Friday, July 30, 2021

Where's my fork?

Up the street in my neighborhood they were having an Irish folk band and a food truck. I told my husband we should go. It'll be fun, I said. A chance to meet more of our neighbors. Plus, don't forget the food truck. 

My husband has a Thing about food trucks. The thing is called He Loves Food Trucks. A few years ago we were in a rut and made a plan to do more cultural activities around the city. We visited museums and went on walking tours of historic neighborhoods and strolled around at various festivals. But the real selling point for this plan was the city's annual Food Truck Festival. Did this count as a cultural activity? 

Yes, said my husband. 

It was 90 degrees when we were supposed to leave the house to walk up the street to hear the Irish band. Suddenly, I wasn't sure I wanted to go. I was trying to picture myself sitting with a bunch of strangers and making small talk. For all of my adult life, I've been a fairly decent small-talker, but lately (the pandemic?) my old shy introverted childhood self has reasserted itself. My social skills feel rusty. Do we like Irish folk music? I asked my husband. Do we really want to sit outside in this heat?

He just looked at me. He was already walking out the door. "Food truck," he said over his shoulder.

The band was playing as we approached. People we didn't know had set up lawn chairs all over the green. We had only brought a blanket. We didn't spread it out yet. We headed straight to the food truck. There were only a couple people in line and I felt perked up by my husband's enthusiasm. We could do this! Get some food. Listen to Irish folk music. Mill around with a bunch of strangers. 

I don't know anything about food truck operation. Except what I have learned from watching the cooking competition show Master Chef. But this turns out to be quite a lot, because it quickly became apparent that this truck was not going to be giving us food any time soon. 

First, there was only one guy inside. He was taking orders on a notebook page. He took our order and our money and didn't ask for our names. It'll be about 25 minutes, he told us, and then he went on to the next person in line. He wasn't cooking anything. No one on the green seemed to be eating. How are we going to know when our food is ready? I whispered to my husband. He shrugged, but I could tell he was nervous.  

The Irish band singer was making jokes about the British penal system. More and more people were setting themselves up in their lawn chairs on the green. More and more people were streaming over to order food from the food truck. No food was being prepared. 

The Irish singer was making jokes about the Australian penal system. The music was catchy and people were clapping along. I talked to a lady I recognized and told her haltingly how much I admired her garden. I felt like I was in sixth grade again, stammering to a crush. Meanwhile, my husband was growing hangrier, threatening to order a pizza and have it delivered to our blanket. A lady in the hungry, sweltering crowd volunteered to help the lone guy in the food truck.

Under her management the new system seemed to be: go up and ask for your food and the guy will make it for you now. My husband and I went up to the food truck to participate in this new system. The volunteer lady, no offense, was not a good expediter, struggling to read the guy's writing on his notebook pages. The people waiting were varying degrees of annoyed and amused. 

We were all clearly in the same boat, waiting for our food, hot and sweaty, but not nearly as hot and sweaty as the guy in the food truck and the saintly volunteer lady. 

A woman strode up, clearly teed off. All I ordered was a salad! she said to the volunteer lady. 

Turns out, her salad had been sitting there all along. The lady handed it to the woman and the woman handed it right back. Forget it, she said. I don't want it anymore. 

The volunteer lady looked flustered. We can make you another one, she said. Behind her, the guy manning the food truck, was throwing a salad together, but the woman had already stomped away. The volunteer lady held the new salad out, confused about what to do next. I wanted to tell her that I could give her some good customer service tips from all of my Master Chef viewing. Instead, I took the salad. 

I know where she went, I said. I'll take her the salad. 

I wound through the crowd. The green was filled with people I didn't know. Older couples and young families. Kids running around or strapped to people's chests. The Irish band singer was talking about the penal system in England again. Someone had put up a baby pool with ice and was setting bottles of water into it. 

I found the woman who'd ordered the salad. They made this for you, I said. 

She scowled at me and grumped, But where's my fork? 

Instantly, I was catapulted back to my high school and college and graduate school waitressing days. Back then, I admit my customer service was uneven. I might be nice to you, but if you caught me on a bad day, I might burst into tears or tell you to F off. This was because, back then, I did not know the secret to all customer service interactions. 

The secret is IT'S NOT PERSONAL.  

I started laughing. I couldn't help it. The woman's rudeness was extraordinary, but it was also absurd. I smiled at her and said, Would you like me to get a fork for you? She nodded and off I went back through the crowd. 

One fork, please! I said brightly to the volunteer-not-great-expediter-and-yet-saintly lady. 

I carried the fork back to the scowling woman, who while she did not apologize to me, did say Thank you. Which I took as a win. Maybe we are all a little rusty with our social skills these days. 

When I relayed this story to a friend later, he told me that whenever he's in a situation like this, he wonders if he's involved in some secret psychological experiment and any moment the lights will come on and we'll see the cameras and audience and know that we're being watched and judged on our treatment of our fellow humans. 

It's a fun thought. 

But this was just normal every day life and not an experiment. So I went back through the clapping and chattering crowd, over to the blanket where my husband was unwrapping our food truck items. 

Only one and a half hours after we'd ordered, but the food was delicious and the company was lovely. 




Wednesday, July 21, 2021

George Washington Bathed Here (or so the sign says)

but I only dip my feet in. Okay, I climb in fully clothed. I don't know what I am thinking. Okay, I do know what I am thinking. It's a joy thing and lately I am trying to do more joy things. Which all lines up perfectly when my husband and I go on vacation to Berkeley Springs, West Virginia with another couple, our longtime friends. 

Those two climbed into the water too. But this was earlier in the day and they were wearing bathing suits. My husband and I chickened out. Later, after a nice dinner and two refreshing grapefruit martinis, we decide when we walk past the healing springs area of the park, we're going in.

We also climb into what basically amounts to a hole in the ground and sink down to our necks. It's really nice. 

Other joy things:

A stroll through all the shops in town and one of them has these Himalayan Sound Bowls and what you do is hold the stick like a pencil and run it around the rim to make a lovely sound, but I can't get it to make the lovely sound. But the shopkeeper is patient with me and tells me to be calm and focus, and sure enough, the sound comes forth, building and building, from outside the bowl and inside, filling up the entire store. 

Later I bring the bowl with me to the springs and call forth the sound there too, feet dangling in the cool water. This is a thing people do in Berkeley Springs. Not the Sound Bowls but the dangling of the feet. There's a canal that cuts through the center of town. Natural mineral springs flow out at 1000 gallons per minute at 74.3 degrees, and over the years, (after George Washington allegedly bathed here) they made multiple bathhouses and spas and a swimming pool and drinking fountains and spigots where you can fill up gallon jugs.

We take a long hike up a mountain and maybe it's drinking all of the healing water, but all of us make it to the top, a steep incline for 1.5 miles and then an equally steep descent. We have been friends with this couple for over twenty years, meeting when we lived (briefly) in the same town and our oldest sons were in pre-school together. This was multiple towns ago but we've kept our friendship going, even as we moved farther away geographically and all the kids grew up. 

This is a testament to my friend Deb, who always reached out over the years and planned outings, and some years, all my husband and I had to do was show up. Which turns out may be the secret behind a friendship that lasts more than twenty years. 

We walk through a tunnel and joke about the light at the end of it. It's a long tunnel and the light at the end doesn't seem to be getting any closer and I try not to have a panic attack in the middle or think about how once we make it through, we will have to turn back around and go through again. It's weirdly exhilarating. 

I can't get enough of this healing water. Why didn't we know about this place when the kids were little? Oh, wouldn't they have loved tromping in the canal. Don't tell any of them but Deb is already planning future outings with the presently non-existent grandchildren.  

We eat delicious meals out each night at various restaurants in town, throwing caution to the wind about indoor dining and the highly contagious Delta Variant and who knows all of there strangers' vaccine statuses.  

We drink a cocktail on the front porch of the house where we're staying and talk about old times and what it was like living through a global pandemic and one night Deb hands out canvases so we can paint something if the inspiration hits us. 

I paint a light at the end of the tunnel. I don't know if we have reached it yet, but this day, filled up with mineral water, feet pruny and tingling from multiple danglings, and surrounded by people I love, I'm happy right where I am. 

 








Friday, July 9, 2021

Dispatches from Dystopia (with paper balloons)

 

On the Fourth of July I marched in a parade with the people I work with at the library. We waved at the crowds and smiled when someone would call out, "We love the library!" And one of us would call back, "We love you too!" It was hot outside,

but not as hot as what they were calling the Heat Dome on the West Coast, where it was 115 degrees in Portland Oregon and a lot of people don't have air conditioning and they had to set up cooling stations for the homeless people. The crowds watching the parade were thick and mask-less, everyone, for the most part, wanting to forget that we had all just gone through a global pandemic together, are still 

going through it together. My husband picked me up at the end of the parade route, my favorite place in the world, The Chocolate Cafe, where they serve ice-cold chocolate cake martinis. Oh, I wanted one badly after marching in that parade! But it was only 10:30 am, so, another time, I thought. I wish

I'd gotten the chocolate martini. It gives me joy and we have to take our joy where we can get it. This is the lesson I've learned from the book I'm reading, Joyful by Ingrid Fetell Lee. Balloons, flowers, bubbles are small, simple things that make us happy and counteract the darkness of the world. The other day I was walking the dog

and a shirtless man came up behind me, yelling something. I didn't understand what he was saying. I immediately crossed the street, my heart banging, an old trigger from being attacked when I was a little girl. This happened over forty years ago but I can still call it up, the visceral fear that I am vulnerable and danger lurks where you least expect it. But back to the book Joyful.


According to the author, there was a dying town in Albania, overrun by crime, ugly graffiti-ed buildings, the people hopeless and keeping to themselves, until the new mayor had several of the buildings downtown painted in bright colors. The whole place felt brightened up and he decided to paint more buildings. The townspeople got into the act, painting their own homes and planting flowers. They began venturing outside again and meeting up with each other at cafes. I want this to be true,

that something as simple as a splash of paint can be ultimately transformative. Last year, at the beginning of the lockdown, I drove to visit a friend, a planned socially-distant outing in a park near where she worked. I hadn't seen her in weeks. I hadn't left the house or driven anywhere and I was anxious and afraid of what I might find Out There. 

It was eerie. Quiet. Few cars on the normally busy highways. No people except one man on the side of a formerly bustling road, standing facing the street with his pants down, urinating. What the hell IS this? I was thinking as I drove past. Is this the end of the world? 

It wasn't. Or it isn't. Not yet anyway. 

On the way home from the parade, my husband and I stopped at a grocery store and he griped about how people had left carts in many of the parking spots. What's wrong with them? he said. It's a breakdown of civilization, not having the common courtesy to put the cart back.

But look! I told him, when we were turning down our street. Someone had wrapped a knitted design around a stop sign. The Yarn Bomber had struck again! 


 

Yarn bombing is specifically mentioned in the Joyful book. Apparently several years ago a woman named Magda Sayeg wrapped a doorknob on the door of her shop in a knitted cover and found that people walking by were delighted. She started covering other pieces in the urban landscape with yarn and called it Yarn Bombing. Now there are groups of these stealth knitters all over the world, one in our very own neighborhood.  

Home, and my husband and I strung up lights on the back patio, a place that only a couple of years ago when we moved into our new-old house, was an overgrown mass of rotted wood, a clotted up koi pond and a prison door. Now it's my happy place. 

An herb garden. A bird bath. The lights. That walk I took with the dog, running away from the menacing shirtless man, heart pounding, hand gripped around the leash, I turned down a street where I normally don't walk. In the backyard, hanging in the trees were what looked like paper balloons. They were so lovely and surprising, I immediately calmed down. I told my husband about them and he bought them.

After the parade we hung those too. 


 


Thursday, July 1, 2021

How to Wear a Book in Three Easy Steps

1. Wash it. 

When I say Wash it, I mean Put it in the Washing Machine. This is a rather large, hardcover book. With a bold bright red stripe on the cover. I checked this book out from the library. Needless to say, it is not something that should ever be thrown in the washing machine.

But I'd been multi-tasking. Tossing items on top of the dirty clothes in the laundry basket. Things that belong downstairs that have meandered their way upstairs. A pair of sneakers for the walk I planned to take later. My laptop. Oh, and the library book I'd been meaning to finish up. 

I checked it out a while ago, before the pandemic, a recommendation from my son. It's a book of essays and I've read half of them, but over time the book ended up lower and lower in the stack of books beside my bed. The library where I work has this great policy where we automatically renew books that have been checked out, up to ten times, as long as no other patron has requested them. Usually we have a 28 day borrowing period, but because of Covid, we've doubled that time. 

What I'm saying is that I've had this book out since February 2020 and it was looking like it was nearing the end of its renewals. 

Thus, my decision to read it, flinging it on top of the laundry basket before heading downstairs. 

It gets a little fuzzy at this point. I know I took the laptop out of the basket and the sneakers. I did the wash. I took a walk. I wrote for a bit. 

I don't know if I can adequately capture what the inside of the washing machine looked like when I opened the door later. So, I will show you a picture:

*note the pink tinge

I honestly didn't know what I was even looking at. Something had exploded? A box of red tissues? I pawed around inside the washing machine drum and found

a clue:


A library book barcode. A plastic cover. What was left of the spine of a book. The rest was the consistency of what I would guess you'd call "wood pulp." The book had apparently gone back to its natural state. To say I was sick about this-- A book!! A library book!! How will I clean this mess??!!-- is a massive understatement. 

Anyway, number 2. Clean up the mess. 

This begins with picking chunks of mushy paper out of the clothing and the holey drum of the washing machine. There's a vacuum cleaner involved. Several more wash cycles. The dryer and the vacuuming out of the dryer. Shaking individual items of clothing out in the back yard, slamming some pieces on the fence to shake loose the bits and chunks of paper. Cleaning out pockets and other crevices. 

What can't be cleaned: the damage caused by the red dye from the book cover. Now, all of my husband's underwear and T-shirts are tinged pink. And my pair of pants, the light gray ones, are a pinkish-gray, with a new random bright pink dot design. 
 

3. I wear them to work the next day, realizing as I settle up my account (the book is a reasonably priced $28.95) that I am wearing, in a sense, a book. 

I plop a bag of collected book pulp material on my circ manager's desk. In her many years working at the library she has seen everything that can happen to a book 

except this.




  



Friday, June 25, 2021

Channeling Gladys Kravitz* in the Hellstrip**

I don't know how it happened. 

How I became the nosy neighbor, the crotchety woman peering through the blinds. I promise you I am not a total karen, but the other day I could feel the itch to storm out onto the front lawn and shoo away the loud kids playing in the street at nearly midnight. 

I wasn't that bothered by the loudness or lateness, (although midnight is late!! And why did they have to yell so loudly??!!) No. It was the fact that they were trampling the flowers I'd just planted in my hellstrip. Every time a car drove by--which is a lot, because we live on a fairly busy street--the kids would jump onto the curb

AND ONTO MY NEWLY PLANTED FLOWERS!

But I took a deep breath and closed the blinds. The entire point of my hellstrip project was to plant hardy, non-fussy flowers, flowers I wouldn't mourn if a dog peed on them or someone traipsing back from the Starbucks dropped crumpled straw paper litter on them. I spent no money on this project. Everything was recycled. The seeds from plants I'd grown last summer. Clumps of flowers dug up from my backyard. The only cost was my time. 

Okay, it was a lot of time. 

I had to shovel up the grass and weeds and do my transplanting and set out mulch and flat rocks. And then there was the watering, to keep it all going through the 90 degree heatwave we were having. The work was done and my vision was coming to life and I was feeling joyful,

and then came the Night of Noise and Trampling. 

For a few angsty minutes I watched through the blinds and then closed them, embarrassed. I had a sudden memory of my younger brothers playing basketball in the driveway of the house where we grew up and how every time a ball bounced over the hedge, they jumped through the bushes into the next door neighbor's yard. That lady scared the crap out of all of us, 

charging out of her house to shout about her lawn and pristinely coiffed bushes. At some point my brothers stopped going over to get the ball because one of them got his legs torn up. The creepy rumor was that the lady had purposely planted deadly thorny roses next to her bushes. I don't know if this is true, but if it is, oh my God, what a loony tunes she was, I mean

these were just kids playing outside on a summer night, 

and anyway, plants will grow back. 


*Gladys Kravitz. The nosy neighbor in the old Bewitched TV series who was always trying to catch Samantha the witch doing something witchy. I always thought of her as anciently old, but it turns out, the actress who played the role, Alice Pearce, was in her mid forties when she appeared on the series.




**Hellstrip. What the people in my neighborhood call the strip of land between the front sidewalk and the street. In most places you'll find grass and/or weeds, but people around here like to plant flowers and other plants to attract bees and butterflies.  










Friday, June 18, 2021

Today we can take off our masks at the library

if we're vaccinated. And if we want to. We've stopped quarantining our materials for four days, but we still have our plexiglass partitions, which I hate. It's hard to hear what patrons are saying, and inevitably, I have to roll out from behind the partition on my roll-y chair so I can hear them better. Especially the mumbly kids, 

who aren't old enough to be vaccinated and still wear their masks, so maybe I should keep wearing mine too in solidarity? And how do we go from wearing a mask every day to just... not, and how do we know who's vaccinated, and odds are it's 50/50 around where I live, and I'm no longer worrying for myself at the moment because I understand how vaccines work, but what about dangerous variants--

and all of this analysis of risk and what my responsibilities are to my fellow human beings is making me tired. I just want to talk about books,

the book I read last week, for example, called Disappearing Earth by Julia Phillips which takes place on a remote peninsula in Russia where two little girls have gone missing. All of the chapters are different, interlocking stories, women in the area, who are doing the best they can, but feeling trapped and everything they know about their world seems to be changing and it's hard for them to make sense of it.

Or the book I read before that, Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adiche, which is about a woman from Nigeria who moves to America to study, her experiences as an immigrant and as a Black woman who is not African American, the cruelty and casual racism, the crappy arrogant way white Americans view immigrants and Black Americans, but also, it's a love story about a long ago romance with a like-minded man and how they've gone their separate ways and somehow manage to find their way back to each other, in Nigeria. 

Or the book I read before that, The Midnight Library by Matt Haig, which was about a despondent girl who regrets most of the decisions she's made in her life, but is given a second chance (actually, she's given a million chances) to try again and again and again, until she gets it right.

I don't have many regrets, but I do appreciate second chances, and aren't we profoundly lucky, those of us who've made it through this thing, the first Global Pandemic since 1918, so far, anyway, slipping our masks off or keeping them on, 

for just a little while longer, mindful of each other and our varying degrees of trauma, our wishes to return to normal, to browse in libraries, to read books

and to share them.



Friday, June 11, 2021

Mercury is in retrograde

and I don't know what that means but it seems bad. Something about the planet appearing to move backwards and maybe that affects relationships? or signing business contracts? This is according to astrologers, so make of it what you will, but how else do you explain

people losing their minds on airplanes, or yesterday when I was first in line at a green light and three cars shot through the red light, or that "doctor" testifying before the Ohio Statehouse saying it was a fact that people who had the Covid vaccine could stick a spoon on their face because now we're all magnetic and she knew this because she saw it on Youtube.

The other day our dog refused to go for a walk, which is so odd, because always, even if you whisper the word (walk) she will come running, but this day, she planted her feet and wouldn't budge. She hadn't been eating, and then she was panting and shivering. 

My husband and I brought her to the veterinary hospital and I was having ptsd, remembering the last time we came to this place with our dying cat, but how kind the people were. They took the freaked out dog from freaked out us and did blood tests and pumped her up with fluids. Nothing physically wrong that they could see. Has there been any recent trauma, they asked.

Well, our daughter and boyfriend moved out a few weeks ago and took their dog with them, but I never thought of our dogs as being friends. Still, who knows what goes on in a dog's head, and then my husband and I went out of town for a week and left her with a stranger, so there's that.

I went to work tired and a man strode into the library without a mask. Which is okay. We have a sign on the door that says Masks Appreciated, but more and more people are ignoring it. Which is okay too. But still, the man seemed to be gearing up for a fight. When will the computers be back, he demanded. When will you have seating? When can we have meetings? 

I was sitting behind plexiglass and I smiled under my mask. We're working on it, I said. 

It was the same thing I told the mom who asked when we'd have toys back in the youth department. I could read the impatience on her mask-less face. We just opened the library a few weeks ago, I said. We'll get there. What I didn't say: Maybe it takes a little time to come out of a global pandemic. 

But I get it.

The masks, the plexiglass, the empty toy room are all outward signs that we just went through something scary. Some of us are struggling with this more than others. IE: losing their minds on airplanes or running red lights or trying to stick metal spoons to their foreheads. 

When I was in California with my son, we were sitting at a red light and he told me his philosophy of red lights, how traffic signals are really the only experience most people have with laws, with the social contract. If we didn't have traffic lights, we'd all just drive straight through. But here we are, stopped, even when there's no traffic going the other way. Most of us follow the rules, 

wear the masks, get the vaccines. We're scared too but we want to do what is right, not just for ourselves, but for other people too. 

The vet sent the dog home with fancy wet canned food and the dog gulped it down and then crawled into bed with us. In the morning I asked her if she wanted to go for a walk and she came running. 


Some days are harder than others


Thursday, June 3, 2021

Hi I am Jody and I don't close doors

What I'm talking about are cabinet doors, drawers, the doors to the medicine cabinet, the dresser etc. What happens is I walk into a room, do things that require opening doors and then, don't close them. I've done this unconsciously for years, apparently? and had never even given it a second thought (except for the occasional crack on the head or banged knee) until the movie The Sixth Sense came out

and my husband started walking into rooms where I'd been sitting and would remark: What is this, The Sixth Sense?

(This is only funny if you have seen the movie, so I will quickly catch you up. A little boy is haunted by dead people. They're everywhere, is the famous line. And sometimes, when he's in the kitchen, the dead people will open every cabinet door and drawer, and then the mom will walk in and the kid's just sitting there, with his hands pressed into the table so hard he leaves marks and with an expression on his face that screams, I did not open any of these doors!)

The question that is never specifically answered in this movie is WHY dead people like to open doors and not close them. I can't explain why I seem to open doors and not close them either. I'm not dead, so let's get that one out of the way. Although, it's possible there are dead people living in my house. 

How I found this out was shortly before my husband and moved in, we met the seller and she mentioned casually that two people had died in the upstairs bedroom. This house had a lot of issues that we had known about when we bought it. For example, the dining room ceiling was painted orange and the front and back door had faucets in place of doorknobs, and giant eyes were decal-ed on one of the walls, which made me think of the cover of The Great Gatsby. Also, the house reeked of cigarette smoke and multiple cats' urine. 

My husband and I knew all of this when we bought it and we were sure we could fix it all up (spoiler: we did) but for a moment there, when the seller told me about the dead people, I admit I was a little concerned. But I rallied, and with the help of Google, I solved all of our house problems. 

Thank you Google!


But all the while, I kept, apparently, entering rooms and opening doors and not closing them, a practice that my husband had made peace with, because he rarely mentioned it. Until, this past year when my daughter and her boyfriend were living with us and one day he said something like, 

Do you know you always leave doors open?

And my daughter added, It makes him nervous. 

Which made me wonder if it was time to deal with this problem, and the first step in dealing with a problem is to admit you have a problem. 

The end. 



Thursday, May 27, 2021

Have I been here before?

My first indoor dining of 2021, after approximately one year and two months and two weeks, give or take a few days, was at the Hard Rock Cafe at the Houston International Airport, 

which wasn't exactly the sparkly First Indoor Dining Experience I had been envisioning, but it was either that, or fast food. They didn't have menus. How it works is you aim your phone at the QR code card on the table and the digital menu pops up. You can even order from your phone too, so no need to bother the mask-wearing server. I had a salad, and then it was back to masks on and a wait at the gate.

Some of my fear and anxiety, constant companions over the past year, two months, and two weeks, is slowly starting to fade away. But for a while there, it was getting dicey. The complex series of risk calculations before every excursion out of the house -- one mask? two masks? at work, at the grocery store... The reassessments after encounters-- wait, did I get exposed when I picked up the to-go order and that other customer waiting was coughing up a lung... is this tickle in my throat allergies or am I three to five days away from full-blown Covid and possibly killing my family--

It's hard to feel normal and what is normal anymore? On the plane home, the guy sitting in the row in front of my husband and me has a meltdown. All I can see is the back of his white-haired head, 

but he's bobbing it a lot, indignantly. He's paid for the seat beside him and he wants his suitcase to sit on it and he can't understand what the flight attendant is saying with her mask on and no, he won't pull up his own mask because he's drinking his beverage and he won't let the flight attendant seat anyone else next to him. One by one 

the flight attendants attempt to deal with him and I can feel my blood pressure rising. Within a few minutes, all of the flight attendants are standing in our row, hovering over the man, and standing with them is the passenger they've brought up to sit beside him, another white man, who's got a weary look on his face, like, come on buddy, give it up, you're not gonna win this one,

the white head stops bobbing. His shoulders sag. The other passenger takes his seat beside him. One of the flight attendants leans across and wags his finger in the man's face and says: "No more warnings about the mask, sir." Another wag of the finger. "Resistance is futile." 

Situation resolved. My husband and I laugh relieved laughs under our breaths. I type Resistance is futile in the note feature on my phone. I keep sneaking peeks at the man's white head. I can almost hear him thinking, When did the whole world change? A while ago, I want to tell him. You just haven't been paying attention. In San Francisco it was 65 degrees when we left in the morning to catch our flight. In Ohio it's a sticky 82 degrees when we walk to our car in the dark. My first day back to work is the next day, 

only a week gone for vacation, but over that week, everything is different. My library branch is open. No more walk-up window. People can just waltz right in. Masks appreciated, says the sign on the window, and nearly everyone wears them. It's a habit for most of us now. I'm fully vaccinated, I keep reminding myself. It's okay. It's going to be okay. 

But maybe after one year and two months and two weeks, give or take a few days, it's sometimes hard to believe it. Welcome back! I say to the patrons as they come through the door, 

the ones I knew before the pandemic and the ones I've gotten to know through the walk-up window. Welcome back! A little girl stops in front of the plexiglass that surrounds my desk and looks at me, frowning. Have I been here before? she says.  

I don't know, I tell her. 

Her mom shrugs. I don't think she remembers. 

Well, then, I tell the little girl brightly, Welcome to the library. 





Friday, May 21, 2021

Masks Off

except in DC when my husband and I were helping our daughter move into her apartment, and

also, in San Francisco two weeks later, where we were visiting our son and his lovely girlfriend after not setting in-real-life eyes on them since January 2, 2020, but who is keeping track. The people in San Francisco wear their masks outside, and so, we do too, except when you’re eating in a restaurant, and then it’s okay, also,

in the airport, where you must keep your mask on while checking in, except when you have to take it off so the gate checker-inner can match your bare face with your ID. We don’t wear masks at Yosemite, except when we go into public restrooms. Meanwhile, back home in Ohio, the masks are off and then on again, and now, maybe off, 

but we aren’t thinking about Ohio. Our son hasn’t changed a bit after 17 months of not setting actual eyeballs on him, and yet, he is entirely changed. He and his girlfriend have their routines and favorite meals and nightly walks, and for a few days we are part of his life, marveling at the house styles in his neighborhood, the roses in the front yards, here and there a redwood tree, and amazing hellstrip gardens, those slices of land between the sidewalk and the street where Ohio people usually grow boring grass, but why not something fun like

cactus or an enormous rosemary bush? My son takes us on a bike ride around a bay and I laugh because I have not been on a bike in years, but these bikes are electric and whenever you pedal, you can feel a super charge kicking in and propelling you forward. We drive up to Napa and there’s more laughs at how much wine comes with the wine-tasting. (28 glasses! Which is nuts! But we do our best to drink them!)  

Everything about this trip is equally awesome, from the walk to the farmer’s market to buy cherries to the view at Yosemite, the enormous faces of granite and how can it be that one of these rocks is the size of three empire state buildings stacked on top of each other and our son climbed one of these massive domes and thank God you were not there to see it! We are old. He wants to take us up 600 steps to see a waterfall. 

But first you have to hike nearly a mile uphill and we can’t do it. Instead we drive up to a lookout and my husband nods off and I tell my son stories and he keeps interrupting to tell me he’s heard all of these stories before, so we listen to music. 

I keep saying, This air is so fresh! Until my husband says, How many times are you going to say that? Our son’s face is so familiar and unfamiliar, the little boy he was and the man he’s become, picking out the cherries at the farmer’s market and asking questions about wine varieties at the vineyard and stopping to crack-climb a giant boulder, wedging his hands inside a split in the rock and shimmying up, swinging across, the next day making us breakfast. 

At Yosemite he points out something he keeps calling a boot flake and I have no idea what he’s talking about, the wall of rock is so massive, but then he shows me on the picture on my phone and there it is, 

the boot-shaped bit of rock, and nearby, tiny specks scurrying around. Climbers! At night the lights on their headlamps are pinpricks like faraway stars. Dear Lord, please don’t ever go up there, I am thinking, but what I say is, Wow! That is so cool! 

And then, all too soon, the visit is over and my husband and I are back in the airport, masks on,

heading home, where there are no mountains to climb, no random redwoods in front yards, our kids settled on opposite coasts, the world we are returning to

entirely the same, all together different. 




Thursday, May 13, 2021

I wrote a thousand words the other day

and it was kind of a minor miracle. I used to be a much more self-disciplined writer. I set word count goals--higher than 1000 words--and I always met them. The trick was not really a trick at all. It was

just do it

no excuses. Sit down and open the manuscript I was working on and write. But then, I hit a nasty writer's block, and then, just as I was emerging out of that, along came a global pandemic and a scary slap of a reminder that we live in a broken world. Whatever routine I'd created for myself was gone and each day I would put off my writing, 

finding a million other things to do before sitting down, coping with the global pandemic and the world's precariousness by binge-watching baking shows, impulse-buying miniature book rooms and colorful cereal bowls, and obsessively trying to identify every plant in my backyard. 

Also, worrying over birds.

Amazingly, I finished writing a book and revised it and revised it again, and started writing another book, setting no word count goals because I kept failing at them, and next, simply trying to sit for a fixed amount of time, 

say, an hour? 

Some days even that was too hard. My old bad habits came back, the perfectionism thing where you have to keep writing the same scene, the same paragraph, the same sentence until it feels right and what is right anyway? Which inevitably spirals into the evil twin of perfectionism-- self doubt, 

the Why am I doing this? Who is ever going to read this? Oh, look at those cute cereal bowls online why don't we buy them even though we don't need anymore cereal bowls. 

But then I got vaccinated and suddenly it was spring and I had mapped every plant in my yard and my adult daughter who had been living at home all year moved out and restarted her life and that reminded me that I could restart mine, 

and why not set a word count goal?

I chose 1000 words. For reference, this is roughly 4 pages. Not so much, you would think, right? But it took me an entire day. When I finished, I felt like I'd run a marathon, muscles throbbing that I'd forgotten I had, extreme giddiness, because I could still do this, 

write, 

and somehow I survived this year and how lucky I was, am, to be able to do this, write, despite living in a broken world, both escaping from it and trying to capture it, regardless of whether anyone reads what I'm writing, and so the next day,

I did it again. 

Cute, but not enough to assuage my existential dread




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.