Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Cheapskate, Environmentalist, or Chicken

I had my choice of a Ford Focus Hatchback or a Honda Insight Hybrid. Either would cost $47.04 for the four-hour rental I would use to drive to Old Orchard where I'd meet my friend, Ruth, for lunch.

            This online search was prompted by the absence of my own Honda Fit, which I had returned to the leaseholder prior to moving downtown.

            "Don't worry," I had told friends who worried the absence of a vehicle would curb my weekly visits. "I'll join a car-sharing service -- they're parked in my high-rise's garage -- so there won't be any interruption."

            Immediately after unpacking, I signed up with Zipcar, paid a $60 annual membership fee, plus $9 per month for a complete damage waiver. But, in the 365 days I've had the plastic card in my wallet, I've never used it.

            At first, I blamed my reluctance to the lack of available vehicles in my garage. Oh, there was a sampling several blocks away, but the trek eroded some of the ease I had envisioned.

            Part of the problem is my four-feet-nine-inches and need for visibility. In order to lift me above the steering wheel, I must use two pillows. The thought of schlepping those booster seats to a far away car lot is unappealing.

            My hesitation with Zipcar hasn't interrupted my promise to friends. Instead, I opt for the CTA, or Uber and Lyft ride-sharing apps with their private drivers.

            But, with a one-and-a-half hour Purple Line Linden train to Central St. in Evanston, then a #201 bus to the shopping center on my calendar, I decided to finally reserve a car for the 16-mile trip. I'd still have to walk elsewhere to get a car, but I was willing.

            As I perused my vehicle options, a trio of voices barged into my brain. First was the stingy sidekick. "If you take the train and bus, it'll only cost $2.50 roundtrip," she said, her demeanor mirroring a sensible accountant's. "Compare that to the $47.04 rental."

            Then, another voice interrupted; this one with a righteous tone, "Well, I agree that ditching a car is smart, but more important than cost is the effect on the environment." She was the same noodge who berated me for leaving at home canvas bags when I shop at Whole Foods. "Air pollution, global warming," she droned.

            The third voice chimed in -- timid, shaky. "Please don't drive," she said. "I'm scared. Remember what happened the last time, with the Prius and iGo?"

            How could I forget? At the time, I was still living on the northwest side, and wanted to try car sharing before my move. With vehicles across the street in Independence Park; I thought it'd be a breeze.

            But on the day of my experiment, no cars were available, so I walked nearly a mile to the nearest location. I followed instructions to unlock the door and start the ignition. I placed my two cushions on the driver's seat. Then, after lifting, stretching, and twisting to view the rear window, I slowly backed out.

            I braked as I spotted a four-door parked at an angle just behind me. Was that a dent in its rear fender? My heart hammered; I started perspiring, I felt weak, faint. Had I already maimed a vehicle? Instead of exiting to find out, I continued on, still shaking but believing that if I interrupted my trial, I'd never gain the shared-ride experience. As soon as I arrived at my destination, I checked for damage on the Prius -- none. Then, I called iGo.

            "I think I hit a parked car," I said, trembling as if I were confessing a murder. I provided all required information, then returned to the original lot. I took out my iPhone to capture the damage on the still-parked vehicle. But, I couldn't find any. The dent I had imagined was instead the fender's sloping design. I circled the car several times to make sure the two fenders matched. They did!

            I called iGo again and reported my happy findings. "Great," the staffer said, "but we'll send you an accident report just in case." I filled it out and waited days, weeks, months, a year, but nothing more came of the incident. Still, it traumatized me. Ever since, I've been reluctant to drive an unfamiliar car.

            So, I'll travel to Old Orchard via CTA. When Ruth praises my pluck, I'll tell her "saving money and the environment." But I'll confess to you: I'm a chicken -- a pint-sized hen that needs two booster seats to see over a steering wheel. Cluck. Cluck.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

How Journaling Propels Me Forward

Every morning, after rising and making coffee, I sit on my couch with a 6" x 8" spiral notebook and a Pilot Razor Point Extra Fine pen. For at least a half hour, I record a diary of what I did the day before, dreams and nightmares, wounds and applause, plus tasks due that day. As of this writing, I'm up to page 10,380.

            While that number may sound impressive, it doesn't travel far enough back. I wish the innocent little girl I once was would've grabbed pen and paper as soon as she learned to print. If I had started then, writing my memoir, "The Division Street Princess," might have required less tunneling. To fill in, I had to rely on microfiche pages of Chicago newspapers, tales told by relatives, memories that had been bolted to my brain, and my imagination.

            For my second book, a slight e-novel called "She's Not The Type,"  I had some journal pages, but not the guts. The first half of that book is a roman e clef, somewhat based on my first marriage -- our secret romance, wedding, birth and upbringing of two daughters, and our eventual somber divorce after 30 years. The second half is pure fiction -- a wistful dream where the protagonist becomes a journalist and her mother, rather than dying young while in a pathetic second marriage, moves to Hawaii and finds true love.

            In this current period of my life, with my morning journaling as sacred as a religious rite, I also read a page taken from past years. I do this because I want to learn my patterns -- worries that never came to pass, prophetic musings, and other buried gold.

            Recently, I've been in 2012, reliving my husband Tommy's last weeks. Although my heart beats as I read about the emergency room visit when he became dehydrated, the astonishing discovery that it was throat cancer rather than dementia blocking his ability to swallow, ten harrowing days at Northwestern Memorial Hospital, and twelve at home in hospice, the most surprising take-away was my eerie calm.

            When I discussed this odd composure with others who had experienced similar journeys, one friend said, "You did what you had to do." I'll accept that, but I have another theory: Because of my daily journaling and the The Rookie Caregiver blog I was writing at the time, I had been able to release most of the shadows, fear, and grief.

            Remarkably, on the entry I wrote November 4, 2012, just two days after Tommy died, I wrote: Plan to start post for TRC about his death. Then, keep up until I have enough pages for a book. After that, get a fee for editing and self-publishing, do a cloud fundraising, and try to get book completed by May 2013. Goal.

            I'm a year late, but thanks to 112 backers on a Kickstarter campaign, it is happening.  She Writes Press will publish "Green Nails and Other Acts of Rebellion: Life After Loss" September 2014.

            It turns out it's not only starry-eyed goals that plump my journals, but other musings that bear repeating. On November 9, 2012, one week after Tommy's death, I wrote: Bank turned me down for a Home Equity Line of Credit, not enough income. Not surprised. Think I will eventually sell as house is way too big for one person & do I want hassle of roommates or borders? May be better for me to rent new apt. that can make my life easier and not have to depend on others. All options open.

            Those words turned into several posts on The Rookie Widow - a prophecy that took less time to accomplish than my third book. In a little over five months, I was settled into my new River North apartment.

            Because I'm tech savvy, it's surprising I've resisted typing my daily words into a computer. But for me, there's something about pen and paper that better stirs my brain and soul.  I'm grateful to journaling for buffing my writing voice, while also serving as memory chip, repository, therapist, best friend, cheerleader, and crystal ball. And coupled with that first cup of coffee in the morning -- for this writer, it has been the most nourishing way to start a new day.


Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Que Sera, Sera

Anna goes to the kitchen to find scotch tape. She heads straight for a drawer and grabs a roll -- her Early Stage Alzheimer's hasn't yet robbed her of that discovery.

"How about here?" I ask. I am standing in the hallway of her home, at the foot of the staircase, holding up a lined page ripped from a notebook.

We selected this spot because anyone entering -- particularly her adult children and caregiver -- can't miss it. Anna hands me the tape and I affix the sign so it drops from a shelf to the right of the stairs. Dictated by my friend, it reads: IF I FORGET TO FEED MY CATS OR CHANGE THEIR LITTER, PLEASE DO SO.

"Thank you," she says to me, and we return to the couch where she spends her days adjacent to a small television. A table at arms length holds a large monthly calendar, the notebook, packages of gum, telephone numbers of her children, and various homeopathic medicines someone believes will help Anna snap out of her condition.

As evidenced by our sign, I am not in the alternative treatment camp. I've read up on Alzheimer's, and have the experience of caring for my husband, Tommy, whose dementia didn't lead to memory loss, but was equally unfixable. Instead of urging Anna to curb repetition, or pull herself out of depression, or halt her worries, I instead stick with wherever her slowly erasing mind lands.

Months ago, when Anna stopped remembering what she had done earlier the same day; I began to visit her weekly. As typical of those with the illness, she has no problem recalling episodes from long ago, and is delighted when I regularly recount our first meeting.

She perches on her couch, adjusts her two hearing aids -- which she says aren't working as they are supposed to -- and leans in for my story. "It was my first day in the exercise class," I say, using a slow cadence, as if it were a fairy tale. "You were in the first row near the mirror and I was in the back. You were dancing so gracefully, different than all of the others. I couldn't take my eyes off of you."

After class, I spotted Anna in the health club's lobby and stopped her to express my admiration. "I was a ballet dancer in my youth," she explained. "The movements are natural."

That meeting led to a deep friendship. I learned she was 10 years older than me, which brought me hope realizing I could possibly be in as great shape when I reached her milestone. She became an immediate fan of my memoir, "The Division Street Princess" and bought at least a dozen copies to give to friends. We were each other's cheerleaders.

On the couch, after the sign posting and our how-we-met story, Anna tells me, "I know how your husband Tommy must have felt. Like a prisoner." Although she declares this with each visit, I nod my head. "Que sera, sera," she says. "Whatever will be, will be. Remember that song? Doris Day, right?" She is proud she has made the right combination.

"Yes, it's from a movie," I say. "A classic Alfred Hitchcock." I pull out my iPhone and find a clip of the scene in "The Man Who Knew Too Much" where Day is at the piano singing loudly so her son, who is trapped upstairs, can hear her. Jimmy Stewart is slinking out of the ballroom where the mini concert is being held.

Anna's eyes are giving her as much trouble as her ears, so she pulls my phone close to her face to discern the action and music. When the few minutes of play are completed, we sing together the lyrics. Her caregiver, Sonia, who is seated nearby, joins in.

Then, Anna rises from the couch, walks to the piano -- standing because I am seated on the chair that is usually at the instrument -- plays the tune, perfectly; by ear. I clap loudly, as if mirroring the movie star's volume.

In an hour, as I stand up to leave, Anna asks, "When are you coming back?" Her pencil is poised at the oversized calendar.

"Sometime next week," I say, and step in for our usual hug and kiss. "I'll call you as soon as I get my schedule."

In he hallway I pass the taped sign and wonder if it will still be up when I return. "Que sera, sera," I think to myself, closing the door behind me. "Whatever will be, will be."

Note: My new memoir, "Green Nails And Other Acts of Rebellion: Life After Loss," will be published September 2014. To join the book's crowd-funding campaign, please click on Elaine Soloway's Kickstarter Campaign. Thanks!