Sunday, June 16, 2024

Brunch

On the patio watering flowers, I saw a bird, and we both stopped and looked at each other. The bird was bright yellow, and it was funny how he cocked his head and stared at me. I don't know how else to explain it except to say that it felt like he wanted to tell me something. He didn't. Instead, I took his picture, and he flew up into a tree. 

But the whole thing was unsettling. How bright yellow the bird was and the cartoon-like expression on his face. I sent the picture to my friend Natalie, who is an avid bird watcher, and said, What is this? 

She wrote right back: It's a canary. Probably someone's pet who escaped. It might need help. 

Oh my God, I said. Because it all made sense then. Poor bird. He WAS trying to tell me something. Also, I felt like a ding dong. I know what canaries look like! I just never expected to see one hopping around outside on my patio. Anyway, it was too late. The bird had flown off, hopefully, to find help from someone else. 

Stop beating yourself up about it, Natalie told me. It was a few days later, and we were having brunch, and I was still ruminating over the bird. And then I was ruminating over some news I'd read about how there's a bill going through the Ohio Statehouse that would force public libraries to keep objectionable books away from patrons under the age of 18. It's not clear exactly what "objectionable" is, but anyone can file a complaint about any book. 

If they did, you'd have to keep those books hidden behind a desk or wrapped up in paper, and parents would have to give permission for their kid to check a book out. Oh, and if a library worker broke that rule, the state could charge them with a crime and defund the library system. 

What is this? I said to Natalie, because in addition to being an avid bird watcher, she works in government, and therefore, she is my go-to person for what's happening politically in the area. 

Don't worry about it, she said.  

But I was still worried about it. I was thinking about the book I read recently about the collapse of society and how one of the characters said to another one of the characters: "History is a silent record of people who did not know when to leave." 

While I was thinking about this, I was eating French toast with whipped cream and syrup. I rarely eat this kind of food anymore, and my head felt like it was detaching from my neck and floating away. It didn't help that I'd drunk multiple cups of coffee. Every time the waitress came by our table, she'd top off my cup. 

Natalie explained how the legislative process works in Ohio, and I ate two sausages to balance out the sugar rush, and then I drank a glass of water to dilute the caffeine. It's slow! she said. This particular anti-library bill is only sponsored by one guy and no one else has even signed off on it! 

Yet, I said. But I had to admit I felt a million times better. 

We quit discussing the yellow bird and crazy potential laws in the state of Ohio, and talked about our latest writing projects. Did I mention that Natalie is a New York Times Best Selling author? Anyway, she is. And as you can imagine, she was helpful on this subject too. 

After brunch, I checked my neighborhood's social media page where I’d posted about the yellow bird. I was hoping that whoever had lost the bird would chime in. Instead, there were comments about various sightings. People who had seen him in their feeders and playing in their bird baths. It wasn’t the news I was hoping for. 

I am not a person who is good with uncertainty. Will the yellow bird find his way home? Will the crazy book banning bill become a law? Who knows. If I ever run into the bird again, maybe I will ask him. 

Yellow Bird

 
French Toast 

Natalie's new book. Potentially banned? 



Sunday, June 9, 2024

Help Is on the Way

At the grocery self-checkout, my husband and I are pros. We have a system. I scan. He packs the bags. But we are at a new grocery store (for us) and the system is not working. When I scan and he packs, the machine freezes and the light blinks on: HELP IS ON THE WAY. But we don’t need help, I say to the clerk who comes over to help us. We know how to do this.

I say it the second time the light comes on and the third. The problem is the machine, I tell the clerk. And the fourth time—the problem is the sensor thingy under the bags! It thinks we’re not placing the item in the bags because we’re using our own bags?! Or it doesn’t recognize a second person doing the bagging?! Maybe we are too fast for it! The fifth time, I am sweating.

Each time the clerk comes over, he replays the tape, I guess to prove that we’re scanning and packing properly? WE ARE! Okay, the sixth time the light comes on, I admit it. It’s all on me. In my flustered sweaty state, I forgot to weigh the grapes before my husband placed them ever so carefully into the bag. But the seventh time, I TOTALLY weighed the bananas, I promise!

The clerk rewinds the tape. His name is Daniel—I see from his nametag, which I finally read after interacting with him another dozen times—and he is giving us a master class in how to deescalate a crisis. As I am raising my voice and one second away from tossing my bananas and stomping out of the store, he’s there again, talking us through it, patiently rewinding the tape and resetting the machine, joking about how if it didn’t mess up, he would be out of a job.

You’re doing great, he says. Keep going.    

I am trying to channel this man later as I talk with a friend who is going through a crisis much more serious than an exasperating grocery store experience. It’s anxiety, and it zaps her when she least expects it, spiraling her out and shutting down her usually bubbly self. I love this person so much and I want to swoop in and fix things for her.

I can’t fix things for her.

This is where I could say something metaphorically clever about how having trouble with the self-checkout at the grocery store is like having a panic attack. But that would be stupid because it’s not the same thing at all. I have had panic attacks before and it felt like I was dying. In the throes of my anxiety, I couldn’t see the hands that were reaching out to help me. I didn’t believe the hands were there. That is the evil trick about anxiety. It leads you to think you are alone in your suffering.

My husband and I finally finished checking out at the grocery store. It only took a couple more assists from Daniel, right at the very end when I was trying to wrangle loose oranges and then when I was trying to pay by credit card, swipe or tap, and oh my God, Daniel, just DO IT FOR ME. He didn’t, but he was immediately standing beside me with his same patient smile, saying, Look at you, you’re getting the hang of it now.

Ha ha Daniel, we both know that you are kidding. But weirdly, it helped.

The thing about stupid metaphors is sometimes they work. When my friend calls later, I tell her I am here for her and she will get through this. A friend said this to me once. 

Come to think of it, SHE’S the friend who said it to me, so we both know that it is true.

 

(Daniel is not shown in the picture but trust me, he's there)

 

 

Sunday, June 2, 2024

Driving in the Fog at Night

The writer E.L. Doctorow once said, “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.” 

I like that and try to hold onto it, especially lately, when writing has been all fog for me and the headlights are barely flickering. I have good excuses. My normal schedule is off. Trips out of town, and then, a guest staying in the house. I’m tired and random joints hurt. I think it’s the medication I’m taking. That, or I’m old. Also, there’s a rabbit in the garden who’s eating my plants. 

But the real problem is I’m at a place in my book where I’m at a crossroads. Something’s got to happen but I don’t know what. My main character has to make a decision, but for some reason, she’s spinning her wheels. Do this? or Do that? Or maybe do some other thing? Who knows. 

You should see this rabbit, how enormous he is, hopping across my yard after feasting on my garden, which he apparently sees as his personal salad bar. I spend several days with him in a battle of wits. I put fencing up, but the fencing is worthless. He can hop right over it. I try covering each seedling with its own little mesh cage, but he eats the tips off of everything, down to the mesh. 

Meanwhile, in my book I tread water in the same paragraph for days, moving sentences around like I’m the guy in The Plague by Camus. That guy kept rewriting the same sentence over and over again and reading it to his friends, who probably thought he was nuts. They were IN THE MIDDLE OF A PLAGUE. Why was he wasting his time writing a book? 

I head to the garden center and buy a bigger fence. It’s metal and comes in a roll. You have to unwind it and nail it to wooden stakes. It’s a big pain in the neck to set up, but when it’s done, it’s a fortress. I actually feel bad for the rabbit now, his usual food supply out of reach. I plant new plants to replace the ones bitten down to nothing. I leave one outside the perimeter of the fence because I want to be the type of person who can make peace with a rabbit.  

The character in my book is still frozen, teetering on the edge of something. I push her one way and it doesn’t work. I push her in the opposite direction and that doesn’t work either. I fix my broken headlights. I drive on through the fog. 

Confession: I love the guy in The Plague, how silly he is and how hopeful. Maybe he is never going to finish his book. Maybe he is going to catch the plague. If he doesn’t catch the plague, he is going to die eventually anyway. So what. I like how he keeps fiddling with his words. I like how he shares his story with his friends.


  

a peace offering