‘TIS A PUZZLEMENT

I go a long way back with jigsaw puzzles.

While M and I waited for our first child to be born, we did our first puzzle together. It was 500 pieces. As I recall, a country scene with plenty of green. We set it up on our dining room table and ate on snack tables in the living room.  We got to know how different the green of the trees was from the green of the bushes and the green of the grass and how different from all three the green of the park ranger’s uniform was.

Puzzles remained a backdrop to our lives, especially when we were waiting for something – for news about a job offer, or publication of a book, or arrival of another baby, or the health of someone we loved.  We were good at it together.  M worked at one end, I at the other.  He took on some of the harder tasks, like an all-white center with slight hints of yellow or gray. He had a good eye and more patience than I.  We did the 1000 piece Jackson Pollack “Convergence” puzzle when it came out in the sixties. It was advertised as the most challenging puzzle at the time and it took us most of one winter.  We talked about gluing it and framing it, which people were doing in those days, but then we thought we’d rather do the puzzle again someday, so we broke it up and put it in the growing stack of jigsaws at the back of the closet.

When we had children and cats, we did our puzzles on a giant wooden board, the thickness of wall paneling,  and when we were not working on the puzzle, we lifted the board out of reach of little hands and leaping cats, and set it on top of a dresser, or bookcase, or desk.  I don’t remember where we got the board or where it went, eventually, but for a time in our lives there was always a puzzle in progress on it.  

What is it about doing a puzzle that is so…what is the word?  Captivating?  Therapeutic? Calming?  It is a sort of mindfulness in which you can focus on getting the right tab to fit in the right groove, and the subtleties of color and cut make figuring it out challenging, while remaining completely meaningless in the large scheme of life.  That one, no that one, ahhh, there it is, see how neatly it snaps into place when it’s the right one? Its irrelevance is absolutely key to the pleasure it brings, like a small stay-at-home vacation in the midst of Whatever.   And if you happen to have something touchy to say to your spouse (like, for example, “I broke your electric razor shaving the pilling off the couch”), saying it while he is in the midst of looking for a corner piece is like a get out of jail free card.  He’ll hardly hear it.

Tongue, tab, gap, slot. Tooth.  I’m trying to think of the perfect way to describe the yin and yang of jigsaw puzzles, how the reciprocity of space and space-filler satisfies something in us.  Too much metaphor?  All right.

Right now, I’m doing a 500 piece puzzle of someplace in Central Park, my first in a long time.  Auditioning for 1000.  Want to see if it still works for me.  So far, so good.  Though I still don’t have the eye for subtle whites, I have learned, through age and necessity, to have patience.( I just found a clump of azaeleas, and it segues into a red tulip bed, and I got it!  Ahhh.)  So for an hour or so, I exit the Whatever, and step into the delightful irrelevance of jigsaw world.  And if all goes well, I might try “Convergence” again one day.

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GIVE THANKS? ARE YOU KIDDING?

If you’re like me,  it’s crossed your mind that the name of the holiday everyone is fussing about is pretty ironic this year.  Thankful for death, illness, upheaval in our country and the world?  Thankful for ruin for so many businesses, homelessness, hunger?  No thank you.   But the very determination –wrongheaded as it is, to my way of thinking—of people to continue to celebrate this holiday makes me want to give it a try.  So here goes:

I am thankful that I live in a safe place and am able to be isolated and still get a chance to take a walk and see the beauty that surrounds me. These circumstances have allowed me to think another way about how much I miss living in the city.  Suddenly, for now, I am glad I’m here.

I am thankful for my wonderful neighbors.

I am thankful my house didn’t burn down this August, when the house next to me went up in flames and there was nothing separating us but trees.

I am thankful for people who post beautiful music and art to share on social media, especially my friend who takes exquisite photos of city birds.

I am thankful for the real friendships I have with my grandkids, for M calling me on his way home from work, and for J ‘s collaborations and campus bulletins, for N’s help and advice and D’s keeping me in the loop about his life. 

I am beyond thankful for my kids and all they do for me, not least of which includes sharing my grief at the loss of my dear one, because some days that eases the weight of it.

I am thankful for Pete, my darling dog, who makes me get up in the morning to walk him, and comforts me at night with his snoring on his side of the bed.

I am thankful for my health and the health of everyone I know and love.

I am thankful for a big network of old friends and classmates from high school and college, those old bags and baguettes who remind me that I am not alone, there are lot of us still working and living good lives at 80 and beyond. 

I am thankful for new friends from as far away as Canada and Thailand and Geneva.

I am thankful to have had to become enough of a techie to appreciate Zoom and Facetime and direct bank deposits.

I am thankful to have my writing, this blog included, and thankful for my readers.

And I am thankful that I had enough common sense to buy plenty of toilet paper, paper towels, and tissues before they became scarce again. 

Wow.  That was a lot more than I expected to eke out.  Happy Thanksgiving, however you spend it.

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Commercial Break(down)s: The Stories Behind The Stories

         My storytelling mind is losing it.  I am in a deep dive, imaginationwise, and the numbing boredom (which alternates with numbing anxiety) has got me thinking about tv commercials again.  

Have you ever watched a commercial without knowing what it is for? You think you are looking at a heartwarming public service announcement about mutual caring and sharing with friends and  neighbors, and it turns out it is a commercial for the Pest Control man who is making (yet another?) visit to the Jones family? (And I can’t help asking: do the Joneses really want everyone to know that they have to call Pest Control so often that they know the guy’s name is Fred, and his wife, Darcy is about to give birth and how many centimeters she is dilated, and that their own little Johnny Jones has started talking about becoming a Pest Control man when he grows up?)  

Have you noticed that all the insurance companies commercials are incoherent? There doesn’t seem to be a way to persuade us to go from one company to another, so they don’t bother. One of them has a spokesperson who pals around with an emu (to emu-late the gecko in another insurance commercial, I assume), but the spokesperson is utterly inept. (And I can’t stop thinking about the emu, who doesn’t seem any dumber than his caretaker and is a lot more charismatic, and wondering if he goes back in a cage when the cameras stop rolling. )  Another insurance company has an old-timey arcade fortune teller behind glass who states the commercial slogan and a lady thanks him (for what?) and says she wants to shake his hand so he puts his hand through the fortune teller glass cage shattering it, shakes her hand and walks off, hailing a cab.  (And I’m left wondering was he injured?  Was he covered for the injury? How was his coverage? Did he go with his own company or was he persuaded by the gecko?)

Have you noticed that most drug commercials are usually dramatizations?  If it’s a cancer drug, there is usually a lot of jubilance and excitement:  school plays, bar mitzvahs,  snowboarding, or in a softer mode, walks in the woods at sunset.   There’s always a hot chocolate or a big ice cream sundae involved, and someone always gets a whipped cream moustache or cutely dotted on the tip of her nose.  And while the great happiness abounds and the cancer patient snuggles with her sweetheart, a voiceover rapidly ticks off the side effects: death, stroke or suicidal ideations, yadayadayada. (And I can’t help wondering what if in real life those same two were heading for the divorce court when the cancer hit?)  If it’s rheumatoid arthritis, the balding, nerdy looking middle-aged man hits the dance floor at the wedding with such fabulous moves that waiters spill their pours and professional entertainers are openmouthed in amazement, while the voiceover goes over adverse effects like anaphylaxis. (And I wonder if his wife is so bemused because this guy had two left feet before. It’s a miracle!)

My storytelling mind won’t let certain things go by.  There’s a commercial that shows a little girl in a hospital bed, and the doctor enters and the little girl wails, “Another treatment?” and the doctor says, “No, we’re going to try something else today,” and brings in a service dog to the joy of the child. Though the scene brings stupid tears to my eyes, I can’t help wondering what the little girl is suffering from, and more to the point, does this mean they have run out of options and they’re moving into palliative care?  And most tellingly, as I am relating this, I can’t remember what the commercial was supposed to be selling in the first place.

This fruitless pursuit of silliness means I am literally at wits’ end!  I think it is time turn off the tv and do a jigsaw puzzle.  I’m ready to concede. 

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SHAKEN AND STIRRED

 I admit, I don’t get around much these days.  I am six degrees from being a shut-in, and on most days, a little bit of an agoraphobe, too happy to stay in my little cocoon.  But, friends,  the closeness of this Presidential election has completely turned me around.  And my martini, when I get to it, will be both shaken and stirred.

I’m writing this “hot” – while I’m still thinking, and going through it with you, which is not my usual way, and it is risky, because I am sure to miss things, or misspeak, and won’t have the chance for further reflection, but I’m going to do it anyway, and trust that my initial thoughts will get you thinking, too.  

From my cocoon, I see: a lot of differences between this election and others I’ve lived through. 1) because of the pandemic, many of us voted by mail, or took advantage of extended hours, an effort to ease the crowded conditions that would threaten voters with the spread of Covid, and despite fears and the President’s warnings, it went slowly, but well;  2) The turnout was huge, more people voting in this election than in many other recent ones, a hopeful and exciting outcome in such crazy times; 3) The President is challenging the legitimacy of the election as he said he would, even before it took place. (I believe he did this to inoculate himself against losing, in case he found himself in this position.) 4) This has never happened before in America. Even when Gore and Bush were in a run off, there was an agreement that they would both accept the results for the good of the country, and during the uncertainty, there were no accusations.  That meant partisan unrest was calmed rather than stoked, as it is being now. 

BUT — even from inside my cocoon I understand that our country is so polarized that a good portion of us do not believe what I just said.  

Some people believe that the election was flat-out rigged.  Some people think that Covid is hyped, or going away, or non-existent. (Some people even believe that there is a deep secret pedophile plot within the government to kidnap children and use them for nefarious purposes, and one member of this group has been elected to office in Georgia.) 

I have to try and understand this. and to figure out how to live with it and within it, without being shattered or shattering our democracy with my instinctive desire to blast those who don’t agree with me to smithereens.  (When I say “me” I think I mean some of “us.”)

Some observations:

It seems to me that all of us are animated by fear, mesmerized by fear, paralyzed by fear: whether it is the (new) fear of the pandemic, or the (old) fear of the Other, or fear of police, or fear of immigrants, or fear of climate change, or fear of terrorist plots, or fear of fracking.   Fear is our central theme.  Fear makes us vocal.  Fear made us vote.  But unless we can figure out a way, I fear fear will eventually sap our strength and leave us in heart-numbing despair.

It seems to me that both sides of our divided country are guilty of name calling.  Republicans have taken abstract terms to describe political and social beliefs: “socialist,” “radical,” “liberal,” “antifascist” and weaponized them, inaccurately, so that they imply anti-American sentiment.  (This was done during the McCarthy era, when that eponymous Senator used “Communist” and “communist sympathizer” to do the same thing.) Democrats have kept it simple, using playground taunts, like “stupid,” “dumb,” “idiotic,” to describe their opponents.  Whoever we voted for, if we characterize those who voted differently as insert nasty name here_______,_then we have capitulated to the worst in our natures.  Or else we’re acting like big babies.  Andrea Mitchell, the tv reporter said we are all living “in our own echo chambers.”  I agree.  People who watch Fox and read The NY Post, don’t watch Morning Joe or read the Times, and vice versa.  People (especially on social media) cancel their relationships because they don’t agree with a loved ones’ politics.  Is that nuts, or what? Disgreement isn’t the same as lying or cheating or being stupid. We are allowed to disagree. We have to allow ourselves to disagree.

The closeness of the Presidential contest tells me that I cannot write off half of my fellow citizens as stupid, and they can’t write me off as radical anymore.  We have to figure out a way to recognize and deal with dissension and find concensus, no matter how small. 

         So this is me – peeking my head out of my cocoon for a bit.  I see you out there.  See me?  

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THE USES OF NOSTALGIA

                

         Biting into a Rice Krispie Treat my daughter brought me yesterday, I, of course, critiqued it: delicious, but not as good as the homemade ones I stopped making because I ate them all within a day. The homemade ones, before the advent of professionally made and wrapped versions, were uneven, crunchier, sweeter, denser.  

This led me to review other nostalgic noshes, the ones that are almost extinct, or at least not easily found in our culture these days: old fashioned jelly apples, chewing gums like Teaberry and Blackjack, real Double Bubble and Bazooka gum.  Hard licorice called “Easy Aces” which lasted as long as a sucking candy.  Rock candy. 

I remember a candy store on the corner of Hennessy Place and Burnside Avenue in the Bronx.  It was named after its owner, Buddy or Cappy or Heshy or Sam.  (Weren’t they all?)

The jelly apples sat out on the counter of the candy store, their thick disks of hardened red candy shell resting on waxed paper. They resisted a little when you pulled one off the paper,  and you could spend an hour  chipping away at the hard disk before you even got to the apple proper. Your lips would be stained red like you were wearing lipstick.

That tiny candy store, with its uneven wood floor, dark with age and dirt, smelling faintly of malt and chocolate, managed to contain everything a ten-year-old person could need or want.  Cigars and cigarettes were in the glass case, which she could be sent to buy without breaking any laws.   Racks of wrapped candy bars and gum sat above it. The penny candy (sometimes costing two cents) was lined up in jars on the worn and pitted marble counter and people dipped their hands in, perhaps after spending a few minutes perusing the magazine rack, opening and closing People, Look, Time, Life, before lifting the top newspaper on the stack and taking the next one.  There was no hand sanitizer. 

(That was also a time when a cook could taste the raw meat as she mixed up the meatloaf.  When a he-man could put a raw egg in his morning health drink without risking salmonella or e-coli.  And no one admits to being a he-man, anymore.)

We all know that nostalgia is a sentimental long look back, and is often unreliably positive.  The world I remember was a world far less worried about food safety and sanitation; it was not criminal for Buddy to sell me a pack of cigarettes for my mother. (He also could not have cared less if I smoked them myself.) And that time will not come again.  But the look back isn’t so much to say that what was was perfect – we see the pits in the marble counter – it is that we get a second chance to reaffirm the reality of what once was, put it in perspective (regret and gratitude in the mix), and see again that nothing lasts forever.

So, I am wondering: when we eventually have the chance to look back nostalgically at this time we are living in, what will we think?  Maybe once we are walking around in our own personal airboxes, face masks will seem quaint;  hand-sanitizer will come in handblown glass, with scents and colors, and if you find one in a plain plastic container it will be considered “vintage.” And above all, maybe it will afford us a chance to reflect that though it was less than perfect, we can finally put it in perspective. Someone will unearth a tie dyed face mask and remember it almost fondly, and think, “Unreal as it was, it was real, and I lived through it.”  

I can’t wait. 

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THE ULTIMATE SPIN

I’ve been thinking a lot, lately, about spin. 

Spin: the fast talk that is meant to deflect or re-define or lie or half-lie or change emphasis on an event, or a fact, or a statement, or a situation, to put it in a better light; to make something which reflects negatively on someone, into something positive.  

People in public relations and marketing and advertising use spin all the time.  Think of those pharmaceutical commercials that present heartwarming videos of people drinking hot chocolate, fishing, mowing their lawns, grinning with the joy of it all, to distract you from the fact that these people are supposedly dying, while the voice-over explains how the drug they are pushing is going to keep them alive (but could lead to blindness or diarrhea).  

Spin is when a politician refuses to denounce vampires, and tries to deflect his refusal by pointing out that vampires certainly understand the value of hemoglobin. 

We spin our own lives, half the time, like when we claim our college dropout kid is “taking a gap year.”    

So: last week, during my 4:00 p.m. retreat – that’s when I stop what I am doing to watch one of my perfect-life Hallmark movies, with rainbows arcing, ripples on the lake, romance in the pumpkin patch, maple tree tapping (and is that a euphemism for the love act?) – I saw a commercial which seemed to be at one with that blue-skies-and-lollipop ethos, and an ultimate example of spin.   It was an ad for an animated doll that eats and drinks, and after being thus fed by its little toddler caregiver, pees out a sparkling liquid, and poops spangles. The voice-over which touts these wonders sounds like she has just taken a hit from a helium balloon.  Could this be real? Was it, actually, a promo for Saturday Night Live? Were my eyes working? Was I so engulfed in my perfect-world that I was seeing things?  Imagining it? Was I losing my mind?

In the interests of accuracy (and to make sure the long Covid isolation was not finally taking its toll) I spent hours trolling the channel, hoping to see the commercial again, but, like Brigadoon, it was gone, maybe not to appear for another hundred years.

So, I decided to go Google.  And sure enough, there it was. In fact, there are more than one such doll babies, all for the purpose of toilet training real life children; they are priced from as little as $12.99 to almost $50.  The deluxe suite of items comes with packets of “food” which, mixed with water,  makes the glittering pee, and sparkling charms which are the poop “surprises” (which afterward can be put on a little bracelet, also included), and miniature toilets for the poop to go into.  

How’s that for spin?  Yes, my little one, the world insists you have to give away what’s in your innermost innards, give it up, and the world calls it waste! But what if, look, it can dazzle your eyes with its beauty? What if once you give up your innermost innards, you can wear them!

The thing about spin is, eventually the truth comes out.   I keep trying to imagine the trauma to a little girl once she discovers that her real pee has no glitter and her poop may come as a surprise, but it is no bright and spangly charm, and she can’t wear it on a bracelet on her wrist once she poops it.

She might, forever, think the world lies, and gets away with it.  

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TOUCHED

My dog, Pete, is definitely feeling the changes we have been going through since the pandemic and the ensuing isolations have hit us.  He has become super dependent, following me from room to room, his frizzy brush of a tail going like mad.

 If I am sitting and reading and happen to change my position, he is instantly alert, ears back.  Where to?  Wait up!  Lately, he’s been launching himself onto my lap while I’m working at the computer, a daring feat for an old dog, since he has to land in the narrow channel between me and the desk: he has a warm-up of 3 or 4 little lifts of his butt and takes aim (a one and a two and a three…) then goes for it. 

If he can’t get me to stop typing and give him a little attention after such derring-do, he stays shlumped across my lap anyway, ducking and dodging his head under my arms as I type, or resting his chin in an aren’t-I-adorable pose on my thigh.

When I get into bed at night, he takes a flying leap on after me, and nestles right up against my side. (his warm-up this time involves circling the room several times, which reminds me of an Olympic athlete going for the big shotput. Ring toss. Pole vault.)

More often now than he ever used to, he sprawls, paws up, offering himself for a nice belly rub.  He takes a tremulous breath.  “Pet me,” he seems to say.  It comforts me to comply.  

      I often wondered how people who are alone are able to manage — not to screw in lightbulbs or wash windows or even dine alone — but  how they are able to manage to go on without being touched.  Without a hug or a reassuring pat on the shoulder, or a back rub after a long day.  

         When I was an ombudsman in nursing homes, I always watched to see whether “hands-on care” included affectionate pats and grasping hands, as well as the routine contacts that came with lifting and shifting people during necessary caregiving.  A social worker saying, “May I give you a hug?” was a good sign.

Now that the pandemic has taken over our lives, this is a question that has spread its wings.  It is not only for the truly or always alone – those who don’t have children, or friends, or relatives – but for those of us who are cut off from them for the duration of this terrible time.

         I know how Pete feels. It is hard to comply with a hug ban when someone you love is in the room.  We all hunger and thirst for nurturing contact, and those of us who have family and friends look forward to the relief of being able to embrace the people we love again. For others, who will remain alone, the question stays open.  

Well, you might know by now, I’m always on the prowl for a redemptive moment, (especially before I go to sleep or finish a blog). So:  now can I answer the question, “how does someone who is alone manage without touch?” According to Pete, get yourself a human who is willing, and if you’re me, get yourself a dog. Not an answer, really, only a thought. It is as important to touch as to be touched, to give hands-on affection as to receive it. This makes me think about others, not as lucky as I. I think I might be encased in a big block of frozen self, if it weren’t for this dog. Thank goodness for Pete and his dogged, doggy needs. 

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EASY: A Story

If there’s one thing I know, it’s when something seems too easy, it rarely is.

Case in point: in my quest to give my music room a new look, I put my  IKEA futon up for sale online.  To my surprise, I got a bite within a day.  Local buyer.  Motivated. Headed my way. Could she come by and check it out? Wow.  How easy was that? 

 She lived about 25 minutes away and had to be back by 2, so she’d be at my place by about 1:00.  Which was cutting it close. (If there’s another thing I know, when you cut things close, something’s bound to happen.)

The buyer arrived with her teenage son.  She liked the futon and it looked like an easy fit into her van, so she paid me and set about moving it out. But it was heavier than expected. No problem. (Alert:  “No problem” usually means “problem.”) Masked and sweating with the effort, we solved it by detaching the mattress and moving it first. It was a tight squeeze out the door, but by bending the mattress a little, and removing pictures from the wall of the corridor outside the room, we just made it. (Which should have told us something about the rest of the futon, which, being wood and metal, did not bend. ) 

 Yes. Big Problem. The futon frame got wedged in the doorway.  “Wow,” the buyer said.  “How did you get it in?”  I suddenly remembered: M had assembled it inside the room.  “Did you maybe assemble it inside the room?” she said.  

“Uh.  I don’t remember,” I mumbled. “I don’t think so.”

 All right, no problem. We just had to move it back in and re-tilt it, right? Right. Except the futon didn’t budge.  It wouldn’t go back in, it wouldn’t come out.  And not only was the futon stuck; so was the buyer.  There was a moment when this realization dawned on us like a gust in a windstorm.  Group gasp.  The buyer (a big woman) tried to crawl out through a gap between the jammed frame and the door jamb. Whatever was going on in the brain inside that sweating brow, it made her miscalculate the 4-inch space as if it were the grand opening out of the abyss.  I didn’t blame her. Inside my own crazed mind I was sure that if she made it out she would make a run for it, leaving me with a doorful of futon frame.  “I have to pick up a kitten at the animal shelter at 2:00,” she said, plaintively.  Definitely, a run for it.  

I suggested removing the two large wheels from the frame would give us enough play to move it back in and at least free her.  She agreed. “Do you have an Allen wrench?” she said.

My inner idiot kicked in.   Not only did I forget what an Allen wrench was, but when the teenager pulled up a picture of one on his smart phone, I went Allen wrench-blind.  In the garage I pawed through six toolboxes and couldn’t find one.  (Yes, of course, there were “hundreds of Allen wrenches” according to my son, the next day.)

Finally, the buyer called her husband to bring an Allen wrench, while we waited, making occasional attempts to budge the futon frame.  What, exactly, is the etiquette in a situation like this?  Offer bottles of water all around?  Grant dispensation for the trapped buyer to remove her mask for a minute?   I tried a joke. I said I would bring her dinner if we went into the night. She tried to laugh but it sounded more like something you do when your stomach hurts.  Or when you are secretly thinking why oh why did I ever come to this horrible room in this horrible house of this horrible lady to buy her stupid futon?  She mentioned the kitten waiting for her, seven times.

Finally, I suggested we take the door off its hinges to see if we could make enough room, which worked, and we were able to slide the frame free and out of the room, just as the husband arrived with the (now unnecessary) Allen wrench, and the whole family and I formed a procession leading the futon frame down the narrow hallway of my house to the back door, where, I prayed silently, it would easily make its way out of my life.  And it did, and in a trice, as they say, the people and the futon were gone.  

If I were inclined to assign meaning or metaphor to this definitely not easy, only-in-hindsight-funny situation, I’d say the futon frame, half in-half out of the room represented me, half in-half out of my life, half in-half out of the pandemic, trying to soldier on, trusting that one day things will be easy again (even if I know they won’t, and never were), and hoping that eventually, I will get some psychic door off and find  a way to maneuver into a new space that doesn’t preclude the old.  

But it won’t be easy.

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FEAR AND ANGER, ANGER AND FEAR

How much of our angers have to do with our fears, and how much do our fears have to do with other people’s angers?  

I have been grieving, these days, the lives (and the deaths) of young people; not people I know, but people I imagine I could know, in their aspirations, their excesses, their possibilities.  This includes the Black children I once might have met, or taught, or passed in Target, or whom I passed on the two-lane highway in and out of town, or on the narrow footpath where I walk the dog sometimes, and we smiled.   It also includes the young heroes I feel a closeness to (since my own child was one of New York’s Bravest), New York’s Finest — that is, cops—who are on my shortlist of heroes.  

As a person who feels free to imagine all sorts of bad and good things, I have been imagining the last moments of children (no matter they are in their 30’s or 40’s, because I am in my 80’s and they are all children to me, at this point) who have been shot, choked to death, who have lost their own children. This includes those whose lives have been stifled by fear and anger.  How can this not include Black children and cop children, and parents of black men and women and parents of patrolmen and women? 

How can I not also imagine young cops who were taught to shoot but not how not to shoot?  Or were too scared of the fear turned into rage that they saw (or they imagined)? And of a young Black man who was too scared to stand still or let himself be suspected and accused, or too angry to let himself be humiliated, and so turned and ran? 

It is fear and anger that makes all of us behave as if we don’t know the difference between peaceful protest and provocation, that pretends not to understand what all the fuss is about.  

Is there a solution that an old person can offer from the length of years, and trials and tribulations she has racked up until now?  I am afraid if there is, it is an old one, and one increasingly difficult to counsel: restraint, constraint, a pause before taking any rash action that can’t be taken back.  Think twice.  Or, dare I say, put yourself in that other person’s place.  But nowadays that seems unlikely to settle anyone down, and I’m left thinking a most unhelpful “watch your back” as a poor substitute and no solution at all.  

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FLEXING MY WORDS

I was thinking it is time for another look at what’s going on in our language, and how it reflects life. So, I went Googling – not, believe me,  to count how many mentions I have, which, honestly, are not more than seventy-six or seventy-seven – but to research the derivations of some of the new words and phrases that have caught my attention.  (By the way, that, right there, is a humblebrag – a boast wrapped in self-deprecation –which is one of my new favorite words. It was coined, supposedly, by a tv producer.  Imagine. )

One of the most intriguing of new words is the new use of an old word, a name, specifically, used as a pejorative. Have you heard it?  A Karen is a petty, middle-aged woman.  It has a tinge of ageism, and a tinge of misogyny, and a tinge of reverse racism, since, according to Wiki and other sources, it comes from Black culture.  Using a name to indict a whole class of people, or their behavior is not new, itself, however.  Think of Judas, a biblical betrayer, Simon Legree, a cruel taskmaster, or Casanova. These eponyms also often include what a person invented, or is famous for (think Adam and his apple,  and Freud’s slip). 

Some words that I’ve heard a lot of lately include woke, which means awakened to in a political or social or cultural sense, and bro and dude, both of which are gender neutral versions of pal or buddy; I was also intrigued to hear someone say she was hangry, which, as it turns out, is a neat combination of hungry and angry (though why someone should be hangry is not apparent right off the bat, and seems to refer to a curious situation which I have not yet encountered.)

I like the phrase to throw shade, meaning to give someone a dirty look (Which sounds like a more refined way of saying you are giving someone the stink eye.) Both have a visceral, vigorous bounce that animates meaning, as does to ghost someone, meaning to break up just by disappearing, an improvement in language (if not in behavior) from the breaking up by e-mail, or text, which always seemed to me apocryphal, as if invented by someone who writes romcoms.  (Is romcom, or romantic comedy, too old to qualify as a new word?)

There are few words that seem as perfect to their meaning as tool, which means an idiot ( a fool who lets himself be used?), and few as stamped with a certain expiration date as Gucci to signify coolness.  (See, you didn’t hear that one, either.) And none as imperfect as sick to mean great.

Some words are unpleasant to say: I’m thinking about blog, a truncated version of weblog, which, lots of people have mentioned can leave one with a vaguely coagulated, viscuous aftertaste.

Of all the other words that come from internet life, the two that have taken hold in my lexicon are: OMG, which keeps its original abbreviated nature by being expressed loudly, so “Oh, My God” is in there, even if some of us don’t remember that that’s what it means.  The other one is YOLO, which means “You Only Live Once”  I’ve never used that one, but I am looking forward to it because it sounds like yoyo, which is a playful word, and mimics the way life goes, up and down, up and down.

Two phrases that are being used a lot lately are cancel culture, which refers to the swift dismantling of people’s reputations, jobs, careers in response to something they said or did, on social media.  The other phrase is virtue signaling, which is to suggest you have moral superiority by saying something popular or approved of, which you may not even mean.  (“Some of my best friends are…” )

I wonder which of those words or phrases I have used or actually will use.  I’m thinking that some words, like certain articles of clothing, seem meant for people younger than I.  Is this ageist?  Shall I make an effort to exercise my right to sport words that are the equivalent of dying my hair purple or wearing ripped jeans ?  

Well, dude, maybe so.   WTHyou guys, What the Hell.  After all,  YOLO.

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