Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Tintin & Schopenhauer

What does Tintin think about when sitting alone above my pillow in the dark? I found out that life can be easier if you find the right philosopher to answer such questions for you. Schopenhauer (1788-1860) believed that cats live for the moment, the present. They never reminisce about the past nor contemplate the future. That's why, he said, they are placid and contented. Unlike people, who impose unnecessary burdens upon their lives, fretting over past mistakes and scheming to set the future right, to catch the bluebird of happiness, to find the Rainbow Connection.

Tintin wakes up while it's still dark, goes to the food bowl and eats, licks and grooms herself, jumps onto the bed and lightly nudges my arm to see if I'm awake. Sometimes I wake up a little late and see her sitting on the pillow, just right over my head, looking patiently at me. I greet her and we snuggle for warmth; she purrs in delight while she sits on my tummy and I stroke her back and tickle her chin. We live for the moment: yesterday was a cancelled ticket, the present is the future unfolding second after second after second: a new present for each cancelled past. Life with a cat can be so simple and at the same time metaphysically complex.

And it is the inclination of great philosophers like Schopenhauer (hereafter simply referred to as Arthur) to make the complex as simple as possible, to make the elegant seem quotidian. To make us understand; to cast pearls before swines, so to speak. Arthur was the Great Pessimist, but not the type to see life as a glass half-empty -- to him the world is a glass full to the brim, of suffering and pain, where misfortune in general is the rule. Happiness, of course, is the exception. Happiness is merely a brief achievement of contentment, a temporary cessation of endurance or pain. Not a happy day in our life will pass untainted by the spice of sorrow, mischance, even dissatisfaction.

Certainly Arthur, a thinking man, wears the mask of tragedy; he bequeaths comedy to carpetbaggers, money-seekers, kings, pawns and bishops -- "to the crowd of miserable wretches whose one aim in life is to fill their purses but never to put anything into their heads." Yet Arthur was not a man of dark design who took delight in misery. He was blunt, he was honest, but he was not dreary. If one of life's purposes is redemption from ignorance of evil, Arthur redeemed himself by this endearing statement: "The best consolation in misfortune or affliction of any kind will be the thought of other people who are in a still worse plight than yourself; and this is a form of consolation open to every one. But what an awful fate this means for mankind as a whole!"

Using Arthur's elegant mode of expression, I say, "Tintin finds herself suddenly existing, after thousands and thousands of years of non-existence: she lives for a little while; and then, again, comes to an equally long period when she must exist no more." What applies to my playful Persian applies to the whole existence of the universe. We are made of stardust: life is cosmic.

Tintin exists, therefore she thinks. Arthur believes that Tintin my pet, with less mental complexities and expectations than humans, does not suffer boredom. Still I wonder, when Tintin sits by my side in the dark, if she can anticipate the pleasure of play when I wake up. Arthur believes that creatures like Tintin does not possess man's power of reflection, memory and foresight: in short, Tintin simply wants to play, she does not reflect that I am the chosen companion, a bigger creature she can trust and approach without fear of harm; she has no memory of yesterday's pleasure, no anticipation to meet again at daybreak tomorrow. The philosopher, in this case, is way off the mark. I believe Arthur, in his long existence, had missed the good fortune of being loved and trusted by a cat, of understanding the silent communications between a human and another species, of the enduring memories of paws and hands meeting in affection. But, in case Arthur is right, that Tintin will in a short time outgrow the playful moments and memories, then I abide. Still, Tintin will stay in my mind. We have met, and I will not forget.

November 3: Yesterday two good people have decided to share their life with Tintin in their home. It is a comfortable life, with the right food, toys, a Ragdoll playmate, a scratch post, and a great expectation that her nine lives will be blissful. Live long and prosper, Tintin my lovely.

Thursday, October 25, 2012

A Sublife: Birthday notes

When you are old and full of sleep...
Go back to bed, go to sleep.
-- William the Henry

For more than eight years I have been coping with the disabilities caused by a burst blood vessel in the left side of my brain, the part that controlled the physical movements of the right side of my body. After intensive therapy for more than six months, I was able to regain partially my strength --  to stand, to hobble unsteadily, to lift my arm, to remove the droop from my mouth, and to talk intelligibly if not intelligently. After six months the window for full recovery closed: for the rest of my life I will have to accept that I can no longer use my right hand and foot because my right extremities -- five fingers and five toes -- are disabled.

Disabled. That's how I describe myself. Not differently abled, a phrase which I hate as much as the political correctness and hypocritical politeness of this generation. As a former editor of a tabloid, I have learned to respect the integrity of words and to spit on those who disregard the precision of their meanings. To be disabled is to be physically or mentally impaired or incapacitated. In my case, my physical function is severely limited. I can no longer run, jump, climb stairs without aid, kick; my right hand has lost its ability to grasp, hold a pen, strum a guitar, draw and sketch, clap with its functioning partner. My abilities have been diminished, not transformed into different abilities. I know, though, that there are autistic individuals whose mental incapacity is compensated by astonishing feats, like extracting large chunks of information from memory -- information which enable them to recall intricate mathematical or musical combinations without effort, and without understanding. That, is differently abled. I, on the other hand, cannot do what I used to do. I am disabled.

To survive a stroke and through the years learn of the untimely deaths of friends and former colleagues bring only pain and grief, never the consolation of having outlived those good people. To lose allies, including parents, in this difficult world, is to be disabled further. Where is the consolation in that? Only the malicious and the malignant take comfort in the misfortune of other people; their moral disability exceeds my physical disability.

I live my remaining years in what I call a sublife; if I'm not careful and lose my sense of proportion, I can easily fall and become subhuman, like plundering politicians and leeching televangelists who have discarded dignity, kindness, and other values that make us human. My first taste of sublife came when I was deemed sufficiently recovered from my stroke. (Yes, my stroke. I, selfishly, do not wish to share it with others.) In the early leash of my second life, I was let out of St. Luke's, but I had to be taken around by wheelchair, because my right leg had not yet regained it's strength to support my weight. I notice that those in wheelchairs are no longer considered part of the mainstream of life. Sublifers have to depend on others to subsist, partially, as in my case, or totally, in severe cases. When you sit in a wheelchair, the average persons usually defer to you, even when they do not look at you; you are still an entity, but not complete; faceless, out of the game.

Therapy is supposed to bring you back into the rat race: to be employable again, to be competitive again with all the adjunct greed, envy, boot-licking, shoulder-slapping handshaking bribe-taking, and various contortions for positions. Or you learn to live a level down to a more quiet, sedate, comic-reading, DVD-watching, stamp-collecting existence. And sometimes type out, with the left hand, a blog of whatever runs through your mind. I remember telling a horrified therapist that the best doctors and therapists for stroke victims are those who have suffered a stroke themselves. Because then they will know exactly how we feel, so they will not call a patient lazy because the patient still refuses to stand and take the first strides to normalcy. "She is not lazy," I explained, referring to an elderly patient. "She feels she has become a burden now and she is afraid of standing and possibly falling and breaking a leg or an arm and becoming a heavier burden. Her stroke has already caused a heavy loss in terms of time and money. Her fear is not for herself but for her family." Even the fearful have courage.

Even today, I lack the sense to feel despondent. With my reckless lifestyle, I cannot blame anyone or anything else for what happened: I simply got what I deserve, and even survived to ponder and write about it. It's been a long time since I was able to shed my sense of schadenfreude: the malicious and hidden enjoyment people feel when others suffer a misfortune -- death, divorce, bankruptcy, ugly daughters, poor fashion taste, a new iPhone tossed by baby into aquarium, an expensive and mature Flowerhorn sick with indigestion. So I feel neither comfort nor consolation when, being wheelchaired to the therapy room, I pass by the Renal Section (I turn my head and look away from Oncology), where every day patients with impaired kidneys undergo dialysis to purge out the poison accumulated in their blood -- until money runs out or life mercifully ends. Former Managing Editor Fred Marquez described the process in an article he wrote for People's Tonight shortly before he died. (I paraphrase): "Dialysis is like riding a merry-go-round, you go round and round, feeling lightheaded and dizzy, until you can't pay for the ride anymore." Or the wheel suddenly stops. I can go on and on with stories of colleagues now departed, but what for? It's enough to know that the bell tolls for all. For the young, who shrugs at the fate of the old, as I once had, the Earth turns, like a merry-go-round, and the wheel stops for everyone.

Old sublifers hoard time as precious gems, so we don't count wholesale anymore. We retail day by day (but not by hours, that's for penny-pinchers). My personal math as of today goes like this: 57 years x 365.25 days = 20,819.25 days. My hair, what remains of it, has gray strays; my skin is a parchment marked by hieroglyphs of cat scratches; I walk like a pirate with a peg leg; my right arm and leg refuse to abide by the synapses. I'm worn out, jaded, a burnt-out case ready for the scrap heap, and I've lived for less what an iPad costs if each of my days is turned into a peso. Life in this context is cheap -- but still precious. I'd better stop: I'm getting morbid, and it's supposed to be a happy birthday, indeed.

Brain melted due to morbid thinking.

Before you measure the years, you measure the days.
-- Mitch Albom, "The Time Keeper"

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Notes to myself

I am following what may be an obscure but a certainly effective procedure of learning: accidental education. I stumbled upon the term while frip-fripping the pages of The Education of Henry Adams, the autobiography of Henry Adams. Yes, the man has come up with a style of his own, writing about himself in the third person. By the standard of the New Journalism, this is old hat; but if we consider that this Henry Adams was born in 1838 and published his book in 1906, we kneel and touch our forehead toward the fount of such originality.

To fix the dates in our mind, we relate it to a familiar date, say 1861: In 1838 one Jose Rizal had to wait 23 more years before he could be conceived to make his own mark. People in those years wrote convoluted sentences, so prolix that the Victorian Henry James can consume more than two pages for a single sentence. When I first came upon the big block of paragraphs in a James novel, I blinked in disbelief. This was how the master told his tales, twisting and turning phrases where a simple subject-verb-predicate sentence would have sufficed.

I sifted through each line to make sure I had not just missed a turn and driven pass the merciful period. I waded through dozens of overworked commas, exhausted semi-colons, underpaid dashes, and parentheses gasping for breath until I found the treasured dot, miles away from the starting point. I'm sure the education of Henry Adams taught him not to write like Henry James.

Or like Charles Dickens. Someone told me that Dickens can discuss hats for 20 pages. That attitude, or style, can be understood if we are informed that Dickens was paid a cent per word for his stories, which were serialized in magazines. Erle Stanley Gardner, before he hit it big with Perry Mason, earned his dimes by padding his pulp fictions with sound effects. It takes no effort at all to hear his detective unload his gun: "Bang! Bang! Bang! Bang! Bang! Bang!" All six shots earning 60c. Of course the gumshoe gets to reload and unload six more dimes.

Understand, I'm retelling all these by memory. This should teach me to take notes next time; verbatim quotes are more accurate and memorable. Still, I guess retelling is better than plagiarizing or sottoing.

Before I forget: Henry Adams and his third-person came up because I have just finished Salman Rushdie's latest book, Joseph Anton. It is Rushdie's autobiography, in which he includes the ordeal he suffered after Ayatollah Khomeini issued a death sentence upon him for allegedly insulting the prophet Muhammad in The Satanic Verses. Hiding and always on the move, he must assume an alias to elude the assassins eager to get the $1 million price for his head. After trying and discarding combinations of names, he decided to become Joseph Anton, after the Polish novelist Conrad and Russian short story writer Chekhov. For ten years the fictitious Joseph Anton issued checks to buy food, books, houses for the fugitive novelist. Rushdie explains in the beginning of his book why he chose his pseudonym. And why he referred to himself in the third-person.

Reality can be as fantastic as fiction. I suppose it's how you tell it.

Another note: Frip is the sound the pages make when I frip the edge of a book to arrive at a random page, where I start reading.