dorothystewartblog

about writing and life and God

Dementia Diary: My anger, not his

The Plan

I’m working on two books at the moment. The first is a novel – historical, Christian,  family saga set in 1921, based in the fisher communities of Scotland (where I was born) and East Anglia (where I live now). The second book is a sequel to my  book of meditations for carers, One Day at a Time, which was published by SPCK in 2010.

The new book moves on – as I have done – from the situation of being an at-home care-giver for my husband who had been diagnosed with frontal lobe dementia, to our current situation of me living at home, him in a care facility, with all that entails for our relationship and well-being.

My plan with this blog is:

  • Monday through Thursday,  to write about the interesting things I discover in researching and writing my novel,
  • because I take my husband out for the day every Friday, to write what I’ll code my Dementia Diaries  (DD) on Fridays and Saturdays. Some of these posts may eventually be used in the new book which is currently entitled Take Care of Him. (I’ll explain why in another post.)
  • Sunday I may just write about life or God or anything relevant to my spiritual explorations and discoveries as I try to walk the Christian path.

Dealing with anger

So today is the first DD day proper and what I want to tackle is the subject of anger. My anger, not his.  If you’re a care-giver, do you ever find anger building up in you… against your loved one?

It’s a bad feeling. It feels bad, it feels wrong, but it happens, doesn’t it? I could feel it building today. He had got a bee in his bonnet about something and I just couldn’t seem to get through to him. I could feel my internal boiling-point rising. I wasn’t angry with him so what was it all about?

It took a few moments before I realised: it was anger with the situation. That this man – once so quick on the uptake  (he usually got there before me!) – was now reduced by this horrid illness to confusion, cognitive disability… Call it what you like, it is still horrid.

And what made it worse for me is that sense of utter helplessness to do anything about it. This situation, this illness, is not his fault. You wouldn’t get angry with someone who had broken their leg for not being able to run! Dementia is equally physical – but the damage is hidden away in the brain where we can’t see it. It’s still there, though. And one of the effects is cognitive disability, getting confused, not being able to think as fast as he used to – not to mention the 2-minute memory!

Somehow having a handle on what was getting to me put a stop to the anger-surge. But in its place came that oh-so familiar sadness. What a lot of grieving we care-givers have to experience! I tried to explain to a friend that what’s happening to my husband is like the effect on global warming on the Antarctic – as another slab of ice breaks off and crumbles into the sea – so bits of his memory vanish and his ability to operate mentally shrinks.

Each Friday I go to meet my husband wondering how he will be. We’ve had three good Fridays in a row – but today was one of the less good ones. A bit more Antarctic seems to have broken off.

I know that dementia is a disease that inexorably gets worse. I’m finding that process hard to witness in my helplessness. My love seems paltry in the face of what’s happening to him. And the challenges I face… including not letting  that anger out in his presence.

The text

In my book I include a portion from the Bible which seems to speak to the situation, so today’s would be Ephesians 4:26 “When you get angry, do not sin.”

Competition

I also include a self-care suggestion for the care-giver. This I find the hardest thing to think up so I’ve decided to run a competition for the best suggestion each month through the four months till I have to deliver the manuscript to my publisher. The prize will be a copy of the first book for care-givers, One Day at a Time.

Please send suggestions – maximum 150 words – as Comments on my blog. Thank you! I’ll make sure I credit any suggestions that I use in the book.

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Do you just hate dialect?

Just back from watching Disney’s wonderful Brave at a local cinema. My sister had warned me that it was spoken in Scottish accents so I was expecting genuine accents rather than Dick van Dyke’s mockney style Scots. What I hadn’t expected was genuine dialect.

As a born and bred Scot with nary a trace of Sassenach blood in my veins, I was bemused that I had trouble following one of the character’s words. Till I suddenly realised he was speaking Torry. Or a version of Aberdonian English. At the time I understood him completely. Now all I recall was something about the quine, ken?

I went to university in Aberdeen. the nearest uni to my home, but still a ten-hour train journey. And when I encountered the broad humour and even broader accents of the serving staff in our refectory, it was like struggling with a foreign language. (For those without any of that language, ‘quine’ is a girl, and ‘ken?’ simply asks whether the listener is following and understanding.)

My own accent and dialect are generally packed away as ‘not wanted on voyage’ . At my mother’s insistence. She learnt early on that unfamiliar accents and strange dialect words do not assist either communication or acceptance.

The novel I’m currently writing (1500 more words today – total 23,493) is peopled by folk who would have spoken in their own individual dialects and accents, including my own Wick variety. (They are all fisher folk who had travelled from the fishing ports of Scotland to work at the herring fishing in Great Yarmouth in autumn 1921.)

But when I read a regional novel, I am irritated by funny spelling and  too many apostrophes thrown in to give an impression of dialect or accent. Yet something must be done to indicate that the speaker is not using the Queen’s English/Received Pronunciation or whatever the reader considers to be standard. Which of course will vary from reader to reader.

What I’m doing (so far!) is to use the occasional abbreviation that I think will be easily understood – wisna for ‘was not’, no’ for not, and so on. These of course are for my Scottish characters.

I’m aware that my Great Yarmouth folk will speak with their own distinctive accent and dialect words but I’m a stranger here and want to be able to go on living in the area so feel I should tread gently. However, my sense so far is that much of the Norfolk dialect is characterised by a distinctive use of vowels: yew for ‘you’, for example. I think – I hope – I may get away without having to produce a pidgin type transliteration.

I’d be interested to know what you think. How much dialect and funny spelling is acceptable to convey accent? Can the Yarmouth accent be conveyed easily in writing? And how do Americans cope with our funny regional variations of the English language which is already so distinct from theirs?

Oh and one word used in the film which brought joy to my heart: galoot! What a glorious word. I must remember to use it, though it isn’t what you might call complimentary…

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How to stick with it

Falling in love is easy.

Staying in love is much harder.

 

As a writer I’ve fallen in love loads of times. Every ‘brilliant idea’ for a new story, new book: each one pings into my head trailing clouds of glory – not glory for me to bask in, but simply the innate glory of new, creative, waiting to be explored. It’s irresistible.

My big problem is that I’m not monogamous. I’m into serial loves. In other words, one book at a time. But it does mean that when I’ve committed, as best as my faithless heart is able, to the book of the moment, I can be sidetracked into dalliances with a new plot, new characters, new ideas…

What I need is a solid injection of stickability – at least for as long as it takes to finish the first draft, and then the major revision, till I’ve got something fit for sending out or e-publishing.

I’ve had a downer on the latest book. You may have noticed. I had an attack of ‘I can’t do this’ and started thinking I should maybe stick to non-fiction. Then my friend Marion (marionstroudblogspot.com) posted ‘One toe in…’ yesterday and got me thinking about starting things and not finishing. Today’s tweet from Jeff Goins ‘Is it okay to quit?’ (@JeffGoins) sent me avidly to chrisguillebeau.com/3×5/perseverance to find the answer: no, it’s not!

Sometimes we are genuinely banging our heads against brick walls, barking up the wrong trees, dragging ourselves up the ladder only to find we’d parked it against the wrong wall. Then it’s time to regroup.

But sometimes it’s necessary that we stay the course, at least a bit longer. See what happens. Maybe give ourselves a do-able target: like Chris on his run, another mile? For me, I think I’d like to try and finish the first draft of my novel. It may turn out to be rubbish, a waste of time and paper, but I want to try.

And I’d like to thank those writers and friends who have functioned like the folk who hand out bottles of water to marathon runners along the course. We need encouragement. God bless the encouragers of this world. You know who you are!

 

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How to be perfect

It took two and a half hours to get me on the internet this morning. My virus protection software had automatically updated itself overnight and somehow disconnected my broadband service.

What do you do when your computer won’t work? When your broadband or email service goes awol?

Oh, the temptation to scream.

I phoned my broadband service provider. By the time I had listened to four menus and punched my phone keypad with an option for each one, I was muttering at the automated voice…

So where did we get this crazy idea that things should work perfectly for us? That the world should be perfect, people should be perfect, including us?

What a cheap trick.

It ain’t a perfect world. Pretty nice, really. But not perfect.

Ditto people, including me.

And, if you’ll forgive me for mentioning it, you too.

Not to mention broadband providers, and virus protection, and…

It wasn’t actually the foul-up with my internet connection that brought home to me the lesson of my own imperfection. That hit a couple of days ago when a friend mentioned something. I took it personally. Took off on a spiral of depression and bad thinking… and, thank God, found myself led inexorably to this conclusion:

  • I’m not perfect. I’m human.
  • Most of the other people I will encounter in this world are also human.
  • Therefore imperfect.
  • I mess up, make mistakes, get things wrong, upset people… etc. etc.
  • I’m a Christian so I take all this gunk to God and ask forgiveness and He, I am so happy to know, forgives me because of Jesus. (I also apologise to the other folk involved.)
  • What I’m supposed to do when I encounter the mess-ups other people do in my life is forgive them as freely and as generously as God forgives me.
  • This is what Jesus meant when he told us to love one another.
  • Love = free and generous forgiveness.

You wanna be perfect? Sorry, it can’t be done at the moment, here on earth.

The best we can do is the best we can do.

And that means recognising and accepting our imperfection, cutting ourselves some slack if we tend towards perfectionism, and forgiving the imperfections of others.

Welcome to the real world.

Forgive me?

 

 

 

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Let’s have a real bank holiday!

Today in England it’s a Bank Holiday.

Great, a day off.

But stop and consider… this day was originally designed as a day when the banks were shut. In the days before credit cards, cash cards or even cheques, if you needed money – hard cash – you had to go to the bank for it.

So people noticed when the banks shut.

Sweet.

But funnier still: the word holiday. It originally meant a religious special day. A Holy Day. A day when folk didn’t work but had a day off to celebrate something special in their religious calendar. To worship and celebrate God.

Put the words together:  a Holy Day of the Banks????

We’ve all pretty much come to realise that much in the banking sector – well, not to put too fine a point on it – stinks. People have been paid huge sums of money and enormous bonuses for gambling with our hard-earned savings as if it were Monopoly money. Other people have been doing crazy things with loans and mortgages and then fiddling the results so they wouldn’t be found out.

And they still walk away with huge salaries and bonuses and golden good-riddance severances. And somehow they seem able to walk away with heads held high as they climb into their luxury cars and head for their holiday homes.

Long ago, one day was set aside when the Lord of the Manor stepped aside and one of the servants stepped up to his chair and became ‘Lord of Misrule’ for the day. All kinds of shenanigans went on.

But just imagine if the bankers stepped aside for a day – a genuine Bank Holiday – and maybe a canny, thrifty housewife took over, just for the day…

Surely the ‘misrule’ couldn’t be any worse?

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What makes a good blog?

There’s loads of stuff on the blogosphere on what makes a good blog. I’ve read quite a lot. But I remain bemused and puzzled. Over the past couple of weeks I’ve been experimenting with different topics and the results have been as unpredictable as the stock market. (For those of you who don’t know, stocks and shares behave according to ‘a random walk’ – i.e. nobody knows, so it’s really just gambling under another name. Yep, your pension and mine…)

Yesterday, the stats were higher than previous Saturdays yet the topic mainlined on dementia and caregiving, something which previously had not received as many views as posts on writing, which seems to be the most popular.

‘Lies, damned lies, and statistics.’ My own feeling is that once you start playing the numbers game, you’ve gone wrong. A business or a church which focuses on numbers has taken their eye off people – individuals. It’s hard – nay, impossible – to get to know a single individual, discover what their needs are and minister to them (which in business terms produces the sales/income/profit) if you’re focusing on the numbers, the crowd. The only way to deal with a crowd is to aim for the common denominator – what will ‘they’ want? And as our tv channels show only too clearly, that soon becomes the lowest common denominator!

To adapt Abraham Lincoln’s wise statement, ‘You may be able to serve some of the people some of the time but you can’t serve all of the people all of the time.’  Especially en masse.

So what to do? One honourable strategy is niche targeting/marketing. Work out who you want to talk to/reach out to and write for them.

The other is the old but possibly even more honourable: ‘To thine own self be true.’ Write what you feel called to write. Do it to the best of your ability.

And don’t check your stats every hour!

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So easy to forget

Today’s taking a while to get started. I woke at my usual hour, did my usual things and now, only now, am I beginning to get into gear.

It’s always the way. I reckon it takes me approximately 36 hours to get back to clear water after visiting/taking my husband out for the day. (Those of you following my blog already know he’s got dementia and lives in a care home.)

I do beat myself up about this. He’s being looked after by other folk all week – so why can’t I cope with a few hours without all this pathetic reaction? And why does it always come as a surprise?

I think it’s worse after a nice visit/day out. When we’ve smiled and had fun together, enjoyed the outing… When I haven’t dissolved in tears at the exit gate or on the road home. When I’ve not hit the biscuits when I get in the door. When in fact I’ve behaved like a normal human being living a perfectly normal life.

That’s when next morning’s downer hits hard.

I suppose it’s a kindness from God that we humans have such short memories. What woman would ever have a second baby otherwise?!! But it can be irritating, if not painful when something leaps up and bites us and all we can say apart from ‘Ouch!’ is ‘Oh, I forgot…’

What I forgot this time is twofold:

  1. that even after a nice visit/outing, there will be a price to pay. Nice visits/outings take it out of us in energy and emotion, always.
  2. I need to be gentle with myself and patient and wait for my energy to clear and for calm to return.

I’m putting together a book for folk like me, with loved ones in care homes. The format will be the same as my book for the home carer/caregiver: a Bible text, a meditation, a short prayer, and then a self-care suggestion.

I can do the first three no problem. But I do have a real problem with the last one: the self-care suggestion! So, I’m going to ask for help. Please send me your best self-care suggestions, and I’ll award a copy of my book, One Day at a Time, Mediations for Carers to the best suggestion each month up to the end of December when I have to deliver the manuscript to SPCK.

 

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Why should fiction be queen?

All my life I’ve dreamed of writing books. Seeing my name on the spines of books lining my bookshelves.

Well, hang on a minute, those of you who know me may say! You’ve got nine books published and with the foreign editions they make a pretty nice line-up on your bookshelves. Are you maybe getting greedy?

Ah, you see the problem is all but one of those books are non-fiction. One is a children’s book about a snail on his way to Noah’s Ark. What I’ve dreamed of writing and publishing is adult fiction.

Somehow, some where, I got it into my head that the topmost thing to aim for in this writing business was fiction. I wanted to write novels. I realised early on that I couldn’t even aspire to that pinnacle of writing – literary fiction. (Because it bores me, I can’t read much of the stuff. I like a good story – in old fashioned terms ‘a rattling good yarn’. I brought myself up on John Buchan, Baroness Orczy, Nevil Shute…)

But oh, I yearned to write fiction. I tried my first novel in my early twenties (fantasy, rejected by Robert Hale, kindly). The second attempt was a Victoria Holt gothic clone (unfinished in the 70s, finished in the 80s, sent out and returned: ‘predictable’). Then there were 8 or 9 more attempts. I even tried Mills & Boon. Bless them, they told me I didn’t have the personality to write light romance. I was ‘too serious’!

But did I listen? On I went, till the mattress was getting lumpy from the mountain of fiction manuscripts shoved underneath it as they returned, unloved and unwanted, from literary agents and publishers.

Meanwhile, I did the day job: editing non-fiction, coaching non-fiction, commissioning non-fiction, and even writing non-fiction – a stream of feature articles, 9 books….

It has taken me a long time to wake up to what had been staring me in the face all these years: maybe fiction isn’t my gift? I know how to do non-fiction. I know how to craft a winning proposal. I’ve pocketed enough advances to show me I can actually do non-fiction.

Yes but… it’s always felt second-best. The day job. When I’ve been dreaming of being a novelist.

  • When did fiction become queen?
  • Who crowned her?
  • Who said if we want to be real writers, we have to write fiction?

These are my first musings on this topic so please cut me some slack and feel free to argue – but I wonder was it school? I remember at age 5 the Milly-Molly-Mandy books. By then I’d discovered Enid Blyton. Later, we were force-fed the classics of English literature. Some I devoured. (I used to wait till my older sister was asleep and creep downstairs in the dark to steal her school text from her bag to read under the covers and then replace early next morning unmissed.) And some, I admit, bored me.

But where was the glorious non-fiction? Where were the role-models for the non-fiction writer? I remember Robert Louis Stevenson’s Travels with a Donkey in the Cevennes with fondness but apart from the Bible, I don’t remember any other great non-fiction.

I would guess that more non-fiction has been published – and is being published – than fiction. And certainly much more than literary fiction. In any home, you’re sure to find some non-fiction (cookery, do-it-yourself, the Bible or other Scripture, books about pregnancy and childcare, travel… yes, there are loads of non-fiction genres).

Yet fiction seems to retain a certain mystique. “If you’re going to be a proper writer you have to write fiction.”

Today, in fear and trembling, I’m going to come out of the closet. I think my gifting – my anointing – is not fiction. I think I’m meant to write non-fiction, Christian non-fiction. I’m just at the beginning of this journey of exploration but if I’ve got it right, it should be exciting and fun. And with at least as high standards as the erstwhile ‘queen’. Because I’m not going to bow down to the accepted wisdom any longer.

Why should fiction be queen?

 

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Compare and compute

Actually I mean compare and compete. That’s what all this social media networking seems to be about. And I’ve got hooked in so I check my stats and my followers and make sure I comment on other people’s blogs and tweet frequently and retweet and…

I know. Authors have to do much of their own marketing these days, whether they’ve self-published or not. Just writing the book is no longer enough. You don’t deliver it like a baby for someone else to bring up. You have to pitch in and keep it alive.

This demands a change in the authorial mind-set. And it isn’t easy. Those of us over a certain age who began our writing/publishing careers with companies which had marketing departments and a fleet of sales reps thought our job was the writing bit, being co-operative and friendly authors who didn’t moan about the covers or groan about the blurbs, but did what we were told, turned the queries and the proofs round within the time allocated and expressed our gratitude in winsome acknowledgements.

No longer. We need to build our platform before we deliver the book and then make sure we keep our brand nicely polished and our name in the public gaze so our books will sell themselves off the Amazon warehouse shelves or fly through the ether to our readers’ Kindles. And somehow we’re supposed to write the next book and deliver it by the agreed deadline.

Yes, you detect a degree of tetch. Even a degree of weariness with this not-so-merry-go-round.

Many authors are introverts, like me. Puffing our own stuff, strutting our stuff – whether face to face or over the internet – is foreign to us, uncomfortable. But all the newbies are doing it. It is blatantly obvious these days that you don’t have to be a decent writer (or even write grammatical English) so long as you self-publish/Kindle-publish and know how to work the social media networks to get the stats right and the punters purchasing.

There’s an old saying: ‘Jack of all trades but master of none.’ When does self-publishing and self-marketing become a kind of publishing Jack-of-all-trades and the mastery of the written word is lost in in the process?

 

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How to deal with not writing

When I launched this blog, I mentioned that one of the things I’d write about would be writing. But today, I feel that what I know most about is Not Writing! I’m good at that. Very good. But you don’t win prizes for it.

Would I even want that award? And what would it look like?

  • A VDU with a fist through it?
  • A broken quill pen? (Very artistic!)
  • A little statuette of a writer, head on desk and fist clearly pounding?
  • Or a writer in a sun lounger, reading, cool drink to hand?

Now that I could identify with.

As a writer who continues to want to be published, the pressure to actually get down to writing is constant. But what if we could switch our focus so we can view our Not-Writing time as valid, even laudable?

Visual artists look at the spaces between whatever it is they’re aiming to paint or draw, and then paint/draw the spaces to create the final work. What if we writers cherished the spaces between our writing – the Not-Writing?

I started this week with the word WRITE! emblazoned across every day in my diary. No pressure there, ha! But what if I’d looked instead at the Not-Writing hours and considered how best to use them? Blocked in time to lie on the sun lounger with the cool drink and the latest Laurie R King/Jacqueline Winspear?

Reframing the days like this changes Writing from a must-do to a normal what I do when I’m Not-Writing. Places it second to God as the basic ground of my being. If the writing is the norm, the usual, and the Not-Writing is what I need to plan for, it reduces the heat and the pressure

So when I finish this, I can get back to the new novel and let 1000 words flow out of my fingertips through the keyboard and onto the screen while I watch and discover exactly what happens to my heroine. Teacher Lydia has joined the Scots fisher lassies gutting herring at the curing yards in Yarmouth, but it’s Saturday. The Scots boats don’t – won’t – fish on Sunday, so from Saturday midday they’re free to enjoy themselves.

Only, this Saturday – 15th October 1921 –  God is waiting for them in the power of the Holy Spirit and a man called Jock Troup.

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