"It gives me great pleasure indeed to see the stubborness of the inorrigible nonconformist warmly acclaimed." - Albert Einstein

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I aspire to a stubbornly incorrigible nonconformity. The degree to which I have achieved my aspiration I leave in the capable hands of those whose wisdom and humilty exceed my own.

Friday, September 21, 2012

Remember to breathe, but be careful out there.

It is really smokey here in Wenatchee and the air quality is hazardous to people with normal lungs and more so to people, like me, with compromised lungs (I have COPD [Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease]). I have been staying in the house a lot and only rarely go outside to empty the trash or get in a car to go someplace. And when I do go out I am wearing my face mask. This is really inconvenient.

We are just back one week from our vacation to Las Vegas and Southern California. We had a wonderful time. We were in Las Vegas primarily to fulfill a promise and in California for a family reunion, especially with my new grand-nephew.

The promise necessitating a stop in Las Vegas was to have supper at Mario Battali's restaurant, "Otto." When I had cancer and was so sick one of my really dear friends, Kathy, was also going through Non-Hodgekin's Lymphoma in Oceanside, California. Kathy helped me a lot with reglar emails and occasional phone calls. We promised each other that when we were well, we would meet up at Otto for a meal, since we couldn't get to any of Mario's other restaurants in New York City. Kathy died and for a long time it felt like kind of a betrayal to go on this trip without her. With the perspective that only time can provide I came to see this trip as something I needed to do for Kathy.

We had supper at Otto; well Alice and Becca had supper and I had two glasses of very expensive wine. One for me and one for Kathy. This meal would really have been a lot better if I had had the sense to do it when I could still eat. Now that I can't eat I just get to sit and watch Alice and Becca enjoy the food and I will restrict my celebrations to coffee; beer; and wine - probably in that order too.

We then traveled to Oceanside, California. We belong to a vacation time share and we got the place in Oceanside, right on the ocean, for just our points, no money. While there we went to both the zoo and the Wild Animal Safari; had the family reunion; and took a tour of Warner Brothers Studios. A good friend of our's middle daughter is a tour guide at Warner Brothers and she arranged the tour for us. fortunately, we were the only people on the tour so she just concentrated on the things in which we were interested.

I fully intended to update my blog from Alice's iPad but was having too much fun and just didn't do it. Then when I got home I had stuff piled up to do. This is the first occasion I have had to write another post.

I am finding retirement easier than I thought it would be. I was actually afraid of retirement, especially on disability. I was afraid that I would be stuck home with nothing to do and bored out of my mind from reading and/or watching daytime television. What I have discovered is that for a guy with no job I am pretty busy. I am in two Toastmasters Clubs - I am coach for one of the clubs. I am on two committees at church, co-chairing one of them. I have random doctor's and dental appointments. I actually do some housework and laundry. And, especially lately, I get plenty or rest, which I need - that hasn't changed.

The new development is that my doctor no longer allows me to drive, so I have to get rides everywhere I want to go. I have been getting dizzy at random and unpredictable times and sometimes even feel like I am going to pass out. Apparently, this is enough to rescind your driving privileges.

Alice and Becca have been great about driving me around and when they can't there are people from my church who are helping.

Becca finally got a job! Yeah! Yeah especially for Becca's self-esteem and attitude. She got a job at Target, her favorite store. I just hope that she doesn't exhaust her paycheck on her employee discount and actually brings some of that money home. It is really good to see her so excited about going to work. Target was great about hiring her. They let her go on the vacation we had been planning for over a year and start when she got back; very considerate for a corporate entity. I understand that Target treats their employees well. I hope that is Becca's experience. Becca had her first day of orientation yesterday and she starts work on Monday.

All of this reminds me of my Buddhist teaching - everything is impermenant and "mu" or not being, not doing. Life is what happens when you are busy making other plans and everything will be what it will be. I find my life is a lot easier when I can implement that truth into daily practice. Just be still; and listen; and breathe - except not outside without an N-95 mask!

PS - I got a message, I don't remember if it was on Facebook or by email, from someone who was in French class with me at Bonita High School in La Verne. I briefly looked at and scanned the message but really didn't read it closely or reply to it, which I fully intended to do. Now I can't find it. It looks like I probably accidentally deleted it. I hope that whoever wrote that to me is reading this and will resend the message to me and I promise to try and be a lot more careful this time.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Go Fly A Kite

My birthday was Monday August 13. I am fifty-six. I can remember a time when I thought that fifty-six was really old, like almost dead old. Now I think fifty-six is just about right. My body feels like I’m fifty-six but often my mind and attitudes are more like a six year old; in all the positive and negative manifestations you might imagine.

My wife and daughter asked me what I wanted to do for my birthday. I have spent a disproportionate amount of my time the last few months thinking about what I can’t do. I try not to but it has been a struggle. There has been so much that my cancer has forced me to give up.

I also have a hard time asking for what I want. I find that I readily agree to do things I do not really want to do, don’t ask for what I really want, and then feel resentful about it; just like a six year old.

When my wife and daughter asked me what I wanted to do for my birthday I thought it might be a perfect opportunity to try something different – think about all the things I can do. It really just took my intention to make this happen. I actually found it much easier than I had expected.

I narrowed the options to two; play Frisbee golf or fly a kite. We decided that we would fly kites, since Frisbee golf is tied to a specific place and kites can be flown in a great variety of places. Of course, we had no kites on hand so it necessitated a kite shopping trip. We decided that we would go kite shopping and celebrate my birthday on the Saturday before the actual date.

On the Friday before my birthday celebration my wife reminded me that the people who are going to house sit for us while we are vacation are coming by on Saturday and perhaps we should go to a baseball game to celebrate my birthday instead. My first reaction was to revert to six year old mode. I was disappointed and a little petulant. My wife seemed a little too ready to abandon my birthday plans; I was resentful and on the verge of becoming unpleasant.

Then I remembered my Buddhist teacher’s instructions for dealing with my anger and frustrations, which have seemed to dominate my emotions for a while. I took a deep inhalation and I exhaled all of my anger and frustration. And it worked. I had another opportunity to do something different. I had an opportunity to problem solve and ask for what I wanted.

I suggested that we go kite shopping on Saturday morning, meet our house sitters in the afternoon, and since it is staying light out so late, fly kites on Saturday evening. Problem solved. I was free from petulant six year old mode and asked for what I wanted.

We went kite shopping on Saturday morning. I had previously notices a sandwich board out on Cascade Ave. advertising that a specialty bike and hobby store sold kites. We decided to go there first. I was a little shocked. The kites they sold were in the $300.00 to $400.00 range. I don’t know who spends $400.00 on a kite but not me.

Then we went to what has become my favorite toy and hobby store, where we probably should have gone first, Hooked On Toys. They had a nice selection of kites ranging from $3.00 to $30.00. At that price we got three kites, one for each of us.

Later that evening we went to a local elementary school with a large open field to fly our kites. Now you need to understand that we typically have breezy evenings. But this evening there wasn’t any wind at all, not a breath. I tried and tried but I couldn’t get my kite to fly. A six year old’s petulant temper tantrum was threatening; but I remembered to breathe.

“Oh well, we will take our kites on our vacation. We are going to be right by the beach and we’re sure to have wind there.”

I can still surprise myself. Even at fifty-six I can learn to do some things differently. I am proud of myself. And I will be flying my kite on my vacation.

Monday, August 6, 2012

Remember To Live

Saturday August 4, 2012 was a special day for our family. Alice, Becca, and I all got tattoos of the same phrase,"Ricordati Di Vivere," which is Italian for "Remember To Live." we all got the tattoo on different parts of our bodies. I got mine on my right forearm.

This was all initiated by Becca. Becca told me that she chose this phrase after looking for something suitable on the Internet. Becca said that she had been thinking of "Remember To Breathe" because Alice and Becca both periodically remind me to breathe. Then she came up with "Remember To Live." Becca was insistent that the phrase be tattooed in my handwriting so that she would always have a part of me with her.

I like to believe that I had at least a small part in the choice of phrase. Becca and I have had conversations about deeper and more spiritual issues over the last few months. We have had several conversations with me defending my desire to stay involved and active in my different things like Toastmasters or church committees even when I am not feeling so well. I have often said that I don't want to get to the end of my life and find out I haven't lived. What I mean is that I don't want to give up things that give my life meaning and purpose.

So much has been taken from me including, and especially, my own free will in so many decisions. I have lost my career as a social worker, which also means I lost my identity as a professional who was respected; I have lost the ability to eat or drink though I sometimes indulge myself with coffee; I have lost my ability to tell stories, at least the oral tradition of telling stories; I have lost the ability to speak forcefully and clearly; I even lost the ability to play golf. I really don't want to surrender my involvement and engagement with the different activities that make my life worth living.

Alice and Becca are quick to remind me that I am not going through this alone - every time I have to be hospitalized they have to go through it too. I am sensitive to that and I don't know how to resolve this dynamic tension. I don't think that I can satisfy my need for a meaningful and rich life with their desire to keep me safe and healthy.

But when I can stop and think, without all of the anger I have, without all of my anger and frustration at the unfairness of it all I can see that the only time I have is now and that it will be what it will be. I may intellectually understand and agree with that but I have not fully integrated that knowledge into my life and practice.

Just today for example my doctor put me back on antibiotics for yet another pneumonia and advised me not to participate in my Toastmasters meetings tonight and tomorrow morning or my committee meetings tomorrow. I came home with a lot of frustration and anger. My Buddhist teacher has given me a simple exercise to deal with my anger and when I tried it today it worked, for a while anyway, until I started thinking again. It's always that thinking that gets me. 

At least now I have a permanent and unmistakable reminder on my right forearm, remember to live. 

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

It Just Is

This morning I posted another story on my other blog, Whispering Circles (http://whisperingcircles.blogspot.com/). It is a favorite story that got me thinking some. It is a folk story about the aging process.

I've been thinking about getting older a lot lately. I am getting older, which frankly I think may be preferable to the alternative. But I'm not sure.

A couple of weeks ago my daughter asked me if I was afraid to die. I know my health issues weigh heavily on her mind and in a strange way it makes me feel good to know she worries about me. I told Becca that I am not afraid of death.

Becca was horrified. "How can you want to die?" I explained that it is not that I want to die. She asked if I was afraid to die and I'm not. Whenever it comes, I will not be afraid to die. She seemed comforted a little bit by this. Not a lot; but a little anyway.

I really am not afraid to die. Apparently, I've been closer to it than not on a couple of occasions, though I don't remember any of them. That must be another survival adaptation; not storing memories of unpleasant things over which we have virtually no control.

Control is an important thing in my life. I have been aware for a long time that I have control issues. I like things to be nice and tidy and put away. I like my tools put away, the hose rolled up when it's not being used; dishes in the sink either washed or put in the dishwasher. I rarely get what I want in regards to control and I have been trying for a number of years to let stuff go. I am getting better, but I'm not really there yet.

When I think about dying now I think of a transition to a different experience. I am not sure what to expect but I do believe that there is something there. I believe that we are all energetic people and that our souls are really concentrations of that energy. I think when we die that soul energy joins the cosmic energy and is recycled into new people.

I am a practicing Buddhist and I have come to a more complete and sophisticated understanding of karma and reincarnation. I think my soul energy idea works for both. Our soul energy attracts other soul energy based on ... well, I haven't worked out all the details. I also think that our soul energy moves progressively from a state of chaos to a state of sublime mindfulness and that this occurs at different rates for different souls but for most over a few lifetimes at least.

That explains my cancer to me as well. I got a cancer that 95% of the people who get is are either heavy smokers or heavy drinkers or both. I was and have never been either. I got someone else's cancer? This was a real cosmic screw up! Or, in a previous life I earned some karma that I am paying off now. In a strange way that also comforts me. I think that I can understand and accept that.

What I don't believe is that there is some omipotent deity who is intimately interested in and tinkers with our day to day lives. The universe is a random place, stuff happens, and a lot of times there is no good reason. I didn't get cancer so that I could learn some important life lesson. No God had a divine plan for me to get a potentially fatal disease so that I could fulfill some divine scheme. I just got cancer. Maybe there was some karma involved.

The other thing that I thought about today is ownership of folk stories. The story I posted on Whispering Circles is a folk story. A woman tells me that she has copyrighted the story and that I cannot tell it without giving her a royalty. I think she is delusional. Folk stories and folklore by definition cannot be owned. And in any case, no one ever tells the same story as some one else.

As soon as I tell a story it is unique to me. If you listen to my story, recite the story word for word, memorize my facial expressions and gestrues and voice inflection; strive to recreate my telling of it; it will still be a story that is unique to you. We shape our folklore; we cannot stop that or prevent it; it is just a fact. Folklore evolves. As do stories.

So, if you ever want to tell one of my stories feel free. Actually, I tend not to call them "my stories" in the first place. The stories belong to the universe; where random stuff happens; like stories get told and retold and evolve and become different and people sometimes get a cancer they don't deserve.

It just is.

Monday, July 16, 2012

I had a very interesting experience one day last week that made me feel older and yet energized and excited and inspired me at the same time.

I had a doctor's appointment and after the nurse was done taking my vital signs she told me that the doctor had a medical student working with him and asked if it would be all right for the medical student to come in. I remember getting my clinical hours and I gladly said yet.

It was a few minutes before the student came in. I have to confess that when she came in I did not recognize her. She introduced herself as Shelly and said, "I think I know you." In my work I got to know so many people in the community that I often have trouble remembering people with whom I may have had limited contact, especially if I see them in an unfamiliar environment.

My puzzled expression must have been obvious. Shelly explained that her younger sister, Whitney, and my daughter, Becca, had been friends. It was only then that I recognized Shelly. I had not seen her in several years, but I had known her since she was about seven years old. It was only then that I recognized Shelly.

My face just lit up. A routine doctor's appointment had just gotten a lot more enjoyable. We embraced. I had known that Shelly was studying to become a physician's assistant. Her lab coat indicated that she was a student at USC (University of Southern California), a great medical school and teaching hospital.

We talked a little about family and Shelly went about her examination of me. She took a detailed history of my specific complain and listened to my heart and lungs. It was so wonderful to see Shelly.

It made me feel a little older seeing this young woman blossom into a caring, compassionate, and competent professional. I still remember the seven year old. On the other hand it was exciting and inspiring and reassuring to see a new generation of young people start to take their place in the world.

After the appointment I was so exciting to tell my wife Alice and my daughter Becca about seeing Shelly. I told Becca as soon as I got home and told Alice when she got home. Just yesterday I asked Becca if I had mentioned to her that I had seen Shelly. Becca looked surprised and asked me if I was serious. Becca told me that over the past few days I had asked her that question four or five times.

That really made me feel older.

Saturday, July 7, 2012

I'm Alright Even If I Am Lazy And Undisciplined

I haven't posted a blog in a while and I keep thinking that there must be something interesting about which I can write; but for the life of me I can't think of what it might be. Of course, I may have forgotten it too.

Actually, it has been a pretty exciting week here at Whispering Circles 1/4 acre organic farm cooperative and artists colony, or what we call home. On Monday I started to see the signs of an impending pneumonia again: dropping oxygen saturation; that classic productive cough; and a low grade fever. I took care of myself at first and then on Wednesday went to see the doctor. That early intervention has, I am convinced, kept me out of the hospital. My own doctor is on vacation so I saw one of his partners, and she put me on antibiotics. I am doing so much better today. I just took my oxygen saturation and it is at 98%.

I've been up this morning doing some yard work and work on the computer. I helped load a bunch of stuff for our church yard sale and I am going to do some shopping at Home Depot and then a little more yard work. I love feeling like I'm productive.

I sat in zazen (sitting meditation) this morning and it was exquisitely beautiful. On Tuesday and Wednesday I skipped meditation due to my feeling junky and I really felt the effects. I could have done my meditation - I just decided to be lazy and abandom my disciplined spiritual practice, which is never really a good idea.

I was going to take my in-laws, who are visiting for a few weeks, up to an historical old west town, Winthrop, on Friday, but my wife refused to give us permission to go since I was still recovering from whatever it was that I had that wasn't and never had a chance of becoming, due to our early and aggressive intervention, a pneumonia.

So now I've written something. I feel like there is one more thing I can check off my to do list. And even though this is far from profound, it does make me feel good to be writing. The discipline of writing regularly is, like my meditation, an important spiritual discipline that cultivates a deep and meaningful life - physically, emotionally, mentally, and spiritually.

How often have I decided to abandon or ignore my disciplined practices because it just wasn't the right time or I didn't feel it or aliens don't wear purple hats or some other equally vacuous excuse to be lazy. I think we all probably do this. I sometimes conjure images of the Dalai Lama deciding to sleep a half hour longer before getting up and sitting in meditation. It could happen! At least it makes me feel like I'm alright anyway.

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Standing On The Side Of Love

On Sunday June 24, 2012 I was a part of the Cascade Unitarian Universalist Fellowship contingent in the Seattle Gay Pride Parade. It was unbelievable, in a good way. I had so much fun.

There were just eleven of us with the church banner and signs promoting marriage equality, standing on the side of love, and acceptance of all people including LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender) people. We were so welcomed into the crowd in the several hours before we actually started marching in the parade. People thanked us for coming all the way from Wenatchee for the parade.

Along the parade route we passed out beads, temporary tattoos, and candy to the crowd and we got more positive comments and expressions of appreciation for coming all the way from Wenatchee.

On Saturday evening before the parade I was thinking how nice it would be to be able to have a Gay Pride Parade in Wenatchee. And then I thought how difficult and potentially dangerous that would actually be. I see so much around me changing and know that the day is coming, and soon, when my LGBT brothers and sisters will be fully accepted, allowed to marry the person of their choice, and any discrimination will be socially unacceptable. Just like what has happened for African Americans or people in mixed race relationships. But we are not there yet.

That got me thinking about what needs to happen so that in my lifetime we will have a Gay Pride Parade in Wenatchee. The first thing is for people of conscious to speak up, publicly, loudly, and passionately. And I think that the first institutions to do this should be, at least in my mind, religious and/or spiritual institutions that celebrate, in word if not in deed, the inherent worth and dignity of all people.

It has become a passion of mine to help shepherd this into reality in my own church home, the Cascade Unitarian Universalist Fellowship (CUUF). We are starting the process and we are on our way. The Unitarian Universalist Association has a formal program for recognizing congregations that fully welcome and include LGBT people in the life of the church. There is a process to being able to have that designation awarded to a congregation. It will be a time consuming process and one that may, at times, be challenging or difficult. I have already run into a few people who question the need, since they already feel that LGBT people are welcomed at CUUF.

It is not enough to say to each other how tolerant and welcoming and inviting we are. It is a hollow gesture if it is not public and proud. That is one of my primary focuses for the coming year, to shepherd this process into reality.

Perhaps it is fortuitous that I am recently retired and have a little more time on my hands. Perhaps it is the universe affirming my calling to this ministry. Maybe it is just random good luck. In any case, I have a mission and tasks that I understand and appreciate.

Thursday, June 21, 2012

My new storytelling and inspiration blog, Whispering Circles, http://whisperingcircles.blogspot.com/ has been up for just a little over a week and I have gotten such positive feedback from so many people. I am a little surprised, though I don't know why I should be. I have never lacked confidence as a storyteller, even when my career seemed like it was stagnant and I didn't get invited to tell stories at places or events that I thought would be sure to invite me.
Now that I am retired and rethinking this whole professional storyteller thing, because of the gradually increasing difficulty for people to understand what I am saying, I have channeled that energy into writing; including writing these two blogs. I am finding my voice as a writer and it is exciting to discover another way to be a storyteller.

My twenty-two year old daughter Becca amazes me sometimes. She loves Ellen Degeneres and watches the program every day. Becca decided that on our vacation to Southern California in September, it would be fun to get in to see the Ellen Show. So Becca wrote to Ellen about all my health problems and how much fun it would be for all of us to get in to see the Ellen Show and how amazing her parents are and how she would like to do this for her parents. I don't know what, if anything, will come of this. I am sure Ellen gets a lot of requests from people at least as, if not more, deserving than we are, but I am so impressed that Becca came up with an idea and was able to do something about it, all on her own.

This trip that we are planning, in late August and early September, will be my first vacation in over eight years. Our attention has been so focused on doctors and hospitals and insurance and other important medical and/or health related stuff that a true vacation has never even really been considered. Now that I am retired and I no longer have to worry if I have enough annual leave days, we can take a vacation; and I am really looking forward to it.

We are going to stay at one of the time share properties in Oceanside, California. We will be close enough to my favorite niece and nephew who live in the Los Angeles area that we can visit and we have family down there too. My niece and nephew are expecting their second child right about that time so we are hoping to get to be there for the birth of the new one. I am already anticipating that our trip will produce some great stories.

One of things that we plan to do on our trip is to go to Las Vegas for a very special supper. When I was first diagnosed the third person I told was my friend Kathy, who was more like a sister to me. The first person I told was my wife and the second was my friend Chip. Kathy lived with her husband and son in Oceanside California. We had worked together years ago at a homeless shelter in the transitional housing program where families could get the help they need to become independent again. As a matter of fact, I was the one who hired Kathy.

When I called Kathy I told her that I had some news to share with her. She said she needed to tell me something first and told me that she had just recently been diagnosed with non-Hodgekin's lymphoma. That made it easier for me to tell Kathy that I had just been diagnosed with throat cancer.

Kathy and I went through cancer treatment together. We emailed each other almost every day. We shared the miseries of cancer treatment that are hard for anyone who hasn't been through it to appreciate and we talked about grand plans for when we finally got well. One of our grand plans was that when we were finally well, we would meet up in Las Vegas so that we could have supper at Mario Batali's restaurant. Mario is my favorite celebrity chef.

I got better, but Kathy got worse. I managed to go and visit her for a week. When I got there I went straight to the hospital where Kathy was in the process of getting ready for her second bone marrow transplant. I am so thankful that when I walked into the room Kathy was asleep. I had tried to prepare myself so that my face and expression would not betray anything when I saw her, but I don't know how successful I was. Kathy, my dear dear friend, looked worse than I could have imagined. It was a blessing that I got to adjust myself to her appearance before she woke up.

That visit was great. Kathy actually got much better during the course of my visit and was discharged. It was so good for both of us that I got to visit. I hated to leave Kathy, but I was reassured that she was getting better and the bone marrow transplant was going to work this time.

Kathy got her bone marrow transplant after I returned home. Once she got the transplant she couldn't be around anyone except immediate family because of the risk of infection and her own resistance being so low. But we still emailed. Kathy reported to me that her white counts were going up and things looked good, for a while. Then they didn't and one day Lane, Kathy's husband, called and told me that Kathy had died. It was hard on me, especially since my own recovery was going so well.

I thought about making that trip to Las Vegas in memory of and on Kathy's behalf but just couldn't bring myself to do it. Over time though I thought about it and finally just recently decided that this should be something I would do. Of course, now I can't eat or drink anything, but Alice and Becca will get to enjoy the meal and I will get to toast Kathy. I will probably have a glass of wine even though I am not supposed to and it drives my doctors nuts. I never have been all that good with rules.

It is getting sunny around here these days and is warming up. The sun feels good on my skin and I love riding my motorcycle (technically a scooter) in this kind of weather. It is so liberating and exhilerating to ride in nice weather.

I have tasks around the house today. Right now I am doing laundry - the whites. While I am writing this. So, I am multi-tasking. It feels good to me to actually be productivve, which is why I set out this morning to discipline myself to write a new blog entry, even though I didn't think I had anything interesting to say.

The warmer days are just another reminder of my coming vacation. I can't wait. It has been a long time since we, my family and I, have made a trip just for the relaxation and fun of it.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

A New Blog

In addition to being a husband and father and a reluctantly retired social worker I am a professional storyteller, workshop facilitator, and aspiring inspriational speaker. Or perhaps I should more accurately say I was a professional storyteller, workshop facilitator, and aspiring inspirational speaker. My gradually acquired speech impediment is getting me thinking about this creative aspect of my life and if I can continue with it. I'm not sure how comfortable I am speaking in public anymore and am particularly anxious about taking money for speaking when it can sometimes be difficult to understand what I'm saying.

I have been channeling my storytelling creativity and energy into writing. I have started a book; I have an idea for another book; and I have resurrected this blog. I am also writing a few articles and sermons [it seems more acceptable to speak in public in church].

I was a guest on an internet radio program the other day because I am a storyteller and the hosts thought that it might be interesting to talk to a storyteller. Storytelling is a passion of mine, it is spiritual work for me. I mentioned this blog where people could read my random thoughts and ideas. The hosts were a little surprised that my blog didn't have my stories. That got me thinking, so I have created a brand new blog, Whispering Circles http://whisperingcircles.blogspot.com/

Whispering Circles will be dedicated to stories, folklore, and inspiration. It should be fun and maybe a little inspirational too.

I invite you to visit my new blog and read some of my stories and inspirational thoughts.

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

The Only Constant Is Change

There have been too many changes in my life for comfort. Now I should mention that I believe that confort is vastly overrated. Comfort can become be an insidious way of becoming stagnant and refusing to grow.

Back to me, because this blog is really all about me. Eight years ago I contracted throat cancer even though I had never smoked or used tobacco products. I have survived the cancer and am learning to negotiate the changes that the treatment have produced in my body, mind, and spirit. I lost all of my bottom teeth and now I cannot eat or drink anything. All of my nutrition comes through a tube in my belly.

I thought I was doing fairly well with all of these changes. If not really placidly accepting them, at least I was tolerating them and trying to make the best of the situation. But then time happened and more changes.

The minister at my church, who I just love to death, is leaving us. Also the Church administrator, a very dear friend who is directly responsible for my discovery that I am a storyteller is also leaving. There must be some reasonable limit to the amount and rapidity with which the average person is forced to change ... and I am decidedly below average!

I am a student of Buddhism and one of the tenets by which I try and structure my life is to "be here now." Be present just where I am in this moment, every moment. From that perspective things can start to make sense. Not because there is less change or the change is more pleasant, but because one realizes that everything in temporary and subject to change.

We risk at least as much, if not more, physical, mental, and emotional trauma from cultivating an attitude that resists change and holds on too tenaciously to what is comfortable as we do from experiencing the change itself. We even hold on to that which is harmful, that we know is harmful, just because it is familiar and comfortable.

No growth or progress in this journey happens without change. And from that perspective I may need to admit that change is a good thing and that a lot of change is just a lot of good things. I may need to relinquish my fear of change and embrace the moment, this moment, every moment.

I'll work on that.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Unclogging Life's Blockage

Earlier this week I had a minor crisis. Being fed by tube involves some technology; specifically a rubber tube that is plugged directly into my intestines and is attached to a pump. The technology is not perfect or flawless. One of the most obvious flaws is that I have a tube hanging out of my belly for the rest of my life. One of the other flaws is that I am dependent for all of my nutrition on a system that is prone to getting clogged up.

Monday evening I discovered that my tube was, once again, clogged. I tried to clear it with what had been recommended to me at the hospital, diet cola. Apparently the acid in and effervescence of the soda has the capacity to clear minor blockages. Didn't work. I was still clogged, and consequently, I couldn't get anything to eat Monday night or Tuesday morning.

The first thing Tuesday morning I called the doctor, who was in Moses Lake. However, his nurse said that she would help me and we went in.

It took about thirty minutes to clear my tube with a special brush on a long stiff wire that gets inserted directly into my tube. Everything was, and remains, clear for now.

I have been practicing my Buddhist meditation at least once, and most often three times a day. I have learned some things, or perhaps it is more accurate to say I have re-learned some things. One of the insights I have gained is that my sitting meditation is simply training to live a mindful life; a life where I am fully present in each moment and where nothing can happen that will disrupt my equilibrium and tranquility. Not my best thing. Another thing that I have learned is that as it is on the cushion, so it is in life. I have learned that a life lived mindfully is made evident because there is an inherent happiness that cannot be shaken. And I have learned that in order to clear up life's obstacles, you need the right tools.

When I had this minor crisis I remembered to breathe deeply and put this minor crisis into perspective. I was missing a meal, that's all it was. Nothing to become hysterical over. It is easy for me to descend into some very dark thoughts and places when, among other things, the technology upon which I depend for keeping me going is not working. I decided that I would just be fully present to this  moment in my life. An uncomfortable moment that did not have the capacity to disrupt my equilibrium and tranquility.

And I am very clear that this was a choice I made. I decided not to worry, become anxious, or angry. I decided that I would keep my mind at peace and not be ruled by anger.

In the end, I just didn't have the right tools to clear that clogged up tube on my own. I needed the right tool. The nurse sent me home with that special tube brush so next time I can use it myself.

This all sounds much too simple as I read it now. But I am acutely aware of all the work that has gone into helping me get to this place and to achieve this mindfulness, even if it is just a brief example that might not repeat itself anytime soon. At least for that moment, I was there, really there. Not worrying about the future or regretting things I had done in the past, fully confident that this minor crisis would be relieved without too much trauma.

That made it a good day. And today, I am back to work on learning how to be retired and confident that I have another set of tools with which to unclog life's blockages.

Saturday, May 19, 2012

Am I Really Linked In - And If So To What?

The other day I noticed that the links on my blog were hopelesssly out of date. I decided to update my links today, which I successfully accomplished ... on the second or third try. Going through that process of updating my links got me thinking. Am I really linked in? And if I am, just what am linked in to?

When I was a professional social worker, storyteller, workshop facilitator, and inspirational speaker I felt linked in all over the place. Now that I am reluctantly and prematurely retired (for the benefit of any new readers I had to retire due to health issues, which include an acquired speech impediment and not being able to eat or drink anything) I feel like I have lost a vital and important part of my professional identity and self.

I have been getting more accustomed to being a retired person, but it is clear to me that I am still in the grieving the loss/learning how to be retired phase. I am fifty five and I am still going through a phase. Damn it, my mother was right, I haven't ever grown up.

I am still connected and the new links I added to the blog page today prove it. I just don't always feel so connected. I have been making a diligent effort to get connected and involved in the community. Well, the truth is, (and if you can't tell the truth on your blog really, what's the point?) that I haven't been that diligent. I missed Toastmasters because, for the first time in many years, I was too anxious about the speech I was supposed to give and didn't think it was ready yet. I was supposed to go to the Cascade Writer's Group last Tuesday but got so anxious about sharing my first attempts at creative writing since high school that I didn't go. I have been keeping up with my weekly meditation at Stone Blossom Sangha in East Wenatchee, so there's one point for me.

Mostly I have been staying home, doing a little housework; a little yardwork (my yard is clearly winning that battle); reading; writing; and napping. Of all of those my best thing this last week has been napping, which seems like the enemy of ever getting or staying linked in.

And while I am on the subject, I have a www.linkedin.com page but have never really figured out how to use it. I have the time to try and learn now, but I don't really know if I can still be a storyteller, workshop facilitator, and/or inspirational speaker since I have this acquired speech impediment.

I decided right after I left work for the last time that I would need to treat my retirement as a job, meaning I had to get up at the same time every morning, brush my teeth, shave, dress and do important stuff. Well, I have gotten the getting up, brushing my teeth, shaving, and dressing down. I do that every morning whether I feel like or have any important stuff to do or  not. I have not done so good at actually doing something important every day. It looks like this blog is taking a rather unpleasant turn - maybe the reason I don't feel linked in anymore is my fault? I hate when that happens. I am committing myself right now to do better, starting Monday. Hey, it's the weekend and even retired people get to enjoy the weekend!

Monday, May 7, 2012

Settling In

I have been officially retired for about a month now and I am starting to settle in. I think I have a steep learning curve. I have worked for so long, and enjoyed it, that I have to learn how to be retired. It is a different set of skills and competencies. The first thing that I have leared, or decided I guess is more accurate, is that it is not a good idea to stay in your pajamas. I have adopted the very modest discipline that every single day, even if I have nothing scheduled or planned for that day, I will get up, brush my teeth, shave, dress, practice my zen meditation, and then do something. It is just too easy and self-destructive for me to just stay in my pajamas all day long.

So far I have spent time writing and reading and meditating. I have done a little housework, laundry, and yardwork. I have managed the bureaucracy of my disability and insurance. This is my new job, being retired. It is just like every other job I have ever had, I will get better at it the longer I do it. I was an excellent social worker and child welfare advocate and now I aspire to be an excellent retiree.

I have plans that are starting to formulate for me. I got an idea for a novel yesterday and started working on it, just a little, this morning. The story line is based on a real life child welfare social work experience of mine, so perhaps, if it ever gets written and published, it would evolve into a series? That sounds pretty exciting.

It has been an eventful week for me. I got my official award letter from social security, in which the government informed me that I am disabled and will begin receiving social security disability payments in August. I had expected that this would be a much more challenging process and that I would be initially denied and have to appeal, so this is good news, kind of. At least now starting in August I will have a reliable source of income. Income is a good thing.

It is hard for me to think of myself as being disabled though. I have come to terms with being disabled, it is the label that troubles me. It is perfectly alright for me to know that I am disabled, but it was not something that I particularly wanted to share with the entire world, or at least with my entire world. Of course, it now occus to me that that is exactly what I am doing by writing about it in my blog. I vascilate between thinking that publicizing my disability is whining and/or sympathy seeking behavior and thinking that letting people know how I am doing is a mature attempt to seek appropriate support from friends and family. It all depends on how I feel at any given moment.

I saw a friend at the park yesterday. I hadn't spoken to him since he had told me that he was diagnosed with and being treated for prostate cancer. He had suggested that we get together the next week and that he would call me. I knew, from other friends, that he was having a challenging time with his treatment, so I was not surprised when he didn't call me. Yesterday he apologized for not getting back to me and explained that his treatment was more difficult than he had anticipated. I reflected that we are just not as young and resilient as we once were, no matter what our brains tell us.

Monday, April 30, 2012

And So It Goes

I attended my first mini-shesshin (Buddhist retreat) this past weekend and it was a transformational experience. I have never sat in meditation position for that long ever before and I am so sore and tired. But I am also inspired to maintain and grow my own meditataion and study practice. I feel more Buddhist than ever.

The teacher told us the first night that our task for the shesshin was to sit, breathe, and listen. That sounds easy, but as a culture we rarely concentrate and focus our energies on the task at hand. When we are cooking we are also thinking of who will do the dishes and what has to be done later on that evening and what we will wear tomorrow. This robs us of the full experience, and joy, of cooking. Sitting in meditation is training for mindful living. As it is on the cushion, so it is in life.

I come home to find several "must do" tasks waiting for me. But I am not bothered. One task at a time, one step at a time. And so it goes.

Saturday, April 21, 2012

A Good Day

I have been feeling better the last few days and my oxygen saturation was up to 95% this morning. We are trying me off of oxygen now and I am maintaining 95%. It is good to be untethered from the long oxygen tubing; I've still got my feeding pump to whcih I am attached.

I have a couple of meetings this weekend but in the interests of not relapsing I think I will stay home. One of the meetings is relocating to my house tomorrow. That means I probably need to do a little cleaning and clearing up today.

Our family is planning a vacation for September. We will be going to Oceanside California where we have a time share reserved. We will get to visit family including my favorite niece and nephew and their new babies. We will also visit some friends.

On the trip down we are going through Las Vegas so that we can stop at Mario Battali's restaurant. Even though I can't eat this is so important to me. Years ago, when I was really sick, my almost a sister good friend Kathy, who was also struggling with cancer, decided that when we were better we would meet up in Las Vegas for dinner at Mario Battali's. Kathy died before we could ever make that trip and I just didn't feel right about making that trip without her.

Recently though, I have decided that this is something I want to do, to honor Kathy's memory. Kathy was a remarkable woman; a strident advocate for what is right, especially when it came to her child.

When Kathy died she left a husband and her son. I have been emailing her husband, Lane, and about them meeting us in Las Vegas to complete this circle, and it looks like it might happen. This  makes me happy.

It is ironic, now that I can't eat or drink anything I'm going to this restaurant. Life is funny that way sometimes. Not ha ha funny, just funny.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

What a frustrating week it has been. On Friday April 13, 2012 I was feeling a little short of breath and I had a slight fever. Anticipating the worst I packed a bag and my daughter, Becca, made an appointment with my primary care provider. Just as I had expected I was hospitalized with pneumonia again. Who says that it's superstitious to believe that nasty stuff happens on Friday the 13th?

 was hospitalized until Tuesday April 17, 2012 and they sent me home to recuperate. Unfortunately they sent me home on oxygen and forced bed rest. So I have another tether that limits my mobility around and especially outside the  house. I am getting really tired of this. And what is even worse is that the doctor told me that this is what I can expect for the foreseeable future, chronic pneumonia resulting in my need for oxygen gradually extending to the point that I will need oxygen continuously.

I have made a conscious and deliberate decision to try and be mindful, optimistic, and grateful; but I have to admit that sometimes it is a challenge.

Now I am faced with cancelling several things I was planning on doing during the next two weeks that I was looking forward to, most importantly, a Buddhist retreat, a Sesshin. Attached to an oxygen tank, as well as a feeding  pump is just too much to manage and be able to be in meditation for long periods of time, not to mention walking or working meditation.

I'm not sure that this is good for me, but I am feeling a little angry and sorry for myself today and just felt like I needed to share it with someone.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Life Is Good ... Again

I taught my daughter to make Cresca, my great grandmother's traditional Easter bread, which is more like a quiche, this past Saturday. It was a great success and everyone loved it. I have such fond memories of enjoying this treat every Easter and have not made it for years. Even though I could not eat any, I think I enjoyed passing this on to my daughter almost as much as I would have enjoyed eating it.

I have been trying, for years, to practice the Law of Attraction, what you project is what comes to you. It's really hard to assess the effectiveness of something like that because the universe is a random place and practicing the Law of Attraction doesn't mean that you will never experience any bad things, only that you will be better able to cope with the bad things that you do experience.

I do have some difficulty accepting that the Law of Attraction explains how everything works. I don't think that children are abused or neglected because of their negative attitudes about life or that people who die unexpectedly are somehow responsible for their demise. But I do think that cultivating a positive attitude and practicing a life of mindfulness, being truly and completely present to each moment, does produce tremendous benefits.

I had been dreading the phone call I made yesterday. Last week I submitted a sputum sample for testing. I was mentally preparing myself to have to go back on IV antibiotics, which is yet another tether and might mean I would not be able to attend my three day Buddhist Sesshin later this month. At the same time I was consciously trying to have a positive outlook and thanking the sacred for the gift of the health that I do have.

When I called my doctor yesterday and spoke to his nurse, she gave me some very good news. The sputum sample that I submitted last week grew only "natural flora," and there were no pathogens at all. That means that I am healing well and won't have to be on IV antibiotics. I was so happy and light that it made my afternoon zazen a little challenging but so enjoyable.

It is interesting to me that I was able to hold two contradictory thoughts in my head and heart and soul at the same time - dreading what I anticipated happening and simultaneously feeling, or trying to feel, confident that there would be a good outcome. I find that I do this in life and I think I have seen other people do this too. I have done it so long that it just feels natural to me now, but when I stop and think about it, it seems a little crazy.

I am celebrating my good news with a cup of coffee. My wife, daughter, and I have all agreed that there is a delicate balance between quality of life and quantity of life and that I will not sacrifice the certain quality of life for an uncertain quantity of life. So I get to have an occasional cup of coffee or a cold beer with no regrets or shame or guilt. And I have to say that the coffee is particularly satisfying this morning.

It is intriguing how little thingss like sharing something special from your heritage and experience with your daughter or getting good health news can buoy a person up. Yes, life is good ... again.

Friday, April 6, 2012

Buona Pasqua

I am teaching my daughter Becca to make my great grandmother's traditional Easter bread, the Cresca, which is much more like a quiche, this weekend. In order to make the Cresca we have to make our sausage, which we will do today. It is so much fun for me to teach my daughter how to cook, especially Italian foods.

I have such great memories of waiting each year for Easter so I could have the Cresca, which my grandmother called gavetsone. It was one of my very favorite foods of the year. I loved helping to make it too, especially making the sausage. The Cresca is filled with almost a dozen eggs, a generous helping of ricotta cheese, Parmesean cheese, and pepporoni, all baked into a bread crust.

The soft squares of Cresca, usually served cold with strong coffee on Easter morning, are so full of great Italian flavors; the salty and spicy sausage, the creamy almost bland ricotta, the musky pepporoni, and the Parmesean - the king of cheeses. My mouth waters just remembering, which is almost all that is left for me now. Almost all, but not all. Still left to me is teaching Becca about my Italian heritage and in particular, how to cook.

I think Becca is not nearly as excited about this as I am but I suppose that is a father's perogative.

Happy Easter everyone, or should I say, Buona Pasqua!

Sunday, April 1, 2012

Random thoughts

It is now officially official. I am retired. My last day on the books was March 31, 2012 and as of April 1, 2012 I am no longer an employee of the State of Washington Division of Child and Family Services. Friday was my retirement party at a local coffee shop, my favorite, Caffe Mela. Three tables were reserved and people came to the party and said the most generous and thoughtful things. I was particularly touched by my supervisor, Liza Sterbick's, comments. It was so touching that I had to consciously try not to cry. I loved my job but it is clear to everyone that I can no longer continue in that position. The work is too stressful and my health is too fragile. The job requires concentration, an ability to focus, and an ability to organize and remember details. All of these are victims of my health. I am also gradually loosing the ability to speak clearly and forcefull, which is an integral part of what I used to do. What will I do now? I am finding things to fill my days and even fill a sense of purpose and meaning in my life. I have been doing some writing. I am still active in Toastmasters. I am involved in Occupy Wenatchee and I am becoming more active in my church, the Cascade Unitarian Universalist Fellowship (CUUF). I am a Pastoral Care Associate and I am on the Social Action Team. Yesterday at church we had a social action workshop, which was so energizing and empowering. I was and remain excited about the energy for a commitment to social action that is building in the fellowship. I left that meeting with really good energy. It reinforced what I have been learning - if I am involved in something energizing, my energy is renewed. If I am involved in something that is energy sapping I get tired more easily. That seems such an obvious thing but apparently I have to learn and re-learn that periodically. Teaching my daughter to cook has also been energizing for me. It is something that is bringing us closer together and that we can share. This weekend we will be making my great-grandmother's traditional Easter bread, which is more like a quiche, with ricotta cheese and sausage and salami ... When I could eat it was one of my very favorite foods. This has been a little rambling of a post but I really feel the need to blog every few days and I hadn't done so for a while, so I disciplined myself to start writing trusting the inspiration to follow. It works most of the time, but I guess not today.

Friday, March 23, 2012

A Student Again

As my official day of retirement, April 1, 2012, approaches I have mixed feelings about this involuntary retirement. I would have chosen to keep working and yet I am thankful that there are resources to help me when I no longer can work. I am still feeling challenged by episodes of guilt and shame for not working, even though I know that there is no guilt or shame attached to my situation other than what I impose on myself. I am doing things around the house which helps to make me feel useful and productive, and I am doing some writing and a lot of reading too. I really don't think I have actually starteed my grieving process yet. It all still seems so sudden and unexpected to me and I keep thinking that something miraculous is going to happen and change everything. Intellectually I know that is not going to happen but apparently my intellect never told my emotional self so part of me is still waiting for the surprise ending. One of the things that weighed heavily on me was the way in which I left work. I went to work on February 2, 2012, wasn't feeling well so I went home. Later that day I went to the doctor and was hospitalized. I have not been back to work since. There was no ritual or ceremony to my retirement. I really never thought of myself who values ritual or ceremony but I found that there was no touchstone for this transition in my life. The other day I was informed that my office is throwing me a retirement party. I was very pleasantly surprised. I am looking forward to the party (Friday March 30, 2012 at 5:30 at Caffe Mela in Wenatchee). I am touched, yet again, by the support of my colleagues and friends. I have been truly blessed even though it is hard to think so whenever I have to attach myself to the pump or see another doctor or submit to another medical procedure that gradually erodes what is left of my dignity. In the end I believe that my life is full of gifts and treasures and that my health issues are what they are. Becca has a job interview today. She is excited and nervous and then later on today I am teaching Becca to make scampi, Alice's favorite Italian meal. It is another gift to me that I get to teach my daughter to do something that I love, cook. Next weekend we make a traditional Italian Easter bread. So my task for the foreseeable future is to learn how to be retired and to submit to the grieving process. I have always taken great pride in that I am a lifelong learner committed to growth, so this should feel more natural and comfortable than it does right now. More to learn and miles to go before I sleep.

Friday, March 16, 2012

Cooking With Becca

My daughter Becca is 22 years old. I am a real foodie and love to cook, bake, can, shop for food, and eat things I have never had before. For years I have been offering to teach her how to cook. Just a couple of days ago Becca was watching an episode of World's Worst Cooks on the Food Network. One of the contestants said that the reason she was competing was that her grandmother had wanted to teach her how to cook and she was never interested. Now that her grandmother is gone, she wants to try to learn to cook so she can reclaim that part of her heritage. And it must have touched Becca. She asked me to teach her how to cook. Yesterday was our first lesson and as in any good Italian kitchen lesson one was pasta and marinara. I was so excited to do this with Becca. I showed her some basic techniques but she did most of the work. And she was really into it too, not just going through the motions to satisfy me. Becca made the fresh pasta and marinara, though I think that there wasn't enough garlic or onions (as if there would ever be enough garlic or onions for me). When she was done it was a beautiful thing to see the meal my daughter had created. I so much wanted to share that particular meal with Alice and Becca. It would have been the most special meal of my life. I had to settle for letting them enjoy the meal and tell me how good it was. Rebecca wants our next lesson to be cooking shrimp, probably a shrimp fettucine. Becca really doesn't like garlic (how Italian can she be if she doesn't like garlic?) so scampi is out. And for Easter I plan on teaching her my grandmother's recipe for a traditional Easter bread called cresca. It is full of meats and cheeses and, when I could eat, was probably my most favorite food in the world. I will just have to resign myself to the role of passionately interested spectator. Thank you Becca. Asking me to teach you to cook is one of the best gifts you could have given me.

It Is Official ... I Am Retired

I just got word yesterday that my retirement has been approved and I am officially retired. I took this news with mixed feelings. I would prefer to be working and in any case this is not the way that I wanted to retire from my career as a child welfare social worker. I loved my job. It defined me as a competent, caring, compassionate, professional. I had the respect of my colleagues and peers and the people in the community with whom I interacted on a regular basis. On the other hand, I know that I am not physically or emotionally capable of doing this job any longer. I feel weak and ineffectual. I knew my role and took pride in what I did and I know that if I tried to return to work it would be as a weak and ineffectual person, in a field where mistakes can be costly to children and families. And now I am done. Just like that. I never thought I would like some ceremony to mark this transition in my life but the way that this has come about for me is a bit unsettling. I would have preferred to have some ritual to mark my more than twenty years of work being a strong advocate for keeping children safe. This has gotten me thinking back on my career. I can remember specific cases with clarity, while others have been forgotten or I have just vague memories. I can remember specific children and take pride in the work that I did. What will define me in the community now? What kind of respect will I deserve as a reluctantly retired social worker? Can I be a competent, caring, compassionate, professional retired social worker? Will this gain me the respect of my fellow retired persons? It also occurs to me that this should be a happy time for me but there is genuine sadness in my retirement.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

I spent the morning fussing with the insurance company, contacting a state agency about my retirement, and wading through a massive stack of paperwork for my SSI application. When I got done I was physically exhausted so I rested a bit. But then I felt guilty and shameful. Feeling guilty is my new thing these days. There are days when I almost feel like I could go back to work and I feel guilty and shameful that I am applying for disability. When I do the laundry and the dishes I feel guilty and shameful that I don't also do the housework and take care of the yard. I feel guilty and shameful that Alice is working hard and helping to care for me and I am at home most days being retired, which I never really wanted to be doing, at least at this point in my life. I regret that I am no longer able to work and resent that I got cancer, had complications, regularly get pneumonia, and cannot eat or drink anything by mouth, and so I feel guilty and shameful that I must have done something to bring this on myself. I see my daughter helping to take care of me and I feel guilty and shameful that I am not taking care of her. All this guilt weighs heavily on me. I try to practice mindfulness and be present to the moment but I obsessively think about the past and future. I think about my job that I loved; playing golf which I loved; cooking and eating great food that I loved. I think about what will happen to my family now that I can no longer work and support them. I think about all the things I can't do, or at least do easily, and all the places I had wanted to go aned now can't go very easily and I resent that I am bound to medical technology that limits my life. And I feel guilty and shameful. Intellectually I know that most, if not all of this, is the random workings of the universe and really isn't my fault, so I feel guilty and shameful that I have this burden of guilt and shame. I know that all this guilt and shame will not cultivate the mindfulness to which I aspire, but it is what I feel. I am intentionally committing to be mindful and present and to let go of the burden of my guilt and shame, but it seems very sticky. It doesn't want to let go too easily. When I have sticky stuff on my hands I use soap and water and it comes off. I suspect that there must be a metaphysical equivalent for this sticky guilt and shame and I think I know what it is. I am surrounded by a great cloud of friends and family who are supporting me and I know that I need to reach out to them, without feeling guilty or shameful that I am bothering them, and ask for help when I need it. And throughout the day I need to periodically remember to just be here now. No obsessing about what is past or worrying about what whill happen in the future, just this moment, which is given to us all as the present. If you are reading this then you are probably one of the people who I rely on for help and support, so for my sake, please get off of the computer and start sitting by your phone! Or you could call me if you like. I'm probably home.

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Accidental Buddhist

Yesterday my daughter, Becca, was driving me to yet another medical appointment. This one was for a brain MRI to determine the extent of the nerve damage from my radiation treatments almost eight years ago. Becca told me how she thinks that everything happens for a reason and that if I had never gotten throat cancer she would not have developed into the mature person she is today. I do agree that Becca has matured incredibly since I was first diagnosed. It came at a really unfortunate time, as if there is a fortunate time to get cancer. Becca was just starting high school and her parents were largely occupied with other things. I told Becca that I do not believe that. The universe is random and there was no higher purpose in my getting cancer. I don't believe in a deity who manipulated my health so that Becca would mature beyond her years. Becca responded that she chooses to believe that things happen for a reason, and then, just when I needed to hear it (I was preoccupied with feeling sorry for myself; however, in my own defense, it is one of my best things) Becca told me that she thinks that the point of life is to live each moment and that we can all choose to be happy. A smile spread over my face and I told Becca, "You're a Buddhist." Becca, who has rejected all organized religion, protested. But I explained that her statement, which I really needed to hear, was consistent with Buddhist thought, teaching, and practice. I have been practicing and evolving into Buddhism for almost twenty years, and I had to have my deaughter remind me to be here and present and to choose to be happy. And once again the student teaches the master. I was, as I so often am, so proud of Becca at that moment. I have to confess though, that I was also proud of myself. I know that she got that type of thinking from someone and as the only Buddhist in the house I am quite willing to take credit. But mostly, I was deeply touched that this young woman who I have loved and cared for over the past twenty two years is capable of having a rational, intelligent conversation with me. I enjoy being wiht my daughter more now than ever.

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Stubbornly incorrigible technology

My laptop computer is being stubbornly and incorrigibly slow this morning so I am trying a first for me; posting a blog entry from my iPhone.

I spent some time this morning sorting through some more bureaucracy in my pursuit of being declared disabled by the state. My doctors and family, and I suspect my co-workers already know that I am disabled. Now it is just up to the bureaucrats to concur.

I was dreading trying to sort through this imposing and intimidating stack of government paperwork. I secretly hoped that if I stalled long enough and whined and complained loudly enough it would either just go away or someone else would do it for me. I was genuinely intimidated by the task before me. But I decided to discipline myself into taking on this task.

I made my telephone call and the paperwork was not nearly as imposing as I had thought. I had built up expectations in my mind of this monster bureaucratic nightmare scenario and found that it was in fact quite easy to manage.

And that is how it often seems to go for me. My expectations of problems often exceed the reality. I am sure that there is a lesson here. A lesson for which I did not ask, but will help to cultivate my mindfulness just the same.

And the laptop is still stalled out.

Too Late Now

It's too late now. My laptop finally caught up after I had already mastered the task of creating a blog entry from my iPhone. This does bring me to another issue worthy of reflection though.

We live in a society and culture that has come to expect instantaneous results. We are not very good at waiting. I cannot imagine what our ancestors even just fifty years ago would have made of the way that we live today.

Cell phones that play live television or radio; instant communication virtually anywhere in the world and in many notable cases even beyond our world; securely faxing documents in minutes as opposed to the postal mail getting it there within a few days. How could we even explain this to our ancestors. And I think that their first question might have been, "Why?"

When Alexander Graham Bell invented the telephone he had a challenging time marketing it. At first no one, not even businesses, could envision a practical use for the device. Bell ended up installing some of his new inventions in public places so that people could experience this device. It was yet another act of genius.

It was only when people got to experience the technology for themselves that they began to realize the implications for the wider society. Gradually Bell's invention has become perhaps one of the greatest inventions of all time and is now so commonplace it is difficult to imagine life without phones and every thing that has proceeded from this technology.

Perhaps, though, it would be good for us to take a few moments a day to appreciate the moment. To be mindful of just this moment without worry or care about what has happened or will happen. Perhaps we would benefit from not expecting instantaneous results, even if just for a few moments a day?

I think that I shall try this today, just not now, because I have to post my newest blog entry.

Thursday, March 1, 2012

Time for a decision

I have been trying to post a new blog entry every two or three days, so I decided to discipline myself to write another post today, even though I am struggling a little bit.

It has been a challenging couple of days for me. On Monday I was diagnosed with pneumonia again, just about two weeks after getting out of the hospital with pneumonia. This is seriously getting old and monotonous.

The fact that I cannot seem to remain healthy for any significant period of time has gotten me depressed and down. The last two days I spent mostly in bed feeling sorry for myself.

I am still feeling sorry for myself, but I decided to discipline myself today. I got up and got dressed, got myself ready for the day and have been up and doing a few things around the house.

I am falling back on my Buddhist teaching, specifically that I am the author of every next moment. I may not be able to choose my circumstances, but I can and do choose how I will react to my circumstances.

It feels good to be able to share this with others in person and digitally on my blog. I have received several very positive comments about my blog and appreciate that people seem to be reading it.

Sunday, February 26, 2012

A Storyteller Lives On To Tell Another Tale

As a result of the treatment for my throat cancer, I am gradually losing the ability to speak clearly and forecefully. How ironic, the professional storyteller, inspirational speaker, and workshop facilitator who never ever smoked gets throat cancer and gradually loses his ability to speak. I must have generated some seriously bad karma in an earlier life!

Consequently, I have closed my business, Whispering Circles, and am no longer a professional storyteller, inspirational speaker, or workshop facilitator. It was a hugely difficult decision for me to make, but in the end between my lack of energy and my gradually deteriorating voice I had to admit that charging people money for what I can do just did not seem right.

But today I have been asked to tell the Story For All Ages in Church. And I was asked by people who know how I speak today. What a gift. I've been rehearsing for the past week so I could tell the story in the best possible way. I can't tell you how excited I am to be asked to tell a story again.

It is interesting how much value I place on my self image as a "professional" storyteller. The word amateur comes from a Latin root that means one who does something for the love of it. And that certainly describes my status as a storyteller, even when I considered myself a professional.

How good might it be for me to adopt and be proud of my amateur status in all things of importance? I think that I shall make a commitment to cultivate an attitude of living and being and doing each moment of my life with a love for the moment.

Friday, February 24, 2012

I am trying to adjust and accept my new role. A role that I did not seek and do not want. I have never been a person much attached to the workplace rituals and traditions, but I am finding that as I enter this new phase of my life, retirement, I am grieving my losses of job and professional position and reputation. And I am also missing the rituals that usually accompany transitions to retirement.

Actually, it all happened so abruptly and without any expectation, that I think I have not yet started to grieve. I am still in the denial stage of grief.

Through all of this my wife, daughter, extended family, and friends, including my co-workers and supervisor, have been so spectacularly supportive. I know that all of this would be and could be much more challenging without that support.

Reluctant Retirement

I am a reluctant retiree, or at least in the process of becoming one. On February 2, 2012 I went to work at a job I love. I was a social worker with the Washington State Children's Administration. I had worked there for thirteen years in a variety of capacities including investigating allegations of child abuse and neglect and providing direct services to children and families. I was very good at my job and I love it. After cancer in 2004 I found that work too stressful and as much as I hated it, I adopted new duties including conducting home studies of relatives for placement of dependent children and facilitating interdisciplinary planning meetings. I grew to love this job as well.

When I went to work on February 2, 2012 I had two meetings scheduled. Both meetings were cancelled by the other parties and I wasn't feeling too good, so I went home. Later that afternoon I finally agreed with my wife and daughter to go to the doctor, who admitted me to the hospital with aspiration pneumonia.

I was hospitalized for twelve days during which time the doctors decided to alter my GTube for a JTube, directly into my small intestine. That means that because of the smaller space, I can no longer feed myself on my schedule, but am attached to a portable pump about twenty hours a day.

I have not been back to work since then and I don't anticipate ever going back. My doctor, who I just love, says I am disabled and unable to perform my job duties. I reluctantly agree with him, but it is a challenge. I am in the process of applying for disability so now it is up to government employees to determine if I am really disabled or not.

In one day I lost my sense of my professional self and my status as a professional in the community. I am no longer a child welfare social worker. People no longer come to me for my opinion or assistance with a particularly challenging case. My days are my own to fill as I can, which at least so far has been easy with all the medical appointments and managing my medical technology with which I have to become accustomed.

This is not at all the way I envisioned my career ending. I wanted to finish out my work life at the same desk I abandonned on February 2, 2012 and walk out the door. I anticipated a retirement party where people would say all manner of nice things about me and I would get the state equivalent of a gold watch, which is probably a fancy ball point pen.
I am trying to adjust and accept my new role. A role

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Technology Woes

I had my first significant problems with my enteral pump today. It took a couple of hours of trying to sort it out on my own and a telephone call to the customer service representative to get it working again. It seems like it is working now.

All fo this brings to mind how little I like the idea of being so dependent on technology, even if that technology keeps me sitting upright and sucking air. It seems un-American to be dependent on a machine. It violates my myth of self-reliance and independence.

But all of that is a myth that we collectinvely and individually hold in common. The reality is that we are all dependent on each other and on the technology that surrounds us. We just don't like to admit it. We don't live in isolation from the universe, we inter-be with the universe, including all sentient beings and non-sentient beings.

I realize, again and brand new for today, that I have a choice. Every moment I have choices to make. The truth is that I am the author of every next moment. I may not be able to choose what happens, but I can and do choose how I will inter-be with it.

Monday, February 20, 2012

Remembering Kathy

I have been thinking about my friend Kathy a lot the last few days. When I was first diagnosed with throat cancer one of the first people I knew I had to talk to was Kathy. She was living in Oceanside California and I was in Wenatchee, but we were still very close. Before I could even tell Kathy that I had throat cancer she told me that she had Non Hodgekin's Lymphoma.

Kathy and I literally went through cancer treatment together separated by a lot of miles. We talked, texted, and emailed often. When Kathy relapsed and I was in a good space with my treatment, I visited her for a week. It was one of the best deecisions of my life. Nothing could substitute for being present to and with Kathy.

Kathy and I agreed that when we ever got got better we would meet in Las Vegas so we could go and eat at Mario Battali's restaurant. That never happened and now it never will.

Kathy relapsed again and died. And a little bit of me died too.

I thought about going to Las Vegas and having that meal but I just couldn't bear it without Kathy. It seemed like some kind of betrayal.

And then, I lost the ability to swallow and eat and now I am on a pump about twenty hours a day to get my nutrition. I will never again get to taste food.

I realize now I really needed to go to Mario's restaurant to honor both Kathy and myself. And now it all just seems pointless and I want to go now more than ever.

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Tube Guy

I am just out of the hospital after almost two weeks for aspiration pneumonia. I generally get aspiration pneumonia every three or four months and end up being hospitalized. This time the docs decided to swap out my PEG Tube for a JTube. The JTube cannot handle anywhere near the same rate as the PEG tube and consequently, I am on a pump for about twenty hours a day now. I am still learning to negotiate the use of the pump and feel comfortable about it. The good news is that the pump is relatively small and completely portable. I wear it in a small backpack; however, the tube is usually visible so it is not completely hidden from public view. I yearn for the day when my family and friends don't ask me how my health is doing. I yearn for the day when my health is not the major topic of conversation. It is getting better.

I spent the evening last night with really good friends watching "Moneyball." It was good to be in a relaxed setting with friends who didn't feel the need to make my health issues the central topic of the evening.

I'm getting ready to go to Church this morning, where I will do some speaking. Public speaking is a passion of mine and I am looking forward to getting another opportunity to be more "normal."