ALL THE TIME IN THE WORLD
A serial memoir by Jean Fogelberg
In the last years of my mother’ life, dementia gradually incapacitated her, as did the macular degeneration that shrouded her world, and the stroke that skewed her sense of balance. Her brain told her she was leaning forward, so she leaned back. While she could still walk, I would lead her to the bathroom, holding her bent arms just above the elbows. Her frail, bird-like hands lightly gripped my forearms, as cool as if they’d just taken a bowl of cucumber salad from the refrigerator. Even as I pulled her onward, she pulled back, afraid of falling forward on a floor that was always tilting. In her 70s, she had said, “It’s all downhill from here,” and she had been right.
Sitting on the couch, or in her wheelchair, she would suddenly demand, “Where are we?!” as if she’d been asking aloud for an hour. Dad would answer, “You’re home, in Bowling Green, Kentucky.” This made no sense to her. Hawaii; California; New Mexico; these were the places where she had spent her childhood, raised her own children, then planned to retire. Bowling Green had never been a part of that plan. But she’d left Santa Fe, the city she loved, when Dad said the grass was greener in Fayetteville, Arkansas. She made friends and put down some artistic roots in Fayetteville, but the macular degeneration, as well as some dubious treatments, meant she was legally blind by the time they moved to Bowling Green in 2004.
Unable to create maps in her head, or put clear faces to voices, she had no visual memories to connect to places and names. With no descriptions to add to her story, it all became a jumble of words.
“Where are we?” she asked, numerous times a day. After a while, bored with the answer that never stuck, Dad started answering, “Where would you like to be?” She would look confused for a moment and then, sometimes, her face would relax into a memory. The oldest memories had made the deepest impressions, so that’s where she would go.
When she couldn’t get there on her own; when the dementia fog was too thick, I’d help. “I’d like to be in Santa Fe,” I’d say. “At the art show in the park next to St. Francis cathedral. You hung your acrylic paintings under the tent, and put your watercolors in the bin out front, remember?” She would either answer, “Oh, yeah…” or “I did?” and together we would sift through the rubble for another precious tile. Just as the mosaic started making sense, the floor would tilt again and all the pieces of the story would slide away.
She died in her sleep, and eleven months later Dad followed her. Without my parents, I felt like I’d been cut loose to drift in space. Without Dan, no place felt like home.
Where am I?!
Where would you like to be?
Ever since Dan and I first put the ranch on the market in 2003, the goal had been to get back to Santa Fe. The pull was still strong, but I wasn’t sure if I was longing for the place itself, or the life I’d known there.
When the ranch finally sold, in 2015, I only knew that I didn’t want to go near a real estate contract for a while. In an effort to tailor the Maine house to fit my new life, I made some changes.
Tired of making my way across the dangerous, icy walkway, only to find my car doors frozen shut, I added a garage to the end of the house. The extra space above it made a great photo studio for my portrait work.
The following year, I was still working out of the upstairs bedroom and needed a real office for my computer desk and big printers, as well as a library for the boxes of books in the basement. Because the mosquitos and black flies loved me in the summer, and the winters were so cold, I rarely used the long back porch. So, leaving the center of the porch open, I converted one end into an office and library, and the other into a sunroom I could enjoy year-round.
I remodeled the guest bath, to add storage for the girlfriends who came and stayed for weeks, not days. It all felt good, and I had the space I needed, to create. At Halloween, I cleared the garage out, hung a disco ball, and hosted a big, noisy costume party
On January 2nd, I flew from Boston to India to teach a three-week workshop on digital photography and Photoshop. Evelyn and I had three days in Palolem Beach, in Goa, to prepare for the group that was due to arrive. It was good to be out in the world again, traveling with my intrepid friend.
We swam in the warm sea, emerging to eat lunch at one of the many cafes and restaurants. Later, I would walk down the long beach with my camera, looking for Kingfishers in the salt marsh. Wrapping the camera in my sarong and leaving it on the sand with my sandals, I’d go for one more swim. In the orange glow of the setting sun, fishing boats motored by, to be pulled up on their wood pilings in the sand. Seeing the huge orange orb hovering over the sea always reminded of Amalfi, and I thought how happy Dan would be, to see me traveling the world with Evelyn.
By the time the group arrived, I was relaxed and itching to share what I knew. Evelyn moved our group around Goa, and then all through Rajasthan, showing us the many faces of India. From our air conditioned bus, we saw beauty and poverty holding hands on the hot, dusty streets.
When you live on an island in Maine, the world can get very small. The smaller your world is, the bigger your issues seem. Wandering through India, surrounded by a sea of people, the world felt huge. Like a miniature poodle in a pack of wild wolves, my problems cowered, frivolous and ineffectual.
Standing within the intricately-carved stone pillars of ancient Hindu temples, I was immersed in the land of Siddhartha; he who has achieved what was searched for. Dan had escaped his ruined body with an imaginary arrow; my father with a very real bullet. I hoped they both found what they’d been searching for.
When I got back home, the island felt smaller than ever.
In March of 2019, I called a Maine real estate agent, to talk about putting the house on the market. We pulled together the necessary paperwork, survey, and records.
In May, I went to Santa Fe for a week, renting a casita on Canyon Road so I could walk everywhere. After fifteen years of longing to return, I wanted to see how it felt to be there. My life had changed; I had changed. And, I would have to sell Maine to buy in Santa Fe, so I needed to be sure. There were no lightning bolts of joy, nor were there pangs of sadness; it just felt like I’d never left. Even the places I’d known before Dan didn’t feel like home now.
In June, I met with the real estate agent in Maine and we put the house on the market.
On July 16th, Evelyn arrived. Managing Heaven and Earth Workshops, and her Bali retreat center, from her laptop, she made the blue guest room her base of operations for six weeks. I ran my own little empire from my new office downstairs, which I’d built to look like a casita, complete with kiva fireplace.
On September 3rd we flew from Boston, to Reykjavik, to Glasgow, Scotland. From there, we rented a car and drove west toward Loch Lomond, and the Isle of Mull. Making our way north on narrow winding roads surrounded by wild, rugged hills, we passed the Old Man of Storr and stopped in tiny wool shops and galleries along the way. If I wasn’t eating or sleeping, I had my camera in my hand.
Heading east, to Aberdeen, Evelyn showed me the places where she’d spent her childhood. Two days later, we drove south to Edinburgh, completing our loop. We left the car there, and boarded a train that would take us through the lands Dan’s ancestor's had roamed, and into England.
We departed the train in Shrewsbury, in Shropshire. I met the old art school friends Evelyn had known for most of her life, and took to them immediately. Half English and Irish myself, I loved everything about England: the trains, the green rolling hills dotted with sheep, the Brit’s dry humor, dark ancient pubs, sausage rolls, rainy days and afternoon tea. After singing Beatle’s songs at a party one night, I had an offer to join a band. If I hadn’t had two cats and a house waiting in Maine, I probably would have stayed. Instead, on the 28th of September, I flew to Maine, and Evelyn to Bali.
In January, I agreed to offer tech support at the library for people having problems with their cell phones or computers. Four volunteers rotated every other Tuesday, and I enjoyed it so much, I’d stay until closing. It was good to get out of the house, and it gave me a chance to see my fellow islanders.
On February 10th, Evelyn and I flew to Maui, then met up with her old friend, Louise, in Kauai for a week. COVID was in the news, but it felt far away. After the UK, Hawaii was a huge change, with its lush jungles, aqua seas and palm trees.
In March, cruise ship passengers fell ill with COVID-19 and on March 11th, the WHO declared COVID-19 a pandemic. That put an end to the book group, writers group, library tech support, and travel.
I’d had a lot of interest in the house, with one couple getting their finances together to make an offer, but I took it off the market. The thought of moving while a pandemic was spreading throughout the country seemed crazy.
In March of 2015, a beloved member of the “Dan Fam,” Gene Tourangeau, was killed in a car accident. He had been a joyful presence at the Dan celebrations and on Facebook, and was deeply mourned by many.
Both of my parents were dead, as was Deb Jelinek of the Living Legacy site, who had died unexpectedly in 2019. Four people who would have loved reading my book were gone, and the pandemic could take more.
Musicians were posting home videos of themselves, performing, to provide some comfort and levity, and authors were reading their books online, for housebound children. I was too rusty to perform, but I could pull the Dan chapters from my book and post them as a serial memoir. I ran the idea by my writer’s group:
On Apr 6, 2020, at 3:37 PM, Jean Fogelberg wrote:
Hello fellow writers, I hope the isolation has been productive for you, my basement hasn't looked this good since the house was built. I've been writing every day - I have 10 new chapters written (40 pages, 14,345 words.)
There are so many in-home music videos and book readings for kids online right now! To do my part and provide some distraction for the fans, I'm thinking of posting a chapter a week from my book on my website, starting with the prologue. Please look it over and give me your thoughts (about the story and the posting.)
A few members thought it sounded like a great idea; a few were concerned that it might hurt my chances of having it published, down the road. I would have to think about why I was doing this, and what was important to me.
Someone had heard about a new software program called Zoom, made especially for meetings. We all had terrible internet and had endured frozen faces on Skype calls with friends, but everyone wanted to try it.
On Tue, Apr 7, 2020 at 11:40 AM Jean Fogelberg wrote:
I'm always up for trying new software, so Zoom is fine with me. I'll start downloading now. Cool!
Thinking about all your comments about the chapter postings. The thing pushing me is that it's taking so long to write the book, and people in my life are dying left and right. I just figure, since I'm not writing this for money or acclaim, why not share it with the people who would love to read it, while they're still here?
The day before a meeting, any writer with something to share would email their latest chapter to other members, who printed them out. During the meeting, the chapter was read aloud, while the rest of us followed along and made notes on our printed copies, for discussion after the reading.
I started posting the chapters, and everyone on my Facebook page loved them. On Dan’s facebook page, the responses were mixed, with a few people questioning my motives, saying it was all “me me me.” I knew there would be a few naysayers; I’d gotten used to them during the fan forum years. But those were mostly comments about my "split ends and K-mart clothes."
One man called me a “vengeful monster,” and a “creepy bitch,” and accused me of murdering Dan. A quick look at his Facebook page showed that he hated everyone, including Julia Roberts and the Foo Fighters, so I was in good company. As people who had never met Dan, or me, weighed in on our relationship, I kept asking myself, “What have we come to?” I longed for the split ends days.
Two months into the serial memoir, I posted an Introduction, to help people to understand that these chapters were pulled from a memoir (me, me, me!) and that it was on Dan’s website because these stories were about him. Most people got it, and I even received a couple of apologies.
The angry comments got buried in a deluge of love comments, and website traffic would go from 3,000 visitors a month to 42,000, worldwide.
I had removed the first 200 pages of my memoir, which covered my early life, leading up to my move to Santa Fe. What remained was 190 pages, starting with meeting Dan in Santa Fe, then on to the chapter about his proposal in Amalfi.
Since joining the writer’s group, I had improved as a writer, and I really enjoyed polishing the stories of those early days with Dan. I posted the Amalfi chapter on Halloween day of 2020, and the rest would have to be written from scratch. This is where the real work began.
My life became consumed with the writing, and friends knew not to call between 9am and 4pm. Each morning, I would feed the cats, fill the bird feeders, then put the kettle on. Taking my tea and toast to my office, I would write. Sofia and Percy reminded me when it was to feed them, and I’d stop and eat, as well.
On Sundays and Mondays, I wrote a general timeline, checking old emails, calendar notes, photos, and memorabilia for dates. On Tuesdays I completed the timeline and fleshed it out. On Wednesday and Thursday I wrote freely, remembering details, words, and feelings. On Friday morning, I’d open the draft to correct, polish, and clarify, then I’d dig through photo albums and my hard drives for images to add. Because my internet got even worse as the day wore on, I often found myself uploading images or videos at 11pm, coaxing, “Come on, come on!” The words looked different online, and I almost always changed a few sentences just seconds before posting.
At midnight, I’d send the newsletter out, post a link on Facebook, and stay up long enough to make sure there were no glitches. If all was well, I’d head for bed at 2am. On Sunday, I’d start all over again.
In the second week of February, I started writing “The Ledge,” the chapter about the cancer diagnosis. Going through the timeline materials, I started feeling nauseous. I wept, off and on, through Sunday and Monday, and on Tuesday I thought I was coming down with the flu. I felt better by Thursday, and during my Friday morning edits, I cried only once.
On Saturday I was so tired I just sat on the couch all day, sleeping through movies. On Sunday I had enough energy to vacuum and mop, and reply to a few Facebook comments, then I took a two-hour nap before dinner and bed.
I began taking Saturday and Sunday off.
The whole writing experience was different now. My ability to relive moments was putting me directly in touch with the grief I had pushed under the bed when all hell broke loose at the ranch, right after Dan died. It was hard, and painful, and, like everything else, it happened just as it was supposed to.
I started writing in my cheery sunroom, with Sofia and Percy sleeping on the couch beside me. On Monday and Tuesday I developed the timeline and dealt with the nausea and tears. On Wednesday and Thursday, I turned those dates and events into a story. On Friday I got it all ready to upload.
Throughout the happy chapters, my confidence as a writer had grown. Each week, people wrote to me, thanking me for the stories and telling me I had a gift for words. After almost a year, I was starting to believe them, and no one was more surprised or grateful than I was. As I sat down in the sunroom on Wednesday mornings, preparing to write, I felt like I had a newly discovered superpower. That confidence, and the sheer joy of arranging words on a page, carried me through the hardest chapters of all.
Writing this serial memoir was like entering a house that had been closed up for a very long time. Each week, I cautiously opened the next door in the hallway and rummaged under beds, through boxes, and drawers. Some memories had sharp edges, and they cut me; others were soft, and smelled nice, so I wrapped them around me for a while. When everything was laid out, I pulled back the curtains to let the sun in.
After dusting and washing each item, I put them back where they belonged; resting on mantels and shelves, or hanging on walls. At midnight on Friday, I opened the door and sent out invitations by posting links on Facebook and Dan’s website. All day Saturday, and into Sunday, people came in and saw the beauty of what had been. They laughed, and cried, and we hugged each other, our tears falling together like holy water, and I felt unburdened, forgiven, and blessed.
To all of you who laughed and cried with me, I thank you for your cleansing tears.
I’m not the girl I was when Dan found me.
When I raise my cell phone over me in bed, I see the hands and arms of my mother and grandmother. But they are hands and arms that have lifted, and held, the people I love. They have patched and painted walls, stretched canvas, played guitars, and lugged cameras halfway around the world.
It took me a year and a half to wean myself off Ambien after Dan died, but now the girl who waited in vain for sleep all her life, dozes off during movies and takes long, decadent afternoon naps with her cats.
Fourteen years of living on my own has made me even more set in my ways. Like my father, I’m uncomfortable and awkward in groups but, like my mother, I’m a born people-person who loves to dance. I can only hope to be forgiven when I step on a few toes, and I will work at forgiving those who have stepped on mine, for they have made me tougher and more nimble.
I miss Dan every day, but I am rarely lonely; I have life-long friends, and lives and friends yet to be discovered. My home life is quiet, but I’m never bored; I have paint, cameras, computers, music, films, and, always, books.
I have loved books my whole life. Mom’s favorite sayings were: “Books are our best friends,” and, “Anything you want to learn, you can learn from a book.” She would take me and my sisters to the town library every other week, and when I got my own library card, it was like getting a free pass to anywhere in the world. As I left the library with an armload of books, I couldn’t wait to get home and decide which one to crack open first. From my bedroom in Lompoc, I fell in love with a submarine captain 20,000 leagues beneath the sea, ran from dinosaurs on a lost world in the Amazon basin, traveled with my Auntie Mame, and traversed a wrinkle in time to find my lost father. I considered thousands of clues and solved hundreds of crimes.
In my twenties, when I started reading Agatha Christie’s “Miss Marple” series, I fantasized about one day retiring to an English village and becoming the resident spinster sleuth. Now I can fantasize about becoming the resident spinster writer, which is even better.
Losing Dan to cancer has made me even more grateful for every extra day I’m given. I don’t know how long I’ll stay in Maine, but as long as I’m here I’ll watch sailboats pass by on the Reach and fox pups playing in the yard, and wish Dan was here to share it with me.
And that’s how it goes, most days: wondering what he would have thought, or said, but with gratitude now instead of grief. Like a copper weather vane by the sea, all that was hard and glaring has become soft and green, and every direction points toward home.
One day, I was reading an article about Jim Harrison, one of Dan’s favorite authors, and saw that he was born in Grayling, Michigan. Even after so many years, my instinct was to call out to Dan: “Hey, did you know…?”
I long for him to tell me the story of their meeting in a Los Angeles bar again. Interesting enough at the time, it was but a fleeting moment in our life together, and now its facets have faded. I want to pull it from the murky goo of my brain and wash it clean, but it’s buried deep, along with other stories that I allowed to slip away because I thought we had all the time in the world to re-tell them.
RIP Jim Harrison; RIP Daniel Grayling Fogelberg. I hope you find each other again in some cosmic bar, and I would give anything to hear that story.
Give the video time to load.
I found this video while making the Serenade 1999 video.
Dan filmed it during his last solo season aboard Minstrel, in 2006.
Posted July 10th, 2021 Copyright ©Jean Fogelberg 2021