Brain trust

Just a few short weeks ago a friend of mine took a tumble, and the impact of her head striking the ice outside of her home resonated deep within my soul.  We talk about the cycles of the world, and how similar things tend to happen again and again . . . this felt like one of those, and for a short time I was taken back a few years to when my father had a similar problem.  I learned, or maybe was just reminded, that although there are patterns and cycles in the world, they don’t always end in exactly the same way.  For that, I am grateful.

Brains are fragile

So what happened is this:  a friend of mine, Carol, stepped out one day, slipped and fell on the ice, hitting her head.  She posted on Facebook about it, and how she’d gotten a killer headache.  Later her daughter took over, sharing with friends that Carol quickly developed nausea and disorientation and had been rushed to the hospital.  She had a subdural hematoma — there was bleeding in her brain causing pressure.  Carol had emergency brain surgery, friends and family clustered around her comatose form, and several days later she started to show signs of recovery.  She’s lost some beautiful silver braids and gained quite a surgery scar, but she’s now in rehab, rebuilding her strength.  From what I’ve learned, most of what she’s recovering from is being still in bed for all those days; swift action by family and hospitals seem to have prevented serious brain damage.

From the start I saw parallels to my own family.  My father had slipped and fallen when out shopping, and likewise hit his head.  I think the bleeding must have been slower, though, because although he had a headache, he didn’t develop other symptoms for several hours.  Unlike my friend Carol, my dad was only in the company of my mother, who is severely disabled and unable to get out of bed.  Once she realized there was something seriously wrong, she needed him to bring her the phone in order to do anything about it.  It took him over half an hour to do that, crawling across their room through his pain and disorientation.

It was his last conscious act.

In the first few days after Carol’s surgery I didn’t know what to say to her family.  They reported she was squeezing their hands sometimes, or trying to speak.  Dad had done that, too, but after two weeks the brain surgeon told us he would never recover.  Given that I’d had to honor his final wishes at that point, I wasn’t sure if Carol was going to be much better off.  I was seeing a cycle repeat itself, and I feared for the worst.

Fate plays a hand

My goddess candelabrum has performed
multiple duties over the years

My fear for Carol was real, and it was based on my own experience.  Rather than visit it upon her, though, I decided that I’m a Pagan, dammit, and I’m going to pray instead.  I quite literally dusted off the candelabrum that I had used for years to honor the triple goddess.  I’d found this odd, triple-stemmed shot glass at a garage sale, and converted it into a candle holder.  The three candles were always at different heights, representing the maiden, mother, and crone.  Their interplay caused some incredibly beautiful wax formations to develop, dripping between the stems and onto the carved wooden pentagram I used as its base.

After several moves I had stopped using it, and it was dusty as all get-out, and some of the wax had broken off of it.  Now that I am practicing Hellenismos, I took the symbolism back further in time, using it to honor the Moirae, the Fates, and ask their intercession.  I have never felt comfortable asking for things beyond my ken, so instead of simply asking for Carol’s life to be saved, I asked that her transition (either returning to her life or moving beyond it) be swift and uncomplicated.  I didn’t want her and her family to suffer as she lingered between life and death.

So now Carol is on the road to recovery, and her fate is not the same as my father’s.  I am thankful to be reminded that fate is not immutable.  I am also thankful that I have learned more about the Moirae.  Their number and gender are the only similarities to the triple goddess of Wiccan belief, and their role is quite different, as well.  I’m thrilled that some of my oldest ritual tools are finding their way into my current practice, because I feel like it’s a natural progression of faith rather than an arbitrary shifting of spiritual gears.

That’s about it for my ruminations on fate, religion, and prayer.  I have to get ready to go to a Quaker meeting now.

So I had this revelation about the afterlife . . .

. . . during a ritual and I want to capture it before it fades.  The afterlife is a state of reciprocal experience and created expectation.  Let me explain.

We spend our entire lives pondering what comes next to some extent; it comes up in all religions and at lots of dinner tables, not to mention bars, colleges, factories, hospitals, and all the other places that people are found. What we believe changes throughout our lives as we’re influenced by life experience, introspection, and the views and teachings of others.

We cultivate these expectations, and they form the foundation of what we discover after death.  For most people, that means some variation of the teachings of their religion or culture.  Diehard Odinists get Valhalla, born-again Christians get either Heaven or Hell, and so on.

But the afterlife isn’t solitary – there’s lot of dead people.  Everyone you’ve encountered in life (or lives) is going to be there with you.  Being that time and space won’t have the same meaning, you could experience very intimate moments with any number of people simultaneously, alone with each of them but very much experiencing them all.  That’s going to make life interesting.

Experience might seem physical, but it will be much deeper than that.  There’s a level of omniscience needed to experience lots of stuff all at once like that, and it should extend to seeing oneself in the eyes of other people, so to speak.  If you don’t like me, I will see myself through your eyes as the unpleasant fellow you believe me to be.

Your soul will exist as a composite of how every other person you know experiences you, in addition to your own self-image.  For most people, there’s a lot of pain in a lot of those images, so it’s probably going to hurt.

The path to salvation is in changing those images, which will take the cooperation of the people who view you poorly.  You’re both experiencing pain and perhaps repulsion, but you need to work together to move past it and experience joy.

Joy with my fourth-grade teacher. Or my ex-wife. Joy with George W. Bush (he doesn’t know me, but I definitely was touched by him, and won’t he be surprised at how much he’s going to have to do).  Joy with bullies and small-minded people and all the sorts of people I don’t much care to talk to anymore.

Of course, how much pain we experience (and work we have to do) is going to depend on where we leave those relationships when we die.  It is about expectation, after all.  Find ways to heal that pain in life, and you won’t experience it all over again afterwards.

If you’re a Christian, that would translate into being nice to people in order to get into Heaven.  Wiccans might invoke the Threefold Law.  Humanists might say, “Don’t be a dick.”  (Well, the ones I know might put it that way, your mileage may vary.)  The beauty of it is, we all get to have the afterlife we expect, and the punishment we deserve.  How cool is that?

Economic Crisis is Entirely Complicated

AIG should follow through with its badly-negotiated contracts, and should do so without using one dime of the bailout money.

The roots of our economic crisis are actually really, really complicated; we’ve learned to do things with money that are so dizzying that we really have no idea what’s going to happen next. It comes from the belief that since we invented the stuff, we must understand that laws it behaves under. I’m looking fnordward to seeing how that theory turns out, but in the meantime we’re stuck sorting through a hip-deep pool of securitized instruments that’s had a slew of interesting derivatives poured into the mess.

To quote myself:

The reason why you should never invest in something you don’t understand is because if you don’t understand it, someone is going to increase their own profit with your ignorance.

These complicated financial instruments were created because someone found an obscure loophole or a clever sales pitch and manufactured something that would make money hand over fist – but that clever person never spelled out whose hand, and which fist. For all the money you hear about the securitization industry making by slicing and bundling mortages into investment vehicles, you can be sure that lots more got made in ways that none of us really understand yet. If it’s complicated, it was designed that way to obfuscate its true purpose.

Luckily for us, not everything in the recovery is going to be as complicated as the downfall. For example, the current flap about the insanely large bonuses given to AIG employees – the same ones that brought the company down? I think the solution to that egregious violation of the public trust is to make AIG pay the bonuses, but with their own money. I wonder how quickly they would backpedal if they had to cough up every cent themselves?

Why Men Can’t Pee Neatly

Warning: graphic biological content ahead.

Women (and some men) that live with men and boys can periodically be heard bellowing the cry, “Lift the seat!” when they are tasked with cleaning the toilet. Dried urine stains on all parts of that porcelain appliance can be pretty disgusting to deal with, and it’s a challenge that has divided the genders since we first started putting a roof over our peeing-places.

I’m familiar with more than one strategy to deal with the unsanitary fire hoses men were gifted with upon their creation.

  • When in Rome: My brother, once he had his own toilet to clean, accepted his poor aim and started peeing in a seated position. I once suggested this as a solution to a coworker, a single mother with a two-year-old boy, but she told me, “I want my son to pee like a man.” She may have had a point; a kid trying to head for the booth in the boys’ room at school might quickly discover how cruelly his peers treat anything that hinted at being different. Nevertheless, I’m and adult and can handle criticism, so I’ve tried it, only to discover that aim-and-pray is rather hardwired in me by now. I only remember after I clean the bathroom, and then only for a few days.
  • Up against the wall: My mother always found the idea of urinThe place where men cannot miss the toiletals “disgusting.” She didn’t clean bathrooms for a living, or maybe she would have been more appreciative. Yes, it’s a little nerve wracking the first time you’re asked to stand at attention and stare at the wall (particularly if you come from a home where nudity isn’t the norm), but newer mens’ rooms have partitions to afford a bit more privacy. And it’s much better than the trough you still find in bars from time to time.
  • Go outside: A boy’s memories should include trying to write his name in the snow. Peeing against a tree or behind a bush has all sorts of problems, including tickets for exposure, sanitation problems if it’s done too often, and frostbite if it’s done too far into the winter. But you don’t have pee stains staring at you the next day, and it is kinda fun.
  • Take cover: I make it a habit of lowering the toilet cover after every use. That way, I reason, the next person will be lifting something to do their business, and I can’t imagine a guy lifting the cover to pee while leaving the seat in place. It’s just as easy to lift both as one. The only complaint I heard about this was from a woman who said that she’d be just as likely to pee right on the cover in the night as not. That, I contend, is not my problem.

So why is it that men have such terrible aim? After all, we use this thing several times a day; it should be a snap to get the targeting computer calibrated. Well perhaps I can give a hint of a clue by way of this anecdote:

I awoke, feeling the pressure in my bladder, and after clearing the cobwebs from my brain I arose and walked unsteadily to the bathroom as my sense of balance tried to catch up with my newborn wakefulness. I lifted both cover and seat and took aim at the bowl some two feet below, using all the skill and practice of my nearly four decades of urination. I released the bladder muscle and let fly. My urine burst forth in a split stream; on part hit the edge of the bowl to scatter about, while the other splashed upon the tiled floor. Frantically I tried to stop what I had started, which is no easy task with a nightful of urine clamoring for escape.

This probably doesn’t occur in societies without clothes, but for the rest of us, stuff gets in there from time to time and messes with the flow. I don’t know about other guys, but I don’t make a habit of performing a pre-pee inspection, although it’s obviously a good idea.

I’m going back to peeing sitting down again, but I doubt it will last.

How Vermonters Welcome the New Year

“2008 is dead, now let’s see the birth of a Champ!”

When I went up to Vermont for New Year’s Eve, I expected a pretty quiet night. The last time I celebrated the turning of the year in that state, in the early 90s, I spent most of the night looking through a telescope; I learned a lot about the stars and how many layers I was wearing that night. This time the plans had included First Night, but Burlington was a bit far and a bit expensive, so I figured a few drinks with friends, maybe some talk about resolutions to pass the time, and we’d be set.

However, as the hour of reckoning approached, we found out that the neighbors had a tradition of their own that they liked to follow. My friend whom I’ve called Noodleman in past posts became our gatekeeper as surely as Tom Bombadil did for the young hobbits, urging us excitedly into the eerie stillness that comes from great cold in the mountains. We skittered across the road and down the snowy slope to where a flammable, man-shaped construct had been assembled of scrap wood, cardboard, clothing and rope. Introduced briefly to the family and resident partygoers, we all stood around as the father immolated this vaguely manlike representation of 2008. As it went up in flames, it looked almost, but not entirely, unlike the picture to the right. The smell suggested accelerants and the way the construct collapsed kept us well clear of the heat, so it was with no little relief to me when our attention was directed within the tiny house itself.

There were more than a few comments about whether all the attendees, now that our merry band had come across the road, would fit within. As we removed our shoes we were greeted by happy dogs, curious cats, and a warm hostess whose name was lost to me as the barely-controlled crowd entered her home. It seemed large enough for us all inside, so I wasn’t clear about the concern as we were all handed drums to play. Then, however, the whole lot of us was taken into the darkened bathrooms with our drums. In the half-full tub was a wooden boat, upon which was a wax effigy of Champ, the creature that lives in Lake Champlain. Pounding our drums with gusto, we forced the boat around the tub with sound alone to propel it. Once, twice, thrice it circled the claw-foot tub before the officiant declared that Champ had been born. There was much rejoicing, and the people did feast upon the orangutan and the fruit-bat and . . .

Well we actually returned across the road at that time, declining the drum circle invitation, but full of a new wonder for Vermonters and their traditions. They don’t all build a Wicker Man with the same types of materials or level of skill, but apparently they do so whether they’re Pagan or not. And now I suspect that a Champ cabal is alive and well in Starksboro, Vermont. We Discordians must stick apart, indeed.

Auto Industry Bailout

“. . . what we’ve been doing since we replaced horses with cars has about run its course, and that it’s actually a Good Thing that the economy is grinding to a near-halt . . .”

That post by Doc Searls explains the no doubt unpopular opinion that sometimes pain is part of the healing process. I understand that thousands of people have jobs that could be lost, and if managed badly, Detroit and other areas of the country are in for a long period of unnecessary suffering. But really, this bailout just doesn’t make sense.

  • Nobody’s buying because credit is frozen, the industry magnates explain ruefully. Sounds like money’s a bit like blocked chi here. Maybe the best way to get the energy moving – encourage people to buy cars – is to sell cars we can afford to buy without financing.
  • Nobody’s negotiating in good faith for pay cuts, because the unions themselves are more interested in continuing to exist than they are in their members’ needs. The best thing that happened to human rights in this country was collective bargaining; one of the worst was allowing unions to require membership to hold a particular job. Without that, the concept of the full-time union employee would fade away and unions would be forced to really negotiate.
  • Nobody’s greedier than car designers, and we deserve them! They will sell the largest and most inefficient vehicles the market will bear, and have frequently raked in stupendous profits. With gas prices plunging, I don’t expect many more hybrids to reach market because Americans have zero short-term memory. Auto makers take advantage of our collective inattentiveness, but that doesn’t mean we should bail them out just because nobody’s buying what they’re selling.

I don’t support a bailout because it will just be sending good money after bad. However, it’s high time we spend at least that much money figuring out what technologies are necessary to get auto workers employed in a successful industry again if this one fails.

Going Deep

I got to explore the planet in a new way yesterday, wandering down into the ice caves and old mines near Hasbrouck Park in Kingston, New York. Historically the area is known for producing natural cement, and these caves were dug out a fair bit back in the day. The climbing down was scarier than climbing back up, and it was intense to experience the subterranean chill. There are a number of flooded old mine shafts that are best to avoid (story has it that some divers have checked them out and never returned), and ice formations that are pretty impressive for June.

Now I’m told that I wasn’t in any real caves, but I don’t mind. No matter what we accomplish in life, we will always find a friend or acquaintance that will minimize it for us and try to make us believe it’s not impressive enough. Depending on how well I know the person, I’ll do anything from smile and nod while ignoring them to telling them that life isn’t a contest and that if it were I would win because I get extra points for getting over myself. Oneupsmanship is absolutely the most irritating human quality, but I digress.

I am glad I went under the ground. I’m not sure I would do it again, but it’s an experience worth having. I guess if I were really into caving and spelunking the word Gaiaped wouldn’t make as much sense – earth-walker might mean going underground, but it sounds like a stretch to me. What I enjoyed most was the feeling that I was in very real danger if I made a mistake. Putting the natural world into perspective means recognizing that nature can kill you.