Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Norman Cousins And Laughter

In 1964 Norman Cousins - professor, author, and editor of the Saturday Review - was diagnosed with a condition known as Anklosing Spondylitis in which the connective tissue in his spine was deteriorating.  He was given a 1 in 500 chance of survival.  He wrote a book about his diagnosis and his recovery - Anatomy of an Illness - in which he tells us that he wanted to play an active part in his treatment.  This alone was a far cry from traditional medical treatment in that day.   The first thing Cousins did was learn as much as he could about his diagnosis and current treatment including the medications he was taking as part of the treatment.  He worked with his doctors to modify his treatment to include large doses of Vitamin C.  Who knows if the Vitamin C helped but he thought it did and feeling that he was participating in and possibly impacting his treatment doubtless did help him at least emotionally.  He then decided to see if laughter might help him more effectively manage his pain and allow him to rest/sleep more comfortably.  He spent hours watching Marx Brothers' movies and any other film or television program that made him laugh.  Within a few weeks of laughter, he returned to his position at the Saturday Review.  That was in 1964.  Norman Cousins died in 1990.
Did the combination of Vitamin C and laughter lengthen the days of Norman Cousins?  Will it lengthen mine or yours or those of my life partner?  Sometimes when life seems so random and chaotic one of the most helpful things we can do is something, anything to regain a sense of order and control.  If laughing is what does it, watch the Marx Brothers or, for me, the movie Airplane.  If meditation does it, meditate.  If visualization does it, visualize.  And until someone proves beyond a shadow of a doubt that it doesn't help, I choose to believe that we can work in partnership with our doctors to beat the odds so seemingly stacked against us.

And There's This Family Favorite

Learning The Healing Power Of Laughter

It really helps.  Keep watching it until you feel better.

Been There Done That

Last fall the family Basset Hound participated in the tail wagging contest at the annual picnic of the Southern California Basset Society.  Long story short, he froze and sat down.  We feel Colin's pain.

Absorbing The Reality of Illness

That first night of hospital admission through the Emergency Room began a period of stunned acceptance during which we both struggled to wrap our minds around the sudden and massive changes in our joined and separate lives.  While in the surreal hospital 'what the hell is happening' world a whole other life lived without us.  It was this life that ultimately - once we knew the number of the room in which my spouse would spend the night - took me home.  The dog hadn't been outside since early afternoon.  It was now almost midnight.  He hadn't eaten his dinner.  He hadn't taken his evening medications.  We had spent hours in the side car of a life that hadn't stopped.
Once home and after the dog had been comforted, fed, medicated, and walked I began what would become a daily ritual and a source of great comfort.  I sent an email to three or four members of our combined family.  That email would grow to a couple dozen while branching off into many sub-lists as family members created their own email updates.  Conversations have ranged from fantasy diagnoses to theological concerns as we offer comfort and strength to each other.
So - first lesson learned? Reach out in any and every way possible because when life seems too chaotic to endure it's essential to know that others are also saying things like, "Shit.  This is so beyond random."
And random it is.  What is not random, though, is the sustaining power of connected and positive energy.  Nurture it now.

Monday, July 30, 2012

I'm The Spouse

"We are legally married in California."
Throughout that first hospitalization I felt compelled to offer this defense, this clarification, to every hospital employee who walked into the room.  After hearing the explanation of my presence not one person even raised an eyebrow.  Nevertheless, I continued to explain.  I was convinced that if I were a man the automatic assumption would have been that my partner - a woman - and I were married.  Seeing two women in the room, I assumed the automatic  explanation was that we were friends or sisters of a sort.  I challenged anyone to question my right to be at the bedside of my spouse.  No one did.
Yet another lesson learned.  And learned with less angst because I had the marriage certificate and the power of attorney for health care in my folder which also contained the yellow legal pad.
Throughout that first hospitalization the only item in that folder utilized was the legal pad.

Illness As A Second Language

Hospital admission took place through the Emergency Room even though we did not consider this an emergency.  In that holding area between life as we knew it and life as it was to become, we began learning our new language with terms like poorly defined, density, dilation, inferior portion, vena cava mm, cm, superior aspect, nodules, and lobes.  I tried to read the expressions of everyone who entered our room - looking for something that communicated, "This is nothing.  You'll both be home before you know it."  I would learn quickly to interpret nothing.
I brought my yellow legal pad into the emergency room and tried to write down every thing anyone said.  I still carry that pad with me every time we visit a doctor, every time we go for another test.  I will continue carrying it with me and writing down names, theories, instructions and all other information because sometimes life is just too much to take in all at once.

There's An Elephant In The Room

On June 26 my life partner entered the hospital for a series of tests to determine the nature of a mass somewhere near her liver.  She was discharged on July 3 with a diagnosis of pancreatic cancer.  The specific diagnosis was and remains a pancreatic neuro-endocrine tumor.  That type of tumor (P-net) is the best of the worst news as it is the more treatable form of pancreatic cancer.  It was made famous by Steve Jobs.  I will be writing quite a bit over the next days, weeks, months about how lives change in heart beats, how hope can be forced into existence, and how families and friends shore up fragile spirits.  Surgery is scheduled for August 9 and optimism must be the order of that day, of all days leading up to that day, and of all days after that day.
I will keep you posted.

Dare To Love

Toronto Observation #9

I finally found an inked-up, emo-dude employee to throw his wadded-up balls of angst at me! Unfortunately, he was making my sandwich at Subway rather than spitting in my coffee at Starbucks. Sure, I can make a sandwich at home for 20-cents, but it's more fun to watch a clinically depressed sociopath peel slices of meat like it's a roll of twenties, while wishing with all your heart that the sneezeguard was on his side of the counter.

Another Confession

Inspired by Kristen's honesty and forthrightness, I feel I need to make an admission and issue an apology of my own, also to Robert Pattinson: I'm sorry, but I have never seen any movie you've been in, and I don't ever intend to. PHEW!! That is such a load off my mind.

Toronto Observation #8

I've only been here a month, which isn't enough time to have been properly introduced to all six-million residents. So, let me just take a moment to give all Torontonians(?)... Torontonites,... Torontish people a little insight: If you beep your horn at me two seconds after the light changes green, I will shut off my car, lay on the hood, and feed birds for an hour!

Toronto Observation #7

I may not have been here long enough to know all there is to know about Canadians. But, I have learned one, irrefutable fact from the furniture they leave sitting on the curb: Canadians LOVE couch cushions!... Couches, not so much.

So How Do I Spell Google?

It's embarrassing that 90% of my Google history is just words I wanted to make sure I was spelling correctly, and yes, I just googled "embarrassing."

Toronto Observation #6

A month ago, if you'd asked me how many trees there are in the world, I would have looked at the desert around me and replied, "I dunno, 46." But now, with my much broadened perspective, I can confidently say that it's at least three or four times that many.

Toronto Observation #5

The weather here makes me hope that, when I grow up, I'll be the kind of adult who owns an umbrella.

Taste Test Results

My new favorite thing about being an "adult" is that, for dinner, I just spent 45 minutes conducting a taste test and dipping everything in my kitchen in Nutella. Thumbs up for a strawberry granola bar and a fig; Thumbs WAY down for a pickle and a chunk of feta cheese.

Toronto Observation #4

Having spent most of my life in one desert or another, I'm not sure what the rules are regarding humidity. Am I allowed to step back into the shower when I start sweating immediately after stepping out of the shower?

Friday, July 13, 2012

From Today's New York Times

YOU WALK, I WAG Jesse Baron of Spot Experience takes Lucky for a walk near the Aldyn. The company, Spot Experience, in partnership with Rose Associates, a property manager, is rolling out dog day care in Rose buildings. 

THERE was a time when the New York City real estate world generally shunned owners of those furry creatures that chase cars and trucks, but times have changed. Now, the city’s landlords and property developers are doing their own chasing — after dogs and, in particular, their well-heeled owners. 
read more at http://www.nytimes.com/2012/07/15/realestate/buildings-rolling-out-dog-day-care.html?_r=3&ref=realestate

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Just Get Over Yourselves And Pee

Here in the LaLa Land of Southern California where space is still plentiful we feel strongly about having separate public bathrooms for men and women.  Okay, I get it that at Dodger Stadium of the Staples Center where half the thousands of people attending those events are so drunk they can barely find the pot let alone one to piss in it's probably important to separate the genders if not the species.  But come on.  Must the Starbucks' crowded into the Bank of America alcove require two separate bathrooms?  I think not.
Recently I attended an event at a small theater.  The house manager, when a female patron asked the location of the restrooms, replied 'down the hall and pay no attention to the signs they are both the same use either'.  Whereupon the woman left to use either bathroom as instructed.  I was right behind her responding to the same need.  However, since she was in front of me and the women's bathroom was occupied, she went, as instructed, into the men's.  The hub bub that followed was fascinating as people lined up in back of me muttering that a woman had gone into the men's bathroom. And when she came out, oh the glares she got.  And then imagine the horror when I went into the same bathroom right behind her.
Okay.  Let's get over ourselves and follow the example of New York City.  Space is precious.  Label the doors 'bathroom' and be done with it.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012



Join us for an hour of singing, dancing, eating, talking, paper airplane flying, and learning that if one woman could get through forty years on an island waiting to keep a promise surely the rest of us can learn to live each day more completely on our own islands.
Saturday - July 21 - 3:00 PM
453 S. Spring Street
Downtown Los Angeles

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Someone Went to a Lot of Trouble

Three or four months ago, I set off on a long walk with the Family Basset Hound.  I took along my keys and a couple of plastic bags and we had a great walk.  Later in the day, I looked for my keys and could not find them anywhere.  The Other Family Human and I retraced my steps, and we also looked high and low in the house, but they were nowhere to be found.  I replaced everything on the keychain, including the security token from my work, the mailbox key from my father's assisted living facility, and all the others.

Today, after a longish hospital stay, I was going through the mail that had arrived while I was gone.  I came across a letter from Ralphs Grocery, letting me know that they had a set of keys that belonged to me.  They had received them because there was a Ralphs card key tag attached to the ring.  After a conversation with a nice lady named Margie, we agreed that she would send the keys to my local Ralphs store, where I would pick them up. 

I gave the matter some thought.  I must have dropped the keys during that walk, and someone, at some time, found them.  They had to take enough time to figure out that Ralphs would have my information, and enough trouble to bring them to a Ralphs store.  That's a lot to do for a stranger who lost a set of keys.  I hope I would take the trouble to do the same.

Toronto Observation #3

The National Post (biggest Canadian newspaper) provides invaluable information to assist the newly arrived with the assimilation/naturalization process. Today I learned that, in blind taste tests, the average Canadian citizen couldn't tell if a person was blind by tasting them. - by Michael Walker

Monday, July 9, 2012

Toronto Observations #2B

My doubts regarding the legitimacy of Cricket as a sport just rose considerably. They just attempted to interview the player named "Defensive Player of the Match," but when they told him he'd won, he replied, "What? Who sent you? What do you want from me?! Of course Cricket's a real sport! What are you, stupid?!"

Toronto Observations #1

Apparently, Canadians haven't yet developed the heightened appreciation for the myriad opportunities for personal expression through automotive adornment we Americans have achieved. In this city of 6-million people, I've yet to spy a single pair of "Truck-Nutz."

Amelia's Real Last Landing

The Lockheed hit the sand, water and surf more smoothly than she had hoped. Almost a perfect landing if tearing off the wheels on initial impact and spinning around several times because a wing got caught in the sand can be called perfect. But perfect it was until the spinning stopped and somehow the door flew open and water started rushing in all before she saw the boulder in front of her and slammed into it with more speed than she thought she had maintained. Later she would remember feeling certain, seconds before the impact, that they had come to a complete stop. Clearly they had not.
In the middle of it all she thought, “So this is what a crash feels like,” and then decided to never under any circumstances call this a crash because she was about to walk away from it and that is called in any pilot’s book a good landing.
She would not walk away from this unbelievably successful landing, though, before calling out to him, “Wake up. Get out.”
No sound. Nothing. She climbed toward the back of the fuselage over the fuel tanks and pipes to unbuckle him and try to pull him toward the door. The fuselage was filling with water. 
from: http://butthisisdifferent.com

Friday, July 6, 2012

The Speaking Donkey

This week's Torah thoughts are dedicated to King the donkey, formerly of Telford Lane in Ramona, now retired to Texas.

This week's Torah portion is Balak (Numbers 22:2 - 25:9).  The Israelites are in Moabite territory, growing more numerous and powerful.  Alarmed, Balak, king of Moab, hires the Midianite prophet Balaam to curse the people Israel.  He tries to do so, but every time he looks at them, from every vantage point, the only words that God sends to his mouth are words of blessing. 

The most startling feature of this Torah portion is the speaking donkey, as Balaam makes his way to meet Balak.  The animal clearly sees before her an angel of the Lord  blocking her path and appropriately steps aside to avoid him.  For this, Balaam beats her.  After two more encounters with the angel, each followed by a beating, the donkey finally turns to Balaam and says "What are you beating me for?  You've been riding me all day; is this how I usually behave?"  Only then does Balaam look up and see the angel, drawn sword in hand, standing before him.

We will probably live our whole lives without ever encountering a speaking donkey, but we come across Balaam's situation every day.  If you are so caught up in your daily business and your own train of thought that you can't see an angel of the Lord before you, you need to pay more attention to what's going on around you.

Take down your Bible and read the whole Torah portion this Shabbat.  You'll enjoy it.

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

And Then Silence

This headline appeared seventy-five years ago today in the Post Standard of Syracuse, New York.  To the world she is missing and silent.
But not in But This Is Different http://butthisisdifferent.com

Monday, July 2, 2012

No More Days To Go

Seventy-five years ago today Amelia Earhart's Lockheed Electra took off from Lae, New Guinea, headed to Howland Island two thousand five hundred fifty six miles east northeast across the South Pacific Ocean.  The airplane was loaded with 1,100 gallons of gasoline -- enough for at least 27 hours of flying time.  They were never seen again except in But This Is Different http://butthisisdifferent.com.

The photograph is one of a few capturing the Lockheed Electra as it pulls away for its last take off.

Sunday, July 1, 2012

Amelia Is Still On The Ground

On this date seventy-five years ago Amelia is still on the ground in Lae, New Guiena.  Amelia is anxious to get going and in But This Is Different http://butthisisdifferent.com Fred is drinking.  In her own words: “July 1st. ‘Denmark’s a prison,’ and Lae, attractive and unusual as it is, appears to two flyers just as confining, as the Electra is poised for our longest hop, the 2,556 miles to Howland Island in mid-Pacific. The monoplane is weighted with gasoline and oil to capacity. However, a wind blowing the wrong way and threatening clouds conspired to keep her on the ground today. In addition, Fred Noonan has been unable, because of radio difficulties, to set his chronometers. Any lack of knowledge of their fastness and slowness would defeat the accuracy of celestial navigation. Howland is such a small spot in the Pacific that every aid to locating it must be available. Fred and I have worked very hard in the last two days repacking the plane and eliminating everything unessential. We have even discarded as much personal property as we can decently get along without and henceforth propose to travel lighter than ever before. All Fred has is a small tin case which he picked up in Africa. I noted it still rattles, so it cannot be packed very full. Despite our restlessness and disappointment in not getting off this morning, we still retained enough enthusiasm to do some tame exploring of the near-by country.” —Amelia Earhart

The photograph taken July 1, 1937, of Amelia Earhart and Fred Noonan appeared in the Wichita Eagle with the caption Amelia Earhart and Fred Noonan are delayed another day at Lae, Territory of New Guniea.

Wrong numbers I Have known

For the record, I am not Tom Walker the guitar player.

Nobody who ever heard me play my three-chord rendition of “Michael Row the Boat Ashore” would mistake me for Tom Walker, THE guitar player.

And yet, an excellent series of articles recently in the Arizona Daily Star's Caliente section reminded me that I at one time had a long-term relationship with Tom Walker the guitar player and blues legend, even though I only met him once.

Walker was one of the founding members of The Dearly Beloved, a once-promising 1960s garage band. The articles, by Cathalena E. Burch, chronicled the Tucson band’s rise and fall, and what became of its members after the band broke up.

I never knew anything about The Dearly Beloved or its big hit, “Peep Peep Pop Pop”. All I knew was that, soon after we settled in Tucson in 1973, I started getting calls from people asking if I was “Tom Walker the Guitar Player.”

“No, I’m sorry,” I’d say. “You’ve got the wrong Tom Walker.”

Several times a year for many years, I got these wrong numbers. Meanwhile, I did come to know something about the musician who shared my name. For one thing, he became pretty well known, performing at Tucson nightspots. For another, he had managed to hit some rough spots along the way.

For a while, the people who called spoke with concern about him. “Is Tom out yet?” they wanted to know. I didn’t know what he was in – jail? hospital? rehab? So I couldn’t tell the callers where he was now or how he was doing.

It was troubling.

Then finally, around 1980, I got to meet the Great Man himself. He was playing the guitar and singing at some nightclub that escapes memory. The reason I went there wasn’t to see Tom Walker, but for an interview with the woman he was performing with. The woman had made something of a name for herself with a Chamber of Commerce tribute to Tucson that got a lot of play on local TV.

Ah yes, 1980. The glory days of local news gathering.

Anyway, in addition to my interview with the Chamber of Commerce lady, I got to meet Tom Walker the guitar player. I’ve often fantasized about what I'd do when I finally met him face-to-face. All the times I’d been interrupted in whatever I was doing, or worse yet, roused from a sound sleep by some clown wanting to talk to someone I’d never met.
Well, here he was, a big, Teddy Bear of a man with a full beard, and the only thing I could think of to say was, “Hi – I’m Tom Walker.”

He laughed. “Hi, so am I.” he said.

“I’ve gotten a lot of phone calls over the years, from people who were looking for you,” I said.

“Huh," he said. "So, that’s where all those calls went.” he said.
And then, in honor of our meeting, he played the most wonderful rendition of “Margaritaville” I’ve ever heard – much better than Mr. Buffett’s. I can still hear that mellow guitar, and his voice mourning those wasted days, those blown-out flip-flops.

Tom Walker was inducted into the Arizona Blues Hall of Fame in 1997. He died of a heart attack in 2005 at the age of 58. I kept waiting for a phone call from someone looking for old Tom after that, but none ever came.

Guess everybody got the word, this time.