Saturday, January 14, 2012

Perspectives on Prospective Resolutions

Many years ago – I'm guessing early 2006 -- I intended to start a blog entry with, “I need a treadmill.” I'm guessing on the time frame just because I know I was a stay-at-home father with a then-infant Wyatt at the time and because this is the time of year when we make often-empty promises to ourselves, right? Cynically, I'd say it's all a marketing ploy to sell more gym memberships, Nicorette, Shake Weights, and Nutrisystem. At the time, I did mean an actual treadmill but also a metaphorical one – I was looking for a conveyor belt to wellness and motivation. While being at home with my young son was very satisfying in many ways, I was also eager to find other opportunities to contribute to my family – whether in the form of a healthier, happier me; my bedtime story for new parents: Please Don't Let Me Break Him; or my parenting handbook: "Got Your Nose" and Other Practical Jokes to Play on Children. Needless to say, I didn't complete that blog post or any of those projects. As for my health, I can't say anything would be different today if I'd bought a treadmill then. For whatever reason, I was not particularly driven toward any of those pursuits. In retrospect it's all very quaint. I think we all create our own treadmills in many ways – a series of Sisyphean steps we must take or else be thrown backwards. The new year is a perfect time to make these promises  to be ostensibly better people if only we could “make the time to…” I do have a real treadmill now, and I do intend to use it and improve my pace, stamina and walking form. I just have to make the time to (and, yes, I am  hoping the Large Hadron Collider  discovers a particle which makes time production possible or at least discovers the pocket watch from The Girl, the Gold Watch & Everything; or that soon telepresence robots will truly enable people to be two places at once, without the need for divided attention). My treadmill will serve a somewhat unusual resolution to work more this year (how often does one set out to do that?). I'm already working full-time from home but plan to return to full-time in the office by the summer. Along with that goal comes the effort to regain my driver's license, though it doesn't seem practical to do so until spring. Fortunately, I'm already on a good course to achieve that ambition; and despite a common result of right-side strokes being a lack of motivation and problems with “initiation,” I am feeling driven.

My most important resolution for the year is to fulfill a wish I had just prior to my original surgery: I spoke of wanting to retain proper perspective on my life, based on the  scenic viewpoint granted by my brush with a somewhat imminent health threat (though I didn't know then just how high a view I would have). The crux of this argument was, “don't sweat the small stuff.” I remember talking to my brother about that premise, just after my diagnosis, and he recalled a motivational speaker, Richard Carlson, he'd seen talk about that very topic. It also brought to mind the comedian Robert Schimmel, who wrote a book about how humor got him through his battle with cancer. Sadly, both Schimmel and  Carlson died suddenly and unexpectedly. We'll never know whether their balanced view on life better prepared them for death. I can only hope that what I'm trying to gain from this experience is not merely a prologue to a premature final act (my original title for this entry was, “Perspective Can Kill You”). My quest for perspective actually began during my junior year of college, during which I decided I was not likely to retain much additional information from any of my classes. I therefore determined simply to take courses which would offer me unique perspectives on the world. This led me to enroll in the likes of: “Magic, Science, and Religion” (for which I wrote my final paper on the history and science of werewolves), “Environmental Chemistry” (introductory chemistry taught from the viewpoint of the molecular interactions causing atmospheric ozone depletion and the greenhouse effect),  and “International Bestsellers”. I can certainly say my course selection process garnered me a diversity of world views, solidified me as part of the intellectual, liberal, East Coast, liberal elite, while also feeding into my belief at the time that my over-privileged Ivy League education was also making me an honorary member of the disenfranchised (so glamorous as it is). Now what I am often left pondering is how I take my survival of the past years' events and translate them into a richer living experience – it's one thing to survive; it's another thing to live. But that's for my next blog entry. The other side of that coin is the perspective granted me by losing my life without actually dying. This has left me feeling “ghostly” at times – rattling chains for attention (or, perhaps that's just the general experience of being the parent of two young boys). Yes, after seeing The King's Speech, I did once melodramatically cry out, “I have a voice!”. The heartbreaking side of that perspective has been in periodically feeling like I've left my wife the single mother of two children (and, with me in the mix, that makes three), as well as leaving my children fatherless, much as I strive to be present for them all.

The positive side of this perspective is that last February I had the unique privilege of attending my own Irish wake (And, really, who's more Irish than I?).

So, as much as retaining proper perspective is my big resolution for the year and beyond, it's also been expressed to me in both comments here and in person that my experience is providing beneficial perspective to others' lives. I'm very glad to provide that service – I say, better me than you – though I also know my family and I hardly hold a monopoly on suffering. While I appreciate everyone's good wishes and the fact that you've been able to brush aside what might be considered more trivial concerns with the thought, “ at least we don't have it as bad as them,” I don't want anyone to truly believe their pains are any less meaningful than ours. Yes, we've experienced a lot of loss, but that hardly negates anyone else's. As I said, I only hope our ongoing struggle can act as some sort of tonic against so many other struggles going on simultaneously. That's a somewhat positive spin on vicarious trauma. But, remember, everyone has their own valid trials and treadmills.


  1. Treadmills indeed! I gave up making resolutions years ago (does that make it the only resolution I've ever kept?!), so this latest thing I've decided has to go by some other name. It's got a lot to do with perspective, that's why I bring it up here . . . I've decided that whenever I don't know what to do next or whenever I'm boring myself with my whining complaints, I'm going to start from a place of gratitude. I'm just going to start thinking about all of the innumerable things I'm thankful for and see where that takes me. So far, I'm liking the perspective it gives me and I've been able to come up with "what to do next" every time. Good luck with your completely do-able goals, Ken. I'm thankful you're here to do them!
    xo Amy

  2. That's one cool post Ken, I like everything I learn about you. Ed