Sunday, December 02, 2018

Eternal King of the Suburban Jungle

My Tao-Tao died on October 15. But for some reason, I didn’t blog about it then. Maybe it just hurt so much that writing about it while it was still raw would have been like rubbing salt in a wound. And maybe I was thinking so many thoughts and feeling so many powerful emotions that I couldn’t separate out what I needed to say from what I didn’t, and so I didn’t say anything.

But now I’m feeling more at peace with something I was initially told would happen much, much sooner. I wrote on October 7, 2017 that Tao-Tao had been diagnosed with high-grade lymphoma of the liver and intestines two days before and that without prohibitively expensive treatment with a still bleak prognosis, he probably had only a few days to live, maybe up to a couple of weeks if I fed him a nutrient-dense prescription food and gave him prednisolone every day.

I declined the intensive radiotherapy and chemo and opted for only the special food and medication, and, to my surprise and then growing astonishment, Tao-Tao’s few days extended to a few weeks and then a few months and finally passed the year mark ten days ago.

His vets began calling him a “miracle cat,” and I cherished the miraculous prolongation of his precious life as he kept on going with an irrepressible brightness in his big, beautiful eyes. But one of his vets, a leading diagnostic specialist in the Sacramento area, told me that someday the prescription food and medication would stop working and that Tao-Tao’s decline would change from slow and steady to extremely fast and unstoppably fatal.

So every day I got up praying that this would not be THAT day I’d been warned about. And then one day it was.

On an early Monday morning, I got up to see that Tao-Tao was not in the kitchen waiting if not crying for his food that he normally proceeded to gobble as though he were starving to death, which, in a sense, he was from his impaired ability to adequately absorb and process even the most nutritious food on the market. Instead, I found him in a dark closet, the kind of secluded indoor place where cats might go to die when they can’t disappear outside. And when I picked up his emaciated body, brought him out into the light and saw his strangely dull eyes and then, with hopeless hope, carried him into the kitchen and set food down for him that he not only didn’t eat but seemed completely indifferent to, I knew without question that his time had come.

I told my wife, and she was clearly very sad about it. She and I don’t treat pets like pets so much as like vital parts of the family. We love our cats almost as though they were our human children that we never had. But she knew, as I knew, that this day was long overdue, and she did her best to resign herself to it as she prepared to go to work and said to me just before she left that I should do what I thought was best.

I certainly wasn’t going to let him suffer needlessly until he died in the house. So, I made an appointment at the vet for that afternoon. An hour or so before it was time to leave, my wife came home early. She said she’d been crying so much at work that her coworkers advised her to take off early and just go home. She took some pictures of Tao-Tao, including one in his carrier just before I left with him, and spent a few final moments stroking, hugging, and kissing him before it was time for me to leave. She couldn’t bring herself to accompany us, and I didn’t blame her one bit. My grief over seeing through what needed to be done was enough for both of us.

Tao-Tao’s vet that day was one I hadn’t seen before. She had only recently started working there. But I liked her immediately. She, like all the vets there, was not only female but also a graduate of the local vet school which happens to be widely acknowledged as the leading vet school in the world.

I liked the way she handled and examined Tao-Tao with well-practiced skill and genuine tenderness and affection for her patient. And I loved how she seemed very empathic to my distress and didn’t rush me to come to a decision about how to proceed until I had been informed of and able to weigh all my options regarding testing and palliative care.

I decided not to prolong Tao-Tao’s suffering just so I could spend a few more hours or days with him and authorized them to euthanize him then and there. When she asked if I wanted to be present during the procedure, I said I did. She explained how the procedure would be carried out and then took TaoTao out of the examination room to insert a catheter into one of his front legs to facilitate injection of the chemicals that would end his life.

While they were out of the room, I tried to steel myself for what was coming. She brought Tao-Tao back in wrapped in a blanket and gently put him on my lap while I held him.

He didn’t seem fearful or distressed as she gave him the first of, as I recall, four injections of different substances. The final one stopped his heart, which she confirmed a minute later with her stethoscope. She then said I could be alone with him if I wanted for as long as I wanted and left the room. I began sobbing as she left the room. But as I looked at Tao-Tao, he seemed so at peace in his eternal rest, like he had fallen into a deep and blessed sleep.

I stroked him, told him how much I loved him, kissed him, and then tenderly placed him, still wrapped in his blanket, on the examining table, gathered my cat carrier, and quietly left the room. The receptionist out front said, “I’m so sorry” as I fought back my tears, croaked “Thank you,” and headed for the car.

Later that evening I walked to the grocery store, and, while I was shopping, I heard Al Stewart’s “Year of the Cat” for the first time in over a decade playing over the store’s speakers.

It had been quite a year, indeed, for our two cats. Neither of them had ever been seriously ill and taken to the vet since we acquired Tao-Tao from an animal rescue society over ten years ago and Jaidee from the same organization about two years later.

And then, just a little over a year ago, Tao-Tao began losing weight and acting listless. I finally took him to the vet, and, after a series of tests and consultation with a renowned veterinary diagnostician, eventually received the terminal diagnosis, and soon afterwards, Jaidee became deathly ill with a virus that almost killed him but was saved by intensive and very costly treatment.

Tao-Tao was a beautiful Russian Blue mix with gorgeously large green eyes that almost never registered anything but an almost Buddha-like equanimity and gentleness, and he had the most compliant disposition of any cat I’d ever had or seen. He was like a warm, silky-haired toy you could handle almost any way you wanted and he wouldn’t complain. And dosing him every night for a year with prednisolone tablets was incredibly easy every time as I would just gently push open his mouth, drop in the tablet, and he’d obligingly chew it a little and swallow it and then eat his last of many servings of canned food for the day before I went to bed.

There will never be another Tao-Tao. Rest in eternal peace, my sweet and lovely Buddha-boy.

Saturday, October 06, 2018

Saying No Thanks to Religious Proselytizers

A young woman, probably still in high school, just knocked on my door. She was accompanied by an older lady using a walker. When I answered, the young woman, holding an electronic tablet and some literature in her hands, asked me if I was much of a "Bible-reader" and if I'd like to talk with her for a moment about the Bible. I gave her an almost rote response honed by countless similar turnings-away of religious proselytizers at my door by saying something like, "I'm really not interested in discussing it, but thank you anyway," at which point, she and the older lady politely took their leave.

I felt uncomfortable about the robotic delivery of my refusal and, as I always do in such circumstances, about declining to talk with this sweet young woman. I'm one of those hapless individuals who hates to say "No" to people and who will often go to considerable lengths to avoid it and invariably feels vaguely guilty about it afterward, as though I have some moral obligation to say "Yes" even to unreasonable requests.

As they walked away en route to the next front porch, I also contemplated the effect decades of arguing my non-belief face-to-face and online with theists has had on me. I used to relish confronting believers with probing questions about and passionate counterarguments to their beliefs, but that thrill is pretty much gone. Not only have I become bored with such pursuits, but given the sad state of America and the world today in so many respects, I find myself increasingly sympathetic to those who argue that they need to believe in divine goodness and posthumous release into everlasting bliss from the travails and chaos of this earthly life to make this life tolerably "meaningful."

Still, I wonder if the best way to make this life better is to believe in what I regard as patent nonsense and to go door-to-door trying to lure others into the fold of embracing fairy tales dressed up as momentous facts. And I wonder if I might and should have said something to that young woman that might, just might have set her to thinking and questioning and maybe someday have helped lead to her abandoning her foolish "faith" for something truer and potentially more fulfilling.

But then I thought, "Leave the poor girl be." My decades of fruitlessly arguing religion with believers has largely convinced me that such activity is pointlessly ineffectual. I couldn't persuade her to abandon her faith even if I really wanted to and truly had something better to offer in its place, and I'm not even sure that I do on either count.

Yes, I think I did the right thing firmly but respectfully turning her and her mentor away.

Saturday, August 18, 2018

Goodbye, Dearest Aretha

August 16 was not a fortuitous day for American "royalty." I refer to the "Sultan of Swat" Babe Ruth, the original "King of Rock and Roll" Elvis Presley," and the one and only "Queen of Soul" Aretha Franklin. All three died on August 16. And when they did, the nation grieved.

I grieve now for Aretha. I knew she was dying, but when she finally passed Thursday from pancreatic cancer, I read the effusive tributes to her greatness while listening to some of her finest performances, and tears welled in my eyes. Was I really crying for her, or was I crying for the loss of a dazzling force of nature's vibrant constancy throughout most of my life?

It's not that, as a young white boy growing up in the suburbs and as a young and not-so-young man fixated on instrumental jazz and jazz-rock fusion for decades, I always appreciated Aretha's greatness as much as it richly deserved to be. I heard and liked many of her songs on the radio over the years, but I didn't attend any of her concerts or buy any of her albums. I knew she was revered and believed she deserved to be, but my reverence for her was superficially felt. Still, she was always a vital part of my culture and, therefore, a part of me.

Yet, around ten or so years ago after I began watching "American Idol" with my wife, I started paying more attention to male and female vocals and vocalists. And only after I'd been doing that a while did my appreciation of the greatest of the great vocalists swell to unadorned adoration of the singer Rolling Stone magazine ranked in 2010 as the greatest singer of all time. I'm no music expert, but I've never heard anyone who could convey so much powerful emotion with such heartfelt mastery, or seen anyone do it with such sublime regality as Aretha did. This astonishing performance when she was 73 years old says everything more that needs to be said about Aretha Franklin and will remain indelibly etched in my mind forever.

Thank you, Aretha Frankin, for being such an enduring part of the soundtrack of my life and for doing it your way!

Saturday, August 11, 2018

Unfree Will and CBT

My wife sent me to the store this morning for a cucumber. She needed it for a dish she cooked for the Thai temple.

When I got to the checkout counter, there was a young guy ahead of me with a basket full of groceries. He looked at me and my single cucumber but went ahead and checked out first.

If I had been the one with the basket full of groceries and he had been the one with the single cucumber, I would have let him go ahead of me. I always do. And most people do the same with me. But this guy was not me or most people. At least not this morning.

I confess that I felt some resentment. And I'm pretty sure I could have silently talked myself into more of it. But I didn't want to do this. So, I did the opposite.

People with whom I discuss my belief in unfree will often ask me what good could come of such a belief. Today's incident is one place where my nonbelief in free will can be beneficial. When people do things we don't like but we don't think they could have done otherwise given their nature and circumstances, it's hard to feel or stay angry with them.

And if we subscribe to the principles of CBT or REBT, it's hard to feel or stay angry with someone who does things we don't like even if we believe they freely chose to do it. Why? Because it can be reasonably argued that most things people do that we don't like don't violate any demonstrable divine edict or societal or natural law.

Theists and some philosophers might disagree, but I'm neither a theist nor philosopher who believes in divine edicts or natural law. So, when people do things I don't like, in most cases I tell myself something such as: "I don't like the fact that this person did this, but there was no divine or natural law I know of that said they MUST or SHOULD do it, and so it's an inconvenience but not an awful or terrible thing that I have good reason to upset myself over." And when I do this, I generally don't feel angry with someone or hold on to anger I'm already feeling.

Unfree will and CBT are potent antidotes to needless emotional upset when I have the self-discipline to exercise them skillfully. May I continue to exercise and refine my ability to do this.

Saturday, July 28, 2018

Air Conditioner Woes

My air conditioner finally broke and doesn't appear to be repairable, and it happened in the middle of an extended heatwave. A friend of the family had been nursing our ancient system along through frigid winters and scorching summers over the past several years. But the compressor finally gave up the ghost, and it's unlikely it can be replaced. This means paying a godawful amount of money we can ill afford to have a new system installed. Yet, if it comes down to it, afford it we must.

In the meantime, I'm researching our options for which kind of system we want and how we can best finance it, and I'm soliciting advice and estimates from various sources. I wish I knew a lot more about these things than I do and were better and more confident at making decisions involving home and car repairs than I am, but I'm largely at the mercy of other people whom I have to trust.

I hope I make the right decisions and that we get a new system that works well and for as long as we need it. Whatever I do, I need to act quickly, because it's supposed to stay hot for a long time, and I'm no spring chicken at tolerating the heat. And even though my wife is considerably younger than me, she's no fan of interior evening temperatures in the high 80's or low 90's either. Ceiling and floor fans can provide only limited relief by themselves.

Thursday, July 12, 2018

Trump Supporters Are Defective?

I just posted this to Facebook today. Am I wrong to be so opinionated about this? I guess I'm being somewhat hyperbolic out of unrestrained desire to vent my building frustration and anger over the Trump presidency. I suppose there could be other causes or reasons why people love President Trump that I don't list here. Even so...

There is something seriously, SERIOUSLY lacking in anyone who enthusiastically supports Trump and can't understand the legitimate reasons why so many of us despise his presidency. 
The evidence documenting his abominable character and actions throughout his adult life and his gross ignorance, intellectual and social incompetence, crippling psychopathology, mendacity, and odious conduct overall as president is too abundant for anyone with their eyes even halfway open to think he's an exemplary president worthy of their fawning support. 
It's one thing to hold one's nose and vote for him because he supports, even if for blatantly opportunistic reasons, policies one believes are of overriding urgency such as anti-abortion, but it's quite another to praise him to the heavens as God's chosen representative and as a great man and great president. Anyone who does THAT clearly has a screw loose, or they're just plain STUPID!

Sunday, March 25, 2018

Time to Shine

I used to post here every year on my birthday. Then I missed a year or maybe more. This year, I missed again. Or I decided not to post. I decided it would be better if I waited until the day after to write about the day before.

I enjoyed my birthday yesterday. Maybe more than usual. It's not that I did anything special. There was no party and cake or romantic dinner with my wife in some fancy restaurant.

Instead, I drove to my wife's Thai Buddhist temple and presented gifts to the temple in return for receiving good karma that will help me enjoy a better life in my next incarnation, or something like that. I don't believe that stuff, but I like to give and to help out the temple even if I receive nothing more from it than the pleasure of giving. And I like to please my wife who wants me to give to help out the temple and earn good karma for myself and for her.

After the presentation and the usual morning round of chanting, which I always sit back with eyes closed and listen to respectfully while the others carry on, I piled delicious potluck Asian food on my plate and savored every bite until I was uncommonly full by recent standards. And many people, including some of the monks, wished me a Happy Birthday.

After all that, I drove home while my wife remained behind, and I took a nap and then rose and started thanking people on Facebook for their birthday wishes. I really enjoyed reading their wishes and replying to them. Yes, I harbor no illusions that my birthday means anything special to them, unless they happen to share it, which some of my Facebook friends and acquaintances do. I know they're just being nice in what is probably an obligatory sort of way. After all, there's always someone we know on Facebook who's having a birthday no matter what date it is, especially if we know a lot of people on Facebook. Yet, I still appreciate, more than I ever have before, that they took a few seconds to write to me.

As I wrote on Facebook today, the older I get, and I'm well into my 60's now, the more I appreciate the simpler things in life. Yesterday I was and today I am still filled with gratitude that I was able to experience yet another birthday and that I am still alive and still in abundant possession of my modest faculties.

Is this because I know my time is running out? That's surely part of it. My time IS running out. And given what may loom in my near future, it might be better if it runs out sooner than later. But I think it's also the case that when we've been around long enough, we come to realize, if we're lucky, that many of the so-called "big" things in life--i.e., buying costly or prestigious items,  accomplishing ballyhooed goals and reaping extravagant rewards for it--is often not as fulfilling as stroking my dying cat on my lap, seeing my wife off to work in the morning, reading a wonderful essay on philosophy or science, listening to a beautiful 
Hiromi solo, or thanking someone for their birthday message.

I don't know if I'll be around next year to write on or soon after my birthday. I never know from year to year, and I know even less this year than ever before. Yet, from this point on, I'm going to write more and do more and be better for as long as I can. Not because I expect external rewards for it. But because it's my inner calling. To do my best and be my best.

I will focus much of my effort, wherever I am and whatever my circumstances, on producing a podcast and writing a book on free will and on becoming a professional writer and podcaster. Nobody would hire me for anything else because I'm old and have nothing to offer them. But I can speak and I can write and I can deliver something to this world that nobody else can exactly like me, especially if I stop trying to be different or better than anyone else. And I've hidden my light under a bushel for far, far too long.

Time to shine.

Friday, March 16, 2018

David Mamet Gives Me Pause

Image result for david mamet

I listened to a WTF podcast episode this morning in which Marc Maron's guest was award-winning playwright, film director, screenwriter, and novelist David Mamet.

I haven't seen or heard much of Mamet himself over the years. But based on what I've seen of his films and plays and a smattering of him in the media, I expected him to be less cordial and talkative than he was with Maron. On that podcast, he wasn't the intensely terse man of his fictional creations but an outspoken, almost garrulous man of strong opinions.

And one of his opinions is that a play or film is worth nothing if it doesn't "entertain" the audience. It can be filled with lofty ideas, but if it doesn't entertain the audience, it's just a bunch of pretentious crap.

He cited the example of poetry in the New Yorker that wannabe intellectuals praise. He says when he asks them to recite a line or two from some poem they say they liked, they can't. He takes this to mean they want to like it because they think they're supposed to, and they pretend to like it because they believe it will make them appear or actually become smarter and more cultured than they are. But they don't really like it because it isn't any good and doesn't entertain the reader enough to like and remember it well enough to recite it the way, say, a great Shakespeare sonnet does.

As I listened to this, I thought of the kinds of books, articles, and blogposts I want to write and podcasts I want to produce about subjects such as free will, Christian counter-apologetics, integral Buddhist stoicism, integral health, and so forth, and I wonder how entertaining I can make any of it. And if I can't make it entertaining, who's going to read or listen to it? And why would they? To foolishly put on airs of effete intellectualism and learnedness? I lack the academic bonafides to lure paying customers to my work even for that empty purpose.

Yet, I feel compelled to produce written works and podcasts that offer the best I can concerning the subjects and issues that fascinate me come what may. And so I shall.

Thursday, March 15, 2018

Can't Give Up

I feel desperate. Everything is coming to a head. I can't continue the way I have, and I'm afraid. I'm afraid for my marriage. I'm afraid of losing everything. I'm afraid of being left in the figurative if not literal cold.

I've had such a long time and so many opportunities to at least try to do better, and I've squandered them. I don't blame myself for this. I understand that when a man is convinced he's so intellectually weak and psychologically flawed that he has no chance of succeeding at anything he might try that's worth trying for, he's not going to make much of an effort. And that's how I've thought, felt, and lived most of my adolescent and adult life. Maybe I've had good reason to do this, and maybe I haven't. But here I am, and I don't think I'm being too dramatic when I say that I find myself peering into the darkness.

But here's the thing. Even if my best efforts from now on are doomed to fail, at least I can try while I still can draw breath, think coherent thoughts, and put my fingers to the keyboard. I can still read. I can still study. I can still write for my blogs. I can still compose and publish my book. I can still produce my podcast. I can still keep up my household duties. I can still be the best husband to my wife, caretaker to my cats, son to my mom, friend to my friends, and person to everybody that I can possibly be every remaining moment of my waking life.

That's worth something! Going out trying my best has to be better than the alternative, no matter what the result. I can't let myself give up. I have to try like I've never tried before until there's nothing left of me.

Tuesday, March 13, 2018

Tillerson Out, Pompeo In

Rex Tillerson is out as Secretary of State. Mike Pompeo is in. Or soon will be.

Tillerson was a bust. I don't know what Pompeo will be. Can anyone do that job well under a president who doesn't seem to believe in it and doesn't appear to understand it?

With a rising China feeling its oats, a resurgent Russia boasting of unstoppable nuclear-tipped cruise missiles of unlimited range, a ruthless North Korean tyrant with the hydrogen bomb and a fleet of rockets growing in size and sophistication, European disunion beset with racist nativism, and a New World Order splintering into chaotic disorder, we need effective diplomacy as much as ever. Arguably more than ever.

But can we have it? Will we have it in time? Stay tuned.

Things I Need to Do

I know what my first book will be about, if I ever write it. I even know what its title will be.

I know what my first podcast will be about, if I ever produce it. I'll do the podcast to build an audience for my book. I think I know what its title will be.

Unfortunately, I don't know how to write, publish, and market a book. Nor do I know how to produce and disseminate a podcast. But can't I learn? I have all day after day.

I know I have almost zero confidence in myself. And I know publishing a book and producing a podcast aren't easy, especially the first time around. But can't I do both if I try hard enough and smart enough?

How motivated do I need to be to try hard enough? How smart do I need to be to try smart enough?

I'll soon see, because time is running out.

As My Birthday Approaches

I'll soon be having another milestone birthday, and I'm worried. Scared actually. I didn't think I'd live this long, but now that I have, I'm concerned about the future. I have good reason to be. I'm concerned about my health. I'm concerned about my finances. I'm concerned about my marriage. You name it, I'm concerned about it.

I've lived a very unconventional life. A wasted life. A life the world won't miss when it's over and would have been better off without. No wonder I never attend my high school reunions.

I don't feel depressed as I say these things. Sad, but not depressed. I know the difference.

Yet, I'm also hopeful there's a way for me to do more with the time I have left, no matter the circumstances, than I have yet. A way to accomplish something, with my few and modest gifts, that I haven't yet. I want to, I need to.

The clock is ticking.