Sunday, April 28, 2024

Notes on Visiting a Friend You Have Never Met

We have to tell each other beforehand what we look like. For example, she is wearing a purple sweater. And I say, I am the one in pink. Up to this point, all of our interactions have been online. Long emails back and forth. Several manuscripts exchanged. A handful of phone calls. At least we know each other’s voices. How did we first “meet”?

Well, that is a funny story. Once I wrote a blog post about the summer I helped paint the trim on all of the McDonalds in central Connecticut, and she commented that I must have painted the McDonalds in her town because she used to live in central Connecticut. Turns out, we grew up in neighboring towns. 

And another coincidence: she worked at the same mall, the same year I did, at the Burger King I used to go to because I worked at the steakhouse next door, and the dinners there were too pricey. What if she served me a Whopper Jr and small fries?! How small the world is. 

We became pen pals. Is that a term anymore? Ten years of writing back and forth, and now, an in-person visit, a short plane ride away. How do you jump for a weekend into—I was going to say, a “virtual” stranger’s life—except, the truth is we are not virtual strangers, we are virtual friends. Anyway, you just do it.

On the plane I read the newest book by Anne Lamott called Somehow: Thoughts on Love. The night before I’d had the chance to see her in person and I was majorly fangirling. I’ve been reading Anne Lamott’s books for years. A longtime friend introduced me to her writing. Another friend is also a fan and we went to the event together. 

Anne Lamott was as funny and as smart and as inspiring as you would expect. She told us she wrote her new book because she wondered a lot about love and how we can hold onto it in an increasingly scary world. The answer is you just have to do it, giving love, as hard as that might be, to others, and possibly more difficult, to ourselves. 

My virtual friend and her husband live outside Philadelphia, and she takes me into the city. I have been there before and have seen the usual touristy sights. The Liberty Bell, Betsy Ross’s House, etc. So, we hit some places off the more beaten path. A museum of illusions. A museum of art and wood. 

One of the exhibits is a wooden chair, and in front of it are all of the scraps and shavings of wood leftover after the chair was made. Why do I relate so much to this chair? Anne Lamott quotes kept popping into my head. 

The secret of life is to read a lot of books and don’t keep bad secrets.


Whatever problem you have can probably be solved by taking a ten-minute walk. 

Over the next few days my virtual friend and I become in-real life friends. We talk and talk while we take hours-long walks. We browse a used bookshop. We stroll past buildings covered with colored glass and bits of tile. We visit a nature sanctuary filled with wildflowers. At night we work on a puzzle and talk and talk some more.  

Then suddenly, the weekend is over. I feel like I have been away from home forever and at the same time, I’ve barely had a chance to visit with my friend at all. I leave the Anne Lamott book behind because I know she will love it.


Sunday, April 21, 2024


This is a story about a dead mourning dove, but I promise it is not a sad story. What happened was I went out into the backyard, and there were the remains of one of the mourning dove babies in the back corner by the ferns. I was planning to transplant the ferns that day, but first I would have to deal with the dead bird. I am not good with dead things. But who is. 

This one hit me particularly hard. For weeks I was an increasingly invested witness to the Mourning Dove Circle of Life going on in my backyard-- the return of the bird couple, the building of the nest on the back porch, the sitting upon the nest, the very cold nights when I'd worry it was too cold out there, or worse, snowing, or worse-worse, a tornado, and through it all, the mother bird sat there, 

sometimes poofing up her body to twice its size to cover her eggs, her non-blinky eyes staring right at me whenever I peeked out. And then, finally, the hatching, the feeding, the babies flying out of the nest and hanging around in the herb garden, the parents close by and then gone, and only the two babies left pecking under the sage and camouflaging themselves in the dried up vegetation. 

A cat must've gotten the bird. Or a hawk. When I ran inside to tell my husband, he said, Maybe it's okay. Maybe it's not dead. Oh, it's dead, I said. 

I went back out and tried not to look at the mess straight on, while nearby, the sibling baby bird cooed alone, and it made me sad all over again. What was the point of it, the building and sitting and feeding if it was all going to come to this in the end.

I know. I promised this would not be a sad story, but here we are. Wait, my husband said, are you writing about the dead bird? Well, what else am I going to write about, I said. 

How you went out with your friends Friday night. 

(Okay, true. It was a meet up at a local brewery with my co-workers to toast to the union we have been trying to organize for the past two years, a rehashing of events that led to this point, as well as a nice reminder of why I love these people and how much I love what I do at the library.)  

And you're going out of town next weekend to visit a friend. (True.) And you hung out for half the day at the book festival downtown where you got to see more friends. (Also, true.) 

See. My husband said. This is really a story about friends. 

I laughed. (I was thinking of one of the author friends I spoke to at the festival, how happy he was sitting there signing his books but took a moment to tell me he likes reading my weekly posts and asked me what I was going to write about next, and I said, I don't know, You? as a joke, but then I remembered that I had written about him once, or more specifically, I wrote about his socks and when I reminded him of that story, he immediately pulled up his pant leg and showed me his socks.)

But the bird, I said to my husband. What about the bird?

The bird was a friend too.   


A friend's fun socks

Two bird friends

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.