Wednesday, April 29, 2009

To Sleep Perchance

“Sleep is pain's easiest salve, and doth fulfill all offices of death, except to kill.”
--John Dunne

Sleep, last night, was a thing not to be had by any means, and the salve of which the poet speaks remained obstinately out of the question.

Methought I heard a voice cry, ‘Sleep no more!

Macbeth doth murder sleep

Murdered, yes--not, in my particular case, by MacBeth (as far as I know), yet murdered still. Alone in my bed (except for two dogs and my wife), I suffered for long hours the death of sleep, the untended wound of wakefulness. The last time I looked at the clock, the hands showed 3:30. But that means nothing, other than to mark the last time I judged there to be any sense in looking.

What was it that had so completely chased sleep from my life? Was it the fact that MS had un-jointed all my bones the night before and I was still aching from it--feet, ankles, legs, knees, shoulders, neck? But that should have made me tired, one would think. It must be concluded, therefore, that being tired does not necessarily lead to sleeping.

Was my mind too crowded with thought? Never. It has never before happened.

Perhaps I was care worn, or perhaps my mind was full of plans for the coming day.

Nope, this is not likely at all. Without the application of strenuous effort, enough anyway to raise a sweat, my mind remains pretty much a blank slate--so purely so, in fact, that it exasperates other people. Take my wife for instance. Please.

An old Rodney Dangerfield joke is enough for my brain to grapple with, let alone the cares of the world and all the best laid plans of mice and men.

Seriously though, take my wife--a woman with whom I have rarely spoken because there are too many mental concerns and designs and conversations blocking the channels of peripheral noise (i.e. my voice). Honestly, I have sat with her on the front porch many a time and said many a word without making, for all intents and purposes, a solitary sound. I have watched and seen and felt the envelopment of her entire person in its own private counsel.

The only other time this happens is when she watches a movie. She does not just watch, but her spirit itself enters the TV set and lives among the characters there. One might as well ask Mel Gibson or Brad Pitt, or whomever the actor might be, whether he could interrupt her for a moment in order that she might at least briefly attend to something in the outside world.

Well, don't you ever think? she says.

No, it tends to keep me awake.

Nonetheless, if one finds himself still awake for too long after his head hits the pillow, one does begin to think in spite of his best efforts not to. In my case this has nothing to do with plans for tomorrow, chores to be done, things to be remembered, grand plans and designs--No, quite the contrary, I find myself ruminating in circles over a movie, for instance, that I did not understand (still without arriving at any answers, mind you). Who exactly was Little Dorritt related to? What was her part in this big mystery that took seven episodes to sort itself out? My God I've watched channel 10 for seven weeks now, hanging upon the elusive answer to this mystery, and now the show is over and I still don't know what happened!

From Little Dorritt, my mind wanders to a post I will write about sleeping. This becomes very long and involved and profound. It becomes so comprehensive in fact that it plays at the very edge of revelation where the meaning of the universe and human existence are concerned. But I remember not a bit of it the next day. It was merely a rumor, spread by exhaustion.

I remember then that someone at church said I have a Doppelganger running around the city. A double. This in itself was not surprising, for I had already heard of him many times in the past. But who is he? That is the question that angles for my attention. What does he want? What is he doing right now--at 2, at 3, at 4 in the morning? Sleeping? And if one double sleeps, does he sleep for both? Is it somehow impossible for both to be absent from consciousness at one and the same time? What would happen? Would it be anything like The Day the Earth Stood Still.

OH GAD! Now I had done it. Instantly my mind fixes upon this silly movie, on Keanu Reeves, on the conviction that I could have played the part of the main character just as well in my sleep. If only I could sleep. Was Keanu asleep during the filming of this movie? It's a serious question.

I would guess in hindsight that it was somewhere after 4 a.m. when I finally slept.

I woke up at 6:30, half of my body underneath the Labrador, the other half under my wife and stepson. I think I dreamed that I was a puppy. Breast feeding. In debtors' prison. On the day the earth stood still.

"To sleep, perchance to dream-
ay, there's the rub."

Cut All Save Life Support

Having a tough time today. Legs feel like they've been pulled and twisted in some kind of Medieval torture device--you know, the sort that pulls the bones out of joint and tears the muscles in the process. Yeah, that kind. Need to pop a Lortab or two, but Abdul wouldn't get out of the bathroom, where my pills are kept.

(note to self: must move pills from bathroom to bedroom).

Curious that the neck muscles seem to be connected to the leg muscles, though this must be the case, for the pain in my legs is skipping my back altogether and then showing up again in my neck and shoulders.

(must remember to write long technical essay on the truth about anatomy, along with connect-the-dots activity pages).

Now lets get this straight once for all--since the central nervous system in the person suffering from MS is working overtime to maintain the basic processes of existence, the addition of any kind of stress, be it uncommon physical effort (doing yard work, climbing a hill, having sexual intercourse), extreme weather conditions (heat, humidity), emotional upset (death of a loved one, divorce, wife having period), or unusual cognitive demands (doing taxes, helping with 3rd grade arithmetic, having to do more than one errand, writing anything less vacuous than what I'm writing right now) causes the system to overheat just as if it were an old Ford with a leaky radiator (a particularly apt description in my case) and begin to hiss and spit and chug along in quite an unsatisfactory manner.

This is where the life support systems begin to shut down--like in the old Star Trek shows, or in Jurassic Park. Yup, we're gonna have to cut power to all but minimum life support, Scotty. Guess what? The containment fences are off line, and the man eating dinosaurs are loose!

This brings us to the Swine Flu . . . or rather, God forbid!

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Why Seattle?

If one were to hang around this particular Starbucks too often, one could go broke giving money to people who have somehow lost their ride to Seattle and need money for the bus. It seems odd that it's always Seattle. Why would anyone want to go to Seattle to begin with? Not wet enough in Portland? Maybe it's just more believable than say San Francisco or LA.

In any case, I guess you have to draw the line somewhere, especially if you don't really have much more money than they do. I'm always perfectly willing to give a cigarette instead, which is always requested after the money is denied.

And speaking of Seattle . . . One time when I was up there I watched out the window of a third story book store while a guy across the street collected from the sidewalk outside the Starbucks part of a cup of coffee, part of a sandwich from the trash bin, and then half a cigarette from the gutter to top off his meal. Didn't ask a soul fer nuthin. Now that is self reliance, and inventiveness to boot! I figure a guy like that has to have moved up in the world since then.

One time a guy approached me, here at this same Starbucks, and said "Hey, man, I'm not gonna give you some bullshit story and waste your time--I'm just askin for money, no fuckin run around."

I gave him all that I had at the time, which was four dollars and some change. Honesty is a virtue beyond compare. With me it hits the jackpot every time.

My stepson has made friends with the Russian mafia. Well, with a Russian mafia kid anyway. How do I know this? Because every Russian in this neighborhood is in the Russian mafia. And also in the Seventh Day Adventist Church. My wife will be happy to learn this, because she looks up to people who have money. And big houses. And a Mercedes or a BMW. Or both.

In the meantime I somehow forgot to take my Copaxone for two days in a row. It's like I kept thinking about it and reminding myself and then straightaway forgetting. Maybe if they added tar and nicotine it would be easier to remember. Makes sense to me. I never forget my cigarettes.

The feeling in my feet--or, more accurately, the lack of feeling--is such that I cannot distinguish textures at all. When I first had my attack in Spring 2007 I could not feel anything, so at least this is an improvement. Nonetheless, it can still end up being inconvenient. Last night I was sort smoothing my foot over what I took to be my wife's foot and calf--you know, sort of massaging with my toes, walking them up the back of her calf, sneaking on up to the inner thigh--only to realize after quite some time that I was actually massaging the dog.

Not what I had in mind.

The dog, nonetheless, seemed to appreciate my mistake.

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Long Live the Queen

I was able to ask Roy about Himiko, the ancient queen of Japan, and what he knows is that she was an ancient queen of Japan, which is what I already know as well. My knowledge, therefore, of ancient Japanese history, Queen Himiko, and her relation to the mysterious giant blob lurking about near the dawn of time has not progressed in the least.

I note that there is one book available through Amazon on the subject, but the cost of even a used edition is prohibitive where my present means are concerned,. Therefore I will have to stick to interviewing Japanese exchange students for the time being, or other equally nonproductive avenues.

Anyone out there know anything about Himiko? Anyone want to buy me a $50 book?

On the other hand, I guess it doesn't really matter that much. Very little actually does, if you think about it. Most things are no more than diversions, quirks, obsessions, conceits, and general wastes of time.

My wife recently wrote on her Facebook page that Time cannot be bought at the store . . . don't waste it!

This seems perfectly agreeable on the surface. Nonetheless, I find myself inclined to disagree. One can buy cell phone time, for instance. One can buy time on the Internet. One can buy a clock.

Why do I feel that this morsel of wisdom was directed at me? Is it paranoia? Can it be that everything said or done ultimately pertains to me? Am I myself somehow, in the final analysis, the blob at the dawn of time, or at least brother to the blob?

All I know is that I can't help but find curious things curious. And what I suspect, in the meantime, is that such mysteries are often best left to their own realm, for revelation may be less than we had hoped for. Definition has a way of degrading what is defined, whereas mystery possesses a lively magnetism.

It may therefore be better in the long run to worship a murky queen than to unravel her from the garments of obscurity.

For in this we groan, earnestly desiring to be clothed with our habitation which is from heaven, 3 if indeed, having been clothed, we shall not be found naked.
2 Cor 5:2-3; NKJV

Fruit Loops

This morning I found my Fruit Loops in the dogs' dish outside on the porch. Not just a bowl of Fruit Loops, but pretty much the whole box. Fruit Loops is my favorite cereal, and someone has given my Fruit Loops to the dogs. It was pretty clear that the dogs were not responsible for this, for they showed no interest in eating the cereal. But someone is, and I'm going to find out who. And why.

Funny thing about those dogs. They will eat the Fruit Loops one at a time, yet defer when it comes to an overflowing bowl of the same. This must be important by some process of extension, meaningful beyond the mere Fruit Loop, but I just recently woke up and I'm still stuck on the whole how and why question of the actual event, as superficial as that may seem.

But I will have to think about it later. Seng has just shown up for his daily English lesson. How has it happened that I have become Seng's daily English teacher at Starbucks? It is yet another matter to wonder about.

Friday, April 24, 2009

A Letter to My Agent

Dear Neil--

I don't want to seem pushy, but you simply must sell my book to a publisher soon, if only so that my wife will stop bugging me about "wasting" my time at Starbucks (which is where all these profundities--those already in your hands, and another truck load since--are put to paper, in anticipation, of course, of posterity).

If you are having trouble with the big houses, try approaching a less prestigious firm, or maybe even one of these fly-by-night deals. Anything will do, for you see it's not the money that concerns me so much as appearances. In short, I need credentials.

It may interest you to know that I already have another book underway. This one is called The Mysterious Blob Near the Dawn of Time. It is about this ancient Japanese queen called Himiko. It may sound a bit obscure, but I think it will sell, as long as the first one sells. That's where you come in.

As far as advances go, I will accept anything that will cover two cups of Starbucks every morning. Without the Starbucks, you see, I could not do the writing, and without the writing I cannot long continue to consume the Starbucks.

It's a pickle, as you can see.

Best wishes,


Thursday, April 23, 2009

The Blob

Giant Mystery Blob Discovered Near the Dawn of Time.

Now that has got to be the headline of the year, or at least of the month. It was the first thing that caught my eye while logging in this morning through Yahoo. It's mind boggling. It's amazing. It's a blob.

Scientists have named their discovery Himiko, "after an ancient Japanese queen with an equally murky past."

I will need to ask Roy, our exchange student, about this. He may be able to shed some light on this strange blobby murkiness.

I wonder if this blob is a blob up close, or just at a distance. I wonder if a specialized pair of spectacles, fitted to the telescope, might help in the resolution.

My personal inclination is always to look at things from a metaphysical point of view. This is probably because it is too much trouble to learn the science. In any case, I find philosophy more pleasant than fact. I want to know about this blob on the basis of meaning. It is not enough to say that this or that giant blob is composed of a combination of gases and forces, time and distance, for the central question remains unanswered, not even approached. What is this blob and what is it doing there? What does it say about us? What does it say about God?

Moreover, one theory, in the purely scientific vein, is that at the center of the giant blob is a giant black hole. A black hole at the beginning of time! A giant light-sucking, matter eating hole!

Well! Where do we begin indeed.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

The Deterioration of the Dash

I love to use dashes (--) in my writing, but I am going to have to stop, because the dash key on my laptop is malfunctioning. You have to dash it very hard with your finger to get a dash out of it. Isn't that just the way with life? You find something you really like, you have a short and blissful romance with the thing, and then it's gone. I can think of only two constants in my life--cigarettes and coffee.

Oh, and MS. There's another constant. It is a malfunction that functions along quite reliably. I guess these are the sorts of things one can truly rely upon. It's like my first wife used to say. Things almost never change in life, but when they do, they change for the worse.

Contained in the use of what one loves or enjoys is the eventual end of the same. It's some kind of law in physics. Take the laptop for instance. It starts out running with such speed and competence, an amazing machine, wonderfully made. Then before you know it perfection begins to develop little quirks and complaints, it limps, it coughs and wheezes. Your favorite part, the dash key, clutches its heart and falls down dead.

Herein lies the ultimate nature of reliability and the lasting definition thereof. Malfunction will forever have the final word.

Just think about it. Your laptop, your cell phone, your car, your alarm clock. Your mate, your love, your body, your health. Are they not all headed, and quite reliably so, toward extinction?

Here then is the key to peace in all things, to understand that perfection is a matter of the moment which itself soon falls to the lap of malfunction.

In other words, ones long term goal ought to be ones happiness in the short term.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

How Big A Deal Can Two Lumps Be?

Haven't taken my Copaxone for three days now. These permanent lumps under the skin freak me out. Lumps that itch. It's just creepy, ya know? Got one in my stomach, one in my arm.

I guess lumps under the skin remind me of the lumps that my brother and my best friend had. Lumps that ended up being cancer. Now of course it is perfectly unreasonable to make the leap from an itchy Copaxone lump to a terminal cancer lump, but somewhere deep down, where memory leaves logic behind and becomes pure reaction, I do make the leap; and I think Why am I injecting myself with this toxic chemical that causes permanent itchy lumps under my skin that might be cancer or God knows what?

Besides that, I feel okay (better, I think) when I'm off the medication. It's all very subjective. Maybe the only reason I feel better is because I am not creating new itchy lumps.

I remember when I was a young boy, about 12 I guess, I developed a small lump beneath each of my nipples. Oh my God, I thought, dear Lord in heaven--I'm turning into a woman! Help me Jesus! The panic I felt was indescribable; I was overcome by shame, up against an embarrassment so complete that there seemed no answer but to leap from a high window and end it all. Something had to be done, but what? My shame must never see the light of day.

In the end, as my bosoms became more and more tender, I made up a story wherein I had been hit in the nipple by a football (struck down and turned to a woman in the midst of playing a manly game). Thanks to my lie, I was able at last to take my growing tits to a doctor.

Hit in the nipple with a football?


In both nipples?


With one football or two?

Just one.

At the same time in both nipples, or once in each.

Well, it was different times, but the same day.

I see, I see. Hmm, hmmm. Curious--this doesn't look like a football injury to me.

I can imagine now the laugh he and my mother must have had upon retiring to his office while I was left in the waiting room--Just I and my imagination. A clear case of transgender syndrome. You will want, of course, to change your name. You could keep the R and just change the other letters around . . . from Richard to, say, Rachel . . . how's that sound?

I'm afraid we have a problem here, son. One cannot have both breasts and a penis. Something will need to go.

Yes, very strange, very strange indeed. I wonder if you would mind my showing you about at the next international conference of medical professionals? This is certainly a case altogether unknown in modern science. Have you noticed, by the way, any hint of a vagina coming on between your legs?

My God, if this is what I think it is, what we're looking at here is a completely self sufficient sexual organism--able both to impregnate and conceive. Why, from here forth you could populate the world on your own.

Well, in reality it turns out to be a fairly common thing for males in puberty to mimic a female attribute for a short time, a temporary confusion of biology, a mere hiccough in the progression to adulthood. I look back now and cannot help but laugh. But you know what? I am not laughing at these Copaxone bumps. No siree, Bob.

Ember Bocor!

Ember bocor, in the Indonesian language, means "leaky bucket," and is a favorite term to apply to a woman who gossips and cannot keep a secret--which appears essentially to sum up the character of Indonesian women in general. I'm not going to say women in general, because that would be going too far. To actually say so, I mean.

I am instructed, therefore, not to talk to my wife's friends. At all. For whatever I say--that has any promise anyway, any potential--will be passed on from mouth to ear, from woman to woman, just as quickly as the spread of the black plague. Or more so.

Emmmmber bocorrr!

Now whereas Indonesian women have this tendency toward hyperactivity of the mouth, men--and I do use this as a term of comprehensive inclusion--have a tendency toward putting the foot in the mouth. It just automatically drifts in that direction, irrepressibly. We find ourselves desperately trying to extract said foot--yet too late, too late--for the word will already have proceeded forth, and once loosed, cannot by any means be recalled.

Men are not very careful. They are, by and large, not very good at putting a spin on things. And they do not understand the art and nuance of the lie that is not really a lie, but the whole truth from which a few pieces have been quite accidentally removed. Curiously, these missing pieces often turn out to be the most important pieces of the puzzle, essential to the very meaning of the picture.

So I find myself now, because of my foot, in a bit of a pickle--for my foot has punctured a particular bucket, and the bucket has begun to leak profusely--and not this bucket only, but all of the buckets throughout the community, as if leaks were things that can be catching--like measles or mumps.

No one puts a piece of unshrunk cloth on an old garment; for the patch pulls away from the garment, and the tear is made worse. (Matt 9:16-17)

Make of that what you will. (I did).

Monday, April 20, 2009

Let No Man Tear Asunder

For you church goers out there, and those of you who are married as well (i.e. those of us who have already a two strike count), have you ever noticed that when the pastor, in the course of his sermon, says something you feel is particularly needful for your mate to hear, and you look over at your mate to see if the proper revelation is taking place, you find that your mate is looking right back at you with apparently the same anticipation as regards yourself?

Ah ha! You see? There you go then--don't take it from me, take it from the pastor.

It is an odd phenomenon to be sure, and I always wonder if anyone else has experienced the same.

How is it that we are expected to learn something which we already know, which at the same time somebody else--specifically your mate--stands in need of learning? And how can she, or he, who does not know, who most likely very recently made a point of not knowing, be looking at you now as if he or she actually knew all along, and moreover the pastor just proved it!

Well, I don't know . . . maybe odd things seem particularly odd to me.

Church is so often one big deja vu moment. Especially if you listen. But we've kind of given off doing that lately. My wife fills out the gaps in her appointment book, I draw pictures of dinosaurs on the back of the bulletin (in the convenient space where sermon notes are supposed to go). It always seems like we're starving by the time it's all over.

Nowadays we take Roy, our Japanese exchange student, with us. In fact, Roy insists on going. Roy speaks and understands very little English, but during the sermon he listens very closely--raptly, one might say. Himself a Buddhist, at least nominally so (we all gots to be somethin), Roy focuses, sitting forward, never slumping; nor does he jot entries on his calendar; nor does he draw dinosaurs; Roy listens. He stands when it is time. He sits when it is time. He does not sing, but he listens to the songs.

What does Roy hear, I wonder? Is it all about language, a divination of foreign sounds. Is it all about diction and vocabulary--a new phrase, a familiar word, a revelation of grammar. What does he hear, and what comprehend?

Who is this man, the object of words--who but the ultimate word itself? And what is the cross, and the Word on the cross, other than the ultimate end of comprehension?

Is this what Roy understands, or something like it?

I can only wonder.

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Aging Daily

It seems like my cognitive circuitry, given the MS add-on, which of course is really a subtraction, is equal to negotiating about one-quarter of a typical day's demands. Try to squeeze in more, and the lights begin to go out. In other words, I fall asleep.

There are certain warning signs associated with these immanent shutdowns--a general hanging of the head, a stiffness in the neck, an achiness in the limbs, a taffy-like quality to the procession of thought. Think of a music box that is reaching the end of its most recent winding.

Having started out sharp and able, I become progressively more slow and stupid. It's like living from youth to old age in the space of a few hours. Sometimes I wonder if it looks the same on the outside as it feels on the inside.

Whoa, dude, you've aged like 20 years since breakfast!

And it's true. I start out straight, and reasonably agile; I end up with a cane, or holding onto the walls.

Ah, the good old days, of 9 and 10 o'clock in the morning. I remember them well.

Friday, April 17, 2009


Yesterday Albert barbecued.

Curiously, having scanned these blog entries a while back, it appears that the lion's share of all matters big and small took place yesterday. I am sure there must be something weighty to be said regarding this phenomenon in and of itself, but that will have to wait. For the time being, it has nothing to do with what I'm talking about. Which is, or soon will be in any case, Albert's barbecue.

Albert, for those of you who have not been exposed to this blog in the past (or to whom this blog has not been exposed--I'm not sure how that works), is my wife's ex-husband, the biological father of my stepson, and a long haul truck driver by trade, who stops in at the house whenever the big wheels turn this way, and stays perhaps a day or two, or a week or two. It is a matter beyond the parameters of reliable prediction.

During those times when Albert resides with us, he will bed down in whatever crook or cranny is available at the time. Sometimes this will mean an entire bedroom to himself. Sometimes he will end up storing himself and his things on the futon upstairs (as is the case at the present time, in that our exchange students are occupying the actual bedrooms).

One way or the other, it scarcely matters to Albert.

Well I don't mind
when the sun goes down
where I lay my weary head,
Green, green valley
or rocky road,
that's where I'm gonna make my bed

A ramblin' man, is Albert, dust in the wind, permanently temporary.

When Albert comes here, things get done. Cars get washed, oil gets changed, the dog gets walked, and barbecues get barbecued. Steak, chicken, and sausage. The menu is meat. Oh, and salt. This meat is cooked, in great abundance, upon a diminutive metal barbecue about the size of a water bucket, which sits amidst the stones and the pine needs on the flat ground and sends mouth watering smoke signals into the neighboring sky like a fire breathing dragon, albeit a baby one.

Necessarily, Albert cooks in shifts. When people hear that Albert is barbecuing, they know better than to show up all at once, but space themselves out in an orderly manner. For some reason, I am always the first to be served. I don't know why--ask Albert. Next come the guests who trickle in throughout the evening. And then lastly Albert himself.

In my book, Albert is a Prince among men. Therefore are the small things easily forgiven. The fact, for instance, that he does not associate a sink overflowing with grimy plates and cups, silverware and pans, with the meal so recently consumed. Or the fact that the kitchen counters have had their own part in the process, as evidenced by little puddles of barbecue sauce, the rinds of limes, sticky and/or crusty little streaks of who knows what. We count it as the cost of the meal. Or at least I do. My wife tries not to look, and is curiously absent from the kitchen for the next day or two.

The road is a woman, though a rather flat and dusty one, and its call is ever close at hand. Albert will soon leave us, and yet will return again. Though the man is missed, the absence is convenient--for it gives us time in the interim to clean up a bit.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

My Amazing Thumb

Yesterday I made the mistake of injecting myself with my Copaxone autoinject device without first pulling the top cap off, which itself removes the cap from the syringe. When the mistake is realized and one removes the cap after the fact, the syringe proceeds to squirt its contents in whatever direction the device happens to be pointed--on the floor for instance, or the curtains, on the dog, in the simmering pot of soup, or in ones own eye, and so on.

This is not an isolated instance for me, but falls very securely into the parameters of my personal norm. What was new, however, was that I tried to stop the gushing stream of Copaxone with my thumb, which resulted quite naturally (though my mind had not grasped it beforehand) in the impaling of my thumb on the needle protruding from the tip of the autoinject device.

The result of the above miscalculations added together was the injection not of my arm, not of my stomach, not of my back or my leg, but of my thumb with Copaxone. This is not a thing that is recommended in any of the literature that I have so far seen.

Nonetheless, some of the greatest discoveries of science and medicine have been the products of the purest sort of accident, and it is for this reason that I am now convinced that my thumb has never felt better nor more healthy in all its long life. It has become, in short, an amazing thumb--admittedly a little tender where it had been punctured, yet otherwise (and as a result, I believe) a thumb that is superior to perhaps 90 percent of all the thumbs in the world.

By faith--for I have no proving MRI or tissue sections--but by faith, and by the evidence of the thumb's motion and mood, I am convinced that this diminutive part of me, at the very least, is completely devoid of disease. It has become, quite miraculously, quite suddenly, the thumb I used to know, the thumb of my youth, a healthy, functional, honorable thumb. Were it attached to an equally competent body and brain, I'd be 30 again, or perhaps even 25.

Please do not imagine, dear reader, that the moral dimensions of this happy accident have escaped my notice. Every great boon comes with a great burden--to whit, shall I enjoy my thumb from here forward in the essential vein of a gift, providential to my person alone, or shall I donate my thumb to medical science in hopes that a cure for all might be gleaned from the chemistry of its revival?

So does my struggle continue and remain upon me, in body and soul, in heart and in mind. And most of all in thumb.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Baby Talk

My wife seems to have decided that English for the native speaker of another language is best conveyed through baby talk at a high volume. Given, in addition, that her own native tongue, which is Indonesian, renders her perpetually unable to produce the th sound so common in English, our exchange students, at the mercy of their tutor, are beginning to sound like Tweety Bird, from the old Warner Brothers cartoon.

I tot I taw a puddy tat.

Say goodbye to fluency, boys--Hello to comedy.

In the meantime, our Saudi student is finally beginning to warm up a bit to the dogs. He no longer runs, for instance, or tries to fend them off with a chair. He has learned, as we ourselves have had to learn, to sometimes just let the toothless Chihuahua bite his ankles and continue on his own way, with said Chihuahua trailing behind, gums clamped tenaciously to the pant cuff.

Now Roy, whose name we still cannot pronounce, has always gotten along famously with both dogs. The Chihuahua continues to bark at him, out of fairness I suppose, but he also sleeps with him many a night, forgetting his hatred of human beings for up to 8 hours at a time.

This is where the open trade of culture comes in, folks. We have only recently learned that Abdul is not afraid of the dogs in the least--as we had naturally, given our own customs and culture, judged him to be. No, what he is afraid of is that one or the other of the dogs might touch him, which in turn must initiate a thorough washing of his person, which in itself is something a person doesn't always have the time or inclination for.

Dogs, you see, are considered dirty. More than dirty really. The word is too tame. Filthy would probably be more suitable. Especially if wet.

Come of think of it, I myself avoid touching the wet dog as religiously as possible--so I am after all at least some part Saudi.

Muslims, when they pray, must face Mecca. This was quite the kerfuffle when Abdul first arrived, for there existed a question as to just which way was North. I guess you have to know where North is before you can figure out anything else. I kept pointing up, but this did not seem helpful.

Abdul retrieved his laptop at this point and brought up a satellite photo of out neighborhood. We zeroed in on our house. North, he said, North, which way is North?

I cannot help but think that no matter which way one positioned himself, he would eventually end up facing Mecca, or at least only miss it by an arm length or so. Last I heard, the world was still round, right?

In any case, the question seems to have been resolved--such that I can now say with very little doubt that if you stand in the middle of Abdul's room upstairs and face the window which looks down on the trash in our neighbors back yard, you are in fact looking directly toward Mecca.

I still think UP was a better idea.

Friday, April 10, 2009

Men and Women

The difference between men and women is this:

When a woman drops her children off at school in the morning, she will remain sitting in her car, stolidly parked in from of all the other cars waiting to drop off all the other children, while her own trundle up the curb and head down the walk toward the doors; and when they are within two arm lengths or so or gripping the actual door handle, the woman will at last look in both side mirrors, the rear view mirror, fix a wisp of hair from her brow, and then suddenly speed away out of the school lot in the most hurried and reckless manner.

Now the man does it this way: He pulls up to the school lot, somewhere near the curb if possible--or if inconvenient, then simply in the middle of the street--shoos his kids out the door as if they had been something he'd just spilled on his clean pant legs, and then heads straightaway to his next destination as soon as the last little shoe touches the pavement--which is, he assumes, sufficient evidence for their safe arrival in the school building itself.

Herein we observe that the woman is concerned about her children and her hair, and nothing else; whereas the man is concerned about nothing other than getting to where he is going.

Thursday, April 9, 2009

Allah Adalah Kasih

Last night our Muslim house guest decided to pray. This in itself is not surprising, for he prays five times every day. It is a rule, you see. What was different last night was not that he decided to pray, but that he decided to pray very loudly, and moreover decided to do so until 1 or 2 in the morning. I'm not quite sure when it stopped, because at some point along the way I buried my head under the blankets and the pillow, and then the Labrador, forever the kind-hearted sort, laid himself on top.

I guess the idea would be that it's never too late at night to talk to God, and that is a good and honorable way of thinking. Still, it occurs to me that God, who needs no sleep, is sacrificing little in listening, whereas we human beings are weak vessels and must eventually nod off for our own good health even while there is so much remaining to be praised and adored and generally hollered over.

Now maybe, just maybe, a soothing sort of chanting and shouting would be bearable, and yet our particular Muslim's voice is not made for lullabies. The sad truth is--and no fault of his own--that his vocal chords and lungs have been constructed in such a way--praise Allah--that the resulting intonation resembles more closely that of the adult cow, which in prayer sounds as if it is being internally tormented in some manner, perhaps by a peptic disorder, a stomach ulcer.

This is how we know that God's ways are truly not our ways, His thoughts above ours--for apparently he finds these tortured groanings pleasing to the ear.

I conclude therefore that if I were God, I would have slept last night like a baby.

Be thou perfect, as your father in heaven is perfect.

Under the circumstances, this seems perfectly good advice.

The Christians, of course, have another take on this prayer thing. It goes like this:

"And when you pray, you shall not be like the hypocrites. For they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the corners of the streets, that they may be seen by men. Assuredly, I say to you, they have their reward. But you, when you pray, go into your room, and when you have shut your door, pray to your Father who is in the secret place; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you openly. And when you pray, do not use vain repetitions as the heathen do. For they think that they will be heard for their many words.

"Therefore do not be like them. For your Father knows the things you have need of before you ask Him."

Now that I can sleep to. To be perfectly honest, I know of no better place on earth for the quick cat nap to be had than on the pew during sermon at church.

Beware the Careless

I hate to break this to you all, but there are terribly careless people among us. They appear quite normal on the outside. They may even appear extraordinary, like angels of light and laughter. And yet they thrive on the pain of others. The more they laugh, the surer we can be that the greater cruelty has been accomplished. And so beware. There is one defense only, and that is to become like them. For, you see, they feed on good hearts, and will surely devour the bearer thereof. Therefore hide you heart, and partake of the same blood, and do it in their sight, if you want to live in this world. Though they are weak and pitiful creatures, they will not learn nor grow. They cannot be healed by medicine. They cannot be healed by love. In vain even has the son of man died, for these blind and deaf will never see nor hear.

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

The Tipping Point

The tipping point. I believe there is a popular book by that name. I have not read it. I do not know what it is about. I do, however, see a tipping point at work in life--or the life, anyway, of an MS sufferer such as myself. It is a point at which one challenge too many is added unto all the baseline, day to day challenges, and you suddenly fall right over the edge. You do not merely become fatigued or overtaxed; no, you fall clear off the world altogether.

My tipping point is emotional stress. I am otherwise good with stress of most other sorts. I am not stressed by money or time or flat tires or fender benders or missed appointments or broken dishes or lost house keys or the neighbor's dog or the war in Iraq or the price of gas, and so on. I am not stressed, in other words, by things that just happen, and will one way or another be fixed in due time.

But it is my heart that is weak, and soft as the freaking Pillsbury Dough Boy. It shall be the death of me yet.

Strange that the heart, that heartache should have such a comprehensive effect on the symptoms of MS and render me suddenly challenged beyond endurance. It adds itself to the struggle of MS and instantly overloads the entire system. The lights go out, all the machinery of muscles and cognition grind and sputter, and my soul itself seems to leak out and dribble away through the cracks in the earth.

I cannot think, I cannot walk. My bed is like a rack and the ground like a bed of nails.

I am poured out like water,
And all My bones are out of joint;
My heart is like wax;
It has melted within Me.


Underwent my OCT today (imaging of the optic nerve) and it showed that there has been significant damage since this time last year.

This means two things:

1) I can't see very well, and there's no fix for it, and

2) My MS in general has been stealthily active.

So there you have it. No much more to say about that.

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

All I Want is a BMW, and a Star to Steer Her By

There really are people who think that money is the measure of a man's worth. There are people for whom brand names are badges of merit, and a car, a BMW, a Mercedes, is a statement of personal superiority.

This sort of thing is of course so familiar that it has become a cliche. The notions stated above will surprise no one. And yet I am just now, at this late stage in my life, coming to realize that it's the God's honest truth. There are people out there for whom love runs a distant second or third to riches. They will in fact discard love as something of no account in favor of the inanimate thing, the soulless buck, the empty mansion, the idiot hum of a Hummer.

And sometimes those people turn up being the ones who are as close as your own right shoulder.

Oh brave new world. But it is not new, is it. It is as old as humankind.

Monday, April 6, 2009

A Walk Among the Gods

A rare occurrence took place in Portland on Saturday. The sun came out. Moreover, it stayed out.

This is something that our exchange students had not yet seen during their stay thus far in the Pacific Northwest, so it was very exciting. We took the opportunity to teach them the English word, sun. Sun. Sun. We pointed to the sky. Sun!

No Portlander has seen this particular heavenly body in a good long time, and so the word, I think, sounded nearly as foreign to us as to them.

The weatherman says this phenomenon will likely last one more day.

In any case, I took the opportunity to chaperon Roy, our Japanese student with the unpronounceable name, around some of the nearby sites of interest in our neighborhood. First we drove to the top of of Rocky Butte, from which one can enjoy a panoramic view of the city and the distant mountains. Then we drove back down the hill to the Grotto.

The Grotto is a Catholic shrine with trails and statues, fountains and flowers, a book store and a church, all nestled within the embrace of tall Douglas Fir.

We saw Jesus, of course (in stone, I mean), and Mary, and assorted Saints (most of whom I am unfamiliar with, not being a Catholic). We saw Jesus as the baby, Jesus as the man, Jesus on the cross.

And as we walked, I was struck by the utter hopelessness of trying to explain this religion to someone who speaks very little English. Yes, there he is as a baby, and that's his mother, Mary. Who was he? Well, see God . . . you know God, right? . . . well God came to earth as a man and lived among us. He did many great works and taught people about the love of the Father. And then, uh . . . well, then they killed him. On the cross, see?

The people killed God?

Well, yes, but of course God cannot die. Jesus rose again from the dead. After they killed him on the cross.

Frankly, the whole thing sounded ridiculous to me. And I'm a believer.

There was one stone column that bore only the word peace.

What is peace, Roy asked?

Yes, what is peace? What indeed?

Is it the trees, the flowers, the pathways, the fountains? Is it the quiet in the air except for the howling of the leaf blower nearby?

Or is peace simply something that is in short supply, and getting shorter all the time?

Thursday, April 2, 2009

Soft In The Middle

Why am I soft in the middle now
why am I soft in the middle when
the rest of my life is so hard?
--Paul Simon

Maybe I'm just tired. There's been a lot going on lately. People get tired naturally, right? And when you're tired, your brain doesn't work as well. It could be that I'm tired, and I'm just not paying attention. Could that be also why I cannot smile? Maybe when you're tired, it's hard to move facial muscles, those that work your lips. I guess maybe it's natural enough to be unable to think straight, or sideways, or in any direction at all for that matter when you feel exhausted.

It doesn't have to be MS.

Maybe it's old age. I'm not all that old, but I'm older than I ought to be. Maybe when you get to be a certain age the world starts to lose its edge, the character of things, the patterns of life become so familiar that they no longer engage with the same energy as once possessed. Life simmers. It is a pan of noodles that has already boiled. The bacon no longer sizzles. It has long since been thoroughly sizzlized.

Or it could be the Copaxone. Not MS at all, but the treatment which is at fault. I've been so very tired since I started Copaxone. Am I injecting sedatives? Maybe whatever poison they put in there is attacking the integrity of the muscles in my lips. Maybe my brain has been corroded to the point where it has sprung a leak and the oil that oils the natural process of cognition is running dry.

Then again, maybe it is MS. Which of these options makes the most sense? It's like having to mark a multiple choice question where all the answers are wrong.

Why did I just smoke a cigarette without being aware of it? Why can't I remember having been outside? Why did I leave my cell phone on a table in the rain? Why can't I remember where I parked my car? Why did I kiss the dog this morning, and pat my wife on the head?

How is it that my own sense of presence has become so vague?

I am here. Am I not?