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Monthly Archives: April 2016

(Personal) Seeing the Future

Myth 150The last time I went to an optometrist was about four years ago. When they checked my eyes, the doctor said she saw something that she would want to keep an eye on; she also wanted to know if I had any family history of certain diseases. That was the first time I heard about glaucoma.

On Monday I talked a little bit about what’s been going on with me these past two weeks and how the stress has been a bit more difficult to manage because of certain things. I thought I would take off last Friday while Ryan was gone to give myself a three-day weekend that could be used to catch up on various projects and generally get in some extra rest and recuperation. Instead, I spent most of it with various doctors: first my therapist, then my optometrist, and finally a three-hour marathon with an allergenist where I learned more than I ever wanted to know about dust mites.

The optometrist visit is the one that’s sticking with me, though. He was really helpful and knowledgeable, and taught me a lot about my eyes. Like the fact that my amblyopia (lazy eye!) makes it harder for me to perceive depth accurately, and that I can actually corral them with prisms in my eyeglasses. And that because I’ve been dealing with it for so long, actually having both eyes focusing on the same thing is something that might freak out my brain — which is pretty interesting. But he also told me a lot more about glaucoma, and recommended that I start talking about tests and treatment with my doctor.

So, time for the definition: glaucoma is the name given to a group of diseases that damage the optic nerve, which takes the information from your eye to the brain for processing. It’s a degenerative issue, so over time you lose your vision and in some cases go blind. It’s also one of those things that just happen, so there’s really no rhyme or reason for it. Certain people, like African-Americans (check) and those with a family history (also check) are at higher risk. It’s too early to say that I definitely have it, but I’m at the age where it becomes noticeable and concerning.

I haven’t noticed any vision loss outside of the ordinary; my glasses work a little less well than they did four years ago, but that’s just how it goes. I know I have poor depth perception and favor one eye or the other when I need to focus, and when I’m drunk or tired one of them goes right into one corner of the socket and sleeps there. But these things always felt like manageable symptoms of getting older; your mind gets sharper, smarter, better, but your body doesn’t work as well as it used to.

And that’s something that I’ve never minded. I’ve often joked about being an old man, shuffling around and eating applesauce, bitching about the way things used to be. I love the comfortable self-possession of older people; they know who they are and what they want, and they have a much stronger idea about what’s important to them. They’ve lived through so much that they know what’s worth paying attention to and what can be safely dismissed. Well…the best ones anyway. I won’t deny it was a bit of a fantasy to me, being confident about what I knew, what was worth knowing and what I could simply leave as matters for other people.

This, though…this rattles me. I think this is the first time I imagined getting older and being frightened by what I saw. My vision is so important to me. I read all the time. I love watching the subtle changes in facial expressions and body language within people. I love shades of color, and the way the green on the leaves changes when clouds pass in front of the sun. A future where I can’t actually enjoy any of that is not one that I had anticipated.

I know it’s early yet; I haven’t made the appointment with my doctor. I haven’t been diagnosed with anything. But I’ve seen the pictures of my optic nerve and I’ve gone over what they mean with my optometrist. I know that glaucoma happens earlier and more aggressively in people like me. I know that it may be likely I will have to shift my thinking away from “not losing my eyesight” to “losing it as slowly as possible”.

That’s a difficult adjustment to make. It presents a challenge to my embrace of the Four Noble Truths, the ideas of attachment to the impermanent leading to suffering. It’s one thing to recognize a truth on an intellectual or theoretical level, to understand that one day your body will cease breathing and you won’t see anything any more, and to suddenly realize that truth on an emotional, personal, instinctive level. One day, I will die. Oh my God, holy shit…one day, I will die.

The failure of my body has long been an intellectual and theoretical truth for me, and it’s only been recently that it’s become a personal and instinctive one. On one hand, I can be grateful that I have lived in instinctive ignorance for 35 years now; so many other people are forced to confront this much, much earlier and with far less capability to absorb this truth. On the other, it feels like I’ve been given a bum hand. Navigating my mental and psychological issues, and the terrible habits developed by my social and economic background, and learning more about the things I’ve struggled with for so long has been enriching and rewarding and exhausting. This last thing, this new wrinkle, feels like it’s taking me close to the edge of what I should be expected to bear.

But the truth is this: the Universe doesn’t owe me anything. Nothing lasts forever. My eyesight will diminish — it may happen slowly, or more rapidly than I’m prepared for, but it will happen. In some ways, being aware of the clock winding down is a gift; it makes me appreciate what I have that much more.

I love the visual world. And this is a reminder to really engage with that love, to cherish what I see, and to have compassion for those who cannot. I will adjust, of course. I will learn to let go of the things that I hold too tightly to properly appreciate. For now, though, I just want to see everything I can and mourn that day in the future where I’ve witnessed the last thing I ever will.

 
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Posted by on April 13, 2016 in Self-Reflection

 

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(Personal) What I Learned by Being Alone

Buddhism 150There’s this idea in Buddhism about the Noble Eightfold Path — after you’ve taken every step along the path, what comes next? You’ve attained Right View and Intention, Right Speech and Action and Livelihood, Right Effort and Mindfulness and Concentration. Where do you go from there?

You attain Right View after that.

Like the wheel of karma, the Noble Eightfold Path is also a circle; reaching one spoke of the wheel brings you to the place where you can reach the next one. There is no completion, even after you attain enlightenment; there is only the work of realization of the present. One of the reasons I identify with Zen Buddhism so strongly is its acknowledgement that perfection is an illusion. Being alive is a constant balancing act, maintaining your stance while rolling with whatever bumps and turns ripple through the wheel.

It also reinforces the concept of interconnectedness. One thing leads to another, leads to another, leads to another. In this way, one act — however small — sends ripples through the wheel of your life that shape everything that comes after it. This is really what karma is; the awareness of the consequences of your actions, large and small, predicted and unintended.

So: my dear husband Ryan has been in Japan for nearly two weeks. He’s been planning this trip for months, and I’m tremendously excited to have him back with me so I can hear about his experience and see the places he’s visited. I also miss him terribly. For the past two weeks, I’ve lived as a bachelor — it’s just been me and my rabbit Puckles, watching TV and eating whatever we felt like sprawled out together in bed.

Except not really. The home we share is in a condominium complex that scheduled a fumigation for the weekend after he left, which meant that I would have to get everything ready for that. All of our food and medicine had to be double bagged in special material in order to avoid contamination. And I would have to clean up as much as I could, because there’s no way I’m going to let strangers know just what kind of things we let slide in our household.

The work was more intensive than I expected, so it meant many late nights. I don’t sleep well without Ryan anyway, so that meant trying to snatch just a little more rest well after the alarm went off. That meant being unable to meditate and ease into the day before work, which meant that I arrived at the office tired, harried and rootless. That meant being less resilient to stress, which there was plenty of last week. And that meant coming back home with my willpower depleted, my brain fried and unable to rest because there was more preparation to do. Which meant more late nights…

You get the idea. For the past two weeks I slipped into a cycle where I had all but abandoned the self-care mechanisms I had been building for a while, and the effect was dramatic. My mood plummeted, my anxiety skyrocketed and my coping mechanisms disappeared. All from staying up too late.

Except, of course, not really. The contradiction here is that I made a series of choices that put me into that cycle. I could have made more efficient use of my time, or gotten up early anyway to make the best of so little sleep. I could have asked for more help with getting the apartment together before that weekend. I could have simply sacrificed precision (I couldn’t ignore the opportunity to throw away expired food and medicine) for time. Each choice I made along the way nudged me a little more firmly into that cycle, until momentum made it easy to remain there.

And once you’re there, you feel stuck. Life doesn’t pause for you to get your head on straight; there was still work and fumigation and everything else. Taking the time to put in the effort to get yourself off of a bad path can be difficult to find, but at a certain point it’s necessary. You have to stop and take a breath.

This past weekend I managed to slow down enough to consider the choices I make. I went to bed earlier, caught up on sleep, re-established my meditation practice, and took the mindfulness I gained off the bench and into the rest of the day. I’m in a better place mentally and emotionally, but I’m still recovering. Pausing and changing momentum is still energy that must be expended. I believe I’m applying Right Concentration now, making a concerted effort to make sure the changes I make today stick.

Eventually, I’ll get to a place where I can work on attaining the Right View.

 
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Posted by on April 11, 2016 in Buddhism, Self-Reflection

 

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(Personal) April 2016: Spring Cleaning

Self Improvement 150It feels like when I sit back and look at my goals for this year and how little work I’ve done to actually move towards them, I have a laundry list of extenuating circumstances to account for that. In January, New Years lead right into the day job summit in New York which lead right into Further Confusion 2016, making it all but impossible to establish a rhythm. In February, half of our team was overseas to get training for half the month, which left the newest and greenest of us to handle a really heavy caseload. In March, the progress I made getting back on track was derailed by Ryan’s trip to Japan and preparation for the burrow to get fumigated, which meant that I basically had to pack up, organize and clean up a LOT on my own. Last week I took a week off from the Patreon to try and finally catch up, but I ended up spending that entire week on cleaning. In addition to that, we had the highest caseload for our team in history last month, so work continues to be hectic.

As April begins, the burrow is at the tail end of its fumigation and I should be getting the all clear to head back later today. Tonight will be pretty much dedicated to moving back in and setting at least a few things into place as the work of unpacking everything begins. This week, hopefully, I can be a bit of a hermit; I’d like to divide my evenings between straightening up, paring down the things I don’t need any more and finally, finally getting into the writing habit I’ve been hoping to establish.

Obviously, the serial story for the Patreon will be getting most of my attention this week. I want to back-track with my notes, make sure that I’m really nailing down what each chapter and scene needs to do in order to advance the story, and update character notes so that I understand what motivates the characters, what their arcs actually are, and how those arcs are completed through the full measure of the story. I’m actually excited about this work, but I just need the time and focus to work on it.

In addition to that, there’s writing the story for a very generous friend who donated to the Clarion Write-A-Thon last year(!!), editing the first two chapters of the Patreon serial so they can go up elsewhere, editing the huge commission I finally draft-completed for another friend, and writing a short story for the next issue of Megamorphics. Somewhere in there, I’ll also want to come up with ideas for the People of Color Destroy Horror, People of Color Destroy Fantasy, and Black Power Superhero anthologies.

Here on the blogging front, I have a lot of ideas for future posts at the Writing Desk about Buddhism, managing anxiety, the thorny issue of processing offense and outrage in activism, comic book reviews and a lot more. I’d like to finish up the pair of Zootopia articles I’m writing for [adjective][species], work on a review of Hermann Hesse’s Steppenwolfe for the Furry Canon project, organize the list of suggestions and writers who’ve taken them up and write/submit poetry for their Poetry Festival.

I’d like to eat in more often, train more often for the Overnight walk, and go through my wardrobe and closet to set aside the clothes, shoes and electronics that I can offer for donation. It’s all good work, and I am happy to be doing it, but it’s so much. A lot of my anxiety these days is wrapped up around being able to see a task through to completion, and that’s very difficult to manage when there are so many irons in the fire that feel time-sensitive.

But on days like these, I have to remind myself that I can only do one thing at a time. Right now, I’m writing to you (but mostly to myself) to talk about everything going on. After that, another item on my to-do list will be focused on until it’s done (or I need to take a break). After that, I’ll continue work on something else. And so forth, and so on, until I have a list of completed things under my belt.

I’m still learning how to see a project through after I’ve signed up for it, but I’m really hoping that paying attention to that this month will allow me to make progress on that front. Fingers crossed, and back to it.