It was about the third inning when my son and I realized we were at the same ballgame but on opposite sides of the stadium. After I told him what section I was in, he sent me this picture.
The first thing I thought when I saw it was – why is my hair so flat? That’s how self-absorbed I am.
I am in a period of incessant introspection or, as some would call it, having my head up my ass. I am thinking about what I am thinking about all of the time. It’s oppressive and stifling. I need to shake it off.
Yesterday, I drove over the Hoan Bridge with the top down on my car and I sang You Are My Sunshine as loud as I could. That helped.
Today, I listened to critiques of an essay I’d written offered by members of the writing workshop I attend. The best one was a look actually, a wee bit of eye rolling, from a senior writer whose work is always very clear and purposeful. The look was in response to a paragraph that I knew was self-absorbed and precious but only after I read it aloud to the group. Oh please, I could hear her thinking. Give me a break. That helped.
Yoga yesterday helped. The teacher began by telling us she had broken her back over the weekend. This was not hyperbole. She had broken two vertebrae. It was a disarming start to the session and snapped me out of my introspection and weariness for a while. But I richoted back as soon as I got in the car.
So I think this photograph is saying something to me – beyond the condition of my hair. It’s saying – you’re but one head among hundreds. Get over yourself. Easier said than done, I say.
A night of worrying about one person and then another, and feeling deep grief for yet another, turning from one side to the other, looking out our big bedroom window at the light in the living room of the house across the street. They never turn it off.
The tags on my dog’s collar jingled in the dark when he got up to rearrange himself on his big blue bed that I mended last night, sewing up gnawed patches with double thread, knotted at the end like my mother taught me. I hadn’t sewn anything for years and I like it, the wholesomeness of it, the mending.
I went for a long walk before breakfast, dressed like a homely woman who didn’t care and felt myself almost shuffling, the branches from the morning’s thicket slowing me down, my healthy striding self yesterday’s news.
My dog didn’t care and for that I was grateful. A young man working with a roofing crew on a house down the block smiled at me and I thought for a minute, what does he see? How do I seem to people outside? I only see the inside where it is tangled and bushy and tiresome.
I worked hard on a grant proposal for a client and though I’ve written hundreds of proposals and am pretty good at it I started to worry that I’d completely missed the mark, that I’d missed some essential detail that would have redefined the entire direction of the proposal – like I was writing it for cats and it was really for dogs. But then I read it through and it was good, detailed, factual, even compelling. So I started to feel better.
Then my granddaughter came after school, wearing a baseball cap over her now deep blue hair. She wore a sweatshirt with big embroidered roses on the hood which was a new look for her since she eschews decorations of any kind although today she told me that she’s always liked roses. I never knew. I made her a grilled cheese sandwich which she ate and then she fell asleep.
I made soup out of yesterday’s leftover roast chicken but I let the soup go too long and too hard while I was upstairs writing and it boiled away to nearly nothing. So I made a white sauce for a chicken noodle casserole that was probably as close to a work of art as I will ever produce. And the day felt redeemed then, not because of the casserole but because of the white sauce which, I always say, if you can make a decent white sauce, you can always make something out of nothing.
Parts of it were funny. And other parts were humiliating.
And even though I’ve told the story before, it deserves another telling, if only to show that maybe humiliation can diminish over time while the humor of a thing can grow.
I went to New York in July of 2015 to get a BlogHer Voice of the Year award for an essay I wrote about hearing loss called Blindsided. The person who told me I’d won, Rochelle Dukes Fritsch, a good friend also from Milwaukee, won for her remarkable essay What’s Behind My Tears for Ferguson which I wish I could link for you but can’t. We were flabbergasted, astonished, but both of us knew we’d written really good essays, pieces with meaning and importance. The awards were well-deserved and we glowed about being recognized in this important way for weeks before the big conference in New York. Still, I dreaded the trip for all the reasons I’d written about in my essay. Hearing loss had weakened me, taken the wind out of my sails. I was worried about navigating it all. But I went anyway.
On the night of the award presentation, we were summoned, along with a couple dozen other award winners, to a champagne reception on an elegant balcony overlooking a vast room where the names of the winners scrolled on a giant screen. Later, we would go down the stairs from the balcony to the big stage in front of a sea of people and have our picture taken. In the back of the balcony, past the champagne servers and the little bunches of people taking selfies and congratulating each other was a table with the BlogHer VOTY awards arranged in alphabetical order.
My name wasn’t there.
Rochelle’s name was there. She picked up the fancy box with her award and held it to her chest. Then she joined in the search for mine. We went through the rows of awards a dozen times. No Jan Wilberg. I checked the emails on my phone to confirm that I’d actually won. I did this while wearing a name tag identifying me as a BlogHer VOTY. Maybe I was some kind of auxiliary VOTY, I thought. A runner-up. Maybe I was supposed to be at the root beer reception. I checked the BlogHer website. Maybe they’d reconsidered. and I hadn’t been paying attention. No, my name was on the list of winners, plain as day. Jan Wilberg for Blindsided.
“Here. I think they just got your last name wrong.” She handed me a box with the name Janice Winkler. “That stuff happens all the time. This has to be you. Here.” And so I took the box and decided it must be mine but wondered hard how Jan Wilberg had become Janice Winkler.
We joked about it. I untied the ribbon, opened the box and showed the lovely glass award to people I knew only because of their blogs. We had instantly become birds of a feather and I wanted comfort and support from my new flock. “Look! They got my name wrong.” Oh, they’ll fix it, they all said. So funny. To come all this way and have your name wrong but so what, that’s life. It’ll make a great blog post. Ha, ha, ha.
Then, Rochelle nudged me hard and gestured over her shoulder. Behind us, Janice Winkler’s name was scrolling on the giant screen. She had won an award for Photography. For a photo of two people skydiving. Which is what I felt like I was doing at that very moment. I crammed her award back in its box and tried to retie the ribbon. It looked awful, like a present a kid had swiped from under the Christmas tree and then put back hoping not to be discovered. I was terrified someone would see me fumbling with Janice Winkler’s award. That I was wearing a hideous striped red and black shirt didn’t help. The thief wore neon.
My goal then was to melt into the crowd, pretend I’d put my award somewhere so I could handle the champagne with both hands. I felt naked though like I’d lost my pass to the Jamboree. So when I spied the leader of BlogHer coming down the stairs, I went up to her and told her that somehow my award hadn’t been on the table.
“Are you sure you’re a winner?”
Here’s where the humiliation part of the story picks up. She waved me away like I’d somehow wandered into the wrong room on my search for the Needlepoint Convention. This old broad with her two hearing aids and her hideous shirt must be lost because she couldn’t be one of us, nope. I was incredulous. Me, an award winner, albeit without the physical evidence, being waved off like a champagne server with an empty tray. It was a scorching, eye-blinking, I wanna call my mom to pick me up from school moment which I will probably never forget. There was more to it, you know there would have to be, more back and forth, more questions and answers. But what I remember most clearly were the accordion folds of my age, my disability, the disregard, the embarrassment, and my horrible shirt, a squeezebox of humiliation.
But I overcame. There was no choice. And there was Rochelle, my kind, funny, compatriot friend. I decided to act like I belonged there, like I was a winner, isn’t that what they say to do? So that’s what I did. I drank champagne and later I stood on the stage with all the other winners, next to Rochelle, and had my picture taken. A few months later, my award came in the mail. No ribbon, but with the right name. It’s right here sitting on my bookshelf, looking like it belongs there.
I saw grass today and it was like being transported to a mythical country.
It’s something for a person raised in the Midwest, who has lived here for 70 years, and just got back from Alaska, to be sniveling with gratitude about twelve blades of grass at the end of the block.
It’s the unique magic of winter. It makes you all happy at the beginning, stoic in the middle, and sniveling and weak at the end.
The winter has definitely contributed to my intermittent bouts of pretend frailty. I’ve made the ice on the driveway a murderer lying in wait so I tiptoe out of the back door to my car like a fairy princess lest I awake the monster. Oh little sweet defenseless me!
After my husband read my post about my cochlear implant battery dying, another episode of weeping defenselessness, he motioned at my closet and said, “You need to put on a power suit and get your act together.” It’s one of the things I like best about him. He is the least emotionally indulgent person I’ve ever met.
He isn’t cold or unfeeling. He just doesn’t indulge a lot of weak talk. Like “I can’t get this project done.” “Nobody likes my essay.” “My life is pointless.” “The ice is too slippery.” He just yawns and goes back to reading the paper. This tactic has kept me going for 35 years. I think he learned it in some deescalation workshop when he was a youth worker a century ago. Ignore lamenting and it will go away.
I’ve come to depend on this reaction of his. There’s no sympathy here, little lady.
Being on the receiving end of sympathy is nice sometimes but it can quickly become a debilitating thing, at least for me. When people feel sorry for me, I get worse. I don’t know what it’s like for other people. I never presume.
What winter has going for it is hunkering down. It is in the hunkering down that we appreciate things like blankets and dogs. And we aren’t compelled all the time to be outside because it’s good for us.
We took a walk today but it started to rain. So we went home to hunker down.
We had wine and churros after dinner. There are two more churros to have in the morning with cups of strong coffee.