By Kevin Ryan
Posted on August 13th, 2018
Long ago in a galaxy far, far away, I said I was going to write a blog post about my five favorite Great Courses lectures. So away we go… in no particular order…
Classical Archaeology of Ancient Greece and Rome
Fun to hear about all the different sites and think about the people that lived then. Wish I had got the video version of this lecture.
Philosophy of Mind: Brains, Consciousness, and Thinking Machines
Wonderful overview of computers and Artificial Intelligence. Searle’s Chinese Room Argument is brilliant. On a similar tack, I want to read Penrose’s The Emperor’s New Mind again.
Great Masters: Shostakovich – His Life and Music
The story of a composer who survived Stalin’s terror and lived into the early 197os. Think about some of your colleagues in whatever your vocation/job/craft is. Now imagine a sizable portion of them being executed by the state. I ended up getting a collection of his 15 Symphonies. The 10th Symphony is about Stalin – written right after he died. The 2nd movement “is a musical portrait of Stalin” – Shostakovich. You can hear the menace in the 2nd movement: https://youtu.be/XKXQzs6Y5BY?t=27m51s
Hamlet, Othello, King Lear, Macbeth, Antony and Cleopatra, Coriolanus. Each of these plays had three or four lectures. Enjoyed these because they filled in a knowledge gap for me. Listened to the Macbeth lecture just before seeing play at Willamette University in Salem.
History of Ancient Egypt
Forty eight lectures starting from prehistoric Egypt and ending at Cleopatra. Sweeping overview. It is amazing to see how many years this covers. Cleopatra was roughly 2,000 years before today. The pyramids were built over 2,500 before her!
By Kevin Ryan
Posted on December 24th, 2017
We live in Shaver Lake, California. Fresno is an hour drives away and I make the drive there and back every week or so for shopping or various Aidan medical appointments. Sometimes on the drive I’ll listen to local talk radio, sometimes to Great Courses lectures, and sometimes I’ll listen to music. Anyway the drive each way gives lots of time to thinking about stuff. I kinda like to think. I guess it is innate to my nature. A few weeks ago we drove down to my sister’s for Thanksgiving with my parents, brothers and sister and their families. I started thinking, “What am I thankful for?” Funny I’ve never really thought about that before.
I’ve been so busy lately (work, work, and work) – more busy than I’d really prefer to be – that this is the first time I’ve had to put those thoughts down into words. This should be short (I hope because it is late and I’m tired).
Aidan is alive was the obvious answer for what I’m thankful for. All other concerns shrink before that history of stress/concern/worry that we went through for a few years (and still do occasionally). But what also occurred to me was a person who recently has taken a very powerful office. It was in the 1990s that I read (I think in First Things magazine) that this person seemed to be the antithesis of “Love people, use things” – ie he seemed to be about “Love things, use people.” It struck me a true back then and still does. I don’t think I’ve ever discussed my politic and policy thoughts before; and I still haven’t here, regardless of what I think of this specific guy. Decency matters. if I gave you 4 guesses as to who I voted for in the last Presidential election, you most probably won’t guess correctly. My vote is more precious to me than to those who want it. I’m drifting off topic here – but “Love people” is what stuck in my mind.
So, back to my thoughts as I was driving to Fresno. People matter. Anything that I am thankful for has at the very root cause one thing: people. The next thoughts were to specific individuals that I’ve been blessed enough to have come into my life. And I’m driving and thinking; some songs are playing in the background; and a couple of people from the last year came to mind.
One is a person who lived halfway around the world, who then moved close enough for me to have a drink with, to meet his wife (went to my college at same time as me – we never met that I know), and meet their kids (met their dog too). To hike with. To talk about serious and not serious stuff with over an ale. What can be better?
And the other was a former work acquaintance who became a good friend over the last year. Decent, smart, integrity, fun. With her various thoughts, crafts, and activities, she is probably the most impressive person that I have ever met in my life. Blessed is probably an overused word, but it is truly how I feel so many times. Like there is Someone out there looking out for fragile me and bringing special people into my life to smooth the path.
This post is already longer than I wanted it to be. If in the off chance you happen to stumble upon this blog post and think I’m talking you – yes I am – thank you!
Treasure the decent people in your life because they are the only treasures that matter. And they are eternal.
By Kevin Ryan
Posted on March 14th, 2017
I’ll Remember You is a Bob Dylan song. Some of the lyrics have been going through my head the last few days. Quite a few years ago we lost one of our children to an ectopic pregnancy and then later, twins to a miscarriage. It hurt. It is a pain that seared at first. It eventually turned into a dull empty ache. Even years later. Someone is missing. I’ll remember you my little ones. I loved you. I hope one day to finally meet you.
My dear sweet friend lost her child to a miscarriage a week and a half ago. Not an hour has gone by since I heard that I haven’t thought of her and her precious child. “God please give her the comfort that she needs at this moment.” She is an inspiration and I wish she didn’t have to walk down this painful path.
Grief is a strange thing. It moves on its own timetable. It doesn’t move on yours or how others want to tell you it should. It’ll come in for a visit for an hour or a day whether you want it to or not. It is individual to you and there isn’t really a good or bad way to deal with it. Well, you probably shouldn’t deal with grief by dressing as a giant tomato, driving to Los Angeles, and hitting random people with a fake fish while shouting, “I’m Queen Elizabeth, bow before me!!” This would be counterproductive as I sadly learned… no… not really… I didn’t do that. I guess what I’m saying is you don’t have to deal with grief and fear in one specific way.
“When I’m all alone, in the rain and snow, I’ll remember you”
It was a very strange feeling to go out in public when everyone is normal and you felt anything but normal. I can remember visiting the playground in Golden Gate Park just below UCSF when we first got out for an hour after Aidan (he is our son that we almost lost a few times) had stabilized to point where he wasn’t likely to die in the next hour. It was surreal. It was loud and noisy with playing children and lots of people, but you felt completely isolated and alone. Hard to explain. If you have seen The Hobbit where Bilbo puts on the ring that is how I felt. The whole world seemed blurry, out of focus, gray. We were alone in a crowd. When we lost our twins I was able to stay at home for a few weeks. It made things easier, not having to go out, but made my Mom (and maybe other family members) nervous about our emotional state.
Deep breath. Gonna rush through this. My wife was 20 weeks along when she went in for her normal checkup with the doctor. The doctor couldn’t hear a heartbeat. She got a shocked look and turned a little pale. She immediately sent us to a specialist ultrasound place. And you are thinking on the drive over there, “Did we lose our baby?” You know. But you still hope. She uses the ultrasound equipment for a bit. “I’m sorry… I can’t hear a heartbeat.” Pause. Pushes a box of tissues my way. I think “Oh, she’s prepared” through tears. Think of the others she’s had to do this for. Drugs to go into labor. Delivery. Time with our little ones. Two boys. I weeped beside you. The hospital staff was empathetic. We are able to get our boys released to us.
I got the best quality wood that I could find. Created dovetail joints for all six sides of the small box. I’ve always thought those joints just look so nice. Sanded it smooth and stained it. Made it as perfect as I could. It was the only thing that I could do for my twins. They are now safely resting in a place that I can see everyday. They are where the wind blows through the pine woods.
I was thinking you can draw a line between the you “that was before” you lost your child and the you “that now is” afterwards. But it’s not a line separating the two yous, it is a huge chasm. You are different. Eventually you are normal again, but a different type of normal. “Our children change us . . . whether the live or not.”
I was never angry. It’s okay to be angry. My Grandpa used to take me fishing in the mountains all the time. We’d also go through the forest wilderness with hatchets and get grub from old fallen trees for bait. He did cattle drives into Yosemite when young, was used to the mountain wilderness, and so passed on that sort of knowledge to me. One time he took me deep sea fishing. I got seasick. He didn’t. “Hoo, boy, that’s too bad. Never bothered me,” he said. Some people get seasick and some don’t. It’s innate. I think how you deal with fear and grief is similar. It is just how you are built. There is not “right” or “wrong” way.
It would be nice to live in a world where Rachel didn’t weep. But she does. The other untold part of the story is that her husband weeps too. And her friends too for her. Just like I do for my Eugene friend. The years will roll along and I’ll never forget my children. Or hers. They are in my heart eternally. And I have hope, because one day what is lost will be found.
I thought this was a beautiful version of Bob Dylan’s song.
By Kevin Ryan
Posted on October 31st, 2016
“You don’t have to write big long blogs posts, you can write short ones.” That is what my wife, Willa, told me when I was having problems writing a new blog post each week. It’s hard to even write just one a month. I think sometimes I just ramble and ramble and ramble on and on and on.. So, taking her advice, this will be an attempt at a short post. And since I am currently reading a Hemingway novel, I’ll try to write in his style too (and won’t succeed).
Aidan was released from the hospital on Oct 29, 1999. He had had a liver transplant four weeks earlier. He was in his car seat hooked up to oxygen. He was fragile. We were driving to our San Francisco apartment. We had the brand new Crosby, Stills, Nash, and Young album playing on the CD.
“I am already your best friend… who can you completely trust, who loves you baby, who loves you this much” – Faith in Me (Stills)
“Looking forward, All that I can see, Is good things happening to you and to me” – Looking Forward (Young)
“Someday soon you will see by the light of day, That someday soon all your worries will fade away, Keep holding on to the love that has made you strong, And someday soon heartache will all be gone” – Someday Soon (Nash)
From my perspective, driving that short trip from hospital to apartment, every one of those songs seemed to be written for Aidan. Especially Someday Soon. I later discovered that it was recorded on July 24th at Neil’s ranch. That was the same day that I was driving past his ranch on State Route 85. I was getting a cashier’s check from our home bank for a who-knows-how-long stay at a San Francisco apartment.
Before Aidan was released I had to get a prescription for him. For some reason I couldn’t get it at the UCSF hospital pharmacy. The closest pharmacy was in the Castro district. I drove over there in the evening with my three year old son to pick it up. It was Friday evening before Halloween and there were some very interesting costumes being worn. We parked and walked a couple of blocks to the pharmacy.
I gave the pharmacy guy Aidan’s prescription. It was a methadone taper to wean him off of morphine. It was a very tiny amount that tapered down to zero in a couple of days. Aidan was a very tiny sick baby. He didn’t need much. The pharmacy guy looked puzzled. “Is this for your hamster?”
Yes, he actually said that. It still makes me crack up 17 years later. “Uh, no, my son is tiny.”
On October 31st we rushed Aidan back at the hospital. It turned out to be for another very long stay. His eyes were sundowning. He was not able to regulate his temperature. His temperature was falling low which was really strange.
It was hydrocephalus. The hospital folks knew right away from the sundowning eyes. He got a shunt and our voyage continued.