Monday, March 28, 2011

Dana Walrath on crossings of the mind

When I began writing Naming Maya many years ago, Kamala Mami, the elderly cook and housekeeper whom Maya befriends,  didn't have dementia. I didn't know what was happening to her as I wrote her onto my pages although I knew it was something that shook her to her core. Periodically, as I wrote those tentative early scenes my long-suffering editor would ask, What's wrong with her? Do you know?

Well, I found out. As she emerged it became clearer and clearer to me that she was suffering from the kind of dementia that turmeric is supposed to prevent. At the same time, my own grandmother was going through that same slippage of memory, remembering with sharp clarity only events and people prior to about 1959. Until she died, she always recognized me, her oldest grandchild, even though sometimes months would go by between my visits. She would recount the same incidents from my childhood over and over until the last time I saw her they were only a mumble, from which vestiges of my childhood babble would occasionally make themselves heard. Reality became fractured in an odd way. Many different times seemed to exist at once, while everyday remembering became a thing that others had to do for her. 

And now anthropologist, writer, artist, and VCFA alumna Dana Walrath is keeping this remarkable record of her mother Alice's here and now. Alzheimer's Through the Looking Glass is tribute and documentary, a work of care filtered through a daughter's keen and aching love. Dana began it for the Brooklyn Art Library’s Sketchbook Project 2011. You can see the sketchbook on their site: The real thing, touchable in Moleskine, was in Austin, Texas at SXSW earlier in the month.    

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