Monthly Archives: March 2016

Not-So-Sweet Teeth

Well, the fog has finally lifted.  I’ve spent approximately 24 hours in a drug-induced stupor following a tooth extraction.  I can’t understand how people can function on a daily dose of pain pills.  (I picture Hugh Laurie as Dr. Gregory House popping oxies like Tic-Tacs.)  They make me so nauseous, I can barely sit, let alone stand.  I just want to lie down.

After going to bed at 9 p.m (with a brief wake-up at 11 to finish closing up shop for the evening, especially since it was garbage night and I had a larger-than-usual pile due to no pick-up on Good Friday and my daughter cleaning out her room in preparation for a move that may or may not happen, at this point, but that’s another whining for another day …), the mouth and head pain came back with a vengeance at around 2 a.m., so I took another half of the Tylenol with codeine that my dentist had prescribed.  A few hours of fitful sleep later, and I was back up with the pain so I took the other half.  Of course I woke up full of narcotics but I had some work nonsense to deal with so I had to rouse myself.  Tried to eat oatmeal but that made me even more queasy (if I actually COULD vomit, I might have felt better, but the poisons just stayed roiling in my gut).  So back for another nap at 12 noon – how decadent, naps in the daytime! – which did leave me feeling a bit more refreshed.

Then I had to venture out to the post office to send a work-related package, and the sunny skies and fresh air, in the form of a brisk March wind, further perked me up.  And now, late in the afternoon, I seem to be almost back to normal – no tooth pain, no nausea – although I still feel like if I closed my eyes, I would instantly fall asleep, no matter my position or location.

My teeth have been an issue for my entire life, and after yesterday’s extraction, I’m down to six “real” teeth on top (I say “real” in quotes because none of the remaining teeth are WHOLE; they consist of posts sticking out of root-canalled roots covered by caps of varying ages and sizes and shapes).  I’ve been diligently using my WaterPik Water Flosser™ every night.  (I used to have one as a kid, hoping to fend off the tooth decay that plagued me even then, despite my best efforts.  I remember one dentist’s visit when I had 32 cavities – that’s like one in every tooth!)  The hygienist who cleaned my teeth last week (and who discovered the mega-cavity of doom) even complemented me on how clean they were, but somehow that cleanliness couldn’t prevent the severe decay in my holdout upper molar (the last in its line!), which bit the dust yesterday afternoon.  I have some smaller cavities in my lower molars as well that will need to be addressed in a couple of weeks, but curiously, my bottom teeth are largely intact (although also covered in caps and lacking live roots of any significance).

Of course I have a partial denture, which will need to be modified now to add an extra tooth.  And all of this needs to be paid for out of my own pocket, given that I don’t have dental insurance (and dental insurance notoriously pays very little, unfortunately).

Over my lifetime, my teeth have probably cost me hundreds of thousands of bucks, all told.  My favorite dentist was also the most expensive one, with an office on Park Avenue South.  Marc Lowenberg was, even then, a “dentist to the stars”, and I always imagined I’d see some famous person in the waiting room (although I never actually did!)  Dr. Lowenberg was the first dentist I ever knew to have a TV in the examining room, and he was also the one who introduced me to nitrous oxide, my beloved “laughing gas”.  (I asked the hygienist the other day if all that nitrous leaking out from the nose piece affects the people working on my mouth, and while she wouldn’t admit it outright, she agreed that most hygienists and dental assistants and even dentists she knows are happier than your average person in their workplaces).  I can remember getting extensive dental work done by Dr. Lowenberg, dashing with his full beard and – yes – perfect teeth, and laying back in his comfy chair, listening to the laugh track on “Three’s Company” go all wobbly, with that metallic echo that always serves as proof that the sweet air is having its desired effect.  Before gas, I would get so tense that I would squeeze a tissue in my hand hard enough to turn it into a small stone by the end of the torture.  (Who knows?  If I was stuck in the chair long enough, it might have even become a diamond!).  It wasn’t even the pain so much as the ANTICIPATION of pain that gave me such anxiety.  But gas solved that problem.  Now I almost look forward to going to the dentist, just so I can enjoy my legitimate (and legal) happy buzz.  It’s just too bad that it comes with injections and drilling and post-procedure pain!

I always have such interesting THOUGHTS when I’m under the gas, but of course I’m not in any position to record them, or even share them with the other people in the room, given all the appliances sticking out of my mouth.  And by the time they pump the oxygen though the little rubber nose cup and sadly bring an end to my “trip,” of course I’ve forgotten every genius nugget.

I’ve considered getting implants but (a) they’re too expensive and (b) I’ve had so much bone loss on top that they’d have to build it back up with multiple rounds of surgery before they could even begin installing the implants.  So it looks as if I’m stuck with the dentures.  And soon I will probably have no teeth left at all on top, and instead of a partial I’ll have a full denture.  Then I’ll know for sure that I’m really getting old, although given that my teeth are basically made of chalk, I won’t actually be that old – I’ll just LOOK old, especially at night when the teeth are removed.  I’ll have that little glass at my bedside, magnifying through the water the tooth-and-wire-and pink acrylic resin creation that enables me to actually chew and look normal and not like a backwoods hillbilly grandma before I even hit 60.

Remember:  Life is short. Smile while you still have teeth (or really good dentures).  (Quote courtesy of Mallory Hopkins, whoever that might be.)

Little Ball of Stress

I wake up pretty much every morning so weighed down by stress and worry and dread, it’s no wonder I have trouble getting out of bed.

Lately, the conglomeration of things in my life that cause me tension include my worries about the upcoming elevation of my home and trying to come up with alternative living arrangements.  The greatest stumbling block has been finding a nearby apartment in my price range that will accept my menagerie.  My realtor – a very nice woman named Bonnie who was recommended to me by my contractor – told me about three high-rise buildings managed by her office right on the beach block in the East End of Long Beach, reasonably priced, plain vanilla, and pets are just fine.

I felt a little like Goldilocks when she took me to see the available units:  There was a 2-bedroom, which was too big, and then a studio, which was too small.  She promised to tell me as soon as a 1-bedroom came on the market, and sure enough we were able to see one the very next day.  It ticked all the boxes – roomy, plenty of storage, price was right, primo location – although it wasn’t the most attractive of places.  I handed in all my application paperwork and the fee, and waited for the call to come in and sign the lease and pick up the keys.  But, according to Bonnie, evidently there was a “conundrum” with the apartment and I would have to wait for the next one.  That was over a week ago and I’m starting to get nervous.  In actuality, any deadline I have is self-imposed, so there is really very little need for the anxiety I impose on myself.  It was just that I had told the contractor that we could get started in April, so I worried that if I had to delay until May, I might get bumped off the calendar and would have to wait even longer to begin the whole agonizing process.

It turned out that was a needless concern.  I spoke to the contractor and he assured me I could get on the house-lifting calendar for May.  Now if my realtor can just come through with an apartment in the next week or so, I’ll have enough time to put my seemingly endless ducks in a row before the anticipated May start date.  If not, well – to quote Alfred E. Neuman, “What, me worry?“

Rest assured (or not, as the case may be), there is no shortage of other sources of stress in my life these days.  My daughter is having some real estate issues of her own.  She wants to leave her 2-bedroom apartment (which – long story short – has been a source of disappointment ever since she arrived last August because her roommate was a disaster and ended up skipping out halfway through the year, leaving her with a full electric bill) but she unknowingly obligated herself to stay in the place for another year in order to lock in a big $5 discount on her next year’s rent.  So now Mom has to put on her lawyer hat and see if I can get her out of the situation by the letter of the lease or, if not, to plead the case that she was an unsophisticated renter who didn’t know what she was doing and it’s unreasonable and unfair to make her stay there and/or force her to sublet half an apartment on her own.

There’s the daily work annoyances, of course, but the overarching stressor is money – or, more accurately, the lack thereof – and my endless expenses, which I have no idea how I’m going to meet given my limited income:  another year of college tuition, my semi-annual car insurance payment, getting a tooth pulled with no dental insurance, Darian’s summer internship in South Africa, security deposits for two separate apartments, and possibly having to pay three rents AND a mortgage installment for the month of May, combined with a less-busy-than-usual month of billable hours – it ain’t pretty.  A small tax refund will help but, in layman’s parlance, I’m financially screwed.  Only the lottery can save me now.

So how do I manage to combat the stress?  Not very well, I must admit, but there are a few things that help.  I saw a great quote the other day from famed scientist and philanthropist Albert Schweitzer:  “There are two means of refuge from the misery of life:  music and cats.”  (And to that I would add a chicken souvlaki platter with Israeli salad from Abe’s Pitaria.)

Music – most assuredly, yes.  I asked Darian today what the first thing is that comes to mind when she thinks of growing up with me as her mother, and she said:  “Traveling, and music.  Oh, and hockey.”  Except when the TV is on, there is always music playing:  music in the car, music on my headphones on the train, music in the background during the day while I’m sitting at the computer, music blasting while I’m feeding or playing with the animals or cleaning the house.  I’m also a collector of music, in vinyl, CD and MP3 form (I used to have cassette tapes, too, but lost them in the flood).  I have thousands of individual songs, hundreds of CDs.  As far as I am concerned, I will never have too much music.  My latest favorite is the new Cage the Elephant album, Tell Me I’m Pretty.  I’ve liked other songs of theirs, but this is the first time I’ve wanted to purchase an entire album of their music, and I’m extremely glad I did.  It’s been a while since I’ve found a record where I like every song, start to finish.  With the same Amazon gift card (earned as a credit card “reward” – I can’t afford to actually spend money on music), I also bought Badfinger’s Timeless . . . The Musical Legacy.  Now I finally own two of my favorite songs of all time, “No Matter What” and “Baby Blue” – classic nuggets of pop perfection.

And cats?  Also a big yes.  I love spending time in the cat rooms at the shelter on the weekends, making my way from cat to cat, chucking them under their chins and rubbing their cheeks, head butting and ear scruffling and slowly letting the layers of stress fall away.  I find scooping litter boxes to be a very zen activity, like working on a little sand and stone garden with the miniature rake.  I get the same relaxing feeling at home, sitting on the couch with Mimi on my right and Savannah on my left, two chubby lady cats luxuriating in being stroked by the chubby cat lady.  They’re so soft and sleek to the touch, like velvet and mink.  And they both purr so loudly I can literally feel the purring as well as hear it.  (Not to overlook the pooches:  While they are generally less affectionate, sometimes it’s Gizmo parked up on my left thigh, soaking in the mutually beneficial massage of his silky soft coat and his fat little body.)  Nothing gives me more joy and calms my soul more than those moments on the couch with my creatures.

And what about the thing that occupies the bulk of my evening hours from October to May (and hopefully into June), New York Rangers hockey?  Does watching hockey give me relief from my daily vexations?  Seriously??  Their performance of late, combined with the success of the surging and obnoxious Penguins (coached since mid-season by former Ranger assistant coach Mike Sullivan), has proven to be an addition to my sources of stress rather than a respite from them.  After a decent February, March’s alternating wins and losses are threatening to not only deprive them of home ice advantage after they were pretty solidly in second place (behind the juggernaut that is the 2015-16 Washington Capitals) all season long, but they might even get bumped out of the playoffs entirely.  With eight teams vying for seven spots, one squad is getting left in the dust.  Judging by the way the pundits poop on the Rangers (especially poor old Dan Girardi), I’m sure many of them think the Rangers will be the team to fall out, and certainly none of them holds out much hope about their chances in the post-season.  [An aside:  I think back to 2014 when the Rangers basically had to choose between keeping Ryan “Captain Cally“ Callahan or defenseman Dan Girardi.  The two were up for contract renewal at the same time and, given the limited salary cap space, one of them would have to go.  Cally ended up being traded to Tampa Bay in exchange for Martin St. Louis (now since retired), and Girardi got a hefty new contract (which many said at the time was a little TOO hefty).  Girardi had been a dependable stalwart for years, coming in undrafted but establishing himself as the bedrock of the Rangers’ top shut-down pair for a number of years.  But that kind of devotion takes its toll on a body.  Now that he is 31, all those hours defending hard-fought ice and blocking shots have clearly had a detrimental effect.  An already slow-ish skater, he’s become practically glacial, and his mental acumen isn’t what it used to be, either.  It’s unclear how the two tie together; maybe because things are physically more difficult for him, he has to think about them more, and getting too into his own head is preventing him from making the instinctive plays he’s made for years, so he overthinks and overpasses (which, truth be told, is a malady ALL of the Rangers suffer from) instead of just bulling his way out of the corner with the puck or shoving an opponent’s big body away from in front of Henrik Lundqvist.  Yes, Dan, it sucks to get old.]

I very clearly see their problems, watching from the eye in the sky while sitting on my living room couch.  This is what’s wrong with the Rangers:  They have all the pieces but they lack the urgency and intensity – that drive, that fortitude, whatever you want to call it; that extra SOMETHING that all champions seem to possess  – to take advantage of their opportunities, to capitalize on the other team’s mistakes.  They need to have a single-mindedness of purpose to FINISH.  They get plenty of opportunities, but they consistently waste them, to my great frustration and consternation.  My daughter and I frequently text during Ranger games, and I can’t tell you how many times I use the words “BLOWN CHANCE!!”.  It’s no longer even mildly amusing; it’s beginning to be pathetic.  They also need to be QUICKER – quicker with their decisions and puck movement, especially in the offensive zone and especially at this stage of the season, when they’ve had a whole year to sharpen up their timing and familiarity with one another (with some leeway for Eric Staal, who just came into the mix, and Rick Nash, who has just returned to the lineup after missing 20 games).

Who knows?  I keep hoping that the team, having made it as far as the Conference Finals twice and the Stanley Cup Finals once in the past three years, is saving their best for the post-season, now that they know what it takes.  Only time will tell.

Mats Zuccarello was telling everyone on the bench before last night’s game against the Florida Panthers (which, much to my relief, they won) to “Have fun out there”, and it’s so true:  When the boys are playing well, it’s way more enjoyable for them, and the same goes for the fans.  A good Rangers win, savored from my couch surrounded by purring kitties, is the best remedy by far for a stressful day.

Real Live Music

I have mixed feelings about live music versus studio albums.  Some live shows I’ve seen were memorable, but I could probably count those on one hand.  There was my favorite show EVER, which was at the Bitter End in NYC in 1995 to see Jeffrey Gaines with my friend Sue (who, not coincidentally, factors into many of my top music experiences, including a recent Squeeze acoustic show, where we kept getting whiffs of marijuana but couldn’t figure out where it was coming from because there didn’t seem to be any actual telltale SMOKE, and Nick Cave outdoors on a gorgeous summer evening in Prospect Park).  At the Bitter End, we had great seats, up near the stage.  I was about 8 months pregnant and, during his finale, a cover of Peter Gabriel’s “In Your Eyes”, I openly wept, whether from the perfection of his voice and guitar, or the crowd gently singing the backing vocals, or raging hormones, but probably a combination of all of the above.

The last Bowie show I saw, a few summers ago at Nikon Theater at Jones Beach, was also an unforgettable one.  This amphitheater is in a completely unique location, on the shore of Zach’s Bay (“Field 5”, for all you Long Islanders), with the broad expanse of Jones Beach and the Atlantic Ocean in the background, going on seemingly forever.  There used to be an actual MOAT separating the stage and the audience, although in recent photos I’ve seen, it now appears to be covered over.  I remember when I was very young my family went to see a production of “The Sound of Music” there, and they would actually bring in actors and props on little barges via the moat.  On this particular summer’s day, it started out sunny and hot but just before Bowie took the stage, the gray clouds started moving in on the wide ocean horizon like churning waves, flecked by lightning strikes in the distance.  Then, inevitably, came the rain.  Bowie, ever the showman, was willing to continue, but for safety reasons the show was shut down two-thirds of the way through.

I’m pretty sure I remember seeing the Talking Heads and Graham Parker and Blondie (among others) at this airplane-hangar sized venue in Hartford when I was at Trinity College from 1977 through 1981, and Sue and I also saw “young” Squeeze at the Malibu nightclub here in Long Beach back in the early ‘80s.  We were at the Squeeze show so early that we actually chatted with Glenn Tillbrook, his mop of strawberry blonde hair hanging out the window of a car being driven around the empty parking lot hours before the doors opened for the show.  But aside from the historical significance of seeing early incarnations of now-classic artists (including my awe at seeing Tina Weymouth, pioneering chick bass player, kicking major rhythm section ass, especially on “Psycho Killer”), I don’t actually remember the concerts themselves.

We witnessed a ton of musical performances in the East Village circa 1990, because I was a bartender in a club, Downtown Beirut II on East Houston Street, that featured live music and was good friends with the guy who booked the gigs, Gene Perone.  Gene was the drummer in a band called Bad Tuna Experience that also featured our favorite green-haired bartender Caroline on lead vocals.  [An aside:  Gene was/is also a “personality” and comedian known as Buddy Flip, who I understand still tours and performs [http://www.buddyflip.com].  I did not know about his alter-ego when I, with my 3-year old daughter and future ex-husband, moved back to my mother’s house in Seaford, NY, from North Carolina in 1998.  One night I was watching TV and on came a commercial for a fun place to take the family out in Suffolk County, on Long Island, called White Post Farms.  It was an actual working farm, where you could pet and feed baby animals and go on hay rides, especially around Halloween.  The spokeperson on the commercial had a certain catchy patter, like, “Hey, kids, it’s your old pal Buddy Flip!”, and was wearing a cowboy hat and overalls, talking about all the fun you could have at White Post Farms.  I sensed something familiar about his voice, so I took a good look at the guy and shouted aloud, “THAT’S GENE!”  So of course I grabbed the closest 3-year-old and went to White Post Farms and there he was, standing on a stage getting ready to lead kids on a pumpkin hunt or some such activity.  We had a friendly little reunion, quickly realizing that we were already nearly ten years removed from our East Village heyday.  I’m glad to see he’s still doing his comedy thing.  I always found him to be a very entertaining and talented guy.]

CBGBs was experiencing the beginning of the end in those years, but as it was right around the corner from my basement apartment on East 1st Street, we went often and saw a wide range of musical acts, including my ex’s ragtag band, the Diabolix (not a particularly gifted bunch but I still think it was a pretty damn good band name) and my personal favorite band of the day, the Press, featuring Andre Schlesinger as the semi-dictatorial, semi-genius singer-songwriter.  Like Gene/Buddy, Andre is still following his muse as headman of ManinBlack [http://maninblack.org], producing typically dark and sardonic but also really clever and witty music.  I must say, though, one of my great disappointments is that we missed the prime creative years in the East Village.  During the time we lived there, the East Village and the Lower East Side were undergoing a gentrifying transition, and unfortunately there were no more Patti Smiths or David Johansens or even Ramones being discovered; out of all the bands we used to see during that time, no one ever made it big.  The music “scene” by then was shifting to the Pacific Northwest, where Nirvana and Pearl Jam and Alice in Chains and their grungy ilk would dominate the musical airwaves for the next decade.  We were, unfortunately, all gone by the time bands like the Strokes and Interpol and the Yeah Yeah Yeahs made their appearances in the same LES vicinity later in the 1990s.

The East Village years could (and probably will) comprise an entire separate blog post, but my musical experiences there played a key role in my love/hate relationship with live music.  I was often able to get extremely up close and personal with the performers in those days in those hole-in-the-wall clubs, so now I’m ruined for huge crowds in large venues.  I just don’t see the appeal.  Of course tickets are obscenely expensive so my seats are usually not very good, and I’m short so there are always too many heads blocking my view.  The sound systems are also hit-or-miss:  They can be pristine (like at the Nick Cave show in Brooklyn’s Prospect Park that I heard but did not see thanks to the aforementioned heads) but more often than not they’re too loud and fuzzy and muddy.  (One time, back when I was in college, I went to a Ramones show and actually squeezed myself INTO the speaker, absorbing the sound – and Johnny Ramones’ sweat – like a sponge, after which I couldn’t hear for three days.)

Live concerts can certainly create a unique aural and visual atmosphere but, with very few exceptions, I rarely (if ever) listen to live albums.  I prefer a studio version of a song every time.  Although I can appreciate that there are emotional moments and vocal and instrumental nuances that create one-of-a-kind experiences at live shows, by definition, once that moment has been captured on video or audio, doesn’t it no longer qualify as one-of-a-kind?

But I’m such a music lover that there is nothing that gives me a thrill like being up close to musicians, hearing them sing without the use of the microphone and watching every pluck of the strings and bang on the drums (I confess, I’ve always had a thing for drummers).  So that is why I really enjoyed a performance last weekend of Four Way Street, a new CSNY cover band featuring a high school classmate of mine, Chris Cangeleri.  Chris also plays in a Bruce Springsteen cover band called Badlands, but I prefer CSNY to Springsteen so I saw Four Way Street first.  I may go to see Badlands next weekend, if I can manage to convince someone to come with me this time.  On this particular evening, I went to the Four-Way Street show alone, which didn’t bother me when the band was playing and I was actually able to stake out a prime viewing spot for myself.  But I felt a little awkward just standing around on my own when the band took a break after their first set, so I left early and missed their second set, during which I am sure they played my favorite song of theirs, “Wasted on the Way”.  But as evidenced in the photo below (I’m the little face in the glasses near the pillar to the left of the stage), a good, live musical performance can bring me great joy, even when I think no one is watching.

Nan transfixed by 4-Way Street

Monday Blues (and a little anniversary)

Woke up cranky on Monday.  I’m ALWAYS cranky on Mondays.  It used to be even worse when I had to commute into the office on Monday mornings, because my dislike of Mondays would end up poisoning my Sundays.  Now, thankfully, the misery only rears its ugly head when I wake up on Monday (usually at least an hour before I absolutely have to, at which point I immediately re-set my alarm and go back to sleep for that hour rather than getting my fat butt out of bed and perhaps having a productive morning rather than a lie-in – see “To Sleep, Perchance to Dream,” 9/16/15, for a whining about my typically unhealthy morning routine), marking the end to my beautiful, free, relaxing weekend.

I am particularly foul-mooded on a morning after the Rangers have lost a game, and this Monday featured an especially brutal instance of this, as the hockey gods were not at all fair to the Blueshirts.  From being three goals down before the first five minutes of the game had even elapsed, the Rangers had methodically played CORRECTLY for the remainder of the game, and were able to tie it up on a timely power play goal with less than 10 minutes remaining in the third period.  Surely, in the eyes of those often fickle hockey gods, the boys were entitled to earn at least a loser point for their efforts?  And as they would have the momentum going into the overtime, their chances of getting that all-important second point – against a team immediately behind them in the standings, the pesky cross-town rival Islanders (once again, the new kids in town inserting themselves where they’re not wanted) – were good.  But no.  Following a face-off deep in their own zone, with less than 90 seconds remaining – bing-bang-boom! – the game was over, thanks to a lucky shot by an Islander fourth-liner from the top of the circle after a clear face-off win, made all the more painful by the fact that the Rangers had dominated on face-offs throughout the game at 67%, led by the quickly acclimating Eric Staal, who was 20-for-22 (91%!) in the face-off circle.  It wasn’t Eric Staal taking this face-off, though; it was Derek Stepan (at 46%, the only centerman with a losing percentage this night), who I normally admire but he just wasn’t good enough on this one, nor did his teammates (in this case, specifically, Keith Yandle) cover their respective men well enough, so the puck somehow ended up in the back of the net.  It was infuriating, and it made me mad all night and the next day (a Monday, of course), too.

Telling tales of being miserable on Mondays has certainly made its way into pop music over the years.  There’s New Order’s “Blue Monday”, the iconic dance song (in my younger “going clubbing” days, any time I heard its opening beat I would immediately put down my drink and run out on the dance floor, involuntarily herky-jerking all the way, one of the very few songs that had that effect on me), which was allegedly written in response to crowd disappointment at the fact that New Order never played encores, although lines like “I thought I told you to leave me when I walked down to the beach/Tell me how does it feel, when your heart grows cold” make it clear that Mr. Sumner et al. were having some dark Monday-ish thoughts when they wrote it; then, of course, the aptly named “Rainy Days and Mondays,” which it doesn’t take a genius to figure out would always get poor doomed Karen Carpenter down; “Monday Monday” by the Mamas and the Papas (“Every other day of the week is fine, yeah / But whenever Monday comes you can find me cryin’ all of the time”); and who could forget “I Don’t Like Mondays,” the only real hit for Sir Bob Geldof’s Boomtown Rats, which famously attempted to get into the head of a real-life young girl who, in 1979, went on a shooting spring at a school simply because she didn’t like Mondays.

I keep finding and posting inspirational quotes around my house – ostensibly for my daughter, but mostly for me – in the hope that SOMETHING, some little motivating phrase, will click the switch and get me out of my doldrums, which, needless to say, may find their nadir on Monday mornings but the fog doesn’t lift fully until Friday night, when the weekend begins anew.  A fellow WordPress blogging collective, The Seeds 4 Life [www.theseeds4life.com], read my “Some Thoughts on Death” post last week and reached out, evidently detecting a need in me for some uplifting words.  I immediately started following them and in the last few weeks alone they’ve posted scads of helpful New Age-y (but still helpful!) advice, such as, “Change occurs when the pain of remaining the same is greater than the pain of change” (Judy Agiu, “How I Rediscovered Myself”, The Seeds 4 Life, 2/7/16, http://www.theseeds4life.com/how-i-rediscovered-myself)  and “Let yourself dream, and know that you can succeed because you already have” (Nikki Giovanni, “Who I Am Really Keeps Surprising Me”, The Seeds 4 Life, 3/7/16, http://www.theseeds4life.com/really-keeps-surprising-nikki-giovanni).  It’s all a bit hippy-dippy but, frankly, the blog has appeared in my life at a time when I’ve most needed these little snippets of crunchy granola goodness.

I often think of myself as kind of a lost soul, and this has become especially clear to me now that my daughter is making a life of her own and is no longer the lone focus of mine, leaving me, therefore, more often to my own deep thoughts.  I have passion but I lack direction.  I’m smart but I’m also fearful.  And my greatest existential sadness stems from all those things I’m not but wish I could be: artistically talented (in ANY genre); fit and small-breasted; well-enough off financially that lack of money would never be an issue (i.e., independently wealthy).  So it’s become vital that I have to not only work for a living, but I also have to work – and I’m talking about DIFFICULT WORK – to keep myself on a productive track, maintain a healthy lifestyle and outlook, and hopefully have some kind of positive effect on the world.

That was one of the reasons for starting this blog, a little over one year ago.  So happy birthday to Life Considered!  My little vanity project has survived a year of my procrastinating tendencies and bouts of sadness and lethargy!!  Let’s hope I can take some evolutionary steps forward in Year 2.  I promise I will continue to strive to be a pinpoint of light in a dark universe.

Some Thoughts on Death

I’ve been thinking a lot about death lately.  I don’t intend to; it just comes upon me, unbidden (much like actual death might do).  The recent losses of Bowie and countless celebrities, my friend Rhonda, hundreds of regular people killed by cars and gunmen and falling trees – it’s all around, every minute of every day.

By now I’ve outlived my father, who died at age 49 from the last of multiple heart attacks.  In fact, no man on the Lucas side of the family had lived past the age of 50.  I think his mother also died relatively young, and also from a heart attack.  I don’t have many memories of Grandma Mary from Bayonne, New Jersey, which must have meant I was pretty young when she passed away.  My mother and her mother both died in their early 70s, but aside from them (and my maternal uncle, who not only was the lone boy among four sisters and the youngest but also died in his 40s from complications of diabetes, which afflicts many members of my mother’s side of the family, me included), the bulk of my maternal relatives was pretty long-lived.  My great grandmother Petronella Albino lived to be 102, although by the time she passed away she was almost completely bent in half due to severe osteoporosis.  So I console myself that at least half of my genes hint at longevity, although my mother’s sister died in her 50s from cancer (the only one among my immediate family to do so, interestingly enough).

But healthy genes are one thing.  Death could also be immediate and unexpected, like the folks who go to work or school one day and then never come home, felled by a madman with an assault weapon on a vendetta.  Or like the family coming home from a wedding in a limo on the Meadowbrook Parkway here on Long Island a few years ago, mowed down by a drunk driver on the wrong side of the road.  Or the four ladies, smart enough to hire a driver on a winery tour on Long Island’s East End, murdered by a guy in a pickup who’d had a few too many.

My biggest fear of death (other than some terrible accident) is having a heart attack, primarily because of my family history but also because I have a chronic musculoskeletal condition called costochondritis, which originates in my back but radiates to my ribs on my left side.  Every time I feel a painful twinge there, I think, “This is it.  Now what?”  My other big fear is a sudden brain aneurysm, which killed my college friend, Martha Brochin, herself a doctor, quite suddenly, about 15 years ago.  Every time I have a particularly severe headache, my first thought is immediately, “Is this a brain aneurysm?”  Although it might not seem so based on my prior statements, generally speaking, I’m not much of a hypochondriac – in fact, quite the opposite:  I will try to explain away every twinge or feeling of light-headedness as something innocuous – but specifically as to heart attacks and brain aneurysms, they DO cross my mind.

With my daughter away at college, I live alone with a bunch of companion animals, but they would be of little use if, like those white-haired ladies in the Life Alert commercials, I fall and I can’t get up.  There’s that morbid joke about cat ladies becoming nothing more than cat food if they happen to pass away and no one discovers them for a few days or weeks.  That might be me.  I’m so much of a hermit that, apart from my daughter, not many people call me on a regular basis.  So it could be WEEKS before anyone found me, like that man George Bell in the article by N.R. Kleinfield in the New York Times [“The Lonely Death of George Bell, New York Times, 10/18/15, http://www.nytimes.com/2015/10/18/nyregion/dying-alone-in-new-york-city.html?ref=topics&_r=0%5D ],whose death inspired Kleinfield’s investigation into what happens when people die alone in New York City.  Unlike George Bell, however, I do have a family ready to deal with my funeral and estate when I’m gone, although I don’t yet have a formal will.  (It’s on my perpetual “to do” list.)

I am only 56, and I would hope to be able to enjoy a nice long life in retirement (if you’re at all familiar with this blog, you have probably – and correctly – assumed that I intend to retire as early as I possibly can, even if that means having to get a part-time job at the local CVS to supplement my meager Social Security income), but hey, you never know what’s around the corner, which is one of the reasons I am trying hard to be joyful every day rather than wasting valuable hours lamenting my current lack of fulfillment in my work and life.

I saw an episode of the cutting-edge news series VICE the other day about assisted suicide and the “right to die” movement [Season 4 Episode 3].  It is a multi-layered topic, to be sure, but as an overarching concept, I fully support people choosing when and how they die, especially if they are dealing with chronic, painful and debilitating conditions, or even severe depression.  There is a certain dignity to being able to make the most significant choice in one’s life – to bring about its end; to be here, and then NOT here.  And this is regardless of whatever you may believe about what happens to us after we die – and frankly, this is something that we will never know UNTIL WE ACTUALLY DIE.  As far as I am aware, no one has definitively and “officially” (i.e., with empirical proof) come back from the dead to tell us about the experience except to say that it involves rising out of one’s body and moving toward a white light.  But THEN WHAT?

The last thing I want to do is to die right now.  I don’t want to leave this earthly plane until I’m well into my 90s and I just plain run out of gas.  Perhaps I should make the effort to take a little better care of myself:  stop drinking so much diet soda (which is literally poisoning me, I am certain, but that doesn’t seem to stop me from doing it), eat healthy foods, exercise and lose some weight.  Do yoga and meditate.  Maintain a more positive outlook.

But I also should do more things I love rather than spending so much time chasing the almighty dollar (despite how unfortunately NECESSARY that is, as I’ve complained about often in my blog posts), because no matter how healthy I strive to be, today – or any day – could be my last day on earth.

Such a Debbie Downer post this week – [insert sliding trombone wah-wah sound effect here] – sorry!  In order to counteract the melancholy vibe, here’s a happy little quote posted by a guy named Robert Westerburg, who describes himself as a “world class coach,” that I found on Facebook back in October 2015 [https://www.facebook.com/robert.westerburg/posts/10208175960103122], although I note that a comment to Westerburg’s post attributes the quote to someone named Crystal Boyd, who had originally published it in a piece called “Happiness is a Journey” in her book, Midnight Muse, in 2000, and reprinted on her website [http://happinessisajourney.com]:

“We convince ourselves that life will be better after we get married, have a baby, then another.  Then we are frustrated that the kids aren’t old enough, and we’ll be more content when they are.  After that, we’re frustrated that we have teenagers to deal with.  We will certainly be happy when they are out of that stage.

“We tell ourselves that our life will be complete when our partner gets his or her act together when we get a nicer car, are able to go on a nice holiday, when we retire.

“The truth is, there’s no better time to be happy than right now. If not now, when?

“Your life will always be filled with challenges.

“It’s best to admit this to yourself and decide to be happy anyway.

“A quote comes from Alfred D. Souza. He said, ‘For a long time it had seemed to me that life was about to begin – real life. But there was always some obstacle in the way, something to be gotten through first, some unfinished business, time still to be served, or a debt to be paid. Then life would begin. At last it dawned on me that these obstacles were my life.’

“This perspective has helped me to see that there is no way to happiness. Happiness is the way.

“So, treasure every moment that you have and treasure it more because you shared it with someone special, special enough to spend your time . . . and remember that time waits for no one.

“So, stop waiting until you lose ten pounds, until you gain ten pounds, until you have kids, until your kids leave the house, until you start work, until you retire, until you get married, until you get divorced, until Friday night, until Sunday morning, until you get a new car or home, until your car or home is paid off, until spring, until summer, until winter, until your song comes on, until you’ve had a drink . . . there is no better time than right now to be happy.

“Happiness is a journey, not a destination.

“Work like you don’t need money, love like you’ve never been hurt, and dance like no one’s watching.”