Wednesday, March 30, 2011

On cripple rage and euthanasia

I am blessed. I am loved. I am happy.

But there are times in my mostly charmed life when a succession of events brought on by my paraplegia annoy me, then frustrate me, then anger me, then send me to the brink of despair. Maybe it's my feet swelling to the point I can barely tie my shoes. Maybe it's throwing myself from my bed to my wheelchair ... and missing. Maybe it's sending my chair to the shop for repairs for the third time in a year and wondering what in the world I'm doing wrong.

Whatever the causes, I'm lowered into something I've come to call "cripple rage." I despise it, because it involves my alternating between feeling sorry for myself and lashing out at those I love most and who love me unconditionally. Fortunately, these episodes never last long, and those who know me best understand if I tell them it's just cripple rage, that it wasn't me -- at least not the real me. And then, I'll have a moment like this, and I'll remember how blessed I truly am.

Here's the thing: as I grow older, I find my cripple rage striking a bit more frequently. I can sense that, even though it's happening at a glacial pace, I'm losing my fiercely held independence. It slips no more than a nanometer every day, to be sure. And not every day, at that. But it's happening. And every once in a while, I fear the time when my disability and my age combine to truly debilitate me. Will I still have the happy-go-lucky glint in my eyes that has forever defined me? Will I be a burden on those who have loved me and stood by me?

And then, abruptly, I am brought to face to face with my feelings on euthanasia. I have always been strongly opposed to it. As someone who has fought all my life to suck every bit of the marrow out of life , I could not fathom voluntarily ending it. I have viewed "death with dignity" as a cop-out. I have felt that if one had the right to end one's life because of physical suffering, why not have the freedom to end it because of emotional pain? In short, I thought suicide was suicide and tantamount to throwing the gift of life back into the face of the Creator.

("Oh crap," you're thinking. "Why doesn't he say something funny? This is awkward.")

So now, maybe you see where I'm going with this. Maybe my own encroaching mortality and the unique difficulties it could eventually pose have caused me to "review the situation," as Fagin sang. At the very least, I am admonished anew to have compassion toward those who feel differently than I on touchstones such as this.

Above all, my dear, dear ones, I want you not to worry. Even if it does happen a little more often than it once did, my cripple rage still only represents a tiny fraction of what is a beautiful life. And being able to talk about it openly, knowing my friends who read this will smile and nod sympathetically, only makes my blessed life even richer.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

I had a dream. I had an awesome dream.

It is perhaps fitting that the night I renewed my commitment to writing, I had a fabulously detailed dream. In it, Adam Savage and Jamie Hyneman, TV’s “Mythbusters,” approached with the news they had developed a part-hovercraft, part-airboat specially designed to be wheelchair accessible. They added they wanted to film me and a group of my friends taking a water caravan of sorts down a river.

I assembled a group comprised of a great many “dream friends” – plus two actual friends (Ralph Shank and Emilie Pearl) to make the journey with me. I couldn’t tell you what the river was, but I know it was muddy and contained several stretches of rapids.

Though my craft was wheelchair accessible, my next memory is of sitting in it without my wheelchair … feeling an extraordinary sense of freedom as I drifted, then surged, down the river – always with my friends, and Adam and Jamie, beaming nearby. Then, it started to rain.

By this time, I was a drenched, muddy mess already, so the onset of showers didn’t dampen my mood. Quite the contrary: I opened my mouth and started to belt out Phil Collins’s “I Wish It Would Rain Down.” And my sailing companions sang the choral parts alongside me. And in that instant, I knew that, as the entire trip was being filmed, a video of my performance placed over the original instrumental track would soon appear on YouTube.

As I mentioned, the prevailing emotion I felt through the course of the dream was liberation. It was the perfect antidote for the funk I had been feeling for the day or so before (which I’ll write about soon). And is the case with all good dreams, it takes on an even more epic quality when remembered and shared.

Monday, March 28, 2011

Whatever happened to blogging?

Once upon a time, there was this thing called a blog.

Although still practiced by some of the more dedicated and better paid citizen journalists, blogging is, for many, a discarded literary form that could be spoken of in the same breath as the Smith Corona. There’s nothing inherently wrong with the medium, but at just about the time the popularity of the blog peaked, a new form of expression came along which even more perfectly captured the zeitgeist of self-expression.

The microblog.

With the emergence of Twitter and Facebook, millions learned that they could say everything they wanted to say in 140 characters or less, In fact, fashioning a pithy turn of phrase that was so much cyber snack food became an art form in itself. And it is still skillfully practiced by many today (and not so skillfully by millions more).

I, too, fell under the spell of the hipness that was Twitter and Facebook. And so it was that, about three years ago, my blogstream dried up into a trickle, and then silence. That is a piteous fate which, thankfully, I can reverse. So I’m taking my blog, Graduate Level Sykesology, out of mothballs and putting it back on the road (to horribly mash up two dusty metaphors). Why?

I miss long-form writing. Or at least longer than 140 characters. I have found that, even though I enjoy writing immensely, I am less and less inclined to do it when I’m off the clock. But a blog can be of some assistance here, by installing a layer of accountability. There is a sense that “I owe it to my readers to write faithfully!”

Now, I’m not kidding myself. There are a handful of human beings who have ever read Graduate Level Sykesology. The only person I have currently listed as a follower passed away six months ago, God rest her soul. There is not exactly a clamor for the continued essays of Stephen Sykes.

However, the chance that rebooting this blog brings with it the possibility of renewed and greater readership carries with it a responsibility, and a darn good reason to write again with regularity. And if I satisfy myself alone by filling a screen with more than insurance-speak, well that is one more person satisfied than if I left well enough alone.

I hope you, whoever you may be, enjoy this blog. I will post links to it on Twitter and Facebook. And if you crave more bite-sized musings, you may also follow me at

Thanks for reading.