Wednesday, June 30, 2010

There's Some Craziness Out There

I had a part time job while in college at a little newspaper, a real advertising rag, called the Lubbock Retailer News. It was run out of a small house and owned by a family of two brothers and a son, all of whom sold advertising, one of whom wrote weekly hyper conservative columns. I wasn’t surprised when it went out of business; I bailed before it completely died.

The brother who wrote the columns was a fascinating, bigoted, frightening and loquacious old man. It was my first real exposure to people who lived their lives in the midst of conspiracy theories. It was my first real exposure to someone who skillfully hid their hatred behind patriotism and eloquence. The man waxed on interminably about the Tri-Lateral Commission, the Rockefellers, the Jews, the banks, one world government and the Illuminati.

Me, I was young, impressionable and naïve and I had never really heard of any of this nutty stuff. While I had been weaned on Kennedy and Lincoln assassination theories, this stuff was new and bordered on nothing more than comic relief. I would often go home and relate this stuff to Marty and we would just die laughing. As young and stupid as I was I knew this guy took craziness to new heights.

The old man had served in WW II, was pretty old and hobbled by an accident which involved the ground, his glider, and alcohol. Yes, he was a pilot. He lived in the old house where we all worked and I got to see his scars up close one day as he came out of the shower wet, white and buck naked and walked into his bedroom. It hurt my eyes; old men (as I am fast approaching) should never be naked.

I listened to this well educated, erudite old man talk for hours about how the world was coming to an end and how his beloved country was going downhill fast. I heard him talk about how we needed to rise up and fight the evil Tri-Lateral Commission and their insidious one-world aspirations. I heard him amazingly blame the Jews of the world for all of this and how they had taken over our government, the economy and the banks. He really believed the Zionists were trying to take over the world. The man had specifics, he had facts, he had hooey on his side and he was passionate about spreading his hooey.

I actually met a guy from the John Birch society as he came in and brought columns to print in this paper. I was amazed and thought ridiculous the ugliness and bile these two men were spewing as they couched their invective in patriotism. I couldn’t help but laugh at how ludicrous these old men sounded as they talked, they sounded completely nuts.

They actually believed their own tripe, they really thought they knew what no one else knew, they thought they were that much smarter, that superior to the rest of us. I was flabbergasted that anyone could believe anything these people would say. More than once I saw the old man’s nephew and brother just shake their head in disbelief at the stuff that came out of this guy’s mouth. I know they were embarrassed. You just didn’t say the stuff this guy said and certainly not around real people lest they think you a complete crack pot.

Today, things not discussed openly or among people with ½ a brain, are being represented as dire facts and warnings of the coming demise of the good old’ USA. Michele Bachmann is talking about the whole one world government canard when she talks about not wanting to be a part of the world economy. She apparently lives under a rock. Someone should ask her about the Illuminati

Glen Beck and his ilk are personally trying to rehabilitate the John Birch society and raise the specter of communist plots. They delight in hatred, ignorance and just enough fact to scare the Bejesus out of people. Beck is not so different from the old man in my past except what was once comical in its lunacy is now trying to go mainstream; what we once laughed at in its absurdity is now used to bludgeon all of us. Conspiracy theories that were comical in their ignorance, ideas that completely ignored established fact, are now being shouted as if they really aren’t the ravings of the lunatic fringe.

Bachman says she doesn’t want us to be part of the world economy, Steve King inveighs about despots in our government and Beck parrots the John Birch party line about Communists in the kitchen. To these guys Joe McCarthy was slimed and he was right in his witch hunt. We need to say of these people what I said about the old man, they are nuts.

To me they are the ones who we should fear. To me these guys are just as ridiculous as the old man who introduced me to conspiracy theories, but they are worse because instead of talking in hushed tones about this nonsense they are shouting their lunacy at the highest volume they can and couching their hyperbolic lunacy in patriotism.

They aren’t patriots; they are demagogues who apparently only believe in the electorate if they vote for them or in what they and they alone believe. They have no faith in our systems or the American people, they say they do and then they call us stupid and uninformed for our votes. These people are now publicly espousing what most of us would never say in polite company, they are promoting fringe lunacy like it was right and normal. They are just as crazy as the old Lubbock newspaper man and unlike what I did years ago we need to say it out loud, these people are crazy.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

500 Miles for Marty

We are Dalhart bound. For those not in the know Dalhart is like the next to last outpost in the upper reaches of the Texas panhandle. Marty grew up in Dalhart, she went to school in Dalhart, her father farmed and raised cattle in Dalhart, her mother still lives in Dalhart and we make a semi-annual 500 mile odyssey to Dalhart to revisit roots and Mother Jean. We went to see Great and Wise today, had blood tested and the good Doctor passed us as good to go, so color us gone early in the a.m...

It is a long way to Dalhart from our home and for Marty, the only way to go is to drive, so we load up the van with all of the associated appurtenance and drive. It's nine hours, one way, no matter how you cut it, so for Marty and Erica, our caregiver, I have two seasons, yes two, of The Shield; for me I have three books on tape, it's gonna be a real party.

This trip Matt, Sarah, baby Noah, Erin and Lyle (all our children) are flying out to meet us. We all really want baby Noah to meet Great Gran Jean for the first time, it should be interesting to see the interaction as Jean has a bit of age-induced dementia. I suspect she will be thrilled; she is always happy to see Marty and somehow seems to remember Marty's fate.

Marty and I got married in Dalhart; we spent many Christmas's there, at least one white Christmas, a bit of a rarity in Texas. Marty had deep roots there, and through her, I developed a real affection for that part of Texas. Marty's father is buried in Dalhart. He was quite a guy, sometime I need to tell about how he shot me. Regardless of the assault we both really miss him. Marty’s Mom is in a really small, well run nursing home and has managed to do well given her circumstances.

The panhandle is a unique part of Texas, flat, pristine, and clear where you can literally see as far as the eye can see. Farming, ranching and the support commerce for farming and ranching are the life blood of the area and you see cattle, wheat, oats, corn and pivot irrigation systems everywhere. The people there are the people of this country, strong, straight, frank, independent and marvelously kind. That country is a part of Marty and part of what made her who she was and is.

The land and the people provide a sense of connection, a real sense of heritage. That’s why our kids still want to make this trip every now and then. I think our kid’s want to take their significant others’ to Dalhart for this sense of connection. Neither grew up there, but both are proud they have a connection to this land, both want others to know their families history there even though there isn’t that much of our history left. We all still see Dalhart as part of our home, as part of our life, as part of our personal history, so we go back, almost instinctively, like salmon swimming up-stream.

As is our life everywhere we have something of a routine in Dalhart, go see Marty's mom, drive through the country, see family friends, eat out, pack up and go back home. It's hard, its’ something of an arduous journey for both of us, but it is worthwhile.

Marty feels a sense of normal there, she feels like the caregiver for her mother, she feels loved by the friends who come to see her or take her out to eat. Marty remembers there, she remembers her life before, she remembers the snow, she remembers the friends, she remembers how good life was particularly if you are looking backwards. For Marty it’s home like no other place will ever be. Dalhart still has a hold on Marty, me too.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

The Different Martys I See

I watched as Nikki slowly pushed Marty up the hall to brush her teeth. The feeling started slowly, but surely and quickly I felt a real sense of sadness fall over me and grip my mind as I watched them walk by while I loaded the dishwasher. It took a tick of the clock for me to recognize the feeling and just a few ticks longer to understand why it hit me so suddenly.

I see Marty differently on different days , at different times and different situations. Sometimes that seeing, that vision is filled with joy; sometimes that vision is filled with a tangible sadness and regret.

There are days when I see the new Marty, the Marty of the strokes, juxtaposed with the old Marty, the psychologist, wise-cracking do anything and everything Marty.

There are times when I see her and immediately remember what was, what she was, what has been lost. There are moments when I see Marty staring blankly as she is ushered from one room to another and I am flooded with how contrary to her nature this simple act of being moved was to her overall personality.

It makes me think how the old Marty would have hated, literally hated, being moved from place to place, unless she was directing the movement. There are times when I see a flash of old Marty, especially when she asks someone to do something like “scratch”, as in her back. But for the most part, the new Marty is very quiet and agreeable to anything without complaint.

Marty was not a quiet person, she was not compliant; she was not what most objective people would call cooperative. She was maybe the world’s lousiest patient. She didn’t listen to nurses, doctors, friends or husband. I take that back, she listened, impatiently, and then did what she damn well wanted to do in the first place. She was not directed, she was not ushered, she marched to her own beat and pace and more often than not, that beat and pace was contrary to conventional thought and wisdom.

I’m not sure why I would ever be sad at this? As a compulsive people pleaser and obsessive rule-follower Marty’s contrarian persona drove me nuts. I was the one pushing for compliance; she was the one saying, “No, not me, you can do it that way if you feel like you have to.” When I am confronted with what used to be, sometimes it hurts my heart; sometimes it fills me with regret, sometimes I can literally feel the sadness grip my body like a tight glove.

Most days I see Marty as she is today. Most times I watch as Marty is pushed down the hall and I see her “new normal”. I see a woman who is alive, I see a woman who has survived the unsurvivable. Most moments I marvel at the woman Marty has become and how she has adapted to her new world and new life, I see a woman who has accepted her new life with grace and courage and as much dignity one can have when you have lost all of your privacy.

Those times when I see Marty not as yesterday’s Marty, but today’s Marty I feel happiness that we are still together, I feel pride in what we have weathered and confidence in our immediate future. When I see Marty for who she is, not for what I remember she was, I am able to find contentment in our new life.

This contentment may seem a bit incongruent, but it is reality and in a funny way it makes sense. When any of us accept our changing lives, our natural evolution, it makes life better.

Marty is not the only one who has changed, Marty is not the only one who has adapted to her new normal, our new life. I’ve changed too, a lot, and frankly, mostly for the good. On the whole I’ve grown, I’ve become more accepting, I live more and enjoy life more in the moment, I’m much more tolerant (okay, NOT).

It just goes to show you that change is all around all of us and that part of our change, part of our path to contentment, is to try and influence those changes and then accept and adapt to them in a way that allows us to continue to grow and mature. In the back of my mind I can still hear Marty saying we have to live, love and embrace change and growth. In her own way she is saying those more powerfully than ever.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

My Critical Skills Bite

Back in the olden days when I was gainfully employed I worked for one of the smartest people I have ever met. She was Mensa smart, she was quick, articulate, and aggressive and generally about two moves ahead of anything I ever did. Marty had exactly the same personality, so they got along very well, telling me what to do.

Helen was the kind of boss that could drive you very close to crazy and then immediately amaze you with some original solution. I could prepare a proposal for days, I could rehearse in room full of critics, I could have a 35 page, all encompassing, data backed, fact based presentation and within the first five minutes of the presentation Helen would have looked on page 28, found the only hole in my argument and nailed me. I never really developed that kind of critical eye.

I apparently lack this same eye in other important aspects of my life, like my television entertainment. Being an intellectual elitist snob I can't believe I'm admitting this, but I watch American Idol, I watch Dancing with the Stars, I watch figure skating. I know, I know, I'm ashamed, but the first step to a cure is admitting you have a problem, I have a problem. I watch this crap and make Marty watch this crap with me and we enjoy it, what can I say.

These are shows that require a certain amount of subjective judgment and some level of criticism; though I really don't get the kind of hyper criticism. I have read reviews of American Idol that excoriated the singers, the producers, the judges, and I think even me, the watcher. These reviews went on and on about how weak the performers were, how trite the performances were, and how the show has gone to the dogs. Frankly, I thought several of the performers were pretty good, certainly better than anything I could ever do. And when I watch that oddest of sports, figure skating, I almost always think the figure skaters are very good unless they fall on their, ahem, axel. I don't get the criticism.

I watched and listened to President Obama's speech on the gulf gusher last night. Frankly, what I heard was a leader telling us what was being done, what needed to be done, how it was going to be done, and when it was going to be done. What I heard was a man calling us to action to see this catastrophe as a spring board to reform our energy policy, what I heard was a man who spent the end of his speech taking about faith and how it applies to the gulf coast and how we all need faith. Again, I don't get the criticism.

All day long I have heard everything about what President Obama didn't say, what he didn't do, and how uninspiring he was. He didn't whack BP enough, he kicked them too much, he wasn't specific enough, and he wasn't emotional enough. Good god people, am I really that blind, am I really that gullible? I didn't sense any of that; I didn't feel my critical alarms go off at all wishing the President had done something different.

This catastrophe should have never happened. It's pretty clear it happened because of shoddy work, lackadaisical regulation, and penny pinching. The fact that it happened is indicative of a large problem that must be fixed, today. The idea that it can be fixed by the President is indicative of a lack of understanding of the depth of the failures which caused the gusher.

I really don’t think I’m an Obama apologist. I voted for the man and I will vote for him again unless someone I like better comes along, you know, like Sarah Palin or Newt Gingrich, yeah right. I know he has not lived up to the liberals’ dreams, I got that, he is much more of a pragmatist than that, and it’s why I voted for him. His calm, his pragmatic approach to decisions, his intelligence, his willingness to hear all sides are what make him the best leader for this time of daily catastrophe.

I simply don't get why everyone is do down on his speech or down on how he has handled the crisis. He talked about the 1500 ships working twenty four hours a day, he talked about the thousands of people already working and the thousands more being called to work. No one can make this stop immediately and to think BP or the Federal Government or the Norwegians can is just lunacy. It's screwed up and may never be the same again and it's not because this administration hasn't tried hard enough or focused enough. There is no “Brownie” working here, Admiral Thad Allen is one cool, smart dude.

Maybe all of these other people are right and I'm just too soft. I know Helen was generally right, but sometimes she didn't have all of the facts, she didn't know what she didn't know, and we were really doing the very best we could. Maybe that's what everyone is doing now, the best they can do given the intensity of the crisis; it's just not quite good enough for all of the critics and judges out there. I wish I could see that better then I wouldn’t feel so far afield.

Monday, June 14, 2010

Safety in Numbers

I like to watch, I like to look, I’m a bit ashamed to admit it, but I’m a Facebook voyeur. I love looking at all of the pictures and profiles of people I knew 30, maybe even 40 years ago. I confess, with chagrin, I really enjoy seeing how everyone has aged, how many kids they have and what their favorite songs are. I can't believe how some of these people have aged when I look just the same and I can’t believe they all turned out to be Republicans.

Marty and I will occasionally peruse the photo sections of people she knows and it's a great way for her to reconnect. She has some of the same voyeuristic instincts and often provides a running commentary on some of the pictures. Marty’s sarcasm would have made for some classic status updates.

Over the last year I have had the pleasure of finding and reengaging, electronically, with a lot of old friends and one or two old flames. Yes, I did have girlfriends before Marty, I know it's hard to believe that Marty's Husband was a player, or is that playa? Okay, I was a player only if you think George Gobel was a player, and most of you never heard of him.

One of these old flames wrote me a message recently. She said she had found someone, she was happy and she was moving. Besides being pleased for her pleasure and her courage and willingness to take one more leap of faith, one of the things she wrote really caught my eye, she wrote, "my kids and my family are really excited." I take this to mean they are pleased with her reunion and the accompanying move.

I like that her family is happy for her, I like that her family is supportive of her reaching for new things, I like that it matters to her. Families and children can have such a profound impact on our lives, for some it's good, I know for others it can be a nightmare. Marty and I are lucky, for us, our family makes life better.

This weekend Marty and my entire family enjoyed time together at the wedding of Presbyterian preacher Kate and Liverpoolian Lee. Being with my family, my entire family, at these events reminds me of how much I enjoy being with our children, even without the grandchild. Being at these events remind me of how forever connected we are.

As I sat in the chapel and listened to Kate and Lee swear love, faith and allegiance to each other I couldn't help but feel a real sense of contentment that we were all there, we were all together enjoying this one moment in time. The sense of connection made me feel strong; it made me feel things were right; it made me feel blessed that Marty was still with us and we could all be together.

It's strange and a bit wonderful how we as parents move through our lives wanting our children to be happy and wanting to be excited for their life choices. It's equally strange and wonderful how somewhere along the way another aspect of life dawns and we begin to want our children to be excited and happy for our life choices and how we are living; we begin to seek their approval as they once sought ours.

I'm not sure when it started to matter but somewhere along the line I developed this need for my children to approve, to like, to respect how Marty and I are living our lives. They are really good at challenging me to find ways to keep Marty involved and engaged. Some times I accept this input graciously, other times I kind of chafe against the thought of the child leading the parent, but then I remember they are no longer children, they are adults who love and honor their Mom and want to help us with our journey. How lucky we are.

It is a strange and wonderful trip. I’m grateful, regardless of my demeanor, for all of my family and their desire to help us and include us. It makes the frightening choices we sometimes have to make a little less frightening because there is safety in numbers, there is security in connection.

To my red-headed ex-flame, go forth with the support of your children and family; be courageous in your choices. You will survive, you will prosper. You won’t make these steps without fear, failure and challenges, but it’s clear you won’t be alone on your journey, and that makes it survivable.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Checking, Sniffing and Listening

Me, I'm a pulse taker, a temperature checker, a wind sniffer, an ear to the ground listener; I'm always checking my surroundings, people, for clues, clues about health, temperament, attitude,   I'm always listening, watching, and asking in an attempt to know more, to understand better, to figure what is happening around me.  It drove Marty nuts before her strokes, now it drives Marty nuts when I try and figure out how she is doing.

I'm not really self-aware enough to know why I do what I do, I'm just aware I do it.  This awareness is nothing amazing, you would have to be deaf and blind to not be aware of my obsessions.  It is really very apparent....

Me obsessing, "Are you okay?",  "How do you feel?",  "What are you doing?", "Why are you doing that?", "Are you still mad?"  (I threw this last one in as a reminder of the more historical pulse taking).

Marty, today and yesterday,  "Fine", "Fine", "Nothing", "I don't know", "Damn right".

I understand how having someone watch over you, every minute of every day, could be a tad bit irritating; Marty has always been very protective of her space and privacy.  Of course privacy and private space are long gone.  And I'm a big contributor to that,  that's exactly what Marty has to tolerate from me.   She normally if fairly reasonable but every so often I can see in her expression she is saying, "leave me the hell alone", "quit staring at me", "SHUT UP."  

I know I'm hyper-vigilant, I suspect we can call it what it is, I'm obsessed.  But, because of this hyper vigilance I'm aware of what is out of the ordinary for Marty; because I have a D.M. (Doctor of Marty), we  often catch minor illnesses, small infections, before they become bigger.  The Great and Wise calls it my gut feel, I call it my obsession and awareness of our normal. 

Example, Marty has battled some sort of infection for the better part of a month recently.  We know this because we dutifully availed ourselves of the services of the Great and Wise and took blood tests.  We know this because Marty was just a little off center in her energy level, in her cognition, in her awareness.  We know this because I'm  bit hyper vigilant for variances in Marty behavior and I see it, I know it; it may not always be an illness, but I know it's different and we don't really like different.

We have gone through a month's worth of three different antibiotics, one requiring daily injections.  Marty once told my Mom that my shot giving skills were the reason she can't walk, gallows humor while I stick needles in her butt.  A couple of weeks ago we went back to the doctor, had blood test results that were okay but not exactly what I was hoping for.  Great and Wise said he thought things were fine and encouraged me to chill (my words not his).  I deferred to his MD, not my DM, and durn if he wasn't correct, again.  Marty's last blood tests, her recent demeanor, her current energy level indicate she is doing well.  We will do our routine checks again this week.

For today, quoting my eloquent bride we are "fine, fine, nothing, don't know, and damn right." Marty has not had any antibiotics for almost three weeks which for her is good.   It's been a fairly comfortable week since her last blood test giving her a clean bill of health.  I'll take that all of the time but it doesn't mean I'm not watching, listening and sniffing for the better part of most days.  Sorry Marty, it's the price we all have to pay to earn my D.M..