My name is Mark. I have lived in the San Francisco Bay area for about 38 years. Over the course of that time I met my soulmate. We were married and over the last 27 years together, raised a son, who continues to grow to honorable manhood. Some of the entries in this blog will be the stories I have to tell about that journey. I’ve maintained a regular journal since before leaving my college in Maine 38 years ago and I think of this site, in as much as it feels as though it is mine, as a continuation of that journalling. I sensed mortality approaching me and wanted to make my private ramblings more public. One of my favorite characters is Steinbeck’s Doc Ricketts. In the film cannery Row I remember him saying something like, “ A man ought to make his mark on the world, even if it’s just a scribble.” This blog represents my scribble.
I started the Angina Monologues website in December 2016 following about 14 of the most challenging months I’d had in several decades. Earlier in 2015, my wife’s Aunt T… came up to visit us with her beau. After a very pleasant visit the pair left to take a road trip across much of the continental United States. They were attending a wedding in South Dakota and continuing East, Both had been teachers at Rio Honda College in Southern California’s Orange County. They were visiting many former students with whom they had maintained correspondence. The midpoint of their journey was a visit to the home where Aunt T… was born some 89 years prior, in Pittsfield, Massachusetts. After achieving this they headed south and returned west by way of Colorado where they visited our niece, who was studying in Vail. Not log after their return, Aunt T… was diagnosed with cancer of the vertebrae. She suffered radiation therapy and did not recover from it, dying in October 2015. I was at her bedside when the hospice worker determined her death. It was the first time I had ever attended someone’s death bed. Less than a month after Aunt T.. died, we were informed of a close Friend’s diagnosis of colorectal cancer. Six months later we were standing beside her deathbed. I’m afraid those experiences have overshadowed any other memory I have of 2016.
I was also laid off in May 2016. I was a SAS programmer for about 25 years. in 2 separate tenures at Big Blue Health Insurance I had acquired 7 years service and Big Blue gave me a modest severance package. My wife had, for the first time, accepted an FTE position at her job in 2015. After discussing it for a bit we decided that I should take a break and find a more fulfilling occupation. I was thrilled with stage acting in high school and college and, with 20 years of mortgage payments behind us, I thought I might be able to devise a plan to survive with the pitiful earnings from roles available in San Francisco augmented, perhaps, by infrequent SAS programming contracts. So a new adventure began for the rest of the year. I took acting and screenwriting courses at CCSF and also joined a Meisner method acting workshop in San Francisco. As the year cruised towards its conclusion I realized that the effort had turned a beloved dream into an excruciating misery of unfulfilling work. Some time in November I resolved to return to programming. A very strange thing had happened to me in my last year at Big Blue. For as long as I can remember, I had eagerly anticipated my retirement. Each holiday season I would gleefully tell myself, “ Only 15, 14, 13, … years to go.” But when Christmas 2015 came around I began to get frightened and my internal monologue switched to, “I have only 10 years to accomplish whatever it is that I will accomplish in this career.” That was one of my most immediate angina monologues.
The broader sense of the title has its origins in the plant based whole food movement. My dad died when he was 54 and I was 16. At first I was not as devastated by the loss as the sympathy I received might have warranted. It took decades for me to fully realize how young and stupid I was. I can remember the turning point. One night when my son was 11 I was sitting on the deck, smoking a cigar and contemplating my navel, I suppose. I suddenly realized that my son had no better idea of his great fortune in the situation into which he was born than I did 30 years earlier. One summer night 25 years hence he would probably be sitting somewhere lamenting to himself, “Shit! I wish I had known how well I had it, so I could have taken better advantage of it,” the same way I was lamengting my lost opportunities on that summer night. It was quite an epiphany. I realized that dying at 54 was as unfair to my dad as if he had been killed during the second world war, and that I had no reason to believe life would treat me any more gently. Life had dealt me a pretty sweet hand; I was in the bottom third of the lottery for the one year in which I would have been eligible for the draft, I had thus far avoided significant illness although I had a BMI of about 40 for most of my life and even smoked cigarettes for a decade, I had escaped a 4 year relationship with a promiscuous, married woman in my mid 20’s without ending up dead or with some debilitating disease,… And, yet, I had experienced the joy of a happy marriage and an illuminating parenthood without really having to pay much at all for my egregious lack of judgement.
But henceforth I was afraid that I was destined to a conclusion similar to my father’s. I had assumed that the conditions that caused his fatal heart problems were the same as mine; trying to navigate a safe crossing through the maelstrom of untenable jobs, insufferable bosses, insurmountable financial crises,…, that constituted life in the western world during the twentieth and twenty-first centuries. And my genetics were substantially the same as his. At that time I had not considered that his grandmother had lived to be 95 and that his brother and paternal aunt had both lived into their 90’s.
My wife is an Occupational Therapist. Sometimes it seems to me that she believes that there is nothing that science cannot fix. As we began to seek out healthy lifestyles we learned many people were claiming to be freed from the horrible chronic illness so endemic(epidemic?) in American life. These stories led to the likes of John McDougall(www.drmcdougall.com/), Jeff Novick ( http://www.JeffNovick.com), Doug Lisle (http://esteemdynamics.org) and Caldwell Esselstyn ( www.dresselstyn.com). They have convinced me that we are the authors, rather than the victims, of our future.
The older I get the more atheistic I become. But almost everyday I thank whatever abstract construct led me to wed the wife I have and to be born of the father I had. In the two years between my father’s Congestive Heart Failure diagnosis and the cardiac event that killed him I watched him suffer the unbearable impotence that each of us experiences as the medical establishment works to improve symptoms rather than cure the diseases of our modern western lifestyles. If this website can help anyone make the changes necessary to avoid that grim fate, it will be worth whatever effort and expense was required to create it.
When I told a friend about the title of the website he told me that he hoped Eve Ensler was not in a litigious mood. I know very little about The Vagina Monologues. From the excerpts I’ve seen on youtube, I believe Ms. Ensler will not be offended by whatever popularity I may try to coopt from her successful work. And I believe titles are not subject to copyright. And I trust I have not offended anyone who has an affinity for that work. If I am wrong on either account I sincerely apologize.
Welcome to the Angina Monologues.
Saturday, December 10, 2016