I Knew A Man

I knew a man, who was bright, funny and caring. He loved music, movies and a good time with friends. He was the guy who would rearrange his schedule to be there for you. He was they guy who was always available to help you move or fix a car. He was the guy who suffered the loss of a brother at young age. He was a guy who loved his mother and shunned prejudice.

I knew a guy who loved babies, dogs and kids, a man who was quick with a hug. When others failed to recognize I was floundering he was the guy who asked me if I was ok, warned me away from his friend and hugged me.  He is the guy who encouraged me to give my marriage another chance, he was right.

He is the guy I introduced to one of my best friends, thinking they may hit it off. I was right. Sparks flew, they met and never parted for a single day after that. They married and had a child. He was a good dad, he loved his wife.

I knew a man who like to party and trusted others. He tried heroin, he was hooked. He battled for years to keep his family, but failed. He was a man alone as his ex-wife cared for their son in a safe environment.

I knew a man who couldn’t kick the addiction.  It had him and wouldn’t let him go. He fought, and won small battles, but lost the war. It took his life this week and all I can see is him asking me if I was alright before taking me in his large arms for a hug.

R.I.P. Mike. I will never forget your kindness and will forever mourn the fact that you couldn’t be as good to yourself as you were to others.

Nancy the Great!

Nancy, such a common name for such an uncommon woman. I have my disease to thank for placing Nancy in my life. Alone, in pain and looking for help I turned to an online support group. It was here I met my long time friend “C.” “C” and I got to know each other after he threatened to boot me off the group for joking around with a few folks, something against the rules. (Not so much against the rules, but i was doing it in the wrong way)

Long story short, he and I became friends. When he founded the FMS Community I jumped on his train to help however I could. I became a moderator on the support group and began to work with both “C” and Nancy. Egad, was that really eighteen years ago?

No slacker herself, Nancy, a former financial whiz from Boston, stricken with her own chronic pain founded a 501(3) non-profit org. called the “CSSA.” She was president, treasurer, researcher and public relations. She and a small group of others collected donations, networked with medical professionals and published  a newsletter mailed to subscribers, all while dealing with her own health and family issues and…keeping up with her job as moderator for the Fibom-L online support list. She is also a talented photographer with work in quite a few collections, I am lucky enough to have one of her framed works.

I watched with cautious eyes when I realized she was caring on a “flirtation” with my pal “C.” Not out of jealousy as I am in a long-term, stable relationship, but out of concern, not wanting my friend to be hurt by a conniving woman! Worry quickly morphed from respect for a strong woman to love for a dear friend. Her and “C” met in person and never parted again. They not only joined in marriage, they blended the two organizations and we became one happy family, with Nancy handling the financial reins and legalities of maintaining a 501(3) non-profit standing.

Fast forward to 2012, my strong, intelligent, compassionate friend who wielded her computer and cell phones like weapons as she cut a swath through research, misconceptions, myths and lack of support for very real, very painful conditions, can’t even turn on her own computer.

Diagnosed with Stage 3 dementia at a young age she can’t remember how to use her computer or dial a phone. Her short-term memory is sketchy and her health is failing.

I am angry, PISSED that the universe has handed her one more blow. It’s as if taking away her health and striking her down with chronic pain wasn’t enough. The fates that be weren’t happy until they took her mind too!

I am grieving for “C.” He was a thriving musician, disc jockey and printer before chronic pain and other conditions took control of his life. He is a caring, open-minded, generous and intelligent man who had lived alone for far too long before he found Nancy. Now he struggles with her comfort and his own feelings of loss and anger.

IT’S NOT FAIR DAMMIT AND IT PISSES ME OFF!

Those who can approach their doctor and mention the term Fibromyalgia without getting laughed out of the office as the doctor tells you it is all in your head can thank Nancy. In our day nobody believed our pain was real. We were fed anti-depressants and told to lose weight and exercise more. Hell, I was 120lbs soaking wet with a highly physical job, and they STILL told me to lose weight and exercise, and maybe see a shrink.

Nancy fought day and night, shelling out thousands of personal dollars to find answers. She offered support and information to those floundering in a sea of medical professionals that thought of us as a joke. She met and worked with researchers on the cutting edge of progress. She formed friendships with medical professionals and authors who suffered from chronic, unexplained pain and fatigue who wanted to find answers. She worked with Devin Starlanyl and others, keeping up with research and funneling that knowledge to us via CSSA.

This is a personal blow for me, but I want every person who can now talk to their doctor about FM, CMP, IBS, Sjogrens and other conditions without feeling like a mental case to give credit, and thanks to this hard-working, generous, genius of a woman.

It is time to let her rest and be taken care of, but dammit, if I have anything to say about it she will be thought of as a champion, a loyal friend and dominant force in the fight against an uneducated system that refused to look for answers until public outcry backed them into a corner. Nancy stood at the front of that mob, using her phone and computers like an electronic megaphone.

I thank you and I love you Nancy. My world is better because you are in it.

c2012 Jane Kohler

The Perfect Morning

Gentle sunlight lightly tapped at my eyelids, pulling me from my slumber. Rolling onto my back I stretched the longest stretch possible, reveling in the feeling of my limbs coming alive. Wiggling my jaw back and forth I realized that for once I had not tried to grind my teeth to dust as I slept, my jaw and temples felt pretty darn good!

Sitting up in one quick move I grinned like a fool when I realized that for once, my neck and shoulders were not holding me hostage, forcing me to move and stretch before raising my head from the pillow. Instead, I swung my legs over the edge of the bed, looking forward to all I would do with my day. My feet didn’t wince when called on to hold my weight. My hips didn’t scream through the days first twenty steps. My hands, no longer numb, gripped the door knob, flinging open the door so I could greet the day.

I was going to paint, hike, cook, clean and visit people I hadn’t seen for years. I couldn’t wait to embrace the day and make up for time lost to CMP and FMS. I had WON and I was gonna make the most of it!

Then the alarm went off. I blindly slapped at the alarm with a numb arm and winced in pain as I tried to pull my head from the pillow. It seems so unfair that I can live the life I want while sleeping, but when I awaken my tortured body rules my life! I don’t want disability payments. I don’t want to stay home and not make a difference. This sucks and I am DAMN MAD that this disease, this pain is ruling my life!

Acupuncture, physical therapy, water therapy, cognitive therapy, stretching, herbs, vitamins, inversion tables, raw foods, fiber and countless other strategies have not improved my life or lessened the pain. I am sick and tired of being “SICK AND TIRED!”

I sigh, knowing that the recent rash of people addicted to prescription pain killers has doctors running into the shadows. The chance of my doctor giving me any measure of pain control is slim to none. We need help, we need relief, we need to function, make a living, raise our children, be a good spouse, help others and just live our lives.

Who is going to step up and help those stuck in the cracks, the chronic pain patients who are not dying, but they may as well be at times?

c2012 Jane Kohler

All that is Cleveland Ohio – It’s a Good Thing.

Ohio, Cleveland in particular has been raked over the late night comic coals for years. When will people stop making jokes about the fire on the Cuyahoga river? The last fire was in 1969 people! Give it up. It was one incident that mirrored the collective thinking of the day. Run your factory, dump your waste into the river and move on was a phenomenon taking place all over the country, yet Cleveland seems to be the one forever embedded the countries collective memory. Thankfully the story drew attention to the problem and many investigations spurred changes to the laws regulating our natural resources.

I am happy to report our rivers are clean and thriving with wildlife. You can fish off a handy pier or swim, jet ski, water ski or sit and dangle your feet in the water as you bird watch. You can take a trip on the GoodTime III and tour the sites nestled against the mighty Cuyahoga River. Our water ways and marshes are full of loons, cranes, eagles, owls, song birds, fish, mammals, amphibians and reptiles.

We are proud of our “Emerald Necklace,” a connected series of undeveloped land designated as state parks that travel from one end of the state to the other. I am lucky that a short five-minute drive will place me smack dab in the center of these habitats. We have free access to over twenty-one thousand untainted acres of wilderness where we can walk, hike, ride bikes, go horse back riding, swim, fish, take structured nature hikes, learn about local flora and fauna or just lay out a blanket and read. A short drive from anywhere will have you immersed in nature, marsh life, wet lands, bird sanctuaries, spawning Salmon, rivers, lakes and local animals. Lose yourself in majestic trees, hidden trails, bubbling creeks or challenge yourself on an intense hike over foothills and rough terrain. This vast amount of protected landscape is a true gift given by our forward-thinking elders.

If nature is not on my agenda I can hop on I71 and be in Cleveland proper in under twenty minutes. There you can visit the West Side Market for the freshest produce, meat, cheese, bread and anything else you can think of to eat or cook with.

I can attend festivals that honor our many immigrants, their food, art, dance, drink, clothing and culture.
In one trip I can tour the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, the submarine S.S. Cod or the restored ship known as the William G. Mather.

If I am looking for education, I can go to Baldwin Wallace University, Kent State, Ohio State, Miami University and many others. I can also hone my skills at Cleveland State, Tri-C or the Cleveland Institute of Art.

A single square mile known as University circle is filled with world-class centers of education, medical training and arts & cultural institutions like the Cleveland Museum of Natural History, Cleveland Museum of Art, the Botanical Gardens, Cleveland Institute of Music, Cleveland Institute of Art, Severance Hall, the Cleveland Orchestra, Western Reserve Historical Society, Crawford Auto-Aviation Museum, The Children’s Museum, James A. Garfield Memorial and Cleveland School of the Arts, all a mere four miles from downtown Cleveland.

In the mood for a fantastic stage show or a good movie? Head to Playhouse Square, the home of magnificent theaters restored to their former glory. Here you will find the Allen, Hanna, Ohio, State, Palace, Westfield, 14th and Kennedy theater. You can experience Broadway, comedy, concerts, dance, plays, opera, family shows and more, all available by car or public transportation.

Lake Erie is surrounded by miles of beaches from Sandusky to Ashtabula. Countless protected areas provide swimming, boating, fishing, diving and anything else you can do in the water. Picnic and camping areas retain a small town feel while offering convenient perks.

Medical experts at the top of their game call Cleveland home. People from all over the globe turn to Cleveland for treatment.

I can turn one way when I leave my drive to experience downtown and all it has to offer in less than twenty-minutes. Or…I can turn the other way and find myself driving simple two lane roads dotted with farms and forests, stopping now and then for a garage sale, flea market, wineries, farmers market, ice-cream or a home cooked meal at a mom and pop eatery.

I have it all! Clean beaches, education, entertainment, nature preserves, foothills and rivers. I can attend local theater at our college or take in big name stars performing in Playhouse Square. We even have a few drive-in theaters up and running, talk about a treat!

I have traveled over this country and I spent time at places I felt I could stay in forever. The U.S.A. has a lot to offer, but I find that what I need is right under my nose. When you hear the name “Cleveland,” I want you to think theater, mixed cultures, music, NASA, public assistant programs, farmland, architecture, nature and good people doing their best to improve their environment.

c2012 Jane Kohler

3

Lessons From Grandpa

My grandpa was a unique man, given the times he lived in. He grew up without airplanes, T.V. and supermarkets. He was surrounded by people who all thought, and looked like him, yet he never let that form his core being.

Despite his sheltered upbringing, he never shied away from those of different beliefs, color or race. He was shunned by the majority of his family for embracing people of color, differing religions and social standing. He fell in and out of marriages as he discovered his wives were not as open-minded, or caring as he. Three marriages in all.

My mom, his second born, tried hard to make her marriage work, but my father’s change of religion drove a wedge between them. My mom and grandpa became each others rock, clinging to each other through every storm. I was lucky enough to spend large amounts of time with my grandpa, who in many ways, had replaced my father.

My grandpa ran the largest greenhouse in the country during WWII. (No, I was not alive during WWII, my time in the greenhouse came much later.)  I grew up in that greenhouse, working the conveyor belts, making baskets and tending to the many greenhouse cats kept to keep the rodents at bay. When the work day was done, grandpa and I would often walk by the river or find a nice patch of ground for a picnic. It was during these down times that he filled my head with much of what would become “me.” Things that just seemed right, common sense thoughts that riled others.

He was the voice of reason, common sense and peace in my life, a voice that plays in my head whenever I face a new dilemma.

Things I learned from my grandpa?

* Don’t let stereotypes sway your judgement when meeting new people. He told me every person he worked with was just like him. They had families, they loved, they slept, ate,  celebrated, supported each other and felt loss, just like I did. He said they worry over sick kids, homework and mourn their dead, just like us, they just do it with different colored skin. He also told me he had learned a lot of great things from people from different cultures and if I was smart, I would keep my ears open and learn as well.

* He told me religion is very sacred to each person and that I must respect each person’s belief. He encouraged me to learn about multiple religions and pick the one that felt right for me or embrace them all. He often told me, as we sat at the river bank, that any place can be sacred, if we look for the beauty and be thankful for it. He told me that sitting at the edge of the river, marveling at nature, the local creatures and trees in the forest could be as powerful as any church. If I appreciated, and thanked “my” god for this world I was doing ok.

He said no matter my beliefs, the important thing was to “do unto others.” Treat people with kindness, understanding and a lack of judgement as we never knew what burden people are dealing with when we encounter them. He told me to help those in need, care for those in trouble and never feel like I was better than anyone else just because my life was going well at the time…it could change at the drop of a hat.

* He taught me to never hate my father for letting his convictions get in the way of his family life. He told me my father was following a path he believed in, but he loved me and would be there if needed A.S.A.P. He convinced me to keep my father in my life, to be patient and understanding. It was trying at times, but today my dad and I are closer than ever.

* He taught me to be tolerant of sudden change. When my uncle, his sixth child joined the National Guard during the Vietnam war, he left a clean-shaven youth working on a teaching degree. The same uncle returned home four years later with long hair that framed his face and fell down his back. When my uncle entered the house for his home-coming dinner he was met by his mother, aunts, cousins and a bevy of other family that jumped on his long hair. After an hour or so of badgering my grandpa stood up and told them all to “go to hell!” He said “my son left here a caring man trying to do the right thing, and the same man returned to us! His appearance doesn’t change who he is.” I realized he is right. You can have long hair, tattoos or piercing, but none of that changes who you are. He was the voice of reason in uncertain times, and he molded me in many ways.

* He taught me to appreciate nature, embrace all people, beliefs and to search for reasons for someones behavior before having a knee jerk reaction. He encouraged me to learn something from everyone I met and to fill my life with great people.

* He hit me with the hard reality that not everyone who meets me, would like me. A hard pill to swallow, but I understand it now that I have met people who I didn’t like, but couldn’t quite put my finger on a reason why.

* He told me that the whole world was a temple if I embraced it. He said if I found a brick and mortar building to worship at I should embrace it. If not, revel in my fellow humans, honor nature, help others and promote goodness while battling evil.

I embraced his teachings. I don’t see people with labels stapled to their foreheads, I see them as people working, paying the bills, raising kids and cleaning the toilet.

I sowed my oats. I sneaked out of the house, drank, partied, had sex, but I kept returning to the life his words formed. He laid the groundwork for living a life full of people, tolerance and acceptance, I am just thankful that I was smart enough to listen to his lesson so I could incorporate them into my own life.

Thank you Grandpa for giving me the tools I needed to break way from the small minds in my hometown. Thank you for making me feel special and empowered. My hope is that I am embedding these same values in my kids.

c2012 Jane Kohler

 

Rats! My Bad Day Melted Away.

I had one of those days we can all relate to. The alarm malfunctioned causing a late start for everyone in the house. Then came the stress of meeting our schedule while half-asleep. The front tire on my truck was low, making the hurried trip a white-knuckle experience. After that nothing went right. Spilled drinks, dogs throwing up on the floor, broken cups, spilled soup, lost shoes etc. Nothing about the morning was pleasant.

Then I finally got an hour to myself. The minute I entered my art studio the day changed. My four fancy rats, who have the run of the room during the day ran over looking for a chin scratch and cuddling. I plunked down on my chair with a soda and they climbed my legs to assemble on my lap. They took turns pushing and shoving for a coveted massage. The youngest, just three months old climbed up to his favorite perch, the back of my neck near my ear as the others licked my hands, nose and lips.

In between the love-ins there was a lot of posturing for position and play. I plied them all with carrots, yogurt covered fruit and hay then watched as they tended to the serious business of grooming themselves and each other before settling into nap time.

I felt the stress of the morning melt away, I even surprised myself with an occasional chuckle. One of the greatest stress-relieving techniques are my rats. They are not everyone’s cup of tea, but I love my boys. If you don’t like brightly colored, affectionate, clean and highly trainable rats, I suggest you find a pet, any pet that can take you out of yourself. Relax, let the outside world go and be the whole world to your tiny friend. They give more than they take.

c2012 Jane Kohler

Fringe, Beads and Hair – A Childhood Revisited

Today I let go of my temporary poverty status, my aches, pains and pity party. Instead I found my mind being sucked into the psychedelic vortex of my youth. In a flash I was surrounded by fringed and beaded suede vests, striped pants, garish paisley shirts and, gasp, long hair on boys! Televised concerts on T.V. were full of flashing lights and wild sets. When it was time to watch one of these events my father would flee to the garage and mom would make popcorn and join me on the couch, she never lost her love of new, excited things, music most of all. Pretty free thinking for a mom raised during WWII and Big Band Music.

My time travel ended in 1966, the day the Monkees took over Monday nights at 7:30 pm. I was only eight years old, but I knew what I liked and Mom always encouraged me to experience new things. I was a gonner! I could barely eat dinner on Monday’s, I watched the clock, fearing 7:30 would never appear. At 6:30 Mom would head to the kitchen to make some popcorn while I turned on the T.V. to warm it up. (Yes, there was no instant on, you turned it on early, let the tubes warm up and tweaked the tuning buttons and rabbit ears until you had the perfect picture.) Settled on the couch we said “see ya later” to my fathers retreating back and got ready for thirty minutes of music and fun.

Opening credits rolled as I shoved popcorn in my mouth, washing it down with the rare bottle of Pepsi I was allowed on special occassions. Then suddenly, there they were! Mickey Dolenz, Davey Jones, Peter Tork and Mike Nesmith! Their antics as they tried to make a name for themselves kept us laughing, but I lived for the musical numbers. Most of my friends were gaga over Davey, but my main man was Mike Nesmith. I loved everything from his knit hat to his faded denim and southern accent.

One day I came home from school to find a brand new copy of the Monkees first album waiting for me. I ate dinner and locked myself in my room, playing it over and over and over…. I was in heaven.

By todays standards, the show was silly, corny even. But back then it was a rare glimpse into the fashion of the 60’s I didn’t see in my home town. It was the boys going out of their way to do the right thing, to help someone. It was scads of girls falling for Davey and him respecting them and letting them down gently.

I dug out my old vinyl this weekend and put my Monkees on the turntable, my kids looked at me like I was nuts. I pulled up a few episodes of their show to share, not caring if the kids thought it was hokey. It was my youth, it was a common bond I had with my mother and despite the critics, there was some darn good music on those discs.

R.I.P. Davey Jones. Thank you for invading my youth, giving me special time with my mom and later in life, a fun walk down a psychedelic path.

c2012 Jane Kohler