1/3/03-Fri.-In a dream just before getting up this morning, it is nighttime and I am hanging onto the top and outside of a military helicopter (perhaps because it was too crowded inside), toward the back but forward enough not to be endangered by the tail rotor. Nor is the larger blade low enough to threaten me. However, my body is draped over the side and I barely have any handhold or purchase. Indeed, as we begin to lift off, my grasp loosens and I both fall and am pushed out and downward by the powerful rotor wash.
The pilot is alerted to my fall even before I hit and promptly begins to settle the craft down again. But I am frightened of my impact. When it comes, I am surprised at the resiliency of the surface and that I am not hurt. It turns out there is an underground air circulation system, the large intake of which opens horizontally in the direction from which I'm blown and falling, i.e. perpendicular to the ground. The opening is greater in diameter than my height and covered with a strong, protective mesh or netting of great elasticity (a "safety net," as Fran noted, when I related the dream to her), so that I am completely uninjured. (This is all that is remembered.)
As I try to interpret the segment, I note that at the beginning I feel I'm heading off with little or no preparation on a hastily arranged and precarious adventure of dubious outcome, one over which I have no control. I'm at the mercy of other people and forces. That I shall fall (fail?) seems inevitable. I have very little grasp on the overall situation or even of why it is necessary to take so precipitous a trip. I'm surprised by, but grateful for, the concern of those in charge of the mission and of the competent pilot, in setting the copter down to retrieve me. I'm very relieved to be alright after the mishap. It seems there really was a safety net, in case things did not work out.
Going a little deeper, I can relate some to the dream's circumstances. In my situation I feel things are largely out of my control. At times it seems as though I'm embarked on an adventure (life itself) I do not really grasp and that my hold on a safe way through its challenges is now quite tenuous. Were I to try to take flight, for instance start over elsewhere, there is no certainty of any improvement. I'd like to think there is some kind of safety net, in case all goes wrong, but often doubt that there is.
Some aspects of myself seem competent and to know what they are doing, while others feel simply buffeted by forces too large and unpredictable to be managed. It seems that, in Transactional Analysis terms, the pilot and crew of the helicopter play a parental role to my excited yet frightened child identity, who is, naturally enough, grateful to and reassured by their professional protector identities. I am in relation to them as a victim being rescued from a natural disaster, but where the outcome is not yet clear.
In what way do I feel a victim? Advancing years, which often leads to age discrimination or to disability. Lack of a sense of meaning and purpose larger than my day to day impulses and needs. Economic or financial, in that rewarding work is not easily attained and our nest egg is significantly smaller than expected prior to the bear market in which we find ourselves for the last three years. Regrets that I have no children or grandchildren as I move into my final years or decades. No assurance that I'll find in time something as compelling as such younger generations to give my life relevance, to make my life matter.
What, then, is the safety net? Why is it depicted in relation to an underground air circulation system? This reminds me of the body's cardiopulmonary system(s). It or they, in turn, are often in mind as I am meditating or swimming, activities that, in themselves sometimes seem to form a mental/emotional safety net, compared with the more frenetic and often ill-conceived activities, thoughts, or passions of normal or everyday existence. The image also occurs of the nose, with its protective hairs screening the inflow of air. Its openings are roughly perpendicular to the ground and give entrance to a vital air circulation system. In the dream, then, I am like a bit of pollen or air current flotsam being caught before it can do damage inside. Perhaps I'm just a bugger there. Or a little homunculus. Ha!
Other questions remain. Why specifically the helicopter image? The rotors? The nocturnal setting? The helicopter reminds me, perhaps surprisingly, of an angelic presence, sent here to save some lucky souls, the rotors its modern wing metaphors. Perhaps I long for a heavenly presence (deus ex machina) to whisk me away, but, doubting I can be saved, see the fall, instead, as inevitable. I don't know, and this appears to be as far as I can readily, without forcing, go with the interpretation tonight.
After a pleasant swim at the Y this morning, I took Pepper in for another appointment with the veterinarian. Following various tests and her exam, the news this time was about as good as it can be. While she still no doubt has the liver cancer, her bladder condition is resolving well, at least for the time being, thanks to the medications and special dietary treatments she's been on for many weeks now. Her pH level, the culprit in her development of a bladder stone, is now much lower and almost normal. Her weight is stabilized at about 90% of the high she had attained when younger and healthier. Until her symptoms are worse, the vet does not need to keep seeing her, though she must be still on a dry dog food special diet, but one that's milder than the food used for the past month and a half or so. Fortunately, as yet there are no severe problems evident from the liver condition.
My own genitourinary functions are already somewhat improved, with the New Year's regimen of no caffeine, spirits, etc. Maybe over time it will get to the point I can resume more normal interactions and involvements in society! Must not get my hopes up. We'll see.
Frances was at a rehearsal of the Austin Lyric Opera orchestra again tonight. They are doing the avant-garde production of "Dead Man Walking" this time. I'm looking forward to the dress rehearsal, next Wednesday, 1/8, for which Fran gave me a comp. ticket.
Austin's opera directors may not be the best judges of appropriate opera fare for the metropolitan area fans. They are looking for a new director after firing the last one for scheduling productions like this one, that they think will not bring in much money from the richest contributors. Of course, they could also be right. They are projecting budget deficits of several hundred thousand dollars for the next couple seasons.
1/9/03-Thurs.-A relatively warm, sunny winter day, the high in the mid-eighties. The mutt's in the car in the shade of a big live oak with the windows down, and I'm over at Trudy's South. Fran's home, having some sort of bug or food poisoning that's had her GI system disturbed since night before last.
It's nice to think of perhaps in a few years living in central New York State, where the perfect weather we are experiencing now is more like an average summer day. (Of course, their winters suck by comparison with ours, but at least they are more picturesque!)
Frances did get Pepper out for a walk this early morn, and the dog, blissfully unaware of her own terminal illness, cut loose and ran, on and on, squandering energy with happy abandon.
We took her to Zilker Park the other day. I walked her around at a reasonable pace while Fran indulged a photography interest in the botanical gardens. Pepper spied several squirrels and briefly gave chase. I saw, for the first time, a white swan flying, at tree-top level, then gracefully gliding in to land on Barton Creek's clear, spring-fed waters. Till now I'd only observed "swans a-swimming."
My own energy level seems somewhat lower of late, or without significant surges, since my no caffeine intake resolution commenced. The benefits of this so far are subtle. And I miss the extra mental stimulus, the buzz that sometimes would beget an extra flow of insight or creativity. Is existence really duller without such a periodic fix, or does it merely seem so?
Quite intrigued by a recent book, 1421 - The Year China Discovered the World, that claims the Chinese navy found (and colonized!) the Americas nearly four generations before Columbus and had also circumnavigated the globe well before Magellan, using teak sailing ships enormous for their day, three hundred or more feet long, vast by comparison with the European vessels of the time.
Equally interesting is the hearty bacterium, Deinococcus radiodurans, of which I heard for the first time today. This cool wee beastie can survive the cutting of its DNA hundreds of times per strand by radiation rays, whereas normal life, certainly including ourselves, is killed by a mere three or four radiation cuts of cell DNA. So bizarre is this creature that some Russian scientists have speculated it must be a true alien and have come on a meteor from another planetary body, perhaps Mars, where there is much more surface radiation than on earth.
Personally, I think it could simply be an unusual survivor of a time in the history of the "third rock from the sun" when solar radiation through our then thinner atmosphere was much more intense. Whatever. The fact remains it is one neat specimen! Researchers are trying to figure out how it manages to subsist in radiation comparable to the kill zone (for ordinary beings) of nuclear blasts.
1/13/03-Mon.- On the news today, a head of the International Rescue Committee was interviewed about the apparently imminent (probably next month) war with Iraq. She said their planning and preparations are for a conflict that involves casualties ranging from, in the best case, thousands of refugees, some in desperate conditions, and many deaths, to, in the worst case, close to a million or more deaths and comparably greater numbers of refugees, assuming that weapons of mass destruction become involved. Their best guess is for half a million deaths, a greater number of severe injuries, and hundreds of thousands or more refugees. This best scenario assumes the war does not drag on, as in Vietnam, or involve the use of weapons of mass destruction by Iraq, the U.S., and/or Israel, but that, in contrast to Desert Storm, there would be fighting in the streets of major Iraqi cities.
Many cannot understand how we justify a preemptive war that risks so great a human toll when we are clearly not disposed to a preemptive war against N. Korea, which is much farther along the road to weapons of mass destruction, and when we have no evidence of direct threat soon from Iraq (except that they say they will use whatever means are at their disposal if we attack them first).
Is all this supposedly justified because twenty Middle Eastern terrorists carried out a successful attack that killed about three thousand of our citizens, and because Iraq is also in the Middle East, not currently one of the dictatorships we consider our friends, and more vulnerable to our forces than other nations? Are our three thousand dead of so much greater value than the well educated and middle class folks unlucky enough to live under a totalitarian regime in Iraq? Or their uneducated, lower class folks for that matter? We should not even be making such distinctions, just as we should not regard citizens of other countries of any less importance than our own. We generally consider ourselves a Christian nation. I wonder what Jesus would think of our current foreign policy. Somehow I doubt it would pass muster.
Two friends joined us for delicious vittles at Black-Eyed Pea (from whom we had a coupon) yesterday evening. It was a fun time.
For the present, Pepper is doing pretty well.
1/14/03-Tues.-Hindemith advocated the universal playing of music and believed that if everyone had an instrument and people got together cooperatively for practice and performing, there would be no more war. In our age, though, there must be a scarcity of harmony or some critical deficiency in our hearing, so wars rage on
1/15/03-Wed.-Had a dermatology checkup this morning. The good news is that only basal cell cancer is involved, not one of the more serious types of carcinoma. The bad news, though, is that I have two new suspicious lesions that needed to be biopsied today. The doctor was fairly sure each is a neoplasm. One, again on my nose, would need the same kind of extensive, deep surgery I had there a year ago. But this time the location is higher and likely would interfere with my glasses, once the sutures and mass of gauze and bandages are in place. It's uncertain now, of course, but is quite possible the nostrils will once more be affected, as things must be reconstructed greatly after such operative trauma.
I am heartily disappointed in this probable development, but, as with concerns over prostate difficulties, might as well wish for the night not to come or for the skies to be forever free of storm clouds, for all the good my feelings may do.
In the headlines today was the news the state legislature has transferred responsibility for one-tenth of its anticipated shortfall, a one billion dollar item that Texas would normally pay for education, to the local communities and school systems. As a result, Austin and other Lone Star cities will need to either do without or substantially raise property taxes to make up the difference. Of course, they'll lift our taxes.
On a positive note, in the mail we received an unexpected insurance check for over two hundred dollars. It seems they think they owe this much to us in connection with the transfer of insured vehicles from Fran's old one, that had to be abandoned in IL last year, to the newer one we bought the following month. We'll take it.
The weather here is changing again. It's overcast today after thick, accident-intensive fog during the commute to work this morning. Tonight the lows will still be mild, in the forties (F). But tomorrow we are to begin a spell of more normally wintry temperatures, with our first severe freeze forecast, and lows into the twenties. Looking forward to it!
1/17/03-Fri.-Slept late this morning, awakening then from a dream involving adventure and a quest. I am in some exotic place, perhaps India or the Middle East, or else about to go there. I stop in a shop where natural remedies are sold and from a dark-skinned boy I purchase a large quantity of herbal incense, that is, the dried stems of a special shrub, which are themselves a medicinal incense. He demonstrates by lighting one. I inhale and think how great to simply breathe in natural healing - how much better a way of dealing with cancer on and in one's nose than a lengthy operation and recuperation!
He also gives me directions to someone else who can help me on my journey. There is some business about my buying from this other person a large rectangular basket of reeds or straw, in which I'll put all my travel things and the incense shrub stems, as well as my dog, for I must take a lively little black canine - younger, taller, and more energetic and affectionate than Pepper is now - and in which or on which even I shall go too, as it is supposed, like woven papyrus, to float and to support a certain weight of extra luggage or supplies, plus me and the pet, in a large body of water, perhaps a bay or lake, that is to be crossed. (No idea how one's movement in the water is to be arranged, without oars, sails, or a motor and rudder, but dreams are often magical, and in them such details need not be worked out.)
In a dockyard or warehouse district, at the frontier of the country I'm leaving, I come to the border guard's hut. She interviews me, checks out the floatable baggage - complete with dog - and, to my relief, approves my departure from her land!
Like the shop boy, she gives me some advice or instructions, and sends me on my way.
There are then just vague impressions of a short waterborne journey and worries about whether the dog and I would get safely across and find our way in the new country. It seems that, once there, I'll be a pilgrim of sorts, seeking wisdom and guidance from a spiritual teacher.
In the "real world," after getting started today I drove over to Barton Creek Mall and walked around inside a couple times, for exercise. Due to the healing biopsy sites, yesterday I also avoided swimming, but did treadmill and weights exercise at the "Y" instead.
Fran is also off today, with no opera performances or any rehearsals. We may get started watching an intriguing animation video movie I rented the other day, "Grave of the Fireflies."
1/20/03-Mon.-We completed and put our latest family newsletter issue online today. This marks the beginning of the fifth calendar year of the publication.
Have been feeling fairly subdued since the biopsies. But there was still a chance at least the nose lesion was not actually cancerous.
Today, however, the doctor called and confirmed that both the pathology reports show basal cell carcinoma. The shoulder site will need to be "scraped and burned" out. The nose, however, must be opened up at least as completely as a year ago and maybe more, as she does not think this lesion is as small as the one then. She won't know until they explore inside the schnoz for awhile.
I'm scheduled for both operations on February 24, the earliest date available.
Several depressing things have happened since I retired, this merely the latest. Whether it is just because I'm temporarily discouraged or that the cumulative impact of everything is finally getting to me, I am feeling pretty low this evening.
We did not have time to see "Grave of the Fireflies" the other day, when we'd expected to, and saw it tonight instead. It turned out to be a very good animation film, but also quite sad. Both Frances and I were tearful by the end.
Happily, I'd gotten Fran for Christmas the complete set of "Monty Python's Flying Circus" videos, any one tape of which, it turns out, is an excellent antidote to the ever so reality-based blues or lacrimae rerum, the tears of things.
One bit of good news for us is that Pepper has rallied and is often recently playful and energetic, for now doing better than in several months.
With the foot problems having kept me from my previous daily aerobic walking, I'm noticing that the waistline, in spite of frequent swimming, has started to expand. Expect therefore to be increasing my exercise, in one form or another, to an hour a day, while also not overdoing it at any particular time, so the left foot can fully heal.
Am enjoying Len Deighton's Berlin Game again. I read it first about twenty years ago and have forgotten enough that it's rewarding the second time.
Meditation continues. Unfortunately, when I meditate, these bouts of depression often become worse, as memories of many distressing things then come to the forefront of awareness. Am considering significantly upping the meditation time, however, in hope of pressing on through the current malaise and breaking out of it. Couldn't hurt!
When in my twenties and going through an especially bad period, I was sometimes suicidal, hospitalized for it once because of a serious attempt, and coming close another time as well. After years of feeling divided or on the edge, between wanting life or death, I firmly decided to give existence a real chance.
To my more morbid side I argued that I would not seek happiness, necessarily, just to take things one day at a time. I would "stick it out" till sixty. And if, once I had reached that age (I assured my darker side), living were still so painful as not to seem worthwhile, I could always "off myself" then.
Well, the trick worked. Less than a year from sixty now, I've had no further significant temptations to do myself in, am quite glad I've had the extra thirty-plus years, and figure I can keep dealing with the joys or pains of life, at least if I simply cope with it all as usual, one day at a time.
1/22/03-Wed.-The other morning, as I pulled out of the driveway, on the radio they were playing a song with the lyric "catching a squirrel." At exactly the same moment, a cat I'd not seen before, came stalking, then darting after a squirrel in our front yard (barely missed him though). Interesting synchronicity. I'd never previously heard such a song or seen a cat do that. Thought they just went after mice and birds.
Hope Pepper's recently high spirits and relatively "youthful" disposition are not signs she's near the end. I've heard that folks with TB, in the 19th Century, when it was as great a scourge as cancer is today, often used to feel much better, even euphoric, thinking they were recovering, just prior to collapsing, going into coma, and dying. In any case, since the mutt does not know her condition is terminal, she's continuing lately to be very playful, happy, and energetic, doing as well as or better than most any thirteen and a half year old mutt.
We got up at 6:30 this morning. It was a productive day. Fran did the laundry and put it away, wrote several e-mail letters to relatives or friends, covered outside plants against the possibility of a freeze tonight, took Pepper for a walk, updated some web site links, did her daily music practice, and called her folks.
I went swimming at the "Y," did a major cleanup chore in my bathroom (after about half a year, this seems appropriate, whether it needs it or not!), picked up some rental videotapes, did grocery shopping, made a new investment, completed my meditation, dealt with the regular mail, sent some e-messages, and did my daily quota of updating financial records (a good idea since we're years behind in recording our transactions!).
We have great, cooler weather again, with 32°F tonight and temperature lows in the twenties (F) over the next couple days. Fran's sister and her family, in WI, are enduring about twenty (F) below zero. Brr!
1/26/03-Sun.-Broke my caffeine fast this morning at a new Starbucks Coffee shop, not too far from our house. I know I had the New Year's resolution to do without spirits, chocolate, or caffeine, and so forth, for at least six weeks except for very special occasions. But Starbucks sent me a coupon for a free vanilla-flavored latte, a $2.75 value, in honor of the store opening, and only good this month. Well, that's special enough for me - fancy and free coffee!
While in the same area - the Shady Hollow shopping center - I stopped at the Randall's grocery, which had also just recently opened. Took advantage of a couple deals there as well: a big bottle of 100% apple juice was free; two California Dreamin' club sandwiches were each $2 off.
Fran had already gone to take Pepper for a walk and do some shopping by the time I got out of bed.
I'd been up with the dog and taken her out about 5 AM, when rain was still coming down, then felt cold and had trouble getting back to sleep, waking up several times once I did.
The precipitation having stopped by then, I got my exercise following the latte, by walking in the Starbucks vicinity before taking my other low-priced or gratis goodies home.
Last night I registered with penpal.net, sifted through the profiles of several dozen other prospective correspondents, and sent an introductory e-mail to one.
Fran has quite a prolific and interesting e-mail exchange going with a few folks, including an entertaining Chinese-Australian lady "met" through the above site.
My own erstwhile writing acquaintances have dropped off or out lately. And though my extended family is large and almost all have handy computer access, they seldom send messages. What are received are usually more functional than social. To say we are "close" calls to mind the care taken by porcupines preparatory to copulation.
Today two viewing pleasures will dominate our VCR entertainment: the Super bowl football contest and, while Fran is receiving her long massage, "Never Been Kissed," with Drew Barrymore.
In the wee hours of morning, after I'd woken up for perhaps the twelfth time, I remembered a dream segment. I was isolated in an all black and white setting, outside, in an area that apparently had earlier been a railroad yard, where the trains would have been put together and then sent off in their separate directions. But no buildings or trains remained. I was at one edge of the complex, crisscross junction of tracks, some curving over others, some going straight and all leading off into the unknown by different routes. It seemed to be dusk or night or so overcast or foggy that little light was available. I could only see a few yards out. The tracks and their paths all disappeared within a short distance. I was near the boundary between a large clearing, that held the tracks, and an area forested with small to medium height trees. Even if there were good viewing, the course of the tracks and paths could only have been guessed because each was soon obscured by the woods and, at least as significantly, because there was a white powdery substance, several inches deep in places that filled the spaces between the tracks and then, just beyond the part of the clearing where I stood, began to cover over the rails and railroad ties until all trace of them was gone. This light powder seemed at first to be white sand blown over from dunes, or drifted snow, but then it became apparent it was too gritty and warm for that. It was, instead, the cremated and crushed ash remains of a host of former travelers on the now disused and distant trains.
1/29/03-Wed.-To Wal-Mart this morning for an oil change and lube of my old Toyota. Once there I picked up a watch battery and some jeans. Enjoyed "people watching" while waiting for the car to be ready.
Reading Lawrence Block's The Burglar Who Painted Like Mondrian.
Last night as we were in bed but not quite ready to turn out the light, Frances described an insight about the unfathomably vast amount of personal experience represented by all that we each sense, think, or feel, from the start to finish of our lifetimes (an incalculably huge set of awareness), multiplied by all the billions of individuals (a billion being an unimaginably large concept as well) experiencing their own multi-million instants of consciousness, and not only everyone alive now but all who have ever existed or will. She pointed out that even to wrap one's mind around the many diverse moments of experience (none of them really shared with anyone else) for just one of us would be impossible. The idea of somehow grasping them all, for everyone, is simply awesome.
To me, a remarkable thing too is that, with all the potential for wakeful living, many of us spend much of our precious time in a state very like sleep or deep trance, immersed in watching soap operas, whining about our fate, blaming others for the unfairness or bleakness of our existences, or in so many other ways squandering the riches that were ours from simply having been born.
My walks are getting longer again as the foot problems are becoming less pronounced. On one this morning I came across a dead coyote.
As I went over a hill, the air current markedly increased and I realized that part of the same (Bernoulli's principle) by which most aircraft acquire their lift was at play here. Suddenly I understood what I'd not before, why the wind is almost always more intense in the mountains than on level ground.
Dear reader, please be careful how and where you look for your one and only! My brother, Allen, as mentioned here before, in his late forties, living in Texas, married and divorced before, having a good, professional job with a defense company (but having little common sense), who had been searching for just the right person and, not finding her elsewhere, tried the internet, where he hooked up with a twenty-nine year old Spanish-speaking lass (he does not speak Spanish) living in Ecuador, who told him she loved him (by way of their respective Microsoft translation programs!), so he flew down and met her. Different race and culture, but ("speaking" using a Palm Pilot, with the ever resourceful Microsoft program) the pair decided in two days that they were meant for each other and should get married immediately. Only at the last minute did she decide it might look better to her relatives if she waited and planned a traditional wedding, which they had on his second visit down, about three weeks later.
Each time he travels to see her, she asks for and he provides a lot of money, to take care of her bills. He seems proud to be able to do this, at least till his oft poorly managed funds run out, and she proud and pleased to receive from his assumed abundance.
A brother of hers recently poisoned her dog after a dispute over whether or not his "squatter's rights" at her place mean he now owns at least part of the house, which he is remodeling to suit himself, apparently at Allen's cost.
He's visited about three more times since they were married this past September. She's now pregnant with at least one child. One wonders if it (they) is(are) his. But, ever the idealist, he's completely confident he's the father. She says triplets run in her family and is already "showing" enough that, she insists, it must at least be twins - hmm.
Throughout, of course, Allen would not listen to any words of caution, only wanted to hear our congratulations on his good fortune. INS now tells him they estimate, despite the marriage, it will be at least another year and a half before they finish processing her request for a visa to enter and stay in the U.S. So, Allen will almost certainly be a father and have a developing family overseas before any of them can enter our country.
Frankly, before the pregnancy, we were hoping the lovebirds would lose interest in each other, once the practical realities became apparent and they had a chance to really get to know each other. Now the best his friends and well-wishers can hope for is that, against the odds, they really do love each other and will be compatible for the rest of their lives, as it looks likely it is an understatement to say the marriage will be full of challenges.
1/30/03-Thurs.-A low-key day. Exercised at the "Y," did some shopping, and worked on records for the 2002 tax return.
This morning, after my swim, we also went out for breakfast at Trudy's.
And this evening Fran and I had a hilarious time watching the fast-moving, terribly funny and feel-good video movie, "Just Visiting."