Too Busy to Blog

Blogging is like going to the gym. You tell yourself you’re going to do it everyday and then you don’t.  The last two months have been all about my mother’s death and work.  Any remaining hours  were siphoned off by my other hobbies: photography and reading. Yeah I count reading as a hobby.

If we’re going to have the long happy writer-reader relationship that we’re all looking for you are going to have to put up with my ticks. I will enumerate them for you:

  1. I blow hot and cold on things. I am either all in or all out. If I am blogging that’s pretty much all I am doing. If I am taking pictures or programming that’s pretty much it. Balance is for rocks on pinnacles not me.
  2. I always return to my passions. I never give up on things I just put them aside. My affection for amateur astronomy has not gone away it’s just difficult to indulge it in the wretched quasi-opaque low altitude skies of St. Louis.  This city has many charms but clear skies is not one of them.
  3. I don’t give a crap about what people think. This is a problem for anyone that pretends to write. Authors, even lowly bloggers, cannot ignore their audience or they won’t have one. My manly impulse is to ignore you, but  I will, on occasion, profusely apologize and beg you to keep reading. It’s all crocodile tears. My apologies are as insincere as Obama’s: another guy that doesn’t give a crap about what you think.
  4. I will never change: at least while alive. Guys get this instantly.  A few women have vainly tried to correct my bad habits; they didn’t succeed.

To end June on a happy note and, more importantly, to test a nifty WordPress layout feature here’s a collection of recent images.  Click on any one to enlarge. All these images, and thousands more, are always on view on SmugMug. Next month I will be a better boy and write the epoch defaming rubbish you all love and crave.

More Photographic Waybacking

There are three things I like about funerals: meeting old friends and relatives, unlimited quantities of food and browsing old photographs. A few weeks ago my sister and sister-in-law went through my mother’s closets and found a stash of old photographs that had eluded my frequent attempts to catalog and archive family pictures.

I have a thing about family pictures. If you want to piss me off make a big pile of your family’s pictures and set them on fire! For reasons that are utterly inexplicable to me many of you don’t seem to give a damn about your family pictures. My wife’s father was a very organized photographer that took hundreds, maybe thousands, of black and white snapshots in Iran from the 1940s to the 1970s. Apparently he took the time to meticulously label each print with where, when and who information. I would love to paw through his pictures but that’s not possible because his kids, my wife’s siblings, trashed most of his pictures. The few that survive, like this one of him sitting and reading a newspaper, hint at a never to seen again world.

My wife's father reading a newspaper 1955.

My wife’s father reading a newspaper 1955.

Such crimes against imagery are common. My maternal grandmother was also a keen unorganized photographer. She didn’t label prints or neatly file slides but she shot everything that caught her eye. Over six decades she piled up thousands of images, but when she moved into town, she accidentally sold stacks of what she thought were empty slide carousels to yard sale strangers. Some of the carousels were empty but the rest held the bulk or her slide collection. The surviving images, like this old Kodachrome of my great-grandmother and her sister, constantly remind me of all the great shots I will never see! Don’t trash your family pictures you will grow to regret it.

My great-grandmother (light blue dress) and her sister 1950s.

My great-grandmother (light blue dress) and her sister 1950s.

My mother’s recently recovered stash held a few gems I had never seen like this great little snapshot of my maternal grandmother with her two daughters: my late mother as a pouty girl and my aunt as a baby. The old car in the background would be marked down as a “distracting element” in many photography classes. This merely shows how bad the advice and guidelines dispensed in such courses can be. The car is an essential element; it turns a nice snapshot into a sweet period piece.

Hazel, Alberta (baby) and Evelyn 1940.

Hazel, Alberta (baby) and Evelyn 1940.

Here’s another snapshot of my mother and aunt with a puppy. This picture is almost seventy years old but I still see the same expression on my aunt’s face. Your smile is a lifelong affliction; I would recommend getting used to it.

Evelyn and Alberta with puppy 1944.

Evelyn and Alberta with puppy 1944.

Along with the amateur snapshots a number of professional studio portraits turned up. The following is a hand tinted print of my mother as a ten-year old. Color photography obliterated the art of hand tinting. It is rarely seen outside of photographic art classes today. Tinting is often unnatural and hokey but it sometimes lends an eerie painting quality. Here the tinting works. Tinted prints are becoming rare and valuable. Don’t throw them away!

Evelyn age ten hand tinted 1945.

Evelyn age ten hand tinted 1945.

Finally, here’s a wonderful never seen portrait of my mother as an eleven year old. This may be the best portrait of my mother at any age. The studio photographer caught her in the middle of a great smile. This picture was taken over six decades ago but I doubt that modern imaging technology could significantly improve it.

Evelyn age eleven studio portrait 1946.

Evelyn age eleven studio portrait 1946.

Finding this portrait shortly after my mother’s death took away some of the sting. I had a great mother, and because I treat family pictures with the respect they deserve, I have the photographic evidence to prove it.

Evelyn’s Eulogy

Last Saturday, May 11, 2013, I attended my mother’s funeral and gave this short eulogy. 

I will start with an apology. I hope to make it through this without crying. There is a reason husbands, sons and daughters are not encouraged to give eulogies; we don’t always make it through them. Never-the-less I am going to talk because if there is one thing my mother loved it was talking to her children, her family and her friends. I have probably spent more time talking to my mother than any other person. Many of you here today have fond memories of talking to my mother. She always engaged with relish, gusto, enthusiasm, intelligence, wit and most importantly respect.

My mother treated everyone with respect. She had only one class: human being, and we were all invited in.  Of course mom was aware of social standing, rank, professional achievements and all the other distinctions we sort ourselves with but she wasn’t going to treat you differently just because you’re the CEO of an oil company or shot par on the Old Course, and, in Mr. T’s immortal words, “I pity the man,”  and it was usually a man, that expected her to fawn over such trivialities. If I where to design a coat of arms for mom it might say Bane of Bullshitters – in Latin of course.

-I loved talking with mom and her words shaped me in ways that I am still discovering. Of all my teachers she was the greatest. She laid my moral keel with reason. She always provided good reasons for me to stop being a moron and seldom resorted to the, “because I’m you’re mother,” edict. After learning of mom’s illness I have spent a lot of time thinking about her. I vainly thought I might go through my memories and craft a biggest hits montage. Where do we get such dumb ideas?  Every nook and cranny of my mind is filled with mom.  My best qualities are largely her doing  —  my worst — well,  that’s my own work. I will never separate out mom because so much of who I am is due to her.  Mom is gone but she lives on in the people she influenced.

A few days ago Sharon, an old friend of my sister Aileen, sent us a message about my mom.  Aileen, Sharon and my mom basically hung out when Aileen and Sharon were teenagers. This is some of what she wrote:

I remember Evelyn as a beautiful, extremely intelligent, witty and gracious woman. I am honored to have known her in my younger years, when she accepted me into her family and her heart as if I were another daughter. Those times that I spent visiting with Evelyn and the whole family sharing adventures with them in Scotland, Denmark, Barbados and lastly Frank and Evelyn’s 50th anniversary celebration in Toronto at the Royal York Hotel are forever etched in my memory as special highlights in my life.

When Evelyn said goodbye to me at the end of that evening in Toronto, over ten years ago, she gave me a hug and said, “Have a good life Sharon.”  I’ve never forgotten her words of good wishes and love and they have stayed close to my heart over all of these years

Thank you Evelyn, your wishes and loving spirit followed me and yes, I have been fortunate to have a good life. You were one of the person’s who I looked up to with admiration when I was younger and wanted to be something like you. Although I could never be as good as you, haven’t lived the life of high adventure and I haven’t been the world explorer and traveller that you were,  I was deeply influenced by you.  I always wanted to be someone who wasn’t afraid to try new things, wanted to be adaptable, wanted to experience the world,  examine the world, understand different cultural and geographic perspectives, know things that you just don’t learn staying in one’s own back yard, and embrace the whole world in all of its idiosyncrasies and wonderful beauty. You led me to those desires and I think my life has been better because of you. I always loved your wittiness, humor and intelligent perspective and enjoyed our many talks about almost everything. You were like a mother, but even better!

I’d like to think that people who really got to know my mother feel the same as Sharon.

Ours is a culture of things. We’re not encouraged to think about the people in our lives as our most precious gifts but at the end of a life our things do not matter. What matters: who we love, and who loves us! Mom loved all of us and that’s why we all love her. Good bye mom.

evelyn eclipse hat iphone

Now for a Nursing Home

Yesterday my mother left the Bozeman Deaconess hospital and went to a nursing home. The week before she fell on the way to a radiation appointment. The fall was serious enough to put her back in the hospital. The poor woman has been in and out of hospitals for six months. She has terminal brain cancer and is about half way through her radiation treatments. When her radiation and chemotherapy treatments end  the focus will be on keeping her comfortable and pain-free until she dies.

My mother’s mental state is up and down. The tumor started near her speech centers on the left side of her brain. The surgeons managed to remove most of the tumor and the radiation and chemo have kept the remnant in check. Unfortunately, the cancer and surgery have impaired her speech and memory. She cannot reliably recall her birthday or tell us what year it is. Sometimes she cannot recall why she is in the rest home and her sense of time is out of whack. Today she was asking for her own mother: a woman who died six years ago.

People have mixed feelings about losing your mind when you’re close to death. Some say it’s a blessing. It takes away the fear and blunts oppressive anxiety. Others feel it’s a premature death. What’s the point of living if you cannot remember your life? I’ve watched Alzheimer’s drain people from the inside out leaving breathing hulks where sentient beings once dwelled. Brain cancer is faster but it seldom dulls the fear and comes with a menagerie of cognitive deficits. Believe me sudden unexpected death has many benefits.

One thing is clear, don’t expect your golden years to unfurl like some idiotic AARP or Viagra commercial. Forget about banging hotties or gathering around the campfire with a horde of cute grandchildren. You’ll be lucky to get out of bed for bowel movements. Old people smell is a real mixture of loaded adult diapers and stale body odor. Live now — there’s always time for death.

At the Palliative Care Ward

Visiting hospitals is almost as tiring as staying in them. For the last few days my siblings and I have taken turns spending the night with our mother in the Bozeman Deaconess’s palliative care ward. She is terminally ill and doesn’t want to be alone. Keeping her company is about the only thing we can do for her. I am pecking out this blog entry on my phone while my mum sleeps. It’s her sole break these days.

About two months ago my mother was diagnosed with stage four Glioblastoma Multiforme a nasty aggressive terminal brain cancer. I was terribly upset when I first learned of her illness. This cancer is utterly lethal. If it doesn’t kill you it’s because something else gets you first. In black humor circles this cancer is called “the terminator” and unlike Arnold’s robot this terminator cannot be crushed in a machine press.

We’re all adjusting to this new reality in our own ways. I have been surprised at the excessively decent behavior of my greater family, my in-laws and even my “outlaws.” My long divorced first wife, a Canadian physician, made the trip from eastern Canada, to help my parents. My dad said, “that was darn decent of her,” and it was. My younger brother has shown an ability to care for others that we never noticed before. He is determined to see mom live as long as possible. My chaotic sister has a very effective bedside manner. She’s been brushing my mother’s teeth and fussing with her scarves and hair. My dad, never noted for doling out care, is spending long hours sitting and talking with mom. My wife, currently tied down in Toronto with her own demented mother, is more upset about my mom than I am. Her sisters are encouraging her to let them look after their mum so she can get west to see mine. Everyone has shown compassion and concern. I may have to reassess my negative view of mankind.

As for myself, I had a few teary moments when I first heard the news, but I have recovered my phlegmatic state. Right now I am more tired than sad. I expect to grieve and mourn soon enough. For now I will keep my mother company and try to steal a few hours of sleep on the bench beside her bed.

Australia It Is

I’m putting up with a little feces storm; it’s flying off the fan in all directions.

Let’s start with work. Lately it’s been grueling. I’m coding like a mad twenty something, wasting my weekends for the man and being very much the good little corporate drone. I do my best to avoid crazy hours but I’ve foolishly allowed myself to care about the problem. I’m kind of surprised that in my boomer dotage I am still capable of going into deep code: that weird state where you have dreams about iterators and interfaces. In my feverish coding dreams I’m always one step from nailing a problem, all that remains is a stupid little tweak, but for the life of me I cannot see it.

Moving on: my wife and elderly demented mother-in-law have fled the US. They’re both back in Canada where my wife is attempting to get her mother placed in a facility that can handle her Alzheimer’s. My poor wife has looked after her demented mother for almost two years and it’s completely worn her down. Caring for the Alzheimer stricken elderly is far more draining than looking after newborns. I’ve done both and believe me babies are a breeze. And, if one demented mother-in-law wasn’t bad enough, this week I learned my mother has a “growth” near the speech center of her brain. We’re awaiting biopsy results so we don’t know what the “growth” is, but brain growths are never good news. 

We need a vacation which brings me the results of the first ever ADND poll.  I asked a simple question: which country should we visit, Argentina or Australia? I didn’t expect any answers but a few readers chimed in and, the last time I looked, Australia was the winner! Until two months ago Argentina was still in the running but it looks like Kirchner is a bigger economic imbecile than Obama. You go girl!  Until the economic dust settles Argentina looks like work so it’s off to Australia in the fourth quarter.

I’ve started marking places to visit. If anyone has suggestions please drop a note.

My Dream of Liberty Encased

I have cinematic dreams that I watch as a little sleeping movie critic. I’m sure you’re familiar with this weird state of consciousness. You know you’re asleep and dreaming; the dream is unfolding around you, but part of your mind, the part that knows you’re dreaming, is aware and watching. It’s busy taking notes, making snide remarks, lamenting poor production values and snickering at clichés.  Sometimes it’s surprised and delighted by unexpected turns. This morning I had an entertaining dream.

I was visiting the Statue of Liberty for the second time. I’ve seen the statue in my waking life and it is well worth the security shakedown you’ll get before boarding the ferry at Battery Park. In my dream I knew that many years had passed since my last visit and I was nervous about recent changes. As the ferry pulled up to the statue’s island my concerns materialized. The entire island had been “redeveloped.” The little park at the base of the statue was gone: replaced by a massive marble covered plaza. Standing in the middle of the plaza was a large, hideous, marble, glass and steel building that completely enclosed the statue. From the island boat dock you couldn’t even see Liberty! “Oh crap,” my dreaming self muttered. Large signs on the dock warned us about “demonstrative language.” We were  to conduct ourselves with quiet dignity while visiting this “shrine of democracy.” My dreaming self, and the little sleeping movie critic, both inwardly groaned. Nothing says “democracy” like shutting up and taking whatever’s doled out.

I got off the boat feeling hopeful; there had to be a good vantage point to look at Liberty. I was carrying my cameras, so I set off exploring the plaza looking for a good place to take pictures. The plaza was still under construction. Construction fencing blocked off the plaza behind the Liberty building. You couldn’t walk around the building, but you could go far enough to see that the walls were completely opaque on all sides except the front, where Liberty gazed at the harbor. Her back and sides were completely hidden and exceptionally thick steel girders buttressed the back wall. “That ought to block incoming planes,” my dream self thought. My little movie critic wasn’t happy. Liberty is about open possibilities in all directions. It’s not about being stuffed in a box and hidden from view. All my selves found it difficult to believe that some moron thought it was a good idea to completely cover the thing we were all there to see.

Determined to get a good picture, I turned back from the construction fence and walked along the base of the building. On the way I passed two little men dressed in black; they were staging a puppet show. Only the puppets weren’t little dolls on strings they were massive pantomime robots that towered over the tourists. The giant robots were exactly mimicking what the little men were doing. My somnolent movie critic thought, “Cute – the great men are really just little men putting on a big show. If you take away their puppets they’re even smaller and more pathetic than the rest of us.” I took a moment to congratulate my dreaming self for abruptly injecting this metaphor while also noting it was too blatant for refined tastes.

Leaving the puppeteers, I made my way to the front entrance of the building. It was like every visitor center you have ever entered. A fat black woman with bad breath patted me down and made me run my already checked camera bags through an x-ray scanner. I picked up my camera bags and wandered in the Liberty building until I found a dark series of escalators running up the front of the massive statue. I was suddenly happy. This must lead to a good viewpoint. I walked up the escalator steps fumbling with my camera bags. Immediately, in dream steps, I was at the top of the escalators. They discharged into a small dark brown room at the very top of Liberty. In the middle of the room, wrapped in museum display velvet, a bit of Liberty’s crown reflected dim halogen lights. Tourists were touching the exposed crown bit like they kiss the toes of bronze saints. My movie critic approved, “This is the way we do oppression. We don’t beat people up; we don’t loudly lord it over them; we don’t get in their big fat stupid faces day in and day out. No, we turn important symbols into tourist attractions, wrap them up as venerated national monuments, and because we have nasty sense of humor, we allow well frisked tourists to touch a bit of, ‘Liberty’, while doing everything we can to deny them real liberty.”

At this point I woke up and thought, “Boy John, your subconscious totally nailed it with that one!” This is how we do oppression. Being a citizen in the Indebted States of America is exactly like being a crown touching tourist in my dream. We pretend the sliver of freedom we’re allowed to touch makes us free but it really only showcases our stupidity and cowardice. A truly free people would tear down the Liberty encasing visitor center and hang the architects from the remains of the plane blocking girders.