Creativity and Coping

Creativity and Coping

Posted on November 26 by June Hutton in Non-fiction, Recent Releases
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Tony and I are writers, so when life lobbed us a hardball, we went to our desks and wrote it all out: the fears, the doubts, the questions. Four Umbrellas: A Couple’s Journey Into Young-Onset Alzheimer’s is the result.

It was a three-year project, and in many ways the process helped us cope. Tony explains:

For most of my life, I have been a writer, privately & professional. It helped me understand myself & others. So naturaly, I contributed to Four Umbrelas in the hope that my experience with Alasheimer’s will help others to navigate this diseas

During a recent interview with Sheryl MacKay, host of CBC One’s North by Northwest, Tony said that writing Four Umbrellas gave him a sense of purpose.

It was a lively conversation in which we discussed some of the early signs of Alzheimer’s. Sheryl noted just how many years back those signs went.

Way back, I agreed.

In the chapter “A Spectacular Flameout” I write that memories move sideways, curling and twisting and forming a switchback of recollections to the past. It was only as I worked on the book that some earlier events emerged, including a short story I had written twenty years ago about a husband who has Alzheimer’s. I even gave him Tony’s second name, Josefus. I must have subconsciously observed worrisome behavior in Tony but responded as many writers would: I stashed those concerns into the creative part of my brain, eventually turning them into fiction. “Not Me” is included at the end of Four Umbrellas because it shows that those signs went back two decades. In it, I had predicted our future.

What I didn’t include in the book is something that occurs to me only now as I write this piece. It has my thoughts zigzagging to the past and a micro-story also published twenty years ago.

“Gone to Seed” is a sardonic look at a woman’s fury when her husband destroys her newly planted seedlings, done so that he can have room for his own plants. It’s based on an incident from when we first moved into our big, old house. What seemed like a selfish act then, is now, in hindsight, a clear indication of Alzheimer’s: the inability to consider the other one present.

I wasn’t so much blind to it as I was intent on seeking shelter from that spectre, and what better refuge than, once more, with creativity? The two pieces of fiction were how I dealt with the looming threat of Alzheimer’s. The process of writing Four Umbrellas was how I dealt with the fact of it. As it had with Tony, the book gave me a purpose. Through each creative work, I found a way to cope. And now? Writing is more difficult for Tony, but I suspect creativity will continue to play a role in my future, giving me, to recall a phrase from “Not Me”, the ability to endure.

June Hutton

Posted by Dundurn Guest on February 18, 2020
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June Hutton

June Hutton has written two novels and facilitates writing workshops at a treatment centre for addiction. She lives in Vancouver.