Wednesday, August 24, 2016


I just finished listening to Middlemarch by George Eliot (AKA Mary Ann Evans) on If you do not know what is, go Google it immediately. Basically, an app on my phone where I download books and listen to them while driving, or biking. I commute to work on my bike not infrequently, and I put one ear bud in, leaving the other ear bud out to hear the approach of the guy about to mow me down in the bike lane. My ear bud pours stories into my right ear. I hope my left ear is not too jealous. Maybe I should start alternating ears?

If you have not read Middlemarch, but are a fan of "Downton Abbey", I recommend you stop everything you are currently doing and go to your local independent bookstore and read this book. Or load it on which I do not have stock in, but if you drive or bike or run a lot, this is a good thing. I sometimes do long runs listening to novels.

I like to hold a book in my hand and read too, so while listening to one book, I am always reading another. Currently that is The Best Care Possible, by Ira Byock. He is a medical doctor, a palliative care specialist, and a philosopher of sorts. He talks about how to improve care during complex illnesses and toward the end of life. It sounds all heavy and stuff, but should be required reading, along with Being Mortal by Atul Gawande and Flight of the Wren by Atthys Gage.

The latter is my husband but he is a damn fine writer, so please read his books, if you have any sense in your brain at all.

My son, now in jail, was never "in" to reading. He sort of rebelled against us in this way, because husband and I were always sitting with our face shoved in a book. Teenagers are supposed to eschew the passions of their parents. It is, like, their job. I would not say that there is a direct correlation to my son being in jail and not reading, but there may be some argument for it, as reading opens your mind to seeing the viewpoints of others, and also challenges you to rethink what you hold as true. Crime and Punishment comes to mind, which my eldest daughter once wrote a brilliant essay on. One day I came home from work to hear her and my husband discussing this book, but she and he had renamed all the characters as Sponge Bob characters, as the Russian names were too hard to remember and pronounce. This argues for a nice healthy balance between TV and books. And a trivia point: the original creator of "Sponge Bob Squarepants" was a guy who attended the college in our home town.

My son in jail is now reading a lot. Because jail offers little else to do. Video games? Nope. Television? Nope. Drugs? Well, I certainly hope not. A glimpse of the outdoors? Nope. Yes, an 18 year old, scared kid who made bad choices is stuck without any sun exposure for months on end. I am sure this will be the key to a healthy reentry into polite society. least he is reading.

Reading while running seems natural to me. I mean, you cannot actually read while running, though maybe you can if running on a treadmill, but you can run while listening to someone reading to you. Just like music. Or the sound of one hand clapping, which the purists would probably prefer. Reading while in prison seems essential. And reading at all is a rare thing in our society. Apparently about 10% of people read regularly. And we wonder why Trump is a serious candidate.

All snarky comments aside, I do have some observations to make.
1) Prison is inhumane.
2) Reading is a luxury that we take for granted.
3) If my son hangs for poor choices made at age 13-18, but Donald Trump becomes our next President, then no book in the world can explain to me the logic of the Universe.

Our local bookstore sells a bumper sticker. If you do not like swearing, please look away:

Read a Fucking Book.

Tuesday, August 9, 2016

Apples and Oysters

Once long ago I said to a friend that I felt stupid complaining about my suffering, because in the world there was such profound examples of suffering and mine paled by comparison. She said: "Well, that is like comparing apples and oranges. Who is to say that your suffering is less than that of anyone else? Does it matter? Suffering is suffering".

Apparently, this saying, "like comparing apples and oranges" originally was "as an apple to an oyster," like in Taming of the Shrew when Biondello does an eye roll when being compared to Tranio's father, and says out of the corner of his mouth "as much as an apple doth an oyster..."

Pointless comparisons aside, there is plenty of suffering in the world.

Recently, California passed the End of Life Option Act, which makes it legal for a physician to prescribe a lethal dose of medication to someone whom is likely to die in the next 6 months and whom requests it and whom 2 doctors certify as terminal and whom is in their right mind. This has been law for awhile in Oregon, Washington, Vermont and Montana. Oregon was first, and the main reason people participated there was not pain or other physical symptoms, but rather loss of dignity and dependence on others.

I cannot say how much suffering is or should be tolerable for any one person. I do know that I cannot personally end a life, at least not as my primary intention.

Hear are a few things I have learned about suffering in my life to date:
1) It is universal
2) We do not like to talk about it
3) It will only get worse if we elect Donald Trump as POTUS

In Amsterdam, there is an ubiquitous symbol, on flags, on man holes, on sides of buildings, on billboards: XXX. This is not an allusion to the debauchery of this City, which, truth be told, although is a place for tourists to smoke pot and visit prostitutes, is one of the more kind and unassuming places I have ever visited. Triple X refers to the cross of St Andrew. It is the official symbol, and may represent "compassion, heroism and resolution." It may also represent the suffering of the city, including fire, floods and the black death. Either way, I kind of like that it is just right there, reminding you of sorrow and higher values, whilst the inhabitants ride their bikes and tolerate the shenanigans of visitors. Amsterdam has good food, and you would never be able to do any hill workouts there. On the upside, you could very well run a PR anywhere in the Netherlands. And you could fuel it with excellent cheese and a decided lack of pretense.

Recently, my son was arrested and put in jail. After jail, it appears prison is in store. I did not know there was difference until now, and I am learning new things every day. If you go on line to local news sources, you will see a lot of opinions about how awful he is and how terrible the parents must be that raised him. But I have this to say: "(he) that is here without sin among you, let (him) cast the first stone..." Yep, it is super easy to judge people when you have no idea about their suffering and the blows life has dealt to them. My apples, your oysters, but the suffering is real no matter which fruit or fruit of the sea you identify with.

So, how does one proceed through suffering? This is really what the bulk of my professional career is about. I can prescribe medications to diminish suffering. I can recommend lifestyle changes to reduce health problems that cause suffering. I can legally prescribe death for your suffering now too--but I will not. I think a certain amount of suffering is expected as human beings.

As a parent, I can say I will show up and acknowledge my own suffering, the sadness of my son and the impact on my family. I can apologize to my community and hope for a better future for my child and others who struggle. I can get up each day and show up for work and go for runs and play piano and appreciate the small beauties presented to me.

I can enjoy apples. I can enjoy oysters, though as a vegetarian I am not overly fond of eating them outright.

I do have a prescription to offer to all who suffer, whether it be from a bad haircut, a child in prison, or a life threatening disease:
Kindness. Take every minute of every day, and give to everyone you meet every minute of every day. Side effects: happiness, calmness and hope.

My Boy. I love him, no matter what.