Life After Almost Dying…

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I wanted a nice “eye-catching” title for my post today. After battling with myself for all of two minutes, I decided not to use the Life after Death title I wanted. Because, although I was technically “dead” while they operation on me for hours, I wasn’t really dead.

At least, I don’t think so.

I mean,  I did not see a white light; get visited by old dear dead relatives; receive any messages from beyond and I did not have any earth shattering visions. I was a little disappointed.

But then, I felt the same three years ago when they pumped me full of radioactive gunk and ran tests on me. I sort of hoped that I’d get some sort of super power, like Spiderman or even Dr Doom. (I know he’s a bad guy, okay?)

I have mentioned that before I was checked out of the hospital early (the staff and the doctors/surgeons were amazed that I’d “recovered” in 4 days) the cardiologist gave me a “pep” talk.

Said talk consisted of me suddenly realising one day that I’d almost died and that I would react, most probably, badly to it.

Hasn’t happened.

Yet.

But I have changed. No doubt about it. I’m different.

I could not have told you why either. Not until the other day at least.

I’ve finally been allowed to attend cardiology rehabilitation. I won’t go into the reasons why I’ve had to wait for over six months after the heart attack and two surgeries to attend. I’ve written about it all before. At my first “rehab” appointment I was given a questionnaire to fill in. Very much like the one I’d filled in on my first visit to my local GP after I got home from the hospital.

It asks lots of questions about how you feel.

Do you worry? Are you stressed? And so on.

One question towards the end  jumped off the page at me.

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Do you feel like you are in a hurry or like there is not enough time?

Bingo!

That is exactly how I feel.

I’ve been rushing around trying to do so many things; mainly because I’m afraid if I don’t, I’ll never get anything accomplished.

It  has dawned on me that I’ve spent the vast majority of my life not doing the things I was passionate about or even enjoyed doing.

My “too close for comfort” brush against the big guy with the scythe and hood made me realise it was time to stop futzing around. I then jumped back into the writing of my blog with almost manic energy (after  I’d started feeling like I really was alive after all) and then took stock.

At the end of that stock take, I’d made up my mind. Try everything that you’ve wanted to do for years; things that, damn it, you were good at. Writing and acting leapt to the front of the queue.

I am writing (a bit more sedately as I’m having to share my output) my blog, of course, but I’m also writing for Rogue Cinema. I’ve gotten my first freelance job, I’ve applied to The New Yorker Times, I’ve been accepted by What Culture and I’ll be acting for the first time in years around June/July this year. I am also, starting on May 16th, a host for Tomorrow Comes Media.

Some of my research.
Some of my research.

I am also up to chapter 7 of my book and I’m still sorting out ideas for more short stories for my collection.

I’m also researching, reading and discovering new authors and films. All these are just on the creative side of my life.

I’ve found that I can also take care of my house, garden, exercise, cook and try to get on top of my financial crisis.

Life is, at the moment, pretty damned sweet.

It is also busy.

So life after almost dying is good and, it has to be said, much better than the alternative.

Writing something!
Writing something!

 

St Valentine’s Day Massacre

Whenever I think about Valentine’s Day I think of two things, my Dad‘s birthday and the men who were lined up against the inside wall of a garage and machine-gunned to death by a rival gang dressed up as cops.

There is no connection between the two events, Dad’s celebration of being born and the infamous mass murder; it’s just that I always think of the two things in that order. And as today is Valentine’s Day aka Happy Heart day that is what I am thinking of at this particular moment.

St Valentine’s Day massacre took place in 1929. It was a violent act set up by Al Capone against a rival booze running gang headed up by Bugs Moran. The shooting of seven unarmed men shocked and outraged the nation. No more so than in Chicago where the slaughter took place. It marked the beginning of the end for Capone in that area.

This horrible event has been chronicled repeatedly in literature, films and television. Although the exact details of what when on that day back in 1929 died with the men who carried out the crime. Much was learned from other members of the two warring factions.

But regardless of the facts, what everyone does know is that seven men died on a holiday set aside for lovers and the wooing of sweethearts. Such bitter irony has never been topped. With the often dichotomous lives led by mob members it is not hard to picture the shooters giving their girls/wives/fiancée’s candy, (illegal) champagne, or flowers before setting off to kill the men in the garage.

Or conversely, stopping off and buying their tokens of affection on the way home. Well, at least most of them as two were arrested immediately after wearing police officer uniforms.

Al Capone, a real killjoy on Valentine’s Day 1929…

I suppose it says something about me when on the most “romantic” day of the year I am thinking of death and birth almost simultaneously. One of the two events is very important to me and that is my father’s birthday. Without his birth, I would not have existed and never had the pleasure of growing up in the special family I had.

I never would have realised that my father was like a John Wayne character in a film. Hard, tough as nails, stubborn, fair, hard-working and devoted to providing for his family; nothing stopped him or slowed him down. It was only in his later years that a “bout of tick fever” that should have killed him (the doctor said if it had been anyone else they would have died) finally slowed him down.

He also was one of the few men that, in modern times, was respected enough that a hand-shake was a good as a written contract. A pretty remarkable man and one who is still going on although in a diminished fashion these days; I owe him a lot, as I said.

As I said if he had not come into the world neither would I and I never would have read about the St Valentine’s day massacre and wondered at the savageness and violence that men were capable of. I also never would have made the decision to move away from the state of my birth to get out from under his shadow.

While growing up, I soon found that if I wanted to spend any time with my Dad at all, it had to be through work. I started cleaning out houses for him at the ripe old age of 5 or 6 for a quarter. Time sped by, as it does, and I was working for him full-time by the time I left high school. But the comparisons were being made already.

“You sound just like your Dad.”

“I thought you were your Dad.”

“Wow, you walk just like your Dad.”

The comparisons went on and on. Don’t get me wrong. I was thrilled to be compared to the man I admired and respected above anyone else. But as I got older I realised that I did not want to be a “watered down” version of my Dad. I wanted to go out into the world and make my own way. I wanted to forge my own identity.

So I left. It was hard but I lived my life, made my own mistakes and I also knew that if I needed any guidance or help, Dad (and Mom) was only a phone call away. Throughout my life they have both helped me a lot; times when I was so down that there seemed to be no way out. They were there.

I guess it is odd that I think of these two unrelated events on Saint Valentine’s Day, but that’s how it is. One event because it so personally affected me and my life; the second because it caught my childhood imagination in a way that very few other things could have; it set up a lifelong fascination about the Mafia and its inhabitants.

So I raise my glass to those lovers out there that are buying their tokens of affection for their loved ones. I’ll be thinking of birth and death and not buying any tokens at all.

Skoal.

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When Retired Doesn’t Mean Retired

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So, I have been “medically” retired. I am now Michael Smith Prison Officer (retired). But I’m not. Not really. My medical retirement pension is on a lower tier which means two things: 1) I’ll get the pension until I shuffle off this mortal coil and 2) It is a damned small amount.

Not enough to live on and the amounts of benefit I am eligible for are very small and not at all certain. I am eligible for a lump sum, but taking that will drop my yearly pension payment by well over 1500 pounds per year. I also have a slight financial problem that is not going to go away and if I take the lump sum, my situation being what it is, said lump sum will disappear into my creditors’ pockets.

Dear me!

I have gone and spoken to the “not-so-helpful” folks at the Citizen’s Advise Bureau (admittedly it was not their fault, it was my circumstances) and found that I seemed to fall into a giant crack where no real benefits actually applied. I cannot get any of my state pension as a “top-up” as I am under even the earliest age where you can retire. I have a feeling that I will get the same response from the American Social Security folks.

I have often used the phrase “between a rock and a hard place” and each time I used that phrase I honestly felt that I was “in” that metaphorical place. It is amazing how naive we can be in our lives. I now truly understand what that phrase really means; I have only now come to realise that my lack of understanding was normal and I am now in that place.

I have always been a flexible chap, not exceedingly so, but flexible nonetheless. I always knew that I could bounce back from almost anything and I could usually turn my hand at anything.

But now?

I am completely utterly lost.

The one problem with my current circumstance is the heart problem. Because of the condition of my aortic tear, my local cardiologist won’t even assess my fitness for cardio rehabilitation. Not until I’ve had my second follow-on appointment with my surgeon in February. So I have no idea what I can or cannot do in the area of work. I do know I cannot do my old job in the prison service because I cannot have any contact with prisoners; hence my medical retirement.

But the heart problem aside, I don’t even have a CV (resume) on file to apply for work. I have not had a CV for ten years. My last “game plan” was to retire from the Prison Service. We all know how that turned out.

I have learned to my consternation that being medically retired is not the same as being retired. In fact, if you look at it from the benefit point of view, I’m not. I don’t know about the disabled side as I cannot really fill in any forms or get a straight answer until I get my medical retirement paperwork and monies finalized. That will not happen for at least six weeks.

Theoretically, I now have six weeks to get things sorted out, but that is not likely to happen, either. I have discovered that you cannot plan for benefits or income support. I also don’t know if I will get my next pay packet as promised so that I can pay for another month’s rent or even eat. I will be able to contact the financial folks who were helping me to sort my finances but since I’ve no longer got a job, will have to cease ( I suspect) their efforts on my behalf.

I now have to “update” my CV (which of course means writing from scratch) and tailor it to meet the latest CV requirements. I have already look to see what jobs I might be qualified for (not a lot) and who might be interested in hiring a 54 year-old ex-prison officer with a dodgy aorta.

I would consider busking (that quaint English custom on standing on street corners and singing or dancing for coins from the general public) but I don’t think my voice is in fine form and the dancing could be dangerous to my heath; not to mention my inherent lack of coordination in relation to dancing. I briefly considered applying to Tesco as a shelf stocker but I’m not sure they’d have me.

My YouTube channel has not even made enough to warrant a payment yet; there is a threshold of 60 pounds that I am miles away from. I have held onto a “deliver pamphlets” job advert where I could, according to the advert, make up to 500 pounds a week. I am not sure how many pamphlets I would have to deliver for that huge sum of money, but I suspect it is way more than I could deliver in my current state of healing.

But I will continue to look on the bright side. Any other alternative point of view is just not going to happen. As one wise man once said, “You’ve got to laugh, ain’t you? Otherwise you’d cry.”

So as another wise man once said, “Laugh? I nearly paid my television license.” I know, it’s something of a “local” saying, but strangely appropriate.

So I’ll leave you with this little fact: Retired doesn’t really mean retired when it is a medical retirement; at least in this country and if you are under the age of 55. I hope this proves to be helpful to someone who may be facing a similar situation. If not, they say that misery loves company and I have lots of room here in the space between a rock and a hard place; so welcome to my little world.

I’ll put some coffee on and get the cards; I’ll deal.

5 card stud anyone?

My First “Real” Thanksgiving in Years

I have not celebrated Thanksgiving for years. Mainly because  I live in England and despite my American heritage, since I don’t live state side, I tend to forget about “turkey day.”

When I was growing up Thanksgiving meant great food and a double celebration. We would go and eat ourselves silly at one grandparents house and then go to the other grandparent‘s house and eat some more.

Each year our family got together with various aunts and uncles and cousins and ate, argued, laughed and lounged for a few hours. But I can honestly say, apart from when I was really young and impressionable, I was never really “thankful” for anything.

This year, though, is different. I have a lot to be thankful for. Even though I’m not living state side, I think I might just drag out some fake meat product and try my hand at making sweet potato pie.

I feel like I’ve been given a huge second chance. Not many people get one of those and I don’t want to waste mine. I just need to figure out how to make the most of it.

I won’t lie, it’s going to take me a while to figure this out. I am still in shock after receiving the news from my surgeon about just how close I really came to meeting the “Big Guy.” And that the resultant surgery that left a tear in my aortic arch is going to put me into a “disabled” category whether I like it or not.

Once I’m done reeling from this information, and the implications of a sudden high surge of blood pressure possibly killing me now or later, I’ll figure out why I was spared.

As you can no doubt tell from my above meanderings, I am still a little freaked out by the whole “tear in my aorta” thing and how my life has changed in the blink of an eye. I have gone from a guy who ran to answer alarm bells and struggled with lads fighting each other or attempting to assault a fellow member of staff to a guy who can barely walk to the Tesco Metro and back.

It is all a little overwhelming and despite all the wonderful folks who’ve been so supportive since this has happened I am still having a bit of a hard time adjusting. It will be worse when I actually start my “return to work” schedule in December. It will be incredibly difficult to watch my friends and colleagues come in and collect their work keys, keys that I can’t use and will probably never get to use again.

The idea of being re-rolled into a job that pays less (a lot less) has also got me freaked out. I won’t, to the best of my knowledge anyway, be eligible for medical retirement. It is notoriously hard to get and you are not allowed to work anywhere else if they decide you are eligible.

But.

Apart from all the “freaking out” and worry about my future employment and my possible financial heartache, I am thankful. Because if I wasn’t here, I would not be able to do or feel all the things that I am currently feeling.

Hell, I’m so thankful  that I might just opt for sacrificing a real bird for Thanksgiving instead of  munching on a meat substitute.

So I’ll close by wishing everyone a Happy Thanksgiving aka Turkey Day. Enjoy it and appreciate it, because you just never know what’s around that next corner. Be thankful that you don’t.

Too Much Introspection or Me, Me, Me

Epiphany!

It is not often that I can have an instant epiphany while reading a blog post. It is even less likely for me to have one when reading a Freshly Pressed post.

I had one this morning though.

I won’t mention the  post by name or even by subject. You may be able to guess by the general tone of my post. If you can, I can only apologise to the person who wrote it, this isn’t personal. It’s not even a criticism.

It’s just an epiphany.

We all write blogs for similar reasons and they run the gamut from practicing to write to reviews on film.

A lot of people though, use their blog as a sort of public diary. Their posts deal with introspective ideas, realizations, or perspectives. There are an awful lot of introspective blogs out there.

My blog, for instance, does quite a bit of introspective wool gathering and then goes on to air it, as they say, in public.

I try very hard though to keep it from being all about me and my introspective study of personal belly-button lint. I hope I’m able to walk the fine line between Zen-like self discovery and the public “whinging” and whining about my  poor pitiful life.

When I write a blog that isn’t dealing with my own lifelong fascination of cinema and the acting profession I try to write about things that have happened to me or those around me. Not in a news sense, but in a sense of “I learned something today, I’ll just pass it on in case someone is interested.” I also like to put in print things I’ve done or seen or tried for the same reason.

I even like to put up introspective pieces if I feel that someone might identify with the issue and if not find an answer at least be compelled to look for one. I much prefer to post a “reflective” piece though. If you look at the tags for this post you’ll see reflective is one of them.

I was a young adult in the days of the “I’m okay, you’re okay” generation. A couple of decades when a few enterprising authors made a fortune on self help, self actualization, self promotion and even self love books, courses, and public seminars.

I'm okay, you're... well, maybe not
I’m okay, you’re… well, maybe not (Photo credit: pdxjmorris)

Do I sound cynical? If you answer yes, then you my dear friend and neighbor have been paying attention.  I am indeed cynical. I’ve had 54 years of learning, that despite the teachings of  a few self help books, people primarily look out for number one first and foremost.

Society has moved on from the “I’m okay, you’re okay” days and has moved into the “me” generation. The me generation started in the 90’s (I might be wrong here, but I became aware of it in the 90’s) and this has been morphed into the “I’m special” generation.

Father George Carlin spoke eloquently about the Special generation.

*contains adult language*

Now Father George refers to the “self esteem movement” aka the “I’m okay, you’re okay” days. It’s so nice to be vindicated. I just thought I’d point that out.

I guess the point I’m struggling to make is this, I don’t care about how well you can navigate the social network system. If you have discovered what a lot of folks already know about Facebook, Twitter, MySpace (I know they’ve changed their logo, but I can’t replicate it nor do I care to try), Bebo, et al; great!

I’m pleased for you. I might even go on to say I’m proud of you. There are not many who have gone this long and not realised that the new improved social network system is just another way for those in control to keep an eye on the populace.

Actually, the above paragraph is a slight exaggeration. I like the social network system or the SNS as I like to call it. It’s helping to make the world a smaller place. It’s also proving beyond a shadow of a doubt that trolls do exist.

I’m guessing that the amount of introspection blogs on offer has an awful lot to do with the creation of the “special’ movement. I never experienced that movement. When I grew up the pressure was on to be better at something and, if at all possible, to be the best.

I was taught that if you tried your best, that sometimes you would be better at something and you might even be the best…for a while. It’s called competition people, it’s healthy and very non-introspective.

We need to have goals and sometimes the goal is to be a better nailer than George or Mildred and not over internalize it or even to write about it. I may be overthinking this whole epiphany thing and that’s okay. At least I’m not over introspecting it.

Hopefully.

Last Words (book)
Last Words (book) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)