The Revised Fundamentals of Caregiving by Jonathan Evison, a book that appeared when I needed it and I knew it from the time I saw this quote:
“Listen to me: everything you think you know, every relationship you’ve ever taken for granted, every plan or possibility you’ve ever hatched, every conceit or endeavor you’ve ever concocted, can be stripped from you in an instant. Sooner or later, it will happen. So prepare yourself. Be ready not to be ready. Be ready to be brought to your knees and beaten to dust. Because no stable foundation, no act of will, no force of cautious habit will save you from this fact: Nothing is Indestructible.”
My Mother left us instantly when she was accidentally struck by a tractor that my dad was driving.
No, that’s not right, that only happens to other people.
My Mother left us instantly on a bright spring afternoon from the same farmland that she was born. In the solid sun-flecked shadow of my Grandpa’s Mountain. The land eager to hold Her and comfort Her just as it had with Her first steps. A full circle.
My Mother left us instantly.
And in that instant, that minuscule moment, where the atoms and actions of physics and prayer, simply forgot to align, she slipped through without us, our family blew apart.
After the blow, we individually held on to whatever scrap of life-raft we could muster. Lone survival. You might imagine that we would come together and our shared faith and lessons from our mother would buoy us. It did at times, but we had never sat for this test and like the quote said, we never saw it coming. Triage hierarchy was simple… take care of my heartbroken and shattered father. Family and friends and professionals stepped up to support, to love, to work, to listen. I don’t even know after all this time how to rightly express gratitude in this story. Because of them he makes it through, day by day. He is strong.
For her three daughters it was different. Our Mother left us instantly. The life-rafts we desperately were clinging to, drifted together and further apart. Some of us thrashed and kicked. Some remained calm. Some of us cursed and some called on a higher power. There was never any right or wrong. There was a lot of not knowing. Self preservation. For my part, I wanted the current to pull me away. To be gone. I ignored my children at their most vulnerable time of growing up. My husband and I had some of the worst fights of our long marriage. I went on a three-week long road trip with one son, hoping to stay one mile ahead of the anxiety at all times. I read books and blogs and reached out to people on the internet who had suffered anything, even remotely similar.
Then one day I was at The King’s English in Salt Lake City. An independent bookstore where I enjoy getting lost in the aisles. I saw the book cover to “The Revised Fundamentals of Caregiving.” It was graphic and bright, with cool lettering and the title intrigued me. A staff member at the bookstore highly recommended it. I picked it up and read the quote I started this epistle with. It socked me in the gut with a belt of truth.
I bought the book. It felt familiar reading it, although I never recognized any commonality with the characters or author. Except perhaps that I live by the “world’s largest hole” Kennecott Copper mine which is featured in the book, and every time I fly over it I take a picture and think of how far I have come since those days of being tossed and turned in the drift. I searched for more information about Mr. Evison. I read his essay, “Filling Holes” describing how the tale came about… “The Revised Fundamentals of Caregiving” is a story of total collapse, and ultimately, reconstruction.” In my own way I was living the story.
I heard the news that the book was being made into a movie. Watched the updates on the casting and filming. In the meantime I read Jonathan’s new book “This is Your Life Harriet Chance” another engaging story, and soon after there was to be an author’s reading at The Kings English. I attended. I was mesmerized by Jonathan’s energy. Almost manic, about doing “the work” of writing, he had an irreverence that was softened with an edge of humor and humility and respect for the characters in his stories and the characters in his real life.
He told the audience that the film would premiere at Sundance. That was in September.
Fast forward to January 2016. I had secured tickets for the film that had been renamed the “Fundamentals of Caring” but they were not for the premiere, which was sold out, but for two days after and I was scheduled to work. My husband wanted to go skiing on what was a perfect snow day that also happened to be the day of the premiere. I considered it for about a minute and then asked him to change his plans and drive two hours to Park City with me on the off chance we could obtain entry from the waitlist. He agreed and off we went. We pulled over in Coalville and readied ourselves to join the online waitlist the second it opened. We did. I was number 381 and my husband didn’t even get a number. There was “not a chance.” We kept going thinking we could soak up the Sundance atmosphere. After arriving and securing our place in the long line we went upstairs to grab a bite to eat. The stop and repeat, and red carpet were being prepared for the stars to arrive. Paul Rudd and Selena Gomez the highlighters. Cameras clicking all around. The buzz was electric. I startled my husband by yelling out, “Jonathan,” and the author and brains behind this story that was so important to me in grieving my mother turns around. I start talking rapidly in one glorious run-on sentence, “Hi, congratulations, I met you at The King’s English, I’m the flight attendant that always posts pictures of the mine, this is my husband, Darren, this is the author of the book I’ve been talking about for years.” He replied, “Yeah, we’re friends on Facebook” and then asks what we are doing and I relayed a shortened version of our journey, but how we are just glad to be part of the excitement. Thirty minutes later, we are back in the “not a chance” line and Jonathan comes through the door walks straight toward us and gives us two tickets. I couldn’t even speak. Darren just kept repeating thank you and even after Jonathan left kept expressing his surprise that someone could be so generous on their “big” day by remembering a silly fan and her come along for the ride husband. He also could not quit laughing at my exuberance at spotting obscure celebrities. No one else rushed the author. They were all waiting for the actors.
We watched the movie. It was high-energy. We laughed and cried and cheered through the entire film along with the rest of the audience. It was perfect. There is no other objective review I can give besides perfect. How else do you describe the series of events that randomly occurred on this night? The actors and director spoke and answered questions. They introduced Jonathan. I gave him a hearty “woot, woot.”
And so my Mother left me instantly, but I found the universe, or perhaps it is Her, leaves love notes and guide maps and obstacles to run into that are assisting my life-raft in drifting back closer to the ones she loved.
Thank you Revised Fundamentals of Caregiving and Jonathan Evison.
14 July 2015 – 30 hour layover Fresno:
I began the day testing the workings of the top down rented convertible with giant sunglasses perched on my nose, a makeshift multi-colored, outdoorsy outfit, roadside convenience store hoagie and snacks occupying the passenger seat next to me and the thought occurred to me that I had finally morphed into a mid-life cliché. I smiled at the thought and lifted one hand above the windshield letting the passing air push through and against my raised arm confirming the transformation.
I was heading on 180 East, just leaving the borders of Fresno, California. Field after field was filled with hundreds of Mexican laborers under brightly hued umbrellas harvesting the fruit of our nation. A stark contrast to the dried by drought grasses. You could smell the heated soil, mixed with perspiration, and as I bit into my portion of the bounty I could taste the warm salty residue of human sweat.
Gaining altitude I could feel the change in temperature, hear and witness entering into a new ecosystem. Agricultural to alpine. I made it to the entrance of King’s Canyon and Sequoia National Parks. Heartbeat quickening. I love the aesthetic of National Parks. The brown ranger uniforms, the font of the carved letters on wooden signs, the “make-work” stone-stacked road retaining walls. I become a eager socialist. There are rules and guidelines marking the roads and trails. Everyone seems to be a willing participant for the greater good of preserving and keeping the parks “for the benefit and enjoyment of the people.”
I pulled into the little parking lot and was dwarfed by a grove of the massive trees. I sat at the base of one propping myself against the fence and ate lunch peeking up through the branches between bites at the speckled sun. It seemed so far away.
I then made my way to visit General Sherman. Reportedly the largest living tree by volume in the world. General Sherman is the star of the park and the trail leading to the base is crowded with a multicultural mix of ages and languages. The sounds bounce and mingle together in the maze created in Giant Forest, a moniker given by John Muir describing the boundaries where these mighty giants grow. It’s hard to take in the entire tree in one full view. Humbling to see how small we are.
My last stop, late in the day, is Crescent Meadow. I pull into the parking lot and there are people excitedly standing around with cameras poised on the same spot. A bear is tearing apart a log is search of grubs. He is shaggy yet powerful. I park the car and walk toward the gathering, but turn back and put the top up on the convertible. Although my food is locked in the trunk have no intention of returning the car with a bear claw tear on the upholstery. I watch fascinated, with the group before heading out to hike around the meadow.
The meadow is beautiful in the late summer sun. Flowers and butterflies are outlined in the streaming sunlight. I am close to the parking lot, but alone on the trail. I can hear people at moments between the chorus of birdsong. I run into a group of young adults who say they have just seen three bears further on up the trail. They leave me to walk the other direction and I keep going. I sit to take in the impressiveness of the whole scene. After a few minutes of calm contemplation I jump up to swat away mosquitoes and an aggressive bee. In the midst of my dance I hear a distinct “huff” and slowly turn around and see a black, black bear munching on grasses not twenty yards from me. My mind went blank. I soon started singing and talking out loud to myself to let him know I was near. I watched him for the longest time and then made my way back in the direction I came from.
I noticed a couple on a standing on fallen log and went around a standing tree to tell them about the bear. Again, I hear the “huff” and I shout, “Oh, you’re looking at a bear” And again a brown, black bear is close to the tree. I backed away and climbed up on the log with them – with them in front of me of course.
I walked back to the parking lot and met up with the young adults again. They were adorable kids from Modesto, who like me, had never been to Sequoia. And they had never seen a bear. I related to their enthusiasm. As I was driving out of the park I hear someone calling, “Hey lady, our friend in the convertible” And there they were standing on top of an enormous log waving enthusiastically at me.
Another bear crossed the road as I was driving out. I saw SEVEN bears in the course of three hours. Unbelievable. I headed west toward Fresno. The temperature and landscape changing in reverse order.
It was dark when I drove into Fresno. I stopped at a gas station near the airport. The air was heated and dense even without the sun. It stood still in stark contrast to the musical fresh cooled air on the mountain. I stepped out of the convertible to fill the tank. A low-rider playing throbbing music that shook the stale air slowly drove by. The rough-looking young man driving stopped his car when he was next to mine and made a slight head nod acknowledging me. I returned the gesture and off he went in a pulsating, rhythmic exit.
My new career allows for ample time to consume the written word. And I took full advantage of it. I did not keep notes on the amount or which volumes I read but looking back over 2014 these were three that came to mind.
Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore by Robin Sloan Purely for fun. My friend Kelly bought it for me if I promised to read it. It was done. It had everything I love – books, fonts, antique books, secret societies, social media, friends, hidden mysteries. Plus the cover glows in the dark.
She and I were born on the same day. September the Fourth. She in New York City and me in Los Angeles. We met twenty-three years later close to the middle in Montana. I don’t remember the first time we talked or hung out exactly but we became fast friends. She has taught me so much about living, and forgiving, and laughing, and crying and all of it. She encourages me to try things. With her I have climbed mountains, completed a triathlon, and even participated in summer biathlon. Our husbands just roll their eyes when we get together and usually we kick them out of the bed and we take over talking into the early hours of the morning. We have so many inside jokes and monikers for each other. Handwritten letters are her specialty. Being smart and thoughtful and fun and charitable are her traits. She is perfect.
I went to see her in July. She moved to Maine 3 years ago. In 72 hours we accomplished an amazing amount: The Boston Freedom Trail Run, Minuteman National Park, Church, a long nap, whale watching, blueberry picking, walking in the woods, lighthouse visiting, Victorian Mansion touring, ice cream eating, movie watching, local shopping and kayaking. Now, for as long as I can remember some crazy thing happens to one or both of us everytime we are together. We set out one evening into a glass water bay in borrowed kayaks. We chatted and paddled, watched birds, observed crabs and seashells, maneuvered around lobster traps, floated around tiny islands, hastily telling the stories of our lives since we had last seen each other. And then out of the mirror-surfaced liquid a giant fish completely breached the water not six feet from us. I instantly recognized the flat, white bottom and oval tipped jaw. I immediately started chanting “I am not afraid of sharks, I am not afraid of sharks” We looked dumbfounded for any sign of the creature and excepting a few remaining ripples the water was returning to its previous calm. We asked each other if this is like seeing ‘Bigfoot’ in our Montana mountains, “Do you tell anyone?” “Would they believe you?” We finished our excursion and making our way home looked up what it could have possibly been. Dogfish (sand shark) maybe, but they rarely reach 4′ and this was at least that big. She asked the kayak owner and he said there had been talk of a shark in the bay. The local lobster men said it was probably a Mako. They breach — sometimes landing in boats. A MAKO! I’m sticking with Mako. It makes the story better. The picture above is a pretty accurate reinactment of the shark encounter. (Wink)
Happy Birthday, from your friend, the English Teacher.
I’ve been at my mid-life crisis career for almost 18 months. Time is flying (flight attendant humor). I have had incredible opportunities in cities large and small. I’ve eaten delicious food, viewed innovative artworks, attended moving theater, and heard memorable music. I have a vast library of cell phone photos documenting my explorations and perusing through the collection today I started laughing at the above pic and dubbed it a favorite. I was in San Francisco with a little bit of time having finished work early. I rode Cal-Train into the city as BART was on strike. Made my way to the San Francisco Art Institute (SFAI) because lucky for me some of Margaret Kilgallen’s work was on display as part of the Energy That is All Around exhibit. I witnessed the Diego Rivera mural at the school. I walked the streets of North Beach at dusk and enjoyed dinner at Coppola’s Café Zoetrope (tucked in a cozy copper clad building) My waiter was Ryan Darley, a young man attending SFIA who I have known since he was three. I was satisfied that the night was full, but… there was a flyer announcing a literary crawl with authors of all genres reading their works at various venues across the streets of San Francisco. Well, TC Boyle’s name (T. Coraghessan to be exact) caught my eye and his reading would begin minutes from the moment of my noticing. I jumped in a cab and sped to some part of town called the Tenderloin or was it the Castro? The details escape me, but an urban adventure was unfolding.
I read The Tortilla Curtain years ago as part of my first book club. It was also one of the first time I had read someone contemporary who wove together a tangled tale of complexity, of many right answers and equally as many convoluted wrong turns. He was intellectual and clever, dark and sarcastic, humanist and caring. I’ve read several of his books since then. He gets environmental, he gets political, he gets human nature, he gets humor, he gets the shadows that exist in all our lives.
The reading was great. I admired the talent that can tell a tale so smartly. Afterwards I had him sign my book. He is tall and thin with wild hair and a seemingly wild side (he is a longtime married family man). I never know what to say when I meet ‘famous’ people. Oh, I have a whole list of blunders I’ve made. He started the conversation, “I dig your jacket.” I finished it, “I dig your books.”
Then when I looked back at the images captured that night I laughed again. We look like we are up to no good… trying to hide a shared illicit moment. The background at the art studio just contributes to the atmosphere. There are sequined mushrooms on my blouse, and a question asked… something about my morels.
Grandpa passed away on August 17th. He was 94 years old. He was amazing. He was good-natured and good-humored. When we were in Phoenix almost 25 years ago trying to find my Aunt Colleen’s house we stopped at a payphone to get further directions. She must have indicated in the conversation that we needed to go down a few blocks and we would be there. Grandpa replied, “When it is right flat sis which way is down?” He milked cows for a living. And although I never saw him angry or heard him curse he did quip that if God had not wanted men to swear he would not have made cows. He served in the state legislature for many years and I remember sitting in the balcony at the Capitol watching the yays and nays tally up as the lawmakers did their work. He was colorful… in that he liked color. He wore a salmony pink sport coat and bought a pink and green car when my mom was young. He raced horses, cutter races, you know the kind with the chariot. We would watch the running and then lope on over in our muck boots and snowmobile suits to get in the pictures of the winners. He loved horses. In fact, I still remember when the trailer overturned on the way home from a contest and one of the beloved equine was killed in the accident. I don’t remember much racing after that, but a horse always. He had strong calloused hands with thick fingers and for a while after I realized that not all male hands were built this way I didn’t consider them real men. He played the harmonica, Red River Valley, his signature tune. He sang “Freckles.” He was a USU Aggie attending Utah State for a while until the aftermath of the Depression called him back home to run the ranch. He raised seven kids and knew all of his many grandchildren and great grandchildren. He never said goodbye to me rather, “keep your nose clean sis” I was certain he knew I had been snooping through the Christmas presents. He was honest and stubborn and mischievous and tough. He was a gentleman. He always put his hat on when you entered the house and his shirt was neatly tucked in. His character was good. His family is good. His name was good, Edison Joseph Stephens. I’m hopeful one day there will be a namesake. There is so much I could write. He has been there my whole life and the world seems lessened without his physical presence. At his funeral his casket was carried to the burial place on the hill in Henefer by horse and carriage. His horse, Betsy followed along without her loyal rider. It was moving. I’m going to miss you grandpa… keep your nose clean and take all this love with you and share it with my mama.
I went and became a flight attendant.
And I have had a big long break between ground training and actually working flights…
So I took advantage of those flight benefits.
SLC, LGB, SFO, SLC, DCA, ATL, CZM, MSY, SLC — in twelve days.
One layover in particular was especially surprising. We needed to get to Atlanta by 9:45am but all the flights out of Salt Lake were full to overflowing. So we ran to a gate down the way and boarded a flight to DC. Arriving well after midnight and needing to get back to the airport at 5:00am it seemed particularly wasteful to pay for a hotel for a catnap. Our solution… rent a car. Our luggage could be stowed. We could rest. And we could tour the Capitol City. And that we did.
Recent college graduates were milling about, couples walking along. Warm, not too heavy air. I ran up and down the stairs toward Lincoln. Martin Luther King Jr. stepped out of the solid stone. I traced the circle of the WWII monument. Jefferson said hello. The Washington Monument had braces.
I feel conflicted about monuments. They are monstrous, why? In the shadowy night air they became intimidation… super human, super hero fantasyland. One illuminated giant after another… and me so small skipping about.
The best thing about this night… it reminded me when we were first dating. Spontaneous and full of youthful energy. We were the giants of our life. A super human fantasyland. After 25 years we’ve still got it.
Of course, I dropped my hard drive and it is now in data recovery and so I will post photos when it is rehabbed. Cross your fingers.
Darren and I gave ourselves 36 hours to be unreasonable. We found ourselves in an unreasonable situation surrounded by unreasonable individuals and so we gave each other permission to act accordingly. I must admit it felt good, cleansing in fact. I was playing a part unbound by shoulds and woulds and my hurt and emotion and raw anger came boiling over sticky and close to burning a singed smell and craziness attached to it. Our time limit is up. It is Easter morning. I thought I would feel bad, ashamed even. And I don’t. I thought my behavior was not in accordance with my values. I guess my values are to be outrageous and preposterous when the place you find yourself in calls for it… to fight back against wrongdoing… to stand your ground even if it means not standing at all but jumping around like a lunatic to call attention to the cause.
Now I am soaking in this glorious day. Meeting up with family to feast and enjoy each other just the way we are.
I thought the end of this poem “Interrupted Meditation” by Robert Hass summed it up nicely:
Everyone their own devastation. Each on its own scale.I don’t know what the key opens. I know we die,and don’t know what is at the end. We don’t behave wellAnd there are monsters out there, and millions of othersto carry out their orders. We live half our livesin fantasy, and words. This morning I am pretendingto be walking down the mountain in the heat.A vault of blue sky, traildust, the sweet medicinalscent of mountain grasses, and at trailside—I’m a little ashamed that I want to end this poemsinging, but I want to end this poem singing—the woolyclosed-down buds of the sunflower to which, in English,someone gave the name, sometime, of pearly everlasting.
Getting my creative on. I bought this patterned board at our local Gardner’s Market from talented textile designer and artist Holly Zollinger. It was in my office at the University and has been homeless since I left teaching. The hooks are from our old house in Wellsville. I stripped about a million layers of paint off of them and have carried them around for ten years. The two have finally come together and the bath has a new towel rack.