Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Shaking Things Up

I tend to like routine.  I find it comforting and also conducive to productivity.  But lately I’ve noticed in myself a discomfiting willingness to try new things.  Here are a few:

·      Spin class: My Achilles tendinitis became so uncomfortable that I was forced to take a break from running.  The Bike Dojo in Santa Cruz (across the street from The Happy High Herb Shop) offers great classes with instructors who manage to be high-energy without being peppy.  I hate peppy.

·      Words with Friends: Robert and I try to keep a running game of online Scrabble going, but my friend Sue recently introduced me to WWF, and now I’m hooked.  Yes, it’s exactly like Scrabble, but the simple fact that it goes by a different name qualifies it as a shake-up in the natural order.

·      Neck cream: I am not a lotion-y kind of gal, but middle-age neck sag is upon me, and Dr. Perricone’s products kept appearing on my Facebook feed.  On the plus side: Robert says I smell clean (which is worrisome only if I allow myself to imagine that he means I didn’t before).  On the negative side: some doctors think the ingredients cause cancer.  I will probably stop using it because of this, but I’m going to give myself credit for having tried.

·      Pushups: I have been working with weights for years, but I have always resisted doing pushups because: 1) they seem manly and 2) they are hard.  However, I am now doing them.  I can actually do a lot of them.  I hate them.  Doing them while “Modern Family” and “Mad Men” are on helps.

·      Sugar: I am giving it up.  Sort of.  By this I mean that I am trying not to eat all the Milky Way bars with which I consoled myself after I gave up eating wheat.  And I’ve stopped putting brown sugar on my oatmeal.  And when I bake a cake, I don’t eat giant spoonfuls of frosting out of the bowl.  Baby steps.

·      Mozart: I’ve always loved classical music, but I stopped listening to it because it reminded me of my father and made me sad.  But recently I remembered that years ago, a psychic told me that my spirit guide (named Anthony, a fact which made me think at the time that the psychic saw the name “Gina” and just pulled something Italian out of her ass) recommended that I work while listening to Mozart.  So I’ve been doing that.  I like it.

The biggest new thing that I’m doing is writing a middle-grade fantasy.  I have never written a fantasy before.  All my books have been about contemporary children dealing with contemporary problems.  A fantasy novel requires different skills, different emphases.  I have to make characters talk less and do more.  It’s a challenge.

(I should add that the psychic was remarkably prescient about a whole host of things.  Knowing only my first name, she told me that I was a writer, that I would live near the sea, and that someone I know casually would eventually have a host of very unusual and specific problems.  So I do believe that Anthony is watching out for me.  Maybe someday he’ll do something about the pushups.)

Monday, May 13, 2013

An Awful Lot of Happy

It’s been a rough few weeks with my mother, and there are no signs it’s going to be over any time soon.

But I don’t feel like writing about that, and I don’t feel like thinking about extremist politics or my dishwasher that’s wonky or what’s wrong with my latest manuscript.

So here, for a change, are some of the nice things I’m thinking about:

·       This fence festooned with roses borders the path down to the beach.  The house pictured belongs to that fence, and its gardeners make sure that it blooms every May.  Even on a foggy day, that fence cheers me up.

·       Yesterday I snapped at a lovely friend for a comment she made on Facebook that upset me.  She wrote back the most beautiful, heartfelt apology.  It made me see yet again that knowing how to apologize authentically and sincerely is one of life’s great gifts.  If we could all manage that, the world would feel different.

·       I am wearing a scarf that I bought yesterday when I was shopping with my daughter.  It is pink and orange and frothy and frilly and I love it.

·       We are having chicken tonight.  I gave up eating breasts when I realized that I really only liked the drumsticks and thighs, and now I could eat chicken five nights a week.  (Yes, I know the breasts are healthier.  I don’t care.  I drink alcohol twice a month and have given up wheat and sugar.  I am sure the gods will make an allowance for me on the chicken legs.)

·       I am reading Nemesis, by Philip Roth.  It is a love story to wartime Newark, and it is also about polio.  It is one of those books that I have to force myself to read slowly, so I won’t finish it too fast.

·       Today in spin class, I arrived wearing my hair the way I usually do, instead of pulled back, in preparation for sweating.  The teacher and one of the students raved about my hair.  “How do you look so good in the morning?” the student said.  (Note: I have decided I get to brag about this, because I have the kind of hair that not everybody likes, and I got teased for it when I was little.  My blog, my rules.)

·       This week, my son and his girlfriend are driving up to their new apartment to paint it.  My daughter is going to help them.  I am going to bring them food and maybe help a little, and mostly just sit back and feel joy.

There’s more, but I’m going to stop, because that’s an awful lot of happy, and I don’t want to push the gods too far, especially when they might still be pissed about the chicken. 

Monday, May 6, 2013

What Little I Know

As those of you who read my blog know, I’ve been preoccupied with my 93-year-old mother’s progressive dementia for some time.  Of course, it makes sense, given the close relationship I have had with her for most of my life, and also because I am responsible for her medical and financial well-being.

But I realized recently that this isn’t why I post about her so often.

For the last few days, I’ve been reading the tweets posted at #alzheimerssucks on Twitter.  Here are a few of them:

·       Back from gym to find empty house.  Not good sign when wife’s dad was supposed to be there.
·       My gran would be proud I repurposed 3 pickle jars while cleaning up breakfast.  #missher
·       Is so tired of being sad and crying about her mom
·       I’d do anything for some of my Great Granny’s banana pudding right now.
·       So grateful for my papa.  He doesn’t remember who I am, but I still love him with all my heart.

What strikes me about all these posts is the sense of absence.  People with Alzheimer’s  are right there in front of you, watching Maury Povitch, breathing, sleeping, sometimes speaking, sometimes (in the case of my mother) screaming at innocent police officers who have come by to check up on them. 

But they are not there.  They are gone.

Last night, I said to Robert, “You know, I was really close to my mother.  I heard all her stories about losing her parents, growing up in an orphanage, working in Chicago, meeting my father.   I know which jokes she laughed at, whom she voted for, the books she read.  I know that she always bought clothes on sale, even when she could afford not to.  I know that she cried when she first heard Mahalia Jackson on the radio, that she danced with soldiers in a USO canteen, that she read the dictionary on her lunch hours at Michael Reese Hospital.  I know odd and cringe-worthy facts about her sex life (because orphans have really bad boundaries), and that she lied about her age and having gone to college, and that once, when she was babysitting her five-year-old nephew and made him go upstairs to bed, he called her a dirty Jew and she burst out laughing.

“But this is the horrible thing.  I feel as though I don’t really know her.”

Does everyone feel this way when their parents die?  Do we feel this way when anybody dies?

Then I started thinking about myself and my own kids and whether they will feel they really know me when I die.

And I realized with shock that they probably will feel as though they don’t.

I guess the reason it shocks me is that I (unlike my mother) have a blog, in which I write about what I’m thinking and how I feel.   Also, I am pretty talkative at home.  (I’m sure this surprises no one.)  It is weird to think that all this writing and talking and feeling (with, I hope, pretty intact boundaries) can still leave others in the dark.

Maybe this is just the human condition.  We can only know ourselves, and that’s if we’re lucky.

But it certainly explains why some of us write, why it is so important to put ourselves down on paper, whether it be through blogs or memoirs or letters or through the stories we have made up, which tell the world so much about who we really are.

My mother would hate that I’m writing about her decline.  She would want me to write about what a good dancer she was, how she always had nice legs, how she looks younger than her years.

But I feel compelled to put it all down.  Not to embarrass her, not to make anyone think less of her as she loses hold. 

Mainly, just to hang onto what little I know.