Cooking My Medicine

Perhaps the biggest blessing of living in San Francisco is the ironic quality of living in our little isolated paradise and constantly being exposed to a bigger world that most Americans will ever choose to know.

Today I am cooking medicine that should help my skin. As I mentioned, my herb doctor gave me a small paper bag full of various herbs (i.e., leaves, shoots, buds, mushrooms, bark, seeds, usw). Right now I am in the midst of cooking it for 20 minutes. I put the contents of the bag in a pot and covered it in water:

Sp A0116

The smell is intensely pungent, that smell that when I first started going to Dr. Chon was an olfactory assault to my person, something alien and almost threatening in the way that the unknown can be to some people.

And now? Now I choose to leave the exhaust fan off, so that the smell permeates the house, creating a hopefully-lasting ataraxy throughout this fourteen-years-tomorrow fortress I live in.

What a world and such people in it.

UPDATE: Here’s what the finished product looks like:

Sp A0117

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Not the Face! Not the Faaaaace!

Today I went to Union City.

My doctor was there, smiling as usual. She calls me “my dear” now. She usually gets around to telling me the day’s lunch menu way ahead of time. Today, though, I did most of the talking at first. I told her that I had a third kind of heading playing havoc with my big ol’ head: sinus headache. I asked her if I could take the cupping and acupuncture treatment sitting up, because I wasn’t sure I’d be able to breathe face down in the donut-shaped pillow.

PinheadheadshotJust like now—the unable-to-breathe part, I’m not face down.


She told me to lay on my back. She turned off the lights and said, “relax. meditate.” So I did, for a while and she returned and put eight needles total into my face. Two on each side beside the nose, one in each cheek, the rest in my scalp. The ones in my cheeks hurt like hell; they dug into the muscles there so that every time I moved at all, they snagged.

But after it was done, I could breathe again! I never cease to be amazed by the effectiveness of the needles.

Then the doctor did the usual cupping stuff, drew plenty of black blood from the top of my head and back of my neck..and put more needles into me. Sounds brutal, but honestly? I felt nearly restored. As I almost always do. Pain ebbs to a minim, and my eyes feel wide wide wide open (advice: never, as a caucasian, hold your eyelids wide open with your fingers, to demonstrate to an Asian how round your eyes feel).

Of course she fed me, she always does. And we never stop talking. I told her about the kimchi fried rice I made last night—with her homemade kimchi which she’d given me a couple of weeks ago—and she talked about needing a vacation someplace where the ocean water was warm. I told her my mom was coming out to San Francisco sometime this summer to visit and how I planned on bringing her by to meet.

“I’ve told my mom all the stories of here,” I said to the Doctor.

“Oh, too much to live up to! She gonna be disappointed.”

“Never,” I said. And the Doctor blushed.

Before I left, she made me wait until she got something for me. I watched her collect several different kinds of dried plants or fungi and put them in a paper bag. She tidily folded it closed and handed it to me. To help improve my skin (my face is very dry because I’m dehydrated from this headcold), I’m supposed to cook the medicine for 20 minutes, then apply it to my face when it’s still hot (“but not to burn!”). So in the morning, I’ll be cooking medicine. Oh, and she didn’t charge me for the herbs.

She’s kinda my hero.

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Look Out, I’m Inhabiting Hamlet

Good lord.

Sometimes I forget that I shouldn’t just charge in to watch or (try to) read just any old thing these days. My sensitivity to plunging mood is much amplified these days. And, it appears I seem to be slipping into iambic pentameter as well (it’s curious, really, because it’s a habit or gist more than it is something that requires conscious thought and calculation). Shakespeare becomes more miraculous to me every day.

In my time of abridged abilities (i.e., all of 2007 and a good part of the tail end of 2006) I turn to television. Videos, really. I’ve gone through just about all the Blu-ray titles in existence that I care to watch (netflix has them all), and have since fallen back to DVDs again. Over the years I have acquired many movie versions of Shakespeare’s plays, including two versions of Hamlet. They weren’t my first choice for Hamlet, but until very recently, the version I truly wanted, Branaugh’s nearly-four-hour unabridged version, wasn’t available even on the humble DVD. But Amazon now says it will be available, after 11 years, come August! I’m psyched for that. I’ve only ever seen it once, and that was back in 1996—the year it came out—at the Embarcadero Theaters with a guy I was dating at the time. The movie clocked in at 3 hours, 45 minutes, or thereabouts, with a real, live intermission at the 3-hour mark. Such a throwback.

Last night and today I watched “Hamlet, The Prince of Denmark” on DVD from a 1980 performance which included Derek Jacobi as Hamlet and Patrick Stewart—in wig and beard—as Claudius. It was only now that I realized that Patrick Stewart and Sam have the same eyes, dark and shiny yet far from cold.

Jacobi, in all things, is a wonder. From The Master in Doctor Who, to Francis Bacon in Love is the Devil, to Hamlet in 1980 and then Claudius in 1996, this man can do no wrong. He’s one of those on the short list of “people I’m glad are gay”.

Patrick Stewart took a serious risk in playing Claudius as not so much evil as weak and misguided and a quite impotently repentant. It works, though.

So yes, I get invested in quite a few things that I watch, but it’s a real danger to my own disposition and optimism when the show’s over. I could offer countless quotes from the play—there are dozens of them that are still in common use today!—but there are three which bound my life and my thoughts lately:

“When sorrows come,
they come not single spies
But in battalions.”

I didn’t even know this one qualified as one of the more famous quotes! I just heard it while watching and thought it landed square in the middle of my fortunes of late.

“’Tis now the very witching time of night,
When churchyards yawn and
Hell itself breathes out
Contagion to this world”

Related to the first quote I pulled, I suppose, but there’s something satisfying about blaming Hell instead of accepting that “shit happens”. I can see why the theists cotton to this sort of thing. Finger-wagging is quite energizing.

“My words fly up; my thoughts remain below.
Words without thought ne’er to heaven go.”

This one, in context, speaks more of earnestness of true-faith proposition in prayers, but it’s a welcome rarity that the more literal interpretation is the one that holds more value for me than its meaning. For whatever I can write, there are a hundred or thousand things I think about which are stunted before they can fly because I can’t pay so much attention to them to give them wings.

YojimboIn hopes of turning this around in at least some way, I opted to employ software tools to help me remember the little flights of fanciful thought that pass but otherwise would go unremembered and useless. There are several of these “capture” apps for Macintosh, but the one I’m using (still in its 30-day full-featured demo) is Yojimbo. I can grab urls or even bits of text and drag those I deem worth holding onto and drop them over the “Yojimbo” tab on the right side of my screen and it opens up to whatever categories I have created. After that, I can tag any item so it’s more easily retrieved later on. So far so good. I’ll probably end up buying it when the demo is over.

I suppose it may be age to blame for the loss of mental abilities, but that’s even less of a comfort than blaming the constant pain in my neck and the frequent flare-ups of pain in my head. Pain can be temporary; age is forever.

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Remember when these tag-and-pass-it-along things were all the rage across blogs? I rarely pay attention to them anymore, except for when one of a very rare few lob one over. Mr. Hartney be one of those.

This one’s a simple one: list eight random facts about yourself. Simple, yes, but a a fine hand is required in balancing what you want to say, what you don’t want to say, what you’ve already said and what you never want to say in a public forum. But hey, it’s a blog.

  1. Pain makes you beautiful, or at least thinner. I’ve lost about 25 lbs in the past 3 or 4 months. The one-two punch of pain and various-medications is the culprit/hero. Of course it was good for me to lose the weight, I needed to. I still need to lose more. But I never set out to lose it, and I still have a low-grade, thready panic whenever unexpected weight-loss occurs.
  2. I went to a weekly art school from age 7 to age 15. My dad is a great artist in so many ways, and I guess I got some of that from him. When I was 6, I sketched “Goofy”, the Disney character from one of those Art Institute ads they used to run in TV Guide. My dad carried that sketch, carefully folded up, in his wallet for many, many years. My art teacher was Mary Hughes, a local artist, who also ran classes with 6 or 7 people at a time, from ages 7 to about 27. I learned a lot about color, texture and how to socialize with a wide range of people. And I learned, more importantly, that another person’s success/talent is never a threat to your own.
  3. I have a strange near-fear of clock faces with Roman Numerals. I don’t know why. I just don’t like looking at them and I have never owned one. Maybe it’s because the letters are somewhat arbitrarily oriented. Pray for me.
  4. I was the President of my high school class, Dallas Area High School Class of 1982 (Dallas, PA). I had a good run, accomplished a lot. I got to know a lot of teachers as human beings instead of just by their roles. On the other hand, I still haven’t been to a single class reunion.
  5. I miss Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip more than is healthy. I’m a huge fan of Aaron Sorkin, and own all seven seasons of West Wing and the complete Sports Night series. Oh, and The American President. No one writes characters and dialog that are tight, intelligent and accessible like Sorkin does.
  6. I’m a total sap for romantic comedies. At the moment, I keep watching Music & Lyrics over and over again—I have it on Blu-ray. How cute is Hugh Grant? How awesome is Drew Barrymore?
  7. When I stopped simply believing in the existence of a god, I started believing in countless other things, at least as possibilities. A handful of small, magical moments that happen to me are more wondrous than any old miracle in an old book. I can admit there are things that I can’t explain without needing to rush to any cosmic or divine fudge-factor. I can’t say I believe in reincarnation or past-lives, but I’m convinced I used to be Dutch and that I lived in Enkhuizen.
  8. I have quickly become the world’s biggest Doctor Who fan. I got there by way of the movie of the stage musical of the movie The Producers. The Lead Tenor in “Springtime for Hitler” stood out for me more than any other single performer in anything for a very long time. His name is John Barrowman, and as I went looking for whatever else he was in, I started watching Doctor Who Series 1. Then to Series 2. Then Torchwood. Then Doctor Who Series 3. It’s crazy how much I relate to what goes on in the show. For instance, in the beginning of Series 3, when the Doctor increasingly realizes those qualities in Martha Jones that would make her an excellent companion on his journeys, it’s about as close to my way of realizing an attraction to someone as I’ve ever seen on TV or in movies or even in books.

So I guess I’m supposed to tag eight other people. Yikes….let’s see: Sam, Tina, Lee, Possum, Jeffrey, Glenn, Crashie-poo, Mags.

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Brain and Brain! What is Brain?

I don’t often go back and re-read my blog entries—at least not recent ones. Why? Well, I don’t really know. Maybe I remember what I wrote recently. Maybe I read the older ones just to see what my frame of mind was “way back when” (which, by the way, if you don’t keep a blog or a private journal, is the absolute best reason to start one right away) and the more recent ones aren’t distant enough yet. Who knows? I don’t care about the Why, but I acknowledge the What.

But recently I wrote:

I have ideas. I have plans. I have goals. I can create. I can express. Synthesis? Doable, but there’s always a sort of premorse quality to it. Analysis? Fucking forget it. Forget concentration. Forget retention. Output happens, but input and processing? No dice.

How incestuous is it to link to your own recent blog-entry? Srrriusly.

I think it was Juhr that pointed out these were interesting distinctions, which led me to consider what he meant by that. I went a-lookin’ about left-brain vs. right-brain stuff, and I’ll be damned. It’s the left-brain stuff that’s been suffering while the right-brain stuff is largely intact. Even without the left vs right way of looking at things, it’s obvious that the analytical stuff requires a focus and concentration on external factors—like facts, details, logical-flow—while the creative stuff, while still requiring focus and concentration, is aimed inward with the intent of expression or getting it outside. Painting, writing, drawing, joking, imagining. All those kinds of things.

So the me-that-was is on a vacation (or a bender) so I decided to go with a not-me approach to understanding: web-quizzes! Yes, I’ve done them before, but only in fun. This is an actual attempt to understand. Of course, I take it all with several grains of salt, but entertainment can be educational (e.g., “O if life were only moments, then you’d never know you had one” or “Look I made a hat! Where there never was a hat!”).

So what did I find? Well, stuff (pardon the formatting, I’m just using their crap HTML):

Right Brain/ Left Brain Quiz
The higher of these two numbers below indicates which side of your brain has dominance in your life. Realising your right brain/left brain tendancy will help you interact with and to understand others.
Left Brain Dominance: 7(7)
Right Brain Dominance: 14(14)
Right Brain/ Left Brain Quiz

Brain Lateralization Test Results
Right Brain (66%) The right hemisphere is the visual, figurative, artistic, and intuitive side of the brain.
Left Brain (34%) The left hemisphere is the logical, articulate, assertive, and practical side of the brain
Are You Right or Left Brained?
personality tests by

You Are 5% Left Brained, 95% Right Brained
The left side of your brain controls verbal ability, attention to detail, and reasoning.
Left brained people are good at communication and persuading others.
If you’re left brained, you are likely good at math and logic.
Your left brain prefers dogs, reading, and quiet.

The right side of your brain is all about creativity and flexibility.
Daring and intuitive, right brained people see the world in their unique way.
If you’re right brained, you likely have a talent for creative writing and art.
Your right brain prefers day dreaming, philosophy, and sports.

Seems to be right-dominated, right? Well, there was another quiz which didn’t have postable summary information, but it didn’t need any: out of 18 questions, all of them I answered as a left-brained person. Imagine.

Overall, however, the results came down pretty heavily on the right-brained side. So tell me why I’ve spent all of my adult life chasing after work and activities that required so-called left-brain faculties? What if my right-brain stuff is, in fact, more powerful than my left? I’ve done pretty well with the left, so I have to ask: what might happen if I got out of my own way and gave the right-side a chance?

I’ve been doing this a lot lately: since for the first time in a very long time I’m not very happy being me (because the traditional me is significantly disabled in his traditional strengths), I’m giving the alternate not-me’s a chance to weigh in. It’s not a multiple-personality thing, this is just a way of describing my consideration of alternate paths.

One final quiz result and, ok, and this one was just downright eerie. If I had to sit down and summarize my abilities, I can’t imagine it’d be anything but very close to this:

Jeff, you possess an interesting balance of hemispheric and sensory characteristics, with a slight right-brain dominance and a slight preference for visual processing.

Since neither of these is completely centered, you lack the indecision and second-guessing associated with other patterns. You have a distinct preference for creativity and intuition with seemingly sufficient verbal skills to be able to translate in any meaningful way to yourself and others.

You tend to see things in “wholes” without surrendering the ability to attend to details. You can give them sufficient notice to be able to utilize and incorporate them as part of an overall pattern.

In the same way, while you are active and process information simultaneously, you demonstrate a capacity for sequencing as well as reflection which allows for some “inner dialogue.”

All in all, you are likely to be quite content with yourself and your style although at times it will not necessarily be appreciated by others. You have sufficient confidence to not second-guess yourself, but rather to use your critical faculties in a way that enhances, rather than limits, your creativity.

You can learn in either mode although far more efficiently within the visual mode. It is likely that in listening to conversations or lecture materials you simultaneously translate into pictures which enhance and elaborate on the meaning.

It is most likely that you will gravitate towards those endeavors which are predominantly visual but include some logic or structuring. You may either work particularly hard at cultivating your auditory skills or risk “missing out” on being able to efficiently process what you learn. Your own intuitive skills will at times interfere with your capacity to listen to others, which is something else you may need to take into account.<br/>
Quiz available here.

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Gone For

“Gone”. It’s a word that many use as a more timid way of saying someone is dead.

This is one of those usages that makes no sense to me. Nor does the impetus behind the usage. Birth and Death are the only things that all of us experience. Our only universally shared experience. Only there’s not enough of us yet at birth to record the experience in any meaningful way.

That leaves only death.

It’s not only cowardice, of course, that prompts one to say “he is gone” instead of “he’s dead”. It’s a literary device, or it’s an abstraction that’s properly aligned to a given context, perhaps. But those are not the uses that bother me.

Why do I bring this up? No, I’m not so morbidly moribund, even though I play such a one in my blog of late. I bring it up because the usage of “gone” to mean “dead” is so alien to me at this point that I actually miss the implication of “gone” sometimes. It’s an interesting (to me) state of mind, misinterpreting a death-statement because the speaker thinks of “dead” as some kind of imprecation.


I normally hate this “after the cut” or “read more” things, but thar be spoilers ahead, and I hate ruining things for people more than I hate the “read more” conceit. So if you want to continue, well, click on the “Read More” below. Also? The comments also contain spoilers.

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Continue reading Gone For

Life Past 4

I was at my pain management specialist this past Monday, to continue figuring out how to treat all of this pain. It’s real pain, it’s flatly debilitating in that real sense: I am simply not able to do the work I do. Lord knows I’ve tried. I try at least a couple of times every week. Why not every day? It’s a balancing act: I can’t not keep trying, in hopes of a sudden, inexplicable restoration of my faculties. But hope is balanced with disappointments. I sit at my Mac, properly postured at a desk which is at the ergonomically correct height, with a footrest and a chair adjusted just so. I even compensate for my older eyes by tuning down the resolution on the giant screen so that the text and images are that much larger.

I have ideas. I have plans. I have goals. I can create. I can express. Synthesis? Doable, but there’s always a sort of premorse quality to it. Analysis? Fucking forget it. Forget concentration. Forget retention. Output happens, but input and processing? No dice.

The disappointments are thunderously depressing. Literally thunderous: the tenuous hold I have on barely managing to grasp whatever’s left of my previously unassailable optimism always slips away. Clouds form and lightning spikes of pain touch down in my head. Phonophobia ensues just in time for the thunderclap. Fun.

On the plus side, I don’t have trouble getting out of bed in the morning. The headaches have me jumping right out of bed in search of some kind of distraction. That’s almost always some low-key movie on HBO or Blu-ray with the sound turned down. Unless the tension headaches have triggered a migraine, in which case I pop an Imitrex and brace myself for the waves of nausea.

My only relief comes from going to my Korean doctor in Union City every week, getting acupuncture and cupping treatment. It’s a relief which lasts sometimes up until the next morning, but mostly it lasts only a few hours. You’d be surprised at how much “Wednesday” has installed itself as the high point of my week, and how much just a tiny bit of dependability in hope can sustain me.

Only what happens when even that doesn’t happen? The world goes pear-shaped. I was on the way home from Union City this past Wednesday, coming across the San Mateo Bridge instead of heading further North to take the Bay Bridge as I usually do, and swiftly on Lucifer’s wings came a jacked up headache. If it had been a migraine, there would have been an accident.

Pain is one thing; that I can deal with, am dealing with, have dealt with. There are even numbers: the pain scale that is in common use is an odd combination of subjectivity and quantification. But magically, it just works. I can flatly convey my own pain level to another human being. Or many human beings: I’ve seen more doctors in the past 6 months than I have seen probably all of my entire life previous to these headaches and neck issues.

My pain level is consistently 4 or higher (on a 1 - 10 scale), except after the Korean doctor, when I get a sub-4 break, which means 3.

I’m not me anymore. I can think of any number of people who might see that as nothing but an improvement, but hey, fuck them. I’d still rather be this post-me me than any of them. What makes them not like me at all…that part is still intact. The iron fist of brutal candor is usually covered in a velvet glove of optimism and good nature, but the gloves have been off for some time.

And I seem to be taking out my misery on bad metaphors by driving them into the ground.

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