Tuesday, September 29, 2015


I've been reading Fields of Blood. With that as a background the mommy and I watched a lot of the pope this weekend.
I like him.
The coverage (like all coverage these days) was filled with hours of watching people waiting for the pope while people talked about how great he is. We clicked away for most of that. We watched most of the three masses and the visit to the school in Harlem. All of this broken up by hours of Mom's favorite show: Blue Bloods. She likes Tom Selleck. She has a hard time following plot lines these days so she likes to watch things that she knows, most of which seem to be cop shows. NCIS is her other favorite. It made for an interesting juxtaposition. Cops. Crimes. Lots of shooting. Blood.
Pope Francis talks a lot about peace. I listened to that as I read a section of the book in which Pope Alexander VI (AKA the Borges pope) orders a bunch of killing.
Armstrong (as usual) is detailed in her description of how violence, politics and religion wound together. Her scholarship is profound and overwhelming.
Every so often I try to wrap my head around the Ottoman Empire. Seriously. I always end up feeling dim witted. There were points in the book when I had to skim because I couldn't take it all in. I couldn't take in the information and the relentlessness of war. It's just always there. It always has been. It's sort of easier to understand how people with limited resources felt the need to protect themselves. Maybe even easy to to understand the desire to use your beliefs to buoy justification of that violence. But it never ends.
I could write an entire post about Blue Bloods. At this point I have watched episodes over and over. Even if I read while it's on it's the background noise for so much of my day now. It seems like they try to take on issues in policing and represent them from different angles but there is a lot of shooting and shouting and twisting of the rules. It tends to wrap up neatly with this one NYC, Irish, Catholic family taking care of everything.
I was a Protestant kid on block full of Catholic kids. I walked toward the public school when they walked toward the Catholic school. The only hostility I remember was when a kid told me I was going to hell because I wasn't Catholic. I went home in tears and my Grandmother dragged me to the kids house to demand an apology. Not terrible hostility. Just the background awareness of difference. Just a mini war. I also remember wanting to be a nun. My babysitter became one and I wanted to be like her.
I was a devoted child. I was a fatherless child. I wanted God. The father. In my adult life I continued to look for God. I wanted an active relationship. I wanted to see cause and effect. I wanted miracles. Now I say I believe in God but I don't know what I mean by that.
If you walk into the nest you'll see a lot of Catholic iconography. I like the art. There are also Buddhas and Ganesha and Shiva and lots of fat women. Ha!
When the pope stops every thing to go and kiss the forehead of a child I tear up. I feel that longing for belief. But there are the problems of belief.
The Saint of Small Type from MarkFiore on Vimeo.
Fields of Blood.

Monday, September 07, 2015

What's The Question?

Mom has been living in retirement communities for many years. Retirement communities are filled with older people. Older people die. It's just part of the experience. Death is always occurring. Surgeries, health issues, medications pepper conversations and every now and then ... someone dies.
You can be philosophical about this. You may not even know the person. Your concern naturally goes to their family. It's such a regular occurrence that you become a bit hyper vigilant but you know you can't be in that environment and fall apart every time someone dies. It's even more true in assisted living.
There was a woman who lived at the end of the hall. If I stood in front of Mom's door I looked into that woman's apartment and some times saw her and some times waved. She would walk around and around the hallway just before dinner and some times looked into our apartment and some times waved. She was almost always the first one in the dining room. I tried to smile and make conversation. She'd smile but she never spoke.
Last week I didn't see her for a few days and then one day her door was open when I arrived at Mom's. It was clearly being emptied. The handy men were there and noticed my startled look. "She's on the other side of the building now." The other side being memory care. I felt relieved but then I wondered why I did. She's not dead. But she's in some kind of decline. Piles of her belongings are in one of the side halls waiting for ... what? Family? It would be bad faith to ask. They can't just be telling other people's business. I did not really know her. Why should I care?
She just seemed so fragile. So dear. So focused on her walking and her dinner. Will she still be? Or will she sit in her room? Is she sad? Mad? Does she understand what happened and why? Does she even have family? Was it her choice?
Mom went into memory care after her sudden, shocking and rapid decline. I chose memory care because she needed a lot of help. But the day we arrived she rallied. She looked around and saw the other people, saw that they were very confused, feared that that was her future and she shook for three days. It was the worst. I left sobbing every day. She didn't remember (and still doesn't) the months of delirium. There are no locks of the doors on that side. Occasionally another resident would wander in. She never wanted to leave her room.
Mom's mind did clear enough to ask for her to be moved to assisted living. But I also put in lots of support structures, most of which are me being there or her being in the nest. Her apartment is small but nice and she has a view of a garden. She's OK. There's nothing wrong with memory care but it isn't as ... private? Or something. I don't really want her to go back but a time may come and I may have no choice.
Jung said, "The meaning of my existence, is that life has addressed a question to me. Or, conversely, I myself am a question and I must communicate my answer otherwise I am dependent on the world's answer."
I'm always looking for meaning. Meaning comforts me. I understand that meaning is a shape shifter but I still love that feeling when something rings true.
On her death bed, Gertrude Stein asked Alice B. Toklas, "what is the answer?"  When Alice did not respond she said, "in that case, what is the question?" They were her last words. Her last words. Does the lady from the end of the hall have a question? Or an answer? Does Mom?
A family member is having some problems and I feel like she's asking the wrong questions but who the hell am I?
When famous people die we talk about the meaning they brought to the world. Or the mess they created. We care. We don't care. We make jokes. We make memorials.
I'm not concerned with how long Mom lives. I just want her to be safe and comfortable and as happy as she can be. My requirements for my own end of life are much too grand. I (like Jung) am arrogant enough to think the world cares about my questions and answers. I'm "chicken scratching for my immortality." - Joni.
What exactly is the question?

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

The Banging Narrative

Way back - well probably not way way but it feels way - I wrote about the day Mom moved into the bad faith assisted living place and I thought I had her settled. Sigh. It was a short post that referenced an essay I'd read in which Ann Patchett takes care of her grandmother. I remember the feeling of finally having time to myself and the reading being too close to what I was feeling.  I pulled a longer quote in which Patchett wrote: Could I do this every day for another five months? Absolutely. Another five years? I wasn't entirely sure. 
Never more true. And. Never more meaningless. Ready or not. The day begins. 
I keep banging into this narrative. I watched Still Alice, which was a self inflicted bang. Although it's about early onset Alzheimer's and Mom doesn't have Alzheimer's. Or they don't know but probably not. She has a fairly normal level of Dementia for her age. These are distinctions without difference. Her mind is shredding. Watching the movie was, again, too close. 
And then I read a piece in The Sun about another ageing mother recently. All this and countless stories from friends and family and people I barely know. Bang. Bang. Bang.   
I feel like we so often hear about the ninety year old person who just climbed a mountain, or who is still working, or leaping tall buildings in a single bound. In the last twenty years of Mom's life I've seen so many different story lines. Some inspirational but most exhaustingly difficult. It's not the level of ability or acuity that hits me. It's the chaos in terms of care. 
Jimmy Carter has Cancer. I love him and I want him to get the best care and he will. And I sort of resent it. Because the whole time Mom was so sick I felt time and time again that I was being told she was old and there wasn't much to do. I had to fight for information. And there were things that could be done. I remain hyper vigilant. Every rash, every mood shift, every bodily function. Is there something I need to do? Who can I ask? Who will care?
Mom is 89 and on no meds. She's really very healthy. She's had multiple joint replacements. She uses a walker but she gets exercise most days. She sleeps most of the day and is always tired. She may have something going on that will be the cause of her death but her new GP spends most of the time during appointments shuffling papers and failing on his lap top. I have to keep him focused. 
I'm not concerned with the length of her life. I'm concerned with the quality. She's safe. She eats well. She has focused care and she spends the weekends with me. She has music therapy and will be having physical therapy soon for shoulder pain. She had her teeth cleaned today. 
Sometimes she's just afraid. She doesn't know why. And I can't help. She seems obsessed with what people think of her. Do they like her? Was she always this way and just never let it show? Or is she just lucid enough to see that she's confused. She dreads making choices. She says, I love you over and over and over and I hear - please don't leave me. 
Can I do this for another five months? Another five years? 
People keep telling me what a good daughter I am. Maybe. But I am also filled with self pity and doubt. I never feel like I do enough and I regularly am not doing enough. There is a list of things that need to be done. I am not getting them done. 
This narrative is everywhere. I'm not even sure why. I guess we are living longer. I guess health care is a new industry. I guess there is only so much that can be done. I guess people my age are in this narrative and we are sharing. 
The end of the narrative is ... she's gone. I didn't read ahead. It's just a given. 

Monday, August 10, 2015

What Bernie Could Have Said

I'm having a hard time thinking and writing about politics lately. Mostly because so much political news is organized around the Republican primary right now and it's just so ... sigh...stupid. We need a vigorous second (or more) party. We need serious conversations about policy. We don't need reality (cough) TV.
I'm a registered Democrat but I don't really identify as one. I just want to be able to vote in a primary. And the political news on that side isn't inspired.
Yesterday there was a lot of chatter about Bernie Sanders being interrupted in Seattle by a group of Black Lives Matter activists. I'm not interested in talking about whether or not they should have interrupted him. Because. Ya know. Why not?
Sanders said - I am disappointed that two people disrupted a rally attended by thousands at which I was invited to speak about fighting to protect Social Security and Medicare,” Bernie Sanders said in a written statement. “I was especially disappointed because on criminal justice reform and the need to fight racism there is no other candidate for president who will fight harder than me.
That feels like old tired White whining. It makes me tired.
All lives matter? Of course they do. Saying that now is completely beside the point. Because right now we are trying to focus on the systems of social injustice that encourage the deaths we seem to hear about every single day. Deaths at the hands of people who are supposed to protect and serve. Death when someone knocks on a door in the night to ask for help. Death when someone doesn't like the sound of someone else's music. It's not new. It's the original sin of our country. Men wrote lofty ideas about liberty while owning slaves and ignoring the men and women who had been living on the land they were claiming as their own. Our founding declarations and documents are like a palimpsest. Something had been written underneath. We built systems of law, property and commerce with our original sin in the background. It is the exception in our exceptionalism.
This is a specific time with specific characteristics. It is true that Sanders articulates politics with which generally agree. I'm not overly excited by his campaign. He is more progressive than Clinton but so was Obama. I feel like Obama got more done than he is given credit for but he hasn't been able to do as much as as he could and life inside the beltway has not changed much. It's a system that will take so much to repair. Sanders has a great critique of that system but he has been part of it for years.
Sanders could have said - I know that as a White man living in this country at this time I have had access to opportunity. As a result I am here today with a public platform. I'll have lots of opportunity to express my opinions and put forth my political agenda. I've been on national television and I will be again. I'm happy to let these young people have this platform at this time because they are expressing things we all need to be thinking about right now. Especially today on the anniversary of the death of Michael Brown. I'm sorry if the people who came to hear me are disappointed but I encourage you to listen. I encourage you spend some time every day thinking about what the Black Lives Matter movement is saying and why it exists.
If he had said that (or something like that) he would have been truly, deeply progressive. It would have been a moment in which he could have modeled an active awareness of the need to set aside rhetoric (Social Security and Medicare) and listen to each other.
So today he has a new plank in his platform and a new hire. And OK. What ever. Yeah. Yeah.
There may be a conversation about tactics but I'm not interested. I am interested in conversations and demonstrations of real leadership. Really, the head pounding coverage of you know who is numbing. But the moment when two young women of color take the stage and are met with "disappointment" just pisses me off.    

Sunday, August 09, 2015

A Girl Walks in a Bar

When I was three or four or five I was walking down West Liberty with my Uncle John. Maybe we were walking home from church, or maybe we went to Islay's for chipped ham, or maybe we were just walking. I was following him, keeping my eyes on his pant legs in front of me. I must have looked off for a minute.
I remember there was a hobby store on West Liberty with plastic models in the window one of which was a scene from the Pit and the Pendulum.  There was a man tied to a table and a pendulum swinging above him. There was another man watching. I think he was a monster but I'm not really sure what I mean by that. I had not read The Pit and the Pendulum. Still haven't. But I was always compelled and terrified by that model. What would happen to the man on the table? I might have been looking at it.
I looked back and started following the pant legs in front of me, which turned and walked into a bar. I didn't really know it was a bar. I remember looking up and seeing a bunch of men staring at me. My Uncle John walked in, laughing and asked if I wanted a beer. Everyone laughed.
For some reason this story is in heavy rotation in the mommy's head this week. She tells me over and over and over. Sometimes she thinks she dreamed it. She adds and subtracts details. There is no doubt my very Methodist grandmother would not have been happy about it. Some times (in Mom's version) Uncle John tells me not to tell her. Some times he swoops me up and carries me home.
My own memory may contain falsehoods. I remember the pants and looking up and Uncle John laughing.
I've always loved bars.  

Wednesday, August 05, 2015


Activity trackers worry me. They feel like they're one of the systems of control we are all baked in every day. I always worry about obsession with numbers as opposed to ... experience. In other words if you do some kind of exercise and it feels good then isn't that enough to make you want to do it again? Isn't that better than holding to a random metric? I could go on and on.
I love gadgets.
There was a commercial in which a woman is swimming and then she puts a disc on her smart phone and gets ... DATA!!! Ooooo. What's that? Google?
It was a Shine and at the time of the commercial it wasn't even available. But because I had searched for it I'd see ads for it and ads for similar things and finally (after many months) I decided I wanted it.
I was interested in tracking my swim and my sleep. I've wondered if I have Apnea although I doubted it because I'm usually awakened (or kept awake) by pain, needing to pee and my yammering brain. If I stop breathing the other things will likely snap me out of it. And I'm not really sleepy all day, which I understand is a symptom. Sometimes in the late afternoon I crash a bit but I don't feel like I have a big problem. And the Shine has more or less confirmed that.
It has a three color graph that reads dark for restful sleep, lighter for light sleep and really light for awake. I always wake up at least twice a night (more if the mommy is in the nest), I usually sleep between 6 and 7 hours a night, about half of which is restful sleep. If you stacked up all my graphs for a month it would show that I don't really sleep the same way every night. The mommy has an impact (not a good one) and I usually have a "recovery" night when she goes back to her apartment.
I was a little disappointed in the amount of data on swimming. Shine makes you set a activity point goal. I set a really low goal. I make more than my goal during the time I swim. On days when I swim I usually more than double my goal. But on non swim days I sometimes don't make it, or I barely make it. On mommy days I usually make it. There's always "activity" related to her care. There have been some -uh- funny moments.
When I first got it I was manically checking all day. One day I arrived at the evening (AKA the time I stop moving) and I was kind of far from my goal. I checked after every trip to the bathroom. I washed dishes that might have left in the sink. I fidgeted. Squirmed. Checked. I made it. There's a commercial right now for the Apple phone (I think) in which people read the activity tracker and react. The last scene shows a fellow obviously ready for bed when he checks in and sees he hasn't quite made his goal so he snaps up and does some jumping jacks. It makes me smile. Or is it a grimace?
Remember that exercise thing in 1984?

I discovered that I get slightly more points when I read than if I watch a movie. One night I was settling in for a movie and noticed that I felt OK about it because I had been to the pool and was way past my goal. That's exactly the kind of thing I do not want. I do not want plastic and metal determining how I feel about anything, ever.
My Shine broke after a month. They replaced it but it took a week so the addiction broke. I stopped all the checking. Until yesterday. I was hyper and bored. I checked in the morning to see my sleep chart. I checked right before I went to the pool, which I often do just to see where I'm at. I checked after my swim and saw that I was past goal. OK. I usually don't check again until the end of the day but yesterday I kept finding reasons to check. At some point I saw that I was close to doubling my goal and got hyper again. (Made it!)
The good thing has been that I now do some yoga every morning. Not much. And the tracking on yoga is really weak. No real data. Basically you tell it to record that you did yoga and it does. I have no idea why this record that no one but me will ever see has created the space for me to do something that I love but can't get it together to do. I do understand how documenting creates awareness.
When I first started the yoga I was so stiff. I'm having more joint pain lately.  A few months later I stand a little straighter. I can't overstate how small the amount of focused yoga I do is but it does cause me to stretch more often during the day.
So that's good.
The Shine gives you a calories burned number for specific activity and the day. It seems a bit off. Either way to high or not high enough. You can take a picture of what you eat and add it to your day but there's no data. I took a picture of my French toast one day. It was pretty. I'm not dealing with calories.
And you can record your weight, which I do when I'm at the doctor's office but I am not going to do on a daily, or weekly basis.
I am a bit - oh I don't know - annoyed that I get the same amount of points for a day that I do for an hour in the pool. But it does make sense. I have some pain on the pool but not anywhere near what I have outside of it. My activity graphs are spiky. I get up and do as much as I can before it starts to hurt and then I sit down. Wait for the pain to abate and then get back up. So it does make sense. And it doesn't really mean much.
Funny also. I realized as I was writing that I mention commercials twice. Systems of control?

Thursday, July 09, 2015


A notice popped on my phone to let me know that a friend had posted a photo. This friend posts a lot of pictures on all the social media sites. I found myself wondering if they had them saved to a disc somewhere. Or even printed out. I imagined all those photos like leaves strewn across the landscape of the web. Some in places where no one goes.
I had to renew fatshadow.com the other day. I have always intended to have that be the address for this blog but I don't seem to be able to figure it out. I'm sure it's not hard but I just get cross-eyed reading the directions. I hesitated because ... who cares? I don't write often enough to build readership. My posts aren't focused. I spend much of my writing time doing things related to Mom's life. So ... who cares?
But there's all that old writing. I don't read it. I doubt anyone else does. Sometimes I get email telling me about a broken link and a service I can get to repair all my broken links. Uh. No thank you. All that old writing. Sigh.
I now have photos of my maternal family line going back to my great grandmother and grandfather hanging on my wall. I like it. Mom likes it. I think my grandmother would like it until the wedding picture of my mom and dad. Heh. I wonder if my great grandfather and grandmother would like it. Did they imagine those pictures always on a family wall? I wrote about the picture of my great great grandfather. Ahhhh... old writing. Safely preserved. Interest in that line stops with me. I have cousins who have not shown interest in the photos. They have kids who might some day. So...who cares?
I should have pictures of my paternal line and I don't really know why I didn't get them, or if they still exist. And? Who? Cares?
On the same wall is the sibling section. There is a picture of my maternal grandfather's family and my maternal grandmother and her sisters. My maternal grandmother had strong feelings about preservation and documentation. She took a picture of her kids every year for sixteen years. I found them so charming that I framed them. Every time Mom walks by them she stops to look.
I always knew I'd have these pictures some day. Moving Mom to Hood River accelerated the flood of family stuff. Most of it I love but there is a storage locker filled with things I'll need to sort and I am NOT looking forward to it. Some times I look around and imagine the person who has to sort through my stuff.
We are star dust.
Strewn across the landscape.
And still I worry about all those photos. That picture of the coffee and scone in that cafe. The one where the young woman is holding a cat. All those pictures of toes.
Is preservation participation? Or materialism? Or attachment? All of that? None of that?
After natural disasters in which people's homes are destroyed they almost always mention the family pictures.
There is also a picture of me that Valerie took and printed out quite large. I love how she saw me. In it I look a bit sullen. Maybe pensive. Or ironic. It fits the mood of the wall for me. These are my people, my lineage. But I don't completely relate, as it were.