» » Even before the diagnosis, I found myself resonating (quite naturally) with the existentialists, such as Nietzsche and Dostoevsky and Kafka. Time after time, I would read some cool stuff that spoke to me at a deep level. So I googled the name of the author and read a little bit about them and discovered that this cool stuff was coming from yet another person who was considered something called an existentialist. Whatever that was.
Last Day of Winter
"I am obviously feeling these existentialists," I would say to myself. Tho I wasnt sure what exactly this meant.
The term » existentialism, to me, just seemed so unbearably pretentious.
Whatever the case with Camus [ Ca-'moo ] I never spent much time looking into what precisely constitutes an existentialist and existentialism.
First thing I learned is that existentialism, while admittedly sounding mercilessly hoity-toity, is not a pretentious philosophy. Not at all. Quite the contrary.
It's actually characterized by a down-to-earth practicality that I simply adore.
I went off on this existential tangent after watching Woody Allen's Irrational Man .. with Emma Stone and Joaquin Phoenix playing her Philosophy professor. [ Manohla mentions Woody here. He has a new movie coming out. ]
» First Day of Spring
But before I get carried away there .. let me first note that today is the first day of spring.
I am glad to see spring arrive. After treatment, I have noticed that the cold bothers me more.
The chemo, while designed to attack cancer cells, also puts a hurting on your blood .. on your red blood cells, and on your white blood cells, and especially on your platelets and hemoglobin. And it just takes time to recover. (I see my oncologist in another week.)
» Warmer Days Ahead
Anyway, I much prefer the therapeutic warmth of summer to the bone-chilling cold of winter. And today is the last day of winter. Tonight we sleep in springtime and dream of warmer days to come.
So wave goodbye to winter with me .. and the final diagnostic hurdle.
UConn Huskies Girls Basketball Team » Total Domination
Speaking of totally bitchin' things .. I want to send a hearty shout-out to the UConn Huskies girls basketball team. You make me proud to be from Connecticut. That is certainly some eye-rubbing stuff you are doing there.
I mean, you see it .. but it's still hard to believe. Nodody is gonna say that Connecticut doesnt take sports seriously, or that they are not ferociously competitive.
Total domination. Chest-thumping stuff. It must feel totally bitchin'. "We came. We saw. We kicked ass. And a hell of a lot of it, too."
What does it feel like to never lose? (Ever. Even once.) You should make a movie. Everybody likes to be around a winner .. hoping some of the winningness will rub off.
Oh, my mistake .. it looks like they have actually lost 5 games in the last 4 years, with a record of 151-5.
» Few Things Feel as Good as Winning
One time, I played this best-ball golf tournament after work on one fine summer day .. as part of a foursome of guys from my work-group. And one of these guys had been in college on a pro-track .. until he hurt his back in a car accident.
But he could still hit a ball that made your eyeballs pop out. And he was just a little dude, too. Kinda wiry. He could hit far and he was wicked-accurate with the irons.
Anyway, we won that tournament (in Maryland). And even tho we hardly used any of my balls, despite some pretty good shots .. I remember how GOOD I felt driving home. (It was a long drive back to Pennsylvania.) I think there were 10 or 12 teams.
I felt like a million bucks. Very much alive and vibrant. So happy .. that it actually surprised me. "How can I possibly be feeling this happy about winning a stupid golf tournament where I hardly even contributed anything to the winning?" It didnt make sense. But I was feeling good, anyway.
It just feels so good to win, sometimes. I could see how something that felt that good .. could easily become addicting. Are you girls addicted? (It would certainly seem so.)
» No Going Back
"I will go thru this hardest-thing-of-your-life treatment .. including the lonely 99-minute window into eternity and I'll even do the bio-hazards for breakfast .. and it will kick my ass, but then I will get back to where I was before treatment."
But I can see now that this is not how it works. I am not saying that the cancer survivor cannot go on to bigger and better things .. no, sir. Rather I am saying that » you cannot go back.
» And It Feels Good
My weight is up to 156. When you are skin-n-bones, a few pounds makes a big difference. A part of me still cant believe that I got down to 140. I dont think I'll ever make it back to 180, but I'm shooting for 165, right now. I would feel okay at 165.
My surgeon said, "Good. Keep eating. You need to put on more weight."
The day when I hit 160 .. that will be cause for much revelry and celebration. We will kill the fatted calf. And break-out the world-class chocolate.
In the (existential) mind of the cancer survivor, higher numbers = more distance (further) from cancer and cancer treatment.
I am starting to feel some muscle returning. My arms, my legs, my chest, my shoulders .. I can feel the muscle growing back there. And it feels good.
I still have days when my ass is dragging and I dont feel like doing much of anything. When even sitting up seems tiring. But those days come less frequently and with less severity.
I suspect that these days, when I am just feeling so tired .. that these days are when I am having a growth-spurt, of sorts. Because my weight is always up after these periods.
I think it also has something something to do with iron, because, if I forget to take my supplement for a few days, my ass seems to start dragging again. Missing one day is okay, but missing 3 days .. and things start dragging.
Sometimes tho, even on good days, if I am being more active and physical, I sometimes need to go lie down. So when the fatigue does come, it seems to hit harder.
» Entering the Outskirts of Care
When I saw my surgeon last week, he said, "I'm gonna start seeing you every three months now." Before, he was seeing me every month .. up to the 1-year point. So this is a good sign, no? I felt good when he said that.
Because that signals that I am entering the outskirts of care. Soon as you get diagnosed, the shit is on. You enter a proverbial meat grinder. They are scheduling you for this-n-that .. as a quick click. They keep your ass hoppin'.
I remember, right before I was getting ready to go over the falls .. my radiation oncologist said (something like), "Okay, this is a lot to commit to. We're talking every day for a few months. You can do this, right? You can make this big commitment?"
And I cant remember if I said it or not, but I was definitely thinking, "What choice do I have?"
An appreciation for abdurdist humor helps get you thru treatment .. trust me on that.
"Since you were too fucked up after the clinical trial, with the projectile vomiting and what-not, and since you wouldnt let us punch you in the face on that day .. that means we're gonna punch you in the face twice on Friday. Have a nice weekend."
Obviously this is an exaggertion .. but not as much as you might think.
It was the very next day after this double-shot when I woke and the first thing I did was to grab my mouth .. because it felt like somebody had punched me in the mouth. And that is no exaggeration, my friend. Not hardly. No hyperbole necessary.
And you need at least 6 hours between shots. So you get your first shot, then try to find someplace quiet (such as the meditation room) to lie down for six hours .. and then go get your make-up shot. And then go home.
And they stay on you very closely with your schedule. Anyway, I could see what he was talking about .. after I got into it, myself. So it's nice to be at this end of it. Here on the waning outskirts.
Did I mention that I see my oncologist in another week?
» Coffee and Chocolate and a New Book to Celebrate Spring's Arrival
Speaking of grand things, such as life and living a healthy one .. to help celebrate the arrival of a new season and the warmer days it promises ..
.. I ordered another one of those chocolates listed on that article [Dec, 2015] containing the best bean-to-bar chocolates in the country.
I tried to order some from Patric Chocolate in Missouri, but they had a note on their order page that said (something like) » "Sorry dude, we are ALL OUT of chocolate. We cannot keep this stuff in stock. Probably because we make the best stuff in the country. Sign up for our newsletter and we'll shoot you an email when (if) we ever get some more in stock. We're actually making another batch right now, but this stuff goes faster than we can make it."
Then, I went back a week later and the whole site was down.
This particular bar won the 2015 silver award from the Academy of Chocolate (.. whatever that is).
"Made from rare cacao that we discovered growing along the slopes of Colombia's Sierra Nevada coastal mountain range. The cacao is a mix of cultivated and wild-grown, harvested by the Arhuaco indigenous people and settlers to the region. On a day-long journey, cacao is collected in jute sacks on the backs of mules. The chocolate has a distinct auburn color and bright fruity flavors of apricot, caramel, and a delicate nuttiness."
Carried in jute sacks on the backs of mules? From day-long journies? Harvested from wild plants? By indigenous peoples?
Their ordering page might've been the best one that I ever used. (Ever.) You can tell from dealing with them .. that these people have their shit together. That is always refreshing .. if you appreciate such things. (The attention-to-detail.)
So, this is now two chocolates that I have sampled .. out of the eight listed.
» A Concession Without Conceding
I will admit, my friend, that my ability to taste seems to have diminished considerably following treatment .. where my mouth and neck and throat werre blasted with levels of radiation so high .. that I did not even want to know how much they were using.
But this is my way of protesting against that loss .. my way of saying » "Fuck that. I'm getting the chocolate anyway .. just like I would if my ability to taste was as good as it was before treatment."
» Back to the (Surprisingly Practical) Existentialists
You will find that most people who resonate with existentialists had life throw at them some particularly nasty shit.
I have spent considerable time, over the years, studying philosophers and their philosophies. You know. And the motivation behind this study was always a search for insights into the big question » "How should we live our lives?" .. the same question humanity has been researching since the dawn of civilization itself. And probably even before.
Now, one of the problems that people like you and me might have with some philosophers .. is that they tend to have these cushy life-styles, teaching in some centuries-old university somewhere in Europe.
And this is not the life that you and I have. So, when you ponder the question » "How should we live our lives?" .. it matters where you are and what you're doing while you consider this question. That will certainly influence your thought-process.
» The Toothy Existential Alligator
When you are standing there, my friend, with the toothy alligator of misfortune munchin' on your ass .. you kinda wanna smack Kant, who is sitting in a cushy leather chair, asking in his most piously philosophical tone, "But, how can you be sure that the alligator is real?" (Or any philosopher who would ask such a question at such a time.)
But Kant won't come. He dont do alligators munchin' on much of anything. He's much too dignified for that.
» Existentialists to the Rescue
And here is where the existentialist cavalry arrives to offer help. First, they smack Kant back into the Eighteenth century, for you (.. which immediately makes you feel better).
Then they say, "Dude, we know all about the toothy alligator of misfortune. And we can help .. but you are going to have to perform the extraction yourself. So it wont be easy. Not by a long shot. You're gonna have to blaze your own trail .. everybody does. That's just the way it is. You only get a possibility .. not a probability. But there are things that you can do in order to make your possibility more probable."
Here I am waxing abstract, which I normally avoid .. but I feel that I can convey a better feel for my grasp of the existentialists .. than if I just quote key passages from their wikipedia pages.
I am trying to convey where and how and why I feel myself resonating with these existentialists .. which is not an easy thing to do .. because it springs from a deep well. So it's hard to put your finger on some of these things. It's more of an area than a point .. a process than an end.
And yes, I was certainly feeling them before the diagnosis .. but now, afterwards .. I am really feeling them, big time. They feel like brothers. Like what they're saying is so obvious .. even when it's not.
Later on, while you are sitting in your library, or fireside in your study, sipping on some brandy perhaps, from a warm glowing snifter .. sure, have at it. Why not? Give Kant a call. I'm sure he'll be glad to come join you. Give David a call, too.
» Not the Existential Crisis that Mortality Brings
Now, when I use the term e.x.i.s.t.e.n.t.i.a.l .. here at this site .. I normally use it in context of cancer .. and the existential aspects associated with mortality. To put a fine point on it » your very existence (in the physical plane, anyway) is threatened.
Bill Maher uses the phrase "existentialist crisis" here .. in reference to the Republican party establishment. By this he means they are facing their end. They are in a crisis for their very existence. (And Donald Trump is bringing the existential thunder to their doorstep.)
» Res Ipsa Loquitur
But this is not how the existentialists use the concept. No, sir. They are not particularly conscious of their own mortality .. at least, not any more than usual. (Tho probably more than most people, I would guess.)
For me, a big part of this existentialist thing is .. embodied in/by the latin legal phrase » res ipsa loquitur .. or » "the thing speaks for itself." Only, instead of applying it to legal matters, you rather apply it to your life in general.
There are things all around you. What are they saying? What are they really saying?
Donald Trump is far-n-away the top Republican presidential candidate. Surprising many in the establishment. Behind him is Ted Cruz. (Way behind.) What do these realities say? Beyond the obvious. (When viewed free from the distortion of bias.)
I'm not talking about what people tell you that they say .. no, sir. Rather, I am talking about what they are saying TO YOU.
Existentialism is a very individual thing. It tells you not to let other people define your world for you.
I must say .. that I do possess a feel for this concept. An intuitive feel. And when I possess this feel of which I speak .. I feel more comfortable speaking more forcefully .. than I do with things for which I am still grasping at.
I feel that, one of the ways that a writer (or anybody, for that matter, but I am writing right now) .. the way that a writer d.e.m.o.n.s.t.r.a.t.e.s his or her grasp of a thing to is work with the thing.
If you are a pizza-maker, then you are going to make a pizza. If you are a baseball player, then you will be playing some baseball. My point is that I feel like I need to demonstrate an existential feel here .. a feel for it. And I'm not really sure how to do that.
Perhaps this intuitiveness comes from my nuclear training .. which teaches that it can be dangerous to misread an indicator, or a gage. "Believe your indications" is one of the two biggest mantras that the military pounds into your head. (The other being » verbatim compliance with reactor plant operating procedures.)
» Resonating with Long-Hair'ed Existentialists
Earlier today, I mentioned how the cold bothers me more now, post-treatment, as one of the reasons why I am so looking forward to spring (... which leads to the therapeutic heat of summer). Part of this dealing-with-the-winter-cold has been to wear my hair long. I mean, it keeps you warm, to a degree.
My hair is actually getting kinda long. And earlier today I was looking in the mirror, noticing how badly I needed a haircut and, in particular, how s.t.r.a.i.g.h.t it was (.. specially on the sides). I dont think I've ever seen my hair look like that before. My point here is that » it's so long that it got my attention.
Gréco started a fashion for long, straight existentialist hair—the 'drowning victim' look, as one journalist wrote—and for looking chic in thick sweaters and men's jackets with the sleeves rolled up. She said that she first grew her hair long to keep warm in the war years; Beauvoir said the same thing about her own habit of ...
The setting for that particular passage was the subterranean jazz cafes in Paris, following the end of the second world war .. where thinkers and philosophers such Sartre and Beauvoir would meet with artists such as Gréco .. and try to figure out how and why their entire world could collaspse around them so quickly.
I mean, they are not saying these exact things .. but certainly, they must have thought » "We better figured out and find answers to life's questions .. because it is obvious that what we have been doing is not working."
Tho, if you listen to Kierkegaard's Existential Problem, can't you hear him saying, "It's too difficult to pull off, so why even try?"
I do not know about Sartre, because I have never read any of his writing .. but I would be lyin' if I said that I didnt see many parallels .. between things that Kierkegaard has said and principles that are outlined in the scriptures. This topic would certainly be an open-ended tangent, so let's not go there.
But my point here is that .. this is why your average existentially-minded human being is likely to be a better human being .. in many ways .. many ways that really matter .. than your average human being.
Here I could go into great detail about why I feel this way .. but now is not the time.
» Dangerous and Provocative is Good
At the risk of getting carried away with the subject, let me mention, ever so briefly .. that the very next paragraph, which comes right after the one that contains the passage about "long existentialist hair," where the author describes the scene in these subterranean Parisian jazz cafes following the war .. the very next paragraph begins like so »
"In this rebellious world, just as with the Parisian bohemians and Dadaists in earlier generations, everything that was dangerous and provocative was good, and everything that was nice or bourgeois was bad."
The sentence jumped out at me and demanded closer examination. Vetting. I mean, these are my people saying these things .. so it feels more personal than it would be coming from an annoying schmuck.
The author goes on to share examples of what she means by this. Later this same evening, I was thinking about this, about how dangerous and provocative things seemed good to the existentialist (and others who might be artistically inclined) ..
» A Cappella is for Lovers
Have you seen the a cappella version? It totally reminded me of the singer-girl, singing to me, as we walked down the super-wide sidewalks of New Haven on a Saturday night .. looking for a place to go dancing.
We liked to go early .. before the dance floors filled up .. to do some real dancing. After they fill up with sweaty bodies, you can hardly move .. so we would go someplace else. Or grab a bite to eat somewhere.
She sang to me all the time .. at her place, in the car .. but it was on those sidewalks, where she was dressed up all pretty, and looking so sexy .. that it really hit me. "Why arent my feet touching the ground?"
She was very comfortable in her sexuality. And of course, everybody sitting at the restaurant tables outside there on the sidewalk is watching and listening. "Come back!" they call, waiving their arms.
Groups of people pass going the other way .. but she pays them no mind. Their looks say, "Dude, this is some very cool shit." I give them a return look that says, "I know."
It was one of the coolest experiences of my life. I mean, she was diggin' me and you could tell. And she knew how to show it. She is obviously feeling good.
Rad note 1 » this section where I flirt with Ariana has grown large enough (8 pages) .. to warrant its own entry. See here » Flirting with Danger - Page One.
Rad note 2 » This month's archive grew so large (thanks to Ariana) that I broke it into two parts. Part 2 is here » March 2016 - Part 2.