Some reflection on 2011 and only one resolution for 2012.

I was reminded by my daughter, Jen, that a blog was originally referred to as a web log, or weblog.  This in response to my comment that all the blogs I read are all about the person writing it, very narcissistic to say the least.  I told her I had been kind of blog surfing of late to find other blogs I would like to read without much luck.  All of the links she has on her blog are to people’s blogs who are just like her:  young mother married professionals, ie, working moms with young children.  Duh!  Of course they are.  And if I ever begin to find blogs I can relate to, ie, old, curmudgeonly cynical farts who like to write, then, perhaps, I can commiserate (I don’t know if Andy Rooney had a blog, but…well, he’s dead now!).  But then I will have simply found personal, narcissistic web logs from guys or gals my age, the content of which I just finished criticising.  And what’s worse?  This is exactly what I do, save for a few recipes now and then.  Jen went on to remind me that  most blogs are exactly that, an on-line journal, a web log of that person’s life, be it their travels, their daily goings on, or what they are cooking for dinner that day.  It is all personal, and this one is no different.  So comes my only, true New Years Resolution.  I will write this blog as I have for several years.  I will write this blog about me and and how I view things in this world with an added effort to making a positive impact on the folks who read it.  Notice I didn’t pledge to write about only positive things, I just want to write about some things that interest and affect me and others like me as if no one is reading.  I promise to not be too serious, sappy, or nostalgic,  keeping it witty with a seasoning of fanatical idealism and sarcasm thrown in from time to time.

So, a kind of recap of last year and what I can expect from myself this year.  There’s that word, ‘expect’…take notice I didn’t mention ‘expectations’ from or about others, I’m trying to purge those behaviors from my system completely.

This year’s recap will mostly focus on the obvious…it was not a banner year for us..  It is was it was and it is done and gone.

Back in January I started having pains in my abdomen.  After several months of complaining to my primary doctor and several cancelled referrals to follow up, I decided it best that I find out what’s going on.

The pains would come and go and were actually quite severe at times.  I had a couple of non-evasive tests, a scan of my abdomen discovered a stone and sludge-filled gall bladder.  Simple enough, I will just have it taken out like so many folks have done in the past.  Not so fast.  The first surgeon I spoke with wanted more tests first.  I had a more comprehensive scan to determine gall gladder function that turned out, strangely enough, positive, ie, “Your gall bladder in functioning properly despite the stones and the sludge”.  “But is it causing the pain?”, I inquired with a slight grimace on my face complete with furrowed brow.  “We don’t know at this point, need more tests”.  At that point I was scheduled for a endoscopy (the camera tube down my esophagus) and a couple months of cancelling and rescheduling began…I was reluctant to have that thing done.  I have a very sensitive and severe gag reflex and I pictured myself being strapped to a table and held down by two burley orderlies while some wild-eyed ear, eye, nose, and throat doc fed several feet of camera tubes into my gullet.  All the time me choking, gagging, and struggling to escape.  Well, I finally did have my endoscope.  I don’t remember a thing about it from the time the doctor told the nurse, “You can induce now” (induce the wonderful gah-gah drugs they have now to render you not unconscious but unaware without any memory of what happened).  And that’s exactly what happened.  Done deal, it was over.  And, the test was negative.  Now up to this point, I was hoping for a peptic ulcer thinking that something like may have been causing the pain and the bout of bleeding I had the year before.  Oh, did I forget to mention that almost a year prior I had some bleeding for a couple of days that I wrote off as something caused by hemorrhoids?  Not the best self diagnosis in retrospect.  So, no peptic ulcer or other stomach ailment found by the cameras, I was headed now for colonoscopyville…the dreaded ass camera!

Even though I really did have more anxiety about the endoscope than the colonscope, can I assume there are not very many people who look forward to this procedure.  A heinous procedure whereby a tube with a camera on the end of it…well, I won’t bore you with details of something you already can envision or have had done to you.  It’s done all the time…and it needed to be done to me.

Apparently, you get to experience the same gah-gah drug you get with the endoscope.  Doc says, “Induce” and you wake up in recovery.  That’s pretty much it except for the good 30 minutes I lay in the procedure room, chatting with nurse, and waiting for the doc all the while listening to his shitty selection of music on a boombox in the corner.  Oh, and staring directly at what seemed like a firehouse-sized series of tubes connected to a flat screen TV with my name on the screen.  There it was, James Hansen – colonoscopy.  Before the drugs, first some liquid valium to calm me down, then something else whose nomenclature escapes me (remember the amnesia?), the doc has to ask, “Mr. Hansen, tell me why you are here”.  They ask you that before every procedure and you must recite the reason for your visit and your name. “Colonoscopy…James Hansen.  Is that why you’re here as well?”, I asked with tongue in cheek that, by the way, elicited not so much of courtesy chuckle or any answer of any type from him.  Geeze, shouldn’t they make doctors take a class called, “Sense of Humor 101” at the very least, part of the bedside manner thing?  Apparently not.

Flash forward thirty minutes or so and I’m in a little recovery area with Loretta, a nurse, and doctor standing at the foot of my bed.  The first voice I hear is Loretta, “Hi, honey, how do you feel?”  “OK…it’s done?”.  The doc answers, “Yes it is.  I found and removed a few polyps and sent them to the pathologist along with a biopsy from a tumor.  It appears to be colon cancer”.  That was a lot of information to sling at someone who just woke up from a term of unconsciousness with a sprinkling of amnesia thrown in.  Later that day I asked Loretta to repeat back what the doctor said to me and she said, “I don’t remember much, I thought you were listening!”  “Me?  I have amnesia!”  I did manage to query the doctor on the source of the pain (could be the tumor, maybe not) and what my course will be.  At this point, the tumor could be non-cancerous.  I would have to wait a few days for the answer to that question.  In the meantime, the surgery was scheduled for August 26th.

The call from the doctor came to my cell phone while I was at work.  I answered and asked him if I could call him back in a few minutes when I had the time.  He said he would call me back in a few minutes and that is what he did.  I took the call in a meeting room in the rear of the store, he was very polite, “Mr. Hansen, there is really no other way to say this, but…you have colon cancer.  And it has gone into at least one lymph node”.

I can’t say I wasn’t in shock at that information.  I asked the doctor a few more obvious questions and said goodbye.  I did well up, and it did bring a tear to my eye, especially as I called Loretta from that meeting room and told her the news.  She took the news very well and assured me everything would be OK, ie, have the surgery, get it out of your body, and get well.  I went home early from work that day.  The scheduled surgery was three weeks away and I would just have to wait to move on through the next trial.

Those three weeks of waiting for the surgery went by at a snail’s pace.  I worked my regular full time schedule and just tried to put it out of my mind, not an easy chore.  Whenever someone asked me, “Hey, Skip, how’s it going?” I had to pause and contemplate.  Do I tell this person about the cancer (the painfully honest answer), or, do I just lie and say, “Not bad…and you”, usual response in the course of casual conversations at the water cooler.  I chose to say, “Not bad, considering.  I have surgery on the 26th”.  Some would simply respond with, “Oh!” then turn and walk away while with others who cared asked for details…I was willing to share.  I chose not to keep this thing to myself.  Right or wrong, I decided to be open about it.

The surgery came and went without a hitch.  The tumor, 10 inches of my large intestine, 21 lymph nodes, along with that pesky gall bladder were all removed.  The tumor, intestine, and lymph nodes were all sent to the pathologist.  Details of the surgery I’ve already written about and won’t go into save for the fact that the three days in the hospital and 3 weeks of recovery were miserable.  Enough said about that.

Two weeks after the surgery I got the call from the surgeon.  You have Stage III Colon cancer.  Simply put, it had moved into at least one lymph node which was removed.  I would need six months of chemotherapy as kind of an insurance  that it is not growing unnoticed somewhere else.  At this point in time, I am half way done with the chemo.  Needless to say, the chemo is not fun. I go every two weeks for a three hour infusion and return home for two days with another bottle of chemo that infuses over those two days.  I go back and get the bottle disconnected and go home to be sick for a week or so.  By the way, just before the chemo began I had another minor surgery to install a central line port installed under my skin in my chest.  It provides access through a catheter in my jugglar vein that goes directly into one of my heart chambers.  Frankenstein-esque yes, a better way, yes.  Of course, half of this chemotherapy will be part of my end of year recap this year and how I have fared in the world of the “Big C”.  If I write a recap at the end of this year I am a cancer survivor, what I consider myself right now…a survivor.  The cancer was removed and the chemotherapy is getting rid of any lingering cancer.  Done deal?  Not hardly…it’s all a game of odds…and those odds are well known to be 50/50.

Loretta, dear Loretta, has been a super trooper during this whole ordeal, and it has been an ordeal despite my trite comic relief when writing about this.  It’s fucked up to have cancer.  And it’s fucked up for those close to me.  There is no other way to put it.  My circle of support has been wonderful and I appreciate it all.  It’s all they can do.  Prayers and well wishes…and that’s enough.

To keep this particular post non-morose, or at least not totally morose like it seems to be, there is a good side.  Compared to a year ago, I weight about 40 pound less, mostly by design, some of it from chemotherapy.  No hair fell out and I don’t get nausea, upchucking sick.  I simply feel tired and crappy…and, yes, relatively speaking, that’s a good thing.  I have several acquaintances from work going a similar regiment, all of them doing more poorly than I.  That’s not a good thing, it’s just what is.  I feel fortunate to be where I am now in terms of my prognosis.  I stand a good chance of beating this.  And when March rolls around I am done with chemo, April I go back to work.  The weather will be Spring nice here in Modesto and I will relish in the fact that I am now at the proper weight for my size and I have beaten cancer.  Time to hit the gym, the bicycle, the treadmill at a more fervent pace than I have ever done.  Time to ratchet things up a bit, move forward, and do the things I have planned to do when this thing is over.

Not only do I finish chemotherapy in March, I also receive my first social security check.  Since I will continue to work, at least part time, this extra income will come in handy to travel and to accomplish some planned photo projects.  All looks good for 2012 and I plan to keep a positive attitude.  I hope I can influence others to do the same in some way.

My thoughts for 2012?  Only one resolution:  to try to make a positive impact on people, either in person or with my writing or photography.

No big list of resolutions as you can see.  Just to follow up and finish the things I start will suffice.  Life is good.  I have a long way to go still.

Happy New Year!

Is it what you do that’s important? Or is it what you are?

What I wanted to be versus what I do versus what I am.  These are three separate, distinctive, and different things, lists really, about my life.  All three of them have almost nothing to do with the others.  I’ll get to those three lists in a minute.

Let’s take a doctor.  I am going to assume that if anyone can combine all three of of those lists, it would be a doctor.  I wanted to be a doctor, I am a doctor, I do doctor. Let’s face it, when you spend a minimum of 12 years in college  and interning (let alone 18 years of grammar, middle, and high school) that your life, your want to be, your am, your do lists all say “DOCTOR”.  right?  I must add “perhaps” after that “right”.  There must be doctors who don’t live, eat, and sleep doctoring…for a variety of reasons.  For one, they may have an extremely rich personal and family life that requires a certain amount of time.  Doctors, at least what I’ve been led to believe about young doctors anyway, interns, they don’t have a lot of free time.  Perhaps I sat through too many partial episodes of Grey’s Anatomy. They work long shifts while going to medical school, have overly important drama queen (and king) personalities, and must find time to screw one another in clandestine storerooms or empty patient beds.  All of this cavorting done between life and death surgeries and long periods of whining and self pity.  Again, perhaps Loretta “forced” me to watch too many episodes of Grey’s Anatomy. Perhaps when all of that schooling and interning, screwing, and residenting is done and they join a medical group or start their own small town practice, then and only then, perhaps they have time for a full and enriched personal life away from doctoring.  Right?  I don’t rightly know, for a I am not a doctor and haven’t known a doctor on a personal basis, either while growing up or as an adult.  Certainly none of the doctors I’ve ever  met, ie, been treated by, in no way fit any of the “doctors” on TV medical shows!  I assume there must something to all of that cavorting and brooding based on reality.  Perhaps, not!

Maybe the same can be said for, let’s say, an architect, which, by the way, is one of the things on my wanted to be list.  After a semester or so of drafting classes in college, and being told that I had a real talent for graphic art (back when the “art” of architecture was still done by hand on a drawing board and not through a CAD program), I found out that it takes 12 years to become a full-fledged architect…12 years!  Involving at least 6 years of school, it also included another 6 years or so “interning”, or as they call it, “junior draftsman” status.  Some of that later can be done concurrently with class schooling, so that 12 years about which I speak can be whittled down a bit.  At any rate, I bailed on that career when I found out that radio broadcasting could be easier, more fun, and I could meet women more readily.

Here is my wanted to be list, in chronological order:  lawyer (my Mom’s wish for me at a very young age, I didn’t really even know what a lawyer was so that didn’t last), zoologist, marine biologist (these last two I was very serious about through my early teens, I loved fish, frogs, snakes, and dissecting things in school…didn’t follow through with it, lost interest, discovered girls?), cinematographer (probably my most passionate and long-lasting career desire, never followed through on the schooling, went in the Navy, blah, blah, blah), radio announcer (spent about 18 years in that business, lost interest due to lack of equitable pay in a small town, opted out for restaurant management, something that shows up on my what I do (did) list.  That concludes my wanted to be list.  That’s it, that’s all I ever wanted to be until recently.  Add writer and photographer to this list.

Here is my what I do (did) list: employee at McDonald’s (from 15-17, was courted to go into management, had no interest), employee at Sears (I was 18, worked in the store, then outside in the tire department, got fired because someone’s tire fell off when they drove away, they couldn’t prove I did it so I drew unemployment for a couple months, no injuries in that errant tire fiasco), Creamery Technician (processed milk at the local community college while “attending” classes, I was 18-19 at the time), Navy Airborne Anti-submarine Warfare Technician/Operator (19-23, spent 4 years cavorting around the Pacific, Southeast Asia, Vietnam, etc, Honorable Discharge after being “courted” to stay in and become a full-fledged officer and a pilot, I opted out to go back home and grow my hair long…1973 priorities you know?), Radio Announcer (about 18 years in this business, see above on the wanted to be list for why I am not still a radio announcer), Restaurant Manager (got into it almost by accident after getting fired from my last radio job, spent another 18 years or so in this miserable profession, decent money though later on in my “career”), Photo Technician (at Walmart for the last 3 years, no money to speak of, have been courted for management but that will never happen again in this lifetime, pays the bills while biding my time to turn 62 and only work there part time).  This is what I do and what I have done.  It seems I have left some things out, but I’m sure someone will remind me.

And now, the what I am list.  This is what I always remind people who are not happy in their job or career, which has been in reality most of the folks I have met.  I remind them that this (your job) is what you do, it is not what your are (or who I am).  If what you do is also who you are, then you are indeed a lucky, if not self actualized person…and that is rare. (Refer back to the doctor or architect paragraph above).  I am a father, brother, son, friend, husband, writer, and photographer.  As I get closer to actually retiring, I will do more of what I am,  vis a vis, a writer and photographer.  At some point, I won’t work part time at Walmart, I will just write and photograph, if not for money but just for the pure enjoyment of doing what I am.  I am getting to the age where I feel I have earned that distinction, that ability to make the choice.  I have no more lofty career goals or fantasies to full fill in the work force.  I am at least truly done with that.  I am ready to let all that I have learned and experienced soak in for as long as I can.

What a splendid topic: use of the word splendor!

 splen-dor [splen-der] noun: brilliant or gorgeous appearance, coloring; display of imposing pomp, grandeur; brilliant distinction; glory.
It seems that far too few of us regular folk have ever or will ever experience anything in our ho-hum lives that could be considered splendor.  It’s a great word, don’t get me wrong – I love the word splendor.  But in lieu of the dictionary definition of the word stated above, just exactly what is splendor or (possibly) “splediferous”  in our lives?  I know, splendiferous is not a real word yet.  You may substitute the word splendid for splendiferous if it makes you feel more comfortable.
When I think of the word splendor, what immediately comes to mind is the book and movie, “Splendor in the Grass”.   I picture Natalie Wood and Warren Beatty in the movie version – unrequited, forbidden love, heartbreak, and drama.  The only time I experienced those emotions was when I was 10 years old and had a crush on Susan Sutton in the sixth grade!  We, Susan and I, actually did become boy and girlfriend for about 15 minutes one day, holding hands in the schoolyard and everything.  She dumped me the next day for some kid named Harold who got straight A’s on his report card.  So, I could say I once experienced “Splendor in the Schoolyard” , but that’s about it.  But it certainly was not a splendid experience.  The strange comic book of sorts, “American Splendor”, by Harvey Peekar (played by Giamatti in the film) also comes to mind.  But the splendor in this case is used in a more sarcastic sense in consideration of the material Pekkar writes about, ie, his mundane (far from splendid) existence.
We may not have splendor in our day to day lives, but we probably do have occasional splendid moments. From the Latin splendidus meaning brilliant, elegant, first-rate, remarkable, or celebrated…splendid seems quite accessible. “We went to the museum the other day and had a truly splendid time”.  Most likely we wouldn’t say, “We experienced the splendor of the museum”, even though it’s almost the same word as splendid except it is an adjective and not a noun.  The word splendor has the same Latin derivative as the word splendid, but not used nearly as often, especially today.  I can’t remember hearing anyone (at least anyone in my age group) use the word splendid in a conversation with me.  I suppose the old English librarian named Mrs. Hannaby I knew in my childhood would throw in  that word from time to time, “Oh, yes, Master Skip, you must read “Treasure Island”, it’s a splendid read for a lad of your age!”  I never really knew a Mrs Hannaby, but you get the picture (?).  Perhaps I heard Simon use the word splendid on American Idol.  After all, he is English.  The English do have more than a proper way with the King’s than we bourgeois Americans.  We were and always will be the “colonists”, the “revolutionaries” who run willy nilly here and there destroying and recreating the English language at will.
I like the words splendid and splendor.  I would like to use them from time to time in this blog and in conversation.  Maybe not so much splendor, but certainly splendid as in, “This first cup of strong Yuban coffee each morning is simply splendid, I just love it more than any other time of the day”.  So is the first cigarette of the day (of which I no longer enjoy the splendor), but that’s another story and another blog:  smoking.
Here is a suggestion for using the word splendid.  When someone asks you casually, “How are you doing?”, respond with, “Splendid, I’ve never had it so good”. That last part I borrowed from my friend Bob who started saying that years ago just to mix things up in those awkward times when someone asks you that over-used question.
I’ve had a splendid time writing this blog entry.  Now I am going to close and enjoy the splendor of this first cup of coffee.  I’ll stop now!

Was Harry Potter sartorial?

You know, when I write in this here blog, I truly attempt to keep the writing, the grammar, the spelling all in check.  I also try to keep things as simple as possible, to get to the point within a reasonable amount of time.  And what about that point you say? Do you always have a point Skip?  And the answer to that is yes, I do!  I have a feeling you may be referring to the fact that I all-too-often start out yapping about one point then end up deeply ensconced in some other point altogether.  And I’m willing to accept that observation, I totally agree.

Now, this particular blog is not about writers, bloggers, and lurkers getting to the blog-point in a more judicious manner.  Nope…I’m changing points here…it’s about using unfamiliar synonyms just for sake of sounding, well, learn-ed.    Notice I used the word judicious (manner) above.  Judicious defined as wise, discreet, and prudent in its simplest form.  So couldn’t I have just said, “…getting to the point quicker.”?  I used just five words here, where above I wasted another five trying to sound, well, more learn-ed.

Case in point, I was reading another blog, written by a very clever 30’s female with an incredibly dry sense of humor.  It’s one of those “I never really know what she’s gonna say in the next sentence, and, I can’t stop reading until I finish the blog entry!” sort of thing.  Anyway, I digress (again).  She’s very readable.  In a recent entry she used the phrase, “…in all our sartorial splendor”, the caption from an old photo of her at a much younger age. I always had though I knew the definition of sartorial.  I thought it meant something like having a mystical aura about you, an enigma of sorts.  Doesn’t that sound logical to you, “Harry Potter’s sartorial splendor while wielding that wand is something at which one has to be amazed”.  Not?  Not.

The definition of sartorial goes something like this: of or pertaining to clothing or style or manner of dress.  In other words, your sartorial self is all about how you dress.  Where’d I get that mystical crap?  That enigma bilge?  TODAY is when I looked up sartorial, for the first time evidently, and was enlightened.  But at first it did make me feel  un-learn-ed, ignorant (which, by the way, simply means without knowledge), wimpy, worthless, and weak (as a writer) for about five minutes.  At that point in time, I said to myself, “Oh, yeah…well I’m going to write a blog and use the word sartorial in it!”  That’s it, just go for it!  And so…I did.

By the way, one of definitions for mystical is: unintelligible, cryptic.  Makes a lot of sense after reading stuff like this, yes?!

carpe diem

A movie title from the 50’s came to mind this morning: The Beginning of the End.  Starring Peter Graves, it was a typical “B” horror flick about giant grasshoppers taking over the world.  Not the premise of this movie, it was the title itself that caught my eye.

I start chemotherapy tomorrow, I’ve known this for several weeks.  I’ve known that I have cancer for a little longer.  So today I asked myself “Is this the beginning of the end” for me?  Realistically, that “Big C” timer is ticking.  One year, three years, five years?  No one knows.

The only time I can recall feeling this way was when I found out that I was destined for Viet Nam courtesy of the Navy in 1971.  It wasn’t so much of a fatalistic feeling as it was a feeling of mortality.  I was 21 at the time. I returned unharmed.  Funny, even when I had a major heart attack at 36, I wasn’t really worried.  I was more pissed off at myself during that long ambulance ride to the hospital.  I was in a lot of pain and I wasn’t worried, I was angry at myself for letting this thing happen.  That’s pretty much how I felt in 1998 when I went in for bi-pass surgery – I was a bit perturbed at how I could have let myself get to this point.  But I didn’t have these overwhelming feelings of mortality.

Of course since then I’ve reconciled the fact that there may not have been anything I could have done one way or the other to avoid those medical situations.  There is no reason to place blame or rationalize how I got here now either.  It’s just the way it is.

Well, the realistic Beginning of the End for all of us is birth.  From the moment we are born things go downhill.  The aging process is inevitable and it is cruel…and it is unavoidable.  With that realization, this beginning of the end nonsense has already been taken off my plate and replaced by another saying.  This morning, I heard the Latin term carpe diem mentioned in a news interview.

Carpe diem?  I’ve heard it before but never knew what it meant until I Googled it this morning.  And when I read the painfully simply definition, it all made sense.  Carpe diem – “seize the day” is the literal translation, “to enjoy, seize, use, make use of”.  Carpe literally means “to pick, pluck, pluck off, cull, crop, gather”.  And I truly seem to have a renewed want to pick, pluck, cull, crop, and gather!  Without seeming too flippant or, heaven forbid, too irresponsible…let’s get this party started!

The other foreign language saying I’ve tried to live by of late is the French cook school ditty mise en place –  “everything in place”.  And right now, I think I have everything in place, more than any other time in my life.  I am doing exactly what I should be doing right now, and that is taking care of this cancer.

Tomorrow at 1:00 pm I have an appointment in the infusion lab at Kaiser.  Specifically, Chair #1 is reserved for yours truly.  It’ll take a couple of hours then I will be sent home with a portable pump attached to my chest port for two days.  Then back Wednesday to have the pump disconnected, and returning every other Monday for six months.  Mise en place…everything in its place.  And the days I’m feeling well enough from the effects of chemo…carpe diem…seize the day.

Is it wistful melancholy or just being a downer person?

It’s not often one can realize a single word that describes one’s self.  It’s probably not often most even think about such a thing.  Believe me, I haven’t spent a lot of time thinking about this myself, in fact, no time at all.  It just came to me this morning while reading a magazine article totally unrelated to self analysis.

Try this exercise sometime, ie, complete this sentence:  I am a ___________ person.  I’m sure any number of adjectives may come to mind, more than one in most cases.  But try to narrow it down to one word in that blank, not a paragraph or a sentence, but one singular word.

The word I would put in that blank is wistful.

I was reading an article in PDN (Photo District News) magazine this morning.  The writer of the article described someone’s photo book as follows, “The overwhelming mood the book leaves us with is wistful melancholy, kind of like that feeling you get after you spend a day shopping and still can’t find what you really want”.

I looked up wistful and found these definitions – Having or showing a feeling of vague longing or daydreaming, showing pensive sadness, full of wishful yearning.  Synonyms include: contemplative, desirous, disconsolate, dreaming, hopeless, meditative, melancholy, mournful, musing, nostalgic, pensive, plaintive, reflective, sad, thoughtful, and yearning.

I’ve written about myself many times as being a daydreamer, but that singular word was not sufficient enough to fill in the blank about me, myself, and I.  But that word, wistful, was not a word I’ve heard used that often.  Perhaps you would find it used in romance novels…”Her wistful glance betrayed her stoic expression as the man she loved rode off into the desert sunset…never to return again.”

As I jotted down all the synonyms and definitions of wistful, it occurred to me that I was indeed describing myself.  All those words pertained to me, and not just on occasion, but most of the time!  And at first, it was quite disturbing.  Am I that much of a “downer”, am I such a “neg-head” person?  Heaven knows I can be at times.  Maybe we all can be at times.  But to describe myself in one word as wistful?  That is my main personality trait?

But then I noticed something else in the definitions I Googled.  Another word, although not used to define wistful but instead another way to help people understand the meaning of words.  It listed the antonym, the opposite of wistful.  And that one opposite of wistful word was uncaring.

So, if uncaring is an antonym of wistful, ie, the opposite of wistful, then caring must be another synonym.  And with that, I accepted (at least for the time being) my one word definition of myself.  Or at least my own perception of myself.  What other people perceive me as at this point is irrelevant.  I’ve spent 61 years being pensive, plaintive, musive, and wistful about me…daydreaming about what others may be thinking about me or what others expect of me.  If one can put a statute of limitations on this kind of thought process, one should do it as early in life as possible.  For me, that statute is 61+ years.  I could wait until my 62nd birthday in January, but, there’s no time like the present.

My astrological sign is Aquarius, the water bearer and humanitarian.  “We” supposedly care about others.  Although I don’t live and breathe by my horoscope, it does provide a modicum of entertainment.  So if I am a wistful person, then, by opposite definition, I am a caring person.  I feel good about that.  I will accept that.

Now approaching the start of my 63rd year, what will I do to live up to or earn this so-called caring status?  With that question, I will have to get back to you.  I must muse on it for a while.  I will require more time in that wistful state in which I often find myself.  In other words, let me think about it!

PS  I must also mention that with my current physical state and recent medical experiences notwithstanding, I have always been this way.  Just ask my mother about her brooding, pensive three year old son.  It began very early on.  I think they used to call it pouting.  Like spending the entire day shopping and not finding what you want.  How appropriate!

But, with that being known…at least I still go shopping.

Behind the mask. Am I ready to reveal what is there yet?

Where do you start to write about finding out you have cancer?  What is there to say that hasn’t been said or written a thousand times before?  How does one react to this kind of news?  How does one respond to the concern and sympathy without sounding glib, trite, somber, or pathetic?  These are just a few of the questions I am asking myself this morning, now less than two weeks from having the surgery.

I’ve always been one those, “Aw, shucks…thanks, but it’s no big deal!” kind of guy.  Throughout my life, when receiving a compliment, I’ve tended to be a bit dubious of the messenger’s intentions.  Paranoid may be more accurate.  Worried that person was just putting me on.  Over the years as I got older I have managed to overcome most of this worry and just accept compliments, or, in the case now, accept the concern.

Over the course of a few days, how many people ask you, “Hey, how’s it going?”  Since I tend to be relatively gregarious to co-workers, ie, make eye contact, smile, nod, or ask, “How ya’ doing to most everyone”, I also receive much of that in return.  The ones who never say, “Hello” back or acknowledge my greeting reap what they sow from me.  I now ignore them instead of wondering why they never respond.  I have enough problems than to worry about socially inept ingrates.

“Hey, good.  How you doin’?” in a mock Tony Soprano sort of way is my usual response to someone asking me the question, “How are you?”  The environment in which I work (a large retail store) brings with it much face to face contact with co-workers and customers.  It is unavoidable.  This work space is also very sociable in that we all take lunches and breaks in a small area, it’s difficult to go unnoticed.  Despite my early childhood shyness, I seem to have morphed into a friendly, very approachable, likeable person in public arenas.  I do make eye contact.  I do smile at people if not offer some sort of greeting.  I have become so opposite of what I was as a child it’s a bit scary.  Don’t get me wrong, I’m not obnoxiously outgoing by any means, but usually very quiet, laid back, friendly and…approachable.

With this being known, a lot of folks know my name at work, not just because we wear name tags.  They just know who I am: the tall, older, balding, friendly,white guy in the photo department who knows a lot about cameras and such.  I must tell you that a enjoy this mundane, if not perceived notoriety.  The many casual relationships I have cultivated over the last three years mean a lot to me, especially when the going gets rough…like now.

Getting back to that mutual hallway greeting, “Hey, how are you today?”.  Saying “Great”, or on particularly trying days saying, “Eh, not bad” just doesn’t seem right at this point.  So, what do I say now?  What is my proper response?  Should I say, “Eh, trying to figure out how to deal with the recent knowledge that I have cancer.  And even though my prognosis is far better than many other co-workers here who have cancer and other issues much worse than I, I’m not doing too well.  I have good days and bad days.  Positive days and negative days.  I’m in constant pain now for seven months, but that may be to my sick gall bladder that is going to be removed during the surgery along with a third of my colon, and not the cancer.  Oh, I also have an occasional bout with angina, probably due to stress.  There, I’ve said it.  There is always that enigma rearing it’s ugly head at the most inopportune times like last night after a full day of burning pain in my abdomen, I had to pop a nitro tablet for the first time in my life due to the angina pain.  You know, other than that…I guess I’m good!  Thanks for asking.  And you?”  Somehow, this doesn’t seem practical.

Having a dry wit and using it to deal with stress, pain, and ugly health issues seems to be my milieu, my ballywick, my way of dealing with things like this.  Have I cried about it?  Just once, kind of.  It was a half-assed choked up half-cry when I talked to Loretta on the phone right after receiving the results from the biopsy. I managed to suppress any dripping tears as I was at work and not in a private area.  Most of my emotions since hearing the news have gone to anger.  Believe me, I’d rather have a good ball than be pissed off! Yes, I ain’t too happy about it at all.  Mostly, I’m pissed at myself for being in this situation and putting Loretta and my family through it AGAIN.  Perhaps there was nothing I could have done different to avoid all of this, I realize that.  I remember asking my cardiologist after my bi-pass surgery almost 15 years ago, “Hey, doc.  When did these blockages in my arteries start growing?” “At the latest, when you were about 17 most likely.  Possibly as early as the day you were born”.  “OK, so if I had been eating bean sprouts and tofu all my life, exercising without fail, and never smelling a cigarette…would that have made a difference?”  “Probably not.  You are a classic case of genetic predisposition considering your father’s health and your grandfather’s early death from a heart attack.  It’s probably 80% hereditary”.  Well, alright then.  I’ve been exonerated from blame!  I’m laughing out loud at myself as I write this.  And you know, a good laugh is almost as satisfying as a good cry.

I now respond to my co-workers who ask, “How’s it going?”, with this, “OK…surgery is August 26th”.  It’s funny, the responses are varied to that answer.  For some, their mouths drop open and they ask for details, legitimate concern.  For others, “Hey, good luck!” is what I get back.  And from some, all I get is a blank stare,  a spin of their heels, and a walk away without saying anything back.  I think I just blew those people’s minds and they simply don’t know how to respond.  Picture them holding one of those Wiley Coyote signs that reads, “Shit!  I didn’t expect him to say that.  Let me outta here!”  Poof! Gone in a cloud of dust.  I don’t blame them.  I feel fortunate I can still use them for humor in this blog.

In a nutshell, I must deal with this cancer thing in the most pragmatic of ways, the way I have been dealing with it.  I’ve tried to keep all my closest friend (yes, that’s singular) and relatives apprised of what’s going on as soon as possible (at their request).  I’ve tried to maintain a positive attitude, soldier through the bouts of pain and avoid the abyss.  The abyss where I see myself staring back wondering how to get out.  I refuse to go there.  (I stole this metaphor from the movie Wall Street, thanks Oliver Stone).

I appreciate and savor each and every well wish from each and every person who has and will express concern.  None of it goes unheard or unappreciated. My wife, Loretta, my children, my siblings, my mother, and my best friend are all inexhaustible sources of inspiration and strength for me.  I can’t imagine having to go through this without them.  Saying “Thanks” isn’t enough, but it is all I have for now.

I hope this helps those who are wondering better understand where my head is right now.  My true feelings can tend to be a bit shrouded at times, masked.  I think I’m just plain scared shitless to see what is under this mask if I can ever really get the damn thing off!

There’s no time like the present.

There’s no time like the present.  I’m not sure who originally penned or spoke that line, but it will never get old nor will it ever seem inappropriate for anyone to speak or follow its premise.

We baby-boomers have continually reinvented ourselves over the year.  Through the ‘Wonder Years’ of the 50’s and early 60’s to the turmoil and confusion of the late 60’s and early 70’s (etc, etc), most of us relish those good-old-days, but really wouldn’t want to relive them if given a choice.

As I approach the age of 62 (just a microscopic mark in time), I still find myself reinventing myself, not by choice, but by necessity.

I feel like a teenager most of the time…until I look in the mirror.  The soul that dwells inside of me must be a young one, but when I gaze in the mirror or see myself in a reflection somewhere, it’s always a bit of a shock.  When I roll out of the sack every morning, which, by the way, becomes more of chore as each day goes by, I always stop and ponder:  how did I get HERE and, where am I going…and, is this really me?

I have no illusions that the image staring back at me is not what it should be.  I am living on borrowed time, have been since 1986, or earlier.  A miocardio infarction in ’86 set the tone for the last 25 years.  Many hours flying in a combat zone in Vietnam, and coming home without a physical scratch set the tone in other ways for last 40 years.  I still haven’t reconciled (or figured out the purpose for) that period of time in my life.

Have I made mistakes?  Do I have regrets for anything?  Absolutely.  But therein lay my torches to carry, mostly buried deep inside.  The details of which privy to only a small few who care to listen and empathize and will undoubtedly become fodder for future scripts on a blog site, my memoirs, or my eulogy.  And herein lies one of my biggest challenges:  getting past, forgetting about, and working through the regrets.  Ya’ can’t go back and have ‘do-overs.  Mulligans are only allowed in golf (spring rules only).

One of my few regrets open to scrutiny?  I wish I had taken better care of my teeth.  There, I said it!  If I had gone to dentist more or brushed my teeth more often, or, heaven forbid, I had flossed…maybe things would be different.  For this personal dilemma and regret, at least there are solutions.  But getting one’s dental health in order is much more superficial than those deeper, emotional issues for which there is no easy fix.

For anyone reading this under the age of forty, I have two excellent tidbits of wisdom.  Go to dentist at least twice a year.  And, start saving money right nowthat you never touch.  Beyond those, I ain’t got nothing more for you.  Except, keep your feet on the ground, keep reachin’ for the stars…(blah blah blah)…screw it, go out and have fun as long as you can.  Evidently I did!

See ya’ in Pismo the next couple o’ days!

And so…I begin.

Today I will begin writing (again). It has been a while since I’ve had the courage to write anything, a couple of years at least. Why? Don’t really know. It doesn’t matter…or perhaps it does matter, ie, figure out the why of it to help me move forward.

My inspiration for sitting in front of a new computer screen and a new blog comes from several sources. For now, I will just say a couple of very old friends unknowingly got me going in this direction. These individuals will comprise an initial audience of two. Not a bad start as some people write for years and no one but themselves ever read the words put down.

Besides, doing this new blog will give me something else to do at 5am besides watching informercials about exercise equipment, over-priced camera gear, and miracle bras!