Saturday, November 12, 2022

Jab Cross Hook Cross


Years ago Alan, Sheny and I became friends through boxing. We go way back to LA Boxing days. Over the years the three of us with our significant others would go out to dinners and/or host dinners at our respective homes.

For the last several rounds, I’ve flown solo to these dinners, happy to still be included and grateful for the generosity that Alan and Sheny show me. (No need to @ me when I share that in these types of dinner settings I enjoy having the men figure out the tab.) 

Last night I expressed how much love and protection I feel when Sheny or Alan always pick up my tab without having me rotate in to take a turn at paying. In Gerardo's absence, they remind me that Gerardo had always been quick and generous with rotating himself in when it was his unspoken turn to do so. I wouldn't have had it any other way. (Again, no need to @ me about gender stereotypes, feminism, blah blah blah.) It’s not that I can’t pick up the tab flying solo, it’s just that these friends understand that in this season, it’s more than my tab that they are picking up. They’re picking me up. And making sure I feel all the dignity, care and love.

Friday, November 11, 2022

It's Like That


In a few more days Thanksgiving will be here. Then Christmas. Then a new year. With liver disease, it's hard to look too far ahead on a calendar. It's hard to look too far ahead on a clock. It's truly one moment at a time.

As I am writing this, I'm amazed that the immediate past moment was one where Gerardo and I took a mini walk right outside our house. Maybe it was a quarter of a block. Maybe it was an eighth. The sun and air felt fresh. I saw evidence of wind's existence by looking at the moving leaves. Immediately before that, he devoured the lunch I made him. 

And now, immediately after the short walk, pain and discomfort are back. Maybe Tylenol will be all he needs. Or maybe oxycodone. Or maybe the pain will become a runaway train so far gone that we end up at the hospital.  

It's like that.

Two good moments in a row, followed by a bad one.

Sometimes, when the pain becomes the monster that it can be, his cries take on a sound that no one should emit and no one should hear. 

Two things that seem to comfort Gerardo is his copious note-taking and newfound faith. These days he writes every single thing down in his kraft-colored Moleskine and #2 pencil. Everything that he observes and everything that happens to him goes into that journal. Sometimes when he's really out of it, he will look at his notes and see illegible marks he made in his altered state and laugh. But so what? It's not the precision of the notes or their efficient retrievability that comforts him. It's the PROCESS of taking them that comforts him. 

He recently thanked me for not judging his newfound faith but rather supporting it. Though I don't share his faith, I don't think it's certainty that comforts him, but rather the PROCESS of opening himself up after having been closed for so long, as he experiences a genuine shift from possibility to the thrilling probability of something greater. 

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.