Meet Dan

Meet Dan.

I’m obsessing about the pureness of his words and his honesty. Dan is learning to walk again, after a year of scary scans and is-this-cancer? scares, and now he is rebounding from Guillain–Barré syndrome. This devastating neurological disease put Dan in a wheelchair, but his words have become dancers. And he’s learning to walk again. He honors me with permission to share some of his words. Here’s my favorite: “…sometimes it’s more fun to build the fort than to play in it.” Devour this now like the first slice of pizza, or treat his mini essays like the bag of Halloween candy. And as you do, send Dan your best prayers or mantras or good juju for healing, or maybe, a therapy dog “that doesn’t have to be walked, doesn’t poop, and will never die.”

 

Social Media:

Sometimes I feel like I’m being a bit narcissistic and a little selfish but Facebook is kind of like a modern-day ‘Message in a Bottle.’ I’m alone on a island and I’m scribbling words on a page, putting them in my bottle, throwing them into a vast ocean and hoping one person gets it and sends help. But I guess what I’ve learned is that this note is being read by more than one person and help is sent instantaneously and it’s beautiful.

And I don’t write on purpose.

Things just come to me in the moment and I jot them down before I forget them because with a neurological illness I tend to forget a lot. And sometimes I have a thought that I want to put in that bottle and throw it into that ocean. And I know some think it’s mildly annoying and I should keep a lot of this to myself. But sometimes I can’t. So if the moment is right and that spark hits me, maybe I’ll jot some words down and throw them in the ocean. And if they’re worth sharing, please share. But I’m not special. I’m just one man going through something hard, alone on an island, and finding a way to deal with it.

And this helps.

The ocean, unfortunately, is filled with bottles that no one is opening and people are forever stuck on that island. I’m just lucky someone is opening mine.

 

So, I’m learning to stand up without using my hands to pull me up. While I do it, I press the back of my legs against the chair for help. But that’s cheating. But I’m standing. So do I enjoy the view from up here or dwell on what it took to get there? Life is funny like that.

 

Music is magic:

Where do you find it? Where does it come from? The lift. The strength. When it seems unattainable you get desperate. The mind starts playing tricks on you. If only you had ‘this’ you’d be fine. It’s easy to assume what you don’t have is what you need. And then one day I realize it’s right there, it always has been. During those dark, horrible, lonely nights in the hospital it was there. On the path to reconstruction it was there.

Today was rough. My body quit. My spirit was draining fast. But I’m in the crowded gym of the Wellness Center. Hold it together man. Nobody’s watching, but everybody knows. I’m about to lose my shit. And like that. Boom. Like the whisper of the love of your life in your ear….music.

That song.

A song buried in a playlist appearing like magic during shuffle play in my headphones. And suddenly I found the strength. I found the will. And it’s always been there. So I finished my physical therapy. I struggled to my feet, took a deep breath, smiled, and walked the fuck out of there.

And nobody was watching. But everyone knew.

Find your magic. Find your strength. Find your will. And although I can’t fix your problems, I can promise you won’t have to face them alone.

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The Scanner:

Breathe. Hold your breath.

The voice of the CT scanner. Although I’ve had a bunch of these this past year, I haven’t gotten used to that voice. It’s better than the riot-noise and claustrophobia of the MRI machine. But that voice. And I breathe. And I hold my breath. And I close my eyes, even though I know it’s not going to hurt. The 10-minute exercise of looking for a vein in both arms while eventually settling on a vein in my hand, well, that hurt. But still, I close my eyes.

Breathe. Hold your breath.

And it’s over. Do you need help getting up? No, I’m ok. She wheels my Rolator over and I get up. Can you get back to the lobby OK? I think so. Go down this hallway, make a left, a quick right, down the hall to the lobby. Got it. And I’m off. I’ve heard descriptions of the ‘runners- high.’ But not the low of the ‘long-lonely-slow-walk of a strangely-empty-bright-shiny-hospital-hallway behind a blue Rolator-low’. And I’m feeling it.

And then I see someone coming the other way.

I instinctively move to side, head down, embarrassed, trying to not be noticed or to get in her way. As she passes, I look up, and she smiles. As if to say, it’s ok, you’re doing great, keep going. I smile back, as if to say, you’re right, thank you. No words, a simple smile. So, I continue. I’m almost there. The light from the glass lobby is in sight. And like stepping off a plane into a crowded airport after a long hard journey, I stop to look around. And as I reach for my phone to text my ride, I hear a better voice.

Are you ready for some Starbucks?

I look up. And I smile.

Hell yes, Dad.

 

Ten Seconds:

As part of the recovery I’m able to stand at the counter that separates my kitchen and living room and do some basic exercises and stretches. Build strength and balance they tell me. And then it happens. My phone, that’s about 15ft away, starts to ring. Without thinking, assuming it’s the service taking me to therapy tomorrow, I turn and move towards the phone. I get about 4 steps and I freeze.

No walker, no braces, no cane, no counter.

And the phone is still ringing. Eight months of struggle and here I am, standing on my own. But the phone is still ringing. It feels like an eternity. But alas, today I failed the test. I turned, and headed back to the counter. The phone stopped ringing. I initially was really disappointed. I was so close. It was right there. But then I started thinking about all the time and effort many people have put in to getting me to that point. Those 4 steps felt like a mile but for the first time I did it by myself. The phone will ring again and maybe I’ll reach it next time. Cause you never know who may be calling.

A lot can happen in 45 years. A lot happen in 8 months. A lot can happen in 10 seconds.

 

Building the fort:

Do you remember your first kiss? I do. Some of you were there for mine. Unionville High School gym, Fall dance, 1986. I still remember the song that was playing. I think about that now cause it’s like I’m 15 years old all over again. My concerns these days are, can I take care of myself, did my mom do my laundry right, when will I be able to learn how to drive, who will I take to the Fall dance.

There’s a girl.

Let’s call her Abby. She’s smart, beautiful, nice. She likes hockey. So, way out of my league. But at 15, I only have a few things to win her over. My words, and music. So today, rather than be 45 and watch more video of the children gassed to death in Syria, or go through all my medications and make sure they’re up to date, or check on my 401k, blah blah blah, I’m going to be 15, and think about driving, getting that first job, and impressing Abby. So since I can’t leave a note in her locker I’ll make her a mix tape. And my biggest struggles today will be which Smiths song to choose, and does she like that new band INXS, while not choosing a Cure song (yet). And when I’m done, I’ll put that mix tape in a box in my closet with all the other tapes I never had to courage to give.

Cause I’m 15. Quiet, shy, broken, you know– weird.

And Abby likes strong, brave, funny, athletic types (damn you Erik Lee!) But unlike when I was 15, I won’t agonize and worry anymore. I’ll enjoy the process, the journey. Sometimes building the fort is better than playing in it. And who knows, maybe when I learn to drive, get that job, get that mix tape just right I’ll ask Abby to the Fall dance. And I’ll get that first kiss. Maybe I’ll get the courage to ask her.

Or maybe I just did.

 

A message:

Ok. I’ll try to be brief. I’ve been informed my ‘positivity posts’ are ‘a bit much.’ As someone battling a rough illness and spending most of my time alone, unable to do much, I spend a lot of time trying to find something positive to do. I have TV, my phone, my computer, and Spotify. So I can be sad and feel sorry for myself or find the beauty in sports, art, music, and humor. And sometimes I choose to share it. I don’t do it for ‘clicks’ or ‘likes’ but to feel like I might be connecting with someone out there. Ultimately, my goals are to stand on my own, walk out of this apartment on my own, get back to ‘real life’ and maybe find true love.

Fortunately, I have this medium and I have you.

I don’t waste my time praying for miracles. But I do try to live a life worthy of one. And I try to exude love and positivity. This is my life now and I appreciate and love every fucking second of it.

 

I’ve decided I want to get a therapy dog. I just need to find one that doesn’t have to be walked, doesn’t poop, and will never die.

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MY 2016 MIXTAPE FOR YOU… by Steve Safran

It’s time for an annual tradition: the Valentine’s Day mixtape. Last year’s was well-received, so now it’s an annual thing. This ancient rite dates back to the 1980s, when it was the height of romance to give a mixtape to that special someone. Also, it was free. (Minus, of course, the price of a good tape. Maxell was my choice.)  Here, then, is my 2016 Mixtape for You. Although I have linked the songs here to their YouTube versions, seek out these songs and listen on a good stereo or some great headphones.

SIDE ONE

  1. Happy Days” (Squeeze) A fantastic return to form for the band that will always make my mixtapes. This is off their new album, “Cradle to the Grave,” which came out this year – Squeeze’s first album of original songs this century. “Happy Days” is a simple ode to packing the car and having a great weekend trip. I read a great piece this past year on how the band’s ‘80s greatest hits collection “Singles, 45s and Under” is possibly the world’s most addictive album. Damn right. This would fit in perfectly.
  1. For Once In My Life” (Stevie Wonder) It’s Valentine’s Day, after all, and this is Stevie at his Wondermost. A little guitar riff at the top and then right into it. Try not to smile when you think he’s singing this right to you. How this isn’t a top wedding song, I’ll never know.
  1. Two of Us” (Aimee Mann and Michael Penn cover The Beatles): This is such a perfect, compact treat. Rarely do covers of Beatles songs match or exceed the source material. But I like that spouses Aimee Mann and Michael Penn duet on this – having real life sweethearts sing this one makes it, I dare say, better than the original. Plus, come on, Aimee Mann and Michael Penn. Top that.
  1. Life On Mars?” (Played as an elegy to David Bowie) Bowie’s dead, and that sucks. It led to one of the greatest spontaneous tributes I’ve ever heard. After Bowie’s death The organist at St Alban’s Cathedral outside London played Bowie’s “Life on Mars?” likely unaware it was being recorded. It is a perfect elegy. Try not to tear up.
  1. Two Hearts” (Phil Collins) OK, it’s Phil, and don’t give me crap about it. Phil announced he’s going to make a comeback album, and the Internet exploded with hate. Revisionist nonsense. Phil Collins is great. He’s a fantastic songwriter and legendary drummer. Phil wrote it with Lamont Dozier, part of the legendary Motown team of Holland-Dozier-Holland. It’s peppy, very Motown and it avoids Phil’s tendency toward cloying writing in love songs. Listen, dance, repeat. Side one is over.

 

SIDE TWO

  1. Don’t Think Twice (It’s Alright)” (The Tufts Beelzebubs cover Bob Dylan) The bad breakup. The bitter end. The desire to lash out. The sarcasm. All of that is in Dylan’s original song. But the ‘Bubs take it somewhere else. In this slow, deliberate, harmonious cover, they turn it into a song of regret and longing. I love when artists take a song and turn it on its head. The a cappella is wondrous. How did they arrange this? Valentine’s Day can suck. Let Dylan and the ‘Bubs help you through it.
  1. Smile” (Nat King Cole) This has just terrible, awful advice. “Smile, though your heart is aching. Smile, even though it’s breaking… You’ll see that life is still worthwhile if you just smile.” Are you kidding me? “Just smile?” And yet, what a song. Did you know Charlie Chaplin wrote it? So what if it is the least empathetic advice you could give to someone. It’s still touching and damn if you won’t tear up.
  1. The Boys Are Back in Town” (Thin Lizzy) Huh? What’s this doing here? OK, mixtape maker’s privilege here. I had a mix to listen to when I was getting chemo. This led it. It was my “get psyched – here come the poisons for your body” song. Coping mechanisms are weird things. You have your treadmill mix, I had my chemo mix.
  1. Layla” (Derek and the Dominos) Eric Clapton wrote this to steal George Harrison’s wife. There’s no way around it. It worked. Patti Boyd divorced Harrison and married Clapton. But, this being the ‘60s (and early ‘70s) things were cool. Harrison and Clapton remained friends, and Harrison even went to the wedding. Patti Boyd must have been something. She inspired at least 11 songs including “Something,” “Wonderful Tonight” and “I Need You.” But “Layla” is the best and most scandalous of the bunch.
  1. Moonlight Serenade”  (Glenn Miller Orchestra) As I noted last year, this has to be the last song. Nothing comes after “Moonlight Serenade.” Back from the war, you’re boozy and tired, your last Lucky Strike about to burn your lips. What was her name?  Do eyes really come in amethyst? She was, what, a nurse? You shared a dance with her, anyway. “Hattie,” was it? Maybe she was USO. Her phone number… MAyfair6-31… Oh, Hell. Someone has poured you into a cab, and your last recollection of the evening is that the band, oh, what a band, played “Moonlight Serenade” as you danced with… Christ… “Maddy?”
Maxell

Happy Valentine’s Day friends!