Take Care

clift cover v6b- approved cover.inddSome time last year Elayne Clift invited me to contribute an essay to an anthology she was putting together. It was going to be about women caregivers. Ironically, I was already working on my book, Tangles and Plaques: A Mother and Daughter Face Alzheimer’s. I thought about contributing an excerpt, but I chose something different. I sent her a shorter version of an essay I had published in the Saint Katherine Review (Volume I, Number 2, 2012) about my last days with two people I loved dearly, both dying from cancer. “Watching” now appears as one of twenty-six essays in the collection, Take Care: Tales, Tips, and Love From Women Caregivers, edited by Clift. I’m so pleased to see this essay get new life in this book, and hopefully find many new readers. It’s a story that’s very close to my heart, and as I read it again now—nine years after I wrote it and five years after it was first published—memories of those precious but difficult days with my father, and then with a dear friend, as they were dying, seem as vivid as if they were happening today.

Clift is the perfect editor for this collection, as she learned early in her life what it meant to be a caregiver, as she explains in the preface to Take Care:

My own experience with caregiving began at an early age. My parents had married late, and while my two siblings and I were still young, both our father and mother suffered from chronic and often debilitating conditions: asthma and depression respectively. By the time I was in high school and my older sister had married, I had taken on may of the demanding tasks of caregiving, including carrying out the responsibilities that keep a home going and take care of (and worrying about) my younger brother. After our father’s death, looking out for my mother’s best interests and ensuring her care became paramount tasks that went on for many years until she died at the age of 86.

Clift did all of this while being married, raising two children, completing a graduate degree and doing volunteer work with underprivileged women. A Vermont Humanities Council Scholar, she is an award-winning writer, journalist and workshop leader, a book reviewer for the New York Journal of Books, and a regular columnist for the Keene Sentinel and the Brattleboro Commons. Her work has appeared in The Boston Globe, The Washington Post, The Christian Science Monitor, and The Chronicle of Higher Education, among other publications.

I wasn’t familiar with the other contributors but as I read their bios and essays, I quickly realized what good company I am in. I’m honored to be part of this collection. I especially love Patti See’s “Joyful Mystery.” Her blog, “Our Long Goodbye: One Family’s Experiences with Alzheimer’s,” has been read in over 90 countries. Helen Dening gives us five helpful tips for communicating with someone who has Alzheimer’s in her essay, “Lessons from My Mother: Communicating with Someone You Love Who has Alzheimer’s Disease.” Deborah Marshall, an art therapist who works with grieving hospice families, contributes three wonderful poems. Karen Clark, who received her MFA at the City College of New York once owned a bookshop in New York and now edits, proofreads, is a contributing editor for two anthologies and is at work on a novel. Her essay, “Roar Above the Hum,” made me laugh out loud and clap my hands, as she tells the story of accompanying “Corine” to dialysis and hearing her stories of her life as a civil rights activist in the sixties, founding a school in Africa, and eventually becoming the principal of a failing Harlem school and turning it into a showpiece. I could go on and on, but I hope you will get this book and read these inspirational stories for yourself!

You can purchase Take Care HERE, or on Amazon.

An Eternal Present

nursing-home-residents-playing-bingo-1In his post today on his blog, Glory to God For All Things, Father Stephen Freeman writes about his weekly visits with a parishioner who lives in a nursing home. There was much that sounded familiar, similar to my visits with my mother who lived in a nursing home for eight years. The BINGO games. The sameness and monotony of the days, the food, the activities, or lack thereof. I often wonder how I will handle this situation if I find myself a resident in one of these homes some day. I have already begun to ask God to give me grace to bear whatever comes.

And then Father Stephen said something that resonated strongly:

True moral/spiritual progress should be measured more by the ladies in the nursing home. It is in just such a situation that very average citizens, regardless of religious background, are forced into a rather monastic setting. Life is not your own. The routine is as set as the hours of prayer. Everything is focused into the present, or, at most, turned toward an eternal present.

A monastic setting. Depending upon whether or not Alzheimer’s has taken parts of my brain, I can imagine myself entering into the routine as though I was living in a monastery. I feel the need to develop a stronger prayer life as I grow older. To be ready to enter the eternal present.

My husband and I are in Charleston this week, so I’ll let Father Stephen’s post “fill in” for mine today. You can read it here:

“Old Friends”

And now I’m off to have lunch with an “old friend”… Nicole Seitz, an author who lives in Mount Pleasant, just 20 minutes from our hotel here in Charleston. We haven’t seen each other in seven years. Nicole has contributed a wonderful essay to the anthology I’m editing, Southern Writers on Writing (University Press of Mississippi, 2018) about the importance of friends to writers. Perfect. Have a great weekend everyone. 

Book Tour Continues: Nashville, Charleston, Beaufort, Memphis, and Oxford

My book tour in May is turning out to be as busy as April, and I’m loving it. Ater a signing for Tangles and Plaques at Barnes and Noble in Collierville last weekend, I just got home from two events in Nashville (actually Thompson’s Square and Brentwood) on Saturday (one for Tangles and Plaques and one for A Second Blooming) and this week I’m off to Charleston and Beaufort, South Carolina for two more readings:

ASB NeverMore flierFriday night (May 19) I’ll be at Buxton Books in Charleston, for Tangles and Plaques: A Mother and Daughter Face Alzheimer’s. I can’t wait to meet Polly and Julien Buxton, the newest independent booksellers in the area. (My husband is speaking at the Medical University of South Carolina while we’re there, so it’s a two-fer! Also looking forward to dinner with friends from his high school days in Marietta, Georgia, a close friend who used to live in Memphis, and lunch with another author friend. I love Charleston!)

On Saturday (May 20) I’ll be at Nevermore Books in Beaufort, South Carolina with local author Cassandra King, and Mississippi contributors NancyKay Wessman and Susan Marquez for a reading/signing for A Second Blooming: Becoming the Women We Are Meant to Be.  Cassandra arranged this event, and I’m looking forward to meeting her friends, the booksellers at Nevermore, Lorrie and David Anderson.

ASB Square Bks flierNext Wednesday (May 24) I’ve been invited to be the monthly author-speaker at Trezevant Manor (senior living) in Memphis for Tangles and Plaques: A Mother and Daughter Face Alzheimer’s.

And my final event for May will be on Thursday, May 25, at Square Books in Oxford, Mississippi, where I’ll join local authors/contributors Beth Ann Fennelly and Julie Cantrell for a reading and signing for A Second Blooming: Becoming the Women We Are Meant to Be.

TidesOn a different note, it’s always fun to see other work by the contributors to A Second Blooming. This week I found a fun piece by Cassandra King in Coastal Living magazine’s June issue: “The Tides That Bind.” A perfect article for Father’s Day, Cassandra “returns to the waters of her childhood, where harvesting oysters made delicious memories for a father and his girls.”

So when does a busy author get to read? I make time to read every day. Not only because I love it, but because the words of other authors feed my soul and my craft. Yesterday I spent a leisurely Mother’s Day afternoon finishing my latest read, Kristin Hannah’s wonderful historic fiction novel from 2015, The Nightingale. Powerful images of World War II in German-occupied France, with characters so real you are tempted to Google them! I especially loved how Hannah brought to life some of the women who fought so bravely for the resistance, and to save children orphaned by the war.

Next up? I’m trying to decide whether to dive into Lewis Nordan’s novel, Wolf Whistle (highly recommended by a couple of friends with excellent literary tastes) or Anything is Possible, Elizabeth Strout’s followup to her book, My Name is Lucy Barton, which I read recently and loved. Which one will I take on my trip to South Carolina this week? Stay tuned….

Sometimes This Happens . . .

Susan signing 2I have heard stories from best-selling authors about having only one or two people show up for a reading/signing at a bookstore. Or about sitting at a signing table at Books-a-Million or Barnes and Noble and having no one or only a couple of people even make eye contact or stop to ask about your book. Now I know what that feels like. I drove out to Collierville yesterday afternoon for a signing and reading for Tangles and Plaques: A Mother and Daughter Face Alzheimer’s.

It wasn’t the fault of the good people at Barnes and Noble at Carriage Crossing in Collierville, Tennessee. They did a great job of promoting the event:

Listing on the EVENT page of their web site for several weeks prior

Large sign on the front door for several days prior to the event

Nice signing table right inside the front door with another sign and copies of the book

Announcements over the PA system inside the store before the signing, and again before the reading/discussion session

Set up a dozen nice chairs in a sunny area by the windows, right next to the Starbucks Café inside the store

Table and signAnd so how many people showed up? ONE! Cheryl Wright Watkins, a writer friend who lives in the area, who had already bought the book at another event, came just to show moral support. If she hadn’t been there, I wouldn’t have had anyone to talk to for the thirty minutes I sat at the signing table and then the thirty minutes I waited for folks to show up for the reading/discussion. We had a great visit, enjoying our Starbucks drinks and catching up on our busy lives. And I was happy to see that this lovely bookstore seemed to be doing well, at least based on the foot traffic on a beautiful Sunday afternoon when people tend to be at outdoor events.

I knew it was a risk scheduling an event in Collierville, since I only know a couple of people who live in the area. But I thought I’d give it a try, and the booksellers who organized it for me were so encouraging. I’m sorry they now have so many books to return. Hopefully they’ll keep a few in stock.

Door signThe experience was humbling and also gave me a great appreciation for all the other events I’ve participated in this spring with wonderful turnouts. Whenever anyone takes time from their busy life to go to a bookstore and meet an author and buy her book, it’s a victory for the literary world.

Thanks so much to the wonderful booksellers at Barnes and Noble in Collierville for hosting me. I wish you much continued success!

On the Road Again #ILoveWillie

I recently watched an old Willie Nelson movie, “Honeysuckle Rose,” about Willie’s infamous road trips he took with his band. They kept playing his song, “On the Road Again,” and I can’t get it out of my head. I’ll probably be singing it next week when I get on the road again for another leg of my spring book tour. Where to this time?

2d395a6113192a00abc17af0534c257b

 

Next Tuesday I’ll be headed down to Fairhope, Alabama, where I’ll have a reading/signing at Page & Palette (4 p.m. April 4) for Tangles and Plaques: A Mother and Daughter Face Alzheimer’s. My hosts will be my author friends, Suzanne Hudson and Joe Formichella. I love Fairhope and April will be a beautiful time of the year to be there!

Emma w ASB and customerWednesday I’ll drive from Fairhope to New Orleans for an event at Garden District Book Shop for A Second Blooming: Becoming the Women We Are Meant to Be (6 p.m. on April 5). I’ll be joined by my hostess, New Orleans resident and contributor to A Second Blooming, Emma Connolly, and two contributors from Jackson, Mississippi—Susan Marquez and NancyKay Wessman. Emma’s essay is about her “second blooming” as a shopkeeper on Magazine Street, where she owns Uptown Needle and Craftworks. Here’s Emma (on the left)  selling a copy of A Second Blooming to one of her customers in the shop. (Can you tell this was during Mardi Gras?)

Thursday I’ll head back up I-55 to Jackson, Mississippi, for another event for A Second Blooming, again at Lemuria (5 p.m. on April 6). I’ll be joined by Jackson residents Susan Marquez and NancyKay Wessman, who will be sharing their stories of second bloomings after loss.

Two weeks from tomorrow I’ll drive up to Dyersburg (Tennessee) for the Dyersburg State Community College Women’s Conference (April 18) where I’ve been invited to speak about my journey as an author. I’ll talk about my writing and publishing career, and have an opportunity to sell copies of both Tangles and Plaques and A Second Blooming. This event usually attracts about 80-100 women from the Dyersburg area, and includes a luncheon and fashion show. I’m so happy to be included!

And that will wrap up my April book tour. Stay tuned next month to hear about the five events I have planned in May, with travels to Charleston and Beaufort, South Carolina, another event in Oxford (Mississippi), and two local events in the Memphis area. I’ll keep all of these posted on my EVENTS page (just click the link at the top of the home page of my web site) so you’ll know when I’ll be in your area.

I’ll close with a picture of me with the Memphis contributors to A Second Blooming, at our event at Memphis Botanic Garden yesterday. It was a beautiful day and lots of folks came out for the event (we sold 50 books!) and we had a great time. Thanks so much to everyone who came and purchased a book. I hope you LOVE it! And thanks to Chapter 16 for getting a review into the Commercial Appeal yesterday morning, just in time to bring in some more readers.

Susan Cushman, Jen Bradner, Ellen Morris Prewitt, Sally Palmer Thomason, and Suzanne Henley

Susan Cushman, Jen Bradner, Ellen Morris Prewitt, Sally Palmer Thomason, and Suzanne Henley

As always, thanks for reading. I can hear Willie strumming that guitar again….

Rolling a Joint on the Square in Oxford, Mississippi

rolling a jointSomeone sent me this hilarious sign they saw on Facebook. He sent it because this past Friday night I rolled a joint on the square in Oxford, Mississippi, following my reading of Tangles and Plaques at Square Books. The joint was my left ankle.  I had gone to dinner with a group of folks following the reading (with over 80 in attendance at Square Books!) and was walking back to my car when I missed the edge of a curb and fell. Thankfully I didn’t break a hip or hurt my neck or back or something more serious than my ankle.

And also thankfully it’s not broken. This morning’s x-ray shows some torn ligaments that should heal in a few weeks. Back in 2013 when I broke my other ankle and leg in a car wreck, I had two surgeries, wore a cast, then a walking boot. The walking boot was uncomfortable because Even Upsit made my stride uneven, I didn’t have any safe, flat shoes that were high enough. Now they ‘ve got this cool new thing called an “Even Up” that you put on the bottom of your shoe to make your feet at even heights. What a difference that makes!

I posted lots of pictures on Facebook from the event at Square Books Friday night, and also at Lemuria in Jackson on Saturday, so I’ll only repost one here. It was so much fun seeing several of my Tri Delt sorority sisters in Oxford (including my “big sister” whom I hadn’t seen since my wedding in 1970!) and several high school classmates and other friends and family in Jackson. Great reception at both Mississippi events. Thanks to everyone who helped organize them, and to everyone who came to the readings and bought books! Next event for Tangles and Plaques is a salon in a private home here in Memphis, then on to WordsWorth Books in Little Rock, Arkansas on the 18th. What a ride!

 

Ole Miss Tri Delt sisters: Julia Thornton, Gayle Gresham Henry, Susan Cushman, Jan Champion

Ole Miss Tri Delt sisters at Square Books in Oxford: Julia Thornton, Gayle Gresham Henry, Susan Cushman, Jan Champion

Gearing Up for Reviews: Maintaining a Dignified Silence

Yesterday was release day for my first book, Tangles and Plaques: A Mother and Daughter Face Alzheimer’s. After 24 hours of emotional celebration, I woke up today thinking, “and now the reviews will begin.” A few months ago I clipped this cartoon from the newspaper, hoping that one day I might get a 5 star review.

five star review

 

My book has been sent to several professional reviewers, and then of course there are readers who might review it on Goodreads or Amazon or their personal blogs. I’ve reviewed many books on my blog over the years, so I know what it’s like to be on the other side of the experience. But how should I gear up for reading other people’s reviews of my book?

This article by James Parker and Zoe Heller from a few years ago in the New York Times has some good advice. First from Parker:

A writer should not respond to his or her critics. A writer should rise above in radiant aloofness.

I don’t know about the “radiant aloofness” part, but I can see the wisdom in not responding to reviews, whether they are good or bad. I don’t plan to argue with someone who gives a bad review or bubble over with thanks for a good review. They are just doing their jobs, right? (Unless it’s a friend praising me out of the goodness of their heart.)

Heller’s advice also sounds good:

Art is long, and life is quite long too. There will be other books, other nasty critics, and with them, a myriad of other opportunities to maintain a dignified silence.

I imagine that my little book won’t garnish reviews in either extreme, but who knows? At this point, I think I will welcome any words from someone who takes the time to read the book and respond in print. Of course I’ll post links to the good ones. We’ll see how I respond if there are any bad ones. Holding my breath….

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”

Tangles and Plaques COVER ART!!!

Tangles and Plaques cover artWhat a journey this is—working with four publishers at various stages for four different books being published in 2017 and 2018. I’m so thankful for these opportunities, and I’m learning a lot about the business as I continue in the editing phase for some and enter the pre-publishing and marketing phase for others.

Today I received cover art from eLectio Publishing for Tangles and Plaques: A Mother and Daughter Face Alzheimer’s. I love the way the tangled yarn fades from bright colors to almost black and white below the title line… just as memories fade for those suffering this disease. Good job, eLectio!

I appreciate each person involved in this complex process—editors, publishers, graphic designers, and marketing professionals. Although I chose not to work with literary agents (after an unsatisfactory experience) I’m learning my way without them. What that means is that I’m giving up on book deals from the big houses, like Penguin Random House, Harper and Collins, and Simon and Schuster (and big money) but what I’m gaining is more control, and more personal involvement in the process. So, if an agent sees one of my books and wants to take me on, I’ll listen to her pitch. But for now, I’m a happy camper.

 
Watch for more news about Tangles and Plaques in February.

 

Cheers!

A Time to Grieve: Part III

51P21tvRLRL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_It’s been almost six months since my mother’s death on May 24. I wrote about my grief process back in July initially, and then again in August. Both of those posts included reflections on the series of booklets by Kenneth C. Haugk, Journeying through Grief. This week I received the third of the four books in the series, from Mary Lewis, the Stephen Minister and Grief Ministry Coordinator at Covenant Presbyterian Church in Jackson, Mississippi—the church my parents helped establish in the 1950s. The church in which I was confirmed as a communing member when I was twelve. The church in which I was married in 1970.

This third booklet is titled Finding Hope and Healing. I found two sections to be especially helpful. The first is “Talking Is Healing.” Haugk encourages those of us who have lost a loved one to talk about it—to share our feelings:

Talking is healing. Talking helps you locate your pain, bring it to the surface, and let it go. And because your grief doesn’t suddenly go away, the pain recurs, and you need to talk about it again an again and again. That’s why grieving people need to talk about the same feeling or memory over and over.

I remember one night a few weeks ago when I was a bit depressed and my husband asked me what was wrong. I simply answered, “My mother died.” He smiled gently and embraced me, making himself available for my words. Talking helps. And for a writer, that often means writing. It’s almost ironic that just before my mother died I finished writing a book about my years of caregiving with her. Tangles and Plaques: A Mother and Daughter Face Alzheimer’s will be published in February. But this summer I read all the way through the manuscript again, not only proof-reading for errors but also letting my words into places where my heart needed healing. I read parts of it aloud, which felt like sharing those words with a friend, or maybe with the little girl inside who had lost her mother to Alzheimer’s years ago—the little girl who had always been grieving for a different kind of mother, for one who could love her unconditionally.

Another section in the booklet spoke to me—“Letting Go of Guilt.” I’m sure my feelings of guilt are shared by everyone who has ever been the caregiver for an aging parent. It’s that feeling that you can never do enough—that you could have been a better daughter. One thing that I found helpful in this section was this:

View your guilt as someone else might. It may be helpful to look at yourself as if you were a third person. You may see how unrealistic your expectations are. If you wouldn’t blame another person, why are you blaming yourself? If you’d have compassion on another person who is grieving, why wouldn’t you have compassion on yourself?

I actually experienced this from real, living “third persons”—close friends who reminded me not to blame myself. Friends and family who told me that I had been a good daughter. That what I had done was enough. Again, Haugk says:

Remember the good that you did…. Take a fresh look at your relationship with your loved one and recognize the good things you did as well. Commend yourself for those.

EFfieSusanhandsOne of my favorite memories of “good things I did with Mom” is from six years ago. I wrote about it here: “Coloring Violets With Effie.” Mother was very artistic, but I couldn’t get her to draw or paint in her latter years. So I took a coloring book and crayons to the nursing home and we colored together. At first she was shy about it—perhaps she was thinking it was childish. But once she got into it with me, she started remembering things she loved and talking about them—her favorite color (purple); how much she loved flowers and making flower arrangements. It was one of my favorite visits with my mother.

February 2010, around Mother's 82nd birthday

February 2010, around Mother’s 82nd birthday

 

So today I’m again thankful to the folks with the Stephen Ministry at Covenant Presbyterian Church in Jackson for this gift, and I look forward to the fourth and final booklet in the series when they send it. What a blessing for my grieving heart, which is healing.

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