We’re two very negative people.
The State of Wisconsin says so. Our tests for COVID-19 came back negative.
We sat at the kitchen table last Friday talking about who we’d seen and when, whether there was any chance we could’ve gotten infected with COVID-19, him rolling his eyes, me thinking about every time I came within six feet of someone without a mask, and we decided to get in the truck and drive down to the testing site.
We had no symptoms, not of COVID anyway. I had a lot of symptoms of “COVID anxiety” which, I think, should become a whole new field of psychological inquiry. So, we waited in line with maybe twenty cars in front of us, had very nice National Guard members ask us a few questions and then got swabbed. And then drove off, oddly feeling like a million bucks.
I knew I didn’t have it. But it’s nice to have a lab tell me that I’m right.
Now I can focus on other things. Like how to re-record an essay “slower” per the instructions from the public radio producer. And how to accept the fact that another essay I wrote for a contest which didn’t win shouldn’t have because the ending was for shit. And how to stop shaking my head at the Supreme Court for acting like birth control isn’t basic health care. And how to appreciate that my new head band makes me look remarkably like Keith Richards. Another day in the life.
Heat can make you a little crazy.
We were set. Ready to ramble around Minnesota, North Dakota, and South Dakota. But then something happened at home and we had to turn around. We drove nine hours, most of it in a driving rain, to get back to where we needed to be.
But we had that one night in our new tent. It was hot and very humid. Before we got into the tent, mosquitoes and gnats gathered on our arms and legs. It was a relief to be inside but only for a short minute. Then the heat of it all made being in the tent like wearing a wet wool sweater in the sun.
A problem easily solved. We decided to put up the tent flaps so whatever breeze there was would cool us. We tied all of the flaps back so when we laid down on our sticky sleeping bags, we could see the…
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It’s amazing that the guy delivering the mail is still wearing those gray-blue, stripe down the side Civil War USPS trousers.
It’s amazing that the grandson of the man who bought my father’s Western Auto Store in Hudson, Michigan, in 1952 found me because of my blog.
It’s amazing how a routine can save your bacon. (For those unfamiliar, saving one’s bacon means getting someone out of a bad situation, say, a pandemic or something similar.)
It’s amazing that Trump is positioning himself to the right of NASCAR and thinks there are enough voters there to get reelected.
It’s amazing what the Black Lives Matter movement has already accomplished – nothing is fixed but everything is different.
It’s amazing that my seven year old grandsons are now jumping off the diving board into the deep water, although, sadly, I can’t witness this remarkable feat in person.
It’s amazing that there are, in this physically dangerous, emotionally unwieldy time, paths to the sublime if we can calm ourselves long enough to find them.
It was my first time. I’d never had anyone fuss with my face, shape my eyebrows, those were things other women did, not me.
I lay back on the table and she put a pillow under my knees. As she studied my face, she pulled a bright light down to help her get a closer look like a dentist might do looking for an especially subtle cavity.
After she was done with my eyebrows, the waxing and tweezing, I asked her a question I’d been wanting to ask somebody for a long time. “Do you think anything can be done about my face?” I was sixty then and had long vertical creases in my cheeks, lines across my forehead, and branches of worry on the side of each eye.
She studied me for a long moment and then stood back, returning the examination lamp back to its place.“No,” she said…
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Nothing changes if nothing changes.
It’s quiet and sweet on the front porch. Mike, across the street, is setting up his sprinkler. The birds are singing like it’s morning instead of late afternoon. The neighbor’s air conditioner hums but has stopped making the cranking noise every two minutes that has been its habit for weeks. It is hot everywhere but on this porch so I am grateful to be here.
We mowed the lawn and put our Black Lives Matter sign back in its place, flanking it with two small American flags. Down the street, in the next block, there are three or four other Black Lives Matter signs including a handwritten one taped to a living room window. We’re a little network, I guess, of folks who need to be clear what we think: Black Lives Matter.
Putting the sign on our lawn wasn’t a radical move for us. We’ve had careers rooted in community development and racial disparities have always been part of that environment. And I think we have had a positive impact or, maybe more accurately said, we have done positive things. And having done those things – working in Black agencies, supporting new community programs, trying to restore economically violated neighborhoods – we feel that even if what we did might end up being small and not trend-changing, our work was on the side of the angels.
So, of course, we pat ourselves on the back. We believe we were part of progress.
But looking around, reading, listening, and watching, it’s clear that what has changed in all these many years is the fringe on the cowboy shirt, the embroidery on the pillowcase, the edges of inequity, not the core. The core is as thick and buried and impenetrable as it has ever been.
Recently, Cobb County, Georgia, District Attorney Joyette Holmes, a Black woman, was appointed by the State Attorney General to take over the prosecution of the men charged in the killed of Ahmaud Arbery. She was interviewed on CNN and filmed walking down the steps of a courthouse in a tailored suit and stiletto heels, totally confident, strong, a woman to be envied and admired. And I said to my husband, pointing to her, “Some things have changed. We can’t think that there hasn’t been any progress.” So I felt happy about that, seeing that she was in this position of great authority as a victory for women and for Black people. And for the struggle, which I have been part of but in a safe way, working from a remote location, you might say.
Nothing changes if nothing changes.
There is the fact of District Attorney Holmes. But there is also the fact that she is prosecuting a murder in which three White men ran down and killed a Black man who was jogging on the street in broad daylight. It wasn’t even in the dark. They didn’t think they needed to hide what they were doing. Neither did Derek Chauvin. The look on Chauvin’s face when he has his knee on George Floyd’s neck tells you all you need to know about systemic racism in the United States.
So, obviously, despite all the changes in our country, all the Black district attorneys and judges, all the Black elected officials, all the Black doctors and business leaders, all the visible Black success, the core of what needs to change is unchanged. We continue to embroider. Now it’s more police training, more body cams, less military-grade equipment, Karen-shaming, and White Fragility book clubs. It’s a crush to point out the grievous errors and shortcomings of others as if being suddenly alert for other people’s racist behavior wins us favor, keeps the big spotlight from shining on our own flawed game. All of this finger pointing and calling out makes me tired of sewing and people who sew.
Nothing changes if nothing changes.
We own, each one of us, each White one of us, the change that is needed. We own it with study, self-examination, and the making of amends. There is no easy way out of this horrible unearthing of America’s system racism except, as the life coaches always tell us, going right through the middle. We are who needs to change. Even the good of us, the hard-working of us, the right-minded of us, the ‘long career in the community’ of us. None of us gets to claim the territory of the righteous. That’s the message of the Black Lives Matter sign, the message of our sign. It’s not about other people. It’s about us.
We have work to do.
This is how we feel about the fucking pandemic.
I am not sleeping on the grass because I would have to make room in my Covid-obsessed brain to be worried about ticks. And, obviously, that would not be possible so, instead, I photographed my partner’s fatigue with it all. The dog always looks like that.
My new shorts are the single dorkiest item of clothing I have ever owned. They looked great on the model in the Land’s End catalog. Lord knows, I needed new shorts, only three pair being in my rotation, one a pair of skinny shorts that are increasingly mimicking tourniquets on my upper thighs. The new shorts are royal blue, made out of some kind of old dad polyester, and are (you can see this coming, right?) pull-ons. Hideous. So, my plan was to let them sit on the shelf in my closet for a decent interval and give them to Goodwill but then this morning, I said, “Fuck it” and put them on. Super comfy.
My husband is watching old episodes of “What’s My Line?” on his phone. Sometimes he watches Dragnet or the Beverly Hillbillies. The other day he recounted to me the very first episode of Beverly Hillbillies, you know, the one where the Clampetts move into the big house in Beverly Hills that Mr. Drysdale bought for them and they think the gardeners are prison guards. Anyway, back to “What’s My Line?” The panelists are all blind-folded while they question who turns out to be Mortimer Snerd, Edgar Bergen’s dummy. Darn. You just never see a decent ventriloquist anymore if you don’t include political metaphor.
We’re going to mow the lawn in honor of the 4th of July. Then we’re going to put the two American flags we have somewhere in the garage next to our Black Lives Matter sign and sit on the porch and watch people drive by admiring our work. It’s going to be swell.
In the preface of the book I am reading, Quiet Until the Thaw, is this poem. It is a Cree narrative naming poem. There are several such poems, this is just one. I am going to look for the others. For me, the simplicity and message make this poem almost immediately unforgettable. That’s rare so I had to share.
Her name tells of how
it was with her.
The truth is, she did not speak
Everybody learned not to
ask her questions in winter,
once this was known about her.
The first winter this happened
we looked in her mouth to see
if something was frozen. Her tongue
maybe, or something else in there.
But after the that she spoke again
and told us it was fine for her that way.
So each spring we
looked forward to that.
Translation from the Wishing Bone Cycle, by Howard A. Norman
I cut short my career in political commentary when I realized that all my nouns and verbs were expletives and deleting them all would leave nothing but air. Not even hot air. Tepid air, the heat having been sapped from me over the past three years and the last 100 or so days of Corona living in America. Another casualty of this time – my ability to rant.
Instead, I sit on the couch every night, nursing a rum and Coke, shaking my head, not figuratively, literally, from the first moment of news to the end, which, depending on the outrages of the day, could run the entire evening schedule of MSNBC. Many of the guest experts have become my friends. They deliver their scathing analyses of the day’s insults to democracy and I shake my head. This is how they know I’m with them. We are simpatico, the wickedly smart commentators and me. We share higher order thinking.
Perhaps I am saying this to evade the obligation to do my own ranting, claiming fatigue and lack of vocabulary. That I can say nothing political without swearing shows a poverty of intellect that is embarrassing if honest. I should be able to reach deeper, parse more expertly, make complex historical analogies, you know, up my game. But instead I sit, drinking, shaking my head, sometimes for hours.
I am but a remora on the blue shark of cable news commentary.
There are worse things.
My hair growing longer. Now when I go outside, my hair blows in the wind. It’s been years. To keep it from driving me crazy, I bought six headbands for $15. Wearing one with sunglasses makes me feel like a million bucks. Don’t ask me why.
Not spending $50 every five weeks for a haircut. When I could hear, it as worth it for the therapy. But now, having to put my various hearing devices on the table, it’s just a haircut. I might not get a haircut until there’s a vaccine. The idea of not spending money is enormously appealing to me, narcotic almost.
Having outdoor get togethers and meetings. Today’s League of Progressive Seniors steering group meeting was held under a tree next to the Milwaukee River. A lot of great social distancing, good discussion, and two wonderful dogs. Plus, one of our members brought boxes of ramps, dill, purslane, and daisies so we could each fill a bag – the old hippies get greens.
Strategizing about food acquisition. We haven’t been in a grocery store since mid-March. We patch together grocery delivery, fruit market curbside, and a community produce/meat box drive-thru. This requires an acute awareness of what we have, what we need, and what we want, a way of thinking that has seeped into other areas of life.
Adaptation. I am fascinated by people’s adaptations – from the window visits at nursing homes to Joe Biden’s virtual presidential campaign. When the 4th of July parade in which a 94-year old WWII veteran was to be parade marshal was canceled, a friend of mine flipped the parade and got kids to decorate their bikes and parade past his house.
The questioning of everything. Our values, our history, our regard for others, our health, our safety, our honesty, our government, all of it seems ‘through the looking-glass’ right now. What was true last year now sports an enormous nose and a six-foot top hat. It’s scary and exhilarating at the same time. I am oddly glad I got to live at this time, on this cliff of massive change.
Managing myself. I’ve never spent so much continuous time inside my own head. Because of this lengthy sojourn, I’ve realized that I probably possess the power to make myself sick from fear. Like sitting up in bed, I think I’m having a heart attack, fear. So I’ve had to learn to manage this unwelcomed super power lest I lose any semblance of a normal, productive life. It’s like working for weeks to develop a real set of biceps. I can do that heavy lifting now, without missing a beat.
It wasn’t like my life was so gloriously big before.
I’m not a world traveler or famous author. I’m not an elected official or corporate executive suddenly working from my kitchen.
I’m an old woman who gets ten texts a day from the Biden campaign. Between when the texts come, taking the dogs to the dog park, and watching the delicious but extremely slow process of my orchid coming back from certain death to blooming sometime in my lifetime, I could be writing a book. I certainly have time.
Don’t start in on me. I’m doing other stuff but listing it means I buy in to the axiom that you are what you do, which I do buy into, but never mind.
So I waver between appreciative gazing of my budding orchid which, if you were familiar with my sordid history as a gardener or caretaker of houseplants, you would understand more deeply, and thinking I should enroll in a MFA program. So, this morning, I researched low-residency MFA programs hoping I could find one that would let me stay with my orchid, not require me to go anywhere at all, and underpinning all the programs seemed to be the presumption that prospective students would come with a book idea or project or draft. Then all the coursework could be woven into the book project and, at the end, voila! a book would be born.
I have two thoughts about that. I’m too dull-witted and I wish I had some gum.
I can overcome the dull-wittedness in short spurts. Having a blog is perfect for me in terms of attention span and continuity of thought requirements. Both are minimal. Writing a book, though, seems to require more higher-order thought that I have in my wee armory at the moment. It would require vision, tactical ability, and discipline as unimaginable to me now as an elephant swinging his trunk on my front porch. Holding a banana.
And the gum. Well, it just seems ridiculous to order gum on Amazon, don’t you think? And I’m not walking into some teeming Covid hive to buy a pack of gum. As if you can buy a pack of gum anymore. A jar of gum is what you have to buy. I have just, in this last sentence, aged ten years.
I will keep writing my blog even though I am dull-witted and wish I had some gum because what the blog demands of me is what I have even though oftentimes it feels that what I have is lint in my pockets. So what, right? My orchid is blooming.