READING THE BOOK OF ALL-ANSWERS

Not Lemonade – When life gives you lemons… make something else. Tell us about a time you used an object or resolved a tricky situation in an unorthodox way.


The implications of this prompt are so far-reaching it boggles my mind. You mean there is an orthodox method for doing … everything? Is this written somewhere? I mean … you know … is there a book? Or maybe even a checklist? Does this require church membership and/or attendance?

In all my years on earth, I never heard about this and it perturbs me. Something so important, knowing that all things can be resolved by following some structured, orthodox rules … well … where were these rules when I needed them?

It reminds me of all the times in my life when I have found myself in one of those messes life tends to dump on me from time to time. No work, no money, no hope and oh, yeah, I’m dying. And there I am, without a clue as to what I’m supposed to do about all of it. Finding myself thinking and rethinking ways to save my home, my brain, my life … then eventually, sometimes through sheer serendipity (there’s that word again), discovering a way out.

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Never once did it occur to me I had done something unorthodox. Clever maybe. But unorthodox? As far as I could tell, what I mainly did was not give up.

I’ve done a lot of stuff other people thought was stupid, brave, or weird. They condemned me, admired me, envied me, and hated or loved me according to their natures. Never once did anyone imply there had been an alternative solution had I but followed the path of orthodoxy. Typically, most everyone was surprised I found a solution at all. I was usually as surprised as they were.

If you don’t believe in coincidence, my life won’t make sense to you. Not that it makes sense to me.

Here’s how it goes. There’s this guy. He knows a guy, who knows about a procedure. Which leads to a doctor, who has a lot of influence at a major hospital and finds my case interesting. So he invents a surgery, gets the hospital to do the whole thing for no money because naturally I have no medical insurance and am destitute. Donates not only his services but those of two other surgical teams … and I get fixed. I don’t die. I live so I can have yet another crisis. So far, so good.

I don’t know when I have used an unorthodox solution because I don’t know what an orthodox solution might be. If someone will send me the book, I promise I’ll get around to reading it, eventually. Maybe I’ll review it on Serendipity. Something this important shouldn’t be a secret!

 

NO BUNGEE JUMPING THIS WEEK, THANKS

Fearless Fantasies – How would your life be different if you were incapable of feeling fear? Would your life be better or worse than it is now?


If I could not feel fear, I’d most likely be dead of doing something stupid and dangerous.

Just as pain warns our bodies that something is wrong, fear warns our brains to be cautious. Excessive or unreasoning fear can cripple us, make us unable to do anything at all. Phobias can eliminate some activities entirely.

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If you are terrified of heights, sky-diving and mountain climbing are likely to be non-starters. If you are scared to death of insects, forget that jungle exploration trip down the Amazon!

But normal fear based on a sensible understanding of a situation keeps us from doing dumb stuff. From climbing that rickety ladder, from diving off the cliff into the rocky, shallow water below.

I think, in the context of my life, I have done many things other’s would have thought dangerous, but which weren’t. They may have been totally stupid and wrong-headed, but not dangerous.

I can’t think of anything I would have done (that I wanted to do) but rejected because of fear. I pretty much did what I wanted. Mostly, it worked out okay.

The stuff that didn’t work out?

Fear wasn’t the issue. It was poor judgment, usually of person or people. Nothing to do with danger and everything to do with street smarts.

 

DON’T BE AFRAID TO LET THEM SHOW

Thoughts on your true colors by Rich Paschall, Sunday Night Blog

“You with the sad eyes

Don’t be discouraged

Oh I realize It’s hard to take courage…”

It’s hard to grew up with the perception that you are different from everyone else, even if it is not really so. When you do not know much about the outside world, the world inside you can make you sad. “Why am I not like everyone else?” you may wonder.

“Why am I so different?”  Thoughts like this can lead to sadness. Even though you try to act happy on the outside, your eyes might give you away. 75-RainbowNK-2 There is no way to know that being different is not necessarily wrong when your emotions are telling you otherwise.  Worse yet, other people are telling you that different is wrong, even if only in an indirect way.

“Cut it out.”

“Be a man.”

“Grow up.”

“Stop crying.”

“Why can’t you be more like your brother, cousin, sister, uncle, ____(fill in the blank.)”

“Don’t you like sports?”

“Don’t be a sissy.”

“Only a queer would wear that shirt, pants, shoes, ____(fill in the blank).”

Some seem hard-wired to accept the criticism as they grow up. They look like everything just rolls right off of them. They smile while they hurt. You may think, “Every kid is teased as he grows up. It’s just part of life.” Yes, we all get teased, but some of us are different from the majority … and can’t cope with the teasing.

“In a world full of people

You can lose sight of it all

And the darkness inside you

Can make you feel so small…”

With a limited view of the world, and lack of experience dealing with the emotions tossed your way, you can feel small, insignificant, different. And different seems bad when you are trying to find your way. What is inside you has dark colors and no glow.

“Dear god,” you may silently cry in the loneliness of a dark room just down the hall from the regular people, “please make me like everyone else.” The prayer might be repeated until you are empty of tears and they no longer wash down your face.

“But I see your true colors shining through

I see your true colors and that’s why I love you…”

If you are different, but not in a bad or destructive way, unlike the majority, you need someone to reach out and tell you it’s all right. Someone, anyone, needs to explain that different can be okay. Each can possess unique characteristics that make them special, important, creative, fun. And everyone is worthy of love.

“So don’t be afraid to let them show: your true colors…”

Encouragement is needed to let friends, neighbors, and especially young ones know that each has his own gift. We can’t all be the same. We can’t all do the same things. There is nothing wrong with singing a different tune, being a different kind of person. Diversity can be strength. All the pieces can come together to form a perfect picture. When all the colors are put alongside each other, they can bring everyone joy.

“True colors are beautiful like a rainbow.”

If all this seems a bit cryptic, then let’s just say it is tough to grow up different and hiding who you are. The song “True Colors” has taken on a rather symbolic meaning in some circles since it was first recorded by Cyndi Lauper. Contrary to what some belief, it was not written by Lauper and was in fact the only song on her True Colors album she did not have a hand in writing. Nevertheless, it resonated with her and years later she co-founded the True Colors Fund to wipe out LGBT youth homelessness.

John Legend sings this for kids and teachers. You can find a Cyndi Lauper version and some thoughts on Pride in who you are on the Sunday Night Blog today.

THE WACKOS ARE COMING, THE WACKOS ARE COMING

I’ve been exploring the Internet longer than most people … basically since it became accessible to “regular” folks. Those were the days when you had to buy special software — Netscape — to get on the net. Protocols were more rigid and frankly, once you got on, there wasn’t all that much to do.

The most useful thing about the Internet was being able to work remotely from home via modem. I had a very fast modem — 2400 BPS! Imagine that. No high speed connections yet, so logging on was a project and not always successful. While your modem and computer square-danced in another room, you could prepare dinner, eat it and wash the dishes … by which time maybe you’d be connected. Maybe not.

Now, of course, connecting is fast, generally easy and everyone does it all the time on every kind of device from computers, tablets, and telephones to DVD players, and cameras. WiFi rules.

Technology has come a very long way in a remarkably short time … but people have not. The same crazy people who were out there 25 or 30 years ago are still out there. Now though, they’ve brought their wacko friends to the party. All the original nutters are with us still — along with their buddies. Men and women of all ages from nations around the globe, all out there promoting a lot of weird shit. I’d call it something else, but frankly, I don’t have a better name for it.

unabomber-sketchCyberspace is home to a rich cross-section of whack jobs. Most are probably harmless cranks. But. There are some scary people out there too. Conspiracy theorists who believe Aliens, the CIA, FBI, NSA, President Obama, the Democratic Party or Fox News are controlling our government and it is our duty to overthrow them. Kill them. Nuke them. Get a big gun, find a nice high building, and start shooting. Or build bombs and blow them up. We have more than enough wannabe unabombers looking for their 15 minutes.

For reasons I cannot fathom, a percentage of these people are my followers. WordPress lets you spam commenters, but we have no choice about who follows us. The sneakiest of the crazies become followers so they can access your site. They scare the crap out of me.

Just because they are “out in cyberspace” doesn’t mean they can’t find me and drop by for an up-close and personal visit. It is why I am so determined to control who has access to my site and why I am ultra careful about strangers “advertising” on Serendipity. I had one yesterday. I gave him the benefit of a doubt, though I had that itchy feeling I was making a mistake.

unabomberHe came back to lecture me on how I was a fraud. Not a true believer in the media-CIA conspiracy to control us and strip us of our freedom. Especially the right to be armed to the teeth and kill bad guys (bad guy = anyone with whom he doesn’t agree).

He explained I was obviously determined to remain ignorant of The Truth — of which he was In Possession — and which he would very much like to share with the world. Truth like “What Really Happened on 9/11,” and how ALL THE MEDIA IN THE WORLD is controlled by the CIA.

Alrighty. I should have trusted my gut the first time I encountered this loony. He’s been trying to get on Serendipity for a while and each time, I’ve deleted his comments. Until yesterday when I gave him a brief pass.

It’s a cautionary tale. We want to be fair, kind, give the other guys’ opinions airtime. We are open-minded, reasonable people. Problem is, they are not. They are dangerous and often psychotic. You don’t want them on your site or anywhere in your world.

Watch out. Err on the side of caution. They can find you if they try and some of them will.

I have this on good authority. That voice in my head … you know, my secret contact in the CIA  … he told me.

SUNDAY IS FOR PREACHING

A sermon on smoking and other pastimes by Rich Paschall, Sunday Night Blog

I was thinking about this recently because of people who passed. A few weeks back I wrote about Betty, a friend and co-author of a play we worked on together (Liberation).  Emphysema robbed her of her breath. She was a chain smoker throughout the years I knew her. Then a few weeks ago I received a text message from a cousin to advise me that the husband of one of our many cousins had passed away of throat cancer and various complications resulting from chemotherapy. He was 52 and had been a heavy smoker. I am saddened by the people who die so young.

cig and ashtray-1When you mention these things to smokers you may get one of the following excuses:  “What difference does it make?  You have to die of something.” Under this sort of thinking you might was well jump in front of a fast-moving train or jump off the Willis (aka Sears) Tower. Yes, of course we are all going to die of something someday, that does not mean we should try hard to cut this life short. I don’t even care if you think there is another life out there for you anyway. Why would you willingly give up a sure thing on a bet?

2.  “It will never happen to me.” I never thought I would have nerve damage in my foot and have difficulty moving about. I never thought someone in an 18 wheeler would  run me off the road and total my car, with me in it. I never thought someone would beat me up and leave me bleeding a lot. I never thought the rich would wish to deny healthcare to the poor. You just never know, why take chances?

3.  “My uncle smoked a pack a day and nothing ever happened to him.” OK, some people win the Lotto too, but I would not count on that as passing down through the family. My father’s older brother smoked as much and perhaps more than my father ever did and he out lived my dad by a lot. Perhaps it was because he smoked a different brand. Perhaps it was because he had a better diet. Perhaps it was just dumb luck.

4.  “I’m going to quit. I just can’t do it right now.” I think I have heard this one the most. So when is the time going to come? Will it happen after you have lung cancer, throat cancer or whatever? Remember what happened to Roger Ebert? He had part of his jaw removed.  He had to give up his popular television show. He had to wear a mask in public. He lost his voice. While you are waiting for the right time to quit, you can end up like that.

5. “I can quit anytime I want.” Really? Then why don’t you? No one is fooled. No one believes you. You don’t want to quit or you can’t quit. Either way, you should get help, buddy. I am as serious as a heart attack. Maybe not the heart attack you might have, but serious anyway. If you don’t give it up, then you are addicted or you don’t want to quit. If you are addicted, get help. Your friends and family will support you. If they won’t, avoid them. If you don’t want to quit, you are not living in the real world and watching the cancer statistics. Google “smoking deaths” or something like that and tell us what you get.

6.  “Everyone has some sort of vice.” I am not sure about that, but yes, a lot of people drink too much, do too many recreational drugs, have too much casual sex or something that may kill them. Is that a reason to do something that might kill you?

Since it is Sunday, I confess that I have not been an angel on earth. As I get older, however, I am more aware of the stupid stuff that can do me harm and try to avoid it if I can. What about you? This is the only Sunday I am going to preach on this topic. If you did not get the point, go to church next Sunday and pray for guidance. Seriously.

STUMBLING DOWN THE WINDING ROAD

They warn you when they send you home it will be hard, especially the first few weeks. They warn you about depression. It seems to be part of the heart surgery package and hits pretty much everyone to some degree. Some of us worse than others. The emotional healing component is a wild card. Assuming that physical healing proceeds without incident, there’s no predictable pattern — or much available help — for handling feeling.

There’s a sense of loss, that “something is missing,” though you don’t know exactly what it is. A sense of dis-empowerment, that you’ve lost your dignity, a part of your self-hood. There’s a sense of having been raped, assaulted, beaten down.

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Some feelings result from the very real physical assault of all that surgery. Your body has been invaded, redesigned, twisted, opened, broken and put back together. You may not have been conscious when it was happening, but your body remembers even if your brain can’t recall details.

Waking up after the surgery, I knew something was missing, some part of me was gone and I was afraid to awaken until I found the lost piece. Eventually I bowed to the inevitable and woke up, but becoming conscious was accompanied by a profound sense of loss. I’m not who I was. I know I am — at least technically — better, but it’s hard to imagine ever feeling whole again.

Even after breast cancer and having both breasts removed, the sense of loss was nothing like this. There was pain, confusion, fear … but surprisingly little sense of mutilation.

The complexity of my feelings combines with a sometimes overwhelming physical misery. It makes me wonder why I went through all of this. To what purpose? I know the correct answers to these questions, but as the days wear on and evening approaches, it feels as if I am wearing a too-tight iron brassière. I can feel the hard metal straps cutting into my shoulders and my chest feels crushed. It’s hard to breathe, hard to even think.

I whimper and wrap myself in a heating pad, trying to soothe cramping muscles and twisted bones.

All systems are messed up. Digestion, breathing, skeleton … everything feels off. Sleeping is difficult. Finding a position that doesn’t hurt is a major challenge. I have a headache much of the time. The headache isn’t so bad … it’s just the “insult to injury” part of the process.

I have a little mantra I keep repeating to myself. “I can do it,” I say. “I CAN do it. I can do it. I can.” Whatever it is, I do it.

I can shower on my own. Thanks to one wonderful friend, I can do my bathroom stuff and actually get up and down from the toilet without the humiliation of needing help. I can do small things. Make myself a sandwich, toast an English muffin. Read a bit, Write a bit too. My back took a beating. Whatever they did to me in the operating room, I came out of there with new problems in new places. Oh well. I guess it will heal. Eventually.

My other mantra: “It will get better. It will be better. I will be better. I will be better. The future is worth living.” I mean it. But it hurts.

If it were not for friends and especially for Garry who bears the brunt of both my physical inadequacies and my emotional messiness, I’m not sure I would be able to go on. I know this is taking a lot out of him and it adds just one more layer to that invasive sense of helplessness.

It will be better. I can do it. We can do it together.

I just hope it’s worth it.

 

IF YOU CAN’T FIX IT, COMFY FURNITURE HELPS

Ouch! That really hurts! My back’s been a mess since I was a kid. Fell off one horse too many. Rebuilt in 1967 — fusion and laminectomy using saws, drills and chisels — long before micro surgery and instrumentation. I’m not special because I deal with pain. I’ve got plenty of company. Sometimes, too much company. We’re all squished together in an over-crowded lifeboat.

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Me at 20, a year post spinal fusion.

I’ve had a lot of problems with my back over the years. The fusion, made from bone paste taken from my hip, began to disintegrate about 25 years ago. Nature kindly replaced it with a sheathing of arthritic calcification. That’s not such a bad thing because without the arthritis, I’d (literally) fall apart.

Looking at pictures of me in years gone by, I got to wondering how life landed me here. How did the bright-eyed woman become this creaking achy old thing fighting to keep moving under her own power?

Who is this person?

She doesn’t look or act like me. I can vouch for this because I used to be her, but now I am not at all sure who I am or whose body this is. Maybe while I slept, someone gave me an impostor body. I would jump right on the impostor theory except being me is not something a sane person would want. If I had a say in the matter, I would be healthier, wealthier and younger. Some other body, but I’d keep the brain. I like that part of me.

Life changes, sometimes in a split second.

Remember Christopher Reeve? One minute, he was a big, handsome, strapping movie star. A dreadful split second later, he was someone else.

My down hill slide occurred at the pace at which bones and joints calcify. I broke my back when I was a kid. I was reconstructed when I was 19. For the next 35 years, I refused to pay any attention to my spine. I was not going to be disabled. Not me. It was mind over matter and I am strong.

Turns out, mind over matter only takes you so far. Seven years ago, I began to have trouble walking. My balance became erratic. I lost sensation in my feet and miscellaneous reflexes disappeared. (I didn’t yet know about the heart problems which no doubt contributed.)

I went to doctors, orthopedic hot shots. All of them said I need a new spinal fusion, the old one having fallen apart over the long years. Diagnosis: Horrible spine. Solution: New fusion in which I get screwed together using metal rods. After surgery, I would be in even more pain than now, but my spine would be stable. Say what? This surgery would be the 21st century version of the surgery I had in 1967.

I said Hell no and took my case to the top spine guy in Boston, the Supreme Court of spinal diagnosis. He said I don’t need surgery. More to the point, he said the surgery wouldn’t solve my problems.

This time I heard: “Your back has got you through this far, it’ll take you the rest of the way. Pain control, gentle exercise, and recognize your limits. Don’t do anything stupid.” Like fall off a horse? Lift heavy packages?

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There are a lot of members of the back pain club. After you join the club, you usually get a lifetime membership. I finally discovered I have a problem I can’t fix. No amount of persistence, research, medical attention or cleverness is going to make it go away. So I’ve designed the world to make my back happy. We have a back-friendly home. From our adjustable bed, to the reclining sofa, our place is kind to spines.

There’s no moral to this story. It’s just life. If you don’t die young, odds are you hurt. The years roll on, pain gets worse.

I’ve had to accept reality but I don’t have to like it. Sooner or later we all face an intractable problem. Or several. It’s a nasty shock, especially if you’ve always believed you are unstoppable. When you hit that wall, I recommend buying very comfortable furniture.