Monday, November 16, 2009

When what you are changes...

As someone pointed out, I'm a little overdue for my "I'm not dead yet" posting. Part of that has been simply that I haven't felt like I've had much useful to say, and part has been because using the computer has been a frustrating and futile venture at best. Well, at least a part of that has changed over the last few weeks -- I am now in sufficient control of my hands often enough and for long enough to take the odd stab at life online. Some things, though, haven't changed much at all.

The monster that ate my brain isn't exactly Parkinson's disease, but it's related. Dementia is the primary symptom; the shaking is just incidental. There are drugs to control the shaking, but as with anything that messes with brain chemistry, it takes some trial and error to find the right mix, and it's only been recently that I've regained the ability to type -- or to walk without having to think through the mechanics of each step, for that matter. There's not a lot anybody can do about the dementia, though.

I still know enough about Notes, Java, PHP, JS and HTML that I ought to be able to make a living at it, but my "scratchpad" memory is so thoroughly shot that I can get lost in a ten-line function. That continues to get worse as time passes, so my life as a programmer (or as an answer man on the developerWorks fora) has effectively been over for quite a while now. It was a blast while it lasted, but now even the most trivial work is a source of anger and frustration. I don't need that, nor would I want to expose anyone I worked with to it. And since I have no way of predicting when or if I'm going to have a good day (that is, a day when my body and mind both show up, and when I'm not comatose), normal employment at something less intellectually demanding is also a pipe dream.

Merely accepting my life as it is today, though, seems to have made me something of a local inspirational character, particularly within the recovery community. I sometimes wish there was a way to monetize un-unhappiness (although I have to admit to a steep decline in my own spending on coffee, since that nectar seems to be the traditional offering when the troubled seek solace from the guru). It's not that I enjoy having ever more restrictive limits imposed on me, but when life offers you a choice of laughing or crying one finds that the crying gets really old really fast.

One thing I've found I have been able to do adequately is work with wood. By adequately, I mean I'm only scarring my fingers up badly -- I haven't actually removed any. It's all hand tools (except for the drill, since making a small hole that is actually round with a hand-cranked drill or a brace and bit is almost impossible). And I have to say that I'm enjoying the hell out of it, even when I'm screwing up. It's a quiet and solitary pursuit, which frees me from the anxiety that comes from having all of my perceptual filters turned off. The smell is intoxicating. I know by the sound that I have planed a perfect shaving half a cell thick without having to look (and when the grain has reversed on me and there has been a terrible tear-out). There's the mirror shine of wood that has been pared by a chisel that's been sharpened keener that the average razor. And don't get me started on the miracle that is the Japanese saw.

So Stan is now a fine cabinetmaker. With any luck at all, I may actually make enough money to pay for the tools. For those of you who may be unaware, the good toolmakers of the past have all gone the way of the dodo. There are still tools sold under venerable names like Stanley, Record and Marples, but they're, well, crap. Worse than crap, really. Power tools are doing much better -- but a fellow in my condition can't afford to be playing with anything where a small slip can result in a big injury. So I'm stuck paying three hundred bucks to a small but excellent toolmaker for something I would have been able to buy for fifty bucks (or, rather, yesterday's equivalent of today's fifty bucks) when I was a kid. Used? The ones that survived have become collectors' items and sit in places of honour on shelves. Kinda like what happened to those antiquated Leica cameras.

In any case, I'm having fun turning big sticks into sawdust, shavings and custom convertible multifunction furniture for small spaces. And I'm pretty good at convincing people that setbacks are only defeats if they surrender. But I am not, and will never again be, a techie.


Rick VanGameren said...

Stan, I'm sorry to hear that Parkinson's is defining limits for you.
If you get a chance, send me an email - I've been doing some reading about PD. Have you checked out ?
It's good to hear that you're enjoying woodworking.
Take care,

Karen said...

What the tech world loses, the woodworking world gains, Stan. I have a feeling you could blog about woodworking, and we (geeks) would still sit and read every word.

Thanks for checking in, and for showing us what it's like to make lemonade out of well, just about any g-damn thing life can throw a person.

Ed Brill said...


It is really good to know you are out there and still improving the world. We all are forever in your debt for sharing.

I haven't been through T.O. much this year but next time, I owe you another of those cups of coffee.

Charles Robinson said...

Thanks for keeping us updated. :-) I wonder about you frequently.