Caregiving   (2016Jan30)


Saturday, January 30, 2016                                               12:32 PM

Caregivers are the big growth sector in the jobs market—as the population skews toward seniors, which all developed countries’ populations do, the need for people to assist the aged, infirm, or confused mushrooms with places, buildings, groups, and the individual caregivers around which such systems form. For as the need for caregiving expands, the reaction of capitalist free-marketry is to create an ‘industry’. Suppliers of equipment, materials, and medications form one sector while organizers/suppliers of the caregivers themselves form another—and they accrue protocols and regimens that conform to existing gatekeepers, such as the FDA and the AMA—and regiment themselves in such a way as to conform with business expectations. It’s a growth industry.


Meanwhile, for the less well-to-do, caregiving is more of a homegrown thing—people like me end up being cared for by our spouses, our parents, or (as with most seniors) our own offspring. In my case, my wife went back to school for her bachelor’s degree in computer science, went to work for Scholastic’s online encyclopedia, left to get her master’s degree in occupational therapy, and became an accredited occupational therapist—all while shepherding me through a decade of HepC, liver failure, three cycles of treatment with Interferon and Ribavirin, liver cancer, a liver transplant—and another decade of recuperation and infirmity while the HepC attacked my new liver—only to be stopped last year by the new cure for HepC.


I was one of the lucky ones—many people I knew with HepC are long gone—but I can’t help thinking that my wife may be one of the unlucky ones—having to subsume her own drives and ambitions to account for an ailing dependent. She is looking forward to a new career in occupational therapy, one which I presume will remit commensurate with the need for a master’s degree and passing an accreditation exam—but for over twenty years she has already worked as an unpaid caregiver. The millions like her will see only a handful reach the same success—most unpaid family caregivers find themselves hobbled by the constant needs of a dependent, finding it difficult to make ends meet, much less get ahead.

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Caregiving can be, all familial sentiment aside, a form of involuntary servitude—and in this country, where we question even a mother’s need to care for her children over the demands of capitalism, we give little thought to the efforts imposed on those who care for the aged and infirm. Neither do we consider, as we are still embroiled in the debate over giving equal health care insurance to rich and poor, how caregiving takes on its double aspect—paid servants caring for the rich while indentured family members care for the poor.


Medical-related care and technology is unnatural—the Christian Scientists recognize this—whenever we delay the natural course of a life, we enter a somewhat science-fiction-y world. Not that there’s anything wrong with that, as Seinfeld would say—I’m no Christian Scientist, but it is fitting that the religion with ‘science’ in its name has some logical basis for its eccentricities. But caregiving really reaches into the outer limits of this question. In the case of seniors, for example, how long is it a good thing to prolong the life of someone with ever-decreasing mobility and awareness? When do we ever reach the point where life is too much a readout on a medical monitor—and too little actual living?


I find myself questioning whether my own quality of life justifies the ongoing expense and effort—and that’s without even beginning to consider whether my needs justify my wife’s sacrifices. But of one thing there is no question—respect must be paid. When people give of themselves, whether it’s the raising of children or the caring for the old or the sick—they transcend the earthly plain of profit and survival and make of their lives an expression of humanity. We glorify those who express their creative passion, but we fail to marvel at those who express an even more transcendent quality—mercy.


Caregiving gives us a window into capitalism—for the rich, caregiving becomes something they pay money for, in lieu of gratitude—while they overlook the importance (and expense) of the same service among the less fortunate. For the rest of us, caregiving remains a sacrifice worthy of our respect and gratitude—and sometimes, a job for which no payment is sufficient.

I had much more to say, but the gas-tank in my brain is empty for now. Here are two piano doodlings from yesterday:




I’m Getting Stoned (2016Jan29)

Friday, January 29, 2016                                          10:35 AM

I’m gonna get stoned. Don’t call me. I’m gonna get stoned and watch TV—I won’t be available for public appearances. I won’t be able to legally drive my car—hell, I’m not the safest driver when I’m straight—you don’t want the stoned me coming at you.


This is my problem with modern living—life has a texture, a quality—and that’s its only purpose—the ‘economy’ doesn’t mean shit—it’s double-talk for how secure the fat cats are—the ‘economy’ for people like you and me is ‘I don’t have enough of it’. People argue, for instance, over childcare and maternity leave—as if those activities are secondary to a schmoe like you or me sitting in a cubicle making money for the man—what a truckload of utter bullshit.


We should be taking care of our children (AKA our future) and debating whether or not we have the time and money to waste on sitting in cubicles making money—not the other way around. We should be spending our money on drug programs to help drug abusers—not programs to hunt them down and shoot them. Why do we have Prohibition for drugs when we know from history that prohibition doesn’t work? All we’ve accomplished is to create an international black market whose economy rivals many small nations—and some big ones. Fear-reaction politics has led us all down a very self-destructive path.


Now we have clowns vying to be president—that should tell you just how far off track we’ve gotten. When did mature, educated people become such a small part of the electorate? Are we really this stupid? I don’t think so—people can be surprisingly clever—I think what’s happened is that we’re being purposely led astray by conservatives.

We know damn well that Religion is bullshit—but conservatives insist they want to carry that delusional baggage into the twenty-first century. We know that Capitalism is just organized greed—but the wealthy perpetuate it because the more common-sense future of socialism threatens their wealth and power of influence. If technology has already freed us from grubbing in the dirt individually, why can’t we see that digital technology is well on the way to freeing the entire human race from grubbing for a living? Independents try to frighten us with a loss of freedom that living under a caretaker government suggests—but having the government distribute wealth is no less dangerous than letting the fat cats run their employment free-for-alls which leave the least of us with the greatest challenges.


The business-owners want to pick and choose from the pool of employable people—and let the rest of us shift for ourselves. With technology taking over people’s jobs, that ‘rest of them’ group grows ever larger—a mounting segment of the population grows impoverished while the overall productivity rises—and all that profit goes to the owners. What kind of bullshit is that? I’m getting stoned—fuck this bullshit.


Sentimental Data   (2016Jan28)

Thursday, January 28, 2016                                              4:25 PM

Went down to Advanced Computer Repair, on Rt. 202 in Somers today with my busted-ass External Hard Drive. This thing is so old it needs to be plugged in—I’ve got two newer ones that run off the USB power—and are smaller, and have at least twice the storage capacity. I used the old one for my CD collection—which is large enough to overflow hard drives—or was, pre-tera-flop. I only used it because it’s so much trouble to rip all my CDs to a new drive. But it stopped working finally—I brought it in to Chris at ACR and said, “It made a clicking noise.” And he said, “Ah! The click of death.” Which I guess means he’s gonna have a hard time recovering the data.


I would have simply bought a new, better drive and started ripping CDs, but I’m not absolutely positive that none of my proprietary files were also on there. If he can’t do anything with it, I’ll have to re-think how much my doubts are worth before I send it off to a specialty data-retrieval shop—those guys can be pricey. It’s just that I have a morbid fear of losing data—I’ve done so much of it in the early days. I’ve owned a PC since the 1980s—I shudder to think just how many there have been—and how many died with little or partial back-up.


You can tell I’m old school—the fact that I post most of my recordings to YouTube and most of my writing to WordPress means that I can’t really lose much of my creative output—and there’s always the question of what value that junk actually has, in reality—outside of my ego. Back-ups were important to me for two reasons—first, I was running a business’s systems, so data-loss could have actually killed the company—and secondly, this was all before the internet, when a person’s hard drive held the only existing copy of a person’s files. There was no uploading—no cloud—your data was your responsibility and if your hard drive crashed or your PC caught a virus, you had nothing but your disk back-ups, and later, your CDs.


That was all long ago—it’s all different now. Now, like most old guys, I ask my son for help when I can’t connect to the printer. And the nature of my data has changed, too—I don’t even do the bills on this thing—Claire does all that on hers, ever since I got brain-fog and had to give up math. All I have to worry about is my photo scans, my piano recordings, and my poetry and other writing—none of which has any dollar value. But I’ve been trying to retain data all my life—even my library, which barely fits in a two-car garage, is only a fraction of the original collection—most of my books were ruined by flooding or mice or mold before I had a proper library—and 90% of my extensive vinyl collection to boot.


My music cassette collection is gone, my VCR tape collection is gone, my DVD collection is gone—nobody uses that stuff anymore, but I feel the loss of data anyway. I have a pile of short stories and miscellaneous creative writing that I printed out before that particular PC died on me—it’s been twenty years and I’ve yet to type it back into the computer—some of it was pretty good, but I just don’t have the energy. I used to draw a lot, but most of my sketchbooks were lost in the same flooding and mice as my book and record collections—and most of my big drawings were given away—I was always so pleased that someone liked my drawings that I gave them away to anyone who asked for them.

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So after a lifetime of creative effort, I have little to show for it. I used to have an ego—and reason for one—I did grown-up stuff like running a systems department and tutoring mathematics—I did some copyediting and print layouts—I made a salary, I drove a car—it all seems so long ago. Now my big accomplishment is that I should have died from liver cancer in 2004—big whoop. So my data is relatively worthless—I’m just sentimental about it.

[NOTE: Many thanks to NASA for all the pretty pictures.]

Talking Movies   (2016Jan27)


Wednesday, January 27, 2016                                          12:55 PM

I saw “Goosebumps” last night—I doubt I enjoyed it as much as a fan of the book series might have, but I enjoy Jack Black in anything and I enjoy any story where horror gets a light touch—the paranormal is usually treated with such darkness in films. I also saw the re-boot of “Fantastic Four”—I wondered at a re-make of such a recent film, but then I remembered the original had Chris Evans playing Johnny Storm and he’s now obliged to play Captain America in the whole tapestry of Marvel movies. The good news is that this new cast allows for a meeting of Fantastic Four and the Avengers in some future ‘free-for-all’ Marvel movie—wouldn’t that be cool?


DC Comics is making up for lost time with their new WB series “Legends of Tomorrow” and the upcoming film “Batman vs. Superman: Dawn of Justice”. Marvel has done a great job of translating their comics library into films, but DC has made more inroads into the television-series-adaptation and the animated films (I also watched an excellent animated “Wonder Woman” yesterday)—in a way, DC is more true-to-form in that comic books are for kids, and TV series on ‘the WB’ and animated films are more kid-centric, where Marvel sticks to live-action cinematic realizations meant to cover all age demographics.


I preferred DC Comics as a kid in the sixties—but now that I’m sixty myself, I lean towards the Marvel efforts. I can see how “Legends of Tomorrow” would appeal to the young—it has as many characters as Pokemon and it plays with time-lines and time-travel, creating a wealth of niggling details that appeal to obsessed kids, but are a turn-off for grown-ups. The WB already had Green Arrow and Flash series (and Supergirl is on CBS) which provide a steady stream of villains, co-heroes, and sidekicks—meat for endless discussions over ‘who can beat who’. The ultimate ‘who can beat who’ is, of course, “Batman vs. Superman: Dawn of Justice” But I’ve never seen the fascination—Superman is Superman—Batman could spend his life in a gym and it wouldn’t help much—besides, who wants to see to good-guys fight each other? Aren’t there any villains, for crying out loud?


Anyhow, my VOD menu is pretty empty now—I’m trying to psych myself up to watch Spike Lee’s “Chi-raq”, but I expect it’ll be fairly heavy sledding. Greek Tragedy and Inner City Violence—not a light-hearted combo—but Spike Lee is a great filmmaker, so I’m going to watch it—I just need to steel myself first.

My biggest problem is the passage of time—I’ve watched a lot of movies. As a fan of the classics, I’ve seen silent films, black and white films, the classics, the not-so-classics, and ‘the essentials’ (as TCM calls them). I’ve seen many movies in drive-ins, in old movie palaces in NYC, and in local theaters—and since my illness, I’ve had ample opportunity to watch films on TV—some of them multiple times. With the exception of a few genres, like straight horror, I’ve seen every movie there is. I’ve thought about their stories, their plotlines, the process of movie-making, the work of acting, and the possibilities and the confines of dramatic tension—if I were any more involved with movies, I’d have to get a job in Hollywood.

This is a problem because I have acquired some pretty high standards—and originality is pretty hard to come by, after a century of creative people racking their brains for new angles, unexpected twists, and engaging serendipities. It’s been said that there are only a few stories—and that all stories are variations of these few ‘wireframe’ concepts—but I don’t know about that. There are a lot of stories out there—and while many of them are ‘road trips’ or ‘buddy’ films, ‘quests’ or ‘comings of age’, there are also a lot of unique stories that have no variations or spin-offs—modern-day fairy tales, and fantasies of myth, romance, or science that are unique in both plot and setting. Still, while there may be more than a handful of basic story ideas there are still not enough of them to fill sixty years of movie-watching with unending surprise. I’m in danger of outgrowing movies entirely—though I’m sure there are those who might think I should have done so long ago.

After all, movies are meant to be diversions from real life—and when illness took away my ‘real life’, I leaned heavily on diversion as an anchor for my sanity. Unfortunately, diversions are not meant to be the whole of a person’s life—so I’ve come to ask of movies rather more than they can possibly provide.

And now for the musical portion of our presentation—two improvs from last night that I share with you now. I’ve recently begun to question whether I should bother to post my improvs—their uniqueness is questionable and while they may each be technically unique, their style and sound is deathly familiar. I’m only one person playing one piano—the same person playing the same piano—and I’ve been posting improvs for years now. That’s my excuse, but it still makes me wonder some days why I bother. By my calculations, a person could listen to my YouTube improvs for a solid week-and-a-half—that’s hundreds of two-to-six minute improvs—and even Beethoven and the Beatles would get tiring in such large doses, never mind that I’m no Beethoven.

Still, here are two more. The first one, “In The Old Town” is followed, at the end, by a rendition of “A Hot Time In The Old Town Tonight”—a song old enough to be in the public domain, so I don’t give it ‘cover’ status on YouTube, even though, officially, I should. The second improv is so weird that I had to call it “Spaghetti Fingers”. I hope you like them.


Talking Politics   (2016Jan26)

Tuesday, January 26, 2016                                                4:54 PM

It’s Tuesday so let’s talk politics. I’m painfully saddened by the ongoing lead poisoning in the Flint, Michigan drinking water—this is what happens to the disenfranchised—they get chiseled to death by the wealthy. Flint is just an exaggeration of that principle—you can find it everywhere in America now. The powerful have become so entrenched, so abetted by the political machinery, that, far from realizing some American dream, lower income families are lucky to escape death by neglect. America has grown top-heavy, but as the top clings to and accumulates more and more power, it stands on the weaker and weaker legs of the population as a whole.

I’m overjoyed that Planned Parenthood has been cleared of all the trumped-up charges recently leveled against it—and that the trumper-uppers are now facing prosecution themselves—justice prevails! A rare victory for an embattled principle—women’s health care is attacked most effectively through local legislation that drives away health care institutions like Planned Parenthood—leaving whole swathes of the nation with no women’s health care for hundreds of miles in every direction. That the blatant lies so recently leveled against it have been proven false is but small comfort—to the far right, women are still the enemy.

That fundamentalists can still attack gays, which are but ten percent of our country, is bad enough—but that they can still find support for their attacks on women, who comprise fifty percent of the people, beggars belief. Add in their attempts to roll back voting rights and immigration reform and you can see that the right really is just the bastion of white Christian males—plus those they despise who are somehow confused enough to support them in spite of themselves. The GOP contains women like Carly Fiorina and minorities like Ben Carson—but not many, just the twisted, self-hating dregs of the groups their party works so hard to keep under the jackboot.

A recent Facebook meme quotes Donald Trump from 1998, “If I were to run, I’d run as a Republican. They’re the dumbest group of voters in the country. They love anything on Fox News. I could lie and they’d still eat it up. I bet my numbers would be terrific.” Right-wingers were quick to fact-check this—and claim that he never said it—that, in fact, there was no Trump interview in People magazine that year. Still, it sounds like something he would say—and I’m only too glad to spread the quote, even if it’s not true. He definitely did say, just recently, that he could shoot someone in the street without losing any supporters—and while that may speak well of his political ability, it certainly doesn’t say much different about his supporters than the debunked quote does. To my mind, it’s even more insulting.

Everyone seems to be talking about the caucuses now—as if the arcane nomination process will protect the establishment candidates, protecting the Republicans from a popular candidate that doesn’t represent them—and protecting the Democrats from getting stuck with Bernie, whose popularity within the party may not translate to popularity in a national race. It’s been said that the lines at the registration desks—where first-timers sign in—will tell the story long before the nominations are tallied—this phenomenon was observed during Obama’s first campaign caucuses and it’s considered a sure sign of ‘outsider’ strength.

Well, that’s as far as I’m willing to go with discussing politics—any further and I risk upsetting myself to the point of illness. Basically nothing has changed—our fates hang by a thread, good may triumph but its odds are long, and no news is good news—unless, like Flint, you’re already in the news.

Today is our daughter Jessy’s birthday, so we miss her back east here while she celebrates in sunny CA.

Happiness Is   (2016Jan24)

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Sunday, January 24, 2016                                        11:51 AM

Unhappiness can seem like a deep pit from which there is no escape—but then something happens and happiness dawns—we look back and see that the shadows that surrounded our thoughts have all dispersed, that nothing is quite so bad as it seemed—that life is, in fact, good. And this happens to us whether we are rich or poor, lonesome or crowded, silly or distinguished.

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The difference is that unhappiness has reasons—ask anyone who is down and they’ll tell you the many reasons for their dismay. Ask someone why they’re happy, however, and they’ll tell you they don’t know—they just are. Is happiness merely an escape from reason? That’s entirely possible—there are plenty of reasons for worry—happiness may be simply the ability to transcend the knowledge that all life ends, that all things must pass, that human beings are not always nice people.

Consider intoxication-it’s got ‘toxic’ right there in the word—we poison ourselves with alcohol, etc. to escape from reason, to become happy. Consider the song lyric: “Forget your troubles, come on, get happy.”—we are not told to solve our problems, just to forget them. Happiness isn’t the absence of trouble, it’s the ignoring of trouble.

This brings us to the somewhat insane conclusion that happiness is not about conditions, it’s about attitude—we can be miserable in total comfort, and we can be happy in a snake pit—how we feel doesn’t necessarily match what we feel. So be happy—nothing can stop you. Just don’t go to your friends’ funerals that way—sometimes we are obligated to be unhappy. On the other hand, don’t be unhappy at a party—nobody likes a wet blanket.

To some degree, happiness comes from being busy—being busy is like being intoxicated—things happen, we get distracted from our thoughts, and happiness can spring out of any corner of our minds. That’s why being idle is so depressing—our unhappiness is uninterrupted and we need to be interrupted to remind us that happiness is an option. Loneliness and idleness are dangerous because they form pools of uninterrupted unhappiness—no distractions.

Charity and charitable works, likewise, do not make us happy because we are being ‘good’, they make us happy because they keep us busy thinking about someone else. But nothing makes us happier than danger—life is never so sweet as when death has been recently avoided. Life is so friggin weird.

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Storm Comin’   (2016Jan23)

Saturday, January 23, 2016                                               12:20 AM

Friday morning we woke to a cold house and a broken furnace. This was not supposed to happen—there was no storm to knock out our power (yet) and we moved our fuel tank from underground into our cellar a few years back, so the fuel is supposed to be free of impurities that once sometimes clogged the filter—impurities that come from having an old fuel tank buried and rusting in the yard—mostly water condensation, with a touch of rust flakes. We were understandably disappointed that the winter cold had found yet another way to come at us, after we thought we had come to know what to expect. A spring in the fuel pump had broken, or so the repairman said, and it was repaired later in the day.

Now we’re expecting an historic storm tomorrow, just as we have recovered from a very shivery morning—these are incredible inconvenient and uncomfortable things—the loss of heat, and now the prospect of a power outage—but they do give a person perspective. Politics and personal demons seem to fade away in the face of possible exposure in one’s own home—I understand there are already tens of thousands of people down south who have lost power from the storm that is expected to show up here tomorrow—and two people have already died in what I heard described today as “all of winter in a single storm”.

We’ve almost become used to terrible storms in recent years—people are aware that the temporary inconvenience of a big snowfall, while serious, may be less dangerous than the high winds and potential coastal flooding that are also forecast this weekend. It’s a bad time for a lunar high tide—those on the coast have more reason to fear the winds than the snow. A big storm was forecast last year—and then pooped out in reality—if only this storm will poop out before it causes too many too much hardship. But I’m a pessimist and I expect the worst.

My neighbors all have generators—I don’t know why I persist in doing without one—every winter there’s at least one power outage from storms—usually more than one. Westchester is tree country and while the trees are beautiful, they tend to get weighted by snow or ice, and blown by the wind—with the result that they inevitably bring down a power line, or a few hundred power lines. One year we went three days without power—which meant three days without heat, among other inconveniences—so again, I can’t imagine why I keep putting off getting a generator—I was raised to just live with power outages, but there weren’t a lot of easy-to-use, affordable generators back then—so I guess I’m just an old guy.

For someone who hates getting a chill, I’m a terrible homeowner—I should get modern windows to replace the old sash ones (that are missing their respective storm windows and screens, anyway)—moreover, this house was originally a summer cottage, and I’ve never had it properly insulated—winters here are much more a nightmare than they need to be—and it could all have been avoided if I hadn’t been putting off these simple improvements for decades.

You’d think I’d appreciate the winter, when my inability to get out and about keeps me from braving the terrible road conditions—but the truth is I feel worse in winter when Bear has to go out, when I should be telling her to stay home and let me run errands and shopping trips in the bad weather. That’s what a husband is supposed to do—it’s what I used to do, when I was fit enough. It’s hard to be a hero when you’re old and sick. I hate not being a hero.

One bright spot in all this is that our daughter is warm and safe in sunny California, and well on her way to making me a grampaw sometime this summer. Here’s a picture of her work in progress: