December 31, 2015

"John's Life is an Open Book, But Watch Out. Given a Chance, He'll Read It To You."

I love that quote. Just as I loved the reputed author, Bill Beltz, BNA's CEO from 1980 to 1996. He was also one of my best friends from 1956 -- when he arrived at BNA a year after I did -- until 2003, when he died.

During a recent lunch with a group of BNA retirees, Paul Wojcik, Bill's successor as CEO and another treasured friend, shared Bill's remark after I told some anecdote (which of course I now can't remember) that involved something "normal" people wouldn't disclose. I'm known for doing that sort of thing.

But in my earlier life, I was just the opposite. I avoided sharing personal anecdotes for fear that they might reveal my two darkest secrets -- my homosexuality and my alcoholism. The turnaround came in October, 1977 -- when I came out to my family and friends as a gay man -- followed by the March, 1978 acknowledgement of my alcoholism.

I've spent most of my life following the precept that "anything worth doing is worth overdoing." So this new freedom to discuss my personal life too often results in "over-disclosure."

Still, this sharing of personal information is vital, as I deal with aging, Parkinson's, and other health issues. I keep searching for a primary healthcare provider who is interested in discussing these end-of-life issues with me. The topic was the No. 1 issue on the blog this year. See the post above.

December 29, 2015

Giving Thanks for my Five F's: My Friends

Last Thanksgiving, I spent some time thinking about the things in my life I'm most grateful for. I came up with five and -- trying too hard to be cute -- I made each of them an F word: family, friends, finances, fun, and final days. I had planned to devote a week of posts on the series, running each of the five topics on a different weekday.

Well, you can see how far I got with that plan. I completed a post on F–word No. 1: My Families. While working on that post, I was also tensing up over my self-imposed schedule to produce a post each day for the next four F-words. My reward? High blood pressure and a sleepless night... not the first time my blog obsession produced those results. 

Deep down, I knew the blog was taking over my life, just like addictions to nicotine, alcohol, and compulsive sex had done in my younger days. With lots of practice, I'd become skillful at denying my addiction problems. But this time, I acknowledged that the blog addiction was damaging my health, and I needed to rein it in.

At this stage in my life, when my remaining time is limited but my health is reasonably good, I want to lead a balanced life, enjoying the variety of things that give me pleasure and that I'm still capable of doing. Not just sitting at the computer.

Thinking about this post on F-word No. 2 -- friendships -- I decided to focus on friends who have played key roles in my life. As I gathered photos and background information, I realized I was laying the groundwork, yet again, for a lengthy post that would surely generate stress and tension.

So, I've decided to run a series of posts about friendships off and on over the next few weeks. What's the rush?

I know many of you readers will be disappointed at not getting one of my posts that runs on forever. Yeah. Right.

Friendship Overview
When it comes to friendship, I was born into a family at Ground Zero: My parents had no friends, My dad had acquaintances from his job, from playing bridge in his early years, and golf after he retired. My mom -- who suffered from clinical depression and rarely left home -- didn’t even have acquaintances.

I'll never forget how depressing it was, sitting in the funeral home during the viewing hours before both my parents' funerals, and having nobody but immediate family members show up.

My friendship history is very different from most other people's. I had my loneliest years as a freshman and sophomore in college, a time when most young people can't keep track of all their friends. But now, in my old age, I’m surrounded by more significant, supportive friends than ever.

Enough for now. Stay tuned.

December 25, 2015

My 60th Christmas Day in Washington: the Weirdest

As I finally begin to settle down, the weather gets weird. This December is destined to become the warmest ever for Washington, DC... and by a substantial margin. Our high temperatures climaxed on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day.

The family gathered for dinner at my son Todd's house on Christmas Eve, so I spent a quiet Christmas Day at home, much of it sitting on my back porch, in shorts!

I assume the goldfish and koi can resume hibernating if and when the cold weather returns.

December 23, 2015

Tom Brokaw and his Physician Daughter Discuss End-of-Life Planning

What someone wants at the end of life can be hard to pin down in words. Even a phrase like "no heroic measures" leaves family and physicians wondering what steps to take and when to stop, as emergency medicine physician Jennifer Brokaw pointed out to her better-known father -- longtime NBC News anchor Tom -- in their TEDx talk at Stanford University.

The video below is a few years old, but it just gets more relevant with time. Brokaw's talk with his daughter about his end-of-life wishes -- and how their family has come to believe in the importance of advance care planning -- preceded this year's bestselling book Being Mortal, in which surgeon and author Atul Gawande discusses why it's important for families to have these conversations.

As Jennifer Brokaw says, talking as a family is even more important as medicine grows increasingly specialized. "We’re not going to be talking to one physician” at the end of life, she says. “We’re going to be talking to a lot of -ologists,” who will provide more varied, fragmented prognoses on which families will base their decisions.

December 3, 2015

News Alert: I Have an Additional F for Thanksgiving – Freedom from My Blog Addiction

On Monday, I posted the first in a planned five-part series on the major things in my life for which I am thankful. Naturally, I started with family. I'll add posts about friends, fun, finances and my final days. I planned on doing one post a day, ending the series on Friday.

Tuesday was a busy day. The heating/AC contractor was scheduled to arrive between 10am and noon to give me an estimate for a new unit in my former garage, which has been converted into a bedroom. I had a 1:20pm appointment with my neurologist, and Joey -- my driver -- planned to pick me up at 12:45. Making things tight, the contractor showed up at 12.

In the morning, Bhawana told me that she had invited some friends in that evening as a surprise for Nimesh's birthday. (Nimesh and Bhawana are the Nepali couple who live with me.) So I ordered a Christmas centerpiece from my florist's catalog, and the rep at the shop told me it would arrive sometime after 2:30pm.

Fortunately, my doctor was right on time, so I even had time after the appointment to pick up a few things at the Whole Foods store across the street from my doctor's office. I hailed a cab and got home just before the florist delivery guy arrived.

In spare moments during the day, I worked on the affidavit of support I was preparing for a Nepali friend who is seeking a visitor's visa.

Since I wouldn't be involved in the birthday party, I figured I could work on the blog post that evening. If I didn't complete it, I'd finish it Wednesday morning and post it with Tuesday's date... a little back-dating trick I've used before.

But that little trick would put me behind the 8-ball on the post I was planning for Wednesday.

Blog Addict "Hits Rock  Bottom"
That quoted phrase is used in Alcoholics Anonymous meetings to describe the point at which an alcoholic finally decides he's had enough of his alcoholism and the problems it created.

I hope Tuesday was "rock bottom" for me and my blog addiction.

My recovery from my addictions to alcohol and nicotine requires that I completely abstain from cigarettes and alcohol. With the blog, what's required is moderation, something I need in so many areas of my life.

I've known for some time that the blog was taking over too much of my life. I think it has created tensions that even threatened my health. That's why I decided a month ago to blog every other week. But I hadn't yet recognized the full extent of my blogging insanity until I took stock after Tuesday's events.

Wednesday morning, I woke up around 3 o'clock for the usual bathroom visit. I often stay up for about an hour for what I call my "joy of quiet" time, during which I combine stretching exercises with meditation. I often use the bed post as a gym rail. I do some push-ups, hula hoop swings with my hips, and lots of improvised moves. I don't pay much attention to the exercises and I try to let my mind just wander. But sometimes, I get fixated on a particular issue.

That's what happened Wednesday morning. I actually stood at the bed rail for nearly two hours thinking about the blog addiction and what to do about it. Here are some of my thoughts:
  • Stanley works with me on the blog. When I get compliments on the blog's being well-written, I give much of the credit to Stanley. He is an excellent editor and a good writer. At first, I used him to simply edit my copy. But for a while now he's been writing many of the posts on new studies... on reports about Parkinson's and other health issues. We typically run four posts a week, with Stanley writing one of them. I suspect he'd like to do more. But unless I wrote most of the posts -- or so I've thought -- the blog wouldn't feel like mine. F-that. It's no big deal if he writes more posts than I do. I'm going to concentrate now on the "me" posts that deal primarily with what's going on in my life. Stanley is free to come up with as many posts as he wants. And I won't worry about the number of posts we publish each week.
  • Stanley and I have both become too obsessed with the stats on blog traffic. The platform we use provides data on the number of hits (or "pageviews") we get by day, week, month and "all time." It boosts our egos when we see the rising numbers -- from 245 hits during the blog's first month (November, 2010) to the 27,791 hits this past April. Unlike many blogs, mine doesn't carry advertisements, so there is no monetary gain from traffic. But now we have to reconcile ourselves to the fact that -- in light of my age and health -- we'll publish fewer posts now. That trend means it would be a miracle if we set any new monthly traffic records.
  • We both need to be more modest and realistic about our efforts. We often talk as if there are thousands of people out there -- logging on first thing each morning, hungry for the latest post. Jeez, what a tension-producing fantasy!
Are there hopeful signs that I may be regaining sanity? I didn't post anything on Tuesday or Wednesday. I'm finishing this post at 10am on Thursday. I should always do my blog "work" in the morning, when the process -- organizing my thoughts, dictating for my voice recognition software, making occasional keyboarding adjustments -- moves much faster for me.

Maybe you'll see a post tomorrow about my giving thanks for my friends. Then again, maybe you won't.