Sunday, June 30, 2013

World War Z is not World War Z

Max Brooks' World War Z: An Oral History of the Zombie War is one of my favorite books. I've read it three times and I'm sure I'll read it three more times. It chronicles the global invasion of zombies and how each country responds to the crisis. Each of the book's dozens of chapters is narrated by a different character who tells of their terrifying experience . We hear from a doctor in rural China, a Russian soldier, an English historian, a Brazilian surgeon, and others in the U.S., Canada, Iraq, South Africa, France, India, etc. Brooks' novel truly has a global scope with characters you'd willingly follow much further than the several pages each is given.

The book is fast-paced and riveting because each character is telling the heart of their experience with "Zack" (as the U.S. military refers to the zombies). Some characters tell of the very beginning of the outbreaks, others describe the worst of the panic, and by the end we're hearing how nations manage the onslaught and start to rebuild civilization. It's a gripping story and one of my favorite aspects is the nightmarish ruthlessness that governments must show their own populations in order for the human race to survive. Their ultimate way to fight the zombies is a horrible, yet fascinating solution (you've gotta read it).

But none of that is in the movie. In fact the only thing World War Z The Movie has in common with World War Z The Book is that they both have the words "world' "war" and"z" in their titles. It bothers me that the incredible movie that Max Brooks' story could have been, isn't going to happen because the rights to the script have been legally secured by the production company that created the film starring Brad Pitt.

Compared to the book, the movie is boring. It contains none of the characters or story lines from the novel. The movie focuses on Mr. Everyman, a guy named Gerry (Pitt) as he endeavors to solve the zombie problem so he can save his family (I'm so tired of movies that star a man trying to save his family). The movie spends its first half hour just establishing that this is a happy family, now they're facing trouble and now the man is forced to leave his family to go fight the monsters. We see the standard resistance from the wife who ultimately agrees that the best thing is for the man to go save the world. Yawn. Let's get on with it.

Because the movie follows Gerry (Pitt), it can give only a limited view of the panic and slaughter. It doesn't show the solutions different countries try, it doesn't show the extent to which humans turn on each other, it doesn't show dozens of instances of people at their best and their worst and it doesn't show zombie-horrific snapshots of the lives of military, astronauts, children, entrepreneurs, celebrities, dog handlers, cybergeeks and regular people all over the world. Brooks' novel is incredible in its scope and sobering in its commentary on human nature. The movie is your basic regular-guy-saves-the-world, although it does have a surprisingly original climax and a very creative solution to the zombie problem (that has nothing to do with the book).

If you want a blockbuster thriller with characters you don't have to think about, big dramatic explosions, a race-against-the-clock premise and lots and lots of gore, Brad Pitts' movie is it. It's definitely a fun way to kill a couple of hours in an air conditioned theater. I'd even go so far as to say it's a good movie because it really did impress me with its originality at the end. It's just not Max Brooks' World War Z. I'm still waiting for that movie.

the big secret

The big secret I referred to on my blog last month was that my mother was in hospice care. That's why so many of my June posts were about death. My mother and I had been estranged for years, but we managed to say a loving good-bye when I flew out to California during the first week in June. At her funeral last week, my main emotions were peace and gratitude.

Thursday, June 20, 2013

Avoiding one's home town

Is there anyone else out there who avoids their home town because going there doesn't evoke good memories? Today I head out there one more time. It seems many people enjoy visiting the place they grew up because there are still people there who they enjoy seeing: family, old friends, past neighbors, etc. Or they might just like visiting their former home or school or places they used to hang out with friends.

I've broken most of my ties to the place where I grew up: Walnut Creek, California USA. I haven't kept in touch with school friends or anyone else who still lives there, with the exception of my parents (now just my dad). The rest of my family doesn't live in Walnut Creek. My parents raised me and my sister far from our grandparents, cousins and other family. I now visit those relatives where they live, elsewhere.

When it comes to Walnut Creek, I prefer elsewhere.

Yeah, I know. Walnut Creek CA is pretty.

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Now I know

I agreed to get a dog in 2011 because my husband wanted one very badly, but now we're splitting up. Ozzie did make my husband very happy, but he didn't make me nearly as happy and mainly just added to my workload. I was okay with that while I believed that Ozzie was making Bob happier which would make our marriage happier. But now that our marriage is over, I'm tired of walking Ozzie, feeding him and having to come home to walk him and feed him. My patience with and fondness for this animal are declining again.

The past two years have not made me a dog person. Ozzie will stay with Bob and my personal dog experiment will end. Ozzie's cute and I'll probably miss him, but I didn't get the results I was looking for so I'm returning to a dog-free life, which is my natural state.
Ozzie, a 50-pound pit bull mix, who will stay with my husband.

Monday, June 17, 2013

What not to say when someone dies, Part II

When someone is telling you about a death in the family, or when you're at a wake or a funeral, try not to let your personal feelings about death get in the way. The friends and family of a bereaved person often see the death as a horrifying thing and make considerable efforts to comfort the bereaved. That's not always necessary. Sometimes the bereaved has already done their mourning and doesn't need to plunge back into sadness.

Friends and family often remember their own experiences with death and assume the bereaved is going through the same thing. It's safe to assume they're not or at least not in the same way. Hearing about the death of someone's father, for instance, might bring up your grief and sorrow about your father's death. Express that somewhere else. It doesn't belong in the face of the bereaved who might or might not feel similarly.

Say little. Listen. Put your past experiences about death aside and try to give the bereaved what they need. This can be very difficult if what the bereaved needs is the opposite of what you would need. Maybe you'd need a hug or a drink, but they don't. Maybe you like to think about heaven, but they don't believe in it. Maybe they need to acknowledge that the dead person wasn't the best person in the world, which you would never do. This is especially not the time to try to convince the bereaved of your religious or spiritual beliefs. Saying that the dead person will always be with us doesn't sound equally comforting to everyone. Tune in to what the bereaved needs and don't start teaching, even if your pitch is about Buddhism or B'hai or other seemingly current, inoffensive beliefs.

(If the bereaved is an atheist, please don't talk about God or the Universe or anything like that. That stuff makes the speaker feel better, not the bereaved.)

What I'm suggesting is difficult. It requires putting aside your standard mourning responses and your canned I'm sorry's. The best strategy is to stick to questions and then actually listen to the answers. Start by asking, "How are you?" This is a particularly good way to start if the bereaved had a complicated relationship with the dead person. You might ask, "What do you need right now?" Or you might ask how other family members are doing. Use open ended questions to let the bereaved guide the conversation. Let them share what they need to share. Or not.

If all you can think of to say are platitudes, personal stories and what you believe about "the Afterlife," just spend a moment with them in silence. Feel free to end the encounter by saying, "I'm thinking of you," and move away. Chances are, they're ready for you to move away.

Part I of this series is here.

Monday, June 10, 2013

What not to say when someone dies, Part I

When trying to give emotional support to someone experiencing the death of a loved one, don't:

- express your gratitude that you aren't going through a similar experience.
- mention that hearing of this death reminds you to check your own health.
- turn to your companion/partner/parent and chide them because they might die of the same thing.
- go into a detailed anecdote about yourself or your family or a friend who died. It it's truly relevant to the grieving person's situation, at least keep your personal story short.

And stuff like that. Keep the focus on the person in need, even if that means simply shutting up and listening.

Part II of this series is here.

Sunday, June 09, 2013


Not everyone goes running to their parent's death bed:

In fact many people take their time, if they show up at all, but just don't talk about it.

Saturday, June 08, 2013

Dying wishes

When a dying wish conflicts with the needs of the living, which should take priority? Some extreme cases would be pretty easy to call: if a person's last wish is that a friend should go murder her ex-husband, the friend might not have trouble disobeying. But what about less severe cases? A friend told me of a terminally ill woman who felt so worried about leaving her dog behind that she made her daughter promise to have the dog euthanized after the woman died. The daughter promised, but after the woman passed, she made the decision to find the dog another home instead. The dog now lives with another family. Should the daughter live with the eternal guilt of having disobeyed her mother's dying wish? Many people might say no.

So where's the cutoff point? If a dying man makes his son swear not to tell the man's ex-wife (the son's mother) that he's dying, how obligated is the son to make that promise and keep it? Should the son make the promise to give his father peace, but tell his mother anyway? Should the son just do as his father says? What about the long-term effects of such a secret on the relationship between the mother and son? If the son has a strong relationship with both, and knows his mother will never forgive him for not telling, but the father will never forgive him for telling, which way does he go?

I say the son should focus on the relationship that will serve him the longest: his relationship with his mother. He'll have to face her for the rest of her life, and if she's an important part of his emotional support, he'll need her as his dad fades out.

Many think a person's imminent death gives the dying person's desires priority over everyone else's, but I disagree. If a dying person's last wish is too unreasonable or damaging, I believe it's the prerogative of others to disobey it, and maybe even lie about it to keep the dying person at peace. We have to take care of ourselves and not let short-term, unrealistic expectations sink us at a time when we need the support of others. I say don't burn bridges with the living to appease the dying. Better to risk the terminally ill hating you for the rest of their lives rather than the healthy people.

Thursday, June 06, 2013

There are no religious in the throes of death

There's an expression that "there are no atheists in foxholes." I don't like this expression because I'm an atheist and I'd like to think I wouldn't capitulate like that, but who knows. I also once read a piece by an atheist soldier who claimed from personal experience that that statement isn't true. His words made me feel relieved. Still the saying stands.

A friend who's a chaplain and has seen a lot of dying people offers me this: "there are no religious in the throes of death." What she means is that even those who've lived their lives knowing that we pass on to a better place, still feel scared when facing their own time to go. I'm sure there are exceptions to this generalization (as there are to the other one), but I trust that it's true enough. Why would knowing that the arms of Jesus are waiting make it easy to leave the people you love and the only existence you know?

I've lived my whole life feeling scared, although I'm finally breaking free of those fears. I know what it's like to be in so much emotional pain that I wished I could die. But suicidal impulses still contain agency: you're in control. You're choosing to end your life. That's hugely different from facing a death that has come to you unwanted. How horrible to be fearfully dragged towards your own end, fighting the whole way. And yet that describes all of us, every day of our lives.

Wednesday, June 05, 2013

Mother's English Tea Cookies

These have been my favorite cookies for a long time. Only stores on the West Coast of the USA carry them. I can't get them in Chicago, but I grew up with them and try to bring some back whenever I'm out there. I've been known to blow through a whole package in no time at all. I love them. This time I brought back one package of these and one package of Mother's Double Fudge Cookies. I got back in last night.

Strangely, I have no appetite for them. They sit in my kitchen unopened.