The Answer’s at the (Almost) End

Hospital bracelet

A few months ago, The Husband launched a blog called The Answer’s at the End, a mix of in-depth, analytical longform-style book reviews (his focus is presidential biographies and history) along with occasional commentary on sports, current events, and music. (Indeed, the title of his blog comes from George Harrison’s song of the same name from his 1975 album “Extra Texture.”)

If you’re friends with me or The Husband on Facebook, you know the story: as we were finishing up Thanksgiving dinner, The Husband got up from the table and walked into our bathroom. I don’t know how long he was in there — my guess is under five minutes — when I went to check on him.

I found him collapsed on the floor, barely conscious, sweating, and unable to speak.  His breathing was extremely labored. I screamed for someone to call 911, and the dispatcher instructed me to start giving chest compressions because there was a moment when I felt him starting to slip away. The paramedics came, started working on him right there on the floor of our bedroom, and took him away in an ambulance.

I’ll write more about this (all signs point to this being a vasovagal syncope) but for now, I’ll let The Husband take over. As George says, life is one long enigma my friend. So read on, read on, the answer’s at the end.

Weeks ago I’d planned on a post for November 29th remembering George Harrison, on the 14th anniversary of his death. Then I almost got to meet him a lot earlier than I was planning on; so, that’s kind of changed the post a bit.

As I wrote on Facebook yesterday, I collapsed on Thanksgiving Night with an as-yet unknown-and-may-never-be-known misfiring of the brain that left me unable to talk and came very near to stopping my breathing forever. My wife kept me breathing long enough for the paramedics to take over. I spent a few days in the hospital and I’m now home doing a lot of resting.

As it was happening, I remember thinking that this is what it is like to die. I could hear much of what was going on but was powerless, unable to communicate. I felt as though there was a struggle going on. On the one hand was the desire for the inability to breathe and the discomfort to stop at any cost. On the other hand was my wife pulling me back and refusing to let me rest just now. The bond between my wife and I – because of all we’ve been through these last 25 years together – has always been strong. She doesn’t want to hear it, but I know that she’s the reason I hung on. I knew she wouldn’t let me go and that I owed it to her and our children to stay. More importantly, that I wanted to stay. That I fought to stay.

Having said all of that, it didn’t hit me until a few hours after I was in my hospital room that I could have died. This seems self-evident, but my mind was so addled that it didn’t hit home until I saw the date written on the white-board across from my bed. It had the nurse’s name, the emergency numbers, and ‘November 26, 2015’. Looking at that I suddenly thought, “This could’ve been the day that I died” – borrowing heavily from Don McLean.  Later, looking at my hospital ID tag, I saw my date of birth, followed by my date of admission. I realized those dates could’ve been the beginning of my epitaph.

At one time or another in our lives we all wonder what that date will be for us – that ‘death’ date on the epitaph. Seeing it there in print was a bit more than I could handle so I immediately stared at something else [you do a lot of staring at things in the hospital].

The list of things I’m grateful for today that I took completely for granted is too long to even start. Yesterday was a typical day in Pittsburgh – rain, rain, cold, rain – but it sure as hell looked like a beautiful day to me. I know that won’t last and that’s ok, too. I shouldn’t spend the rest of my life flittering around marveling at how great everything always is. That ain’t me [surprise, surprise].

That being said, I sure as hell am going to try to approach things differently. I’m still in the afterglow of having my life saved. And I’m sure I need to pay more attention to my health and that there may be some follow up things I need to do medically.  I’ll face that as it comes. I hope, though, that I can really keep the promise that I’ve made to try to look at things differently.

Before I sign off [just for today, folks], a note about George Harrison as originally intended: I learned about George’s death while in Wichita, Kansas, in a hotel while watching Live with Regis and Kelly. That’s right: I learned about George’s death from Regis Philbin [“well, well, well, Kelly  – guess who’s dead?!?”]. We were in Wichita with our one-week-old twins in the NICU. It was surreal. A Beatle-death would normally have been an Earth-shattering, world-stopping event. With my infants in a hospital 1,000 miles from home, not knowing what would happen or how long we’d be there, etc., however, George’s death registered with a tremendous sadness but I had more pressing obligations.

Still, sad it was. A year later, George’s widow, Olivia, and his friend Jeff Lynne released George’s last album, Brainwashed.  When doctors told George he had only a few months to live in the fall 2001, he went into his recording studio to record as many songs [he had a backlog of dozens of unrecorded songs] as he could. The recordings were raw and as time went on, George’s voice became weaker. After his death, Jeff Lynne and George’s son, Dhani, went into the studio to listen to George’s recordings. They recorded back-up vocals, added backing tracks, and fine-tuned it. When it was released, of course I bought it right away. Listening to it the first time, my son – 1 at the time – joined me and crawled over to the stereo. He pulled himself up to a standing position, obviously listening to the music. I watched this in amazement. I don’t know how long it lasted but it was long enough to leave that impression on me.

I don’t know what was going on while my son was listening to that album. I really felt, though, that he somehow knew that this man singing was someone special. Maybe in the cosmos there’s some kind of connection between them – one coming into the Earthly world, the other leaving one week later. Maybe it’s nothing. But I’ve always taken comfort in thinking that George’s spirit helped us get from Wichita back home and has been with the world ever since.

Thank you, George. I’m just not yet ready to meet you just yet.




thanksgiving 2015: unplugged (or not) and thankfully reading

Thanksgiving 2014 - cropped

Thanksgiving, 2014

Thanksgiving 2015, and we’ve been experiencing some maddening Internet woes here on the homefront today. On, then off for a few minutes. Repeat at inconvenient intervals. Season with an impromptu shutdown of the laptop for an update.

A sign that we should be spending this holiday unplugged from our technology and more connected to the things that really matter?

Yes, perhaps.

(The irony isn’t lost on me that I’m writing this with the benefit of an Internet connection. For now.)

There will be some unplugged time today and throughout this weekend. I’m participating in the annual Thankfully Reading Weekend hosted by Jenn’s Bookshelves. I need to start Thirteen Ways of Looking by Colum McCann for a review, and I’m also still reading The Witches by Stacy Schiff. That one is taking me forever — it’s definitely a chunkster. I don’t have any goals for Thankfully Reading; it’s meant to be a low-key event, which are the best kinds of read-a-thons and challenges, in my mind.

Today I’m cooking dinner for The Husband, the kids, and my mother-in-law.  Started last night, actually, by making a few things ahead of time:  cranberry sauce, green bean casserole, pumpkin pie. In the crockpot are sweet potatoes and carrots.  The turkey breast is already taken care of, courtesy of a gift certificate to Honeybaked Ham, and we have a Quorn turkey roll for the two of us who abstain from meat. Stuffing (two kinds — one regular, one gluten-free), mashed potatoes and biscuits still to come.

It will be an abundant, delicious meal on this, a bit of a difficult holiday.  The past five months have brought several significant challenges and stress, and as the year quickly draws to a close, there’s some real apprehension about what 2016 will bring.

I’m trying very hard to look past all that — beyond what’s been lost and what lies ahead — and trying to focus on being grateful, for now.

To stay plugged in to what truly matters.


Currently …Birthdays, Burghosphere, and Books

Chocolate cake

Currently …
Sunday evening, at the end of a busier than usual weekend. The highlights: a dentist visit for an 8:45 a.m. root canal (there’s no better way to spend a Saturday, let me tell you) and a Sunday afternoon hanging out with some of Pittsburgh’s best bloggers at Best of the Burghosphere, which I’ll post more about tomorrow. Afterwards, The Girl and I stopped by Half Price Books for some birthday shopping. As much as this may surprise some of you, I’d never been there before today. It’s now The Girl’s favorite store (and one of mine, too).

Celebrating …
We’re celebrating the kids’ birthdays this weekend. Hard to believe they are 14. We kept things fairly low-key with one of their favorite dinners (a simple version of pasta with chicken in alfredo sauce) and the chocolate cake, pictured above.

Reading … 
I finished two books this week, which is practically unheard of for me — especially given the slow pace at which I’ve been reading.

M TrainAccidental Saints

M Train by Patti Smith, which I enjoyed. This has a very free-form quality to it.  If you’ve ever been part of a writing workshop and the instructor says to write for ten minutes about whatever comes to mind, that’s what this feels like.  (It’s not so easy writing about nothing is the first line and at times this feels as if you’ve stolen a glimpse at a page written in Patti Smith’s notebook.) Non-linear in structure, M Train is what I would describe as a “writer’s book” and it isn’t going to appeal to everyone. It meanders, often in an esoteric way.

Accidental Saints: Finding God in All the Wrong People, by Nadia Bolz-Weber, who is the pastor of House for All Sinners and Saints in Denver.  I picked this up at the library after hearing a great interview with the author on NPR’s Fresh Air.  This was more … I don’t know … religious? theological? than I expected. (Also a bit too self-deprecating.)

Not Reading …
Another week, another DNF.  Despite my appreciation for its author, I’m finding the characters in Moral Disorder and Other Stories by Margaret Atwood to be somewhat boring.  I’ve been listening to this collection of linked stories on audio but it isn’t holding my attention. Back to the library it goes.

Anticipating …
Thanksgiving, which comes with a few additional vacation days from work for me.  Plenty of time for Thankfully Reading Weekend!

Nonfiction November: Nontraditional Nonfiction


During this third week (!) of Nonfiction November, our writing prompt focuses on “the nontraditional side of reading nonfiction.” This week’s host, Becca from I’m Lost in Books, elaborates:

Nonfiction comes in many forms There are the traditional hardcover or paperback print books, of course, but then you also have e-books, audiobooks, illustrated and graphic nonfiction, oversized folios, miniatures, internet publishing, nonfiction short stories, and enhanced books (book itself includes artifacts, audio, historical documents, images, etc.) So many choices! Do you find yourself drawn to or away from nontraditional nonfiction? Do you enjoy some nontraditional formats, but not others? Perhaps you have recommendations for readers who want to dive into nontraditional formats. We want to hear all about it this week!

I will admit that I often don’t think much about the various formats of the nonfiction genre (and fiction, for that matter).  When it comes to reading material, my approach isn’t always based on the packaging, per se, but rather the content inside.

Podcasts are the first nontraditional nonfiction format that immediately came to my mind. I’ve recently become a podcast fan and have written several posts about specific shows and episodes that I’ve found to be especially compelling.  I enjoy podcasts that feature personal stories — Death, Sex, and Money; Strangers; The Moth; and — before it was cancelled — The Longest Shortest Time. The storytelling is excellent and almost all of my favorite podcasts could be categorized as nonfiction in some way.

I also need to give a plug for Creative Nonfiction, the literary magazine. If you’re a fan of this genre — and especially if you write creative nonfiction — you need to be reading this publication. From the description on the CNF website: “Every issue is packed with new, long-form essays that blend style with substance; writing that pushes the traditional boundaries of the genre; notes on craft; micro-essays; conversations with writers and editors; insights and commentary from CNF editor Lee Gutkind; and more. Simply put, CNF demonstrates the depth and versatility of the genre it has helped define for more than 20 years.” I love that it has a global audience and is published right here in Pittsburgh.

Audiobooks seem to be the “nontraditional” form of nonfiction that most Nonfiction November participants mentioned. As my friend Trish from Love, Laughter and A Touch of Insanity wrote, I prefer to listen to nonfiction on audio. I’m not quite sure why that’s the case; regardless of whether a book is fiction or nonfiction, I like to have a print copy handy so I can refer to anything I may have missed.

If you need ideas for nonfiction reads, my nonfiction book reviews can be found here.

currently … november 15

Paris Peace Sign

“Peace for Paris” by Jean Jullien  

Briefly …
In the aftermath of the terrorist attacks in Paris, my instinct has been to hunker-down and reduce my social media and news consumption this weekend. It all feels too much, too overwhelming, heartbreaking, and scary. Like most of us, I simply can’t understand such hatred that compels people to commit such horrific acts against innocent people. It is unfathomable and it makes me want to never leave the house again.

Listening …
I borrowed several short story collections on audio from the library (Hemingway, Elizabeth Gilbert’s Pilgrims, Margaret Atwood’s Moral Disorders and Other Stories). While doing errands on Saturday — a much-needed oil change for my car, the weekly grocery shopping — I happened to turn on “The Bad News” from Moral Disorder, which was certainly ironic. It’s about a middle-aged couple and their somewhat dismissive and nonchalant attitude about the bad news in their morning newspaper.

“I think of bad news as a huge bird, with the wings of a crow and the face of my Grade Four school teacher, sparse bun, rancid teeth, wrinkly frown, pursed mouth and all, sailing around the world under cover of darkness pleased to be the bearer of ill tidings, carrying a basket of rotten eggs, and knowing- as the sun comes up- exactly where to drop them. On me, for one.”

Reading … 
The WitchesStill working my way through The Witches.  I’m on page 54 and it’s due back to the library on Tuesday, so I’ll probably need to return this unfinished and wait until it’s available again. This seems to be the story of my life lately.

Not Reading … 
Decided to give up on Fates and Furies. I lasted for just over 100 pages and just couldn’t take anymore of these characters.  I just couldn’t. I hated almost every single one of them, especially Lotto. Several instances in the plot just irked me, too. I know that the second half of the book is supposed to be much better, but the promise of a reading payoff in another hundred or so pages was too elusive for me.

This is a novel that I really wanted to love, which makes this especially disappointing. I am a big fan of Lauren Groff’s writing and I’ve really enjoyed all of her other books. (See my reviews for Delicate Edible Birds and Arcadia; I read — and loved — The Monsters of Templeton but didn’t review it.)

Starting to think about Thanksgiving dinner.  It will only be five of us this year — my mother-in-law will be visiting for five days. I’m starting to buy a few things here and there at the store and mapping out a plan for cooking as much as possible ahead of time.

Promoting … 
Web Banner Best ofIf you’re in the Pittsburgh area, I would love to have you join me and my fellow Pittsburgh bloggers for Best of the Burghosphere on either Friday, November 20  at 7 p.m. for the 21+ party or on Sunday, November 22 at 1 p.m. for a family-friendly event. Both events will be held at the fabulous Most Wanted Fine Art; more details are here.

Nonfiction November: Book Pairings


I’m participating in Nonfiction November, which is a month-long celebration dedicated to highlighting nonfiction books. Each week, the hosts of this event provide us with a blogging prompt. Leslie (Regular Rumination) is our host for Week 2 and our topic is book pairings:

Book Pairing: This week, pair up a nonfiction book with a fiction title. It can be an “if you loved this book, read this!” or just two titles that you think would go well together. Maybe it’s a historical novel and you’d like to get the real history by reading a nonfiction version of the story.

These two books immediately came to mind:

None of the AboveWhatever ...Love Is Love

None of the Above by I.W. Gregorio and Whatever … Love Is Love: Questioning the Labels We Give Ourselves by Maria Bello each will be going on my list of best books I’ve read this year.

In None of the Above, debut novelist I.W. Gregorio (who is also a mother and surgeon) gives her readers a story that explores identity and acceptance. It’s told through the perspective of  18 year old Kristin who has just learned she was born intersex. (A definition, from I.W. Gregorio’s intersex resource page on her website: a biological condition in which people are born with bodies that don’t fit neatly into our understanding of what is male or female, whether it be because of their chromosomal sex, or because of their internal or external genitalia.)

The novel focuses heavily on Kristin’s emotional conflict. While processing the stigma associated with being intersex and others’ insensitivity, she struggles with identifying herself by the sum of her parts – no uterus, a short vagina, internal gonads – and finding the strength within to move forward with the support of caring people in her life and those qualities that shape who she is as a person.

This is a perfect complement to actress and activist Maria Bello’s memoir, Whatever … Love Is Love: Questioning the Labels We Give Ourselves. With a refreshing writing style that is personal, approachable and oftentimes funny, Ms. Bello shares quite a bit about her relationships with significant people in her life. While most names she shares are those who have been strong influences in her life, this is not your typical celebrity name-dropping, reality-television-esqe tome. That’s not Ms. Bello’s agenda here. Instead, she offers a chance for reflection about how one’s life experiences define the labels we place on people, especially ourselves.

To peel back the typical labels, Ms. Bello goes beyond the bedroom to explore the deeper questions of self: Am I a feminist? A humanitarian? A good enough mother? A writer?

(The answers are yes, yes, yes and hell to the yes.)

Visit Regular Rumination to discover more Nonfiction November book pairings!


Currently …November 8

Currently …
Sunday evening.  Another weekend gone. I had a dentist appointment early yesterday morning, thanks to a broken tooth caused by a piece of popcorn. It wasn’t even one that had an unpopped, hard kernel. Apparently, this tooth had enough issues that it wouldn’t have mattered what I was eating. There was a big filling in the tooth and apparently, a new cavity underneath that was hitting the nerve.  So, yet another crown is in my future.

Watching …
Sunday Night Football, baby. Our Philadelphia Eagles are taking on one of our main rivals, the much-hated Dallas Cowboys. And of course, there is yet another domestic violence situation with yet another NFL player. As you might imagine, I have a few thoughts on the Greg Hardy situation. If I do wind up doing a post on this, it will be another rendition of my usual NFL-domestic violence rants.  Their hypocrisy on this issue irks the hell out of me, to put it mildly.

Reading …

Accidental Saints

The Girl and I spent some time at the library yesterday afternoon — she enjoys an Anime Club program there — which allowed me to have a few uninterrupted hours to read. My book of choice was Accidental Saints: Finding God in All the Wrong People by Nadia Bolz-Weber. I heard her on Fresh Air (“Lutheran MInister Preaches Gospel of Love to Junkies, Drag Queens, and Outsiders”) back in September. This book is a series of reflections on her experiences with the people she serves in her congregation and her approach to the Lutheran faith. This is due back to the library on Wednesday with no renews.

Fates and FuriesI’m also reading Fates and Furies by Lauren Groff, which is getting a great deal of buzz. I love Lauren Groff’s writing and have been a big fan of hers for quite some time. As of right now (80 pages into Fates and Furies), I can say that I like Delicate Edible Birds,  The Monsters of Templeton and Arcadia better. I’m not liking too many of these characters, which may very well be the point. We’ll see.

Finally, I’m still reading The Witches: Salem, 1692 by Stacy Schiff, but haven’t gotten too far with that this week. I’m enjoying this very much.

Blogging …
Sadly, I lasted all of three days with NaBloPoMo this year. I had hoped that I would be able to keep this up for — oh, I don’t know, at least a week? — but that wasn’t the case. While I like (and sometimes need) the discipline that writing a daily post requires, I don’t like writing half-assed posts just for the sake of hitting publish 30 days in a row, which is what I would have wound up doing.

Anticipating …
Thanksgiving. I will have a few extra days off, thanks to some vacation days that I need to use, and my mother-in-law will be visiting. I’m not sure what we will actually do, although I know we’re hoping to go to the Heinz History Center to see the Mister Rogers’ exhibit. I’m also starting to pick up a few things at the grocery store in preparation for our feast.

ThankfullyReading2014One of the highlights of Thanksgiving weekend is Thankfully Reading Weekend, hosted by Jenn from Jenn’s Bookshelves. I love this event because it is so low-key, which is how Thanksgiving weekend should be. I’m definitely planning to participate again.

Hope you had a great weekend!