Category Archives: Life

Don’t Diet. Eat.

Mushrooms
Probably shouldn’t eat these though either.

This is the most hypocritical topic I can write about because I’m someone who by genes is slender, prone to enjoy exercise, and can withstand a diet that includes too much beer and meat. When sweets show up at the office, I find it rude (ahem) to decline.

That said, I also try to heed timeless advice on dieting: Eat real food, of different varieties.

It’s been said and said and said, in many different ways. (e.g. from “Meat and potatoes worked for your grandad on the farm” to “If it wasn’t on your grandma’s table, it’s probably not good to eat.”)

But this column in the Times

sums it all up quite nicely, on the even of the gluttony season — a season when, really, there’s lots of good real food to gorge on!:

But nutrition advice need not confound; in fact, it’s simple and has barely changed since you were a kid (it doesn’t even matter when you were a kid). “Eat a variety of foods” almost does the trick, if the foods you’re eating are real, which means food with one ingredient or maybe four or six. (Most real bread, for example, is water, flour, yeast and salt, with the possible addition of olive oil or a seasoning or two, and the possible subtraction of yeast. Yeast conditioners and ingredients with five syllables have no place in real bread.)

Or, further:

Marion Nestle, who is among the wisest and sanest people I know when it comes to nutrition, how she might sum up dietary advice, and after noting that not much has changed since the ‘50s, she said: “The basic principles — then and now — are variety (eat many different kinds of foods to get all needed nutrients), balance (don’t eat too much of any one food category, especially meat, dairy and junk foods) and moderation (balance calories). To these, we can add: Eat more fruits and vegetables.”

Some of this requires judgment, but it’s safe to say that the less junk food (especially sugar and the like) and the more fruits and veggies you eat, the better off you are. We needlessly complicate things when we think about “nutrients” rather than “foods,” and we often take rigid, extreme positions.

When shopping or selecting food, I try to keep in mind one more point, made excellently in the article:

Thus one purpose of “marketing” is “confusing,” trying to persuade us that we must know a lot to make intelligent food choices.

Yes. They aim to confuse. They aim to create doubt. They aim to create a problem in your head, the best solution for which is THIS PRODUCT RIGHT HERE.

I try to resist. I try to focus on real food.

Well, I mean except for Swedish Fish. On road trips only. Who can resist those red seafood facsimiles?

Accepting death as a part of life, again

Headed to the “death cafe.”

I probably wouldn’t go so far as to preserve a loved one’s head, but yes we could all do with a little more realistic, more accepting view of death even as we daily try to fight it off.

From “The Dead Have Something to Tell You” (timed for Halloween):

We tune in to television shows about serial killers, but real bodies are hidden from view, edited out of news coverage, secreted behind hospital curtains. The result, as Michael Lesy wrote in his 1987 book “The Forbidden Zone,” is that when death does occur, “it reverberates like a handclap in an empty auditorium.” It wasn’t always this way. Death once occurred at home, with friends and family gathered around. Local women were responsible for washing the body and sewing the shroud. People sometimes slept in the same room as corpses, because there was nowhere else to go.

[…]

The erasure of death also allows us to imagine that our mortal trivialities and anxieties are permanent, while a consistent awareness of death — for those who can stomach it — can help us live in the here and now, and teach us to treasure what we already have. In fact, a study by University of Missouri researchers released this spring found that contemplating mortality can encourage altruism and helpfulness, among other positive traits.

Yeah, I’d also venture it would make us a little less selfish in our intra-family dealings and — imagine this — would allow us to have a more honest conversation about national healthcare without some idiot smearing the debate with terms like “death panels.” (So much healthcare money is wasted on the final six months of life, when there’s little to do that has any effect, versus the rest of life, when some preventative care goes a long way.)

Philosophically, though no one has been outright ripped from my life in tragic and sudden circumstances, I notice my view of death settles somewhere like this: They’re not gone — the effect of their lives remains with us long after their death — but they’ve stopped adding chapters to their story.

It happens to all of us.

Regrets of the Dying; Or, Reminders to Live This Moment

We live like kings and queens.

Because this is how life works and how interests intersect from unexpected corners, I saw this piece via an NHL agent, who saw it via an NHL team owner, who was high up at AOL and also openly chases his life’s own bucket list.

Good stuff in this, “Nurse Reveals 5 Regrets of the Dying.”

In short: Live true to yourself, don’t work so hard (unless it fulfills you/enables your fulfillment), express yourself, keep your friends, and permit yourself to be happy.

Reading it makes me feel so lucky. But I feel lucky every day, and I suppose that’s the point.

My biggest flaw is staying in touch — I get lost in my own head and my own curiosities too easily — but boy, those great friendships between souls span time and absences, picking up where they left off.

How was your day?

Of all the Seinfeld bits, this is if not the funniest, certainly the one I quote most. Kramer in his element, talking Jerry back from the ledge of marriage — and in the process, Jerry bails on a pledge he made to George (they’ll each settle down and get married) not five minutes before.

Marriage is a wild, curious little adventure, and thanks to older siblings and older friends I did not go into it unaware. I never expected to go into it at all, frankly — but then I met a gal who somehow made my life even better, month after month, year after year, with alarming consistency.

Stil, I couldn’t stick it out even with her if she didn’t share (well…okay, “tolerate”) my sense of humor and appreciation for the absurdities that come when you mix normal human hormones and life cycles with the codependency of a long-term commitment to another. So when we’re going through the mundane stretches of a year that feel like work-sleep-shower, work-sleep-shower, work-sleep-shower and we’re able to catch our breath to talk, I needle her with “And how was your day? Did you have a good day?” in the Kramer voice. We laugh. (Usually. Sometimes it’s just me.)

I’ve never picked up a self-help book — in my arrogance I would suggest I’ve never needed one. But I imagine they’re all a bunch of different ways of telling you what you already know, or what you already figured out, or what you just needed someone else to tell you so you feel okay about believing it’s true. And that’s great, people need that.

But from the outside — and again, with the benefit of so many models before me — it looked to me like the key to happy codependency in the curious institution of marriage is:

  • Know yourself. (This is hard.)
  • Know your partner. (This might be harder.)
  • Accept that each of you will change over time — it’s human nature.
  • Communicate constantly, so those changes don’t take you by surprise (and maybe you’ll even change together).

Obviously it helps if you take care of the first two before you jump in, lest you have to retrofit each other.

This Post was Actually Supposed to be about Biking

Well it’s allllll-right,  riding around in the breeze
Well it’s allllll-right,  if you live the life you please
Well it’s allllll-right,  even if the Sun don’t shine
Well it’s allllll-right,  we’re going to the end of the line

“End of the Line” ~ Traveling Wilburys

Anyway, it’s funny: For years I wanted Mrs. Fall of Because to get a bike so we could go biking together. But we always sort of put it off — we certainly haven’t lacked activities to do together. So what made her finally do it? A few friends who convinced her to join them in a sprint triathlon, for which she needed a bike. Hee hee, whatever it takes.

Now a few weeks ago we biked about 22 miles in the Illinois flood plain with her aunt and uncle. We are a 10-minute ride from a major city park that has a 6-mile loop in it, and now we’re biking that loop (which I used to bike with my mother, incidentally, so that’s surreal in its own way). If she does another triathlon, I might actually do it with her, provided I learn how to swim efficiently first — an exercise that has already produced new comedic moments as I try to coordinate arms, legs and lungs together in a medium in which they’re normally lounging on a raft with a drink in hand.

Suddenly we’ve got a few new answers to “How was your day?” and I imagine one day we’ll look back and crack up about these times when we started biking together, when I cursed trying to get my 20-year-old bike rack to fit the 10-year-old car, and each early ride was marked by trying to figure out what was up with her chain, and she doubled over watching me try to do the breast stroke while sinking steadily to the bottom of the pool.

The hope, the idea being that we’re going to the end of the line.

Let us nap and be merry

Honestly, I know that one thing that would scare me about parenting is how much I like to nap. I mean, I love sleep, period, but naps are the exquisite dessert of sleep. If I can come home from work and take a nap, I am golden — and cheerful! — into the wee hours of the night, no matter how many drinks come afterward.

Sure, I’d prefer if our culture encouraged or at least allowed naps at work — I’m certain it would boost my productivity to do that rather than slog through post-lunch hours half-awake — but sadly it’s not to be. Apparently, naps are still frowned upon unless you’re unemployed or insomniac, in which case naps are expected. Although sleep experts say naps “should have the status of exercise.” Bravo!

I mean, could Einstein, Edison and my own father be wrong? (Okay, maybe so.) My dad took a nap every day after work, and he stayed up until 3 a.m. “working” just about every night. It does alarm me a bit that I’ve sort of adapted the same schedule. And I do note that he was able to do this by, well, not doing much parenting.

Hmmm. Maybe naps are for the unemployed and the employed … but not for parents.

80 and blind, finding new routines

I called my father the other morning for his 80th birthday. He was naturally happy to hear from me, but he announced that he would never “see” me again.

Though he always talks flippantly about health decline and being shocked (and disappointed) to have lived this long, this time, in his own literal way, he was serious: After a steady decline in his eyesight and a final unsuccessful maneuver to restore it, he’s nearly blind now. Can’t see the numbers on the phonepad, can’t read.

“So even if you visit me, I will not see you,” he said, with no spoken emphasis on the word “see” to convey his wordplay — I’m certain he takes delight in speaking this way. (Shit, is this where I got the dry side of my own sense of humor? Reflect…)

He generally opens conversations with such cheerful news like that. It’s partly a Czech thing but mostly a him thing: How are you doing, Dad? “Horrible. But not as awful as last week” is par for any call.

We spent most of our half-hour conversation discussing his taxes (which I didn’t handle, until this call) and my taking over the delivery of birthday checks — both management moves necessitated by his vanished vision. He apologized, as always, for talking business on my international dime, but I told him for his birthday he could talk about whatever he wants.

(Of course, he did manage to get his usual dig in about how I am “so far behind” my brother in the offspring race that I “may never catch up.” I’m sure he’d prefer his favorite child lead that “race” — particularly if I produced male family name-carriers.)

It always strikes me as odd that a guy living abroad who can no longer travel (nor see, now), and who has for several years talked of dying any week now, would be so concerned with his minimal U.S. taxes and renewing his AAA membership. When it was his driver’s license, and even AAA, I figured it was more psycho-sentimental: the clinging on to the symbols of one’s independence such as the implied ability to drive.

But taxes? Practically speaking, I suppose he could worry about outstanding tax/IRS claims on his estate after he’s gone, but I know it’s not that. I think it’s the comfort of normalcy represented by life’s routines.

And thus he has my deepest sympathies. He has always been a creature of routine (no breakfast, “a soup” for lunch, Perry Mason afternoon if home, nap after work, up till 2 or 3 a.m., highlight the TV Guide with different colors for “must see,” “nice to see,” and “have on if around,” crossword puzzle and a cigarette while sitting on the throne.) Of routine to such a degree that I suspect it helped cope with an overactive mind, or mild OCD, or perhaps a way of instilling certainty on a life whose first 15 years consisted of the tragic uncertainty of invasion, an assassinated father, war, “liberation” and Soviet occupation.

But for someone who loves to read, write, drive and travel, to be immobile at home without vision but fully cognizant must be rough. The comfort of so many routines now lost, replaced by dependence he hoped he’d never live to see. At least there’s still jazz music.

Nonetheless, he sounded in good spirits. Possibly because he was hearing from his newly nominated tax handler, so that eased one of his nagging worries, but still. He’s surrounded by good people — an old couple and a cousin who, truth be told, aren’t in much better shape than he. But he couldn’t survive under recent circumstances without them. And they sound happy to have him and help him. Their voices on the phone as I completely misunderstand their Czech words betrayed their happiness at hearing from me.

It’s those tones in their voices — they take me back to being there, much younger, as they talked about me in Czech to my father in reverential words for the nice boy, your son. The aunt has the voice of a big jovial babushka whose laughter is infectious and instantly brings a smile to my face. Her husband has the much-lower drone of a guy who’s done hard labor all his life — permanent V-shaped chest tan and all — but who nonetheless keeps a great hold on Czech humor’s great appreciation of the absurd.

Both of them speak to me as if I understand, when I don’t. But always there is some sense of communication achieved. Those tones. They resonate. Hearing them reinforces my sense of beauty in life’s simple things. Sowing community in simple gestures, smiles, body language. Suddenly I can see how foreign cultures — sometimes, anyway — could initially interact positively with one another despite lacking a common language with which to speak. The common thread of humanity can be very powerful, before we start fighting over the resources.

Perhaps it’s their loving vibes that have helped keep my father in good spirits despite the loss of life’s normal comfort routines.

It’s been 11+ years now since I first said goodbye to him at the airport when he moved back to his original home. I wept with therapeutic abandon that first time, because it represented such a monumental transition from an old way to however this story would end. From a block or a phone call away as a child, to an ocean and several time zones of separation as a young adult. It’s not like I saw him often by that point, anyway: My sister’s need for free rent had long since bumped my belongings out of his spare bedroom, and I was chasing adventures and delightful mistakes in college, anyway.

It was more what the transition represented — all of life’s earlier memories with him wrapped up, while an uncertain future lay ahead where I might see him once a year or, perhaps very soon, not at all. Emotions and sentiments tidily packaged in a moment like the sappy end of a chick flick. Haven’t managed to cry at any of our partings since: as if that transition was already crossed and could shed no more tears.

Since then, the health issues (and calls focused on them) have steadily piled up, the visits evermore sporadic. But he’s still forging along, creating new routines, getting by somehow. … And still doing his taxes.

Homewrecker

*PSA: Although home-wrecking alcoholism isn’t exactly funny, calling those 1.5-liter bottles of liquor the “homewrecker” size sure is. As in: “Pick up bananas, milk, and a homewrecker of Crown.” One of the better slang terms I know of, it’s just satisfyingly descriptive and clean. A lovely compound word, both grave and flippant. There are several standard sizes and varying prices for portions of alcohol, but when you pick up the homewrecker you’re either partying or you mean business with your self-destruction, so you’re buying it in bulk. As always, we I must laugh at our human condition if I’m to keep on keepin’ on.

But this isn’t about alcohol. It’s about the weird sensation of being away at work while knowing that two guys are demolishing part of my house.

“A house is essentially a huge box filled with complicated things that want to break — a box that sits outside day and night, in the rain and snow, surrounded by creatures that would like to eat it.”
— David Owen, as quoted in “House Lust: America’s Obsession with Our Homes,” by Daniel McGinn

Yes, with the economy being so robust and filled with bright prospects, we decided now would be a good time to sink a whole bunch of money into our vulnerable box. Boy, oil is high, stocks are low — sure, why not take on some debt now?

Truthfully, while education jobs are hardly lucrative, the one nice thing, financial-planningly speaking, is that they’re somewhat recession-proof. Raises are paltry no matter the economy, but labor reductions are rare. To get axed you have to sleep not just with several people, but several people at the wrong time(s) — current dean/VP: bad; future dean/VP: good — and even then it might take video evidence to take you down.

So in that sense, we can wait to dance with debt until the rates are low — regardless of the macro factors that are making those rates so low and getting our neighbors to cut back on their Playboy subscription.

Debt-ready, we’re adding on a deck and a wee modest sun room, the bids for which we solicited over much debate and reflection this winter.

It replaces a useless 6′ x 4′ back “porch” whose greatest potential in life was as a one-person staging area once you climbed the steps to house level. With one person and a dog, it’s crowded. With one person and two dogs, it’s canine chaos: tails stepped on, paws crossed, work trousers slimed by drive-by saliv(a)ing — to say nothing of the see-through railings that put every bit of suburban wildlife in the telescopic sight of our canine pretend predators.

So today the contractors arrived — as contractors and gas men always do — by surprise, first thing in the morning. We knew they would start “soon” but didn’t realize it would be “you won’t know the day or the hour” soon.

They rang the bell while I was in the shower, igniting a harmony of dog barks among the deep-voiced old lady and high-pitch puppy still finding her voice. The builders received no answer — remember, I’m in the shower, and Mrs. Fall of Because, being on Spring Break, has a vacation clause that absolves her from greeting visitors or doing work until she naturally wakes from her beauty rest.

So they start backing their truck down the mud-glazed driveway. Which elevates the dog harmony from “Someone’s at the door” Alert Bark to full-on, impassioned “We’re under attack!” Panic Howl. Which tells me that, indeed, it is more than someone misdelivering a Playboy — “good dog!” — as someone is now carving up my rain-drenched yard with their truck.

The builders were sheepish about arriving by surprise, but clearly that was the middle-man’s job, and the middle-man ain’t here, so what of it? We got work to do.

Fair point. And it’s not like once someone you’re trusting with your house is there, ready to start much-anticipated work, you’re going to do anything other than welcome them and let them do their thing.

As work started, the dogs naturally kept barking despite our assurances that everything is on the up-and-up. They alternated between barking at the shadows on the porch and looking at us — how could we just sit there while this is happening?! So Mrs. Fall of Because took the dogs and headed south.

And here I am working — except for this very moment, I assure you — thinking about nice, sunny spring mornings in the new room. But in the background I’m thinking, “Wait a minute, somebody is over there demolishing part of my house!”

And that’s when I gained a little empathy and saw where the dogs are coming from.

True love

As I tell it, the story goes like this: My wife, when she was just Girlfriend-Level IV, engineered her promotion to Fiance-First Class by getting “us” a dog. I’ll tell it this way to my grave.

The Plan

It wasn’t a present; it was more of a maneuver. Back in the day, my family went through something like 17 dogs before mercifully stopping when I was still quite young. I knew I’d get a dog again one day — hopefully one that did not die suddenly, hang itself on its leash, impale itself on the fence, or get stolen, as so many predecessors had — but I wasn’t going to get one until I was ready and on my feet. At the time, I was working strange hours and holding down a house that was too big and too expensive for my ducats. Can’t.Have.A-dog-yet, I said.

But she’s such a romantic about dogs that she literally asked her parents for one at each birthday, even when she was away at college. We often quip — and it’s only half-joking — that if she could give birth to dogs, the question of to have or not to have offspring would’ve been settled long ago. Yeah, that’s the level we’re talking about here.

Lo and behold, the right puppy litter is born to the right friend at the wrong time, and I cannot turn that romantic canine-loving face down. “Fine, it can live at my house. But you have to seriously help with care and training. I mean seriously.”

I was leaving for work at 2 a.m. those days. Napping at weird hours. Playing hockey at others. My father was coming in for Christmas, with all his maladies and surprises. I needed the help.

The Attack

“Help” changed to staying overnight a lot, for this grad student/first-year teacher who was nominally living with her parents to save cash. It started to sound a lot like living together. Which made her Catholic parents, though liberal, a tad uncomfortable.

The practical-but-veiled message: “We could probably ‘live together’ with their full blessing if we were at least engaged.”

Two months after the dog arrived, she had her ring.

We were engaged. Official cohabitants. And I was demoted to #3 in the household (minority whip?). An anthropologist looking back at things would say the marriage was a nice bonus, but the dog was the driving incentive here.

That’s how I’ll always tell it, anyway.

The Physics and the Fence: An innocent moment of dorkdom

But truthfully, we were a nice match, and I knew it. I actually had the ring before the dog arrived, but I delayed because it’s nice to “have hand.” We built a fence outside for the dog in 38-degree cold, and we were told by the wise: “Wow, if you guys can build a fence together without killing each other, you guys are right for one another.”

Well, there was one moment with the fence. Using a socket wrench with the ease of a power tool, she tightened one of the bolts … and tightened and tightened and tightened until ~SNAP~ the bolt snapped under the torque and went flying across the yard. She expressed such shock at the result.  “I was just tightening, like you said.”

I’m by no means handy, but I like learning how things work. So recalling again my awesome physics class — one of my favorites — and knowing she never took physics, I tried explaining why the bolt snapped even when she felt no resistance. Levers and distance and work and such. Socket wrenches are like that — they take away so much of the work, it’s easy to lose track of how tight you’ve gotten something until it’s shooting across the room, piecemeal.

And that’s how the Story of the Fence became “I mean he sits there and tries to give me a PHYSICS LESSON and it’s FREEZING outside and the fence is only HALFWAY UP!”

Honestly, I wasn’t lecturing. I just had a fascination with physics that I — at the time — assumed others shared. I blame my brother, who always got me to see the intrigue in things, be they physics, history or flatulence. And having once been a boy who went through “the change” to discover the new strengths Nature affords a 6’2″ male, I also was familiar with the sensation of using newfound strength or tools only to find the extra force can burn you, or at least crush what you’re working on. I thought I understood the feeling.

Again: no lecture intended, just a cool little observation on the physical world, I thought. My last defense was a plea that physics really is interesting — no really! — and we should explore it together sometime. Being in love, she agreed. We could check out physics sometime. Later.

Love, and Two Months’ Salary, Conquers All

Several years later, she surprises me at Christmas with a nice, tidy, easy-to-read book: “50 Physics Ideas You Really Need to Know.”

“I know you didn’t ask for it,” she said. “But you always pleaded about physics. I thought we could check it out together.”

Awww. Now that’s love. It’s a good book, too. Well done. Most of the lessons I remember from way back when, but it’s a nice refresher. Frankly, these concepts kick ass. They make my surroundings so much more understandable and fun to inhabit. Can’t wait to discuss them with m’lady.

The other day I tried for the umpteenth time to point something out from the book to her, but it wasn’t a good time.

She was busy petting the dog.

‘Letting the days go by’

(“Point? I have no point…” Just links.)

Life is a series of moments that instantaneously become memories. Existence in the present is inseparable from the catalog of these moments-turned-memories. To live purely “in the moment” requires rejecting, or forgetting, or not reflecting on these memories. But by and large, dreams will save and bring back the most pertinent ones, anyway: “big ones” we remember forever. They might not all be pleasant. But the more we understand the brain and dreams, it seems, the better we will be able to have an on-going understanding of what it is we’re feeling as we go through life. How our memories, emotions and wishes contribute to our moment-by-moment state of being.

Theoretically, our pursuit of happiness is paramount in this moment-to-moment existence. But our methods of traveling toward happiness are often quite flawed or misguided. We make decisions with the expectation that they will improve our happiness when in fact they do not. Perhaps arrogantly (and perhaps in accordance with this study), I believe that I rarely do this; I think I have deduced existence down to the point where I successfully resist the mistaken accumulation of goods for the sake of happiness. (And the survey author says, “Sucker!”)

On a related note, I honestly do not know if I will ever have children, but I do know that having them would end my life as I presently know it. Or as the parents’ proverbial advertisement goes: “It changes your whole life.”

Well, to be flippant, no shit. While that is often said by new parents with sincere, awed reverence toward the quite genuine wonders of becoming a parent, it nonetheless rings more like a warning to my ears: This will change your life completely. And: This will change your marriage completely!

As would losing a limb, moving to the Czech Republic, joining the military, or pursuing a higher-paying yet less-fulfilling job. In an unknown balance of positive and negative ways.

The question is … does my life need changing? Or changing in that way? Can my life, my happiness as it is perceived within my own brain, be judged to be lacking a “positive” that does not yet exist? Can I be freely persuaded to add an unknown to my existence in the form of a human being who is completely dependent on me and my partner and will later have good cause (if he/she’s a chip off the old block) to question my choice to ignite his/her existence? To say nothing of adding a being who will encounter the unknowns of global warming, declining American power, and other potentially Plague-like transformative factors, when I am senile, oblivious, Republican, or dead (but I repeat myself).

I presently can vividly imagine the fun and joy of being a parent but do not presently see how it would be better than the current, quite happy status quo. In other words, such a life change looks a lot like trading one beautiful beachside home for an equally beautiful beachside home 6,000 miles away – and eating the moving costs (and headaches).

But it strikes me how often in life I have come across parents who didn’t really choose – in some cases, minus abstinence, couldn’t choose – to become parents; instead, they just became them. Or they were shooting at filling a personal void. In fact, this is almost the historically natural way of becoming parents – though that is rapidly changing.

Maybe as the youngest in a large family, as one prone to observe, observe, then act; as one who spends much of life trying to deduce lessons from the actions of others, I have the luxury of anticipating this “changed life” better than some parents could before their D-day arrives: The myriad changes in finances, in time, in self-image, in sleep, in priorities, in the self-actualization of having your own living, breathing, gene-carrying dependent coo at you, keep you up, flatter you, disown you, and hit you up for gas money. (Likewise, maybe as the youngest, with no formative years experience having to care for a younger sibling, I lack the common inherent desire to create a dependent of my very own.)

Interestingly, young Americans are apparently growing more aware of the idea of parenting as a potentially independent factor from marriage. Or rather, that happy marriage itself can exist without children. (And the religious right shriek in horror.) That romance and partnership in itself can be a worthwhile human experience explored without the presence of offspring.

This is a good thing: Whereas marriage was once strictly an institution of financial security and genetic progeny, now changing technology, economy and social norms have altered this. It is no longer necessarily so. Just as sex and romance in today’s birth control society can now be divorced from offspring, so too can marriage be divorced from these conventions of the past. Sure, this can destabilize – or lead to the abuse of – long-held traditions related to this institution. But those traditions, in their traditional state, have already long been the subject of abuse of actual people, be it through forced marriage, unintended and unwanted pregnancies, or personal lives spent – wasted – in incarceration by the trap of social expectations.

Life, a series of moments that instantaneously become memories. Inseparable from existence in the present. Would I exist at 70 only to look back and regret not creating a being, creating memories, that do not exist? Or what of all the other, real memories that came in their stead?

“And you may find yourself living in a shotgun shack
And you may find yourself in another part of the world
And you may find yourself behind the wheel of a large automobile
And you may find yourself in a beautiful house,
With a beautiful wife

And you may ask yourself-well…how did I get here?

Letting the days go by/let the water hold me down
Letting the days go by/water flowing underground
Into the blue again/after the moneys gone
Once in a lifetime/water flowing underground…”
    -Talking Heads

‘Life Amazes Us Despite Our Miserable Future’

Such is the name of the humorously meloncholy song by The Robocop Kraus. Such is the refrain stuck in my head for the last several days.

The sentiment took on a more intensely sour meaning for me yesterday when I learned some tragic news about a friend and hockey teammate, Greg. He lost his leg in a still-sketchy accident in South Dakota while he was stopped, consulting a map, on the side of a road amid a cross-country motorcycle trip. I last saw Greg a month ago, skating on ice for the first time since he recovered from a completely different, unbelievably freak accident last year that fractured his pelvis and tore up his knee. And now, just like that. Horrific and absurd.

I’m not a religious person in any conventional or institutionalized sense of the word. I don’t believe in a single-minded ‘Creator,’ nor a divine being that watches over us, or looks out for us, or smites us, or keeps a ledger of our behavior, or has a special warm place for us when we are done. In short, I don’t see a single entity that has an active view or hand in what we encounter each day. But neither do I fault those who do (nor would I necessarily mind if my beliefs turned out to be dead wrong. Heaven sounds nice, at least in the brochure). I just haven’t seen the evidence. I haven’t discovered an inner compulsion to go that way.

I generally view humans as part of the same life force that animates everything else, from mosquitos to hippopotamuses to algae. But we as a species seem to have both the fortune and the curse of plodding along through life making more conscious changes and decisions about ourselves and–above all–stewing over life’s apparent ‘meaning,’ or lack thereof. Man’s search for meaning in events is both an endearing and maddening attribute. It’s one that certainly grabs me from time to time, even though my analysis usually finds meaning = 0.

The Fall of Because
But as I’ve interpreted this crazy journey so far, we’re all just life forms and combinations of carbon temporarily inhabiting this planet in a recognizable animal form. The difference between a bug devouring its own mate and a human suffering a tragedy is that, with humans, we all stop to ponder, to mourn, to reflect on why, how, for what fucking cause. Other species seem just to move along, ’cause that’s the way of things. But death is inherent in the definition of life. Life is meaningless without it.

And when I find there is no reason, the inevitable conclusion or call to action is the proverbial live it while you can. Seize life in a fulfilling, ‘meaningful’ (there’s that word again) way while some of its factors are still in your control. We’re aging toward death as soon as we’re born. As soon as you reach your physical and healthy peak (if you’re even lucky enough to get there), your body begins its decline again. You know, that whole spiel.

To some that transient nature is reason to believe in a divine mystery Who has the answer and Who has a better life waiting for us after this one. I don’t feel that way, so to me our transient nature is a call to explore it and understand it while we’re here. I’m an Earthly being, so this is the field of play I’m gonna study.

I have lived most of my life acutely aware (or perhaps just convinced) that I’ve been relatively “lucky.” Reared to value education and independent thought, things  and events in personal, professional and familial arenas have thus far worked out for me. But I’m also constantly wary (though not exactly fearful) of how quickly things can change. Tragedy has thus far avoided me, but in recent years it has finalaly touched and brushed against family and friends. Deaths, strokes, gunshots, displacement, miscarriage, heartbreak. I don’t worry about it, but I try to be in some way prepared for it. (I know. You can never prepare for it).

I know it’s an inevitable part of life, we all meet it eventually in one form or another. But it is part of the journey, and it honestly intrigues me how we are often inclined to seek ‘meaning’ or reason in it.

To me, there is no meaning. It isn’t there. Except to say that this *is* life. That’s it: that’s all there is. This doesn’t bother me–we’re just life forms with a particularly acute, overactive and beguilling consousness, after all. (“Our brains are too big for our own good,” as Vonnegut might say). But for me, the only avenue to enjoyment is to recognize this and enjoy observing and processing life’s absurdities, ups and downs in all their beauty and horror. Live it up while it’s here. Juggle its amusing absurdities while you can. If life isn’t interesting, i don’t see much reason to continue it.

Meanwhile, life’s tragedies will come. They are saddening, maddening, shocking and frankly piss me off. But they’re clearly part of our lot. And our lot, as far as I can tell, is all there is.

As always, two Killing Joke songs come to mind, in this case as therapy for processing senseless tragedy.

The Fall of Because
Look at the faces
Whose is the meaning
Forget the passion
Feeding the dead
The fall of because

Look at the faces
It’s cold outside
You’re on your own
Staying indifferent
The fall of because

It’s cold outside
Losing my fear
No more passion
Passion is fed
Because
The fall of because

Madness
Only the righteous kiss those lips
Too much guessing too much “need to believe”
This is madness madness

Why should I suffer when I can’t see your eyes?
Whose truth is your truth?
What brain can you pick? What lies?
This is madness

When did living start being a sin?
If this is today – well what the fuck’s tomorrow?
Whose fashion is your fashion?
What passion can you buy?
When you know god is dead
And you
are god?

This is madness madness
Madness madness
Fucking madness

Only the righteous kiss those lips
Too much guessing too much “need to believe”
This is madness madness

Why should i suffer when i can’t see your eyes?
Whose truth is your truth?
What brain can you pick?
This is madness