Birthday Party at Age Eighty – Nothing in the World Like It.

March 9th, 2019

#aging #elderly @octogenarian

        Writer John J. Hohn

Eighty! Eight-Zero, brother. Now that really is old. Old as dirt  I remember a television program that was on  in the 1950s called, “Life Begins at Eighty.” It featured a panel white haired nonagenarians so perky that the audience almost believed an ancient truth was embedded in the title of the show. But they were old. They sounded old. The looked old. There was damn little about any of them that looked as if life was beginning for them. Life, if anything, was shuffling at bedroom slipper pace to the hospice center. Everyone watching knew it.

Back then, of course, people in the eighties were not as common as today. bypass surgery, diet, pharmaceuticals, exercise, less strenuous chores around the home, stretched out expectancy tables. Life expectancy for a male at in the middle of the last century was 70 years. By the start of this, it had gone up nearly 10%. And, maybe, just maybe, 80 is not as old in the twenty-first century. It’s hard to tell.

I was sitting in the waiting room to my doctor’s office not long ago and a young man came in with an old gent I took to be his farther. The old man was hobbled and bent, struggled with a cane, seemed mildly confused by the signing-in process, all under his son’s watchful eyes, until it was time for them to be seated. A nurse called out a name, and the old guy struggled to his feet, nodded to his son, and tottered off to be examined. “Your dad?” I asked the younger man. .

“Yeah.”

“Looks like he is struggling a bit. How old is he?”

“Seventy-four.” Good grief, I thought, five years younger than I. I felt sorry for the old man.

“There’s a great difference once people hit seventy,” my internist said when I my turn came up to be called into her office. “Some age quickly and others hang on to a youthfulness that defies medical science. You, for example, you are one of those.”

“But I have had my problems. My siblings did not live as long as I.”

“Yes, but you had surgery and rebounded from it. You have maintained a healthy weight. Your color is good, and it’s my job to keep you alive for the next twenty years.”

The Finish Line . . .

Oh, that’s right. There it was. The finish line. Twenty years. Twenty more years. I should put up a chart and start checking them off as the years pass. Yeah. I’d settle for twenty. Every day comes the thought that I’m running out of time. I wrote about it once before. Life is like being in a boat on a huge lake. You notice time passing as you move away from shore, the years of childhood, and as you approach the beach on the opposite side of the water, the end of life. But while you are out in the center, you bob along blissfully unaware that you are burning up your most precious possession – your time. At 80 or sometimes sooner, time becomes more valuable. The amount left to you becomes palpably short. I quit playing full court basketball at the YMCA just twenty years ago. Those years went by like an afternoon at the beach. If the next twenty go as fast, I’d better focus on what is left. No cancellations accepted. No postponements. I’m due to report when called and that’s all there’s to it.

     On the set to Love Letters 2/19 Acting is still important to me along with my writing with a boyhood picture behind me. 

I can hide out in moments when I am contented. When I am writing. Rehearsing for a play. But the reality of time running out inevitably returns to consciousness. I always want more. I love my life. I imagine I always will want more unless stricken with some horrible degenerative disease that steals my vitality one cupful at a time. Vitality doesn’t go away but the holding tank gets smaller and supplies less with each passing year. There is no brimming of the reserves any more. When once I could work ten to twelve hours building a lakeside cabin in Wisconsin, now forty-five minutes behind a lawn mower exhausts me. I like working with a chain saw cutting firewood for living room fireplace. I hold up for about an hour, ninety minutes tops, on a good day. I pace myself. Cut a log. Stack the log. Find another log. Cut it. I set up a rhythm to the job to enjoy it and so I will last longer. I want to decide what kind of log I have cut by its color, its scent, and its grain. I don’t want what I am doing to be rote labor, mindless, eager to finish. I want it to be the    fullest experience I can have and not rush through it as I may have as younger man, eager to be done with it so I could get on to something else. Theirs is no something else when you are old. Where you are is what there is. Perhaps it should always have been so.

At the moment for me, the world holds nothing more exciting than knowing that I am cutting trees that were once living, thriving beings. They were cut down and now I am making them into fireplace length logs so that on a cold afternoon I can sit with my wife and ponder the mystery of fire and of being together in the warmth. There is no yet-to-be discovered rhapsodic love awaiting to make the spirit soar and pour into the soul a sense that life is now realized at its fullest. That is the foolishness of young people. The foolishness of my own youth. The foolishness of great literature because humans keep going for the same old bait, the same illusions. Everything ends. Even the greatest love stories tell us the end awaits. Others do not fulfill us. It our job to find our own way. Others help. Affirmation along the way is a powerful thing, but it is our job to believe, to feel worthy. Love nests best in a healthy spirit, one eager and capable of giving as well as being grateful and open to receive.

A Gift . . .

Love is a gift. I don’t understand it. I do know what destroys it. I know what I can do to deepen it and help it grow. The love I feel for another is greater than any capacity I have for producing the sense of gratitude, well-being, and personal affirmation that are the attributes of love as it lives within me. Love is greater than anything I created all by myself. I didn’t. But it is no accident either. Over the years we have been together, my wife and I have attended to our love for each other with consideration, tolerance, humor, affection, and respect. I start my eightieth confident my wife loves me. She loves me more after 35 years of marriage than she did when we first started going together .I love her. I can look back and enjoy the memories of our years together and find them enduringly pleasant, but memories do not hold up against the joy of seeing her come back from some errand and eager to show me something she has picked up while she was out.

Having my children here to celebrate my eightieth is nothing short of glorious. My love for them has deepened over thy years. I have, with each of them, survived threats to our relationships. Misunderstandings, Hurt. Anger. But we weathered every storm and came through stronger in our affection and respect for one another. “Children” no longer fits for any of them. They are my sons and daughter. Progeny. That’s the word for it. They are wonderful, grown, immensely capable humans. I am proud of each one of them, my stepson as son among them.

At lunch this week, a friend who has known me for at least 30 years, said, “You have nothing to prove.” He was sincere and his words drifted down into the quiet pools of my inner-most self, and I felt at once humbled and grateful. He spoke the truth. Eighty is on the downward slope. The deference and respect accorded a long life are one thing, but knowledge that, Holy Cow, things really have worked out for the best. That there is little else I need do. Everything worked far better than I could ever have imagined. All is surely part of me, but in the end far beyond my capacity to put in place all by myself.

Love Letters by A. R. Gurney – Gurney Got It Wrong

February 25th, 2019

#loveletters #argurney #theater

John J. Hohn

Love Letters by A. R. Gurney has been around since 1988. Many stage and screen luminaries have appeared in it, directed it, or been involved in its promotion. Widespread acclaim for the play – a Pulitzer Prize nominee – surely is due, almost exclusively, to the story line. The play follows Andrew Makepeace Ladd, III and Melissa Gardner, two rich kids born to privilege, throughout their lives and the audience learns of their romance, respective marriages, and career twists and turns through letters they have written one another over the decades. The play ends with Melissa’s death. Audiences find it moving. Death usually is. The death of a loved one all the more. Andrew is abject with the realization that he has loved her all along.

Actors love it because they do not need to memorize lines or blocking. They remain seated throughout, reading from the script, and that’s where the trouble begins. Both characters have kept letters they received from the other, kept them since childhood, kept them through hospitalizations, marriages, deaths in the family – you name it, both of them kept everything. Maybe not a major premise, but a shaky one certainly, and audiences give it pass quite easily. But Gurney asks more.

Not as logic would have it . . .

The play begins. Andy and Melissa start reading letters. Andrew reads letters he wrote to Melissa’s and vice versa. But hold it! It would not work that way in real life. Logic would have Andrew reading letters he received from Melissa. Not those he wrote. His letters would be among Melissa’s mementos. He wouldn’t have them in his possession. But he reads them anyway. No matter, the audience buys in, probably because they haven’t time to think through what makes no sense at all. Or maybe they think that each character is hearing the other in the way the letter is written. So Andrew is the voice in Melissa’s head as she reads, in other words, and Melissa the voice in Andrews.

Gurney himself admonishes actors that there should be no baby talk. When Melissa reads Andrew’s fifth grade note asking her to be his valentine, she hears as it is being read by Andrew as a grown man. The decision confronting the director and cast is how the voice is to be heard in the mind of the recipient. The time of the play is the time the letters are read; not the time they were written. The language in the letter, however, remains the language of the character the age the letter was written. Each focuses on interests and events common to the given stage in their life at the time, yet the voice is that of an older adult. The audience presumably is transported to the mind of recipient. But is it? If it were, the reading would be colored by the memory and feelings of the recipients. What the audience gets are the emotions of writer, not the reader. Confused? It’s usually enough to ask an audience to suspend disbelief. Gurney asks it to abandon their commonsense.

In short, this convoluted artifice puts the letters back in the hands of the author with a voice that is not the voice in the mind of the recipient but read in real time as Gurney directs, “as older people.” Little wonder that Gurney’s notes are tossed out at this point and directors decide to let the show unfold as it will. The playwright hasn’t though things through. The trick is to keep the audience engaged in spite of everything. Somehow it works, although only because the action moves so quickly that audience members do not have time to think.

Gurney got it backwards. He should have let Andrew read the letters he received from Melissa and Melissa do the same with Andrew’s. The letters should be with the person who received them. The audience would see and hear the recipient’s reactions as readers moved into reverie and the emotions as events are being recalled. There would be no problem with the time frame then. All would be in the present. A director might attempt this but it completely violates the script. It amounts to a total reversal in the assignment of lines. Just the same, it’d be one hell of a play if done that way.

Gurney writes “Trust what I have wrote, perform it as written, and all will go well.” Sorry A. R. While it is true that the drama keeps moving forward despite serious flaws in its premise, there’s lots and lots of trouble in the script. Experienced actors have a practiced default manner of reading anything. It’s their cruise control, a disciplined pacing and cadence that allows the actor to look ahead a phrase or two at a time so he or she can veer at the last moment to avoid trouble and make sense out of things. Cruise control is for freeway driving. Gurney’s script is a twisting, back country trail pocked with potholes. Veer away from one and the actor will slam into a second jarring washout. The most accomplished, agile first-time readers will trip up. Absolutely.

Trashing his own convention . . .

Furthermore, as soon as actors catch on to the rhythm of the correspondence and the back and forth exchange at least mimics reality, the action heats up, and Gurney lets his convention of exchanging letters disintegrate into dialogue. Never mind that the correspondents may be continents apart, they snap at each other in rapid fire that completely destroys any illusion they are communicating in writing. A better playwright would have had the characters meet somewhere or at least on the telephone for the emotionally charged exchanges. This is gimmickry. Gurney trashes his own convention.

Author on the
       Love Letter Set

As for trusting what is written, actors will be challenged by Gurney’s run-on sentences, clumsy syntax, and an affection for cliches. His characters are not eloquent. Andrew, who prides himself in his writing and writes all o f his life, as a man established in his profession retains the hand of a 9h grader when he writes in his climatic, closing speech, “I don’t think there are many men in this world who have had the benefit of such a friendship with such a woman.” Really? Such a sentence! This from a guy who made the Harvard Review. Or mix a metaphor now and then and throw in a cliche.. “I guess what I was really saying as far as my family is concerned, we’re all managing to hold our heads above water in this tricky world.”    Again, that awkward tangled statement belongs to Andrew. Then there is the oxymoron in the line he pens as if blurting it, about Melissa death “. . . fills me with an emptiness.” The passage isn’t a rhapsodic contrast of opposites to make a point poetically. There’s no evidence anywhere in the script that either Andrew or Gurney are capable of the poetic. This is just damn poor writing.

Then, as if Gurney isn’t sure audiences will get his message, he has Melissa, a wildly imaginative artist, throw out the bromide, “Keep your eye on the ball.” To which Andrew, somehow incapable of catching her drift, is forced to ask, “What ball?” – easily the most vapid line in all contemporary drama and perhaps the most challenging because of it. Melissa then expounds, ah such wisdom from her suffering, that money isn’t everything. If Gurney had any confidence in his writing, he should have recognized he has made his point many times over. What he lacks is confidence in his audiences, and the exchange in question is an insult to their intelligence.

Love Letters in the end is a lazy playwright’s product. Why worry about staging or challenging a director over lighting and set design? Or challenging the actors with emotionally charged confrontations. Even his allusions to the Land of Oz make no sense. At times they mean the years when the characters were young and innocent and full of hope. At other times, Melissa returns to Oz which stands for her receding into her mental illness and addiction problems. At another point, Melissa refers to their early life in Out Town (Yes, it’s capitalized in the script.).Oh, wow, A. R. read Thornton Wilder. No symbolism here. No point in trying to makes sense out of it.

Given everything, Gurney seems to suggest that actors need not study their lines too assiduously, that his play is a walk-over, a sure ringer. There have been disasters for some unwary professionals who took him at his word and found they were not prepared for the awkwardness of his phrasing and dodgy syntax. He discredits his own work in these statements. The key to the understanding and depth of both characters are embedded in the script in surprisingly thoughtful and insightful ways. Much of the humor is in the exchanges between the two characters. It lurks in the timing and a change in tone, difficult as both are to maintain in a sense that everything is a correspondence. A couple of read-throughs will not do it. The characters make the play. They, ultimately, keep his script afloat despite all the playwrights gimmicks and refusal to create a structure that demonstrates a command of the art form. It’s all very dramatic without being drama at all.

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Poetry 101 – Making Sense of Modern Poetry

March 8th, 2018

#poetry #literary #robertfrost #dylanthomas

At one time, in order for a composition to be considered poetry, it needed to be rhymed and presented with a consistent cadence. Robert Frost’s “Stopping by the Wood on a Snowy Evening” is a fine example.

                  Whose woods these are I think I know,
                  His house is in the village though,
                  He will not see me stopping here,
                  To watch his woods fill up with snow.

Frost’s revered poem is accessible, a quality often lacking in contemporary poets. Notice the rhyme scheme in the stanza above. The last work first, third, and fourth lines rhyme. Also, there is a definite cadence to each line. Read it outloud and you will hear four beats in each line as ta-dum, ta-dum, ta-dum ta-dum. Contrast Frost’s verse with Dylan Thomas’ wonderful reverie, “Fernhill.”

             And nothing I cared, at my sky blue trades, that time allows
             In all his tuneful turning so few and such morning songs
             Before the children green and golden
             Follow him out of grace.

           Nothing I cared, in the lamb white days, that time would take me
           Up to the swallow thronged loft by the shadow of my hand,
           In the moon that is always rising.

Gone is the rhyme scheme. Thomas’ lines vary in length. There’s no fixed rhythm. But there is no lack of musicality to his verse. Read it aloud and you find it flows. The rhythm is inherent instead of imposed as in Front’s poem.

Paraphrasing Frost’s poem is easy.

I know the guy who owns these woods. He lives in town so he can’t see me stopping here to watch the snow falling into his woods. 

Paraphrasing Thomas’s work is a bit more difficult. But attempting it might yield something like the following:

When I was a young boy playing around the farmhouse and fields near it, I didn’t realize that I was growing older and moving on toward adulthood. I didn’t know the delightfully was I was spending my days would one day come to a stop. Life becomes less carefree. The transition is very gentle but inevitably delivers all  to the busy, sometimes frantic, world of adult life where the moon still shines as a reminder of childhood.

Frost spends three lines out of the twenty talking about the man who owns the woods, and yet for all that, the man is not mentioned again. Thomas packs more meaning into each line, but in doing so, becomes less accessible to the average reader. Further, Thomas repeats the theme of a carefree and innocent boyhood several times in words and phrases like “my sky blue trades,” “so few and such morning songs,” “children green and golden,” and “lamb white days.”

John J. Hohn – Writer,

In the opening line, Frost forces his syntax to meet the demands of his rhyme scheme and set iambic cadence. Thomas has a rhythm to his delivery also, but it is not an inflexible regimented pattern. The rhythm, or flow of his lines, reinforces the meaning of the words and phrases being used.

Finally, both poets use numerous poetic conventions such as alliteration, consonance, metaphor and personification. Both deal with the universal mysteries of the human condition; Frost with the inevitability of death and Thomas with the inevitable end of childhood. Yet the character of each man’s creation differs radically with that of the other.

The writer who wants to compose in the manner of Thomas needs to be guided by a more demanding and subtle criteria. The old guidelines have not been replaced with new. Instead, they have redefined. Rhythm is an example.

Contemporary versus Modern . . .

Some may no longer consider Thomas a contemporary poet given that his works were published in the first half of the twentieth century. Yet he bridges the transition from traditional poets to the contemporary. Thomas and William Butler Yeats stand at the crossroads.  Others certainly have influenced the direction of the later twentieth century writers, but Thomas and Yeats are a great place to being if you want to understand poets publishing today.

Dylan Thomas, Poet

Contemporary poets will not subordinate the thrust of a line to an imposed cadence, except for Rappers who make it obvious that rhyming and iambic pentameter should have be outlawed ages ago. The rhythm in contemporary poetry supports the feeling or thought being conveyed. Thomas’s lines are languid and rolling—carefree as childhood itself. Congruency of rhythm to a line is like a drumbeat of native signals or a strumming bass in a jazz combo. Meaning and feeling is intimated. Rhythm is the body language of the piece. The poet’s intention would be suggested even if the language of the line were foreign to the listener.

Contemporary writers will reject rhyme when it distracts from the thrust of the line. To illustrate, I quote a couple of lines from one of my own poems.

            Until confusion mounts my high bed,
            And invades the flesh.

Initially, the lines read:

            Until confusion mounts my high bed
            And invades the flesh from which vigor fled.

The rhyming of “fled” with “bed” created a couplet, which, while satisfying to the ear, was nevertheless inconsistent with the feeling and thought. There is nothing neat or complete about being on one’s deathbed, as a couplet would suggest. Instead there is a slow physical deterioration, and often a terrible wait for the family, until the end. Leaving the line open at the end and unresolved is more consistent with the reality of the situation portrayed.

Immediacy . . .

Robert Front, poet

Thomas’s work is set apart from the traditional also in his imagery. The reader is asked to take in the meaning of “lamb white days” and “the shadow of my hand” as immediate statements with an impact that overrides cautious, methodical analysis. Thomas did not want the reader to stop and think, Oh, yes, lambs are innocent. White is the color of purity, so he must mean that his boyhood days were pure and innocent. He wants the impact of “lamb” to be immediate and other connotations spring into mind. Thus woolly, dirty, braying, and warm, become associations. The richer the word or phrase, the richer the associations.

Likewise, Thomas wants the reader to grasp “by the shadow of my hand” for all its richness. The impact of this wonderful line is lost if the reader resorts again to analysis. While the example of the lamb is prosaic (lambs have been symbols of innocence for centuries), the shadow of my hand is fresh. The reader who has seen the shadow of his or her own hand in the moonlight will have the memory invoked instantly and the mystery, the gentleness, and the inevitability of what is happening (for the moon makes the light not the boy), is all embedded in the phrase.

It may seem that contemporary poets are breaking all the rules. Instead, they are extending and refining them. Economy of expression, congruent rhythm, immediacy of imagery, and word choice are as important as ever, if more subtle. The contemporary poet wants the reader to share an experience as a phenomenon, as one would react coming upon something for the first time. The initial reaction is feeling—attraction, fear, revulsion, intrigue—and it is felt before the rational process overtakes perception. The poet wants the reader to react as the poet reacted. To feel as the poet felt. Contemporary poetry induces rather than explicates. It demands more of the reader. Readers are invited to make themselves available and be rewarded many time over for doing so.

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The Writer’s Crucible by Phillip Kenney – An Extraordinary Guide to the Writing Life

February 28th, 2018

#writing #Kenney #creativity #psychology

The Writer’s Crucible – Cover

Phillip Kenney knows writing. Radiance, 2013, his courageous first novel is brilliant in its challenges to the conventional. Kenney, the writer, is also a psychotherapist with more than three decades of experience. He brings the insights and wisdom of his profession to bear in all his work but especially in his latest, the delightfully readable “The Writer’s Crucible, Meditations on Emotion, Being, and Creativity.” This exquisitely presented book should be on the shelf of every writer seeking to find inspiration, consolation, or comfort in coping with the challenges of the writer’s life.

Struggling in Two Worlds . . .

Kenney sees writers struggling in two different worlds. First, there are the expectations of our culture, uppermost among which is being strong. Never show weakness. Larger homes, sleeker autos, and other trappings of wealth proclaim success. Acquiring more we believe will draw us closer to securing a “sense of emotional safety and self-worth.” The finish line keeps getting moved, of course, but at least our progress can be measured. Our accumulation of goods, memberships, and degrees constitute what Kenney calls our Self-project, the persona we want the public to see with all the badges of achievement that denote success.

Phil Kenney, Author

The rewards are less tangible but far more frightening for the writer. Those saddled with aspirations to express themselves, to be creative at some endeavor, artistic, literary, or otherwise, often struggle in isolation. No audience cheers them on. No acclaim follows announcing that you are a writer. It’s a matter of how you keep score. Self-Project answers may include critical acclaim, best-seller status, etc., and Kenney insists by invoking these standards, writers will rarely, if ever, find their works “good enough”—a phrase he repeats for emphasis. “Enough?” A relative qualifier, certainly. Or worse, a subjective one accepting input from all quarters including many outside a writer’s consciousness. Even deceased parents can register in from time to time.

The True Self . . .

In opposition to the Project-Self, Kenney sets up the True Self. That’s right. The writer’s most private, most vulnerable, most guarded self. And he invites the writer to open up. It’s enough to strike terror into a consummate extrovert. But Kenney asserts that peering into the special, protected, unique True-Self leads us to discover what is precious and special about us, and paradoxically, helps us see what we have in common with others. Kenney urges creative people to change their reward system. The joys are in the thrill of revelation. Writing becomes a journey in self-discovery. The creative effort frees itself of doubt and other constraints. It becomes play again

John J. Hohn – Writer, ReviewerThe Wrtier’s Crucible

With his premise established, Kenney is at his best leading the reader with humor and insight into how to explore the inner life. His experience as a psychotherapist shines here. He knows the landscape of the psyche. Where the traps are hidden. The dodges and dips of self-sabotaging. Once the reader begins the journey, the intrinsic rewards become more obvious and more compelling. Trust Kenney in the later chapters to guide you step by step, deeper and deeper, into an understanding of how much more rewarding creative life can be.

This is a book to own and keep with in arms reach of your keyboard, easel, or design table. Once you have read it, you will find you can open it to any page and Kenney will be there waiting there with understanding, at your side once again, with the warmth in his caring words and his gentle wisdom on every page.

Ageism – Getting Older Ain’t for Sissies Yet Our Humor Belittles Elders

January 7th, 2018

#ageing #ageism #elderly

John J. Hohn – Writer

Ageism is something many don’t recognize today as a concern worthy of their time. A reader recently sent me a series of cartoons about elderly people. Each panel poked fun at the commonplace inconveniences or afflictions of old age; i.e. incontinence, forgetfulness, general decrepitude, impotence, diminished libido, ineptitude, etc. The subjects were depicted with large noses, scraggly hair, wart-like lesions, and sagging facial features. When I saw was how offensive the cartoons were, I wrote the sender and asked him to never send anything like it ever again.

Cartoons of analogous derogatory content depicting African-Americans, Native Americans, Hispanics or Jews—any identifiable group—would be dismissed as racist and offensive.

“Why are you offended?” my  friend countered, “You’re not old,” as if to suggest that anything goes as long as it doesn’t apply to me.

“I’m 75,” I replied (posted in 2014), “and ageism rages in America. We don’t respect our elders. Cartoons like the ones you sent me revile older people.” Perhaps I should have said, “I’m not black either, but that doesn’t keep me from being offended at racist humor.”

Laugh with or  . . .

I can allow that some humor is an attempt to see the trials of old age in lighter vein, as if laughing at ourselves makes our troubles  easier to endure. On the other hand, there really isn’t anything funny about staying connected to a colostomy bag, using a catheter, needing a walker, or becoming a trial to family because of dementia or hearing loss. The few people I know who suffer from these conditions are not laughing with us. Some know they are being laughed at.

Laughter does not cushion cruelty; it only mixes the message, as if to suggest no harm was intended. Be a sport, in other words, even if the joke is at your expense. Few acknowledge it takes a bigger person to bear the brunt of the jest than is asked of the person poking fun.

When a person stands at the threshold of old age, the portal to venerability, the gate to the so-called “golden years,” he or she doesn’t feel old at all. A youthful heart still beats. An eagerness to prevail persists. Most of what we were taught about becoming old is simply not true. We have been schooled in prejudice.

All of our lives we have heard of “old farts, codgers, duffers, galoots, coots, fogies, geezers, hags, biddies, shrews, battle-axes, bats, crones, curmudgeons.” These are the N words for the elderly. Almost all carry the connotation of “old.” To make the point more emphatically, American English offers almost no positive appellations to designate an elder of worth, one who has loved well throughout life and achieved in an exemplary manner. We are very efficient in our negative expressions, in other words, but pressed when we want to express respect or praise. Mention “sage” in a conversation, and most will think your are talking about a spice.

As humans advance in age, of course their capacities decline. None argues the fact. Gerontologists tell us that the elderly are at a disadvantage when they are pressured to make quick decisions. Short term memory becomes porous. Physical stamina diminishes. These are common observations. If they were extraordinary, we would most likely react with compassion. So why ridicule and censure? Children are not demeaned for their lack of knowledge and limited physical prowess. The physically handicapped are not reviled as a being unworthy of our respect and affection. Yet the predictable incapacities of growing older remain a staple of cruel humor.

The Inside Joke . . .

I am willing to make allowances for the inside joke, when one person of age may chide another. Laughter between two people about a shared condition can be a tonic. The same cannot be said for insults hurled indiscriminately by outsiders or tossed out to the public at large. African-Americans can kid each other about the social conventions of their race, but they don’t hold their brothers and sisters up to public ridiculed. They know the consequences of doing so. They know the jokes that indulge prejudice end up as fodder for racists.

Advancing into the eighth or ninth decade in life requires a courage like none experience at any other stage of life. The young see an ocean of time lies ahead of them. They have the energy and resources to distract themselves. Most middle-aged and younger people don’t give much thought to their mortality. Persons in their retirement years rarely see a day pass, however, without wondering how much time they have left. Their priorities undergo a restructuring that may seem out of step with youthful onlookers. Being dressed in the latest casual fashion takes second place to stretching the pension check. Learning how to text seems a foolish concession to a trend. The warmth of a voice, the tone of care and respect are not communicated in the playing-card  size screens of multi-function digital devices. People wrestling with the ravages of loneliness want human contact and touch, not emojis. Technology isolates. It is replacing intimacy with immediacy. Under the illusion of staying in touch, we are withdrawing from one another. We become more remote. Incremental abandonment, if you will. Dying ends all intimacy with loved ones; those immediately at hand and those at a distance. Why approximate it in our daily communication.

Long Gone . . .

Americans have always taken pride in the rigorous spirit that drove our ancestors to leave the old world, cross an ocean, march into the unknown wilderness, and put their backs into carving out the farms, towns, and cities that created our nation. In this enterprise, the elderly slowed everyone down, burdened families with their dependency, and generally contributed little by way of physical labor as they advanced in age. Gabby Hayes, in the role of a bumbling sidekick comes to mind. If the early colonialists and pioneers are in any way the origin of the prejudice, it’s time to recognize that era is as long gone as the age of slavery.

As boomers edge toward old age, attitudes may change. Americans are living longer. In 1940, the life expectancy for an American male was forty-seven. Today it is in the late seventies. It will be interesting to see if having a larger percentage of the total population in their advanced years will change the prevailing, if often unconscious, prejudice of today. Perhaps it will no longer be funny when the joke is really on us. Then the disrespect in the checkout line, on the subway, waiting for a table, or seeking help from customer service is something we have created in large part for may be preferable to scoffing. Let’s just be certain our amusement isn’t inviting derision.

Perhaps the same dedicated energies to reduce racism in our society could be channeled as well toward eradicating ageism.

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Survival in an Indifferent Universe

December 11th, 2017

#cancer #grief #disaster #god #tragedy

John J. Hohn – Writer, Reviewer, Storyteller,     Commentator

My  mother, my sister-in-law, my best friend, and my ex-wife died of cancer. Universe

Cancer is evil. Like anything else, it wants to thrive. Growth, normally, is regarded as a good. Cancer is uncontrolled growth. It thrives by destroying the cells that support life, love, and thought. Nothing continues to grow in absolute darkness unless it is connected in some way with another being that is exposed to light.

It may have been time for my mother. She was 81. She had lived a full life. I do not know why she had to suffer before passing. My ex-wife and my sister-in-law were in their mid-forties, the prime of life. I fail to see how any good came from their premature departures. My best friend, Roy, was growing in wisdom as he neared the end of his sixth decade. His presence in the life of those who knew and loved him was a positive thing. His harvest season was upon us all but we were denied it.

People say things happen for a reason, especially when they do not know why. People say that God works in mysterious ways, especially when they can’t understand why misfortune strikes.

Perhaps I am to God as my dog is to me. My dog, Jessie, doesn’t understand anything about human nature. She doesn’t believe in me. But she knows I exist. We communicate with words like “stay,” “car,” and “walk.” And sounds like “bark” (let me out) “bark-bark-bark” (there’s some at the door), or “whine” (I need to relieve myself.)  Otherwise we know little about one another. It isn’t necessary. We love one another.

Jessie enjoys my protection and nurturance. She does what her limited nature permits to attend to my well-being. Thus the barking as others approach the house, the licking of my cheek when she perceives I am sad, etc. She is not endowed with self-conscious intelligence. She can’t anticipate death, although she seems to know when it is time to eat each day. She would not do anything to hurt me nor I her. It would take an intervening third force.

My choices . . .

I don’t understand anything about the nature of God. I have been asked to believe a lot of things, but I don’t know that God exists in the same way my dog knows I exist.  My choices include to live in doubt, deny God’s existence, or believe in it. Men differ on the subject because nobody knows for sure. They fight over their differences in belief.

Jessie. Her eyes Bespeak an Undeniable Intelligence at the Canine Level

I am capable of belief. I have self-conscious intelligence. I never hear the divine say anything to me. No burning bushes in my backyard. I am leery of those who claim that God speaks to them. If God has an important message, why not let a few more of us in on it. Shepherd children without recording devices is hardly an efficient choice. Why word-of-mouth as the preferred medium for the divine?

Nobody knows for sure whether God hears humans, as far as that goes. When good fortune befalls some see it as evidence of God’s love. So that’s me being good to Jessie? Let’s say it is.

Tragedy, however, is another matter. Tragedy is usually not taken as a sign of God’s disfavor, at least not these days. We are asked instead to look for a third force. There’s always evil, of course, but it means recognizing that God chose not to intercede or was perhaps not all powerful enough.  Often our reaction is directed at seeing the good that comes from a disaster. It’s a deflection, of course. But then who really wants to know the bottom line for slaughter, maiming, and ruining people’s lives.

The good to come from Chernobyl will not be a better design for nuclear power plants. The new design will fail one day for a different reason. It is in the nature of machines to fail—a fact that escapes everyone’s foresight in the efforts to quell the emotional and spiritual discomfort at the randomness of a disaster.

Any good to come from a tragedy could just as well have come about without the suffering, pain, and death. What good came from 9/11, Oklahoma City, Katrina, the Holocaust, Sandy Hook, or in any other disaster that was outrageously disproportionate to the losses families suffered and the pain endured by the survivors. Everyone involved would have been much better off if nothing had happened—if life had gone on as usual.

As the Dinosaur was . . .

Man will never eliminate the suffering resulting from acts of nature. He is defenseless against his own annihilation just as the dinosaur was. He, himself, may one day be responsible for exterminating his own kind from the face of the earth. If he is successful, which will be the ultimate failure of his species, nobody will be around to argue what role God played.

When I love another creature, as I do my dog, I strive to promote its well-being. As a man, however, I live in a universe that doesn’t give a damn whether I live or die, and in fact, pits other forms of life against me, both inside and outside of my body, in a competition to see who survives—as in cancer, or tigers in the jungle, or snakes on the walking trail, or storms in the night.

If I believe in life after death, then all of these terrible truths are minimized. My belief helps me induce contentment. Further, believing in life after death lets all of us say that nothing matters much after all. Why grieve over the thousands of innocents slaughtered in civil wars They all go to heaven, don’t they. Some murdering warriors are so convinced of the good life awaiting hereafter they destroy themselves.

Things matter, in other words, as much as we will allow them to matter.

Grieving, no matter how bitter, is not evidence of loss. Not all losses are tragic. The death of a child is always tragic . The death of a corrupt, war-mongering, pedophile congressman is tragic only to the extent he was denied the time to  change his ways while the rest of the world endures his noxious existence.

Call it love . . .

As with my dog and me, humans are capable of attachment. We like to call it love. A lot of psychological conditions masquerade as love. O. J. Simpson was possessed by a powerful feeling that he thought was love. He killed his wife in the grips of his obsession. The rather complex state called “codependent” is experienced as love, but it isn’t. Sometimes what is experienced as loss is simply the abrupt breaking of a neurotic, unhealthy attachment to another.  When nothing is there to replace the object of obsession, jealousy, dependency, whatever, the yearning persists. It hurts. The pain a person feels is real enough. It will be relieved when a new object is found. But the cure is not reestablishing the same life-defeating dynamics with someone else. The pain is as with any other injury. It’s there to prompt the afflicted to seek aid and work to recover emotional health.

The Grim Reaper

Natural and man-made disasters are indifferent to the humans who become victims. For all the wrenching anguish thousands experience, the pain endured is human. It results from the severing of human attachment, healthy or otherwise. No evidence exists that the collective sorrow, regardless of how prolonged or traumatic, registers in the universe as an event of consequence. The landscape of the planet may be changed, but the suffering all takes place on the plain of human existence. Efforts to interpret tragedy in any theological or cosmological dimension are simply sentiment. It is impossible to find God’s hand in it one way or the other, either as the savior of those who were spared or the executioner of those who were not. Universe

Given everything, three choices remain. I can accept my uncertainty, deny there is a life after death, or believe in life hereafter although I can’t prove it. The choice ultimately comes down to acceding to the power of one belief or another or adhering to an unflinching commitment to seek the truth. Both cannot coexistence in my life of thought. The truth for me begins with the acceptance that I don’t know. Nothing I believe will change what will happen to me when my life ends.  I see the inhumanity of mankind against its own in the name of one belief or another. I’ve seen the truth shock people painfully to reconsider their perspective on life and their treatment of others, but the pain is not lasting. It delivers rather than destroys. Contentment for me resides in accepting that I don’t know, that it may be beyond me to know, and it is far better for me to accept the limitations of my own nature, just as Jessie does, remain committed to the truth were it is knowable, and get on with it. Universe

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Anesthesia Recovery Often Stressful

August 7th, 2017

#anesthesia #oxycodone #overdose

John J. Hohn – Writer, Reviewer and Commentator

Anesthesia for major surgery is awesome stuff. Researchers are not entirely sure how it works. Scientific American had the best article I could find. It is worth a read. One thing is sure, anesthesia for major surgery works. The stuff puts you under big time. It’s not like sleep, Hamlet. There is no “perhaps to dream.” Everything is turned off. No subconscious calling your attention to some nagging concern. Stories of patients awakening during surgery must be apocryphal. You go out completely.

Recovery from anesthesia is a battle of sorts. The patient is not aware of what is going on. Those at the bedside do, however. Recovery is a roller coaster affair that the anesthesiologist controls. Once the patient wakes up, he may remember somethings that happened during recovery and not others. My wife, for example, said that I was very feisty. That I trashed around quite a bit. The anesthesiologist was pleased. I was not aware of my struggle, however. Not the least anxious. I remember one thing very clearly.

Why are you here?

I heard my wife ask, “John, why are you here?

“To know, love, and serve God so that I will be happy with Him forever in the next,” I replied.

Sacred Heart Elementary School, Yankton, SD. (No Longer Standing)

My response was right out of the Baltimore catechism. My wife insisted later that she did not ask me the question. What is more intriguing is my reply. I thought that I actually spoke it. Not so, according to those at bedside, although they did allow that I was mumbling all kinds of gibberish. For me, the assertion of faith was immediately gratifying. I felt a peaceful feeling come over me, a deep contentment. I was seven years old again, in first grade, and Sister Mary Micheline was smiling  at me. Whatever may have been the reason for my well-being, it was my subconscious speaking. Wide awake I consider myself an agnostic.

For years, I have not been satisfied that the Church helped me achieve peace of mind. I don’t insist I don’t know, but that I want to know more – if that is possible. There is a huge difference between I don’t know and I’d like to know.I am open to learning more. The brainwashing of my early years, however, really took. Once you have the answers, why ponder the questions any more. Early programming cannot be erased. It’s powerful stuff, so powerful in fact,  it might be better to wait until a child has reached an age of reason before all this theology is driven home in classroom drills.

A long-lost loved one . . .

All that aside, the patient recovering from anesthesia should not be surprised if some age old memories surface. Perhaps the name of a long-lost love. Whatever. Not to worry. Whatever the patient utters in recovery will probably come out as garbled nonsense.

I was hustled off to the intensive care unit once I regained consciousness. As it turned out, recovery from the anesthesia was probably more difficult than the surgery. I was asked almost immediately to get on my feet and walk. Coughing, of course, raised a concern among caretakers. The incision that is made all the way through the sternum to lay open the heart has, on rare occasions has come undone – a real nightmare for the surgeon. The patient is cautioned to clutch a pillow to the chest when coughing and not to use his arms to get up out of a chair. I wanted to observe these admonitions. At one point, however, I was over taken by a paroxysm that was very stronger. Clutching my pillow to me as if life itself depended it, I felt a slug of sputum moving up my throat. Blaaack! I spit out this ugly gelatinous ball the size of my fist into the urine flask.  I was horrified at it and the realization that it had been in my body.

“Look!” I exclaimed to the nurse when she came in, thinking that I had captured something essential to my recovery.

“Oh, good,” The nurse said calmly. “That has to be all of it. Very good.”

Okay, I thought.

Pain is subjective. Nurses use this scale of help patients be more clear.

Pain ebbs and wanes during the first two or three days following surgery. Or perhaps the pain is constant but the pain-killers weaken as the hours pass after taking them. In any case. the nurses always asked, and in order to introduce some quantifying measure, they will call for the patient to give a number between 1 and 10. A chart is provided to help the patient. It’s a good system, although it depends on every nurse understanding the gradients of the scale. What is a five to one nurse may be a four to the next and a six to yet another.

“Any pain tonight,” a nurse asked as she entered the room. I had not seen her before.

“Yes,” I replied. “I’d say about a 4.”

“What can I get for you?” asked. “I have Tylenol, oxycodone, and (a name I didn’t recognize),” as if she was peddling ice cream on the boardwalk

“I don’t know,” I said. “You’re the expert.”

She dropped a tablet or two (I can’t remember) into a paper cup, handed me my water glass, and I downed it all in one big gulp. Thus began the wildest, most terrifying night of my entire life. Instead of the gentle easing into a serene feeling of well-being that usually followed after taking Oxycodone, I had the sensation that the room was beginning to spin. Shadowy figures were coming and going. Some seemed menacing. I didn’t know whether that were hospital staff or not. I didn’t know why they were in the room. Some felt like a menacing presence. But the worst was yet to happen.

I began to lose a sense of myself, lose touch with my core self. I became like one of Dante‘s characters from the Inferno being blown wildly about by the wind. I had slipped my mooring and was being tossed about in a fearful emotional storm.

A sense of the self . . .

All of my life, whether consciously or not, my perceptions of the world around me registered against the base of my essential self, as if my sensations were the wine and my essential self the goblet keeping all in order. Now the goblet was gone. Only the wine, flowing out of control was assaulting my senses. I was a beleaguered swimmer trying to escape a tsunami. The only thing that was left of the I who I knew myself to be was the fear and the panic that My mind was utterly beyond my control.

I have never taken hard drugs. I am very respecting of them and do not feel that, given everything I have been told they will add anything to the fullness of my life or the joy of living it. “Just think,” my wife observed, “there are people out there who want that experience.” I can’t imagine why.

One friend explained that most of my panic resulted because I did not know what to expect. Could be. He went on to observe that I was among strangers in a unfamiliar setting. Nobody was there to reassure me. Again, could be. Nothing, however, would prompt me to repeat the experience regardless of the conditions. I like who I am. I don’t want to abandon my sense of myself. Friends know me as uninhibited and fun-loving. If anything, one of my biggest problems is weak impulse control. I wish at times I were more uptight. If what happened to me is what others are looking for in using drugs, I am dismayed. Too bad they can’t find life itself awesome and marvelous as it is.

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Final Day by Forstchen Superficial and Filled with Gimmicks

February 4th, 2017
John J. Hohn, Writer and reviewer

John J. Hohn, Writer and reviewer

Post-apocalypse America. China occupies all territory west of the Mississippi except for the lands Mexico reclaims it lost in the Southwest. Eastern United States is in chaos. Metropolitan areas are radioactive wastelands or havens for marauders armed with military weapons to plunder villages where refugees seek survival. In his novel, The Final Day, author William R. Forstchen lets readers infer that his story takes place early in the 21st century. Ninety percent of the population perish in a cataclysm of detonated nuclear missiles and high impact shock weapons. Gone are the Internet, the power grid, computers on line at the time, law enforcement, water and sewer and services of a civilized society.

Struggling to start over, the State of Carolina in the Appalachian Mountains of what once was the state of North Carolina is led John Matherson, the hero of the story. The State defends against outlaws in costly battles against the Posse and against Fredericks, attackers about whom nothing is known as the author never bothers to explain. Ambiguity stirs the curious, after all, and it’s one of Forstchen’s favorite gimmicks. When there’s no tension arising from the plot, it suffices at times to have readers asking: Who are these people anyway?

The first third of the book could be summarized: A stranger staggers into camp and expiring, mentions the name of a man Matherson knows. John decides with no particular agenda in mind to fly to meet with his friend. Once air borne, the story becomes a travelogue about the desolate winter landscape. The mission fails. Matherson returns to base. Days pass and radio communication (eureka) is restored. Matherson’s friend, retired general Bob Scales, will come to see Matherson. Scales knew Matherson was there all along. The dead stranger was the General’s aide. (Right! The story could have started at this point and little would have been lost.)

Incomparable human suffering . . .

Arriving with three armed Blackhawk helicopters hovering menacingly overhead, Scales threatens Matherson’s little settlement with annihilation if Matheson doesn’t become his hostage. Scales explains he is acting under orders. Despite seeing incomparable human suffering everywhere, he persists as an agent of Bluemont in being the oppressor and executioner.

The plot meanders into a blizzard of mindlessness at this point. The author chose Bluemont as his adversary because the word is devoid of any historical, human or geographical connotation. Bluemont could be a place, a site inter-terrestrials have landed or the last surviving Native American reservation. Nobody knows. Despite having communication with the BBC and itinerant refugees passing all kinds of information along, Bluemont is a mystery.

Even in the most fantastic yarns, some sense of continuity, the role of destiny in the lives of the characters and cause and effect need to be sustained to insure credibility. Not so in The Final Day, Enemies pop overnight for no apparent reason. Friends turn on one another and then realign. Unidentified assassins attack at random. Suspense is sustained by simply withholding information about all adversaries and their motives. Gimmickry run wild.

Chest Deep in Trivia . . .

Forstchen’s plot slogs along like a hiker chest deep in trivia. The weaknesses in the story line are covered up as readers are subjected to pages of tedium about World War II, the Civil War, vintage computer restoration, code breaking, winter survival methods (common knowledge stuff regularly aired on the History channel). The characters lack depth and are limited in their reach for the emotions that would touch readers and evoke a sympathetic response. An entire continent has been transformed into a charnel house yet the killing and destruction continues. The myth of the military hero is sustained in an atmosphere choking with the stench of decay and decomposition.

The final quarrel a thoughtful reader will have with The Final Day is philosophical rather than aesthetic. In a book about the future, Forstchen regrettably turns to the past to find the fodder for his story and leaves unexplored the real challenges that would await the grieving and disabled as they crawl out from the wreckage of a nihilistic holocaust. Surely some somewhere would conclude that more killing is to persist in barbarism and the lessons of mass destruction as a method of wielding power delivers to those who would prevail nothing but dominion over a toxic and decimated wasteland. Although well-written, the book fails as adult reading. The Final Day is comic book tripe

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This review initially appeared in bookpleasures.com, a web site dedicated to reviewing books.

 

 

James Grippando’s Novella “The Penny Jumper” – Trading Stock at Lightspeed

December 12th, 2016

#highfrequencytrrading $daytrading #stockmarket  thepennyjumper #daytrading #pennystock

 

John J. Hohn - Writer, Reviewer and Commentator

John J. Hohn – Writer, Reviewer and Commentator

Time is money, but what is the price tag that comes with it. Bestselling author James Grippando sets the amount at about 160 million every trading day on Wall Street. That’s for a single millisecond or .001 seconds. Why so much? Simple. High frequency traders on the world’s stock exchanges go to great lengths to gain a millisecond advantage over their competitors. In an intricate network of computers and trading systems, one millisecond gives a firm the chance to increase profits by jumping up the price on large blocks of stock by one cent per share. Companies losing money to the high-jacking of the data stream want to put an end to the practice. Their quest sets the stage for Grippando’s excellent novella, The Penny Jumper.

It will take an complex algorithm to stop the penny jumpers from hitchhiking onto the trades streaming from every corner of the globe. In fact, it would require a genius, one presumably beyond the reach of Wall Street, nestled obscurely in a university staff somewhere working in a field of pure research. Turns out Ainsley Grace – young, pretty and bright – is engaged in a monumental project at MIT that would harness all the telescopes of the world and convert them into one huge cyclops to penetrate outer space. The distances data must travel from the far flung locations needs to be synchronized before a composite image is possible. Ainsley configures an algorithm that has all the scopes seeing as one. Kudos for the achievement, however, do not come with a bonus that would alleviate Ainsley’s heavy student load debt. She accepts a consulting job with a Wall Street firm who is wrestling with the penny jumper problem.

James Grippando - Auhor

James Grippando – Auhor

Leaving Boston for New York, Ainsley comes up with the algorithm her employers that will protect them against the penny jumpers. Problem is, before she can collect her six figure fee, her program is stolen, and to top it off, she is the accused of absconding with it herself. She is being framed but proving her innocence is no easy task and there are disarming twists and turns along the way that make her plight at times seem hopeless.

Author Grippando’s tale of Ainsley’s adventure in the wilds of capitalism, where greed is good, is exquisitely symmetrical. Everything he starts, he finishes. No loose ends. The author’s style is lean and efficient, providing just enough detail to orient the reader with each setting. The pace of the mystery is almost as fast as the data streams central to the story without sacrificing insight into the characters or concocting unlikely coincidences to move the plot along. The courtroom scenes are compelling. The dialogue crisp and authentic. Ainsley’s relationship with her attorney and friend, Connor, is straightforward and realistic; in a word, refreshing. Grippando is a master at breaking down the scientific premise of the plot into layman’s terms. In his hands, brevity does not equate to superficiality. The author quotes Carl Sagan, for example, to answer to the age old debate of agnosticism versus atheism. He takes less than a paragraph were others have wasted pages. In a story about really bright, thinking people, the author’s genius shines in a plot that has thoroughly thought through. There are plenty of surprises along the way, right up until the final page.

The Penny Jumper Cover

The Penny Jumper Cover

The Penny Jumper is nearly flawless. Author Grippando is marvelously inventive with every detail to keep the story credible, save one. Bad guy, Vlad Kosov, uses mob muscle to get the price reduced by half on a 50 million dollar property in Hong Kong. Real estate transactions at that stratospheric level, especially in Hong Kong, just don’t seem vulnerable to on-site threats from a thug. It wouldn’t matter so much, except that the man who is intimidated into selling is important to the rest of the plot. Readers may trip but not break stride on this detail because the story line is so compelling and beautifully presented. The Penny Jumper is thoroughly entertaining if a bit unsettling once readers realize the high volume trading network at the heart of our cherished free enterprise system might possibly be more vulnerable than most may think.

This review first appeared in somewhat condensed form on bookpleasures. com

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Forgiving An Unfaithful Partner Ambivalence Takes Over

November 23rd, 2016

#divorce #betrayal #infidelity #marriagecounselling #brokenfamily

John J. Hohn - Writer, Reviewer and Commentator

John J. Hohn – Writer, Reviewer and Commentator

Truth in the therapist’s office is an elusive thing. I could go all week convinced that I no longer wanted to return to my marriage. I missed my children very much. But every time I checked in with them they were doing fine. They were so accustomed to having me gone that it was normal for their day to begin and end without seeing me. When my wife started bringing guys into the home, they took it right in stride. I was the only one suffering the consequences of separation, or so it seemed.

To overcome my lonesomeness, I taped pictures of my children to the kitchen cabinets. On returning home one night, I poured myself a stiff one and began to grieve. I’d look at the pictures and miss each one of the kids and when we were a family unaware and unthreatened. We were like a lot of families, going from one day to the next, taking life for granted, overcoming the problems, only to awake one day and realize that a chapter had come to a close. We could never go back, but we could remember it as we pushed ahead confident of the continuity in our lives.

Clustered as in an era . . .

Someday we’d enjoy recognizing not only that we had all grown older but also that we had lived through something special with one another, something time had taken away from us, but once taken, became incorruptible. Our days and months clustered as in an era, each with its own distinguishing character like a theme. It could be as simple as when we lived in a certain house,  or perhaps the fellowship at the church where we belonged. “Oh, gee, remember that time we were all so excited about moving to Detroit.”

I missed those days. I knew who I was then. Or at least, I was content in letting the roles I filled define me. I had a sense of the future and a sense of purpose. Now confusion reigned. I didn’t know my wife any more. I had seen a side to her that I never knew existed. She didn’t appear to regret the separation. No grief in her brown eyes. We had grown accustomed to sharing our feelings. That was gone. I was alone, alone as I never thought I’d ever be, in a dingy furnished basement apartment instead the home with my children laughing as they prepared for bed. Futility flooded my rooms with the darkness at the end of the day.

Author's family, 1974 - Two years before the breakup. Front (l - r) James, Joseph, author, Eric. Standing (l - r) Bertha Finfrock, Bette Finfrock, Gregory and RAchel.

Author’s family, 1974 – Two years before the breakup. Front (l – r) James, Joseph, author, Eric. Standing (l – r) Bertha Finfrock, Bette Finfrock, Gregory and RAchel.

I didn’t pine for my wife’s company. She had moved out of my life. She was dating other men. My 12 year old son, in all apparent innocence, invited me into the house one night only for me to find her entertaining a man in the living room. I backed away and left before she knew I was there, though I had to wonder about my son’s motives. Perhaps he wanted to see what kind of trouble could be provoked by my unexpected appearance. More likely, he just didn’t give it a thought. Whatever the case, in those brief moments, I realized our house had become hers. Nothing belonged to me any longer. The new furniture we bought was being systematically shredded by the two household cats, and nobody seemed concerned enough to stop them. The ripped up furnishings were a metaphor.

But it wasn’t a clean break, even after all the months apart. I could be alone all week and reach moments of fragile resolve. The panic attacks were less frequent. Then, I’d see my wife’s Ford round the corner, and my heart would leap up as it did when I was a teenager – one of those take-your-breath-away moments. That surge of feeling meant something. Fear? Anger? Love? I didn’t know. My head was in one place and my heart in another.

I never resolved my ambivalence. The chance was taken out of my hands when my wife called a halt to everything. She didn’t want to try any longer. Her final decision came while we were working with our third counselors, a couple of my wife’s choosing who practiced co-joint therapy. After spending weeks with them on her own, I was invited to join in. It was the first indication from my wife that she wanted to work things out. During these final sessions my ambivalence returned, but I didn’t report my confusion in the counselor office.

Too much uncertainty . . .

Yes, I’d admit, I wanted things to work out. Yes, I still wanted to work on our marriage. I didn’t want to be the bad guy, the one to walk away. No wonder the psychologists found working with us a challenge. My feelings felt true in the moment but once away from the therapeutic setting my doubts returned. There had been a time when rolling back the clock was all I wanted. Now, that was unrealistic.

Author with Family, 2009 L-R: James, Rachel, Eric, author (seated), Greg Grandson Baden and wife Melinda

Author with Family, 2009 L-R: James, Rachel, Eric, author (seated), Greg Grandson Baden and wife Melinda and son Joe not pictured)

Restoring trust in our relationship seemed impossible. I don’t think I have known moments in my life when I was fully aware of my motivation for doing anything. Yet here I was negotiating my future in the therapist’s office, and I couldn’t trust my own feelings. I should have admitted, “While I’m here I feel one way but as soon as I walk out the door, I know I will feel differently.” I was letting circumstances control me. I needed to commit. I needed closure, as much for myself as for everyone else involved. I wanted to hear an expression of regret or sorrow over what had been lost from my wife – something that resonated with what I was living through. I wanted to feel safe again. I wanted her to do as she felt prompted on her own. Perhaps she sensed my ambivalence and that’s why she walked out. She didn’t appear to regret anything. When she refused to grieve, I resolved not to show her my anguish. She was no longer entitled to see it.

I knew attraction drives a couple in their relationship and culminates ultimately in committing one another. It didn’t appear that it was there for us. We had to move to a different place. We had to substitute hope and goodwill for desire and trust. We could never again ignore what we had learned about one another. We had pledged commitment and failed. We needed to find the faith in one another to try again. It would require an expression of remorse and full forgiveness from both of us. Trust would take time, lots of it. Every late night return from work would require an explanation. Every out-of-town seminar, a full report. The only reason for taking the shot was that it was our best chance at happiness – not for the kids, not for our parents, but for us, selfishly. Putting an end to the pain was not enough. Neither of us was fully aware of what it would take. Guarantees are never part of any proposition, but promises would have to be kept. I had lost faith in her. Without assurance, I had no faith in my own ability to cope with a fresh start.

If we had a chance at all, we needed to acknowledge and  grieve over what had passed out of our lives. Gone forever was the dream that together, despite the troubled beginning to our marriage, we could make things work. We’d be the happy couple with the liberal beliefs and the beautiful family. We had been dear, trusting friends. We lost our sense of magic – the faith that because we wanted it we could make it so. However laughable that may have been to others, it was purity itself to us. Time eventually would wash away our simple script. We would not have noticed it beingy carried away. But our lives had collapsed in crisis. We were suddenly part of the world we had tried to hold a bay. Our effort alone was cause enough to mourn. Our youth was all but spent.  If we needed to acknowledged all of it – the richness of the days as a family together and the depth of the love that once existed between us, then despite the anger and the hurt, we might look at one another to see if hope remained. We didn’t. We walked away, wept alone, and moved on.

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