Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Elegy for an Insecure Author: A Blog about Blogging

If only life was organized like the Dewey decimal system. Sigh.

I've been feeling insecure lately about how varied my blog posts are. I worry that focusing all my attention on one topic would make for better reading material. This is worrisome because I rarely have one topic on my mind.

I haven't limited myself to a single theme while blogging. My scope includes the books I read, trips I take, Alzheimer's, weight loss, running, faith, marriage, craft projects, childhood memories, etc. Maybe that's why I like the memoir genre so much; the only criteria for relevancy is "human experience."

This blog is not a chronological narrative of my life (thank goodness. My day job's not that riveting). Instead, it's a greenhouse for all the idea seedlings in my brain.

I want to write a book. I don't know how to narrow down the focus or choose a universal theme, but I'm guessing no publisher would be interested in printing 22 years' worth of journal entries. So until I figure out which parts of my life warrant narration and mass production (ha ha), my writing happens here.

Thank you for reading. You, my online audience, make all the difference. Your comments and reactions give me valuable feedback on what kind of storytelling is of interest.

Some of my favorite posts (the ones I felt most proud to share) have been the hardest to write. I've often received more comments on posts that had me hesitating to click "publish." Vulnerability in an author is what makes me interested as a reader, so I try to remember that as I write. But I also don't want my blog to be a place to wallow in emotions I can't easily deal with in real life. It's tempting to indulge the drama queen in me by describing all my mental hand-wringing and emotional distress. But that's not authentic either.

In my experience, life is rarely compartmentalized or predictable. One minute you're minding your own business at work, and BAM. Someone tells you your mom has gone missing. Or you're dreading a whole day spent with nerds just because your husband wants to buy a new graphic novel, and BAM. You have the time of your life at ComiCon. Or you are sick and tired of yourself and destructive habits and BAM. You meet someone (or a group of someones) who changes your life.

I'm going to do some reorganizing around here by labeling my posts more accurately. If you're interested in some topics more than others (like I am), I hope the topical list is useful.

I know this post will be read by at least a few strangers (and friends) online. Then it may never see the light of day until I'm editing a book and need one more goofy anecdote. And I'm OK with that.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Still thriving

One of the ironic things about Alzheimer's disease is something known as "failure to thrive." When a person's body is so overwrought with dementia that it shuts down, that's the medical euphemism used to describe what's happening.

I find this ironic, because I'm pretty sure that's a straight up challenge to my mother. She is a professional thriver. She taught me the phrase "bloom where you're planted," and she still embodies this concept.

1. grow well: to grow vigorously and healthily
2. do well: to be successful and often profitable
Synonyms: grow well, be healthy, flourish, bloom, blossom, prosper, succeed, increase

My whole life I've seen her thrive as an artist, a gardener, a seamstress, a teacher, a reader, a writer, a friend, a daughter, a sister, a pastor's wife, and a homeschooling Mom of five kids.

Even now, I think she wakes up every morning with this mantra: "C'mon world, dare me to thrive."

Hers is an unquenchable spirit.

Mom and future grandson
Mother's Day 2012

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Run Recap in Technicolor

Here's how it went on Sunday.

6:18 am
My brother Alex and his buddy Nate picked me up (I spent Saturday night at a friends in Seattle. Thanks Wendy!). It was a BEAUTIFUL morning. You may detect my level of excitement from the photo. Alex and Nate were excited too, but they were operating on much less sleep.

Arrived at Seattle Center. We found free parking less than 1 block from the starting line. We saw a few other Color Run T shirts and the set-up crew, but it was pretty quiet.

We realized the run didn't begin for two more hours. Good thing we're so photogenic. Took lots of "before" pictures.


Visited the sponsor's tables as they set up. Alex and Nate had 5 Hour Energy (I was already pretty amped up; didn't want to make myself sick). We people-watched as Seattle Center started filling up. Lots of people wore costumes (white suit coats, white bathrobe and towel, white tutu, wigs, etc.). Everybody was happy.

We walked to the starting line. Right up to it, in fact.

Looking down the course, I had a terrible thought. "I'm not a fast runner. What if all these twenty-somethings who are pawing the ground and chomping at the bit overtake me in the first few feet and I get trampled?" Oh well, what a way to go, I decided. I hoped I would at least make it to the first color station.

Photographers and videographers scurried around the crowd. The energy level was HIGH. Loud music played and the crowd of 7,000 + runners was antsy from all the free caffeine; the anticipation was invigorating.  

The yellow tape was taken down, and we all counted down from 10.

"...Three, two, ONE!" The crowd lurched forward. I didn't get trampled.

I looked over my shoulder,back up the slight incline of the starting line. It was really cool to watch the sea of white T shirts come pouring down behind, around, and ahead of us. It was a little like being in the middle of a slow moving avalanche since we were all caught up in the momentum. A smiling, whooping, laughing avalanche.
I carried my mp3 player in case I needed my playlist to keep me moving, but I never used it. The crowd's energy was plenty. 

Alex, Nate and I ran at a slow pace (thankfully). I smiled at the stalled traffic in the remaining open lane as we ran past them. Pedestrians on the sidewalk gave us quizzical looks.

As we neared the first kilometer marker, right before turning onto Second Avenue in downtown Seattle, we saw a blue cloud of dust. Cheers erupted.

As we ran through the color gauntlet, volunteers shot us with colored cornstarch from plastic containers that looked like condiment bottles. The chalky texture felt cool on my skin and stuck to everything it touched: my arm, my shirt, my shorts. One volunteer aimed for Alex's torso, but he ducked into it for full coverage.

At the turnaround point, runners rounded the divider in the middle lane, and ran the other direction on 2nd Ave. Before we reached the halfway mark, the fastest runners startled us by being on the return trip already. They shouted encouragement to us and gave high fives. Then we made the turn, and saw how many thousands of people were all on the same street.

9:15 (approximately)
We ran back to Seattle Center and saw the finish line a few blocks ahead. There were a lot of spectators on either side of the street, cheering us on. As the crowd of runners thinned out (either racing ahead of us or stuck on the hill behind us) we ran as a trio, feeling pretty triumphant. At least until two girls sped past us, one on either side. 

That didn't stop someone in the crowd from pointing at Alex's completely covered face and shouting "YEAHHH!"



The rest of the morning was spent with the crowd throwing colors in the air. It was more fun that it sounds.

Woo hoo!

Thank you Alex, for sharing your photos.

Saturday, May 12, 2012

Color Run - Seattle

Remember that scene in Mary Poppins where Mary and Burt jump into sidewalk chalk art? Ever wonder what that would be like? Tomorrow, I'll find out.

Stay tuned.

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Happy Mother's Day, Alzheimer's and all

Mother's Day used to mean driving to Seattle and spending Sunday with Mom and Grandma (a little like we did last year), or buying annuals and planting hanging baskets for the patio. The rhododendron under my old bedroom window and the flowering snowball tree in the backyard were both Mother's Day gifts to Mom from my dad. Gift giving, gardening, handmade cards and coupons for chores all come to mind. But this year will be different.

This is the first spring Mom has been in a nursing home. I don't think days of the week, months, or even years register for her anymore. I suspect her sense of time is very immediate. That's a blessing and a curse. She's always happy to visit with family members. But within an hour, she's forgotten who was with her and what was said. As a result, spending time with her feels holy. Those moments spent together exist for her as they happen, not in anticipation and not in memories. Just in the moment. It's beautiful and crushing at the same time.

I visited Mom on Sunday. I've got a routine. At the front reception area of the nursing home, I sign in (Name, Who I am Visiting, Time In, Time Out). It's 84 steps to her wing (I counted). Down the long main hall, there are lots of open bedroom doors with TVs blaring inside. At the nurse's station I usually see a couple of employees busy at computers or visiting. A few residents in wheel chairs park along the hallway and watch everyone's coming and going. There's always beeping, like loud alarm clocks that everyone else has tuned out. It's nerve wracking. At the 84th step, I reach the Special Care Unit, specifically for Alzheimer's and dementia care. I press a button to disarm the door and enter (quickly; if the door is left open too long, it sets off an alarm that sounds like a bank's been robbed).

The Special Care Unit is always a few degrees warmer than the rest of the building. It smells ripe like slept-in bedding and unwashed clothes. There is art on the wall in the hallway and photos of the residents outside their doors. There are two and three-person rooms on either side. I usually find Mom in either the activity room or the "quiet" room set up for visiting families.

She was finishing her lunch when I arrived on Sunday. In the small dining room at the end of the hall, the other residents looked like white haired, passive zombies. They shifted their weight awkwardly in their seats and stared. I heard guttural noises and saw pale limbs exposed by ill-fitting sweat pants and hospital robes. I smiled big and waited for Mom to see me. She giggled and fidgeted with her long terry cloth bib. As I sat down next to her, she carefully maneuvered her large-handled spoon from the plastic dish to her mouth. The nurse assigned to meal duty handed her a sippy cup of milk and Mom drank thirstily.

Vegetables (cooked so soft that they barely held together) tumbled off the spoon into her lap. I ignored them and watched Mom take another bite. She enjoyed every mouthful with lots of satisfied sighing and "Mm!"s, but she seemed self conscious and said I should eat something, too. I smiled but declined and praised her on the good job cleaning her plate. The nurse said, "Vicki's my good eater."

Without missing a beat Mom added, "You know me!"

She slurped the last of the milk from her sippy cup, laughed at herself and apologized.

I helped her out of her chair so we could take a walk. It took twice as many steps for me to lead her out of the special care unit and back to the front entrance due to her tiny steps and slow pace. I bantered with her the whole way. She was in good spirits (as usual) and laughed a lot.

We sat on a bench near the front entrance in the sunshine. We admired the garden (azaleas, tulips, blue bells all in full bloom) and the fountain alongside the parking lot. The fresh air was sweet, especially after the "lived in" smell of the nursing home. I loaned Mom my sunglasses and put my arm around her. She leaned into me for a nuzzle. I quietly sang a few songs and she hummed along with me, instinctively remembering every note.

"I love you," I said, and kissed her forehead.

"I love you, too."

Those words mean more to me than I could ever express with flowers, jewelry, chocolate, or Hallmark cards.

This Mother's Day will be different than all the rest, but the love and appreciation directed toward Mom hasn't changed. If anything, it's been distilled and purified.

To all the mothers in my life, you are treasured.