Sunday, October 31, 2021

Lately I am trying to break old patterns

For example, I let the dog lead me when we take our walks. I've heard it's a thing you're not supposed to do. You're the human and she's the dog. But I like to see where she wants to go. The usual left when we head out the door, or will she go to the right today? Each intersection is another decision, and who knows which way she'll choose.  

Last weekend I surprised her by not taking her on a walk at all. I woke up after a restless night's sleep, hastily packed, and drove back to the place where I'd grown up. The trip took eleven hours. It was boring and painful on my neck and shoulders and I was listening to an audio book, a mystery about injustice and human frailty, and stuffing my face with gas station snack foods, so I wouldn't have to think too hard about why I was driving alone to the place where I'd grown up. 

A good friend told me once that people go to funerals to commemorate the person who died and to comfort the person's loved ones. I wanted to commemorate the person who died, but I wasn't sure how much comfort I could give to the person's loved ones. 

My goal was get to my hotel before the sun set because I don't like to drive in the dark, but I didn't achieve my goal. The last hour I drove half blinded by headlights and relying entirely on my gps. Even though I grew up there, I don't know the area well. I left when I was eighteen, what I jokingly used to describe as "running away from home." But the truth is, I really did run away from home and it wasn't the first time. 

Something lovely about the person who died is that she took me in one of those times, and no questions asked. Here's a funny story about this person: one time we went sledding when I was home from college on winter break, and we crammed together on the same sled, pushed off at the top of the hill and immediately were hit with so much snow, clumps of it smacking our faces, laughing wildly, snow in our mouths, slamming into a snowbank at the bottom of the hill, still laughing, and laughing more, when she confessed that she'd just peed in her snowpants. 

On the way over to the funeral, I ignored the gps and left the highway to drive past my old house. It looked like any other house in the neighborhood, a nice house, instead of what it actually was, and then it was on to meet up with my relatives, some of whom I hadn't seen in twenty years. They were nice, which is what they actually are, and I don't know when it hit me, at the funeral or somewhere along the drive back to my real home, that I too am a loved one, and I felt comfort. 

I was gone for less than 60 hours, but in that time, the entire book collection of the Little Library in front of our house had turned over, all of the books unfamiliar and interesting and waiting for me to browse them. But first I grabbed the dog's leash and let her lead me where she wanted to go. 

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: