Photo copyright Jon Crispin 2011.

Photo copyright Jon Crispin 2011

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Today I finished reading Sparta by Roxana Robinson. It's one of the best books I've read in a long time. In fact, it's so good it made me angry. Angry at lesser books, written by authors who don't care enough about their book to make it better because that would be work.

I know it is unfair to become angry with sloppy writers just because there are books like this. Books that the author spent an enormous amount of time and energy to get just right. How is it possible for a woman to enter into a man's mind and body and understand? Perhaps it takes a woman to be able to understand the mystery. This book had me in tears by page 39, and it ended with tears. Tears of pain and tears of hope for the main character, Conrad. Tears of anger and grief at what we ask of our young people and how little we give in return for their service.

Before I retired, I worked as a nurse at a VA hospital. I believe that had Conrad been one of our patients, he would have had a much better experience than what happened to him in the book. I thanked every patient I had for his or her service. I meant it, and so did my coworkers. Our patients were treated with attention and respect. Were our services perfect? No, but our patients told us over and over again how grateful they were that we were there for them. We cared, and it showed.

I was lucky. I retired before the flood of the young ones coming in from the Middle East began, but I had enough contact to see that it was very bad. I hope services continue to improve, and I hope we as a country stop feeling the need to ask them to keep sacrificing their lives for no good reason. Afghanistan is full of lithium we need for our batteries, and we are afraid China will move in? That's no reason for the loss of one young life. War is necessary at times to stop great evil or for self-defense. War is for a real enemy, not an amorphous ghostly figment of our imagination, and our government must tell us the truth about why we are risking the lives of our military.

I don't get excited about politics very often, but I swear that if the government reinstates the draft to fill the numbers they need to fight these ghost wars, I will take to the streets and demonstrate. I will work to prevent any cutbacks in services to our vets and their families. They have earned everything they receive and more besides. They have earned our attention and respect and support.

Sunday, July 21, 2013

Happy Birthday, Papa

Happy birthday, Ernest Hemingway. You've gone a bit out of fashion right now, what with your rampant huntin', shootin', drinkin' masculinity. When I put all that aside, though, and just read what you wrote, you never fail to engage and amaze me. Lucid is the first word that comes to mind. No extra words, every piece polished until it shines.

A couple of months ago I bought a collection of your complete short stories for my Kindle. It was only $2.99, and if there was only one story worth reading, it would be worth it. It's been much more than worth it.

I tend to associate Hemingway with high-school reading assignments. I don't know whether he is still used in schools today. In my time, I suppose it was because he was considered and 'easy' read. His sentences are short; he doesn't strain the vocabulary of a high-school student; and the plots are easy to follow.

Coming back as an adult, I wonder why anyone would think that an adolescent would understand what is going on between the lines. So much is implied rather than openly stated that it takes an adult understanding of the tensions of life and relationships to pick up on the subtleties of what is actually happening.

There's a contemporary writer who reminds me of you. Not in his lifestyle or image, but in his writing. Stewart O'Nan has that same lucidity. When I read his work I imagine him revising and rewriting, examining every word and demanding that it justify its inclusion in the work. His Last Night at the Lobster would sit on my bookshelf cheek by jowl with Hemingway's The Old Man and the Sea and feel right at home.  Nothing extra, no padding, just polished, glowing words that communicate so much more than what is read.

I'm sorry your life had so many sad parts, particularly the ending, but I thank you, Papa, for what you left us in your writing.

Monday, July 8, 2013

Salute to a Pioneer

Happy birthday, Elizabeth Kubler Ross. Your pioneering work with the dying paved the way for the hospice movement in the United States. When I was an ICU nurse, I heard one of my colleagues say "I come to work every day and torture old people to death." Thanks to you and the hospice movement, that is no longer true. People are allowed to die a natural death, with dignity, and as much comfort as we can give them. I had hospice services for three of my family members, so I have first-hand knowledge of the benefit of their services. Losing a family member to death is never easy, and it's always too early, but hospice can help ease the way.

I love this photo of her, which I obtained from this web site: