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?

1 comment:

  1. Thomas, so well penned! I love your writing style. I lived for about 20 years in the Capitol District, from Cohoes to Schenectady, but I moved out of state several years ago, just about the time the round-abouts (reminds me of an A.A.Milne poem) were moving in. I too am a writer (mostly poet right now). That cursed word is most definitely the worst case scenario to anyone who loves and uses words with any genuine intent.
    I have been bipolar pretty much my whole life, although only diagnosed about a dozen years ago. After the extremes of this disorder finally brought on a breakdown, I have been patiently and deliberately rebuilding myself, Ellen, version 2.0, if you will. Most of my progress is due to my doctors finding the right combination of meds to keep me stable. Unfortunately, those same meds also impair my cognitive abilities as to mirror the problems which you describe.
    The sword of Damocles hanging over me is my dad and his sister having been diagnose with Alzheimer's in the past two years. As far as uncomfortable (read scary) symptoms go, I might not be your next door neighbor, but I think we live on the same block for sure.
    I think I have finally got to the point with my poetry that I about to take the leap and begin a blog--about my poetry but also how that part of me has been so intertwined with my bipolar. It was in looking around to see what's out there that I stumbled upon you. It has been a privilege. I can't give you a ping-back to a URL or anything, but for now, I do have e-mail, and I am subscribing to your blog.
    Keep up the good words;)!!