The Brain Is A Really Weird Thing

I’ve been thinking a lot about the brain for the past five years or so.  Something lucky, before I begin: My brain still works pretty well.  I do crossword puzzles, I am physically active, and I read and write all the time.  Even so, there are no guarantees.  Dementia and Alzheimer’s don’t care all that much about what you’ve done to stave them off.  To say nothing of brain injuries.

Here are some of the reasons I think about the brain – maybe more than the average person. First – one of my sisters suffered a traumatic brain injury four years ago, and I have been very involved in her rehabilitation, and in her life since her accident.  This is a sister I never had a close relationship with, but who I would now kill for.  This is basically the premise of a memoir I just completed about being a sister.  Second, my father died of complications from dementia, a harrowing experience I wouldn’t wish on any family.  Third, I started writing a novel that was based on the premise that you could “freeze” your brain (or something like that), and “live” forever.  Or, at least your brain could.  I got well into this novel until I hit a wall and set the book aside for a while.  But in the meantime, I did a ton of research into the brain.

So, this is a subject I obviously find fascinating.  Just recently I read a brand new memoir called Memory’s Last Breath: Field Notes On My Dementia by Gerda Saunders.  It is an amazingly raw and tender and sad and joyous story.  I had originally heard the author a few weeks ago being interviewed on NPR, and immediately went to the library to get the book.

A few out of many memorable passages:  “I write to remember, to inhabit for a while, my earliest self…”  And, “I convinced myself that shining light into the lonely and scary place of my mother’s dementia – and mine- could possibly be of value to other people who live with dementia, whether it’s their own or that of someone they love.”

I highly recommend finding the interview on NPR, and also reading the book.  And if you can bear it, and haven’t done so yet, read Still Alice by Lisa Genova, and see the movie by the same name (with Julianne Moore).  I know it’s hard to talk about this, and read about it, but the more we face these issues with some type of understanding (and even humor and grace) the better equipped we might be to survive with our humanity intact, and maybe even enhanced.

(I also shared an essay I wrote about my father’s dementia in a post on 4/27/17.)

An Old-Fashioned Fourth of July

The Fourth of July brings back my childhood to me in a way that other holidays don’t. The Fourth brings with it the pure, unadulterated joy of being a kid.

Just when the thrill of being out of school started to wear off, the fireworks stands went up. Rickety, wooden contraptions with hand-painted signs that listed the various fireworks available. Rockets! Sparklers! Poppers! Roman Candles! Black Cats! Punks!

Suddenly summer wasn’t so boring any more. Continue reading

Today’s Dads Have Changed Since Days of Ward Cleaver

(Originally appeared in The Beach Reporter newspaper in Manhattan Beach, CA.)

It used to be a lot easier for dads. They used to disappear at 7:00 a.m., reappear at 5:00 p.m. for a drink and dinner, eat their steak and potatoes, and dole out the day’s punishment. They wouldn’t be caught dead in a labor and delivery room, and never heard of Lamaze. They might never have changed a diaper, ironed a shirt, or made their own lunch.

They made the big decisions in family life, like who gets to pick the TV shows. Most people only had one TV, so this was a big deal. I learned most of my negotiating skills during those nightly TV battles: “I’ll do the dishes for you for the next four nights if I can watch The Monkees.” But mostly it was Dad who decided: “If you don’t all shut up, that TV is going out the window.” Continue reading

Little Known Horrors of the DIY Book Signing

(You can read a “companion” to this essay, a humor piece about book signings from 1/16/17.)

I was at a Barnes & Noble recently, and I saw that there were folding chairs set up for an author reading and signing that evening. It was an author I had never heard of, nor had I heard of her book. Nor did anything about the signage promoting the event make me want to hang around.

Then I felt bad. Who was I to judge? Then I had a flashback to book signings of my own, and felt a mixture of pity for the author, mixed with a bit of nostalgia, and maybe even a little envy. This author had birthed a book! And she was putting herself out here in the cold, uncaring world of the mall bookstore. Continue reading