Alex Chambers: Fafnir Adamites is a fiber artist. They make giant paper spheres and seed-like shapes. It takes a lot of work. For Fafnir, that process creates space to think about trauma.
Fafnir Adamites: And the ways that people are haunted by psychic trauma, by trauma that their grandparents or their parents may have lived through. It's being shown through research that these traumas are imprinted in us and that it can be really affecting the way that we go through life.
Alex Chambers: This week on Inner States, fiber artist Fafnir Adamites talks about haunting, paper, chaos versus the grid, and more. And stay tuned after that for two stories about getting to the end of long relationships. One of those is not quite as significant than the other. Stick around.
Fafnir Adamites: There you have it. [LAUGHS] So, in some cases these processes are a very quick gesture that just has to be repeated over time. So much of this is about gesture, I think. With the basket weaving, too, there are certain gestures within the weaving of the reed that creates its shape or its distortion. And that refers back to that performance: the movement of arms, the hunch of a body, the pain in the back. After hours and hours of weaving, it all comes into it.
Alex Chambers: And the repetition, also.
Fafnir Adamites: Mm-hm.
Alex Chambers: I guess my mind went in two directions because gesture made me think about performance and repetition and communication.
Fafnir Adamites: Mm-hm.
Alex Chambers: But I think there's something, too, just about the pain, or just the embodiment of the fact that we have to repeat things in order to survive. Whether it's daily tasks, or whatever. And that we also have to just deal with the fact that we have bodies that are going to be in pain and are going to suffer and stuff like that. Anyway, that's what the gestures make me think of.
Fafnir Adamites: Well, I think that that's so true, too, being a non-binary person in the world. Every day my performance--and we all perform every day, whether we know it or not, by the clothes we wear or how we talk or what we're putting forward--and the performance of gender, or pushing against gender, is a repetition every day. Every day. And even having to remind people about pronouns, it's a repetition that happens nearly every day. And that insistence on being a body in a world that doesn't necessarily want something beyond the binary. There is a gestural performance and resistance that happens in all of that.
Fafnir Adamites: My name is Fafnir Adamites and I am a visiting assistant faculty member at IU in Bloomington.
Alex Chambers: And this is Inner States, from WFIU, also in Bloomington, Indiana, down the stairs and through a couple of hallways from Fafnir's fiber studio. I'm Alex Chambers and we're talking today about Textile Politics. This is the second in a two-part series. If you missed the first, it's in our podcast feed. It's called Queer Embroidery and I talked with Ileana Haberman about complicated stitches and mental health.
Alex Chambers: This week, we're talking about gender and repetition, haunting, intergenerational trauma, paper, felting, and chaos versus the grid. Fafnir is a fiber artist. They have a love-hate relationship with the grid.
Fafnir Adamites: The grid comes up so much in textiles because woven pieces are based on a grid, right? A vertical and a horizontal thread or string. And I'm always pushing against that because I work with chaos structure. I call them chaos structures: the wool and the paper pulp. So, I'm constantly trying to get away from the grid, or challenge the grid, yet the grid is very, very comforting and satisfying. It's so orderly and so predictable. There's comfort in that. But I want to push against that comfort and defy the grid or totally make the grid imperfect or obliterate it [LAUGHS] completely. So you might notice a lot of that when you see work in my studio.
Fafnir Adamites: There's the grid of basket forms as well as grids like the netting or a textile, like a hand-woven textile. And looking around the room there's a lot of materials, a lot of different kinds of materials, a lot of dried pulp on the floor. [LAUGHS] There's a lot of buckets. [LAUGHS]
Alex Chambers: And they're covered with, spattered with what looks like the remains of paper pulp?
Fafnir Adamites: Yes, exactly. A lot of paper pulp strewn around. There's also a lot of basket-making reed, there are tools, stacks of books, always.
Alex Chambers: And thinking just about the clean, straight lines of something. You know, straight in multiple senses. [LAUGHS]
Fafnir Adamites: Yes. [LAUGHS] Absolutely. Yes, I don't think it's a difficult jump to make between the grid and a binary-loving culture, and pushing against it and creating a new topography, a new way of being and kind of reveling in that. I think that's really important, as a person like myself, and many other people who are trying to... find a new way to fit, or a new kind of place to fit into, or to feel at home in. So, I consider all of these an exploration of that also.
Alex Chambers: And I just, again, for whatever reason I'm caught up, I keep coming back to this repetition, you know, repeating it. And I guess I just want to reemphasize what you already said about the necessity of repeating the gender performance, again, that we all do, but that, as a queer person, non binary person, a person who's not just... a person who has to think about it, you know, about one's presentation in the world, requires that repetition which can create space. But to create that space, you have to be pushing something aside or pushing against something.
Fafnir Adamites: Yes.
Alex Chambers: And you have to do it over and over. You can't just do it once and be done.
Fafnir Adamites: Right. Yes, and even if I wanted to be done with the performance of gender, other people constantly remind me that I'm not done. I may feel comfortable where I am or who I am, but other people love to tell me how uncomfortable they are. So [LAUGHS] whether or not I want to be continuing that work, I will always have to, and I'm sure a lot of other folks in a similar position will find that to be true, too.
Fafnir Adamites: It does feel endless sometimes and I've spent many years getting past the point of feeling... I mean, I always feel a little bit attacked when that happens, but I've come to understand it really is so much more about their own discomfort rather than what I'm doing, because there is a sense of something not being right. And for some folks that just compels them to have to confront someone. Yes, I could go on and on about that. [LAUGHS]
Alex Chambers: This is the second in the Textile Politics series. As I said in part one, I stole that name from a poster I saw for a class. Fafnir is the artist who taught that class. The class explored the role of textiles in community movements and activism but, as I spent time with Fafnir's work, I realized we shared another interest which is how we talk about, think about, represent, and tell stories of traumatic histories and histories of people whose presence in the world has been erased. That erasure isn't necessarily linked to trauma or oppression, but it often is, whether we're talking about the Middle Passage of Africans taken as slaves across the Atlantic, or the Holocaust, or a lot of the history of women in general.
Alex Chambers: So I wanted to talk about how we talk about memory and trauma. Or, how we don't talk about it but make space for it. We can think about this in terms of public pieces, like the beautiful and kind of haunting, large spheres and husks Fafnir has made out of black paper, but also in terms of the process of making them.
Fafnir Adamites: So right now, I have a small piece that every day I've been dripping pulp over. This process of either dipping or pouring over pulp, you have to let it dry and then add another layer to build it up and make it stronger. So, in some cases, these pieces take many, many days, or even a week or two, to fully build up. So, this is what it sounds like.
Alex Chambers: I'd love to talk about some specific pieces. If you could talk about the Presence of Absence.
Fafnir Adamites: It's Hydro-Stone, which is very similar to plaster. And when I created this group of small sculptures, I embedded a hand-made weaving into the Hydro-Stone when it was setting, and then kind of excavated that weaving out of the Hydro-Stone so what was left behind is an impression of the weaving. In some cases, small sections of string were left behind in the Hydro-Stone because it set. And to me, this is a really important nod to trauma, for sure. The idea that that event, or that person or object, whatever it might be, is no longer present, but the impression of it, the scar of it, the memory of it, is still very much there.
Fafnir Adamites: So, it also is a nod back to the history of textiles. This is something that's always been really fascinating to me when talking about history in terms of archaeological history and how textiles, because they're ephemeral and they fall apart and they don't last in the same way that stone or ceramic lasts over years, that it's been very hard for people to fully understand how old textile processes are. Because we don't have physical examples necessarily. But one of the ways that people were able to note this is that there were early examples of ceramic pieces that had textiles embedded in the surface. So, it was used as maybe a decoration in the making of those ceramics from thousands of years ago. And that discovery of the woven structure, of, like a thin band of textiles, is how many people realized that they're much, much older than we initially thought.
Fafnir Adamites: So, that moment of realization, that presence of something that is not there anymore, that's a revelation to me, to think about that: that the absence of something is how we understand its presence. I mean, it goes back also to just the idea of making space, holding space for things. So many of my large, paper pieces are really so much about holding space, taking up space, making space hard to navigate, making them seen. So, that all feels wrapped up in that piece for me.
Alex Chambers: Can you talk a little bit more about the paper pieces and maybe describe what they look like?
Fafnir Adamites: Sure. A lot of the large-scale paper pieces that I've been doing over the past five or six, or maybe more, years, they're made in a kind of papier-mâché style and I am using large inflatable pieces as the armature. And when I make these, I'm putting multiple layers, sometimes up to ten or 12 layers of paper, so that they've very, very strong. And something that's incredibly important to me about these pieces is that the armature, the object that I'm casting around, goes away, so that it's only the paper that's holding up. So there's a reminder of that object in the pieces, but it's not about that original object. It's about what's there in front of you.
Fafnir Adamites: So that kind of husk quality definitely goes back to these ideas of the psychic phantom, the psychic trauma that is so often talked about in psychoanalysis and around inherited trauma.
Alex Chambers: Right, the haunting.
Fafnir Adamites: Mm-hm, the haunting. Exactly.
Alex Chambers: We're talking with artist Fafnir Adamites about paper making, the use of chaos and improvisation and psychic phantoms. This is Inner States from WFIU in Bloomington, Indiana. We'll have more after the break.
Alex Chambers: Inner States, Alex Chambers. I'm talking today with Fafnir Adamites, a fiber artist who creates large, paper spheres and seed shapes that make space for psychic phantoms and intergenerational trauma. There's a slight difference that we might think about between psychic trauma and those psychic phantoms that can haunt. On its own, trauma doesn't necessarily create a need to do something, to address something. It's when the phantom shows up that suddenly something needs to be done.
Alex Chambers: There's a writer who explained this to me. She made haunting, not more clear exactly, but richer in its significance. The writer's name is Avery Gordon. She's also a sociologist, but a bit of a runaway one. And she shows us how haunting is also a social phenomenon. Like, it's not personal, or it is, it very much is, being in the presence of ghosts. But those ghosts and the traumas they represent come about because of society. As she worked out her ideas of haunting, she wrote that haunting was the domain of turmoil and trouble, that moment when things are not in their assigned places. When the cracks and rigging are exposed. When the people who are meant to be invisible show up without any sign of leaving. When disturbed feelings cannot be put away. When something else, something different from before, seems like it must be done.
Alex Chambers: Fafnir's work allows the cracks and rigging to be exposed. It makes space for the phantoms.
Fafnir Adamites: There is often a kind of material deception that happens with these pieces. People often think that it's something else when they're approaching it because it seems impossible for something like paper to hold itself up or to be that big.
Alex Chambers: Those huge, black, papery husks that end up in galleries, they're not the only goal. The process is central to Fafnir's work, too. And the particular materials they're working with--paper, felt--tend to guide that process.
Fafnir Adamites: When it comes to shrinkage of felt during the felt-making process, there's only so much that I can really control. And with the paper pulp, which also shrinks and can sag and drip and do all these lovely things, I only have so much control over that.
Alex Chambers: I think one of the things that I'm realizing just as you're describing it, that has drawn me to your work, has been the attention to the materials. Like you're not... trying to just make something that you have a vision for and then it's just going to come out exactly as your vision wants it to be, and then it's going to communicate a message or something really clear. Instead you have all these different pieces that are really shaped by the process and by, maybe, imperfection. I just find that really interesting and I find it really...I don't know if tender is exactly the right word, but I find it really satisfying and engaging.
Fafnir Adamites: I think "tender" is definitely an appropriate word. I think about softness, and not in a tactile way, but also in a relational way. This idea of radical softness is something that I go back to a lot as a person who definitely works from a place of empathy, in terms of my teaching and in terms of my place in the world and how I take in the world. So, descriptors like that feel very appropriate and it's very improvisational. Like you said, it's not perfect, there are a lot of what some people might think of as damage points or imperfections or fraying or whatever it might be. I mean, that's life, [LAUGHS] you know? That is life.
Fafnir Adamites: So much of the conceptual drive in my work is about trauma and about inherited trauma over generations. Those are not clean lines, you know, those are not figurative moments. Those are moments and ideas that are very abstract and hard to pin down and very amorphous in so many ways. So, it feels appropriate to me to work in this kind of mode.
Fafnir Adamites: How did trauma become one of the main conceptual ideas in your work, something you wanted to explore?
Fafnir Adamites: I first started focusing on trauma, specifically inherited trauma, when I was in grad school. And this notion of epigenetic, trans-generational epigenetic inheritance is where I started my research. And thinking about psychoanalysis, also, and the ways that people are haunted in many ways by psychic trauma; by trauma that their grandparents or their parents may have lived through. And how those things, it's being shown through research, that these traumas are imprinted in us and that it can be really affecting the way that we go through life.
Fafnir Adamites: That idea that I may be repeating someone else's story, or following a certain path because of, like, the life of my grandmother or whoever it might be, that's another line of repetition to me. And how I choose to process some of that is through the making. I think of my studio practice as a meditation on these things. Maybe it's also just a therapeutic process, too, because it takes so much time and there's so much physical repetition in what I do. I think that's another reason why I rarely have anyone else in my studio while I'm working. Like, I don't have studio assistants or work in a shared studio, because it feels quite private to me and I think I need to be in a particular head space, like so many artists. But there is a particular head space that also feels very private and I kind of need the isolation, I think, to be able to fully get into those things.
Alex Chambers: Not all of Fafnir's work is in isolation, though, because they're a teacher too. As I've said, I reached out to them because I was intrigued by this particular class they developed. And so, as we approach the end of a two-part series on Textile Politics, the question you may or may not have been waiting for this whole time: what made you want to teach a class called Textile Politics?
Fafnir Adamites: Well, I think, personally, it's my own interest in the history of textiles. So doing this kind of special topics class was a way for me to really zero in on the particulars of why fibers, or textile processes, have been so embedded in histories of protest or different ways people have tried to find a voice.
Alex Chambers: What were some of the specific histories that you ended up delving into?
Fafnir Adamites: We spent a lot of time talking about the AIDS Quilt. That is such a very particular moment in time and a very particular and unconventional way for a public to notice, hold space for, people who were dying, people who had died. And the AIDS Quilt, in terms of a memorial, is so unusual because it is made of ephemeral materials. It's not made of the typical kinds of materials that you would think a monument or a memorial should be made of. It's not going to last through [LAUGHS] the weather. It's not going to last through being touched or walked upon.
Alex Chambers: Can you just describe the AIDS Quilt?
Fafnir Adamites: Absolutely.
Alex Chambers: For people who aren't familiar.
Fafnir Adamites: Yes, absolutely. That's important to be able to visualize the vastness of it. So, this is a project that was started in the mid '80s and it was created as a way to memorialize people who had died from AIDS. So, it's made up of different panel of fabric that have the inscription of someone's name. Often, the different panels would have things that would refer to the person's character, or maybe where they were from, or things that they loved. So, there could be literal objects sewn onto the panels. It might have different kind of materials like T-shirt or clothing material that that person wore. So, each panel was very personal.
Fafnir Adamites: It's thousands and thousands of different panels, and, originally, it was shown outside the Washington Monument in DC. And the quilt pieces were all laid out on the ground and it covered so much space that people had to walk around all of the panels. If you ever see images of the AIDS Quilt laid out, it is massive and it gives the viewer the visual impact of how many people that represents. And I know at this point it's become so large that it can't be displayed as one piece anywhere because it's just so, so big.
Alex Chambers: So is it still in process?
Fafnir Adamites: Yes. Right now, from what I know, it is stored in a very large warehouse space in Atlanta. And there are people who are constantly working on it, keeping it together, maintaining it. This is another thing that's so particular about the AIDS Quilt as a monument is that it needs constant attention. So, sewing on pieces that have fallen off, replacing objects that may have crumbled or fallen apart over the years. There are small portions of it that do travel around and get shown at various locations around the US, but it's always in a very fragmented, partial state because it is just so vast.
Alex Chambers: I want to get back to your class for just a minute and think about how these ideas played out with your students and what unfolded and came out of your class.
Fafnir Adamites: Yes. It was a studio class. So, though we were talking a lot about history and doing readings and having a number of discussions kind of grappling with a lot of the ideas, the final project was actually a collective project that the whole class worked on together. I did not dictate any of the rules of the project. And through a number of classes and conversation, they narrowed down the project to this community weaving that we did in one of the public spaces in the Fine Arts building on campus.
Fafnir Adamites: And as a culminating project for the whole semester, I found it incredibly moving to see the students become so invested in the project. They took on every bit of it. Making posters, they designed a website, they designed a survey for people who participated to get feedback. And that project was really about community care. It was about creating a space for anybody in the community to stop, be seen, have somebody ask them how they were. I know that sounds very simple, but sometimes, having maybe a stranger just ask you how you're doing, [LAUGHS] you know, if you're in the midst of a pandemic as we have been, and so many other stressors that people feel.
Fafnir Adamites: The project was to offer affirmations, really, to students. Positive messages. So, whoever interacted with the weavings began to unravel that weaving that the students created that had messages, written messages on pieces of cloth that people could take away with them. Then the second part was that those participants could then write a message and put it into another weaving. So, it was sort of circular: like giving something and giving back.
Fafnir Adamites: I was kind of a fly on the wall during that project. Everybody had their jobs, and I watched them and listened in as it was all happening. And to hear my students talk about how really touching it was to be there and to watch people write the messages and to interact with the participants, I'm getting goosebumps a little bit talking about it because they were giving to the community but they were feeling the impact of that, too. It wasn't just about a job or a grade. They weren't just going through the motions; they were feeling that impact of what it means to actually create a space to try to help people, to encourage them. You know, even if it's a small gesture, they were getting that and, you know, I [LAUGHS] couldn't have asked for more from that experience. It was really, really moving.
Fafnir Adamites: Do you want to hear other paper sounds?
Alex Chambers: I would love to hear more sounds, yes.
Alex Chambers: You’ve been listening to a conversation with fiber artist Fafnir Adamites, that I recorded in the spring of 2022, when they were a visited professor at Indiana University. As of fall 2022, they’ve just joined the faculty at California State University Long Beach on the fibers faculty. And their work is in a group show at Craft Contemporary, in Los Angeles.
It’s time for a short break. When we come back, two stories about the ends of long relationships. Stick around.
Alex Chambers: Welcome back to Inner States, I’m Alex Chambers. For those of us in the WFIU offices, a day rarely by when we did not see our own John Bailey clutching a can of his favorite drink, TaB. TaB is a diet soda that most people assume was discontinued decades ago. After years of languishing at the far end of the soda aisle, TaB has at last fallen victim to a decision by its parent company, Coca-Cola, to end production. And John felt compelled not just to find a new source of caffeine, but also to confront the nature of his reliance on a product that only a few found easy to love. Here’s John.
John Bailey: It’s early on a Tuesday morning in Bloomington, Indiana, winter of 2014. I’m scanning the soda aisle of the grocery store I frequent, and I look up and meet the eye of my Coke dealer — you know, the guy from the Coca-Cola bottler who restocks the shelves. He knows why I’m there — to haunt the narrow space reserved for my beloved diet soda, TaB. And he can see that I’ve just found that space supplanted with some other, newer arcane cola — Diet Coke with lime, sweetened with Splenda. Even the little sticker on the shelf with the TaB logo on it has been peeled off. He anticipates an anguished query from me, and pre-empts it. “TaB will be back,” he says. “An old lady came by and cleaned us out yesterday. We just have to get some more from the regional bottler in Louisville.” “Thank God,” I say. “I was afraid I was the only one in town still drinking it.” My dealer’s flat affect doesn’t change. “Nah,” he says. “We’ve got about four.”
John Bailey: In a town of about 80,000, I was one of about four. Four keepers of a white-hot flame in a hot-pink can. For decades, TaB was my constant companion. I used to consider it my most successful long-term relationship. And now, having consumed all the TaB I will ever drink, all that’s left for me to look at is the bond. You can pack a surprising amount of obsession and loneliness and anxiety into a 12-ounce can. And only when you spill it do you feel how sticky it all is.
John Bailey: I never believed that the drink I loved unconditionally was good for me, or even … you know, good. TaB appeared in 1963 as the first diet soda intended not for diabetics, but for people who were dieting. It was Coke, but minus cane sugar and plus an OG sweetener – initially cyclamate, until that was outlawed in the ’70s due to its effect on lab rats. Saccharin followed; and in the ‘80s the saccharin was cut with NutraSweet, a blend that held firm until TaB was discontinued in 2021. Through all its iterations, the flavor profile was dominated by a back-of-the-tongue bitterness that resisted being brushed entirely away. The writer Mark Leyner referred to the drink as “robot sweat,” and likened it to raw sewage. The comedian Bobcat Goldthwait speculated that its main ingredient was battery acid. Their remarks carried the ring of truth, even among diehards like me. It was the perfect beverage to keep in a work fridge – rarely was anyone tempted to pilfer it, eager as I was to share it. A couple of times I asked one friend whether I could offer him a TaB, and each time he shot back, “You can offer!” TaB was, by almost any measure, gross. It was known to be vile. And it was mine.
John Bailey: For some time, starting at a young age, I held it as a secret vice. My first dalliance with TaB occurred in about 1980, when I was five, and it was in its second decade as reigning queen of the low-cal colas. Its crown had yet to be snatched by Diet Coke, a new product soon to be made by the same company and bearing the flagship name. TaB seemed exotic to me, not least because it was understood in my household to be forbidden. Eager as my mom was to restrict the sugar intake of everyone in the family, she reserved TaB as her own treat … so I surreptitiously swigged straight from the two-liter when no one was looking. This was entirely on brand for the emerging binger that I was – sneaking slugs from the gallon of whole milk, smuggling in Zingers I’d scored for a quarter from the day-old Hostess outlet. Eventually I became, in effect, a supersized version of the kid who raided the family fridge … and my behavior continued even after the fridge became my own. By adulthood, the irony of my conspicuous consumption was laid bare – the diet soda I was quaffing with abandon could not do its job entirely by itself.
John Bailey: TaB fell out of my life for some time, as my mother and I both began seeing other sodas … and I was hardly the only one to stop taking notice of it. Coca-Cola pulled its advertising dollars for TaB in the late ’80s. Its hardcore adherents, though, insured that it took years or even decades to disappear from store shelves in most towns. That allowed me to rediscover TaB in college in the mid-’90s – and my curiosity about a now-obscure drink quickly flourished into a kind of dependency. I started buying it wholesale from my area Coke bottler, which manufactured it for a while even after retailers stopped ordering it. And, when that connection ran dry, I would drive two hours or more to a larger city and raid the shelves of several supermarkets. I knew about how many 12-packs I could fit in my Corolla – a little bit of trunk Tetris could push the figure well north of 40. Upon moving from Missouri to Indiana in 2010, I acquired my first vanity plate. It read “T-A-B-H-N-T-R”: TaB Hunter.
John Bailey: As I became increasingly caffeine-intolerant, my consumption of TaB waned – my daily six-plus, consumed at all hours, turned into one or two, mostly at the office. But, my being seen so frequently with TaB, compounded by my tendency to collect and retell stories about it, announced what might have been called an addiction. And, like so many addicts of all stripes, I had enablers. Every mother-in-law figure in my life who could find it, procured it for me. When Coke announced in the fall of 2020 that TaB would at last be ending production, mere acquaintances on social media rallied around me. The next spring, one person, who I think I had met only two or three times, found 33 12-packs in Chicago, had them all driven down to me, and refused reimbursement. That was the stash I nursed for more than a year until this summer, when the well ran dry.
John Bailey: And many people who did not gift me the soda itself went out of their way to grant me swag: vintage print ads, pendant charms, fridge magnets, t-shirts and hats, and those 1970s hourglass-shaped TaB-logo drinking glasses you’ll find in any flea market and only there. There was one thing I wouldn’t shut up about – and at least that made my loved ones’ gift shopping easy.
John Bailey: It was through sheer volume of communication that I had unwittingly – I think – come to stake my identity on a beverage that people of a certain age considered a punchline. Some people begged me to come clean, sure as they were that my omnipresent can and steady stream of stories represented an unwavering commitment to a performance-art bit. Surely, they thought, he couldn’t like TaB that much. One person very close to me confided in a mutual acquaintance that she sensed I didn’t genuinely like to drink it at all – that, at root, my TaB interactions were about collecting the reactions of the people in my midst. The charge rattled me. And I was hard-pressed to mount a real defense. Across the last 25 years I drank well over 20,000 cans – that should have spoken for itself. And the nervous person in me liked that any one of those cans, consumed in the presence of another, could become a conversation piece. There was no dead air in a can of TaB.
John Bailey: There never did seem to be a shortage of discussion – but, a couple of days before turning 47 in August, I steered decades of decidedly one-sided talk on this topic toward a close. I hosted dozens of friends on Facebook Live for a valedictory event in which I shared some of my old set pieces a final time before their retirement, while nursing my final two cans of TaB.
John Bailey: Faced at last with this loss after years of borrowed time, of a steady conveyance of unnatural sweetness, I could not help but reflect. I think some of my acquaintances expected to see me melting down, perhaps into a sticky brown puddle. But I mainly felt relief – not least because the end of my stash was nearly 16 months past its sell-by date. The fizz was intact, but the drink had become, to invoke a wine term, corked. Toward the end, its flavor profile recalled nothing more than the scent of my father’s English Leather aftershave – a sense memory that, notably, had lain dormant since around the time I was first drinking TaB.
John Bailey: At the end, I drank it much for the same reason I had started all those years ago. I relied on this diet soda to try to fill a number of voids. The absence of this flawed piece of the past is pushing me a bit more to inhabit the insecure present. As with any relationship, though, I will miss it. Little as it might have done to bring out the best in me, I did love TaB, from the first sip right up to the bittersweet end.
Alex Chambers: That was WFIU Station Operations Director – and my boss – John Bailey. You know I gotta say, the beginnings of our staff meetings are just not the same without the sound of that can being freshly opened. We miss you too, TaB.
Alex Chambers: Okay, we’re going to end with a story by producer Anna Grimes, about what happens to your relationship with your mother when she can no longer remember who you are.
Anna Grimes: I'm home, back from college for the weekend, and not much has changed. Well, there's now paint swatches on the walls to compare the colors. It's been months, but my mom hasn't pulled the trigger to repaint yet. Judy Grimes is not one for change. She's lived in the same house for years, she's worked the same job, even has the same haircut. But recently there's been a dramatic shift in something she thought would never change, her mom.
Judy Grimes: If you tell someone, "I really miss my mom," or use words that you feel, it's like, "Well, is your mom dead?" No, she's just right here, it's just that she's not my mom anymore.
Anna Grimes: Two years ago her mom, Freda Hauk was diagnosed with frontotemporal dementia. We're sitting at the dining room table. My mom's on her iPad to distract from the awkward, describing when she first noticed a difference.
Judy Grimes: When my dad was really, really sick, she started acting very strange.
Anna Grimes: Before, Grandma would stay with him, even if it meant sleeping on a chair, but she stopped coming.
Judy Grimes: It was really, really odd, and it hurt my dad a lot, but he told me, "No, she can't remember anything. You have to make sure that she's okay". And after my dad died, it became very, very obvious that there were problems.
Anna Grimes: Freda spends more and more time at my mom's house, eats at least one meal there a day. This Sunday, I drive her home after dinner. We are in an old Accord. It's the same car that she used to pick me up from school in, like ten years ago. It's got the same decorative stuff, a smiley face hanging from the rear view mirror. It's the car that she gave me when the doctor told her to stop driving. My grandma couldn't understand the street signs anymore. Soon, she won't be able to live alone. It's snowing hard.
Anna Grimes: Oh, are you okay?
Freda Hauk: Oh, I slipped.
Anna Grimes: She almost falls.
Anna Grimes: Here.
Freda Hauk: Oh, be careful. Come on.
Anna Grimes: Inside, the house feels empty.
Freda Hauk: Oh my goodness!
Anna Grimes: I still get the same tour, though.
Freda Hauk: Take off my coat.
Anna Grimes: Because she is my grandma, we head straight for the fridge.
Freda Hauk: I showed you my food, didn't I?
Anna Grimes: You can show me again.
Freda Hauk: Look.
Anna Grimes: It's near empty, with the exception of several microwave meals.
Freda Hauk: Chicken and brocc-- I don't. Judy buys those for me.
Anna Grimes: My grandma can't cook anymore, really.
Judy Grimes: But she was a really good cook, the things that she made.
Anna Grimes: When talking about it, my mom said--
Judy Grimes: She likes still the same things, and she doesn't like the same things, but she doesn't remember any. So, I will cook something that she has cooked for years and years and years since I was a very little girl, and she will ask, "Well, what is this?" And we'll have her taste it, and she'll be like, "Well, this is really good!" And it's like, "Well, Mom, it's your recipe."
Anna Grimes: She just doesn't remember.
Judy Grimes: It's just so sad, because that's what moms are for. You get stuck on a recipe or something or you get really hungry for something they used to make and you can call them and say, "Will you make that for me or tell me how to make it?" It just turns into calling my sisters and saying, "Do you happen to have the recipe? Did you get it written down before Mom started forgetting everything?" And sometimes they do, and sometimes they're like, "No, I was hoping you had it," and so then it's just lost forever.
Anna Grimes: Nerve cells and their connections are deteriorating in the frontal and temporal lobes of my grandma's brain. These regions that govern personality, behavior and language are breaking down. My mother is a doctor of pharmacy, and she understands anatomy. She's conscious of dementia in a way most aren't.
Judy Grimes: I know that, at some point, just as an example, she won't remember how to cough and she won't remember how to eat, and I mean all of the other functions that are way more important than remembering someone's name. People with dementia end up just bedridden, so that makes it harder, because I know that there's really horrible things to come.
Anna Grimes: Back in my grandma's house, the thing she was most excited to show me were the pictures. The walls are all lined with framed photos of family and old friends. They smile down on you immediately on entry, and she describes her favorite pastime, sitting in her best chair and looking out, talking to her pictures, saying hello and reminding each image of each precious person that she loves them.
Freda Hauk: Yes, I look up and I say, "Oh hi, Cindy, you're looking great, and Debbie and Mommy and Daddy, and Judy and Joshua and Nicole. So good to see all of you, and Ben and Ian," and I sit here and tell them how much I love them! [LAUGHS] It gives me something to do. Oh yeah, I'll say, "Oh, oh, I still love you so much." [LAUGHS] Yeah. I love those pictures.
Anna Grimes: She imbued some of this appreciation for pictures in the heart of my mom.
Judy Grimes: When you look back through pictures, you might say, "Oh, I totally forgot that this happened," and it floods a whole bunch of memories from that time period back and without that picture that memory is gone forever, so that's one of the reasons why I like pictures.
Anna Grimes: Yeah.
Anna Grimes: At this point in time, Freda, the mom she remembers, the one in her pictures, only exists in memories.
Judy Grimes: They're still there, but they're just a shell of who they were. They're not that person anymore, they're a different person, and so you can love that different person but that's not, that's not the person. That person is gone. I, I think that's really hard.
Alex Chambers: Anna Grimes is a researcher and science writer in Indianapolis. She produced this story in early 2020. Her grandmother, Freda May Hauk passed away that November.
Alex Chambers: You've been listening to Inner States from WFIU in Bloomington, Indiana. If you have a story for us, or you've got some sound we should hear, let us know at wfiu.org/innerstates. Speaking of found sound, we've got your quick moment of slow radio coming up. But first, the credits. Inner States is produced and edited by me, Alex Chambers, with support from Eoban Binder, Aaron Cain, Mark Chilla, LuAnne Johnson, Michael Paskash, Payton Whaley and Kayte Young. Our executive producer is John Bailey. Special thanks this week to Fafnir Adamites, Yaël Ksander and Doug Paul Case. Our theme song is by Amy Oelsner and Justin Vollmar. We have additional music from the artists at Universal Production Music and Ramón Monrás-Sender.
Alex Chambers: All right, time to take a breath and listen to a place.
Alex Chambers: You've been listening to, you guessed it, Canada geese, Griffy Lake, Bloomington, Indiana. Until next week, I'm Alex Chambers. Thanks for listening.