The Other End of Sunset

Sunday, January 21, 2007

ELO and the BeeGees are not the same band

Well, my OtherEnders, I got interesting feedback on my last post.

In a word, it was described as boring.

One of my friends told me that there nothing “human” in it; another described it as too technical and not interesting. He skipped to the end “to the good stuff”. Another pointed out that Jeff Christian’s end was not as good as his start.

I was trying to write something in a traditional blog form – not very personal, just focused on describing some external scene.

But if you are going to fail, fail fast – experimentation is critical, but critical assessment is equally important. Thus, I must assert that my impersonal blog post was, to large extent, a failure.

I shall continue to experiment. I can trust that you will all continue to tell me when an experiment is a failure. Where ever would I be without you and your continued input? I’ll promise to try and listen and learn and improve. I shan’t ignore the negative feedback, despite humans’ natural tendency to do so. Neither shall I stick to a format, heedless of opportunity to improve. I shall further endeavor not to jump the shark.

I should point out, in the vein of principled scientific feedback, that a few of you were surprised that I have tattoos.

Glad I have a few surprises left, after so long.

I’m glad that our relationship has developed that easy silence that we make for each other. However, I’m hoping that we never devolve into those people that never talk, sitting on the couch, watching some inane television show, wondering more about the weather than whether we still care.

Never that, let us agree, yes?

And to support the avoidance of such a future, let me tell you more about myself. Perhaps you will reciprocate.

All I ever wanted
All I ever needed
Is here, in my arms.
Words are very unnecessary
They can only do harm.
--Depeche Mode

I’m watching The Patriot while I write this. Not the best movie ever made. Likely not even in the 50 best movies ever made. But I digress.

The Patriot has a love story that circles around the main character falling in love again after his wife died. It’s totally uncompelling, the story is. Fully Hollywood-normal-form, with little that makes sense. All of a sudden, the character falls for this woman – his late wife’s sister – who has been caring for his kids. They never really seemed to talk, nor have any actual connection, then suddenly they are in love. Totally silly.

And yet it makes my eyes well up with tears. How long will it be before that stops? I am blessed by having someone in my life who understands that I am still in love with JR. And doesn’t view it as a competition. How amazing is that.

I still miss JR. Every day.

Yet I feel happy, at the same time. Not about my loss. No, not that. But I think I may have a future, not only a past that ended with quiet dignity on June 23, 2006.

Has it been long enough? Should I get to feel this way, happy, hopeful? Am I dishonoring JR’s memory? I hope not. I think she’d tell me; she is, after all, on my shoulder. Surely she would pull on one of my earrings, and tell me that I’m screwing up.

The future is a large weight to bear. Is it greater than that of the past? I don’t know. But I look forward to learning the answer.

The kids are all wrong.
They’re full of their hopeless opinion
The kids are all wrong.
That’s all I ever really learned.

I did some work on taking my company public. It was really fun, and I learned a lot, but it was also fairly stressful. For various reasons, I ended up doing my “real” job during the day, and working on the offering at night.

Lots of long days, more than a few nights spent sleeping on the Ikea couch in my cubicle, and at least 3 nights per week in some hotel. I didn’t talk to my friends much, since what could I tell them, other than I was working, and that I still don’t like New York. Not a very interesting story. Perhaps it is more interesting in hindsight.

// Side note: In the final scene of The Patriot, Mel Gibson’s character drops his pistol (in slow motion) to pick up the flag and wave it in a great show of patriotism. As he wheels and turns to run over the hill, he shoots his pistol to kill a redcoat. Umm, I thought he threw it away? Continuity anyone? And the battle scene goes on too long. //

Generally speaking, the process of going public is a bit like making sausage. The results are good, but the process is somewhat disheartening. Regardless of this assertion, and the context, the IPO is not my story for today.

Rather, I want to talk about my illness. As many of you know, I have some weird form of celiac disease. Despite an unfortunate common label, it isn’t really gluten intolerance. It’s an autoimmune disorder that causes damage to the intestine. Attacks are triggered by consumption of gluten. Gluten is found in wheat, rye, barley, and oats; it’s what makes bread have structure and is a great thickener for… well, just about everything. Celiac usually appears in people in their 30s, and is highly correlated with stress.

In most cases, celiac patients get general gastrointestinal stuff – usually helping weight loss, and commonly leading to colon cancer. However, the disorder doesn’t seem to be well understood, and not all cases appear similar. In my case, I get a few inexplicable bonus symptoms – if I eat enough gluten, I start having little seizures. They start with my legs tingling and going a bit numb – I often think my phone is in my pocket ringing. They proceed through strange other effects – migraines, twitches, etc. – and if it gets bad enough, my blood pressure does strange things.

This is actually what led to my diagnosis. I was working on the IPO (see, you thought there was no connection!). I was in my 30s and was under a fair bit of stress. I was returning from New York, I think. I can’t remember why I was there. But I was there. Three of us were in a car, on our way to the plane, two women, and your faithful author.

As I clambered into the back of the car, the two women’s eyes bugged out, in some vaguely Lon Chaney-esque way.

For those of you playing the home game, it’s rarely a good sign for a guy when women stare at you like you are the Hunchback. But whatever, let’s move beyond my teenage years, shall we?

I am self-confident enough, or perhaps sufficiently used to such reactions, to ignore it. After a moment, one of the women – Marissa Mayer – asked me, in a very gentle voice, if I felt ok. I told her that I was tired, and had a headache, but was generally fine. Marissa – who is, surprisingly, both as pretty and as sweet as her PR would suggest – asked me again. Now I knew something was wrong, and asked her what was up. Wordlessly, the other woman (Kim) handed me a makeup compact and pointed at my eyes.

I looked at myself in the small mirror, looking through the haze of face powder that adhered to the mirror and the smudges of fingerprints from the hours of holding it in one hand while putting on blush with the other. What I saw was quite odd.

Sometime between leaving the hotel, and getting in the car, all the blood vessels in both eyes had burst. I looked like a second-rate movie vampire; Lon Chaney-esque, indeed!

As it turned out, my headache was from my blood pressure spiking to ridiculously high levels. My doctor later said “Be glad you are in shape; you could have stroked out at that pressure!”

Worry about this weird blood pressure stuff led me to a never-ending set of tests, a hospital visit or two, and ultimately a diagnosis of celiac, with perhaps some other disorder in play as well. But who knows, and there’s no treatment anyway, so who cares.

The rest is more or less history. I guess I owe a great deal to Marissa and Kim, eh? So, thanks ladies.

It took a long time for me to get diagnosed, and my symptoms got worse after the car episode, worsening until I got the final diagnosis. It got so bad that my brother approached his work to tell them he might need to take a few weeks family leave to come take care of me… although I’m not sure he knew whether that time was needed to sit by my bedside or give my stuff to the Betty Ford Center (my beneficiary). Regardless, that was what they were thinking.

The personal low point for me wasn’t the headaches, or the vertigo, or the weight loss (about 35 pounds, when all was said and done, and I’m fairly thin to begin with…)

My low point was sitting with JR at a movie – Kingdom of Heaven. No, the low point wasn’t because the movie was so bad, by the way, but thanks for voting.

I was so sick that I blacked out in the movie – JR was freaked out, but couldn’t figure out what to do. She got up to get ushers to call 911, and I woke up. I managed to get myself to the restroom, where I blacked out again. The cold tile woke me up.

After I awoke, on the blue floor of a theater restroom, I lay there for a second, and started crying. I felt totally hopeless, and began thinking that I had no future. Or, rather, my only future was to wither away and pass from this earth, in pain. And, even worse, I started wondering if my best outcome was, indeed, to pass on. I was trying to figure out how to leave JR so she wouldn’t have to watch me waste away, and maybe wouldn’t have to grieve, but I couldn’t work out a plan. I figured – correctly – that she’d see through my intentions.

When I left the bathroom, standing there in the entryway was JR, holding my coat and some water, with a huge smile of relief when she saw me. I was embarrassed, and so a bit short, but she told me she didn’t care about the movie, and she understood feeling sad. She was also insightful. She said “it’s ok, you can yell at me right now. I love you, and I know you are scared and miserable. And, no, I’m not going away.”

She was right. And I got my diagnosis a couple of weeks later – I stopped eating gluten, and got much better very quickly. And I know now that flares (what those attacks are called) are often accompanied by depression and feelings of hopelessness.

So, apparently, in some ways, at least, I am normal, not unusual, and not special. My theater experience was fairly par for the course. Nice.

// Side note: I couldn’t remember the name of the movie, nor any of the actors. All I remembered was that the movie was related to the crusades, and at least part of it took place in Jerusalem. How to find the name? Oh, right, here’s an idea: Do a Google search for “movie Jerusalem crusade”. Voila, the right answer emerges. Gotta love that! //

It feels like it’s almost spring here. It can’t really be, yet. It’s too early. But it’s sunny, and hasn’t rained in a while. It’s not warm yet, but it’s bright enough that I had to close the blinds to watch TV – the light goes straight into my eyes – and so I feel hope.

Lots of my friends are having personal turmoil. My best friend is suddenly alone. Another just received her divorce papers. Another just lost a parent, after a long illness. Another is trying to decide whether, or how, to save his marriage.

The world is complex, as well.

Soldiers and civilians are still dying in Iraq. Drug production is making a resurgence in Afghanistan. About half of New Orleans’ citizens still have not returned, a year and a half after Katrina and the terrible federal mismanagement.

The Chinese have demonstrated a satellite-killing missile; remarkable, Reagan’s folly, a.k.a. “star wars”, sees the light of day, 20 years later. Its appearance feels terribly destabilizing to an already unstable relationship. I suspect the rest of the world must have felt like this when Reagan announced US spending on the topic. One wonders how future competition – economic, definitely; militarily, I hope not – between the US and China will play out.

I’m sitting on my couch, now with football in the background. My dogs are next to me, asleep. I’m covered in a lovely maroon blanket. I still feel hope, and shall grieve for my loss, and my friends, and carry the light in my eyes and heart.

Yes, my friends, you can yell at me, I know you are scared, and I am not going anywhere.