Saturday evening, Jan. 26th
After dinner, I descended the fifteen steps from the kitchen to sit down at my PC and start typing up my disorderly thoughts, hoping to dispel my trepidation. Mom had just discussed with me her displeasure with our current housekeeper, Livia, and revealed plans to replace her with someone new, yet again. I’d wanted to escape before the carnage began.
Unfortunately, there was no door I could actually close between the kitchen and my computer in order to tune out interactions between the two of them, which were roared in sharp, biting words of Mandarin Chinese. Mom announced her decision and backed it up by pointing out a stream of Livia’s shortcomings: She had the tendency to forget Mom’s instructions seconds after hearing them, refusing to take them seriously by writing them down and referring to them; Livia insisted on using a harsh scrubbing pad to clean our kitchen sink and wash our pots and pans, damaging both by scarring their surfaces; she was careless when shutting off the faucet; leaving water dripping all night; she not only spent hours preparing each of our three daily meals, but insisted on following her own habit of eating just two meals a day, which skewed her emphasis to lunch rather than dinner, something Mom had trouble getting used to…
Livia loudly defended herself, pointing out that these were her habits; Mom was unreasonable not to accommodate them, when she herself was doing her best to accommodate Mom. She gave examples of other employers she’d worked for.
Mom then accused Livia of having no sense of propriety, asking to borrow thousands of dollars from Mom only hours after arriving for her first day on the job; then drove off to conduct her own business and failing to return for hours, when Mom refused.
“I was still getting used to your household, and your expectations,” Livia argued.
But Mom continued sharply, “And whenever I give you orders, you always say “OK”, but forget what I’d said the next minute, and refuse to write them down. That means you’re not taking your job seriously. How can I rely on you…”
To effectively stem the chaos that their argument was wreaking in my mind, I reached for a set of noise-cancelling earmuffs I kept nearby, just for such scenarios – when spoken words and interactions around me overwhelmed my short-term memory.
That night in bed, however, Mom’s & Livia’s words continued ringing through my mind, preventing me from falling asleep. I knew from experience that all incoming experiences, especially in the form of spoken words, will remain a HUGE mess in my mind unless I did something to control them.
So I deployed my own short-term memory compensation techniques:
1. Translate these Chinese words into English, reshape / put them into a coherent order, and identify causes & effects. This is a start, but not enough place them securely into my memory…
2. Capture words on paper, or type them out on the computer, in the form of rough outlines
3. While working in this way, my short-term memory becomes full in a matter of minutes, shutting down my ability to process any information. No new incoming words and experiences will stick, either. So…
4. When this happens, switch to working on other tasks – ones that don’t require much mental exertion – for short periods (a few minutes) at a time. Constantly step away; take frequent breaks / switch tasks; return to sorting out thoughts later.
5. In the process of switching tasks and taking breaks, it can be difficult to recall where I’d left off, to regain my previous momentum.
6. When family members / coworkers / others around me witness me floundering, they tend to feel that I should follow their methods, instead. I then have to fend off their interference, which again disrupts my memory.
7. Thus, I constantly lose track of my own time and priorities.
8. Keeping track of tools and objects that I use for each task can pose more problems:
a. I jot down information on bits and pieces of paper and notebooks whenever they occur to me, but simply finding a safe place to keep them could scatter my thoughts and derail my tasks
b. I’m attracted to books, whose words have already been organized for me. However, my eyesight, not to mention my memory, breaks down unless I limit each reading session to minutes at a time. Every time I put them away, though, I have trouble recalling what I was reading and where I left off. Thus my tendency to stick multiple bookmarks in them, scribble separate reading notes, and leave them in highly-visible areas all over the house.
c.. People react in a variety of ways when they see this mess, along my temporary confusion: criticism, derision, pity, interference, exasperation… All of which cause them to lose confidence in my abilities and to run interference, wreaking further havoc on my memory!
9. Even after all this, my ability to retrieve the right bits memories when I need them later is still not secure.
10. Keeping track of my own schedule / appointments, etc. – also constantly slips in and out of memory.
11. So I need to identify the causes behind what I perceive, and make sense of them by pairing them with their effects. Capture all of it with more words. Organize and shape these words visually on paper, or on the computer, until they resemble the structure of fiction (novels) that are locked firmly inside my long-term memory.
This is how I prevent daily life from overwhelming me.
Mon. morning 1/28:
Mom discovered that the glass turntable inside our kitchen’s built-in microwave had cracked in two, straight down the middle. She immediately questioned Livia, who claimed not knowing nothing about it.
Mom later said viciously to me, “She’s lying. Who else would break that plate? Livia must be acting in revenge for my firing her. It’s dangerous to have someone so evil-hearted in our home…”
To stem both her words and her negativity, I focused on ordering a new microwave turntable online, and hauling into the kitchen an old mini-microwave I’d used 20 years ago while in college. We could use it while waiting for my order to arrive.
Next, Livia had agreed to depart at the end of January, but wanted to be paid her full salary for the first day she’d worked for us. Mom refused, arguing that Livia didn’t work the full day, driving out of the house for several hours. Another loud argument ensued, wreaking havoc on my memory once more.
I can’t do much about people in my immediate household. But I can follow my instincts to maintain a careful distance from all people.
As the LMU choruses continue to prepare for a European tour this coming June, I focused on how to reveal my touring plans to Mom without her panicking.
To prevent a similar kind of havoc from invading my memory and bungling my own relationships, I had kept safe distance from other choir members: including Angie, the lady who had, last semester, agreed to share a hotel room with me on this trip.
Then, at a rehearsal in mid-January, Dr. Breden pulled me aside to inform me that Angie had changed her mind, no longer wanting to share a room. This obligated me to pay several hundred dollars more to room by myself.
It was far from the first time people had altered their plans to exclude me, without so much as consulting me – leaving the consequences for me to deal with.
During the sleepless night that resulted, I pondered: was my keeping too much distance from her the reason why Angie had opted out of sharing a room with me? Why hadn’t she discussed it with me directly, rather than simply thinking of herself and leaving me in the lurch?
Even more troubling – I haven’t yet figured out how to tell Mom that I planned to go to Europe for a week and a half in June. She obviously relies on being able to control the people and circumstances around her; every new situation / change / unexpected incident causes her anxiety to flare and her health to spiral downward. The prospect of switching to a new housekeeper is already spiking her nerves and upsetting her stomach throughout each day. And I haven’t yet begun to describe what’s going on with the other half of my family – my dad and brother! I don’t know whether Mom’s current state of mind can withstand another prospective shakeup.
By not telling Mom about my plans now, though, was I doing the same kind of thing that Angie had done to me — delivering a shock to her after she’s no longer able to do anything about it? But I am even more afraid of the ruckus Mom is sure to make, and the havoc it will inflict on my short-term memory. Should I protect my state of mind now, maintain its clarity, and deal with Mom later? Or would it be better to face Mom’s reactions to my Europe trip now, to prevent shocking her later and risk plunging her into a state of mind that’s even worse?
At least time is still on my side. For now, I will wait a month or two, and pray that circumstances will change to help her state of mind improve.