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Wednesday, January 31, 2018

Cold Feet, Warm Heart

            January is over. YEAH! Let’s call it a wash. It was for me, I know that. For many years, I used to look out the window of my apartment and see images of Reading's Pagoda. Now, I see images of Amish Paradise's side streets. While the Pagoda was more scenic, I'll take my cozy, warm home and wife any day. At least she keeps me warm and loves me and is my bestest bestest.

            TS Eliot talked about "April being the cruelest month," but methinks that title would be January pretty much every year. There’s nothing much going on in January except cold, snow, ice, and a long wait until spring while it’s cold, dark, snowy, and icy from beginning to end. There are snow days for teachers, sure, but they’re more work than they’re worth (reorganizing work and shoveling snow).

(this blizzard was in 2010, by the way - we have a snowblower now)

The conditions of January mean that we bundle up, get sick, stay indoors, and try to keep our resolutions while watching the finale of football’s secondary sports season of bowl games comes to a close. I’m not into that, but others are, so there’s that on weekends until February, but that still leaves 5-6 days of the week to wait. For me, the real sports season comes back February 13th with Pitchers and Catchers Report Day, which is also Mardis Gras’ Fat Tuesday this year. Other than hitting camp, it’s just a sign of winter ending. Real games are still 6-7 weeks away.

As for basketball, that doesn’t really kick in until March, and yeah, unless I’m with those who do care about results and brackets, I skip that other than to root for family (Notre Dame’s coach is a relative). While they're doing well this year, they've had some stumbles as well. Hopefully, someone bars Connecticut from March Madness this year. Since that won't happen, we can only hope Coach McGraw brings the fire to her team's game.
But I digress.
For those of us searching for things to do to avoid the winter blues, that leaves a few annual events like Fire and Ice festivals and movies, but other than limited run Oscar-worthy movies, there aren’t many movies to even go other than random releases here and there (though my wife and I did really like Insidious 4). My wife and I did see a live rendition of The Wizard of Oz and Mary Poppins since she loves local theater (they both were fun nights out), so there are things to do, it's just the finding things and venturing out to do them that makes this season so tough on people.
Give me April to October any day!

all falls in Ithaca NY.

Sure, there are frozen waterfalls (if you feel comfortable and able to access them - some are really close to parking lots like the final 1, though others require some doing), but when dodging winter flu and deep down illness season hits, we feel it for some time to come, so it's not like we (read "I") want to aggravate things. These conditions (as regular readers know) hit me prior to New Year’s Eve (which I’m not a fan of) so really from the 27th of December when pneumonia made me sick, I still am getting back to me and getting out of the post Christmas tree take down blues.

 our great niece Lydia

I’m sure many of my fellow Parkies are, too.
Thus, I leave you with the conundrums of January.
1)      What congestion / flu season medicines we can take while taking Parkinson’s medicines. There’s a whole lot of them no matter what you do or take, but I can reflect on my Azilect (ragsaline) interactions. Put simply, some can really affect you when you’re trying to kick chest congestion, weeziness, and other cold / flu nastiness. In short, PHENYLEPHRINE, PSEUDOEPHEDRINE create problems (due to blood pressure issues) and anything that says decongestant (DEXTROMETHORPHAN) is BAD as well, but from some of what I've been seeing Mucinex (guiafenisen) and Claritin are considered helpful. I had heard PLAIN Robitussin is, too, but It has dextromethorphan, so I avoid it like the plague (if I were you, I'd consult a real MD - not me). 


      I know it’s not easy to decipher medical / drug info, but hopefully, you have an advocate who can help. As I said, your doctor should be your first go to. I got through to mine via phone message in a reasonable amount of time for my advice. Additionally, I know some people use the term “Big Phrama,” but in a lawsuit happy world, they’re paid to be on top of things. Talk to the pharmacists, too. They’re credentialed and there to help. This guy typing? He just tells you what other people told him and that you should make sure what you’re doing is OK.

2)      Cold toes – My Parkinson’s engine burns bright. My toes don’t get any of the heat, so I wear these snazzy socks (Man, are they fuzzy and warm). Even if I’m extending the underwear radius like Murray Goldberg (on the TV show of the same name), I probably have a thick pair of socks on as well. It's quite a sight, let me tell you! 

      Put simply, in the last couple of days, my toes were so cold, they felt numb like I was in the winter waterfalls hiking all day (when I was at Ithaca for single digits in 2015). Put simply, this is normal (i.e. the new normal, it's not OK, but it is what it is, and it's part of your PD welcome kit). The Germans had a saying that went “kalte hand, warmes herz.” According to my parents, we’re descended from Germans. I’m still waiting to hear back from 23 and Me to see for sure who I get other than who I know and a woman in Africa, but I always viewed them as a hearty mountain people with beer steins (that whole Oktoberfest memento thing from my aunt and Nana’s house, I guess (though this picture is my mom and me)). 

      Their language is always rough around the edges (“Ich liebe dich” – I love you - it doesn’t have the ring of Robert Fagles reading the classics in Latin from lit classes in college – and yes, you can always spot a geek because he / she says stuff like that and means it with no hint of irony). However, lately, I’ve been thinking about that phrase for Parkies, and it goes like “kalte eisebeine, warmes herze” to reflect our feet and toes not getting in the way of our kindness and wonderful traits (despite our PD masks that might make people think otherwise). Trust me folks; you aren’t getting commentary like this at just any old Parkinson’s site! MJF has nothing on me (though I don't have their med cred or charitable kick butt-ness).

3)      More tremors from the cold. Parkies don’t tend to do well in the too hot or cold situations, so we have to prepare for it about 330 days of the year (one way or the other). Shivering seems to multiply things in winter. I know my knuckles get sorer typing in winter. Let's just say, PD does rough things in the cold. Additionally, it seems harder to start the engine. Once, I go, I’ve got my meds to keep me up until the wee hours of the morning, but yeah… it’s the getting started thing (by the way, its 2AM here). 
4)      The winter blues – depression is bad any time. The reasons I listed in the beginning (cold, dark, ice, snow, isolation, etc.) multiply things. Remember, you’re not alone. Skype, call, or have others visit if you can’t visit them. If you can do things, try to get out for hobbies or outings. It’s the little things. On that note, caregivers and friends need to be aware without being constant guards. Independence is good; being loved is great. It's all about balance.

5)      And for my friends in advanced stages, be careful about those falls on slippery surfaces! Caregivers can definitely help shovel, salt, or support here.
6)      Let people know what you need. Don’t be afraid to ask for help. You’re a great person, and I wish you good things, so keep on keeping on. Spring is going to be here… someday! I promise! Until that time, asking for help isn't weakness. Speak up!
7)      On that note, see Michael J. Fox Foundation’s list of winter prep tips. He’ll give you the score. He always does. 
As for today (February 1st) is a good day to start shedding those winter baggage things (albeit slowly) for the next 28-50 days.

            It also means we’re about a day and a half from me forcing my wife to watch Bill Murray in Groundhog’s Day, which could well be his funniest movie (and a good movie to watch on a February Friday where Punxsutawney Phil is doing his thing). Yes, he was funny in Caddyshack,  BUT he was out-staged by the back and forth of Rodney Dangerfield and Ted Knight, plus his part was really small compared to them, Chevy Chase, and the Danny Noonan character.

            Now, if you ask me which movie is better… Caddyshack, but he’s a supporting role, so for my 4 best Murray lead other movies (in no particular order) I’d put in the Bill Murray funny 5 (leaving out Lost in Translation for that reason):
            2. Kingpin (I could see this being Murray at his best also)
            3. Ghostbusters 1
            4. What about Bob
            5. Stripes
            If you look at his film history, it’s really long, and he’s definitely done some varied movies ending up in everything from Space Jam to The Life Aquatic. Should he be your cup of tea, there are lots of choices. If not, maybe dining out or a local event.
            If you aren’t sure what's out in your neighborhood or area, see Groupon for local events. There’s always something for half price (and that could include your dinner).
            Happier February, everyone! Think comfortable temp thoughts!


Thursday, January 25, 2018

The Meaning of Life as Told through Ghost Stories, New Orleans Cemeteries, the 3 Types of Mexican Death, and American Literature

            In Mexico, there are 3 types of deaths. The first is when the body stops living. The second is when the body is lowered into the ground. The final type of death is when the person is forgotten about. If we go back in their history, the picture above (at Chichen Itza) is a representation of people that the architecturally awesome, but brutally murderous Mayas killed... just because that's what they did.

           As a person who reckons himself an armchair philosopher (i.e. I don’t get paid by some academic think tank to philosophize / I don’t hold a degree in it / still, I freely share my opinions on it, contemplate it, and read up on it when I get the chance), I think this makes a lot more sense than the American types of dying / death.

dying is fine)but Death
wouldn’t like
Death if death were
when(instead of stopping to think)you
begin to feel of it, dying
 ‘s miraculous
cause dying is
perfectly natural;perfectly
it mildly lively(but
is strictly
& artificial &
evil & legal)
we thank thee
almighty for dying
 (forgive us, o life!the sin of Death

            I’d like to think that  the words of the poet e.e. cummings above (punctuation “errors,” to include lack of capitalization in his name, are the author’s) had it right. Americans often view death as something to be feared, though other authors avoided this with a more eastern philosophical view of life as energy for life (recycled into Transcendentalism). This is shown “well” (if you’re an aspiring literary type) in William Cullen Bryant’s “Thanatopsis.” 

            Otherwise, death is a monster movie where our bodies are food for the worms. Here, we end up like skeletons in a horror story, except our cob-webbed forms are unable to spring back to life in order to chase terrified teenagers to their untimely deaths. Death is portrayed in nihilistic terms like a suicidal body that can't be thrown off a bridge anymore (since a town like Ithaca, below, installs nets on bridges to stop this - for good reason - though, it is aesthetically unpleasing) or a homicidal fetish done by serial killers. Other times, it’s purely random rage of gangland murders to kill someone “like it ain’t no thang.” When we aren’t doing that, we live in fear that we will be forever separated from those we love by a wall of alive / deceased, more out of selfishness for our togetherness than the hope that their existence will offer more to others if it gets to keep on doing what it does.  

What’s wrong with this interpretation? What’s right about it? If death is natural and every life is a journey to it, what happens when we get there? We contemplate Heaven, Hell, Purgatory, floating clouds, ghosts, angels, demons, God, the devil, and absolute nothingness (as well as multiple variations of each) when we shuffle off of this mortal coil, but what happens first? What about the living? Why so much focus on the dark parts of death?

If you want to read a very long series of interconnected ideas that I have about the meaning of life, that’s HERE. Long story short, thoughts like this and the combined feeling of a loss of my 2-year old great niece to Alper’s disease, my “Gram’s” Alzheimer’s disease, and my diagnosis of Parkinson’s disease (September 27, 2016, for all intent and purposes - you can read my story beginning HERE, which is what most of my blog is about - other than living life to the fullest, travel, and random thoughts on life), say that we need to choose to live life to make our lives memorable so we’re not forgotten after death. 

Even if it’s only by 1 person or random people reading our stories, looking at our creations, spreading our advice, staring at pictures on our work desk, then there is a permanent memory being created.

Yet, in my opinion, we mistake death for the need for gore, and gore for horror, when real horror is a sense of fear of many different things (to include the failure of our bodies - a particular concern with people with Parkinson's). When we live life as a challenge to overcome hardships, to adventure to greatness, and to overcome evil, we have a lot of chances to test ourselves at a high level. Why get caught up in the train wreck of failure or the chance we might not succeed?

Salem Witch Trials Memorial

We mistake villains for the protagonist, when they are the antagonist. In life, they may stand triumphant against our heroes, but shouldn’t we celebrate those who vanquish hatred, evil, corruption, murder, and enslavement (in all their forms)? Shouldn’t we celebrate that effort, even in failure, as opposed to the knife that kills them or the bullet that “pops a cap” in them?

Rise of the Jack O' Lanterns - Long Island, New York

We demand the visualization of death in its most extreme form, but we forget the feelings Aristotle spoke of when he expressed how the spectacle should never take over the emotion of the scene (in Poetics, if you’re interested in reading it). Why gross people out when we can simply reflect on the effects of the action? Isn’t this what characterization and author’s purpose are about?

Shepherdstown, West Virginia, ghost hunt

For me, I believe in Jack London’s credo ("I would rather be ashes than dust! I would rather that my spark should burn out in a brilliant blaze than it should be stifled by dry rot. I would rather be a superb meteor, every atom of me in magnificent glow, than a sleepy and permanent planet. The proper function of man is to live, not to exist. I shall not waste my days in trying to prolong them. I shall use my time."). I believe that I may have Parkinson’s, but it doesn’t have me. I believe that there’s a lot of people to love (in varying ways) with the rest of my life (46-?). I won’t stop doing the things I can do in the ways I can do them, with people who enjoy them (unless to do them puts myself and others at an unnecessary risk).

Hawk Mountain - boulder loop with hand over hand ascents - last summer, solo.

I want to follow Dylan Thomas’s words (“Rage, rage against the dying of the light!”) or at least Thorton Mellon’s interpretation of them (“I don’t take shit from nobody!”). I want to overcome my negativity like Robert Frost did (“The woods are lovely, dark and deep, but I have promises to keep, and miles to go before I sleep.”).

And yes, even though I write ghost stories that feature monsters, demons, and things that go bump in the night, I feel that in creating this world, it’s all about facing up to evil with positive energy. To be honest, the hardest thing I had to do was to create a really violent murder in the book Dead Mouths (available here). Sure, it was done, but it was more from the perspective of having found the body afterward. What was done was stated. It was gruesome, and it took a lot out of me. It took so much out of me, in fact, I couldn’t write the book again for a month after that. What’s more, it was one evil person killing another person, who was also evil, though not as dark and deadly. This created the sense that said murderer was heinous, and I would do it again, but at the same point, it was hard to do.

Even eliminating good characters isn’t easy. If they die in the right way, I feel it is necessary (and better than creating invincible characters that leave no suspense), but it’s not easy to just write a life and then to lose that person. When written well, characters can be just as alive as people. I guess that’s why I love the message of Luigi Pirandello’s 6 Characters in Search of an Author.
In the end, a character or a life should be memorable. We should write things to have them inhaled. Even at over 600 pages, all actions in my last and current should be memorable (or Anne Rice’s 950+ pages that are about 1.5 times in the Mayfair Witches, which are as filled as 1 of my pages!).

For me, this is a direct correlation to why I like cemeteries. Even before Edgar Lee Masters’ Spoon River Anthology (a collection of epitaphs written to reflect the lives buried in an Illinois cemetery), I found certain graves magnetic. Maybe they were those of a hero. Maybe they were just architecturally wonderful.

In order, Emerson, Hawthorne, Alcott graves in Concord, Massachusetts.

These 2 pictures were taken in Nottingham, England

For that, I loved the graves of New Orleans, Louisiana. Whether they are the future resting place of Nicholas Cage (well, not his - that looks goofy) or the pretend and real resting places of voodoo queen Marie Laveau, there is something that draws people to the mausoleums of the Crescent City. Depending on where you are in the city, some stones are haunting, but some are well-kept. All of them tell stories. They mark the lives of beautifully imperfect people whose lives were lived for something that they wanted to be remembered and never lost to time. Rather than to go into the ground anonymously, they left behind a statue that tells that they lived.
As William Faulkner said, "The past is never dead. It's not even past."

First 5 pictures Metairie Cemetery
Next 3 pictures Lafayette Cemetery
Final 6 pictures St. Louis Cemetery #1
Of these, #2 Marie Laveau's "fake" grave
#3 her real grave (unmarked - has X marks though)
#6 Nicholas Cage's grave to be

All pictures, color and black and white can be found in albums HERE - scroll down.

Sure, Thoreau said, “Nations are possessed by an insane ambition to perpetuate themselves by the amount of hammered stone they leave.” However, for all the minimal living he did, he left a hammered stone, too. I guess he knew something... even if it was only a small stone on the family plot.

Thoreau's grave is in the same cemetery in Concord as the above 3 authors

This brings us back to the beginning. If the first type of death is the body, then it’s going to happen. Things go kaput. So it goes. Why prolong the inevitable to live off of machines to age 120?!! Live out loud as Emile Zola said. Then, we should accept that we’ll go into the ground and so will our loved ones. Sure, there will be tears, but for me, I want a jazz band funeral. I think they can play the part of Bob Marley’s “No Woman, No Cry,” where he repeats “Everything is gonna be all right, everything is gonna be OK” over and over. Then he can go into any Louis Armstrong they want since that’s what jazz bands do. After that, everyone can just tell stories about how awesome / goofy / weird / deep / annoying I was. I’ll be OK, and so will they.

After all, I’ll be batting third for the Cosmic All Stars and playing first base.