One of my favorite Earth Fare stories involves (very peripherally) me (an Earth Fare cashier), sitting on the curb around the side of the building past the Green Sage restaurant – having my lunch. Two young Asian (best as I can tell) women come walking from the grocery store, across the parking lot, carrying one very full bag of groceries. (I never fill a bag that full – they would definitely have carried out two bags of groceries from me, unless they had demanded only one, in which I would have given them my standard, only-partly-tongue-in-cheek disclaimer, “The Earth Fare company is no longer responsible for the safety of your groceries. If the bag breaks, it’s all on you. 🙂“
As these two girls are walking across the parking lot, their bag does actually break! It doesn’t just break – it positively explodes, and groceries go shooting in all directions! I’m a little holding my breath to see how these poor young women respond to such a setback.
And they laughed! They laughed hysterically! They laughed like this was one of the funniest things they had seen in their whole lives! Every time I tell this story – of their “unreasonable happiness” – I feel happy.
About ten minutes ago, as I was taking my generic Zyrtec allergy medicine (I’m allergic to my dog), I – in my ill state – dropped by pill bottle and little white pills exploded everywhere. I looked down – at these little white pills all around and on top of my stockinged feet – and I started to laugh! The whole scene looked really funny! I laughed until I snorted and made all kinds of random noises. I thought back to those two girls and felt proud to be in their lineage. This made me even happier.
Michael Singer’s definition of “enlightened” is “unreasonably happy” – happy that does not require any particular reason for being happy, happy that cannot be dented by spilled groceries or little white pills, or even sometimes bigger things than that. You may have pain or sadness or all kinds of human reactions – but then you eventually do (and always knew that you would) return to your baseline of happiness.
OK, I genuinely am pretty sick today. My nose is running, my head is in cotton, I am coughing and sneezing and I am weak overall. Even before I got this sick, I agreed with some Jubilee Facebook friends last night that I should not attend either Jubilee service today, but instead “keep my fucking germs out of the Celebration Room”.
But Pancho had not gotten an evening walk last night because it was raining hard and she won’t go out the door if it is raining even a little. So, when she slept in late even for her at 10 a.m. – not having peed since 5 p.m. yesterday – she seemed in no hurry to get going, but I hustled her into her harness and sweater and towards the door. “You’re going to explode, girl!”
I was just going to take her across the street – to pee on the grass in front of the AT&T building – but the morning was balmy, my offending foot was not hurting as much as it did when I first got up this morning, and (though even I was not yet conscious of this motivation) Jubilee, a mere two blocks away, was calling.
Every day, when Pancho and I walk past the entrance of the Wall St. Garage and get to the front end of Wall St., at the corner of Otis, we have a choice of making a left turn down Wall St. (my overall preference – and occasionally Panchita’s) or continuing south around the jeweler’s, to make a left on Patton. (Pancho’s usual preference, for reasons I can’t ascertain.) By this time, I was clear that this morning I really did want to go by Jubilee – and allowed myself to prevail in our decision-making. (“Yes Panchita, I realize that this really is your walk – but that doesn’t mean you always get to have your way.”)
As we walked down the block towards Jubilee, I did some quick negotiating with myself about entering the building. “I’ll hang in the hallway close to the front door. It would be so good to even momentarily be in there with my peeps, to hear Amy’s sweet voice, to maybe sing a song.” (“Yeah, right – you’re going to sing today.”) “If I cough or sneeze, I will leave immediately.” I never actually did cough or sneeze while I was in that sacred space.
Almost as soon as we got inside, my good buddy Wendy Lynn Nethersole came my way – offering a hug. I waved her off, using all kinds of ridiculous little mime gestures to try to indicate that I was not well – and, certified intuitive that she is, she did get my drift. Then she went to the back of the hall, just past the hallway, was approached by Gabriel and immediately they shared one of the sweetest, most lyrical dances I’ve seen him do – they both were absolutely radiant.
I heard the very end of Amy’s talk and the Lakota prayer she read. The references to ease and “inner knowing” so directly reflected the blog I had feverishly transcribed this morning – as Spirit dictated to me – “The Avenging Angel”, about obeying the guidance of Spirit to intervene in the oppression around you with loud, righteous anger and, if necessary, physical violence. (I know that Amy did not preach this morning about this exact element of ease and inner knowing, but she tells me that this material was actually in the first draft of her talk, but she had to cut it at the very end in the interest of time:)).
If this Avenging Angel blog post is just a little too disturbing for you – or even, for you, raises concerns about whether I have lost it altogether – hang in and read “A Radical Reorganization of My Relationship with Rest“, which may reassure you that I am still trying to keep my feet on the ground.
Before the service broke up, there was some song that I found rhythmic and infectious and – I’m so sorry, all you accumulated doctors – I briefly did dance. No vertical, no jumping up and down – just shifting my weight from side to side, pursing my lips in various intense little rock and roll expressions, and moving my arms and torso in insanely sexy ways. The teen-aged girls sitting on the floor in the hallway next to me averted their eyes.
As Amy was wrapping the service up, I thought wistfully for a moment how nice it might be to hang in the back and say “Hi” to a few friends on their way out. But I knew that – even beside the germs issue – my energy just wasn’t up to this.
But I had gotten what I needed! Even a five-minute hit of Jubilee was great! Probably my only foray into the out of doors today. I will probably recruit Diana or Angie from my building to give Pancho a couple more walks today – and otherwise I will just write like a mother-fucker. Sometime today, I will watch one of the videos of Amy’s early services, which I had thought I would do promptly do at 11:18 – until sneaking in on the actual, physical, non-virtual Jubilee upstaged that plan.
(Even more wild than usual, though we are definitely trending in this direction)
John Clabaugh and Diana Buchanan and I get together almost every morning. We call ourselves “Diana and the Merry Pranksters”. We were together this morning, when John – who is a certifiable wild man and inspires Diana and I to greater wildness – said,
“I went to this workshop at Jubilee! yesterday about racism – and the facilitator told us that ‘we should be angry about this about racism’ and ‘we should be angry about that about racism’. And I went to that place like a good little participant: I got angry. But then they didn’t give us any way to release the anger and I sat there with the anger for the rest of the workshop and I’m still angry today. I want to do something with it.”
“You, Mr. Poet”, John says to me – “You should write a poem that uses the 5 Rhythms we use in the ecstatic dancing world. It would build slow, hit a crescendo – where we can release our anger at racism – and then relax back down.”
I got excited about this and said “Yes, let’s do it at Jubilee!, that will be awesome. I’m doing a gift on December 1, describing my recent waking up process – but we could do this in the next quarter, when I can perform again. Maybe March or April.”
John says “I don’t wanna do it in March or April! I want to do it now! Right now, right here! I have this anger right now! Let’s do it now!”
My first reaction (in my head) was:
“Now, right now? No – I’m barely awake yet. Two hours ago I thought I was desperately depressed! I can’t generate a spontaneous poem right here.”
My second reaction was:
‘This is so fucking exciting! I have to do this!”
And so – there around this picnic bench outside of Trade and Lore coffee shop across from Jubilee!, on Wall St., we went there. I generated a spontaneous poem and John and Diana generated the sound effects. I improvised a true story about my life with racism – starting with my sleepy, lily-white suburb…building all the way up to the complete insanity of the police riot outside of the 1968 Democratic Convention in Chicago. Tear gas!!! Mace!!! Billy clubs!!! “They’re trying to kill us!!!” John and Diana release the anger that I am referring to in the poem I am creating – with lots of bizarre noises, wild gestures and generally a lot of volume. Passers-by are swinging further and further around our little table :).
And then we move into the “lyrical” – happy – 4th Rhythm. And before we can ever get to the 5th Rhythm, stillness, we are all laughing hysterically. This was so much fucking fun!! It has made me happy all day. Every time I remember our little scene, I get happy. Look for John and Diana and I to take the whole Jubilee Community through a new ecstatic poem and new process of ecstatic release of our anger – all of us in the Celebration Room that day – about racism, at both Jubilee celebrations on December 15.
I have slandered someone’s good name on the Internet. “I’m so sorry, Dr.___!” “I’m so sorry, Thay!”
I was so pissed-off at this fucking doctor that I convinced myself I had a right to name him (instead of “this doctor”) when I bitched about my medical care on the Internet. “Hey, other people need to be protected from him – right?!”
In the same blog post, I compared this “lousy doctor” with my “wonderful” primary physician. It was only when one of my Facebook friends (and – really, I would say – a “real friend”, who I don’t see often) left a Comment on my post in which she attacked my beloved doc that I realized the impact of what I had just done.
“If I am so angry about what she just said about my doctor, then why would not some of this doctor’s patients be really hurt and angry to hear what I said about him?”
Included in the Buddhist teaching of non-violence is a point about “violent speech”: slandering someone, injuring their good name. Good Buddhist that I have tried (sometimes) to be, this principle has always set a little uneasy with me – even while I can sense that it probably is right. “What about freedom of speech?… What about spontaneity?…What about consumer protection?…Sometimes saying someone is a bad apple is the only thing with integrity.”
Right…and if you buy those arguments as an excuse for doing damage to someone’s reputation, I’ve got a bridge to sell you.
Many of the learnings from “waking up” come all in a flash – but many others unfurl gradually, progressively over time. Even a relatively good learner can learn only so much at a time.
Waking up opened up to me a whole new world of insight, awareness and clear vision. But – even with the unfailing guidance of Spirit – I am still only imperfectly able to hear or understand what Spirit is telling me. I did not understand that becoming “enlightened” (I’ll use that esoteric word for a teaching purpose here, even though I don’t much like the rarified sound of it) starts with an explosion, but then continues through many continued mini-teachings.
My recent infected foot crisis was a manifestation of my crisis in my relationship with rest. I’ve never been a true workaholic. Enneagram 7’s are all about play and creativity. But we are poly-addictive. We usually float among many different addictions, rather than settling in with one – which would be, let’s face it, boring.
But when there is no romance or sporting or other juicy thing around for us to feast excessively on, we can pursue work addictively – to suck all the juice we can get out of it. And when it’s creative, fun work that we are doing, it can be hard for a good little 7 to resist. In my 20’s, I used to say that I wanted a tattoo reading “Everything to excess.” I also used to say “I want to experience everything once. And, if I didn’t like it the first time, then maybe twice – in case the first debacle was just a fluke.”
A couple of weeks ago, the insights and visions were coming at me through a fire hose – there was just no way I could keep up with all the blog posts wanting to be born. I took to making voice recordings walking down the street with my dog – or even, sorry you other drivers, when I was driving. But many of these blog posts are still sitting, unharvested, in my phone. I became almost desperate to retrieve everything I had seen, heard, felt or finally understood.
I have for my whole life had a tormented relationship with sleep. I have always been too excited about being awake to want to spend my time unconscious. When, starting in my forties, I started manifesting the symptoms of “depression” (these days I am insisting on substituting the word “contraction”), one of the strongest symptoms that something was going terribly wrong – that I was truly suffering from excruciating pain – was that I wanted only to be asleep, to be unconscious.
For three years in my early thirties, I was an extremely passionate “disciple” of a guru (his disciples affectionately called him “guru”), Sri Chinmoy, who encouraged you to function with minimal sleep. I learned so much in those three years, had so many gorgeous spiritual experiences. I still think, after some controversy about him has emerged, especially since his passing in 2007, that he was the real McCoy – that I can still trust most of what went down for me in those three years. He was the meditation teacher of famous guitarists Mahavishnu John McLaughlin and Devadip Carlos Santana, whose album Love, Devotion and Surrender made guitar jazz history.
align=”alignnone” width=”400″] Sri Chinmoy with “Mahavishnu” John McLaughlin and “Devadip” Carlos Santana, on the back of their classic progressive jazz guitar album “Love, Devotion and Surrender” – named for the three pillars of Bhakti Yoga. [/caption]
But Sri Chinmoy’s attitude towards sleep – one of his books is titled Sleep – Death’s Little Sister – was a dangerous influence on this imbalanced boy. When I got off that path, I consulted a “holistic” chiropractor for some disturbing physical symptoms I was having. He ran some blood work and did some other tests and told me:
“Your adrenal gland is shot – shrunk down to almost nothing. You are going to have to get a lot of rest for a long time – and take a lot of expensive supplements, which I can sell you – to rebuild it. When you get excited about some idea or activity, make your first step be to take a nap.”
Was it just that I was experiencing whiplash from suddenly jumping off the speeding train that was the source of my momentum – that I had wandered away from Shangri La, the only place that kept aging at bay? I think some of that probably was true.
Since “waking up” three months ago, the whole-body physical pain that for thirty years has defined what I have called “depression” has gotten more painful. And, whereas it had obtained only during my “depressed” periods (averaging maybe three weeks, but sometimes much longer), now it is with me 24/7, whether my energy is expanded (“mania”) or contracted (“depression”).
I have averaged four hours of sleep a night for three months. Was it truly accurate when I would say that “I wake up in such pain that I can’t lay in bed any more and go looking for something to distract me from the pain, even if the best thing I can come up with is reading the Washington Post online.” (I am a huge political junkie – especially scanning for any signs that Trump is imploding or that Elizabeth Warren is finding her voice and picking up momentum.)
Being “awake” now does not give me license to abuse my body. Two weeks ago – when my doctors were sternly telling me to “stay off that foot” and “keep it elevated” – I was totally blowing off their prescribed treatment, in service of my writing. Yeah, I would try to do my word processing on the love seat in my living room with my laptop on my lap – with my foot elevated on a pillow on the coffee table and my trusty dog next to me
– but when I could no longer stay awake sitting down, I would stand for hours at my “standing desk” (my laptop on top of my dresser), so that I could keep cranking out creative product. In my excitement to capture and convey the fantastic insights I was having, the beautiful visions I was viewing, I just did not know how to stop.
The “Support” blog post that I wrote a few weeks ago was imbalanced – and reflected some of the ascetic “pushing” that characterizes the old me more than the new me. It would be an interesting exercise to annotate it with what in it I still feel/believe – and what not. But not interesting enough to make it worth doing. Annotating their writing is something you do with a great man – or a compulsively lying president.
I used to like quoting Swami Vivekananda,
the Indian teacher who in the 1890’s brought Eastern spirituality in a big way to the U.S. One of his most famous quotes was “I’d rather burn out than rust out.” Well, I may have “woken up” (whatever exactly that means – I’m obviously still learning this), but I sure ain’t no Swami Vivekananda. I’m just a baby at this waking up stuff.
Going into the hospital for my badly infected foot stopped me. My neighbor Angie brought in my laptop. Otherwise all those hours in the hospital bed – and then chair – could have been so excruciatingly boring. I still could write, but could not move to my standing desk when I couldn’t stay awake in a sitting position. I had almost no option but to let myself drift off – if only for a few minutes.
I was still able to wake up at three in the morning on my second night there, and say to myself “The world – and even, mostly, this hospital ward – is quiet. This is my chance to hold off on the emails and the Washington Post online, and to do the task I have most been wanting to do – to create that new blog” (this blog) “on Waking Up.“ And I had – exhausted from being delirious the previous night and getting almost no sleep – gone to bed at 9 p.m. and, aside from the one time the nurse came in during the night to take my “vitals”, already had a very solid six hours of sleep.
These days, if I am falling asleep over my laptop on the love seat, I don’t go to the “standing desk”/dresser – I go to bed. Even if I actually do not go back to sleep – even if I just lie there quietly or even a little restlessly from so much still going on in my head – being in the bed breaks my momentum, says to my poor worn-out body “Rest is possible. I am committed to taking kinder care of you. It’s a new world.”
My Panchita loves to sleep. She can be a role model for me around this, can help me to keep some balance in this area. She hates getting up before 9 a.m. Some dogs, when they wake up, are almost immediately up and ready for action. Pancho would rather laze in the bed for another half-hour.
(to see all posts about “My Mystic Role”, scroll to the bottom of the page and enter “My Mystic Role” in the Search box, then click on the Search button.)
About a month after my Integrity Day on June 26, when I was pretty much immersed in learning to walk my new woke-up walk, a message presented itself to me that has been enormously helpful to me in organizing and making sense of so much that has been happening through me. I resist sharing it with others (so far have only confided it to my really good buddy Tom Kilby),
because it does actually sound kind of cracked – and might be a stumbling block to some people in getting their hands around what is going on for me. But if it so greatly helps me as I try to make a sense of some elements of my waking up – especially the aggressive edge I am manifesting – maybe it actually can help others. I think we all hear voices all the time – us talking to ourselves, all the different sub-personalities that the Internal Family Systems therapists work with: not so much the members of our biological family, but our “internal family” – all the wild and woolly characters running around in our psyche. So we’ve all got all of those voices running around in us, we are all having conversations with ourselves all the time. But sometimes a voice – even if it is really coming from some very deep place in ourselves, to which we seldom have access – sounds so distinctly other that it really gets our attention.
Maybe the only other time I remember this happening for me was in a dream – one of only two dreams I ever remember with no video, only audio. I was, in a week’s time, going to move into an apartment right on Lake Michigan in Chicago. Chicago, where the Burnham Plan in the 1890’s preserved almost the entire lakefront within the city limits as park – to be enjoyed by everyone – actually does have a couple of little neighborhoods where people get to live right on the lakefront.
Rogers Park – the farthest north neighborhood in Chicago before you cross into Evanston, which has Northwestern University and multi-million-dollar homes right on the lake – had until-recently actually been a relatively unsafe neighborhood. Now the city had cleaned up most of the gang problems and it was becoming quite a nice neighborhood. But none of the neighbors were letting that secret out of the neighborhood – or none of us would, any longer, be able to afford living in our little counter-cultural/artist’s lakefront Shangri-La. A week before moving there, I had a dream in which this very deep, impressive voice said “The Lake is a great being. She will teach you if you let her.” Well, that particular message from My Inner Knowing/God/whatever sure proved out. I went to the Lake often – sometimes several times a day – for peace/coaching/sustenance.
When I started dating the lady Jennifer, I would frequently come back home from spending time with her, completely overwhelmed by the emotional power of the love that was developing in me for her – and/or my abject terror in the face of that run-amok intimacy. I would walk down to the beach, right next to my building, and “turn it over”.
If I used words (I often didn’t) they would be something like: “Mama” (Jennifer’s term for the Lake), “I am totally overwhelmed by all of this. I have no idea what to do with it. Please take it from me.” And then I would get quiet, turn it all over to the Lake – and wait for answers if they were to come (sometimes there would be a very clear message/coaching/marching order) or alternatively for the peace that would almost always descend on me in those late night moments of surrender by the Lake.
So my one time ever of hearing such particularly authoritative words from my Inner Pilot had worked out really well. So now these words – which I instinctively recognized as coming from that same inner or outer voice – really got my attention. “You are an Avenging Angel – you are the Sword of Truth.” These words, which I guess could have been pretty daunting or intimidating or even scary, had the opposite effect – I was instantly comforted by them. I knew immediately that they were true – that some essential part of me that I already knew was there, but had no ability to understand, had just been named. In that moment, I recognized a part of myself.
“Oh, I’m an Avenging Angel – that’s right! That makes sense of so much of what has been happening through me!” All the instances where I found myself – in a relaxed and natural and totally unplanned way – telling people off, confronting them with their lack of integrity, now made sense. The times when I had – in a completely uncharacteristic way – threatened another person with physical violence. And the several instances when I had moved into a place of very powerful righteous anger – sometimes absolutely screaming at people who had just done something particularly egregious, all times when that person’s behavior had the impact of attacking another person…assaulting their essence – instances where, in the moment, my surprising behavior felt utterly right to me, now also made sense in the face of this new identity, this mission.
I have, over the last few weeks, gotten more and more comfortable with this new identity as Avenging Angel. It no longer even is a big deal. It is my marching orders from Spirit. This entity within me can be a big surprise to people who have gotten comfortable with me seemingly always being a nice guy.
But it actually is not totally a surprise to me: I can see some ways in which the walk I have walked over the last 73 years has prepared me for this new role. I have for a long time been obsessed with integrity. I wrote a book (not yet published) called Radical Integrity. It is not really so surprising that I would be the one chosen to call out lack of integrity. About fifteen years after grad school, I was visiting in Philadelphia – her new home – with Madeleine Nathanson, the adorable, brilliant, sweet member of our little class of ten on whom almost all us guys had had a crush. I reminisced about that with her:
“You knew we all were crazy about you, didn’t you?”
“Yes, but my self-esteem was so low back then that I could not really register it. I didn’t trust it. Except when it came from you. You were the truth-teller in our class – the one who would consistently point out the bullshit in the room, even (especially?) when it came from faculty. When you would tell me I was wonderful I kind of believed it.”
So what am I do with this new charge from Spirit? Not take credit for it, clearly. I definitely am not doing any of it.
When I came back from standing on the street-corner where I was screaming at and menacing the mother-fucker across the street who had been taking pictures of our Diana (my Soul Friend), she – looking at me with big, adoring eyes – said,
“You protected your soul friend!”
“Yes I did – and I’ll do it every time, without thinking and without hesitation.”
Diana, who at that particular point in time was feeling abandoned on many fronts, absolutely needed to hear this and see this.
Then Diana distinctly changed her tone and said,
“I was scared. That guy was big. I was afraid he would come over here and beat you up.”
The following words, when they came out of my mouth, were clearly coming from another person than “John Madden” – but I knew and trusted them completely. I knew this was not a boast, but a simple statement of fact.
“You don’t need to worry. Trust me, Diana, in this mode it would be me who would be doing the beating up.”
A brand new part of me had been born. I was having a Hanta Yo moment. In that moment, I had a power behind me that came from someplace else and was absolutely unstoppable.
Occasionally – in that kind of moment or even remembering one – when I picture coming to blows with someone younger and bigger than I – I out-loud emit karate kiai ’s (power-shouts) that I kind of recognize from my old practice of karate, but which have a force and power that almost make me jump back. I’m sure they would throw any attacker completely off their game – might make them reconsider the whole venture of beating me up.
It had been a difficult second encounter with Dr. ___, my primary doctor’s associate – much as the first time he had been Dr. Clement’s substitute.
But the exchange that I’m pretty sure really popped his cork – and I knew he would have to ask the question and expected he would take my answer badly – was when he asked,
“The blood thinners that Dr. Clements prescribed for you for your superficial blood clot – have you started taking them?”
“Why not? He prescribed them six days ago.”
“Because I’m just not getting a ‘yes’ about taking them.”
“I’m just not getting a ‘yes’ to adding that new drug. I’m already taking several meds, including three psych meds – which I really never felt good about, but was in so much pain that I desperately was ready to take anything that the psychiatrist gave me. I’ve never felt good about those three and am – working with my current psychiatrist – beginning to wean myself off them and intend to get rid of all three. I’m not going to add a new drug unless some inner wisdom in me says I should. So far that hasn’t happened.”
I really believe that the idea that I would give more precedence to my inner knowing than to “doctor’s orders” was completely incomprehensible to him. But to me, it is the absolute bedrock of not being a helpless pawn in the (very fallible) doctor’s hands. If I don’t give myself responsibility to make the best-informed (including informed by my intuition) decisions about what treatments to accept and what not – if I don’t do this, then I am just not doing the admittedly hard work of taking responsibility for my body and my health. If I don’t get a ‘yes’ about this drug or other treatment, I ain’t doin’ it – “sorry, doc, but that’s my real bottom line.”
“Dr. Clements obviously thought you should take it – or he wouldn’t have prescribed it.”
Me: “The inpatient doctor, who a week ago found the blood clot, thought differently. He specifically ruled out a blood thinner. He said, ‘For a blood clot, you will often take a blood thinner. But for a superficial blood clot like this – where there is no danger that it will ever break off and travel to your heart or lungs – we don’t use blood thinners. We prescribe baby aspirin, compression socks and elevating the leg. It won’t take too long for the clot to dissolve itself.'”
Doc: “Here is the danger if you don’t take the blood thinner” – and he “patiently” gave me some arguments for the drug, which reasoning I actually found a little cogent – even in the face of my continuing felt resistance to going ahead and taking it.
Me: “What you are saying makes some sense to me” (and it genuinely did) – “I will take it into advisement as I try to decide if I am ready to take the medicine”. “I will take it into advisement…” – I really sensed that this kind of language was absolutely not the kind of response he expected from a “patient” – who by definition is expected to be passive.
But my confidence in my own inner knowing about this drug decision was honestly a little dented by his arguments about how I was putting my health at risk by not following the doctor’s “advice”…orders. “What if I have a heart attack and die because I wasn’t willing – on no basis but my own intuition – to take this drug? That would be a bad thing.”
I still was not getting a “yes” on the blood thinner when, two hours later – having just told Dr. ____ that I was no longer feeling any pain in the foot – I was walking the dog and the pain in my foot started to come back. By the next day, the pain had become very strong, I was limping, my right hand and foot were numb and I felt really lousy all over. Because both of my feet had continued to be numb each morning in the seven days since I got out of the hospital (with no one claiming that the infection was gone – just enough improved that it seemed likely that taking an oral antibiotic, instead of the more powerful IV antibiotic that was the primary reason for keeping me in the hospital, would finish the job of knocking out the infection.)
On this particular Thursday, the fact that my symptoms had never fully stopped – combined with all these symptoms that had come on in a rush that day – made me fear that the infection was again gaining the upper hand. I had seen my step-brother die of basically a cold after his system was weakened by a kidney transplant. And my friend John – who was staying with me at the time, so his whole medical drama was up close and personal – had almost died from a cat bite infection. Even though he was going back to the hospital daily for an hour of IV antibiotic, they just could not get the infection fully under control – and never promised him that he was actually going to make it. Certainly his experience was that he shouldn’t make any long-term plans, before finally – after a full month – his infection did completely go away.
On Thursday night at 12:30 a.m., after I had dropped off my devoted dog to our neighbor-in-our-building Angie and had used the magic words with little Pancho, “I’ll be back”, I was bushwhacked by an emotion I didn’t know was there: I said to Pancho, weeping, “I think I’ll be back.” I’m weeping again now, just remembering the poignancy of that moment. Out in the hall a moment later, I said to myself, “Get yourself together – we’ve still got shit to do here.” And I did.
I followed through on the plan I had made up in my apartment on the fifth floor. I didn’t want EMT’s to come up through the building, so I would go out to the front porch, call 911 from there (I really just was not up to painfully limping the two blocks to my car) and instruct the dispatcher, when they dispatched the ambulance, to ask the driver not to use sirens or flashers when they approached the building. The dispatcher reassured me that – for this kind of situation, at this time of night – what I was asking would be the routine procedure.
About two hours later, my ER doctor asked me if I was on blood thinners for my diagnosed “superficial blood clot.”
“No, my doctor prescribed them, but I haven’t started them.”
“Good – don’t start them. We never recommend them for this kind of superficial blood clot, which is no kind of danger. The hazards of the drug outweigh any possible benefit.”
I’m not really looking forward to repeating this exchange to my real doctor, David Clements, when I have the ER-prescribed follow-up with him, “within a week maximum” – next Monday. Clements really is a good guy, who I have no real desire to defy – but then he always has behaved with me in a collaborative manner, never has attempted to strong-arm me about anything – and I have never seen him get his back up when I expressed my opinion or myself acted as a peer to him.
When I called the Carolina Internal Medicine office, to schedule this follow-up to my ER visit, I said to the scheduler, “Please enter into my chart that – except in an emergency – I am not willing to be treated by Dr. _____.”
To the people who have been telling me that I’m not a nice person:
Thank you for noticing – I really do appreciate it. It’s such a drag to invest all this energy in not being a nice person and then to not have anybody notice it.
Many of my behaviors could still be described as “nice” (though I really mostly do hate that word) or “kind” – and many people do still think of me as “nice” or “kind”. But most of the people who know me best would, these days, probably have trouble saying of me “He’s a very nice person” without choking on it. They have seen me get in people’s faces when I think they are in my space, have heard me say “That’s bullshit”, have seen me cuss out old ladies (at Battery Park Apartments, there is no shortage of old ladies – or of old ladies who piss me off).
Being kind certainly has its place – but for me, it’s just a place, not an ultimate value or something I aspire to be all the time. Much more important to me is to be real, genuine, authentic – to have integrity. Thus the title of my yet unpublished bookRadical Integrity – which I titled and began writing about 17 years ago. Integrity – realness, wholeness – actually is an ultimate quest for me. That’s why I have, for 17 years, been writing a book about it. (Hey, I’m a publishing whiz, huh?) And, when I am being real, genuine, authentic – am reclaiming my integrity – then it’s easier for me to be kind: kind or even loving behaviors just spill out of me effortlessly, without effort, without trying to be anything, including kind.
When you tell me I’m not nice, I may say “Thank you” – because it’s valuable to have feedback. Often your statement will confirm for me that I am on the right track – it will reassure me. Sometimes – though I do like the sound of “You’re not a nice person” – I may encourage you to speak in a more self-responsible way, to use I-statements. “I think you are not a nice person” or “That didn’t seem nice to me” or “I wish you wouldn’t use the word ‘Fuck’ or tell people to ‘Fuck off’ or ‘Get fucked’ or ‘Get the fuck out of my face'”. This kind of self-responsible speech is overall easier for me to hear and is healthier for you to use. Or I may encourage you to “Get the fuck away from me and don’t come back until you are ready to speak responsibly”.
And, if it’s really important to you that everybody treat you nicely and not tell you that you are full of shit, then please don’t get in my shit.
My buddy and long-time Jubilant John Clabaugh is in love with my Battery Park neighbor and “soul friend” Diana Buchanan
– for good reason. Disguised in her overalls, her big hot toboggan hat, and her chain smoking out in front of our building, I have discovered – after initially wanting only to avoid her – that she is one of coolest people I’ve ever known: brilliant, empathic, funny & generous. She is a world class communicator: she is able and willing, as she comes to trust you, to share very deeply about herself, and also a fabulous listener – one of the best in my life (which includes people with much more education, several psychotherapists, and just a bunch of very cool, very psychologically sophisticated people). When she is listening to you, she is doing absolutely nothing but listening to you – and her responses are at least empathic and sometimes brilliant.
She has confided to me more trauma in her life than I would ever want anybody else to hear. I almost wish that I had not heard some of it – it’s a little hard to shake some of the gruesome images.
“If this woman needs cigarettes to cope with all this trauma and pain” (including a plethora of medical problems – some caused or exacerbated by the smoking) “I will never – ever – judge her for smoking.” I will still sometimes let myself say something gently challenging when she is doubled over with her smoker’s cough. But she teases me right back when I erupt in my smoker’s cough. (I picked the little cancer sticks up again, when I was dealing with so much chronic pain – still undiagnosed, but my constant companion for the last few months, and getting progressively worse. I do have plans to quit the smokes <and actually did on 10/7/19>).
Diana has been dog sitter and a huge lover of my two dogs, Toni and now Panchita. Diana – a Mexican who grew up in Mexico City, then Chicago and LA – refuses to call Panchita by my nickname Pancho. “Pancho is a boy’s name. She’s a girl – she needs a feminine name, ending in the letter ‘a’.”
With some amount of coaxing, I can sometimes get her to talk about what it is like to be Mexican in this country right now. She will describe her pain and her fear – for her and for “my people” – with never a trace of bitterness or victimhood.
John Clabaugh is having a lot of fun discovering her – as I did, when I got past my judgments of her. “I know she shouldn’t smoke. I hate her smoker’s cough. I fear that, at age 60, she will die younger than she should. But she actually smokes in a very regal way. One day, when I was observing how genuinely elegant she looked with her cigarette, I got it: ‘she’s royalty!’ I think I don’t believe in past lives, but have no other way to describe how she clearly channels that lineage.”
Having spent most of her adult life homeless – living with her husband under a bridge for a very long time – here she is: wounded, traumatized, vulnerable, haunted…and a genuinely huge human being. Those who take the time to get to know her have a wonderful experience – it’s a hugely funny process, she is a very funny person…sometimes with (for me) just enough of a dark edge.
Our new thing – Diana, John Clabaugh who lives on Church St., frequently his wife Ingrid Friesen (funny, strong, brilliant , and much beloved in this town for all the people she helped in her many years of practicing family law before recently retiring), me (a lot more fun since “reclaiming my integrity” at 3 a.m. on June 26), and a changing cast of Diana’s friends and admirers from the building, come out to smoke (or not smoke, like me after October 7, but just to be with her).
I have christened us Diana and the Merry Pranksters.We gather at 7 a.m. (or later – Diana is always there by 7) out in front of the Battery Park Apartments to swap stories from the previous day and earlier in our lives, to laugh and joke and sometimes challenge each other and often to affirm and love on each other – to make ourselves fully human before we go on to the rest of our day. When our schedule for the rest of the day allows it, we are often there until 9 – tomorrow I have to leave at 8 to get to Earth Fare for my 8:30 shift. (Call or text me at 828-582-9822 any morning to check if we are there – the more the “merrier”.)
It turned out to be an inopportune day to reduce the clutter in my little apartment by grabbing all my empty grocery bags and taking them to the car.
I – like so many other people in this building – seek opportunities to hang out with Diana by her throne in front of the building. (I do so even when I am not smoking, which will be the case again soon, though I am not sure exactly when.) Earlier this afternoon, I needed a smoke break after talking with my great physician friend Steve Swearingen about my disturbingly mysteriously infected foot, including him making a very cogent case for why it’s a particularly bad time to be smoking. (“That infected foot is a long ways from your heart. All the swelling makes it hard for the antibiotic and the blood to get in there. Smoking taxes your heart – makes it harder for it to do all of that work.”) Very cogent – really did get me thinking. But not enough to not want a cigarette. When was the last time you heard me claim to be completely rational or non-addictive? “Waking up” is infamous for not always taking away our human flaws.
I decided to go out back, across the street to our residents’ parking lot (next to the Basilica)
and drop my bags in my car before returning to the front to hang out with Diana. Here’s a text I sent Diana at 4:35:
M: “Out front? In ten minutes?”
M (10 minutes later): “No – 10 minutes from now! Was incorrect about the location of our car. It’s not in the lot out back where I thought it was. Going to go to the Flint Street lot (on the other side of the highway) now and hopefully will see you in ten minutes.”
D: “OK. I go back in at 5:30 to feed John’s cat Fluff (John out of town) and Barbara’s dog Bubbles (Barbara in the hospital). Then I walk my doggy and call mom.”
M: (ten minutes later) “Hopefully I will see you by then. Certainly will at least swing by in about ten minutes to continue looking for a car which is not in the Battery Park Resident’s lot and it’s not in the Flint Street lot. I can’t even remember when was the last time…Oh, shit!! I know exactly where it is! It’s at Mission Hospital! I left it at Mission Hospital yesterday and John was going to give me a ride over there today to pick it up – but we both forgot!…Fuck it!…I’m laughing!! I’m unreasonably happy!!! Now that I know what’s going on, I can relax. Somehow, we will make it work out tomorrow. I’ll see you in about ten minutes.”