Dad in Black and White

(From a writing exercise* recorded in June of 2012)

I am looking at a drawing of my father done in charcoal on coarse sketch paper when he was 19 or 20. His hair strikes me, so sculpted and perfectly groomed. So well-suited to his attire—the coat and tie look men used to wear, even to ballgames and dinners out with the family.

But it's Dad's earnest expression, the serious stare of an older, more mature, world-savvy person, that impresses. My mind fills in the details of his emotions and his outlook on life from that forthright look,  his eyes intent on the artist capturing this image on manila hemp (to be studied six years after his death by his still-grieving daughter).

I see, in those eyes, a tinge of sadness. I read into his intent gaze all that I know about his early life: his parents' emotional detachment; their early divorce and respective remarriages; the sense of not belonging anywhere which led him to leave home at 16. Yet I see no self-pity there, merely a hint of disillusionment.

And the underlying element of determination comes across as well. The drive toward self-sufficiency that shaped his professional ambitions. A certain self-confidence and forbearance that has set aside the pain, has refused to wallow in the adversity, has decided to forge its own fate, undeterred by life's stumbling blocks. A resolute refusal to limp, wounded, through life.


*Writing exercise suggested in Writing Down the Bones by Natalie Goldberg


Dad Drawing I WP_20190809_002.jpg

Good Advice, Except . . .


The concept of living in the moment is popular with contemporary mental health specialists. It makes sense in the context of too-busy lives complicated by conflicting demands from work, family, school, social causes. Don't miss out on today obsessively planning for, or worrying about, tomorrow.

I get it. But when you are companion to a dementia sufferer whose conscious thoughts have no such framework, good advice can start to feel like scolding.

Zelda lives in the moment by default. She has lost her ability to connect today to tomorrow. And yesterday—unrecordable in the jumble of disconnected synapses that define her disease—may not exist for her at all.

 Now I must train myself to identify with her new perspective without being swallowed up by it. Some days—most days—this is a challenge. But the will soldiers on. Good intentions must count for something, right?

The following is a snippet cut from the original manuscript of Loving Zelda:


For Zelda, trips to the grocery store take place in a bubble of oblivion, with no relation to prior shopping forays or what we have already amassed at home. Feigning a patient attitude becomes  toilsome for me.

I need to learn to turn my thoughts inward, to seek my hidden cache of zen. Calm attentiveness. Intuition as my guide. Detached. No longer reacting, simply accepting. Stepping into her reality and seeing things through her eyes.

Why is it so much easier on paper than it is walking the aisles of our local Cub Foods outlet?