Lonna Whiting

Crafty writer, strategic thinker, curious learner.

Archive for the category “The Night Job”

Going to the Funeral is the Easy Part

Going to the Funeral is the Easy Part.

From the writer of “My Demented Mom” blog, who writes about a fact that enrages me about victims of Alzheimer’s and related dementias: the mass abandonment of friends and family unwilling or too scared to see it through. Yes, perhaps the funeral is the easy part. Face it: dementia does and will happen to people you love, maybe even yourself. Fear will not prevent it from happening. Bravery will help you create a fulfilling experience despite the slow deterioration of one’s memory, faculties and personhood.

 

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‘D’ Word x 100

  1. You will notice something just isn’t quite right years before a diagnosis.
  2. You will dismiss an inability to maintain finances as simply being bad with numbers.
  3. Your mother will lose sight of a daycare child while in her care, only to later find him down the street at a neighbor boy’s house once the authorities have been notified.
  4. You will make up excuses to Child Protective Services when they call and ask if you think your mother is a danger to the children in her care.
  5. You will take your mom out for dinners and have to order for her.
  6. It’s just depression.
  7. It’s because Dad left.
  8. It started when Grandpa died.
  9. Her thyroid could be off.
  10. There might be a vitamin deficiency.
  11. You will give her premium vitamin supplements.
  12. You will watch another year go by.
  13. You will take your mother out for a beer and she can’t follow a conversation.
  14. You will think she’s socially awkward.
  15. You will be embarrassed shopping with her when she thinks she recognizes a stranger as someone she knows from her past.
  16. You will have a difficult conversation with your sister-in-law that begins with the words: “We need to get your mom checked out.”
  17. You will set up an appointment with a neurologist.
  18. You will throw a digital clock in your mother’s face after it takes you two hours to show her how to set the alarm.
  19. You will notice your mother no longer wears her hair curled.
  20. You will wonder why your mother’s house isn’t as tidy as it used to be.
  21. You will watch her eyes fading to gray.
  22. You will know something isn’t right.
  23. But it can’t be.
  24. She’s overmedicated.
  25. Too much cholesterol medication.
  26. Sleep apnea.
  27. You will take her for a neurological exam that she fails miserably.
  28. Another year.
  29. You will admit your mom to a psych ward after she panics when she can’t make the babies their bottles.
  30. You will pray with every molecule of your being that it’s not that.
  31. You will see her on visitation day and watch the looks of pity from the suicidals.
  32. You will consult with the resident psychologist who says it can’t be that because she’s too young.
  33. Further observations are needed.
  34. More tests should be ordered.
  35. Time will tell.
  36. You will force your mother to retire and give up driving.
  37. You will tell her she can finally do everything she’s always wanted to do.
  38. You will lie. Over and over again.
  39. You will try to explain over the phone for 20 minutes how to microwave a burrito.
  40. You will visit and watch a children’s cartoon because your mother says that’s all she can find on TV.
  41. You will help your mother pack away 37 years of her life as a daycare provider.
  42. You will give your mom books to read because reading is good for her.
  43. You will realize she can’t get through a full page without forgetting what she just read.
  44. You will call Mayo Clinic.
  45. You will notice your mother is no longer wearing makeup.
  46. You will dust off her car parked in her garage.
  47. You will take her to a restaurant and have to order for her and explain how to cut her food.
  48. You will get 20 phone calls in one hour asking about a cable television bill.
  49. You will lose your cool.
  50. Over and over.
  51. After every test is performed.
  52. After your mother gets lost walking down a hallway to the bathroom on the 8th Floor of Mayo Clinic.
  53. After they say her brain has atrophied so much that they can’t tell what it is.
  54. After the neurologist says it’s statistically most likely to be Alzheimer’s.
  55. After the nurse educator calms your fears.
  56. It’s sporadic.
  57. It won’t happen to you or your brother.
  58. Have you gotten Power of Attorney.
  59. You need to talk about assisted living.
  60. After the ride home.
  61. After your mother says she doesn’t feel safe alone.
  62. After you try and try and try to hold off the inevitable.
  63. After the pleas to social workers for help.
  64. After the Medicaid denials.
  65. After the family tells you you’re not doing enough.
  66. After you started drinking a bottle of wine a night.
  67. After you throw dishes and punch the wall.
  68. After you cry and cry and cry.
  69. After your mother says Meals on Wheels is gross.
  70. After your boyfriend says one more breakdown and it’s over.
  71. After you say you’re a fierce advocate for Alzheimer’s research even though you feel like a weak coward.
  72. After you decide to sell your mother’s house.
  73. After the POA papers are signed.
  74. After your mother moves in with you.
  75. After the first time you have to help her in the shower and realize she’s not wiping her anus.
  76. After you call her a child.
  77. After you throw a baby doll at her and say she’s worthless.
  78. After you shame her.
  79. Over and over.
  80. And you cry and you cry.
  81. And rage and rage.
  82. After you watch your mother put a sock over her boot.
  83. After you help her curl her hair and put makeup on.
  84. After you read her horoscope to her and know whatever it says can’t be true.
  85. After you tell her she’s getting an “apartment.”
  86. After you sell the house and use all the money for assisted living.
  87. After you put your mom in a home with 90 year olds.
  88. After you decorate her room but you know it doesn’t matter to her what it looks like; it matters to you.
  89. After the first holidays she doesn’t know it was the holidays.
  90. After the nights and days worried every time you forget someone’s name.
  91. After you realize your mother is thriving in her new “apartment.”
  92. After it settles down you realize.
  93. More changes are coming.
  94. More questions and forgetting is inevitable.
  95. More grief and pain and rage.
  96. But before things change more.
  97. Before it gets worse you spend as much time with your mother as you can.
  98. Before she no longer recognizes you.
  99. Before the long, long goodbye is finally just goodbye.
  100. Right now this one word has changed your life forever: dementia.

Do you know how to KISS?

For those of you who know me personally or if you follow me at deskchef, you know that I like cooking vegetarian and vegan food. One of my biggest inspirations happens to be the gals at The Post-Punk Kitchen. In their print cookbook, “Veganomicon,” they write about the KISS method of cooking. If you haven’t heard of it, KISS stands for “Keep it Simple, Stupid,” which is a technique they largely embrace in many of their recipes.

The KISS method is not a new one, however, nor is it exclusive to cooking technique. A quick Google search for KISS brings back several results, including a historical account that claims it originated as a concept in the 1960s for Navy officers who felt keeping flight plans simple would ultimately produce the best results. Much like a simple yet robust marinara requires less than five ingredients, apparently smart Naval strategy is also simple yet well-planned. I think that’s pretty smart.

As a copywriter for a large health care entity, I often receive elaborate, overly complicated brand strategies that outline key messages in a way that is about as useful as a map without cardinal directions. It’s a case of clients and stakeholders wanting to do too much with very little. Have you ever seen a movie preview that’s so detailed it left you feeling like you already saw the movie? Or what about “that girl” who wears so much makeup she probably has to chisel her foundation off with a mallet and ice pick?

These are unfortunate cases that likely would benefit from simplification. As a cardinal rule when it comes to branding and messaging, KISS is also an invaluable method. Good, effective ad copywriting, whether it’s print, radio, television or digital, is always simple, with even the most unnavigable strategy stripped down to the fundamentals. For new and veteran writers, knowing how to KISS is part of the challenge – and fun – of writing for advertising. But how does it work, and what can you do to get better at simplifying complex messaging?

1. Cook up different ways to present complicated strategy with simple messaging. Write down the recipe. Cook it. Chew on the meat. Spit out the fat. You’ll be left with a leaner message that’s simple, clean and effective.

2. Study billboards. A major rule to billboard writing, of course, is that you  have less than three seconds to get your message across to passing vehicles. I suggest studying billboards because of this. They’re the leanest messaging medium when they are executed smartly. Before you stick your knife into it, remember that your call to action will likely take up half your allotted messaging space. It’s like the starch portion of your meal: filling yet nutritionally important.

3. Read poetry. I may have a particular affinity for this creative medium since I have a master’s in poetry, but working in this genre taught me to choose the best, most refined words for expression and effect. In particular, I’d suggest Emily Dickinson for her crafty simplicity. Metaphor at its chewiest.

4. Ask for the recipe. Brand managers know the clients likely more than you will as the writer on a campaign, especially if you’re not part of important strategic planning. Of course it’s always valuable to have the ad writer at certain planning meetings with clients, it’s not always possible and is often an unfortunate oversight. If you ask for the key message “recipe,” whether it’s notes from a meeting or a quick huddle with the brand strategist, knowing the ingredients that became part of the overall recipe will provide you with great context as you begin to cook down the messaging.

5. Let it simmer. But don’t overcook. There’s a reason the Italians cook their pasta al dente. Al dente pasta is always firmer, tastier and chewier than overcooked noodles. Knowing when your message is ready for consumption comes with practice. Simply by working in different media will teach you when your writing has reached the right consistency.

Of course, a lot of the rules seem a little obvious once you chew on them for a while. But isn’t that the goal of learning how to KISS? Just like kissing in real life: the first one is always awkward and you’re not sure you’re doing it right. But after a little practice, it begins to feel natural and oh so tasty!

Sleepiphanies and Writemares

Last night around two in the morning, I woke up with a gazillion writing ideas funneling through my semi-conscious mind. Creative ideas. The kind that I hadn’t had in a long time. I thought up several blog post topics, fodder for a short story and even a few lines for a new mediocre poem.

Unfortunately, I didn’t write these amazing ideas down, a fatal detail that would leave my well-meaning, practical-minded writing mentors very disappointed.

I didn’t write my ideas down, everyone. Do you know what that means? I fell back asleep, and when I woke up, my Man Booker Prize-winning novel was  like a distant dream. Mere dust in the attic of my mind.

Because a large part of my job requires me to be creative all the time, I don’t always have enough energy left over at the end of the day to work on other projects that are near and dear to my heart. So when – what I call sleepiphanies – hit me in the dead of the night, I intend to jot my ideas down and comb through them when I’m more awake in the morning.

Emphasis on intend to jot down.

There’s something about sleepiphanies that don’t seem to incite enough wakefulness in me to seek out pen and paper. I leave a notepad and a pen on the bedside table for those times when I am awake enough to scribble down my thoughts. Probably a good third of my MFA thesis was written this way, half awake in the darkness of my bedroom. But the real world happened, and along with it the job that slowly started eating up the kind of creative time I carved out for myself during graduate school.

My once-coveted sleepiphanies are beginning to feel more like writemares because I’m just not listening to them. And I’ve had it. So I’ve developed a series of steps that will hopefully encourage me (and you) to not just roll over and go back to sleep, but to listen to those sleepiphanies and write them down in a fully awake state. I’m calling it: The Lonna Whiting Method to Conquering Writemares and Embracing the (Un)Common Sleepiphany.

Here we go.

The Lonna Whiting Method to Conquering Writemares and Embracing the (Un)Common Sleepiphany

NOTE: All exercises must be performed at the moment you are awake enough to think to yourself: “Oooh, that’s a good idea, I should write that down.”

1.  Sit upright in bed and bite tongue. Grab sheet of paper – first thought, best thought. Find Kleenex. Dab bleeding tongue.

2. Roll over onto sleeping partner. Awaken and anger him/her. Use guilt as fuel for wakefulness. Grab pillow to defend self from angry elbows. Locate paper and pen. Write.

3. Roll off bed. Hit floor. Use pain as creative motivation.

And …

4. Sleep one less hour a night. Use time to write more. Understand there’s only so much time. Conquer time to make time. To think, create and write.

Which technique will you try the next time a sleepiphany hits you?

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