reduce-reuse-recycle, or: soylent green is–looking better all the time!

in case that header didn’t give it away–SPOILER ALERT! and not the movie kind, the mood kind. this is going to be one of my cynical rants, so either cover your eyes, or whatever you do to avoid unpleasantness, or read on at your own risk. you’ve been forewarned!

from where i’m sitting, here are all the options available for the aging and dying:

1. quit while you’re ahead; conveniently die at a relatively young age, and spare yourself and everyone a lot of misery. be part of the solution!

2. get shoved into a facility, as long as funds hold out, and get parked in front of a loud tv until you croak from boredom. or spend down all your assets and savings to qualify for entitlements, leaving nothing you worked hard for to the next generation.

3. put up with a circus of revolving home care aides, again if even more funds are available, and give up any peace and privacy staying home should have afforded. spend all your savings on expensive medical intervention to extend dying. forget dignity, as your diaper is being changed.

4. become a burden on your aging child/ren, who don’t have enough stress and money problems already, by moving in with them.

5. insist on staying in your deteriorating home, and compel your aging child/ren to drop everything and come babysit you, since they must have nothing better to do than return the favor.

6. attempt to remain independent alone, and eventually starve or burn the house down or wander off into oblivion. that is, if you can afford to keep a roof over your head to starve under, burn down, or wander off from.

7. somehow make it barely alive to the point where you qualify for hospice/palliative care (6 months, give or take, to so-called live) and then just pop the opiates.

8. variations and permutations of all the above, depending on circumstances. a few creative alternatives are starting up, but are not accessible to the vast majority.

9. did i mention i’m cynical?

this is the point at which i’m supposed to indicate to whomever it may concern what my wishes would be concerning death-extending measures, beyond the one about just pulling the plug. to be honest, none of the above are very attractive, except for #1, over which i have limited control. currently i’m tied up in #5 mode, so dying of mental exhaustion and existential angst is probably not a good option right now. but hey, if it happens, it happens! and i’m sure i wouldn’t be the first.

this is also where i would normally launch back into my angry, contemptuous tirade blasting the death-extension industry that our system perpetuates, and reiterate that something is seriously wrong with this picture, but plenty of other, better writers are jumping on that bandwagon, and honestly—i’m too tired and depressed to expend the energy. and besides, i already did!

i’ll just say, at the risk of disillusioning those who think we caregivers must be some extraordinary, saintly, self-sacrificing individuals—which might explain our insanity—sorry, it’s not that simple. maybe some are, i can’t speak for them. maybe in some way it’s a rewarding endeavor, i just don’t experience that side of it. it’s a necessity that most of us will face in one way or another, and have to engage in, whether voluntarily or reluctantly. i hope for your sakes, by that time some better alternatives will have presented themselves.

i’m sorry if this rant is offensive to anyone, but it’s mainly intended as a built-in safety pressure release valve. if it also affords a glimpse into your possible future choices, on either side of the inevitable equation, then so be it. i’m only the messenger. don’t shoot me. oh—wait….!

one day i hope this will all be moot. death is a given, but the way society addresses and handles it needs to be revisited. as long as we’re in denial, we won’t come up with healthy, holistic alternatives. a start would be to visualize yourself in the above options, and imagine how you would feel to be consigned to humiliation, relentless discomfort and confusion, and isolation among strangers or resentful children, with all your peers dead and funds gone. no, not a pleasant prospect. but lucrative. and it will stay that way as long as we avoid it, or resign ourselves to it.

seriously, i welcome a proactive dialogue on this topic. so far all i’ve seen are the war casualty stories vs. the minority who somehow find this experience rewarding. i get a lot of: it’s so [baffling but] admirable that you gave up your life to do this! i could never do that! [iow, why would you?] yeah, if you have lots of money to throw at the problem, and absolve yourself of responsibility. i’m also hearing echoes of the refrain ‘just shoot me when the time comes’. it doesn’t seem all that original or far-fetched, anymore.

ok, i wasn’t going to do this rant. i never imagined in my wildest nightmares that i’d be so entangled in this phenomenon at this point in life, because i was never prepared for it by my elders, who weren’t either. things used to be simpler. people just died! now they just persist indefinitely, helpless and miserable, until mercifully released. and we get to maintain them, going broke in the process, until it’s our turn. not a sustainable way of life. i mean death.

the truth can be much more surreal than fantasy.

the karma of emotional investment

i’ve been thinking a lot about karma lately. not just as an old hippie who dabbled in hindu offshoots. whatever you want to call it, karma is a law of the universe. think of it as cause and effect. action and reaction. reap what you sow, if you like. everything you do has consequences.

i may not have the wisdom down yet, but the aging part has taught me a few things. this being my blahg where i rant to myself, you have no choice but to indulge me or move on. i like talking to myself. sometimes i even make sense —to myself. but if you do read on, first read this disclaimer: the following is not necessarily based on having followed my own advice, but rather on having learned by hindsight and irresponsible choices. don’t take my word for it; find out for yourself! but i hope you won’t have to.

for starters, think long and hard before having children. wait! i didn’t say don’t have them. consider wisely and go into child-raising intentionally. it’s not a spectator sport, or for impressing the neighbors, or for turning out clones, or what-have-you. it is not for the weak-willed and squeamish. it’s not for people who indulge in cute kittens but then pawn the older cats off on someone else. it’s not like shopping for clothes to flatter yourself, then giving them to goodwill when you want to update your wardrobe. it’s for conscientious, adaptable, resilient people who intend to take responsibility for their actions and follow through, whatever the cost. people who are ready to emotionally invest in their own future by earning the respect and honor they expect from their kids. because everything you do, or neglect to do, will come back to you later. compounded, with interest.

(just a quick aside here: i did not intentionally plagiarize any ideas from esteemed writer/blogger john scalzi. any resemblance to ‘whatever’ is not so much coincidence as confirmation.)

this i have witnessed as child to my parents. they were products of the depression and ww2, so they were all about appearances and material possessions, but very repressive, harsh, and unforgiving toward their older children, who just couldn’t seem to comply with the program. in their 80’s they became demented and sick, regressing back into children themselves, and requiring me to essentially parent my own parents. long story short, their ‘investment’ somewhat backfired at them. the guilt and obligation part worked out for them, but the respect, compassion, and devotion were not there. payback yes; gratitude, sadly lacking. (i’m still working on this attitude, but that’s a separate rant.)

so, karma. moving right along into adulthood, you will never get it all right. you will never make all the right choices. your questionable results will hopefully teach you before you repeat the same mistakes. pain is a great teacher, unless you like pain. in that case, you’re on your own. the main point i want to make here is that you affect everyone involved with your behavior and choices, not just yourself. you are mentoring and modeling behavior to the people close to you. you are investing in your future as well as theirs. as you learn and modify, so will they. adaptability is key. as you learn by experience, you are teaching the next generation how to transition functionally and gracefully.

i wish someone had prepared me for life, responsibility, and aging issues. each new unexpected crisis hit me hard because no one had proactively prepared me for reality. i had the negative defenses of anger, resentment, low self-esteem, being critical and judgmental, and so on, built in, but no positive tools for prioritizing, making wise decisions, or maintaining healthy personal boundaries. things just ‘happened’ to me and i was ‘victimized’. i had no blueprint or roadmap. disorientation, disillusionment, and alienation were the inevitable consequence.

so finally you come full circle. you age and lose function and cognition. no one prepared you for the horror and loneliness of it. no one prepared your children for the surreal role they would suddenly have to take on. not to mention the expense. depending on your role modeling, your children will either be prepared and willing to address this huge challenge, or scramble frantically and resentfully to rearrange their own lives to confront this burden. and their children will get further neglected and lost in the shuffle, and learn to resent and dread old age. as did i.

here is where your true values regarding family and friends will come back to either reward or haunt you. if you model/learn the values of mutual trust and respect within an extended support network, you’re investing in your future. you’re ensuring that those values will both come back to you and will be paid forward. negative cycles will be broken, and healthier ones take their place. in short, you won’t find yourself so alone with your regrets.

i’ve come to question many traditional concepts and principles, but this one has proven itself to me time and again. we don’t exist in a vacuum. what you do or don’t do matter and will have repercussions. the bad news is, you can’t always undo the damage. the good news is, you can stop repeating history and the vicious cycle. i can’t undo my upbringing or my son’s, but i can re-examine myself every day and try to be part of the healing process. it’s the most stable investment there is.

the virtual element, or, e-message in a v-bottle

virtual communication can never completely replace physical proximity, of that i am fairly convinced. but i’m here to extol the virtues of virtual connectedness.

here in my exile in the VOE, cut off by distance and time from most of the people who make up my family/friend support network, the internet has been my lifeline. following their lives online, from the most mundane daily thoughts and activities, to the significant events and transitions, keeps me in the loop. when i communicate via multiple online media, i’m already fairly caught up on the status of things, as if we’ve been conducting an ongoing conversation. depending on the format, i either have to think quickly and be brief, or take the time to articulate and proofread what i want to say, but either way there is instant or timely dialogue.

so when i finally get the chance to make the long trip to visit, as i did this past weekend, a lot of territory and bases have already been covered, and we can proceed with the business of reuniting and picking up where we left off in person. i don’t feel like i’ve missed out on a year’s worth of experience and development. i’m still part of the process.

in an ideal world, we’d all be physically closer, but this is reality. to say that the internet has distanced us from each other and the real world is not wholly accurate. we’ve already accomplished that without much digital help. and having scattered ourselves all over the globe, and found ourselves solitary and displaced, we take advantage of every possible way to network and stay connected. granted, some forums tend to break down into trivial chatter, but that’s part of human expression, too. all over the world wide web, it’s still just us hanging out, often in the only way we can. if anything, i don’t take my people for granted anymore, plus i don’t get on their nerves as much! mainly, i don’t lose continuity.

so, despite the frustration i experience being from a generally less tech-savvy generation, i’m a big fan of communication technology, in the same way i approve of any essential tool that gets the job done, even if i am mechanically disabled. it’s simply an effective means to an end. in this case, it keeps me part of an extended family/community, informed, and, honestly, sane. well, as sane as i’ll ever be, here in my gulag outpost, with the zombies and ghosts.

just think of this blog as my e-message in a virtual bottle. no response is anticipated, but if one comes, doing time goes faster.

interdependence day

i guess i’m not the most patriotic person in the world. some days i feel privileged to be born in the USA. i vote, as farcical as it seems sometimes. often, i get fed up with this country. but where, honestly, is there to go? most places involving humans feature war, disease, economic crisis, injustice, bureaucracy, pollution, disasters, or you name it. sounds familiar. makes me feel more global, i guess.

we as a nation have chosen, for whatever reasons, not to prioritize space exploration, so here we are, stuck with each other and all our cross-purposes. most of us don’t have the luxury or option to move to a better situation. the so-called american dream is just that, based on an illusion. this county was built on a foundation of persecution, genocide, slavery, racism, corruption, and greed. (i said i was cynical.) we feel the impact of that history around us every day. some americans continue to promote it, or simply perpetuate it through ignorance. many of us just live with it, and try to survive. a few rise above it and try to change the future.

this country makes it extremely challenging to go against the mainstream, but it’s still possible and even in some cases legal. here and there are pockets of individuals who cooperate to move toward a more sane, sustainable lifestyle. maybe not so paradoxically, their independent mindset and quest for liberty sometimes require that they work together interdependently and communally, a trait not that encouraged in our system anymore.

this whole country is about independence on every level. you must grow up to be independent. you must be mobile and move far away from extended family and friends. you must make it as an individual or family on your own. you must not depend on anyone. you must not get too emotionally dependent. you must be successful and compete. maybe some ‘teamwork’ comes into play, but just as a strategy to get ahead and beat the other ‘team’. you must not rely on safety nets. if misfortune hits, you’re just screwed. and above all, you outlive your ‘quality of life’ at your own risk.

autonomy, self-sufficiency, self-reliance— great in theory, but in our society these qualities can be synonymous with self-respect and self-control. g-d help you if the inevitable misfortune or catastrophic event diminishes your ability to live and function independently. either way—having to depend on others for basic needs, or having to give up your own autonomy to go take care of others—is something we dread and avoid. we may even feel shame and a sense of failure. our culture discourages us from living a life that takes into account and incorporates all phases of human life, transition, and death. if you’re too young, you’re screwed. if you’re too old, you’re screwed. if you’re in-between and screwed by reality, tough luck. you’re on your own. literally.

since i’m supposedly ranting to myself, i’m not too concerned with what this must sound like. i sat down this morning to ask myself what if anything i had to say about independence day. i guess i feel like the 4th of july has become just another american commercial enterprise, like christmas, only fewer employees get a day off. if they’re employed in the first place. sometimes we forget what it is we’re supposed to be celebrating. so i thought about what independence means to me, and off i went! if nothing else, it’s the freedom to rant about it online, while drinking a beer. can’t knock that.

now the 5th of july is a much more significant day in personal history. but i won’t repeat myself (see previous post). i choose to celebrate that day. i hope its hero will, too. here’s to life and no regrets! and martinis on airships!

zombies, and rites of passage

it’s so easy to get wrapped up into my own little nightmare world. it doesn’t help to think of all the horrific evil and suffering in the world all around me, compared to which i’m privileged. objectivity and perspective be damned! admit it, your situation is always the worst! of course, looking back upon any situation, it will seem so much better than what you’re going through now. so unappreciated, so many missed opportunities. the grass was always greener. even though you know it was not all that. but that’s the human mind for you. perverse. at least mine.

so here i am in The Vortex Of Evil [VOE], an endearing little name my brothers and i have for NJ. also known as The Land Of Surly Morons. that’s a topic for a whole different rant, not even worth bothering with. my role is to manage demented zombies, now down to just one demented zombie. the other one died. yes, i realize zombies don’t technically die, they already did. well, same difference. they might as well be dead, just barely being held together by dozens of drugs and devices, wandering around in a confused fog. smelly. this is also a separate rant. the point is, i gave up my so-called life of decades, hundreds of miles away, near my son and family, to basically take up space in an old house of ghosts and bad memories, and babysit my parents. if i’m being harsh, well, it’s just me venting to myself, being honest. it’s better than, say, going on a psycho-rampage. the unnatural surreal nightmare atmosphere can have that effect on one. i remind myself that the life and work i left behind was not ideal, and i have it pretty good here compared to most of the world. heh, doesn’t work. it still sucks when i wake up to it each morning, and go through the relentless grind, again.

my perceptive neighbor dragged me away from this self-absorbed rant to take a walk in the park. this park is the same snobby, manicured enclave it always was, possibly slightly more diverse than in its past racist history. now you see lots of russian immigrants, hispanic nannies, asian school kids, and even an occasional black person who isn’t a maid or caregiver. it’s still the same insulated white world under the fa├žade. pretty, but suffocating. my neighbor and i talk of old and new ways of thinking and living. she’s in the age group between my parents’ and mine, so she has weathered the transition from old to new, and can see it from a different angle. refreshing, until i re-enter the zombie atmosphere. still angry, resentful, guilty, and unappreciative of my idle hours. my blahgosphere.

what brought this on? ironically, i was thinking not so much of myself, but of my son, about to make the rite of passage into age 30. he’s so weighed down with real life responsibilities and worries that he can’t afford the luxury/necessity of taking a breath to enter it calmly and intentionally. he and his family are basically treading water to stay afloat. his nature is to go into anything with conscientious intention, assuming the risks and consequences, not arbitrarily or under pressure. yet life is no respecter of persons’ integrity; it just barrels on along and pulls you under with it. i know, i was there! i identify and empathize. as a mother, however imperfect, i want to hold back the tsunami and give him a chance to catch his breath. but all i can do is watch helplessly and offer inadequate assistance. if i’m embarrassing him by talking about him, i hope he’ll realize it’s my inarticulate mother way of expressing extreme respect and love. i can’t not express it, so he has no choice! it is my blahg, after all! so blah. you’re welcome!

this is a very roundabout way of getting to what i really want to say: happy 30th birthday to my son. you will make it through. it won’t be easy or as you imagined it, but it’s none the less auspicious and momentous an occasion. i’ve watched you grow for 30 years and nine months, and though there have been some tough times, i love who you are and are becoming regardless of obstacles, and respect your choices. you don’t settle for mediocrity and conventional stupidity, you stand against it. you take on big endeavors and don’t back down. you assume the consequences uncomplainingly, but still challenge the system of the world that obstructs progress. and underneath it all, you still retain that astute, ready sense of humor and don’t take yourself too seriously. also you’re a father to be commended. so i’m a little partial. it’s still true.

ok, so sometimes i do take a moment off from self-absorption for a worthy cause. i can’t think of a worthier one. happy rite of passage to my esteemed son. this blahg’s for you!

also i confess i’m not just talking to myself as intended. i’m being presumptuous enough to include an imaginary audience. it’s actually tricky to talk to oneself, knowing even a single hypothetical person may be watching. it makes one feel demented! which, considering the zombie genetics involved, may not be that far from the truth.