version control

It’s exhausting, having to turn the “around people I know and love” me off and the “alone me” on. I’m familiar with it, because I keep finding myself on jobs that pull me far away from everyone, and they come visit me because for me to return home it would be too hard to tear myself away and go back to whatever task brought me afar. But this kind of version control is neither easy nor without pain.

It’s like cutting whole chapters out of a book. It’ll read okay if you pick the right ones, but if you don’t, the plotlines will get jumbled and nothing will make sense. I have to snip out my need for human contact or conversation and replace it with the next chapter over — exercise, or writing. It works but you always mess it up for the first few weeks, and by then you may have to put your full, unabridged self back together again anyway, when you get to see someone you love again.

It’s hard.

And lonely.

I think that it’s better to do it than not — easier to be someone with holes than no one at all — but I think I am inching past the age when I want to keep doing this.

But then I think of people like my dad, who have no choice. Who will never get to return to the person who knew them best because they’re dead — and before that, years before that, she was already gone, even when alive. And my temporary loneliness seems terrible and selfish. “You have your mother’s eyes,” my mom’s best friend from college said, before starting to cry. My dad followed suit. And what do I do with their sorrow? What I can I do? I’m not her, I can’t bring her back, and the same shaped hole that is in them is in me, too. But I have someone to return to, and they don’t. So all the chapters I cut out of me ought to be less deserving of attention. Of regret.

Because I, at least, get to put them back.

random music fridays : seve

This song samples from “O Sifuni Mungu,” by African Children’s Choir. It’s upbeat, and it’s in Swahili, which my mom knew. She learned it as part of her job, rehabilitating people’s hands in Kenya after they were shredded or crushed, usually by construction or farming equipment.

I’m an upbeat person. I don’t walk around staring at my feet. I wish strangers good days and good weekends and mean it. For months after Mom died, though, I wasn’t. And now I am again.

It’s hard to recognize the clouds that hang over your head when you’re under them.

reapplying breakup songs as songs of loss

This is not a new thing. Remember Stepmom?

Stepmom

Spoilers, Ain’t No Mountain High Enough isn’t about losing your mom. I’m looking at you, Guardians of the Galaxy.

This should be a creepier transposition than it is, though. Especially in an age where the most powerful people in the world obsess over their daughters’ fuckability, I would expect us to balk at so many songs of romantic loss repurposed for…I guess it’s, what, platonic loss? Familial loss? You have to retreat from the word “love,” even, it seems like, if you want to discuss loss of a family member. We’ve reserved that word for a narrower and narrower space, as you grow older and don’t say “I love you” as much or as freely anymore; or write it in red crayon on lopsided heart cards. I think of the studied disdain of Kevin Kline’s Cole Porter, reflecting on the insipidity of the latest chart-topping hit: “an actual song called ‘I Love You.'” His distaste is that of the artist, sure, but also of the cultural critic. People, for wanting such things, are kind of dumb, is the implication. We should, I guess, want more. Or want it more colorfully.

Obviously the right lyrics — or at least the absence of the wrong ones — helps enable the transposition from romantic loss to non-. But maybe we also lend ourselves to this lyrical reapplication through a desire, both to see loss we could have fixed as inevitable, and of loss we couldn’t fix as something we could have fought, staved off, or avoided through calling back, or being more patient, or picking up.

Take Said and Done, by Nervous but Excited, which cropped up on an old playlist I’d retreated to at work and which, instead, had me desperately undoing my ponytail to hide my crying:

Bases covered:

1.) Come back home (not going to happen)

2.) We can get back to the way we were (we can’t)

3.) Try to forgive the rights that I made wrong (I’m sure everyone has lists of such things…continuing to Skype my mom regularly when I returned from abroad, as she apparently expected when she’d stay logged in all morning hoping for a call, is kind of at the top of my list)

4.) Still close my eyes to the sight of you laughing in sunlight (this verges on too decidedly romantic to be comfortable listening to but again, like with Ain’t No Mountain High Enough, the idea that memories held or promises made are concepts relegated entirely to romantic situations is a little short-sighted — and anyway, you obviously want to remember the person who knew you, laughing maybe, rather than the glassy-eyed husk with concave cheeks who didn’t know you anymore)

Again, I’ve written about people dealing with death a lot, and everything I say is salted with the knowledge that it’s very much the wrong thing, for someone. It’s either too crass (I keep saying she died, rather than that she “passed away,” because I hate the fakery of that phrase, the gentleness it implies, when there was nothing gentle or graceful or noble about this), or too narrow-minded (the President is imploding and taking the country down with him; there are bigger problems than one mother who is no longer here), or simply too much (most of the people caught in the bullet-spray of my sorrow don’t really know me that well, and certainly don’t know what to do other than take cover and wait for me to stop posting sad shit).

I am, though, among the people I do know my age, the first to have to do this. Everyone else has the luxury of parents they can still argue with, or of celebrating Mother’s Days their mothers haven’t died on. They can pose in stupid family photos still, and puzzle over bizarre combinations of emojis texted to them at 10PM, and scream and cry and clutch their mom’s hand as they give birth to their first child.

Let me help you then, all you millennials who will get to have your mothers for decades longer than I did. Let me help you do this years from now. Here is a list of do’s and don’ts for losing your mother, in no particular order:

DO Tell your boss. Even if you aren’t really that close or you were just hired like a month ago. There is probably some company provision that allows you to stay home and cry all day. This is important. It is better to do this at home than on your keyboard. Especially if your work has nice keyboards.

DO listen to sad songs, or songs that are sad to you in the context of your loss. That’s how this post came to be, after all. More importantly, even if you possess a steely reserve necessarily built up over almost a decade’s worth of dementia-driven misery, you should probably cry at some point. Music may be necessary to crack your adamantium shell. Grab those headphones.

DO eat. I mean, duh. I’ve never been moved not to eat by feelings, but I hear it’s a thing that can happen. Nutrients are kind of a big deal, guys. Get them.

DON’T become annoyed by people stepping gingerly around you. They literally don’t know what the fuck to do. This is not their fault.

DON’T snap at other people who text you happy pictures, from better days, of the person you’re both mourning. If you can’t deal with it, just ignore the texts. Your phone isn’t going to fill up, and you don’t know what psychology is driving the other person to fling these images of the lost person out there. You can’t yell (or…text-yell?) at someone loud enough to bring your mom back, so please don’t try.

DON’T expect people to say the right thing. They won’t. They can’t. There is no right thing. The right thing would be for your mom to still be alive, and she’s not. So whether you find yourself surrounded by people who pretend everything is fine, or by people who ooze religious platitudes, or who go on about karma or childhood or funeral prices or lame internet jokes, don’t expect a magic bullet. Not from a mentor, not from a friend, not from the old guy who walks his dog at 6AM every day. Literally no one will get it right. Not because they suck but because your mom is dead. It’s not their fault.

Oh, but if it is? Punch them. Just, you know. Because it would probably feel good.

still waiting, colbert

From an interview with Stephen Colbert in GQ in 2015:

He smiled in anticipation of the callback: “ ‘You gotta learn to love the bomb,’ ” he said. “Boy, did I have a bomb when I was 10. That was quite an explosion. And I learned to love it. So that’s why. Maybe, I don’t know. That might be why you don’t see me as someone angry and working out my demons onstage. It’s that I love the thing that I most wish had not happened.”

I love the thing that I most wish had not happened.

I asked him if he could help me understand that better, and he described a letter from Tolkien in response to a priest who had questioned whether Tolkien’s mythos was sufficiently doctrinaire, since it treated death not as a punishment for the sin of the fall but as a gift. “Tolkien says, in a letter back: ‘What punishments of God are not gifts?’ ” Colbert knocked his knuckles on the table. “ ‘What punishments of God are not gifts?’ ” he said again. His eyes were filled with tears. “So it would be ungrateful not to take everything with gratitude. It doesn’t mean you want it. I can hold both of those ideas in my head.”

He was 35, he said, before he could really feel the truth of that. He was walking down the street, and it “stopped me dead. I went, ‘Oh, I’m grateful. Oh, I feel terrible.’ I felt so guilty to be grateful. But I knew it was true.
“It’s not the same thing as wanting it to have happened,” he said. “But you can’t change everything about the world. You certainly can’t change things that have already happened.”

I’m still waiting, Colbert. This thing I most wish had not happened. I’m 31, not 35, but my mother is dead, and it has been eight years since she was diagnosed with forgetting all of us. Five since cancer took so much more of her away so fast. And it still sucks, man. She’s dead, and it still fucking sucks.

wrong number try again

book

I’m really exceptionally skilled at accumulating those “do what you love / if you are passionate about X, do it!” speeches.* The problem is I am never passionate about X; just good about towing its line to the point where people for whom X is everything think it is for me, too.

And it’s never some soul-searching moment either, because I’m not on some grand quest to find something I care about: I already know what I love doing! I just don’t do it for money because it’s not lucrative, and it’s far easier to be Good Enough at other things that pay.  Until, of course, you get to the part  where people give you what are meant to be inspiring speeches about the field — speeches which are destined never to move me as much as the speaker intended because these fields I wander into are staging areas. And I meander from staging area to staging area, because I never care enough about the grand production to take up a central a role there. And also because writers as a group can sometimes be real dicks, and people in other fields are more pleasant to be around. Mostly.

All of which is to say I suppose I should do some typing this weekend.

swanson

 

*Chris, this wasn’t your speech. This was the speech that led to me hitting you up for your advice, which was sensible and helpful. Thanks!

**Also, this isn’t about the new job; it’s about how people assume I felt about the old job.

anchors

anchor

With Alzheimer’s in your blood, there is of course little you can do (beyond, I guess, becoming a guinea pig, but I’m not frying my brain early for false hope). But you’d be a fool if you didn’t try and think how you might make it easier for those around you. One of things mean letting go of certainties. Maybe, if you got yourself to a point where you were comfortable and used to allowing for doubt in your own convictions — I think, particularly, of all the times my mother was sure a thing had been in a certain place, or that one of us had clearly moved said thing and lied about it — maybe, if you were already in the habit of stopping and asking yourself if you were really so sure about X, Y, or Z, maybe you’d be less…awful…to people around you.

Except, when I try and go through these motions, it feels like a lot of that work is already done. I already question a shit ton of stuff. For good or ill, that’s what an education captained by people of a Foucaultian bent will do to you. Is this really this way? Am I really capable of seeing outside this box I’m in? Stuff like that.

But these aren’t the sort of things my mom would go off on us about. She never fought with us over existential questions. She remained wise and self-questioning about that stuff right up until the disease took over the ability to think down those roads. But I don’t generally find myself accusing people of misplacing objects or, worse, deliberately sabotaging my plans. (And I mean, my mom wasn’t a bitch before Alzheimer’s, so maybe that’s not something you can avoid. Maybe those almost paranoid convictions come with the territory, and no amount of self-prep beforehand can spare those around you.)

The only convictions I have left, then, that I stick to, are emotional convictions. And those…I don’t want to give those up. I never feel unrooted in my relationship, for example, or regret marrying the guy despite being a bi woman. I don’t moon over what could have been, or…feel like I should? There isn’t some other life I wish I were living. Surely, if I can remember that–hang onto that rootedness–I won’t devolve into the kind of accusatory vitriol that so defined my grandmother’s experience with the disease?

And see, I allow myself to hope that I could be harmless, and not hurtful, but my mom was in the same position I’m in. She’d had this amazing life and travelled all over and none of it had gone the way she thought it would as a teenager, but she was happy. She wasn’t harboring some gendered BS from the 50s, that had stymied her from living the life she felt she was meant to. And all this still happened. And my dad still stumbled around the guarded, gated Alzheimer’s facility, blind and crying, because he couldn’t see his wife or hear her accuse him of doing the only thing that would keep her safe. And now, people still talk about how much time she has left like it’s an anchor chain waiting to rust away, after which they’ll sail free.

How can I allow myself to become an anchor around the necks of the people I love most? Forcing them to long for my death as a kind of release from the long nightmare of Alzheimer’s?

I know, I know, there’s no answer anyone wants to hear. But I’ve allowed or coached myself to let go of most certainties in life. There isn’t any reason for me to rot around long enough to break everyone else’s certainties, of love and of their worthiness of it, if science or the law (or chance, I suppose) finds a way around that long, miserable road for me.

ftl

sketch

I’ve been playing tons of Mass Effect Andromeda. Tons! Because I am about to be separated from my desktop for two months. For a good (see: GREAT) cause, but still. One must do what one can in the time that one has.

This is with the Nvidia ALT+F2 screenshot tool. It’s great, and comparable to Horizon Zero Dawn’s amazing camera tool, except that I can’t change the pitch of my camera. I climbed all the way up here so that a straight-on shot of my character — which this tool defaults to — would include the canyon and some sky. All the earlier shots I attempted tried to do this via the usual way, by right-clicking and dragging the camera to an appropriately gorgeous location, but the Nvidia tool doesn’t allow for that, that I’ve yet discovered. (An aside: this guy seemed to make it work, so if I do figure it out before I’m parted from my computer, I’ll go back to all the places I’d naively hit Print Screen before and try it out.) This one has a color enhance and a sketch-like filter turned on.

Incidentally but accordingly, my life is changing at FTL speed, such that I will soon be able to watch all the MST and PST Twitch streams I frequent (see: all of them) at reasonable times, rather than the wee hours of the morning.* The only downside is that the family I’ve built post-college must be left behind, and that sucks.

Still. New job. Dream job. Shall persevere.

And return to Andromeda ASAP.

*Massive love to you if this phrase rings bells. I started using it as a nine-year-old playing Odyssey: The Legend of Nemesis, which I adored more than I care to admit.