Friday, January 31, 2020

Getting out of my head

Tension makes a tangle 
Of each thought 
Becomes an inconvenient
Sound as it never penetrates
As circle edges 
Break and 

Proving once again that biochemistry is a capricious bitch, without rhyme or reason, I have been feeling much better on the whole.

So much so, that I bumped my medication dose back down. Yes I know the perils of the medication contradiction. The meds make you feel better so you stop taking them and revert to feeling badly. In this case, I haven’t quit, just ramped back down to my maintenance dose, after bumping it up to get me through a rough spell.

And who knows, the dark cloud descends at whim, so I’ll enjoy the respite while I can and remain prepared to up the meds again, as needed.

I’ve stayed busy this month. I’m in two knitting groups, I’m taking classes at one of the yarn shops, doing my homework and knitting for fun daily. At least, it’s supposed to be for fun, more about that in a minute. When I’m not knitting, I’m looking at patterns and yarn and planning future projects.

We’ve also been fleshing out our vacation plans for the year, Houston and Atlanta in February, New York in March, Dallas in April, a visit from Chelsea in May, Boston and Maine in June, the west coast in August. It feels like a lot, but I’ll take each trip one by one.

I’ve had appointments with my PA, optometrist, dentist, and therapist. I’m not sure whether I’ll continue to see my therapist. I’m not sure either one of us knows why I’m there or what I expect to get from the sessions.

Ostensibly, I’m there to work through my problems with loneliness, with my ongoing struggle to make new friends, to connect with people, to find a way to feel less isolated. Practically, I wonder if I’m using therapy as a placebo for having a relationship with another person. She is someone to talk to, a reason to get dressed and leave the house, even if I have to pay a copay to do so.

We’ve talked about the things that I already know I could and should do, such as taking classes, volunteer work, even a part-time job. Day by day, I postpone taking action. First I was getting over my cold. Lately I’ve been busy, with this or that. Appointments. Activities, even if that just means a trip to Sam’s or a movie, or a walk to Starbucks.

Neil has been here, and it looks like his knees will prevent him from playing on a traveling softball team this year. That means I’m not facing at least one weekend a month when he’s gone from Thursday through Sunday. He’s still planning a driving trip to New Jersey, which could be a week or more long, but I’ll deal with that when it happens.

None of this really explains the absence of the scary, horrible feelings of isolation and disconnection, the ones that even made me question whether I was tired of living. Followed by terrible guilt for feeling that way, when I have so much good in my life, happy marriage, healthy children and grandchildren, financial independence, everything that is truly important. Of course I know that you feel the way you feel, and that feelings are driven by physiology, which to some degree you can influence by taking pills.

Today, nothing has changed, yet I’m content to sit by the fire. I still want to do the other things, to find a yoga class, to visit the animal shelter and ask about volunteering. But it's less urgent.

Maybe that’s why I scheduled another appointment with the therapist, to help me hold myself accountable to follow through, since I’ve been planning to do these things for months yet haven’t done them. My therapist thinks it’s a numbers game, that if I put myself out there and increase my interactions with new people, something will stick, something will click, and I’ll make a friend or two.

I’m not so sure, my history of defeat in this regard is too persuasive, too discouraging. I doubt myself, and avoid taking risks, to protect myself from any chance of rejection. My therapist says she doesn’t understand why I allow my self worth to be defined by the validation of others. I say, it’s the only way I know how to be. Even if I ever learn to truly love myself, it won’t be enough. I'll always crave the approval of others.

She also says I’m not alone, that there are lots of people like me, introverts who are lonely and can’t figure out how to connect with others. We don’t see them because they’re not out in the world, socializing, drinking, dancing, performing. They’re probably home with a book and a cat, wondering what is wrong with themselves, while at the same time, not really wanting to exert the effort to make changes.

No one is going to start a meetup group for introverts. That would take an extrovert.

So, as I said, I’ve been knitting a lot, looking at yarn and patterns online a lot, trying to keep a mental inventory of projects and supplies, until my head feels like it’s about to explode. I really need to stop buying yarn because it’s a good deal and only buy what I specifically need, because somehow, as large as my stash has become, I rarely have all the right yarn for any given project I want to do. And just because I need two skeins of black sock yarn doesn’t mean I need to buy seven so that I get free shipping.

For other reasons, I’m feeling just a little frustrated with knitting right now. For example, I’ll get to the end of a work in progress only to hose up the bind off, or I’ll be a couple of rows shy of the color I need to finish, or I’ll order more yarn to finish something and the color will be completely different. Sometimes two skeins in the same dye lot won’t even match well. Sometimes yarn I buy online looks completely different from the photo. That’s an argument for buying locally, but I balk at paying so much more.

Another peeve is patterns. I’m finding mistakes in them, everything from rows run together in the text to stitch counts or row counts being wrong, to math mistakes. And yes, there’s a lot of math in knitting. Speaking of stitch counts, and this can only be user error, it’s quite baffling to wind up a stitch or two short somewhere in the middle of a project and not be able to find where I dropped them. So I just adjust by doing an increase or two when I must, or just ignoring the miscount when I can. But it makes me mistrust my work. I want it to be perfect, even if I am the only one who would ever notice an error.

I wonder if this is something that will come with practice and experience. Perfection may be an overstated goal, but I’d like to make fewer inexplicable mistakes. I don’t mind as much if I can see where things went wrong, because then I can decide if I want to fix it or live with it. I’m OK with imperfection if I understand it. I don’t like mysterious anomalies.

For now, I’ll muddle on and see how it all shakes out. I’ve acquired such a ridiculous amount of yarn that I’ve made a long-term commitment. So I’m going to challenge myself to choose projects that use yarn I already have. Right after I buy some mohair or alpaca for the sweater class that’s coming up. But that’s it. Really.

So that’s January, done, dusted. The world spins on its wild axis, with presidential impeachment hearings, global pandemic threat, celebrity helicopter crashes, international trade talks and peace talks. And my biggest problems are knitting snafus. At least I’m paying attention, following current events more, having spirited discussions with Neil about issues.

And now that my neurotransmitters are firing again, I'm hoping to get my thoughts out of my head for a change.

As frail hinges
Pivot on a case's door
Souvenirs from places
Containers change
With each occasion

A cellophane encased
Display of paper
To credit years of service
A tool of central enterprises

The early hope
For permanence
The words
The rings
The social security
A miracle's high tragedy

Thought mistaken
For a memory
Clear the dust from
Smiles in boxes
Pass a patterned wall
Recall their voices

A local post
Will list your friends
In order of
The lawn scattered
Tins feed birds
A portion baked for
Absent guests

And the mass edition icon
God sent comfort
Your salvation
But who grants absolution
For sins that
Never were committed

Tension makes a tangle
Of each thought
Becomes an inconvenient
Sound as it never penetrates
As circle edges
Break and

Thought mistaken
For a memory
A dress length
A fractured family tie
Another christening
A christening
A fractured family tie
Another christening

(John Lombardo, Natalie Merchant © Nettwerk Music Group)

Saturday, January 18, 2020

After the magic

The dawn will send me on a chase to nowhere
Why cry as if I were the first to go there

It’s past the midpoint of January and my cold hasn’t quite let go.

I probably didn’t do matters any good by dragging my sick self all over the Disney realm and the rest of Orlando.

A quick look back at the trip.

We had a crazy early flight. OK, boarding was at 7 something am, but that still meant I set the alarm for 4 am to have time to caffeinate myself properly for the journey.

Despite the caffeine, I slept through the flight. I slept on the runway. I slept in the air, I slept while we taxied after landing.

We caught Disney’s Magical Express to the Coronado Beach Resort, where Luke and Blake were already ensconced. We checked in, had lunch, and spent the afternoon by the pool, where I dozed in the sun. I have to say, that part was lovely.

In the late afternoon we took a bus to Magic Kingdom, where we stopped at Guest Relations to iron out some details. I exchanged my last 22 year old park pass for a new one. Once upon a time, park tickets didn’t expire.

From there we rode the monorail to the Contemporary hotel for a wild and crazy character dinner at Chef Mickey’s. The food was good, that is one thing Disney consistently does well.

Luke’s plan for the next day, Friday, was to wake at 5 am to catch a 6 am bus to Hollywood Studios, to be at the park when it opened at 7 am to get a group number for one of the Star Wars rides, Rise of the Resistance. (The ride sold out by 7:01 am.) Neil was planning to go with Luke and Blake. I said, I’ll sleep in and meet you at the park sometime later in the morning.

As it turned out, Neil had some tummy trouble, so after a fitful night, he called Luke at 5 am and changed the plan. Luke and Blake went ahead, we caught up with them later.

It was a sticky 86 degrees and the park was packed with families with kids still on holiday break. Lines for the other Star Wars ride, Millennium Falcon – Smugglers Run, were 2 to 3 hours long, with no fast passes. We had lunch in Toy Story land, the boys rode some spinning cup ride and then it was time for Luke and Blake to build a couple of droids, for which, weeks ahead, Neil had somehow managed to reserve the last available time slot. Neil and I helped Blake, who totally enjoyed himself.

Then Neil spent the equivalent of his first Shell paycheck on four cups of blue and green milk, which was something like a cross between indistinctly flavored tapioca pudding and plain vanilla yogurt.

Luke’s group number was never even called for the Star Wars ride. We were all pretty tired by mid-afternoon, so we decided to ride the cable cars, which run from Hollywood Studios to some of the resorts and from there on to Epcot. The cable cars were my favorite ride on my first visit to the World in 1997. They were torn down before my next visit but recently were re-imagineered. They did not disappoint.

Our plot was to wind up at Epcot where we thought we could grab a bus back to our resort. As it turned out, we were on the opposite side of the park from the buses and would have needed park tickets to pass through. Instead, we caught a boat back to Hollywood Studios, which turned a mistake into another fun experience. Who knows where the time goes, because by the time we reached our rooms it was getting dark and time for dinner.

The next day, Saturday, we made a decision to sleep in and have a late breakfast at the hotel before heading to Magic Kingdom. On the bus ride over, down came the rain. We got quite soaked, sprinting from bus stop to park entrance to shelter on Main Street USA. The rain eventually stopped but the day stayed gray and cold. Happily there was a Starbucks on Main Street, with typical Starbucks prices. They even let me pay with the app. Yay for stars. Blake rode the carousel and then we stood in line for a few rides, Pirates of the Caribbean, Small World, the Barnstormer. We took pictures with Ariel and went on the Under the Sea ride, which (contrary to my misconception) was not an actual underwater ride in a submarine but a track ride in a clam shell car.

The boys drove race cars at the Tomorrowland Speedway and we all rode the Transit Authority People Mover and watched a Monsters Inc. Laugh Floor show. We had fast passes for the Haunted Mansion, which naturally meant we sawed the park in two again. Blake was amazingly good the entire time, except for a couple of minor bumps and bruises, and wanting to be carried a lot, but only by Luke. We walked out of the Haunted Mansion just as the fireworks show began, and we had a great spot to view it, so that was a nice end to the day. We bused back to our rooms and had a late dinner at the resort. And then it was time to forget the magic.

Sunday started slowly but the pace picked up. Luke and Blake were headed home, via Disney’s Magical Express and more conventional means of transport. Neil and I checked out, checked our bags with the bell desk, and caught a bus to Disney Springs, home of the erstwhile Disney Marketplace and a slew of new trendy shops. From there we crossed a pedestrian bridge to the Hilton hotel where we picedk up a rental car. We drove that car right back to Disney Springs where I window shopped mostly while Neil found a Starbucks.

I did buy a hoodie at Uniqlo (marked down 50 percent), because the store had nicely made apparel at non-Disney prices, even though I don’t need another hoodie, but let’s not go there. We also sat out by the lake and soaked up some sun and I willed it to bake away my residual respiratory malaise.

Eventually we made our way to the African Kingdom Lodge, where we traditionally go to see the exotic animals and eat at the “flavors of Africa” restaurant. That’s probably politically incorrect, if not downright racist, but it is what it is, and we’re creatures of habit.

Monday was more or less a free day. We visited two yarn stores where I admired much and bought nothing. Neil went to view some coins and bid on some auctions. We wound up our last night in Orlando at Cape May at the Beach Club Resort for the seafood buffet, another of our Disney traditions. A vague plan to ride the cable cars one more time was thwarted by discouragingly cold temperatures.

On Tuesday we just had enough time to sit in the sun at a park before going to the airport and home.

I coughed so much that I pulled something in my rib cage, so I’ve been coddling myself since getting home, resting a lot. Knitting. A lot.

Lace! And time to buy proper blocking mats and pins.
I saw my therapist again. I’m not sure how she can help me. My sessions are a lot like this blog. I talk about my longing for things that I am missing, while expressing how conscious I am of all that I do have, how I have all the most important things, and how much gratitude I feel for what I do have.

She makes sensible suggestions for how I can seek more of what I want, more visits to my children, more activities - a gym, volunteer work, classes, meetup groups - to meet potential friends. I agree, I throw up roadblocks, I procrastinate, I waffle. She says it’s up to me, I’m doing it for my sake, not hers.

I know all this.

Strangely, you’d think I had nothing but time. And yet the days fly. It’s easy when Neil is around. We make a plan. We see a movie (Little Women) (my thoughts about this to follow). We go to Sam’s or Publix for supplies. We get Starbucks or smoothies. We take walks. We read (just finished up Dick Francis for now, back to Red Stout). We watch telly (Howard’s End, Sanditon, The Good Place, Miracle Workers).

I walk on the treadmill. I cobble together dinners. I load the dishwasher. I do laundry. I read (Drums of Autumn). I go to my two yarn groups and other yarn-related happenings. I write email. I write here a bit. I look at Instagram and Facebook and the news.

There is no spare time.

OK, my thoughts about Little Women 2020. It feels like only yesterday when the last remake (with Susan Sarandon and Wynona Ryder) was released, but in reality it was 1994, although there was a very good BBC version released in 2017 that aired in the USA last year. I did not love the 2020 version. I especially did not love the timeline jumping. Why did the movie start near the end of the book? Why was Beth alive, then dead, then alive? What did that add to the story beyond confusion?

In the 1994 version, I didn't like the fact that two very different actresses portrayed Amy, but I also didn't like that one actress played Amy in 2020, or at least I didn't like the actress cast, who was unconvincing as the child Amy, and unappealing as the grown up Amy (her Oscar nomination indicates that my opinion isn't universal). There were other casting choices that I questioned, notably Laurie, but many that I liked, including Marmie, Meg, Jo, and Beth.

The last thing I'll say is that I didn't appreciate how the movie strongly implies that Jo's own romance was invented because readers demanded happily-ever-after endings. While it's true that Louisa May Alcott never married, in the book, Jo does fall in love (and gets married and has a family in the sequels). The scenario with the publisher did not happen in the book and serves to mock the clinching of the Jo's relationship with Friedrich in the movie, which was also portrayed in a silly departure from the heartfelt mood of the book.

Bottom line, maybe I know the novel much too well, because every small deviation irritated me, and I noticed them all. And none struck me as for the better, in contrast to the Outlander series, where every change strikes me as an improvement, and the series characters have more substance and credibility that their written counterparts.

And now I take off my movie critic paper hat and we return next time to our regularly scheduled reflections.

Rain comes from the east one night
We watch it come
To hang like beaded curtains
Till the morning sun
Water dripping from our clothes
You with raindrops on your nose
Ask me sadly, please don't go away now
Till the rain is done, I say, I'll stay now

Rain outside but inside we don't mind at all
Shadows by the fire slowly climb and fall
Kisses fade and leave no trace
Whispers vanish into space
The dawn will send me on a chase to nowhere
Why cry as if I were the first to go there

And I know I shouldn't be here
Yes, I know I should go home
But that eastern rain drones in my brain
And I'm so all alone, so all alone

Morning comes up from the east
We watch it come
And far away now rolls the ancient rain god's drum
You with daybreak in your eyes
Afraid to speak for telling lies
I watch you search for some reply to lend me
But when the rain is done, there's no pretending

And I know I shouldn't be here
Yes, I know I should go home
But that eastern rain drones in my brain
And I'm so all alone, so all alone

(Joni Mitchell)

Wednesday, January 1, 2020

Ending with a whimper

For the moon on the water, for the light from the stars
Oh I thank the spirits whatever they are
For friendships that last, for songs from the past
And Mrs. Pinocci's guitar

I’m winding up the year sick.

Back story. I’m rarely sick, despite all the bellyaching I do.

I get a cold only every few years or so.

It’s probably because I built up massive immunity in the late 80s and early 90s when my kids were small. For a while I had cascading severe upper respiratory infections.

Once I wound up in the emergency room, after flying with a sinus infection. Once I had a hemorrhage in my ear after flying in a small company plane.

After several years of fairly chronic respiratory distress, something amazing happened. For the most part I stopped getting common colds.

The down side was, when I would get one, it would be a doozy. It would eventually settle into my chest for the long haul, generally mandating a doctor’s visit and prescription drugs to vanquish it.

Apparently Neil and I have very different immunity profiles. I don’t think we’ve ever caught a cold from each other. Shortly before Kandace’s wedding in November, Neil caught a seasonal cold and I kept my distance, because what would be much worse than a wedding weekend spent sneezing, coughing, and spreading germs.

I stayed healthy and Neil recovered in time to enjoy the trip.

We’re scheduled to fly to Orlando later this week. We’re meeting my stepson-in-law and the grandson to go to the Star Wars experience at Disney World. Blake is into light sabers and Darth Vader these days and Luke’s idea was to take this trip before he turned three, when Disney starts charging for park admission.

The timing didn’t quite work out, as Blake turned three on December 21. So we are finessing the plan. For hotel and park purposes, Blake is two-year-old Anthony. For the Star Wars adventure, he is three-year-old Blake. We’re counting on Disney not checking birth certificates.

Late last week, I was dismayed when I had a tickle in my throat and a resulting dry cough. On the first day, I thought it might be gone by the next morning, but it wasn’t. I felt fine, I just had an annoying cough.

That was the day our guests arrived. A red letter day in fact, as these were our first house guests that weren’t family. A couple of Neil’s former colleagues asked on short notice if they could visit. The underlying reason was for one of the couple to talk to Neil about a potential upcoming opportunity, Neil’s former job in fact.

This is a couple who I have always liked very much. I made Neil twist their arms to cancel hotel arrangements and stay with us, and I was so happy that they did.

We had a lovely time, showing them around a bit, eating at a couple of places that we’d always wanted to try and a couple more that we knew they’d like. The weather was pleasant,as was the company. They could not have been easier to host, taking their tea and coffee black, being very tolerant of the cats, even though they are not pet people.

Loki of course wanted to be best friends right away, but Zamboni was the big surprise, coming out of his usual shell and being positively sociable. Biscotti was his typical aloof self, keeping wishing admiring distance (but don’t try to touch him).

Our guests wanted to take a drive out toward the mountains. I would normally have been happy to go, but my cough was still bad. I stayed home and called my doctor for a new scrip for cough meds, as my remaining bottle had a 2016 use-by date. I know pills are good beyond the date, but I thought it better to get fresh ones under the circumstances.

The doctor’s office gave me a refill but insisted I make an appointment for Monday. They agreed that I could cancel it if I was feeling much better by then. Despite my optimism, on Monday I was as sick or sicker, so I kept the appointment. The PA didn’t like the way my ears looked, and given our travel plans, I got another prescription, for a three-day course of a powerful antibiotic.

Let’s hope the magic happens. So far I’m still miserable and feeling like I haven’t turned the corner. I have a couple more days before I have to do what I must do, including board a plane to the happiest place on earth. And muscle through the five days we are there. And try not to infect anyone else, especially the three-year-old.

I’m willing myself to get well expeditiously. I’m drinking fluids, tea with honey, juice with vitamin C. I’ve pretty much glued myself to the sofa, even though it hurt my heart to miss my knitting group, especially since we’ll be traveling and I’ll miss the next meeting too. But no one would welcome my germs, so staying away was the right thing to do.

To distract myself from the malaise and pass the time, I’ve been knitting, working in two projects, planning the next ones. There are some tempting end-of-year sales on yarn, so my inner angel and devil have been battling it out. You don’t need more yarn. Yeah, but the prices. There will always be another sale. That exact yarn might sell out though. You know that it’s best to have a project in mind first and then buy the right yarn in the right quantity. Still it’s nice having a stash with options and if you don’t have enough of a color, stripes never go out of style. But the money. Well, you earned it, you’re allowed to spend it.

You’ll feel good about yourself if you resist. Oh, not much harm in one last hurrah as the year ends, then you can be good for a while.

And on and on. I can’t wait to find out which way I roll.

I finished the third book in the Outlander series and started the fourth. I’m rewatching the third season of the series and waiting for season five to drop. The series is much better than the books, although the story lines are close, and when the show deviates it’s usually for the better. The series characters seem much more layered and believable to me. Claire is a strong woman rather than a silly girl and Jamie delivers his lines with perfect nuance.

I was talking to someone who read the books first and didn’t like the show actors because she had pictured them differently. Since I was exposed to the show first, I pictured the book characters exactly as they were portrayed.

I also rewatched one of my favorite series, Rectify, which was as moving and beautiful and perfect as the first time. I watched it for the first time in 2016.

"Is this show - which essentially nobody but TV critics watched - going to leave a footprint?
Will it matter?" (E.T. VanDerWerff, for Vox., 2016)
God, I hope so. (Me, 2019)
Neil and I watched the Jack Irish series, coincidentally followed by the Christmas Carol version also starring Guy Pearce, probably the only reason I agreed to watch it. I’ve overdosed on the story, but this version was different enough to make Dickens either spin in his grave or sit up and applaud loudly.

We also watched The Mandolorian, because who could resist Baby Yoda, and because my friend Kim loved it. We also saw the final Star Wars movie. I saw the previous one and the first one only, so I lack extensive knowledge of the lore, but I was still able to follow the story and probably brought a less critical eye to the film than its die-hard fan base.

We’re watching Lost in Space season two, so I’m on Sci-Fi overload a bit. We’re still working our way through the Murdoch Mysteries season 12 and Frankie Drake.

Neil is reading me a random Dick Francis mystery, Banker. We’ve read an eclectic mix of late, including Go Set a Watchman by Harper Lee, published posthumously (which I didn’t like, and don't agree was an early draft of To Kill a Mockingbird) and Middlemarch (which I did like, how did I never read any George Eliot?).

I’m looking forward to reading some of our Christmas spoils, including the estate-authorized continuation of the Hercules Poirot stories by Sophie Hannah, and a “young adult” trilogy, His Dark Materials, also recommended by my friend, that I thought Neil would enjoy.

So, this year is almost a wrap, although I don’t consider the decade to be over for another year. You don’t turn 20 (or 2020) until the end of your twentieth year (ergo your 2020th year). It’s an election year, one that some of us have been eagerly awaiting. I continue to look at the political arena with a cynical eye. I never thought Trump had a chance in hell to be president, now it’s hard for me to believe that this isn’t hell or that he can be defeated.

A lot can happen in the next ten months though, so I’m keeping an open mind. This is one time when I’d be thrilled to be proved wrong.

Diane and Billy, been friends forever
They go back a long time
They grew up together
She called to tell us
He'd written from Rome
For the whole month of August
He'd be at home

So we went to see him
At her house one evening
In the place where they'd spent all their summers as kids
We walked all around
In the small bay side town
Where his Dad's called the bingo for thirty-five years

And later on that night
Under the porch light
Mrs. Pinocci brought her six string over
She said she'd been playing since she turned fifty-seven
And now I guess she's more than twenty years older

She played Yankee Doodle, we sang along with her
She passed it around and we all played a number
Neighbors and friends dropped by for a little singing
Then later a guy no one knew came to sit in

For the moon on the water
For the light from the stars
Oh I thank the spirits
Whatever they are
For friendships that last
For songs from the past and
Mrs. Pinocci's guitar

(Cheryl Wheeler / Penrod And Higgins Music / Amachrist Music ACF Music Group )