A View from the Mercy Seats

 One of the writing exercises I have my students turn in is a reflection on a transformational moment in their lives. This is my example.

My son was born dead August 24, 2010 at 9:17 a.m. Whether or not he was going to stay that way would be decided in the next several minutes.

About an hour earlier on that cloudless late August blue-sky morning seven years ago, I had looked over at my wife as she stood in the doorway of my home office with blood pouring down her legs. At moments like this everything slows down as the brain struggles to make sense out something it perceives as abnormal that it wishes it could unsee. I swear I could see every crimson drop fall splash on the blond wood floorboards in slow motion befitting a “Life on Earth” nature documentary. “I think I’m spotting,” she said, Buddha-calm. The umbilical cord that was supplying the blood she and my son shared had ruptured and what had supplied the oxygen for more than 49,896,000 heartbeats was now drowning him. The safest place he would have ever known was now the setting for his death.

There are those moments in our lives when our pleasingly satisfied normal gets cracked in half. One’s life dissolves like hot water on a sugar cube and then clarifies into a solid: a before the crack and an after the crack. Before: I’m sitting downstairs at my desk, at 8:15 a.m., preparing for our weekly editors meeting in Wakefield. With a list of what I think is going to happen for the coming five days in my notebook, I am about to get up, go upstairs to say goodbye to my three-year-old son, Nathan, my wife, Hillary, who is in her eighth month of pregnancy with our second son, Trevor Miles. With a sense of well-being and an overwhelming feeling of contentment with my beautiful family and the life I am blessed to possess, I am just about to head south into the promise of a newly-hatched day at the beginning of a newborn week. After: As I swivel to get up Hillary shuffles into the room from the bathroom door, holding a belly filled with the living expectancy of the next chapter of our lives. The realization she is a climber not a shuffler hits me, informs from the subconscious that my personal sword of Damocles threatens to slice the head off my sense of tranquility.

I look at her, drop my gaze to the hem of her robin’s-egg-blue dress and see one liquid drop fall. Blood. I get that heightened, adrenaline-fueled vision and hearing that slows down the drop so I can observe its physics as it falls: a bottom heavy globoid that smacks the floor like a rifle shot and splatters, throwing parts of itself off to all points.

 

 

 

Oh, no. God. God? You there? The response of a foxhole Christian.

My legs are leaden; fear is heavy. They do not want to walk. My tongue is shackled with the thick chains of terror; fear obstructs talk.

Get up. Be an adult, at least play the part. Do the job. That was before was just a dream; this is real life.

I get up . . .

Hillary says she will call Andrea, our midwife. I call her mother, Joyce. Hillary calmly explains to Andrea she is bleeding and doesn’t feel as if she’s in labor.  Her mother hears the taut clarity of my description of what’s happening and says she’ll be here in 15 minutes to watch Nathan. I call our sister-in-law, Susan, to ask for some maxi-pads. She asks a question along the lines of “How bad is it?” I choke on the answer. She says she’ll be right over to drive. Our midwife says to go straight to her office and she’ll call our obstetrician, Dr. Jaffe, and get things moving to get us through Triage at Women and Infants Hospital.

Susan is there within minutes and Joyce arrives just after her. By now, a maxi-pad is not adequate to catch the flow of blood and we switch to a training pant diaper. I call work to explain the change in my plans for the day and try to stay level, flat, efficient and useful. Then we help Hillary into the truck. Susan is a capable, quick driver with the side-sensory organs of a schooling fish or migrating starling and the heavy foot of a hooved mammal when controlled speed is called for. She got us into East Providence in about ten minutes without hitting anything or being hit. We park and get out, Hillary walking and holding the diaper in place as I try to at least appear to help. There are rivulets of blood running down her legs, some dried like rivers that can’t find their way to an ocean, and others still glistening, exclamation points on her skin.

Hillary has been around the crisis block. She had provided full-time care for her late husband, Scott, who died a body part at a time over five years from ALS; she saw her father taken from pancreatic cancer practically overnight; she lost a serious live-in boyfriend in a climbing accident when she was barely out of college. Last year our entire family suffered along with a nephew, who lost a son who was to have borne the name Miles in the eighth month of pregnancy. Susan was to have been his grandmother. Our son, Trevor, was to be given the middle name, Miles, to honor him. If there is such a thing as Karma Court, Hillary and Susan should qualify for lenient judgment.

We go to the reception area at the midwife’s and tell the receptionist that Hillary Gibbs is here for Andrea. Impatience barely concealed, she explains she is doing an intake, as the intakee looks at us as if we were unclean carnival trash. Words, wrapped tight in unfocused desperation and unbridled terror, were not available, as if trapped down a wormhole into a universe in which the only words are growls, howls and strangled bleats. Luckily none escaped my lungs to hiss out between my teeth and tongue. Susan saved the day. “Hillary is bleeding heavily down the backs of her legs and I think she’s scaring your other patients,” she says, leaning over the counter as if confiding a secret beauty tip.

Things then move quickly and the three of us are alone in an examination room, waiting for Andrea. She comes in and sees the diaper in which there is, along with a lot of blood, some gleaming material, like calf’s liver. Andrea takes a look at it, then studies Hillary in between the stirrups of the exam chair. She tells her she has only dilated two centimeters and doesn’t appear to be in labor. “I don’t know what I am seeing,” she says. It’s is only later it dawns on me that since there are only a handful of possibilities including the possibilities in movies such as “Rosemary’s Baby,” Andrea is trying to keep us calm. Everyone except Hillary that is, because she has been the calm one all along, walking slowly with an economy of movement and an inscrutable look on her face.

Then we enter into one of those preludes to a big moment, the looking over the edge of a cliff to see how far away is the ground, beneath – what’s the potential damage to be done if the earth onto which we are grasping slips away? We are silent, a holy, transformational moment full of import that we know will be forever trapped in our mind’s amber. We are all mouthing the word, ‘Please.’ Andrea rubs a gelatinous smear onto Hillary’s belly and puts the ultrasound microphone into the jelly. Thump-ump. Thump-ump. It’s fast, too fast; Trevor’s in crisis. but there.

Thank-you, God.

God, please stay with us. Please stay with Trevor.

Andrea tells us she will clear our passage through emergency and she makes sure I am not the one driving. I wear my heart on my sleeve even while grocery shopping, which tends to cloud the eyes with salt water. Susan gets us there in about the time it takes to make an omelet from a warmed-up pan. We go in through the emergency room doors and are whisked into an examination room and onto a table. The blood flow by now is more along the lines of mammal versus car on highway, and my Fear mutates, splits into two and starts to divide by four, eight and sixteen before I shut down that atavistic part of my mind and begin to pray. Hard.

Hillary has remained calm, quiet and tearless throughout. I can’t help but think of The Mona Lisa, a hint of smile on her face as she transfers her strength to her son. A mother showing her love by facing down and defeating fear with serenity. “Everything’s going to be fine,” I whisper, brushing her hair from her eyes. I have no idea if I believe it.

Several doctors and nurses circle the bed in a complicated choreography, asking questions in turns, starting an IV and a transfusion line. At the same time another ultrasound is taken, and there is still a heartbeat, but it is slower and fainter now, a heart still shrouded in darkness and running out of time. ‘Things are going to move very quickly,” a doctor tells us. “We are going to go upstairs and save your baby’s life.” This said by a 120-pound female, who is also pregnant, with a stethoscope around her neck. She is decisive and efficient, as heroic-seeming as John Wayne, only she is a real person really storming a real beach. “Let’s go, ask your questions on the way,” she tells all of the attendants. “Dr. Jaffe is in the building. Let’s make sure we’re ready.”

Upstairs, several nurses and doctors, about seven in all, wheel Hillary into an operating room, and I am told what to expect. Hillary is having a severe abruption of the placenta; it has split and come apart form her uterine wall. There may be a need for a general anesthesia because she is bleeding profusely and it is not clotting. They would rather use a Dura morph injection to take away all sensation from the waist down. “Please save her life,” I say, squeaking wetly. “We will,” says one of them from behind her blue surgical mask. “Someone will come down and get you into scrubs so you can be with her.”

Another squad of blue-clad nurses and doctors comes marching swiftly down the hall, slipper-covered shoes slapping purposefully on the tiled floor, like a team of Ninja sleepwalkers. They turn right, crisp as a marching band, toward the operating room. The Trevor Miles Team. I know this, like every other game, is time-dependent. I try to run the time elapsed since blood invaded the womb with how much time we are allowed to live without oxygen. I stop, knowing numbers bouncing around in my skull aren’t going to help anything. I start again: He could die from lack of oxygenated blood now that he is no longer hooked up to his mother. Lifeblood, I think. Or he could drown in the blood filling the womb. Deathblood, I counter. “Be good for my son,” I whisper to their backs as they bang through the double doors and disappear.

A nurse comes and helps me fumble and lurch into some scrubs, an action that resembles dressing up a large clumsy dog in a paper dress from the 1960s as a party prank. It seems vaguely silly for such a solemn mission. I am led into a room full of steel, chrome and purpose. My head is full of radio static. I don’t want to go in; I want to run. I am terrified.

The fear I feel stems partly from contrast in the experience between this and the birth of Nathan four years prior. Our first son was brought into the world gently and naturally in a room with just us and our midwife, lights turned low and words of murmured encouragement.  It was truly mystical moment, unfolding like a timeless and magical ritual dating back to the Day When God was Born. Celine Dion might as well have been there singing while Anne Geddes took photographs. When Nathan came out and I cut the cord, I felt as if we were in the back of a cave, closing the circle on a sacred, ancient life passage and about to start a new open-ended adventure. He was responsible for changing my name from Jon to Dad: and what would Trevor change my name to?

This birth was nothing like our first experience. The operating room was lit like the surface of a full Moon, uniform in illumination; there were no shadows, therefore no place for fear – or hope – to hide, just a bright no-nonsense light to show the facts for science to address. A hive full of people of science, and books, and hours of practice at their collective professions were all murmuring directions and counting off numbers that all added up to a cacophony.

But this was not a time for just science. At least not for me, or for Hillary, or for Trevor. As I leaned in to Hillary, with her arms spread wide to either side and tied to a post on the side of the surgical screen facing the door, one arm receiving blood from a bag attached to the top of the screen, and an IV of saline attached to the other, I kiss her forehead and we are head to head. I address her late husband, Scott, whose ashes were scattered in a garden in the front of the house we now live in, and ask for him to help her. The Ghost in the Yard. I address Miles, our nephew’s late son, employing him as a Spirit-Guide, picturing him as sitting in a tree outside the hospital. The angel in the tree. Miles, please help my son. We’ll honor who you would have been. We’ll earn this. And I talk to a God of my Understanding, which is limited, of course. I don’t deserve your help; I need your help.

There is nothing that brings a husband and wife closer than being forehead to forehead, tear duct to tear duct, whispered prayer to whispered prayer on the non-slippery side of a surgical screen. This, while a team of doctors on the other side work with great, quick urgency to save her life and that of your unborn, but struggling, son. And there is nothing like the knowledge they might not succeed to push you farther away from your hold on your own sanity and your will to keep living in a world without them. To nudge you toward a belief in something bigger than ourselves; or to push you violently away from faith that is conditional.

As I pray for my wife and Trevor amidst the bustle of the surgery team and the whooshes, and the bleats and the pings of the machinery, I have the thought that this is purgatory pinball machine we’re in. The ball is bouncing off the bells and making the walls bleat until this situation is resolved to whatever result. I free-associate as I stumble over desperate, inarticulate prayers and, oddly, remember Friedrich Nietzsche’s famous posing of the question “Is God dead?” and turn it around for my circumstance of my entreaty: “Are the dead parts of God? If Trevor dies, will I ever know him?” My mind stills and I remember to keep it simple, and I ask God to save them, making that timeworn bargain: “Take me instead of them and just give one second to see Hillary and Trevor safe and alive before you put two shiny pennies on my eyes and rake some leaves over my dead body.” Faith doesn’t work that way, I know, but still . .

Hillary looks up at me and asks me how I’m doing. She’s getting sliced from hip to hip at the top of her pelvis so that we can have a second child, and she asks me how I’m doing. (Well, dear, I don’t know about you, but my blood sugar’s a little low about now because I never really had a proper breakfast . . .) I don’t say anything that stupid, breaking my own personal record of always. I just choke on tiny, squeaky words.

 

And then it happens. Something is lifted over and to the left of the surgical screen and I see a small form, a baby, out of the corner of my eye. It’s a baby. It’s got to be Trevor, I think to myself. It can’t be Trevor, I think to myself: this baby is plum-colored with an ashy look. He’s not moving. I look away, and I am ashamed at myself. I owe it to him to look at him, I tell myself.

But first, I hedge my bets and ask the eyes above a mask on a figure sitting in front of my wife, “Is everything okay?”

“If it wasn’t going to be okay, you wouldn’t be in the room,” he says not unkindly, ending the need for further conversation.

Breaking away from the gravitational pull of terror, I look over to a small table chest-level high against the wall. There are six people, twelve arms attached to hands with instruments working in synchronic harmony like an octopus on my son, inserting a respirator mask over his face, intubating him, sticking needles in his hands while banging on his tiny chest to get it going. They are all working at once, but never get in each others’ way, thanking each other for every act of assistance. “He’s pinking up,” someone says. Time passes slower than I knew possible. It seems as if Ice Ages come and go, life forms sprout, flourish for millenniums then die and disappear. Finally: “Okay, we got a breath,” someone says. I watch this application of modern medicine that looks like an impossibly complicated card trick – now you see it, now you don’t – feeling as if I am a part of what’s going on but unequal to their abilities and station, like someone selling paintings of Elvis on black velvet outside the Louvre.

“You can come see your son,” someone says to me, gently touching my shoulder with a surgical gloved hand. I get up like someone granted a stay of execution at one minute past midnight, and know I am all I need to be right now, I am this beautiful baby boy’s father. He’s incredibly small, and yet with a tube down his throat and hunks of metal connected to wires stuck to his heart and belly, he’s as big as the entire Universe to me. I drop a pea pod-sized tear on his forehead and whisper his name “Hi, Trevor, it’s Daddy.” And he opens his eyes. As God is my witness – and He was – he opened his eyes.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Nearly nine months of expectant joy, watching the process of a life begin, and then having everything thrown into question, including two lives in peril, another boy’s life at home, and my own sober sanity. I used to think the Universe was an impossibly wide-open and vast place, unbounded and ever widening, never-ending. I believed the grandness of the Universe lay in its awesome size, in its incomprehensible denseness and its unknowable perimeter.

Now, I know better.

 

 

 

Grammar: Relaxing the Rhetorical Noose

Without judgment on its causes, intents or where it all will lead – perfect nirvana or the Final Judgment – there is a general loosening of rules, strictures and boundaries going on everywhere, in everything, by nearly everyone. Whether it be the truthiness of facts as spouted by politicians, rules of etiquette as practiced by ruffians, or the doctrinal beliefs as set by sectarians, ‘Norm’ has left the building and he ain’t coming back. Speaking of the word ain’t, it’s here and is now part of the new norm. Grammarians may quiver and quake, but some of the rules for grammar are relaxing – and that does not have to be a bad thing, except for (possibly) grammarians. There are enough rules that matter in making a written essay, story, proposal, email or presidential tweet read, well, presidential. We can build our witing on a foundation made strong and functional with these rules and still afford to lose the pointless grammar rules.

In teaching college freshmen, one of the first things I tell them is that I am not their grammarmother. Read the research, apply your critical thinking skills and write the words first; then go back and put in the traffic signs to direct the reader through your thoughts until they reach the end of your paper. Use the textbook; it has everything you need to punctuate your syntax so we can concentrate on the syntax and structure. But first and foremost, keep it simple and avoid the arcane rules that are there just so we who teach can justify our smugness and pay for our elbow patches. Accept the loosening hold of the old; then we can teach content without being anal about the language.

Here are a few areas in which we can relax:

  • Don’t get your knickers caught in a knife drawer over ending a sentence in a preposition. There’s no need to. Let’s take the sentence, That’s not a place to which I want to go. Stuffy sounding, is it not? Try: That’s not a place I want to go to. It’s more efficient and the implied action is retained, if not strengthened, by the side-by-side direct link between the verb and the preposition. Now, there are reasons to hide the preposition and highlight the verb or noun. See the sentence in the paragraph above. Why not say, “Here are a few areas we can relax in?” Because in this case you would want to end the sentence in the most relevant word to the idea you are presenting, the word relax. It is an onomatopoeia; it sounds like what it means. So its usage reinforces what you are saying. The rule here is to hide the preposition if it allows you to end the sentence in the stronger word for the biggest impact. An example here is: Death is what war is about. It just sounds more bigtime writterly to say War is about death. In the end, just write in a style you are more comfortable with, or to put it another way, with which you are most comfortable.
  • Don’t let anyone disabuse you from using the plural pronoun ‘they’ with a singular antecedent. Take the sentence: The person who made a mess in the den should take his or her clothes upstairs to his or her bedroom. In days of yore, we would substitute the ‘his/her’ twinning pronouns with a plain old ‘his’ in order to math the singular ‘person.’ But this, in addition to sounding stilted, awkward and pretentious, was leaving out half of the human race from the possibility of having a theoretical bedroom, as if womenfolk at the time weren’t allowed to possess rooms. This obviously did not fit in a world in which women were allowed to drive, vote, work – and own a bedroom. What to do? Well, the only logical way to write it without sounding like a butler in a bad English comedy is: The person who made a mess in the den should take their clothes clothes up to their bedroom. To put it another way: If anyone wants to hire me to edit their story, they should tell me. And that is whether you are a he or a she – or a them.

To close, I have many rules that we together can plunder, burn and rent asunder, as well as fixes and pointers to help you achieve the best results with your writing projects. Watch for upcoming classes and course offerings through my Facebook page, Jonathan Gibbs (Gibbswriting) or my website, Gibbswriting.com

 

 

Writing courses offered at Gibbswriting.com

I will be offering a series of writing workshops, previewed here. As a Bryant University writing professor with 40 years of experience in newspaper, magazine, business, and public relations writing, I can offer some easily digested writing techniques. The course is designed for high school students who want instruction in the skills necessary to write effective college essays, including a college entrance essay. I will offer a series of exercises, rubrics, and blueprints devised to help make writers of all skill levels better writers. I will offer one-on-one direction in the drafting, revising and perfecting of a variety of essay types: reflective, informational, analytical and persuasive.

The course will specifically teach students:

      * How to incorporate facts, examples and sources to supply evidence to inform and persuade an audience.

     * How to read and think critically in order to understand and transmit information.

      * How to reason through the argument you are making in an essay, connecting your claims to the evidence at hand.

       * How to stylistically present your claims, using tools and devices, such as transitions and word choice to best state your argument.

      * How to best present and format a paper in order to make it stand out.

More to follow . . .

Alcoholic Fruit Flies Need to Recover Quickly

Fruit flies, as a rule, will, like many humans, develop a taste for alcohol and, in time, a preference for the 15 percent solution. But the rejected flies drank a lot more on average, supping from the spiked mixture about 70 percent of the time, compared with about 50 percent for their sexually sated peers.   – The NY Times, March 15, 2012

 

Hi, my name’s Gregor S. and I’m an alcoholic fruit fly grateful to be here sober this minute.

Chorus: Hi Greg!

Well, I’ve been around these halls a long time. As a matter of fact, this minute happens to be my three-hour anniversary without a drink.

Chorus: Congratulations, Greg!

Anyway, I had my first drink at 1:18 p.m. when I was about five hours old. As a Drosophila melanogaster, it’s really no surprise I ended up drinking from fermented fruit scraps in a kitchen drain. You know, even our name – Drosophila melanogaster – should be some sort of hint about how we can’t handle even one proboscis tip, right? In Greek, it means ‘Dark-bellied dew-lover.’  I mean, how appropriate is that? Dew-lovers, that’s us all right. Confused flies with a complicated disease, that’s us. There’s a reason they say we spend the majority of our day on earth bee-sotted.  Never met a fruit cocktail I didn’t like.

Chorus: Uh-huh! (Several nod their maxillary palps in agreement.)

Fruited fly fellowship

I had a normal childhood, I guess, all things being equal. I came from a big family; 521 brothers and sisters. My mom left us alone early; I suspect she had the same disease as the rest of us in this courtship chamber. The last thing I heard her say was, “Ovipositor, out!” Never knew my dad, probably just another fly by night pairing by two barflies with holes in their souls they were trying to fill with their genital discs.  I heard later he told he was going to the larvatory and then never came back.

I went to a traditional school, was a good pupal and all that, even though I never really wormed up to metamorphosis like most fruit flies.  You know the kind that goes around bragging, “Hey, I never met a morphosis I didn’t like.’

Chorus: Laughter

I had a regular religious upbringing, even though I never really bought into the inconsistencies of timing on the Oogenesis stories. I mean the earth built in a half-hour?  Nonetheless, I absorbed all the nutrients I needed as an immature adult, went through the daily rind and all that. But inside, there was something broken in my heart tube, something I just couldn’t fix. I guess other flies have that ‘it.’ But not me.  I was always comparing my endoskeleton to other flies’ exoskeletons and coming up short.

When others went out on dates and to promogranates, I went out looking for that 15 percent solution. Nothing was too rotten for me. Talk about trying to solve a spiritual problem with a chemical solution. I had my first drink from a spoiled chokecherry. Boy, was that ever well named. Got sicker than a Spittlebug in a Vomitorium.  That stopped me from drinking again for about 15 minutes, but by then my inability to do the next right thing, as in mate, was starting to make me hum them old ‘Pharoah Moan Blues.’

Oh, I had some pupae loves, no doubt about it. There was one cute little sister Diptera got me all atremble and flying in circles for a while there. Saw her at a salad bar.  Had a haltare top on that made her pullivar pads look as delicate and pretty as dandelion tufts. Tibia-tarsus leg joint stretched from here to there. should have seen the melons she was on. Got my odorant receptors working and made my wings beat 220 times a second, I can tell you.

Chorus: Ahhhh!

Well, my antenna was up, the sex combs on my forelegs were bristling with electric lustiness and that road to marital bliss looked to be opened up like a zucchini primed for stuffing. Then . . . (compound tears appear in Greg’s compound eyes) . . . and then, well, this big beige thing came from above us and she trapped behind this invisible cage she couldn’t get out of and I couldn’t get into. Last time I saw her she was being carried away in that little prison by this big white thing. A power greater than ourselves I choose to call God. I didn’t know it at the time, but I came to believe everything happens for a reason.  I just couldn’t accept that at the time.

So I started to get buzzed regularly, as in about every 12 seconds. The glia in my midline were all askew and I had no direction. It was 4:44 p.m. I began to hang around the strainer. I spent some time near a human infant’s baby dish. ‘Shoo, fly’ never bothered me. Any place I knew the fruit was decomposing.  The fruit type didn’t matter. Prickly pear, Buffaloberry, you name it: as long as it was moldering, mildewy, putrescent, or rancid, I was there, mouthparts at the ready. Other flies avoided me, even my brothers and sisters. I was called a swill head, a sot and a disgrace to maggots. You name it; I was called it.

At one point, I think around 7:57 p.m., I tried to mate with a horsefly. Even she was looking pretty good by then. A little later I thought about torpedoing a swatch of flypaper, but I was too much of an invertebrate to have the backbone to do it.  I was living ten lifetimes in five minutes and didn’t even have the sense to get out of my own way.

By 9:42 p.m. I was sucking on a piece of old kiwi just outside a garbage can. And that was when it happened. It was the same beige thing coming down. This time with a flappy thing at the end that smacked me into, well, into tomorrow.

Chorus: Laughter

Okay, that’s enough existential talk; we all know what tomorrow brings. In any case, I did get out of the way. When the fly swatter came down and I was as close to death as a sloshed Drosophila can get and the only thing left standing on six legs was fear. That’s when I found these halls. At first I was so self-involved I was all wrapped up in myself like an orange peel.

Chorus: Ohhhhh!

No, no, no! I know what you’re thinking. I’m talking about a fresh orange peel!

Chorus: Ahhhh!

When I came in, I did what the old-timers suggested and went to 90 meetings in 90 seconds. They told me not to say I’ll never drink again in my lifetime, but instead to put down the drink one second at a time. They said to turn it over. At first my answer to that was ‘I’m a fruit fly, I can’t turn anything over.’  But I know now time takes time even if there isn’t much time. I became teachable.  I spent a lifetime in Hell and it took me only 1.2 Steps to get to Heaven.  I know some call us AA-ers a cult, but if so, it is definitely an ‘in’ sect.

Anyway, that’s enough out of me; I pass, as it is just about past my lifetime so I’ll just be another fly on the wall for this meeting. Keep it simple and coming!

Chorus: Thanks, Greg!

One fly: One day at a time, once.

 

-By Jonathan Gibbs

All rights reserved, 2012

 

Cows, birthing and the natural order of things

This week sees me being seen somewhere else. Like a neutrino moving through a particle accelerator inside a mountain faster than the speed of light. (Okay, so a second team of physicists just found neutrinos, according to their data, don’t actually move faster than the speed of light, so it turns out Einstein might have been right all along about the speed of light being the ultimate speed limit.) See: http://www.nytimes.com/2012/03/27/science/the-trouble-with-neutrinos-that-outpaced-einsteins-theory.html?ref=science

Anyway, my blog last week about cows is being guest hosted at an excellent blog spot concerning science and a host of other topics by the writer Ariele Sieling, here:  http://inlovewiththeuniverse.blogspot.com/2012/03/cows-are-diabolical-guest-blog-by.html
Ariele has a unique take on perspective throughout the Universe, so please make sure to bookmark her site.
All this has gotten me thinking even more about cows. I didn’t tell a story that affected my whole concept about birthing in last week’s, but I will now.
I used to visit a farm in Litchfield, Connecticut owned by some friends of my parents on weekends when I was about 8 to 12 years old. I’d help muck out the three horse stalls and about 20 cows and help Papa Rodenback pull stumps and plant corn and vegetables. He was thin and tough as a piece of beef jerky but much nicer. In return for this work (which mostly involved my watching this 70-year-old man work) I would get to ride one of the horses. One of the horses was lazy and hard to get going, the other was crazy and you just about had to pull the bridle through its jaw to get him to stop. I always chose the crazy one. One time he took me through a stop sign in town, but that’s another story.
One day, while I was playing idly, kicking around the fruits of four-stomached digestive matter, Papa yelled out to me to come over – “Now!” He never yelled; never even raised his voice when he was kicked by a horse, which I saw happen to him once. So I ran over. He was standing behind a cow that had her head tilted toward the heavens and was moaning like a dying sax player, obviously in great pain. Papa was holding onto her, trying to keep her calm while reaching inside her and trying to pull something out. At the time, I had no idea what that could be. I was eight. But I was about to find out.
The cow was on a slight rise near the barn, business end pointed down the dirt pathway. There was a river of stuff that looked like weak, viscous dishwater pouring out. Papa said these exact words to me “Jon, you’re not old enough to know what’s going on but you’re the only help I’ve got and I need you right now to do what I ask. She’s giving birth and her baby is coming out backwards. She’s going to die if we don’t act fast. Can you help do that?”
I said ‘yes,’ because I couldn’t say no. He had me hold on to her rear end (“She can’t kick right now,” he said reassuringly) while he reached in with both hands to what I’ll euphemistically call the cow’s nether regions and pulled. There was bellowing, grunting heavy breathing and pawing at the ground. I think the cow and Papa did some of that, too.
Long story short, we successfully helped that cow calve. Watching that calf come out in a rush, eyes wide with a look of surprise, and then stand up just minutes later like a drunk after falling off a bar stool was a wonderful, life-affirming, learning experience.
About a year later I was back at Papa’s farm and noticed the cows in a field near the stalls. I asked which one was the one we helped through parturition (a word he taught me that I never forgot). He pointed him out and went back to his chores, unaware of how unaware I was. So I got up on the fence, hopped with as much agility as a bookish kid can hop and had just landed with my U.S. Keds on when this 2,000-pound beast came charging over. I mean as in really charging like stampede angry charging. As in ‘I’m gonna get even for the leather on them penny loafers I know you got in your closet, preppie,” kind of charging.
My trip back to the other side of the fence was not a fancy, athletic hop. No, I ducked between the rails as fast as my candy-ass would propel me. The bull pulled up a little short of the fence, eyes as mean as the ones that just tried facing down the Occupy Wall Street protestors. I was shocked almost to the point of tears. A little indignant, too. I remember thinking, ‘Maybe, he forgot I was the one whom helped him out that day he was pointed in the wrong direction.’
With some help from Papa, I came to grips with the fact gratitude isn’t a concept shared by all species in a working, cross-species kind of agreement.
I have had two birthing experiences since then. My son, Nathan, was born six years ago with a classically normal delivery. Celine Dion was there singing lullabies by the bedside while Anne Geddes took photographs. I held him and the whole act was ancient, magical. There seemed to be the hushed voices of our ancestors in the room and it seemed to be lit as if from within a cave.
My second human birthing experience was two years ago and it was more like the farm experience with Papa. The placenta came loose from the baby (called a placental abruption) and the birth was, well, let’s just say there is nothing that brings a husband and wife closer than being forehead to forehead, tear duct to tear duct, whispered prayer to whispered prayer on the non-slippery side of a surgical screen as a team of doctors on the other side work with great, quick urgency to save her life and that of your unborn, struggling, son. He wasn’t getting any oxygenated blood yet was drowning in blood in the womb.
Again long story short, they delivered him by Caesarian Section and when they passed his body over the top of the screen, I made myself look. Again, I could not say ‘no.’ He was bluish gray-colored. They put him on this tiny table, the size of a telephone table, attached the paddles, gave him a jolt, someone put a tube over his mouth and the and put him in a contraption about the size of a toaster oven.
And then they said the magic words: “You can see your son now.”
I got up, went over to him and looked down at this tiny, now-pinkened face, and stammered out: “Hi, Trevor, its Daddy.” And I swear on his life – and mine, because they are the same – he opened his eyes and looked at me.

 

Cows are diabolical creatures

 

They look as innocent as babies in an advertisement for starving children.  Large, moist eyes sit unblinking over lips as flat as the Midwest horizon.  Flies buzzing about their heads fail to visibly perturb them, as if they are so resigned to their plight that their last, best revolt is to remain stoic and not give the flies the satisfaction of letting them know they are annoying. They are Zen-like in their tranquility.  They appear placid as a mountain lake, self-possessed as a Clint Eastwood cowboy.  They’d even be considered cuddly; chewing away the way they do, if they weren’t so darn large.

But these animals about which I speak are not innocents, like the children in those ads. These animals are fiendish devils. Unlike their Gangsta cousins, the Coyotes, they do not signal their malicious intent; they hide behind their calm demeanor like a snake underneath a rock outside a bunny farm. They are cowardly. They are cows.  And they are evil.

Last week a Connecticut man was charged with rustling 18 Holsteins worth $60,000 from a Tiverton farm.  That breaks down to $3,333.33. Despite the obvious – 3 is half of 6 and three sixes equals the sign of the Devil, and in this case cows being roughly half as smart as any one bureaurocrat in the Department of Agriculture, 333 is  obviously the  sign of the Devil in the cow world – I have other reasons for thinking cows are evil.

Let’s take last week’s alleged rustling.  I say alleged because I think they weren’t so much stolen, as they were willing accomplices to the crime, runaways. It is even possible they set the Connecticut man up. Let’s look at the facts: Connecticut is a richer state with a better economy and its residents have a higher per capita income than those in Rhode Island, which translates to more feed for a cow. In this case, the man alleged to have stolen them was arrested but the cows were allowed to remain on his farm in Connecticut. Sounds like a setup. Parent figure implicated and imprisoned while the child figure gets to stay home and have unlimited access to the stored food.

Just sayin’.

For the unconvinced, I offer two more compelling reasons. Covering a story about a farm in Bethlehem, Connecticut as a reporter twenty years ago, I interviewed the farm’s owner as he went about his chores and learned about feed ratios, automatic milking machines and finally we got around to the artificial insemination part. He was saving the best for last.  Now, to artificially inseminate a cow, you have this syringe-like device containing the thawed semen from some hot, random bull that who’s been coaxed into absentee fatherhood much in the same way David Crosby fathered a child with Melissa Ethridge.  You take that syringe and introduce the business end to the cow’s uterus just in front of the cervix. Now, the cow’s uterus isn’t exactly handy in terms of accessibility. It’s about a yard or so away from where you are standing in place as the bridegroom. So your arm kind of disappears. The sperm is expensive and the road treacherous.

The farmer, or mid-husband as I called him, was up to his shoulder in mid-husbandry while telling me how you can tell where the proper placement is because the uterus tissue is soft and spongy while the cervix is hard and firm. What happened next is a good cautionary tale as to why one should probably concentrate on one’s task at hand. (And wrist, ulna, radius, elbow and humerus, for that matter.) Because the cow got spooked. Or something.  My guess is her evil nature got the best of her. In any case, she began to shimmy and shake from side to side, making the earth move for the poor farmer. He got lifted briefly off his feet and as the cow shook like jelly, his arm was turned to applesauce. That cow’s genital tract cracked every bone in his right arm.

After his son got him out and onto the ground, where he lay holding his arm and moaning, you know what that cow did? Turned her head and looked over her shoulder and him and shook her head up and down. Didn’t smile. Didn’t have to. I knew she was laughing inside. Then she went on chewing her cud.

The other thing makes me know cow’s are evil is when I was young, a cow – or at least a piece of one – broke my heart. Our neighborhood butcher sold not only the usual cuts of meat: flank, shank, ribs and the like; he also sold the more uninviting pieces: hooves, brains (called sweetmeats for some incomprehensible reason), intestines and tongue. It was the latter that captured my adoration. My mother brought one home in its white butcher paper, unwrapped it and when I saw that pink appendage on the red linoleum counter top, it was love at first sight. It was careless love, yes; it was doomed interspecies love, yes; it was love of raw tissue only, love of something unattached or unencumbered to any semblance of intelligence or even a central nervous system. But it was love.

I took that piece of cow tongue everywhere for as long as the affair lasted. Next door to play with Nancy Lorenson and her swing set. To the basement where we played with my toy soldiers. I’d shake her up and down to make her mime. That ungulate could undulate. And that tongue went to bed with me, sleeping under my pillow. We talked all night. That tongue and I, we were tied. We were tasteful buds, both on the path to salivation. Or at least I thought we were.

You all know how such stories end. She left me. Five days and something spoiled her love for me. Left, without a note, nothing. No kind words about how it was for the best, or whatever. Not even a tongue-lashing. Just gone. My mom did look as if she knew something but she never let on. The cow’s tongue broke my heart, and there’s a part of it that’s still broken.

It’s not the heat; it’s the stupidity

But this isn’t about me, or my heart. This is about what these fast-food, artery-clogging, fat-implanting beasts are doing to us, Homo sapiens, as a species. We need to unite against these creatures before it’s too late, and we all have a steak in this. If it were not for Louis Pasteur, they would have poisoned us all already. They are execrable excrement creators who conspire to leave us clouded in malodorous methane gas that threatens to kill off all life on earth. Would I be surprised then that a herd of cows would frame someone for stealing them when it was really they who stole away for a better life on the other side of the fence? Heck, no. Cows, I say, are heinous, malevolent creatures. Nothing a cow would do – and its mostly nothing they do – would surprise me.

 

Who I am and why I am writing this

I currently teach young live humans at a major university, Bryant, after a long career in newspapers. My first blogs will be about random topics that interest me. I will be offering some practical writing lessons for writers – and that is the real reason for this site. In addition to teaching writing, I have edited several books and ghostwritten several, and want to make myself available to do more of this sort of work through this website. Rates are reasonable for the quality and dedication to the task I offer.  Inquiries can be made through this site, or through Jonathangibbs@mac.com.
Generally, I believe having a blog makes one a legitimate journalist just about as much as owning steak knife makes one a heart surgeon. You might get lucky and clear a path to the truth by unclogging a blockage, but you’re more likely to end up with someone else’s blood on your shoes.
That said, I was a journalist long enough to see six U.S. Presidents inaugurated, or put another way, long enough to observe nine life cycles of the Vietnamese mossy frog. I’ve covered politics, school boards, land use committees and enough other beats to know why they call them beats. (Because they do.)
I left news writing in October of 2011, stepping down as the editor of two weekly newspapers in southern Rhode Island to begin another career as my own boss. Now I edit books for aspiring authors, write public relations copy, children’s stories, a novel, grants, freelance articles and I put on seminars about writing and nature for schools. If you need any of those services, I am your man.
As far as my blogging goes, I will be taking on topics that strike my fancy, some will be striking my fancy like bugs hitting my windshield at a safe and comfortable 55 miles per hour and others will be unearthed like a herpetologist collecting the eggs of an Eastern diamondback rattler. They won’t usually reflect anything other than what I think about whatever I may be thinking about. After all, blogging is – and should be, a birthing place of ideas, a digital Caesarian, if you will. It’s a diary, a Web log, I know; but please excuse me in advance if I make it more like a combination of blather and flog if I go on a diatribe about something. The genre encourages solitary adventures into one’s own set of beliefs and thoughts, so one could make a case it is designed for the self-absorbed, or at least for the self-fascinated.
I will be writing about politics, parenting, natural history, books, education, religion, running, science and almost anything else. I hope you read it and respond to what I have to say. After al,  I have the tools: a computer with an Internet connection, a keyboard, some time on my hands with fingertips at their ends with which to strike the keys and plenty to say. Although, you gentle reader (or not-so-gentle reader, who I am to say), will be the ultimate judge of that. My role, as I see it, will be to throw some cooked, verbal spaghetti against the wall to see what sticks