I wrote this poem a while back, and I wasn’t necessarily thinking of Labor Day. But this weekend seems like an appropriate time to share.
Let Us Now Celebrate
Let us now celebrate those missed In the recording of history The nameless and unremembered The one who walked in the rain To a factory job that paid for shelter From the rain for their family The one who brought joy to the immediate crowd With jokes and laughter, but did it while Shucking corn, and not near a microphone Those fallen to disease or war before They were old enough to fight The songwriter who composed melodies To sing the children to sleep The one who could have gone far in life If not for so much close at hand To get done first The washers of dishes and clothes Cleaners of floors and furniture Whose work came undone as soon as done Leaving nothing to sign a name to
As a frequent and avid walker who has lived in the same spot for nineteen years, I possess a deep familiarity with the landscape and character of my neighborhood. There are constant changes, of course, as seasons and residents move on to be replaced by others. But some alterations are more jarring than others. A couple of differences in the past few weeks have given me a through the looking glass feeling.
I’m fortunate to be within walking distance of my job, so my most frequent route takes me from my house to work and back. Those handful of blocks contain the sights I see on a near-daily basis. One house I pass was bought a few years ago by a couple with two very young children and an obvious appreciation for outdoors play. It always gives me a smile to see what they’re up to and maybe exchange a few words. This past winter was pretty brutal and lasted longer than usual, so I didn’t see the residents out at all for several months. Then one day in May as I headed up the block toward their place, I heard kids laughing and saw the parents out with them, drawing on their driveway with chalk. I approached with swelling heart, ready to wave and say a cheery hello. But wait!
When I arrived at the yard something was off. It was inhabited by the wrong family. All different people. Same general ages and complexions, but four completely different people. When did that happen? I go by the house nearly every single day, remember? I’d never seen a for sale sign, no moving trucks, no hint of disruption in the fabric of my reality. Had I gone through a portal to a parallel universe? I was shook.
Second shocking change: the house of my daydreams is gone. Poof! This one is (or was) not on my work-and-back path. It’s several blocks from my home, but still on a street where I walk frequently, in part because I enjoy looking at the stone cottage that appeared to be out of a fairy tale, the kind of place they put on jigsaw puzzles. I loved to imagine living in it some day, maybe in retirement, spending my days tending flowers in its yard. My step gained an extra spring when I turned the corner leading to my intended future enchanting stone home.
It’s amazing how quickly an entire house can be gone with hardly a trace. Breathtaking really. I ambled along anticipating my moment of housing zen, only to be caught up short by orange fencing and a demolition order. Sob. What does my dream future hold now?
Dare I venture out today? I suppose I will. I’m bracing myself. Perhaps I’ll find the portal that will bring me back to my dependable, known universe. I can hope.
Considering what’s going on in other parts of the U.S., I know we’re lucky. We’ve only had arctic cold and a few inches of snow. One water pipe made a half-hearted attempt at freezing the other night when the temperature dropped well below zero, but my husband thawed it pretty quickly. Still, other than going to work, I’ve been hunkering inside a lot, as high temps were in the single digits for several days running, with predominantly gray skies and not much to lure me out.
Today the sun came out and we reached 30 degrees in the afternoon. I was able to walk a mile and a half without ever once feeling a body part might drop off. It was comfortable, in fact, other than some small spots of treacherous footing.
I don’t know if sunshine is more important to my emotional well-being than it used to be or if I’m simply more aware of how it affects me. But I experience a marked difference in how much life seems worth the effort to me depending on the amount of sunlight I experience. Same with my walks outdoors. Maybe they’re a bigger part of maintaining my mental health than they were in days past, or maybe I’ve gotten better at noticing. Whatever it is, I know I feel much better for having gotten outside and walked in the fresh air today. I remember that doing so needs to be a top priority.
“Walking is man’s best medicine.” – Hippocrates. “Walking is also great medicine for people who are not men.” – Me.
I’ve spent the vast majority of my adult life not watching TV commercials. I didn’t own a television for a long time, and when I finally did get one, I never had cable. My viewing has been provided, for the most part, by DVDs and streaming services.*
I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve had some version of the following conversation: Acquaintance: You know that TV commercial where… Me: Blank stare Acquaintance: You know. The one with the guy who… Me: Slow head shake. No. No, I never saw it.
Some cultural phenomena pass me by altogether. It’s only in the last few days I’ve become aware of someone known as My Pillow Guy. I saw a news report saying My Pillow Guy visited the president at the White House to urge him to invoke martial law. Wait, what? Does anyone else know how odd that sounded, even without the martial law part, to someone who’d never heard of this particular peddler of headrests? Why did a pillow salesman have the ear of the president, and an interest in dictatorship? Was he hoping to force the populace to buy his cushions?
I quizzed my friends about him. Did everyone already know who he was? Has he been around a long time, or was he a manifestation of 2020, like the murder hornets? Did he come here from an alternate universe, maybe the same one that sent us evil J.K. Rowling? Are there other genres of him that I should be aware of? My Spatula Guy? My Throw Rug Guy?
By and large, my friends were aware of him, with one exception. None of them were surprised he was someone who would pal around with a person like the soon-to-leave head of state. I was told he’d been around for years, producing terrible infomercials, though his universe of origin has not been verified to me. There was no My Spatula Guy as far as any of them had heard — yet.
So now I know. I guess when you live in a really, really capitalist society, you have to watch the commercials to keep up with current events.
*This isn’t a judgment on anyone else’s viewing habits, only providing context to explain my ignorance on this topic.
My friend Liza posted on her Patreon page* about what Germans call “between the years,” that weird spell of time after Christmas but before the new year. Go read it. It’s entertaining and she dug up some interesting cultural information. Also, it reminded me that I wrote a poem on the very topic a couple of years back, not knowing there were entire national traditions surrounding this annual week of being at loose ends.
That Lull Before the Renaissance
That lull between Christmas and New Years Day Is when pajamas serve as uniform The chocolates are polished off The one jigsaw puzzle of the year is assembled Noble intentions gestate
We sleep in mornings Before the date arrives after which Every day We’ll stir ourselves early To accomplish worthy deeds
We watch a few movies Before the date arrives after which Every day We’ll spend free time Working out and reading classics
We make grocery lists Full of carrots and broccoli While crunching chips
We indulge and relax while we can Before next week When the work of the Renaissance begins
*Her Patreon also includes content behind a paywall that is well worth the low subscription price of pay what you can, if you’re looking for an independent author to support.
I don’t listen to a huge amount of country music, but there are a few songs that speak to me. Oh, Merle, December is hard, isn’t it? Current mood.
December is the month of paradoxes for me and many others. I do love all of the holiday celebrations, but I struggle with the lack of light. This year, in particular, we all have an extra share of struggles, and the month is feeling to me like something to be endured while waiting for anything better. I have written a few poems about Seasonal Affective Disorder and I’ll share one here. Maybe I shouldn’t be so bold as to share my own efforts following the inestimable Merle Haggard, but what the hell? As long as I’m embracing the despair anyway?
Day pulls the covers in December, appeals to me to join it in hiding. Like the sun I will not bother getting up much early. What for? A few hours working at half power seems enough; call it a day.
There’s nothing in this month I want to see clearly. Why point up the lack of color, dormant plants waiting for better times? Nothing blooms, no birds sing greetings to morning. Smarter than me, they have flown to lands where December exists as a quaint custom, where they have December like Sweden has a king. A crown there may be or ornaments displayed to prove the monarch or the month, where forgetting is possible. I need no reminders.
The season proves itself. I will try ignoring it, hoping it’s gone next time I look. I will open my eyes only half-way. I will pull the dark covers over me. Like the sun I will experience the smallest amount of December I can manage.
I know I’ll get through it, and maybe even have a few moments of fun and joy. I always have before. And yes, I’m taking my vitamin D and getting exercise. But sometimes, a big component of getting through a rough time is acknowledging it’s a rough time.
All shall be pandemic, and all shall be pandemic and all manner of things shall be pandemic.
A friend recently asked on Facebook, “What did we even think about before COVID-19?” What indeed? I’m trying to remember. Baseball, I guess.
I’m doing an okay job most days keeping my equilibrium, but it’s impossible not to ruminate on coronavirus when it’s influencing every facet of life. All shall be pandemic, and all shall be pandemic and all manner of things shall be pandemic. That’s how it feels at times. Anything and everything I encounter is now viewed in the context of one particular disease, even when I get a long walk on a very nice morning.
But it’s not all complete despair. This is part of a mural along the MKT Trail.
“All shall be well, and all shall be well and all manner of thing shall be well.” — Julian of Norwich.
I was torn between the desire to smash things and the desire to go to bed forever. But dinner needed made.
Last Wednesday was a crappy day on many fronts. Work stress, bills to pay, minor but annoying health issues, feeling overwhelmed about my to-do list growing faster than my ability to do, a deep despair over the dawning realization that I’m probably never going to see a woman president in my lifetime. I was torn between the desire to smash things and the desire to go to bed forever. But dinner needed made.
I stood dithering in my kitchen for a long time, trying to settle on what I could muster the energy to cook. My top go-to comfort food is a grilled cheese sandwich. So I decided to go easy on myself. There are only three of us in the household now, and three grilled cheeses are quickly made with little effort. I would put apple slices and strawberries on the side. Good enough.
Wouldn’t you know, I let myself get distracted when the first sandwich was in the skillet. It burned while I was washing and slicing fruit. When I took it out and saw the charred surface, my automatic first thought was, “I guess that one’s mine.”
It’s been my default setting for years. The other members of the family get the good ones of whatever thing is being distributed. I get the pancake that was put in before the griddle was hot enough and isn’t quite right, the egg with the broken yolk, you get the idea. This isn’t done with resentment, but as a programmed response, like a factory setting for moms and wives. The thing is, nobody in family would ever ask me to do this. It’s all on me, usually done with little thought.
But not this time. I had the thought. I even took one bite of the sandwich. Then I took myself in hand and lectured me, “You deserve a decent sandwich. You were making this as comfort food because you’re sad and angry about misogyny, for pity’s sake! And here you’re willing to cheat yourself because you’ve internalized messages saying you’re always the one who has to sacrifice.”
There have been times in my life when I couldn’t afford to throw out a sandwich, no matter how scorched. But at present, we have achieved a financial level where I can use two extra pieces of bread and a couple more slices of cheese without facing penury and ruin.
It might look like a tiny thing, but fighting my own thoughts about how little I’m allowed to need or want is a big step for me. I threw out the burned sandwich and made a different one for myself, perfectly toasted. It was delicious. And liberating.
National Novel Writing Month — cheaper than therapy and you get stories out of it.
For real, though. It’s been a therapeutic month for me. In other years, when I’ve seriously pursued my NaNoWriMo 50,000 words, I’ve had one large project to focus on, an actual novel. I filled in my word count with a few smaller pieces of original writing, but had a path already started and more or less went down it.
This time, my goal was to finish the first draft of a novel that was already nearly complete and then write a bunch of short stories and essays. I’m never at a loss for ideas. I always have too many works in progress at any given time, to be honest. I knew a couple of the story ideas I wanted to work out, but hadn’t decided on all of them when I began the month.
Now I’ve completed six new short stories and three essays, two of which are memoir. If you ever want to have your brain talk to you about what your issues are, push yourself to write a bunch of new stuff in a short period of time.
Even though my short fiction pieces all had different settings, themes and characters, looking at them now, I can’t help notice a couple of things I keep inserting in my stories over and over. I love for my characters to rescue vulnerable animals. And food insecurity pops up repeatedly. I know some reasons why this might be.
Then the memoirs. Oh my goodness. I most likely will not share them with anyone ever. At least not without severe redactions. The piece I wrote this week presented me with a major psychological breakthrough. I began writing about one incident from high school, planning to include everything I could remember about it and use it in the future to mine for bits and pieces I could include in other projects. Not too far in, I realized there was a kind of sidebar that needed to be explained for context. Well, the sidebar explanation took over and became the core of the memoir.
In fact, the more I wrote, the more I saw how this thing I was explaining had influenced me. (Sorry to be cryptic. I only want to share the effect and not the details at this time.) I kept believing I was nearly at the end of what I had to say about it, and my brain would nudge me. Dig a little deeper. There’s more. I kept putting words on the page until I had a walloping epiphany about the root of many of my triggers and anxieties. There’s a situation from my formative years that has so obviously informed my life and actions and reactions for decades. But I never consciously realized the extent of it until I wrote it out.
Here’s what I will be open about. My anxiety has been spiraling lately. And now I see how my feelings about current life events are largely reactions to similar past life events. That alone has relieved a lot of the angst and was worth the price of admission.
Writing doesn’t have to be for someone else. Even if you don’t ever want to share a single word you put down, take some time to write for yourself. It’s damned good therapy.
Yesterday I was sitting in a waiting room while my son had some medical scans done. I always have a book handy for such occasions, but it was a little hard to enjoy it while the wall-mounted television blared at loud volume with some police drama involving the search for a child rapist/murderer.
Several other people were in the waiting room as well, including a couple of families with young children. I saw one pregnant mom and her partner trying to keep their kids distracted, as they moved to the far side of the room from the TV. Unfortunately, the show was audible from all corners. I could tell the program was disturbing them at least as much as it was me. I remember those pregnancy hormones and the instant overwhelming grief I would feel upon hearing of any harm to a child. Then, too, who wants their kids to hear discussions of children being horrifically murdered?
After the fourth mention or so from the TV characters about raped and murdered children, I went to the reception desk and asked if there was a way to change the channel. I think the woman working there had been focused on her work and managed to tune out the show. She looked up at the screen after I asked and seemed to realize then what was playing. She handed me a remote, saying, “Of course. Put it on whatever station you want.”
As I turned around with the remote in my hand, the pregnant mom looked me in the eye and offered the most sincere “thank you” I’ve ever heard. I’ve never had cable television, so I don’t even know about channels. “Is there a channel your family likes?” I asked her.
She shook her head. “It doesn’t matter. Anything but that.”
I flipped through a few, trying to find something non-controversial and non-traumatic. I settled on college baseball. After I returned the remote and sat back down, an older man near me thanked me as well.
Here’s the thing. I’m shy. I carry a lot of social anxiety around with me. But of everyone who wanted the channel changed, I was the only one who felt empowered to do something about it. I guess?
If you like police procedurals and want to watch whatever that show was at home, I’m not judging. I, too, sometimes enjoy shows where I feel like an evil doer is brought to justice. But it was so obviously inappropriate for the situation and so obviously distressing a number of people.
Let me give a little pep talk here. It’s not overstepping to say that something is distressing and politely request a remedy. You don’t have to sit there thinking it’s terrible but you just have to live with it. Folks, you have the right to request a channel change.