Friday, March 28, 2014

Retire from blogging?

Blogher, via Neil Kramer, aka Citizen of the Month, either launched or is about to launch a discussion of the end of an era, something on the order of this: Has blogging gone the wayside? 

Did blogging die because FaceBook, YouTube, and other stimulating, current media, are far more exciting than reading the soap-boxes of deep thoughts we bloggers can't help but share with THE WHOLE WORLD.
Ray William Johnson of Equals Three

I don't know if it is true, if blogging is dead or not, but Ray William Johnson, of Equals Three, a YouTube enterprise, is retiring as the host of his experiment with YouTube social media. People do move on, try new things. It can get old, anything, day after day.

We'll get to Ray in a minute.

Microsoft, you might have heard, is generously offering rebates of $100 to those who still have Windows XP on their computers (an enticement to upgrade, just spend $699 to be eligible). Bring in the old machine and swap it for a high-powered new one, guaranteed to be virus-free. Those of us who don't want to spend that much, who prefer to buy a functional, yet cheaper machine, might do that. We'll be recycling the old one ourselves.

In Chicago tossing electronics in the alley is a huge No No and warrants a citation and a fine. It isn't the most tedious thing in the world, cannibalizing a fax machine to isolate the hard drive. (Once a utility company convinced me to fax copies of my passport, bills, all kinds of things, and idiot me, I complied). Deconstructing a fax machine isn't as easy as snatching a hard drive off a desktop; it can take some hammering. Best Buy will take it all, cannibalized or not, all of those old electronics, virtually slobbered over an HP printer that should have worked! but did not, finally driving me to banishing it to the back room. Banished to the backroom is certain death for anything.

Progress, not perfection, an old 12 Step saying, when it comes to change.

When my mother passed away, she left an old Compaq Presario desktop, barely used, that still worked. She would have used it more, typed her synagogue newsletter for many years on the "dinosaur" before her disease didn't let, her fingers wouldn't cooperate. My father only used the machine to trade jokes (the worst jokes) with his friends and play the stock market. (This is a bad idea in your late eighties. Discourage your parents, take away their passwords, declare their browsers full of viruses; do whatever you have to do.)

This healthy but very outdated computer accompanied me home after we had sorted out all of Mom's valuables, the paintings, the chotchkes (rhymes roughly with latch-keys) she salvaged after my father passed away. That which no one else wanted found a home in my basement, the last stop before the back room. 

One day it made sense to turn it on, and since it had no sound, I turned to Amazon for an external sound card, the first of two. Since the machine did have XP, I installed Windows 7 (had to buy it). Soon it became obvious that although the 13 inch monitor had worked just fine for my parents, newer programs, like the ones that edit websites, don’t work on short monitors. So that had to go, too. I added a few gig of memory, sorely needed, and a receiver to get Internet (the TP-Link seems to be working quite well, but the green blinking light could cause seizures in a more vulnerable individual).

There wasn't much physical space for this setup, so I took it into the bedroom thinking it would stream video nicely, and it does. But you know how it gets. When there is a critical mass of electronics in a room the colorful diodes speak to you in the middle of the night. You can’t sleep, frantically arrange books or other strange objects (a coaster) to cover the glare..

But one night a few weeks ago, to see what is relevant and current and cool, I turned on the computer and clicked onto YouTube. Now that I have a decent-sized monitor , it is a pleasure. My television, also near my bed could fit in your glove compartment.

There is Ray William Johnson saying goodbye. Who is Ray William Johnson? I had no idea, but he has a YouTube show with a few million subscribers tuning in to watch what is popular on the Internet, those vids that go viral. Ray is a nice looking, funny, fast talking young man, an actor who deadpans. (It's all in the delivery). Retiring from the hit show, he is telling viewers about the drudgery of repetition, if I remember correctly, tells us he's looking to be replaced. YOU could replace him, or so he says. 

Most things probably get to be tiring if you stay with them long enough. I'm always amazed that my work as a therapist never does. Sure, it isn't always what I want to do, go to the office, sit and connect with people, ostensibly help them. But it is never boring. If I made some kind of change, it would have to really sing to me, and the odds of that happening are slim.

I thought about this great thought and wondered why blogging, which should be repetitious by now, still feels fresh. It isn’t a drag. We’re going on eight years! Maybe because there’s no pressure, no rush to post anything, and it is a hobby, not a job, after all. The way I see it, if it is fun for me, if I get a laugh out of it, or a cry, for that matter, then you will too. And there isn't a formula, you know that. I don't get caught up in should's and musts and have-to's.

My hunch is that for Ray, it isn't that his show needs to change, or that he has to invent a new wheel, but that he let it get routinized. That and the pressure must be overwhelming. The stakes are high when a million plus are watching, after all.

That's never going to happen to most of us ordinary bloggers, an audience of millions!

So in answer to the BlogHer question, the medium is far from dead. 



Sunday, March 09, 2014

The Salinity of Tears

My son, a doctor of physics, came over last night with his wife (they needed wood glue; I made smoothies*). I wanted to ask him a question, but forgot: If you're swimming backstroke and you start to cry, will the tears change the salinity of the pool?

Silly question, for sure not. You only squirt out a few, but any tears feel disturbing. Still, you say to yourself, that it is nice being in the pool, no one can tell these are tears; it's all water. And although everyone knows that squirting them out, during mourning is a good thing, they make people uncomfortable, even when the raison d'etre is understood.

It has been six months since my mom passed away, unbelievable, and I'm able to say to anyone who asks, How's it going? that I'm doing good.

By good that means less sadness, fewer tears, fewer negative thoughts and self-recriminations, although these still pop up. The legacy we try to keep alive in our heads is already fading, although new memories surprisingly replace the old.

My greatest fear is that I'll lose the sound of her voice. In so many years of doing therapy, I can't remember anyone bringing this up in a good way, the sound of her voice in my head. People remember being yelled at, criticized. It was my good fortune, certainly, that the voice I hear is a nice sound, although there was some of that, criticism. In the idealization process, the criticism completely faded.

Friday night, after a delicious, substantial meal with a couple of friends, I had a dream. In the dream I'm asking my father, who passed away three years ago, if he thinks I should buy a new car.

I show him the shiny, black sedan at the used car lot. In his good natured way he shrugs and tells me it seems as good a car as any. Usually when you dream of dead people they don't talk, they just make an appearance, so this is an exciting dream. Real memories of my father had faded, all that looking after my mother coming first. My father made a few dream appearances these past few years, none of them talking roles. So it was nice to say hello.I'll have to ask my hostess about those ingredients.**

Not that I'm so deep, or even dark (as one awesome website suggests). But one of the things that happens to you as a therapist is that you look for meaning in little things. Or maybe therapists are just this way, which is why they become therapists. It is an occupational hazard, and family therapists, especially, look for metaphors, the one big thing wrong, or perhaps right, in families. But it is also nice to look for the big universal picture, if there is one, and how we fit into that.

So here's a story.

Not long ago all of my children had left Chicago for school, careers, or marriage. Now three are back in town, complete with families, and one of the other two rumbles about a return. My daughter had the hardest choice, moving here from Los Angeles, no small miracle. People don't move from Los Angeles to Chicago. Career, not family, their deciding factor. We don't care why.

So they are working. And when your kids are lucky enough to have jobs, and they can effectively juggle life with children, partners, and pets, well, you are happy and don't care if you don't talk much.You can be in the same town and barely get off more than a text.

Today 11:05 AM
Daughter: Game times today: 3:30 in Skokie, 5:00 JCC.

Today: 1:35 PM
Me: Cool.

In a million years you don't complain at how little verbal communication you have, you're so happy that when you get together, even for a kids basketball game, that you haven't had to fly across the country. And you  drive your grandchildren to school five days a week, and to the orthodontist. There are donuts in everyone's future.

No matter, on a typical Saturday I tend to feel badly. Memories of my mother come out of nowhere, usually in services at the synagogue. And I probably look sad, and people might even notice tearfulness. I hate this but am powerless. And there's that dictum that it is good to cry, you won't forever, you'll miss not missing her one day.

So there I am, totally trancing out, picturing my mother's face when I would walk through her door, enter her home. She is still living with my father, and I let myself in with my key, for they are either eating a meal, sitting in the den watching television, or puttering around. They notice and are so happy to see me, so glad for the company. Or Mom is living independently in her apartment in a residential center after he has died, and I walk into the cafeteria, surprise her at lunch and she lights up, that enormous smile shatters the cosmos. And I remember how, when I leave, she always walks me out, not just to the door, but all the way down the hall, almost to the elevator but not quite. Leaving the house, she is outside on the front porch, watching until I drive off,  fade away.

So there I am on a Saturday, standing against a wall in the synagogue because the rabbi is talking and I can't handle sitting anymore, and someone taps me on the shoulder. I turn around and it is my kid and she throws her arms around me, she just knows, and gives me a tremendous hug. Right there in front of everybody.

If I ever complain about anything again, just hit me.


*Our lives have changed since I bought a Ninja last summer. All the left-over fruit goes in the freezer, especially bananas. Add a little mango juice, water, and a little vanilla ice cream, and life is beautiful.

**If you want to remember dreams the trick is to hesitate before completely waking up in the morning. Lie there a minute, eyes closed, and they'll come back.

Monday, March 03, 2014

What a Drag it Isn't Getting Old: the 86th Academy Awards

Judi Dench in Philomena

The mid-western weather is depressing. How depressing? People are calling for permission to blow off therapy. That's how depressing.

I'm home unusually early one night last week and the TV is singing to me. With the flick of a button there's Andy Griffith as the Mayberry sheriff in a rerun in black and white (1960).  The sheriff looks handsome, smiley and helpful in his khaki uniform, helping Aunt Bee break into a pharmacy.

They have to use the "hidden" key on the door-ledge because it seems the old pharmacist isn't feeling well. The older man's niece will fill in for him. A stranger in this small town, she has all the right credentials and she is going to run a tight ship.

Another townsperson, also elderly like Aunt Bee, a known quantity, bursts through the door in a panic. As Andy proposes to help her get her pills, the new pharmacist puts her foot down. No you don't. Not without a prescription. Nothing doing.

"But my pills! My pills!" the clearly pain-racked, tottering old person demands dramatically. "You wouldn't deny an old woman her pills!" Then she describes her many aches and pains, and how now she will certainly die without them.

Andy turns on all of his charm, and by the end of the show the new pharmacist relents, visits the older woman at her home with a pot of soup and her pills. Andy asks about the change of heart and the younger woman confides, "They're placebos. They were sugar pills, Sheriff."  Her uncle hadn't been plying this customer with opiates after all. He knew what he was doing.

Oh, if only it always worked out this neatly. We baby boomers are just beginning to notice our aches and pains, our arthritis, weak knees, necks, shoulders, and hips, parts of the body we didn't even know existed before. We're popping Advil and Tylenol, comparing which analgesic works best.

Therapists who have been sitting for years (it's a living) suffer lower back pain, an occupational hazard. Years ago a mentor of mine, sitting on a pillow shaped like a doughnut, warned me that sitting is the most dangerous part of this job. She was right, ___ her. But most of us with an ounce of sense won't be asking our doctors for anything stronger than ibuprofen, and we'll try not to even have to take that. We'll dutifully carry on with our yoga, those swims, physical therapy.

But I digress. The morning after the Andy Griffith Show, a song pops into my head, Mother's Little HelperRolling Stones, circa 1966,Aftermath. (Remember that album?!) The lyrics, if memory serves, include these verses:
Things are different today, I hear every mother say that she needs something today to calm her down. And though she's not really ill. There's a little yellow pill.
She goes running to the shelter of her mother's little helper.
And it helps her on her way. Gets her through her busy day.
Refrain: Doctor please, some more of these, outside the door, oh a few more.
What a drag it is getting old.
There are a few more verses before the close:
And if you take more of those, you will get an overdose.
No more running to the shelter of your mother's little helper.
Yet heroin is on the upswing, almost fifty years later.  

Let's get to the Oscars.

(1) In early January I had the pleasure of viewing Philomena, a film about an elderly woman seeking her lost child. As an unmarried pregnant teen, her father warehoused her in a Catholic orphanage. There, at the hands of brutal, poorly trained midwives, she has a baby boy. She is allowed to watch nuns, nurses, cuddle with her baby, and as he grows she observes as he plays with other children and they interact as mother and child. He knows she is his mother.

She is in his life for an hour a day until, at age three or four, he is lost to adoptive parents, no goodbyes. Left is a tearful young woman who will always have an empty place, a hole in her heart that no one, nothing but he can fill.

Judi Dench, nominated for best actress, didn't win the Oscar last night, but she will be remembered as Philomena, a light-hearted (if sad at times) woman, hopeful and religious, screaming youth and positivity that at her age isn't supposed to exist. But it does.

The real Philomena Lee attended the Academy Awards ceremony. Ms. Dench is working. She couldn't get off.

(2) The drug-overdose and death of Philip Seymour Hoffman made me angry.Why did this happen? Who gave him drugs? Why didn't someone who cared stop him from killing himself? Cocaine, heroin, methamphetamines. You will tell me, and I will tell you, that drug-seekers will find their drugs. It is the secrecy, however, that boggles the mind. The secret is so special that no one blurts. Because, after all, nobody dies of this stuff.

Philip Seymour Hoffman
A British street artist, hoping to draw attention to the issue, erects an eight-foot sculpture on Hollywood Blvd., Oscar injecting heroin. The words inscribed on the shunned piece of art: "Hollywood's best kept secret." 
Oscar shooting heroin

Only a few blocks away at the awards ceremony, a memorial is going on, featuring those in the industry who made their mark but passed away. Some timely, others not. It is an annual awards retrospective.

At the end, the fade, the camera lingers on photos of Philip Seymour Hoffman. Other memorials fly by so fast that they are hard to read, but this one hovers on stage just a little longer than the rest. Hollywood's best kept secret.

Earlier in the evening Bill Murray had addressed the academy, slipped in a reference to his deceased friend, Harold Ramis. The crowd is surprised, but uncomfortable, we're not there yet, not remembering, and Mr. Murray moves on quickly to the movies at hand.*

Harold Ramis, we miss him already

June Squibb at the Oscars
(3) If you haven't seen Bruce Dern in the film Nebraska, as grumpy old Woody Grant, an elderly alcoholic who thinks he has won a magazine sweepstakes, his portrayal is trumped only by June Squibb as Kate, his aging wife. She is aging better than he is and has plenty of attitude. She laughs at him, berating his stupidity while protectively telling him not to leave, as he heads off to claim his prize in Omaha.

Marvelously irreverent, Kate sarcastically rips into Woody. She roasts everyone she has ever known and isn't particularly nice to her son, either. In an interview with Bob Nelson, the screen writer (WSJ), I read that the people behind Woody and Kate are Mr. Nelson's parents, very much the same in real life. Nebraska is nothing, imho, without June Squibb, hilarious in this role, and many of us were rooting for her for the Oscar.

She didn't get it, either. But more important, perhaps, she scored attention to aging well,as Judi Dench does for Philomena. Ellen Degeneres (simply brilliant, ordering pizza for the audience, three large ought to be enough, taking tips when it arrives) jokes poker-faced with Ms. Squbb, roasts her early in the opening monologue. Assumed by the hostess to be hard of hearing because of her age, the actress is charmed, if perhaps a tad insulted at the very idea.

(4) Death, unless we're ready to hear about it, and even then, is a drag.

Hard-rocker Pink incongruously sings Somewhere Over the Rainbow halfway through the Oscars ceremonies in a tribute to Judy Garland. This before the retrospective and that Philip Seymour Hoffman punch, just before Bette Midler comes on to sing Wind Beneath My Wings. Talk about milking it. But Judy did die young, and she spent years abusing alcohol and prescription meds. Her children, in third row seats, surely had a hard time watching, listening.

As Pink makes us cry, we eat up the set, a delicious montage of a young Judy in the Wizard of Oz, ruby slippers and all. We are reminded that there was a time, way back when, that we stayed glued to our television sets on Thanksgiving for our annual Wizard of Oz fix, anticipating that blast of color at the end of the black and white film, assuming an aunt had a color set.

Pink does a nice job, singing a quiet song; her family must be proud. And Bette Midler, like Pink, doesn't belt it out either. This show had to be sad, mellow, and it is all the better for it.

Probably some people thought about it, during that emotional television event, about those mother's little helpers, the pills that people like Judy Garland used to get through the day.

They aren't just Hollywood secrets.


* Mr. Ramis died of complications from an auto-immune inflammatory vasculitis, a relatively rare disorder. Chicagoans loved his improv at Second City, and everyone remembers his films:  CaddyshackGhostbustersStripes and Groundhog Day. Cut down in his prime, like Mr. Hoffman, but this one makes me sad.
Aftermath, Rolling Stones about Valium