Sunday, November 29, 2009

The Delusion and Yearning for "Normal Time" / Lloyd



INTRO NOTE: 6 years ago this month we were upon interesting times in our family.  I was home recuperating from surgery, Judy was about to have her thyroid irradiated with radioactive iodine. This is treatment for hyperthyroidism, where thyroid tissue is destroyed and the patient takes thyroid hormone daily the rest of her life.


Judy's endocrinologist had simply scratched out this order on a standard prescription pad and told her drop by her local hospital radiology department for the medication whenever she had time.


Radiology said she had to have an appointment with nuclear medicine, that she’d be radioactive for a couple of days, and that she’d have to isolate herself-- especially from small children, pregnant women, her seminary class students, and her elderly father.  And get no closer than 3 feet to everyone else, plus many other precautions. Wow!

I was reading Michael Chabon’s recently published Manhood for Amateurs: The Pleasures and Regrets of a Husband, Father, and Son, 2009 as these interesting times were unfolding. Here are remarkable insights excerpted from his reflections on “Normal Time” (pg 275 ff):  


“We’ve had a run of crazy stuff going on around here lately, culminating (for the moment) with global economic collapse and my mother-in-law’s suffering an injury that looks as if it may permanently alter the contour and quality of her life, as well as the whole family’s—a pair of calamities that followed on a series of unpleasant surprises, diagnoses, minor crises, the dog undergoing a “spinal stroke,” professional setbacks, sorrows in the second  grade . . . and all the usual, unusual alarums and disruptions that result when six people and a Bernese mountain dog, requiring various mental, emotional, and physical accommodations, therapies, and treatments, conduct an ongoing experiment in measuring mutual interference in one another’s reality distortion fields by sharing a house in Berkeley, California, a place that may, at any moment—which will, given the way things have been going on lately-- be destroyed by a massive once-a-millennium earthquake, or by a raging October wildfire, or by the fire that immediately follows the earthquake. . .


“The thing is, we are six lucky people (and a dog), and all our needs and desires are amply met. We have set up the household to run smoothly when possible and to recover quickly when smooth is not an option. The children do their chores and their homework, the adults our work as spouses, parents, and writers, and if you took a sample of any random hour any day, if you employed some human calculus to arrest our progress, to ascertain our state at any given instant, you would find contentment with one another’s company, love and respect, a fruitful exchange of ideas, compulsive storytelling, joking around, even the odd outbreak of peace and quiet. But since this thing with my poor mother-in-law (broken femur, shattered wrist), I’ve been sitting here trying to figure out how long it has been since the days around here have been normal. Steady. Routine. Productive. Neither beset not fraught nor teetering on some brink of disaster, free of emergency and crisis. I spend a lot of time thinking about, wishing for, working to arrange and to render inevitable, the return to our lives of Normal Time. And yet in trying to work my way back to the last golden era, I find myself casting my memory so far that the exercise begins to call into the question the very idea . . . that there has ever been such a time. It turns out that the whole thing may be a delusion. . .


“. . . this utopian or millenarian yearning for the coming days of Normal Time, of time to spare, of time in plenty. Time not just for work and reflection and unhurried lovemaking but for all kinds of fine and tiny things. Time to learn German. Time to print out the digital photos and reorganize the albums. Time to lavish on my younger children as I seem to have lavished it on their older siblings (though back then I thought there was never enough time for anything). Time for regular lunches with my mother. Time to get deep into a baseball season again, to linger over the box scores in the morning, to watch a meaningless game between teams I don’t care about, just out of fondness for the game. . . Time simply to stretch out, to play with, to dandle and dilate and waste with my children and my wife.


“Instead it’s just, as Arnold Toynbee or Henry Ford or Dr. McCoy used to say of history, one damn thing after another, and often several damn things at the same time, overlapping swaths of color on the digital calendar, conflicts and cancellations, two tasks half-done badly where one might have been pulled off in style. There is never, in the words of Irish poet Tom Paulin, any “long lulled pause / before history happens.” Only days after my wife and I guided our last baby into kindergarten, we began preparing in earnest to send our half-grown woman off to high school next fall; in the interval, the stock market crashed and my mother-in-law fell down a flight of stairs. There is no Normal Time, or rather, this is it, with all its accidents and discontinuities. With a breathtaking sequence, your last child leaves home, gets married, has children, and then you fall and break your leg, and the next thing you know, you’re approaching  . . . The end, unless the end, too, is a delusion.  After that, either way, there is no time at all. . .”

__________________________________________

COMMENT: When working through Chabon's writing it helps to know that as a youth Woodie Allen's movie Annie Hall had a major impact on his attitude towards life--be suspicious about anything good happening. The signature Yiddish minor key in music and life is dominant.

My son Ben put a more positive spin on crazy times: 

“If all kinds of things seem to be going wrong in your life, don’t think, ‘The system is broken in my case.’ Realize that this is the system. Might as well enjoy it.”

Elder Dallin H. Oaks addresses making the most of limited resources through priorities in "Good, Better, Best." 

He also demonstrates a more expansive vision of mortality in the YouTube video, "In the Spirit of Thanksgiving."


3 comments:

  1. You know, I have been doing the same thing for almost a year now. This whole moving thing has taken over my life. I keep telling myself it will get better, that things will get back to "normal." "Normal is such an elusive, but comforting thought. I suppose though, that this is life and you do the best you can and don't stress about the rest.

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  2. Thanks, Dad. I enjoyed this post. I just don't understand why time has to speed up at such a rate. It is interesting to me to see ellen and her family living at a slower pace right here in our house while we are always behind and exhausted.

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  3. Actually, this may be my favorite part of the quote: “The thing is, we are six lucky people (and a dog), and all our needs and desires are amply met. We have set up the household to run smoothly when possible and to recover quickly when smooth is not an option. The children do their chores and their homework, the adults our work as spouses, parents, and writers, and if you took a sample of any random hour any day, if you employed some human calculus to arrest our progress, to ascertain our state at any given instant, you would find contentment with one another’s company, love and respect, a fruitful exchange of ideas, compulsive storytelling, joking around, even the odd outbreak of peace and quiet." Dad

    ReplyDelete

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