This book, 579 – The House Thief – is a tribute to my mother, and to all of us as we age. To the things we lose and the things we can lose if someone isn’t helping along the way. It is a one of a kind, original work.
For my mother, last year she was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s, placed in a facility, then later removed when family members tried to rob her blind, then cancer, then – believe it or not – UNdiagnosed with Alzheimer’s. We learned her former home had been full of black mold, which contributed mightily to her symptoms of memory loss and terrible asthma and eventually caused her to lose that home entirely. Mold stole her home, and it almost cost her her life.
But last year in the midst of all this, in a terrible depression, she said to me, “I am 84 and I don’t know what to do with the rest of my life.” This inspired this book, which had direct quotes from her on each page. Pages are wooden and handpainted with milk paint, then bound in a Secret Belgian Binding with black wool.
The book cover is adorned with a miniature glass doorknob, and the entire book lives inside the house. The roof of the house comes completely off. The house is also painted with milk paint and ink and the interior of the house is black, to signify the mold that took away her life.
My favorite part of this book are the quotes, which provide an interesting view of life at 84, and the clacking sound the pages of the book make when the book is open or pages turned. 579 was her street address.
I’ve just published my new photo essay, “Colorado: Journey to Her Alzheimer’s,” on Steller.co. It’s a personal story but judging by how very many people have someone they love with this disease, I hope this might be a comfort. We are most definitely not alone in this thing.
I Give In: Self-Portrait on Glass Table. Copyright 2014 Anjani Millet
I am writing here because I am exhausted and maybe at an important moment. This is the truth, this is me, and this is what I have to offer.
I am up to my eyeballs, two states away from home again, taking care of my mother with Alzheimer’s and my grandfather, 102, who is on his way out. I have been sleeping in my grandfather’s hospital room at night and caring for my mom during the day, switching shifts with my two siblings. Today we meet with the family to discuss whether to put him on a feeding tube or let him go, as he directed years ago. This is a terrible decision for any family to have to make.
Yesterday I took my mother to a neurosurgeon to discuss the mass in her brain, on top of Alzheimer’s. It appears to be non-threatening for now. At 9pm we rushed her to the ER in terrible pain and vomiting. Oh, my friends, I can never unsee my tiny, 100 lb., 4’8″, 83 year old mother on her little hands and knees vomiting in the kitchen.
Love offers a thousand ways for a heart to break.
There is no “aside from this.” I can’t begin to describe how squared into a corner I feel. It is taking a whole team to care for both of them. Our lives, all of them, are simply waiting in the distance.
Trying to find time or even a quiet space to work, or just putter…oh… Oh dear. I know this won’t last forever but exhaustion is right now.
Here is the merciful peace Into which I am dissolving in the question about how to find time or space to do “my own work:” I have no choice but to be the eyes and hands I am, and to be in the life in which I find myself. I have fought my own vision for decades now, but I am too tired to fight it anymore or even search for what it is. I give in. I can only be me. My own life is all I have to offer as an artist, and now, perhaps, I can and must let this be enough.
I went into business as a photographer and writer in the 80’s for over a decade, and then left for 12 years. Since I returned to my work as an artist 18 months ago, I find I still operate under the tired and old idea that the personal should be entirely separated from the artistic and business. That rule has constipated my creativity and soul, and stopped me from posting and sharing 90% of my work with you.
I give in. I can only be me. I can only offer me. I don’t have time to focus on the “right” work, the right subjects, the rules I believed were the right way to be and work as an photographer, a writer, a business person.
Those are the rules that are slowly killing me, my throat in a stranglehold by my own hands for too long. I am forced now to integrate my own actual life with my work. Yes. I give in. I am only this.
Today, like every other day, we wake up empty
and frightened. Don’t open the door to the study
and begin reading. Take down the dulcimer.
Let the beauty we love be what we do.
There are hundreds of ways to kneel and kiss the ground.
The personal is political, yes. And, the personal is the artistic. The personal is the business.
In great tiredness I release the old noose of my own making and say yes, I suppose I will have to be just me. I don’t have the time not to.
I write this from my hands and eyes, and extend this to you from my loving, supportive heart. I hope my own vulnerable moment might help you. If, like me, you placed your own best self aside in deference to the “correct” way to live, or the “best” way to do business, in whatever that may look in your mind, I extend my hand, and I invite you to let life wear down your walls a little bit. I hope for us both when we hear ourselves knocking at the door, we open it up and invite our own selves in for tea.