Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Zen hospice journal 12-21 and 12-22 -- for the literary minded

Creative bouquet from Mary Ann and Joan.  Jean knew that
the  white flowers are called flock, the red buds euforbia, and
the thick, feather-shaped white leaves Dusty Miller.

 On Friday Jean was still not feeling like company; Dan Hakim, an old friend and colleague of Jean's from URS corp., had to content himself with a mere phone call.  But Jean was feeling gregarious again Saturday, and not only with visitors who wanted to watch videos   with her.

Why?  People do not go into hospice care because they expect to get better, and serial disappointment has trained us in the arts of pessimism.  But perhaps the Tibetan medicine helps, it is conceivable that Jean's improving.  There's actually some evidence for that in the previous paragraph.  Trying to write this blog, a word kept eluding me, and I decided to try Jean: "Darling, senior moment.  Lost a word, sounds like 'garrulous' but means closer to 'sociable.'".  It took Jean only a second to come up with 'gregarious," me a minute to take in what had happened. Like old times, working together, Jean's editor's mind quick and obliging. We looked at each other and laughed, another emotion nearby.

Karen Creech visited again on Saturday, and of course she and Jean enjoyed an episode or two of Battlestar Gallactica (BSG to initiates).  But before that, we listened to one of Karen's favorite NPR podcasts, readings of short stories called simply Selected Shorts.  Isaiah Sheffer hosted the show, reading many stories himself, until his death from stroke complications last November 10.  He will be sorely missed.  The show we listened to Saturday was a Sheffer tribute first broadcast November 26, featuring him reading T. C. Boyle's Heart of a Champion (Lassie reconsidered) and Ian Frazier Dating Your Mom (described as humor, but like Lassie, with bite).
Mary Ann Koory (workshop leader); Joan Gibson
(talented workshop participant); Jean (another talent);
and bouquet 

The other visitors were Mary Ann Koory and Joan Gibson, from the novel writing workshop Jean was taking at the time her tumor was discovered in April 2011.  They brought the bouquet shown in the photos, an excerpt from Joan's novel, writers' talk, and poetry print-outs.  A shamelessly literary occasion, but of general interest; writer’s talk made it easier to ask big Jean questions about what made her Jean.

One question was inspired by a description of herself she wrote for the hospice when she moved in: "Want to save everything, especially cat, roses, and music."  This need to preserve, to save from extinction -- did it come from the friends she's lost to suicide?  In April 2011 Jean was trying to write about her friends John and Sandra, who took their own live seven years before.  Sandra had told Jean about her plans, that she not try to intervene, that nothing Jean could do would stop her.  Should Jean have ignored Sandra’s instructions and tried to step-in?  A question that's haunted her, which she wanted to explore in a novel.
But Jean had a much simpler answer or the origins of her need to save, avoiding all that heavy drama.  One day in young girlhood, her mom Sylvia became so exasperated with the mess in her room that she cleaned it by tossing out everything that wasn't put away. A Pyrrhic victory for mom; as now, Jean was willful.  A packrat was born, starting by hoarding toys, progressing to other saves.
Mary Ann's experience teaching Shakespeare led to the second big Jean question.  The students recite sonnets as part of the class, but they seem uncomfortable, even when they have them memorized.  Because of a lack of assertiveness, perhaps stemming from the same source that could cause a very talented editor to not get all the recognition she deserved in the work place?  But again, Jean eschewed self-dramatization.  It was not that she needs assertiveness training, Jean thought her problem was lack of focus.  Before the tumor was discovered, she was going to a therapist for diagnosed her problem as Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD).
The poetry was really fun, and brought in another set of big questions.

All Shall be Restored by Kay Ryan, quoted in full below, has an interesting slant on that vast topic, loss.

On first impression, Charles Bukowski's A 350 dollar horse and a hundred dollar whore offered a needed correction to the Zen hospice experience; how many tinkling temple bells can a person take? But to be fair, the hospice is not heavy on sanctimony. Indeed, if you read Rumi's Guest House (which appears to be the inspiration for the name of the hospice facility), one could almost imagine Rumi as a 13th century Bukowski, minus the flair for the racetrack idiom: The dark thought, the shame, the malice,/meet them at the door laughing,/ and invite them in.

Finally, one poem, Columbus in Retirement, was unattributed.  It seems that in his golden years, the great explorer reconsidered his discovery of the shape of the world.  The last line is Sailors all, we sail only and ever forward to the edge.  Readers of early 20th century American novels may catch an echo of Fitzgerald's famous line from The Great Gatsby: So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past.

And now, without further ado, here's Kay:

All Shall Be Restored

The grains shall be collected
from the thousand shores
to which they found their way,
and the boulder restored,
and the boulder itself replaced
in the cliff, and likewise
the cliff shall rise
or subside until the plate of earth
is without fissure. Restoration
knows no half measure. It will
not stop when the treasured and lost
bronze horse remounts the steps.
Even this horse will founder backward
to coin, cannon, and domestic pots,
which themselves shall bubble and
drain back to green veins in stone.
And every word written shall lift off
letter by letter, the backward text
read ever briefer, ever more antic
in its effort to insist that nothing
shall be lost.