Thursday, May 6, 2021

What I don't know about candles

or driving a UHaul truck through the streets of Washington DC, or driving a small compact car for that matter, for one thing:

Where do you park? How in God's name will you unload the UHaul? 

There's an alleyway behind my daughter's new apartment. She's on the ground floor of a four story building and something I didn't know: the below-ground floor is fancily called an "English Basement." The stairs leading down toward the hobbit-sized front door that won't fit a chair are steep. We will have to use the back entrance for the couch, the mattress, the kitchen table. Essentially, we are re-assembling furniture from all of our past houses into this apartment, excuse me, into this English Basement. 

Our kitchen table with crayon marks scrawled inside a drawer. Our daughter's name, written when she was in pre-school. The mattress my husband and I splurged on and paid off in monthly installments for three years. A plant. Will it get enough light in this place? The alleyway is very narrow. Too narrow, to be honest, but my husband is a patient and brave man. 

He pulls through achingly slow, attempts a turn, so we can start to unload, all of us realizing too late that the angle is too sharp. The truck won't make it through. He will have to back up. Avoid brushing the sides of the other apartments, the drain pipes jutting out, the corner of someone's living room, with only millimeters to spare. Who has time to feel nostalgia or sadness about daughters leaving home to live in English basements in faraway cities at a dangerous moment like this?

More like 30 excruciating minutes of dangerous moments 

as my husband inches his way back out. Once, his brave mask slips from his face and my heart bangs crazily. In the end, he double parks in the street. The boyfriend and his helpful friend lug the couch around the block, the mattress, the tables, down the alley way, down the back steps, while my daughter and her lovely friend tote the smaller things through the hobbit door in the front. 

Later we all flop out on our old couch and our daughter lights a new candle. I am sweating so much under my mask, my heart still hammering wildly from watching the UHaul nightmare, from driving myself through the busy streets so my husband can drop off the damn truck. "I had to drive through a parade!" he says, half laughing, half looking like he might burst into tears. 

It wasn't a parade. Just a Saturday night in this hopping trendy neighborhood. To settle myself, I put my daughter's books away, arranging them alphabetically by author and then doing my version of Dewey with the non-fiction collection, an activity that immediately calms me. I move the candle, blow it out, and my daughter rushes over, upset. 

Didn't I know that when you first burn a candle, it has to burn long enough to melt the wax all the way to the rim? 

No, I did not know that. 

While she bustles around unpacking the kitchen, she asks me to fix the candle. There's a way, she says. You can find it online. Something to do with tinfoil. 

I think she's joking, but sure enough, I find a complicated-seeming process for fixing a "tunneled candle" on a Better Homes and Gardens site. There's even a helpful Youtube video included. 

But my brain feels too tired to learn new things. How to fix candle problems that I've never heard of before. How to watch a brave patient man back up a fifteen foot truck. How to smile and wave from the safety of our small car, drive away from the English basement and the fun busy streets, set our daughter back on the path she would always have been on, if not for a global pandemic,

and us, back to our quiet old house, filled with--I realize now--an assortment of tunneled candles, just waiting for me to fix them. 



Thursday, April 29, 2021

You can't go back of course

but sometimes you want to, which actually is funny when you think about it, because back then, a lot of the time, you didn't want to BE there. The sippy cups and strewn toys and how many little shoes can one little person own? More than you, which is another funny thing. 

The summer before she went to kindergarten, she trailed after you everywhere, sometimes even following you into the bathroom, sucking her thumb, clutching her dolly, that absurdly-loved thing that she literally sucked the face off. One night when she was sleeping, you slid it out from under her arm and did a face transplant

taking another lookalike doll and carefully scissoring the clean, unsucked face around the edges and attaching it over the gross, chewed on one. The end result, a horrifying frankenstein mish-mash, but she didn't seem to notice. Every night before she went to bed she spread out her next day clothes on the floor beside her bed, 

a little girl self. Dress, leggings, socks, whichever pair of her million little shoes, and then she crept into your bedroom and made one for you 

out of the rarely to never-worn-again items in your closet. An old bridesmaid dress, for example, and tottering high heels. A little mommy out of clothes, she said, but you were only taking her to pre-school or doing a grocery trip and so you never wore her carefully assembled outfits.

Who knows, you were probably still wearing your old maternity pants back then, counting the days down to kindergarten and she would leave, dolly tucked in her backpack, just in case, and you would have the house alone for a few precious hours

and weren't you surprised when the day finally came how very quiet the house was. 

Even then you knew you couldn't go back. And that was just the beginning of the goings-away. You're such a pro now, you. Summer camps, college, studies abroad, a year overseas, cut off abruptly and scarily by the pandemic, and now another going-away,

the final one, maybe, 

probably, 

rightly, and you are rooting for her to go, really, despite how quiet the house will be. A friend tells you it's okay to say "And." As in, "I'm glad she's leaving, restarting her adult life AND I wish she could stay." 

You can't go back, and you want so badly some days to do that, 

if only to whisper to a long ago self: in the morning when you find she's made for you a little mommy out of clothes--no matter how silly it is--  

Wear it. 

My dolly with her dolly


Thursday, April 22, 2021

I'm in that place again

where I am mad at the world. 

I want to go out to the garden but the garden is covered by a weird late April snow. A few miles from where I live a police officer shot a sixteen year old Black girl and killed her. It looked like he had to do it, the mayor said, calling the girl, a woman. She was fighting with another girl. She had a knife. 

The snow on the redbud trees is so thick it weighs down the branches. The tulips in my neighbor's yard are drooping cups of snow. I used to teach sixteen year old kids. And I assure you they were kids even though many of them were taller than I was. Sometimes they used to get into fights in the school hallways.

You could hear them yelling Fight! and that was the signal for the coaches to wade in and pull everyone apart. We only had one security officer and he didn't have a gun, thank God. Before I was pregnant with my first child, I confess that I did not always see my students as other people's children, as people themselves. But sometimes a girl or boy broke through and reminded me. Linda, for example, who could barely read.

I had no idea how she made it to eleventh grade and I had no idea how to help her. I was an English teacher, but that meant teaching The Scarlet Letter, not phonics. My first year teaching I had the students keep a journal. A half a page of a response to whatever we were reading. But some kids wrote much more. In scratchy scrawl and barely past a first grade level, Linda wrote about her mom, about her fears, about herself.

I honestly don't remember what I did beyond inviting her to stay after school and going over assignments with her, but after she graduated, she kept coming back to visit. When she learned I was pregnant, she sent me a gift, a baby blanket, that both of my kids used all throughout their babyhoods. She wrote me a letter, thanking me, and the words were perfectly formed and readable and lovely. 

But there were other girls and boys I didn't see at all. I won't write this girl's name, but if there was an opposite to Linda she was it. She was in my homeroom so I only saw her for ten minutes a day and the ten minutes were always charged with tension. She was tardy. She was out of her seat. She was talking. When I called her out, she cussed me. It was a daily battle and she was fourteen years old and I was going to win, damn it. 

She was pregnant. She dropped out of school. She died during childbirth. I don't know where my humanity was because I didn't care. All I could think about was how belligerent this girl had been to me, every second that I knew her. Because we had been in a battle, I could only see her as the enemy. Think about this:

You are a girl you are a boy you are a person and you are mad bullied scared and you are fighting, defending yourself or attacking but it is justified in your mind

the police show up and within ten seconds they shoot you in the chest four times
 

The bird feeder hanging outside the kitchen window has snow on its ledge. I watch an agitated bird hop around, darting back and forth, unable to land. I am so mad at the world that I can hardly think straight and even more mad because I am this world too. I slip on my robe and head outside to swipe the snow off the bird feeder. 

I am twenty seven years too late, but I am so sorry, Aleisha. 






Sunday, April 18, 2021

The black bird on the patio

is sleek and beautiful, the feathers iridescent and I love it immediately, spending a couple of days trying to catch it on our bird feeder, so I can sneak up quietly and take a picture. Ever since the weirdo Cardinal incident of March 2021, I've been obsessed with the birds in my backyard. 

The main character in the book I'm working on is a bird expert and I freely admit I know next to nothing about them, but I am eager to learn. Confession: I used to think bird-watching was a boring hobby. Who has time to sit around watching birds? Also, I have that poem Letters from a Father by Mona Van Duyn in my head, and while I love that poem, it has always made me associate bird-watching with old people. 

Maybe I am an old person now though because I am getting a kick out of watching these birds. This sleek lovely black one, for example. I have a bird identifying book on my kitchen counter, right by the window where the bird feeder hangs, so I can easily look up who is who. The black one is too small to be a Blackbird. It's not speckled enough to be a Starling. I find a match, the Cowbird, and I am so excited, 

for about two seconds.

Cowbirds are what they call brood parasites. The female follows other birds around, finds where they're nesting, and sneaks in and lays eggs in the other birds' nests. The unsuspecting bird nester bird sits on the Cowbird's eggs. And get this: the Cowbird eggs are bigger and when those birds hatch, they crowd out the others or even push the other baby birds out, which honestly, seems so shitty and selfish

and sad. And even worse, in our yard, because if you remember what happened with the freaky Cardinal, my husband taped a box up under the porch eaves in case it needed a safe warm place to burrow or whatever you call it. Well, the Cardinal didn't bother with the box, but a lovely Mourning Dove couple moved in,

and now I can see the Mourning Dove mother sitting on her eggs (IS ONE OF THEM A COWBIRD EGG??!!), the father coo-coo-cooing close by, the asshole Cowbirds hopping around our bird feeder and I feel totally complicit in the whole mess. 

But as a side note, my bird book did point out that while the Cowbird's nesting (or rather, not-nesting) style is detrimental to many songbirds, it's not a 100% sure thing for them either, evolutionarily-speaking. Many birds, when they notice the Cowbird egg, abandon the nest. Some Cowbirds do end up being raised by the unsuspecting foster birds, but they never imprint on their own kind and therefore never mate themselves. In the end something like only 3% of all Cowbirds survive past the nesting stage. 

Two of them are in my backyard. Damn it. 

Male Mourning Dove watching nearby


Female Mourning Dove possibly about to hatch a Cowbird




Thursday, April 8, 2021

Interview with Kristy Boyce, Author of Hot British Boyfriend

If there is such a thing as the perfect book as an antidote for the times (the times being a dark pandemic year of anxiety and fear and no travel) then I have found such a book. It's light, hopeful and all travel; specifically, it's about a teen girl on a semester abroad trip to England. Throw in two cute boys, visits to fun touristy sites, our heroine finding her way and learning to be true to herself and her passions, also, a sprinkle of pixie gardens, and honestly, what else can we ask for? 

What makes it even more lovely is that I know the writer-- Kristy Boyce is a long-time friend, the very first writer I met when I moved to Ohio and ventured out to my first writers group meeting. Her journey to publication was long and windy and littered with setbacks and rejections, but she kept plugging away. 

Now her first book is out and making a splash and I am absolutely thrilled to sit down with her (virtually, of course) to hear more about her behind-the-scenes journey. 

Jody: Kristy, I adored this book, and I am so happy for you, and when this is all over, I am going to hug you so hard! Gushing out of the way, where'd you get the idea for Hot British Boyfriend?

Kristy: My original idea came when I was writing a multiple choice question for a psychology class I teach. The question was testing when we are most likely to show our true self to others versus when we’re likely to show a more perfect version of ourselves. I wrote an application question about a girl who studies abroad and then I sat back and thought, “That would be a fun book to write!”

Jody: I love that this all distills down to a question on a psych test. When was this?

Kristy: I took my first notes on the idea in 2014, so it really has been a long road! After writing and revising it, I took the novel to the Highlights Foundation Whole Novel Retreat in 2017. My mentor there was Nancy Werlin, who gave me a ton of wonderful advice. I revised again based on that feedback and then queried the manuscript, but I didn’t receive any agent offers. 

Jody: Which is always a huge letdown after so much work.

Kristy: It was rough because I really believed in Hot British Boyfriend. I debated putting it away and starting on something else. Instead, I decided to give the book one more shot and applied for PitchWars, an online mentorship program. Thankfully, I was accepted and spent the next four months doing another two big rounds of revision with my mentors. That led to me signing with my agent after PitchWars and then doing two more rounds of revision with my editor before the manuscript went to copy edits. 

Jody: This sounds like lots of revision.

Kristy: Lots. I guess one thing that was surprising was how many times a person can rewrite a first page and a first sentence. My PitchWars mentors and I went over those first paragraphs again and again. I learned so much during all of the revisions and became a much stronger writer. 

Jody: I heard you talk about this at the time. The ups and downs and close calls. Was it hard to keep going with the project? 

Kristy: That was probably one of the most difficult parts-- to keep believing that the novel had promise even after getting all of the rejections. I sometimes wondering if all the work would be worth it, but it absolutely was. 

Jody: And you couldn't see it then, but maybe it just wasn't the right time for the book? A few years ago many readers were clamoring for darker, angstier stories. Now--maybe, not so much. This year, of course, has been something else.

Kristy: This is true. I was finishing up edits on Hot British Boyfriend throughout the beginning of the pandemic and I loved being able to fall back into this happier world full of travel, friends, and romance. I’m always mentally healthier when I’m writing and that was definitely the case during 2020! It was a wonderful escape. I think, if anything, the times we’re living in have prompted me to dig in deeper to the joyful stories that I’m already inclined to write.

Jody: Any writing tips or tricks to share with aspiring authors?

Kristy: Hmm, well I’ve recently been fast-drafting a new YA and I do have a few tricks I’ve come up with for that process. I really like to finish my first drafts quickly (in a month or so), but I’ve found that if I’m sitting at my laptop then the words are slow to come. I’m particularly liable to second-guess every choice, get caught up on small wording issues, and generally procrastinate. So, I trick my brain into writing in various crazy and chaotic ways! 

Jody: You gave a talk to our writing group about how you dictate to yourself when you take walks, using the microphone feature on your phone. This was a game changer for me!

Kristy: That is my absolute favorite trick. It's amazing how much more creative I feel when I'm moving instead of sitting. Here's another one: Sometimes I’ll cover my screen with a notebook so that I can type without seeing what I’m writing. I have also—prepare yourself—turned my font color white so that I can’t see the words as I’m typing them. 

Jody:  Ooh! I have to try this! Actually, I want to try this RIGHT NOW! But before I do and let you go, what's up next for you? 

Kristy: I’m thrilled that HarperTeen has bought a companion novel to HBB! It follows Ellie’s roommate, Sage, when she travels to Amsterdam the summer after high school graduation. The title is Hot Dutch Daydream and it’s scheduled to come out in April 2023. 

Jody:  This is so exciting, Kristy! And can I just tell you again how happy I am for you and how much I want to hug you?

Kristy:  :) 

Jody: Readers, would you like a signed copy of Hot British Boyfriend? To enter, leave a comment below, mentioning a place you'd love to travel. Contest open until April 17, 2021.

For more on Kristy and Hot British Boyfriend:

-----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

Kristy Boyce lives in Columbus, OH and teaches psychology as a senior lecturer at The Ohio State University. When she’s not spending time with her husband and son, she’s usually writing, reading, putting together fairy gardens, or watching happy reality TV (The Great British Bake-Off and So You Think You Can Dance are perennial favorites). 




Where you can find her: 

Kristyboyceauthor.com

Twitter at @KristyLBoyce

Instagram @kristylboyce 

Where you can find Hot British Boyfriend:

Cover to Cover Bookstore

Barnes and Noble

Amazon




Wednesday, March 31, 2021

I Make Books

stories that I spin out in the mornings on my lap top before I head off to work at the library, 

there, where I check in books and pull books off the shelves for patron requests, bundles of books that I pass through our walk up window to children out walking their dogs through the park. Some days I weed books from the shelves, 

weeding--what librarians call culling the older books from the collection, the ones not checked out in a long while, the ones with the broken spines or loose pages. I'm always sad flipping through those books, wishing they could have more of a chance. And good news: some do end up in our Friends of the Library Book Sale, where they get another shot at being read and loved.  

And then it's home, to read books, 

the books of non-fiction essays I'm working my way through, the ones on the nightstand, stacked in the bathroom and piled on the end tables in the living room, the cookbooks and gardening books on the kitchen counter to flip through while I'm eating breakfast, whatever latest novel I'm reading. 

Lately, I am making tiny books for the miniature room I bought, a project to do with my daughter who likes puzzles. This was a total impulse buy. An ad on social media that kept popping up until I relented and bought it. (fun/sad fact: these ads work on me!) I bought two rooms, actually, a book room and a plant room. 

Oh, you should've seen my daughter and me spreading out the teeny tiny pieces, flipping through the thick instruction booklets, challenging each other to a competition-- Who could finish our micro room first? 

Cut to: it's three weeks later and my daughter has threatened to quit on more than one occasion. The itsy bitsy clipboard is what finally did her in. Meanwhile, I am plugging away on my book room. Building the bookshelves first, upholstering a chair (which took four hours and nearly killed me), a teeny vase of flowers, each bud needing to be glued and affixed to a stem the size of a pin. Until finally, 

I had to make the books! I followed the directions carefully to put together the first one, turned the instruction booklet page, and laughed out loud where it said: Make 140 more books. 

SO, I did that. 

Because that is what I do. 


teeny tiny pages


clipboard of doom


Almost finished room! 
(Note the chair that almost killed me)




Monday, March 22, 2021

Shots!

8:45 and I join the line of maybe 100 people shuffling along outside Ohio State's old basketball arena. No time at all, and I'm inside, flashing my driver's license, waved forward by one of the many National Guardspeople who are directing traffic, keeping things orderly and all of us socially distant. If not for them, this could be the line for a basketball game 

or a rock concert. There's music playing. "Life in the Fast Lane" of all things, blasting out of the loudspeakers. Shuffling along inside and I spy the weight room, college kids working out. The people in line appear to be the 50-somethings, (the vaccine's open to our age group now) and this music feels appropriate.

I'm taking notes on my phone so I don't forget this experience. Profound thought this moment: 

life in the fast lane/surely make you lose your mind

My appointment's at 9 am and I'm sitting at a registration table by 9:05. My registration person is a part-time pharmacist at Kroger, she tells me. She usually works 20 hours a week but this week she'll be working every day, 7 am - 8 pm. This is it, she says. How do you feel?

Good!

She types in my information on her laptop and I type notes on my phone: now they're playing "Thunder" by AC/DC. 

9:10 and I'm in line again, moving past the National Guard and the row after row of registration tables to line up once more behind the other 50-somethings. Everyone is quiet. Are we the lucky ones who never got sick? A few days ago I was teary-eyed making this appointment. An end in sight and I was overwhelmed-- elated and anxious. Now, I don't know what I feel. 

9:13 and a National Guardsperson waves me toward a nurse with an open seat. She fills out my vaccine record and gives me the shot. I don't feel anything. Not even a pinprick. Thank you, I tell her, and then I'm moved along again, this time to a waiting area in a hallway. We're supposed to sit here for fifteen minutes in case we have an allergic reaction to the shots, but nobody seems to be timing us. 

The music is still blasting. We've moved onto Guns and Roses, "Paradise City." Is this 1980's music a conscious choice? I ruminate over rock concerts I've been to, sneak looks at the people sitting around me, everyone scrolling on their phones. 

I text my husband, who went through this same process at the same place the day before. What was your nurse's name? he asks me.

I realize I don't know. Hannah, maybe? 

He says, Mine was Emily. And you should know. This person just saved your life. 

Hannah, definitely, I tell him, even though I'm not 100 percent sure. Next time, though, next time, I will make a note of it. 

9:28 and I'm walking out to my car. It's a sunny cold day and I live only minutes away. My arm doesn't hurt and I want it to. 





Monday, March 15, 2021

Our Pandemic Year

March 13, 2020 - March 13, 2021

A few days before the shutdown my husband and I were out to dinner with friends, and when we were leaving, he asked me if I'd noticed the painting that was for sale hanging on the wall behind our friends' heads. 

I hadn't, but this was not surprising. I've never been an observant person. For the most part I have always lived inside my head, one of the many coping mechanisms traced back to my childhood when my small world was intolerable and I was powerless to do anything about it. But this painting, my husband said, it was so weird and silly,

bright orange and kind of cartoon-ish-looking, a stick-like figure and the words Moderon Love written across the top. Why was the word modern spelled wrong? And what was the stick-like figure supposed to represent? Why was the whole thing orange? He was so animated just talking about it that we did something we'd never done before, 

we went back to the restaurant and bought the painting. A few days later, we were "sheltering in place." My husband turned the dining room into command central of his office and worked his twelve-hour days in there. I finished the book I was writing and then I revised it and revised it again. 

Writing, I could plainly see, was another perfect, straight-out-of-my-childhood coping mechanism. (It turns out there is a benefit to having PTSD after all, and that is: you know instinctively what to do when the world shrinks down, intolerably, and you are powerless.) We took a lot of walks with the dog and one day we saw a broken chair set out on someone's curb and my husband said, I like that chair, and we brought it home 

and he spent multiple hours sanding it and painting it. I took apart the koi pond in the backyard and planted an herb garden in its place. I read too much news and swore off the news and then immediately broke my promise and read the news again, until I felt so sick with anxiety, I stopped. Until I started again. I refurbished an old dresser. 

I followed epidemiologists on twitter and watched them, in real time, discuss studies of the virus being airborne, the efficacy of masks, and their worries that mask-wearing would become politicized. I watched daily news conferences with our governor and the state's health director until scared angry people protested on her front lawn with guns and she quit her job. I bought a set of colorful bowls. 

I woke up in the middle night in a panic, freaking out about the people I loved getting sick, dying, my kids far away, and then one adult kid home and how could all of us make it through this Thing safely, one month, two months, six, twelve. I made zucchini bread with the absurd amount of zucchini from my garden. 

I went back to work at the library after five months furloughed and worried that I'd catch the virus and bring it into my house and kill my family. I painted the front porch. 

Friends got sick. I started writing another book. 

Okay, maybe we are powerless in our own small worlds, but if I have learned anything this Pandemic Year, it's that we are lucky too, to have other worlds to escape into, pretty bowls to eat our cereal out of, fresh herbs and freshly painted rooms, 

artwork on the wall that makes us scratch our heads and smile. 








Tuesday, March 9, 2021

The other night my daughter saw a weird bird

She was letting out the dogs. And there it was under the eaves on the back porch. A red bird, just sitting there, she said, looking down at her in a creepy way. 

It must be that cardinal, I told her. We'd seen him around the yard and this was a cold night, ten degrees. Maybe the bird was trying to get out of the cold? Was it safe for birds to be outside on a night like this? My husband immediately went into research mode. 

He set out sunflowers seeds and found a small box and put tissues inside of it and hung it up on the back porch where the bird had been. And then we all forgot about it. A few weeks went by and now we have a box nailed up under the porch eaves. A year from now it will probably still be there and one day we'll look up and think, wait, why is there a box nailed up under the porch eaves? 

It's easy to get used to strange things. 

This year of all years. My husband bopping around the house in his pajamas all day, our grown daughter living at home again. The masks and social distancing signs. Zoom holiday gatherings and virtual festivals. Sometimes I have the feeling that we're living in a simulation. 

Or maybe we're trapped in a weirdo offshoot of a multiverse. How can any of this be real? 

We're tired and we want it to be over. When it IS over, we'll pretend it never happened. We'll eat out at restaurants again and invite people into our homes, barefaced. We'll push our carts through the grocery store aisles in any direction we choose. 

I took the dogs out the other night. It was dark and cold. Something rustled above me and I looked up. There was the red bird, only a foot away from my head. It was frozen. Eyes black and staring right at me. I can't adequately describe how unsettling it was. It didn't look real. How still it was. How close. 

What world do we live in now? 





Sunday, February 28, 2021

It's probably too early

but I can't help thinking about my garden. Two 50 degree days in a row, all of the snow melting, hearing the birds again and the longer days of sunlight, all of it is making me itch to go outside. I want to clear out the leaves and dead flowers and get everything tidied up, 

but then I read a post on my gardening group page admonishing all of us to refrain from doing that kind of spring cleaning. Entire ecosystems of critters have laid eggs in that stuff and need just a few more weeks of burrowing or whatever. My gardening page is big on no chemicals and leaving things where they are and don't disturb the soil and let's make a meadow and I am trying to be right there with them, except

I really really really want this long winter to be over and spring to be here and maybe I can just clean up a little? And all of this feels like a giant metaphor about our year in the Pandemic and I was going to try to ease you into it, but I'm too bleary-eyed this morning to think of how, so let's just say it:

It's a giant metaphor about our year in the Pandemic.

I want It to be over. Now. I see the new virus cases going down each day and hear about people getting their vaccines and know that my time will come too in April, May? June? July? And that's okay. I'm just happy it's happening, we're turning a corner and the snow's melting and I want to go out to eat again

and see a movie and hug my son and meet my best friend for coffee and go to a real live actual in person meeting with my writers' group instead of the virtual kind where I sit in my pajamas and try to aim the laptop screen in such a way that my face doesn't look droopy and no one can see the cluttered mess behind me in my office, which is growing messier and more cluttered as this whole thing goes on, eleven months now, twelve! oh my God

did you ever think back in March 2020 that here you'd be, zooming and not seeing your son in San Francisco and tiptoeing around your dining room, which is command central of your husband's office, hangers of just-washed face masks drip-drying around him?

Yeah. Me neither. 

I went outside to tidy up the garden, 

but I never got to the actual tidying up the garden part. All of the snow melting and this being the first time I was really out there since December? and I realized I had a bigger problem to tackle first. 

Dog poop. This is not a metaphor. 

It took one full garbage bag to contain all of it in its non-metaphorical glory, and I was sweaty and muddy and had stepped in dog poop at some point despite my best efforts, but then, 

the job was done. The flower beds and their sleeping critter ecosystems, mostly undisturbed I hope. Last year we still had a night of frost after Mother's Day, so I am under no illusions that a couple of 50 degree days means that spring has come,

but it will. 



Sunday, February 21, 2021

Wintering

March is seven days away. 

Hard to believe when I look out my window, the snow over snow, icicles dangling from the eaves. How many times in the last few weeks I've been out shoveling, scraping the cars, the temperature hovering under 20 degrees, and still, I feel lucky

to have electricity. Running water. A warm home. My mother and in-laws got their first vaccine doses. My daughter and her boyfriend, who have been living with my husband and me during the pandemic, have promising job prospects and are eagerly making plans to strike out on their own. In the meantime they're cooking us dinner every night, gourmet meals that if I show you the pictures, omg you will be so jealous.

I am ridiculously overjoyed by these dinners. 

I'm reading a book called Wintering. It's not really about winter, but more of a metaphor about how sometimes, when things get to be too much, we have to take a break. Retreat. In a time of slow moving catastrophe, our bodies can only take so much anxiety, fear and dread before we shut down, go numb. 

Instead of resisting, it's okay to lean in to hibernation. Go all in with the Starbucks coffee after shoveling. The long walks with the bundled up dogs. Books by the fire. Music and silly Tik-Tok videos. Gourmet meals 

each day

each day

each day

until the snow melts and this strange dark cold beautiful winter comes to an end.





Saturday, February 13, 2021

A few years ago I got thrown out of a government building

It was really surprising to me, because up to that point, I had never thought of myself as the type of person who got thrown out of government buildings. 

A librarian friend of mine, who knew that I had passionate feelings about libraries, told me that Ohio was considering changing the state law that required schools to have librarians. Also, PE teachers, art, music, orchestra and drama teachers, and school nurses. 

It was being framed as a local choice kind of thing, but it was pretty clear that what was really going on was the state was looking for ways to save money. The school board was having a meeting, and some people had planned a rally outside the building, where students and parents and other members of the community would speak out in support of those positions. 

I was asked to speak on behalf of librarians. My librarian friend told me to meet her downtown at the Board of Education. I had never spoken at a rally before. Actually, I'd never been to a rally period, so I had no idea what to expect. I arrived early and went into the building and putzed around in the lobby for a few minutes until the security guard at the information desk noticed me and asked why I was there.

For the rally, I said, and he told me I needed to leave. 

I thought he was joking. 

And I kept thinking he was joking the entire time he was escorting me out of the building, guiding me completely off the property and down onto the sidewalk.

When I finally realized this was not a joke, I was surprised and defensive, going a little Karen-y on the guy. Wasn't this a public building? Wasn't I, a member of the public, allowed inside? 

Apparently, the answer was still no. 

The rally went on as rallies do. Sign waving and chants. Speeches and that nice feeling of camaraderie hanging with other people who are as passionate as you are about the same things. I was energized and hopeful. We the people were making our voices heard! Soon everyone in Ohio would hear about what was going on and speak out against this terrible idea! 

A few days later the school board voted and schools all over the state started cutting librarians and school nurses and art, music, orchestra and drama teachers, (but probably not PE teachers because who are we kidding here).

I was shocked. 

Honestly, I don't know what shocked me the most. The state cutting the positions or the school board not listening to our pleas (maybe they'd had no intention of changing their minds? Maybe the whole thing was a foregone conclusion all along?) or the majority of the people in the community who never knew there was a rally and didn't realize they were about to lose librarians and all of those other essential positions at their schools. Or maybe... 

they didn't care as much as I did? 

Also, I admit, I was still feeling shocked about getting thrown out of the building.

Now, seven years later, that's the part of the whole episode that still embarrasses me. Not that I got thrown out but that I had been so entitled and aggrieved about it. The me that gave the speech at the rally was new to the party, just figuring out the reality that long-time protesters had already learned:

the people in charge don't usually listen 

the people in the community don't always know or care what's going on 

And real change, if it is going to happen, takes time and work and much much more than a two minute tearful speech at a rally. 





Saturday, February 6, 2021

Dog treats at the library check out window

The other day one of my co-workers brought in a box of dog biscuits. The library where I work is at the edge of a park, and sometimes people who are out walking their dogs will amble up to the window to see if they have any books on hold for them. She thought it would be nice if we could give out dog treats.

I have had the opportunity to offer this service to our patrons (well, their dogs) twice in the past few days and it has given me an absurd amount of joy. Maybe it's Month Eleven of the Global Pandemic starting to wear me down. 

The fact that the library is still closed to the public and instead of wearing one mask I am wearing two masks and it's too cold out to have socially distant bonfires and no sign of anyone in my family getting the vaccine any time soon, except for my mother. 

I am grateful for that! Also, I am grateful that I have a job, that the people I love have managed to make it this far, unscathed, and all I can do for the people I know who are suffering with this disease is send them soup. 

Side note about this soup: It is supposedly very good, especially the rolls. 

A friend who recently recovered from Covid went out to dinner alone, in celebration of her wellness and moment of immunity. She Facebook-Lived her experience. The near empty restaurant. The white tablecloths. A drink order. An appetizer. I watched it all in wonder and delight. The last time I went to a dinner like this was almost a year ago. A group of writers and an agent who'd spoken at our writers' group conference. 

I can't remember what I ordered. I really really wish I remembered this! But it was just another dinner to me at the time. This was a place downtown that I often went to, a special place to meet a friend or to impress an out of town visitor. I used to take things like this for granted. 

And who was the last person I hugged who is not my husband or daughter? Who was the last random person I chatted with bare-faced, those times I would bump into a neighbor at the grocery store or out shopping or at the movies. (For the record, I do remember the last movie I saw. 1917. Oh, those poor people who thought their lives were bad living in the time of world war and not knowing yet that a global pandemic was just around the corner. 

Sad update: The movie theater we always went to is closed now. For good.) 

But these dogs at the window! Their owners are bundled up for the weather and sometimes while they wait for me to check out their owner's books, (bundled up myself) bagging everything up because it's sleeting or snowing out there, they'll peer inside, tongues lolling,

and I am so ridiculously glad that I have something to give them. 




Sunday, January 31, 2021

Sunday morning

the church bells in my neighborhood ring, hymns that I recognize as I walk the dog or in summer when I'm sitting on the front porch reading a book. I don't go to church anymore. A million small reasons and some big ones, but church hymns aren't any of those reasons. I have always liked church hymns. 

And the songs from that brief blip of time when I was in middle school at the parish school and to engage the kids at mass, the principal and kindergarten teacher teamed up to play guitar and bongos, encouraging us to sing loud and clap and sway in the pews, 

instead of the normally somber mumble-singing of the old people. Some of those old ladies still wore hats from the time when women were supposed to wear hats, a sign of feminine obedience when entering a church. My mother told me that when she was a little girl, if they forgot their hat, they had to put a piece of tissue on their heads, which I thought was bizarre,

but then I thought a lot of things were bizarre about the church. The guitar and bongos went the way of the principal and kindergarten teacher, who rumor had it, were having an affair. I have no idea if this is true. They were both single women and they were best friends, and these facts alone, coupled with the wacky guitar-bongo thing they'd cooked up, kept the rumor mill busy.

The last time I entered a Catholic church, I got weepy. It was a church somewhere in New Mexico. My husband and I were on a meandery driving tour of the Southwest, heading toward Santa Fe from Taos. The guidebook said the dirt in el Santuario de Chimayo had healing properties and I wanted to see this for myself. A few years before I had been in the Basilica of Saint Anthony in Padua and had the same compulsion.

What is it about these churches, anyway? The weird mix of touristy gift shops and saint's bones displayed in glass cases, some people wandering around taking pictures and some people falling to their knees and bursting into tears and urgent prayers. In Padua you could write your intentions on a piece of paper, read the prayer to St. Anthony, helpfully included in dozens of languages on the back, and slip the paper into a box beside the crypt where his body is interred. 

While my travel partner was sneaking illicit pictures (you weren't officially allowed), I stood in line for the crypt prayer and intentions. When it was my turn, the people beside me were praying in their different languages so earnestly, I was ashamed of myself. I won't tell you what I prayed for, except that it hasn't happened, yet, and before you can remind me, 

I know this is a child's view of prayer, asking God for something you want and waiting for a response. Even when I was a child, I didn't quite believe it. Still, the New Mexico guidebook says you are allowed to take some of the healing dirt, and believer or no, I like to cover my bases, so I took an empty pill bottle

and waited for my turn into the small room by the altar where the magical dirt was. It was just ordinary looking sand, filling a hole in the ground in the center of the room, the size of a child's sandbox, which now that I think about it, someone would have to continually refill. People were standing around the perimeter looking at it somberly, while I knelt down and filled my bottle. Hands shaky and suddenly with that weepy feeling 

whatever that feeling is called 

that includes bells ringing in your neighborhood, bongos and tissues on little girls' heads, best friends hounded and kicked out of a community they loved, road trips with your husband, saint bones and sand.

 


 

Sunday, January 24, 2021

On Bright Coats and Mittens

I am not a coat person, but I am enamored by the colorful coats worn at the Inauguration. All bright and solidly colored and did these women coordinate with each other? But there's no time to keep wondering about that because Lady Gaga is singing the National Anthem,

and I have to wonder about her enormous bird pin. Is she going for a Hunger Games vibe? But that thought goes away too because her voice is rising. She's reaching the part that only a few people can sing, about the rockets red glare and how the flag was still there. She pauses to raise her arm and there's the flag flying over the Capitol, where only two weeks before there was smoke and darkness and a mob of people trying to overthrow our government. But this day

it's all cleaned up and sparkling. Bernie Sanders is slouched down in his coat and wearing mittens and looking comically grumpy. Jennifer Lopez is singing This Land is Your Land and I am watching with my daughter and we are both teary. The first woman Vice President of the United States, Kamala Harris is sworn in by the first Hispanic American Supreme Court Justice, Sonya Sotomayor, and I am teary again. The camera zooms in Mitch McConnell looking grimly over her shoulder and you can feel the weight of the moment, the old world passing,

and now for something new. A baby is fussing and a harried mom rushes to comfort him. One of the grandchildren of President Biden. 

He gives his speech and who knew how honesty could seem so radical?  

Our history has been a constant struggle between the American ideal that we are all created equal and the harsh, ugly reality that racism, nativism, fear, and demonization have long torn us apart...

Through the Civil War, the Great Depression, World War, 9/11, through struggle, sacrifice, and setbacks, our “better angels” have always prevailed.

In each of these moments, enough of us--enough of us-- came together to carry all of us forward.

And, we can do so now.

I have to leave for work, but first I catch the poet Amanda Gorman reciting her poem. She is only twenty two and standing resplendent in her bright yellow coat. Her hands move in a way that makes me think of birds. I can't tear my eyes away. 

If she is the future of our country, I feel better already. 

The afternoon at the library is a day like any other during our global pandemic. The masked patrons stepping up to the window to collect their ordered materials. The people out in the park, running, walking their dogs, or at home, turning Bernie in his coat and mittens into silly memes, sharing videos of their little girls watching Kamala Harris, dissecting the significance of the colorful coats, the Hunger Games pin. 

How is that we live in such a broken silly beautiful world?

 




Wednesday, January 13, 2021

Where to put your rage when you live in a Democracy (Or hope you still do)

A friend knitted me a pink hat for the March. She couldn't go and she knew I was planning to. She wrote me a card. Please wear this for me, and I immediately burst into tears. We have a shared history of sexual assault, but that was in the past and we were over it, healed, we thought, but the new president's election brought it all back, fresh, his disdain for women, his mockery and bullying, and worse, and infinitely more painful,

-- all of these people cheering him on and turning a blind eye to it. I was back where I started, dazed and scared, angry too, which was a feeling I didn't have when I was a child being sexually assaulted. You know what? Let's call it rage. I was enraged. Honestly, I was a little scared of all of that rage.   

I mean, where do you put it? How do you let it out, without hurting others? Because, let me tell you, the anger I felt when I saw that man brag about grabbing women by the pussy and then watched people I know, friends, family members, neighbors, shrug it off-- well, that rage had better go somewhere. I made a cardboard sign. 

I cut it to look like a stop sign and I painted it red and pasted letters on in white: NO. I went to Washington with another friend. She was mad too. But the drive there felt more like a road trip. 

Rest stops. McDonalds for lunch. We stayed with one of her friends on Capitol Hill. There were other women there, friends of the host. None of us knew each other but we all immediately clicked. No one had to explain to each other why we were there. In the morning I put the pink hat on, and the truth is, I felt a little silly. 

I had never been to a protest rally before, unless you count this one time I went to the board of education, after the state of Ohio decided to cut funding for school librarians and I made a speech outside the building about how a librarian saved my life when I was a child. I was a nervous wreck that day because I had to speak through a megaphone.

This time I just had to walk around in public wearing a tightly fitted knit pink hat and waving a No sign. I could do that, damn it. The minute we stepped outside the house, it was a sea of pink hats. Crowds of people, mostly women, walking from every direction. They weren't screaming. They weren't carrying tiki torches (that would come later, for the aggrieved white men who like the idea of grabbing women by the pussies or kneeling on the necks of Black men and don't want to be called out for it) No,

the women were talking, laughing, moving toward the Capitol, a crowd so thick you could get lost in it, get squished in it, but I was never afraid. Which is interesting, when I think about it now, because several people--all trump supporters coincidentally--called me before I left to express fear, to tell me they were "thinking of me," 

which I laughed off, said, Don't worry, when what I wanted to tell them was F off, but I'll admit, there was a small doubt of What if they were right? What if the crowd did get out of control? 

But there, in the thick of it, with people laughing and chatting and waiting in lines for the port-o-potties, the funny creative signs, the making of new friends, the picture snapping, and all of those absurd pink hats everywhere you looked, how could you be afraid? 

In some moments you could even feel joy. There are more of us, I thought, and that was before I knew there were 500,000 people at the march. Millions of people rallying at the same time in cities all of the country, all over the world. Maybe we could all do something constructive with our rage?

I did. I learned my congressmen's names and state reps' names and phone numbers. And called them. A lot. I went to townhalls and wrote postcards reminding people to vote and wrote letters to the editor and went to more marches and canvassed neighborhoods for candidates and joined organizations to help fight back unfair laws, and voted, of course, 

and all of those millions of pink hatted women combined with so many other people-- Black Lives Matter people (who, according to some of my now former friends and neighbors, have the audacity to say that Black people's lives matter), and scientists freaked out over Climate Change, and children terrified of being gunned down in school, and immigrants and refugees and gay people and trans people-- all of us standing up to say NO

to human rights abuses and corruption and fraud, 

voted too. And the person we voted for won the election by 7 million votes.  

So, if you find yourself on the other side of that, enraged, I hear you. 

But don't carry your arsenal of guns to the statehouse to try to kidnap the governor or set up a gallows outside the Capitol so you can hang the Vice President or break through the barriers of the building and scratch your balls on the Speaker of the House's desk or beat a police officer to death with an American flag and then turn around and tell me it was nothing, let's all move past this for the sake of unity, 

I heard that enough when I was a child, and this time I say what I couldn't say then

No. 





Tuesday, January 5, 2021

Not numbers

March 13, the day we shut down in Ohio because of the global pandemic, I recorded in my planner the number of Covid 19 cases in the state and in the country. 

4, I wrote. 

1,015 in the US, I wrote. 31 deaths. 

And then, I just kept doing that, the squares on my planner, which used to have how many pages I'd written each day or how many words, appointments, meet-ups with friends at restaurants, writing workshops I was teaching, school visits-- became an exponentially increasing list of virus cases, a catalog of deaths. I don't know why I felt compelled to do this, but once I started, I couldn't stop. I wanted to know. I wanted to see it, this slow-moving tragedy, distilled down to numbers. 

And the numbers quickly became horrifying. I remember back in the spring hearing the president brag about how he'd saved the country from 2 million deaths, and now, because of him, we'd only have one hundred or two hundred thousand. The day he said this, March 30, 2020, I wrote in my planner:

2,314 deaths in the US, 

so, 100,000, the lowball number that he was bragging about (remember, at the time, he was saying "it will all go away by Easter") was incomprehensible to me. 

For the record, we reached that number less than two months later on May 29. 

We passed 200,000 dead on September 22.

We passed 300,000 dead on December 14.

I read somewhere that when we hear about mass death, humans tend to go numb. Show us the picture of one dead child, the toddler in the firefighter's arms the day of the Oklahoma City Bombing, for example, the bloodied body of that one precious little girl, and we are gut-punched by horror and grief.  

But, tell us that 230,000 people died in the tsunami in December 2004 

tell us 500,000 people were murdered in Rwanda that same year 

tell us that yesterday alone in the United States of America 2,624 people died of Covid, 

and while we feel awful, of course, our minds can't seem to handle what that means, each number a person, precious and individual.

I started a new planner on January 1, 2021 and I am no longer writing the numbers of cases, the numbers of deaths. 

Instead I am reading stories about the people who died. I'm following a project put together by my writer and artist friend Josey Goggin. She calls it the Art of Death and each day she paints a watercolor picture of one American who died of Covid on a page in the soon-to-be-former president's book The Art of the Deal. 

Follow along with her project here --if you want to stop thinking about numbers and remember the human being who is behind each one.