Think / Able

Think / Able

Thursday, May 25, 2017

Dreams PART 1 - Parkinson's sleep, Parkinson's dreams, the surreal nature of dreams, and the paranormal possibility of dreams


            I’ll be the first person to admit that I have weird dreams. As a person who dreams vividly, it feels like some of the split second images that I have are actually long movies that play out in my head. For instance, a few weeks ago, I dreamed that the singer Ke$ha had a new song out called “Gorilla.” I’m not sure where this came from, but I do have an affinity for some of her music to include the song “C’mon,” which is really good for radio pop music. Agreeably, radio pop is held to a different standard than things we consciously choose to buy or play when we’re making mixes to control the playlist on our own, but I will admit to putting Ke$ha’s “C’mon” on my happy mix (though it lacks magical trips in a van with Furries)
            For that matter, I can sing along to it. Frankly, it’s pretty good, and since I write it here to all of you, for all of the world to read, that’s a big matzo ball to hang out there!
            For those people that don’t know, Ke$ha (who was relatively popular on the radio for a few years until a few years ago) can’t work due to a protracted legal situation where she accused her producer of rape and verbal assault, so it was actually pleasant to know that, even if only in my dreams, she was playing something new (and it was pretty good).
Nevertheless, the new song wasn’t the full dream. Like many of my dreams, various things happen in my nocturnal visions, and they come from various sources over various points in my life. For instance, in this dream, a woman I knew from Air Force days was there, and so were some of my wife’s nieces and nephews. Even Butters from South Park was there. Much of the dream was a virtual reality dream, where all of us who were in the house wore glasses similar to Samsung’s Gear to go into a video game world inside of a huge mansion of sorts.


            Such is the nature of my surreal dreams, and yes, they are all surreal.
            That said, in my dreams, I can actively think, and I have made myself fly once as well, taking flight out of a slot canyon on the Colorado Plateau. For reasons like this, I personally enjoy my dreams since they allow me to go into a creative / daydream world that is far more surreal than my actual daydreams.
            Here, I’ve always been creative, be it with off-the-grid adventures for my Star Wars figures or writing, but to be able to enter into a “whatever happens kind of place” in my sleep is something like going to the movies. I don’t remember all my dreams, but I do remember a good bit of them. I used to have a dream journal, which is something I should do again, and it was definitely interesting to see what kinds of things I would think about. Like those Star Wars days, they represent a great escape into a Joseph Campbell Monomyth or a trippy surreal vision (like in Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind).


            I like dreams for these qualities. 
            They're better than Parkinson's sleep. I twist and turn a lot. I even scratch myself. Parkinson's sleep is a challenge. I can sleep 10-11 hours and not feel rested. It takes longer to get up. Hell, I strip my pillows of their cases in my sleep. Ugh. The things non-PD people don't know.
            Thus, for what my sleep isn't, I do like what it is: an opportunity to dream in cinematic glory. Nevertheless, I don’t think of these “movies” I envision at night as science fiction, though there is an element of science fiction to them. I feel the same about Star Wars. The elements of that world and its spirituality always felt so much different than Star Trek. Now, I’m not one of those snobs that think you can only like 1 or the other, but I’ve never felt close to Star Trek. Then again, I didn’t watch the new ones and haven’t tried to watch the old ones in ages. Maybe it was the 1960s camp feel / lack of technology to make technology happen, but I just never connected to them. No matter what it is, however, I can’t see them creating the powerful characterizations and journeys of something like Rogue One or the tragedy of Order 66 in Revenge of the Sith. Then again, that’s just me.


To me, everything comes back to a journey into or away from something. I remember my college English professor (Ron Borkert) who said that, and I still feel it holds true. Whether it’s Jim Carrey trying to hide Kate Winslet safely away from the memory erasers in the aforementioned Eternal Sunshine or Tim Robbins’ journey in Jacob’s Ladder, there is a place, somewhat like the Internet, in our minds, where we can trace our former steps to find meaning in our present and future.


I also think that alternate reality of a different world inside the world is what made The Matrix so good. The same holds true in Altered States drug-fueled journeys back through our DNA to find the earliest evolutionary ancestor of William Hurt (I’m sure that even that embryo was completely fueled by its pretentiousness and sex drive as well).


But my dreams are generally something else, though they’ve been changing recently. In my past, I used to dream of my home in Sinking Spring (from age 5 to 16) as home. I would dream of that world as it was, even 2-3 decades later. I don’t often dream of it now since I’m definitely at home with Heather in the house we live in now (though I never dreamed about our apartment, even though it’s less than 2 blocks away from where I sit typing now). However, this house and town seem to represent a Ghostland Kingdom to me.


When it comes to former homes, I would occasionally dream of West Lawn, which is where I lived after Sinking Spring, but I would never dream of West Reading, which is where we lived before Sinking Spring. I guess I was just too young. In a different vein, I don’t remember many dreams of England. I do occasionally have dreams of Mount Penn, which is where I lived before I came to Ephrata (where I live now). However, these dreams are all about forgetting things. I would go back to the apartment from time to time, when I wasn’t with Heather on certain days before we cohabited, in order to get things to take to our apartment. In this, it was much like forgetting to deliver newspapers, which I would also dream about decades after I gave up my paper route (but not lately). Those dreams, just like those visits in real life, always seemed to be about going back to get things or do things that I forgot (I remembered most of the houses that got papers, but not all). What’s weird is that I never drive by that apartment or want for those days. Here, it’s all just a surreal journey that centers on the obsessiveness of collecting and forgetting. Nevertheless, these images weren’t nightmares, but their obsessiveness mirrored things I might have been forgetting, which I needed to do.
It’s been a long time since I’ve had a nightmare, per se, but I have had some “negative connotation” dreams lately. Recently, I had a dream where I found myself caught up in Parkinson’s pauses, where I couldn't connect the entirety of thought A to its logical conclusion at C. Instead, I stopped at B for a split second. This was long enough to realize that I had paused and was entering a more difficult, intense, and scary place on the Parkinson’s journey than I had previously been aware of. That split second is enough time to either be sussed out for my PD (though I'm open about it, I could be labelled too ineffective to continue on with life's work) or to have something really horrible happen.
Even though this was a dream, it scared the poop out of me to think about the WHAT IF that happens in the split second of continuous motion. Now I'm not a major league shortstop, who can get and flip a ball that is hit to me. I'm not counted on to get the out at first in a split second of time so as to impress Harold Reynolds and the audience, but what happens if I can't finish my thought or action? Not-good-ed-ness.


While I like active pursuits, I have never been in shape. I’ve come to accept that no matter how much I hike, I’ll only be so active, so it's not the end of my world to not be able to do certain things (though it would hurt like the dickens to not get between trees). 


This mirrors my whole life. I once went through a period of weight lifting where I could push 225 pounds straight up (once) while also knocking out a set of 60 push ups. Then life came, and I got lazy due to life’s struggles with the blahs (2006 – was it really that long ago). Prior to getting ready to go to Oregon in 2014, I did 204 miles in 33 days. This didn’t include a 23-mile hike and a sub 26 minute journey up the 1,000 steps (that book-ended those 33 days, but it was a time where I felt like I had the non-tubby me back (though I couldn't break that 210 barrier). Unfortunately, the events detailed in a recent post that alluded to my spondylosis, my great niece’s death, and school commitments put an end to that period, too, and now here I sit wishing the rain would go away so I could do my pre-summer Pinnacle journey (tomorrow?) and once again take my waist back, if only to fit into certain shirts and pants.


Thus, for all I want to do with my desire to keep getting out there to vistas and waterfalls (and the Great Gallery in Canyonlands of Utah - providing Trump doesn't sell it to the Russians, Chinese, ranchers, or miners first), I understand that no amount of angry shouts against ableism is going to level the playing field that will allow me to slam dunk or run a 4-minute mile with the dystonia that I am going through. Hell, I don’t even wear sneakers anymore, and when I wear my sandals, like last night, there are still times that I have to walk through the weird while walking around like a klutz who can’t swing his arms right until I can get my rhythm to be Dan again. Sadly, it is what it is (the new normal). I could care less what others think if this weird new gait allows me to get out and still do things. Someday, if I end up in some other level of can’t do, I’ll cross that bridge and figure it out. However, as long as I can experience the world and have my mind working, I’ll be OK.
Of course, it helps to have a good support system, and that’s my wife Heather and my friends and family. Thank you, God, for her and them.
All the same, for what I have and what I don’t, I had another dream last night where I was at a party with some old friends that I’ve been close to forever now, and they had these stacked, lit metal candle holders. I passed the task off to my wife to separate because I didn’t trust my left hand (tremor hand) to be able to hold them.
I know this mirrors things in my life because I’m very aware of needing to be able to be very conscious of obtaining my drink securely in my left claw when I go through the Clown Face Drive Thru Crews’ pass-off at the final window. No point having Hi-C orange all over my lap and car. I also don’t tend to walk with open drinks in the house other than water since the shakes don’t bode well with them either. This is also the new normal. I accept that.
However, as I said, when it comes to my mind, I am afraid of the finite nature of those split second (and longer) pauses coming to real life to visit me and deciding to stay. I have lots of great times to spend with my wife, family, and friends. I have the Blackrock Canyon stories to write (and my Parkinson’s journey, too) when I get my current almost done story here. I have a car to drive to many great and necessary places. I have skills to teach other people. I need to be consciously aware of how to get through my environment on outdoor journeys. Concepts and realities like dementia and Alzheimer’s scare me. The stories of Steve Gleason and Harry Kozol are real images that many of us look at as a vision in the distance. They may have different extremes, but our paths may parallel (then again, maybe they won’t; who knows how far this whole PD journey will take any of us). 
I want to learn and feel the excitement of educational Imax films like we saw when we went to Virginia Beach on Galapagos, the search for life in space, and the ocean. I want to be mesmerized and share my love of life and philosophy with everyone, even if they only want to sit in a chair long enough to be given a golden ticket to a job (AKA – a line on a resume as opposed to a real love of further learning).


I want to visualize the what ifs of the paranormal and supernatural, like some modern day Edgar Cayce going into naps to wake up and tell people the truth of what is (even if that doesn't jive with the scientific process). Of course, there’s no rationale to his work since he never had medical training, but it sure is neat to think about and experience (also, like we did at Virginia Beach).
On that note, I’ll leave this post with 2 previews of my fictional works. The first is from Dead Mouths: Book 1 and the second is from Dead Mouths: Book 2. They are already done if you want to read the whole things. Originally, the character featured in both of these "clips" (Dave) was meant to mirror myself, but as time has gone on, he's gone his own way and is no longer the main character. Suzie was meant to be a combination of people and influences. She is one of the main characters in the book, though she was only supposed to be a quick mention. Isn't it funny how characters in books take on lives of their own?
I'd like to think that the writings below mirror some of my interests and thoughts on the surreal and paranormal nature of the mind while mixed with education and scientific reasoning. Whatever they do for you, I hope you like them.

More previews are located HERE!! 

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In addition to the drunken trailer trash / redneck vandals of the region, there were a lot of hippie / artsy / strange people interested in the metaphysical parts of the region. Some of them were sincere and good natured people like Suzie, who approached it as a spiritual religion, and others were misguided with conspiracies or based somewhere out of their minds on acid, psychedelics, and other drugs. Others were complete hucksters. As for Suzie, her new age interests seemed harmless to many people since they mirrored many of the ideas on shows such as American Paranormal and Historical Unearthings, the two biggest purveyors of “alternative” history beyond what the “mainstream scholars” were willing to accept. Whether Dave believed them or not, they at least were interesting television.
A part of him subscribed to the world of Neil deGrasse Tyson and Carl Sagan’s skepticism, and he really wanted to be smart enough about science to see the extreme joys in how much neater science was than science fiction, but a part of him just couldn’t grasp the mechanics of science well enough to move beyond the black and white space ship movies and monster flicks that he would watch at his grandmother’s house when he was a kid. Those and ghost shows like The Demon Hunters of Dodge County were exciting programming, even if they did appear to be 100% bullshit.
Nevertheless, he just loved the irrational world, so he spent more time with that than with PBS.
This wasn’t to say Dave didn’t spend time with science in passing. He did, and he accepted it for the truth of the scholars, but his mindset just never moved well enough with studying for physics, chemistry, and biology to process the knowledge. Instead, he loved history and the aesthetic qualities of the world, so he appreciated these scientific marvels for making that possible. Despite his academic deficiencies in science, he was definitely more than capable of calling bullshit on people who tried to speak science without understanding it. This aided him greatly in reading and grading student research papers in his now suspended life as a professor.
It would be fair to say, as well, that when Suzie spoke about this other scientific reality, he was captivated by her commitment and understanding of the paranormal and metaphysical realms. Sure, other guys would listen because they appreciated her feminine form to the point that they wanted to see it naked, but Dave really was enraptured by the way that the everyday and spiritual worlds could be navigated in these other ways, even though he never thought of them as “real.” Granted, he couldn’t understand it any more than he understood the chemical reaction that made photosynthesis possible, but just like with that process summarized, he got the quick overview of what this was all about and nodded in agreement.
Even if it wasn’t his spirituality, and there was nothing he could do to make it so, he appreciated that it was her philosophical / religious understanding of the universe, and listening and learning about it was pretty “right on” to him.
While he could appreciate some of the new age stuff, at least the stuff that wasn’t hippie dippy or con artist in nature, what he deliberately steered away from was all the satanic cults that frequented the area. 
+++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++
“What happened, Suzie?”
“Well, to recap last night, and you can remind me when you feel like this is becoming familiar, it’s all about Gary. Gary and the hiker who was being treated in Hospital of Eastern Utah at Moab as well as another guy named Eli, who was one of those gang members that the news was talking about. They did this.”
“How do you know this? Did some other channel report this? Did you know them?”
“No.”
She looked at Dave with sadness in her expression, and he muttered that he was sorry for asking.
“I guess there’s a lot of intrusiveness and over-informing in our conversations today.”
“No, that’s not it at all.”
“Then what is it?”
“I felt it and dreamed it. I saw these incidents and other things that happened or will happen. I can’t tell which is which in my dreams. All time feels the same to me in this world. History and premonitions are equally real. This is something we started talking about last night.”
“I sort of remember, but I’m not clear,” Dave added. “So you’re saying…”
“In so many words, just like I said last night about the premonitions, and believe me, this is hard enough to say once, but here’s twice, and yeah, I’m clairvoyant.”
He paused to reflect on this, and he nodded appropriately when it was done.
“OK,” Dave said, as respectfully as possible.
“I can also do the astral projection thing.”
“I must have been out of it because I’d remember that.”
“Yeah, you were.”
“So you can fly in your dreams?”
“No. I can leave my body in a different state of reality as if it were a dream,” she said and paused. “But it’s very real, Dave.”
His look of being stunned with wide eyes and confusion said it all, and this made his expression more real than the professional image he was trying to uphold.
“And just like I told you last night, I can go to places. As I also told you before, that’s how I knew your wife was…”
“Pregnant.”
“Yes. Pregnant. Do you remember that?”
“Now that we’ve both said it so matter of factly, yeah, I do.”
“Well, I dreamt it, and then I had a feeling that I needed to go see it.”
“How did you know where we, I mean she, lives?”
“I just sensed it, and I focus my mind to go there, and I went.”
“Did she know you were there?”
“I think so, but she couldn’t see me.”
“So you’re saying that…”
“She has this ability as well, but I don’t think she knows it.”
“So she wasn’t hiding it from me?”
“I don’t think so.”
“You’re not shitting me are you? This isn’t mess with the middle aged square guy day is it?”
She gave him that look that told him how serious she was.
“When I go places, I’m not visible, but sometimes, people who are tuned in to these things can feel me while other times it’s like I don’t hide myself so well, and then I knock something over and give away my concealment. Maybe this is what leads people to think that they have ghosts since they kind of do have invisible entities walking through their houses.”
Dave shook his head both in confusion and disbelief. He found himself wondering how this could be real and exactly what’s going on in the world around him. At this, he started to feel angry about all of it.
“Why are you intruding in my personal life? Is there something I should know, something that you want to tell me? I’m married. I love my wife,” Dave added, holding up his ring for her to see. It wasn’t an angry gesture, but instead, it was almost like he was pleading for her to know and understand this, and it seemed to be more directed at her relationship with his wife than some concern for a potential extramarital affair with him, like he was feeling earlier.
“I know, and I’m not intruding in your life, but this whole thing is bigger than you, your wife, and me as people. I need you to know though that there’s no accident that you and I are here together. That’s why you were in my picture that I sent you. You were a connection to something larger than either of us alone or together.”
“I know.”
“For some reason, we were both at Mesa Verde in 2007. For all I know, some of the other people in the pictures might be associated with this, too.”
Her response was quick. It wasn’t like it was well-rehearsed, so it must be true, Dave thought as he replied back.
“Yeah, I was meaning to ask you about that. How did you even know to look?”
“A dream.”
“What happened in the dream?
“What happened in real life happened in the dream. I was there, and you were there, and that morning when I woke up, I went through my photo album, and you were really there on that photograph that my friend took. There are others. I think we might have followed each other around, unknowingly of course, for that whole day. I know that’s what usually happens in parks and places that have many stops to see, but I think that it’s more than that with this situation we were both in.”
“So what do you think it means?”
“It means that we are being drawn together for reasons that I can’t understand other than to say that your children are very instrumental to what is going to take place.”
“My wife is pregnant for the first time.”
“I know.”
“So how do I have children unless…”
“Twins.”
“That’s a big pair of matzo balls to hang out.”
“I know.”
“So you’re dreaming about my kids now, too?” Dave asked, but it was more matter of fact and without any of the overprotective nature that was in his earlier tones.
“Yes. I don’t know their names, but I can tell you that they are not identical. One is a boy, and the one that will be the older one is a girl.”
“This is definitely turning into a reason to start drinking copiously in the morning.”
“Sorry. I don’t have any beer, but it is almost noon. We could go get some food, and you could have a beer, if that’s what you really want.”
“It’s not what I want. I guess I was just expressing myself poorly. It’s a lot to handle, and I’m already late for work.”
“You don’t have work this morning.”
“How do you know?”
“They’ve declared Gary Stanford the number one suspect in this situation, and they’re also looking for you. That whole newsflash thing.”
“Should I call someone?”
“When we get caught up with this conversation, but this conversation isn’t something that we can stop in the middle. I would have called, but a young woman calling for you, especially when you’re already married, screams take the day off for a John and Yoko bed-in.”
“I’m sure that’s what this could look like… yeah. Sounds fair enough.”
And with that, they looked at the television’s speculation of what was going on.
“How did they determine that Gary was the culprit, anyway?”
“They have video of him at a hardware / supply store in Blanding. He was buying a lot of suspicious things all at the same time. Gas cans, an axe, various tools, and the person at the register must have said something without even thinking. It might not have even been meant as confrontational, but it’s clear that Gary must have flipped out because he attacked and killed the old man behind the counter with his bare hands and tools he had bought. The weird thing was how he seemed to be outside of himself when he did it. Then he just stood there staring at the body for ten minutes before moving again.”
“When did you hear that?”
“It’s all part of the loop. It seems the national news is all Utah, all the time, today.”
“Who’d a thunk it?”
“I think that even more camera trucks are going to be coming into town in force soon.”
They both paused to think about what was going on and what had been said, and Dave’s mind thought about what Wolf wanted him to go and do the other day up at Fort Duchesne. As he started to drift off into the ADHD of his scattered thoughts, Suzie’s voice snapped him back to her reality.
“This seems like it’s only the beginning of something really bad going down.”
“Yeah, you’re right,” he said, pausing momentarily to recollect his thoughts. “So getting back to the earlier discussion, what do my kids, who aren’t going to be in this world for another seven months or so, have to do with Gary and an ancient archaeology site in the middle of Nowhere, Utah?”
“I don’t know. I just know that they do. There’s a guy named Lucas something…”
“Tony Lucas.”
“He’s in my dreams as well. He’s in a lot of them.”
And it was true. Tony was in her dreams. While many of her dreams focused on how she was going to be a protector of many different things, especially of making sure that the twins could come into the world safely, a fact that she chose not to express at the time, she knew that Tony was one of the ultimate forces for good in the world as it was now taking form, but even he didn’t know how big it would be until he met the others who were going to be coming to help them. In a way, he always had been a protector, but he never knew just what he did and didn’t mean to all of this larger than life, save the world stuff he was destined for.
She also knew about another woman, though she had not seen her face clearly yet. Eventually, her images would be concrete to Suzie regarding her exact purpose and what would have to be done about them. For this, this mysterious woman’s pregnancy also led her to this place, but unlike Charlotte, she had willingly volunteered to hand herself over to the demon in the canyon.
“There’s also a man who is coming in. He’s a very heroic and strong force. In some ways, it seems like he has magic powers – like a superhero, but he wasn’t born with these things. It’s because of things that have happened to him. I know it sounds funny to reflect how he’s our last and greatest hope, but he really is. The others in his group are powerful, but many of them are old. None are as strong as him.”
“What else do you know of him?”
“Just that he’s coming and that it’s our job to make sure that there’s something left for him to save.”
“Does this him have a name?”
“Colin. Colin Jameson.”

Monday, May 22, 2017

Jonathan Kozol's Theft of Memory, my Gram's Alzheimer's disease, and the need to have tough, great people for life's extreme obstacles


            A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away, I read a pair of books that knocked my socks off. These books, SavageInequalities and Death at an EarlyAge, both by Jonathan Kozol, reflected the feelings of how children in the inner cities were abandoned to economic inequality and the brutal issues that go with them. It’s easy to process how, even now, reading those books now could make a person feel like he or she is just like I was when I read them in 2000, inhaling them and wanting to change the world by making such a large leap to affect the world.


            And for a fair bit of time, I really and truly considered it until I realized I didn't have what that environment took in the second half of my student teaching with some tough luck 6th graders (though some were really and truly great kids).
            Of course, like anyone compelled to move toward a program that they advocated for, like Teach for America, there is the reality of why that huge endeavor is such a "noble idea" (registered trademark) and, at the same time, an unattainable victory for the vast majority of people who enter into it (though not all – some people are truly able to connect in such a tough environment and we need more people like them and Kozol fighting for others). Such is why Teach for America has a meticulous screening process before depositing well-meaning suburban people into inner city classrooms that present more challenges than a good social justice warrior could possibly figure out a way to battle through.
            Rescuing worker people (i.e. those people teaching) from these conditions just isn’t the end goal of this program (though it is a necessity). Rather, they want to affect as many children as they possibly can. Unfortunately, The Onion’s different realities of this (A and B) are more real for many people who leave the show and get put through this show.
I remember one girl who got disqualified at the second interview. She was a strong student that I worked with, a cute, bubbly college gal, and a committed savior of the world (not that there's anything wrong with that). She would have given her all, but they saw something in her. Maybe it a bad interview, but more likely, it was just that she didn’t have a tough disciplinarian bone in her body or they sensed that she couldn’t have handled the failure of so many people despite giving it her all part. Failure sucks, but failure is worse when our own failures lead to other people’s failures or failing to meet subjective value terms of success (after all, not everyone is going to create a situation like Stand and Deliver). Even with 100% effort and a smile on her face, she just didn’t have something in her interview to be allowed to continue into it. I remember that she was heartbroken about this and how I thought that they did her a favor since she needed to grow into the full-fledged adult version of herself in a different way.
Her life was meant for something else. I’m not sure what since we were never close, but still, I’m sure she’s doing something else exceptionally. However, the great endeavor of getting in there and affecting people with education when they never got it before is such a tough battle that represents a bigger challenge than almost anything. To be a role model, everyday teacher, mentor, assistant, helper, or anything like that to include a playground leader type babysitter / daycare center worker is something that seems more attainable and more purposeful for people learning the ropes (and I remember going through my education classes thinking that a lot of elementary education majors would have done better in there). I say that in a serious way that in no way demeans those jobs since we need great caring and intelligent people to do them, but rather to say those jobs takes teaching reading, math, or science EXCELLENTLY out of the equation and doesn’t fight to get homework turned in while still fighting for these kids’ breakfast and lunch as well as a positive tomorrow for kids who are wrestling with that prison sentence of youth, which faces down gangs, poverty, and anything that could implode in the early levels of Maslow’s food, clothing, shelter, and safety.
            I can’t imagine living like that. I don’t think anyone who didn’t live life like this could envision it, but I say once again that I’m glad that there are people who can do this and do this well enough to make dreams like 90 90 90 schools a hope. When they can give the real and get the results, then they have truly achieved something, even if the number above is too much of a stretch.
I know how in my experiences in 16 years of teaching, when wrestling to have students complete homework and read assignments as well as to deal with attitude, I’ve felt challenged to the extremes of my ability, and that doesn’t even get into prep time, overcoming life issues, redirecting expectations, speeding things up for the fast students, and slowing things down for the slow students while still grading and coming to every show as much of 100% on as I can be. Teaching is tough. It’s not just showing up and processing data. It’s about giving a hoot and having heart. I couldn't imagine doing that in a situation like this, and for those who do, my hat is off in salute to you.
For this, even though I know my calling is never going to be that of Mr. Kozol in the mid 1960s, I find his commitment and efforts to educational advocacy and empowerment are top notch incredible.
Recently, I had been looking at his books for a student of mine who is truly incredible. Said student spent a large chunk of her life giving back in difficult conditions (a decade or so of missionary nursing work in Guatemala), and I though these books would benefit her future. As I was looking for them, I came across Kozol’s latest work The Theft of Memory, which was about his parents’ death and his father’s Alzheimer’s disease. As my grandmother also had Alzheimer’s, I felt compelled to read it seeing as it came from a writer I truly respect.


            When I picked this up, I thought I would think more about my Gram while I read it, but I didn’t. I did think about her peripherally, but Jonathan’s relationship with his father Harry, who he called “Daddy,” reflected on a neurologist who used hermeneutic phenomenology to express the early days of his diagnosis and his need to be diagnosed for a situation he, himself, had treated and that now would come to reflect his final days. To me, that was something very valuable, both for neurological insights and for personal empathy and understanding, which are, as always for Kozol, very strong.
Much of the senior Kozol’s life reflected on his being a doctor, his marriage, his failing body, and how he treated and analyzed Eugene O’Neil and Patty Hearst as well as a murderer named Albert Desalvo. To me, I related more to those sections out of solid interest in the cases as well as the history of them. Much of the talk of Kozol’s mother, also suffering from age-related memory loss, felt like it plodded through save for her revelations of the complications of being married to Harry and their infidelities, which somehow felt like “something that happened” while each of them did what they had to do in order to make their team work.
As that infidelity is not my life, I can't justify or explain it, but it was something that was their normal.
The story traces the arc of diagnosis to death with memories that come from his father’s medical notes. In that time, his father goes from nursing home back to his home through his son’s love and some amazing caregivers being there for him until Harry’s body finally gave out at 102 years.
Here, I did think of my Gram. I had spent many weekends with her until late elementary school. I got to hang out on weekends, play with Star Wars figures, make forts, and be with my Gram, who I don’t really remember talking much, though she was kind and loving consistently. If not for her, I wouldn’t have had near as many Star Wars figures, that’s for sure!
My Gram did her fill-in puzzles all the time. When she was diagnosed, she was still doing them, but when they were looked at to see how much of her comprehension was left, the letters were gibberish and not words. She was still chain smoking. That was something she remembered she did, but eventually, she forgot that, too. Isn't it funny how, sometimes, the worst can do OK things, too?
Eventually, Alzheimer’s patients forget a lot of things going back, and yeah, these aren't OK.
The last memory of my Gram is Christmas 1990 after the early days of Air Force training. I picked her up at her care facility in my uniform. She didn’t remember me, and it just hurt. I had a lot of hurt at that point in my life after struggling to adjust to the Air Force, but something in that situation put the icing on the cake.
I remember seeing her again in 1992 and 1993, but after that I never saw her before she died in 1994. I was in England at the time, and I couldn't make it home for the funeral. It was just too far and too much since I was in England.


Nevertheless, in reading The Theft of Memory, the end of it (final 3 paragraphs of the very powerful epilogue) put the last 3 decades into perspective.
            “It will soon be seven years since the night I bent down by his bed to press my ear against his chest and listen to his breathing and his life come to the end. But even now, and even after rounding out the story of his sometimes turbulent complexity, as I’ve felt obliged to do in order to keep faith with the reality of who he was, it is the reaffirming memories that crowd out all the rest.
The sense that I was on a journey with my father – seventy-two years is a good big piece of anybody’s life – did not end abruptly on the day I buried him. On cold November nights when I’m in a thoughtful mood or worried about problems with my work or personal missteps I have made, and go out walking by myself along the country roads around my house, I like to imagine that he’s there beside me still, tapping the old cane of his, making his amusing comments on the unpredictable events and unexpected twists and turns in other people’s lives.
Perhaps over the next few years, that sense of the continuing companionship will fade. It probably will. But some part of the legacy my father and good mother gave me will, I know, remain with me even when their voices and their words and the expressions on their faces and the vivid details of their life’s adventure become attenuated in the course of time. Some of the blessings that our parents give us, I need to believe, outlive the death of memory.”
And here is where I knew I learned from her. I was given time to be me. Pictures of her are still in my office. I never knew her as a wife (my grandfather Dan died before my dad was 2). I never thought of her as a single mother, but she was to my dad and his half-brother Bob. She did housekeeping at a nursing home to make ends meet. All in all, she was a tough lady, and for all she did for me, my dad has gone on to do this for my godson.


If this is a review of the book, then the book is 4/5 though I don’t see myself rereading it, though the last chapter was powerful. The stories of nursing home failure and finding meaning with powerful caregivers resonate that there are people who care and make a difference out there.
One of those people is Jonathan Kozol. If you want to see how his father’s memories play out in him, the ones that fought with him, pushed him, and encouraged him, are all on display in this video. Check it out. You’ll be glad you did. Who knows? Maybe you’ll be influenced to make a difference in a tough luck situation and have what it takes to do it.

We definitely need good people who can push through to be great for others in many fields.

Sunday, May 21, 2017

Congrats, Zac and the Wards on your high school graduation!!



Life is full of many challenges, but you overcame so many of them to finish high school, Zac! Heather and I are so proud of all you did to work together to see what you have done to make it to this day! May your future be bright and shiny! You deserve it!

Congratulations, Pete and Elsa!


Family and love and happiness are good things. May life find your family happy for all of your days, Pete and Elsa. Congrats on your marriage!

Nothing but Flowers - Rocky Ridge Natural Area on the Standing Stone Trail and Longwood Gardens


            I met my wife Heather in December 2007, and I always used to joke that it was important that she would enjoy the woods with me. After all, who would want to be in a relationship with someone who doesn’t really connect to his or her most important interests? I didn’t need someone to like all of the same things as me, but getting out and enjoying the natural world would impact fun time together on a weekend basis and vacations, too (this is especially true now that I have Parkinson's disease). Music, movies, books, and things like that can influence one another or be enjoyed in solitary manners or with friends. However, life together is about relaxing and endeavoring in similar locations. Of course, even these can influence one another (I never truly had much interest in beach visits / flower gardens / tropical destinations / Caribbean vibes / South Pacific dreams until Heather, though there were places likes this I did enjoy in my previous life), but at the beginning, there has to be a willingness to be on the same page about things. For this, Heather was down with enjoying the natural world and learning about history / life as a whole, so things had a place to sprout out from.


As a result, early in 2008, we began to go on a lot of hikes together. Whether it was to see baby geese at Tulpohocken Creek or to go to St. Peter’s Village (a place I’ll never go back to due to the abundance of graffiti - no point picturing that), we went a lot of outdoor places to enjoy our time together as soon as the weather broke. It sure as hell beat going to the malls or renting movies constantly. Through all of the places we went, I realized she was a keeper when we did the 7+mile loop at Rickett’s Glen’s 22 waterfalls of 10 or more feet together in May of 2008. At the time, it was my favorite place in Pennsylvania (though now, I feel that it is way too crowded for its own good, and I will add that with some of the litter and graffiti, not all of the people who go there love it enough).


            Over time, we’ve gone to many different places of varying challenges and beauties.  Most of these places, for all the sweat, dirt, and exhaustion that they require, are keepers, but there are places that Heather hates and would rather never go back to. The Thousand Steps come to mind for their nearly infinite vertical challenge. It’s not that it’s not a fun place; it definitely is, but it’s sweltering there every time we go. This becomes more effort than reward for her. I still do it solo when I get the chance because I like the feeling of being on top (even if it's just halfway up the mountain at the top of the steps) fist punching the sky after I push it to stair 1036, but I will say my rusty Parkinson’s knees feel it more lately than they did before. Nevertheless, I keep pushing because going on beats giving in any day of the week.


 There are other challenges that we go to and will go back to it, which are definitely worth it, and they lead to waterfalls or other beautiful places. I think of Spruce Knob below or the Throne Room, lower Raymondskill Falls, and the Pinnacle to name but a few. You can see our photo album to visualize more of our journeys together. There are many, and if I were in a different life, I'd be a professional outdoor writer, but since I'm not, I'll dream on and do it as a hobby until someone pays cash for it. If you have questions about them, just comment below or e-mail.


For all of the getting between trees beauty we take in, life isn’t about always being between trees to find meaning in life (but it sure helps) – no matter what Edward Abbey says when he proclaims, “For myself I hold no preferences among flowers, so long as they are wild, free, spontaneous. Bricks to all greenhouses! Black thumb and cutworm to the potted plant,” sometimes, being in a floral garden is the answer to life’s stresses. Then again, I might feel different if we moved to Canyon Country, Utah or Arizona.



As a result of who and where we are, one of our favorite places is Longwood Gardens, which is a beautiful floral garden in Kennett Square (outside Philadelphia) filled with many well-manicured plants, though very few are potted (except the gorgeous hanging baskets in mansion-style greenhouses). Longwood is beautiful in every season, without exception. Just this April, we went there to experience the tulips, and as per usual, it was wonderful. We hadn’t been to see the tulips in ages, so we breathed them all in deeply. Until we get to Holland, this will have to do - not that it's settling, but have you seen Holland's tulips? Whether they had fringes or looked like the paint pot exploded, the ones at Longwood were still exquisite.


It’s hard to pick a favorite because they’re all great. If you need to, you can observe them all and contemplate your favorite and dream about a trip there because the only way to enjoy them is with your own eyes. No vicarious experience will suffice. This is a day out that wasn’t meant to be spectatorial. Take it in with empirical joy that comes from being participatorial when you personally go there. This may not qualify as a hike, but the gardens are huge enough to get several good miles and a picnic in.


We’ll be heading back in the next couple of weeks to see the unveiling of their fountains, which kick off next weekend. For that past 2 years, they’ve been getting redone, and while they were intricately detailed in a grand way before, they promise to be even better now. I just hope that Jodie Foster’s statue is still there! 


Oh, and let’snot forget the spectacular water lilies that pop out in abundance as the summer sun grows them to perfection. They're definitely something to see if you prefer your hikes to be casual walks in manicured gardens on solid paving and not dirt floor.


As for Heather and me, we still do a lot of stuff like this, but times have changed from what we used to do due to several incidents that have occurred in the past 3 years.


The first was the death of our great niece Ava in August of 2014. We had both gotten in such great shape for a vacation to Oregon, California, and Washington, and then a rare mitochondrial condition called Alper’s disease claimed our 2-year old niece, and we cancelled the trip to attend the funeral. As can be expected, we were both devastated. The whole family was. It’s hard to say goodbye to anyone, let alone someone that young, especially when she suffered so painfully in front of us. The last goodbyes and the funeral were tragic, and when we drove home through gray skies and rains, neither of us did much of anything except gain back all of the weight we lost.


After this setback, my spondylosis issues set in on a backpack wearing hike to Hawk Rock the following winter. I lost arm strength and had difficulty sleeping due to the pain I felt. This was also what my tremors originally got diagnosed as. I got better. though my tremors didn't, and I pretty much stopped wearing a backpack except on rare occasion, which made it hard to do a 10 mile hike, let alone the 23 mile one I had done the previous summer. 


Of course, we did hike a bit in that time. Heather got to rappel down from a 30-foot waterfall at Sand Run Falls (my fear of heights didn’t allow for that) but I did get to cheer her on when she did.


Additionally, we went to Rickett’s Glen in the winter, Heather's first time, which she did well. On a really ice cold weekend, we went to Ithaca in the winter (here and here and here and here), and we did Glen Onoko in the winter. All of these were good times, and despite being less energetic, we saw many great things (you can read all about these at the links above).


However, in April 2015, Heather got injured in Icebox Canyon outside Las Vegas. In short (you can read the whole at this link and this link and see photos here), she took out her ACL, and I lost confidence in leading people other than myself since I felt I could have done more to prevent that 2-mile painful walk and the operation and recovery afterward. Her injury led to her not trusting her zombie ligament for long distances, and my foot tremors, which were get worse, led to dystonia (at the time unidentified because I didn’t know I had Parkinson’s), which I don’t feel in boots and in my sandals, but I feel in sneakers (hence, I rarely wear them). As a result, we did things, including outdoor things, but we ended up doing more casual fun things than exercise things with our lives.


Now, it’s about getting back there and enjoying life, both in nature and together. We're happier when we do this. School’s out for the spring (for at least 3 more weeks), and I want to walk off my way too enlarged middle and reclaim the rusty knees I feel trying to stop me from walking. I want to feel more energy than the state that I feel in when Parkinson’s leads me to a Friday 2+ hour post-cheese steak nap instead of a walk in the woods to a vista or a waterfall or some place like Virginia Beach, which is where we were last weekend for a long get away. We had more fun than we did in ages (more to come later).


            Because of this newfound energy and love of spring, yesterday, Heather and I went for a walk in the wildflowers of Rocky Ridge Natural Area on the Standing Stone Trail outside of Greenwood Furnace. Despite being overcast, it was a beautiful day. The sun wasn’t shining, but we dodged the raindrops to see the Mayflowers getting ready to pop (return trip to Susquehannock State Park to follow in the next week or so) as the lady slippers (both yellow and maroon) bloomed on the mountain side between the boulders thrown across the mountain top like God’s dice (see below - no sightings of the rare putty root orchid though).


            It had been a long time since we did a proper between the trees hike (sure, we did places like the Ephrata rails to trails, but that’s not the same, even if it’s nice). And yes, it took a long time to get there (nearly 3 hours going the long way), but it was well worth it. The walk up the mountain was slight, and we probably did a mile plus each way to see lots of blooming little wildflowers welcoming in spring as the grew out between the electric and chartreuse greens of spring’s hello. When we got to the top, it was too wet to play on boulders and the view of the valley was obscured by leaves, but we did get to leave no trace despite touching flowers, rocks, lichens, moss, and leaves that said, “You’re back! We missed you!”






            And we missed you, too. We can’t wait to get back!