Sunday, April 14, 2024

Dispatches from the Eclipse

The news was giving so many warnings. Make sure you have a full gas tank and pack snacks and water in case you get stuck in traffic. Print out a paper map because you might lose cell service. Whatever you do, don't take off the eclipse glasses and look at the sun for even one second or you'll get permanent retinal damage. And then there was the possibility of clouds. The whole thing was looking like it might be a bust. Should I even bother to go? 

I went. 

The nice thing was that I didn't have to go far. Columbus, Ohio, where I live, was right outside of the 100 percent totality path, but if I drove ten minutes up the road, I'd be right there in it. I didn't understand what In It actually meant. But I was taking the advisements seriously because a more science-y friend told me that the difference between 100 percent and 99.9 percent was everything. (I didn't understand what Everything meant either.) 

The problem is I am lazy--the prep work (what route should I take? Where would I park myself to watch?), and prone to anxiety (what if I got stuck somewhere, cellphone-less and with damaged retinas?!) Adding to the issue: my husband was out of town for the week. He was the one who was all gung ho eclipse in the first place, and now because of a last minute work thing, he was going to miss it. He was so upset about this, that I felt a responsibility to go, if nothing else, so I could tell him about it. 

Here is what I told him about it:

I found a public park off the beaten path that seemed to be in an area where there would be thirty seconds of totality. I printed a map and packed water and a snack. I walked the dog under a sunny, cloudless sky, tucked her safely in the house, and then started the 4.6 mile trek to the park. There was no traffic. I made it to the park in ten minutes. Only a handful of other people were there.    

I sat in my car and looked at the sunny, cloudless sky and was immediately bored. I remembered that I have a friend who lives nearby. I invited myself over to her house. When I arrived three minutes later, I found her and her husband sitting on their patio, passing a pair of eclipse glasses back and forth. 

I said, I should've brought an extra pair of eclipse glasses with me! (Fun fact: the Columbus libraries gave away 100,000 glasses in the weeks leading up to the eclipse.) But my friends didn't mind sharing. I put my glasses on, and I have to say this was my first AHA moment. The sky was completely normal, the sun, simply "the sun," but through the glasses, there was the moon quite clearly making its way across the surface. So, that was cool. 

The total eclipse was supposed to happen at 3:11 pm. Meanwhile, I was texting my son who was watching from a farm in the far north country of New York. He was in the path of totality too. What are the animals doing? I asked. He said someone was offering balloon rides to see the eclipse and the balloon was floating over the farm and the cows were more interested in that.  

I kept putting my glasses on to see the slice of sun behind the moon growing smaller and smaller. And then I would take my glasses off (don't worry, I did NOT look at the sun) to see if the sky was getting darker. It was not. 

I remembered I had my sunglasses on and I took them off and what do you know, it really was dark outside. I put my eclipse glasses back on. 

A white splinter of sun. And then it was gone.  

I took my glasses off and there it was, the black circle, the white rim, sparks coming out at the edge that my son told me later were solar flares. I said, Amazing. It was the only word I could think of. People in my friend's neighborhood were exclaiming and whistling and clapping. 

The birds in the yard quieted. Time slowed down and sped up again. The thirty seconds passed and the splinter of light grew again as the moon continued on its way. Did I keep my glasses off for too long? Did I get permanent retinal damage? I hope not!

I drove home in the dusky light, fast, to beat the crowds, my headlights on, the roads mostly deserted, as if I was the only one who had gone anywhere, the only one heading home. 






Sunday, April 7, 2024

A Bad Storm

There was a bad storm, and the water rushed like a river down the street, rolling over the rocks and plants in the hellstrip. The hellstrip is what we call the slice of land between the sidewalk and the street. In our neighborhood a lot of people plant flowers there instead of grass. When we moved into our new-old house, I liked this idea and immediately wanted to try it too. 

The first spring, which happened to coincide with the covid lockdown, I had a lot of time on my hands. My plan was to dig up some plants from the backyard and transplant them into the hellstrip. But first I had to get rid of a pile of large rocks at one end of the strip. Why were the rocks even there? Who knows. My husband and I decided the previous owners were weirdos, and we loaded the rocks into a wheelbarrow and dumped them on the side of the house. 

I plunked the newly dug up plants into the holes the rocks had left behind and felt very proud of myself. A few days later there was a bad storm. I watched from the porch, horrified, as the water rushed down the street and crushed all of the new plants. When the rain stopped and the road-river subsided, all of the plants were gone. I found them later in the Wendy's parking lot at the end of the street, mucky and ruined. 

My husband helped me put all of the large rocks back. I planted more plants and hoped they'd grow deep roots before the next storm. From then on, whenever it rained hard, I would watch the water hit the rocks and part, relieved when the plants held steady in the center, but knowing how precarious the whole set up was. 

The other night we were out to dinner, and my husband said I was a different person from how I used to be. Maybe it was when we moved, he said. You were different in our other house. Or maybe it was the pandemic? Or the election, the one in 2016 when you lost your mind? Or the one in 2020 when you lost your mind again. 

He didn't say the "you lost your mind part" but I knew what he was getting at. We were eating pizza at a restaurant up the street. This is a tradition we started several years ago, a weekly date night where we'd take turns surprising each other with reservations at new-to-us local restaurants. We did this maybe three or four times and then it was March 2020 and that was the end of that, until now, when we've cautiously gotten back into it. 

Maybe I am a different person, I said. Or maybe that person was there all along. I was remembering something my therapist said to me about trauma and how sometimes you think you're over it, past it, healed, and then a bad thing happens, a storm, for example, and while a trauma-free person can glide by on a cruise ship, you're down there in the water, fumbling with one paddle in your leaky canoe.  

The storm that came through this week happened in the middle of the night. The river, when we could see it, when the sky was just beginning to lighten, was rushing by faster, deeper, than we had ever seen it, the large rocks no match for it, the plants completely underwater.  

I drank my coffee and watched cars stopping and backing up on the street ahead of the rising water, a train of garbage bins floating by and knocking into each other. When the rain slowed and the water receded, I walked across the squishy lawn to inspect the damage. The scooped out ground, the few remaining deep-rooted plants, the rest, a blank slate, ready for spring planting.  

In the late afternoon a double rainbow rose over our house. I looked up at it from my canoe, which I have decided is not leaky after all. I have more than one paddle. I have learned how to row. 




  


Sunday, March 31, 2024

Reframed

Last week we had a staff development day at the library where I work, and the presenter talked about how we could frame problems more positively. Say, for example, the problem is we have low morale at our workplace. Instead of focusing on the negative, we could try flipping it to:

We have high morale at our workplace. 

Some of us laughed under our breath. What, are we supposed to be gaslighting ourselves? But the point, the presenter said, is to reframe an issue from "a problem to be solved" into "the outcome we'd like to achieve." And then we can ask questions about how we can reach that outcome. What does a high-morale workplace look like? We can we do, individually, to make some of these things happen? 

I was immediately skeptical, and yet, at the same time, curious. And now I want to flip and reframe everything. My messy yard, the falling over dead flowers from last year, the dog poop piles, the broken tree branches, a Wendy's cup lid blown in from the Wendy's down the street, 

flipped

becomes a lovely yard, spruced up with spring blooms. My messy house, the remnants of our kitchen remodeling project taking over the dining room, the cans of paint, the power tools, 

flipped 

turns into a shiny new kitchen with cleared off surfaces and fresh paint. The book I'm struggling to write is the book I joyfully and eagerly dive into each afternoon. The broken people in my life, my own brokenness-- 

flip us, reframe us--and we are made whole. 

How do we get here? What should we paint over and what must be cleared away? Which branches should we burn and where to toss the silly cup-lids? 

What can we do this moment to make the world, at least our small piece of it, beautiful?     




Sunday, March 24, 2024

What We Do

The mourning dove has not moved from her nest in days and it worries me. How cold it gets at night and what will I see when I open the door in the morning to let the dog out? A frozen bird? An empty space, the eggs like stones? I don't know which would be worse. 

But when I do look out, she's alive, her body poofed up like a balloon, eyeing me curiously. Do you like that I've given her an emotion? Curiosity instead of terror. Or maybe she is determined. She made this bed, so to speak, and she's determined to see it through to the end. What else can you do. 

I play a game each week when I write this post. It's called What Are My Two Sticks.

(This goes back to a theory about writing, that just as it takes two sticks to build a fire, you need two ideas to spark a story.) 

But the only stick I have today is the mourning dove. 

Meanwhile, the dog hurt her back leg somehow and doesn't want to go for her usual long walks. I walk alone. Take the route she likes, the one that winds past all of the houses where the people set out dog treats. I realize that I am anticipating a loss. I was going to say, grieving in advance, but it's worse than that. It's skipping past all of it, as if you can even do such a thing, and come out on the other side unscathed. 

Another part of the game is called Something Funny that Happened This Week. Because you've got to have humor or what is the point. 

But this week there was nothing funny really. Only a few mild laughs under my breath. When I sneaked the dog treats and brought them home. When I tiptoed outside to snap a picture of the poofed up mourning dove. She was definitely looking at me. Her eyes saying, oh, it's you again. 

Letting the dog out. Carrying her up the stairs because that's what you do. 





Sunday, March 17, 2024

Point of View

I can't remember how to write a poem, but I am going to have to remember fast because I signed up to take an online poetry writing workshop. The class is on points of view in poems. How so much can change when you switch from I to You. From You to He to She to They. Or sometimes there's even a We thrown in there, just to keep us all on our toes. 

I haven't written a poem in--(*quickly does the math)--34 years. But once upon a time I was working on an MFA in poetry. I loved it and was learning a lot. But then I panicked and quit, worried over how I would earn a living as a poet. Spoiler: you can't earn a living as a poet. Unless, you are Maggie Smith

who wrote one of my favorite poems, "Good Bones." But even Maggie Smith would probably tell you that she earns the bulk of her living not by writing poems but by speaking and teaching. But I digress. What I wish I could tell my twenty-two-year-old self is that it's okay not to have your entire adult life and/or your career trajectory figured out. That it's okay to play around with poems and finish your MFA program, maybe just for funsies, because how lucky are you to be able to spend your time reading and talking about words as if they matter and hanging around with people who feel the same punch in the heart when they read something like

For every bird there is a stone thrown at a bird.

For every loved child, a child broken, bagged,

sunk in a lake. Life is short and the world

is at least half terrible, and for every kind

stranger, there is one who would break you

Did I mention that the university was paying me to attend? They gave me a stipend to live on that was laughably small, but I made up the difference by waitressing at TGI Fridays and learned how to balance four beverage glasses in one hand and layer three large dinner plates up my outstretched arm. I pulled my long, permed hair into a bouncy side ponytail because a bouncy side ponytail seemed to earn me higher tips. 

That, and the black mini skirt and the bling-y buttons pinned to my suspenders. (Who am I kidding. It was the mini skirt. This was the 90's. It was a different world.) After work I let loose the side ponytail and scrawled out my poems and imagined myself in an Emily Dickinson-style cupola, tossing gingerbread out the window to the neighborhood kids.  

She was weird, that twenty-two year old. The ponytail. The precarious balancing of glass. Her naive belief in the power of words. See her hunched over her notebook, a blank page, a sharpened pencil, 

remembering what she forgot, readying to begin.

 




   


Sunday, March 10, 2024

Wait a Minute

The yellow flowers catch the snow and I catch the snow on the flowers. Less than an hour later the snow has melted, the sun is out. Ohio weather. We joke about it. If you don't like it, wait a minute. At the library we have a scavenger hunt, a new theme every month. This month it's weather. 

Find the pictures hidden around the youth department: the sun, rain, a snowstorm, a tornado, a rainbow. The funny thing is in real life, over a four-day period, we’ve had everything except the rainbow. The tornado was out of the blue. A blare on our phones at 5 am, a warning to TAKE COVER IN THE BASEMENT NOW! My husband and I woke up and looked out the window, saw nothing, and went back to bed. Probably not the wisest idea, but luck was with us that day. 

Something unexpected: a surprise 36-hour visit from our son. He'd been having trouble buying a car in the very remote area where he lives, found a car here, bought it online, and flew in to drive it home. It was so much fun to see him, and funny too, how you can buy a car online now. Oh let me tell you that my suspicious nature was on high alert about this one. Was this a real car? Was this a real place? My husband and I drove out to pick it up, readying ourselves for whatever would be required of us to complete the transaction. Let me reenact the scene for you:

Salesperson at Dealership: Hi, are you the prius people?

My husband: Yes.

Salesperson: Here's the key. 

THE END

Later, it hit me that there's more security involved in checking a book out of my library. I was still laughing about this the next day during a quick trip through the grocery store. A whirl with my cart around the produce and an employee handed me a checklist. Find the fancy food samples—appetizers, dinners, desserts. 

A scavenger hunt! I tracked everything down, running into the same shoppers on the same quest, all of us having more of a blast than you’d think over finding small plastic cups filled with plops of prepared food.

The time leaps forward and our son is already on his way. It is cold and gray and I am aching from the loss of him. But wait a minute. It snows. And then the sun comes out. It snows again. The yellow flowers happily flutter as I creep around outside in my pajamas to catch them. 



Sunday, March 3, 2024

Crooked Kitchen

It's only slightly crooked, and you have to step back and really squint to see it. It's possible we never would have seen it, if we hadn't taken apart the countertop, pulled out the sink, and moved the dishwasher. Now, it's a bare wall. Windows. Floor. Where does the crookedness start?

It's driving my husband crazy. He's building cabinets, setting up the framework to hold the new sink, another frame to slip the dishwasher into. I'm staying out of his way, but every once in a while, he calls me to hold a board or doublecheck his measurements. In between holdings and double-checkings, I'm working on a new book. 

Actually, this is an old book, something I started writing in the early months of the pandemic, one big meandery mush of a first draft that I put away in frustration and only recently pulled out again to see what I could salvage. Not much, as it turns out, but at the core, there's something there, and so I am writing the book again. 

I used to freak out about this level of revision. Now I find it weirdly absorbing. It's a puzzle with all of these little moving parts and pieces, but I know that if keep moving them around they will eventually fit. And even if they don't completely fit, it's okay. 

Something I am learning about a crooked kitchen is that it matters where you decide to take your measure. Are we leveling up from the floor or do we start at the window sill and find our balance on the way down? At some point you have to choose.

I've been called down again to help. The sink is in place-ish. My husband and I peer at each other through the open drain and laugh. Our house is one hundred years old. Any settling that needed to happen has happened long ago. We trust what we have and build from here. 

  





Sunday, February 25, 2024

Like-minded Friends

I got an email from the urban farm I donate to. An exclusive invitation to a potluck for a "small portion of their dedicated supporters." This is not a fundraiser, it said. We want to spend time with you and like-minded friends. Our only ask is that you bring a dish to share. 

Immediately, I was skeptical. How did I make the cut? I don't give this farm a ton of money. I'm not one of their volunteers. I wasn't born yesterday! (I assume they sent this email to everyone on their donation list and only want to make it seem like it's an exclusive thing.) And were they really not asking for money? Everyone is asking for money. I ignored the email. 

A few weeks went by, and I got a reminder that I hadn't responded, and they'd love to see me at the potluck. I can't stress enough how suspicious I am as a person. But also, I am very curious. I replied that I would attend.

In the meantime I got a phone call from a friend who reads this blog. She said, did you send out an email asking for money? 

No, I said. She read the email to me. It came from Substack and basically said something along the lines of Act now to upgrade your subscription to PAID and get exclusive content! 

I don't have any exclusive content, I said. (I'm not knocking Substack. They're hosting my blog for free. I guess they want to make some money off it. But I wish they'd asked me first before sending out that email. I don't think of my blog as a money-making venture.) It's just this. Me, writing once a week, whatever thoughts are pinballing around in my head, 

how the world is broken and how the world is beautiful. And sometimes there's a recipe or a dog or a book review or interesting interactions I have at the library or tips and tricks about writing or gardening or how does it feel to have a goat jump on your back and what the hell is going on with the weather. (For the record it snowed two inches yesterday and tomorrow it's supposed to be 60 degrees.)

The potluck with the farm people was fun. I brought my husband along, and my potluck dish: Coconut Lentils over Rice with Roasted Sweet Potatoes. This is a recipe that my daughter-in-law shared with me, and it was a crowd favorite, nearly all of it gobbled up despite the abundant, delicious competition.  

While we ate, my husband and I chatted with the other dedicated supporters, who all wanted to know how we were friends of the farm, and I got to tell them the story of the farm's zoom cooking class I'd stumbled onto in 2020 and how it was one of the highlights of my year and even now it makes me laugh and yearn (momentarily) for that scary time, a perfect example of beauty in our broken world. 

After dinner, I was gearing up for the fundraising pitch, but it never came. Instead, the farm people set out dessert and we all chatted a bit more before saying our goodbyes. The next day I filled out an application to volunteer. It's a farm! I love gardening! Why am I not out there helping them plant vegetables? 

And then I ate the very small bit of leftover coconut lentils, sprinkled with fresh cilantro picked from the farm. If you’d like to know more about this lovely place (not to make a donation, but just to see all of the amazing things they’re up to lately), see here.

If you're a reader of my blog, thank you! We've all got a million things competing for our attention and the fact that you're here, reading my words, whether you've popped in for today or are a regular subscriber, I am grateful for the connection. No requests for money ever, but if you're so inclined, feel free to share with a like-minded friend. 




Sunday, February 18, 2024

Notes on Brokenness

My husband is remodeling our kitchen, and yesterday he came to the part where you have to take the tile backsplash off the wall, and I thought, Hey, I can do this part. Give me the hammer. Maybe I have some latent aggression that needed to be released, because I enjoyed smashing the backsplash tile to bits. 

Outside there was snow on the ground and everything was muffled. Not just from the snow but from the noise cancelling headphones I was wearing. Smashing tile is loud. It is also hard work. 

Some of the tile came down with barely any effort. One tap and it split right off. But most sections took time. Strategic placement of the screwdriver-like tool I was using, angling it carefully along a crack, and then giving the hammer a nice solid whack. Sometimes I gave it too strong of a whack and broke the wall underneath. 

Which seemed like a problem, but my husband said, no. It can be fixed. With my husband, anything can be fixed. This is no small thing. And I say this as a person who once believed that I was irreversibly broken. I thought I hid it pretty well. But there were cracks. I thought I hid those pretty well too. Here is something I learned: 

No one is irreversibly broken. And if you want to fix something, it can be fixed. 

The old tile is gone. The smashed bits already hauled off with the trash. There is no going back now. My husband is scrolling through YouTube videos on how to repair walls. I'm searching for new backsplash ideas and bookmarking the ones I like. 

There are so many beautiful possibilities. Why didn't we take care of this years ago? Here is something I am learning:

It is never too late.




 


Sunday, February 11, 2024

This Kind of Happiness

The mourning dove couple is back in their old nest on the porch. Drinking my coffee this morning, I hear them cooing and immediately feel happy--spring is here!!--before worrying that this is way too early for mourning doves, and spring should not be here. It's barely mid-February. 

You said the same thing last year, my husband tells me. I go back to check my journal, and sure enough, he's right. Sort of. It was the end of February when the mourning dove couple returned to their nest. I feel slightly less worried now. If we are all hurtling toward some cataclysmic climate change cliff, is it wrong to be grateful that it also comes with cooing mourning doves and a few sunny warm days in February?

I read the news and despair. I stop reading the news and feel guilty. Shouldn't I know what's going on? A friend stops over spur of the moment and we walk around my neighborhood, marveling at how lovely the weather is. After she leaves, I am restless. I try to write some more in the book I'm writing. I try to read some more in the book I'm reading. I give up on both and take another walk, this time with the dog. 

She trots along with her tail wagging, pausing every now and then to wriggle on her back in the grass. She loves spring. I don't have the heart to tell her it's winter. At the toddler story time, a little girl shows up early with her dad. She couldn't wait for this, the dad tells me. She's been talking about it all week. 

Me too, I say, and I laugh because I realize I actually mean it. 

The little girl whispers something to her father and he nods and says, She wants to know if you're going to do the Wheels on the Bus song. 

We sure are! I say, and the little girl squeals and claps her hands. Later, when the room fills up with kids and their grown-ups, we all squeal and clap our hands. 

How are we blessed with this kind of happiness, the kind that delights in silly songs and wriggles on its back in the sun? How did we ever lose it? 

How do we remember and hold on?





Sunday, February 4, 2024

10 Things I Learned from Doing the Toddler Story-time at the Library

1. It is a full-blown workout. This is not the sit quietly on the floor with your legs crossed kind of story-time. This is singing at the top of your lungs with hand motions, rolling, bouncing, hopping, rocking in a pretend boat and driving a pretend car. When it's over, we are all ready for naptime. 

2. It's a big bummer when the bubble machine breaks, but the toddlers get over the disappointment fast, happy to wave the brightly colored gauzy scarves I've passed out and/or shake the rattly egg-shaped shakers. 

3. Everyone likes being greeted by the sheep puppet. Even the shyest kids, the ones hiding behind their grown-up's legs. One glimpse of the sheep puppet and they're timidly toddling over to boop the puppet's nose. 

4. Boop by Bea Birdsong is a good book to read to two-year-olds. Boop, if you don't know it, is a story (and I use the word story generously here) about a dog and his nose and how it's everyone's job to give the nose a little boop-y tap. The story builds with other comically drawn dogs all wanting their noses to be booped and ends with the directive to boop your own nose. 

5. I was nervous before I did this story-time, thinking about other teaching and public speaking experiences I've had (a lot), but realizing that my experience with the toddler set is zero. Unless, you count my own kids, but that was so long ago, can I even remember it? 

6. I can.

7. When you're speaking to any audience, it's good to scan the crowd, pause here and there to look someone in the eye, smile. This works with toddlers too. It helps if you're sitting on the floor with them. It helps if you've got a sheep puppet on your hand. 

8. The songs will stick in your head for days. (For a fun example of this, try: "Driving in My Car." You've been warned.)

9. There is a lot of planning involved in story-time. Choosing a book that can hold a small child's attention, the music and rhymes and particular fingerplays. The set up. The take down. The sanitizing of toys, which all inevitably went straight into someone's mouth. But I like this kind of planning. And I don't mind the clean up. 

Gathering up scarves and eggs, I have a flashback of my young mother self, picking cheerios off the carpet and sanitizing the teething rings, the weird quiet in the house after the kids have been put to bed, knowing the noisy busy day will start again tomorrow, with the crying, the giggling, the whining, the kisses. How never-ending those days were and then, one day they ended and are gone forever-- 

10.  until you sign up to do the toddler story-time at the library. 





Sunday, January 28, 2024

Rule Maker Rule Breaker

Last week I made a list of rules for myself and then I broke them. I don’t think I even made it a day. Who am I kidding. I didn’t make it an hour. The rules all had to do with how I use social media and consume news, and basically, how much I use my phone. (TOO MUCH!) 

The rules seemed like really good rules. 

What inspired me to write them was I am working my way through The Artist’s Way again and there’s a chapter about “blocks.” The idea is that just as we’re starting to break through, feel more creative, and play around on whatever project we’re working on, we self-sabotage and reach instinctively for a block. Drugs or drinking. Spending money. Overeating. For me, it’s the damn phone. 

The task we were supposed to do in Artist’s Way is write a list of things we promise we will no longer do. 

I had a fun time making this list.

1. I will no longer jump on my phone in moments of boredom.

2. I will no longer scroll through the news headlines.

3. I will no longer check emails on my phone. 

4. I will no longer mindlessly watch videos on social media. 

I made the list and promptly jumped on my phone, scrolled the news headlines, checked my emails, and mindlessly watched videos on social media. 

Surely something else was going on with me. The Artist’s Way asks us to answer honestly: 

What is your payoff in holding onto the block? 

I wrote, “It confirms my worst feelings about the world and about myself. That I lack focus. That I can’t tackle a project like the one I’m working on. That I can’t follow through on anything. That I’m acting like I have all the time in the world when I know that I don’t. That it’s okay to waste my one wild precious life because who cares.” 

oh. 

I shut my laptop and picked up my phone. 

Something strange happened. An old friend emailed me out of the blue, kind words about something I’d written. At the same time, another old friend texted me. And another. I’m not lying. Three people I haven’t seen in years, all saying absurdly nice things. 

Too nice. I escaped back into the phone. 

Really, what was going on with me? I had a funny flash of my fifteen-year-old self making up rules, how to act, how to talk, how to eat, how to dress, how to fix my frizzy hair. So many rules. How could I help but break them? 

"Do one lovely thing each day for yourself this week" 

is the next task in The Artist’s Way after the phone block one, and I can already feel myself making it a rule. I can already feel myself breaking it. 

But here is something I want to try: What if I don’t call it a rule, a task, a promise? What if I don’t write it down or even think about it? What if I just take a moment, right now, and do it.

 


 


Sunday, January 21, 2024

Lost and Found

Working the information desk at the library and a patron asks if there are any reading glasses in the Lost and Found. Let me check, I say, and I pull out the bin and sift through the left-behind winter hats and gloves, a dropped baby shoe, a nice pen. 

I don't see any reading glasses, I say. When do you think you might've left them here?

Oh, I didn't leave them here, she says. I forgot mine at home.

It takes me a minute to process this. The patron wants to use someone else's lost reading glasses? 

Is this...allowed? It doesn't feel allowed. Regardless, there are no left-behind reading glasses in the bin. The patron is bummed, and she jokes about how blind she is without her glasses and how there's no way she can interpret the form she needs to fill out and fax. She'll have to drive home. 

I'm still stuck on the part where she asked me to rummage through the Lost and Found, but I'm also sympathetic. I can't see without my reading glasses either. In fact, I keep them perched on my head, always. I slip them off my head and offer them to the patron, and she is delighted. I am delighted by her delight, while at the same time, wondering if I am a fool and what if I forget to ask for them back and when I do, should I sanitize them? 

I don't know why I'm thinking about this. 

It's the middle of the night, and I am sleeping on the couch downstairs with the dog who is sick. Correction: I am trying to sleep. Instead, I am writing this post in my head and listening to the dog being sick. Her stomach has the gurglies. Something she ate yesterday? Who knows. Let's just say she has a sensitive digestive system. I've already let her outside once (at 2 am), watching from the back door as she desperately raced out across the snow. It's sixteen degrees. 

And then we're back inside, both warming up. The last time I slept downstairs was May 2020. I didn't get much sleep then either. Our daughter, who had been studying abroad and stuck there during the early part of the pandemic, had just flown home, and my husband and I were dutifully following all of the rules on the CDC website. Basically: Treat her as if she is teeming with a virus that could kill us all. 

For the required two weeks quarantine, we gave her the upstairs--bedroom, bathroom-- and moved ourselves into the living room downstairs. I left her meals on a tray at the top of the stairs. I wore a mask and gloves when I did her laundry. During the day, we took walks or sat outside on the patio, six feet apart. On rainy days, we facetimed. The two weeks lasted forever and then it was over. We gave her long-awaited hugs and lived together in our bubble for a year. A great gift, I understand now, despite all of the fear and craziness of the time. 

The patron gives me back my glasses without my having to ask, and I wipe them off with hand sanitizer, no big deal. A few weeks later, down in the Youth Department, I lose them. They must have fallen off somewhere when I was shelving. I have to pull holds and I can't read the tiny call numbers on the list. A little boy sees me crawling around looking and starts crawling around looking too. 

In a few minutes another little boy joins him, and then, both of the boys' mothers, another child and their nanny, a whole silly group of us on our knees, peering between the shelves and under the furniture. 

What I'm trying to say made more sense to me in the middle of the night, the dog's stomach rumbling in the dark, my worries keeping me from sleep. The large and small ways we try to help. The gifts we share with one another. All of our foolish and lovely gestures.   





                                   

Sunday, January 14, 2024

Heard

I've been watching the TV show The Bear. It’s very good. If you don't know it, it's about an acclaimed master chef named Carmy who inherits his family's sandwich shop after his older brother commits suicide. He decides to come home to run the place, and it's very stressful for him (and for us, watching). The crew is skeptical about the changes Carmy wants to make. In the kitchen everyone is used to doing what they want and yelling at each other. 

What I like about the show is how when they are not yelling, they are telling each other where they are and what they are doing. Behind! they will say, when they are walking behind someone. Or, Corner! when they are racing around a corner. When someone gives them an instruction, they say, Heard!

Sometimes they say Heard! when they are having an uncomfortable conversation. I like that, I say to my husband. We should try that. 

Heard, he says. 

This is important to me because I know I am not always a good listener. Sometimes I tune out without meaning to and burrow into my own head. Or I get distracted by what else is going on or by a thing I'd meant to do. My family will joke about how I stand up in the middle of conversations to pace around or to do a household task. 

Some days I literally cannot sit still and feel like I might crawl out of my own skin. I don't know why I'm like this. Well, I do sort of know why I'm like this, but I'm starting to wonder how much knowing can help with potentially changing. 

The Bear isn't really about what goes on behind the scenes of a restaurant. It's about a person who is struggling with grief and loss. The long term, seemingly never-ending effects of trauma burrowing into all of the nooks and crannies of the kitchen, into Carmy, and into his family and friends. 

It's a funny story too. And most episodes are heartbreakingly lovely as the people strive to do better, be better. How they begin to learn, one by one, that there might be another way to interact with each other without the yelling and the contempt and the casual cruelty. 

How when they say Heard to each other, we know they are really trying to listen. 









Sunday, January 7, 2024

A Bear, a Pillow, a Pomelo

The bear was a black bear and it was dead. Probably hit by a car. The body rolled a little way off the road and down into the woods. My friend and I were walking our dogs, and I stopped to take a picture of the bear, but then I said, Wait, what if it's not dead? 

My friend laughed. If it's not dead, we run. 

Later, we all went on a hike. There was snow on the ground and the trail went straight uphill. We were all wearing sneakers and it was slow-going. Why are we doing this? I kept thinking. But then we reached the top and I understood. The view. I don't know how to describe it. I took a picture. 

This was New Year's Eve. Every year for the past twenty-four years my family has met up with the same good friends to celebrate, except for 2020, when we met up over zoom. This year my husband and I almost cancelled. He was getting over being sick. I was afraid I'd catch what he had. 

But he felt better and I was okay and off we went. On the drive we talked about our health and how when you have good health, you don't think about your health. But when you have bad health, it's hard to think about anything else. It makes you wonder about time and how you want to spend it. 

After the hike we browsed around thrift stores and I kept looking at pillows. I don't know why. The cushiness. The color. There was an orangey one I kept going back to and finally my husband said, just buy it. So we did. We were using cash. Long story, but we had some, and I said, let's play a game where we can't use our credit cards for anything until the cash is gone. 

This meant going into gas stations to pay for gas, something I have no memory of ever doing in my life, and I had to ask the clerk how it worked. She said, you tell me how much gas you want and you pay me. 

But how did I know how much gas I wanted? A tank? How much is a tank? I know she thought I was a weirdo. Also, one week into this new only-cash lifestyle, and I think our credit card company is probably worried about us. Have we been kidnapped? Are we okay? 

We are doing great! 

On the drive back, I am a pro with the gas. Let's mix things up, I tell my husband. Do other things differently. Just for funsies. We go grocery shopping when we get home and walk the store in the opposite direction we usually shop, ending up at the fruit and vegetables. We buy two artichokes because we have never bought fresh artichokes before. We buy something called a Pomelo because we don't know what it is and it is large and round and green and why not? 

Turns out it tastes like grapefruit. I take a picture of it.