Pandemic Wisdom by Devon Miller-Duggan. TRIGGER WARNING! This is hilarious, and very very scary. You may never see cucumbers in the ordinary way again.

Pandemic Wisdom:

I don’t know that living through a pandemic has taught me a single thing other than the pretty obvious fact that whatever else is wrong in my world and the larger world is worse in the midst of a pandemic. That’s kind of a “duh, bunny-brain” epiphany.

Instacart is my friend. Even the not-so-great shoppers are my friends. I tip well on the basis that folks doing that job are probably not doing it as a first-choice career, not that it’s not perfectly good, useful work, which is more than I can say for…let’s just say “some people” and leave it at that. I have also been told that there are people who don’t tip. I will spare you my opinion of those schmucks. So I can’t say that I have acquired any wisdom, and I’m sure that my character has not improved. This is not, therefore, a post answering the questions Miriam asked. I have learned how to make 3 different kinds of masks, but I don’t think that counts. So here’s my Other Kind of Covid Story:

The only reason I go to the grocery store is that it’s also my pharmacy. I have relationships with the pharmacists. They ask about my family and commiserate with me about the ridiculous co-pay for my anti-depressant and the aches and pains associated with the aromatase inhibitor I take on the 10% chance that it’ll help me not get more breast cancer. And when I do go, I typically pick up a medium-sized pile of groceries—some from a list and some “oooh, I forgot we need that” items. I hate it. People wear flimsy masks, about half the folks seem clueless about how far 6 ft. is, in spite of helpful markings on the floor, and most folks ignore the one-direction-per aisle signs. So I usually come home hating humanity and sure that I have contracted Covid-19. Good thing I don’t need to pick up ‘scripts too often.

I will now just go in, pick up my prescriptions and leave. I’m done. In the course of my most recent trip, not only did I rip the same nail twice (happily not below the quick, but still…), I had my usual fights with the self-checkout machine (I know these are not good for humans who need jobs, but right now I prefer to avoid the cashiers, who can be a bit casual about the mask thing), and, having checked out and paid, I noticed that I had forgotten to get the envelope for one of my grand-daughters’ Valentine’s Day cards and had to park my cart next to the beautifully patient young human who was staffing the self-checkout area and go back across the store to get it. None of this made the trip more than annoying.

What did was the loudly unmasked woman who was probably drunk off her ass–and that on top of being kind of a jerk by nature—who picked up my nice English cucumber, waved it around, planted it in her crotch, and began to fake-masturbate it. Part of me wanted to beat her with the cucumber, but that would not have been fair to an innocent vegetable, and would (like any other form of confrontation) have resulted in her yelling in my double-masked face, up close and too personal. It also would have added considerably to the embarrassment of her (masked and civil) husband and son (brother and nephew…), which was palpable. Along with the twice-ripped nail, the fractious checkout machine, and the forgotten envelope, this was just too bloody much. How messed up do you have to be to do that sort of thing? Pretty seriously, I’m guessing, at a near-cellular level of assholicity. So I’m done with grocery shopping.

Oh, there is one wisdomish-thing. I was seriously torqued for a bit about getting the vaccine. Friends kept posting on FB that they’d gotten theirs, and I got frantic, even staying up one night to try for a timeslot at any of the 39 Walgreen’s stores in my county as if I were trying to buy opening-day tix for the latest Star Trek movie. Then I figured out that all my friends who had their shots had probably registered ahead of me because I was kind of paying attention to another situation that needed lots of energy and focus. And a retired nurse friend who has been volunteering at the State’s big vaccine-events told me a bunch of stories about how they were still working on the 80+ crowd, and the State itself (probably in an attempt to save the sanity of the folks working the Department of Health phone lines) sent out a letter saying, in several ways, “the reason you haven’t gotten your vaccine yet is MATH,” which I found oddly calming. I am not, by nature, a patient person (though I can be passive—but that’s a different thing altogether, appearances to the contrary). But I have developed a sort of calm about when I’ll get my “Fauci Ouchie.” It’ll happen. I’m registered with 4 different agencies. One of them will come through, and, though my semester starts in two weeks, I am not teaching in person, so my exposure is not going to be any greater than it is right now. I guess I’ve learned some limited patience. And not to walk away from my grocery cart and leave cylindrical vegetables where serious eejits can get to them.

My husband-the-historian, who is a medievalist, started teaching a course a couple of years ago called “Plagues & Peoples” that covers more than the Black Death. His father lost a sister to meningitis and survived, but lost his hearing. His mother lost hers to scarlet fever. Or the other way ‘round—I’d check, but he’s snoring away contentedly in the next room. The point is that for most of human history there’s been a barrage of bugs trying to get us. Covid-19 is particularly nasty in many worrying ways (okay, terrifying), and it will mark a generation or three.

But I’m more afraid of the Cucumber Beast than of the disease itself. Humans are wonderful. Humans are gawdawful crudbuckets. Being patient as my state’s medical system turns itself inside out to get us vaccinated feels reasonable and sort of peaceful (or maybe Miriam’s fatalism is rubbing off on me after 40+ years of friendship) The Cucumber Beast (I ended up walking back to the entrance of the store where they keep the sanitizing wipes and wiping its plastic-sealed surface down), well, I’ve written her into my permanent narrative of the pandemic, which is as much revenge as I can safely and decently exact.

Abuela Report: The Angel of Forgetting by Miriam Sagan

I missed the baby when I was gone the past two weeks. I dreamed she could talk, and was explaining the difference between Donald Trump and Donald Duck. (The first makes us sad, the second happy). What a S-M-A-R-T baby, I spelled, not wanting to overpraise her. “Oh, it’s nothing,” a mean woman said in the dream. “All babies can do that.”
I got a chuckle when I woke up. The baby’s mother, Isabel, is worried the baby thinks her name is “the baby” and we need to use her given name, Grainne, more. When I read her “Good Dog Carl” in the board version she gets very excited to hear the words “dog” and “baby” together. She babbles a lot on English right now, but doesn’t really put syllables to objects.
When Iz and her friend Reuben finally learned to talk I interviewed them.
“Where were you before you were born?” I asked.
“It was dark,” Reuben said.
“I came out and it snowed on my head,” Iz reported.
Accurate enough, but hardly the esoteric info I was hoping for.
Jewish mystics believe the soul knows all of Torah. But in the womb the angel of forgetting puts a finger between the nose and the upper lip. (You can note that runnel on your own face).
And we have to learn again.

Stash

I’m working on a new memoir with some difficult material. I’m puttig bits of it in “stash” boxes and hiding them in plain sight in this funky art town. It’s a bit of guerilla art, but also an editing process to see how I feel.

Here is a bit of the text:

The habit I can’t break—probably don’t even want to—is that I am amazed by everything in my world and afraid of all the adults in it. It’s going to be difficult to work this one out.

Things I Am Not Doing by Miriam Sagan

1. Grading
2. Following the impeachment
3. Trying to improve myself
4. Sending holiday cards
5. Keeping the basil plant alive
6. Believing the human race is improving

Things I am doing
1. Reading War and Peace
2. Allowing myself to miss my parents
3. Not mentioning art history to my baby grand-daughter when she says Dada
4. Waiting for you to serve the lentil soup
5. Cracking myself up
6. Dreaming

3 Years In by Miriam Sagan

By the end of 2019, I’ll have been on the current trajectory of my life’s path for about three years. I retired, and by unplanned coincidence, my mom died. I felt shot out of a cannon–in a good way. I was no longer flying to Boston every three months to caretake. I was no longer going to work. For the first time in my life I felt I wasn’t operating with some kind of deficit. I know this can’t last forever–I’m 65 and well aware of aging. However, I planned to make the most of this new stage, and I think I have. However, I am suffering from a lack of feeling grounded.
I’m not exactly sure why. When I retired, I said I wasn’t going to do
1. Home Improvement
2. A lot more writing
3. Self Improvement of the diet & exercise sort
Well, I did not manage to avoid the first–renovated kitchen, concrete garden pathways, raised garden beds, etc. But it’s been fine–worthwhile.
And I didn’t manage to avoid the second, either. At least this year, I published three books and a chapbook. It’s not quite as prolific as it sounds. Writing takes a while, publishing another while…this was kind of a logjam that came to fruition (mixed metaphor and all).
Mercifully, I’m eating and exercising per usual–a regime of several decades.
I don’t like to live exclusively in the creative world. It feels unbalanced. Maybe I’ve swung too far in that direction. For volunteer work, I did a year of hospice, a year of teaching ESL…when my grand-daughter was born I started taking care of her about two days a week. It’s been tremendous, but maybe too close to the creative world. After all, she and the studio I share with my daughter are in the same house. We started photographing her as part of a project…
I struggled for a long time to live an integrated life. Now I want something…looser? I don’t know. I’m worried about all the things I’m usually worried about–Trump, my chronic pain, my friends’ difficulties, the future.
I keep making a To Do list for getting grounded but it has only two things on it:
1. Learn to bake biscuits.
2. Get an African violet.

And how are you these days?

More Responses To–What beliefs did you have about yourself that have now changed?

Janet Snyder Asher I always felt that I “can’t do it”. I was never encouraged to try, even if I might fail. Now at 65 I try my best and definitely sometimes fail! And it’s more than OK!!!!
Miriam Sagan Can you say more about what “it” might be?

Janet Snyder Asher Anything I was afraid of. I learned early on not to take risks. I believe that after my divorce I started living again. I met a man who I eventually married and he had so much confidence in me! I took a Swiftwater rescue class and became a river guide at 42! That’s just one example of something I never knew I could do.

Karla Linn Merrifield I always thought I wasn’t very musical, especially after 8 years of piano lessons that terrified me. Yes, I could play a modest Chopin and a few hymns, and I learned to read music, but what a fumbler I was. Now 50 years later I’ve picked up the guitar and a month later I’m feeling it happen. I can make music

Laurie Tumer I’m 68. I didn’t believe (as a girl growing up in the 50’s) that it was possible for a girl to be be an architect or doctor or geologist or or fireman or artist or musician or conductor or builder or even college graduate. Only boys were smart enough for that. I believed I was only capable of being a wife and mother as that is what I was told was my fate When I eventually studied music at the University of Arizona I loved my conducting classes and wanted to be a conductor, but the professor said: Do you see any women conductors? So I didn’t believe I it was possible to do that. So I changed majors and became a teacher because that was something girls were encouraged to do back then. I don’t regret being a teacher all these years. And I have gone on to an artist and a builder and a gardener and to fulfill many dreams and live happily ever after without a husband or children. I often hear in my head when I complete a project my father’s refrain when I’d do something that surprised him that he didn’t think I was capable of: “Not bad for a little girl!” A phrase he used up until he died when I was 35. Times have change in the U.S. for girls, though not for girls all over the world… I believe that will change too one day.

Teresa Fields I was raised to be a wife and mother. When I was in 2nd grade the teacher would hit me on top of my head with her wad of keys and call me a dumb Indian. I believed I could not do math. Then in high school my counselor told me I wasn’t College material.
After being married over 31 yrs and suddenly being widowed. I went to College, I got an ‘A,’ in College Algebra. I had a 3.99 gpa for my AA degree and almost the same for my BFA.

Letters To The Dead

Who is your audience? That’s an ordinary writing workshop question. But I think it is more common than we’ll admit–dead people. Ancestors, lost loves, dead friends and family, the unborn. Are they listening?
Of course this caught my interest–

MAIZURU, Kyoto Prefecture–Those who want to post messages to the dead can deposit their letters in a “green mailbox” at a Buddhist temple in this western city facing the Sea of Japan.
Anyone is welcome to leave a letter in the mailbox, which stands in the grounds of Daishoji temple in Maizuru’s Kitasui district.
Temple officials don’t open the letters, but burn them in a ritual in a “gomadan” fire altar.
A parishioner who used to be a postmaster donated the pillar-style mailbox about 30 years ago.
The box was installed beneath a wisteria trellis beside the temple’s main hall and was sometimes used as a collection box for offerings as it is near a sacred waterfall and the fire altar.

To read more, click here.

***

So…I’m thinking about more memoir. “In Bluebeard’s Castle” will be out next month from Red Mountain–it’s about my dad, gangster and intellectual. “A Hundred Cups of Coffee” launches from Tres Chicas Books in the fall. What’s next to write about? As always, whatever I’ve been avoiding, currently, AIDS, sexuality, San Francisco in the 1980’s, and more.
It’s always an assemblage process. I’m thinking of this piece near the start–if I can connect it.

***

This Island Is Not Real

     The summer I was seventeen I took a fiction writing class at the New School. Every day I’d leave the daycare center where I worked mornings to take the number 84 bus into Manhattan and the subway downtown. On Mondays and Wednesdays I’d take a modern dance class, on Tuesdays and Thursdays it was fiction.
     After class, in the late afternoon, I’d walk crosstown a few miles west to where my boyfriend had a summer sublet in a Chelsea brownstone. This was when that neighborhood, at 23rd Street, was unremarkable and cheap, and where a secretary who was somehow related to someone my father knew had a sad dusty narrow studio apartment that was mostly furnished in a bed up against the only window at the far end of the apartment and a kitchen table. This was just fine with us–me and my eighteen year old boyfriend who somehow seemed much older than me because he was already in college. Really all we cared about was the bed.
     Except for food. He’d cook me strange little hot dinners–experimenting–chops and peas, burgers and onions, not right for the small sweltering apartment but tasty and necessary. What else did we do that summer? I can hardly remember. Once we walked around Wall Street and looked at three tiny overgrown cemeteries, scattered along the blocks like a series of weedy pocket parks, the tilting submerged headstones of Sephardic Jewish colonists unreadable. between the Hebrew and the decay. And we had tickets to several of the Mostly Mozart concerts.
     The fiction class was very disappointing. However, I did not complain–my parents had paid, after all. The instructor, in her thirties, with black hair dyed blacker still, was more Beat than hippie, or perhaps proto-punk. She spoke at length during each class about the difficulties, actually impossibilities, of being a writer. She for example, was forced to support herself by writing the captions and dialogue for comic strips. Then, she criticized our work.
    My final story, the one I had been working on all summer, was set on a mythical tropical island, probably Caribbean. At least, palm trees blew. And in a fanciful addition, flocks of black and white butterflies filled the air, pausing only to mate on the shiny hoods of the cars of the rich. There was a pair of lovers in the story, lovers who quarreled (I can no longer remember the reason) and in the final scene she pushed him backwards off the dock, where he allowed himself to drown. Or perhaps he pushed her? This is a long time ago to remember. But looking back, I do not think that in 1971 I would have written a story in which a man drowned a woman.
     When we went to the Mostly Mozart concerts, we left directly from the apartment. I had a blue and white dress of a soft slinky material, and I had to ask my boyfriend to zip up the back. I added a long strand of white beads I’d borrowed from my mother. The beads were tiny, making a shimmering rope. I saw myself in the mirror in the blue dress, with my boyfriend zipping me up, and I wondered if this was the first scene of many like it, stretching out over a lifetime.
     The teacher hated my story. She felt the setting–my favorite part–was unrealistic and unconvincing. Butterflies do not mate in a trade wind. Men born on islands do not just drown. Where was the grit, the poverty, the fried plantains? THIS ISLAND IS NOT REAL she wrote in bold black letters across the first page of my story.
     I went to a different college from my boyfriend and then I broke up with him. I married a man who had once hunted octopus off a dock in Key West simply because he was hungry. We were married for thirteen years and then he died, leaving me a can full of pens and sharpened pencils in which there was also a tiny two-pronged utensil–a lobster fork. Meanwhile my boyfriend had hitchhiked…but who cares, this part of his past is not in this story. Anyway, I married my old boyfriend and am his wife to this day.
     This island is not real.  Manhattan is an island. I’d walk crosstown, past the discount shoe bins and the lively crowds of people of all nations–Haitians, Puerto Ricans, east Indians. The big Greek selling slices of lamb off the steamy rotating grill called me sweetie as he handed me a simple sandwich–meat and pita bread–wrapped in a thick slice of paper. I loved the walk, between the mean fiction teacher and the hot apartment.
     This island is real.

No One Does It On Their Own by Miriam Sagan

I was very struck my this thought from Mia Mingus:

“With disability justice, we want to move away from the “myth of independence,” that everyone can and should be able to do everything on their own. I am not fighting for independence, as much of the disability rights movement rallies behind. I am fighting for an interdependence that embraces need and tells the truth: no one does it on their own and the myth of independence is just that, a myth.”

https://leavingevidence.wordpress.com/2011/02/12/changing-the-framework-disability-justice/

I was just out in my vegetable garden. It is a raised bed, to my waist. I don’t have to bend over. It was designed and installed by several millennials–family members and a neighbor. Part was a gift, part was paid for, all was received with gratitude. It has a great hoop shade design. And now more lemon cucumbers than one household can eat.

My parents had a rugged individualistic attitude towards life. They often rejected help from their own children, and certainly never depended upon friends or neighbors. I found this attitude exhausting.

Many years ago, when I was suddenly widowed and was raising a six year old child, I realized abruptly that although I tended to see myself as the giver I was now about to start taking–maybe without an end in sight. People did some amazing things for me–my pride was easily overcome by my admiration for both their caring and inventiveness (Who knew I needed a large homemade raspberry cheese cake? Or to have my daughter taken for a camel ride? Not me).

In terms of disability, although I’m grateful to the movement for existing I can’t identify completely. Abortion on demand and death with dignity are things I firmly believe in, and the disability movement often opposes these. I’m not about to debate these issues here, just to say they are the backbone of my social beliefs that I’m not interested in modifying. I try to show respect for other beliefs, and hope that feeling is mutual.

That said, I truly appreciate Mingus’s thought we don’t have to strive to be totally self-reliant. This isn’t just about disability, it applies to community, artistic endeavor, and more. Anthropological thinking suggests we need a group of 40-150 people just to survive. And maybe twice that to find unrelated mates. There is a mystical Jewish belief that we reincarnate in groups the size of a small village. I’m always looking to recognize my soul mates so I don’t have to go it alone.

Opening my eyes at 72 by Cheryl Marita

Opening my eyes at 72These past posts have made me think about the idea of bucket lists, and how they focus on living.  And today I accepted a challenge from a friend to join Yoko Ono in her “Cleaning Piece III” – try to say nothing negative about anybody – for 3 days, for 45 days, then for 3 months.Does this include me?  Does it include politicians?  Does it include people I work with?  I imagine the circle spiraling.  Outward to include more people, inward to give me strength to be quiet.So here I am, thinking about a bucket list of endeavors that take me more inside than traveling to the Galapagos.  A bucket list that will challenge me to grow as I age.  Slowing down like a turtle in my life may be more productive than rushing to see one in the wild.Slowing down is what my interactions with patients tell me everyday.  Bearing witness to myself and others insists that I slow down.  Certainly, discussing hopes and wishes for end of life with a fifty year old, a ninety year old, a thirty year old all deserve softness and time.   And being quiet is part of slowing down.  Having time to think, respond, reflect.Urgency, accomplishments, checklists, twitter, texts all demand quickness in response.  Sitting silent with patients as they mull over information demands slowness in response.  It requires respect for the process, for the life that we are sharing at that moment.I think this is at the top of my bucket list at 72.  Slow down so I can share a moment of intimacy with my patients, slow down so I can not respond in haste with a negative comment about a person (even a politician or a president).Takes me to a thought I want to ponder this week.  From NIMO in the “Gratefulness” blogWe arrive empty handed and leave empty handed.  So then, how do we want to spend the time in between? Even this blog has slowed down as we amble towards our goal of advanced directives, of discussing with family and friends our thoughts about end of life care.  I think I will play the “Go Wish” game this week.  It’s a slow game, and it will help me add to my bucket list and help this blog bear witness to our contemplation.https://morselsofmarita.com/