What I’ve Been Up To, September 2017
These “what I’ve been up to” letters each take me several days to write. I keep on adding and changing things, and deciding what to include and what not to mention. I don’t really know whether this kind of material is interesting to general readers, or T.M.I., or refreshingly candid, or embarrassingly personal. Well, I figure that people can simply stop reading if this stuff doesn’t float their boat. As for me, this is simply what is going on… and it is what it is. I’ve also sent these letters out to people I actually know, because I thought they’d be interested. But, as I said, if this is T.M.I. for any of you, then by all means go watch the televised national poker championships.
In any event, I’m doing fine after I got my pacemaker installed. I took three weeks off from work and I’m back at it and getting things done — although at a less-than-frenetic schedule. And I’m in a rather interesting mental space these days, pursuant to my cardiac… ah… adventures.
I mentioned in my first letter than I had realized, to my great surprise, that I might easily have died had the heart/fainting thing gone down in any slightly different way. I could have easily been driving, for instance, and killed myself and/or someone else. Or I could have cracked my head open when I fell. Or I could have been operating a power tool and done great injury. But I didn’t die. I did suddenly feel that I could see things more with fresh eyes, and regard as a gift every day and every thing I do, every meal I eat, and every conversation I have… including writing this letter to you.
That feeling is an awesome gift, the more so because this is the first time I’d ever experienced it. I still feel it a month later, if not quite so intensely.
Also, three new things have surfaced in the past few weeks that I want to tell you about. And… it’ll take another few pages to do so. I’m sorry if I’ll seem to be going on and on… but I can’t do this in a sound-byte.
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The first new thing is that I seem to have lost my desire to eat compulsively. For the first time since I-don’t-know-when, I’m not stuffing my face. Somehow, I am losing weight without a diet, a regimen, a plan, or anything else that I can put my finger on. It’s just happening… and I’m feeling very comfortable with that. Popular thinking about compulsive eating is that it is emotionally rooted and that overeaters are in fact seeking comfort and safety that they otherwise don’t feel. I’m sure this is largely true. But, somehow, I seem to have not been feeling off-balance enough that I need to shovel in comfort food. I’ll have something more to say about this further on.
I remember that when I fainted last month I simply blacked out, with no warning. I just keeled over and, as I said, I didn’t break my head open. I woke up a minute later (they told me I was out for about a minute)… and then fell over again about ten minutes later. Ditto about the head cracking open. But something shifted in me in those episodes, and I am slowly finding that I’m now not quite the same person as the one that collapsed (even though that person and I would be superficially indistinguishable, as in in a police lineup or beauty contest).
One of the differences between the old me and the new me is that I have, for the first time, a pretty real sense that, well, yes, I was lucky in that I didn’t die… but… I will die. It has certainly made me pause.
I will die. I’m 73 years old and this circumstance is, as the saying goes, right in front of me. I’m not being morbid, by the way; I’m being candid. Do you know the feeling you had when you were in school and your teacher gave you a lesson that you learned by rote… or one of your friends told you something that you thought you understood… and then at some point it all clicked and you really understood it!? It’s like that with me. It’s as though I’ve woken up in a place where everything looks the same, but everything also looks different than it looked before. It feels weird, and it also feels completely natural.
Sorry if this is T.M.I. If it is, please stop reading and go do something else. Anyway, I repeat: I’m not being morbid. I’m calling it as I see it.
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Another thing that I’m aware of is that I have lost my impetus to work, work, work, work, and work as I’ve always done. It is at this point surprisingly effortless for me to slow down… or perhaps stop entirely… and just think. And maybe smell the flowers. I’ve ALWAYS worked six days a week and now, for the first time, I don’t want to work six days a week. I want to take time for myself. As I said, it’s just a bit new and strange. The oddest thing is that this brush with mortality hasn’t frightening me; it’s managed to make me feel appreciative and, well, liberated… in a way that I have not experience before.
Who knew about this kind of thing? And why wasn’t I informed sooner?
Well, I’m rambling. But I do think this all goes some distance in explaining my loss of interest in compulsive eating. I somehow don’t need to hide behind food. Or deaden myself with it.
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There’s something else, too: I took three weeks off from work after I got back home from the hospital. Part of that had to do with the fact that I was sore from the incisions they made. And I was tired, a lot; it took my body some time to adjust to the pacemaker. I also was feeling lightheaded whenever I stood up (the medicos call this an orthostatic episode, when blood supply to the brain is momentarily reduced), and I was nervous about falling over again. That lightheadedness has mostly gone away and I feel that I can sit down and stand like I’ve always done. [NOTE: it helps to keep well hydrated.]
Most importantly, though, I used the time to reorganize my very cluttered room, which has long served as a combination storage room and office. I got rid of a lot of stuff (astonishingly easy once I got over my initial resistance!), made space, and converted the former office into a combination den and man-cave. I bought an EXPENSIVE easy chair that is VERY comfortable (I’ve never had anything like that before), got a flat-screen t.v., and cleaned the place up so that it has become something much more inviting than it ever was before. All of this was a high time a-comin’.
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One thing that has to be mentioned, I think as background to all this, is that for a long time I have felt tired. Even drained. I think I have been approaching burnout. I haven’t taken any time off for a long time, but/and I couldn’t back away sufficiently from my life to get this feeling in focus. It is coming into focus better now, though. I think my body and soul have really needed me to get off the merry-go-round and these events have conspired to get me to do that.
It’s not easy to explain, but, mainly, I have been feeling (to me) astonishingly calm in the aftermath of all this. I mean, nothing external has really changed in my life: I still have bills to pay; Berkeley/Oakland hasn’t changed; traffic certainly hasn’t changed; I haven’t gained 30 I.Q. points or gotten plastic surgery; I still have work and chores to do… but, strange though it feels to say it and strange it may be to hear it, knowing that I’m going to die feels liberating. Who knew?
I have nothing to compare any of this with. It’s new for me. I have never even had a conversation with anyone about this kind of thing. Ever. One might say that I just seem to be o.k. living with no map, or perhaps having only a very fuzzy one. At least, for now. I might also say the same thing using different words: it’s as though I’ve been traveling on a long road and all of a sudden come to a section where the road has washed away by a flood or landslide or something like that. At present, I’m standing at the end of the old road and looking to muddle through this featureless new territory until I can find my road again on the other side. It’s interesting. And, largely, it’s free of a sense of… I don’t know… heaviness, urgency, and needing to accomplish things that I’ve been feeling for such a long time that it’s felt absolutely normal to me.
I certainly don’t know what it all means, yet. I am back at work, but at a slower pace. I have been slowing down the past few years anyway simply because I’m getting older, and as I mentioned I really have been feeling used up for a long time… but without really paying attention to it. I mean, see here now: I’ve been busy, dude! I’ve had work deadlines to attend to and responsibilities to discharge, you know?! I say again: I’m not being morbid in any of this. Rather, to put it in a yet different way, it’s sort of like getting lost on the way to work and winding up in some unknown place, and discovering a half-buried lost city. I want to tell people about it.
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The feeling of liberation seems real to me. When I fainted I remember that I suddenly felt very dizzy and just collapsed. It took literally two seconds. I realized, after I came to, that I had heard a sound of a thud at the time of my fainting. That, it turned out, was my head hitting the floor. It’s strange hearing something when I’m 95% unconscious; but it really was lights out, period. That might just have been the whole ball game, right then and there. There was no pain.
There was no light at the end of a tunnel either; everything just went black. But then again I’m a Taurus and Tauruses don’t do lights at the ends of dark tunnels.
So, anyway, right now I’m not particularly fearful of life. Or losing it. I’m accepting it as something I have not much control over. I would be disappointed if I died right now, because I wouldn’t have gotten to do all the things I would have wanted to do (such as using up all my wood stash in the making of lovely guitars) before checking out.
I’m still working all this out. More later.