Self Improvement? Do I Have To? Can It Wait Until Tomorrow?

I hate the idea of dieting almost as much as I hate the suggestion that I read a self-improvement book.  It’s not that I don’t need to lose a few pounds, or that I couldn’t learn somethings about my better self through the words of others.  It’s just that remaining in a state of denial and self-loathing are so much easier that the work that one needs to put in to actually make substantive life changes.

Regardless, last week, for only the second time in my life, I began a structured diet plan because I had grown tired of watching the tire grow about my waist and because I had read an article about heart health that made me think that dropping these really unattractive pounds would be good for me.

Since I’m too lazy to do any research on my own and rely heavily on recommendations of people I like and respect, I leaned on the advice of my acupuncturist to guide me into a program that she enthusiastically endorsed. I had her order the shakes, supplements, and other goodies that would see me through an initial two-week cleanse/detox/weight-loss experience.  Last Monday I jumped in.

I discovered that the claims that sold me on the program proved to be true (mostly):

The shakes taste great!

I don’t really ever get hungry!

I have more, not less, energy than ever before!

I have stopped craving the things that are bad for me!

All of the above were true for about 48 hours.  The two daily shakes, which now make up my breakfast and lunch, do not taste bad at all, but are the consistency of wall-patching compound.  I frequently feel like I’m eating the shake, not drinking it.  By the third day, I was really hungry and found the shakes weren’t holding me until I learned a bit more about how to snack effectively.

It is absolutely true that I have more energy that before I started the diet.  The big negative to this development is that it has begun to cut into my afternoon nap time. I’m having to plan more work for myself to keep busy because I’m sleeping more soundly, waking up earlier, and having trouble drifting off in the afternoon.  If this keeps up I might actually finish projects around the house that I’ve been avoiding for almost 30 years, and I find that a bit distressing. It’s always been comforting to know that I’m behind on something

My craving for beer absolutely died for exactly two days.  My enthusiastic resolve to take advantage of the diet plan killed my desire for a brew for 48 hours, and then it came back with a vengeance.  I’m cheating moderately, but it’s OK–I feel plenty guilty about it.  Please don’t tell anyone.

So, of course, given this (mostly) concerted effort, I expect the pounds to fall away precipitously, but then I remember that it took several years to attain this unsightly fat and it might just take more than a couple of weeks to burn it all off.

My highly Puritanical digital scale does not help, especially when I start checking my weight twice daily, expecting quick results.  It is either just highly sensitive or wildly inaccurate.  I swear that if I have a passing thought about eating a donut, the scale jumps a pound or two just as a warning.  However, my clothes are fitting better, I have regained a notch on my belt, and I’ve stopped weighing myself for the time being so I can just focus on how I feel more than the half-pound I might have gained or lost.

Time is another issue.  I have too much of it now.  Having a shake as a meal twice a day really cuts into the amount of time needed for grocery shopping, food preparation, and meals.  I try to take my time while chewing on my shake to really savor all 8 ounces of it, but from start to finish, it’s about a 15-minute process.  And then I stare longingly at last night’s leftovers, the delicious lunch-sized portions of healthy looking soups, stews, and other dishes that my wife so lovingly prepares for our dinners.  I check my watch to see how many hours are left until dinnertime and a real meal.

Today, I am enjoying a “cleanse” day where instead of the shakes, my food intake will be limited to four 8-ounce glasses of nutritious bliss spread out across the day, along with other supplements and a couple of snacks.  It’s easier than it sounds actually.  And, heck, it’s given me time to write this piece.  Who knows, I might even pick up one of those self-help books that people keep giving me and give it a try.

 

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Doing Stuff That Women Do

I’ve written recently about my sudden lack of fear to try new and death-defying activities like indoor skydiving, zip lining, and white-water rafting, but until recently I had been far too afraid to try something as scary as a spa treatment.

Then my wife gave me a gift certificate to get a “men’s facial.”  My idea of facial skin care involves shaving every day and occasionally putting on sunscreen.  The thought of filling my drawer with creams and astringents and actually learning what is good for my skin seemed like a massive waste of time and money.

However, I had started to notice that my “laugh lines” were starting to look like fault lines, small crevasses etched around my eyes and across my forehead.  The parenthesis around my lips was starting to look like misplaced dimples growing deeper every day and being joined with other weird creases that I had never noticed before.

I figured that if I could crash through a Class V rapid, I could survive a facial with my dignity intact. So, I made the appointment.

Walking into the spa, I can immediately feel zen-like atmosphere they are trying to project.  The receptionist greets me as if I’m a long-lost friend even though we are complete strangers.  All of the people working the desk speak in smooth, hushed tones.  I appreciate the hours it must take to train oneself to talk like that.  I’m far more used to having someone greet me by flipping me a coaster and growling, “Waddaya drinkin’?’”

I’m ushered into a lounge where I can sip on tea or flavored water, and I am told that Krissy will be with me shortly.  I feel mildly aroused at the thought, but I’m pretty sure it’s just the rush that I’m getting from the flavored water.

Minutes later, I’m greeted by a pleasant young woman who takes me back to a dimly lit room featuring something like a massage table. She instructs me to take off my t-shirt and shoes and make myself comfortable on the bed.

She comes back moments later, makes sure I’m comfortable, and then extends the arm of a small machine that is hissing steam out of a small robot-head and aims it closely at my face.  “This is a steamer,” she explains, “to help open up your pores.”

Maybe it’s just me, or maybe its volume of the steamer but I find breathing the steamy air through my nose to be distinctly uncomfortable.  I feel a little like I’m being waterboarded except that I’m paying for it, and I feel like I can’t complain because I have absolutely no idea how it’s supposed to feel.

As I grow used to the hissing robot arm, Krissy goes to work.  I discover quickly that there is no chatting during a facial.  As she starts spreading the first layer of oil or cream across my forehead, down my cheeks and everywhere that is not my eyes and mouth, I realize that I need to keep my mouth shut or risk swallowing whatever product she is using.

Relieved of the need of any conversation, I begin to relax as she slathers layer after layer of creamy, oily goo over my face.  She removes each one gently with warm towels before she applies the next layer, but they all seem exactly the same to me except for some are more slightly aromatic.  I’m starting to think that they are all the same (after all, my eyes are closed) when she slips in a lotion that is tinged with Ajax or some other abrasive.  I think that maybe I’m being exfoliated although I don’t exactly know what that means.  I think of it as the light sanding that I do before I put on the finishing coats of paint on a wood project at home.  Sure enough, one or two layers later, I’m done.

She lets the warm towel rest on my face for a bit before giving me a final wipe-down and informing me that “our time is up” and that she’ll meet me in the hallway when I’m ready.  She is impersonally friendly as she asks if I enjoyed the experience, and I’m reservedly enthusiastic while I thank her and retire to the rest room to actually stare at my face and see if all that attention has made any difference.

To my surprise, it has.  It is as if she has Spackled over the worst of the cracks and crevices, and even once I remove the residual oiliness, I can feel how much smoother my skin is to the touch.  I do not look any more youthful–I’m pretty sure no amount of lotion is going to achieve that–but it is as if I have gotten a very inexpensive face lift or a Botox treatment without the nasty needles.

I start to think that this was actually a darn good investment as I walk back through the coma-inducing lounge and into the reception area.  I’m greeted once again by my new best friends who assure me that, of course they can book me with Krissy for another facial some time soon.

After all, let’s face it.  The women that I know look better, smell better, and are smarter than I am.  I’m all in on the facials.  Bring on the mani-pedis.  I’m ready.

Checking in on “Surviving the Trump Apocalypse”

On December 4, 2016  I came out of my self-induced coma long enough to react to the election of Donald Trump with a list of 6 personal survival strategies that I thought I would need practice in order to help me get through the next four (I refuse to even think about 8) years.  I called that piece, “Surviving the Trump Apocalypse.”

The predictions I made about this wrecking ball of an administration were pretty right on, but far too generous.  It has been so much worse, in so many ways than I could have predicted.  I’m not going to catalogue all of that; it’s just too depressing.  The only saving grace so far has been that the Republican-held Congress is so fractious and inept that they just can’t get anything done especially when the boss changes course, undercuts his own people, and makes policy changes depending on what he has watched on Fox News that morning.

That is not to say that they aren’t doing great damage.  They have squandered the chance to take advantage of the robust economy they were left with and pass legislation that might further wage growth and help to rebuild critical infrastructure.  Instead, they have wasted 6 full months trying to undo the good work of the ACA, revealing the embarrassing truth that they actually have no plan to help all Americans gain the security of health care.  This, after 6 years of decrying and defaming the ACA and passing countless “repeal” bills.

OK.  I have to stop the ranting.

The six suggestions that I made for my own survival all still make sense to me now, although some have become more important to me than others.  But to review, here is what I was thinking back in December:

ISOLATE yourself from the news to protect your spirit and avoid immersing yourself in news that is going to make you feel depressed.

EXERCISE to help to lift your spirits and to join with others in communal activities like hiking and yoga.

CREATE–spend time in whatever creative endeavor lifts your spirits, engages you with others and makes you feel that you are bringing something good into the world.

PLANT SOMETHING–It feels good to watch things grow around you and especially if you have done the work to nurture new life.  I never envisioned the outright assault that the Donald was going to inflict on the environment, but now know that everyone must contribute something.

VOLUNTEER  for any organization that you know can use your help and for which you have a passion. Social services, immigration agencies, schools, and other things we have taken for granted could be devastated by potential budget cuts.  These organizations will need us.

CELEBRATE your successes, whether they are personal or collective.  We have to take joy in any sense of good we bring into the world.  We have to celebrate the light we bring into the darkness.

I have utterly failed at #1.  For the first couple of weeks when I was in deepest mourning, it was easy, but as this shitshow has developed, I simply cannot stay away from the news.  As one commentator said last night, Trump has assembled, “the most incompetent Cabinet ever” and they are creating jaw-dropping headlines daily.  Add that to the spectacular failures of Congress, the daily Trump tweet-storm, and the looming certainty that the Russian scandal may dwarf Watergate, and it has made it impossible for me to stay away from multiple news outlets.  If anything, it has increased my appetite for news because every day, sometimes every hour, brings about a new WTF moment.

I have certainly stayed true to #2 (EXERCISE) frequently spending up to three hours a day on fitness, mostly with long walks, hikes, and yoga.  I’m going bike shopping once the weather cools down.  It has been excellent tonic for my mind, body, and spirit.

Numbers 3 and 4 have combined somewhat for me.  Much of my creative endeavors over the past six months have centered on landscape design around the house.  I have planted over 30 new plants in the yard, and increased my composting capacity.  My Father’s Day gift was a kitchen scale and I began to use it to figure out just how much kitchen waste we were successfully diverting from the landfill and into our own compost.   I discovered that we have been composting close to 25 pounds of kitchen waste per month, a number that startled me since it is just the two of us.  It doesn’t make up for pulling out of the Paris accords, but every new plant, every small effort feels like the right thing to do. Also on the CREATE side, I’ve been writing more (sorry), and am considering enrolling in a drawing and/or guitar class in the fall.

Number 5 (VOLUNTEER) has not changed much for me.  I continue to deliver food for Mama’s Kitchen twice a week, and have upped the hours that I volunteer for the Solana Center, a local non-profit dedicated to teaching folks about sustainable practices (like composting).  I’d like to do more.

CELEBRATING successes has been a more quiet thing. People are afraid to talk about politics either to avoid conflict or too avoid surging down the rabbit hole of depression.  One friend has started a “First Sunday Sunrise” hiking group and sets out a monthly challenge.  She celebrates each hike on Facebook with pictures and videos and her group seems to continue to grow.  This is kind of what I had in mind.  I think about joining her group on every first Saturday night.  It’s just that being-somewhere-at-or-before-sunrise-on-ANY-given-day thing that I struggle with.  I did joyfully celebrate overcoming my fear of fun when I went both zip-lining and white-water rafting within four days on a trip to Colorado Springs.  I became so energized by the adrenaline highs that as soon as I got home, I busted out a gift certificate that had been mouldering for almost 6 months and experienced indoor sky-diving.  Anyone near me is tired of hearing me talk about it, but those three things have changed my ability to trust myself to be more open to challenging new experiences.

Make no mistake.  The nation faces dire times ahead.  This is how I’m coping right now. How about you?  Any ideas for the rest of us?

 

 

 

The Continued Relevance of “1984”

When 45 was elected there were lots of postings on Facebook about the uptick in people purchasing and reading or re-reading George Orwell’s 1984.

I did not rush out and get a copy because I was already depressed enough and revisiting what I remembered of that grim world that Orwell first wrote about in 1950 did not appeal.  I stayed away from it until a former student reached out on Facebook, and we decided to create a two-person book club. After reading The Handmaid’s Tale, we decided we would take on 1984.

As I read, I was surprised at how straightforward the narrative was, and while I could see some parallels to the political climate that we have been plunged into since the election of 2016, it wasn’t until half-way through the book that I came across some passages that really resonated.

I’m sure that some writers and thinkers have done much more work on this than I’m willing to so I will stick to a couple of parallels that were particularly striking.

Overall, I do not believe that 2016 looks like the world envisioned in 1984.  After all, we are a vibrant and diverse culture. Personal liberties are mostly still intact.  Their is robust political discussion, conversation, and protest that seems unending. The judiciary and individual states have managed to blunt some of 45’s excesses, and many of us are counting the days until the 2018 elections when some of our diffuse outrage might be turned into significant electoral action.

However, there are a few haunting similarities.  Just as Orwell envisioned the ministries of Truth, Peace, and Love that were all dedicated to their opposites, 45’s cabinet-level nominees seemed to have been hand-picked to destroy or work in opposition to the very principles of their departments.  The department of Justice under Jess Sessions is devoted to rolling back any initiative that was dedicated to advancing civil rights, and is working hard to find ways to increase voter suppression.  The Environmental Protection agency is being gutted by Scott Pruitt, and it appears as though every effort to protect our air and water that has been implemented over the past 10 years is going to be eliminated as a sop to coal and oil interests just at a time when many states are surging forward with innovations in renewable energy.  Just today, 18 states sued Betsy DeVos, the Secretary of the Department of Education, for trying to stop regulations that would protect students and parents from being defrauded by private, for-profit colleges.

The odd part for me about all of this is that the partisan divide is so deep that even though these policies hurt everyone, the polling seems to show little change since the election. 45’s base voters are as rabidly enthusiastic as ever although there has been movement among independent voters.  There continues to be a solid majority that are unalterably apposed to the man.  Of course, that was true on election day also.

The second parallel that was most striking to me was how the government of 1984 saw the power of re-writing the past and continually revising history in order to manipulate and control the masses.  Winston, of course, knows this because he works in the Ministry of Truth where he is continually making changes to history books and historical documents to make them align with the Party’s changing positions.  He tries to impress the enormity of this mass manipulation to his lover, Julia with an impassioned explanation: “Every record has been destroyed or falsified, every book has been rewritten, every picture has been repainted, every statue and street and building has been renamed, every date has been altered.  And that process is continuing day by day and minute by minute.  History has stopped.  Nothing exists except an endless present in which the Party is always right.”

He is disappointed when his young lover shows little interest.  She is so jaded that Winston’s news does not surprise her, just confuses and bores her a little.  Of course the government lies. Yes, people are “disappeared.” Orwell describes her condition by saying that, [o]ften she was ready to accept the official mythology, simply because the difference between truth and falsehood did not seem important to her.”

Trump and his minions unapologetically spew out lies and contradictions at such a dizzying pace that I fear the populace has become anesthetized.  The New York Times has compiled an impressive list of lies (“President Trump’s Lies, the Definitive List”) that Trump has foisted on America since his inauguration and despite the enormity of it, or maybe because of it, the populace seems to have grown numb.  Thirty-five percent of Americans believe him or believe it doesn’t matter that he lies, and sixty-five precent have come to not believe anything that he says.  All investigative reporting is quickly branded as “fake news” and the White House is always able to present “alternative facts” if asked.  The deliberate confusing of all of the narratives surrounding the enormity of the scandals that are emanating from this administration has left many people unsure of who to believe.

Winston still has the capacity for outrage and the desire to join what he perceives as the resistance while Julia has accepted the duplicitous nature of the world she lives in and rebels through hedonism and other small defiances.

Seems like such a short time ago, we had a devout interest in protecting the environment, furthering the cause of civil rights, and working to provide for the good of all Americans.  We had a president who most Americans trusted and who seemed to be trying hard to maintain a the kind of sense of dignity and decorum that we used to expect of our presidents.

We aren’t in the world of 1984 yet, but we certainly have moved closer to it.

Shakespeare Sunday: Poet Claims, “Yes I Am That Good.”

Sonnet 18

Shakespeare’s Sonnet 18 was always a lot of fun to work with in the classroom because students want to view it strictly as a love poem and because so much of the poem turns on the single word “this” in the very last line.  In case you’ve forgotten all of your Shakespearean sonnets, here it is:

Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day?

Thou art more lovely and more temperate:

Rough winds do shake the darling buds of May,

And summer’s lease hath all too short a date;

Sometime too hot the eye of heaven shines,

And often is his gold complexion dimm’d;

And every fair from fair sometime declines,

By chance or nature’s changing course untrimm’d;

But thy eternal summer shall not fade,

Nor lose possession of that fair thou ow’st;

Nor shall death brag thou wander’st in his shade,

When in eternal lines to time thou grow’st:

So long as men can breathe or eyes can see,

So long lives this, and this gives life to thee.

Easy to see why it is looked at as a love poem, yes?  I even found it listed by one website as a poem suitable for Valentine’s Day, and for the first eight lines, I could not agree more.  The poet finds his loved one more beautiful than a summer day, “more lovely and more temperate.”  After all, a summer’s day can have “rough winds” and can be too hot or perhaps obscured by clouds.  The poet recognizes that “summer’s lease has all too short a date” and as all things in nature “every fair from fair sometimes declines.”  All things natural pass through their time of youth and beauty, decline and eventually die, a theme Shakespeare returns to time and again.

But line 9 surprises us.  If all things natural (including his lover’s beauty) decline, how can he say that “thy eternal summer shall not fade”?  He spends three more lines declaring that her beauty is immune from time’s ravages or the “shade” of death.

How so?  The final couplet is the poet’s tribute to himself.  He has given her immortality because  “So long as men can breathe or eyes can see” they will be able to read his poem, the poem which has frozen her beauty in time. He assures her that “So long lives this (his poem), and this (his poem) gives life to thee.

Trying to figure out those last two lines used to drive my students crazy which was, of course, another reason I loved this poem.

Have a wonderful Sunday.  Check in later this week for some thoughts on Orwell’s 1984, and it’s also time to check in on how things are going with Surviving the Trump Apocalypse.  Cheers!

Grumpy Old Man

My wife recently made the observation, with both honesty and concern, that I was becoming a grump.

With both reticence and reflection, I had to agree that she was 100% correct.

The evidence was undeniable.  There are a growing number of things which I just find intolerable.

First and foremost is that Donald Trump continues to be President of the United States no matter how often I wake up and hope that I’ve just been having a bad dream.  Sure, there is some satisfaction in watching him careen about from crisis to crisis, constantly showing off his incompetence and ignorance.  But watching the horrifying damage he is causing to America’s reputation, his willful destruction of our environment, and his lack of concern for justice and human rights is almost as appalling as the fact that 30% of Americans still think he’s doing a good job, or at least are willing to “give him a chance.”  The hypocrisy of his backers grates on me remembering that this same 30% along with 100% of Congressional Republicans never gave President Obama a moment of support even as he advanced initiatives that would improve the lives of all Americans.

I mean, that should be enough to justify four years of grumpiness.  It is epic and bigly, and I have absolutely no control over it.  So, I think that carrying around that angst has made me hyper sensitive to little things, like noise.

I always thought I lived on a quiet street until I retired and was home more hours of the day.  Now it seems as though there is a mower or a blower or a chain saw in operation near my house (actually as I am writing, a chain saw just fired up somewhere nearby) from 7:30 AM on.  I appreciate that people are keeping their houses and yards in good shape, I really do, but couldn’t we have some established “quiet hours” in the middle of the day when I like to take my nap?  Is that really too much to ask?

And when did it become OK to carry on conversations in public places with your phone set on “speaker”?  It seems that everywhere I go now, I run into people on their phones and have to listen to both sides of the conversation when I’d prefer not to hear either of them.  I was taking my walk around a local lake and had to push myself hard to get past a lady who was negotiating with her bank, phone set on “speaker”,  and I could hear her getting put on hold and bounced from person to person and telling and re-telling the story of her loan problems.  I got anxious just listening to someone else getting the runaround!

I even feel my grouch level rising when I know someone with whom I am having a conversation has put me on speaker so that he or she can walk around the house or dust or do the dishes or god knows what.  Can’t we stop a moment and actually talk to one another without feeling a need to multi-task?

I love my smartphone.  I don’t want anyone to take it away from me.  But I don’t want to listen to your conversations.  I certainly don’t want to listen to your music (headphones, please!), and if you want to dust, or do the dishes rather than talk to me, call me back when you have time, for god’s sake.

See what I mean?  Grouchy.

It can even come down to a scrubbing sponge, wet and soapy and full of germs, left in the bottom of the kitchen sink.  I’m not a germaphobe, and I can’t even pinpoint when I started to obsess over this, but when I do the dishes, I’ve trained myself to always wring out the sponge and put it in a spot to dry.  So when I find it sitting, soggy and gross in the bottom of the sink, there’s only one other person who could have left it there.  We no longer have the kids at home to blame things on, and I think we both really miss that.

I tried to approach it in a lighthearted way since it was one of those issues that I can recognize as being both petty but increasingly critical at the same time.  “Hey,” I told her, “you know, it’s the weirdest thing, for some reason I’ve developed this sponge obsession” which I went on to describe to her.  You know, subtle, joking, not really a big deal.  She just looked at me blankly.  “I never do that,” she claimed.  “Oh, ha ha!  Guess it’s just me!”  because, you know, it’s petty, inconsequential.  So now, I’ve begun snapping photos of every time it happens, every time she leaves the damn sponge behind.  Clearly, I need to come with evidence next time.

See what I mean?  A Class-A grump.

I’m not actually taking pictures of every time she leaves the sponge in the sink.  I’d like to continue to stay married.  In truth, the root of my grumpiness is me.  Sure, I need to read the news less and take whatever other medicine is available to combat the Trump-virus in my brain.  But I came to realize as we talked about my moodiness that most of my unhappiness comes from the nagging anxiety that comes with being retired and a little unsure if I am still relevant in some way.  It comes from being unhappy that I can’t lose the same 10 pounds that all Americans are trying to lose, no matter how many failed attempts that I make. It comes from every new ache, pain, and wrinkle that announces my advancing age.  It comes from every time I look about me and see a project I haven’t finished or the list of projects that I haven’t even had the energy to begin.

But don’t cry for me, Argentina.  I have discovered one powerfully curative potion.  Within the past week, on a trip to visit my niece in Colorado Springs, in the space of 4 days, I went zip lining over beautiful Colorado canyons, something I’d been afraid to try on other occasions AND spent two glorious hours roaring down the Arkansas River through Class III and IV rapids, feeling an utter sense of calm and a pure rush of adrenaline coursing through me at the same time.

When I got home, suddenly everything seemed possible again.  I came home younger than when I left, ready to let the little stuff go.  Ready to look for the next chance to push the limits for myself.  Turns out that that may be the cure-for-what-ails-you.

Heartbeats and Airplanes

One of the goals I set for 2016 was to throw myself out of a plane.  That is, to experience skydiving.

When I told my wife I wanted to do it, she was all for it. She has a friend who is really connected to the sport and has friends that run a company up in Lake Elsinore, I think.  She started to throw out ideas about getting a bunch of friends together, having a party afterwards, etc.  It was the last thing I wanted. I wanted to be alone when I did it because if I backed out at the last minute, I wanted me to be the only one who knew.

I have a pretty good track record of talking myself out of things that I perceive as being risky, even when the risk level is actually pretty low.  However, I started planning for the jump.  I researched a place nearby (the one out in Otay), cheap rates during the middle of the week, and had actually picked the day I was going to go, written down the directions, chosen a time.  I wanted to be sure it was a day that Mary was going to be working so I could just do it on my own.

And then, as it became more a reality, my heart began to skip beats. For years I’ve had something called “premature ventricular contractions” (or PVCs for short), extra, abnormal heartbeats.  It is generally a benign condition that I will have occasional bouts with, and have come to ignore them, pretty much knowing that it just means something is messing with my body’s electrical system and the heart is not getting the consistent messages it needs.  Stress, alcohol, dehydration all can contribute to starting off an episode that can last a few minutes,a few days, or even a few months.

But it’s still my heart, and while I don’t mind stressing it with a little exercise during an episode, it seemed to me that jumping out of a plane might be unwise while I was having symptoms.  So I scrubbed the first date I had chosen and decided to wait until I was symptom-free for a while.

And then it just sort of slid to the back burner of my mind.  The episodes still come and go, but I’ve had some pretty nice stretches of stability.  It’s just that when one of those stretches comes along, I don’t immediately think, “Hey, it’s a good day to jump out of an airplane!”

I really don’t think it’s the height thing.  I feel pretty secure with the idea that the guy I’m attached to values his life enough to make sure that I get to the ground safely.  I just want to feel a higher degree of confidence that my heart isn’t going to burst on the way down. It would really suck to only get to enjoy half of the experience.  I haven’t checked to see if my family would get a partial refund if I died half-way down.  I probably should ask.

So now, it’s an excellent goal for 2017, and I still have 8 months left to talk myself into or out of this particular five-minute thrill ride.

Perspective

One of the great things about getting old(er) is that you get to tell young people about the way things used to be “back in the day.”  It’s fun to play the numbers game with them.

When I got my first car, gas prices floated between 29.9 cents to 31.9 cents per gallon.  In 1973, I was dating my future wife who lived in Orange County which meant driving up to see her every weekend.  I started to worry about the future of our relationship the day I saw gas prices hit 53 cents per gallon.  How could I possibly sustain this?  Long-distance phone calls were very expensive, so we wrote each other at least once or twice weekly, which I described here.  The earliest of those letters carried a 6¢ stamp.

I declared my independence from my parents on July 4, 1973 when I moved into my first apartment, a one-bedroom place in a four-plex just 10 minutes from San Diego State University where I would finish my degree and credential programs.  It was a delightfully seedy place called the Aloha Garden Apartments because there was a couple of unkempt palm trees on the property.  My rent was $95 per month.

A covered wooden porch/deck ran around the front of the four attached units, and I put a chair that my parents gave me out on it but never used it.  Apparently, it got taken over by neighborhood cats.  When I finally met the two girls who lived next to me, they told me that (because of the cats) they had decided that I must be a warlock.

By 1977, Mary and I had been married for three years and were ready to jump into the housing market (sort of).  We had $2000 and some change in savings and found a 3 bedroom, 2 bathroom place in Spring Valley for $40,000.  We each borrowed $1000 from our parents to come up with the down payment and signed the papers on August 16, the day that Elvis died .

We were oblivious to what a dump it was, because it was OUR dump.  We did what amounted to a slow-motion flip of the house, taking three years to paint and wallpaper every interior wall in the house.  A friendly neighborhood carpenter volunteered to come over and put up cedar planking on one wall in our dining room, creating a cool feature wall before we ever knew such a thing existed. We replaced all of the flooring. We painted the exterior. We had every intention of staying there longer but when a garage band that we had battled over noise for all three years we had been there moved back in across the street for the 10th time, we put it on the market and it sold in a matter of weeks for $75,000.

With that profit, we bought the house in which we still live for $108,000 (3 bdr, 2 bath, 1600 square feet) but were saddled with a whopping interest rate of 11 3/4%.  Interest rates were absurdly high in the early eighties.

When I landed my first (and only) teaching job at Valhalla High School in 1976 my salary for the year was $10,000.  Since the district could not figure out how to spread that over 12 months, it meant that I got paid monthly from September to June–no paycheck for July or August.  Veteran teachers coached me on saving 1/6 of every check to get through the summer since I had no intention of working at a temp job for two months.  My wife tried it and lasted one day as a tele-marketer.  We were happy to tighten our belts and simply enjoy the summer being poor.

The numbers just seem ridiculous to me now.  It was a long time ago.  The cool thing to think about is that in 30 years, my kids will get to do the same thing to other youngsters. And, come to think of it, it will be most unlikely that I will be there to see it.  How’s that for perspective?

Ripped From The Headlines: A Day In The Life Of The Trump Apocalypse

I was getting ready to go to work on writing an update to my article “Surviving the Trump Apocalypse” but I’ve been too busy failing at the very first principle I outlined which was to ISOLATE myself from the news.  I thought that I’d be a happier and more peaceful person if I quit listening to NPR and religiously reading the front page section of the New York Times every day.  I thought I had exhausted my capacity for outrage during the Bush 43 years, but it turns out that that abomination barely pushed my outrage-o-meter up to “WARM.”  Like a person who can’t make himself turn away from a train wreck about to happen, I can’t stop watching for the next WTF moment that will emerge from these clowns. That has led me to at least read the front page section of the local paper where I can get the short version of what is going on.

However, Thursday was remarkable, in that article after article seemed to have some additional bit of confirmation of how incompetent, duplicitous, or hypocritical this administration is and how each of his inner circle seems to be in a competition to prove he (there aren’t many women in this group) is just as bat-shit crazy as number 45.

You think I’m kidding.  Here are some headlines all from Thursday’s paper, some quotes, and some commentary:

Kelly (Secretary for Homeland Security) Concedes a Full Border Wall Doubtful

“Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly said Wednesday that it was doubtful that a wall along a full border with Mexico would ever be built, despite an of-repeated campaign promise by President Donald Trump.”

Well, this will come as a surprise to absolutely no one except some die-hard Trump supporters, the one’s who took him literally.  I find it remarkable that we are often being told not to take the President so literally, except when we should take him literally because after all, he was the candidate who “tells it like it is.”  Back to Kelly.  He was asked about one element of “extreme vetting” which included “the possible separation of mothers and children at the border to discourage immigration.”  He reassured senators that while he had not actually taken the time to write up a policy for when agents might do such a heinous and inhumane thing, “he had told employees that he must approve any such separations.” When questioned further about actually writing a policy, he replied, “border agents don’t need a written policy because he’d given the order verbally.”  After all, he is a retired four-star general and “his subordinates know that his orders are to be followed even if they aren’t written down.”  Does anyone else hear Jack Nicholson’s voice there?  I’m surprise he didn’t end the session standing on his chair and shouting at the senators, “You want me on that wall!  You need me on that wall!”

Trump Removes Bannon From Key NSC Post

With Michael Flynn gone, Trump actually put a qualified individual into place who has now sorted out just who should and should not be on the National Security Council.  Little things, like making sure there was a chair for the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.  LIke kicking Steve Bannon out of the room who never belonged in the first place.  But this was Bannon’s head-spinning explanation for why he was there in the first place, and why now, it was no big deal that he was leaving.  He said, “Susan Rice operationalized the NSC during the last administration.  I was put on the NSC with Gen. Flynn to ensure that it was de-operationalized.  Gen. McMaster as returned the NSC to its proper function.”

Now, even I realized that I was reading this at 7 AM and there was some chance that the caffeine from my morning coffee and not yet kicked in, because I found myself say out loud, “What the fuck does that mean?”  I was pleased and reassured when I read the next paragraph where the reporter commented, “Bannon did not explain what he meant by “operationalized” or how his presence on the committee had ensured that it would not be.”  The syntax is so twisted, bizarre, and incomprehensible that Joseph Heller (Catch 22) would be proud.

U.S. Warns of Unilateral Action in Syria

This article was remarkable on several fronts.  While he has tried to blame any bad thing that has happened in the opening days of his administration on President Obama (including the atrocities in Syria), he finally acknowledged that, “the responsibility is now mine.”  But as so many times before, Trumps language is empty:  “Trump said that the incident “crosses many, many lines” and had “changed very much” his attitude toward Assad.”  His Defense Secretary James Mattis said, “It was a heinous act and will be treated as such.”  I’m not sure what any of that means, but if Trump thought health care was “really complicated” just wait until someone, talking slowly and using small words, explains his options for Syria. Note:  I wrote this piece early yesterday before the missile strikes in Syria, an action most startling because it reverses many of Trump’s previous statements about U.S. involvement in the Middle East.  He has stepped into something “really complicated” here and interestingly, his severest critics have been his most fervent supporters who feel he has betrayed the many promises he made about keeping America out of messy international problems.  For some thoughtful commentary, I suggest you look at Charles M. Blow’s opinion piece on the NYT website entitled “Creeping Toward Crisis.”

Tillerson’s Reticence on N. Korea Confuses Allies

If you haven’t heard of Rex Tillerson, he’s our new Secretary of State although he’s been left out of numerous key meetings and only a fraction of his staff positions have been filled.  I’m not sure, but I don’t even think we now have a deputy Sec. of State.  His quote of the day was, “North Korea launched yet another intermediated-range ballistic missile.  The United States has spoken enough about North Korea.  We have no further comment.”  Really? Nothing to say about the aggressive actions of a strategically important nuclear power.  The reporter pointed out that the comment was startling because, “In fact, the Trump administration has said very little about North Korea apart from some Twitter posts and Tillerson’s own statements in Seoul, South Korea, two weeks ago–when he said the United States would negotiate with North Korea only after it gave up its nuclear weapons and missiles.  And that is unlikely to happen.”

EPA Seeks To Eliminate Lead Paint Programs

It’s hard to pick out the saddest part of this administrations efforts to basically turn the government over to business concerns, but if you had any doubt that the Environmental Protection Agency is now one of the biggest enemies of the environment, this should seal it:  “EPA officials are proposing to eliminate two programs focused on limiting children’s exposure to lead-based paint–which is known to cause damage to developing brains and nervous systems”, gutting federal support for states’ efforts to safely remove lead paint from aging and deteriorating houses.  If you haven’t been following the dismantling of the EPA, and the rollback of regulations that would have insured cleaner air and water for ourselves and our children, you probably should.

Apparently, there just wasn’t enough room on Thursday’s front page to include Trump’s defense of his buddy Bill O’Reilly of Fox News and the continuing reports of the millions of dollars that Fox has paid out to settle (cover up) complaints from numerous women of O’Reilly’s alleged incidents of sexual harassment.  According to Trump, O’Reilly’s “a good person.”

I have to stop. I can feel the outrage-o-meter getting into dangerous territory.  I may have to skip tomorrow’s paper entirely and immerse myself in a “West Wing” marathon.  I always feel better after visiting my friends in that fictitious White House.

“Post-Truth Era”? Is That Actually A Thing?

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Ever since I read the article entitled “Search Party” by Jonathan Mahler (January 1, 2017) in the New York Times Magazine, I’ve been trying to wrap my head around his use of the phrase “the post-truth era”, a phrase I am hearing used more and more often.   His article begins with a discussion of the growing phenomena of “fake news” and of websites that promulgate specious conspiracy theories, including the one that prompted a young man to load up his car with weapons, drive 350 miles to Washington DC to “self-investigate” whether or not Hillary Clinton was indeed running a child-sex ring from a Washington pizzeria.

I’m not sure why I’m struggling with the idea that Donald Trump is having such success even though he repeatedly has been called out for telling lies, repeating assertions made by others that have been categorically debunked, and then fiercely repeating his own falsehoods and those of his minions.  I guess I’m aghast just because there seems to be no consequence for these actions, especially among his supporters.  His backers will list many reasons for their support of Trump, but what astonishes me is that when they turn to demonizing his former opponent, Hillary Clinton, they invariably list one of her most critical sins as being, “she can’t be trusted; she lies.”

We have certainly, in my lifetime, have been exposed to destructive institutional deception on a large scale.  Our entrance into the Viet Nam war, the secret bombing of Laos, the cover-up of the devastation caused by Agent Orange all prompted extensive cover-ups.  The Watergate affair and the subsequent efforts to protect the guilty certainly gave us insight into the government’s ability to create an alternate reality as did the Bush administrations efforts to cherry-pick evidence of WMDs in Iraq, sometimes from wildly unreliable sources, just to support the pre-determined narrative that would lead to the invasion of Iraq.  Outside of politics, in the 80’s we watched the Catholic church scramble to discredit and minimize the sexual abuse of children stretching back as far as 50 years.

I guess what seems different about these scandals is that eventually truth won out. Investigations persevered, detailed accounts were written, admissions were made, testimony was taken and the results were acknowledged.  In almost all of these cases, the mainstream media, the Trump administration’s biggest punching bag, was critical in exposing and bringing the truth to light.

On the front page of Sunday’s New York Times one headline read “Slamming Media, Trump Advances Two Falsehoods.”  During the first 48 hours of his presidency, Trump has been obsessed by how many people showed up to his inauguration.  His claims and the subsequent claims of his press secretary that the ceremony had drawn, “the largest audience to ever witness an inauguration,” were quickly shown to be false by photographic evidence presented by numerous news outlets.

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Then, he took time out to mend fences with the intelligence community, appearing at the CIA, where he reassured the 300 employees that were present that he appreciated their work and that he was “so behind you.”  This was just weeks after he had scorchingly tried to discredit their work on the reports of Russian hacking of the DNC and even compared them to Nazis.  Worse than this duplicity, was the setting that he chose for his speech.  As he stood before the gold stars that represent the members of the CIA that have died in the line of duty, he quickly lost the thread of praising their work and dedication, to bemoan his treatment in the media and to go back to his complaints that they (the media) were misrepresenting the number of people that showed up to his party.

I guess this is where I’m starting to see what Mahler meant about the “post-truth era.”  How can one denigrate a professional group like the CIA, undermining their work and calling them Nazis, and then stand before them and say that “I love you, I respect you, there’s nobody I respect more” and be taken seriously?  But this isn’t some low-level hack; this is the President of the United States.  Sadly, we are are a long way from the days of John F. Kennedy, when he addressed Americans after the failed Bay of Pigs invasion and said: “The President of a great democracy such as ours, and the editors of great newspapers such as yours, owe a common obligation to the people: an obligation to present the facts, to present them with candour, and to present them in perspective.”

I guess this was a time when the truth was more in vogue, just something we expected out of our presidents. It was a time where we didn’t need both the facts and “alternative facts.”

Maybe we just need to sit back and take the advice of Kellyanne Conway when she tried to defend Trump’s mocking of a disabled reporter, an incident that was recorded and well-documented, when she admonished reporters that, “you always want to go by what’s come out of his mouth rather than look at what’s in his heart.”

I don’t know about you, but that is one heart that I don’t want to go looking around in whatsoever.  And it has always seemed to me that we, as Americans, have felt that what a president actually says is important.  I hope it won’t be long before we have a president who abides by the time-honored principle that it is important to say what you mean, and mean what you say.

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