23 September 2009

Betty Draper, House's psychiatrist, and me

I've been absent from this blog for almost a year now. It isn't that I haven't had anything interesting to say -- at least, I hope that's not true -- more that I've been trying to spend more time in the moment and less time thinking about future and past moments. But the other day I had a thought about war that seemed semi-profound, and I was going to write about growing up during the time of Vietnam and, later, M*A*S*H. The 6 o'clock evening news and M*A*S*H were the biggest influences on my feelings about war early in my life, and later in my life, Catch-22 and Slaughterhouse Five were probably the biggest influences.

This was going to be a post about war, and how old a child "should be" when he or she learns about war, but that will have to wait.

Instead, it's going to be a post about losing my father.

As an aside, or a preamble, I watch very little TV in Germany. I watch only the two shows I am willing to buy from iTunes, Mad Men and House. As it happens, the predominant story lines of each show have dealt with fathers dying -- first, House's father died last season, which facilitated his reunion with his BFF (Wilson). This season, Betty's father died suddenly, setting in motion a number of unpleasant reactions within the household. On House, the father of Dr. House's therapist died in the first episode. So everywhere I look, I have Hollywood's role models for how to behave (House's therapist) and how not to behave (Betty Draper, House) when one's father dies. And yet I have no idea how to behave, now that my own father is dying.

Three weeks ago, my father ended up in the hospital after a prolonged episode of having trouble breathing. He's been having trouble breathing for years, due in part to emphysema, in part to COPD, and in part, my sister and I were starting to think, to depression/anxiety. The doctors ran an extensive battery of tests on him, all of which were negative. Diagnosis: nothing is wrong with you. It's all in your head. They sent him home with anti-depressants, feeling no better, and considerably weaker than when he had gone in, thanks to 2+ days of lying nearly immobile in bed.

Two weeks ago, he fell and hit his head. Again, he ended up in the hospital. This time, the prognosis was more serious: dysphagia. It seems that bits of food are being diverted from his esophagus into his lungs, which can (and has, and will again) cause pneumonia, in a vicious and never-ending cycle.

The only solution, apparently, is a feeding, or PEG tube, which he flatly rejected. Therefore, my sister has determined -- probably correctly -- that hospice care is the only appropriate solution. So today, or tomorrow, my father will be coming home to stay with my mother for the last time, and tomorrow I'll be going home to say goodbye to him. I don't know how long it will take a 100-pound 86-year-old man to die of starvation, but I'm guessing it won't take very long.

I selfishly want my father to stay alive at least a while longer, if not for me than for my son, but my sister won't let me be selfish. She's probably right, but... what if she's not? It's like being wrong about the verdict in a capital punishment case.

I regret to say that, so far at least, my response to my father's impending death has not been much better than Betty Draper's response to her father's sudden death. I'm trying to balance out my snappishness with extra doses of hugs and love, but I'm not sure I've succeeded.

I'm (nearly) ready to say goodbye to my father, who has in so many ways been given more than a cat's nine lives, but I worry that my son won't even remember him as he grows up. I hope he will be able to keep at least a tiny memory of my father in his heart.

I am so glad that in recent years my parents and I have taken to telling each other how much we love each other. We were never a very touchy-feely huggy family, and until my son was born, I don't think I ever told my parents I loved them. My mother would tell me how much she loved me, always, but I was never able to say it without feeling like a phony. I occasionally told my dad I loved him, probably because he has been so close to death, so many times, but never my mom, until I had my son, and finally understood how much she loved me. So the last time I spoke to my dad -- which was three weeks, too long ago, because I've been immersed in meeting preparation for the last six weeks -- I know we told him how much we loved him.

Strange how it took having a child to appreciate my parents. What insights will losing my dad bring?

11 November 2008

Into the Wild

A few months ago I read "Into the Wild," by Jon Krakauer, and it affected me deeply. So deeply, in fact, that I couldn't imagine ever wanting to watch the movie by the same name.

Yet, when I saw it in the store I felt compelled to put it in my cart. It is not a movie I want my son to see now or, well, ever. (Okay, when he is a grown man he can watch it. But not before.)

But it's such a beautiful odyssey. A beautiful, tragic, depressing, uplifting, incredibly moving story. It could have easily been about me, or about any one of us.

When I was the same age as Alexander McCandless, I remember feeling everything intensely too. I wanted the moon, and I thought I could have it. I couldn't understand how people could settle for so much; for spouses they didn't love passionately; for jobs they didn't love at all; for small lives when they'd imagined greatness.

Now I think I get it. I think I understand how I might have made a valuable contribution to the world, instead of only looking out for myself*. But it's too late for me. Now
my only valuable contribution is likely to be my beautiful son, so I'm determined to raise him well. I hope I'm up to the challenge.

I once was lost, but now am found, was blind, but now I see.

*In my defense, there was a time when I wasn't sure I could even look out for myself. So by learning how to do so, I felt like I was relieving government (and my parents, or my fellow taxpayers) of the burden.

*Ironically, if my company -- which has been described as "too big to fail" -- goes into Chapter 11 bankruptcy, I might finally get the opportunity to see Alaska, go back to school, become a teacher, whatever. Because once I lose everything, I'll have nothing to lose.

06 November 2008

David Foster Wallace: A Tribute

After reading my blog post on David Foster Wallace, a friend sent me this article from Rolling Stone, The Lost Years and Last Days of David Foster Wallace.

And I couldn't even bear to read it for a couple of weeks. I've been so caught up in the presidential campaign, probably moreso than if I'd been living in the US. I've been eating, drinking, and breathing the 2008 campaign right up until the day of the election. I'd practically been holding my breath, and in the end I stayed up until 5am local time to watch Barack Obama* give his acceptance speech.

And the next day (I was home from work with a lousy cold) I remembered this article, and I read it, because as silly as it sounds, I felt that now that I knew that Obama* would be our next president, I could face it.

I had this -- in retrospect pretty lame -- theory that the ugliness of the American election, and the thought that perhaps his Rolling Stone article about John McCain in 2000 had contributed to McCain's becoming his party's nominee and being poised to win the election (Foster Wallace killed himself during the brief ascendant-Palin period) had added to his depression and he had killed himself at least in part because of it, much as Hunter S. Thompson had killed himself (or so some theories go) because of his hopelessness over the outcome of the 2004 election.

And of course, who knows if that contributed; I sure don't. It's possible that even his mother, father, best friend, sister, and wife don't know. Because who ever really knows what's in someone else's mind?

Anyway, I finally read it, and I cried. (It made me want to erase my original post, although I won't for a variety of reasons.) I'm still angry at him for leaving. I'm angry with him for leaving his wife, and for leaving her like that. I think I'm angry because I can so easily imagine being his wife, or the wife of someone like him, and I can so easily imagine how betrayed I would feel, how bereft, to find that someone who loved me so much could still leave me like that.

And I'm angry with him for leaving the world, for leaving before he could see what might happen under an Obama* administration, and for leaving without taking the time to comment on it for our benefit.

And I'm angry with him for leaving all those untaught students, who surely would have benefited from his fine mind and keen sense of humor.

But mostly I'm mad at him for leaving his wife. And his dogs. That still feels almost unforgivable to me.

But at the same time, I do get that being depressed isn't a choice, and that not being able to get un-depressed doesn't mean you're lazy, or not trying hard enough. And I realize he didn't kill himself with the intention of hurting anyone, but still. But still.

Anyway, if you haven't yet, please read about how hard David Foster Wallace tried to live. And how he wasn't really an asshole at all.

Consider this post my apology.

*And no, I don't think Barack Obama is the second (or first) coming of the Messiah. I don't even think he's the second coming of Bill Clinton, although he might be, and he might even turn out to be better than Clinton. But that all remains to be seen. All I know for sure is that he's not Bush, and in fact might just be the anti-Bush, and that's enough for me.

04 November 2008

Yes We Can!


03 October 2008

Sarah Palin: Word!

An interesting language-related critique of Palin is here, and reminded me of the appeal of a good sentence diagram. Sorta wish I'd paid more attention to that unit on diagramming sentences in 8th grade. (And I should probably admit that, as I move into my second year of flailing about with the German language, it might have actually come in handy.)

I initially assumed this article, "The Poetry of Sarah Palin," was a pointed jab at Palin's stunning and near-constant inarticulateness, but after reading it I'm convinced. Sarah Palin is a poet.*

*Both will require that you sign into Slate.com. Sorry!

01 October 2008

David Foster Wallace: Not Exactly a Tribute

I had the same reaction as one of my favorite bloggers (Skot over at Izzle! Izzle pfaff!) to Foster Wallace's death: You asshole.

I don't care how miserable he was, or how unable to go on. You don't ruin someone else's life just when you're about to escape your own.

It's only a notch above suicide-by-cop or any other form of suicide where people were obviously planning to kill themselves eventually, but first, they take out a few other people with them. The recent WVa killings are in this category. So, depressed fellas (and gals), do us all a favor; quietly kill yourself, alone, where you are certain to be found by a stranger, preferably a cop or someone else used to dealing with death and dead bodies. In fact, why don't you kill yourselves on the front porch of the local mortuary? Save everyone some trouble.

Of course I am a little sad about the students he won't teach (he was, by all accounts, a great teacher) and for the books, stories, and essays he'll never write, and I have nothing but empathy for his wife. But I'm mad about the way I will never be able to think of "A Supposedly Fun Thing I'll Never Do Again" (or anything else he ever wrote) without thinking about his death, and specifically the manner of his death, and I'm mad about the way he chose to leave this earth.

You asshole.

*And to anyone who's thinking, "Oh, you've obviously never been depressed; you just don't understand, he couldn't help himself!" well, you'd be wrong. I've been depressed. I've been really, REALLY depressed. But if I would have ever seriously considered killing myself, I would have considered it my absolute duty to die away from my house, or the house of a friend, or anywhere where it would give people the heebie-jeebies for the rest of their lives, and I would have made damn sure that a law enforcement official would have found me.

William Kristol and the Sarah Palin Problem

For anyone wondering if the right wing of the Republican party has any integrity left, please read Bill Kristol's latest Op-Ed piece* in The New York Times. The answer couldn't be more clear.

My favorite quote from the 1000+ almost-universally excoriating comments which were left in response to Kristol's column is one in which a commenter describes Sarah Palin as "Chance the gardener with a mean streak." I think Bob from New Jersey hit the nail on the head.

She's folksy and simple, and sometimes the stupid things she says sound profound, until you realize that really, underneath it all, what she's saying is absolutely meaningless. But we expect people to make sense, so we desperately try to assign meaning to her words even when it's not possible, and that allows some people to believe that what she is saying is wise, or true, or meaningful, even when it is nothing but ignorance layered with obfuscation and wrapped in snark.

Henrik Herzberg's take
on Sarah Palin's trouble with the English language was also "spot on." (My favorite line, if you don't have time to read the whole thing, is the one where he described her interview with Katie Couric as, "Pronouns wander[ing] in search of antecedents like Arctic explorers in a blinding snowstorm.")

And has anyone seen Sarah Palin trying to squirm out of answering Katie Couric's seemingly innocuous and straightforward question about where she gets her information? Her answer is terrifyingly non-responsive and defensive, eventually ending up in the non-answer "Alaska is a microcosm!", which made me think, "Just fucking answer the question!" I can think of a thousand ways to answer that would have been reasonable, but she couldn't come up with one?

"Alaska is a microcosm." Huh?

Here are 10 answers to "Where Do you Get Your News?" that would have been better than Sarah Palin's answer:

10. I get all of my news from Fox News.
9. I get all of my news from Fox News online.
8. I get all of my news from the
Fairbanks Daily News-Miner
7. I get all of my news from the Anchorage Daily News
6. I get all of my news from the Alaska Journal of Commerce, the Alaska Star, the Anchorage Chronicle, the Anchorage Daily News, the Anchorage Press, the Bush Blade, the Capital City Weekly, the Eagle Eye News, the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner, the Juneau Empire, the Ketchikan Daily News, the Kodiak Daily Mirror, the Nome Nugget, the Peninsula Clarion, the Petroleum News Alaska, and -- of course! -- the Wasilla Frontiersman
5. I get all of my news from the Wall Street Journal
4. I get all of my news from the Washington Post
3. I get all of my news from the New York Times
2. I have trusted advisors who screen over 15 newspapers a day, including The Wall Street Journal, The Washington Post, and The New York Times, and summarize the most important news stories from each one, and I read their news digest every morning.
1. I skim the front page of The Wall Street Journal, The Washington Post, The New York Times, the Anchorage Daily News, and
the Wasilla Frontiersman every day.

Or she could have practiced some of John McCain's famous "straight talk" and admitted that she doesn't read anything; that others read and digest the information for her, from a variety of sources including the New York Times, Time Magazine, and the Anchorage Daily News, and also from several blogs ('cause she's young and hip to the internets!), and that that's where she gets her news.

Anything would have been better than what she said. Whatever that was.

*You'll have to register to read the articles, sorry.

09 September 2008

Single Moms for Sarah Palin!*

Single moms need to unite behind John McCain. Clearly, only the Republicans are supportive of women who get pregnant out of wedlock. Instead of being judgmental and blaming the parents, Republicans accept that sometimes kids make mistakes regardless of how well they were raised, and that we need to support them no matter what.

In addition, only the Republicans are strongly behind the right of an individual and family to make their own choice about how to proceed with an unexpected pregnancy.

Finally, the best thing about the new Republican party: single moms need not feel guilty about all the time they don't spend with their kids. The really important thing to note here is that it's REPUBLICANS who are suddenly the party of choice: choice about what to do about an unexpected pregnancy, choice about who raises that child, and how.

Woot! McCain/Palin in 2008!

*Of course I'm kidding.