Sunday, May 26, 2019


Across the alley from me lives a sweet old softy whose wife died a while back.  He visited her in the hospital daily and cared for her with devotion.  But her death opened a niche in his little homestead with the tight dog fence around it.  His wife's sister moved in.  That didn't work out, though she is also pretty needy.  So she left.  The new woman is not sick and things are better, but these are old people.  Each woman has brought with her from former lives a small camp trailer holding all her household goods plus her dogs.  It's a little crowded.

All over town I see camp trailers in yards, some empty, some storage and some emergency housing.  Better than having to live in a car.  Illustrations that in America old people, young people, and addicted people have to live someplace.  Montana weather is too extreme for sleeping rough, though people do it.

Back in Portland in the years when the neighborhood was sliding down (it has now gentrified back up) the old widower who lived alone next door never did attract a woman.  But he rented his driveway out to as many of these small camp trailers as he could cram in.  Most occupants were addicts.  In the years while this was happening, the police removed as many as nine dead addicts.  I didn't know about it then.  What could I have done anyway?  If my mother had moved away, she would have taken a major money hit and have had to go to a rental, which carried the risk of eviction.  My brother with the concussion lived with her.  Addicts don't make much trouble.

Jason Danely of Oxford Brooks University, wrote: "In Japan, an unattended death is known as kodokushi, or “lonely death.”  The word kodokushi carries a tragic, melancholic tone, preserving the ambiguity around the exact association between loneliness and death. Was loneliness the cause of death, or just the circumstance surrounding it? The term itself makes way for us to reflect on the possible links between life and death, or even a death in life—a gray zone characterized by isolation, absence, disconnection, marginality, and suspense."

Japan's aging and poor urban population lives in tiny flimsy houses of wood and paper, not so sturdy as camp trailers with aluminum skins. The old people are sometimes sole survivors of families that are gone, and when they die, no one notices.  It can be years before their remains are found.

Danely says: "I take dwelling to mean the emplacement of forms of habituation that produce the conditions for mutual concern and ethical possibility. When I refer to dwelling, then, it is in the practical material and embodied sense of being-at-home-in-the-world with others. Older people in Japan often embody this sense of dwelling, as a link between geographically based generations, living and dead, or through long-cultivated links to community life, local political activity, and leisure with friends and neighbors. The regular appearance of the shadowy specter of kodokushi, however, throws the inevitability of such dwelling into uncertainty. Anxiety about kodokushi reflects concerns that the locus of dwelling and even old age itself as a terrain has become uninhabitable, despite extensive local and national investment in long-term care infrastructure "

In America we have long-standing tropes about people living on sidewalks and the old lady on a park bench living out of shopping bags who was a dread and is now a reality.  This diminishment may be one of the strong sources of our deterioration as a country.  Certainly it is at least a shocking symptom.

"Kodokushi mark a return of the familiar trope of the neighborhood granny—yet transformed, unsettling, unhomely, placing history’s unnoticed excesses and unstable narratives at our doorsteps."

When I moved here to live alone so I could write -- pushing back everything else -- I told someone what I intended to do, even down to dying alone when the time came.  The woman, a practical country person, said that she remembered a previous woman who came with the same goal, though not a writer so even more private than me.  "We tried to help her, but she asked to be left alone, so that's what she did.  Even when she died alone."

This sounded good to me. Interfering do-gooders have been my enemies. They are disguises for darker motives, like the care centers that farm old people as though they were carrots, keeping them dirty and numb but alive enough to claim insurance.

This dislocated shoulder I had was pretty severe, tearing tissue and bruising veins and nerves.  I couldn't sleep without OTC meds but even they interfered with my thinking and typing.  It was a realistic sample of what some other writers have suffered for years even while they produced words that chimed and prodded.  But the pretence of housework was abandoned.

"The homes of older adults become spaces of potential for both care and abandonment; of excessive disordered materiality and haunting spectrality; of dwelling and death."  "These different economies have implications for how someone might (or might not) inhabit, share, or build in this space of the home".

The article goes on in a way combining poetry and academic thought about Japan.  In the USA the single aging or diminished person is more likely to be isolated by space than by urban crowding, though decrepit SRO hotels have traditionally accommodated solitary old people.  Danely is a remarkable writer.

Lying on the floor with my shoulder torn apart was a strong reality check.  It was Ground Hog's Day and today is Memorial Day.  I'm close to functional, though the limits and rebukes from my body are still there.  I will take some precautions against repetition.  In recent weeks I've begun some small improvements.  My dentist is a competent young man.  So is the plumber who restored my drain system.  So was the emergency care giver at the emergency room -- not an MD, but a physician assistant, a military medical man.  To them I am a village granny.  There were glitches -- but I survived.  The theme is money.  I have enough of a small trickle to keep the bureaucrats interested and I'm enough of an ascetic to go without the many small ameliorations that take middle-class people through their worrying lives:  sports, rallies, concerts, but now mostly home electronics so they can live alone, protected.

My own secret weapon is willingness to die alone.  The problem is the preceding period when one is still conscious.

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