Saturday, November 19, 2011

So it goes...

The most important thing I learned on Tralfamadore was that when a person dies he only appears to die. He is still very much alive in the past, so it is very silly for people to cry at his funeral. All moments, past, present and future, always have existed, always will exist. The Tralfamadorians can look at all the different moments just that way we can look at a stretch of the Rocky Mountains, for instance. They can see how permanent all the moments are, and they can look at any moment that interests them. It is just an illusion we have here on Earth that one moment follows another one, like beads on a string, and that once a moment is gone it is gone forever.

When a Tralfamadorian sees a corpse, all he thinks is that the dead person is in bad condition in the particular moment, but that the same person is just fine in plenty of other moments. Now, when I myself hear that somebody is dead, I simply shrug and say what the Tralfamadorians say about dead people, which is "So it goes."

- Kurt Vonnegut, Slaughterhouse-Five

Friday, November 18, 2011

heads buried in sand

Since becoming the Octomom to a litter of unplanned tumors in my spine over this last year, my mind continues to bring me back to the writing of one of my previous Live Journal friends, Karen, who died of the same disease. She is in part the inspiration for this blog, because she took the courageous step of writing about her progress and what she suffered up until the very end, at which point her partner took on the responsibility of describing her final moments.

Karen Anne Heinzeroth
September 25, 1973 - June 11, 2006

Karen left a journal to the world that told the TRUTH about every detail of dying, so that other people like herself could actually prepare mentally and physically and know what to expect. Although she was most definitely terminal, she suffered worse I think by all the people who tried to push denial upon her, and urge her to believe in that chance of miraculously living a bit longer. This to me is emblamatic of this society. Why not look death in the face and accept it for what it is--a natural part of life? Why not allow people to peacefully prepare for death, fulfill their last wishes, put their affairs in order, say their goodbyes in a dignified manner? Why do we push people to poison themselves to maximum degree with chemo and "fight" beyond a point in which fighting will make a difference?

This is an excerpt from Karen's journal, not long before she passed away:

"I'm not sure what it is about today that seemed to dawn differently, but something about the air and light coming into my room this morning seemed to be more pure than normal, and it is days like today that really bring my failing health into stark focus just by nature of contrast. Here I am, enjoying this beautiful, unsullied morning, and yet my body is rotting out from under me like an unembalmed corpse. All of this beauty in the world, all of the promise that this days holds...and I have the privilege of viewing it with decaying eyes. Irony is so very fascinating sometimes.

Another day. I get so tired of living this way sometimes. So, so very tired of it. Every day is a battle with pain. Every day is a battle with breathing. And every day is a battle trying to make other people understand this. I know that I wrote lately about the physical side of dying of cancer, but I need to vent about the other side of it, and that's the social side. It's sad to say, but after nearly four years of trying to talk to people and explain to them what's g
oing to happen to me it seems as if I've gotten nowhere. Just...nowhere with anybody."

Read the rest of Karen's entry "Social Truths and Conequences" at:

How true those words are. I've dealt with it for years also. If you look healthy enough on the outside in other people's eyes, they never take you very seriously about the danger of the disease. People spout off miracle treatments and vitamins you need to take, and they turn away and bury their heads in the sand if you speak about death because that is "negative." There is always this pending guilt of possibly creating a self-fulfilling prophecy if you aren't positive minded enough. Cancer patients are often put into the unique situation of feeling somehow responsible for their state.

Karen seemed negative to some people, but what a blessing she left in her journals in telling the truth of what different physical ailments felt like, what medications gave any relief at all. I think she even picked out her own casket. This was an amazing and often misunderstood woman, and I feel her words more than ever, even though it has been several years since she passed. I am jealous that she was able to express her anger, but happy for her. I still have anger that must be dealt with. On this matter she speaks of, I totally understand...

"Everyone, it seems, has some sort of advice on what it is I should be doing with myself during this time of "dying" (if they even have the courtesy to acknowledge that that's what's happening to me), and quite frankly I'm sick of dealing with it. I've spent the past four years making everyone else in my life "comfortable" with my disease, and every conversation I've ever had with people usually consists of me telling them the truth about my situation and then taking the time to make THEM feel better about my news. And perhaps that was my mistake. Perhaps my coddling to these people have made it so that the truth that I told them about my situation rolled right over their heads. It is obvious--OBVIOUS--at this point that I am dying. Period, end of story, just like I said all along. Yet people keep stopping up their ears and expect ME to change. They expect ME to tell them that no, that's not right. I'm not dying. And I want to take these people and just smack them furiously across the face. Denial is the most selfish thing you can do to the dying and quite frankly I've had it up to my eyebrows with other people's selfishness. I don't care that it might be difficult for you to realize now that I'm dying; you had four years of me telling you, and it's not my fucking fault if you didn't listen the first time around. Don't expect ME to bolster your delicate and sensitive feelings now, because I just don't have the goddamned energy anymore..."

My own journey with this disease has been split into three parts, and I have a separate journal for each. It's split up because I wanted to close each chapter of my cancer adventures for good and move on. So the trilogy goes as follows:

Book One: 2004 - 2007 - "Rebel Command" - 1st diagnosis and subsequent surgery, radiation and chemo (Not available to general public at this point, but that may change)

Book Two: 2008 - 2009 - "A Modern Amazon" - 2nd more serious recurrence of breast cancer

Book Three: 2011 - ? - "60 Days to LIVE" - current

Also...for non-cancer topics and all that I am passionate about, there is my Author's Blog:
"Dominique Mainon Author/Screenwriter"

Thank you everyone for your continued support and understanding.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

a personal apocalypse

Did you know that in December of 2004, the 99942 Asteroid was discovered?

It was later named ASTEROID APOPHIS. Over 1,000 feet in diameter, the asteroid is the equivalent of 90 stories tall and weighs 25 million tons. NASA released the disturbing news in 2004's Christmas bulletin that Apophis will pass within very close proximity to Earth in the year 2029 which will alter its trajectory and give it an alarming chance of crashing into Earth on its return on April 13th, 2036. Apophis broke the record for the highest level on the Torino Scale, being a level 4 impact probability (and about a 1 in 42 chance). For this asteroid to hit anywhere on earth it would generate 68,000 times the force of the atomic bomb that destroyed Hiroshima. 

Coming from NASA, this wasn't just sensationalism. However the news ended up buried that day, beneath the more immediate news of the massive tsunami catastrophe that unfolded over the next day that year. 

Regardless, Apophis is still coming. In Egyptian mythology, Apep (or Apophis in Greek) was an evil demon, the deification of darkness and chaos, and thus opponent of light and Ma’at (order/truth). As the personification of all that was evil, Apep was seen as a giant snake, crocodile, serpent, or in later years, in a few cases, as a dragon, leading to titles such as Serpent from the Nile, and Evil lizard. The Mayans also had a snake god, Quetzalcoatl (the feathered serpent), who is prophesied to return at the end of each Age.

Why am I talking about this? Well, throughout my life I have had intense nightmares about catastrophic events--most often tsunamis, with massive tornadoes coming in second, and then frequent dreams in which there is something terribly wrong with the cosmos.

Scene from Lars Von Trier's Melancholia
My dreams of the cosmos gone wrong have always been the most disturbing, because they involve the foreknowledge that something has gone wrong up in the stars, maybe a planet out of orbit, stars burning out or other impending doom that would end all life on earth. But it doesn't come instantaneously. It is just the terrible dread that over the next days or weeks there would be nowhere to run, nowhere to hide because the earth was off its axis and everyone would slowly asphyxiate or fry or suffer the tidal waves and tornadoes. Sometimes I would be aware of my children in the dreams and that would be much worse because then I would have to worry about how I could protect them from the inevitable.

When I saw the recent Lars Von Trier film, Melancholia, I was hypnotized. He calls it "a beautiful film about the end of the world." It was available via early screening on cable, so I have seen it many times now. However I would love to have chance to see this movie in a movie theater, which is like a sacred ritual to me to engage with the art.

An overturature to Wagner's "Tristan and Isolde" plays as dead birds fall from the sky and a rogue planet named "Melancholia" moves relentlessly towards earth. It is nothing like a disaster film, and it begins with a wedding reception, which is like a puppet show with everyone desperate to play their proper parts as the event unravels (except Justine). Guests go home, the groom leaves his one-day old failed marriage and the few remaining family members prepare for the event. At first everyone is convinced that the planetary event will just be the fly-by of a lifetime, missing impact with earth just as it has missed all previous planets. But calculations keep changing and all too late the false sense of security of a fly-by is gone as Melancholia is caught up in Earth's gravitational pull and slung right back at our planet. The three remaining family members each face their last moments of existence in their own way.

As a person who has suffered from manic depression, I relate so much to the calm acceptance by Justine (Kirsten Dunst) of their fate, which she seems to sense like a clairvoyant. It's funny how you can have a complete nervous breakdown over something others may feel is inconsequential. But when it comes to handling the really big things life flings at you - accidents, deaths, homelessness, whatever, it will be the "depressive" person who may hold everyone together and appear the most calm and composed. Maybe it is something to do with the suicidal impulses that one can have in that state. If you have already craved, contemplated and/or planned your own death (at least in your head, if not on your body), then perhaps you don't fear it the way others might. For me personally, a pending cosmic disaster is one of the best comparisons of how it feels to be aware that you are supposed to be dying of a terminal disease soon, against your will.

The idea of premature death does feel like end of the world. It symbolizes the complete loss of identity and ego. Death in and of itself is obviously very natural and happens all around us, all the time. I think what we are most afraid of (aside from pain and suffering), is the loss of individual identity and complete release of ego. I recently wrote about how ghost hunters, psychics and mediums seem to be the exploding out of pop culture these days. Perhaps we like the idea that our personality or that of our loved ones will endure and still be intact beyond the grave. It's all about us, our bodies, our belongings, our legacies. Whatever we do while inhabiting these sacks of flesh offers some definition of us, some way to categorize us by our similarities and differences to the other sacks of flesh.

I don't want to open a whole philosophical can of worms about personal continuity and the mind-body problem. I just found myself struck with the idea that facing a terminal cancer diagnosis and feeling your body break down bit by bit is fascinatingly similar to watching a rogue planet or asteroid slowly making its way towards our planet. Scientists frantically calculate and recalculate its route based on additional data over time, just as Oncologists kept giving me numbers and percentages of recurrence rates of tumors, with survival dwindling down lower and until we are at full impact range and it's said to be just a matter of time. I wonder if we were to compare facing the personal death to facing a complete annihilation of the world, how many of us would be selfish enough to think, "who gives a shit, if I am not here then why should I care about the fate of everyone else?"

I've always admired how Buddhism addresses death as a transformation, welcoming the change with peace and balance. And yet, I've always wondered, if you took the most Zen Buddhist Monk and put him on an airplane high up in the sky over the Pacific ocean... and then suddenly the captain comes on to announce that the plane has lost power,  the oxygen apparatus pops out and the plane heads into a dive, tearing apart and heading for an inevitable fiery death....
Would that monk scream like everyone else while going down?

How you handle the time you have makes all the difference. So many of us hide our faces when we are scared and seek shelter. Melancholia showed the staggering beauty of even a single moment in time. I don't feel afraid of what is to come as much as I feel inconvenienced by it. But why worry about moments when moments can be stretched and lengthened, just as they can be shortened when you don't pay attention to the fullness of life and just let it pass at ever-increasing speed.

60 days can turn out to be a hell of a long time, if you let it. And I know what I need to do now.

Sunday, November 6, 2011

When I die, will I become a ghost?

I began thinking of the topic of "ghosts" over Samhain, which is probably appropriate. I don't have any particular belief in where we go or what we become after we die. If I can't verify it, what is the use? Maybe I lean bit towards Buddhist philosophy in this area, but overall I subscribe to the philosophy of "I don't know" when it comes to what happens after leaving our physical body. I'd rather have a scientific answer.

However in spite of that, I seem to have an interest in where my ashes will go after I am cremated, which is strange. (I want a good portion of my ashes to be released at the former home of D.H. Lawrence, in the mountains outside of Taos, New Mexico. That was a very special place to me that I will never forget. There is a large tree out front of the main cabin that his guest Georgia O'Keeffe painted. The ground was covered in its pine cones and I took one with me for good luck. I'd like my ashes to fertilize the same tree.)

Back to the topic of ghosts--I've noticed lately that I  can't seem to switch on the TV without coming across some type of ghost hunting show. Many feature psychic-mediums who supposedly communicate with ghosts. One of the latest ones is TLC's Long Island Medium, a reality show which features Theresa Caputo, "a normal mom from Long Island, New York with two children and a loving husband. However, she has a very special gift... she talks to the dead. She spends her days helping individuals find closure from people who have passed and whose spirits that are still around. For Theresa, this is not just her job... this is her life." (See video below)

We also have SyFy's Ghost Hunters series about a group of ghost hunters who are "plumbers by day and ghost hunters by night, working to track down the presence of paranormals across the country.
As leaders of The Atlantic Paranormal Society (TAPS), both Jason and Grant have made it their life's mission to help anyone with questions pertaining to paranormal phenomena and ghost hunting."

One of the silliest ones of all is the Travel Channel's Ghost Adventures, which features Zak Bagans, Nick Groff and Aaron Goodwin -- three guys who supposedly lock themselves in overnight at the most haunted locations in the U.S. and try to provoke ghosts in a number of inane ways while taking EVP recordings and using fancy instruments to try to prove their existence. The recent indie horror film Grave Encounters parodied an episode of theirs inside an old insane asylum. In the film the ghosts get sweet revenge on these guys in a variety of horrific ways.  (See below)

The thing that has really struck me is that as we watch all these shows or ponder whether ghosts are real, we consider it from the point of view of the innocent human being haunted by some restless spirit that doesn't seem to want to "move on to the light" or something. We wonder whether Uncle Bob is trying to reach us from beyond the grave to tell us where his gold is hidden. We respond in fear at bumps in the night or a cold chill in the air.

What starts to change when you realize you may be dying yourself is that you begin to wonder if YOU will be the ghost making the noises, or if YOU will have to look up Theresa Caputo so you can get a message through to your family.  So the kids and I started joking about what I would do if I was a ghost and how they would know it was me. As a result we came up with a bunch of corny phrases and words that I would communicate from the Other Side, so that they would know for sure it was me and no fake medium could come rip them off.

Despite all this, I do believe there are many unexplainable occurrences out there which are quite interesting. A relative of mine from Arkansas has been a county coroner since I was just a kid. She is a medical professional who deals with death constantly, and even she has told us a few stories and seems to have some belief in ghosts. I even have a family picture of myself and the children taken some years ago by Jodeen which has a very strange anomaly that appeared to form over the course of several photos until it was quite large and distinctive. Awhile back I lent the photo to a friend of mine who was in this ghosthunter's club that met on regular basis, just because I thought he would enjoy it and I wanted to see if they could give a logical reason why this anomaly would show up. It even appeared as if my son Liam was playing with the thing during the pictures, as if he was aware of it.

As I should have guessed, the ghosthunter club did not debunk it, but instead they thought it was one of the best pictures they had seen of such a thing. It was suggested the Liam had a "joined entity," whatever that means. I think it meant something like he might have been a twin at one point, which is something that happens more often than people think, but the other twin becomes absorbed very early on. I don't know. Either way, I would still like to get the photo debunked, by some non-ghost believers. I would post it right now, but it is on one of my other hard drives, so I need to hunt it down. I promise I will update and post it as soon as I do. 

The question I have is: if you remove religion and superstition from the equasion, what valid explanation might there be for "ghosts?" Or shall I say "anomalies?"

I believe it is possible that many people have seen ghosts in their lifetime. But just because they have viewed something that they perceive as an apparition, does that make it real? Reality is so subjective. We can hallucinate for one thing. I am very experienced with that due to a childhood malpractice situation in which a doctor gave me an incorrect medication that caused massive hallucinations for days on end. As a child, I didn't even know what a hallucination was, so I could not be aware that what I was experiencing wasn't real. Other people have issues such as schizophrenia, or lesions in the brain which can cause a number of changes in perception from strange smells to strange voices that are utterly real to them. A number of other things can cause temporary changes to brain waves. Notice that there are fewer instances when a number of people see the same exact anomaly at once. Usually it is one person in a party who detects something and then others may claim to see the same thing later.

Either way, I believe the first consideration with ghosts is to verify the physical, mental and emotional state of the person experiencing it. I love reading Scientific American, and I found a couple articles on the subject. This first one discusses exactly what I am talking about--

Ghost Stories: Visits from the Deceased
After a loved one dies, most people see ghosts...
"Researcher Agneta Grimby at the University of Goteborg, found that over 80 percent of elderly people experience hallucinations associated with their dead partner one month after bereavement, as if their perception had yet to catch up with the knowledge of their beloved’s passing."

I am not surprised at all by that statistic. My hospice coordinator left this binder at my house which basically explains (for the sake of others I guess) what events may happen when I go into "active dying" mode. It is supposed to prepare others for the sights, sounds and smells of death apparently. One common occurrence is that the dying person often claims to see dead relatives or friends when it is near their time. I believe that did happen even with my own Grandfather when he died of cancer.

Another more scientific approach is to study electromagnetic pulses and infrasound. It has become commonplace now for ghosthunters to use a variety of speciality devices that they believe can either detect the presence of a ghost or allow ghosts to communicate through the device. Movies such as White Noise popularized the idea that dead people can speak through EVP (electronic voice phenomena). But again, there are dozens of ways of debunking these noises. Auditory pareidolia is just one of them-- a situation created when the brain incorrectly interprets random patterns as being familiar patterns. In the case of EVP it could result in an observer interpreting random noise on an audio recording as being the familiar sound of a human voice.

Back to the idea of EMFs (electromagnetic fluctuation), here is another Scientific American article that tests that attempts to test that theory in controlled circumstances:

Ghost Lusters: If You Want to See a Specter Badly Enough, Will You?
Researchers set up "haunted" room to prove an electromagnetic theory of ghost sightings...

Finally, one of the most annoying things to me are psychic mediums who prey upon people stricken by recent deaths in the family. People who are religious or superstitious may be very susceptible to being cold-read. A smart person can easily cold read certain people and by phrasing everything in questions (Did you lose a loved one who's name begins with the letter D?) they simply dig out emotional hotspots and then assure them that their loved ones are there watching over them or that they forgive them or whatever.

One thing I wish I could ask the "Long Island Medium" Theresa Caputo, is about the whole "going into the light thing." Because I caught an episode in which she did something that made no sense to me. She went to a client's house to "cleanse" it of negative energy and bad spirits. So she took out the handy sage incense and a large feather to give it all a sort of shamanic appearance and walking through the house waving the feather and smoke and telling the bad spirits to move on into the light. She says that negative spirits are ones that stick around a certain place or person and bother them because they are confused or won't go into the light. Ok, fine. But then she does all these readings in which she says, "Your father is sitting right there in that chair and he says...(blah, blah, blah) and he was watching your daughter graduate right there with you!"

The client cries in happiness and off-camera hands over a check I'm sure. The thing I don't get is if all these spirits are hanging around Theresa and bugging her to talk to their relatives, doesn't that mean they did NOT go into the light? Are they still stuck in some earthly realm and restlessly stalking their families? I thought once you go into the light, that's it. Aren't you supposed to be in heaven or your happy place, or being born into another body? So which is it? Are they in the light or out of the light? Or do they get to still talk to their families (via mediums) from beyond the light?

The closest I can get to belief in "ghosts" is not really at all about ghosts, but more to do with alternate dimensions, string theory and parallel universes. The latest studies say there are up 11 or more dimensions. I recall first reading the book Flatland: A Romance of Many Dimensions when it came out and just being blown away. If you haven't read it, then you must. Right now. You can download it for 99 cents.

So the verdict is that I do believe that there is more out there than my human brain can quantify and it is quite possible that within the realms of multiverses there may be skipping, portals, energy signatures and time looping and curling back on itself. That is something worth studying and perhaps it will be more clear one day.

Maybe we do not die at all. If you look at a cloud, and how it produces rain, and the raindrop falls to the ground, and then evaporates and goes back up - do we say the raindrop is dead during each transference to a different element? It is all a cycle. Plants grow from seed, blossom, release many seeds, dye off and become fertilizer for other seeds to grow. So if there is life after death, I figure it is our children. They are part of us and they go on to live. That is more exciting than just an apparition bumping about forever in an old house.