|Piers Anthony, Jan. 1, 2011. Photo by Jane McConnell.|
For those interested, Xanth #42, Fire Sail, will come on sale at $16.99 this month, NoRemember, but maybe you can remember it if you try hard enough. The title was suggested by my wife, and now represents a memory of her. The novel introduces the magic boat with a sail made of fire, that is the size of a rundown rowboat outside but a fancy yacht inside, that sails through the air. Fibot, that is the Fire Sail Boat, will be a regular feature in future Xanth novels, together with its human and animal crew—remember the Pet Peeve bird? Tata the Robot Dogfish? The children introduced in Five Portraits?--in the background. Then in Jewel-Lye 2020 there will be Xanth #43, Jest Right. That features a lady jester who can't get anyone to take her seriously, so she makes a profession of it, getting laughs. Such as how she flashed her panties at a prospective suitor at pointblank range, and he projectile vomited, burning her bottom with the acid (ass-ed?) so now she can't sit down, “That's why I'm a stand-up comedienne.” But somehow it seems less funny when she wants a serious boyfriend. Also available this month is The Iron Maiden, from my Space Tyrant series, featuring the Tyrant's sister Spirit, who has a story of her own to cover. She was the real power behind that throne.
In my prior HiPiers column I told how my wife Carol—CAM, for her maiden initials Carol Ann Marble—was getting to come home from the hospital. She did, but it was a brief respite; after one night and one day home she died at 12:05 AM October 3, 2019, age 82. Our 63-year-long marriage was over. Her death, as far as we could tell, was peaceful. It was listed as congestive heart failure, but it was really a combination of conditions that finally wore her out. We knew she was fading; indeed, she had been declining for the past fifteen years; but still it was an ugly shock. Is an expected death in the family easier to bear than a surprise death? Perhaps, as Daughter Cheryl and I were prepared, but had we had any choice we would have kept her alive and healthy. So I went into grief mode, following the program I had prepared well in advance. I read the books on handling grief that Cheryl bought me a year and a half ago, and I wrote a novelette-length, painfully candid study of that long marriage titled “My Rose With Thorns.” Was the marriage perfect? No. But is any marriage ever perfect? It was good enough. I teased her that she was nineteen when I married her, but she didn't STAY nineteen. So she did have thorns, but overall she was my Rose, and her loss dropped me into desolation. I have not yet decided whether to share “My Rose” with the public; I will edit it, have Cheryl go over it, and perhaps share it with interested family members before I make that decision. It is a significant segment of my private life and my handling of my loss.
Meanwhile, life continues. I am carrying on because there's not much else I can do. I am maintaining my existing routine. Maybe that is a crutch, but I need the crutch to fend off the immense emptiness that engulfs me any time I pause. I am continuing my exercise schedule uninterrupted, answering my email as usual, eating and sleeping as usual. Well, not perfectly with that last; the first time after she died that I lay down and closed my eyes, I saw a mental picture of her lying dead, and that ended any chance of sleep. But as the days and weeks pass, I am sleeping better. Reminders of her are constant; everything reminds me of her. Her sandals on the floor, which she won't be wearing any more. Her dark chocolates, which she won't be eating now, so I am eating them, feeling vaguely guilty about it. We use only half as many bananas now, half the egg salad sandwiches I make for lunch, half the dishes I wash, half the bed sheets. The TV is not on nearly as much. But I am getting used to that; it isn't as if I mind thinking of her. She is part of me, of what I am, of whatever I will be. I am learning to do the things she did, such as writing checks to pay the routine bills, and how to use the WiFi (I called her my WiFi Wife) to go online and download the email. A private amusement was that on occasion women would solicit me by email, not knowing that my wife handled it and uploaded my responses. I expect to finish writing my current Xanth novel in due course, and to continue reading books and watching DVD movies. I may start getting out more, becoming more social; it was not a lack of social interest that kept me at home before, but my commitment to my ill wife, who was essentially housebound. So I am free, albeit in a manner I did not desire. Now on with those books, which reviews you may skip if you're not in grief yourself. At such time as you are in grief, you may want to return.
I read Healing A Spouse's Grieving Heart, by Alan D Wolfelt. This is subtitled “100 Practical Ideas After Your Husband Or Wife Dies.” I found it relevant, with a number of good thoughts. This is for the time of marriage “Until death do us part.” That time did come for me, after 63 years, and while I expected it, I could never be really ready for it. I will review it by quoting brief excerpts from it. “Healing does not mean forgetting or 'getting over.'” “You don't 'get over' grief. You learn to live with it.” “Mourning is the outward expression of our grief.” “Since your spouse died, you may have found yourself contemplating your own eventual death. This is very common.” “Be suspicions if you find yourself thinking that you're 'doing well' since the death. Sometimes 'doing well' means you're avoiding your pain.” “Imperfect love, which is the best we humans can manage, is infinitely better than no love at all.” It quotes the Serenity Prayer: God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change,/ the courage to change the things I can,/ and the wisdom to know the difference. “Grieving spouses tell me that the way they combat loneliness is by making it a point to interact with others.” “Acknowledge the reality of the death...your spouse is dead and will never physically be present to you again.” “Usually the grief hurts more before it hurts less.” Should you continue to wear your wedding ring? There is no “correct” answer. I am continuing to wear mine, and now I also wear my wife's matching ring on the ring finger of my right hand. It constantly reminds me of her, and that is painful, but it does keep her with me at least symbolically. The book warns of “griefbursts,” which are periods of heightened and sometimes overwhelming sadness. Dating again: “...the enjoyment of a new love isn't a betrayal of the old one.” That's good to know; my life with my wife satisfied me that I do not want to live alone. “Ignore hurtful advice” such as “It's all part of God's plan.” The book gives a savage mental response: “Then God has pretty crappy planning skills.” If you remarry: “It's important to let your new spouse-to-be know that your first marriage will always be an important part of your life.” Yes indeed. Divorcees may write their former spouses out of their lives, but not widowers, and certainly not me. “Choose to live.” “Just as you surrendered to the mystery of love, you must surrender to the mystery of grief.” Overall, I found this book helpful and reassuring in a practical way, and I recommend it to others at such time as they suffer a similar loss.
I read A Grief Observed by C S Lewis. I remember the author from childhood when I read Out of the Silent Planet, set on Mars, Perelandra, set on Venus, and That Hideous Strength, set on Earth. He also wrote the children's fantasy series The Chronicles of Narnia, which we read to our own children. The man could write. But this is not science fiction or fantasy or religion, exactly; it is the story of his grief following the death of the woman he loved, Helen Joy Davidson. She came into his life late, born 17 years after him, and she was dying of cancer when he met her, regardless what the movie version claims. She had a young son by her prior marriage. She died in 1960, age 45, and he died three years later, age 65. He had become religious as his life progressed, but this loss shook him out of it for a while. When she died, he wrote this book about his grief. I am writing a kind of bio of my late wife, similarly, as one way, perhaps, to expiate my grief, along with reading these books on grief. Some of his reactions are savage. I buy books so I can put check marks in the margin when I read them, for future reference. So here are some of my marks for this one. On God, whom you turn to with gratitude and praise when times are good. “But go to Him when your need is desperate, when all other help is vain, and what do you find? A door slammed in your face, and a sound of bolting and double bolting on the inside. After that, silence.” God did not save Helen; that is his anguish. I, who never believed in God, have no such problem, and don't curse Him, though maybe I do curse Fate. On the problem of friends who turn away from the recently widowed: “Perhaps the bereaved ought to be isolated in special settlements like lepers.” “What a pitiable cant to say 'She will live forever in my memory!' Live? That is exactly what she won't do.” “Kind people have said to me 'She is with God.' In one sense that is most certain. She is, like God, incomprehensible and unimaginable.” “Reality, looked at steadily, is unbearable. And how or why did such reality blossom (or fester) here and there into the terrible phenomenon called consciousness?” “Now God has in fact—our worst fears are true—all the characteristics we regard as bad: unreasonableness, vanity, vindictiveness, injustice, cruelty,” “What do people mean when they say 'I am not afraid of God because I know He is good'? Have they never even been to a dentist?” There is more, but I trust this suggests the essence.
My daughter feels that I need to get out of the house, rather than fester home alone, and she is surely correct. So we made an excursion to the Universal Resort in Orlando, going with my son-in-law John and my granddaughter Logan, who is now nineteen, who were visiting and helping clean up decades of accumulated mess in the house. John's wife, my daughter Penny, died a decade ago, of cancer; we did what we could to help him and Logan cope then, and now he was returning the favor. Family helps family. It can make a huge difference. So this was for all of us. This is Halloween Horror season, so Fear was the essence. The pamphlet advice was “Just keep telling yourself 'It's only a nightmare.'” We toured three haunted houses and four scary rides. There was a lot of waiting between events, and seemingly endless back-and-forth loops in the lines to each attraction, but this is the nature of this beast. I have to say that the horror houses have hardly improved since my day, circa 75 years ago; they consist mostly of walking through cramped corridors where loud sounds blast you and spooky figures leap out at you. I wished I had left my hearing aids at home. We did Ghostbusters, Yeti Terror of the Yukon, and Depths of Fear, simulated underwater zombies and such. Tour one and you have more or less toured them all. They also had costumed figures out on the street, leaping out at you, and some shows presented to the walking-by audience, such as pretty girls dancing. But the rides were something else. We started with the Hollywood Rip Ride Rockit (sic) which lasted a scant two and a half minutes, but it was some ride. First it tilted up ninety degrees so that we were going straight up; then it dropped straight down again. Then it zoomed around curves, twisting so that we felt as if we were being thrown out into the sky, and continued with a seeming crash into a wall. The instructions were to sit up straight with your head against the headrest, but that thing hauled my body around so violently that it was all I could do to hang on any which way and hope my head stayed in place. The other rides were less strenuous, but did have their twisting and crashing moments. We did Revenge of the Mummy, Harry Potter and the Escape From Gringotts, and MEN IN BLACK Alien Attack. The Mummy one had 3D glasses, which added to the effect, and Men in Black had several whirl-arounds that were fun too. On the whole I preferred the rides to the walks, but all of them were fun in their fashion. So were the long walks to get here and there. For example, there were tourist girls with blinking red horns. There were bare legs galore. At one point we walked behind a shapely young woman in stretch pants, her buttocks as they flexed as interesting as some of the paid sights. So I'm 85 years old; I'm not dead even if my age makes me reminiscent of a zombie, and I notice. So yes, I can recommend this amusement park complex to you. It is phrased as horror, this season, but it's fun.
I watched The Time Traveler's Wife. Henry talks with a child, saying he is that child, grown up. Because of time travel. Later a pretty girl, Clare, approaches this man, saying that she knows him even if he doesn't know her. She says he traveled back in time to see her as a little girl; she has known him since she was six. Then we see that scene, as he meets her, tells her, then fades out. She has to fetch clothes for him, as they don't travel time with him. He has been traveling randomly in time since he was six. He can't choose it; it just happens. At any rate, he marries her, she knowing his situation. But it's tough, because he can be gone for two weeks at a time. But he uses his future information to enable her to win five million dollars. They also see a future self dying of a bullet wound. They cast about for a way to stop his time traveling, but it's tricky. Clare gets pregnant, but then loses the baby. But suppose the baby is another time traveler? It traveled away from her womb. But that surely kills it, as it can't live outside at that stage. It happens again. He decides to get a vasectomy, because such a pregnancy endangers her health as well as the life of the baby. He visits her as a teenager; but won't tell her what they fight about in the future. She slaps him; he kisses her. That wows her. As a married woman, she seduces one of his younger forms, and gets pregnant that way. This baby survives. The time traveler fades out and reappears in the future where a ten year old girl hails him as Daddy. She's his daughter, Alba. She can travel in time, with some control. He returns to tell pregnant Clare. Then they see Alba with a younger friend, who is also Alba, time traveling. They learn that he will die when Alba is five years old, shot. But he survives and is lame, confined to a wheelchair. But he knows that something is going to happen. There's one last meeting in the meadow when Alba is nine. Then he is gone. This is a fine, touching time travel romance. I watched it in my grief for the loss of my own spouse. It does seem to relate, in its fashion.
I watched The Dressmaker. Tilly is a glamorous dressmaker who returns to her small hometown in Australia, seeking the truth about her notorious reputation. She is considered to be a murderess. She cares for her eccentric mother Mad Molly. The house is an absolute mess; she has to clean off the floor with a shovel. She enables the local ball team to win, by distracting the opposing players with her sexy body. She sees the men and women, remembering when they were boys and girls cruelly teasing her. Now handsome Teddy approaches her, and she is soon falling for him. Meanwhile, one by one, she is transforming the local young women to beauties via her expert dressmaking. Bit by bit she zeroes in on the source of her bad reputation. The testimony against her was false. But there was one witness they hadn't known about. The boy she supposedly killed had killed himself in an accident. Then boyfriend Teddy as a sort of joke drops into a silo which isn't loaded the way he thought it was, and dies. Teddy had wanted Tilly to say “I am no longer cursed,” and it seems she was still cursed. She is largely incapacitated by grief and rage, but her mother Molly marshals herself and sees about rescuing her. Then has a stroke and dies. But the letter she sent gets results. Things devolve into a kind of chaos. Tilly burns the house and grounds, and the fire extends to the village, destroying it. Now it seems that her vengeance is complete. This is billed as a comedy, but it's hard-hitting stuff.
I watched King Kong. The vaudeville is closing because of poor attendance. Young pretty Ann Darrow wants to get a part. Does she take a job in the burlesque? She's not eager. Then she encounters Carl Denham, who is looking for a cute size four girl for the lead in a silent movie. It is to be filmed on a remote island with ancient ruins. The ship, a tramp steamer, SS VENTURE, is heading out, barely ahead of the police, as this studio is deeply in debt. So Ann does not realize how chancy this venture is. Skull Island, as yet undiscovered, is west of Sumatra. There was a report of a hundred foot high wall on it, thought to contain something monstrous. Ann and Jack the playwright kiss. And they find the island! It is hidden in deep fog, and has formidable cliffs at the shore which they must somehow navigate to stop from wrecking the ship. But it runs aground. They send a boat ashore. Carl, Jack and Ann are on it. The scenery is fabulous. There are rows of skulls, and dinosaur bones, and ancient stone ruins. They find natives who kill some of them and capture some. Then a party from the ship shoots some natives, and the captives escape. They throw stuff overboard to lighten the ship, and it heads back out to sea. But Ann is captured again. They send an armed party back to rescue her. It looks as if the natives mean to sacrifice her to a fire god. She is strung up and put across a pit. And the giant ape comes and carries her away, screaming. Only Carl sees that. Naturally he focuses on what is most important: he makes them ready the cameras and film. A rescue party follows. Jack spies footprints in the muck. He starts a camera, catching grazing dinosaurs. Then they stampede, with much smaller predators among them. Meanwhile the ape drops Ann and is concerned because she is unconscious. She recovers and crawls away. He catches her. Then she realizes that he is intrigued by her. She dances. He knocks her down for sport, repeatedly, until she tells him No, it's not funny, you big ape. She gets chased by dinosaur predators, until King Kong comes to her rescue, battling them. She realizes that he is on her side. Meanwhile the men fight off giant bugs and weird toothy slugs. Ann sleeps nestled on Kong's arm; they are bonding. Jack comes to her rescue while ape and woman sleep. Giant bats attack Kong as Jack and Ann flee. They finally make it to a boat and make it back to the ship, while Kong, knocked out by bottles of I think chloroform, falls unconscious. Ann hates to leave Kong. But they chain Kong and bring him back to New York, where Carl puts on a hammy show. Kong breaks the chains and is free. Jack leads him through the city streets to Ann. Kong tosses cars aside and picks up women, looking for Ann. And she comes to him. He picks her up and walks the park. They slide on the ice of a pond, until troops attack. He climbs the Empire State Building with her. Then six biplanes attack. He knocks one out of the sky. She climbs a ladder up to join him, but bullets dislodge it and she falls. Kong manage to catch her. Kong takes out two more planes. She stands beneath him and waves off the remaining planes. But one attacks from behind, finishing Kong, who falls off the building, leaving Ann there alone. Until Jack joins her. It is over. I rather expected a junk movie, and certainly it has impossible elements, like the unexplained giant ape and dinosaurs, but this is one dramatic and compelling story.
I watched the TV series Westworld. Evidently the private channels suffer less from censorship, because the gore is gorier and the nudes nudier than normally seen on TV. It starts with a young woman in a chair, being questioned. Does she know she is in a dream? Yes. Does she want to wake up? Yes. Then on to a train ride, and a man, Teddy, getting off at a station in a western town, Sweetwater. Then he sees Dolores. They know each other. They ride their horses together. Then a mean man accosts her. When Teddy tries to defend her, it turns out that the mean man is a “newcomer” who can't be touched or shot, but can do it to others. He shoots Teddy and drags Dolores off. This turns out to be a kind of amusement park, catering to the guests with programmed androids male and female. At the end of the day the androids' memories are wiped. But some are showing new gestures, not originally programmed. Then a replay of the day, with Teddy arriving. The sheriff malfunctions. Something is going wrong. They have 1,400 guests in the park; they don't want to have to shut it down for repairs. Other hosts malfunction. The main bad guy says that there is a deeper level to this game, and he wants to get there. Teddy gets killed again. Another day Dolores is sure that things will work out. She slaps a fly. That's new, since hosts normally don't react that way. End of Episode 1.
Episode 2: Dolores is told to wake up. Does she remember? Guide Angela meets William, a first time visitor to Westworld, which is now futuristic. He asks Angela whether she is real, and she says that if he can't tell, it doesn't matter. The bad Man In Black shows up at a hanging, shoots all the others, hauls the victim, Lawrence, away. Programmer Bernard Lowe interviews Dolores, saying there is something different about her, tells her not to speak elsewhere of this matter. Then he talks with Theresa, another programmer. Other hosts seem to be slowly going wrong too. Ford is one of the controllers, played by Anthony Hopkins, so he has to be important. The Man in Black questions Lawrence: where is the entrance to the maze? He shoots Lawrence's wife to encourage him to talk. Theresa comes to Bernard, and makes love with him. It seems they have a personal relationship as well as a business one. Ford comments further. Episode fades out.
Episode 3: Bernard interviews Dolores again. A new day starts. Teddy meets Dolores again. He promises someday soon to take her to the ideal place where the mountains meet the water. Ford talks with Teddy. Teddy tries to teach Dolores how to shoot, but her conditioning prevents it; hosts can't try to hurt players. Ford says they want to create consciousness in the androids. Bernard remembers his late son; that may be messing up his judgment. Dolores is waylaid by bad guys, and this time does manage to shoot one dead and escape. She joins another good guy, William, and faints.
Episode 4: Bernard interviews Dolores again. We learn that her parents were hurt, then killed. She suspects there is something wrong with this world. He tells her that if she can find the center of the Maze, she can be free. She wants to be free. The Man in Black is hunting snakes when he finds sexy Armistice with her tattoo of a serpent coiled around her body. That interests him. He travels to Wyatt with a taciturn Lawrence. Armistice tells the Man in Black of the desperado Wyatt, whose men she killed in retaliation for his murder of her family. Theresa and Ford discuss his new narrative. Maeve finds a bullet in her unscarred belly, proving that her visions are real.
Episode 5: the Man in Black kills Lawrence and strings him up by his feet. He rescues Teddy. Ford talks with Dolores. They discover that a transmitter in a host has been sending information out of the park to an unknown party. Dolores saves Teddy by shooting down the men attacking him. She is no longer the docile host. The Man in Black talks with Ford. Is there a deeper meaning in the game? A naked Maeve catches a bird on her finger and talks with lab worker Lutz
Episode 6: Bernard investigates the use of hosts to transmit information. They are not going wrong, they are being used. The Man in Black and Teddy zero in on the maze. Theresa dismisses Bernard; their affair is over. Lutz and Maeve view the Westworld presentation. Maeve, too, is becoming independent. Bernard discovers that Ford has a whole family of hosts. Teddy and the Man in Black wipe out an army post. Maeve bargains to upgrade her host potentials. It turns out the Theresa is the one sending the information out.
Episode 7: Bernard interviews a host, investigating the problem. Theresa and Hale are secretly stealing Ford's information, so that if he gets fired, he won't be able to destroy his work and render the work valueless. Meanwhile an escape train loaded with explosives is traveling though the area. William and Dolores are on it, becoming intimate. Oh? What happened to Teddy? Then the train is ambushed. But the ambushers are in turn ambushed, and William, Dolores, and Lawrence flee. Then the Ghost Nation attacks, changing the picture again. Bernard shows Theresa the unregistered hosts he had discovered, and prototypes. Ford appears, and tells them that Bernard is a host. Bernard attacks and kills her.
Episode 8: Bernard is appalled that he has killed Theresa. Ford has him turn it off so that he can function normally. Maeve is thoughtful. She plans to escape, though that is complicated, because there is a bomb in every host that will detonate if they depart. Meanwhile Dolores and William discover the dead party, with one survivor: Logan. But he soon dies. Dead Theresa is found; Ford acts as if it is a mystery to him too. The Man in Black tells Teddy that he is here to be the loser in a rigged game. They find one surviving woman, then are attacked by a creature with the head of a bull, largely invulnerable. Maeve shows how cruelly independent she can be, killing the one who tries to decommission her. There is mayhem in the town of Pariah. Ford tries to reprogram Maeve, but she fights back. She strikes Teddy; he is needed back in the fold. This story is getting so wild I'm not sure it is making sense. This is the hallmark of second string script writers who think surprise and violence substitute for story.
Episode 9. Bernard interviews Maeve. She asserts her dominance over him. Bernard insists on getting access to all his memories. They cut Dolores open to reveal her mechanical innards. She fights back and flees. Maeve and Billy go to Hell. The Man in Black narrowly escapes death. Bernard suffers more memories. Ford tells Bernard about Arnold, the original programmer. He wanted to create consciousness in the hosts, not the mere appearance of it, be the real thing. And Bernard learns that he is in fact Arnold. Dolores begs him to help her, but he can't, because he is dead. Ford directs him to shoot himself and departs.
Episode 10, Bernard wakes Dolores. They find dead lying all around the town. This time when a stranger collides with Teddy, Teddy shoots him dead. Bernard tells Dolores that consciousness is a journey inward. In fact it's a maze. He wants her to help him destroy this place. Charlotte Hale visits Ford. She tells him he is being taken out of control, once he introduces his new narrative. A doctor is poking into the mouth of Armistice, the one with the serpent tattoo, and she bites off his finger. It seems the hosts are revolting. William searches for Dolores. We learn that the Man in Black is actually the aged William. She stabs him, but he stabs her back. Teddy rescues her, but she dies in his arms. Ford introduces his new narrative, “Journey into Night.” Police raid the host storage facility, but they start coming to life and fighting back. Ford revives Dolores. He explains that the maze is a test for imagination and empathy. Ford bids farewell to Bernard and gives him the maze. Then Bernard talks with Armistice; it is his voice that has been inwardly guiding her. Ford addresses the guests of Westworld with a pep talk. Then Dolores shoots him dead (she must have been revived), and begins shooting the guests. And reactivated hosts join her in that. This is so wild I'm not sure I'll watch the second season.
I read It's Okay That You're Not Okay, by Megan Devine. This is a book that tells it as it is. Essentially, that your loss has changed your life, you can never go back to your former life, and must learn to make your place in the devastated landscape that is your present existence. That only love will sustain you, love of others, and of yourself. This may seem negative, but it is the truth. The author was a grief therapist for a decade, and thought she knew what it was all about. Then her partner died suddenly, and she learned the other side of it. “Our culture sees grief as a kind of malady: a terrifying, messy emotion that needs to be cleaned up and put behind us as soon as possible...We see it as something to overcome, something to fix, rather than something to tend or support. Even our clinicians are trained to see grief as a disorder rather than a natural response to deep loss. When the professionals don't know how to handle grief, the rest of us can hardly be expected to respond with skill and grace.” She knew; she had been a professional. Now she is orienting on reality. “Here's what I most want you to know: this really is as bad as you think. No matter what anyone else says, this sucks. What has happened cannot be made right.” “Some things cannot be fixed. They can only be carried.” “All the books that pointed toward getting out of pain by simply rising above it somehow—I knew it was crap. Saying so only got me labeled as 'resistant.'” “Grief is visceral, not reasonable: the howling at the center of grief is raw and real. It is love in its most wild form.” There is more, much more, but I think this suffices to show the nature of this book. I do recommend it to those in need, and think that friends of the bereaved should read it too, to have a better notion how to help. One more quote. “These future-based, omniscient, generalized platitudes aren't helpful. Stick with the truth: This hurts. I love you. I'm here.” I suspect that this is the grief book I will most remember.
I read The Grief Recovery Handbook, by John W James and Russell Friedman. This book, in contrast to the prior one, aims to facilitate a fast and effective recovery from grief. But it turns out they are not opposites; when one says you don't recover, you learn to live with your loss, the other considers learning to live with it to be recovery. They are using different language toward a similar end. This one presents a series of exercises you can do to facilitate your recovery. “What do we mean by recovery? Recovery means feeling better. Recovery means claiming your circumstances instead of your circumstances claiming you and your happiness. Recovery is finding new meaning for living, without the fear of being hurt again. Recovery is being able to enjoy fond memories without having them precipitate painful feelings of regret or remorse.” It mentions the five emotional stages a dying person may go through after being diagnosed with a terminal illness: Denial, Anger, Bargaining, Depression, Acceptance. But it says that grief for death or other significant loss should not be a matter of stages, and that the listed stages may not apply anyway. Who is in denial about a dead spouse or child? Who is angry, unless the loved one was brutally murdered and the murderer claimed diplomatic immunity and escaped punishment? Who is bargaining? No, it is the natural depression we have to deal with. It makes a point that scores with me: “No matter how well you may have thought you were prepared,...you were still massively affected when the death actually happened.” I knew for fifteen years that my wife was declining toward death, and did everything I could to help her, and toward the end as it loomed I knew it was a matter of days, but it was still a supremely ugly and lasting shock. The book makes the point that there can be grief for any type of loss, not just death in the family. For example, moving: you lose most of your friends and have to start over; the familiarity of your home and local environment is gone. That's a heavy mental burden, especially for a young child who has no control. Another example is marriage: you lose your prior life and start a qualitatively different life. Another is changing your job, especially if you were fired. When I went to full-time writing I expected to be nervous about the loss of a regular income. Instead I discovered that I was relieved that now, working for myself, I could not be blamed for someone else's mistake, or forced out by office politics. Also financial changes, positive or negative. Yes, when I went to full time writing, at first my wife and I had to scrape by on a minimal and uncertain income. Then when I became a bestseller we went rapidly to wealth. I remain pleased that it did not affect our marriage, except in the sense that we now could live more comfortably. This book also has an interesting definition of Forgiveness. “Forgiveness is giving up the hope of a different or better yesterday.” You are supposed to forgive a transgressor not for his benefit, but for yours, so that the corrosive feelings no longer dissolve your guts. For example, suppose a brute rapes you. You forgive him, but the private subtext might look like this: “You Jerk, I hate you and what you did to me! You terrified me and robbed me of trust and safety. You violated my body, sexually and physically. I have a hard time trusting anyone—even myself—now. I cannot live the rest of my life holding on to the resentment I feel for you. I forgive you so I can be free. But my forgiveness is for me, so I can rebuild my life. More than anything, I hope the police find you and put you on trial and find you guilty and put you away forever. Goodbye!” How's that for bluntness? I would amend it only by deleting the “goodbye,” as that is actually a contraction of “God be with ye,” and the rapist doesn't deserve that. Maybe substitute “Go to Hell, where the demons can rape you eternally!”
I read Progressing Through Grief, by Stephanie Jose, LMHC , LCAT. Subtitled Guided Exercises To Understand Your Emotions And Recover From Loss. This is really a workbook,with sixty blank pages for you to fill in with your own experience. “Grieving is a process that does not completely end; it evolves and becomes integrated into your life.” It says that this book is not meant to be read, then set aside; it is meant to be your companion. Since I have my own process for handling my grief, such as writing the biography of my life with my wife, I am indeed setting this book aside, but I can see that it could be quite useful for someone else. Much of its text has been covered in the other books I read on the subject; it is not that this book lacks points, it is that I see no point in repeating them in the column. It encourages the expression of grief. “Most people do not realize the importance of having their words heard by someone else.” “Do whatever it takes to get some laughter in your day. A good laugh is truly medicine and can make even the worst days feel more bearable.” It touches on the guilt some feel for not somehow preventing the death, though they may have had little or no control. “The key to overcoming guilt is realizing that it is self-imposed.” “Guilt is not logical, it is a feeling.”
I read Understanding Your Grief, by Alan D Wolfelt, Ph.D., the last of the six grief books I read this month. He is also the author of the first of these books. Like the others, it has its points. It has ten “Touchstones” for finding hope and healing your heart. T#1 is “Open to the Presence of Your Loss.” “I have learned that we cannot go around the pain that is the wilderness of our grief. Instead we must journey all through it, sometimes shuffling along the less strenuous paths, sometimes plowing directly into the dark center.” It seems that some people try to avoid it, or bury it out of sight, but they are only delaying their recovery. Each Touchstone focuses on a different aspect. Such as T#5 Recognize You are Not Crazy.” Because your mind may be largely zonked out, you may have suicidal thoughts, or get into alcohol or drugs, suffer weird dreams, or have mystical experiences like communicating with the one you lost. “You're not crazy, you're grieving.” T#6 is “Understand the Six Needs of Mourning.” These, abbreviated, are 1 Accept the reality of the death. 2 Feel the pain. 3 Remember the person who died. 4 Develop a new self identity. 5 Search for meaning. 6. Let others help you. Thus, step by step, this book helps chart your course through that wilderness. But I wonder about one bit of advice: it says to avoid making any major changes in your life for at least two years, because your judgment is suspect then. Good point. But I am 85 years old; I could be dead in two years. So it seems to me that if I mean to live my life, I need to get on with it now. It says that more than half of remarriages in that period end in divorce. But I have read that half of all marriages end in divorce, so that's not much of a change. So I expect to be cautious, but ready to make changes if they seem appropriate.
Having seen the TV version, I watched the original movie version of Westworld. The entertainment complex has three venues: West World, Medieval World, and Roman World. The customers take trams to the world of their choice. In this case, it is West. For a thousand dollars a day they get to indulge their dream. They become gunslingers. Our protagonist encounters an insulting man in a bar and shoots him, and he dies bloodily. He was a robot. Then on to the girls of a brothel, who certainly seem human. There's a bank robbery; at night a crew quietly cleans up the strewn bodies. They are taken to a lab where they are repaired and reanimated. There have been more robot breakdowns recently; what is the cause? Then a customer is arrested for shooting a bad guy. A woman brings him a tray of food along with an explosive so he can break out. He shoots the sheriff, another robot. Then a rattlesnake bites his friend. That's not supposed to happen. It's a robot snake; what went wrong? A free-for-all fistfight erupts in a saloon. Naturally the guests survive it in good style. Then a bar girl refuses to be seduced. Why didn't she follow the program? A robot kills a guest. Now they have lost control of the robots. This is bad mischief. The bad buy who got killed before, played most effectively by Yul Brynner, is now pursuing the guest who killed him. The guest flees to Medieval World, where bodies are strewn all around. And to the repair facility, where there are more bodies. He douses the robot in whiskey, shorting him out so he can't function properly. That evens the odds somewhat. Then he sets fire to the robot. He rescues a maiden, gives her water—and she shorts out; she was a robot. It is over at last.
I read A Box of Dreams, by Denis Bell. This is a collection of twenty six short stories, most of which had been published elsewhere before. I am an experienced professional writer, and I like stories, but this literary type is foreign to me and I can't say I understand them except in the sense the title suggests: open a box of dreams, take them out one at a time, try to catch their evanescent messages before they flicker out of sight. Some imagery is startling. A writer is not pleased with the attitude of a small publisher, so he does a parody of their words and sends it in as a story. Only to learn that the publisher folded twenty years before. So it seems they had the last laugh. An executive is assigned a new assistant, but when he is intrigued by her, she disappears, and it is as if she never existed. They invent a machine that tells a person exactly when he is going do die, with 100% accuracy. Is this to be believed? Our protagonist risks the publicity and death threats because he knows he has another thirty years to live. A boy fights back against molestation by his employer. One story, “Placebo,” is only 25 words long: the doctor promises the medicine will start working soon. It may indeed. A girl is stalked by what may be a phantom lover. A professor is fired without cause, and finds a way to destroy the college in return. In “Purple Dress” a man helps a young woman get out of trouble. She says she's the type who likes to pay her debts, so if he will put on a raincoat she will bend over. Hoo! So while this is not my kind of story collection, parts of it may indeed wend their way into my dreams. I wonder if I have a raincoat handy? Addendum: the author advises me that a raincoat is contemporary slang for a condom. Sigh; that hints at how far out of touch I am; I didn't know.
Herta Payson died two years ago, age 84; I just learned of it. When I was 11 and she was 12 I had a crush on her that helped define my taste in women thereafter. Folk demean puppy love as of being of little account; I don't, because I loved her with a passion that was exceeded only by that for the woman I later married. It was not returned; indeed Herta did not even know of it until decades later. She had a full life and three children, had a master's degree in Jungian psychotherapy and had a psychotherapy practice. She also danced and choreographed. Obviously she was well beyond my compass, and in any event she would not have been the woman in later life that I had known as a girl. But she did teach me how to play chess, and her mark remains in me. Rest in peace, Herta.
My daughter Cheryl, who pretty much enabled me to survive the loss of my wife, looked up and downloaded the current Wikipedia entry on me. It is ball-park accurate, with aspects garbled. It doesn't seem worth correcting it, as someone else could come along and overwrite my corrections with more inaccurate information. The only source for accurate information about me is HiPiers.com. Others who claim to speak for me, don't.
Cheryl also downloaded an article on Writer's Block. I don't suffer from it, having realized early on that I could not afford it, any more that I could afford stage fright when addressing an audience. Teaching math in the US Army and English in civilian life cured me of stage fright, and my so-called [bracket] system enables me to write at any time, anywhere. That dates from when I wrote in pencil on a clipboard; when my text stalled I would discuss the matter with myself in brackets, so that I could readily edit out that material when typing the second draft. Later with the computer I simply used a separate comment file, and that system still works for me today. It should work for anybody. So I suspect that a writer who suffers chronic block does not, at heart, really want to write. Cheryl also downloaded a collection of comments by Ray Bradbury. What I remember from years ago is someone's comment about Bradbury, that initially he wrote an enormous amount of enormously bad fiction. But gradually he improved until he became successful. That was the case for me too; I wrote for eight years before I sold anything, but I kept moving and learning and finally did get there. Bradbury loved writing; so do I. I think of Theodore Sturgeon, arguably the finest stylist the science fiction genre has produced, beloved by the critics, with editors clamoring for his work, yet he never achieved a fraction of the commercial success I did. What do I have that he lacked? Discipline; when I have a job to do, I do it. But I also love writing, as he did not. And I tune in on what folk actually like to read, which is something like anathema to the critics, who evidently think that they should be the arbiters of public taste. As a very general rule, if the critics love it, chances are you won't. This may account for why students often don't like studying literature; it is critic approved. A new study indicates that vegetarians have healthier hearts, but more cases of stroke. I'm a vegetarian; my heart seems healthy. But my mind? And sexual orientation is on a continuum, rather than being one or the other.
I have gotten behind on my science magazine reading, because of the emotional and detail complications of the loss of my wife, but do have brief passing comments. NEW SCIENTIST had an article on empathy, titled “Why do we care?” zeroing in on what I call empathy, the ability to relate to the feelings of others. I believe that to a considerable extent it defines the human species. Bones fire up the body's response to danger, releasing a hormone that helps; it seems the bones are not inert supports. About 6.5 percent of American women say that their first sexual experience was rape; the average victim was 15 years old. This is a sad comment on our culture, but I suspect the true figure is double that. Item from The New York Times: “Frightened Republicans have decided that they have to 'play dirty' to win.” That's nothing new. As I see it, their attitude was “Sure we cheated in 2000; we had to, to win. And we'll do it again. Get over it.” I speak as one who resents the way that Florida in 2000 actually voted Democrat, but was put in the Republican column by the Supreme Court on a party-line vote, giving the presidential election to the Republicans, who promptly got us into an unjustified war with Iraq, and the complications thereof, such as Isis. But you know there are huge private profits to be made from war. I am a naturalized citizen and a registered independent; I hate to see corruption take over my adopted country. THE WEEK reprinted an item from THE WASHINGTON POST, concluding that the press had treated Hillary Clinton's email handling as a virtual crime. “In fact, the coverage treated Clinton's 'transgressions as far worse than his, when the opposite was clearly true.' As a result of that historic error, a deeply corrupt, amoral reality TV star is now 'the most powerful person on Earth.'” Yes, par for that course. Warning from the health newsletter ALTERNATIVES about treatment resistant sepsis that is spreading in US hospitals, with a forty percent mortality rate. But injected Vitamin C can stop it—if the hospitals want to. But it may be that as with curing cancer, there's no money in it for the special interests. Tech companies retort that last year there were 45 million online photos and videos of children being sexually abused, double the number of a year before. I wonder again: what is this apparent appetite for sex with children? I hate to think it could be part of the normal range. Article republished in THE WEEK: the Lie Detector doesn't work, but they still use it. October 10, 2019 CITRUS COUNTY CHRONICLE has 30 pages of a “Sassy Cups” contest featuring ornately decorated bras. For example the Crystal River Country Store shows a bra made to resemble a cow's udder. That does make sense, doesn't it? They are milking it for what it is worth. New word to me: pyrocumulonimbus, a type of cloud rising from an intense wildfire. Chemists create a new form of carbon: cyclocarbon, a nine sided molecule. Other forms of carbon are diamond, graphite, graphene, buckyballs, and carbon nonotubes. It's a versatile element. And they are zeroing in on the origin of the female orgasm; how does it benefit the species? In rabbits ovulation can be triggered by copulation, so maybe orgasm also relates, to make the ladies more amenable. But some antidepressants, such as Prozac, reduce the ability to orgasm. So maybe rabbits breed no well because they don't take Prozac?
And I watched Green Card, which was suggested to me because I am considering converting our returned-to-nature pool to a garden or greenhouse, and there's supposed to be a nice greenhouse sequence there. It starts with a marriage of convenience, a French composer, Georges, and a lady horticulturist, BrontE. By marrying her he can get a Green Card so he can live in the USA, and she can live in a fancy apartment of her dreams, associated with an elaborate garden that needs special care. So first they marry, then they meet. The immigration people inquire how they met, and they have to make up an impromptu story. They realize that they need to get their stories straight, because they may be questioned separately about each other's habits. They have to fake up their supposed relationship, taking pictures. Then BrontE runs into Phil, the man she loved. And Georges is disturbed. He is supposed to move on out of her life soon, but he is obviously jealous. Then it is time for their separate interviews. They pass them, and separate, but both are uncomfortable. He composes music for her and sends her the script of it. They meet again, and hug and kiss. They put the wedding rings back on their fingers. They separate, but hope to be together soon. But I never got a good look at that supposedly fabulous penthouse greenhouse. So I watched an interview feature on the disc, and caught some more glimpses.
It has now been a month since my wife died, and I am tiding through and making tentative plans for what remains of my future. There will surely be more anon.
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