Monday, April 28, 2014

Old Stories

I'm visiting my grandmother in St. Louis. She's moved into a long term care facility, but one that is more like a hotel - she gets meals downstairs in the dining room, but also has a full kitchen if she'd like to cook instead of dine; there are many activities that she can do that are organized; there's a fitness center and specialists. It's quite nice.  She moved to have more social interaction, as she is 95 and found that her social circle was shrinking, and due to a recent fall she's not going outside as much.  She uses a walker (is it still called a walker if it's on wheels?), and that limits her somewhat, but she still has all her faculties. 

We spoke about what we usually do: philosophies, how to live life, how we gain meaning from life, and how the past shapes us and what we can do to unlearn it.

During lunch yesterday we were interrupted by Mrs. O'Brien, who was passing slowly by.  She was a nun she told us, and ended up married. She's from Wisconsin. Apparently her son helped build the place, and when her husband died, he packed her suitcases, and all her things and put her up in St. Louis. She said she never imagined she'd not live in the house he built, or that it would be the last time she saw it; she didn't even know what he was doing when he packed all her clothes in front of her.  She said she only had a picture of the house to remind her, her only memento of it.  

When she left, my grandmother said it was kind of me to listen to all of her story. I thought it was interesting, but apparently she tells it somewhat often.  My grandmother said there is a fair amount of dementia, so it has been an adjustment hearing people tell the same stories over and over.  She said we all have a narrative, and a lot of the people just tell their story to anyone.  They will tell it, for instance, to someone they've never met having lunch with someone else. They have a need to say who they are, and tell you what their life was.

Last week in LA, I stage managed an event that was hosted by two younger people who are youtube stars. Apparently, they have a large online presence.  Instead of going to the reception they were invited to before the event, they stayed in the dressing room and had a conversation with each other and one other friend while someone filmed them. In fact, they were being filmed most of the time. 

It's somewhat the same action. Interestingly, they came across as a little self-obsessed, where Mrs. O'Brien did not. She seemed to be telling her story to make sense of it, though, and somewhat to get me on her side - knowing that it would sound flabbergasting to me, too.  I didn't find it off-putting, and unlike the youngsters, it didn't feel performed. 

Once again, I don't know what the point of this, but it's fascinating how we reveal ourselves, especially now when there are many available avenues to do it.  The event was about creating community through online interaction, though in the case of the two hosts it felt it was at the price of real connection in real time.  Real connection and community in real time, though, as my grandmother explained, can be just as tricky to find.


Elizabeth said...

I love that you have this fine relationship with your grandmother -- how dear you must be to one another. I read regularly a blog of a woman who writes primarily of her 97 year old mother Alice. They live in Portland -- you might like to take a look. Andrea is a remarkable writer and storyteller -- has done much research of her interesting mother's life.

Criticlasm said...

Thank you - I'll check it out.

Criticlasm said...

Thank you - I'll check it out.

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