Thursday, November 28, 2013

"two cheers" for thanksgiving...

family and friends and good food....wonderful things. but like so much of history--american and otherwise--there is the sad and terrible side.  so i ask us all to remember, as we celebrate the joys of the day, that it is built on a lie about european settlers and natives feasting together and sharing everything. our ancestors [literal and mythical] committed genocide against the native peoples.  ugly word, ugly fact. however we may have redeemed the 'thanksgiving' story by how we have lived it among ourselves, we have an obligation to remember the history. and with that, i do wish you all a happy thanksgiving in the present.

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Oh Death, Where Is Thy Sting-aling-aling

let me start this by saying i am in no way an expert on death and dying.  i am not a doctor, or a medical writer, or even an amateur who has read a lot.  perhaps more important, i do not have as of yet any major life threatening diseases.  i have two chronic conditions, asthma and depression, either of which can be fatal, but also, with decent medical  care, can be controlled with medications and to some extent life-style  choices.  i want to emphasize this because i have strong feelings of what i would want to do facing a fatal illness, and that i am  fully aware of the huge gap between what-i-would-do-if and what-i-will-do-now that i have this condition.  however, more important than how accurate i am in self-predicting is that i am [a] glad that more options are being publicized and [b] sad that others are ignored.

Dr. susan love recently posted on facebook a terrific new york times article about doctors with fatal illnesses choosing to end cure-aimed or life-prolonging treatment when their illnesses have reached a clear point of no return.  instead these doctors opt for palliative care that leaves them in good enough shape to live at home with their families and to do the things they want as long as they can.  in place of a possible few weeks longer  spent physically but painfully alive in the wake of  further chemo, radiation, or surgery,  they have chosen quality over quantity.  the article lamented that this option is not more publicized and that the medical profession in general does little to promote it, or even to suggest it to patients as a possibility.

what concerns me, though, is the given that the only options mentioned are the conventional, die-in-hospital-tied-to-tubes-and-miserable or die- at-home-surrounded-by-loved-ones.  there are at least two other possibilities that i would like to see get more press.

does everyone want to be surrounded by loved ones when they are in the last stages of disease, and to be with these loved ones at the moment of death?  maybe. probably more would than wouldn't, given the choice.  but what i think now that i want is to be somewhere far from anyone i know, being treated palliatively by paid strangers to whom i owe no debt of love and who owe me no emotion beyond
friendly, professional compassion.  i want books and a television, a computer if i'm able to write, and solitude.  maybe a nice volunteer to  occasionally share opinions on the tv shows i watch.  mortality is a humbling enough experience; i don't need to be more humbled by the survival of healthy, hovering loved ones. if i'm alone in feeling like that, it doesn't matter if this possibility gets attention. but i doubt that i am--i'm not so original as all that.  nor do i think it's a particularly better way to be.  but it's one way to be.

the other concern is that i think the options of suicide, assisted or not, needs to be addressed. i know it is addressed in articles as a separate topic, but i'd like to see it discussed anywhere alternatives to extended medical treatment are discussed.  that its illegality needs be abandoned is to me a given.  but the stigma needs also to go.  i don't think it's crazy or wrong to want to die, and to effect that death oneself, at a certain point of pain, decay, helplessness.  'who's life is it anyway?' is a very legitimate question.  i don't want to die like my mother did, of an illness that paralyzed her so totally that she couldn't finally let us know if she needed to scratch an itch.  in her more mobile times, she tried, feebly, to smother herself by putting a pillow over her face.  she had no strength to make it hold, even if she'd been allowed to  continue. had she wished to kill herself earlier? we had no way of knowing.  i want the choice of suicide, if i have a progressive and paralyzing disease like she did, and i want the knowledge of  how to do it, with or without medical assistance.

i would hope, as would many of us, that all this would become moot to me-- that like my grandfather, who was a fairly healthy 80-something when  as he was he reaching up to get what he wanted at a department store, had a sudden, instantly fatal heart attack.  like woody allen, i don't want to be there when i die. if that causes some confusion in the transition to the next life, i'll deal with it. immortality must have its resources. meanwhile, if fate decides otherwise, i want a range of workable alternatives, from the right to cling to every last minute of life with every medical treatment possible, to palliative care, at home or alone, to suicide, and to whatever other possibilities  might exist.  in the unwinnable battle against death, let me fall on my own painless sword.

Sunday, November 17, 2013


''This is an excerpt from a blog posted on facebook. The blog is id’d only as Research & HE blog roll, and the article is a take on how various scholarly modes might play out the old  ‘’how many….does it take to change a lightbulb’’ joke:  probably of interest chiefly to people caught up in academia and its language, and old enough to remember lightbulb jokes.

"… postmodernist scholars have deconstructed what they characterize as a repressive hegemonic discourse of light-bulb changing, with its implicit binary opposition between ‘light’ and ‘darkness’ and its phalogocentric privileging  of the bulb over the socket, which they see as colonialist, sexist, and racist. .."

Monday, November 11, 2013

Veteran's Day

I seem to say this often, but it so often bears saying.  I think we should respect the fact that soldiers go to war with the propaganda of chauvinism in their minds.  they are told that they are doing something wonderful for US citizens, regardless of the moral justification for whatever war they are fighting. Once in the war, they kill and they often get killed. they watch their comrades die. they live lives of fear and drudgery and horror. and they come home often with terrible physical and emotional wounds the rest of us can barely imagine.

for those who believe the propaganda, i feel sorrow and respect. for those who go so they can get better education, and/or support their families, and/or offer their children better lives than they have had, i also feel sorrow. i do not feel thankful--at least not towards veterans of any recent war.  world war 2, yes.  korea, vietnam, iraq, afghanistan, no.  i am sad that they have been used as cannon fodder for the rich and powerful in the US, but i am not grateful.

what i do feel that we owe them is far from what they get all too often--help, consistent, steady medical and emotional help for the aftereffects of what has been done to them.  that there are homeless vets, unemployed vets, suicidal vets, vets living in misery and confusion because of the wars they've fought: this is a national disgrace. instead of easy flagwaving and more propaganda, our government should offer as much healing as is possible for the permanently scarred men and women among this much-heralded and little-helped population. for that, at least, i would be thankful.

Thursday, November 7, 2013

Facebook and My Castle Dwellers

when i first got onto facebook, it was for one major reason: i wanted to be in touch with, or at least know what was happening, with as many as possible of the students i'd had at emerson college's semester abroad program, in which i've taught the spring semester for the last quarter century.  although my 'freinds' now include many non-students,  that vast and lovely crew has remained core for my facebook experience.  recently kim. a 1986 student, posted a challenge to all her facebook buddies: explain why you have stayed with one particular facebook friend over time.  instead of choosing one person, i picked all my castle kids.  [that's right: we live together in a 17th century dutch castle].  i got a great response to the post, so i decided  to pretty it up and post it here.

 teaching at the castle has had its ups and downs, so many ups i barely remember the downs. to live among your students, to in some way share their lives--it would be hard to explain what that has meant, and continues to mean, to me. it's actually the decision to get onto facebook was inspired by a very sad event. a few years ago, a castle kid, whom i didn't know well but liked immensely, died of leukemia. the kind of grief i felt was hard to place. i was neither relative nor friend, and i didn't feel the loss of this special young man on that level. but i did grieve, and there was no one to share that with. i wanted to know that from now on, i would have a place to turn if something like that would ever happen again. it has happened again, i'm sorry to say, two years ago--another bright, talented young man died, unexpectedly.  this time his fellow students were there, and i could post my own sadness at  his loss
yet the 'kids' have been so much more. i love knowing what they've been doing. i love when they graduate, and get jobs they like, and marry, and have kids [tough tony from my second term turned beaming daddy, so proud of his kids his smile seems to break out of the confines of his pictures when he posts photos of his family;  patty, who spent so much of her time at the castle pounding the piano, and who is now an international pianist/performer], with their happy and sad news. in some cases, i've gotten to know them on a whole different level than i did at the castle.  i enjoy the teaching that i do at home, and i do keep up with some of those students as well.  but the intimacy of the castle creates a special bond among what the director likes to call her 'castle dwellers,' and that intimacy includes faculty and staff. i have been so very lucky.