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The Board of Directors grudgingly gave me permission to write another entry about my pal Charles Dickens. Alas for most people Mr. D is trotted out only once a year at Christmas time. I concur his “A Christmas Carol” is a masterpiece but not for the manifest reason it is a thumping good story.  After a few flops Charlie Boy needed a bang-slap success sale and fast – which he did but his genius is he did it through a story meant to bitch-slap the 1% who could afford to buy it. 

Dickens was a lifelong advocate for The Poor. You will be shocked, shocked, shocked to know The Rich in his time believed poverty was the result of ones laziness and all your own fault; if you would only work harder you can pull yourself up by your bootstraps. Indeed, to assist the poor makes them worse off and upsets social and divine justice.*

Dickens felt otherwise: success on a personal level is meaningless without engaging with others in the world.  He wanted to get this point through the obstinate heads of thems in charge in a way they would actually listen. He did this through his works. Let’s go have a look see.

“A Christmas Carol” starts almost comic: “Marley was dead as a door nail”.  This is not chance. We need to know he is dead so the ghost is recognized as real and not coming from Scrooge’s own senses. Often in film Jacob Marley is the rushed introduction to get to the meaty middle. In the book Jacob Marley is a center character critical to story.

Scrooge in an amalgam of the 19th century elite. When the specter appears Scrooge can’t understand why Marley is chained: he was a good businessman who succeeded through persistent and self-made industry – good Protestant English virtues. Jacob explains plainly he is cursed because he did not do the actual task of Life: look outward and help others. Another small but crucial detail to Marley is showing Scrooge an escape from damnation will do him no good. This ain’t no “It’s a wonderful life” where Clarence earns his wings through a goodly deed. Marley does NOT get redemption for he is one of the damned. This is bone chilling!  In the better renditions of “A Christmas Carol” the directors keep the novel’s next scene where Marley shows Scrooge the legions of the damned roaming the earth impotent to help themselves and others. 

Sometimes modern readers criticize Dickens for creating a character who too quickly changes his approach. Scrooge’s transformation is too pat. It is hard to believe believe; we believe true transition takes time as anyone in counseling can attest. This is based on our failure to recognize Ebenezer is visited by a genuine ghost from hell ascertaining there is divine justice and the reality of eternal punishment. 

Thanks to this book Dickens transformed Christmas into the holiday we all now know, which includes ‘giving to the poor’. May The Ghost of Jacob Marley continue to haunt and remind us charity, mercy, forbearance, and benevolence remain our true business. 

 

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*Aren’t you glad you live in the 21st century where such a thing never happens?

Last week an agent from a laboratory company came to the clinic and gave us lunch. In return we listened to her presentation on genetic testing. I had to refrain myself from calling out the razzle-dazzle hype and downright rubbish.  I wanted to say there is no good evidence (yet) genetic testing ‘improves patient care” (whatever that loose term means) and since insurance doesn’t cover genetic testing ordering it as ‘pay out of pocket’ borders on patient cruelty.

Nothing quite gets me into a swivet as pseudoscience. It is like fool’s gold: it looks genuine and so much cheaper and available yet it’s trash.

There’s been a lot of hype on the internet lately about Herr Furor and his myrmidons banning seven words.* One of the words is ‘evidence-based”. Medicine is slowly going from ‘time-honored’ treatments to ‘evidence-based” and a good thing too. Imagine your physician telling you to take some sort of treatment without any proper data backing up its efficacy.

I spend a lot of my professional life telling patients the ‘facts as I know them’ rather than what they want to hear (usually along the line what they are doing is OK).  I find it appalling anyone would reject something ‘evidence-based’ in lieu of dogma or delusion or desire, but it is human nature to do just that.

Ironically I am always on the look-out for evidence-based information to change as more evidence comes along to alter it. This is science; this is how to test a hypothesis. The solution to ‘bad science’ is not ‘no science’ but ‘more science’. Alas, I sometimes forget not everyone wants to learn and grow and not everyone prefers Truth to Belief.

Meanwhile, I keep asking questions and calling out the B.S. It isn’t very satisfactory but it is better than going along with rubbish.

 

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*The truth of the story is these seven words are not ‘banned’ nor is this the dirty work of Hair Furor. It is a list of recommended words not to put into a governmental grant proposals lest the GOPers read them, wig out, and reject the grant out of reflex paranoia.  It was suggested to use alternative words to better the chances of getting your grant. After you get the money, then proceed as usual.  It is still an awful thing to have to do viz. pussyfoot around word-choice , but in all fairness we all do this to some degree with our bosses, relatives, sales people etc. to get what we want out of them.

A few Spo-fans have asked for stories and details about the wedding. There were the usual things: we held hands and made promises. Pictures were taken. Afterwards well-wishers came up with outstretched hands and congratulations were given.

What I thought I would write about was something that happened that was unexpected and wonderful.

We got married by a California County justice of the peace. This required having an appointment and ‘standing in line’ as it were. Before our appointment was a young couple, eloquently dressed in nice white and black satin suits. They had a wedding party of four or five people, probably friends and family. Our coterie consisted of Someone and Urs Truly – dressed in smart jackets with flower corsages – and our acolytes who were mostly in Spo-shirts.

Just before our turn to say I do, while I was at the glass window registering my information, I felt a finger tap on my shoulder. I turned around to see a young man of about twenty. He introduced himself as Oscar; his bride was Adrianna. Oscar was dressed in a red T-shirt and khaki pants. In broken English he asked would I witness his wedding registration. They could not get married without a witness; they had no one to do so. A lot rushed through my mind in the five second pause before I said yes. Where were their friends and family? Why were they alone? What was their story? Adrianna explained they had a 3yo was ‘she was at home’.  Apparently they were on break from their restaurant jobs to come to city hall to get hitched. Oscar tried to give me twenty dollars but Adrianna told him that would be insulting to me. What I didn’t say at the time was they had just made my wedding day into something marvelous beyond measure.

After Someone and I got hitched it was their turn. There they stood, alone, facing each other, both wearing nice but inexpensive clothing so unlike the first couple mentioned. I was glad our wedding separated the two couples, lest O and A felt bad by the finery of the first couple (or worse, made fun of). In the brief ceremony, Mr. Oscar struggled a bit with the English; Ms. Adriana struggled a bit to hold back tears. Where was Urs Truly? He was running around with her camera, taking as many photos as he could muster. I wondered: if I hadn’t said yes, would they had been with no one to take any photos?

Someone et. al. waited for me out in the hall. Afterwards, we came out and the two wedding parties combined for a permutation of photos and all shook hands and kissed the bride (although some of us I suspect wanted to kiss the groom rather). They assured me I would be always welcome at the restaurant where they worked; they would make sure I was treated well.

I never got their names. I probably won’t ever see them again.

That night Someone and I took our friends to eat at a very fancy Palm Springs restaurant. The wine flowed as they say. While we dined I saw young Hispanic types running around busing tables and pouring water and waiting on rich white folks. Throughout dinner I thought of Oscar and Adrianna, also now married and probably eating on break at the restaurant. I compared the couples in my mind. Someone and I are well off and we solidified twenty years together – about the same time as the ages of Adrianna and Oscar. They were just starting off; they have their lives ahead of them. I sense they will struggle with funds, free time, and a raising a child (born out of wedlock).  I also thought of that awful man in the White House, who wants to vilify people like this hardworking couple.

I thank The Fates for arranging these crossed threads for the lessons they provided me.

It’s Saturday morning and I am up to my ears in There’s-work-to-be-done Spo-chores. But I pause in my industry to scribble out an entry.  

This one is for the Spo-fans who are bibliophiles and members of the clerisy.

I surmise when I am old and haggard* the one pleasure left will be the memory of books. When I need cheering up I can think back on the TGR (thumping good reads) I have experienced. If my eyesight is fortunate I can reopen a few of these blessed tomes and visit old friends. Milo, Alice, Bilbo Baggins, and the Pevensies are not gone but only waiting.

I don’t recall how I found it, but amazon.com had for sale a book from my childhood: “Ghosts and Goblins”. It’s been 45 years since I have read it. I was a rapacious reader in elementary school. G&G was one of those books I never tired to reread. Back then, library books had little pouches inside them with index cards upon which you signed your name at check-out. You could see the book’s check-out history, who all had read it prior. The library had to keep replacing the card, for I would fill them up.

Synchronicity and the pending holiday demanded I purchase the book. It arrived yesterday.

Is there anything as rapturous as holding a book you once upon a time cherished so? Kindle will never capture the feel and redolence of an old book. They smell of ink, old paper, binding gum, and childhood. They are an olfactory delight as well as a TGR. Even the feel of the pages turning is a pleasure.

As mentioned I haven’t read the stories in 45 years, but they all came back quickly. The illustrations elicited delights of recognition “Oh! I remember you!” I refused to go to bed but stayed up lost in a world of ghouls, goblins, and grindylows.

As a boy I remember the book as large and lofty and the stories as complicated.  The book is much smaller than I recall. The stories were charming, but hardly the erudite compositions I thought they were. Most of them were simple folk-tales written for a ten-year-old to enjoy.  So in some way the book was a disappointment, a let down –  ‘it wasn’t what I remembered”.

On the other hand my inner-ten-year-old was thrilled as if he had won the lottery. The memories of the stories and the countless trips to the library came out of the pages.

All month long I’ve tried to capture the puerile emotions of Halloween with little success. This book did so. Better yet it revived the love of reading.  I could not ask for anything better.

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*2018 is a good guess.

I am slowly editing my entries in anticipation of publishing.  I found this entry from August 2010. I thought I would repost it. I am not one for reruns, but I thought the newer Spo-fans may enjoy it.

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When I was a boy, there was a walk-in closest at the top of the stairs. It was more like a tiny attic. I remember it full up with boxes and hanging garment bags, which were stuffed with moth balls. I never knew their contents; I don’t recall my parents every going into them.

From time to time I would go into the closest, shut the door, and experience darkness. It was the only place I knew with a complete black out. I often went when things were quiet so I could not hear anything as well. It wasn’t necessary to do, but I would close my eyes. I would wrap myself in a blanket, and experience Nothing.

Sometimes I went there to get away from it all. Sometimes I went because I hoped to go somewhere. I was thrilled by the stories of “Alice in Wonderland”, “The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe”, and “The Phantom Tollbooth.”  I was waiting for one of these retreats to open Time and Space revealing some other dimension.

I liked the Nothing. I imagined while in this state I had ceased to exist. Nobody could remember who I was; I had never been. It was calming and thrilling. The curious thing was I do not remember experiencing this as Death. What I was experiencing was something different.  It was a total sensory deprivation, long before water tanks were conceived.

I never made this journey alone; I always brought one item with me. It was often my teddy bear. Sometimes it was merely a familiar blanket or toy. Apparently this anchor kept me safe for the journey that I would not completely dissolve into Void. My transitional object would allow me to return, if I wanted.

In these Journeys, I don’t remember thinking about anything, nor was I scared. As a boy I liked a night light, as the night time dark was unsettling. This total darkness was an ineffable something else.

Nobody ever knew I did this. There was no ‘Where have you been hiding? We’ve missed you!” to greet me when I came back.

Once in a while, when I am having a sad or painful day – or when I am just curious – I will enter the present walk-in closet, shut the door, and stand still.  While there is dark, there is no sensation of Nothing. To do this replication now feels foolish. There is a sense of disappointment. There is no sensation of a possible time warp, no door to another place (either external or internal). I am a middle aged man obliged to stay where I am. There is no need for a teddy bear or any safety object, as I am firmly anchored here; no chance of dissolving away.

I would give a lot to re-enter that  childhood closet at the top of the stairs.

I never told anyone this, not even my analysts.

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Summers used to be different. Here in Phoenix summer is a hot, tedious time, something to be endured while you wish it would end. When I was growing up, summer was a different cup of tea. Summertime in the Midwest had thunderstorms and public pools. There were trips to Lake Michigan and Mackinac Island. What you ate in summer could not be consumed at the other times of the year. Strawberries were a June treat while blueberries (you pick them yourself) were in August. There was also corn on the cob, homegrown tomatoes, and Sun Tea for days. Afterwards, Father drove us down to DQ for small chocolate cones.

None of these summer matters happen anymore. These foodstuffs are found at any time of the year now and without the proper context they seem out of place. Could it be they also tasted better back then? I wonder.

What do I miss most? Deviled eggs. These summer lovelies were ubiquitous at family reunions and church picnics. The Midwest matrons brought theirs in plastic deviled egg trays; the more stylish ones used glass or crystal. Nowadays there are endless varieties of deviled eggs recipes, but the ones  from my youth tasted the same: egg yolk and mayonnaise sprinkled all over with paprika. Deviled eggs were what summer tasted like. No one worried about cholesterol but ate three or four and perhaps a fifth when you thought no one was looking.

Once in a while I fancy making some but it would be a lonely endeavor. Someone doesn’t like eggs and deviled eggs are his “Rats in Tewkesbury”. I suspect deviled eggs in September is like wearing white – none after Labor Day. I will pass. Perhaps Santa Clause can locate a deviled egg tray in a garage sale in Minnesota and give it to me at Christmas. Next July for a birthday treat I will make me a tray and eat them with relish and remember the summers of yore.

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Mustelids (for thems unfamiliar with the lot) are long sleek furry critters. They are a happy furry family, consisting of ferrets, weasels, otters, and such.*

I have known many in my life, both the four-legged and the two-legged varieties.

I once kissed a skunk. While visiting a national park I met a ranger who had a ‘pet skunk’; tourists could get their photo taken holding it. As I leaned down “Violet’ reached up and gave me a lick. Since then I have been kissed by a several more skunks and not so sweet.

As mustelids go, weasels are long, devious, and tricky, like my men. I’ve dated a few weasels, so I know one when I see one. Someone used to have a boss whom I christened ‘The Sleazy Weasel’. He was well over four feet which is rather large for a weasel.

I come from a family of Wolverines; one of them married a Badger. These two types of mustelids tend to quarrel and become quite fractious during football season.

 

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I am rather fond of Otters, who are lean, furry, cute, and like to hold hands.

Ferrets, skunks, and weasels used to be found congregated in dens such as on Halsted St. in Chicago. Nowadays they are more scattered. They are likely found on line using apps. They are fond of chicken.

If you are interested in locating a mustelid, Wikipedia describe mustelid for you:

“They are typically with short legs, round ears, and thick fur. Most of them are solitary, nocturnal; they have anal scent glands that produce a strong-smelling secretion used for sexual signaling. “

So act accordingly.

Personally I am sticking with bears.

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*This includes the honey badger but he don’t care.

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Last night we saw the most amazing theatre. It was the play “Spoon River”. It is set in a small town Illinois cemetery. The folks buried there all rise up to tell their tales. They talked about their ‘real stories’ now forgotten or hidden behind the sugar-coated epitaphs on their tombstones. The common theme of was the dead all had regrets of what they hadn’t done while alive.  It was not morbid; the dead were not bitter.The show was far from grim but uplifting. Go out and live your life to the fullest they said. The last character, a fiddler, who died with little to his name, finished the play saying he went to his grave with no regrets. He played a merry gigue, and the play ended with the all dead inviting the audience to the bar for a drink on the house.

I know a lot of people (Urs Truly included) who put aside doing the things they want or should do because they are scared. Fears of failure, shame, compromise, vanity, or humiliation are allowed to scare enough they don’t change jobs or partners or reveal something they long to express. We don’t do what makes our lives really matter.

“Spoon River” reminded me contemplating Death is dark but useful tool to address inaction and stagnation. Death is a larger, scarier, and more efficacious tool than those listed fears for putting the fire under our backsides to get things done.  Death  should be used not to scare us from life but for doing the things we should do.

Be liberated by fear to get on with everything else that so badly needs doing.

Every day remember and frighten yourself how sudden death can happen out of accidents or how ill health can rob you of years of majesty. Talk to those over seventy about how swiftly their lives flew by.  On the hopeful grounds you will live to eighty, make a calendar that says ‘you have this many summers left”.

In my home office sitting among the books is my Northwest Pacific Native American cedar bent-box. It is the traditional resting place for ashes. I see it every day; it reminds me someday – soon? –  I will be in that box. On the refrigerator is a photo magnet of The Pointe Betsie Lighthouse. It reminds me on its shore my ashes will be scattered.  Both items remind me to mind each day and make it worthwhile.

Lord willing, I have approximately twenty-six remaining summers. I must strive to make jam-packed and meaningful as possible so when I join The Spoon River Cemetery I too can feel as the fiddler at having beheld a marvelous journey.

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Yesterday I saw a play “The Audience” starring Helen Mirren as The Queen. Every week for about thirty minutes she meets with the current prime minister. These meetings are not recorded; no one knows what they discuss. She has lived long enough to have met twelve PMs – “the dirty dozen” she calls them at play’s end.  It was extraordinary theatre for many reasons but what struck me most was the theme of endurance.  The PMs vacillated through time between stanch conservatives and agrestic liberals.  In contrast, Her Majesty remains constant. It reminded me of a scene in the movie “Young Victoria” in which the young monarch is advised by her aunt the Queen Dowager not to be fearful but persevere. “Prime ministers come and they go but you stay”. The play made me think about my own alleged constancy among vicissitude. I identified with Mrs. Betty Windsor sense of aging while watching transients.

After the show as I drove home I wondered about the countless people who have come and gone in my lifetime. The present people are the mere tip of the iceberg of those who have been but are now gone. In the half-century of my life  I have known myriads of people: friends, acquaintances, colleagues, and patients. Even my relations have turned over as the generations die and are replaced with ones I harder know.

Synchronicity is at hand. I am in the process of going through Spo-reflections to tidy up the grammar errors prior to print. The early year entries are full of references to bloggers no longer blogging  -most of them I can’t recall who they were. In my own reign in The Kingdom of Spo I have seen people come and go. I stay.

Like E2 I wonder have I done my duty. Have I remained stalwart in my duties of life, love, and work? Is the price of living seeing everyone depart on you, like sitting on a bench as the parade passes by?  It’s a marvelous parade, but it leaves one with a sense of loneliness.  I go on a journey; people join for while but go off on their own paths, and others join mine.  We try to take joy in whoever is before us for the while*: we hold on to our memories; we appreciate the marvelous Journey.

 

 

*Exception: Margaret Thatcher, who is portrayed in the play boorish and tedious, like someone next to you on the bus you have to endure until one of you gets off, hopefully soon.

Yes, it is another rerun. There are some entries for which I am more proud so far back I doubt many Spo-fans know they are there. So I figured to replicate a few, particularly the Spo Tales.  They are rawther unusual.

maya_jaguar The Lord-Great-Jaguar-Paw ruled a kingdom so old and ancient the homes and palaces were heated with rocks still cooling down from the Archaean. Lord-Great-Jaguar-Paw was the king’s official title as his preferred name “Most butch” was deemed too silly.

Lord-Great-Jaguar-Paw (known to his mother as Kitten) lorded over a very large province and a large family. His children were a source of great joy – and a puzzlement – for surely, he had ED. Yet every year Queen Sheila-Badger-Breath put out another child.  “Goodness knows where she gets them!” he would exclaim.

Some of his children were a worry. His oldest was a charming boy who liked nothing better than to make paper airplanes and race cars out of pinewood. Since neither of these means of transport would be invented for  ~ 3000 years  no one understood what the hell they were for.

The second son was a merry lad who liked nothing more than to arrange flowers and design next year’s robes for the high priests. He also choreographed the slaves who danced at the tate banquets. “He will make some woman a good husband!”  LGJP would say to with mild satisfaction.

The third son had the unfortunate name of Evelyn. Apparently no one looked closely when he was born, and by the time of his baptism it was too late.

In a month that had two Mondays in the same week, Evelyn fell sick. He was speaking in tongues nonstop. At first it was assumed he was having blessings from the gods; people came from afar to hear his words. But soon it became apparent Evelyn was as crazy as a shi-t house rat.

IMG_4104LGJP called for The Fabulous-Spo-Hugger-and-Kisser-of-Bears, M.D. to practice his craft. Dr. FSHB realized if he was discovered for the great physician he is, he would never be released from service. Besides, he had theatre tickets that evening. At first he denied who he was. But with threats to cut off his tea supply, he changed his mind. He performed his shaman dance and sang prayers. He injected Thorazine. Lo! Evelyn was better and FSHKB’s worse fears were realized: he was appointed court shrink to LGJP.

viagra.jpgHe became famous for his healing. A little blue diamond-shaped pill from the far off kingdom of Pfizer cured LGJP of his personal problem, much to the chagrin of his wife.

prozac.jpgHe also cured the queen of her depression. He chose not to use the old Sumerian recipe of smashed pearls, cobra venom and mare’s blood (a remedy that killed as swift as any knife to the side). Rather, he administered a little green and white pill. Her relief was great but alas, she was no longer interested in sex, let alone with LGJP.

So Lord-Great etc. took onto himself a new wife and soon there were another troop of kiddies banging up the palace furniture.

To everyone’s surprise, Sheila did not hate the new queen.

The moral of this legend?  People are incalculable.

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