Get Together Now!

mihai-criste-tuttart-2Driving up north to our 10th (or so) annual Ski weekend has me thinking about family and friends and how important they are in my life.

Do you do any “annual” things with your family or friends?

You should.

We have our Polish Sausage Making Party every year — those that participate say we’ve been doing it for 15 years. I look back on my life and remember the girl’s shopping weekends we used to take just so we could stay overnight and drink and eat and gossip and not drive. Further back, I remember fishing trips I used to take with my family; sticking bamboo poles in the muddy bank, playing hide and seek in the woods, and whispering about the strange old hobo man that lived in this nasty little shack down the road.

I wish our minds held more memories, don’t you?

I know I went places, did things, with family and friends. I get glimpses camping with my oldest being only 1-year-old, of taking my in-laws to Las Vegas two weeks before my mother-in-law served divorce papers to my father-in-law. I vaguely remember spending a week out in Seattle visiting a girlfriend when I was younger, and another week visiting a friend in Texas.

But that’s all I remember.

I didn’t take many pictures back then. The cameras were clumsy, and who wanted to bring film to be developed all the time?

These days my phone camera is full. There’s not a get together I don’t try and snap, a sunset I don’t capture. And that includes this ski weekend.

As I get older I find I’m forgetting more and more — not so much a dementia thing, but I’ve got 560,640 hours of experiences in my head. A bit much even for a human computer to recall.

That’s why doing things with family and friends is so important. So many of us hide behind the ego’s judgement of “they should call me” or “they didn’t invite me.” So we therefore skip over thinking or calling or doing something with those who really make our life full.

I learned long ago that it doesn’t matter if I’m the one who’s always calling. So what? Some people have quirks in their personality that stand in the way of their desire to do the same. It’s the same with planning things. I’m always “complaining” that I’m so busy all the time, but I wouldn’t want it any other way. Being busy means interacting. Growing. Discovering. You can’t do that locked up in your house behind a computer screen.

I encourage those of you who are on the bring of making plans to MAKE THEM. Don’t let whose turn it is spoil the possibility of a wonderful time. And wonderful memories.

One day your memories will begin to fade, and all that will be left is the smile that was created the day it happened. And if you’re lucky, that’s a hell of a lot of smiles to keep you going.

Life is But a Memory

flowerMost times I try and keep the flow of this blog upbeat — there are so many positive things in this world, I just can’t sit idly by and let them pass me without dipping my toe in their pools.  But, as many of you know, there are a lot of sad things out there, too. Some things we can change, others we can only deal with.

A good friend at work was telling me her story about her grandmother who was slipping into full-fledged dementia. K said she could see it coming for over two years, but many in the family did not (or chose not to see). Dementia comes in many ways; it slips in uninvited and refuses to leave. How and when it affects their chosen hosts is more up to Fate than choice.

Our conversation was more from her grandmother’s point of view — did she recognize her children? Did she know her grandaughter? Moreover, was she upset that she “should” know these people but just…didn’t?

Seeing a loved one go through irreversible illness is heartbreaking. Young people with inoperable cancer, friends lost in senseless car accidents, all are part of our lives that we truly have no control over. Every one of those experiences change people’s lives forever. Those who survive hurt the most, and have the hardest time accepting and moving on. But we do. We have to.  But Dementia is a gradual experience. You are alive and thinking and reasoning one minute and you are forgetting things the next until one day you don’t remember what you’re supposed to remember.

Back to Grandma.  K told me this was her first experience with anyone she knew slipping into the grey of tomorrow, and wasn’t sure how to handle it. I, in my naive way, told her that as long as her grandmother was “happy” with her every day life, as long as she was relatively healthy and alert, that was the best you could ask for. The hurt, the pain and confusion usually come from our inability to accept the fact that we’re not a part of their memory any more.

Which leads me to today’s thoughts. I wonder what the world seems like from inside a dementia patient’s head. I have heard they see and talk to people long dead, or remember 50 years ago as if it were yesterday. Does that frighten them? Does it matter to them? Often patients don’t remember their kids, their grandkids. Do they feel guilty about that? Are they sad about that? Or does it not matter in their emotional scheme of things?

I find it fascinating that, at least at the beginning, K’s grandma talks normally about day-to-day things: who she talked to (even if they are no longer on this Earth), what she did this morning. She mixes up nurses and nieces, but still processes information the same way.  It’s as if her reality is real, yet different. To her, her brother dead 15 years really sat next to her bed and talked about little things. What’s the big deal about that?

I don’t know if that’s good or not. Or whether the word “good” is even appropriate here.

People with wild imaginations also talk to people who don’t exist. Even as a writer, I find myself wandering off on a mental tangent through my character’s mind, the end having nothing to do with her/his life — or mine. I suppose the difference is that I can come back to today and know I went on a mental adventure. Dementia patients do not.

I did not wander through the Internet, looking for symptoms or shared experiences. I didn’t want the distractions to change my feeling quite yet. I have these fears and thoughts because I sometimes wonder if that’s my fate down the line. I adore my kids, my grandson, my husband and friends. The thought of having all this love inside of me fade away because I don’t remember them hurts more than I can say.

This blog has been brewing for a few days, and I wanted to hear your take on these things. Have you gone through this sort of separation? Do you know of blogs or websites that share these kinds of experiences without becoming a panic attack?  If you do, please share. If not, don’t worry. I’m sure you have experiences of other depths that you might share one day.

And no matter what, experience and explore and remember as many new things as you can while you can. For I can’t believe it doesn’t matter in the memory of your soul.

Which is all that matters in the end.

 

Losing My Mind and My Keys

Why is it that every time we forget where we put the keys or to call someone back we fear we are heading into that cobalt abyss that does not return to sender?

We live our lives as fully and carefully as we can. We work hard, marry, raise children, and find a little spirituality along the way. We don’t waste time worrying about things like memory loss. Not when our jobs and our families take over our every moment. Yet, as we approach middle age, we find ourselves scrambling a lot more. We call home and leave messages for ourselves; we make notes to remind ourselves to make notes. The squares on our calendars are larger, our checklists longer. Why is that? Why are we so afraid that what we might forget might be something important?

They say there are many things we can do to keep ahead of the age curve that suddenly shoots downwards at about the age of 50. Baby boomers are refusing to go quietly into that bleak future: we are the leading market for Botox and Viagra, Sudoku and GPS. We don’t want to get wrinkles, lose our sex drive, soften our mental edge or get lost. We take Vitamin B, eat tofu, start jogging and begin a new career. We stop smoking, drinking, and eating fatty foods. We have plastic surgery, laser surgery and liposuction. Yet there is an inevitable truth following our every footstep. We are getting older. We are getting slower. What was important to us when we were 20 and 30 doesn’t correspond to our cosmic truths at 40 or 50 or 60. More body parts are starting to hurt, more facts are beginning to slip through our minds. Our color schemes are softening and our tolerance for bright light and cold weather is running low.

I suppose, in some cases, that’s a bad thing. I used to be able to spew out names of presidents and lines from Shakespeare like I was making a grocery list. Now I’m lucky if I can remember what I had for dinner two days ago. My husband says I don’t listen and I swear he needs a hearing aid. My kids say I am drunk when I’m merely relaxed, and I can’t drive anywhere without writing down the directions. I need bifocals to read and take my glasses off to read the fine print.

Yet there are good things about not having to be a sieve for every fact and figure that passes by. I don’t have to memorize speeches or do calculus or speak three foreign languages. I don’t have to pass tests, write research papers or explain the gross national product. I learn something new every day, and don’t worry about the things I don’t understand. What I can’t spell or pronounce I can still understand, even if it’s on some sub-atomic level.

But I do worry at times at my overly cautious behavior. More than once I have turned around half way to work to make sure I turned off the stove. My husband will swear he has explained something to me ten times before, yet I swear I’ve never heard a one. I don’t remember if I’ve taken my meds in the morning or in the evening or not at all. I feel my heart pound and I wonder if I’m having a heart attack. My leg feels a little swollen and I wonder if I have a blood clot. A migraine is an aneurism and a toothache is oral surgery. Adversity seems to be hitting those around me more frequency these days, and I don’t want to be stupid and ignore warning signs of something major in the works.

 As the second half of my life begins, I can’t help but worry that my future will be over before I know it. Children and grandchildren. Watching a sunset in Cancun or snowfall in the Northwoods. Weddings and graduations. Retirement. Sleeping in late. Conquering Mount Everest. Buying a scooter. There are so many things we want to do before we pass on to the next world. So many places to see, things to do, people to love. We fear not being able to remember the sights and the people we’ve spent our lives experiencing.

It is a challenge to live in the moment, to live each moment fully and completely and not constantly look over our shoulder for the Grey Shadow. We have no control over what diseases may take over our bodies and our minds. But we do have control over how we live our lives today. How we love, whom we love. How we spend our spare time now.

So the next time you forget your boss’s wife’s name or the name of your favorite team’s quarterback, know that who they are is never as important as what they mean to you. You will remember the important things, the things that have always mattered to you.

 The rest — are probably in the same place as your keys.

Sharpening the Tool

I hate it when people say that many middle-aged people “aren’t the sharpest tools in the shed.” It’s condescending, insulting, naive and just plain wrong. What I hate even more, though, is being one of those dull tools. Alas, there are times when I feel I’m struggling to stay in the shed, period. 

This morning was a fine example of the three strikes towards the dull tool rule. This morning (really last night), I failed to barricade our kitchen, and our very naughty lab got in and scattered what she couldn’t eat down the hallway. I erased the new grocery list on the marker board, thinking it was last week’s, and left paperwork that was supposed to be turned in today on the kitchen table. I’m not stupid – it’s just that I don’t pay attention the way I should. 

How many times have things happened around you that only later you find important? Except for local jaunts, I get lost driving without written directions, even though I’ve been to these places dozens of times. I am terrible at relaying verbal messages from doctors, bankers and insurance agents, and although many things make sense to me, I have a hard time explaining them to others. Like I have crossed wires in my head. 

Is this the same woman who was commended for the creative language in her novels? The same who proofreads and enters information into a computer every day?  What happens to our ability to pay attention? Do we all become a little A-D-D as we get older? Is it just a case of not paying attention? Or something more sinister? 

I am not talking about dementia here; this is not one of those not-enough-blood-to-the-brain things. There are many people from their 20’s through their 80’s who bounce from cloud to cloud, half connected to the responsibilities of this world, half to another. Some are considered geniuses, others rebels. Some are trendsetters, others ne’re-do-wells. I’m sure at least one of them comes to your mind even now. But that doesn’t mean they are slower or duller than others. Everybody forgets things ― everybody does things now and then in a skewered way. The important thing to do in times like these is to learn from your idiosyncrasies. If you can’t change them, join them! 

Start with slowing down. “I don’t go fast!” you reiterate. Perhaps not. But in some circles even full speed ahead isn’t fast enough. We see others around us moving faster, driving faster, coming to conclusions faster, and that makes us feel inferior. Our brain tells us we are not, yet try telling that to our ego. We are so busy trying to keep one step ahead of the game, thinking about the next play, the next set of consequences, that we fail to finish the game we are currently playing. When I take the grocery list with me and not the checkbook, it doesn’t mean I’m stupid. It just means I didn’t take time to complete the circle, i.e., grocery list = buying groceries = no cash on hand = pay with a check.

I think it’s the simple things that trip us up the most. I don’t do well remembering driving directions because, I admit, I don’t focus on taking this road to that highway to that street. As a passenger, I’m too busy chatting or looking out the windows at the cows and the clouds or reading a book or talking to my car mates. This highway and that street aren’t important to me at that moment. That doesn’t mean they are not important at all ― just not at that particular moment of remembering. 

Same thing with worrying if I turned off the curling iron or picked up the stack of bills on the table to drop in the mailbox. Both situations are important; it’s just that I’m more worried about punching in on time than casing the table one more time or dipping one more time into the bathroom. I can handle the main control for the TV/DVD player/satellite box, but if someone comes along and changes things in order to play a video game, I’m done for the night. 

So when I say I/we need to slow down, all I mean is that we need to pay attention to each task as we perform it. There is nothing wrong with being interested or excited about our next move, but sometimes we need to exaggerate our involvement in the current one. To assure I complete each circle, I do things like talk out loud to myself (stove is OFF. Curling iron is BACK UNDER THE SINK).  I know it sounds ridiculous (the dogs think I’m talking to them), but I would feel a lot more ridiculous should my house catch on fire. 

 We are all given one deck of cards to play with, and it’s how we play with the cards we’re dealt that matters. I exceed in places where others fall short. It’s all a balancing act. It is in your life, too. So don’t let it be a big deal. Make your list, sing as you recite your steps, and stay on course. After all, the most important thing in life is continually sharpening that tool. 

You’ll never know when you’ll need it to dig yourself out of a hole.

 

Come Out Come Out Wherever You Are…

I am lost. Utterly, depressingly, spastically lost. I can’t eat, I can’t sleep. I find myself retracing my steps, my thoughts, my habits over the past 3-4 days. And yet I am helplessly clueless. I can’t blog, I can’t enter contests — I feel like I’m constantly grasping at the great void.

I’ve lost my flash disk.

Now, for the population in general, that’s not a traumatic thing. After all, unless there’s porn or the secret to immortality on the disk (which there isn’t), everything that’s on it is someplace else as well. Say, on my laptop. Or backed up on my portable hard drive. No problemo. But of course, you already know it goes deeper than that. 

Practically everything that’s on my computer is on my flash disk: short stories, resumes, novels, photography, research. I suppose you could pick it up and learn all about me from the nonsense I save. And it’s not so much I’m concerned that someone will read my “inner thoughts” and “financial fiascos.”  It’s kinda like going for my yearly girly check up — seen one, seem them all. At this point in my life, nothing to get embarassed about. Yes, there are private things saved in files such as “girly things” and “Art’s House.” But nothing that would wind up on Entertainment Tonight.

No, the bigger, cosmic ramification from this game of hide-and-seek is that I’ve MISPLACED MY FLASH DRIVE.  That I didn’t put it BACK IN MY PURSE where it always goes. That I got distracted — again — ran off and climbed the Eiffel Tower or went running with the bulls in Spain and forgot to PUT IT AWAY.  That I’m senile, forgetful, and just this side of dementia.  I have retraced all steps that I can remember; dug around and into the sofa, my purse, my carry bag, my pockets, three tables, two dressers, the dog toy box, and even the dreaded junk drawer.  I’ve dug around in my drawers at work and under the seats of my two beater cars. And it’s not there. Nowhere. Nada.

How could I be so careless with something so important?  That means I can’t download something on the run…I can’t type a ditty at lunch time and bring it home to work on in the evening. I can’t bring great pictures to work to use as screen savers, and can’t find the family recipes my daughter-in-law’s dad let me download from his computer. I can’t stop at the library and do a little research, nor can I share some of my great music with my pals at work.  I can’t do any of the creative airy fairy things I’m used to doing because I’ve MISPLACED MY FLASH DRIVE.

What does that say about my state of mind? Am I in such a hurry to get to tomorrow that I forget to enjoy today? What’s next? Leaving for work late, forgetting to turn off the stove that made my grilled cheese breakfast sandwich? Filling a grocery cart full of groceries, just to get to the checkout and realize I’ve left my checkbook on the kitchen table? Going to the dentist’s office when really I’ve got an appointment at the eye doctor?  I feel like the girl who cried wolf.  Not me, I boast. I’ll never lose my flash disk. It’s always in one of two or three places. Tops. I’m always telling my husband, “Stop treating me like a kid! Quit ragging me!”  And yet here I am, ragging myself. Another notch in the “dummy” belt. Another slip on the ice.

All this berating just for a little thing that probably ended up as a cat toy somewhere, lying with saintly patience for me to stumble across it. It has unfinished stories waiting, summer pictures to be used as computer wallpaper, and recipes waiting to be cooked. It’s waving to me, it’s little lanyard quivering in devoted anticipation, knowing that sooner or later I will stumble upon it, and rejoice that the cosmos has once again stepped in to help. Perhaps then I will realize that it truly is the journey that has been what it’s all about, not the final destination.

Until then, if any of you have a little winjy you can send my way to help me find my little flash disk, I’d appreciate it. In return I’ll send you the great Artichoke Dip recipe that I know is filed away on it…