Thursday, May 30, 2013

I am living Stephen King's scariest dream

I just finished Stephen King's interview with Terry Gross on Fresh Air (yes, I am a snooty NPR listener on occasion).  Mr. King said that he is always being asked about childhood traumas that might have created within all those weird, wild, and wonderful nasty boys and girls that have filled thousands of pages of print, and thrilled millions of movie goers.  I've got bunches of his books on my shelves  some he was kind enough to autograph.  And I've seen most of the movies, and TV shows, and liked a few quite a bit.  The network version of The Stand was very close to the book, and had a good cast. So that's that.

What intrigued me most was when he was asked what frightened him now.  Mr. King said:

So here's the movie that scared me the most in the last 12 or 13 years: The movie opens with a woman in late middle age, sitting at a table and writing a story, and the story goes something like, 'Then the branches creaked in the ...' and she stops and she says to her husband, 'What are those things? I can't think of them. They're in the backyard and they're very tall and birds land on the branches.' And he says, 'Why, Iris, those are trees,' and she says, 'Yes, how silly of me,' and she writes the word and the movie starts. And that's Iris Murdoch and she's suffering the onset of Alzheimer's disease. That's the boogeyman in the closet now. ... I'm afraid of losing my mind."  (Fresh Air/May292013/NPR)

That movie Mr. King is referring to is Iris that debuted in 2001.  The film chronicled Ms. Murdoch life with her husband from their early days through Ms. Murdoch's battle with Alzheimer's disease.  When you make your living with words, the idea that gradually the words you use to make that living are going to be drained away from you like a swirling eddy can be terrifying, or should be. It's like telling a  uh, you know, a tree chopper downer guy person and he's got that axe, Monty Python and yeah, lumberjack, that's what it is. Lumberjack.  It's like telling a lumberjack to cut down a tree and by the way, here's your spoon. This just actually happened.  I could not remember what a guy who cuts down a tree is called (or lady who cuts down a tree).  Then it came.  It's like Stephen King not remembering what the Gunslinger's first name was (Roland).  I am using this time of my life to tell stories of the town where I was born, and other fun things.  I need words, and they are slipping away.  The lesions on my brain are slowly drilling down like government contractors searching for shale oil, not giving a frack what is in the way.  That may have been a political statement that snuck out, or a Battlestar Galactica reference. I'm glad I remember Battlestar Galactica (both versions).

The good thing about words is that they are plentiful, and are all over the place.  A person can remind you of a word, or its in a reference book, or you come across (and down) them on crossword puzzles.  This is a ritual that my wife and I have had for the last few years, since I got the MS diagnosis.  She starts the crossword puzzle, will ask me about spelling, and when she has done as much as she can, gives it to me and I must finish it, even if I have to look things up.  We finish them.  We even do a decent job on the Sunday crossword.  This is a prescription every one with an brain disease has to do.  Get your brain rewiring itself. It actually is built to communicate with your body and other beings. It does not matter if you are sitting depressed on a couch watching duck Dynasty, part or most of that grayish white stuff in your head is workingRead, write, listen to music.  It's your brain and you live in it.  All I can do is work it the best I can.  Stephen King and I live in words.

But sometimes a symbol can make things a bit difficult.  Like this sign:

The New York State Department of Transportation has decided, in its taxpayer serving wisdom, that rotaries or traffic circles or roundabouts or whatever they are called where you are is a lot better idea than stop signs or stoplights (red lights).  As my once dinky village of Malta is now home to one of the biggest computer chip plants ever with jobs for everyone with at least two doctorates or a cleaning position if you've just got a Bachelor's degree, New York is bending over backwards to keep these large corporations happy by installing these:

Your local traffic is interrupted while it is built, though these folks do a nice job of getting the construction work done and then get out of your way, but I do wish we were given more than a one page sheet of info, and let's face it, this is from the government and unless it says "Here's your refund!" or "Fork it over, Bucky" do you really read these things?  Nope.  You drive out from your home and get to the same intersection you've been at for 20 years, and suddenly you notice that cars are mad-dashedly trying to go where they always went for 20 years around this new brick and concrete minipark with trees, bushes and grass on it, and good luck to you joining the fray.  By the way, when we had a red light, we didn't have to pay someone to mow its lawn!

And there are the accidents caused by poor drivers, moronic ones who think that because people drive that way in the movies, they can to, and the totally oblivious to everything but me me me crowd.  Eventually folks learn how to go about  these latest intrusions.

Unless you are me.  Or my father.

Poor Lou.  Every year we'd go to Cape Cod in the summer for two weeks and if you've ever drive to the Cape, you know that at least in the 1960s and 70s, there were these monstrous rotaries in front of the two Bridges that gave you entrance to the sun and fun place you waited 50 other weeks to enjoy.  But we would work with my father and get him around the thing (eventually).  Sometimes we went around the rotary a few times, at both Bridges, but eventually we'd make it and then he had to drive straight over the bridge and not look down (afraid of heights).  Sometimes he would ask me if there was any way to drive to the Cape and not go over those bridges.  But I always said that unless our name was changed to Kennedy, there was little we could do about easier access.  My wife never understood why when she and I would drive in the later 1980s around the rotary near the Sandwich Bridge I'd say "Marge, get me outta here!" and grab the steering wheel so tight you could see my fingerprints embedded on it.  Just a shout out to Dad, dear.  This happened to before he got what I have.

Which brings us to Monday, Memorial Day 2013.  We were driving to the local Veteran's Cemetery to place flowers on my wife Jackie's parent's grave.  We've done this many times before.  I took a left on to the main Malta street (in fact pretty much our only street) called Dunning.  This road takes you down to Saratoga Lake and then off to other places.  So we drove on and I saw a rotary.  In fact, I saw this one, though not up in air:

Whatever part of my brain handles rotaries/roundabouts must have been fighting off a lesion because the rest of me had no clue how to operate in this.  I drove around and around, trying to figure where I was and where I had to go.  They could have charged for a carousel ride, I went around so many times.  Jackie is trying to handle these things as best she can, remaining calm and trying to help. Eventually I pulled over, looked, and saw where I had to go and made the turn and all was fine and dandy.  I told Jackie I rarely drive that road heading north and so it was new to me.  Maybe yes, maybe no.

Mr. King, I am losing words, but I try to find new ones.  I am losing skills, so I have to double my efforts and do what I can.  The more I do, the less chance I will face the dark times as soon as my father did.  For now, I'll be reading Mr. King's latest while I sit on the Dennisport Beach on Cape Cod, like my Dad did.  Just don't get near me on the rotary, OK?

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

I fought the lawn, and the lawn won....

When we moved here to Malta, NY, the housing development was just being finished, with fresh paint, concrete steps to your door, and nice driveways.  As far as the exterior land was concerned, you got a few bushes and plants the same as every other house.  By the time we got here, the previous owners had been so embroiled in their divorce that they forgot a few other things, like maintenance of the property.

The yard looked something like this:

We're near a lovely lake and we've got a sandy soil here (thanks, glaciers!). The only way  the place can hold any sense of green are to plant seeds and root stalks that don't mind the conditions which is also while you just keep watering.  Its taken quite a while, near 25 years, but I've think the yard has gone as far as it can go.  There are home movies of family tossing a baseball around and poofing up sand each time.  Now it looks like this:

It can also mean that the family is grown and gone, but I gradually adjusted for the temperature, added stuff where I needed, and the grass began to grow as fewer people were around to see it, except me.  When family members passed on, I added a perennial bush in their name. I have run out of space because be cause people just keep dying on me.

The guy next door has a  bird feeder all rigged up so that we get birds all year round, especially cardinals and chickadees.  I help out with the bird bath.  Our area is also home to two chipmunks and a bunny that keep their distance but seem comfortable just hanging around (the chipmunks live under my deck).  The nicest days are when the animals are out chirping and singing and calling to each other "Free Food at Dave's!"

Right now, this minute, it is a beautiful morning.  In a little while, I'll get outside and continue the yardwork, still trimming, and cutting and preparing.

But what used to take a day or two, even when I was working, now takes a week.  My legs are throbbing from doing yesterday's raking, and it took two days to mow the lawn.  There are places that need seeding, and just straightening up and the thought of that drains me now.   But last week, I came home from writing and saw how the yard needed a good mowing (and the neighbors had done theirs, of course) so I got it done.  I've told me wife that I can still work the yard, just at my own pace now which I can really see it as slowing down.

So now it looks more like this:

There are some places grass will grow, and some places it won't.  I no longer care.  I will shape it up the best I can, with help from my wife, and then I'll get the lemonade and a good book, and sit on the deck.  The bunny will stop by later on and see what I'm doing in his garden.

New York has ice and snow, rainy springs, and humid summers. But every now and then you get these magnificent days in May, June, and September.  Those few weeks are worth all the others, and amkes me glad I live here.

Sometime the MS will stop the gardening totally, and I'll get someone else to do it, or not bother and move along.  I ask this guy, sometimes: 

As I clean up his area "How am I doing?"  He just keeps on with his quiet smile. And so do I, because I got up this morning to a wonderful day.  I might mow the lawn, next week.

Over 3600 reads.  Thanks for taking the time. More soon.

Sunday, May 12, 2013

How Crazy Did Your Mother Make You?

May 12 is Mother's Day, as if Hallmark and its associates haven't reminded you enough.  Since you are reading this, I'll go out on a limb and say it is May 12 2013 or beyond, and, if you note the day, as perhaps my myriad Russian readers do not, you've either thought about or were in contact with your female parental representative.  I phrase it that way as Moms now come in all sizes, shapes and genders, biological or whimsical.  Some of the best Moms I've met in my travels did not follow the "traditional" way.

My mother would not fit the mold either. Oh, it was a traditional husband-wife (male-female) bond with three children.  She was a working mom from the early 1960s until the mid 1990s.  She did office work, mostly, and saw the way things work in small offices - where being pals, golf buddies, good old boys worked with all the other males that were employed mostly assuredly kept that glass ceiling in place, no matter how much of a dunderhead the male in charge was.

Lesson for Tom: Since you're shy anyway, go where merit will do it. Take a civil service test. I did, and, after a few years, became a supervisor of staffs from 4 to 40, and was ready to take the place of previously hired dunderheads.

My mother was told she was smart by the teachers at her high school.  This was 1941.  She was told she could do well in college.  Then she met my father, a handsome devil from South Troy, and other things got in the way.  Pearl Harbor.  My father was drafted, and my mother played Rosie the Riveter building the bombers that helped my father win the war all by himself.  My Dad had some liberty time in 1944. and 9 months later my older brother was born.  No more thoughts of college.  I know she was sad she never made it.  But she raised three kids.  I was the surprise 1956 baby.

Lesson for Tom: You never know what can happen, so keep your eye on the prize, but adjust, adjust, and accept. I finished with a Master's degree, and handed both my mother and wife diplomas of gratitude also that day.

My mother's mom Frances died May 1961.  I vaguely recall the day, probably because of the high emotion.  Frances was a single mom who actually was divorced in the 1930s (scandal!) and raised her two children on her own, with a little help from her own parents.  My uncle Jim was a Marine, was on Iwo Jima, came home and raised three kids with his wife Kay.  The first home movies we have are of my parents and my aunt and uncle playing badminton, and having a great time.  My mother thought her mom was a saint, and its hard to disagree.

Frances, me, and my father's mom Julia.  I have no clue why I am ironing.

Lesson for Tom: As Crosby, Stills, and Nash said "And you, of tender years, can't know the fears that your elders grew by."  Be grateful for life and what your parents did for you.  Pay them back by living a good life.

By 1970 both grandmothers were gone, and my mother's father was just a blip on a screen. I met him twice.  He had another family in Ohio.  I met a half cousin once.  My father's father died in the 1930s, and he gets his own column sometime. So things moved on, and my brother and sister got married and moved out, and then my father got sick, and died.  This is when I started seeing my mother in a different light.  It took my own road to mental illness to see this light.

My mother was bi-polar, and this came from her Mom who suffered from depression.  She was never necessarily diagnosed, except by her bipolar son, me. (There is no rule on this, but sometime we, as bipolar, can see "One of us"). It has made the last twenty years more understandable.  My mother watched as her mother, husband and daughter died slowly.  She saw herself moving from decent middle class life to someone who needed support from her two sons, and shut herself off emotionally  except for anger at everyone.  She cried, raged, and railed at the world, punishing God by not believing, and everyone else for not being who she wanted.  She could, of course, be nice, kind and adored by little children and her great grandchildren and strangers in a store by sharing her sense of humor.  She was and could be a great lady to be around. And she took to Jackie's sister's family as another Grandma.

My mother died on May 12, 2001.  Today is May 12, 2013, Mother's Day.  She never saw my mental decline, suicide attempt, diagnosis and rebirth. Nor the MS that would hit from my father's side of the family. She'd be angry that I was hit, but, I hope, proud of how I've handled it, using some of her cues. Her lessons were observed, noted, and followed or not.

But all is forgiven.  That is the lesson. Patience, understanding, caring, doing the best you can. Good lessons.  Happy Mother's Day, Mom, and all moms.

Thank you, Mom.

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

One year, 80 posts, and 3500 reads later...

I am grateful. I am very tired. I am writing stories about my home. I am writing stories about the graves near my home.  I am writing stories about the people in the graves. I can keep my eyes open a little bit longer.  I can still drive but no more today.  We saw the flowers in Albany's Washington Park, and strolled around the city.  I miss some of my coworkers, but not the travel or the politics, or the people that, as the Buddha would teach, are examples for how not to live.  Of course the Buddha is always happy to send these folks along any time, so we always have learning material. I'll see the treasured ones soon.

I'm spending more time in the city of my birth than I have in the last 30 years combined.  Not all that bad, the feelings of nausea have faded over the years. And, as you may know, most of the family and friends of my youth are gone.  But the 'Burgh still physically exists.   There is a spot in Lansingburgh across the street from where I grew up that probably has not changed in 200 years.  It's on the corner of 1st avenue and 116th street.

When I grew up, the trees may have been there, but the housing now there replaced the brick building that held a lumber yard.  But the water is the Hudson River.  Henry Hudson may or may not have sailed his ship as far up the river as Lansingburgh, but he did turn around near Albany, so who knows? Maybe the Halfmoon (Halve Maen) made it up our way, and I was standing in that spot when I'm 7 and now when I'm 57, and maybe another version of me was there in 1609 watching that ship on that water. Maybe I read too much science fiction.

I put the above in here because I'm noticing that my energy level has dropped some.  This is Wednesday, May 8 2013 (Happy Birthday, Harry Truman!).  I also note that today is the birthday of Gary Glitter, child pornographer and 70s rock star.  He gave us the stadium anthem "Rock and Roll, Part II" in which the entirety of the lyrics are "Hey!" and "Ugh!".  This does not excuse his other life interest, though brain cell damage could explain both. 

Anyway, my point (and I do have one) is that I am considering devoting what energy I do have to write a story about Lansingburgh, a longer one along the lines of what I've tried with my writing class. It would bring everything together, past and present.  I do have the stories in the Lansingburgh Historical Society collections, and they'll be around.  But if I dive into this, it means research and writing and travel.  Sounds like fun.

Except I'm starting to doze off a little earlier now, about 5 PM.  Just a nap.  And then I'm fine until maybe 10 PM.  This week I cleaned the garage, started the yard work, and did the best I could in the MS Walk (though I was glad that it happened at a local racino.  I could sit and my wife could run around to machines and give them money), plus the usual Tuesday workout.  More of the slight  change in 2013.

I believe in the MS walk, in that it does exist.  Will there be a cure? Maybe. Someday. Let's be honest, when there is a way to make money off it.  For now we will continue to underwrite MS Societies and Federations and Associations, so those folks will have jobs as they raise more money, and ask Congress to spend more taxpayer dollars on research money given to colleges and universities and research centers and corporations so they will have jobs.  I go to the Men's MS support group, and it's been some time since I last visited, but a month or so ago, I did stop by.  No one is any better. In fact some are worse.  I'll be checking out another group next month, and see how they do.

In the meantime, its decision time on whether I commit myself to something I think I can get published, at least locally, or just do it online.  Just depends on how I feel when I open my eyes each day.  First, I get another day (Thank you).  Now, on this day, what can I do?

One thing I have enjoyed doing is writing this blog for the past year.  I am honored and grateful that you took the time in your day to read about mine.  More soon.