Tuesday, November 6, 2018

More Books Before I Hit The Road

We are off to Mayo tomorrow and I will be traveling with books, of course. OF COURSE! All the same, I wanted to post the most recent reads so my list is up to date.

The latest entries to "Books Read By April This Year" are:
181. All Over But The Shoutin' by Rick Braggs (Braggs came out of deep, deep generational poverty and ended up as a Pulitzer winning reporter for The New York Times; this is his memoir of his family and their—and his—trajectory over a half decade)
182. The Nakano Thrift Shop by Hiromi Kawakami (I wrote briefly about this book here; this is an engaging, quirky, and thoroughly modern Japanese look at love and life)
183. The Sun Is Also A Star by Nicola Yoon (a YA novel about love and fate; the expected resolution in the current story did not happen, but the ending, set a decade later,  brought tears to my eyes)
184. The Woman Warrior: Memoirs of a Girlhood Among Ghosts by Maxine Hong Kingston (I have read some of Kingston's fiction before; this is her early (1976) and evocative memoir about the strong women of her family and her Chinese heritage)
185. What We Owe by Golnaz Hashemzadeh Bonde (love, death, revolution, exile, cancer; Bonde, an Iranian whose family fled to Sweden when she was a child, sets this gut-wrenching novel in Iran at the time of the Revolution and in current Sweden)
186. Almost Everything: Notes on Hope by Anne Lamott (Lamott's latest work on, no surprise, holding hope close in these deeply troubled times; it is not her strongest writing, but it is solid)
187. Theodore Roosevelt: A Literary Life by Thomas Bailey & Katherine Joslin (I ran across this title when exploring the Vancouver (WA) library and took a photo to remember it; it is a flowing, fascinating celebration of Roosevelt as a man of letters, as a serious writer, as a journalist—oh yeah, he was President too but this biography places him in office in one (!) sentence and takes him out almost as fast)
188.The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas (this YA novel about race, violence, prejudice, "passing" is a strong companion book to read alongside all american boys (#180) and Piecing Me Together (#153))
189. We Fed An Island: The True Story Of Rebuilding Puerto Rico, One Meal At A Time by José Andrés with Richard Wolffe (Andrés is a renown chef who went to Puerto Rico following Hurricane Maria and stayed for four months, working with others to feed the people there after the devastation of Hurricane Maria; this is about abandoned Americans (you do know Puerto Ricans are Americans, right?) and is a searing indictment of FEMA and President Trump's disregard for our citizens)

I am taking with me to Mayo three books on Appalachia, one of which I am almost done with but will not finish tonight. Stay tuned.

Saturday, November 3, 2018

October Finances

October is over and with that we are staring hard and fast at the end of 2018. Where did it go?

Well, I know where our grocery dollars went this past month! We spent $141.42 on groceries, and another $5.84 on household items (aluminum foil and plastic wrap, primarily). That comes out to a whopping $147.26 for the month. When I plug that figure into the year's running total, our monthly average is now at $176.99.

There was a large expenditure in October that I did not count into the overall food costs. We hosted a reception for opening the 40th Symphony season and those costs—food, ice, related items—came to $107.63. At least $35.00 of that, three bottle of prosecco that did not get opened, will carry forward to the end of season reception we are already planning.

Our eating out this month was heavily influenced by rehearsal and concert schedules. Warren was either on the road or held up at the auditorium for several meals. There were also some "let's just get something" meals as we navigated hospital time with mom and dad. As a result, we spent $52.84 this month eating out.

I look at November and think this will be a month of more eating out due to my quarterly trip to Mayo Clinic next week and the annual Percussive Arts Society International Conference in Indianapolis the following week. Oh, we will pack a lunch and take some snacks, but the reality of the road trips is more eating out. On our list for Indianapolis is Shapiro's Delicatessen, a Jewish deli there since 1905.

An aside: How did I not know about Shapiro's until this year, when I read Buttermilk Graffiti by Edward Lee (#135)? In looking back at my September finances post, I see I raised the same question there. Clearly this has been weighing on me! I am incredulous because except for one year in San Antonio, PASIC is always in Indianapolis. Again, how did I not know?

On to November. We'll see what it holds.

Saturday, October 27, 2018

Where That Fork in the Road Went

Seven years ago, I wrote about mom showing signs of of dementia and our first family conversations with my dad about it.

Seven years ago.

Over the many months since then, my mom's cognitive capacity continued to decline, sometimes in fits and starts, sometimes in steep, rushing leaps, and sometimes in barely perceptible shifts. And through it all, my dad soldiered on, taking care of and looking after the woman he loved, even as the woman he had known for most of his life had all but disappeared.

Not that we were negligent as children. My brothers, my sisters-in-law, my beloved husband, and I all kept tabs on dad, asking him what help he needed, urging him to call upon us. "I can do it for now," he'd reply. "I'll let you know when I need help."

We'd talk to him about bringing in some outside services, even on an occasional basis. Meals On Wheels? Someone to clean house? Anything?

"No, I'm not there yet," dad would reply. "I don't want to upset your mom with bringing in someone, and I can handle it."

And he did handle it—"it" being the myriad of daily tasks and duties to keep the household going, to keep mom oriented, amused, and cared for, to care for himself, the too large house, the oversize yard. He handled it and handled it, despite the enormous toll on his own health, right up until about ten days ago. That was when mom fell getting up in the middle of the night, breaking three ribs. That episode unraveled into a series of squad calls for assistance getting her in and out of bed, trips to the nearby ER, consults with social workers, and long, serious faces on the hospital personnel. It culminated in the day when he went to the bathroom and came out to find her gone, only to go outside and find her on the ground where she had fallen, hitting her face, when in her dementia she had decided to take out the garbage. With squad help, he got her into the house. That night, she woke him, telling him she felt she was dying. We all spent a long hard, day at the ER again, while decisions were made.

We spent the rest of the week with mom in a local rehab/memory unit: understaffed, shabby, institutional, and, unfortunately, full of bad memories for dad from 30 years ago when his own father was in the same place. They treated mom well, but it was not a solution.

And then my brother Mark and his wife Jackie did some research and found a memory care unit in a new, home-like senior facility in their town (20 miles away). Dad went out to tour it with them, then came back to town and announced he was moving mom.

We made the move yesterday, "we" being dad, Mark, Jackie, my other sister-in-law Kate, and I. The facility director was calm and helpful: make it look like home (most of their bedroom suite of the last 60 years went over), let us transport her from there to here, please don't come for the first five or so days. So we spent the morning setting up mom's new room, and then went away. I was at the local facility with Kate when the new director showed up to pick up mom; mom was thrilled to be going for a ride. She said hello to us and kept right on going. She reminded me of a little kid: so eager to have the new experience that she didn't even look back.

Dad is struggling with the decision and holds to the hope that mom will be "better" and he can bring her back home. Mark is worried dad is waffling. I suggested we just let the dust settle and let him voice his fears and wishes without trying to point out that mom is never going to get better and this is best. We are all in chill out mode right now.

After I finished up the parent-related tasks yesterday afternoon, I headed down the road to visit Aunt Ginger in her memory unit. Ginger was in good spirits and we had a long chat. She was convinced she had just moved from her apartment a week ago (it was well over a year ago) and was stunned when I said "you've been here for over a year." She talked about her job, one she retired from over 30 years ago and mixed then  ("I retired early, didn't I?") and now ("I'm glad I retired last month. That was getting hard on me.") and then included her friend Esther, who was sitting in lounge with us, in the sweep of those she had worked with for so many years.

Esther didn't mind; she was telling me how her mother had told her this morning that she needed to wear her new jeans. (Esther is in her 80s or 90s as well.)

"And I did, April!," she said, beaming and pointing to her jeans.

Esther was happy. Ginger was happy. I was happy. We were all happy in the memory unit.

Here's hoping my parents' long road to here is likewise lined with happy moments at this time of life.

Sunday, October 21, 2018

In Translation

I have just finished reading The Nakano Thrift Shop, the second Japanese novel I have read in recent months, the other one being Convenience Store Woman  # 134 on my 2018 book list. Both were written by women, Hiromi Kawakami (Nakano) and Sayaka Murata (Convenience Store), and both feature a female protagonist.

Finishing the second one brought back memories of a long ago class I took my first year at the University of Chicago: Modern Japanese Novels in Translation. 

The class was taught by Eric J. Gangloff, then a young professor in the Foreign Languages Department. I had spectacularly failed in Japanese I, also taught by him, and he had kindly advised me to withdraw from the course rather than take an F on my transcript. His words, to the best I can remember some 44 years later, were "Japanese is a very difficult language for graduate linguistic students, so don't take it as a sign of failure that you can't grasp it as a freshman." 

[For those who are wondering why Japanese?, the answer is I had a Japanese aunt (a post-World War II bride) and,  even more important, I loved and had read many times the 1961 novel Miss Happiness and Miss Flower by Rumer Godden. What more did I need?]  

By the spring of that freshman year, I was ready to try an elective and Modern Japanese Novels in Translation was what I wanted. We started with Kokoro by Natsume Sōseki, a 1914 novel, and read forward into the mid-century, ending with Mishima and Kawabata.  

Gangloff had a penchant for the works of Jun'ichirō Tanizaki, an author he felt was cheated out of the Nobel Prize for literature because the Nobel Committee was reluctant to honor a Japanese writer after world War II. The class assignment was The Makioka Sisters; under the influence of Gangloff's strong recommendations, I went on to read more of Tanizaki's translated novels and for a long time, owned a small collection of them.

We read Thousand Cranes and either Snow Country or The Sound of the Mountain by Yasunari Kawabata, who became the first Japanese Laureate in Literature. To this day I cannot remember the novels or anything about Kawabata's writing, other than it wasn't Tanizaki.

Back in that era (the 1970s), Edward Seidensticker was the translator of Japanese novels to English. I believe almost everything we touched in class was translated by him; certainly the Mishima, Kawabata, and Tanizaki were. Both of the modern novels I read were translated by women: Allison Markham Powell and Ginny Tapley Takemori. 

I still owned a battered copy of The Makioka Sisters, Tanizaki's brilliant and heartbreaking portrait of pre-war Japan (written post-war) and a way of life that was rapidly disappearing even before the horrors of Japan's wartime actions. I like to think he would have enjoyed the two novels I talk about here; certainly he would enjoy their blunt, direct writing. 

That class turned out to the the sole A I would earn that first year at Chicago. Perhaps more than any other class (with the exception of Rocks and Stars, Katrina!), it is the one that I have carried forward all these years. And, in a goofy alignment of stars, Warren was taking a similar class at Ohio State at about the same time. I asked him as I worked on this what he remembers about the class: some Mishima, The Woman in the Dunes, and "not much else." 

It's enough.

Friday, October 12, 2018

Not A Small Moment

This is NOT a small moment. Not by any stretch of the imagination.

Baby Sanchez #2 is coming in, with arrival slated for late February/early March 2019. I have been sitting on the news since the first night we were out there in August. Ramona gets to be a big sister to little brother Orlando (Ben's grandfather's name) and cousin Lyrick gets another boy in the family.

Yes, my heart is overflowing.

Thursday, October 11, 2018

Books Will Never Leave You

Reading what would become Book #175, I came across this wonderful sentence: "Books can break your heart, but they never leave you."

I would tattoo that on my arm, if I could stand the thought of being tattooed.

As I continue to read through 2018, the number of books breaking my heart is growing. The latest accounting contains some that fall into that category:
168. Rough Beauty: Forty Seasons of Mountain Living by Karen Auvinen (this memoir, which opens with a cabin fire that destroys the author's laptop containing all of her writing, made me want to sell everything and move to Colorado. Seriously)
169. Once Upon A Farm: Lessons on Growing Love, Life, and Hope On a New Frontier by Rory Feek (the title caught my eye; Feek is a country songwriter and singer, now raising his young daughter who has Down Syndrome, moving forward in faith and love after the death of his wife by cancer)
170. One Beautiful Dream: The Rollicking Tale of Family Chaos, Personal Passions, and Saying Yes to Them Both by Jennifer Fulwiler (I wrote about this book here; I have resurrected my manuscript and begun again on it on the strength of Fulwiler's story)
171. Heartland: A Memoir of Working Hard and Being Broke in the Richest Country on Earth by Sarah Smarsh (I cried; this memoir is exactly what it says it is)
172. Domestic Affairs: Enduring the Pleasures of Motherhood and Family Life by Joyce Maynard (I'm a longtime Maynard fan; this collection is sometimes hard to read because those of us who read her memoir know that she was writing a gloss over a domestic life that was unraveling even as she wrote)
173. Boom Town: The Fantastical Saga of Oklahoma City, Its Chaotic Founding, Its Apocalyptic Weather, Its Purloined Basketball Team, and the Dream of Becoming a World-Class Metropolis by Sam Anderson (this book is everything the title promises and more: a wild ride from first to last)
174.Making Things Right: The Simple Philosophy of a Working Life by Ole Thorstensen (imagine a Norwegian version of Tracy Kidder's classic House, written not by Kidder but by the carpenter; this was enchanting)
175. The Lost Chapters: Reclaiming My Life One Book At A Time by Leslie Schwartz (Schwartz spent 37 days in the Los Angeles County Jail system for assaulting an officer (among other things) when she relapsed into alcoholism and drug use after being sober for decades; this is a hard read of jail life, of institutional racism, of institutional brutality, and of the books she managed to read while incarcerated saving her life literally and figuratively)
176. A Series of Catastrophes and Miracles: A True Story of Love, Science and Cancer by Mary Elizabeth Williams (Williams was diagnosed with melanoma, which rapidly metastasized into Stage 4, then became one of the first individuals cured of the disease thanks to cutting edge therapy)
177. The Little Women Letters by Gabrielle Donnelly (this WONDERFUL novel is based on the premise that the March family was real, and that Jo March's great-great-granddaughter is tracing the family's story through letters Jo wrote; devotees of Little Women will relish how cleverly Donnelly wove the story and lines of Alcott's classic into this work)
178. The Index Card: Why Personal Finance Doesn't Have To Be Complicated by Helaine Olen and Harold Pollack (if you read one book about personal finance, it should be this one)
179. Refuge: An Unnatural History of Family and Place by Terry Tempest Williams (Williams' memoir turns on the catastrophic rise of the Great Salt Lake in the 1980s, wound through with the resulting impact on the migrating bird populations and the deaths of her mother and grandmother by cancer during the same time period)
180. all american boys by Jason Reynolds and Brendan Kieley  (I have no words for this YA novel about racism, loyalty, silence, and making a stand; after a African-American teen is brutally beaten by a policeman, Quinn, who is white and a longtime family friend of the policeman, wrestles with whether to stay quiet as to what he saw)

Truly, books can and will break your heart, but they never leave you.

Wednesday, October 3, 2018

Sunk Cost Fallacy

I follow the non-profit Strong Towns online and a recent post by president Charles Marohn resonated with me deeply. Marohn wrote about the sunk cost fallacy as an obstacle to communities strengthening their fiscal and social (in the sense of inclusivity, strong local connections, local resources) strengths. His example was a failed mall project: how hard would it be for a community to acknowledge the project was a disaster and stop trying to "rescue" it? The sunk cost fallacy prevents one from dealing with a problem objectively because one has such an emotional investment in the initial decision that rational thinking is stalled. Instead, one continues to invest in the initial decision, making it harder to walk away from emotionally. For example: We've already sunk $10 million into this project, and even though it is not succeeding and is a drag on our local economy, we can't just walk away from it. 

Marohn would say walk away. Don't sink more money or time or effort in it but instead acknowledge it was a mistake and move on in a new direction.

I also recently read a blog in which the author applied the sunk cost fallacy to a dessert he ordered even though he was full. Common sense told him to just have one bite; he ended up taking five (and being both physically and emotionally uncomfortable afterwards). Having already incurred the cost of the dessert, he felt he had to get his money's worth, even though he really didn't want to eat the dessert.

So here's my question to myself: what if I looked at my own life—my life choices, the way I spend my days and hours—through the lens of the sunk cost fallacy? Not in terms of dollars, but in terms of life energy, life passions? What if I let go of my accumulated emotional investment in this or that project and then decide whether something is worth continuing?

What would that look like?

I spent last weekend cleaning out my closet, our towel closet, and my study. My study had served as my personal dumping ground since the wedding at the end of June: medical papers, papers related to Aunt Ginger's needs, items to keep, items to donate, "stuff" I told myself I needed to sort through. A chair was stacked with the guest room towels (actually, the towels for both guest rooms) that I had washed, dried, and folded the week after the wedding and not yet put away. There were clothes hangers (60, 70, more?) of all styles and materials, all from downsizing Aunt Ginger's closet, strewn across the bed. There were boxes ALREADY FILLED taking up floor space because I had not yet walked them to my car for dropping off at Goodwill. Get the picture? (My closet and the towel closet were considerably better, but both contained items that could go.)

It took hours. (Hell, it took days.) But finally, at about 3:00 Sunday afternoon, I texted my friend Cindy "DONE." (Cindy and I encourage one another on life issues.)

Well, almost done.

The last item in question was a dress I have owned since Sam was very young. The dress is old enough that I once looked down in court to see gum—Sam's passion as a little boy—all over the full skirt from being in the laundry with a pair of his pants. I pulled it out of my closet and stalled. I love the way the dress looks. I love the gum story. But I have not worn that dress for four or five years. I put it on the Goodwill stack, then took it off. I looked at Warren, who had just walked into the bedroom, and told him I was uncertain.

My criteria for donating was if I hadn't worn a piece of clothing in two or more years, get rid of it. But I had that emotional investment in this one. And the dress looks nice. So I stuck it back in my closet, telling myself that if I didn't wear it for another year, out it would go.

I made my decision much faster. Yesterday, I was at a meeting held in a major downtown Columbus law firm. I wanted to look appropriate and I had just talked about the dress, so I wore it. I looked...fine. But I also spent the day aware that the dress didn't fit me well anymore (I've lost a lot of weight), the attached vest rides up when I sit or stand, and, no matter what else it has going for it, the dress just isn't what I wear these days.

I certainly got my money's worth from that dress over the decades; the sunk cost fallacy for me was thinking I had to hang onto it because if I ever needed a fancier outfit, I would save money by having it. Right? Right? (And there is that gum story.) But the rational thinking was I didn't enjoy wearing the dress, especially since it doesn't fit well, and the vest riding up drove me crazy. I have other perfectly nice clothes. And Sam's clothes and mine have not been in a washer at the same time for at least a decade, with or without gum in someone's pocket.

So last night I brushed it off, folded it up, and walked it out to my car, which held numerous bags and boxes. This morning I stopped at Goodwill and unloaded everything.

The sunk cost fallacy has me thinking beyond whether to donate clothes I no longer wear. What if I tossed out all the unfounded expectations I carry around? Scrapped my buy-ins to what I "have to" or "should" do--not because I want to or believe in something, but because I feel obligated? Took a wild and crazy chance on my life? What if I let go of the weight of emotional investments to ideas and projects I have long outgrown or lost interest in or moved beyond?

It's a radical notion. And an intriguing one.