Sunday, August 23, 2009

Nursing homes

There's nothing sadder in my life right now than my two or three weekly visits to the nursing home. Helpless old people - mostly women - totally dependent on strangers for their basic needs.

You might ask why I don't pull my 90 year old mom out of there. I sometimes ask myself the same thing. But I must work as the main breadwinner of my own family and there's no way around that. 

Because my reading is often about gulags and such, I'm starting to see signs of the gulag mentality everywhere - especially at work - but that's another story.  At the nursing home it's all about the 'system'. The staff are very good at following the rules. They are the 'guards' - making sure that the system works. Patients must be washed, dressed and at the breakfast/lunch/dinner table so that they can be fed. The food is nutritional - if boring. They will not starve to death - like in a gulag - but that doesn't mean that they will enjoy their meals, either.

The biggest change I see in my mom - and I'm not blaming 'the system' here, is in the lack of awareness of the outside world. It's an artificial environment - not too hot, not too cold - always the same. The days of the week lose meaning and the daytime hours are focused around the bland meals. Partly this is because as we age - like children - we do become more self-centered, less interested in the the world. Getting down the hallways with the walker or the wheelchair is the big event of the day.

Death is not discussed and it's only visible when a bed is stripped and a room is declared vacant - ready for the next old person. 

But there are beautiful moments, too. There's a couple of cats that wander at will - they are prized glimpses of freedom. Then there's the old people who are capable of humor, of flirting even. They're like fresh breezes in a stale place where memory, pain and death are private.

Then there's the staff. Some dare to do more than just their job. Their personalities shine and my mom - for one - latches on to their humanity. A caregiver with a smile and an ear that really listens is the rainbow in this weatherless place.

Nursing homes - so full of people - can be the loneliest places on earth. And maybe they aren't like gulags at all - they're like nursery schools. And the old people - like children - would all benefit more from one-on-one.  Don't we all thrive with a little bit of attention?

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Margarete Buber-Neumann

Hurrah! I have a book launch date set up with McNally Robinson - the best bookstore in the world. My dream is starting to feel more real - and guess what? - I'm becoming totally frightened. Where can I hide?

Although my release date is October 20th - I put the launch date for November 18th - just in case there're issues with the border or whatever. So it's three months. Have I mentioned that I'm scared? Does the world really need another book? 

But then, this book isn't just a figment of my imagination. This is a promise fulfilled - this is a girl's story that needs to be told. (I must remind myself of that.)

Speaking of books based on history - I just finished reading a most intense memoir by Margarete Buber-Neumann.  Her book, Under Two Dictators - Prisoner of Stalin and Hitler - was first published in 1949 (She passed away in 1989.)  This woman - this author - was simply an incredibly strong, kind and intelligent person. Her story is so well told and so enlightening.I highly recommend it.

Sunday, August 9, 2009

Anne Laurel Carter

The current CANSCAIP News Issue - Summer, 2009 did a feature interview with Anne Laurel Carter. Her most recent book is The Shepherd's Granddaughter. The article was an insightful profile of an author who has worked very hard to achieve success.

I'd like to quote her. The quote refers to her subject matters and why she writes: "(about)...people who are silenced, the story not told, stories that have been appropriated by people in power. We cannot move on in history unless a story is told honestly."

I must read her books.

Friday, August 7, 2009

Finding my inner dog

Got to go camping - just me, myself and I - and the dog. You see, the weather was cold, windy and wet and the kids, well, the kids are past doing what Mama wants. But the dog, he's totally into hiking, beach combing,  and eating outdoors. A few mosquitoes never scared him off.  We went out to one of my favorite spots at Hecla Island - on the big Lake Winnipeg. It was superb. I shall definitely make this a summer ritual. Just me, the dog, my laptop, and some books. Life can't get much better. 

Read Malcolm Gladwell's The Outliers. Interesting read.