Wednesday, August 5, 2020

Surprisingly Helpful: #1000wordsofsummer

I like linear, predictable processes. 

I'm not generally the kind of person who proclaims, "I'm the kind of person who" (because honestly, beware), but if I were, I'd say, "I'm the kind of person who likes linear, predictable processes, with a side of outlines and spreadsheets."

And yet. I have come to see that my writing process doesn't necessarily work that way. I once scoffed at those who said, "you don't know what you think about something until you write it," but now I enjoy scoffing at my own preconceived notions. Because I often don't know what I mean until I write it, and sometimes not until I've revised that writing several times. 

Not edited. Revised. Like re-envisioning. 

I really don't have enough experience to comment knowledgeably about The Writing Process (although I still try), but here's a couple of things I've learned: a. mine usually isn't as linear as I'd like and b. I'm never sure what will be helpful until I try it. 

So. I've been looking for hacks to help me with writing goals. Perhaps especially in pandemic time. Perhaps just in this time of my own writing life, where I'm finishing and starting projects, and supporting last year's book. Perhaps just in summer. Perhaps always. Perhaps for you. Or not.

Here's one: #1000wordsofsummer

Led by American writer Jami Attenburg, this effort is basically what it sounds like: you write #1000 words a day (or maybe you can revise or something), for some portion of the summer. Give her your email address, and she'll send a letter with some inspiring words of wisdom from other writers. And yep, that's all she does with your address--no spam. There's also a hashtag on Twitter. 

Earlier this summer, I signed up on a whim (I enjoy her Instagram feed, mostly New Orleans houses). I participated in a two-week session in June and came away with more than I bargained for: 7000 words on two projects for 14,000 total words. Not all of them will be "usable" but they are all extremely helpful. 

I bring this up because she's doing another week of it (which is linked above), from August 10 to 16. So there's time to sign up. More explanation at the link.

The thing about my desire for linear processes is that life often prevents them from happening. And then it's all too easy to give up. 

But 1000 words is do-able, especially for 14 days. Doing them helped me (tortured metaphor alert) keep my bucket in the creative well for two weeks, while other Stuff of Summer Needed Doing. 

Going back to those words now: well, priceless. So useful. Surprisingly so. For me. Maybe for you, too?
Wednesday, July 29, 2020

Two More for You, and One Forthcoming

As part of an event sponsored by my publisher, Signature Editions, in June, I appeared on a panel. It was fun! (Links for all things REVERBERATIONS-related are here and here.) We talked about the rewards and pitfalls about writing intensely personal stories related to health and illness.

Books. Lots.


In preparation for the panel, I had occasion to read the titles by the other panelists:

* Micro-Miracle: A True Story, by Amy Boyes, about her experience when daughter Madeline comes sixteen weeks early. It's a harrowing and ultimately satisfying story about a world entirely new to me, that of a micro-preemie baby. Well, babies are pretty foreign to me in general, and I think that (lack of) experience intensified my concern when things start to go wrong for Amy and her baby.

* Rain on a Distant Roof, by Vanessa Farnsworth, about her experience with Lyme disease in Canada and making sense of her body when her body no longer makes sense to her. Sections that provide a window into her hallucinatory experiences alternate with descriptions of the ways in which the Canadian healthcare system stresses and ultimately fails those with Lyme-related conditions. 

I recommend both books. Both successfully tackle complicated subjects--they provide information and immersive suspense. 

And Vanessa Farnsworth has a new book coming with Signature next month! It's fiction, called The Haweaters, and it's set in Manitoulin Island about 150 years ago, loosely based on events in Vanessa's family. I look forward to finding that one, too!
Wednesday, July 22, 2020

Mixing Metaphors

I'm trying to make progress on more than one front at a time, and I don't feel especially successful.

Perhaps it's typical for summer. Perhaps life is always like this, and I become aware periodically. 

Regardless. 

Recently, I wrote on a scrap piece of paper: How is a leaking roof like a manuscript in progress?


Well, maybe a better question is how are they NOT alike, amirite?

Neither works well, as is. But it's easy enough to ignore how poorly they're working until it rains and you're forced to notice. 

Both are tricky to fix. You think you know where the problems are, but when you finally get a roofer to stop by, he says it's the siding and the chimneys. Siding people say they don't do chimneys (though chimney supporting structures have siding and flashing). Chimney people say that they fix only chimneys they have put in. 

When you venture up in the attic to slather the underneath of the roof with caulking, which is a patch job at best, you discover other stuff. Back to books for a moment--I recently read a couple that I'm pretty sure were the manuscript version of caulked when they could have used a new roof. I can understand why people don't take their manuscripts apart; it's daunting. But that's the best fix. And it's frustrating to read something that is patched when the actual fix would have been more satisfying and less difficult than it appeared ahead of time.  

So basically, we enjoy rainy days in summer--beyond cooling off the world and nurturing growth, they help with our well. (Gosh, that's a metaphor too.) But they also make us uncomfortably aware of elements of our shelter that we need to fix. 

The only conclusion I have come to is something I read on Instagram that has a long lifespan in social media: The magic you're looking for is in the work you're avoiding.

I'm not looking for magic--just a puzzle that fits together in a satisfying, untidy, glorious way. Back to work, eh.
Wednesday, July 15, 2020

And Now I Don't Have To

Years ago (1996: geez, almost 25 years), Jon Krakauer published Into Thin Air, a book about an expedition up Mount Everest in which a lot of people died. I happened to catch the first article in Outside magazine, which was a teaser for the book. I found the reading and reporting to be interesting.

An IMAX movie (remember those?) called Everest was released in 1998. I lived in Colorado at the time and went with a group of people to see it in a theatre. 

As the lights came up at the end, I said, "What an absorbing experience. And now I know I don't want ever to climb Mount Everest." (In contrast, the people I was with were all gung-ho for an Everest climb. I don't live in the same community of people or even in the same country. Those two facts are not unrelated.)

My point is that sometimes I read a book and think, "Whoa, I'm glad to have read that, and I have zero desire to go and do likewise." Basically: they did this thing, and now I don't have to because I got to read their book. 

Here are two fairly recent reads that inspired that same thought: Little Yellow House: Finding Community in a Changing Neighbourhood, by Carissa Halton; and A Place on Earth, by Wendell Berry.


(NOTE: This is NOT the U.S. book called The Yellow House. This is a different book.)

On the surface, these two books pictured above are quite different. Little Yellow House is Halton's first book (though she's an experienced writer), and it's creative nonfiction; Wendell Berry has a long list of highly visible and acclaimed books of fiction, essays, and poetry. A Place on Earth is one of his early works, but it's been recently revised--and it's fiction.

Carissa Halton is, ahem, significantly younger than Berry. She's Canadian. He's not. He's explicitly religious; she is not. Halton's book is set in recent times; Berry's isn't.

Yet the books are similar. Both are about places, and communities within them. Each book shows and examines the roles of individuals within communities, and how individuals (and individual families) make space for themselves and each other in communities. 

Neither paints an idyllic portrait of community life. In these communities, people die. People take advantage of others. People do decent things for misguided reasons. People judge. The community adjusts, survives, and even thrives.

Neither book makes me want to go do what these authors write about. I have zero desire to trade rural northwestern Ontario for an urban neighbourhood in Edmonton, in spite of the evident love with which Halton regards her little yellow house and its environs. I also have little desire to visit Kentucky, much less live there and farm tobacco, even if I could live in the mid-1940s world Berry presents. 

Both have inspired me to think differently about the meaning of various terms: investment, nostalgia, economic systems (and the costs thereof), neighbours, art, and love. 

Both are well worth reading. You can order Little Yellow House from many independent booksellers but also here, at the University of Alberta Press

They weren't "escapist," exactly. But they were horizon-broadening, in the best possible way. 
Wednesday, July 8, 2020

Something Clever about Raining and Pouring

It's summer, so everything and nothing is different. The main thing that's different is what "thing" in the previous sentence refers to.



I'm juggling different things than I was a while back. New things like roofs and paint and sanders, and do we need a battery charger.

That said, some of the context from the past four months is the same: if we do need said battery charger (or paint/stain, or sandpaper), how physically do we get it when we're not going into stores. Also: is it time for another grocery pickup.

That said, many lovely people are saying nice things about my book, Reverberations: A Daughter's Meditations on Alzheimer's. And they all seem to have been talking about it in the past two or three weeks.  



This week, an extended interview with Suzannah Windsor appears at Write it Sideways. I read there, too. 

It was so much fun to connect with Suzannah, whom I first met online and later in a diner for coffee (and sometimes bacon!) to talk about writing. I found her questions really thoughtful.

This interview ranges from my pre-Canada background to the number of years it took to collect essays for my book, and my writing process. Here's a snapshot: 

Essay by essay, idea by idea, I groped my way toward a form that meshed my skills and the larger story. Luckily, many writers had stretched and experimented with creative nonfiction during this time, so once I found the labels “creative nonfiction” and “personal essay,” I could learn from reading their work.

While I'm sanding and painting (and making phone calls to siding and roofing companies and ordering things for pickup), I think too about this "new normal": the one we're in now. Where the seasons still change and give us different tasks, but elements of the contexts don't change as much. 

What parts of this "new normal" do we want to keep? What do we want to do differently, when we start doing different things again? "We" meaning me and my household, and "we" meaning the world.
Wednesday, July 1, 2020

REVERBERATIONS is at AlzAuthors today!

Today, REVERBERATIONS: A DAUGHTER'S MEDITATIONS ON ALZHEIMER'S is the featured post at AlzAuthors, a website that has assembled a huge array of resources for people with dementia and those who love them.



At this site, I share the process of writing about Mom's dementia and the role stigma played in my family's reluctance to confront and address her illness. 


I hope readers see that people with dementia and their care partners remain people—unique individuals, with lives that include joys both big and small. I hope readers understand that while a family’s emotions can include guilt, anger, and embarrassment, they can also include love.

I hope that somewhere, a reader gives my book to a friend, and they start a conversation. Because talking about Alzheimer’s and dementia is how we create a more understanding community for all of us. 

Monday, June 22, 2020

Upcoming Online Event! "Medical Mysteries, Personal Crises"

I'm pleased to participate in "Medical Mysteries, Personal Crises"--a livestream this Wednesday, June 24, hosted by my publisher, Signature Editions, at 7 PM Eastern. 

And yes, you can watch even if you don't have Facebook, though you can't comment. Click here to join the livestream. 

The description: "Three authors talk about how and why they've written about very personal medial issues--Marion Agnew on Alzheimer's disease, Amy Boyes on premature birth, and Vanessa Farnsworth on Lyme Disease."

Our three books have many similarities but also many differences, as do our lives and approaches to writing. Come, bring your friends, and ask questions! 

Also: Signature will make available FREE COPIES of our ebooks for 24 hours after the stream!



If you can't make the live event, the video will also be available afterwords. I'll post a link when it is. 


Wednesday, June 17, 2020

Race, COVID-19, and Dementia: June is Alzheimer's and Dementia Awareness Month

At least, June is officially Alzheimer's and Dementia Awareness Month in the U.S. Results for Canada seem to be mixed, with Canada's public health infrastructure celebrating World Alzheimer's Awareness in October.

Forget-me-nots, a near-universal symbol of dementia awareness, bloom in July. 


At least they do here, near the lake, in shady wooded areas. The ones above are from last summer.

In that spirit, let's not forget a few things, as we 
* continue to endure the COVID-19 pandemic, 
* are reminded, painfully, of our personal internal biases and the racism in our institutions, 
* are grateful in June for longer days, bright sunshine, and growing gardens
        - yet remember how long a day can be for someone with dementia 
        - and for the people who love and care for them 

Here's some information to read and remember. 

Canada's national dementia strategy, Together We Aspire, released about a year ago. (It mentions race in the context of Indigenous nations. Which is something. Is it enough?)

According to this study published in 2016, in the U.S. between 2000 and 2012, dementia incidence was highest among African-Americans (26.6/1000 person-years) and America Indian/Alaska Native (22.2/1000 person-years). Of intermediate incidence: Latinos (19.6/1000 person-years), Pacific Islanders (19.6/1000 person-years), and Whites (19.3/1000 person-years). Of lowest incidence: Asian-Americans (15.2/1000 person-years). 

Racial disparities in the rates of dementia in different races are linked to social determinants of health. Which is to say: education levels. Comprehensive, sustained treatment of hypertension, general cardiac and vascular disease, and diabetes. Access to wellness programs. Ergo: healthcare systems are racist. I'm linking to just one article but there are many. 

Nursing homes, long-term care homes, retirement homes--where many people with dementia are cared for in the later stages of illness--have been the site of most COVID-19 deaths in the U.S. and Canada. Here are links: An article about the U.S. rate from May. An article about Canadian rates from May. 

A website, AlzAuthors.com, compiles resources of all kinds (books, blogs, articles, caregiver guides, and writing by those WITH dementia) about Alzheimer's and other forms of dementia. (And yes, Reverberations: A Daughter's Meditations on Alzheimer's will be featured on their blog on July 1.)  The site doesn't include a way to search by race to find Black- or other BIPOC-specific resources. However, a friendly librarian or a bookseller at an independent bookstore might be able to direct you toward resources for those interested in the Black experience of dementia. 

The National Institute on Aging at the U.S. National Institutes of Health links to this PDF from Kentucky, The Book of Alzheimer's for African-American Churches. The chapter beginning on page 57, "Dementia and the African-American Community," shares more sobering statistics and cultural concerns. It refers to Nebraska activist Lela Knox Shanks, author in the late 1990s of Your Name is Hughes Hannibal Shanks: A Caregiver's Guide to Alzheimer's. The resource suggests ways churches can reduce stigma around dementia and questions of faith that may arise in people with dementia and those who love them. It includes ten concrete actions that faith communities--or any community, really--could undertake. 


Similarly, I'd "known" that COVID-19 is more prevalent in nursing homes, but I was shocked all over again at the ease with which I found references describing and discussing that fact. And conversely, I was surprised by the relative lack of data around race and dementia, and the relative lack of race- or culture-specific resources. 

Neither search was exhaustive--and both were exhausting. Illuminating. Good experiences for me, in this month of long days.

I keep coming back to this: stories are important. 

So: Whose stories are we hearing? Whose stories are we ignoring? 

Who's not sitting at the table--who isn't even in the room? 

How can we open doors, vacate seats, pass the microphone? 

How can we keep listening, no matter how exhausted or uncomfortable we are? Because we must. We must. 

Wednesday, June 10, 2020

More About The Cooking Gene

Last December--what feels like roughly eleventy-billion years ago now--I wrote about two books in connection with my father's birthday. One of those books was The Cooking Gene, by Michael W. Twitty.


This past couple of weeks, we as a society have looked (again) (and, I hope, in a sustained way) at murders of black men and women and focused a renewed, deserved attention on Black Lives Matter. 

As I've considered the ways in which I've benefited from being White, I keep thinking about this book. In the post six months ago, I shared how this book changed my perspective on the value of DNA tests as a way to trace family history. (Again, not the use of any DNA aggregation as "proof" that "I can't be racist because genes" or "I'm indigenous because genes." Again, check out the work of Dr. Kim TallBear.)  

Here's another subject Twitty discusses: slavery was an industry, in the modern sense of industry. When White people enslaved Africans and brought them to the Americas, they chose different peoples from different areas--they "matched" those they enslaved with the areas in which those people would be sold to work. Someone who cooked shellfish on the Atlantic Coast was stolen and brought to another place to cook shellfish on the Atlantic Coast. 

Of course slavery was like this. Of course it was. This is hard to type: people were property--owned, like things, like an antique chest of drawers or a pocket watch. White people assigned value to those "things," as  they judged the relative worth of antique furniture or jewelry. 

I mean, I knew this. I just hadn't looked at it closely enough. I didn't unpack what "enslaving people" meant--the serious of callous and inhumane actions it would take to be a broker or someone otherwise involved in that trade. 

These were the people who set up systems from whom I still benefit, 400 years later.

This morning, my husband and I were discussing our roof, which leaks (again) (still). We're talking about the work we might like to have done on it, and the various pros and cons of the companies we know of in the area who do this kind of work. 

Eventually, we'll choose someone at some roofing company to attempt to stop the leaks. We will match their skills to our needs. And, because we live in a capitalistic economy, we'll pay the company for it. 

Because we can. Because we've benefited from systems of education and employment that make it possible for us to live in a beautiful place, and care for it as best we can.

Another recent insight: it's possible to be grateful and nauseated at the same time. 

And I'll say it again and again: Books are passports to others' experiences. They are conversations with important people, and I'm grateful for the opportunity to listen.
Wednesday, June 3, 2020

Book Resource: The FOLD and Others

Many people more knowledgeable and connected than I am are posting many resources to educate White people about Black history in North America. 

Pay attention to those--but look at this organization, too. Here's a link to The Fold, an organization that does so much for voices traditionally underrepresented in the literary world. 

They hold a Festival of Literary Diversity each spring, and this year, they held it online. It was exciting to be able to "go" (from our upstairs guest room) and hear great writers talking about process, community, revising, and many other struggles of art and craft.

They also host a reading challenge each year. And they hold (ACCESSIBLE!) webinars and other activities all year, including an event for young readers. They recommend books all over their site.


The next resources are not specifically Black-owned or -led but they support diverse Canadian literature.

If you're looking to expand your reading horizons, you can also look at 49thShelf.com for Canadian authors and titles. Here's a link to their lists labeled "diversity." 

To purchase books, consider All Lit Up, a consortium of small publishers, or buy a title directly from the publisher. 

Read. Learn. Have hard conversations. 
Wednesday, May 27, 2020

REVERBERATIONS Shortlisted!



The Ontario Library Service - North announced yesterday that REVERBERATIONS: A DAUGHTER'S MEDITATIONS ON ALZHEIMER'S is shortlisted for their Louise de Kiriline Lawrence Award for Nonfiction.

Ontario libraries have not received much support (neither rah rah NOR financial) in the past eighteen months, and are again scrambling to meet community needs during this pandemic. I'm so grateful that OLS-N is giving out this award this year, and that they've chosen to recognize REVERBERATIONS in this way.

As always, I'm grateful to the team at Signature Editions for their support. 

Read books, y'all. If you can, leave reviews or comments in public places. And check out books from your library, whether that means investigating online options or scheduling a curbside pickup. Your future self will be grateful to you!
Wednesday, May 20, 2020

Small Starts

Good morning! Look at this: 


Pretty, huh.

Yesterday, I participated (online) in a workshop from the North American Association for Environmental Education, entitled "Nature as Inspiration and Transformation: An Intro to Nature Poetry."

I got to spend an hour with Aimee Nezhukamatathil, author of World of Wonders, to be published by Milkweed (one of my favourite publishers) in August.

Here's more:



Interesting, though possibly less "traditionally pretty."

The workshop, though: it was wonderful! Especially because I'm generally intimidated by poetry, both reading it and writing it. And I have an appreciation of others' scientific expertise, which I emphatically do NOT have.

And yesterday, I was reminded that all writing starts somewhere, and a sense of wonder--both in the sense of "awe" and in the sense of "curiosity"--is a great starting point.



Also: the power of starting small. Of keeping journals where you record (in writing and sketching!) observations of the world and sky. Of leaning into the things that make you mad or you don't like.


Maybe those observations grow into something more and maybe they don't.

It was lovely to participate as Aimee encouraged all of us to relax the pressure we might feel--from others, from ourselves--to "be productive" or "create."

Those who follow me on Instagram (where I'm marionagnew) know that fairly often I go over to the beach in front of our small camp on Lake Superior.

I pick up what our family calls "driftglass" and others call "seaglass." And I take pictures of it before I put it into a glass jar, where I enjoy looking at it.

I also write about these bits of glass, which you might have read if you've read my book, Reverberations: A Daughter's Meditations on Alzheimer's. Spoiler alert: they made me think of my mother! And also sheets.

In any case, that's what's on my mind these days: small starts, wonder (awe and curiosity), and, as always, this beautiful place in which we live (and parents and sheets).
Wednesday, May 13, 2020

Rewind

So. Remember when I fell on the ice? And my wrists weren't hurt badly and were getting better?

Those were the days.

During the ensuring eight or so weeks, my wrists have actually improved. I have gradually returned to reading, then editing and revising, a bit. Even some writing.

I have also attended a LOT (a lot) of Zoom meetings.

And here's what I saw during those meetings.


The photo above shows the view through the upstairs window where we set up the laptop with the functioning camera. 


Above: a closer shot to better show that thing out there. Yep. It's hanging at the end of rope, twisting in the breeze coming off Lake Superior (from left to right), and knocking gently against the exterior chimney (to the right). 

And yep, a gust from the right/wrong direction could send it right into the window glass! Which probably would have been neither a hassle nor at all expensive to replace! 

Throughout those past eight/nine/ten months years? weeks, I have lived with a sense of impending doom, as illustrated by this view. 

Last week I had another wakeful night in which I decided that although I cannot control all the stressful things in life, surely I could do something about a couple of them.

So I signed up for a grocery pickup service. And I phoned my family doctor because the healing in my wrists had plateaued and I was tired of thinking about them.


So this is the thing that was hanging from the rope on the roof. (I can't explain what it is, because I don't know. It's metal. What role did it play in weighting a string along the roofline, in a Roy-engineered contraption to keep gulls and ravens from sitting on the roof? Couldn't really say, but there's a broken partial hockey stick on another slope of the roof. And to finish the story, said contraption did emphatically NOT keep birds off the roof, but it did make for interesting whining during winter winds.)

The rope finally failed and this metal thing came crashing down onto the ground a couple of weeks ago. Whew. The window is relatively safe.

And so am I. Because I have ventured into our healthcare system and have an appointment Friday to determine whatever we shall do about these fractured wrists (!!!) of mine.

I anticipate casts and a general rewind of my ability to use my hands. I can only accept it in the service of healing. 

I'd been thinking of the metal thing as the Sword of Damocles, except that when I finally looked up that analogy the point of the story seems to be that power brings peril, which doesn't really fit either the literal situation with the window or my own, with the wrists.

For one thing, I would hardly call myself powerful, and for another, my peril came from my own carelessness, not the Winds of Fate. Well, I suppose falling was loosely related to the Power of Considering Oneself Younger And More Balanced Than One Is While Walking On Snow Over A Freaking Ice Rink That Is The Driveway, Not That I'm Bitter.

King James translated it better: Pride goeth before destruction, and a haughty spirit before a fall. (Proverbs 16:18).

I would say, "At least I'll be able to go outdoors and enjoy the spring sunshine," except that we had snow last week, and it's still May, so snow isn't out of the question.

But there exist such things as coats and mugs of coffee, and I can still read, so, to quote the woman we know as Julian of Norwich, all shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of thing shall be well. 
Wednesday, May 6, 2020

Special Days

Early May is always a bit of a sensitive time around here.

My mother's birthday was May 3 (she would have been 103 this year), and her death anniversary falls near the midnight separating May 7 from 8.

And Mother's Day, of course, is always the second Sunday of May.

This year is especially poignant. It's the 20th anniversary of her death. And the first year my book about her--about her, and me, and our family, and all of us--is out.


Also, this year I didn't get to see my family--that was one of my ghost events.

Most days, I wouldn't trade any element of the way my life has gone. After all, I've landed here, in a life that was better than I ever dreamed.

Other days, I find myself wanting to tell my mother the nice thing someone said about her and the book. So I take a walk.

I see this.


And this.


The poignancy becomes mixed with gratitude, and with spring. And all is well.


Wednesday, April 29, 2020

Trudging and Rewatching

Today would have been my first morning to wake up here at home after my vacation, in a non-COVID universe.

It's the last of THAT ghost event. May will bring more ghosts.

I'm noticing many other ghost events, ongoing. Sports reports "reports" continue to be all about events that won't be happening. And meanwhile, let's all watch this sports event from a previous year that was SO GOOD.

No shade on rewatching. I mean, it's what I do with books. And when hasn't a Jane Austen adaptation been a good insomnia companion?

Rewatching is also what I do with seasons. Every year.

So, yes, I adore living here. And although I'm sorry to miss seeing family (and let's be real, wearing flipflops), there's no place I'd rather be than here.

But some days--let's just say I'm not walking lightly on the landscape. I'm not stomping-mad. Just trudging through days. Checking things off my (greatly reduced) list. Going outdoors.

Remembering "gentle." Or trying. 

Here are some more things I've seen, as I've rewatched Spring arrive.





Stay home, stay safe, keep trudging.
Wednesday, April 22, 2020

Happy 50th Birthday, Earth Day!

How am I celebrating? By noticing, mostly. And attempting not to judge: no "I'm so over this" or "whyyyyyy isn't it warmer?" or "where are the flowerrrrrrrssss?"

Here's what I saw.






And although I'm still not into advice and answers, if you're looking for a way to celebrate Earth Day, too, I humbly share "noticing" as a consideration.


Wednesday, April 15, 2020

Ghosts

Did anyone else who keeps a physical, analog calendar write CANCELLED across all of April and May?

I secretly held out some hope for May, but from the first (and very welcome) announcement of closures, I knew April was toast.

And now we're at the point in April where, because we're isolating and distancing, I'm more aware of ghosts.

Or, more properly, the ghost of the life I'd set into motion for April. *


I'd planned a trip to the US, for various reasons. One of my siblings had a birthday that ends in zero, which is as good a reason as any for us to gather. Also, April is usually the month in which my stores of "being a good sport about fickle weather" are extra-low, so I plan a trip to Tucson, which is almost always sunny and warm. (Comparatively, for sure.) So the five of us were set to rendezvous to say "hi." And probably other things.

But of course we're not doing it, although the events linger on my calendar under the ballpoint pen line crossing them out. Presumably, they also linger in the multiverse in which the world was better-prepared for novel coronaviruses. 

I'm sorry to miss this trip, and the other events I had looked forward to in May (because, let's be real, those that aren't already cancelled will be). Of course I'm sad. Wistful.

I wonder if that other version of me in that other multiverse is enjoying the trip and the anticipation of the other events. I wonder what events she's anticipating that won't come to pass.

I still don't have Big Conclusions--still taking a pass on Big Meaning.

But, because I'm "stuck" here in this lovely place with its fickle, dithery spring weather, I'm fortunate to have a front-row seat to its indecision. The skiffs of snow, the ice re-forming in roadside ditches. 


The returning ducks and geese. The breakup of the ice across the bay. 


And the sunrises. All worth staying for--safe at home.

_____________
* Today, April 15, is also the date income tax is normally due in the U.S. It's also the date my father died, back in 2007, speaking of ghosts. It tickles me that a man who valued thoroughness and diligence over efficiency accomplished both inevitabilities, death and taxes, on the same day. He was a lovely, complicated soul, which we five siblings would have talked about--and will, when next we gather. A gathering that, itself, would have given him so much pleasure.

Wednesday, April 8, 2020

Shhh

Some people have Things to Say.

Sometimes always, sometimes "now more than ever," they have a Need to Share "this wonderful thing I do."

Which is great. Writers. Artists. Cool.

Sometimes I read Things People Say.

I especially enjoy people's varied artistic practices, especially those practices that look at things. Like Shawna Lemay's, at Transactions with Beauty. Love love love her series of still lifes. (I entertain myself by using "stills life" as the plural.)

I appreciate those who curate (oh that word) words for us. Like Kerry Clare, who shares her Gleanings.

But sometimes I'm kind of, I don't know, done? I want to say, "Shhh."

So I tell myself that. It helps to go outdoors.



 Shhh.

You don't have to tiptoe, but learn from me: do be careful on ice.


Sometimes, you can look up, or over, or out.


Shhh. 

Wednesday, April 1, 2020

Gentle

Early in our containment, I injured my hands and wrists and forearms. Let's just say I'm clumsy at the best of times, and ice can be sneaky under a fresh coating of fluffy new snow.

They're not hurt badly, and they're improving. But they're not back to "normal."

Yesterday I was changing sheets. I tried to put on the new pillowcase in the way I enjoy most--holding the pillow briefly under my chin(s) while I worry on the case at the bottom, and then holding case and pillow out from my body, giving it a jerk, and watching the pillow fall-slide into the case with a satisfying "snap" of fabric on fabric. *

Yeah, that didn't happen. My left hand and arm don't yet have quite the strength and dexterity for the snap.

So I did it another way: a more gentle way. I held the case and dragged the bottom corner of the pillow into it. I pushed and pulled and plumped and poofed, and the pillow eventually looked normal in its case.

"Gentle," I told myself as I worked. As, I recognized, I have been telling myself for several weeks.

Gentle. As I have allowed myself time to heal (one benefit about this physical injury, it's given me more deep and restful sleep). As I have noticed returning ability, like wearing pants vs. a robe, pants with buttons instead of elastic-waist pants. As I have experimented, and learned that I do indeed again have the ability to cut up that head of cauliflower and roast it.

And I've been gentle with myself in the rest of life during this lockdown, too. I have cut many many things from my to-do list. Instead, gently, I do one task--just one thing in a day, beyond the business of living. When that's done, I might do another, but I might instead spend time with my book friends, which is another form of healing.

I suspect (yet another) new normal is in my future. Less careless, I hope. More grateful for all the little and not-so-little tasks that hands and arms do during the day.

And in the world outside-beyond this pandemic wave, I hope to keep gentleness as part of my new normal. As I walk gently into the spring, I'll notice good spirits, nest-building, and scolding squirrels. I'll be aware when I feel cheerful, reasonable or not. I will notice returning skills, and growth of new ones.

And, I hope, I'll remember to be grateful.

____
* Let's take a moment to notice that I have a preferred way to put pillowcases on pillows. Who knew? If you'd asked me about it last week, I'd have given you a blank stare.
Wednesday, March 25, 2020

Stay(ing) Home

We finally finished our last bit of important business yesterday.

Not "last" as in forever, we hope. But it was the last thing we needed to do, to be responsible citizens, before hunkering down to wait until it's time to develop a new long-term "normal."

Meanwhile, our days are following an interim "normal." I continue my usual morning: a brief reading, a short log of the natural world around me (mostly, lately: "it's snowing AGAIN" or "the snow is visibly melting!" but sometimes "ravens are nest-building" or "gulls!!"), an effort to be nice to someone(s) on social media, a morning "art project" card (discussed here), and a brief written check-in.

And then there are tasks: working on taxes, paying bills, writing here, etc. And select, limited times to check the news.

Beyond that, though, it's been tough to focus on larger, long-term projects. I haven't edited my husband's spec-fic novel, let alone my own. I can't even revise short pieces.

Worst of all, I've found reading difficult. Even with the plethora of interesting new-to-me books in this house, it's been tough to settle down with one. My normal, beloved go-to re-read authors (let's be real, there's one primary one, Jane Austen) weren't even absorbing enough to distract me.

Yes. It had come to that.

So I punted. I went to my childhood bedroom's bookshelf and pulled out a much-beloved boxed set.


Yep. The Crystal Cave, The Hollow Hills, The Last Enchantment, all by Mary Stewart. Her Merlin trilogy from the early 1970s.

I think this was the first boxed set I owned. I'm not sure how many times, or how often, I've read it. I can't remember the last time I did--I didn't live in this country, though, which means at least 15 years. I always enjoyed it, enough to have, decades ago, declared a personal moratorium on reading anything Arthur/Camelot related because I always preferred this trilogy.

In recent years, I've been slowly trying to clear the house of things we no longer use. More than once I've stood in front of the bookshelf holding this and tons of other books from my childhood and said, "Am I really going to read any of these again?"

Every time, I've turned aside to deal with something else.

So now seemed as good a time as any to revisit this set. Even if it means, once I'm done, that it stays in the house. (And not just because of self-isolation.) Which is going to be the outcome of this reading spree--because this experience is exactly what I need now.

Yes, the story's engaging, the writing's good, etc. Reading this is also an act of hope--a personal reminder of the value of art and storytelling. Our work can outlive us and be good company for people in circumstances we can't even imagine.

And some day, I'll be ready to begin my own work again. Not yet--not today. But soon. And until then, I'll visit with  old friends.
Wednesday, March 18, 2020

Oh, You Know

Looking out the window. (The sun is rising farther north, or left, along the horizon every day! Even when we're having another snowstorm and can't see it.)

 



Reading. (This is one of several multi-voice novels I've read in 2020. I love them in general, especially this one.)


Also: sorting tax receipts, deleting old email, cancelling events, and doing other things that don't lend themselves to pictures. Worrying at pre-set times, in an effort to keep a lid on it.

Thinking fondly of my parents, both young adults during World War II. My father spent the years in uniform in Hawaii, and my mother did nuclear mathematics in Montreal. Apart for 27 months, they were reunited in July of 1945, grateful ever after that they were spared.

I try to apply I learned from them: Count blessings. Practice gratitude. Do your part, however small it feels.

In short: We're leaning into a sense of calm as the world changes so rapidly. So, staying home. The usual.

Hope you are the same.
Wednesday, March 11, 2020

Can't Let Go

So today, I spent the day listening to smart people talk about creativity and art programs for special populations--namely, people with dementia and/or frailty. It was fascinating. Also exhausting.

Earlier this week, I revised an essay from a few years back. I'd received some good feedback, sent it a couple of places that weren't impressed, and let it ripen in a drawer while I worked on my novel and the essay collection that became my book.

So now I have a revision. It's not 100% beautifully ripe, but it's within a draft or two of expressing what I want it to express.

Except.

It suffers from a whole lot of "who cares?" I mean, I care. But why would someone else? I had no answer.

So I figured, oh well. It's going to be one of those essays that needed to be written (and written well, if I say so myself), but doesn't necessarily need to be published. I have a couple of short stories in that state, too.

So, today. As I sat in presentations and workshops, a little voice in my ear kept saying, "But YOU care. It's meaningful to YOU. WHY is it so meaningful to you? What about this essay called you back after several years of not thinking about it? Why can't you let it go?"

And then, home after the presentations/workshops, I read this article on Jane Friedman's site: A Good Memoir is an Act of Service, by Julie Lythcott-Haims. Which has given me more food for thought, especially the bullet point that suggests, "Press on what hurts in order to understand what you fear."

Well, OK then. I guess I will. Even if I never send it out again. I really WOULD like to know why I can't let it go. I really WOULD like another crack at expressing that urgency and importance in a way someone else would understand.

(The presentations and workshops were good, too.)
Wednesday, March 4, 2020

Ethics and Stories

Last week, I had the great good fortune to speak briefly at a panel discussion about ethical issues in storytelling in health care settings.

Here are some of the things I heard, all of which I'm pondering:

* People carry with them a lifetime of stories--some cultural that stretch back generations, and some unique to them.

* People may be wary of sharing personal stories without knowing who they're talking to.

* People's stories are gifts, and those hearing them should listen with gratitude and respect.

* People's stories represent their reality--their truth.

* People seeking health care are always vulnerable, because in our health care system, the power (of knowledge, not to mention intangibles like community prestige and social class) rests with the practitioner. Vulnerable people may or may not be willing to share a story that makes them even more vulnerable.

* People who share stories may be especially vulnerable in the moment of sharing them, and anyone who asks them to share their stories should be ready to care for that vulnerability.

* People and communities are more likely to work with those who have taken the time and put in the energy to form long-term, mutually beneficial relationships.

* People may mean different things by the term "healing."

* People can tell their own stories.

* People can say "no" when you ask them to share a story, and we should hear them.

Also:

* that research projects in a community should be led by the community's questions and initiative,
* that "informed consent" may or may not really communicate the real vulnerability of sharing a story in public,
* that different people hear the same story in different ways,
* that it's important to wrestle with ethics around stories and ownership and respect.

Because, see above, stories are gifts. Which it's always good to be reminded of.
Wednesday, February 26, 2020
All Lit Up, a resource all about Canadian publishing, has a Writer's Block column, and a week ago, I was the featured author!

Go here to read about REVERBERATIONS, my office, my rituals and routines, and my lifelong quest. (Hint: it relates to notebooks.)

My advice for dealing with writer's block

While you're there, check out all the other treasures of All Lit Up, which serves as a hub for readers interested in Canadian writers, a bookstore for those who don't have one in their own town, and a community for those interested in Canadian writers.

Many thanks to Signature Editions, a Canadian publisher who makes things happen for their authors.

I'll just be over here preparing for the Centre for Health Care Ethics panel presentation this evening, which I'm so looking forward to!
Wednesday, February 19, 2020

Who Owns the Stories?

In a week, I'll be part of a panel, sponsored by the Lakehead University Centre for Health Care Ethics, that considers the ethics of storytelling in health care settings. It will also be webcast! Here's a link to all that info.

The featured speaker is Dr. Cynthia Wesley-Esquimaux, Lakehead's Chair on Truth and Reconciliation. I'm sure her insights as a researcher, and an indigenous researcher, will generate a lot of discussion.

After she speaks, those of us on the panel (Dr. Elaine WiersmaDr. Vicki Kristman, and I) will respond, discuss, and take off on tangents (oh wait, that's me), with Kristen Jones-Bonofiglio, Director of the Centre for Health Care Ethics, moderating.

One might wonder what I'm doing up there, with distinguished and experienced researchers and storytellers.

First, I'm there to represent those non-experts who write about tender and touchy subjects that relate to health care. Choosing to navigate, on the page, my mother's illness, my father's conflicted care, and my own guilt was challenging and rewarding.

Every step toward sharing my writing also exposed actual information about me, and about my family members. My siblings, all of whom write in some capacity, also had their own stories about that time and the years since their deaths. I had to navigate the line between writing "all about me me me" and ensuring I spoke only from my own experience--the story I "owned."

Writers share their work. Or at least that's part of writing for me. Over time, I became used to sending out work in general, and such personal essays in particular. Still, when Signature Editions offered to publish the collection as a book, I had another "OMG gulp" moment--what would my parents think about my story/their stories being shared in this form? (My husband and I agreed that that horse had already left that barn.)

Second, in my view I'm there to represent the conversation about "story ownership" in the wider writing world. People who write fiction and creative nonfiction always ask themselves questions like "What is the story?" "How do I get it right?"

For most writers I know, the past decade's emphasis on supporting underrepresented voices in telling their own stories has added other questions: "Am I the right person to tell this story?" "Am I the best person to tell this story?" "Is this story mine to tell?"I'm also interested in helping others tell their own stories--how can I facilitate their voices and stay out of the way?

I've attended a few other sessions of the Centre for Health Care Ethics, all of which gave me new perspectives. I'm really looking forward to the presentation, the discussion, and the questions that the audience will raise.

And most of all, I'm so grateful to be included in this ongoing, important conversation.
Wednesday, February 12, 2020

A Seasonal Book: Jayne Barnard's Where the Ice Falls

So far, 2020 has been busy. January was Alzheimer's Awareness Month, and now February is ... well, flying by, mostly.

Fortunately, my evenings for the past few months have included time for reading. And although I don't write reviews, as I've said, I enjoy reading and I enjoy sharing books and resources. (Which is the purpose of the label "go there and read this.")

In that spirit, here is a book I've enjoyed reading recently: When the Ice Falls, by J. E. Barnard.


Full disclosure: Jayne once lived in this region, our paths have crossed in real life. She's a lovely person, and an excellent writer. Her work has won awards and she obviously doesn't need me to say nice things--so all of the things below have no agenda other than letting you know of a book you might really enjoy.

Where the Ice Falls is the second in a series, The Falls Mysteries. The first, When the Flood Falls (July 2018), gots lots of positive attention. I enjoyed it and scribbled "Jayne's next" on my "books to check out" page.

Like its predecessor, Where the Ice Falls has lots of things going for it--an all-too-human protagonist, her realistic and flawed friends, and their widely varied families. The greater community includes lots of real people, from different socioeconomic backgrounds, different life paths, and different experiences of physical and emotional health. The mystery part is real and serious. The solutions aren't at all obvious. You can relax into the book, buoyed by smooth prose and first-hand knowledge of the terrain (Alberta's mountains).

It was especially appropriate for me because the book is set roughly late November through the Christmas holidays, and that's when I read it! Always a nice coincidence. But not necessary--don't wait until next winter to read it!

Another interesting element: all the main characters are women. I especially enjoyed that.

The third in the series, Why the Rock Falls, is due in July of 2020. When I finished Where the Ice Falls, I left "Jayne's next" on my list. Summer reading to look forward to!

Wednesday, February 5, 2020

Listening to Grief

I doubt I'll ever be finished writing about Alzheimer's and dementia. Still, I meant to write a wrap-up post for 2020's Alzheimer's Awareness Month.

However, I'm changing course, a bit. In recent days, I've been talking with friends and family, those who feel safe and those who don't, those who feel optimistic and those whose hope has flickered so long it's going out.

Grief is everywhere, or so it seems.

In late January, this article crossed my desk: David Kessler's, at LitHub, on how we experience grief, an excerpt from his book Finding Meaning: The Sixth Stage of Grief. The article full of wisdom, much of which I hadn't considered, even though I feel more at home with grief than some I know.

For example: grief and mourning are different--grief is what we feel, mourning is our action.

For example: from a researcher in Australia, the story from a northern indigenous village--that when someone dies, people move something from their house into their yard. Furniture, even. So when the grieving person looks outside, she sees that the village understands what she feels: everything is different.

For example: "When people ask me how long they’re going to grieve, I ask them, 'How long will your loved one be dead? That’s how long. I don’t mean you’ll be in pain forever. But you will never forget that person, never be able to fill the unique hole that has been left in your heart.'"

And mostly: Everyone who is grieving needs to have that grief acknowledged--witnessed. Which does NOT mean listening for a while then saying, "this too shall pass," "everything happens for a reason," or "what is, is."

Just listen.

So: in these days of great grief, I'm listening.

Thursday, January 30, 2020

From the Other Side of the Table

So last night, I participated in a special signing and fundraising event at the Thunder Bay Chapters location.

For every copy of my book that I signed, I gave an amount to the Thunder Bay chapter of the Alzheimer Society.

For the purchases everyone made between 6 and 8 PM, the local store gave 15% to the local Alzheimer Society (at no extra cost to the consumer).

It was fun! I signed some books! And I bought some things! And other people did, too! And we all raised some money for people in Thunder Bay who need support.

Here's what it looked like from my side of the table.


People came with stories, and I was extremely glad to have the Alzheimer Society present with lots of information about programs, communication, and even just lots of basics.

I'm still processing other elements of the event. So more later. But yep, it felt pretty authory to be there and sign my name!


Wednesday, January 22, 2020

Combating Overwhelm and Loneliness: More Resources

January is Alzheimer's Awareness Month. This year I've been sharing resources, as I did last year.

I have also shared my own excitement about the upcoming book signing-fundraiser event  (happening next week!) for my book, Reverberations: A Daughter's Meditations on Alzheimer's.

Today I'm pleased to be able to pass on link to a site we all need, even if we don't yet know it. That place is AlzAuthors.com.

As their website says,

Whether you are a caregiver, family member or living with dementia,
you’ll find the help you need from decades of caregiving within
– memoirs, caregiver guides, novels, children’s books, and blogs –
plus the encouraging real-life experiences behind these works.

I would add this: If you currently don't fall into one of those categories--caregiver, family member, or person with dementia--you will. Sooner or later, dementia will touch all of our extended families. And we all have a lot to learn. 

One reason I began taking the notes that formed the basis for the essays in my collection was that I couldn't find the information I needed anywhere. Even at the Alzheimer's Association (as it's known in the US), I couldn't get a sense of what lay ahead for my mother and my family.


This website fulfills that need. 

A dementia diagnosis can be bewildering and embarrassing--it's hard for some of us to admit we need help of any kind, let alone for a brain illness, let alone for an illness involving cognitive decline.

It's hard to admit that your partner or parent, whom you respect and admire so much, is slipping.

It's hard to know what of the symptoms you see is the disease at work, what is the person's response to the disease, what can be managed, and how.

It's hard to talk to other people--people you don't know--about something so personal, something that may feel frightening and overwhelming.

This website will help you navigate the complex feelings that arise when dementia enters your life. It's low-risk--there's a lot of good information right on the site. They also recommend other resources--blogs and books and other online information.

A side note: if you're "reading women" this year, this site is a goldmine of memoirs. And if you're "reading Canadian," Cathie Borrie's book, The Long Hello: Memory, My Mother, and Me is a great place to start. 

In the coming months, my book will be included among those resources--a high honour. For all of us, this site is an excellent place to start learning. I highly recommend checking it out.
Wednesday, January 15, 2020

Exciting Book Fundraising Event!

It's exciting to announce this fun event coming up in just a couple of weeks!


It's a book signing! It's a fundraiser! It's an OPPORTUNITY to BUY BOOKS!

I would never counsel someone who's trying to manage spending to buy books just "for a good cause." But if you're going to buy books or lifestyle items anyway, why not choose a time that benefits others as well as yourself?

On January 29, from 6 to  8 PM, I'll be at the Thunder Bay Chapters, signing copies of my book, REVERBERATIONS: A DAUGHTER'S MEDITATIONS ON ALZHEIMER'S. For each copy of the book I sign that evening, I'll donate $5 to the Alzheimer Society (minimum $100). You can bring books you bought before--that's cool. You can buy a book that night and I'll sign it--also cool.

AND ALSO TOO!

You can raise money for the Alzheimer Society just by spending money that night between 6 and 8 PM. Just mention it to the cashier and they'll donate 15% of your purchased items--at no extra cost to you.

Although the big gift-giving occasions won't roll around for another 11 months or so, Valentine's Day is coming, Family Day holidays might be smoother with new books (or lifestyle items), and if you go somewhere for March Break or Easter Holidays, you might need hostess gifts (or a great new book for your flight).

I'm making a list myself--my husband and I are in a book club, and although we get some books from the library, we often buy them. And without an independent bookseller in town, we patronize Chapters.* My extended family is a boookish lot and appreciates a good lifestyle item. And then there are the titles languishing on post-its and "someday" lists. What better evening to scope out some of those ideas?

As I've said, January is Alzheimer Awareness Month. We all need to know more--about resources for people who have dementia, about signs and symptoms, about ways to support people with dementia and their care partners in their day-to-day lives, and about ways to help eliminate stigma against people with dementia. People from the Alzheimer Society will be there to answer questions and provide information.

So please come--it's a great chance to get your book signed, look over a bunch of books and other fun items, and support a wonderful cause. And say hi!

* I have also spent money this past year through Briny Books and highly recommend their curated list, as well as Gladstone Press, which I also highly recommend.

Wednesday, January 8, 2020

Two to Start With

January is Alzheimer's Awareness Month.

Alzheimer's is important.

It's of course important to me, not only because I have personal experience with it (and wrote a book).

It's important to all of us, because it's a disease the Baby Boomers can't escape and science hasn't yet figured out.

It might be tempting to think, "Oh, medical research will take care of it," blah blah, "breakthroughs," "potential vaccines," "genetic testing."

But don't think those things and turn away. While medical researchers accumulate knowledge, people continue to get dementia.

And many of the rest of us pretend people with dementia don't exist or "should be locked away," or we think "isn't is sad they aren't themselves," and their spouse/child/grandchild is a saint, and hoo boy aren't we glad it's not us.

Surprise! It is us--of if not us, it will be, or it will be someone we love. Even if dementia doesn't come close to us, people with dementia are still people.

And most of the rest of us are woefully underprepared and uneducated.

Last January, I shared some information about statistics and resources to learn more.

Also, here are two books to start with:


* In Pursuit of Memory: the Fight Against Alzheimer's, by Joseph Jebelli. Excellent, thorough, and eminently readable explanations of the research to date, written by a young physician from the UK. He does a wonderful job of finding the human element in each research stream. We care about the people with dementia he talked with, and those who are doggedly pursuing new information about how dementia works.
* All Things Consoled: A Daughter's Memoir, by Elizabeth Hay. A Giller-nominated writer sharing honest stories about her parents' decline--I mean, what's not to love, it's Elizabeth Hay. On this page, you can see her mother's artwork. Yes, she gives just one perspective on what happened to her family--just one family. And families are different, and dementia is different in each person because that person is unique. Yet there are also similarities, and she's a gentle-yet-brutal companion as she shares her family's stories.

Speaking of sharing, more resources will be here later this month. But these two will help you start.

And you should start. Because it's important.