A month away
I was sad when I returned home from my wonderful month of October in Red Wing, Minn. Fitting with my mood, the sky has been grey for the last two days.
I was awarded the Capstone Fellowship for Children’s Literature last spring. I was thrilled about the honor, but October seemed so far away that I didn’t even think about what a month away would be like. Then suddenly it was the end of September, and I was packing up my car for the month.
That is when the worries started. How can I be gone for a month? Should I try to drive home to see Barry each week? What if a very specific letter from the IRS that will signal a hearing about back taxes arrives while I am gone? How will I stand being away from my granddaughters?
What if they get sick and need me to babysit? Will I get any work done? What will it be like living with four other artists in the 100-year-old house on the Anderson Center grounds? Will I be irritating? All these things went through my mind as I headed down Highway 61 toward Red Wing. It seems that I have a fondness for Highway 61, because that is the same road that takes me up the North Shore of Minnesota.
Another worry was also weighing on me. I was asked to give the keynote address at a conference in October about how creativity and art has helped me cope with Barry’s frontotemporal dementia (FTD). Although I had thought for months about what to say, I didn’t know if I could get through it without breaking down. I had never given a talk about this journey we are on. Writing about this journey is one thing, but speaking about it to a huge room of teachers would be a challenge.
Becoming a new person?
When I pulled into the Anderson Center, I had the clear thought that if Barry hadn’t gotten sick and started us on this journey, I likely would not have received the fellowship, done many of the things and gone to many of the places that I have over the past few years. This concept is very hard to come to terms with. I have been feeling a sense of joy and excitement all summer as this new life I am living unfolds. I have made new friends and tried new things. And I feel guilty about that. Because of Barry’s illness, I am becoming new person.
On my own, for example, I have been dealing with the IRS, changing the printer ink cartridge, fixing my closet doors that keep falling off and now found myself holding a box of art supplies as I arrived to begin this fellowship. The fact that Barry is lying alone in bed at the nursing home day after day is not lost on me. I think about him constantly. Would he want me to keep living and growing? I think so, yet I sometimes wonder if he really wants me to stay by his side each day until FTD finally wins this war with his brain. But I decided not to think about that for the next month in my new home away from home.
From the instant I arrived at the Anderson Center, I knew I would love it. The attic room was a good place for me to work. I could spread all ideas out on the floor; and it was very quiet up there with the exception of Asian beetles constantly hitting the overhead light. I loved the pace at the center. I got up early each morning and worked for a couple of hours. When the sun came up, I would go for a walk along the Cannon River Trail. The rest of the day was spent in the attic until it was time for a quick bike ride before dinner. Our dinners were at 6:30 each evening and the conversations were lively with the four other artists living in the house. If I was irritating, no one ever said anything. We all got a long very well.
What I’ve learned
Here are few things I learned during the month: I can work anywhere — I really do not need a studio, only a table. I learned that my imagination is still alive and well. Now I have a bunch of new book ideas that I am excited about. I learned that I love meeting and getting to know new people. I learned a lot from the other artists that month. (A 62-year-old can even learn from young people, so thank you novelist Mike G. for all your good advice!) I also learned that I could speak about Barry’s illness to a large group without breaking down.
I missed my granddaughters, but everyone did just fine without me. The IRS was there when I came back. Although I didn’t get the letter I wanted, the IRS sent lots of other letters. And the bill collectors were still there when I got home. I learned the world ticks along just the same whether I am at home or off living somewhere else.
This was not a depressing realization, instead it left me excited about my future, which I hadn’t been for a long time. When the month was over, I went to see Barry. I had been there twice during the month. He seemed thinner and was speaking less. I asked him if he missed me and he said, “I did not miss you.” So I guess Barry’s world ticked along just fine without me — or did it?
Now it’s mid-November and I am back at my old routine of seeing Barry each day while trying to get some work done. I can’t help but wonder what it will be like when he is gone. Will I be as excited about my new life when that day finally comes? I have a feeling that I may be starting all over again trying to find my way.