The Second Edition of My Book is Now Available

A significant update to my book – I Know You’re Dead, But I Still Worry About You – is now available. The book is currently available in ebook format for iPad and iPhone at iBookStore, in both ebook and paperback format at Amazon, and in paperback format at Barnes & Noble.

A description of the book is provided below:

Written 13 years after the passing of his wife Vickie, this memoir and self-help book from Bruce Keener provides a long-term view of grief and how it eventually transitions from almost unbearable to an emptiness that you learn to live with to an eventual acceptance and peace.

What sets this book apart from most grief books is that it gives you a number of insights on how to deal with your grief, as well as discussions of mistakes the author made along the way, giving you insight on what to look out for. As the author notes in the introduction: “I am hoping that you can read about my experiences and say, ‘I can identify with what Keener went through, and here are some things I can do to help myself.” Or even, “Well at least I’m not as screwed up as Bruce Keener. Since he survived, I can.’”

The author also discusses his loss of faith and half of who he was, how he turned to two scientific theories (one by Einstein) to give him some “comfort” that his wife still exists (in some sense), and how he recovered bits and pieces of his faith and himself.

Not only will you benefit from this book, you will want your friends to read it, too, because it will help them understand some of what you are going through and haven’t been able to put into words.

 

My Main Lesson from Writing a Book

I learned a lot in writing my one and only book, I Know You’re Dead But I Still Worry About YouMy main lesson was this:

  • Whenever you are “finished” writing your book — be that the third, fourth, fifth or whatever draft — then sit it aside for a minimum of six weeks, and perhaps even six months, and then edit it mercilessly, adding the important points you missed and taking out all of the fluff and the stuff that was intended to “sound smart and quotable.”

How do I know this? Because now when I read my book, a little over a year after its publication, I realize there are all sorts of useful points that I did not add and I see that there are several places where I tried to sound smarter than I am. I even see spots where I come across as being disrespectful of religion, which was far from what I intended. I had intended to be neutral to the whole issue of beliefs, but that’s not how it turned out.

This point was also driven home to me when I recently read Stephen King’s book on writing, which is where the “six-week rule” came from.

So now I am thinking of doing a second edition to my book. Of course, given that it’s not sold at all well so far, I have to wonder whether it’s worth the effort to me. I’m not a spring chicken anymore, having recently turned 65. I may do it just so I can be more satisfied with the book (in its updated form), but then again, spending the rest of my life trying to tweak my efforts of the past doesn’t sound like a particularly good thing to do.

I also learned, in spades, that one has to work hard to promote a book, and that is something I just did not do and am not inclined to do. I’ve never been much of a self-promoter. Not that I don’t love myself, but I just have this underlying belief that products should sell themselves. I fully realize they don’t but I still believe that a good product will sell itself. So, to those who are interested in really selling books, be advised that you may have to work harder promoting them than you ever worked writing them.

I have other lessons that I’ll likely share in another post. I don’t want to water down the above lessons by adding in a bunch of insights that are much less important.

My Review of “Gesturing Toward Reality”

Gesturing Toward Reality: David Foster Wallace and PhilosophyGesturing Toward Reality: David Foster Wallace and Philosophy by Robert K. Bolger

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

My head is about to explode with all that I learned from this book.

This amazing collection of essays on the philosophy of David Foster Wallace provides insights to David’s thinking and writing which I had not seen before, and I’ve read a lot of DFW and DFW analysis. I learned that David was strongly influenced by Schopenhauer, which I had suspected but did not know, and I certainly didn’t know the extent of the influence.

And while it is well-known that David admired Wittgenstein, it is less well-known (or was to me) that David actually misinterpreted Wittgenstein with regard to what language can do. This made me realize that, when God created the universe, the first law he put in place is that “everyone misunderstands some aspect(s) of Wittgenstein,” with the second law being, of course, E=m*c*c.

I also have a much better understanding of how David fit into the “new sincerity” movement and what the real aims of that movement have been.

What amazed and pleased me the most was that every essay was presented in a way that I could actually understand it, and didn’t have to go out and get a philosophy degree to do so. The writing, by every contributor, is really well-done.

I’ll be reading through this one again.

View all my reviews

Since She’s Been Gone

Until today I had forgotten how very much I have written on the passing of my wife Vickie (her passing occurred almost 13 years ago). But, now that I am thinking of updating my book to a second edition, I am looking back over some past writings and am a little blown away at how much I did write. I am also reminded of some important things that I had put into some of my infrequently accessed neurons, and thought I would share a couple of these with you.

One of these is something I wrote about why bad things happen to good people. Specifically, back in 2005, some of what I wrote contained the following:

The CNN site recently had an article about a theory that the 700,000 ton Taipei building is contributing to increased earthquake frequency in that region of the world. (Imagine 700,000 Tons!) When you consider this and consider that we also displace a lot of earth in building other skyscrapers and roads, and when you also consider how we are contributing to global warming, you can see that we, humanity in general, should probably be taking the blame for a lot of “natural disasters.”

It is so easy for a cynic and skeptic like me to look at an event like the 2004 tsunami and view it as “proof” that there is no loving god. In so doing, I overlook how very much we ourselves contribute to the making of such disasters. Are we so shortsighted that we think we can move 700,000 tons around and concentrate it in one spot and that it will not have an impact on the tectonic plates?

That quote comes from this little piece, which I wrote in 2005.

You may also be interested in this article I wrote in 2003 entitled, The New Age Paradigm. The article appears at Rich Deem’s Evidence For God site, which has tons of fascinating articles. I’m certainly not in agreement with all of his articles, but they all do provide good food for thought.

Anyway, sometimes it can be instructive to revisit the past.

Why Write

If you ask many bloggers and even many writers of novels why they write, you will hear them respond that it is to persuade. That doesn’t sum it up for everyone of course, but it is a sensible reason for most writing.

Pater Edmund recently reminded me, though, that writing is especially useful for helping us clarify our own thinking:

But when I think about why I began this blog it seems to me that my main purpose was not so much to teach, sway, or delight my readers, but rather to clarify my own thoughts.

In a sense, it is still a matter of persuasion, in that one wants to persuade oneself to think a certain way, a way that is not yet known to the self.

That sums up a lot of why I write. I’ve found that I haven’t been doing enough of it for the past several months. Not that I have to blog everything I want to clarify my thinking on, but I haven’t even been using my little notebooks. I plan to restart being more regular about this.

Sample Chapter from my ebook

Below is the introductory chapter from my ebook I Know You’re Dead But I Still Worry About You, provided so that you can get some sense of the book’s messages.

Introduction

The death of my wife Vickie Keener on September 7, 2001 nearly destroyed me. Vickie was closer to me than I was to myself. If you have been married for a number of years, you know exactly what I mean.

In the months and years that followed, especially the first few years, the only thing that kept me going was my fear that, even in death, Vickie still needed me to act on her behalf, maybe even to protect her. Yes, I know that sounds strange. But, I had been her protector for nearly 20 years and didn’t know how to be otherwise. So, you can see where the title of this book came from.

I published this book to give you a sense of my experiences, so you will know more about what to expect when you face the ultimate tragedy. Also, if you have a friend who has lost someone very close, this book should help you understand some of what your friend is going through.

I frequently would ask myself, Is this how all bereaved feel? Will it hurt forever? Do I need just to get a grip on myself? So, once I retired from work and had time to write, I decided to help others who are asking these same questions.

In particular, I am hoping that you can read about my experiences and say, “I can identify with what Keener went through, and here are some things I can do to help myself.” Or even, “Well at least I’m not as screwed up as Bruce Keener. Since he survived, I can.”

While I speak primarily from my experiences, I’ve added insights from friends who lost a spouse or child. This lets you gain from more than one perspective.

One key thing you will learn from this is that we all feel up-close-and-personal death differently. Of course, that is not surprising. But what may be a revelation to you is just how different we can be. For example, one man I know mowed his lawn the day his wife died, whereas I could not even eat, at all, for two days. He had to do something physical to keep from cracking up, even though he knew for five-months that her death was imminent. In my case, Vickie’s death was sudden and unexpected. I could not have cut grass if my life had depended on it.

You will see from this book that grief is inexpressible and that you can’t put a number on it or give it a time limit. Death removes some of the meaning and value from the world, forever. There is no formula that can be applied to that kind of loss. So, if your spouse or child dies, and someone tells you two months later that you should be over it and getting the “old you” back, try to understand that they have no idea what they are talking about, because they surely do not. (Unfortunately, there will be some who think that you should “just snap out of it.”)

Think about this the way a neuroscientist would: for years — every time you thought about love, beauty, kindness, passion, intelligence, adventure, suffering, determination, honesty — half the neuron connections your brain built were based on the reference to a real living human being. Now those billions of connections link to something that is no longer real. It’s like clicking a link and getting a 404 error: page not found.

You can’t rewire these billions of connections in a couple of months. Many of them never get rewired. Much of what is in your head just turns into snapshots that will spontaneously flash through your mind, sometimes reactivating a feeling of love, pain, or helplessness. Sometimes you will try to recall these snapshots, although you learn not to do so too often because each one distorts a little each time you pull it up. Out of fear of losing those precious pictures altogether, you wind up not pulling them up very often.

I am not suggesting that you will grieve forever. Your religion may even place limits on you. For example, Jewish law permits the mourning period to last only one year. And if your depression lasts longer than two or three years—and you will be depressed—perhaps you do need to get professional help. At the same time, don’t expect to reach the point of “closure,” which is sort of a fictional construct of recent psychology.

You may also hear people talking about the five stages of grief. Turns out that there is no such thing. The myth arose from misinterpreting Elisabeth Kübler-Ross’ work on the stages that dying patients (not grieving loved ones) go through. Once you think about it, it becomes evident that dying and grieving are not the same thing.

In a recent interview with Charlie Rose, legendary actor Robert Wagner mentioned that he still thinks of his late wife who passed away 33 years ago. Mr. Wagner remarried many years ago, and many people would think he should be “completely over” Natalie by now. But, you wouldn’t stop loving your mom or dad or brother or sister who had died, so you should not expect to stop loving the one who is closest of all to you: your spouse or child. Your love will almost certainly take on a different form, but it does not disappear.

In my case, I was depressed, though “fully functional,” for almost three years. My actual grief lasted for another four years, though. It did not involve depression, although I had plenty of sad moments, but there was still an emptiness that I can’t quite describe. After that, my grief became less defining in my life, and I would probably label it as emptiness rather than grief.

Three of my four widowed friends remarried although all would tell you that their grief lasted a long while. One of these friends said his period of actual depression lasted about three years, like mine did.

You will see some things in this book that may seem strange. For example, you’ll learn that there have been plenty of times when I was a hard-core atheist, while at the same time standing at my wife’s grave and talking to her as if she could hear me. Also, for a very long time, I still worried about Vickie and made massive efforts to ensure I did all I could to “help her,” even when I had stopped believing that we have souls.

Similarly, I would offer my soul for destruction in exchange for Vickie’s soul being okay. Again, I did this whether I believed in souls or not.

These “moments” can happen to the smartest of people, not just to us standard mortals. For example, Richard Feynman, Nobel Laureate in physics and one of the best minds to ever grace this planet, wrote the following in a letter to his wife, more than a year after she had died:

My darling wife, I do adore you.
I love my wife.
My wife is dead.
Rich.

P.S. Please excuse my not mailing this–but I don’t know your new address.

(This is from Perfectly Reasonable Deviations from the Beaten Track: The Letters of Richard P. Feynman. Feynman’s daughter Michelle notes that this particular letter seemed to be much more worn than the others, indicating that he reread it often.)

Feynman’s little finger was probably smarter than my brain, yet that did not keep him, an outspoken atheist, from trying to communicate with his dead wife.

Simultaneously holding opposing views is something everyone does. For homework, take some paper and write out your beliefs. You will be amazed at how many of them are contradictory. It’s just how we are wired–scientists call this ‘cognitive dissonance.’ And it gets magnified when we lose somebody we dearly love.

The crux of what I am saying is this: if you do lose someone you love, and none of us gets any younger, and Vickie was only 53 anyway, you are not going just to spend a week with a pad of paper answering the question, Okay, what’s next? Grief is not some 1-2-3 process that you work through. It takes time and it takes friends and family, and it is going to influence your thinking in a lot of areas. Your brain is not going to be completely toast, but for a while reality may well seem like a thin sheet of ice stretched over a deep, dark ocean of chaos.

I’d like now to move on into the meat of the book, which is described in the remaining paragraphs.

The chapter Vickie is where I tell you a little about Vickie and our marriage. I do not go into a lot of detail–after all, how can you describe an entire life, a person, their hopes and desires and actions and dreams and influence? Well, you can’t, and I can’t, and all God’s children can’t. Even trying to provide a summary of Vickie and our marriage feels like a sacrilege to me.

But, I do provide enough of a sketch for you to know that she was a real person, an actual living human being, just like you and me, one who cherished life and was not expecting it to end.

Fog and Tears discusses Vickie’s death and some of the ways in which it undid me. This is probably where I open up my mind and heart the widest to let you look in and see how the first few months without her felt. I tried very hard in writing this chapter to give you a sense of just how much the loss of a loved one can fracture a person’s soul. Unfortunately, the written word is inadequate for conveying our most intense feelings, and my poor mastery of the art of writing doesn’t help, but you can at least get a sense of what I went through, and what you can expect to go through.

The Final Gift discusses my final gift to Vickie. I wrote it to shed more light for you on Vickie’s fundamental nature–that of abiding love.

Weirdnesses is just what it sounds like: it’s about some of the weird things that happened after Vickie died. The kind of things that make you wonder whether they were of supernatural origin. I think all of them can be explained without reference to a supernatural domain, but one does wonder. I certainly did (and still do). From what I can tell, nearly all bereaved have some unusual experiences, and I suspect that most such experiences can be looked at as either supernatural or as having a physical or biological explanation. I share mine because they were part of my grieving, and because doing so shows how one can think about events in a couple of different ways.

I Still Worry about You describes some of what I did to “protect” Vickie after she died. I frequently asked myself, “What if Vickie needs my help in her new life?” and this chapter describes some of the ways in which I addressed that question.

Out of the Blue describes some incidents in which I came unglued months after I thought I was all cried out and could no longer be hurt.

Other Things You Should Know is, of course, what it sounds like: a collection of information that did not fit nicely into the other chapters.

Epilogue: Some friends prompted me to provide a few conclusions, which I decided was a great idea.

One more thing: I want to tell you what this book is not. It is not a make-you-cry book or a give-poor-old-me-sympathy book. It’s something I felt like I had to do. I learned from my grieving and I feel obligated to share that with you. Also, I needed to do this for me. And for Vickie.

This also is not a book in which I try to change your views about God. Most of the time, I don’t know what to believe myself, and, even if I did, it’s your business what you believe, not mine. I talk about God, both my believing in God and my disbelieving in God, but I am not trying to manipulate your beliefs–I am only telling you how it figured into my grieving.

Annie Dillard Quote from The Holy Firm

When the candle is burning, who looks at the wick? When the candle is out, who needs it? But the world without light is wasteland and chaos, and a life without sacrifice is abomination.

Annie Dillard, The Holy Firm

The Lesson (a short story)

You know, Gary, I’ve been thinking about becoming a priest. The world is such a frightening place for so many people. They know our little planet is traveling tens of thousands of miles per hour through space, contained within the gravitational field of a galaxy that’s traveling like a bat out of hell, and that our journey is from x,y,z,t of nowhere to another x,y,z,t of nowhere. They know that in the end we are all snubbed out, that there is this sense that what awaits us is a black abyss of absolute nothingness and nonexistence, and that any meaning that we might have thought we had doesn’t even qualify as a memory within the abyss, or even as a metaphysical fart. People need something that gives them hope and even a sense of purpose.

“That’s very noble and all, John, and it is your life. It just seems to me that you wouldn’t do all that well in a job that required you to be some limp-dick, sexless guru. What do they call it? Sacerdotal chastity? I’ve double-dated with you enough to know you’re not gonna be able to give it up, dude. You sure nailed the shit out of Sarah the other night.”

Well, I shouldn’t have.

“I didn’t hear her complain, man. It’s just that I don’t see what’s gotten into you is all.”

I’ve been thinking about this for a long time. I’ve studied all the writings of the Church Fathers and I’ve taken extensive training on the Greek and Hebrew languages so I can read much of the original literature of the Church. It’s like there is something inside of me that is driving me to do this, and looking back on my life now, I can see that it has been inside me for years.
Continue reading The Lesson (a short story)

My Theological Conclusions

I’ve spent years studying religious beliefs and theology, especially Christian theology, and thanks to my OCD, I’ll probably continue spinning my wheels in this area until I croak. Maybe it’s a calling of sorts, as Christian Wiman said in My Bright Abyss: “Sometimes God calls a person to unbelief so that faith may take new forms.”

Regardless, at this point, I have two conclusions:

1. I don’t know why we try to turn gods into men and men into gods.

2. Parroting Annie Dillard: I don’t know beans about God.

Think!? (a short story)

I was tooling down the road and saw a sign saying, “Think!” and I started thinking, That’s a good point. I don’t think enough. So what should I think about? Well, how about Mary’s ass? Man alive! I can see it swishing now. But she doesn’t seem very interested in me. Maybe I am too pale? That’s it, I suppose. I don’t get enough sun. I probably look like a ghost. I wonder what it feels like to be a ghost? A ghost looks spectral to us, so does that mean that we would look spectral to them? I don’t even understand how a ghost could see at all, given that they appear to be 2-D and all. I guess they can see, but they can probably only see 2-D equivalents of us, sort of like the way we see characters on TV. Think! Think! Yep, there I go drifting again. I need to control what I think about and not let my mind wander all over hell and back.

So maybe Mary would like me better if I had more education? What if I got an MBA at State U? What I’d really like is to get a sexologist degree from Scru U®. Hahaha! I’m so goddamn funny! Hahaha. Mary’s ass. Ah. I can picture my hands on her bare, firm hips now, her laying on her stomach, me gently separating her hips, my tongue sending her to worlds she’s never dreamed of, her hips pulsating and thrusting against my face, her turning over and putting me inside her, and me giving her the best 15 seconds of her life. Yeah. I guess I really should see the doctor about that. Maybe there are some pills that can keep me from being such a Speedy Gonzales.

WHOA! That bastard in the old Ford Mustang just missed me! Probably texting. People don’t pay any attention anymore.

I tell you I’ve got some doubts about technology. People are always saying how great technology is and all, but seems to me like it’s as much of a bad thing as it is a good thing. Especially those damn smartphones everyone has, always texting and emailing each other. And there’s no telling what kind of technology the government is keeping secret. What if the NSA is actually reading my mind right now? Would they know that I think about sex like ALL THE TIME? Shit. They would even be able to figure out that I like Mary, and they could be spooking her away from me, spreading rumors and shit. Oh man! What if the NSA is actually CONTROLLING my thoughts? What if I really don’t care that much for Mary, but NSA is planting thoughts of her in my mind for their own purposes as part of some government conspiracy to ensure we are a nation without homosexuals, with sexual relations between only men and women, no matter what one’s subconscious wants one to do?

Continue reading Think!? (a short story)