Saturday, September 30, 2017

Here and Gone

I seem lately to have periods of lucidity which suddenly arise from a more general sort of fogginess or dullness. Suddenly, my mind will become sharp and active and I will find myself writing artfully and intelligently. This is not one of those days. Most days are not one of those days. More generally, I will awake in a sort of stupor, wander out to the backyard for a cup of coffee, light up a cigarette, and then just kind of sit there, waiting for my mind to boot up like an old-fashioned desktop computer, like dial-up internet. I drag myself through customary tasks, getting dressed, grabbing something simple to eat, a piece of toast, a boiled egg, preparing for nothing in particular. Eventually, I drag myself out to Starbucks, thinking that I really should do something. Most of the time, I am in pain. The neuropathic problem in my neck and shoulder and back is relentless. So I sit at Starbucks, drinking my coffee, thinking that I should go home and lie down. And then one day, unannounced, unexpected, my mind will suddenly light up, fill up with orderly and purposeful thought. Words will return like rain to a drought pocked landscape and suddenly I am swimming in a freshwater lake. Suddenly I am me again. Words tingle in my fingertips and fall breathlessly upon the open page, irrepressible, bright, shimmering, such that they seem not even my own, more like dictation than invention. And then the lights dim again, the fog rolls in, the water recedes, the sky grows gray and obscure. I recall having awakened for a time, but I don't know how I did it, I don't know how to get back again. I recall the enthusiasm, the joy of engagement, and mourn its departure. I am enveloped by an unnamable, unreasonable loneliness, a stone-like, mountainous sense of regret, fatigue, impotence, exhaustion. The world has boxed itself up and sent itself elsewhere, and I alone remain, longing to be rescued. 

Thursday, September 28, 2017

On Word Choice

When Samuel arrived yesterday morning to clean the house, I found him in unusually high spirits. It soon became clear that the reason for this was that his wife had just given birth to their first child, a son.

"Well, that is happy news!" I said.

As there were no cigars in the house, I offered him a shot of whiskey instead, which Samuel enjoyed so much that he offered himself another, and another.

"Just take the whole bottle," I said. "I don't drink anyway. It's just been sitting here untouched for a year."

When Sam was done working, we sat and talked for a time (strangely, he was rather more talkative than usual), and before he left, I congratulated him once again on the birth of his son.

Later on in the afternoon, I was visiting with my friend, Hendra, at the nearby Starbucks, and I mentioned the unexpected celebration of the morning. I explained to him that Sam's wife "beranak", which I understood to mean 'had a baby'.

Hendra broke into laughter.

"No, no, Bapak. You can't say that! Beranak is only for animals. If a human being, you must say 'melarhirkan'.


I really must apologize, next time I see Samuel, for referring to his wife as an animal!

Sunday, September 24, 2017

Agung 2

One of my neighbors back in Portland, Oregon, was Mt. St. Helens, about 70 miles north in the State of Washington. Thus it happens that angry Gunung Agung brings back some memories.
In 1980, Mt. St. Helens erupted. It turned out to be the deadliest, most economically destructive volcanic event in the history of the United States. Fifty-seven people were killed, 15 miles of railways, and 185 miles of highway were destroyed. The eruption itself reduced the elevation of the mou...ntain's summit from 9677 feet to 8363 feet. Ash covered the earth all the way down to the streets of Portland and hung in the air like a thick, acrid smog. People were advised not to go outside without wearing a facemask due to elements in the cloud harmful to the respiratory system.
The house I lived in at the time just happened to be high on the slope of one of Portland's higher hills, Mt. Tabor. The big picture window at the front of the house faced directly north, such that it became like a movie screen. We watched the whole thing, never having to turn around the look at the TV at the back of the room.
Praying now for the folks in the danger zone of Agung, and that old man Agung, the axis of the universe, may soon take a deep breath and reconsider more peaceful options.

Thursday, September 21, 2017


Here in Bali, the island is on a level 3 (of 4) warning for an eruption of Mt. Agung, the highest point in Bali at a bit under 10,000 feet. The mountain last erupted in 1963-64, killing more than 1500 people. Villages within 7 kilometers of the base of the mountain were destroyed. Mt. Agung is believed by the Hindus to be a piece (replica) of Mt. Meru, brought to Bali by the first Hindus. It is the site of the island's most important temple, Pura Besakih. This time around, people are being evacuated from the area in an orderly manner, just in case. We shall hope that the mountain settles back to sleep soon.   

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Humor and MS - a Free Online Lecture

On Sept 27th, GeneFo, a free medical community platform, will be holding a free online lecture titled :The Medical Benefits of using Humor to Manage MS". The speaker will be Ms Yvonne deSousa (author of MS Madness). 

Please take a look at the following links. 

Link to register:

Facebook Post:



GeneFo is a free  medical crowd sourcing platform that allows people affected by chronic conditions like MS  to track their condition management and also get access to free tools like clinical trial matching, comparative tools (so people can see what others like them are doing) and  educational resources. 

Friday, September 15, 2017

American Horror Story

Interesting new season of "American Horror Story" (so far). The American horror in this case is the election of Donald Trump Seriously. God bless free speech. Of course, it goes deeper than that. When is fear reasonable, and when a matter of personal issues? Which threats are real, and which imaginary? At what point does fear itself become one's greatest fear? What is really unravelling - the world or one's own psyche?

Thursday, September 14, 2017

Gut Feeling

An interesting article on the latest culprit in the cause of  MS. 

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

Ah, The Arrogance

I was just reading a copy of The Bali Advertizer - well, as far as possible, anyway before the pervasive stench of the paper begins to make your eyes water. Of course, there is the always interesting column by Richard Laidlaw, a friend of mine, a long time resident of Bali, originally from Australia, but other than that ... nada. But the thing that really caught my eye was a small ad about learning bahasa Indonesia, featuring the happy news that one might even learn to talk to "staff". I'm sorry, but this just struck me as hilarious. I couldn't stop giggling for the the longest time! Talk to your staff That which had previously been a flowerpot or a broom has now become a real person!


As far as it is possible, I prefer for everything to proceed in the exact same way every day. I'd like to say that this is because I'm just naturally a creature of habit, or because familiarity is naturally comforting to me, but the fact is, it's because my brain doesn't function properly. If the unexpected is encountered, it's as if I have suddenly slipped into an alternate universe. What happened? Where am I? What do I do now?

I always take the same exact route everywhere I... go. Nearly every day, I go to the Starbucks at Plaza Renon. I take the same route and I park in the outdoors lot.

As I pulled into the lot this evening, however, I was told by the parking attendant that the lot is full.

"Jadi, harus ke mana?"

"Harus ke bawah."

"Oh. Di mana itu?"

"Um ... di bawah."


But I had never been to the underground parking lot. Where exactly was it? Pasti, underground, but where is the entry. And how do you get out again? Hmm. I could just go home, but ... No, by God, I'm goin' in!

So I found the entry, took my ticket from the machine (though parking is free anyway - it says so on the machine - go figure), and down I went.

I parked my bike, rushed up the escalator (asyik!), entered Starbucks, bought my latte, cozied down at my table ... But damn, I'd forgotten my cigarettes in the bike compartment.

Back to the parking lot. Should just take a couple secs ... but hold on ... where the hell is my bike?
After I had toured the fairly small lot for a while, the guard asked whether he could help with something.

"Ya, uh, ha ha, I can't find my bike."

"Ok. I help you. What is license number?"

Damn! I should know this. I do know this. Except, at the moment, I don't.

"Ok. Nggak apa-apa. What color?"


Whew. I feel like a Jeopardy contestant. What is white!

So we tour the place together, eventually unravel the mystery. The bike happens to be where I parked it maybe 10 minutes ago.

As I walk back to the escalator, I note the point of entry. Enter here. Turn left. Easy.

My coffee has gone cold, but at least I have my cigarettes.

Resy comes over and we talk a while, then Iadi comes over and we talk a while too, and then I read a chapter from the book I brought.

Upon descending ke bawah lagi, I exit the door, turn left, and ... Well, how about that, my bike has disappeared once again.

So I begin the search for the second time this evening, and I begin to vaguely worry that someone will report up above that there's a suspicious looking white dude lurking aimlessly around the parking lot below.

4655! Bingo! That's the number! I feel like finding the parking attendant from earlier to let him know I've remembered the number - but, of course, that doesn't really make sense at this point. I'm not crazy. Just stupid.

Ah, there it is, praise God, my bike!

And now one final question, Alex. How long do you reckon it takes for me to find the exit?

Sunday, September 10, 2017

The Last Star

"Penderitaan itu perlu. Penderitaan adalah kehidupan. Tanpa penderitaan, takkan ada kegembiraan."

A while back, I ordered book two of this three book series by Rick Yancey, but, not surprisingly, it never arrived. So I kind of brushed up on the plot through an internet review and forged on to book three, The Last Star.

I found it, like book one, tightly plotted and consistently entertaining and inventive. The development of the central characters was carried nicely through to the end.

When an advanced alien race invades the earth and carries out, through a 5-wave plan, the erasure of millions and the collapse of civilized structure, the final results are not bound to be pretty--and Yancey cuts no corners in this regard. What he shows the reader, ultimately, and what the aliens also discover, is that love itself cannot be defeated. It continually rises from the ruins, gaining strength through every defeat--a strength that cannot be matched or overcome by technology or scheming. Thus the quote above: Suffering is necessary. Suffering is life. Without suffering, gladness has no meaning.

Many are sacrificed, many are martyred, and yet their deaths continually give birth to new life, ever fortifying the relentless will to survive and prevail. This is what the aliens did not know, could not comprehend, and could not have foreseen. It was, ironically, their own doom from the beginning.

Tuesday, September 5, 2017

The Sunset Express

Stumbled upon a very fine movie this evening called "The Sunset Express", from a play by Cormac McCarthy (author of a number of well known novels, including All the Pretty Horses and The Crossing). The play features two actors only, Tommy Lee Jones and Samuel L. Jackson. It is a sharply intelligent dialog of opposites: faith and disbelief, love and hatred, intellect and spirit, hope and despair, life and death. From a contemporary master of English prose, this extremely well acted play is well worth one's time.


I knew paradise once, and there were not any palm trees. There was not even much sunshine, except in the summer. It was made up of little things, poor things, like love, like trust, like soft words and old songs, and light that can never be matched by invention, the sort of light that can interpret darkness, the flame that hovers above the wick. Everything other than this (and all things are other) has been hypocrisy, at best no more than hope, and hope misplaced, a grotesque masquerade, an aping insult to what it cannot comprehend. This is what we mean when we speak of taking God's name in vain. What a sad and pale shadow we cast, accomplishing nothing other than the obstruction of light. Do you really think that I would cry over such a thing? What has this nothing, this fabricated dream, to say in the remembrance of purity?

Saturday, September 2, 2017


Feeling a bit loopy this morning. Got up too early, I guess. Went to microwave my breakfast and microwaved the roll of paper towels instead. I can tell you that the taste is decidedly dry, the texture rather fibrous, and they cannot be swallowed without a whole lot of water.

Seriously, though, the problems I experience with cognitive function as a result of MS are generally at their worst either in the morning or if there is too much going on at the same time. In the morning, it is best to sit for a time, have a cup of coffee, patiently wait while all the systems come on line, kind of like an old style computer booting up. 

There's often not much to do about information or activity overload, other than stop, if at all possible, admit that you're having a problem, and hope that the cessation of activity for a time will not prove a critical measure. 


Amen is a true war story about true war heroes - not the kind that throw themselves on grenades or lead the charge up the hill or command great armies, but the rarest kind of all, the kind who possess the courage and the integrity to object to what is clearly objectionable, sacrificing their own comfort and safety for the sake of the truth, and for the lives of their fellow men.

An SS officer, in charge of clean water production, learns that a chemical he is using to purify water is also being used to gas hundreds of thousands of Jews in concentration camps. At first he is disbelieving, but then sees it for himself as his fellows proudly demonstrate the gas chamber.
The officer immediately goes to the Protestant church of which he is a member, but finds only excuses, denials, fairy tales. No one is being killed, he is told. They are being moved to different countries.

He goes then to the Catholic Church and is met with a generally similar response, except from a single priest, who, through his father, has connections to the Pope himself.

But when this priest goes to the Pope, he is told that he is being unrealistic. There is diplomacy to be considered, and the safety of the Vatican, and the problem of objecting to Hitler and not to Stalin. It's not as simple as simply speaking out against the murder of Jews. Aside from that, the Pope wants proof, and the Americans want proof.

In the meantime, the SS officer pleads with his church pastor and committee to speak the truth, to instruct the parishioners to pin the yellow star of David on their clothing. They can't kill us all.
Madness, he is told. It is still only 1942. The German people are cozy. The economy is strong. And undesirables are simply being removed from the good population (sound familiar?).

The young priest tries again, taking the SS officer with him to the Vatican this time. But Italy has been invaded by the Allies and the Pope is trying to save Italians, and also the holy sites that are being bombarded.

Have patience, the priest is told. God will make all things right.

Dumbfounded, stupefied, the priest stumbles backward, then slowly withdraws a yellow star from his pocket, pins it on his cloak, and walks to the train depot to line up with the Jews about to be transported.

This is the way God makes things right. Through one caring person at a time. One man of integrity. One hero.

The SS officer, discarding his uniform, escapes Germany and enters the Allied lines in France. He carries documents, plans, names, details. It is concluded by the Allied staff members that no man of God would ever have donned an SS uniform. He is, he is told, guilty of murder. He is jailed, and hangs himself in the jail cell.

The young priest dies in the gas chamber.

Later on, during the Nuremburg trials, the testimony of these two men was used in the conviction of Nazi war criminals.

Ultimately, in the hindsight of history, they did not die in vain. Neither, however, while living, did they choose, like so many others, to live in vain.