Friday, August 22, 2014

Eat Pain to Survive in Style

I have neglected writing to avoid being a curmudgeon. Grumps can be comic relief, but fade, all too quickly, into social irritants. No on tries consciously to be boring. We don't choose to be ill-tempered, a no-fun dullard stick-in-the-mud. It raises from within, compounded by miss-matched mood swings, shattering our attempts to charm.

When your body aches in a sink hole of symptoms, while the mind struggles with depression, being inspirational is near impossible. Perhaps this is why the seriously sick stay home, not wanting to bore others with their menagerie of discomforts.  The dis-ease of disease can be contagious, and no one wants to bum-out their friends.

Facebook is one tool, though tricky-to-handle, for the self-imposed shut-in. Without cheerful adventures 'in the real world', on wind-swept beaches, with happy hoping pets, and smiling group photos with dear friends, our communique disintegrates into the darker-side of networking. Our Facebooking quickly gravitates to clinging to cliche of expression, the down-side of social discourse. Gaza, Ebola, and comedian suicides start to overshadow holiday highs.

So, to distance myself from my own disturbing chemistry, I retreat into sitcom reruns and search the back-roads of mental discourse, revitalising happy thoughts. I try and find the essence of all this funny business in staying alive. I lurk in Skype communicating with my children and friends, eat luxuriously decadent treats, and elaborate on fantasies that no longer have a chance to manifest.

I understand factually, in actuality, my body will never again be as healthy as today, certainly never younger, nor my opportunities as great. I know, well meaning truisms, platitudes of Pollyannaism, actually bring me down. What the hell, being ill and happy is the preverbal square peg in the a-hole.

Praying works, statistics tell us, if one is lucky enough to re-program logic into a loop of optimistic poppycock. If prayer works, good for you... if not, God help all the uncompromising atheist with Parkinson. This is not to say I would not love to be saved. But miracle cures, for our major diseases, do not grow on trees.

The Zen of it is, being 'saved' is living the jive I am. If there is pain, be pain-full, and just try and spare my social companions, with a bit of yogic exercise, simulated smiles. Give my friends a brake by baring down, biting the bullet, and being the clown. Being cheerful in my youth was as natural as spring. Now happy requires rehearsal time, and a whole lotta grit.

I need to learn to dance on many levels and ignore the smells of convalescence. Be kind by not complaining too much. Even smile my rye twisted grin, till true happiness comes home again, until cool and tempered brings social grace back to the mix.

Keep trying to be one with my Parkinson yet fun to hang with. The same way Muhammad Ali now does magic tricks to charm his guests, long after losing his voice and physical stature. To float like a butterfly and sting like a bee, a last stance at dignity. A cheerful hero in the cause of survival.

Saturday, May 17, 2014

A Rigid Back and the Despair It Propagates

Symptoms for Parkinson's Disease are myriad and personal. We are all different, though commonalities occur in the greater brotherhood of us Parkies. My left arm tremors are most conspicuous, though least of my present concerns, after all I am right-handed.

I just have to be damn careful while cooking or handling two-handed tasks. Watching me read while holding a paper, or drink while holding a cup, prerequisite for us teachers, can be quite comical in a cruel sort of way.

The cramping of foot and leg muscles for no apparent reason, so unpredictable and often in bed, are brutal pain-wise. My most terrifying fear, the loss of control in swallowing/throat muscles, is a foreshadowing I dread. Death by choking is real and my occasional choking sessions extremely embarrassing. As in the recent death from pneumonia by actor Bob Hoskins, when breathing and eating got mucked up together, the source of nightmares.

But the crème de la crème of nastiness, is the rigidity in my lower back. I am a turtle with too heavy a shell. Standing, walking, climbing stairs ages me by twenty years. I lust for a place to sit. I measure distances by feet where I once walked miles. Doing dishes can mean an agonising end to a potential day of chores. I feel hopelessly inadequate in the simplest of tasks. I live to put my feet up, to stop the pain, and bring back normalcy. 

I morbidly look at the dust accumulating, the weeds growing, the dreams abandoned, and feel my age and the death it proceeds. Gruesome stuff.

So I have to consider realistically the future, without knowing which symptoms will take precedence. Do I sell my house and choose a home with wheelchair access? Will my shrinking voice projection, body tremors, loss of mental clarity, leaky bladder, all, none, or more, prevent me from teaching?  

Some Parkinson cohorts play golf while others progress to a life in bed with live-in care. The only reliable fact is 'it is a degenerative disease'. Barring a miraculous new cure, it only gets worse. Shit happens and it hurts.

How much help can I expect, even ask for, from family and friends? How will my adopted country Japan, or my native US, react to an unemployed handicap senior? How much medical care do I factor into my future? How will I foot the bill to a protracted longevity? Cut out early, survive as a Ward of the State, a stone around the throat of love ones, cross the bridges, or wobble into the sea? Grim variables indeed.

So I talk about it with friends. Take note of my preoccupation with eating and the tightening of clothes it brings. Read what I can, project into a realm of potentials, feel thankful for all my blessings, stare at the moon. 

Music helps, though memories of dancing in abandonment crawl up my spine christening my brain with sad acceptance. I am not whole but want to be. Maybe there is something I am missing, a cure, or an adjustment in attitude.

Such is life with this nemesis Parkinson's.

Friday, May 9, 2014

Uncle Walt

Uncle Walt died this week of Lung Cancer. He had Parkinson's, and other aliments, but cigarettes did him in. Funny thing is, though death is surely sad, I can only envision Uncle Walt smiling. That provocative tilted grin... of a fox casing the hen house at dinner time. A look that said 'I know what you are thinking' ... and, scarily,  he usually did. Like this old snapshot of him lighting up atop deadly depth charger's. Crazy sexy. A dangerous seductiveness, fireworks to a boy, or leather-clad 'James Dean' for the girls.

Every one smoked back when I was young, but somehow Walt made it cool. He had a style that both fascinated and terrorised us little ones. He was sinewy, snarly, and unpredictable. He would hook into hobbies and take them to extremes. He was talented and couldn't help but impress you on his pursuits of perfection. 

He made his kitchens into showroom meticulous creations. He pursued photography deeply and then shifted to perfecting homemade wedding cakes, or renovating the old Firehouse streamline bus into a mobile cruiser. He was a master with his hand, a pragmatic electrician with a craftsman's imagination.

He single handedly rewrote the family geography, twice. First by buying a farm from a real estate catalogue, and drawing a large chunk of the extended family to the wintry wilds of Schoharie, away from the dwindling promise of an over-taxed Long Island. From our sprawling extension of Manhattan to the sleepy hills of Upstate New York, he converted city folk into happy country yokels.  And then again, with brave spontaneity, when the snow no longer suited his ageing bones, to South Carolina, for still lower taxes and even more country quiet.

Uncle Walt was an individualist. Like wondering onto blooming wild flowers deep within the woods, I will suddenly remember his mischievous eyes, his unique impish style, and the magic it brought into our lives. And I will mimic his smile, that teasing sly style, so uniquely Uncle Walt's.

Gozdziewski and Lindquist bonded into eternity.

Friday, March 28, 2014

Thinking of Toshio Sasaki

Our show at STOREFRONT for Toshio Sasaki in 1982

Spring breaks with cool winds in Kyoto. 
Here in my mountain home, Hieidaira, my body shakes with Parkinson’s, the bitter sweet truth that age brings. 

Toshio was masculine genius, a sensitive individualist, unique in his perfection… a powerful artistic force. He lives, a radient jewel, tucked inside for reassurance. 

In Spring we remember the flowers we have known and they again bloom… a quiet moment in our garden with the perfection of beauty, immortalised in memory, manifest in a bud.

Thinking of you Toshio, 
wondering which collection of forms again could match your force, your unique truth in my life. Accepting your death as my own, 
the perfection we call Spring.


His last major work (a proposal for the World Trade Center memorial)

March 31st 2007

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Is my Love of Japan inherently Evil?

As I grow old in Japan, so too grows my love. It can't be Nationalism, a sentiment I hold in suspicion, because I am not a citizen of Nihon. Nor does Japan particularly want me. At best, I believe Japan politely tolerates this outsider. I am simply a blip on the screen of the Japanese bureaucracy.

The Nipponese see me as an amusing nuisance as one does a young child, cute at a safe distance while under the care of the appropriate authorities. Japan is a master baby-sitter... And I am content to be a meek non-voting witness to the mad genius of this country.

Japan warms the cockles of my hardened heart. I love her immaculate infrastructure, as I ride my sterile taxi-bus over clean smooth highways from a space-age Kansai International... A polite white glove clad driver pronouncing niceties, over the crackle-free speaker system, to polite soft spoken passengers. Such a dynamic contrast to the hair raising, bone crushing ride on the other end, in my death defying kamikaze ride to the Cebu Airport in the Philippines.

In Japan, things work. Public space planners, of toilets and other essential comfort zones, always consider the customer. 'Okyaku-sama wa kami-sama desu' ...The customer is God. Which is not a Christian-like platitude, but a real functioning cultural assumption. The Japanese actually believe in honesty, responsibility, and each other's right to feel warm and fuzzy.

Underlying this is a sword swirling, suicidal self righteousness. But all countries have a Jingoistic backbone to frighten off the other Neanderthal. Fearing our neighbors is an assumption in Asia. Japan has bookstores full of racist crap and a National Diet filled with sour faced politicians, all too ready to prick their neighbors with pointy sticks.

Northeast Asia is an endless 'Punch and Judy' show. A drama we are forced to participate in, riders on a roller-coaster clinging to a precarious parapet... daily daredevil militaristic brinkmanship is our new normal.

Yet, all this said, I still truly love Japan. I love sushi and most of everything else served in this gourmet pleasure palace. Sure I know we are depleting the world supply of tuna, killing whales and dolphins for dubious 'cultural' reasons, and most likely exhausting the world's supply of chocolate. Who could resist a country where eating, packaging, serving all consumables is an elegant art form. And, by no means, let us not forget the women.

Who can not love a country, birth place of the infamous yet gorgeous Yakuza tattoo, where women are not tattooed and pierced like hellish voodoo dolls, now the fashion plate served elsewhere. Here creamy uncluttered skin, of delectable proportions, is still sacred and protected. Cleanliness and an semblance of tasteful fashion, the Goldilocks perfection of moderation... strong yet feminine, sweet yet sharp as the snap of a whip.

In the world of crime detection, it is ofter said, we are most likely to be murdered by those closest to us, those who we love. In a quest for art, beauty, and spiritual peace I found my way here. And though she may kill me, I can not resist kneeling at her feet, pledging my allegiance to her seductive charm. I love Japan and that warm and fuzzy feeling I get in her arms. If I am a fool, I am a fool in love.

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

My Search for the Ideal 'Selfie'

I hate this new word selfie. The word is too cute. Cute, like the adorable mobile phones creating these mercilessly Facebook-likeable visuals.

 Technology today is too small for my hands, too tiny for my ageing eyes... obviously designed for the young and delicate. Selfies are for this world of instantaneous perfection, ephemeral... a whisper into the silky ear of a lover.

Phone cameras are too good, making too many master artisan, who turn out too many delectable temptations... scrumptious dinner images, voluptuous landscapes, and forever loveable pets. I too want my own selfie to be adorable, a transcendant irreversible documentation of mouth-watering masculinity.

Is that too much to ask?

If sexy is no longer applicable, what then should I shoot for? ... Professorially professional? Rugged ageing woodsman? Perhaps what the Japanese call Romancing Gray... that financially stable womanizer... a generous Epicurean of fine pleasures. All seem off, if partially true. Tempting self-endearment, suspended disbelief.

What exactly am I trying to express with a head tilt and a glaring glance into the camera? Surely not the self I feel, nor remember, from years of shaving in the mirror. Should I embrace the chaos, the frailty of each moment? None of it, all of it, me. Larger than life itself and really just a selfie.

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Ashes to ash, dust to dust

Parkinson's, my stifling preoccupation, possessor of both mind and body... What can I do to weaken your malicious grip, to stop you from distracting me from the common delusion of a sweeter life, soft sunshine and ruby roses?

Why do you insist on medieval metaphors, of tortured mind games... war among nagging evils, penitent self-flagellation... condescending comments from well meaning strangers?

When owned by a diabolical disease, the crucifix images of a Catholic childhood rush in, like water into the mouth of the drowning. I want to find sins to confess, errors to correct. But, instead, find clumsy thoughts of haunting disbelief in a silent sadist, lording over my discontent.

There is no logic in unforgiving bonds of discomfort, no gracious goodness, only the cold fact, with Parkinson's, it gets worse and then you die.

50% of Parkinson patients will eventually suffer dementia. Chew on that for awhile. I watch as my mind can not recall the simplest of things. If I forget your name, cut me some slack. If I tend to fall, thanks in advance for picking me up.

If my face has no expression, don't be pissed, all of us mean well, our charming face just doesn't work like before. We lose control of our muscles, from our twisting toes, right up our bodies, to our drooling jaws. A curiosity, living in pain... a buffoon drenched in shame... an embarrassment.

We were, up until recently, maybe one year, maybe twenty, just like you. Only not any more. From the image of perfect health to something else. If there is a lesson to be learned, I am learning it everyday. If you don't have Parkinson's, enjoy not knowing how it feels. Smile, while you still can.

Friday, February 7, 2014

Parsing Parkinson's my 'new normal'

Parsing Parkinson’s

My day begins in the darkness of dreams. I half sleep, so nightly mingle, in a tangled net of remembered dreamland images. There is usually a narrative mixing of painful past and pragmatic trivial concerns.

I optimistically assume I am working through torrents of trauma, toward a future of mindful clarity. At best I am sad but glad to be alive.

Next at issue is the container of urine at my bedside. Raising from bed is a logistical challenge. So doing it, so many times every evening, encourages my use of this urinary variation of a bed pan. 

On a bad night, I will have wet my bed, on a good one, I will have slept several times, deep enough to allow for a feeling of normalcy through much of the day. This ‘new normal’ for those of us locked into the cult of Parkinson’s is a flawed daily striving, to appear as I was before.

Trying, through each interaction, to be someone other than a man who pees his pants, and who must preplan toilet access, based on a schedule completely out of his control. A man made to look much older as he waddles slowly in zombi-like steps to put out the trash. 

A once professorially clad romancing-grey cowboy, now wobbling upstairs one-step-at-a-time to his classroom, out of breath and flustered. This ‘new normal’ is a skull necklace of embarrassments, choreographed by some evil god with a vicious sense of humour.  

If I am truly a man of character, no one should detect my battlefield of bodily symptoms. No one needs to know how shitty I feel. But I am new to all this. My mind was once lucid, but now mirrors the groggy demure of an opiate high, orchestrated by a vengeful lucifer. 

Once my cerebrum was reliable enough to bemuse bystanders, with a blistering confidence. An insufferable cockiness has led me out into the wilderness of a hundred infamous cities, with an enviable menagerie of lovers and friends. My organ-led testosterone-rich vitality has always made chance taking an assumed right of passage. 

Adventure-lust and liquid thoughts, germinating into new realms of exploration, have led me into fields of happiness. Life was sublime even when I was too naive to notice.

Now I have Parkinson’s and life is different. Now my hands and legs are shaking. My neck muscles tense and I fear loss of voice in my chosen profession. Fearing my loss of swallowing, of suffocating anxiety, I feel reticent to leave the house. Traveling, once my life blood and turn on, now a terrifying variable of unknowables. 

I want to find a way to tell friends why I do not feel fun. My life has changed from rich to bitch, and I still ain’t tamed that shrew. I am still learning just to be, simply and pure, me again. And me... ain’t easy… with Parkinson’s.

Thursday, January 30, 2014

“Goodnight Irene” An auditory pilgrimage in tribute to my Mom, Irene.

Christmas 1979
“Goodnight Irene”
An auditory pilgrimage in tribute to my Mom, Irene.

At the conclusion of every family holiday party, always a riotous affair in our gregarious clan, my big voiced uncles would bellow out a few verses of “Goodnight Irene.” 

As Irene Josephine Gozdziewski-Seltman, my quintessential Polish-American mom, gathered us kids for the sleepy journey home, she’d blush a bit, and maybe swing a punch at the arm of one of her brothers. 

Enormously loud and bothersome bullies, they teased her affectionately at every opportunity. This was how we expressed our love.  Like it or not, this song “Goodnight Irene” got sung to my mother at every festivity.

My mom was a child of the depression, World War, and hard luck. She preferred the happy songs of Sinatra’s “High Hopes” and Doris Day’s “Que Sera Sera, Whatever will be - will be.“ She was the Democrat to Dad’s Republicanism. She thought the nights were already too dark and that our days should be filled with bright light and children. The soaps were enough drama, there was no need to focus on the negative.

Dead near 30 years, Mom still lingers, as all mom’s seem to do, deep within me, a swirling throbbing force of mixed emotions. How much I wish she could have seen my kids grow. 

She loved kids more than anything. Grandkids would have been her bliss. But she was in pain too much, from a failing of internal organs, to have wanted to live forever. 

Her heart radiated affection, while the curse of disease pulled her under, a contrasting memory of warm radiating tenderness, counterbalanced by nights alone in the dark, consumed in pain, throbbing, in a torrent of tears.

She tried so hard to hide her unhappiness from we little ones, her angels, her purpose, her beloved preoccupation.

If you type in “Goodnight Irene” into a BitTorrent search engine, you can download an enormous folder of variations of this classic. Ames brothers, Chet Atkins, Dennis Day, Eric Clapton, Frank Sinatra, Gene Autry, The Weavers, Hank Williams, Jerry Lee Louis, Johnny Cash, Kingston Trio, Leadbelly, Little Richard, Michelle Shocked, Mitch Miller, Nat King Cole, Ry Cooder, Tom Waits, Van Morrison, Willy Nelson, and scores more have cut this tune in soulful heart-melting variations.

Each one tears at me and makes me cry, reminding me of another buried moment from inside this chest of recollections. How do we, the dying, love today in honour to those already dead? How do I transform this sad old ballad into tribute to someone so sacred, so long gone, so much pain, joy, and tears…perfection, here with me tonight? 

Good night Mom, and sweet dreams. I’ll see you in the morn.

Irene good night, Irene good night,
Good night Irene, good night Irene,
I'll see you in my dreams.

Last Saturday night I got married,
Me and my wife settled down,
Now me and my wife we are parted,
I think I'll go out on the town.

Sometimes I live in the country,
Sometimes I live in town,
Sometimes I take a great notion
To jump in the river and drown.

I love Irene, God knows I do,
I'll love her 'til the seas run dry,
But if Irene should turn me down,
I'd take morphine and die.

Stop rambling, stop your gambling,
Stop staying out late at night,
Go home to your wife and your family,
Stay there by your fireside bright

Lyrics by Huddie Ledbetter, aka Leadbelly 
first recorded in 1933