Wednesday, December 31, 2008

"Can I be ill and happy?"

A PT friend sent me a link to an article called Can I be ill and happy? about a book he is reading, Illness: Cry of the Flesh, by Havi Carel, a philosopher, also the author of the article.

A review of the book found on the sales page says (abbreviated):
"This book is a tremendous achievement, as well as being a very moving personal document. It is a philosophical meditation on the nature of and social meaning illness, disease and death. It discusses philosophical and psychological literature, Epicurus, Heidegger and Merleau-Ponty. But it is also a personal memoir, it is about Carel's experience of being diagnosed with a life-threatening illness, about what that meant for her presence in the world, about how she appeared in the eyes of others, and how she felt she appeared. It is about the encounter with medical professionals and their detached and external perspective on another's catastrophe; it is about the varied reactions of friends, some of whom couldn't maintain friendship. It is about how to confront the fact that all your assumptions about how your life is going to go: career, relationships, family, old age, can just be taken away. Carel was diagnosed with lymphangioleiomyomatosis (LAM), a rare disease that affects young women, and for which the progosis is about 10 years from the onset of symptoms. The sufferer experiences a progressive decline in lung-function over that time. Life may be extended by a heart-lung transplant, but that's, obviously, a difficult business. .... She uses Merleau-Ponty's ideas about embodied subjectivity throughout the book to explore what illness is like for the sick person and how powers and abilities that are invisible to and taken for granted by the well person become all too manifest to the sick (or disabled or ageing) person. All the time, she is constantly moving backwards and forwards between this theoretical discussion and the fact of her own experience: the first onset of symptoms, "denial", diagnosis, treatment, the foreclosure of plans, projects, possibilities. The phenomenology of social situations gets explored too: how people react, their sensitivities and insensitivities, callous reactions, stupid injunctions from ignorant people to try faddish diets of exercise routines."
Another review.
"The book seamlessly blends philosophical writings in illness (mainly those of Merleau-Ponty and Heidegger) with phenomenology to privilege the first-person experience of illness. It begins with a discussion of what is meant by the phenomenology of illness, and by the end of the first chapter it is clear why Carel chose to adopt a phenomenological approach. We learn more about how the illness affects her on a personal basis, rather than a simple statistical charting of her decreasing lung function.

Next, Carel examines the social world of illness. She suggests that rather than viewing illness through either the first or third person (depending on your relationship to it), it should be managed through what Buber calls the I-Thou encounter, of one person genuinely encountering another. Using this approach to illness, Carel argues that the principal exchange between doctors and patients should be more empathetic and compassionate, rather than based on the "objective" method most commonly associated with Western approaches to health and illness.

Later chapters examine death and what Carel terms "health within illness". Here, the philosophical discussion centres on Heidegger's characterisation of human existence as "being able to be". Carel asks whether ageing and illness means coming to terms with being unable to be. Given that somebody might be ill, does being ill mean that he or she is unable to have a good life?"
Definitely looks like it would be worth a read. Looks like it will contain all sorts of extractable information useful to anyone embedded in a humanantigravitysuit complete with lifespan, whether short or long, coded into it.

Monday, December 29, 2008

Sensory awareness

So, I've been noticing my skin and how it feels since I got back. Well, all along really, but one thing I realize is how much more I am aware of it. I expect that my brain had become quite bored with 18 years of sameness and craved some new kinesthetic input.

  1. I became quite used to wearing light loose clothing (and not much of it) in Hawaii. The big difference is footwear. I absolutely hated the idea, two mornings ago, of putting on socks and shoes for the trip home on the plane. I thought about wearing flipflops until the last second, in the boarding lounge, but decided that would require too much effort, so put the flipflops in the luggage and donned the socks and shoes. But guess what I saw in the lounge? At least two people had worn flipflops from their condos, and were sitting in the boarding lounge digging out and putting on their socks and shoes. The first idea would have been the better one, and socially facilitated to boot.
  2. Since I've been back, my feet, which have become reacquainted with the joys of perfect shoeless bareness and freedom and complete warmth, have been allowed to go without slippers. When they get cold, I can "feel" it, and they are put into slippers. I'm just more aware of my feet, period. They feel good!
  3. My skin still feels warm from having had a taste of sunshine and direct radiation on it, in all the parts that had some. Back mostly. My back still feels deliciously warm, in the zone where it became tanned.
  4. I feel better inside myself, whatever self is: my working hypothesis is that by stimulating the skin nerve endings with climatic warmth, and light, not just the ones in the eye-balls, there is a new congruence or even maybe reacquaintance of the visual sensory cortex with the kinesthetic sensory cortex, and some neuroplasticity has occurred, neuroplasticity of the most overdue sort. The thing is, I had gotten very very very far away from sunbathing. For so many reasons:
  • Skin cancer. I don't care as much anymore about this, as I've gotten old enough that I imagine I will outlive the chances of it starting up then killing me.
  • Having aged and fattened and become more shy about degree of body coverage. In Hawaii no one, and I mean no one, cares, or at least there is little or no gawking. The whole culture of the place is that the body is exactly where you live and operate from and it does not matter what it looks like. The culture there is not a snob, in other words.
  • Here in Vancouver, even when it's hot out, it's such a rare event that most people are not in the habit of lying around in the sun. So the opportunities that do exist are missed, except I suppose for those with their own pool in their own yard to lie beside. Not a fact of life for most, so most everyone stays covered. Plus... it's always cool here, even on hot days, because as soon as you go in the shade or a cloud goes across, bam, it's immediately cold enough to be comfortable in ordinary cool-weather clothing and footwear. Poor brains! In cold climates they miss out on a lot of sensory integration! And then this behaviour gets reinforced by culture.
  • I feel I reconnected to the sensory self I was as a child, with complete bodily freedom, few clothes and no shoes. More neuroplasticity there, through the arrow of time.
One little detail I forgot, a brilliant sensory cap to the entire vacation, was the big rainbow over the airport. It seemed to last for a very long time, at least an hour. As the plane took off it was visible out one of the windows in my line of sight. Nice send-off Hawaii - thanks for that.

Sunday, December 28, 2008


Back home again. Lots of snow here. The plane landed about midnight. There were no cabs. Lucky for me, after schlepping my three bags about a quarter mile outside the airport, I saw a cabbie sitting, waiting.. I approached him, learned he was waiting to pick up his daughter. He was a nice guy and took pity on me - he and his daughter took me to my place anyway, and he kept us entertained with stories about all the novelty involved with driving in heavy snow.

It seems the city literally ground to a halt. Everyone's holiday plans went awry. No one could travel in or out of the city, which was buried under two feet of snow delivered by sideways winds. The airport could only operate one runway. Taxi drivers who lived in areas that got socked in couldn't get out to go to work, so they just laid low. No grocery deliveries could be made. Nothing moved for days.

Meanwhile, I was carefree in Maui with little or no attachment to the holiday part of the season, and therefore no plans ruined, having a mytai Christmas eve with the other carefree grey-haired people under a roofed area under a tropical rain, letting rum internally massage my spirit into something a bit brighter. Lucky me.

Last night's flight coincided with a lull in the weather such that there was only a two hour delay instead of a two day delay. Lucky me again. I came into my peaceful apartment last night, about 1:30 AM, tried to not wake up any neighbours, felt my familiar surroundings around me once again, noted that all seemed well, that my neighbour had very kindly piled my mail neatly, had watered the plant, and had made the place look lived in, in exchange for the promise of a couple boxes of those decadent chocolate macadamia nuts. Lucky me yet again for having a wonderful neighbour. Hello place - how strangely familiar yet novel, both at the same time.

This morning I checked to see what damage had been inflicted on the diet plan - only one pound gained, in spite of a steady diet of chocolate macadamia nuts, eggs benedict and mytais. Not bad I think. And it's been very easy to climb right back onto the former plan again today. Yet more luck.

I walked to the grocery store this morning, about a half kilometer there and another back. I loved the coolness of the air - just as much as I loved the warmth in Maui. It isn't cold out - I mean, no need for hat or mitts, just cool against a face that is still warm from direct sun. The sky, while not blue, is definitely letting sun through in some places. Way less bird song. No wind. No roar of surf. Very hushed, bright, peaceful. "Bright" is a new adjective - snow makes a huge difference to the overall photon level. I could even see my shadow, rare in these foggy dark edgeless parts.. lucky lucky lucky.

Yes, I think it will be possible to get through this winter in pretty good shape for a change. I feel an inner congruence that I haven't sensed in a long long time. Luck, my old friend, welcome back into my life. More snow is expected, and no complete melt until February. Sounds crazy, I realize, but I sincerely hope that's true.

Saturday, December 27, 2008

Last day

In a few more hours I will be sitting in Kahului airport waiting for my Westjet flight to begin. Then I'll wait several more hours inside the airplane waiting for it to land. That's going to be my life today. Other days are usually better. I must say, the last three weeks have been mostly splendid, from a nature/climate/weather point of view.

Here is what awaits me at the other end, from one of today's weathercams. Of course, it will be night time instead of daylight.

I'm interested in learning if I succumb to SAD this winter or if spending a whole pile of cash to get outside this physical fogbank will have helped me avoid the inner one.

Bye bye Hawaii. Mahalo for all the lovely warm sunny days, wavy palm trees, birds, flowers, photon showers and purple ocean gazing. Thanks for letting me experience several warm salty surf splashes and immersions. Thanks for the modest tan I'll have for at least a week after I get back. It's been a good slice.

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Surf's up

December 25, 2008

Happy everything to everyone.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Exercising permeable boundaries

Living for a few weeks in Maui has exposed my northern-acclimated brain to many new novel stimuli, one of which is the phenomenon of continuously open-to-the-outside glass slat windows. At first when the curtains billowed I would check to see if I had left the balcony door open, but no, it was closed, securely locked. In fact at first I didn't even realize there were banks of open slat windows along each side of the wall behind the drapes, that in fact one whole end of the condo was completely glass.

This makes for a bit of an adjustment, to constant fresh air and to continuous noise. The fresh air, I must admit, is very nice. Since the temperature is the same indoors and out, no problem. The noise took a bit more getting used to - not that people around here are noisy, with the exception, perhaps, of children having a marvelous time in the pool right outside - but I was not used to hearing every song from every bird, or every rustle of every bush as the breeze blows through. It's quite wonderful in many ways.

Fortunately, there is little or no crime here. I do keep the place locked, out of habit, and to minimize my own endogenous stress level, but I am very grateful that there is little to no exogenously caused stress around here. A very peaceful place indeed.

It occurred to me that I have yet to see any cats wandering around. I expect this goes a long way toward explaining why there are so many birds and why they all walk around as though they own the place. Truth is, they do.

I'm going to be a little sad to have to go back home on Saturday. I feel like I finally have arrived, not in Maui but to myself. Thanks in large part to Maui. Aloha, self. Peace.

Monday, December 22, 2008

A touristy day in Lahaina, Maui Part III: my salute to the Hawai'ian flag

Ever since I got here I've seen lots of flags - Canadian, American, a blue one which I have yet to learn about, and one I learned about today, the Hawai'ian flag. Here is the history of the overthrow of the Hawai'ian monarchy by the US, from the point of view of the Hawai'ian indigenous people. In 1898, the Hawai'ian flag was lowered in a ceremony conducted by Arthur Waal, the postmaster, and a US flag was put up, right in the courtyard of Lahaina, where the banyan tree imported by the missionaries lives. In 1998, Hawai'ian pride rose, and the flag was resurrected at a ceremony marking the hundredth anniversary of its displacement.

This link depicts the flag's design and what is represented by it. This Wikipedia link mentions that
"The flag of Hawaii (Hawaiian: Ka Hae HawaiĘ»i) is the official standard symbolizing Hawaii as a U.S. state, as it previously had as a kingdom, protectorate, republic, and territory. It is the only state flag of the United States to have been flown under so many various forms of government and the only to feature the Union Flag of the United Kingdom, a relic of the period Hawaii considered itself a British protectorate (1794–1843)."
At the museum today, I saw the original, the one that had been taken down in 1898, by the postmaster of the day, Arthur Waal. I've included my little photo of it, framed and in the museum in Lahaina.

The story that goes with its return made my eyes wet, and still does, even now, hours and hours later.

First, we have the reluctant postmaster, ordered by his country to do some dominating behaviour to do with exchanging flags. So, he does. As graciously as possible.

He writes about the event in a way that suggests he was of very mixed feelings about the whole idea. He describes the solemnity of the Hawai'ian people as they see their flag come down. He feels for them. Here is a piece he wrote about it, after the fact. (Hopefully the picture will enlarge if you click on it, so you can read his words.

Long story short, he takes their flag back to California with him, and looks after it. Presumably he dies at some point, and his son is given the job of looking after it. Perhaps the son, Arthur Waal Jr., is in a clutter-busting mood one day, or perhaps he gets wind of Hawai'ian Pride starting up... in any event, he contacts the appropriate authorities, and offers them back their flag, the original.

Fast forward to 2002. New ceremony. A Hawai'ian woman, possibly a relative of the old royal family, in any case, a Kupuna, an esteemed elder, Pua Lindsey, makes a speech, is given the flag back, and in the process of accepting the flag, tenderly puts a lei on it, and thanks Mr. Waal for having taken such good care of it all this time.

The lei is no ordinary lei - it is a luxurious beautiful stunning lei, about an inch and a half thick, constructed entirely of soft golden feathers. Here is the picture of that, to the left.

If you click on the picture you will be able to see a larger version (I hope), and will be able to read it and go all mushy like I did.

There is something about someone laying a soft infinitely gorgeous feather lei "gently" on a tattered flag - the original flag that came down when their sovereignty, their nationhood, was rudely yanked away merely to smooth out business bumps - the kindness with which the flag (if not the sovereignty it symbolizes at least the physical object itself) was restored by this man, this son who may have noted his father's sense of helplessness, perhaps even sense of guilt, who enacts a ceremony that likely gave him as much personal peace of mind as it evidently gave this gracious group of people who received it back so lovingly... there is something about this gentle action toward a physical object that symbolizes a nation and its betrayal, at the same time, that reconciles opposites somehow, that is a forgiveness and a redemption.

Something about this event makes me feel something, powerfully and fully, gives me goose bumps, makes me think that members of the human race, in spite of its many warts, can do some really beautiful things for one another. It all has to do with that word, "gentle," which seems synonymous with "noble" somehow. Which is more noble?
1. To give back something that never was yours to begin with? Um... no... it is kind, but not noble.
2. To accept that stolen object and all the betrayal it represents, back, in a very gracious way? With a simple, gentle action that simultaneously forgives the representative of the wrong-doers, forgives those ancestors who were duped, demonstrates loving regard for everything once attached to the original meaning of the object? But that lets go of the past? That lays "nature" (symbolized by a beautiful splendid lei) on top of an artifact of a civilization that once was? Without animosity? Yes. In my mind, this is "noble."

"Gentle" is how I've striven to learn to do my hands-on work and have succeeded. It's how the weather is here (mostly). It's how the flowers are here. It's something that ties in with how that child danced at the luau. It's something that was once cultivated as a desirable trait in people. I think I feel nostalgic for it, and would like to see the human race get back to valuing it again. There is something tremendously powerful and for today, at least, in my mind, interchangeable about "gentleness" and "nobleness" that has been buried deep beneath "might is right" for way too long.

A touristy day in Lahaina, Maui Part II: Monster of the plant world

The apparently famous banyan tree in Lahaina was remarkable. My pictures of it did not do it justice - did not show it in true character, but I have a link here to a picture someone put up a few years ago, that shows it quite effectively. Bear in mind, a few years ago. It's a monster tree. It looks scary to me - like a giant monster, a ginormous octopus or something, growing ever larger, eagerly reaching out its tentacles to take over Maui completely some day if suddenly one day all the people were to disappear and there were no one there to keep it pruned.. an explosion in slow biological motion. Check out the lateral branch pattern, that would just keep going if people didn't keep it pruned. If one of those dangling bits touches earth, it grows into a new trunk. It is a roof over the entire park, the size of a small city block. If no one cut those back continuously, pretty soon the "tree" would be an impenetrable thicket. May there always be gardeners on Maui and may they keep that thing under control until the end of time.

Under the picture appears this explanation:
"The famous Banyan Tree located in courthouse square in the center of Lahaina was brought to Maui from India when the tree was a mere eight-feet tall. It was planted to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the establishment of Lahaina's first Christian mission. It has become the central point of town under which you'll find meetings, craft shows, entertainment and almost anything else you can imagine. The tree now reaches a height of about 50 feet and extends over 200 feet from side to side."

Here is a wikipedia link re: the "strangler fig" or banyan tree. Some reasons I can see for it becoming popular, even revered, are:
  1. presumably it provides figs of some hopefully edible kind,
  2. it would likely provide fast-growing and endless supplies of firewood for cooking,
  3. it would provide shade and habitat for innumerable creatures.
Disadvantages would include choking out other kinds of vegetation.

A touristy day in Lahaina, Maui Part I

Today I had some energy to waste - such a luxury. I decided to be adventuresome and take the bus to Lahaina to see the Banyan tree. I saw it, and saw a great deal more as well (more about it later).

Took lots of pictures but most of them are pretty much a big yawn. Found a museum in the "Old Courthouse" that had one room devoted to the whaling industry, and taking photos was not prohibited, so I took shots of this and that. There was plenty of rusted out whaling and sailing paraphenalia there, and framed photos of how the blubber was removed from whales then cooked ... all kind of saddening, so I moved along. On one wall was an actual flipper or something, from a whale. (There was no explanatory sign that I could find.)

I was somewhat surprised to learn whales had hair on their flippers. I mean, I realize they are mammals, but I thought they did not do hair. They don't do hair the way seals do fur. It made me wonder if dolphins have hair.

Hair increases mechanoreception. It must make whales (at least this species, which I think are humpback) more sensitive to both their own movement and the movement of the environment against them. I've attached a picture of the whale part with hair.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Solstice Greetings V

At dawn today the surf was this beautiful lavender color again, while the sea itself was a burnished turquoise color.

Time to go make some more Vitamin D now, while the sun is still over the pool. What I like to do is let the sun pierce my eyelids, just for short little periods - it feels so good. Then when I put my hands over my eyes, I can see colors inside them (visual cortex waking up, or else just ectopic firing) that I never see in Vancouver - deep indigos and violets and cobalt blues. Even deep greens, although there are lots of those in Vancouver, so they don't seem as novel.

Solstice Greetings IV

Today has been the clearest my brain has been in ages. I mean ages. It might have had something to do with yesterday's sun bath, the first (nearly) all over sunbath I've had since I was a young adult. I went down by the pool, just below my balcony here. (If you imagine looking up one floor to the right, that's my room.)

I did not burn my skin, I just allowed it to make some Vitamin D for me in places it ordinarily can't. It turned slightly pink, which means I think it got busy.

Solstice Greetings III

Meanwhile, the downtown Barrie Cam shows me this wintery, sparkley, clear-skied scene, after a shortish but sunny day. I have decided I must plot my escape from Vancouver as soon as I can reasonably do so.

Solstice Greetings II

All day I've been checking into Vancouver's weathercam, and seeing nothing but this. It's that deep edgeless fog that Vancouver isn't but should be so famous for. The kind that stays around all winter, usually, not right on the ground like this, but just above the tops of the buildings. The kind I've been oppressed by for 18 years, and started to notice feeling oppressed by in about the last ten. Finally got tired of putting up with, last winter.

I know the cam takes a new picture every 60 seconds, and at some point the link will look all deceptively gorgeous for a few days, so I copied the image I've been seeing all day, this day, Solstice Day 2008, and jpeged it for posterity.

Solstice Greetings

Here is the sky at dawn today, here in Maui. Is that not the most gorgeous purple sky with a waning moon in it that you've ever seen at dawn?

Well, it has been for me.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Thoughts on Solstice Eve on Life's Absurdities

It all feels a bit absurd, yet completely if absurdly correct and corrective to be comfy and photonically stimulated in Maui at a time of the year when I'm normally incapable of much because of SAD. My brain feels like it will never get enough light.

The absurdity of lights wrapped around the trunks of palm trees, as in the picture to the left, taken at dawn yesterday, is counterbalanced by the thought of how absurd it would be to be languishing in Vancouver yet again right now, during this nadir of the wheel of the year, incapable of accomplishing anything much, forced into retreat because of the hubbub that occurs around "celebrating" the season, forced into idleness because of not being capable of stringing very many thoughts together in any case.. That's one kind of idleness, which feels like uncomfortable, dreadful, involuntary, forced idleness. Here, I'm actively trying to squeeze in as much "nothingness" as I possibly can. It's a completely different way to frame idleness, I'm learning..

Everything, no matter where one is this time of year, feels absurd, I suppose... It's 3 PM here and I'm drinking my first coffee of the day, in shirt sleeves and bare feet, outside on the balcony, enjoying my skinny little laptop (the only thing about me that is). The coffee is left over from yesterday. I've learned to make a potful, pour off a fresh cup, and let the rest get cold in the fridge, then drink it cold, mixed with half milk. Then drink it whenever I like.

But I'm learning to like actively adopting this kind of idleness as opposed to feeling out of synch with the other kind. Here, cultivating idleness is a fine art. People say hi, make polite but minimal chitchat (my favorite kind), as they make a slow beeline for the nearest deck chair to just sit, look, watch, rest, doze in the light. Everyone remains a stranger. No one wants to know your business or how you plan to spend Christmas or where you are going and who you'll be with, or what you plan to eat. No one here could care less about any of that stuff. Everyone is here to get away from their lives and entanglement in others' lives.

New arrivals are easy to spot. They seem edgy and anxious and too chatty. They have not yet learned to slow down so that the clock moves faster than they do. I've been here two weeks now, and my inner clock has slowed down to the point where I get asked on the street for directions to this place or that. I must look like I've been here forever or something. I can't possibly look like I know...

Right now in the pool down below my balcony is a new arrival from some land of -17C. He is around 40, I guess, somewhat heavy, and is burping, loudly and repeatedly. Perhaps the water is pressing his diaphragm upward. He is relaxing.

Life is absurd no matter where one is, or how far one is inside of or out of one's own element, but at least here it is pretty, colorful, warm, sunny, the air is extremely comfortable, there is no change of temperature from inside to outside to endure, the surf is endlessly reassuring, rhythmic, beautiful, and the different colors of ocean are a feast for the visual cortex. It's a really absurd and delightful way to get around, get through SAD, to get over what feels more and more like an ever-enlarging psychological hump at the end of every year.

A recurring image I have, that gets more intense the longer I live in Vancouver, is of myself, spread eagled onto a wheel of the year which looks like a wheel of fortune - the wheel spins and I spin with it, and every December my head goes FWAP! against the flexible brake. Don't know when the wheel will stop completely, but sure don't like those fwaps. Want to minimize them, change the picture somehow.

I have a link to a webcam of Barrie, Ontario, a place I'm considering moving to, perhaps, one of the several possibilities that exist and tumble over each other in the back of my mind as it sifts and sorts and tries to plan a way to gracefully age with more photons to enjoy meanwhile. It is at 44 degrees latitude and is under a wide blue sky, which seems more attractive for winter months, despite the snow, than Vancouver. At the moment of course, it can't compete with where I am just now. But I will look at Barrie every day, and continue to let my brain mull it over. Moving to Barrie seems less absurd in many ways than does remaining in Vancouver and needing to eject to Maui on a yearly basis. Although it wouldn't be that bad a life to stay in Vancouver and come here every winter, and although everyone around me in this place does exactly that, every year (there are people here who have been coming here regularly for 25, 35 years), there are drawbacks which seem absurd.

Advantages of moving to Barrie
1. minimize the carbon footprint by reducing the overall number of trips needed to get away to get photons,
2. increase the overall photon level year round, perhaps permitting my brain to fully recover from SAD in a few years,
3. expose my physicality to a bit more rigor by acclimating to differing temperatures throughout the year, similar to what I experienced growing up and to age 33.
4. don't have to move to Maui, become American, and give up the Canadian health system.

Friday, December 19, 2008

Dawn Day 14

Lavender and lace.

I loved the lavender color of the water today at dawn.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Day thirteen

I found a new path today. The potholes in the rock are about 8 inches across. According to a nearby sign, they are ancient depressions that were used by indigenous peoples to grind taro.

It is really hard to take a shot that really, really shows the color of the water. This is the best one of the bunch, relatively untouched. I didn't crop it. It contains the greens and purples found in the water here, but the picture cannot convey the intensity, not quite. The sky color is quite true. It is almost but not quite turquoise.

The water was very clear today. I saw a sea turtle come up for air, three times, about every 15 minutes.

The weather has improved hugely from last week. This little photo is from this morning's visit to the beach.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Gecko invasion

What this not very good photo, taken by me, flat on the floor on my front, using an ordinary Canon powershot digital camera, at close range in bad lighting, depicts, is a tiny gecko trapped under an ordinary highball glass, with a card stock brochure for the luau slid beneath it, in preparation for it being carted outside and dropped onto the top of the closest bush from my balcony.

It looked much cuter once there was solid glass between me and it. Prior to that, my brain was convinced that it was a hungry young dinosaur sizing me up as a food source that would last possibly for months.

We do not have geckos in Vancouver. I have seen them before, in other countries, on other trips, but not for decades, never without other people around, and never in my own personal habitat. Rarely have I had such a startling opportunity to witness my own physicality respond so abruptly to a perceived boundary issue brought on by something so tiny. I might not have even noticed it at all, in that it was a beige gecko scooting over a beige rug, but my eye caught movement and I saw it before it saw me.

There was a moment of instinctive horrified recoil. I could not help but feel it, feel it driving me toward panic, making me respond, do something, anything, to alleviate the sense of absolute wrongness my brain felt/caused me to feel, with a pounding heart and fast breathing, the entire sympathetic nervous system rush of adrenaline-driven/fight/flight response.

It seems ridiculous in retrospect, I mean c'mon, it was just a gecko (a baby to boot!) that wandered in .. as far as I know, they don't bite, besides it was tiny, probably more scared of me than I was of it - I've dealt with mice, large spiders, wasps, and calmly - this was a much smaller deal.

But in that moment, I felt freaked out.

There are two aspects that were important, in retrospect:
First, there was certain lack of prior exposure, lack of graded exposure to the phenomenon. Maybe if I lived in Australia or somewhere I'd think nothing of a harmless gecko running around in the living room.

Second, there was a boundary issue.
My brain had already moved into this condo. The brain that runs my life had already decided that the walls of the condo were the safe container within which it could relax, and had incorporated the space into itself, as "itself." (See Sandra Blakeslee, The Body has a Mind of its Own, for more about this.) However, I'm not really at home. Not really. And I think my brain might have decided on some much deeper level of context, that because it's actually on someone else's turf at the moment, maybe it didn't really have the right to be here, and might have to fight harder on behalf of its organism, should any sort of threat arise.

So, my brain over-reacted, and lucky me had a chance to see it in full threat mode for a few minutes, experience fully the anxiety and dread and disgust and sense of immediacy and need to act and pounding heart and shudder. It seems to have been a full-on primate reaction - I especially hated how the gecko moved - it darted in spurts, which made me want to get my bare toes away from the floor.

It was certainly instructive to experience my conscious attention dealing with my brain, tending it, telling it everything was going to be fine, figuring out what to do, hatching a plan (the same one I use for wasps in Vancouver that fly in through open unscreened windows), interacting with the gecko a bit to learn more about its true level of threat, in order to re-regulate the fear factor, going online to let friends know what I was dealing with and ask advice, also a primate reaction (seeking solace and virtual social grooming from members of my "troop"), and eventually improvising with a glass from the cupboard and the only stiff-enough paper I could find in the whole place to slide under it - carefully, slowly, gently, taking care to not hurt its tiny legs. I could see it looking at me - I could imagine its own teeny heart pounding and teeny brain reacting - suddenly a huge giant monster was in charge of its existence.

I took it out to the balcony and unceremoniously tossed it out of the glass onto the top of a bush, peering closely, making sure that its little sticky gecko feet had not managed to adhere to any surface I still had in my hands, or plan B would have been enacted - those objects would have been tossed as well.

Today I feel much better for having the whole episode behind me. And I'm going to deliberately ignore the fact it even happened, trust that my eyes will be on the ball, on their own, scanning their surroundings for danger of any sort, reacting appropriately if a tad strongly, keeping me safe so I can continue enjoying my stay, continuing to maintain the convenient and polite and in this situation, necessary fiction that the "I" I like to think is in charge is something other than the brain that gives rise to the illusion of "me."

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Vacation timeshare pitch III

This is the front of the hotel. It's a massive thing filled with fake waterfalls and splendid viewing points.

But I must speak a bit about the sales discussion. I was met by someone named Kevin, who is originally from Boston and moved to Hawaii a couple decades ago. He has been in sales all his life. The "closer" was Nancy. Nancy was recovering from a hand fracture, had a cast - I expressed interest in her injury, so she told me about how her high heel had caught on a stair and she had slipped down three steps, was stopped by a landing, landed on a left knee and a right hand, all while carrying a glass of water in her left hand which, much to her annoyance, in the moment of falling she was determined to not spill. She said she managed to end up with half the water still in the glass. (I love stories like this.)

Anyway, I learned all about the "product," (actually about 5 products all packaged together), and what a great thing it was to spend the rest of one's life paying about 40,000 dollars US, plus another $1000 or so maintenance fees, for the privilege of indulging a travel bug four times a year in many different locations all over the globe in luxury. If I bought in Maui, I would become everyone's best friend and they would all want to trade with me so they could stay in Maui for a week while I stayed somewhere else for up to four weeks, for only a few hundred dollars a week. After about two hours of this, I finally got to see the suite, and we took one of those scary little glass-walled elevators up. Kevin was nice enough to let me take pictures from the balcony.

When it was time for the "close," I let them know that although I really appreciated the opportunity to learn all about their product, and it all sounded very nice, and I really was enjoying the photons here in Maui, that I wasn't interested in purchasing a time share. They wanted to know why. So I explained that although I was here and having the time of my life, I really did view a Hawaiian vacation as sort of more of a once in a lifetime indulgence, not a way of life. They looked at me as if I were from another planet somewhere.. how could I resist? I said that, really, truth was, I was more interested in reducing my carbon footprint.

The jaws dropped. They didn't get it. Nancy said, "But that plane is going to take off whether you are on it or not." "Yes," I said, "I realize that, but the more people who decide not to take planes the fewer planes there will need to be sucking holes in the ozone and contributing to global warming.." .... had they heard about global warming...?

They had, but they just couldn't connect it to anything they had to sell. Nancy and Kevin looked at each other. Kevin asked her, how do we respond? And Nancy looked at Kevin, then at me, and said, "This is the first time anyone has ever used a "carbon footprint" objection. We haven't been taught how to counter this objection."

After that, it was pretty clear the party was over, and it was time for winding it up. After one more little survey, I left and met Ben the Phillipino cabbie who I had arranged to meet at 2. Perfect timing - there he was.

On the way home he asked me how the meeting had gone, and I told him I didn't buy a timeshare. I said that although I loved being in Maui, and that I realized tourism was the main economy, that my being here was a one-time trip and that if I really wanted to be here forever I would just move here, like he had, not fly back and forth all the time, hurting the ozone. I said I thought the lifestyle was wasteful, that I doubted it benefited the local people much other than provide some jobs cleaning up condos and pools and maintaining buildings, that most of the profit probably went to the company. He didn't offer me his opinion - perhaps he didn't have one, perhaps he didn't feel comfortable expressing it if he did.

Anyway, we left it at that.

Vacation timeshare pitch II

Here are a couple other pictures of the view from the suite. It was taken from the wrap-around balcony. Pretty nice. Those are people down on the beach, not ants.

Vacation timeshare pitch

Today was payback for the lovely free luau I enjoyed two nights ago - it was time to go and listen to someone try to sell me a time share. I went to the appointment that had been scheduled, at the Ka'anapali Beach Resort, just a short way from where I'm staying.

It was a huge place with a gigantic amoebae-shaped pool and a long beach with a reef, which made the surf very gentle. The pool was ringed by dozens and dozens of pink lounge chairs. Check out the picture. I took this today from the tour suite on the eleventh floor. It reminds me of a cell, with a membrane, the gaps between the chairs like receptor sites.

Saturday, December 13, 2008


This little red-haired Hawaiian girl in the pink dress is named Maleia. She is a hula student. She hula-ed her way through the entire song, Tiny Bubbles.

She was a treat. My mirror neurons went into a frenzy. I think that is what is supposed to happen when people watch hula. It's interpretive. There are certain moves that reflect certain ideas, just as with sign language. Seeing this little girl dance was the highlight for me of the whole luau. She had incredible grace, and a fierce kind of eye contact with the crowd, and when she danced, she projected meaning out all over the room.

All the dancing was "good" but much of it seemed routine. This... child was dancing in a way that seemed intense and projective. I could feel her, I could get what the dance was about, what the deeper level of meaning of the song was, or at least I felt I could in that moment. She made my eyes wet, and I do not think it was entirely the fault of the evening's second mytai, or that I was just being schmaltzy, or merely that she was as cute as a button. I don't think I'll ever feel jaded about that song Tiny Bubbles the way I had been, ever again. She was a novel stimulus who managed to help my brain thoroughly refresh its auditory and visual cortex.

Luau 2

As you can see I sat quite close to center stage, quite remarkable in that there were 400 people attending. For $15 extra dollars one could purchase VIP seating.

(I almost never would do anything like decide on the spur of the moment that I deserve to be treated like a VIP. But I'm on a vacation, and have been feeling somewhat self-indulgent.)

On stage, the mistress of ceremonies is teaching a few hula moves to all those in the audience who were interested in going up to learn them.


I know, I know. How touristy of me to not only attend a luau but to post the iconic photo of a dancer wearing a coconut bra.

Thing is, I got to go for free, so who wouldn't? I mean, I'm not crazy, I'm here to have fun, and this was a chance to go have some that didn't cost much, apart from the cost of a taxi. I was offered a ticket in exchange for promising I'd go on a tour of condo property (no obligation), a promotional deal. OK, I can go on somebody's tour. I likely will not be buying a condo here anytime soon, but I can go on a tour so that someone can meet a quota and earn a living trying to flog one to me.

And the luau was fabulous.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Kona Storm

Today, the beach has an entirely different feel. Note the absence of people, other than yours truly taking the picture. Note the absence of footprints other than mine. It's a somewhat creepy but on the whole very cool feeling to have an entire, highly sought vacation beach, all to oneself. Why?

Because it's raining buckets, and everyone else is inside. The waves are disappointingly flat. So there is not much out there to enjoy at the moment. Except just being there by oneself, and pretending (briefly) the beach is all one's own.

To the right is another picture I took last night, of the moon over the beach. I realize how cliche it looks, but honestly, it's not my fault that pretty much everything looks absolutely gorgeous, so much so that just about any idle snapshot could be a calendar photo.

Ocean at dusk

The ocean has quite a different feel to it at dusk. The waves seemed more powerful or something. Probably just my imagination.

I sure am starting to like this ocean. I hung out beside it for what I thought was a half hour or so... just laid in the warm sand, watching little kids running into and getting tossed back up by the surf. When I came back up I realized 2 hours had passed without my inner clock even noticing. The surf is mesmerizing - exogenously applied meditation.

Day 6

There are some little spots along the road to the (other) grocery store about two blocks from the condo where I'm staying that are undeveloped and sort of left to themselves. I found this little tableau just aching to have a picture taken of it. It appears to be some sort of old abandoned farm implement under a gorgeous bougainvillea bush.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Scary road in Maui

I made an outing to the grocery store, about a kilometer away along a two-lane street, narrow and winding, lots of traffic ignoring the speed limit and no sidewalks, barely a path.

On foot.

And who says I never live dangerously? This is about enough excitement for one day here in paradise.

This is the exact same tree, however, the sky behind it looked more like a typical Vancouver morning this morning. Oh well.. the sky has brightened since.

Tuesday, December 09, 2008

Photon Therapy

So, here I am in paradise. I've got literally nothing to gripe about here in this idyllic-seeming place, my usual life seems a long way away right now. I'm in a little well-appointed condo in a land where the sun is up almost at least 10 hours a day, and we're talking UP! not masked behind massive cloud cover. It gets hot here. How novel.

This picture is one I took from the balcony at dawn yesterday.

I can feel my brain lightening as the days pass. I have three weeks to decompress fully from 18 years of being/feeling buried in Vancouver winters.

The internet connection had me concerned at first, but out here on the balcony it works great, and all is well.

Thursday, December 04, 2008

The light at the end of the tunnel

A cousin in Ontario just sent this:

"The following is a Public Service Announcement:

Due to the recent economic crisis,
stock market crash,
bank failures,
budget cuts,
rising unemployment,
Government Turmoil
unstable world conditions,
outsourcing of business to foreign lands,
the hysterical cost of insurance, electricity, petroleum, housing,
and taxes of all kinds,
the Light at the End of the Tunnel has been turned off.

We apologize for the inconvenience."

Somewhat poignant, given that our governor general shut down Canadian parliament today. I guess this makes us a one-party dictatorship until the system reboots in six weeks, instead of the three-party European-style coalition democracy that was theoretically possible until just this morning. Hopefully the system CAN reboot in six weeks. No one likes living in political limbo.

Monday, December 01, 2008

My old friend, Sleep! Welcome back!

One thing that has improved remarkably and quickly with this temporary removal of the work traces (and may assist the mood disorder just as much as I anticipate the photons will) is a new (well, familiar from long ago) sleeping pattern. I literally had no idea how deprived of sleep I had become. I thought I got lots, enough to get by at least, but usually I awoke in the night and was a bit fitful - just assumed it was from being middleaged, getting older, etc. - often needed a 20-30 minute nap during the day, thought this was probably normal too...

The last two nights have been unbelievable - unbroken, nine-hour long chains of smooth transitions from one sleep state to the next, lots of dreaming, none that I remember vividly, but I do remember dream states... no waking up to visit the bathroom, no waking up at ALL!

I'd forgotten what a pleasure just sleeping for hours and hours on end can be. My brain seems to have lost no time at all getting back to itself in this regard - I'm feeling like a teenager again in some ways. I really am starting to see the whole point of taking extended vacations and leaving the cares and woes of the world behind. I feel a lot less angsty/guilty (which in retrospect was just a stupid unnecessary culturally installed reflex), and am regaining confidence in my ability to actively help my system regulate itself. Things now feel like they are unfolding as they should, which means the dopaminergic pathways must have fluffed themselves up a bit better. Good grief, what next? actual superfluous physical energy maybe? Some of that would sure be nice. :-D