Saturday, July 25, 2015

Unanswered Questions

I haven't experienced everything that there is in life. I don't want to, not all of them. I've never drowned, fallen off a cliff except in nightmares, met everyone, traveled everywhere, read every book. It's not that they all sound bad. Some sound like they might be worth the attempt, given time and resources. But my life is finite, my experiences even more so.

I'm pretty OK with that, for the most part.

Given my narrow range of experiences, I still have managed to come up with what I think is a reasonable explanation of how the world works. Some is based on education in areas like geography, biology, physics, math. Some is based on teachings in religion. Some is based on neither and/or both. I take the various inputs, think about them, add other, often conflicting inputs, weigh those as well, and muddle through to a belief system.

Take science, for example. Gravity makes sense. A 14 billion years old universe makes sense, though it is difficult to grasp in its enormity. I accept that matter and energy have to do with atoms and components of them and how they behave. String theory, however, makes no sense. Nor do parallel universes, though I've read enough science fiction that you'd think that they might. I understand the components of DNA and binary number systems, but cannot intuit how those grow into the control systems for our selves or our computers.

I see how those puzzles push people to try to find more answers than what can be understood by what can be seen or held. So I can understand how that drives them to develop religions. Religions give answers.

I was raised in the teachings of the Methodist church. As a teenager I dove headfirst into learning all there was about the true faith. I'm sure I was a self-righteous ass about it.


But then little things started to erode my unquestioning faith. The first was being corrected in what I had always believed the church taught, that after death we all went to either heaven or hell. (No purgatory for Methodists.) Whichever it was, it happened straightaway. But no, somewhere in junior high I was strictly informed that it didn't happen until the end of time, that somehow we were dead, were nowhere, until after the end of time. It was called resurrection.

Wait! What? If it's after the end of time, then there's nothing left of time for somebody to exist in either heaven or hell. How was that possible? And who the heck wants that?

Ecumenism came along around that time as well, along with expanding awareness of other religious teachings. Religions came, they went, they changed, they were different but fervidly believed, they were similar.  In fact, as patterns emerged, they became so similar that it grew difficult to tell which was the One True Belief. If any.

What did they have in common? Each had its own story about how the world was ordered, its creation, its end, its purpose, its rewards and punishments. While those stories were different, the framework was the same. And none of them were scientific. Each had two kinds of rules about how one should exist within its framework. One set of rules was how to believe in and worship its deities, or as I like to reframe it, how to keep the priests in power. The other set of rules was about how to treat other people. This was where they were most similar, prohibiting things like stealing and killing, the kinds of rules that kept the society running smoothly.

Whether one had faith in the "truth" of any particular religion, one can argue that they helped civilize people. One can argue even easier that defending against the differences in neighboring religions did just as much to destroy any civilizing influences. The most minor of differences could spark - and have - generations of wars.

But religions didn't answer all the questions either. They tried, but how can one really explain how bad things happen to good people in a theology that rewards good behavior and punishes bad when the deity is omnipotent and omniscient? With all the different explanations, how can we tell what really happens after death?

In the absence of proof and explanation, we develop world views that credit magic and the supernatural. Ghost stories get told around campfires to terrify and delight us. People credit tales of UFOs as proof of extraterrestrial life visiting, give forms to monsters like vampires, sasquatch, and zombies, develop superstitions about managing luck.

Others go the opposite direction and declare nothing exists that cannot or hasn't been proven. There is no deity, no afterlife, a belief system so fervent that it becomes a new religion called atheism.

I personally find both extremes arrogant. One either has found the one true religion, or the one true absence of religion. Considering how little we still know absolutely of the universe and how it works, it seems impossible to be able to declare on either end and be sure one has it right, that Truth is single-faceted, and that what one believes and understands now is in fact That Truth.

I consider myself an agnostic. I'm waiting to find out. For example, I don't believe in ghosts, but I know 3 different people who insist they have experienced one or more and I'm not willing to call them liars. I'm willing to go along with the idea if I ever have an experience that I can find no other explanation for, but for now I'm suspending belief. I never have had an out-of-body experience, but not only have I read of them, I know somebody who's had one. Maybe someday, maybe not for me.

For me, there are still a lot of unanswered questions out there.

I'm OK with that.

Thursday, July 23, 2015

Insomnia: Cure?

I never had a day... er, night... of insomnia until I retired. Steve used to marvel at how I could put my head on the pillow and zonk out seemingly within seconds. I used to take that for granted.

I, in turn, had difficulty understanding that my parents could wake up at 4 AM and just lay in bed awake until 7-ish or whenever their alarm was set for. I would of course have used the time for reading, had that happened to me, which it never did. At least not unless there was a big worry for the next day, like whether I'd get to the airport on time. That I could manage to worry about even when the alarm was set for 6 (5:50) and the plane didn't lift until 2.

But being among the forever sleep-deprived, there was never insomnia. As a kid, if I wasn't sleepy at my Mom-imposed bedtime, I'd smuggle my tiny lamp under the covers with me and read until I was. As a parent, there were never enough hours for everything, so sleep came last. Even after the kids were grown and gone, there was always pushing sleep time as late as possible, either for TV or another book. When I woke up groggy, a morning mug of coffee woke me up, and if I got groggy later in the day, I'd either catnap during slow (non-driving) times or add cola onto the daily caffeine ration. I'd quit caffeine on weekends and catch up on my sleep debt with real naps, even if they happened in my chair. The internal alarm will went off at 6 (5:50).

Then came retirement. Along with that came either "ignoring" my morning mug, or following doctor's orders to cut down on, or cut out, caffeine. So, more and more, I did.

And along came insomnia. I could lay awake for hours, even if I'd gone to bed hours past bedtime already. So I'd get up and read for a bit. Didn't make me sleepy. I'd still wake up at 6 (5:50) even without the alarm, though I blamed that on the dogs, being habituated to getting let out at that time. So, I'd catch a nap after catching the morning news.

I tried everything I could think of. I banished the dogs from the bedroom, generally no problem as Steve was typically still up. I tried low lights, melatonin, even my white noise machine otherwise known as my Hepa filter fan. And still I was wakeful hours later than I wanted to be.

I wound up missing mornings. That is meant both as napping right through them, and missing the experience of doing any of the things I usually did then. No early shopping at the grocery while there were still scooter carts available. No lapidary after May 1 because with the snowbirds gone north, they shortened their hours to close at noon. No sitting out on the patio enjoying the cool of the day.

I didn't try to curtail the naps because I had been told how much sleep deprivation has to do with contributing to cardiac arrhythmias. That's why the first thing they explore is sleep apnea for a causal factor. But the final straw was two days ago when I was still awake to hear Paul's morning alarm go off. Both times. Desperate, off I went to bed.

Three hours later I woke, despite myself. And the second thing I did after that was prepare myself my usual size mug of coffee, untouched for months. And drank it! I didn't take a nap until late afternoon, limiting myself then to an hour with the kitchen timer. When I went to bed around 10, I had little trouble falling asleep and no trouble staying asleep until 6, when once again the second thing I did after waking was fix another cuppa. (If you need to know the first, well....)

I plan to continue. I know what the medical community has to say, but if this routine lets me actually sleep while I'm in bed, I figure it's accomplishing what their end goal is anyway. Yep, weird as it sounds, caffeine to cure insomnia.


Tuesday, July 14, 2015

In Trouble

I heard from Rae last night. At least it started as last night but ended as this morning. She was drunk. And she was in trouble, had been since I last saw her. I'd suspected as much. We'd parted weeks ago, saying we'd get together again within a few days. It hadn't happened. So I knew.

I didn't want to know. It was the only reason she wouldn't have called me back when I called her to arrange rescheduling. I decided to let it slide a bit, just leaving voicemail and waiting for her to reach back. It finally got to be too long and I called again, leaving another message, letting her know I'd like to see or at least talk to her, and I was concerned.

I had actually run into some family members just over a week ago when we all showed up at Jurassic Park 4, winding up in the same row. I asked after her and heard that she was "fine". I heard, more to the point, the contempt and condemnation in their voices, not for her actual problems but for how she inconveniences them. I honestly don't know just how clueless they are or if it's all denial and family secrets. I wasn't going to explore that with them. If they had indicated they cared, I might have considered it. I knew at least she was still alive, unhospitalized, and mobile. All good things, in their way. I also knew that she was using again and not ready to tell me about it.

When I saw it was her on the caller ID, I answered, even though I was settled in bed. She sounded surprised that I was awake. Yeah, I usually am around midnight, have been for months now, don't like it but can't get to sleep earlier. I thought to wonder why she'd called then if she hadn't expected an answer, but let it go. There'd be more important things to talk about.

I just didn't know then how much more important.

As I said, she was drunk. Her words were a bit slurred, but only once did I have to ask her to repeat what she was saying so I could understand. Much of it was no surprise: she'd been using since we were last together, she was now "only" using alcohol, not drugs, and declared her status to be "detoxing". Her husband was too, though I'm not aware in his case that he ever used more than alcohol. At least there was now hope that he wouldn't be sabotaging her sobriety attempts by insisting that it was OK for her to drink with him on weekends.

She had been losing friends lately. Those in her former NA group would have lost patience with her and been too confrontational. Sober friends would likely not have tolerated her using whatever the drug of the day was. Now she felt she was down to only two of us, the other being a woman she was planning on going to church with. Not that she'd started that yet. And doing so was about to get much more complicated.

She was going to lose her foot. This was a complication of smoking, another addiction. I'd thought it  might be the MRSA returning, but no. She had developed holes in her bones, one at the ankle and two further down in her foot. There is to be a CAT scan this Wednesday to see if the doctor thinks there was any hope of keeping some part of her foot, but nobody seems to be thinking it's likely, and even if they can now, there's fear the condition will progress. Rae is not talking about quitting smoking, after all.

She's not taking the news well. She spent the last three days locked in her room. She thinks her kids are starting to suspect there's something very wrong with Mommy. (Ya think?) She's almost hoping they take the foot all at once rather than in stages, get it over and done with and on to a prosthesis. She thought that would be a quick process, so I clued her in on needing to completely heal first and eliminate the swelling so one would actually fit. There would be down time. Literally.

In all this mess, there is a small beacon of hope. I asked how she was doing with her bulimia. She says it's mostly under control. Ironically, now that her body isn't trying to cope with the starvation cycles of binging/purging, she's been losing weight. 42 pounds so far. She'd love to go another 20. Any bit of that weight loss will help while she's trying to haul herself around on crutches, assuming she can keep that part of her life straight.

We still want to get together. It looks like it'll need to be much more at her house rather than mine, so we'll be interrupted by the kids regularly. So be it. And I'll have the treat of running into the in-laws and their attitudes. They should be even more upset now that they'll be losing their "house slave" for some length of time. With luck and much effort I'll manage to be civil and not blast my way out of being welcome at the house.

Rae worries, though, about the effect the painkillers  from the surgery will have on her  latest attempt at sobriety.

Me too.

Monday, July 6, 2015

More Fishing Tales

Steve is not the only one who can tell fishing stories. They frequently come up in conversations with - hopefully - friends, the kind who still like to talk to you after hearing the stories. The other day they were on the subject of first fishing experiences. I have a tale of my first time from childhood, and will also tell one Steve tells about another person's adult first experience. He hasn't put it on his blog yet, so he can't accuse me of copyright infringement. Plus, any details I get wrong will be attributed to him, as I will be synthesizing various tellings of the same story.

Our parents owned a resort, Pleasant Ridge on 2nd Crow Wing Lake in Hubbard County, MN. This was back in the days before plumbing was brought into the cabins, before many other improvements were made including the shuffleboard court which had the concrete poured the same day the neighbors' cows got loose and strolled across it. Another story, another time. The resort still exists, same name, same cabin layout, but modernized.

When I was six, I finally convinced my parents that I was old enough to head out in the boat with my dad and older brother (a different Steve). So one nice day, out we went. We had a small boat, a 3-horse motor, and a crappie hole waiting. The family knew where that hole was because Daddy tied an empty bleach bottle to a weight to mark it, pretending to all but family that it was just a bit of detritus floating in the lake, expressing puzzlement of why it didn't move with shifting winds. Some folks actually bought it.

We anchored in place, and it being my first fishing trip, he baited my hook with worms first. He barely started on Steve's when Bam! I got a hit. Of course, he had to stop what he was doing to help me bring in my crappie. Then he baited my hook again, and almost as it hit the water, Bam! Another hit. That was the story of my glorious first afternoon out fishing. The two of them barely got their hooks in the water while I kept reeling in crappies.

Steve, being just a kid himself, became visibly and audibly annoyed at his pesky kid sister's luck along with his lack of it, enough so that his attitude cut the trip short, or shorter than I wanted it for sure. The final tally was 7 for me, 2 for Steve, 1 for Daddy. It didn't improve Steve's mood for me to point out that he did twice as well as Daddy, either.

I'm pretty sure I was still too young to be considered competent for scaling, certainly too young for wielding a knife for the rest of the task. No doubt that just rubbed salt in my brother's wounds, having to help clean his sister's catch. That would have been just one more thing in a pile of reasons for him to resent the little brat. I'm not sure he ever forgave me while we were children. I do know I wasn't invited out on the boat very frequently after that, nor did I ever have that kind of luck again. But we are on good terms now.

Mom turned the catch into a family favorite - and frequent - dinner, deep fried in beer batter along with french fries, and on a rare special day accompanies by beer battered onion rings.

Steve's "first fishing" story includes a special lady in his life at the time, Ellen. She had a young son named Chad, and Steve, kind of a second dad to him, frequently took Chad fishing. They would go up to the Coon Rapids Dam on the Mississippi looking for carp. Huge ones patrolled the waters there, and one particular bait was not only cheap and non-perishible, but highly effective: oatmeal.

So how do you put oatmeal on a hook? You start with the original oatmeal, not processed, sweetened, flavored. Just plain old dry rolled oats. Grab a handful, add enough water so it will form a gooey lump, and mold that around your hook before throwing it out. Most of it will stay on the hook a while, and the flakes that fall off and glide downstream will lure the carp to follow that trail to the grand prize, a hook in the mouth.

One day Ellen joined them. Predictably, she hooked a nice fat carp. Perhaps it was the excitement, perhaps it was lack of observing other fishermen, but she found her own unique way of bringing the fish to shore. Rather than reeling it in, she ran up the hilly bank to bring the fish nearer, then reeled in the slack as she ran back down the hill towards the shore. Over and over. It actually worked, but recounting the story still gets Steve laughing, wishing he'd had a movie camera to record the funniest fishing catch he ever saw!

As a postscript, Ellen died 5 years ago from a blood clot that formed while she was in the hospital for a "minor" procedure. Steve still maintains contact with Chad and his family. Last month I had the opportunity to go out to dinner with them, hearing the latest recounting of Ellen's first fishing story.

Thursday, July 2, 2015

Stonados ! ? ! ?

Yep, Steve got bored. It's the only explanation I can think of. He scrolled through the TV upcoming offerings menu, and actually recorded that movie. I'd never heard of it. Sharknados, yes. Stonados, no. But there it was, sitting on the DVD, waiting to be watched.

It's not exactly that I was bored too, but let's go with that as my excuse. Plus I needed a little mindless laughter before heading off to bed. And mindless is what we both got.

The opening scene set the tone. A tornado/waterspout formed out in the harbor from out of absolutely nothing, and for the record, at the end of the scene, vanished into clear blue skies as well. Keep in mind it stayed well offshore. From there, well away from the "suck zone", it managed to wrest away from its resting site below ground and without disturbing the railing or surrounding roof standing on marble columns,  Plymouth Rock. The actual rock. With 1620 inscribed on it. That Plymouth Rock.

Plus a tour guide. Mind you, she had the railing between her and the stonado, was gripping it and could easily have wound more than fingers around the railing as the openings were more than adequate to entwine whole legs and arms through to cling on with. Not only that, but starting on the landward side, she was pulled off it as if the railing rotated 180 degrees without moving, legs pointing out to sea and suddenly up, out, and into the funnel she went. Poof.

Twenty minutes later our beloved Plymouth Rock dropped on top of a basketball player doing some one-on-one with a buddy on a neighborhood court. Splat. But no blood, of course. The crater formed without a nod to the principles of physics (hey, go visit Meteor Crater in Arizona if you want the skinny on craters), but why spoil what they had going?

We never did find out what happened to our tour guide.

Waterspouts kept forming. Of course, without more and worse, there was no need for a movie. They not only formed from nothing, though clouds were eventually brought in, but whirled in straight cylinders of rigidly uniform diameter, rather than varying undulating columns like in real life, and started throwing rocks. All at land of course. All at the same angle. They did a great job of landing squarely on top of people you didn't care for, again with no blood. There was one instance of one taking out an obnoxious lady yelling at one of our "good guys", knocking her into a concrete seawall with two hands wiggling outside the rock edges like clock hands at 10:00 and 2:00 showing at the edges of the rock. No blood, of course. 

Perhaps it wasn't in the budget.

But wiggling. Strangely satisfying, considering how annoying she'd been.

I'm thinking the budget limitations hit the second part of the movie harder than the first. The rocks got smaller, maybe just 4 gallon size, but new kinds of rocks - a "new element" - started forming. Something in a gobbledy-gook explanation claimed that ozone formed them inside the mega storm, which was in turn caused by undersea volcanos. I'm sure the writers of this flick counted on the scientific illiteracy of typical Americans to sell this concept, while it basically showed theirs. To show these new rocks, the props department designed lumpy round boulders coated with iridescent plastic wrap, torched holes in the plastic, then coated them with fake frost. If you still needed help knowing which were the new kind of rocks, they rocked. Literally, puns or no, sitting on the ground these things rocked back and forth. This difference became important to tell because the ones rocking would finally explode. Unstable, you see.

Not enough drama already, you see.

When the authorities finally woke up and took action, the order went out for everybody to evacuate Boston and keep off the streets. Yep, simultaneously. And of course this major city was successfully evacuated - except for the people left, of course - in minutes without fuss or panic.

Much of the plot was completely predictable. The best of the good guys survived, of curse. The bratty teenager reformed and the family reunited, happily ever after. The authorities didn't believe our hero-experts at first, allowing for more mayhem and deaths. Before resolving the crisis, the worst of those not only stopped our guys with a half-assed apology, but did it after the 1 minute timer on the nuclear bomb had been started. However, a big rock eliminated her on the spot so the heroes could proceed. It didn't matter that they'd been delayed, however, as the final four seconds before the nuke exploded solving all their problems took about 35 seconds anyway.

Oh, yeah, that all needed a spoiler alert, didn't it? Because you're gonna watch, right?

Oops. My bad.

One of the advantages of having a DVR is the ability to pause while somebody goes to rummage for sandwich fixings. I happened to be the one sitting waiting, staring at the last frame of a commercial that wound up fitting perfectly with this movie. It told us to call them for a digital brochure!