Good People, Cool Things
Good People, Cool Things

Episode 78 · 1 year ago

78: Like Falling Through a Cloud with Eugenia Zukerman

ABOUT THIS EPISODE

For 25 years, Eugenia Zukerman served as the CBS Sunday Morning arts correspondent — and she’s been playing her flute around the world for far longer than that. Eugenia has also been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s Disease, but despite her “death sentence,” she remains incredibly positive and calm. And she’s spreading that positivity to others as she’s teaching folks how to face their own adversities.

Eugenia is also the author of several books, most recently Like Falling Through a Cloud, a collection of poems about her experience with Alzheimer’s. These poems are a testament to the creative spirit and how starting anything difficult starts with having the right mindset.

Good people cool things as a podcast feature and conversations with entrepreneurs, writers, musicians and other creatives. Get inspired by their stories to do your own cool thing, and here's your host, Joey held. Welcome to good people cool things, and this episode is a special one because we've got Eugenie a Zokerman here, a world renowned flutist, former correspondent on CBS Sunday morning and author of several books, most recently like falling through a cloud, which is a book of poetry that details her experiences with Alzheimer's, and Eugene has given us lots of good insights throughout this episode. She's a ball of positivity despite having what she calls a death sentence with her Alzheimer's diagnosis. But she's reading some of the poems from her book and they're all just so glorious, so joyful. She's such a good reader I want her to read all my stories to me. It's wonderful times. We're also chatting some music, chating about some of her gigs that she's played over the years, how she incorporates flute into her daily habit and how you should get outside and get some nature into your life. And I'll make you feel so much better, no matter what's ailing you. It will improve your life. If you like to get in touch with the show, you can reach out via good people cool thingscom or on facebook, twitter or Instagram at GPCT podcast. Can also support the good people cool things store. Just head on over to the website hit store and there's lots of good stuff for you can get nice and cozy and looking stylish while you listen into this conversation with Eugenia. For people who don't know who you are, can you give us your elevator pitch, but also tell us the type of elevator that we're on? I'm a flutist, I'm a writer, I am a poet, I am a mother. I am now at a point in my life in which I feel I have done many things, but the thing that I've been doing in the last year since the most important, and that is helping people with something that I myself am struggling with. I Have Alzheimer's disease and I have written a book about my experience and it has done extremely well, and I have to say that people tell me that it helps them, because the minute someone has done to the doctor and they they say you seemed to be cognitively impaired. The panic, and I think that my book is so helpful because I'm not a panicker and I think I helped them to kind of calm down about things. And what happened was that my daughter's kept saying you've got to get tested and something's wrong, and I kept saying I'm just fine. But when I was tested and I was told that it seemed that I had the beginning about times disease, I got back on the subway, went home, went up to my apartment, set at my desk and stared at the wall for some period of time. I don't know why, but then for some reason I pulled out a pencil and a paper who started writing and this book just poured out of me, and the most important thing for me was, first of all, helping myself to understand I could manage this, I could move forward, I can handle the difficulties of it. But the book is a real upper and I am so pleased and proud to be able to say that. I've had so many people respond so well, saying, thank goodness you're telling me this, because it's just important.

You summed it up so nicely of that. It's an upper and it's it does kind of provide a sense of calm, both in the words and even just the formatting of some of the writing in there, which is is super cool to see. So for people that maybe haven't gotten to check the book out, like falling through a cloud is the title of it. What can they expect within the pages, I think the best way to say it is to read the first poem in and it's called like falling through a cloud. Sometimes when I wake up it's dark. Where am I? Sometimes I know and sometimes I have no idea, so I let the night spirits wrap around me and they whispered to me. Don't think you will remember. I live very still and then suddenly, like falling through a cloud, I know I am here forgetting. I told you. You asked me that already. Don't you remember? What is wrong with you? How many times do I have to tell you? Why don't you listen? Are you okay? Don't you recall? Are you losing it? I think you're losing it. You need a doctor or something. You need some help. Marbles, maybe mine are lost, or maybe they're rolling around in my head looking for a place to land, or maybe not. My daughters tell me to get tested, tested for what I ask, even though I know for what, but it's for what I don't want to know. So I let the marbles roll around in a swirl of distracting colors because I don't want to listen to them, the daughters, because if I hear them I will be very afraid and this mother cannot be that mother, not ever. Never. And you you mentioned how this just kind of poured out of you, and I think that's a difficult thing, I think for a lot of writers, is to just sit down and just write. I think a lot of times people are trying to go back and kind of self edit along the way or, you know, they're trying to hit a certain word count and kind of limiting themselves that way. So for any other aspiring writers, what are your tips for just letting the writing flow out of you? Well, first of all, I had written more and published six books and they that had been well received, etc. And writing is something I have done my whole life, so it just felt very comfortable for me. I also was, from the very beginning, absolutely determined not to make myself feel bad. I was determined to be keep going to be, and I the writing just was a form of telling myself do not be afraid, and that's what I would tell everyone who is is told that they have Alzheimer's. Don't be afraid. It is you are going to die, but you know what, you could step off the curb and I like that. But in many ways because you're going to know along the way how your deterioration is going. You get a someone kind of helping you along the way because you you know the areas in which you are discovering these things. And my key is I live every day. Every day I wake up in the morning, roll out of bed, I exercise, I play the flute. I am a flutist and I have been so lucky to have...

...a wonderful career as a footist and I have traveled around the world and I am the artistic director of burying concerts in Columbia County, and so my life had already been very rich and I was able to remind myself that I can do something, I can keep going on and my flute has always been what I call my other I wake up in the morning, I have a cup of coffee and I practice first thing in the morning. I practice, and this is many, many years I have been doing this and I have been performing and it has helped me so much to continue having my best friend with me all the time, and I have to say that I walk probably four miles a day. I think it's so important. Usually when people are given are told that you're you're very sick, you know, they immediately figure I have to go to bed. Well, I was told I was very sick. What did I do? To long walks and I made sure that I could be as in good shape as I could be, and I think that that is something I would say to anyone who has had a diagnosis of this disease. Take care of yourself and make things happen so that you can just keep going. And I think it's so important that there's a there's a poem that I would love to read, and it's called fluting on the farm, just for the fun of it, for the feel of it, at six in the morning, as the sun comes up and my husband leaves for and not in my apartment in New York, so I will not wake a soul, and the two dogs and the feral cat and the two horses are ready already up to their outdoor tricks. I open the window and play for them and for the trees, for the flowers and the Blue Blue Sky, for the squirrels and the bugs and the Blue Jays. Play for the clouds. I make up tails and stories with tones and tunes and there are no words, just as Sara Band for the cat, a scared so for the dogs and for the equines, a jolly Jig for jumping. I I do not play flute, I play Guitar, but it that's such a interesting sort of view of for the animals too, because it is so interesting to see how they react to two sounds like that. I would I mean, having heard your flute playing, I can say it's certainly more melodic than my guitar playing. So I'm sure that's a much more pleasing sound here your animal audience there. Well, it's great fun playing for them. I've had a bunch of dogs along the way and they really do like except one who didn't standard you'd go like this when I delay the flu. You know, I think. I think there's a relationship between playing an instrument and memory. They are very interconnected and I think that people it's in America in the time that I was a child, we luckily were able to have lessons and I think that it...

...has been so important to me, certainly, but also it is a way to keep the mind going. And you know, part of Alzheimer's is the problem of memory, etc. But having music is so important and like it's really like speaking a second language, and so I my best friend is my flute and I speak to language is very bilingual, very impressive, and I think that's a good kind of point to segue into. Another thing that I think you do very well is tapping into your creative self, both with your flute playing and with your writing. So for people that maybe aren't musically inclined or you know that think like, Oh, I don't have any kind of creative projects to go into, how can they tap into that creative self and give themselves a boost? Well, I think it's I think it's exercise is one of the most important things. Absolutely it keeps you going if you're told that you have Alzheimer's. I have met people who have said, I just got into bed night was so depressed. Well, you if you get out of bit and do your exercises and go outside and take a walk. That's so important. Absolutely, and I think you know you I enjoy nature enormously and that helps me. But I'm also I was somehow very aware that it was so important to stay stay social and to to stay busy. I think people who have this diagnosis have difficulty with it, and the most important thing is to remind yourself it's not the end of the world. You know you don't you? And another thing about Alzheimer's. It's not painful, physically painful, it's just something is disappearing from your body and making it difficult for you to be able to do and do what you want to do and how to do it. And you know, faith there are three phases in Alzheimer's disease and the first one is the longest, and so I realized what I needed to do is to really enjoy everything and not worry about, you know, I'm what's going to happen next. But I think if you begin with a very positive point of view and keep that up, it's so important. And I didn't cry when I was told that this happened, and I haven't cried a great deal, not for myself. I've cried for other people, but I think it's it's so important to understand the three parts of Alzheimer and to understand that the first part of it is really three parts, and by really paying attention to it, it will keep you going. It will, it will, it will make you, make you feel good, and let me read this getting it together. I've made a date with my banker because I hanker to know where things stand when it comes to what I'll hand to my next of kin. So I should begin to keep track of stuff to see...

...if there's enough to pass around when I'm under the ground. I'm not being dramatic, but I can no longer be static about what lies ahead when I'm dead, which, oddly, I do not drid. Instead, I want to avoid leaving a miss for the family to assess. I'd like them to say she lifted this way to keep trouble at bay and to avoid a fray. I don't expect to Croak at midnight stroke, but I don't want to be one hundred and three, which my mother achieved. I will stick with the Plan I've made with my man. When the time seems right, we will have the delight of dawning deer suits on the first day of hunting and will go out in the fields and wait to meet our faiths. Only I hope the hunters know how to shoot straight. That's do you have a dear suit ready to go? All Right, Ye, sure, and we live in the country in right across the way is big farm and they are everywhere. I'll see you're set. Yeah. Now I want to go back to something you said about staying social and I think this past year and a half of Covid has certainly challenge that for a lot of people. And and you know, even if they're they haven't been diagnosed with anything. I think I've in talking to people they've been like yeah, I just wanted to to sit around all day and like just stay in bed and not do anything, just because of what's going on and the world so in it in a time and in certain areas now it looks like things might be reclosing and kind of, you know, going back up like that. So how can you still stay social, even if maybe you can't go, you know, go to lunch with someone or go take a walk in nature with someone? How can you keep staying social with them? I think it's important to you know, if you if you can can't get out, talk to them on the phone. That's him. That's important. I think. For Myself, I stay social by walking a dog or playing with the horses or taking walks, particularly with friends living in this beautiful area. It is very lucky that I did long walks and that helps me enormously and I I will wear a mask if find need to, but I would just you know, I just have to get out there. That's what's really important. And you know, it's frightening, but as anything that is is you know, I have a death sentence, but guess what, we all have death sentence, you know. And, as I said, you just you walk off the curb and bank it goes. So I feel I have to stay post. I just have to and you know, to other people who are in the first parts of Alzheimer's disease, Asmi, it means even more to me to keep going, to make sure that I do what I do every day. And and well, here's a poem from my book which deals with this taking stock. Or so you know. I am a woman seventy two years old. I have two wonderful daughters, a husband I adore, lovely grandchildren. I'm lucky to still have a vibrant career in the arts as a fluteist, writer, Artistic Director of major music series, television journalist, Educator and Internet entrepreneur. And, despite...

...a little glitch with my memory, this is the happiest time of my life. I won't joke about my old timer's disease, nor will I call it early. You know what, I am determined to remain centered and in control and devoted to finding a way, my own way, to be able to say and to mean what I want to convey. And as long as I'm allowed to stay, I pledge to fight with all my might to keep the darkness bay. So that's so good. And I think just to emphasize to what you talked about getting outside and how helpful that is. And I know sometimes I have to tell myself this if I'm moping around inside, if I'm just like I'm just going to sit here, I was like wait, why don't I sit outside and at least be getting some some nutrients, of like benefits of being outdoors, and I always feel better when I come back in. It's I think that's true. I think that's true for everyone, and you know it's painful for some people who just haven't are not in the best shape. But you can walk slowly, man, you can. You can help yourself doing that. And I think that, you know, having a death sentence, you can look at it in several ways. One is, Oh, this is the most horrible thing that has ever happened, I might as well kill myself now. Then there's something in the middle, which is this is horrible, this is this has happened to me. And then then the third part, which I think is so important, is to say, wait a minute, you know, I'm not ready it. I think it's so I think you have to look at what the situation is and to give into it is is to make it worse. You have to say to yourself, I am going, you know, I never said to myself I'm going to beat this, because I know I couldn't know. The point is, a death sentence is a death sent and it just depends on how you handle it. And and I am, I guess I am proud to say that I haven't walked around crying. I can remember or maybe a couple of days when I was said, but it wasn't about my death, it was about someone else's disease and you know there is, there is no cure yet for Oltzeimers, but there will be one. That they're absolutely will be one, and I I hope they will be able to continue every everything that they want to do. Is as what I'm doing. You know, you have this thing, deal with it and don't expect other people to make it easy for you or to to show you how to do it. You have to, I think it for myself. I felt I have to figure this out. You know, am I going to cry all night or am I going to, you know, say to myself, you know, I'm so lucky. I'm lucky, you're lucky to be alive, and that is such an important thing. And I think you know determination. There is a poem that I wrote about that and I'll read it because it's linked into what we was talked about determination after my session. My takeaway is this lesson. I've got to get me some grit. I hereby resolve to evolve to a stronger state of mind and purpose. Enough whining and worrying and wondering about losing my mind and ending up wandering around town blabbering to myself barefoot in a ball gown, with...

...my hand out for someone's kind order. The next step is to step up and find ways to bolster my mind and give me the guts to stop thinking the Red Light is blinking. I maybe in decline, but I'm not dying on the vine, not yet, I say, not until they take me away. That's right said and just such a good reminder of it does start with the mindset and approaching it like you've been doing. Of I'm lucky like you've already accomplished so much. You still have so much that you're doing that that's keeping you busy, creatively energized and all of that good stuff. And I do have a couple of music questions, because I always, I always enjoy asking this. You're here with your husband and I'm curious when you're practicing your flute in the morning, does that serve as almost an alarm clock to get him up to or is he already up and away and he can answer if he wants. Well, I can tell you it's worse than that. We have dogs who wake us up at five the perfect. So I lion been a little bit. But actually, you know, as I said before, first thing I do is I get my coffee and and I practice. You know sometimes I have to go to meetings in all of this stuff, but I think anyone who is a professional musician knows you can't fool around about putting, you know, putting things behind you. You have to keep practicing every day and for me I actually enjoy practicing. And you know, after doing this for so long, I've traveled around the world, I've I've done so many concerts. I loved all of this and I'm continuing to have a big life in in music. I'm the artistic director of Aryan Concerts and Columbia County and that makes me very happy that I can keep this going. And you know, music is such a gift for all of us and particularly when something said comes out, you have to deal with it and for me I don't usually use the words said. I'd have been I said it to you, but I don't think it's important not to let it eat away. And I think that ties in nicely to another question I always like asking. You've, like you said, you've played all over the world. You've had so many shows, but I was like to hear what's a bad show that you had. Let me try to think of one. I don't know I think I'm I have managed pretty much to cover it up. If anything happened. I've never had an experience where I had to stop, you know. But I also I also, you know, forgetting. There's a piece that I have played my whole life called Syrinx, which is the story of Pan and see rinks and I have loved it all my life and I wake up in the morning and that's the thing that I warm up with, seeings by Claude debucy, and it's a wonderful story of the the the Satyr who was chasing this beautiful nymph named Syrinx and as as she ran to the water, he...

...reached out and grabbed her, but she got away from him and and he was she was the beginning of the idea of metamorphosis. So metamorphosis if she was a Nymph and she needed to read. That's right, she became a read in the water and and this satyr grabbed this bunch of reads and she turned into this Nymph. So it's a it's one of those wonderful stories, musical story. I love that. I love the stories that music can tell. It's so, so nice, and I think I might even know the answer for this, but I also wanted to cover that you've been doing book readings for the Alzheimer's Association chapters and I can see the joy from you reading just to me, and I'm just just one person over a zoom call, but can you just talk a little bit about some of the enjoyment that you get from from doing those readings? Well, I love doing them because generally, you know, people who have Alzheimer's are are frightened. At first I was not, but a lot of people are very frightened and I am doing these book readings really for the Alzheimer's clubs and that that satisfies me wonderfully because I feel as if there's a to and fro. I I talk to someone, they talked to me. It's it's an ongoing thing. It makes me feel that, you know, having this situation, this this unfortunate disease, is the best way to manage it is to keep going, be as positive as you can and you know, the they the key in greeting and here is that we are all sharing is it's a it's a journey that we're having together and I think talking to people at book signings and it book readings it's just very helpful. I know one one story comes to mind and it was a gentleman who was at my book reading and he came to up to me afterwards and he he bought five copies of the book and after reading it, he told me that couldn't find the words to tell his family about what he had been feeling, but he, after talking to me, had that it said that the diagnosis was that I had given it the words to him that made him understand what was needed and that I was was a great honor for me to hear, because it is. It's tough for most people. And you know, the Alzheimer's Book Club is wonderful and it I'm not sure where you can go to get the the yeah, coode, yeah, contact your local bookstore, etc. At at Alzheimer's Book Club. That's the best way, I think, and it's so the affirmation that you need when you have Alzheimer's is the affirmation that I am not alone and having been given the the...

...the honor of talking to people and explaining to them how I am managing to keeping keep on, keeping on, I think it is helpful to them and it makes me feel very proud that I can be of health. Yeah, I think you're your positivity is very infectious, and this even coming through a screen, I can I can feel and that's so it's so great that you're getting to touch all these people like that and you're almost off the hook here. But we're going to make a few more recommendations. Always like to end with a top three. And for you, since you've got such an experience with music, what are three songs that make you happy? That's difficult, because songs, I don't know about songs, because I guess I you know, I I think I first fell and love classical music. That's what makes me the happiest, and I also going to think here what I know my husband is saying to me. How about baby? And sorry, I've been just sort of trying to figure out what to say about that. You know, the more you listen to music of any kind, you begin to understand what you are experiencing and how it works for you, and for me, classical music is just the right thing for me. I listen to it all my life and I chose an instrument that I could play, that allowed me the joy of being able to perform and to continue playing with my instrument and it's it's you know, I just go back to what I would I really feel at this point. And I've had Alzheimer's for five years now and I don't it's it's not that I feel comfortable with it at all. You can't be comfortable with it, but I don't agonize over it, and part of the reason I don't is because I have music, and music I think is so important. I I love classical music that I also loved tons of other kinds of music, and I think anyone who's going through Alzheimer's problem music, just just keep listening to it. And too well, I think I have a a final poem that's doing. That's to cool a super sunny Sunday, almost August, and the tomatoes are bulging on their vines, the flowers continue to burst toward the sky and colors that astound, while on the ground, our once heartycale has been ripped out by rabbits who attack at dawn and are gone in a flash, leaving the crop tattered and torn. Nothing lasts forever, not Kale or tomatoes or cucumbers, or the glorious flowers that fill our fields, or the people we adore and though I know my days are numbered, I feel unencumbered by thoughts of my demise. I do not embrace my inevitable decline, but I'm determined to find a way to make the rest of...

...my stay on this problematic planet filled with light and love and music. As for the dear suit I mentioned, I promised to dawn, I don't think I'll put it on, not now, not yet. I'm not ready. I feel steady and I have a strategy to keep on keeping on, which is simple. Wake up, fetch the food, summon up searings, get t thanks for another day and then play on, play, play. That's such that's such a good one to end on, to play on. And I'm going to need to get some gardening tips from you, because you mentioned the tomatoes bursting from the vines and I looked at mine. ID They are? They are all over. It sounds glorious. Mine are struggling in the back yard. Well, that's the difference, because we're up in the country and we can. We have planted one hundred. To me, wow, and we are telling people please come day. So you'll be opening up some sort of sauce company, I assume in the next year exactly. And also when we go to dinner neet, we bring the the book, some tomatoes and and it works well because they we don't ask for anything, but they always say, you know, thanks so much, will give you less and water. Problem with tomatoes. I love it. Yeah, to Ryfic. Well, Eugenia, this was wonderful. I had a great time chatting with you. If people want to, I mean, and after hearing you read, I don't know why they wouldn't want to check out the entire book. So if they want to buy a copy or learned more about you, where can they go? They can go to Amazon, the Coom or you can do Barnes and noble. It's it's it's really out there. We've sold many, many, many copies and I'm very, very proud to know that it's helping people, because when you have a death sentence, the best thing you can do is something positive and I feel proud. I'm happy to know you, Eugenia. Thank you so much for joining the podcast. Thank you, thank me, you for having me. Well, and, as we always do, with a Corny joke, and I kept it musically themed for you. Middle C E flat and GE walk into a bar. The bartender says, I'm sorry, we don't serve minors. I love it. That's great, wonderful. Good people cool things it's produced in Austin, Texas. If you're a fan of this episode, go ahead of hit that follow button. That helps more people here the show. As always, you can send me a message Joey at good people, cool thingscom. Thank you to all of the guests who have been on good people cool things and check out all the old episodes via good people, cool thingscom. Thank you for listening and have a wonderful day.

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