Oddments

In search of story


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January 8.21: Coping

A reflection, dear reader.

Today I turn 78. One becomes reflective when one turns 78 in a year of chaos and disease, when fear and rage, loneliness and grief dominate the human stage. But I was born into World War II. How can I not ask if anything has changed?

Food was rationed, bloodshed headlined daily newspapers, freight trains crisscrossed our lives carrying tank parts and spewing cinders, radio was high-tech, my mom and grandma walked to the corner store, a can of bacon grease ennobled every kitchen and bobby pins every dresser. Coal shoveled into furnaces. White shoe polish a household staple.

You have met my cell phone, humble flip-top that it is. You know it stopped working last month and then mysteriously started working again. Then, a couple days ago, it developed new problems. You may congratulate me vociferously: this time I did what any kindergartener would have done and googled the wretch. I learned that the trick was to put the phone into Airplane Mode and then toggle it out again.

Dear reader, who in the name of heaven would have the least inkling to do such a thing by way of problem-solving? I was irrationally proud of myself and at the same time miffed that I live in a world in which my life experience and hard-earned education seem useless.

As you know, this week has been hideous here but obviously something this mortally serious doesn’t just happen out of nowhere. And so I become 78 in a country with its principles in tatters. In a world where I need to know about Airplane Mode to have a working phone.

I have decided to look at it this way: 78 candles is a lot of light.

 

 

 


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December 1.20: Coping

Zinnia: thoughts of absent friends

 

Once upon a long-ago 1968, two life paths — mine and Libby’s — crossed in the highly combustible, hilarious, hormone-laden world of a junior/senior high school. She taught music and I was the new English teacher.

We met in the teachers’ workroom in a haze of mimeograph fumes, and quickly established our mutual love of music.  I was enlisted on the spot as official accompanist for her junior-high musical extravaganzas. I do not forget the moment the curtain went up for the ballroom scene in “Die Fledermaus,” with its aluminum foil chandeliers, and the audience exploded into spontaneous applause.

Or when the 8th-grade Josephine ad libbed her lines to the 7th-grade Ralph Rackstraw in “Pinafore” rehearsal.

Or the shivering hours in Libby’s basement as she sewed the angel costumes for “Hansel und Gretel.” Her childhood on a North Dakota farm made her impervious to cold and eventually she kept a blanket just for me because she grew tired of hearing my teeth chatter.

Libby and I had the best time in those bachelor days even though she could never convert me to gin or cats. I held to a firm belief in scotch and catlessness.  But, beyond bachelorhood, many were the years of friendship, many the pastries, many the morning coffees, many the long talks.

I would say now that I am dead to Libby but the fact is that for her today I never lived. She is far into dementia. She was lovely, a world traveler, opera buff, master gardener, idealist, a tolerant, inquisitive, lifelong learner, protective of all life. Cat addict.

She still is all those things; she just doesn’t know it.

I salute her today, her 93rd birthday. I will know for both of us.

 


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August 10.20: Coping

“The malignant air of calumny has taken possession of all ranks and societies of people in this place…The rich, the poor, the high professor and the prophane, seem all to be infected with this grievous disorder, so that the love of our neighbor seems to be quite banished, the love of self and opinions so far prevails….The enemies of our present struggle…are grown even scurrilous to individuals, and treat all characters who differ from them with the most opprobrious language.”

According to David McCullough’s book “John Adams,” Christopher Marshall wrote the above in 1776.

Perhaps spellings have changed, and maybe vocabularies have weakened a bit, and maybe also “social media” is no longer the handwritten letter, but otherwise Mr. Marshall would not be much surprised, it would seem, by any of the news accounts today. So I pass it along to you, dear reader, for what it’s worth, and I leave it to you whether to laugh or to cry.

 

 


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June 18.20: Coping

I see many references to isolation and aloneness these days. As an introvert, I’m comfortable with aloneness. Usually content with my own company, I do not crave the madding crowd. Aloneness isn’t always loneliness.

But I haven’t been with my family since March 6. No hugs for three months! There’s loneliness in that, as many elderly (and not-so-elderly) know.

It has recently occurred to me that there is another dimension to my aloneness. My close friends vary in age, but all of us have experienced family death in our parents’ generation. However, among my friends, I am the only one to have lost the sibling connection to the past; I’m the first to be The Last. This hit me as a revelation. Unaware, I’ve been grappling with a sense of aloneness among my friends.

I am an old single parent who is also The Last One of the family she grew up with — those are my particular circumstances — but I think most of us are grappling with some kind of aloneness, and maybe loneliness too, at this time. It doesn’t mean we have the same life experiences, only that we are in the same human condition. Human, but dangerously corrosive, all the more so swirled as it is with anger.

As I’ve said before, I think writers write about two things: what is, and what could be. Sometimes we can’t write about what could be until we write about what is. For me, this is what is.

 

 


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June 15.20: Coping

Upside-down-ness

above below

gives me doubts

and vertigo.

I fear my eye

misapprehends

if sameness is

my constant lens.

I can sometimes

see anew

when things are toppled

all askew.

From eye to brain

zig-zaggety:

what I think I know

from what I think I see.

 

 

Many years ago, while I was caregiver to Dad, I audited Beginning Drawing at a nearby university. I couldn’t finish it because Dad grew so much worse, but even in that partial semester I learned immeasurably more than I can tell you, dear reader. One assignment was to draw something upside-down. Life was upside-down anyway, so why not? It was for me an astonishing process. It is one thing to draw something as you see it; it is another thing entirely to draw something as you don’t see it. When I was forced to turn an image upside-down and draw it, I was also forced to think differently. It was surprisingly uncomfortable.

 

 


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June 9.20: Coping

Yesterday I had a moment in a paint store that sent me into laughter which almost suffocated me because I was wearing a mask. Afterward I thought about it.

A man was buffing the floor, likely enjoying the sauna behind his mask as much as I was enjoying mine while I maneuvered with my usual grace amid shelves and social distance markers. The COVID pas-de-deux.  As it happened, I ended up apparently in his path: my assertion that I was trying to not be in the way was met with his “Well, then, MOVE!” This hit my funny bone hard. Thus my suffocation.

We all have our gifts. Mine is to be in the way. My dad had variations on “you’re in the way,” the best of which was “go tell your mother she wants you.” The man with the machine yesterday would have fit into my family perfectly.

As I chuckled my way home, I reflected on the mask as a new wrinkle in such a moment (pun intended). He was wearing a baseball cap so all I could see was a bit of grey hair and his eyes. Maybe MOVE! was grumped at me. I don’t think it was, but how would I know? We did not see each other’s faces — this should be remarkable. It isn’t! What a weird world we have landed in.

 


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May 27.20: Coping

You’ve seen “The Scream,” yes, dear reader? This is “The Gasp.” I made this! I, who scotch-taped pieces of fabric together to make doll clothes, made this mask with actual needle and thread. And no blood stains! I did, of course, draw blood because one of the rules of sewing is Stab yourself with the needle, but for once I didn’t get it on the material. Sometimes I amaze myself.

When I stepped away from the blog a couple weeks ago, my intention was to do what I could to re-arrange my head to survive this barrage of grief and flim-flam. What does one do with such resentment and frustration and creeping hopelessness in isolation? One grabs a dust rag and follows the lead of her ancestors.

Yes, I’ve been cleaning. To be clear, my housecleaning would never pass inspection by my mother or grandmothers. But I told their ghosts to shove off. I’ve cleaned, thrown out, packed away. It is symbolic, of course, but it is also a proven way to clear my head. If I can dig into something physically, I can dig out mentally.

I have baked, continuing my search for the El Dorado of gluten-free blueberry muffins.

Gardening beckoned but opportunity was limited to occasional cold and soggy weeding. Now overnight it’s the Amazon. I have mourned the death of spring in keeping with this season of requiem.

I started to go out last week, feeling like one of these emerging cicadas.

I made a mask!

Physically I’m better, but still get short of breath and tired. Fortunately, I was born pokey so slowing down comes naturally to me.

I have missed you and been concerned about you, dear reader. I hope you’ve managed to keep safe and sane.


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May 14.20: Coping

Thus far, dear reader, I have coped by writing and by baking, two time-tested strategies for me. They aren’t working any more. A few days ago, we were bloodied once again through the reports of a terror attack on new babies and new mothers. That was one too many for me, awash as we are in grief and fear.

I’ve been sick, as some of you know. Nothing serious, just enough to keep me from being complacent. I don’t know that I had COVID; we still don’t know if my “presumed positive” son had it. We still don’t know much about COVID. “Don’t know” is the only wisdom we have.

Having seen my family only from a distance, unable to touch them, for two months, I think I have a sliver of understanding of what it might mean to die among strangers in Intensive Care.

I am disgusted and exhausted by the flim-flam.

I’m going to step away from the blog for a few days. Each of us has to find ways to stay human in this very dehumanizing time. I am looking for my ways.

Thanks for being with me in my blog. I worry about all of you and hope you endure.