Sunday, November 29, 2009

A Rough Year Draws to an End.

George Clooney observed that everyone has a year where they age ten years. 2009 has been one of those years for me. I lost a good friend and I hate a mild heart attack, and both left me in a deep funk that has been hard to climb out of. I figure that the best way to beat this depression is to write about it, and once it's out in the open I can put it away. In the last ten days there has been a slow turn around, so I ask you to bear with me as I spew what is most likely emotional gobbledygook.

Last December I came to work and was told that my friend/coworker, Tim, had died in Chicago a day before. This was doubly sad because Tim had just finished four months of Chemotherapy for esophageal cancer, and was 100% cancer free. He had beat it. The problem was that it takes almost a year after chemo for the body to fully recover, and Tim had decided to take a road trip with his wife. He died in their hotel room a day after Christmas.

Tim was a great guy, he was in his mid-fifties, and had been around the block a few times. He loved to try new things (he had many tattoos and piercings), and he loved to fuck with people whenever he could. Since Tim was 6'5" he was an imposing presence, and he could tell someone off with the kind of authority I could only dream of. Tim never sugar-coated anything, and I learned a lot from that. Tim was also a great cheerleader for his many diverse friends, and was always reaching out to help someone. He often lent his cell phone to strangers to make emergency calls, and he gave more than a few surprised guests a ride in his Jeep to Santa Cruz or San Jose just for the hell of it. Tim's many friends included ex-cons, Air Force pilots (he was in the USAF), homeless guys, porn stars, bus drivers, and everything in between. He was a master of figuring people out, and could tell me what made them tick. Every day was a party, and he was always telling me that I deserved to treat myself better especially since the world never seems to want to.

When Tim died I was mad at him. That's the only way to put it. He had beat cancer, and then went on a road trip that killed him. What an asshole (this is what Tim would say if the situation were reversed). That anger masked something deeper; not only had a lost a friend but I had lost a mentor. I'm heading into the last half of my life and Tim seemed to be getting the most out of his. I could have learned so much more. I realize that this is selfish, but as Tim would tell you...why the hell not be selfish about it? He would tell you that some people don't feel anything and that I should be glad that I have any kind of emotions whatsoever. As the year has progressed I find myself missing Tim more and more. All the stupid things that we laughed about, all the crazy things that he loved are still going on without him. I've tried to enjoy them without him, but it all seems so hollow. Everyone has to deal with grief in their own way, and I have dealt with Tim's death the way I thought that Tim would want me to. That has made it a little easier, but it doesn't work as well now. So I'll just be honest and say that it hurts me that Tim is dead, I lost a special friend, and while I was lucky to have him in my life I am sad and angry that he is gone now.

Then there is the small matter of my heart attack...

I almost joined Tim in March. I was on the back end of a cold, and it had got into my lungs. Since I am asthmatic this is bad. I woke up around 9:00am and had taken a shower when my chest just locked up. I went to the ventilator and popped in some medication hoping to free up my breathing. After the ten minutes required I was still no better, so I went into my room to get my rescue inhaler. I took a lung full and then dropped to my knees, and I stayed there for almost forty-five minutes curled up in a ball. Everything was wrong. Sparks were flying through my eyes, and my breathing was exotically labored. There was a strange fire in my chest that hurt like a mother. There is no way I can describe this to you. I hit my cheap backup inhaler a couple more times and my chest eased up. I got up off the floor and sat on my bed, I was thinking about going to the hospital. I can't afford the hospital, and I was feeling better. So I got dressed, and I got in my truck and went to work. In late April I was at the gym, and I ran into my doctor friend. I'm telling him about my near death from asthma, and after I give him all the details he tells me that I'm lucky, and that it wasn't an asthma attack but a HEART ATTACK. Well fuck me six ways from Sunday, a heart attack. While I'm glad to be alive and all, it added to my depression.
Heart attacks are supposed to be for old people, I was 45. I guess that's old. So I found myself withdrawing from the world. I haven't hiked nearly as much as I did the year before, and I don't seem to enjoy a lot of things that I normally enjoy. I think almost dying makes you afraid to live a normal life. The thing I kept thinking as I was curled up on my bedroom floor trying to breathe was "I don't want to die now, not this way", and I felt so helpless about it all. Looking back on it now I see that some of my depression is based on that fear. Fear I can deal with much easier than grief. So already the weight on my brain has begun to lift.

As the semester draws to an end it will free up some time. I can use the extra time to start exercising again, something I loved to do all the time , but I have abandoned in the last year. I only have one class for next semester so I can really step things up. Tim was all about seeking out joy and bringing it into your life, and that is a gift that he has given me that I plan to use to the fullest. As 2010 approaches I am optimistic for the first time in a long while.

Saturday, November 28, 2009

English Romanticism and Early Modernism’s Warnings for the 20th & 21st Centuries.

The poems of English Romanticism warned of the dangers to mankind as we moved away from nature to indulge ourselves in the industrial revolution. The “Romantic Crisis” was seen as the loss of imagination as we disconnected with nature. John Keats said “Beauty is truth and truth beauty…”, and in the century that has passed since he wrote those words it is clear that western society no longer can recognize neither truth nor beauty. Worse, society no longer even seems to care that it cannot grasp these concepts, and it seems perfectly happy fabricating its own truths, and its own definition of beauty. The Romantic Crisis bore itself out at the end of the 19th century and early 20th century. This is best witnessed in the writings of James Joyce, and in the early work of Ernest Hemingway. Joyce’s “The Dubliners” is a stark, depressing look at life in Dublin at the turn of the last century. People are without joy, they have lost their faith in their church, their families, and themselves. There are repeated themes of emotional paralysis as we see people not only unable, but unwilling to improve their lives by reaching for better things. Hemingway’s “In Our Time” is a collection of short stories that revolve around the zeitgeist of disillusionment. Disillusionment of home, marriage, family, and society are explored in brief vignettes. This paralysis and disillusionment by society at large would open the door to Communism, Fascism, and Nazism in the 20th century.
The First World War had a devastating impact on western societies both in Europe, and the United States. In Europe cities were destroyed, and in both Europe and the US lives were destroyed. Men returned home to the United States changed by the Great War. In Europe after the war, veterans of both sides wandered the cities and countryside of France, Spain, and Italy. The popular notion is that these men were mesmerized by the pleasures that these places offered, and were not in a hurry to return home to Kansas or West Virginia. The truth was that they needed to come to grips with what they had seen, and what they had done as soldiers in the war. Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) was called “Shell Shock” in those days, and has taken almost a full century to be understood. The men didn’t know that they might be sick, but they sure knew that they weren’t well. So they wandered Europe trying to find themselves before they returned home. Adolf Hitler was one of those men, who like Hemingway, was wounded in the war, and found himself disillusioned after the war. Hitler chose to fill the void of disillusionment with anger and hatred. In Munich, Germany, Hitler would find other disillusioned war veterans to sell his vision of a new Germany to.
The danger of mass disillusionment of a segment of a population is that as they reject a belief system, they will embrace another almost without question. Hitler was a decorated war veteran, in the mind of those wayward German vets he had earned his bones, and thus they gave him the benefit of the doubt. Hitler took their disillusionment in their government, and turned it into anger towards their government. Hitler took advantage of the universal anti-Semitism in Europe to further fix (or put a face on) the target of all the things that were wrong with Germany and the world. Earlier, while the war was going on, Communists took over Russia in a fairly popular revolution. The Russian people had grown disillusioned with the Czar and his many failing, and the Communists were able to take advantage of this just as Hitler would sixteen years later.
Today there is much disillusionment again in the zeitgeist of America. Our economy has failed because smart people in finance bought into an economic model that was a lie. We will have spent seven years in Iraq after been told that their former government had stockpiles of WMDs. Many people view 9/11 as a failure of religion. So they want to throw the whole thing out.
All I ask is that you be careful that you think about what you are going to replace it all with before you throw the NOW out.
Let’s look at the Tea Party movement. The root of this movement is disillusionment of the government. Last summer over a million people converged on Washington DC to protest with little or no external organization. A second, smaller demonstration was convened a few months ago almost on the spur of the moment. The mainstream media belittles them, and barely mentions them in their broadcasts. They should be looking at this because just as in Munich in 1921, there is an opportunity to turn disillusionment into anger. In Arizona, some Tea Party folks showed up to a Presidential speech with their AR-15 assault rifles.
What if the million + that went to Washington DC last summer had all been armed? How would the government stop them if someone yelled “Charge!”.
I’m sure that most of the Tea Party people are fine, honest, and patriotic Americans who want to work for change in the government. I support this. Yet there has been a fracture within the movement because some do not believe that it is aggressive enough. They want to take more action. At the moment, the Tea Party movement has no direction, but that can change. All they need is a leader. One man or woman who can relate to the disillusionment, and then turn it into anger, and then things will get interesting.
We have become lost in our synthetic world. We no longer recognize truth, and we are blind to beauty. These are most dangerous times, my friends.