Oddments

In search of story


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September 15.21: Coping

CAN YOU READ, YOU NEANDERTHAL? IT’S A SCHOOL ZONE! 25 MPH SPEED LIMIT! I DON’T LIKE IT EITHER, YOU STUPID BOZO, BUT THAT’S THE WAY IT IS! GET A BRAIN AND GET OFF MY BUMPER, YOU MORON!!!

My blog subtitle is “Coping.” See how well I’m doing?

I’ve coped by blogging, gardening, cursing rabbits and geese and my muse, baking (and eating), housecleaning (seriously), painting walls, and everything in between.

Maybe it’s more accurate to say I’ve tried to cope.

My younger son says we are dealing with low-level trauma, and I like that way of putting it. This is not an annoyance or a mere bother; this is trauma and it is permeating our lives like ammonia fumes. We are all stressed. We are exhausted from being exhausted.

I can’t speak for everyone, but I can speak for me. I am becoming a name-caller. YOU DASH-DASHED PEA-BRAINED YOKEL WITH THE WET COUGH! WEAR A MASK! YES, YOU, YOU WITLESS CREEP! Even though this is yelled in my head, it’s not something I would have mind-yelled before. This worries me.

It can justly be argued that these people deserve to be yelled at, to be tarred and feathered, that there’s such a thing as too much tolerance, that if we don’t at least mind-yell we’ll implode. Nonetheless, I am not sure that my creeping impulse to commit mayhem is exactly coping. 

Some day my subtitle will change. I hope I will too.

 

 


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May 31.21: Coping

I was born during World War II and do not pretend to remember the horrors. I do vaguely remember Tip Top.

My dad had a critical skills deferment because he worked for American Steel Foundries, which manufactured train parts, essential to the war effort. Those men worked long, long hours. With a purpose. He had two sisters, one in the Marines, the other in the WAVES; they had the same purpose.

Mom and Dad spoke of the get-togethers for friends who were on their way to serve, and who never came home. No one who remained home would pretend to be in the same situation as those in combat, but the ration books tell of shared purpose, which meant in some cases making meat loaf for six with Knox gelatin and a cup of chopped meat.

There has been copious bloodshed before and since, and it would seem our species is hell-bent on extinguishing itself. So we might grow numb to the dying. Maybe we already are numb.

Therefore, it’s wise to have a day to not be numb and to think deliberately of those who died to protect a way of governing that theoretically we value, and to ask if, here and now, in shared purpose, we would be willing to eat Knox Meat Loaf.

 


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February 22.21: Coping

 

Today, dear reader, is George Washington’s birthday. It makes me think of old friendships. No, I didn’t know George.

There are four of us — Ann, Donna, Bill and I — who have our birthdays in consecutive months starting in November and ending today. I have declared — and therefore it is so — that we don’t turn the next age until the last one does. That would be Bill, the intrepid photographer. We don’t turn until he does, and then we all turn together. There is no way he gets to be the youngest.

Ann and I went to kindergarten, grade school, high school together, and ended up in the same college sorority. Bill and Donna and I have a friendship forged in homeroom and in the high school parking lot at 3:00AM as we gathered for “away meets” for speech and debate. The four of us grew up together. I am beyond grateful that we are growing old together.

So today I think about ancient friendships. Although we often make wonderful friends along life’s way, sometimes we are lucky enough to have friends who knew our parents, who knew the homes we grew up in. I marvel at this often, but particularly on February 22.

I lift a celebratory mug of coffee in salute to ancient friendships, and I wish them for you, dear reader.

 

More thanks to photographer S.W. Berg,

and to Mama Rosa’s, Hampton, VA.


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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.