a few notes about Poochie, my play, that opens Wednesday

Production shot from 'Poochie,' (Bob Paolino and Chris Speer -- from The Salisbury Post)

This new play has been different from any production of any play I’ve ever had.

I’ve had plays in other cities or states where I just showed up and saw the show. And I’ve had some around here where I basically watched the sausage being made.

But I’ve been busy. So I wrote it, gave it to the director, Justin Dionne, and basically left it at that.

I’ve had very little input. Even if I had had time for input, it wouldn’t have been a good idea. The direction and design is way beyond anything I had in mind for the little black box theatre on Lee St.

Because I didn’t really have time to go to rehearsal, I even gave Justin permission to change any lines he thought needed changing. A new play needs a little work, and I trusted him to do that.

It opens this Wednesday.

Saturday night, I went to rehearsal and saw the second act for the first time.  I was moved to tears — and I’m not exactly sure where the emotion came from.

Maybe it came from the profound gratitude I felt for these people applying such talent and hard work to the task of realizing something I wrote. Or maybe it was just the realization that I’m putting this material out there for others to see. Or maybe it was that I wrote about a piece of my life and saw it given back to me.

The play is about caring for a person with Alzheimer’s Disease, and although I intentionally did not make this autobiographical — I have had experience watching the progression of the disease — with my aunt, my grandmother, and now my mother.

What it is, I think, is that my own play brought back memories in the staging that I didn’t experience in the writing — if that makes any sense.

People may think or say I wrote a play about my mother. And there’s some truth to that. But I realize now it’s not about the mother who is now in the final stages of Alzheimer’s.  It’s about the mother who took care of my grandmother when she had Alzheimer’s. And it occurs to me now (and not before now) that the granddaughter is me.

So that’s my note on autobiography. It’s all so personal and subjective. I don’t  know how audiences will react but will find out soon enough. Wednesday night.

Whatever happens, I’m awfully proud — stunned, actually — by what these folks are doing.

Notes from the Sandwich Generation (update on my mom and her Alzheimer's)

Legend has it — and it may, quite possibly, be true — that Rose Post, my mother, won more NC press awards than any journalist in the history of the state (while raising five children).

Whether she won “the most” or just quite a few, she achieved what she did for many reasons:  high energy, longevity, and talent.

Now, she’s taken up a humble residence in the Alzheimer’s unit at Carillon Assisted Living, her memory so depleted that I feel a pang of joy each time she remembers to call me by the name she gave me:  “Sammy.”

She moved to Salisbury, NC, as a young child, and lived here almost her entire 84 years — over 50 of which were spent as a newspaper reporter for The Salisbury Post.

She knew a remarkable amount of local history.  Not necessarily the textbook type of history — battles and government events and churches, although she knew a lot of that — but much of the human side of life in the American South in the second half of the 20th century.

All of her fellow residents at Carillon certainly knew their share.  Each was a vibrant, functioning person with the entire constellation of thoughts and activity we all in enjoy and sometimes take for granted.

But she was a particularly nosy busy body who had a tendency to write stuff down and publish it for all the locals to read.

I remember listening to her gossip about who carried on with who during the various wars, when boyfriends and husbands were overseas.  People sneaked around and climbed through windows and even got pregnant.  The tabloid stuff.

But she also intimately knew the history of civil rights and desegregation, school merger and higher education, tornadoes, floods, leaders, writers, crackpots, business ventures, centenarians with perfect memory, changes in Russia and China, and even a bit of presidential politics.

And she knew many of the players.  She interviewed all kinds of famous people.

She knew about immigration, since both of her parents escaped messy regimes in Europe for a better life here.

When a school principal once told me that he didn’t expect Mexicans to do well in school because, after all, they don’t hear English at home, I replied that it’s actually quite possible.  My mother’s parents didn’t speak English at home, and she could read and write in English just fine (a lot better than he did, even though his parents did speak English at home — although I did not say that).

It’s not so easy now.

Alzheimer’s Disease strips away the past and future, and leaves one in a virtually speechless, fleeting fog of here-and-now.

The adjustment to this new residence — a life that leaned toward the vast, now reduced to the minimal — so hard for her family and her friends, seems to be have been quite easy for her.  She doesn’t seem to know where she is anyway.  Her new, communal home, comes with a bit of built-in social life.  There’s an old friend or two among her suite mates, even an old college friend, a woman who raised five children here in Salisbury in the same era.  I sat between them yesterday, thinking how long and well they knew each other, even though they barely seem to know that now.

They are receiving care that is loving, gentle, and kind.  Do I dare say, given her condition, that she enjoys it?  Possibly so.

There were other options, and there’s been quite a bit of controversy in the family about how to deal with Mom’s care.  At one point, a couple of years ago, I renounced my Power of Attorney because I couldn’t live my life while engaging in each sibling battle/decision.

I do know that Mom took care of her mother, in her home, as long as she possibly could.  My grandmother, Bubie, ultimately died in a nursing home at the age of 97.  Mom bought long term care insurance for herself precisely because she did not want to be a burden to us.  She told me so.  She also told me that she wanted to stay in her own house as long as possible, until she didn’t know where she was anymore.  Then she wanted to move into a place similar to where she is now.

So, despite the controversies among her children — and there could be more — I feel her wishes have been honored.

My home, in the only house I’ve ever owned, is only three blocks from hers, the home I grew up in.  It’s an easy five minute walk.  So the ties were close, and the adjustment may be more difficult for me than for Mom.

But I’m lucky that she’s in a good place that specializes in Alzheimer’s that’s only a five minute drive.  I’m content, knowing she’s safe, and surrounded by people who have some training and respect for what she’s dealing with.  I like visiting her there, and I’m not worrying as much about her when I’m not there.

Psychologists and economists tell us that, as much as we like to pretend we care about others — and, of course, we do — we mostly care about ourselves.

I could run for President of that club.

Some say that we’re experiencing an Alzheimer’s epidemic that is not entirely attributable to the aging population.  I try to drink plenty of water, exercise, do lots of deep breathing, eat blueberries and fish — but…

Yesterday, I dropped off my car at the mechanic and walked home.  He called, a few minutes later, and asked where I had left the key.

“Right beside the cash register,” I said.

“It’s not here,” he said.

I knew that’s where I put it, but I checked my pocket and there it was.

So I guess that’s my albatross, and the albatross of millions of others in my generation.  Each time we lose our keys or forget where anything is (I often lose my glasses and my shoes), we get to wonder if we’re getting Alzheimer’s Disease and, if so, how it’s progressing and how much of this good time we have left.

A picture of Mom

Mom, 2/24/10

Normally, it might not seem so normal for a 53 year old man to post pictures of his mother on his blog.

But Mom has lived a public life, and some of my friends see this blog and will enjoy seeing this picture.

We were in the kitchen, at Mom’s house, and Kathy Chaffin was talking about having to get up very early and ride a school bus.  She’s writing a story about school bus drivers.  She mentioned that a photographer was going also.

Mom has always liked to brag about me.  Her criticism could be harsh also, but the motherly praise often fell into the “his  _____ don’t stink” category.

Alzheimer’s is a brutal disease that robs memory and leaves a person, at a certain stage, stuck with only a momentary, fleeting wisp of a thought — at best.

In this case, the word “photographer” prompted Mom to demand Kathy’s attention in order to tell her that “Sammy is a wonderful photographer.”

In high school, when I took grainy, barely visible, no-contrast pictures for the school newspaper, I established the fact that I’m not much of a photographer.  But this was just the convergence of a word and a person and a feeling that prompted such a coherent — if not accurate — remark.

Thanks to camera phones, I decided to make an effort to instantly validate her claim by requesting a smile for a picture.  Maybe not a “wonderful” photographer, but a photographer nonetheless.

Alzheimer’s robs memory.  It doesn’t necessarily rob a person’s capacity for joy — as you can see here.


like touching a splinter

that’s what it was like
talking to sisters
and brothers

about her

the past
two years
and a lost second ago

nobody forgets anything

then soon
there was no choice
but to cut it out

a sharp blade
no plan
then cutting flesh

a real incision
that leaves more than
a scar

more than lost
lost memory

brain cuts
can’t work

pains radiate

they shoot through
joints, limbs, gait, families
any memory of good memory

leaves one sibling
the superstar of remembering her
all cut out
no one to remember to