Category Archives: Just stuff

Embracing My Inner Bubble Boy

Image of Heimlich from I left the house today for the first time in 12 days. It seemed very weird. I was running a bunch of prescriptions up to Walgreens.  I’m on more than a few meds and this run was the culmination of a months-long effort to get everything sync’d up. Don’t get me wrong:  I like the folks at the Walgreens drive-thru, but I was seeing them so often I felt like I should know the names of their kids and remember their anniversaries.

I’m one of those annoying people this whole societal shutdown hasn’t really affected.  You call it self-quarantine, I call it my preferred lifestyle. No paycheck?  I haven’t seen one since November. Going on the internet to see what part of society has collapsed today?  I’ve been doing that since it became clear the syphilitic shit-pustule was going to take up residence in the White House. I have no criticism for anyone who has freaked out, is now freaking out, or is scheduled for a freak-out at some unspecified time in the future, but that’s not me. I’m not going to say I knew precisely that this was going to happen, but I’ve been living with the full knowledge that something was going to happen that the semi-sentient cold sore wouldn’t be able to handle and he’d get a lot of people killed.

In my mind our condo is now filled with chickens coming home to roost and dropping shoes. None of this is a surprise. It’s actually a little bit of a relief. Hey, it’s my mind, so my metaphors. There’s a reason I’m on a lot of meds.

I’d be lying if I didn’t admit I find this fascinating to watch. Some large percentage of what we do everyday — I can’t say how large, but it’s big —  is kabuki-theater bullshit meant to demonstrate to people who don’t give a shit about us that we “know our place.”  A lot of culture is defined by ritual. Most people are changing their rituals now. And it’s raising questions that don’t benefit the needs of people who’ve had it pretty good to date.

Somewhere I heard that if you want to establish a new habit, you should do it for two weeks. I don’t know if two weeks is somehow a magical timeframe, but I do know that you can incorporate new behaviors and cognitive models by forced repetition over relatively short periods of time.  I had a professor who called it “unconscious competence.” You might call it muscle memory.

This isn’t going to be over anytime soon. The last 12 days have been an eternity even to me, and I’ve enjoyed the hell out of it. We’re not near the end.  Hell, we’re probably not at the end of the beginning. It’s going to be fascinating to see what “perfectly obvious” social truths are going to be overwritten.

I’ve long thought the movie A Bug’s Life is the best all-around representation of the late-stage capitalism we live in.  The fact that Kevin Spacey is (allegedly) actually evil is just bonus .. kind of.  In a bad way.  A really bad way. Maybe we can not think too hard about that. Anyway, I’ve always wondered what it would take to trigger us ants to figure out the grasshoppers didn’t have our best interests at heart.

Folks?  I think the circus has come to town.

So stay safe. I’ve got emotional bandwidth to spare, so if you need to freak out to someone, I’d be honored if you’d choose me.  If I can help, I will. I’ll have no answers for you, but I’ll take you seriously. If you’re one of the people who actually knows how to get in touch with me I can assure you I really do care (performative social indifference notwithstanding).

Oh, and wash your damned hands.


Odds & Ends & Thingamajigs

One of the ways I’ve learned to cope with things when life starts pressing down is to disconnect a bit. Keep busy. Try not to think too much. It’s great for getting stuff done around the house. I baked bread today. Actual sesame seed sandwich buns. I’m a little ahead on my Apple Watch’s move budget.  I’ve done a whole lot of little things that required as little thought as possible. I don’t have ADD, but on days like today it’s fun to give myself permission to have the attention span of a gnat. No focus means no focusing on stuff that will drag me down. When I’m like this everything drags me down. So do nothing long enough to be a problem.  Brilliant!

That’s all fine and good, but it makes writing a daily blog post a bit tough. The idea is to write something that makes sense, then stop. The point of the exercise is … Well … Mental exercise. Writing in your own voice becomes easier the more you do it. So I’m writing this post because I said I would. Sure, I managed to not actually post something on January 31 for no other reason than I through I’d already done it. I’m pretending I didn’t do that because what, someone’s going to sue me?

In the spirit of my day I give you things I’ve throught about as possible topics for blog posts:

  • How the hell is “Gamergate” still a thing? I grew up in the 1970s when personal ads were a big deal. Whenever I see someone bitching and moaning about “SJWs” I can’t help but to read it as “Single Jewish Woman.” It’s surprising how little difference that substitution makes.  The whole “controversy” over who should be “allowed” to speak for “gamers” is insane. I thought beer people could be assholes sometimes. We got nothing on gamers.
  • No April Fool’s Hoperatives post this year. The beer world has gotten too stupid for satire. Which is a shame because I was wondering what Anton Spargewater was going to be up to this year. He’s the character I use every year. Sleep well, Anton. Maybe next year.
  • I’m writing most of these things on my iPad with a Bluetooth keyboard. I don’t use the WordPress app because it bit me bad last week. I’m just writing via the web interface.  I like it, but I hate that I can’t use ellipses in the middle of a sentence. I could turn auto-capitalization off, but I don’t want to.
  • I still have to come up with a picture for this post. Sounds like a job for a cat.


Something not serious

DISCLAIMER: No brain cells were harmed in the writing of this blog post.

After having a couple of days writing about something I enjoy doing I found myself stuck today. I can’t think of something to write about that’s not serious. I don’t want to be serious. Everything is so damned serious now. I’d be lying if I said it wasn’t getting to me a little. I’m OK. If I wasn’t trying to post everyday I’d just let today go by without a post until I get my head on a little straighter. Like tomorrow. Since I feel a sense of responsibility to not miss any more days, I’m going to forge ahead here.

Hey! Wait! The only rule is that I have to post.  This is a post. Carry on with what you were doing. I think I’m done now.

Here’s a picture of Porter playing with Dunkel so the time you spent coming here was worth it.



Black dog day

Everyone has their days and this is one of mine. It’s been an eventful week that’s been stressful in its own way. Everything is fine. Sometimes I just take a little time to process things.  Today is one of those

I’ve heard for years that Winston Churchill referred to his depression as a “black dog.” I Googled it, and darn it if I didn’t come up with a really cool article that really dives in and thrashes the history of the thing. It’s a PDF, so be ready for that if you click on it. But go read it if you want to learn something. It’s kind of neat.

Life’s What Happens When You’re Making Other Plans

working-800pxMy goal for this year is to post here every day. I knew when I made the goal it wasn’t going to be easy. One of the rules for this is that I have no set length requirement. The idea is that I force myself to limit myself to one topic. Say what needs to be said. Then stop.

Here’s why today’s post is short: I’m training my replacement at work. It’s taken 100% of my time the last two days. I have a post underway, but I can’t do it justice in the time I have today. I need some slack for my brain to bounce back. I’ll finish it tomorrow when I have some downtime.

The title of this post is adapted from a line in the John Lennon song Beautiful Boy. In the song the line is “Life is what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans.” I’d always thought this was one of Lennon’s little gems, but it turns out the line itself is apparently much older. As powerful a cultural institution in the American Conversation as Reader’s Digest’s “Quotable Quotes” is, I think we all owe John Lennon a vote of thanks for getting known a little more widely.

One piece of news and a piece of trivia that may help you win big on a game show. I’d say my work here is done for the day.

Life lessons remembered

Too much of my life has been spent in the pursuit of pie.

Too much of my life has been spent in the pursuit of pie.

When did you figure out this whole  “life” thing was going to be complicated? For me it came in the fifth grade.  I have no idea whether that’s early or late in one’s life for it to happen. Heck, maybe it doesn’t happen in a single event for most people. I honestly don’t know. I know how it happened for me. Maybe this has potential to be the worst party game ever.

This would have happened sometime in the 1974-75 school year. It was our second year living in Colonial Heights just outside Kingsport, TN. We moved there after we’d lived in Asheville, NC for three years and we spent two years there before we moved, for the last time as an intact family, to Houston, TX after school got out that year. My oldest brother was a freshman in high school and moving around as my dad’s contract engineering positions expired wasn’t going to cut it anymore. I’m guessing this incident happened early in the year before we knew we’d be moving.

We typically didn’t get a bunch of warning when we were going to move. We’d know something was up when Dad brought his briefcase home. Dad wasn’t a briefcase guy. He had one, but he kept work at work. If the briefcase came home, it meant his current contract was running out. The process of choosing the next one was on. I don’t think any of the “OK kids, we’re moving” announcements ever came a surprise. We always knew we weren’t staying where we lived when we moved in. The only question was where we were going next. It wasn’t until I hit the fifth grade that people outside my family weren’t just kind of moving wallpaper. That probably set me up for what happened that year.

I love trivia. I always have. I remember when Trivial Pursuit came out in 1979 that it was kind of a life affirmation for me. But the game didn’t exist in 1974, so I had to be satisfied with those times that my teachers decided to do the quiz bowl thing in class. My fifth grade teacher really liked the quiz bowl competition technique, and I adored her for it. In order of preference, I loved social studies, reading, science and (slightly below the flu and mandatory vaccinations) math. Social studies was well-suited to dividing the class in half and throwing out questions to earn each team points. Nobody ever wanted me on their kickball team, but I never heard anyone complain about me being on their team for class quiz games.

This was all a long time ago and I’m pretty sure I’m fuzzy on some of the details. I remember the names of some of my friends from those days, but I’m happy to say I don’t remember the name of the antagonist in this story. It’s irrelevant, really. As I recall it,  our teacher divided the class for a quiz bowl. There was a prize involved, as I recall, Extra recess time or something like that. I may not be remembering it right, but there was something about this particular match that was pretty important to all of us.

Something happened and time ran long. It was time to go to lunch and the score was tied. Our teacher apparently missed how close to the bell we were, so she actually asked the tie-breaking question just before the bell rang. We weren’t allowed to take books or anything down to lunch, so we knew what the last question was going to be. And I knew the answer.

I wish I could say I remember what the question was. I don’t. I think it was a geography question.  We moved around a lot and traveled around from wherever we lived.  Most of the kids I went to school didn’t. To them most places were just names in a book. Some were for me, too, but a lot weren’t. What ever this question was, I knew it immediately and it seemed like everyone understood that I probably knew it. The thing was, I assumed everyone else knew it too.

I was — and still am — confused by what’s considered “general knowledge.”  It’s taken a long time, but I’ve come to the conclusion that there’s no such thing.  If I assume everyone knows something and act accordingly I’ll find out it’s not and I’ll become this weirdo who knows that thing no one else knows. Or I assume someone doesn’t know something and they actually do so I’m a jerk.

I’ve learned to love silence. Except on trivia night at bars, but I digress.1

So anyway, I go to lunch knowing what the answer is and figuring the only issue is going to be making sure we got our hands up first because, of course, everyone knew the answer, right? That’s what I talked to my classmates who were on my team about. Some said they knew, some said they didn’t but trusted that those of us who said we knew really did. The Answer was not spoken aloud. For them it was operational security. For me it was “why say something we all know about?”

As cons go, this one wasn’t very sophisticated. This guy on the other team didn’t know the answer, but he knew I did. He came up to me as I was throwing my lunch bag away and said something that reinforced my belief that we all knew the answer and the only suspense was who’d be able to answer first. I don’t remember what he said exactly, but whatever it was, the next thing I said contained the answer. Then he laughed at me and thanked me for giving them the game. As I recall, he was really quite an asshole about it. My team was not happy with me.

I went to the teacher. It’s kind of embarrassing to tell a long story like this and not actually remember what wound up happening. I think she threw out the question once it was established that the other team had suckered the answer out of me. Or maybe she didn’t. There were probably 10 or 12 kids on each team, and the jerk who suckered me was part of a subgroup who didn’t know the answer. There’s every reason to think someone on the other team did know. This was fifth-grade geography,not tensor calculus.

I definitely don’t remember who won the game (if indeed she didn’t call a halt to the whole thing right then and there). I was in shock. I didn’t know people could act that way. I didn’t know until that moment that people were perfectly willing to use what you know for their own advantage at your expense.

It’s never left me. I still don’t like it.

Worst party game ever? Yep.

1Like that ever happens.

What MLK means to me

I only have one story where Martin Luther King touched my life. I was five years old when he was assassinated in Memphis. The efforts of his life have undoubtedly made the life I’ve lived better in ways I haven’t perceived, but there is one time his words had a profound influence on me. I think I can honestly say I wouldn’t be the person I am today without them.

In the late 1980s I was a newbie Ph.D. student in Athens, GA at the University of Georgia. It was the first time I’d been more than three hours from my family, which at this point pretty much meant my mom. I’d kind of wandered through undergrad studies and my master’s.  Being at UGA to work on my Ph.D. was the result of the first choice about my life that wasn’t either forced on me or  just the easiest path at the time. The day I was accepted into the program I’d been offered a research job at WXYZ TV in Detroit. I went to Georgia. Both paths terrified me. I knew more about being in school. I went to Georgia.

I had been waging a personal war on organized religion since my father died in 1979. Raised Roman Catholic, I couldn’t reconcile a belief system that was willing to dictate personal behavior to a very specific degree, but when asked “So then why does this bad stuff happen?” all you get is a shrug and something about God’s Will. This is me describing what the 25-year-old kid I was thought. I’ve got no complaints now about the priests who spent a lot of time with me back when my dad died. They were good guys and they did the best they could. But knowing that came years later.

Not too long after I got to Athens I read a story in the local paper about the Episcopal priest at the University Episcopal Center.  His name was Ralph Marsh, and I cannot begin to describe the effect that man had on my life. The Last Temptation of Christ had just come out and, as you might expect, it was a real shitstorm in the Bible Belt. Ralph was quoted as saying how much he wanted to see the movie, and then went on to describe how the original novel was consistent with a lot of gnostic stories and he thought it was great that the movie had been made.

“OK,” I said to myself, “this is a church I need to check out.”

And I did. Any you might notice a lack of anything in this story about Martin Luther King. I’m about to clear that up.

So right after church got out, the campus radio station WUOG ran a show called “Martin Speaks.” It was recorded sermons and speeches by Dr. King. What was interesting is that the shows that ran tended to follow the Revised Common Lectionary. That meant that I’d hear Ralph preach on some topic and then when I was out in my truck deciding where to go get lunch, I’d often listen to Martin Luther King preach on the same topic. It wasn’t sermons every week, but it was a lot of the time.

Even though I was in my first year at Georgia, I was beginning to wonder what I was doing there. Most of my time was spent studying people who seemed to have some purpose in their lives. My teachers seemed to have real purpose.  My fellow students were mostly older and left careers to come back because they wanted to do this thing. I was still trying to figure out why I was there.

So it came to be one Sunday that the Gospel for the day was from Matthew 25 where the parable is the one of the servants who are given money by their master. Two of them invest and get rewarded, one buries the money and is basically screwed.  The actual passage isn’t the most important part of this story.

So Ralph preached on this topic and I’m sure it was good. He undoubtedly primed the pump. Then I listened to Martin Luther King give a sermon on the same passage. This was the MLK who’d come out against the war in Viet Nam. This was post-Poor People’s March MLK.  Still non-violent — possibly even more, if there is a way that makes sense — but speaking more and more about how the poison of injustice didn’t stop at how whites treated blacks. And in this sermon he asked what the powerful would say when called before God and asked “What did you do with what I gave you?” What would LBJ say?  That he killed how many Vietnamese? What would McNamara say?  What would Dean Rusk say? I had learned just a few weeks before that Dean Rusk maintained an office in a little building on the quad, and it was not unusual for a student to go upstairs and ask him a question.  I regret not doing that. But that came later.

There was something about that sermon on that day at that time in my life that has never left me.I still don’t know that I have a purpose in life.  I know I do not talk about the theology that guides me. Judge me on what I do. But I will say that, because of the words that Martin Luther King spoke, I do live my life preparing for whatever day I’m asked “What did you do with what I gave you?” No matter who asks. I think I’m a better person for it.

It’s not why his birthday is a holiday. But it’s why I celebrate it.

New Year’s Resolve

This has nothing to do with anything other than this picture amuses me no end.

This has nothing to do with anything other than this picture amuses me no end.

It’s been nine months since I last posted to this blog. A lot has happened. This isn’t one of those posts where I announce I’m giving up on blogging. It’s the very opposite, in fact. Today I’m starting on a year of posting every day. There are a lot of changes in store for me in the coming year, and writing is going to be a big part of what’s going to happen. I need to write more. There have been so many times over the last nine months that I’ve wanted to sit down and write something here, but I let other things get in the way. I need to stop doing that.

Sometime in the next two months I’ll be leaving my job and striking out on my own again. It’s been in the works since late September and I’m working with the company to find and train my replacement. When that’s done so am I. Leaving is my idea, and I like the people I work for and the people I work with. I just want to do other things. One of them is to write. I have a lot of blockages to get rid of. You have to start somewhere, and this is it.

One of my goals with writing here every day is to practice saying one thing as best I can and then stopping. Once I get on a roll it can be hard to stop. I can wander and lose the point. I need to get better about that. So as time goes on some things will be long and others will be short, but there will be one a day, no matter what. This is going up on the first day of the year, but I started a few weeks ago. You don’t go from writing nothing to something every day. Since I’m not limiting myself to any particular subject, I’m building up reserves to fill in on those days I’ve got nothing.

This is the first of 365 consecutive posts. This should be interesting.

Arrhythmia and Blues

Revenge of the Selfie

Revenge of the Selfie

So I didn’t think it through and posted a couple pictures to Facebook showing the cats playing with a balloon I got in the hospital on Monday. Which immediately got the reaction of “What? You were in the hospital?”


It’s been an interesting six months. To say the least.  Which is pretty much the way I’ve wanted to keep it.  The “saying the least” part.  I could really go for some less interesting. Hopefully I am, now.

So here’s the deal. We discovered late last September that I was in atrial fibrillation. At the time we thought it started within a few days of it being discovered, but it’s pretty clear now that it had been going on for a while. A few months at least. We’ll never know for sure.

I spent a night in the hospital. They ran tests. They poked and prodded.  Nothing too bad, and the staff was great. When it was all said and done the cardiologist said something that I knew was probably true, but I wasn’t expecting to hear it in that context.

Untreated sleep apnea.

It’s not just about snoring, folks.  I’ve often said the purpose of my life is serve as a cautionary tale to others and this is one of those times. Don’t ignore this. It can screw you up.  It’s done it to me.

So there wasn’t just one issue, but two.  The arrhythmia and the apnea. Both had to be dealt with simultaneously.  There was actually a third issue, too: depression. September through December pretty much sucked. There was an attempt to shock my heart back into rhythm — a procedure called cardioversion — that failed. I had no energy. There were scheduling issues with the sleep lab because it was the end of the year and everyone was trying to get it in under out-of-pocket limits. On top of that I was put in an anti-arrhythmic that’s, in a word, nasty.  Over time, anyway.  Like screw-up-your-lungs-and ruin-your eyesight nasty. It all worked out in the end, but at the time the last thing I wanted to do was talk about it. To anyone. Some folks knew at work, but that was about it.

So I finally get my two sleep lab appointments in (one to figure out how bad I had it, the other to figure out the best approach to take to mitigate it). I had it bad.  On average my sleep was interrupted by an event 61 times an hour.  For all intents and purposes, I wasn’t sleeping. I thought I was, but I wasn’t.  Dozing maybe.  That’s about it.  The treatment was (and is) a ResMed S9 VPAP machine.  The ‘V’ is for ‘variable.’ The CPAP you’ve probably heard of stands for “Constant Positive Airway Pressure.”  That means you exhale against full pressure.  That wasn’t working for me, so my machine increases pressure in inhaling and decreases it a bit on exhaling.

So I wear a breathing mask at night now. Much to Carla’s relief I now only announce “Luke, I am your father”  and “This is CNN” on a bi-monthly basis instead of nightly as I did at first. It took a couple of weeks to get the straps dialed in so the thing can work the way it’s supposed to. The mask seals to my face using pretty much the same principle that allows hovercrafts to work. For me the trick was to let the straps hold the mask in place just enough to avoid what I lovingly refer to as “face farts” and no tighter. Crush it too much and it won’t seal worth a crap. Then the straps are too tight.  It’s uncomfortable.  No sleeping occurs. Taking a sort of a Buddhist “release your attachments” approach actually works. And I apologize to all 350 million Buddhists in the world for the metaphor.

In late January there was another failed cardioversion. The route that was recommended and I went with was a procedure called Catheter Ablation. For those of you scoring at home, it was a Pulmonary Vein Isolation procedure using cryothermy. It took right at four hours to complete.  I was asleep through all of it.

Have you noticed lately that we live in a science fiction novel?

Anyway, as best we can tell the procedure worked.  That picture pretty much sums up how I felt when I heard. I’d had the procedure described as a ‘piece of cake’ which only means I clearly have a different set of requirements for cake than the person who said that. Don’t get me wrong, it wasn’t that bad.  I wouldn’t suggest it as a spa treatment, but I can think of a couple of tests leading up to it that were worse than the procedure itself.

There’s still some adjusting of medications going on and I’m not going to be doing too much over the next week or so, but I have no complaints.  The doctors, nurses and techs have been uniformly wonderful. Now that I’ve outed myself on all this I’ll probably say more about that in later posts, but this has gone on long enough.

If you’re hearing about this for the first time I hope I haven’t insulted you by not saying anything. There wasn’t a time after it was discovered that it was ever going to be anything but OK eventually. I have to use the VPAP and have to lose weight, but now that I can — oh, I don’t know, walk across the room without being exhausted  — I’m not to worried about that part. Specifically, the intake side has largely been dealt with and the activity side is what I was working on when this was discovered.  It didn’t cause it. It just made it visible.

But I didn’t want to talk about any of it. There was nothing anyone could do that wasn’t being done and I was doing an excellent job feeling sorry for myself. The last thing I wanted was attention. So I kept my mouth shut, at least on social media.

But then the cats started playing with the balloon…