Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Walk with a Three-Year-Old

Have you ever gone on a walk with a three-year-old?

I don't have a whole lot of experience with kids in general, but I do know that "unpredictable" might be the best descriptor of the time I spend with them.

For example, if I want to spend some time outdoors as a way to give the kid a chance to "run the stink off," as an experienced grandmother expresses it, the kid just wants to be indoors (making noise or tearing up something, usually). Whereas if I want to get from Point A to Point B, the kid wants to examine every rock on the beach from all angles and otherwise experience all the glories of nature.

So lately, I've been the second kind of kid. The one who may be on a path to a destination and all, but who keeps seeing shiny things on the ground that require intense inspection. Or an opening in the brush at the side of the road that absolutely must be investigated. Or a butterfly that requires chasing.

You get the picture.

There's this nonfiction project that fascinates me, see, and I'm currently at the stage where nearly everything in the whole beautiful world feels somehow related to it. I recognize the Causabon-esque folly in that approach. Plus the sheer tonnage of what I know I don't know (to say nothing of what I don't even know I don't know) is daunting, to say the least. My project needs some limits. I do know that much.

However, my writing experiences in the past few years have also shown me the value of serendipity. When I'm interested in the moon, an article about mapping the dark side appears in a magazine; as I'm revising that piece, a different but related article appears. I didn't set out to research the moon; I was just spending some quality time with a couple of characters to whom the moon seemed to be important. Pretty fun.

So I'm trying to give my nonfiction project that kind of room. Sure, I'm still trying to keep some boundaries around my subject. But I'm also trying to keep honoring the kid who's having a whackload of fun making connections.

Saturday, October 5, 2013

Links for Alzheimer Caregivers

Thank you to the Alzheimer Association of Thunder Bay for hosting such a wonderful, supportive day for caregivers and allowing me to share a little about the value of keeping a journal.

Here's a link to the handout I shared; it has the important information on it.

At the workshop, a few caregivers shared their stories and thoughts about the process. One of the caregivers said that some days with her mother are basically okay, and some days she just wants her "real" mother back. I didn't get the chance to tell her this in person, but I will say it here: it's been my experience that after a sad and difficult journey, and perhaps a time of mourning, you can develop a new relationship with your loved one. The end of someone's life doesn't represent that person's entire life, and those circumstances don't have to define your relationship with that person forever. You may not have her "back," but you can re-connect with more of her than you can see now.

And further, from the department of Shameless Self-Promotion, these links to essays about my mother and Alzheimer's:

"All I Can Say"


A third essay, "Words," isn't available online yet but you can buy the issue of the journal it appears in, 36.2, either here or at Northern Woman's Bookstore in Thunder Bay.

Again, thanks and kudos to the Alzheimer Association, caregivers, and all who support them.
Wednesday, October 2, 2013


You know how you think your life is going to go one way, and then some stuff happens, and it goes a different way?

Or maybe you thought some day you'd be "all grown up" and receive that Adult Handbook and know how to do everything.

Either way, what a surprise to discover that you can--or must--continue to learn new skills and change directions in your 30s, 40s, and (dare I say it) 50s.

The May 2013 issue of Discover magazine contains (among other fascinating insights into our world) an article about an ornithologist (birds), Richard Prum, whose theories about beauty and evolution are worth reading for themselves. The writer, Veronique Greenwood, did a great job with questions that get to important information and great quotes.

So yes, go there and read this!

A sort of "sidebar" element of the story that captured my attention relates to the reason why Dr. Prum started studying bird feathers and display in the first place: he had to punt. From childhood, he'd developed expertise in identifying bird calls. In his adulthood, over just a few years, he lost enough hearing that his previous expertise was no  longer available to him. So he switched gears. Talk about resilience.

Speaking of "never thought I'd..." moments, I am speaking (yikes) soon about journaling. My audience: caregivers for those with Alzheimer's Disease. My purpose: to show how a journal can be a useful tool at various points along the journey, for various reasons.

I expect that no one who will be in the room would have said 20 years ago that they'd be a caregiver. In 1993, I wouldn't have imagined that I'd have writing experience, plus "caring for the caregiver" experience, to share. (To say nothing of imagining speaking to a room full of people I don't know, which is still something that sounds a lot better in June than it does as the scheduled date in October draws near.)

And yet, I have the experience, and I'm happy to share it, because the sharing of my experience helps give the experience itself meaning. Which I think is sort of what Faulkner meant when he said something like "The past isn't over; it isn't even past." Plus the sharing part helps me grow and stretch.

What expertise from your past have you outgrown (or has outgrown you)? What experience from your past can you share today in the hope of making someone else's journey easier?