I am late writing this column. It should have been posted about fourteen hours ago, so if I'm going to get it up in time I'm going to have to type very, very quickly. Doubt I'll make it.
Two things caused me to forget I was supposed to have a post up today. One was watching the election results last night. The other was a conference with the doctor caring for my father at Cape Fear Hospital this morning. In a way these two events are related. Also related is an evening I spent with my oldest listening to Joyce Carol Oates, which I wrote about in more detail on my Live Journal a few days ago. What relates the three to each other and to writing is what my mother used to call sticktoitiveness.
Sticktoitiveness is the willingness to stick to a job until the job is done. It's related to perseverance and akin to stubbornness and is the primary ingredient in overcoming odds to attain goals.
The results of yesterday's elections – no matter what you think of those results – were products of sticktoitiveness. Every political analyst before, during, and after the vote pronounced that voter turnout – people actually going to the polls and voting – was the biggest single factor. People who are unhappy or angry about the status quo are more likely to vote than people who think things are on the right track. That means low voter turnout favors those challenging those in office because it indicates only the more highly motivated disgruntled among the electorate are making the effort to vote. Usually high voter turnout favors the incumbents, because those who believe things are on the right track become motivated by the threat of the outsiders derailing the process. Most Americans dismissed the Tea Party as a joke – a collection of cranks who were upset by the idea of the government interfering with their Medicare and convinced President Obama is an illegal alien. Most Americans did not take the threat they posed seriously and did not vote. And the vociferous minority – a small fraction of our nation – that had the sticktoitiveness to disdain the disdain of the majority, refute the common wisdom, and ignore their own inconsistencies, voted itself into power. For good or ill remains to be seen.
My father, of whom I wrote on October 19, had the sticktoitiveness to overcome a collapse that the medicos expected would kill him, had a second setback last Thursday.
He had a sudden loss of blood pressure and went into A-fib (Atrial Fibrillation, a condition in which the atria of the heart are fluttering rapidly and not pumping in sequence with the ventricles.) at the rehab center and was rushed to Cape Fear Hospital. At the rehab center the nurses and EMTs asked him what he wanted done if his heart should stop. This is a question they ask people his age because some old folks want to go quietly and not spend their last moments having their ribs broken by someone doing compressions in an effort to keep their heart beating. Dad said: "Do everything."
While at the hospital Dad hit a couple of complications. An infection in what he'd call his plumbing – a common event in older patients known to cause disorientation and confusion. Also, assuming he was in pain, even though he denied it, the medicos put him on oxycodone – an opium-based pain killer. Then the hospital called and reported that Dad was showing signs of dementia and asked if we wanted to switch him from "Full Code" (do everything to revive him) to DNR (do not resuscitate). After a bit of heated but civil back-and-forth they took him off the opium. Two days later – today – he was clear and lucid enough to repeat that he did not care if he spent his last moments with his chest cracked open, he has no intention of going anywhere quietly.
Joyce Carol Oates spoke of her early life, raised in a poor household (aspiring to be working class is how she described the poverty) and being the first in her family to complete high school. She was deliberate in stressing that she is not more intelligent than anyone else in her family. She is an intellectual, but made clear intellectualism has nothing to do with intelligence and certainly nothing to do with wisdom and less than nothing to do with spirit. While her parents were not able to help her with her education directly, by their daily example of overcoming conditions that would – that had – overwhelmed others they taught her what she needed to know to overcome the obstacles that stood between her and her dream of becoming an writer.
All of us face obstacles. All of us have events and conditions, institutions and individuals, burdens and roadblocks in our lives that could and by all rational analysis should prevent us from attaining our goals. To meet and overcome these challenges we will need planning, preparation, strength, guile – a range of tools and attributes and skills as diverse as our individual journeys.
But none of them will do us any good unless they are based on and powered by a healthy amount of sticktoitiveness.