Tag Archives: North Carolina

December motto plus optional isolation

CanceroustumorsurroundingrightkidneyDr. Jeniffer Simon, a caring and experienced urologist, Geissinger Medical Center, State College PA showed me on her computer this image–a cancerous tumor surrounding my right kidney, referring me to Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center in New York City. “Unless you have surgery quickly, you will be dead in 10 years.” The date: April 5, 2013, 4 P.M. We hugged; I cried.

The order of this posting (typically presented in a hodgepodge of disorder):

  1. Motto
  2. Paraplegia and the recollection of previous cancers
  3. The last part of cancer therapy
  4. Optional isolation
  5. Joanna’s wedding
  6. This I believe

Motto

Make haste slowly is the motto.

Gold coin Emperor Augustus (63 BC to 14 AD) minted to display the symbol for his motto: "Make haste slowly."
Gold coin Emperor Augustus (63 BC to 14 AD) minted to display the symbol for his motto: “Make haste slowly.”

I first came across this seemingly contradictory expression when trying to learn Latin: Festina lente.

Unless one is in a situation such as mine, Make haste slowly appears to make no sense.

Speed and slow are opposites.

The last part of cancer therapy

My situation comes at the end of a difficult time.

The time began in April when I was diagnosed with kidney cancer and reached medical optimism after I left my home in State College, PA where the expertise to save my life did not exist.

This is my first "step" in getting to New York.
My first “step” in getting to New York.

I was referred to Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center in New York City—a five hour car ride away. On August 8th, Dr. Paul Russo removed the cancerous tumor, saved my right kidney, and essentially prevented me from dying of kidney cancer. It was a gift of 10 years.

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In The Canary Murder Case by S.S. Van Dine, Philo Vance—almost certainly the most obnoxious snob in the history of detective literature—is helping his friend the district attorney solve a difficult murder. The district attorney says, “’Well, well! So the case is settled! Now if you’ll but indicate which is the guilty one, I’ll arrest him at once, and return to my other duties.’”

“’You’re always in such haste,’ Vance lamented. “Why leap and run? The wisdom of the world’s philosophers is against it. Festina lente, says Caesar; or, as Rufus has it, Festinatio tarde est. And the Koran says quite frankly that haste is of the Devil. Shakespeare was constantly lamenting speed. ‘He tires that spurs too fast betimes.’”

Still from the 1929 film version of The Canary Murder Case
Still from the 1929 film version, The Canary Murder Case

Vance, whose name in 1927 became synonymous with private detective, goes on to quote Moliere, Chaucer and the Bible on the subject.

My energy level is sufficiently low and my acuity high enough I understand Vance’s point without citing the additional paragraph.

Paraplegia 

For the past 20 years, I have been a paraplegic unable even slowly “to leap and run.” Paradoxically, in high school I received a letter sweater for running 2 ½ miles regularly during cross-country competitions. My best record was clocked running two miles in less than 12 minutes, hardly the Olympics, but good enough for Cheltenham High School  in Wyncotte, PA.

Yes, I would like to leap and run. There are a lot of things I would like to do that I cannot.

What I want to do is live life to the full and in the process make a contribution along the path I have committed myself.

I certainly have done a lot of living in the past 20 years as a paraplegic. In one of my three trips across the United States from sea to shining sea, I took my battery-powered scooter and drove it around the rim of the Grand Canyon.

In California, I watched my elder daughter Joanna train a horse to jump a fence. As I watched, the horse did something amazing. After going over the fence for the first time, the horse did a double-take, shaking its head as if to say, “I do not believe I did that.” Joanna’s smile of accomplishment…

In Santa Cruz, one glorious day, Amelia my younger daughter and I boarded a ship and watched whales frolicking.

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Isadora Duncan
Isadora Duncan

For a while, I chose the Isadora Duncan School of Dance rather than rehabilitation–both dance and physical rehabilitation have become an essential part of my doxology.

The brilliant physical therapist Alicia J. Spence at State College's Phoenix Rehab begins; it is time for me to return to her.
The brilliant physical therapist Alicia J. Spence at State College’s Phoenix Rehab begins; it is time for me to return to her.

In the Silicon Valley, I wrote a technical manual for KLA-Tancor on inspecting silicon wafers for defects. Often, I scrubbed down, putting on a white gown and hat; wheeling into the clean room where my readers would be using the documentation.

The recollection of previous cancers

After radiation treatment for cancer, I fathered my two children, published three books, and loved and was loved in return.

The experience of having cancer twice, first at age 28 then at 42—treatment which burned my spine and made me unable to walk certainly slowed me down. It did not stop me. Nor has the experience of having cancer for the third time at age 65 stopped me.

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“The Roman historian Suetonius… tells that Augustus… thought nothing less becoming in a well-trained leader than haste and rashness, and, accordingly, favorite sayings of his were: ‘More haste, less speed’; ‘Better a safe commander than a bold’; and ‘That is done quickly enough which is done well enough.'”

Wikipedia continues, “Gold coins were minted for Augustus which bore the image of a crab and a butterfly, which was considered to be emblematic of the adage. Other pairings used to illustrate the adage include a hare in a snail shell; a chameleon with a fish; a diamond ring entwined with foliage; and, especially, a dolphin entwined around an anchor. Cosimo I de’ Medici, Grand Duke of Tuscany had festina lente as his motto and illustrated it with a tortoise with a sail upon its back.”

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Frequently, I suspect I have not learned from experience.

The same mistakes seem to repeat themselves in predictable order. This is most often the case with loss of energy. So often have I felt my body filled with power and enthusiasm that when the power disappears and getting out of bed becomes a chore, a dark cloud seems to hang over me.

The cloud is not there now.

Recovery from surgery has surprised me by its slow pace.

When I returned from New York in August, the combination of weakness and pain made me grateful to be alone.

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One consequence of my receiving a cancer diagnosis in April of this year is that the telling provoked waves of  affection and attention not merely from those close to home.

A woman whom I had loved intensely in 1972 ( not seen or heard from since) read here on this site an optimistic account of my situation and responded with an e-mail followed by phone calls. We talked about the children we did not have together, the life we did not share, and the strangely odd and encouraging fact that affection untended continues despite the reality that it had its origins so long ago.

Friends appeared with whom I had lost contact for decades. My expectations of how good people could be to me were vastly exceeded by reality. I have emerged from surgery with the feeling of being cherished. Nothing I can say or do can ever repay my gratitude. You know who you are and yet you do not truly appreciate how much you have graced my heart.

Often I feel words used to describe me are wrong, just wrong. I do not think of myself as “brave” or “courageous” or a “fighter.” When I think of myself, which I do often, I try to stop—meditate and in my own fashion pray that the ego will dissolve and I will just continue, pursue the path.

Optional isolation

Late in August, back at my apartment, alone, feeling that strange happiness that comes when intense pain disappears, whoever I am is comfortable to me. By nature I am impatient. By nature, I am persistent. Then, the phrase make haste slowly serves as a comfort. I will do what I need to do when the time comes. I will be grateful for energy and understanding when I cannot do what needs to be done. If the sky falls and I do not have the strength to stop it, the sky falls. Such is life.

Joanna’s wedding

Before I scooted Joanna down the aisle, she drove me to New York for the surgery. My friend  Ben Carlsen drove from State College to New York to bring me back home.
Three months before I scooted Joanna down the aisle, she drove me to New York for the surgery. My friend Ben Carlsen drove from State College to New York to bring me back home.

Going to Joanna’s wedding in October appears now on the second day of December a miraculous event. Weeks before I boarded the plane, I did not believe the energy would return. I persisted. Giving away my elder daughter on a farm in Mebane, North Carolina produced euphoria that brought me through and carried me home on Delta Airlines.

Amelia was my caregiver at  the American Cancer Society's Hope Lodge in NYC where we roomed together before, during, and after my surgery.
Amelia (right) was my caregiver at the American Cancer Society’s Hope Lodge in NYC where we roomed together before, during, and after my surgery.

At the wedding it was a delight seeing Amelia again in North Carolina a seeming aeon away from New York , saying goodbye before she returned to Spain for her third extended trip.

I loved:

  • Watching my sister Sarah Leah Schmerler dance without inhibition after the intensity of being together at the hospital in New York

sarahatwedding

  • Revisiting my 12 year-old only nephew Asher Simonson with his unexpected moments of humor
  • Seeing his father Robert Simonson who had lugged my mobility devices around the Island of Manhattan
  • My son-in-law Jade Phillips and his firefighting colleagues who, when the festivities were over and the bonfire burned out, literally picked up my exhausted body and flung me into the passenger side of a truck

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Then fatigue. Delight in being alone. Concern I would not finish the work I must finish. Optional isolation. Appearing outside my apartment only occasionally. Seeing as few people as possible. Avoiding crowds, large gatherings, and familiar places where I have been surrounded by affection.

Periodically, I receive calls, visits, e-mails and reports of those who ask with affection and concern “Where’s Joel?”

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Life continues.

A dear friend becomes sick. Miles and often even a few blocks I do not have the energy to travel keep me from being where I would otherwise like to be.

I sit in my apartment and wait. A rush of energy and I find myself writing, as I am writing now, without stop, expressing while leaving dishes unwashed, my bed unmade, not yet able to complete rigorous academic writing—not quite able to pull together a large project.

Instead, I follow whim. I have been making You Tube videos—going off to a computer in the patient company of an expert in iMovie editing software, collapsing, returning, making slow steady progress as bills pile up, consistently refusing to think about the money I do not have and the energy I do not have to obtain it.

I have been reading Robert Alter’s The Book of Psalms, his introduction tracing the psalms’ origins back to the Bronze Age over 3,000 years ago, reciting his clear translation, going to the Hebrew, recalling my mother never left the house without a small Hebrew copy of Psalms in her pocketbook, dipping into David Halberstam writing about Elvis Presley, reading a paragraph here and there about architecture, engineering, virtual reality—not doing much for long, but doing and then in fatigue watching by choice vapid Netflix videos for hours.

The last part of cancer therapy

I hope to encourage others like me who are recovering to recognize our temporary limitations and persevere.

Most do not recognize the difficulties involved in recovering from cancer after the disease is gone but the energy has not returned.

[To be inserted here observations about suicide attempts by survivors. This issue I discuss in my book Learning to Live Again, My Triumph over Cancer available on this site http://www.joelsolkoff.com/book-store/books/learning-to-live-again-my-triumph-over-cancer/].

While researching, I came across a footnote in a medical journal article. A young man with the most dangerous stage of Hodgkin’s disease had killed himself after being cured. The autopsy revealed no cancer was present in his body.

Surviving while still recovering can be a hard time unless one is willing to believe in the future. Henry David Thoreau should be an encouragement to those us living in situations such as the one I am now in. Thoreau wrote, “There is one consolation in being sick; and that is the possibility that you may recover to a better state than you were ever in before.”

My life seems to have been lived on the principle that best way to get from here to there is NOT to go in a straight line.

I have been watching You Tubes of Edward R. Murrow, my hero. This one caught my fancy yesterday at 2 in the morning.

This I believe

I believe:

  1. I am alive for a purpose.
  2. The attempt to achieve the purpose, which I choose to call my path in homage to Laozi, serves not only its own end but to unite all that is sacred to me; namely, my children (of course) who are adults and have lives of their own; my sister Sarah and my family, my friends who are family; my love for women (a woman were the right woman in my bed); the need to care for myself, be independent in body and mind, be a good citizen who embraces not only my country but my mother Earth, and the need to be the human being I strive to be who believes in the spirit that gives us life.
Clearly a fictitious image of Laozi. No one knows what he looked like. The story is Laozi appeared at a border crossing. The guard asked him to write a book of wisdom. Laozi wrote The Way, gave it to the guard who allowed him to cross. Laozi disappeared. This story and The Way are the only evidence of his existence.
Clearly a fictitious image of Laozi. No one knows what he looked like. The story is Laozi appeared at a border crossing. The guard asked him to write a book of wisdom. Laozi wrote The Way (The Path), gave it to the guard who allowed him to cross. Laozi disappeared. This story and The Way are the only evidence of his existence.

3. My chosen path is to help the elderly and disabled achieve their potential.

4. Along that path is the virtue of technology which makes it possible for me to go seamlessly from my bed to my kitchen out the door and into the world on scooters like the kind that my dear friend Al Thieme of Amigo Mobility invented which he refers to as Power Operated Vehicle scooters or POV scooters to distinguish them from toys. The technology mobility path includes power chairs and equipment being developed at an astonishingly rapid pace. The consequence of this technology is I do not think of myself as one whose disability prevents me from living life to the full. For individuals with hearing and visual disabilities technology has developed to the point where, for example, an individual blind from birth can drive an automobile specially equipped with laser scanning of the road;  the automobile provides the driver computer-voice simulated operated instructions.

Thank you Wired Magazine: http://www.wired.com/autopia/2009/07/blind-driver-challenge/
Thank you Wired Magazine

Totally blind drivers have passed tests on intentionally difficult driving courses. I believe in my lifetime the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania will issue drivers licenses to individuals who are totally blind but who have proven their ability to drive sophisticated vehicles such as the ones already produced by the Virginia Tech’s Robotics and Mechanisms Laboratory.

Amigo manufactures this narrow travel scooter shown here in a tight space in a tiny motel room as I traveled nearly 1,000 miles to my daughter Amelia's college graduation.
Amigo Mobility manufactures this narrow travel scooter shown here in a tight space in a tiny motel room as I traveled nearly 1,000 miles to my daughter Amelia’s college graduation.

5. My path is focused on what the architectural, engineering, and construction community refer to as the built environment. See, for example, my biographical information and published work for e-architect: http://www.e-architect.co.uk/editors/joel-solkoff

6. To rebuild the environment, the promise of virtual reality is real. Virtual reality is a promise my 30 year-old mentor Sonali Kumar introduced to me as I worked with her as a research assistant at Penn State’s Architectural Engineering Department to complete her doctoral dissertation entitled: Experience-based design review of healthcare facilities using interactive virtual prototypes. 

VirtualRollinshower

Sonali apologized when she used me as the model for this avatar. “I am sorry I put so much gray in your hair. You do have a lot of gray in your hair.”

Fashion aside, one of my contributions to Sonali’s animated three-dimensional model of an independent-living-aging-in-place home was the suggestion she replace the original bathtub with a roll in shower. As a paraplegic for whom being clean is vital, I have all too often been trapped in a bathtub–on one occasion it took me 45 minutes to figure out how to get out of the tub finally using my arms to push me out, pulling my legs after me as I landed onto a dirty bathroom floor.

7. Experienced-based design is essential. Experienced-based design is one of a number of academic terms meaning the best way to design an environment is to ask the person who will use it. The example that comes most readily to mind is an article I read about a new hospital in the Philadelphia area. The article complemented the hospital administration for asking patients at the previous facility what changes they would suggest making to the design of the new building to make the hospital more patient-friendly. The patients suggested making it easier to get from bed to bathroom by making the bathroom closer to the bed. The article praised the administration for the reduction in falls as a consequence. [I know. My instant reaction to that was Daaaaaaaaaaaahh.] Asking does matter. Ask experts like me, for example, or my neighbors at Addison Court (an independent living apartment building for the elderly and disabled) whom I arranged to view Sonali’s model wearing 3-D glasses at Dr. John Messner’s Immersive Construction Lab for Construction industry. The consequence is we have the experience to instruct the design of the environment around us so that it is more efficient. The result is not merely an exercise in odd-sounding academic words such as case studies, scenarios, and activities of daily living (ADL); it is also a good idea.

SloanBath

8. Self reliance should be encouraged. Shown here

[Note: Think of I believe in points 8, 9, and beyond as Coming Attractions.]

9. Knowing when to ask for help.

Color coded socks at Mount Nittany Medical Center, State College, PA. These socks indicate patient is at risk of falling.
Color coded socks at Mount Nittany Medical Center, State College, PA. These socks indicate patient is at risk of falling.

To be continued.

Meanwhile, here is Edward R. Murrow  interviewing then former President of the United States Harry S Truman on what Truman believes. http://thisibelieve.org/essay/17058/

President Truman is followed by a bad video of an Alan Jackson song. I like the theme. I like the song.

–Joel Solkoff

Copyright 2013 by Joel Solkoff. All rights reserved.

 

“Carolina in my mind” plus Mebane: Wedding site

Of course, it is impossible to think of North Carolina without hearing James Taylor singing: “Carolina in my mind.”

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When I lived in New York City, the song lyric reverberating through the skyscrapers was, “If you can make it here, you can make it anywhere.”

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North Carolina, as you can see from the photography on the You Tube video (linger at the end and watch the ocean)  is not New York, the City where I was born and graduated from college.

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Many bumper stickers ago, I remember one that read pithier, but in essence:

“God created North Carolina first. That is why the sky is Carolina blue.

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Our family moved to North Carolina in 1990 in time to celebrate Thanksgiving in corporate-paid luxury temporary housing while Northern Telecom waited to see whether it had to abide by its agreement to purchase our historic landmark house on Capitol Hill if Diana and I were unable to sell it.

Joanna and I would drive down the road to Chatham County–where I lingered in the country store (and gas station) counting the number of chewing tobacco brands on sale.

Not far from our home, knowledgeable equestrians had relocated from New Jersey and built lavish horse farms full of exquisite horses–horses Joanna came to love and ride, train to jump, and teach others how to ride.

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Amelia was an infant when we visited and moved to Durham. Amelia had been born two months prematurely. On our first visit, Amelia was still attached to a heart monitor. In the premie ward, she had simply decided to stop breathing.

We had stopped for the night in Durham as a result of a last-minute telephone call to my friend Patric Mullen (formerly a DC lobbyist for the National Sharecroppers Fund). We had been en route to elsewhere.

Patric and Trina’s next door neighbor Kathleen Atwater came over to the Mullens’ kitchen to meet us and drink wine. She was a manager of documentation at Northern Telecom, a company that controlled nearly half the telephone switches in the U.S. and was making fistfuls of money selling telephone companies software to download in their switches. [The company is now bankrupt as a consequence of stupidity and greed at its Canadian corporate headquarters.]

Kathleen promptly hired me on the spot on first meeting to work for her as a senior technical writer. I had never even been a junior technical writer.

I was then working for the U.S. Postal Service. I had been hired by the previous postmaster general who loved my work, saved the organization from imminent destruction, and left to help his brother run CBS while I had remained behind to do public relations work. [I had become obsessed with bar code technology which, to the surprise of many, was a technology where the postal service led the world.]

None the less, I was indeed going postal.

Diana’s job had lost its luster.

Each of us had lived in D.C. for 17 years.

After my second cancer and Amelia’s birth, we were desperate to leave the nation’s capital, ticking off on our fingers the problems we had to solve, which included the decline of public education in DC– total destruction would be more accurate.

Diana and I had each attended private schools.

We were committed to educating our children in public schools. After three years in DC schools, it was clear that Joanna was not learning what children must learn to get ahead. The public college in D.C. was and still is dreadful.

We arrived in North Carolina just before the school system in Durham ran into decline. Nevertheless, through constant vigilance–primarily exemplary work on Diana’s part– both Joanna and Amelia received a decent education. It helped that school board members  , for example breakfasted at our home,

Joanna and Amelia were able to graduate with honors from the splendid University of North Carolina system the astonishingly brilliant visionary former-governor and candidate for President of the U.S. Terry Sanford had created as a true center of excellence for the people.

Simultaneously, Sanford was instrumental in  creating the Research Triangle Park (RTP) concept–an astonishingly effective alternative (at least for a while) to the Silicon Valley and Boston’s high-tech corridor. I worked as a technical writer at RTP for over four years.

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As I write, I can hear Joanna wondering:

When will Dad stop writing about North Carolina and  makes sure he packs his bag to get down here?

When, indeed?

Time to get my bag out of the closet.

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–Joel Solkoff

Copyright 2013 by Joel Solkoff. All rights reserved.

–30–

Posted below is a section from the Wikipedia entry for Mebane North Carolina where Joanna will marry Jade in five days. Afterward, you may want to read the entire entry. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mebane,_North_Carolina

“Mebane /ˈmɛbən/ is a city located mostly in Alamance County, North Carolina, United States, with a part of it in Orange County,North Carolina. It is part of the Burlington and Chapel Hill North Carolina Metropolitan Statistical Area. The town was named for General Alexander Mebane, Jr., a Revolutionary War general and member of the U.S. Congress. It was incorporated as Mebanesville in 1881 and in 1883 the name was changed to Mebane. In 1987, the official name became the City of Mebane. The population as of the 2010 census was 11,393.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Random Thoughts: January 30, 2013

Time for more random updates and personal revelations out of date to everyone but me

January 30, 2013: Someone stole Goya’s head. (The fact that his happened in the 19th Century is irrelevant.)

“On a November morning of 1888 in the cemetery of the Grande Chartreuse, Bordeaux, the Spanish counsel resident in that opulent city received the shock of his life. Hastening to the nearest telegraph he dispatched a wire to Madrid: GOYA SKELETON HEADLESS.

From Goya's Disasters of War, soldier cutting off head. Other Goya drawings show heads on spikes.
From Goya’s Disasters of War, soldier cutting off head. Other Goya drawings show heads on spikes.

”In a less agitated condition and able to recall the master’s whimsical etching of a seated corpse pushing up the lid of a tomb bearing the one word Nada (‘Nothing’), the counsel might pardonably begun his telegram TYPICAL GOYAESQUE SITUATION….

“Dying in self-chosen exile in 1828, at the age of eighty-two, Francisco Joseph Goya y Luciente had been buried in the tomb of a close friend and fellow-expatriate, Miguel Martin Goicoichea, deceased three years previously, the memorial tablet accurately proclaimed him Hispaniensis Peritisimus Pictor. His skull, stolen at some time unknown, has not been seen or heard of since. The exhumation duly proceeded, and Goya’s truncated remains were returned with honour to his native land after an absence of sixty-six years.”

The World of Goya by D.B. Wyndham Lewis

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It reminded me of the night when on the George Washington Bridge, bound for Manhattan, I encountered a raccoon determinedly padding his way back to the New Jersey shore. –A. J. Liebling

Amelia as a torch singer at her high school graduation

Designing a trip and a way of life

On Wednesday, I will take the longest trip since I first arrived in State College, PA about six years ago. I will be attending my daughter Amelia Altalena Solkoff’s graduation ceremony at the University of North Carolina in Ashville. Amelia has already earned her bachelor’s degree in Spanish and while the ceremony may be a mere formality, it is not a formality I can miss. Many of the people I love most in the world will be there, including Amelia’s older sister Joanna who received her bachelor’s degree in English literature from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill where she is currently completing nursing school.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The last time I was in Ashville was 19 years ago before I lost the ability to walk as a result of a spinal cord injury. Both my daughters have visited me here in State College, but while I have driven to other places, the 900 mile drive has eluded me to the place where F. Scott Fitzgerald wrote “In a real dark night of the soul, it is always three o’clock in the morning.”

My elder daughter Joanna visiting me at State College.

My trip to Ashville marks a new feature for the joelsolkoff.com site. Here I will finally take my best friend David Phillips’ advice and begin a consumer book on scooters, power chairs, and peripheral devices. Al Thieme, who invented the power operated vehicle (POV) scooter and the chief executive officer of Amigo Mobility has supplied me with his latest travel scooter, which I will be evaluating on the trip. Other manufacturers are invited to supply equipment for evaluation.

I assembled the scooter myself in my messy apartment.

The fact that this feature begins with equipment for disability travel is especially appropriate. I have been writing about disability travel for a while now and this trip to Amelia’s ceremony provides the opportunity to focus on the importance of people with disabilities being able to visit loved ones, obtain employment, and function in this mobile society. Each of my daughters has extensive experience over the past 18 years of my paraplegia riding mobility devices, figuring out inventive ways of providing me with access to the world, and indeed helping me put out a fire when an electrician installed a wheel chair lift to my car using faulty wiring and burning down my red Buick.

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The word “design” is actually the primary theme of this website, of my career, and indeed of my personal life. As anyone who knows me will testify, I am by nature an impulsive person, but impulsivity can lead to danger for those of us who are disabled. We need to put aside basic parts of our personality (as I have done and failed to do to my regret) in order to consider the consequences and redesign ourselves for a world that is not built for the elderly and disabled.

–Joel Solkoff, April 28, 2012, State College, PA

Method acting classes have made a new man of me.

Stay tuned to this posting for more, which contrary to traditional blog chronological custom, will appear as I write my story. Links will be dropped in without warning. Become a frequent flyer and subscribe to this site.

Countdown over: Amelia’s graduation ceremony was very wet; may end with my joining the Smyth County Moose Lodge

Soaking wet, Amelia Altalena Solkoff graduated with honors in Spanish at the University of North Carolina, Ashville (UNC-A). UNC-A ran an awful graduation ceremony. When I get rich, I will provide UNC-A with funds for rainy day graduations.

Asheville CITIZEN-TIMES previews the graduation ceremonies that have now taken place:

ASHEVILLE — Former White House Chief of Staff Erskine Bowles will speak at UNC Asheville’s graduation ceremony in May.

“Bowles served as President Clinton’s top assistant and was tapped by President Barack Obama to tackle the nation’s budget woes. He also spent five years as president of the UNC System.”

http://www.citizen-times.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=2012304170019

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Then, on May 6, 2012 The CITIZENS-TIMES report on the event:

“UNCA’s rainy spring graduation : As soon as UNC Asheville students got to the quad for the spring graduation commencement, the rain started to pour Saturday. 5/5/12 – Erin Brethauer ([email protected])”

See video; hear rainhttp://www.citizen-times.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=2012305060044

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Amelia at Celebratory Meal # 3 (of 4) THE BIG ONE
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At Celebratory meal # 4.

Joanna and Amelia’s mother Diana Bass

 

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At Celebratory meal # 1.

Our daughter Joanna Marie Solkoff, who graduated with honors in English from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. She is currently studying to be a nurse. Accompanying Joanna is Jade Phillips, a rock and refuge shown together at my apartment at State College, PA in March:

 

 

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Sarah Schmerler, Robert Simonson, and Asher Simonson during a brief dry spell at the graduation ceremony

Sarah is my sister (https://www.artnews.com/author/sarahschmerler/). Robert Simonson is my brother-in-law (http://www.amazon.com/Robert-Simonson/e/B001K8HFEA/ref=sr_tc_2_rm?qid=1337188291&sr=1-2-ent). Asher Benvenuto Simonson is my camera-shy only nephew; he is nearly 11.

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Asheville, NC 7:19 PM. May 4, 2012 [official Star Trek holiday celebration; see Wikipedia.].

I am ensconced in a disability room at the Asheville NC Extended Stay America motel.

This is directly down the road from the University of North Carolina Campus where Amelia graduates tomorrow at 9 AM.

Relatives, loved ones, friends, and the like are preparing to come to my hotel to engage in a Jewish celebration of Sabboth and undoubtedly much mischief.

When I have time, I promise to TELL ALL. Including photos.

Gotta run.

Amelia, the evening before graduation ceremonies, helps me unload my car.

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There is candle lighting in my room: “Blessed are You, LORD, our God, King of the universe, Who has kept us alive, sustained us, and enabled us to reach this season.”

 

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Flashback: Two days earlier

Michelle, front desk clerk Best Western Grand Venice Hotel, Hagerstown, NC, prepares to put my travel scooter into the trunk so I am ready to drive south for hundreds of miles.

Michelle is my candidate for Best Western employee of the year.

 

 

As we all know, commencement is not a beginning, it is an end.

On the road again:

May 3, 2012 Hagerstown, Maryland,  Best Western Grand Venice Hotel, 11:55 AM

8 AM today ready for breakfast at the free bar on the second floor

The route from Downtown State College, where I live, to Ashville North Carolina, where Amelia will be receiving her diploma on May 5th at 9 AM at the University of North Carolina in Asheville is 571 miles–a 9 hour and 40 minute drive, longer than I have driven in over eight years.

Yesterday, I left State College after my friend Pinki Heyn helped load the Enterprise Rental Car driven by Dawn, a new management trainee, who brought me to the rental office for the ritual filling out of the forms and paying the money. After picking up a suit (which I have not worn in 7 years), several starched shirts, and clean clothing, I left town at 5 PM and drove the astonishingly beautiful Route 99 to Route 70 to Hagerstown, site of the Battle of Antietam, the first Union victory, giving  President Lincoln the credibility required to issue the Emancipation proclamation. More on Emancipation later in the trip.

I now have traveled 158 miles of a 571 mile trip. Amelia called anxiously trying to rush me. Whose celebration does she think this is?

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Amelia in my arms before age one–the rest of the crew will be described later.

 

Last year, before reaching her current level of maturity, Amelia prepares to run with the bulls

 

 

 

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This Amigo TravelMate will take me to Amelia’s graduation (photo by Andrea Gatzke).

A Commencement Speech I Approve Of

I have been led to understand that…you are going to graduate. Well, my strong recommendation is that you don’t go. Stop! Go on back to your rooms. Unpack! There’s not much out here. Chekhov tells the story of the traveler faced with three roads… If he takes the one to the right, the wolves will eat him up. If he takes the one to the left he will eat up the wolves, and if he takes the one to the center he will eat himself up.

The point is we don’t want you out here very much. We on the outside see graduation as a terrible event–the opening of an enormous dovecote from which spring into the air tens of thousands of graduates. What is particularly disturbing is that you all come out at the same time—June—hordes, with your dark graduation cloaks darkening the earth. Why is it that you can’t be squeezed out one at a time, like peach pits, so that the society can absorb you without feeling suffocated?

My own profession is being, swamped with writers coming, out of college, despite the conditions out here that no one reads. Indeed, my friend Kurt Vonnegut was saying the other day that the only solution to ·the moribund state of publishing would be to require all of those on welfare that before receiving their welfare checks, they must hand in a book report.

So go back to your dorm rooms and stay. True, there may be some practical problem. The deans may come tapping at your door like hotel concierges wondering about checkout time. Tell the dean through the door that you don’t think you should go out into the world with a C- in Economics 10. Great damage can be caused to the economic structure, and probably already has, by Harvard men out there who earned a C– in Economics 10; you must tell the dean you don’t want to compound such a situation.

The dean will say that he needs the room for the junior who is going to become a senior–the process must go on. Tell him there’s no reason why the juniors can’t stay juniors, the sophomores, sophomores, and the freshmen, freshmen. Tell him to stop the process. Why should the process go on? The Harvard Lampoon has had, in its century of operation, 100 different editorial boards. Has it improved? Probably not. Why not keep the same one?

Besides, we are told all the time what a marvelous institution Harvard is. Benjamin DeMott once likened Harvard to the continent of Europe: “Either you’ve been there or you haven’t,” And you’ll all remember the Boston dowager who said of a nephew: “He doesn’t go to college, he goes to Brown.” Why do they tell us such things if they don’t want us to stay? So tell them you’re convinced. You’ve decided to stay. You’re not going to budge.

After a while the dean will go away. Deans always go away. They go away to ponder things. They will assume that your parents will finally force the issue. They’ll want you home. But I am not so sure. I have the sense that parents would rather not know what’s being sent home to them these days from the college–not unlike receiving  a mysterious, package tied with hemp, addressed in rather queasy lettering from Dutch Gularia.

They’d much rather you stay here. When a mother is asked about her son at the country-club dance she can always say: “Why John’s off at Harvard.” There’s something quite grand about that certainly compared to: ”Well, the last time I saw him he was throwing a frisbee in the backyard.”

If your parents insist you pack up and come home, there are always measures. If you’re chemistry major, tell them that you’ve become very attached to something in a vat of formaldehyde. If you’re in pre-law, tell them that you’re thinking of bringing home a tort. Your parents will probably have forgotten what a tort is, if they ever knew, and it sounds so unpleasant–something that your Mom wouldn’t want to have stepping suddenly out of a hall closet. Surely, there is hardly an academic field of one’s choice which does not have a nightmare possibility with which to force one’s parents to pony up enough to allow nearly a decade of contemplation in one’s room.

You’ll remember the King in Alice in Wonderland. When asked: “Where shall I begin?” the King says, “Begin at the beginning and go on until you come to the end; then stop.” What I am suggesting is that you stop at the beginning, stop at your commencement. It’s not very interesting to stop at the end–l mean everyone does that. So stop now. Tell them you won’t go. Go back to your rooms. Unpack!

–George Plimpton, Harvard University, June 1977

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The reason we moved to North Carolina, where my daughters graduated from its fine public university, is that Kathleen Atwater, then manager of Northern Telecom’s technical writing, hired me, moved my family to Durham, and arranged for the company to buy our DC home if we could not sell it.

[http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Michael_Peterson_(author) “…In 2003, he was convicted of murdering his second wife, Kathleen …” Alava shalom. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Honorifics_for_the_dead_in_Judaism

זיכרונה לברכה
zikhronah livrakha of blessed memory.]

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 The party is over, but I linger on in Asheville after everybody left.

The graduation was on Saturday. On Saturday at 5:15 PM we had a celebratory dinner at a classy Spanish restaurant. Asheville becomes more charming every day. On Sunday morning, my sister Sarah Schmerler, her husband Uncle Robert Simonson, and my 10.5 year-old nephew Asher left to return to Brooklyn, NY. Also that morning I had breakfast with my former wife Diana Bass, my elder daughter Joanna and her friend Jade Phillips, and Amelia. Joanna and Jade left to the airport to fly to Los Angeles where Jade’s mother lives, before…Diana drives off to her home in Durham. Amelia lingers an extra day and morning and is now with her mother camping on the Outer Shores of NC. Wonderful ferry ride. wonderful world.

And I returned to the Extended Stay Hotel here in Asheville at Kenilworth Knoll where the helpful staff help me with my disability gadgets. Here is Extended Stay Wendy helping with a light-weight wheel chair I am experimenting with.

 

 

As I pack my car to leave North Carolina, I TEMPORARILY interrupt this posting using this photo of Amelia and me in the Spanish restaurant in Asheville celebrating her graduation on graduation day. Think of this as not only an ending but a beginning for me to write more.

 

The End. REALLY.

Somethings naturally come to an End. The countdown to Amelia’s graduation from college has come to an end. She graduated a week ago today. This posting is mostly over. Yes, there are details to be taken care of such as the deep skinny on Graduation Meal celebrations 1-4.

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As I write this from Marion, VA still miles away from home at the Budget Inn (not affiliated with anything) across the tertiary road from the beautiful Walker Mountains, the details of the end have not been codified. Last night, for example, I was invited to join the Moose. Come next month’s check, I plan to join the Smyth County Moose chapter where I had friend okra for dinner last evening. My Moose card will get me in any Moose hall in the country.

–Joel Solkoff

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

My first scooter: Originally published as a Valentine to the Durable Medical Equipment Industry

 [The following was originally published in the February, 2011 edition of HME News as a Valentine to the Durable Medical Equipment industry. The love continues.]

I was so angry, wild with fatigue, that I lifted my ugly drug store cane intending to destroy my employer’s computer printer. This was in California’s Silicon Valley. The printer was networked to nine computers. After a late night writing a portion of a manual on silicon wafer inspection, I commanded the computer to print.

After I weaved my way to the printer (seemingly miles away from the computer), there was no document. Five trips back and forth (nothing each time) and my level of frustration caught up to my level of exhaustion. My control was at the breaking point.

Six months previously, I had lost my ability to walk. The concepts I was writing about were hard to understand even when I had been healthy and well-rested. My ability to physically support my body was shaky. I fell several times a day. My right arm had been badly dislocated in a fall. What I needed was a fore-arm crutch with properly fitted prosthetics or a scooter. My doctors focused on understanding how I lost the ability to walk and little on how I could live without walking.

Mortgage payments were due. Home was North Carolina where a wife and two elementary-school-aged children waited. The local economy determined technical writers were not currently needed. At the same time (1996), California needed my skills as of yesterday and I was promptly hired for KLA-Tencor, a company paying large sums to do fascinating work.

I did not break the printer. I drove to my apartment, slept and thumbed the yellow pages praying for relief. I did not know what I was looking for. After a while, I left a voice mail with a dealer in wheelchairs and scooters (not knowing then what a scooter was). That is how I purchased my first mobility device.

Scott returned my call and listened to my situation. We talked price. He recommended a used front-wheel drive scooter. I was skeptical. “Let me show you how it works,” he said, crossed town quickly and lifted a scooter from his truck. I sat down and drove circles around the empty street. My able-bodied college friend David Phillips, in whose house I had an apartment, was fascinated. Keeping David from driving my scooter was hard.

I had discovered three important things about mobility devices:

    • They are fun.
    • They take away the drudgery of not being able to walk.
    • They remove the image that I am someone to be pitied.

I arrived at KLA-Tencor, having:

    • Given Scott a down payment (the beginning of many, mostly personal, expenditures, on equipment, including rear-wheel  drive scooters, power chairs, wheelchair lifts and ramps)
    • Taken the scooter apart myself and shakily inserted the parts into the trunk
    • Slid sidewise hugging the Pontiac’s body
    • Reversed the process

My colleagues applauded. I had solved a physical problem with a technical solution and in the Silicon Valley that was worthy of commendation.

As I look back on the past 14 years, especially worthy of commendation are you, the suppliers of DMEPOS. My time with you here is almost up. Traditionally a column is about 750 words. I have used most of them. A 750-word column can express effectively only one major idea. That idea is that you, the medical suppliers, and people like me, your customers, are a family.

We are a family surviving in a world where David Stockman, Ronald Reagan’s former budget director, said in November on ABC News that the United States can no longer afford to provide its disabled citizens with “scooters.” As competitive bidding illustrates, clearly a bipartisan effort is underway to make it difficult for the disabled to receive mobility and other DMEPOS devices and for you, our local medical suppliers, to get paid for them or even to stay in business.

The pain is especially felt by indigent consumers and small suppliers. In this month where every day is Valentine’s Day, it is helpful to remember the words of Benjamin Franklin (an amorous man if ever there was one) on the signing of the Declaration of Independence: “We must all hang together or assuredly we shall all hang separately.”

–Joel Solkoff is a monthly columnist on disability and elderly related issues for Voices in State College, Pa. He is the author of three books, including The Politics of Food and Learning to Live Again: My Triumph Over Cancer. He served in the Carter Administration as Special Assistant to the Under Secretary of Labor. He has a bipartisan loathing of anyone trying to keep assistive technology from individuals with disabilities—a loathing he is trying to turn into corrective love.

Portrait of my grandfather and namesake an intensely emotional journey from 1916 when the photograph was taken

My grandfather played the saxophone and clarinet in the orchestra pits of movie theaters (many of them great palaces) to entertain audiences when the silent movies were playing. His name was Salvatore Pellecia.
My mother, a Hebrew school teacher, named me after him—translating “Salvatore” into “God helps” and then debating between “Joshua” and “Joel Ezra” names which in the Hebrew she decided meant the same thing.
Some photographs take on special meaning.  In my life, this portrait (in the same frame) stood on my mother’s nightstand and chest of drawers for the entire time I knew her—a time which ended a year ago next week according to the Hebrew lunar calendar (which marks periods of mourning and remembering the dead) as my synagogue Brit Shalom, here in State College, reminded me in a note: Time to say Kaddish for your mother.
When Mother, Miriam Pell Schmerler, died last year, her possessions were put in boxes which my younger daughter Amelia unpacked tonight as I watched her over a Skype connection between State College and the University of North Carolina at Ashville where she is completing her senior year.
This portrait was the one thing I wanted most and Amelia scanned it and sent it to me—the only photograph I have ever seen of him.
The rear of the photograph, which before I was born had never left the frame, revealed the information that it was taken at the State Fair in the summer of 1916 in Kewanee, Illinois.
There is a story here. A story I will not tell this morning as I remember my mother and the legacy she left behind of Salvatore who died before I was born. http://voicesweb.org/eulogy-blog-funeral-day
Joel Solkoff, September 25, 2011