How do you do, and How do you do, and How do you do again?

August 10, 2017
Guitar, music, health, celtic

Music is medicine.

One of the most effective medicines for pain medicine, in my experience, is music. Not the listening to, but the participation in. I suppose it is to be placed in the “Laughter is the very best medicine” and “Early to bed and early to rise” category of psudoscientific platitudes that feel good but are repeated in a half-joking manner.

However I am not joking. Music is medicine.

I also realize that music, whose mere existence consists of loud sound, may be an ironic or even anachronistic choice for treating sound-sensitive migraines. I will admit that there are certain times in which I cannot turn to music because of the severity of a headache. But when that is not the case my music is a powerful tool in migraine prevention.

My musical history is a long and rambling one. It all began one night when I was in grade school. There was a small music store in my town, and my family went there because my sister wanted to learn how to play guitar.

I looked at all the instruments on the walls, a row of acoustics and a smattering of electrics if that store’s current selection is any indication, and my tiny self made a life changing decision. I wanted in.

My family walked out with two guitars that night, and scheduled lessons with a teacher every Saturday.

He didn’t really teach me to play chords, nor did he teach me to read music, so I can’t lead worship at your church in a normal way, nor can I really serenade a girl on a moonlit night with a harmoniously strummed pop song. But boy can I shred me some Led Zeppelin, because he taught me how to rock and to roll. Which is a skill I am proud of, and I personally think is cooler.

I left his teaching when I was in High School. My dad and I had gone to Guitar Center (a big guitar store for readers who are where Guitar Centers aren’t) and we found a beautiful find. We’d go together to look at the guitars; by his own admission the rocker he was in High School was living vicariously through me.

Anyway, we found a Cordoba classical guitar on sale for a price that continually lowers as I remember it, marked down from a price that continually grows as I remember it. It was a steal though.

You may be thinking, “Ah, you quit lessons to find a Classical Guitar teacher?”


I wanted to play Renaissance guitar, so my father purchased me a book of Renaissance guitar, all in musical notation that I could not read, and took it to my teacher. I learned a few songs, some John Dowland, some Jean Bésard, and learned some primitive fingerstyle techniques.

But in the end, I exhausted my teacher’s abilities, and really, who can blame him? I started with Rush and Boston, and finished with the Madrigal Composers of Elizabethan England (you don’t have to pretend to know who the Elizabethan Composers are, they are obscure). So after many years, I went off on my own. I couldn’t read music, but I could only play the songs I knew when I was looking at the page of music notation. Its still that way with those Renaissance songs. I have heard that it sounds like a musician’s purgatory. I laugh, because I have tablature.

And I basically stopped playing guitar, except for those few Renaissance songs I knew, and my Led Zeppelin, which as everyone ought to know is just Renaissance music on electric guitar.

My headaches were in full swing, and my guitar was rather loud, and I just had no motivation for learning new stuff.

So I quietly sat and plucked the same Renaissance songs over and over again on my fancy guitar: The Parliament, Espangoletta, The Branle Gay, Tanz, and Wilson’s Wilde.

Seasons passed. Summer turned to fall. Fall turned into Winter. It was California so Winter gave spring a miss and went straight into Summer. I went to and graduated from High School. I went to college. And then…

It was my junior year. I lived in a house with a Musician called Maxton. He’s a conductor now; I am quite proud of him. He saw me pull up with a guitar, and then was elated when he saw that it was, in his words, “not another chord smasher”.

Then I started playing the Parliament, and he looked at me and said, “John Dowland?”.

I put my guitar down slightly and said “Best composer that ever there was”

He then pulled out his iTunes on his laptop. “I really like this.”

“That’s not John Dowland though,” I said.

“You can tell the difference between the Elizabethan Composers” he said to himself.

“How much do you want to own a real Lute?” he then asked.

“I’d pay its weight in gold,” I replied.

I was watching TV and I saw a commercial. It was a Sam Adams beer commercial. Probably the most influential commercial in my life. It inspired me to spend lots and lots of money. And Sam Adams got none of it.

The commercial had the song Shipping up to Boston by the Dropkick Murphys playing in the background. I already liked Irish music, and this was guitar Irish music. I wanted in.

“Its mainstream enough, maybe somebody took the time to post the tablature of it online”

I got on Google, and every tablature I found was written for an instrument with four strings.

“Must be for violin?” I said.

“I’ll have to show Maxton. Maybe he could at least play it for me”

I showed him the tablature the next night when we were watching Spongebob. He looked it over, his eyes darting behind his glasses.

“This isn’t for violin,” he said, “Its for mandolin.”


You are not a fan of Warner Bros. animation unless you know who Foxy is. Source: Public Domain.

I knew what a mandolin was. The first Warner Bros. cartoon was released in 1931 and was called “Lady, Play your Mandolin”. It introduced WB’s first cartoon characters, Foxy and Roxy. Also Jimmy Page shredded on a mandolin for his ode to Tolkien “The Battle of Evermore”.

“Do you know where I could get one?” I asked as a sort of Hail Mary pass. Maybe he knew a mandolinist. The question was worth a shot, at least.

“I have one under my bed.”

Five minutes later I had a mandolin in my hands. It was smaller than I expected, and it had eight strings. But it was shaped like a lute.
“Think of it as being a four string instrument” said the Bard.

“Can I use any pick?” I asked.

Maxton pulled out his phone. “A guy on this mandolin forum says that using any pick other than a mandolin pick will make the instrument burst into flames. Also I use a jazz guitar pick”

I found the aforementioned pick in the mandolin’s case. It was far too small for my taste, so I opted for a larger pick I (ashamedly) sometimes use on my Classical. No flames have occurred yet.

I ran my fingers over the strings, and began to play discordant notes. It ranted and roared, and the tiny steel strings bit my fingertips.
But the sound, o the sound! High pitched but deep, piercing but soft, full but hollow. It felt as if me, and my discordant notes, had fallen through the waves of time and were now sitting someplace Else–a Narnia, a Middle Earth, a Fairyland.

“Like it?” Maxton asked. The dream was gone, and I awoke in California.

“Can I borrow this for a while?” I asked.

“As long as it doesn’t leave our house without my permission.”

“Fair trade,” I said.

I sat in my blanket fort–yes, my Junior year I turned my bed into a blanket fort. It would have been the apple in Edward Longshanks or William the Conqueror’s eye. Anyways I scrolled through my iTunes. The Dropkick Murphys no longer were interesting. I could play honest to goodness folk music.

So I scrolled through my iPod, reviewing the collection of Irish music I had been amassing for a few years at that point, and Googling the titles that interested me, searching for tablature. Glory be, the internet was full of Irish folk tablature, and it was all free.

Mandolin, Celtic music, beard

Myself with a mandolin. Maxton’s mandolin. Source: My Selfies.

I first learned my (then) favorite Irish song, the Star of the County Down. The ultimate love song. Or is it a breakup song? The ending is perfectly open to interpretation. Either way, its a song for any mood. And if you are tired sick of love, as it is perfectly acceptable to be, the song can also be “The Fighting Sixty-Ninth,” a ballad about the 69th New York Irish Brigade in the American Civil War. I have their regimental flag on my wall.

Using my rock and roll background (which has a large similarity to folk) I taught myself Irish mandolin. I then started learning Scottish music, then English music, and then Sea Songs that I originally learned from the exquisite music of Spongebob Squarepants (let it be known that the music directors Derek Drymon, Mark Harrison, Stephen Hillenburg, and Blaise Smith resurrected forgotten centuries-old songs for their show. They also have the BEST version of Drunken Sailor in my opinion, and I have listened to many covers of Drunken Sailor.)

I have seen many studies that say music is therapeutic. But, I am not a man of science. I have yet to see compelling evidence that elves and trolls do not exist, and I will sound like a fool if I presume to talk scientifically. It would turn me into two children in a trenchcoat, one on the shoulder of the other.

I have seen a marked improvement in my headaches when I am playing on my mandolin, even more so than when I am playing on my guitar. I think the sound and the forced concentration, as well as the release of stress, combine to make me forget my migraines and instead focus on the sounds I am producing. In addition to that, the cheerfulness of the songs adds to my general disposition. I must admit, I am happiest when I am listening and playing centuries old folk music. It’s all in the experience, you see. The people who wrote these songs lived through tough, hard times, and wrote songs as a way to help them get through their days, and they do the same trick for me years later.

To me, that all reads like the same thing a few ibuprofens can do, only better.

And now, to conclude and to finish disputes, I am moving and sent my mandolin (ok, mandolins, I have since purchased instruments designed for British and Irish folk) away for a while, and I have been forced to play my folk music on my classical guitar. And to my elation, it now works just as good. Here is my rendition of “Spancil Hill”, from the great site The Traditional Music Library. It was instrumental in my learning of mandolin.

I am now attempting to learn the arrangements of the English song “Misty Moisty Morning” and “Spotted Cow” by my favorite band Steeleye Span. I may update you on that endeavor in the future.

I think, therefore, the key is the mindset. So if you are going to approach music as a stress relief or a way of managing pain, you gotta approach it with a good attitude. Approach it with a “this is fun, and mistakes are ok” attitude. Don’t strive for perfection, strive for relaxation. Don’t mind what people will think–if you have to, imagine your audience is a bunch of squirrels who don’t care if your fingers slip. If you do that enough, eventually your fingers won’t slip and you won’t mind people listening. But best of all, your problems won’t seem as big.

In fact, you’ll likely be merry enough to greet your problems with a sing-song “How do you do, and how do you do, and how do you do again?”


The Hero’s Journey that I had Last Wednesday

May 30, 2017

In which our Hero (me) went to refill my medication, met with extraordinary figures, met with magic and mystery, and descending through my greatest Phobias descended into the Underworld and emerged with newfound wisdom and my medication.

Part One: The Call

It was one of the worst feelings possible, a thing of stark horror and long-lingering fear. I had gone to the shelf where I keep my medicine, and discovered that I was out. Not, mind you, of everything. I still had a score of my preventative medications. But I was out of what I consider the most important medications: the emergency onset ones, the ones that you take when a migraine stands on your doorstep and knocks. Being out of those is an emergency all of its own, and I suppose that you could very well guess why. So, I logged onto my computer to purchase another box of Rizatriptan, my onset migraine medication of choice. It is by far the best that I have used, and I have used a lot of onset medications.

Being a young adult grappling for independence and yet still living in the shadow of your family does have its particular perks, such as inclusion on your family’s health insurance plan until the age of twenty-six. This greatly streamlines the process of the acquisition of vital medications. Until, of course, it doesn’t. Like this tale that I am about to tell you.I tried to order my Rizatriptan, but the website flagged it. It needed a doctor’s approval. I shot a text message to my dad, who is more versed in these sort of things, on the virtue of having negotiated with doctors from long before I was born. Hopefully, I would not have to go see a doctor.

My phone rang. It was my father, and I answered.

“It looks like you need to schedule a doctor’s appointment,” said he over the phone.

I grunted my agreement. There are three sorts of people I greatly dislike seeing in a professional setting: the first is a dentist, the second is a mathematics teacher, and the third is a doctor. But, as I needed my medicine lest anything bad happen, I called the insurance company’s hotline to schedule an appointment. The very next day, at two-thirty in the afternoon. “Arrive fifteen minutes early,” said the phone operator, “parking can be difficult.”

Part Two: Crossing the Threshold

Two-fifteen on the next day arrived, and I found myself in a full parking lot. Half of it was designated Staff Parking, and they were all the spots in the shade. “Typical” I said, and negotiated the ways and byways of the parking lot to find a place that I could park my car and enter the office. I had been to doctor’s offices before, and I knew the drill. A building full of a myriad of offices, all housing doctors of differing degrees. An ophthalmologist may share a wall with a pediatrician, and a dermatologist with a gynecologist, and there is bound to be a neurologist and an oncologist in there too. In short, a vast, labyrinthine complex forming a patchwork nation of doctors.

I needed to find myself a directory so that I may find my doctor in less than fifteen minutes. There was no directory. There was a receptionist.

“Hello,” I said to her, hoping to make it to the appointment that I knew I was likely now going to be late to. “Where is the office called “Medical Two?”

“It is on floor two,” she said in a quite droll voice that indicated she had answered this query to a thousand faces.

“Thank you,” I said.

Now I had to find the stairs. I walked up and down the hallway, and I could not find them. All I could find was an elevator. I looked at the time. I prefer stairs. Something about them is fun. Elevators, especially hospital elevators, have a sense of foreboding doom about them. My anxiety picks up inside them, especially the windowless ones, as there is always an off chance that those doors won’t open again. Think of it like the “You put faith in a chair every time you sit in it” parable every motivational speaker thinks constitutes the wisdom of Plato, Aristotle, Aquinas, and Kierkegaard combined, but only in this case you are trusting a strange automated steel box you just met to let you out.

The two steel doors opened, and I, having no other choice, stepped over the threshold. The controls had two choices. One, or two. Since I was on floor one, I only truly had one choice.

“Easy to use the elevator in this hospital,” said a cheery voice that gave me a right good start.

“Yep,” said I to the smiling middle-aged woman and pressed “Two” for us both.

The doors opened, and I found myself looking down yet another hallway with five hundred doors. At least these were easily labelled, and I found my destination.

Part Three: The Maze of Trials

The interior of that office was, to say the least, a menagerie of people of all shapes and sizes and ages. There, once again, was the woman from the elevator. She’d found her way faster than me. With a smile, she pointed me to the front desk.

I guess I looked that lost.

I gratefully smiled back at the kind middle aged woman, and made my way to the desk.

“Insurance member number,” said the checker kindly. I proudly handed her my insurance card and ID. It was like my golden coin letting me into the Ferryman’s boat. “Is this a Southern California number?” she asked. My golden coin turned out to be but a bewitched leaf.

“I am from SoCal, but I have a NorCal visitor’s number,” I replied.

“I need that,” said she.

“Hold on,” said I.

I was ready for this. I’d saved my number for just this occasion. I fumbled through my phone’s notes, and read out the numerals. A few clicks later and I was checked in.

“First time visitors need their picture taken in case you need to come back” she added, and I smiled into her backwards-mounted webcam.

I sat down in the waiting room’s chairs, marveling that I was not late. So much had happened in fifteen minutes.

“Ens, Quaid?” called out the Practitioner.

I got up and followed her deeper into the office, which was a maze of corridors and alcoves, all filled with baroque medical equipment. “Stand there, I need to take your weight; sit there, I need to take your blood pressure” she said, and I dutifully obeyed, taking off my sandals and presenting my arm. “Take off your hat, please,” said the Practitioner, producing a strange wand. She quickly waved it about my forehead three times over, until the thing let out a thermometer’s beep. She might as well have said some word in the language of angels and fairies. Magic like that I had never seen before.

Then she led me further into the maze to the actual room where I was to meet with the Doctor. She left me there, and I sat alone in contemplation.

“I need medicines refilled,” I reminded myself.

NO CELLPHONES ALLOWED cried a flyer printed on yellow that was paper magic-taped to the door.

“I need to ask him about something else, I think,” I said to myself, taking out my phone to snapchat the cellphone flyer.

DISPOSE OF SHARPS AND BIOLOGICAL WASTE HERE screamed the label on a trash can. I quivered.

Anything involving sharp objects in a medical setting is a nightmarish affair, the work of vampires, ghouls, hobgoblins, and other members of the Unseelie Court. I felt a tinge of anxiety run through my heart, making my blood run cold and my skin to perspire, my stomach become nauseous and my ears to go numb. It is all on account of myself being accursed with of haemophobia and trypanophobia–fear of blood and fear of needles respectively. It should be added that these two fears greatly hinder any possible employment in the medical industry.

HERE BE MONSTERS writes the cartographer when labelling the spot just before the edge of the world.

To distract myself I quickly went back to my SnapChat. I’d forgotten to even take the photo. My thumb stretched towards the button when the door flew open.

Part Four: The King of Trials

In strode the Doctor. He was tall, wrapped in a flowing labcoat belying his wisdom in the medical arts. He carried himself with a sort of imperium, the authoritative manner of one who knows he is, at the moment, the most powerful personage in the room.

He sat down, and as this was our first meeting, began to ask his riddles with a smile that revealed a kind individual who was simply getting his work done by acting imperious. The best kind of doctor, in my opinion.

“Quaid A. Ens, answer me these questions three,” said he. I nodded, and waited.

“Why are you here to see me?”

“I am here to get medications refilled,” I said.

He nodded, and produced a small book that was a catalog of medications. The cover caught my eye, as it was an old woodcut of a pair of renaissance doctors and their dog. He thumbed through the book, scrying for the unusual European medications an eccentric Neurologist put me on years ago.

“How have you been feeling lately?”

“Feeling well is a relative term, I have chronic headaches, but I feel good when I don’t have them.”

The Doctor looked at me, and then looked at his screen, and back to his tome.

“Have you had Labwork done lately?”

My head began to spin.

“I just sent a refill order to the pharmacy. Your medications will be filled and delivered to your address. All I need is to go downstairs and get your labwork done.”

The Doctor’s printer whirred, and he handed me a warm summary of our visit, the ink still drying. And with that he was gone with a handshake and a swoosh of his labcoat.

I found my way out of the Doctor’s Maze alone, doing my very best to remember the way the Practitioner had led me in. Soon I was back in the long hallway, and I sank into a bench, trembling with fear. I sent a text message to my father, and waited for a reply.

Part Five: Temptation and Atonement

“How can I get out of this one?” I said to myself. “I could go home. He refilled my prescription. What bad can be in my blood anyways?”

The dread beast diabetes said my mind. Man-slaying cancer helpfully added my memory.

These two cast their gnarled shadows on the wall behind me, and joined in the tempest of fear that circled about my head. There was still no reply to my text message. Images of medical equipment, horrendous tubes ending in points and beeping machinery flooded my mind. “I cannot do this. I’d rather die” I said, and walked down the hallway. There before me, were the stairs. “Finally found them,” I said.

I was in my car, fumbling to get my non-working hands to place my key in the ignition when my phone rang. It was my father.

“Blood test, eh?” He said.

“Y-yes,” I stammered.

“Bummer. You going to do it?”

“I don’t want to.”

“If you wait, it will only get worse. This is the best time to do it, or you will be destroyed by knowing you have to take one.”

Cancer, diabetes, blood, and syringes swirled in my head. Nevertheless, I knew he was right.

“I’ll do it.” I declared, reaching for a book of poetry I had brought along in case anything like this happened.

“Slay the dragon,” he said. “I will pray for you.”

Part Six: Apostasis and Winning the Prize

The lab was dreadfully easy to find. It was on the first floor, just below the Doctor’s Maze, and mindful of each of my footfalls I entered that underworld. It was crowded with people, all waiting, and none of them smiling. With no Virgil to guide me through this limbo I found my way to a great red wheel that produced numbers on tags. I reached out and plucked one—number ninety-five. I smiled. Having that high of a number meant something. Maybe a longer wait? Was that good, or was that bad?

“Ninety-three!” called the lab’s Receptionist.

Turns out it wasn’t really that high of a number. I sat down, struggling not to abandon all hope.

I thumbed through my book to distract myself, and found “Sir Lionel”, and began to read as I waited. Sir Lionel was a Knight of the Round Table who fought a monstrous wild pig that had itself killed forty knights.

“Sir Lionel would not be fearful in this situation,” I said, looking about with a watery eye.


I took a deep breath, and walked up to the receptionist, who pointed to a doorway. With a churning stomach and a swirling head, I entered that dungeon well-lit and cold.

“Hello,” said the Practitioner sweetly. She was another middle-aged woman, the kindest face I had seen that day.

“Take a seat right here,” she said, motioning to an empty cubicle.

“I must be honest, I am terribly afraid,” I said.

“This will be over quick,” she said, and I looked away as my unfairly sensitive arm began to be lashed with pain.

“All over!” she said, and I waited five seconds so I would not see anything. Then I turning saw my bandaged elbow, and looked away again.

“Have a nice day!” she said, and I got up to leave.

My arm was weak, but I had done it. I hurt, but it was all over. Fast, just as my father said was best. I sighed, and clicked the seat belt in my car and drove away, still unsettled. But nevertheless, I had faced my fears, and better yet, I had made it out of the Doctors’ Maze with my intended prize, my Rizatriptan prescription refilled.

Part Seven: The Return Home

The next day I found a voicemail on my phone. It was the Doctor, informing me that my blood had nothing wrong in it. I sighed a sigh of relief, and watched my fears die away.

“But,” said he, “Your white blood cell count is a little high.”

Understandable, I thought. I had a cold recently, and that’s what white blood cells are for.

“So, in a month or so I’d like another test to check on that.”

“Oh, come on,” I said aloud as my Roommate handed me my prescriptions, which he had found in the mailbox.

“What?” he said.

“Oh nothing,” I said, putting my phone away.

And now as I sit here, reflecting upon and typing up my story, it makes me think of many things. The value of bravery, sure, with myself as the bravest man at last, the cruelty of modern medicine (my arm is still sore, my sensitivity is a complicated medical issue all its own) as well as the virtues of modern telecommunications, but I think the most important moral of this story is the value of kindness. Everyone involved, from the Middle-Aged Woman to the Doctor, and even the dour Receptionist, was the pinnacle of kindness. And that, I think, is one of the most important pinnacles to be.

As I conclude this tale, and to finish any disputes, I will vouch that ninety-five percent of this is true. Direct conversations were paraphrased as per my memory, but all of these people are real and interactions happened. I omitted the doctor’s name for privacy reasons, and used titles for others to maintain the Fairy Tale vibe. Only cred I will give is my roommate Blake. He is a good deliverer of already delivered medications.


Body Alchemistry

May 17, 2017

Think about a time when you were without water. Any time will do. Maybe you were on a long drive, stuck in the passenger seat with a driver singularly obsessed with making great time. Maybe you were at some sporting event in the hot sun, and there was nary a drinking fountain or other connection to the municipal water supply. I don’t know the story you are thinking of, but I am sure that you are thinking of a time.

I hate those times. Utterly despise them. So much so that I cannot think of a metaphor fitting for it, few things match my disdain of something that is “like being out of water and thirsty”.

To that end, I am never without water. Throughout the years that water has been carried in a water bottle, a thermos, an insulated cup, an uninsulated cup, an army surplus canteen, a bright blue cup acquired from the local zoo with an awesome giraffe and giraffe facts printed on it (by the way, did you know giraffes only need ten to twenty minutes of sleep a day?) and most recently, a green plastic camping canteen. Each of these vessels comes with a yarn, an origin tale, a Thermos Begins or Canteen of Steel if you will. Each also has many stories that pertain to my adventures, for as I mentioned earlier, I always have water with me, and especially when I am on adventures. All my time is equally hydrated, but certain times are more equally hydrated than the others.

Seventy-five percent of statistics are incorrect. Yet it is an oft repeated statistic that a great percentage of the human body is water. I have heard between sixty and seventy-five percent, although each time I hear it the statistic changes just a little.  “Science is an inexact science,” as Renee Belloq says. However, the gist remains the same—your body needs water, and lots of it. As I have told you before, I am not a scientific person. In fact, you could even say that I am the poster-child for trendy postmodern superstition. (By the way, an article is going around my social media feeds extolling the virtues of sleeping with an onion stuffed in your sock for good health, which reminds me of an old English belief that feeding your husband marrowbones and eggs will make him blind. I have yet to try the onion-in-sock trick. Maybe someday. Maybe.) However, even in my layman state there are certain scientific facts that make their way to me, usually by way of Wikipedia surfing. Those facts tend to be either zoological, paleological, or related to headache prevention.

One of those scientific facts that has made it through to me is that headaches can be caused by dehydration. A quick Google search reveals that this is because:

“When you become dehydrated your brain tissue loses water causing your brain to shrink and pull away from the skull. This triggers the pain receptors surrounding the brain, giving you a headache. Dehydration also causes your blood volume to drop which in turn lowers the flow of blood and oxygen to the brain.”

–Google Search, ‘Dehydration Causes Headaches’.

While I cannot say if this is the best explanation, I can say that the more water I drink, the less headaches I have. Which is why I always carry a drink of water with me wherever I go. In fact, I have become so attached to carrying a water bottle or canteen with me that I never really feel like myself without one.  After all, staying hydrated is a very important key to healthy living. It stands to reason that if your body is sixty to seventy-five percent water, any shortage of that component would have potentially disastrous consequences.

I am engaged in a water-based campaign, a battle of wills. My opponent? The Napoleon to my Von Clausewitz, the Darius to my Alexander, the Caesar to my Vercingetorix, the Sisera to my Barak? I am kind of ashamed of this, but it is Rice. Yes, one of the most common grains and a food staple across the world. I have great difficulties in successfully cooking rice. I know the formula, one part rice, two parts liquid. But every time I try to cook myself a plate of rice to go with a nice sautéed chicken breast it always turns into an alchemical nightmare, with steam billowing about my stove and myself running about from pot to pot and to the sink and back like a panicked inventor who is watching his newest creation start venting incorrectly and making noises it was not intended to make. Invariably, the rice ends up being half-soft and thus half-edible, so I end up adding more and more water until it is edible. Hours later I find myself munching on edible rice, finally transumuted from their original hard form, alone, as I had already eaten the chicken that I had sautéed alongside the rice three hours earlier.

I feel that there is an object lesson here about the importance of water. Granted, cooking is ultimately the breaking down of a grain and making its cells easier to destroy, but let’s ignore that. Instead I am talking about the importance of monitoring the levels of water in your rice. Too much and your rice becomes soggy and inedible, and too little and your rice stays hard and inedible. Likewise, without proper hydration, I have found my days become quite difficult to bear. Like a plate of poorly cooked rice. But with a proper amount of water, like a base material rendered unto gold, my days become great.

Think of this as a challenge, a throwing down of the gauntlet, or in the very least, an encouragement. Summer is coming, and especially in the area where I live, that means that it will soon get hot. Very hot. In the sultry suns of summer, it is easy to find yourself dehydrated. So, don’t let that happen. Keep drinking water. Buy a canteen off of Amazon for $9. Carry water bottles in your car. Don’t let yourself even get to the point where you are thirsty, because then it is too late. Stay hydrated, and you will feel an improvement in your life. I know I have.

And also, any tips for how to cook rice?


Enjoying the Venture

May 6, 2017

“Ye gods,” I said with the exasperation of a man who had not only realized that he was driving on the wrong freeway, but also that was three exits past the interchange he was supposed to take. I clenched my teeth and pursed my lips in an expression that was two-parts scowl, one-part grin, and one part whatever expression a cormorant makes when it dives and misses a fish. I slapped my right turn signal on, causing the arrow to flash on my dashboard and my car to tick like a clock. An annoying clock. “If I must be on the wrong freeway, I might as well get off as soon as I can,” I said.

I am a professional out-of-towner. I went to high school outside of my hometown; in fact, there was an entire mountain between my home and my high school. It wasn’t very big in the catalog of topography, but it was in the catalog. Even though modern infrastructure has done much to nullify the effects geography has on people nowadays, that mountain served as a barrier between my hometown and my other hometown. I of course overcame it having to drive it every day, but for others a ten-minute jaunt “up the grade” was a day-trip, all because the freeway clambered over a one-thousand eight-hundred and fourteen-foot-tall hill. The freeway made it merely a mental barrier, but for the people in my home county, by Jove did it work!

After High School, I went to college even farther away, leaving the rolling and craggy hills of Southern California for the extensive and featureless flat (save for the occasional cow) of California’s Central Valley. In college, I exemplified the “He’s…not from around here” trope. I didn’t get the things that only locally-grown people would get. They didn’t get the things that only people whom the road had dragged in from far away would get. My manner of speaking, like my propensity to use the word ‘scrub’ when expressing dislike (where I come from, ‘scrub’ means something that you don’t want to be and that’s all you need to know) singled me out audibly. My dress, my mannerisms, my language (or for the more linguistic amongst you, my dialect) all separated me from my peers. In college, I was just unusual enough to always feel like an outsider, a wanderer, without being too alone. It’s a precarious perch, no doubt. Yet I balanced it all the same. These, in addition to shall we say, my infirmities and indispositions, did much in building little mountain ranges between me and, well, everything. I like my little mountains, you see. It gives me my personal space. Gives me thinking room. I see nothing wrong with that. Besides. community can be oh so stifling to personal growth.

Don’t get me wrong, there are many great things about community, and it is necessary for a healthy life, but there is a problem with relying on that community. It can lead you to at least ten bad places, each more painful than the last, if it all goes to any point on the compass that you don’t want it to go. (the first being denying the fact that you think Spongebob Squarepants is the most intelligent and philosophical cartoon series of our time, then there’s going on the late-night run when you are exhausted, and so on and so forth, leading up to the worst of the worst of interpersonal conundrums, a total existential breakdown as you realize that nothing you do for yourself matters and you are stuck deep inside Plato’s Cave with an acute sense of claustrophobia, nyctophobia, chiroptophobia, and probably arachnophobia. Take this, friends. Arm yourselves with knowledge.) What I am trying to say is a little thinking for yourself solves so, so many problems.

“Another one” I said. I glanced at the street signs, although I remembered the way that I had driven. “These things are everywhere,” I added, and I noted where I found another Jersey Mike’s Subs, this time even closer to my house. I smiled. If my town was going to have two of every sandwich shop, at least they had two of the best sandwich shops. I made a mental note on the parchment map in my head and kept driving. The Stench of Discovery beckoned me onward. When I graduated from college and decided that I would stay in the Central Valley I decided that there was only one thing for me to do. I would have to adopt the streets of my new town as my new streets, and that meant I had to know them. Sure, I sort of knew the streets from living in the area for four years as I went to school, but that was only in short distances to go to a few restaurants when the cafeteria got boring. Besides, there was little reason to leave the college’s small campus—they had everything you could possibly need. But I was graduated. I had gone to the great beyond. My spirit had found its way to the halls of the alumni. I had been carried through the doors of Valhalla. They’d weighed my heart against the golden feather of truth, and found that I was worthy of graduation. I was out of the community, and now I found that I had to learn how to live in a town I had lived in for four years. Chalk it up to the stifling shadow of community–its virtues, and its vices. To live in a town, I had to know where things were. So I took to driving in my free time. I put on my navy blue Breton cap, and drove off the edge of my mental map, going nowhere in particular, just driving up and down streets to see what was there, like an urban A.B. Stormalong. It was, in fact, quite fun, and a very entertaining summer activity. I miss having a city to explore.

As a habitual outsider, by choice or otherwise, I have observed that a great problem people face in their lives is that they cannot relax. Always stressing, always anxious about something (and anxiety is a whole ‘nother thing that I will undoubtedly get to another day) and never ever stopping to have fun. Oh, people have ‘fun’, but it’s not real fun unless it is posted on social media and gets at least twenty Facebook likes, fifty Instagram hearts, and at least a few SnapChat replays. In reality, that is not fun. That is just more stress in fun’s dashing uniform, sash and saber and all. And it is a waste of the $20 you spent on whatever new thing you purchased to feature in that post. Our people, it seems, have lost the ability to have fun, and instead exchanged it for trying to impress your peers.

To that I say: “Be yourself!”

Some things are trite and overworn, but they have to be said anyway. If being yourself means that you paid twelve whole dollars plus shipping and handling on a box of little blue toy soldiers so that you could have some fun and set up a little army in your garden, then you buy a box of blue toy soldiers and you plant a garden. You are also to make drum rolls out of the side of your mouth and make musket sounds with your lips. One could say that you are being childish. But what is the alternative? Being a stressed-out adult all for looks? I say no to that nonsense.

Pictured: Not Stress

I’m not going to get scientific here–I am a man of literature and history, not a man of science–but I think I can say that we all accept that relaxation is a good and healthy thing. I have noticed a great many health benefits in my life the more I relax, at least. Everyone gets tired and needs to rest, especially if you are living with headaches or some other chronic illness. Sometimes it gets to a point where I have gone too far and then three days later it’s dear Neptune, that migraine lasted for three days. Now I know there is a lot of debate over whether stress causes migraine headaches, and I know that “you should be less stressed” is a thing most migraine sufferers hear regularly, along with “you should try this new treatment that involves drilling into your skull and electroshocking your brain”, but I have noticed a correlation between stress and migraines. I think there is a connection. Or not. Correlation does not equal cause. It’s just that the more fun I have, the less stressed I am, and the less stressed I am the less headaches I get.

Fun as a means of stress control, then, is something that I have become a minor expert in. My key is rather simple: find a way to enjoy life. Find a way to enjoy it on your terms, not on anyone else’s. Not your friends, as they will likely change, not your boy/girlfriend, as they very likely will leave, and especially not Social Media (seriously, social media is not real. How many times have you thought someone was romantically interested in with you just because they liked your posts, only to reveal that no, they do not? Why do you think the rest of the internet is any different?)

Instead, find a way to live and enjoy life on your own terms. Find what you like, what fills you with that little pilot flame of joy that ignites your life’s stream of fuel into a flamethrower of happiness to deal with the killer bees of unhappiness, and embrace it. (Outlandish metaphors make me happy). I like many things, such as reading and writing and playing with toy soldiers and Lego, interesting hats, looking at boats, and playing mandolin. So unashamedly I embrace those things, and I don’t quite care who knows. If I didn’t do such, then in the very least my life would be somewhat empty as I went about saying “important business, no time to talk” and living in constant misery.

Ensuring that I stay unstressed is crucial to my personal doctrine of headache combat, as I am sure it is for many others. A few years ago, I started to notice something. If I was relaxed enough, I could still have a good day whilst still having a headache. Of course, there are the really nasty ones where all you can do is turn off the lights and pray, but excepting those, I have found ways to enjoy myself when I have a migraine. It is, in fact, one of the reasons I like toy soldiers and Legos. For me, playing with little bits of plastic is very therapeutic. I’m trying to remember a term a doctor gave my parents when I was little and starting out the headache business. Mechanical Medication? Mechanical Meditation? One of those two, probably. But whatever the case, the big thing is that it relaxes me when I don’t have a headache, and it takes my mind off the pain when I do. To me it works, and that is enough for me.

I sighed. I was on the wrong freeway, but I knew these roads like the back of my hand. Or, more accurately, I knew what was on these roads like the back of my hand. My city is on a grid pattern, so it’s generally all straight lines. It’s the freeways that crisscross everything that makes the grid pattern difficult. I was on the wrong freeway yes, but I knew what roads this freeway passed, and how I could easily get home. I was an urban Captain Cook, after all. I found my right road, and I pulled my car off the freeway and made for home. “I’ll sing you a good song, a good song of the sea” I began to sing merrily in a gravelly folk singer’s voice that I picked up from listening to the likes of Ewan MacColl, various ‘pirate’ musicians, and the Dubliners, and set off happily on the long way home. I may have taken the wrong road, but when you know your way there is no wrong road, only roads that take longer or shorter depending on the route. It was then, like so many other times, that I realized the things I had done for fun, games, and entertainment had better prepared me for life’s difficulties.


On Medicine

April 13, 2017

As someone who has suffered from migraines for over ten years I am no stranger to medications, perferably ones with unpronouncable names and potentially life altering side effects. I have, quite honestly, lost track of all the medications I have consumed over the years. Since most were tested when I was young, I cannot remember their long and scientific names–except one, Topemax, which technically cured me during the Christmas of 2009, based on the ingenuious premise that giving a person constant migraine symptoms would make it impossible for a migraine to occur. Needless to say, never again, and I am still bitter. But since, without further research, I cannot identify individual medications save for that one overkill example, I instead am going to talk about the idea of medication.

Medication is, in its basest definition, a substance that creates an altered state in the body that makes an intolerable situation tolerable. Some are legal, some illegal, but the outcome is the same– an altered state that allows for the living of life despite sickness’ presence. This can include prescription drugs, illicit drugs, alcohol, sugar, caffeine, herbs, and water. I include water because, most of the time, a headache is not a migraine but dehydration.

All medications also have side effects that must be taken into consideration. Of course, a medication just has effects–we decide what effects we like and what effects we label a negative ‘side’. The purest medications are natural ones–herbs and plants. The herb thyme (Thymus vulgaris) is both an antiseptic and an antioxidant and an antidepressant, as well as having little side effects. More manufactured medications tend to have more exaggerated side effects, and their positive effects tend to cure one ailment. Most migraine medications in particular have strange side effects–for instance, one pill may cure a migraine, but your body will be itchy the next day. Or one pill will stop the migraine, but you will be a tad loopy for a while. A price for everything. Some may have worse effects–for instance, I put on weight in middle school that I never lost and have always had rotten teeth–and I suspect my medication is to blame. I often look at medicine as a deal with a devil–not the devil, of course, as he is in the music business. But a mischievous spirit nonetheless. (My money is on a Púca.)

Now I am not advocating removing medication entirely; nor am I against the good doctors who prescribe it but years and years of medical experiences has made me rather, shall we say, mistrustful of medication. I still have migraines after ten years of multiple medications. It is also my experience that medications have a couple years at most before the body builds a tolerance for them, and then you must start a new regiment. Its a vicious cycle, one that often feels like Sisyphus and his rock.

There is also an inherit problem with medication, for it results in the reliance on an external substance. This is, of course, not a problem when such substances are readily available. Yet when the medicine or narcotics run out, then the problem they were solving is suddenly much worse. And we cannot understate the price of the medication as well–medicine costs many pieces o’ eight.

I advocate a lifestyle-based solution with medication, preferably over the counter, to combat migraines. Food and drink is a major influencer, I have found, as well as sleep and exercise. But above all, attitude and spirit are the most important. These are things that I will talk about in later posts, but I will talk briefly about them here. Essentially, identifying those foods and their side effects (remember, food falls under my definition of medication) and eliminating those with negative side effects and increasing those with positive side effects. Sleep and exercise are a given, and a rather well known pathway to healthy living. “Clean living, friend”, as the tortoise said to Bugs Bunny. And finally, attitude and spirit. Find a way to be content and happy in life (definitions of happiness vary, check your local bookstore’s Philosophy section) and migraines will be far more managable than if your life is in disarray.

And also, pursue medicine if you wish. You are living in an age of medical marvels and wonders. Its not all bad. Just…be careful.