Friday, May 27, 2022

Humanity is Trying

When I first saw this book, I interpreted the title as meaning that in spite of all obstacles, humanity is trying. Trying what? Perhaps to get through to me. Perhaps to let me know that it's ok at times to feel feverishly certain (even with no evidence) and at other times to feel nervously uncertain (even with mounting evidence) as I sit and wonder. The insights that Jason Gots puts forth in this exquisite memoir help me feel simultaneously feverish and nervous about my initial interpretation of the book's title as well as about every damn thing in life. Sometimes nervousness combusts into fury for me when I realize how in the scheme of eternity, 100 years is nothing, making my attraction to skepticism seem cowardly and stupid. Can feverish passion do any real and lasting damage, given that everything is nothing? 

In the first part of the book, Gots describes how he was raised in a highly educated family of Explainers, which I understand all too well. A big portion of who I am appreciates the values of sensibility and skepticism upon which Explainers are built, and how those two es words save me from becoming swindled, taken advantage of, or tricked into joining time-sucking and soul-crushing cults. 

As Gots introduces readers to the significant people in his life and some of their unfathomable suffering and beauty, I am able to see that even in the context of living as a logic-based Explainer, life is illogical and unexplainable. Why else would we try anything when everything is arguably nothing? Why else would we continue to learn when nothing matters? Why else would we pursue love when love hurts? 

And why else would we pursue the creation of art? Says Gots:

"There's something beautiful about our stubborn refusal to stop making these things in spite of their apparent uselessness and inexplicability ... art just IS: one of us makes it and others come along and relate to it, subjectively and idiosyncratically. As such, art is honest because it speaks to what we all are on the inside: strange and inexplicable. Unreliable and beautiful."

In other words, maybe the actual interpretation to the title of this book—Humanity is Trying—isn't about how Humanity is trying to reach me with a message. Rather, maybe the very act of MY trying ... THAT VERY ACT is how humanity gets built.

Wednesday, April 20, 2022

The Dark Side of Kindness

There are some who assume that the terrible nurse I battled on day 4 of Gerardo's hospitalization/recovery was terrible because perhaps she had been "unkind." That is an incorrect assumption and speaks to our society's infatuation with the notion that kindness is the salve to most of society's ills.

The nurse hadn't been unkind. She was full of gestures that are characteristic of kindness—like smiles and  polite greetings. Heck, I wouldn't be surprised if her wardrobe contains a graphic tee that says "be kind." 

Coupled with such characteristics were incompetence, exaggerations, incomplete information, and a nervousness of knowing she was in over her head in terms of a specific medical intervention that she tried to fix though she was unqualified to do so, and made worse, causing unnecessary pain and suffering.

When I called her on it, she dialed up the belittling care by putting her hand on my shoulder and amping up the "kind" and "let me nursplain to you what you don't know" posture.

When I told her to take her hand off of my shoulder, she was shocked. 

And perhaps some would argue that I was being unkind.

And I would argue back that kindness has nothing to do with it. The reason I take issue with our society's blind infatuation with kindness is because it doesn't recognize the dark side of kindness, which frequently leads to turning a blind eye to what is wrong in the moment, as we or our loved ones become walked all over, in the name of nice.

Language is another tool that people use to dispense belittling care. Which is why I'm skeptical of strangers who use terms of endearment (e.g., honey, sweetie, babe, my love, etc.) too quickly. Such language (like the hand on the shoulder) has a way of creating hierarchy and distorting the specifics of reality.


After an exhausting week of hospital recovery, Gerardo is home and resting. This incident of having survived surgery for a strangulated hernia adds a new dimension of care at home. 

Thank you to my loving and supportive friends. 

Thursday, April 14, 2022

Ready? Ready. Let's go.

2:32AM, April 14, 2022

JENNY: Hello?

DOCTOR C: Hello, is this Jenny?

JENNY: Yes. It's Jenny.

DOCTOR C: Hello, Jenny. It's Dr. C from UCI. I'm calling to tell you your husband is out of surgery. The surgery went very well. He is in the ICU and likely he will be here for 3-5 days as he recovers.

JENNY: Thank you, Doctor. I'm so relieved and grateful. 

11PM-ish, April 13, 2022

GERARDO: If I don't make it, tell everyone I love them, especially the kids. And I love you. At this moment the only thing that matters is all our good memories with the kids.

JENNY: I love you. And you're going to make it. You've made it through worse. You go in there with your Tijuana strength and you show them how resilient you are. The best doctors are here. The best ones have convened to do this for you. You will come out of it and we will get you strong and we will celebrate our 30th anniversary in June.  

9PM-ish, April 13, 2022

NURSE O: I have liquid morphine for him. That should help with the pain.

JENNY: Thank you, Nurse O. 

DOCTOR C: It's a strangulated hernia. He needs immediate surgery. It's a risky procedure and there is a 30% chance he won't make it. But if we don't operate, there is a 100% chance that he won't make it. We need to do this tonight.

5PM-ish, April 13, 2022

JENNY: I think I have everything packed. Ready?


JENNY: How's the pain?

GERARDO: Extreme.

JENNY: Let's go.

Saturday, February 19, 2022

Two Sides of the Same Dreadful Coin

Some of the extreme woke of my party have been shooting arrows at Ds who have expressed gratitude and admiration about Liz Cheney's ability to withstand critics from her own R party and continue participating in the special committee to investigate facts about the lawlessness that occurred on January 6th. The narrative of the arrows of the extreme woke goes something like: "How can any self-respecting D support Cheney when she doesn't support Biden's infrastructure bill? Her opposition to the bill shows that she's not TRULY a good person."

Cheney caught hell not just from the woke of my party but the extreme trumpists of her party for having given a fist bump (which is a playful variation to the handshake) to Biden in August of 2021 as he was walking toward the House dais to deliver a speech. The narrative of this criticism from all the extremists goes something like: "How can you greet and smile at our enemy?" 

Such narratives remind me of the arrows that the woke of my party relentlessly shot at Pete Buttigieg for his agreeing to appear on Fox News to explain his platform during the 2020 primaries, suggesting that Buttigieg was a bad person for allowing himself to "engage with the enemy."

These narratives also remind me of a passage from On Freedom by Maggie Nelson as follows:

"... it's naive and unfair to expect artists and writers to have special access to the most intense, extreme, or painful aspects of life, then to act surprised and appalled when they turn out to have a relationship to those things that exceeds that of abstract contemplation or simple critique. Thankfully, acting as if the world neatly divides (or that our task is to divide it) into problematic, ethically turbulent, essentially dangerous people who should stay "over there," and nonproblematic, ethically good, essentially safe people who should be allowed to stay "over here," is not our only option. After all, what I've just described is a prison (On Freedom, page 60)."

In America, is it possible for a D to vehemently stand in opposition of the policies of a Cheney and still be able to give her a fist bump? 

In America, is it possible for an R to vehemently stand in opposition of the policies of a Biden and still be able to give him a fist bump?

In America, can we hold differing approaches to betterment while agreeing about following the rules of the democratic process that govern the way we disagree?

In other words, are Americans capable of throwing policy hardballs AND being good sports?

Sadly, I feel that every day, I see my answer to all those questions moving closer to a no than a yes.

Perhaps America is devolving into a neatly divided prison-state by fueling extreme wokeism and extreme trumpism ... two sides of the same dreadful coin.

Saturday, February 12, 2022

The Miraculous

As I continue to delight in re-watching Little House on the Prairie, I savor the profound lessons that each episode holds, which are slightly different from the lessons I absorbed when I, as a little girl, first watched the show and read the books.  

In season 1, there is an episode when Laura Ingalls takes literally the idea that God may hear us when we are closer to him and decides to climb mountains to get "closer" to God to ask for a miracle: for her baby brother to come back from the dead. She asks for this miracle because of the guilt she feels for having had thoughts of jealousy toward her baby brother, who ended up becoming sick and dying.

Speaking of miracles, as I continue my caregiving work, I occasionally receive messages from well-meaning folk who tell me that they are praying for a miracle for Gerardo. When I receive such messages, I reply with silence because 1) I don't want to appear ungrateful by not saying "thank you," and 2) I don't want a "thank you" to be misconstrued as though I believe in miracles.

No matter how high she climbs and how fervently she asks, Laura learns that God doesn't exist to grant wishes or perform parlor tricks. Instead, she meets Jonathan, played by Ernest Borgnine who is either the wisest good Samaritan OR perhaps God's messenger who helps her understand the purpose of prayer.

Though I don't believe in miracles, I think life is miraculous. The fact that I can cause my fingers to move and type the ideas in my head to write this blog post is miraculous. The fact that my body knows what to do with the food I eat is miraculous. And as one of my favorite lyrics from an old-time hymnal goes, I think it's miraculous that "in a cocoon there is a butterfly and in a seed, an apple tree."

I believe there is an explanation for everything. The way we humans have been able to study and find explanations of the miraculous through the laws of biology, physics, chemistry, etcetera, inspire me. And though some humans like to position faith as opposite to science, I develop faith THROUGH science. Like the concept of entropy, which points to how every day, we become more and more disordered as another egg cracks, and another tear sheds. The cracked egg cannot become un-cracked, the shed tear cannot become unshed. The law of entropy causes me to recognize that as we become incrementally messy and disordered, yesterday was more ordered than today. And that the day before yesterday was more ordered than yesterday. Which makes me imagine a time when there was complete order. And that such a consideration indicates for me, the existence of God.

The faithful Michael Landon who played the faithful Charles Ingalls (AKA, Pa) died at the age of 51 of pancreatic cancer. I wouldn't be surprised if in his dire moments that some people in his life and perhaps he himself prayed for a miracle. It seems that that is part of human nature: to ask for miracles in moments of suffering coupled with our inability to know and control what happens beyond this life.

A popular vision of the prayerful is one where a person is on their knees with hands folded and eyes closed. I used to assume that position when I was a little girl which is why as a little girl, I identified so strongly with Laura Ingalls whose prayer posture was just like mine.

Today, I don't pray like that. Some might not even call it prayer. But it occasionally happens when I'm knitting, when I'm hiking, when I'm listening to music, or even cooking eggs. I find that the purpose of prayer is to ask for greater awareness and greater acceptance of the miraculousness of life. And as caregiver, to use the awareness and acceptance to be diligent about playing my part in advocating for competent medical interventions, and for facing each moment of this journey, no matter how dire, with dignity, responsibility, humility, and elegance. 

Saturday, January 1, 2022

MY WORDS for 2022: I DO


One of the benefits of teaching undergraduates is that I have a direct connection to young thinkers who challenge me to consider evolved thought-processes. Just uttering those three words: "evolved thought-processes" feels wonderful to me. The words make me feel I can breathe easier, that I am not suffocating from dogma, calcifying from old habits, or begrudging change. That I have room to breathe and become.

Lily is one such student who has caused me to evolve by submitting an amazing paper during my class this last quarter where she explained that as much as she enjoys using the term I AM, she is now starting to embrace a slightly nuanced term from that which is, I DO.

So instead of saying I AM Jenny Doh or I AM caregiver or I AM artist or I AM teacher, Lily would suggest that I DO Jenny Doh or I DO caregiving or I DO art or I DO teaching. I DO these things the way I know how to do them or want to do them right now, but the term allows me to do all of those things differently in the future, based on new experiences, wisdom, and awareness.

It seems that our nation's polarization gets intensified when we tether ourselves to teams, dogmas, and identities that are rigidly defined. And once we bake ourselves into such identities, our "enemies" also become the vivid and unchanging "others" that we must not dare not hate, lest we lose membership into the assorted I AMs.

What my students teach me in terms of fluidity of identity (particularly related to gender and sexuality) is that like the great philosopher Heraclitus once said, "No man [sic] ever steps in the same river twice, for it's not the same river and he's [sic] not the same man [sic]."

In this spirit, I think it is more accurate to say that I DO heterosexual woman as opposed to saying I AM heterosexual woman.

Thank you to Lily and to all of my students for helping me arrive at I DO as my words for 2022.

Sunday, December 26, 2021

How to Lose and Find Your Sh*t

Forty eight hours before I receive this card, I start to lose my shit. It's 2AM, December 24th and I take Gerardo back to the ER. Again. It's been less than a week since his last hospitalization, where his stabilization outpaces UCLA's bed availability, resulting in a discharge where we are back at home, with commutes to UCLA medical appointments on calendar and on the horizon for 2022. 

By 6PM, Gerardo is finally in a bed and I along with all other hospital visitors are kicked out and I decide to not return home but to check myself into a Hilton. I need to enter a room where nothing about it is medical. And before I do, I need to find a table for one where I can order an entree from a menu that I eat while being seated the whole time. And after the meal, I need to dive into a bed with crisp sheets and before I fall asleep, to allow myself to break apart into tiny pieces as I sob into a pillow. I don't shower. I fall asleep in the same clothes. 

I text with friends to express my anger about everything. I hate everything and everyone and most of all I need the pressure of Christmas to be over.

I wake up and go to my local Starbucks on Main Street where the manager and baristas know me and my family's situation and have been nothing but classy and comforting to me. As I approach the counter to order my usual (Hot Venti Americano with cream on the side), my favorite barista is two steps ahead of me because he's seen me from afar and likely surmised that I've had a rough night. He has already made me my usual and comes to give it to me in the middle of the line and says it's on the house. The Americano gets mixed with tears that I chug down. Salty good.

Gerardo is discharged that night. Christmas is almost over, thank God. And as we carefully walk up the two stairs to enter the house, I am reminded that I need to contact John, our handy guy, to build us a ramp so Gerardo doesn't have to climb up and down the two steps every time. Two steps don't sound like much until they become much. I see the holiday wreath that my talented friend Dori has made and quietly hung on my door, along with black and cream ribbon that I had admired on her neck some weeks ago left for me with a note of friendship.

Sleep happens. Wake happens. I start tidying the house, and see this card atop a gift bag that I can tell Monica will be giving me later in the day. I weep again, not because I feel myself breaking apart but because I feel myself gathering my parts back together. And I say to myself what Mr. Bergstrom has reminded Lisa Simpson to do in times of need, which is to remember who I am. I shower, tie the ribbon around my neck and get to the business of getting our family to exchange the love.