Archive for April, 2013

I Know that I Know Nothing

Thursday, April 25th, 2013

 

“We don’t know a millionth of one percent of anything”…..Thomas Edison

“I would never die for my beliefs because I might be wrong”….Bertrand Russell

 

There are some things I just don’t understand.  Like, how two brothers from Chechnya justify killing innocent people at a Marathon or, how people can believe the Holocaust never happened.  I don’t understand why airplanes don’t fall out of the sky or people can’t stop drinking when it is affecting their job, health and family.  I don’t get war, murder, rape, racism, conspiracy theories, cancer, football or why I have gained so much weight this past year.

I suppose there are some things, like flight for instance, that I may not understand but there is actually a clear- cut answer.  I know it has something to do with air pressure, gravity, thrust, and lift.  For a full explanation, I can look it up on the internet or get a book on the subject.  But that is only if I truly want to understand it.  I don’t.  And, I can live with the fact that I don’t get it. 

But there are some things that I don’t get that are much harder to live with.     

Terrorism, cancer, alcoholism, conspiracy theories, and well, my ridiculous weight gain.  Yes, my weight gain.  I have gained over 10 pounds this last year.  Some say that I needed to.  My Doctor believes it is from chemo-induced peri-menopause.  I believe both to be true but there is something else I cannot deny.  I am binge eating at night.  O.K.  I am not eating an entire gallon of ice cream.  I do stick to the pint size dairy free vegan version.  But, I’m still eating way too much when I am not even hungry.  I know many of you can relate.

I get that being worried about my weight gain seems pretty trivial in the whole scheme of things, even a bit silly, but I assure you it is not.  Why?

There is a common denominator between all of those things I listed above.  All of these “things” are either a result of or are in service to our need to get rid of the anxiety that comes from living in ambiguity. 

What is ambiguity exactly?  Ambiguity is uncertainty.  It is the not knowing anything.  Socrates got it over 2,000 years ago when he said, “I know that I know nothing.”  This he believed to be true wisdom; to admit that we know nothing and to be able to live happy productive lives with this knowledge, or lack thereof.

But most of us are not Socrates.  Living in this unclear, indefinite, equivocal state is not just unsettling; it scares the shit out of people.  And, humans don’t tolerate feeling uncomfortable for very long.

There was a great scene in Madmen, when Dr. So and So (sorry I don’t remember his name) told Don Draper,   “People will do anything to alleviate their anxiety.”  Then the doctor rides off in the middle of a snowstorm in New York City on New Year’s Eve at one o’clock in the morning on skis for a supposed “house call,” while Don heads upstairs to the Docs apartment to fuck the Doc’s wife.

 

So we drink, smoke pot, have sex with other peoples spouses, over eat, join fundamentalist causes, misuse political positions and for the truly disturbed and extreme, murder, rape and plant bombs at marathons, anything to alleviate our anxiety. 

The one surviving brother of the marathon bombing said that his older brother was “upset” by the U.S. wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and that anger was the motivation.  He felt like he never belonged here and he didn’t have one American friend.

Not only was anger the motivation.  Fear was the spur and ambiguity the muse.

Our anxiety over ambiguity shows up everywhere.  In our politics, religions, schools and social lives as we try to manage, organize, command, control and even escape the unease from the uncertainty of life.  Dr. James Hollis, a Jungian psychologist says if we are truly honest with ourselves, “There is a fascist within each of us, a Nervous Nellie who wishes comfort at any cost.”  And Hannah Arendt wrote in Crisis of the Republic, “Throughout history the totalitarian mind is obsessed by a need for the world to be clear-cut and orderly.  Accordingly, subtleties, contradictions, and complexities are felt as intolerable, and have to be eliminated by whatever means.” 

Thank god the majority of us choose what seems like more simple vices, food, alcohol, sex, or religion.  But, simple as they may seem, you can go overboard and can cause a lot of harm to not only yourself but to others as well.

I admit I have tried a few other vices.  Sometimes they work (in the short run), most of the time they don’t.  In the long run, they always catch up with you.  And it seems when you get rid of one vice, another one takes over.  Take my emotional food binges at night.  Yes, that dairy free Coconut Bliss ice cream is to die for.  But is it really?  Is eating ice cream and gaining weight which results in too much estrogen in my body which could result in my cancer coming back worth it?  No, absolutely not, but I do it anyway especially when I am most tired and weak.  When ambiguity comes creeping through the dark halls of my soul late at night and I cannot resist the temptation of that sweet sugary something to alleviate my unease, I am putty.  

No, I need to get to the core of why I am eating if I am truly going to change.  I need to let go and accept ambiguity, embrace the unknown, learn to live in the midst of uncertainty, feel uncomfortable at times, and sit in my unease, then maybe I have a chance to not only fit into my jeans again, but maybe I can truly embrace a deeper more meaningful life.  James Hollis says, “Psychological, political, social and spiritual maturity is found precisely in the capacity of any person to tolerate ambiguity.”

I am getting there.  I really am.  I feel some progress but apparently, I still have more work to do.  I suspect we all do.

So, as I continue my journey, read the papers, watch the news, struggle with our world’s anxieties and that pint of ice cream at midnight, I will remember Socrates’ wise words, “I know that I know nothing.”  Or, do I?

Upgrading to a Tent

Wednesday, April 10th, 2013

One of the first conditions of happiness is that the link between Man and Nature shall not be broken…Leo Tolstoy

We are all so much together, but we are all dying of loneliness…Albert Scheitzer

After returning from our annual camping trip with my friends in Anza Borrego, I want to go back! 

Why?  Because, it’s simple there; a tent, food, water, friends, family and the endless blue sky!  It’s all I need.

Surrounded by majestic purple mountains, creosote bushes, ocotillos aflame with bright red flowers and millions of stars at night take me home and reconnect me with the natural world and myself.  It feels glorious.  It’s a far cry from the traffic, noise, buildings and city lights I have to deal with every day.   John Muir got it right when he said, “Thousands of tired, nerve-shaken, over civilized people are beginning to find out going to the mountains is going home; that wilderness is a necessity.”  In my case, going to the desert is going home.

Our kitchen at Anza Borrego campsite

Riley, Lauren, Casey and Maggie getting ready for a hike

Not only do I feel connected to the earth and the cosmos when camping, I feel connected to my friends and family.  Spending quality time with them, face to face, for five entire days, without television, the internet or phones is, as Master Card’s brilliant marketers say, “priceless.”  In fact, I noticed, as our phones went dead, we came to life. 

It felt good to be disconnected from both the internet and today’s crazy busy lifestyle.  It does not feel good to be disconnected from friends, family and the natural world, however. It is lonely.

No wonder I miss it already.  No wonder I am frustrated now that I am back to the daily grind.  I no longer feel connected to something much bigger than my daily life, much bigger than me. 

Maggie, Chloe, Rachel, Bas, Matt and Bennie and 17 others hiking to the Oasis

Honestly, I love the simple life.  I could easily live in a tent or an RV or even on a boat.  I don’t need all this “stuff.”  Why so many clothes?  It just means more laundry.  Why do I need two sets of matching plates and bowls?  It just means more dishes to clean.  And a big house with floors that show every speck of dust and cat hair; Why?  Arghh….It’s a huge burden to carry, weighing on me every day.  Like trying to make sure my cancer never comes back isn’t enough.

Apparently, I am not the only one that feels this way.  The other day, a homeless man, Dennis Mahurin won $50,000 in the lottery.  After taxes he will get $35,000.  He has decided to use the money to fix his teeth, give $100 to his fellow homeless friends, put a little away for a rainy day, and continue to live in his tent.  $35,000 is enough to get him off the streets but not enough to keep him out of the rat race.  He would need to get a job to pay for a house and all the other stuff he has learned he can live without.  So, he is going to stay in his tent, although, he is considering buying an upgrade.  He says, he’s as “happy as can be in my nature.”  I love this guy.

Leo Tolstoy not only felt the same way, he did something similar.  At the end of his life, he gave up aristocracy, seeking a less decadent way of life, and went to live with the peasants.

Playing Games - phones are dead or dying

 

Playing more games into the night

So what is a girl to do when wonderlust strikes?  When the desire for both simplicity and adventure outside of the ordinary calls?  Do I ditch the house?  Trade it in for an RV and park it next to Mr. Mahurin?  Kevin could quit his job, we can take Casey out of school, give away the cats, the snake, and the bunny and travel from KOA site to KOA site around the country taking odd jobs along the way.  It wouldn’t be Jack Kerouak “On the Road” but I would have my “tent.”

I have a great argument as to how this could all work.  But in the end, I know I would be living in the RV alone.  As much as I would love to escape the routine and responsibilities of my life, there are a lot of good things happening;  The Mammary Chronicles, Daisy Chain, The “Yes” Mom, homeschooling, Mother Function, Lauren and so much more.  And, honestly, the kids love their lives here on Cerritos Drive and the only way they would ever give up those cats are over their dead bodies.     

So, it seems the simple life simply isn’t that simple right now.  I am a mother first, in the thick of parenting, trying to stay afloat and alive.  But I know in the whole scheme of things, it is a short time.  Riley is almost 20, Casey will be a Senior next year and Maggie is officially a teenager.  It won’t be long before they are all grown up, moved out of the house and I will finally live in that tent I have always longed for, missing those days in the big house with laundry, dirty dishes, and dusty floors.

The Texas Two Step

Monday, April 1st, 2013

Growth is an erratic forward movement:  two steps forward, one step back.  Remember that and be very gentle with yourself….Julie Cameron

A worm is the only animal that can’t fall down…A Texas Saying

I am sick.  After two years, I caught a nasty bug and it got the best of me.  I can no longer tout that I have not been sick since I was diagnosed with cancer.  My well streak is over.  So, it’s time to lift myself up by my sexy cowboy boot straps, again, and start a new well streak.

My first symptoms hit me on my flight home from Texas last Sunday night.  The plane had been delayed 4 hours.  My new departure time:   1:20 am.  Although I was happy as a clam, I was tired and hung-over from the night before.  It was my cousin Jeremy’s wedding.  And what a wedding it was.  A beautiful and sweet Texas bride, Randi and her adorable daughter Madee, an old farm house decorated with burlap and mason jars, pastures of Pike Oak, cowboy boots, beef brisket, and the Two Step. 

The Happy Couple - Jeremy and Randi

 

The McAleese Family

 

The Cuzins, Megan, Patricia and Deanne with the happy couple

 

I tried to stay on my special healing diet while visiting, but we were in East central Texas, Bryan to be exact, near College Station, the heart of Brazos Valley and the home of Texas A & M University.  There was not a juice bar in site.  Jamba Juice does not count.  I am referring to something a little more green.  Although Bryan is an old farming community, and “Aggie” is not a nickname for Agnus, the only green I saw were pickles and jalepenos.

Don’t get me wrong, Bryan is not a backward hick town.  In fact, according to Money Magazine, “due largely to the presence of Texas A&M University, in 2006 College Station was named the most educated city in Texas, and the 11th most educated city in the United States.”

They just happen to like their beef and crawfish over my rabbit food.  Do you blame them?  Apparently, a Whole Foods is planned for the area but too late to do me any good.

Crawfish Texas Style Rehearsal Dinner

 

Mom, Dad, Uncle Sam, Aunt Marilyn and Family eating crawfish

So, when in Rome…..

I learned how to peel and eat crawfish, drink Patron without lime, eat brisket, speak Texas drawl and play a perfect drum roll.  Ok, it’s not quite perfect yet, but it’s getting there.   And last but not least, Josh “learned me” to Two Step. 

The Two Step is not as easy as it looks.  Not for me anyway.  It consists of three steps:  two quick steps forward, one slow step back.  A bit like life, actually.  And, a bit like life, I fell on my ass right when I was finally getting the hang of it.  Now, I could blame it on:

  1. The beer soaked floor
  2. My new black leather cowboy boots
  3. Jagermeister and Patron
  4. Not being a very good follower
  5. All of the above

If you answered 5, all of the above, you know me well. 

But no matter, because even after my confidence was shaken, my butt bruised and my dress covered in beer, I got up, wiped myself off and kept dancing the Two Step. 

The Cuz's

 But all good things must come to an end.  After four days of fun, it was time to say my goodbyes and go home.  I was scheduled to fly out of Houston at 9:25 Sunday evening.  My parents were scheduled to fly out of Houston the next morning, but due to horribly planned freeways resulting in even worse traffic they decided to drive me to the airport the day before and get a hotel room close to Hobby Airport.  It was nice to have that time with them, alone, just the three of us.  That doesn’t happen very often, actually never.

In the meanwhile, I kept getting texts throughout the day from Southwest Airlines advising me that my flight has been delayed.  The first text said my flight was delayed one hour.  A second text came through a few hours later:  a two hour delay.  Third text:  three.  And so on.  Spring was cancelled in many parts of the Midwest due to a heavy late snow and it was causing havoc at the airports and on my plans. 

So, to buy some time, we decided to get some dinner.  We wanted to go to Pappadeaux Seafood Kitchen, a well-known Cajun seafood restaurant that originated in Houston.  But, we did not want to get back on The Houston freeways.  We were in luck.  There was a Pappadeaux at the Hobby Airport.  I never get that lucky.

We caught a shuttle, checked my bags and headed to the restaurant looking forward to some spicy Cajun food.  There was one problem, Pappadeaux was on the other side of security.  Only passengers allowed. 

For a split second, I felt as hopeful as an old maid looking under a bed.  I really didn’t want to hang out at the airport for 6 hours all by myself.  We were tired and hungry, and we all wanted a cocktail dammit.

My mom was on a mission.  She asked a TSA agent standing at the front desk, “Is there any way my husband and I can go with my daughter to the gates, or at least to the restaurant?  The agent told her the only way they could get past security without a boarding pass is to put me in a wheel chair and go back to the check-in counter and ask for a Passenger Assisted Escort Pass. 

The next thing I saw was my mom pushing a wheel chair up to me, “Get in!” She said and “act sick, I’m hungry.” 

I sat down and did as I was told.  You can’t get lard unless you boil the hog.

The thing is, I already checked my bags and got my boarding pass.  I already walked up to the check-in desk with my own two feet, healthy and strong, pulling my big ass suitcase behind me and putting it on the scale to be weighed and checked.   Now we have to do it again, same counter, same woman directing the line, same everything except I am now being pushed in a wheelchair.

As we approached the line, the woman that directed me earlier to the check in counter said with a confused look on her face, “You are back?”  Keeping a straight face was impossible as I looked up at her to answer.  But someone was looking after me, because as I looked up at her, the setting sun was shining brightly through a window in the distance, completely blinding me.  I put my hand up to block the sun and the TSA agent.  At that point, my mom took over.  She pulled out the cancer card, albeit expired, and it worked.  She explained how I have cancer, and that I am weak from the chemo.  She went on and to explain what a trooper I have been but my flight is late and she doesn’t want me to be alone for such a long period of time.  She did such a good job pulling at the heartstrings of the TSA agent, she let us pass.  In fact, not only did we get through security seamlessly, they let us skip ahead to the front of the line. 

Honestly, with my mom’s neuropathy, and after she wore cowboy boots for hours to the wedding the night before, I should have been the one pushing her in the wheelchair, not the other way around.  But she was determined.  My mom wheeled me steadily and confidently past security, through the terminal corridors and right up to Pappadeaux.  I got up, walked into the restaurant, had a fabulous dinner, a glass of wine and ditched the wheelchair for someone else who really needed it.

The moral of the story, well there isn’t one. 

Although I am sure it was the crawfish, brisket, Jagermeister shots, late nights and plane flights that did me in and broke my health streak, it was truly worth it; especially knowing there will always be wheelchairs to help me along as I Two Step my way through life.  Hmmm…I guess there is a moral to my story.

Thank you, Mom for pushing my wheelchair all these years.

And, thank you everyone in Bryan for “learning” me to eat, drink, speak and dance like a Texan!  I had a fantastic time.  Love y’all! 

Checking out cuz's boobies as I shop for new ones!