Yes, I know I look tired in the picture. But I did sleep last night and woke up grateful again.
I sat with a borrowed cat this morning, its purr against me, slitted eyes sleepily pondering me, and my fingers languorously scruffing its neck. An empty coffee cup was in front of me, its contents too hastily enjoyed. It’s going to take a while for me to fail to appreciate making a cup when I want one, perhaps even a lifewhile, a word that appeared in my head as I stood outside feeling the chill of the morning.
I’d taken out the trash and threw it on top of the unimaginably overfull dumpster. I couldn’t convince myself that it had only been a week since I used my extermination kit to spray the dumpster; it’s a duty I took on to control the ridiculous fly problem. It seemed like a metaphor was at play. I wandered around the outlet of the apartment simplex, observing the distant roll of clouds against the early morning horizon.
My surgeon and hospital team forgot to include work notes or restriction information in my packet; I suppose my five follow-up reminders weren’t a sufficient hint. By sheer accident, my supervisor Joe was standing in the room when I noticed the oversight. He’s accustomed to the complexities and holes in medical care. “I guess I’ll be back at work Monday,” I said. We laughed. I wish I were returning to work tomorrow.
I’m supposed to maintain a routine and stay active. While in the hospital, though I might not have said so before, I did the breathing exercises 100 times a day and walked a thousand loops in the hallway without assistance. The worst thing physically I had to do was to shower myself without help. Not only because I had a massive hole in my abdomen, but because they’d left the IV in the inside of my left elbow, making safe flexibility on that side of my body impossible. I can’t stress enough how HARD that was, but I knew I would go without a shower for a week if I didn’t.
For all of y’all who are concerned, I am “taking it easy.” But I am not laying down or sitting needlessly. I’m working on a plan to reset my diet. Even before The Stay (as I refer to it now), I was formulating an effective way to gain weight. It made me nervous about getting on the scale once I was back at the apartment. My weight had dropped to 142 by Friday afternoon. For those with inside knowledge of my stay, they’ll tell you that I fought tooth and nail to get substantive nutrition and a plan of action; the bureaucracy of care cost me two days of what amounts to starvation without dehydration. Unbeknownst to me, someone who shares a weight loss journey with me was just about to reach out and lovingly tell me to pull up a bit before I had posted my intention to gain some weight back. It’s amazingly easy to take advice from someone who has walked the path themselves – without feeling attacked or defensive.
Even the hydration cost me constant vigilance, though. I still hear the alarms and claxons of the empty bags when I sit in silence. One of the secrets of a hospital stay is that staff will ignore alarms with steadfast consistency. If the person coming in to silence your alarms isn’t assigned to you, they will turn it off without much concern about whether it’ll be refilled or restarted. This includes scenarios whether you’re getting normal saline, anti-seizure medication, antibiotics, or any other drug. Call lights are hallway illumination until someone is ready to acknowledge them. You can’t take it personally. You have to learn to play the game of attention and leverage. It’s unfortunate, but one that no one in the system will possibly deny. This is another reason you need to have someone with you if you’re in the hospital. I have suggestions on how to make a game out of it, too, if you’re interested. This will keep the men occupied, assuming you can get them up and into the hospital room with you.
While in the hospital, I got a teddy bear, a t-shirt, a bag of suckers, flowers, activity books, a few visitors, 357 calls, messages, and well-wishes, all of which I appreciated immensely for one reason or another. AND one request to have something done with my face while I was already in the hospital.
PS A lifewhile is an indefinite length of time characterized by the unease of knowing something significant has shifted yet beyond our perception. In this case, my attacker was unseen in its approach. As I speed away from Tuesday at 1 a.m. when my surgery started, I’m accumulating lessons. The biggest ones are trite and already well-known: people are essential, and life is limited. A lesser-known one is that life is always casting its net out in the world, regardless of who you are or what you’ve accomplished. Your checklist can be full or empty when it snares you.
I took the above picture to capture that strange shoulder bone protuberance. I could feel that another layer off my body had melted during my hospitalization.
I have a couple of quotes/rules of mine I made quite a bit back. They are the result of a lot of agony. No disrespect is intended for anyone who has struggled with these issues – or struggled because they love someone with them. Over the weekend, one of the coolest actors to grace the screen, Michael K. Williams, aka Omar from The Wire, died as a result of his struggle with addiction. Don’t make the mistake of confusing addiction with intelligence, willpower, or environment. Once it gets its claws in, there are often no lengths those suffering won’t go to in order to feel something – or to feel nothing. That escalation scrapes everyone around them. If you’re in the periphery trying to get closer, you get entrapped in the ever-tightening spiral.
Here they are:
The M.T. Rule:The surest way to cause yourself heartache and anxiety is to interfere with someone who is racing to rock bottom.
The M.T. Rule Addendum: NOT doing so results in identical heartache and anxiety.
Covid has worsened people’s ability to cope. It’s largely hidden until the spiral does enough damage to draw attention.
If you would practice any habit, it would be the kind necessity of being brave enough to lovingly share your opinion of people, places, and things. The only way we can change the world is to create the world we’d like to live in, one act and one word at a time.
I use horrible toilet paper. I don’t like Charmin or anything that feels like a paper washcloth. I am still using my first roll from since I moved to this apartment. Granted, I’m at work all morning. And I do take high-quality fiber supplements for multiple reasons. And vitamins. If you’re not taking good fiber, you’re missing out on several health benefits. If I’m ever the Surgeon General, I’ll mandate that we add fiber to beer and wine. I preferred cheap toilet paper before, too, in my other life. Just like I love horribly thin and small bath towels. And I shave using bar soap. And haven’t bought shampoo for myself in YEARS. Yes, I still use deodorant.
“If you find someone who takes the time to compliment you, take the time to let them do it.” – X
The buzz yesterday was that Mercy is raising all employee’s pay to at least $15 an hour. This isn’t a political observation. I was glad to see that some media outlets repeated a statistic that shocks a lot of people with great jobs: 47% of all jobs in Arkansas pay LESS than $15 an hour. Most people aren’t aware of this. And yes, this is the highest for the country. Though many people understandably disagree with me, I am a true socialist regarding pay: I believe that everyone doing the same job as me should earn the same rate of pay. I don’t feel irritated if those making less than me get a raise while I don’t. Of course, I’d welcome more money. During my tenure at my job, I declined a raise twice so that it could be distributed to newer employees. In one of those years, my employer also reduced pay to avoid a bigger layoff; this caused me to lose 8% of my pay. That’ll teach me, won’t it? 🙂
The/Fun Expert Rule: “Never invite a technical writer along for a moment of whimsy.”
I’d like to say I cut my hand in a surprising way yesterday while doing Karate. The truth is that I was crafting, making a solar light display using an unused blue glass hummingbird feeder. I managed to get blood in places that even Dexter wouldn’t be able to find. It wasn’t deep enough for stitches, though, especially since I’d already overreacted and amputated my hand. Just kidding. It was pure luck I didn’t cut a lot deeper. Negligence: 1. X: 0.
“Every “yes” is an envelope for “no.” And vice versa. Choices inherently exclude other options.”
Just because it’s fun to experiment, I managed to wake up and be at work in 8 minutes one morning. With the notable exception of one morning this week, I quite often jump from bed and into my day. Now that I have a despicable Echo a few feet away, I ask it, “Play me quotes by Demetri Martin.” Or Steve Martin, for that matter. Because I don’t have a pet, I try to say a few words to Mr. Snuffleupagus. (Whose first name is apparently Aloysius, something I didn’t know until this week.)
“If you’re saying yes to the wrong things, no becomes difficult, even for the easy choices. And vice versa.”
I’m trying to get people to call this apartment simplex “The Long.” It stands for L.On.G. or The L Building on Gregg. Anything would be preferable to the unimaginative and pejorative names by which it is known now.
After worrying about spending too much on a new phone, I bought a Moto G Power. For the price, it’s astonishing. Y’all have to remember that I’m accustomed to using hand-me-downs. I use AT&T pre-paid with unlimited to save about $40 a month. It’s a good thing I just bought a set of really nice cables for my old phone, as none of them fit my new one.
Also, my work finally decided to stop making me pay twice as much for my health benefits now that I’m divorced. I didn’t mind giving money to a nice multi-million dollar insurance company for no reason, though. I’m going to invest that extra money in a chinchilla venture. I’m just kidding. Everyone knows the money is in banana peels now.
“You’re under no obligation to make sense to anybody.” Someone sent that to me in response to my crazy Q & A post. “I like you better when you’re out there on the limb, extemporaneously whispering whatever is in your head. Unfiltered. You keep threatening to go to the next level, the place where people might get nervous. Go there. And stay there.”
Hummingbirds are visiting again. Someone gave me a hummingbird feeder and I hung it in the inside corner of my upper floor. I didn’t know that despite the chaos at this apartment before my arrival that hummingbirds once visited. I welcome them back. I just wish they’d learn the words. (Sorry for referencing an old, tired joke there.)
In conclusion, I’m saving a fortune on toilet paper.
And if you read my post, you’re probably going to spend at least a few seconds pondering the implications of that.
The Law of Increments is such a revelation. A couple Fridays ago I did a thousand push-ups. I used anxiety as a trigger to do each set. It occurred to me Saturday that I could also try to pace myself, using an incremental response. I got up at 3:30 today. If I stay up 18 hours, I only have to do 55 push-ups an hour to hit a thousand. Since I know I can easily do that, I can trick my mind into doing twice that per hour. 110 an hour seems stupid to me now after 10 weeks of pushups. So I’m using today as a test. I’ve got nine hours of incremental sets of push-ups to reach a thousand. 12:30. And If you’re reading this, keep in mind that craziness is contagious. The takeaway is that we can accomplish a hell of a lot if we don’t let our goal wear us out before we even start. I don’t have to do a thousand push-ups. Just 110 an hour.
Note: everyone reading this will have at least one gong go off in their heads. I’m not sure why, but a muse settled in my head this afternoon. Feel free to tell me that I’m wrong. .
The Botany Rule: Love and nurturing are on Maslow’s hierarchy for a reason. If you don’t bring your water bucket and a bit of sunshine to those you love, they will needlessly suffer the absence of that which nourishes; if possible, they’ll find it elsewhere. It isn’t the plant’s fault. Just because we have reason and consciousness should not fool you into thinking that we aren’t wired for intimacy. .
So much of what ignites us in the minds of others is practiced. Take a moment and tell someone that they’d made your day better. Instead of speaking when motivated by recrimination, find a way to say something positive. People’s ears become deaf to love when criticism fills the air. We have only so many minutes in a day and attention to spare. Choose, rather than react. Sometimes, in silence, hug unexpectedly, and whisper in the midst of shouts. . Words fade but attitude invades. . The longer you wait to tell someone an uncomfortable truth, the harder it is to be open the next time you want to. Someone who loves you will respond with hurt, but that hurt will be tempered by eventual acceptance. And if not? They have a disparate image of who you are than you do. .
If you’re in an unequal relationship, and most are, you might as well open yourself and crowd them; the end is as certain as the curtain on Broadway. Take your swing and crowd the plate. Living loosely is a great idea but a terrible way to survive. . Rare is the couple in which one prefers to dance and the other to sit. They exist and if you’re in one, relish it if it has lasted. But if your partner won’t dance for fear of looking foolish, they’ve placed appearance and decorum over you. . Love is foolish and its demonstration is seldom appreciated by onlookers; those dancing don’t count the eyes or ears observing them. . Someone smart said, “Faults are thick where love is thin.” If you find yourself listing grievances, you’ve allowed your inability to honestly communicate to sever a significant part of your intimacy. . “Don’t wear your heart on your sleeve” is a great example of something that sounds reasonable while simultaneously belying the fact that we are emotional creatures disguised as thinking adults. Look around. We admire smart people who care enough to not care about how others interpret their sentimentality. Those people feed my soul. I think they do yours, too. . “I would love you more IF” is a thought that should warn you that either you need to work on yourself – or the unstated expectations of your relationship. . I learned something about myself. If a person can tell me his or her worst secrets, my capacity to love and appreciate them blossoms. If the opposite is the case, it’s very difficult to navigate misgivings as they arise. . We protect nothing by failing to reveal who we really are. . The best truths are written in dirt. The best voices are broken. And the kindest souls have learned to turn off their judgment when others fail them. . Finally, one that is not mine, and I’m sharing it as I found it: “You sit in sh!t too long, it stops smelling.”
This is the piece of art I finished today, done on a repurposed wood panel picture. In the likely event someone has difficulty reading my writing (worsened by using a paint pen), here’s the inscription:
“Owing no allegiance to who you were, choose. Your thoughts, your time, your own way. As much as you can, banish fear, regret, anger, and embrace the unknown that each day shoves at you. Be your own constant. Be loving, witty, and guided by mirth. Your path is not infinite so take your steps while time permits. Encourage the same, joyfully, in everyone you love.” – X.
“When consequences come knocking, intentions ring hollow.” – X
Each of us has a personal narrative in our heads, one in which events seem linear and inevitable. We impose meaning and logic on the process of our lives. The truth is often that we are fooling ourselves. Examining our decisions and what we’ve done, it is obvious that we must conclude that we’re likely clueless about what pulls our levers.
I’m 54 and found myself shocked and surprised by some of the things I didn’t know about myself. I’m fortunate, even though I broke things getting to some of the conclusions. A lot of people around me didn’t survive the discovery process of seeing just how badly (or well) they could do things. Even as I grimace in recognition of some of the consequences I’ve caused, I try to remind myself that at least I’m alive long enough to do them. Getting older usually brings that pang of “What was I thinking?” while also shouting “You can’t change the past.” I think that’s why most of us go deaf when we get older. We’ve heard it all before and often at high volume.
An example of a harsh reminder? These fourteen $1 bills, each signifying a year that I was around for Xmas after my wife Deanne died – and when my ex-wife found me again. Talk about the long game! The first year, I saved a dollar bill and told my ex-wife, “Each year, we’ll sign another one, along with the year.” The first yuletide, it was a lonely dollar hanging like a wreath. By last year, it was fourteen. Honestly, even though it was my creative idea, I think it was sublimely fabulous.
That’s how you build a life – one little increment at a time, errors and right choices mixed unequally.
And then, consequences.
I took the dollar wreath with me when I jettisoned into another life. It’s a poignant reminder to find ways to celebrate life, in small ways and large. The last year proved to me that it is possible to be successful and a failure simultaneously. My intentions to find a better way to finish my life also led me to stumble into an alternate timeline, one I hadn’t anticipated. Against the backdrop of what could have been, it is a jab. But it is also an admission that I’m sometimes stupid and incapable.
It’s a little ironic that money, dollar bills, were what I chose to mark the passage of shared time. Money is the illusion that powers so much of what we do, even though we all know that everything that lights us up is intangible and invisible.
Though I’m not sure why I wrote this post, I know someone will find value in the idea. Odds are that someone reading this has a surprising year ahead of them, one they couldn’t predict. They’ll think that they have a handle on their choices.
Life will of course notice them and roll a boulder down the hill for them to remind them that most of this isn’t predictable. If you’re lucky, you will find value in the breaking. That’s your only choice, anyway. Things ARE going to break in a long arc of surprises. Most of us are lucky enough to not have it all break consecutively; we have time between to consider and reassess.
Though I claim not to believe in karma, I also tip each time I buy lottery tickets. It’s brought me a lot of stories and surprises, so in that sense, it has already paid off. It’s a pain to hoard this wreath and it’s also a pain to let it go. But I am a minimalist and know that all these things will soon enough be left behind by me. In an optimistic nod to the universe, I’m going to put these dollars back into circulation by buying lottery tickets. If I win, my promise still stands: I will use almost all the money to surprise other people. And if I don’t win, I am left with the optimism that I could have. It tickles me to think that these dollars will be in circulation, traveling in potentially infinite directions.
Intentions do matter, but we live with consequences.
Don’t read this post and forget that, at its heart, it is optimistic. I don’t understand people who can’t hold the disparate ideas of joy and wistful loss in their hearts, entwined like twin siblings.
I’m writing this after a blissful night of sleep, something that wasn’t always easy for me. And, in theory, I could be a millionaire. 🙂
It’s about 4 a.m. so I have to answer the call of the wanderer. Maybe you’ll see me out on the streets, in the unlikely event you’re wandering, too?