FANTASIZING V-DAY

I fantasized what it would be like when I finally got vaccinated. (This was 8 hours into the maddening search for a working website, an open phone line, someone responsive to the frantic desire that had come over me as soon as I heard that My Category Had Been Called.) 

The day before, I had been like every other citizen over 75, slightly impatient but calm, waiting my turn. I was still breathing in the fumes of hope since a vaccine had been approved and was going to be available, sure that I would get mine soon enough.  The end was in sight.   

Then, overnight, it became like the early March hunt for toilet paper and hand sanitizer, a zombie apocalypse, immoderate, without reason. Soon enough was not good enough.  It had to be now. Immediately.  Or what? 

And thus, I, and many of my co-Category peers were plunged – we plunged ourselves — into an irrational, hysterical, definitely competitive race to get an appointment for a vaccination.  And each shot I took at getting a shot only to be shot down felt as dangerous as death, instead of just a small delay in what was just a small first step at relieving just some risk of catching this particular virus. 

“Relax. You’ll just have to wait a little longer.  Don’t get crazy,”  I told myself and others, but that didn’t stop me from trying that website that didn’t work one last time eleven times, or from filling out the same on-line form again and again, even after the page had expired.  

In my fantasy, the day I got my first dose would be like the day after I got engaged when I tried not to flaunt the diamond ring, but couldn’t help it.  Would I refrain from “flashing” — taking my mask off for a second to offer a peek at my naked lips?  Of course, I would be a good citizen and continue to mask and socially distance, but with a new feeling that I was doing it for others, because I myself, was safe, marvelously safe, eminently safe, obscenely safe.  Safer than you.

The element of competitiveness is subdural, but it is there, under layers of other things more evident about how frantic we begin to feel when a lot of us want the same thing and there may not be enough of it to go around.  And to add to it, we are all feeling such a deep weariness after a year of isolation, distance, of living in a hugless universe.  And, having been so brave for so long, the child in us is more than ready for a reward. And thus many of us lost the will to wait. 

The  “rollout”  has been confusing, spotty, sometimes unfair and irrational.  Last week, I was on an eight-hour marathon: computer searches in vain, telephone numbers that didn’t work or didn’t help.  One NY website listed a phone number which, it was promised, would begin making appointments at 4 p.m. I held on and listened to an endless loop of “What The World Needs Now Is Love Sweet Love” punctuated by “Please hold on, your call will be…” from 4:00, until 6:30, when I was abruptly disconnected. Numb from ear to ass, too tired to be mad, I walked away from the madness, scrambled an egg and promised myself that I would not get caught up again.  I would wait patiently or impatiently, and it would be a matter of a few more days or weeks, before I could revel in my fantasized feeling of safety.  

But of course, I didn’t sleep, and I was up and at the computer again very early the next morning.  When – lucky me– a friend told me about a local pharmacy with 100 doses giving first come -first serve appointments. (Now I know how Jeopardy! contestants who are slow on the buzzer must feel.) With shaking fingers, I typed the link and filled out the form.  Everything seemed at stake.  

Unlike in my fantasy, once I had the vaccine, I had no urge to gloat,  and in fact, I feel guilty that I scored when people I know and love are still waiting.  But more to the point, I see (as I have seen before) that the feeling of safety is a chimera, or a fact just slightly out of reach, one emergency away, one pandemic removed from today,  and we only get to feel safe in our fantasies, because the truth is, life doesn’t work that way.

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REELING:Reflections

The conundrum goes, “If a tree falls in the forest and no one is there to hear it, does it make a sound?” The attempts at answers focus on both the physics of sound, and the philosophical implications. Sonically, vibrations can carry distances beyond sound, and therefore extend the range it can be experienced, if not actually heard.  Philosophically, the question is more pointed: if something happens and you are not there to witness it, has it “happened” to you?

Early Wednesday, knowing that the Electoral College ceremonial vote was going to be contentious, I turned the television off and concentrated on my work.  I was determined to protect myself from the anger I would feel at that particular (futile and completely rhetorical, as everyone admitted it was) exercise.  So, by early afternoon, nothing had “happened” to me. But after three texts saying things like, “Are you watching this?” and “Can you believe what’s happening?” and “Oh my god!” it had begun to happen to me. Then I turned on the television, and I was instantly, like all of America, engulfed in the horror of the day.

Like and not like 9/11, when so many more people died, but our electorate was not so polarized, like and not like the Kennedy assassination, when our body politic was attacked but our electorate was not so polarized, in the end, for the rest of the day and into the night, this event “happened” to me and to all of us.

Because it is easier to share horror with someone,   I called people and people called me, to commiserate, to console, to comment. I made sure to contact people I knew were alone. It is harder to experience such things by yourself. After the Kennedy assassination, which brought on a national grief and shock that was inescapable, I recall feeling smothered by the sadness around us; I recall wanting to escape, and M and I driving out to Long Beach so we could look at the ocean and breathe the salt air, and walk quietly on the boardwalk together.   

Here, alone, I secured my perimeter by touching base with my loved ones. Though I knew that we were safe from physical harm, far away from any personal damage, it was important, either to assure them that I was okay or assure myself that they were.  Because, you know, it all comes down, after the initial shock, to our individual selves, how has it “happened” to us. It becomes, “I knew someone who worked in Tower One,” or “My cousin is a Capitol policeman,” or “I knew a cameraman who was in Dallas.”  Even national grief filters down to personal damage eventually.  But it takes something really big, even cataclysmic, to make us feel that though undamaged in our person, we have been assaulted as citizens, as Americans.  

I don’t often think patriotically.  I vote, and have my opinions, but I don’t spend a lot of time reflecting on how lucky I am to live in a democracy, or worry about the democracy I live in being damaged.  But Wednesday, I did.  Although my perimeter was secure, and I remained unharmed, I am sore, and sorely hurt by this assault.

Ironically, on Saturday, I discovered major damage to my house that might impact me directly, and cost me a lot to fix.  And yet, the concrete, personal, individual damage to my house upset me far less than the abstract damage that I perceive, yet from afar, with the bare reverberations of the tree falling in the forest reaching me, in my safe place.  

So I guess if nothing else, it solves the conundrum for me:  if a tree falls, it falls.  And philosophically and physically, the reverberations will reach us all.  

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Dueling Proverbs: A Blog Duet With The Talented and Beautiful Jillian Crocetta

Me: Now, on this first blog of the New Year, Jillian (Especially since it is your actual birthday today), I’m thinking it’s the perfect time to reinvent yourself, forget the past year, forget your stumbles, and take out a new lease on life. The new year is all about hitting the reset button.  The saying, “New year, new me,” comes to mind. What do you think about that?  

Jillian: I feel like that saying is a bit of a sham. I feel very indifferent to it. December 31st feels no different than January 1st, aside from the fact that January 1st is one day closer to my birthday… but I guess if we’re being real technical here, it is one day closer to everyone’s birthday. 

Me: Except people whose birthdays are on December 31st. Heh heh.  But aren’t you attracted to the idea of starting completely over?

Jillian: I’ve always thought that the expression “New year, new me” invites people to think about their past selves (their December 31st selves, so to speak) as something that needs to be completely discarded and reinvented. But who are you without your past?

Me:  Well, I have to admit, if you put it that way…in fact, it brings to mind the saying attributed to Winston Churchill about people refusing to learn from history being doomed to repeat it, which takes the completely opposite point of view. 

Jillian: That’s the funny thing, isn’t it? It seems that for every profundity, there is another one that advises directly against it. I bet if I gave you another saying, you could tell me one that directly opposes it. 

Me: Go for it.

Jillian: Take “out of sight, out of mind,” for example. This is one I subscribe to, by the way. 

Me: Well, it’s a good example of something, I’m just not sure what.  Because although someone or something may disappear from your life for a reason that makes you want to forget him or it, there are other things which are just that much more desirable for being unattainable.  Like, you know, “Absence makes the heart grow fonder?”

Jillian: I suppose it is a bit of an elusive message; like you said, an example of something. I guess it is a matter of context or situation. Why did that someone or something disappear? Was it a willing or unwilling disappearance? Was it intended to be definite? I think that I subscribe to the idea in general because it advises against nostalgia controlling your life, which can keep you stuck in the past. After all, “there’s no time like the present.”

Me: Well, my dear, don’t you think you have to keep one eye on the future, too?  Look at the big picture?  Take in what is to come?  Plan ahead?  If you live in the present, do you save or spend? By failing to prepare, do you prepare to fail?  Do you risk tomorrow by living for today?  What are the actual implications of “no time like the present?” 

Jillian: In theory, I would love to be someone who entirely lives in the present. I’m not sure if this is realistic, though. Sometimes commercials or TV shows will create these people who seem entirely comfortable waking up and seizing the day, completely unfazed by the idea of a tomorrow, of plans and prior commitments. They confront everything head on; they live in the moment, and “strike while the iron is hot.” 

Me:  It is awfully attractive to contemplate, isn’t it?  The saying itself is so firm and clear.  No dithering back and forth, no messy considerations of what happens after the strike is stricken.  But we know, in the real world, sometimes it’s right to strike, sometimes to think before you leap.

Jillian: That’s the…kind of… deceptive thing about these sayings, isn’t it? They are written so firmly that we can’t help but think of them as the right advice to follow. We tend to forget about their situational aspects. It seems like sometimes, they can be more trouble than they’re worth. Just as we find certain scenarios that make us want to “strike while the iron is hot,” I suppose we must also remember it’s counterpart: “slow and steady wins the race.”

Me: And “look before you leap,” can always be countered with “nothing ventured nothing gained!”

Jillian: I think we’re on to something. Do you think we’ve perhaps cracked this socially constructed code?

Me:  I think we have.  “Don’t believe everything you read?”  

Jillian: A quick Google search tells me that there actually is a Japanese proverb that says, “if you believe everything you read, better not read.” But since we’re two students of literature, that may not work.

Me:  Well, then, let’s say, “Better not read proverbs, and if you do, don’t follow them.”

Jillian: Historians one day will quote you on that, just you wait. 

Me:  I’m counting on it. After all, wise grandmothers are living time-capsules, their counsel to be dug up someday. 

Jillian: A proverbial excavation! 

Me & Jillian: Happy New Year, everyone!

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A PARDONER’S TALE FOR THE NEW YEAR

The recent spate of Presidential pardons has got me thinking.  

Did you know that in history, being a Pardoner was an official job?  A Pardoner was deputized and licensed by the existing religious powers of the day, and for a fee, he could grant pardons to all sorts of sinners and wrongdoers.  The Canterbury Tales, the 14th century masterpiece by Geoffrey Chaucer, tells of a Pardoner who has gotten rich (in the scoundrel’s own words) by duping ignorant peasants with fake relics and promises of absolution in exchange for money, all the while claiming that his theme is “greed is the root of all evil.”  So, while preaching against greed, he helps himself, greedily, to whatever he can get.  He is a self-aware scoundrel, indeed! 

Which brings me to what made me think of it in the first place.  Did you know that FDR granted the most pardons of all the presidents, even to this date? And whatever you think of this crop of pardons, the truth is that traditionally the number and nature of Presidential pardons is really just the steam coming off the most recent pile of rot.  Every president pardons some bad people and some worse people and even, occasionally some good people.  And which is which usually has more to do with what we think of the Pardoner than how much we care about the pardoned.  Face it.  The fates of bad people who benefit from this act of mercy mean less to us, in reality, than anything else that has happened in the last several years.  (Certainly in the past year.)   I, for one, don’t want to waste another minute thinking about the scoundrels and worse who will be granted freedom.  There are more important things in my basket right now.

Pardons are official and transactional, and involve specific exoneration or removal of some penalty.  But, thinking about it, you see that pardons themselves don’t rehabilitate bad actors or restore reputations.  They are only skin deep.  When they are issued not by politicians but by religions and religious leaders (like Confession and Yom Kippur), they deepen a little, by adding the element of forgiveness to the situation.  And when someone does something bad or worse to another someone, if absolution does not include forgiveness, it doesn’t “work.”

So it’s forgiveness that we should aim for.  Personally, I forgive the IRS for screwing up my finances for two months.  I also forgive the scammers who called me all this past year, during the pandemic: the “hello grandma” guys, the “your car warrantee is running out” and “your social security card has been flagged” people.  I forgive the people who believed untruths about the pandemic which made them risk their health (and mine!).  I forgive the Facebook woman who nearly bit my head off when I suggested she forgive a 50-year old wrong done to her by a teacher, now long dead. And I forgive people who can’t forgive me for having different beliefs from their own.  

Forgiveness is the big enchilada.  You don’t need agency or official titles and exoneration may not be necessary.  But what forgiveness demands is bigger – it demands empathy and the determination to let things go.  I fear that without that very large little thing, we will not be able to move on to next year.  Our burdens are just too heavy and we have to dump some of the weight.

 So forgive whomever you have to, or are able to, so we can all start again.  

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PERSPECTIVE

Perspective has always been my magic bullet.  Losing perspective, gaining perspective, re-establishing perspective, changing perspective.  Having perspective.  

This has been a challenging week.  My dog came down with a doggy stomach flu and I lost perspective.  No, I guess you could say I just lost it: sleepless nights, desperate calls to the veterinarian, letting my imagination run wild, all the way to the end (and you know what that means). This paragon of dogdom, this perfect little dog, with his adorable ways, how would I live without him? Until sad news from an old and dear friend allowed me to regain perspective.  When it’s dire, it’s dire; when it’s a doggy stomach flu, you don’t have to go into disaster mode. 

Perspective means relativity.  Perspective dulls the bright whites of life, but it also lightens the darkness. (Now that the dog is healthy again, I admit he’s not perfect.  He barks when I’m on the phone.)  

These days we’re living through lend themselves to a loss of perspective, when words like “never” and “forever” haunt our dreams and it is easy to slip into disaster mode.

The media doesn’t help. Now that the election is over, media has tripled down on the pandemic and the forthcoming vaccine.  The coverage won’t let up.  Our own attention to it won’t let up.  And with all the news, there is not enough information to allow us to see the context, or have any perspective on it. Can we trust the vaccine? Who will get it? Who will take it? Will some of us have to fight and some of us have to wait for it? What will it do to our already roiling national temper? And the comparison between other disasters, going back to Jurassic times: how many deaths in WWII compared to deaths now?  We already surpassed 9/11.  Will we surpass another death statistic today?  As if it is a race we don’t want to win but we’re winning.  It feels like a mask over our moods and thoughts, and it is hard to think and breathe; our glasses fog up with the overtelling of it.  We’re pandemic tired.  Our resources, our fighting spirits, our can-do attitudes, bolstered earlier by the coming spring and summer, long daylight, chances to walk around the block and feel warm sun on our faces, have being depleted.  It’s been a year to forget.  But to gain perspective, do we? Can there be value in not forgetting?

Let’s say this: maybe it will be a year to put behind us, but also a year to remember. This was a year when so many people lost people. It was also the year when we let our beards grow in and our hair grow out, when we finally taught ourselves to play the guitar, when we took that tour of the Amalfi coast (even though it was virtual). We re-discovered family life because we were suddenly deprived of it.  It was the year that being allowed to resume our mani/pedi routines felt like triumph, and going back to the gym was joy. We invented odd amusements and small reasons to be glad. (I hold a contest between me and the Keurig: while the coffee brews I try to empty the whole dishwasher and put away everything before the last drip drips and the machine peeps.  If I win, it is going to be a good day.)

We got back in touch with old friends. It was a year when “the eyes are the mirror of the soul” became truer than ever, because no one could see the rest of our faces. Look what we have found time to do!  We resumed forgotten practices and maybe even re-evaluated our values.

Maybe regaining perspective, re-establishing relativity, will restore our ability to wait, too, and remind ourselves that there will be a time when we will see clearly through the fog. That we have a future.

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BE TALL

BE TALL

BE TALL

I’ve been saying to whomever will listen, in interviews and conversations, and spontaneous wisdom-spouts, that without a sense of humor in this life, you are up the creek without a paddle, and furthermore, if you don’t have one, you can’t get one; telling someone without a sense of humor to get one is like telling a short person to be tall.

But I am rethinking this. This whole past year has been filled with such awfulness, and time after time I have seen people find the funny in it, that I’m convinced that we can school ourselves to find what’s funny in what is obviously something else, from merely embarrassing to downright horrible. Where is the funny hiding in the horrible?  Usually in the details, I find.  How do we unearth it? By inviting afterthoughts, by reviewing the whole scenario later on, asking ourselves, “What was funny about that?”

For example: Let’s say you open the front door to pick up the newspaper, and you are confronted by the meter man. You have no pants on.  You are without your eyebrows or your dentures (depending on your age).  You are wearing your wife’s high-heeled slippers or your husband’s boxers and your pinky is exploring the inside of your nose. Just you, in a private moment. But oh, how uncovered, how discovered, how embarrassed you feel!  Yet later, if you revisit that moment and think  about what the meter man must have seen when he saw you in those shoes, or watched your lame effort to act like you had teeth in your mouth, eventually, the absurdity of the constant effort to look “good” and the impossibility of pulling it off in the end, will bubble up inside and make you laugh.

Often, finding the funny takes time. It is a delayed reaction.  Sometimes you have to prime the pump with the question, “What’s funny about that?”  Because we can always look at things in more than one way.

Example: I bought a huge bag of secondhand apples, those bargain bags with bruised fruit which I can’t resist, though I hate the job of peeling and coring.  But applesauce in mind, I sat down and watched tv while I peeled, peels in one bowl, sliced apples in the other.  It took an hour. Then, still watching the program, I dumped the apples into the garbage instead of dumping the peels, into a welter of coffee grinds and a broken egg. Not funny at that moment. I certainly didn’t laugh. I talked to myself.  I yelled at myself. I contemplated trying to rescue the apples, and actually picked a few out of the coffee grinds and washed them off before throwing them back in.  Finally, I took four remaining apples, “good” ones I had bought for eating, peeled and sliced them and sautéed them in brown sugar and butter, and made a beautiful, free-hand revenge tarte tatin, baked it quite perfectly.   I felt redeemed. And, oh, what a beauty that tarte was! Out of the oven at just the right moment. 

(You know where this is going, right?)

I wanted the bottom crust to crisp as it cooled, so I set out my wire rack, and because I am nothing but careful, I chose my great big pizza peel, which I slid under the tarte, and then, oh, so carefully, transferred it to…the floor.  Face down.  (Well, not all of it.  And the remaining 1/3 of it was delicious.) Later that night, close to midnight, I thought about what I had begun to think of as my “apple day” and I sort of pictured the whole thing, replaying the coffee grind moment, and what hit me was how utterly at the mercy of my own distractedness I was, and how the universal truth about the best laid plans applied and my bad bad apple karma. That’s when I finally laughed.

Sometimes life hands me the gift of an easy, immediate laugh. Like the other day, when I had another “granny scam” call, and the scammer said “Hello grandma” with a foreign accent.  What was he thinking? I cracked up right then, but then afterward, every time I told it, I got another good laugh, and every time I return to the scene of the attempted crime, and wonder if this scammer-in-training asked his tutors, “What if her grandsons don’t have accents?”  Maybe they told him to say that he had been abducted and implanted with an accent which would cost granny’s money to have removed? 

Every day, once a day, if I ask myself, “what was funny today?” I’m bound to find a moment. And if I can’t, I can always replay the other day in the supermarket, trying not to sneeze behind my mask.

The more we practice, the easier it is to make what is awful, funny, too. And funny feels better.

 

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‘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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