A Series Of Unfortunate — Augh! Copyright Lawers!

Once again, too much going on. June was a hell of a month. Back in mid-May my dad needed emergency surgery to have his gallbladder removed. Apparently it had become gangrenous, and the pain and high fever got him to the ER to have it removed. This is a rare condition which requires immediate attention for the patient to survive. They sucked out all of the gunk that had been bloating his chest, and after a brief hospital stay they sent him home. And everyone lived happily ever after!

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According to WebMD:

The gallbladder is a small pouch that sits just under the liver. The gallbladder stores bile produced by the liver. After meals, the gallbladder is empty and flat, like a deflated balloon. Before a meal, the gallbladder may be full of bile and about the size of a small pear.

In response to signals, the gallbladder squeezes stored bile into the small intestine through a series of tubes called ducts. Bile helps digest fats, but the gallbladder itself is not essential. Removing the gallbladder in an otherwise healthy individual typically causes no observable problems with health or digestion

Normally when the gallbladder is removed, the ducts leading to the other organs seal up on their own. Normally. But my dad is an exceptional man, and apparently his liver is exceptional too. Those ducts didn't close and bile leaked into his abdomen. The bile that digests fats. The fats that are part of what holds a body together. On a weekend a couple of weeks after the initial procedure, he was helping an old friend's widow organize an estate sale when, again, he felt poorly, so he drove the three hours from his (relatively) rural hometown back to my parents' home in Southern California. I think it was the very next day that the pain and fever returned, as did my parents to the ER. This is a rare condition which requires immediate attention for the patient to survive. Like, if he had stayed another day, his hometown hospital almost certainly wouldn't have had the specialist on hand to deal with it. And a medevac flight to a major hospital might have taken too long. But he was at home where the ER is a very short drive away. The surgeon sealed the bile ducts and removed as much bile as he could, and installed a drain in Dad's abdomen so whatever remained could, well, drain. Into a bag that required changing every 4 hours, not because it was full, but so it didn't get full. And after a week or so, the drain was removed, Dad was healed, and everyone lived happily ever after!

 Yeah, we know where this is headed...

Yeah, we know where this is headed...

It's mid-June now, and the pain hits again. This time it's so bad that even with help from Mom and the gardener he can't get into the car. They call the ambulance and at this point they're both just exhausted from all this. The process has taken its toll on both body and mind. This time it's an abscess inside his liver, one that couldn't be seen when the doctors had him in previously. I live 300 miles away and I was exhausted.

Now, bear in mind that, working swing shift, I get everything late. Thursday night all I knew was that he was back in hospital. Friday I got up, made my coffee, and sat down to see what the news was. And it was not great. He'd already had one procedure and was headed in for he next one in a couple hours. He and my mom and my aunt all needed me, and I was (and am) fortunate to be in a position to answer the call. I let work know that I wouldn't be in, that I had a family emergency, and they basically told me to go, and that we'd worry about the paperwork when I returned. (I ended up using up the remainder of my leave and worked a few extra hours to make up the difference.) I had been planning to fly down the 22nd for a major birthday so I changed the ticket to leave that afternoon. I got to the hospital at 9 and Dad was still pretty out of it from the second surgery, but he was resting.

Okay, I'm sorry, but I need to cut this short. I've kept putting it off, and have written it in multiple sittings, because the pain is too fresh for me to handle it easily. Part 2 is coming, and yes – so far at least – we have a happy ending. But right now I just need to post this and hit the hay. Be good to each other out there.

But Am I Choosing To Post This?

In preparation for the second season coming out, I recently re-watched HBO's Westworld. It is amazing. If you haven't seen it (and aren't turned off by the sex and violence) Find time. Make time. It's not only a show with superb production value but one that encourages its viewers to think. In a golden age of distracting eye candy (I'm looking at you, Marvel) it's refreshing to watch a show that expects its viewers to contemplate its implications. I go so far as to call it art.

 God damn it, Dan...

God damn it, Dan...

In particular, each time I watched it I thought about free will. About how much, really, we choose our actions. It's not the first time. There's an episode of NPR's Radiolab which discusses the issue. Here's an article from the NYT Magazine which tells of two sets of twin brothers who were switched at birth. It's a case that helps us better understand the interplay of nature and nurture: of what we get from our DNA, the 23 chromosomes from each parent, vs. what we get from our experiences. And, as with everything, these media informed my viewing of Westworld.

 Oh, for the love of... Now you're not even trying.

Oh, for the love of... Now you're not even trying.

It's a tricky question with no good answer. I choose to believe that free will is a comforting illusion. (See what I did there?) The thing is though, that we live in such a complex world that it's impossible to trace most effects to their root causes, So much of our experience is lodged in our subconscious. The environment a fetus is exposed to is proven to affect one's physical and mental well-being. Adults will treat a baby differently based on whether they think it's a boy or girl. Each culture leaves its own blueprint on everyone who grows up in it; consumption of insects is a great example. In most modernized cultures it's considered disgusting, while for billions of other people it's simply food. (To be fair though, western science is now considering insects as a way to feed our ever-expanding population. Hashtag #notallwhitepeople.)

And of course I'm not the first to consider the issue. I haven't studied the issue deeply, as many philosophers have. I haven't even studied those philosophers. Heck, the only reason I can remember some of their names is from that Monty Python song. Which brings us neatly back around to my original subject, entertainment! Yes, yes, I meant to do that....

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In addition to raising philosophical questions, it's just done well. M. Night Shyamalan ruined the word twist for me, but maybe JJ Abrams has rescued it. The twists on first viewing were well-executed and at least two of them felt like gut-punches. Yes there are multiple and no I won't spoil them. Upon second viewing I was able to enjoy the foreshadowing and story elements related to those twists. With at least the first season, the writers appear to have had the whole arc planned before one scene was shot. The lighting, camera angles, every aspect of film making I'm familiar with, just incredible. And with a 10-episode season, very tight and trim. I didn't see any filler — again, they knew what they were doing and where they were going.

So yeah. Watch it. Or don't. It's your choice. ...or is it?

I choose to see the beauty

Long-Belated Update

Hey, everyone! Through sheer strength of will I've pulled myself away from the Game-Which-Shall-Not-Be-Named long enough to give you some eye candy. Remember way back in March when I showed you what I was doing at the school gym? I have updates!

 That's what they're called when they're still on the tree, right?

That's what they're called when they're still on the tree, right?

Not only did I finish the gym, but the principal asked my bosses if I could paint a couple more walls.

So in this particular school, the main entry opens into a foyer with the front office then the main hallway which runs to your left and right. Directly ahead of you is the gym. (The falcon on the stage was already there. Credit to "Dorian," whoever they are.)

Then on either side of the gym are short hallways that lead back to the playground area. That's what the principal wanted painted. "Swooshes," he said, similar to what I'd done in the gym. I did the side with the boys' bathroom first.

So at that point I felt like I had swooshes down really well. I wanted to try something a bit different. I wanted to stretch myself. I asked him how much creative control I had over the project, and he told me, "Complete." Seriously. Exact quote.

Mwahahahaha.

As Penguin said in Batman Returns, "A lot of tape and a little patience make all the difference."

Pretty freakin' awesome, right? And then, dude. Dude. Dude. I got a letter. From the secretary. Dude.

 Duuuuuuuuuuuuuuuude.

Duuuuuuuuuuuuuuuude.

How awesome is that? Never have I received any kind of document recognizing me and my accomplishments on the job. So not only did I have a blast doing this job, I got a phenomenal response telling me that I did it right and I made a difference.

And yes, I made copies which I gave to my supervisor and put on the workroom wall. The original is on my fridge at home.

I've often felt kind of pointless. I'm just one person out of 7.6 billion. Even as a straight white man in America I have no real influence on world events.

Except maybe I do. Maybe I make school a nicer place for someone to be. Maybe some kid gains a love of learning they otherwise wouldn't have had. Maybe that kid does amazing things, like learns and loves and helps the people around them. Maybe that kindness spreads like the ripples on a pond.

Maybe, to someone, I'm the one that matters. I'm the one that made that difference. Even if they never met me.


But Mostly Stellaris

Hey all. Sorry for the preposterous delay on this one. Lots of things have been going on and while I want to share with everyone, well, lots of things. So to make it manageable I’ll sum up here and then add the pretty pretty pictures that keep y’all coming back in later posts. 

First thing is that I wrapped up that big gym, and since I did cool stuff there the principal asked me to do a couple more swooshes in the hallways leading from the main entry to the cafeteria and playground. He gave me complete creative control and I ran with it. And when I finally finished that, he gave me an awesome letter of praise (which I have never received before). Also Girl Scout cookies, so apologies to my doctor for not meeting my weight loss goals.

Second thing is that I started this draft on April 12, almost exactly a month ago. Le sigh. I've lost a lot of the momentum I gained when I first got my meds sorted. I'm glad I jumped on the energy while I had it, but it also means that a good many of those projects I started are falling by the wayside. Which is too bad, but I need to manage the resources I have. I am glad to say that I remain largely ignorant of  politics and greater events in the world, and my mental and emotional health are all the better for it. Looks like Fearless Leader has tanked the Iran deal, so we can expect them to get their nuclear weapons program up and running PDQ. So, he has kept one of his campaign promises: I am definitely tired of all this "winning."

The main culprit behind my absence has been the computer game Stellaris. It hits a lot of my sweet spots and has sucked me in completely. Which, yay for loving things! But also I can't blog properly from my iPad which really sucks. So here I am, siting in front of the 42" flatscreen that serves as my monitor, using all my willpower to not click the icon leading to my galactic empire. (This time through I'm playing as a race I customized, the Felinoids. Yes you can play as cat-people. They are strong and clever, but sedentary and aloof.) It's great, you can do a lot to customize your faction depending on your playstyle preferences. I almost always jump on the research bandwagon in these kind of games so of course both the species and society I've chosen promote that.

I also burned through season 2 of Jessica Jones, I'm slowly working through the new Doctor Who series, and I have books to read, among them the mystery that JK Rowling penned as "Robert Galbraith." And they expect me to show up at work, too! It's just not fair.

So I guess that's my update. Yes, still alive. And breathing. Just giving in to my obsessions.