Sunday, April 13, 2014

13 April 2014
Sunday

This morning, while eating breakfast I had one of those moments, that are usually fairly pedestrian and could happen to anybody. It occurred while I was eating bacon. Normally this would not phase me, except that in this facility we are rarely privileged to have real bacon, as in from a pig. The regular choice, which the residents don't get to make, is turkey bacon, a real miscarriage against the English language. It is from the thigh of a turkey, but it sort of kinda looks like bacon – if you haven't had the real thing for a long time, and you miss having bacon with breakfast.

Under those abnormal conditions, and with a lot of wishful thinking, I suppose you could be excused for hallucinating this dry, tasteless strip from a processed turkey carcass as bacon. The strips of flesh are usually shorter, much less infused with fat, which when heated in real bacon turn into liquid grease, and the contrast in the darker meat from the fat is not as distinctive as it is in real bacon. The final difference is the flavor. Everyone knows that fat is the flavor's address in meat. You want flavor. Dial up the fat. Why do you think good cooks save the bacon drippings when they cook bacon? They save it to add zing to normally flavor deprived foods like green beans. Turkey bacon isn't meant to taste good. You know that because the facility dietician constantly serves it to you, they call it a healthier bacon. This is like a politician telling you that a substitution is being made for the good of the public. It leaves a bad taste in your mouth. I know another healthy way to eat – stay away from things like turkey bacon. If you don't eat it all those bacon eating maladies won't affect you, and your taste buds are not assaulted too, as you try to reconcile Turkey bacon.

So on this Sunday morning I am eating at the end of my meal, a helping of Eggbeaters brand fake scrambled eggs, my allotment of two strips of genuine pork belly bacon. The smell of the bacon fat, the not as tough and stringy mouth feel as the turkey bacon, the flavor of real bacon makes my mouth come alive. I can feel the salivary glands in my mouth becoming active, my mouth is becoming lubricated like a Pavlovian dog hearing the bell, next I will need a slug of orange juice just to balance out the experience. I am suddenly aware. The world narrows down to just lying on my back and the bacon experience in my mouth. I take a second bite. The reddish meat parts easily between my teeth, no so tough and chewy as the miserable turkey substitute. Noticing this difference, I linger over the taste in my mouth. This meal could live within me a very long time.

I recall Sunday brunches where there were endless passes at the buffet, the many returns for more bacon. That it seemed like a forbidden treat for which the restriction had been temporarily removed. The only requirement then was I had to dress up, at least a sport coat (I did away with ties early in my life) The comparison between then and now was similar. The endless bacon was similar to today's bacon, it was cooked just right, not over cooked and too crisp. Not everyone seems to know how to stop cooking bacon at just the right time. To zealous at applying the heat too long or too high, results in overdone bacon, which is not so satisfying. This morning's bacon transported me far beyond the same white walls of this room I have come to know so well.

I am recalling deer hunting trips that were more of an excuse to get into the woods than actual hunting. The magic of early morning cooking bacon and eggs on a 1950's era folding propane stove in what was an old left over deer blind made from pine boughs. It was roughly equivalent to the snow forts we used to make when I was a kid, back when winter meant much more snowfall than now. Like those snow forts the walls of this deer hide were about four feet high, you would have to hunker down to be hidden. We weren't, it was breakfast, not hunting right now. The bows were unstrung, gathered in a corner of the pine bows. All of us, my father, mother and myself were staring at the miracle unfolding before us. Heads down almost in rapt (or was it reverent) silence we all of us dumbly watching the eggs and bacon magically transforming into breakfast right there in the woods, far from the usual breakfast preparation conditions. Heads down, hands in pockets of our hooded sweatshirts, we stood paying our attention to our own miracle unfolding right there. The eggs frying in the bacon fat, sizzled and popped in the hot grease. The bacon smell in the air, mingling with the resinous pine in which we stood. The fact that the very forest floor was soft and springy, unlike any floor I'd stood on while waiting for breakfast to cook joined the elements of the day. It was unique and a special experience.

Then there was a snort! A deep, resonant, sharp sudden exhale as if some large chested creature was clearing its nose from prior odors in order to take in more clues. Slowly we turned and looked behind us. There was a big buck, a male deer, with a large rack of antlers, head down so its head was even with its back looking directly at the propane kitchen and the iron skillet with the bacon and eggs cooking away, smelling up his woods.

There wasn't much that could be done, the bows were unstrung in the corner nearest to the deer. None of us had really practiced much with the bows anyway, so the deer was safe with us playing at being hunters. Besides, if we had been able to snap off a shot, the arrow would have sailed off swiftly into the woods bearing its murderous expensive broad head, to never be found again. The deer was safe with us. We all stood there for one of those moments that last an eternity, you can tell by how many sequential instantaneous thoughts seem to fit in that brief section of time.

The eggs popped one more time, the deer decided that he knew enough and with another snort, shook his head in a rolling motion as would a dog after a swim,but not as fast, turned and stepped away. He melted into the woods. The bubbling of the eggs in the hot grease drew our attention back to the miracle breakfast being cooked in the woods, which had just become more miraculous. I found a spot to sit down cross legged on the forest floor with me plate in my lap. Eggs and bacon in the woods is nice, add in some local fauna and it gets a whole lot better.

The reality of that moment grew. Not only were the setup conditions different from normal, cooking breakfast in the woods, etc. But through that difference there was a trigger to notice and to pay attention to the tiny elements that seemed so extraordinary so out of proportion with what passes for normal. These miniscule elements seemed to insist in a silent but very compelling way, take notice of this, its just like every other small element, but this time it will stand out to you. Do not fluff it off as you do every other common element. These come around often but only those who are mindful, will walk fully into the moment and are aware. Similar to the natural photographer's credo; “You have to be there.” So how is it you want to be there? Blind and dumb in the usual fashion, discounting everything with your mind. Or do you choose to be there as real as possible. Like the choice Morpheus offered Neo, we all get to choose the beauty and richness that surrounds us, or stay with the hypothetical blue pill and not see what is truly happening around us. Bacon offered me that choice this morning.

John Whiting






Wednesday, April 9, 2014

9 April 2014
Wednesday

The nightmare continues

It is early morning, breakfast is due any moment now. I'm feeling hungry, not ravenously so, just noticing that I could stand to eat. I have lost weight in the last few months, the food here is not anywhere near what would be called homestyle cooking. Over time the crummy food and its lack have made it easy to not over eat. Since my life is so sedentary these days my metabolism is the largest consumer of calories. At first there was a little bit of emptiness and hunger after a meal, but after just a few weeks that soon left. Now it takes very little to fill me up at any meal.

The content of the meals has settled into a predictable routine. At first the breakfast often consisted of fried eggs, often served over easy with a liquid yolk, just like I am used to eating for a lifetime. That didn't last for long though. The facility decided that they needed to have a new service providing the meals. A meeting was called and the residents were informed that some things would be different from now on. One of the differences was to be no more over easy fried eggs, no loose yolks. Why? We were told that it was a State law, you could get an e. coli infection from eating improperly cooked eggs. Gee, I always thought that over easy was the proper way to cook an egg, anything else demonstrated failure to be attentive to the act of cooking that egg.

According to the State, that would be wrong. They were very interested in making sure the citizens were not going to be made ill from chicken feces on the egg shell. Short of investing great sums of money training Gallus gallus not to defecate on their recently produced ovum, the State must have assumed that B.F. Skinner to the contrary, avians cannot be reinforced to be potty trained. Knowing this the egg producing industry has developed brooding boxes that, using gravity, guide the egg away from the female fowl. Then the egg is mechanically scrubbed with soap and water with a a sanitizer. This must work, I have never seen an egg from the grocery store with a little decorative ca-ca gracing the outside container.

The kitchen's method of dealing with this avian egg fouling tendency is to begin the over easy egg cooking process as usual, then to stick a utensil into the yolk and allow it to flow onto the cooking surface to heat the medium to the e. coli killing temperature deemed sufficient. It seems that the kitchen tries to make sure they are doing their job beyond any shadow of doubt by letting the entire egg cook too long thus becoming hard and rubbery. Basically inedible, over time the kitchen has finally figured out that I have not been eating the eggs they have been sending up. Then suddenly the breakfast egg choice made for me was scrambled eggs. Not real eggs all beat up and scrambled, then cooked, but Eggbeaters a commercial product made of egg whites and food grade dye made to imitate eggs scrambled. If you don't eat them, they do look like scrambled eggs, the color is right, the eggs fluffy, but looks alone don't make suitable eggs. The heft is not there, the eggs are light in the spoon as they are lifted from the plate, the eggs don't hold together well. When a fork is used to separate a portion of eggs from the rest in order to lift it to the mouth, they crumble leaving tiny bits that don't utilize a fork very well. It is easier to contain a lot of egg bits in the bowl of a spoon than far fewer on a fork. Then there is the mouth feel, eating Eggbeaters is very fluffy. Cotton candy, made with the empty calories of spun sugar, has more heft in the mouth than whipped egg whites, in the mouth the cleveryellow dye has no effect whatsoever.

So, awaiting breakfast, I know from experience of the repeating menu style what to expect. Tuesdays the only thing I like to eat are the psuedo scrambled eggs. This being Wednesday the eggs will be augmented with a slice of American cheese artfully draped over the top of the egg mass and melted. The cheese does a little more to hold the egg fluff together, from the topside, nut near as well as if it were broken up, mixed in with Eggbeaters and then cooked. But that never happens, too much forethought, or too much work, it doesn't matter, its just somebody's breakfast. It is this energetic element, that tags along, invisibly and without any recognition that such a thing can exist that gives the meal its extra characteristic. A sort of negative spice that detracts from the food that is provided.

I am reminded of when I was married. The wife was not very kitchen oriented. She looked at the kitchen in the way a house magazine would, from a photographic point of view, if it looks nice or clean. To me the kitchen was a workshop, a playground, a place to regularly create edibles. From meals of many courses to snacks, ice creams and deserts to the baked products that I had to make myself as gluten free had not entered the public mind yet. The wife specialized in a socially accepted form of self isolation and emotional distancing – she slept on the couch a lot. Not at night, she had no trouble sleeping in bed at night, and she was not ill in any way. She just preferred to not engage, and napping on the couch was her preferred method of stealth avoidance. It was socially acceptable, easily effected, and readily available. There is a couch everywhere. It also had built in socially acceptable niceties, unlike leaving the public areas to sleep in the bedroom with the door closed, which screams of physical isolation, and possibly snubbing those remaining behind. Couch slumbering gave her an emotional exit without expecting her to just get up and retreat to another room. In the afternoon, about five or six she would make a box of Kraft Macaroni and Cheese for herself then eat the entire box, leave the sauce pan in the sink and fall asleep on the couch with the television running. I used to teasingly say that she was roasting her feet by the glow of the television, specifically CBS. A few minutes later I would announce that I was going to fix some dinner, did she want anything? “No”, would come the reply, “I just had some macaroni” from the other room. I would whip up some fried rice or stir fry, some other fast oriental dish, or a baked chicken, or some hamburger stroganoff with fried mushrooms – something different every night. I knew from experience, even if she said she didn't want anything before I cooked, she always “decided” that she would like a little, if there was any left over. I always made a portion and a half, knowing that she would want more than a taste but less than a full share. You see, I know how to cook, without even using recipes as a guide. Although they do serve their own pupose.


Breakfast here always means eggs. Once they were prepared over easy. Then the State knew better, the eggs were prepared overcooked with the yolk broken until the whole thing was rubbery. I just ignored those, so now the egg choice is pseudo eggs that look like scrambled eggs, but fall apart getting shoved onto a spoon, and have no heft or mouthfeel of real eggs in the mouth. The kitchen never changes it up, with hash browns or hamburger for breakfast. Once in a while they serve a gluten free waffle. But it always has an imitation maple syrup cup to accompany it. Not only is life here monotonous. Just to make sure we get the intent, the breakfasts are too.


Saturday, April 5, 2014

5 April 2014
Saturday


A sunny day after a week of overcast and occasional rain trying to figure out if it is going to be liquid or crystalline. The sunny weather reminds me of the many trips from Michigan to the rockies for ski trips. There were infrequent snow storms along the way. Those often developed into trips on the interstate of epic proportions. I remember those too. But the sun favors remember the other trips, the ones where once past Gary, Indiana and the lake effect of Lake Michigan the weather seemed to be made from a whole 'nother world.

Leaving the house may have been in a raging snow storm, slippery roads, poor visibility, and legitimate concerns about safety and eventual arrival, but once past the Ripley Street exit on the Dan Ryan expressway, the weather was in a process of change. Like a toddler transitioning at the end of a tantrum, the fury of the sideways snow and the slop on the pavement began to lessen. Not suddenly, but each passing mile in short order showed less clouded skies, more patches of blue, then brilliant sunshine. The advantage driving lend to this is similar to flying, that is once you are through the precipitation you realize that on the other side of the clouds, the sun has been shining all along. The only difference from flying is the ground traveler has to reach the edge of the clouds whereas the air passenger only has to rise through the cloud cover to see unlimited sunlight.

After several ski trips out west, the wife decided that she would rather fly to Florida to see her parents on the next vacation. I have been to her parents home before, while they are nice people, I never had any troubles getting along with them. But there is not much to do there. Any events of interest has to be planned and driven to, trips to SeaWorld, Edison's Florida digs, the Ding Darling nature preserve to see alligators in the wild, Sanibel island. They were always interesting enough, but vacation was always in a car after traveling by car to get there. Besides the wife always participated in one of her favorite activities when we were there – taking a nap. Unlike at home however, she did not occupy a couch in the middle of the living area, she would repair to the guest bedroom we were using in that home.

The wife never did enjoy the endless hours in the car, traveling across the plains states. She always wanted to fly, which always seemed so sterile. Air travel may be fast, but it is never easy or cheap. You are limited in what you can take with you. If you don't carry what you want on board with you it is unavailable in the hold until the end of the flight. On the other hand in a car you can artfully pack a lot of material.

I owned a series of Volkswagen Rabbit vehicles several years in a row. Most people who got in my car with me who had never been in a Rabbit were amazed at how much room was in the vehicle. The inside was not full of plastic that took up a lot of space like most American vehicles. One particular trip the wife was winging her way to Florida, I was driving out west with my dog. He was a good traveller and fit in with the program very well.

In preparation, I removed the back seat and stored it in the basement. The plan was to have the passenger seat operational during the driving time, then when we stop for the day, to remove the seat by undoing one bolt then holding the seat catchment ratchet open slide the seat forward until it came off its rails. Now the freed seat is folded and stored behind the driver's seat in a very slim package. Next placing my duffle bag on the floor where the passenger seat had been I had a long oprn surface from under the glove box (where my feet went) all the way to under the hatchback glass where my head would be. The entire shift took less than five minutes. I could unroll my sleeping bag inside of the car, climb in, shut and lock the doors and sleep in my own mobile cocoon with my dog curled up right next to me.

On this particular trip I was accompanied by my first Golden retriever, Gabriel. He sat in the passenger seat looking out the window paying attention to the countryside zipping by outside the window. Like a navigator he kept an eye on where we were, he had been on this route before as we always took him with us on every trip to go skiing. We always stayed with friends wheen we went skiing. Their dog got along well with Gabriel so there was no issue there. Gabe was not one of those breeds prone to drooling like some big dogs do, so he was a clean and neat traveller. I would stop about every two hours a the next nearest rest stop for bladder breaks. First I would walk him for a tour about the grounds of the rest area, then back in the car for a moment, lock the doors, then my turn inside at the facilities. I would fill a liter water bottle inside and bring it with me to the car. I would open the passenger door, scrabble around inside for the water bowl, set it on the floor on the passenger side and pour some water into it. Gabe bounded out, stood on the ground with head in the car and lapped water to keep him hydrated a while. Then back in the car, we both found our seats, and back on the road again.

Hour after hour, mile by mile we slipped across Iowa then Nebraska. Gabe keeping a watchful eye on the rolling flatlands spread out akong the way. I had my usual snacky type eats in tupperware sealed bowls that I could fish out from the backseat area and eat while driving, occasionally sharing a bit with Gabriel. About lunchtime we would pull off the road to a world famous restaurant with well known golden arches for a couple of MacDoodle burgers, Gabriel's favorite. Beyond the pickup window and still in the parking lot we would stop and park the car. I would tear a burger into smaller bite sized chunks and hand feed Gabe. He was a careful but lusty eater, taking each bit offered very carefully then with gusto he would eat it. We always free fed our dogs, there was always kibble in their food bowl. At times there were two dogs and one bowl. There never was competition for food or that hunger prancing at feeding time. Free feeding dispensed with most food issues. However, anything that smacked of meat could elicit the standard canine behaviors and urgent responses toward meat. Meat in my dog's lives was a treat rather than a daily event. So the learned response to food never was challenged. After we were done eating, the leash came out and we went for a quick tour of Ronald's place. A few examinations of special areas that catch a dog's interest and we were done. Back in the car, to the highway and the free fall westward.

Across Iowa and into Nebraska we rolled, watching the sun change its inclination to the land as the day wore on. Somewhere in western Iowa the sun called it a day and dropped below the horizon leaving the land in gathering darkness. By the time we reach Omaha the sky is dark and the neon shouts its silent message into the night. The Sapp Brothers truck stop signs invite the trucker to stop, linger a while, spend some money. Spending money is not the highlight of this trip, we keep on traveling west. Aside from slipping by the Chicago area at the beginning, Omaha is the only big metropolitan area we pass until Denver. Signs familiar because they have been passed so many times before, Henry Doorly Zoo, Aksarben arena and Aksarben suburb (these folks want to honor something but there is not much here, they just spell Nebraska backwards and run with that). Once past the bulk of the city the road seems to ghost on for a very long way westward, gradually bearing less local traffic and less in the way highway sized streetlights, billboards increase illuminated against the dark of night. On and off ramps diminish as do the street lights, eventually leaving those long distance travelers of us on our watchful way headed for Lincoln.

Lincoln, Nebraska, we've stopped there many times before. Its not a large town but it has the University of Nebraska, it is the state capitol, and there are some light businesses there, plus a sizable airport. On the west side of town is a Motel Six that is clean, fairly new and not in a rundown part of town, which lightens the traveling fear factor. Remember when Motel Six was really $6 per night? Inflation took care of that in short order. Now various municipalities have discovered there is cash to be fleeced from people passing through who won't stick around to vote against such nefarious deeds and the local politicians who promote these “hotel taxes”. Now an average stay at Motel Six is just shy of $40, not including your friendly local hotel tax.

Back when Gabe and I were traveling the rate was 8 or 10 dollars a night. Not bad for a shower and sheets. Now Motel Six has “upgraded” there rooms with new European style furniture, wi-fi, and flatscreen TVs, all of which will make no impact on me once my eyes are closed and I am asleep. When traveling with the wife we would roll in somewhere shortly after midnight and leave about six the next morning. Once asleep the d├ęcor and other niceties of home are not necessary. For our trip both Gabe and I could forego the shower for one night, we just needed a safe place to sleep, which the car easily afforded with the minor modifications made before we started out.

The Rabbit was a 1980 model, Tarpon blue in color, with a five speed manual gear. Top gear was an overdrive ratio so the car would lope along with very low engine revolutions. This lowered engine noise and dropped the mechanical tension that mounts after a long day of driving. Once in Wyoming before the federal government “encouraged” the state to declare a speed limit commensurate with the rest of the country, there were no posted speed limits on the Interstate. No posting, no laws to break. The road was fairly new and in good shape, nearly no traffic and no clutter of roadside possible exigencies like a stray dog or tumbleweeds blowing across the road. Depending on my former skills as a test car driver and the conditions I slipped the bonds of restraint and drifted up to 100 mph. I touched 120 for a bit, for a four cylinder engine the car just kept loafing along. At 120 things can go wrong very quickly. I wasn't from around the area. I decided to let up on the throttle a bit. Even at 100 mph the ground gets eaten up pretty quick, and Wyoming is such a big state.

On this trip there was a lot more traffic correspondingly, big ol' lumbering semis and occasional tourists interspersed between them. Besides Nebraska thoroughly dislikes people busting to cross the state just to get to the ski areas out west, especially in the western part of the state, where it is more Wyoming-like and there seems to be an expanse of nothingness. The pole-eece in western Nebraska seem to make a large game out of catching speeders. There are marks painted on the pavement so spotters in airplanes can see which cars are speeding, then they radio to their cohorts on the ground with a description of the cars infracting and coming their way.

But that will be for tomorrow. No use getting into that mindset tonight. Gabe is curled up on the passenger seat, his tail draped over his nose in repose. I am guiding the car without his navigation help from now on. Something about the dark and not being able to see out the side windows. We fly through the dark night, drawn toward Lincoln. Like most towns along the way there is a rest area on either side of town, a few miles from the population center itself. We opt for the one on the west side of Lincoln. The signage announcing Lincoln retreating behind us we look for tonight's lodging area courtesy of the state of Nebraska highway department. We make the exit off the Interstate into the Rest Area. Stop the car near the far end of the parking area away from where the other travelers enter and exit the building. Leash on we do our tour of the grounds. After sufficiently noticing and marking the territory, back to the car . The passenger seat is removed, placed behind the driver's seat, the duffle rearranged and Gabe hops in. I find my toilet kit bag and head for the building with its facilities. Bodily functions relieved, contact lenses blinked out, a quick wash of the face and then back to the car.

I spread out my sleeping bag and climb in, doors are closed and locked, I settle into the sleeping bag and since it is winter I drape my down jacket over Gabriel, who is already curled up in his sleeping position. I scootch down in my sleeping bag, Gabriel snuggles closer to my head am exhales one long sigh into my ear. I gaze up through the hatchback window a the stars above. It will be cold tomorrow morning. Life is good.

This is not the first in vehicle sleeping I have ever done. When I was first married and taking the wife out west to ski, we had a 1981 Volkswagen camper. At that time they were designed for European camping, which is done in the summer along country style roads in tiny sites scattered all through the country. It may have been more suited for light summer outings in this country. Those early air cooled engines were notorious for creating virtually no heat, and at 1600 cc's they were terribly underpowered for a vehicle that was basically a big sail creating great windage. The wife and I did sleep in that vehicle one winter trip in very well designed and made down sleeping bags. A low registering thermometer indicated that the temperature of zero for the night. In the bags was comfortable and roasty – toasty. Getting out of the bags and into a very cold vehicle that had cooled off during the night was chilly. There was a hasty race to get fully clothed. This was no recreational vehicle with propane auxiliary heat that was like a house on wheels that got seven or eight miles to a gallon of gas. If we had gone that route there would be no money for skiing. If there was no skiing, why have a big ol' RV just sitting around?

I'm glad that I made the effort to do all those trips when I did. If I had waited for later when I had saved enough or made enough to do some of the things I enjoyed doing, I would be too old and not up to the task of skiing or backpacking. Doing things on the cheap made the whole adventure more challenging in a way that felt organic and natural.

Now here I am not far from when I used to ski and walk, hike through the woods, it still used to be easy as recently as 2008. The woods and the trails are still there without me, my dogs have all died, their lifetimes are so short. My skis have all been sold or thrown away. Even if I miraculously could get better tomorrow, I have no house or any clothing, no job or hiking boots. In spite of it all I have the memories of having done all the things I once did. How many of my former peers never let themselves build igloos and sleep in the snow or walk in the spring rain just because the warmer weather has been gone so long? At least I did it when I could.



Friday, April 4, 2014

29 March 2014
Saturday

Deja vu Repeats

Like that movie Groundhog Day, this Saturday seems to have been here before. Complete with the same attributes the pattern has demonstrated , a laid back quality that seems to fit the thank-your-lucky-stars Friday is past and the work week is done. And we don't have to gear up for work again until Sunday night mentality. This combination pervades the staff here. As the end of the week approaches, CENAs and nurses alike make references to what they are going to do this coming weekend. The standard work schedule, however, allows each employee only every other weekend open for themselves. The work schedule alternates three days on a day off, with three more days on then two days off. The staff trade work days among themselves as their family needs require. In this way everyone gets to work on the weekend somewhere in the month. The only constant shifts belong to the salary people, floor supervisory nurses who oversee everything that happens on that floor, facility administrator, facility nursing director, the director of rehabilitation.

This difference in these work schedules makes for a difference in the way the employees behave during the week. The folks that work through the weekend occasionally seem to be more approachable, while the salary workers are a little more aloof. I suppose that distance helps to retain their professional demeanor and allows them to make clear headed decisions that are a part of their job duties. But they never seem to be able to drop the professional persona to reveal the person hidden beneath. Thus the decisions that are made that seem to reflect the professional part of the decision maker, and not much that benefits the resident. Decisions that influence the resident act upon the resident as an object, not as a person that may benefit, the facility is the major beneficiary.

Now somewhere in the organizational hierarchy it was decided that to make the time spent here a little more enjoyable for the residents. There is a leisure cart containing reading material so that people might relieve their boredom. Nice idea. But the concept is not carried out very well. The leisure cart contains women's magazines that are several years old, old Zane Grey novels that are older than that, twenty year old Reader's Digest books with extra large print, and an occasional issue of Field & Stream with someone's favorite article ripped out. I find the leisure cart to be more filled with tedium than leisure. The idea of a leisure cart is good at the conceptual level, but the completion of the idea is very lacking. It seems to be stocked with someone's result from a collection of Spring cleaning from various homes. Rather than throw something out, it was donated, somehow the whiff of an insult seems to be unconsciously perpetuated through the leisure cart. If they are going to supply cast off material for leisure activities, how about old Scientific American, Smithsonian, or Nature, and Science magazines. How about library cast offs, there are sure to be some variety there.

Months ago I spoke with the supervisory staff here about doing some leisure activities here that are peculiar to me, I would be glad to help teach others some things like working with glass. I would need about half a room's space and a footlocker to preserve the tools. Well that would take too much space, we don't have that. But for some months now the resident population has been low here, and there are rooms empty and the CENA staff is constantly being whittled down, making life on the remaining residents here that much more difficult. Never fear, if you don't see anything on the leisure cart that appeals, we always have television. Yeah, right. So much for challenging the resident's free time. I am trying to figure out just what qualities of a resident's life television is there to serve?

Another indicator that it is the weekend here, lunch was just served, or as we call it the Saturday mid-day snack. During the week soup is often served with lunch. There is something satisfying to a bowl of soup with a meal. For some obscure reason Saturdays get by around here without any soup. Today the entree was a scoop of chicken salad (everyone else, the non celiacs, gets a chicken salad sandwich) accompanied by a small bowl of diced peaches. Last week's Saturday mid-day snack was three slices of lunchmeat with a slice of cheese. There were also two slices of gluten free bread, I suppose that meal had a dash of self-participation included so we wouldn't feel left out, build yer own sammich, whee! Last Sunday the noon meal was a scoop of egg salad, everyone else got egg salad sandwich. These folks go out of their way to make you feel right at home, although I'm here to say they got me all wrong, I am not that self deprecating or lazy at my house. I used to whip up a bowl of hot and sour soup with plenty of white pepper, or would weekly make a crock pot of Senate Bean Soup, served daily in the US Senate dining room, recipe available form the Michigan Bean Commission.

If good food is a key to one's improving health and maintaining of mental health these folks are definitely not on board with that. In fact I do believe they have no idea of the effect that food can have on people. I suggest a field trip to any sit-down style restaurant with these kitchen gnomes so they can experience for themselves the enlightening notion of good food for good health. There is so much more than calorie content alone. I have spoken with the head dietician, she is indeed a registered dietician. I asked her if she had any restaurant training in her background, “No”, she said, “Why?” The fact that she asked that question in return was most illustrative. It was obvious she never saw the implications of her lack of information background in comparison to being the food manager here.

The food here is a constant reminder that life has been and still could be better, I have never been in a situation where I have been so hamstrung in the ability to improve the situation I was in. Three times a day I am reminded that I have only two choices; to shut up and eat, or ignore it. There have been times when I just don't eat. The CENA staff here tracks the food that you eat during each shift. After a couple of days, the dietician comes to speak with me to find out if anything is wrong with the food. I take the time to explain the connection between eating and good health, physical and mental. She says that she understands, then leaves. The next few meals are no different. The sense I get is why try? Everyone pretends they want to do better by you, but the follow through is definitely lacking. What really hurts is seeing so many people who don't seem to understand, even when you take the time to explain to them.

Then I catch myself. I'm never going to make a dent with these folks. Their idea of a restaurant has a drive through window, food can be ordered through the car window by speaking into a clown face. The menu is on the wall or a weather proof placard outside near the clown face, the paper napkins blot the french fry grease from your fingers, but the special sauce from the burger never completely leaves your fingers. After that your steering wheel is forever filthy and you learn to settle for life corporately designed. Ain't life grand, what we ever do before Burger Doodle with their grease bombs came along?

One of the nurses the other day sat down to watch me take the morning's wad of pills I am supposed to take daily. (This is per one of the state laws. Medications are not to be left with the resident trusting them to take them on their own.) Some CENAs indicate that they have found an occasional pill hiding in a resident's bed, where the resident has lost it and it couldn't be found. The nurses take a darker point of view, the reason I have been given by some are to make sure the resident does not choke on the meds, others have said that they have found that the residents have been putting their meds in the trash next to the bed.

This particular nurse is from the more suspicious group. As soon as I put the last of the pills in my mouth, she leaves the room. I'm surprised that she leaves before I swallow. This leaves a very bad taste behind, she only stayed as long as she did to babysit the pill swallowing exercise. This time she sits down in my wheelchair and just watches me silently. There are eighteen pills, every morning, some of them are huge, I can take them only by themselves. As I swallow the third one she asks, “Why are you so quiet?”

Because I am busy swallowing pills.” between swallows, I reply.

I mean other than that.”

I'm an introvert,” I respond, “I am comfortable with silence. Its like a canvas upon which the sounds of life are arranged. I like to listen to what fills in between the sounds, there is much to be found there.”

What do you mean?” she asks.

Just that, what you just said. How illustrative. Did you catch it? Its very subtle” I reply.

I don't understand” she protests.

Exactly, not everyone does” from me. “Its like trying to explain rock and roll to your parents, they don't understand either. They hope that you will give them a template of words that they can apply in expectation that they will know what you know.”

So, what's wrong with that?”

I patiently reply, “Some people think their way through life, because that is the way they have been taught. Other people add their feelings to the mix. Feelings in one evoke similar resonant feelings in another. Which kind person do you want to be?”

What do you mean?”

What do you feel about a new nickname, how about “Barby Doll”?”

I don't understand.”

Indeed, with time, maybe ...”

Have you ever been in a room when someone enters, they start jabbering, filling the space of silence with lots of verbiage, and yet the feeling you get is the same as before anyone entered the room? There's no substance there, there is nothing to connect to, there might as well be another piece of furniture in the room instead of them. All of that verbiage is just to keep you occupied, distracted from what is really happening, giving your mind a chew toy to keep it busy like a simple dog. Some people are masters at that technique. It has always reminded me of two medieval warriors taunting each other encased in helmet and chain mail, hiding behind huge war shields. Unable to see one another, telling who the other is by the markings on their respective shields, and yet ready to kill the other as soon as they perceive the upper hand position is theirs.

There is so much more to life than that.

Do you remember that television series, canceled way too early, named Northern Exposure? I know it was quirky and a lot of people never saw some of the humor built into some of the scenes. There was one scene where the Native American woman, Marilyn, who was the receptionist in Dr. Joel Fleischman's office was sitting on the bench outside with another native. There was mostly silence between them interrupted with an occassional “Uh-huh,” “I know what you mean”, and “Yep” between them. Being or doing some act was the glue of the situation. The connection between the principles was the real action that was happening. Some people fail to see that. I feel real sorry for them about that.

I realize that there are not that many people who have taken the time to notice the felt component of life. If they have, there is the easy willingness of letting popular media and commercial interests define the unknown for them. Like the tempting candies in the shop window, its hard to resist the temptation of a readymade, generalized, commonplace answer. People that answer to the call of depth and greater realism are far and few between. And they certainly are not going to be haunting a facility like this. Unless something changes on the medical front, I figure the rest of my days will be spent in a place like this.

Makes my lack of being extremely outgoing more poignant and full of feeling. I can only begin to describe the contrast of self mastery and being cared for in the fashion practiced here. This style of care giving is not as life affirming as some might want to think. At least my memories are rich and intact. I may have lost a lot of my possessions and pictures, for now I still have my memories, but rest assured, there are ways those too can be taken. Meanwhile I find that a lot of people are here and in another way they are not here at the same time. Oh, to walk in the woods again!

Ever hopeful,

John Whiting
in the same ol' room, eh what day is it?







31 March 2014
Monday

Start of the day, what would Harpo do?


This morning, at 8:20 AM, the nurse came in with the usual eighteen pill assortment and my Copaxone injection. She was all bright and cheery, bubbling with enthusiasm and making inquisitive small talk using the royal “we”. Bustling about full of efficient movement that gave the impression of great purpose to her behavior. She reports to work at 6 AM, so I imagine that she has been up and awake for a couple of hours by now, at least.

I, on the other hand, was awakened by her officious entry and incessant verbal barrage. I sleep with a CPAP machine which is connected to me with a long hose attached to a mask that is held tight to my face with a harness that fits around my head. The machine is designed to keep a constant airflow moving through my nose, keeping my airway open. Thus stopping sleep apnea of the obstructive type from happening. I have used a CPAP since 1984, by now it is very familiar, like an old friend. One thing I have learned is that speaking while the machine is on, mask affixed, is very difficult. Once the mouth is open air proceedes to enter the nose and then rush out the mouth, giving a very breathy quality to the voice. There is no resonance coming from the chest. Because the design is to keep the airway open, certain sounds are impossible to effect, like forming an “N”. Thank you, becomes thag you. Verbal communication is not the forte of a CPAP machine.

My waking procedure has a methodic approach. First find the bed controller to raise the head portion of the bed so I can reach the on/off button to stop the CPAP machine. Then I have remove one clasp that attaches the harness to the mask so I can remove the mask from my face. Then I have to remove the harness from behind my head so I can set the mask/ harness assembly aside. At this point, like a butterfly emerging from its chrysalis, I am free. Like that butterfly, I am not yet ready to fly. I have to wipe the sleep crumbs from my eyes, take in my surroundings and determine where I am (sadly I am in the same ol' place – again, still). Sometimes I am awakened during a dream. When that happens I have to also decide how I want to respond, which reality am I in, what works here and what does not, in other words having determined where I am, I need to figure the game plan for the interaction protocol in this reality. ( I have some really wild dreams sometimes). Normally this all unwinds fairly quickly, a few seconds to half a minute. But when someone is jabbering non directive, meaningless apothegms I have to factor that in too.

What do you mean saying, “How am I this morning?” That rising tone of inflection implies a question. Are you really asking me this? Do you really need an answer, or is this another one of those mindless colloquialisms that I should answer truthfully with sufficient thought, or equally mindlessly with “OK” or “Fine”. Is it not obvious to you that I am still waking up? Do you wake up in this manner, with someone fully awake babbling inanities at your bedside, armed with stomach upsetting pills and a needle they are going to stick in you? I need some time here to come fully awake and to participate completely with this diurnal world and its strange ways. The behavior being exhibited in front of me, now, is another one of those strange ways. Does everything that happens between us have to go through the mouth? Is everything in the waking world constantly reduced to words?

I could extend my fist with my thumb erect, pointing toward the ceiling in the universal affirmation sign. But I'm not feeling so affirmative just yet, I just woke up, if you care to recall. I suppose that I could pass my open hand, palm facing down, in a back and forth horizontal fashion, signalling so-so. But some people, nurses especially, like to play junior social worker. Such a neutral expression is often an invitation for more talking, more requests for further information, more explanations as to why I would feel like that, and the felt sensation that I have to defend my feelings as if they were not the “approved” way to be on this particular morning. I was just sleeping a few moments ago. I haven't been up for hours by now like you. I haven't had any breakfast yet either. I'll bet you even had some coffee too. Real coffee, not the lukewarm decaff the facility pushes on us. And maybe real eggs of substance, not the anemic egg white substitute we get here. I'll wager that you have even made hundreds of personal choices already by the time you come in to my room to force me into your world. There is so much that I could tell you, about good quality food, making meaningful choices that have some bearing on the direction of my life, but you don't have any time for that. You have other medications to dispense to many other residents. They must stretch endlessly down the hall.Thankfully, unlike yesterday's nurse, you refrain from staying and watching me until I take all of my pills and probing for some kind of way to understand me.

Soon the nurse leaves and the incessant stream of verbal barrage leaves along with her. This nurse closes the door when she leaves, unlike most of the other nurses. Alone with my thoughts I look at the little plastic cup and the eighteen pills of various colors and sizes. The task is clear, I have to begin taking those pills on an empty stomach. Soon the breakfast will arrive and my medication is spread out on the table where the tray is to be placed. The unspoken and the spoken expectations have begun. I am without thought or care launched into another day of the same stuff. I smirk as I wonder what would Harpo Marx do? Given the overwhelming odds against him to be like everyone else, what would Harpo do?





31 March 2014
Monday noon

The perfect cup of disillusionment coffee

The breakfast tray was not cleared away until the lunch tray was brought in. A sure sign that the CENA – resident ratio rule was in force again. If there are not enough residents, there is always one CENA sent home. The remaining CENAs now are expected to do the same chores for the residents minus one other helper. This sets everything back. If you have need of a CENA, just push the call light switch. When the resident ratio rule is in effect, this means that there may be a response in half an hour to forty-five minutes, or maybe not.

The lunch was delivered with a cup of coffee. Normally the coffee is of a disappointing nature. It is a dubious brand, often the cheaper of the selection in the grocery store. It is always decaffeinated (can't have the residents hopped up on caffeine now, can we), and always served at a tepid temperature (the responsibility factor is so big for these people that there is this tremendous fear of burning one's self). So the coffee is brewed in the kitchen, behind locked doors, then not allowed out until until it has cooled down greatly. It Is served with breakfast, in the morning, when most people take on their daily caffeine load. You can have as much as you would like, but why, there is no caffeine to have any effect. The coffee is certainly not drunk for the fine flavor of carefully chosen beans, roasted to perfection, then impeccably brewed. That does not happen. If you were a coffee drinker when you came here, there is nothing here to sustain such a habit – unless you thoroughly enjoy the taste of heavily chlorinated municipal water.

Caffeine has a half life of six hours in the human body. It is easily excreted. The half life of decaffeinated coffee is negligible, except for the taste of poorly made coffee. That can haunt you for days. The lunch tray was delivered with a cup of coffee, no sugar packets and no cream in the little sealed plastic thimbles that cream is delivered. I push the call light button, hoping to request the missing coffee condiments.


Fifty minutes later a CENA responds, asking what I would like. It seems silly now. The cool coffee has gone completely cold. The originally served disappointing coffee has become disillusioning now. It is absolutely amazing to watch the special transformative powers this place has on food stuffs. Not to be confused with the act of cooking, which is debatable. Just simple tardiness and transformation. 
1 April 2014
A Brand New Month
Tuesday

I often listen to the radio on my iPod . It is convenient, small, and is easy to have nearby as I live my life horizontal in a hospital bed. I plug a pair of Sennheiser earbuds into the iPod as Apple's earbuds, even the new style, don't stay in my ears very well.

Today I was listening to the University radio station, WKAR (wkar.org). The station is non commercial so there are none of those pesky ads that do so well at injecting a for-profit mentality into my daily life. The station promotes itself as a classical and an NPR station, this means the only times there is a break for filthy lucre comes only twice a year for week long pledge drives. That I can tolerate. The radio station produces a local news program called Current State, aired every day just after the NPR Morning Edition and All Things Considered programs. Current State is about local and regional items of interest.

This morning on Current State there was an article about how the University has begun a project to digitize its video and audio records collected over the years. These records extend from the game films made by the sporting team coaches of various games over the years to be used as training for the athletes to learn from the last game, to various speakers who have been on campus. These records have been available to anyone over the years for pleasure or research. The digitizing project is being undertaken because some of the records are in their original formats in which they were made. Old video and audio tapes are slowly breaking downand disintegrating, in some cases the technology has out paced the equipment used to make and replay them. How many people can find a Betamax player any more, or a reel to reel tape player? Quick hand me that thumb drive before this one gets away. No thumb drive anymore? Then make that a USB adapter and a nano SD card, before things change again.

Hearing that article reminded me of how many iterations some of the technology has gone through. Remember 45's, LPs, reel to reel tapes, 8 – tracks, cassettes, CDs and their necessary players? Each used its own technology, that was not compatible with the prior equipment. The information these various technologies kept for us was always valuable, but it soon became a supreme hassle to transfer the information across various platforms.

I still remember hearing a lecture by the famous American psychologist, Urie Bronfrenbrenner, speak on campus once. I was so intrigued that when I found the radio station had taped the presentation, I wrote for a copy. I received, gratis, a copy of the presentation on a six inch reel of tape. I listened to it many times. When I left my home behind, I still knew where it was, on the shelf in the closet along with a box of other audio tapes I had always wanted to digitize. My little brother said he would take care of all that material for me, take digital pictures of my art on the walls, everything. Then he flipped, called it all junk and threw out or gave away everything.


It is very strange to have so much of the results of your past interpreted as trash and then similarly disposed of. Like being eviscerated as a public form of execution, as used to be done in England. Things that are important to you, stuff you have made or collected are infused with a large part of yourself, are very publicly disdained and belittled then discarded. It used to be difficult to gradually lose control of my body, I got used to that. It is still difficult to be “cared for” in a facility that can't settle on exactly what caring for someone means on a surface as well at a deeper level. I'm reconciling that one with some difficulty. But to have your own brother promise to be caring and helpful in relation to your possessions then casually dispose of them, and afterwards claim that he had no choice, there was too much “junk” and not enough time. Well, duh! What do you think I did with the last forty years? Sleep, eat and work?

The premise of Dr. Brofenbrenner's presentation comes clear to me even now. That people learn to care for one another through being cared for themselves. Just receiving food and shelter alone is not enough. There has to be a connection, when we are new born it can be physical as touching and being cuddled. As we grow older it can be verbal interactions, giving one the space to be themselves rather than being rendered into an object to be manipulated.


News Flash!!!!

I have just been told as my lunch was delivered that due to so many showers being given there won't be enough time for my shower today. If I want, the CENAs might be available to give a bed bath. My choice. ( Hmmm, no shower versus a light rubbing with a damp washcloth, what a deal.) Then to further explain the reasons for being so thoughtfully taken care of, I was told that part of the cause of why they were behind with the showers is that two residents family's are raising a real ruckus with the administration that their family member only get two showers a week. They insist that they each get one shower every day.

So what are the rest of us? An inconvenient after thought!?

My father is out in Colorado enjoying his second home in the mountains. My mother lives in North Carolina. My middle brother lives in Utah. And my youngest brother lives in town and he could care less. I am dependent on the thoughtfulness and concern of others, which as we have seen, is definitely lacking.

I am screwed. Destined to being offered the also ran status, if it is available.


Rejoining the previous thought …

Now having been changed of briefs, they were soaked (somehow the briefs are not designed to capture all the effluent one can generate since the last time they were changed at 4:30 this morning). And the urine soaked sheets and my wet T – shirt have been changed but a washcloth was only dabbed on me during the entire process. I suppose this is the real meaning of a bed bath to some people, but it really does not speak of being clean to me.

It is just this very state of being treated as a chore that has to be dealt with, that makes being here so defeating. No one seems capable of interacting with me without resorting to letting their mind hijack them into thinking through everything. First comes the thought, then comes the behavior. The tyranny of words is that they reduce everything to being so mono dimensional. If it hasn't been thought of, then it doesn't exist. Thoughts rule, feelings are just in the way. Problem is that there is way more to life than just thoughts. Feelings can go on in addition to thoughts. This makes the thoughts more real, more multidimensional. A feeling can enjoin you back into the experience guiding you to true relationships.

While the two CENAs were “cleaning me up” the one was complaining to the other that her last check was “only” $425.00, due to the low resident population and her work schedule being shortened. With some emphasis she said this low of a check better not happen again, she had bills to pay. (as if there was something she could actually do about this) Since this conversation was going on as if I couldn't hear or wouldn't be involved with any of this, I decided to involve myself. I said that I am not allowed to earn any money (Medicaid rules) and yet the Department of Human Services has been dragging its feet re-instituting my Medicaid coverage for this year and the Neurologist's office continues to send me a bill for $108.00. I just got a second notice with some dire consequences giscussed if I don't personally pay up. No change in the two CENAs. The tale continues with how such a great affront has been committed by sending her such a meager check. The race was on to get me finished before the end of the shift that somehow the actual bathing part of the bed bath never really happened. Not enough cleaning and scrubbing to equal a shower, to my way of thinking. Oh well, I suppose that I should feel grateful I'm not out on the street, at the curb. If I don't think about it, my skin won't crawl and my scalp won't itch, my next opportunity for the next shower is Friday. The next opportunity to be similarly abused and ignored, treated in ways I wouldn't do to anyone arrives with the next interaction.

Ready?




3 April 2014
Thursday

Words have always fascinated me. From the line and form of typography to the mental imagery they produce. Even Chinese calligraphy with its (to me, at least) undecipherable meanings draws me in, insisting that I pay more attention to the lines that sweep, cross, stack up, and seem to be a collection of fallen jackstraws. The concepts that words carry are even more mysterious than the fact that words can evoke images. Take, for example, Monet's painting The Magpie. The image portrayed on the canvas is a winter scene, winter bare trees with houses behind, a stone wall and a gate, a heavy coat of snow on everything, a black birdlike figure perched on the gate. Is it a Raven? The title tells us its a Magpie. The mood changes with just that small bit of information from the title.

Depending on how I feel going into seeing the image, the winter scene could be viewed as stark, a scene of devastation with the bare trees and all the snow covering everything, the bird creature could be a raven overlooking a world of death and suffocation. Have you ever seen a Magpie? They hop around in a comical fashion when not flying, looking for something that interests them, which they often pick up to fly off with. The thieving Magpie.

Many people see that winter scene and immediately think that they don't like winter. The shoveling of snow, driving in the stuff, life is a mess. Look again at the painting, there are no sidewalks nor driveways. There aren't even any roads, no cars, no driving, it was painted before all these things had been invented. They are not needed in this rural scene. It portrays a slice of life in a much different time and circumstance. Magpies are clever birds that show no fear and can be quite entertaining in the mountains at a ski resort pick nick table trying to make off with a small portion of your lunch. With this in mind the whole feeling of the painting changes.

I realize that I have the opportunity to interpret what the painting can bring forth in me. I have the choice in how I see the scene. The action is in me, not determined by outside factors. The outside may give seemingly adverse conditions, but I get to determine how to respond.

Back to words for a moment. Sometimes words can be a blueprint, a route to get somewhere, a reflection of having been somewhere, maybe how to get back to the same place again. One of my favorite word based memories is a Rumi poem:
Beyond wrong doing and right doing,
there is a field,
I'll meet you there.
When the soul lies down in that grass,
the world is too full to talk about.
You, me, even the words each other have no meaning.

Being a part of everything. No separation, no valuing, no rank ordering. Reminds me of William Blake's Augeries of Innocence:
To see a world in a grain of sand,
And a heaven in a wild flower,
Hold infinity in the palm of your hand,
And eternity in an hour.

How many times have I stood transfixed, caught unsuspecting that anything would happen, standing dumbly unable to speak as no words were sufficient, gazing at a flower – essentially lost to this world? Its easy. If you try to make it happen, it won't occur. These things don't work that way. They come upon you without fanfare or effort. Moments of Grace. It can be a sound that stands out, the gleam in someone's eye, the way the light catches the merest detail and creates a highlight that won't let you go. There is no causing it to happen, you must be aware to climb aboard when the occasion arises. And be willing to be carried off. That eternal moment is forever here, just waiting to take you away, if you can drop everything and just be with it.

How many are willing to do that? To drop the agenda, relinquish the fear of ridicule, to set aside thinking, and just notice the world waiting to take you away. It is rare and when we find ourselves thusly caught, there are others wanting to know what we are doing. Standing there doing nothing with a gleam in your eye invites questions. “What are you doing?”, “Penny for your thoughts.” or even “Hello”.

For a species that thrives on being in contact with another, we can sure make it hard on one another. My dogs were great. They were always glad to see me, but made no demands. I could feel right at home in the woods or with the dogs, but things always got hinky when people were introduced into the mix. “Where have you been?”, “How long are we going to be gone.”, “What if it rains?” The briefest of answers come to mind. Gone, for a while, we get wet. Please be quiet, lets have an experience. If I think, just to answer you, I am stuck here where you are.

Now the woods is unavailable to me, someone always thinks they are responsible for me. This creates a list of perpetual Can't Do Activities that restrict me “for my safety”, but it is really for litigation purposes, the dogs have died, everyone seems to think that the interaction between people is word driven. I have had enough of this kind of being taken care of. I would like it to stop being so determined to make me be as others think I should be.

I will lay back with the headphones on and with eyes closed recall watching the coals glowing in the wood stove on a winter evening. That should be timeless in its own right.





4 April 2014
Friday afternoon


We accomplished a shower today, myself and a CENA new to me, she works mostly on the second floor (many elderly and dementia residents). Unlike other CENAs who have worked with me from the second floor she could work with me instead of on me, she could listen to how it was best to effect the next move so it could be easier on both of us. After a week being way to close to my own body, it was nice to have some water running over my body and a scrub with a wash cloth.

I discovered where one of my favorite DVDs got put away. I watched it this afternoon. I don't have many DVDs with me here, I was very particular about buying them when I lived at home. Most movies have too thin of a plot line to watch more than once. They seem to be more of a sensational satisfaction device rather than telling a good story.I guess Hollywood has fingured how shallow the public can be and get away with producing low quality material. The DVD today was about Andy Goldsworthy, the artist, and his work. Although it is a bout seeing some of his work in progress and some finished pieces. It is no usual documentary or story. I have always enjoyed seeing it again and again.

I found myself remembering one other DVD that I bought, one which never survived my youngest brother's style of clearing out my home for sale. He either threw it out or gave it to the auctioneer to dispose of. Amazon lists it for sale at eight dollars, I may buy myself another one. I first heard of this movie when a friend at school mentioned to me that one scene in the movie reminded her of me. In the movie young Beethoven flees out a window and down a down spout to escape another return and an another inevitable beating a the hands of his drunken father. He runs to a nearby pond where he doffs his clothing and floats face up in the water watching the stars. In that one scene you can see a method self-solace and a way to leave the pettiness of living among people who can't see beauty. Its like returning to the higher self.

In a way I could see how that scene reminded my classmate of me. I don't sustain beatings from a drunken father. But I always have found solace in nature. Like the line from Linus in the peanuts comic strip, holding his blanket to the side of his head he states that he loves humanity, its people he can't stand. I can see that, the potential of the group soon fritters away when you get down to the individual level. What rises up to fill the void is often petty, small minded, egoistic, self interest dominated. It is not very becoming or the stuff relationships can be built on.

People are funny with relationships. I once read in my undergraduate education that more times than not the mutual friends of a couple, after they divorce, tend to shun the male and gather about the female. Its some sort of unspoken taboo to be seen fraternizing with the male, but not so for the female. I couldn't believe it when I read that. I thought, “No way” they must not have been that good at being friends. When my divorce happened, after thirty years of marriage, the friends disappeared overnight. Poof! I was an instant pariah. I couldn't figure what I had done wrong. The separation was amicable, even though I didn't agree with the divorce settlement, it would have cost even more in attorney fees to fight it and I probably would have lost anyway. I didn't bad mouth her to others. Yet all of our friends avoided me, even the highly educated ones, including the next door neighbors, who had known us since we moved in twenty years prior.

I would drive by during warmer months and they would be out on their back porch. Never a wave or any acknowledgement I was passing by. The wife used to call about once a week just to see how we were doing. After the divorce – nothing. Once I had an occasion to call them, I screwed up my courage to put this lack before her. I said that since the divorce they never called any more. She quickly said that I never called them either. Before the divorce I was often on the phone or over at their house. Somehow it is a whole new ball game after a divorce.

Other professional friends seemed to suddenly “forget” that they ever knew me. A psychologist friend ran into me in the Post Office less than a year after the divorce. He introduced his son to me, less than six moths prior both of us had been to their house to have an evening of playing board games. The wife of this couple is a child psychiatrist, she had a strong competitive streak to her. She was always choosing up sides to play, she had great delight in moving the game pieces about the board always with a comment (sometimes delighted or not as to whether she was winning or not). I didn't care about winning, I just enjoyed the playing. This drove her nuts, especially with some games like Trivial Pursuit that needed an answer of oddball facts – which I can be good at. I still remember her being so totally unhappy that I knew that a ship's carpenter is called a Carfindo. How did I know? Did I memorize the cards ahead of time? She was sure I had cheated somehow. Yet time after time I would come up with the correct answer. She knew that I was bright, she never forgave me for that. I suppose if she was that unable to be relaxed enough to see me more clearly, I shouldn't lament her choice of who to remain on friendly terms with. No great loss, actually. I guess it shows that we are willing to swallow pretty much anything just to have contact with others. The question is at what cost?

Speaking of costs, being here in this facility day after day and so few people come by to visit, I can count the monthly occasions on a finger or two. What do you suppose that might feel like? I am tired of being overlooked or taken for granted. When the nursing staff come in the room first thing every morning, they are all bright and cheery. They ask politely how am I? If I just give the knee jerk response with no fore thought, Ok, or fine, they are happy and then go about their business. If I am truthful and say how much one day is the same as the next, how boring life can be here, they take that as their invitation to be a cheerleader, or my personal coach full of fixes and what I should do.

The message that keeps being sent to me is that the extra time and effort is not going to be made available, maybe to others I am not worth the added effort. Everything is reduced to a monetary value by which things are rated. I suppose this explains why I always was so comfortable in the woods, the animals, trees and landforms didn't care if I had the right socially correct clothing or accessories. I was accepted at first blush. It seems that most people can't do that.


No one seems interested in the things I have to say about people's lack of openness. There is often a very significant silence full of great meaning nobody wants to notice. So I notice and let it go unspoken to. This is so sad.