Saturday, October 23, 2021

I keep sending people soup

To friends and family members who are sick. To people grieving over lost loved ones. This is not soup I’ve made myself. It’s called Spoonful of Comfort. I found the place online last year when I was feeling helpless, worrying over a relative who was recovering from surgery alone. What would I do for her if I lived closer and we weren’t in the thick of a global pandemic?

The only thing I could come up with was soup. 

I associate warm foods with caring. Let me bring you a bowl of soup. Let me make you a cup of tea. It goes back to my childhood, visiting my paternal grandmother, who always had soup simmering on the stove or a spaghetti sauce. And my mother's sisters, who had each other over at least once a week for tea and cake. When I was away at college and feeling homesick, I asked an aunt for one of her cake recipes. She paused and then laughed and said the cakes were all box mixes. 

My grandmother's soup did not come from a box. In some ways she was the stereotypical Italian grandmother. Effusive with the hugs. Doting on me when I was in town for a visit. Offering me the soup or a plate of spaghetti. Her apartment was neat as a pin. Actually, she had an obsession with cleanliness. It may have been more than an obsession. When my son was a toddler, I took him back to my hometown to meet my relatives. I called my grandmother to tell her we’d love to stop by, but she said her apartment was too messy. Maybe another time.

There didn't turn out to be another time. She died later that year. I used to wonder if I should've tried harder to change her mind. Was she really choosing the state of her apartment over a visit with a granddaughter and great grandson, briefly in town?  

But this was before I understood anxiety. Not that I fully understand it now, but I know it can lead you to some dark places, and too often, leave you with regret. 

Anxiety runs deep on both sides of my family. But so does the impulse to brew tea and make soup. And I am so very thankful for that. 

Sunday, October 10, 2021

Anxious People

Sometimes I get to the end of the week and I want to write about the things I've been thinking about over the course of the week, but all of the things are things I'm not sure I should write about. Because they're personal, but also, because they belong, at least partly, to other people. A birthday, a wedding, a rift in a relationship that feels un-mendable, maybe forever this time,

or maybe not. It's hard to tell how much we are capable of forgiving each other. 

In the book Anxious People, by Fredrik Backman, a desperate person tries to rob a bank, and on the run, ends up in the middle of an apartment showing, waving a gun, inadvertently taking the prospective buyers hostage, and it all spirals out of control from there. The bank robber is an idiot, the author tells us on the very first page. And the people in the apartment are all idiots too.  

Okay, the birthday, that I can write about. It's my son's and it's today and of course I'm nostalgically thinking about the day he was born and how crazed with anxiety I was, that weird moment in the hospital when I was dazed with pain and suddenly deciding that maybe I didn't want to Do This anymore--have a baby--and at the same moment, understanding on a visceral level that I didn't have any control over the matter. The baby was coming out whether I wanted him to or not. A good lesson

for the future. Say, for example, today, when he is a grown man and living on the opposite side of the country and off the grid, climbing some mountain, literally, and all my husband and I can do is send him another version of a Please Let Us Know You Are Okay gift-- the last one being a satellite phone and this time, a special radio, specifically an "Emergency Radio Hand Crank Solar Weather Radio NOAA Alert 5000mAh AM/FM/SW Portable Battery Operated Radio 5 Way Powered with LED Flashlight, SOS Alarm, Cellphone Charger for Outdoor Emergency." 

The wedding. Okay the wedding. Which I promise you I am excited about despite the fact 

that our daughter has hired a wedding planner, and everyone knows that we— her father and I— are notorious Do It Yourself-ers, to the point of absurdity sometimes, climbing on the roof to paint the house and unclogging our own drainpipes and dismantling koi ponds. Also, if I am being completely honest with you, and I am, always, being completely honest with you, 

my only model of a wedding planner is Franck in the 1991 movie Father of the Bride starring Steve Martin, Diane Keaton and Martin Short, and doesn’t my daughter know those wedding planner people are always trying to upcharge you and the next thing you know Franck has rented a flock of swans to scurry around in your backyard? 

(For the record, I have come around to the wedding planner, who is not played by Martin Short and seems very nice and may actually really help with all of our my anxiety.) 

The un-mendable rift I still can't write about and maybe I never will or who knows. The people in the book Anxious People are all anxious about things they can't control and many things they can, but it's hard sometimes to see the difference between the two, especially when it's buried under all of that anxiety.

By the end of the book I was crying and rooting for them, those idiots who don't know they are idiots, those silly humans just doing the best they can. 

Sunday, October 3, 2021

How to do nothing

I'm reading a book called How to Do Nothing. It's not really about doing nothing. It's about understanding how we're all being manipulated to click on stuff, buy stuff, tweet stuff, comment on stuff, and be perpetually outraged, terrified, entertained, and distracted by the never-ending scroll of "news" assaulting us from every direction every waking moment of the day.  

I started listening to the book on audio when I was driving to DC to hang out with my daughter and her boyfriend. I was anxious about driving alone for seven hours. I have this thing about traveling alone. It's called: I Don't Want to Travel Alone. I was hoping an audiobook would be soothing and make the time go by faster. 

But this was the wrong book for soothing. I want to tell you the million ways it was un-soothing and how it basically cracked open my brain and made me want to both move to a Henry David Thoreau-like cabin in the woods and at the same time, volunteer to run a booth at the farmer's market in my neighborhood, 

and also fling my phone off a cliff, finish writing my book, deactivate my Facebook account and expand my pollinator garden. Instead, I'm going to tell you two stories. 

Story number one is how I sat down after dinner the other night and jumped on facebook and felt the mental tug of a To-do list in the form of the number of notifications at the top of my screen, and how I started ticking through them, dutifully, the first one being a post from someone I went to high school with about how our school was about to be torn down. 

Immediately, I felt a sadness mixed with nostalgia and a twinge of crappiness, because, honestly, I hated high school and don't really care all that much if the dumb building comes down. Which made me feel guilt. 

A guy I sorta once knew shared a photo of a teacher I sorta remembered but never had as a teacher, and apparently, everyone who was taught by this guy loved him and someone shared how he was a social justice activist and had once been arrested for protesting nuclear war. (My feelings here were surprise, pride--I sorta knew this guy!--more nostalgia about the school coming down and Hey! This teacher even has a Wikipedia page; how cool is that?) 

And then a girl I had once been friends with wrote a snarky comment, something like: Ugh, I liked that teacher. Who knew he was such a leftist? 

Which made me want to comment snarkily back, the words already forming in my mind about who the hell was she and what notable things had she ever done in her life? But I left the comment box uncommented and instead jumped onto her page to unfriend her, because why do I want to be friends with her anyway, but when I pulled up her page, the most recent post was about how her father had just died, and I knew this man,

or had once, many years ago, and he was such a good person, but at the same time, I hadn't talked to him in decades and I didn't really know this girl anymore. Or any of these people. But there I was, heart pounding at my kitchen table, anxious and unsettled, and all of this anxiety and unsettledness happening over the course of only ten minutes, but churning inside of me long after I closed my laptop. 

Story number two is how I spent my day yesterday, moving around in my real life. A lovely three-minute phone conversation with my daughter as she walked to her bus stop about how pretty the colors are that she's picked out for her wedding, and oh my God I'm going to be the mother of a bride! A trip to the farmer's market 

where the guy who sells honey told me the meaning behind the word "beeline" and how you could watch any bee that showed up to feast on your flowers and trace where their hives are and I wanted to rush right home to try this out, but first I had to do a shift at the library 

where I got into a long discussion about various pandemic books with one patron and answered questions from another about Banned Books Week and why are certain books banned and isn't that crazy and what are people afraid of, and helped a man on the computer and helped a woman fax important medical documents, and one by one, every patron who strolled into the library said something about the gorgeous weather we were having, until the end of the day

when it started to rain and a family spilled off the elevator, one of the little kids crying about how his sister had pushed the elevator button and HE had wanted to push it and it was ten minutes before we closed and the weary-looking dad had a catrillion books to check out at the self-check-out and the little kid would not stop wailing and I knew 

that stickers were not going to do the trick, so I walked over to the elevator and asked the crying kid if he would push the button for me. He stopped crying mid-cry and toddled over to the button and pushed it and I thanked him profusely and got into the elevator and rode downstairs and stood alone in the quiet youth section for a minute, feeling silly, but also, 

I've been there, with the crying kid, the cranky, the tired, the bored, the scared, the sad, the angry 

And even though I know that pushing a button rarely if ever solves a problem, I am here to tell you that when you are faced with a situation where it might, why not ask for the push? 

PS: Please read this book: 


Sunday, September 26, 2021

The part where the world is beautiful

He called us a few weeks ago to tell us his secret. He had a ring. He’d bought it a year ago and he’d been hiding it all this time, waiting for just the right moment. He was living in Germany. His girlfriend was living in London. Maybe he thought the summer would be the right moment. There were plans when she finished up her school work to travel together. Maybe Paris? But then the pandemic happened and the plans were put on hold. 

I told them later it was like a scary movie. She was locking down in London, alone, afraid. Her father and I couldn’t get to her and how could she make it home? But what if he took the train from Germany and locked down with her? He had to go soon. There were rumors the borders would close any moment. The day he was traveling, she gave us updates. He’s out of the country. He’s crossing into England. He made it into London. He’s here!

She sent us a funny video. First day of Lockdown, the two of them dancing, singing out, Day One!   

He worked from her apartment and she finished her schooling. He braved the grocery stores. They took daily walks in the park. When she did make it home several months later, he followed soon after, quarantining in our basement. She made the place up nice for him. One night he played his guitar and sang to her from the bottom of the basement stairs while she sat at the top of the stairs, teary-eyed. 

We let him out of the basement and he was in our bubble. We walked the dogs and binge-watched TV shows and one day our daughter bought us all matching llama pajamas and none of us protested. Did I tell you he grew up in France? Did I tell you he is a gourmet cook? Oh my God, the meals we ate! 

We risked our lives moving them into their new apartment and we were back to our quiet house and fending for ourselves with the meals and the llama pajamas. 

And then there was the call about the ring. 

Sometimes, okay, a lot of times, I write about how broken the world is. Maybe I slip in some happy moments about giving children stickers. Also, there are always flowers. But the other day I watched them walking up a sunlit street, hand in hand, smiling so widely at each other, and when she saw her father and me, she skipped toward us before breaking into a run. 

The ring on her finger is beautiful. The world, my dear friends, is too. 


Sunday, September 19, 2021

Brunching while pandemic-ing

A few weeks ago friends invited my husband and me out to brunch. This would be outdoor patio dining, of course, they assured us. 

We're all aware that Covid cases are rising so alarmingly in our area that the mayor had to issue another indoor mask mandate. The hospitals are at capacity again, and everyone I know worries they might become one of the vaccinated breakthrough cases, even though this is supposed to be fairly rare. 

Still, we can almost pretend the world is normal when we're brunching on an outdoor patio. An engagement party at one table. At another, they're celebrating someone's birthday. While I sip my mimosa and eat my eggs benedict, I tell the story of the Starbucks at the end of my street and how I want to go on record that there's going to be a Showdown there any moment. 

The place is a freaking powder keg. 

Every day you can hear the car horns honking. An occasional shout from a rolled down window. It's the poorly designed drive-thru lane, how the cars back up onto my street and into the intersection. This was a major topic of conversation on our neighborhood facebook page even before the pandemic. How could they put a Starbucks there??!! Why do people want to buy overpriced coffee anyway??!! Why don't we support our local coffee shops??!! 

But mid-pandemic the irritation has turned into rage. The perfect storm of bad traffic and the fraying of society's last nerve. Add the caffeine addicts who NEED THEIR COFFEE NOW, and I'm surprised there hasn't already been a serious altercation. 

It occurs to me that this Starbucks has been my way of measuring the real time collapse and adaptation of the world over the past year and a half. During the initial lockdown, the drive-thru stayed open, a beacon of normalcy in the first scary days. But then, in winter, at the height of the crisis, the store was closed. Too many workers sick to keep things running. 

Which brings us to now, where it's very much open and popular, and yet... possibly about to capture the moment we all tip over the edge into some new kind of dystopian nightmare? 

I finished drinking my mimosa and ordered a cup of coffee. I have to tell you that this brunch was the best brunch I have ever experienced in my life. Not the food (although it was tasty) and not the company (although it was lovely) but the exquisite ordinary-ness of it, the kind of thing I lived most of my adult life totally taking for granted.  

Home, and I walked the dog past the Starbucks. There was the usual long line, the cars desperately trying to squeeze their way in, the irritated honks. But also something so comforting and beautiful about the people sitting on the sunny patio. A man tapping away on his laptop. A table of laughing teenagers. A mom pushing by with a baby carriage. The chirpy voice of the Starbucks barista in the drive-thru window saying, 

Have a nice day! 

Sunday, September 12, 2021

The book I'm writing is going off the rails

There's a lesson in here about Things Not Going in the Direction You Planned, and how That's Okay, because you're Trusting the Process, and in the end, you'll get a Messy Crappy First Draft, but even if it's messy and crappy, You'll Still Have Something To Work With. 

But I'm a big liar when I say these things. 

What I really want when I write a book is to know where it's going right from the start. Write my words each day and watch the story unfold exactly how I planned it. Make it to the end easily, and all that's left to do is a quick spellcheck before sending it off. 

It never happens this way so I don't know why I'm surprised.

I needed this one to work that way though. The words I write each day feel like the only thing I can control, so when they go off in some weirdo direction I didn't see coming, now what am I supposed to do? 

What I did was I went outside and cut the ivy that was climbing up the house and then I went into the backyard and yanked out weeds. It was a gorgeous day in Columbus Ohio and it was September 11, and I couldn't help thinking about twenty years ago and how gorgeous that day had been at the start of it, driving with my four-year-old daughter to her preschool at 8:45 in the morning, and how later, when I picked her up at noon, all of the moms were standing in an awkward circle, no one chatting with each other how we usually did. 

We swayed awkwardly and looked everywhere but into each other's faces. No phones then, or I'm sure we all would've been pressed to them. Not that it would've been good to have phones, but at least there would have been an excuse for the excruciating silence, the stark and terrifying together-but-aloneness feeling we all were feeling. 

What I was thinking while I weeded the garden was, what if I had reached for the hand of the mom next to me and then she had reached for the hand of the person next to her and we stood in our circle, holding hands, instead of swaying there so painfully alone?

Why did it take me twenty years to think of this idea? I went for a walk. 

And that's when it hit me that maybe my book is not as messed up as I thought. I mean, the world in it is relatively stable and still a place I'd like to visit. The people, the kind of people I like knowing. And when someone wonders if she should reach out and hold another person's hand, I truly believe, this time, she will. 

Sunday, September 5, 2021

Dispatches from the Pre Post-Pandemic

The other day I was sitting at the library's information desk with a co-worker and we were talking about: is This the End of the World. 

We had to keep breaking up our conversation to help patrons look for their reserve items and someone who needed to use the fax machine and didn't know how to use the fax machine. Also, the phone kept ringing and every other caller wanted to know if we had free Covid tests. We do, we would say when we answered the phone. But they're at our main library location. And hurry, because we keep running out. 

Maybe every generation thinks it's the end of the world, I was saying to my co-worker. He's twenty years younger than I am and just had his first child and he seemed very resigned to the state of the world and I was trying to make him feel better, but then I would have to stop so I could look up if we had a certain book and he would have to stop so he could help someone who lost their library card. 

But look at how things were in like, 1965, for example, I told him. We had political assassinations and the Vietnam War and battles over Civil Rights and--

a man came in who needed help signing onto a computer and somehow he got to talking about how he was a classically trained French chef but his goal in life was to recreate the perfect Coney dog sauce from his childhood and after twelve years of perfecting his recipe, he realized he had done it and now he wanted to open a Coney dog restaurant in town and could I please help him send an email. 

The phone rang. My co-worker had been in eighth grade on 9/11 and his teacher told the class that the school didn't want them to keep the TVs on in the classroom but he was going to because This Was History happening in real time and all of the students needed to watch it. 

And I understand, my co-worker said, because the teacher was right about history, but at the same time, we were in 8th grade and I still remember those people jumping off the buildings. 

Maybe that's when things went off the rails, I said. 9/11. I was thinking of that night and how I stood for a while in my kids' bedrooms, one after the other, my little boy and my little girl, both sleeping peacefully, their rooms dark, and how my heart still hadn't stopped racing since 9:15 am that morning and what world was this that I had brought them into. What world would they grow up in? 

Someone wanted a book recommendation for her grandchild and someone had just signed up for a new library card and someone wanted to pay a fine. But we don't have fines anymore, so please don't worry about it. 

And what about Kent State, I said to my co-worker. That was awful. I mean, can you imagine kids walking to class and getting shot at by National Guardsmen? So, don't you think every generation thinks they're living in the end of the world, but they're not, and then we just go on?

I can see your point, he said. But what about Climate Change?

Oh, well, yeah, Climate Change, I said. 

And then, there's the Pandemic, he said. He moved to take a sip of his water and lowered his mask and I suddenly remembered that he had a moustache. 

It hit me that I was wearing a mask too and neither one of us had seen each other's faces in a year and a half and even though I knew that I had not made him feel better and I was not feeling any better myself, I started laughing. Maybe I laughed too hard, to be honest.   

Then the phone rang. A harried mom came up to the desk and I checked her books out and gave each of her kids a sticker. I wish you could see how cute they were, those little kids, and how happy they were about their stickers. 

Sunday, August 29, 2021

We were at a wedding and then there was a funeral

but I didn't go to the funeral. I was still replaying the wedding. Something interesting about my extended family is how we can't all be together for very long without falling apart. Maybe every family is like this. Throw everyone together in a room, add the heightened emotions that go along with weddings (and funerals) and there's bound to be some drama. 

I don't want to write about this drama except for how I learned to cope with it. How I had coped with it in the past was the replaying thing, 

going over every detail of whatever happened in my mind, rehashing it with other people, usually the people who were involved, which all just made it worse, and generally making the people closest to me miserable with the ad nauseum rehashing. I knew I was going to have to stop, so I went back into therapy. 

Something nice about therapy is that you can rehash to your heart's content and the person listening to you has to listen to you because you're paying them, and there's a helpful bonus in the fact that they aren't involved in the drama and can see the idiocy of it all and let you rage and cry forever. Except it's not forever, because therapy sessions only last for an hour. 

I learned some useful tips and tricks when I was going to therapy, like how to notice patterns in relationships and break them (the patterns, not the relationships, although sometimes you have to break those occasionally too) and how to set boundaries and how to let things go that you can't control. 

But the summer of the wedding (and the funeral I didn't go to) the tips and tricks weren't working. Or maybe they were sort of working with my extended family but they weren't working with other things. For example, the world. 

This was sixteen years ago and Hurricane Katrina had hit New Orleans and I had been watching the news for days and feeling sick about it, the water rising and the people trapped in the convention center and the dead grandmothers left behind on the street corners with notes pinned to their clothes, the stories of white supremacists with guns on bridges threatening the desperate people trying to flee and the doctors in dark sweltering hospitals helping sick people die, the terrified people cutting their way through their rooftops and the president praising the head of FEMA for doing such a great job, other countries around the world looking on in horror at one of our major cities collapsing and promising to send foreign aid to us, 

and I was rehashing all of this with my therapist, raging about it, crying. Maybe it was the residual feelings about the wedding and the funeral. A person had died and I had loved him and I didn't go to his funeral, but it was something more than that, something I couldn't verbalize about families and dysfunction, 

and the word isn't drama, it's tragedy, 

how people who love each other hurt each other over and over again, my family, our country, the world. I didn't know what the therapist was going to say. He usually had all the answers, or at least some advice, a tool I could use, a mantra. Did you see the people wading through the water, I said. This is our country. How is this happening in our country? 

I don't know, he said. He seemed a little flustered by the question. I was flustered that he didn't have the answer. The session was over and I walked out in a daze. I was on the verge of understanding something but I couldn't quite reach it. I barely understand it now. 

It's me, it's you, it's us, each one of us on our own, and at the same time, all of us inextricably connected. What will it take to get us into the room together and keep us there as the world falls apart? 

Sunday, August 22, 2021

At night in the fog

Pre-Covid, when I used to teach writing classes, I liked to include inspiring quotes on my powerpoint slides. The burning question aspiring writers always have is How do I get my book published? But the second question (which, really really really should be the first, I know) is How do I write a book?

There is an actual answer to this question: 

You write it.

But I knew that sounded snippy and dismissive and I was trying to be inspiring. Hence, the quotes: 

Writing is like driving at night in the fog. You can only see as far as your headlights, but you can make the whole trip that way. ― E.L. Doctorow 

Just take it bird by bird. ― Anne Lamott 

The fog one is a nice metaphor because you can picture it when you're at that vague What the hell is going to happen next? stage of your novel, (which, honestly, may be the entire time you're writing it). There's the murkiness in front of the car, and how do you even know the road is still there?

But then, just when you feel like you might hurtle off a cliff, the road appears. Maybe you see a flash of a traffic sign or a tree rising out of the murkiness. Every so often, something bright. The lights from a passing car. The moon poking out behind the clouds. 

The bird quote is the one that usually gets a laugh from the audience. It's from Anne Lamott's extremely helpful writing craft book Bird by Bird, which she starts by telling the story of her younger brother who'd put off a school project until the last minute. The project was something overwhelming like, WRITE A DESCRIPTION OF EVERY BIRD IN THE WORLD. The night before the project was due, the little brother was crying at the kitchen table, his head bowed over his stack of blank pages.

The father came by and patted him on the shoulders and said, "Just take it bird by bird, buddy." 

This was the part in the presentation when I would say: The secret to writing a book is BIC. Put your Butt In the Chair. And I would tell them about the importance of daily word count goals or setting a timer.  And then I'd go into the actual mechanics. How to build a scene and how to add conflict and tension and tips on how to revise. 

But then they'd want to go back to what they really needed to know, which is how to find an agent and what's the secret to getting a movie deal. 

Maybe it's human nature to want to skip over the hard parts, the actual work, to speed through the dark and get home safely and find your award-winning, best-selling novel on the library and bookstore shelves. I know I am mixing metaphors mightily, but maybe we have to stop focusing so hard on the end. 

We are here, 

after all, right now, this moment, fires and viruses burning around us, hurricanes bearing down, the world some days, most days, seemingly spinning out of control. How do we write--how do we live--in the face of all of that? 

Robert Frost famously said, The only way out is through. 

But I wish I could ask him, What if there is no way out? What if there is only Through? And through and through and through. Then, where does that leave us? How do we sit with it, the day's words, an individual bird on a page or singing in the trees, hands gripping our steering wheels as we wait for the road to reveal itself. 

Sunday, August 15, 2021

Read Watch Grow

This was an awful week. For me. For the country. For the planet. And I don't want to talk about it or think about it or write about it.

Instead, I read a really good book and watched a really good TV show and sat on my front porch a lot and admired the flowers in my hellstrip garden bobbing in the breeze, people strolling past, and occasionally, a dog lifting its leg to pee on the marigolds. I only winced a little. 

What I read: Anthropocene Reviewed by John Green

This book caught my interest because it has a weird title and colorful cover and I like John Green books. Green explains in the first chapter that he used to review books for Booklist and then he goes off on a tangent about star ratings and how not-helpful they are. Also, people will rate everything these days. Someone rated a bench in Amsterdam, for example, because it was a prop in the movie The Fault in our Stars. They gave the bench 3 stars and said in the review, "It is a bench." 

Green explains that we're living in the Anthropocene Era, a time that is dominated by humans, and humans lately, aren't doing such a great job. (Green was writing this book at the beginning of the pandemic. He's an anxious person and one of his greatest fears used to be pandemics. At the beginning of the lockdown, which he thought would last a few weeks, he bought 60 cans of Diet Dr Pepper, his favorite drink, and told his brother Hank he was prepared. His brother laughed and said, "For someone who has spent four decades worrying about disease pandemics, you sure don't understand how disease pandemics work.")

The book is a collection of essays on random topics that Green reviews and rates. Canadian geese, the Indianapolis 500, CNN, Piggly Wiggly, Googling Strangers and Auld Lang Syne are just a few. Each essay is short, funny and sometimes not-so-funny, with Green's observations about people and the strange and awful and beautiful things we do. 

There's footnotes and fun facts. And one essay made me burst into tears and feel great love for humanity. I give John Green's Anthropocene Reviewed 5 stars. 

What I watched: Ted Lasso 

This did not seem like a TV show I would like. My daughter told me about it and she said, I know you're thinking you won't like it, Mom, but you will. She was right on both counts. The show is about an American football coach, Ted Lasso, played by Jason Sudeikis, who gets hired to coach a British football (soccer) team. Ted knows nothing about British football. He's a genuinely nice guy who is in way over his head. Classic fish out of water tale. 

Whenever I read a book or watch a TV show or movie, my brain immediately goes into storytelling mode and I can see the structure behind it. How the characters and plot are set up. What the conflicts are going to be. How the whole thing will probably turn out. Ted Lasso seemed like an easy one. 

But I was wrong on basically everything, and wrong in ways that I love. We know, for example, that there's got to be a reason why Ted was hired to coach a sport he knows nothing about. The answer is clear in episode one. The team owner Rebecca Welton, played by Hannah Waddingham, is recently divorced and bitter. The team was her ex-husband's baby, but now it's hers. What better way to get revenge on the ex than to hire a ding-dong American to destroy what the ex loves? 

My brain immediately imagined the entire series from this point on. Ted would be eager to learn and help and Rebecca would thwart his every move, sabotaging all of his efforts and hurting the team. But this is NOT what happens. Only a few episodes in, I loved Rebecca, who's a much more complicated and multi-layered person than "bitter ex-wife." 

It's the same with all of the characters in this show and all in unexpected ways. Nice guy Ted has some demons, and not the ones you think. There's an arrogant soccer player, the groupie-ish model girlfriend, the old cranky soccer player who should retire but isn't ready to quit playing yet. All of these people turn out to be just as interesting as Ted and Rebecca. 

Now, I've just started watching season two, and have no idea what's going to happen to any of these people but I love it and I love them. I give Ted Lasso 5 stars. 

What I grew: 

Yellow squash and green beans and so many tomatoes that I can't make enough spaghetti sauce and salsas and caprese salads to keep up with them. Basil and ginger (a plant I bought at the farmer's market but now am unclear about when I should harvest it) and ditto, the fennel, which I have never grown before, but it looks so lovely and feathery that I'm not sure I want to pick it at all. 

Black-eyed Susans in the back flower beds and some mystery flower that I planted from seeds my father-in-law gave me, but now it's about to bloom and I had no idea what it was, exactly, that I had planted. A friend took a look and said Datura. Now that I think about it, my father-in-law called them moonflowers, which is one of the common names of Datura. Also, if you want to go down a fun rabbit hole into strange plants, take a look at the Datura entry on Wikipedia. 

(One example: "All species of Datura are poisonous and potentially psychoactive, especially their seeds and flowers, which can cause respiratory depression, arrhythmias, fever, delirium, hallucinations, anticholinergic syndrome, psychosis, and even death if taken internally. Due to their effects and symptoms, they have occasionally been used not only as poisons, but also as hallucinogens by various groups throughout history.") 

Datura. It's gorgeous, but don't smoke it. Unless you want to die. 

Also, cleome and Mexican sunflowers in the hellstrip, the sunflowers now taller than I am and possibly breaking some city ordinance about how high things can grow in front of your house, but I don't care. The people walking by seem to enjoy them and God knows the dogs do.

Sunday, August 8, 2021

Stinkhorns in the garden

Virus cases are rising and I have a weird smelly orange fungus growing in my backyard. First thing in the morning I head out into my herb garden how I always do and there it is, poking up between the oregano and the marigolds. It wasn't there yesterday. And now suddenly, boom! the size and shape of a carrot. But if the carrot was playing a part in a horror movie. 

We're back to wearing masks at work. Required for the employees, "recommended" for patrons. We used to say "Masks Appreciated." Do our patrons notice the change of wording? Someone has a fit at the desk, not about masks, but over our refusal to allow her to check out items on another person's library card. She raises her voice and calls someone on her phone and yells about how stupid the library is being. My co-worker talks her down. Crisis, for the moment, averted. But I have to leave the desk, compose myself in the circ room. 

Back in the garden I look up "weird smelly orange tuber fungus" on my phone and find this: 

If it smells like putrid, rotting meat, you're probably dealing with stinkhorn mushrooms.

It's not a big deal, according to the article, won't hurt your other plants or your pets. But you may want to close your windows... 

It does smell bad. Really bad. I am not exaggerating when I say that I feel personally and viscerally attacked by this thing. And what an unwelcome surprise. Only a few weeks ago my husband and I were on vacation with friends. We had one of the best meals of our lives, inside a restaurant, waited on by masked servers. After dinner one of them led us out onto the patio. 

I was so stuffed from the food, I couldn't even think about dessert, but the waitress talked me into an after dinner drink. It tasted like a toasted almond bar. Twinkly lights hung in the trees around the patio. We admired stone hand chairs in the nearby garden. Clinked glasses and dug into the same dessert plates. Maybe we had passed the worst of it, we said to each other. Maybe we made it through to the other side of this plague unscathed. 

The plexiglass partitions came down from around the library desks. At the grocery store you could walk in any direction you wanted in the aisles. But then, just like that, boom! The virus cases in the state doubled. Tripled. Cars line up outside the emergency room drop off as I drive past the hospital on my way to work. 

I'm writing another rom-com, even though I feel the opposite of rom-my and com-my. Still, every day when I descend into the world I created, I can make myself smile. These people love each other, even if they don't know it yet. It's a zany place where they live and there are all kinds of seemingly unsurmountable problems, but nothing that can't be solved over the course of 75,000 words. 

I don't know what to do about the stinkhorn. The article says it may be beneficial to the garden soil. On the other hand, there's the putrid rotting meat smell that attracts flies. This is a no-brainer. I dig it up and bury it in the trash. 

*TRIGGER WARNING (you may not want to look at this stinkhorn)

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


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.