If you asked me in the first grade what I wanted to do when I grew up, I’d say I wanted to be a writer. If you had asked me a year earlier, I’d had said I wanted to be a gas station man because I liked the smell of gasoline. (That’s a flashback to the 80’s when people still pumped your gas for you, and I still love the smell of gasoline.)
My desire to be a writer stuck around longer than my lofty goal of pumping gas for a living. When I was in the first grade, I wrote a series of books about the Kit family. I think there were about six “books” in the series. At the start of the series, the Kits had maybe seven kids. They had at least one more in each of the books. It was a 1980’s fictional version of the Duggars from TLC.
In the first grade, I decided to form a business relationship with a classmate. She said she liked writing, too. I invited her over for a sleepover where we would co-author a book. As the night went on, I realized she wanted to play board games–and she wasn’t really interested in collaborating in the same way I was. I asked my mom to take her home immediately. My mom refused. I didn’t get a thing written that night.
I have spent much of the last 15 years writing theses, dissertations, and research articles. Although it sounds boring, I like it. As a faculty member, I have to publish–and I enjoy thinking of it as a game. You come up with a research question, do a study, write it up, and then set out to find a research journal that will publish your work. If they publish it, you win.
But coming into 2015, I was looking for something, but I didn’t know quite what. Enter my blog.
I have to be honest and let you know that I had a motive. I was going to start a blog, be discovered by a huge publishing giant, and be offered a cash advance to make my blog a book. And then I would finally have achieved the goal I set in the first grade to be a legit writer.
So I started this blog with the goal of making Welcome to Dementialand a book. Oh, and then maybe there’d be a documentary. Someone from NPR would interview me, and I was pretty sure somehow I’d end up on the Ellen Degeneres Show (and that would make my mom cry tears of joy–my mom LOVES Ellen).
But the more I wrote, and the more I thought about what I was writing, I realized that maybe all of these end goals were really not the point. The more I work with people who have dementia, the more I realize that it’s not about where you’re going. It’s about connecting with people in the moment and enjoying the present regardless of where the future might take you.
And this blog has allowed me to connect with people. I’ve connected with people who have dementia. I’ve connected with caregivers. I’ve heard from old neighbors that I haven’t talked to in years. Friends, acquaintances, and strangers. Maybe that’s what this is all about.
It’s hard for me to say this because I’ve always been a really goal-oriented person. The goal was to get a PhD. The goal was to get tenure. The goal was to run a marathon. I reached all those goals. But sometimes maybe it’s about the journey. In the past, I’ve been so focused on the goal that I totally missed the value of the journey. That’s what people with dementia have forced me to realize.
When you don’t remember your past, and you don’t know what the future will bring, you’ve got the present. There’s a lesson in there for all of us. We are not the same people we used to be, and none of us have a certain future. But we can enjoy the moment and connect with each other.
For the record, I wouldn’t turn down a book deal. But I don’t need a book deal to be a legit writer. After all, I already wrote all those books about the Kit family. And maybe my blog isn’t good enough to be a book, and it’s likely that NPR and Ellen will never have any interest in talking to me. I am absolutely okay with that. For now, I’m taking a lesson from my friends with dementia.
I was at a memory care community a while back, and I overheard two women with dementia having a conversation. One asked the other if she had any weekend plans.
The other responded, “It doesn’t matter. Right now I’m sitting in the dining room with you and it’s nice.”
So…to those of you who are with me on this journey, thanks for sitting in the dining room with me. It really is nice.