Friday, June 28, 2013

Paula Deen on a Cracker

CAVEAT (aka cya):  I am not being political here.  I repeat, I am not being political.
When a person finds himself in a struggle, he has to do everything he can and then leave the rest up to the Almighty.  Case in point, if praying were enough, we’d have world peace by now.  That’s my thinking anyway.
But before I type another word, I have to ask, just what am I advocating?  Good question.  Great question, as a matter of fact.  What am I advocating?  Note:  this comes at the beginning of the post and not at the end.
When it comes to Paula Deen, I’m not a big fan.  In fact, I’m an ambivalent viewer one might correctly say.  I’ve seen the show.  I know her face.  She cooks, right?  I don’t dislike the woman; then again, I’ve never met her.  Now, come to find out, she said the dreaded n-word at one time in her past.
Note to Paula Deen:  if you post a list of 500 cultural references from the last five years where someone in pop-culture used the n-word in a song, movie, or casual reference on your website and demand all those people apologize, I’ll personally send you a crisp ten-dollar bill.
That aside, I can’t spell out the the word ni@@er (or is is n!gg!r)?  I mean, I’m thinking it to the extent that I’m careful enough not to spell it out, but I can’t spell it out.  How utterly idiotic is that?  I’m talking about what Paula Deen said, and I can’t even quote her.  There is nothing pejorative about any of this, thus far.  I’m merely typing out loud, but I can’t type a couple of letters.  Jeeze!
Then there’s Rachel Jeantel, star witness in the George Zimmerman case, though her stardom in the case is just about finished.  And no, I’m not going into all the Zimmerman-Martin details.  Another lost ideal in America is the whole ‘innocent until proven guilty’ meme.  I’m not in the jury.  Let’s trust the courts, I guess…  But Rachel Jeantel doesn’t think, and I quote, “…creepy ass cracker…” is racist.  Rather, as I understand her to believe, she thinks such phraseology is a cultural thing.
Ok, don’t worry about all that.  Simply observe, I can type 'cracker' in its entirety.  I do not have to use 1930’s cartoon cuss-word symbolism for certain letters in the world (consider:  @racker, cr#cker, or crac!er).  See, I don’t have to type that.
At this point, I’m doing the Wicked Witch of the West just dowsed with water, trying to follow the logic.  It’s not there and I’m melting, I’m melting!
Anywho, I love language.  I've always enjoyed the power of the individual word and, mind you, the freedom to say whatever.  But we’re not there anymore.  And I don’t get why some people can say some things and other people can’t say the same things.
It’s like the next time a woman cuts off a man’s penis and the fine ladies on The View decide to have a chuckle over it.  Ok, chuckle all you want.  I’m tough and can take it.  There are days when I wonder do I even have feelings anymore.  But, suppose a news story appeared where a man cut off a woman’s clitoris and some men on a ‘men’s show’ decided to have a chuckle over that.  What do you think would happen?
Or let’s say some televangelist (I’m even less of a fan of them than I am of Paula Deen, btw) decided to  go on a rant about homosexuals and used some not very nice words.  But then, Alec Baldwin (oh actors, what can’t they do?!) decides to use similar, not very nice words.  Who is going be downwind of that crap storm?  See what I’m getting at?
Ugly language aside, we’re in a struggle over some very basic freedoms in this country.  Never mind Big Brother (a catchall phrase for a half-dozen federal agencies and another half-dozen corporate giants) monitoring every phone call, every email, every bank transaction, and gps-ing our constant whereabouts).
My vote is this:  either everybody has the right to say stupid, offensive words, or nobody does.  But this double-standard stuff has got to go.  It has to.  It will not lead us to the enchanted realm of enlightenment and endearing unicorns.
What am I advocating?  Sound familiar?  I don’t know.  But let me leave you with a little quote from a guy named Voltaire (some French enlightenment dude – whatever’s up with that).  He said, “To learn who rules over you, simply find out who you are not allowed to criticize.”
We’re not entirely there, yet.  But it draws closer and closer.
Speaking of quotes, there was another guy named Solomon (who I am a big fan of and who I happen to think was like, way totally smarter than Voltaire).  He said this: "A prudent man foreseeth the evil, and hideth himself: but the simple pass on, and are punished."

Thursday, June 20, 2013

Cancer Post #1 - Happy Anniversary

I promise the next post will not be about my health.  Furthermore, the third post of each month will be dedicated to my health.  That way, readers can know what’s coming and decide to tune in, or not.  Don’t laugh, btw – in April I had over 400 unique hits to my humble blog.  Now, if one-tenth of those people would buy a book…

Being the kind of guy I am, I have trouble remembering anniversaries.  I mark them on the calendar in January and hope only to find them before they find me.  That said, here is one to remember:  on June 5th of this year I was diagnosed with Type 3 Colon Cancer.  That puts me in what I call big-boy territory.  Today is my two-week anniversary.  I have two-hundred and fifty-eight weeks left to beat the bell-curve.

This will probably turn very ugly before it’s over, but today is a good day.  For the first time in two and a half months, I had a long grocery-store run and didn’t pause for either pain or lack of energy.  In fact, the only pain I have now is when I sneeze.
Sneezing pulls the guts where I had my bowel resection on the 4th of June.  The only other discomfort I have is with my new port.  A port is a thing the surgeon stuck under the skin of my right man-boob this past Monday.  It allows doctors and nurses to draw blood and hook up the chemotherapy needles without making my arm look like I’m competing with Macaulay Culkin.  Today my man-boob is really itchy.

Furthermore, I have no restrictions on what I do or what I eat.  I am down to pre-wedding weight and the doctors tell me to eat what I want, when I want, and as much as I want.  That’s what I call a silver lining.  I’m coming off a cheeseburger binge even as I type and have managed to gain one entire pound.  So yeah, not a bad day.

Again, it’s extremely early in the struggle; but, not so early as to have failed to ruminate on a few things.  Here are a few of them.  They might help somebody.  They might not.

Cancer Rumination #1:  Having cancer is like waking from a dream that changes you.  This thought popped into my head last night.  I don’t know what it means, exactly.  But I like how it sounds.  It probably deserves its own post.

Cancer Rumination #2:  I have resolved that I will watch my daughters grow to be much older than they are today, that my parents and sister will not attend my funeral, that my wife and I have more anniversaries to celebrate, that I will own the boxed set of The Hobbit movie trilogy, that I have more books to write, that I will see Obama leave the White House, and that when I turn fifty I will buy a new motorcycle.

Cancer Rumination #3:  The only difference between a person with cancer and a person without cancer is the cancer.  This is more profound than it sounds.  Think about it.

Cancer Rumination #4:  Most people don't know what to do when they find out that I have cancer.  Reactions tends towards awkwardness or wanting to help.  The outward support I have received thus far has been tremendous.  People have brought food and have mowed the lawn.  They’ve stopped by for visits and are there for my children and my wife, which I appreciate more than I can articulate.  The shittiest part about this is the burdens, the worries, and the helplessness they feel.  I think, so far, I’ve taken the news better than they have.

Cancer Rumination #5:  Some families only get together during funerals.  Then they leave, years pass, and they see one another only at the next funeral; a little of that has come my way.  People I have not heard from in years have contacted me to share their support and concern.  It’s goodness, really it is.  Don’t be shy.  Send me a note.  It’s just a shame we don’t stay in touch during the good times.

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

9 Days to the Starting Line, One Day to Get Home

As in life, so in writing…

A writing project can be seen as a series of decisions.  Consciously or otherwise, the decisions are made.  The decisions represent an author’s level of control over his or her work.  The decisions will be made whether or not the writer is aware of making them.  The idea is to control the writing.
I ended the previous post by self-depreciating my polyp story to that of something not many people would be interested in reading.  Sometimes I self-depreciate faster than the U.S. Dollar.

Upon review, and as a lesson on writing (because sometimes this blog is about writing), I decided to take my 10-day hospital say and turn it into a creative non-fiction piece entitled:  “Nine Days to the Starting Line, One Day to Get Home.”  Because I am not writing a mystery, here’s the punch line.  I have been diagnosed with colon cancer.  Those of you who are the praying kind, I’d appreciate some of those.
Getting back to the writing decisions, there are many.  Because I’m just starting, I need to keep the decisions high-level.
For example, how long is this article going to be?  I need to decide that, or the decision will make itself.  When decisions make themselves the writing isn’t always as good as it could be.  I have the luxury of going on and on, and on about this episode.  And how uncomfortable is it to listen to someone go on and on, and on, about their health problems?  So, another decision I’ve made is to include humor.  Since humor runs on brevity, the word-count will need to support of this.  I’m thinking somewhere around the seven thousand word mark (six hundred words for each day in the hospital, plus an introduction and a conclusion).

And why humor, one might ask.  People get pretty tight about cancer.  It’s easy to imagine someone becoming huffy.  But it’s my essay, so deal.  As a pastor, and as a human being, I have seen all types of reactions to health problems.  These reactions tend to hover on the negative end of the scales:  hysteria, depression, suicide, resignation, why-me, woe-is-me, and all that.  I may get there.  But for now, I’m going to laugh at my cancer.  Please don’t think I’m unaware of the seriousness of the situation.  The five year survival clock started ticking on the fifth of June.  I know that – mmm-k??  I could use a laugh or two right about now.
Another decision is that of how to organize the essay.  I like the title:  “Nine Days to the Starting Line, One Day to Get Home,” and tying the organization of the ideas to the title is always goodness.   So, I’m going to organize this around the days spent in the hospital.  This sounds neat enough, but the approach poses challenges.  From previous attempts, I know I will want to emphasize a number of ideas along the way.  These ideas don’t all fall into neat little ice-cube shaped day-events.  So, I’ll have to untangle the ideas carefully.  I’m thinking each idea can be brought out in a day or so.

Finally, for this post anyway, I have decided to outline because when I write non-fiction outlining helps more than it gets in the way.  It also helps when writing fiction but something about outlining a creative piece chaps my still-tender derriere.  This is a shortcoming I need to get over.  Nevertheless, outlining presumes (and it is a correct presumption) brainstorming.  There are plenty of ideas on the board to choose from.  There are plenty of other ideas I don’t yet have the courage to put on the paper.  But all that will come later.
So, here’s where I’m at so far:

Title:  Done.
Event / Topic:  Nine days leading up to a colon-cancer diagnosis and the day I wait to go home.

Length:  Approximately 7,000 words.
Organized:  by day

Will use humor / will outline

Big writing moral:  if something is hard to read it usually means the writer did not take pains to make it accessible to the reader.  Again, the decisions are critical.

Sunday, June 2, 2013

Unfairness Makes for Great Stories

Back to that pain thing of a few posts ago.

On Tuesday I was admitted to the hospital.  On Thursday I underwent a resection of my intestines due to a gut-load of polyps. The doctor went ahead and took the appendix and some little something that hangs close to the appendix.  This is all good, as are my blood tests, lymph-nodes, and various other innards hanging around my sore self.

But pain, yeah… The scalpel cut against the grain of the muscle and the wound hurts that much more.  But, you either play the hand you’re dealt or you get out of the game and right now I’m playing, so hit me.

Having a bunch of time on my hands, I have managed to spot a metaphorical lake just outside my hospital room window.  I call it Lake Cosmic Unfairness.  I have gazed at the tranquil surface waters while waiting for my recovery to gain a little more traction.  Mr. Morphine Drip and I like to dream of smores and ponder the oscillating sparkles for hours on end.  Why, just this afternoon, one of the high points of today was being allowed to eat a grape Blue-Bunny popsicle.  It was one of the best popsicles I can remember in my entire life.  How is it fair that a mere mortal like I should be allowed to enjoy such a quintessential frozen treat (that’s how the Blue Bunny popsicle wrapper describes the contents)?

At this point, I am mostly consoled that I’m not the type of person who deserves a nest of polyps large enough to call for an intestinal resection.   In my mind, things like this are reserved for IRS agents who just follow orders and tear at the fabric of our constitution and at the politicians who order such employees to do such things.   I am definitely staring at the right lake.  I could go on, but you get the idea.

Besides, what I really want to write about is that Lake CU is at the heart of many good stories.  I am living a saga based on unfairness, either perceived or real.  There is blood, pain, a main character who wants nothing more than to return to the ‘everything is pretty good’ level of life, a villainous and largely oblivious, cardiologist who injected himself into the process just two hours before the surgery was to be done (more on him another day), laughter, prayers, tears, and all sorts of three dimensional characters being impacted because of how things have happened.  This is conflict.

Go ahead.  Pick your favorite story.   See if this is not true.  And please note, not all unfairness hurts.  What if someone very undeserving receives an incredibly good turn?  Double-whammy there, huh?

A generation ago the English teachers would call the unfairness conflict, and then they would slice it and dice it into three broad categories.  But that’s too remote, not touchy-feely enough for us modern 2013 humans.  For now I’ll stick with Lake Cosmic Unfairness.

Now, the specifics of my polyp story probably wouldn’t be that interesting to many people.  But by golly it’s a story.