I tell you everything because I know you don’t judge me.
You aren’t a judger.
I just gotta know. What kind of person are you when you’re sick?
A. Stiff upper lip. Continues with life with a discrete tissue up sleeve.
B. Takes a day off work but returns medicated, slower but still game.
C. Sleeps a full day. Cancels a meeting so can pick up cold medicine. A little sad.
D. Makes illness an existential crisis. Spends a week on couch obsessively wondering what went wrong with immune system. Googles WebMD finally ending in the rabbit hole of the dark arts where cupping seems reasonable while pricing Seasonal Affective Disorder Lights. Puts a Tibetan Hand Hammered Singing Bowl in Amazon cart to support new promise to meditate for stress management. Realizes that if got seriously ill with a real disease friends would never say, “She’s not a complainer,” but would instead whisper amongst themselves, “My God she comes unglued if her nose runs, is entirely insufferable and should be put down if gets Strep. Orders bracelet engraved with the directive Should be put down when gets Strep.I wrote a book about it
I’m just going to confess this right now. read more…
After losing my Thanksgiving Turkey my friend of thirty-five years called and said, “I have a story to tell you that will make you feel better.”
I, of course, was ready to hear anything. I had just lost my turkey and my mother has Alzheimer’s. You do the math.
So she said: “A year ago, my sister-in-law asked me to occasionally check on her condo while she traveled on an extended work trip. She also said that I should take the Poinsettia left over from Christmas so it didn’t die while she was gone. That’s exactly what I did. I checked on the condo. Rescued the beautiful, blooming, red Poinsettia and brought it to my apartment where I diligently watered it for the four months my sister-in-law traveled. When she returned she called to thank me and said,
“Hey, I thought you were going to take my plant?”
I said, “I did, I’m looking right at it.”
“Well, I’m looking at a really dead poinsettia in the center of my kitchen table.”
My good and capable friend. My friend who runs a cardiology clinic and saves lives on a daily basis said to me…
I lost my turkey.
I did. I lost my actual Thanksgiving turkey. This is not a metaphor for losing my shit. Or an allegory or an idiom (don’t feel bad if you have to google these, I did).
Here’s what happened. I left the Madison Women’s Expo where I’d just given a talk on how Time Management is a myth. Apparently it really, really is. I’m an expert I should know.
I drove to the grocery store FIVE count ‘em FIVE days before Thanksgiving. Look at me. So smug and ready for the world. At the grocery, I contemplated turkeys. How big? How butter ball-ey? Did they run and play in life? How grateful were they? You know the drill.
I chose a turkey. He was so glad. We talked about it.
No Sex Just Cuddling (Previously published in BRAVA Magazine here)
One of my first trips alone, I was a college freshman busing it home for my first Thanksgiving break. Wide-eyed in the window seat; the ocean of sky overhead, a blanket of wheat beneath it and sidling up next to me an elderly man who, with a giant chunk of Cheetos in his teeth said, “Traveling alone?”
I talked to him far too long before the bus driver mercifully relocated him and plunked my backpack on the seat next to me. “Boundaries,” he said.
Maybe a year later, not yet 21, I drove to Vail, Colorado, in my silver Ford Granada. My plan was to figure it out when I got there. I spent my days applying for waitressing jobs in the morning, hanging by the pay phone (remember those?) in the bus station all afternoon and sleeping in my car every night. On the sixth day, a man my father’s age, after our lengthy conversation about the beauty of the mountains, said, “If you’re traveling alone, I’ll pay your college tuition to travel with me. No sex, just cuddling.”
“No thank you,” I said, just as the payphone rang, giving me a full-time nanny position and a whole summer in those mountains. I have always been polite in my horror even then. read more…
Instagrams: In Loving Memory
Memory is a confounding thing. I’m reminded of that every day as I sit with either my mother or my children. My mother has Alzheimer’s and can’t remember my name and my two teen girls have a kind of adolescent memory loss where they seem to recall only the worst parenting moments of their childhood. If I’m honest, I can’t decide which is worse: being forgotten altogether or being remembered only for infamy.
Recently, while eating soup one evening after a long quiet Sunday at home, my daughter said, “Remember when we were little…”
My heart leapt. My sweet daughter was about to impart a fond memory of her childhood. I went through the possibilities in my head. read more…
My Brother, Jealousy and Getting Over Ourselves
When I was twelve my family moved from one-hour outside of New York City to the Upper Peninsula of Michigan and one-hour away from a JC-Penny’s. We were raised Presbyterian, but because we had the distinct hallow-eye’d look of Ann Frank and everyone else in the White Pine, looked very Scandinavian, we became the town’s diversity—before diversity was a good thing.
I coped by being careful and good and funny which was like an invisibility cloak in high school but as much as I tried to blend in, my older brother Ray stood out in the most threatening way possible for a good girl and that was as a bad boy.
At home we called him, Open Crab Face sandwich because I don’t think douche bag was a recognizable slur at that time. I used to say that my brother suffered from a case of severe assholishness, but I said it quietly and to myself because my father didn’t need any help pinpointing my brother’s shortcomings. read more…
I wrote this book about you.
Well, here’s how it goes with my new book I Like You Just Fine When You’re Not Around.
I’m holding the book and a person next to me reads the title and laughs. Then as if I’ve caught them doing something embarrassing like thinking something not so nice about someone in their life they look at me and say, “What is this about?”
I say, “It’s about a radio therapist whose mother has Alzheimer’s and she is alone in caring for her and her sister’s colicky newborn. Her life just unravels underneath her while she tries to solve a mystery hidden in her families past. They nod interested.
Then they squint their eyes and say, “But, who is this about?”1
I say, “The character Tig Monohan who was also in my last book The Dog year. She’s sassy and sure of herself until she’s not.”
They nod again, like I’m just not hearing them. They try a new tact. “What gave you the idea for this book?” read more…
Laughter and Alzheimer’s: Really?
I write about Alzheimer’s because, it seems, I can’t not write about Alzheimer’s. This wretched disease shows up, one way or another in so many of my essays, even when I don’t plan on it. There are times that I’m clearly writing about Alzheimer’s and the ravages of its footprint on people and family. Then, there are times I’m writing about memory and it’s purpose in our lives, as I did here when performing in the Listen To Your Mother series. I, somewhat humorously decide, in my reading, why we only remember fails of parenting-grace instead of the highlights of our childhood. There is a lot of laughter in that performance but it’s laughter borne of pain.
My grandmother had Alzheimer’s and now my mother does. Before my mother had Alzheimer’s she was a professor of gerontology and cared for the elderly through her nursing career. And, like mother like daughter, so am I.
There are two things I wanted to accomplish when writing about the plight that is Alzheimer’s. read more…