chapter 2 up

Chapter 2 is now up.

Somewhat relatedly, I got to see a friend a rarely do over the weekend and was thrown completely for a loop. Usually in a conversation I can arrange a list of answers that I’ve already honed in previous conversations* into set pieces: this is my work drama, this is how my mother is doing, this is how home ownership is coming along, etc. etc. And it’s true that I got to trot those out. But she also kept tripping me up by asking about things I’d forgotten I’d let it be known mattered to me. Had I read this author, had I heard about that book, and was I still writing?

I don’t anticipate these questions because in the past decade it has dawned on me that the price you pay for sharing such information amongst peers tends to be too high. As a result, when people forget that I do such things, I let it go. My in-laws remember my academic career, such as it was, rather than the awards I won for this or that story. My immediate friends remember the degree I just finished wading through, and the doors it would ideally have opened. (One day…) But I don’t usually field questions about my writing, and am so startled and sheepish and touched when asked that I stumble through the rest of the conversation, no set pieces to hand, trying madly to filter out what I do and don’t want to say about project A or B or C. But because this friend dated back the full decade, to when everyone, in either the arrogance or naiveté (probably both) of youth freely announced such pursuits without (too much) fear of repercussion, in the form of condescension or too-keen interest or otherwise, she knew. And, moreover, she remembered. And I was absurdly unprepared for it, and sat there mumbling to the cobbles about editing and deadlines and contests, all while blushing harder than my cherry tomatoes in their pots out back.

Which is ridiculous. I’m thirty years old. I have always done this thing. But to have that be remembered and respected, by someone I don’t see every day or even every  year — and to be asked, and to be met with delight when I replied in the surprised affirmative that yes, I still did such work — pleases me. So much more than I anticipated feeling on a rainy Saturday afternoon.

*How I used to chafe, as a kid, hearing my mother do this! I’d hear the same words come out of her mouth again and again, to stranger after stranger, and resent the prefabricated nature of it; how she had something ready for a whole host of situations and it just came to hand easily, rehearsed, perfected. It was years and years before I realized that such responses held off-stage and at the ready grease the many less-important daily interactions along, grind us past their necessary ordinariness, so that we can get to those that matter.

by such means as will leave them unimpaired for the enjoyment of future generations

CharityMiles first came to my attention through Patrick Rothfuss, who hopes to be able to use the app to help fund his Worldbuilders charity. He brought it to his readership’s attention because of PokemonGo — if everyone was already out and about hunting pokemon, after all, why not use all that walking for good? The app translates mileage into donation dollars for a charity of your choice, and while Worldbuilders isn’t currently an option, it is a team. The hope is that if the team games enough visibility, the app will let the Worldbuilders charity itself onto the list of potential charities to which to donate your hard-earned miles.

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In the meantime, however, would-be Worldbuilders donors are encouraged to send our miles to whatever charity we wish. And here I encountered a problem.

I run. A lot. I would have run a 50 mile race this spring if family health events hadn’t took a turn for the worst, and I have the MCM coming up this fall. (Yes, I am sorry Tim — this is a running post. Sort of.) I have, then, a decent amount of miles to pitch toward whatever charity I choose, and at first the choice was easy. I started scrolling through the then-alphabetized list (it has since been re-organized by other parameters, it seems — perhaps popularity, or perhaps the organizations compete to be first on the list?), saw the Alzheimer’s Association, and boom. Done.

Except it wasn’t.

I used to try to come up with mental games for running having to do with my mother and memory loss, it’s true. When first trying to acclimatize myself to longer distances, I would grow fatigued and try to trick myself into continuing with phrases like “if you just reach that tree before that guy, or the tracks in time to see the train, your mom will get well!” This is, at its heart, a childish gimmick doomed to failure, I know. I knew it then, too. But in the exhaustion of a 20+ mile run I was able to enjoy, in the sense-deadened alternate reality of the exhausted runner, the illusion that something I did, physically, mattered. That I could ask of my body something that would actually help my mother.

The CharityMiles app, it seemed, was an opportunity to live that fantasy. Suddenly my mileage did matter. I could exhaust my body in exchange for the knowledge that I’d contributed, however little, to a fund that would ideally go to research that would help combat, prevent, or mitigate the effects of the disease. Taking my former mental tricks as a cue, the opportunity to use the CharityMiles app to send money toward the Alzheimer’s Association should have delighted me.

But…I don’t send my miles that way.

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Why? Because it felt selfish.

Hear me out. I talk about this disease all the time. I do this though it sometimes makes people around me a little squeamish. I do this because it seems logically unlikely to me that the reverse — trying to suppress my knowledge of this looming cloud over my life — would be healthy. So when my sisters-in-law waste their precious years left with their mother belittling her or encouraging these petty squabbles, I seethe. And I say so. When I am happily enjoying @midnight only to see their comedy team dip again into the rich pool of material that is mocking people too old and out of sorts to fight back, I fume. I don’t presume to go on some sort of Twitter tirade about these events with the expectation that such a tirade get results, but I don’t try to suppress such reactions in the privacy of my own home (or, often, car) either. It’s everywhere, for me. Every time Hulu forces me to watch an ad of a happy older mother at her daughter’s first this, that or the other; every time my dad complains to me about a coworker going on some romantic holiday trip with his wife, I am saddened. And because sadness is useless to me, I am then angry. Which is at least energizing, versus the paralysis of sorrow.

What I am saying is that Alzheimer’s is an ever-present fact of my life. And it’s true that as baby boomers age, it is becoming a larger fact of many other lives, too. But insisting that that scrap of dawn-lit running I do, too, be wrapped up in this years-long avalanche of fury and regret is something I am no longer willing to do. It feels too much. It is — I am — asking too much, when it and I demand that every moment everyone else still has with their healthy, cognizant mother be tender and thoughtful. It is asking too much that I demand of the technology I carry around with me daily to grant me the illusion that my very ability to move can help. It’s a gimmick, as much if not more than my “you’ll cure her if you run faster!” ruse. It’s a gimmick I’m tired of trying to believe in, because even if they figured something out tomorrow, they can’t bring back what is already lost. You can’t reconstruct memories that are already gone.

I can, however, seek to ensure that what memories other people, healthy people, create are able to be made in the places I hold dear. That’s why I send my mileage instead to the National Park Service.

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Again, it’s paltry, I know. They are so underfunded and so underappreciated that my puny dollars won’t reconstruct sliding path slopes or fight off the demented lobbying efforts of anti-government wingnuts. This, too — not the app’s donation function, which is real, but my ability to convince myself that every paltry step matters in a measurable way — may be a gimmick. But it is one that feels, more so than dwelling on the disease that destroys my family, my loved ones, charitable. There are people who have not seen Glacier, Yellowstone, the Grand Canyon, the Olympics. Hell, most of the people I know have not. My own husband, before I dragged him out to the canyons, hadn’t been outside his state since before college. But even though what dollars my running donates end up being too small to directly attribute to a funded project — something measurable — the idea of running to preserve and protect, rather than to continue a battle that my heart loses daily, feels better. (Even if it isn’t.) The parks, at their cloud-fogged heights and flood-scarred depths, will outlast me, and my mother, and my family’s misery. They’ll be there for people beyond the touch of this disease to treasure, and they’ll be there, hopefully, long past the point where Alzheimer’s is even an issue. When people are able to hold onto their memories again, they should be able to make memories in places like the parks. Places we are losing. I would rather fight for that future than for the one I’ve already lost. It makes the very beginning of my day have more in common with the sunrise I run into than the inevitable darkening I try not to see.

In reading over an article I wrote the other day, my husband asked me why there wasn’t a firmer, more pronounced conclusion, and in the grim joy I take in the obliqueness of texting as a medium (we were at our respective workplaces) I responded that “if I knew if it was worth crafting memories only to lose them, I wouldn’t be writing.” While gratuitously morbid, this statement is at its heart true. I don’t know if it is worth it. I know I don’t intend to cease, but that doesn’t impart worth to the effort. Ensuring that the vistas to which I return, physically and mentally, will still be there for others, though? That has worth. That’s no mental trick I need to employ to make my running or writing or persisting matter.

GoParks, indeed.

slide bars and decision trees

I  dreamed there was a slider bar I could pull to chronologically preview my life, with branching choice paths. The dream focused mainly on the possibilities of childbearing. I could have one kid, and it would happen at the end of this long car trip and it’d be hot and difficult. That one would be a boy, intelligent and possessing integrity, but a bit full of himself. If I went for two, the second would be a girl, and would like me — and having a sibling would keep the eldest from being so selfish. If I went for three, and stopped there, the third would be manic-depressive and would try to kill himself a couple times in high school. But if I went for four, the fourth child would shield (in some nonsensical dream-logic way) her older brother from his demons, and he wouldn’t be depressed. She would go on to become a scientist.

You could drag the slider bar forward and back, and people would move through your vision — yourself, your kids — and your location would change, dictated on the events that spawned in response to your choices. You could skip on into their lives, too, and make the kids central to the story, like how in The Sims you can change POV (and necessarily have to, if your sim of choice dies). That was how I found out that the youngest, if I ended up having her, would become a scientist. The eldest would prosper but die in a fancy boating accident in his 40s or 50s. The third child, if not depressed, became a psychiatrist. If he was depressed, he didn’t, and lived in a very small space with brick walls and no air conditioning. The second child cried the hardest at my funeral, when I grew old, but sometimes she was alone in her car in the parking lot afterward, and sometimes there were people there to comfort her. She led my husband away from the cemetery, always, and his shoulders shook.

It was exhausting. I feel like I got no sleep. I was never deluded, by Doctor Who or Afterlife‘s Heavenly Hindsight Habitat (seen here and described below) or Alia Atreides or anyone else into thinking that that kind of power would be a good thing to have. But even the dreaming of that kind of systematized review is draining and, as you would expect, saddening. You want to make the choices that make everyone happy, but even those can lead to an early death — if the eldest son was humbled by his siblings into being less of a jerk, he came into great wealth, enough to buy a yacht and die on it in stormy seas. If you didn’t have any more kids…well, I don’t know. I don’t remember all of it. But there wasn’t a way to make everyone happy. In that, I suppose, it was an accurate-enough simulation.

Sad, though. It was sad.

Heavenly Hindsight Habitat

One of the nifty perks about Heaven is that you’re freed from all the regrets, guilt, trauma, etc., about the way you lived your life. That doesn’t mean you’re freed from CURIOSITY, though. In the Heavenly Hindsight Habitats, SOULs are given the opportunity to see how their lives would have turned out if they had made different decisions along the way. This is accomplished through a highly-sophisticated melding of virtual reality, quantum mechanics, and divine whimsy, and should not be tried at home without an omniscient being present.

temperature

Sorrow steals up on you without warning.

Camping for Fourth of July weekend, surrounded by friends bundled up under many blankets in their separate tents, I came to consciousness crying viciously, because I was warm. Everyone was so cold — my husband included, wrapped tightly in the many layers of blankets we’d brought, that we’d hoped would have been enough — but I was toasty and warm in the unseasonably cool morning, thanks to the sleeping bag insured to 20 degrees Fahrenheit. My mother insisted, a decade ago at an outfitter before a two-month-long trip out West, on getting me the sleeping beg that covered colder temperatures. “But it’s the middle of summer,” I said, trying to curtail her spending. But she thrust it on me anyway, just in case. And here I was ten years later, surrounded by people shivering, and I was warm and safe and if I tried to thank her Mom would have no recollection of the sleeping bag purchase or of where, exactly, I was, or why. I sobbed into the cocoon-like hood of the sleeping bag, and hoped no one else at the campsite heard.

Now, in an AC-less house in the path of the heat dome, I’m wearing one of the many absorbent neck wraps with silly branded names, designed to keep you cool. It works. I was skeptical because I’d tried to use one before, when young. I overheated easily and my mother worried about heat stroke, so she’d bought me one and had me wear it when running around outside. But it was too long, and so it made my shirt wet and chafed, and I didn’t like it. And today, rearranging the water-absorbent crystals around inside their enclosure to go all the way around my neck, I remembered — with the sound, the crunching of the crystals — how Mom had cut open the old neck wrap, and tried to make a new, smaller one for me, but I’d been uninterested. Then the sewing machine broke and the crystals fell to the carpet to be vacuumed up, and it was all a waste. She’d tried to make me this thing to help me and I hadn’t cared, and it was a waste.

And it’s terrible. She tried to help and I was as careless with her generosity as all children are, and I can’t even say sorry now.

random music fridays : take five

Met husband due to this song. Got to see it performed in Brubeck’s final year of life and it was spectacular. All four of them had these tremendous long solos and everyone fretted for their health (especially the drummer’s!) but they did it anyway.