February 15, 2012



My 13 year old is married to someone I‘ve never met. Yes, on Facebook, where she and her 400+ “friends” create their own families. Friends appear as siblings and parents, identifying their core relationships amidst hundreds, and also just for fun. Small wonder, many of these kids are raised by Boomers who often consider their friends to be their family of choice.

My own friend/sister recently described her relationship to a mentor, identifying the impact of their relationship with “I’m definitely on her tree.” Which got me to thinking about my own tree. Who am I related to not by blood, but influence, thought, passion, and interest? Millions are devoted to identifying their ancestry online and to the new season of NBC’s Who Do You Think You Are?. I am not so curious about my bloodline as my spirit line; though sometimes the two are the same. So I had some fun with my genealogy of choice. Here are my results.

The spirit of these imagined ancestors live in me. Who lives in you? Whose tree are you on?

Great Grandparents:
Virginia Woolf
Bertrand Russell
Peggy Guggenheim
Rabindranath Tagore

Ella Fitzgerald
Marguerite Duras
Katherine Hepburn
George Balanchine
Robertson Davies
Walker Evans

Jackie Kennedy Onassis
Sidney Poitier

Bob Fosse
Jean Luc Godard

Mary Tyler Moore
Ali MacGraw

Cindy Sherman
Wendy Wasserstein
Jhumpa Lahiri

Robert Longo

Sam Shephard
Carole King
Fran Liebowitz
Diane Keaton

January 25, 2012

The Last Word


At a recent dinner party, we briefly discussed Steve Jobs’ last words. As reported by his sister Mona Simpson in the New York Times they were “OH WOW, OH WOW, OH WOW.” My take is that his words reflected a mystical experience. Another dinner guest suggested that Steve Jobs was the ultimate marketer and well aware that his last words would be documented and publicized. My cynical friend suggested that the words were conscious and planned. Others believe that DMT (Dimethyltriptamine) released by the pineal gland, creating hallucinogenic arousal, accounted for Jobs’ words. Whether his words indicate a biological explanation of the afterlife, or were his chosen tagline, they are haunting.

The Internet carries hundreds of last words, some from deathbeds, some spoken days before actual death. Below is a recounting of my favorites. Some seem to reflect the essence of the individual and their work, some seem conscious and even self conscious, and some may have been erroneously reported or edited in order to create a legacy.

… the fog is rising. — Emily Dickinson

Why are you weeping? Did you imagine that I was immortal? — Louis XIV

Does nobody understand? –- James Joyce

Don’t let it end like this. Tell them I said something… — Pancho Villa

Codeine …bourbon. — Tallulah Bankhead

It is well, I die hard, but I am not afraid to go. — George Washington

Drink to me. — Pablo Picasso

Friends applaud, the comedy is over. — Ludwig van Beethoven

Why, I did not know we had quarreled. — Henry David Thoreau, when asked by his aunt if he had made his peace with God.

God bless… God damn. — James Thurber

This is no time to make new enemies. –- Voltaire, when asked on his deathbed to forswear Satan.

I should never have switched from Scotch to martinis. — Humphrey Bogart

I am not the least afraid to die. — Charles Darwin

I’ll finally get to see Marilyn. — Joe DiMaggio, talking about his former wife, Marilyn Monroe

Surprise me. — Bob Hope, spoken to his wife when asked where he wanted to be buried.

Every damn fool thing you do in this life you pay for.
— Edith Piaf

Utter nonsense. — Eleanor Roosevelt, spoken to the nurse who told her she would die when the reason God put her on earth was fulfilled.

It’s very beautiful over there. — Thomas Edison

I have offended God and mankind because my work did not reach the quality it should have. — Leonardo da Vinci

Either that wallpaper goes, or I do. — Oscar Wilde,

We are now able to plan our last words. The website ifidie.net offers a Facebook app which allows you to leave a message that will only be posted after you die. It allows us to shift our consciousness, and to take a conscious action pertaining to our mortality. This is a redefinition of our last words. They are not the last words spoken, but the last word written and posted. What will yours be? And remember it’s not an “if” but a “when.”

January 4, 2012

Sleep No More


Okay I get it now. It took a few days, but I get it. And now that I have, I get that it wasn’t about figuring it out. “It” is a show in Manhattan “Sleep No More.” For three hours I moved with the audience through a dark labyrinth of rooms, masked à la Stanley Kubrik’s Eyes Wide Shut, following ghost-like characters as they dance and pantomime their way through a hazy, broken Shakespearean plot line. The audience is transformed into a dream state where meaning and logic are illusive.

The title is from Macbeth who likens sleep to “the death of each day’s life.” And the experience is like a sleepless night, one where you are coming in and out of dreams. So, I get it, death is likened to a mysterious sleep state.

There is no proof of this, but the idea has been around for a long time. Shakespeare used the line “sleep no more” earlier in Hamlet. Remember?

To die: to sleep;
No more; and by a sleep to say we end
The heart-ache and the thousand natural shocks
That flesh is heir to, ’tis a consummation
Devoutly to be wish’d. To die, to sleep;
To sleep: perchance to dream: ay, there’s the rub;

So let’s skip a few steps and take the Bard’s word for it. Sleep is like death. And sleep has become more and more illusive. Recently, the New York Times reported that 84% of all women suffer from insomnia and that “mother’s little helper of the new millennium may in fact be the sleeping pill.” Arianna Huffington’s campaign to “Sleep Your Way to the Top” warns women that sleep deprivation “is, literally, killing us.” We put ourselves to sleep with Ambien, Lunesta, Melatonin and wine. Michael Jackson’s use of Propofol landed him in “the sleep of death.” We put our pets “to sleep,” and conclude our yoga practice with Savasana, the corpse pose. As the social commentator, Fran Liebowitz, concludes:

Life is something that happens when you can’t get to sleep.

Clearly, the relationship between sleep and death persists today. So why, if we medicate ourselves to sleep, do we all not have the right to medicate ourselves to die? The right to die at our own hand is now legal only in Oregon, Washington and Montana. Legislation is pending in nine more states. Do we think “‘tis nobler” to die suffering? Doesn’t look like it. Hospice and palliative care put us out of our pain at the end of life through opiates, like morphine, to bring us to our final sleep. In the three states where it is now legal to put ourselves to sleep, it is done with a prescription for a high dose of a sleeping sedative. “Palliate” means to reduce the suffering at the time of death. It is done by medicating us to an unconscious state, a sleep state called TS (Terminal Sedation.) Even Catholic hospitals maintain the practice. The Catholic writer Mary DeTurris Poust summarizes that “a patient can receive pain treatment even if that treatment could hasten death.” Over a half century ago Pope Pius XII condoned the use of narcotics for End-of-Life care.

Is the suppression of pain and consciousness by means of narcotics (when it is demanded by a medical indication) permitted, by religion and morality, to the patient and the doctor (even at the approach of death and when one foresees that the administration of narcotics will shorten life)?’ One must reply, ‘If there exist no other means and if, in the given circumstances, it does not prevent the fulfillment of other religious and moral duties’ — Yes.

The salient difference between palliative care practices, even those authorized by the Vatican, and the Right-to-Die legislation is the administrator. Palliative care is prescribed and administered by a physician. In states where the Right-to-Die is legal, large doses of sedatives are prescribed by a physician but self-administered by the dying. If there is an important distinction here, I just don’t get it.

It is easy to see a not so distant future when it will not exist at all. This is an “eyes wide shut” moment. We are aware but not fully aware. Our desire to die without the nightmare of pain, by our own hand, in our own home is slowly being unmasked. It is a big responsibility, but one we can figure out. In the past we may have been content to place this responsibility in the hands of physicians and medical institutions. Death itself remains as mysterious as our dreams. But, how we die need not be so. We are not a generation used to giving our power over to authority. We are a DIY population, waking up to how we die. On this issue, we can “sleep no more.”