Sunday, 21 February 2016

The aging father says something true

A few nights ago, on this ABES night, the aging father fielded a few phone calls, while we watched the local professional sports franchise work hard to no avail.

The first was from his eldest who, as usual, asked how he was doing, to which he answered, as he usually does, with a somewhat derisive (or knowing?) chuckle, and then he says that he doesn't know how to answer the question. Then he hedges some more, letting said family member know that he's not completely at ease with his situation, that it's not getting better but, if he's honest, it's not been a bad day. (When I'm there he usually adds that the day is better now that I'm with him - which I should take straight up as affirmation, but which I often rather hear as a mild remonstration and reminder that I need to be there often - that he needs me to be there, often.)

Every time he's asked this question by family, this is how he answers. As though the family member doesn't quite have their thinking cap on straight. As though the family should know how damn hard it is to be aging and to be tired all the time, and to worry about whether or not you'll be able to get to the toilet in time when the urge comes on. As though we should know that it's hard to be worried about whether or not in the next few minutes you might just shit yourself. That it's a real concern, a real possibility. That it's happened before and it'll happen again. That when it does he'll have to sit in his adult diaper and wait for homecare, or me, to come by and clean him up.

He makes a fair point.

Still, it's as tedious to hear him answer the question so literally, every time, when it's just an extension of an informal greeting, like "hello" plus a bit. Just a conversation kick-starter really, but he's got to give it everything he's got, and it's got to be true, factual, on-point. Personally I try not to ask the question, simply because I know the answer. It's better to ask whether his slippers are fitting well, or whether he enjoyed supper.

So by the third call, he'd asked and answered that same question twice (maybe three times, for I don't recall whether or not I asked it too), and when my younger brother asked it again, the aging father said something else, something I've never heard him say. It went something like this: Well, I guess that though I wish I was not doing so well, because I'd rather be going home (dying), I am doing all right, quite well actually.

And there it was. Something true. Something of good report, that the aging father would rather not be thinking on. For the truth of the matter is that his ailment is more in the challenge to stay content with his state, than in his state itself. Sure his body is slowing down, but ... shouldn't you ... always remember what you've forgotten?





Sunday, 10 January 2016

The aging father wants a little togetherness

The conversation is meandering and interruptive. Eruptive and sparse. We're both of us pre-occupied and working under obligations.

Whatever the impetus the aging father turns to the common question about family. My family, yes, but our family all the same. The family which is as good as all God's children.

And are we not all God's children if only we would see it and live it and be those who are good and holy and all grateful living within the wonder of Christ's salvation.

Words fail. For several reasons I've lost the words to describe the wonder, for indeed I've lost the wonder. I don't feel it. The salvation, like Elvis, has left the palace.

Still it was Elvis who was singing the gospel, as a presented, or endorsed, by the Gaither's on Vision TV (Shaw channel 72) which is good enough even for the aging father to sit and watch Elvis and the Blackwood Brothers and various other gospelers singing the old hymns. I love it. I'm able to sit back with the aging father and smile and hum and it lifts my soul. I look over at his profile. I see in him myself for once again.

And then HCA Yvonne knocks and comes in all smiles and good cheer and, saying hello Mr. K she looks at the TV and declaims her love for Elvis and especially his singing of gospel songs, and especially the one he is singing right now: How Great Thou Art. "Do you like it?" she says.

No, says the aging father, and he begins his shuffle to the counter to take his evening medication and get ready for bed.

And so the moment collapses. It shifts anyway. It shifts back to the routine, the shuffling of slippered feet, the rasping responses to benignly banal questions about the day. It shifts to the pulling off of compression stockings, the quality of the food, and of the cold-snap outside.

This evening I arrived later than usual. Around 8. Fatigue is the reason. I'll be honest, it's hard to spend nearly two hours here, in this space, this mental and physical dryland. So I've been arriving later these days. 7:30ish. Today it's 8.

After HCA Yvonne has bid us farewell and the aging father has returned to his easy-chair we continue our vigil over the Leafs' collapse to the Sharks. After the sixth goal against the aging father, as he frequently does, turns to ask about grand-daughter R, living and working out in Nova Scotia.

She's doing well I think, I say. She's coming home for a break in March. We've booked the ticket, I say. She's considering staying out there for another year, once her first term is up.

Nova Scotia is too far afield, says the aging father.

I chuckle, thinking that he's realized that when family is too far afield that can't be nearby when, say, one is aging and in need. On this, I think, I don't disagree. Anyway, I say, Well our family has always been far afield.

Didn't get you, says the aging father.

Our family has often far apart. We've lived far apart from one another. All over the place, I say.

But there's always been a togetherness, says the aging father.

It's not the response I've expected. I don't know what to say to this, because I've not felt the kind of "togetherness" I've been interested in with many of my family members. (To be honest, I'll be happy to be free of the "togetherness" of my family, whenever that day comes.) So what's he thinking? That families that are stretched by miles are fine if there is "a togetherness" whereas families that don't have this "togetherness" should not be far apart? That my family doesn't have this togetherness, therefore R shouldn't stay out East for too long?

I don't know. I suspect though that what the aging father is thinking is that he wishes my daughter were not so far afield lest I be tempted to visit her there, and thus be away from him for an extended time. In fact I've told him this, that we'll travelling east to visit R this summer. And I get it that he's come to depend on me as a companion and caregiver.

I get it that he feels increasingly helpless. But, what fuels my skepticism about his motives and his sense of our family's "togetherness" is that though he believes my siblings and I are a unifed and loving bunch, what I've experienced isn't the sort of love and unity I enjoy. It's a love and unity based on adhering to rigid religious tenets.

The love comes with the condition of obedience. The unity exists because it's been mandated by scripture. We stay "together" because that makes us holy and right. It is not a togetherness that arises from a free and clear love for one another. Ironically (but predictably) religion has made the possibility of a free and clear love impossible. There is always an eternal calculus in play. In the aging father's figuring, without the right equation no amount of love and togetherness will add up to the right answer.

So I say, again, to the aging father that his family (my siblings) have been stretched by distance, which has not always helped us with our togetherness, and which may in fact be an indicator of our lack of togetherness. That his current reality of having as his primary caregiver a son who does not use the same calculus, who in many ways lives and thinks much differently than he does. I further point out that we can't control these things. That we shouldn't be in the business of controlling what others do. That we can have togetherness without sameness.

But really, I don't say those things. Really, I don't say anything at all. I pull my cowards card and throw it back on the table, and sit in silence for a few minutes waiting for the Leafs game to finish. Then we watch the Canadians lose to the Penguins, and the Senators defeat the Bruins. After which I stand, pull the blinds as I always do, hug the aging father good night, and walk out into the cold.


Tuesday, 22 December 2015

An ordinary winter night, before Xmas

It's snowing. Thick deep snow. It's difficult to see the lanes and the centre line on the highway, during the drive in. It's mild. -3'C. The snow sticks and melts on the windshield.

I park and walk in, carrying my laptop. I intend to use some of the time to work on a layout and design project. Outside the apartment door sits a large cardboard box. A shipping carton. It's from Manitoba Health - overnight briefs. Diapers for the elderly. Including this there's now an abundant supply in the closet, where I stow this box, with another one that's less than half used.

When I step into the apartment the aging father is in the bathroom. There's a Xmas card and envelope lying on the computer. It's from the chaplain. I say "Hello" twice. The aging father says "Oh, Hi!" He sounds upbeat as he makes his way out.

"I want to change slippers," he says and heads for his bed to sit down.

"Are the new slippers too tight?"

"Not during the day, but at certain times of the day, in the evening, they feel tight."

"So you want to change into the old ones?"

"Umhmm." He nods and sits. Flops really. I help him out of the new slippers and into the old ones, then pull his walker up for him to stand and make his way over to the easy chair. It takes him some time to stand up. He pushes his hands down on the bed, which is soft and makes it difficult for him to get any lift. He's sitting beside the floor-to-ceiling bar we've installed to help himself with this, but for some reason he doesn't use it. I watch for a bit and then, in my mind, I shrug. I'm not going to help him with everything, especially if, with a little thinking, he could figure this out for himself.

He does finally manage to push himself up enough to stand and grip his walker. By the time he shuffles the few feet to his easychair he's winded. "Whew," he says. "Hard work." I watch and listen to him breathing heavily, recovering. I'm thinking that the exercise doesn't hurt him, however it comes. I don't feel bad for not helping him.

His mind is fine. His body is flabby and weak and he's carrying too much weight, and he's simply not interested in doing any walking to help himself. He bushed. Finished. Pooped. Done for. He's a harbinger for me. If you live long, you don't want to be carrying that much extra weight. Especially when you can, in fact, help it.

There's a Jets game coming up, but it only starts at 8. In Calgary. So I print a Xmas letter from family at font size 22 and staple the pages together. He reads. In the meanwhile I open my laptop and begin working on the project. He offers that I could read it when he's finished. I already have I say, even though I've only skimmed it. These things are important to him, less so to me.

There's no end to the unremarkable facts made available by the free sharing endemic to a large family community. Sons and daughters this. Granddaughters and grandsons that. A job change. Music lessons. Soccer. An opportunity to share the Word makes a good day. It dulls the tedium along the way to the celestial city.

Which is the aging father's central dilemma these days. The tedium of the journey. A body that, though flabby and soft, continues to function passably, and a mind that works just fine, though managing the sensory input from failing eyes and ears pose a challenge. Still, technology adapts to it and he can hear and read and watch.

No, the problem of the tedium of the journey begins in the aging father's mind - in the narrowness of point of view, the sparsity of limited interest in culture and one's interpretation of the problem of difference. How to avoid this blinkering while maintaining an interest in, and a conversation with, the marvels of the times? Who knows? Getting old is hard.

The caregiver son contemplates mutiny

He knows that somewhere he's started writing, or maybe finished writing, a story in which a caregiver son imagines several ways (five maybe?) to kill his aging father. The ways range from somehow sneaking his single-shot bolt-action .22 into the manor in which the aging father lives and muffling the shot with a pillow, to simply using the pillow to smother the aging father.

Whatever the case, the caregiver son imagines each method with the sort of attention to detail required to, say, actually complete the task and get away with it. (The .22 calibre rifle option requires an unlikely botched robbery (which ultimately results in its being struck as an option) and the smothering requires the possibility of a coroner determining the cause of death to be a stroke.)

Which leads the caregiver son to rifle through his electronic files to find this piece of writing that he's sure he's worked on. Did he complete it? Did he let anyone read it? Does it exist anywhere except in this fantasy? Is this why he can't sleep on this night, restless at the thought that he may have outed himself as a murderer? A patricidal prodigal? Cain on a rampage, unsated by fratricide?

When the aging father finally does die, will he doubt himself? His own memory of it? Will he worry that he's done it in the furious fatique-fueled fog that has awakened him only now, late at night - 3:04 AM - as if in a skirmish with himself followed by a fast confession to the ether that he's harboured these thoughts? Made plans? Executed them? With malice?

He's grown up being told by his parents that thinking about doing a sinful thing makes you as guilty as if you'd done it. That these bad thoughts can fly over and around in your head, but you can't let them land and make a nest. They shouldn't be laying eggs in there. They shouldn't be brooding, hatching themselves into malignant offspring.

That really, the only anti-dote to such thought-sin is confession - aloud and often - to expunge the crows, or bats, or pterodactyls. And so he stops now to tell you, albeit in third person, that the wings are tiring - the crows circling. There's an attractive crook in a tree just below, or a jutting board under an eave on the southeast corner of the barn, either of which would serve well as a nesting spot.

Something has to give, he tells you. He starts another metaphor. He tells you that he sees himself in Shelob's lair, stuck in her web, thick and cold and hard, his life being drained from him. He tells you that if there's a light to follow this night, he can't find it just now, from within this spun sarcophagi. Still, tonight, he tells you that he hopes to sharpen his pen, that perhaps he can write his way out.

He explains that this is why he's finally gotten out of bed, the wind whistling outside, to sit down at the keyboard to write. For tonight at least, there's that.  


Sunday, 28 June 2015

The aging father has trust issues

Legitimately. They are: Will homecare come on time, to get me ready in the morning, or get me ready for bed in the evening? Will my son come tonight? Will my son, when he’s away for a vacation in France, have a plan to return quickly should I have a sudden physical ailment? Will one of my children call tonight? Will the chaplain who leads bible study really lead, or just let anyone talk? Will I be able to turn on the TV with the remote? Will I make it to the toilet in time? Will John Gibbons finally know better and not put in Brett Cecil to screw up another save opportunity for the Jays? Will I die a painful death?

You might think that the last one would be most pressing, since the aging father is a month and a half from 95 years of age. But it’s not. You might think that another contender would involve the toilet, since soiling one’s self always sucks, even under understandable circumstances. But it’s not. It’s the first one, which you might’ve guessed because I set it up that way, to make it more obvious.

On Saturday evening, after watching the women’s soccer team lose, and while watching the Bombers on their way to a season-opening win, we looked up at the time to realize it was about 9:15. Past the time that the Home Care Aides (HCAs) usually arrive to get the aging father ready for bed. He’s immediately anxious about it, because it’s happened before, twice, that he’s been missed at bedtime. Someone forgets, or there’s a scheduling screw up at the office and no one is assigned to him.
Either way, there’s precedence for this sort of thing, and by now any deviation from the norm causes the aging father to fly to conclusions he knows not of, imagining that somehow he’s being overlooked in some purposeful way, or that it’s just plain incompetence which must be fixed and at least punished, or that like Jeremiah and Jesus this is his cross to bear as the suffering (un)serv(ed)ant.

Whatever the case, he doesn’t trust me when I say that I’m sure they’ll be there soon. That they are likely just taken up a little longer with someone else, that there are all sorts of things that could delay them, that it’s best to just wait and be ready, that we can pass the time, but he suggests that I head out into the hallway to see if anyone’s out there and if they will be in soon.

Which is what I do. And I find no one out there. It’s quiet. And now I’m wondering too. So I head back in and, cutting my own losses (I’d like to be getting home by now), I suggest that we could start getting him ready for bed. He agrees. So we get to it, him sitting on the bed, me pulling off his trousers one leg at a time, then his underwear, asking whether or not they go into the wash (which they do), and preparing to pull off his compression stockings, when the HCA arrives and wonders, awkwardly, what we’re doing.

We back-pedal. Dad’s tired. Just weren’t sure. Thought it wouldn’t hurt, and so on. She’s new, she says, and she just got word of the weekend shifts yesterday. She seems a bit out of sorts too, but she takes over, and I hug the aging father and set off for home, thinking to myself that I have to keep myself from getting caught up in the aging father’s trust issues.

At home I watch a corny french romance with M and B and start to drink gin (and tonic). When M and B go to bed I find “Killing Them Softly” on NF and since Brad Pitt and James Gandolfini are in it I decide I should watch it. With more gin (and tonic). It’s all right. Old school Ray Liotta gangster’s getting beat up and offed and new school Obama vs Bush American politics and economic crisis.

Then this morning at 7:30 AM the phone rings and I’m still feeling the gin a bit. Nothing like Waits or Bukowski, but one can always dream. Anyway the aging father’s on the phone saying that the HCAs aren’t there again. That they’re late. That he’s frustrated. That he’s going to wait a bit longer but he’s letting me know so I can phone somebody who can do something about this (which I can’t), and he’s going to wait a bit longer but breakfast is at 8 and he’s usually been up and dressed by 6:45 already. So if he calls again I may need to come down to help him out. His voice is calm and clear and angry. It’s a morning voice. The voice of someone who gets up early because that’s when he’s at his best. The voice of an early riser condescending to a lazy sleepy head son.

Okay, I say. I’m sure they’ll be there soon, I say. But you call again if they’re not there by 8. He calls again at 8. Okay, I say. I’m on my way. I get out of bed, a little dry in the mouth and woozy in the head. But there’s something to do, and instant coffee awaiting at the aging father’s so I’m in the car in a minute or two.

As I’m walking down the hallway to the apartment I see an HCA I recognize toward the end of the hall, so I call, Mrs. Penner, I say, are you headed to my dad’s place?

No, she says, surprised. Hasn’t anyone been there yet?

No, I say. Is there someone else in the building who would be seeing him yet?

There’s one other HCA working this morning, she says, but she’s in the other wing. I could go out there to see if he’s on her list.

Are you sure? I say. It’ll make you late for others won’t it.

Well, yes, she says, but he needs someone, not? She says.

Thanks, I say. I’ll go in and see how he’s doing.

When I walk into the apartment the aging father is sitting on his bed without his shirt on, his pajama top tossed on the floor. He looks up with his passive aggressive I’m-trying-to-be-meek-and-overcome-but-I’m-really-mad-and-you-should-pity-me eyes, raises both hands and shrugs.

There should be someone coming soon, I say, hopefully. I met Mrs. Penner in the hall and she’s getting the other HCA for you.

Okay, says the aging father, still quite downcast.

What do you want to do about breakfast? I say. Do you just want to wait until you’re dressed?

I don’t know, he says. I’ll be late and then I’ll just be eating there alone.

Well, should I go to the kitchen to get a tray of food and bring it here?

Sure, he says, they’ll gladly do that for you. That would be good.

In the meantime you’ll just wait here. The HCAs should be here soon.

So I head off to the kitchen to get a tray of breakfast and when I return both HCAs are getting the aging father ready, which includes a quick sponge bath, a shave, dressing, hair combing, and so on. I put on the water to boil water for instant coffee (a guilty pleasure at the aging father’s) and sit down to wait. Though he knows that it’s not their fault, the aging father makes it clear that he’s “angry” about this, and that something “has to be done about it.” And when the HCAs graciously answer that they are only doing what they are scheduled to do, and that it’s an office error by the coordinators, the aging father says that they always say that and he’s not sure how to take it because they also always say that it’ll never happen again, and then it does. His voice cracks as he says this.

And it’s clear that what might look like a minor clerical oversight or scheduling error has disproportionate impact on the aging father, or on anyone else who is overlooked. That, perhaps, the supervisor might not anticipate that an error like this will cause an aging father or mother to wonder whether or not he or she is significant enough to be remembered. To wonder whether or not one might simply be forgotten – out of sight out of mind. To wonder at his or her core about one’s intrinsic value. To wonder whether or not one is known and loved. What a nightmare to have lurking in one’s mind! To suspect that were people not paid to do the work, there would be no one doing it, no one caring to do it. That were one’s family not involved, one might cease to exist as a person, in the eyes of the very people one depends upon for such basic things as getting dressed and ready for the day.
When he’s dressed and ready he says thank you to the HCAs who have, both of them, not been scheduled to care for him today, and the two of us sit down to have breakfast together – toast and an egg, fresh fruit and oatmeal, coffee and juice. The aging father is less out of sorts now. More himself. But not without his doubts. Not without his suspicions that he’s not quite important enough these days. That he can’t trust those he needs to be able to trust. That he doesn’t have much recourse. Not much power or influence to summon to hold people to account.

It’s one thing to have trust issues. It’s quite another to feel powerless, vulnerable, and not very important.

Sunday, 31 May 2015

The aging father re-directs

I first told this story to M, who says she recognized in my imitation of the aging father's sudden outburst, my own anger, which apparently she doesn't see much of in me anymore. The aging father's outburst was an unexpected re-direction of frustration about being missed by Home Care one evening a week or so earlier.

Some context. There's recently been some staffing changes in the Home Care offices. The new director has been re-assigning and re-scheduling Home Care Aids (HCAs) and in the confusion, the time of their evening arrival to help the aging father get ready for bed has gotten later and unpredictable.

One evening two weeks or so ago we were watching one of the many NHL playoff games. The game ended. It was past 9. We waited. The longer we waited the more we suspected that he would be missed. We were right, and just before 10, with some consternation, we put the aging father to bed.

That night I made a phone call to the HCA office and left a message. The next morning I received a call apologizing for the miss, and asking me to pass along apologies to the aging father. In the evening I passed along the apologies and, grudgingly I'd say, he accepted, with the qualification that "such a thing should not happen, ever."

This was the second time the HCAs had missed their evening appointment, and for the aging father this is more than just an employee slipping up, this is a kind of afront to his pride, a kind of injury to his sense of self-worth and an indication that he's easily forgotten, that he might not matter. That and he depends on routine. Predictability is more than a comfort, it's a foundation on which he can stand. And keep on living.

Unsatisfied, the aging father spoke with the outgoing manager of the building complex, but complained that this man "passed the buck." That he re-directed the problem saying that it was not his responsibility. This was "passing the buck," the aging father said. "He could at least make a phone call," he said.

When I explained that the manager really couldn't, shouldn't, try to get involved, the aging father turned to me, gritted his teeth and spoke through them with fire in his eyes, "Someone has to do something!"

The next evening, as the aging father and I sat watching the Blue Jays (the baseball team) play the Orioles, Mildred, the next door neighbour walking outside in the courtyard, approached the window and gestured that she needed help getting back in to the building. She was smiling and holding her hands like she was praying.

I got up and walked out of the apartment to the entrance to let her in. An HCA was already there to let her in. We smiled at each other, and at Mildred. She smiled back. I returned to the apartment, and at the end of the evening as I stepped out of the building I turned to find Mildred seated outside in the lovely Spring evening.

The exterior doors to the building have a security magnet that locks the door some time between 9 and 10, and requires a pass-card to enter. So I said to Mildred that it was a lovely evening, and that I hoped that she had her pass-card with her, so she could get back in when the magnet locked the door. Mildred looked at me with fire in her eyes and said "If the door is locked I'll break it down!"



Sunday, 12 April 2015

The aging father: Unmaking the monster?

I'm rereading Mary Shelley's Frankenstein because I'm teaching a Mystery and Gothic Fiction course. Sometimes when you reread a book you wonder whether you in fact you ever read that book in the first place, the experience of it the second time 'round is so different. The first time I read Wuthering Heights, for instance, I was taking a Victorian Lit class with a professor who avowed that he adamantly disavowed the status some had given Emily Bronte's only novel as one of the best ever. This prof was an intellectual history specialist, not a literature specialist and he clearly loved the politics and ideas of the Victorian time. Thus we paid quite a lot of attention to Ruskin and Carlyle and J.S. Mill at the expense of fiction and poetry, and what he did choose was grudgingly discussed, and his choices swung from the obvious (you have to read one of the Bronte's - we'll choose the dark controversial one), to the curious (let's see how Kingsley's Alton Locke is like as a study of class during the Industrial Revolution), and the vigorous (we can read Dicken's Hard Times as an allegorical intellectual treatise and critique). I liked him at the time because of his contrarianism. I admire thoughtful and trenchant curmudgeonliness. I even aspire to it. Now though, looking back, I think he missed a lot of what the Victorians had to offer and though I appreciated his strong stance, the flavour of his reading and teaching of Victorian Lit has been hard to get out of the mouth.

I reread Wuthering Heights because I was going to teach a new AP Lit course and we had multiple copies of it on the shelves, which made it an easy and affordable choice for teaching. Of course, on this second reading, I came at it again with all of the biases of my first experience, but with more motivation to make something of the experience. I mean, I had a small motivated group of mostly female students. I should be open to reading it as they might read it. I should be reading it again not as though Bronte's characters and scenes were among the more overrated in the canon, but that there must be some reason for all those posthumous compliments. Besides, she wasn't a dead while male. That alone had to re-tilt my reading. And slowly, surely, it did. Heathcliff, the novel's hero/villain - the sometime boy, sometime lover, sometime monster - rounded out into someone completely and hopelessly human. The narrative structure, the second (and third) time through, seemed less irksome and contrived and more necessary. Now I saw how the structure turned the gothic first person trope into an experiment in stretching the genre into the territory of realism - perhaps a new genre: gothic realism?

Wendy Lesser in the opening reflection of her book, Nothing Remains the Same (2002) on the wonder and whimsy of rereading, says "Time is a gift, but it can be a suspect one, especially in a culture that values frenzy." And so I am blessed by an occupation (a vocation too, I suppose) that kind of enforces the taking of the gift of time. That is, in order to stay ahead of the young minds that confront me everyday I get to revisit texts often. I'm forced into it, if I want to maintain this facade of competence. So I assign Frankenstein, and now I'm forced to revisit, to reaquaint and reconsider.      

Some of you will know where this might be going, especially if you've read Frankenstein. (If you've watched one of the movies you might smiling more than you should. It might be hard to get Gene Wilder's Bride of Frankenstein treatment out of your mind's eye and that's cool and all but it's not where I'm heading.) Mary Shelley's tale of overreaching and misguided ambition may, of all of the allegories that we should be gifting ourselves with the time to reread and reconsider from our current frenzy, be the most prescient and sagacious, both personally and techno-culturally. I'm not going to develop the techno-cultural argument, but I will indulge in a personal discussion of how the Frankenstein myth reads for me.

As I said, some of you will see this coming, but the aging father and I have this ongoing Frankensteinian sort of relationship. Of course he has had a "hand" in making me, and now I, his ersatz creation, have a hand in keeping him well and alive, and in carrying forward his name. Okay, ersatz isn't fair. It's too whiney. There's not enough self-reflection in it. But in this it's true, though I may be fine at keeping my aging father/creator alive, I am not at my core what he wants me to be, whether or not he really knows it. (Though he might know, he's got next to no option but to sit tight now and ride it out. What other choice does he have?)

Which brings me to a few days ago. It's the day the Jets play their third-last game of the regular season. The game matters a lot for their playoff chances. I intend to head over to watch the game with the aging father. I'm sitting and eating supper when the phone rings. It's the aging father saying that he can't get his TV to work. This is not an uncommon complaint so I take in stride. I'll be there in a bit I say, after I finish my supper, which I do.

When I step in through the door of the apartment the smell assaults me with more vigour that usual. I'm sure I've commented on this before, that the scent of the aging father's place often is of an acidy-not-too-long-ago-I've-taken-a-runny-shit variety. This assault was that, in triplicate. "Hello?" I call with some hesitation. "How's it going?"

"I've had a terrible mishap," says the aging father as I turn the corner to find him naked, except for his sleeveless undershirt, and sitting on his bed, on his dress-shirt as a shield to keep from soiling the bedding. I can't say what I said at that moment, whether it was comforting or terse or matter-of-fact, but when I looked into the bathroom to see pants, a throw-rug, and a white towel strewn on the floor among smears and dollops of shit, my fears were confirmed.

So it goes. As I said, in the immediate moment I'm not sure I came off as the most supportive and caring, but I came around. My best defense against the monster of scorn and derision is to set myself to the task in a methodical way: clear out the scene, putting the soiled items in a bag to be taken to the washing room down the hall; clean the aging father (I'm leaving out details here that are humbling. You cannot unmake the monster without getting your hands dirty. Literally. As in, actually touching (it's inevitable no matter how vigilant you may be) the monster's shit dirty. ) and get him dressed, reseated in front of the TV (get the TV on too) and comfortable; scrub the floor and fixtures of the bathroom; take the soiled laundry to the washing room and put it in the washing machine. The task takes over and by the end of it you have a sense of accomplishment. You survived. The place is clean again. You've scoured out (Comet (old-school)) the grime, and changed the smell (Febreeze (new-school).

Then we watch the game, my eldest sister phones, we all three commiserate and hum and haw at it, and the evening winds down into night. When I leave the clothes and towels and bath rug have warm and clean and dry and back where they should be. The monster has been expiated. All is right again. So it goes.

I'm telling you this because I am in a constant state of rereading these days, and I am not always taking this time as a gift. Too often it is frenzy and distraction. Too often it is the monster that runs things. Too often I don't want to remember or revisit. Too often I don't want to write.

It feels old somehow. This battle of making and unmaking, of being made and unmade. I am (to allude to a previous post) too often unmanned by it all. The monster rears and retrenches. I cannot always unmake it. Some days I go to bed with shit and soiled trousers littering the floor. I wake up haggard and drenched with my own sweat. I wake up in a fog that blurs the horizon. If you see me it'll likely look as though I'm making it. The monsters of fear and anger and pride in my own self-reliance inhabit me. Unmaking them, unmanning them, may not be the endgame here. Rather it may be in just telling the story, in admitting to it all, in approaching the whole shitty mess with method and seeking in it the gift of time.  

The point then, on rereading Frankenstein, seems as much to be of confession and commiseration as it is in prophecy. Victor (Frankenstein) tells all. He admits to it, asserts as much, that the eponymous monster is not actually the strange creature he manufactures and enlivens, but its creator. The monster is the maker.

If it isn't clear to you that humans have an unceasing interest in, and capacity for, self-aggrandizement both good and bad, then you haven't been paying attention. If you haven't put in place checks and balances to manage this monstrosity, you'll pay the piper. Someone will pay. Someone who's innocent.

The aging father may bring me to some pretty challenging situations. At times he may look the monster because of it. At times though my telling of the tale makes me out to be victim when I am more maker and monster in the story. And isn't this just the way it always is? always will be? We make things, we set them loose, we sit back to watch.

Yesterday at a fire with friends, the first summer fireside of the year - weiner roastin', beer drinkin', chip eatin', music driftin' - the kids ran, fell, and danced free while the adults danced too, this age-old waltz of too much and too little leading. It was marvellous to watch. If we care we can't help but step in here, take a hand there, swing a partner 'round and round. We can't help but get involved, even when we'd mostly just like to sit and drink and eat.



Vigilant always, what are we monitoring? Why do we bother? Why must we bother? Why must we remonstrate? Because we are, each of us, a monstrance. And we, each of us, know it. We hold in us the monster, the body and blood, the mystery of life and the paradox of creation of destruction. We are always and forever holding this in us and always and forever wishing we could let it go, watch it run away into the wilderness with our sins on its head.

But it's not going to be that way. The phone's going to ring. You'll think that it'll be an easy fix until you get into it and smell the shit, and then you'll know, you'll be remonstrated. The monster'll show up. In your head you'll yell "Fuck!" Then you'll sigh and come around. You'll get on your hands and knees and clean up the mess, for now. You'll be better because of it, but you can expect to have to do it again.