Monthly Archives: September 2011

A Spoonful Of…

Not a lot of energy for writing much today, which is just as well…if you even have a passing interest in understanding multiple sclerosis and disability in general a little better, you ought to be reading some of Christine Miserandino’s writing anyway at some point.

I have been remiss here in not including earlier the marvelous essay by Ms. Miserandino, ‘The Spoon Theory.’ It’s an explanation of one of the most difficult concepts to communicate that I know of: the practical effects of disabilities including factors like chronic pain or fatigue for healthier people who have no experience with them, and she does it brilliantly. In fact, I’m going to link to it so it’s always available to anyone for viewing without their having to look for it.

Give it a read, or just watch the video presentation below. I bet it’ll help you understand where I’m coming from, or at the very least give you something to consider.

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Coppertop

One of my favorite movies of all time is the Wachowski Brothers’ The Matrix, released in 1999. I recently watched this film again for the umpteenth time since it has been on my mind of late. If you’ve read any of my recent work, you know that a good deal of my writing has centered around my fear that the human race is accelerating into a dystopian abyss, the likes of which we’ve never before seen in history. Some readers have commented to express their own thoughts on the subject, always a welcome thing in a healthy discourse. Many agree to one degree or another with my observations that there is something wronger than usual not only with our country, but with the world in general.

The upshot of all this is that when you distill all the factors surrounding this idea, one thing stands out above all the others: We are being manipulated, to one degree or another. All of us, myself included. Some are blissfully unaware of this manipulation, others are more conscious of it. It’s nothing novel, of course, there really is nothing new under the sun. But if there’s one thing my half a century on this planet have taught me, it’s that this manipulation is real. I assure you it is, and that’s why I’m forever in debt to the Wachowski Brothers for giving us an easily understandable allegory for understanding it. For many years, the concept wasn’t understood or even known of by most people, since its discussion was pretty much limited to students of philosophy talking about Plato’s Allegory of the Cave among themselves, but now anyone who saw the movie could get at least get an inkling of this important concept.

I find myself rolling my eyes when I read some of the reviews and analyses of the film. A lot of people have spent a lot of effort feverishly explaining their highfalutin’ views of why the movie is an allegory of religion, or why it’s an allegory of liberals versus conservatives, or the completely opposite view that it’s about conservatives versus liberals. Some are downright incoherent, decipherable (I suspect) only by the people writing them. I think these folks mean well but are overthinking things.

That great American sea story Moby Dick, hated by so many for having been forced down their throats in school, has been dissected, analyzed, interpreted and digested ad nauseum in much the same fashion, and to my mind, this has been mostly wasted time and effort. Moby Dick is a pretty good and entertaining sea story, whose main lesson is that hubris can be a very bad thing when taken to an extreme. That’s about all. Likewise, The Matrix is a pretty good speculative fiction story whose main lesson is that your environment can be used to shape your opinions and beliefs. To me, it’s simply a good allegory for our world.

I’ve been a voracious reader all of my life and when you absorb pretty much everything you read, see and watch over the years you notice certain patterns of thought begin to solidify as constants after a while. Call them beliefs, knowledge or opinion as you please, the point is that they don’t just appear in the mind, it takes time for all the data a person takes in to accrete into these constants. Everyone’s different, of course, and their beliefs, opinions and knowledge will vary wildly from one person to another. I’ve always been fascinated by how different people understand the world. Now, I learned long ago that there is no such thing as absolute Truth to be found, but some peoples’ ability to at least get a pretty good idea of what’s going on around them is impressive.

I wanted to know how those people managed to have a better handle on assessing the world when so many others seem doubtful or confused. What determines success or failure at this? I’m thankful for my schooling, from early childhood through high school, I was exposed to teachers who were usually more interested in helping students think for themselves, a big difference from too many modern ‘educators’ that are more inclined to focus on following some bureaucratic diktat about how best to indoctrinate them into accepting the status quo.

Something most of them had in common, whether focusing on art, philosophy or science, was the notion that to succeed in learning the discipline for any of them, even something as subjective as art, the scientific method that yields predictable and repeatable results was the best strategy. With the arts or philosophy, this mostly means discovering those works or beliefs that are the most true to your own ideas, but when dealing with science or facts in general, if you’re not seeing predictable and repeatable results, there’s a break in your chain of logic and you shouldn’t be satisfied with that. That’s where The Matrix is so smart: Most people think logically to a degree, even the ones whose brains do it on autopilot.But what if people are kept from seeing…or more significantly, trained not to see certain things at all, things that would likely radically change the way their logical brains drew conclusions about their world? In the movie, it’s a computer generated simulation of reality masquerading as reality that’s forced into everyone’s brain from infancy. They can’t see they’re actually in pods providing the thermal and bioelectrical energy for the dastardly sentient machines that now control everything.

I maintain that this is happening and has been happening in our 3-D world for a long time. The illusions aren’t shot directly into our brains, thank goodness, but we are surrounded by all kinds of input from infancy. We bathe in it, we eat it and drink it. Many years ago, a lot of it was simply the pressure of community mores, as well as the more devious and intentional propaganda distributed to influence people. In more ancient times, given the relatively small sizes of communities, even cities, it wasn’t that hard to influence peoples’ opinions to your advantage if you were a manipulative ruler. If you belonged to the ruling caste, a big part of your education was learning how best to do just that, court historians were always on hand to pass along your father’s and your father’s fathers’ tricks of the trade and tips they’d picked up over many generations about how best to keep your subjects in line and extract all of the goods and/or productivity you could from them without destroying them in the process and while preventing them from getting together and realizing just how badly they were being used.

The twentieth century and certainly the beginning of the twenty-first  has seen a massive increase in the ability of the rulers to propagandize the ruled, first by using the then-super high tech invention of radio and later and more effectively by television. For many, the latter became almost a substitute for the real world, a Matrix-Lite if you like. Howard Beale’s famous diatribe against The Tube in the provocative film Network illustrated how insidious a thing this could be for me. For many years the collection and dissemination of data was entirely in the hands of the major TV broadcasters. Only in the last fifteen years has the internet grown in popularity to the point it’s at now, whether its influence will end up being good, bad, or indifferent remains to be seen. One fact stands out from the rest, and gives me some hope: The internet is interactive for everyone. Even the humblest person has a voice that can be heard, and even if they only use that voice to make semiliterate, badly typed comments on YouTube videos, they still have a sense of being able to talk back to the thing that’s communicating to you. It’s the mother of all paradigm-changers. As usual with these significant events, there’s a hazard to balance the benefit.

I’ve had an interesting vantage point for the last several years, an inadvertent result of my becoming disabled. The day I had to stop working was very much like stepping off a merry-go-round for me. When you’re riding it at speed, you can clearly see its parts but the world outside it is a blur. I ceased being a part of the healthy world and my life was arrested in time when I came down with multiple sclerosis, and I watched that world go speeding off. For a while I was sort of in between each place, I spent the better part of the first year after being diagnosed with trying to get back to work, and later when the disorder had progressed enough that this was no longer possible, I was busy for a couple of years trying to prove to the government that I was the genuine disabled article before their indifference killed me.

These days I’m not consumed with the need to obtain income…disability income isn’t that hot and the disability itself ensures that I don’t enjoy my life much, but there’s a certain measure of freedom in no longer having anyone I need to impress. I also find that I study the world outside more objectively than before (at least I think I do) and my biggest impression is how loud and compelling a lot of that world has become…and how so many seem to be affected by it to a large degree. People have always been susceptible to being driven to emotional extremes throughout history, but lately larger numbers seem prone to extremes of emotion in distinctly polarized areas.

I’m very leery of strong emotions shared by large groups of people, especially when these emotions rise abruptly…it smacks of artificiality. Think of some things you both really love and that you despise…why precisely do you feel so strongly about them. Are they things you’ve always felt, or are they perhaps a product of more recent events that might…that just might…have been ‘adjusted’ by someone with something to gain from producing a stronger response? Ask yourself the old question, cui bono?  Who benefits? and

With that in mind…I’ll ask two questions of you myself, world:

What is it that all the bullies, tyrants and sociopaths hate the most, and always have?

Next, contrariwise: (Who is the) “One more trustworthy than all the Buddhas and sages?” (I must give credit where it’s due for this one, to the late great Robert Anton Wilson)

Think about those questions, my fellow Coppertops , perhaps discovering the answers will prove to be your own Red Pill.

Just

This word has evolved over time into something that can drive me absolutely bonkers when it’s used to mean ‘merely’ or ‘simply’ in regards to some sort of activity. Since multiple sclerosis barged into my life there aren’t many things I can ‘merely’ do any more, no matter how simple they might be for everyone else.

It’s one of many words that have acquired new meanings for me over the last several years as I became progressively more disabled. ‘Walking’ was the first one, since that was the first thing I noticed back in 2005 about myself that was deteriorating at an alarming rate. ‘Gait’ was one I hadn’t thought about much until that time either…it conjures up images of high-stepping horses and bowlegged cowboys sauntering around the ranch, but I heard it a lot from the doctors trying to figure out what was wrong with me, a completely alien thought at that time.

It didn’t take long before I started to despise hearing it. The more time I spent around different doctors, the more I felt like some kind of specimen, like mold on a Petri dish under their clinical, cold gaze. The attention was most definitely unwelcome. Gait irregularity soon became gait abnormality, and then a flood of new and unpleasant words followed: foot drop and peroneal nerve dysfunction, spasticity, peripheral neuropathy, on and on…good grief! I didn’t get what all the fuss was about…walking for me had always been almost as unconscious a thing as breathing, and all I wanted was to get back to that. Why was that suddenly such a big deal?

I’d always enjoyed walking, and in my early twenties was actually a foot messenger for a time. After a time I no longer thought about distance in terms of city blocks, to me it became how much time it would take to cover a given route. I’d learned long before how to to power stride through New York City crowds, and for me it was like opening my body’s throttle and watching the scenery pass as I scooted along, unconsciously sidestepping dallying pedestrians and obstacles in my way as I chewed through the distance to whatever destination might be my goal. I didn’t think about it, I just did it. Whoops, there’s that ‘just’ word…but back then it had the same connotation for me as it did for most healthy people. It was an adverb in that context,  an inconsequential thing that wasn’t deserving of  so much as a scrap of thought or attention.

I was a bicycle nut too, starting at a young age. I loved the way my bike could eat distance like magic, all I had to do was keep pumping my legs and watch the miles go by. When I was in high school, I’d often bike to school, and when school let out I’d bike back uptown, rarely going straight home. That would have been way too easy; I’d head crosstown for a bit, zip through stalled traffic under the Pan Am Building, then a quick jaunt up and over to get into Central Park. A lap, maybe two around the park and only then I’d think about heading home. Easy sauce, as they say.

Years later after I’d settled in Nashville I took up biking again after a long hiatus. Once I’d gotten through the re-acclimation gauntlet of wheezing and wobbling my way through the uphill climbs that everyone who’s been away from biking has to pass, I was delighted to find it was just like old times. From my rented apartment in the upstairs of the elderly house I lived in, I’d zip a few miles towards downtown, do a few circuits of Centennial Park, take a break at the nearby Cafe Elliston for a sugar/carb jolt, then zip on home again. Zip, zip, zip. And I’m a smoker, too…nothing to brag about, but the fact that it didn’t affect my walking or biking says something about my body’s resilience.

The alarms started going off in my head in early 2005 when I picked up a slight but persistent limp. At first I thought it must be a pulled muscle or pinched nerve from lifting and throwing sacks of checks and bank documents as I loaded and unloaded my airplane every night. I started seeing a local chiropractor, and while his manipulation of my spine and limbs felt good, the limp just wouldn’t go away. The clamor of those internal alarms got louder as spring came on when I’d occasionally fall off my bike while trying to dismount. I chalked it up to being out of practice and general klutziness , but the moment when I realized something was badly wrong came not long after. One fine day I fell over with the bike on top of me when my left foot refused to rotate just the small amount needed to free myself from the pedal clip as I came to a stop at an intersection. When I wriggled free and got upright again, the realization that I couldn’t swing my leg over the bike to re-mount it hit me like a wrecking ball. I felt humiliated and defeated as I guided the bike back home, limping and leaning on it for support all the way…just a couple of blocks, but it felt like an endless trek. My mind was trying to go in a dozen directions at once as the implications of what had happened began to sink in, along with the realization that I’d been shoving my worsening limp and reduced movement of my left foot into the landfill of my subconscious for some time. I was a professional pilot, fergodsake, and pilots are supposed to be in as nearly perfect health. This foul limp was now obvious, I couldn’t conceal it any longer from friends, coworkers…and my upcoming visit with my flight surgeon to satisfy my annual FAA medical certificate, without which I’d be unable to work in my chosen career as a courier pilot.

That spring day was the last time I rode my bike in the street. After the fall, I obtained a stationary trainer that let me secure the bike so I could ride it in my living room. Since the machine was locked into the stable, heavy trainer base, it was unlikely to fall over. Determined to exercise that limp away, I rode and rode, but to no avail. The limp persisted. The only relief came from watching my leg muscles redevelop and show clear definition…I’d been reading too much online about various horrible things that could cause my limp other than a pinched nerve, and the top candidate until that point was amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, otherwise known as ALS, Lou Gehrig’s Disease. It’s fatal and nasty, and people afflicted with it generally die within a couple of years. Their muscles atrophy until their body might as well be that of a jellyfish, and when they can’t push or pull air into or from their lungs they pretty much asphyxiate. The truly horrible part is that their minds generally remain clear and unaffected, so they get to watch, clearheaded and sane, as their body falls apart and kills them.

Since my muscles weren’t atrophying, I was fairly reassured that ALS wasn’t likely to be my fate, but kept searching online for what might be ailing me. The internet can be a blessing or a curse with all those volumes of data floating around, and of course I dug up plenty of other possible causes of my deteriorating mobility to worry about, lots of them nastily fatal. Then one evening I prepared to mount the bike for my daily session, I just swung my leg over it as usual, but this time hung up on the frame…and over I went, this time on top of the bike, still bolted securely to the trainer. No more excuses, I started looking for professional help.

I’d always been healthy as an ox and my annual visit to my flight surgeon had been the only contact with the medical caste I’d needed for years, so my first step was finding a GP for some guidance. I selected one based solely on the close proximity of his office to my home. Disaster. In my layman’s opinion, the guy was a fruitcake. All through my consultation with him, he kept a little side conversation running …with himself. At the end he said, and I quote directly: “Well,” he said, “your problem could be either this or that.” Exact words, mind you…he didn’t put a name to what ‘this‘ or ‘that‘ might be. He went on: “If it’s this, there might be something we can do. If it’s that…you’re fucked.” Apologies, but that’s what he said. I got out of there fast and never looked back. Either the guy was absolutely deranged, or he really wanted to get rid of me, or both, and I was happy to oblige him. I still marvel at that encounter…that guy had the most unprofessional demeanor I’ve ever seen, especially for a physician.

The orthopedic surgeon I saw next took plenty of X-rays of my lower spine, and had me get a couple of MRIs of the same area for good measure. Everything came back negative. He was a resourceful little scamp, though, rather than exploring upper spinal or brain images, he decided that because I was an Evil Smoker, it had to be some exotic cancer that was causing my foot drop, and told me so, more or less in those words. He took it upon himself to schedule a complex…and expensive…series of bone scans at Vanderbilt University for me. I cancelled them all without a qualm. I didn’t have cancer, then or now. My body knew there was something wrong, but it was some sort of neurological issue, not cancer. Another quack left in the dust with another shocking display of unprofessionalism…this guy obviously let his personal bias against smokers color his professional judgement, and that’s inexcusable in my book.

Had he ordered another MRI of my upper spine and perhaps my brain, incidentally, he’d have seen the telltale MS spinal lesions and ‘white spots’ in my brain, from MS breaking down my blood-brain barrier and allowing dead white blood cells to accumulate in my brain rather than being properly disposed of by my circulatory system.  I suppose he was too busy concentrating on new ways to punish me for the heinous crime of being a smoker for that to occur to him.

Finally the appointed day for my flight physical arrived. By then, I’d noticed that my left arm and hand were weakening, as well as my left leg and foot. After laboriously filling out the standard required answers on the medical certificate application (the first time I learned to fear the dreaded words “just fill out this form”), I lurched into the doctor’s examination room and tried my best to be all normal and healthy. He wasn’t fooled of course and told me that while he wasn’t actually going to deny my application, he could not ignore my obvious physical symptoms and would not issue me the certificate until I got it checked out by a neurologist and got a green light.

Great. I had less than a week before I could no longer legally work. All that to-do over a piece of paper. Just a piece of paper.

My local neurologist I’d just been referred to by my chiropractor told me she was backlogged and there was no way anything could begin for two to three weeks. “It’s just a few weeks,” the receptionist told me. I now know that’s pretty quick in the medical world, but at that time it sounded like an eon. In a panic, I called an old friend who’s a researcher down in Shreveport, Louisiana. After checking around, he called back to tell me I was in luck, he’d spoken to his colleague who was not only a research scientist but a practicing neurologist, and had agreed to see me if I could come to Shreveport. No problem, I was in pretty good shape at the time, so down to Shreveport I went in my car.

My friend hadn’t seen me in years and didn’t pick up on how draining walking had gotten for me right away. He dragged me all over the LSU campus before leaving me at the correct building, and by the time I stumped my way to the doctor’s office, I was exhausted and moving really badly. The neurologist certainly noticed this, and though he nodded reassuringly while I described my relief at seeing my muscles gain definition through biking, he evidently wasn’t as ready to discard the possibility that I had ALS as I’d been. After giving him my history and submitting to a short physical exam, he told me to appear at a local imaging facility the next morning for some MRIs and would make the appointment for me after I left. As it turned out, he did more than simply schedule some MRI pictures…he had to’ve been downright chatty with the person he spoke to there.

When I presented myself at the imaging  lab the next morning, the woman who signed me in greeted me with a chipper “Oh, hi, you’re here for those MRIs…to confirm the doctor’s diagnosis of ALS!” She seemed awfully cheerful as she hit me with a new reality I wasn’t expecting…they thought they’d be confirming the presence of a fatal disease in me. Just a little possible death sentence dropped in my lap first thing in the morning, nothing to get upset about.

Jesus wept.

What a fun thing to turn over in my mind for the next few hours as I lay in the steel and plastic prison of the MRI machine, I don’t know how to properly thank that nice lady for such a thoughtful present.

That afternoon the neurologist called me with his findings. I did NOT have ALS as he’d thought at first (now he tells me), but I did have multiple sclerosis. I felt some glimmering of hope when I heard that…I didn’t know much about MS at that time but it couldn’t be as bad as a diagnosis of ALS would have been. I asked him if he was sure of his conclusion, and he replied “Oh, yes, looking at your MRI films, a child could tell you have MS.” Allrighty then.

After spending a week in hospital to have a bag of steroids infused into me each day, I was discharged and headed for home. That was the last I saw of that doctor. In the weeks and months to come I  found that he was not at all on my side when it came to returning me to work as a pilot, part of a larger picture I discovered piecemeal…that he was actively working against me in the hope I could be made to return to Shreveport to be a compliant guinea pig in his researches, as I found out later when I learned I was never to return to work again, never to receive a dime of unemployment insurance, and eventually…had he gotten his way…never to have gotten a favorable decision on my disabled status later on when I lost the ability to work because he then refused to report his original diagnosis to anyone, especially the Social Security Administration. But that’s a different story for a different time.

Over the next year, I tried to get back to work. Over and over. I really did my best, only to be thwarted at every turn…as I indicated, that doctor was doing all he could to hinder and harm my every attempt to restore normalcy to my life. With no income at all, including no unemployment payments since the good doctor refused to sign a simple boilerplate form required by the South Carolina unemployment office (my company’s location), I had to start withdrawing funds from my 401(k) retirement savings to pay the bills. Well meaning friends and family pressed me to just ‘make’ the doctor see reason and start helping me, but I found it a bit tough to ‘make’ anyone do anything when I wasn’t dealing from a position of power…one of those things that’s easier said than done. Besides, my increasingly dire financial straits were precisely the thing to delight the doctor, since he the more desperate I became, the more likely he thought it that I’d do his bidding.

Behind all this insanity distracting me, the MS was always busy, night and day. Like a thief in the night, tirelessly stealing my abilities from me a bit at a time, its handiwork was so gradual, so incremental, that I never quite noticed just how effectively it had done its work until the results of that handiwork smacked me in the face. Literally.

One evening late in 2006, I was talking on my cell phone when I reached out with my free hand to brace myself against a nearby door jamb so I could shift my weight from my bad leg. Just the sort of simple, uncomplicated task healthy people do a hundred times a day, only this time, the door jamb was not where I thought it was, and as I pitched through the open door when my hand met nothing but air, I discovered in that second that I no longer had the ability to just recover from a stumble as I’d been doing all my life without thinking about it. The only thing that kept me from falling with my full weight on my face were my knees happening to be the first part of my body to hit the floor first, absorbing some of my momentum, but fall on my face I did. Luckily I didn’t hit the carpeted floor straight on, but I still received the equivalent of a good strong punch in the nose. I rolled over and tried just standing up, but the ability to that had also been magically spirited away too.

In short order I discovered a whole plethora of things I could no longer just do. I couldn’t keep to a consistent schedule, thanks to the insomnia that began plaguing me about that time. Some days I’d be ready to sleep after being up for 16 hours, others I’d be up 20, 30 or more hours before being able to pass out. On top of that, my energy level was at an all time low and still dropping. Just go to sleep, friends advised. Believe me, I’d love to, it’s not a lot of fun being dead tired all the time, yet being unable to cross the threshold into sleep. I tried enough times, but lying in bed wide awake, tossing and turning, got old fast.

It felt a little like finding myself in the Twilight Zone, everything around me looked normal, but nothing was normal. All of those just things were rapidly taking longer, requiring more effort, or had become impossible to do. No matter how many of them slipped away from me, new ones were always a surprise. I remember the day I arrived at the large medical complex where my new GP’s office was as a defining moment. I had no idea where his suite was, so I schlepped across the lobby to the information desk to ask the quickest way to my doctor’s office. I was using a cane then, and even with it supporting me, my shuffling, rigid walk, swinging my affected leg in a semicircle since it couldn’t move straight forward any more, had acquired a distinctive look.  To me, my damaged gait bore more than a passing resemblance to that of Karloff’s Mummy than a healthy person’s.

The pleasant looking older lady watched me slowly cross the lobby and smiled as I asked my question. “Oh, just go up that flight of stairs over there,” she replied. It was as if she couldn’t see my slow, awkward movements or even the bright blue aluminum cane in my hand. Yikes.

That was the moment I began to really think about all the stupid little things that healthy folks do without thinking but were needed for most everyday activities; not only were most now difficult or impossible for me, but many people I encountered acted like I ought to be able to do them anyway, like my ailments were temporary or even optional and I could simply ignore them. I knew better, but now I really knew better as the realization that these limitations weren’t ever going away sunk in and I internalized them. I felt a bit like Mia Farrow’s character in Rosemary’s Baby must have when she realizes that she really is being raped by the Devil after being drugged by her husband and the understanding that she’s not asleep and in some dark reverie hits her: “This is no dream! This is really happening!” she screams. I’m right with you, sister.

Soon after that incident, I took the step I’d been dreading, applying for permanent disability status and income. Any ideas about working again as a pilot, or even working at all, were wishful thinking that I could no longer afford to indulge in. I’d been knocked straight into the Twilight Zone by MS, and there was no returning. This disease plays for keepsies. I graduated from a cane to my trusty four wheeled walker the following spring, in early 2007, when my gait with only a cane to aid me had gotten dangerously unstable. I could get around reasonably well even though it wasn’t much fun, a lucky thing since it turned out that the folks who evaluate an individual’s status for Social Security expect you to act like a healthy person much of the time just to satisfy their requirements for the evaluation procedures. Just fill out this twenty page form. There’s a time limit on completing the forms, by the way, and failure to complete them is considered ‘noncompliance’ and grounds for denial although the people administering them tell you otherwise. ‘Just step this way’ was always good for a laugh, and near the end of the process in the spring of 2008, after the government had run out of excuses to deny my disability claim yet again the phrase ‘just pay your bills’  was getting to be impossible. At that point I’d had no income for over two years, my 401(k) account was gone, and I was selling everything of value I could on eBay just to keep the lights on and placate my mortgage holder. When I voiced my concerns, people regularly told me that I’d just have to be patient and wait until the government felt like acknowledging my claim.

They finally admitted that I was indeed disabled, and had been since I first applied. I could pay the mortgage again, though I came within two weeks of losing my home. I prevailed though, and finally began to believe that I was going to come out in the sunlight again. In the spring of 2010 my neurologist convinced me that I needed a power wheelchair to finally remove  the hazard of regularly falling. I had sold my low slung little car and purchased the Honda Element that’s now in my garage, and my thoughts were bent on obtaining a wheelchair lift so I could get out to places and actually do something at my destination.

The fall in my living room in September 2010 when my wheelchair was only three days from being delivered was the biggest just of them all. Just one tiny event. In the space of just a few seconds, my bad leg gave out and the resultant fall left me without the ability to even hobble just a bit with support, putting me in the bind I’m in today. A wheelchair lift won’t cut it anymore. That ten feet or so from the rear of my Element to the driver’s seat might as well be the Grand Canyon. I’m all out of justs now. Whenever I hear someone suggest an idea in hopes it’ll help me, if it begins with ‘just go…’ or ‘just do…’ I cringe, already knowing that I almost certainly won’t be able to follow that piece of advice.

If you’ve read my mission statement or bio here, you’ve heard some of this before. You know that I’m pleading with the world for help solving this last obstacle that no one person or organization seems willing or able to even though I’m in danger every time I need to drive somewhere. World, I hope you’re listening. I’m not ready to go back in my box and wait quietly until I die or until what remaining good years I might have are gone. That’s one more thing I just can’t do.

Please help me escape this prison. I do try my best to maintain my composure, but I confess my fears often get the better of me. I might appear to be placid on the outside, but inside me is a trapped animal, frantic to get out of the snare.

I know we can do this together, even it’s just a dollar at a time. Help get the message out and spread the word about the guy you read about in Nashville who’s in a nasty bind, who’s never had to ask for help before but now has to…just this once.

Welcome…Big Changes Coming, Folks!

remodeling

I am such a slacker. I have to apologize for my lack of recent updates, but I’ve been trying to lay back and wrap my mind around the reality that we’ve finally succeeded.

There were, I confess, some days when I despaired of ever writing this. Get Glenn Mobile! came into existence just about two and a half years ago, and I knew from the start that it was likely to take some time to accomplish its goal of restoring my mobility. There are plenty of good causes in the world, mine was only one of many of them, economic times are hard and of course the State is doing its best to make them even harder. So, yeah, there were times, especially bleak, grey, cold winter days and nights like we’ve had lately when all I could see was that road stretching off and out of sight with no perceptible end.

Despite all of these obstacles, there’s one gorgeous X-WAV Honda Element sitting in my garage, only awaiting warmer weather to get me back to the world of the living…and so many things I’ve missed for years.

Wow.

What now? Well, I’ve talked about it before: this blog has fulfilled its purpose and it’s done. I don’t plan to make another post here because of that, and you’ll notice that for now at least there aren’t any of the ubiquitous ‘donate’ buttons.

But am I done with writing and blogging? Oh HELL NO!

From here, like the phoenix, a new blog will be arising. The name will change, the look will change, and so will even the domain name. Yeah, there’ll be ‘donate’ buttons, but they’ll be just like any other site’s that are happy to accept help to offset operating costs; the emergency is OVER.

I’ll keep everyone apprised as I progress, and for now, please accept my genuine thanks for all of your help, support and contributions…this is your day too, since this would simply not have been possible without you.

I’m pretty excited to be gearing up for the next phase!

Some Things Never Change. No, Really, They Don’t.

Curse this blogging addiction. I just finished writing a fairly involved rant on a subject that’s been irking me for a long time on one of my favorite hobby sites, and yet here I am, tapping away again.

Guess I’m a frickin’ idiot. C’est la vie. Les jeux sont faits, and other snooty French cliches.

I couldn’t help it and I can’t help it. The lack of logic and perception in the world when it comes to some things that shouldn’t need much discussion in the first place has been getting on my last nerve for a good long time. More and more it’s obvious that sometime over the last few decades we’ve found ourselves living in Bizarro World, yet it seems like most people are either oblivious of this fact or don’t care.

They need to ruttin’ wake up and smell the ruttin’ absurdity.

The post I felt compelled to get on the soapbox and rail about will hold little interest for a lot of you. Just attend to the salient points, the details aren’t important so much as the fact that it’s about a whole lot more than model aircraft.

It’s my first and likely last comment on a thread that never should have metastasized to its current 36 pages. Here’s the short version: this bigmouth kid came bouncing in with the sort of obnoxious, arrogant, foul attitude that makes you think right away of cans of Raid…or Zyklon-B maybe, just to be sure. He was ostensibly looking for helpful hints while simultaneously boasting about trying to fly some gee-whiz model of a fighter jet he hadn’t a whelk’s chance in a supernova of succeeding with (and had crashed at least once already), and naturally everyone was quick to politely tell him so. He sneered at their responses, which weren’t really advice, but simply diplomatic statements trying to point out to him the painfully obvious futility of his endeavor. Painfully obvious to anyone who didn’t have the handicap of being unable to see past their own colon, I should add.

Flying a fast, advanced model jet fighter is a task requiring a lot of experience and knowledge, as well as the muscle memory needed to make almost instant movements with your hands. This muscle memory must be developed over a great many hours of flying, and can’t just be picked up. This kid is attempting the equivalent of performing a complex piano concerto with a musical education of having seen a piano once in a movie. It ain’t gonna happen. Again, everyone tells him so, and why.

Here’s where it got interesting…people started chiming in with helpful ideas even after being sniggered at rudely by this creature more than once. Others thought it funny, mocking him with grandiose suggestions for even more complex jets he should try his hand at flying. Still others, many of whom ought to know better, offered him tips on how to fix his now-crashed plane. Meanwhile, few noticed that the kid had already disappeared from the scene, doubtless convinced that his big, foul mouth, can-do attitude, and internet savvy hipness would overcome the fact that he knows absolutely nothing about what he’s trying to do. I expect he didn’t feel any need to pay any attention to all the stodgy old crocks trying to spoil his fun. They’re SO last century…don’t they realize you can do anything if you just know how to push the right buttons and scream loudly enough?

He’s going to fail miserably, of course. I’m really hoping he’s just given up and quit by now. I’m not against newcomers to the hobby, but we’re seeing a huge number of novices who have the same basic idea in their heads, though happily most aren’t as bad as this guy. They’re still dangerous, as I explained in my post. They’re dangerous because they’re trying to launch a missile capable of going 80 miles per hour that weighs up to several pounds without the slightest clue about what it takes to control it or the reflexes and skill needed to do so. They’re even more of a threat because they tend to pick public areas like parks and ball fields to make their attempts, rather than sanctioned model airfields that don’t put the unsuspecting public at risk.

See? This must be Bizarro World, because on my planet, force = mass times the rate of change of velocity…and you ignore that at your peril. No one seems concerned about this, since in Bizarro World things like physics can be overlooked without consequence. As I brought up somewhat indelicately, if distributors of these advanced models keep marketing them to kids (and credulous adults) with reckless abandon, sooner or later we’ll be treated to the shocking pictures of a toddler’s head skewered like a cocktail onion making its way around the internet when one of these would-be aces runs out of luck and crashes into a kiddie birthday party in the public park they figure is roomy enough to fly their ‘toy.’ The predictable response from the Proper Authorities when this happens will be to Crack Down on these ‘dangerous unmanned aerial vehicles’ with enthusiasm, and the hobby as we know it will be ruined for the rest of us.

The fact that fairly experienced modelers were trying to help the loudmouthed nimrod baffles me. They’re actually offering aid that might help him roll the dice again in the vague hope it won’t come up snake eyes, get someone killed and destroy my favorite hobby, which to my mind is worse than the original nimrod’s hazard…he’s probably quit already, but these people are still around to encourage other nimrods. That’s why I’m mad that the thread went on for so long, and I said as much in my post: People like this need to be shunned when they make it clear they’re that pigheaded and dangerous, not encouraged or enabled. There comes a point where you don’t try to convince them any more. You don’t keep offering helpful hints to try to add sugar to the bitter medicine of the sound advice you’re trying to get across; all that will do is help them go back for another try at their insanity…their minds were made up long ago and they have no inclination to let facts interfere with their plans. You don’t even talk to them any more when it’s as obvious as obvious gets that they’re not going to pay any attention to your words. Remember, they’re just amazingly awesome in their superiority in being able to do anything they decide to do, even on a whim…even if that anything puts peoples’ lives at risk. So you turn your back and shun them.

How do people like the original blockhead I described come about? Well, there’s a big fat hint in the first line of the response I posted and linked to here. The kid wasn’t there for advice, he was there for validation. People like that have been encouraged, chin-chucked, coddled and told over and over just how wonderful they are since day one. I might as well title this post “I’m So Bored, Part Two” since this is what happens when people who’ve never had to learn any real life lessons are also continuously told how unique and special they are in an effort to pump them full of that oh-so-important self esteem that’s been the fashion for decades. Even when the individual in question is by any standard a dull, useless waste of protoplasm, we must constantly reassure them that they’re the smartest, the prettiest, the most lovable creature on the planet, even if their face could stop a clock (I should talk…) and their highest intellectual achievement is pulling wings from flies.

It goes a lot deeper than just their upbringing (sic) at home. The creature that receives high praise for scoring an F minus on a math exam doesn’t have to worry about being penalized for substandard performance; lots of teachers well indoctrinated in how best to maintain the status quo learned long ago how to grade on a curve so that even if they oversee a class full of mouth breathing little savages, their budget, perks, and standing won’t ever be threatened. In fact, the occasional bright student is more often than not made to feel like an aberration for excelling at a subject. Their ability to actually accomplish something without being told the answer in advance not only might make the other students (sic) feel bad, but also stands as an indictment of the whole rigged educational system, a crime only rivaled by those who exhibit (gasp) tendencies for independent or original thought. Fortunately, that same system also learned how to deal with such impertinence long ago as well, with the enthusiastic help of Big Pharma: the aberrant student, having attracted the wrong sort of attention, is quickly diagnosed as afflicted with “ADD” and hustled off to the smiling school nurse or ‘guidance counselor’ if any resistance to the idea is shown. I seem to recall more than one story of local Child Protective Service (sic) officers offering their official assistance in especial cases of a student’s or parents’ stubborn refusal to dose the kid up with this close chemical cousin to cocaine in the form of some friendly arm twisting…letting it be known that if said drugs weren’t begun being taken, CPS would just have to kidnap take the youngster away from the parents for ‘endangering the health’ of the child. When in doubt, parents must defer to the State, which is of course far wiser and more capable than any Mundane. I’m sure that Ritalin is actually beneficial to a very few kids that thrive when taking it…but I question its wholesale distribution to the sheer numbers of kids who’ve been deemed sufficiently ‘afflicted’ to require it. I suppose that puts me under suspicion of being some sort of malcontent or dissident, but hey, I’m brain damaged thanks to multiple sclerosis, what do I know?

As for you, Constant Reader, how could you possibly be against anything that’s For The Children? Of course you couldn’t, that’s only something for Bad People Who Hate Children.

We now have several generations of people who have not only grown to adulthood without ever learning the fundamentals of independent or creative thought, but the majority also believe the hubris-filled sunshine they’ve been marinated in all their lives that every one of them is the most special, smartest, and most capable human being alive.

These people not only occupy many of the most influential positions in society but also have the levers of power clutched in their sweaty, chubby hands, including control of strategic weapons that can wipe out large numbers of human beings in minutes. Oh, yes, speaking of marinating, their ranks are swelling all the time with those kids who’ve been scarfing down all that Ritalin since they were finger painting. Don’t you feel better with that knowledge, Citizen? I know I feel better knowing that our world is rapidly becoming a cross between Mike Judge’s film Idiocracy, Huxley’s Brave New World and Orwell’s 1984. Sure I do.

All kidding aside, I think we’re past due to start a lot of serious shunning here. Sooner or later, if we’re to survive as a nation, world, or perhaps as a species, we need to quit allowing the idea that being the loudest, most vulgar, and most self-righteous means being the ‘best.’ Only by withdrawing our consent to this nonsense in large enough numbers can we hope to prevail. Peacefully withdrawing consent has been a proven solution for dealing with these would-be tyrants for a great many years, but a lot of us seem to have forgotten about it. Now is not the time to let it pass entirely away, or we will, as I’ve said before, most certainly be be dragged along with them into a new Dark Age.

Some things just never change. The good news is that the solutions to many of the problems we face don’t, either.

In And Out Of Control

I’ve devoted a lot of thought to this little seven letter word in a lot of different contexts over the years, and it’s never been far from my attention, especially over the last several years as MS really got its claws into me. Despite this intimate familiarity…or perhaps because of it…this isn’t an easy subject to write about, for me at least. It constantly threatens to leap out of whatever tidy little box I try to put it in and just run all over the place like spilled BBs. It’s taken me longer than usual just to collect my thoughts and begin writing about the subject, a bad sign and an indicator that this piece is likely to do some of its own running all over the place as it grows…uncontrollably, as it were. I’ve resigned myself to that reality, but I feel kind of bad for anyone trying to read this.

Sorry about that. It’s out of my hands.

The concept of ‘control’ has had mixed positive and negative connotations for me most of my life. When you’re an infant, you learn the most basic tasks of controlling your body, your limbs for manipulating objects in your environment, walking, moving safely around, and so on. ‘Control’ in this context is nothing but good.

It gets a little more complicated later on. When you’re a kid, it’s mostly about learning about how to get control of the things in your life, hardly surprising since kids are pretty powerless creatures. Things tend to happen to them rather than them being able to make things happen; parents impose demands on them, schedule the events in their lives, and make all sorts of things happen in their lives while also making other things not happen to them. Generally this is a good thing…those with experience, knowledge and maturity (the parents, of course) should be able to override many of the wishes of a child who hasn’t yet accumulated enough information about how the world works. Later on, as you mature, you learn to take on the responsibility yourself of making…and not making…these same things happen to you.

Sometimes the lessons don’t take, or they’re skewed in some really odd directions, especially if you happen to grow up in a dysfunctional family. I had a lot to say in my earlier “I’m So Bored” post about the hazards of these skewed lessons, especially in current times, where you can now find several generations that never quite got it when it comes to life lessons. If you’ve read that post, you know I’m pretty concerned that these people are rapidly becoming the rule rather than the exception, and hopefully we as a nation can figure out how to reverse this trend. I very much believe we’re in for some bad times ahead if this problem isn’t addressed.

When people reach adulthood without ever understanding the fundamentals, you can find more examples than can be counted of the consequences. You get control freaks, manipulative personalities, people who lack self control, and so on. On the other side of the coin, someone who is successful at life is said to be “in control,” which in that context is a very positive thing.

Notice a common factor? I think it’s pretty simple when you look at it: People who are successful at living…not necessarily in a financial sense, but successful at doing what they want and gaining satisfaction from life…have learned to control themselves, whereas people who have problems in life have never grasped this idea and spend much of their time trying to control others.

This concept has guided me well in my own life. Rather than picking a livelihood that attempts to control others I chose a career that focused on my being able to control myself. Being an aviator is very much in line with this idea. As a pilot, you are the one controlling the complex dynamic system that is the airplane. The more focused and attentive to every single detail you are, the better you are at the job. Outside of the cockpit, those same qualities can be a liability and you can quickly get a reputation as a micromanager, an obsessive/compulsive, or yes…a control freak. In the airplane, these are positive attributes! As a command pilot, it was my job to be aware of every fiddling detail, from the direction of the wind to the subtle cues an airplane will give you if you’re really paying attention; sounds, little vibrations, and the feeling of the machine in your hands.

For years I congratulated myself for doing the right thing with my life, at least as far as knowing the secret to avoiding so many of life’s pitfalls that vex so many people: everyone is a control freak to one degree or another. This is a natural human response to that helplessness and lack of control everyone feels from its beginning in childhood, I truly believe. The trick is knowing when and where to let that control freak inside every one of us out to do his or her thing, that controlling the things in your life rather than trying to control the people in your life is the key to satisfaction.

As true as I found that for external aspects of my life, so too for the internal. I discovered early on that I’m the sort who can be described as ‘inner-directed’ rather than ‘other-directed.’ I find that with really important issues, I’m a lot better off listening to what I think and believe rather than what others might happen to most of the time. I mean really listening to the “still, small voice” deep inside me. I prefer independence, not just in my external life but my internal as well. Independence means exactly what its definition says, that my actions are “not subject to another’s authority or jurisdiction; autonomous; free.” I relished freedom, it has long been nearly as important to me as the air I breathe, and I needed the autonomy of my life that was an integral part of who I was.

Then the skunk at the picnic, multiple sclerosis, made its appearance.

MS steals the simplest and oldest of a person’s abilities. Those first movements an infant can do from the moment of birth are taken away from any limbs affected by it to one degree or another. Since these abilities are so basic, so primal, their weakening or loss gives me the shrieking horrors from time to time. That loss of physical control is more awful than even the dread a small child might feel upon seeing the closet door open and watching the very real bogeyman living inside it come shambling out, dripping fangs and all, worse…oh, so much worse…than imagination could paint it. Worse yet is the horror of realizing that your body’s internal and involuntary processes and responses are now controlled by some evil Other that’s moved in and taken up residence, taken control, making your own body do annoying, painful or even downright mortifying things.

One of the other definitions of independence is “freedom from the control, influence, support, aid, or the like, of others,” and MS takes that from you as well. I’m dependent on so many things now: a power wheelchair to be my legs, and paved surfaces for it to move about on. The woman who spends a couple of hours every week to do the light housekeeping and laundry that I can no longer do. Prepared meals delivered weekly, not haute cuisine by a stretch, but good to have when I don’t have it in me to make so much as a peanut butter sandwich with one functioning hand, the other hand capriciously going useless instead of mostly useless. Four words: relief bottles, bedside commode. Enough said.

Oh, yeah, let’s not forget the doctor’s office visits to renew my prescriptions for blood pressure meds to stave off possible strokes, dietary meds to keep my spastic insides working, and the pain meds to keep the constant neuropathic pain I have to a manageable level so I can function…the regular, mandatory appointments I’ve mentioned so many times here that threaten to injure or even kill me from an uncontrolled fall to the concrete or asphalt surfaces I’m dependent upon when I’m transferring from my power chair to my Element or back. The necessary outings to see a physician that are the main reason this blog exists, my shout out to the world that I need a little help here with a problem that for the fist time in my life I can’t solve through my own initiative.

I don’t fear death. But I’d be lying if I said I don’t fear pain.

You don’t get used to pain, you know, even when you have it to deal with every second, minute, and hour of every day. The meter doesn’t reset to zero just because it’s with me all the time…each moment I’m in pain is as harrowing as any other, from the moment I wake up until the moment I fall asleep.

I fear the pain of a shattered skull from a fall while performing the last activity in my life that I’m not protected from by the aids otherwise surrounding me.

I fear that my mom will have a stroke or heart attack from the exertion of pushing me around in the manual wheelchair that’s kept in my Element for those few compulsory outings I have to do, just as I fear that her own pain from the fractures in her foot that never healed properly will become excruciating for her, or worse, cause her to fall. At 73, that could have as final consequences as a fall of my own would.

I fear having to watch what active years I have left passing away a day at a time, like the blood of a suicide’s slit wrist trickling down the drain, drop by drop, when there are still so many things I’d be capable of doing If I could escape the prison that my body’s lack of mobility is keeping me in.

I fear losing my mind if I don’t regain some freedom in my life, the same freedom that is so essential to who I was, and who I am.

Despite all these fears, I don’t worry that Providence, or God, or whatever force greater than I am that governs the cosmos will fail me and deliver me to them as long as I keep up my end and don’t surrender to them. I may be a prisoner of my body, but the essence of who I am is free and always will be. That knowledge keeps me going, and sustains me in this time.

To celebrate that freedom, I’d like to share a modern interpretation of an old German folk song I listen to sometimes. The title roughly translated means “my thoughts are free” and it helps remind me of that freedom when despair threatens to overwhelm me. I hope you like it.

While you listen, please remember something: I don’t have one bit of control over the ability to bring that liberation of my physical self any closer. Not a scrap.

But you do.

Changes

Friday morning is clear, sunny…and decidedly cool, definitely a true Autumn Morning. I’m enjoying the feel of the air, not deep autumn by any means, but it has a snap to it, even though it’s barely there…it’s just not matured yet and is still kind of weak and pathetic.

It’s clear that summer is over and done. We may get a few warm days yet, in fact I really hope we do, since flying season is always too short and my airplanes don’t seem ready to go into hibernation just yet. There’ll be plenty for me to do with my hobbies over the winter though, so I’m fine with it either way. Ditto for my PC sims, I need to scrape the rust from myself in Rise of Flight, and one of these days need to get me one of the new SPAD 7 scouts, a plane that’s been anticipated for a long time. I got so busy flying my models I forgot to save a few bucks by pre-ordering it, a first for me. Tsk…they do say that the mind is the first thing to go.

Also, I just learned that the railroad sim I enjoyed so much last year is morphing into the new and upgraded Train Simulator 2012 in one week, and it comes at no additional cost to us Railworks 2 owners. Those devils are even releasing the Horseshoe Curve add on, probably the most famous railfan site in the real world just to entice suckers like me. The real one’s near Altoona, Pennsylvania, and the developers are including a bunch of Pennsylvania Railroad locomotives and rolling stock for use in free roaming or goal oriented scenarios to use in it. By Thanksgiving you can bet I’ll be sitting in the cab of a 1950s F-unit at the head of a passenger train in Tuscan Red, or driving a multiple unit lash-up of Geep freight locos painted in Brunswick Green dragging a long freight train up the grades. It should make for a fun Christmas too, I mean really, what kid doesn’t like playing with his trains on Christmas morning?

This blog continues its own metamorphosis, too. You’ve probably noticed the change I made just yesterday up in the header, the ‘About’ page is now two pages, the ‘Mission In A Nutshell’ page and the misleadingly short-named ‘Bio.’

As some of you have noticed on my other posts elsewhere, I’ve been wondering how to increase the traffic here, and hopefully the number of donations with it. Sometimes my idiocy jumps up and smacks me in the face…I realized the very very obvious fact that my original ‘About’ page was way too long for any casual visitors, but didn’t include much about my history and background that others might find interesting. Splitting it in two was the answer. Now, ‘The Mission In A Nutshell’ describes my situation, what needs to be done to remedy it, and my plan for doing so in the most compact way I could present it, so that even the most jaded and impatient reader should be able to decide whether my cause is worthy of them to at least donate a dollar toward it.

The new ‘Bio’ page is a lot longer than the original ‘About’ page, which mainly focused only on the last few years of my life. Since I didn’t magically materialize as a disabled MSer one day, I added details about where I came from, school, all those things that a web surfer would likely sneer at as far too wordy when they just want the facts, but friends and interested parties might find engaging.

I like playing with ideas to spiff up the look of the blog too. The good news is that WordPress has so many options to customize the look of a blog, but that’s the bad news too: there are so many and I’m such a noob at this that I don’t even understand what most of them are for, and trying to learn what does what and what goes where tends to lock my brain up. I’ll get there eventually, but it ain’t happening right away. Then there are the third party widgets and add ons to complicate the situation…no shortage of those either. I found a nifty one this morning, a graphic widget for displaying YouTube videos in a multipane thumbnail format. You can have a look at it here, but it might be a while before I can puzzle out how to use it. I got as far as discovering it’ll work with WordPress, so it’s a safe bet that it’ll make it here at some point. I do love new gadgets, even virtual ones.

Speaking of YouTube, I haven’t forgotten my quest to convince someone more recognizable (and photogenic) than just me to make a short dedication/endorsement video that I can make a sticky on the front of this blog. I’ve written to yet another one of those folks with a YouTube channel, and though I have yet to receive a reply from any of my inquiries, I can be mighty persistent when it comes to important stuff like this…in a very polite and diplomatiic way, of course. Sooner or later one of these good people will succumb to my wheedling, and whether they do it out of sympathy or just because they pity me, it will happen.

Changes, alternatives, roads less traveled…there are many ways to defur a feline. I’m just chock full of clever ideas, I just need to stay frosty and not let my brain get overloaded 🙂

Glenn

“I’m So Bored”

Those are three little words that I hate more than almost any other phrase in the English language. Not annoyed, irked, irritated, bothered, or even disturbed by it…though I do experience all of those to one degree or another…no, there’s just no milder word for the fundamental emotion in me when I see or hear it.

It’s one of the few things a person can utter, verbally or written, that makes me want to break my commitment to the Zero Aggression Principle and administer a good solid whack on the nose with a rolled up newspaper to the person saying it.

I know I’m not the only one wanting to deal out a little percussive therapy to its speaker upon hearing this, either. I’ve read countless stories of grandparents, parents, or other parties performing the same action or a close variant when a child or adolescent said those words. Now, I don’t believe that it’s ever okay to initiate force against anyone, so I’d get the speaker’s attention in a gentler way, but that’s one that I could never let pass.

If this description fits you, I gotta ask: how in God’s name can you possibly be bored, especially in this day and age? I’m not going to list all of the options available to you…that’ll give you the first thing to do to keep you busy, though I suspect you’re already familiar with many of them. Many people are but they can’t be bothered to do so much as lift a finger to avail themselves of the near-endless list of things they could be doing.

I’m seeing more and more of this nonsense every year month week day, it seems, and that tells me something:

Our culture is dying, and fast. Think I’m overstating the severity of this issue? Not hardly, as I want to discuss today.

What do people really mean when they claim they’re bored? It’s pretty obvious, they’re saying they’re simply too lazy to actually do anything, or even turn their brains up a notch beyond a lukewarm ‘standby’ position and think about something interesting. They want some kind of novel stimulation or sensation, and they want it brought to them, rather than looking for it. The prevalence of this attitude among so many people these days, young and not so young, scares the hell out of me, and it should scare the hell out of you, too. It’s dangerous, not only for the allegedly bored individual, but for those around them and in a larger view, the civilization in general.

People that dependent on simple sensation provided by others, rather than their own efforts to occupy their time or amuse themselves, have never learned how to think creatively or realized the value in being able to do so. Owing to the pervasive influence of both popular culture that grows more chaotic and nihilistic all the time, along with a public school system that actually discourages creativity and critical thought in favor of mindless repetition and regurgitation of whatever claptrap their bureaucratic doctrine deems appropriate to stuff down the throats of those they’re charged with ‘educating,’ we’re fast getting to the point of being a nation full of interchangeable lumps of protoplasm whose only goals are to work only as hard as they absolutely have to for survival while endlessly questing after that next new sensation to titillate their jaded palates.

This has been going on for so long that we now have multiple generations of human beings who have never learned the intrinsic value of learning for its own sake, or of doing quality work for the satisfaction of a job well done. They’ve never discovered how or why having a lower time preference for the important things in life is almost always more rewarding than always demanding instant gratification for everything; genuinely good things take effort, care, resources, and surprise, surprise…time to obtain. Most of the stories I mentioned concerning a concerned relative getting a youngster’s attention with a cuff to the back of their head or a smack to their posterior are reminiscences from long ago because of this. Nowadays Grandpa is as likely to be just as lackluster and as lazy as Junior is.

I really can’t blame popular culture for its actions (at least as far as so-called ‘entertainment’ goes); entertainment is a function of the market and while there are many independent providers of entertainment aimed at those with a functional IQ above room temperature, the vast majority must cater to the demands of the consumer in order to survive. If the majority of consumers demand mindless pablum or pure sensory entertainment, that’s exactly what they’ll get, regardless of the depths of cruelty, mortification or glitzy celebration of mediocre banality such products reach.

I just shake my head when I hear demands that government ‘do something’ to reduce the amount of this rubbish to protect consumers…from themselves. If the bureaucrats mandate higher quality material it’s usually as bad or even worse than the privately produced prolefeed, it’s just blander and more tasteless than the former to avoid being ‘offensive’ and almost always includes large amounts of self-aggrandizing material celebrating the presumed godlike qualities of the centralized and increasingly omnipresent State, which consumers are constantly urged to worship.

If people want quality entertainment, they must first decide for themselves what quality entertainment is. They can then demand it from the creators, who will be happy to deliver. People will freely choose what they want to watch and avoid that which they don’t…and the market will respond, since delivering the product people want will profit them, while failure to do so will lose them that profit. Is all this likely to happen soon? Nope, not as long as people are willing to keep shoveling down mindless swill.

The public will also need to shake themselves out of the hypnotic trance that they’ve been conditioned to and recognize that running to Mommy Government won’t help.

It never helps…at most it can give the illusion of helping. Government is in the business of extracting revenues (since it has no resources other than what it takes from other people), maintaining the illusion that it is all-powerful, all-knowing, beneficent and capable of providing every need of every person so they don’t have to take the responsibility themselves, all while jealously guarding its monopoly on force to perpetuate its unaccountability and power to coerce anyone who dares step out of line or challenge its assumed authority. There are well-meaning and decent people within government, to be sure, but even if every one of them spread that goodwill around as much as they were able, they can never overcome the fact that the machine they work for is fundamentally designed and has been adjusted every year to be at cross purposes to those good intentions of theirs.

Anyone remember Lily Tomlin’s character Ernestine from the old Laugh-In TV show? She summed up the situation best: “We’re the phone company. We don’t care…we don’t have to.”

http://vimeo.com/16175616

Speaking of monopolies, you can’t expect any help from the public schools in encouraging young people to think independently. As I mentioned earlier, the education brass have their own playbook and their own agenda, and have deliberately constructed a system of public schools that are fundamentally indoctrination centers for ensuring conformity, squashing creative thinking, and accustoming young people to the prison/institutional life.

This is a cynically planned system whose origins trace back to the early 19th century, when the authoritarian Prussian regime developed a uniform public education system. later furthered by Otto von Bismarck, and brought to the US in the early 20th century by proponents of the Progessive movement. Names like Horace Mann and John Dewey figure prominently in the Progressives’ relentless push to institutionalize the system here, and they succeeded beyond their wildest dreams.

In the simplest terms possible, this system is designed to turn out good little worker bees who will produce tirelessly for the collective, but never question their predetermined role or rock the boat. The majority are so well indoctrinated that they will fiercely defend their status as slaves against scary thoughts that threaten to make them aware of it. This indoctrinated belief is demonstrated brilliantly in the 1999 film, The Matrix, incidentally, which is why I strongly believe that it’s far more than just an entertaining science fiction action film, it’s important in its own right as an allegory of this phenomenon.

To be honest, I’m not terribly knowledgeable about this subject, I’m a pilot and instructor, not an academic. Still, I’ve read enough about it over the years, from so many vectors, that I’ve been throughly convinced of its validity for a long time. If this interests you, you’re better served by doing your own research to learn about it, and I can’t think of a better place to start than the writings of John Taylor Gatto.

Gatto was deeply involved in the public education system for many years, reaching his high mark in 1991 when he was named New York State Teacher of the Year, after being named New York City Teacher of the Year on three occasions…but evidently had a change of heart after all he’d seen, quitting the system in that year and claiming that he was no longer willing to hurt children. Like Major General Smedley Butler of the USMC, who had his own epiphany after many years in that branch of the military…one of 19 people to twice receive the Medal of Honor, one of three to be awarded both the Marine Corps Brevet Medal and the Medal of Honor, and the only person to be awarded the Brevet Medal and two Medals of Honor, all for separate actions…wrote his famous text War Is a Racket in the early 1930s, Gatto thereafter has devoted his energy to communicating the facts about the system he’d experienced himself. I strongly admire this kind of uncommon integrity, and if you’d like to see what Mr. Gatto’s been up to, visit him here.

Not only do we have a nation rapidly filling with these bored people, they’re almost always incapable of independent and creative thought, as well as lacking in any disciplined form of moral teachings. This is a recipe for disaster on a cataclysmic scale. During the Depression of the 1930s, a great many people were poor, out of work or both, yet the morality of the times mostly prevented them from the kind of the mindless and destructive mobs we’ve seen a huge increase of in recent years. That sort of morality, of any origin, has been derided and marginalized for so many years now that these days we not only see masses of ignorant people, they often seem proud of it. The celebration of ignorance or even stupidity as if it were a virtue is frightening in its scope, along with the showcasing of cruelty, destructiveness, and mortification of others as ‘entertainment.’

People are rapidly losing the ability to communicate anything coherently, not just organized dissenting thoughts that the creators of the Prussian-based education system feared…an unintended consequence, I have no doubt. As they lose their ability to communicate at a level higher than glorified grunts, so too they lose their ability to learn even the skills needed for them to be those productive worker bees that the Progressives wanted so badly. The obvious result will be a consistently falling standard of living for all, which increases the likelihood of more crime, fraud and theft, which in turn is exactly what governments like to see, since they have increasing justification for more and more thuggery and repression.

And round and round it goes, every turn of the wheel giving momentum to the downward spiral of civilization.

That reminds me, hand in hand with the general decay of civilization goes the incivility of people. Simply put, they get ruder, touchier and more contentious every year while expecting to be handed more and more resources produced by other people. This should be a red flag to any honest student of history as yet another indicator of a world in crisis.

Years ago, I read a discussion of this phenomenon in the novel Friday, by the great science fiction writer, philosopher and critic Robert A. Heinlein. In it, two of his characters discuss how to spot a sick culture:

It is a bad sign when the people of a country stop identifying themselves with the country and start identifying with a group. A racial group. Or a religion. Or a language. Anything, as long as it isn’t the whole population…

Before a revolution can take place, the population must lose faith in both the police and the courts.

High taxation is important and so is inflation of the currency and the ratio of the productive to those on the public payroll. But that’s old hat; everybody knows that a country is on the skids when its income and outgo get out of balance and stay that way – even though there are always endless attempts to wish it way by legislation. But I started looking for little signs and what some call silly-season symptoms.
I want to mention one of the obvious symptoms: Violence. Muggings. Sniping. Arson. Bombing. Terrorism of any sort. Riots of course – but I suspect that little incidents of violence, pecking way at people day after day, damage a culture even more than riots that flare up and then die down…

He goes on to say:

Sick cultures show a complex of symptoms as you have named… But a dying culture invariably exhibits personal rudeness. Bad manners. Lack of consideration for others in minor matters. A loss of politeness, of gentle manners, is more significant than a riot.

This symptom is especially serious in that an individual displaying it never thinks of it as a sign of ill health but as proof of his/her strength.

Does all of this sound familiar to you, things you can now see every single day with your own eyes? You might want to reflect on the fact that he wrote these words in 1983…and these problems were bad enough at that point. They’ve had almost thirty years since then to get worse.

There’s no easy fix. The trouble we’re in has taken a long, long time to metastasize and it will take a long time to repair the damage…assuming it’s not too late. I’d like to believe it isn’t.

I suggest that if you want to help begin solving these issues, start small. Forget grand, sweeping schemes; they invariably try to force people to think differently, which never works…and it’s sheer hubris to think it can. We need to persuade people by example, one at a time.

The next time you hear someone complain of boredom, rather than whacking them on the nose with that rolled up newspaper (tempting as it may be in the short term), take a few minutes and talk to them. Try to show them that there’s a whole world out there that they can genuinely profit from…and have a lot of fun with…by learning about it. This won’t be easy, but once you can reverse that slide downwards, learning can be just as self perpetuating as the negative slide toward ignorance, and will build momentum as a person gets more and more satisfaction from doing so.

Convince them to get up and away from the TV and get out TODAY…take a walk, hike a trail, ride a bike, anything to break that stagnation. As an aside, I’ll stress the importance of getting started with these things NOW, not put them off for some indeterminate time in the future. Apart from the hazard that they’ll never get done, there’s always a chance that injury or disease can destroy the ability to do them. Tomorrow might be too late.

Much as I lament the things I can’t do anymore, it’s hard to describe just how glad I am that I did them when I had the chance. One of the saddest things I know is talking with people who became disabled as I did but never got around to doing the things they always meant to do some day… and now they can’t. The longing and regret that radiates from these folks is almost palpable, and can be almost overwhelming in its despair. As much as I’m annoyed or worried whenever I hear someone whine that they’re bored, it must be excruciatingly painful for these people.

I honestly believe that we as individuals can turn things around if we’re willing to have the patience and guts to do it. We really don’t have much choice unless we’re willing to sit by and watch while we’re engulfed by a new Dark Age.

Glenn

Saturday Morning, Redux

Ye gods, Constant Reader…autumn is here.

After a week of dreary grey skies, wind, and fairly constant lashings of cold rain, the sun finally came out today with some enthusiasm, so out I went and found it waiting for me.

Though the clouds have abated for the moment and the winds were calm, it was downright chilly today. Autumn chilly, no mistake about it. That’s no joke for me, the MS affects the muscles controlling circulation in my limbs, and they often get clammy to the touch, noticeably cooler than normal body temperature. Add to this the fact that my year round uniform is shorts and a T shirt since with my train wreck of a body I can’t deal with buttons, snaps, zippers or long pants. Even with a lap blanket, when it’s chilly the blistering top speed of my chair (5.4 mph going downhill) makes for enough relative wind to have me shivering, and my left hand was curled up like a spider after being poked by the time I reached my destination.

Still and all, it was a lovely morning and I very much enjoyed the trek out to my flying site. You can’t miss the different feeling in the air, the angle of the sun and the look of the sky you get with autumn. Leaves are already falling, even though it was still emphatically summer only a couple of weeks ago and the temperatures at midday were hinting at blast furnace levels.

I really like autumn, it’s my favorite season followed by spring, then summer respectively. Winter I haven’t much use for, it’s grim, dismal, cold and dead. Autumn is subtler and more complex, just a bit melancholy in a dreamy, wistful sort of way. I’ve come a long way from when I was a kid…I hated fall then with a passion. Summer vacation’s over, and for me the whole back-to-school thing that so many enjoy was for me more like a return to prison after being paroled. Being forced to spend more time around my parents wasn’t the funnest thing, either…without going into too much sordid detail, back then my folks weren’t the stereotypical Robert Young and Jane Wyatt type by a long stretch…let’s just say they had some issues and were extremely good at coming up with new and improved ways to put the ‘fun’ in ‘dysfunctional’ on a regular basis. My mom, bless her, got over the worst of hers, but my dad went to his grave still proudly displaying his timeworn but well-polished Miserable Bastard merit badge. Ah, well.

Since I grew to adulthood, though, I’ve learned to really enjoy and relish the autumn season. We get some pretty fall colors even here in Tennessee, and of course there’s the holiday season to look forward to…and I do, the secret is not to overdo things and keep focused on what I believe are the very real, positive aspects holidays like Thanksgiving, Christmas and the New Year celebration can offer. No rush, mind you, I’ll be busy taking in the fall.

One of the very few good things about multiple sclerosis, at least for me, is a noticeably higher sensitivity to subtle nuances you find even in the mundane things in the world. That hint of melancholy I mentioned is stronger for me these days than when I was healthy, a not unpleasant sense of longing that can almost be savored like a well-brewed tea…and like tea it doesn’t have much in the way of body or substance, but it certainly has a distinctive flavor.

With my relatively new paradigm of motoring about the neighborhood in my powered chair, as the weather cools it means the end of my flying season, no two ways about it. Flying model aircraft is one of the few real joys I have left in my life, and its absence for several months will be keenly felt. Even that’s okay by me, though, since I’m planning some serious therapy this winter in the form of attempting to build some models for next spring, a big unknown for me, given the loss of function in my left hand. That’s why it’s therapeutic, like flying my planes or helicopter, building things demands I use that hand, and I’ve already been pleasantly surprised by the workarounds I’ve been able to learn to fly well and perform other tasks that I’d previously thought weren’t doable. Being left-handed and losing most of the use of that hand is daunting, but learning those workarounds has encouraged me, as well as the fact that my ‘dumb’ right hand has also picked up a lot of the slack.

In short, there appears to be life in the old dog yet. It’ll be slow going, but I think if I can keep my temper and not blow any gaskets I’ll produce some good results. My first project is a tiny replica of the Great War era Sopwith Triplane, as represented by a kit predominantly constructed of Depron foam and balsa. I expect it’ll be a royal pain to build even though I’d have considered it brainlessly simple just a few short years ago…but the lure and promise of the finished bird is all the motivation I need. Even unpainted it looks glorious to my eyes:

This morning, though, I was mainly concerned with getting my chilled and curled hand behaving at least a little. When I reached my parking lot/aerodrome, I unloaded my gear and found it as useless as I feared it would be. Lecturing and threatening it didn’t seem to do much, so lacking any facility for warming it up, I just sat on it. Yep, I sat on my hand like a chicken warming an egg.

By the by, if I haven’t mentioned it before, I strongly recommend that you healthy folks avoid developing any neurological diseases like MS…not only is it incredibly annoying, it really does cramp the old lifestyle. Yeah, lame attempt at humor…sue me.

Sitting on my hand actually seemed to work, and before long I got my little Aeronca Champ airborne and doing its thing, which is mainly gently flying around and looking pretty. For me, the sight of a classic aircraft purring around in the sky is like balm for the soul, and I enjoyed the time I spent this morning thoroughly. When I decided to call it quits, the airplane cooperated by rewarding me with a perfect landing and I taxied it back to my feet, thinking kind thoughts about this little contraption of foam and little electronic biscuits that gives me so much pleasure.

On the return trip home, the day had warmed a bit, but I wasn’t fooled. The occasionally falling leaves, the tilt of the sun, along with the other things I’ve talked about here were the giveaway Gather ye rosebuds while ye may, the poet Robert Herrick wrote some time ago, as an excerpt from his work instructs:

Gather ye rosebuds while ye may,
Old Time is still a-flying;
And this same flower that smiles today,
Tomorrow will be dying.

See? Pretty but a bit sad and wistful, the way I feel about this time of year. In a similar vein, since I’ve already admitted that I believe everything in life should be set to music, I’ll leave you to consider this piece from a different time…

…Okay, okay, I know the song is a bit hackneyed these days, it’s actually about winter, not autumn, and I have no longing in my heart at all for California. Visiting it once was enough, and with all due respect to any denizens of that state who may be reading this, I wouldn’t choose to live there, which goes double for L.A., a city I wouldn’t live in on a dare. Still, for some reason this song just works for me and I always hear it echoing in my head at this time of year.

Glenn

Every Hero Needs A Theme Song…And So Does This Blog!

I’ve had music on the brain a lot lately.

If you read my previous post, you’ll recall I’ve sent a couple of letters out to entertainers on YouTube requesting them to do short dedication clips for my cause here, so it shouldn’t be terribly surprising I was devoting a lot of thought to the subject.

In that same post, I linked the Playmates’ song about the Little Nash Rambler since it struck me that it was a great metaphor for the subject I was dealing with…trying to keep this blog always fresh, moving forward, and increasing its visibility to make sure it was a fun place to visit…not letting it get stuck in second gear, like in the song.

I confess…I’m one of those people that believes deep down that everything in life should be set to music. There…I said it.

Hey, that might not be such a bad thing, if you think about it. Maybe if I hadn’t been a pilot, perhaps I’d have made a good filmmaker.

It could be, on the other hand, that I’m just a creature of my times. Everyone I knew growing up was the same way…we hummed famous theme songs when we were doing stuff to keep the mood, and picked up new material every time we went to the movies.

Jeez, I even remember playing Kenny Loggins’ Danger Zone from a boom box while sitting in the back seat of a Cessna Skyhawk one night while a newly minted pilot flew us around while his instructor, a friend and colleague of mine, supervised from the right seat.

Later, my pilot friends and I constructed adapters to our aviation headsets we ginned up from Radio Shack parts to plug in with our flight gear so we could feed a Walkman into our planes’ audio. I have some lovely memories of zipping through cloud tops at close to 300 miles per hour while the strains of Mozart’s Piano Concerto #22 In E Flat played in the background…truly an exquisite combination.

I never got out of the habit, keeping music to suit my mood on CD handy years later for when I’d take a jaunt in my convertible. I’d play Ron Goodwin aviation marches while driving to and from the airport I worked out of, classical pieces by Mozart, Bach and Handel when motoring through country roads, and even obnoxious WW II German Wehrmacht marches in city traffic to drown out the mindless thumping of other motorists’ alleged ‘music’ they insisted playing at top volume. You think you got rhythm? I got your rhythm right here, pal! Mach schnell, chump!

I remember getting a good laugh (among many) watching Keenan Ivory Wayan’s hilarious movie I’m Gonna Git You Sucka, an awesome spoof on the classic blaxploitation films of the 70s…the scene where Bernie Casey explains the importance of having good theme music handy for every hero has stuck with me:

Yeah.

Still, much as I like good funk, I just don’t think it’s quite my idiom.

It got me wondering…what would be a good theme for me and my little blog here? Something with strong music that mirrors my strong craving to be able to just get on with my life…the ultimate goal of this project, of course. I could add all sorts of other metaphors, but I think you get the idea.

It would have to have fitting lyrics, too, words celebrating freedom, independence, and the joy I’d get from slipping my fetters and escaping the hazards I face now. Nothing overly complicated…but memorable.

In short, something that had me written all over it.

I thought a lot about it, went through song after song on YouTube, but nothing really grabbed me. Nothing stood out as just the right expression of the passion I feel every day when I reflect that yet another day’s gone by forever while I sit in this wheelchair, confined to my home most of the time but even when I get out, confined by the limits of my chair’s batteries, for cryin’ out loud.

I was getting pretty wound up over this without making any headway. I’m at least self aware enough to realize that obsessing over the problem would just get me brain locked in frustration.

It probably sounds stupid to a healthy person, but this can be a real hazard…these days especially, what with the cognitive issues this stupid multiple sclerosis saddles me with. Even trying to think my way through minor issues can be like trying to swim through pudding.

This has happened enough over the last several years that I’ve learned to recognize it, and the way to keep from getting into this vicious circle is to quit trying so hard and turn my attention elsewhere for a while. It’s humbling and frankly rather frightening, since I just can’t rely on my brain to power through obstacles like I did in my healthy days…it always ends up the same way, locked up and mad, with nothing useful to show for my trouble.

Needless to say, as soon as I quit acting like a mule I felt loads better, and my brain, muttering curses under its breath, ducked around the obstacle of gummed up leavings of all the confused, frustrated, angry thoughts I’d put in its way…and found the answer I needed soon after.

I actually woke up from a nap a couple of days later with this music running through my head.

How could I have overlooked this piece? Listen to the whole thing, everything about it suits my longing to escape the box this ridiculous affliction has put me in. Review the lyrics, and if you’ve read anything about me in this blog, I bet you’ll agree that almost every word can perfectly apply to my own perspective. There’s no question in my mind that this is it…there is nothing else out there that can serve as well as this wonderful classic song.

Ladies and gents, I give you The Who: