Sunlit Water

October 31, 2007


Filed under: Blogs,Personal — by teofilo @ 3:40 pm

To expand on this and this, after giving it some more thought I think what really bothers me is not so much disagreement (which is, after all, an unavoidable aspect of interacting with other people at all) as the tone that tends to accompany it at Unfogged.  It really does seem like the place is full of people who are determined to be gratuitously mean to each other as often as possible, even over the smallest and least important differences.  I can understand this to an extent in arguments about politics and other contentious areas like religion and gender roles, where many people have strong opinions and are naturally inclined to express them vigorously, and I deal with that mainly by just not reading the political threads.  What I don’t understand, though, is why certain people (okay, usually B, but not just her) feel the need to adopt that same angry, contemptuous tone when arguing about totally trivial matters of personal taste.  The original argument in that thread, about mangoes, is a good example of this.  Though this sort of thing, I now realize, is meant entirely in fun, I just can’t understand how someone could find it fun.  To me it just feels like wildly disproportionate cruelty to anyone who expresses a contrary opinion, no matter how innocuous or mildly phrased, and it creates an atmosphere where people (okay, me, but there are probably others) are afraid to express their opinions on even the most anodyne subjects for fear of being screamed at for hundreds of comments.

This is, I am realizing, really all about tone rather than substance; I’m not uncomfortable with strong differences of opinion being expressed, as long as they are expressed civilly and respectfully without any needlessly inflammatory language.  Since preferences about conversational tone are obviously matters of personal taste that differ wildly from person to person, I don’t want to suggest that people change their tone for the sake of my feelings, and I also realize that there’s a problematic gender angle to complaining about women being “uncongenial” or whatever (although I don’t intend this to be a gendered complaint, it’s nonetheless true that the main person who irritates me this way is a woman).  This is, of course, reminiscent of some very unpleasant arguments about tone and gender at Unfogged in the past, and I don’t want to reopen those wounds.  It’s just that the confrontational tone and attitude that seems to prevail over there most of the time is deeply alienating to me, and it makes commenting there pretty unpleasant much of the time.  Which may not be a big issue for most people, but it’s a problem for me because I do like the group there and I’d like to be able to have calm, respectful discussions about interesting topics with them, and Unfogged seems to be an increasingly poor place to do that.

Some people in that thread suggested that the stuff I was complaining about is actually good for the conflict-averse, because it provides a safe venue in which to become more comfortable with conflict.  There’s a certain amount of sense in that, but as I pointed out in response, it’s not clear to me why Unfogged should have to be used that way even by people who don’t want to toughen up.  I’m not unfamiliar with conflict; I work in a law firm, so I deal with conflict all day, every day (from the perspective of an observer rather than a participant, to be sure, but that’s just analogous to reading a thread rather than commenting on it).  Reading Unfogged is what I do in my free time, and I don’t like having to deal with the same things I tolerate at work when I come over there.

I don’t really have a coherent argument to make here; I’ve just been thinking about this a lot lately and I had more to say than I could really fit into a comment thread at Unfogged.


October 28, 2007

Taking Chances

Filed under: Dating,Personal — by teofilo @ 1:38 pm

Last night my synagogue had a “Las Vegas night” as a fundraiser, which basically involved people paying $25 and getting a certain amount of fake money to gamble away or use to bid on items in a silent auction.  The system was very complicated so as not to run afoul of New Mexico’s strict gambling laws (or, since they also served beer and wine, New Mexico’s similarly strict liquor laws).  I wasn’t really intending to go, but when I was at services one day last week the guy who was organizing it told me that there was a nice girl who would be serving drinks there that he wanted me to meet.  This was kind of weird, since that was maybe the second or third time I’d ever talked to him and he really didn’t know me at all, but I figured, what the hell.

So I went.  I paid $25 to “gamble” and $5 to drink, and while I had no interest in the former, I did have a beer.  It was good beer, from a microbrewery in Colorado owned by the son of the synagogue president.  When I saw the organizer, he asked for my name then brought me over to the non-alcoholic drinks table and introduced me to the girl.  She was cute, and she seemed to like me, so I spent most of the rest of the night standing at the drinks table chatting with her.

She’s a sophomore living in the dorms at UNM.  Her roommate is a member of the synagogue (and the sister of a good friend of mine from Hebrew school), which is how she got roped into staffing this event.  The organizer apparently told her I was a UNM student as well, which just goes to show how little he knows about me (if the fact that he didn’t know my name hadn’t already established that).  We got along pretty well, and when the thing ended she and her roommate (who was also working the event) invited me to come back to the roommate’s parents house, where they’re staying right now for some reason, so I did.

I’m not sure quite what I was expecting at the house, but I wasn’t too pleased with how it went.  When I got there it turned out they had brought over a male friend of theirs who was really irritating and immature, and we all just sat around and watched Young Frankenstein.  It was okay, but it didn’t give me much opportunity to talk to her.

I was sitting next to her on the couch the whole time we were watching the movie.  It would have been very easy for me to make a move, but somehow I just couldn’t make myself do it.  I had this same problem on my dates with the previous girl as well.  I’m just way too shy and inhibited; even in situations where I’m quite sure the girl would welcome me doing something, I can’t convince myself to take that risk.  When I tell people this they usually tell me I need to get over it, and they’re right, but they don’t seem to realize that that’s hard for me.  I’ve had so little romantic success that the possible negative consequences are much more vivid for me than the possible positive consequences, and it’s very difficult to overcome that.

Anyway, I did get her number and will call her today.  I like her and I’d like to see her again, even though last night was kind of weird for a first date.

October 18, 2007

For Science, Of Course

Filed under: Personal — by teofilo @ 6:51 pm

The comments to the previous post are making me wonder if I have any secret admirers here or at the other blogs I frequent.  If there are any (which I kind of doubt, actually), I’d appreciate it if they could e-mail me or comment on this post.

October 13, 2007

It Also Didn’t Result In Sex

Filed under: Dating,Personal — by teofilo @ 3:36 pm

So there’s this girl who I met through OkCupid shortly before things got really bad with my dad.  We chatted a bit through the site, and had been planning to meet in person when my dad died and things got all crazy.  We kept in touch, though, and a couple weeks later went on a (probably ill-advised) Sunday evening coffee date.  It went well, so we kept chatting online and had another date, for lunch this time, today.

While we were talking, I was really struck by how reminiscent the conversation was of Unfogged.  We touched on a lot of topics that have been discussed at great length there and at other blogs I read, and as I thought about it I remembered that many of the things we had talked about on the first date were also perennial blog fodder.  I mentioned this there when I got back; despite AWB’s rejoinder, it went well beyond complaining about not getting laid.  It was actually kind of eerie, like all the things I’ve been hearing about all this time were being repeated, but in a different context and by a different person.  Maybe it’s just that I haven’t had a whole lot of intimate conversations with women lately, and this stuff is what they tend to talk about.  I don’t know.

Anyway, it was interesting.  She’s really cool, and she seems to like me a lot, so I think there’s some definite potential here.  There are some rather major logistical issues to deal with, but I figure we’ll address them when the time comes.

October 5, 2007

A Life Remembered

Filed under: Personal — by teofilo @ 4:57 pm

My father was born in Mercy Hospital in Durango, Colorado on July 28, 1947.  His parents didn’t live in Durango, but they were following something of a family tradition in traveling across state lines to give birth in a better hospital than those available nearby.

They lived at a trading post a few miles southeast of Farmington, New Mexico, in the region known as the Checkerboard because the land was divided up into roughly alternating parcels, some deeded and owned privately, mostly by Anglo or Hispanic ranchers, and some held in trust by the BIA for Navajos.  The Checkerboard is not part of the Navajo Reservation per se, but its population is overwhelmingly Navajo and it is culturally very much a part of the Navajo country.  Indeed, back in the nineteenth century this area was the center of Navajo population, and most of the major Navajo myths and legends take place there.

My grandparents’ trading post was (and is) on deeded land, so they owned it outright.  This was a different arrangement from trading posts on the reservation, which were (and are) leased from the tribal government.  My great-grandfather had built the store back in 1918, during the flu epidemic, and my grandmother and her four sisters had grown up there.  They all ended up marrying traders and scattering all across the Navajo country, but they kept in close contact and the relationships among their children were more like those of siblings than of cousins.

My dad was an only child, so when he was little it was just him and his parents at the store.  Most of his playmates were Navajo.  When he died, one of them came to the graveside service in Farmington.  He was the same age as my dad, and they had played together when they were 4 and 5 years old out at the store.  He spoke very little English, so he had trouble making himself understood, but he spoke at the graveside anyway and got very choked up talking about how much he missed him.  He probably hadn’t seen him in decades; none of us had ever met him.  It was very sweet.

When it came time for my dad to go to school, his parents faced a perennial problem for traders.  They solved it in what was the traditional manner at the time.  They bought a house in Farmington, and he and his mom stayed there during the week and went out to the store on weekends.  His dad came into town on Wednesday nights.

His parents chose Farmington rather than another town (such as Bloomfield, which was actually closer) because they both had family there and had gone to school there when they were young.  They therefore had strong connections that would make up for the fractured nature of their family life.

They continued in this arrangement for the next twelve years.  My dad went all through Farmington public schools and graduated from Farmington High in 1965.  Farmington in those days was in the midst of a rapid transition from small, sleepy agricultural community to big, bustling oil town.  Oil had been discovered in the area not long before, and a massive influx of Texans followed.  The Farmington my dad grew up in was totally different from the Farmington his parents had grown up in, and he never cared much for it.  When he would come back to visit in later years he would say Farmington seemed frozen in 1957, and he knew what he was talking about since he had lived there in 1957.

When my dad was in his last years in high school, he heard about a new college being established in Santa Fe.  It was a branch of St. John’s College, a very old liberal arts college in Annapolis, Maryland that had been struggling for many years before being taken over in the 1940s by two men from the University of Chicago with some new and revolutionary ideas about higher education.  They instituted a totally new program, in which all learning was from reading a list of Great Books covering the whole history of western knowledge.  All students took the same classes at St. John’s, and what they did was read the Great Books and internalize what they said and meant.  Once the program was established with some success in Annapolis, the leaders of the college decided to start some branch campuses in other parts of the country.  When they came out to Santa Fe in the early 1960s to scout around for some land to buy, the distinguished architect John Gaw Meem heard about what they were doing and liked it so much that he donated a large plot of land he owned just east of the city in the foothills of the mountains.  That’s where they established the Santa Fe campus, which opened its doors in the fall of 1964.

My dad was fascinated by what he heard about this new and different type of college, so he applied, was accepted and matriculated in the fall of 1965 as part of the second class at the new campus.

In many ways, it was St. John’s that made my dad who he was.  For the first time, he met people who were like him and were interested in books and ideas, which were not among the most popular pursuits back in Farmington.  He grew long hair and a beard, after having always worn a crew cut in high school.  He remained conservative politically, but he gained an openness to differing points of view that he might have developed anyway but that was surely helped by the more open atmosphere of the college.

When he graduated in 1969, he came back home to the trading post for a couple years, then went out to manage another store his parents owned.  This store was on the reservation in Arizona, and was nestled in a beautiful location at the bottom of a canyon.  When one of his friends from college who had fallen a bit behind graduated a couple years later, he invited him to come out as an assistant manager.

When that friend saw what a beautiful location the trading post was in he invited his girlfriend, a Jewish girl from Philadelphia who had transfered from the Annapolis campus of St. John’s to Santa Fe shortly after my dad had graduated, to come out and stay with him there.  She did, and she soon became very good friends with my dad, and stayed with his aunt in Flagstaff while she went to nursing school at Northern Arizona University.  Once she was certified as an RN, she went to work at an Indian Health Service clinic on the reservation.

I’m not entirely sure exactly what happened at this point, but somehow she and her boyfriend broke up and she got together with my dad.  They dated for a few years, then married in June of 1978.

I was born in 1984 in Farmington, in keeping with the family tradition mentioned earlier.  My grandparents still lived at the store near there, which was another factor in my mom’s decision to go there to give birth.  Just under a year after I was born, however, my grandmother and one of her sisters were killed in a tragic car accident in Colorado, and my grandfather died a couple years later.  Several other members of my dad’s family also died in this period, so my memories of the family show it at but a pale shadow of its previous size and strength.

During the late 1980s the trading posts began to struggle, as paved roads and the growth of border towns began to vastly increase the amount of competition they faced.  This, in addition to the loss of so much of the family, led my parents to decide that they had to just make a clean break with the past and move to town.  My mom had gotten burned out on nursing by this point and had picked up a teaching certification from NAU,  so she had a new career plan, and my dad decided to go to graduate school in history and become a professor.

Few of the nearby border towns had colleges, and none had PhD programs, so my parents needed to look further afield.  The main choices were Phoenix (ugh), Tucson (not as bad as Phoenix, but pretty far away and we didn’t know many people there), and Albuquerque (much better).  A lot of their friends who had been IHS doctors on the reservation had moved to Albuquerque, and one of my dad’s cousins lived there as well, so they had significant contacts there.  They also just liked New Mexico better than Arizona in a lot of ways, not least politically.

So my dad applied to the UNM history department.  He hadn’t taken any college-level history courses, since St. John’s didn’t offer them, but he attached to his application a list of history books he had read in his spare time at the trading post, and they were so impressed that they accepted him.  We moved to Albuquerque in July of 1991 and my sister and I enrolled in our local public elementary school that fall.

This neatly solved the education problem as well as the economic one.  My mom had moved to Flagstaff the previous year to try to do what my grandparents had done, but she found it too hard and decided that we all just needed to move.  My sister and I ended up going all through Albuquerque Public Schools, and it worked out great for us.  I went to an Ivy, and my sister went to St. John’s.

My dad did quite well at the beginning of graduate school, and got an MA in 1993 with little trouble.  The PhD stage was difficult, however; his interest was purely in teaching, and the strong emphasis on research discouraged him.  He failed his comprehensive exams the first time he took them, and though he passed them the second time, his interest in the degree continued to decline.

He was awarded a Fulbright Fellowship to Spain for the 2000-2001 academic year to do research for his dissertation.  Living alone in a foreign country was difficult for him, and when we visited him over Winter Break he was very happy to see us.

While he was in Spain, the pressure of it all finally got to him, and he had something of a nervous breakdown.  He was diagnosed with depression and came back early in the spring.  It was then that he decided to quit the PhD program and look for other career paths to pursue.

He began to teach history classes as an adjunct at some local community colleges, and he really enjoyed that.  The reason he had gone to graduate school in the first place was to teach, and with his MA he was able to do that at the CC level.  He found the students quite good and interesting to interact with, and they liked his classes a lot.  He also got a Masters of Library Science through a distance learning program from the University of Arizona at this point, but never ended up working as a librarian.

He continued to adjunct until he was diagnosed with colon cancer in 2005.  In fact, he taught for a term even after his diagnosis, before he became too weak.  He faced the cancer bravely and never wanted to give up on treatment, and never did.  He died getting ready to go to a doctor’s appointment on September 27, 2007.

My father was a kind, gentle man, and he was loved by everyone who knew him.  The outpouring of grief and sympathy when he died was enormous, and quite comforting to us as his survivors.  He led an interesting life that in some ways reflected the enormous changes overtaking the southwest during the second half of the twentieth century, and he was a true western character through and through: taciturn, reserved, stoic, but essentially kind and sweet and completely self-assured.  He will be missed.

October 3, 2007

What Happened

Filed under: Personal — by teofilo @ 1:40 pm

My dad’s health declined precipitously after I saw him on Yom Kippur, which was a Saturday.  He wasn’t comfortable in bed or in any of the chairs or couches we had in the house, so his cousin bought him a recliner which I helped pick up on Wednesday evening.  When I saw him then, he looked very bad.  He was short of breath pretty much all the time and was on oxygen, but it didn’t seem to be helping much.  He had also totally lost his appetite; we ordered takeout Mexican food for dinner, and while my mom was able to coax him to the table, he didn’t touch his burrito.  My mom was thinking she should start taking Family Medical Leave the following Monday so she could be with him full-time, but she wanted to go in to work on Thursday and Friday to tie up some loose ends so she asked me to take off from work to stay with him those two days.   He had pneumonia and was going in every day to get IV antibiotics, and had an appointment at 2:00 on Thursday.  Originally I was going to take him, but my mom decided at the last minute that that was too much to ask of me and that she should take the afternoon off to come back and take him.

I came over Thursday morning as planned.  He slept most of the morning, then basically just sat in his recliner, sometimes with the oxygen on, other times just sitting there hunched forward, struggling to get more air.  I mowed the lawn and did some things around the house, and checked in on him periodically.  I would ask him if he was okay, and he would say he was fine, but that he was short of breath.  Every two hours I reminded him to take his nasal spray to clear up his congested nose so the oxygen could get through better, and he was grateful for the reminders and did the spraying himself.  He also put on and took off the oxygen mask himself.  The only thing he asked me for help with was raising the footpiece of the recliner, since he wasn’t strong enough to do it himself.

When my mom was with him she usually did a lot of those things for him, but he didn’t seem to like that very much.  He never wanted to be thought of as an invalid who needed help with everyday tasks.  I respected that and let him do things himself, even though he was only able to do them very slowly.  He seemed to appreciate that.

I didn’t spend much time that morning actually sitting in the same room with him.  I tried that for a few minutes, sitting on the couch reading while he sat in the chair, but I found it too depressing.  He was in really bad shape, and was so short of breath that he had trouble saying more than a couple of words at a time.  I was always there in the house, though, and could come when he needed me.  And, like I said, I checked in on him frequently.

A few people called during the course of the morning, and most of them I just talked to and told him who it was afterward.  When my mom called, however, he wanted to speak to her when I was done.  I gave him the phone and he told her the shortness of breath was chronic.  It was very important to him that she know that.

Around noon he went into the bedroom to get dressed for his appointment.  This mostly involved him sitting on the bed trying to catch his breath, and very slowly pulling his pants up as he was able to muster the energy.  When my mom got back at 1:30 he had gotten them on but had not yet buttoned them up.  She asked me about his condition then went into the bedroom and finished dressing him.

There was a letter that had been sent for him certified mail a few days before and was being held at the post office.  We decided I would go get it while my mom took him to his appointment.  I went into the bedroom and had him sign the card to designate me as his agent, and I was about to take off in the other car but couldn’t find a key to it.  I decided to wait until my mom got him set up in the car, then borrow a key from her.

I was waiting in the kitchen, holding the card, when my dad walked to the car under his own power, with my mom holding his arm to steady him.  She already had the oxygen tank in the car ready to go.  He was sitting down in the front passenger’s seat and she had turned on the oxygen and was bringing the mask to his face when he spasmed a little and stopped breathing.  I could hear her shouting into his ear, increasingly loud and urgently, “Breathe!  Breathe!”  Then she shouted to me, “Call 911!”

I did, and they sent the paramedics right over.  They took him out of the car and into the ambulance, and took off for his oncologist’s admitting hospital.  When he stopped breathing my mom could see his carotid artery, since she was right there putting the mask on, so she knew he still had a pulse, but when the paramedics checked they couldn’t find one.  We told them he was a cancer patient and not to take any heroic measures, but when they asked if we had a written Do Not Resuscitate order we had to say we didn’t, since he had just gotten so bad so recently.  They told us they would have to do their routine things in the absence of a written order, but that they wouldn’t take any extreme measures.

When the paramedics took him to the hospital, one of them stayed behind to get some information from us, then my mom made a couple calls, one of them to his oncologist’s office.  We then drove to the hospital and walked into the ER.

The ER doctor was an extremely helpful and sypathetic woman.  She told us that when he had gotten there he wasn’t breathing and hadn’t had any pulse or blood pressure, but that they had given him a shot of epinephrine and that had restarted his heart and he was breathing with a respirator.  She had already spoken to his oncologist, and they had agreed that he had been down for so long that the damage was almost certainly irreparable and the only remaining decision for us to make was when to take him off the respirator.

My mom and I would just as soon have taken him off right then, but we knew we had to at least try to get in touch with my sister to see if she wanted us to leave him on it long enough for her to get there and see him.  My mom called her cell phone and left a message saying to call her and that it was urgent.  This was around 2:40, and we decided to wait until 3:00 and to just unhook him if she hadn’t called back by then.

Those twenty minutes were the longest of my life.  It was disturbing to see him lying there on the hospital bed, breathing through a tube, because he looked alive and like he might wake up, but I knew he wouldn’t and could see that there was no involuntary muscle movement at all.  All the moving he was doing was a direct result of his breathing with the aid of the machine.

We still hadn’t heard from my sister at 3:00, so they took out the breathing tube.  At first my mom wanted me to go out of the room, but the doctor said it wouldn’t be too upsetting, and it wasn’t.  He was breathing a little on his own, but his breaths got weaker and weaker and less and less frequent, until they stopped entirely around 3:15.  Right after the doctor pronounced him dead my sister called back.

She was totally shocked to hear that he had just died, and burst into tears.  She was very close to him and identified with him strongly, and although our mom had talked to us several times to prepare us for the inevitable, she hadn’t really internalized it the way I had.  She also didn’t know how bad he had gotten just in the past 24 hours, since she hadn’t talked to our mom in a couple of days.

She was so distraught that my mom didn’t want her trying to drive down from Santa Fe by herself, so I went up to get her.  In the hour it took me to get there, she wandered around campus a bit and cried a lot, and eventually ran into a tutor of hers who was Jewish and took her into his office to talk.  He gave her a book about Jewish mourning practices and talked to her for a long time about what had happened.  I think she was still with him when I arrived at the campus and called her.

She came out to the parking lot to meet me and was much calmer than she had been when she was talking on the phone to my mom.  We decided that since we had to go to her house to pick up some of her stuff anyway, that she might as well drive her truck there rather than leave it in the parking lot.  We went over there and she gathered her stuff together, and I told her everything that had happened.  She was upset at first about not knowing, but I explained that everything had happened so fast that we just hadn’t had time to talk to her and hadn’t hidden anything from her.  She was relieved to hear that, and the ride down was as pleasant as it could have been under the circumstances.

When we got to the house, my mom was there with some of her friends from work, who had driven her back from the hospital.  Also there was my dad’s cousin, who my mom had initially called to ask for a ride but not gotten in touch with, and who later explained to her that she wouldn’t have been able to come to the hospital anyway because it was too emotional for her.  She was only a year older than my dad and was very close to him throughout his life, and his death was extremely difficult for her to deal with.

Once we were all there my mom’s friends left and we ate dinner at the house with some cousins, including the one I just mentioned.  It was nice to see the support, and it only increased over the next few days as more people arrived for the funeral and to keep us company.

That day was by far the worst day of my life, but I’m proud of how I dealt with it.  Throughout the entire day, I did exactly what I needed to do and was exactly where I needed to be.  I was there for my dad when he needed me, and I was there for my mom when she needed me.  I have no regrets.

October 1, 2007

A Fitting End

Filed under: Personal — by teofilo @ 11:57 pm

My dad’s funeral was today.  The service was at 9:00 AM at the UNM Alumni Chapel, officiated  by a friend of ours who was a professor of his in graduate school.  It was a Jewish service, even though he wasn’t Jewish, because funerals are for the living.  It was very nice, and the chapel was filled to capacity.  It was so moving to see how many people cared so much for him.  So many of my mom’s coworkers were there that we wondered who was teaching the kids at her school.  In a small, tight-knit community like that the level of support when something like this happens is amazing.

The service ended at 10 and we spent some time greeting people and accepting their condolences.  At 11 the funeral procession took off to Farmington for the burial.  Time was little tight, so we ate bag lunches in the limousines, but we did make one short stop at a gas station in Cuba to go to the bathroom and throw away trash.  As I was walking into the building, I passed by a pickup truck with a guy sitting in it who asked me if there had been a funeral there in Cuba.  I told him no, that it was in Albuquerque and we were just on our way to Farmington for the burial.  He looked relieved.  Cuba is a very small town, and if someone dies there people want to know.

The graveside service in Farmington was very nice and considerably less formal than the funeral in Albuquerque.  My sister and I read the “turn, turn, turn” verses from Ecclesiastes, then our cousin said a prayer in Navajo and people came up and shared their memories of my dad.  His cousins shared their memories of growing up with him, and several of them got choked up while they talked.  They all loved him so much.  His friends, customers and employees also had nice things to say about him and his importance to their communities.  (I’ll explain all this in a later post.)  It was all just so sweet and lovely.  At the end we all read Psalm 23 together then the casket was lowered and people lined up to toss some dirt into the grave, which is both a Jewish and a Navajo custom.

There was a reception afterward at the Farmington Museum, which we only stayed at for a few minutes because we had to get back to Albuquerque for shivah.  We made it there with plenty of time.  A lot of people from our synagogue showed up for shivah, which was nice, and afterward we all ate and talked and reminisced.

It was a good day.  Everything went as it should have.

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