Saturday, August 31, 2019

A YEAR AGO MY BROTHER DIED

A year ago Ken, my brother, died.  He was preceded by his wife, Audrey, who died shortly after falling from her high-lift wheel chair, having forgotten to fasten her seat belt.  Ken busied himself in his church but loneliness soon overtook him.  He slipped into dementia and soon died.  It seems that their lives were so intertwined that for him, at least, there was little life apart from Audrey.

Ken came along about four years after me.  I can remember him lying in his crib.  I had a small rubber hatchet and I tried to chop him with it before mother intervened.  I'm sure there are many more happier episodes to remember but that's the one that sticks.  I never learned how to be a nurturing older brother.  It wasn't a conscious decision.  Our lives from the beginning seemed to run in different directions.  We loved each other.  That was clear, but we were never close.  Four years.

Through the years we visited, mostly around holidays.  Audrey was a hugely successful cook and  brought her South Louisiana Cajun specialties to the Thanksgiving table often.  When distance prevented more frequent visits we talked on the phone.  After our parents died there was little to share but we talked a few times throughout the year.  My life took me away and he remained in place.

I wish I could remember where I read it that as long as your name is remembered you are still alive.  Sounds like magical thinking to me but I wish that talking about Ken would bring him back.  Then all those names of all those loved ones, many gone before they should have, come to mind and my eyes cloud with tears.  Ken - I miss you.

Tuesday, July 16, 2019

TO SEE OURSELVES . . .

A current popular pithy piece of high minded wisdom goes like this: What other people think of me is none of my business. Of course, you say, that's obvious. Really? Well, sort of.

Most of us grew up with something like school yard rules of behavior, ethics, protocols and politics. Before any important undertaking it was wise to check out what the "troops" thought about it. By important undertaking I mean something like - Hey I wonder if Sadie would go to the movies with me. Peer feedback was critical. I can remember getting ready for school and making sure my dungarees were rolled up just the right amount, showing just the right amount of sock and my swoop daddy pompadour - (Yes wiseass, I had one.) - was just right and pasted down with a dollop of WILDROOT CREAM-OIL CHARLIE.

What I'm saying is this: It's next to impossible not to be concerned about what others think of you. We all know how futile it is to worry about what someone else thinks but we do it. We want to be loved, even admired. We want to be an early pick for someone's team. I'm not sure that those feelings don't follow us from the school yard to the social institutions of adulthood.

Over the years various of my friends and family have gifted me with rather uniquely generous gifts for birthdays, Christmases and Father's Days which give me pause to reflect on what they think of me and how fortunate I am to have them in my life. Still I am always mildly surprised to hear that someone had been thinking of me. It feels good.

Thoughtful generosity is not usually a physical gift. More often it's something else. Evidences of connection - remembrances - inclusion - acts of love. It's what makes life on this planet worthwhile.

Wednesday, June 5, 2019

IT'S CLEANLINESS THAT'S GODLY - NOT NEATNESS

I've always been a sucker for a compulsive life style.  I know, I know - if you only know me a little you know that the most liberal description of my life style would not even come close to the word, "compulsive" or any of its synonyms like neat, orderly, organized and alas, even dust free!

When I was in graduate school this guy came to the campus selling a filing system that was guaranteed to produce success in anything one would try to do.  Rule No. 1:  Young aspirants to professional success should never buy anything that guarantees success.  I bought it.  It was nothing but a cascading labeling system that someone else thought up and wanted me to adopt.  Of course it didn't work for me or for most of the other people who purchased it.  The guy who sold us on this system probably went directly to the airport and flew to Bermuda for a month.

I admire neat people.  Now and then I clean my large old oak teacher's desk, stupidly thinking this will make me a neat person.  I end up with acres of clean polished surface with nothing but a computer, keyboard and a note pad.  When I look at all that clear space all I can think of is all the "neat" stuff I can stack there.   Then the dust arrives and the spiderwebs descend.  Oh well, I think, c'est la vie.  Well . . . c'est la my vie, for sure.




Wednesday, April 10, 2019

BEING PRESENT WITH HEARING LOSS

Isolation is the dark angel of hearing loss. Yet there are times when I welcome her as the lesser of two evils. Silence versus noise. Pease versus the struggle for understanding. But it goes deeper than that. I've only been treating my hearing loss since 1997. I have, for as long as I can remember, always felt on the fringes of group conversations. There is, of course, no way to check this out but I might have always had a hearing disconnect of some kind. And this could have been more behavioral or developmental than organic. The part that I remember is the feeling that I was being "talked over" as though I were between two people who knew what the subject was and I didn't. My contributions often seemed to be irrelevant or at best, slightly off point. It may not mean a thing but my favorite place as a child was in the crown of an oak tree or in my secret loft. Liking to be alone may be the innocent truth of it, but there it is for consideration. Perhaps I am looking for things that are not there.

When real time profound deafness was added to this history there were the makings of some serious, perhaps unconscious ground-in expectations when experiencing group discussions. I have found that confirming a statement is often the solution as in - "Are you saying the price was wrong or the purchase itself?". What I heard was not definitive, but asking such a question could get to the point easily. It can make conversation kind of clunky but it also can clear up a lot of misunderstanding and keep one in the center of things. It's more to the point that just asking, "What?".

I often wonder what it was like when I could hear it all. I think I remember when I could understand conversations in the "other" room or across the room. I think I can remember the sweet passages of Beethoven's sixth. But can I be sure? It's been so long. Those are childhood memories. Memories of other times.

The thing is, hearing loss is a constant struggle. It's a major feature of one's life and there is something to learn from it every day and it's not often about the past, but about now.

Saturday, April 6, 2019

WE NEED A NOSTALGIA VACCINATION

There's a huge effort going on at our house lately; the effort to get rid of the trash and treasures of decades of collecting.  This is all in preparation for the big migration south - eventually.

I have been delaying dealing with my bookshelves so I decided to tackle them, one section at a time.  Let me say here at the outset, I could empty this room of all the books, magazines and notebooks in twenty minutes with one of those trash chutes hooked to a window and a dumpster at the end.  That being said, the truth is that regardless of my good intentions, I seem to be possessed by some magnetic force that compels me to open every one of those dusty old books to see if perhaps an errant $100 bill was stuck in there to mark a significant passage.  I mean, I haven't touched that section in over fifteen years.  Dust?  You don't know dust.  I know dust.  AaaaaaChooo!

After all the books were in a pile I noticed in the dark far corner of the lowest shelf, mostly hidden by my treadmill (that's another whole discussion) was the corner of a box of some sort.  With some tugging I managed to free it and drag it out.  Old negatives and photographs.  Apparently hundreds of them.  Fifty years worth, if my memory serves me well.  Actually the long term stuff is usually spot on.  It's the short term, "Where did I put that coffee cup?" stuff that's a problem.

I couldn't help myself.  That magnet thing I mentioned kicked in with a nuclear force and the next two hours were spent moaning, "Oh my god" over and over, which, if you listen carefully seems to rhyme with Armageddon.  So the original (and most important) task was sidetracked while I wallowed in the muck and mire of terminal nostalgia.

Meanwhile CA, my partner in life, walked in and I said, "Come here and sit down and look at this!"  Bless her heart, she did just that.  We laughed and, yes, shed a tear as we looked in wonderment at those beautiful young people.  What she should have done was to dump a bucket of ice water on my head to shock me back into the present tense.  By the time this project is over, that will be likely to have happened several times.

So, the first slug of books are all bagged and will be on their way the library, Goodwill or to you, if your resistance is lower than usual.  Just give me a call.  However, I can't promise a dust free transaction.



Saturday, March 30, 2019

REMEMBER FOUNTAIN PENS?

I can't explain it. Decades ago - yea even a lifetime ago I used to write letters and notes with an actual fountain pen. Then I stopped. The ballpoint pen never did work for me. I couldn't read it after it got cold, whereas I could read what I wrote with a fountain pen. And, oddly, I could revisit my scribbling done with a lead pencil. I figured it was the friction that did it. The tactile connection. There was a sensual sensation between the writing instrument and the paper that made for a more contemplative experience. Whatever: it made for a result that was more legible.

Meanwhile, I taught myself to type. It was a long and frustrating experience. Then way back in the early 80s I entered the computer age. Spellchecking. Instant correction. No more erasable bond. White out and overtyping became a thing of the past. I could just write and write and let some digital editor correct my work. It was liberating.

Yet, I missed my fountain pen. I bought one five or six years ago in a weak moment in the dead of winter and the thing didn't work all that well so I laid it by. About a month ago I dug it out and decided to see if I could resurrect it. So I flushed out the pen until it seemed to be working and loaded it with ink. Behold! The thing performed perfectly. Subsequently I have discovered that flushing out a fountain pen is standard procedure. I didn't know that.

I decided to see if I could find a source for fountain pens and associated paraphernalia. I quickly discovered this marvelous fountain pen store down in Virginia that is the most amazing place. It's online only and they only do pens, ink and paper and other accessories to the writing life. Their inventory is huge. The difference between writing instruments now and back when I used one in the fifties is staggering.

You guessed it: I now own a couple more fountain pens. It's fun - that is, for me. My penmanship is pretty much what is has always been - messy. But, and this is the test, I can read it cold and the few letters and notes I have sent out have seemingly been read successfully. I don' know how long this will last but I am having fun. I have some nice quality writing paper and envelopes. And good ink.

Suddenly I discover that I have email addresses for dozens of friends while missing quite a few actual mailing addresses. Don't worry, I don't expect everyone who gets one of my "original" hand written epistles to respond in kind. This is something I enjoy. Whether you do or not is none of my business.

Sometimes I use green ink.

Sunday, March 24, 2019

SPEAK TO ME

Our three way phone call the other evening was a good idea. It was like a visit - almost. However, as usual - I always come away from three way calls and multi person conversations feeling like I missed something. This is the reason I usually depend so heavily on the written word.

Without fail, every time we leave from a visit with friends I always ask CA for a brief summary of the visit. It never fails that I missed something essential. I have all this nice equipment hanging on my head but all that technology does not re-create normal speech. It creates a facsimile - not the same but similar. I do not hear what every body else hears. That's why music no longer works for me.

This is also why it is so important to face me when talking to me. The visual queues really make a huge difference. The environment is also important. Noisy places are sometimes impossible for me. I have lost the ability to filter out unwanted sound and focus on what someone is saying as most normally hearing people can do. That's a disability. I don't like that term, but it wasn't until I accepted the fact that I was indeed disabled that I felt truly empowered to speak up and ask for what I need to enable me to hear and understand.

Of course, it doesn't always work. At times all the best intentions just don't get it done and I must retreat and re-group. In difficult situations the effort to understand and participate is tiring and frustrating. Escape is sometimes the only healthy thing to do.

Meanwhile, I, and millions of other Americans hobble along on our aural crutches: hearing aids, cochlear implants, other assistive listening devices. On level ground I can get along at a fairly good clip. On irregular terrain, however, I might need a little help from my friends.