; Cwyn's Death By Tea: Ring Ting Tinkling Too ;

Sunday, December 28, 2014

Ring Ting Tinkling Too

Honestly, life would be hell without tea. Especially holidays. Fortunately, I've had some time alone to spend with my tea and nobody gave me any new tea too horrible to drink. In fact I still have last year's gift Trader Joe's Cinnamon tea bags unopened. And my friends have been so incredibly generous, sending me boxes of fantastic puerh samples, always a welcome sight.

In the winter, I drink tea three times a day. Once before the Nap, once after the Nap, and again later on to balance out the other two sessions. From the title of this post, you can guess where I end up after all this tea. Yessiree, lots of water means lots of...

Which brings me to water, an oft discussed topic amongst tea drinkers. My water isn't bad, I don't have scale on the bottom of my teapot, no off tastes, etc. Really if we are going to discuss the effects of water on tea ratings, we all need to be drinking the same water, to eliminate it as a variable. So if we are really going to decide if the Apple Green tuo is a "good" puerh, and try to be anything but Relative, we all need to go out and buy a bottle of Poland Spring and THEN see if we can agree on the tea.

The topic of water and a nice glass of eliminate...then I have my Nap and dream about my friend the late actor Donald Hotton. He too was obsessed with water.

Like me, Don was born and raised in Wisconsin. After college he went to New York as so many actors do, and eventually made his Broadway debut playing opposite Anne Bancroft in "Mother Courage and Her Children" in 1963, playing a Colonel and Soldier. By coincidence, he played a colonel in one of his last films, "Dances with Wolves," you can see him in the opening scenes on a horse, telling Kevin Costner what a remarkable young man he is. Don is probably better known for his film "Brainstorm," and also for playing a scientist in "The China Syndrome." Don moved to Madison when he retired, hoping Wisconsin would be a less expensive place to live than California on retirement money. He and I worked on a few shows together, and I liked to hang out at his studio apartment near the university. Don always had a bowl filled and a bottle of water ready at a chair when I arrived.

"The water is lowering the IQ of people in Wisconsin, everyone is an idiot here," he used to say. "It's the fluoride. I got a dozen homeopathic articles to show you why. You do know I'm a self-taught homeopathist, don't you?"

Don's brilliance as an actor got marred occasionally by bouts of untreated bipolar disorder. No doubt I dreamt of him recently because of my housemate's untreated illness that we've been suffering through around here for months. When Don's bipolar illness got bad, he became more obsessed with fluoride in the water. He was convinced this is the reason the actors are so awful in Madison, and why people in Wisconsin are so stupid, and why he didn't have many friends. Looking down on people is not really the best way to make friends, and at some point nobody cares what Hollywood films you made, sorry to say to all my formerly famous friends. Unlike my housemate, Don did have some awareness about his mental illness.

"At some point I began to realize that if I started running naked in the streets in Hollywood and the cops tossed me in a hospital, that is the sign that I'm getting bad."

Ya think? But like my housemate, he eschewed meds. His method involved locking himself into his apartment to prevent running around naked.

"I've learned I can't go out when I'm like this," he told me, instead preferring to drink vodka and smoke weed until it all went away. "As long as I stay home and avoid cops." My housemate needs to learn this much.

But untreated mental illness, whether it's depression or mania, all of this made it impossible for Don to make many friends. He kept alienating the people he needed most, the actors and other theatre people in Madison. I tried to visit when I could, and we spent several Thanksgiving and Christmas holidays together. He wasn't a boyfriend or anything, but both of us were people who had actually read nineteenth century Russian novels, not just people who talked about reading them someday.

At one point we tried writing a play together, it was supposed to be a debate about the manifesto of Ted Kaczynski, with Don taking the part of defending the manifesto, and I taking the part of opposing it. Actually Don wrote the play, but the final result was something of an unplayable mess. I have it someplace, but all I can remember is how he got more and more manic as our discussion of the material went on, which made me more and more sad. He tried to douse me with natrum muriacticum, which is nothing more than sugar and salt tablets. And he complained the fluoride in the water was ruining my brain. I kept remembering my dad's old saying "It's better to be average," and thought I could probably benefit from a few more glasses of fluoride.

But the water, or the mental illness, finally got to him and Don decided to leave Wisconsin and return to California. Not before writing his own manifesto on fluoride to the local liberal news rag. He sent me a couple of letters in late 1998, including a copy of his medical marijuana prescription, yet another reason to return to California. I lost track of him with my busy life and then finally in 2001 managed to find out he had passed away in April 1999. I called the Humboldt County Courthouse to find out what happened, since he was only 66 years old. The clerk wanted $11 before she'd tell me, and I couldn't bring myself to send it, nor to know what had finally happened. California law doesn't require published obituaries, so I had to dig to even know he'd passed. Last year I noticed the imDB film database website had the wrong Donald Hotton listed, so I got that changed at least with a long letter to them.

In my dream the other day, I'm sending him off on a theatre bus, $25 for the bus ride and a ticket to an Equity show. Guess the dream must be about my housemate, Don, my mother, yet other people in my life I've lost all too early because they won't go see a doctor, they have untreated illnesses and crazy ideas about health and illness. Crazy ideas that went wrong and blew them up prematurely.

If it's really about the water, knowing the truth means we can eliminate it as a variable, just as going to the doctor and getting a blood test means we can eliminate diabetes or mental illness as health problems. We can move on from thinking the problem is one thing, because we've tested it and know that in fact the problem is something else. If water is a problem for determining a good tea, then we can in fact eliminate it as a variable by drinking the same water every time. If everybody tests a tea with the same water, then any differences in opinion are due to yet unknown factors. I have a feeling that the remaining unknown variables are too many and too large, and tea opinions are far more relative than we think. Statistically, our one fact we can know is that water can be eliminated as a variable in order to test if differences still remain.

Aside from this, my only view on water leads right back to Don, to craziness, and to the truth that badly wrong theories lead to horribly wrong conclusions. The correct response is not to stop drinking the water, nor to stop recommending tea and thinking the problem is solved. But rather to examine how to rule out variables systematically and keep an open mind to other solutions. Shutting the door on all possibilities due to only one variable is usually called hasty generalization, and down that path there be dragons.

Now that I've spoken my piece on water, I'm gonna go have me a nice glass of eliminate.

Requiescat in Pace


  1. I was told there'd be puerh served here.

  2. Your post does make me wonder if concerns about variables such as water are really important when the 'receptors' - ie our brains - are so variable (and some downright flawed).
    I wrote a textbook on homeopathic remedies once. When it was finished I carefully washed out every page until there was no trace of any text left, only the memory. After that it worked a treat 😉.

  3. I read your writings and sometimes feel like I'm reading Philip K. Dick

  4. Reading your writings is always an illuminating, joyful, educational, bittersweet, poignant and soul-searing experience.

    Thanks so much for sharing, whether it be about teas, statistics or life stories. Thank you!

  5. I truly appreciate your bringing the imDB citation about Donald Hotton, my first cousin, to rights. I enjoyed your insight and explanation of why I too, had no success in discovering what happened. Thank you.

    1. Thank you, if you wish please email me. I am sorry I didn't see your comment sooner.