Sunday, January 29, 2012

Taking A Break

I always said I would continue attending my LDS wards as long as I felt it was working for me. I'm not sure that it is anymore. Surprisingly, it has less to do with the fact that my participation is limited (although that does play into it) and more to do with the fact that I just don't feel as inspired or engaged or connected as I would hope to be when attending worship services.

As I've been "outside the box" Mormon-wise, so to speak, these past two and a half years it's allowed me to see the religion in which I grew up with different eyes. While some meetings and classes I've attended since my excommunication have spiritually uplifted me, I find the majority of the time I feel bored and unengaged. Whether this is the fault of the speakers and teachers in the meetings or whether it's my own fault (or whether it's a combination of the two), I do not know, but it's how I've been feeling.

Admittedly, the ward I attend when I'm in Utah is one I feel more connected to and inspired by, probably because it's the ward I grew up in. My ward here at home has left me feeling a little cold. The people have been nice and welcoming, but I have found the meetings and classes unbearably uninspiring since I've been back.

It truly doesn't help that I can't comment in class. I miss sharing thoughts, and frankly, I'm tired of just listening. I've done it very diligently for two and a half years now, and it's just not enough for me anymore. And as welcoming as everyone is, I just don't feel as involved as I would like to be.

This doesn't mean I won't still attend my Mormon wards. I think I would miss it if I didn't. But I don't think I will be attending as regularly as I have been.

I recently read something on In These Gay Mormon Shoes that kind of expressed some of my feelings:

"...I have come to the realization over time that I am part of two worlds that cannot coexist. One must prevail over the other. This is not something I would have accepted as I began this journey of mine. I had to discover it on my own. But the truth is, I cannot have both. I can either build a life and family with a man I truly love, or I can be an active, participating member of the church. I have experienced some of both in my life.

"I grew up in the church. I was someone members would speak of fondly and praise. I served a 2 year mission... The Church has been the bulk of my life experiences. I have many fond memories. I have also fallen in love...

"I would never give up the chance to love and be loved the way that I have experienced for anything. And I have only had a glimpse of what this life could be like. I would never forfeit love for a religion that would have me deny it. And so my choice is clear. I choose love over Mormonism. And if I am to be punished by some invisible being for loving someone, shame on that being for crushing something so beautiful. I do not wish to be part of an organization that actively fights to deny me my happiness. I will not support a church that attacks my family."

His thoughts are not exactly my thoughts, but he does express much of what I feel. I love Jonah. I still love and even respect the religion I grew up in. It is still and will always be an important part of my life. And I am not abandoning it. But I feel like I need to step away from it a bit.

I don't feel the need to attend another religion, either. And I know I will still attend my LDS wards when I feel the need. But I just am not feeling as fulfilled by attending church as I feel I should be. And, yes, it's true that no matter how welcome specific individuals make me feel, it's hard to feel welcome and supported in an organization that won't let me speak my truth and which doesn't approve of the relationship that brings me such happiness and joy.

There are some that may feel disappointed by my decision and I'm sure others who will think, "It's about time! What took him so long?"

I wanted it to work. I wanted to be both Mormon and gay. I wanted the two worlds to coexist in peace and harmony. But like In These Gay Mormon Shoes says, they really can't. That ideal doesn't exist. I thought I could make it work for me, and for a while I did, but it just doesn't feel like it's working anymore, so I'm taking a break.

Monday, January 23, 2012

Jonah and Cody's California Adventure

Warning: Long post ahead.

Jonah and I took a trip to California this past week. It was so much fun. It was especially fun because we went to several places we had not been together before as a couple or, in several cases, at all.

We left on Monday at 6:00 AM, which is quite an early hour for me personally, but we wanted to get to our destination at a reasonable time. I was impressed we actually left in time. Jonah is not always known for getting out of the house when we say we’re leaving, but we got out on time this time.

Our first destination was Cambria, where we would be staying for the next two nights. I used to work as an actor in Bakersfield, California and in Oceano, California many years ago, and some friends and I went to Cambria, and I found it charming and thought Jonah would enjoy it. I drove most of the way. We actually passed through Bakersfield on the way, and the drive was fun because it was a route I hadn’t been on in years. Jonah indulged me, and we stopped in Bakersfield to check out the theater where I used to work as well as the nearby house I lived in.

It was fun to visit my old stomping grounds after such a long time away, but it also made me feel sad and nostalgic. The theater where I used to work closed years ago and has housed several businesses since, including a carpet store and a convention house, which is what it is today. So it was sad to see this once vibrant theater no longer in existence. And all my friends who used to work with me are spread across the country now in such places as Florida, Colorado, Missouri, Montana, New York, California, and even the Philippines, and we may never work together or even see each other again. The lady who I rented from has long since died, and someone else lives in the house now. This place was filled with such lovely times and memories, and going back again felt weird because I knew it was a part of my past that was just that: in the past.

Still, it was fun to visit, and I got Jonah to take a photo of me in front of what used to be the theater.

About six hours into the trip, I was getting tired, so I had Jonah drive, which he did. Ironically, it had been pretty straight driving the whole way, and Jonah's leg of the trip was a very curvy road, so I was kind of glad I managed to avoid that.

Our inn in Cambria was quite quaint and charming,

although the guy who checked us in seemed a little odd. Harmless, but odd. Our room was quite spacious, although the heater didn’t work, so it was a bit chilly…for Jonah. I thought it was nice.

Jonah and I looked at a few of the shops. Jonah likes to antique shop, so it was a nice chance for him to do that while I tagged along. After a bit of window shopping in the town’s charming shops, we ate at a nearby restaurant. We were both pretty tired, so we went back to the hotel to relax. We ended up watching Betty White’s 90th birthday celebration on NBC.

The next day we headed to Hearst Castle. Neither of had ever been, and I didn’t really know what to expect. Hearst Castle is an estate where William Randolph Hearst had built a retreat that he loved on a mountainside overlooking the coast.

When we got to the visitor center, we looked around in the gift shop a bit and the caught a bus which took us up the mountain to the estate. I will say this: one job I never want is the bus driver at Hearst Castle. The drive is on a very, very curvy road (deliberately curvy), and it goes very high up. One false move, and you could send a bus tumbling down the mountain. The drivers were very good going both up and down, but the ride still made me a bit nervous. Luckily, the pre-recorded voice of Alex Trebek was giving us a tour, so that kept my mind off the fact that if the bus driver slipped up, we could all die. I can’t imagine what the drive must have been like during the estate’s heyday in the 20s and 30s. I don’t even think the road was paved then.

The estate itself was absolutely gorgeous. The estate was nicknamed "La Cuesta Encantada" ("The Enchanted Hill"), and it really was. It took 28 years to build and was never completed. There’s a main house and three smaller houses each with a different view as their focus. There’s also a massive swimming pool as well as a tennis court and underground pool. There are gardens and statues, an airstrip, and a movie theater. There used to be animals roaming the estate. I think it has 56 bedrooms. Cary Grant, who holds the record as Hearst Castle’s most frequent visitor, asked to be put in a different bedroom each time he visited, and he never did end up staying in enough of them to see them all.

In its heyday Hearst Castle was host to such celebrities as Charlie Chaplin, Clark Gable, Charles Lindbergh, Howard Hughes, Winston Churchill, and George Bernard Shaw, among others. Hearst would sit in the middle of the dining room table, and guests would be seated near him. The further away you were from him indicated his interest (or lack thereof) in conversing with you, and if you were at the end of the table, you had probably overstayed your welcome.

The view from the estate was absolutely amazing. The ocean on one side, mountains on another. The gardens were so beautiful. All sorts of flowers and trees. Fruit trees, cypress trees, palm trees, oak trees, rose bushes, hyacinths, tulips, marigolds, lilies, and so many others. Statues everywhere.

The architecture was really interesting, too. Spanish, Baroque, Renaissance, Gothic, and Roman influences can be found. Huge fireplaces, antique furniture, tapestries, fine art, carved ceilings and walls, luxurious settings. It was so beautiful and extravagant. I was really glad we went.

We took a tour of the main house. The tour guide seemed a little condescending to me, but the tour was still interesting. After the tour, we were free to roam the grounds at our leisure.

After we finished walking around the grounds, we headed back on another possibly treacherous bus ride down the mountain back to the visitor center. We checked out some exhibits and then watched a movie about William Randolph Hearst and Hearst Castle. It was pretty interesting.

Next, we took a ride up the coast. Our original plan was to check out a nearby lighthouse, but it was closed, so we only caught a glimpse of it. Instead, we continued up the coast. As we continued to drive, the voyage became more curvy and uphill and a little scary. It was fine on this sunny day with my little car, but I can’t imagine trying to drive it in the rain or fog or with a bigger vehicle. We could have driven farther, but ended up turning around and stopping in a scenic area called Ragged Point.

There was a trail going down to a beach, but it was way too steep for Jonah's and my liking, plus hiking back up would have been awful, so we didn’t go down (although we saw a middle-aged couple attempting it, one of whom almost fell twice. We thought they were crazy.

Jonah and I drove back to Cambria. On the way we stopped at a vista point to look at the hundreds of elephant seals on the beach. I’d never seen one before. There were a whole bunch of them, and it was birthing season, too, so there were all these baby elephant seals as well. The adult ones were huge and made such interesting noises. As an actor, I thought it would be an interesting character study to base on character on their movements and sounds.

When we got to Cambria, we ate at a Mexican restaurant and then browsed a shop or two. We took a brief rest and then headed to San Luis Opisbo. On the way, we passed Morro Bay, which I visited many years ago and quite liked. It was fun to see it again. The coastal drive was so beautiful, and we saw a gorgeous sunset over the ocean.

In San Luis Opisbo, we went to Barnes and Noble and browsed for a bit and bought some games that were on clearance. Then we went to the movie theater and watched The Iron Lady. We both felt that the script meandered and didn’t really shed any new light on Margaret Thatcher, but that Meryl Streep’s performance was incredible. I didn’t feel the movie enlightened me on who Margaret Thatcher was, and so in that respect, I was disappointed.

We also drove to Oceano, another town where I had worked as an actor many years ago. We stopped by the theater where I used to work. At that late hour, I didn’t expect to find anyone there, but when we got there, I could hear them rehearsing. The sad part was that a couple of friends of mine still work there, but the doors were locked, and I didn’t want to disturb the rehearsal, so I never got a chance to see them. Oh, well.

I drove us back to Cambria, and we went to sleep pretty quickly. It was actually colder in Cambria than I had expected. I even had to scrape frost off my windows in the morning.

The next day we drove to Long Beach, again taking a route I had never driven. It was quite a beautiful drive, some of it coastal, providing ocean views, and other parts took us through a forested, mountain area. It was quite lovely, although I think I need to get my brakes checked. The car was kind of shaking when I was braking going down hills. It’s probably my rotors.

I was happy we didn’t encounter too much heavy traffic during our entire trip, although the LA freeway system is always an adventure. In Long Beach, we slept aboard the Queen Mary, a ship originally commissioned in 1936, but is now a hotel. The ship has a rich history. It was built is Scotland and was considered the ultimate in luxury in its heyday. It sailed from 1936 to 1967. During World War II, she was used by servicemen as a troop ship, and Winston Churchill was a frequent guest aboard the ship. It’s quite large.

Our cabin was what used to be a second-class passenger cabin. It was a little small for Jonah's taste. He’s a bit claustrophobic. But I liked it very much. The portholes opened, so that was kind of cool. The bathroom was teeny and the toilet made a gurgling noise when it flushed. I found it kind of charming.

We rested a bit and then headed to Hollywood to try and get tickets in the lottery for Wicked. We got there a bit early (traffic was not as bad as we thought it would be), so we headed down the Walk of Fame over to Grauman’s Chinese Theatre and the Kodak Theater. We explored some of the shops and took some pictures. Jonah bought some things at Hot Topic.

I found it funny that as we were walking back to the Pantages Theater, where Wicked was playing, I was thinking to myself, “I wouldn’t mind living here.” At that very moment, Jonah exclaimed, “I don’t think I could live here. This life is too crazy, everybody’s hustling for something.” He’s right, and I probably wouldn’t be happy there long term. I know Jonah wouldn’t be.

We didn’t win the lottery for Wicked tickets, but we were able to buy normally expensive tickets for only $45 each, so it was still a nice deal.

The Pantages Theater was really interesting. I’d never been inside. It’s all done in Art Deco style, which I have always liked. I thought it was really quite fascinating. I wish I could have taken pictures in the theater itself, but they didn’t allow that.

I thought the performances in Wicked were quite terrific. The actresses playing Glinda and Elphaba were really great, both singing and acting-wise. The actor playing Fiyero was quite a good dancer. I thought the actress playing Glinda, Katie Clarke (who also was terrific as Clara in the “Live from Lincoln Center” of The Light in the Piazza), had really sharp comic timing and of course, a fabulous voice. The actress playing Elphaba was amazing. Really great cast.

I had never seen Wicked and only knew a bit about the story. I found Stephen Schwartz’s score to be uneven. Some of the songs were quite good, but some, I felt, were lacking. It was a well-done production, but I’m not sure the show itself lives up to its hype. There were some really great effects, and much of the script was good, but other parts felt weak to me. The second act, in particular, was a bit problematic in my opinion.

The script was more humorous than I had expected, and the show’s ending was unexpected. In short, it was a fun show performed by a really great cast, but it’s not my favorite musical. Certainly not my least favorite, either. We had a good time. It was worth seeing.

Jonah drove us back to the Queen Mary. Neither of us see that great at night nor are we particularly familiar with the freeway system in LA, so the ride home was a bit tense and scary at times. Still, we got back to the hotel safely.

Jonah didn’t like all the creaky sounds of the old ship, but I kind of enjoyed it. I felt it gave it character.

The next day we ate a breakfast buffet aboard the Queen Mary and then we explored the ship a bit. We also took a tour that dealt with the supposedly haunted areas of the ship. It was interesting, but I was expecting more. Still, it was fun to see the ship’s propeller and the engine room.

After the tour, Jonah went back to the room to rest while I explored the ship on my own. It’s a large ship, but it was fun to just wander around, not even knowing where I was going. Lots to explore, and I imagined what it was like to be a passenger aboard it during its heyday. I was glad they were pumping old-time music from the period. It made it feel more authentic.

I returned to the room, and I fell asleep. After I woke up, Jonah and I went to a nearby restaurant area called The Pike, where we saw a movie. Jonah chose Joyful Noise, which I was skeptical about. It looked cheesy to me. There was some fun music, but the movie itself was mess. Terrible script, undeveloped characters, and the movie didn’t seem to know what it wanted to be. Even Jonah admitted the movie wasn’t very good.

After the movie, we went to Famous Dave’s for some dinner. I had some really good salmon.

We went back to the Queen Mary and went to bed. The next day, we drove to Buena Park to go to Knott’s Berry Farm, where I had not been for probably 20 or so years. It had changed a bit since I had last been there. I again felt nostalgic because it reminded me of when my family went there when I was little or when I last attended the park on a high school trip.

The first roller coaster we rode was called the GhostRider. It was a wooden coaster and looked fun, but was quite jerky. It was fun, but really tweaked both of our bodies a bit.

We also rode the Silver Bullet, which was crazy, but a lot of fun; Montezuma’s Revenge, which made me a little nauseous when it went backwards; the Jaguar, which was a very bland coaster; the Pony Express, which was fun – I think it was Jonah's favorite; the Boomerang, which also made me a bit sick because it went backwards; and the Xcelerator, which was my favorite coaster. It was so fast and went directly up and down, it seemed. I thought it was a blast. Jonah wouldn’t go on it. His chest was hurting, and he thought the speed of the coaster would hurt it more. He was probably right, but I was sad he missed it.

I also rode the Supreme Scream, which takes you 254 feet in the air and then drops you. It was a little scary, but thrilling. I wanted to ride the Windseeker, which takes you 300 feet up, but it spins while you’re up there, and spinning rides make me nauseous. It was more the spinning than the height that made me not go on it.

We rode the bumper cars, the Sky Cabin (which I remembered from when I was a child), and the train, too. I didn’t go on any twisting or spinning rides, although there were several we could have gone on. We didn’t go on any water rides, either. Two were closed, and it was too cold to ride the other.

We watched a show called the Mystery Lodge. It was focused on Native American culture and had some really cool special effects and kind of a cool message. I was a bit skeptical when it started, but I really enjoyed it. We also saw the Stunt Show, which was a bit cheesy, but had some fun stunts.

We had lunch at the Ghost Town Grill. It was pretty good. We explored some of the shops as well. I was amazed at how few people were in the park. We got on all the rides quite easily and quickly. It was a great time to go.

We actually left the park fairly early. We had done everything we wanted to do and decided to call it a day as far as the amusement park was concerned.

We rested for a bit and then went to Downtown Disney to window shop a bit and then had dinner at the Cheesecake Factory and then went back to our hotel.

The next day we went to Orange to an area where there are a lot of antique shops, including a really high-end one with beautiful furniture. Antique shopping is more Jonah's thing, so after a while everything started to blend together and I got a little bored, but it is fun to look at various things. I also found a record I have been looking for for a long time in a local record store, so that was nice.

After we ate lunch and explored a few more shops, Jonah drove us out of the LA area while I slept, and then we switched places in Barstow, and I drove us back home. It was a splendid vacation. We had a great time. We spent a bit more money than I would have liked, but it was worth spending some really quality time together.

Our cats missed us a lot. Trooper, the one who likes me best was being a bit of a pill, but it didn’t take her long to forgive us for being gone so long.

Now we’re home, and it’s back to reality. I have a job interview on Tuesday. I’m hoping something will come out of it. I guess we’ll see.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Jobs And New Adventures

Today is a down day for me. Not sure why. Sometimes I get like this when I am unemployed. I've been looking for a "normal" job in between acting gigs, and in my efforts, I have been reminded that I have few "real world" skills or little "real world" experience. Actually, that's not really true. I certainly have other things I know how to do and can do. My non-acting resume just makes me look like I don't.

Acting can be such a tricky profession. I actually have been quite fortunate in that I work quite often and fairly consistently. Acting has always been my dream job, and I actually get to do it. Not everyone can say that. But acting jobs, by their very nature, aren't consistent. You can work steadily one year and have nothing the next. And it depends on the shows and roles that are available from year to year.

But I am lucky and infinitely blessed to have the job opportunities I've had and continue to have. I love acting so much, and I feel very grateful to be able to do it.

That being said, I do get weary of constantly auditioning in order to procure a job. It's like applying for the same job over and over, often for the same people. But that's just the nature of the beast. And sometimes you do a terrific audition, but don't get the job because you just don't fit right in the puzzle that's being created. Other times, your audition doesn't go so well (at least, you don't feel it does), and you still get cast. So it can be a crap shoot.

I do a lot of musicals, too, and while I think I am a good actor and singer, dancing doesn't come easy to me, and learning choreography is not enjoyable to me. And yet, I do it all the time, but I wish I could do more straight plays.

When I'm not acting, I try to seek employment to help supplement my income. My resume makes me look like I change jobs at the drop of a hat because, well, I do. Most acting gigs last six weeks to a couple of months for me, so I'm continually "changing jobs", so to speak. Not staying with a job very long is not very appealing to "non-acting" employers.

And because acting has been my main job for many years, my experience with "real-world" jobs such as retail, office work, and food service, for example are both limited and rusty. I know it wouldn't take long to train me and for me to get the hang of things, but employers aren't willing to take that chance, especially if they sense that acting is my main goal, and that I will likely quit the job to pursue an acting opportunity.

Plus, I dislike routine, which is part of what appeals to me as an actor. Yeah, I'm doing the same "job," but each role and show is different whereas some 9-5 job in an office or store or restaurant would likely burn me out eventually. And because I do like acting so much, it is also hard to find a "real-world" job that appeals to me and my sense of creativity.

"Real-world" jobs, too, mean I'm starting out at entry-level. I've seen gradual increases in my salary and more prominent roles in my acting jobs, but taking a "real-world" job means I'm starting out at the bottom.

And yet, there are days when I long for the security and stability of a "real-world" job. There are times when I wish I could find a job that enabled me to stay home with my husband more. I guess today is one of those days.

My next acting gig is in April. In the meantime, I'm just trying to find something to make ends meet. I still have some money in savings and I'm collecting unemployment, but it would be nice to be working - doing something.

There is a possible summer gig I auditioned for that I would love to do, but I won't hear about that until March, at the earliest. There is also a possible summer gig that I'm not as excited about doing, but which would give me health benefits and a modest salary. That's another hard thing about acting jobs: just waiting to hear whether you'll be working or not. In the meantime, I still must audition if an opportunity comes along, and right now there aren't a lot of auditions happening for which my particular skills are appropriate.

Last night, Jonah received official word that the show he works for will be closing in September. This was not a surprise. The show has had a very successful run, and Jonah has made a good living working there, but there have been rumors for months that the show would be closing soon, and indeed, it will.

Jonah actually is tired of the job and has been for a while, so this is a blessing, in a way. But we don't know what's next for him. Jonah is a very talented guy and will probably find employment pretty quickly. At least, we hope so. But it is the unknown that is the challenge.

Likewise, the theater I work at often is getting a new artistic director in September, one with whom I've never worked, so I don't know how that will affect my career as well. September is bound to be an interesting time.

I'm not worried. But there will be new adventures ahead for both Jonah and I career-wise, and I hope we can both find fulfillment and stability in whatever comes our way.

Monday, January 09, 2012

Cody And Jonah's Big Fight

It's almost not worth writing about now. Jonah and I don't fight or argue much. It's very rare. We get along quite well. But we do have different interests and different ways of communicating and different ways of thinking, and occasionally it does get us in trouble.

New Year's Eve also happens to be our anniversary. We had gone out fro a lovely dinner at the Cheesecake Factory and then went see Hugo, which I found to be an unexpectedly charming and delightful movie. Anyway, our evening was quite wonderful.

When we got home, Jonah checked his email, and I checked mine. After he finished, Jonah appeared to be tired and was lying on the couch watching the New Year's Eve programs on TV. I was still on the computer doing some things related to my mom's dementia (keep in mind, this was not too long after some of the events described in this post). Jonah would ask me what I was doing, and I would reply. After I finished, I laid beside Jonah on a couch that i really two small for us. I wasn't very comfortable, but held him as we watched local coverage of the New Year's festivities. When the fireworks started, I wondered aloud if we could see them from the house. Jonah suggested I should go upstairs and check them out. So I did. I watched as the fireworks show continued.

Eventually Jonah came up to join me. He then took a shower, so I got back on my computer, and then Jonah went to bed.

The next day I awoke to find that Jonah was not in bed. I thought that was odd, but proceeded to get ready for church. I came downstairs to find Jonah asleep on the couch. I told him I was going to church and asked him if everything was okay. He replied that it was, although I sensed it wasn't. I probably should have prodded further, but when someone tells me things are okay, I generally take their words at face value.

I went to church, which seemed very uninspired to me. I also felt this nagging feeling that I should go back home and be with Jonah, so I did. However, as I talked to him, he seemed not very responsive to conversation, so I went upstairs for a bit. The rest of the day Jonah and I did not talk much, which is unusual. Then he went to work.

When he came home, he told me he was going to visit his mom for a bit. I asked him if he wanted me to come. Then suddenly Jonah revealed that I had hurt his feelings the night of our anniversary, saying that he was hurt that I hadn't spent more time with him that evening after we had come home. I had been on the computer an awful lot during our anniversary (I had), and it basically boiled down to the fact that because of my job I'm rarely home and we don't spend nearly enough time together and that while I'm here in between jobs, Jonah will be selfish with time we spend together because we generally get so little of it as it is.

The fighting part came from the fact that I genuinely had little clue that Jonah was feeling this way. I sensed he was upset about something, but literally had no idea what it was. In my mind, we had had a lovely anniversary, eating out, seeing a movie, and he genuinely seemed tired when we got home, so I was just doing other things while he rested. I didn't know he wanted to spend more time together. Being our anniversary, I should have known that, but I did not get the hint.

We were yelling at each other (again, something that is rare in our household). He because he was hurt by me, saying that it often seemed that my job or my concerns with my family came before him, and he had just wanted me all to himself specifically on our special day. Me because he had not made it clear to me what he wanted, that I had gotten mixed signals, and that if he wanted that he should have communicated it to me rather than expecting me to read his mind and then giving me the silent treatment because I hadn't.

But the very bottom line was that Jonah was right. I don't put him first as often as I ought to. We are married, after all, and I do sometimes put my career and my family in front of him, and he's right that it isn't fair. He does so much household-wise when I am not here, and he deserves to have as supportive a spouse as he has been to me in my career aspirations. He is here all by himself when I am away whereas I live with my mom during times of employment away from home. It isn't fair, and I couldn't argue with him on that point.

I am not as intuitive or observant as Jonah. I'm just not. I told him I just need him to directly tell me if something's bothering him because I might not pick up on it or, if I do, I will not pursue it if he tells me everything is okay.

I am trying harder to make each moment we have together count. I am trying to spend less time on the computer when we are both home because it's true I do spend too much time on the Internet. I am trying to participate more in activities Jonah enjoys even if I don't just to maximize our time together. I am even considering taking a brief hiatus from acting this summer just so I can be at home more.

It wasn't a bad fight nor was it one that wasn't needful. I only tell you because Jonah and I aren't perfect. We have a great relationship, and I love it and him, but like any couple, we do have misunderstandings and disagreements, and I want you to know that. I don't want anybody to think our relationship is free of challenges or miscommunication.

The fight wasn't fun while we were having it, but I'm glad we had it. It helped me work on some things I need to work on, and hopefully it helped Jonah and I learn to communicate better.

Fortunately, neither of us hold grudges or carry negative energy for very long. All has gone very well since that night, and I feel like our relationship is going great.

Sunday, January 01, 2012

Adventures In Dementia

I've mentioned before that my mom has dementia. This is particularly challenging because Mom does not recognize how serious her dementia can be. Some days she is mostly fine. Yes, she repeats the same questions over and over or can't recall the name of something or forgets to pay a bill or an appointment, but she's mostly coherent and able to do her daily activities with the same independence she's always had.

Other days, however, are more challenging. Dementia robs a person of their awareness and their judgment. It causes them to not only forget things, but misremember things that have already occurred. There's little use arguing or trying to rationalize with a person with dementia, particularly on a bad day. Their reality is the absolute truth as far as they are concerned, even if everyone else around them recognizes that its not. Dementia sometimes causes paranoia or mood swings or strangely obsessive behavior. It is hard to adapt to.

As the child who most often lives with my mom during my times when I am working in Utah, I am, therefore, someone who spends a lot of time with her and sees first-hand what she's like, both on good days and bad ones. It is exhausting to be asked the same question over and over or be told the same information in the same way again and again. This is not Mom's fault. There is nothing willful about her behavior. It's just the way her brain works now. It has taken me a while to adapt. Initially, my first instinct was to say, "Mom, I just told you that" or "Mom, don't you remember?" As Mom progressively gets worse, and as I read more and more about the disease, I have been taught that it's just better to treat each repetition as new information. As a somewhat impatient person, this was hard to do at first, and some days I am still not good at it. Sometimes you just want to scream, "I told you that literally three seconds ago! How can you not remember?!" And yet, she, in fact, doesn't.

Dementia has been such a fascinating disease to watch. Sad, but fascinating. It boggles my mind that a person can remember some minute detail from their childhood with total clarity, but literally cannot remember something you just told them. I remember having a conversation with my mom about her childhood, and she was so articulate and so coherent. You would never know she had memory issues. Yet, the closer we got to the present, the more it slipped away.

It's fascinating to watch Mom forget the names of people she has known for some time. For example, she consistently forgets my brother-in-law's name. She knows who she's talking about, but can't seem to find his name. A few weeks ago she was looking at a picture of my niece and nephew when they were younger and couldn't identify them. She did the same thing once with an old photo of my sister. It's so interesting.

My mom used to be an ace at Trivial Pursuit: The Silver Screen Edition. We used to play a lot when I was younger. There's no way we could play a successful game today. She simply cannot retrieve the information.

Mom can watch a movie and recite the plot for you, but then will rewatch the same movie a week later and not remember having seen it at all even if it's a movie she's seen many times.

Places that were once easy and familiar for Mom to get to are now mysteries to her. She once spent over an hour trying to find the nearby mechanic she's taken her car to for years, a trip that barely takes 5 or 6 minutes, to no avail. She even had directions.

Part of what gives me the most stress is how much I worry about Mom. I love her very much and even though she isn't a child, sometimes it's like caring for a child. What makes it really tough is that from Mom's point-of-view, everything's perfectly fine. As far as she's concerned, she's completely healthy and there is no reason to worry about her. Unfortunately, there is. Adding to that, Mom is fiercely independent and can be incredibly stubborn at times.

I have a problem delegating responsibility, too. I've always had this attitude that if I don't do it myself, it either won't get done or won't get done right. This isn't true, but unfortunately, it's how I often operate. And as such, a lot of the burden is put on me, and that is probably my own fault.

My siblings are great, and they help out Mom a lot, but it is true that Mom has become highly dependent on me, and when I come back home to Jonah, she tends to get depressed and forgets that she has other children that are there to help her out.

Until very recently, I was the one that really knew Mom's financial situation, her spending habits, what medications she takes, was taking her to doctor's visits or helping her around the house. My siblings, of course, had an overview of this stuff, but I was the one who was truly dealing with it day-to-day. Again, probably no one's fault but my own.

Keeping on top of Mom, making sure she's making all of her appointments, taking her medications in the right doses at the right times, making sure she's paying her bills, protecting her from salespeople and other entities that might take advantage of her, having the same conversations over and over, canceling unused credit cards and unused gym memberships, worrying about her when she does something out of the ordinary, etc. can get a little wearing at times. I'm ashamed to say that sometimes I would retreat to my room just to take a break from her. That sounds awful, although according to the literature I've read on dementia, is perfectly normal and sometimes needed.

Knowing that I would be moving back home for a while (my next job in Utah isn't until April) and because we're all generally worried about her, my siblings and I got together to discuss some practical measures we can take to best help Mom. Much of her day-to-day care in in the hands of my siblings now. Part of me feels relief and part of me wishes I could be there to help out more. I do have a husband, though, and he deserves to have me here with him, and I need to be with him.

On Saturday I spoke with my Mom at 5:45 PM. She said my brother and sister-in-law had invited her over for dinner and that my nephew would probably be picking her up. She said she had to get ready, and I told her to have a nice time. So you can imagine my dismay and shock when my brother called at about 8:30 PM informing me that Mom was missing. In turned out that Mom's dinner with them was supposed to be Sunday night, so my brother didn't even known that she had attempted to go to their house on Saturday night. All he knew was that when my niece and nephew (who live in my mom's house) came home, they found Mom's car missing, which is very unusual for a woman who's usually in bed by 9:00 PM and doesn't drive at night.

We had no idea where she was. The last time we had gone to my brother's house together, she seemed confused on how to get there, so I had advised my brother and sister-in-law to not let her drive there alone. Had they realized she had mixed up the dates on when dinner was, I'm sure they would have picked her up. But the thing about dementia is that she could have headed anywhere, possibly even someplace nowhere near my brother's house.

My mom doesn't have a great sense of direction anyway, dementia or not. If her sense tells her she should go left, it is 99% likely she ought to go right. She also doesn't drive well at night, and actually we have been worried about her driving at all, so my fear was compounded not only by the fact that she was missing, but that if she felt she were lost, she might get distracted and hit somebody or get into accident.

Mom was missing for 5 1/2 hours. My family members were all out looking for her, made worse by the fact that they weren't even sure where they should look. Hospitals were called. her cellphone, which she didn't think of turning on, was called many, many times. The police had an APB out on her, and finally at about 11:15 PM, a time when my mom is rarely, if ever, out, the police found her and pulled her over. She was 12 miles from her original destination going the opposite direction in an area of town she never frequents. The police took away her keys and my brother came to pick her up.

Mom did not know or feel that she was lost. In her words, she was just "out for a drive." This coming from a woman who doesn't realize she was out for nearly six hours, thought it was daytime when she was driving, doesn't think she was found where she was found, doesn't remember getting pulled over, and was confused about who's car she was in when my brother was driving home. She was mad at us for worrying about her, said she could drive any time she wanted to (never mind that she never drives at night and actually dislikes doing so) and doesn't believe the events happened the way they really did.

We have no idea what she was doing all that time. She says she remembered that the dinner was for the next night (not true - she did not learn this until my brother told her when he picked her up after the police found her) and decided to take a drive instead. She said she stopped to look at some Christmas lights (probably true) and also went to a "forest" (none of us know what she is referring to), and she mentioned something about a "dungeon." Again, no idea.

All I know was that my mom was missing for five and a half hours and that we were worried sick about her. I don't know if you can truly imagine that feeling unless you've had somebody you know go missing. It sucks. It makes you feel incredibly helpless. Moreso, when you're in another state and can't do anything to actively help. I'm just grateful she was found unharmed and that she was found so quickly (relatively).

This is not the first time Mom has gotten lost. Last summer she took a walk on a very hot day. Normally her walks are 45 minutes. She was gone for three hours and ended up three miles away going north (away from her house) when she thought she was going south. Fortunately, a nice couple saw her and were concerned about her and drove her home.

Mom is supposed to take her driving test this week to evaluate her driving ability. Mom is very confident that she will pass and be able to continue driving, but the rest of us are fairly certain she will fail, which is a good thing. We have been talking about taking away her keys and we try to drive her place as often as possible because, although she does not recognize it, her awareness is not as sharp as it once was, and she gets confused more, and I think that makes for a dangerous driver.

There is a lot of construction near Mom's house, and she has been nervous to drive in that area, so she walked to the store the other day to avoid driving, and realized when she got there that she couldn't carry the stuff she had, so she stole (borrowed) a shopping cart.

Mom also has been giving quite a bit to charity lately (more than usual). Mom has a very generous heart, but she is on a fixed income and I worry about her overspending to donate to charity. I also worry about salespeople suckering her into buying things she doesn't need. The other day she got her garbage disposal repaired when no one else was home and spent far more than I think she needed to. I think we could have got her a better deal elsewhere.

Mom has also stopped using her debit card (probably because the difficulty the technology presents for her) and has started withdrawing large amounts of cash from her account, which makes it harder to monitor what she is doing with it. My brother and I have power-of-attorney over her, and if it starts to get out of hand, we may have to step in and take action.

Mom has also been lax about taking her medications, which I think may have contributed to Saturday night's episode.

Anyway, things will only get worse. That's the nature of dementia. It's hard to watch a very independent, level-headed person lose their judgment and independence. Mom also gets agitated or upset about trivial things whereas she used to be pretty meek. She still is, but I've seen her get really agitated about things that she blames on others (such as we never tell her what's going on or that we're making things up or that people have done things that they really haven't - all due to her inability to remember things). It's hard to watch, but it is what it is. I wish I could do more from where I'm at, but it's harder now...although in some ways it makes it easier.

As a child who was raised by a very loving and responsible mother (and father), I feel I have to give back. It's funny how the cycle of life works. Parents take care of their kids, and then kids end up basically doing the same thing to their parents. I think that's the way God intended it. That doesn't make it easy. But then, parenting a child is never easy, so why should I expect that caring for a parent would be any easier. I also find one of the best coping techniques for me, personally, is to have a sense of humor about it.

I hope I'm doing enough. I just want her to be safe and taken care of and protected.