Think / Able - and Check out My Parkinson's Facebook Page

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Wednesday, January 4, 2017

Prelude to People First Language: The American Book of the Dead (SECOND DRAFT)

            If a person were to work with people with autism, it is highly-likely that he or she will hear the phrase, "If you've worked with one autistic person, you've worked with one autistic person." If that same person were to take a psychology class, he or she would also learn that there is no such thing as normal. There are a million people who say it, each in their own way, and for this, we could google it and reflect on the different styles with which it is said, but however it comes out, it's a truth that we come to know as we grow older and learn to adjust to our lives and what has happened to them.
            Normal is relative. I like to think of it as an acceptable place where we're happy.  In the movie Dodgeball, Ben Stiller's character refers to a state of being humorously enamored with Average Joe's gym being run on an "I'm not okay, you're not okay, but that's okay thing," and to a large degree (and despite Stiller's comedic befuddlement) that makes sense. In the same way, Anne Lamott, in her book Bird by Bird, puts it simply and well: "What if you wake up some day and you're 65, or 75, and you never got your memoir or novel written; or you didn't go swimming in warm pools and oceans all those years because your thighs were jiggly and you had a nice comfortable tummy; or you were just so strung out on perfectionism and people-pleasing that you forgot to have a big juicy creative life of imagination and radical silliness and staring off into space like when you were a kid? It's going to break your heart. Don't let this happen."
            We need to be happy with us. We need to accept our predicaments. We need to control our destiny, whether we fall above or below the curve, and we need to be happy with us.
            And just as we need to learn not to judge ourselves, we need to see others for their inner selves. We are all unique and as special as we want to be. That, too, is a choice. Thus, the concept of knowing one person is knowing one person, not pigeon-holing or stereotyping. Every bit of understanding begins with the maxim that to really know a person is to accept them for that person. That includes ourselves.
            Moving on from there, for a long time, it seemed that studying people was based on what was wrong with them and how they got that way. Abraham Maslow turned this notion on its ear as he went into research about what's right with people and how they got / stayed that way. Thinking of the beginning part of this discussion, if we surround ourselves with people for what they enjoy and find right about themselves, as opposed to celebrating their scars as something to be proud of when they find no success in their lives, we too can grow mentally and philosophically stronger like them.
            Thus, if we apply this to psychology and learn about Maslow and his work, we have to learn about his Hierarchy of Needs, which talks about the levels of things we must attain before getting to our deepest needs. 
            In the beginning of our journey, this is a quest for food, clothing, and shelter. After all, who can focus on a college calculus class, let alone an NCAA basketball game, if he or she is starving? In the same way, it's impossible to seek and express true love if a person is worried about being kicked out of the house that he or she lives in, unless that love is based on thankfulness for shared cohabitation. Most of us wouldn't call a relationship based on that to be love, but in a myriad of ways, it defines the modern relationship for many people who stick together solely because it's too financially difficult to step beyond that place in time. Some of these people scrimp and save to escape, while others remain comfortable in their prisons. As a result, they are chained to either this level or the next level of The Hierarchy of Needs with little hope to ever move up the future.
            Thinking about this now, we can clearly say to choose to begin anything, to start our journey today, means that we have a 2-month head start on anyone who begins it 60 days from now. So then why not start the gym, a foreign language, a saving's account, relationship, diet, or new book today?  
            Moving up to that next more comfy level of the pyramid, we find the gateway to 3 additional stages of needs beyond the physiological needs begins with a set degree of safety. At this level, we learn that while we can have shelter under branches in a forest, we need to know that we're protected while we're out there because in the real world, there's no camera crew to alert if we want to quit the reality show. To put it simply, in our second level safe world, there are no grizzlies who are going to be looking to make us food, but if there are, we're packing .44 magnum style heat to take 'em out before they get us.
             In the exact same way, our food should be healthy and not contributing to high cholesterol, obesity, or other physiological issues. Candy bars won't cut it, and neither will processed / non-organic foods if my wife Heather's new diet and supplemental nutrition for us is to be believed (and since I love her, I'm willing to accept that). Warm clothing is also a good thing. Just covering our naughty bits may be essential for societal norms, but we need something more than that. I like knowing that I have all of that when I go to brave the great outdoors, either to go to work or to go hiking.
            The next stage is one of love and belonging. While getting hot, sweaty, and nasty exists in this level, so too does more basic levels friendship. This level is where we find our team, the people who make us who we are and don't chase us away to be with people who they'd much rather be with, either because they're too cool for school or because we have theoretical cooties. These are our friends. They may be far away, or they may be close to us. We go places with them. We share life and laughs together. They tell us what we need to hear, which includes not to have another drink so that we don't pass out at a bus stop in the middle of town after a night of living it up and getting all wild, like we're known to do. If nothing else, they like our Facebook posts; however, we hope that they give us more than a 2-word birthday greeting (or its even more evil 2-letter text message-ese version "hb") and actually write something with feelings (to include an exclamation point).
            We all need to make people smile. John Donne said that, "No man is an island," and hopefully we know this, so we choose to find real friends to go to the movies or the local Outback restaurant because we know that "happiness only real when shared," especially if it is shared over Alice Springs chicken. We don't need Chris McCandless to say it for us at the end of Into the Wild, but it sure does help to bring it home if he does, at least for those of us who need the repetitious reinforcement of others (of which I am one).
            Nevertheless, for some of the humor previously shared, how many of us truly open ourselves up to the world in a greater way where we make ourselves vulnerable for our faults or choose to be confident enough to show love as something more than sex without intimacy? How many of us are really there for our friends, not out of obligation or enabling? How many of our friends really get shook up over our lives and not just in a solidarity kind of social media posting way? I say this not to reflect some moral superiority since I ask the question to myself, too, wondering where I stand on the great scoreboard of my time on earth, giving social media shout outs to my friends and followers. Am I the right kind of friend, husband, son, uncle, brother, teacher, relative, neighbor, or acquaintance that I should be, or am I just a passing moment in time? Who will remember me if I shuffle off this mortal coil and explode into the cosmic dust of time Thanatopsis style? The answer is unclear, but I'd like to think that by reaching out to others, even sporadically and shyly, I'm changing the old me for the better, and I'm doing it by acknowledging the universal community of people who want to be part of a team that does and shares with one another. I'm not asking to be the starting short stop, but I'd definitely be happy to be a situational reliever for the Cosmic All-Stars.
            When we take this little side track back to Donne, we think about that island isolation in the same way we think about Simon and Garfunkel's rock. There are good and bad places to be. At age 45, I need to spend my time in happy places with happy people as opposed to dead-end roads and blank eyes. I need people to accept me for me. I don't care about being hip. If I want to wear pajamas as sweat pants, so be it. I'll wear the tie to work, but when I close my front door, it's all about comfort and extending the underwear radius and shaking my booty - even if the curtain is open. If my jokes are odd and my historic references too esoteric, then that's just me. At my core, in the words of Waylon Jennings, "I can't say I'm proud of all of the things that I've done, but I can say I never intentionally hurt anyone." Such is my life, and I'm happier for it.
            And now more than ever, I find those words to be really important because I want to be a part of something larger where I'm a better man, and I'm operating out of true love and kindness.
            For this, I think of Donne's poem, and I wonder if we are really aware how much those words about not being an island, as well as all things ever stated about the benefits of community, bind us to all of humanity. Words like those from JFK's inaugural address state, "Ask not what your country can do for you, but what you can do for your country" express a clear place in the greater good. We take and take and take, but do we give enough? Do we value only our own contributions, or do we build ourselves up from the dust of history and the arts to create a new and better world after us because we listened to the right words of others?
            Here, I have to add that my choice to find happiness by being in better places isn't a snobbish snubbing of others. I'd like to hug and throw positive words to so many people, but unless their ears absorb the sound and their mind is willing to process it, the help is just momentary. I know because I've accepted many pity hugs myself. Instead of this, I have to find a way to make my words more definite and powerful. I have to make them appealing. Then, when my hand comes to help you up, you'll find ways to stay there. Looking at where I am now, over 3 months after being told the verdict on the rest of my life, I hope that my learning path offers something to you in a show of what works or at least works for me.
            To the end of helping others and being on their team, Donne concludes his poem by stating, "Any man's death diminishes me, because I am involved in all mankind." Sitting here now, I think of graves I would visit and lives I would celebrate because I am diminished for never really meeting some of these people whose written words have helped me. As a result of coming in contact with their footsteps, this book that I write focuses on the lives, words, and deeds of those people who I feel society can regenerate itself from. For this, it is in its second half name The American Book of the Dead. But these aren't just any old corpses lining the rows of a cemetery with graves growing moss or hidden behind weeds. These are real men and women who figured out what the meaning of life is. Here, like the Egyptian Book of the Dead, I am stating words to bring them, you, and me back to life from our darkest places.
            I'm pretty sure that were Donne alive today, he wouldn't be focusing just on Facebook and Twitter posts for dead TV stars, singers, and athletes (as well as zombie-like entertainers who scream and hate and consume while obtaining but offering nothing). Yes, it's true that some of them (Jackie Robinson, Lou Gehrig, and Roberto Clemente, for example) would matter as much as scientists, politicians, and activists. The key is understanding them as more than just a game of ball or superior mind and body coordination to twist and turn like Simone Biles. For this, a young gal like Biles isn't just a gymnast, but instead, she represents discipline, generosity, and courage as well as patriotism and determination.
            Those are some big shoes to fill, but this sub 5 footer does it well.
            The point in this thought becomes "who are they as people?" Are they just a game, or do they define something greater to themselves or us? On the same note, when it comes to an average person like me, am I something greater than the issues I have inherited, or do I rise up and become a person first? That is why the other half of my book's title is People First Language. If the only thing that I have to truly rise above my issues, a concept I can't control, is my ability to control my reaction, then I have everything I need. I am a person. I am not Parkinson's disease.
            Relating that back to Maslow's levels of needs, we come to esteem needs. Sometimes, we get our esteem in life with a pat on the back or an attaboy / attagirl. Hopefully, we find out before our eulogy that we mattered to other people. Whether it comes in silent thoughts or fully-formed books, if it's there, then we've been following the rules and instructions of the past well and truly being great people. Hopefully, we aren't buoyed here by false confidence and praise of greed and evil, but instead, we are truly making a difference for people in our lives, whoever they may be.
            For this, I hope that my words, however intense, joking, or bizarre can connect to you in some way shape or form that you write your own book and it's better than mine. Really. I'm a teacher, not a last step in the chain of life. Learn from me like I learned from these other people.
            When we have that confidence and meaning, we can go forward to other things in Maslow's final steps. We can create symphonies, epiphanies, great American novels, and treatises on this, that, or anything. Our words can ring true, even after death, like those of Frankl, Stockdale, MLK, Lincoln, or Jefferson. Our discoveries can be like those of Pasteur, Curie, Fleming, Einstein, and Galileo. We can be mandated reading in schools like Carson, Whitman, Thoreau, Seuss, and Shakespeare.
            In short, our lives can be great if we find that peace in ourselves to combine our knowledge with our abilities in a way that shows through in an abnormal confidence that isn't poisoned by narcissism. Let our abnormal desire to be more than what rut we're stuck in shine out as the true excellence in our potential.
            In short and to sum up the writing all of this, I acknowledge that I AM AN IMPERFECT PERSON AND A WORK IN PROGRESS. It is very true that I have done things for which I could be considered a knucklehead and a jerk, but I also strive to be a role model to others by working hard, learning from my mistakes, changing my ways, and being open to accept my role in the universe. I was once young and stupid, and I've been older and stupid (and I'm sure I will be again), so don't go looking for the advice of a saint in here unless I'm quoting someone else. Nevertheless, what I give you is the words I have learned from others to be a better place.
            For that, this book is as much sharing and name-checking as it is something original. Besides, there's nothing new under the sun to say I'm creating a new philosophical and moral code from scratch.
            As for me, what is completely unique is my code that I strive to live my life as a person for me, not the disability Parkinson's disease. Other codes let people know what worked for other philosophers, but this works for me, so I share it with you hoping it will influence you, too.
            Before I conclude this, I should say that I find it very hard to not see myself as able. Perhaps, this is because I've adjusted to my tremors, and I haven't reached balance issues that force me to walk with a cane or bradykinesis issues that cause me to slur or go deaf. Perhaps, it's because I lived 45 years without a word to define me other than American (since I grew up in a family that never really paid attention to its European ancestry). This could be a late-growth spurt from my ancestral DNA or some Basic Training learning I didn't get when I was being thrust through the gears that would destroy the old me. I know it's not denial since I really do have a progressively deteriorating neurological condition (and I do know rougher patches are coming), but whatever this source of wisdom and understanding is, it represents and encompasses me, Dan Glass, not every person with Parkinson's. I'm not every former Airman, teacher, hiker, American, writer, reader, photographer, lover of music, or guy out there who was born in the middle of Generation X. I wasn't given any extra help to battle Parkinson's because I'm a straight, white, Christian, male from middle class upbringing (though I am eternally grateful for good health insurance and a loving family). Plenty of people more affluent, talented, stronger, smarter, and important than me got back-slapped with disabilities, and the issues rocked their worlds in a bad way (personally, I see other choices such as suicide, self-medication, and self-hate as non-choices, though I do get what drives people to them in this brutal process). These issues I and others have are equal opportunity discriminators. They hate equally, so I resist unconditionally and choose to live my life in a positive direction, making jokes, smiling, hiking, and reading stoic philosophy and Michael Jordan quotes.
            There is no safe space here to play with puppies, draw in coloring books, or isolate oneself from the world except for the loving people who pity and agree with me. Here, I refuse to put out a disclaimer for seeing things differently so that someone who doesn't isn't ashamed for feeling less. Just like I did in my darkest hours, I had to choose to be more and make it work. There is no participation trophy in life; either people are happy with themselves or they aren't. This is not the world of Harrison Bergeron where people lessen themselves to be equal to other's weakness. People may hate the words "suck it up buttercup," but really, it's all about picking ourselves up, dusting ourselves off, and getting into the football game to hit something as we drive toward a touchdown or refuse to allow the other team to run over us.
             This is what works for Dan Glass and the people who inspired him. Actual results, like our commitments to any religion, philosophy, gym program, diet, or belief, will define what we get out to it with the effort we put into it as well as our biological makeup. For this, sometimes, pharmaceutical and physician help will be needed as will having a Verizon-style network of friends and family. We can't be afraid of science when our biology needs to be adjusted. This, too, is something I've learned, but it makes the rest of it easier as does being open with others about our needs to be appreciated and love while appreciating and loving back.
            Remember, we can't control our baggage, but we can control our reaction to it. We can stay active rather than being rigid. Just remember, in the words of Abraham Maslow, "What a man can be, he must be."
            And I want you to be the best you that you can be!

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