Routines

This morning, Bob, one of the farmers who began working our family’s land once Dad retired, agreed to come over to install some safety features in the bathroom. Dad is home from the hospital, at least for now, but the house that my grandparents built clearly needed some updates to accommodate the situation. Although we don’t know for sure how much Dad’s life will change given his current diagnosis, Dad told me that he wants to stay at home if he can and feel as secure as possible going about his everyday routine.

As soon as Dad found out that Bob was headed our way, along with Bob’s brother-in-law/partner and the rep for crop insurance that they all work with, Dad began talking about needing help getting out of his pajamas and into his bib overalls and seed corn hat. The guys were coming to visit, and Dad wanted to look the part of, well, Jerry–a fourth-generation farmer whose standard attire has been the same for just about all of his 81 years.

As we sat waiting on Bob and the others, Dad and I started talking about a future with Congestive Heart Failure–the new “bland” sodium-reduced diet; morning rituals of recording and reporting vitals; an onslaught of visits from home health, home helpers, and friends and neighbors prepared to drive Dad to and from a host of appointments.

“I’m not sure how long I’ll last if I can’t get outside, walk out to the field, see the crops coming up,” he told me.

I reminded Dad that the purpose of cardiac physical therapy, which he’ll begin on Friday, is to help him restore as much strength as possible to his heart muscles and lungs. Over time, the goal is to move him closer to doing the very things that will make his life more like it’s always been.

“I don’t think it’s going to be the same, though,” he responded.

Dad’s eyes began to water as he told me that he isn’t confident that he can make so many changes at his age–and without my mom by his side.

I get it. I do. Dad’s being encouraged to accept a new normal that’s anything but. Especially for an Illinois farmer.

 

 

 

 

Sooner rather than later

During the past few years, my parents and I have been talking more openly about the future of the farm on which I was raised.

“One of these days,” my dad has often said, “you’ll be in the driver’s seat when it comes to running things.”

Bit by bit, Dad has taught me what he knows. A fourth-generation farmer, Dad has a wealth of knowledge to share–about planting, harvesting, marketing, buying and selling land. Perhaps the greatest thing my parents have taught me, though, is that the land on which they’ve made a living is something to be cherished. When my ancestors immigrated from Ireland, they discovered rich soil in Central Illinois and chose to settle here–a decision that has continued to shape how my parents and many others in my extended family have lived their lives.  Certain fields are reminders of the sacrifices that Mom and Dad made at different points in their marriage, plans and dreams they had for building their operation and creating a more secure future for our family.

As Dad and Mom have shared their wisdom and memories, I have drunk in their stories and know-how. And I have thought about how my life will change when, one day, I am involved directly in the business of farming. As well as how much my life will represent another chapter in the history of our family.

What I hadn’t considered, though, was how soon this change might occur. Four weeks ago, Dad showed up at the local ER with Congestive Heart Failure. On the same day, Mom was transferred to the nursing home with a host of physical problems and increasing dementia. Neither Mom nor Dad seems to be bouncing back, and I am scared that my responsibilities on the farm might come “sooner” rather than “later.”

I pray that we’ll all have more time together. And that when the moment arrives for me to step up and take charge, I will do my parents–and all those who came before–proud.

“Hey, Dr. Ryan!”

I had to laugh at a piece in today’s New York Times about the increasing informality of students’ emails and other communications with their professors: https://www.nytimes.com/2017/05/13/opinion/sunday/u-cant-talk-to-ur-professor-like-this.html?emc=edit_th_20170514&nl=todaysheadlines&nlid=44005038&_r=0

In recent years, I, too, have opened an email from a student and been stunned by the salutation: “Hey, Dr. Ryan!”

Just a few days ago, I received an email inquiring about the possibility of obtaining an internship from an English major I’ve never met. The message began, “Hi Cynthia!” Really?

Like the author of the NYT piece, I pride myself on creating a comfortable environment for my students. I do so because 1) I want students to feel at ease asking questions and confident in their ability to participate in the learning process, and 2) a laid-back style best matches my personality. That said, I’m sometimes thrown off by a student’s disregard for the role I play in the classroom and the work I put into getting there.

 

 

 

Editor silence

Ever since attending The Op-ed Project Seminar in Atlanta a couple of years ago, I receive regular updates from the organizers letting me know what’s new in the program and in the world of opinion writing in general. Yesterday, the following appeared in my inbox:

A quick note on editor silence this week

Dear Fellows,

A quick note to you amazing people who have had pieces accepted for publication this week, and to the rest of you amazing people who haven’t, and who can take this week as an object lesson:

Imagine you are an editor at a publication.  Could be the Washington Post, or USA Today, or Truthout—a publication that looks at major US news and its political impact.  Imagine you logged off email and packed up your tote bag to head home for dinner the night before last.  And imagine that in the midst of dinner, you got an alert that Donald Trump had fired James Comey.  You spent the night emailing, following twitter, trying to manage what you could from home.  Then you got into work, headed into an editorial meeting, and tried to train your focus on what the world is telling you might be one of the most significant stories in modern American history.

You might not reply immediately to other emails in your inbox. You might rethink the opinion page for the next couple of days. You might seem to disappear for a bit.

Fellows, as you develop your practice of having a public voice, especially in the world of news and publishing, it helps to develop ways to see from an editor’s perspective. Not only because it allows you to empathize rather than seethe when you don’t hear back, especially when the publication is pending on a piece. But because it allows you to protect yourself from the self-doubt and panic that can often encroach in the silence. I’ve been there, so many times.  So often, the news cycle can explain it.  Look to that, and not the worth of your ideas and voice, when it seems like you’ve gotten through the door just to hit a wall of silence.

In solidarity,

Lauren Sandler

—-

This post is excerpted from a letter sent by OpEd Project leader Lauren Sandler to the fellows she mentors at Columbia University, as part of our Public Voices Fellowship initiative to broaden the range of voices we hear in the world.

*****

It’s nice to know that sometimes when you don’t hear from an editor, it’s not a statement about you as a writer. I think that a lot of us have been scratching our heads the past few months, finding it difficult to say anything at all in response to the madness.

Trump and tractors

Today marks my 15th day in Illinois. I headed this way on Monday, April 24 after receiving a phone call from the ER nurse at the local hospital in my hometown telling me that my 81-year-old father had been admitted with congestive heart failure. It just so happens that my 80-year-old mom was being transferred to a nursing home on the same day to address a damaged knee following a bad fall at my parents’ home the week before.

The past 15 days have brought much strife.

After local doctors confirmed that Dad’s heart was operating at minimal capacity, Dad was sent to a larger facility in a nearby town. More bad news followed. A heart catherization showed extensive blockages in two of his arteries, a leaky valve, and confirmation of a number of other heart issues that have grown worse with age. During the past week, Dad and I have sat at home counting down the minutes until he can go to a more sophisticated cardiac center for a needed, albeit risky, procedure.

In the meantime, Mom has continued to struggle with her injuries and with increasing confusion and signs of dementia. Once or twice a day, I set out for the nursing home to visit and field phone calls in-between visits to help Mom sort out where she is and what’s going on in our lives. We spend time arranging things in her room at the nursing home and talking about things we’ve done over the years–a visit to the Norman Rockwell Exhibit at the Birmingham Museum of Art, seeing the Rockettes Holiday Spectacular one Thanksgiving, our mother-daughter trip to Australia, and other memories that are ingrained in Mom’s mind.

Dad and I pass the days {and nights} talking, reading farm magazines (when he feels up to it) and writing (when I feel up to it), and watching television. Dad’s favorite channels are CNN for coverage of all things political and RFD (standing for Rural Free Delivery, the name of the postal service that delivered directly to rural areas). RFD shows address everything from crop yields to cattle feed to the pleasures of an agrarian life.

“All we watch is Trump and tractors,” I joked to Dad earlier today.

“Yeah, that’s about all there is,” he said with a smirk.

We both know that there’s so much more.

 

 

Science needs your cells

Tonight, the film adaptation of Rebecca Skloot’s book The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks debuts on HBO. The book is one of my favorites. The story of Henrietta Lacks (and her descendants) alongside the evolving discovery of the seemingly infinite replication of HeLa cells taken from Henrietta’s malignant tumor is brilliantly told by Skloot. And, the work effectively reveals the complexity of ethical decision-making when individual bodies are involved in the process of furthering scientific knowledge. My class in Writing and Medicine just finished reading the book, and  the students had much to say about the benefits and drawbacks of using discarded bio-specimens for research without patients’  full knowledge or permission.

Of course, in the story of Henrietta Lacks, issues of class and race influence how readers might interpret the use of one woman’s cells in millions of research studies around the world since the 1950s. In a story published in The New York Times this week, though, Holly Fernandez Lynch and Steven Joffe caution society against privileging individual autonomy over scientific progress. Simply put, human tissue–which is often disposed of following surgical procedures, anyway–is needed by researchers who seek to better understand how all of our bodies work and how to address those diseases that hinder us.  https://www.nytimes.com/2017/04/21/opinion/henrietta-lacks-why-science-needs-your-cells.html?emc=edit_th_20170421&nl=todaysheadlines&nlid=44005038&_r=0

I don’t know that there is an easy answer to the central dilemma explored in Skloot’s book. From an admittedly (selfish) academic perspective, that complexity is what most fascinates me about science and medicine.

No, Cosmo, No!

Cosmopolitan magazine screwed up big time. The publication sent out a tweet on Monday touting cancer as a route to weight loss.

Here’s a response from The Washington Post, a rant that I’d far rather draw attention to than the misguided message in Cosmo: https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/morning-mix/wp/2017/04/12/dear-cosmopolitan-magazine-cancer-is-not-a-diet-plan/?utm_term=.c4b2155779e2

As someone who’s experienced breast cancer twice in the last 24 years, I guarantee that enduring a grueling treatment regimen and looking one’s best don’t go hand in hand.