Jake died in a hospital. That was on my mind yesterday when I accompanied Chris to a hospital for gallbladder surgery. It was a different hospital, but the memories flooded back a few times as I stood beside Chris' bed in the outpatient prep and recovery rooms.
I have little experience with hospitals, and I wasn't prepared to be Jake's advocate. Jake made a good advocate for himself. I was grateful when he spoke up. But truly, even though hospitals pay lip service to patient advocacy, the doctors and the nurses always have command and control because they work there. They have the most experience. We as patients and patient families are at their mercy.
I still feel uncomfortable and out of my element in hospitals. I hope I don't have to go back to one.
I've let this blog languish for almost a year now. In that year, we found out that my son, Jake, had Crohn's disease. He underwent a hospital stay for treatment about this time last year. He went into the hospital for bowel resection surgery in August. He died Aug. 30, 2009. I was with him at the hospital.
I have thought about posts I wanted to write about Jake, and I have done a few notes on Facebook. But I have been afraid or too despondent or ... something to write about him and about his death on this blog. Today, something made me want to start again.
I made instant oatmeal for breakfast this morning and used the last of a jar of cinnamon sugar. As I threw the empty container in the trash can, I thought about how old that jar was. It was so old that I bought it when Jake still liked to eat cinnamon toast. I think he might have still been in middle school (8 or 9 years ago) when he stopped liking cinnamon toast.
Finishing up that jar reminded me how many things I have done that take Jake out of my life. In the weeks and months after his death, as I canceled his cell phone and closed his bank accounts, it felt as if I were erasing his existence. I cried every time I hung up the phone or sent a letter that meant the end of Jake.
To comfort me, I am sure, people would say that Jake isn't erased. He lives on in memory and in photos and in my heart. It is true that I have him in my heart always, but that offers me little comfort. I want him here with me. I want his living, breathing, thinking self here with me. I want him to be able to grow old and have all the things I dreamed of for him and that he dreamed of for himself.
Each time I do something that takes him further out of my life, it tears at my soul.
I got another chance to try out for "Jeopardy!" (I tried out in October 2006 in Atlanta after taking the online test.)
This audition was May 31 in Washington. Jake and I drove up the day before, on Saturday. We parked the car at the Metro station in Franconia-Springfield and took the Metro into Washington. We visited the Newseum, which was not open in 2008 when we visited during Jake's spring break. The building has striking views of the Capitol. The photo at right shows Jake on the concourse. The weather was beautiful that day, too.Jake and I enjoyed the exhibits, but we didn't try our hand at being a TV reporter. (Jake was the anchor for the morning news in his high school, so he has experience in reading the news.)
We had to go back out to Franconia to get our bags and check into the Capital Hilton, which was just across the street from the St. Regis, where the "Jeopardy!" audition was to be held. The Hilton's rate was pretty good for a hotel right off K Street. Of course, we couldn't afford to eat there. As Jake noticed right away, a glass of orange juice on the room service menu was $7.
We had planned to visit the newly renovated Smithsonian Museum of American History, but I realized that a folder with papers I needed for the audition were still in the car. To get a new printout from my computer would have cost more than the subway ride for the two of us, so off we went back out to the Franconia station. We did stop at Crystal City and Pentagon City to eat, and Jake bought a souvenir Washington Nationals cap, so the trip wasn't a total time killer. Still, I wish I had not been forgetful. Jake does like to ride the Metro, but even he had his fill that day.
The audition was at 9 a.m. Sunday. I dressed in a pantsuit (dark plum -- or maybe aubergine) and walked over about 8:40. (Jake walked with me and said goodbye in the lobby.) Contestant coordinators Maggie and Corina were there to greet those of us trying out. We filled out an application and Maggie took Polaroids of us. (Yes, as Maggie noted, they are still using that old technology.)
At 9, we filed into the conference room where we sat at tables of three seats each. I went for the front table on the left. There were about 20 people in the tryout. Maggie introduced herself and put everyone at ease by being funny and enthusiastic. She reminded us that we were there for a GAME SHOW, so we should have fun. She talked a little about the game and what we'd be doing for the next couple of hours.
First, we had to take a 50-question test that ranged across various categories. The answers appeared on the screen with a member of the Clue Crew reading them. We merely had to write down the main word; in other words, we didn't not have to phrase it in the form of a question. We had 8 seconds to answer each question. I knew a lot of the answers. There were maybe 5 or 6 that I flat didn't know. Once we finished, Maggie and Corina graded the tests. They didn't tell any of us how we did, so I have no idea if I had a good score or not. I think I got at least 40 right and probably more, but I could be deluding myself.
Then we played the mock game, three of us at a time. We stood at the front before a table with Maggie, Corina and Keith (another staff member), and held the signaling devices just like the ones on the show. I was first in my group, so I chose first. I can't remember much about the questions I gave (we DID have to answer with questions in the mock game.) I couldn't say anyway because we were urged not to give away anything about the test or the mock game answers. As Maggie put it, we'd just be helping our possible future competitors! We played a few minutes. I certainly held my own against two much younger, very smart competitors. (I will say that one answer I missed really made me want to slap my head!) I was enthusiastic and tried to speak up. I tried to be quick in answering and choosing the next category. After we set down our signaling devices, Maggie interviewed us.
Everyone got a chance to play, so I have a good idea of the other folks in the room. Everyone was smart and quick, and many of them had interesting things to say during their interviews.
Maggie and Corina said the show looks for contestants who do well on the test and are enthusiastic players during the mock game. Beyond that, the show's producers want people from a variety of backgrounds and places across the country. I figure that if they are looking for an over-50 woman from the South, I have a chance to get on. From what I have seen, the show takes people of all shapes and sizes. Maggie noted that lawyers, teachers and librarians are quite well-represented; journalists seem to be, too.
We finished up about 11:30 and I was still smiling and enjoying myself right up until the end. Maggie said we'd be on the list of possible contestants for 18 months from the date of the audition. She said they call about three weeks ahead of the show date, so people can arrange air travel and time off work. Contestants have to pay their own way to California and their own expenses (the show has a hotel that offers a special rate). But if you are a winner at the end of a taping, the show will pick up your air fare to come back for the next taping. But even if you are called to California, you might not get on the show. It just depends on how the play goes. Here is a Contestants FAQ from the Web site.
Even if I never get called, though, I loved trying out!!
As I am writing this, I am listening to a Dick Cavett interview with John Updike and John Cheever, posted on Cavett's New York Times blog. It's lovely to listen to these two great writers speak in complete sentences with round vowels. They were giants of 20th century literature. I like Cheever more than Updike, but both wrote Literature when that pursuit was something important.
Listening to them reminds me of a thought I've had recently: about the fall of the WASP princes. It seems to me that the world was run by white men (not just white Anglo-Saxon Protestants, but Jewish and Catholic men, too) for most of my life. It was the world of "Mad Men."
Newsrooms were run by men when I began working more than 30 years ago, although journalism has long had more women than many other businesses and occupations. Now, it seems that the changes that are shaking newspapers to the core seem to be affecting middle-age men disproportionately.
Many of the people who are being laid off at my newspaper are middle-age white men. Among them are people I like and respect, writers and editors who have worked hard and well for years. I worry that these men will face an especially tought time when they leave The N&O. I wonder if they are bearing more than their share of the sacrifice. Of course, it could just be that they are the most numerous and highest-paid group in our newsroom. It could also be that they seem more expendable, that their services are just no longer needed. It could also be karma: They ran the show for all these many years and now it's time for them to move over for others. There could be office politics involved that I am not privy to. The executive editor, who is apparently staying, and two of three senior editors are middle-age white men, so I can't say that white men are no longer in charge.
Princes do still run the world. We have a dark-skinned president for the first time, and he too seems like a prince: smart, handsome, well-educated, successful and charismatic -- especially capable of getting people to follow him.
I am not sorry that white men are sharing power now. It's just different. Sometimes they've made a mess of things: starting wars, causing economic upheaval, running companies with too much debt and a failing business model. But they also fight those wars and lead us out of dark times. The best of the princes are courageous and brilliant, and I hate to see their contributions denigrated.
Maybe I do have a dog in the fight because my father, brothers, husband and son are all white men. Maybe I am just feeling vulnerable. Maybe I am just worried for my colleagues.
Today is warm and sunny in our part of North Carolina so Chris and I put up the new tent we got for Christmas. It's huge -- 8 feet by 16 feet! It wasn't too hard to put up, but we needed both of us to get it done.
We plan to use it for the first time at Merlefest in April. We set it up in the side yard. It should be plenty big enough for us and all our gear. We went out and bought a new air mattress too -- a queen-size that is double height. That should make it easier to get out of. As you can see in the photo, the tent has good headroom.
I am looking forward to using it -- sort of. Camping is fine, and I like going to Merlefest, but in truth, I do it mostly because Chris enjoys it so much.
About Merlefest, Linda Ronstadt has been added to the lineup. She plays on Sunday afternoon.
Work has been very busy lately. We rolled out CCI, our new publishing system, in Features last month, and this week, Feb. 9, we begin producing the business and editiorial pages on CCI. I will be working mostly in Editorial for the next couple of weeks while half the editorial staff of four people gets trained. I am not worried about the system working. It works. We just have to learn more about how to use it. I realized just this week, after using CCI for several months, that I could be working in a way that would be easier. It's too arcane to explain in this space, but I felt dumb when I realized what I should have known at least eight weeks ago.
We got more bad news at work this past week. More staffing cuts are coming, and we're shrinking the paper again. The executive editor also told the Features staff that we are considering merging our staff with that of the Charlotte Observer. I expect that by the end of the year, we will more integrated on the copy and design desks, too. It's very depressing and distressing to think about more layoffs. I can't do much about my future except to keep working as hard as I always have. I just have to hope for the best for both Chris and me.
Our Christmas was a low-key affair. Jake was surprised to find a Wii under the tree. I had suggested that it might be fun to have a Wii, but then I let the matter drop. I am glad we got it. It's fun to play, and we can all participate. Chris and I gave each a cabin tent so we'll have plenty of room when we go to Merlefest in April. We got a call from Uncle David, Chris's brother, who was visiting Texas from his new home in the Netherlands. We also talked briefly to Chris's dad, George, and to my parents, Asa and Betty.
Chris and Jake went to Fayetteville today (Dec. 26) to see George, and we're all going to Catawba County on Saturday to see my folks and have lunch with my brothers.
McClatchy stock price dropped to 60 cents a share Tuesday. I know that people say we can't go under, that we are not going to go under, but it worries me nonetheless. How can we survive as a public company when the stock is nearly worthless? The worst of the recession hasn't even hit yet, and the first quarter is always the worst for advertising.
Of course, the only thing I can do is keep working, keep plugging away at my job.
This has been a sad year at my workplace, The News & Observer. We've had layoffs and buyouts because of the our falling revenue and deep debt. We have lost pages of content along with losing smart and talented journalists. We are all worried and scared about the future of the company and our own futures.
Worse and most heartbreaking of all have been the deaths of two former colleagues. Kathy Williams, who was an editor on the news side, died Oct. 30, and now, just a month later, Weta Ray Clark, who was an editor in the Features department, has died. Both Kathy and Weta had left during the buyouts after suffering ill health for a while.
Weta had lymphoma, and she fought it long and hard. I thought she might beat it. The last time I saw her, when we had a sendoff for people who were taking the buyout, she looked puffy from the treatment, but she seemed as cheerful and energetic as ever. She was a very pretty woman with a lovely smile and a funny sense of humor.
Weta was a good editor -- a real journalist. She was creative and worked hard to make her sections engaging and exciting. Sometimes our different interests butted hard against the other. I like for the trains to run on time, and that is not always the way things work. I was frustrated at times with Weta (or maybe more with the circumstances than with her personally), as she was with me. But in the end, I hope Weta knew how much I respected her.
We have satellite TV now. The dish is in our backyard, pointed at a 45-degree angle to the southwest. We get loads of channels. On Election Night, Chris was able to scroll through all the news channels to keep up with everything. I have more channels to choose from on the TV I watch while I am on the treadmill. (I walked Monday through Friday this week.) All is well so far.
Election Night was exciting. It was stirring to watch the crowd gathered in Grant Park in Chicago. Barack Obama waged a superlative campaign. Like a lot of Americans, I am trying to keep my expectations in check. I hope Obama is able to do something about the Iraq war and about the economy. But we all need some patience.
In our personal Nelson household economy, we are still OK, but I worry that McClatchy will need to cut more jobs after the first of the year. I wonder how long we'll be able to publish a daily newspaper.