Monday, September 20, 2010

OLD WOMEN LOOK LIKE THIS: notes toward a talk

The announcement goes like this:

Susan Schultz on Writing Alzheimer's

September 23, 12:00pm - 1:15pm
Manoa Campus, Henke Hall 325

The University of Hawai‘i at Manoa Center for Biographical Research Brown Bag Biography presents a lecture, "Old Women Look Like This": Writing Alzheimer's," by poet, publisher, editor, and UH-M English professor Susan M. Schultz

The talk will go something like this:

I was invited to talk about my recent e-book, Old Women Look Like This, which is available through Lulu, and was published by the Argotist Press, edited by Jeffrey Side out of Liverpool, UK.

Quala-Lynn Young, at the Contemporary Museum, organized a tour for writers last year, which was followed a couple of months later by a reading of poems based on the work of four artists. Having written Dementia Blog, I was most taken by the portraits of old women by Elizabeth Berdann, for their fidelity to their subjects. Here are some of her paintings. Edna is the woman whose face appears on the "cover" of my e-book. Each portrait bears the first name of its subject, along with her age. Edna is 91. (Old people, like children, are quite concerned with their ages; "I'm 86!" one of my neighbors said to me recently. Her dog is 12, she also told me.)

Elizabeth Berdann's paintings of old women

The poem I wrote for the museum event was based on several of these paintings. As I thought about the ways in which old women are seen in our culture, I thought to do a google search, "old women look like." When I did it, the results were (of course) profoundly strange. I found sites on how to appear younger, sites on how to appear older, pornographic sites, and sites about men who look like old lesbians. So I decided to write the poem by alternating brief descriptions of Berdann's faces with text I culled from my google searches. Here is the search: note that the current search includes the e-book itself, which is at once flattering (if anything computer-generated can be said to be so) and odd.

This method of writing takes something from a poetic movement that has grown in the past ten years from a joke to the subject of conferences, papers, and loud arguments among poets. It's called Flarf. For some writing about flarf, see this link, Flarf.

Some significant moments in the verbiage about flarf:

--Gary Sullivan's definition of "Flarf" as a verb: "To bring out the inherent awfulness, etc., of some pre-existing text." He brings up heavy use of Google.

--Mike Magee: "The use of Google being extremely common, the flarf method resembles in some sesen: a) the use of a thesaurus; b) eavesdropping and quoting; c) sampling; d) collage / cut-&-paste . . . What makes the flarf methodology different, to my mind, is the willful democratization of the method: the EXTENSIVE and even sole use of Googled material."

The best book of Flarf, to my mind, is K. Silem Mohammad's Deer Head Nation, which uses this method toward a (farcical) critique of American culture, focusing on the deer heads that people put over their fireplaces. But I didn't want farce so much as a commentary on the way old women are looked at, so the tone of my poem alternates between the google search's shtick and my own rather less absurdist takes on the women's faces. Part of the poem came out in the Honolulu Weekly; you can see it here:

and a snippet here: "She floats there, her neck rooted to the soil of its own shadow. Women talk openly about their sex lives after 60; I passed two women who held hands the way I imagine widows do. There are men who look like old lesbians on [], but on the plus side, I look a lot younger than my age, or those who become senior before their time. Rose (90) has wide astonished eyes, hair a white nest; absence where her neck should be; she is all heart at the heart of her frame."

The move is from a Romantic poem image ("the soil of its own shadow") to the on-line source material, and then back again to hearts. (Berdann's frames are hearts and diamonds, so the play is on the frame, as well as on the literary frame/cliche of "heart.") Some of my lines are less Romantic (one is about the frame creating a baseball diamond out of the woman's face), but they are never "flarfy," in the ways the google materials are.

[read the entire poem at the talk]

I began to think less about image than about narrative, the stories we tell about old people, the way in which our narratives often fail to fit their lives, because our stories are more about children and about younger people. When I remembered that Sandra Day O'Connor's husband had fallen in love with another woman in his Alzheimer's residence, and that O'Connor was pleased because her husband seemed so happy about it, I turned to the computer again and found a soap opera generator. I took some of the short scenarios offered up by the generator and shifted them into the Alzheimer's home to see what would happen. The poem begins with an old woman stalking an old man (there are so many fewer of them in Alzheimer's care than women) and ends with a shotgun wedding based on the birth of a grandchild. The ways in which so many of our narratives depend on biology (who is the parent of whom is assumed to be a question about DNA and not about adoption) is made clear in this odd intervention. (Another of the poems is based on lists of children up for adoption, except that I substituted Alzheimer's patients for the orphans.)

[I just checked my email and found an ad for Botox, to get rid of the dark circles under my eyes, RISK-FREE. I'm told that 89% of those who use this product get compliments from their friends about their lack of wrinkles and bags.]

Another kind of narrative of old age and death is the elegy, which celebrates a life as it passes on, substituting a transcendent truth for the transient messiness of a life. One of my favorite elegies is Wallace Stevens's "To an Old Philosopher in Rome," a poem for George Santayana. An honors student of mine, Gizelle Gajelonia, had written nearly an entire thesis out of poems by writers such as Stevens, which she willfully "revised" into poems about TheBus on Oahu. Her take on Stevens is "13 Ways of Looking at TheBus," after his own "13 Ways of Looking at a Blackbird." Unlike Gajelonia, Stevens never mentioned Mufi Hannemann and his rail system in his poem! So I thought I might do a revision of Stevens myself. Here's Stevens's poem about the dying philosopher; I'll read just the beginning and the end, but you can hear the high seriousness and beauty of his language.

I hollowed his poem out and replaced much of the language with parts of a recent report by the Alzheimer's Association (2010). To Stevens's "The threshold Rome and that more merciful Rome / Beyond," I countered with: "The threshold, ManorCare, and that more // merciful ManorCare beyond" and with lots of statistics about Alzheimer's sufferers and their caretakers. My poem ends:

monthly check (to the tune of $6,000) for room and board and hair styling

and medical care. It is a kind of total disruptiveness at the end with every

visible thing diminished and yet there is still a bed, a chair, a common room

for conversation, a nursing station, and a nook with benches for sitting on:

The moving walkway is now ending. Watch your step.

Stevens is also obsessed with the ordinary things: the bed and the chair come from him, as they also come from my mother's Alzheimer's home. But his "total grandeur at the end" becomes "total disruptiveness," and the threshold of heaven is reduced to a "moving walkway," or a kind of temporal treadmill that the very old move on in their own version of timelessness. Not transcendence, but a different (imitative, fallen, non-Platonic) version of eternity.

The poems that work the best for me are those I wrote in response to the standard comparison of old age to childhood. I have a mother who is 92, and children who are now 9 and 11, so I feel qualified to test the simile. So I began rewriting the children's stories I encountered as if their heroines were not children, but very old people, people with dementia. One such piece I based on Are You My Mother?, a book about a small bird who is looking for its mother. The bird asks all sorts of animals if they are its mother, but they all tell the baby bird that they look different. "I'm a cow, not a bird," would be one response. So the bird finally finds its mother bird, and all is well. A Mother for Choco revises that story for adoptive children. In this story, it matters not who resembles whom, but who loves whom. So the orphaned baby finds that her mother is a bear and that mama bear has other children, including a pig. I made my own mother the central figure in this piece, which I'll now read. "Are You My Mother?"

Another of these pieces is based on a news story about the first black woman elected to the South Carolina legislature (in 1974) who died alone in her house of hypothermia. She was suffering dementia, but would not allow anyone to help her. So I rewrote the opening to Pippi Longstocking to be about her. Here's a description of Pippi, for anyone who might conceivably have missed her. Pippi is all those things we admire: she's independent, naughty, answers only to herself, and she has lots of fun in her solitude. She's like a wacky pig-tailed Henry David Thoreau in a way, except that she also has friends.

My rendering of Pippi changed drastically when I moved Juanita Goggins into Villa Villekula, Pippi's residence. Here's that piece; much of the language comes from the Pippi book. As you can hear, the narrative of joyful self-reliance goes bad when Pippi is replaced by this old woman who suffers dementia. She needed to rely on others, but could not. They refused to knock her door down, and so she died in her house, the good American's castle.

I don't necessarily want to end on a despairing note, although there are plenty of those in the world of Alzheimer's patients and their families. But I hope that the playfulness of the poems, their forms, the waywardness of their narratives, also gestures toward the humor that can be found in a day at the Alzheimer's home. It's a humor based on the play of minds that can do nothing except play. The last time I spoke here, about my book on my mother's dementia, I made a bad metaphor. I said that Alzheimer's was like a neutron bomb, which destroyed everything but the body of the building or the person. Someone came up afterwords to remind me that Alzheimer's patients are persons. I hope that this project has gone some distance in reaffirming that sentiment.

I would love to hear responses to the work, and to take questions about it.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

William Carlos Williams Takes On Tea Partiers and Other Puritans

When I teach Foundations of Creative Writing to graduate students, I always include William Carlos Williams's In the American Grain, a messy, exuberant book of essays that undoes the American myth, only to remake it in the image of America's apparent failures. The book offers a transition between the foundational texts (Plato, Sidney, Shelley, Riding, Bernstein, Ho`omanawanui) and those about place that come just after. Williams offers us writing out of a passionate, brilliant, anguished need; he also means to reframe our notions of place and historical necessity. Its genre a strained mix of manifesto, poem, essay, and documentary history, his book threatens to come apart at its various seams. Let be be finale of seams, to misquote his rival poet.

Truth be told, I ask students to read the 234 page book mostly so that they can read the last page, which is my favorite moment in all American literature. It is the chapter called "Abraham Lincoln," in which old Abe becomes a woman, the mother of his divided and grieving country:

It is Lincoln pardoning the fellow who slept on sentry duty. It is the grace of the Bixby letter. The least private would find a woman to caress him, a woman in an old shawl--with a great bearded face and a towering black hat above it, to give unearthly reality. (234)

and then the book ends thus: "Failing of relief or expression, the place tormented itself into a convulsion of bewilderment and pain--with a woman, born somehow, aching over it, holding all fearfully together. It was the end of THAT period."

This writing is worthy of Lincoln himself; it also ends the book about an America that "begins for us with murder and enslavement" (39) on an empathic note. Trans-gender is trans-formation, hard earned by chapter after chapter about American over-reaching and failure.

You can't read the same book twice, of course. This time through I'm noticing ways in which the 1925 manifesto echoes our time, especially its hyper-moralism in the face of actual ethical depredation. Here I'm trying to separate out the "moral" issue of sex from the "ethical" issues of greed, militarism, corruption, and so on. I am helped by the experience of having watched an hour of news and a couple hours of Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert with our Distinguished Visiting Writer, Adam Aitken, who comes to us from Australia. Adam's sense of the lunacy of American politics enforces my own, italicizes it. Stewart and Colbert have very little work to do these days; splice some video from Fox News and you have a show, especially when the voice over comes from John Oliver. The latest heroine of the Tea Party movement (so-called, because they're actually Republicans) is Christine O'Donnell of Delaware, whose platform is based on moralizing about sex and gender roles. O'Donnell is best known for her anti-masturbation work. (I have to laugh; when I write about her, or her fellow travelers, every word I write takes on an aura of moral turpitude!) And no, I have not watched the video.

Against O'Donnell and her ilk, I hear Williams calling out the Puritans, making his argument over and again that American violence and American sexual repression are allied. Turn to the end of "Voyage of the Mayflower," and Williams turns O'Donnell against herself (again I blush): "What prevented the normal growth? Was it England, that northern strain, the soil they [Puritans] landed on? It was, of course, the whole weight of the wild continent that made their condition of mind advantageous, forcing it to reproduce its own likeness, and no more" (68). Not only did the Puritans refuse to generate new names for the places, the plants, the animals they encountered in the New World, according to Williams, they also refused to touch the place they entered. Their purity was a mark of their fear, and their purity condemned them to isolation and violence. "It is the Puritan--" he writes in "Pere Sebastian Rasles": "Having it in themselves nothing of curiosity, no wonder, for the New World--that is nothing official--they knew only to keep their eyes blinded, their tongues in orderly manner between their teeth, their ears stopped by the monotony of their hymns and their flesh covered in straight habits" (112).

Against this morality of not seeing, marked as Puritan, Williams proposes a Catholic alternative in the figure of Pere Sebastian Rasles, a French cleric: "It is this to be moral: to be positive. to be peculiar, to be sure, generous, brave--TO MARRY, to touch--to give because one HAS, not because one has nothing . . . He exists, he is--it is an AFFIRMATION, it is alive" (121). Among his affirmations is the "peculiar" particular language; Rasles not only learns to speak the Indian's language, he reveres its pronunciation: "(Note, the figure 8 is used by Rasles in his alphabet of the Abnaki language to signify the unique guttural sound characteristic of the Indian dialects" (124). This is what Williams means by "peculiar," I suspect, this precision of attention to detail, to contact.

To name is to caress, Williams almost says. Not possess: he would be happier if the Puritans had taken on the names Indians gave their places, one suspects. But they should at least have offered up new sounds to go with the new places they lived in. My English 100A class will be reading about names this week, how names are given, how they are taken away and replaced by other names. One of the (shorter) readings is a poem by Tiare Picard from Tinfish 18 1/2:

Ford Island sits within Pearl Harbor, but of course neither name came first in the chain of names placed upon places in Hawa`i. How Moku`ume`ume came to be Ford Island is the subject of Picard's poem, which operates entirely by name, not by link or verb or plot. It's the literal presentation of effacement that she performs here. It's a document Williams would have liked.

In contrast to Williams's attacks on the Puritan come these love letters to the French (I get in trouble again, don't I?). Another of his heroes is Champlain, whom Williams admires simply because he sees the world around him, a quality ascribed to "the feminine": "Champlain, like no one else about him, watching, keeping the thing whole within him with amost a woman's tenderness--but such an energy for detail--a love of the exact detail--watching that little boat drawing nearer on that icy bay" (70). And so Champlain becomes Williams who then foresees (or hears) a poet like Jack Spicer: "This is the interest I see. It is this man. This --me; this American; a sort of radio distributor sending out sparks to us all" (70). Williams elsewhere describes himself as one whose "antennae [were] fully extended: (105). Perhaps he means his figure here to be an insect, but it also the antenna on a radio, taking impulses in, speaking them out to whoever will listen.

When I go to, the website for Christine O'Donnell, I find precious few written words. Her platform resembles a series of tweets. One bullet point is about "values": "Believes our country was founded on core values of faith, family and freedom and will fight to defend those values." Among these values are antipathies to sex of any sort, and to non-standard families. A recent interview had her saying this about science: “American scientific companies are cross-breeding humans and animals and coming up with mice with fully functioning human brains. So they’re already into this experiment.” If O'Donnell and other right wingers were attentive to detail, if they were close-readers, they would know that the Constitution does not found the nation on "faith," but on freedom to worship as one wishes. She would also know that mice have not been given "fully functioning human brains," though these days one wonders about the humans with mice for brains.

Both my classes this semester, the English 100 and the graduate course, are about forms of attention. Attention costs--one pays it, after all--but the costs are worthwhile if we are to find apt names for our places, our conditions, and our political process. I say this with some hope, as last night Hawai`i's Democrats nominated Neil Abercrombie for Governor. His platform is largely pro-education; he has ties to the University of Hawai`i, from which he graduated and at which he taught for some years. He was the educated choice, and that bodes well, at least for now. In November, he will be opposed by Duke Aiona, whose platform is God-drenched. We shall see.

[click on images to enlarge them]

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Report from the academic front-line

Semesters are forces of discombobulation, competing force fields of teaching, meetings, more meetings, soccer practice pick-ups, reports and write-ups, grading . . . so the blog threatens to implode from the sheer energy of scatter. So, some notes from the front:

--Foundations of Creative Writing, 625D, is intended to get incoming graduate students to think about writing. It's a poetics course. Last week we started from Plato's Republic and moved forward through Sir P. Sidney, P.B. Shelley, Laura (Riding) Jackson, and Charles Bernstein. I wish I'd been in Adam Aitken's section of the course, because he knows about Shelley. In mine, we lingered over Riding's attack on writing poetry; I framed it as a discussion of professionalism, apt because incoming M.A.s are beginning their own journey into the workplace (a chimera in this economy). Do we write to publish, to get jobs? If so, what does that do to our writing? Or do we write to look for some truth outside of the marketplaces of wages and competing ideas? Do we dress up (I was wrapped in a blue fitted sheet, which substituted for a toga)? Or do we peel off the layers, render ourselves unmarketable, and call it a day?

A subset of these unanswerables is the one about defending what we do to those in power who don't answer to inherent value, but only to the bottom line. One student, who works in politics, suggested we argue to the Speaker of Hawai`i's House, Calvin Say (what a good name he has!) for new positions in creative writing. What struck me, as we came up with our arguments, is that there is always a leap of faith. Yes, students are less literate than they once were, but how does a new hire in creative writing (someone with a big name, say) help us to make them into readers and writers? Don't we need more low-paid composition instructors for that purpose? Yes, thinking creatively is a good thing, but how does one translate the writing of poetry into a "useful" technical skill? (I love how "useful" includes such things as the invention of video games, which sell better than do poems.) If we make the argument on Say's terms, we fall into the market driven economy. More students write fiction, therefore we need a fiction writer. But who needs fiction, when our problems are so real?! If we make the argument on Shelley's terms, we pose a threat to Say, because we, too, are legislators, albeit unacknowledged. It's a no win situation. Which may be why Riding threw in the verbal towel. But we are stubborn. (I waved signs for Neil Abercrombie on Friday; he is running for governor on a strong pro-education platform.)

--English 100A: a lively class of students who are driven, responsible, considerate, and--on some level hard to define--scared to death. Scared of failure, mostly, of bad grades, of authorities who will not judge them well. Question: how to teach them the value of failure? Another institutional problem: inside the structure of grades and judgment and especially within the larger structure of a terrible economy, how to say (it's easy for me to say!) that the best thing you might do for your writing is to compose an astounding failure that stretches you, a compositional yoga position that hurts like hell, but limbers up the muscles later on?

--This past week's department meeting was one of the best in years; we sat in a large circle and hammered out a couple of big issues, some detailed language, and left the room more or less in one piece. But finding myself defining "mixed genre" to members of a group of English professors who think of it as someone who writes poetry and fiction, felt frustrating (as all these f's testify). Anyone read William Carlos Williams's Spring and All (1923!!!!). Theresa Hak Kyung Cha's Dictee (1980)? Now part of the thrust of the question was strategic; it came from a colleague who knows better, but doesn't want to truck in such things. But others?

--As this semester's Director of Creative Writing, there are some perks in the form of quirky notes and phone calls. The first came as a telephone call from a local Vietnamese man who runs a hair salon. He wants to work with a ghost-writer (that's where we come in) on a novel about the afterlife of Lady Diana. And then there was the hand-penciled letter from a prisoner in Ohio who wants to correspond with students in an effort to improve his writing. The letter was a full two pages long, and included his prisoner number, lest someone want to look him up. It all sounded fine until he got to repeating that he only wants to correspond with "ladies."

--I've finished three sections of a new series of Memory Cards, each 10 poem set working off phrases and lines by a poet whose work is meditative, open. Lissa Wolsak, Norman Fischer, Wallace Stevens. In the midst of thinking again through and about memory, I opened Al Filreis's blog this morning and found this. We had been talking through Charles Bernstein's "A Defence of Poetry" in my Foundations of CW class this past week, with its amazing last lines, from Karl Kraus about how the closer you look at a word the stranger it appears to you. After struggling to read the poem out loud (it's written in "typos"), those unscrambled words at the end seem themselves to come out of an alien place. To see my own words on Filreis's website, from an interview with Leonard Schwartz about Dementia Blog, is itself an exercise in memorying. My recollection of my words comes in reading them back as they were spoken into a telephone a year or so ago. I would not know them otherwise. Rememory, as Toni Morrison calls it. The urban dictionary weighs in here.

--Having asked my graduate students to write their manifestos about literature, an exercise developed with Adam Aitken, I asked them to render them anti-absorptive, and for a purpose. One student rewrote hers in columns, as if in Chinese; another wrote in jejemon, a Filipino "dialect" based on mangled English, texting, and Pokemon monsters (in that order?). I can't recall what their purposes were--it was 8:45 p.m. and all of us exhausted--but the results were exhilarating.

--Finally, a shout-out to Jaimie Gusman, a Ph.D. student at UHM, who has a fresh poem on Ink Node, here. Some of my favorite lines here:

The last glint of humility
among the bank-lines of humanity.

I borrow your eyes from time to time
and from time to time I can see myself

--PS of sorts: I have given up the St. Louis Cardinals for the season (after over 40 years of fandom), since Tony LaRussa and Albert Pujols attended Glenn Beck's (and Sarah Palin's) rally on the Mall. As Joe Harrington put it on Facebook, they refuse to rally otherwise. I called the Cardinals' front office to express my displeasure, only a momentary stay against confusion on my part. If I am not a Cardinals fan, then who am I?

Sunday, September 5, 2010

Ordinary Affects

Fresh off lively discussions of Katherine Stewart's book, Ordinary Affects, I look to my blog's sitemeter and find the following:

Palestinian Territory, OccupiedBethlehem

[Click the (1), as not all the information translated when I copied it]

Then I look to see who's reading which post:


Saturday, September 4, 2010

Retail Alzheimer's: What I learned from the phrase "aging in place"

I get reports about my mother every few weeks from the intermediate care person, a social worker (frequently changing) who goes to the Alzheimer's home to check in. She makes sure my mother has clothes and is in good health, all things being relative. The latest note came the other day:


I was surprised not to find Martha sitting in her chair in the TV room.
I was told she's been going to Activities so I went there to check on her.
She looked tired. Her hair needed to be done. She was not in a congenial mood. Perhaps I had woken her. We talked for a little while and then I went to speak with E the nurse. E said that Martha has been eating better and gained a couple of pounds. She was stable and aging in place. She was due to get her hair done soon.

Hope this helps.

I guess it helped, because I learned what the phrase "aging in place" refers to. I charged up google and found several websites, including one that defined the phrase as "growing older without having to move." (I guess I could have figured that out, eh?) That was what my mother always wanted to do, stay in her house. That was before she moved. So now she's aging in place for a second time, since she's been in the Alzheimer's home since 2006.

Like everything involved in elder care, this phrase has grown a cluster of acronyms, among them NAIPC, or the National Aging in Place Council. Their website features an older man and woman at the top, arms flung upward in the air with joy. The text begins: "They call them the Golden Years--and they should be just that. Your work is mostly behind you, your children are grown up and your life should be comfortable. We are here to help you." Indeed, that is how things should be, I guess: we should be able to (mostly stop working); we should have children who grow up, and we should be comfortable. That's a lot of shoulds. ("I shoulda been a contendah.") Among their functions, NAIPC claims, is to promote "National Aging in Place Week." Google that and you find out that this is none other than a week devised by NAIPC, one that results in press releases by NAIPC, which can be found on their new website. "Our goal is to provide one-stop-shopping for seniors who have problems and are searching for help," said Marty Bell of NAIPC. "This new site is designed to make it as easy as possible for seniors to find the services they need." Thus closes the circle on the metaphorically rich (a pun!) process of retiring from work and still shopping--this time for resources that will help you to "age in place."

The most interesting site I found was this one: unlike almost anything written about the elderly (or social work more generally perhaps), this site is satirical. Through the trusty method of comparison and contrast, the quoted author posits that jails serve their residents better than nursing homes do. If you want your relatives to have good care, make sure they are criminals; they would get constant care, good food, bedding, and even spiritual counseling. Put the criminals in nursing home care, and "they would get cold food, be left all alone, and unsupervised. lights off at 8pm, and showers once a week. Live in a tiny room, and pay $5000.00 per month and have no hope of ever getting out."

The larger website from which I've taken this link is called "Aging In Place, Seniors at Home." The photographs on their main pages feature happy elderly couples at home with their families. That most of the very old are women doesn't show in the photographs here, nor do we get old people who do not look healthy or poorly groomed. They also define the phrase in terms of shopping:
“'Aging in place' refers to living where you have lived for years, typically not in a health care environment, using products, services, and conveniences which allow you to remain home as circumstances change." The first page of the website is signed by Patrick Rodden, RN, Ph.D. who has his own acronym, namely "CAPS." That stands for "Certified Aging in Place Specialist."

When I went to the "Aging in Place" link to "Home Modification"--clearly an important part of making homes safe for the elderly--I found places to shop, among them "The Alzheimer's Store," whose subtitle, I guess you'd call it, is "An Ageless Design Company." Does this reflect, even within the world of Alzheimer's care, a desire to get outside the inevitable process of aging? Who knows; maybe it's just good advertising copy (not that these two things are exclusive, mind you). At the store, I find a book, Wishing on a Star, which is to the Alzheimer's patient what a children's book is to a child. Here's a description of what the book (it's a "two lap book"!) allows the reader and the receiver to do:

Styled with the appeal and simplicity of a children's book but created for adult audiences, this Two-Lap Book can serve multiple purposes:
  • Stimulate conversation and reminiscence
  • Encourage physical closeness and interaction
  • Provide a calming diversion from an upsetting episode
  • Inspire intergenerational exchanges with children
  • Increase social interaction between staff and residents
  • Promote reading skills in residents who retain their literacy
It's described as "an instant activity," one that requires no preparation. So here, in the ageless world of design, and the excruciatingly slow world of Alzheimer's, we get the ease of use that typifies good products. Ease is an important part of the marketing strategy, it seems. When I hit the link to "Who We Are," I get this description of what Ageless Design (the store's owner, as it turns out) does:
"Ageless Design Inc. is an education, information and consultation service company founded to help all of us have what we really want -- a home that is easy to live in and that enables all of us to live fuller, unhindered lives." (Among the product categories listed on another page is "spiritual," which makes me wonder how much ease there is in that.)

It's probably too easy to mock the collision of Alzheimer's with sales pitches. Such products are often helpful, and information is always already couched in sales pitches when it comes to assisted living, treatments for depression, or even textbook "adoptions." (To say nothing of adoptions themselves, alas.) Would it be possible to use other words to suggest other possible worlds ("new thresholds, new anatomies," as Hart Crane would write) in which the Alzheimer's patient has not simply moved to another level of consumerism? When I investigated the possibility that I was simply following too many .com links, instead of the .org kind, I quickly found that starting from the Aging in Place site, which is an .org got me (easily!) to a .com shop by way of the "helpful products" click.

And so, the inevitable move from reassurance to retail, from difficulty to ease, from time consumption to time savings. Does my knowledge set me free? I sure hope so, because it appears that nothing else is.

Note: when I go back to my post to edit, offers me two links in the right margins of my post: one is for Elder Day Care and the other for Elderly Care in Hawai`i. If not yet read by a human being, my post has already been absorbed somehow into advertising copy directed at none other than the post's author. Spooky.

Friday, September 3, 2010

My poem for Fred Ho

The performance artist and saxophonist, Fred Ho, is in town this week. Also see here and here. I missed his MIA performance, as it occurred between an evening class and a morning class on my week's cluttered radar. But I did make his talk yesterday to hear what he had to say about whiteness. Here's a description of his talk (which does not do justice to the full-throated ease by which he condemned white imperialism, the white working class, and settler colonists of a white stripe). Then I've pasted in my response, composed in the form of a memory card (part of a series of prose poems that begin from a line or phrase, taken more or less at random from the Collected of Wallace Stevens).

3-4:30 pm: WHITENESS IS NOT INEVITABLE! English Department Colloquium in KUY 410.

By rejecting “Manifest Destiny,” Fred Ho will make the argument for a replacement view of American History that rejects the inevitability of a white majority population and the limitations of a “race analysis” for a politics and strategy of indigenous-centrism that must be the foundation for the restoration and reinvigoration of the “national question” as a revolutionary paradigmatic shift.

The marble man remains himself in space. He is naked, green, wears only his saxophone. The central man is necessary because he is not white. A white man wears clothes, plays no sax, uses only active verbs like “colonize” or “capitalize.” The white man prefers capitals on his columns. He knows the central poem must be abstract, because details are like roaches. The white man buys Combat traps, sends troops to Kabul, Baghdad, New Orleans. But the green man plays a green sax, grows his own clothes in a city garden, constructs paradise out of a non-white palette. Avoiding the white keys, he plays notes of green, the curl upon his head a sign to other signifiers. Let there be no egrets upon this lawn, no Irish, no Polacks, no Jews, no Portuguese. Let there be only the song of the sax as it plays, not what is, but what must from henceforth be. Let none listen whose ears are not as green as a Coltrane's.

--4 September 2010