therestlessnest

where life's not empty, it's restless.

Archive for the month “December, 2014”

The Old Old House

IMG_1462“It’s not that far out of the way,” I thought, as I turned right towards Lake Washington instead of left towards the freeway. “And there won’t be any traffic, because everyone’s inside watching the Seahawks game.”

The Old-House Drive-By: surely I’m not the only one who does it.

I’m not talking about the house I moved out of three years ago, the house where I raised my children. I’m talking about the Old-old house: the house where I grew up.

As Seattle houses go, it’s a dime a dozen: just another Tudor cottage on a north-end street. But it is still standing, which you can’t count on any more in this town. In fact, it is so close to the ever-expanding campus of Children’s Hospital that its future is not in any way certain.

Why do I do it? The drive-by. It’s not like my childhood was a perfect idyll. It’s not like every memory I associate with that house was a happy one. But it is where I became who I am. Where I grew from the chubby five year old I was when we moved in, to the awkward pre-teen with the pointy glasses I was when my dad moved out, to the college girl I was when we all moved out. Home after my first-ever year out of the country, distracted by my first-ever real romance, I was not really taking in what my mom had just told me: we were leaving the Hansel and Gretel cottage and moving to her new husband’s house. We had two weeks to pack.

We packed. We left. We were all distracted that summer. And so we didn’t really give the house a proper good-bye. Maybe that’s why I keep circling back. Why I found myself, on this dark December night, driving the deserted North end arterials that are imprinted on my brain in a way the arterials of the South end, where I have lived for 24 years, are not.

As I approached the house, I kicked into a familiar version of high alert, butterflies beating inside, as if I was about to do something—forbidden. I slowed down. I kept my eye on the rear view mirror. No cars coming: I could dawdle.

The curtains were open. Through the glass of the old leaded windowpanes, I could see a Christmas tree in the corner next to the mantel. The white lights on the tree made the stucco walls glow. I could just glimpse the dining room through the archway where we had all crouched on the morning of the 1965 earthquake. I couldn’t see any people—they must’ve been in another room, perhaps watching the game. But the house looked alive, as in: full of the life of the family that lived there. As it should look. As I would wish it to look.

How lucky I am, to be able to see that. So many of the brick apartment buildings in Seattle, built in the same era as our Tudor cottage, are now giving way to glittering high-rises. My mother’s childhood homes in Butte, Montana were all sacrificed to open-pit mining. But I can still drive by, on a winter night, and see the old house: windows outlined in Christmas lights, tree in the corner, car in the driveway. Another family inside, loving and growing and going out into the world.

Registration is open for Introduction to Memoir Writing at Seattle Central College. Starts February 11, 2015. Six Wednesday nights. Non-credit = all inspiration, no stress!

Buy Her Beautiful Brain from the small or large bookstore of your choice. Find a bookstore here.HBBfinalcover Order the Kindle version here.

Radio lovers: you can hear the Restless Nest commentaries every Tuesday at 7:45 a.m. on KBCS, streaming online at kbcs.fm and on the air at 91.3 in the Seattle area. Podcasts available too.

Whole Hearted

IMG_1447“The Great Heart Split,” writer Gail Godwin calls it: that moment, about 400 years ago, when our knowledge of how the physical heart works leaped forward, sending ancient beliefs about the heart as spiritual headquarters backward, to be filed under folklore and mythology. News flash: the powerful, tangible pumping of the heart is what keeps our bodies alive. The heart’s emotional value, its mystical properties? Not actually located in the center of our chests. Ever since, rational knowledge has trumped what used to be called, simply, heart.

And then December comes along, and people start doing things that make no sense. We string colored lights from rooftops and balconies. We feverishly bake cookies, as if eating sweets mattered more than eating anything else. And, strangest of all, we cut trees and prop them up in basins of water in our living rooms. Even scientists and doctors do these things. And the scientists and doctors who study the brain—that mysterious organ where the intangible version of the heart has been hiding all along—they know that the protean behavior in which we indulge during this strange season called the Holidays can be both wonderful and awful for our brains, often at the very same time.

From Thanksgiving through New Year’s Day, our hearts and heads are bombarded with memories. Many are good. Some are not. If you’ve lost someone who used to be a big part of your holiday season, you’ll be feeling that pain. If you have a family member or two who ever excelled in causing holiday misery, you’ll be zapped by those memories too. And if your brain is not at its best—if you are suffering from mental illness or if you have Alzheimer’s disease or another form of dementia, then this season can be like a walk through the carnival not-so-fun house.

Several years ago, ABC Nightline aired a report called, “Experience 12 Minutes of Alzheimer’s Disease,” which has become a popular Youtube video. In it, a reporter and a caregiver put on goggles, gloves with some fingers taped, small objects in their shoes to throw off their balance, and, worst of all, headphones that emit static and gibberish, which is what many people with Alzheimer’s describe hearing in their heads all the time. They then tried, and failed, to perform a few simple tasks. It’s devastating to watch. And to think about how it would feel to be so impaired, this time of year, with all the extra stimuli of the holidays.

Chances are, you are going to cross paths in December with a relative or friend who suffers from dementia, which makes this a great time of year to try to gain a little insight into their world. But you won’t have to put on goggles and headphones to do it. Hollywood is here to help. Julianne Moore has been getting stellar reviews for her portrayal of a college professor with young-onset Alzheimer’s in the movie Still Alice, which opens in Seattle in January. While you’re waiting to see it, read the book it’s based on. Lisa Genova’s novel, Still Alice, was the first thing I ever read that captured the anguish and frustration of Alzheimer’s I remember seeing in my mother’s eyes.

Another good read is Stars Go Blue by Laura Pritchett. It’s the story of Ben, a Colorado rancher who copes by keeping notes in his pockets bearing important facts like his wife and children’s names. What drives the plot of Stars Go Blue is not just Ben’s Alzheimer’s, but his broken heart. He has an idea of how to mend it, if he can only get it done before Alzheimer’s gains the upper hand. The static in his head, the words and logic that elude him as he tries to accomplish this task—which I won’t reveal because I loved this poignant, poetic book too much to spoil it—make for a page-turning read. It’s almost as if, as his rational faculties leave him, he’s trying to go back, to function on the old-fashioned fuel of Heart with a capital H. It’s a perfect story for the holidays, when we’re all doing some version of that. Putting Reason in the back seat. Letting Heart rule.

Registration is open for Introduction to Memoir Writing at Seattle Central College. Starts February 11, 2015. Six Wednesday nights. Non-credit = all inspiration, no stress! 

Buy Her Beautiful Brain from the small or large bookstore of your choice. Find a bookstore here. Order the Kindle version here.HBBfinalcover

 

 

 

Post Navigation