Terra Incognita

map 2It’s been a while since I’ve written about my travels with The Professor — or found the time to write here at all, for that matter. Despite my best intentions, I managed to overcommit myself during the first few weeks of the current school term, which put paid to any attempt to unravel the many complexities of the universe in this, my little patch of cyberspace.

Coronavirus and all its attendant concerns and controversies have made this mad world an even more perplexing place to navigate lately, and they have also served to highlight even more vividly the difficulties our family is facing as dementia slowly and inexorably claims my father’s brain.

Last week we received confirmation the resort we had planned to holiday at with our extended family over Christmas this year will be closed until April 2021. That tropical island getaway had been shining like a beacon of hope at the end of this crazy year, but now that the Trans-Tasman travel bubble has failed to materialise and the thought of any trips further afield has faded away, we are being forced to confront two realisations: one, that our Fijian vacation will, at the very least, have to be postponed; two, that the longer the borders take to reopen, the less likely it will be that the Professor will be in a suitably fit mental state to make the trip.

It still feels like a sucker punch.

So do the times when Dad gets stuck in a loop, and tells the same story over and again, despite every failed effort to deflect or distract or redirect him onto a new neural track.

Or when he has what we call “Alice Days”, and is alone, and sometimes flailing, in his own Wonderland, unable to recall how to answer the phone or what was said only minutes before.

I am grateful that he still delights in words — and wordplay, when he is able to — even if he does recite the same poem or witty ditty he learned as a schoolboy eleventy million times in the course of a single afternoon. I am pleased he still finds pleasure in reading books, despite borrowing the same volumes from the local library time and again because he doesn’t recall enjoying them only the week before.

Sometimes I grow weary of the slow grieving process that inevitably accompanies the Professor’s decline, of watching the ever-closing window and never knowing how much time or lucidity is left before it shuts.

map 3I am utterly humbled by my mother, and am in absolute awe of her patience, compassion and devotion to the previously active and highly cerebral man who once anchored our lives, who now feels like he is floating above us, tethered only by interwoven strings of love and tenacity.

I try, as my mother always does, to meet the Professor where he is.

I hang on to the good days, when the repetitions are rarities, or when he’s not wandering through a mire of memories of times long before my birth.

I find it’s easiest for me to hold his hand on the Alice days, hoping he finds the same comfort in the familiarity of that simple touch as I do.

And most of all, I hope — fervently — that he is not undone by disorientation and distress as dementia erases the lines from the maps he has always known, forcing him into Terra Incognita as the charts fade, into the unknown.

map 4

 

 

Creating the Cat Race

024 (2)

Tauriel, being the light at the end of the self-isolation tunnel…

I have been doing a lot of pondering since I wrote my last post, when I railed against returning to the rat race in the post-iso world. My words seemed to gain traction with many people who read the piece, though the most frequently asked question I received in response to my musings was quite simply: How?

How, exactly, do we do things differently now that we are experiencing life, rebooted? How do we put into context and practice what we have learned during this, the craziest of years in living memory? How do we stop ourselves from falling back into old patterns and habits when we know there are alternative ways to do so many things?

Well, one of the more outlandish suggestions I received in response to my rejection of the rat race was that we create the cat race instead — and this, folks, is something I believe I could get behind.

As an aside, I have often said if it turns out reincarnation is actually a thing, I could do a lot worse than returning to this world as a cat. More specifically, if human options were definitely off the table for me, I’m pretty sure I’d be OK with reincarnating as a domestic cat in a comfortably appointed and well-managed home.

052

Living with Tauriel has reminded me of the many things I have learned from cats.

In all seriousness, however, there is a surprising amount we can learn from cats and apply to our daily lives.

For starters, cats never over-commit: they exercise occasionally, eat moderately, eschew unnecessary interaction, and resolutely stick to their own schedules. Cats say precisely what they mean to only when they need to, are masters of saying “No” without uttering a single syllable, and fastidiously ignore anything that fails to capture their interest. Even so, cats consistently present well, most probably because they — very wisely — prioritise sleep and self care, and they appreciate the comforts of home. Finally, cats whole-heartedly embrace spontaneous pleasures, even if these involve pursuits humans deem spurious or frivolous, such as speed-scampering up and down hallways at peculiar hours.

I ask you: what’s not to like about the cat race so far?

Quite simply, it’s not so different from what I am attempting to do in my life now self-isolation is over.

I am committing to being less committed. I’m working out what is important to me and my family and making room for those, and only those, things. I’m shopping only once a week, which means I’m planning more and buying less. I’m making more conscious decisions about the projects I take on, and better predicting how these will impact my week and my interactions with my family.

I am sticking to my schedule. Even though I am committed to doing less, I am scheduling more. We all knew there were 24 hours in a day before self-isolation, but I now have a better appreciation of time and how I spend it. By sticking to a routine I can accomplish what I need to and still make time for things that make my soul sing, and for much needed restorative sleep.

I am appreciating home. Yes, we all saw a lot of the same four walls during self-isolation. But I’m far more appreciative now that I have four walls around me (even if I’m also far more aware how much they need re-painting), and a roof over my head to keep the winter weather out. By extension, I’m also making sure that I am supporting businesses close to my home, such as my local beautician, bakery and bookstore.

I am embracing spontaneous outbursts of fun. It’s easier than you think to say no to things, but sometimes — particularly when you’re overcommitted — it’s harder to say yes. I have discovered that when I combine the three things I’ve mentioned above, I have far more space in my life, my head and my heart to say yes to unexpected delights. During the past week, for example, I went on a long walk with my elder daughter and in two hours learned more about how she was feeling and what she’d been doing than I had in the two months. I played a game of Scrabble with my Dad, The Professor, which — given he has dementia — is something I will cherish as I don’t know how long his ability to play will last. I bought a bunch of flowers chosen by my younger daughter and they are still brightening our kitchen today. And most days, I sat and relished the luxury of a large cup of hot coffee.

These, my friends, are the cornerstones of what I am calling the Cat Race, and anyone — I mean anyone, is welcome to join in.

066 (2)

Tauriel suggests spontaneous delights can also be encountered in a bookcase (which may or may not include enticingly tasselled mala beads, as well as books).

 

 

 

À la Recherche de Temps Précieux

ironicI have been in search of precious time recently — not temps perdu, like Proust obsessing over his madeleines.  I have no need of seven volumes of rememebrances of things past right now — though the irony of that will soon become clear.

Rather, I am in fervent, life-affirming need of the present.

I’m not entirely sure how many times I’ve begun composing this post or some version of it in my head over the past few weeks, but I’ve finally figured out that I simply need to put fingers to keys and write — honestly, and hopefully positively — about something significant that is affecting my life.

So here it is: my Dad has been diagnosed with dementia.

I have mentioned my father was experiencing significant health issues in a post once before, and vaguely alluded to it as well, but lately I have discovered that not writing about it openly has been stopping me from writing here at all. It’s not like I’ve had any kind of writer’s block (mostly because I arrogantly refuse to entertain the possibilty that such a thing will ever beset me), or that I have lacked material I thought worthy of sharing. I’ve happily written articles and press releases for clients, and finished off pieces of fiction I started years ago — and even had the temerity to share some of them with an audience.

But my reluctance to write about Dad’s dementia has resulted in the longest hiatus I’ve ever had from this small patch of cyberspace I call my own, and it’s time I changed that in the best way I know how.

I don’t want this to turn into one long whinge about how much it sucks that my Dad — my incredibly intelligent, erudite, articulate and energetic father — has an incurable condition, so I’ve decided that this will be the first in a series of posts I want to categorise under Travels with The Professor.

lionMy hope is that these posts, whenever I feel the need to write them, will celebrate the man who helped raise me, of all that he was and all that he still is.  I imagine I might want to share things that he’s taught me and encouraged me to appreciate, and to make sense of what I’m learning about him and myself as we journey down this one way street, not knowing how long we have together, or how long he will know we are on the path with him.  I don’t want to eulogise him, though I am fully aware that I will probably end up mytholigising at times — because that’s what Dads are for: they are the mightiest of lions, the leaders of the pride, the ones we look up to.

So I invite you to join me, if you’re willing, and we’ll both see where these rambling Travels with The Professor take us.