Diminishing Returns   (2016Jun27)

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Monday, June 27, 2016                                            11:20 AM

Diminishing returns—that’s what I’m dealing with here. My hands shake, my vision is blurry, my head is all kinds of discombobulated. I’m weak. I’m short of breath. I get kinda squirrely whenever I have to talk to people in person—I just get into a loop, second-guessing myself and them—basically, I’ve just lost the ability to deal. I used to be a shut-in because I didn’t have the strength to walk around—now, I think I hide indoors because I know that regularly interacting with people will expose my insanity and get me committed.

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Smoking is a problem—I shouldn’t smoke, of course. But I don’t have that much else to amuse myself with—being damn-near dead—so it’s hard for me to rationalize quitting to save my life. What life, without a smoke to pass the time?

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Loved ones—sure, I have those. But they have actual lives—they’re busy, they’re engrossed in their own stuff—and any leaning on them takes away from that. I think one person stuck in a frustrating place is sufficient—I can’t see dragging them into this. The paradox of age and infirmity—I’m supposed to be all that more grateful for my continued existence, even as it loses more and more of the features that constitute an actual life. When people congratulate someone on reaching their ninetieth birthday, all I can think is ‘That poor bastard—what must his day be like?’

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Not that I’m promoting euthanasia—I’m not paging Dr. Kevorkian. It’s just that younger, healthier people think of old age as ‘extra additional years’, as if their seniority will be as full and engaging as their thirties or forties. But it’s really a matter of diminishing returns—to a certain extent, we fade before we die. And fading isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. Yes, I’m still breathing and I’m still watching TV and eating my breakfast every morning—but I’m used to more than that, or I was—I want more than that.

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Pain? Yes, certainly. I mean, it’s not like someone amputated one of my limbs or anything—but there’s definitely pain. The headaches are the worst because it makes it hard to think of something else—which is my go-to remedy for other pains. But let’s face it, with the back spasms, the stiff neck, the random nerve pains and restless leg—thinking about something else only gets me so far for so long. The gas pains from my messed-up guts are usually the sharpest—sometimes the cry coming out of my mouth is the first notice I have, it’s so sudden. I usually try to morph it into a sentence, as in “AAH-ow ya doin’ this afternoon?”—just so I don’t scare people into worrying about me.

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My close acquaintance with my old friend, pain, makes me a big fan of OTC pain relief—my favorites are aspirin and ibuprofen. But those things only work for a short time—and the next day, I have nerve-endings that are even tenderer from the after-effects. I reach the point where it’s impossible to up the dosage any higher, and the pain is that much worse—it’s a dead-end solution with a high price-tag. Stronger drugs are out of the question—the same cycle, with far greater costs and risks.

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My life is so sedentary I spend most of my time watching TV—and it embarrasses me. TV is such a festival of stupid. So I turn it off and start reading. A few hours later, the pain behind my eyes reminds me why I don’t read like I used to—it’s amazing how much physical effort it takes to read. I used to think it was the most relaxing thing in the world—how healthy I must have been!

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Here are three poems I stole off a few poetry sites:

Cacoethes Scribendi

Oliver Wendell Holmes, Sr.

 

If all the trees in all the woods were men;

And each and every blade of grass a pen;

If every leaf on every shrub and tree

Turned to a sheet of foolscap; every sea

Were changed to ink, and all earth’s living tribes

Had nothing else to do but act as scribes,

And for ten thousand ages, day and night,

The human race should write, and write, and write,

Till all the pens and paper were used up,

And the huge inkstand was an empty cup,

Still would the scribblers clustered round its brink

Call for more pens, more paper, and more ink.

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The Birthnight

Walter de la Mare

 

Dearest, it was a night

That in its darkness rocked Orion’s stars;

A sighing wind ran faintly white

Along the willows, and the cedar boughs

Laid their wide hands in stealthy peace across

The starry silence of their antique moss:

No sound save rushing air

Cold, yet all sweet with Spring,

And in thy mother’s arms, couched weeping there,

Thou, lovely thing.

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Moonrise

Gerard Manley Hopkins, 1844 – 1889

 

I awoke in the Midsummer not to call night, in the white and the walk of the morning:

The moon, dwindled and thinned to the fringe of a finger-nail held to the candle,

Or paring of paradisaïcal fruit, lovely in waning but lustreless,

Stepped from the stool, drew back from the barrow, of dark Maenefa the mountain;

A cusp still clasped him, a fluke yet fanged him, entangled him, not quit utterly.

This was the prized, the desirable sight, unsought, presented so easily,

Parted me leaf and leaf, divided me, eyelid and eyelid of slumber.

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Why poems? I don’t know—it just came up. Poems are nice—when they’re short enough. I used to read epic poetry—whole books of the stuff—I don’t have that kind of concentration anymore. I own many different English translations of the Iliad and the Oddysey—I prefer the ones that don’t go too ‘prose’ and don’t go too ‘lyric poetry’—it’s difficult to retain just enough of the poetry of it that you don’t lose the pace of the storytelling—a subtle balancing act, which is why there are so many versions. I wonder what it must be like in the original Ancient Greek?

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I always wish I’d learned more languages. Languages are the most liberal-arts thing there is—it’s hard to see how they can be of practical use, yet those who learn them have a great mental advantage over the monolinguist. I studied French in high school and college—I never became fluent because I never used it. But even in an English-speaking environment, I’ve run across some Latin roots and French phrases that are gobbledy-gook to other people—so it wasn’t a complete waste. It’s still the easiest way to be the smartest person in the room—knowing a language that no one else does, when that language pops up. And wouldn’t it be nice to watch a foreign film and not have to read the captions?

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I got a new TV recently—I switched to LCD because my old Plasma screen acted as both television and space heater—very convenient in winter, but a real pain in the ass come summertime. My old buddy, Flippy, came by today to take the old monster off my hands—I hope he’s going to use it in a well-ventilated area. It was a huge, expensive TV, so I’m happy that it didn’t end up in the junk pile.

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The new TV is disappointing—I bought a 32′ diagonal Sony LCD because I figured if I moved it closer to the bed (the big one was all the way across the room) it would have the same apparent size as the big one. But Sony tricked me—the screen is 32″, but the picture is much smaller, unless I go full zoom, which fills the screen but makes the picture grainier. Consumerism is such a bait-and-switch con game. Plus, the TV was surprisingly inexpensive, until I realized that I now need a sound system for it (the old, big one had it built-in) and the sound systems price out at about the same price as the new TV! So now, instead of being happy with my purchase, I’m watching a tinier screen with tinnier sound. Argggh!

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One good thing about the new TV is that it’s Wi-Fi enabled. That means I can switch to Netflix or Hulu—I can even watch myself on my YouTube channel videos—that’s pretty cool.

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Okay, here’s one of my favorite Bach pieces:

and since it’s a really nice composition, and I don’t play it that well, here’s the link for Glenn Gould, playing the same piece, but properly–and beautifully:

Enjoy.

Nobody For Hire   (2016Feb04)

Thursday, February 04, 2016                                           4:11 PM

When I was a young firebrand, I felt that a job was a fallback position—that exceptional people (like me, of course) should strike out on their own and do great things, free from the bonds of nine-to-five servitude. Two things escaped my notice at the time—one, that exceptional people worked just as hard, even harder, for themselves than other people worked for their boss—and two, that working people had something that even exceptional people don’t have—they were needed to get a job done. It’s nice to be needed. At one point, when I was working in the early days of office computing, I was very much needed—it was a great feeling.

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My working life back then was exciting—my father was starting a small business and I was helping with the computers—new and exotic at the time. The energy of growing a business combined with the innovation of computers—whose software, hardware, and operating systems changed with alarming frequency—kept me hopping. Computers were unusual and they brought with them new ways of thinking—I spent a lot of time explaining things to people—things I had had explained to me only a short time beforehand. There was a lot of learning, and teaching, involved. And the computers made us so competitive that the business grew swiftly—bringing its own challenges. If I were young again, that’s what I’d do—start a small business—there’s nothing like it for adventure.

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Lately I’ve been trying to accept that my infirmity went on for too long, that restoration of my health (such as it is) came too late, and my senior years arrived too early—and that these three combined present a good case for me to accept that any professional life I might have had has gone by the boards—that mere existence, mere dependency, is the best I’m going to do with my near future. I recognize that living off my disability, without any struggle to regain my place in the commerce of the day, is a surrender—but I’ve spent some time fighting to stay alive, to stay sane—and it looks like that is the only challenge I’m prepared to face. Excusing myself from the greater struggle, that of wresting a paycheck from the wide world, is just another lesson I’ve picked up from my teacher, my cancer, my mortality.

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My illness has taught me that there is a realm beyond that of ‘try harder’—I’m a little annoyed whenever someone suggests that I could do more. When a nerve is severed, no amount of ‘try harder’ will ever reconnect it; when a muscle no longer contracts, when the skin is numb to the touch, ‘trying harder’ doesn’t enter into the problem. When a mind that once served me so well that I look back on it now with awe, decides to atrophy—I cannot regain my genius by earnest effort any more than by wishing on a star. While I’m pleased and excited that my health is so much improved from what it was (what Billy Crystal, in “The Princess Bride”, describes as ‘mostly dead’) it is just as important for me to accept that my old self is gone—all my assumptions about my abilities, my knowledge, my stamina, my capacity to learn new things—they’re all misleading taunts, memories of a healthy me that hasn’t existed for decades.

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So I’m giving up on finding a job—if I’m dissatisfied with myself, how could I expect anyone else to find a use for me? If anybody wants to call me on this—or explain how I should just ‘try harder’—well, you know what you can do with that sentiment. There are seven billion people running around—I think we can do without one pair of shaky hands, and things will still roll along pretty much unchanged.

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The biggest problem is that I remain a neo-Calvinist by nature—and I’m unhappy without any hard work to do—I feel most needed when I’m being pushed to meet a deadline. Drawing pictures was always my go-to busy-work—but shaky hands and draughtsmanship don’t go together. It’s a conundrum. I’m trying to teach myself to enjoy being unneeded—but context is everything, and I’d love to have one—a context, that is. That’s what a job really boils down to—I’ve had different jobs at different salaries, but behind it all, whatever job it was was always a context to my life—a framework for my self-worth. Only exceptional people can stand alone, assured that they are of value, even without a paycheck to show for it—but even exceptional people need a target for their efforts, a challenge to strive for. Perhaps it’s just ego on my part—I’m disappointed with the lightweight challenges I’m prepared to meet—and I miss the days when people sometimes expected the impossible of me and I was able to deliver. Applause, applause—yeah, those were the days.

Caregiving   (2016Jan30)

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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?

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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.

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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: