He Was My Father

I said farewell to my father today. I kept looking for him to be sitting next to us, but he wasn’t there. My mother asked me to write a eulogy for him, and these are the words I said.

 

Photo by Steve Kramer

Photo by Steve Kramer

He was my father.

 

He shared his love of reading with me. He said that, as a child, he always loved to read, and he carried that with him throughout his life. I follow in his footsteps.

 

He was the person I went to when I doubted my own words; we’d argue over the use of commas.

 

He was the only one who voluntarily read my dissertation. I’m not sure what he thought, except he told me he needed a dictionary in parts.

 

He was the person I’d call when I applied for jobs and was unsure what to say. He made me believe that anything was possible.

 

He came to my rescue when I needed help with Sarah, whose toddler days sometimes meant I couldn’t always get my work done. Nathan had to be away for some reason, and I had a big interview to prepare for, so he came and stayed for a couple of weeks, to play with his granddaughter and even take her to the beach for the first time.

 

He printed out images of Snoopy on a dot matrix printer and handed out punch cards with messages on them as he wowed my elementary school classmates with a room full of computer technology.

 

He charmed my friends whenever they met him.

 

He told awful jokes that I’m now passing down to Sarah.

 

He greeted every spring with this memorable poem, “Spring has sprung, the grass has riz, I wonder where the birdies is, the birds is on the wing, no, the wings is on the birds.”

 

He mastered the art of telling the Passover story as quickly as possible so we could get to the food, and of giving me hints (without anyone knowing) which allowed me to find the Afikomen before the big kids.

 

His snore scared away the bears, but his joy on one particular canoe trip made the adventure even greater.

 

He made connections with people in Japan faster than most Americans who lived there.

 

He led the way on every journey we took. He loved to walk and we had to scramble to keep up.

 

He was my personal GPS system, even though I believe he and I have a completely different understanding of the term “short cut.”

 

He jumped over my wedding dress when my parents walked me down the aisle.

 

He always said that, when he was young he “walked to school barefoot in the snow uphill both ways.”

 

His favorite childhood story involved a skunk, a dog, tomato juice, and the missing seat in his pants.

 

He was the silliest looking samurai ever.

 

I learned early on never to pull his finger, and that beans were a musical fruit.

 

He played endless games with his only grandchild, who has these words to say:

 

I MISS YOU PAPA

I loved the way you laughed.

I loved the way you played games with me.

I loved that you watched me when I was a baby.

I wish I was brave enough to go to your funeral.

I miss you SO much Papa and I love you.

Rest in Peace! Sarah

 

 

He was taken far too soon, by a disease that deprived us of his wit, wisdom and his voice. Two years ago, Nathan, Sarah, and I tried to capture his memories using techniques from StoryCorps. From that interview I learned how much he loved my mother, how much he had hoped to spend his retirement traveling with her, and these words from his mouth

“I had a great life.”

 

I will miss you forever, Dad.

 

 

Baruch Dayan Ha’emet.

 

 

 

 

 

A Box of Memories

I sift through photos scanned in stealth by my brother from collections tucked away to gather dust in unknown corners of my parents home. I attempt to match the antique black and white photos or the faded Kodachrome colors with the perfect mat, the perfect saying, the perfect decorative element.

This is a project of love tinged with sadness.

My own memories of childhood and even early adulthood have faded almost as much as some of the photos, only sparked into vivid Technicolor when I stumble upon an object, an image, or sometimes even a scent that brings me back to a brief moment.

The collection of childhood stories found tucked into an old desk drawer remind me of when my writing dreams began, inspired by  my second grade teacher whose name eludes me.

The green stuffed ape that made a recent surprise appearance engenders images of singing karaoke in private rooms in Japan with a man I thought I might love, and a wonderful group of friends.

The collection of Nancy Drew and Bobbsey Twin mysteries that I pulled out of my parent’s attic in the hope they might interest Sarah recall hour after hour curled up on my pink bedspread with tiny white flowers reading page after page of every book in sight.

I was excited when this episode of SAVED BY THE BELL came out because I had the same bedspread as Jessie Spano 🙂 (Image came from hellogiggles.com)

I still yearn for the hard cover copies of Jane Eyre and Wuthering Heights marked with  fading pencil lines under every word I wanted to learn and remember.

The musty smell when I enter an antique store brings me back to my Nana’s house, although memories of Nana elude me, as do memories of any of my grandparents who all died when I was very young. They live on only in the recipes handed down for special holiday fare.

My daughter’s search for the perfect bathing suit makes me flash to a black suit with a rainbow stripe on a blossoming body. My Great Aunt Irene, the only one of that generation that I recall as anything more than an image, surprised me as I walked out of her home to head toward the beach two blocks away. “What a cute figure,” she said. I still recall the feel of my blush; an awkward tween unsure of how to react to her developing body. Now I yearn to be able to fit into that black bathing suit.

Still each of these memories are brief flashes. I struggle to fill in the gaps.

If I have lost so much memory simply to the passing of time, then what snippets does my father hold as he faces the deep erasure of memory by a disease that nobody can control?

All these thoughts pass through my head as I work to create a special memory and gift of celebration for my parents’ 50th anniversary.  An anniversary which should be celebrated with a giant party and much laughter, but will instead be marked by a quiet family gathering over Chinese take-out in a house of fading memories.

I wanted to give them a gift to commemorate the occasion. But what gift could I give that would reach my father, whose slow fade into the depths of Alzheimer’s reflects the faded pictures of their past? What gift could I give them both that could spark a recognition of the miracle of surviving together for 50 years, despite difficult times which sometimes came close to tearing us all apart?

While recent gifts to the grandparents on both sides of our family have included photos of their only grandchild, sometimes placed in albums or scrapbooks, that solution didn’t seem the answer this time. Or at least not in that form. Although I treasure my own scrapbooks almost as much as the pile of journals that have traveled with me from move to move, from country to country, and from dream to dream–somehow putting together another book of pictures protected by plastic pages seemed like it would not be enough to reach my father and bring smiles to my mother.

Instead I came up with the idea for a family project.  I wanted to create something memorable and tactile. I wanted my father to be able to touch moments of his past, hoping that physically touching the photos and reading the sayings would somehow be the spark needed to provide him a moment of living technicolor memory. To do this, I put my brother on the mission to gather the photos. I gave Nathan the assignment to create some kind of beautiful container.

Sarah and I set to work mounting, writing, and creating a collection of images that could be sifted through in a cascading journey through time.

Sarah picks out a picture taken in Durango, CO. She sighs and says, “The last time Papa was still Papa,” before grabbing a label and a pen.

“I don’t think that’s what you should write,” I say. “I think that picture was taken earlier, and we don’t want this to be all about sadness.”

“Okay,” Sarah agrees. “I just really remember Papa as Papa then.”

I know what she means. For me, at least, the beginning of the more rapid decline began on their last trip to visit us in Durango. My father’s unwillingness to do much of anything on that trip didn’t match the man who was always on the move or playing mysterious games with Sarah. I’m glad she has some memory of that man, even though she cannot recall the Papa who came and spent a few weeks watching her as I prepared for an important job interview when she was still a toddler.  Those memories still live tucked away in scrapbooks of her early years.

It wasn’t until I read the announcement about the Daily Post’s “Weekly Writing Challenge, A Few of My Favorite Things” that I realized what we were creating. We were creating an heirloom. We were gathering together a collection of memories and images that symbolize many different things. Perhaps it’s not an object that has been handed down to me for generations. Nor is it one of my own treasured items, gathered as I’ve lived a life of unexpected twists, turns and adventures. However, this simple box, containing years of images, represents all the moments of a past that I only know in snippets of memory or story.

As I prepare to give this gift that contains generations, and will eventually be passed back down to future generations, I imagine the tears forming behind my mother’s eyes–tears of sadness and of joy. I picture my father flipping through photos until he finds one that he will hold onto, journeying back through time to a moment that I may never understand. Which photo will it be? I wonder. Will he place it beside the chair he rarely leaves? Will he have one of his better moments and be able to share the story in words? Or will he sit in silent memory until that moment passes?

The box opens to a wedding picture.

For me, one image stands out. It’s not of their wedding, although those photos are beautiful. It ‘s not of our family as the three children grow up. It is a picture that I don’t know if I have ever seen before, but one that tells me a story of young love and romance, of adventures taken and a relationship growing.  I don’t know why this picture calls to me, but it calls with the voice of a story I yearn to hear.

I can’t choose my most meaningful possession. Many of the items that I have carried with me from location to location hold special meanings. Anywhere I look in my home, I am reminded of a moment that has past as well as future possibilities. Yet somehow, as I prepare to wrap this gift in special paper so that we can photograph the moment of revelation and add to its contents, I know that I have just created something that will mean more and more with the simple passage of time. It is a meaningful possession that belongs with someone else.

Invisibility

Ready for a strange post. Nathan suggested the other day that I write something about my Dad’s disappearance into Alzheimer’s as well as my feeling of being invisible a lot of the time. I may still write that, but this strange little story came out of that nugget of idea. Enjoy!

 

INVISIBILITY

They hadn’t always been invisible.

Through a mysterious set of circumstances, each member of the Singleton family simply disappeared, over a period of a few months.

I don’t mean disappeared as in their bodies found out in the woods, or changing identities. I know them. I’ve met them. I’ve asked questions and listened to answers. They came to me with their story in the hopes of a cure.

“If you tell our story,” Eliza Singleton, the daughter, said. “Maybe someone will be able to help us. Or, at least, we can prevent someone else from disappearing too.”

“Only if they believe me,” I joked because their story still seems unbelievable, even though I sat in the room talking to the voices of these four people who were there and yet invisible. I have researched their story fully, interviewing those who knew them when they were visible and those who sometimes talk to them even in their invisibility. I have seen pictures and walked in their home. I have heard hours and hours of testimony, although sometimes their own voices fade as if the invisibility wants them to swallow them completely. When that happens I wait patiently, knowing that at some point I will hear them again. I have done all this, but I have never seen them in person.

They never appear.

Brad Singleton went invisible in an instant, on the same day his daughter would enter the world of invisibility, perhaps because he had often seemed larger than life. Maybe the brightness of his flame led to the inevitability that he would burn out quickly.

At first glance (according to photos they brought me) nobody would suspect that Brad had so much charisma. At only 5’5” he didn’t fit the model of tall, dark and handsome, although he had dark hair and deep eyes. His appearance didn’t really matter, as his personality was bigger than his height. With subtle flirtation and jokes, he could charm everyone in the room, despite his short frame.

This served him well in the classroom. The dull-eyed college students, only there because the other option was unemployment or jail, would wander in, hoping that somehow they might pick up a skill that could rocket them to immediate wealth and success. They didn’t realize that to learn something would require work and actual participation in class. Faced with their blank stares daily, Brad launched a counter-attack shining the full glory of his personality on each student in the classroom. He seduced with jokes, he educated with charm, and eventually he broke through their self-built walls so that, by the end of the semester they had actually learned something from him.

One day, he went into his classroom prepared to dazzle. “Ladies and gentlemen,” he began. “Be prepared to have your mind’s blown.”

The class looked around, puzzled. “Where is that voice coming from?” they murmured to each other. “What kind of joke is he playing?”

Brad struggled to get their attention, to have them look at him, but nothing seemed to work. They wandered around the room, looking for his voice, but then said things like, “This is ridiculous. I’m leaving.” Eventually, they all left the room, leaving Brad alone and invisible.

The rest of the Singleton’s had their moments to shine as well. Brad had fallen in love with Mary because of her beauty, which outshone every other woman at the party where they met. The emerald green dress she wore helped emphasize the perfection of her coloring; auburn hair, deep blue eyes, skin that seemed to twinkle in the light. Her shyness surprised him, but Brad just turned on the charm a little higher and the story unfolded as love stories should.

But Mary was the first to turn invisible, although her fade into invisibility wasn’t as instantaneous as Brad’s. She would fade back at all social gatherings, letting Brad lead the way. When her children were born, and became individuals themselves, she basked in the glory of their achievements great and small.

Nobody noticed that each day she seemed to be a little less substantial. Looking at pictures of the family from that time period, there always seems to be a glitch in the film. One could see the faint outlines of objects appearing behind Mary.

In the last picture of her, taken when her youngest daughter Eliza graduated from college Mary appears like a ghost next to her daughter. It was Eliza’s shining moment, graduating from a prestigious college with a job already lined up to start in the fall after she travelled around Europe for a few months. Eliza knew there was something different about her mother, but it didn’t distract her from the joy and excitement of the day. She wouldn’t notice her mother’s complete invisibility for months, because their only contact was to talk on the phone. Once they tried to Skype each other, but Eliza thought it was some kind of technical glitch that made her unable to see her mother.

It was not a glitch. Mary still existed, however nobody could see her.

Andrew’s invisibility fell on him soon after his mother’s. Unlike Eliza, he struggled in school and ended up dropping out to create his own way in the world. Like Brad, Andrew thrived on personality alone, gathering people to him like moths. The party never ended when Andrew was around. Until one day it did.

He invited people over for a blow out in his apartment. People came, carrying with them their favorite drinks and a few edible delights. He opened the door and let them in, but nobody said hello. They just seemed to look through him, and then their eyes would catch on someone they knew or a prospective pick-up and they would wander into the party without a word to Andrew. Andrew had not only become invisible, but nobody could hear him, except, of course, his family as he discovered in a desperate phone call to Eliza.

“Something weird is happening to me,” he said. “It’s like nobody can see me or hear me.”

“You are just feeling down on yourself,” Eliza replied. “I’m sure once you find your dream job you’ll feel better. Just go have fun at your party.”

Andrew didn’t have fun, he simply disappeared.

The next morning was Brad’s fateful class.

Eliza knew that feeling of worth that comes from doing good work and making a difference in lives. She did it every day, solving crises in her office, helping friends with their romantic troubles, and enjoying life to the utmost. If she had one complaint, it was her inability to meet someone that she connected with. It seemed that she was doomed when it came to falling in love. She would go out with friends to clubs, or hang out at parties, and inevitably everyone would pair off leaving her alone guarding the bags and sipping on a drink.

Sometimes she felt invisible.

The night after her phone call with Andrew, she joined the rest of her family in the invisible world.

“Where did Eliza go?” Her friend Susan asked, returning to the table to gulp down water after a frenzied time on the dance floor.

“I’m right here,” Eliza said, simultaneous to Beth’s reply, “She must have gone home.”

That’s when she knew. She was invisible.

The Singleton family still exists. Although their voices fade in and out, you can talk to them. How else would I learn their story?

“We are still here,” Brad says. “We can, sometimes, even see each other. But to most of the rest of the world, we are simply gone. We’ve been to doctors all over, but nobody has a solution. That’s why we decided to talk to you.”

“Being invisible sucks,” Andrew grumbled from the corner where I assumed he was smoking a cigarette, as I saw a slight spark and could smell the acrid odor.

“How do you feel,” I asked Mary.

“Me?” she answered, sounding surprised that her opinion mattered to me. “Well . . . I kind of like that we are all together in this,” she said. “We never really had time for each other before, or at least it felt like that. But . . .”

As she spoke I saw a flash, an image of a woman of faded beauty sitting in the chair where her voice came from.

Brad interrupted her, “We had plenty of family time. I can’t help it if I have lots of friends and you don’t.”

“I’m sorry,” Mary said, and her image disappeared again.

If Brad had really listened to her words, I wonder if Mary would be visible now.

The Singleton family did not die. They continue to live their lives just like you and I.

Except now, they are invisible.

 

 

Reflections on Occupy Thanksgiving, Joy Tinged with Sadness

Starting to load up the table

Insomnia struck at 3:30 am after a fitful sleep before that.

Simply a result of overindulgence?

It would have been convenient if I was one of the crazy thrifty multitudes who choose to line up outside stores for the early openings and buying frenzy known as Black Friday, but I’m not.

Instead it was a reflection of something more. When denied sleep I buried myself in the beauty of tragic love past, reading Jane Eyre for the first time in many years and relishing every dramatic throb of love torn asunder. Finally, I thought I could go back to sleep only to find myself crying convulsively, waking Nathan with wracking sobs.

Why would a day filled with laughter, smiles and thanks bring on this insuppressible sadness?

Because amidst the celebration I saw my mother’s eyes tear up when Sarah interviewed her and asked two important questions:

  1. “What are you thankful for?” Answer: “That all my loved one’s are here together.”
  2. “If you could have one wish, what would it be?” Answer: “That Papa would get better.”

You see, in the cacophony of voices, telling jokes, sharing stories, there was one gaping hole of silence sitting to my left. My Dad, who used to be the life of the party, now caught in the trap of Alzheimer’s would only interject in discomfort or annoyance if we pushed him too hard to eat.

Note my tongue sticking out, a habit I got from my Dad

The silence is heartbreaking.

The day, overall was joyous. Sarah’s excitement and enthusiasm for interviewing everybody was contagious. The food delicious. The laughter and conversation scintillating.

It’s been a long time since my family sat down together for a meal, followed by playing games together.

Love this image with Mom joining in the fun.

All in all a wonderful day that I will always be thankful for, and that I believe Sarah will hold in her memory.

Sarah got the big end of the wishbone. I hope all her wishes come true.

Still, for me, a joyous day tinged with a little sadness.

Most photo's taken by Steve, also known as Taochild

Reflections on Memory

What is memory? What do we remember? What makes something stand out in our mind so that we hold onto it in some format to come out years later in a conversation or on the page?

Yesterday Kathy wrote about her concerns that her memories are not specific enough for her memoirs. I argued that nobody’s memory is that precise, and that I find memoirs written with immense detail somewhat distracting because nobody can really remember every detail of his/her life, unless he/she took precise records on a daily basis.

We also all remember things differently. Even moments we spent together, when filtered through time, space, and the vagaries of personality will come out differently depending on the speaker. Every event can be interpreted with multiple truths like a never-ending production of Rashomon.

Yet, despite the variations in memory, certain things stick out. Tonight, as we took Sarah on her second round of Trick-or-Treating for what I am calling Halloween 2011, And Event that Never Ends she started complaining that her toe hurt.

The fastest runner gets the candy first

“Do you want to go back?”

“No! But it hurts.”

“Would you like me to cut it off at the neck? That will stop the pain.”

My brother, who was with us in his Woodstock costume commented on my choice of words as another parent who I just met said, “I haven’t heard that in a long time.”

“I am my father’s daughter,” I answered.

A few minutes ago, as I was trying to watch a movie and Jasper decided he needed some affection I said, “Jasper, you are a better door than a window, even though you are a pain.”

Oh yeah, that's the spot.

Steve, who is spending the night, said, “I haven’t heard that in a long time.”

“I am my father’s daughter,” I said again.

What does this have to do with memory, you ask.

It has everything to do with the memory of who my Dad used to be. I have incorporated many of his sayings into my life, and Sarah says some of them. These are phrases that I would hear repeatedly from my Dad once upon a time a long time ago. Because, you see, my Dad is still with us physically but each day moves further away from us into the world of memory, while simultaneously unable to remember anything.

Now, usually, a typical conversation with him involves his asking how old Sarah is and what grade she is in about five times in a row.

I answer each time, because I know he really cannot remember.

Today we learned that one of Dad’s oldest friends passed away. I do not know how he took the news, as I haven’t talked to Mom yet to find out. Would the news of a friends passing push him back into memories of younger days, when age and illness hadn’t entered the picture? Or would he simply forget soon after hearing the news, content in a moment not embedded in his memory?

In Colorado.

Despite the fact that both my parents are still in my life, I struggle to remember specific moments in my childhood. It is not that I had anything majorly traumatic; I just cannot remember a lot. Occasional snippets come into my mind, like a movie jumping from scene to scene with poor editing:

  • Me presenting my mother with a homemade Mother’s Day present that involved a real branch and paper flowers.
  • Me running into the house after a bad day, running up to my room and hiding from my mother and trying to ignore my mother’s knocks as she asked me what was wrong.
  • My parents sitting near each other on the couch and my father reaching over and giving my mother a gentle touch, unaware that I was watching. I believe this was my first awareness (as a pre-teen) that my parents were intimate.
  • My father’s recitation every year in early spring of the following snippet of classic poetry: “Spring has sprung, the grass has ris, I wonder where the birdies is? The birds is on the wing, no the wings is on the birds.”
  • The one and only conversation I ever remember having about sex with a parent, when my mother was driving me back to college one day (and this doesn’t even count as a childhood memory)
  • My mom frosting a chocolate cake for someone’s birthday.

This list of tiny moments of memory could go on forever, but I struggle to remember anything substantial. What memories of my life will I return too if I succumb to this awful disease? What memories of life will I leave Sarah with as she moves on into her own life?

Sometimes I wish I could go back in time and rediscover the moments of childhood that mean the most. I wish I did not have to rely on memories that are either faint or misremembered.

I wish I had kept better records of my own life and the lives of my family, but all I have now are remnants and habits that come from sources that I barely remember. As I search for more detailed memories, I realized that memories live within me. In the phrases I use to speak to my daughter, in the foods I cook at special times of year (recipes from my mother). Memories don’t always come back with a full picture, but they can appear in the smell of baked apple pie.

What happens when there is nothing left, not even memories?

This morning I woke with this song in my head (although I struggled to figure out what it was–thank goodness “There’s an APP for that” and that my brother had it). In some ways I think it is perfect because it reflects the challenges that often come when trying to communicate through the inconsistencies of memories.

Long Distance Loss

Histopathogic image of senile plaques seen in ...

Image via Wikipedia

Newspaper headlines capture my eye
“Alzheimer’s deaths soar, research funding lags”
“Camp gives teens respite from Alzheimer’s”
I cry.
I ache.
I wish.

Links to my family
severed by time
by distance
by disease.
Part of me yearns for proximity
to help
to connect
to understand.
But closeness will not stop
a disease that shows not mercy.
Money will not stop
a disease of creeping time.
Love will not stop
the slow decay of inevitability.
Guilt will not heal
the broken connections
of a family
fragmented
long before the invasive disintegration
of memory,
of hope,
of dreams,
of soul.

Home . . . Sick

Mom, Dad and Sarah before it all changed.

I’ve been struggling about what to write this morning.

Usually the first thing I do in the morning is start my daily post.  But, this morning was different for a few reasons.:

  • I had to drag my carcass out of bed in order to drive my husband in to get a school van at 6am–why then? I don’t know.
  • The inevitable post-show blues hit, right in the middle of the show yesterday. Causing me to miss my curtain call! I didn’t know they were going to give me flowers at the end of the show. I thought they hated me by this point. Anyway, the post-show blues are often followed by some kind of physical thing, and this was no exception. I think it works something like this:

Germ 1: “Ooh, we haven’t been able to get to this one in a long time! She’s been so stressed, that we couldn’t even squeeze in. I want to get her bad!

Germ 2: I know. She is like a crazy person. And whenever she’s crazy those white dudes never let us in. It stinks.

Brain Chemicals: She finished. Now let’s make her feel sad because its fun.

Germ 1: Oh! The brain chemicals are out and she’s loosening up! Now is our chance! Let’s get her!

Germ 2: ATTACK!!!

And so, I am home sick, today.

But I still was stuck for anything to write about, so I visited some of my favorite blogs instead, in the hopes that I might get inspired. I read this sad and beautiful post by CM Smith called “Why?” CM and I are going through some similar experiences right now as we lose our fathers to the silences of Alzheimer’s. I haven’t written much about it, because I feel guilty in many ways. Living so far away from my family, I’m not there to witness the daily struggles or to offer help and support. I rarely talk to Dad on the phone, and Mom doesn’t really like to talk on the phone either. In many ways, this disease has widened the communication gap between my family and myself, and I don’t know how to bridge that gap. So, I simply avoid thinking about it–but it is always there. And my sadness about my dad seeps into my thoughts often.

So now, I’m home sick and I’m homesick.

But, reading CM’s post lead me this post about aging by NR Hatch, called “An Age Old Question . . . Old Age”.  She writes this post with a touch of humor, because all of us face the dreaded factor of joints creaking, gravity taking over, vision worsening, hearing fading. Face it, even the little babies are doomed to become decrepit old folks. NR’s humorous take on the battle with her parents to try to get them to move into a smaller and more functional situation reflects recent discussions with my own mother who refuses to even consider moving out of her home. I guess I understand, homes signify freedom and memories, but at what point do we say, okay, its time to let go? I wish both my parents could find freedom in old age, by holding onto memory rather than things. But memory is being slowly stripped from my dad, so my mother clings more to the things.

So, I guess I’m lucky in a way. Yes, I’m home sick, and I can be homesick, but reflecting on age and emotion and illness has led me to an important conclusion. I’ve moved a lot. I’ve said hello and goodbye to many wonderful people throughout my life. I’ve lived many incredible experiences. I’ve had to leave many homes behind. But, I carry them with me wherever I go, and have begun to share them in the words of this blog.

NR Hatch  wrote: “I am not going to worry about the passage of time until my feet no longer look good in flip flops.  If my eyesight fails quickly enough, that day will never come.” Nobody can win the battle against time, so I am not going to try. But, I am going to try to preserve memories in a way that they can never truly be lost–not by collecting possessions, but through a collection of words and images. I know that there is a possibility that I will follow my father down the dark path of oblivion, but I intend to leave a lot of stories behind.

So now, I’m simply home.

An Audience of One, An Audience of Many

I’ve noticed a trend over the past week. Many of my favorite bloggers, myself included,have seemed to reach a road block as we struggle for ideas of what to write next or where to get ideas.

Maybe it’s the full moon.

 

arch0708.goldtent.net

Or maybe the trend lies in some deep questions: “why do we blog” and “what happens next”?

Many of us, thanks to The Daily Post, have seen an upswing in visits. We are forming a complex community of readers and writers and writers who read and readers who write. I find it exciting to watch my numbers rise on some days, and devastating when they inevitably fall on others. My heart thrilled last month when I almost got 1000 readers in that month alone.

But then writer’s block hit.

As I lay in bed this morning–wishing that my body would be kind and let me sleep in but recognizing that the whir of my brain would make that impossible–I had a little epiphany. My personal writer’s block lies in the question of Audience and Purpose. Yes folks, the Comp teacher in me has realized that these terms are truly valuable, and can give new meaning to my writing.

Purpose has many meanings, but in this case it relates to my question “what happens next?” Many of us hope for that elusive Freshly Pressed which will possibly catapult us into the next level of blogging glory. [Although, honestly, sometimes the posts selected to be Freshly Pressed leave me scratching my head thinking “Why did they choose that? “] Then there is the even more elusive Golden Ticket–discovery by some editor who recognizes the true artistic brilliance of our work, followed by a lucrative publishing contract that fulfills our wildest writing dreams.

Let’s face it folks, the chances of that happening are pretty slim, especially as the blogging world continues to grow daily.

So then, what happens next? Where do my blogs go? What happens when technology makes it s next leap forward and blogging becomes obsolete? Do all the words I’ve written simply fade off into the mysterious world of computer code never to be heard from again?

The answer, I think, lies in audience.

Please bear with my complex thought process as I try to explain.

Yesterday, as I introduced my Writing Composition 1 class to their next big assignment to write profiles, I had them conduct mini interviews with each other  and then discuss what they would focus in on about the interview subject. Then I had them interview me. As I answered their questions–which ranged from the sublime “What is your dream job? to the ridiculous “What is your best dance move?”–I realized that I have led an interesting life, and that I do have stories to share.

Then I thought about my dad. He has Alzheimer’s. My uncle was just put on the same drug to help with memory as Dad. I assume that mean’s Uncle Burt has Alzheimer’s too. Alzheimer’s can be hereditary. My whole family also faces heart health issues. But, honestly, I am more afraid of losing my brain than my heart. To live without thought capacity, for me, would be life in hell.

Sarah and Papa Read Together

Now, Dad is still at home and still recognizes who we are. But he’s not really my Dad anymore. I don’t live near them, so I have limited conversations with him now because he doesn’t really talk. When we went back to visit this past December and I saw him for the first time in a long time, my heart broke. I sat at the kitchen table with silent tears pouring down my cheeks. My mother found me that way.

“He’s not that bad,” she said.

“He’s disappearing.” I said. “He’s white, like the snow. He’s not Dad anymore.”

“He’s not that bad,” she insisted.

But, just like people who are with you all the time cannot really see your incredible weight loss until it is drastic (12 lbs down here, but nobody really notices), my mother couldn’t really see the changes in Dad the way that I did. Either that, or she is in complete denial.

We video taped Dad, hoping he would answer some questions about his past, so that we could learn more about him. It was difficult.  Surprisingly, Mom joined in and I actually learned a few new things about her. She used to love art as a child. I never knew that.

That’s just it. I never really knew my parents. I knew them as they were when I was a child, but that is through the eyes of childhood. We have drifted away from each other in adulthood, and never seemed to move past the parent/child relationship to one that includes friendship. And I know them as they are now, but that is not enough.

So, back to audience and purpose, I want my daughter and her future children (if there are any) to know me. Not just the me of now, the one who has to be strict sometimes and makes mistakes as a parent. I want her to know the girl I was, the woman I am, and the woman I will become. So now I have a new audience in mind. I will write for my daughter. I will write for my descendants. Hopefully I will continue to interest other readers, but now I need to tell the stories that Sarah needs to hear.

Of course, she is a little young (at eight) to read some of what I write, so I need to look towards permanence. I know, supposedly everything I put out into the technological universe will live forever, but tell that to the stories trapped in my old floppy discs that I have yet to recover. Books are permanent unless they are destroyed. I will make a book. I plan on printing out my words, and putting them into some kind of collection that can be handed down from generation to generation. I know I will kill some trees, but I will also give my daughter a gift that I think is important.

I give her the gift of my stories; I give her the gift of me.

Auld Lang Syne(s) of Change Everlasting

#20 - Auld Lang Syne

Image by keishkakeishka via Flickr

Happy New Year, everyone.

This time of year is a time when everybody reflects on the past. It does not matter what holiday we celebrate, but we all talk about holidays past. We meet with old friends and/or family that we don’t see that often. Conversations abound with “remember when . . .? ” and “whatever happened to . . .?”

On New Year’s Eve we sing a song that asks us to reflect on the past as we take this tiny step into the future.  This is also the time of making promises to ourselves that we will lose weight, or make more time, or exercise or whatever doomed resolution we see fit to make.

This year, the auld lang syne of the holidays has taken on layers of meaning for me; some good, some not-so-good. We drove back to visit my family, especially my father who has Alzheimer’s. I wanted my daughter to have some time with Papa while he is still somewhat cognizant of who we are and has memories we can share. My husband wanted to borrow questions from StoryCorps to learn more about my parents lives, and so that our daughter could have an interesting conversation with a person who is living in Auld Lang Syne. It wasn’t totally successful, as my dad didn’t answer as many questions as I thought he would. I think he was overwhelmed, and we probably should have tried again. Surprisingly, my mother answered some of the questions and we all learned a few surprising things.

On the way, we stopped to visit a high school friend of my husband’s who became an instant friend when she and I met long ago. We wanted our daughter’s to meet (who are only a couple of months apart). Instant sisters, and a little trip down memory lane that takes us into tomorrow.

My next step into Auld Lang Syne came with a mini-reunion of college friends. For me, this revealed some things to me which I wish I had done a little differently (like maybe become closer to those people rather than filling the spot of pathetic tag-along with other’s). It lead me to understand that I have changed in many ways, and I believe they are for the better. But it also made me recognize that I can only move forward by forgiving myself and letting go of the past.

This led to a resolution Resolving to Forgive which will truly change, and improve, my life if I can keep it.

Another journey into Auld Lang Syne was the scheduled reunion of high school drama friends. A large group of us were going to meet but it got postponed because of the blizzard, so eventually only a few people were able to come. The original planning of this gathering really struck a chord with me, as people seemed to leap on the chance to get together, or expressed utter dismay at having to miss it. This, I think, is a result of Facebook entering our lives. The one thing we all have in common now, although many of us are still in the arts, is that we have reconnected through a social media. As excited as I was to see everyone, and as disappointed as I was when the plans fell through, I had this niggling thought in the back of my mind. Why are we so interested in doing this? Why do we seek the connections or ties that stretch back into history when I am sure that we have all moved on from?

Auld Lang Syne.

For me, there is some comfort in talking to people who knew me when . . . when  I was filled with youthful optimism, when we lived a life of potential, when my patterns were only beginning to be established. The past is a place of memory wrapped in warm fuzzy-ness, even the reality wasn’t that spectacular. I wanted to share that past with my daughter in the hopes that it will make her future also be filled with warm thoughts of the past.

This trip has been full of memorable moments that I hope my daughter will hold in her heart as these times become Auld Lang Syne. As we prepare to get back on the road and head into our current reality, which for me feels like a pause before we move onto the future. This trip has been full of complex feelings and emotions all of which can be summed up with one simple phrase. I think you already know it.

Auld Lang Syne!

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