Wednesday, April 29, 2009

When the still sea conspires an armor
And her sullen and aborted
Currents breed tiny monsters,
True sailing is dead.

Awkward instant
And the first animal is jettisoned,
Legs furiously pumping
Their stiff green gallop,
And heads bob up
Poise, Delicate,
Pause, Consent
In mute, nostril agony
Carefully refined
And sealed over.

-Jim Morrison

When I first heard the poem above, I had no idea what it was talking about. It took me years to find out that on our globe between thirty and thirty-five degrees (north and south), the subtropics, are known for their lack of winds. There can be much activity in these latitudes, but for sailors, these areas are unreliable. Sailors are men who rely on the wind to take them tom their destination, and getting stuck in the wrong areas can lead to weeks at sea with little progress to their destination.

The horse latitudes receive their name, because in travel, sailors in despair would be forced to throw their horses overboard. The horses would be slaughtered, because their stewards are unable to feed them. The horses become a burden, and thus lose their life. Amazing that I could speak so casually of these ideas long before I learned what they meant. Jim Morrison penned the poem above, and many times I hav e heard people speak of their “doldrums”, the Doldrums refers to that same oceanic space of emptiness, that deadly calm, that makes progress impossible.

I stay cautious of the calm in my life. I see myself getting lost in my own “doldrums”, only to see periods of my life in a deadly calm. I listen to many people who talk about how “maybe you needed this time” or “this happened for a reason”; I know that when I am uncomfortable, I am inspired to make changes. This past couple years have been filled with many changes. I do not have to inspect these past years for “meaning.” It is exciting that I have enjoyed so much, and did not lose myself in overly calm waters of my life.

So, I am looking at the things with much hope. I have no horses to throw overboard. I am inspired by the love of my family and friends. I am thrilled that I am above ground one more day.

I moved from the apartment, and have a place to stay, but still am functionally homeless. One thing certain, and that is there is very little time to lose in doldrums. My groceries still need attending, and my blog still needs writing. So, the journey continues...

Thank you for reading...

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Plastic Man

Tom Brokaw made a request. He said I should go to my web browser and type “neuroplasticity.” I was not with him at the time, so I could not tell him that I already did that. In fact, that is why I was listening to him that moment. From, I found one hour's worth of discussion on neuroplasticity, and learned about the current researchers learning about it. Scientists can rock my world, and I plan to include a couple science classes in my studies in addition to my major, because I have an obligation to know, understand, and appreciate the intricacies of this world of continuous exploration

Neuroplasticity refers to the versatility of nerve cells to learn, adapt, and change. Up to recent times we thought this plasticity , this versatility only existed in young brains. People with hydrocephalis were shown to be highly functional despite the loss of enormous parts of their brains. Specifically, a man with sections destroyed that were reserved for eyesight function was shown to see with great acuity. Portions of the brain are determined to have specific function, consistent from one person to another. Yet, when brain tissues are lost in formative years, apparently other portions of the brain take on the functions of the damaged, and impacted areas.

As a non scientist I am interested in knowing how to take these observations, and use them to elevate my hope, start new therapy, and let go of old ideas that when my legs stop working, I ought to start saving for a wheelchair.

When I was in science classes in high school around fifteen years ago (class of 1988? do the math!), I was taught that neurogenesis(creation of nerve cells) was something that came to an end after the formative years stopped. Nerve cells were of a fixed number, and when they died, there would be no replacements. For most of the nerve cells in the body this is still the truth. But, in a few cases, researchers were able to use functional magnetic resonant imaging (FMRI) to show that in parts of the brain, neurogenesis continues on into adulthood.

Still the issue I am thinking about, involves the brain cells remaining, and all the nerve cells they command. I am watching this stuff, do my reading, and listening to podcasts out of pure self-interest. I have symptoms being reviewed by a neurologist right now. My foot is dragging, and that is not a metaphor. My foot drags when I walk, and I am excited to realize I am empowered. What do I do? I listen to a coworker who, with chronic back pain, says he goes to the gym at college every day at six in the morning. He says he is stronger, and healthier than he has I a long time.

One thing he told me was that the six AM crowd is the winner's circle. He works out in the gym with seniors, and he tells me how motivated they are. I also know that the studies Tom Brokaw discussed involved evidence that neurogenesis is most active in people who exercise at least one hour a day. four times a week.

So, today a man walks up to me in a coffee shop, and he tells me about how he had lost massive brain tissue in the right hemisphere of his brain in an accident. He was told that coming out of a coma he would never walk again. Paralyzed from the neck down, he was told he would be confined to a wheelchair for life. Still, this man can and does, walk several miles a day. I am not missing major chunks of my brain, but I still know my improvement is my responsibility.

Today, I am learning how to balance myself. I am learning how to raise my leg. I am learning how to train my mind through exercising my body. So, after weeks in circuit training, I understand what my instructor means when she tells me I will get out of it what I put into it. Old words they are, and still for me they have new significance. My hope today rests on many things. I take muscle relaxants to reduce spasm in my legs. But, I also am now trusting my doctors. I am exercising more. I now see my returns will come from precisely what I discussed weeks ago, the elliptical cross-trainer. My resistance to using the machine comes from it being difficult, being awkward, and being exhausting. My hope comes from knowing that regardless the causes of my problem, this exercise can help.

Thank you for reading.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Easter Vigil

What's the good news? I enjoyed the Vigil service last night. My friends picked me up, and took me to St Joseph Church in Redding, and we joined in quiet prayer for a night in celebration of renewal. My friends have been helping me get to service, and I think this is truly about renewal. I love the time spent in church. The night's service was three hours long.

I got to sit in the church lit entirely by candle light. What a night! Easter Vigil shared in prayer with my friends became great as we listened to Bible passages, and watched as several people finishing their time in RCIA, got to experience the sacraments of Confirmation and first Communion.

After this service, I went to my home, and looked at the apartment, and settled in my thought that this is the last time I will sleep here. I am moving off this hill here in Redding. My destination is indeterminate, but I hope to find a long term room or apartment soon. I woke up, packed up the remainder of my stuff, and rode my bike away.

Of course, I reported many months back that I was being kicked out.... That did not happen. Then, after an argument in March, I decided to move out. Days later, before mentioning this to my roommate, he asked me to move. What a wacky month. So, with all set this way, I resolved to find a home with my own phone line, and my own Internet. Hopping from Internet cafe to library gets tiring. It is amazing how with my best planning, I set my departure for Easter Sunday.

As I plan on leaving the country soon, I am grateful to move somewhere that expenses wil be less, and comfort will be more. Well, we see what happens...

Thank you for reading.

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Question: How many Californians does it take to screw in a light bulb?
Answer: Five. One to screw in the light bulb after the other four complete a n environmental impact report

I heard a reference recently to Yucca Mountain. It is not a tragedy. It is not even a sad note. Still, I am listening to what, at one time, seemed a good idea. Yucca Mountain is a monument to abandoned projects. A mountain that was unknown to most of America, it sits alone, a desert hole. This mountain was dug into when many in America had it marked as a great future depository for the waste we produce in efforts to surplus low-cost, low-pollution energy.

Before this project was stopped, we had, as a nation, become embroiled in a wild discussion in the nature of nuclear waste, and whether the heart of a mountain can safely contain the waste, and keep Americans at peace as we try to reconcile new ideas in energy production.

I am nt an engineer, and I am poorly equipped to argue any side of such a controversy. I do know many scientists have convinced me that this was a great idea, and their ability to convince is noted. Several billion United States dollars were spent digging a hole in the core of this mountain. Still, at the end, doubt reared its ugly head, and controversy won in this battle. When doubt prevails, groups descend upon the decision makers to preach the doctrine of controversy. Science often takes a back seat when the controversy preachers come out of their churches to lobby the decision makers of the world.

Well, the controversy lobbyists that worry me exist within my head. The unfinished projects of which I am concerned are not as conspicuous as this eight billion dollar hole in a mountain. I want to do so much in my life, and it is amazing what happens when I open my mouth about my projects, my dreams, or my actions. People actually listen in bits and pieces when I talk of what I am doing. It is daunting to have people ask about the Yucca Mountains of my life, many of which seem at the outset neither big nor complicated .

When faced with controversy, these questions prevail:

1.Do you really have the resources to finish this project?
2.Do you have the backers to support the project?
3.Is this project one which looks good on paper, but may disappear once outside interest/support declines?
The fact is I heard about Yucca mountain many times in the past, but the passages were quiet, and I was shocked to find that with all the controversy, it progressed as far as it did. I hope that when I bring a bill before my own private legislature, I will have the ability to see exactly what I want to accomplish, and present my case with conviction, while still being able to stop; consider all arguments against what I want to do before taking radical action.

I offer this simplistic discussion to ask: what are the Yucca mountains in your life? I told my sister that I need to look at my goals list. I need to look at them fearlessly and ask myself why my projects are sitting on a shelf, or why I have kept goals which perhaps should have been scrapped long ago.

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

While waiting for AAA...

Tonight, outside Raley's Supermarket in Redding, California, my friend Doug did something unusual for him. He went to get his truck, and after setting my bike in the back, discovered that he left the truck runnin g with both doors locked. Because we then were at the grocery store, and this blog is called Fat Grocer, I decided then to share with him- and share now, with you- this true grocery store story.

One day, a young man was in a Safeway bagging a customer's groceries. He never saw this customer before in his life. The customer was in bright spirits when he told the cashier, “you ever hear how this man set his car on fire?” He was motioning to the clerk who was disturbed by this line of discussion and he could not help responding, “That never happened.”

The customer assured them the story had happened, and cited the bagger's mother as the source for the story. He claimed he heard the tale told on a commuter light rail in the early 1990's. The only question haunting our clerk then was: who is this man, and why is he haunting me? He looked closer at his antagonist. He looked at the man's eyes, past his glasses, and stared long at this man whose smirk seemed to widen with this surprise disclosure. Then, his face began to look more familiar.

He recalled a girl he visited in 1986, a very beautiful girl, who was very gracious to him. It was the day before his sixteenth birthday, and she was sure to do her best to offer him a birthday present worth remembering. She looked into his eyes, and smiled. “Sweet sixteen and never been kissed?” She smiled, and he felt led. Indeed, what could this memory have to do with the story I started to tell?

Looking at the disturbing man forking over money for his groceries, the recognition took place. This man looked older, but his identity was indeed clear. That girl that enchanted him fifteen years before has a father, and on this day her father was right there buying groceries, causing trouble.

As for the flaming car:

One day, back in 1989, a young man was driving a 1980 Oldsmobile in San Jose when he looked down to his side he saw a paper bag catch fire on the seat. This was a shock to him, and with little thought, he took his jacket and smothered out the developing flames. He then plowed his car, a Delta 88 diesel into the back of a Jeep, coming to a sudden stop. He looked through the windshield, and saw the torn up fiberglass and started to freak out. This was his parent's car after all, and he knew the discussion at home would be challenging. He did something then that my friend Doug can appreciate. He stepped out of his car to talk to the driver he hit.

Closing the door, he sealed his fate. The keys were in the ignition, the car was on, and the doors were locked. This is a bad day. Right? What did he do when he walked to the window, saw his car was the only one damaged, and realized he was locked out of his car? He freaked out! His panic level elevated when looked in to see smoke rising up from the seat. He did not notice the crowd developing. He did not see the Cadillac parked across the street, a woman vaguely resembling his mother walking across the street to investigate this car with smoke coming out of it.

With much hesitation, an older couple from a nearby apartment complex surrendered to him their fire extinguisher. With a two inch gap in the window, the nozzle barely fit. Depressing the handle, he released a powder into the cab of the car, finally extinguishing the fire, a fire which had already burnt the roof of the car, and melted much of the dash. He then drove the car home to face his parents.

My friend Doug was quite placid after I told him this story. He decided that locking his keys in the car is not so bad after all. To my satisfaction, he never asked me how I could relate this story with so much intimate detail. He never asked who the eighteen year old was, or how I knew him.

Thank you for reading.