Sunday, May 15, 2022

The world is broken the world is beautiful

and I am trying to make sense of it. The white supremacist man who murdered ten people at a grocery store yesterday. The lovely writer friend who offered me seedlings from her garden. Six tomato plants. Two zucchinis. Two cucumbers and one chamomile. I really love that chamomile. I went to a rally

with my husband. The last rally for reproductive rights I attended I was with my daughter. Several hundred people gathered outside the Ohio Statehouse, a woman from Planned Parenthood waving her megaphone, telling us: "Next time, come back with your boyfriends, your husbands, your fathers, your brothers." This time the men are here. This time there are several thousand of us. 

Some of the men wear rainbow vests that read Clinic Escort. It makes me want to cry when people show up for each other. My friend had all of the carefully potted and labeled seedlings waiting for me when I came to collect them. I say, my friend, but the truth is I hardly know her. A few years ago she gave me an aloe plant. She'd read a blog post I'd written about a weird encounter I had with an aloe juice salesman in Prague and offered the plant to me. I take back what I said about not knowing her. I know this: she is a giver of plants. 

My husband held my sign for me at the rally when my arm got tired. He was hot and his back hurt, but I was the one who said it's okay, we can go now. My sign is the same one I take to all the rallies. A stop sign with the word NO. Here is one way I have of making sense of things: Hold up my hand to everything that is terrible and refuse to consent to it. White supremacists with guns. Deluded people who want to tell others what they can and cannot do with their own bodies.

The man who murdered the people in the grocery store was an eighteen-year-old forced birther. In his "manifesto" he raged about how white women need to give birth to 2.6 babies or be replaced as a race. The world is broken the world is beautiful and I am trying trying trying to make sense of it, 

but what if there is no sense of it? What if it's only us, here, now, in all of our brokenness and beautifulness? After the rally I went to work at the library. I stashed my NO sign in the back seat of my car. I packed up all of my extra seeds and filed them in the library seed exchange. 

It isn't much, but I like to imagine later this summer, my flowers growing wherever strangers have planted them.  




Sunday, May 8, 2022

Notes on Rage

I never had an abortion. But if I'd found myself in the situation, I might have had one, when I was fifteen. Fifteen, I was a messed up little fool. Fifteen, I was still a child myself. But as messed up, foolish and young as I was, I was old enough to know that I was not yet ready to be a mother. 

There'd been a scare in my childhood friend group that hammered the point home. The girl almost died of pre-eclampsia when she was delivering her baby. I went to the hospital to see her with another friend and we were turned away. We were too young, the nurse told us. Apparently, you had to be eighteen or in the company of an adult to visit the fifteen-year-old, nearly dead, new mother. 

By then, I was already noticing the unfairness, the inconsistencies. A discussion in the news of a pregnant girl who was kicked out of the National Honor Society at her high school for showing poor leadership. A commenter pointed out that maybe the girl had shown strength and courage for choosing to keep her baby, despite the obvious difficulties and shame. The spokesman for the school said the girl was a bad role model and shouldn't have gotten pregnant in the first place. 

There was no mention of the boy in the equation. Presumably, he got to remain in the National Honor Society.

Another reminder: the girl in my own Catholic high school who was expelled after accusing several boys on the baseball team of raping her. Slut who had it coming to her was the general opinion of the school. I was sitting in the library right outside the principal's office the day the girl and her parents came to empty out her locker. I could hear her sobbing, the cries turning defiant and reverberating across the hall and into the quiet library, and then a screamed out Fuck you that I still remember forty years later. The anguish in it. The rage.  

I feel that same mix of anguish and rage now. 

I don't want to argue with you about abortion. I suspect that whatever your position is, it's firm. I also suspect that if you disagree with me that women should have agency over their own bodies, that they should have the right to decide whether or not to continue a pregnancy, to plan when they will have children (or not), I won't be able to change your mind, and anyway, you've probably already quit reading. 

Good. Whatever. 

To everyone else-- what can we do? Vote. Well, yes, of course. March. Sure. I'll march. But I'm wondering if this is enough. We've voted. We've marched. And yet, HERE WE ARE. There's an interesting article in the Atlantic about Ireland and the fight to overturn their punitive and restrictive pro forced-birth laws. The movement gained momentum in 2012 after a 31-year-old woman who was seventeen weeks pregnant was denied a medically necessary abortion and died from sepsis. [Pro-"lifers," if you're still here, before you say it. No. It was not God's will. Not unless you believe God grants life or death based on whether a person goes to a hospital in Ireland or in England] 

What I liked about the article was how the women in Ireland fought back. Three, in particular, who were well past child-bearing age, bought abortion pills online and then presented themselves at the police station to be arrested. One of the women joked that she could catch up on her reading in jail. The thought was: What? Are you going to arrest everyone? 

I'm thinking that this method of protesting might work for me. I have a lot of reading to catch up on myself. A long list of books that the same people who want to ban abortion are now threatening to ban. 

I don't know if they will hear me, hear us, the middle-aged women, the childbearing women, the girls, and all of the men who love us. If they could, though, I would tell them this: 

I never want to go back to when I was fifteen years old. But if I did, this time I would rise up out of my seat in the silent library. I would march into the hallway to join the girl who was screaming. I would scream with her for a moment and then I would take her hand and walk with her out of the dark school and into the light, where all of our friends are waiting. 


Sunday, May 1, 2022

Spring has sprung and deer saunter through my neighborhood

eating the tulips. On walks with my dog, I see them grazing in front yards and hurry past, afraid they'll see us and attack. Okay, not attack, exactly, but what if one of them startles and bolts and slams into me or tramples the dog? I've seen them do that before. Not slam or trample, but startle and bolt. Once, on a walk with my daughter, 

when she and her dog were living here earlier in the pandemic, we saw a deer run, gallop, race--I don't know the proper deer-in-action lingo, but trust me, it was fast!-- as it crossed the street. "Oh my god," I said to my daughter after the danger had passed and the deer was casually munching on tulips in a different front yard, "that thing could've killed us!" 

She looked at me with a mixture of amusement and concern. Both dogs hadn't even noticed the deer. Which just goes to show... something. I'm easily startled? Readily spooked? It's true, my nervous system tends to be set on high alert. Especially during the pandemic. Are we still in the pandemic? Yes, no, maybe? At the library I have stopped wearing my mask, although several of my co-workers and some of the patrons wear theirs. 

A friend tells me she is a One Way Masker, and I like that description. I do still wear my mask when I am in crowded indoor places with dubious air quality. Not that I go into such places often. I got the fourth shot at the advice of my doctor. I took two home tests last week, worried that my allergies were maybe... not? 

Two years and nearly two months after This Whole Thing Started, it seems like those of us who've made it through unscathed, are weary, fending for ourselves, trying to pick up where we left off, but I don't know

can we? 

Sometimes I wonder if I am more scathed than I realize. The solution--and this I've learned after much trial and error--is escaping (into books, movies, binge-watching TV shows about people throwing pottery) and doing something physical (yoga, carrying books up and down the stairs at the library because the elevator is broken) and going outside (to walk the dog, dig up weeds, plant seeds). It is also, a dear friend reminded me recently, about connection and community. 

And speaking of seeds and connection and community, here is something lovely we are offering at our library. A seed exchange. 

How it works is you take a packet or two of seeds, and if you have extra seeds of your own, you can give some back. 

"But what if people just take the seeds," a patron asks me, "and never give anything back?" 

"I don't know," I tell her. "We have additional seed packets in our workroom. Other people will give back more. It'll all work out." 

She looks doubtful, but I know I'm right. At night I walk the dog and spy a deer in someone's front yard. I freeze, but the deer keeps munching as if we are not even here. The dog and I scurry by, unscathed.  



Sunday, April 24, 2022

Long weekend visiting old friends

people we haven't seen since before the pandemic, in a place we haven't visited in years before that, but here, we so easily fall back into the rhythm of our relationship, as if nothing has changed even as everything has changed. Let me tell you a story about this friend

a time when I was entangled in a toxic stew of a mess way beyond my paygrade (I was a volunteer) with people who had utterly confounded me, and one day after a particularly exhausting and maddening interaction, I found myself crying on the phone to her, and then, just as suddenly stopped

because I didn't DO that, cry in front of people, never mind spill out my guts, so I immediately apologized, and my friend said, gently, You don't have to apologize, Jody, you're my friend. Which actually got me crying again for a moment, because how kind that was, and what a gift, never mind a lesson in how to be a good friend. 

This time there is no crying, but lots of catching up and lively conversation. Also, we had to install the Little Free Library my husband had made for her and her husband. This is a new hobby of my husband's that started back in the fall when I asked him to build one for me and has morphed into him making several more, including two for an elementary school in our neighborhood. 

I am bragging about this here because I know he will never brag about himself but LOOK HOW ADORABLE THIS IS:


One of the topics I keep bringing up in conversation with everyone in my orbit is how do we make sense of Things, the utter craziness of the world lately, or really, forever, as some of us are only more recently waking up to it, and no one seems to know the answer. Sometimes, I confess, I can get quite emotional when I bring up this topic, and I immediately want to reel it back in, apologize, but this time

I don't, remembering who I am with. We are sitting on the front porch, drinking our coffee this morning, and one of my friend's neighbors walks by and comments on the new Little Free Library and how nice it is. It is warm and sunny and lovely outside and birds are singing all over the place and my friend shows me an app on her phone that can identify bird sounds, 

and then we go back to chatting and sipping our coffee and it occurs to me that there is no answer to my question because we can't make sense of things that don't make sense. 

And maybe that's okay, at least in this moment, when there are little free libraries and spring mornings and coffee and kind neighbors and singing birds and dear friends.




Sunday, April 17, 2022

One Sunday morning

in church and I was little, squirming in the polished pews, my baby brother crawling under the seats, popping up like a prairie dog between the other church-goers' feet, the irritated sighs and judgmental whispers, and no one in my pew capable of fixing the situation. Embarrassed, I stalked outside and did flips on the metal railing by the rectory until a priest caught me and asked why I was skipping mass, 

but how could I verbalize back then my shame? For my brother who was too young to feel it. For my parents who were old enough but didn't seem to feel it either. And who else was going to take on the feeling but me, and what an expert I became at that. Regardless, 

it wasn't a good reason to miss mass, so the priest led me back inside the church, and that was double the shame. Triple. Quadruple. The mortification blooming, swelling, replicating like a virus. Be kind to them, he told me. Forgive them. 

I did. I did. Still, sometimes I wish he'd said be kind to yourself too, for you are also worthy of forgiveness. That lesson took half a lifetime to learn and it didn't happen in church. This morning 

the two newborn mourning doves in the nest on the back porch bob their small heads, their parents, good parents, close by and mindful. My husband coos at them, and after a beat, they coo back. God only knows what they are saying, but isn't it lovely, the song.




Sunday, April 10, 2022

Yesterday it graupled again

Graupel is a word I've just learned. Basically, it's a version of snow-sleet-hail. On a spring walk with the dog, the sun shining when we set out, then turning, the dark clouds moving in, spitting the strange mixture out. It bounced off my coat sleeve and off the dog's head. Soft pellets that remind me of styrofoam balls, and I can't help thinking about the end of the world, like the pictures my son sent me from San Francisco when the city was surrounded by burning fires and the sky went orange.

When was that? I search the word orange in my journal and find this entry on September 10, 2020: "the light is orange and eerie. [My son] told me a few days ago that he and his girlfriend have jugs of water in the car and are ready to go at a moment's notice. He said, if we go, we'll just keep going and never go back." 

I had forgotten he told me this. Something handy about keeping a digital journal is that I can do a word search for anything. Orange, for example. Or my mother. Holidays. The dog. Places I traveled. Lettuce. And every kind of weather--and instantly find my thoughts on whatever topic going back nearly twenty years. 

For the past several weeks I've been reading David Sedaris's collection of diary entries. David Sedaris is a serious journal writer and I love him for it. His first set of published entries can be found in the collection Theft by Finding: Diaries (1977-2002) and his latest is A Carnival of Snackery: Diaries (2003–2020). The entries cover the mundane: overheard conversations, recipes, how much money he earned at odd jobs--

to the serious: his mother's cancer, his troubled relationship with his father; and in between, lots of funny and absurd encounters and observations. He says in the introduction that he could've chosen any number of entries to include and given a totally different sense of himself--as someone more stupid or generous or selfish or sensitive. "On any given day," he says, "I am all of these things and more."  

The same year of the orange sky, our next door neighbor climbed a ladder and took down the orange painted shutters on our new-old house. I made cranberry-orange nut bread with my daughter when she was living with us during the lockdown. One day my mother brought over some oranges and an open package of figs.

I wrote: "I don’t understand the fig thing. She said she didn't want them. Not sure why she wouldn’t throw the rest of the package out. This is interesting to me. She and her siblings were raised in a poor household and now, 75 years later, they’re still anxious about waste. It makes me wonder how long the effects of covid will last. Kids growing up now—what will it do to them fundamentally? Crowds, hand washing, coughing, masks?" 

I forgot that I had written this too. It's a weird feeling keeping a journal for so long. Regularly since 2007, but before that, sporadically, going all the way back to when I was nine years old. I wrote for myself, or sometimes I envisioned a Future Me reading, and now, I guess, I am the Future Me. 

In two years, five, I imagine myself doing a word search for graupel. It won't show up at all until April, 2022. And then, maybe I will never write about it again. 

Or maybe it is only the beginning of our strange weather.



Sunday, April 3, 2022

First Seeds

It snowed two days ago, but today I am planting lettuce. Years of pushing seeds in the ground and I still think there's something magical about the first shoots poking up out of the dirt. A month from now, two? I will be collecting whole salad spinners worth of leaves and if that's not a sign of faith, hope, love, I don't know what is. The world keeps whirling.

The mourning dove that (stupidly, ignorantly, kindly) sat on a cowbird egg last year, is back and possibly about to hatch another cowbird. Every time I open the back door to let the dog out, the two of us look at each other. Not the dog. The bird. Her eyes are glassy and wide and I have never seen them closed. Always vigilant. So, we have that in common.

For a year I have been writing pieces of something that could be a memoir. The process is like digging around in the dirt. What's down there? What should I leave right where it is? What needs to be lifted out, exposed to the light? The truth is I don't know.

The truth is I have something to say, but I'm not sure I should say it. But when has that ever stopped me? My plan for planting the lettuce is to clear the moldering leaves from the hard, packed ground. See what lies beneath. Draw lines with my finger in the dirt and drop the seeds. It may take the entire afternoon, but I'm in no hurry. It takes time to plant,

time to hatch a cowbird, time to write the truth.