Saturday, December 30, 2017

2018 - Second Attempt

Wow. So I tried to get this done once, but it came out as quite the venting session! So - not going to share that one! Let's try again...

Another New Year is a upon us, friends. This past year was filled with goals and ideas for me, but life took a decidedly different route. So, this year I'm going to stick with the Semper Gumby motto. We Marines have the saying "Semper Fidelis", Latin for "Always Faithful". In my unit, we said "Semper Gumby" - "Always Flexible" because we all knew that no plan survives contact with the enemy.

So - Semper Gumby, Baby. We'll take it day by day and roll with whatever comes.

Along those lines I have set a single goal for 2018.

As you may or may not know, over the years I've built and acquired a decent stable of radio controlled flying machines. I have also found that flying these little machines has a very therapeutic effect on me most of the time. My time spent keeping something aloft is a great, peaceful distraction from the troubles and worries of the day.

So - my goal this year is to fly something every day and record a bit of those flights. I've got the hangar for it, with things I can fly indoors and outdoors. I've got the tools to record the flights, too. and it is something that, I think, will bring me a little nugget of joy every day.

I'd like to compile the flight videos each week and post them here, and at the end of the year, create a video with a second or two of each days flight from the year. 

When I write this down it seems so simple and so overwhelming at once, so I make no guarantees that I'll accomplish this. But, I'm still going to give it a go.

So. There's my singular goal for this coming year. Fly something every day.

What are your plans for the coming year? 


On Friday August 18th, Karen went to the doctor to check out some pain she'd been having in her side for awhile. No big deal, didn't even see our normal doctor. At first, she thought that maybe it was a gall bladder problem. So the physician seeing her ordered an ultrasound of said organ to check things out.

I was at home, starting to cook some chicken and bell peppers for supper, when our primary doctor Liz Westby called our house and asked for Karen. Karen had stopped by the store on her wawy back from the doctor, and Liz asked her to call her on her cell phone as soon as possible, as it was Friday and close enough to five o'clock that Liz would be heading home soon.

I knew that Liz couldn't tell me what was going on thanks to patient privacy rules. But I also know enough about how the medical field works to know that for a doctor to give us her personal cell number and tell us to call ASAP is not going to be good news. I wondered if her gall bladder was in serious trouble. 

Instead of waiting for Karen to get home, I called her and gave her Liz's number. Then I waited. I kept cooking but my mind was racing through all of the terrible things it could be.

Finally Karen called back. She was near home and asked if I could meet her in the driveway. When I did, as we stood by the open driver door, she told me that the ultrasound had extended to her belly, and they had a strong suspicion that they had found ovarian cancer.

The words hit me like a brick, and honestly the first word that came into my head was "fuck". Then things just kinda went numb. 

Now, as a Mayo nurse - an oncology nurse - Karen knows more than the average citizen about cancer. As the husband of a Mayo cancer nurse, I know the stories of what she does. Sometimes she comes home from work and tells me about the patients she has taken care of. Not in a way that compromises their privacy mind you, but in generalities. For example she'll tell of a farmer with cancer and the wonderful family members supporting him. Or the lady who probably won't live much longer but is such a delight to care for and talk to.

She also has told of too many younger people with kids and lives and futures that have been upended by a cancer diagnosis.

"There but for the grace of God..." we'd say. 

As a medic, I saw my share of just how fragile life is. Same with Karen. We know better than most just how precarious getting through the day can be. Most people assume that their days will be predictable. Work, vacation, meals... those things we humans can wrap our heads around. But sudden events like a car accident or a cancer diagnosis can through everything out of whack.

It turns out that even when you are acutely aware of that possibility, when it actually happens to you, it will still knock you so far off of center that "normalcy" looks like even more of a mirage than it did.

Our primary, Liz, being the wonderfully amazing doc that she is spent Friday evening and Saturday morning helping us make arrangements for what would be coming in the next week. Some of Karen's nursing friends also went out of their way to make calls and help coordinate. Labs, tests, procedures, even a surgeon was contacted and given a heads upp about the cases. As such, by Friday night things were pretty much in place to get Karen in first thing Monday morning for a CT scan. That would give the doctors a clearer picture of what they were dealing with.  

We spent the weekend in a haze. I spent some time online learning what I could about ovarian cancer. But I had to stop. It turns out that there are many kinds of ovarian cancer, and prognosis and survival rates were dependent on the type and what stage it was at. Naturally none of it was simple. There are four types of stage 3 epithelial cancer for example. So until we knew what stage at least, everything I was learning was not particularly helpful. I mean, if it was a stage 1, then 5 year survival for some types was over 85%. But if it was a stage 4, then the odds were not in her favor. So I just stopped looking. 

But it was hard for both of us not to go to the worst case scenario. After all, everyone we had talked to said that surgery was pretty much inevitable. The biggest surgery Karen has ever done was to have her wisdom teeth out. So we spent the weekend talking over fears of not waking up, or even worse, a quick "open/close" surgery where they find that there's nothing they can do once they get in there. 

We told the kids that there was something wrong, and that there would be more tests and probably a surgery, but we didn't mention cancer speccifically. After all, in the past couple years they've seen both their Nana (Karen's mom) and Grampa (my dad) go through cancer. Grampa even stayed with us during his treatments, and they saw how rough it was on him first hand.

Monday finally came and we went in for the CT.

Here's where things get foggy for me personally, so I'll just write what I remember.

The CT confirmed that things were not right in her belly. It was most likely cancer, though they kept deferring absolutely calling it cancer until surgery. And there would definately be surgery on Friday. They told us that by the way the CT looked they would catagorize it as a stage 3 cancer, probably epithilial, but not sure which stage 3 exactly. Karen was relieved by this, as she had been preparing to hear that it was stage 4. I was less relieved by this, as stage 3 still sucks. But as is the way of my wife, we focused on the positives that were happening.

Wednesday we met with the surgeon, Dr Bakkum. She and her team were wonderful. We got to see the CT. From a medical standpoint, it was fascinating. There was the heart and lungs and aorta. Then came the ovaries, usually measuring in at 2 cm or so and invisible to CT, these measured 12-14 across and even I could see that they didn't look right. There were lymph nodes that had probably cancer on them, and the appendix may have a spot or two. Peritoneum, spleen and diaphragm would also need some work. The omentum had some thickening called an omentum cake, and we all agreed that it sounded like the worst possible dessert ever. But the liver looked pristine, and other vital organs also appeared to be as yet untouched by the disease. So Dr. Bakkum said she felt comfortable going ahead with surgery. She told us that she'd start with a small incision to get her hand in and feel around on the intestines. If she felt those were clean enough, she'd continue with the full procedure. But if she felt any oddities, she'd stop and have Karen do some chemo first before going after the tumors. This gave us some peace of mind about an open/close procedure, but we oddly found ourselves hoping for the longer, more involved surgery.

As I said, from a medical standpoint it was very interesting to see and learn about. But then it was also all happening to the woman that I love, and that made me sick to my stomach and made me want to absolutely freak out.

Thursday came and we met with the medical oncology team who gave us some options about what would happen after surgery. They told us more about the various kinds of chemo treatments Karen could go through, pros and cons and studies that show, and all sorts of information that Karen mostly already knew and I took in to try and process.

There was the possibility that during surgery a post would be put in her belly that allowed for interperitoneal - or IP - chemo. This would be the most aggressive type, but came with higher toxicity and more negative side effects. Otherwise she could go with IV chemo that wasn't quite as harsh but was pretty much as effective. We had talked over these options with the surgeon as well, and kind of settled on putting the port in. If she needed it, it would be better to have it in place and if she didn't it could be easily removed.

That brought us to Thursday night. Neither of us were hungry. Karen's mom had flown in earlier that week and would be staying with us. My dad and sister came up Thursday for support. Everything was coming together for Friday. The plan was for my sister to come with me to the hospital to make sure I ate and was ok. Karen's mom would keep track of the kids. Dad would be where he was needed. Sleep didn't come easy for me, and I spent a lot of the dark hours watching Karen try to sleep. I finally stopped checking the clock at 2 am.

At 5 am Friday morning, I woke up before my alarm and walked into the living room to find Karen all dressed and ready to go. After a quick shower I was also ready to go. Saying goodby to the kids took awhile though, as they were also a bit freaked out by everything. We had told them shortly after the CT results about the cancer diagnosis, and there were many teary nights of talking about everything that was happening. All we could do was tell them what the doctors had told us. It would be a six hour or so surgery and they would take out all of the cancer they could. Then Mom would do chemotherapy and kill off the rest of it. We tried to stay as positive as we could. Still there were tears, because no matter how you slice it, cancer is scary.

We were finally able to get in the car and go, and spent a quiet and teary drive to the hospital. Steph (my sister) followed behind us and had come fully stocked with snacks and a pillow and other things to make sure I had what I needed throughout the day.

We were met at the hospital by Julie and Pastor Anjanette. One a co-worker turned close friend, the other our pastor turned close friend. So Karen checked in at the front desk, and then she and her entourage headed for the surgical floor. 

I remember that there was conversation as we waited, but I can't recall the topics. I remember that Anj led us all in a prayer and Karen got called back just as the prayer finished. 

K and I went back to her pre-op room and she got into a pretty purple gown. After what seemed an eternity, they came to get her.

Just like that, She was off and I was waiting in a small room with Steph and Julie. Julie went to work at some point. Steph was at the ready with food and things. I was anxiously awaiting word on whether surgery would proceed or not. They came to get her at 7:30. In the waiting room, they had a monitor set up that relayed the status of the patient. Karen was identified only by the number 88900, and until 9:27 was listed as "in the OR". At 9:27 her status changed to "procedure started".

I sent out updates to everyone on my list. Yes, Karen had made me a list of contacts so I wouldn't forget who I was supposed to be contacting, because she knows me.

Once again, time had slowed to an unbearable pace. After what seemed like hours, we were told that Dr. Bakkum was comfortable moving on with the rest of the surgery. This was welcome news, if a little frightening, and I finally felt like I could go get something to eat. It was only 10:30. Steph and I walked over to Pannekoeken and I had a bacon pannekoeken.

Then, instead of going back to that miserable, windowless, time sucking waiting room, we decided to go donate blood. After all, Steph and I are both O- universal donors, and Karen would probably use a couple units from the blood bank, so it seemed fair to go make a deposit. Thanks to modern technology, I could be reached by the nurse communicator anywhere I went, and I didn't want to go back to that room.

We made our way to the blood donor center, which is in walking distance of where Karen was, and got started. I went through just fine, but Steph had low hemoglobin- a story you should ask her about. I forgot that when donating blood, one of the go to questions they ask you to pass a little time is "So, any big plans for today or the weekend?"

So the unfortunate people taking my blood got to hear all about quite possibly the shittiest week in my history and that as I sat giving blood, my wife was having her insides scraped out of a deadly disease. They weren't quite sure how to answer when I asked them the same question. 

By the time that was done, it was approaching the past lunch time. All of us non-surgical candidates had decided to meet at Pannekoeken for lunch, since it was across the street from the hospital, and Steph went to pick up Nana and the kids while I went back up to see how things were going.

Patient 88900 was still listed as "procedure started" but I did get a call from the nurse coordinator that everything was going well. Ovaries, tubes and uterus were out, and they were moving on to the omentum.

I walked back to Pannekoeken and got a table for our group. Dad, Nana, Steph and the kids all arrived soon after and we looked through the menu as I updated them on what I knew.

I ordered a bacon pannekoeken, because that looked good. I ate about half of it.

Afterwards, Dad headed for the waiting room while I drove Steph back to her car so she could take Nana and the kids home. When I finally got back to the waiting room, Dad had been joined by Julie, and the little miserable room was closing down for the day. 88900 was still listed as "procedure started", and we had been given the room number that Karen would be moved to after recovery. 5-422. So we headed up to the fifth floor, found room 422 and went in to sit down. It was a teeny tiny room, and within a few minutes, Julie had gone to see if Karen could be moved to a bigger room. Another call came in from the nurse communicator saying things were going well. 

Soon it was around 3 pm and we were moving to 5-401, a GIANT room that would do quite nicely. I was hoping to get a call soon that she was moving to the recovery room, but the next call that came didn't follow that script. They said it would be a couple more hours.

A couple hours later I got the word that things were taking a little longer than anticipated, and it would be another hour or so. 

A couple hours later, word came down that they were needing to do a bowel resection and it would be another hour to hour and a half.

A couple hours later and I heard they were putting her bowels back together and it wouldn't be long now.

Then a little after 9 pm, the nurse came in and told us that we'd be moving again, this time up to the ICU. Apparently when a patient is under anesthesia for more than twelve hours, they get a free pass to the Intensive Care Unit to make sure that recovery goes ok.

So we gathered our things and headed up to the ICU. Dad headed back to the hotel to try and sleep at my request. Steph had taken the kids over to the hotel for a slumber party and movie fest. Nana joined Julie, Anj and I in the ICU room as we waited for word.

Finally at 10:30 pm Dr. Bakkum called to tell me that the fellow was putting in the final stitches and she'd be up soon to talk to us.

13 hours. 13 hours of surgery. Each and every one of those hours seemed like five or six to me. When Dr. Bakkum came up, I hugged her. What endurance it must have taken to stand over someone for that long and pull out disease. We asked her how and when she ate or took breaks. It seemed like it would have been a herculean task, and yet she and the other surgeons looked fresh and perky and chipper and like they hadn't just spent more than half a rotation of the planet operating on my wife.

She went into the details of why it had taken longer than expected. There had been some cancerous lymph nodes against parts of the aorta that were rather delicate to remove. There had been more diseased tissue than anticipated. There had been some penetration of the diaphragm by the cancer that technically classified it as a stage 4 cancer.

Wait. What? My mind raced a bit. The stats for stage 4 suck. Stage 4 is fatal in four out of five people. This can't be stage 4. This is not in the script!

BUT - Dr. Bakkum continued - it is still pretty much a stage 3C. And she was very confident that she and her team got the vast majority of cancerous tissue out of Karen's body. She said that everything that remained was microscopic and could probably fit into an eighth of a teaspoon if gathered together. Chemo has every chance of killing the rest of it off, and we needed to focus on that positive.

The spleen was gone. Appendix was basically just a big tumor, so it was gone. Giant ovaries, uterus, fallopian tubes, a couple chunks of the bowels, lots of lymph nodes. The list seemed to go on and on. But the overall message from Dr. Bakkum was that everything had gone better than normal, and she was very pleased with the surgery. Karen would be coming up to the ICU soon, still intubated and with a couple of drains in her abdomen to take off fluid that would build up, which is normal.

When Karen finally arrived at her room, all assembled were able to say goodnights and head for other beds. I wanted to stay, and Ann the nurse let me pull a chair up next to Karen and sit with her. I didn't realize just how exhausted I was, but every time I closed my eyes thinking I would fall right to sleep, a bell would softly ding, or the infernal ventilator hooked to her breathing tube would ping, and I just couldn't keep my eyes closed.

I had expected her to stay asleep through the night. But around 1 am, she gave a slight nod to some of the questions that Ann would ask. At one point she even gave my hand a little squeeze and rubbed my thumb with her finger, which made me burst with joy.

But the real surprise came just after 3 am. I was holding her hand when she slowly removed hers from my grasp and started making funny signs with it. Was she stretching her fingers? In my tired state I didn't initially understand. Then it finally hit me like an electric shock. She was using sign language!

H - O - T

Hot? Are you hot? I asked her.

She signed yes.

I uncovered her a bit. 

H - U - R - T


S - P - L - E - E - N

I went to get the nurse. Ann was in another room, so I grabbed the nearest one and brought them in to see my amazing wife. I told him that she had told me that she was hot and was having left sided pain. He looked at me a little skeptically, as he knew that she had a tube in her throat and could not have told me anything verbally.

When we went into the room, I showed him how she 'told' me, and they started having a conversation with me translating.

Unfortunately, Karen was signing faster than my tired brain could keep up with, but I did my best as they talked about urine output, lab values, surgery details, and pain management. 

We told her everything except the change in stage status, as she needed to focus on waking up enough to get the tube out of her throat. 


It's the end of December now.I'm a little sad that I didn't continue this story, as so many things have happened since August that I can't remember them all. 

Chemo is ongoing and has had more twists and turns than I can count. Karen has been amazing through it all, but her health has taken a major hit and all of this has been brutal on her. We've still got a long road to travel and I've fallen behind on everything. So blogging is low on my list. But I'll try to figure out some way to get my head above water enough to get back to some sort of balance.

More Later

Friday, January 27, 2017

How to Lose Allies and the War

I fell asleep hard the other day. Total exhaustion type of sleep. My body and my brain needed the break. I woke up tired, but not near dead tired like I had been. Then I checked Facebook to see what new Orwellian measures were enacted during my brief slumber.

I think it's safe to say that this new administration is completely different than any in the history of the country. That being said, I've also noticed an extreme uptick in the numbers and demographics of citizens putting their collective feet down and saying "enough is enough". This has been particularly encouraging for the likes of me, as I've felt like the collective slumber of the American people has been going on for so long, I didn't think anything other than a Pearl Harbor or 9/11 could shake us out of our day to day stupor.

Turns out that the threat of the demise of the US Government and life as we've known it was also enough to get people to wake up and start taking action. Actions like Standing Rock and BLM marches have brought together POC and their allies like never before. Suddenly, with the election of a wanna be dictator, white people in greater numbers are waking up and wanting to take action, too. This should be a great thing! A cause for celebration and joy! For too long, marginalized people have struggled to get their message through to the "dominant society" (comprised overwhelmingly of white people) and get them to stand up with them. Here, finally, is a time when those huge numbers of white people are waking up and saying, "Hey... this isn't right. This isn't fair. What kind of messed up version of America are we living in here?" 

I'm one of those white people, and until about five years ago, I believed everything was pretty ok. 

See, from an average white guy's perspective, everybody has a shot in the US to become something greater. Oh, we white people know that people of color, non-Christians and non-straight people have it tougher than us. We see the news. We read the magazine articles. Heck, most of us grew up in schools that had extracurricular groups for those things, assemblies for Black History Month, etc. etc. Some people even copied the old school hippies, wore the tye dye, wrote "Make Love, Not War" on their notebooks, that sort of thing. But as we all grew up, we merged into "Mainstream Society" where we got married, had kids, bought houses, had jobs to pay for all of that. Yada, yada, yada. For us white folks, we blended in to the "American Dream" as usual, griping about our taxes being too high, joining the PTA, and expecting Government on every level to continue as it always has. 

Everybody else was homogenized into this society as best as the Society could make them. Some conformed more than others because the reality is, if you're not white, Christian, straight, and male, Society isn't always too fair to you.

So - back to the present. The day after the small crowds watched a narcissistic man-baby become President of the United States, a much, MUCH larger crowd showed up in Washington DC. The "Women's March on Washington" ended up spreading across the country and across the globe as people from all walks of life gathered to express their displeasure with things. It seemed like the main message was "Enough is Enough". There were BLM people there. Mni Wiconi people there. Women's rights groups of course, LGBTQ groups, just about every group that has problems with government overreach had somebody marching there. Even the Anarchists showed up to burn some cars and create their form of chaos. But mostly it was peaceful gatherings and marches for Women's Rights. On the whole, it was a glorious sight to see.

Then came the inevitable instruction manuals from the non-white, non-Christian, non straight folks. For the sake of this article and my fingers while typing, let's call this group the Onions. Now, the Onions don't encompass ALL non-white, non-straight, non-Christian, non male types, because I've met plenty of non-'whatever I am' people who don't care what my color, religion, sexual preference or politics are, they're just glad to have another body in the fight. So this message is going out to all of those who feel the need to berate all of us non-Onions for our mistakes.

"Where were you when Flint needed help?" "I'll see all you white women at the next BLM march, right?" "Why are you showing up now?"

I've read articles and comments about how disgusted and offended these "long term protesters" are at all of these new "wanna be" protesters. How they were slighted in one way or another by the "ignorant white people that don't know what they're doing".  

Here's the thing, Onions. Everybody starts from the beginning. Every last one of us. You started at a beginning at some point in your life as well. You didn't spring from the womb knowing all there is about cis-gender differences, or cultural appropriation, or racial inequality. You may have learned these things from a very young age. You may have experienced them over the course of a lifetime. But the majority of us - the "Dominant Society" - didn't share those experiences. We didn't learn the same things you learned at the same time. One thing you are correct about is that most of us are coming LATE to this party. But what you seem to be overlooking is the fact that we are at the party now.

Your struggle is real. We are seeing that. We are pissed about that. We want to help rectify that. To continue the party analogy, there are very few of us who come in expecting it to be all about us. Sure, we probably make a scene when we arrive, but perhaps you are taking our entrance out of context. We're not asking questions and telling our stories because we don't care about yours. We're asking questions and telling our stories because we want to connect with you.

Yes, you've heard the same story a thousand times. "My great-great-grandma was a Cherokee Princess" or "One of my best friends is black". Yes, that gets pretty damn tiresome hearing it over and over.

I'd imagine it's like being an IT person. People call with a computer problem and you tell every one of them the same thing. "Did you try unplugging it and pluggin it back in again?" The caller really believes that their problem with that computer is mind-boggling because they've never experienced it before. The IT guy knows it's common and knows all the basics on how to fix it. 

Or a car mechanic talking to yet another car owner that hasn't got a clue how cars really work. The driver just doesn't have the basic knowledge of cars that would let them talk to the mechanic on his level.

See, Onions. When someone comes to you with questions about your experiences, with a desire to learn more so they can help more, the very last thing they need from you is mocking or lessons in "What Every White Ally Needs To Know", if what we "need to know" is that we can't understand your experience. We KNOW that we can't understand your experience, THAT'S WHY WE'RE ASKING!

So when you tell me that since I am white, my experiences don't matter, I am disinclined to put much stock in your experiences as well.

When you tell me that my White Privilege is keeping me blind to the problems, then tell me that you shouldn't have to teach me about those problems, then I have less incentive to seek out those problems and learn about them.

When you tell me that my money is fine for your group, but my opinions and ideas aren't because I'm white, or straight, or whatever, then I really have no desire to help out financially.

Also, when you tell me that you shouldn't have to stroke my ego every time I do something you approve of, you are absolutely correct! I don't need my ego stroked. But a simple "Thank You" goes a LONG way towards encouraging me to keep helping.

In short, anyone asking for help with anything should be ready to give those things in return. When I ask someone to listen to my stories, I ask them to tell me their stories in return. If you are asking for my respect, I'll be expecting respect in return. If you ask me to follow, you must also be prepared for me to lead when it is appropriate. I am more than willing to listen, observe, and learn. But there may come a time when I know more about a topic than you do. When I offer advice, don't tell me to shut up unless you are willing to hear that from me when you offer advice. If you don't want to take that advice, it is better to say "Thank you for your input, but I think we'll be going a different way." If you tell me that, I'll shrug my shoulders and most likely keep helping. If you tell me to sit down and shut up because I'm white and new to your struggle, I'll do that too. But I won't be interested in helping with your struggle anymore.

We have seen a great awakening in the "Dominant Society" in regards to the struggles of others. There are a LOT of newbies out there that have never marched before, never protested before, never called their government officials to complain, never stirred the pot. To awaken that feeling in people is awe inspiring. To benefit from it, however, is a different challenge. We are just now learning how to do the things you've been doing for generations. We are just now ready to stand up for the things we've collectively been blind to or have turned a blind eye to out of convenience. History has shown us that large numbers of people can change the course of the world. 

Onions... You've spent enough time telling us what NOT to do. What you DON'T like about the newbies. There will always be potential allies asking to touch your hair, or telling you that they're part Apache, or that they have gay friends. I fully acknowledge the frustration you feel about this. But we need the numbers. We need the crazy cat ladies that experienced their first sweat and now want to be called 'Moon Blossom'. Because if Moon Blossom is motivated, she WILL make the calls to her representatives to push for equal rights. You don't need to be her best friend. You don't need to be her spiritual advisor. Hell, you don't even need to like her much. But you do need to treat her with the respect that you expect from her. Remember that she's new to this. Remember that us newbies will ask dumb questions that you've answered a thousand times. Use that time for education and gentle correction. You are the experts at this! If you want help fixing a car, teach me how to help you, don't yell at me for doing the wrong things. I know I'm not going to be good at this when I'm getting started. 

Our words are like a hammer. We can build with them or we can tear down with them. If we are serious about building a large coalition of like minded people to fight against oppression and injustice, wouldn't it make more sense to build bridges and alliances, rather than alienate potential help and tear people down because of their inexperience?

We have a huge influx of baby activists available to us. If we crap all over them, they won't grow into the army of activists that we need. If we get past our frustration that they are not as adept at this as we are and teach them, guide them, HELP them, then we build a stronger force for the good of everyone.

Now, I know there will be those of you that will dismiss me with words like "Here's ANOTHER white guy telling us what to do." You know what? I'm not telling you what to do. I don't have any command over you. What I am doing is making a suggestion about how to make things better. Our new government wants us divided. Smaller groups are easier to control than larger movements. They won't fear any of us individually. But they do fear us collectively. But just as I have not lived your experience, you have not lived mine. Let's chill with the measuring match and get to know about each other. Let's find that common ground, figure out what we can do to stand together. 

Please stop telling us what NOT to do. Tell us what we CAN do. If you lose allies, you'll lose the war, and this is not a war we can afford to lose.

Or, to follow my own advice - 

Thank you for your input on us newbie activists. We'll certainly take your advice under consideration. Now what can we do to help?

Monday, January 2, 2017


"The journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step." -Lao Tzu

     There's an old Japanese tradition that says if you fold one thousand paper cranes, you'll be granted a wish. I did this once before, in 1991, just before I left for USMC boot camp. My wish wasn't that I survive the training, or for safety in the war that was currently being fought. I just wished that I could find someone that loved me for who I am, and that she and I would be able to build a life together. Hopefully before I was killed in a war.

My first 1000 Cranes

     Well, the First Gulf War ended while I was finishing six months of Basic, Infantry and Artillery schools, so I got a reprieve on time. I found my other half five years later, and we have traveled the ups and downs of life together ever since. I got my wish, but not in the timeline I had planned in my head.

     I tell you that to tell you this...

     2016 was a wild year. I know that time is a construct of humans, and as such trying to assign the blame for the stuff that happened on this last trip around the sun on a specific year is a fools errand. But since that is how we humans measure things, I'm going to go ahead and stick with what we know. 2016 wasn't too great.

     We saw the deaths of a great many famous and beloved people. Artists and musicians, friends and family. We saw the world become a less safe place, with more hatred and war and discontent in the mix. Disturbingly, we also saw the rise of Donald Trump. That's a subject for an entirely separate post.

     Suffice to say, the America that I once knew as a relative haven against the crazy dictators and outright hatred inherent in the divisions of the outside world is fading fast. The racial, ethnic and political and religious tensions are bubbling to the surface at a shockingly fast pace. People who have felt scared to air their prejudices due to more calls for acceptance of those different from them by the majority of our countrymen have suddenly been given a platform by the rise of Trump to "tell it like it is" and "not be politically correct" and to come forward with their particular brand of hate. 

     I also had the privilege of experiencing the protests at Standing Rock first hand. After three visits there, many experiences, and talking with a great many people, I gained a new awareness of not just the power of the human spirit, but also of the disturbing effects of our country's addiction to fossil fuels and the possible future issues my children and grandchildren will face if nothing is done.

     Approaching the beginning of 2017, I found myself knocked far, far off of any semblance of center, and I found my anxiety ramped up far beyond anywhere it has previously been. I've struggled with PTSD, depression, and anxiety before. But the last few months of 2016 really knocked me for a loop. I decided that I needed a way to find some balance again. A way of tuning out the march of the Trumpkins, of ignoring the divisions rising at Standing Rock amongst the veterans and the natives alike, of becoming blissfully unaware of the growing threat of fossil fuel dependence. But the only true way to do that is lobotomy or death, and since neither of those are particularly appealing to me, I decided to try the 1000 crane maneuver once more.

     I was hoping to find a focus for my mind while keeping my hands busy with things other than Facebook updates or news about politics or DAPL or the growing unrest across the earth. I wanted to contemplate the meaning of the word 'Peace' in every way I could imagine. On an outing to a Michael's store, I happened across origami supplies and picked up enough squares of paper to achieve my goal. This differed greatly from my 1990-1991 attempt in that back then, I made most of my cranes from paper from random places, often torn into squares from larger pieces.

crane number one

     I folded Crane #1 on the evening of December 15, 2016. As I folded that first crane, I found myself more focused on remembering how to fold a crane than on Peace. Between the hyper children playing with our two new and very excitable puppies, and trying to re-learn the folds, I initially thought that perhaps my search for peace was more than likely destined to fail.

995 to go!

     Fortunately, within about five cranes it was not only bedtime for the youngers, but my fingers were finally remembering what to do when to make acceptable cranes. I folded a few more and called it a night. Over the course of the next 15 days, my hands became more nimble in their actions, and I was able to focus more on my thoughts as I folded, considering definitions, possibilities, implications. What could I do to find inner peace? What could I do to help others find peace? How could peace between factions be achieved? What IS peace?

How do you find Inner Peace? Maybe brownies?

     I'll tell you this. Inner Peace is both easy and impossible.

     When I look at the issues facing us in 2017, it is easy to lose that IP. I am a common man with influence over nothing except my immediate family, and even that is sketchy from time to time. So how can I implement change that could help get the world off of our addiction to fossil fuels? How can a guy like me ensure that my kids and their kids will be able to breathe clean air or drink clean water? What could I possibly do to stand against an incoming administration that seems hell bent on dismantling almost every department that protects people, education, the environment, foreign relations, domestic programs, etc.? How can I find peace if I want to stand against people that cherry pick the Constitution, the bible, and historical leaders to support their ideologies and disrespect the very things they quote from? The feeling of helplessness can be overwhelming. That's the impossible seeming part.

    But then I talk to people that say things aren't as bad as I think they are. After all, the Cubbies won the series, the tiger population is making a comeback. Even here in the US, the economy is recovering, the markets are up, unemployment is down. Things are getting better. If I just focus on these things and ignore the bad things, then finding some IP is pretty easy. It's called "Living in the Now". Learning to appreciate this moment and not to worry about the past or the future. I have found this VERY easy to do, as I sit in my warm house, sheltered against the negative temperatures and swirling snow just outside my windows, watching my healthy children play with the dogs after filling their bellies with food, and before they get tucked in to their soft, warm beds for a secure night of sleep. I am really, truly blessed in my life. What do I possibly have to complain about? IP in this mindset is simple.

     But during the process of folding these thousand cranes, I could not seem to find a balance between the two. I can go about my personal life and be content with all that I have, or I can consider the future for my children and freak out at all of the warning signs I see pointing to Very Bad Things coming. In one, I am calm and peaceful, in the other...chaos.

     OK, so maybe I needed to focus on World Peace. There are many, many peaceful places in the world. So many good people. The holidays often bring out the best in people. There are people all over the world working hard to make the future a better place. Maybe things aren't that bad globally. Maybe there is a chance for humanity! When I stepped away from folding, there were the white Trumpkins having tantrums in stores about not getting their coffee fast enough, or being asked to buy a reusable bag for a dollar, or chewing out people with brown skin for making them wait and telling them to "go back where you came from".

     Maybe there wasn't hope for humanity after all. I folded more cranes and practiced my breathing.

As my crane count went into the hundreds, I pondered the meaning of peace. Defined, it is "freedom from disturbance; quiet and tranquility." and "freedom from or the cessation of war or violence." How can a single person achieve these things?

     Our country has happily engaged in non-peace my entire life. I was born during Vietnam. Raised during the "Cold War" and the nebulous and ongoing "War on Drugs" and "War on Crime". I came of age during the First Gulf War, the Bosnian War, ongoing wars in the Middle East and south of our own border in South and Central Americas. I started a family during the Second Gulf War.

     Moving forward from this point in time, our incoming administration has promised to fight ISIS much more aggressively than our current administration. The only way for that to happen is to increase our troop deployments, our aerial bombing campaigns... our war and violence. They have incomprehensibly promised to keep the war out of America by bringing the war TO America, in the guise of barring Muslims from the country and restricting the actions of Muslim Americans here at home. Again, not much hope for peace there. They've promised to roll back environmental protections and regulations designed to protect clean air and clean water, arguing that it will all somehow magically work out in the end because, Capitalism. This will certainly NOT lead to freedom from disturbance, or do anything to help quiet and tranquility in the masses.

So how do we get peace? Many people smarter than I have weighed in on the subject. Martin Luther King jr., Albert Einstein, and even Ronald Reagan all said something similar,

"True peace is not the absence of tension: it is the presence of justice." - MLKjr.

"Peace is not merely the absence of war, but the presence of justice, of law, of order - in short, of government." - Einstein

"Peace is not the absence of conflict. It is the ability to handle conflict by peaceful means." - Reagan

"Real peace is not the absence of conflict, it is the presence of justice." - Harrison Ford as President Marlowe in the movie 'Air Force One'. 

Peace is not the absence of conflict, but the presence of justice. - my motto for 2017.

     Along my adventure in folding, I had discovered one late night that I was able to fold a crane from start to finish with my eyes closed. That first one was done while I was also mostly dozing, but when I finished and took a look at it, I was happily surprised by the outcome!

Eyes closed crane #1

     It was a crane, just like the hundreds folded before it. So as the days went by, I would close my eyes and fold and think about my new motto.
Ohhhh, half way there...ohh, oh... Living on a prayer

     Justice for all. The last line of our Pledge of Allegiance. Yet another 'American Institution' that has been bastardized over the years to fit the fears of the times. There was no "under God" until the McCarthy era 'Red Scare' in the 50's, when if you weren't a 'God fearing Christian' then you must be a 'Godless Commie Bastard'. We pledge allegiance to a flag, to the Republic for which it stands, to the unity of that nation. Promising "liberty and justice for all."

     For all. For every American Citizen. Regardless of their political leaning. Regardless of their religion. Regardless of their race, creed, gender, sexual orientation... Regardless of whether they like this country or not. We pledge liberty and justice FOR ALL. Yet we fall far short of achieving that pledge. We fall far short in our practice of the founding documents. We bicker over what amendments mean. What we think the founders meant when they wrote them. We choose which parts of which amendments we like, and which we don't, and we amend the amendments with laws and statutes. We let our "leaders" continue to twist and distort the founding documents to suit their needs and their friends needs, but seldom the needs of the actual constituency.

This 'peace' thing is complicated... keep folding...

     Worst of all, we are so easily led astray from the real issues by flashy words and ideas from the extremists on all sides, so we remain divided into factions that will never submit to compromise.

     So how do I find peace in this world? I can't have IP and be attuned to what is happening in the world. I can't have WP because I'm just one person in a sea of billions. I can have mental peace if I just ignore everything bad and focus on the good, but that's certainly not going to lead to long term peace.

     I folded most of the last three hundred cranes with my eyes closed, or my eyebrows furrowed, or both. Concentrating as hard as I could on peace.

     But I kept coming back to the truths behind my personal motto for 2017... I wouldn't find peace by ignoring conflict. I would find peace by working for justice for all.

     The last day of the year, I was joined by my dad and my kids to go and see the movie 'Rogue One'. I was fully prepared to let go of my thoughts on peace for awhile, and lose myself in a good Star Wars movie for a couple of hours.


OK, So the movie was really, very good... as expected. I can totally see why Trumpkins would think the entire movie was to disparage the incoming administration. After all, a plucky band of misfits goes through wacky shenanigans as a megalomaniacal leader solidifies his power over his new Empire by weakening the current government, installing his own puppets to control the masses, and decides that fear and hatred are the way to keep the control over the people. The rebels are fighting against a corrupt Empire to try for a better future. The Imperial leaders are all out for themselves. The message of rising up to fight against the Empire is strong throughout the movie. So yeah, Trumpkins can totally make the connection between their leader and Krennic, the wanna be head bad guy with delusions of grandeur that doesn't admit to his flaws and therefore is eventually destroyed by them. 

   Anyway, by the end of the movie, all of the good guys and most of the bad guys are dead. Killed off in the efforts to get the plans for the Death Star to the rebels. It's a little dark, actually. I mean, I knew that since none of the characters in this movie were in the original Episode IV, they'd have to be doing something else. But I didn't think the writers would just kill everybody.

     This movie didn't help my quest for peace much at first. But when I went home and started folding the final cranes before the new year began, I realized that seeing the movie had answered many of the conflicting emotions within me. From Chirrut Imwe chanting "I am one with the Force and the Force is with me", to the determination of Jyn to do what is right for the many, even though it doesn't end well for the few. I found my peace.

Welcome back to those who didn't want spoilers.

     I found my peace when I was folding the last few dozen cranes on New Year's Eve. "I am one with the Force and the Force is with me" could just as easily been moved into my head and heart by replacing the Force with God, the Creator, Wakan Tanka to the Lakota, the Great Mystery, or heck... leaving it as "the Force", because what do any of us really know about God?

Paper for the 1000th crane, from the remainder of paper used for our wedding programs.

     After folding Crane #999, my wife gave me a piece of paper from her paper collection (she really likes paper) that had been left over from making our wedding programs. I colored in in many amorphous shapes of many colors, to represent not just the conflicting thoughts and feelings within me, but also the different factions at the camps in Standing Rock, and the opposing sides of the whole DAPL issue, and the conflicting views of my friends and family, and the conflicting nations and ideologies battling each other all across the globe. Look at that sheet up there. Many colors, many ways of looking at the world. But still all contained on the one square of paper.

     As I folded the last crane, I thought about how wonderful it would be if all of those colors worked together as the crane emerged. Something beautiful coming from unity and harmony.

From Peace.

   It occurred to me that my peace would not be a one sided piece of paper. It would have to come from a mass of conflicting ideas, a plan of folding and creasing and unfolding and twisting and turning. I will need to work for my peace, and it will not come without a price. But if it works, I can make something beautiful out of that Peace.

     I spread out all one thousand cranes and my daughter helped me sort them into colors and create a color wheel of cranes.

     In the sorting, we had to pluck out some random things that had found their way into the box in which I was storing the finished cranes. Pens, markers, scraps of paper, unfolded origami paper, dog hair, a kitchen knife (because why not?) I know that the metaphor is easy - that some things would need to be expunged to make the wheel work, much like some elements in our society will need to be removed to keep the country working - much easier than the reality of things. But I liked the way it all came together in the end. One thousand individual cranes unifying to create a color wheel. The sum larger than the parts. It also helped me with peace.

     My peace is in the common good. Both in my own happiness and success and the happiness and successes of others. Peace will ebb and flow like the tides, coming in when I know my Muslim friends feel safe within their homes and communities. When I see people coming together to help others, even at a cost to themselves. When I hear real leaders stand up and fight for a future for my offspring. It goes when I hear about the growing number of inept people being put in the incoming administration. When I see the threats to the foundations of this country and to the ability of the planet to continue supporting human life. So I will take my peace like the tides. I will revel in it while the tide is in, and I will fight for it when the tide is out.

     Peace is not a destination, but a continuing journey to seek while we still have breath. As we continue on the path of finding that justice for everyone, my peace will lie in the fight as well as the tranquility. My meditations on peace led me to my wish upon completion of the cranes.

     I wish for everyone to have the courage to face reality and the struggles that we share with the peace that can only come with justice for all. For humanity to set aside the petty differences and come together to create something truly beautiful.

     I wish for peace of mind, body and spirit in the challenges that are to come.

     I discovered that I am at peace with the knowledge that humanity will get the outcome it deserves, one way or the other. But my wish is for a continued future of peace for my children's children and beyond.

The journey of a thousand cranes begins with a single fold. The journey to a sustainable future begins with a single person. Standing Rock taught me that regular people coming together can have an influence on how things are done. It taught me that we cannot let the divisions in ourselves negate that fight against the common enemy. And although I am back home now, I can still Stand with Standing Rock by becoming a Standing Rock in my own community. Change starts locally.

     Our mayor made a proclamation a couple years ago to transition our energy usage from coal to sustainable methods by the year 2031. It can be done, but we are going to need to wake up as a community and do a few things differently than we have in the past. So I'll chase peace here by keeping our local government on task. When we succeed, we can be a model for other communities. Change is hard, but we can do it together.

     Together we will create the changes that will ensure a future for the coming generations.

     Together we will stand against tyranny and injustice.

     Together we will accomplish what divided we can not. There is always room for compromise, but it must be mutual. There is always room for discussion, but all voices must be heard.

     I wish to find peace within and without soon. A thousand cranes have been folded for this wish. Now it is time to begin the work of making that wish come true. Will you join me? Will you accept the challenge of standing with the cranes for this wish? Are you ready to be a Standing Rock in your own community? Because we cannot sit back and hope for a good future without being willing to take a stand for it, and it starts with the individual. It starts with you. 

     Obtaining peace may require periods of decided unrest.
Unfortunately, sides are being chosen, with factions struggling for control of those sides. But the time has come for good people with strong hearts to set aside the little things and stand up for the good in all things. To stand up for justice against those who would remove it for their own benefit. To stand up for what this country was meant to be, a nation of freedom and of laws that every citizen is accountable to, not just the poorest and weakest amongst us. A nation of liberty and justice for all. A nation that is a shining beacon to other nations of how to achieve PEACE. There will be a price. But I'd rather meet the Great Mystery knowing I did everything I could for true peace, instead of trying to explain how I was waiting to see what would happen, and hoping things would work out for the best without my input. I will fight for the common good, and in that struggle, I shall find my peace.

Peace is not the absence of conflict, but the presence of justice.