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Tuesday, October 31, 2017

Happy Halloween

I am currently reading a book called The Curse of the Wendigo, by Rick Yancey - the exceptional author of a number of young adult novels. 

The wendigo is part of the traditional belief system of a number of Algonquin-speaking peoples, including the Ojibwe, the Saulteaux, the Cree, the Naskapi, and the Innu people. Although descriptions can vary somewhat, common to all these cultures is the view that the wendigo is a malevolent, cannibalisticsupernatural being. He appears to be a mix between a four-legged animal and a humanoid being. It is said that the Wendigo relentlessly hunts and eats people (and people only), and that the more it eats, the hungrier it grows. 

Such legendary creatures, under different names, but with similar characteristics, are said to have stalked the forests of the Pacific Northwest as well.

So, here's a little Halloween story. 

One late summer day, my father was fishing one of the high cascade lakes -- a lake without a name, like many others that can be found in the dense forests there. Generally, there is no trail that leads to these lakes. You just have to know they are there, and which creek bed will take you to them. This particular unnamed lake is about 3/4 of a mile above Monon Lake, which is by the side of the dirt road that leads from Olallie to Brietenbush. 

When my father returned to the cabin that evening, he seemed rather more quiet than usual. He was never a noisy man to begin with, except when he had too much to drink, but this night, he was unusually quiet, and somehow tense, distracted, as he went about the task of cleaning his catch of trout. 

My mother noticed this straightaway. She watched him for a time, then asked what was wrong. 

"Wrong?" he said. 

"I can see that something is bothering you," my mother pressed. 

"Well ... " 

My father put his knife on the table, and then kind of stared at it, as if whatever was wrong might have something to do with the knife. He picked up his pipe and filled it with tobacco, not even thinking to wash the fish off of his hands first. 

"Well?" my mother prodded. 

He smiled, rather thinly, rather hesitantly. My father was a mathematician, a teacher, a realist, a no-nonsense sort of guy, and he was about to say something nonsensical. Thus the sheepish smile, which itself seemed ready to collapse into a grimace.

"I saw something today," he said. "Up at the lake. The one above Monon. Just on the other side -- and, you know, that other side isn't more than a stone's throw away." He held a match above the pipe bowl, chewing at the stem. The red glow winked off his spectacles and the smoke rose to the air tentatively. "It was some kind of animal, I reckon. Well ... it had to be, didn't it. And yet it wasn't like any other animal I've seen in my life, or in all my years in these woods. It wasn't a deer -- too large. It wasn't an elk, either, though maybe the same height. It wasn't a bear -- not bulky enough. And it certainly wasn't any kind of cat or wolf. And it wasn't the right color for ... for anything. A reddish sort of color. A burnt reddish, soiled copperish thing. And sometimes it stood like a person, and sometimes it went down on all fours. I just kept thinking, what in the world can this be? And it just didn't feel right. Not right at all. I can tell you that I got out of there just as soon as it slunk back into the trees."

We waited. He struck another match. Puffed at his pipe, seeming relieved, somehow, to have spoken. 

"Well, what was it!" my mother demanded. 

He shook his head, smiled thinly once again. 

"I have no idea whatsoever," he said. "I've never seen anything like it. Nor have I ever been looked upon by any animal like that thing that stood there and looked upon me. And I can tell you this -- I'll never go up there again."

As far as I know, my father never did go to that lake again. And he never spoke of the lurking, staring thing again. Years later, after he had passed away, I visited the lake myself. It took several tries to find it, choosing one wrong creek bed and then another throughout one blistering August day. I did finally find it, emerging from the woods just at the southern tip of the small green lake. Not much more than a pond, really. The forest crowded in all along the shore, right up to the edge, dropping needles and cones into the dead of the shallows. I saw not a living thing -- no frog, no salamander, no bird, no fish. And I saw no nameless creature, lurking amid the huckleberry and blueberry bushes or beneath the sagging cedar limbs. 

But then again ... Perhaps it saw me. And I sometimes wonder if it sees me still. 

Monday, October 30, 2017

Holy Cow

Holy cow! I was just now accosted by a fat woman. I was walking up to Casablanca and this woman wanted to give me a massage. A special massage, of course. I said, No ma’am I dont want no massage, and tried to move on, but she actually grabbed my arm and pulled me back. And she was freakin strong, man! I said No, no, I’m jest meetin a friend at the bar. That’s when she started to grab my private parts For a wobbly old man like me, it actually took some physical effort to extricate myself ... and she was no spring chicken herself! But she had the weight on me, ya know. Whew. Now I’m tryin to figure how to get back to my bike unmolested

To the Reader

I don't really know who all reads this little journal of mine. Most of you, I am not acquainted with. There are a few, however, whom I do know, and it is to these folks that I would like to make a few comments about how a writer writes -- or at least how I write. 

Some things are fairly straightforward stories of actual events. Perhaps a name has been changed, or a detail added, or a detail omitted, but they are presented as occurrences that interested me, or that I found amusing. Slices of life. 

There are other things, little impressionistic paragraphs, that come almost as if they had been dictated. I write these paragraphs very quickly, hardly thinking at all. Or let us say that the thoughts simply come through the movements of my fingers. These may be melancholy or morose or pensive. They may be joyful. They may be a product of praise or prayer. Each shines a little light, for a passing moment, on something in particular. And that is what I want to convey: that they are passing thoughts, particular pieces of something, and not in any sense the whole of the thing. 

Life is complicated, and gives itself over to multiple narratives; and the writer, in particular, is open to multiple voices. He is moody, sometimes melodramatic, sometimes harsh, sometimes generous. He writes both what should be written and should not be written, and oftentimes does not know the difference between the two. He talks to himself, and the words talk back to him, and he tends to forget that anyone other than he is aware of the words. 

One writes because he has to write. He cannot not write. Through writing, he seeks to understand his own story. He turns it this way and that, such that one side reflects the light and another is necessarily in darkness. 

The writer tends to be given over to drama, for the heart is a dramatic organ. It feels, it leaps, it despairs, it wants, it regrets, it rejoices -- and it looks for words. 

But they are, don't forget, only words. 

Sunday, October 29, 2017

Lessons in English

Dharma is the resident expert in English at Starbucks in Renon. The language is part of his studies at university toward a degree in tourism management. 

Strangely, however, I have noticed that Dharma very rarely uses English. And by 'very rarely', I mean to say 'never'. 

So I've decided to try to encourage him. 

This evening's conversation: 

"Hello, Dharma."

"Hello."

"Are you having a good day today?"

"No."

"I see. Well, what will you do after work?"

"I go home." 

Oh well. It's a start. 


Saturday, October 28, 2017

A Conversation

Irni is originally from Sumatra but now she is living in Bali and has been working at the On-On Bar for a little more than a year.

Six and seven years ago, On-On was a bustling establishment on Jalan Danau Poso, situated right next to another bustling bar called Angel's. The crowd in both bars would often be shoulder to shoulder, with people standing where no seats were available.

Now, both bars are very quiet. New bars have shouldered in on the opposite side of the street, and many more new bars, clubs and restaurants have sprung up all along the main drive in Sanur, from Poso to Tamblingan. The customers are spread as thin as butter on a diabetic's slice of toast. 

Erni is standing on the open sidewalk along with her coworker, who is Balinese and whose name I cannot remember. The coworker is pretty, except for her buck-teeth, and thin, and has a large, blotchy tattoo on one arm. Erni herself is heavyset, with a pretty face and a charming white smile. 

We speak in Indonesian, and she seems happy to converse with a customer for a change. Among the English words she knows, she tells me, are "What's up?" and "Good-day" and "What's new?"

"And mate," I suggest. 

"Oh, ya ... Mate. Like friend, yes?"

She tells me she misses home because it has been more than a year since she has seen it. She has come to Bali, naturally, in order to make money, which she may then send back to her family. This plan, though a common one, has yet to be proven lucrative. 

I tell her that I have not been home in 7 years. 

"Where are you from? Australia?"

"God forbid. No, I'm from America."

"Oh! South America or North America."

"The United States of America." 

"Oh! Ya. Hollywood! New York City!"

"Exactly."

"How many languages do they speak there?"

"Only a couple. Most people speak English, but quite a few speak Spanish, too." 

"Here in Indonesia there are many languages. Every island has a language, and some islands have more than one language. But everyone can speak the common language, Indonesian. When I first came to Bali, I didn't understand what people were saying, because they were speaking Balinese. I never heard that before. I still don't understand it."

"I don't either." 

"And you have a family here in Bali?"

"I did, but not any more."

"No wife?"

"Yes and no. How about you. Married? Children?"

"No, not yet."

"Really? But how old are you?"

"Thirty-three."

"And no husband?"

"No." She looks sad. "I had a boyfriend. We were together for five years. But then he broke my heart."

Irni's friend moves closer and puts a hand on her shoulder. A tear slips from Irni's left eye, and she smiles and shakes her head. 

"He had other girlfriends," she explains. "You know, behind my back. The whole time, there were other girls. He said he would come here to be with me, but then he stayed with his girlfriend in Sumatra. He broke my heart." She puts her hand on her broken heart. "It still hurts. It is quite broken."

"Things will get a little better every day," I suggest. 

"And you know what? Then, a month ago, he broke up with his girlfriend, and so he called my phone and said he wanted me back! But I'm not stupid. Not anymore. I was stupid, but now I'm not."

"People like that never change," I suggested. 

"I know! That's why! Now I look for the good man."

"A lot of competition there," I say. 

"What do you mean." 

"Well, I mean, there seems to be a lot of girls looking for the good man."

"Oh. Yeah. You know what? Maybe he doesn't even exist."



Friday, October 27, 2017

Shut Down

Something I have noticed about MS, or about me, or about me in combination with MS is that sustained conversations can often be exhausting. I suppose that's partly because I'm making the extra effort to use a foreign tongue; but, even in English, I find that I will soon tire, soon begin to feel dull and overheated, like conversation is too large a demand on my brain. I spoke today with Iadi for a prolonged period of time at Starbucks (and, you see, the word "prolonged" comes to mind, although in fact it was only for the duration of his break time), and by the time we were done talking, I felt curiously empty, fatigued, like I needed a nap! When Hendra came out for his own break, I found myself barely able to speak any further. There were the usual conversational openings, but I let them pass. All I could think of was how much effort it would take to go into any detail or at any length. 

A similar thing happens when there are too many people speaking at the same time -- like more than two, I mean. Including myself. Words seem to get all entangled together in the air, crowding and pushing at one another, such that the flow of conversation cannot be followed. I try, but I soon give up -- closing my ears to the din, and speaking only if addressed directly by one voice. 

When overloaded, the MS brain becomes overheated, like a leaky radiator in a car. It chugs along, trying to keep running, but ultimately kind of shuts down, waits for a refreshing drought of quiet and rest. 

In short, the MS sufferer will rarely be the 'life of the party'. :) 


Thursday, October 26, 2017

Sun

I've been taking the advice lately of the masseuse I saw last week -- namely, that I should get as much sun on my back as possible in order to reduce the pain. And I must say that the practice seems to be having a positive effect. 

Do not imagine, however, that sunning in Bali is a very pleasant affair. It is difficult to rightly describe the intensity of the heat here. Certainly, one needs first to apply sunblock, and take care to cover the most tender, white skin, such as that on the upper thighs. 

You may then sit beneath the sun and virtually cook. Beads of sweat soon gush from every uncovered area, and begin to run like trickling streams down your neck and back. Your torso glows with sweat and sweat glistens on the hairs on your arms.

You begin to think about a cold shower ... but wait, five more minutes, then five more minutes again.

It is a certain sort of torture; and yet, you note that the painful muscles have begun to relax and that comfort with movement has begun to return.

So that's the treatment plan at present -- Xanax at night, sun in the day. And then a trip to Starbucks in the evening to write down whatever comes into my well-baked brain.


Darkness

Have you ever awakened in the morning to the sudden realization that no one gives a tinker's damn about you? No one gives a solitary hoot. No one gives a flying leap. 

Well, I guess that's kind of the sort of day I've been having. I mean, I think back upon the people for whom I have exerted special efforts, those whom I have tried to counsel or help - or simply those for whom I have tried to fulfill a significant role to the utmost of my ability - and it feels like I have become invisible. Someone has run an eraser over the blackboard of the past, once so crowded with characters and drawings and calculations and equations. A sort of faintly white, universal blot remains, the thinnest fog, the thinnest dust representing the aggregate meaning of the past.

I am alone with a host of ghosts, haunted by a congregation of silent shades. I see them there, behind the white curtain they have knit in time, arms folded, looking the other way. I see them, yet they see me not. 

And when the sixth hour was come, there was a darkness over the whole land ....

Monday, October 23, 2017

Dog Rescue


Yesterday morning when we came out of our house, we heard the most piteous yelping and squealing sound coming from somewhere just down the street. On investigation, we found that a little black dog had somehow ended up at the bottom of the deep culvert beyond the last house on the road, and there he had gotten stuck to something and could not free himself. The wall on our side of the culvert is quite high, perhaps 30 feet, but on the other side it is lower, no more than 7 feet above the little garbage laden stream.

My wife found some young men just up the street from us, who immediately offered their services. They surveyed the situation, hopped on their motorbikes, and we all drove around the blocks until we could reach the lower wall above the dog. My wife brought along a pair of scissors, as it was clear, even from the distance, that the dog was entrapped in some kind of wire, while I brought along a pair of elbow length leather gloves. The dog, naturally, was panicked and frightened, and would surely bite to defend himself.

Well, one of the young men lowered himself down to the putrid stream and found that the dog was indeed entrapped in wire, and had a hook stuck in his cheek as well. Thus the painful yelping every time he tried to pull away.

Very carefully, the young man snipped at the wire and at last freed the dog such that he could lift it to waiting arms at the top of the bank. At this point, it  became clear that we would need wire cutters to break the hook in his mouth.

Rushing back home, I found a pair of pliers which would also function as wire cutters, while in the meantime my wife and the young men attempted to comfort the dog and keep him still.

With a couple more snips, the hook came free, and the little dog ran to hide in the bushes nearby.
Back home again, we collected some soft food and a bowl of water and left this near the little hovel he had chosen for protection.

Returning to the spot this morning, I found the sausage gone, half of the water gone, and the little dog gone as well.

Hope the little fella will be okay.

Saturday, October 21, 2017

In the Lap of Luxury


Yesterday, we were out looking at villas near Sanur -- row upon row of luxury homes for sale or lease. The villa will commonly be a walled property with 2-4 bedrooms, full kitchen, 2-4 bathrooms with tub and shower (and hot water, of course), commonly arranged around a swimming pool and garden. They are private little paradises, segregated from the outside community -- personal little castles for the rich.

Directly across the road from one such row of villas is the little shanty town in the photo above. These dwellings have been fashioned from sheets of metal, bits and pieces of cardboard and plastic and wood, balanced against one another like playing cards.

"Do people actually live there?" I asked a man on the road.

"Oh, yes!" he said.

So here is the reality of Bali, standing side-by-side, the mansions of the rich, the hovels of the poor. No doubt, those who live in the shanty houses are those who do the yard work and cleaning for the villa owners. Or perhaps they are those one sees standing on the main road, shovel in hand, hoping to be picked up by a work crew.

Upon this, our common earth, every paradise has been enclosed by walls for the benefit of the few. Are other folks starving? Are other folks ill? Are other folks old or unable? Are other folks struggling to survive?

Oh well, let's not think about it. Let's just take a swim and enjoy a brunch of brie and fine bread.

Frogs

I'm having a problem that I have had before. Frogs. Not that I have anything against frogs. In fact, I rather like them. But the problem is, how do they get into my back yard? The yard is surrounded on all sides by walls that are at least ten feet high. That would seem to rule out the possibility that they come from any adjacent property. So, how, then? Do they fall from the sky, snatched off their feet from elsewhere and randomly deposited at the whim of the wind? I think not, because 1) What are the odds that so many would randomly choose my yard to fall in, and 2) What are the odds that they would survive their landing? Perhaps they arise from a sort of primordial soup that brews in the yard during rainy season. But in this case, wouldn't they need a few million more years to actually emerge as frogs? Do they tunnel up from the center of the earth? I would say not. These are clearly not the tunneling sorts of frogs, if such a thing even exists. They're not even very good at hopping compared to the common American frog. Yet they do hop, as well as they can hop, and happily so, whilst I lay awake last night considering them. Oh well, I had nothing better to do -- other than sleep, I mean.

Thursday, October 19, 2017

End of Watch

With End of Watch, Stephen King has composed the perfect finale for his three-part detective series, which began with Mr. Mercedes. As if King's villain was not already creepy enough, here he becomes more than only humanly sinister. In a modulation that could only be managed by King, this particular killer's evil moves beyond what is human and enters the supernatural. A truly well done thriller which gallops all the way to final page!

Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Hospital - 2

Well, yeah ... predictably enough, the hospital was not all that useful. For one thing, they had no x-ray machine that could perform an x-ray of the back (lol), so I just got a complete blood panel. Results were within fairly normal limits except for the white count, which was high (maximum result in normal range 70, my result 71.5). The thing that bumped that up most significantly was the neutrophil count, which would suggest that my body is fighting an injury of infection. Which I already know. Of course, in the presence of MS, the cells that are fighting the infection and probably being fought by MS itself. The motto of the MS process: Something wrong? Let's make it worse!

Last night, I arranged a house call with an expert (expensive) masseuse. He soon discovered the problem in my right shoulder (or rather, behind the right shoulder, beneath the scapula). The muscle there is, in layman's terms, 'in a veritable knot'. 

Damn right they are. 

So, how to loosen this knot? That's the question. Weekly massages? Medication? Both? My plan now is to consult with my local black market pharmacist in hopes of finding a particularly effective muscle relaxer. And also, as the masseuse suggested, to sit in the morning sun. Unfortunately, however, it is now rainy season in  
Bali. 

Monday, October 16, 2017

Hospital

Well, it looks like I'm gonna break down and go to the damn hospital. The pain that I have long suffered in my neck, shoulder and back has suddenly gotten worse rather than better. My assumption has been that this is neuropathic pain associated with MS, but of course I may be wrong. I decided that it would be at least prudent to try to get an x-ray and some blood work to see if anything showed up. Not that I have any confidence in doctors here in Bali to make a reliable diagnosis, but, hey, xrays and blood chemistry tests don't lie, right? Only two medicines have so far been very effective for this pain, the one being Xanax and the other Zyprexa. The trouble is, you can only take Xanax at night, because it puts you to sleep, and the price of Zyprexa is ridiculous -- more than 2 million Rupiah for a month's supply (or 200 dollars). Can't swing that one. Of course, Xanax is also expensive, at 50 dollars for 20 tablets. For a time, I was able to get by on 2 or 3 a week, but lately I have needed it every night. So here we go. I suppose I am mainly seeking a sort of peace of mind, a reassurance that this is not something more deadly. 

The Old Man and the Goddess

I dreamed of a dying old man and an expectant goddess. Both had just been released from a long stay in prison. Another man -- the warden, perhaps; perhaps a parole officer -- was talking to them about what would happen now. They had been given a small, barren plot of land, a very small hill of real estate, nothing on it other than sparse clumps of grass. 

I may as well just dig a grave and get in it, the old man said. 

You can dig a hole, fill it with water, and drown yourself, the other man said. 

The old man was in pain. So was the goddess. The old man was ill. The goddess seemed to be in labor. 

Suddenly, she produced a mound of perfectly round, iridescent stones.

What the hell is that? the old man said. . 

Kidney stones? the other man answered. 

The goddess relaxed and breathed a sigh of relief. She observed the wondrous mound of jewels on her lap. 

Perhaps we have all been in prison for a time. We have struggled, suffered, desired, despaired. Now we are free -- and what is left? A burial plot or precious new life?

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

Dandy

The idea that family members, loved ones and friends would be disinterested or unsympathetic to the MS sufferer would have surprised me in the past. In fact, it did surprise me as I began early on to discover this reality. It is actually where the name of this blog came from. In brief, I had remarried, and my new wife and I were having some relationship troubles, unrelated to MS. My daughter from the previous marriage, having heard of this 'trouble in paradise' through the grapevine, called me on the phone. She asked no question about my MS. She did not ask after my health or my condition. No, she said, with barely concealed glee, 'Sooo, how are you and your new wife doing?' It was my first experience of the fact that other people, even those close to you, have no interest in the issue of your health. And so I answered, rather tiredly, acutely disappointed, 'Oh, no worries. Everyone here is Jim Dandy'. 

In the years since then, I have heard many stories like this one. I have heard many MS sufferers express surprise and a sense of betrayal that those who they might have thought would come alongside them and help take up their burden were silent instead, disinterested, irritated, annoyed. I have heard, as well, of a fair number of divorces as a result of the disease. I have heard the accusation that we are not well because we don't really want to be well. I have heard the accusation that we are exaggerating our pains. And, of course, I have heard the simple solutions -- you need to take more vitamins, you need to take these stem-cell pills, you need to get more exercise, you need to stop thinking about it. You need to get over it, because your unwellness, your complaints, your deficits are ruining our marriage/friendship/relationship. In short, your disease is ruining my life and I can't handle it anymore.

Of course, this is not everyone's experience. It is just much more common that one might have imagined. Many of us are truly on our own. For many, the only sympathetic ear is that of the doctor -- and, of course, you have to pay him for his time. We find ourselves increasingly left out, uninvited, off the friend list. And that's only natural, in a certain way -- for those who are healthy do active things and those who are unhealthy do not. We would if we could. Please understand. We do want to live again, to function at 100 percent, to laugh, to run, to hike, to party -- to simply feel comfortable once again in our own skin, to throw off the burden that this random disease has inflicted upon us, to recover, to be well, to be able. BUT THIS IS NOT OUR CHOICE. The disease marches forward. It neither seeks nor needs our approval. In fact, it has nothing to do with us. It lives its own dysfunctional life, having seized control of an unwilling host. We are taken captive, blindfolded, gagged. We are locked in cells, slowly starved, yet kept alive.

And in our captivity, the body wastes away, but the heart grows large and strong. This, at least, is within our reach, and the road is open, the way unfettered. Compassion is very close at hand. 


Old Dogs

Old dogs and ill dogs wander off to die. They don’t mean to withdraw their affection. They mean to be out of the way. This is the final act of devotion. They curl themselves into corners, into the darker spaces. They bury the broken heart. They close their eyes, on pupils imprinted with the master’s image. They watch no more. They wait for sleep.

Monday, October 9, 2017

Confusion

Upon entering the Sanur Starbucks the other day, I was greeted by the woman at the counter, who then said something that sounded like "Dee ozoo all?" I figured she must be speaking Indonesian and that this was a word I do not know.

Noting my failure to understand, she repeated the expression very slowly, enunciating each syllable. "Dee-Ooo-Zoo-All?"

Oh! Hang on ... The usual! She was asking whether I wanted my usual coffee drink. Seperti biasa. Lol.

When you are expecting Indonesian, but English comes out, and yet with a heavy Indonesian accent, things can get confusing. The same thing happens with my own pronunciation of Indonesian words, wherein the response may be, 'Sorry, I don't speak English.'

In fact, it happened just the other day with the word Bingung, American pronunciation, 'bing-Goong, meaning 'confused'. And my American accent did indeed 'confuse' the hearer.

And then we have a third language called 'rap music', which is very popular among the young Indonesians.

So it happened that my friend, Iadi, wanted to know what does it mean, Ma Nigga. 

Whoa, Iadi. I means that you, a non-black person, neva, eva say Ma Nigga!

Saturday, October 7, 2017

All

All I ever wanted really was a warm room, rain tapping on a window, two easy chairs, a television, a faithful dog at my feet, embers winking and whispering on the hearth. Trust. Devotion. Sureness. A son, a daughter, calling on the phone, just checking in. And in the summer picnics, and in the winter Christmas, and in the spring long walks under damp new suns, and in the autumn pungent, papery leaves to rake into mounds which would sleep the night huddled beneath a cold orange moon. Simplicity. Peace. Love like a tall and graceful elm with roots descending to the center of the earth. Only this, nothing more.

Back on the American Front

I have seen numerous editorials and comments post-Las Vegas shooting painting Americans as a people in love with guns. The fact is that fewer than 30 percent of Americans own a gun, while a lesser percentage of that 30 percent own multiple guns. A tiny percent of that lesser percentage are nut cases that own multiple guns. The fact is, most Americans would not know how to load, fire, or maintain a gun. Of the hundreds of people I have known in my long life, a mere handful hav...e been gun owners. Most Americans, including gun owning Americans, are fully in favor of common sense gun control measures, from background checks to registration to limitations on automatic weapons. Let us squarely place the blame not on the American people or a fictional romance with firearms, but on the big money behind the NRA and the gun industry and its purchase of irresponsible, gutless politicians whose only shield is the shamelessly disingenuous hijacking of the second amendment for the sake of filling their pockets and advancing their careers. They are fully complicit in the murder that took place in Las Vegas.

Friday, October 6, 2017

Olden Days

Having spoken of lamentable present day realities, let us speak for a moment of olden days.

Up until the time I was about 50, I spent several weeks of every summer in the High Cascades of Oregon -- Camping, fishing, hiking, climbing, swimming, boating.  I hiked seven miles up hill to the base of the peak of Mt. Jefferson, carrying a backpack for a two night stay on the shore of the snow-water lake there. Reaching the highest ridge before the little valley that dipped down to the base of the peak, I decided to descend cross-country rather than follow the trail, down through the shale rock, between the hearty tufts of grasses and huckleberry bushes, past deep blue pools, one of which was bridged by a slowly melting snowbank, over the final crags of stone and to the spreading green below, shot through with wildflowers every color of the rainbow.

I climbed four times the 7200 foot hill known as Olallie Butte, scrabbling up the final barren hump on hands and knees. two feet forward, one foot back. We -- I, my brother and our friend -- made a challenge of seeing who could reach the top first and in the fastest time. 

I rowed the length of Olallie Lake, 3 miles, and then rowed back against the wind. 

I climbed nearly every trail and visited nearly every lake in that wide and rugged wilderness; and if there was a hill above the highest lake, I climbed that hill to see what was on the other side. 

In Bali, already 55 years of age, I swam almost every day; and in Thailand, we boated, swam and snorkeled the day long at Krabbe Island; and in Bangkok, we walked miles to visit temples and markets and the sites of the city. In Georgetown, Malaysia, we walked from morning to evening, visiting the historic sites, stopping off at cafes and local markets. 

The point is, I have not always been a cripple. I was strong, and agile, and sure of foot, and full of energy, and seemingly tireless. And when the day was done, I would go out at night and enjoy the bar or the club with friends.

These are the things that MS has taken from me. This is the me that MS has murdered. I remember it now as if it were a fiction, and yet I was there, once upon a time, in the flesh -- and not long ago, at that. 

You don't 'get better' from MS. You don't recover. You don't regain what is lost. You don't 'get back on your feet' again. You lose, little by little, irrepressibly. Little by little, you disappear.  

Thursday, October 5, 2017

The End of Something on Nusa Penida

Took a short trip to Nusa Penida Island, which I wrote about in my other blog, Mypracticalparadise.com.  

But what I want to write about here is how painfully evident it became that my condition has profoundly worsened over the last couple years. Two years ago to the day, as Facebook cheerily reminds me, I was on a trip to the north coast of Bali, where we enjoyed a day-long adventure of boating, swimming and snorkeling, during which I experienced no significant difficulties with physical ability. 

Yesterday and the day before, however, merely walking was a challenge. Most of the tourist sites on Nusa Penida start from hillsides far above the sea. Visitors walk down a rocky path so that they can view the massive rocks that rise from the ocean, the crashing waves, the aquamarine pools, and so on. It was soon apparent, however, that my legs were far too weak and wobbly to convey me to these destinations. The two young men who were in our party had to constantly hold onto my arms and steady me. When we waded out to the boat that would take us back to Bali, I had to be pulled from one end and pushed from the other so that I could get into the damn boat. 

Honestly, it was acutely embarrassing. I felt foolish and burdensome and keenly depressed. 

I was truly unaware of how bad things had gotten; for, most days, I simply stay at home or in the immediate neighborhood, never having to call upon much physical effort. But it did not occur to me that I would be any less able than ever to do whatever I was called upon to do. 

It was a rude awakening to the deterioration that has quietly and steadily been at work in my body. Multiple sclerosis is a matter of steady, relentless subtraction, wasting, deterioration. More and more, you don't just have MS; you are MS. 

Sunday, October 1, 2017

Not a Good Night

I am alone most of the time these days. And I am in pain most of the time. For more than a year now, this relentless pain has been crawling about from my neck to my shoulder to my back, a bit better one day, a bit worse the next. It is as if there is a foreign creature entwined inextricably with my nervous system, endlessly eating and tearing. I feel like excising the entire right side of my body. Just being done with it. I am half a man with or without it. The pain was so bad this evening that I decided to try to kill it with alcohol. I was not successful. I am exhausted, and depressed, and alone. And I begin to wonder why. So many things seem, in hindsight, so senseless, so random, so pointless. My own narrative falls apart, and I begin to wonder which of a thousand mistakes is behind my damnation. The past is ended, is refuted by the present, and the present has no plan, no goal. I am abandoned. I am become an orphan. I am become my own ceaseless pain. How strange it is to have gone this far in life and gathered not a single true friend. 

The Vietnam War

During this week, I have watched the ten part PBS series, The Vietnam War, directed by noted historian Ken Burns. This is a thorough, and a fascinating documentary of the war, from the time of the French colonial struggle to the bitter culmination of the American defeat some 30 years later; fascinating, heartbreaking, and, sadly, eerily pertinent, given the resurgent nationalism of our time, a beating of drums that should have been eternally stilled by that great and senseles...s slaughter that we all watched unfold. This carefully, minutely detailed account serves well in undoing the sort of 'Readers' Digest' version of history that develops over time, dispelling the clich├ęs, restoring fullness to the figures involved and the decisions that were made. Just as one example, it is interesting to note the deeply felt reticence of President Johnson to become very significantly involved in the war. Through official records and through voice recordings, we learn of his conviction from the beginning that America had nothing to gain from this war, and of his repugnance at the thought of becoming embroiled to the point where his own initial aspirations of a 'war against poverty' at home were so steadily overshadowed by a shooting war in faraway Asia. One president, it seems, would say, "We'll do this much, and no more", while the next would say, "Okay, this much, plus this, but then no more"; until, finally, we found ourselves with both feet planted, hip-deep in the muck, invested to the hilt. Step by step by step, we found ourselves not on the periphery but smack dab in the middle. This is how it happens -- through aggressive talk, through demonizing, through ignorance, through pride, through stubbornness, through exaggeration, through a short-view of history, through a failure to appreciate the small picture in favor of inventing a big picture that is composed of at least 90 percent paranoia. One hears the same echoes once again -- America, love it or leave it ... My country, right or wrong ... empty, self-contradictory slogans that lead to senseless disaster. One hopes that this series will be attended to closely by millions, for this is most definitely a history that we don't want to repeat.
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