Sunday, August 14, 2022

The library is cool

I mean that literally. 

We keep the air on Cool, and most of our patrons love it, exclaiming excitedly how nice it feels when they walk inside, a much-needed break from the sweltering weather. And I like it because usually I am running around in that place, checking in cartloads of books and shlepping materials up and down the stairs now that the elevator is out of order. 

Not that I mind. I like the exercise, the bustle and movement. I've never been one to sit still for long. Even when I was home writing all day, I had to get up and stretch at least once an hour. Walk the dog. Do the dishes. Shuffle outside into the garden. I am a knee jiggler. A foot tapper. A pacer. 

Oh my God, sit down, my family has been known to say to me, and I pause mid-whirl, surprised that I was in motion. But back to the cool-ness of the library. Not everyone is a fan, a few patrons making their objections known to us quite emphatically, one even going so far as to write a strongly worded note. Which we acknowledge politely, but let it go. 

As much as we would love to, we can't make everybody happy. 

I want to remember this, but like other hard truths, I often forget it. Why can't we all just get along, I occasionally whine, and when I am in a particularly sad place, I cry about it. It has been the work of my life -- I was going to say, to make sense of things-- but the reality is that some things simply do not make sense and some people may never get along, and so I will amend that to:

It is the work of my life to come to terms with it. 

Accept the too-coldness of the room. Focus on the people I love, pace around them, sprinkling blankets and hot tea and comfy sweaters. But listen to them too, when they tell me, It’s okay now. You can stop.    




Sunday, August 7, 2022

Surprised by Watermelon

What happened was I thought it was a cucumber. 

That's what I'd planted, a labeled seedling, a gift from a gardening friend. And it did look like a cucumber at first. Small. Pale green. The vines I staked, the coiling tendrils, the delicate yellow flowers--all very cucumber-like. 

And who knew what variety my friend had given me--I mean, last week I was surprised by the weirdo arm-length white cucumber--so maybe this one was supposed to turn out bowling ball large, a darkening green? If I know anything about gardening, I know the more I know, the more I know I don't know. But isn't that the way with everything? Take the chamomile 

I planted two summers ago, the seller at the farmers market assuring me it would re-seed right where I planted it, so I took care. Found the perfect spot in my herb garden for it to take root, but then, the next spring it was gone. It wasn't until several weeks later I found an odd seedling sprouting in a place I would never have planted something, across the patio, right at the edge of my husband's barbecue grill.

I almost yanked it out, thinking it was some kind of weed, but no, it was the chamomile, the seeds carried by a bird or who knows what. The garden goes where it wants to go. This year, I found a surprise cherry tomato plant popping up by the oregano. Volunteers, my mother-in-law calls them, and I love that word, the whole idea of it, 

an unseen hand guiding the seed traffic, overseeing the design, and not just random accidents, the regurgitation of a robin, a shift of the breeze. And wouldn't it be nice if there were a garden-y ghost making note of the fertile cracks in the pavement, 

some kindly presence who slows down the green bean production at the moment you have had your fill of them and speeds up the ripening of the zucchini on the day you want to make zucchini bread? 

Don't we all love that volunteer friend who takes charge of the whole shebang, calculates the excessive number of white cucumbers from one plant, and nodding along, muttering to herself, suddenly snaps her fingers and announces,

Let's make this one a watermelon.  




Sunday, July 31, 2022

Four Cakes and a Cucumber

Six months ago, a year ago, I don’t have any sense of time anymore, a dear coworker was leaving the library and we sent her off with a little goodbye party, a cake, a card and best wishes in her new position at another library. Less than a month (two weeks?) later, another longtime coworker left, and it was back to the party, the cake. 

The same woman took charge of both cake-orderings, and then, a month later (a week?) SHE was the one leaving, off to her retirement in Florida, and this time I volunteered to order the cake. 

That was three cakes ago, (four?) and I am now officially, I guess? the cake orderer for people leaving the library and I must say I have it down to a science. This is not a one person job! First, you have to come up with the perfect design. This task has been delegated to our library's resident artist, Emma. (See here for one fun doodly sample of Emma's work.) 

Next step is a trip to the bakery at the local grocery store to confer with Danny, the cake designer, and my new friend. Danny has taught me that there is a real skill involved in what can be done with frosting and cake--a note here that we have gone from ordering 1/4th sheet cakes to choosing the smaller 1/8th design, complicating Danny's efforts, but honestly, there is only so much cake our dwindling staff can eat in two months,

six weeks? And further complicating the situation, when I ordered the third cake (fourth?) DANNY WAS NOT THERE! Apparently, he's off on Wednesdays, but someone else was happy to fill in and (can't remember her name, give me time) she did a lovely job, but I am feeling a little worn out with cakes. With dear coworkers leaving. All for good reasons. But still. I miss them. And cake--

(CONFESSION: I don't like cake. I have never eaten a slice of any of these cakes, lovely as they are)--

but anyway, cake cannot make up for the losses. To console myself, in the mornings before work, I keep busy in the garden, one day eying with curiosity and then with a little alarm, a cucumber, which seemed to be doubling in size every few days, and still a whitish/pale green. When I asked my gardener friend who gave me the seedling, she told me it's supposed to be this color and go ahead and pick it now. 

So I did, laughing, and laughing more when I saw that there were several other cucumbers growing, doubling in size right behind this one. 

With any luck we will have enough cucumber to eat for days, for weeks, for months. 

(see below for four cakes and a cucumber)







Sunday, July 24, 2022

Afternoon at the library

and boys spill inside, playing lightsabers, the battle edging into the new books section, giggling, shouting, one of the boys collapsing dramatically in front of the self-checkouts. The older woman browsing a cookbook looks up and we both raise our eyebrows and smile,

thinking (gratefully) how our parenting days are behind us, or maybe that's just me, and when did this happen? One moment I was washing the dishes, peering out the window at my kids darting across the lawn, my daughter and her little friends prancing with broomsticks pretending they were Harry Potter, my son and his best friend tinkering with the Medieval-style catapult they'd built, 

and now

they're all grown up and far away, the real world much more precarious than any they had ever played, and darker than any I had ever imagined for them. And believe me, I can imagine a lot. 

I read a book last week that I hesitate to recommend, not because it wasn't good, but because it did its job too well. Freaked me out, actually. Parable of the Sower by Octavia Butler. It is marketed as Science Fiction, when there's not much science-y or fiction-y about it. Published in 1993, it takes place in the early 2020s, in a world of extreme climate change and societal breakdown. Oh, and lots and lots of guns. 

The narrator is a teenage girl, but it was the older folks in the story who interested me. Those people long for the past to what they perceive to be better times and are incapable, despite the imminent danger, of accepting reality. In the end (SPOILER!), they perish, and it's down to the younger generation to navigate the present. 

The book is supposed to be hopeful, I think, and isn't all of dystopian literature? No matter how terrible, there are always a few left to tell the tale, is what I used to say when I talked up these books to my students. 

But that was a long time ago, when a book like that seemed fantastical. When I was young myself, and so, naturally, assumed I would be one of the survivors. 

The boys pick themselves up and resume their lightsaber battle. That movie came out years and years before they were born, but isn’t it funny how perfectly they mimic the whoosh of electricity, the clank of light beams hitting light beams? I show them where we keep the Star Wars books and they seem weirdly surprised. 

I don't know why. I mean, we're in a library. 





Sunday, July 17, 2022

The garden is out of control

The plants someone else planted, spreading and clumped. The ferns burnt up by the heat. The daylilies flopped over. The black-eyed susans drifting drifting drifting onto the weedy lawn. Such a big mess, I don't even know where to start. 

And then there's the matter with the Loosestrife, which I only recently learned is an invasive species. Yank it out now! shout the more knowledgeable gardeners in my gardening group. And then set it on fire! (They're joking about the setting it on fire part.) Wait. Are they joking? And all along I'd thought the loosestrife was pretty, with its big shoots of purply flowers that all the bees love. Isn't a plant "good," if it attracts bees? The more I learn, the less I understand. 

The cruelty of the world, for example. It isn't new, but some days it feels that way. Once I was a ten-year-old girl. Painfully quiet and living loudly inside my own head. Not pregnant like the little Ohio girl in the news, but that was only luck. 

I am so very grateful for that. 

But here is a question: Why do some little girls get canopy beds and a sweet goodnight kiss on the forehead, while other little girls... don't? About that mess in the garden, you start where you start.

One corner of the yard. Watering the ferns. Breaking apart the daylilies. Digging up the weeds and moving the black-eyed susans. Stopping for a moment to set out a water dish for insects because, Hey! they have to drink too! (This I learned in the session I went to at the library on "How to Turn Your Backyard into a Certified Wildlife Habitat.") 

We're losing birds. We're losing bees. And bats and fireflies and little girls. Some of the neighbors spray pesticides on their lush, carpet-y lawns. Maybe it is a lost cause. Our luck running out, and what can we do? 

Regarding the loosestrife, there is a solution: replace it with a different purply-flowered plant called Blazing Star, a native species both bee and gardening-group-approved. Newly planted in my backyard, it hums with bees. And today, at least, all of them will have fresh water to drink. 

I was one of the lucky ten-year-old girls. A daily reminder to myself never to forget it. 




Sunday, July 10, 2022

The perfect day

begins with red raspberries picked off the bush my daughter planted two years ago. It was the height of the lockdown, the plant hardly more than a seedling. Now it's taken over one corner of the backyard, enough raspberries to eat handfuls each morning as I do my daily stroll through the garden, avoiding the dog poop and yanking out a stray shoot of bamboo--

that damn bamboo, three years digging it up and still it finds a way to lurk, to spread--

but let's go back to talking about the raspberries, the morning garden stroll, the zucchini that's swelled overnight and all of those green beans that only yesterday were flowers, were seeds. I don't know how any of it works. I only have faith that it will. 

And on a perfect day, I do have faith. 

On a perfect day, there is no bad news. No churn of anxiety. No tripping over the hose when I'm hauling my garbage bin out, skinned knees and torn pants--and those were new pants!--but ah well, it could've been worse. Now, sitting here writing (on the perfect day, of course I am writing) the quiet front porch, the absurd pink plants bobbing with bees, a woman on a bike stops to slip books into the little free library.

The dog barks warning barks, unsure if the woman is stranger or friend. Somewhere in between, I tell the dog, as if she can understand language. Last year on vacation with friends, browsing shops in a touristy part of town, we came upon a picture of a shoe in a store window, a sign: What colors do you see? 

Gray, I said, with teal-colored laces. At the same time my husband and friend said, Pink with white laces.

What? we all exclaimed, as my friend's husband laughed and reminded us that he was colorblind and all he saw was a shoe. The owner came out of the store then and told us what it meant. 

Pink and white and you are creative, right-brained. 

Teal and white, you are logical, left-brained. 

What's gray and teal? I said.

The woman shrugged. Somewhere in the middle. She turned to squint at me. Do you have trouble making decisions? 

My husband eyed me knowingly and we continued on our stroll, each of us seeing what only each of us could see. 

I finish up eating the day's red raspberries. Twist off the zucchini and the green beans. Eye the coloring on the tomatoes, the heft of the green peppers. Straighten the books in the library. Finish my writing. 

A perfect day.  



Sunday, July 3, 2022

We lost power

It was only for two days. Less than two days really. But it felt like forever. Outside was the hottest day of the year and so humid that the moment you stepped out, your sunglasses fogged up. People die in this kind of heat. Their perishable food perishes. Their pets pant and malinger. I was up in my office writing when

the lights shut off and the background whir of the air conditioning suddenly went silent. DAMN IT. But I wasn't too worried at first. Ten years ago we'd been through a series of storms, of outages. Every other month it seemed we were losing power. We knew the drill. 

Out came the candles and flashlights, the kind neighbors next door firing up their generator and throwing a cord over the back fence so we could keep our fridge going. We had a gas stove. Hot water. So, no real danger or suffering. The kids were younger then and living at home, and part of me liked how the power-less-ness slowed us all down, kept us home, playing cards or bananagrams by candlelight. We knew life would go back to normal soon. The people in charge would see to it. 

One too many outages though, my husband had had enough and he splurged on our own generator. The day he brought it home, literally in the minutes he was driving with the thing down the street, the lights came back on. He joked that he'd singlehandedly brought the power back to our neighborhood by his purchase and we'd likely never even need to use the generator. 

He was right--until ten years later, a few weeks ago, the hottest day of the year, the two of us alone, minus the kids, and in a new house, no neighbor next door chucking the generator cord over the fence, and too late realizing our own never-used generator was stuck in the garage. 

Behind the electric-powered door. 

Only two days and we lost nothing, and still with a gas stove, the hot water, an easily broken into garage to haul out the generator. I made my way slowly to the library through blacked out traffic lights, stepping around patrons everywhere sitting, some of them on the floor, plugged up with their electronics and trying to keep cool, the phone ringing off the hook, are you open, do you have air, and back home again to the darkening, warming house, not nearly as confident this time that the power will come back on, that we aren't one big storm, one teetering electrical grid away from something scary--

It's okay, my husband reassures me. It's your anxiety, and not the world collapsing.

And okay, okay, for now, I will choose to believe him, watching as he fires up the generator, watching as this time he is the one throwing the cord over the fence to power a neighbor's fridge.