Thursday, September 20, 2018


            I know a little bit about pain. For about ten years I suffered from cluster headaches, also known as “suicide headaches.” About every three months I would have a month with two or three per day, each one lasting about an hour. Eventually I learned from a nurse that breathing pure oxygen would stop them, so I got a prescription for a regulator and oxygen, and it worked. Eventually, they stopped paying their visits. “One of the benefits,” my doc said, “of getting older.” For more on cluster headaches, JFGI.

            I mention this not to attract sympathy – I am grateful for the oxygen and the eventual disappearance. No, I am interested in other people’s pain – how to understand it. The issue occurs to me because for the last month Kim has been experiencing a lot of pain in her back, hips, butt, and legs. It keeps her from sleeping. If it were anyone but Kim it would limit her activity, but she is still out there pulling weeds, moving rocks (“only small ones!”) and planting flowers and bushes. I still do the heavy lifting, and she will stop if I speak to her sternly. Her son, Scott, got angry and yelled at her, and her daughter, Genne’, a physical therapist, explained the potential permanent damage that might occur, but they aren’t around on a daily basis. Kim is constitutionally unable to stop working if I am working where she can see me.

            How bad is her pain? The docs and nurses use a 10-point scale. Kim usually scores at around 6, largely due to fibromyalgia and some arthritis, but lately she’s been at 8 or 9 – high enough to drive her to her oncologist to get a painkiller prescription. She wanted enough to get her through our move to the cottage, a process that will begin in a week or two depending on whether Godot Construction gets our home finished. We figure that the process will take about a month, if you include time spent moving furniture around and getting everything in place.

            How does Kim’s pain compare with my cluster headaches? If we both gave them the same numerical rating, does that make them “the same”? Would using colors be a better way to describe the quality of pain? Some pain is red, some yellow (my hockey puck cuts), some purple (cluster headaches). Or maybe as music – some heavy metal, some the Bee Gees, some Beethoven’s Ninth (but not in a good way). I remember when my brother John was having his mental illness diagnosed after he was arrested. They had to put a label on him, ending up with schizo-affective disorder. That’s like looking at a cloud and asking if its shape is a square, triangle, or rhombus. Everyone’s pain is qualitatively different. A common high bar for pain is childbirth, an experience with which I am unsurprisingly unqualified to speak. Kim mentioned the pain of extensive burns, which she sees as a 10, but more research needs to be done – research that I don’t want any part of. We just can’t know what a pain sufferer is feeling.

            I am currently pain free, but I know from my experiences with the common cold that if I experienced pain anything like Kim’s, I would make sure I was heavily drugged, without Kim’s hesitations about addiction and her reluctance to be too groggy to landscape our hillside and butterfly garden. And when we move in, who thinks she will trust me to put all the kitchen-ware, her art gear and photo equipment where it belongs? I predict that she will pop a pill to help her sleep and tough it out the rest of the time.

            Her stoicism makes it hard for me – or anyone else – to know how much pain she is suffering. I still sit back, most days, and let her cook dinner after a day of landscaping – though I usually offer to do the dishes all by myself. Maybe she should wear a flag with a number on it, or perhaps a color. But she doesn’t like to talk about her pain. Another thing we don’t talk about: The nurse-practitioner who prescribed pain pills suggested the pain might be a sign of her cancer’s spreading. We push that thought aside by keeping busy. Next set of scans will be in a couple of months.

            Another dimension of pain is that experienced by the loving witness. No, it’s nothing like the pain itself, but still . . .. Pain is the body’s signal that something is wrong, and you should do something about it, or maybe stop doing something. Hard to do or stop doing when it’s your beloved’s pain, and you feel helpless. Get a back pillow? Give a shoulder massage? Hold her hand when she has to step up or down? Remind her to take a pain pill? Help her walk to the couch when back spasms make her kitchen work impossible? Put on her shoe or sock when she can’t? Grab that rock before she can pick it up? It may sound like a lot, but it’s not. It’s not adequate, not at all . . ..

            “What I do with my pain,” Kim says, “is focus my attention on what I enjoy – photography and just being outside, building this house despite the frustrations, and taking care of my husband.” Sometimes, however, the pain becomes too much. Today, however, we are turning in measurements for our shower door that someone failed to order, buying paintable switch-plate covers, getting a table out of storage to see if it fits in the bathroom, and driving to Charlevoix for lunch, a haircut, and some relaxation. She reports that she is having a good day, pain-wise.

Thursday, September 13, 2018


Can you write a novel consisting entirely of questions?
Does The Interrogative Mood, a novel(?) by Padgett Powell where every sentence is a question, really work?
Why did I never meet the author, who lives in Gainesville?
Why did I never meet a lot of semi-famous people?
Where is my copy of the book?


Why not compile my own list of questions?
What do I write next?
What do I do next?
Does it matter what I write or do next?
If it matters, to whom does it matter?

Is time travel possible?
Can we achieve time travel through the use of our own mind, perhaps aided by reading?
If there is no up or down in space without gravity’s orienting force, is there similarly no past or future?
Is the present moment an illusion, a dimensionless boundary between past and present?
If it’s an illusion, then how can I live in the present?

Is astral travel possible?
If you have an out-of-body experience, what is having that experience?
Would you prefer to have an intense out-of-body experience, or an intense in-body experience?
How can you tell your astral travel from a hole in the ground?
Were the hippies on to something?

How healthy will Kim be in a year?
What is her cancer doing?
How healthy will I be?
If either one of us has a serious health decline, what will it be like to live that way?
Is it a mistake to move to our cottage, 40 miles from doctor and hospital?

Who wrote the book of love?
Why do fools fall in love?
How many different kinds of love are there?
What do all kinds of love have in common?
What is the most cynical definition of love that you know?

How can we remain young?
Why is it important to be young?
Was I happier when I was in my 20s than I am now?
Is relative happiness the best way to measure how well I am doing?
Am I happier when I’m not asking a lot of questions?

What happens to me after I die?
Do I have an immortal soul?
Am I the only person who has one?
What happens to other people after I die?
To be, or not to be?

What will tomorrow’s weather be?
Why do I feel this is important enough to check?
What is concern about weather distracting me from?
How did President Trump get that way?
What can we do about it?

What, exactly, is a question?
When does a string of words become a question?
Does any question have a satisfactory answer?
Are you certain?
Isn’t certainty, like satisfaction, a feeling rather than something having to do with truth?
Why doesn’t English signal a question with an upside-down question mark, like Spanish?

If you have any questions, or answers to mine, would you send them to me at or

Thursday, September 6, 2018

Old Fart

            When Kim and I were first dating, for some reason she suggested that I should marry a younger woman, not her. I told her that I did not want to be the old fart in a relationship. “I’ve got news for you,” she said. “You are the old fart in a relationship.”

            Remembering that got me to thinking: What, exactly, is an old fart?

            Call me biased, but I can’t help but think that the expression applies only to men. (Any disagreement, ladies?) This may be because of the historic connection between men and farting – women being much more discreet about such things.

            Is an old fart necessarily old? Yes, though not necessarily chronologically. But, typically, the behavior associated with old fartism is practiced by old people. How old? As old as me. We are not talking about the inability to use a cell phone or make a left turn in traffic. And it’s not just a matter of slow thinking, a characteristic I prefer to see as being contemplative. It may have to do with an inability to change. I remember when I was doing some writing for Pfizer about changes in their corporate culture, and Mark Jones, the Human Resources guy I was working with, summarized the problem we faced: “I’m all in favor of change, as long as I don’t have to do anything differently.” But these Pfizer guys (mainly) were young and very bright, so this difficulty is clearly not limited to we elderly.

            What about the second word in the term “old fart?” Though farts vary from person to person, circumstance to circumstance, diet to diet, “old fart” suggests stale rather than ripe. And things become stale when they’ve been around too long. And that stinks. Again, this suggests a lack of change. One remedy for farts is a breath of fresh air, which implies a movement of air, which suggests change.

(At this point I am thinking that my parents, if they were alive, would be very proud of how I am using the philosophy I learned in my expensive college education.)

            You may want to sharpen your definition of “old fart” by examining people, yourself included, who you see as old farts. See what characteristics pop up. When I discussed this with Kim, after reassuring me that I’m not at all an old fart, she added, “You do like to tell stories to young people, and sometimes they are busy and don’t want to hear them.” Guilty, as charged! But I can get away with it, I hope, by writing my stories in a blog where I can’t tell if I am boring readers, and if I am, they can click me away and go on with their busy lives. Your busy life. 

            For more clarification, I turned to the Urban Dictionary, a frequent resource, and learned that the term “old fart” refers to a person with “old fashioned values.” I like that. Think of what people this week have been saying about John McCain, using words like “honor,” “respect,” “honesty,” “sacrifice” and “duty.” OK – so it was the third definition, and the others are not so positive, but as a reader I choose what and how to read. With this in mind, I feel a lot better about being mistaken for an old fart.

            But if you conclude, reluctantly, that you are an old fart, what can you do about it? One option is to embrace the role: Go to McDonalds for the senior coffee and sit around with friends complaining about politics, exchanging medical histories, and bragging about grandkids while lamenting kids-these-days. Not that I ever do that, for doing so would involve a change in my routine.

            A better option is to marry, or at least hang out with, someone like Kim. As in, “Let’s set the alarm for 5:30 because we have so much to do tomorrow!” When she says, “I have an idea!” I fasten my seatbelt. Change is good, right?

Comment from Barbara Woodmansee:
Yes.  Without exception, Old Farts are men.  The women in our house do not fart ever, although the men do - frequently.
Our family's Old Fart spends a lot of time Working In The Garage, which is fascinating to me because after YEARS of this activity, I have yet to see any visible change ANYWHERE in our garage.  But I have read that Working In The Garage is good for men and makes them happy...being bitten by mosquitoes, and occasionally ALMOST being bitten by more than one cottonmouth (probably a male who also likes garages), getting filthy fingernails that will never be clean again, and listening to rock music from the 60's.  Happy is good, so I support it.

Thursday, August 30, 2018

Growing Old: Three Strategies


Imaginary Friend

            For a period in my life one of my goals was to become an imaginary friend. This appeared to be easier than other goals available to me, goals such as “success,” “popularity” or “happiness.” I am not sure if I achieved my goal, though addressing my weekly blog notification to “Friends” may be a positive indication. My readers and I are imaginary friends.

            Kim and I have taken it a step further. We have invited an imaginary friend to come live with us. I’m not sure Kim was aware of this until now.

            This idea first occurred to me shortly after we were married. My stepson, Scott, had just graduated from college and for a short time lived with us while he got his career underway. It was good having Scott around because he’s a good guy, he helped with home maintenance, and I could blame him for stuff. Who left dirty dishes on the table? Must have been Scott. Who left the back door unlocked? Lights on in the garage? Scott. As I said, he’s a good guy.

            Now that Scott is off leading his own life, I have had to rely on an imaginary friend to fill Scott’s role. Who put the can opener in the scissor drawer? Who left pretzel crumbs on the couch? Who opened the window with the air conditioner running? Not me, certainly!

            But I have to be careful. In an amusing movie called “Multiplicity,” Michael Keaton’s character is overwhelmed by all of his responsibilities – his job, his son, his wife, his parents. So he gets himself duplicated, so he can be in two places at once. Everyone is happy, except when he realizes that his duplicate is sleeping with his wife, and she seems very satisfied. See the movie. And be careful your imaginary friend is not better at being you than you are. But maybe that’s not such a bad thing . . .. A gift arrives at the door that I don’t remember ordering for Kim?



            We were having breakfast with Scott and his daughters a few weeks ago, and he described plans to take them to a luge run at a nearby ski resort. Kim asked him if he were going to take the wheeled sled down the track.

            “Sure! I still like to get the adrenaline pumping.”

            “So do I,” I said, “but I do it by going to my mailbox.”

            Scott was quick to catch on: “Coupons! Coupons!”

            The conversation led me to speculate on how I, as an old guy, get my adrenaline pumping. It’s not by riding a luge down a cement track.

·     Getting up in the morning. When you are in your 70s, every dawn feels like a winning lottery ticket.
·     Sex. Yes, it still happens. Anxiety may contribute to the adrenaline, but love, kisses, and a bit of alcohol are the main drivers.
·     Moving rocks – an achievement Kim describes as “getting your rocks off.”
·     Parallel parking. Kids these days can’t do it.
·     Getting something on my computer to work. And I take full credit when my repair consists of turning it off for a while.
·     Finding a quarter in a parking lot. I did once find $200 in a parking lot, and that was even better.
·     Seeing a bird that we had not seen before. Sometimes this is short-lived, because I discover that we have already seen the bird, and Kim has photos to prove it.
·     Candlelight dinner with Kim. This will have to resume in the winter, because in the summer Up North we may find ourselves going to sleep while it is still light.



            I remember hearing an interview with an old guy, I think he was French, who was asked about his secret for his health in old age. His answer: “Poor memory.” He went on to explain that he has managed to forget all the people who offended him in the past, so he’s living a relatively untroubled life. Kim and I are doing pretty well with our forgetting.

            By the way, my son Phillip came up with a good strategy to use when you have forgotten a word in mid-sentence. Simply ask, “How do you say this in English?” That way you get credit for being bilingual, which is better than being, um, how do you say this in English?

Thursday, August 23, 2018

Yuc It Up!

            Kim and I have pretty much finished our switchback path down to the lake. All we have remaining is another dressing with wood chips and solidifying one of the rock steps we put in. We also know we are almost done because a guy will be starting to construct and install our wooden steps down to the beach, the lack of which led us to construct the switchback in the first place. Our work will be redundant. So it goes. But ours will be prettier.

            But then, what are we to do with all that energy we put into the path? Fortunately, our landscaping labor continues. When we were weeding down by our little beach we discovered an old sea wall. It’s about two feet think, maybe a foot above beach level. We decided to expose the top and lake-side of the wall. This is proving enjoyable because in addition to the pleasures of weeding, we also have added the pleasure of hauling bucket loads of dirt up our path to the waiting wheelbarrow. Four buckets = one wheelbarrow push through the sandy yard soil to fill holes left by large rocks we had moved. Our new neighbor, Sandy, said she sees the love we are putting into our little hillside. I think it’s more sweat than love, though that may be two ways of seeing the same thing.

            All this bending, weeding and loading is not good for Kim’s surgically repaired back, so she took a break to move a dozen or so large rocks to new homes where the lake meets the shore next to our not-yet-restored pump house. We also decided to build a firepit, so I started moving rocks we had piled near the garage – left over from the chimney of the cottage we tore down.

We had a lot of rocks. 

 This helped me burn off my frustration with the slow pace of construction – builder pretty much disappeared for three months.

            Our weeding has led us to a discovery. It may be yucca, an ornamental plant, or it may be cassava, a.k.a. yuca, the roots of which are a major food source in South America, Africa, and much of the world. My research is inconclusive – testament to my research-disability. What I do know is that they have huge roots, swelling into tubers that resemble giant sweet potatoes. They grow long, tough vines that run along our sea wall – the longest I’ve yanked out so far is more than 20 feet, marked by those tubers.

            Neither yuccas nor yucas belong here in Northern Michigan, so as I am sweating and digging and pulling, I am wondering how they got here. I suppose the ornamental yuccas might have been placed as ornaments, but those large root-yams suggest yuca, not yucca. I suppose I could eat one to see if it’s edible, but I don’t think it would microwave very well. My speculations help pass the time.

            What also helps to pass the time is that removing tubers reminds me of removing tumors, and the words almost rhyme. Just as the combination of surgery, radiation and chemo has apparently removed Kim’s tumors, my surgery, using a shovel and my back, arms and legs, is making our beach area tuber-free. And that feels pretty good. Weeding is a pleasure that I have only recently discovered, and weeding yuccas, whether they are weeds or not, multiplies the pleasure. It’s the challenge that feeds the pleasure. It’s an accomplishment. So I actually look forward to my yuc-it-up hours (only 1-3 daily). I’m glad I can do the work at my age, and I feel that I am somehow helping Kim to heal.

Thursday, August 16, 2018

Five Deadly Terms Used by a Woman

I almost didn’t get my blog out today, which would be my first miss in over two years. I’ve spent the last four days struggling with Google over how to renew my domain name. Yes, it took four days for them to figure out how to process my annual $10 fee. They figured it out late this afternoon. But my blog was not quite ready to see the light of day, so for that you will have to wait until next week.

Meanwhile, here’s an item I found on the door of a men’s room in a local restaurant. It’s better than anything I would have written:

Five Deadly Terms Used by a Woman

#1  FINE
This is the word women use to end an argument when she knows she is right and you need to shut up.

Means something and you need to be worried.

This is a dare, not permission. Don’t do it.

A woman’s way of saying “Screw you.”

She is thinking long and hard on how and when you will pay for your mistake.

This is not a compliment. She’s amazed that one person can be so stupid.

Comment from John Bayerl:
I would add “What are you doing?”  It’s not a question, it’s a comment on how stupid you are. 

Thursday, August 9, 2018

Remembering Television

            One of the pleasures of preparing last week’s blog, and this week’s, is briefly remembering enjoyable experiences. So what if they involve sitting in front of the boob tube instead of a book? It’s similar to the pleasure of looking through a scrapbook, or looking at Kim’s photos of our travels. And some day, to rereading blog entries. It’s a sign of our aging that we are remembering experiences instead of, you know, having them. Fortunately, we are doing both – witness our home design and construction (more or less underway again) and our volunteering for the Land Conservancy.

            Another sign of our aging is our forgetting. Our readers responded with a number of tv favorites that should have been on our original list, except I temporarily forgot about them. (When I was teaching film in high school I would ask my students, “What’s the most forgettable movie you’ve ever seen?”) Thanks for the reboot.

            Here are the responses received to date:

Doug Reilly: MASH  Told myself several times to put this on my list. Forgot to do it.

Smokey Stover: Saturday Night Live Hey Smokey – this was on my list! Did you forget you read it there?

John Bayerl: “We like Monk.  Also, as a guilty pleasure, we watch Hallmark Christmas movies. Their sheer predictability and that one moment that brings tears is worth the unchanging plot lines.”  True that.

Rex Rowan: “In last week's blog you asked for suggestions for a miniseries to watch on Netflix. I recommend ‘The Same Sky,’ a look at life in East and West Germany in 1974. Actually it may be a six-episode-per-season series rather than a miniseries, because some of the stories were left hanging, and another season is in the offing. Still, it's extremely good. Another European production, this one humorous rather than dramatic, is ‘A Very Secret Service,’ now in its second season. It's more like a typical series, though: 12 episodes per season.

Sue Johnson: Watch "Suits."i We binge watched all 7 seasons on Amazon Prime and loved them. Friends are now watching and report they are addictively binge watching also. Enjoy!  Just what I needed - another addiction.

Charmaine Stangl: “Here are a few superb series I don't think you mentioned. The Newsroom, West Wing, The Office, Breaking Bad (close to Shakespearean at times), and Better Call Saul. For sheer absurd hilarity try Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt.  At its best Curb Your Enthusiasm is wonderful. It's great to have an escape.”  Again, thanks for catching my oversights, especially Breaking Bad. Just added Curb to my Netflix list.

Rex: “Under Sitcom: Arrested Development, The Office (British), The Office (American), New Girl, The Grinder, Parks and Recreation, Better Off Ted. Under Cop Drama: True Detective (Season One), The Unusuals. You left out science fiction: Firefly. I should add that two of these series were cancelled much too early, so that there are only 14 episodes of Firefly (plus a followup theatrical film, Serenity), and only 10 episodes of The Unusuals. Both of these, as well as the British version of The Office (13 episodes, no more were intended) are in effect mini-series.” We’ve seen none of these except an occasional The Office (American). Where have we been?

Kim and David: Here are a few that we remembered since last week’s post: Have Gun, Will Travel, The Little House on the Prairie, All in the Family, Roots (1977 version – 2016 version too graphic for us), Alfred Hitchcock Presents, Mork and Mindy, The Honeymooners.

We thought of some others during the week, but I forgot what they were.