My mom’s brain

IMG_0437My mother calls me and is unhappy. It is her habit to call me when she is depressed. Then something is missing, mostly her happy feeling is missing. She feels alone. She feels stuck. No matter her situation, she has plenty to complain about: if just…then…

It’s not that she is helpless, it’s because no one is around to complain to, so she calls me. In fact, I wonder whether she complains to anyone else? Like my brother or my sister-in-law? I hear that she doesn’t like to ask for favors and she needs favors, because she cannot drive anymore. She lives with my brother outside of town and cannot get around on her own.

If just I lived near the ocean I could walk along it every day, she says. If just I lived downtown I could shop on my own, she says. Your brother is busy and so is his wife, she says. Often I don’t know when I will see them and I don’t know whether there is food in the fridge, she says. I’m so alone, she complains.

She was living in a senior assisted living complex but she missed the ocean and she missed her old area, where she knows people and where she knows the shops. She used to drive around. Now she lives with my brother a few miles from the ocean and the shops and cannot get there.

I know her brain is not working properly. She lives in the immediate present and gauges her feelings right now. She can’t get around and feels stuck and is unhappy and calls me. At the senior place she was stuck, too, but with many other people, so she was never alone. Not in a physical sense but emotionally, she felt alone there, too.

My theory is she feels abandoned because she never had to survive on her own two feet. She was a young virgin bride, innocent and naïve, following my father for fifty years until he died. Imagine the shock to be on your own at the age of 69. It’s been eleven years and her five children and children-in-law have helped her out, to become independent, to rely on herself, but still, she does not know how. From having her needs automatically met to asking for help is a jump she never has made. The way she deals with this is to complain.

I am left with a feeling of guilt. That I’m not where she is; that I cannot fix her problems; and that I’ve spent so many years trying to make her happy. I tell her I have a cold and that I’m gallery sitting. She doesn’t hear. She keeps talking about her complaints. If only…blah, blah, blah, then she would be fine, absolutely fine. There is nothing wrong with her. She can take care of herself, if only…

I know she pictures herself being very capable and that she thinks she is a victim of circumstances. Somehow, what she remembers of the time she lived alone after my father died, is a life of independence. But it’s not true. My sister-in-law showed her how to write checks and to keep a checking account. My brother checked up on her constantly. I visited her often. She was surrounded by support. She didn’t know. She is still surrounded by support but she doesn’t know and she doesn’t know to ask for help. She says herself: ‘I don’t want to ask because I don’t want to be a bother to anyone!’

Basically, she is stuck in her mind but projects that onto her situation. It is sad and impossible to change. They call it dementia and/or Alzheimer’s but I call it shutting down.

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The Real Dream

IMG_0262What is your real dream? The dream that you will realize? And I’m not talking about the dreamy reality that you may find yourself surrounded by; immersed in; or sustained by. No, the real dream for you is?

This is the challenge: to differentiate between a real dream and dreamy reality. An example: I see myself as an accomplished author, signing books by the thousands and going on national talk shows to promote my bestseller book – that is my dreamy reality because that is what I see as the optimal dream-come-true for a writer.

However, it is not my real dream. My real dream is to enter my writing space and write words by the thousands and have fun with it, every day. My real dream is to be able to do that and to be focused on that. I don’t even think about where that might lead me, because I’m too engaged in the actual process of writing.

I exercise by walking, biking, and dancing, and I meditate by doing yoga and every time, I focus on exactly that and I’m in the moment. Exactly what I demand from my writing. That is my real dream.

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A Life between Choice and Chance

choosing a carrot I subscribe to the New Yorker magazine, to the SUN magazine, and to Poets & Writers magazine. Plenty to read and to learn from. I do not read all at all but skim through, choose an article with content that interests me; happen upon a short story by chance; and then put it away. In fact, I throw out old magazines.

Am I reading the right material? Am I choosing wisely? Who knows? One weekend I read a magazine from beginning to end and indulge the material. It may show up in my own writing some way or other and I’m cool with that. I chose to read that exact material by chance, because I had time and so be it.

Other times, I’m weeks behind with my reading of magazines, because I’m reading novels and watching movies and they enter my consciousness and hide, until one day, they lift their head and make their way into my writing. I’m cool with that, too.

Do I ever find I choose deliberately what to read? Yes. For instance, the bloggers I have chosen to follow will feed me with useful material. Thank you! Do I ever find I happen upon just the right material? Yes. For instance, when I go to the bookstore, I may happen upon just the right book to read right now!

The life of a writer (and perhaps of anybody) is a life between choice and chance. And as with push and pull, give and take, back and forth, the concept of choice and chance shows us that opposites are intimately connected in order to keep a sense of balance. Instead of feeling split, let them both rule, in turn, without order, and stay calm.

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Older, yes, but fuller life

IMG_1025I belong to the baby boomers and that makes me ‘older’. Like common among boomers, I do not like to grow old. Peter Pan syndrome. But then, what is it to grow old?  The body changes – as it does throughout life (especially for women who go through child births and menopause) – gravity sets in and our biggest organ, the skin, loses elasticity. Weight gain. Liver spots.

Outwardly, I look older and inwardly, I know I am older. However, my life is fuller, richer and more productive than ever. Action. Decisions. Creativity. All part of my life now. Weird. With children at home, the same was the case. Action. Decisions. Creativity. But centered around the kids, not centered around me. The perspective has shifted and it feels different.

Almost like moving from a one-dimensional perspective to a multi-dimensional one. Not bad. Just different. From being focused on only the kids and their needs to being focused on what I choose to fancy. And I spread myself thin. So many possibilities, like at the market, when choosing a cereal. But my writing ropes me in and forces me to focus.

Instead of kids it’s about the writing. And all the years I have lived and can write about. And I don’t feel old but alive with ideas, scenarios, characters, plots, and I mix it all together into stories. My mind is full, my heart is rich, and my body is productive.

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Neat Freak

IMG_7641Sometimes I need to clean out – some kind of cleaning out. It can be as simple as sweeping the driveway for leaves, or going through my clothes to update them to the season. If I don’t exactly throw anything away, I reorganize, which gives me the same ultimate satisfaction. It is like a drug for me, and I need to do this at least once or twice a week.

Today, I had the itch stronger than normal. When that happens I go on my laptop and clean out pictures, documents, browsing history, and emails. I know it’s crazy, because nothing really disappears (it is saved in the iCloud). I just got a new iPhone and did not want to transfer anything from my old one, except my current contacts. I’ve found out that if I ask for everything through iCloud, OMG, I’m running out of space very quickly!

Accumulation. I was never a fan! I do not like too much stuff to carry around, whether physically or virtually. I prefer a clean slate, or the illusion of it. I like to think I can start afresh every time. Even though I can’t, because I need what my life has accumulated so far; otherwise, where do my stories and my images come from? So, this is the conundrum:

I want to clean out but at the same time, I’m collecting: memories, history, pictures, objects, relationships, and I constantly try to organize it all, as if I can…it is an impossible battle. As the oldest of five siblings, I was always the organizer and I let that be a big part of my personality, which is why I crave it, to feel fulfilled.

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Leaving Home

Leaving HomeI didn’t leave home until my mid-forties. I was forty-five to be exact. Transferring from junior college, I was a Regent’s Scholarship recipient at UC Berkeley. At that time, I lived in Monterey, over two hours away from Berkeley. Too far to commute. And I wanted to live in Berkeley; was fascinated by that city and all it offered: an international atmosphere with many languages spoken on campus and in the streets and restaurants. How genuinely proud I was! UC Berkeley or Cal for short, one of the world’s most prestigious public universities, and I was going there!

I went to look for a room with my husband. We never did discuss whether to move there together with our youngest son, who was fifteen at the time. This was about me, and I was excited, not only to attend Cal but also to find my own room. A room of my own. Away from family. Had not had my own room since I lived with my parents; moved from them straight to my boyfriend and future husband. We were high school sweethearts and were in love and inseparable.

Soon we had children, three of them. When the older two started college, I was jealous. Having never gone, I started attending the local community college. And after two years there and two years at Cal I graduated with my B.A., the same year as my daughter. To attend college is to gain knowledge but also, and perhaps more important, it is a time to grow up, mature, and be on your own, away from family.

So, it was for me! Not only had I been with my husband for many years, I had been with my parents for as long and more. We had always lived where they lived, or they had lived where we lived. Close. We even had businesses next to each other. Our children were their first grandchildren. We invested in a restaurant together, which eventually failed. Exhausted, I decided to go back to school and transferring to Cal meant leaving home. Finally.

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Holding On

IMG_8599Simply Red’s song, Holding Back the Years, is a favorite of mine. Part of the lyrics is repeated throughout: “I’ll keep holding on”. I’ve always been intrigued by this sentence. Holding on to what? Nevertheless, I resonate with the underlying meaning. To me, holding on is much easier than letting go. Holding on means having control. Letting go means sensing loss.

I want to hold on and most of all, I want to hold on to the person I think I am. People tell me I have a strong sense of self. I take it as a compliment, even though, I’m not quite sure what it means. One thing I know is my child-self, as I imagine, sense, and visualize my pre-adolescent self vividly: how I felt, how I behaved, how I acted, how I responded; all of that is truly me and perhaps, this is my sense of self; the self I’m holding on to.

I started writing at that age and loved it. I created stories that my teacher didn’t believe came from me. I created plays that we performed – my friends and my siblings – in my parents’ barn. But when I hit puberty, I left that behind and wrote a diary about boys. I gradually lost it – the pure and innocent child-self and grew into a Ms. Perfect who married and had a family, spending her adult years as expected. Still, I subconsciously held on, if not consciously, to that child-self, to that sense of self.

Some say we don’t have a self – that it’s an illusion to think so. Yes, I can follow that, because we constantly go through change with all we do and with the people we know and meet, but for me, the idea of a self is akin to knowing what you like and what you don’t like. And the pre-adolescent child knows this, instinctively. And follows it, if allowed and given space. Naturally curious, my child-self is happy when exploring and creating, never fully knowing the final outcome. Happy with the process and grateful for the product of my doings. Therefore, I’ll keep holding on.

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