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Concert Therapy: Live Music Kicks Ass Over Yoga!

Posted on: Friday, November 9th, 2018
Posted in: Sabbatical Shuffle | Leave a comment

This site encourages everyone to break out of their comfort drone and dive into experience. The off-screen kind with fresh sounds, sights, smells, surroundings, and homo sapiens. In a perfect world, we do this by traveling the world for 3 months every 7 years or so. Meantime, we maintain our practice with music and things.

For lots of guys, diversion practice features lots of fishing, hunting, sports, beer, and Captain Morgan. For women, such activities trend toward yoga, book clubs, retreats, chardonnay, and Tupperware parties.

IMHO, however, few things bring release like live music. Regardless of your gender. In the Twin Cities alone, hundreds of venues are routinely packed despite spendy tickets, pesky scalpers, and spilt beer. Euphoric fans fill the streets, bars, and eateries hours before (and after) the show. And—never mind that funky fog—there’s a palpable buzz in the air that few pursuits can match.

  • Boost your well-being by 21%

I’m not sure how, exactly, one quantifiably measures well-being—but sign me up. Disclosure: the study last spring that got much ink was commissioned by London’s famed 02 Centre, a big player in the industry and perhaps not a completely unbiased source. Still, there are many such studies floating around. And they all agree on findings like…

  • Attending a concert every 2 weeks may increase your life span by 9 years
  • Going to live music boosts your mood much more than yoga or walking the dog
  • Listening to music increases your dopamine level by 9%

Those are impressive numbers. But beyond any fuzzy math, this live-music buff rejoices in the way that a concert brings people together like few other things can, especially in these contentious times. Regardless of work, religion, or politics, giddy fans routinely stand up, scream, sing along, and leave feeling at least 55% better than when they came in.

02’s study asserts that regular attendance is the key—as in, seeing a show every 2 weeks or so. While that might sound ambitious, most any hobby or pastime that promises to elevate your life experience takes some commitment. And is worth it.

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Unplugging Becoming Unpopular & Uncool

Posted on: Friday, October 5th, 2018
Posted in: Unplugging | Leave a comment

We all see it often: The idiot driving in front of you is all over the map—breaking and swerving, so unnerving. When this happened to me yesterday, my car-model prognosis surmised this person might be old. That’s fine; we all aspire to become elderly drivers, right? But this time, I pulled up in the next lane only to see that this aging person was also staring straight at her phone. Gadzooks!

  • Teens at risk for device addiction, seriously!

10 years ago, the MYBA Editorial Komittee declared that obsessing with your own digitalia qualified as risky behavior—including the danger that you may miss out on the joys (and pitfalls) of Reality. Taking a 3-month BreakAway to a dream destiny offered the ultimate escape from screen fakery and other drudgery.

That was before the cell phone, as we now know it. The simple remedy for that obsession? A practice called Unplugging. But that movement has gone the way of Universal Health.

So, sadly, BreakAway has become relatively silent on that cause. Others research and write about digitalia abuse routinely. In fact, over-usage (and by that I mean normal usage) of cell phones and SM now qualifies as a veritable addiction. Among teens, it’s an epidemic, in plain view wherever they may stumble upon you.

But as the granny-driver in the relic Buick reminds us, this disease does not discriminate; all ages are vulnerable. And exposure always beckons.

Yet a guy could drive himself bonkers (and has) by asking children or other loved ones to put it away. We’ve lost. We’ve lost the expectation for focused presence of mind from others; they have somewhere better, cooler to “be”…on-screen. We’ve lost the connection of eye contact. Heck, we may have lost the art of conversation.

Consider these findings about teens from Common Sense Media, although I believe the numbers might be similar for a substantial (and growing) segment of adults (who may just be striving to be youngish, since the tight jeans didn’t work):

  • 35% say texting is their favorite way to communicate.
  • 32% say talking is their favorite form of communication, down from 49% in 2012.
  • Almost ¾ believe tech companies manipulate people into spending more time on their devices. (Yet they increase usage anyway.)
  • 64% come across hateful content sometimes or often.
  • 46% said their parents would be “more worried” if they knew what “actually happens” online.
  • Waving the white flag (is there an emoji for that?)

Although I still preach and prick the kinfolk I care about when they are phone-focused during, say, mealtime and relevant chats, I rarely sacrifice my own sanity any more. Too bad. In this case, the “simpler times” really were better.

I miss the basic human courtesies of mutual respect and attention. It’s rather heartbreaking to realize you’re less popular than a widget.

But hey, we’re not alone.

(Or are we?)

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Recession Forecast: Dark & Stormy

Posted on: Thursday, September 20th, 2018
Posted in: Spendology | Leave a comment

After a long and self-indulgent break, the Spendology category is pleased to get off the recliner and return to the turf of BreakAway. And thus ends the good news—and the party. Because we are here to predict that the U$A is exactly two years away (or less, maybe much) from the next recession. Duh.

Market timing remains a foolish and dangerous sport. So “SELL” makes little sense. But neither does “BUY.” So here’s our best recommendation: “GO!”

  • Life is what happens while you’re busy making other plans (or not)

Stick to your plan, of course. If you have one. But if you’re like most Merrkuns, you don’t. Even worse, a recent LAT article made a painfully compelling case that most of us have not improved our fiscal fitness since armpit of the last downturn. Yep, despite the longest uptick in our history, our national personal debt has actually risen…from $12.7 to $13.3 trillion.

Last spring, CNBC reported that 1/3 of Americans have less than $5k saved for retirement, while 78% are “extremely” or “somewhat” concerned about having enough for their golden years. Naturally, we’re all also getting older. Meantime, youngsters are afraid of making babies and our “leaders” are afraid of immigrants. So, absent willing & able taxpayers, the next bust could be particularly painful on our aging populace (and bodies).

Let’s not even go into the recent tax cuts that may ultimately benefit only certain lucky citizens certain large corporations. Meanwhile, our government will go wa-a-a-ay deeper into debt. It’s the American Way, right?

  • Stupid students, etc.

Student loans are the new cash sow and guilty party. And really, let’s hope they’re enjoying their bookish bash because when the crash comes and they enter the Real World, the party’s over. Ironically (or not), the brain trust in DC is the loan shark here. And FBOW, they go all Soprano about collections: Death may be ex-students’ only option to escape paying somehow, somewhere, someday. But hey, as a fellow Armchair Economist chuckled, “Student loans are a killer way to pump up the economy…because kids spend that cash immediately!”

Later, many of them kids can’t afford a house and are missing that rare boom moment. Rents soar, while wages stagnate like a draining swamp. “Fintech” loans have created a new way to float billions that, when the levee breaks, we have no idea who will sink and who will swim.

Speaking of sinking, remember in winter of 2009 when the S&P 500 hit an epic low of 6,443? You don’t? Good for you. Even better for you is if you bought (or at least held) in the 9 ½ years since—because you’ve nearly quadrupled your money! In record time!

  • Feel rich? Cash out and BreakAway

All to say…Buy low/get high applies. Right here and now is a GREAT moment to consider cashing out some gains and taking a sabbatical. Skip the second property. Punt the Porsche or vintage Pinto. Or if you’re like most folks and are still watching and waiting to get your financial act together, you may as well go anyhow.

What are you waiting for? The biggest boom in the history of Our Great Nation? Bummer if you missed it. Awesome if your ship came in.

Either way, it’s a good time to ship out. Winter is coming. Again. You ain’t getting any younger. It’d be a dirty rotten shame if your dreams died before you do.

Happy sails…

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Family Leave Becoming the Hot BreakAway

Posted on: Tuesday, September 4th, 2018
Posted in: HR FYI | Leave a comment

Seems like literally every day lately when I pick up a newspaper, a bold-face headline announces major increases in corporate family leave policy. MYBA’s primary mission may be advocating career breaks and sabbaticals. But coming in a close second is taking time for other what-matters-most opportunities. And frankly, does anything matter more than welcoming a new Earthling into the family? No.

Yet government statistics reveal that only 16% of US workers are granted paid leave for a new baby. Talk about mis-spent priorities amid an allegedly booming economy. Insert tantrum here, and please aim thrown baby food at your elected, crusty upper-crusters.

By their own accounting, five generations work at General Mills. So individual needs can vary dramatically, yet every employee is likely to need time to tend to a sick or aging family member—if not a new baby. Thus GM has made leave policy expansions that include bereavement, disability, and more, while new parents will get 12 weeks paid time off. New birth mothers will receive 6-8 additional weeks.

That generous, yes! But it’s also just plain smart; GM admits they’d fallen behind other large food companies. And when you employ 40,000 people (and must please countless shareholders), talent recruiting and retention are the best path to profits.

  • Microsoft to require contractors to offer paid parental leave

Tech firms may be the most lavish (and well-heeled) when it comes to leave benefits. But MSFT is about to set a new standard—and not just for tech freelancers, but everyone who contracts with the firm, including cafeteria workers and janitors. MSFT already mandates that contractors provide vacation and paid sick days.

The state of Washington and a small number of states have created an employer- and employee-funded tax that allows new parents to dip into those piggy banks for family time off. The other Washington—as in DC—remains pathetically hands-off about baby care and many other perks real people need. (Drain the swamp, indeed.)

  • Sweden and Scandinavia: Nurturing off the charts

The progress gradually happening in corporate America warrants a standing (or resting) ovation. But lest we get carried away, a travel article about Stockholm I read today featured a Swede casually mentioning that new parents there get up to 480 days of paid leave—plus a monthly child allowance paid by the government.

Will the US of A ever get there? Of course not—let’s not get piggish! But meantime, we’ll be grateful for (dare I say) baby steps.

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Save Summer: Send Your Kids to Camp

Posted on: Wednesday, August 15th, 2018
Posted in: Travelog | Leave a comment

The game is called Gaga. And it’s been going on much longer than Lady’s been lusting for limelight. It happens in an octagonal, sand-filled pit, has no real beginning or end, can accommodate as many players as want to squeeze in, and beckons kids from about age 8-16. My best guess is no adults have competed, or are invited. It’s a Camp thing, you see.

Camp rocks. From my parents’ lakeside deck overlooking the bay where Camp happens, I listen day and night to Camp noises including singing, screaming, chanting, laughing and, of course, the sound of sailboats and kayaks and canoes capsizing. Which leads to more screaming, laughing, splashing… My son (now in college) and my daughter (in high school) have done an overnighter week at this camp since they were old enough. They (and their friends) unanimously call it “the best week of the summer” and give it an 11 on a 10 scale.

  • The summer conundrum

That one glorious week aside, many parents of late have taken to overscheduling their kids’ everything, including summer. I get it. After all, MN schools meet all of 180 days per year—and about 11 of them feature early dismissal. Is than an adequate education? Probably not. So this parent felt a hefty responsibility to augment those 169 classroom days with summer opportunities of all kinds, from arts to science to watersports and crafts to ________________.

Throw in our culture’s kid sports obsession—that can lead to multiple sports, games, and practices per day—and it’s little wonder that people say, “Kids grow up so fast these days…” Because we make them. We push them. We need to get them out of our face so we can work and take a break. And, well, they need to get off their butts and their stupid screens. Sadly, you know that’s where their minds will usually be glued if given too much free time. Yuck.

  • Welcome the do-little movement

Still, there exists a noteworthy backlash against over-scheduling summer. A early-summer Strib article told of parents (some of them social-media mavens) preaching the gospel of lazy days and mellow moments. Of un-programming. Of swimming, biking, pottery, libraries, and (my favorite) encouraging kids to stare at the ants for 30 minutes if they feel like it.

In other words, kids need to learn to create things on their own. To go outside and make-believe or make up a game.

To. Be. Bored.

  • Ahhhh, precious boredom…

Boredom. Now there’s a luxury most people can ill afford these days. Even youth. Yet, frankly, it feels so good. Sitting on that deck and listening to those kids celebrating summer and childhood and getting-away-from-it-all from sun-up through the wee hours is, for me, a sacred boredom. I never get tired of it. And I smile with deep gratitude inside that my offspring get the chance to be there. Do that. To just be kids. Surrounded by others just like them but from all over. With the supervision of counselors who, for the 8 weeks or so weeks of Camp, also become kids again.

We all need Camp, or at least that state of mind. We all need to feel young, to let summer float our souls into a sunny bliss, to wash ourselves in the timeless, warm waters of lakes and ponds and rivers and pools. To ditch our screens and careers and to-do lists.

There’s still time. It’s only mid-August. You’re still alive, and so’s that kid inside of you.

Jump in and enjoy!

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BITN: Dads Don’t, Professionals Won’t Take Time-off Plunge

Posted on: Wednesday, July 25th, 2018
Posted in: Sabbatical Shuffle | Leave a comment

BreakAways of all sorts continue to generate news, and (possibly) progress. Work perks like flex time, telecommuting, and parental leave gain traction here and there, while travel and entertainment are booming as people ‘go out’ and the economy hums on.

Yet people still seem to love their jobs. Or have a love/fear relationship with their job (in)security. Here are just a few noteworthy news bits passed along by the MYBA interns, starting with dads who seemingly rather cuddle their computer than their own earthling offspring…

  • Daddy leave won’t leave the building

Here’s the good news: From 2015 to 2017, paternity leave offered jumped from an average of 4 weeks to 11 weeks.  Now for the bad news: Only about 56% of employed men even qualify. Worse yet: Most men just say no. While 2/3 of women use all their parental leave time, only about half as many men do.

Why not? 1/3+ worry it would jeopardize their career; ½+ think it might show lack of commitment. As one Silicon Valley exec sagely comments, “If you don’t take it, it’s borderline idiotic.”

The dilemma is getting attention, from HuffPost to CNBC to a new book by Josh Levs, a former journalist (now blogger) who took legal action against CNN for their biased policies. In this election ‘year of the woman’…in this time of too many men getting spanked for impolite tendencies…in this era of #metoo women roaring, it’s noteworthy that not all men get their way (or even equal treatment) all the time, and that somebody cares about that, too.

Unfair benefits benefit nobody, people. Stand up for your rights!

  • Fly away, but leave the laptop

So says Star Tribune travel editor Kerri Westenberg. Makes sense, right? What’s the point of vacation if you don’t vacate your baggage (so to speak)? And these days, ‘work’ seems to be mostly screen-centered (like everything else). Yet, increasingly, people bring their laptop (and cell phone and WORK) with them when allegedly getting away from IT all.

Ms. Westenberg cites some heavy reasoning to temporarily cut the connection, including that 9 out of 10 Americans state their happiest memories took place while on vacation. (And no, the other 1/10 weren’t necessarily on the job.)

She also mentions a respected heart study that found that men who skip their vacations are 30% more likely to have a heart attack. And get this: Women who refuse to vacation are 50% more likely.

So take this medicine from Dr. BreakAway: Use your PTO and you’ll definitely live larger, and likely live longer. Or you can skip your prescription and end up with a broken heart. Literally.

Dosage #2: if you want to fill your head with happy memories, take your time. Work matters, and makes money! But what good is money if it won’t buy free time?

Moments make memories. Take one and make one.

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About Angels, Infusions & Test Anxiety

Posted on: Saturday, June 16th, 2018
Posted in: SoulTrain | Leave a comment

One-plus year ago, I received the blessed news that my Care Crew and their amazing arsenal had won the cancer war inside of me. Of course, the journey carries on anyway, like a long, lost cruise. Still, I’m pleased to note every little cancer-versary, even though I keep mostly mum and celebrate with nary a sliver of chocolate cake.

In this transition into the After-Life, I wonder: Should I continue writing about this topic? Usually I decide, Heck no, move on! But the appointments and occasional complication continue. And funny or forehead-slapping scenes persist. So then I figure, How can I let this stuff go? After all, my Cancer Comedy career is still emerging—and can a comedian ever have too much material?

  • Testing, testing

The good news is the bad news: When you ask anyone who has to endure thorough check-ups, they will say It’s not just you; it’s genuinely stressful and anxiety-inducing. I mean, just look at the guy in that picture. Does he look like he’s having fun? Has he lost that can-do attitude? Would he rather, say, be undergoing root canal? I think his kindergarten teacher would be ashamed.

I happen to know he’s trying, and he’s tough. But the process is also trying and tough, and the cheerleaders have left the building. Most staffers are kind enough and remember me; one saw me at a track meet recently while another had seen me biking. So those singing dollies at Disneyland got it right: Cancer is a small world—a world of laughter, a world of tears, a world of hope, and a world of fears.

  • Doing shots

A Disney dolly is not what I resembled today when the pain went to 11 as they shot some of Kim Jong Un’s ordinance into my veins as part of a scan. For some reason, it burned like hell. “F**KING A!” I screamed as I shot up from the plank. They apologized and offered an explanation (that made no sense to me) of what went wrong. I resisted the urge to run away and blow off the test.

When enduring this particular scan, a recorded Voice of God tells you what to do: “Breathe. Hold it in.” That’s when they shoot the high-octane gas into your veins and the machine makes extra-terrestrial sounds—echo-y little pings and pongs and the faraway crunch of bones and brains smashing. And then, 5 minutes later, Voice of God says “Exhale.” It can seem like forever, but I find my flesh looks surprisingly good in blue. Matches my eyes.

After a pause, Voice of God gets all tricky and says, “Exhale. Don’t breathe.” And the flush of molten asphalt flows again. In my mind, I’m fantasizing that I take the microphone from Voice of God and say things like, Please rise and bow your heads or Stand up! Sit down! Fight Fight Fight!

Now, about those infusions: They do a nice job of describing what you will experience, stuff like…A hot sensation…flows into your whole body…a bad taste will fill your mouth…and you’ll have to pee…then you’ll think you ARE peeing…but you’re not.

Of course, when those sensations happen, no one is in the room, since they don’t want to undergo the toxic radiation they’re putting you through. That’s probably a good thing—so they don’t hear us patients yelling, GAWD, this sh*t tastes like sh*t! and Stop! I have to pee! and Help! I think I’m peeing! I swear, when Voice of God tells me it’s over and I can sit up, I stare straight at my crotch and wonder, How DO they DO that!?!

  • “You have really nice veins”

The blood-thirsty nurses always say that to me. I don’t know what it means, and even though they’re usually women, I doubt it’s a come-on. But they are honest, because they don’t ever say, “This will be easy.” Or “This won’t hurt a bit.” And then comes the ice pick in the arm.

Blood. They take blood, lots of blood. I usually turn the other way and read the paper (upside down). If it’s not going well (some are more on-point than others), I try out some new material, like Are you part vampire? Or Shouldn’t I get paid for all that? Or Where’s the dang cookies and Kool-Aid? They cart the blood away like milk cartons. Days go by before they reveal what emoji face they might apply to the specimens.

  • The Rasta Angel appears

I’m unsure about spirits and angels and things. But they do make great literary devices. And sometimes, when you’re lost in the deep, dark woods of your thoughts, a perfect stranger can show up with a message of miracles and hope. So I was not surprised yesterday when a Caribbean dude with dapper dreads sat at the table next to me under the scalding sun at Chipotle. We were the only ones who could handle the heat and eat outside.

With that patois that instantly takes me to my don’t-worry-be-happy place, he lit up and went off loudly like only an Islander can: If you ees bone een America, you nevva tink life ees guud enough. Always be want-in’ mo’. Da people who get to come to dees country, DEY WANT to be hee-yah! Ass wha’ I’m say-een to you! We got to stop all da figh-TIN and fear-INN an’ com-plain-INN. We got to bring back da gra-ti-TUDE, mon!

We had a long chat, naturally. He told me lots of things, including that he is in love with a woman who lives in Norway. He wants to marry her, he says, And just teenk of datt! Den I might could gitt to leeve in No-o-o-rway, mon! he beamed.

I told him I’d been there, that it’s magnificent, and that it’s one country where the people actually like and care for each other. He bobbed while singing out Ya mon! Ya mon! and squeezing some lime. Then, with the timing of a master comedian, I asked, “Does your girlfriend have a sister?”

He bellowed out a large, life-loving Island laugh and guffawed, I Iike you! I like YOU! You eess faaaaah-NEE!

I don’t know if he really was an angel. Or if I’m really funny. But that really did happen. And since I must admit that these advanced-class tests can bring out the inner snark and angst, he really did remind me to be grateful. And that I must pass these tests, for I want to see Norway (and the Caribbean) again.

Gratitude. I got this, mon.

Thanks for listening.

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BITN: Traveling phone-less, working less, and eating together more

Posted on: Thursday, May 3rd, 2018
Posted in: Sabbatical Shuffle | Leave a comment

BreakAway themes continue to gain traction in the Real World. Here are some favorites, starting with the seemingly unthinkable idea of tour groups that ban cell phones.

  • Radical Sabbatical Idea: Hang up and hang out

BreakAway was among the first to proclaim that the sky is falling (but nobody is noticing) when phones began to take over the world, the driver’s seat, and even travel and leisure. Want a break from phone-y living? Here’s a tour group for you. Off the Grid founder Zach Beattie says, “The entire focus of the trip is mindful travel.”

In a WashPost article, columnist Elizabeth Bruenig makes a compelling case that Americans need to let go of our obsession with work. She questions the new DC wave of “work requirements” for governmental aid. She reminds us that in other democracies nearly everyone “enjoys the kind of leisure time only our highest paid workers can afford.” And she asserts that we overstate the “dignity” of work and overlook the “dignity of rest.”

Meanwhile, here in MN, local writer Kevyn Burger reminds us that the family meal may be on the Endangered List, but is more vital than ever: “Children from families that routinely sit down to a meal together suffer less depression, obesity and substance abuse.”

Hey, it’s good for parents, too. I’ll eat to that!

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BreakAways In the News Returns!

Posted on: Thursday, March 15th, 2018
Posted in: Blog | Leave a comment

As everyone knows, this site launched 10 years ago before an historic 4-month island-hopping winter with two kids in tow. Since then, sabbaticals and career breaks in the news have been occasionally chronicled by our steadfast staff. While that topic moved aside for cancer reportage and things for a while, we’re pleased to announce: It’s ba-a-a-a-ack!

The more things change, the more BreakAways remain unthinkable for most Americans. So…much of the news in our topic comes from the UK, India—and other lands that value time over money. We will again minimize coverage of foreign work-styles, if out of juvenile jealousy. But the world needs to know that Time Off remains a Thing and actually does show up in lovely streams and news stories, including these…

This savvy resource boasts a simple mission, and I bet you can guess it. They cite the 662 million unused days off as their inspiration. And (no surprise here) they find their funding in many sponsors in the travel industry who would much benefit if folks took more vacation. But wouldn’t we all?

Hey, if FastCo is on board—and manages to get the word “hack” in the headline”—we’re in good hands. Here we have a story about a woman who, with considerable angst and effort, found a way to take a hike for 5 months. Everyone won, and her synopsis is, “ Sometimes the best way to improve your work is to stop working.”

  • Returnships ease transitions for BreakAway practitioners

For those who have been off the job path for a while, returnships are now the buzz word for a way to ease back in, catch up on skills, and fill holes in some big corporations—like BP and JPM. Usually, this option is all about women returning from family leave. So it’s no surprise that The Mom Project is in the house. That’s terrific, and we welcome same for those who leave for whatever reason (including travel dreams!).

  • How to keep Millennials working

On the HR front, this savvy site lists 14 ways to improve retention with those ever-wandering Millennials, including flex time, team retreats, free lunch (no such thing), and of course, sabbaticals. They state takers must “show how it will benefit the organization before it’s approved,” which sounds a bit like telling someone what to do with a gift. Still, RAH!

  • Bieber takes a break from career break

Nobody takes more breaks than celebrities, for whom we have an info-fetish. Sometimes, in fact, celebs (like Jennifer Lawrence) even make news by saying they’re going on break, but then don’t. J-Law was going to raise the BreakAway bar and raise goats! But, hmmm, na-a-a-a-a-a-a-ah.

Biebs, meanwhile, drew attention for taking a break…from his career break…to be a part of NBA all-star game festivities. Ah, the life of a celebrity!

How are your BreakAway visions doing? Life is long, so keep the faith!

*kh

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“Great News! You Don’t Have Cancer!”

Posted on: Monday, February 12th, 2018
Posted in: SoulTrain | 6 comments

So said Dr. Finger when he burst into the room as he flipped me a print-out of test results that had otherwise been kept secret. “Get-T-F-Outa-Here!” I shouted in awe as I threw a Town & Country magazine across the room. For 6 weeks, they had directed me through a new regimen of tests, scans, and procedures chasing 2 kinds of possible cancer that have nothing to do with the previous one. Not all clues along the way suggested we were headed toward this happy conclusion.

I know what you’re wondering. Why was Kirk reading Town & Country? Well, just to set the record straight, I hadn’t seen one in years, and it carried my shaky mind away to memories of comfortable homes and splendid dinners (or at least coffee tables). That said, the magazine may have been upside-down for all I know—although I did notice the models keep getting younger.

  • “Cancer Again: The Sucky Sequel”

I was prepared enough for bad news that the above headline was already mosh-pitting in my head. And I’d reverted to the ABCs of considering scenarios. Like, I alerted Support Squad A. Obligations and travel arrangements had a Plan B. And if drafted, I was ready to jump back into the C zone, like a soldier re-enlisting for battle, in hopes that we might mop this sucker up by the 4th of July in time to move on to the important things, like floating.

Now, some might dub that pessimism. But PCSD does that to you. So does the pursuit of fearlessness, which features rigorous workouts in realism: Seeing and accepting all possibilities, even the ones you don’t like. It’s quite empowering, really—moreso than well-meaning sideliners who chirp, “Just stay positive!”

  • Pains in the ass

Women worry about breast cancer. Men fear the prostate. Both are common, and the male problem runs in my gene pool like good looks. So when my “blood work” in December showed some new, elevated numbers—perhaps caused by friendly fire from all the treatments—I had to board the P Train toward exams and destinations unknown.

Along the way, the search thickened when one scan unexpectedly discovered something concerning in my sacrum. I’ve learned to become concerned when doctors say concerning (though I’d never heard concerning and sacrum used in the same sentence before). Prostate is bad enough. But can’t we leave my sacred sacrum out of this? It didn’t help that a friend of mine, as we speak, has both prostate and spinal cancer. Stage 4. He put off seeing a doctor. The Bad Thing spread. He’s going to make it—I believe. But first he’ll go through hell and back again.

In my case, I was fairly fearless about bone cancer. There are many reasons, but the most intuitive one is that my back suffers from a condition that, if I were a noted doctor, I’d name “BackF*ck.”I achieved this condition through a lifetime of combative sports, risky activities, nasty accidents, gardening abuse, and of course, genetics. (When all else fails, blame your kinfolk.) Like many of us, I live with this annoyance well enough and work to keep it in check.

Fortunately, my hunch was right. (!!!) So when Dr. Finger explained that the back  issue was not cancer but asked, “Hey, did you know you broke your tailbone?,” I could only shrug. “No, but I’m not surprised. But, may I ask, is it…concerning?” “Naaah,” he answered, “I wouldn’t worry about it.”

Fun fact: When you’re dealing with doctors about cancer, you could come in carrying the arm you just severed off and they’d say, “I wouldn’t worry about it.”

  • “This might sting a little bit…”

That’s another phrase doctors like. It’s code for, “This might make you scream.” Nonetheless, when it came time to strategize the prostate biopsy, I chose to be awake. How could a stupid, short procedure I’d been afraid of all my life be a bigger pain in the ass than what I’ve been through? And the protracted process of knock-out surgery? S0 tedious (a different kind of pain in the ass).

Now, my guess is that very few writers have gotten rich and fabulous writing about prostate biopsies. And most folks probably don’t want to hear about it. So instead, let’s talk about animals. Everyone loves animals, right? Like, the remarkable porcupine. If I had to choose an animal that the procedure reminded me of, I’d definitely go with porcupine.

So if a porcupine should cross your path and need to enter your body, take my advice: Take valium. Scarf them like Sweet Tarts. You won’t scream as loud and you’ll enjoy a nice nap later—at about the time the porcupine retreats back to his proper hole, wherever that is.

  • Staring at the ants

Throughout these weeks, I kept the Zen poem, Hokasai Says, close-at-hand. It states:

He says it doesn’t matter if you draw,
or write books. It doesn’t matter
if you saw wood or catch fish.
It doesn’t matter if you sit at home
and stare at the ants on your veranda…

(Spoiler alert: The stanza ends with, “It matters that you care.”) Funnily enough, a Minnesota-dystopian thing happened: Disgusting, nuisance, winter ants left the veranda and moved into my house. This I learned when I awoke one morning and they had carried me down the stairs and were trying to shove me into their little ant-hole.

They’ve also invaded the cat’s food (no matter where you move it). The trail mix. The kitchen counter. The sink. And yes, even the Triscuits. So I’m like, screw the war on cancer: I’m at war with the ants! Hokasai might disapprove. But he’s been dead for centuries. And if he’d had a chance to snack on Rye and Caraway Seed Triscuits with avocado, smoked salmon, sweet-hot mustard and capers, I think he’d understand.

I must confess: Sometimes, I smash them. With my fist. It takes effort; they’re fierce, tough buggers. Earlier today, one blew me away. He (I’m pretty sure it was a he) was carrying another ant, a dead one. At full speed. I pounded him anyway. But it only half-worked. So you know what this half-smashed ant did? Smashed Ant just flipped me off and kept right on carrying his dead cousin toward Mount Triscuit.

Now that is fearlessness! Now that is strength! Now that is a desperate metaphor for what a guy must do when, not nine months after kicking cancer’s ass, the healthcare team decides we need to run six weeks of new tests for two other kinds of cancer.

  • The comedy continues

Dr. Fingers was a riot. Doctors are so much funnier when they bring good news. “We’ll need to see you occasionally,” he said, “about every six months.” “Bummer,” I responded as we shook on it, “You have such damn big hands.” He slayed me with a ready comeback: “Well, if you’re really lucky, I won’t order a second opinion” as he held up two fingers.

Oh, this guy is good. I’m definitely considering taking him on my cancer comedy tour as a warm-up act.

Hokasai says,

Every one of us is frightened.
He says every one of us has to find
a way to live with fear.

Wise man, that Hokasai. Fearlessness don’t come easy, but, like so many intentions, maybe it becomes easier with practice. And perspective. Like this: I had lunch with a friend last week who showed up uncharacteristically out of sorts. So I asked about it.

Turns out that, right before our meeting, she had visited a close friend who’s son had taken his own life the day before. At age 20. I have no idea, no idea, how one carries on after that.

In comparison, going through some unpleasant tests and a health scare is a blessing.

Fearlessness. I got this. (Right, Hokasai?)

Thanks for caring…

*kh

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