Books I Did NOT Write About Alzheimer’s

top-alzheimers-and-dementia-books-for-caregiversSince my first book, Tangles and Plaques: A Mother and Daughter Face Alzheimer’s, is coming out soon (release date is January 31!) and I have numerous events at which I’ll be reading and discussing the book in the coming months, I’ve begun preparing for those events a bit. I’ve chosen which excerpts from the book I might like to read at various events, but I’ve also been thinking about how much is NOT included in the book. About the questions I might be asked during discussion times—including questions for which I might not have answers.

To that end, I’ve created a list of books I DID NOT WRITE about Alzheimer’s, which might serve as resources for those wanting to read/learn more. I’m going to print the list off and give out copies at readings. This is a very short list. If you Google the topic, you’ll find dozens, possibly hundreds of other books and articles. And while you might wonder why I have not read more widely on the subject, all I can see is that I was too busy living the very personal journey with my mother.

Memoirs:

Inside the Dementia Epidemic: A Daughter’s Memoir by Martha Stettinius

The Living End: A Memoir of Forgiving and Forgetting by Robert Leleux

Tangles: A Story About Alzheimer’s, My Mother, and Me (an illustrated/graphic memoir) by Sarah Leavitt
Novels:

Still Alice by Lisa Genova (movie starring Julianne Moore) “Alice” is a cognitive psychology professor at Harvard who is diagnosed with Alzheimer’s….

Turn of Mind by Alice LaPlante (New York Times bestseller about a retired orthopedic surgeon suffering from dementia.)

Academic:

Families Caregiving for an Aging America

Follow this link to purchase the report or download a free (PDF) copy of the report:

https://www.nap.edu/catalog/23606/families-caring-for-an-aging-america?gclid=COHjg46mptECFQ6BaQodq34A1g

 

The books on my short list aren’t included in other lists I found online, like these (for those who want to read more widely):

Top 5 Books on Alzheimer’s Disease

Recommended Reading from the Alzheimer’s Association

Top Alzheimer’s and Dementia Books for Caregivers (from the senior living blog, “A Place For Mom”

My Body

33025569I’m reading my fourth and fifth books of 2017 simultaneously, as I often do. Especially when they’re so different. That way I have choices: which book to read with my morning coffee? What am I in the mood for with a cocktail in the evening? Which one will I take to bed with me?

One of my current reads is Angela Doll Carlson’s Garden in the East: the Spiritual Life of the Body. Two years ago I reviewed another of Carlson’s books, Nearly Orthodox: On Being a Modern Woman in an Ancient Tradition. There was so much I could relate to in that book, so I was excited to see her book on the body. See, I’m a bit obsessed with my body. Always have been. Maybe because of my childhood sexual abuse. Maybe because my mother always told me I was fat. Maybe because I couldn’t stop comparing myself to the beauty queens on the Ole Miss campus when I was a student there in 1969-70. If you’ve been reading my blog very much, you know that I always struggle with weight. I worked so hard to lose 17 pounds in the last few months of 2015 and early months of 2016, only to gain back most of it last summer. I’ve been stuck with it ever since, and it sends me into bouts of depression and self-loathing on a regular basis. Not to mention the discomfort of my clothes not fitting. I don’t know what I’d do without my extra large yoga pants.

This morning I went to my annual physical exam—my first since turning 65. I am so grateful for my wonderful internist. She’s (1) smart, (2) communicative, (3) energetic, and (4) non-judgmental. I bubbled over with an apology for the weight gain before she could even bring it up, and she made no comment at all. No lecture. She knows that I will do something about it when I can. Or I won’t. But her words won’t make a difference.
But Angela Carlson’s might. Using the metaphor of our body as a garden, she writes about the importance—and the joy—of tending that garden. Of loving it. These words remind me of how I feel when I remember that I could be dead or paralyzed after my wreck in 2013, which left me with pretty continuous aches and pains (broken neck, leg, and ankle, all full of permanent hardware):

In my best moments, I am grateful to be walking around, upright and active. In those moments, I am not noticing the forward jut of my head, misaligned form age and bad postural habits built up over time. I am not worried about the creaking of my knees or my elbows. In my best moments, I am thinking about deep issues like world peace and schoolyard bullies and what’s for dinner.

Oh how I love those moments when I am not obsessing over my body! For me, those “best moments” usually involve writing, editing, reading, or watching an excellent movie or television drama. Sometimes they involve music. Or taking in the beauty of a spectacular sunset, at the Mississippi River (three blocks from my house) or a beach on the Gulf of Mexico. I can easily pour out my love and appreciation for these things and places that bring me joy. So why can’t I express that same love for my body, my garden I’ve been given to tend? Carlson says:

This body is a garden and it is mine. I am responsible for its care. I am responsible for the words I use when I describe it, even to myself, even when I’m alone.

d190ba0ef49bff472d4e256958e3a13c

 

Carlson continues the garden metaphor, even laying out for us parallels involving loving and caring for both, which includes the way we speak to our garden. I’ve never been much into growing things, and I’ve certainly never spoken to my plants. But I used to talk to my cat all the time. And the tone in my voice told her she was loved, just as the tone in our voices sends a positive message to our children, our spouses, our friends. So how should we speak to our bodies? Carlson says we should tell our body that we love it. That it is good and strong and beautiful—an amazing mystery created by God and given to us to cradle our spirits and allow our souls to grow and be happy and at peace.

Maybe if I learn to talk to my body, I’ll eventually learn to love it. Or at least not to hate it.

Time Was Soft There—Literary Gossip and Catnip for Book Junkies

55008Flying to and from Austin (through Atlanta, of course) gave me several extra hours of reading time this weekend, so I finished my third book of 2017:

Time Was Soft There: A Paris Sojourn at Shakespeare & Co. by Jeremy Mercer

I had planned to write a book review today until I found a Kirkus Review that pretty much says what I would have said. I’ll add that when I was in Paris last May, I stopped into Shakespeare & Company right after visiting nearby Notre Dame Cathedral. Now I wish I had read this book before visiting the legendary store. I had no idea that people lived inside the store (for free) nor did I know any of the owner’s colorful history. Read the Kirkus Review for a quick summary. I’ll share the closing line here as a teaser:

Literary gossip, and catnip for book junkies.

Susan and JulieWe had a wonderful time in Austin at my first cousin, Julie Johnson’s wedding this weekend. What a beautiful city and surrounding areas—the wedding was held on a deck/patio high up at The Oasis at Lake Travis, with an incredible view of sailboats on the lake (temperatures in the 70s) and later, a windy and cloudy but powerful sunset. My husband and I also loved hanging out with two more of my first cousins (Jimmy and Johnny Jones from Jackson, Mississippi) during the weekend, so, as weddings often are, it was a fun reunion. Johnny remarked that it was great getting together for something other than a funeral, which is the main time we usually see each other! My husband and I had a great time shopping for his first pair of cowboy boots, and a new cowboy hat for me (I collect them from most cities I visit), which we wore to the wedding.

Now I’m back home in Memphis, enjoying editing the essays that are arriving in my inbox for next year’s anthology, So Y’all Think You Can Write: Southern Writers on Writing. I love my job. Have a great week!

 

me and Bill at sunset at The Oasis

me and Bill at sunset at The Oasis

First cousins: Johnny Jones, me, Jimmy Jones

First cousins: Johnny Jones, me, Jimmy Jones

The bride and groom: Julie and Blake Brice

The bride and groom: Julie and Blake Brice

Julie with her 19-year-old son, Colton, a rodeo-rider.

Julie with her 19-year-old son, Colton, a rodeo-rider.

Who Cares? (Me!)

A few years ago I was participating in a series of half-day writing workshops in Oxford, Mississippi, led by Barry Hannah. These were held on Wednesdays during the summer of 2009 (I think) and we met at a bar on the square in Oxford. Barry led the discussion, and he invited several MFA students and grads to join in. I remember one of those Wednesdays during which he pretty much dissed my submission, saying, “Who CARES?” (He might have said who the f*&#* cares.)

Of course my feelings were hurt. And then he explained what he meant. In my essay, I hadn’t given the reader enough reason to CARE about the main character. That doesn’t mean the reader has to love or even like the character—hate is acceptable. But not ambivalence.  Whether or not I agreed with him about that particular piece, I took his advice to heart as I continued to write.

Event+DetailsAnd so on this day of the inauguration of the 45th president of the United States, I struggle to come up with anything to say that my readers would CARE to hear. I’m pretty much an a-political person. Or I was, until Donald Trump ran for president. I was more than disturbed that he was taken seriously. And when he won the Republican primary, something shifted within me. I knew I could never vote for him, although I had voted Republican for almost five decades.

And so as the nation prepares for his inauguration, I’m glad to be distracted by a fun trip to Austin, Texas, for a cousin’s wedding. If I were younger and more independent, I might be making a trip to DC this weekend to join the Women’s March on Washington on Saturday. It’s not that I agree with all of their issues, but I strongly protest the inauguration of a president who has such great disrespect for women. Not to mention his strong narcissism. So yes, I CARE.

Whenever I fly, I always say a prayer asking for safe travels as the plane takes off. Today I will also ask for peace and safety during the inauguration today, as well as for the women marching tomorrow. May God bless the United States of America.

So Y’all Think You Can Write

a246a2cd0ad0d04274d89e2735814011A couple of months ago I announced that I am editing another anthology, So Y’all Think You Can Write: Southern Writers on Writing (University Press of Mississippi, 2018). With a foreword by Alan Lightman and essays by 25 Southern writers, this collection is going to rock. I’m like a kid in a candy store, thrilled as the treats (essays) arrive in my email box. And what a joy to edit these pieces by such accomplished authors. (Not much editing needed!)

The essays aren’t due to me until February 1, but I’ve already received and edited eight of them, and written “one-liners” to save for the introduction. So today I’m sharing those one-liners (sometimes two lines) as a teaser for the collection. If any of them interest you, Google the author and buy one of their books!

Clyde Edgerton brings his teaching skills to bear in his didactic essay, “Three ‘One Things’,” encouraging writers to use craft to make their fiction work.

The prolific mystery short story author John Floyd writes about the South he loves as a place of contrasts, with a rich oral history that offers much fodder for writers in “In the Land of Cotton.”

Harrison Scott Key invites the reader to “sit in the cockpit of my soul and soar through the atmosphere of me” as he discovers the need for humility and transparency in “The Meek Shall Inherit the Memoir: Then and Now.”

Corey Mesler writes about how agoraphobia informs his work ethic—spurred to creativity even as he is chained to his desk and a solitary lifestyle.

In “A Life in Books” Lee Smith reveals what she calls “the mysterious alchemy of fiction,” declaring that writing fiction—living in someone else’s story—healed her grief after the death of her son.

Mississippi author Michael Farris Smith attributes his initial inspiration to Barry Hannah and Larry Brown, and later William Gay, Richard Yates, and Harry Crews. But he shares that it was ultimately perseverance and hard work that got him published in “Keep Truckin’.”

Sally Palmer Thomason counts Maya Angelou and Willie Morris among the gifted Southern authors who helped her gain a greater appreciation for her chosen homeland after leaving California for Memphis, Tennessee in “How I Became a Southerner.”

In “On the Baton Rouge Floods of 2016 and My Nostalgia For the Half-Gone,” M.O. Walsh muses on whether Southern writers have a stronger bond with place and a greater sense of loss.

Can’t wait to read the rest of these essays, and to put them together into a collection.

Time Was Soft There

In the wake of the news of The Booksellers at Laurelwood’s closing in Memphis, I’ve been sad and somewhat in shock, along with many Memphians who care about books. My friends Corey and Cheryl Mesler, owners of Memphis’ oldest independent bookstore, Burke’s, are supporting the efforts to help save the largest indie shop in town. If that surprises you, you don’t understand the very special world of booksellers. They aren’t competitors; they are companions-in-arms in the war for the physical book. They are a special breed of people who understand the importance of the place these shops provide in our lives. (Here’s a fun Reader’s Digest piece with art and anecdotes about bookstores, including Burke’s. Scroll down to the fourth story.)

heywood-hill-bookshop-02-2017-04

This morning I was reading an article in Vanity Fair about Heywood Hill, an 80-year-old bookstore in London. “Little Shop of Hoarders” is a fascinating look into a business that has survived eight decades and most recently the digital invasion. The owners’ creative approach to book selling includes creating private libraries for patrons, and “A Year in Books”—Heywood Hill’s program where subscribers receive a surprise package every month. The booksellers personally choose these titles for more than 700 customers, based on surveys asking for favorite books and authors and genres they don’t like (to avoid those).

Time Was Soft There / Jeremy Mercer
Early in the VF article, a title was mentioned that fascinated me: Time Was Soft There is a memoir by Jeremy Mercer, who worked and lived at the “Beatnik” bookstore Shakespeare and Company in Paris in the 1990s.  It’s now on my 2017 “to read” list. I love the title, which calls up images of slowing down and browsing a cozy bookstore, surrounded by decades of stories and—at the good shops—knowledgeable booksellers ready to guide your journey. I hope that the good people who work at The Booksellers at Laurelwood will find a new home for their talents in the near future, as we all hold our breath, waiting for a hero to step up and start a new shop.

Literary Events in 2017: A Work in Progress

I’m excited to have 11 literary events scheduled for 2017 so far, in Tennessee, Mississippi, Louisiana, Arkansas, and North Carolina. More events pending in Alabama, Georgia, South Carolina (and more in Tennessee and Mississippi). If you live in or near these cities, please COME and SPREAD THE WORD!

Click on the EVENTS button on my web site to see updated schedules, as I will be adding events regularly. As of today, January 11, here are the scheduled events:

 

Tangles and Plaques cover artMarch 2, 2017 (5:30 p.m.)

Burke’s Books/Memphis, TN

Tangles & Plaques: A Mother and Daughter Face Alzheimer’s

 

March 3, 2017 (5:00 p.m.)

Square Books/Oxford, MS

Tangles & Plaques: A Mother and Daughter Face Alzheimer’s

 

March 4, 2017 (3 p.m.)

Lemuria Books/Jackson, MS

Tangles & Plaques: A Mother and Daughter Face Alzheimer’s

 

March 16, 2017 (6:30 p.m.)

Private Salon/Harbor town/Memphis, TN

Tangles & Plaques: A Mother and Daughter Face Alzheimer’s

 

March 18, 2017 (10 a.m.)

Wordsworth Books, Little Rock Arkansas

Tangles & Plaques: A Mother and Daughter Face Alzheimer’s

 

March 26, 2017 (3-5 p.m.)

Memphis Botanic Garden

A Second Blooming: Becoming the Women We Are Meant to Be

Susan (editor) will be joined by Memphis contributors Jen Bradner, Suzanne Henley, Ellen Morris Prewitt, and Sally Palmer Thomason.

 

ASB CoverApril 5, 2017 (6 p.m.)

Garden District Books/New Orleans, LA

A Second Blooming: Becoming the Women We Are Meant to Be

Susan Cushman (editor) will be joined by contributors Emma Connolly, Susan Marquez, and NancyKay Wessman.

 

April 6, 2017 (5 p.m.)

Lemuria Books/Jackson, MS

A Second Blooming: Becoming the Women We Are Meant to Be

Susan (editor) will be joined by Jackson contributors Susan Marquez and NancyKay Wessman.

 

May 4, 2017

Lake Logan Retreat Center/Lake Logan, NC

Tangles & Plaques: A Mother and Daughter Face Alzheimer’s

 

October ? (DATES and VENUES TBA)

Memphis, TN and Jackson, MS

Cherry Bomb (a novel)

 

October 13-15

Southern Festival of Books/Nashville, TN

Books/events TBA

 

November 6, 2017

Women of St. John Orthodox Church book club/Memphis, TN

Tangles & Plaques: A Mother and Daughter Face Alzheimer’s

 

November 9, 2017

Friends of the Library/Starkville, MS

Cherry Bomb (a novel)
Thanks so much for your support!

Holding On to the Ship’s Wreckage

Man-Shipwrecked-at-Sunset--87235This morning I read these words from today’s reading in the Orthodox calendar I often refer to with my Morning Prayers:

God desires and seeks the salvation of all. And he is always saving all who wish to be saved from drowning in the sea of life and sin. But He does not always save in a boat or a convenient, well-equipped harbor. He promised to save the Holy Apostle Paul and his fellow-travelers, and He did save them. But the Apostle and his fellow-passengers were not saved in the ship, which was wrecked; they were saved with great difficulty, some by swimming and others on boards and various bits of the ship’s wreckage.Saint Ignatius Brianchaninov

I woke up early with messy thoughts. Some were about a conversation I had with a friend yesterday, in which I am sure I hurt her feelings. I plan to call and ask her forgiveness today. Other thoughts were the reverse—my ongoing battle with forgiveness and letting go of past hurts done to me or others in my family, even unintentionally. And finally, I was absorbed with a continuing struggle with my lack of moderation in food and drink, and my subsequent weight gain. I have now gained back 12 of the 17 pounds I worked so hard to lose last year.  I am plagued with increasing pain in my right hip for which I underwent physical therapy three years ago. It cleared up after the therapy, but now it has returned, and I feel that my weight gain has something to do with it.

Shipwreck-1024x512

 

New Year’s resolutions never really work for me, but I understand why people have them. If I had them, they would certainly include (1) exercise more and (2) eat and drink less. Those things would surely help my physical struggles. But this morning I’m thinking that my priorities need to be rearranged. My resolutions should be (1) forgive and (2) repent.

Repentance isn’t a popular word. But our retired pastor at St. John gave a wonderful homily about it yesterday. It wasn’t “preachy” but it spoke to my heart. It was about “turning back” as the prodigal son turned back to his father. And about “turning away from” as he turned away from his wreckless life. I thought about how hard it is to do that—to turn away from the very things that are hurting me. And even about how hard it is to turn back… to God, to friends whom we have hurt or whom have hurt us.

In Saint Brianchaninov’s quote above, I am struck by the image of being saved by holding onto various bits of a ship’s wreckage. I see my life—both physical and spiritual—as that wrecked ship. I would love for God to just reach down and pull me out of the storm and set me on calm ground (like my favorite beach in Florida) but I am learning that He doesn’t always work that way. I might have to swim to shore or hold onto those bits of wreckage. I might even struggle with my weaknesses for the rest of my life—again, both physically and spiritually.

Not very happy thoughts as I enter the New Year… and yet I do feel some measure of comfort as I pray for God’s help and ask His forgiveness. Again.

The Great Blessing of the Waters—the Mississippi River!

Coptic icon of Christ's baptism... the Feast of Theophany

Coptic icon of Christ’s baptism… the Feast of Theophany

Today is the Feast of Theophany in the Orthodox Church. Historically it’s been as big a feast as Christmas, with several services on the calendar to celebrate it. Yesterday morning we had the “Royal Hours,” and last night the “First Blessing of the Water” and Divine Liturgy. This morning at 9 we’ll have the “Second Blessing of the Water” and another Divine Liturgy. The water blessed at these services is used throughout the year in various ways—priests use it for house blessings, to bless icons, crosses, waters for baptisms, etc. Parishioners take some of the Holy Water home with us for use in our personal prayers and when we are sick.

 

Blessing Waters in Russia

Blessing Waters in Russia

This year our parish—Saint John (Antiochian) is joining up with priests and parishioners from Annunciation (Greek) and Saint Seraphim (OCA—Orthodox Church in America) parishes for a “Great Blessing of the Waters” down at the Mississippi River. We’ll gather at noon on Saturday, just a few blocks from my house, where prayers will be said and a cross will be tossed into the river. In warmer climates—especially in Greece—young men and boys actually dive into the waters to retrieve the cross. Brrrrrr! (I think our pastor is tying a rope to the cross and pulling it back out.)

 

Great Blessing of Waters by Boris Kustodiev

Great Blessing of Waters by Boris Kustodiev

It’s interesting that this first year that we are keeping this tradition is the coldest weather we’ve had this winter—it’s SNOWING In Memphis today! But our pastor, Father Phillip Rogers, noted in an email to the parish that it’s not as cold as it often is in Russia (see photo and painting).

 

Now that the twelve days of Christmas are over and we are moving into a new season of the Church—and very soon a new “season” for our country—I pray for God’s blessings and for peace in our hearts and in our homes.

 Blessed Feast!

 

The Opposite of Everyone—Let the New Literary Year Begin!

opposite-everyone-paperback-300pxYesterday I finished reading my first book of 2017—Joshilyn Jackson’s latest novel The Opposite of Everyone (Harper Collins, 2016). What a great way to start off the new (literary) year!

I’m so in awe of Joshilyn’s writing that I’m too intimidated to write a review, afraid that the literary blog gods might be watching for my less-than-amazing prose. I first met Joshilyn in August of 2006, at the first ever Mississippi Writers Guild Conference in Clinton, Mississippi. She inspired me. And here I am over a decade later FINALLY getting my novel birthed (Cherry Bomb, coming in October) and also two other books to be published this year, one nonfiction and an anthology I edited. But it’s the novel that was inspired in many ways by Joshilyn’s special talent.

biopic-13Through all of her books, she weaves the mystical with the colloquial, as I hope I have done with Cherry Bomb. Her tough-as-nails abandoned kid, Paula, grows up in the system, escaping different but similar trauma as Cherry Bomb’s orphaned protagonist, Mare, who tells her story through graffiti. I wish they could meet! Interesting that they both end up in Atlanta, although Mare’s journey began in rural Georgia. And their lives were both shot through with mystery—Paula’s from ancient Indian lore, and Mare’s from Eastern Orthodox icons.

I love what Sara Gruen, New york Times bestselling author of At the Water’s Edge and Water for Elephants, says about The Opposite of Everyone:

Jackson draws from both rural Alabama folklore and the god stories of ancient India, weaving these narratives flawlessly toward a crescendo that is straight out of an O’Connor tale—inevitable, surprising, and beautifully true in every sense of the word.

And these words from the New York Times Book Review also ring true:

The unconventional characters in Jackson’s books often provide thought-provoking studies of love and loyalty; this must-read also contemplates the transformative power of storytelling.

I have read five of Jackson’s seven novels, and this is by far my favorite. Kudos, Joshilyn! I can’t recommend this more highly!

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