SPEAKING OF SYMBOLS

I have been thinking about symbols lately.  What they mean, what they show, what they say.  We are seeing a lot of raised fists: black lives matter, once black power.  Did you know that in the eighties, the white supremacy movement adopted/adapted it for themselves, with white fists?  Did you know that if you raise your arm and don’t make a fist, and if it stretches straight out instead of straight up, you are hailing Hitler?  And that the raised Heil Hitler sign had its roots in the Roman Salute, which went back centuries, and was adopted by Mussolini before Hitler took it up?   The hamsa is a raised hand symbol which means a blessing.  A Jewish star is a symbol of my religion; once it was also an identifier of whom to kill: the Yellow star.   When I was growing up, I believed that a boy with a pierced earring in his right ear symbolized his gayness (or was that left ear, or was left ear straightness? Or was it urban legend and really no ear?). Doves symbolize peace and eagles symbolize patriotism and power.

Symbols have their uses, for good and for bad.  They can help people come together.  “Under the same banner” is a phrase that explains how it works. People hold it aloft and walk in step for a cause. Everyone chanting the same mantra reinforces the message and knits together groups of demonstrators, at least temporarily, into a cohesive group of protestors.  A well-placed action, like an athlete taking a knee in resistance to the symbolic salute of the flag (another symbol) can launch a whole movement, and was deemed powerful enough for it to end an athletic career.  But symbols are never static. They can take on lives of their own, overshadowing the human element, and eclipsing their original usefulness. This happens, in my mind, when what we think about the symbols people hold, wear, wave, turns into action.  When we hate or hurt a person for expressing a belief symbolically, we’ve gone too far.

Don’t we see that symbols without people mean nothing?  They are like flashlights without batteries.  Their power to illuminate is only there when someone salutes it, or kneels to it, or puts it on a banner, or nails it on someone’s front door or work locker.  If you walk past it, it means nothing.  If I taunt you with it, it takes on meaning.

You like some symbols and hate others; I like some symbols and hate others.  And really, that’s fine, isn’t it?  As long as we stick to disliking the symbols and not letting it slide into hating each other, we can talk about how we resolve our disagreements. As long as we understand that symbols are inert without being activated by people.  As long as we understand that symbols don’t bleed or cry.

Am I being a little bit preachy? Don’t we already know all this?   We do, we do; and yet we — me included — get all lathered up over irrelevancies that would remain lifeless if we didn’t animate them with our attention;  and at the same time we take our eyes off the real stuff that’s going around, which is a pandemic disease, racial inequality coming home to roost, and the violence, fright and paranoia that follows those things.  Those are problems to be solved in our society.   Our symbols of governance are not even on that list.

 

 

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PRACTICING MINDLESSNESS

Mindfulness: being deeply tuned in, to the moment, the universe, your feelings, your
thoughts. It is a way to slow down, take stock, savor. The old button-phrase we use is “stop and smell the roses.”
Sure, it’s nice to do that once in a while. But for most of us, it is a once-in-a-while thing, when the world gets “too much with us,” as the poet says. Because the rest of the time, in fact, most of the time, we are on autopilot, doing whatever it is we do: making it happen, making them happy, taking on all the jobs we can do in a busy morning, piling up appointments for tomorrow, trying to remember something you think you forgot to do yesterday.
In other words, living ordinary life. And most of us negotiate ordinary life just fine.
In fact, truth to tell, many of us like being crazy busy. And if we stop to smell anything, it is usually because we smell smoke and our metaphorical house is about to burn down.
And then we either come to a screeching halt and practice mindfulness.
Or it is too late, and we practice what I will call mindlessness.
Mindlessness: being distracted, super busy, deep in thought while multitasking multiple tasks. Mindlessness means losing important papers. Mindlessness means shredding the check instead of the bill you meant to pay with it. It means putting your coffee down somewhere and not being able to find it for twelve hours and then finding it in such an unlikely place that it drives you crazy trying to figure out how it got into the linen closet. It means losing your cell phone more than once in the same day and having to call it from the landline to find it.
Mindlessness means walking with a cookie in one hand and a dog biscuit in the other, and biting into the wrong one.
When you are “practicing” mindlessness, you are also prone to missteps and accidents.  You are more likely to drop the glass and cut your finger picking it up, turn your ankle rushing to answer the phone (forgetting the phone is in your hand). My friend tried to flip open the oven with her pinkie while she held the potholder with the rest of her hand, dislocating her pinkie because she didn’t want the wasted motion (and extra moment) to put the potholder down. I tried to brush the hair out of my eyes while I was holding a #10 envelope, and scratched my cornea with the edge of the envelope. Someone I know conked himself in the head with the hammer he was holding. (And have you ever noticed the words we use when we refer to these accidents? “Conk.” “Bean.” “Swat.” “Bop.” humorous words, as if to signify that it is nothing, really. To take it down a notch.) Because they are embarrassing accidents, all based on trying to save, in most cases, a fraction of a minute. And usually lead to, at least, extra minutes at the medicine chest, bandaging the cut finger, taking an analgesic, and at most, to a visit to the ophthalmalogist, where it is almost as embarrassing to explain how it happened, as it is painful.
So, what do we do when mindlessness has set in? Well, logic would say, we take a nap or take a break. But not so. Most of us drive through and double down, as if to prove to ourselves that we are NOT losing our minds, we are NOT.  It is only after we convince ourselves (as we ice our bruises and breaks) of that, that we think maybe it is time to slow down, maybe even do a little meditation after all, look within, practice mindfulness.  And as quickly as we can, get back to ordinary life.

 

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COOKING FOR ONE

I wrote a children’s story once about a greedy little girl who always said, “more” until the fairy godmother gave her (horrors!) exactly what she wanted: a pizza pie that could never be completely consumed.  And the little girl ate the endless pizza pie until she burst.

I’ve got to get a handle on my portion control!

Don’t get me wrong.  I don’t overeat. Yet I make chili to feed an army, enough sauce for three lasagnas, multiple loaves of bread, a bucketful of butternut squash soup (half of which ends up encased in ice so I don’t know what it is and I end up tossing it).

I’m ashamed to say I have never been able to put less than a boxful of spaghetti in a pot. Believe me, I try.  I start out with a third of a box.  Then, strand by strand I add to the pot, until it seems like half a box.  Well, I think, maybe I’ll just top it off, so I add a few more strands, and a few more strands until there are so few strands left in the box, it makes no sense to save the box, so I throw the rest of them in.  And I am always surprised when I end up with enough spaghetti to supply the Olive Garden on a Saturday night.

I own plenty of scales and scoops, and cups and rings. I read the backs of boxes and bags.  I know the tricks of the weight loss programs, those rules of thumb (and palm) to stop me from cooking too much.   Yet “too much” is exactly enough for me, it seems.

I could blame it on my recent widowhood, but I can’t, because even when I was cooking for two, I cooked for eight.

So, what is this all about?

Is that greedy little girl inside me, waiting for some super psychoanalyst to tell her how to be sated? Is it about my “lost” matriarchy?  Am I regretting the old days when the children were at the dinner table for every meal?  Am I making “enough” in case a squadron of friends drop by (even though my friends are scattered all over the world these days)? Am I reliving Thanksgivings past?  Am I feeling a kind of food insecurity?

Real food insecurity – the feeling that you don’t know where the next meal is coming from –has been in the news lately.  There are people who are financially and physically isolated from a reliable source of food.  They literally do not know where the next meal is coming from, or what it is going to be.  It has thrown the issue into a new clarity, for me. Real food insecurity is not something I have ever experienced.  Yet even the idea of it has caused me (and a lot of other people) recently, to stock up against the possibility of being faced with a shortage of…whatever it is that seems to be heading toward a shortage.  I couldn’t find flour in my local market.  Beef was hard to get for a while.  But it is not only necessities that bring on that feeling of insecurity.  “You have enough snacks?” my daughter-in-law asks.  “Need Nachos?”

So, finally, I asked the crucial question: Can I go on if there are no more chips in the cupboard?  Can I go on if there is no backup lasagna in the freezer or an extra 3 cups of sauce in the fridge?

The answer is yes.  And that “yes” will set me free.

Because though it is true that I love cooking and baking and always will, being realistic about how much I can eat doesn’t have to change that. Knowing what can be frozen, and for how long, will save me a lot of wasted motion, and wasted food, when six weeks later, whatever it is goes into the trash. I can cook it today and again next week.  And neither the hungry little girl nor the lost matriarch get to say how much.

 

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MASKS

It is pretty clear that along with social distancing, wearing a face mask is an important safety measure for now and the foreseeable future.  Yet some people won’t.  Don’t.

I saw on the news the other day, a masked customer complaining to an employee that another customer was maskless.  The maskless person overheard and after she finished her transaction, she walked over to the complaining customer and deliberately coughed in her face.  In other news footage, a policeman pulled a demonstrator’s facemask down to pepperspray him. (Anyone remember the AIDs epidemic, when doing things like that became subject to criminal prosecution?)

I’ve been wearing my mask basically everywhere outside the house.  Even when I’m walking the dog (ever since someone’s off-the-leash dog ran right up to me, making it necessary for the dog’s owner to get right up in my face).  I certainly wear the mask when I go into a store or the post office.  When I went for my first haircut last week, my haircutter wore not only a mask, but a protective visor, as well.  I looked upon it as a kindness and as concern for my well-being.

Recently, someone came a little too close to me, and I slid my face-covering bandana up and over my face.  Did it smoothly.  Thought I was being subtle.  But the person responded with, “Don’t worry, I won’t come too close,” which made me feel a little silly, as though I were being excessively careful, too nervous.  Or unfriendly, suggesting the person was diseased. And being called on it intimidates me. So far it hasn’t stopped me from doing it.  I fear that at some point a reaction like that will erode my will.

There is no doubt, masks are uncomfortable.  It is hard to breathe, and they fog up your glasses. For people who have trouble hearing, it must be awful to have to hear even more muffled words, and to not be able to look at someone’s lips for cues. But the lady in the market (who says she hates it) wears one, and the man in the post office does, so I will, too.

Today, in the market, I almost didn’t recognize a masked person as my neighbor.  It was her hair and her eyes, meeting mine, that told me who it was.  Another person walked by me.  I am sure it was an old friend, but he was wearing shades, and without the rest of his face, I couldn’t tell.

Will there be a time when a maskless face will seem naked?

When eye contact will replace the public face, whether smile or scowl?

So, there’s one more division in our hyper-divided society.  Will we go masked or unmasked?  And why?

Will it have to do with our own comfort, or the safety of others?  Will it have to do with political sides or personal beliefs?  Will it be because we simply obey the rules, or because we simply don’t want to?

Inevitably, I am drawn to the metaphor.  ( Even before the pandemic, and before the unmasking of our deeply disturbed relationship with our racist past and present.) How many ways do we remain “masked” from one another, and from our essential selves?

What if we were to take off our metaphorical masks and admit that we are sometimes afraid, and often angry, and don’t like people who think they are better than we are, and do-gooders make us feel inadequate, and we just want to be loved, and you name it, whatever else it is that we keep covered over? Maybe if we could unmask ourselves, we might find it easier to do what is best for everyone, because we are all in this together, and what is good for me really is good for you.

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WHY I AM WATCHING HALLMARK MOVIES INSTEAD OF READING TOLSTOY

Because in Hallmark movies there are no surprises.

Attractive young man and attractive young woman are fated to fall in love, except for one crucial difference between them, which they will not discover for 118 minutes. But I know they will work it out right from the start.

The crucial difference might be work ethics. She strives for success while he wants only to love the work he does.  Often it is about lifestyle. He manages hedge funds while she bakes amazing peach cobblers.  He is a rolling stone, she is a homebody.  Or, he likes diner grub while she goes for snails and martinis served by a snooty waiter.

            The two may have had an earlier relationship. Someone humiliated someone way back in high school, ditched him at the prom, teased her about wearing braces. Or, there could be an upcoming wedding to someone else.  Sometimes there are business complications: they are rivals for the same contract, or he wants to close the Inn and she wants to keep it open.

The perfect pair is initially separated by geography – city vs. country, nature vs. glass & steel, and they meet outside the comfort zone of one of them, often at the country inn, which the city girl or guy has to come to. Rarely does the country guy or girl go to the big city (though if she does, she can handle it). Most often the two play out their destiny in the heartland, where there are lots of trees and fishing holes.

The time frame is typically short: a week or two at most, when the culminating event (wedding, meeting, signing of the contract, final sale of the inn, closing of the beloved movie theater) is about to happen. It is just enough time for the two to get to know one another, but just as the happy-ever-after is about to happen, the visitor gets called back to the city.

This torpedo to the heretofore smoothly changing trajectory of his/her life, launches about 16 minutes and two commercials before the end, and is the only suspenseful spot in the whole story. Luckily, it does not last long enough to reactivate my anxiety, because almost immediately a deus ex machina — fairy godmother, nasty storm, meddling best friend, breakdown of the taxi taking the visitor away — brings him/her back to the scene of the culminating event. (S)He will see the error of previous ways and declare love and they seal it with a closed-mouth kiss.

There is no sex in these programs, only romance. And by romance, I mean the kind that leads to true love.  Fake romance means expensive gifts, like plane tickets to Paris, foie gras and champagne, which, it turns out, always lead to a bumpy ride and a hangover. True love means the pair appreciates the same clean joke, enjoys the simple things, like fishing and baking chocolate chip cookies together, and does at least one selfless act of kindness for one another or someone else. They are always fully clothed and if they sleep together, it is on the sofa, in Christmas jammies with feet, tuckered out from a long evening of stuffing Christmas stockings for the orphanage, leaning against one another in blessed exhaustion, their half-consumed hot chocolates resting on the table, handles barely touching.

In the depth of the quarantine, I was averaging two Hallmarks a day.  You can’t beat them for pure predictability, utter lack of surprise. A welcome ease of meaning. There’s nothing here to make my stomach churn or my heart pound.  Nothing to raise my blood pressure.  The characters could be any one of us (providing we are young and attractive and successful and mostly white).  No Count Vronsky, nothing too ethnic, even when, occasionally, there is an actor with dark skin. And everyone is only vaguely and benignly Christian, nothing for a Jewish or Muslim viewer to worry about.

In fact, there are no extremes of any kind. No one gets too sick, and even very old people don’t die at the end. The excessively beautiful or beautifully dressed girl is NOT going to get the guy, and you know that the slickly handsome guy who insists on wearing a jacket and tie to the hoedown, is going to lose the girl.  (Unless she lets her hair down or he unties his tie.)

I like a pretty cast, but I will even squint and try to like actors who look too old or too young or unsuited for the part; however, I do hate when I recognize an actor from something else I may have seen them in, something that might have made my stomach churn or my heart pound.  For example, the other night I recognized the actress who played the tough Director Jenny who died in a shootout on NCIS; and I almost skipped another one because Tim Conway was playing a dotty old man, and his wonderful shtick was landing badly in the humorless atmosphere.  That is not to say the characters don’t laugh and appear to have wholesome fun.  But nothing is funny. Because, to a large extent, what’s funny is based on an edge, or an opinion, or the revealing of an embarrassing truth, or surprise.  And mercifully there is none of that here.

There is unbelievable decency, heartland values, old-time rhythms, and curable ills.

Emily Dickinson said: “In this short Life that only lasts an hour/

How much – how little – is within our power?”

In my two- hour Hallmark movies I know exactly how it is going to go.  And while I am watching, my power feels restored.

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CAUTION EXHAUSTION

Face masks dipping below the nose.

Face masks around the neck, leaving the face free.

Friends walking together without social distancing.

Groups partying in the park.

Not washing off the sides of the box of Cheerios when it comes out of the supermarket bag.

Not keeping the supermarket bag outside the house when you unpack it.

Not putting on gloves when you pick up the mail.

Not letting the mail “rest” on the guest bathroom sink counter, after being wiped with an alcohol dipped cotton ball and before slitting the envelope open with a letter opener and wiping the opener with the cotton ball.

Feeling a little “over the top” if you are still doing all of the above.

Going to the local market IN PERSON despite the fact that you gauged it wrong, thinking it would be empty, but finding the parking lot packed.

Staying in the local market even though (masked) people were not following the traffic arrows, and were ending up rubbing shoulders with you and others.

“Everyone has his or her own level of comfort,” someone says. Some people are still washing off the cereal boxes. Some people have company for the first time in months and the guests bring their own snacks. Others serve chips out of a common bowl.  Some people are having their hair done and some are still cutting their own.  And miraculously, we are live-and-let-live about it.  You respect my level of comfort and I respect yours. Because we’re all in this together.

And today we are left with a most unbelievable thought: If it were only the pandemic. But it is not only the pandemic that is cause for the fear, pain and loss that has become the ordinary day to day of our lives.

Because “caution exhaustion” includes the resumption (continuation) of murder, and racism, and  hatred, and destructiveness and division.  And just like that, caution to the winds, we’re no longer “in this together.”

 

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SELF CHALLENGE

Describe it without mentioning the words “covid,” “pandemic,” “virus,” “quarantine.”

Walking the dog this morning, the road seemed wider, the empty blacktop emptier than usual. The spring trees were an unclear shade of green, not as bright as I remembered. They seemed leafier than they ordinarily are at this time of year, heavier with pollen than usual, making the path ahead seem hazy.  Or is this what I imagined and was it really just the way it always was at nine o’clock in the morning on May 23rd?

Someone approached.   I stepped to my side of the road, she stepped to hers.  We nodded.  The strip of face above the bridge of her nose was covered with darkly tinted lenses.  A helmeted approach to a close encounter.  Someone else approached.  The same strip of face, unhidden by shades, eyes were clearly suspicious of me. Where was I from?  Where was I going?  Would I approach?  Would I encroach?

Today I will: take out my beads and make some necklaces.  Or, maybe not.  Maybe, instead of necklaces I will make some beaded bookmarks.  But maybe I don’t feel like taking out the beads right now, at all, maybe I won’t make anything out of beads today, maybe I will decide to read a book, instead.  I don’t have to bead today.  Or read today, either. Yes, come to think of it, of course, it would be better to save the book for when I can concentrate on it, and meanwhile, I will binge on “Gray’s Anatomy,” instead.

Maybe I will do all those things after lunch but right now I have to tend to the dog, who is sitting on the bed, howling, because I have left him to go the bathroom.

Looking up “why dogs howl” in Google, I get sidetracked by an article on dog depression, which sounds a lot like people depression.  I heat up a slice of pizza from last night and while I am waiting for it to get hot, I walk around the house once or twice.  The dog follows me.  I burn my palate (again) on the pizza.  I share the crust with the dog, telling him in a perky voice not to be depressed.

In the aftermath of lunch, I contemplate calling: the hairdresser, the children, sixteen friends, the vet, but do not call anyone.  Instead, I lie down and take a rest which turns into a nap.

After my nap, in a sudden burst of energy, I wash the kitchen floor.

I am suddenly hungry and I crave Oreos.  I have ‘Nillas from a previous craving, but this one will not be assuaged by a ‘Nilla.  It is Oreo or nothing.  Oh, when will my cravings align with my limited ability to satisfy them, during this…during this…while I am…not shopping the same way?

And so, without even talking about it, there goes another day.  And another.

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Places Like That: A Willowbrook Moment

The news, earlier this month, about how many nursing home residents were testing positive for Covid-19, many dying of it, came amidst media hype, outrage, and unwarranted surprise.

I can’t get it out of my mind.  I have been thinking about it in many ways:  as a former daughter of a nursing home resident, as an ombudsman for residents of nursing homes, as an assistant administrator of an ombudsman program, as an author of two books about nursing homes, and now, (at last? Or alas?) as someone now more likely to end up in a nursing home — for rehab if I fix a knee; or if, by some scary chance, my brain turns to jelly unexpectedly and I cannot be managed at home– for real, forever.   And then, I suppose it would be ironic if I somehow turn up as a turnip in one of the places I railed against since the words “nursing home” entered my vocabulary.  Because though they have changed some, they are still no place you’d want to put your loved one, or yourself.

In the 1970’s, Geraldo Rivera took a film crew into Willowbrook Nursing Home and exposed the awful conditions its inmates were living in.  Nursing home reform followed.  Nursing home residents could no longer be physically mistreated, starved, punished with isolation, left unclothed or unkempt.  Regulations and rules made that clear. Attachment to Medicare and Medicaid payments helped. Oversight by the Department of Health and volunteers like the ombudsman program helped. Food now had to be from all the food groups. Ratio of staff to resident had to meet the mark. Anyone caught hitting a resident was fired. (Sometimes moving on to another facility, truth to tell.)

But of course, that hasn’t made nursing home life a picnic: people still fall, lose their hearing aids, are disrespected and overlooked and deprived of their rights and desires.   Weekend staffing is often below standard; nursing assistants are underpaid and overworked and tasked with the bulk of hands-on care.

And now, we learn, the systems keeping residents safe from disease are seriously deficient: their surroundings are not sanitary enough, their methods of assessment for isolation and hospitalization, poor.  And everyone is surprised.

Why are we surprised? When older people are routinely disparaged and disrespected, in a culture that accepts  ageism as the norm, why should we be surprised? Nursing homes often substitute high price tags and expensive front lobbies for real, creative, dignified and (now, we see) safe innovations in congregant living.

So maybe this Covid-19 nursing home outrage of disease and death is our new Willowbrook Moment.  Maybe it will make us look deeply not only into nursing homes as they are now, but also into our own hearts and minds when we think about how we want to end up if we ever have to end up in “a place like that.”

 

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The New Normal, and the Old

I drive the nine miles from home to the smokehouse, deeply aware of the dog at home, and burdened by the rumor about how crowded I am going to find the store.

The smokehouse is a small country structure on a two-lane road that runs from Saugerties through Woodstock.  It used to be open from Thursday through the weekend, but has cut down its hours and is closed on Sundays.  It is, at ordinary times, famous enough with weekenders to make it a crowded spot.  That, once insurance of its great meats now adds to the worry about who I will be rubbing shoulders with.  People from the city? (What’s wrong with me? I used to be people from the city!)

The small parking lot is jammed, as foretold.  People sit inside their cars, or lean against them, or pace the parking lot, keeping their distance from one another.  Everyone is masked.  The now-serving ticket machine is outside the store, and a handmade scoreboard which tells which number is up is below it.   A gloved young man with a bandana across his face opens the door to let someone out, flips the number, calls it, and lets someone in.  Five inside at a time. I have 46.  He has just called 33.  (“I have a business degree and a masters in finance and I’m flipping numbers,” he says, and laughs.)

A man reading a book keeps looking up and checking the numbers, and I wonder how he can concentrate.

“It goes fast,” a woman says, her voice muffled by her mask.  She is sitting right in the middle of a 6-foot long stone bench, centered under the large stone pig etching on the wall of the  building.  No one dares to sit at either end, because that would be too close. If she had chosen to sit at one end, another person could sit, too.  Clever positioning in the new normal.

I watch her carefully, and when her number is called I take her place under the pig portrait, the little space fiefdom on both sides of the bench now mine.  I soon discover there is a down side to my perfect spot: the ticket machine is at the end of the right side of “my” bench, and to get to it, people have to sidle past me. Closer than I  like. I dip my head and turn away when this happens, even though everyone is wearing masks and droplets are not coming out of their eyes.  For a moment I feel the unfriendliness of it, but then someone approaching clears his throat ( a cough?) and I quickly dip and turn away.

Once, when I was teaching a night class at Queens College and there was talk of a mugger in the neighborhood I came home to, I remember parking the car and walking home carefully avoiding eye contact with anyone walking by.  As if, if they were muggers, not making eye contact would protect me.

The weekenders who own the house next to mine, and who have been in residence for at least two months, keep a very low profile. The other morning, as I come out of my driveway with Pete, and the woman of the family is turning into her driveway after an early morning walk, I prepare to nod, or wave my gloved hand, because she is more than fifty feet from me.  But the woman quickly dips her head down and to the side.  I recognize the gesture and all at once I think what have we lost?  Or what are we about to lose? 

Has anyone else out there noticed that people are not making eye contact?  That there is a free-floating paranoia in the air, like the invisible droplets of infection?

And at the same time, I have found that people who are working from home: cable company, telephone company, insurance company – are kinder, more accommodating, more ready to be helpful.

So I suppose the question is not what have we lost? But how have things changed?  Will we ever go back to the old normal? Now that I can deposit my checks without going to the bank, will I ever go to the bank?  If I don’t go to the bank, will I miss the friendly teller I have known for years? 

            My kids sent me dinner last night which I picked up at the restaurant, in a smooth operation, all without getting out of my car.  I was glad they thought of it and I would be having a favorite dish that I had been desiring.  I was glad the local restaurant was surviving this way.  But as the gloved, masked waitperson brought my bagged dinner and put it in my trunk, and called out “Happy Mother’s Day!” I could not help thinking (along with how sweet it was, and where her mother was) how much I miss the old normal.

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DONE AND UNDONE

One of the things I like about being older is the satisfaction of looking back and seeing all the things I have done. Children raised, friends made and kept, books written, chairs upholstered, floors tiled.  But then,  I am inevitably reminded of all the things that I have left undone. And I am not referring to things I have never done, like skiing in the Alps, or making squirrel stew; I mean the things I began to do, intended to finish, and never did.

For example, I have two afghans in progress.  The green one was started in 2012, the gray one in 2018.  In the interim, I have completed two hats and three scarves.  What’s the holdup you say?  I tell myself it is the sheer weight of the projects, and the fact that the dog climbs all over the completed parts across my lap and chases the line of yarn that leads from the skein. But the not-finishing weighs on me, too.

Or, for another example, I have a shelf and a half of books I haven’t yet read: some books that I started and promised to go back to (but they’re very very too long), some that I am waiting for the right moment to begin because they always seem a little too serious or funny for my present mood, some schoolroom classics, like War and Peace, and Moby Dick, which I should read, or at least should have read.

I have a novel to finish and two to revise, and a fistful of story ideas ready to work on, but which I have not gotten to.

I also have to do something about the porch door which is hanging off its hinges, and the trunkful of photos I have to figure out how to get rid of without actually throwing them away, and a file cabinet filled with documents outdated, no longer official, and ready to go.

Of course, there are some things I will leave undone forever, like arguments that weren’t worth the breath or  aggravation, and “final” decisions that, in hindsight, would have been wrong.   I am aware, too, that we’re all in a holding pattern right now. Still, most of the undone things I’ve named have little to do with the pandemic.

But now that you mention it, undone things can also be wonderful, because they suggest that there is plenty of time, and the prospect of finishing up in the days and weeks and years to come, my friends, is a great comfort.

By the way, my new book, FINISHING UP: On Aging and Ageism will be available within the week, at Amazon, or directly from DIO Press Inc., which will provide free shipping.  I’ll get the link and post it here and on my Facebook page. 

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