Sunday, 28 February 2016

Classical art memes

Mum loves jokes - like all of us. Well almost all of us. I guess there will come a time when, for Mum and me, humour won't work anymore.

Meantime, my mother still gets the daily newspaper delivered to her room. Several times a day she studies the headlines, browses a few stories and checks out all the death notices. “I always read the family announcements,” says Mum. “It’s important to see what’s happening with my contemporaries.”

She also shares the occasional cartoon, with whoever’s around.

There’s one cartoon Mum particularly likes - a series of wry observations on children and parenting. Called The Little Things - it’s nothing more than a few words alongside simple line drawings of children and their exasperated parents.

It’s a great formula for Mum. The whole joke contained in a single frame. Instantly recognisable behaviours. Nothing here that’s much different from when my mother had young children and nothing that relies on recent memory.

A couple of weeks back, Mum was sitting on my sofa, knitting. Her granddaughter Harriet was flicking mindlessly through her Facebook feed. “Look Nanny,” she said. “You might like these.” She shuffled across and introduced my mother to Classical Art Memes - cartoons featuring well-known classical paintings with modern, ironic quotes inserted as text.

The first was a self-portrait by Van Gogh. The one of him with the extra-large ear. ‘When you hear your name in a conversation’ said the text. This was followed by Rembrandt’s dark, brooding self-portrait. ‘If it it ain't Baroque, don’t fix it.’ Harriet and her grandmother were highly amused. They spent a happy half hour searching up the best examples they could find.

When Mum’s birthday came around, Harriet knew exactly what to make - a special collection of classical art memes.

“Great idea,” I said, then warned her against making a book. “Your grandmother will read it once then put it away. You need something like a calendar. Something designed to go on display.”

So Harriet settled on the desk calendar format, spiral-bound, with one classical art meme for each month of the year. She set to work, choosing the most recognisable art works and culling anything too rude or obscure. It took quite a while.

By the time the calendar had been ordered and arrived, we were already a couple of days post-birthday. Harriet picked it up and hurried round to the rest home.

To say Mum loved it would be a huge understatement. She adored it. The calendar was so well produced, Mum was convinced it had been bought ready-made. Harriet tried, but failed, to explain the concept of customised, cut-and-paste calendars. But Mum was too busy checking it out.

“I’m delighted,” said Mum, leafing through the calendar for the third time. Then she flicked back to the start and went through it all over again.

“You know dear,” said Mum. “I recognise all of those paintings.” She put the calendar down.

“It’s lovely! You completely understand my sense of humour.”

“Laughter - the shortest distance between two people.”
- Victor Borge, 1909 - 2000, comedian, conductor and pianist.


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  2. In my own case it was just over four years ago when my Mum began to sound different on the phone. She lived back East with my siblings and my husband and I were living on the West coast and in phone calls it became apparent that my Mum's voice no longer had the same tones of excitement and humor that she used to; and instead it was very flat. At the same time she began to tell us about a situation at work that just didn't seem possible; she was complaining that a group of fellow workers were conspiring to get her. Although Mum had much academic success as a teenager, her behavior had become increasingly odd during the past years. She quit seeing her friends and no longer seemed to care about her appearance or social pursuits. She began wearing the same clothes each day and seldom bathed. She lived with several family members but rarely spoke to any of us. Obviously this whole story seemed very unbelievable and we sensed something was wrong but had no clue as to what it could be. We recommended that my Mum quit her job and look for something else - as we began to wonder if she had a "mental breakdown" and would get better once out of the stressful job situation.
    In the case of Mum, she was having persecurtory delusions, auditory hallucinations and negative symptoms that had lasted for at least Three years. All of these symptoms fit with a diagnosis of Dementia. Her story reflects a common case, in which a high-functioning young adult goes through a major decline in day-to-day skills. Although family and friends may feel this is a loss of the person they knew, the illness can be treated and a good outcome is possible as it all got better when we started using a herbal medicine for her through Aparajita.
    My recommendation to people who are either wondering if they have DEmentia or wondering if a friend or loved one has Dementia should contact I think one of our key problems was that we didn't do this in the early days of my Mum's illness as we never thought of a natural alternative for her.