Odd Thing About Dying #2: We’d like some destiny with our death please.

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Atropos of the Morai (One of the Sisters of Fate)

In the previous post Odd Thing About Dying #1: They’ve blocked most of the exits I talked about how challenging it is to die these days because the modern medical system has evolved to prevent it wherever possible, even when a person reaches the end of their natural life and is more than ready to go.  And so far hospice (along with the growing palliative care specialty which often goes hand in hand) provides the only officially sanctioned exit where people are allowed to leave the system without a fight.

Now, that being the case you’d think that everyone who didn’t want extraordinary measures taken to extend their lives would be fighting to get enrolled in hospice as early as possible, yes?

Well, no.  Far from it.  Hospice care is one of the most misunderstood and underutilized services out there while, where palliative care is concerned, the majority of people haven’t even heard of it yet. There are a number of reasons for this (including the fact that most people don’t WANT to understand them because it involves talking about dying) but there’s one reason in particular I’d like to discuss here and it essentially boils down to this:

Most people feel to some degree that, if they enroll in hospice, then they’re choosing to die.

This isn’t true for a couple of reasons:

1) When a person enrolls early enough, hospice is about deciding to LIVE WELL UNTIL one dies.  It’s about life, not death.

2) Dying isn’t really a choice to begin with, it’s a destiny. Choice implies we could decide not to die if we didn’t feel like it which of course we can’t.

People aren’t entirely wrong however. Due to some brilliant medical and public health advances we don’t usually “just die” anymore, we have to choose when; when to stop seeking treatment, when to forego that surgery, when to surrender to that infection, when to decline that CPR, or when to remove that ventilator.  Either we or our loved ones have to huddle with our doctors, weigh all the options, and then consciously decide whether to fight for the possibility of extra time or to let it go.

Of course at first we hailed these advances as unqualified blessings but over time it’s turned out that all the new choices can create something of a burden, and sometimes a curse.

You see, there really isn’t a clear point anymore where a doctor has to tell a patient, “I’m sorry but there’s nothing more we can do.” There’s always something more they can do, which means that until a person get decisive and say, “No, that’s it, I’m through. Please stop now,” chances are the doctors will keep suggesting something else.

Just so you know, this is a sea change in the way we humans face death.  It’s historic.  As far as I know, never before in human history has there been a point where the majority of people had to consciously choose when to die, or have a loved one choose for them. This development is an unintended consequence of all our new medical possibilities and, along with the miraculous blessings it bestows, it also requires that we now stand up and assume a level of responsibility for our own death that was unimaginable just a few decades ago.

Only we don’t really want that kind of responsibility.  Turns out one of the things we actually liked about the old way of dying was that we didn’t have a choice.  Destiny used to shoulder that burden for us, which we thought we hated at the time but are now starting to realize was maybe not as bad as we thought.

For a while everyone thought that of course our doctors would take over from destiny and let us know when “our time” had come.  But it turns out they don’t want that responsibility either and, honestly, who can blame them? The burden of telling someone they’re going to die is extraordinary, even when a person wants to know.  And if they don’t?  Well, that can be a lawsuit.

So doctors try and sidestep any kind of straightforward prognosis and hand us the research and statistics instead, from which we then have to try and divine the tea leaves for ourselves.  In addition, the majority of doctors still tend to encourage us to pursue aggressive treatment, often far past the point where they would themselves, with the stated goal of preserving hope but really for the purposes of distraction.  While they often have a good idea when a treatment will be futile, they also know that even a futile treatment can offer us temporary shelter from our terror of dying, which on the one hand is genuinely kind and deeply human, but on the other is a lot like that old bear attack joke:

Question: What are you supposed to do when you’re being attacked by a bear?

Answer: Run like hell.  It can’t save you but it’ll give you something to do for the last thirty seconds of your life.

Only dying is now taking a lot, lot longer than thirty seconds and people are starting to feel like there are better things to do with that time.  But our instincts work against us.  Seeking further treatment still feels like the most right and natural thing to do, and besides everyone else is seeking further treatment, and on top of that there’s major disagreement about when it’s wisest to stop because it’s completely different in every case.

So to recap, while destiny is still in charge as far as death itself is concerned…we all still die…our medical advances have allowed us to seize more control around the timing issue.  Only that means somebody now has to decide when to treat and when to stop, and while we’d mostly prefer that our doctors made the decision since they know so much more than we do, they’re proving reluctant.  Which leaves us to make the choice ourselves, only 1) we don’t know enough to make an informed decision, and 2) we’re unwilling to educate ourselves because that would mean actually talking about dying and we don’t want to do that either.

The whole situation reminds me of a teenager who wanted nothing more than to move out of the house and call all the shots, only to discover the new freedom requires getting a job to pay the bills.  Well, it looks like our new miracles also demand that we assume more responsibility. We’ve created a bewildering array of new choices around the question of when we actually have to die and our new job is to figure out what, among all those choices, constitutes a wise one.

Next up, I’d like to explore some of the reasons why the current choices we’re making aren’t working out so well.  I’m curious to see if breaking them down and examining them more closely might suggest better options.  And, as always, If anyone else has some thoughts on this subject I’d be eager and curious to hear them.

copyright Dia Osborn 2013

Related articles:

A Better Way To Die

Odd Thing About Dying #1: They’ve blocked most of the exits.

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Oh, those Swedes.

I was thinking the other day about important things I learned while working with hospice (and by “important” I mean things like what surprised me to the happy upsideand what do I need to know to make a graceful exit when it’s my turn?) and a few things came up.

The first is a piece of information that falls under the Graceful Exit category and is, I think, pretty important. Perhaps even critical in the same way that knowing where the emergency exit doors are located on a plane can be critical. It goes something like this:

If the current medical system was a building that we’re supposed to enter at birth and leave at death, then there’s a serious flow problem because they’ve blocked most of the exits.  

There’s basically only one official door left where people trying to get out are allowed to leave the building without a fight. (More on that below.)

No doubt about it, we’re living in an unusual age.  Dying has become very hard to accomplish, which is weirdly wonderful until it’s actually time to die and then it totally, totally sucks.  It wasn’t always like this.  For roughly the last thousand years of Western civilization, people used to die according to a fairly simple formula:

a) They lived for a time.

b) They got really sick or severely injured.

c) They realized they’d never get better.

d) They summoned, reconciled, forgave, received forgiveness, and bequeathed.

e) Then they went ahead and died.

(Except for those who died suddenly and went straight from A to E.  It’s interesting to note that while nowadays many feel that’s an ideal way to go, historically it was frowned upon.  Dante for instance, relegated some of the souls that died unexpectedly to the lowest circle of hell which, I don’t know, seems a bit harsh. I’d be curious to know his thinking on that one, although he looks like a scary guy to argue with.)

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This by Sandro Botticelli.

Due to some of our pretty extraordinary medical advances however, that ancient formula isn’t working so well anymore and while we’re still following the first two steps…

a) We live for a while.

b) Then we get really sick or severely injured.

…once we get to Step C things fall apart at the seams.  Our bodies can now be kept alive almost indefinitely which has made it a lot harder, sometimes impossible, for people to either slip out without any fuss or at least figure out when it’s time to let go.  I’m not exaggerating here.  The bottleneck of bewildered, milling, hospital gowned people trailing IV poles and looking for a definitive answer has grown so massive that it’s threatening not only our healthcare system but our entire economy.

So why is this happening?  Well there are actually a lot of reasons but I’m only going to address two of them here.  The first is that, while modern medicine has a variety of goals, there’s a kind of One Goal To Rule Them All.  Our current healthcare system has evolved around the central purpose of keeping everyone alive for as long as possible which, for the vast majority of our lives, is a good, noble, sacred thing, and one which I think we’re all pretty grateful for.

The problem arises when someone realizes that oh, it’s my time, so they gather their things and head for the nearest exit (these are the doors with signs overhead like Heart Attack, Pneumonia, Sepsis, Aneurysm, Dehydration, Flu, Respiratory Failure etc.)  But there are guards on all these doors who turn them back with shock paddles, intubation, or offers of antibiotics, vaccinations, IVs, etc., sometimes over and over and over again.  People trying to leave the building often have to spend a lot of time and money frantically going from door to door until they’re finally so frustrated that they just overpower the guards and escape anyway.

I read a recent story of an elderly gentleman with a heart condition who decided he’d lived a long enough/good enough life and was now ready to go.  After much deliberation he decided to decline any further interventions and treatments, filled out an advance directive, got his wife and doctors all on board with his decision, and even signed a Do Not Resuscitate order.

Then he went golfing where he had a major heart attack somewhere around the seventh hole.  Panicked bystanders called 911 which, unfortunately, activated the guards standing next to that particular door.  The EMT’s sprang into action and once they arrived on the scene nothing could really stop them.  (Please keep in mind that emergency responders are bound by some strict legal codes to preserve life and deliver it to the hospital.)  Evidently, even the man’s advance-directive-bearing-wife couldn’t get them to stop (I wonder where the DNR was and if it would have made a difference?) and so our elderly gentleman had to endure the overwhelming pain and multiple broken ribs of CPR along with many other uncomfortable resuscitative efforts in both the ambulance and the emergency room before he finally died from his heart attack anyway, just far more broken, disheveled, and black and blue than if he’d been allowed to die back on the green. (And then his wife got the bill.)

Needless to say this was not how he wanted to exit the building.  At all.  Most people don’t want to leave this way.  Nevertheless, this kind of situation happens over and over again because right now there’s still a sizable disconnect between emergency medical services and end of life care.  (And preventive services and end of life care.  And routine care and end of life care.  And…well, pretty much the entire medical system and end of life care.) This kind of thing happens in nursing homes and assisted living facilities and hospitals, too, and everyone knows it’s a big problem. The good news is that solutions are currently being sought.  The bad news is a lot of the problem is structural and hard to change.  Even so I’m confident we’ll figure something out eventually.

So in the meantime, what’s a person who’s ready to go and wants to avoid extraordinary medical measures to do?

Well, this is where that One Official Exit I mentioned earlier comes in.  You’ve probably already guessed by now but the sign over this door reads HOSPICE (and to a growing extent the up and coming PALLIATIVE CARE.)  Just so you know, people who queue up at this door are hands down the most likely to have their passports stamped and passed right on through in a graceful, peaceful, unmolested way.

Sounds simple enough, no?  I thought so too, but in reality this particular door, even though it’s the one that everyone respects and agrees on, is still the most misunderstood and underutilized exit of them all.  Why?

Well, that brings me to the second reason why people tend to bottleneck in end-of-life care these days, but I don’t have room for it here so I’ll have to cover it in the next post:

Odd Thing About Dying #2: We’d like some destiny with our death please.

copyright Dia Osborn 2013

Related articles:

“Maybe we need to redefine “Palliative Care.”

“Hospice Misunderstood by Patients, Providers Alike”

“Why MOST doctors like me would rather DIE than endure the pain of treatment we inflict on others for terminal diseases.”

What’s going on with out of body experiences? Those hanging around the outside would like to know.

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The Secret of the Golden Flower from Chinese book of alchemy and meditation.

I’ve been hearing the last few months about a neurosurgeon, Eban Alexander, who had a near death experience that should have been impossible if NDE’s are really caused by lingering subtle brain activity as most skeptics believe.  Evidently, the part of his brain necessary to support such lingering brain activity was destroyed by a raging bacterial meningitis infection so that explanation, in his case anyway, is out.

It’s a fascinating case and gives some of the most compelling evidence I’ve heard to date that our consciousness might actually arise from something other than just the physical brain (which has some broad and controversial ramifications.) In addition, the story of what he experienced internally while “dead” is strange and beautiful and filled with a lot of hope…which makes for a very good listen indeed.

BTW, if his conclusions about what he experienced wind up holding true for a broader swathe of the rest of us, it’s good news. I like it anyway. He recently published a book documenting the whole thing if you’re interested.  I haven’t read it myself but it’s available on Amazon here.

I track this type of development because I basically have two conflicting minds when it comes to this kind of esoteric stuff.  On the one hand my scientific mind tenses up and rolls her eyes, even though she knows there’s no evidence-based proof either way.  Traditionally, something like NDEs isn’t a topic that science is supposed to weigh in on because it’s not measurable, so I know she shouldn’t even have an opinion which makes me squirm.

On the other hand, the rest of my mind swivels around in her chair to stare at the scientific side in disgust and says What the hell are you rolling your eyes about?  You’ve been experiencing this kind of shit since you were three.  Don’t be a hypocrite.  And because that’s true, again, I squirm.

From what I can tell, most people seem to experience something that’s scientifically unexplainable at some point during their lives, NDEs are just one example. The list covers everything from deja vu, to knowing who’s on the other end of the phone before it’s answered, to seeing or sensing deceased loved ones, to so-called hauntings, to the feeling of being watched, to psychokinesis, etc. etc. etc.

And, while none of us are usually encouraged to talk about it afterwards still, these experiences often leave long impressions, for better or worse.  And in such cases we remember and stash their memories away in safe and secret places where we can finger them again in private moments when no one’s looking.  Because even though sometimes these experiences are just small and curious and insignificant, sometimes they’re life changing.  And, at the extreme ends of the spectrum, they can wield some extreme influence, either destroying lives or saving them.

One of mine happened when I was eight or nine years old and riding in the family station wagon when we lived in Hawaii.  We were outside Honolulu on our way to one of my gymnastics meets and there was a van full of people driving along parallel to us in the next lane.  I was studying the driver, a man, wondering very intensely what it would be like to be him, driving wherever he was going, in his completely different world.

Suddenly, my physical viewpoint radically changed and I found myself looking back at our station wagon from the driver’s seat of the van.  I was stunned and looked wildly around for a moment…at the mountains beyond the station wagon and the highway just ahead of the van…and then felt a wave of panic as I realized that I knew absolutely nothing about this man’s life and certainly didn’t want to be in it.  At that point my viewpoint radically shifted again and I found myself once again sitting in my own body in my own car with my own family in my own life, and my terror quickly faded.

Being eight or nine years old I didn’t really care about explaining what happened, I was just glad it was over.  But ever afterwards I was a little more cautious about wondering that intensely about other people’s lives.  (Even so, the same thing happened a couple other times over the years and was, again, quite scary.)

I also go in and out of periods where I have intense and vivid dreams about people or events that turn out to be true.  Like the time when I dreamed that an old high school friend I hadn’t seen for ten years was happy and pregnant.  The dream made me want to reconnect and when I finally tracked her down and explained what prompted me to call, we were both amazed when she told me that she was indeed pregnant with her first child.  It happened again with a dream about another woman I’d once known in Los Angeles whom the entire community had always looked up to as having the strongest marriage around. In the dream I saw she was having severe marital problems but didn’t think much of it after I woke up.  Six months later though, I heard she had just decided to divorce her husband and everyone was surprised and shocked.  I, on the other hand, remembered the dream and thought, hmm.

To be honest, I don’t really like this particular type of experience when it happens because I don’t know what to do with it. I’d prefer to stick with my own body and life, not roam around peering into somebody else’s like some kind of creepy voyeur.  There’s so very much that I’d rather just not know.

Anyway, I guess part of why Eban Alexander’s account is so intriguing to me is because, for a variety of reasons, staying in my body has always felt a little hit and miss.  My consciousness seems to be more jellyfish than oak with a tendency to drift rather than root.

For instance, due to some early trauma I developed the trick of leaving my body whenever things got too scary or painful (which I know sounds really strange to people who aren’t familiar with it but it’s actually a common coping mechanism called dissociation.)  Then there’s a sweeter, friendlier way to float up and out that happens sometimes in deep meditation or prayer.  And I occasionally experience the vivid physical sensation of sliding back into my body again just as I’m waking up from sleep.

Then there’s this other related experience where I’m both inside and outside my body at the same time, experiencing both simultaneously, which can be either beautiful or disruptive depending on what’s immediately around me.  (Nature is wonderful, people are pretty disorienting.)

And I’ve just never dared do heavy drugs.

For all these reasons and more, the question about whether the seat of consciousness is strictly brain-based or something else feels kind of personal to me.  For the sake of my mental health I’d dearly love to have more consensus about what’s really going on.  I’ve always wished it was safer to talk about more openly…to probe and explore and have intelligent, non-biased discussions in a search for explanations and possible constructive uses.  But up till now that’s been tricky.  One runs the risk of being turned on by either a pack of rabid scientists or a pack of rabid spiritualists.  Maybe Mr. Alexander’s experience will open the door to some common ground.  I hope so.

I suppose I should probably start the calmer conversation with the two conflicting parties in my own head.  I mean if I can’t be more respectful of my own experiences and doubts and questions, then how likely is it I’ll be able to listen respectfully to anybody else?

Anyway, anyone else want to weigh in?  I’m very curious to know what others are thinking and/or experiencing out there.  Leave a comment if you’re feeling brave.

  

To marvel or run?

Would this excite or terrify you?

(I found this video on a great blog called 2BAware.  The whale breaches 26 seconds into the video.  The other half a minute records the response of the woman on board.)

A number of commenters on the video’s Youtube page sound unsympathetic to the woman’s distress.  They were apparently left by people who don’t yet know that breaching whales can and do sometimes land on boats.  Case in point:  An incident off Cape Town earlier this year.  (Amazing video. The whale and the couple on board were evidently okay but the yacht wasn’t.)

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(This photo is part of a slideshow at ABC News.)

The hubster and I are big fans of extreme survival literature and it was during the reading of  some of these books that I first discovered that collisions between boats and whales really do occur.  There’s also the Large Whale Ship Strike Database compiled by the National Marine Fisheries Service that makes for some fun/disturbing reading if you’re into that kind of thing.

Maybe that’s why I felt a wave of compassion for the woman in the video, because I knew her fears weren’t entirely unjustified.

I couldn’t help but wonder what MY response would be in that kind of situation.  Would my awe at the spectacle outweigh my flight response?  Maybe a little of both?  Hard to know unless it happens I suppose.

I’m pretty sure of one thing though…if fear DID win out, I wouldn’t sound nearly as nice as this poor woman does.  I’d be swearing like a sailor and that camcorder would be in serious danger of going overboard.  (My flight and fight responses tend to get all mixed up in a crisis.)

copyright Dia Osborn 2012

FUTURE FOODS? Insect Confections, Lab Meat Burgers, Seaweed Seasoning

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Photo from Radio Netherlands Worldwide

Here’s odd.  A BBC article from July, Future Foods: What Will We Be Eating in 20 Years, discusses some of the ideas currently being explored for the not-too-far-from-now.  It covers not only alternative nutrient sources but some of the innovative ways we can be coaxed into actually eating them.

Most of the ideas in the article got me excited and then there’s one that leaves me cold, cold, cold.

First, insects.  I love this idea.  I’ve loved it since I first learned years ago that bugs have as high a protein content as animal meats only with a far smaller footprint and a more abundant supply.  There are cultures that have been using them as a traditional food source for basically ever (80% of the world’s population eats them) and I think it would be great if western cultures got over their squeamishness and adopted them as well. It would not only help solve a lot of problems, it would be healthier.

The article suggests easing the transition by turning our little friends into things like sausage and burgers…which I admit would help me a lot more than seeing them sprinkled on a cupcake.

Second, lab grown meat.  It involves taking cells from a living animal and growing them into strips of edible muscle tissue, something which has already been done successfully in trials.  This one appeals to me because it would save a majority of the animals currently subjected to the horrors of industrial agriculture.  A worthy outcome to say the least.  I have no idea what the final trade-off in footprints would be.

One drawback is that, while it could potentially provide an abundant supply of all our old favorites, it is a Frankenfood and I’m not a big fan.  For all kinds of reasons but mainly because I prefer simpler solutions.

Third, algae in all it’s many splendored forms.  This puppy is amazing stuff…nutrient rich, fast growing, and needing almost no fresh water to cultivate.  It has the added benefit of being good for all kinds of other uses including nutraceuticals, pharmaceuticals, palm oil, animal feed, and even a potential biofuel.  To my mind algae is golden and I’d eat it in a heartbeat.  (Even though it would have to be shipped in from the nearest ocean since there’s a shortage of saltwater here in Idaho.)

So what, you may be wondering, is the idea in the article that left me so cold?

There are various references made to efforts underway to manipulate the people eating the food in order to get them to accept it or taste it in a certain way.  As someone who detests being manipulated, my hackles immediately rose.  Whatever I wind up eating I want to know what it is and I want to make up my own mind about how it tastes to me.  I don’t want to be tricked into consuming something by making it “indistinguishable,” and I don’t want to be fooled into thinking a food is sweeter or fresher than it really is.

Look, I’m game for a lot.  I’m totally up for moving the global food supply in a more sustainable direction but, whichever way this winds up going, let’s be clear: I want to be informed about everything I’m putting in my mouth.  Like so many others, right now I don’t feel like I can trust a lot of what food companies, industry scientists, the FDA, and a majority of restaurants are telling me anymore.  You guys have major credibility issues and it’s all your own fault.  You should never have disrespected, manipulated…and sometimes even harmed…the people you’re supposed to serve.

Things could still turn around though.  If you can start being more forthcoming and refrain from trying to manipulate me, I can start trying to partner with and trust you again.  The fact is I don’t really want to go vegetarian, grow all my own food, and be mindlessly rigid about only buying local.

(Not that any of those things are bad!  It’s just that personally, I’d rather belong to not only my local community but a larger network of communities as well.  I’d like to see the cradle of mutual support contain as many people as is workable.)

It sure seems to me like the future holds both great uncertainty and great promise.  I love some of the innovative solutions coming down the pike.  I’d just really like the opportunity to participate in them willingly rather than having them foisted on me without my knowledge and consent.  Please.

copyright Dia Osborn 2012

Could Fecal Implants Be A Cure All?

Fecal bacteria at 10,000x magnification.

(Pretty cool, eh?)

One of the most popular posts on this blog over time has turned out to be, of all things, Fecal Implants? Seriously?! (Yup.)  When I first read about the treatment almost two years ago now, frankly, I thought it was a joke.  But it quickly became apparent that, for a growing number of people suffering or dying from Clostridium difficile colitis…a spreading epidemic in hospitals and nursing homes…fecal implant treatments can often be more of a miracle than a punchline.

Well, buckle your seat belts again folks because it looks like not only do fecal implants provide an effective treatment for C. diff, they may also provide some measure of relief for a host of other gut-related illnesses.  In an Australian article from The Sydney Morning Herald this morningMore Than A Gut Feeling, Sydney gastroenterologist Professor Tom Borody is quoted.

”But there’s also some evidence that other conditions, including ulcerative colitis, chronic severe diarrhoea and IBS (irritable bowel syndrome) can be improved with FMT,” says Borody, who uses the technique in his  practice and believes we need more research to explore its potential.

The article talks about the growing awareness in medical circles that the legions of bacteria living in our guts, when knocked out of balance by things like sanitized environments, bad diets, and antibiotic use “may contribute to hard-to-treat problems such as allergies, autoimmune disease, irritable bowel syndrome, inflammatory bowel disease and even obesity and diabetes.”

(Evidently, a recent study by Dutch scientists shows some promise that transplanting gut flora from a healthy gut to a compromised one may improve insulin resistance.)

The wheels of research are finally starting to roll on this whole idea, which is absolutely fabulous.  I can’t help but wonder though when the far bigger wheels of industry will wake up and start moving in.  How-oh-how will the pharmaceutical companies and hospitals wind up packaging this one?  Poo packets?

Ideas anyone?

Actually, the formal name used for fecal transplant is Fecal (faecalmicrobiota transplantation (FMT) or stool transplant.  Which, when I climb out of my eight-year old self, actually seems more respectful to those who need help but don’t want to wind up as a punchline in someone else’s joke.  So from now on, FMT it is.

copyright Dia Osborn 2012

A New Standard of Absurd

I sent leftover pizza to work with the hubster today, forgetting that he has a company lunch to attend.  He just called and when I mentioned it, he laughed and said, Oh don’t worry about it.  The pizza will keep.  It’ll last for months.  Years.  It has a shelf life of a thousand years…no…ten thousand years.  The stuff is like radioactive waste. And then we laughed because the thought was just so absurd.

The hubster’s sense of humor is always escalating like that.   His jokes climb stairs, scale cliffs, then sprout wings and fly.  He loves stretching farther and higher for the most ridiculous comparison he can find and, I admit, the more ludicrous it gets the harder I laugh.

Then, out of the blue, I remembered all the photographs I’ve seen on the internet recording the daily decomposition (or lack thereof) of a McDonald’s hamburger.

And all of a sudden I wondered:  Will McDonald’s hamburgers eventually take over from radioactive waste as the new comic standard against which all decomp-resistant materials can be measured?  Instead of It has the shelf life of radioactive waste will we say: It has the shelf life of a McDonald’s hamburger?

(Evidently fifteen years and counting on this one.)

copyright Dia Osborn 2012

New Everything: The Earliest Stage Of Resolve

Today, in keeping with my new burst of enthusiasm to actually finish the book, I opted to drive down the stake of a unique and personal domain name.  (In other words I dropped the “wordpress” out of the URL.)  The address for the book and the blog are now the same and official:

acuriouscure.com.

To tell you the truth, the change felt a little intoxicating.  Like first rum.  It was all so new and different and kind of spring-break-name-gone-wild and I got all wound up.  In a burst of total abandon, I changed the header picture and then the theme, too.  And believe me, if I knew how to change anything…anything…else on the site I would.  But for now my lack of technical expertise will keep the rest of my clothes on.

So anyway, that’s why everything looks a little different today.

BTW, the alligator sculpture in the header above is my newest and most prized-of-all-prized art pieces.  And I know, she really belongs in a big fountain, or a bed of deep periwinkle, or on the nightstand next to my bed as primeval protector of dreams, but for now I can’t bear to have her out of sight for that long.

So instead she’s hanging out on the hearth next to the wood burning stove, right in the center of the house.  That way every time I forget she’s there, and then walk around the corner and catch her out of the corner of my eye again, my stomach can do another flip flop and I go…what the…?!!  before I remember.

She’s that real looking.  I love her.

Here’s a full view:

Ma belle.

My Son Is Too Old To Colonize Mars

Just when you think you know somebody, they can still surprise you.

I was chatting with my twenty-nine year old son on the phone the other night and discovered two things about him that I didn’t know before.

1)  He’s leaning towards atheism. (Which is both disconcerting and kind of cool.  We don’t have one of those in the family yet.)  And

2)  If he had the chance to be among the first to colonize Mars, he’d jump.  No questions asked.

Of course, as his mother, I went straight to neediness when he confided the latter piece of information. “But…what if you could never come back to earth? Would you still want to go?”  My fear of abandonment in old age was showing.

He didn’t hesitate.  “You bet.”

I clutched at my heart for a second then sighed.  I suppose it’s my own fault for teaching him to be truthful.

In case anyone is thinking that this is a ridiculous conversation, it’s really not.  There are actually a number of plans on the table for colonizing Mars.  In a brief article on The Norwegian Space Centre website (for the government agency under the Ministry of Trade and Industry) it says that the earliest date mentioned for moving to Mars in official papers is 2019.

In another article on The Daily Galaxy, the author sites evidence of Mars colonization becoming an imperative of the new U.S. space strategy taking shape under Obama.

And Stephen Hawking, the renowned British physicist and author of A Brief History of Time (among many, many other books), is a strong supporter of space colonization in general.  In fact he believes that, with the poor resource management so far displayed on Earth, human life simply won’t exist long-term without it.

 “Life on Earth,” Hawking has said, “is at the ever-increasing risk of being wiped out by a disaster such as sudden global warming, nuclear war, a genetically engineered virus or other dangers … I think the human race has no future if it doesn’t go into space.”

But keep in mind he also said, while talking about the possibility of other intelligent life in the universe:

“Personally, I favour the second possibility – that primitive life is relatively common, but that intelligent life is very rare…Some would say it has yet to occur on Earth.”

Which kind of begs the question of why save us at all, but I guess there’s no explaining species loyalty, which is an instinct-thing.  (Which then loops us back to the question of intelligence, which is a mental hamster-wheel thing.)

The project that got my son dreaming about all this in the first place involves a Dutch start-up called Mars One that’s planning to fund the first colony on Mars in 2023 with the proceeds from a reality show documenting the whole thing.  Before you laugh (which was admittedly my first reaction when he brought it up) check out their website.  A realistic Mars shot is evidently a lot closer than I understood.

Luckily, before I donned the black veil and started throwing ashes on my head, my son sadly explained that he was already too old to participate in any of these projects.  Turns out that, while he may be as scary smart, technologically astute, and space visionary as the best of them, it’s not enough.  Thankfully nubile youth is also required.  Which means it will be some other unfortunate mother standing at the dock in 2023 waving her crumpled little handkerchief good-bye.

My son will be stranded to die right here on Earth with me.

Oh for godsakes…what a horrible thing to write.  (In case anyone was wondering where he gets his deplorable truthfulness from.)

On a brighter note, evidently Virgin Galactic (that Richard Branson, I tell ya…) is actually booking seats for space flights now and my son feels that this is an adventure within his reach. I have to admit, if I had a spare $200,000 sitting around I’d be tempted to join him and book a flight myself.

Now, for the record, I adore, a-d-o-r-e, this planet and would never, ever leave her, even if a gigantic asteroid was about to annihilate us all and I was offered the last remaining seat on the only spaceship out of here.

I’m really not kidding when I say I want to die at home.

But to be able to go up and just orbit around her a few times?  To see with my very own eyes the Blue Planet, this exquisitely beautiful, miraculous place that we all get to share in, live on, suckle from, contribute to, and be a part of for however long it lasts?

Now that would be something.

copyright Dia Osborn 2011

A Cautionary Note Concerning Paper Toilet Seat Covers At Public Pools

I’m looking for ways to procrastinate on the transcription and thought another quick blog post could work.

I just wanted to warn people about this because, being not only unmentionable but embarassing, I doubt anyone else will:

Whatever you do, don’t ever, ever sit down on a paper toilet seat cover while you’re soaking wet.  Ever. It’s like instantly coating your backside with a layer of papier mache and it’s very, very difficult to remove.

Especially when you discover the problem as you stand up in a narrow, public, bathroom stall with your bathing suit hanging around your knees and you panic because it won’t peel off and your feet start spreading too far apart as you try to reach around and under and through to try and rub it off your cheeks and thighs but it just disintegrates turning into a thousand, million little wet paper balls falling down to the floor like gray snow for anyone in the stalls on either side to glimpse causing them to wonder what the hell is she doing over there anyway and…what IS that?

You can’t get it all off without washing, BTW.  You just can’t.  It’s that sticky.  The good news is that you, yourself, won’t be able to see all those ragged, little remnants of sanitary protection clinging to the back of your legs as you peek both ways before making a mad dash for the showers.  You’re spared that lingering mental image at least.

On the other hand, if you ever want to make a piñata shaped like a butt, this could be an excellent way to begin.

(Can you believe it?  You can find pictures of ANYTHING!!!!  These lovelies are for sale over at Bigass Pinatas).

Oh.  And P.S.  Wet turns a once-sanitary paper toilet seat cover into a veritable delivery system for virus and bacteria so humiliation could be the least of your problems.  It’s been two weeks and I’m still alive and wiggling so no harm done in my case.  But you be careful out there.  These things turn dangerous when cornered.

copyright Dia Osborn 2012

Falling Into Enormity

Lucky Peak Reservoir by Boise, Idaho.  Photo by Karthik Chinnathambi 

(Side track:  I’m still going to write about the first influence on our fear of death as I promised in the last post, but something came up and I wanted to write about it before I forgot. Editor.)  

Ever had one of those moments when the blinders peel back and you suddenly look at the world around you like it’s the first time you ever had eyes?

I had one yesterday.  We were out for our second adventure with the kayaks and, in spite of every reason for it not to, everything felt perfect.  The weather was supposed to be overcast, windy, and cold.  Water levels are low so the part of the reservoir where we’d initially planned to paddle was high and dry.  We got started late and then the scramble for an alternate place to launch made us even later.  And the launch site we did eventually find involved an awkward climb down to the water and broken glass on the shore to boot.

But somehow, none of it got to us.  We didn’t care.  Not because we were trying to stay positive or anything, but because that’s just how we woke up.  We were excited to hit the water again whatever the circumstances, so we brought extra layers of warm clothing, stayed flexible, stepped gingerly, and eventually found ourselves paddling along under much better conditions than we’d expected.  We were gazing up at sunshine and basalt cliffs, green mountainsides covered with wild, black-eyed Susans, and the sweet scent of blooming bitterbrush on a very, very mild breeze.

Turns out the Weather Man was wrong.  Go figure.

Towards the end of a long, lovely paddle we found ourselves a little way up the river that feeds the reservoir, and we finally beached near a grassy meadow to pee.  (Interesting activity in a wetsuit, BTW.)  It was an amazing spot, secluded and silent, surrounded by steep hillsides covered with Ponderosa pine and jutting rock spires.  Once we’d relieved ourselves we just stood there in the middle of the meadow staring, breathing in the heavy scent of pine, watching cumulus clouds blow across the narrow strip of sky above us while a bald eagle flew in and out of it’s nest in a towering, old growth pine.  It was something to behold.  It truly was.

And then, because I was so damn moved by it all, I started to sing, although it wasn’t even a song really.  Just a melody and some made-up sounds because I didn’t know a real song with words that came anywhere near doing justice to the place.  Maybe a hymn could have done it, but I didn’t know any.  Or better yet, a song from the Shoshone Paiute people who were on this land first and took better care of it, but I didn’t know any of those either.  So I made up my own half-song/half-prayer kind of thing, something that sounded more or less like how I felt, and while I was singing it everything around us seemed to get very quiet.  Kinda eerie.

But then I ran out of song so I stopped, and it was just a few seconds afterward that it happened.  That moment I mentioned earlier.  The one where I fell into enormity.

Everything sounded unnaturally still, the way things always do when you stop making noise in a really silent place.  I watched as the last of my song settled down to the grass like an old leaf falling, or a layer of dust.

And then, right after that, the wind started.

We heard it first like a low, sweet note that seemed to come from everywhere all at once, and when I looked up into the branches of a Ponderosa pine standing nearby, I suddenly remembered that what I was hearing was the sound air makes when it moves gently through pine needles.  It hit me in a flash; the mechanism of that sound, the wind through needles, was the exact same mechanism at play when I was singing.  It was the same air moving over my vocal cords and, coming out of left field the way it did, the thought kind of stunned me.  I felt a sudden and surprisingly profound kinship with that tree, a sense of shared beauty that instantly dwarfed my usual identity as a human being.

Please understand, it’s not that I didn’t know the facts before.  Of course I did.  I’ve heard the wind blowing through pines all my life and I learned the mechanics of sound in elementary school.  But that prior knowledge must have only penetrated as far as my head because I never felt the tactile, gut-level sense of sameness before, of what this tree and I were both doing.  Somehow, I’d always thought that because I was a human being, my sounds were different.  Higher.  I was singing, whereas the trees were just making noise.  It was a shock to suddenly realize that I was just making noise, too.  It was only because it was my noise that I knew it meant something.

Then the wind swelled through the canyon, catching the leaves of a copse of young cottonwood trees, making a higher, rustling sound that worked in exquisite counterpoint to the sweet note of the pines.  I felt my heart swell with it, too, and then noticed all the birdsong kicking up, various honks and calls and peeps and cries, and those sounds struck me as a kind of staccato punctation to the deeper melody laid down by the trees.  And after that…well…I pretty much just floated away in slack-jawed wonder, lost in the ebb and flow of the wind and water and the unearthly music they were making.  I was fighting back tears and retained just enough awareness of human world protocols to turn my face away from the hubster in embarrassment.  But other than that I fell deep and hard into another world that was a whole lot bigger.

I don’t know.  Standing there listening to the rich, tenor sound of wind through pines…for all the world like the french horn section at a premier symphony orchestra…I guess I finally just fell out of my head.  The sounds flowing through the canyon turned out to be the very song I’d been trying so hard to sing moments before, only times a thousand.  No.  A million.  It was like they’d all been standing around…the trees, the birds, the mountains, the wind…quietly amused, listening to me struggle to find the right music.  And then, when I couldn’t, they stepped in to play it for me.

It was such a gift, and I think I started crying because I felt…just a little bit…like I didn’t really deserve it.  Like there I’d been standing, subconsciously believing that I was all that.  More evolved than any of them, with a song that was more complex and meaningful because I was human.

Fortunately, none of them seemed to care.  They just circled me up and sang me into their bigger world anyway, and I got to realize where I was wrong without feeling shamed for it.  Which actually, when you think about it, is quite a trick.  I wonder if I could learn how to do that?

This canyon is actually in China, but it sure FELT like this.

copyright Dia Osborn 2012

Spear Fishing Gone Wrong

This photograph sent me in about six different directions at once.

1) Horror.  Whoa.  A butt is never, never supposed to look like that.

2)  Fascination.  But…it does.  It does!  I can’t look away.

3)  Curiosity.  Is he unconscious?  What did the spear go through?  What’s in a butt cheek anyway?  Just muscle, right?  No major arteries or veins?  And how will they get it out of there?  Break off one end and pull out the other?  (Owwwwww!!!!!!)  Will they use an anesthetic?  And who is this guy?  I wish I could see his face. And where’s the other guy who shot him?  Or…good god.  Could he possibly have done it to himself?  Why doesn’t he look wet?  Did the accident happen on the boat?  Did they cut his shorts to pull them down like that?  And what’s that logo on his shirt?  Something…DER?  Why is he strapped down?  And is that a fishing boat?  It looks industrial.  Was he commercially fishing?  Is that really even a spear?…

4)  Amorous.  That medic is pretty cute.

5)  Clinical.  What’s with the scissors?  Is he applying gauze?  Like…a band aid?  Seriously?

6)  Empathetic.  Wow.  So that’s what the fish feels like.

copyright Dia Osborn 2012

 

Planking: The Organization of Random Humor

Planking, otherwise known as “The lying down game”, has evidently been around for a while but I just learned about it.  It’s totally absurd (a guaranteed hit with me) and involves lying down on one’s face in random, incongruous, often public places, and then holding a prescribed, rigid position with arms pressed against one’s sides, legs and torso stiff and straight, and fingers and toes pointed.

All very crisp and gymnastic, with just a hint of narcolepsy.

Eventually, players started taking pictures and posting them on Facebook pages, Twitter feeds, and blogs, after which the game evolved into an internet fad.  A competitive element crept in…participants attempting to one-up each other with increasingly creative choices in locale, composition, theme, and scale of danger…which inevitably led to a couple of arrests and at least one tragic death.

Overall though, it’s another splendid example of the new, broad-based, spontaneous organizational power of the internet, a phenomenon that fascinates me.  (Think Arab Spring and flash mobs.)  There’s something about the way this group-mind communication spreads that vaguely reminds me of those huge flocks of birds all flying in unison, or the big schools of fish which turn and flash simultaneously.  I wonder if we humans are wired with a latent gene, too, directing us to coordinate and move together across vast numbers, but it wasn’t until the internet came along that this gene could finally “turn on.”

In any case, the comedy in play with this game is a mix of farce, slapstick, and nonsensism.  (Yes, there really is such a thing.  Look it up.)  And me?  I just call it delightful.

Here are a few of my favorite examples set to “One potato, Two potato…”  Enjoy.

One plank:

Two plank:

Three plank:

Four:


Beer plank:

Wedding plank:

Fast food:

More:

Pole plank:

Fridge plank:

Chopper plank:

Nude:

Sand plank:

Water plank:

Air plank:

Food:

Still haven’t had enough?  Well, just a few more then.  (But after this you’ll have to go to bestplanking.com for satisfaction.)

Here’s the “For godsakes let’s keep a sense of humor men…” plank:

A couple of dead-pan bactrian comedians getting in on the game:

My arch enemy (oh if only…):

And an imaginative, not to mention bath-averse, dog:

Last but not least, here’s something from the country that came up with the fabulous name, Planking. It’s a newscast from Australia with a report on the phenomenon.  Those Aussies…I tell ya.  I really, really love their sense of humor.

(Planking has a Facebook page and a Wikipedia site.  People post their planking photos just about anywhere on the web and then various websites compile “best of’s”.  These particular photos came from Geekosystem’s The 65 Best Planking Pictures From Around the World.) 

copyright Dia Osborn 2011

Going Light

John Grey, a thoughtful and entertaining blogger/smallholder over at Going Gently, mentioned in a recent post that “going light” is a Welsh phrase for the accelerated wasting process that happens during the last days and hours of dying.  During this time it often looks like they’re starting to disappear right before your eyes.

The phrase really struck me, not just because it’s the loveliest way of describing this transition I’ve ever heard, but because it’s also the most accurate.  That’s exactly what the rapid changes look and feel like with both the body and spirit of someone who’s dying.

I’m going light now, Ma.  I’m going light.

Beautiful.

(Image: dan / FreeDigitalPhotos.net)

copyright Dia Osborn 2011

Surprise Worms On The Trash Can…a.m.

I walked into the kitchen this morning to discover a batch of small, white, maggoty-looking worms crawling across the stainless steel lid of the trash can and rolling their plump, fleshy, little way down the sides and across the kitchen floor.  It was disturbing.  Especially coming straight out of a deep sleep.  From my initial fog, I wildly wondered how the stripped carcass of a cooked chicken I’d thrown away last night could possibly decompose that fast.

However, upon reluctantly opening the lid with my latex-glove-protected-hands, instead of the fetid stench I feared my quivering nostrils met an almost minty fresh aroma.  I realized with dawning relief that these were not maggots after all, but a type of garden pest that is usually invisible, hidden within the cell walls of a leaf.  I’ve been battling an infestation of these tiny creatures among my spinach and swiss chard crops, and these ones must have hatched off a bunch of infected leaves I threw in the trash a couple of days ago.

My friends, I give you a rare (low-video quality…sorry!…) glimpse of the leaf miner adult worm stage.