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Thursday, December 29, 2016

The Odyssey

Throughout my formative years, my father would tell and retell his journey out of the countryside in the spring of 1945, his hometown, at the age of 20 years, crossing the line between Japanese occupation and Chinese Nationalist control, to arrive in Chungking, the wartime capital of the Chinese government, and pass the college exam to open a new life for himself.

Mother did something similar at 55, when she officially emigrated to Long Beach, California. A new country. No job. A new language. No social or professional network. But she did not recount this experience nearly as much as Dad did, for a variety of reasons. Regardless, it was no small feat. 

Lately I think about these events often. Their meaning is not entirely clear, but that's OK. There are probably many ways to interpret them, some of which are contradictory, including the two instincts at odds: to migrate and to settle. What are we but contradictory creatures? It's not human to be without contradictions.  

Isn't it funny that The Odyssey is a story both about adventures in strange land and about going home? We're driven to go, go, go, if for no other reason than evolution.

All this calls into question the idea of free will, which, I think, is a problem plagued with ambiguous and muddle definition. A key problem with free will is its being mixed with the problem of conscious thoughts. If we define free will as conscious, reasoned, language-driven choices, then I am almost certain free will is an illusion.

(Consciousness has unfortunately been elevated to an absurd degree by people who consider themselves "scientific" in recent years. This is at least in part motivated by the urge to perpetuate our narcissistic needs to feel oh so special. We have to hold on to our specially favored position in the universe, if not by the rumor of 23 grams of soul, then by the quantum-fueled mumble ... I mean consciousness. But I digress.)

But, what about the unconscious will that might be free in its own way? What about the unconscious drives that push us out into the unknown world, forward and backward, faraway and here? Could it in fact be free nevertheless? Or not? One thing is for sure though, that the will is neither logical nor consistent, and full of contradictions in itself. 

Sunday, December 4, 2016

In the Hospital

It's December 2016. The thoughts of December 2015 have been haunting me lately. They spring up at unexpected and minor provocations and hit me smack on the nose.

My mother was first hospitalized in July 2015. The second time was October. The third and last time was Christmas Day.

What pop into my head nowadays are all these mundane details in memory, sharpened by the anxiety and horror in those moments.

For example, what just occurred to me a moment ago was the adult diapers she had to wear during her hospitalization, which were sometimes replaced by urinary catheter in order to collect urine samples for lab analysis. The discomfort and indignity of being in a hospital really irked her, and each time she was desperate to go home, particularly the last time.

She was always quite particular about her appearance and comfort, both of which cannot be maintained in that environment. I am much the same way. Even as a child I was not very tough in rough conditions. I chafed at noise and other disturbances and required a slightly compulsive level of cushiness. When my dad took me on a trip to Hunan, I was miserable in hot, crowded trains buzzing with mosquitoes, suffering in agitated silence. So I understood her irritation with the hospital gown, the inability to bath or shower for days, the endless needle pricks, and the lack of familiar faces and voices around her. I understood, in my bone, her horror and hatred of spending night after night alone in a hospital room.

All three times, I flew to LA and visited her every day. The second hospitalization lasted almost 10 days and frayed everyone's nerves. One day she complained to me that my brother was too selfish to come visit her and avoided his responsibility by "sending his younger sister to do all the heavy lifting." I secretly agreed with her and resented his absence. Later however I realized that his avoidance was driven by a terror, because he was weaker than I and much, much more afraid of the stench of death. I was not. On this particular issue, I am quite tough.

I still am not afraid of death, but I am afraid of hospitalization, just like she did.

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