Monday, January 5, 2015

Huffington Post.

I am terribly delighted to announce that my essay, On the Eve of Seeing My Mother, Who is No Longer There, has now been published on The Huffington Post. It is a slightly different version than that which was published on HelloGiggles, which was slightly different than the original posted essay on my blog. Oh the metamorphosis of words...

At any rate, I am so excited for my year to have started off on such a high note. And I know how proud my mother would have been. As a terrible snoop who would go into my room and read through all my notebooks and any unfinished manuscripts she could find (and there were lots,) she was more or less my #1 fan when it came to my writing. Thank you for snooping supporting me, Mom.

my mother as a little girl.

And for anyone just joining me here, I'd love to direct you to my tragically neglected mixed media blog, Rococo Vintage. As I've been maturing and my life has been changing so much over the years (and I sadly just don't have the time to put together such elaborate posts all the time... and device screens have changed so much that dpi and screen ratios are all over the place, which makes handwritten/collage posts tricky) I've been thinking about somehow blending the two here, and perhaps reposting some of my favorite posts. Hmm. Things to think about. We shall see.

Thursday, January 1, 2015

on the first of january, these hopes and dreams.

This year, I hope that you continue to become more and more of who you really are. That you give yourself the freedom to do so, and have the confidence to be pleased with the results. That you have the insight to plunge onwards where it matters and the wisdom to softly back away where it does not. The foresight to seek out the good but the strength to persevere through the bad. 

I hope you have the courage to be happy, darling. And the space to contain both the joys of living and the sorrows all at once, without discarding all of one for the other. 

I hope you read castle walls of books and write paper oceans of words. I hope you draw, and sing, and embrace, and laugh until you're spent. 

When you cry -- and you will -- I hope it cleanses you. 

And, of course, I hope you dance.

Monday, December 22, 2014

and lo, The Holidays slowly creep.

In (nearly) perpetually sunny Los Angeles, it is easy to lose track of time and even place. Our seasonal markers are as subtle as a shift of shadows' length or the floral scent of a minor breeze, and if it weren't for all the palm trees wrapped in lights and other assorted decorations one would never be able to tell that it is nearly Christmas.

Today is a day of wrapping up. I taught my final classes1 of 2014 early this morning, did my due diligence as an adult at the DMV2, bought toilet paper and hand soap, confirmed pick up time at the airport with my dear dad, confirmed very important almond milk stockage with my sister, did heaps of laundry, and packed my small purple suitcase with the cheerfully striped silk lining. I have spent so much time traveling back and forth to and from Massachusetts over the past couple of years that I have gotten packing down to an art. I, a shocking packrat of a girl if ever there was one, am able to travel cross country with nothing but a carryon. Let me tell you, friends: that is no small miracle.

I am always surprised by my effortless productivity when I actually make up my mind to just do the damn thing already. Those boring things that I think will take ages simply, well, take almost no time at all. Generally speaking I spend a week before I travel knotted up with anxiety and apprehension, building impossibly long lists of things I need to get done and even longer lists of reasons why I cannot possibly manage, and then I inevitably leave all my undone tasks to the very last day. That last day before traveling is when I am suddenly filled with an easy calm, a little skip in my step, a natural buoyancy of spirit. Being right on the precipice of a voyage, as opposed to merely near it, thrills me.

I cannot wait to see my three darling nephews, and am already plotting what classic film from my childhood I will force them to watch with me this year3. I cannot wait to see my lovely sister who truly is my soul twin4. I cannot wait to feel crisp air on my skin and cover myself with layers of sweaters and coats and thick-soled rubber boots. I cannot wait.

Of course, I am looking forward to seeing my mother in the sense that I am looking forward to hugging her and seeing her smile and telling her I love her and making sure she feels loved. But as ever when I am headed home, I am apprehensive of how far the illness will have progressed since the last time I saw her, and how that will feel to see. Still, I am much, much calmer about it this time around. Knowing that she is happy at her assisted living home and happy in her haze and so very well cared for provides such a sense of peace and relief. Last year Christmas at my sister's house was already much too much stress and bustle for her, so I know that this is best, and even if she won't be with us on the morning of we will visit her that afternoon, and she will be happier for having missed all the presents being unwrapped around the tree. Odd, but true. Just like the rest of life on earth.

1 I teach at the Bar Method Los Angeles studios, mostly at West Hollywood and West LA.
2 what I did there really is far too dull to mention.
3 last year was Labyrinth, so this year I am thinking The Princess Bride and/or The Dark Crystal.
4 fraternal twins, as we are opposites in so very many ways, but soul twins none-the-less.

Sunday, December 7, 2014


I am thrilled and incredibly honored to report that an updated version of my essay, On The Eve of Seeing My Mother, Who is No Longer There, was published on HelloGiggles as Notes on My Mother, Who Has Alzheimer's Disease this past Monday. The bulk of the essay is largely the same, but there is an updated portion beginning on page 4 that details where we are now in the struggle, and what I've learned from it as of today.

My momma and her momma in the 1940's.

"Unlike our minds, unlike our memories, our hearts are infinite."

Thursday, October 17, 2013

chapter eight | on the eve of seeing my mother, who is no longer there.

    “Oh look,” said my mother in a sing song voice, pointing wistfully ahead, “it’s the man in the moon. We haven’t seen him in a while, but there he is. He’s so bright tonight, but that’s him.”

    We were driving down the street I grew up on and the sun was large and orange and just beginning its trek down toward the horizon. We slowed to a stop at a red light and were squinting in the brightness, and while I have grown used to odd exclamations from my mother, this one struck me as something different, as a magical clue to the dwindling world inside her head.

    I turned over her words, puzzling over them and looking at the sun and trying to see what she saw. What a beautiful world, I thought, where the moon is the man in the moon and tonight the moon just happens to be enormous and orange and blindingly bright, and the night sky behind him glows, streaked with pinks and yellows and the occasional dab of blue.

    What a majestic world wherein such a thing as that is so exceedingly normal that one might say simply, Oh, there’s the man in the moon. My, isn’t he bright tonight?

    My mother was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s and dementia about two years ago. It was in the early stages then, and manifested mostly in a confusion about numbers and the internet and entirely irrational mood swings and paranoia. To my sister and I, she merely seemed more unpleasant than usual. Our mother had always been a generally crazy person and prone to irrationality, so when the symptoms first began, they didn’t seem that out of character. She had always been the kind of person who might threaten to smash a jar of tomato sauce over your head or who might tear out her own hair or who might tell you that you belonged in bedlam and that she was going to kill herself when you were just a little girl.

    My mother might have been someone who would do all of these things to you and around you and in front of you, and then much more and much worse, but she was also an exceedingly brilliant woman with a mind comprised of miraculous connections and an understanding of relationships that few historians have. She was highly lauded and extremely well known in her field and students still study -- and will likely continue to study long after she is gone -- her texts and translations. When the symptoms of Alzheimer’s first began, the most obvious sign of them was that she was no longer able to hide the more damaged parts of herself from her friends and colleagues; that she was no longer able to direct them only at her family and only in private. And so when her friends first began to tell my sister and I that something about our mother was “off,” our initial response was, “Well, yeah.”

    This woman looks like my mother. She sounds like my mother. She smells like my mother. There is that visceral feeling when I hug her, that I am hugging the woman I came from, the woman of whom I am a piece, a rib. But each time she opens her mouth, I find that she is just an echo.

    The thing is, none of my mother’s ‘defects’ ever made me love her any less. I loved -- and love -- her fiercely, and while she was often not the best mother, and while she damaged me and hurt me and cost me lots and lots (and lots) of money in therapy bills, I always knew that she loved me into oblivion -- into an insane place where only mothers and children are able to exist -- and the two of us, both easily dramatic and equally troubled, were tangled in a heated codependency for just about as long as I can remember. I could count on my mother to say terrible things and I could count on her to love me ferociously, and when that is what you’ve grown up with and the way you’ve always been loved, those things are one and the same.

    My sister and I have counted on our fingers the ways in which our mother is kinder now, more appreciative, more gentle. In many ways the Alzheimer’s has made her a better person.

    One morning I was making breakfast for her in her kitchen (my mother can no longer cook or figure out how to pair or prepare ingredients) and I remembered that neither of us had taken our medications yet that day. I said, “We’ll take them together.” When she asked me why I took medication, my eyebrows drew together and I felt a pang in my heart. “Because I’m bipolar,” I told her uncertainly. “You are?” she asked. “Yes,” I said, so puzzled that this was something she could forget. “You don’t seem like someone who’s bipolar,” she said. I laid out all six of her morning pills in a row beside a glass of water and said wryly, “That’s funny. You used to tell me all the time that I was crazy.” “I did?” she asked. “Yes,” I said, “all the time.” She paused, the look on her face like something you might see from a gentle bird that has just flown into a window and is dazed. “Well, I guess I wasn’t a very good mother,” she said, and softly laughed.

    Tears rose in my eyes. “Oh yes you were,” I said hugging her to me so that she could not see my tears. “You were an amazing mother.” It was half lie and half truth, but it didn’t matter either way. That something as awful as Alzheimer’s could give my mother’s mind enough empty space that she could see herself from outside of herself, for the first time ever in her life, was touching. And it was sad. And even then an enormous, aching part of me wanted my real mother who was so often cruel to me, but was my mother. Was wholly and truly and utterly my mother. And this woman, while kinder and more gentle, is barely even her.

    I can see the Alzheimer’s progressing. My mother forgets words more and more frequently. Words like “ring” and “grapes” and “cats” (she has taken to referring to my cats as “those big things at Becky’s apartment,” which she pairs with a hand gesture that is more suggestive of spider legs or jelly fish than of anything related to a cat.) She can barely read at all, and doesn’t remember anything she’s read almost immediately after she has read it, but she does like to sit with a book from time to time. She likes to feel the pages in her hands and she still reads the newspaper every day, albeit all day long because each time it is new. She still has a vague but passionate sense of the news and politics and loves discussing them; little makes her happier than talking about how awful the Republicans or George Zimmerman are. There is a part of her still attached to the academic side of herself, although she is not aware of it. But she has not even opened the door to her office -- the door that leads to walls covered in shelves holding book after book after book, including some of her own, and folders haphazardly splayed across the room full of documents and notes scribbled in foreign languages -- in at least a year. Every time I visit her and walk down that hall, I see that door so poignantly, so utterly closed. That part of her mind is simply gone.

    One night my mother fell down the stairs and I ran to her. I held her like a mother holds a child and asked again and again if she was okay; I clutched her to me and rocked her. I felt completely responsible for her and more protective of her than I have ever felt of anyone; just the very idea of her being in pain cut through me like a knife. I would do anything to make it better. I would do anything to make my mother better. I would even give her up as my mother if it meant she would be living her life as herself, even if it was without me, even if it was somewhere where I could not see her. I would do anything.

    I try to appreciate her for who she is now, to appreciate the gentleness and the unabridged and uncomplicated love she has to offer, but knowing and feeling that I’ve lost her, there are times when I believe I would prefer that she hurl all of that past abuse at me all at once if it meant having her back with me now. If it meant that she would have her brilliant, glorious mind back and that I could look at her again and know that nobody, nobody on this earth knows me better than this woman, that this is the one person who can take all the screaming fights that we can readily invoke -- and therefore see the absolute worst that my person has to offer -- and will still love me and love me ferociously.

    I am accustomed now to having a mother with Alzheimer’s. I am accustomed to not having a mother on whom I can depend, in whom I may confide, with whom I may simply converse. And when I think of how accustomed I am, my heart breaks all over again. It is a constant ebb and flow, a constant healing and breaking again like the ocean.

I feel so much wiser and I feel so much sadder. And it’s lonely.

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

chapter seven | productive citizenship of the world.

or, a stern self-talking-to regarding my creative slumps.

I am not always the best at being a real human being.

I try, and I think I present a rather good semblance of real-human-being-ness, but oftentimes my anxious inertia breaks through when I am alone and I find myself slumped on the couch -- one cat on each side -- thinking about how unhappy I am that I am not writing, or acting, or drawing, or painting, or making myself very important pretty little barrettes out of my closetful of antique and vintage millinery flowers and other exotic trims. I find myself thinking about these things, and moping over them, and furrowing my brow (which isn’t helping anything except the fine lines I find myself obsessing over on particularly tough well-I-guess-I’m-just-going-to-hate-everything-about-myself-today days) and doing nothing. Nothing, while there are words inside of me and expressive eyes inside my face and pencils and paints and more and more and more in my closets and my cabinets and library card catalogue drawers. I sit and I mope and I brow-furrow and perhaps I aimlessly reach to the left or to the right and scratch a furry purring head, but I do -- for all practical purposes -- NOTHING. And then I feel bad about that.

Well, Rebecca... Darling... today you are going to be a productive citizen of the world.1

Essays and chapters won’t write themselves, my dear. Sometimes it can feel that way, when you’re a couple glasses in or particularly manic or particularly inspired, but they really never do. Sometimes they never do more than at other times. Now is one of those times.

I would say, “You are your own worst enemy,” but that goes without saying. Because it goes on being said all the damn time. And it begins to mean nothing. And it is pointless.

Nobody will care about your beautiful thoughts or intentions or actions if they are not actually, well, actions. To create, one must act. One must get off the couch (or simply reach for one’s laptop... yes, Rebecca Darling, that is how easy it is) and reach for that paintbrush (real or proverbial) and spill yourself outward. Spill all that angst (when, oh when does the adolescent angst permanently go the way of adolescent pimples? does it ever?) and all those frustrations and all that sparkling hope into something real, something true. Put those hardworking eyebrow-furrowing muscles to good use. Furrow in earnest, Eyebrows2, furrow in deep concentration and lift in occasional satisfaction or surprise. Do anything but furrow aimlessly. Furrow with purpose. Furrow with passion.

I’m sure this is quite relatable, and I’m sure I am not alone in my difficulty with real-human-being-ness, but of course it is easy to feel alone. But it is easiest to feel alone when one gives in to sulks. When one is merely still; when one is not acting. 

And then once we begin to act, it is so easy to so quickly not feel alone anymore. Because when we create, we are creating our worlds for ourselves. Creating the worlds inside our heads. Making them - to some degree, to more of a degree than sitting and sulking on the couch - real.

Today I am going to be a productive citizen of the world. Today I am going to create.

1 This is one of my mantras. “Rebecca: go be a productive citizen of the world.” It applies mostly to waking up early, getting dressed in real clothes, exercising, making sure to eat enough food throughout the day, and working hard at the job that actually pays my bills; but here I use it for other, more complex, purposes.

2 I really do see my eyebrows as an extension of myself; as much of a window into my insides as my eyes are; possibly more. I did, after all, devote hours in front of the mirror one evening in eighth grade, training my right eyebrow to arch just as dramatically as Viven Leigh's in Gone with the Wind. My eyebrow arch is hard won and downright enviable, if I do say so myself. I'd like to think this is a life metaphor, but I'm afraid I'm not quite there yet.  

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

chapter six | rather than words.

"Rather than words comes the thought of high windows:
The sun-comprehending glass,
And beyond it, the deep blue air, that shows
Nothing, and is nowhere, and is endless."

{ Philip Larkin }

This passage of Philip Larkin's poem High Windows -- and, to be honest, the only passage worth reading in that piece -- has always set my heart to aching and my brow to furrowing and my breath to catching in my throat. I feel that passage in my body the way I might feel a cough or a pang of hunger or a knot in my back.

When I was a teenager, I collaged those words onto the window frame of the highest window in my first apartment -- a window so high and so oddly shaped that I could see nothing from out of it but a slice of bright blue sky in the day and a splash of dark darkness in the night. I'm sure my landlord at the time did not appreciate my artwork when I moved (she was a real jerkface anyway, so that's fine) but I was able to feel my breath catch in that way in that smallest and most tender crevice of my heart whenever I so much as glanced upward.

Some words do that to you, don't they? Some words hurt you with their purity in only the most sublime way imaginable, and when you find them you feel undiluted awe and you are grateful.

Today I've been thinking of these words for the first time in ages, and I wonder why that is. Something new, in the distance but not so far into the distance, is approaching. And rather than concrete words, I sense that it is endless.