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Monday, February 18, 2013


New Natural Alternative to Water-boarding! Confessions Guaranteed!

I hate writing shit like this. I think I hate it because it gives me a kind of guilty, if not downright perverse pleasure in doing something and saying something that should not be placed before the public. John Wayne… Gary Cooper… strong silent men—at least in the two dimensions in which I knew them up there on the big screen…. Throw my father into that mix, and all my role models are lined up to piss on me for writing this. Let ‘em piss.

Quite simply, Stage lV cancer has presented to me, unbidden, an all-natural alternative to water-boarding and I am eager to share it and speak of its benefits. Lets call it “water-boarding-for-squeamish-civilian-granola-eating-tree-huggers”… A group, on the periphery of which, I have been seen upon occasion.

Definition thanks to our friends at Wiki: “Water-boarding is a form of torture in which water is poured over cloth covering the face and breathing passages of an immobilized captive, causing the individual to experience the sensation of drowning. I might add that the experience of drowning is hardwired into the most primitive area of the brain, what I call the “alligator brain”. The alligator brain has to do with survival at its most basic and has no connection with thinking or logic or even stored experience. It just fights for life.

For weeks now, the tumor strangling my airway and aorta has been producing coughing fits. Recently the coughing fits have been of such a nature as to trigger the drowning reflex in my alligator brain, producing such panic and anxiety that I have confessed to murdering dozens of US civilian diplomatic personnel in embassies around the world, selling nuclear secrets to the North Koreans and snitching a Snickers bar from Johnny’s Corner Sore when I was 11.  

I have learned to water board myself almost at will. I am finding it cathartic to confess to any and every sin, real and imagined—a privilege I feel I have been denied my whole life by not being Catholic. I have learned to exercise a new neural pathway that sends coughing fit information directly to the survival center, bypassing all the medical logic that I am NOT dying and the past the patina of optimism that we doomed cancer victims are required to show to each and every visitor, or be accused (though not to our faces, of course) of contributing to our own demise by being “negative”.  Confess or die! Send in your requests, and I will confess.

Thursday, February 14, 2013

MOVING GOAL POSTS / The Myth of Sisyphus

I have fretted in other posts here that I was never going to be a rock star. I was a little surprised when few understood that remark. Friends know I have no musical talent or taste, can’t sing, and am an old bald guy. It seems obvious to any same person that I will never be a rock star. But I am just using the words “rock star” as a surrogate phrase to stand in for any number of enterprises and passions in which I could have given my all and been capable of making something out of my, now, very short life. Regret is a bitter pill to swallow and I imagine it is not pretty to watch me swallow it in public in this blog. I will not bore you or seem to brag by listing my list of notable un-accomplishments.

At the same time, in the fields in which I have chosen to make some effort, the goal posts for scoring a “success” have kept moving away leaving me at something of a loss. I will admit to lusting after fame, fortune and adulation for most of my life—all extrinsic measures of success to be sure, but still, how most North Americans measure their own careers and the careers of others. Money, and not just money but the legitimacy it confers on even the sleaziest of criminals (bankers and politicians come to mind) has ever evaded me.

When I had the most name-recognized studio in London for some several years running, I also wanted a storefront on the “high street” to go with it. I got that and wanted the billings to support it and my staff and lifestyle. Well the billings did support the operation, but my net income before, after and during taxes would always hover around minimum wage.

Actual athletic goals? No learning there for me either, until very late in life (last month)…

I have been distance running for 40 years, some of those years competitively at marathon. I bought into all the self-help (athletic self-help) book nonsense published at the beginning of the running craze in North America, much of which sounded like all the financial and personal growth self-help being published now. “There are no limits except those you impose upon yourself, “ they all said. Fooled me. Fooled Mr. Jim at the top1% of intelligence brain guy types… A recipe for setting up ever moving goal posts… And the athletic goal posts did move from just finishing a race to getting into the top whatever percent in my category to finally training so hard, the injuries just piled up, and I spent more time rehabbing than training. Somehow, the inspirational self-help running books forgot to mention genetically inherited athletic ability as perhaps the primary factor in success, or I just didn’t read those parts. I chose the wrong ancestors to be a great or even a good athlete. Dang!  

When I began my writing career at the age of 60, my initial goal was to write a book. I did that, in fact I wrote about 6 of them. But soon it was not satisfying enough for me to write them, I wanted to sell them. The goalposts moving again… Away from me…

So I learned how to sell books, but never learned how to sell enough to make a real difference in my income. Damned goalposts… The pattern of self-defeat repeated over and over…

I imagine a better person would have learned sometime by the 7th decade of life that extrinsic measures of success would always be unsatisfying—that the goalposts would always move just out of reach.

Well, finally, illness has taught me with great brutality what I would not allow life to teach me in a more measured and gentle fashion. I know what my “real” goals are and how to measure success in reaching them. My goals are smaller and most are now very simple and some just on the level of achieving a state of animal comfort—sleeping, breathing, eating, shitting and freedom from pain. I am in my “animal comfort” zone now as I write this and can say I am proud to have achieved that goal through carefully controlling my activities and intakes to achieve a balance with the disease. We are in a cease-fire mode for now, and that is a victory. My athletic challenges on some days are trying to make it up the stairs without stopping (and only a month ago I was training for a road race in Florida). I am not moaning, I am bragging about climbing the stairs. It is a realistic goal these days, and I am proud to be able to do it. Fuck the road race.

And trying to be kind and tolerant of everyone around me no matter how badly the beast is attacking my insides… When I achieve that small goal, I feel better for not adding to my confrere’s misery because of mine. Adding to the good side of the world ledger of kindness, no matter how small the contribution, is intrinsically valuable. This is not rocket science. Thinking in terms of what I can do for other people and not how I can use them in some way to further my purposes is quite a revelation—a revelation I did not ask for or see any need for. The lessons I have learned about having righteous goals have come at a tremendous personal cost. I would much rather still be the charming superficial fool I have always been.

Tuesday, February 12, 2013



As a fairly recent (2 years) Facebook user with over 250 “friends” and having been a student of Sociology 100 years ago in college, I have observed the emergence of a daily plethora of cheerful and inspiriting quotes on sappy backgrounds posted, reposted and shared by my “friends”.  The FB “friends” who hold legitimate credentials in my personal world seem to be just as prolific as my more distant contacts, so I don’t see a pattern emerging in the “who” behind the onslaught of cheerfulness.

I am searching for meaning here. What is fueling this never ending onslaught of inspiration and optimism? My immediate intuition, is that the only thing that could possibly be fueling the proliferation and spread of these gems is depression. My logic based on my own smattering of psych courses, my own experience doing therapy and good guesswork…

My "personal” FB friends seem no more or less depressed than when they were merely personal friends. Now, I am arguing against my own argument in favor of depression that I outlined above.

But still, could posting the little anti-aircraft gun bursts of sun, flowers and plucky poetry, be the compulsively desperate act of a depressed person projecting her own need for such constant extrinsic encouragement onto all his or her FB friends? Are we all projection-painted the same colour of depressed by the depression-fueled posters of this stuff?

Back in the old days, I remember receiving an encouraging wall plaque from a teracher in 1965. I am sure I have received at least one get-well card in the meantime, although I don’t remember from whom or in honor of what malady. I am just admitting the possibility that someone at sometime sent me a paper get-well card in the mail. From 1965 until the FB present I have somehow survived various hard times with no encouragement in physical and graphic form. Imagine this: I got one plaque for sure and one possible greeting card in 63 years well-lived, and in the last 2 years on FB I get 65 cards per day. And I am saddened to say, I feel no better, but, I suppose, no worse either.

So I have ranted, about them and suggested a few things that might be responsible for this daily onslaught of encouragement, but have made no progress in truly explaining the rise of “Facebook Positivity Poisoning”.

Thursday, February 7, 2013

THE END PART lll---giving it all away

Sharing intangible gifts at the end of life:

It is a damned shame for the community when the light winks out of any human consciousness at almost any age beyond the age of self-awareness. (I am not denying the complete horror of the death of a child.) The contents of any aware mind, however, no matter how formally uneducated or lacking in even much measurable intelligence are unique and immeasurably valuable and forever unrecoverable after death. Tragedy…

Trial and error taught that self-aware thinking-machine-between-the-ears called a brain, many lessons that could benefit the whole human tribe if they could somehow be made permanently available. But death steals it all from most. As a small example, my family history is 99.99% gone with the deaths of all my aunts and uncles and my parents and the friends of all those relatives. Even the few stories that possibly came down intact orally or were scribbled in the margins of genealogy charts started and abandoned by second and third cousins is just the tip of the tip of the iceberg. A family tragedy…

A more important example might be the loss of a physician’s clinical experiences at death. Even though standard medical practice is written down, codified and preserved in every conceivable way, we know some doctors are total shit and others are giants. (My current doc is a giant.)The loss of a great clinician, particularly one who has not been in a position to mentor other physicians or write extensive medical diaries, is a particularly hard loss for the human community. Tragedy again…

I am going to attempt over the next few blogs to write down just about everything I know. The essays will not be that long, as I am unsure of many more things than I am willing to admit in writing that I am sure of. Maybe that is the first thing I know—that I don’t know much.

These writings are the intangible gifts I want to leave behind in the hope that what I claim to know resonates with things you the reader have been thinking and hopefully adds to your understanding of the nature of things.  These following essays will be from the head and not the heart. You may have to leave the emotional thrills and chills of my death drama behind for a while and endure some schoolmarmish lecturing. But that schoolmarm is a big part of me too and part of what she knows I feel compelled to leave behind in writing.

On my 30th birthday, I wrote a list of 30 things I knew. Reading the list a few years ago, I knew a few things on the list were a little hokey and should be delisted. And I had an idea or two for a few new things, but it was a pretty solid list. I was either wise at 30 or am just as foolish now to believe the same shit. I may publish the list when I get back to Canada and find the notebook it is in.

In the meantime, I must confess to have been fortunate enough to have been given the opportunity by my best apprentice Cynthia and my sweet apprentice Megan to pass on a lot of what I know about photography. I feel somewhat secure that some part of my knowledge base in that area has been transmitted. At one time, I was probably the most skilled black and white fine art wet darkroom printer within the county or province or maybe the whole country (bragging now!) I am saddened to think I will never be able to pass on my first hand “clinical” experience working in that printing medium. The chemical smell by the soft orange glow of the safelights was and is my favorite perfume. There was real physical magic there in that room that will never be surpassed by Photoshop on a sterile flat screen combining 0’s and 1’s in wonderful ways. All this “clinical” experience of mine in fine art printing will die when I die, even though the raw information on the techniques and formulae I used will live on in books. Printing is an art form unfortunately, and can never really be learned from a book, only through apprenticeship or decades of trial and error.

I am the fourth generation of hunter in my family. I am not looking to discuss the merits or demerits of ethical hunting here, although I could whoop your ass in any fair debate on the topic. I no longer have the time or the taste for whooping ass. Please…

I wanted to pass this hunting heritage on to a son or daughter or a son or daughter substitute, as I believe hunting has made me a gentler, better and more grounded person in a world of “screen reality”. It has helped me become a person who believes on a gut level in ethical farming in a world that has willing blinded itself to the mass torture of animals that is perpetrated in order to enrich the stockholders of industrial farms and fast food franchises. I will never have the opportunity to share the hunting field and my “clinical” experiences in the field with an apprentice. This makes me sad. This heritage will die when I die.

I have such a desire to live so I can pass on my unique experiences that I believe have value. But teaching wet printing or field craft takes years, and I do not have years. I want to give all this away to anyone who will have it, but all my unique experience will remain locked away in my brain and that brain will soon be burned to ash.

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

THE END PART ll -- Dying is not about dying

Dying is not about dying; it is about living. Until the lights go out, life is what there is. Whatever obligations and implications there are that flow from the fact of your existence still exist.

Dying is what the disease is doing to you with its merry robotic progression, interrupted by sometimes nice, sometimes nasty and sometimes just odd interventions on the part of a medical team that, while feigning competence, is jut as mystified as you as to what the process really entails.

The living part of dying is as intensely personal, and may seem to outsiders to be intensely narcissistic. My pain, my suffering, my loss… Well, fuck them for that interpretation. The taxman may take away your money, and the doctors, your dignity, and your family and community may take away your social capital, but this shit is all yours. It is the last thing you will ever truly own. Narcissistic? Fuck ‘em.

How do I want to live my dying? I don’t know, since I have little experience in the area, but I am feeling my way through, bumbling and making mistakes just like I have in every other endeavor the rest of my life. No Medieval Painting Jesus Gold Plate Halo has descended from the sky to rest behind my head and make me more holy, smarter or any more lovable than I have been most of my 65 years. Still a smart mouth, still wasting my talents, still lusting and judging… I am using these writings to figure out how to live. The words sometimes seem to come from somewhere else now, and I just rush to type them.

And yet I have changed, perhaps for the better. Perhaps a little… The suffering of chemotherapy and now some suffering from the disease itself and the suffering involved in dealing with my particular bĂȘte noire, “uncertainty”, have taught me patience. The price has been too high for the rewards involved, but now that I have patience, I might as well brag about it. The little insults from ignorant drivers and underpaid retail staff bounce right off. I can sit in a running-two-hours-behind medical office and stare at the wall in complete peace.

And I have been flooded with charity. Well flooded a little. As a poor artist, living below the poverty line for the majority of my working life, I have maintained myself in what I consider luxury by not being stupid with money. It has been a game I have enjoyed playing and played well. Now that I know that game is ending, I have taken a different attitude towards money, but that different attitude has come to extend to charity that does not involve money. I want to give all kinds of tangible and intangible goods to all kinds of people. Charity is my motivation in writing this for you. I don’t know if you want this gift, I just know I want to give it. Maybe its just narcissism masquerading as charity… I doubt I have lost all my capacity for self-delusion; after all, self-delusion is what allows us all to live in this fucked up world and not blow our brains out after watching the evening news or reality TV.  

Tangible things: I have family heirlooms, but no family the way other people have family. I want to give them away, but I don’t want to give them away as objects to strangers, I want to give them away to known persons as magical objects that bear stories of multiple generations of my ancestors who lived a different life in different times. The objects are not Pre-Columbian pottery, but their value comes from the same wellspring. My objects tell of a people living a way of life that no longer exists in the North American collective consciousness—a family of 12 living through the Great Depression on one uncertain salary with no car, no TV, no radio, no Internet, no appliances, and little hope, but still thriving.

The strength of that family is somehow embodied in the little cut glass toothpick holder from my grandmother, but only if I tell the story when I give the object away. Maybe the recipient of the toothpick holder will be the vector that transmits that family’s brave history to the next generation and in some miniscule way the cause of civilization will be advanced. Oral history and storytelling are the foundation of culture and the reason we are not apes.

Sunday, February 3, 2013


It’s the end. Well, not exactly the end, but the beginning of the end. That is for sure. The possibilities for eliminating the beast are none. The possibility for predictably stalling the beast for an appreciable length of time are very slim and dependent on cutting edge genetic testing and drug matching to which I am privileged to have access. But the chances of finding an effective agent through genetic testing are little better than dumb luck—a thing I have had all my life and seem to have run out of.

A wise man will bet with the odds (imminent death) with his whole fortune and put a little bet on the long shot miracle remission, which must be forgotten—put in a box with all the old lottery tickets and love letters “Returned to Sender”. If the long shot pops out of the box, “Lawd be praised!” If it does not pop out on its own, a wise man doesn’t worry about it on a daily or hourly basis and preferably never.

There are distinct possibilities for dulling the claws of the beast as it rips me apart (so foolishly rips me apart, because the beast dies the day I die).  I am dulling its claws now with mild doses of fairly mild pharmaceuticals. And will dull them further soon with mild doses of radiation. Palliation is the sunshine in what I could allow to become very dark days. It is enough to be dying at the claws of a most impolite and now, impatient, gene defect, without clawing one’s self apart with Gloomy Gus thinking.

Which brings me with to the point I have been circling around. The way out from Gloomy Gus thinking is not to avoid it. (Avoid the elephant in the room? How?) But to replace it with constructive thoughts and positive action…

Prior to the hammer blow prognosis delivered to me several days ago by my most delicate and skilled physician, my constructive thoughts and positive actions were directed toward racing ahead of my medical team to look in all the more arcane and most recent medical literature to find the hints and tips that have not made it up on the big scoreboard of gold standard medicine. I have been blessed (can atheists say “blessed”) to have a team who encouraged and appreciated and, yes, even acted upon my research. How often does that happen?

My general medical knowledge is nil. Given that I do not know where my spleen is or why my ear “pops” sometimes, I have somehow achieved a peer-level understanding of my own fairly rare state of bodily woe and in some ways I know things beyond my “medical peers”. Frankly, I am just smarter than most of them and probably more curious and certainly more motivated. I am not bragging, I just got born this smart and mostly just used all those smarts to have fun while not bringing much good to the family of man. Fucking waste, to my way of thinking, but the past is the past.

Finding a needle in a haystack cure is not my “job one” any longer. The “constructive thoughts and positive actions” of which I speak now, don’t so much involve just me, but involve those with whom I associate, starting and ending I suppose with my beloved wife, without whom I would be dead right now. I have no tolerance for suffering. I am a stone chicken. And chemotherapy knocked the will to live out of me in a month. She somehow kept my fingers off the razor knife, as only she could see that beyond the next corner there were still many “golden days and velvet nights”—a phrase I coined when I first met her. My bequests to her start now and will continue beyond the grave. They are many--broad and deep. But there are other people who must be dealt with aside from Karen. I will write more of them later and what I intend to contribute.