On Today’s Walk: All 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.

I mean… Normally, I would pick up trash, but hard pass this time.

I don’t play the lottery, but it’s when times are most uncertain that I’m tempted to. Someone didn’t win.

There’s something more dangerous than climbing.

I feel bad for families with young children who don’t have yards.

But it’s not all complete despair. This is part of a mural along the MKT Trail.

I will try to remember this.

“All shall be well, and all shall be well and all manner of thing shall be well.” — Julian of Norwich.

On Not Eating the Burned Grilled Cheese

I did not martyr myself to this sandwich

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.

NaNoWriMo as Therapy

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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.

You Have the Right to Request a Channel Change

Trigger warnings: violent crime.

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.

black crt tv

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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.

Shakespeare’s Henry IV, a Tale for Modern Times

photo of black ceramic male profile statue under grey sky during daytime

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A few weeks ago the universe gifted me something I’ve wanted for a long time — the Complete Works of William Shakespeare, in two volumes. I’m pretty sure I’ve read all of his freestanding poems over the years. But I must admit to familiarity with only a small handful of his plays. I decided to make a project of reading and then watching all of the plays, which I can do thanks to my public library’s DVD collection.

So, let’s talk about Henry IV, parts 1 and 2, and how the more things change, the more they stay the same. Though the story follows conflicts between royalty rather than elected officials, many elements seemed all too familiar to me, with parallels to current events. I suppose this is why Shakespeare’s works endure. He captures the universals of the human experience.

King Henry IV, in his efforts to have things 100% his way, ends up stoking rebellion instead. He is free with insults for those who incur his displeasure. Transactional behaviors and relationships abound — characters all trying to use each other. See what I mean? Sound familiar? Throughout the two plays, alliances shift among several factions, and nobody knows whom to trust. Covert help is sought from foreign sources. Each side has its mix of hot-heads (one even nicknamed Hotspur), schemers, sincere believers, and rascals.

This even holds true within the King’s own immediate family. Prince Hal spends his time getting into trouble with a group of wastrels, deliberately keeping expectations for himself low so he can easily exceed them. Meanwhile his younger brother, John (a character who might strike a chord if you’ve ever known an adult child of an alcoholic) just wants to make all of his kin happy through his hard work and rule following.

The Earl of Worcester foreshadows Fox News as a source of disinformation to gin up the case for war for his own purposes. The spirit of Falstaff lives on today in profiteers who seek their own fortunes and comfort above duties to others. Treachery and double dealing are rampant throughout the course of the two plays.

At the very end of part 2, Prince Hal ascends the throne as King Henry V. And suddenly his scandalous former associates are disavowed as no more than coffee boys he only met a time or two. He doesn’t really even know them. (Sorry if that was a spoiler for anyone.)

I guess there are patterns to human affairs.

Notable quote:
Pride defeats its own end, by bringing the man who seeks esteem and reverence into contempt.

On Today’s Walk 12-9-18

On today’s walk, it was sunny but brrr c-c-c-old. On the one-mile lap around my immediate neighborhood, I engaged in not a single spoken conversation. Yet a fair amount of communication happened.

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I ignored the caution sign and went close to peek under the rock, because I’m a rebel without a clue. All I saw was a hole in the ground.

On Today’s Walk 11-24-18

I strolled my neighborhood in unseasonably temperate weather, perfect for a walk — the last few warm hours before a predicted winter storm.

I heard leaf blowers, but never saw them. I saw people raking the brown, drying remnants of autumn, and running them over with mulching mowers. I saw a family taking photos of their toddlers playing in a leaf pile. At one house, a determined man used a front-loading Bobcat to push the masses of leaves from his lawn into one big stack near the edge.

Maybe I should have been have been doing yard work instead of playing tourist to all of the neighbors doing theirs. I still have undone weeding, left over from the summer. On the other hand, the mess of my yard might not be visible under the snow by this time tomorrow.

The bodies of the leaves are gone, but their spirits have not yet crossed over:

 

 

 

On Today’s Walk, 11-16-18

I walk a fair amount. I usually commute to work on foot. I also walk recreationally. It occurred to me to share what I encountered. I know I’m not winning any awards with my photos. I’m as amateur as they come. But here’s life as I see it.

On today’s walk, carpets of leaves:

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My own elongated shadow:

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A large deer in someone’s yard. Some kids off-camera called to him, “Here Bucky. Bucky, Bucky.” Until he turned to face them. Then one of them yelled, “Run, before he stabs us with his horns!” Spoiler: there was no horn stabbing.

 

I perambulated 1.75 miles, just around the neighborhood.

 

 

Armistice Day Resolution

calm daylight evening grass

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Interesting fact: you don’t have wait for New Year’s Day to start working on a goal. This November 11 marks the 100th anniversary of the Armistice that silenced the guns of World War I, or the Great War as it was called at the time. It had been one of the largest and bloodiest conflicts in the history of humankind, resulting in millions of deaths and immeasurable pain and suffering.

By the time it ended, the world was hungry for peace. It was supposed to be the “war to end all wars” yet many of the wars that have followed had roots in that conflict. It turns out peace isn’t something you get once, set on a shelf to admire and there it stays forever. Peace requires an active, sustained effort, always. We will never have to stop working for it.

Robert F. Kennedy said, “Each time a man(sic) stands up for an ideal, or acts to improve the lot of others, or strikes out against injustice, he sends forth a tiny ripple of hope, and crossing each other from a million different centers of energy and daring, those ripples build a current that can sweep down the mightiest walls of oppression and resistance.”

And Desmond Tutu has said, “Do your little bit of good where you are; it’s those little bits of good put together that overwhelm the world.”

So my Armistice Day resolution is to do my little bit, starting with internal work, to create a ripple. To actively look for little bits of good I can do where I am each day.

A friend of mine recently passed away after a six-year struggle with cancer. She was truly a light in the world — one of those individuals who inspires the best in others. After the last presidential election, when many of us were on social media discussing what we could do, or what we would do to try to save the world, she posted that she was in the middle of chemo treatments and much too weak to go to meetings or phone bank or march. But she would spend some time each day on loving kindness meditations. That was her ripple.

I have decided, though it won’t be the whole of my action, I will try to help that ripple spread by focusing on the same thing as my main goal. My first concrete step is peace within myself, so I can then work on the world. In that spirit, and to honor my friend’s memory, I have the goal to engage in a loving kindness meditation at least four mornings a week. From there, my actions can build.