Archive for the ‘Hope’ Category

You Had Me at Tea…

Posted: 22 May, 2018 in Hope, Tea
Tags: ,

“Tea or coffee?” If you’re offering me a choice and the first option is tea rather than coffee, we’re going to get along well.

Between the 18th century and today, we’ve gone from a nation of tea drinkers to one of coffee lovers. Where we once dressed up like Red Indians to protest an increase in the tax on tea, we now proudly part with our cash for an overpriced cup of something so loaded with sugar and flavorings that I don’t even dare call it coffee.

A smart-alec reply has now inflated to “Yeah, that and 7 bucks will get you a cup coffee.”

The irony is that I’m not above drinking coffee when I’m out and about: after all, it’s all but impossible to find a restaurant that knows how to brew a proper cup of tea. Even those places that do still use bagged teas (I’m looking at you, Starbuck$).

I prefer the magic of measuring out the right amount of whole tea leaves, boiling the water, and watching them expand and become a beverage.

My tea of choice remains a nice black Assam from India. I first encountered this magical substance when I bought my first bag of imported Irish Breakfast tea, which used Assam as its base for the blend. And no, drinking imported tea didn’t make me a snob — it was simply cheaper than buying it locally.

Now I live in Rochester, NY. I buy my tea locally now, at my favorite Indian (Indians from India) food store. I have two blends I alternate: straight black Assam, and black Assam lightly spiced with cardamom.

When I really want to get fancy, I’ll brew a cup and add a teaspoon of Masala tea spice. This results in what most people mistakenly call “Chai tea;” mistakenly because chai means tea. When you order chai tea, you’re ordering tea tea.

Then again, you also tune in on your television set in order to watch “The The Angels Angels” (a direct translation “The Los Angeles Angels.)

Bagged teas

I rarely buy tea in bags. That’s mostly because most of them contain “fannings,” which are the bits and pieces that are left after the whole leaves are removed. They’re the tea world’s version of floor sweepings, except they’ve not actually been on the floor.

An exception is PGA Tips. This is a quality tea made from the tips of choice tea leaves, blended and then packaged in unique pyramid-shaped packets. PG Tips is the only bagged tea I ever buy.

For more information about PG Tips and their commitment to sustainable farming, visit their website.

I just realized that this tale is starting to sound like an advert for PG Tips, so I’ll close now and return to enjoying my latest cup of Assam tea, which I always brew strong. How strong? My Nana always said that a proper cup of tea should be so strong “that a wee mousie might trot along the top of it.”

Why did I list “Hope” as one of the categories for this entry? Because as we all know (or should), “Where there’s tea, there’s hope.”

It starts with a stabbing pain in my left temple. From there, it travels down my neck and into my left shoulder. Finally, it settles to a dull ache.

Acetaminophen handles the shoulder–and sometimes, the temple–but most times I end up reaching for my migraine meds. If it’s bad enough, I’ll even lie down for a nap.

Today was one of those bad days. A lack of sleep was the trigger, and so it was a full-blown assault on the migraine: acetaminophen, meds, and a nap.

The funny thing is, sometimes it doesn’t develop into a migraine. The pain, the ache, and everything else. Sometimes it’s just a massive headache. But I treat it the same way: migraine med, acetaminophen, and a nap. See, my migraines are sometimes so debilitating that I don’t want to bet whether it’s just a headache or in fact a migraine.

And in a sense, I guess there’s really no difference.

They Started in the Early ‘80s

That’s when my daughter and I were both hospitalized with viral meningitis. If there’s one good thing about the viral as opposed to the bacterial version is that while the viral version has a 100% cure rate, the bacterial version has a near-100% fatality rate.

I spent a week in hospital, enjoying the visual and auditory hallucinations that were a result of Percodan, Demerol, and whatever other painkillers I was taking. By the way, don’t ever watch “Salem’s Lot” when you’re tripping on painkillers. It’s way too scary and way too believable. I’ll tell you that for free!

A week after I was released, I experienced a headache that was so severe and crippling that I thought the meningitis was back. A trip to my doctor and a couple of quick tests later, I was relieved to learn it was only a migraine.

“Only” a migraine. That’s rather like hearing your doctor say, “Look on the bright side. Sure, you lost your foot, but at least you still have the other one.”

Look, I may not have had a migraine before, but I knew how bad they could be: my mother was plagued with them all her life. But she had such a high tolerance for pain that she would undergo dental work without any anesthesia, which she was allergic to. She joked about it, saying her technique was a state of mind that allowed her to “transcend dental meditation.”

My father used to say, “Someone could sneak up behind your mother and hit her in the head with an axe, and five minutes later, she’d say, “I think I have a headache.”

Unfortunately, that high tolerance for pain was not in my genes.

Anyway, that was my first experience with migraines and migraine medications. Back in those days, they were so severe that when I felt one coming on—they were generally announced by the classical aura hallucinations—the only treatment was to take my meds and lie down in a totally darkened room with a cold compress on my forehead.

Things gradually improved over the years. That first year, I think I had at least one migraine a week. Today, maybe a couple a month. And medications have improved as well: my prescription is for one pill on the onset of a migraine, followed by a second one two hours later if the first one didn’t help. I rarely have to take a second one.

Tracking My Diet

And I track my diet. No, I’m not “on” a diet; rather I use the word in the way it describes my food intake. I track what I eat and drink, trying to see if any what I consume might trigger my migraines. So far, I’ve managed to deduce that my biggest trigger is simply being alive.

And so I continue to write. My blogs keep me sane and productive, and the fact that I have so many people following this particular blog tells me that I’m reaching people.

I have a big enough ego to think that I might even be helping one of two of you to carry on through the darkness. And that, my friends, makes it all worthwhile.

Thanks for reading.


“I would like to remind
the management
that the drinks are watered
and the hat-check girl
has syphilis
and the band is composed
of former ss monsters.
However since it is
new year’s eve
and i have lip cancer
i will place my
paper hat on my
concussion and dance.”
–Leonard Cohen

The title of this entry is a quote from T. S. Eliot, Ol’ Possum himself. For a poet, he seemed to be very much in tune with the principles of Eastern mysticism, or quantum physics, the modern science which seems to be a scientific way of proving its tenets.

“Time present and time past
Are both perhaps present in time future
And time future contained in time past.”

What I find the most interesting about my own writing is that no matter how much I plan, or how many outlines I create, when I actually sit down and start to write, the writing itself takes over and controls me.

I first noticed this when I took a class entitled “Selected Masterpieces of American Literature at university. Most of us who took the class knew from the previous semester that what we were going to be doing was reading and studying on William Faulkner novel a week. One newcomer, who hadn’t been in on “the secret,” complained to the professor that the course title was rather deceptive. “Well, he replied, “these books are classics of American literature, and I selected them, so I don’t see the problem.”

For our final paper we had a choice: write a scholarly paper related to Faulkner or his works, or write a short story emulating his style.

I chose the former.

But when I finally printed out the results, I realized that once again the mule had taken the lead and wandered down dusty backroads, past corn and cotton fields, and somehow ended up in Faulkner’s backyard in Oxford, Mississippi.

It’s the same with this post: I was going to recap the past year of my life, and maybe compare it with what I hoped the coming year would be like. But there’s this mule, see….

I’d Like To Close the Year With a Ray of Hope

And once again, to do that, I’m going to quote William Faulkner. This time, it is the text of his acceptance speech at the Nobel Banquet at the City Hall in Stockholm, December 10, 1950:

Ladies and gentlemen,

I feel that this award was not made to me as a man, but to my work – a life’s work in the agony and sweat of the human spirit, not for glory and least of all for profit, but to create out of the materials of the human spirit something which did not exist before. So this award is only mine in trust. It will not be difficult to find a dedication for the money part of it commensurate with the purpose and significance of its origin. But I would like to do the same with the acclaim too, by using this moment as a pinnacle from which I might be listened to by the young men and women already dedicated to the same anguish and travail, among whom is already that one who will some day stand here where I am standing.

Our tragedy today is a general and universal physical fear so long sustained by now that we can even bear it. There are no longer problems of the spirit. There is only the question: When will I be blown up? Because of this, the young man or woman writing today has forgotten the problems of the human heart in conflict with itself which alone can make good writing because only that is worth writing about, worth the agony and the sweat.

He must learn them again. He must teach himself that the basest of all things is to be afraid; and, teaching himself that, forget it forever, leaving no room in his workshop for anything but the old verities and truths of the heart, the old universal truths lacking which any story is ephemeral and doomed – love and honor and pity and pride and compassion and sacrifice. Until he does so, he labors under a curse. He writes not of love but of lust, of defeats in which nobody loses anything of value, of victories without hope and, worst of all, without pity or compassion. His griefs grieve on no universal bones, leaving no scars. He writes not of the heart but of the glands.

Until he relearns these things, he will write as though he stood among and watched the end of man. I decline to accept the end of man. It is easy enough to say that man is immortal simply because he will endure: that when the last dingdong of doom has clanged and faded from the last worthless rock hanging tideless in the last red and dying evening, that even then there will still be one more sound: that of his puny inexhaustible voice, still talking.

I refuse to accept this. I believe that man will not merely endure: he will prevail. He is immortal, not because he alone among creatures has an inexhaustible voice, but because he has a soul, a spirit capable of compassion and sacrifice and endurance. The poet’s, the writer’s, duty is to write about these things. It is his privilege to help man endure by lifting his heart, by reminding him of the courage and honor and hope and pride and compassion and pity and sacrifice which have been the glory of his past. The poet’s voice need not merely be the record of man, it can be one of the props, the pillars to help him endure and prevail.