Travis Smith: my resume, bio and photos back to the main blog page


posted at 8:11 pm
on Sep. 12, 2019

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I’m in the back seat of a Lyft car in rush hour traffic, heading to San Francisco airport so that I can not fly home to Calgary tonight. You see, my flight has been cancelled.

Driving to the airport in rush hour not to catch a flight is a surreal experience that leaves you questioning everything.  Should you be frustrated? Should you be worried that you’re running late or happy that it doesn’t matter?

I’m currently trying to decide how to seem when I get to the counter… should I feign ignorance? Radiate with righteous anger? Stand with calm detachment? Plead for charity?

In truth, I’m very frustrated, but not with the flight being cancelled — that’s a whole pile of irritation — but what really is bothering me is my own response to the situation.

Another me, from another time, would have been thrilled at the chance to spend an extra day in SFO.  Another me would have found a way to double down on adventure square, to spend an bonus evening schmoozing and trifling and then spend an extra day exploring.

But instead, I let inertia carry me anyway all the way to the airport and my imagination confine itself to hoping for a comped overnight hotel stay and a business center desk so that I could plow through some emails. That’s not *me*. So who is it?

Part of this is because I wasn’t sure the flight was cancelled until just now. The situatiuon was a slow-dawning realization, not a clear bolt-from-heaven message. My first inkling was that the Air Canada app wouldn’t let me check in when it should have, but that’s not unique. And I had received an email that said I *could* check in… so shrug, and besides, when my flight was cancelled on the way here I got a text, and I never got a text this time, and I don’t *really* want to have it be canceled, so why not carry on, my wayward self?

So, without certainty, I called the Lyft, and only then, once I was in traffic and doing the Google, did the full facts of the situation emerge. And yet… I could turn the Lyft around, and I do not. I let inaction become decision become reality.

And I hate how this seems to describe not just me now but *me*, NOW; my current life situation writ large.

There are things in my life that have been cancelled, or may be cancelled, or are half cancelled, and yet I’m still heading towards some metaphorical airport, following some sorts of routine, perhaps hoping to talk to the manager when I get there, instead of treating the situation as a chance to stop, re-aim and fire myself.

Like what, you ask? (We don’t talk as much these days, so you’re understandably curious.)

Oh, you know.

My mom has Alzheimer’s.

I don’t think I’ve mentioned that here before.

It’s an awful thing.

It takes away little pieces of a person — your abilities, your relationships, your history, your energy, your abilities — like a puzzle slowly pried apart, disassembled, and the pieces dropped one-by-one off the table to be lost in the shag carpet.

It starts small, with simple tiny things, someone’s kid’s name, uncertainty about how to navigate a distant area of town, and it grows bigger and bigger until you don’t recall what sushi is.  That’s where we’re at now.

Well, forgetting sushi and also she’s recently moved into an assisted living home. Aka seniors’ housing, a retirement complex, an old folks home, a memory care facility. So many names, each a little different, all meaning one thing:

Her life has been cancelled.

And with this Alzheimer’s, just like with this flight, there was not a clear, early message about what was to come — just some hints and signs that we didn’t really want to believe, until finally we eliminated the alternatives and a doctor uttered that magic phrase: “get your affairs in order.”

Yeah. I was in the doctor’s office with my mom and my sister when the neurologist really did use that phrase. It’s as close to an incantation as I’ve ever heard, the “Avada Kedavra” of the medical profession. I thought it was a trope, a “What about my one phone call…” or “Follow that cab!” sort of thing, but no, that was real life, both a diagnosis and a prescription, collapsed into one clear (death) sentence like a neutron (death) star.

We stumbled out of there in a daze and I don’t know that it’s ever fully cleared.

That was more than a year ago. Or was it? Time flies, marches, ripens, escapes, when it becomes quantified ... not that you can quantify much about this disease.

What causes it? Dunno. What slows it? Debateable. How does it progress? Depends. Alzheimer’s is as predictable as a good novel — I can tell you with certainty that it always has a beginning, middle and an end, and that you can’t put it down.

Mom still reads a lot. Not this blog, unless I bring it to her. She’s not so good with the computer these days. But she’s still great at reading. She always has been.

She’s good with advice, she’s good with being supportive. She’s strong and kind and curious about the world and my life and where on the planet I am on any given day. She’s as good at spotting stupid inefficiencies as she ever was .. better, in some ways.

What she’s not so good at is details, remembering them or figuring them out. She’s bad at remembering her past, whether it’s 5 minutes or 50 years. She’s bad at.. sorry, I have to stop and take a breath here. ... ... ...

I’m back. It’s hard, you know, so hard, even to make myself think about her disease and what she’s lost and what she has still to lose. It’s too painful for anything more than a quick glance — like looking into a eclipse, but in photo-negative colors, where the darkness at the center of your vision freezes your brain and leaves you with holes in sight when you look away so that you can’t see where you’re going or what’s coming at you next.

It’s better to look at it indirectly, or through protective goggles, the darker the better; I recommend a merlot.

The day-to-day, though, that’s not painful. Having lunch, meeting up with her. A phone call, an outing. Sharing a laugh with Virginia or Emily about the latest ridiculousness or funny turn of phrase. We’ve talked of writing a book: “Adults with Dementia Say the Darndest Things!”

You solve the problems of daily life, you share errands and meals, you sort and tidy. You commiserate. That’s easy. That’s just heading to the airport, and there’s no rush, no reason to hurry.

There’s no plane there anyway.


“The sad truth is that most evil is done by people who never make up their minds to be good or evil.”

...who said it?

“Almost every American I know does trade large portions of his life for entertainment, hour by weeknight hour, binge by Saturday binge, Facebook check by Facebook check. I’m one of them. In the course of writing this I’ve watched all 13 episodes of House of Cards and who knows how many more West Wing episodes, and I’ve spent any number of blurred hours falling down internet rabbit holes. All instead of reading, or writing, or working, or spending real time with people I love.”

...who said it?

“Live a good life. If there are gods and they are just, then they will not care how devout you have been, but will welcome you based on the virtues you have lived by. If there are gods, but unjust, then you should not want to worship them. If there are no gods, then you will be gone, but will have lived a noble life that will live on in the memories of your loved ones.”

...who said it?

“I play with variables constantly.”

...who said it?

“Only the person who has learned Continual Love coming from a heart of Gratitude/Worship can effectively deal with the problem of loneliness.”

...who said it?




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