Daring to be stupid, but not too stupid

I leave too many browser tabs open on my phone. I’m also far too-focused on comments my father makes about my posts via email. Even at the age of 53, some things don’t change.

So anyhow,  I finished reading the article at InsideHigherEd about Carol Swain’s  comments about Islam, and as I flipped through browser tabs I saw this one explaining how we are all confident idiots. I’ve kept it open because I like it so much as an explanation for much of what I see and hear. Especially about politics. And religion. And education.

The article also reminds me to a bit more doubtful about the things I “know.”

I was also terribly amused by a Twitter exchange the other night. Actually by two or three different exchanges. I won’t name names, but there was an awful lot of confidence expressed about things where I certainly was not convinced that such confidence was deserved, there were  just too many shades of grey possible. It is often clear when believing has replaced knowing. But not always. And that is the scary thing to me, not knowing enough about someone or something to be able to discern belief from knowledge.

Yes, there have been many times in my life when I have had the arrogance of conviction in what I thought I knew. This alleged knowledge was stuff I could and would, ad nauseam, express without thought of nuance. As if I were ignorant the word. Looking back, it seems that there really were only a handful of times when I actually “knew” anything. In those cases that come to mind, they were about action, but while I knew what to do without question, I could not tell you why I knew what to do.

One of those is the story of becoming an art major. I am reminded of it because of today’s story in the Chronicle, Drawing a Path to College.

In August of 1985, I was five months out of the Army and returning to college. I was suffering though the ending of am unhappy marriage and the beginning of an unpleasant divorce. I wasn’t clear as to what I was returning to do, other than I was probably not heading back down the physics/math double-major rabbit hole, unless it was pre-engineering. On the first day of class in Art Composition to pick up a missing gen-ed requirement, when the professor passed around a sheet for the art majors to sign, something happened to me. I experienced a moment of clarity and commitment. I was an art major. Of course, I really didn’t know why I reached that decision, and I still don’t.

When I told my father that I had become an art major, the response was a bit less than supportive: “What? You’ve never shown any talent! What were you thinking?”

Sometimes intuition is better than thinking.

There have been other times when I had that same level of clarity in decisions. They seem to have gotten less frequent as the years have gone by. Today, that clarity is greatly desired. Or, in the place of clarity, the sure knowledge of the possible futures related to certain choices.

As my wife continues to recover from two surgeries to rebuild her foot and give her something of an arch, it has been become clear that the predicted knee replacements will not wait long. The inactivity and lack of normal walking associated with 11 weeks in a non-weight-bearing cast (for the second time since the first surgery failed) combined with her connective tissue disorder, has caused too much deterioration. Two knee replacements are ahead, followed by two more quite significant foot surgeries. There is also an abdominal surgery in the very near future. So, the question is, “What to do about our house?”

A two-story house is not ideal for someone with serious mobility issues. Most houses are not particularly well-designed for accessibility. We have spent the last months sleeping downstairs in what used to be my office and much of the time since surgery in May she has navigated life with a rolling knee walker. That is, until the cartilage in her knees gave out and we had to resort to a wheelchair until she was in a walking cast and could begin to use a regular walker. This was actually a terrible struggle, for her physically as well as technically. Neither a walker or a wheelchair will fit through a 24″ bathroom door. So I added grab bars allowing her to support herself on those and the vanity while she balanced and shifted around on here one good foot, but bad knee (actually “worse” knee).

Looking forward to the next two or three years I wonder where money and effort are best spent. It seems easiest to think about moving to a single-story house, but unless it is already fully accessible, it is simply more of the same. Lots of modifications to make. (And no, I am not ready to consider moving into a senior community where the houses are most likely fully accessible.) Adding on a new first-floor master suite seems doable, but very expensive. Likewise, converting the garage is doable, but expensive, and may hurt resale. Finally, I could keep making changes to our house to that make it more accessible (although it would never be truly fully accessible without some very major changes apart from additions).

In the end, I believe the net costs and return on investment of each choice is not so different, even with the work already done, to make the decision easy.  So I am left wondering what the right decision is. If I knew the future, it would no doubt be easier. It would also be easier if the housing market was in better shape locally, if the houses in my neighborhood would move off the market more quickly than they do.

Also, it’s not the money. It’s my wife’s comfort and ability to be at home.

With the aging of the Boomers, and I guess I am one, barely, there are a lot of products available for “aging in place” that help solve the accessibility issues. I keep sorting through those to study the options and to build a plan. I also run across references to “universal design” that I now wish were much more universal in their application and use. As I have said before, I have learned a lot about what accessibility really means  over the last eight months. So, it has been tough deciding what can be done, what should be done.

I keep waiting for that moment of clarity. The most recent time I recall it happening was when I was about to leave my neurosurgeon’s office at the end of our first meeting.

“Thank you for your time, doctor. I’m not sure, but I think I am looking forward to this.”

“Mr. Massa, I’m looking forward to this, as quite frankly, cases like yours bring out the best in me.”

A bit of honest arrogance. That was something I understood. The clarity that had been building by him saying many of the same things that specialist in Los Angeles had said had now clicked solidly into place. The surgery and my recovery, justified everything.

So, I am doing my due diligence to find clarity and not be too stupid. (I have learned a lot from stupid decisions though, I just prefer not to make them a habit.)

And the man on the radio won’t leave me alone
He wants to take my money for something that I’ve never been shown
And I saw my devil, and I saw my deep blue see
And I thought about a calico bonnet from Cheyenne to Tennessee

The news I could bring I met up with the king
On his head an amphetamine crown
He talked about unbuckling that old bible belt
And lighted out for some desert town
Out with the truckers and the kickers and the cowboy angels
And a good saloon in every single town

And I remember something you once told me
And I’ll be damned if it did not come true
Twenty thousand roads I went down, down, down
And they all lead me straight back home to you
Twenty thousand roads I went down, down, down
And they all lead me straight back home to you

Gram Parsons – Return Of The Grievous Angel 

Be nice. It won't hurt either of us.

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