The Reluctant Pupil


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No matter how early he woke up, or how hard her worked during the day, he found it increasingly hard to sleep at night. He never stayed asleep for more than a couple of hours. He wasn’t waking because he was hungry, although once out of bed he would eat to see if it made him sleepy. It didn’t.

As time went on, the insomnia only got worse. He would get out of bed and read, then try to fall asleep on sofas or in reclining chairs. Sometimes that worked for a while. But mostly nothing worked for very long.

It seemed absurd that in these, his twilight years, he was forced to pay attention to a show that long ago began to bore him with its shallow repetition and predictablity. Wasn’t this the time to zone out, to nap anytime the urge came? Why force the reluctant pupil to stay awake for a lecture he won’t remember anyway?

He tried a sleeping pill, an old antidepressant that had been faulted for making those who took it drowsy. It made him sleepy, but it also made him forgetful. Over the next two days he missed two appointments. It left him in a daze. So yes, he could now sleep, but there was no longer anybody home. The ship’s captain had gone AWOL.

Wrong or Not Right?


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Something’s not right. That’s almost as dire as saying “something’s wrong.” I’m seeing double. I’m worried all the time and my thoughts are negative. If I knew what to do to fix it, I would, but I don’t.

I can only sleep for a couple of hours at a time. Awake, I go to the computer and browse social media, having illusory contact with others, posting images and captions I don’t really care about and forget the moment I press “enter.” Others in different time zones skim them and forget them just as quickly. The whole forced and artificial process almost sickens me, yet I return to it every time I wake up because I don’t know what else to do with myself.

Minor problems worry me, and I dwell of them for hours. Now that I’m retired and living within my means I don’t really have any big issues, but being 69 and living on the other side of the world from where I spent most of my life is proving to be a conundrum of its own. Is this a symptom of senility?

It could be that I’m just unwilling to relax and enjoy the present moment. I’m addicted to anxiety, to problem creation and the attempts to solve them. They might not be real but they’re all I can focus on.

 

 

Where are the Dead?


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We recently enjoyed Halloween. Even here in Thailand, the days get noticeably shorter this time of year, and the temperature drops at night. That’s a good thing. Thus begins our high tourist season and the hotels, restaurants and massage shops finally become profitable again. For this they endured eight months of suspended animation.

I find myself remembering those who have crossed the veil before me. The older I get, the more of them there are for me to recall. They had distinct personalities and with little effort I can imagine having a conversation with any one of a number of them. So where are they now?

I find it more difficult to imagine that they no longer exist than to visualize them somewhere else, in another dimension, one at which I will arrive any day now. I can easily admit that the body dies, but not the spirit. It can’t simply vanish, can it?

For some reason, over the last two weeks more than six of my friends have suffered heart attacks and strokes. Vascular surgery and stents have given them a newly extended warranty, but that temporary fix will eventually lapse. Since death is certain and forestalling it a doomed enterprise, why not just surrender as soon as the grim reaper knocks?

It would be easier if all this weren’t so hypothetical.

The Futility of Addiction


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Released from the obligation to work, many retired people find themselves to be unsuspected addicts. With plenty of time on their hands, they are free to finally ruin their lives through addiction. Alcohol, drugs, shopping, gambling, sex…almost any activity can be ruinous if taken to an extreme.

Addicts usually spend a great amount of time rationalizing their addiction before daring to confront it. It’s not that bad yet…You’d do this too if…I only do this because she doesn’t…I’m just letting off steam…besides, what else is there to do in this stupid place?

Addicts often wishfully conclude that if only they take their addictive behavior to an extreme, they’ll somehow “break through to the other side” and prove to themselves that this way lies folly. They’ll tire of the game. They’ll have finally had enough. By “maxxing out,” they’ll find freedom from the compulsion.

You can never get enough of what you don’t need.

An addict is like a man digging a hole so deep he can’t climb out of it, but he’s convinced himself that if he digs faster or harder or more efficiently, he’ll finally find a way up and out. He can’t face the fact that he won’t be able to take any action to climb out of the hole until he first stops digging.

To use another metaphor: if you’re walking down the wrong path, walking faster won’t get you where you want to go. Imagining your goal around the next corner won’t help. You’ll simply have to realize that you’ve taken the wrong path, stop, turn around and painful as it may be, retrace your steps until you get back to the place where you made a wrong turn. You’ll have to chalk up all the time and energy you spent going the wrong way as loss. There is no other way around it.

Ah, yes!


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There’s nothing wrong with me that a brain operation couldn’t cure. Well, that and a methamphetamine injection. Actually, I always preferred Dexedrine, but it’s hard to get a hold of nowadays, so I’ll take whatever pharmaceutical stimulant I can get, but I don’t want home-made drugs. A man of my stature and status deserves only the best.

True, there was a time when I would ingest anything offered without questioning its provenance. Pieces of blotter paper with cartoon characters crudely inked, pills in various colors that somebody thought might be something-or-other but nobody was really sure. Down the hatch it went.

Sure, I had some rough times back then. It’s a wonder I survived, much less am not today warehoused in a decrepit mental health facility out on the prairie. I saw the best minds of my generation end up talking to little men who weren’t there. Many a callow youth became transformed into a hollow-eyed skinny person with peculiar muscular tics.

I admit that I have aged, but in most cases I am yet recognizable as the somewhat attractive person I was forty years ago. Less hair, more wrinkles. My once resonant speaking voice is now on the raspy side. I can often be found standing in a doorway looking lost and confused, having forgotten my purpose in moving about. I have learned to cope by feigning the professor’s “ah yes!” moment, and then moving decisively as if I had suddenly recalled my original intention, when in fact, nothing even resembling that has occurred.

WINNERS KEEP ON WINNING


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Losers rarely climb out of the hole they find themselves in. Often this is because they haven’t finished digging. The longer we stay stuck, the harder it is to see what’s holding us back. The more we keep winning, the harder it is to understand why we’re enjoying such good luck.

In most cases, there are forces at work which we undervalue. Looks, race, hair color, eye color, straight teeth, pleasant speaking voice, good personality, all matter more than high intelligence or moral character. Look at our politicians for examples.

Definite turn-offs. A hint of desperation. The glimmer of mental illness around the eyes. Bad nerves, jitters, bouncing leg under the table. Forced enthusiasm.

Going to a prestige school matters more than what you learned there. Who you know matters more than anything. You meet people at a prestige school who will go on to be very successful. You can reconnect with them after graduation and let them know you’re “available.” But by all means, don’t act desperate.

When I was a child my father was out of work for a long time, and during that period I happened to watch a televised version of the drama “Death of a Salesman.” The excellent Lee J. Cobb played Willie Loman. It was, as was intended, heartbreaking, but held special resonance for me. The scene where goes to one of his son’s friends and begs for a job almost made me swoon with nausea.

Better to not risk too much too late in life. What seems adventurous and fun-loving in a twenty-year old seems reckless and foolish for a forty-year old. For a sixty-year old, the scope of acceptable behavior narrows dramatically. By seventy, people begin to suspect dementia.

Is The Fat Lady Singing?


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There are days when everything is simply too much. You don’t feel well enough to tackle a new project and the outstanding tasks seem onerous. It would be nice simply to take a day-long nap, but you know that won’t pan out either, because if you sleep all day you’ll toss and turn all night.

Today is one of those days. My headache is mild enough for me to forget to take an aspirin when I pass my the medicine cabinet, and the act of retracing my steps feels prohibitive. I have no appetite. I sip water.

Could this be it? Am I dying? Dengue? Brain tumor? There are no cures for these so there’s no point in bothering to get a proper diagnosis.

I could read but then I’d have to sit upright and pay attention.

After two days of this I go to a hospital clinic. A blood test confirms I don’t have dengue. They give me a shot to relieve my muscle pain.  The whole thing costs twice as much as I thought it would. It’s still about what a deductible would have been if I’d been in the states and insured. It was worth it to know that I don’t have anything seriously wrong with me.

When I feel better, I’ll get back to playing the piano, writing, cruising around on my motorcycle and taking pictures. Those are my only jobs nowadays.