Friday, April 30, 2010

Massage Therapy

When I ended physical therapy, Young PT told me that he thought massage therapy might help me regain at least some of my range of motion.

Massage sounds so nice and pleasant, unlike the hard work of physical therapy. It’s something that somebody else does to you and it doesn’t have side effects like drugs. Bottom line – it doesn’t sound like work. It even sounds enjoyable.

It’s expensive. So I emailed the lawyer who is working to get money from the insurance of the driver who hit me. He gets 1/3 of everything he can claim for me, so he’s happy to add to my bill. He asked me to ask my massage therapist to write him an estimated bill for her services. My massage therapist claims that at my age and my degree of injury, it will take 4 to 6 months of weekly massages. This will cost between $3000 and $5000, at $145 a session.

I met my massage therapy at a flea market. She had a booth selling old kitchen stuff, and she just looked like a nice person, so we started chatting. I have hired her to do a regular massage before. She's good.

I can think of plenty of things I could do with that kind of money, like take a trip to Australia, or a massive publicity campaign for my new business. But I’d enjoy either of those lots more if my body worked better, and didn't hurt as much.

This lawyer stuff takes time. I decided to get the first massage now.

The first thing I learned is that massage therapy is NOT the same as massage. My first therapy session felt like I was being dissected. I told the therapist and she said that when she got hit by a car, her first session felt like her toe was being sawed off.

This is no soothing experience. Not a pleasant relaxation after a hard day’s work. Massage therapy hurts worse than anything in physical therapy. The massage therapist breaks up scar tissue that is restricting my range of motion. She digs her fingers at least an inch deep into the muscles of my leg and hip. She didn’t have time to start on my shoulder. That can wait for another session.

Years of yoga have taught me to recognize the difference between when pain is freeing up tight tissue and when pain is a warning of imminent damage. Yes, I have to pay the woman who is hurting me, and I thank her for her work, but this is not like the phony ritual of thanking the person who whips you. When she was done, I could rotate my left leg outwards at least 10 more degrees than before.

It’s just time, pain, and money. And it looks like they’re being well spent.


Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Thoughts on “Take the Lead”

This past Sunday, I watched the 2006 movie "Take the Lead" starring Antonio Banderas as Pierre Dulaine. The scene I found most fascinating was near the beginning. Dulaine witnesses a teen destroying a car. His immediate thought: This kid needs dance lessons!

Through some nice detail work in the plotting, Dulaine figures out that the car belongs to the principal at the teen’s school. He goes to the school and chats up the principal without revealing the identity of the teen who destroyed her car.

The kids are hostile to learning ballroom dance, but Dulaine persists.

He’s on a mission. He KNOWS he has an answer to teen violence. It’s an answer that would never have occurred to me.

I prosecuted the teen who mugged me at gunpoint and shoved me to the sidewalk. Yes, afterwards, I went to court and helped one of my muggers get into the auto-body repair program. But it would never have occurred to me to skip the legal system and go straight to an arts program.

According to the movie, Dulaine’s program caught on, and is now popular at many schools in New York. Dancing is keeping children out of trouble.

I doubt things were this simple. Years of work are portrayed in a little over an hour.

Nevertheless, I am in awe. I wish I could think of effective solutions like Dulaine is portrayed as doing in this movie.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Putting my Foot in my Mouth

belt on hook, balanced on finger


Family get-togethers are always a great time for saying what should not be said. This one was in honor of my father’s 4th 90th birthday party. He proudly told the assembled guests that he’d had the 1st 90th birthday party in California where his son and daughter live. Yes, my sister and brother live in CA, but what am I?

My father is NOT senile. Later he showed a little more awareness of who I am. He talked about research to develop a vaccine against salmonella, and his exercise program. At 90, he’s finally doing exercise. He goes 3 times a week to a physical therapist who trains athletes. He bragged that he is the trainer’s oldest client. He uses the treadmill and he pulls weights. He looks better than he has in years.

The topic changed to Roswell, and my father asked me, “Have you ever met an alien?”
I know my father. This is his idea of a trick question. If I said, “Yes,” he’d ask how I was sure the creature was an alien. If I said, “No,” he’d ask how I was sure that all the creatures I’ve ever met were guaranteed not to be alien. If I said, “I don’t know,” he’d tell me to find out.

So, I said, “I am an alien.” He did not respond.

Later, during my magic show, I incorporated some science. I’m fascinated by a plastic hook that will balance on the end of a finger IFF you hang a belt from it. The effect looks totally improbable. The hook extends from the end of the finger and a belt hangs from the far end.

My husband loaned his belt for the occasion and I put the belted hook on my father’s extended finger. My father said it must be a helium belt. I asked if I could borrow my father’s belt. He refused. I asked if any body else in the room would loan a belt. No offers. I took off the belt and dropped it. It fell to the floor. So did the hook, which will not balance without the belt hanging from it. A helium belt should have floated to the ceiling. My father would not admit defeat.

Then my father said it was his magnetic personage. One of my cousins agreed to try balancing the belted hook on her finger. Again, it balanced. My cousin was sure that she was not magnetic. My father went back to insisting the belt was made of helium. I’m sure this was his idea of a scientific joke.

He was less interested in the obvious magic – ropes that change length, ropes that heal themselves after they’ve been cut. He wanted me to make a rope disappear. I haven’t mastered that trick yet.

Then somehow the show became my grandchildren showing off. My grand daughter read a poem. Then she and my grandson started competing at physical stunts. They can wrap their legs around each other. They can do athletic poses like plank. I started feeling silly. I asked if they could put their feet in their mouths. My grand daughter can. My grandson wanted to know if I could put my feet in my mouth.

My daughter has a no-shoes household. My shoes were already off. I had no excuse. That’s one flexibility task I was never asked to do in physical therapy or in yoga. But I could do it as a child.

I knew there was no chance with my left foot, and the limited range of motion in my left hip from being hit by a car. But the right foot was a possibility. I picked up my right foot. The toes went easily into my mouth.

Now, if anybody asks if I put my foot in my mouth at the family gather, I can proudly say, “Yes.”

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Observations on the Bus

Yesterday was a cane day.
And yesterday was a bus day.

I’m used to the silly comments I get when I have my cane in the saddle bag of my bike. People who don’t bike don’t know that biking uses different muscles from walking. And they are shocked or surprised to see someone get off a bicycle and remove an extendable cane from her saddle bag before walking off on 3 legs.

When I take the bus, I don’t take the Reserved for Handicapped and Elderly seats. I like to leave them for folks who are more in need than I am. I don’t even think about it when youngsters are sitting in them. After all, I use the handicap toilet in public restrooms if it’s the only one vacant. A seat is to sit in. I figure the kids will move if somebody handicapped gets on the bus. Or maybe they are handicapped in a way that isn’t obvious.

The kids were talking about how many points you had to get on a test to get a letter grade. In one class 70 points was a D. In another it was a C.

I walked past the kids and took a regular seat.

A few stops later a gray-haired, but definitely able-bodied looking, man got on the bus with a younger woman. He yelled, “They shouldn’t be sitting there! It’s wrong!”

The kids looked at him like he was an amusing distraction. They clearly had no idea that he was talking about them.

A gray-haired woman who had a cane, and was sitting in a Reserved seat, got up and gave her seat to the man. The younger woman sat down beside him in an already vacant seat.

The kids resumed their discussion of teachers and grades. They never even mentioned the angry man sitting across the aisle from them. He continued to discuss them. The younger woman said nothing.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

In Memory of My Motorbike

Just before my senior year in high school, my father decided to move to a house across town. I refused to attend the closer high school. I’d changed schools too often as my father took different jobs. I wasn’t going to change schools again, if it was possible for me to get to my old one. Besides the other school was “my school’s rival.” Or to put it another way, their vice principal was the man who had suspended me for 3 days because I attended an anti-war rally, and I never wanted to see him again.

My father’s new home was too far for me to bike to school. My father helped me pick out a car. I was going to have my very own car at age 16. Yes, I’d have to pay him back with every penny of my summer job paychecks, but I was going to have a car. And I thought my father knew what he was doing.

The used car that he and his dealer picked out for me was a Taunus. A German ford. My grandfather yelled, “You should buy American!” I didn’t care. A car was a car. All I cared about was whether it would go when I turned it on.

The Taunus started out needing minor things, like adjustments to the latch that kept the door closed. Then it needed a stocking stuffed in the channel where the gear change stick moved. Then it needed grommets that had to be imported from Germany because they were metric sizes. Then it needed alternator and carburetor and it continued to need every penny I earned at my after school job.

I talked to the people at the Yamaha motorbike shop. If I could sell the Taunus for about 2/3 of what I paid for it, I could buy a brand new 50 CC motorbike. The kind with automatic oil and gas mixing. And they assured me it would go and it would be cheap to feed and it would not eat my entire paycheck.

But of course I needed more than a motorbike. I needed a helmet, and bungee cords and a rack so I could carry my books and groceries. And I was in debt again. A finite debt.

I loved that motorbike. I use the slang word “pook” to mean take a quick trip in a good mood. I named the bike “Morpook.”

I loved the wind on my body. The sense of connectedness to the world as I zoomed around unprotected by metal walls. I could smell roses and lilacs as well as exhaust and fertilizer. A motorbike was my kind of transportation.

Morpook took me to my senior year at high school. Morpook took me through college.

When I met my future husband, he wanted to ride Morpook. Casually, I asked him, “Do you know how to ride a bicycle?” He didn’t. He has bad eyesight and nobody noticed until he was in school and by then, he didn’t want to learn to ride a bike. He wanted to read.

But I would not let him ride Morpook until he learned to ride a bicycle. He rode Morpook to his college graduation, wearing his cap and gown.

Morpook always went when I kicked her starter. Morpook never needed hard-to-find parts. Morpook did not put me in debt. Morpook moved with us when we moved to Berkeley.
Morpook moved with us to Colorado.
I wrote an article about Morpook for the college paper, praising her for faithful service.

Then I was riding home and I came across something I’d never seen before. A pile of sand in the roadway. Naively, I rode ride into it, expecting to go up and over. Morpook stopped. I didn’t. I still have the scar on my hip where my skin was sanded off.

Oh, for the days when a traffic accident only meant scrapes and bruises!

By this time we were parents. I felt that selling Morpook was the responsible thing to do. We needed to transport our children on something safer than Morpook. We needed those metal walls.

We bought a station wagon. This had to be a joke. Me, the radical independent who had a baby born at home. I was now driving a station wagon?

The woman who bought Morpook had read my article in the student paper. She knew she was getting a worthy steed.

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Petruccio is in the Playpen

When Dante, our Yergess, (your guess is as good as mine) started walking into the floor lamp, we got rid of the lamp. When he walked into furniture, we weren’t worried that he’d be hurt. When he stopped getting to the dog door in time, we put out incontinence pads. When he stopped wanting to walk around at all, we put him in the playpen. He ate and slept and died there. He was 17.

When Buffy, our poodle-mutt, could only walk in small circles, and only looked happy at meal time, we put her in the playpen. We tried taking her out for walks, but she only wanted to sniff the tree in front of our house. When she started having seizures, we took her to the vet and cried as she was euthanized. She was almost 20.

Petruccio, our beagle-mutt, still goes for walks around the block. Not very fast. But when he’s home, he spends his days sleeping in his dog bed and getting out of it to eat and to urinate or poop somewhere away from his bed, if only a foot or two. We’ve covered the downstairs floor with incontinence pads. Sometimes he comes into the kitchen and quietly sneaks up behind us, causing us to trip if we tak a step backwards. For his safety as well as ours, he is now in the playpen. He just turned 19.

He’s in much better condition than Dante or Buffy was when they went into the playpen. But I think this is his last year. It is much easier to pick up and change one of the two incontinence pads in his playpen than to crawl around the first floor checking each pad to see if it needs to be washed.

Still, when I look at him, sleeping in his playpen, I have a mix of emotions. This dog has never played with us, like Dante or Buffy. He did love Buffy. But when she was old and weak, she could no longer growl him off, and he tried to rape her. But he is our dog. He is part of our family. And I know this is his last summer.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

3000 Mile Service Call

“I can’t open my DVD drive.” That’s a typical call from a client. But this client is my mother, and she lives 3000 miles away on the opposite coast.

Normally, I hop on my bike and pedal to the client’s house. I can be there in 20 minutes almost anywhere in the city. Not so for my mom. I have to try to fix her computer problems by talking to her and sending her emailed instructions.

This problem was sort of my fault. Normally my mother doesn’t want to open the DVD drive on her computer. The DVD drive has nothing to do with reading email, surfing the web for news and comics, or writing letters, which are the reasons she wanted a computer.

Long story short, I bought my mom an exercise DVD. I thought she’d play it on the TV in her living room. But she bought a new couch. Her new couch is bigger than the one she had when I visited her a few months ago, and there is no longer room for her to roll out her yoga mat at a distance far enough from the TV screen that she can see it when she’s lying on the floor.

My niece had the brilliant idea that my mother (her grandmother) could play the exercise DVD on her computer. There’s plenty of room on the floor in her office for her to lay out her yoga mat as far as she likes from her computer monitor.

I called my mother to find out why she couldn’t get her DVD / CD drive to open. After a series of questions, I learned:
It has no button.
It has no light.
It has no little hole where you can poke a bent paperclip.

I tried to tell her about double left clicking on My Computer. Once that was open, she should Right clicking on the drive icon, and then Left click on Eject from the drop down menu.

I should not have given all those instructions so quickly. Round two. One step at a time.

We had to find My Computer on the left of her screen in the upper half.

We had to find the icon for the CD drive (not DVD).

We had to figure out which was the right button (Right button) on her track ball. Somehow when you can click both the left and right buttons with the same hand, this confuses most of my clients.

When the menu finally popped down, she told me Eject wasn’t on the menu.

Then she said the menu disappeared. We started over. I have become incredibly patient with computers. Especially computers that I can’t see. I used to have a program that let me see my clients’ monitors and remotely operate their computers. But I make my clients use firewall programs that prevent attacks like this, so I can’t do it either, any more.

Working with distant computers is a sort of meditation. The misbehavior is an errant thought. Wait and it will pass. Do not believe for a moment that the misbehavior is important. It’s just temporary. Sanity will return. The computer will cooperate.

We started over.

This time, she found Eject on the menu. She left clicked it. She said nothing happened. I asked her to look carefully at the drive. It might have just popped out a little bit.

“Where is the drive?”

She had expected a message on the screen. She hadn’t looked at her computer. She keeps the computer on the floor under her desk, so her desktop will look clear and uncluttered. When she looked down, the drawer was wide open.

“Put the disk in with the Word Side Up.”

“Okay.”

“Push the drawer closed.”

“Okay.”

A box came up on the screen showing the exercise movie file by name.

“Double left click the icon to the left of the name.”

“Nothing happened.”

“Is the name highlighted?”

“Yes.”

“Then press the Enter key.”

“Okay.”

Pause.

“My screen went black.”

“Good. That means a video player is loading.”

After a while... “I see the video. It’s playing.”

“Is there a list of things it can do?”

“Yes.”

“Do you see your mouse arrow?”

“Yes.”

“Can you put your mouse arrow on the 2nd item down from the top of your screen?”

I call it a mouse arrow, even though I know it is on a track ball. My mother is used to my weirdness in this department.

“Yes.”

“Do that, and then left click.”

“Hey, the movie is starting.”

A while later she emailed me back. She found it difficult to balance during one of the exercises. Otherwise she could do everything. She was pleased.

Success! A 3000 mile computer support issue, closed. And my mom can do exercises in front of her computer. Yay!

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Who Am I, By Myself?

I recently read a blog by a woman who is figuring out who she is now that her husband of many decades is dead.

This may seem trivial, but I’m asking the same question. My husband of many decades just took a 4 day trip. Eating is something I do with my husband. Do I really need to eat? I wasn’t particularly hungry for those 4 days. I went through a good stockpile of fruit for snacks, but it felt like I was eating as something to do. I do not eat as something to do. I eat when I’m hungry – that’s what I would have said. But I eat with my husband because it is something WE do.

I like to fix meals for US to eat. The few times I was hungry, I grabbed box of leftovers out of the freezer and heated it up. It’s not fun to cook a whole meal just for me. A good deal of the fun is watching my husband eat.

When my husband is home, we often watch an instant play show on a computer screen in the evening. I watched Lost while he was gone, but I watched it when we would normally have been eating dinner. The evening viewing habit is OURS, not MINE.

We exercise every morning. My husband often quits after 15 or 20 minutes and WE walk the dog. When he was gone, I did the entire tapes, and then walked the dog. I’m an exercise junky. He exercises to be with me. He walked between sessions at his conference, but he did not exercises without me.

When we were younger, I missed the sex every night. I would console myself that his sperm were still wiggling around for the first 3 days. Now, I need to see him, smell him, touch him, to think about sex. Instead I thrashed around in the bed while I slept and awoke tangled in sheets and covers.

While I did my work, it occurred to me that I don’t make enough to pay for OUR lifestyle. I’m in the process of changing careers. I don’t know right now if my new career could earn enough for me to live the way I want to live, the way I’m used to living. I’m glad I don’t have to face that question right now.

In Philosophy class, we used to ask Who Am I? The answers are a series of negations. I am not my thoughts. I am constant and they are always changing. I am not my emotions. I am constant and they are always changing. I am not my roles (daughter, wife, mother, worker, grandmother). These duties are always changing. These negations do not give me the positives – what remains? What am I?

An exercise junkie who eats fruit and loves her husband? That does not feel like a real and true summary of who I am.

What are my constants? What do I want?

Is my true nature even related to how get through my days? Or does it what I think about (as differentiated from my thoughts.) Thoughts can be trivial: Where is my sweater? Is it time to buy groceries? What do I want to say to my mother? Which book do I want to read next?

Or thoughts can be profound: What is the nature of the universe? How can I be a force for good and love?

If I solve the profound level, do I still have to solve the trivial level?

My husband has returned. My normal life has returned. But I see it differently. I am very conscious of the fact that all my current choices are temporary and circumstantial. And I have no answers.

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Limping out of Yoga


When I get up in the morning, I limp into the bathroom. When I’m done there, I sit on my mound of blankets with a pillow on top to meditate. In my yoga class, we call this the Princess and the Pea position. Those of us with injured hips sit this way because sitting any lower is painful after a minute or two.

These are not things I can easily show a physical therapist. After I’ve biked 3 miles to the PT center, I’m no longer limping. My hip feels lubricated. And my therapist doesn’t want to watch me meditate. His job is to make me strong, give me exercises. So, my therapist never sees me limp, and when I’m in pain from the exercises, that’s normal. New exercises are often painful.

I feel the way my computer clients must feel when they call me over because their display isn’t right but when I get there, everything is fine. If they can’t show me what isn’t right, I can’t fix it.

Today on the way to yoga class, I saw a tattooed man in his 20's rushing toward the elevator. I put out my hand to hold the door for him. “Thank you, Miss,” he said. “Miss!” I suppose that’s better than “Granny!” What ever happened to “Ma’m”? He was also going to the gym, but not to the yoga class.

Maybe he was going to the later class. I don’t do Ashtanga or even Vinyasa yoga. I do Iyengar, and stretch yoga with props so I can modify the poses and get the stretches and strengthening without hurting myself. Yes, I’m in pain when I limp, but I’m usually not limping when I’ve been up for a while and walked my dog, and ridden my bike downtown.

My stretch yoga teacher had never seen me limp. But today we did hip work. Warrior 1, Warrior 2, Triangle pose, sitting crosslegged, forward bends with one foot bottom pressing against the other knee, lunges.

Warrior 1 is a stride position in which I place my front foot facing the direction I’m going and my back foot is angled at about 30 degrees. My pelvis is supposed to face the direction of my front foot. Then I’m supposed to lunge forward. That pelvis rotation is difficult, thanks to my ouchy left hip, but I can get pretty close.

Then there’s Warrior 2. Feet in the same positions, but this time the body faces completely to the side. There is no way my ouchy left hip is going to let me rotate that far, and turn my thighs and keep my balance. But I try. I’m supposed to get my feet 4 to 4 and a half feet apart. I consider it a victory if I get them 3 feet apart. Then there’s the lunge to the side, trying to keep the legs straight up and down, rather than knees akimbo.

I work at this. When I’m home, I grab the bottom of the bannister to support myself and I squiggle my feet as far apart as I can. I can do 3 and a half feet, holding onto the bannister. That's a lot of squiggling. My left hip rises up, and I have to patiently work it down. It can take minutes to get my feet that far apart. This is a huge improvement. Right after the accident I had to struggle to get my feet 2 feet apart.

Triangle is another sideways impossibility. The teacher hinges from her hips and puts her hand on the floor. I hinge from mine and put my hand on my thigh. At least I’m hinging. That, too, used to be impossible.

After a session like this, I’m sore!

I have the fantasy that all this stretching will eventually pay off in a more comfortable and more flexible body. I have the progress to prove it, but each improvement has its accompanying soreness. At the end of class, when it was time to put our mats, blankets, blocks and straps away, I was limping. After all that hip work, I wasn’t surprised.

Limping after stretching my hips is nothing new for me. But the teacher hadn’t seen it before. She was more upset than I was. It’s strange for her to have a student like me who has obviously done yoga for years, who can do a good sturdy version of anything that does not involve flexibility or strength in the left hip. And then, put that left hip into flexion, and suddenly, I’m a weak-old-lady-in-pain.

There is an upside to this. By feeling what I cannot do with my left hip, I have a much better appreciation for what to stretch and where to relax when I do the same poses with my right hip. I still hope that my left hip will continue to become stronger and more flexible over time and practice. It’s only been 9 months since the accident. Several people have told me it takes about 2 years to get body parts working normally again. And I don’t just want normal. I want flexible and strong. Even if I have to limp along the way.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Why I Don’t Have Carpets



I used to love carpets. I saved up for months to buy each of my hand-knotted Asian rugs. No eating out. No new clothes. No movies. These rugs were worth it. Some had intricate designs. One had pandas. This love of carpets must be a human thing. Other creatures don’t agree.

Moths nibbled on my costly carpets. Their edges became ragged, little holes appeared in the middle if you looked at the backside, but they retained their lovely patterns and my bare feet still luxuriated in the soft textures.

Our dog, Dante played nicely on the rugs. He climbed up on our big bean bag chair and bounded down onto the red patterned rug. Then Miniwiz showed up in our yard, and invited himself into our family. Miniwiz liked to nest in a square of sunshine on the lovely carpets. His short fur and their deep pile were almost the same length. Miniwiz was not housetrained, especially when the weather was wet or cold or hot or he was just feeling territorial. After he died, we got the rugs professionally cleaned.

Then we got Buffy, who was already three years old and totally housetrained.. She loved the rugs. She and Dante played tug-of-war on the rugs.

After Dante died,. Buffy was lonely. We took her to the animal shelter where she picked out Petruccio.

Petruccio also played tug-of-war on the rugs. I guess that was why Buffy chose him.

The shelter assured us he was house-trained. Not my house, he wasn’t. I have no idea what house he was trained in. He sprayed my lovely rugs daily. Okay several times a day. We picked them up, had them cleaned, rolled them up, and put them in the closet. The moths had a major feast. It was a sad day when I opened the closet to find mounds of crumbs where my rugs had been.

Our house didn’t really need the fancy carpets. It had wall-to-wall carpets. Once the pretty rugs were put away, Petruccio sprayed the wall-to-walls. I quickly tired of cleaning them. We ripped out all the carpets, had the floors sanded, and put a baby-gate at the base of the stairs to confine Petruccio to the first floor. He woofed and whined for weeks, but I would not relent. A dog who will not use the dog door consistently, gets zero use of my upstairs.

We covered the first floor with incontinence pads. The ones he sprays go in the washing machine. I have at least one load a day of his pads. In the summer the pads go out on the line. In the winter, they go in the dryer. Sometimes he kicks the pads aside and sprays the floor anyway. The living room bears dark stains from his persistence.

He especially likes to spray my headstand gadget. It has rusty legs from his constant attentions. He is 19 years old. Both he and my rusty headstand gadget have a short run to go.

What have I learned? I’ve learned that I like the feel of bare wood under my feet. I much prefer sweeping to vacuuming. And incontinence pads are much easier to clean than rugs. If I ever do get another Asian hand-knotted rug, I’ll probably hang it on the wall. I’m not looking at getting another dog. But I will buy a new headstand gadget.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

The Time I Tried to Try Marijuana

It was the 60's. Timothy Leary was in the news saying, ““If you take the game of life seriously, if you take your nervous system seriously, if you take your sense organs seriously, if you take the energy process seriously, you must turn on, tune in, and drop out.”

I was in college. I thought I was smart. I thought I took the game of life seriously. And I was curious about mind-altering drugs. I’d read Carlos Casteneda’s first book, The Teachings of Don Juan, a Yaqui Way of Knowledge, in which Casteneda described his transcendent experiences with peyote.

Okay, maybe they were fiction. I’ve had some pretty great daydreams myself, and maybe Carlos just wanted to give his daydreams an extra gloss, by saying they were peyote dreams. Carlos was a writer. I was a writer, too. Surely I’d get a sellable story from my experience – it wasn’t just selfish of me to want to have a drug dream – I was an explorer. I was going to share my adventure with the world.

The fact that it was illegal didn’t matter to me. I did not expect to be caught. Many people were in the news talking about their wonderful drug experiences, and not mentioning a terrible night in jail. I figured the police had better things to do..

At my Young Democrat meeting, I asked about peyote. One of the members said he could sell me a button for $12. He had to be kidding! I worked for minimum wage, which was $1.25 an hour, gross. Take home was more like 85 cents an hour. I was not going to pay several days wages for a cactus button, that would probably make me throw up.

Then I talked to my friend Eloise, who assured me she could get some good grass. He brother would get it for us. I could bake it into brownies, and if I shared the brownies, I wouldn’t have to pay for the marijuana.

My husband was not enthusiastic. He’d been at a party where they passed a marijuana cigarette around and he had not liked it. I told him he wouldn’t have to smoke the brownies. He likes my brownies. I told him sex was supposed to be even more amazing when you were high on marijuana. He was insulted. How could anything be more amazing than him, au natural?

Eloise brought over the baggie. I dumped it into a batch of brownies. Expectantly we ate one each. Then two. Nothing happened. Nothing.

I got the baggie out of the trash to sniff the remaining crumbs. I knew that smell. It was grass all right. Lawn clippings.

I'm posting this in honor of the decision to clear up court time in Philadelphia by making marijuana a fine-able offense, that does not require a trial.






Monday, April 5, 2010

Why Me? Why Not Me? Part Seven


By Alison

This is part 7 of Alison's account of her diagnosis and treatment of bladder cancer.






I’M NOT GETTING OFF EASY

So I finished my last treatment with BCG (tuberculosis vaccine instilled directly into my bladder). I waited a month, and a couple days ago I went to the doctor again for a look-see and the pronouncement of my immediate fate. If no cancer, I can wait for as long as it takes for the cancer to return, because it WILL return.

“The cat came back, the very next day,
they thought it was a goner but
the cat came back, ‘cuz it couldn’t stay away!”

Or, if there is still cancer, there’s no more waiting because the bladder comes out.

The cat came back.

There was still cancer in there.

I think I saw it before the doc did. The camera panned over the “good,” white and pink vascularized wall of the bladder; then it opened up on the panorama I remembered so well. There were pinky orangey honeycomb-like flowers, colorless moss on gray mounds, and a bright red spot. It was all just in a different place than before. The original tumor(s) were replaced by what he told me was a scar, a smoother place than the surrounding tissue. I also saw two very odd yellowish nodules sticking up like, well, like nipples; they were evidence of the tuberculosis treatment! Like little encapsulated pieces of TB that my immune system had walled safely off. Alas, we cannot do the BCG treatment again. It did not work the first time.

The doctor says first he will take out this new tumor in minor day surgery, and he wants to take a look up at my kidney on the opposite side of the wall of cancer. It’s like this: There are two small openings into your bladder kind of up high, one from each kidney (the tube between is called a ureter). As your bladder is flat when it’s empty, the stream of urine from each ureter “splashes on” the opposite wall. If cancer is just on one side it might indicate problems higher up, in the “upper urinary tract.” Anyway, he is going to do some kind of kidney X-ray when I am in the OR. Later, I don’t know when but soon, there will be major surgery to remove the bladder and some other organs, and construct another way for me to urinate.

*Sigh.* I felt pretty bummed as I drove home, and I wanted to talk to my sister but I couldn’t reach her. I kind of didn’t know what to think. After all, I really was no closer to death than I was an hour before; and I remember at the beginning of all this asking the doctor if we couldn’t skip all this treatment, watching, waiting, scanning, scoping, etc., and just take the sucker out.

I told him I did want that now. He was saying something about saving maybe this or that part, and I said no. “Just take it all out, please.”

See, I work with patients with HIV/AIDS. Most are well, but some are very sick. One of my favorites, I’ll call him Dan, is very sick. I care about him so much because he is a brave activist who has taken on ministers in his city because they 1) give to faraway missions rather than troubles right at home, and 2) were heartless to gays during the worst of the HIV/AIDS epidemic, and some still are. You know, preaching that AIDS is God’s punishment for being sinful, gayness is always sinful, celibacy is the only answer if you can’t be miraculously changed by religious “therapy,” etc. My patient Dan went right up to some of these ministers and confronted them to their faces.

Miraculously, and I mean that, almost all wanted to sit down with him and hear more. Really, they wanted to LISTEN. So Dan and some of his friends met regularly at an informal restaurant with these guys to talk about sexuality, and God, and what the Bible says before and after Jesus. It has been an amazing growing experience, I think for all (but mostly for the ministers). The ministers said they were sorry for the way they had been, the way they had been taught, the way they had taught others.

Anyway, Dan got some cancer, and it was treated with radiation and chemo-therapy. And he almost died because he lost so much weight and of course he lost all his hair and looked half-dead. He had to go to a place “like an old folk’s home” to recover and get his strength back. This is from the treatment, mind you, not the disease.

The last time I saw him he was much, much better, had gained a lot of the weight back, hair was back, but his color was still very pale. He told me the first scan post-treatment showed no cancer, but the next showed it was back, in his lungs and liver. Poor Dan has to decide now if he will just “go gently into that good night” with hospice and palliative care, or if he will do as his partner wishes and “try everything,” even though it about killed him last time. A prayer for Dan if you please . . . .

So you see I may seem positive but cancers are different, and do different things, and I am not in Dan’s situation, at least not for a long time yet. On the other hand, I am not getting off easy myself, with major surgery and learning a whole new lifestyle for something I have been doing since before I was born: letting liquid waste out easily.

I called two good friends and we went out for a sumptuous dinner and they plied me with wine. We eventually got so we laughed. I am blessed, blessed in my friends.

To be continued….

Ideas in Education -- Adopt a School

When I drove down highways in California, I noticed signs every few miles naming the companies that had "adopted" that stretch of roadway. These companies were responsible to keep their adopted area clean of litter. My friend who lives in Oakland suggested that companies could adopt schools.

When a company adopts a school, their employees could spend a few hours each week helping the students. Surely some of the employees have talents beyond those for which they are hired. Perhaps they are artists, musicians, crafts practitioners, skilled repairers. Students would benefit from learning these skills as well as from small-group or individual help with basic academics.

The company could train older students in the skills needed to work there. The company could provide equipment for the classrooms: computers, tools, instruments. A company doesn't need to be wealthy to contribute. A few hours a week from one employee, or the company owner, would be a real help in the classroom.

I wouldn't limit this adopt-a-school idea to companies. Individuals and families can do the same.

Philadelphia has an After School Activity Program that runs criminal checks on people who want to volunteer in the schools, and then pairs the interests of the volunteers with the desires of the schools.

This kind of program can be expanded.

This particular idea isn't radical. Some of the ideas in future columns will be more challenging.

Friday, April 2, 2010

You Don't Have to Read the Book

I’m the first to admit that I’ve bought books, intending to read them, and put them aside on a shelf when a more exciting title grabbed my attention. But I never thought this was a selling point.

I mean – I never thought someone would try to sell me a book by claiming I’d benefit not from reading it, but from intending to read it, from having it in my house.

But today I received an ad – I’m quoting it verbatim – I’ve only removed anything that will identify the actual title – this is an $87 book and I have no intention of encouraging anybody to buy it. I’m certainly NOT going to buy it.

This is a VERY unique product, while it looks like a book that you might find in a book store, it is in fact way more than that... This book is a very special transformational tool to assist you in your life. Each word carries Divine energy to help you fulfill your magnificent Heart's desires and have a more joyful and prosperous life. Everyone who would like this Divine assistance who is near this book, will be supported and carried gently on their individual path of Awakening and Divine Purpose. It is based on 4 powerful talks given by [spiritual marketer] and is offered to assist you in accomplishing your Divine Life Plan. As soon as you start to read (even holding the intention of reading) you will feel these energies know you are in the presence of great wisdom and abilities. Just click on the link to order yours!

I’ve had students who thought that merely carrying the textbook home, or holding it in their hands, or placing it in their locker, would be enough to pass the class.

I’ve known people who bought books with leather bindings because they thought the books looked pretty on their shelves.

I’ve known people who bought books on the best seller list, in an attempt to keep up with the latest trends, but never found the time to read them.

But I’ve never before seen a book marketed to people with the claim that you’ll get all the benefits without reading it. Why a book? Why not a hair from the author’s head? Or perhaps some salt that she shook into an envelope. Or why anything at all? Air molecules move around this planet at an astonishing rate. There are no new air molecules and they never disappear.

Every lungful has molecules that were at one time breathed by Moses and Caesar and Cleopatra and Golda Meir. Surely some of them were breathed by this spiritual marketer. And if all that is needed is contact with him/her, then we’ve got it, already.

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Dragons and Eagles and Seals, Oh My

I usually bike around Philadelphia. But when my niece was visiting, we walked from Chinatown to Grasso's Magic to watch 3 local magicians. En route we passed Franklin Square, which I hadn't explored before. From the sidewalk, we could see a merry-go-round. "Want to go look at the ride?" asked my niece. As we approached, it became obvious that this is no ordinary merry-go-round.

Up front is a Philly Phanatic -- don't ask me which sport he's the mascot for -- he's cute and green and I'm amazed I even know his name. I'm not a sports fan.

Then we saw the lion.



And a dragon.
A zebra and cat with a fish in its mouth.




A seal.



An elephant.



An eagle.



And of course there are horses.

Franklin Square is at 7th an Race in downtown Philadelphia. It has bike parking, and it's not far from several bus routes.