Help, Thanks, Wow

Now, it gets heavy — but it’s Thanksgiving, when we do that…


Day to day, I am not an overtly religious person — certainly nothing like “traditional”. On the other hand, I studied with a Reform rabbi and became a Jew after years as an atheist; a Jew in the style of Einstein, who I just lately learned was a Jew in style of Spinoza.

I maintain a very low tolerance for superstition in all of its forms (emspar and I call it “booga-booga”), but I also wouldn’t have taken the course I did, or be who I am, were it not for the inescapable fact that there is Some Thing Bigger Out There. It’s called the Universe. It has no direct relation to, or influence on, us — nevertheless (weak anthropic principle) we happen to live in it, trying to make sense of how it works.

How the Universe works — the Laws of Physics, melech ha’olam — is what Einstein called God, and so do I.

So… listening as I always do to NPR’s Morning Edition, I heard an interview with Anne Lamott, the author of a book about prayer, Help, Thanks, Wow. No need to listen to the full segment: the printed excerpts are good enough. Simplistic, surely — but that’s the point.

God, or Nature, or “Shit Happens”… Formal prayer, or wordless exclamation at the shit happening… What we say, if only silently, boils down to those three, especially when we take the sectarian language out and just blurt. I found the idea early in my Judaic studies; I cannot think of a religious tradition that wouldn’t arrive at the same conclusion.

You don’t lose any atheist cred for exclaiming, either. Shit happens; you react: human nature.


It’s Thanksgiving — in the face of all the shit, why am I still thankful? Most of all for emspar, naturally, but also for you all.

And why am I still “Wow”?

I’m alive; I can see the night sky; I know what’s in it.

Baruch ata, Adonai Elohenu, melech ha’olam, schehechianu, v’kiamanu, v’higianu, l’azman hah zeh.


Carcinoma Angels

Forty-five years ago — yes, 45! — what may still be the most famous anthology of short science fiction was published. It includes “Carcinoma Angels”, a story by Norman Spinrad (synopsis here, and you can read the full text here).

Last Friday, I met my anti-carcinoma angels.

They were gamma rays: high-energy photons aimed at extremely precise 3D coordinates in my brain, where the tumors had been found. Some of them were sent to the occipital lobe, quite near (if not actually in) the visual cortex — and, like the earliest astronauts who reported the phenomenon, I saw them. Fleeting, bright white, amorphous; tracking across my closed-eyed field as the scanner opened and closed its tiny shutters.

Of course, I didn’t really see them… they were cascades of neural stimulation running from deep inside to the retinae. But, where else does the brain know to associate things visual but the eyes? (Hint: reverse the direction of the arrows on that cover illustration.)

Maybe not the most important event in this all-too-self-examined life, but I doubt I will forget it… and in three months, another MRI may reveal that the angels have been successful.


Sea Change

First,  I have to do a better job of introducing @empsar – you’ll see why in a bit…

She’s a little older (and, conveniently, a little smaller) than I am.  We’re from opposite corners of this, our native state of Indiana, but have both lived in other parts of the country for most of our lives: cosmopolitan, if, you’ll pardon the phrase. She’s an emerita professor of informatics, a consummate research librarian with more interests than can be counted, and as smart as any six regular people put together — a true “meta” thinker.

Our relationship is more than a year old, but it could well be decades long. It’s a little like Toxic and Paul’s was, before they moved in together and got married (i.e., we live separately on opposite sides of the city), and it’s also very like Ghosty and Elora/Sivyaleah’s: we’re constantly in touch, mostly through Twitter. We talk about anything and everything, and never lose interest. We are, to the point, partners.

We found each other online. Then the emails started… and long before we met face-to-face, she understood me as Lalo, and calls me nothing else when we’re alone. For personal reasons, she is not an avatar. But because I talk effusively about my other friends — that is, you folks — she knows how important you are, and follows many of your Tweets and blogs with respect and admiration.

Which is what this post is about…

I recently posted about advice given to people with cancer to help them through some of the psychological upset the news, and the changes, inevitably bring (scroll down to where it says “EXPRESS”). That led to this: a Twitter DM exchange from a couple of nights ago, wherein we went meta on the subject:

Me: There is a sea change going on among my SL Tweeps – most of us are “of an age”. RL becomes prevalent, but we talk about it.

Emspar: And I believe it’s essential! Please don’t get me wrong; not everyone is at the same point on the empathy spectrum. :P

Emspar: Some of you are writing very powerful stuff re: RL — including ls/cm — that’s as compelling as you were writing about virtuality. It gladdens the heart.

Background: Remember our noob days, when we all seemed to vow that “SL is SL, and RL is RL, and never the twain shall meet”? Maybe the younger avvies (in biological age as well as… um, closer to noob) still do that, but in my Twitter stream, blogroll, and SL friend list, there’s been a personal integration across worlds. Some of it is subtle, like Honour MacMillan… some of it is overt, like Whiskey Day, Chestnut Rau and Darkness (@Ryannetta) Tigerpaw, and some is blatant, like Crap. We get older — catastrophic or not, the vagaries of organic life become impossible to ignore. We are who we are, in pixels and flesh, and it shows.

And it should.

And my sweetie’s heart is as gladdened by it as my own… You see, this isn’t about her, or us: it’s about you.