It is easy to look at a situation and see the bad. Every situation could be looked at in a negative light. But, what does this attitude do but rob us of our initiative and hope? Focusing on the bad will stop you from moving forward. It is far better to accept the bad as it arrives, feel it and process it and then finally put it aside. Any other attitude goes against reality and is impractical. If you want good things in your life you will learn to let things go when it is time. Why do we try to hold on sometimes to the way things are not? It is an interesting question. Fear of the unknown? Avoidance of suffering?
So, despite various resolutions to blog more, I’ve done little to nothing on that front. For a while there I was blogging only about once a month, which has not helped my relationship with Google, my coy mistress. Life has intervened, but I would be lying if I said I could never find time to blog. I can. Truth is, sometimes I just didn’t want to talk publicly about what was on my mind or going on in my little world and many, many other times I was just lazy. Writing publicly (inasmuch as this is public) requires a little vulnerability, a willingness to toss your thoughts and words out there for others to regard. Mentally, it’s a bit like bathing in the street.
Anyway, I may have found a system that works for me, finally. As with everything else I do, I simply need to trick myself. Here’s what I am doing differently:
- Think, then immediately write. Set the thought down into a blog entry before you lose interest. Right now in WordPress, I have 14 drafts of various aborted ideas I started to write about. I am unlikely to take them up simply because I no longer care about those particular ideas. However, at the time, I did, so I should have taken advantage of that fleeting moment of enthusiasm. Something interesting might have come of it!
- When you’re feeling productive, crank out as much as you can. I think today I wrote 6 blog entries. Other times, I’ll go weeks without writing anything. You won’t see these entries all in one day because I will schedule them to appear once or twice each day rather than all at once. Google likes this and it also makes me appear to be more consistently industrious.
- Keep to a schedule. Remove the choice. Right now I’ve got a daily recurring task in Remember the Milk for “Write a blog entry”. It gets created automatically every day and if I don’t complete it, it just sits there in my task list until I close it out. If I go several days without blogging, the tasks just add up like household garbage no one feels like taking out. Deleting the tasks or marking them complete seems cowardly, so after a while I just hunker down and write. Quite honestly, the recurring task thing is the main reason I’ve been blogging more.
Now that I’ve been blogging for eight years I occasionally worry that I am recycling the same ideas without realizing it. When bothered by this thought, I search through my blog archives to see if I have already written about something, before I write about it again, though I know no one else would notice.
When this happens, I feel as if I should have done something final with that original idea, since it has bubbled up again like a submerged corpse.
Memory is unreliable. Yet, something about who I am dictates that I will re-create the same idea again and again, though I have no memory of it. It calls into question every idea you have, every plan you conceive of, since so many others amounted to nothing without a lasting record of their failure.
Then, as I read the daily dose of Leonardo Da Vinci’s Notebooks yesterday, I learned that much greater minds ran in similar circles:
Begun at Florence, in the house of Piero di Braccio Martelli, on the 22nd day of March 1508. And this is to be a collection without order, taken from many papers which I have copied here, hoping to arrange them later each in its place, according to the subjects of which they may treat. But I believe that before I am at the end of this [task] I shall have to repeat the same things several times; for which, O reader! do not blame me, for the subjects are many and memory cannot retain them [all] and say: ‘I will not write this because I wrote it before.’ And if I wished to avoid falling into this fault, it would be necessary in every case when I wanted to copy [a passage] that, not to repeat myself, I should read over all that had gone before; and all the more since the intervals are long between one time of writing and the next.
In other words, just keep writing and stop keeping score.
I flew back in to San Antonio after tying up some very loose ends in Dallas. I hadn’t seen my Dad in a few days and was ill-prepared for dealing with him. He’s gotten more belligerent and difficult over the last week. I thought my brother was exaggerating or just being a wuss about dealing with him, but clearly he was not. Dad is just very difficult as a result of his head injury, which is unfortunately rather typical in such cases. I had to run him back into town to the hospital on a Sunday afternoon and he didn’t want any part of it. It took me about 30 minutes just to get him into the car. Then it went downhill from there. The whole enterprise took three hours.
The thing that is hard to remember is that you cannot argue with a brain injury. There are certain things that he has to do like wear a neck brace and use a walker, but if he does not feel like doing it, no amount of bargaining, solicitation, or badgering will work. It’s especially difficult in my case since my Dad is 6’3″ and about 265 pounds and not afraid to mix it up even in his weakened state. A lot of times you feel like a lion tamer, dancing around with a chair and flimsy bull whip, ducking in to lob a quick, “Hey Dad, please wear your neck brace.” Luckily, he’s been good about taking his medicine and letting us give him shots. It seems to help if you can make him feel like he’s in control.
Anyway, the thing is, it’s tough. From the moment you get up until you go to bed. It’s not just dealing with Dad. It’s dealing with Dad and everything else you normally have to deal with, like making money and keeping the wheels on with the rest of your life. It’s harder than anything I’ve ever had to do before (Not that I have ever had it rough. I know now that I have not.). The upside is that everything else I have ever worried about in the past has become so much easier in comparison. All my previous problems and anxieties seem laughably easy. When he was first in the hospital and we thought we might lose him so we were there around the clock, I thought that was hard. That was really nothing. It was emotionally draining, but it was not work. Our present situation (which is way more complicated than I can go into) is both emotionally draining AND work. That wouldn’t be so bad except that it’s hard to see any positive outcome. Life is just different now. Everything is different now.
Today I will bring my Dad home from the hospital after nearly two months. I have no idea what I’m doing. But, we will figure it out together. We have to.
All this heavy life stuff is happening and I want to write about it, but it just doesn’t feel right. You want to write things down so you remember how you feel and how things are, but it feels like voyeurism. Like life is too real to turn it into a story.
But, I do want to remember because I forget. What really matters. The truth of things.
1. I ran into my best friend from 5th grade, Sheldon. He is a technician in the ICU. I hadn’t seen him since 1995. He recognized my brother before he recognized me. Maybe because I had a beard, but maybe because I just don’t look the same. He has an iPhone. He remembered a lot of things I had forgotten, like the time our dachshund, Ginger, bit my brother in the nuts. It’s funny how other people remember things you don’t, even though you were there, too.
2. The surgeon who fixed my dad’s face with titanium bands is a Merryman. She has to be related. I have never run into a Merryman before who was not related. She has the pale, heavy-lidded Merryman eyes.
3. In the hospital lobby, there was an issue of National Geographic from 1970 with Hutterites on the cover. That magazine was 38 years old and it was just sitting there like some joke about waiting rooms. Where did it come from?
4. I found a good restaurant near the hospital, Blanco Cafe. Lupe, the nurse that beeps people in during visiting hours, turned us on to it. I had to revise my tex-mex list to put it in the top 3, just after Mi Tierra. Breakfast all day. Sweet tea. Cheap and awesome. My favorite meal: beef enchiladas with a glass of Red Flash (I prefer Big Red with my tex-mex, but it’ll do in a pinch.) In the last three weeks, I’ve probably eaten there 6-7 times. The tortillas are fresh. You can tell because they are just slightly crisp and papery and you can feel the flour dusted on them. Bakery tortillas are moist from being packed into plastic bags after they come steaming off the griddle. It’s just not the same.
Since I’ve been back in San Antonio for about three weeks, I’ve gotten to know the surrounding restaurants very well. Too well. In between visiting hours, I normally walk across the street to Chik-fil-A, so I don’t have to pay twice for parking. As far as fast food goes, Chik-fil-A is top of the heap. You can actually tell what kind of animal the sandwich came from. They also do things a little differently:
- The employees at Chik-fil-A always say “My pleasure” when I say, “Thank you”. Even if it is part of some cynical marketing ploy, I like it.
- There are fresh flowers on each table. The other day they were yellow daisy-like flowers. Today they were purple daisy-like flowers.
- Little Texas Pete hot sauce packets! I am all for condiment selection. Hot sauce is essential. (Don’t miss the Texas Pete Wikipedia article wherein someone gets a little free with the truth: “In late 2003, Chick-Fil-A opted to carry Texas Pete sauce (packet-form) in its restaurants nationwide. Same-store sales catapulted over 45% in 2004. Many analysts close to the firm heralded the decision to carry the sauce, largely attributing the company’s success to the sauce itself. In several third party surveys, Chick-Fil-A customers have exclaimed, “Texas Pete doesn’t go on the chicken sandwich, the chicken sandwich goes on the Texas Pete,” and “Best thing since the chicken sandwich.”)
- They play Christian music as background music. I don’t really have a problem with this except it’s generally bland and I don’t know any of the songs. That’s okay. Background music is not supposed to be good.
- Real lemonade. Tart and sweet. ‘Nuff said.
- At the entrance to the playscape, they provide the kids with little alcohol towelettes so they can clean their grubby hands.
Now that things have stabilized, I wanted to take a moment to explain where I’ve been for the past two weeks. On March 15th (beware the ides of March), my father was in a bad car accident. The situation is very serious and up until a few days ago when we started to see some improvement, the last thing on my mind was to write about it. Until I came home this weekend, I basically lived at the hospital. It has been a perspective-inducing experience without parallel. When things get better, I will share some of what I have learned.
Last weekend, I was laid out by what I presume to be the Flu. I came home Friday and curled into a blanket burrito and went to sleep until Sunday afternoon. I have never been so sick. While phasing in and out of delirium I had some time to reflect. Here’s what I came up with:
1. We are weaker than we realize. Human frailty is real. When everything works, we don’t think about it. But as soon as it doesn’t, you realize how important health is. I tend to bulldoze my way through my daily life and forget how much I rely on my body. It’s hard to do anything when you can’t even sit up. Will is nothing without the Body.
2. The body and its adaptive life systems are strong. The entire time I was sick I marveled at my body’s response to fight the illness: fevers to raise the core temperature and drive out invaders, diminished appetite (why take in when your tissues are busy purging), and increased excretion from every quarter to clean house. I knew that if I could stay hydrated my immune system would rally and do its job while I slept and stayed out of the way. We still know so little about how our own bodies function.
3. Sleep is repair time. Normally most of us can get by with 6 hours of sleep or less a night. But, we should be sleeping better. It is not time wasted. While we admire the mechanistic efficiency of our computers, we should not attempt to emulate this mechanistic way of life by depriving ourselves of sleep and rest. When we sleep our bodies go through various repair and optimization routines for managing hormones, neurotransmitters, memory, digestion, tissue repair, etc. Good sleep is optimal rather than wasteful.
4. Death can be a relief.
“A death that ends the incurable ills of life is a blessing.” – Publius Syrus.
When you get really sick you can understand how death might be a relief if there were no end to the illness. Knowing that you are going to get better makes it easier to deal with. Sickness is so totally at odds with life that it is difficult to live with it.
5. Sickness tells you what to eat. Whenever I woke up and tried to eat or drink something, I only wanted a few simple things: watered down orange juice, ice water, and as I got better, simple foods like hearty cereal, fruit, or eggs. No fatty foods, no spicy foods, no large portions of anything. That sounds like a good way to do it all the time.
6. We are functions, not beings. The human body is a collection of processes rather than a thing. Human life is best perceived in time and movement. The idea of living itself contains this concept of movement. To live is to move. If you look at human behavior from a completely alien point of view, we are self-replicating, environmental processors. We consume other organisms rather than raw materials. We break down what we consume and use it to propel ourselves forward through time and against the natural entropy of the universe. Life as an organizing principle of the Universe?
Christmas is a good time to remember fond memories of the past. On the drive home tonight, I was thinking about this one Christmas when I was about ten or eleven. After dinner one night, right before Christmas, my brother and I were finishing up the dishes and my Dad told us to take the garbage out to the garage. He specifically told us both to go, which was strange, but we did not give it much thought. We bundled everything up and took it out and put it in the trash cans.
When we came back in, mom and dad were waiting for us with bright looks of breathless expectation. My brother and I looked at each other wondering what the hell was going on and after a moment my dad groused at us to go back out to the garage and look around to make sure we didn’t “miss nothing”. When we did, we found two brand new BMX bicycles lined up and waiting for us. One was blue and one was black, but they were otherwise identical. As brothers do, we quickly decided who got what. I ended up with the black bike and Scott got the blue one. The fact that we had missed something so out of place and unexpected explained my father’s consternation. But this was quickly forgotten as we ran around screaming and laughing and inspecting our new ticket to boyhood freedom. Even though it was well after dark and cold, my dad rolled up the garage door and we took off riding our new bikes up and down the street where our parents could watch us ride and share in our excitement. My brother and I must have put a thousand miles on those bikes and had an equal number of adventures together, roaming around our little piece of the world.
I’m glad to say that we have had many happy Christmases before and since then, but that is the one that came to mind this evening some twenty years later. I hope that when I have kids that I can make their Christmas memories as half as good as my own.