Category Archives: motherless

Another stone added to the cairn

Standard

First, Goal Progress: In bed by around midnight Jan 12, Up at 8:15 a.m. Jan 13.
~

I like to think about memory, maybe because I’ve never had a great one. I remember feelings, emotions, colors, and esoteric tidbits, not names, labels, and facts. I remember the jist of the conversation, but not the exact words. I might recall the conversation we had, but not remember what you thought was most important. However, it would be a mistake to think I haven’t been paying attention; I might see a pattern in your thoughts or behavior that you have never noticed.

It’s interesting to think about what goes into a memory, why we remember, what we remember. How memory is more subjective than we like to think: 10 eyewitnesses, 10 different stories. This past year I’ve enjoyed reading about Alzheimer’s and dementia. My maternal grandmother suffered from what was called Alzheimer’s: I’m not sure if that was the diagnosis or just a convenient term. We lived out west and she in Michigan, so I wasn’t around to notice the deterioration. There was a time, though, when we were back for a visit; she had accused one of her young nephews of stealing from her, which seemed unlikely. Then she began driving erratically, eventually causing accidents and driving through the garage door. That’s about all of the story I can summon. I imagine grandma’s very rural small-town community put up with erratic behavior by the Sheriff’s widow longer than had she lived elsewhere. She lived to at least seventy, and by that time had been in a home residential facility for some time. I believe my paternal grandma, who lived to be 90, helped care for her there. I tell you this because I’m not sure this is where the interest comes from, or if it’s just one of those things I like to explore, like twins, and mental illness. Probably part of me hopes that dementia is not in my future. My mom didn’t live long enough to find out if it would happen to her.

Two books that I’ve enjoyed this year:

Dancing with Rose: finding life in the land of Alzheimer’s by Lauren Kessler. Driven by guilt and a quest for understanding of her mother’s illness and death, the author finds work as a caregiver at a residential facility for Alzheimer’s patients.

Keeper: one house, three generations, and a journey into Alzheimer’s by Andrea Gillies. The story of the author as primary caregiver to her in-laws as her mother-in-law deteriorates into the black hole of the Alzheimer’s patient, and her father-in-law develops poor health, which prevent him from taking care of himself or his wife.

Both are highly personal and engaging accounts of living with and caring for people with dementia.

From Keeper:

Everything we are is the sum of our history, augmented by every new experience, each stone added to the cairn and modified by our thoughts about that stone, and about the shape the cairn is taking. Our selves are fed by our narrative, the story of our past and our imagined futures. Ask me who I am and I turn immediately to memory. It isn’t possible to answer the question “Could you tell me something about yourself? without recourse to biography. Even aside from replies that start, “Well, I was born in …” (which are the most obviously memory driven), other kinds of responses, ones that try to avoid the straight biographical—”I am intelligent, curious, anxious, and usually hungry”—also rely entirely on memory. You only know yourself because of your memory.

Point of convergence 2011

Standard

I hardly know what to do with myself. For the first time in two months, I got up today not having a daily writing or blogging challenge to fulfill. In November, I participated in NaNoWriMo and NaBloPoMo. As November was drawing to a close, I discovered #reverb10, so I chose it for December. All of these challenges kept me motivated daily, were a great way to kickstart my writing habit again, and were a great inspiration for self-reflection.

Now I’m sort of hooked, so I was on the lookout for a writing challenge for January. Instead, I found #mindful52: Year of Mindfulness * 52 Weeks of FOCUS. This challenge is with a much smaller group of people and will concentrate on both journaling and blogging around a weekly thought*concept*practice. Focus is exactly what I need this year, and I’m excited about having a continual reminder to work on my mindfulness. I think I’ll still try to blog every day, however I’ll also make sure that I’m writing outside of the blog as well.

This week, #mindful52 encourages us to work with the concept of new beginnings occurring all the time. As you remain hopeful contemplating the year ahead – make lists and think about what you’d like to achieve.

I’ve never been one for New Year’s resolutions, since I’m naturally adverse to anything that seems cheesy, false, or forced. Normally, I’m resistant to structure and discipline and in favor of winging it and spontaneity. But something is different this year. I’ve begun to realize that some things are never going to change if I don’t make some goals and structure my life so that I’m making daily progress towards small, achievable things.

I have outlined some general goals on this blog over the last month and have privately been crafting and sketching out some more. Here’s my progress so far.

As I outlined in an earlier blogpost prompted by #reverb10, I made a short list of my most important daily commitments (one of the suggestions in The Power of Less, see below).

  • Family (hubby and animal family)
  • Vegan advocacy
  • Reading, writing and other creative pursuits
  • Fitness

What do I do each day that doesn’t contribute to one of the above — and can I eliminate it?

  • Day Job: No
  • Piss around reading various social media threads: Yes
  • Worry: Yes, in theory
  • Multi-task: Yes
  • Stay up too late blogging, sleep in too late the next day: Yes

New habits that I’d like to establish in 2011. (I’d like to think of some great rewards for myself for sticking to these):

  • Be 15 minutes early for everything for an entire month. This means leaving 1/2 hour early to anything around town.
  • Go to bed by 10 p.m., get up by 6:30 a.m. every weekday for a month. No more late night blogging. This one is a big challenge for me. I’m naturally a night owl and for the most part I make my own consulting schedule. Additionally, I hit my stride mid-afternoon and on into the evening as far as productivity goes. Also, I have a really hard time getting up in the dark during the winter. And yet, there are certain advantages to conforming to a “normal” workday schedule. Also, I’d like to exercise and write on a regular basis before other distractions and commitments take hold, and since these are on my short list, I need to make them a priority. I’m curious to see if I can stick with this for a month. At that point, if I feel that my productivity has taken a hit, I will reconsider. Part of me is really rebelling against this because of all the self-righteous “morning people” who have created this cultural myth that you’re a bad person if you’re not an early riser. But it’s not like I’m trying to get up at 4:30 a.m or anything crazy like that, so it should be doable.
  • Write every day for ½ hour, not including blogging.
  • Blog early in the day. Not sure how this is going to fit in yet.
  • Start over with Flylady’s baby steps to keep my house clean and decluttered.

2011 Goals (I need to break these down into small steps):

  • Learn to tell better stories—out loud and through my writing.
  • Write a story worthy of Fantasy & Science Fiction magazine.
  • Learn to make people laugh (besides myself).
  • Laugh more daily. Things that make me laugh out loud: Bizarro & Awkward Family Photos.
  • Create some art outside of the computer—painting, drawing, more mosaics? (Where do I start?)
  • Go birding & hiking again (miss this).
  • Expand my front yard gardening knowledge.
  • Grow my career in a creative and satisfying way.
  • Interview some people who intimidate me.
  • Take more photos: of myself (because there are very few), and of my hubby and animal family (because the days are short).
  • Open myself up to making new friends. Maintain current friendships.
  • Plan and take a road trip with my husband.
  • Start a regular yoga practice again.

Things my life doesn’t need in 2001 and how I’ll work on eliminating them:

  1. Mental clutter—write more, multitask less.
  2. Things clutter—keep purging, keep flying.
  3. Fear & worry—write daily, keep choosing to do new scary things, express and explore through writing and art.
  4. Indecision—write, and hope that things become clear.
  5. Guilt—don’t set myself up for it.
  6. Stress—create structure, leave more time between appointments.
  7. Envy & jealousy—working on 3-6 will help.
  8. Grief—impossible to eliminate, but here’s hoping for a year without more loss— if grief, then write.
  9. Pneumonia and/or bronchitis—closely tied to grief: express myself through writing, keep fit, do yoga, meditate, get acupuncture.
  10. Cynicism (but keep critical thinking).
  11. Negative people—avoid when possible, counteract with compassion.
  12. Money issues—closely manage, but let go of 3, 5, 6, & 7.

Ideas for theme months:

  • I’d like to have one month where I create something every day (not writing and preferably not on the computer). This could be part of learning to draw or paint or craft, or to pick up mosaics again, etc. If anybody knows of a group of people who are doing this as a challenge, let me know.
  • February will be my Light Box month. It’s typically a hard month for me because it’s the month my mom died, and as of 2010, the month my old friend Connecticut died. Usually, I let it sneak up on me and end up getting physically ill. This year I’m determined to face it head on by reading, writing, and blogging about grief, illness, and mortality.

That’s about it for my lists; a work in progress. Please let me know if you have ideas and suggestions for helping me to focus.

Some books & resources that have helped me to start thinking about goals this year:

At the core

Standard

#reverb10

reflect on this year and manifest what’s next

Core Story. What central story is at the core of you, and how do you share it with the world? (Bonus: Consider your reflections from this month. Look through them to discover a thread you may not have noticed until today.)

I’m a little self-reflected out. Good thing it’s the last day of reverb10. Happy New Year (thank the gods).

Reverb Recap:

Re-reverb: loss, ad naseum

Standard

#reverb10
reflect on this year and manifest what’s next

Defining Moment. Describe a defining moment or series of events that has affected your life this year.

I’ve been putting off answering this prompt all day. Haven’t I already responded to this question multiple times in slightly different ways all month?

It occurs to me that I’ve been rehashing loss ad naseum over the last two months; a series of losses that has defined 2010 for me. Losing Connecticut, Big Kitty, and Deimos has taught me I can’t deny death, and that I’m not really in control. That life can be snatched away on a whim, no matter how much love or time you have invested. You would think I would have already learned this. From the death of my mom, 20+ years ago. From the death of significant relationships. From losing my step-kids. From the death of several cat friends, nearly 10 years ago. 2010 has ripped one big aching hole in my heart with a jagged rusty knife. The good in this: Is there good in this?

I’d like to think there is. I’d like to think that it has made me stronger, has made me more resilient. I’d like to think that feeling this way opens me up to others who are feeling the same way. I remember after my mom died: I was 20 years old, walking around in amazement, suddenly acutely aware that there were others whose worlds had just been completely upended. It was beautiful, in a way. Every moment titrated down to a drop of concentrated feeling. Ordinarily, we travel through our days, eyes clouded by cataracts, blinding us to the bright pain of our friends, neighbors, coworkers, animals. Grief neatly excises the cloudiness. Sure, we’re momentarily blinded by shock, but soon we begin to stagger around, arms outstretched, and as we’re recovering, eyes adjusting, we begin to see that we’re not alone, far from it. So there it is. If grief makes me more empathetic to my fellow humans, and to my fellow non-human animals, then that’s something, if only until I forget, again.

Friendly perspective

Standard

#reverb10
reflect on this year and manifest what’s next

Friendship. How has a friend changed you or your perspective on the world this year? Was this change gradual, or a sudden burst?

I don’t make or keep friends very easily, even though I’d like to. Other than with animals, of course. I’m sure that I’m not alone in this.

But I have strengthened one unexpected friendship in the last year. We came together with a shared purpose and have spent a lot of time together dreaming, planning, organizing, and implementing our ideas. She’s someone I can laugh uncontrollably with and be silly with when we’re tired and trying to push through, someone who can tell me bluntly when she doesn’t like something or doesn’t agree with me (and accepts the same from me), someone who shares a lot of my tendencies and habits (we’re night owls, we tend to run late). Someone often on my wavelength, that will jump on a new idea with an enthusiasm only matched by my own.

I admire her because she’s been true to her convictions for 20+ years, she’s always ready to try something new, and she seems tireless. There’s a big age difference between us, but somehow that doesn’t matter. It took me a while to think of it this way: She’s a mother who lost a daughter, I’m a daughter who lost a mother (she’s close to the age my mom would have been). We could easily be surrogates for each other’s loss. We haven’t fallen into those roles, but it is nice to think that maybe this friendship is the tiniest little glimpse of what it would be like to have an adult relationship with my mom.

She has shown me that it’s possible to live a (somewhat) normal life while also advocating for compassion towards all animals, non-human and human alike. So, she kind of snuck up on me, but I’m glad to have her as part of my life. I hope someday that I’m able to express to her how much I appreciate her friendship.

Imaginary

Standard

I finished reading The Possibility of Everything last night. Did anybody else think it was Hursula One that might have been responsible for all the bad things happening with Maya? When Maya lost the doll, Dodo went away. Maybe it wasn’t all due to the flower bath? Was Hope alluding to this as a possibility when she told the father of the little girl who had adopted the lost doll, “Good Luck”?

It got me thinking about my imaginary friend. I’m pretty sure I was around 3, like Maya, when Bobbie made her appearance—because I remember Idaho as the backdrop. Not much of a creative stretch from Barbie to Bobbie, is it? I don’t really remember a lot about her. In fact, I don’t know if I really remember her, or if I just remember my mom telling stories about her. An ordinary, benign, imaginary friend that I would sometimes ask to be accommodated with a seat or a place at the dinner table. And I wasn’t even an only child. Wish my mom was here to tell me how Bobbie arrived, evolved, and departed—and what mark, if any, she left on the family—and me.

Platitudes & Possibilities

Standard
The Possibility of Everything

The Possibility of Everything by Hope Edelman

Listening to a recent episode of Satellite Sisters, I learned that Hope Edelman had published a new book and that the Sisters were going to interview her. Of course, I immediately reserved The Possibility of Everything at the library, even though I have 20 other library books checked out and waiting. (Our public library is great – I almost never have to buy books anymore – and I can usually get even popular books within a fairly short period of time. This leaves my poor Kindle sitting idle – if only I could borrow books on it!) I listened to the podcast interview with Hope earlier this week, and then since the book was already available, I bumped it to the top of my reading list and jumped right in.

Hope’s book, Motherless Daughters, was a book that I fundamentally related to – she had lost a mother to cancer in her teens, I had lost a mother to cancer at 20. As the only surviving female of my immediate family, the stories of many other women who had lost their mothers at a young age made me feel that finally somebody understood what had happened to me.

There is something about the way Hope describes her experiences and emotions that has always resonated with me. I’m halfway through the book, and a couple of passages jump out to me so far:

Faith. There’s that word again. It is good to have faith. I don’t doubt this is true. I just don’t know what it would feel like. When someone instructs me to “have faith,” I automatically think, Surely, you must be kidding. When you lose a parent young, you lose the illusion that a higher power is watching out for you. I long ago stopped believing that “things always work out for the best” or “everything happens for a reason.” I don’t have time for such platitudes. I’m too busy trying to ensure that whatever form of security I’ve managed to create for myself won’t be taken away again.

Of course, I had already abandoned any sense of faith in my teens, after growing up in an ultra-conservative and hypocritical Methodist church. But, certainly seeing my mom suffer and die in such an inexplicable way (Ovarian Cancer,) and at such a young age (48), did nothing to restore it.

In a subsequent chapter, Hope talks about her journaling – she describes herself as “more of a binge chronicler” than a disciplined everyday writer. This is what struck me though:

My journal exists for the most utilitarian purposes possible: to record the funny things Maya says; to jot down ideas for future essays; or to describe dreams in which I come across my mother at a convalescent home and discover that her death has been a twenty-year cover-up.

I have that dream every few years too. Except that in mine, I discover that my mom is living a normal life somewhere else, maybe just across the state. When I confront her, she seems unconcerned; she doesn’t wonder what I’ve been up to or want to reunite. She seems content to have been living in that other place all this time. In the dream, I am mildly disturbed by this, but nothing like I would be in real life. And I wake up thinking, is this a symbol, or is this a glimpse? If she exists elsewhere, and is unconcerned with me, this means I am not the center of the universe. But isn’t this what we would want for those we’ve loved and let go — for them to be unmolested by our ultimately insignificant and transient dramas? If they exist outside of this world should they not have their own lives, their own new purpose?

It’s thoughts like these that keep me drawn to Hope’s books. I’m going to stay up too late, again, reading the second half.