I intend

I intend to die a hale and hearty old bitch,
rounding Cape Hatteras on a blowy day
in a boat far too light for the waters
but light enough for me;
or flying over fences on my blooded
or bloody-minded Arab mare,
a feisty brat after my own heart,
one fence too far.

Sudden and fierce it should be.
Nobody I’ve never met should profit
from my slow and tortured death,
acceding in misery
to what the doctor thinks is best.

Their training is not that good.

Pharma doesn’t train my best healers.
Only wind and waves and good rich earth
can give what I need, or take it at the end.

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The Raven quoth … Something untranslatable

The ravens almost never come this far out on the water, but this morning two, then three of them, didn’t want to leave my ‘hood.

One perched on my mast; I shook it off with a nasty remark (their poop stains), and it flew around and around and around, too restless to settle elsewhere, too fixated to leave my bit of the sky.

(My unrepaired jib and the neighbor’s “corporate America” flags point to the rook’s erstwhile perch)

The restless raven rasped brusquely, then all three absconded at once.

As mythological moments go, that was a showstopper.

If I were writing a story, that would only happen right before all Hell broke loose. The thing is, Hell has a habit of breaking loose around here — in my life, in Oakland, on Earth generally these days. Why ravens now?

I’ll keep an eye on the sky (I always do, for the weather) and my nose to the grindstone. I’ll keep my hand on the plow and not sheathe the sword. And, of course, both feet planted firmly on the ground while grabbing the tiller.

What’s left of me will post updates.

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Define stability

I live on a boat. Not a houseboat, a sailboat. It’s 29 feet long, 9’4″ at the widest point (outside measurement), and has overhead clearance of just barely 6′ in the main cabin.

Since I’m less than 9′ wide and 6′ tall, this works for me.

A small boat is an unstable surface, shifting with every step and wiggle. You keep your balance by toning your abdominal muscles – as soon as you tighten your midsection, the wobbly feeling disappears, and even if the boat’s surface is 30 degrees from horizontal, you can still keep your feet under you.

I have the strongest core of anyone I know who doesn’t either live on a small boat or teach Iyengar yoga, because that’s just how it works.

A friend of mine moved away and couldn’t get rid of his even smaller boat (25′ with rather less overhead clearance), so he sold it to me cheap. The main difference between his and mine is that the smaller boat has a larger engine and a thicker hull. It was designed to sail across the Pacific.

Now I have two boats. (That’s COMMODORE Idiot, thank you very much.)

For various reasons, it’s time to leave the Bay Area. I’ll be returning part-time to rural Massachusetts, but I can’t hack the cold season. It would be far cheaper and less painful to gnaw bits off me with a blunt and rusty saw. So I have to come up with some way to live and somewhere to be during the off-season.

Did I mention that I have a boat? … In fact, two?

I’m discussing a boat-partnership with a friend of mine who is capable of the work, but hasn’t found out if he really likes it yet. We’re going to work on the boats this winter, getting them ready to sell; in the fullness of time, we’ll know if we’re cashing them in for an upgrade to sail towards the Equator in, or flogging them and splitting the money then going our separate ways.

The second option is easy, sensible, and well within my expectations and experience of life. Our friendship could easily continue intact.

The first is not necessarily any of those things. But the long-term benefit of it is that it would probably give me a second home to go to, somewhere warmer, with the comfort of a friendly face to greet me.

Some think that coming away with a sack of cash is more like stability. Having money reassures me in a way known only to those who’ve done without. It feels solid.

But what’s the value of solidity? I’m used to ground that moves under my feet. Snug up your core, and it’s easy to handle. And there’s nothing like casting off and taking off, nothing over you but open sky, and your own home flying through the water with such poise that it makes even the cormorants faint with envy.

[IMG cormorant superflock on my birthday sail]

Stability might mean solidity. Or it could mean being able to balance different forces well. Which of these sounds more interesting? Even – or perhaps especially – when you aim to make each day as sparkly and intriguing as a handful of jewels?

[Just wait till I get the pictures up :)]

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Considering the end: a new beginning

Mortality is tricky. We’re all going to go sometime, but we are hardwired to avoid the very thought of death. And so we should be.

However, when my loved ones die, my life (so far) continues – though significantly changed. Death has ripple effects on the living. This is why we have wills, wakes, and difficult conversations with the elderly and infirm.

My dad was a financial planner when he died. Here I am, 45, with a horrible condition and a little bit of property… As a financial planner’s daughter, I know perfectly well that the responsible thing to do is sit down and make a will, living will, and any other terminal documents I need. So I’ve started that process.

The old man would be proud!

Naturally, the first thing people ask is, in sweetly worried tones, “Are you okay?”

Having begun this process, I’m much better. It reassures me to know that certain important things will be said, certain horrible things will be avoided, and — though there’s no getting around the fact that bereavement sucks — there will be more love and comfort in those ripples than there would be otherwise.

It also makes me think in terms beyond myself. Legislation around CRPS is almost nonexistent, because people don’t think of it as terminal. However, as I remarked in my bio-blog, the diseases it causes most certainly are.

Sound familiar? Anyone here remember the health care terminology changes in the ’90s? (Read the bio-blog for more hints.)

I can do something very important with my death (hopefully many years off) -– I can make sure it’s properly attributed. No disease without a body count is ever taken seriously, and it’s time to start counting bodies with this horrible disease.

Personally, I have been struggling with a panicky fear of mortality because of this disease: each time I have a flareup, my body is never quite the same again; each time I have a lasting attack of the stupids, I have no idea if I will get my brain back; my heart is becoming more irregular. Barring a miracle or an accident, I’m facing a rotten time. With this disease, I look at the end, and all I can do is scream. I hope I have hidden it well!

However, the thought of this final gift — proper attribution, a ripple of awareness, the hope of better care for my compatriots — this tiny thing, this little spark, has had a tremendous effect: I feel the force of my life again.

It’s true: when you’re skirting paradox, you’re close to the naked truth.

Contemplating the end with wide-open eyes, returns my thoughts to getting more juice out of life. There’s a lot of it left, all things considered. My end will not be in vain, and with that in mind, the time until then seems much more promising.

Links:
Bioblog about myelin & attribution
“Nothing you do is in vain”

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L.O.B.E.: Lung-Opening Buoyancy Exercise

I floated in the hot springs, like a wallowing marshmallow: inhale to come up, exhale to go down and sink beneath the surface. Lift chin, inhaling through fish lips to lift myself up, wobbling; exhale, slowly descend… to one side.

It had been a few years since I had done this, but something wasn’t right. I was rocking like a drunk.

Inhale, slopping over to the left; inhale further, watch my middle rise, then my belly. Exhale, and sink piecemeal, in chunks.

This was just weird.

I got up, reached for the brains I had left by the side of the pool, and dumped them back into my head.

Now lie back… breathe… whoa, definitely off-balance. Flopping over onto my left side, I grabbed the side of the pool as realization struck.

I was only using my lungs one lobe at a time.

Yeah, weird. I didn’t know it was possible.

Some of you know that the right bronchus is supposed to be more accessible, but it was the left lower lobe that inflated first. The right side inflated second, middle then bottom. Before the left upper lobe. My right upper lobe had simply forgotten how to expand, and took some prodding.

Inhale, slop, wobble; exhale, stagger, bump. The water let me know exactly how well — or not — I was doing.

It was a busy morning, relearning how to use my lungs, rocking like a sea serpent surfing for prey. I spent as little time as possible reflecting on how a once-athletic health nut who liked to meditate, could forget how to breathe.

In a hectic and pun-lathered conversation this afternoon, we decided that “lobing” was a good word to describe working on those skills you really should’ve mastered long ago, preferably with a built-in indicator that not even the terminally clueless could miss.

I’ll spare you the wordplay, except that I’m a little worried about the Loberlords.

Next, I’ll try to go for a walk… but that’s far more complicated.

Maybe I’ll just sit here and breathe.

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Dopamine, poverty, and pain: the lighter side

Executive decisions are made in the forebrain. The information that goes into them comes from the sensory cortex (nearby) and the hypothalamus (back in the dark heart of the brain.) The execution of those decisions happens in the pituitary, among other places. In short, there’s a lot of nerve-impulse mileage laid down between the moment you feel the itch in your armpit, check your surroundings for privacy, scratch away, and give a happy little sigh of relief. Lots of neurotransmission there.

Dopamine is the neurotransmitter of executive decisions. It’s a daughter chemical of adrenaline, and your adrenal glands share blood supply with your kidneys; interestingly, Chinese medicine views the need to make too many decisions as being hard on the kidneys. Makes perfect sense to me. But that’s a red herring.

The key is, without dopamine, the decision can’t get from the frontal lobe to the action parts of the brain. Dopamine levels can be knocked back by pain, drugs (including the prescribed ones), depression, poor diet, and — of course — overuse.

People who have crippling pain have to make exponentially more decisions than those who don’t. Every action is measured against an internal set of standards that don’t exist for normos: how much pain will lifting that cost me? That car door — which way should I turn my hand to minimize damage when I pull it? How many function-dollars do I have left in my body’s account — enough to do laundry _and_ shower? Or should I do just one? If so, which one is more necessary?

Poor people have a similar ceaseless train of calculations running in their heads, but with different parameters. Can I get a little meat this week? What are my produce options, since there’s no good market in this area? Which neighborhood’s market has the best prices? Have I got the bus fare? Will I get into trouble over there? How do I blend in? Can I call in a favor to get some Tylenol too? These headaches are killing me.

As a poor person with pain, I figure I make easily 20 times as many decisions — on a slow day — as a normal person my age. When I was still overmedicated, I used to feel like a loser for not making 100% perfect decisions 100% of the time; in fact, I occasionally just goofed. And the trouble with living within such narrow parameters of function and finance is, the occasional goof can put you behindhand for a very long time.

It’s easy to sneer at those who make weird decisions like paying for a flat-screen TV instead of a semester of junior college. But try wringing out your dopamine every single blessed day, week after month after year, and see how well you do. These people don’t have decision-making disorders, so much as decision-making overload.

If you’re poor or in pain, take some credit for getting through the day. Cut yourself a little slack. Take a moment to rest and relax. See, it’s easier already.

Being hypercritical just uses up your dopamine faster. Why? Because criticism is the result of long strings of decisions. It’s very dopamine-expensive. (Ever wonder why hypercritical people don’t seem very happy? Now you know.)

Take a moment to be happy, to notice what’s good. Those moments rebuild your store of decision-making, anti-depressant dopamine. Each natural, happy little sigh is a shot of the stuff.

Sniff that flower one more time. Scratch where it itches (preferably in private.) Feel the sun warming your head. Laugh with your friends. There’s a reason why it feels so good. It really does make you stronger. It freely gives back what life makes you use. And it’s not too hard to find a reason to be happy.

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Inspiration and vacation

I must remember to inhale. It’s too normal to go about with my whole core clenched. It’s very tiring, and I’m generally tired enough, thank you.

Here’s an interesting thought… If I feel chronically un-rested, it’s tempting to think that the solution is to rest, at some point, for long enough to recuperate completely. Nice thought, eh?

Doesn’t work. For one thing, I need to Do Something to keep the lymph flowing & neurotransmitters cycling, so absolute rest is beyond me. For another … Well, pursuing yet another extreme state probably misses the point.

So I come to the idea — by a very long route — that resting and recuperation are supposed to be as much a part of daily life as eating and breathing and sleeping. (Strange thought.)

It takes a certain amount of determination and persistence. It’s much easier, given my situation and habits, to churn on something that frustrates me or to brace for the next unexpected blow.

I’m practicing. Yesterday, I took a more scenic route home; don’t think it took much longer, but I got quite a bit of sun on my hair … And I remembered how to inhale.

I got only a couple hours’ sleep the prior night and worked hard that day, but at 5:04 pm I felt more rested than I can remember.

Today, I still feel that much better. Inhaling is still something I need to remember to do, but the part about digging the moment I’m in is already easier. Stretching is spa-time. A moment in the sun is a break. A beautiful glimpse of sparkling sea is a mini-vacation.

So something worked.

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Balancing act: homeostasis and words I live by

A balance has two ends: when one goes up, the other goes down. As a metaphor for living, it lacks dimension.

Homeostasis is better. It has no end, but it does count every factor. With a balance, it’s possible to find a point where everything holds perfectly still – until the wind changes. With homeostasis, there is no still-point, because even the thing that pushes the wind is part of it. It’s always shifting.

Homeostasis is a puzzle to which there is no lasting solution, only a series of adjustments. There’s always something new to learn, something different happening.

I find that intriguing.

After living on the water, in the forest, by the desert, and in cities of all sizes, it also makes perfect sense to me. No change sets off only one corresponding change. All real things are clusters of changes, and in the end we can either adjust or be adjusted – and only one of those alternatives accounts for our own wishes.

Living, like homeostasis, is not about flattening the ocean. It’s about riding the waves.

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File-sharing ~= sex, fecal transplants, and bacterial cognition

This is the richest, most fascinating article I’ve read about life, the biosphere and everything:

http://www.miller-mccune.com/science-environment/bacteria-r-us-23628/

Now that’s a writer with ADD, putting all that into one contiguous piece — but also she’s got one hell of a gift, to make it so coherent and approachable. I want to be like Valerie when I grow up!

I’m completely blown away. I’m going to go for a bus ride so I can explain to the air how thrilling bacteria are. After all, I have to take the bus ride anyway, so I might as well scare people off.

I am in paroxysms of bio-geek delight!

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