December 31, 2017 by Paula Reed Nancarrow
When I was a young mother and a clergy wife, because the season was so very busy, I used to try to send a holiday letter out by January 6 – the Feast of the Epiphany.
I see that’s when my last such letter went out – January 6, 2014. On January 13 of that year I started blogging weekly. I didn’t intend to have blogging replace letter writing. Originally I intended it to be a way of supporting my storytelling, a way to prepare for performance opportunities that came up that were theme-specific.
Instead it became a thing unto itself. And particularly when I began telling stories around my mother’s Alzheimer’s and my father’s decline, writing weekly became difficult. I have spoken of this before.
Blog posts came to a halt at the end of February this year – not exactly intentionally, though I had been slowing down for some time.
There were a few reasons, most of which I have brought up in other posts. My work already involved a lot of deadline-driven writing, and I found I needed a break from this on the weekends. Blogging is a public platform, and the things I found myself compelled to write about did not always seem well suited to it.
There is also a lot of work involved beyond actually writing each post if you care whether or not those posts are read and shared. In the blog-sharing memes I participated in on Twitter, reciprocity was both strategy and etiquette. You must read other people, comment on their posts, and share their posts. You must respond to every comment offered on your own. I met some good writers and good people that way, but eventually I just got too tired to keep it up.
Finally there was the November 2016 election.
It is a worn trope by now, how shocked and traumatized us liberal white folk were by the election of Donald Trump. More than a year later, I look at my decision to vote absentee for Hilary Clinton and then go home to New York to spend election day with my father so we could celebrate Hilary’s win together and I want to go back and slap myself.
It seemed like such a good story – my dad who had called Clinton “that carpetbagger” when she first ran for Senator in New York, now seeing her as the last best hope for our country. He was rooting for a woman. I was rooting for a woman. This might well be his last election. We had fought about so many things over the course of our relationship – when would I have an opportunity like this again? It would make such a great blog post!
Which it never did. Because I was shocked and traumatized.
And so the blog posts were dropped. Though the last one hinted of my disquiet.
I participated in a few marches. I upped my reading of news from a variety of sources. Like many people, I changed my relationship to social media. What our President does on Twitter nauseates me. That Twitter allows it also nauseates me.
I have not used my own Twitter account since May, and most of that was automatic posting of quotations I liked that was intended to leaven out my blog promotion. I am considering deleting it altogether. Although I just checked, and Twitter assures me that over the last 28 days, my account has received 2.7K impressions. WTF does this even mean?
Nevertheless, I felt bad about disappearing from what had become my platform, a place people could rely on me being, without an explanation; though ghosting has become acceptable behavior, online and off, I felt like some closure was needed. So here I am, to say hello again, and goodbye. At least for now.
What can I tell you about the rest of my year of silence?
Well, I like my home.
I’m in the second year living in the Elliot Park neighborhood of Minneapolis, where I have a clean, minimalist apartment in a building mostly inhabited by young professionals and grad students. It’s about a block away from the building once occupied by the Minnesota AIDS Project, where I worked for four years. Supposedly that building was to be torn down in November so that a new six story apartment complex with “all the amenities” could be constructed, but as of today it’s still there. I’m not in any particular hurry to see the building go – MAP was one of my best nonprofit experiences overall – but the boarded up windows are sad.
I have a genial but somewhat quirky landlord who is, in his own words, “a little intense” about environmental impact, recycling and zero waste. As I consider the rest of my time on this planet, and do not have to worry about anyone’s waste but my own, I am trying to be more thoughtful about these things as well. I appreciate the free compost bags and laundry soap, and the investment in solar panels on the roof. But I won’t be buying an electric vehicle anytime soon, even with the free hookup. My 2000 Toyota Corolla is paid for and hasn’t hit 100,000 miles yet. It gets me to work and back just fine.
What really drew me here was the chance to garden.
Apparently I missed gardening. At my townhome in Hopkins, I mostly grew perennials, of which raspberries were the only edibles. For some reason in this latest venture I’ve gone full urban homesteader. The first year Dale let me grow vegetables in an unused front bed. This year he bought a lot behind the building and turned it into a community garden, offering the tenants each a free plot. That’s how I ended up with three unused front beds and my freebie in the back. I, too, can be “a little intense.”
Despite these occasional bouts of intensity, I’m trying to live a pretty simple life. I want to keep the apartment minimalist –to stick to one thing in, one thing out. Still, sometimes things back up in the pipeline. The last few trips home, for example, I’ve brought back a lot of clothes my mother can no longer wear – most of them good professional clothes, clothes I remember her in when she was a teaching fashionista. Some are vintage; some are just dated. They don’t all suit me, but it’s hard to let them go.
Both my parents are in their 80s now – my father turned 89 on December 22.
His health remains frail, but mentally he is acute, if a little more forgetful, possibly because his days run together so. He continues to care for my mother to the best of his ability. The operation I referred to in my January post, intended to give him a chance at living catheter-free, was not successful, and that is a regular part of his life now. His next biggest fear is dialysis, but so far his kidneys are behaving pretty well, considering the scare we had back in May of 2016.
In September my mother’s doctor determined that the risk of her choking on a pill or aspirating it at this point was higher than the benefits any of her medication was providing, and she was taken off them. Once she was off the medication that was supposed to be helping with her Alzheimer’s, she actually became more alert and talkative. This was a pleasant surprise. She can be also more restless, more subject to sundown syndrome, and more combative when she’s frightened. I saw both sides of that when I visited in early December.
Taking her off medication was, I believe, also part of qualifying her for palliative care. There is a difference between palliative care and hospice, at least in New York State, and the main benefit of this category is that my mother received access to help with bathing and to equipment like a hospital bed, things that increased our ability to keep her at home.
Most of you know that my daughter Maggie has been on a path to ordination in the Episcopal Church.
In this she follows her father, her grandfather, and her great grandfather. Recently she transferred her postulancy from the Diocese of Chicago to the Diocese of Minnesota, and is working at an Episcopal church here. My son Aidan is shift lead a a used book store. His girlfriend Renee has a good job in research and planning at Hennepin County. So I am fortunate to have them all living nearby, at least for the foreseeable future. Maggie likes a real tree at Christmas, and she and I decorated it this year when I returned from New York with a friend of hers from Egypt. We had a lovely vegan-friendly meal at her house Christmas day, then exchanged gifts. Easter it will be my turn.
My work life has become both more rewarding and more challenging this year.
In May, after 27 years as first Executive Director and then President, the CEO of the nonprofit I work for retired. Our new President – the first woman to run the agency, and a welcome opportunity for me to use the honorific Madame President I had practiced – brings a very different perspective regarding such things as diversity and inclusion, strategic planning, innovation and the infrastructure a nonprofit needs to thrive.
It is a perspective I am much more in sync with, frankly, than I was with her predecessor’s. But I am quite aware that I would not have the courage, the confidence or the constitution to make the hard decisions necessary to bring such change about. Finding the energy, the determination, the focus and the capacity to support these changes at the pace she wants them to happen – while preserving other values I hold dear – is the challenge I will be facing in 2018. I have much to learn from her leadership. I also have much to learn about myself.
I do not intend to let all my creative energy be expended at work.
But I do see a strong need in 2018 not to ask myself to be productive anywhere else. To restore my creative energy through play. To keep to a regular reading, writing and meditation practice. To go at my own pace on my off time. To spend more time enjoying my home, my family and friends.
And to remember, on a cold day last February, what this woman taught me.