We should talk. Don’t worry we’re not breaking up.
Many of you know I teach stress management (ok dad, stop laughing).
I spent my career studying anxiety and depression so, it stands to reason that I have it pretty much figured out.
(Dad, what did I just say?)
But, sometimes when you’re standing at the Redbox waiting for another man who can’t make a decision, your body kicks-in and all hell breaks loose (no I’m not writing from jail).
Then, your dryer stops working followed by your washer, water softener, and water heater.
Hospice calls and says your mom isn’t sick enough to be in hospice anymore and everyone in the world knows that this is what the term ‘splitting hairs’ means. Alzheimer’s is a one-way ticket to ‘sick enough for hospice’-street, which Google Maps says is at the crossroads of I’ve Forgotten Everything and For The Love of God Don’t Be Stupid Medicare. read more…
Who are the Tall Poppies and Why You Should Care?
I was interviewed by my crabby brother, Ray, about who the Tall Poppies are and he cleared it all up for you.
Ray: So, Ann – what is this flower group you put together and why do you spend so much time on it? I didn’t know you like gardening.
Ann Garvin: The Tall Poppy Writers did a very un-American thing. We decided not to compete against each other. As authors, we believed if we were going to make it, we had to hold hands and stick together. We had to get organized and help each other. Tall Poppies is an author cooperative that works to help female writers find readers – and to support literacy-related charities.
R: Why don’t you just hire someone to do this for you? Haven’t you made it big already?
AG: Making it for a Tall Poppy Writer isn’t about making payments on a beach house bought with best-seller royalties, or making the rounds on the talk show circuit. Making it for me and the authors who compromise the Tall Poppy Writers is being able to keep writing stories, finding readers, interacting with them, and working every day. Oh, and making some money. We like to eat.
R: Wouldn’t it be easier if you just did it yourself without all these other people?
AG: No, Ray. *eye roll* The Tall Poppies believe a rising tide lifts all boats and we want to lift our voices so that others can be heard as well. We sing each other’s praises and work together week after week even when we’re sick, overwhelmed, or injured. We are like relay racers on a track team; when one person takes a rest, the others grab the baton.
We want readers to find us so we can entertain them with our stories now and in the future. We want our readers to help us raise money for Room to Read to help girls in third world countries get education so that they can get jobs that are not part of the sex trade.
R: I mean, that’s kind of cool. But why do you think other people should care? People are busy.
AG: Because I think people care about women and girls. I think you care about smart, kind, talented writers who sincerely want to bind people with the humanity of storytelling. Because we think you will like our stories and if we work hard enough, maybe we can understand the world a little better together.
R: But you’re all women? Why no men in your group?
AG: Because women have a hard time in the entertainment fields. Women writers don’t get the respect and reviews male writers do. The movie industry prioritizes stories by and for men even when women are the majority. Because women are busy and we all have to go to the grocery store, work all day, and still be kind to our families. As writers we do all that and try to bring good stories to the forefront as well. Because the voices and opinions and experiences of women matter and we don’t get heard enough.
R: Why you, though?
AG: The only way I could figure out how to keep writing without getting burned out, quitting, or yelling at the older man driving too slow in front of me was to put together a group of authors who would work together. I like people; they give me energy and a purpose. I love meeting readers and writers and my nest is getting empty. I had to fill it up with friends. Why not me?
R: I really think you should calm down. You’ve always been a little intense.
AG: Ray, don’t ever tell a woman to calm down.
Night Moves: How my mom tricked Alzheimer’s by visiting me in my dreams.
My mother is probably a lot like your mother: older, loving, and not her younger self. I know when you look at your mother you see the eyes from your childhood, the wrinkles created by her familiar smile. When I look at my mother, I see her high cheekbones and the crooked incisor that reminds me her parents didn’t have money for braces. But, her Alzheimer’s disease is like an overlay of thick fog she can’t emerge from and we can’t see through. She’s there, I know she is, but she can’t get out.
Yesterday, my daughter said my mom came to her, whole and well, in a dream. She said my mom held her and they spoke about how they miss each other.
At least once a week, I dream about my healthy mom too.
In my dreams, we are deep in conversation before I realize that she is entirely well. We stand in the living room and she is the woman from 2008 when we visited New York together. The last time I saw her whole.
I do not say, “How is this happening?” Nor will I proclaim, “You are better!! YAY!” I am too afraid that her skittish mind will go back to playing hide and seek and I will go on having a mother, but also not having one. That’s how dementia is: you get to keep your loved ones but the person you loved is nowhere in sight.
My dreams are an exercise in the game: Don’t ask don’t tell. My mom isn’t aware that she yanked a handful of my hair while I helped my dad change her bed and I certainly don’t mention bring it up. I also don’t mention that my dream-mom is the mom of ten years ago. Twenty years if you count the ten years of slow decline; the dissolving 7,300 days before she forgot everything. Even me. (I did a Listen To Your Mother performance on that here).
You might think being yelled at and forgotten is the hardest thing about having a mother with Alzheimer’s. But, It’s not. The hardest thing is to see the woman who was a professor of nursing, who spoke in Washington DC for the rights of Nurses, who I called for help with parenting, can no longer do even one thing from her past.
No, wait, I am wrong. She has kept one thing from her past. Her ability to fold towels.
I wonder if my dreams are my mother reaching out across the fog. I don’t think so though. Not because I don’t believe in that sort of thing but because she would not be happy like she is when we speak in the middle of the night. She would be furious about this towel-folding.
“Towel folding,” she’d say with pointed disgust. “Why not ironing, grocery shopping, or even sweeping?” If you’re going to put me in hell why not put me all the way in? Give me all your domestic chores.”
My daughter and I both want to believe my mom is coming to us in our dreams. We want it because otherwise what is the point? She must be in there holding on to her life, folding towels for a reason.
So, here’s what I’ve decided. My mom has figured out how to trick Alzheimer’s. Every day in effect, she says, “Sure, I’ll fold your towels, I’ll undergo the indignities of having a full-time caregiver, of losing memory and choice and self. I’ll play your Alzheimer’s game but when everyone, even the disease sleeps, I will make my midnight visits.
I will use the fact that my body won’t give up. I will transcend the boundaries of understanding. I’m going show my people I love them even if it’s only in their dreams.
“So,” she says, “You horses-ass of a disease. I am going to sit here and fold towels until I can’t. When that skill goes away, it won’t matter one bit because you can’t take away my night moves ”
And, off she will go to visit another love.
I Like You Just Fine When You’re Not Around is a funny and sad story about the people we love even when disease makes it hard.
No, and Yes Live Together in The House You Build for Yourself.
When I was younger I could say no without guilt, worry, or fear.
In fact, at least once I not only said “no”, I also made a deal out of that ‘no.’
It was during my short stint on the track team where I ran the mile run, now called the 1500 meter run (which is not the same but that is a different battle).
I lost every single race I competed in.
Every. Single. Race.
I didn’t know how to train, nor was I genetically gifted and while I liked being on the track team the mile was not the race for me.
In my senior year, the track coach said to me,
“Please don’t run this season.”
This was before Title IV and before anyone cared about a kid’s self-esteem. The coach’s name was Roland Antilla, and he went on to say, “It’s painful to watch you and what’s the point anyway?” (*side note 1: I LOVED him. He was brash and taught history and I actually miss him to this day…you know but still Roland, give a girl a break).
I’m sure I was embarrassed, but I knew I was slow. (*side note 2: I can run forever but I just can’t do it fast.)
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.
I travel alone a lot.
I like to travel alone. I can “vacation eat” without anyone raising an arched eyebrow and asking, “Don’t you teach Nutrition?” I can walk past museums without explaining why I don’t really like museums even though I know I should. I just don’t, okay?
I can pee anytime I want without anyone saying, “Didn’t you just pee? You pee a lot. You should get that looked at.”
I have good memories of traveling alone, but they haven’t been all glamour and junk food; public bathrooms and freedom.
One of my first trips alone I was a college freshman busing-it home for my first Thanksgiving break. I sat wide-eyed in the window seat; an ocean of sky overhead and a blanket of wheat beneath me. It was thrilling until an elderly man with a giant chunk of Cheetos in his teeth said, “ Hello there little lady. Traveling alone?”
I talked to him far too long before the bus driver mercifully relocated him and plunked my backpack next to me. “Boundaries,” he said.
Maybe a year later, not yet 21I drove to Colorado, in my silver Ford Granada to find a summer job. I planned to figure everything out when I got Vail. I’d heard of other college students summering in resort towns, and I wanted to be that adventurous girl. I spent my days applying for waitressing jobs and my evenings by the pay phone (remember those?) in the bus station waiting to be hired. At night I slept in my Ford and hoped nobody looked in the windows.
On the sixth day, feeling grody and lonesome a man my father’s age, chatted me up. After our overlong conversation about the beauty of the mountains he said, “If you’re traveling alone, I’ll pay your college tuition to travel with me. No sex, just cuddling.”
[Tweet ” “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.
Later still, in Egypt this time, just off riding a camel to the Great Pyramids and back, which sounds incredible but is, in fact, painful and sandy, the man who rented the camel to me said, “You have the sex with me, and I drive you back to your hotel.” This time, I managed a whole sentence: “No I will not have the sex with you. I can walk,” and off I hobbled, grateful for the hot sun and wide-open spaces of the desert.
Traveling alone is a lesson in yesses and nos. It’s about openings and closings and trusting yourself and only yourself in making the decisions of who to let in and who to keep out, what gifts to accept and which ones to refuse. I’m getting better as I age, less polite, more willing to be daring but also to be judged boring if that sets me free.
On a recent trip to New York, amid a subway bomb-scare, all the passengers were evacuated, released into the late-night, early morning air. I was miles from my hotel, and before long I found myself in Chinatown trying to hail a cab with little success and no battery left in my phone. When a yellow cab pulled over, I jumped in, and the man gave me an extended, odd look. After a long, silent drive uptown, he pulled over in front of my hotel and said in a thick accent, “You are Sigourney Weaver, Ghostbusters, yes? You ride for free.”
“Thank you,” I said, and as I walked away, he gave me the thumbs up saying, “Who you gonna call?” and I said, “Nobody. I’m traveling alone.”