Blanketed

Sometimes the blankets are warm from having been slept on just minutes before. This happens when someone gets up, gathers up his blankets in a bundle, and makes a beeline to the storage room. They seem to be saying, here’s my bed. I’m done with it. Take it. It feels strange receiving still-warm blankets, an action too intimate to occur between strangers but that is what we do.

Other times, the blankets are folded and stacked, cool as if displayed on a counter in a department store. Always the largest blanket is on the bottom and the smaller ones are centered atop, the corners aligned. Nothing haphazard for the people who fold their own blankets. Maybe it’s a message they want to send; we are more careful and thoughtful than we seem here.

Both the gatherers and the folders have spent the night sleeping on the floor of a cavernous gym in an old church, a place formally called a warming room. It is where homeless people can come to keep from freezing outside. The room is only open if the temperature falls below 10 degrees; this has already happened 23 times this winter. It’s been harsh.

There is only a thick blanket between each person’s tired back and the floor where sometimes children in Sunday School might play basketball. There are basketballs appearing now and then so that could be true though I’ve never seen it. I wish the people staying in the warming room could shed all their heavy clothes, their thick rubber-soled boots and layers of hoodies and put on t-shirts and basketball shorts and play pick-up games all night long. They can’t do that though. They need to spend the time they have inside sleeping. I wonder if they even remember having fun.

Along with my storeroom partner, I take the blankets from people’s arms and stack them along one wall of the storeroom. There is a science to this because blankets stacked too casually quickly become a pile and we don’t want that. We want order and symmetry; we want something to be tidy beyond 72 homeless people sleeping on the floor, their blankets all laid, by them, east to west.

Our town has about 1,500 people who are homeless on any given night. The authorities say that about 130 of them are unsheltered, people living on the street or in parks. Yet every morning that I go to the warming room to clean up, I see new people. I see new old people, new young people, new disabled people. Oh, some are the same, but many are new and I wonder where all these new people are coming from. They are all coming from someplace worse than a warming room, that’s for sure.

I don’t tend to them. I tend to the blankets. Other volunteers tend to other things like breakfast or mopping the floor. No one tells anyone else what to do and no one has a solution to why some people end up sleeping on a gym floor. No one is healing or praying except to themselves and that makes the room quieter than one would expect. People, all of us, are simply tending to ourselves the best way we can at the moment. A man carefully folds his blankets; I carefully stack them. And when all is done we lock the door and leave and wait for the temperature to drop again.

___________________

The Daily Post

 

Cold Kiss

I pretended to kiss Elvis in my basement. I’d put Love Me Tender on the record player and wrap my arms around the gray concrete pole in the middle of our rec room. I can still feel the pole’s cool smooth feel on my lips. It never went any further than that one long kiss; the song only lasted a few minutes, 2 minutes and 41 seconds to be exact, I just looked it up. I worried my mother would come down the stairs carrying a laundry basket and, there I’d be, carrying on. I could imagine her baffled look. Are you really kissing that pole?

I loved Elvis. I wavered a little when he got married; that seemed to make so much of life hopeless, but loved him still, even when he got fat and spangled, sweaty and thick, a man who became his own impersonator. It was gauche to love the derelict, bloated Elvis so it stayed a secret. I moved my public lust to other targets but Elvis still would have done alright, had he shown up at my door.

Yesterday, at the discount lighting store, I happened on an Elvis mannequin wearing a  gladiator’s hat and sunglasses. A wooden sign rested on his arms: Elvis Presley 1935-1977. Yes, I do remember where I was. I was on a weekend road trip with a lover who thought Elvis was a joke because he ate peanut butter and banana sandwiches and popped pills like candy. Don’t they all? It didn’t help that Elvis died on the toilet. Well, he didn’t actually. He fell off.

I thought my lover’s attitude toward Elvis revealed his feelings of insecurity and that at once felt appropriate and small. He didn’t think he could, as a real, breathing person, hold a candle to a dead, jewel-encrusted very messed up man. And he was right in a weird way even though we didn’t discuss it; I wouldn’t deign to open up my feelings about Elvis in a casual conversation in a Volkswagen bus. A quiet room with velvet chairs and an open casket, maybe, depending on who was there.

People like me who felt the rumble of Elvis’ voice so strong that they kissed cement poles in their basements, well, we’re a dying breed. Soon, everyone will think this guy sitting next to a jukebox in a discount lighting store is just a joke from a long time ago. There’s no other way it can be.

You had to be there.

___________________

Homage

 

Anything Can Happen

Anything can happen.

There is the news and then there is the coping. And the coping can make you wear wool socks and heavy boots in the middle of summer. Or strip you to your underwear and send you skating across paper thin ice. Coping is unpredictable and you can’t pack for it.

If you believe that anything can happen and if history has proven you right, it changes how you look at the world. You learn that lives can change in a split second because of a good decision or a bad one. You learn that you can’t trust anything. The ladder could, in fact, fall on you this very minute.

I’m coming out of an anything can happen experience. And because the anything that happened wasn’t the worst that could happen, I express my gratitude to the world. But in my head, I am jumpy. I fight against it but my mood is one of waiting for the next bad thing. The next crash, the next diagnosis, the ceiling falling in because of a leaky tub, my dog having a convulsion and dying at my feet, someone accidentally shooting me while I drive through town, the boat sinking, the wave overpowering me, a fire burning everything down, leaving nothing but ash and rusty nails. I wait for blood and stitches and pain and handicap.

And I feel sick about this because I am an optimistic person. I look on the bright side. I walk, as they say, on the sunny side. I walk on the sunny side of life.

Today on Facebook, several people posted about a friend who had died. She was a fairly young woman, beautiful, accomplished and just Monday she had been on vacation. She posted pictures of a precious lake sunset and talked about how sad she was to leave that special place. And now, just a few days after her vacation post, she is dead. What happened? I don’t know. I just know this. Anything can happen.

So I have been thinking. Is it just me who has come to this realization that anything can happen? Or does everyone know this? Do people think that anything can happen but only to some people? There are folks who are just plain unlucky. I know that. An observer might think I was one of them since I’ve had more than a few anything can happen experiences. This most recent one, involving my son and a car crash, is not my first rodeo.

I am calm. Oddly so. I go about my day. I do what I can. I look to the future but I don’t bank on it. I’d be a fool to, knowing what I know.

________________

The Daily Post: Disastrous

Photo by Dawn Armfield on Unsplash

Bloom

 

In 2010, my first year of blogging on Red’s Wrap, I got two likes. The next year, 2011, saw a big increase to three likes. So this fabulously successful blog got five likes over the space of two years. That may have been five different people ‘liking’ or just one dear person pressing the like button five times, I don’t know. I want to think it was a small but very intelligent and discerning crowd but it doesn’t matter.

What matters is attention. I go back now into my archives of nearly a thousand blog posts and there are many with no likes. How did that feel? I don’t remember. I just continued. Certain people always read what I wrote. My husband, a couple of friends, a few business colleagues who would slyly sidle up to me to whisper a quote of something I’d posted the day before. There were readers, I guess, just not very many and not very expressive.

Schooling people how to formally register their ‘likes’ seemed phony, like buying my own birthday present and signing my husband’s name to the card. Did I really need that kind of attention?

Yes.

Likes jumped from 137 in 2012 to 830 in 2013 and then took an enormous leap to 3,256 in 2014 primarily because WordPress featured an essay called You’re Asking the Wrong Question on Freshly Pressed. This year’s total, with a few days to go, is 5,199, a long way from the two lonely likes of my first year of blogging. 2016, like 2014, was a year when WordPress exposure, this time of an essay called Book Mark, brought a ton of new readers and several hundred likes.

All the while, I was trying to bring new readers to my blog by cross-posting in other places. I loved cross-posting on Open Salon which was a curated forum hosted by Salon.com. Open Salon featured an essay of mine which was later picked up and widely circulated by Salon.com. The essay, called The Wire, was the first time I’d written about an illegal abortion I’d had while in college before Roe V. Wade made abortion legal in the U.S. After the essay came a visit back to that same college at the invitation of the local chapter of Planned Parenthood. I stood on a stage and told my story. It was extraordinary.

But the charm of cross-posting has faded. The last post I wrote that was featured by BlogHer/SheKnows appeared next to a post about five ways to improve anal sex. It irked me. Not from a prudish point of view but from an aesthetic one. I want my stuff to be found among the diamond rings, not the K-Y Jelly. Is that wrong? Putting on airs? I don’t know. And then there’s the thing about once a post is published on some sites, it becomes theirs to use, re-posting as they wish with no prior notice or permission. If you want their attention, you see, you have to pay for it as long as they want.

The one exception to cross-posting right now is participation in the Yeah Write weekly challenges. Whenever I can, I post a nonfiction piece, a poem, or a story to the Yeah Write grids. Each week there is a dose of writing guidance along with explanations of what makes writing really stand out. I’d recommend Yeah Write to any blogger who wants to take their writing from keeping on online diary to publishing pieces of significance. A lot of good writers have emerged from Yeah Write. Good company to keep.

So what’s with my preoccupation with likes? If nobody buys the book, it doesn’t matter how good the book is. By that I mean this: it doesn’t matter how fabulous I think I am if no one else thinks my writing is meaningful. The likes are a metric* of the extent to which what I write hits home with people. If I’m not striking the right chords, I’m failing. In other words, if I’d kept getting two or three likes a year, I’d have quit. No one would be buying what I was selling so why keep pushing my cart up and down the street?

I haven’t changed what I write to get more likes but I have focused on what could make my writing better. I’ve tried to tackle tough issues like disability, race, and mental illness. I’ve taken chances on topics and tried to push forward what I could trust myself to say well. And I’ve decided to own my work. I don’t want to be part of the cheap churn of articles on mega-sites. I don’t want to be part of the ‘list generation’ of writers in order to post 10 things I love about winter and 5 strategies for a stress-free divorce. And I don’t want my post to be next to the K-Y Jelly ad.

Red’s Wrap is my little jewel, my little flower. I’ve been watering it pretty steadily for six years so it could take root and be something beautiful. And bloom. I wanted it to bloom and to keep blooming. And I think it is.

________

*Wordpress generates real-time metrics for WP sites, like Red’s Wrap, which include #views, #unduplicated viewers, #followers, #likes, referral sources, and viewers’ countries. Data are aggregated daily, weekly, monthly, and annually.

Written in response to The Daily Post prompt to reflect on the past year of blogging: Retrospective

When Peaches Aren’t Ripe: 5 Ways Youth Disappointed Me

We give youth everything. We give them looks. We give them brains. We give them energy. We give them political power.

And then we sit aside and envy. Oh. If we were young, we’d be beautiful and so brilliant, incandescent in our energy and defining in our politics. If we were young, we would change the world.

No, we wouldn’t. The only reason we yearn for youth is that we’ve forgotten how profoundly disappointing it often was. This is what I remember from my twenties and I’m betting my recollections aren’t too different than many people who haven’t been young for a very long time.

For me, youth was a time when the peaches weren’t ripe but I thought they were. So I’d take a bite and have that awful peach disappointment. When a peach is ripe and perfect, it’s sublime. Otherwise, it’s a terrible trick.

Looking back, these were the disappointments of youth that I haven’t forgotten:

Unrelenting relationship angst – dating, not dating, being a couple, breaking up, getting back together, marriage, divorce, love on the rebound, infidelity, leaving, being left, ending the decade not having to share a 6-pack of beer.

Assumptions about my competence that were true – not knowing how to do much, making mistakes because I was too proud to ask, having an impossibly narrow view of the world, having to be told things that would be obvious just a few years later,  no one looking to me for answers.

Being broke 90% of the time – being a single parent and making $5 an hour with no benefits, having health insurance I bought by sending in a postcard, my dentist offering to let me pay off my bill $10 a month.

Mothering without having read the book (or knowing there was a book) – envying June Cleaver but channeling Joan Crawford, treating my daughter like a child or my best friend, depending on the day, believing all the other mothers knew what they were doing.

Premature, stifling regret – feeling bad most of the time about decisions I’d made, thinking my mistakes were printed on my face and arms like florid tattoos, believing I would never get my life straight or make things right.

My twenties were tough. They were hard, messy years that I don’t miss or yearn for in any way. But my thirties, forties, fifties and sixties shared one characteristic – at any given time, any given year, I would have been happy to have been that age forever. I figured out how to live life and love it. It was a joy not being young.

Once I wasn’t young anymore, the peaches were all nice and ripe.

____________

How will I stay young at heart? You’re Asking the Wrong Question

Written in response to The Daily Post prompt: Youth