Thursday, July 30, 2020

Sometimes I'm wrong

By my shield and sword
By my soldier's heart
We made it through the wars
We made another start

Well, I was wrong.


Eleanor is home and although it’s been a bit of a wild ride, so far it hasn’t been an epic fail.

For the moment she has a home health care aide. She didn’t resist or balk at the price tag. I’m not sure she knows the price tag, specifically, just that it’s not inexpensive.

She’s frail and knows she needs the help. She gets confused but hasn’t been combative. There was a kerfuffle when her other daughter-in-law called while the aide was out, picking up supplies, with permission from daughter Ellen.

The aide left while a physical therapist from Medicare was at the house, and it’s unclear whether or not there was a brief gap in care, where Eleanor was left alone. Her sense of time is askew, so she said she’d been left alone for a long time, and didn’t know where the aide had gone and when or if she was coming back.

The middle son and his wife, the other daughter-in-law, assumed the worst and took it up with the home health agency, reportedly in a not-nice way, so there was some concern that the aide or agency might give notice. Not because of Eleanor, since the service is trained and paid to deal with elderly folk with cognitive impairment. But they're not prepared or expected to deal with aggrieved relatives hurling allegations.

We talked and got it all sorted, sort of. The upshot, basically, is that the brother and sister-in-law took their ball and went home. They disputed any wrongdoing but agreed that they'd not speak to the agency directly again. Apparently they're not speaking to us either, except in the most minimalist way, since they are still in charge of the financial aspects since the middle son is attorney in fact for Eleanor. (Neil serves in that role for their dad, a division of labor agreed upon many moons ago).

The best case scenario from where I sit, 600 miles from ground zero, is for Eleanor to regain strength and improve cognitively, now that she’s home with one-on-one care, plus visits from various therapists. Maybe it’s even a good longer term solution if Eleanor is happy with it. Perhaps if she rebounds enough she won't need round-the-clock care and may be able to get by with a few hours a day. Right now though she needs help with everything.

It’s such a shame that, thanks to SARS-COV-2, her world has gotten so much smaller.

In normal times, we could think about an assisted living situation where she’d have activities and the companionship of peers once she gets stronger, assuming she will. But at the moment, these facilities are potential petri dishes for Covid, as well as keeping residents socially distanced from each other and unable to have visitors.

At least for now, Ellen can get down to see her. And at some point we’ll probably plan a visit, especially if the pandemic abates. I think Neil is delaying that, knowing that at any time there could be a crisis where he’ll have to go on short notice.

How unfair is it that his parents, in their 92nd and 91st years, respectively, have no idea when they’ll see their sons again.

I almost said when or if, but I’m trying to be positive, and return to the refrain, this too shall pass, this too shall pass.

Last week we were planning to take a little road trip to Craggy Gardens which is off the Blue Ridge Parkway just north of Black Mountain. It’s part of the National Park system, about 100 miles west northwest of Charlotte.

The weather prediction wasn’t good though, with thunderstorms threatening. So of course we had nothing but blue skies once we decided to postpone the trip.

Everything just seems too hard. Will restrooms be open? Will we find a place to eat? Are picnic areas safe? Will there be crowds requiring masks?

But mostly I think the longer we stay home, the less I want to go anywhere. And I don’t want to be that person. So we put if back on the calendar for August 7, our twelvth wedding anniversary. That should make us more likely to push through the inertia and actually go. We were hiking in Shenandoah National Park the weekend we got married. So this will be an appropriate way to celebrate.

One of the writers who I follow on social media, Claire Bidwell Smith, expressed poignantly what I think many of us are feeling. She spoke of being caught up in the minutiae of this strange new life, “these same walls and meals and long, flat afternoons.”

From the day I retired from my day job, I’ve never found time heavy on my hands. Quite the opposite in fact, time sped by, the hours, days, weeks, and months melting seamlessly into one another. I was surprised by how compressed time felt, how, with every day my oyster, I never felt there were enough hours in the day to get everything that I wanted to do done.

I'm still well able to amuse myself. As long as I have yarn and glass and books and the internet and online streaming services, I'm good.

Right now though, this all feels a little more forced, a little less effortless. I have to think, what shall I do now, what next?

I wrote this recently, in an email to a friend.
I hear you about your day to day life not being that different. Ours isn’t either, since we are both essentially antisocial introverts. I’m exaggerating, but Neil especially is content with very little social interaction. If he plays softball once or twice a week, that’s plenty for him. I need a little more, so I’m usually taking classes or doing volunteer work.

I have a love-hate relationship with travel, so I’d be lying if I said I miss it terribly. But it does break up the routine, and makes me appreciate being home all the more. By now we’d have been to New York and New Jersey twice, to Dallas and to Houston, to Boston and to Maine in June, and we’d be packing right now to go to Crater Lake and Lassen National Parks.

Instead we can’t seem to plan a weekend at the Outer Banks. A day trip to the mountains feels like a hurdle to overcome.
There are moments lately when I still feel astonished, incredulous that this is happening. We'll have what feels like a normal evening, dinner, reading, television, ice cream. I'll go to bed and lie there, thinking about what lies outside, out in the world. So many things changed in so many ways that were unimaginable just six months ago.

And yet, here we are, putting one foot in front of the other, living our best lives in changed circumstances.

What else can we do?

One thing is certain. It could be a lot worse. This is only a moment in time.

I once said, in the aftermath of my broken relationship with Marty, "while I lost a half year of my life, life is long enough to spare it."

I was 48 years old when I wrote those words in 2002.

Even it's closer to a year or more by the time this strange time ends, I stand by those words still.

At our age, at least, life is long enough to spare it.

There's another home somewhere
There's another glimpse of sky
There's another place unlearned
And a face not memorized

There's another quilt of green
Where the trees throw down their shade
There's another way to lean
Into the wind unafraid

There's another life out there
Beyond your quiet room
Use dead reckoning
The sky, the stars and the moon

There's another storm to chase
There's another bridge to burn
There's nothing perfect here
Another lesson to learn

There were days I gave into losing
Empty spaces of my own choosing
There were nights I forgot to hold on
So I let go, I had to let go

There's another home somewhere
That I close my eyes to see
I will find you there
You will know it's me

By my shield and sword
By my soldier's heart
We made it through the wars
We made another start

Just beyond the trees
Not so far I swear
There's another turn that leads
To another home somewhere

(Mary Carpenter © Mary Chapin Carpenter Dba Why Walk Music)

Sunday, July 19, 2020

The problem of mom

May your hands always be busy
May your feet always be swift
May you have a strong foundation
When the winds of changes shift

Life is complicated.

My mother in law is 90. Her birthday in March coincided with the start of the stay-at-home phase of the Covid-19 pandemic.

While “mom’ has gotten a bit frailer over the years, along with suffering and recovering from two bouts with lung cancer, she still lived alone, drove her car, grocery shopped and cooked, managed her finances, did volunteer work, and went to her silver sneakers class.

Neil thought at times that she was losing her fastball, but at other times she seemed as sharp as ever. She’s always been a bit, shall we say, cantankerous, and fiercely independent. She has a house in central New Jersey, near the shore. Her nearest child, daughter Ellen, lives 80 miles away to the north.

The pandemic changed everything. Mom, Eleanor, couldn’t go out. She sat in her kitchen, day after day, eating three year old peanut butter and canned goods from the back of her pantry. We did arrange one Instacart delivery for her, but it was hard to get a time slot for even that one in her area, full of old folk.

Eleanor has long resisted technology, refusing to have an email address or Internet access. She has a dinosaur cell phone that she rarely uses.

So, she sat in her kitchen, listening to right-wing radio, outraged about people dying from the coronavirus in hospitals where they could not see their families and blaming the politicians. As the days went on though, things gradually shifted. Some combination of turning 90 and being isolated caused her to confront her own mortality and become fearful of being on her own.

At least that’s my opinion.

A few weeks ago she fell, hit her head on something, and couldn’t get up. She called 911 but couldn’t let them in, so they left. She finally reached Ellen who called 911 again and told them to break in.

They took Eleanor to the hospital where she was scanned, checked out, and sent home. She had some home health visits and virtual follow ups, was diagnosed with post concussion syndrome and told it might take a while before she felt completely well.

She went for outpatient physical therapy a couple of times but couldn’t handle wearing a mask so she stopped going. She’d never been in the habit of calling her kids, but now she would call in a state of confusion. She mostly called Ellen, for one thing or another. She was constipated. A neighbor brought her a laxative. She had diarrhea. She dropped the bedroom phone and couldn’t retrieve it. She couldn’t get to the kitchen phone in time to answer it.

And then, she was having trouble breathing, so Ellen called 911 again. Eleanor was taken to the hospital and admitted.

She’s been there for a couple of weeks now. She’s seen a number of doctors who slowly diagnosed congestive heart failure and a UTI. They saw found a couple of masses, one on an overly, another on her lung, which they didn’t seem overly concerned about. Eleanor couldn’t pee, so she was catheterized. She was in a lot of pain, so she was given morphine and other pain meds. She was constipated again. Her mood has varied from lucid and upbeat to distressed and argumentative.

The doctors advise that she can’t be discharged to go home to live alone. We’ve looked into assisted living and home care. A pandemic is not a good time to vet an elder care facility. For one thing you can’t visit. They’re also shockingly costly. Private home care is even more expensive but easier to set up on short notice.

Ellen has chosen an agency to care for Eleanor in her home to buy time. The idea is for Eleanor to have live-in 24 hour care to begin with at least. I have a boatload of questions, such as will it be the same person, what happens on her days off, what will this person do and not do, but I’m taking a back seat and letting her three kids figure it all out.

No one has explained the plan to mom yet. She thinks she will have home visits, covered my Medicare or insurance when she goes home. She has no idea about 24 hour live-in care or the gobsmacking price tag. I don’t expect she will react well when she finds out.

None of the kids can do enough to help. Ellen, the youngest, has a job, looks after her 91 year old dad, has a mentally disturbed 20-something year old son living with her. She has been running up and back to be with her mom as much as she can, but it’s not a sustainable situation.

Eric, the middle son, had open heart surgery last year. His wife Karen has an array of health problems, from migraines to back problems. They live in Texas, where Covid-19 is raging, and are unable to consider pitching in in any physical way. Technically, no one from Texas or North Carolina is allowed to come to New Jersey, or if they do, the are supposed to quarantine for 14 days. Eric also is the one who holds his mother’s power of attorney.

Neil is the oldest. We’ve talked about bringing his mom here but we have lots of stairs and steps that she could not manage, were she willing to come, which is doubtful. Neil admits also that he is not equipped emotionally to have his mom here, that it would make him crazy to hear her complaining, to deal with chronic health issues, to drive her everywhere. It could easily take over our lives and we’re neither of us cut from that sort of saintly, selfless cloth.

So it’s got to be home care or a facility and the price paid no matter how high.

I’m just not sure how it will play out. I don’t see his mom accepting a stranger, living in her house, using her kitchen, eating her food, breathing her air. If his mom feels ok, I can imagine her wanting to go out in her car and woe to the person trying to stop her.

All of this is unfolding. Eleanor is supposed to be discharged on Monday, Ellen will be there until the home health care starts on Wednesday, if all goes as planned. Tuesday is the day the kids are going to present her with the plan and go through the financial bits.

I’m predicting an epic fail.

I think Eleanor will balk at the price tag. I predict she will be uncooperative and recalcitrant. I envision a scenario where, if this arrangement even gets off the ground, Eleanor will make life so difficult that the caregiver or the agency will give notice.

The nightmare scenario will be that Eleanor is forced to go right into assisted living or skilled nursing or memory care where she won’t be allowed to have visitors because of the pandemic.

In the back of my mind, I’m trying to prepare for either Neil alone or both of us having to get into the car and drive 12 hours to stay in New Jersey for some undetermined amount of time, because just moving her into assisted living will be a massive task. And it will most likely be Neil alone because I can’t just leave the cats here for a month or whatever, even though our cat minder is great for short stints.

We won’t even talk about selling her house, the one that she’s lived in for forty years without investing a dime on upgrades or maintenance. Wallpaper, celery colored carpet, catastrophic termite damage. Wait, we weren't going to talk about it. Not today anyway.

All of this has kicked up the memories of dealing with my mother during the years, months, and days after my father died. Should you wish to, you can read about the end of her days in my posts from October and November of 2013.

May God bless and keep you always
May your wishes all come true
May you always do for others
And let others do for you
May you build a ladder to the stars
And climb on every rung
May you stay forever young

Forever young, forever young
May you stay forever young

May you grow up to be righteous
May you grow up to be true
May you always know the truth
And see the lights surrounding you
May you always be courageous
Stand upright and be strong
May you stay forever young

Forever young, forever young
May you stay forever young

May your hands always be busy
May your feet always be swift
May you have a strong foundation
When the winds of changes shift
May your heart always be joyful
May your song always be sung
May you stay forever young

Forever young, forever young
May you stay forever young.

(Kevin Stuart, James Savigar, Jim Cregan, Robert Dylan, Rod Stewart)

Sunday, July 12, 2020

Geography lessons

And when the winds have blown things round and back again 
What was once your pain will be your home

We’ve been staying at home because of Covid 19 just long enough now that I’ve forgotten what I’d be doing on any given typical day before the pandemic began.

As the virus case numbers go up and the death toll starts to rise again, it’s more clear than ever that this isn’t going away any time soon.

When businesses and schools shut down in March, it was unthinkable that the end wouldn’t be anywhere in sight by now. Even though we knew that a vaccine would not be available by now, there were predictions that the virus would subside in the warmer months, at least temporarily.

Ironically, it is the warmest states - Arizona, Florida, Texas, to name some current disaster areas - which have seen the largest surges. Of course those same states were the slowest to shut down and the quickest to reopen.

It’s insane that it’s still unclear whether or how schools will reopen for the fall semester. This affects both my kids. Kandace has to decide either to send her son to school with all the risks of exposure and infection that that entails, or keep him home and try to balance her full time job with his online learning. Chelsea’s boyfriend will either be attending his graduate program in person, which involves commuting to from Queens to Manhattan or or paying the same tuition for remote classes.

I remind myself not to own these decisions. I’ll be a sounding board but I won’t advise, mainly because I have no advice to give and they know themselves and their situations better than anyone else.

It's a no-brainer that the hardest part of the pandemic's overprint on our lives is not being able to see my children.

When I was 23 I packed up my car and left my lifelong New York home to move to Texas. I wasn’t the happiest, most carefree teenager. My high school years were fraught. I was besieged with insecurity, self-doubt, and loneliness. I fought ferociously with both my parents but suffered terrible separation anxiety when I was away from them for long. My neurotransmitters were a misfiring mess, but because depression was seen as a moral weakness or personal failing, I was in utter denial.

Anyway, angst is a pretty universal teenage malady, so maybe I was more normal than I thought.

My college years were better. I had friends, boyfriends, and as long as I didn’t think too much about the future, I was pretty happy. I loved living in a small college town in upstate New York. I couldn’t believe that when the end of our four years rolled round, everyone just packed up and went back to where they came from.

I stuck around my college town for an extra year, working as a waitress, but that wasn’t ever going to be a long term solution. It's hard to explain how I chose to move to Texas. Some of my college friends had moved there for jobs in the energy industry, or in one case because his parents lived there. I had a bit of a crush on this guy, who had dated one of my best college girlfriends. She’d moved to Texas with him but was leaving to go to graduate school. She was also leaving him.

So, those were some reasons, but no really good reason. Texas sounded exotic, different, and I was drifting. I’d broken up with my latest boyfriend, scotching a half-baked plan to go to California with him in his VW Beetle van.

Instead I drove to Texas by myself.

I stayed with my college crush until I found work and an apartment. I signed up for classes at the University of Houston. I got a part time job there and another job as a waitress at a nearby hotel. I traded in my 1965 Plymouth for a new Dodge Omni. I settled into life as a Texan.

One thing led to another.

I arrived in Houston in late August, so the following summer was my first proper experience with a Texas summer. I’d moved from my apartment complex to a duplex in the Heights. I was quite lonely and might have thrown in the towel and gone back to New York, if I hadn’t been accepted to start the night program at Bates College of Law in the fall

I’m not sure I was ever serious about a career in law. Rather, I was hoping that I’d meet a nice man. Dating had become a challenge. In Texas, in that era, if you were 24 and unmarried, it was unusual. It was hard to meet appropriate, available people. You got the sense that the good ones were all taken.

And just as I’d imagined, when I started law school I met a 27 year old man who’d just gotten divorced, after a five year marriage and one child. I thought he was my future. I’m not sure what he thought I was but it turned out that I was his transitional relationship. I might have been the right person at the wrong time, because after a few months he suddenly decided that he wanted to focus on his work and his son, and he wanted us to be just friends.

I fell apart. Inside. By then I’d moved into a rented house with two girlfriends, and in the end that saved me. I finished my first year of law school. I went to work for a law firm, first as a receptionist, then as assistant to the librarian. A year later, I moved to a different law firm as librarian. I dated a series of men, but nothing clicked. I began to think about moving back to New York. I thought I’d wait until I got my year-end bonus and then go.

In August, four years after landing in Texas, I starting dating my future ex-husband. We met through a mutual interest in glass art.

Not long after I met Jon, I went to work for the company where I’d stay for the next 30 years.

One thing led to another.

Jon and I got engaged and bought a house. We had a baby and sold the house. We bought another house and had another baby. I lived in that house for 19 years, with Jon at first and later as a single parent.

About five years after we bought that house, my parents moved to Florida. Even if I’d returned to New York and raised a family there, I think they’d still have made the move, because they left my brother and two grandchildren in New Jersey when they left.

I am telling you all this now, because I’m struck by the fact that, because I moved away, I missed being near my parents when my children were young. And because I moved away from Texas, I am missing being near my children and my own grandchild.

Of course it’s never that simple. I wasn’t actually near my children when we left. Kandace moved to Dallas after college because her fiancĂ© had family and a job there. After my grandson was born and they divorced, she stayed because it was important for her son to continue to have a relationship with his father. Chelsea stayed in Austin after college, but it was always in the cards that she’d leave Texas one day, and a year ago she moved to New York.

Things have a strange way of circling around. Chelsea lives three miles from the house my parents lived in for 32 years, where I lived from age seven until I left for college and never went back.

Yet for some random reason or no reason at all, I find myself planted in North Carolina. I’m anchored by a big house, with plenty of empty guest rooms, and a husband who is head over heels in love with everything about this place.

I often think how lucky I am. I think about how unhappy I had been, so many times, before. There were many bouts of sadness, when I lost my law school love, when I stayed in a failed marriage for so long, all the times I was alone, and the time when, before I met Neil, that other profound love affair went tits up.

I think about the grace that allowed me to heal and love again. How love, not time, heals, how being in a long happy relationship is magical after all those losses. How even if my children aren’t near, they are well, we love each other, we talk and text, and we see each other when we can.

The pandemic has thrown a wrench into the gears. I tell myself, this too shall pass, and I try to believe it.

Most of the time I am fine, and when I’m not, I’m treading water. A day, an hour, a minute, whatever it takes, to keep going. We have gotten this far, we will continue to get through this time.

Just saying that, here, now, helps. So, I’ll keep saying it.

This too shall pass. Keep going. There will be an end to this strange interlude, even if we don’t see it yet.

Remember everything I told you
Keep it in your heart like a stone
And when the winds have blown things round and back again
What was once your pain will be your home

All around the table the white-haired men have gathered
Spilling their sons' blood like table wine
Remember everything I told you
Everything in its own time

The music whispers you in urgency
Hold fast to that language-less connection
A thread of known that was unknown and unseen, seen
Dangling from inside the fifth direction

Boys around the table mapping out their strategies
Kings of the mountains one day dust
A lesson learned, a loving God, and things in their own time
In nothing more do I trust

But we own nothing, nothing is ours
Not even love so fierce it burns like baby stars
But this poverty is our greatest gift
The weightlessness of us as things around begin to shift

Remember everything I told you
Keep it in your heart like a stone
And when the winds have blown things round and back again
What was once your pain will be your home

Everything in its own time
Everything in its own time

(Amy Elizabeth Ray, Emily Ann Saliers © Universal Music Publishing Group)

Monday, July 6, 2020

Considering cancel culture

I'm a stranger here, no one you would know
I'm from somewhere else, well isn't everybody though
I don't know where I'll be when the sun comes up
Until then sweet dreams, goodnight America

Hey, guess what? It’s another all American holiday weekend.

The kind that always makes me feel a bit hollow, a tad dispossessed.

Summer holidays spell family and ours is far-flung.

Here we are in the midst of a viral pandemic, setting record new case numbers daily, yet there’s little evidence that people are staying safely at home today.

Our neighbor is having another effing pool party.

We tried going to Trader Joe’s for a few things I’ve been missing because we haven’t gone there since we started the flatten the curve routine.

People were lined up outside, in the sun, nominally spaced apart, about 14 deep.

No way was Neil having that. So we turned back and went to our local Fresh Market for a few things. I wanted vegetables for a soup to make with our garden potatoes and the tomato sauce we made from last year’s crop and froze.

Whilst we continue to stay home and social distance, the earth continues to turn on its axis. Within limits, life goes on, and there’s quite a lot happening in the world worth a thought.

In the aftermath of George Floyd's death and the ensuing Black Lives Matter protests, there has been an outcry for the removal of statues commemorating Civil War figureheads and banishing displays of the Confederate flag.

Even the statue of Teddy Roosevelt on horseback, with a Native American and a Black man walking beside, that has stood in front of the American Museum of Natural History in New York City for 80 years, has been removed. While the artist envisioned the people of color as friendly guides, to some it was a symbol of supremacy, with the white man above, the people of color beneath.

Meanwhile, the Land of Lakes Native American woman is gone, and Aunt Jemima and Uncle Ben are retiring, after some one hundred thirty years of yeoman's service, respectively. Sports teams with triggering named such as the Braves and the Redskins are lining up to be rebranded. Even the Indians team name is under scrutiny and may go.

Cancel culture is current vernacular for the practice of ostracizing or boycotting people or companies who have spoken insensitively or behaved inappropriately, generally in response to perceived racist remarks or actions.

But when I first heard the term, I thought it related to how we are redacting history by demolishing relics and references to those parts of the past that we are not proud of and no longer want to own.

I’m not opposed to the elimination of cultural icons that honor people and institutions that stand in contradiction to contemporary anti-racist ideology. I’m not attached to any brand names or images, especially those that are offensive as seen through the lens of modern sensibility.

But where do you draw the line?

As we celebrated Independence Day, I reflected on the fact that it was four score and seven years after our founding fathers declared that all men are created equal before slavery was abolished in the USA. It was seven score and four years after that self-evident truth of equality was espoused before women could vote.

Of the 56 men who signed the Declaration of Independence, it is thought that 41 owned slaves.

While it may be appropriate to celebrate the severing of allegiance to British rule by the 15 represented states in 1776, I’m wondering whether July Fourth is right day to do so.

I may be biased though. Here, take the Fourth of July holiday back. I won’t miss it. You can have Thanksgiving back too for that matter. We can choose a different day and a different occasion to celebrate. Ideally one that is less controversial and biased. Perhaps September 3, the date the Treaty of Paris was signed in 1783. We could combine it with Labor Day. Or how about September 22 the date of the Emancipation Proclamation was delivered in 1862. Or January 1, the date the date it became effective in 1863.

Or even Juneteeth, commemorating the date when orders proclaiming that all slaves in Texas were free finally reached Galveston on June 19, 1865.

Does anyone even give thought to the reason for Independence Day, or is it just an excuse for barbecue, alcohol and pyrotechnics? We may say a token “Happy Birthday America” as we set off that Roman candle, but isn’t the holiday inextricably bound to the flawed men who documented the birth of our nation.

And if you argue that they were just behaving in a way that was acceptable at the time, then isn’t it hypocritical to condemn the key leaders of the Confederacy for their beliefs and tear down their monuments?

I’m not taking a position here, unless it’s to say, to hell with summer holidays. Take all the statues down, I don’t care. I’m sure all of them offend somebody, even if it’s just the descendants of the guy who did something just as important but didn’t get his own statue.

Holidays throw things off. There’s no mail delivery, yet we got mail on Sunday for some reason. Friday feels like Saturday, Saturday like Sunday, and Sunday like one weekend day too many, especially during the pandemic when days all blur together and months go on forever.

I cling to the small bits of structure in my life right now. I’m retired so it shouldn’t matter so much, yet it does. We still do certain things on certain days. A lot of my life’s structure is self imposed. I walk on the treadmill on weekdays. We watch the news on weeknights.

Weekends are still weekends. Holiday weekends are just longer weekends.

I’m glad that my knitting group meets on Sunday mornings. It must be the way some people feel about church.

And I’m glad that we’ve put another holiday weekend to bed. The fireworks have stopped and it’s quiet again.

I'm standing at a traffic light somewhere in West L.A.
Waiting for the sign to change then I'll be on my way
The noise, the heat, the crush of cars just robs me of my nerve
And someone yells and blasts their horn and pins me to the curb

I'm a stranger here, no one you would know
My ship has not come in, but I keep hoping though
And I keep looking past the sun that sets above
Saying to myself, goodnight America

And I'm driving into Houston on a rain slicked Texas road
Land so flat and sky so dark, I say a prayer to float
Should all at once the San Jacinto surge beyond it's banks
Like Noah reaching higher ground I'd offer up my thanks

'Cause I'm a stranger here, no one you would know
I'm just passing through, I am, therefore I go
The moon rose in the east, but now it's right above
As I say aloud, goodnight America

Midnight, it's hard to see the stars
Out on a highway near Atlanta
Full of strip malls and used cars
First light, just roll your window down
And smell the salty air
Perfume of Charleston Town

I'm looking with a pilgrim's eyes upon some promised land
And dreaming with my heart outstretched as if it were my hand
And I'll hit the cross Bronx just in time to beat the rush hour lock
I have no clue what time it is from this world's busted clock

I'm a stranger here, no one you would know
I'm from somewhere else, well isn't everybody though
I don't know where I'll be when the sun comes up
Until then sweet dreams, goodnight America

(Mary Chapin Carpenter © Why Walk Music)

Tuesday, June 30, 2020

The new not normal

Everything changed in a matter of minutes
And nothing was saved in time
All of my old world and all the things in it are hard to find

Despite my personal anxiety and discomfort resulting from the Covid-19 pandemic, my mood on the whole has been more stable and positive than it was during this time frame a year ago.

It took the descent of the dark cloud, without warning or rationale, to drive that fact home. For a few days I sank into that unbound melancholia that has no obvious antidote, beyond sitting with the feelings until they pass.

I wasn’t sad about any particular thing. There was nothing I could think of, even had it been possible, such as seeing my children or hiking in a national park, that felt like any sort of salve.

In some ways these episodes are not all bad. They force me to take stock, to be more conscious of the many reasons I have to be full of gratitude. It provides an opportunity to make an inventory of all the great things that comprise my life and be very intentional about my appreciation for all that I have.

Maybe my low mood was influenced by the disturbing fact that two people who I know fairly well have recently, respectively, lost a close friend to suicide. I didn't know the people who died but I have the sense that they were warm, wonderful people who to all appearances had full, happy lives. I imagine that this new way of being in the world, physically distanced, fearful of close contact, vulnerable to a vicious viral disease or the potentially equally crippling disease of loneliness, can engender terrifying isolation and despair.

Having come back from the brink of that infinite void, I have in the past been very angry at people who succumb to the shadows and submit to the abyss. I have been very wrong about that. I wasn't stronger than they were, I was luckier. Who am I to say that they didn't fight every bit as hard as I did? I owe my recovery to many things. Love, support, health care, family, friends, therapy, medication, luck, and grace.

I got well, but I'm deluding myself if I take all the credit. And these blue days remind me that it's remission, not cure. I could fall down the rabbit hole again.

Just now I can see the chasm but I have a tenacious grasp on terra firma.

Some good things happened for my kids, that helped cheer me. My elder daughter got the new car she's been waiting for, which had been delayed by the pandemic. She's been driving her old car in the Texas heat without air conditioning these past hot weeks, but even that is a small thing compared to the relief of having reliable transportation. You know, for the time when we will all have good reason to drive anyplace again.

And my younger daughter, who'd been told she might be a candidate for severance come September, was told the very next day that she did have a job after all, although her exact position has yet to be determined. I don't expect her to serve her entire career at this one company, but for the next couple of years, until her boyfriend finishes his grad program and finds work of his own, it would be optimal if she can hang on to her respectable salary and benefits.

I still have no idea when I'll get to see my kids again, but a little good news and some FaceTime over the weekend was a shot in the arm for me.

If not for the pandemic, we'd have been in Boston this past weekend and in Maine right now. We're saving a lot of money on all these trips not taken. Neil especially is saving money since there are no long weekend softball tournaments once or twice a month, as there have been in the past,.

Me, I'm not saving a darn thing. Twenty five hundred some dollars for cat teeth extractions put a dent in my cash flow, but the real culprit is that my stockpiling problem has recurred in a big way. My yarn stash particularly has grown and continues to grow. And grow.

I've learned so much in the twenty months or so since I bought that first gateway skein of yarn from the Restore. I bought way too much yarn before I knew a thing about the different types of fiber and before I knew a lot about yarn weight or even what I enjoyed working with. Then as time went on and I knit and learned, I became obsessed with hand-dyed, small-batch designer yarn. Shockingly expensive yarn. Who would have thought knitting would be a more expensive craft than lampwork? Not I.

Even so, I continued to amass yarn. Oft times there were fabulous sales, fantastic bargains that I just couldn't pass up, even if I wasn't sure how I would use the yarn. Ideally, it is best to have a project in mind first and then buy the specific yarn you need for the project. As is, while I am fairly committed to knit new projects from my stash, I seldom have the perfect yarn for any given project I want to cast on.

The problems are varied. I have the right color and weight but not in the quantity I need. Or, I have too much of the quantity, because who wants to use up one skein if you have a pair or more. At some point I must have decided that 200 grams was the optimal amount of yarn to buy blind. That is about 800 yards of sock weight, 600 yards of sport weight, 500 yards of double knit weight, 400 yards of worsted weight. There are other weights, such as lace, aran, bulky, etc., but I'm less drawn to those, although I might hold a strand of lace weight with another weight for a marled effect.

At one time I must have thought that if I wanted to do a larger project, stripes of different colors would always be an option, but I find myself crossing my eyes when I try to figure out what to mix and match with what.

I'm also having trouble mentally keeping up with what yarn I have. As with clothing in the past, I gravitate toward the same colorways and wind up buying more of something like something I already have. And then there is the problem of shades. I might own a dozen skeins of pink but that doesn't mean I necessarily have the right shade of pink to coordinate with some variegated unicorn that I couldn't resist.

My yarn lives in four different places. There's an armoire in the family room that is dedicated to yarn, which I store in bins. In the same room, the entertainment center is almost entirely devoted to yarn. The bottom of the linen closet currently stores six large bins of yarn. And the closet of one guest room holds more large and smaller bins of yarn.

Yet still I have yarn in half a dozen virtual shopping carts this minute.

My long-term plan is to sell some of my earlier purchases. Once people are able to safely gather in groups, whenever that might be, there will be yarn yard sales hosted by fiber organizations where I hope to offload some of the overflow. I don't mind not recouping what I paid as long as someone will be happy to give it a home and make beautiful things with it.

That's in some nebulous futures though.

There's another puzzle that I have yet to address, which is the fact that I am knitting a lot of things, many more than I am likely to need or use. My favorite thing to knit this deadline are shawls. I am one of those people who does enjoy wrapping up in a shawl in correspondent weather, but I doubt that I need dozens of them. I'll give some as gifts if I think the recipient will value them, but the supply most likely will continue to exceed the need.

At this point, I'm deferring any decision. I justify it this way. I'm still learning. I enjoy making them. Maybe I will sell some or contribute some to fund raisers. If all else fails, my kids can donate them to a charity some day.

Oh, did I mention the yarn bags?

At first I worked on one project at a time. Now, four seems to be the right number. It feels good for my creative spirit to go back and forth. At this ten seconds I have a sweater in time out because working the sleeves is tedious and the small needles hurt my hands. I just cast off a large shawl which still needs the ends woven in and to be blocked to be considered finis. I am about one-eighth into my next shawl and thinking about starting yet another.

Of course every project needs it's own yarn bag, sometimes more than one, as it grows. I have small hat and sock-sized project bags, medium sized bags for shawls and cowls, and larger bags for sweaters, throws, or multiple projects. And some I have just because they were so damn cute that I found myself pushing the order now button.

We won't talk about the needles a knitter must have, or the storage options for keeping them organized.

I wonder if I'll ever be done.

I'm still making beads here and there, but I'm not trying to sell them and they are stacking up. Now and then an old customer asks for some and I'm hoping Beads of Courage will need more pairs. A friend here has mentioned wanting to trade beads for one of her woven rugs. And if I actually ever have a table at a yarn rummage sale, I'll take some bead trays because craft people are often multi-talented.

Nome of these complexities are real life problems. I have space, I'm not strapped for dough. It won't break the bank if I buy more yarn. If I break down my feelings of guilt it comes down to this. I cringe at the thought that my kids may inherit the spoils of my stockpiling.

If all goes as it should, I have as much of a quarter century to deal with this dilemma.

I've been doing better about some things. We took huge trash bags of clothing to Goodwill recently. I'm slowly choosing to wear some of the brand-new years-old clothes that I've stockpiled and let go of some lightly worn, much loved items. You'd think having new-with-tags items that no longer fit me would be some kind of lesson.

I'm buying less clothing. A little less. It's an ongoing struggle, and a clearly first world one.

But that's how we eat the elephant.

One bite at a time.

I've been thinking
About you and me
Maybe I was just
Seeing what I wanted to see
You can call me crazy
But you know this time I swore
That I wouldn't run
But I can't do that anymore

I can't find a way to stay
And I can't see my way to go
But I can't give up without a fight

I can pack myself up in a matter of minutes
Leave you all far behind
All of my old world and all the things in it are hard to find
If they ever were mine

You've been trying
And I know it's been hard
And I'm afraid of
All this blood in my heart
If there's one thing certain
It's there ain't nothing for sure
And I want to run
But I can't do that anymore

I can't meet you half way
And I can't have it my way
And I can't give up without a fight

I can pack myself up in a matter of minutes
Leave you all far behind
And all of my old world and all the things in it are hard to find
All of my old world and all the things in it are hard to find
Like they ever were mine

I could count the good times we had
On one hand
All the rest was
A sort of means to the end
Well now it's done
And I can never go back
To where I was before
And I wanna run

I can get myself clean in a matter of minutes
And get it wrong every time
All of my whole world and all the things in it are hard to, hard to find
Everything changed in a matter of minutes
And nothing was saved in time
All of my old world and all the things in it are hard to find
But they never, never, never
Were mine

(John Leventhal, Shawn Colvin © Warner Chappell Music, Inc)

Monday, June 22, 2020

It is what it is

We are going or coming
We're just finding our way
To the next destination
And from night into day

Something has shifted.

Maybe it's the onslaught of summer weather. The sun no longer feels benign, benevolent. Rather it feels baleful, belligerent. The languid days of sitting on our porch, knitting in the soft air, have come to an abrupt end.

It's time to buckle in for a long, hot summer, without the relief of trips to cooler climbs, the breath of air we would seek in the mountains, in a different circumstance.

The Covid-19 epidemic continues apace but without the sense of urgency that it had before, despite record-setting numbers of new cases and a steadily mounting death toll.

The pandemic news each day feels a lot like a rehash of the news of the day before It's almost as if the media is stretching to find something, anything, new to say about it.

Stay home. Wash your hands. Wear a mask. Keep your distance. Yeah, we got that.

Other news takes top billing now. Black Lives Matter protests. Episodes of police brutality. The economy in crisis. Political pandemonium. Trump's latest debacle.

The days feel longer now. And I don’t mean more daylight hours, which is a good thing. The weeks still pass quickly but the days sometimes drag.

I measure my weeks from Wednesday to Sunday and then Sunday to Wednesday. That’s when my knitting group meets. From 10 am to noon we sit in the shade in the parking lot. We knit, we talk, mostly about yarn. It’s nice.

Sometimes I join the group that meets on Friday afternoons for spinning. Not the exercise called spinning, but the fiber art. I actually bought a spinning wheel earlier this year. It was a crime of opportunity. A gal was selling a barely used one for a discount price. She’d taken one lesson, then decided it wasn’t for her.

I’m not sure it’s for me either. I haven’t got the hang of it yet, probably because I haven’t practiced. I have good intentions, but as each week goes by, between knitting projects, occasional bead making, reading with Ryland, treadmill time, meals, reading with Neil, cuddling with cats, yada yada, spinning never rises to the top of my to-do list.

At least so far. I did just this weekend order some batts of hand-dyed merino to motivate me. Before I touch them, I have 8 ounces of inexpensive Rambouillet roving to practice with.

My other knitting group that hasn’t met since we started staying home is planning to start up again. We used to meet twice monthly at the library. We’re going to try it outside on the green in front of the library.

It’s a lot, but it feels good to get out of the house. I filled my gas tank last week for the first time in three months. I have no especial to desire venture far afield, except for our usual places, namely Starbucks. We have also resumed our $5 Friday smoothie routine. But I couldn’t be less interested in going to a mall or a restaurant. Or a theater, once they open.

What I’d like to do is go to the beach. I’ve yet to see the Outer Banks. It’s a long drive though. We’d have to go for two or three nights to make it worthwhile. That makes it pricey. And then I start to worry about meals. We can’t roll in like we used to do, check in to our lodgings and go out to eat. We’d have to bring food or get takeout, and all of a sudden my head hurts and it doesn’t feel like a vacation.

Right now, Chelsea is in Michigan. She and her boyfriend rented a car and made the 14 hour drive to visit his family. I’m sad that they opted to go there rather than come here, but I’m glad they were able to escape from their tiny New York City apartment where they’ve been quarantined these past months. I’m sure it feels wonderful to breathe fresh air and be out and about in the green world again.

Maybe they’ll come here later in the summer.

Maybe we’ll drive up to New York and New Jersey later in the summer. I know Neil wants to see his folks. It’s not ideal staying at his dad’s house, and it’s not all that exciting at his mom’s place, but if he goes, I’ll go too, and try to see Chelsea and my brother on that trip.

Beyond that, it’s anyone’s guess when we’ll be able to take a real vacation again, or even see our families in a Texas, because I’m sure not driving there.

Well, everyone’s in the same boat, so it’s useless to bellyache about it. It is what it is.

Neil and I are reading Moby Dick. I somehow missed that one during my English Major days. It’s a bit of a slog so far, but I’m hopeful that it will pick up. We finished the last book in the trilogy, His Dark Materials, and I cried and cried when Lyra and Will parted.

I’m still pushing through the Outlander novels. I’m up to book five, The Fiery Cross, and it’s slow going. My goal is to finish book six before season six of the series drops. With filming on hold thanks to SARS-COV-2, my chances are good.

We’re watching a French crime drama, Balthazar, starring an Israeli actor (why ask why). We just finished Dead Still, we're working through season five of Grantchester, and I’ll be looking for another series to supplement our diet of Nova, Frontline, and MSNBC. I’d like to re-watch Seven Seconds with Neil, so that may be next up. And we’re still slowly working through the latest seasons of Murdoch Mysteries and Frankie Drake when we need something lighter.

On the treadmill, I interrupted season three of Bordertown to watch Reckoning (because Aden Young), which disappointed. In my queue are new seasons of Marcella and Thirteen Reasons Why (ask not why I’m watching a Generation Z show because I have no clue).

For now, I’ll spare you another thousand words.
Zamboni, minus four teeth
Biscotti has been friendlier
Loki is always reliable

My Urth Orbit poncho
Criterion cowl made from stash bits and bobs

Trying out some new colors
Silver glass still sings for me
Signature dotties in new colors
Our garden walk

Yes, that is corn. Glass gem corn.

From twenty thousand feet high
I saw the lights below me
Twinkling just like Christmas
We descended slowly
And the curve of the world passed
With all of that flying
Above the mighty ocean
And now we all are arriving
Grab the carry on baggage
Join the herd for the mad run
Take a place in the long line
Where does every one come from?
As we shuffle on forward
As we wait for inspection
Don't be holding that line up
At the end lies redemption

Oh oh, hey hey, ah ah

Now I'm stamped and I'm waved through
I take up my position
At the mouth of the canyon
Saying prayers of contrition
Please deliver my suitcase
From all mischief and peril
Now the sight of it circling
Is a hymn to the faithful
Forgive me for my staring
For my unconcealed envy
In the hall of arrivals
Where the great river empties
It's hand carts and porters
All the people it carries
To be greeted with flowers
Grandfathers and babies

Oh oh, hey hey, ah ah

There is no one to meet me
Yet I'm all but surrounded
By the tears and embracing
By the joy unbounded
The friends and relations
Leaping over hemispheres
Transcendental reunion
All borders vanish here
We are travelers traveling
We are gypsies together
We're philosophers gathering
We are business or pleasure
We are going or coming
We're just finding our way
To the next destination
And from night into day

Oh oh, hey hey, ah ah,

In a giant bird's belly
I flew over the ocean
From twenty thousand feet high
How those lights were glowing

(Mary Chapin Carpenter © Why Walk Music)

Sunday, May 31, 2020

No lives matter until all lives matter

His widow kneeled with all their children
At the sacred burial ground
And the TV glowed that long hot summer
With all the cities burning down

Way back in October, 2017 (has it really been that long?) I was conflicted about former NFL player Colin Kaepernick’s choice to go down on one knee, rather than standing for the pre-game national anthem. He said this.
I am not going to stand up to show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses black people and people of color.
In light of recent events, the death of George Floyd at the knee of a white cop, while three other cops stood by for one, the shooting death of jogger Ahmaud Arbery for another, I better understand the merits of Kaepernick’s protest.

There is much that needs to be said about the tragic consequences of a world that treats people of color, especially black men, so differently, so disproportionately, so disposably.

Yet as a white person with privilege, anything I say is fraught and subject to unwitting bias, susceptible to unintentional political incorrectness.

I mean, someone posted a picture of a cat captioned “caturday” and was called out for being tone deaf. Someone posted “all lives matter” and was castigated for diluting the “black lives matter” message.

So I should be silent, no?

No, that too is collusion.

I’m part of the problem, even though I don’t want to be, by virtue of the fact that I’m white, and I’m not out there solving the problem

If only it were that easy.

If wishing would make it so, the problem would be fixed.

If I ran the circus at least.

So, the riots. It hurts me to see businesses burned and looted.

I understand peaceful protests, but what is the good of violence and vandalism?
A riot is the language of the unheard.
That is what Martin Luther King said. He went on to say this.
And what is it that America has failed to hear? It has failed to hear that the plight of the Negro poor has worsened over the last few years. It has failed to hear that the promises of freedom and justice have not been met. And it has failed to hear that large segments of white society are more concerned about tranquility and the status quo than about justice, equality and humanity.
King said that in April 1967.


Fifty three years ago.

One year before he was assassinated.

Five years after the publication of Strength to Love, a collection of King’s writing, which includes this (often paraphrased) passage, based on a sermon that King gave at Dexter Avenue Baptist Church in Montgomery, Alabama in 1957.
Why should we love our enemies? The first reason is fairly obvious. Returning hate for hate multiplies hate, adding deeper darkness to a night already devoid of stars. Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that. Hate multiplies hate, violence multiplies violence, and toughness implies toughness in a descending spiral of destruction.
What changed between 1957 and 1967 that transformed King's outlook?


Nothing changed.

That is the problem.

And now, as civil unrest swells in cities across the country, I ask myself, what do the protesters want to accomplish, specifically.

Derek Chauvin, the officer who, for almost nine minutes, pressed his knee into Floyd’s neck as Floyd lay handcuffed on the pavement, begging for water, for relief, for breath, then lapsed unresponsive, was charged with third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter. The other three are under investigation. Hopefully they will be charged as accessories.
That is Mr. Floyd’s head on the pavement beneath Chauvin’s knee.
(Screenshot from NY Times video)
All four were fired immediately. Of course that’s not enough.

Nothing is enough for a human life brutally extinguished.

What else could be done right now, today?

On social media, influencers in the BIPOC community are saying, don’t tell me how bad you feel without telling me what you are going to do to enact real change. Don’t ask me how to help, what to read, who to follow, do the work yourself.

I can’t fix mankind. I can only work on myself and be a model. To the extent I have a platform, I can speak out, but if I’m afraid of saying the wrong thing despite my heart wanting to do the right thing, how can I say anything?

Do I take the risk or do I take the easy way, the safe way and stay muzzled?

Speaking here is laughably risk free, because I'm pretty much talking to a highly sympathetic audience, i.e., myself.

Still, there is no eloquent contribution I can make to the conversation, no words that will miraculously effect change.

So all I will say to the BIPOC community is I see you, I hear you, I stand with you in spirit.

And if I bear witness to any talk or behavior that does not see you and hear you, then I will stand with you in the flesh.

I will not stand by in silence. I promise.

It's not enough but it's what I've got.

When we were young we pledged allegiance
Every morning of our lives
The classroom rang with children's voices
Under teachers' watchful eye

We learned about the world around us
At our desks and at dinner time
Reminded of the starving children
We cleaned our plates with guilty minds

And the stones in the road
Shone like diamonds in the dust
And then a voice called to us
To make our way back home

When I was ten my father held me
On his shoulders above the crowd
To see a train draped in mourning
Pass slowly through our town

His widow kneeled with all their children
At the sacred burial ground
And the TV glowed that long hot summer
With all the cities burning down

And the stones in the road
Flew out beneath our bicycle tires
Worlds removed from all those fires
As we raced each other home

And now we drink our coffee on the run
We climb that ladder rung by rung
We are the daughters and the sons
And here's the line that's missing

The starving children have been replaced
By souls out on the street
We give a dollar when we pass
And hope our eyes don't meet

We pencil in, we cancel out
We crave the corner suite
We kiss your ass, we make you hold
We doctor the receipt

And the stones in the road
They fly out from beneath our wheels
Another day, another deal
Before we get back home

Stones in the road
Leave a mark whence they came
A thousands points of light or shame
Baby, I don't know

(Mary Chapin Carpenter© Sony/ATV Music Publishing LLC)

Friday, May 22, 2020

Magical thinking maybe

I've got all my life to live
And I've got all my love to give and I'll survive
I will survive

If there’s one thing Neil and I agree on, it’s that we both feel like we do more than our fair share of the work around here.

For example, cooking and cleanup. After I retired from my day job, while Neil was still putting in his time in the salt mine, I took it upon myself to make dinner most nights. It seemed only fair, even though I was running my own little bead business, because it's not a real job if you love what you do and work for yourself.

Now, in our fourth year since he retired, he still seems to expect me to put dinner on the table.

Once in awhile he will cook something special, making a huge mess in the kitchen, but for our usual dinners of pasta, eggs, hot dogs, soup, veggie burgers, etc. it’s usually my responsibility to whip it up, even if that just means boiling water and setting out the condiments. If I don't do it spontaneously, he hints and nudges me, because boiling water is rocket science

Did I mention that I do 100 percent of the cleanup?

That includes soaking the dishes, loading the dishwasher, and washing the pot or pan.

It’s Neil’s job to unload the dishwasher, which he does with occasional prompting. Except, while he does put away the coffee mugs, dinnerware, and cutlery, anything else such as cat bowls, cookware, Tupperware, any random items merely are left on the counter, as if he doesn’t know where they go.

These are small things really, but in this time of staying at home, we’ve eaten every meal here. So the cleanup is endless and part of the reason I’m so tired, which you can read about in my last post.

On second thought, don’t read it, it’s wordy and I’m not sure if I ever got around to making whatever point was in my head when I started writing.

Not that I always know what I want to say when I start writing. It usually comes out though, I think.

Did I mention that I clean up 100 percent of the cat hair balls? And we have some pretty actively regurgitating cats.

But that’s not really my point today.

What’s on my mind is the pandemic, specifically all the statistics and polls and prognostications about how and when and if it will ever end.

I’m very picky about numbers. When I hear that some large number of people tested positive in some meat packing plant, what I want to know is, how many people got sick and how sick did they get.

When I hear about increases in new cases, I want to know whether that’s because we did more testing, or if more people are getting very sick. I want to know what percent of the new tests were positive, how many of the new cases required hospitalization.

It’s hard to make sense of the whole thing. Yes, I take it seriously, I stay largely home, keep my social distance, and wear a mask when I have to go somewhere. I hand gel religiously. Deliveries go into mail jail. Non-perishables are quarantined. Refrigerated items are swabbed down with soap or alcohol.

But I have a hard time believing there’s more than a slight chance that a novel coronavirus particle was present at the Sam’s warehouse where we shopped this week. We take all the precautions but I’ve lost my intense grocery contamination phobia. I don't regard every cereal box as highly suspect.

I haven't heard of that any grocery store has been found to be a hot spot for virus transmission, a super-spreader venue, so to speak.

As non-essential businesses begin to open up, and people begin to venture forth, over the coming weeks we've been told to expect a resurgence of Covid-19, or spikes of the pandemic curve, or flare-ups in new hot spots. And I think that is all possible, if not probably, based on scientific expert predictions.

But even with stay-at-home orders expiring, I think people have adopted new behaviors. No hugs or handshakes, lots of hand washing, mask wearing in many cases, and generally higher levels of cleanliness and caution.

I'm still a long way from wanting to dine in a restaurant, or board an airplane, or stay in a hotel. I'm a much longer way from seeing myself at a ballgame or concert or conference, even once large group events resume. And I think I'm not alone.

Which makes me wonder about several things. Could we have done enough to make enough of a difference? Could our ongoing efforts to avoid spreading germs be enough to discourage the virus? A virus needs a live host to go forth and multiply. If we make that much more difficult, as we've been doing, might it not simply pack up its marauding RNA and go?

More evidence has been publicized that the threat of outdoor transmission is relatively low. Coronaviruses thrive in small, poorly ventilated areas, and places where there is a lot of unavoidable contact, such as crowded subway cars, theaters, sports arenas, lecture halls. Does that mean it's OK to go to a crowded beach or public park? Maybe, maybe not. I personally would't play a contact sport, not even volleyball, or linger in close quarters with groups of people at a festival, but I feel more empowered to go for a walk and not freak out if a jogger runs past me.

So I ponder whether there is some possibility that, with the summer months upon us, with outdoor options for recreation and socialization, with a measured response to reopening businesses where there is no business model for working from home, such as hair and nail salons, with maximizing the use of masks and sanitization, we might avoid an Armageddon of new cases of Covid-19 that threaten to overwhelm our health care systems again.

On a hypothetical level, I wonder if the virus has already taken out a critical mass of the weakest targets, the elderly, the immune-compromised, those with comorbidities, the congregate dwellers such as those in nursing homes and prisons, those who work shoulder to shoulder in factories. This is not meant to be heartless, I am not saying that was at all OK, but it is what has happened, it is a statement of fact about who has been hardest hit.

It is also the purest conjecture that some threshhold of deaths (and recoveries) has been crossed so as to thwart the continuous rise of infection.

Scientists seem fairly unanimous that we are nowhere near anything approaching herd immunity and that until we have available an effective vaccine, we are all in line for eventual exposure and unremitting contact of the disease.

Those of us that haven't already undergone it and recovered.

I have another wild hair (impulse, whim, crazy idea) about this virus. I muse that perhaps the virus has been in circulation for a longer while than is generally thought. In my timeline of virus events (Life in the time of Covid) I placed the first cluster of cases in mid-December, but it has come to light that the virus was circulating earlier than that. I wouldn't be surprised if we ultimately learn that many more people have antibodies than would align with the timeline as currently known.

I traveled in November. I flew to Dallas and flew back to Charlotte with a layover in Jackson, Mississippi. At the end of December I began to have a dry cough that lasted for weeks and was severe enough that I pulled a muscle in my chest. I didn't have fever but I'm not prone to running fevers. I was very tired, but had no other symptoms.

OK, I know, it probably wasn't Covid-19. For one thing, I didn't infect the many people I was in contact with, in those innocent days when we had house guests and visited grandchildren. For another, I had a chest X-ray that had no signs of pneumonia (nor broken ribs).

Unless of course, there is a milder version of the virus that is mostly asymptomatic and many more people have been exposed and not contracted the illness or had very mild cases. Then again, there's no much data to say that once you've had a mild case, or any case at all, you have any sustained immunity.

So it's probably not worth getting an antibody test, since until more is known, I'll be proceeding cautiously, antibodies or not.

Wait and see, wait and see. It's tedious but necessary. It will take a few weeks before it's clear how much the gradual opening of the economy affects the number of people who become seriously ill. Even if we can avoid an onslaught of new hospitalizations and intubations and expirations, life will still look nothing like it used to.

The new normal is here for the long haul. There is no finish line, no line in the sand delineating when we can trade this unwanted new normal for anything like our nostalgic old normal. Maybe when a vaccination has been developed and widely deployed, but that will take time, and I think it will take longer than that for people to truly trust casual proximity with other people again.

Meanwhile, it's sinking in that we are looking at a fettered future as far as the heart can see. Both my kids may be working from home for the rest of this year, at least. We probably won't be crossing any trips off our bucket list this summer. And who knows if we will see any of our extended family again for many more months.

At least for me, the relentless feelings of foreboding have receded. I seem to have made my peace with what is, for now.

It helps that my knitting group has resumed meeting in person, out of doors and spread out. But I'd only give these ladies a C for social distance. They pass over their phones to show photos, they hand you yarn or pick up one another's projects for a better look.

I hand gel and I shrug. There is some risk. I've come back around to my earliest perspective. If I get the virus, I get it.

I won't let it get me though.

If I get it, I'm hell bent on getting over it.

At first I was afraid, I was petrified
Kept thinking I could never live without you by my side
But then I spent so many nights thinking how you did me wrong
And I grew strong
And I learned how to get along

And now you're back
From outer space
I just walked in to find you here with that sad look upon your face
I should have changed that stupid lock
I should have made you leave your key
If I'd known for just one second you'd be back to bother me

Go on now, go, walk out the door
Just turn around now
'Cause you're not welcome anymore
Weren't you the one who tried to hurt me with goodbye
Do you think I'd crumble
Did you think I'd lay down and die?

Oh no, not I, I will survive
Oh, as long as I know how to love, I know I'll stay alive
I've got all my life to live
And I've got all my love to give and I'll survive
I will survive
I will survive

It took all the strength I had not to fall apart
Kept trying hard to mend the pieces of my broken heart
And I spent oh-so many nights just feeling sorry for myself
I used to cry
But now I hold my head up high

And you see me
Somebody new
I'm not that chained-up little person and still in love with you
And so you felt like dropping in and just expect me to be free
Well, now I'm saving all my loving for someone who's loving me

Go on now, go, walk out the door
Just turn around now
'Cause you're not welcome anymore
Weren't you the one who tried to crush me with goodbye
Do you think I'd crumble
Did you think I'd lay down and die?

Oh no, not I, I will survive
Oh, as long as I know how to love, I know I'll stay alive
I've got all my life to live
And I've got all my love to give
And I'll survive
I will survive
I will survive

(Dino Fekaris / Frederick J. Perren © Universal Music Publishing Group)

Tuesday, May 12, 2020

Quarantine fatigue, or just plain fatigue?

We believe in things that will give us hope
Why shouldn't we? Why shouldn't we?
Let your voice be heard, celebrate your vote
Why shouldn't we? Why shouldn't we?

Lethargy breeds lethargy.

That’s something my mom used to say.

Generally aimed at me, with the implication that I was lazy.

I admit that I never had a lot of energy when I was younger.

When I was a teenager my mom would take me into Manhattan, to go shopping at B. Altman and Lord & Taylor and Orbach’s and Macy’s.

Fifth Avenue. 34th Street. Herald Square.

We’d have lunch at the Bird Cage and shop until we dropped, or rather, until I dropped.

In those days, you’d have your purchases sent to your home, a complimentary service that enabled you to continue to shop, unencumbered by parcels.

Inevitably, I’d run out of stream long before my mom was ready for the subway ride home.

I wasn’t dragging my feet out of orneriness or laziness though. I was just drained and bone tired.

Just as my mom had more energy than teenage me, I have a lot more energy now than I did then.

It was a long time coming, through years of tiredness.

I was tired throughout my high school years, when I was battling wearisome adolescent insecurities and personal anxieties about everything under the sun.

I was tired during my college years, partying too much and pulling all-nighters to make up for missed study time, eating poorly and starving myself to be unnaturally thin.

I was tired through my early career years, when I was working two jobs and dating and battling loneliness after moving far from home.

I was tired through my years as a young wife and mom, juggling work and home and responsibilities and the realization that the starving artist I married was not going to magically become a good provider.

I was tired during most of my first marriage, drinking too much and dragging the weight of a struggling relationship, and the anger about our reversed roles, wanting to be the freelance artist rather than the wage slave.

I was really tired during the years of separation and divorce and single parenting, and dating as a single parent,

And I was exhausted during the aftermath of a post-divorce passion that ended catastrophically and propelled me to a deeper despair than I’d ever known or imagined.

But then, as I did the work to recover, to get well and strong and healthy so that I could attract relationships with people who didn’t need to be healed or fixed, something else happened.

My energy level improved.

It might have started when I was 40 and stopped drinking. I wasn't an addict, merely a habitual drinker with little tolerance. Alcohol made me even more tired and sapped what little energy I had. I'm not sure I would have managed to power through a divorce while under the anesthetic influence of gin.

Sobriety couldn't equip me to avoid the months of weariness that followed the loss of love that I suffered during the darkest interval after the end of my marriage. But once I began to surmount the deep despair that engulfed me, it became part of the groundwork that allowed me to rebuild my health and well being.

I've had a score of good, happy years since that bleakest phase of my life.

I've raised my children. I've built a life with a good man who loves me. I've traveled a lot, seen so many breathtaking places. I've adopted a fitness regime, I've hiked many miles in magnificently scenic places. I've opted for a relatively nutritious, primarily plant and seafood based diet, and I've felt strong and sturdy and vibrant most of the time.

Yes, I do have some biochemical help. I take low-dose aspirin daily; supplemental thyroid hormone for Hashimoto's disease, a total treatable auto-immune anomaly; and a statin for my hereditary elevated total cholesterol, although my HDL/LDL ratio is beautiful. I take from one to four allergy medications depending on the severity of my symptoms, and I take an antibiotic and an antiviral as needed, for, let's call them, female matters. Plus I am on a low dose of an antidepressant and anxiolytic, because I never want to risk a recurrence of neurotransmitter deficiency.

That does sound like a lot, and how did I get started on this subject anyway? What I am trying to say is that for a long time my biochemistry has been balanced and while I do have the odd moment, I rarely feel tired or short of energy for long.

This pandemic though, this staying at home, this social distancing, is taking a subtle toll. Even though I am one of the luckiest ones, without job-loss fears or acute financial worries or a challenging physical environment, there are times when it feels so overwhelming. Even though I don't have to juggle work and home-schooling, even though I have a congenial partner to share this isolation, even though I have many interests and lower-than-average social neediness and the ability to be creative, to connect and interact online with others who share my interests ...

Sometimes ...

I just feel ...

So tired.

So damn, freaking tired.

I suppose that's normal, if normal is still a word with a meaning. And even if it's not, it's all right.

You feel the way you feel.

No need to take on the additional tiresome burdens of guilt and shame and self-condemnation.

Especially when, if I am tired, I can just take a nap. Or rest. Or watch the grass grow.

Or write out my feelings.

That does help.

The bigger mercy is that I only feel this way a very small percent of the time.

The rest of the time I am pretty much my better self.

I have lots of practice taking one day at a time.

And there are many bright spots in this nebulous time.

New York City is over its initial crisis. Better yet, it has looked the darkness in the eye and its leadership is taking a cautious approach to reopening non-essential businesses, to reduce the risk of a relapse.

I'm very grateful that I no longer worry about Chelsea every minute of every day. Worry is exceptionally draining.

No one can really predict the timeline for when this pandemic threat will fully abate or know exactly how different the world and our lives will be when that happens.

And I think the uncertainty about how and when it will end is especially enervating.

The answer to that I know circles back to patience, acceptance, and staying present in the moment. And active gratitude.

I spent a lot of time this week reading The True Story of the White Island Eruption in Outside, about the December 9 volcanic eruption on White Island, off the coast of New Zealand (right around the time we think the novel coronavirus made its jump from bats to humans).

Of the 47 people on the island at 2:11 pm local time, when the crater abruptly disgorged a superheated pyroclastic mix of rock, ash, and acid gas, 21 ultimately died and 24 were injured, many severely. 26 people were at the jetty when the blast happened and 21 were within the caldera, heading out.

For some reason every detail of the story absorbed me, to the extent that I followed every link, looked at all the video footage I could find, and wanted to memorize the names of all the victims and the rescue crews.

As a matter of fact, it was determined that conditions were not safe for official search and rescue teams to go to the island at once. But a number of individuals familiar with the terrain flew their own helicopters to the island. Despite unpredictable conditions, they were able to reach and assess all of those inside the crater.

Everyone at the jetty was picked up by a tour boat that was still in the vicinity and taken to the mainland on what must have been a hellish ride. Three of them later died in hospitals. The helicopter teams were able to load out 12 additional survivors from the crater. Tragically 10 succumbed en route or afterwards, but two are in recovery. One young man ran all the way from within the caldera to the jetty despite critical injuries, and was evacuated by another tour boat. He too is recovering.

Eight people who showed no signs of life were left on the island. A few days later six of the bodies were retrieved. Two bodies had been washed out to sea and have as yet to be recovered.

For a couple of days I could not get the story out of my mind or my dreams. I wonder what entices people to take a day tour of an active volcano. The geologic conditions, acrid atmosphere, sulfuric miasma, boiling mud pots are other-worldly and beautiful in some eerie, stark way I suppose. And statistically, the odds against an eruption at any given moment were higher than the risks inherent in many more ordinary activities.

And as Neil pointed out, we did hike at Volcanoes National Park in Hawaii, albeit we were not issued gas masks at the time.

Who knows when we are likely to have the opportunity for an adventurous excursion again anyway.

I think what moved me most about the story was the incredible bravery of the rescuers. The tour guides on the recently departed boat didn't hesitate to return and immediately begin to ferry the accessible survivors to the tour boat, where passengers did their best to care for the injured on the 80 minute ride back to shore.

I hope I would be able to do my part in like circumstances. I'm not certain of anything except that I'd try to the best of my abilities, whatever those might be.

Altogether it was an inspiring story of personal sacrifice and risk to help others in distress.

And it was a total contradiction of the story I read afterwards about the 2014 disappearance of Malaysia Airlines Flight 370, a mystery that has not been fully solved. What evidence eventually came to light suggested that the hours-long erratic flight path of the plane after communications were lost could only have been the result of actions by someone actively controlling the aircraft.

What Really Happened to Malaysia’s Missing Airplane, an in-depth analysis published in The Atlantic last summer, concluded with the conjecture that the pilot in command, Captain Zaharie Ahmad Shah, deliberately conscripted the plane and dispatched the crew and passengers by depressurizing the cabin. He then flew on for seven hours with his cargo of 238 dead passengers and crew members until the plane's fuel was exhausted, at which point he forced the plane into a high-speed spiral dive to obliteration somewhere in the southern Indian Ocean.

If you are wondering why I am fixating on disaster stories at this point in time, I don't have an answer, except to say it was a random following of links that crossed my world wide web path, rather than a seeking out. But I concede that as we are living through a disaster, these stories become more meaningful. Perhaps these particular stories represent critical contemporary conundrums: our individual capacity to prevail against odds contrasted with the power for evil that one person can impose upon many.

Not to mention that the stories are good for distracting me from my own day-to-day crisis fatigue.

We believe in things that we cannot see
Why shouldn't we? Why shouldn't we?
Hands that heal can set a chained man free
Why shouldn't we? Why shouldn't we?

And we believe in peace within every heart
Why shouldn't we? Why shouldn't we?
Burning brightly, brightly in the dark
Why shouldn't we? Why shouldn't we?

So come on darling, feel your spirits rise
Come on children, open up your eyes
God is all around, Buddha's at the gate
Allah hears your prayers, it's not too late

And we believe in things that will give us hope
Why shouldn't we? Why shouldn't we?
Let your voice be heard, celebrate your vote
Why shouldn't we? Why shouldn't we?

We believe in things that make us all the same
Why shouldn't we? Why shouldn't we?
Love belongs to all, in deed and name
Why shouldn't we? Why shouldn't we?

And we believe in things that can't be done
Why shouldn't we? Why shouldn't we?
Lift up your heart, put down your gun
Why shouldn't we? Why shouldn't we?

We believe in things we're told that we can't change
Why shouldn't we? Why shouldn't we?
We had heroes once and we will again
Why shouldn't we? Why shouldn't we?

So come on darling, feel your spirits rise
Come on children, open up your eyes
God is all around, Buddha's at the gate
Allah hears your prayers, it's not too late
Why shouldn't we?
Why shouldn't we?
Why shouldn't we?
Why shouldn't we?
Why shouldn't we?

(Mary Chapin Carpenter © Mary Chapin Carpenter Dba Why Walk Music)