Sunday, April 06, 2014

Solving Life Equations by Factoring Dreams

One of my favorite songs is “Southern Cross,” by Crosby, Stills and Nash.  There is one line in the song that has always given me a little bit of a pause, but which I’ve been remembering this weekend.  
So I’m sailing for tomorrow, my dreams are a dyin’...
It is feeling that way in my life.  I am sailing into the sunset while my dreams are dying around and inside me.  
I can trace getting to this point to a Japanese news documentary I watched earlier in the week about the causes and treatment for Alzheimer’s.  
I’ve worried about getting Alzheimer’s for most of my adult life.  Ever since, right after graduating from college and going to North Carolina to live with my family, I saw my grandmother in the full throes of the condition.  It was one of the most staggering moments in my life, seeing my grandmother turned into the practical equivalent of a zombie.  I knew the fact that she had contracted it meant that there was some chance, governed by the laws of heredity, that I might get it, too.  This worry has become a more constant companion as I’ve entered and pushed my way through middle age.  It’s waxed and wane in strength, usually in response to some observation or bit of news.  When I look at my dad, nearing 80, in complete command of his faculties, and remember my grandfather, who died at 94 with his mind still sharp, I am relieved.  
This documentary gave strength to my concerns.  In the Japanese study, they isolated certain conditions or trends in a person’s health that seemed to be strong indicators of whether that person would contract Alzheimer’s later in life.  This was true decades before the first symptoms.  These were...
An increase in a person’s blood sugar levels after eating, similar to that experienced by people with certain types of diabetes.  
Low amounts of beneficial sleep.  It is during sleep that the protein closely associated with Alzheimer’s, Beta Amyloid, is cleaned out of the brain.  Persistently low amounts of sleep, or poor sleeping patterns, results in higher concentrations of Beta Amyloid over time.  
Lack of Exercise.  Both physical and mental.  
Watching the show, I was ticking off these conditions in myself.  I already had the family history.  I’ve been diagnosed as “pre-diabetic” on and off for years with higher than normal blood sugar levels.  I don’t sleep very well, both in terms of not scheduling enough time for quality sleep (five or six hours a night at times), and often waking up in the middle of the night and then struggling to fall back to sleep.  And because of my long hours at work, where ten hours a day is normal and twelve or more is not uncommon, I have gone from going to the gym five to six times a week to sometimes only going a couple of days on the weekends.  
I could feel my memories dripping out of my brain, one at a time, running out my ears to pool like drool in my lap while watching the show.  
I made a decision after watching the documentary that just worrying about it was not enough.  I promised myself that I would schedule myself more sleep, no less than seven hours, every night.  And that I would insist on getting more exercise.  I would find other ways to improve my lifestyle to limit the possibility as best I could, but those were the two simplest ways to do something right away.
I didn’t know that trying to live better to save my life might jeopardize my dreams.  
It started Wednesday night this week.  I had to stay late at work.  Normally, when I do that I skip the gym and go straight home, but I remembered my promise, changed into my gym clothes and stopped there along the way home.  This made my arrival at home very late. Setting my alarm for seven hours, thirty minutes that night meant I was going to overlap the time set for my writing.  
Nothing to be done.  It would only be one day.  I’d find a way to make it up.  
I didn’t.  I didn’t write for the next three days.  Thursday night I had to stay at the office late overseeing work being done our our system’s network tree, cleaning it up and reorganizing it.  That night to put in the quality sleep time I needed, I had to skip the gym and my writing the next day.  Saturday, I had to wake up early for a doctor’s appointment.  Again, no writing done  
I began to wonder if this is how my life was going to be like.  That I’d reached an age where dreams were too inconvenient to maintain against basic health concerns, bills and work.  This opened the door to other life concerns, such as retirement.  The life equations I kept trying to solve seemed to necessitate a reconsideration of what I needed to spend time on.  Sitting before my computer and putting down words was starting to look like it lacked importance.  Multiply both sides of the equation by its reciprocal to eliminate it to have the formula balance was looking like the right answer.  
This thought process was making me depressed.  Not writing makes me depressed, but the thought that writing was slipping from Dream Status to that of Hobby Status, or even worse, “Just a Hobby” status, made it worse.  
But you know what they say, right?  If watching a Japanese TV show starts you on the road to depression, then you need to watch another to get you out of it.  They do say that, right?  
Well, if not they should.  
Today I watched a Japanese TV show I’ve watched a few times.  It’s called, “Booked for Japan.”  The show features Japanese known for their creative work, dancers, writers, designers, etc., and talks with them about the book or books that most influenced them and their choice to do what they do.  Today’s guest was Yasumichi Morita, a world famous interior designer who is known for turning business spaces, restaurants, boutiques and public spaces, into “timeless environments.”  The book that Yasumichi-san chose as the one that influenced him caught my attention.  
It’s Japanese title is 世界から猫が消えたなら, Sekai kara neko ga kieta nara, or “If Cats Disappeared from the World” by Genki Kawamura.  

The premise of the book is that a man discovers he is about to die from a terminal disease.  While wandering the streets, the Devil appears before him and offers him a deal.  The devil will give the man one extra day of life for every important thing he decides to eliminate from the world.  The book is about the man’s decision and choices in regard to that deal.  
From the description I decided I wanted to read this book.  A check on line seems to indicate that it hasn’t been translated to English.  One of my stated goals in life is to reach a novel in Japanese.  One of those dreams that I can’t seem to find time for.  
But that is what I think the premise of the book is, though.  To want to live longer, that’s understandable.  But what makes a life worth living is not the number of days one has, but what one fills those days with.  To live healthier to enjoy those days, to earn money to assist with living longer and healthier, yeah, things worth doing.  But not if that’s all that one is doing.  
The next time I go to Little Tokyo and the Japanese bookstore that I know there, I’m going to see if they have this book.  I’m going to make it the Japanese novel I read in its entirety.  And I’m going to recalculate the equation of my life to see if there is something else that can be factored out of it to make room for the things I really, really want to do, along with those things I actually, really, really need to do to do them. 
Because living an extra day in a world without cats isn’t really living at all.


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