The Burden of Thought

I think therefore, and occasionally what for, but hardly ever why, for I am a rock and an island, which shouldn't be confused with the Rock Island railway, which rarely if ever feels any pain because it's always happy, like me. You can tell by the picture. That's why I put it there. I think I might be losing my mind. While this will come as no surprise to those who believe the event actually occurred many years ago and simply went unnoticed by its owner, others may wonder how the very mind used to evaluate its own evaporation can be trusted to inform others of the condition.

Fortunately, there's an elegant solution to this problem which involves, of course, the act of Thinking Without Assessing, or TWA for short.

Analogous to the sorcerer's technique of gazing without staring mentioned in many of Carlos Castaneda's books, TWA permits the mind to reach grand conclusions without the burden of thought. This is of particular value in situations such as my own, where every contemplation is equally suspect. To illustrate, I offer an actual example taken from a recent internal dialogue.

Mind: "Nobody loves me."

Mind: "That's not true. People do love you."

Mind: "No they don't. If they did, they'd kiss me."

Mind: "That's ridiculous. People don't just go around kissing everyone. They'd go to jail."

Mind: "I don't care. They should kiss me anyway. That's how I'd know."

Mind: "I think somebody needs a nap."

Mind: "Okay. Will you give me a nappy-nite kiss?"

Mind: "Absolutely not. Besides, there's no such thing as a nappy-nite kiss."

Mind: "Why do you hate me so much?"

Mind: "Oh good grief. I don't hate you!"

Mind: "Do you love me?"

Mind: "Let's just say I think the world of you."

Mind: "You hate me!"

Mind: "Okay, okay, okay. I love you."

Mind: "Kiss me?"

Mind: "No! I will not kiss you!"

Mind: "I hate you."

Mind: "I hate you, too."

This is exactly the sort of thought process that cries out for TWA. As you will see, applying our Thinking Without Assessing technique to the previous dialogue not only speeds things up, but results in a far more reliable conclusion.

Mind: "Nobody loves me."

Mind: "I know."

Why We Go to War

Can't we all just get along? Haha. That's a joke. I mean, what would that accomplish, really? And no, of course I don't mean that love is the ONLY enemy. Haha. That would be silly. Now stop reading these little captions on the graphics and get out there in the sunshine and fresh air. Haha. That's a joke, too. I know it's raining, and fresh air is an oxymoron, and there are battles to be fought right there in the privacy of your own home. What's that you say? Privacy is an oxymoron? Well alright, if you say so. I think your blood sugar is low, and it's past your nap time. Just my opinion. Nothing personal. Please don't kill me. If truth is the first casualty of war, the perceptions and events responsible for the bloodshed cannot be allowed to write the history books that shape the anger of our children. We love our children; that's why we go to war.

But love has never been the cause of any war. The perverse subversion of dark and light, left and right, right and wrong; that's why we go to war.

Love is the enemy. That's why we go to war.


Despicable Savior

There's a reason for everything, Horatio. When I was a child I cried out for salvation, but God was out for the night and couldn't hear my screams.

When I was with child, I cried out for salvation. But God was in the room and silenced my screams.

When god cried out for salvation, I smiled.


Three Truths

Good things often come in threes. Some people are getting smaller. I've been watching the phenomenon with interest because shrinkage always goes hand in hand with societal problems generally, which in turn indicates how many rungs might be left on the socioeconomic ladder we use to bake our daily bread. Not that you should ever put a ladder in the oven, because that's what yeast is for.

Still, it's no exaggeration to say that I needed a stepladder to see in the windows of the Cadillac SUV I flagged down this afternoon. I wanted to ask the driver if she had always been so small, but then I noticed the virtually microscopic passengers on the rear seat, which answered my question. Waving her on, I crossed the street to quiz the driver of the large diesel pickup waiting at the traffic light, but he didn't understand my question. Gathering my flags, I decided to take his advice and stop traffic with my body.

Stretching out in the street is a bad idea when you're groggy, because I think I missed a lot of opportunities while I was asleep. To make up for lost time, I abandoned the whole flag-and-stepladder scenario in favor of a quicker, more direct approach to polling. Launching myself onto the windshield of a passing sedan, I was able to size up its occupants without asking complicated questions.

With each pass of the wipers, three important truths lost streakiness, gained clarity, and became generally impossible to ignore.

1) The rungs of the socioeconomic ladder are paved with small people in large vehicles.

2) If the economy worsens, more people won't be able to get out of their cars.

3) Those who drive fuel-efficient vehicles should stop eating chocolate donuts.


Unbearable Things

It looks like a bear, but it's really a pig.

Hello again. It's been a while, I know. So many things have changed, and changed again, since I last visited these pages, but then, we can always rely on change.

Life in the cañon takes on a decidedly different flavor during the summer months, when it becomes an imperative for tourists and locals seeking refuge from the unbearable heat of the city. The concept of crowded is a subjective one, but in the generally quiet and peaceful context of a wild area such as this, the volume of the crowd is easily measured by the volume of trash it leaves behind. As so many have observed, it's certainly a beautiful place to pick up trash, but as those who've actually done it have noted, the grandeur of the place is significantly diminished after spending several hours each day collecting the beer bottles, soda cans, empty cigarette packs, fast-food containers, tampons and condoms left by the side of the 17 miles of roadway in the park. This, of course, in addition to those 30-gallon bags of garbage cleverly left outside the bear-proof containers, which bears feel obligated to explore with their teeth and claws while distributing the contents over surprisingly large areas. Stupid bears. Pigs, all of 'em.

Unprecedented rainfall created its own special problems during the summer, resulting in rocks and boulders tumbling from hillsides, clogged and buried culverts, and miles of washed out roads and trails. Here again, the usefulness of large yellow hydraulic machines can't be overstated, but it's a time-consuming business that really ought to be addressed by more than one of those machines at a time. But sometimes one is all you get, and there's no use complaining when the department has already been decimated by budget cuts, and in fact now appears to be at the brink of bankruptcy due to a citywide fiscal emergency. So it's a triage environment, and as the park ranger has said, all you can do is roll with the punches.

Speaking strictly for myself, I'm damned tired of triage. If you've been following this blog for a while, you may recall a monologue in late 2007 I called "Clusters of Joy," in which I attempted to explain the rare neurological phenomenon of cluster headaches, and the difficulty of predicting the onset of future cycles. There had been no headaches during the previous year, and as it turned out, there were none the following year, in 2008. Maybe I should have made a prediction based on that timing—I might have expected a cycle in 2009—but it just isn't the sort of event I like to think about, so I didn't.

I began to feel the telltale signs of a cluster-headache cycle in mid July, which is, for me, abnormally early in the year. Nothing monstrous, just enough to wake me a couple times during the night, and since I was generally awoken at least that many times already—for other reasons—it wasn't a major problem, and I got out of bed at 4:30 every morning as usual.

A month later, it had become a major problem. Woken every hour by the familiar searing pain that begins in one eye before spreading to the end of every hair on my head, the effects of sleep deprivation and raw pain made it increasingly difficult to get out of bed at any reasonable time in the morning, and then of course there's the issue of safety behind the wheels of trucks, not to mention large yellow hydraulic machines.

So after only 162 days on the job, I fired myself. Accommodating as he was, my boss couldn't be expected to forever wonder whether or not I might be back, his boss couldn't be expected to forever plug question marks into his scheduling sheet, and I couldn't be expected to know when I might be able to sleep again. Statistically, none of this should have been an issue at all, at least not until the Thanksgiving-Christmas timeframe when these cycles typically occur, if they occur at all.

But statistics don't amount to a hill of beans where headaches are concerned. Considering that only .1% of the population are afflicted with cluster headaches, I'm so statistically unlikely to have one that it's tempting to simply deny their existence and get on with my life.

Incredibly, that's exactly what I've done. This is one of the most devastating, debilitating neurological conditions on the planet, it has derailed virtually every facet of my life for the past 30 years, and yet I continue to entertain the absurd suggestion that I might find a nice, normal life if only I try a bit harder to fit my aching head into one of the many square holes in which most people seem to have found their niche. Perhaps they've forgotten something? Hell, I don't remember ever having had a headache after an hour or two! I don't talk about them, I don't wake anyone else up in the middle of the night with them, and I most definitely don't expect anyone to understand the difference between their little aspirin-headaches and what the wikis and websites commonly refer to as a "suicide headache."

Actually, Jeff, now that you mention it, what has kept you from blowing your malfunctioning mind all over that wall behind you there? I mean, if it's really as bad as you say . . . um . . . well . . . you know. Just curious.

Dear Curious: That's really a great question. I don't know. I've had the same thought myself, once or twice. I have a daughter who might not like that very much. That's one reason. Plus, I always wonder what's going to happen tomorrow. You know, like I might miss something. A train wreck, maybe. Or global thermonuclear war.

But all levity aside, what's the solution to this problem, really? Apply for disability, knowing that headaches generally aren't considered sufficiently debilitating to qualify, and even if the powers that be were to favor me, it wouldn't be enough to live on? I've never wanted to surrender to the idea that I might be . . . you know . . . disabled, but this thing is really getting old. No, the truth is I'm getting old. It's harder now to deal with pain in any form, it's becoming increasingly difficult to maintain my infamous stoic façade, and I'm tired of the misguided suggestions concerning headache remedies.

So I live in a world of pain. Not just physical pain, but the psychological and emotional pain that come from so many years of struggling against this monster alone. No one else sees or feels it, and even among those who've been indirectly affected by it, there's no particular interest beyond wondering how much it might screw up their own lives, given the chance. I live with the pain of knowing that I have no ordinary way to make a living, and none of the extraordinary ways I've tried have worked, at least not within any reasonable timeframe. Having already gambled a considerable amount of borrowed time and money on the idea of writing before abandoning it in a moment of grim necessity, I'm reluctant to look in that direction again now. I truly believed it would save me, along with a few loved ones, but no one was saved.