Tuesday, January 19, 2016

Sometimes Failing Is the Best We Can Do

I felt a little dread going this morning to make art with Tim [not his real name] who has Alzheimer's because after a few meetings I felt we weren't jelling. I wasn't offering what he needed, and unlike with some people, after a few misses I wasn't even sure what that might be.

Sure enough, he met me at the door saying he didn't want to make art today. Alzheimer's depresses him, he told me, and he feels like even more of a failure than he felt before he got this disease, like he's a fraud to think he could make art . . . or anything. 
He was sorry I'd come all this way, he said, but he was going back to bed.

OK, I said. But could we just sit and have a cup of coffee together, first? He agreed to sit with me, "for a few minutes".

Now, I don't like to jolly people out of feeling sad and bad; there's too much denial of sadness in US culture. 
You have a disease that eats your brain? Forgodsake, why wouldn't you feel awful?

I also don't like to instruct people to do anything. There are plenty of "shoulds" in play when your brain's healthy enough to pick and choose––with Alzheimer's, there are more, and you have less ability to discern among them.

So, I wanted to give Tim's sadness its due, and I wanted to say that of course he gets to choose how we spend our time together; 
but I also didn't want to accede to the dictates of the lying bastard inside his brain telling him, "You're not good enough––don't even bother to try", which, I'm pretty sure, has nothing to do with Alzheimer's.

(I'm pretty sure because so many people who try to create anything, including me, meet that same bastard inside our brains.)

I didn't know what to say that would cover all this ground, but, you know, sometimes you just have to wing it.
What I said was something like this:

"Look, Tim, you don't have to do anything. I'm not going to push you to do anything you don't want to do. 
But here's what I can offer you, here's what I suggest:
I can come over here every week, and together we can make bad art. I can keep you company as your Alzheimer's gets worse, and we can keep making bad art together. And after a while, you'll have a hundred pieces of bad art, and you'll be able to point to them and say, 'Hey! I failed at that!'"

And he laughed! and said, "OK, I don't mind a little history of my mistakes."

"Ohmygod," I said, shoving a piece of paper and a drawing pencil at him, "Write that down!"

He wrote it down on his piece of paper, and I wrote it down on mine, and then we made pictures of wooden game pieces he'd made from a tree branch years ago. 

This is mine (watercolored): 

When I left, we were both laughing, and I felt we had finally reached each other. 
I said, I'll see you next week, and we'll fail together again.
This isn't just what he needs, it's what I need.


Anonymous said...

If it's worth doing, it's worth doing badly.

ArtSparker said...

Wow, a stunning post.

The Crow said...

When my brain begins to fail - well, actually it already has begun, but not seriously yet - please let me come to your house so we can make justgodawful art together.

I love this approach and I think I'll use it on myself until someone else can help.

Bink said...


yvette said...

I wish you could come to my mother.....she's is constantly afraid....and i can't help because i'm the one she worries about


Fresca said...

Thanks, friends, for commenting!