Sunday, May 29, 2022

The marjoram in the garden

turned out to be tarragon. For three years now I've had it growing, the only plant I took with me from our old house, and the first one I planted in the freshly filled up koi-pond-turned-herb-garden. 

Marjoram, if you don't know it, (and I didn't) is kind of like oregano. Rub a leaf between your fingers and you'll get a pizza-y vibe. (I never rubbed a leaf between my fingers.) Also, I never knew how to pronounce the word until yesterday, right before I yanked the plant out of the ground by the roots. I had been putting the emphasis on the second syllable-- marJORam. But actually, it's pronounced MARjoram, which makes me think of margarine, and another mark against it in my opinion. 

But this is entirely unfair, considering that it was not marjoram that I had growing in my garden for three years, but tarragon. (Pronounced TARragon). Tarragon, if you don't know it (and I didn't) is widely used in French cuisine. You will need it, for example, if you want to make a Béarnaise sauce. According to the New York Times Cooking Section, a good Béarnaise requires one tablespoon plus one teaspoon of tarragon leaves. If this is accurate, and why wouldn't it be, I could've made several oil-sized drums of Béarnaise sauce with the amount of tarragon leaves I had. 

For the record I am not a huge Béarnaise sauce fan. So, why did I have tarragon growing in my garden? Good question! What happened was, we were moving and everything was rush rush rush and I grabbed the plant to take with me to the new house, and then there was a global pandemic, and I was deconstructing the koi pond in the backyard to keep my mind off mass sickness and death and I planted the plant I thought was marjoram. 

Cut to: it took off like a weed, and the other day I was looking at it, really looking at it, and really thinking, why do I have so much marJORam (mispronouncing it in my head) and what can I use this for in my cooking, and when I looked it up in an herb cookbook, I saw a picture of marjoram and it registered for the first time that THIS plant was not marjoram. 

It's tarragon, and I don't want or need this much of it and over the past few days it's pretty clear that I have thought entirely too much about it. But this beats thinking about what I really don't want to think about: 

how when I was teaching fourth and fifth graders twenty years ago, we had a faculty meeting about school shooters and the protocol for a lockdown was for the teacher to run to the classroom door and pull any stray children in the hallway into the room before locking the door, and if a child happened to be left out in the hallway, alone, 

you have to leave them there, instruct them to hide in the restroom and squat on the toilet or something, good luck, and I couldn't stop picturing it, my children your children, finding themselves alone in the hallway on the other side of the locked classroom door. My mind wouldn't picture it any further, 

the part where there was a crazed gunman roaming the school, blowing children's heads off, but today I am picturing it, despite all of my best efforts, the children in the classrooms or outside the classrooms, the abject terror on both sides of the door, and for a moment

I want you to picture it too, this horror that happens over and over again in our country. Sit with it, squirm with it, hold it for longer than four days, and let's do something about it this time.


Sunday, May 22, 2022

Socks of Many Colors

Last night we were talking about book banning and how maybe we should listen to the people who are afraid of books AND WHAT SCARY STUFF their children might be exposed to, and therefore, they must dictate what books should not be allowed for the rest of us.  

We were at a party and it was like we weren't in a pandemic, nobody wearing masks and a packed house and everyone touching the same serving spoons, but oh my God the food was so good and all of us happy and chatty and casually dressed up, the bright lights and noise from the house spilling out into the dark night, the clink of glasses, the colorful abundance of the dessert table, and how have we gone so long without parties? 

We were sitting on the sun porch and there was adequate ventilation, but still, I could sniff a whiff of covid in the air. Or maybe not. We keep dodging bullets. Taking all of the precautions and sifting through risk tables and suddenly you wake up one day, and it's been two years and two months and eight days of the Global Pandemic, and even though the cases are rising (again), sometimes you just want to go to a damn party. 

The couple my husband and I were chatting with was the same couple we'd chatted with the last time we went to a party. It was three years ago, but it felt like yesterday, and at the same time, it felt like the distant past of a fragmented fever dream. Same hosts and same delicious food and same casual dressed-up-ness. We even picked up where we'd left off in the same conversation: the renovations we were doing on our new-old house. 

In the past I told the story of the previous owner's weirdo wooden board obsession and how much dismantling was involved, the various tools and screwheads (whatever the proper terminology is) and the couple seemed interested, the wife, a writer friend, even going so far as to volunteer her services, and my husband and I threatening to take her up on this, but then, alas, it was fall and winter and then came the pandemic.

We dismantled it all ourselves, we told them in the present, one of our main projects during the lockdown. But it did make me want to dial back, go into the past, to a different timeline where there was no pandemic, and the only thing to worry about was dismantling weirdo wooden structures, and in this timeline we'd invite the couple over to help.

Another writer friend entered the sunroom and the conversation morphed into book banning, another thing I wish could take place in an alternate timeline. I want to listen to these people, the writer friend said. Just, hear what they have to say, or do you think they're too dug into their position? 

My husband, quiet up to this point, was the one who answered. Two things, he said, and he leaned forward seriously. 

First thing, when I'm at work and training people, it's understood that 30 percent of the trainees will be on board and gung ho about everything. Forty percent are in the middle and can swing either way. And the other 30 percent wants no part of whatever you have to teach them. So, forget them. They'll either come around or they'll move on. 

And thing two? 

He stretched his leg out and pulled up the hem of his pants. Socks, he said. I've noticed that the men here are wearing colorful socks. 

He didn't mention anything about alternate timelines or a world where there wasn't a crazed segment of society clamoring for book banning, or a pandemic and the fact that we were (possibly?) all risking our lives attending this party, and okay, maybe it was just me, overthinking it, how I tend to, 

but when the other guys in the circle stuck their own legs out and revealed their socks, I snapped a picture and froze us for the moment into this timeline, 

which, for better or worse, is likely, the only one we have. 

Sunday, May 15, 2022

The world is broken the world is beautiful

and I am trying to make sense of it. The white supremacist man who murdered ten people at a grocery store yesterday. The lovely writer friend who offered me seedlings from her garden. Six tomato plants. Two zucchinis. Two cucumbers and one chamomile. I really love that chamomile. I went to a rally

with my husband. The last rally for reproductive rights I attended I was with my daughter. Several hundred people gathered outside the Ohio Statehouse, a woman from Planned Parenthood waving her megaphone, telling us: "Next time, come back with your boyfriends, your husbands, your fathers, your brothers." This time the men are here. This time there are several thousand of us. 

Some of the men wear rainbow vests that read Clinic Escort. It makes me want to cry when people show up for each other. My friend had all of the carefully potted and labeled seedlings waiting for me when I came to collect them. I say, my friend, but the truth is I hardly know her. A few years ago she gave me an aloe plant. She'd read a blog post I'd written about a weird encounter I had with an aloe juice salesman in Prague and offered the plant to me. I take back what I said about not knowing her. I know this: she is a giver of plants. 

My husband held my sign for me at the rally when my arm got tired. He was hot and his back hurt, but I was the one who said it's okay, we can go now. My sign is the same one I take to all the rallies. A stop sign with the word NO. Here is one way I have of making sense of things: Hold up my hand to everything that is terrible and refuse to consent to it. White supremacists with guns. Deluded people who want to tell others what they can and cannot do with their own bodies.

The man who murdered the people in the grocery store was an eighteen-year-old forced birther. In his "manifesto" he raged about how white women need to give birth to 2.6 babies or be replaced as a race. The world is broken the world is beautiful and I am trying trying trying to make sense of it, 

but what if there is no sense of it? What if it's only us, here, now, in all of our brokenness and beautifulness? After the rally I went to work at the library. I stashed my NO sign in the back seat of my car. I packed up all of my extra seeds and filed them in the library seed exchange. 

It isn't much, but I like to imagine later this summer, my flowers growing wherever strangers have planted them.  

Sunday, May 8, 2022

Notes on Rage

I never had an abortion. But if I'd found myself in the situation, I might have had one, when I was fifteen. Fifteen, I was a messed up little fool. Fifteen, I was still a child myself. But as messed up, foolish and young as I was, I was old enough to know that I was not yet ready to be a mother. 

There'd been a scare in my childhood friend group that hammered the point home. The girl almost died of pre-eclampsia when she was delivering her baby. I went to the hospital to see her with another friend and we were turned away. We were too young, the nurse told us. Apparently, you had to be eighteen or in the company of an adult to visit the fifteen-year-old, nearly dead, new mother. 

By then, I was already noticing the unfairness, the inconsistencies. A discussion in the news of a pregnant girl who was kicked out of the National Honor Society at her high school for showing poor leadership. A commenter pointed out that maybe the girl had shown strength and courage for choosing to keep her baby, despite the obvious difficulties and shame. The spokesman for the school said the girl was a bad role model and shouldn't have gotten pregnant in the first place. 

There was no mention of the boy in the equation. Presumably, he got to remain in the National Honor Society.

Another reminder: the girl in my own Catholic high school who was expelled after accusing several boys on the baseball team of raping her. Slut who had it coming to her was the general opinion of the school. I was sitting in the library right outside the principal's office the day the girl and her parents came to empty out her locker. I could hear her sobbing, the cries turning defiant and reverberating across the hall and into the quiet library, and then a screamed out Fuck you that I still remember forty years later. The anguish in it. The rage.  

I feel that same mix of anguish and rage now. 

I don't want to argue with you about abortion. I suspect that whatever your position is, it's firm. I also suspect that if you disagree with me that women should have agency over their own bodies, that they should have the right to decide whether or not to continue a pregnancy, to plan when they will have children (or not), I won't be able to change your mind, and anyway, you've probably already quit reading. 

Good. Whatever. 

To everyone else-- what can we do? Vote. Well, yes, of course. March. Sure. I'll march. But I'm wondering if this is enough. We've voted. We've marched. And yet, HERE WE ARE. There's an interesting article in the Atlantic about Ireland and the fight to overturn their punitive and restrictive pro forced-birth laws. The movement gained momentum in 2012 after a 31-year-old woman who was seventeen weeks pregnant was denied a medically necessary abortion and died from sepsis. [Pro-"lifers," if you're still here, before you say it. No. It was not God's will. Not unless you believe God grants life or death based on whether a person goes to a hospital in Ireland or in England] 

What I liked about the article was how the women in Ireland fought back. Three, in particular, who were well past child-bearing age, bought abortion pills online and then presented themselves at the police station to be arrested. One of the women joked that she could catch up on her reading in jail. The thought was: What? Are you going to arrest everyone? 

I'm thinking that this method of protesting might work for me. I have a lot of reading to catch up on myself. A long list of books that the same people who want to ban abortion are now threatening to ban. 

I don't know if they will hear me, hear us, the middle-aged women, the childbearing women, the girls, and all of the men who love us. If they could, though, I would tell them this: 

I never want to go back to when I was fifteen years old. But if I did, this time I would rise up out of my seat in the silent library. I would march into the hallway to join the girl who was screaming. I would scream with her for a moment and then I would take her hand and walk with her out of the dark school and into the light, where all of our friends are waiting. 

Sunday, May 1, 2022

Spring has sprung and deer saunter through my neighborhood

eating the tulips. On walks with my dog, I see them grazing in front yards and hurry past, afraid they'll see us and attack. Okay, not attack, exactly, but what if one of them startles and bolts and slams into me or tramples the dog? I've seen them do that before. Not slam or trample, but startle and bolt. Once, on a walk with my daughter, 

when she and her dog were living here earlier in the pandemic, we saw a deer run, gallop, race--I don't know the proper deer-in-action lingo, but trust me, it was fast!-- as it crossed the street. "Oh my god," I said to my daughter after the danger had passed and the deer was casually munching on tulips in a different front yard, "that thing could've killed us!" 

She looked at me with a mixture of amusement and concern. Both dogs hadn't even noticed the deer. Which just goes to show... something. I'm easily startled? Readily spooked? It's true, my nervous system tends to be set on high alert. Especially during the pandemic. Are we still in the pandemic? Yes, no, maybe? At the library I have stopped wearing my mask, although several of my co-workers and some of the patrons wear theirs. 

A friend tells me she is a One Way Masker, and I like that description. I do still wear my mask when I am in crowded indoor places with dubious air quality. Not that I go into such places often. I got the fourth shot at the advice of my doctor. I took two home tests last week, worried that my allergies were maybe... not? 

Two years and nearly two months after This Whole Thing Started, it seems like those of us who've made it through unscathed, are weary, fending for ourselves, trying to pick up where we left off, but I don't know

can we? 

Sometimes I wonder if I am more scathed than I realize. The solution--and this I've learned after much trial and error--is escaping (into books, movies, binge-watching TV shows about people throwing pottery) and doing something physical (yoga, carrying books up and down the stairs at the library because the elevator is broken) and going outside (to walk the dog, dig up weeds, plant seeds). It is also, a dear friend reminded me recently, about connection and community. 

And speaking of seeds and connection and community, here is something lovely we are offering at our library. A seed exchange. 

How it works is you take a packet or two of seeds, and if you have extra seeds of your own, you can give some back. 

"But what if people just take the seeds," a patron asks me, "and never give anything back?" 

"I don't know," I tell her. "We have additional seed packets in our workroom. Other people will give back more. It'll all work out." 

She looks doubtful, but I know I'm right. At night I walk the dog and spy a deer in someone's front yard. I freeze, but the deer keeps munching as if we are not even here. The dog and I scurry by, unscathed.