by Trent Gilliss, senior editor
Phillip Toledano’s "Days with My Father" is a moving, personal photo essay. To call Toledano’s work a “photo essay” is simply inadequate; it’s so much more than that. It’s a reflection on memory and relationships, on absence and loss, and on the frail, tender spaces between the love of a son and a mother and a father.
It lacks pretension. I’ve imbibed this son’s portrait of a 98-year-old man many times — the first at three in the morning, the last reading Toledano’s simply worded tales of remembrance and observation to my 'tiny' family during supper. We laughed. We cried. We sighed. We kissed our boys.
Yesterday, we had our first cuts-and-copy for a show addressing Alzheimer’s disease (podcast release, March 26th). While listening to Krista and psychologist Alan Dienstag’s conversation, the title of Vladimir Nabokov’s memoir kept swirling around in my head, “speak, memory.” I even found myself mouthing the words in some strange poetic manner.
Why? Dienstag’s insights into Alzheimer’s became universal quite quickly. His experiences speak to memory writ large. They speak to me in my life as I try to remember all that is good, and even my failures.
Nabokov spoke to this in his writing about his own life. And I’m learning that there is this indistinguishable line between the autobiographical facts and events of one’s life and the stories that surround them, that build on them, that transcend them. That includes the stories we tell to our loved ones. They become as true as any recordable event.
Sharing these stories is a way to communicate when all else is lost. Giving away these memories in some recorded form ensures that these memories endure — even as the person holding these memories loses contact with them.
And although Toledano’s father has short-term memory loss and not Alzheimer’s, a common silken thread of factual events mixed with stories fill the gaps where memory ceases to exist. And from this necessary mix a new story emerges. As his son records these memories, remembering begins again. And that gift of memory is given to us. I’m incredibly thankful for that act.
(photo: Phillip Toledano)
Biblical Stories Are So Catchy
Alda Balthrop-Lewis, Production Intern
What is it about Bible stories? For me they can be like catchy music; I’ll get one stuck in my head and then, while I wait for the bus or cut up vegetables or fold laundry, the story will run on repeat, offering its melodies, harmonies, dissonances. These ancient stories — so full of existential drama — can become obsessions.
I’ve been thinking constantly for the past year or so about the Book of Ruth. (Read the whole book yourself here.) Naomi, her husband and sons all dead, is in mourning. She’s planning to move home to Bethlehem. She tells her newly widowed daughters-in-law to go back to their families; they can remarry in their native towns. But Ruth, Naomi’s daughter-in-law, insists on moving with Naomi back to Judah. We don’t know exactly why.
Then, Ruth makes a speech as she announces her intention to stick by Naomi, and it’s one of the most famous speeches in the Bible: “Your people shall be my people, and your God shall be my God,” she says. Ruth chooses radical commitment. She becomes a foreigner, abandons the life she knew, and moves bravely into a new one. I think about the courage that would take.
I like retellings of Bible stories too. One of my favorites is told on an episode of This American Life, “Sink or Swim.” (You can listen to it in their online audio archives. It comes in at about 44:20). In this story Noah is old and crotchety. He calls his sons “dummies.” His “old-school” work ethic demands that he teach his children right from wrong using most severe methods. God, in this story, likes Noah’s style. He chooses him, therefore, to save the animals and repopulate the earth after the flood. It’s a wild story that casts God as a big grouch.
In light of these adventures into the Bible, I appreciatively stumbled on an interesting blog over at Slate.com. Blogging the Bible is David Plotz’s analysis of “what’s really in the good book.” He spent a year making his way through the Hebrew Bible and writing about how the stories struck him. If you have any favorite stories, check out his perspective. It may give you new ideas to run through. Over and over.
The First Breath after a Coma
Trent Gilliss, Online Editor
As we all know, Fridays require mini respites from the long working week — whether I’m coming off a professional high (cue Peabody Award post) or the depressing reality of six inches of snow in April (yes, we are in Minnesota). How about a video snack?
The last several months I’ve been turning to the delightfully short films of independent auteur Carolina LaBranche (aka cayoyin) on Vimeo. Her compositions are elemental, musically thoughtful, not overly maudlin, and display a lust for life that reminds me of why the day’s a gift and not a drag. This particular video has a loose narrative. I’ve woven my story in my head; what’s your take?