I just finished a great book called Still Alice by Lisa Genova, in preparation for an upcoming book club discussion. It’s about a Harvard psychology professor who is diagnosed with early-onset Alzheimer’s disease. The first few chapters had me scared – totally convinced I too would soon be diagnosed having forgotten waaaayyyy too many times where I put my purse, my train of thought mid-sentence, the word on the tip of my tongue, where I put the camera and why I was standing at the top of the stairs! It’s fiction but a great story told from the point of view of Alice, who is rapidly losing her cognitive ability. The fact that the author has a PhD in Neuroscience makes most, if not all, of the fiction, entirely believable.
I don’t have Alzheimer’s of course – at least not yet. However, half a million Canadians do. That, to me, is an astonishing number. It’s the same number of hockey-playing Canadians registered with Hockey Canada (I only know this as I am preparing my famous hockey momoir manuscript!). Over 70,000 of those Canadian diagnosed with Alzheimer’s are under the age of 65. Women, like the fictional character Alice in this book, make up 72% of all Alzheimer’s cases.
It is true that this disease is an incredibly heartbreaking and a tremendous burden on a family. This is true of most diseases. Despite moments when I had to put the book aside out of profound sadness, I was left with a great sense of hope when I had finally finished it. It is said that when a person is robbed of one sense, other senses become more acute. The reader is certainly drawn into the development of Alice’s new found abilities even if it was the simple enjoyment of an ice cream cone. Though most of the friends and family around Alice were deeply troubled by her decline, some were able to tap into these newly developed gifts. She was no longer able to teach at Harvard, but she developed intuitiveness that when disconnected with reality, she could immerse herself totally in a simply theatrical performance or with folding infants clothing.
Ok, not an uplifting happy book, but it is one I recommend and one that will remind me to cherish each day as a gift and be thankful!
I mentioned in my last post that I recently read Ernest Hemingway’s “A Moveable Feast”. I am reasonably certain that I borrowed it from the library after being sucked in by someone’s – probably Oprahs’ – Summer Reading List as I am not one to randomly pick up novels by old coots that I was forced to read in high school English classes. It may have been because I was reading it while lazing in a hammock or right after lunch before the bliss of a mid day nap took over, but this book became one of the inspirational highlights of my summer vacation. I took away much motivation from this work, not least of which was the desire to be bohemian in Paris (that will remain a suppressed desire). One of the phrases I found humbling was how long Hemingway agonized over his writing. He would struggle all morning to make one paragraph read the way he wanted. He worked all morning to make one paragraph perfect! I can picture him clearly in some little café with a pencil in his mouth looking up to the sky searching and waiting the perfect word to present itself in his brain. Then a twinkle comes to his eye and he’s back to scribbling away furiously in his notebook, oblivious to the fact that Paris is all around him. Clearly he could not just hit the shift-F7 for the thesaurus like I do. Some days I give myself an hour to write a blog post, find a suitable image for it, and post it to my site before my kids find me “playing” on the computer once again. Now I know what stands between me and the Nobel Prize for Literature…. Time. (okay, okay, perhaps a little talent too).
Enough about me, back to Hem, A Moveable Feast is about his very early days as a writer living in Paris. There are chapters devoted to all the great cafés at which he wrote, ate and drank. He also wrote about all the other inspiring writers he met with regularly during his time in Paris. Gertrude Stein, Ezra Pound, F.Scott Fitzgerald and a few others that meant little to me. I was fantasizing his lifestyle but I can only imagine the constant anxiety he felt trying to support a wife (and soon thereafter, a child) on his meager earnings as a young writer. While living in Paris, he was writing articles for magazines at this point in his life, before his novel writing phase. In fact he was a correspondent for the Toronto Star at one point. Twelve dollars a page was a good wage then. I’ve been told $1.25/word is a great price for magazine writing nowadays. I was paid 30¢/word for my Lent project article which translates to about $103.50/page. Clearly “writer” does not fall in the Hot Jobs category with that rate of inflation over 90 years. He also wrote that two could live reasonably well and travel in Europe in those days for $2/day. I can’t fathom being able to live in Paris, of all places, for $2/day even if it was the 1920’s. When my husband and I backpacked through Europe 20 years ago, we budgeted $15/day each – occasionally tough to accomplish.
Patience, perseverance and practice lead to great things for Ernest Hemingway, perhaps for me too.