somehow unlock it, thrust a cannula up your nose and turn the liquid tank dial to 4. If that were really an option, you’d’ve already done it and not found yourself in this predicament. So, you move onto (b). You have enough consciousness left to know you still hold onto your cell phone, try John again? He said he kept his phone on vibrate, but maybe not at night. He hadn’t answered a minute ago. Option (c), then. 911. Option (b) one more time before consigning your fate to the municipality of LA. Send. Send. He answers! “Come!” . . . “Now.” And then the wait. Can you wait? Breathe. Breathe. But this atmosphere is only 7% oxygen. Not nearly enough for lungs reduced to 15% function, with airwaves full of mucous obstructions, inflamed by LA pollution, narrowed with panic. Breathe. The Calvary arrives. “Get [housekeeping] to open the door.” Success! No, unbelievably, inevitably, stupidly I’d flipped the hinged-lock over. I would have to move, after all. Lunge and the door opens. Somehow the car key gets handed off. Get a tank. Take off the paper wrapper covering the fittings. Regulator off the empty tank. Onto the new tank. Set it in. Turn it on. No! Precious molecules gushing out the sides. Unscrew, reset, screw. Turn. On. Click around to 4. Grab a cannula. Put in nose. Breathe. Breathe. 4 liters of 100 percent oxygen each minute. Yes. Gasp. “We did it!” Gasp. “You did it!” Praise. Praise for the brother, so often incapable of performing the most basic technical or mechanical task. “Never tell Darcy. You, we must never tell Darcy.”
And how, you may be wondering, did little fish find herself in such dire straits at the Comfort Inn that morning?
At that point, I realized I had the start of an epic. It began in medias res, and presented a question that would take some spacetime to explore and eventually answer.
On the drive out to L.A., I listened to Jack Kerouac’s On the Road. I realize most of you probably know the process Kerouac went through to write his road trip experiences. For those of you who may be unfamiliar with the story, in brief, he loaded a blank 120-foot roll of tracing paper into a typewriter set up in his Manhattan kitchen. Dubbed “The Scroll,” he sat and typed virtually nonstop for three weeks. The finished product was a single-spaced document without margins or paragraph breaks. [A tour of The Scroll in 2007 included a stop at the Palace of the Governors in Santa Fe. I have no idea how I missed that.] Over the next few years, with a lot of help from his friends, the scroll became the novel On the Road.
I decided I would create a virtual scroll on my computer where I would record in no particular order the life experiences that had forged the bond among we few, we happy siblings, Big Brother John, Middle Me, and Baby Sister Mary Beth. I managed to write a few thousand words over the course of perhaps a month, and then an insidious event occurred that would sabotage almost everything in my life. I subscribed to World of Warcraft and became mired in the realms of Azeroth, et.al for years, yes, years. It has only been in the last few weeks that I have managed to abandon my beloved avatars. In large part, I credit George R.R. Martin’s saga The Song of Ice and Fire. I read all five volumes seriatim, only taking time to sleep and maintain my Facebook pages.
During those lost years, I had also forsaken my novel The First Voice. Sporadic attempts to make progress ended badly. I didn’t suffer from writer’s block. Instead, I realized I was a writer who hated to write. Moreover, I had so much other “stuff” floating around in my brain that I couldn’t stay focused on Voice. I returned to the notion of the virtual scroll. I decided to put the original project on hold and start a new scroll where I would empty my brain and make room for Voice. And so I purchased a “typewriter” in the form of an 11.6 inch MacBook Air that is dedicated almost exclusively to creating this new scroll. I loaded Word, opened a new document, chose – what else – the “American Typewriter” font, and here I am.
I envision this scroll to be a record of what has brought me to this point in the present in one multiverse, as opposed to what brought my brother and I to the earlier point described in the first scroll. [As an aside: recall that all points in a circle are equidistant from its center.]
For those of you who don’t know, my brother was brutally murdered in a road rage incident in L.A. in the early morning hours of November 23, 2008. I still haven’t reached a point where I can write about him. Shortly after his death, I did compose a Walking Raven post entitled Two Flutes and One to Wail for those of you who would like to know more.
At this juncture, I intend to focus on “stuff” that I will publish intermittently in the form of Walking Raven entries.
Long ago, I asked my buddy mjh to set up www.walkingraven.com. In part to jump-start a sustained effort to write Voice. I am hoping that writing this scroll will help me return to it, even though if I’ve learned anything from my Facebook experience, it is that attempts at “social-networking” serve more as reminders, we are all pretty much isolated voices crying in the wilderness.next post: Happy Bloomsday
previous post: Testimonial
Okay, here’s a major “do, do, do, do.” A few days ago, I started a new Walking Raven entry that gave me occasion to pull up the Word Press Dashboard for the first time in a long time. There, I noticed a draft document entitled “Write My Novel – Please.” I began reading it, and realized I had no memory of ever having written it. I went to Walking Raven and searched for that title. Not there. It appears, then, to be an unpublished draft of a post. I searched all my documents and found none that contained the phrase “write my novel.” Here’s the deal, I can recall no other time when I composed an entry from the start in Word Press. I always write my drafts in Word and then transfer them to Word Press for the final polish.
I was, and remain, completely baffled by how this entry came to be. After reading it through, I concluded it and I have too many shared ideas to believe that anyone but me would have written it. Thus, I decided to give it a final edit and post it to Walking Raven. Here, then, is the mysterious entry:
Write My Novel – Please
Near as I can tell I’ve got one, maybe two, books in me. If I were ever to get them written, I want to write poetry and Walking Raven posts exclusively. Hence this entry to see if anybody else out there wants to give it try. In brief, Taylor Milleva, is a mathematical prodigy. She is a poster child that makes we Americans feel better about the somewhat dismal mathematics ratings compared to the rest of the world. [When I first read the draft, I had absolutely no idea how I came to name my protagonist Taylor Milleva. In thinking about it, “Taylor” may have made the short list as a name for a dog or cat. Just before posting this, I decided to search Google for “Milleva” to see if any results could shed some light. Imagine my surprise and then realization when I learned that “Mileva” was the name of Einstein’s first wife, a mathematician and physicist in her own right. Some folks believe it was really she who authored what Einstein dubbed the Annus Mirabilis papers in 1905. So my choice for Taylor’s surname solved.]
At an early age Taylor began pursuing a degree in Mathematics at Brown University. To allow her to do this, her parents insisted she take two liberal arts classes of her choice each semester. The first semester she chose Modern (Post 1950) American Literature and an in-depth comparative reading of Tolstoy’s War and Peace and Susanna Clark’s Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell. She took Art History and Music Appreciation her second semester.
Taylor believes there is a universal “music of the spheres” which was spoken (or rather, sung/chanted) by human, celestial, and sentient beings until Yahweh and his heavenly entourage collectively known as “Us” decided to topple the tower of Babel and confound all speech. [For more about this topic, you may want to check out the Walking Raven entry entitled “Us.”] Taylor filled boards and boards with mathematical formulae looking for the key to this original language without success. She was especially interested in discovering the Lost Chord.
At the end of spring semester, Taylor was given the chance of a lifetime — to spend the summer as an intern working at CERN’s Large Hadron Collider. It was the summer the quantum physicists would attempt to prove the existence of the Higgs boson a/k/a the God particle. Some people are frightened that in doing so, a singularity will be created and a second “Big Bang” will result blowing us, and the rest of the universe, to kingdom come, metaphorically speaking, of course. [We all know that won’t happen as the world is scheduled to end this coming December 12. The experiment actually planned for the collider is scheduled to take place this coming summer, but just in case.]
Well, I’ve gotten Taylor to CERN, now you’re on your own. Come up with a solid ending and figure out how to get there. Have fun.
next post: Facebook
previous post: Testimonial
During my visit to the transplant center last October, certain symptoms led my team to consider the possibility my new left lung might be in the early stages of my first bout of chronic rejection. Contemplation of my mortality kept me sleepless into the wee hours of the morning for many nights to come until I had my 2nd annual in-depth examination in December, and everything appeared to be as good as could be expected.
I have lived with thoughts of death for many years. My mother died of breast cancer when she was 42. I was 15. We three siblings were quick learners. Good or bad, I think each of us took away from her death a “why bother?” attitude. I finally lived beyond her death age. Maybe I was going to live for a while after all. Not very long thereafter, I was diagnosed with severe COPD.
One thing is certain, our mother was seriously depressed, and we her children were too. I don’t exactly know when my brother started taking anti-depressants, but it changed his life and the lives of those around him. My brother suffered many symptoms of OCD. He was, well, rigid. Prozac made him much easier to live with. I can remember vividly the epiphanic moment when I realized just what an effect it had on him. It was during one of my visits to see him in Manhattan. We had left the apartment and were walking on 14th to the Subway station to catch a Westside train. At some point he looked down at his feet and realized he was not wearing the shoes he had planned to wear. I steeled myself, awaiting the temper tantrum that was sure to come as he turned us around and began stomping back to his apartment to retrieve the correct shoes. Imagine my surprise when he merely shrugged, remarked, “It’s a Prozac day,” and kept walking.
Shortly after I returned from Manhattan, I went to my doctor and obtained a prescription for Prozac. It’s hard to explain the difference antidepressants make. The change is relatively subtle. But one day, as a friend explained, you’ll be parked at a red light and out of the blue you’ll hear an inner voice remark, “I love my life.” And that’s exactly what happened. I realized that despite everything, I have had a most excellent life.
In other words, aside from that, for the most part, I’ve truly enjoyed the play.next post: Write My Novel — Please
previous post: Just in Time for the State of the Union
I know next to nothing about economics. I never took a class, or read a book on the subject. I might be able to question a Jeopardy! answer or two, but that’s about it. Once upon a time, though, in 1976, I attended a film that did change my life. That film was Network. It boasts an impressive cast and, I was completely mesmerized. It got a boatload of Oscar Nominations and won several of them. I just checked on Netflix, and it’s available on DVD or for streaming.
What brought it to the forefront of my mind, is the decades-old foreshadowing of the Occupy Wall Street movement, in the guise of disgruntled Americans everywhere who were encouraged by a crazy news anchor to get up out of their seats, open a window and shout “I’m mad as hell, and I’m not going to take it anymore.” Without giving too much away, a one on one speech delivered at the end has stuck with me these many years. Essentially, it was about how naïve it was to think borders and countries had anything to do with anything. The world is managed by a few multi-national corporations who have found that exploiting we humans’ penchant for patriotism, country/race identification, religious affiliation and so forth was a tried and true way of distracting the citizens of the world from realizing what was really going on.
I’m not quite ready to declare myself an adherent of the conspiracy theory, though I confess I am intrigued by those secret societies, the Freemasons, Templars, Illuminati, and so forth. And I certainly wouldn’t turn down an invitation to the annual Bilderberg conference.
In spite of my nearly complete ignorance about economic theory(ies), or perhaps because of it, a few days ago, I arrived at what I believe would solve many, if not all, of America’s economic woes. As has recently come to the forefront, in 1819, the United States Supreme Court decided the first in a long line of cases detailing the notion of “corporate personhood.” In that regard, I propose treating them as such when it comes to paying income tax. I realize this would also probably entail a review and adjustment of existing loopholes.
On a related matter, I am totally on board with instituting a flat tax. I’m confident IBM’s Watson could come up with the percentage everyone would need to pay to meet the present budgetary needs and reduce the deficit. I would also favor determining what threshold amount of income would trigger the tax. No one, rich or poor, corporate or otherwise, would pay any tax on that amount. I have to believe that if IBM’s Watson were enlisted to run the numbers we would see this was, indeed, a viable alternative.
What’s wrong with this picture? The corporations would never stand for it. They would simply move offshore and outsource even more than they do now. The United States would become a “bedroom nation.” But I can dream, can’t I? Imagine.next post: Testimonial
previous post: A Naming
I strive for precision when I speak or write. I search my mind for words and phrases, trying them on my syntactic model to see which fit the best. Many years ago I came across the statement, “There are no synonyms.” Since then, I try to parse the nuance, if any, between two words generally considered the equivalent of each other. I try to be aware, and appreciative, of those instances when someone uses the perfect word to convey meaning.
I take note of new words that are created to give meaning to new phenomena. Sometimes I come up with a word that I think might be a “new” word. Years ago I came up with “observative.” The other day I used “misclick” to explain a misdirected email. I checked the OED and it wasn’t there. Then I checked the Urban Dictionary and there it was, defined (split infinitive and all) as “to accidently click on the wrong Internet link.”
And then, of course, there is the practice of nouning and verbing. More often than not, I find this practice irritating. I cringe when people talk about “journaling-” – though I have no objection to “googling.” I leave for another day an examination of why I am of two minds concerning this subject. On a related matter, I find dropping articles, and thereby turning a noun into a proper noun particularly grating. I want people to say they are “in a relationship” not “in Relationship.” Still, in terms of immortality, striving to have one’s name turned into what I guess, in such a case would be described as becoming a proper Proper noun, or a verb, is certainly one way to go. The ultimate, of course, would be for one’s name to become a meme. (Visually this happens when someone becomes a widely recognized spokesman for a brand – for how many of you did “Mr. Whipple” just come to mind?) There I go, showing my age again. How about the Progressive Gecko?
For those of you who are wondering, I intend to get to a point. To do that, I need to tell you a little bit about my big brother John. First and foremost, he was a gifted musician. If he heard a song, he could play it in four-part harmony, in any key. There were certain songs, however, he simply refused to play. Feelings comes immediately to mind. (For me, it’s Fernando.) There were several others that he also considered unworthy, such as Memories from Cats. If someone requested one of these songs, he would instead play a different one from the same musical that, while less popular, he considered acceptable. Sondheim and Porter were his favorites, Andrew Lloyd Weber, an irritation.
John’s musical opinions translated into other aspects of his life. He simply had exquisite taste and a dislike for the mob mentality. He had an uncanny ability to spot a trend that by the time it went viral (long before “it went viral” had become an everyday expression, or any expression at all), he had been there, done that and either incorporated it into his life or dismissed it. He was the first in our small town of 2500 to wear blue jeans – Levi’s to be precise. By the time everyone began sporting Polo Ponies, he, while still appreciative of Ralph Lauren, would only wear Polo clothes that incorporated a Polo pony anywhere but on one’s upper left side. He considered Polo Sport a travesty. His first cat couldn’t just be a cat, or even just any old purebred feline, she was a Cornish Rex. (Though later in life he acquired a huge orange tabby named Oscar whom he also loved and adored.)
Ultimately some would say he was a snob. For me, the better word is “snobbish,” and I think he might even agree with that description. His snobbishness was authentic, grounded in conscious consideration and arrived at independent from the crowd. And there were constants that remained favored even after popularization, Gucci and Tiffany’s for example. He was discerning and just somehow “knew,” appreciating quality and excellence wherever and no matter where he found it.
And so to the point, because for me, it’s all about the destination, progress be damned. For that matter, any journey be damned unless there is one, a destination that is. These days, I spend a fair amount of time listening to the songs I’ve transferred to my iPod Touch (by album, alphabetically). The number of songs in my iTunes folder now total in the several thousands, taking up nearly 45 gigs of disk space. I often “thrill” to certain songs that I find particularly fine. Sometimes, in the midst of listening, I experience a flush of shame interrupting this delight – Sarah Brightman is perhaps the best example – as the realization dawns that I’m loving a song which my brother would dismiss out of hand.
One day I realized there was an already existing word, the definition of which could be expanded to give a name to this feeling. I still remember when an old friend (maybe you even know who you are) first used the word and explained the meaning. Now, when I experience the sensation of enjoying something of which I know my brother would disapprove, I tell myself I’m feeling Bourgeois.next post: Just in Time for the State of the Union
previous post: Shoot to Kill: My First [Written] Movie Review Ever
I watched the film Shoot to Kill a few weeks ago. *SPOILER ALERT* For those of you who have not seen the movie, Sidney Portier, a career “city slicker” FBI agent teams up with a mountain man to track a serial killer who has escaped into the North American wilderness with a group of other guys on some sort of outing led by mountain man’s girlfriend (Kierstie Alley) after Serial Killer got away with millions in diamonds and, pretty much for the hell of it, killed his hostage, the jeweler’s wife. It was not, in Mr. FBI Guy’s opinion, his first kill. Serial Killer needs Girlfriend to guide him to a road that will get him to the Canadian/American border.
Much of the movie is a gripping thriller, even though some of the early scenes are just a tad far-fetched. For instance, each of the guys and Girlfriend has an enormous backpack. Besides a sleeping bag and maybe a change of clothes, what else could be in those packs? I’d bet on food. Even so, there’s a scene where Girlfriend catches two fish while Serial Killer first lights, and then, given the smoke, kicks dirt on a fire. In response, girlfriend plops down and tears into one of the raw fish. Serial Killer refuses her offer of the other fish. He refuses. She shrugs. The implication is that Serial Killer will go hungry. Cracks in the foundation of suspended disbelief.
Long story short, Girlfriend and Serial Killer eventually break through the trees and there’s the highway. Girlfriend manages to flag down a truck, but alas, Serial Killer catches up and we watch all three of them drive off toward the border. Later, the truck is found with Dead Trucker, and, of course, no sign of Serial Killer or Girlfriend. Here’s where suspended disbelief begins to crumble. Once Serial Killer’s made it to the highway, he no longer needs Girlfriend. His pattern has always been to ruthlessly kill anyone he no longer needs. Along with Dead Trucker, she should have been toast.
I kept thinking about the film after it ended. I kept thinking long enough to realize that the pursuit of Serial Killer was totally unnecessary and would never have happened in “real life.” Here’s what Mr. Twenty-Years’ Experience FBI Guy knew at the time he and Boyfriend took off to track the expedition. He knew Serial Killer was among five guys who were being led by Girlfriend to a lodge in the forest. He knew, or could readily find out, where this lodge was located. The group was not a hunting trip because no guns were evident, and one of Serial Killer’s companions expressed surprise when Serial Killer’s handgun accidentally fell out of his pack.
I leave for another day what realistic steps may have been taken to attempt rescue all of the members of the expedition. Without giving it all away, only Serial Killer and Girlfriend arrive at the lodge. They had spent at least one night in the open. During that time, I’m assuming FBI Guy would have obtained photos of all the party members, and, while he might not know what Serial Killer looked like, he could be identified through the process of elimination.
So, you give the photos to your best sniper, he boards a helicopter that makes a wide berth around the search area so as to avoid detection. Sniper will be dropped off somewhere near the lodge, he’ll locate a desirable vantage point and don his snow camouflage. Sniper waits until Serial Killer and Girlfriend appear. As they approach the lodge entrance, Sniper blows Serial Killer away. Occam’s Razor.next post: A Naming
previous post: Who Could Know?
Oh, my Brother, my Brother.
My Brother? Dead?
MY BROTHER IS DEAD?
I wish I could believe
My death would present an opportunity
For God to tell me Why.
A Why might help –
I see him
Sauntering down the street
Dressed in his favorite best
Internally warmed by his last martini
Against the autumn chill.
Moving toward the fateful encounter
“Fateful” because a minute,
Perhaps even seconds,
On either side
And he walks on, undead.
Instead, he slaps at the vehicle
Driven by a Black, Swedish Rapper.
You read right,
A Black Swedish Rapper,
Not a beloved ’65 fastback ‘stang,
Or a ’67 Cobra,
Or a ’70 Chevelle,
But a rental
And so they watched
As the Black Swedish Rapper
Emerged from the rental and
Killed the Music.
The rest is silence.
– cko, August 30, 2011next post: Poem Upon Waking
previous post: Obstruction
“The time has come,”
This Walrus said,
“To write of many things.
Of space and time
And what the future brings.”
– ckonext post: Virtual Scroll: Take 2
previous post: Fragment 2
2:50 p.m., Tuesday, September 10, 2002
Okay, how to proceed from here. If I write these pages in cursive pen to paper, folks will have a difficult time reading them. So, I would need to translate into typewritten pages. I don’t have time for such nonsense, but perhaps Christine would consent to do so. I could also dictate, but again transcription impediments. Christine, again. Besides, while there may not be a lot of difference between pen to paper and keyboard to screen, I think there may be more of a difference between voice to tape. I don’t know why exactly, but it’s a filter thing. To write or type, the words must form written symbols. No need for such translation with speech until a later time.
I can see one major difference right now between cursive and type. I make a number of errors when typing that I would not make writing, which does interrupt the flow of thought. By how much though, I’m not sure. I am, after all, capable, though not as much as before, of “holding that thought.” For the moment, I guess I’m inclined to type, unless I see a great difference between the two. I will however continue alternating for a bit to see if there’s a real qualitative (as opposed to quantitative) difference. It is nice, though, to use my retractable fountain pen. It writes smooth and silent.
I awoke to rain this morning. The sky was almost uniformly gray with no blue sky or sunshine in sight. It’s brightening now, with some cloud definition. The rain stopped a while back. Sigh. It was dark enough that the street lights came on in the middle of the afternoon. I need to put more descriptive passages in the novel. Or do I. Are they just filler, or do they serve a function? Well, they probably set the atmosphere the writer wishes to convey to the audience. But, if one writes that it rains, then what else is needed? Well, rain is different with respect, for instance of the intensity and duration. If one of the goals of writing is to create an almost cinemagraphic effect, i.e., to enable the reader to see the action of the book with the mind’s eye, then perhaps it’s important, but only if one wants to have the reader’s eye more attuned to the writer’s eye. So, one can write that it was raining, and the reader can pick what kind of rain. Would it be possible to write around the rain such that the conditions are suggested by the action, though not described? Implicit vs. explicit surroundings. But that supposes that the conditions of the surrounding are somehow informed by the action. How stupid is that? It’s raining, therefore one acts in such and such a way, when, indeed one could act in such and such a way whether it is raining or not.
I know there is a convention where the surrounding conditions are written to reflect the inner weather of a character. I don’t want to do that. I will write of murder in the sunshine. But that’s sort of unnatural, too, since murder seldom occurs in the sunshine. If most murders are “red ball” murders (passion killing) or manslaughter, are we as human beings more passionate or more careless in the dark. Or is [it] that as a general rule more drug and/or alcohol use and abuse occurs at night? So, it is not necessarily human nature to kill, but human nature somehow altered by chemicals. And what, if anything, can be inferred from that?
My blinds are closed, thereby preventing me from looking west. I think the sun has broken through. Heavy, heavy sigh. But, would living where it rains more really make a difference on who I am? Are there rain people or sun people or snow people? Well, there’s supposedly SAD, but not everyone suffers from it. Assuming one doesn’t, then what, if any, difference does it make except in terms of personal preference? I almost wrote, “what, if anything,” which would then be followed by “makes a difference.” It appears the two sentences have the same meaning. Aesthetically, I prefer, “[w]hat, if any difference . . .”. But they are the same because “it” and “thing” are synonymous. I wish I’d been sober for my logic class. I wish I’d taken linguistics. I wish I understood the language of mathematics and music. But choices must be made. Time, for me is more finite than for others. First things first. Write the book. Then decide where to go from there . . .
End, 3:35 p.m.next post: NaNoWriMo
previous post: Part the Second
1:30 a.m., Sunday, September 08, 2002
I went to bed at around midnight, but I am having my second bout with anxiety in as many nights. Tonight I was able to nod off downstairs, but when I tried to return to bed upstairs, the churning of my stomach made it impossible to sleep. Anxiety. How to describe it? An intense sensation on the left side of my solar plexus. That is where I always feel anxious. On the left side of my gut. Like memory, it too is a ball. It is in constant motion. It pulses like a lighthouse beacon, on, off, on, off, on, off. “Beat” is wrong. “Pulse” is right.
I want to be asleep. My heart hurts. It is “pleuritic.” At some point when I threw up, I must have caused some bit of cartilage to pull away from the rib cage and from around my heart. I also think my heart is surrounded by a thick, sticky mucous. At least that’s what it feels like. It hurts. I cannot feel the beat. I only feel the pulse of anxiety. That pulse, not the other. So, the heartbeat is the pulse. But anxiety is a pulse, not a beat. The heartbeat is usually not intense enough to be a pulse. If it gets too bad, the heart pounds. Yes, “pounds” works for the pulsating anxiety, too. Pounding anxiety. So, I cannot feel my heart. I feel my anxiety.
What’s the worst that could happen? I am in no danger tonight of one of my fragile lungs popping and collapsing. I am only in danger of a sleepless night. And that not much of a danger. I have not had many sleepless nights, and never an involuntary one caused by anxiety.
Water drunk after chewing Winterfresh gum leaves an aftertaste like marzipan.
The anxiety may be abating. A game or two, and then to sleep, to dream, perchance to dream, aye there’s the rub. Hamlet didn’t want to lose himself either. I want to keep dreaming. But I also want to keep waking up.
p.s. Anxiety dissolves; anger dissipates.next post: Testimonial
previous post: Prednisone Rant, Sort of
My brother John watched as one of the planes followed Fifth Avenue down the island. Shortly thereafter, he wrote the following tribute. Who Could Know?next post: Shoot to Kill: My First [Written] Movie Review Ever
previous post: Free Association
Today when I appeared to be napping, I was actually thinking because even after a largely sleepless night I was unable to go to sleep. Ever since my transplant, sleep has been iffy. Indeed the first few weeks I maybe caught 20 minutes here and there. Days are very long when sleep fails to happen – especially when one is encumbered by draining chest tubes, lying in a bed with a mattress that precludes being able to reach the controls with at least one “Code Blue” called on the ward each night — talk about momento mori. Anyway, I’m really sick of being sleep deprived. But, I digress.
Today, as I was lying there, a question came to mind. Assuming dogs and cats are sentient but not sapient, are they nonetheless enlightened in that they don’t know where they end and the rest of the universe begins?
That thought gave way to a somewhat related, but really not so much, reminder of a line in a song recorded by Art Garfunkel in his first solo effort entitled “Angel Clare.” One of the tracks ends with the question, “Do spacemen pass dead souls on their way to the moon?”
I think I may have dropped off for a bit after that.next post: Who Could Know?
previous post: Famous Pairs
At dinner last night, the subject of Odin’s Ravens came up. When I got home, using Wikipedia, I compiled the following and sent it (minus photographs) as an email to my buddy mjh. He suggested I post on Walking Raven, so here goes.
In Norse mythology, Huginn (from Old Norse “thought”) and Muninn (Old Norse “memory” or “mind”) are a pair of ravens that fly all over the world, Midgard, and bring the god Odin information. Huginn and Muninn are attested in the Poetic Edda, compiled in the 13th century from earlier traditional sources; the Prose Edda and Heimskringla, written in the 13th century by Snorri Sturluson; in the Third Grammatical Treatise, compiled in the 13th century by Óláfr Þórðarson; and in the poetry of skalds. The names of the ravens are sometimes modernly anglicized as Hugin and Munin.
In the Poetic Edda, a disguised Odin expresses that he fears that they may not return from their daily flights. The Prose Edda explains that Odin is referred to as “raven-god” due to his association with Huginn and Muninn. In the Prose Edda and the Third Grammatical Treatise, the two ravens are described as perching on Odin’s shoulders. Heimskringla details that Odin gave Huginn and Muninn the ability to speak.
Migration Period golden bracteates, Vendel era helmet plates, a pair of identical Germanic Iron Age bird-shaped brooches, Viking Age objects depicting a moustached man wearing a helmet, and a portion of the 10th or 11th century Thorwald’s Cross may depict Odin with one of the ravens. Huginn and Muninn’s role as Odin’s messengers has been linked to shamanic practices, the Norse raven banner, general raven symbolism among the Germanic peoples, and the Norse concepts of the fylgja and the hamingja.
* * *
In Norse mythology, Geri and Freki (Old Norse, both meaning “the ravenous” or “greedy one”) are two wolves which are said to accompany the god Odin. They are attested in the Poetic Edda, a collection of epic poetry compiled in the 13th century from earlier traditional sources, in the Prose Edda, written in the 13th century by Snorri Sturluson, and in the poetry of skalds. The pair has been compared to similar figures found in Greek, Roman and Vedic mythology, and may also be connected to beliefs surrounding the Germanic “wolf-warrior bands”, the Úlfhéðnar.
* * *
Two famous stone lions guarding the entrance [to the main New York Public Library] were sculpted by Edward Clark Potter. They were originally named Leo Astor and Leo Lenox, in honor of the library’s founders. These names were transformed into Lady Astor and Lord Lenox (although both lions are male). In the 1930s they were nicknamed “Patience” and “Fortitude” by Mayor Fiorello La Guardia. He chose these names because he felt that the citizens of New York would need to possess these qualities to see themselves through the Great Depression. Patience is on the south side (the left as one faces the main entrance) and Fortitude on the north.next post: Free Association
previous post: And So (Hopefully) It Begins
Some of you may recall from other blog entries or posts that I have transferred almost all of my cds to iTunes. At present, I have 9119 songs in my Library. For some time now, I’ve been listening to them all by album, alphabetically by title. As of the beginning of this entry, I’ve made it to “Hits” by Phil Collins. The other day, I remembered I read an interview with Neil Gaiman in which he explained that he listened to music while he wrote. I thought I might give it a try. Then my musician Brother was killed and it was too painful to listen to much music – especially Standards and any song with a piano. Lately, I’ve added music back into my life. I am still, however, neglecting my writing.
Then a few days ago, it dawned on me that in all likelihood I had at least one unwritten page swirling around in my head for each of those 9119 songs; maybe even that many unwritten poems, novels, essays, posts, etc. My biggest regret by far is my unwillingness regularly to perform the act of committing the compositions of my mind to paper – real or virtual – i.e., writing. [One night I asked a group of friends whether if an individual lacks something with which to write and so tells a thought story to him/herself for later transcription (maybe), is that “writing?” The consensus was “No.” Writing by definition includes the physical act of placing symbols on a page – real or virtual.]
In a weird sort of way, I can see how listening to music might help a person to focus and stay engaged longer than might otherwise be the case. Then I thought waaaaay back to my 17th Century Literature class and the poet Christopher Smart. He would suffer bouts of insanity periodically and wander the streets of London practicing Paul’s admonition recorded in I Thessalonians 5:17: “pray without ceasing.” I substituted “write” for “pray,” and decided I would indeed endeavor to write without ceasing to the best of my ability. It’s time and I have much to say – even if from experience I know I am more or less a lone voice crying in the virtual wilderness.next post: Famous Pairs
previous post: Happy Bloomsday.
Another year and I’m still here. Yes.next post: And So (Hopefully) It Begins
previous post: Happy Bloomsday
“Mr Leopold Bloom ate with relish the inner organs of beasts and fowls. He liked thick giblet soup, nutty gizzards, a stuffed roast heart, liverslices fried with crustcrumbs, fried hencods’ roes. Most of all he liked grilled mutton kidneys which gave to his palate a fine tang of faintly scented urine.”next post: Happy Bloomsday.
previous post: Poetry Found
For those of you who don’t already know it, I’m on the list awaiting a lung transplant. [Well, maybe someone has arrived here through www.stumbleupon.com or the like.] I have severe COPD; i.e., “end-stage emphysema” as it was called back in the days of plain speaking. Since being diagnosed, I have spent a fair amount of time contemplating my mortality. For some, such contemplation results in a taking up, strengthening, or renewal of faith in a higher power or powers. For me, it has proved the opposite.
If all goes as planned, these next few blog entries will prove precursors to getting back to the writing of my novel, The First Voice (“Voice”). Depending on the way my existential winds blow, however, it may remain unfinished. Thus, I thought I’d use this entry as an opportunity at least to present a piece of what has been written. I do so because as it happens, Elfredge Bettisdatter, Voice’s protagonist, has traveled a spiritual path nearly identical to mine. A while back she had occasion to review this journey one fine afternoon while riding the subway from the 14th Street stop in lower Manhattan up to St. John the Divine:
For this trip under the island, Elfredge opted for the express train. Maybe I’ll even walk from 96th. Dad would be so pleased I’m going to a church on Sunday. Religion had played a major role in her childhood. Weekly attendance at Sunday school and Sunday services was mandatory. No comics until afterward so we’d be in a proper frame of mind. Each night the family gathered for devotions, and then bedtime songs and prayers. Now I lay me. Way scary. Summers brought Bible school and Bible camp. Epiphany was her favorite church holiday. Come to think of it, that might have more to do with Joyce than the Magi. Still, my favorite participants in the Christmas story were those three wise men. Maybe I should take a closer look at Zoroastrianism.
Elfredge grew up across the street from the Lutheran Church she and her family attended. God’s House. Specifically, God the Father. The church was never locked, and she would often stop by on the way home for a quick audience. The glowing red light above the altar informed her that God was “in.”
If anyone had asked, Elfredge would have said that she pictured God the Father as He was depicted on Michelangelo’s ceiling or in William Blake’s illustrations. If she stopped to think about it though, Elfredge realized that, in her mind’s eye, the presence she felt was a great brooding dragon draped over the altar. Upon hearing her enter the sanctuary, He would open the monocular eye facing her and readjust His giant head ever so slightly for the best viewing angle. He never spoke, only listened, and for that reason these encounters were, for the most part, dissatisfying. Even so, she usually felt somewhat better simply for having articulated her wishes, couched, always of course, in terms of doing His will for her life. She envied her Catholic friends who were permitted to ask for specifics without qualification.
As for the other members of the Trinity, for many years she had the feeling that the Holy Ghost awaited her somewhere. She also somehow knew that before any such encounter could occur she first had to come to terms with Jesus Christ, and she found the whole Son of God thing troublesome. She had tried desperately to believe. Christ, however, turned a deaf ear to her entreaties to come into her heart. For a while, she would only recite the first and last parts of the Apostle’s Creed, remaining silent during the middle section. She wanted to avoid committing blasphemy just in case Jesus being the Son of God and all was true. She lacked the strength of character to decline to be confirmed, and would have totally understood had God seen fit to strike her down by lightning rather than permit her to take her first communion. I believe. Help my unbelief! Afterward, whenever possible she would cut out of church just before that part of the service.
Belief or no, Good Friday had a profound effect on her. 3:00 p.m. It is finished. The temple curtain. Torn asunder. The cross on the altar draped in black. God in all Three Persons dead. Black Saturday. On Easter Sunday, Elfredge would sit in the balcony by herself, and look down upon the communion of saints in their Easter finery and she would have fleeting sensations of what it meant to be a member of the Body of Christ, a communicant. Then the first shaft of sunlight would beam through the stained glass window behind the altar, the brass choir would sound, and the congregation would rise as one. A person would have to be dead to fail to thrill as the worshippers began to sing in glorious four part, descanted, harmony, “Christ the Lord has risen today, Ah, ah, ah, ah, ah, lay, ay, loo, oo, ya.” Pooh-pooh Lake Wobegon all you want but Garrison himself has waxed poetic about singing with Lutherans. Even then, faith eluded Elfredge, and the exhilaration of the moment gave way to feelings of loneliness and isolation.
Eventually, belief in a Creator God went by the wayside, and, finally, Elfredge gave up the Holy Ghost. On off days, she might echo Gloucester. We are as flies to wanton boys; they kill us for their sport. Overall, though, she viewed the human race as an evolutionary anomaly. A fluke of the universe. The Number 3 screeched into the 96th Station, and Elfredge returned to the material plane.
In part, this conclusion of flukedom comes from there simply being too many shared “plot points” among the hundreds, if not thousands, of “one true religion(s)” that have come and gone from the beginning of human sapience. I include here a couple from the Judeo-Christian and Islamic traditons. For instance, imagine my surprise a few years back, when, as a near lifelong admirer of Leonard Cohen, I learned that for Muslims, the story of Isaac is the story of Ishmael.
For those of you unfamiliar with matters religious, the big three patriarchal religions (Judaism, Christianity, and Islam) share Abraham as The Patriarch. In the Judeo-Christian tradition, Yahweh, in return for Abraham’s agreement to worship Him as the one and only true God, entered into a covenant with Abraham promising that he would be the father of nations. Well, the years went by and Abraham and his wife Sarah remained childless. Eventually, Sarah, seeing as how Yahweh was preventing her from conceiving, gave her Egyptian slave-girl Hagar to Abraham as a wife. Hagar and Abraham, who was 86 at the time, had a son named Ishmael. Fourteen years later, Sarah conceived and bore Isaac.
The Hebrew Bible contains an account of Yahweh’s command that Abraham offer Isaac as a burnt sacrifice. Just as Abraham, in his unwavering obedience, begins the downward sweep of the axe to kill Isaac, Yahweh stayed his hand and provided instead a sacrificial ram that just happened (wink, wink) to have caught his horns in a thicket. Isaac went on to become the progenitor of the Jewish nation, and, by extension the Christian “nation” through Jesus (assuming His mother Mary’s lineage, like that of her husband Joseph, can be traced back to King David).
With the birth of Isaac, Sarah made Abraham send Hagar and Ishmael off into the desert where they would have died of thirst but for Yahweh a/k/a Allah’s intervention. The Koran also contains a section chronicling Allah’s command for Abraham to offer his oldest son as a sacrifice. Thus, Muslims maintain this son was Ishmael. Moreover, Muslims believe the name “Isaac” was inserted into the Hebrew Bible at a later date, and therefore represents corrupted text. Ishmael went on to become an expert with the bow (according to Genesis) and the progenitor of the nation of Islam.
And how many of you know that Muslims, too, await the second coming of Jesus Christ? Indeed, I still remember the first time I read the section addressing this belief in Wikipedia. I was blown away. The section as it appears today has been reworked somewhat, but I still have a copy in my notes of the Wiki entry which read as follows:
The mainstream Islamic view of the second coming maintains that Jesus was replaced by a duplicate who looked like Jesus, and that it was the duplicate who was crucified while the real Jesus was lifted up to Heaven by God, where he is waiting to descend during the “last days” when corruption and perversity are rife on Earth. He will then wage a battle against the false Messiah or Dajjal, break the cross, kill swine and call all humanity to Islam.
I realize that two examples or two hundred examples of “both sides can’t be right” will fail to persuade most of you that maybe as far as religions go we humans made it all up in the first place. Even I, who can state unequivocally that I believe ours is a random, indifferent universe, still find myself at times imploring a God in whom I no longer believe to make it so my brother is no longer dead.
Besides, proving or disproving God’s existence begs the question. Think about it. Whether God exists is neither here nor there. Let’s say at some point the Hubble telescope (or the Very Large Array) manages to zero in at the precise location of the creation of this universe and the pictures of the swirling cosmos that gets sent back to earth looks remarkably like an old guy with a long white beard. So what? So what unless God knows we exist and does indeed take a personal interest in each of our individual lives. If God has no plans for us or will to be done, then whether or not there is a God doesn’t much matter in our little corner of the universe. And if that’s the case, well, to borrow a line from Joni Mitchell, it all comes down to us.next post: Fragment 2
previous post: Part the First
I saw again this morning
that which will be
the death of me.
By-product of my misspent youth.
No one ever told me
I could misspend so soon.
December 3, 2009
previous post: Synonymic 2
“I heard the Bell toll for some that were dead.” Pilgrim’s Progess, John Bunyan
“[A]nd therefore, send not to know for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for thee.” John Donnenext post: Happy Bloomsday
previous post: In Memoriam
For two years, or so, I have been sporadically constructing a Walking Raven post, the working title for which has been the “Mother of All Blog Entries” (“MOABE”). I have now decided to publish it in serialized form in the hope that as pieces get fed cloudward (I just made that up), what remains will become manageable enough to finish, so I can get on with fulfilling my destiny — or not — depending on which direction my existential winds blow. Here then is
The Author’s Preface
“Hello. My name is Kris, and I’m an alcoholic.” I can’t remember when, exactly, I first said those words at an AA meeting. It would have been sometime after the Ides of March, 1975, a day that will live in “famy.” It was on the Ides of March, 1975, that I first crossed the threshold of Hazelden. I was 20 years old. (It was the 70s and if you could go over and get killed in Viet Nam you damn well could drink and vote at home, so the legal age for both changed to 18 the summer of 1973.) I had spent the last year and a half attending classes by day, cooking part-time at Pumpernik’s Deli, and drinking until I blacked out nearly every night.
Then, one night, I lost my bosses’ wife’s car. I had taken it home because buses were iffy on Sunday mornings. The Deli had a busy weekend breakfast crowd. I would do the prep and cook 400+ omelets or plates of scrambled eggs (highly recommend pastrami, onion, and egges) each weekend morning with a debilitating hangover. I remember going downstairs and getting in the car on Saturday night. I had decided to go stay with a friend who lived closer to the deli. My last memory of that night was getting in the car. I woke up the next morning back in my own bed with the car key in my pocket and no car. Oops. To this day I have no idea what occurred that night. My boss found the car a few days later at the St. Paul impound lot with two bent wheels on the passenger side.
Sometime that next week, I went to student health services and spoke with a counselor. I explained about how I might be an alcoholic. We went through the twenty questions. I answered “yes” to nearly all of them. When we finished, she reached down, opened one of her desk drawers and came up with a list of treatment centers. She asked me, “Where would you like to go?” (This was Minnesota, remember.) How I knew about Hazelden, I’m not entirely sure, but it was on the list. A couple weeks later, on March 15, 1975 — after passing out and missing last call the night before and drinking a double scotch at the Oak Room Grill (Cutty Sark was the bar scotch for 60 cents a shot) — my brother John and best friend Judi — the two who had been most instrumental in keeping me alive — drove me out to Hazelden. Talk about coming full circle. it was on March 16, 1973 that I had gone to my first bar and experienced my first black out.
During my first individual session, my counselor asked me what brought me to Hazelden. I somewhat flippantly remarked that I knew I could make it as an alcoholic, so I thought I’d see what being sober was like. She looked at me over her glasses and announced that I had “failed as an alcoholic the moment [I had] walked through those doors.” That pronouncement, as much as anything else, has kept me relatively sober since then. Over the next ten years I had a couple of one night slips and a couple bouts of dabbling with a drink here and there over a period of a few weeks, but I’ve not had a drink since the May, 1985.) I have continued, however, to struggle with addictions of one sort or another throughout my life – most notably, my nearly 30-year addiction to nicotine. Two-and-a-half years ago, I stuck the needle in my arm, again, metaphorically speaking, of course. I loaded World of Warcraft (WOW) on my newly acquired Lenovo X61 Tablet PC, created my avatar, a human Paladin named “Elfredge” (female)(mining/blacksmithing), and started my 10-day free trial.
If only I could embrace the notion that 13 or so billion years ago someone or something uttered what amounted to “Let there be light” — or performed one of the other equivalent actions as reported by other religious, philosophic, or scientific entities to explain the beginning of this, our universe — thereby causing the precise series of events that led me to the Best Buy just off I-40 in Albuquerque, New Mexico where I acquired the software containing the virtual world of Azeroth. In other words, if only I could believe that everything since the beginning of this timespace universe has occurred according to the laws of the unified field theory. Then I could simply accept WOW as a wonderful gift from the universe. Because truly, just as I once would have been content to drink myself to death, or, as I have nearly done, smoke myself to death, I stand content to play myself to death.
Fortunately (or unfortunately) (everything is, after all, relative), I believe that our universe operates on what has been labeled the “uncertainty principle” in quantum physics. I will not attempt to offer an explanation of the principle here. Suffice that God does indeed throw dice (metaphorically speaking, of course). In my mind, the uncertainty principle accounts for humans having free will which means that I, as a human being, have a choice to do something other than exist enveloped in the mind-numbing bliss generated by playing my massively multiplayer online role playing game (“MMORPG”). This belief that I am neither victim nor puppet of some higher or natural law has led to my decision, time, and time again, to stop playing WOW to the exclusion of nearly everything else.
And why do I keep going back to the game? Well, that’s easy. I’m an addict. (Assuming I’m right about free will versus predetermination.) Even so, why not play, if it makes me happy and isn’t hurting anyone else? Just surrender to the addiction and enjoy? At the moment, as I await a call that I have a donor for a new lung or lungs, it can be said it sort of sucks to be me. Ay, there’s the rub, as my favorite Dane is/was wont to say. [Actually Hamlet has fallen out of favor lately. He’s a whiner.] In the first place, I wrote, without thinking, “anyone else,” in the previous sentence. Somewhere, then, deep down, I must believe that playing WOW is hurtful to me. At least “bad,” “wrong,” okay, “immoral” rather than what I might – perhaps even “would” — like to believe, “amoral.” If I believed playing was amoral, I wouldn’t feel bad about playing all the time, but I am unable to deny that while playing to the exclusion of everything else on the one hand is as close to nirvana as I’ll probably get in this lifetime, it also causes a sensation in the pit of my stomach, the place where I’m supposed to feel bad when I’m doing something “wrong.”
I am not now, nor have I ever been, a Christian – though [the] God [I no longer believe in] knows I tried to believe, to have faith, in my younger days. In those days, I had a fascination with the unforgiveable sin, first introduced to me as the topic of a Sunday sermon based on Christ’s declaration in Matthew 12: 31-32 (NRSV):
Therefore I tell you, people will be forgiven for every sin and blasphemy, but blasphemy against the Spirit will not be forgiven. Whoever speaks a word against the Son of Man will be forgiven, but whoever speaks against the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven, either in this age or in the age to come.
I remember endeavoring to learn what word or words might constitute this sin. (As a young pup I took things quite literally – still do actually. It was a sad day when I finally understood that “not every sentence is a contract.” That knowledge, however, has made life much less painful and confusing.) I was fascinated by the idea that with a word, I had the power to condemn myself to eternal damnation. Sometimes I wondered if, in possession of this knowledge, I would have the courage and perversity to say it and be done with it. Other times, I recall having some concern I would utter the word or words by mistake.
Over the ensuing years I became acquainted with Faust and the notion of selling one’s soul, but that is different because it involves a “boutique” unforgiveable sin not a sin out there for just anybody to commit. Then there is Huck’s “and then says to myself, ‘Alright, then, I’ll go to Hell’.” (It is this decision that puts Huck right up there as one of my most admired people.) And there’s Ahab. But even their sins, as bold as they are, were sins against Yahweh, not the Holy Spirit. It wasn’t until I read The Faerie Queene as a graduate student in my late 20s that I found a satisfactory answer to the question –in part because, as I’ve just now realized, I had forgotten the unforgivable sin was a speaking sin against the Holy Ghost. To Spenser, the unforgiveable sin was to despair to the point of suicide. That explanation served me in good stead for many years. Lately, however, and to bring it around to the subject at hand, my addiction to WOW, I’ve been having second thoughts.
Go to any 12-step program meeting of whatever ilk, AA, NA, Al-Anon, COA, CODA, OA, GA, and one soon learns that “denial” is “more than just a river in Egypt.” Unlike many alcoholics, it took me almost no time at all to accept that I was an alcoholic. After all, what better excuse to drink? Of course I drank, that’s what alcoholics do. Once in treatment, however, I went a day without drinking, and then another, and then another, and I kept waking up. Eventually, I had to admit it was unnecessary to drink to live. After that, I pretty much had to accept drinking was a matter of choice – indeed almost everything in life involves some sort of choice. Moreover– gasp! — I am responsible for the choices I make. It wasn’t a rotten childhood, or a genetic predisposition, or any of a number of other excuses I used to keep drinking. It was a choice I made. But that’s where things start to get insidious. At a certain point, choice moves beyond choice to “rationalization.” And, at a certain point, the words we tell ourselves to justify our actions or inactions, to dissolve that pit in our stomachs, can, I submit, amount to speaking against the “Holy Spirit.” Rationalization, then, is the unforgiveable sin.
It’s a disease, and the ultimate denial is non-denial. The game’s, not the play’s, the thing. And oh, it catches my conscience so. And so, just for today, this hour, this minute, right now, I write through the desire, the urge to double click the WOW icon, type in my password and start merrily killing everything in sight (Well, not everything. “There are no honor points in killing guards” – but people do it, oh yes they do.) And why not simply succumb? Because I believe there is a qualitative difference between playing a video game and reading a book and, for that matter, writing a poem or performing some other creative act than reading a book. (And I mean qualitative, not just quantitative, and I know the difference because I went to college in the 70s and we got to take cool classes like Marxism for credit. “Production is immediate consumption.” (Come to think of it, in high school, I had a large poster of Karl Marx on my bedroom wall, along with Moshe Dyan. What’s that all about, Alfie?) Semper Fi.next post: Part the Second
previous post: Once Upon a Time…
On this day one year ago at or about the hour of 1:20 a.m. PST the music died. The rest is silence.next post: Poetry Found
previous post: Of Turtle Bones, Arrows, and Awo
The Teaching Company offers a 24 lecture course entitled “The Great Philosophical Debate: Free Will and Determinism.” The “Buy-This-Course” blurb uses Saul Smilansky as its example of a contemporary philosopher who “believes that we do not have free will but that we must keep it a secret from the masses” because “ if all people knew their behavior was determined, they would stop behaving morally.” Huh?
I’m still unsure who to believe, all those angels of print and screen who are ticked God gave humans, but not them, free will, or Calvin and his categories of the elect, the damned, and the preterites who are damned simply because they are not meant to be saved. I’d like to believe we have free will, but the ironist in me suspects that the notion God needs to damn a whole class of people just so certain others can feel special is the more likely scenario. Of course this presupposes the existence of God. Take that presupposition out of the equation and what’s left is a universe that either operates according to a set of laws (even if the “unified theory” continues to elude), or is some random conglomerate of matter and energy.
Two isolated (and admittedly minor) events in my life caused me at one point to contemplate whether it really is futile to try to outmaneuver an inexorable fate that has been correctly predicted. The first incident occurred sometime in the year 2000 when I saw my first picture of a PT Cruiser. I simply had to have one. I went shopping, but, early on, supply exceeded demand. By the time supply caught up with demand, and I was once again in the market for a new vehicle, I chose practicality over visceral response and purchased a Wintergreen Subaru Outback (beige interior) instead. Fast forward to 2007, where, for a few months, I exchanged the Subaru for a well-loved-but-too-small-to-accommodate-my-oxygen-tank 1999 green Mazda Miata convertible (beige interior). Unfortunately I was pretty sure it was incapable of getting me safely to LA where I needed to go to see my beloved brother. Enter the newly designed Scion xB. It reminded me of the mini-hearse Harold built in the movie Harold and Maude, only Teal. Blue neon interior lights. I loved it. I priced it. I slept on it. On the way back to the Toyota dealership to buy it, I took a detour into the Chrysler dealership where I found a Tangerine Pearl PT Cruiser Touring Edition with power moon roof, YES EssentialsÂ® cloth low-back bucket seats, pastel pebble beige interior, and body-color spoiler. I bought it instead of the Scion. A few weeks later, I spotted a Teal Scion xB driving down the street. I distinctly remember saying to myself, “Self, they’re driving my car.” (I think in inclusive language, grammar be damned.) And then I realized I meant what I had just said. I really did want the Scion. So why had I bought the PT? Was I destined to own a PT? Did I really have a choice? Even knowing then what I know now, I’m unsure whether I could have left the dealership that day and driven the extra mile down the road to Toyota.
The second incident also began in the year 2000. Darcy and I were in the midst of designing the residence we later built just behind the Biopark here in Albuquerque. We had a rule that served us in good stead during this time. We called it the “Ick” rule. If either of us was categorically opposed to anything in connection with the planning, construction, or furnishing of the house, all either one of us had to say was: “That’s an Ick.” End of discussion. The only challenge ever raised with respect to the “Ick” rule occurred during the design phase when Darcy wanted to have a bay window in what would be her office. I invoked the Ick rule. She countered it was in her space. I stood firm, and she agreed to a design modification whereby the window would be built out like a bay window so there would be ample shelf space for cat beds, but it would be squared as opposed to angled with no side windows.
Last year Darcy’s Mom, Margaret, decided to move to a senior facility, and we decided to purchase her home because it was a single story. My space in our old house was a wonderful loft on the second floor called the “Aerie,” but I hadn’t been able to use it in literally years given the effort required to climb the stairs. When Margaret first bought the house in which we presently reside, she performed some fairly extensive renovations (including building the addition that has been transformed into Walking Raven Central). The living room looks east onto a park and then onto a view of the Sandia Mountains. To optimize her view, she added, . . . wait for it, . . . a bay window. (Hey, I’ve mellowed somewhat over the years.) Was I fated all along to have a bay window?
Still unconvinced? Well, how about this one. I started law school in 1983. Shortly thereafter, I attended some sort of mock trial event presided over by Justice Mary Coon Walters. Justice Walters was the first woman appointed as a Justice of the New Mexico Supreme Court. I thought she was way cool and remember saying to myself, “Self, I’m going to work for her someday.” Three years later, Justice Walters sat down at her desk, arranged the resumes of the prospective law clerks she’d interviewed according to class rank, and started making calls. She moved down the list until Jana accepted her first offer and continued on down the list until I accepted the second.
I’ve just finished reading the Percy Jackson and the Olympians series. In each book, after a hero is given a quest s/he must go consult the oracle in the attic. The role of prophesy, at least in “Western” art and literature certainly suggests free will is an illusion. Moreover, even if the hero is told that the outcome of a prophesy is evitable, I’ve been unable to come up with, or be directed to, an example where a prophesy has been thwarted or gone unfulfilled. (Although one “quest-ending” continues to trouble me. Frodo put on the Ring.) The same holds true with quest literature, except we’re often informed that the back-story involves other wannabe heroes who have tried and failed. I’d like it if my destiny included finishing my novel, The First Voice, since that means my number won’t come up until I finish it. In the meantime, I continue to listen for that voice in my head that signals I may have just been given a glimpse into my future, keeping in mind, of course, that inherent in oracular prophesies is they are understood only after the fact.next post: In Memoriam
previous post: Happy Bloomsday