Monthly Archives: November 2013

#65: Quality of Life

Dad and Bryce

My Daddy: Louis Glen Jarmer

Quality of Life

The story goes that my parents at one point
made official a “do not resuscitate” order
in the event of some cataclysmic approach
of eternal darkness–and then, at some later
point they changed their minds, in order,
I can only guess, to live as long as they could live.
That cataclysmic event occurred for my dad
while on vacation in Nevada. Sitting around the
dinner table at some swank casino restaurant,
my father’s heart stopped. The life flight unit
helicoptered my dad to Salt Lake City,
essentially freezing his body against the dark
so that he could be revived later.

After an excruciating recovery in which
Dad had to relearn everything and
miraculously did, and after being stranded
with Mom in Salt Lake City for two months,
he was finally able to come home to Portland.
He stayed at home, venturing out only for
doctor appointments or simple tasks  here and there,
alive, relatively alert, but uncomfortable
most of the time, never feeling very good
about anything; food, drink, conversation,
all those things he loved seemed to have lost
all luster and interest.  He was a man
biding time.

But Mom, my siblings and I, and all the
extended family were happy to have him
back in our world.  We visited often, saw
each other more, sat with Dad in relative
silence, did odd errands for our parents,
and praised modern medicine for bringing
our daddy back to us from the dead.  But
something nags at me still about this year,
the last year that we would have our father.
His miraculous recovery was more about us
than it was about him, and I think that
maybe he sacrificed the last year of his life
only so that his family could better prepare
for the inevitable, so that we would not
feel that he was ripped away, stolen from us
before we could see him again, say goodbye,
touch him, tell him that we loved him.
And maybe that was okay, what he did for us.

But almost one complete year after
his heart stopped and he was able to return,
the next cataclysm was deadly, and painful,
and in his last days he suffered immensely
before going into a last-ditch surgery for which
even the doctors had little or no hope. This was
Mom’s wish to try one last thing, to hold on
just a little bit longer.  We all watched him
die the very next day, quietly, surrounded by
family, likely unaware of our presence.
Luckily, the only day he ever had to spend
in a nursing  home was his last, and he
slept through it until he stopped breathing.

As my mother considers
a dangerous surgery to repair a fractured vertebra,
I write this poem,
before memory fades and time erases
the learning, in order to remember what my father
taught us, that, insofar as it is possible,
quality of life decisions can only
truly be made by the individual living that life.
The rest of us, well, we learn to let go,
and then we mourn.

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#64: Black Friday

Black-Friday-photography-deals

I

Well, it’s darker.
Yesterday the skies were blue and clear
and today there’s a cold cloud cover
and there’s rumor of snow.
I’ll believe it when I see it, and
sometimes I wonder if we will ever
see snow here in the valley
of the Willamette again,
what with the warming.
What a strange phrase, that.
What with the warming?
I had a moment when I was not
sure whether this was a real thing
or if I had just made it up;
English is funny that way, as is warming.
However, I plan to do no shopping
today, but my wife and son are out
cavorting somewhere and I am
readying myself to take my mother
to the hospital where a young neurologist
will explain to her the results of her test.
They injected dye into her spine and
took pictures to see why her neck
has been hurting her for so long now.
She’s 83.  We are hoping that surgery
is not necessary. We’re worried about it
nevertheless, and that adds darkness
to our day, this Black Friday.

II

The doctor will tell her that the only fix
is a surgery that would essentially lock
the base of her skull to her spine,
preventing her from turning her head
ever again.  That’s the bad news.
The good news is that this, he will say,
is not an emergency surgery, and not
the kind of decision to make lightly
or quickly and not a surgery to sign
up for unless one’s quality of life
was so low that the situation was unbearable.
I will have to think deeply about this phrase,
quality of life.  And I will tell her, Mom,
you are bugged almost constantly by
a pain in your neck that makes it difficult
to turn your head, and you have to
constantly wear this uncomfortable neck brace.
But you are still living independently, still able to play cards,
domino games, and bingo with your friends,
still able to get yourself to meals,
get to church with your niece,
and have cocktails with your sons and daughter.
After this surgery,
after the recovery, you will still not be able
to turn your head, and, depending on how
things go, continuing to live independently
and all that goes with it
may no longer be in the cards.
My mother will say she does not
like the idea of wearing a neck brace
for the rest of her life, and I will tell her,
There are worse things, Momma.
There are worse things.

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#63: Pilgrims at the Table

The fiction

The fiction

Pilgrims at the Table

I understand that on the first Thanksgiving
there was no meal between Pilgrims and Indians,
there was no peaceful gathering around a turkey
or anything in particular having to do with corn,
but rather, John Winthrop’s declaration of a
“day of thanksgiving” when he received the news
that 700 Pequot Indians had been massacred
during a mercenary midnight raid.
And so on this Thanksgiving I must divorce
myself from the history of it, the reframing
or re-mix narrative that has come down to us
from the days we were children as pure jingoistic
propaganda, and instead, because I don’t watch
sports, I will share some food and drink with my family
and give thanks for that and for the privilege I enjoy
but mostly did not earn, and I will try not to feel
guilty and I will try not to eat or drink too much.
Our mothers are still alive and our son is healthy
and we want for nothing.  There is much to be thankful for,
after all, even without the Pilgrims at the table.

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Some Things that Sucked about Music in the 80’s

It’s time to make some pronouncements.  I have no authority, and I hate it when people who have no authority make pronouncements, but because I am a musician and can kind of claim to know something about music, and because I lived through, was actually a teenager and a young adult in this particular era, I will make some pronouncements anyway, even though none of this makes me an authority.

Many things about music in the 80’s sucked.  Hair bands, for the most part, sucked. Mainstream pop, almost entirely, sucked.  The more popular of the one-hit wonder new wave bands, for all intents and purposes, sucked.  Overproduced drums and vocals, the snare drum that sounded like a nuclear explosion and the vocal  track drowning in reverb, these things sucked. Most of the videos on MTV, as exciting as they were for awhile, sucked, especially the videos which showcased some of these musicians in their full dumb-assed glory, for example, playing a single note with an index finger on a synthesizer while boogying with themselves, or posing ridiculously with guitars jutting out from between their legs like gigantic phalluses, or this, what my band Here Comes Everybody was guilty of in the 80’s: way over-the-top lip synced performances, complete with real instruments plugged into nothing in a bare studio against a blank backdrop.  Yes, even I, to a certain degree, sucked in the 80’s . Even if the music I made didn’t suck (and it didn’t, by the way, in my humble opinion), my notions of what was hip, cool, or engaging in the visual department certainly did.  I’ll direct your attention to Exhibit A:

This video sucks in so many awful ways.  It appears that the singer in the band, c’est moi, is on speed.  He wasn’t, by the way.  But he was all hot and sweaty because he had done perhaps ten takes before the stupid videographers got their stupid video shit together enough for a complete performance.  His mascara is running.  Musicians in the 80’s wore mascara.  That kind of sucked.  But what especially sucks in this video is the battle the singer in the band, c’est moi, has with a digital blackout bar, the kind usually used to black out eyes or naughty bits.  That was just a dumb idea, but it was, at the time, the fanciest special effect we had at our disposal.  Also a dumb idea is this notion that the musicians pretending to play their instruments should be huddled in a little line behind the spastic lead singer.  Okay, enough about me.  And I really wanted, initially, to write about things that DIDN’T suck about music in the 80’s, but I just couldn’t seem to run out of the things that did.  Let me try to get through the rest quickly.

Bands and artists that were great in the 70’s, particularly Cheap Trick, Elton John, Kiss, Rush, and Journey, sucked in the 80’s, despite a number of mega-hits from many of them.  The word “sucked,” which I’m certain had an earlier origin, was particularly overused in the 80’s, and that has nothing to do with music, but it, nevertheless, sucked. However, there’s a very sharp little defense of the word “sucks” by Seth Stevenson on Slate, and it makes me feel not nearly so guilty for overusing the word in this little blog post.

What didn’t suck about 80’s music?  Not surprisingly, the things that didn’t suck about 80’s music are the same things that don’t suck about some of today’s music. Bands contain real musicians who can really play.  Or, bands contain mediocre musicians whose spirited and unique performances totally make up for the fact that they’re not very good.  Arrangements are unpredictable.  Lyrics contain actual ideas. Some envelopes are pushed.  This is my list of the 80’s greatest pop bands or artists: XTC, The Boomtown Rats, The Talking Heads, Japan, The Fixx, Tears for Fears, Elvis Costello, Laurie Anderson, Kate Bush, Peter Gabriel and several others I’ve temporarily forgotten because I’m getting old.  Some people will say that Bowie sucked in the 80’s, but they’d be wrong about that. And my test to determine whether or not I was deluded as a young man by bad music I believed was good is this: the music of these artists has real staying power for me.  I can listen to any of those records and appreciate their craft beyond and outside the pure nostalgia I might feel for the good ol’ days of my youth. And finally, there were things we thought sucked about 80’s music that, in hindsight, or hind-hearing, don’t turn out after all to suck: Michael Jackson decidedly did not suck in the 80’s, even though I believed he did.  And because I have been recently involved (as Uncle Wes) in the musical Footloose, I  have developed some appreciation for the tunes from this show for which I was absolutely dismissive as a young punk.  Let’s hear it for the boys, indeed. Flashdance, however, will have to go into the suck bin until I get a part in that musical.

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#62: Leaves

Leaves

I love the trees but hate the leaves.
Each fall the oaks bury us several times over.
You see that big pile surrounded
by mostly green grass?
In a week there will be no green grass;
in a day, perhaps, if there’s a wind,
there will be no green grass
and the process will begin again
of raking and piling and moving the piles
onto a tarp and moving the tarp full of leaves
again and again and again
into another pile until the pile must be moved
into a trailer or a truck bed for hauling
where it once more must be scooped away,
and the whole time we’re hoping against hope
that it won’t rain, sogging up the works,
adding still more weight to this burden.
A bumper crop, you might say, every year.
The leaves have never failed us, not once,
and “a crop is a crop,” says Robert Frost,
“and who’s to say where the harvest will stop?”
I don’t care how great a poet he was,
if he were alive and in my yard and saying these things
I would just want to kick him in the shins.

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