Friendship. Solitude. Memories.

Samain and the Fallow Moon

The 32nd Woolly Mammoth retreat. Or, so. Happening near Stillwater, Minnesota at Dunrovin retreat center. Soon. The topic: Friendship and Solitude. The last full retreat I attended was in 2015 shortly after my prostate cancer diagnosis. Given the recency of our move to Colorado and the shock of that news that retreat was especially important for me.

Friendship and the Woollies. In many ways the Woollies, my men’s group for over 30 years, was a tutorial in alternative methods of male friendship. We did not bond over the Vikings, not even the Packers. We didn’t start out as a poker night or a hunting group or as fishing buddies. The Woollies were an outgrowth of the Men’s Movement, furthered in Minnesota by Robert Bly, yes, that Robert Bly, in particular.

We learned that friendship could be nurtured through intimacy, with each other. Not a shocker, I know, but far from the norm when men gather for just about anything. In the early years we had retreat topics like Fathers, Mothers, Death, Pilgrimage.

During the year we met on the first Monday and the third Monday of every month. That was another learning. Friendship requires commitment and work. Frank always took March so he could serve corned beef and cabbage in honor of St. Patrick’s Day. This honored Frank’s Irish blood, not the Roman Catholic Church. At Scott’s Yin would put out a Chinese meal and until her death, Yin’s mother, Moon, would help. At other homes it was soup, or barbecue, or turkey chili. We would eat together, then have a meeting on a topic the host chose.

On the first Monday we would gather at a restaurant, in the early years at the Black Forest in Minneapolis. We talked about that son, the Asperger’s one, who was difficult. Or, the movie we’d just seen. Might have been Spirited Away or a blockbuster. Sometimes work, but most often about relationships.

At Villanova, a Catholic retreat center on the Mississippi, there was a lunar eclipse. Our retreats then were usually in January. A group of us went outside around midnight and stood in the snow and well below zero weather to watch the moon turn red. Another January retreat at Valhelga, a family retreat center designed by Woolly Stefan Helgeson, the temperature was -30. The Minnesota January was part of our year.

Now I meet once a month with five of these men using Zoom the video conferencing software. These friendships are lifelong. Amazingly, for a group of ten men, none of us have died though two are into their eighties.

Solitude. Mostly introverts. Solitude preferred. One Woolly moved to northern Maine. Paul. I moved to the Rocky Mountains. Jimmie, though not an introvert, is in South Dakota. Another, Charlie, lives on a lake in northwestern Wisconsin. There is a Woolly diaspora and where we chose to live reflects the preference for solitude.

Solitude accepts our inner life as worthy. Necessary. It’s about nurturing a friendship with whoever narrates your life right now. It allows us to grow as individuals, to honor ourselves, and be able to honor others.

Perhaps I would have added memory to this retreat topic. Friendship and Solitude are complementary for sure. But it is the memories that bind us together. The broomball on the ice at Valhelga. The visits to Richard Bresnahan’s pottery studio at St. John’s Monastery. Meals at the Black Forest, Christo’s, Sawatdee. Frank’s ongoing hate affair with the Roman Catholic Church. Warren’s articles on aging written as a reporter for the Star-Tribune. That one guy that got shot at by his wife. The night we ate in what turned out be a former Nazi military commander’s house, ironically in the very Jewish suburb of St. Louis Park.

My friends, my brothers, the Woollies. Then, now. Forever.

Real Winter

Fall and the new moon (Heshvan)

Stress test today. Oh, boy. Hope they don’t catch it all. Feeling a bit down.

The combination of the COPD diagnosis, my stress test at 11:30, the very nasty road conditions between here and South Denver Cardiology in Littleton. Found myself reluctant to shovel the back deck and the stall mats. Achy. You know. Stuff accumulates. (no pun intended.) Did shovel the deck and mats though. Felt better.

Walked out to the paper. Nope. Snow stops the Denver Post. Only rain, sleet, hail, snow, and gloom of night prevents that sturdy carrier from his rounds.

This is real winter, pre-Halloween. Temp of 5 right now, headed down below that tonight and tomorrow night. Maybe 4-5 inches of new snow, more on the way.

Don’t want to start slogging through the slough of despond. Only makes matters more difficult. Looking for simcha in the beauty of the snow, the bounce of the dogs out the door in the morning, the reading I’m doing for Chayei Sarah.

Feeling it for the folks in California. The pyrocene, indeed.

Guy Card

Fall and the Sukkot Moon

So my guy credentials are more or less intact.

More. Got the chainsaw to work, cut down one tree. Mitigation started. The starter rope was cranky, not dysfunctional. Means I got it all put back together correctly except for that one little hose. Over the next few weeks I’ll gradually cut down the trees that the guy from Elk Creek Fire marked.

After I limb them, the slash will need to be moved to the front so the Elk Creek crew can come chip it. Much cheaper ($0) than the the six hundred bucks I paid for my first big slash chipping in 2016. A sign will go up in the front offering my downed trees to neighbors who heat with wood.

Right now I’m planning on paying somebody to put the landscape cloth and river rock down. Seems like too much work and I don’t think I’d do a good looking job. Whether it gets done this year will probably be down to the weather.

Less. The lupron continues suppressing my guy hormone. Hot flashes have lessened, as Sherry said they might. A lupron influenced mood swing now and then. Fatigue and sarcopenia are the major side effects right now. I’m working out, but not advancing as much on the weights as I’m used to.

Cardio is harder, too. That might be the copd (or ashtma, I’m a bit confused on this right now.) or it might be the fatigue and sarcopenia. Or, it might be that I’ve not pushed myself enough. This is important to figure out. Cardio is one of those key non-medicinal elements in fighting whatever brand of lung disease I actually have. Resistance, too, because chest muscles have a lot of influence on breathing.

Anyhow this will all settle down over the next month or so. I see Lisa again for a followup on the lungs, November 11th. I want to know exactly what I have, copd or asthma. Is there a difference?

I also want a better handle on what I can do to stay healthy. Example: pine pollen. I moved 900 miles west and 8,800 feet up to discover I have an allergy to pine pollen. Initially annoying, but with the lung disease it might be a real problem. Probably see an allergist.

Not to mention I want a prognosis. Is this mild or moderate? Does it have to progress or can I slow it down, stop it?

November 5th I see Anna Willis, Dr. Eigner’s P.A. In case you haven’t kept a scorecard handy Eigner is my urologist. He did the prostate surgery in 2015 and he ordered the radiation and lupron.

I have two main questions for her. 1. Does the .03 PSA mean the radiation didn’t work? See a few posts back. 2. How long do I have to stay on the lupron?

In spite of this post and the others on medical issues I don’t spend much time thinking about them. I’ve done what I can with the prostate cancer. It doesn’t worry me though there are questions I have. The lung stuff is a little more up front for me. That’s because it’s new and I don’t understand it well yet. Even so most of my day and my nights (I’m sleeping well.) are unencumbered.

As buddy Tom said, chop wood and carry water. Where I’m trying to be right now.

Wandering. Bored. That’s me.

Fall and the Full Sukkot Moon

Made shawarma yesterday. Not bad. Used both my cast iron skillet and the instapot. Seared the chuck roast in the pan, deglazed and put it all in the instapot. An hour or so later, done. This is a favorite food for me, so I’ll work to perfect this. Also made tabbouleh and bought some hummus. A real Middle Eastern meal. Put some of the leftover meat in the borscht I made for Kate a week or so ago.

Kate, a much better cook than I am, backs me up, gives me the benefit of her knowledge. On Friday, for example, I wanted to make french toast from a baguette that had dried up. It had to be easy, I imagined, but I still didn’t know how. Instead of using a cook book I asked Kate. Vanilla in a beaten egg, coat the bread, fry them. Cinnamon and sugar on them while they’re cooking. And it was so.

Both of us have less of an appetite in the evenings so I made this meal for late lunch, Sunday dinner.

Still bored. I guess that’s the feeling. Don’t wanna do this. Don’t wanna do that. Wandering around. Tried the chain saw, get started on fire mitigation, Round II. Starter rope won’t pull. Guess I really fixed it when I took it apart and put it back together. Going to the chain saw e.r. today.

Had some success yesterday with wu wei. When I cooked, I cooked. When I ate, I ate. When I painted, I painted. But I got back to wandering around. Felt like I was waiting for Godot.

In that mood I decided to mess around with my webhost. They’re the folks that provide a server and security for Ancientrails. Got right in there and changed my PHP settings, then added SSL. Closed out AncientrailsGreatWheel and CharlesBuckmanEllis. Don’t use them, no need to pay for them.

Felt good about all that. Clicked on Ancientrails to see if things had changed. Ah, they’d changed. Ancientrails had disappeared! OMG. So I messed around a bit more. No joy.

Knew that this was not a matter to settle while I was tired, so I waited until this morning. It was baaaaccckk. Why? I don’t know. But, I’m glad.

Still not able to load images. Gotta get on that in a more disciplined way.

This whole year plus, since last September 28th, has been a transitional time for both of us. At first the transition focused on Kate’s health, especially her malnutrition and her bleed. Then, while in for her pneumothorax in April, a pulmonologist thought he saw lung disease. That got added to the cart.

In February, I had the flu and my annual physical. PSA 1.0. Too sick to recognize it for what it was. But you know what happened when I tumbled to it. Radiation, lupron. Ongoing. Last month I went in to see Lisa about some tightness in my lungs. COPD. Oh, damn.

The transition has forced us both to acknowledge that our lifespans are probably not as long as we imagined. Sobering. But, o.k. They were limited to begin with. Death is not an optional experience. Or, as an Arab saying goes, Life is an inn with two doors.

The wandering and the boredom, I think, comes in here. A month ago I was imagining beating prostate cancer and living into my 90’s. Now? Not so sure. What does that mean? A foreshortened life span? Maybe. And what would that mean? That’s where my ikigai got lost, I think. Unclear how to live into this reality.

So, wandering and bored it is. Except when I engage. You know cooking, shopping, doctor appointments, fire mitigation. Getting the new Rav4 repaired. At some point a new direction will emerge. Perhaps it will simply be what I’m currently doing, but I don’t think so. Just don’t know.

Hmmm

Fall and the Rosh Hashanah Moon

A culinary Saturday. With a few oddities.

Invited Jon and the grandkids up for a High Holiday meal of brisket. I bought a brisket, two actually, at Safeway. Brought them home, froze one, put the other in the fridge for the meal. Looked up a holiday brisket recipe. Found one for the Instapot. Chopped the onions, salted the brisket, added the tomatoes. Put it in for 65 minutes. Got it out. The meat was tender. Looked good. The jus in the pot also smelled wonderful.

Kate came by and looked at it. That’s corned beef, isn’t it? Oh, boy. Category mistake. I had bought, technically, a brisket. But, well… Anyhow I’d also picked up a white cabbage for the borscht I wanted to make for Kate. It only required a quarter of the head. I cut up the rest, threw it in boiling water and, voilá, corned beef and cabbage! The meal included baked potatoes, not normally part of this actually Jewish, too, dinner, but they fit well with the original brisket plan.

Everyone said it tasted good even though the menu got altered in a strange way.

Made mine with golden beets, too.

I did make the borscht, too. That was all day in either the grocery store or the kitchen. Tired.

Jon and the kids were late. Very. When Jon came in the door, I’d just gotten off the phone, the dogs were sending up their usual storm of barks for visitors. I came into the living room. Jon, I gotta tell you, I’m pissed. Oops. Not in front of the grandkids, Charlie. Too late, outta the mouth.

OK. I’ll try to remember this.

I wanted to talk to him about his chronic lateness, explain that it upset me, see how we could change the settings. Kate suggested this after I fumed when they were almost an hour late. She was right. Didn’t intend (mostly, anyhow) to do in that manner.

Apologized to Jon, Ruth, and Gabe. Not for what I said, but for when and how I said it.

Family. Not always easy.

Live Now

Fall and the Rosh Hashanah Moon

Outside Punta Arenas, Chile, 2011

Nights are chillier. The aspens are golden and the winds have howled for the last few days. Fall has arrived, changing the days, too, shortening them, cooling them down. Kate and I approve.

Yesterday was a quiet day. Kate made doctor’s appointments. I worked out. We napped. Had a family business meeting. Treating these illnesses, though mostly covered by insurance, still racks up some impressive bills. Not out of our ability to pay, but requiring in two instances, two or three months rather than one check. Families with less resources might be sunk.

Aeon, a website with excellent essays on a variety of subjects, had a piece on living with chronic illness: It Take Psychological Flexibility to Thrive With Chronic Illness. This very question has been on my mind quite a bit, how to thrive with Kate’s illnesses and, since March, a couple of my own.

As this article says, it’s easy to get stuck in the round of appointments, procedures, tests, results, daily surveillance. The illness, in addition to its physical effects, occupies psychological space, too.

Some days there is no help for it. Take this week. Monday we saw Tabitha, Dr. Gidday’s P.A. It took a while to get into see her. She ordered a chest x-ray. We went to the imaging center and had to wait for the x-ray to be read and for Tabitha to decide next steps. The next step was a c.t. scan. Requires a referral. We went to lunch, then went back to Tabitha’s office. She got a c.t. ordered, but it was at four p.m. It was one-thirty.

We went home, a 30 mile drive, so we could feed the dogs and nap. At three pm we got back in the car and drove to Littleton again, to a different imaging site. When we got there, the order hadn’t been faxed over so we waited an hour before the scan could be done. We waited some more while they read it. After it was read, the radiologist couldn’t get either Dr. Gidday or Tabitha on the phone because it was well past five.

Back home. It was that same night that Kate’s feeding tube came out. On that day the illnesses dominated.

The next day was the E.R. at Swedish. Another five hours there, then driving back home in rush hour.

During all of this Kate’s shortness of breath made walking any distance difficult, accelerating the fatigue and reinforcing it. Anyhow you get the point. Managing all these events, getting to them, absorbing their information took lots of time, energy. Hard to get that book written or those quilts made.

Part of it, of course, and this is the chronic piece, lies in the now one year plus of these kind of days. A lot of accumulated stress. Fatigue.

These lines from the Aeon article resonated: “Generally, living as rich and meaningful a life as possible when you are struggling with a chronic illness requires a great deal of psychological flexibility. With chronic illness, rigidity in your thinking and behaviour is the greatest barrier to living well with your illness. The only thing you can count on is the fact that you never really know what your day is going to look like, and that things are always changing.”

We’ve been focusing on each day as they come. One day at a time. We’ve worked hard to stay in our relationship, not snipe at each other when things aren’t going well. We’re successful in this, mostly.

This article showed up when I was wondering, how can we live a good life given the realities we face. My catch phrase: live until you die. Paint. Cook. Write. See the grandkids. Stay involved in Joe and SeoAh and Jon’s lives. As we can go to Beth Evergreen, plays, music. Sew. Take care of our own needs: shopping, cooking, bill paying, the house.

An ongoing conversation for us, now informed by this wise essay and our own years of spiritual and psychological preparation. Will keep you up to date.

Sound like Dad

Fall and the Harvest Moon

Black Mountain from our mailbox

The dark sky. Orion high in the south over Black Mountain. The waning crescent of the Harvest moon to his left. Other stars set like diamonds. A regular moment of awe. So lucky to live here.

Yesterday I was sad. Woke up the night before with debbie downer thoughts. Does anyone like me? What have I done with my life? Is there any point to all this? Some part of me pounding on other parts of me. Who’s the witness in this conversation? Who’s the protagonist? It felt so out of character, especially for how I’ve felt over the last several months. Oh. The Lupron. This was a hot flash in my soul. No fun. Last night was fine.

Kate helped a lot that morning over breakfast.

Second injection a week from today

Though I’ve done my share of psychotropics I’ve not made my peace with this alien chemical dominating my testosterone, turning up the thermostat at unusual moments, twisting my emotions. I’d still characterize the side effects as mild though there have been a few moments like last night, a few with Kate, a couple of searing hot flashes. There’s also the fatigue and the sarcopenia. These last two make working out difficult.

Since I’m 72, sarcopenia is already having its way with me. Lupron adds to that, reinforces it. Maybe bumps it up? I get tired quicker. Have trouble advancing my weights. It’s like having a small parachute attached to my belt, extra drag.

Staunton State Park, 2017

Gonna test this on a hike this morning. I’m embarrassed to say I’ve done little hiking since we got here. No excuse. Just haven’t gotten in the car and gone to one of the many mountain trails. I worked out three, four times a week outside when we lived in Anoka county. Hiking, fast walking, snowshoeing. Not here, partly because of my breathing issues.

Going in to see Dr. Gidday today about those breathing issues. My O2 sats are low normal up here, usually ok down the hill. In the evening however and sometimes right after I go to bed they crater, going down once into high seventies. This has been true for most of the time we’ve lived here. I’ve never sought help for it before because I was doing treadmill work with no trouble.

2017, Mt Goliath Natural Area, Bristlecone Pines

On Saturday though I did my usual twenty minute pre-resistance work cardio. It was hard. My lungs felt tight. I struggled. Did it all and at the speed and elevation I wanted, but it was hard. Like with my bicep weights I’ve had difficulty moving my speed and elevation up. Also, lots of coughing, hacking.

I sound like my dad who was an asthma and allergy sufferer his whole life. Things have not been the same for me since the flu/pneumonia episode in February and March. Sorta shoved this aside for the cancer treatment, but I feel like I have to address it now. I really have no desire to wrestle with another organ system right now. But…

Waiting

Lughnasa and the Harvest Moon

Hard to lean into life right now. My ikigai is faint, a shadow flickering from the last log on the fire. Whether it’s lingering effects of the radiation, the Lupron, or the dismal psychic space of too much stress for too long, my motivation level looks like the bathtub ring on Lake Mead. I can see where it used to be and can’t imagine what will fill up the lake again.

The feeling is not despair or depression, rather it’s like I’m witnessing my own life right now. Not a full participant.

October, 2016, Mitigation round 1

Fire mitigation entails a lot of manual labor. Which I like. Work with the chain saw. The peavey. Wheel barrows. Lifting, pushing. Moving rock. The heat we’ve had and the weakness I feel in spite of continuing my workouts has made it seem too hard. I can feel the pressure of fall turning into winter pushing back at me, reminding me that this work is seasonal and that season is now.

Ancientrails, two million words worth, sits in year stacks on a long desk/table. I got that far, but haven’t done more. The years need to get drilled and put into binders. Superior Wolf, too. I want to revise it, take it apart and put it back together, but when do I do that? I just turn away from the task.

Cooking is fun again. I’ve done some painting. My bagel table prep work has gone well. I’m ready. This blog gets written, every morning. I read. Finished Second Empire, the fourth in Isaac Asimov’s Foundation novels. Listening to books on my phone, through blue tooth in the car. I have meals with friends.

Even with these though I feel like I’m waiting for something. Something else. Something more. A new pattern of life, a new enthusiasm.

The trick is, waiting is wu wei. Sitting beside myself as my life flows on around me. At some point my ikigai will resurface or reform. I know it will. But waiting? Still hard.

And then, there was one

Lughnasa and the Moon of the First Harvest

Awake at 3 this morning. Now that’s roughly 7 hours of sleep from my 8 pm bedtime, but still earlier than I’m used to. Same feelings as the last day of finals. Or, the day of a big event like a wedding or graduation. A bit wired, something momentous is about to happen in my world.

Was not expecting to have this much of a feeling response to the end of radiation, or, at least not this kind. Relief, yes. A sense of completion, yes. But, graduation? Which is the closest analogy. No. Why would I have an anticipatory feeling like that? I’ve not accomplished something personally. I got cancer. Took my treatment options and have followed one of them out to the end.

Patty asked me what I was going to do to celebrate? Go to the Black Hat Cattle Company, I said. When I said it, it felt inadequate, but it’s what I’ve got right now. I’ve not had much red meat over the last seven weeks, much less than usual, so I’ve got a hankering for steak. Maybe something else will occur to me.

Yesterday afternoon during my nap I had a hotflash that woke me up out of a sound sleep. It was the most intense so far. I’ve had milder ones, prickly heat on the scalp, face, back of the neck. This one left me tired afterward. Kate said, oh yes, that’s part of it.

As the radiation winds down, it seems that the Lupron is choosing to wind up. Oh, joy.

On Working at Your Best

Winter                                                                         Waxing Moon

20181214_081606Painting. A long, long ancientrail. Walked by so many. A few well, more journeypersons, and the rest of us.

Mediocre. An interesting idea, mediocre. If you’re working to your best capacity, your work is wonderful. Mediocre arrives on your doorstep when you begin comparing your work to others. I’m a writer of wonderful novels and short stories. I create wonderful paintings. Am I going to be hung in the National Gallery? No. Any gallery? Probably not. Am I going to make the NYT times best seller list? Unlikely. Have I done less than my best? No.

Success, I’m gradually beginning to learn, is not about the other. It is about yourself. If Michelangelo painted like me, he’d be mediocre because he had the skill to paint well. If Tolstoy wrote like me, same. Where do I fit? Hell if I know. I’ve had the chance to work at my best level in two fields where criticism is a given. I’ve learned to quiet my inner critic, to stay away from sweeping generalizations about my books, my paintings. Now you may read them, look at them, and say, “He’s no Song Dynasty landscape artist.” Or, “He’s no Marquez.” And you would be right. I’m just and only me.

breathe thich-nhat-hanh-calligraphyThis does not mean I’m uninterested in the quality of my work. Hardly. I want it to be the best I can do. Do I always work at my best level? Of course not. But I do as often as I can. Which is most of the time. I’ll leave the judging to others. I did write that novel. Several, in fact. I did create that painting. Several, in fact. Enough for me. Could I have done this without Kate? No. But Kate is in my life and I in hers. Both of us have sought the best for each other, have sought to create a home environment that encouraged our best work.

Quilting, making clothing, writing novels, and painting are not the only things we’ve done. Kate healed children. I worked hard at social justice, at following a small r religious path. Both of us have raised kids, learned how to be grandparents. Grew much of our own food, our own flowers, our own fruit, our own honey. There is no accounting, no form of critique that can measure these things. They are past. And we don’t live then. We live forward, on the ancientrail that leads into the time beyond this moment. What we have done is not what matters anymore. What matters now is what we do today, right now. As my buddy Bill Schmidt says, “Show up.”

crane2Life allows no do overs. We can reconsider, reframe, reevaluate, remember, but we cannot change yesterday, or any yesterday. We can make choices right now.

Today I chose to use turpentine to wipe out, literally, work I did yesterday. And, I’ll do new work on that painting today. I’m not doing over what I did yesterday. I’m going in a new direction today.

It feels to me like I’m beginning to get this, to accept the truth of the past, of my intentions, and to find a path with no attention to results. Not sure why but this excites me. A form of liberation, I guess. Not giving up, just going forward. Working at my best. Nothing else is possible, except apathy. And that’s not me.