Archive for August 9th, 2018

Attention

My parents, Gene and Rita Dorsey, from happier times.

I’ve been a blogger manqué for much of the summer mostly because I’ve been immersed in trying to finish the three paintings I’ve already written about—and I am on pace to get them done on time. But I’ve also been busy with my two other occupations—writing to earn money and taking care of my elderly parents. It feels odd to call my parents elderly when I, myself, will in short order be able to qualify for that demographic. Maybe sixty is the new forty, but I have a feeling that the milestones to come will cast a darker shadow on a narrowing path. Time feels as if it’s getting shorter by the day, which means I need to work harder to stay ahead of the clock, but I’m finding that the painting life is giving me lessons about my larger life as a human being, not just a painter, despite myself. The need to pay attention has become the central imperative of my life, in almost all activities. Writing still comes naturally, and I can do what I need to do—with the exception of contributing to this blog over the summer, clearly—but caring for my parents has become both a bigger challenge and a deeper reward. I find, repeatedly, that I’m choosing to see myself as a son, rather than a painter, on a daily basis for varying lengths of time. And I’m discovering that, as laborious and discouraging as it can be, I’m adapting to it. I’m changing in a way similar to what happened to me when I became a father, when I found myself willing to do almost anything to care for my kids, without resentment or complaint—no matter how it robbed me of my autonomy and personal time.

My brother, Phil, and I share the responsibilities of enabling my parents to continue to live independently in their condo in Penfield, NY, a twenty-minute drive from my home. My father lives most of his life now at a few points on the tiny map of his primarily domestic world: bedroom, bathroom, dining room, deck and TV room. He’s able, just barely, to shift his body from bed to scooter and thence to the bathroom, the living area, or the deck outside. His infirmities derive from stenosis, peripheral neuropathy, a brief TIA from which he partially recovered, pulmonary issues, and increasing effects of dementia—he is the same person as he always was, but greatly diminished, hemmed in, caged by his body and brain, though his sense of humor remains intact as do his gratitude and kindness. However, more and more his despair over his condition sparks bouts of anger or snarky critiques of those around him. Inevitably, whenever we are together I gaze directly at the future, my future and everyone’s future, and it has the effect of stripping away most of the layers of denial that all of us wrap around ourselves like comforters on a cold night. Old age and death watch me, as I watch them. We’re all dying slowly or quickly, and when you see that, what matters most in life is giving as much care to one another as possible. Occasionally, the demands of my father’s predicament test my equanimity, but most of the time I just surrender and do what both of them need and what my brother, Phil, is unavailable to do.

Yesterday afternoon, I stepped away from my canvas long enough to take a call from my mother. I had to do it on my iPad because the iPhone was MORE