I prepared to read a story adapted from a blog post a few months ago. It was for a very small storytelling symposium called Newton Speaks-voices of our city. It was moderately attended, there in the middle of the day on a Tuesday but nevertheless, I prepared. Everyday for a week, I read the story out loud—such is the practice of an old stutterer preparing to speak in public. I did the same when I’ve spoken in church over the past two years. Those readings were mostly done via zoom, although I did read two poems on Christmas Eve in the church building. Those readings of my own work and the work of some poets went well. I felt I could be expressive and I was not overly concerned about my speech which was not perfect, but not bad. This time, I was interested to see what I could do, how I might feel about the reading, how I judge my expression to be and my speech. Everyone was still in masks. Recently, going without masks into a few places has got me thinking about more of the implications of mask wearing. Apart from health concerns, masks hide, masks protect, masks make it hard at times to communicate which sometimes reduces the number of words spoken, ideas exchanged. Masks hide reactions and expression. And walking around the world masked can feel very safe and comfortable. I hadn’t understood that before this pandemic.
The pace of life is picking up and has been for a while although I admit to becoming aware of it long after other people who are more of the busy world. I know many people who have already gone to far away places, stayed for a month and come back with healthy looking skin and bright eyes.
This coming Sunday, I am scheduled to teach pysanky writing at my church and a friend wanting to sign up noted that there are two others events going on—a zoom Moth Story hour and an in-person music rehearsal. Wasn’t it just last week when every gathering happened in front of a computer monitor? How glorious that there are now conflicts. How glorious that travel time is now part of many plans!
But I live a small life.
On Sunday, on our way into church—we arrive an hour before services begin to go to choir practice—Julia and I noticed perfect small yellow narcissus blooming in corners around the back of the building. Without a spring garden of my own, I notice and cherish those brave little yellow blooms. I know that even though the day may be warm and sunny, there are cold days ahead. Silently, I wish the brave blooms are sheltered enough to survive another freeze.
And I wondered, had I seen blooms in this place before? I might have just before we were locked down two years ago, but what I remember from that time is only the spring flowers we saw on our Covid daily walks. I think it is probable that these little narcissus bloomed in 2020 after no one was walking into the church building and last year it was the same. I think to thank them for their perseverance and persistence, their willingness to be so beautiful even when no one was looking.
A few friends, knowing of my Ukrainian heritage, have asked me about the war. One asked if I was writing about it and I stuttered my way to some answer. What can I say to possibly add to the conversation? I know what I read in the Times and hear on NPR. I hardly belong to that part of the world.
I watch. My heart breaks. I am angry. I want the world to respond. I understand why it doesn’t. I have no answers. The fact that I have the privilege of sitting, of watching, of thinking, of even writing that I have no answers breaks my heart again.
My job, to ready Julia for adulthood, is ever present. She hears the news I listen to. Sometimes she comments. She wants to know about the war. She is a black and white thinker. She does not understand inference.
So, when she asks if the war is wrong and bad, I quickly say yes. When she asks if Putin is bad, and when she asks this she remembers that Trump liked Putin, I say yes again. She is able to put together that they are both bad people and she would never vote for them. Then she asks what will happen.
Snail slow and in ever decreasing increments, I come back to and move onto some completed changed old self. Never walking into the same river twice, but stepping on the same stones, recognizing the direction of water flow. The books strewn around the house—some closed with bookmarks, some open, face down on the coffee table, on the desks, on the edge of the bed far from where I sleep—they were not there six month ago. I walked around the house this morning looking for the book that I’ve decided to start my mornings with. I almost cannot write, cannot think a single thought before I read the reading for today.
I am my own delicious throwback to days before Covid and quarantine and autism and moving and death and heart transplant and a wild child. Who was that me way back then? I have almost, but not completely, forgotten her.
Winter break has been over for three day. I mean, this is the third day, and I have this overwhelming feeling of wanting to be alone and quiet. This morning after Julia boarded the school van, I took a deep breath and bathed in the house silence. I did not want to say a single word to anyone, and the usual morning pleasantries to the van driver (who is a very sweet man, by the way) were an incredible effort. Peculiar thing is that Julia has had three very easy mornings following a relatively calm and easy winter break.
The only challenge of the break, and indeed of the coming month (or so), is that she could not do her regular activities. There was no rowing last week and her zoom theater workshop was on break. The rowing class has now been cancelled for at least a week with the possibility of an extension. Oh, how that email read like the first school closings in 2020! The theater workshop which was rumored to go back to live meetings will stay on zoom, starting in February. Both these activities are important to our week, to her sanity. I hate to lose them for any time at all. She will still have meetings with her therapist and her art mentor. And for these, I am so grateful
“[W]henever well-laid plans are unlaid in an instant . . .”
Melissa Kirsch wrote in the NYTimes two days ago in How We’re Holding It Together: “These lines keep coming back to me — when a long-anticipated trip is shelved indefinitely, when my family decides to postpone gathering for the holidays — whenever well-laid plans are unlaid in an instant”
By the time I read her lines, our holiday plans had already been upended. Julia and I went up to Conway, New Hampshire, as planned, to spend time in the enchanting land of snow with the good company of Justin’s family; however, absent from the gathering were Cheshire and Justin due to positive Covid tests.
Justin who has worked from home for years (and not just since the 2020 shut down), travelled for work for the first time in two years two weeks ago and came home with a bad cold. A take home Covid test the day before we were all to leave for NH was positive and Cheshire followed two days later but only after a P.C.R. test, her rapid test was negative.
I keep my journaling in files month-by-month. It is not as satisfying as the various soft covered writing books that I wrote in and then lined up on book shelves but far more practical and convenient. I still carry a small paper journal but it is for quick jottings that, if I am still interested in hours later, I transcribe to this screen. Where I was once meticulous to finish each journal before moving on to a new one, I am likewise meticulous about keep each month’s scribblings in its own computer file. And so, it is odd for me to still be writing in the August 2021 file on September 3. I know the intent yesterday was consolidate what I had written during our days in Maine and to publish something with the Maine photos, but I could not concentrate on a vacation summary. Descriptions of charming towns and water and sky slipping away into explanations, systems of ideas explaining our present reality. Trying to make sense of my own present “where.”
A 3-day heat wave was predicted. It might last longer. It will not break sooner. We missed the first heat wave here and lived it in Maryland where our nights were air conditioned. Then, there were a few hot days about a month ago and our air conditioners were still in the basement. I could not bring them up alone and I have not yet found a handy person like my Ed of Madison who knew my house better than I did. Of course, this is not my house, except for the term of my lease, and my handy person tasks are few.
Cheshire and Justin brought one unit from by basement at the end of last week, just in time for yesterday. And I did what I have done since I moved to Wisconsin and met the cold: I closed up the house, windows closed, blinds and shades down, doors to rooms not used closed tight. And left the air conditioner on through out the night. This is so odd for me, I sleep with open windows, but the house is cool, even the bedrooms are tolerable.
Good, hardworking little machine. Thank you. And thank you for the grace of children who will do those tasks I am unable to.
Pause. Perceive time. Defined by ticking timers with bells at the end, clocks and calendars is one time. Linear, predictable and plodding. But time. My time. Our time. Is different. It rushes ahead, it slows to as thick slime over cobbles, it slides sideways, quickly, irreverently, without regard for wishes, dreams or clocks. Over the long covid spring, summer, fall, winter and early spring, time lurched and sputtered. Time lost themselves is a foggy reality of days that lost their names. There was too much, not enough of it. It was not manageable no matter the breath and depth of my schedules and calendars. There was no corralling it for me. I did not write my Lear. I did not read Proust. I read and digested a few poems. Very few, very short. I was anxious and scared. I pulled myself up by my bootstraps and grabbed onto a lot of outstretched hands. I wrote some. I dug two gardens. I pushed Julia’s interests and her future doings along bit by bit. Like Sisyphus. Didn’t he write emails and phone calls to agencies and people? A modern Zeus would have surely assigned him to tackle DDS, SS and DIB. Chasing genius ideas to the dead ends of realization—there should be a word for the feeling of frustration and failure when lots of energy has gone into a promising lead that is chased to an unsatisfying end.
The quality of time was a small ball of clay that could be removed from the greater river of time in which we all swim. We gathered via zoom with others but there was a sense of privacy—not cherished and beloved privacy but something like a hidden shame, even though there was no shame—we were visible in our small, regular zoom boxes with backgrounds of books that grew to be familiar and to a much lesser degree to the peopled world from noses up.
On Sunday, March 14th, I delivered my This I believe to the congregation of FUUSN (First Unitarian Universalist Society in Newton). Had it been ordinary times, I would have done it standing the the pulpit looking over the congregation. I don’t know whether that would have have been more or less intimidating. As it was, I was safe in my little zoom box sitting in my study seemingly talking to myself. If you’ve read anything on this blog before, you will recognize ideas and passages. I am grateful that Erin asked me to do this and grateful that I was daring enough to say, ‘yes.’
I hesitated when Erin [Erin Splaine is FUUSN’s minister] asked me to speak today. After all, I still count my FUUSN membership in months, and I’ve gotten to know so many of you, not in person, but in these little zoom boxes. That could make me just a bit shy about sharing my heart today. And then, I write all the time about what I do and think, but I don’t think I have many conclusions. “This I believe” sounds, at least to me, like the speaker has come to a few conclusions. Of course, we ask our COA teens to take up this task and they always do it brilliantly. But it seems to me that the older I get the fewer conclusions I have.
There is a line from my husband, David’s last play, the play that was performed a few months after his death. The line goes like this:
Just suppose you are now doing and have been doing for quite awhile exactly what it is you are supposed to be doing.