I took a fiction writing class this fall semester at The New School and we were assigned five novels to read during the class. I completed a grand total of one of those novels, Gary Shteyngart's Super Sad True Love Story, and I didn't finish it until recently, weeks after the class had concluded. It wasn't that I didn't care for the novels the professor had selected -- admittedly, they did seem to skew in the French romance direction, unsurprising since our professor was French and wrote romance novels I believe -- but it was merely a lack of time to read. This entire 2013 in fact, I haven't had time to read. Or to breathe. And it's been one of the best years of my life.
A year ago, I was still suffering with unbearable toe pain -- a mystery result of a botched surgery that multiple doctors in multiple fields had tried multiple methods to no avail to alleviate the pain, the wrenching debilitating pain in my big toe on my right foot. I couldn't wear a shoe without pain, couldn't wear a sock without pain, couldn't use my right foot to brake in my car, couldn't even wear a shoe while driving. I'd taken to wearing sandals everywhere, even in the winter, or one sandal and one shoe. I was regularly taking 1600-mg of neurontin per day, which isn't a pain reliever per say, but a nerve drug used for epileptics that helped people with RSD (which is what the doctors had diagnosed my pain as) and it did help me, particularly at night when it got worse and I needed to sleep. I was off the heavier drugs like Percocet and Vicodin that had gotten me through the first half of 2012, but I was still drinking heavily to help with the pain (and likely, my depression), I wasn't able to exercise at all -- well, maybe 10 minutes on a stationary bike if it was a particularly good day -- and I'd ballooned up to 190 pounds, my highest since the 1990s. Not good times.
But Howard Stern saved me. Yes, that Howard Stern. He was talking last November on his show about a topic he'd spoken of many times before but I never paid it much mind -- that his debilitating back pain had been "cured" by Dr. Sarno and what he called the "mind-body connection" and that it could be the cure for anyone with a chronic unexplained pain that doctors could not solve. Dr. Sarno is retired but I picked up two of his books - Healing Back Pain and The Mind/Body Connection (I think that's their names, Google him!) and about halfway through reading one of them last November, the pain in my foot went away. Completely. Lasted only about an hour or so but I knew I was onto something. I found a local doctor named Dr. Gwozdz in Somerset, NJ, who gave lectures on Dr. Sarno's methods and after a single lecture with Dr. Gwozdz, the pain went away. Again, only for a short time but there was definitely something to it. The theory behind these methods is that the mind is an incredibly powerful part of the body and can and does control the pain -- the signals of pain -- that are causing your debilitating discomfort. Also, the body has incredible power to heal itself -- a broken leg heals in like 6 weeks -- so while it can't cure cancer or other illnesses, the body can heal any injury, so that a chronic muscle or joint pain like lower back pain or, in my case, RSD (nerve pain) in the big toe of my right foot, is not caused by a physical ailment, but is caused by your mind. And it's true in my case, no doctor could diagnose anything "wrong" with my toe post-surgery (and really, pre-surgery, it took a long time for them to find anything "wrong"). And even things like slipped discs in your back that a back doctor is going to prescribe surgery for, Dr. Sarno says this should not cause pain, not the kind of pain people are experiencing, and that our whole medical industry of treating chronic pain through drugs and surgery is a horrible waste of resources and time and money. And pain. Because even after all the doctors and all the drugs and all the surgeries and injections I had in 2011 and 2012 I was still in constant pain. Until I realized it was all coming from my mind.
The theory behind the mind-body connection here is that the unconcious mind is holding on to damaging, painful things that it does not want to come to your concious mind. And so, as a distraction, it creates a physical pain -- in an area that you can place a physical cause (the mind, it's very smart and very tricky) and that this distraction keeps you from thinking of the emotional pain, focusing instead on your physical ailment. Why the mind does this has to do with our biology and evolution and a bunch of reasons I can't even remember (go read Sarno's books please if you have chronic pain in anything, anywhere) but the truth is it does, and it works. In a way. In April 2011, I went through some major personal issues -- not actually negative, but the culmination of years of emotional repression that finally broke through in a major, dramatic way, and then about a month later, I was at my friend's wedding, dancing in rented shoes, and woke up the next morning with extreme pain in the 2nd toe on my right foot. It was bad for a day or two but I went running that Tuesday and played softball that Wednesday but that Thursday ended up in the ER for the first time since college assuming I must have broke my toe because the pain was so intensely unbearable. The toe wasn't broken -- the initial misdiagnosis by the RN was gout -- but it never got better. Went to countless doctors in 2011 looking for a "cure", went for surgery on December 7, 2011, which was actually successful, in that the pain in my 2nd toe was alleviated but it switched to my big toe, where the surgery actually took place, no one knew what was wrong again, again countless doctors, countless treatments, a diagnosis of RSD, which is a nerve disorder for which there is no cure and that basically meant I had to spend the rest of my life on drugs "managing the pain" and... it all -- every last bit of it -- was caused by my mind sending signals of pain because of the emotional drama of April 2011 in my personal life. Unbelievable? Maybe. But I do strongly believe it. Because it worked. Dr. Gwozdz had me write a list of all the emotional issues my unconscious mind didn't want me to face, and for the first few weeks of last January, I would take a break every 20 minutes or so in my day and almost go into a trancelike state reciting those issues, forcing them to come out into the open, into my conscious mind, to acknowledge to my brain that I knew what it was doing and the pain wasn't "real" (even though, believe me, it was... or it fucking felt like it was... RSD has been called the #1 most painful disease in the medical records). Anyway, long story short (too late), the pain started to go away. It wasn't immediate, it was a long process, but it went away. And now, one year later, it's pretty much as close to "cured" as I ever would have dreamed.
I went from 1600 mgs of neurontin a day down to 800 down to 400 down to 400 every other day then in recent months, every 3 days, and lately, just in the past month, once a week, and it's been 8 days since my last pill as I write this. I know I can do without them completely (which is what I'm trying to accomplish) but my brain is holding on in some way, to that last little bit. But yes, a year ago, I was taking 4 pills a day. Now, with no medical intervention at all -- just me doing these mental exercises -- I am down to less than 4 pills a month. Pretty much completely free of the drugs. I'm able to wear shoes now. And socks. And drive with my right foot in shoes and on the brakes. Last spring I had to travel to a client and even though I felt much better, I couldn't put on actual shoes and had to wear sneakers. Now... any shoe will do fine. I've been able to exercise again, able to run (although I haven't really tested that since June or so), and I've done 40-minute elliptical workouts on back-to-back days this fall. I'm not completely pain free, after those workouts there's some pain in the toe but it's not bad, it's not debilitating at all, and it doesn't bother me or affect my life. If you'd asked me one year ago today if any of this would be possible -- if I'd even be able to go through a day of sitting without pain, let alone do 40 minutes of an intense workout -- I'd have said no way in hell, no way ever. But that's the power of the mind. And it's changed my life.
In some ways, the hellish two years of toe pain has been an odd blessing in disguise. It's made me value life more, made me want to live more, and mostly, completely, made me face the emotional distress that was keeping me down, made me face that for the first time in my life. And not really care about what was stressing me anymore. It's amazing how awesome your life can become when you don't really care about all that shit that weighs you down anymore. Literally. I lost 28 pounds through a combination of exercise and starvation diet and never felt better. I sold my house after 13 years of living there and made the horrible economic (but amazing otherwise) decision to become a renter in a city, moving to Hoboken, NJ, just a 10-minute PATH train from Manhattan. I met great new friends from the City (hi Laura, Katie, Kat, Jodi, and everyone else!), I went to countless concerts, I walked to the gym all summer long (see above), I walked to the organic food store on Washington Street, I walked to the Starbucks on Washington Street, I went to see art films at the Angelika and the Landmark, I hung out in Brooklyn and Queens, I went to book readings and comedy shows in lower Manhattan (oh wait, no I didn't, I planned to but then there was this bar...). Anyway, it's been an amazing experience living in Hoboken and one of the best decisions I ever made, to get out of the suburbs and into a city where there's more to life for a single guy without kids. Of course, I'm not single anymore, which brings me to the bigger point of this whole post about ending my blog.
Time. All of the above -- the new adventures, the ability to work out again, the fun fun fun and the vacations to Los Angeles (love Manhattan Beach so much) -- has been a huge time suck. A wonderful, amazing time suck, but a time suck. I actually wrote a full first draft of a novel in the spring months before I moved to Hoboken. And then basically didn't write again the whole year. Or not much. Not enough. That was one of the biggest reasons for moving to Manhattan, to get into the writers community and write more and get my novel published. Sadly, I haven't had time. But it's not because of all of the above. It's because of love. For reasons that were the primary cause of my toe pain as it turns out, I haven't truly been in a long-term serious relationship, despite my advancing age. But this year I have been. And it's been wonderful. It's probably the main reason the toe pain has gone away, because after everything, it all came down to love. We've known each other for about a year but have been serious the past few months and time -- yeah, all the time I didn't have all year because of Hoboken and work and my classes and my new friends and exercising and the toe stuff and the move and writing a novel and trying to work on my previous novel (and failing miserably) -- none of that compares to the time it takes to be with someone else, to love someone else,. But it's been perfect. And sadly, it's left me so little time that something like this blog just had to fall by the wayside. And it did.
Super Sad True Love Story takes place in the near future, in a frighteningly near future, where everyone spends all their time on an "apparat" -- which appears to be like a more advanced iPhone -- and almost all interaction is digital. Everyone knows everything about everyone else just from their apparat -- their net worth, their hotness on an objective scale, how many partners they've had, who those partners are, everything... pretty much like Facebook on acid, and pretty much where we're headed as a society. America has unfortunately gone through some turbulent years, though, with its ever-increasing debt to China turning it from a superpower to a has-been in the world that results in a military overthrow of the government by an autocratic regime that is now monitoring everything and everyone, ranking people via their apparats as they walk past "credit poles" that evaluate your value as a human being simply in a single credit score. How much money you have. And can spend. And if you don't have any money, you are forgotten, or at worst, as things deteriorate in the wake of the Chinese Central Bankers visit, you are killed. Even if you are a veteran. Especially if you are an angry unpaid veteran of the failed war against Venezuela. But I digress. The most frightening part of the story is how realistic it is, how near this future appears, as someone witnessing the way America is turning into a country of haves and have-nots, where simple human decency toward the unemployed or the poor or the struggling and weak seems a forgotten remnant of an earlier time, a pre-Tea Party time, when human value was not simply based on the size of one's wallet, when common good was an actual virtue to be achieved, not a political aim to destroy. And when the vast majority weren't distracted by the computer devices in their hands, sacrificing privacy and personal value for a few brief glimpses of entertainment to substitute for life, and for living.
Now, Super Sad True Love Story isn't really about the end of America and more about Lenny Abramov and his undying love and devotion for a young Korean girl nearly half his age. There are some parallels between my current relationship and that one, which I won't get into, although I don't consider myself as hapless as Lenny and my lover is not vain or inconsiderate like his is. But is on the iPhone just as much :) But I think the novel made me think of the end of this blog not just for the fact that I didn't have time to read it this fall but more that this blog had evolved into a very political one over the years, from its start as a more lighthearted and funny blog about my life and my music. Yet despite all my rantings, despite the so blatantly obvious (to me at least) destruction of our American society by the conservative Tea Party Republicans currently in power, nothing has changed. If anything, they are as strong as they were when they first took power in 2010, even after shutting down the government this fall, even after tanking our economy for the past 5 years and counting. It makes no sense to me. And I stopped writing about it because of that. There's only so many times I can quote the overwhelming evidence that trickle-down economics do not work, that higher taxes and a more equal sharing in the wealth of this nation help everyone -- including those in higher tax brackets. That unemployment benefits and food stamps are proven to be the very best ways in spending government money to improve both the economy and ordinary citizens' lives. That universal health care should be a universal human right and every western economy has better and cheaper health care than our private-insurance based system. That we have become an imperial nation fighting wars all over the world for the sole purpose of fighting wars all over the world. That the 2nd amendment does not mean we need to surrender to gun violence of a level that the rest of the 1st world never sees, even in countries that have high gun ownership levels. And that anyone who listens to a single word anyone on Fox News ever says is mentally challenged or worse, an evil douchebag. But I digress. Because it doesn't do anything. It doesn't change anyone's minds. Some of my closest friends and family are actually quite conservative and if I can't convince them how mistaken their beliefs are, I certainly can't convince complete strangers on a blog. Is Super Sad True Love Story our future if people like me give up and stop fighting against the Fox News machine? Possibly. Probably. But I don't have time to fight it anymore. I'm in love.
I have loved writing this blog since it debuted in February 2005. I've loved all the friends I've gained -- including Wayne from Oceans Never Listen, who I got to see in Manhattan last month when he visited. I've loved writing about music and politics and Syracuse basketball and my friends and less frequently in recent years, my life. But it has to end. In 3000 words, it's ending. I'm still paying Typepad $15 a month for the ability to post, for now, but if the website remains up in all its archival history without that (I think it does) then I will probably cancel that soon. And truly go dark. I do own the rights to Vaguespace.net and will not be giving that up (that's like $20/year renewal) so as long as I have that, you can peruse the archives. And at some point, some time (I'm not sure when exactly but some time) when / if I get my novel published, Vague Space may return as a writers' blog -- or whatever type of media publishing is popular in a couple years. For now, you can find my new writing at the spots below. I haven't tweeted or instagram'd much in the past due to this blog but maybe that will increase. Or you can email me. That still is the best way to get a hold of me (other than texting but I'm not giving out my phone number here, sorry). Anyway, thanks to everyone who read this blog over the years. In the late 2000s when my readership was doubling every year, that drove me to write more and more and gave me so much satisfaction. If you've been a long time reader and I don't know you, I can only thank you from the bottom of my heart. If you live anywhere near NY and want to meet me at a show, just let me know. I'll be wearing the Syracuse hat :)
Sisters and Brothers, We have surely lost our way. In strip malls full of cancer. And a pathetic rain.
Mother, sweet mother, please don't discipline your hands. Just kiss me in the morning. In your dirtiest pants.
We will find our way. We will find our way.
There is beauty in this land, But I don't often see it.
There is beauty in this land, But I don't often feel it.
People are flowers, Musicians are Cowards! Let's argue in the kitchen, For hours and hours.
Tomorrow is a travesty, Tomorrow should be ours. Musicians are Cowards! Musicians are Cowards!
The soldiers with their specialists, And the pigs with their guns cannot stop,
The lost ones and the desparate ones and the driven ones.
The soldiers with their cigarettes, And the pigs with their guns cannot stop,
The lonesome ones and the desparate ones and the smart ones.
So come on friends, To the barricades again.
So come on friends, To the barricades again.
So come on friends, To the barricades again.
So come on friends, To the barricades again.
We will find our way, We will find our way.