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Family, Memory Loss, Design, and Fall Cycling

September 16, 2016

160702_PhyllisHandsBR

Above: Quick sketch of Phyllis sitting, Sensei Pen and Montana Acrylic Marker on Arches Text Wove (Velin) in a 7 x 5 inch handmade book. (Look over on the left and head and tail of the book so you can see the fun decorative paper I made with gold sparkles.)

It has been a long couple of months. Typically I try to work several weeks ahead with posts and that hasn't been the case recently because we've been moving my father-in-law to long term care—he was just too frail and forgetful to continue independent living. The good news is that he is finally relaxing. Now that someone brings him his pills when it's time to take them (and he doesn't have to take them out of a marked box) and someone reminds him when it is time to come and eat, and someone takes him to PT or asks him to go to activities—he has relaxed.

Thursday when I stopped in he was taking a brief nap in his comfy chair, in front of his large window with a beautiful view of a landscaped courtyard. The light is excellent in the room, both for reading and for brightening the spirits. Sitting in front of him on his rolling table was one of his engineering books—which he'd been reading before he dozed off.

He hasn't been doing that for months because he's been worried about everything. Now he's back to work. That's a good thing.

But the bad thing is that I've really internalized the stress and it shows in my own dwindling memory, poor sleep, and other physical issues. Yes I've been riding my bike, and doing my physical therapy, but it hasn't been enough. I feel as if dementia is contagious. Sometimes people ask me questions and I just stare. I know a couple nights of good sleep will help. We're working on the other stuff.

In the meantime I sit down to write a blog post and even though I keep images and ideas organized in such a way that they get moved only when they have been written about I look at everything with déjà vu. I looked at the image in today's post and thought I had already posted it.

I had to search categories to see if I had.

I don't think I have. (I could have forgot to tag it correctly!?)

If I have I apologize. I really wanted to put it up because it says something about gesture and recognizability, and because I wanted to show it to the students in my design class (By Design: Creating the Intentional Page, which is an on-going self-guided class people can start any time) and drawing class (Drawing Practice: Drawing Live Subjects in Public—which will be offered again in 2017). 

The design students have been thinking about design "rules" and I want them to think about breaking some and the drawing students having been thinking about composition…

You might be interested too in why I think this page works—it's an issue of familiarity over composition and design. It's an issue of gesture and the recognizability of the familiar (here my mother-in-law), it's an issue of playfulness and focus, an issue of how little you can present and retain recognizability (those hands, that chin), and an issue of playfulness (in composition, line, and color). All of this is why I keep a journal and sketch live subjects.

So why did I start the post writing about CR? Because I was getting at my own memory loss. And my search for whether or not I'd posted this image of Phyllis, and standing there today next to CR as he did his physical therapy, doing my own leg lifts and kicks so he could follow, I thought for a moment as I struggled to stay in the present moment and keep counting and keep explaining why we wanted to go at a certain pace, that I couldn't remember what else I needed to do yesterday.

On my walk to the car I actually felt my mind narrowing down to a small point that couldn't even recall which images I'd posted on my blog (because I knew I wanted to post).

I have a Blog Log for my blog to remind myself what I've written about. (There's a little video at that link about it.) I have over 2100 posts so you might see why it's difficult for me to keep them straight. Right now it just seems a little more difficult. 

So apologies if I inadvertently post something you've seen. I'm busy working on a flip through of my Minnesota State Fair Journal. I have a couple product reviews coming up. And some thoughts on cycling and the Wright Brothers. I just need a couple minutes when I can sit down and gather my thoughts—don't we all?

Summer has ended. Cooler, lovely days, and darker mornings mean that if I get up at 5 a.m. to beat the heat it doesn't matter because there is no heat and it's too dark to ride. I have to start in working and then take a break and ride a little later—which really annoys me. (Fall is always the time when we see a little bit of two-year-old Roz.)

I also can't just slide a little on start times to go with the light. Now the University is back in session and every morning my route is a long line of cars snaking to the U. I just don't like to cycle in a cloud of exhaust. So I wait even longer until I head out.

I don't like this transition. I like to work out first and then get on with my day. But the real reason I don't like this transition is that it means winter is coming—not in some "Game of Thrones" horrific way that you might associate with that phrase, but in the difficult reality cyclists in Minneapolis have to cope with every year. We have to dust off the trainer. 

So I will now go on record and say this, "Fall is the best time of year here." I sometimes vacillate between spring and fall, but today I realized in no uncertain terms that it was fall, hands down the winner for me. It's the warmth still coming off the tarmac, instead of the winter cold. It's the dying leaves and dead blossoms—easier for my allergies. It's the absolutely gorgeous light that switches to "blindingly slanted and dimmer" (yes dimmer) just after Labor Day, without any incremental adjustment. It's everything. It's the built-in nostalgia.

OK, maybe fall is a little bit like aging and memory loss. You get a little bit caught up in the nostalgia of other seasons as they chip apart and reform into unique, new remembrances. (Just wait, if you do elder care you'll know exactly what I'm writing about.)

I just know that the past few days, I've had killer cycling times (thank you lower humidity!) and if it snowed tomorrow that would be OK. (Well not really, but almost. I'd like to get through October with outside riding.)

So for now I'm going to transition into my fall schedule, keep helping CR with his PT, keep sketching both him and Phyllis. For now I'm just going to trust that the blog posts will fall back into place. 

And I'm going to enjoy prodding my students to have some fun! And I hope that you too make some fun!

    • Julana
    • September 16, 2016
    Reply

    I love Autumn in Ohio, the scents, the colors, the changing forms of trees…..
    I know what you’re talking about. I have sleep and memory loss, too. I have been trying harder to follow the Bullet Journal method of tracking events, goals, and tasks, and it helps. Funny, there is some carryover to and from design.

    I re-watched your intro about using supplies you have on hand and laughed. My brain had quickly and happily edited that right out. Somehow, I ended up justifying Irene Wellington’s bio ((More Than Fine Writing) and a Brause Blue Pumpkin nib, which had bern on my wish list.
    It s wonderful your in-laws have you to help. There are so many lonely elderly people.

    • Lesli Williamson
    • September 16, 2016
    Reply

    Hi Roz,

    Your class sounds great. Do you happen to have any examples of The Intentional Page? I’d love to see some.

    Thanks,

    Lesli

  1. Reply

    Roz, thinking of you, and wishing you clear thinking and a smog-free road ahead. I love reading your honest, thoughtful, and insightful blog on art and life. Caring for your in-laws has given you a unique perspective on combining your passion with whatever is going on in your life. Thank you for sharing that with us.

    • Kathy
    • September 16, 2016
    Reply

    Roz,
    Thinking of you and wishing you some catch-up sleep and a full month of October for cycling. You’re incredible with 2100 blog posts and who in the world but you could keep something like that organized and retrievable? I’m taking the design class and so your post today is helpful on many levels . . . how to cope admirably with stress and how to create an intentional page. I love your subject, the cropping and your use of line. Thank you for generously responding in thoughtful detail, to the students in your online classes.

    • Christine K
    • September 16, 2016
    Reply

    If we were walking together as golden leaves drifted down I would be saying CR’s move to long term care is a transition for you too. There is a long list of things you don’t have to worry about so much anymore – someone else is looking after those things. Revel in the contentment you’re seeing in him – sometimes those moves don’t go that well. Give yourself time to adjust to this recent change in his life. And give yourself a break – you’re a terrific daughter-in-law. Have a great weekend.

    • SusanLily
    • September 16, 2016
    Reply

    The first thing that caught my eye in this sketch is Phyl’s mouth and the gentle smile there. I felt like she was looking at you with love and enjoying your company.

    I, too, internalize stress, and I’ve been experiencing some of the same sleep and memory issues you described ever since my own eldercare responsibilities began. It got to the point where I was so fatigued that I was crying all the time and couldn’t remember what I was saying halfway through a sentence. When I asked my doctor about it, he said there was nothing wrong neurologically (no early onset dementia, etc.); I just had too much on my mind to think about and too much on my plate to do. Too much mental and physical multi-tasking will take its toll.

    Since then, I’ve read several articles about how multi-tasking is proving to be not such a good idea for one’s health, memory, sleep, or creativity. It was a relief to be told I wasn’t, in fact, losing my mind, but finding ways to relieve the stress and focus on one thing at a time is not easy, especially when there’s so much to keep track of for my mom and I’m always on alert for the next fire I need to put out. I hope now that CR is settled in his new place, you’ll find the rest your brain and body needs.

    Relaxed—such a nice word. I think that’s exactly how my mom felt after she moved into assisted living, although I didn’t realize it until you described CR as being more relaxed now. Now that she no longer has to worry about her meds and meals and mundane household chores, she is much more at ease and able to take an interest in making new friends and enjoying new, and old favorite, activities. I’m so glad to hear CR is back to work!

    • Bill Burrell
    • September 16, 2016
    Reply

    Thank you for timely post. Having similar experience. Wrote a longer, and somewhat cogent, reply. But, as usual, the magic posting fairy ate it before I could post it.

    • Eleanr
    • September 16, 2016
    Reply

    I agree with Christine K.
    And may I add: you are one of the most conscientious, hardworking, prolific sketching/writing, humor filled person on earth! May you be gentle and as loving with yourself as you are with those you care for. Transitions are hard even when for the good, Your mind, spirit and body needs time

  2. Reply

    Eleanr, thanks for your kind comments. I’m getting a little time off this weekend.

  3. Reply

    Bill, thanks for writing. I’m sorry your other response was lost as that’s frustrating when that happens, but I appreciate that you are going through elder care now too and wish you the best.

  4. Reply

    Julana, I don’t know what the Bullet Journal method is but it sounds too complicated for me, I’ve always come up with hyper organized ways to do things that people say that about, and as such don’t care for other organizational methods. I’m glad however, you’ve found one that works for you.

    Good design is always about organization so I’m not surprised there is carry over.

    Thanks for writing and enjoy that new nib!

  5. Reply

    Thanks Cathy! Thanks for writing in and keep on swimming and walking!!!And drawing.

  6. Reply

    Lesli, you can read about the design class here:
    https://app.ruzuku.com/courses/15933/about

    As for examples—well pretty much everything I do in page layout is discussed in this class, so pick almost anything on the blog and the design concepts behind it will be discussed, so it’s hard to point to specific examples. (Even when I break the rules, the whys of that get discussed.)

    The class is to help students understand the parts of the page and the use of the live area of the page for greatest effect, taking into account things like negative space, balance, size, rules, boxes, etc.

    Hope that helps and you’ll check it out. (It’s open now and on-going.)

  7. Reply

    Thank you Jane, I appreciate the smog-free road wishes and am so glad you enjoy the blog! Thanks for writing. I appreciate it.

  8. Reply

    Thanks Kathy, I’m trying to get my sleep schedule transitioned this weekend, so far so good. I’ve been able to keep most blog posts in my mind, oddly enough, but this past 6 months it has been increasingly difficult as the emergencies related to elder care have cropped up. I can see it in my journal pages! Sometimes I am totally unable to write anything. Thanks for taking the design class Kathy, I’m glad you’re enjoying it! I will have more to say about this piece to all of you—just letting you all have some time to think about it. Keep on sketching and designing this weekend!

  9. Reply

    Christine, you’ve hit the nail on the head. I’m struck by not being ready for this next transition even though I knew it was coming. Also his transitions always take more time of mine to help him transition. I need more time to process. I’ve taken the weekend off and Dick is off now to do his usual tasks and visit. I appreciate your comments. Thanks.

  10. Reply

    SusanLily, she does this thing that is a family “joke.” When someone points a camera at her she puts on her “camera” smile. It’s so funny. Well when I sketch her she actually sits quietly and happy, just luxuriating in the knowledge that someone is with her and cares for her. So you definitely see that AND what we’ve been seeing recently is that she’s more aware when I’m sketching her so she tries to have a good “face.”

    You’ve pretty much got the sense of what is going on. I don’t have any processing time, and I’m always big on having processing time. And I’m really good at anticipating and putting out fires!!!

    The good news is that CR is relaxing into his new situation and seems to like it. It could have gone exactly opposite. I’m grateful for that everyday.

    I’m glad to hear your mom is more at ease. This is what I think we can best provide for them—situations where they can be at ease. Thanks for writing.

    • Christine K
    • September 17, 2016
    Reply

    Maybe later you guys could go out for a brownie!

    • joanne
    • September 18, 2016
    Reply

    There is only so much “emotionality ” we can process in a day or week etc. Then we sort of shut down to protect our resources. Like the computer does.

    I think you push yourself too hard. Every other day for hard exercise is sometimes a better solution. At our age.

    • Barbara
    • September 18, 2016
    Reply

    Dear Roz
    I know what you are going through as my father has dementia and is in long term care. I was so used to having to take charge of his life that it became stressful when that was taken away from me, I felt that I was somehow letting him down. One of the carers told me that I was just as important as dad and that I now needed to care for myself, and to let the professionals take over the stress as they could go home and forget it until the next shift. His words were of great comfort to me, I was finally allowed to have my own life back and not be feeling guilty or worrying about dad 24/7. It was hard to do, but I feel so much better now, and our time together is more relaxed and enjoyable because I am less stressed. So take heart, let the professionals do what they are good at and relish the special times you are able to spend with your loved ones.

    • jean
    • September 19, 2016
    Reply

    Roz
    Even if you think you’ve posted an image before it wasn’t with today’s perspective and center of being. The image works on multiple levels but mostly because it is immensly meaningful to you.

    Even the most focused of us (or those of us who think we might be focused – sometimes) encounter moments, hours, days, when we lose sight of all but the most important right in front of us. And trying to process change in the midst of daily life – especially change that will permanently impact our futures at some point – can overcome even the most organized, the most target-ready of the best of us.

    THIS – work, keeping up, agendas, lists – are small compared to the difference we make in the lives of other human beings. You make a difference, every day.

    I beat myself up daily for being overly optimistic as to what I can accomplish and fail miserably at execution (am woefully behind in class and am hoping things will be available for a year so I can carve out time to focus again). We all have our distractions but attending to loved ones as they transition is important. Attending to our own responses is also important.

    We moved my husband’s mother from independent living to assisted living in February and are attending to when she can transition into hospice. Her failure is slow and uneven but it is a human process and requires attention and patience. During that time I badly sprained my ankle (while moving her) and then as soon as it was better developed shingles.

    It’s all hard.

  11. Reply

    Joanne, I absolutely have to exercise everyday. Strenuous exercise gives me the endorphins to deal with chronic pain and injury pain. It clears my head. It gives me quiet time that can’t be interrupted. It enables me to cope with stress.

    My current physical issues and injuries have nothing to do with my exercise regimen and in fact exercise is the only thing that makes it possible to cope with everything else.

    Of course I vary my routine and I only ride 5 to 6 days a week. But on the days off I still get my long walk in.

    Since the exercise isn’t causing physical injury and has so many benefits—mood is another one—Dick would hate it if I weren’t working out because I’d be grumpy—I intend to keep this up into my 60s and beyond. It’s what keeps me hopeful about the future.

    We are working on ways for me to have more done time from work and family stress.

  12. Reply

    Barbara Thanks for your concern. I already have a relaxed time with the folks when I visit them—Phyl and I sketch, play bingo, rearrange her photos; I sketch CR and chat with him.

    The stress currently has all been related to moving CR into long term care. Something we had to do in a very short period.

    And there are other aspects of their care that Dick and I have to continue since as you know, when you reach that advanced age you really need a medical advocate, and someone who knows your history. I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve walked into a hospital room just as they were going to take CR out to give him an MRI because he didn’t tell them about his heart valve. Or I’ve come in to find him telling a doctor that he’s never had a heart incident. HAHAHAHAHA. And they write all that stuff on his chart.

    It isn’t stressful to keep up with all that because we’ve been doing it for 30 years, but it is stressful to downsize and move someone in a day, while keeping everything else in their lives going well and in your own (especially when you’re injured yourself—that’s the stress).

    I realize as I’ve got further into this that I have, compared to my friends and others of my acquaintance, and unusual relationship with my in-laws. We are friends. We have always talked and shared things and done things together. I didn’t grow up with them so I don’t have the sentimental issues that some kids have with their parents—or the stresses some kids grow up with. And I have zero guilt in my relationship with my inlaws. Seeing them as they go through these changes, moving inevitably to death, is helping me in so many ways see truths about my life, understanding, and love.

    Believe me that Dick and I are doing everything we can to ensure that I get my physical issues resolved. The exercise always helps, but there are other things as well. It’s just that in these situations there are always going to moments when everything hits the fan so to speak, at the same moment, and we have just come through one of those.

    I am glad that you’ve reached a point in your father’s care where you are relaxed when you go home. And that you too enjoy the time you spend with him. I think these are critical and important times to spend with our elderly. I find new wisdom everyday and am so glad to be part of it. I also know that this time we have with them is helping us see the changes and let go when death does come.

    I wish you strength and peace in your journey with your father and I appreciate you sharing with me.

  13. Reply

    Jean, thank you for sharing these insights from your experience with me. I feel the same way. I feel that this transition with these two people who have been my friends for almost 40 years maybe the most important experience of my life—it revolves around so many themes that were developed in my life before I met them.

    I’m very grateful for it.

    I totally understand how you could sprain your ankle and then get shingles in this situation. Stress is so difficult to deal with. I’m glad I have my cycling, but I’m a bit worried about the inevitable snow we have up here—I don’t like riding on the trainer inside over the winter nearly as much. But it’s all about adapting. That’s what we learn in all this isn’t it?

    I wish you the best as you work to balance all these elements in a meaningful way in your life.

    • Meg
    • September 23, 2016
    Reply

    You are an amazing daughter-in-law, Roz. They are lucky to have you. And the third week in Minneapolis was always a magical time, so I’m glad you are out and about. Hope you can get some sleep, too. I actually came here to read more about your design course. Have a lovely weekend.

    Meg in downunder, facing the start of daylight savings. (Ugh. I much prefer the fall.)

    • Molly
    • October 3, 2016
    Reply

    I am right along the same journey & this particular observation is so true. Dad passed on in 12-2015 after his fight with Alzheimer’s. I had to move in with Mom while we were dealing with all the FIRE!!! phone calls, then intensive care &, finally, hospice. I’ve never been able to move back to my place. Mom needed support & the loss greatly affected her memory. 08-1 she had a total knee replacement (at 90). What I wasn’t expecting was how the surgery would affect her mental status. I was been flung into anothe dementia situation in a couple weeks. Sleep?? Stress!! Plus my own hard to manage health concerns with Addison’s Disease. I have been praying for guidance as to when it is time to get her into assisted living. Coming upon a year from my sudden move (Left home to get to the ER &, well….), I am going to have to do something to survive so I can be better help for Mom. Only child/not married & no relatives within 2000+ miles. Your post, the comments, as well as your replies are helpful both in hearing I am not alone & also in thinking about how such a transition may be helpful for Mom.

    I am enjoying the By Design course though I’m not very productive right now. Interesting to hear/see your presentation of the subject. My training is in commercial/graphic art. We always can learn more & your presentation is fresh & inspiring.

    My prayers are still with you… Molly

  14. Reply

    Thanks for your kind words Meg. Not a lot of sleep yet, but a lessening of the stress! I am enjoying fall.

  15. Reply

    Molly, I thought I had answered this but perhaps I didn’t save it. Sigh.

    I really feel for you in your situation as I know how difficult all this is with a partner on hand who has to do so much. I hope that you can stand back from the situation a little and take care of your own health issues.

    Something to consider with assisted living: Before we moved the folks into assisted living Phyllis slept 20 hours a day, getting up for bathroom and food. Once she got into long term care, because CR couldn’t help her any more, she immediately went to being up and active 12 hours a day minimum. She does all the activities and even makes art now! So those were positive changes we couldn’t have done had they remained in their house (in fact they’d both be dead now if that had been the case). Even in long term care there are things we need to do for both of them to provide continuity with their medical care and such. And of course there is just the familial need to be social with them. I hope you can find some balance.

    And I’m glad that you are enjoying the By Design class!!! Make some pages to help deal with your stress.

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