Wednesday, April 27, 2011

The Community of and My Response to Them

A few days after Ebert's tweet after other sites began to share and repost from his link, a friend informed me that if you google "smile paul" the first site that pops up is actually the site "" I had discovered this name at first while learning to navigate the "Stats" feature of blogger, but until that moment I thought it was some sort of search engine or something. I am in fact still quite naive of how to take advantage of many social networking skills and tools or links and probably all sorts of resources and pages that could help me get my story out. (Feel free to share any info or advice you have, please! Consider this, an old school analog boy asking for help!)
So...I googled myself and found the link and low and behold, despite a comparatively small number of comments on my actually blog (it would seem at least, for 30,000 views!) on metafilter it turned out that I in fact had 80 comments of people talking about me, arguing about me, sharing their own dental horror stories or advice, but all in all...overwhelmingly positive and supportive. It was overwhelming to fight my way through it all on the morning of Sunday, April 17th over coffee at my friend Jim's gallery in Miami, AZ, and it took me quite a while for it all to sink in. Ironically, as I was reading through everyone's comments, the creator of the site actually emailed me on facebook offering me a free membership if I wished to take part in the dialogue.
I still have not found the time to fully browse and understand what really even is or how best to use it (see also, twitter!) but I managed to finally get out a long reply which at that time I felt was probably the most accurate description, "defense" and point of pride regarding my blog and why I began writing it in the first place. For those of you who have since watched my recent feeble first attempt at an introductory video last week, you will no doubt recognize much of my dialogue I considered to be the most important was generously lifted from this reply. I hope this may clear up and answer any questions you might have that might have been previously left out. It if probably the closest thing to a FAQ I will ever have on here, unless someone finds me some sort of widget link to create one!
Thank you for reading. Feel free to share any more info about metafilter or twitter or anything that you think might be of use to me. Here is the link to the metafilter post.

And if you wish to skip ahead and read only my reply, feel free to Choose-Your-Own-Adventure below:

Greetings Everyone. Wow, this is amazing. Think whatever you wish about me, but it is nonetheless very moving to see so many others sharing their stories and advice and opening up to strangers about what I feel is one of the most repressed and shameful issues in this country so, so many feel powerless to overcome, and scared to talk about, even with close friends or family. None of us are ever really alone. It has taken me years to learn that, and despite always being a blunt, honest person to the world, always trying to communicate as effectively and elaborately as possible my feelings and ideas to my communities, I have nonetheless always felt "silenced" for nearly two decades while trying to connect with others about teeth.

I have come a tremendous way mentally and physically in the past 6 months, and feel incredibly blessed and moved to tears daily by strangers' responses to my writing and the courage of others to reach out to me, to tell me how they made their first dentist appointment in years thanks to my story. I am tremendously lucky. I have never denied that. Nor do I in any way mean to trivialize the pain and suffering of others anywhere or treat my blog as some sort of elaborately creative entry in a "my life sucks" competition with the world. It really, really doesn't. Frankly, I feel slightly disappointed that the context in which my blog was just ushered so quickly out into the world by Ebert's tweet in a way presented it as a sob story, a charity case. "The saddest story ever." That is absolutely crazy. I am thankful for sympathy and support and connection, but...I wholeheartedly recognize how privileged I have been in so many ways. I was the first person in my family to go to college. I have traveled extensively throughout the US, during which I survived for two years off of the sales of my own art. Now I actually work full time at a day resource center for homeless and at-risk youth ages 18-25 in downtown Phoenix. Before that, I created a a tshirt screenprinting business I was the coordinator of for 2 1/2 years as a day labor and vocational training program for youth as part of the same non-profit.

It frankly, makes me a little uncomfortable to be perceived as "charity." I bare witness to poverty and misfortune and shame every single day in the stories of youth whose lives are far more incredible than mine. I am humbled and honored every day to be able to serve as a mentor to them, offering my own struggles as an example of how I was on welfare, homeless, abandoned by my parents, in poor health for most of my life. It took me 33 years to finally figure out how to flip the switch in my brain and truly begin to change my mentality and body image and self-esteem. My wonderful student dentist I lucked out with, the first one I saw in 20 years, was the first person who ever made me feel like a "whole" person. Every day is part of my healing process, every word I write, everything I do. It feels great for the first time in my life to focus my every action and all the spare time I have into this greater cause of healing myself, and being a positive inspiration to others. I have spent the majority of my life taking care of everyone else I loved, and always putting my own issues on the back burner. It's not about karma or balance or feeling like the world "owes" me anything as my mother has spent her entire life doing.

So you're right, whoever posted above. It is "my" fault, as much as it is my parents and childhood dentists fault.As much as it is all of our faults for turning a blind eye to others in pain around us each day, rarely ever reaching out a friendly hand to those who are suffering, be it friends, family or strangers. It is a cruel fucking world sometimes, and I for one try to change that on a daily basis with the way I have lived my live for years helping others, even if I never knew how to help myself. Honestly, when I created this blog, I really mostly thought of it as a way for me to finally communicate with my large community of friends in the Phoenix Arts community who have known me for years, but never known this ONE thing about me that has affected EVERY ASPECT of who I am. It was my way, as a writer, artist, organizer and well-known community member in the public eye, of "coming out" to those around me, of sharing my perspective I have my whole life been unable to get out. My blog I at first almost thought of as a mutual aid experiment to unite a community to be able to discuss their issues while also organizing events, highlighting all our skills while also helping me to raise money. The "donations" I earned first began as cookies and food I made myself and offered on a sliding scale. The "charity" that was offered, began as compassion and freely-offered talents from friends who know me as more than a series of blog posts who wished to help me in any way that they could. But as my story got out, and more strangers began to read it, people began to offer me money in solidarity and support of me trying to change my life, not out of sympathy for my crappy childhood or whatever, inspired by the very vulnerable public way I chose to share and face my darkest secret and biggest fear after all these years, and the incredibly positive changes in me that continue to develop. A doctor just the other day at the dental school I have been going to for ten appointments, where a dozen students and faculty know me by name and are grateful for my feedback and honesty with the experience in a way they rarely ever receive, last Friday handed my dentist a blank check for that day's treatment. I am certain that "pity" for my mouth and upbringing, was the LAST think on their mind when they signed their name. If that is "charity," or if it turns some of you off, so be it.


You don't have to donate. There are a dozen causes I could list that are doing amazing work all over the world that affects the lives of children without clean water, survivors of sex-trafficking, to the recent earthquake survivors of Japan, which I recently donated artwork to a local auction to raise money for. The point is, we are a global village. As long as people anywhere are suffering, we all suffer. As another of you said above, suffering sucks. Pain and infection and not being able to eat and isolation and shame and fear and having people look at you like you are subhuman if you open your mouth fucking sucks. "billy bob teeth" sold in Walmarts and the fact that there is a stereotypical impoverished "hillbilly" character on a show I have loved practically since my problems started, The Simpsons, sucks. "White Trash" is a classist, derogatory term meaning "less than" that should be forbidden in the same ways that other sexist, racist, hateful and discriminatory words are but to this day it stands as a popular joke and description of anyone poor, impoverished, uneducated or generally less fortunate than the middle class.

Suffering sucks. I am absolutely through with suffering. I am determined to finally fix this issue, so that I will be a stronger and much more capable person, to continue to help others and fight all the other struggles of the world. If people happen to be more monetarily fortunate than others, I wholeheartedly hold the no doubt unpopular belief that we as people have a dire responsibility to live in compassionate ways and to help others with whatever skills and resources we have to do so. I believe that most humans, really really are good people, deep down inside, capable of caring for one another. I believe that maybe even, the more that they do, they might just be amazed at how good it feels to give, in whatever ways they can. None of us can do everything, but together we really can make the world be whatever we want it to be. One person, one community at a time, never doubt that change is possible.

Thanks to a post I put on Roger Ebert's facebook page, inspired by his own story of perseverance through cancer and overcoming the loss of his voice to continue to be a positive and productive creative force in the world, and him happening to be moved by my first un-edited attempt at an autobiographical childhood narrative, my blog got 30,000 views in the past 2 days. I can't help but joke to myself, "Wow, if everyone who had the privilege of viewing my perspective and labor and time I put into the creation of this blog online, whether they like it or not, donated a dollar like buying a song on Itunes they can listen to at any time, I would have just payed for a mouthful of implants." But ultimately, I will think no less of any of you if you donate or not. I am going to raise all the money I need, even if I pay for it all myself with the $600-$800 a month I can currently afford while buying absolutely nothing extra. Above all, I am writing my story, to give people hope. To show people that change is possible. To show them that there are in fact amazing, compassionate dentists out there in the world that care. To show them, that it is okay to be afraid. That there is absolutely NOTHING shameful about asking for help. To show them that if a bitter, negative, cynical prick like me can learn to, after 20 lonely, painful, alienating years, finally learn to smile, and be a positive inspiration for change, that ANYTHING is possible, if you truly want it bad enough, and allow yourselves to be open to the possibilities, of you actually getting exactly what you want.

Health, happiness and love, is worth the risk. It can get better. I promise. I am living proof, and I wholeheartedly believe in you all to overcome any obstacle in front of you, though maybe with a little help from friends.

Thank you sincerely for listening, and sharing so much of yourselves, regardless of what you might think of me. I am humbled and grateful to have overnight had the chance to have my voice become so much more than a monotone mumble, capable of being heard around the world.

Paul Jones Jr.
posted by themightyhumanrace at 2:39 PM on April 17 [25 favorites +] [!]

Monday, April 25, 2011

On How Roger Ebert Heard of Me, and 30,000 Views In a Week

I read this cheesy self help sort of book called "The Love Book," by Leo Buscaglia in college I picked up at a thrift store, being the bourgeoning hopeless romantic poet I was. It was a pretty simple book that got quickly redundant in my opinion and was mostly filled with common sense to anyone that had any sort of compassionate heart in them already, but there were several quotes I underlined back then and copied into the front covers of journals for years as inspiring reminders of positive ways to strive to live my life. One such quote, was this: "Just because the message may never be received, doesn't mean that it is not worth sending." I have lived my life that way ever since, if not before.

I have no fear of "celebrity," nor do I get starstruck, having met many of my "famous" idols and heroes in person throughout my life. I know that not every person on facebook or myspace is who they claim to be, but it has never dissuaded me from trying to message anyone. Even if perhaps my words might only reach a personal assistant at first, who knows? Right? Or, even if a celebrity might not want to support my fan art or read my writing, if it was a fanpage chances are those very fans would probably be more interested in a painting of their favorite star or to read similar lyrics, etc than the actual star. Maybe, at least.

I have known people previously who have written to Derrick Jensen and received personal responses, and I ultimately have always considered him a kind and thoughtful person who seems to respond to most everyone on his page, even if only to say "thank you," which frankly, is enough in my book. I was nonetheless grateful he chose to respond to my post on his wall, but I also was not surprised. He is after all, Derrick Jensen. You can certainly catch more flies for the green resistance to Capitalism, Civilization and Global Destruction with sugar, than you can with vinegar, or no response. Haha.

Shortly after I wrote to him that night, on Wednesday, April 13th, I happened to stumble upon a link to Roger Ebert's TED talk. I'd never actually watched anything on TED and didn't really know what to expect, and frankly, at first glance I thought it was Steven Hawking or something! (Hey, just being honest.) I have checked in with Roger's reviews most every week, along with for the past few years, but honestly had no idea of his struggle with cancer. After watching his whole twenty minute talk with his wife and friends, I immediately went to his facebook wall and posted this, to which you can see his response shortly after, and my subsequent reply as well:

I went to bed that night, excited though somewhat in disbelief at what such a repost might mean for me and my story, my life. Early the next morning before work, I noticed that the views on my blog had jumped almost 500 overnight! How could this be? Could it really be just from actually having those two posts on his facebook wall? I had been writing for over two months and last night was only at a little over 1,600 views. I think I averaged 20-40 most days, the record being around a hundred a couple times.

I biked to work and shared my news with coworkers, trying to find out if he had indeed "tweeted" me or not. I could not find news of this anywhere, but I noticed that suddenly my views had jumped another few thousand! Now THIS, I got a kick out of. I hit refresh again, just to watch them jump 10, 20...50! Just in a matter of a few seconds! Where the hell is the world finding out about me??

As it turns out, I had been looking on the wrong twitter site for a different Roger Ebert. When I found the correct one and saw his over 400,000 followers, I found my answer. Though the title made me a little uncomfortable, there, below was his tweet:
The Man Who Dared Not Smile. One of the saddest stories I have ever heard.

Over the next 24 hours I would receive over 28,000 view from nearly eighty countries, almost a thousand dollars in donations from all over the US, and all sorts of comments, friend requests on facebook, emails and notes from all over the world, the response being overwhelmingly positive and supportive. I was reposted by twitter, facebook, metafilter, mentalfloss and who knows how many other random urls. And for the record, it made me particularly happy that this also happened to occur on my grandmother's 81st birthday, who for years always wanted nothing more than for me to be happy and successful, even if she can barely remember me from the confines of a nursing home in NY as she continues to live through Alsheimer's. My happiness and well being has always been the best gift I could truly give her after all she was watched me struggle through the years. I know that even if she can no longer use a phone and can't hear me, that on this day, my endless joy all day long glued to internet was one of the best gifts she could possibly receive.

I don't know what is to become of my story now, how many more people it can reach, and who will follow along with me for more than just the one entry of my sad backstory twittered around the office in the morning over Starbucks, but I am feeling more and more, that it is slowly taking on a life of its own. I aim to remain faithful to my voice and my intentions and keep writing, and simply enjoy the ride and see what happens. I have been joking with my dentist for some time now that I was going to make us famous, and I for one, don't think that she will underestimate me any longer, though I also don't presume that she ever even has.

 Who knows what will happen next, but I for one, am excited, and humbled, and thankful. I have waited for over a decade to try to get my voice and perspective further out into the world, always searching for the one person in the back of the room in a crowded coffeeshop who I don't know, hoping they might give a damn about my latest poem. This time, though thousands of people I'm sure skimmed my words and clicked the next link and went about their day, I am incredibly moved to know that my words were capable of reaching so many people of so many different backgrounds all over the world yet were able to inspire them to write to me to say thank you or to "follow" me or donate or email. It truly made last week one of the greatest and most moving weeks of my entire life. It is hard to believe that a single tweet made it possible, and I am eternally grateful for the compassion that compelled Roger Ebert to read and share my words, despite every other possible thing he could have been doing at that moment. If you are reading these words Roger, thank you, for being part of my story, and helping me on my own quest to reclaim my voice. Thank you all for reading, and your continued positive support and kind words. Thank you all, who have made it through the crappy, depressing beginning of the story. Don't worry, I aim to make it a happy ending, for me and all of us who continue to help write these words with me. Thank you for giving me more and "more reasons to smile" as my friend Pete wrote recently in the only local press I have yet to get.

Next up...I'm working on submitting my story to This American Life on NPR very soon. Wish me luck!!

Sunday, April 24, 2011

On Derrick Jensen, and "Silencing"

On Wednesday, April 13th, I posted the following on the facebook wall of one of my favorite authors and people whom I consider inspiring and whose voice I feel is absolutely necessary to be heard in the world, Derrick Jensen:
His book A Language Older Than Words was no doubt the most moving of all I read last year, a great motivating factor for my desire to reconnect with nature, escape more regularly from the confines of "Civilization" in downtown Phoenix, deconstruct my upbringing, invite my best friend to bike and camp through the wilderness for two months, and try to understand and overcome the pain I had been carrying around with me for over half of my life.

Derrick speaks of many things in his book that though different from my own life, I felt strong parallels with. From his childhood stories of the abuse he and his family suffered at the hands of his father, to the subtle yet violent "silencing" of our culture that brainwashes us to turn our backs on everyday atrocities in our own backyards and in all we consume, to the curious way a disease can free us when we learn to communicate with it. Writing of a near death experience with Crohn's disease, I find this passage from "A Time for Sleeping" particularly moving:
"I did not die for only one night, but for the several years it took for the lessons of that night to travel to every cell of my body, and for the layers of old skin--formed in an earlier time of trauma, when I had different requirements for survival--to scrape away or slough off and be replaced by new ones."

"When we imprison another we must also place one of our own in prison, as a guard. Likewise, when we imprison a part of ourselves, other parts must move into that same dungeon. Prisons--whether made of steel, razor wire, floodlamps, and observation posts, or a steel will holding emotions and flesh in check--consume a tremendous amount of energy. When as a child I vowed to no longer feel anger, to no longer feel anything, not only did I lose access to banished feelings, but I lost also the energy it took to keep them at bay. Where did those emotions go, what did they do? They did not vanish into the psychic equivalent of thin air. How did they twist and turn to find their way out, as ultimately they must? How do frustrated emotions make clear their need for expression, and how, in the end, are they expressed?"

"...I realized that if I were going to survive this disease, I had better learn to listen. I realized, too, that learning to listen to the disease might not only keep me alive, but might also help to release me from the prison of my own steel will, which I had built as a child to keep the world out, but which I now was finding kept me locked in even more firmly."

A comment someone wrote about me recently on has been tormenting me for a week now. Though I have in my head, made many comparisons to my struggle with dental hygiene over the years to other eating disorders, for whatever reason, even when thinking of my own best friend's intense three year battle with bulimia, and also working in social work with homeless youth every day, I never really put the pieces together to think of my own history of bad habits throughout most of my life as "self harm." A week ago felt like the first time in my whole life it occurred to me that me not brushing my teeth was a "cry for help." Or more appropriately, a cry for love and affection and praise from my "real parents" who never seemed to want to try very hard to compete with the ones who raised me. I always felt stuck in limbo, unable to grow emotionally and overcome my shy, repressed, introverted nature because my whole life it had seemed like no matter what I did my parents would never come out of their own shells for me. They never seemed to take an active interest in anything I truly cared about, they never seemed to reward me for all I had accomplished. And how fucked up is it that so many of the gifts they gave always came in the form of candy and soda?

Growing up, since as early as I can remember, they were both always the two people I knew who had the worst teeth of anyone, yet, why didn't they care about mine? I could never understand. Didn't every parent always want their kids to have a better life than they? How much effort, would it really have took back then to make a difference? Hell, they could have used their OWN mouth as an example, they could have given me the guided tour of their own pain. If I had children now, that is seriously what I would do. I would do whatever it possibly took to get them to brush their teeth, so they would not have to live like I have. I simply will never understand how I grew up this way. To this day, I generally feel much more like a mature adult than I feel they act or live. In a way, I have for years felt like they stopped aging on the day I was born. Why else would they have never taken the time to even share with me their own stories of how they got that way, the circumstances surrounding my own creation, of how they fell in love, if there ever in fact, was a time when they would actually call it that?

I have been wondering lately, how it will affect our communication or relationship or the lack thereof the day this blog reaches them, if it will be a long overdue cleansing wash of perspective over them they have never allowed themselves to hear, or if they will ignorantly try to sue me for "slander" or something, never accepting their responsibility or role in creating and shaping me this way over the years, never learning from the past, never treating me like an adult? I wonder if they can finally, finally after all of this, say that they are proud of me, that they are thankful that despite their lack of being there all those years that all in all, I turned out a pretty awesome, compassionate person with a good head on his shoulders. I wonder if they can ever admit that they are thankful that I have found a way for years to live my life on my own terms and follow my dreams and generally always consider myself happy and successful, loved and respected among my community? I wonder, above all, if they can ever, ever...look me in the eyes calmly and say they are sorry, and mean it.

Looking back now, I can't help but believe that my lack of care for my teeth as a teenager directly correlates to my parents lack of interest in my life, to their lack of support in all my endeavors, their lack of positive reinforcement for all I continually accomplished. It feels like it was my way of throwing my mother's constant guilt trips back in her own face, to become a mirror for all she no doubt secretly hated about herself. Bulimia, cutting and other forms of self harm are rarely about a desire to feel pain or destroy yourself, but a coping mechanism to deal with other forms of pain and abuse beyond one's control. When you feel silenced or powerless to alter your situation,  sometimes you find a way to control the one other thing that seems easier. Something that allows you to feel a momentary release of some kind when otherwise, you would feel nothing. Something that makes you feel like, "I don't know how to fix this, I don't know how to communicate, I don't know how to move forward, I don't know how to be happy, I don't know how to ever be good enough, to ever be sorry enough, but this...this is one thing, that I can do." So you do it. And after a while, you don't even know why you started. You don't know how to fix it. You don't know how to stop. And you certainly, don't know how to fucking tell anybody your secret. And even if close friends may occasionally hear you in the bathroom, ask you about your weight, notice a cut poking through out from under your shirt sleave, or maybe catch a brief glimpse and ask you about your matter how much you might dream of finding that connection that was missing and in all probability contributed to the creation of the problem in the first doesn't mean for a moment that you know how to utter a single word to talk about it to anyone.

Much of my years as a teenager, I felt nothing remotely resembling "love" or even interest or support from my parents. After my grandfather died when I was fifteen and they finally for the first time my whole life asked me if I wanted to live with them, I don't think I could have ever felt more disgusted than I did in that cowardly, decade overdue moment, where they walked me around by the lake for an hour before they could even mumble the words out. I, to this day, still do not believe that they remotely understand why I said "No." But as proud and content as I was to wish to remain with Ma, I could never deny the damage done to me on that day, and for the next eight years by their near total absence from my life all the way through until I graduated college and once again got yelled at by my mother for choosing not to walk across the stage. Similarly, they showed up at my high school graduation after barely talking to me for the past four years and if so, usually just to criticize my choice to be an artist, or talk about my cousin JR's art whenever I showed them mine. I could never understand how after years of silence they would show up with a video camera wanting to film me with my friend's whose names they didn't even know when they had barely even made an effort to actually get to know the real me.

When I think about it now, it feels like refusing to brush my teeth was the only way in my depressed mind that I subconsciously could feel closer to them. The less they were around, the less I brushed, until I really just stopped caring at all. Once I began to get a mouth filled with cavities by the time I hit college, I didn't know how to fix my smile again any more than I knew how to make my parents truly love me. And though Ma and my aunts and uncles always had, there was nonetheless always a divide in me somehow. Their support was never redundant, it was after all, all I had...but I spent the better part of my life trying to simply get my mother to CARE and find an unselfish, unconditional way to express it, that wasn't also served on a plate of guilt. I have waited my whole life to eat a happy, painless meal at their table, with all of us sharing nothing but gratitude for the moment. I have never, ever been granted this wish.


In Trinidad, California when my front tooth broke (#8) and my voice changed considerably, crying later than night on the beach in Pinar's arms, I died. The heavy, old skin I had been carrying around with me my whole life, I left back at the restaurant the day before, like an old sweatshirt on the back of the chair as the last words with my previous voice drifted outside to disintegrate, dancing with the ocean mist. The next week I felt a violence taking place to me unlike any I had ever felt before, my shattered Ego falling to pieces as the shards leapt from my body to rejoin the earth as we pedaled further and further toward the finish line. I knew not what would come next after we finally made it to San Francisco, but I knew that our lives would never be the same. I could feel strongly that change would be coming, that the road ahead would be harder than any hill or weather we would face on the California coast, and I knew that this time, that I would once again, be left to face my next battle without the luxury of a partner. The next challenge, the next chapter, of the year 2011, would be about how I finally found the courage to face myself. To forgive myself for the violence done to my body over the years, to love myself, regardless of what my mouth looked like, but also, to fix it, and be free of pain again, and to find the free and playful voice of my childhood, and smile and laugh again.

Derrick writes:
"I don't believe it would have been possible for me to undergo a meaningful death and rebirth had I been working a wage job. There would not have been time. No one expects a caterpillar to spin a cocoon, pop in for ten minutes, then emerge a butterfly...yet not many of us are willing or able to make the time necessary to begin asking the right questions about who we are, what we love, what we fear, and what we're doing to each other, much less, answering these questions, and much much less living them." 

As crazy as it may sound, I knew that Pinar and I needed two months of time away from our jobs and routines to actually face our demons together. We had planted several seeds over the past months and I knew they would only grow if watered by the mist of the ocean and caressed by the sun untainted by the smog of civilization. Somewhere, in the silence of thousand year old redwood forests, in rain and cold and wind in our faces up hills like we've never walked up, let alone biked up with 70 pounds of gear, we found our truths. We found a way to begin to face our bodies, to begin listening to them, to hear their cries when we punished them for five hours of exercise, to replenish them with solidarity meals of slow chewing, savoring every bite, however long it took, knowing that without which, we could simply not go on. We found a way back to ourselves, back to nature, back to listening when it was time to listen, trusting that we were on the right path. Trusting, that however long the journey might take us, that when it was all said and done, we would march boldly into the next, stronger and more in touch with ourselves and the Universe than we had ever been.

(Note: Though it is not my intention to speak for Pinar in any of the stories I write in here and they all of course share only my personal perspective, I hope that she will agree with me, wherever her path has taken her right now, courageously facing her next adventure. I hope that she knows that none of these words would exist without all of the time we spent together. I hope that she knows that I am with her...)

Appointment #10

On April 11th I went in for more fillings. I am going to test what I've retained from my appointments thus far (and also see which students are reading and choose to correct me :-) and see how much I can tell you about what transpired.

Today I would have a filling in two anterior teeth #22 on the mesial side (meaning the side towards the center of the mouth if split into two halves between teeth numbers 8 and 9 on the TOP, or maxillary side, and 24 and 25 on the BOTTOM, or mandibulary side. I would also have a filling directly ajoining this one on the distal side of #23. You follow? :-)

Today was a welcome change from the back corner of a windowless cubicle upstairs in oral surgery, once again being downstairs by a window. As endearing as the Pelton and Crane light has become, I will pick "watch the leaves on a tree outside the window" ten times out of ten.
Before we began, Rakhee pointed out my first BLUE mark from my last appointment on my Nintendo mouth on the Dentrix program showing where reconstructive progress had begun beside all the red areas to be bulldozed in my soon to be White City.
I can't help it, I get a kick out of these monitors being coated with plastic. I've yet to coat one with a spray of bodily fluids! That must mean my students are doing a good job?
We began again with the topical, the SLOW so it doesn't hurt shot, the confusing clamp, tucking my teeth in with the rubber dam and the dremel dance party up and down the ridge of 23 and 22. Still no music. GRRR!
Due to the angle and slight crookedness of these two teeth Rakhee asked for some assistance from a doctor finishing off the filling. Though I can't really firsthand watch the process and haven't inquired about the possibilities of filming some video, it is amusing for me to picture the process as it is happening to the best of my mechanical knowledge. The resin filling material is in an adorale mini "caulking" gun, which is cured with ultraviolet light like some types of screenprinting inks I printed with ten years ago working for Electromark in my hometown, making safety signs and warning labels for other factories and power companies all over the US. It is "sanded" down and built up layer by layer. A thin piece of mylar (also used in screenprinting) is placed between the adjoining tooth as a "masking." In this case, however, we had to use a little piece of metal similar to a shim because the mylar just would not stick. The excess flashing on the tooth is later removed like how I grew up scraping the excess plastic imperfections from the injection molded pieces of my model cars I would assemble as a teenager before gluing them together. Finally, the tips of the spinning tool being used, not unlike a dremel or flexshaft used many times in sculpture classes in college, are switched out for buffing and polishing wheels, and the final test of flossing smoothly between those teeth commences. Oh, can't I just do one tooth, can't I, can't I? the artist in me is going to freak out soon if I don't get to play with any of these tools! I almost wish I could chip my own tooth just to be supervised fixing it in a mirror. How crazy is that?!

When everything was finished, I couldn't feel the difference on the back of those teeth with my tongue, and the color was a near perfect match. I dried myself off from my "complimentary shower" Rakhee kept accidentally spraying me with, as she gave me the amazing news that a doctor who had picked up one of my blog promo cards I left with her at the school who had been following along with my progress had given me a blank check to cover the cost of today's procedure! Speechless, once again.

We switched gears and prepared to make a second mold of my mouth after all the drastic changes over the past two months. Here is the old one, cast after my second screening appointment:
As if my poor teeth didn't already look orange enough!
As usual, whenever there are no instruments or hands in my mouth, I never stop talking and asking questions and sharing all of my continued news and activities in the works that develop on a daily basis, but this time, midsentence, one of the rare times I seriously ever get forced to shut up so quickly, Rakhee interrupted me with a tray full of alginate:
I was sharing the crazy story of my mother's of how my uncle supposedly almost died when his dentist did that and sued for malpractice, and how I have hated that successfully suing someone has always seemed like a dream come true for my mother and many of the people I grew up around. The people that, as I often joked, if you asked them what they wanted to be when they grew up, would reply "someone who won the lottery."

I have never been one of those people, and frankly I believe more in the power of positive thinking and in myself, more than I will ever put any faith in the possibility of a big pay-off one day from a system truly based on once in a lifetime chances. Why buy a lottery ticket every day, when you can save that $2.00 for a year and do something exciting with money you would have otherwise wasted on something as stupid as lottery tickets? Why dream of putting someone else out of business because of a mistake they might make one day, when it is your own mistake you make EVERY day of not grabbing your own life by the horns and embracing all of the endless possibilities around every corner that forces you to live a tortured, unhappy existence, blaming everyone in the world for your suffering but yourself.

Today marked my tenth roll of the dental dice, and I continue to come out on top. I embrace the journey, believe in my students and doctors, and wholeheartedly accept each day as it comes. It is only the beginning, and things are all the time getting more and more exciting. I am excited to see what happens next, to continue to enrich myself with knowledge I have for my whole life been ignorant of, and to relearn to eat and speak, smile and laugh again. I will leave the lottery for the hopeless. Not this kid, not today. I will however, challenge all who play to save that money, and walk boldly into a new way of living with me.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Overdue Introductions

Greetings. I decided to post a video to put a face and a voice to these gory mouth pics and endless words. Apologies, I have a hard time memorizing things and am also quite exhausted. I hope this can serve as a general sort of introductory video, at least for the time being unless someone helps make a better one, if any of you wish to share and repost. Thank you, as always, for listening, and caring. Goodnight!

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

We are all Nico Vega.

I'm breaking chronology again to post something I wish I had much earlier. As I'm sure you are aware, music can lift us up out of our darkest depths when nothing ever can seem to reach us. (Or keep us there, depending on the song) Whereas instrumental music can somehow seemingly capture raw emotion and jolt us every which way like the weaving bow of a passionate cellist, sometimes, there seems to be nothing more powerful as well as screaming along to the chorus of punk, or good old fashioned "rock and roll."
Rialto Theatre, Tucson, AZ. 2/23/10
 I happened to stumble onto the likes of Nico Vega about a year and a half ago during one of the low points of my life. I was drinking a lot and arguing with people all the time and felt incredibly alienated from many of the people in my Downtown Phoenix community. Shortly after I discovered them and got the chance to catch their amazing live show and meet them in Mesa at Hollywood Alley would be a turning point in my life. I know that I cannot thank Nico Vega for everything. It was also right around that time that I first met my life-changing traveling partner of 2010 who helped get me to the place I am now, Pinar. But I know without a doubt, that Nico Vega has helped me, and continues to. Their vocalist, Aja Volkman is perhaps the most passionate and powerful yet fun and playfully endearing frontwoman I have ever seen in hundreds of concerts. I have never been at a show where I felt that a band tried more to connect and reach out to every single audience member, be it 20 or a thousand. Though only a threepiece, Aja, Rich and Dan's amazing chemistry onstage is true evidence of their friendship and that they sincerely love what they are doing, and they love even more the ability to connect and inspire their fans. I am very grateful for people like them in the world. I hope you will take the time to read some of their writing below, and listen to their music. This first entry is a Bio from their site. The second is a blog that Aja wrote last summer that I have replayed in the back of my mind for months, thinking about the creation of this blog, dreaming of finally connecting with the world.
I hope you get the chance to see them someday. They are recording now but hopefully will be touring again real soon. I promise that you will not regret it.

Here is a recent video of their song "Gravity" as performed on their newest EP, "Nico Vega Covers Nico Vega & Rod Stewart:"
"Gravity" (Acoustic) - Nico Vega

From the band bio:
For us Nico Vega is a way of life. We are 3 people who play music together. We write as a band and help each other develop our ideas. The root of the music is the relationship between us. Nico Vega is about collaboration. We are a family and we honor each other by listening and allowing each other to grow. We push each other to be better and to carry each other when we feel weak.

Nico Vega represents a modern day saint. A warrior that has led us to a more fulfilling, lighter way of being. She represents people and unity. She fights for all of us and teaches us to fight for each other. She is an idea that has evolved into a message and she fuels us in our bellies. She is the person we are all capable of being, but she holds the bar high above our head so that we must reach to be better human beings. We all have honesty inside of us, we all know how to love, we are all made of the same flesh, and we are all stuck here together. Nico Vega reminds us that we can learn to fuse these ideas together and grow more solid as a unit of man. Alone we are lost, we fail, we grieve, we search, we struggle, we feel small. Together we are solid, found, loved, and powerful. We are our own greatest natural resource. Our ego falls away when we listen to each other. It is when we stop believing that we can learn from one another that we stop learning altogether. Only then are we alone. We are no different from each other; the same flesh, the same pain, the same love, the same heart. Our greatness is no threat. The more beautiful we are individually, the more powerful we are together. It is our Ego that betrays and lies and tells us that we are threatened when we are not.

You are a part of our family and we will always make music to communicate our love and gratitude for you. If you come to our show, throw your hands up so we can feel you... you will feel us.

There are 100s of videos from the band and fans on youtube. I however believe that this is the best one to truly capture them live that I have ever found, especially as far as quality goes. (And trust me, I have watched them all!)
Wooden Dolls ( Live at the Roxy 10-29-10) - Nico Vega

Below is Aja's moving entry from the Nico Vega myspace blog.

Let it Out! August 2nd, 2010

I am coming into a new place. In this place I have began to write some new songs with the band. One song is called "Human Animal".
 "This is who I am... I am who we are." I say.  I have began to realize the fullness of my humanity. How through frustration is born surrender. How every bottom gives birth to a new beginning. I guess you could say that I feel as though I am being reborn. 
"Human Animal" (Acoustic) - Nico Vega

I know in my heart that we all share the same emotions, the same doubts, the same desires. That we all want to be loved.  And that we all have pain. 

Hmmmm. Pain. 
Some of us have pain that goes so deep that we no longer address it. As if we are so sick of our own story, that we close the book forever, and put it on the shelf. The scariest thing about that is how it will begin to contaminate the rest of our lives if we never open it again. I have a lot of respect for religion. I admire people who have found faith in a power greater than that of the mind, body, and soul. How much peace they must feel in the end of days. I am by nature a seeker, and I do have strong faith in the fact that I will find peace within myself when the time is right. I do not rule out a God, I believe in eternity, I understand the oneness of life, and I know enough to know... That I understand very little.

As I was saying, I have come to know that when we bottle up pain, and try to forget the past with distractions, the things that hurt us remain unhealed. We will constantly search for a band-aid. I believe that this is the human condition. We hate pain, so we will do anything that we can not to feel it.  It really is a survival mechanism for the Animal part of us.  
At one point I experienced pain. I allowed myself to be hurt by the actions of someone who was very close to me. I was attached, which can also mean that I had invested a part of myself in that person. When it was all over, I had decided to move on. I have an incredibly busy life full of adventure, and people. There are a lot of opportunities to feel caught up in. I have also had a strong aversion to feeling like a victim since I was younger, so I will take responsibility for things even when they are not in my control.  This can appear as strength. Its not. It is a ploy to avoid feeling pain.  I had began to notice how I was sabotaging my relationships, and the trust that people had in me, because I was trying to avoid being hurt. All the while I was only creating a thicker darker shell, and burying the old pain with new pain. Can you see how that could end up jading a person? How a person could become harder, darker, more alone, and guarded by protecting their pain? I have decided to write this out, because so many people identify with me on this subject.  One of the most beautiful things about a child is their ability to properly grieve. They let everything out, and even dramatize it at times. Yet, the moment passes and then they are on to the next thing. And they are able to remain light. 
I am exposing this part of myself, because I want to communicate how important it is to feel your feelings. They, (as everything in life) have a purpose. Once you have allowed yourself to feel  them, you learn how to deal with pain. And its likely that you will be less afraid to face a potentially painful situation. You may even provide strength in your relationships because of the confidence that comes from feeling less fearful. 

I am in the studio now. Rich is tracking guitars with Tim. Its such an amazing song that we are covering. Its quite funny how it has got my thinking.  Next time you are out in public, look at the people around you. You can see in their eyes, and even on their faces how much pain they carry. Try to see them as a small child, and imagine the evolution. Now look at yourself. Know that every piece of pain you protect is weighing you down. Every person you don't forgive, and all of the things you pick at yourself about. All of the judgments of others that stem from deep painful insecurities, all of the baggage. Find a place to let it out, and don't be afraid to let it out.....Its not going to kill you. 

Love Aja

This is an unreleased song about Aja's fear of losing her voice. The quality is not the greatest, and it is hard to make out a lot of the words, but it nonetheless makes me cry at most every viewing.
Thanks for listening!
Unknown New Song (Live @ Whiskey Richard's, Santa Barbara, CA 11-6-10) - Nico Vega

And thanks above all, to Nico Vega, for lifting me up from the depths to sing along with you no matter how crappy of a day I am ever having. You always help me to "Pick it up, pick it up, pick it up, pick it up!" I hope one day again I can find the confidence to scream along in the audience, open mouthed, with hands in the hair, and feel as free for once as you all make seem so effortless on stage.
I love you all,
Paul Jones Jr.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

On My First "Home"

I just found this poem I wrote three years ago and thought I would share it with you. I considered it somewhat of a breakthrough at the time in trying to get out years of repressed feelings about a few of the subjects I could never force myself to find the words for. I have, as you can see, come a very long way. For better or worse, this poem was an important early step that helped me to be more honest with my most hidden feelings. My mother really did fall down the stairs the day before I was born. I wonder to this day if it was an accident.

"My Mother's House"

My first womb was owned by a 15 year old slumlord
and I was evicted 2 months before my 9-month lease was up,
just because they fell down the stairs the night before
and apparently had the epiphany that I wasn't a worthy tenant.
The next morning, me and all my bloody belongings were thrown out
onto the curb, left wet and exposed,
my eyes unable to focus on the flourescent sunrise
surrounded by a blur of blue and white-coated strangers.

It might have only been a cramped little studio with thrift store furnishings
and nicotine-stained walls that had never known a cleaning,
but it was still "Home" to me before my Grandparents took me in.
Its thin walls never held onto the secret lives of the building too tightly,
and I always felt like some body had its hymen taken away
like candy from a baby in my bedroom
before I started unpacking the contents of my consciousness.

But it's 30 years later now,
and I've still never had the courage to ask the neighbors about it,
though I still often drive by the old place,
every New Year a rock thrown through a window,
an overgrown lawn obscurring where flowers once bloomed.
They say someone resembling my "mother" used to live around these parts,
but I've still never seen her.

Monday, April 18, 2011

Appointment #9

On Friday, April 8th, I went in to have my first filling ever, on tooth #23. It had been a while since my last appointment, at least given the frequency I have become accustomed to, and I seem to keep having high blood pressure readings lately. Ironically, in comparison to the majority of patients who are anxious or afraid, I believe that in my case it is because I am so absolutely impatient and excited and filled with 20 questions and new developments to share practically every time I go which makes me frantic and hyper for the first ten minutes. Go figure. Though the appointments at the University from what I understand considerably longer than other practices, I for one consistently feel like there is never enough time to make it through all of my questions and news before the three hours or so is up. As you can probably tell, I love to talk! Don't however get the wrong idea, as I assure you I talk and ask more questions and have taken a completely engaged role in my treatment. The only time I am not trying to learn all there is to know about everything I am enduring is when I have a a mouthful of hands and tools, and even then I am blown away by how well my dentist has managed to comprehend my consonant-less language of gurgles and grunts.

Before we got started on the fillings, another Dr. was showing Rakhee how to check my occlusion in order to get a more accurate cast with which to register my bite in the cast of my mouth...I think? We also discussed briefly some possible alterations to my treatment plan should I choose to accept them in the future that could save me a great deal of money from my generic ballpark $30 grand figure I came up with, if indeed 13 implants were were the right and possible choice of action as yet to be determined until a few more weeks and a consultation with the Prosthodontist.

Shortly afterward I was prepped to meet Mr. Drill for the first time, least by the teeth that will continue to live in my cramped studio apartment of a mouth after the disgusting, germ-hoarding old tenants were finally evicted.

So although I have heard for my whole life everyone's fear of the infamous drill, what was a completely new surprise for me was this strange rubber dam contraption, or as I like to think of it, a blanket tightly tucking my sick teeth in before their Lidocaine sleep, from which they wake up from "all better."

Though from my previous visits I feel I have reasonably decided that as far as dentistry tools go, the infamous "Minnesota" is probably my mouth's archnemesis, I must admit that as someone who has split a LOT of wood by hand in his day and even has a scar from a freak woodsplitting accident, these little plastic wedges used to push the teeth apart while working on the filling freaked me the hell out:
 Though it took a little longer than expected, I reassured Rakhee to continue until she was satisfied.

Finishing up, Rakhee asked a nearby student Lindsey to get us some floss, to which she replied "Only if he puts me in the blog!" Now that like, the whole class has seen her presentation and many students apparently have been following along with me on this journey (though they don't seem to ever comment! :-P Hmmpf!) I really am starting to feel like a celebrity. I know it's bizarre, but lately I almost feel more and more like the school is my community, and I always look forward to seeing everyone's familiar faces again, especially all of those who have had a hand in my care. I believe the number of students is now at seven or eight. And yes, I am even counting the ones who have done nothing more than smile, pick on me and give me floss :-)
Lindsey and Rakhee, CONJOINED! Sorry I accidentally cropped out your floss-holding moment of fame! Next time!
Lord knows I most certainly pick on all of them nonstop. I am always wondering if everyone thinks of Rakhee and I as the straight "A" suck-ups who ask too many questions, or the class clowns who often no doubt seem to be having way too much fun for stereotypical dentistry.

That's about it for this appointment. It has been a really intense week. I have not been sleeping well at all. SOOO much on my mind. It's incredibly exciting, yet sometimes really draining. I am going to try my best to catch you all up to the present tomorrow night. Thanks for caring and reading along. I will leave you with a picture of the pile of tools it took to make #23 whole again. Goodnight!
Oh, and one more.
Leaving that day, I couldn't help but feel happy. It is one thing to keep getting teeth extracted over and over at appointments and leave all sore and numb with bloody gauze in your mouth. It is a completely different feeling to walk away from the dentist after the first actual work after so many appointments devoted towards fixing one of my teeth I am keeping. It felt good. I am slowly but surely, learning to accept my mouth for what it is, a work in progress, with exciting potential. Though I still must admit I feel like I look pretty freaky when I look in the mirror and I honestly cannot even picture myself with front teeth, leaving that day, I felt confident enough to take a silly "myspace mirror" picture (circa 2004, I know) and do something completely different--not show off my ass in my new jeans or my sparrow or nautical star tattoos or how fucked up I was in some club or all the other endless stupid narcissistic pictures we all post online, but in this one, I wanted to show off my mouth, for the first time since the Internet. I made this my facebook default picture that night. It's a pretty lame picture of me, as far as pictures go, but I can't deny that it didn't feel good to put out there.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

What a CRAZY, amazing week.

So. I have a LOT to catch up. Let's backtrack. Everything is such a blur right now...

On Wednesday, April 6th, Rakhee emailed me a copy of her presentation for a "Treatment Planning Seminar" at her school, Arizona School of Dentistry and Oral Health. I believe all students have to complete three of these per year, and I was lucky enough to be included. I wasn't really sure what to expect, but was excited for once to have so much attention drawn to little ol' me and my scary mouth. I can hardly believe how over my past ten appointments I have begun to feel EXCITED to show people my mouth instead of always feeling like it must be perpetually clamped shut for all. Like I said before, my appointments are feeling more and more like an art class to me. How strange it is after graduating art school myself and sitting through so many 3-hour critiques, to feel almost like an inanimate sculpture that is being shown every week or two to the rest of the class and faculty by its artist, yet get to be conscious of the comments.
Her documented part of her class the next day that I got to see consisted of a 39 slide Powerpoint presentation.
Though much of it as she insisted would be "boring" to me, I couldn't help but feel incredibly moved by it. Being a writer and a poet and someone who has for years tried to keep the dying art of letter-writing alive, who always seems to write more about others close to me than ever gets returned, I couldn't help but think of this homework assignment as an incredibly informative and elaborate "poem" dedicated to my mouth. Though I may not quite understand it all, it was time and effort, compassion and care put into something created with me and my well being and happiness in mind. That is, after all, a perfect example of what I consider to be the greatest gift one can offer to another--our time. We all have different educations, different skillsets. This presentation was a poem written to me in another language, in honor of who I am as a person, and who I have become to a dental student that I am sure never would have expected what I would be getting her into on that first day I could barely open my mouth. It is a perfect example of the comfort, care, total transparency, and also a daily education that I am getting by choosing to remain committed to seeking treatment in the hands of an army of excited and passionate students and their mentors...and one, truly inspiring person I am quickly running out of adjectives for, that continues to change my life.

Thank you Rakhee. You better have gotten an "A+!"

Friday, April 15, 2011


I am behind a few blog updates from two recent appointments and lots of other things I would love to tell you, but tonight, I am calling in to this blog "speechless." Chances are if you are reading this right now, you already know how you got here, and who you heard about me from. I am going to relax tonight, and hope that in my sweet dreams I can begin to process all that has happened to me today with the power of a single tweet. Thank you, Roger Ebert, for proving in this day and age that a Mac is more mighty than any sword, and with only a few minutes of time, the generosity of large numbers of kind humans linked through this invisible network can truly resonate around the world. I am going to write more as soon as my chaotic schedule allows, but for tonight, I thought I would instead share the words of another who can better sum up how I feel right now. I read them a few years ago, and reflected on them many times since. They have inspired me greatly to believe that anything is possible, to ask for help, to trust in the journey, and know that I am on the right path, and everything is as it should be. They give me hope, and remind me of the power of words to uplift us all on our darkest days. I hope you will read and enjoy them as much as I do.

Goodnight all of my wonderful new friends. Thank you for one of the most moving days of my life.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

On the loss of one's voice

As someone who regularly consults for new movie reviews, but still over the years has often shared similar opinions with Roger Ebert, whose website I surf on an almost weekly basis, I was blown away today when I stumbled upon this video of a recent "talk" he gave about losing the use of his voice to cancer. I had no idea that this had even happened, and when someone's tone and inflection is ingrained so well in your memory I know that I at least can "hear" their voice like it is speaking to me as I read their written words. I hope perhaps that is the case for many of you reading along with me in my blog.

Though our health issues are different, the words in this video resonated deeply with my own feelings of loss of identity and my voice and ability to put on a positive and "normal" face with which to greet the world with each day. I encourage you all to take the time to watch this short video that moved me to tears several times. Despite my strength, passion and dedication to face my own fear for the first time in my life, I am humbled and deeply inspired in the face of real courage and positivity such as this.

An important recent development I seem to keep forgetting to mention.

About a week ago I realized something. After the end of May when I had my last three extractions (for a total of 13 so far) which were some of the most painful and irritated, and a few days of taking Vicodin, but also beginning antibiotics before my final four extractions, a few days later, I also got the flu. After a month of painkiller numbness, lethargic, bedridden movie boredom and slurping down soft foods, I felt so out of it that weekend. When I finally began to heal and as my most recent stitches dissolved and I was once again off of my meds, a funny thing happened. I realized that for the first time since I was a teenager, that there was virtually no more pain in my mouth! It was truly, the strangest feeling. My whole mouth felt foreign to me.
Over the past several weeks I had followed doctor's orders to a "T" to a point I had practically memorized the waiver sheet and could recite it myself back to my fleet of oral surgeons, and I had taken the utmost, paranoid OCD care to not eat anything that might poke into my healing root holes or get stuck in my stitches or whatever the worst case scenario might be. There would be no risk of dry sockets in THIS mouth, damn it. A lot of pudding and yogurt though, perhaps.

 Previously, as stated earlier, I had for years taken great care to maneuver all my food around in my mouth to the perfect spot I could chew and hopefully manage to not poke any sharp corner of it as I was chewing into a sensitive spot to avoid piercing pain. I was a pro, even, and for the most part could manage to chew in one tiny little spot on the right side of my mouth for a while, then next year it would be a little further forward, the next on the left side, etc. Over the years those spots of course got smaller and smaller.

The weird part is, as my gums healed, I technically still had the same contact points among my upper and lower teeth as I did before I had the majority of my wreckage removed, yet it nonetheless seemed like I had a totally different mouth. The last time until a week ago I chewed anything potentially problematic was in early February, mostly on two premolars on my left side. As my extractions worked their way in a "U" from my lower right to upper right quadrants, to upper left and lower, I begin to allow food to slowly slip out of the central cavity of my mouth and into those spots as they toughened up. I noticed that somewhere during that process, I had shifted my predominant chewing place now to the opposite side. I also noticed, that though I had thirteen less teeth, I actually seemed to be chewing more efficiently!? Now, if I managed to misplace my food while chewing it, if a hard or pointy piece happened to slip past my pain boundary back onto the place where soreness used to be, it didn't matter, because it had nothing to make contact with! So while I might not have technically been able to chew any better yet, it was for the first time in over a decade, not hurting me to try.

In a way, it really feels like a "rebirth" in a way. I've been basically eating baby food for several weeks now, and after working my way up to "Gerber Graduates," or, foods with LUMPS finally, I am relearning to actually use my teeth again. The diet I have now is really confusing. Not quite like my "before" diet, and far from my "after" diet, but...I am recultivating slowly an entirely new relationship with food again. I am standing today, on shaky legs, taking my first steps, curious what my strange new body is even capable of. I ate chips a few days ago for the first time in two months, and though it was even slower still than before (though the teeth I've had pulled may have been pretty useless and it did hurt to chew on them, they did nonetheless get used somewhat and add a little more function) I was surprised I could actually do it.

Today I met my friend Alia for lunch at Paisley Violin which I had only went to a couple times when I first came to Phoenix and, having flashbacks of my frustration back then of there only being a few vegan items on the menu, today I was completely at a loss to decide what the hell their option were for "chewing-challenged" people. I was incredibly anxious with frustration, awaiting first sight of my order already planning on being disappointed like how for so many years they had accidentally put cheese on my vegan plates when my order arrived. I couldn't help but feel stupid as I explored its ingredients, bit by bit, thinking "DUH, Paul, what were you thinking? You can't eat that, you've been eating overcooked pasta and eggs and smoothies all week." Searching my hummus plate in shame, it was littered with chunky parts of lettuce, cucumbers, and a thicker, harder pita than planned. My first thought was, "Oh shit, where's your spork?" I looked across to my friend Alia, thinking "Why did I order the side of much softer pasta salad that came free with this when it obviously appears to be what I should be eating right now of all things on the table?" and began my familiar ritual of cutting the pita bread into small pieces with my fork. And guess what? To my surprise, I actually didn't have too much trouble eating it! It was still slow of course, and I drank lots of water to soften the bread, but there was not the least bit of pain during the whole long process. There has been much to celebrate lately, but today was certainly worth remembering for a different reason that all those others for their generous donations and progress of procedures. Today is truly a day that my mouth felt positively different, despite what my eyes have been telling me as I have watched closely the stitches disappear, the swelling go down, the colors change. Today is evidence that my babysteps are truly beginning to add up.

In planning my next several appointments a few weeks ago, Rakhee knew that I was initially self-conscious about every little bit of my remaining front teeth, given how much that small piece of #8 had seemingly changed my entire life on the bike tour, and despite the quick progress removing all my other teeth, we arranged to postpone my top front four extractions til last and take care of all my fiillings first. However, at my recent appointments, we both remarked that with the majority of the ugly, broken and infected teeth now gone, how nice it was to look in my mouth and see mostly all healthy teeth now. Unfortunately, we each agreed that only made my last leftovers now become even more of a focal point, and though I feel like lately for the first time ever, I can deal with it and don't worry what people think if they might catch a glimpse of them in conversation it was most certainly consensus that they have got to go immediately.

It is going to be really strange to say goodbye for a while to my ability to bite my lip, as hard as it has been since October to do it with only two teeth. I am also nonetheless scared at what my voice will sound like and how much more hard it may be to enunciate for the next several months. I am torn regardless, over the decision to have a "flipper" made or not, a temporary partial made to replace those four, but mostly for aesthetics, (or as I like to say, for "fashion over function," or, basically the opposite way of how I generally live my life.) A flipper feels like a "stunt double." Though I currently suffer from somewhat of a "handicap," I definitely am a "do my own stunts" kinda guy. Frankly, I'm not sure I want FAKE fake teeth. In a way, I feel like it "ruins the suspense" as well. Haha. I have not seen myself smile with anything resembling a full happy mouth of healthy teeth for over fifteen years now. I kind of feel like that is the big finish. I want to reserve that feeling of when I first look in the mirror and see myself with teeth again after all that time, for when they are actually ones that don't pop out and get kept in a little plastic bucket like Legos or something. I want them to be part of me.

We shall see if my thoughts change over the coming weeks, but for now, I am celebrating. I am excited to for the first time in years be able to chew on both sides, even if only on a few teeth. I am excited that I ate at a restaurant for the first time in over two months. I am excited to currently be FIXING my real teeth for the first time ever in my life, to witness Rakhee transform them with each appointment, and proudly believe that they are worth fixing. I am excited to be eating more of a variety of foods and textures again. I am excited to, counting my savings and fundraising, be over two grand ahead of my current appointments, and can't wait to schedule as many new ones as I can afford to immediately to get #s 7-10 out, heal, finish my fillings and start tackling the REAL epic parts of this adventure with my superhero partner as soon as I can possibly raise all the money for each step of the way. It's kind of like a race, to me. The more cups of Gatorade you all continue to hand me as you cheer from the sidelines, I promise, the faster I will run to the end to smile with you all. Maybe we can pull it off by Halloween and the whole world can see me dressed up as Happy Paul and you can all bob for apples with me! That's ten days before my birthday, in case any of you are wondering. Hint, hint, hint...

Monday, April 11, 2011

On Eating... (Before)

I've been told for years that I "eat slow." Almost as annoying as "Stop scowling...your face will freeze that way," and "Smile!" as a kid. ( Well, guess what, my face DID in a sense, "freeze" like that. The tension I created in my face and body to construct myself into a perpetually tight-lipped, monotone, mumbling person for years, sleepless and cynical, I know is responsible for this wrinkle in my brow I have been trying hard to get rid of over the past year. I honestly, have seen a lot of progress. I am not sure how many of you remember or even notice, but my face used to be different:
Taking a break from stenciling in my hot little studio at the Firehouse, 2007
In the Firehouse backyard/stage area.
Being asked about smiling or why you eat slow with the teeth that I have had for years is like feeling overweight and trying to squeeze into that one pair of pants you used to love that no longer fit. But at least with some body image issues like that, fixing at least the physical aspect of them can be attained free, with exercise. If I could have jogged for teeth, I would have. In a way, I guess I kind of rode a bicycle down the coast for the mental health necessary to finally change my teeth. But even now that I've taken so many of the first steps and come so far, it is far from free. I always felt bitter in that way when other people discussed their issues with me, because I felt so powerless monetarily to change mine, so it never even seemed worth talking about with anyone. It was a matter of class. How do you explain what it's like to a person whose middle class parents bought them braces, who is self conscious cuz they still ended up with a crooked tooth or something what it's like to not even have teeth to attach braces TO? Most of the conversations of teeth I recall in my life with friends were always about how straight or white they were, not how broken they were, not how hard they made it to eat on a daily basis at every meal I shared with them.

Yes, I eat slow. Over the past 13 years or so, this has been why:
In 1998 I broke my first front tooth, #10, while eating a toasted sandwich in the dining hall sophomore year of college at SUNY Oswego, where I got my BFA. I had been fearful of that happening for a few years, never actually knowing how strong my teeth were. The weird part was, it didn't actually fall out, but was still hanging by its insides. (Rakhee, correct me--is it the dentin, or pulp? I can only learn so much from google! I should make you my editor! First student to read this and give me the right answer wins a prize!) Over the next several weeks, it hung on, occasionally popping forward awkwardly toward my lip if I caught it on something while chewing, and I would always secretly try to push it back, until eventually the whole lower portion of it broke off, similar to how #8 in the front in my early pictures on here looks.

I already ate slower than most at that time from molars with broken crowns, all no doubt long overdue for fillings since I was a teenager, but that was different. While it most certainly hurt to eat (OR brush even if I had wanted to) using all those molars with broken crowns where inflamed gums were slowly growing over them, at least there was never a risk of anyone really seeing those teeth, so I basically brainwashed myself over the years not to care, not to have hope, taking Tylenol in pain and silence. I basically just did the best I could with the mouth that I had, like it was a handicap and I had to learn to just "suck it up," like there was no end ever in sight. My front teeth up until that point had seemed to for whatever reason decay much slower than my back ones, so I basically just crossed my fingers and always thought I would somehow get lucky--win the lottery or something, move to NY and become a famous artist overnight, invent some clever thing that made me rich, write a book, etc., and somehow afford magic new Hollywood teeth. Now however, I got really paranoid of eating a lot of things, feeling like the leverage of tearing off a piece of pizza with my teeth, eating big sandwiches or things like apples and carrots would break off more of my other front teeth, cavities slowly creeping in on the sides fo all of them. My second front tooth held on til I was 24 or so. I honestly don't even know when my top premolars snuck away from me in the night and don't think I was really conscious of how little of them was left, now hiding beneath my gums until Rakhee took a series of awkwardly invasive though comical to me, paparrazzi-like photos during my third appointment, complete with mirrors and mouth-speculum-like contraptions, but the loss of each tooth only continued to make eating more difficult.

.I mentioned my solidarity experiment before, where I asked Pinar to count how many times it took to chew a comparably-sized Kettle Chip, the answer being something like eight times more chewing for me. Try to imagine what it is like to do the majority of all your chewing in one section of your mouth with two to three teeth, of what it would be like to split wood with a chisel instead of an axe, and you will have a good idea of what the daily chore of eating for me has been like for years. No, it wasn't always like this--last year I probably was chewing on the other side. It would always fluctuate. Something new would break, new sensitive flesh would grow over the edges of teeth where broken crowns used to be. I learned to chew with my tongue a lot, bananas especially, when I wasn't manipulating my food to that one perfect spot in my mouth I could still reduce it to smaller pieces. I learned to do a lot of my chewing with my hands, tearing things like bagels and toast into smaller pieces before I put them into my mouth, doing the job my front teeth no longer could. I used my fork to chop seitan and broccoli on my plate. I gave up on carrots and the hearts of bok choy in stir frys practically altogether. I would often ask restaurants to cook vegetables extra, which often then made my tofu overcooked and impossible to chew. There always seemed to be a trade-off or compromise. Eating out with friends was already a pain in the ass being vegan for years, but add to that the fact that I couldn't chew hard things or tear leafy things or really eat pastas if they weren't overcooked and every meal for me was often hell. Not only would it always appear that I ate slow, I ate SO slow in fact that when everyone else was finished I was only getting started, always taking half of my meal home. (I also like to talk a lot, which doesn't exactly make eating go any faster.)

I couldn't really eat salads because it was hard to tear apart greens, kale especially, though it was one of my favorites. And how upsetting it always was to have people ask me if they had stuff in their teeth! I always felt like if they had asked me that question, I would have said, "Uhm, yeah...mine are FULL." It seemed like there was always a seed or something hiding in a cavity somewhere that would drive my curious tongue crazy trying to coerce it out, usually rubbing up against sensitive spots that only made me feel like more of an obessed masocist or something. I was, after all, most always in pain. It just seemed to become bearable over the years. When people complained of their own toothaches, it always felt like suddenly there was this ONE "competition" between the two of us, that I was always winning. "Oh, poor baby, with your one little toothache. Big deal! Stop whining! You don't hear ME complaining, do you?" If only...just once...I did. If maybe I could have used those experiences to bring us together, instead of feeling so much further apart. "What if? What if..."

I often would cough during meals, trying to rush, never really chewing my food efficiently enough to swallow it and would often get little pieces of seeds and nuts and spices stuck in the back of my throat. Similarly, I always had to drink lots of coffee with my breakfast bagels and toast to soften them up and wash them down. I gave up on eating popcorn kernels years ago, though as a kid crunching on them was one of my favorite parts about popcorn. I fondly recall my family always sharing and cracking large bowls of mixed nuts during the holidays for weeks, though most nuts and sunflower seeds have also been a thing of the past unless in butter form for years as well. No more big pretzels, no little hard white bready parts in Chex Mix. No gum chewing, or crunching on hard candy canes or lollipops. Jawbreakers literally became teethbreakers. No more stuffing my mouth with a whole mini bag of chips like I used to gorge them down in High School like I was trying to set a world record. No painful ice water on sensitive nerves everywhere. Basically no more raw vegetables at all, with the exception of perhaps tomatoes. On the bike tour, I picked up the habit of eating with a titanium spork from REI that I used to often "chew" foods for me. (Endearing Sidenote: During one of my early appointments, while talking about titanium implants, I remarked that the spork on my hip was made of titanium to which Rakhee took a step back, crossed her arms and got into her "Authoritative Doctor Stance" and yelled, "If I put implants in your mouth you are NOT eating with that thing! You better be washing it!" or something to that effect. I still really want a picture of that pose and serious face to hang on my bathroom mirror to remind me to brush and floss whenever I am in there.)

As you can see, I have been forced to abandon many of my favorite foods over the years, or modify their textures or the way that I eat them. I write this entry, however, as perspective and clarity of my PAST. My diet is in the middle of another ongoing confusing transition (after I already stepped out of veganism last spring after nearly eleven years, and then ate everything in sight while biking down the coast to sustain my energy level to power a fully-loaded hundred pound bike up and down the epic hills of the Pacific coast for four hours a day. I intend to write more of this current stage of pudding and smoothies soon, and discuss the difference between eating with the shards of sixteen broken teeth, and eating as they are being extracted as gums are healing through my seemingly endless procedures. Thanks, as always, for listening. If you got any good smoothie or "soft" vegetarian recipes, feel free to send 'em my way!

Friday, April 8, 2011

Dear Trent

I am sorry if you happened to read my post on a crappy day. I hope you will get a chance to see me more often at the school and get a better sense of my unique sense of humor. :-) I was just giving you crap. Consider it the highest form of flattery from me.
However, I do consider my blog also an important resource of feedback that students no doubt rarely ever get from patients as well, and I did genuinely want you to know, that topical does indeed help ease the pain of needles, however much science may beg to differ. I bet it may even be a placebo effect for some people who have a 100 times the needle anxiety as me, but I still personally would offer for consideration, if it makes the patient feel better, even if it's in their head, just do it.
Okay? Are we square now? :-) Thanks for all your epic work on what will in my head be endearingly referred to as the "Battle of 17." You win the Purple Heart of Perseverence! Or, maybe I will just bring you cookies for my next appointment ;-)


Youtube, Art and Implant Insomnia...and "FYI" Ramblings

I may have faced all my procedures thus far mostly calm and like a hero for the most part, awake and talking and joking the whole time whenever my mouth wasn't full of tools, but...

Why oh why I chose to search "dental implant" videos on youtube before bedtime is beyond me. I have to admit, I don't think there is any other procedure that could be done to my mouth that could look more terrifying on video.

So...which of my friends wants to come film it when I get to that point? Haha. Hmm...

I must say, that as much as we all wish health care was free and available equally to everyone, the more I learn about the process of implants, and all these procedures (or endure them for that matter) the more respect I have for dentistry as an "art" form in and of itself. Considering myself an artist for about 25 years of my life, and a sculptor, mechanic, tinkerer and general person good with tools of all kinds and working with my hands and also X-acto knives, accomplishing ridiculously OCD kinds of creations at times, I have become quite fascinated with dentistry over the past few months.

For all the subtle, unspoken criticism of sorts it seems I have garnered from a few friends for opting to pay so much for my treatment, (as opposed to just going to Mexico, India, Thailand or something?) I frankly must admit, that I think it is WORTH the cost, and one reason of many, is as follows: Given my own prowess with knives and dremels and obsessive attention to detail, if someone came to me and wanted an implant put in a mouth as like, an "art commission," I bet if I had all the tools and training I could do it. Hell, even from a youtube video. It makes sense--I understand all about creating templates as guides, keeping a drill perpendicular, drilling pilot holes, etc. But I would probably charge a similar amount of money given how extensive of a process it is, even to put one perfectly aligned, fitted tooth in a mouth. It would actually be kind of a fun sculture project for me, I think. BUT. It's simply not something I want to get the biggest possible discount I can on. I was excited last year thinking I might finally be brave and go get Lasik when I saw the price had apparently come down tremendously, it occured to me that if that old saying "You get what you pay for" could posibly be true  about anything, my eyesight most certainly was one of those circumstances. When you need to have open heart surgery, do you call around for the cheapest hospital? Really? Maybe see if they will take a coupon you found in the New Times?

After all these years, if I am actually going to finally take care of myself, I may as well do it right. Or, I'll rephrase that: I reserve the right to pay what I choose and have my treatment taken care of by whomever I trust and determine is right for me, because I know me better than anyone, and it is my choice, and no one else's. If you or anyone doesn't want to donate to my cause because I am not going to your dentist or something, fine, but all I ask is that you respect my choice.

Another reason I am not searching for a $3,000 dental drive-thru vacation somewhere, for anyone who is interested in further clarity, is this:
There is a REASON that this happened to me. There are many reasons, in fact. It has hugely affected my mental health and my every action and motivation and how I've lived my life for over half of it. Though I myself am amazed by my progress over the past several months, and all that Pinar and Rakhee and others have helped me, even if I won the lottery and had got a full mouth reconstruction of the one-day implants overnight, I know wholeheartedly, that my own healing would not have come so easily. I am doing this on my own terms, as fast or as slow as it takes. I am writing it out as I go. It has helped me to, for the first time probably in my life, to bring every aspect of my life and creativity into one focus, one higher purpose, for the greater good of my own healing, mentally and physically, and however much I may talk about it or seem positive, it is far from an easy road toward an overnight smile. In all honesty, I am still teaching myself to brush and floss! I am trying to instill in myself each day, a discipline I have never ever had, along with the 100 other things I do each day at work and play all day long. It is hard. It is tiresome. It is frustrating. It is quite often painful, depressing, alienating, and lonely. But I am facing it, nonetheless, the best that I can. And it will take me as long as it takes.
So I thank you all as much as I can remember to--your support means so very much to me, and despite my dedication to the Mesa Dental School, I am of course open to other possible options as the Universe may present them if I deem they are right for me. Though I am certainly "stubborn" and decisive as well, by all means, feel free to still offer suggestions and advice based on your own experiences. Help me continue to reach out, network, organize fundraisers, and get word out if you wish to, but please also...know that I feel blessed and am grateful for the path I am currently on, and that I above all, trust my dentist and all others I am working with. Thank you.
Without Rakhee, I honestly don't know where I would be or what I would be doing right now. I am humbled, moved and inspired daily by her, to keep moving forward. To laugh, to smile, and to remember and to try my best to brush my damn teeth, for the first time in my life.
And on that note, at 3:56AM, I am going to finally try to sleep before I work at 8:00AM and then have my next appointment at 1:00PM. Dammit, brain! Goodnight, my readers. Thanks, as always, for listening. Sweet dreams...