Mined from the notebooks, Saturday night, June 30, 2018. Posted Sunday morning, July 8.
Soldiers running to board helicopters near Chi Chu in Vietnam, 1966. Photo courtesy of the National Archives via Wikimedia.
Watching television can be good for you.
If you're recovering from brain surgery like Mrs M and have her memory and attention problems.
Depends on what you watch.
Ken Burns and Lynn Novick's documentary on the War in Vietnam, which I just discovered is now on Netflix and which Mrs M and I started watching tonight, appears, in my rankly amateur and wholly ignorant medical opinion, to offer Mrs M welcome therapeutic effects, not just on her memory and attention; it might help strengthen her vision and lift her spirits, as well.
Might seem odd that spending nearly an hour and a half---with about fifteen and a half more hours to come. Mrs M says she wants to watch the whole thing. Spread out over the next couple of weeks, though. Mrs M was not a fan of binge-watching even before she got sick---reliving that godawful time would be a cheering experience. But it's eighty minutes not spent thinking about her current situation, eighty minutes thinking about American history, which Mrs M has always enjoyed thinking about, and eighty minutes thinking about her own history, which has developed gaps and disconnections, confusions and vagaries that she’s working to fix.
Where were you in '62? asked the tagline for "American Graffitti". In her crib in Houston, Texas, is Mrs M's answer. Mrs M was born near the end of 1961. She grew from a baby to a young teen during the years U.S. involvement in the war went from sending advisors to leaving people stranded on the rooftop of the American embassy in Saigon. Being just a little kid for most of that period, the war wasn't quite real to her and consequently she remembers those years most vividly as the time of her own generally happy childhood.
(I was off enjoying my own happy childhood, but since I'm a few years older, the war started to become real to me at its height and I started having nightmares when I was twelve about what I was increasingly terrified my not too distant future was going to hold.)
It was a grim time for America, Mrs M is not at all vague or confused about that---”It’s very sad,” she said, when I noticed the tears in her eyes and asked about them---but watching “The Vietnam War” and has stirred up concurrent memories of her moving to Pennsylvania from Texas when she was in preschool, sledding in Valley Forge, joining the Brownies, breaking her ankle falling off her bike, practicing being a spy like Harriet, the heroine of her favorite book, taking family vacations at the Jersey shore, becoming a cheerleader in seventh grade, making the volleyball team in ninth, becoming an editor of her high school paper, and meeting the kids and classmates who would become her friends for life and who became my friends too and are now helping me take care of her.
Hi Liz! Hi John! Hi Mary Pat!
So watching “The Vietnam War” could be an exercise in not just recall but in making associations, within her personal memories and remembered history, and between the personal ones and historical ones, as well as an exercise in sequencing---she has to answer for herself what thing happened when and before which and after which?
In order to follow the narrative of an episode she has to keep in mind what not only what she watched just the minute before but the minute before that and the minute before that and the minute before that and, eventually, the minute seventy-nine minutes before. As we move on to the next episodes, she’ll have to remember each previous episode, as well as names, events, places, and dates that were introduced and re-referenced in what will have been several episodes past---which means not just remembering things sequentially but remembering them out of sequence without losing track of their sequence. Mrs M isn’t suffering from amnesia, exactly, but rooms in her mental attic that got jumbled up by her surgeries need straightening up and she needs to figure out what goes back into what file cabinets drawers and what gets put on which shelves, where to go looking for what, and how to lay things out on a work table so that she can see patterns and make associations
As for her vision: since we watched on the ipad propped up on her knees as she lay under her covers ready for bed, she could keep her field of vision narrowed and her eyes focused and not let them wander.
At any rate, that’s my theory. I might be getting ahead of myself. The first episode deals with the first one hundred and three years of the war, from 1858 to 1961, before Vietnam’s war for independence became its American War and our Vietnam War. So it’s all history to Mrs M. Almost all history. But she remembers the history. The episode begins at the end and works backwards through a montage to the beginning, and among its first images is a clip of Henry Kissinger lying about Peace With Honor.
“Thanks a lot, Henry,” Mrs M said.
After Kissinger, there appeared clips of Nixon, Johnson, Kennedy, Eisenhower, and Truman, interspersed with clips and pictures of other political and cultural figures of the time, American, Vietnamese, and French. Mrs M didn’t thank all of them, but she did thank LBJ---”Thanks a lot, Lyndon!”---and Charles De Gaulle---“Shar-ulls” is how she pronounced it. She did win the French Medal in high school, after all. But she was stymied by the character shown between Johnson and Kennedy. Hs name wouldn’t come to her. I don’t think his face rang any bells. I had to tell her who he was
“Oh, yeah,” she said with disgust, “Him.”
And that might sum up McNamara’s place in hell.