Friday, November 29, 2013


I went to visit a woman I know in the hospital this morning. She had surgery for cancer, which she has been battling for six years.  This sounds like it was a difficult operation, as they had to separate her windpipe from her lung.  She's been cancer-free in those six years, but about a month ago a tumor showed up on her brain, which they got rid of with gamma rays, and now this one.  She was still a little out of it from the pain medication, and at one point said "we're worthy, we'll all be worthy" as she was drifting in and out. I have faith she'll make it, but this fight has been difficult it seems.

Another man I knew, a friend though not in my close circle, was murdered last week.  A lot of people I know are trying to make sense of it, but I don't know what sense there is to make. Senseless crimes by their nature don't make sense.  It's a horrible crime, and it's knocked all of us off-balance, some more than others.

I'm not inured to either of these incidents. There has been a lot of death lately, from the woman I know who died of cancer last month, to the husband of a work colleague who was shot at LAX last week. I cannot make any sense of it.  I've never been able to.

For better or worse, I've certainly been acquainted with loss, and premature loss.  Sometimes a surfeit of those losses makes you look around the corner in fear of what comes next. I've certainly spent nights just worrying that people I love would be killed, or I would be, or unexpectedly die.  I've learned that a constant cognizance of my mortality serves to freeze me rather than free me.

On the other hand, if I'm present, and let the emotions that happen come and go as they need, I come away with a kind of hard-won gratitude.  Instead of mourning eventual, inevitable loss, I begin to look around at what I'm thankful for. I have much to be thankful for.  I'm not sure what I'm thankful to, but I know I am thankful for.  When I'm in that place, I actually have a chance to forget that terrifying, unexplainable things happen all the time. I can start to see that wondrous, unexplainable things happen as well.

I was talking with a friend about hospital germs as we walked into the hospital. I was telling him about the microbiome about which we're discovering more and more. We have billions of organisms in us and around us that possibly effect everything from our thoughts, our weight, to our susceptibility to illness and moods.  We are each a universe, an undiscovered, uncharted universe, quite literally. We are just beginning to see what we're made of, and how much we don't know.

When I look around at grief, sadness, and senselessness everywhere, I know I can't expect to have it explained or hope to avoid it, anymore than I can hope to avoid my own mortality.  I can, though, walk around in my universe with a sense of wonder that we're here at all, and be thankful that I get to meet others along the way, with all our struggles, for a long or short time.  For that, I'm thankful.

Sunday, November 24, 2013


I saw a giant jackrabbit last night.  In my dreams.

This is odd, as I've never dreamed of rabbits.  I may have written about this before, but I have vivid dreams that I often remember.  There are the recurring dreams I used to have, either trying to place a giant contact in my eye that would not fit, or speeding down a curving road unable to open my eyes.  Scary. I don't have those anymore, thankfully. The only thing close to recurring was a terrifying dream in which friends had left me their apartment but it was haunted by two evil sisters.  They came back in another house a few months later, but had calmed down quite a bit. They were dressed well this time, and though unwilling to leave, they seemed a little easier to live with.

There are the surreal dreams: people floating down green rivers in China to stand up in Best Buy clothing and say "welcome to home depot"; the flying dream where a deceased friend came with me and we bounced up in the air and tried to teach other people how to do it.

Then the mundane dreams, the ones I sometimes remember years later when I'm in them. They usually make no sense, and then years later I'm in the situation - this has happened to me only two or three times. It's always neat to remember having told someone of a non-sensical dream and have it happen years later. Hopefully I won't work at Home Depot.  For a while I used to think this would mean I was going to die, but since that hasn't happened yet, I figure it doesn't mean that anymore, at least. I had one dream where I was laughing with a young girl and very in love with her father.  That was a sweet one.  Who knows if these are dreams, fantasies, or possible futures - in any case they're interesting because they're mundane. I was even directing Melanie Griffith in one. That would be fun. 

Last night, though, I saw a jackrabbit.  He was the size of a deer, and was on my hood while I was driving.  He stared at me for a good long time, and I stared at him, but I was ultimately concerned mostly with shaking him off my hood.  After he got his fill of looking, he hopped away, enormous and unconcerned.  Good omen, or just a dream with a giant rabbit? Like any meaning maker, I can decide to ascribe meaning or not, I suppose.  He seemed an indifferent rabbit, but I wouldn't mind seeing him again.

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Tom Cat

I just heard a version of this song. I've liked Laura Nyro for a long time - she's such a New York poet.  There's something about these chords that just evoke New York.  Perhaps I lean toward it from having lived there, but some songs feel like they belong there. This is one of those.  The chords feel like a cloudy, restless day in New York. I miss those days, the days when it rains and the water stays on the street and the clouds don't clear.

I love the rain in LA, how it storms and clears, revealing a crystal sky where even the clouds seem content and smiling - fresh with the breeze. Rain in New York doesn't always clear, and the night in the city reflects the water everywhere. Galoshes are needed. It evaporates at some point, but the sky can stay gray, blocking the sun from doing it's job. Rain in New York is moody. You can't help but feel it, too. I miss that sometimes.

Not enough to move back, but still...there are those songs....


Fancy word, huh?

It means "age-related hearing loss."  I have it.  I listened to country music and musical theater so loudly in my walkman (remember those) in New York so loud that I gave myself tinnitus.  That fancy word means I have a constant ringing in my ears. This is really only a problem when I'm looking for silence, which is a good amount of time.

 I'm currently listening to a programmed Pandora channel based on Audra MacDonald, so it's heavy on musical theater and specifically musical theater women.  It's a little dramatic, but I can only hear the ringing during the pianissimo parts.  I've gotten pretty good at ignoring.

What I'm not as good at ignoring is difficulty breathing, which I am having at this moment. I like to ignore that I have bad allergies and mild asthma. I've had them both since I was a kid.  The asthma used to be worse, but it's reared it's head again here in LA.  I like to pretend I'm not asthmatic, but that's at my own risk.  This seems to be a coldish kind of thing that settled in my chest.  I'd prefer not to take another antibiotic, so I'm hoping to muscle my way through it.

I have some belief that I will find the right combination of sugar and wheat-free living with appropriate exercise that will magically cure me of being an allergic asthmatic with tinnitus.  An ear-ringing, wheezing man in his 40s.  I guess the possibility of that happening are slim.

I've never been great at acceptance. Tonight's a night I have to accept it.  But knowing me, I'll wake up tomorrow to dream again.

Wednesday, November 06, 2013


Sometimes, if I'm driving on Sunday morning, I catch a bit of the TED radio hour on NPR.  The program this Sunday, and the one the link is for, is about success.

It was an interesting hour - Tony Robbins talking about drive; a woman who won a MacArthur Genius grant for studying grit; Alain de Botton on how overrated the idea of success is - or what a trap it is.  Many voices.  During de Botton's talk, he mentioned how success in anything and family/relationships are opposed to each other - that people with healthy relationships cannot be fabulously successful, and vice versa. One of the two suffers.

Laying aside where this information comes from, or even if it is correct, my big question is why we ask these questions or come up with these theories.  Every day there is a new article about the habits of successful people, what they do and don't do, what they can have an can't have.  I read an article recently about how writers cannot be good parents.  Of course, the subjects were all straight men, and more than a few alcoholics, but the takeaway was that writers could not be good parents.  Once again, whether or not, from the random sampling of alcoholic mid-century men they drew from, is true - what's the point of asking the question?  At the end of it is the idea that there are limits to what can be done, that some things are not possible, that you cannot strive to have a balanced life, have healthy relationships, and be successful in an endeavor you choose.

To be fair, they were speaking of ridiculously "successful" people - titans of industry and scions of the arts. Still, though, what does an answer, even if it's flawed, lead us to?  Another metric to judge your own progress, and another way to evaluate you own choices?  Most of it does not lead to good valuation, and a good deal of it leads to a book purchase.  A book purchase like "Don't just do something, sit there", a manifesto for slow living.  We now need books to tell us how to slow down, to not take it so seriously, and wish we had the the idea to write a book about just chilling out so we could have become a rich, successful author. I'm sort of joking.

Maybe it's study fatigue, but truly being successful might be listening to yourself and where you're pointed, rather than someone saying what is and isn't possible.  There have been many artists with tortured family lives, and there have been many with brilliantly happy ones. There are awful people who are great successes, and wonderful people who are.  And there are wonderful unsuccessful people and awful ones, too.  No random survey can tell you what's possible, or what works for you.

In the end the program does make you look at what the idea of "success" is, and I'm glad they discussed it. Some restless spirits seem to never have enough, and what would look like "success" to a passerby looks to them like dismal failure. Others feel great just where they are.

There was a 75 year study on happiness and what makes people thrive released by Harvard this year. Sadly, all the subject were men, but it started in 1938, so a different time.  In the end, it seemed that "success" in life boiled down to "warm personal relationships."  It also mentioned how destructive alcoholism was, and the role parents play.  And even though I like this study, I still don't know what we'll know from the question.  We keep finding out what in our hearts we know already.  We even have aphorisms - 'money can't buy happiness', 'all you need is love', 'be here now'.

I guess, if nothing else, it keeps us busy, right?