Melon tales / What I’ve learned during Covid / Back in School (Part 2)

Hi friends,

After sending you a rather long note back in September, and promising a part two wherein I would discuss the new traffic light, I received a note from one amongst you suggesting that I consider sending more frequent, shorter notes.

Having jotted down over the past two months a long list of items I’d like to tell you about, one item in particular came to my attention yesterday morning. I added it to the list. I knew I wouldn’t have time to cover everything on the list this week. It’s Friday after all. And then, my friend/reader’s note came back to my mind. What if you tell them this one thing? And then tell them another small thing some other time that is sooner than 2022??

Noting it is unlikely I will be able to write without mentioning at least two of the things on the list, first I wanted to share a lesson that I’ve learned during Covid.

This summer we spent some time with my parents in Alabama. That’s not really relevant to the story, but that is where it happened. I suppose you could buy a watermelon in many places in the summer months. I didn’t buy the watermelon actually which, in my mind, partly explains what happened next. Someone buys a watermelon. A huge watermelon. And someone cuts open that watermelon, sharing juicy, pink slices with the assorted family members present at the time of fruit puncture. It’s summertime. There’s lots of fruit around. Peaches, blueberries. That is to say, there’s no rush for watermelon. It’s one of the options and it requires a cutting board and a large knife. Time passes.

I didn’t buy it. I didn’t slice it. I guess I thought whoever did (p.s., I know who did) would put it away if he wasn’t planning to cut more soon. So it sat there for multiple days, maybe three. In the middle of the counter, in the middle of the kitchen. Waiting for someone to make the next move.

I’m not certain who finally got tired of looking at that giant half watermelon and cut the rest of it into slices, nobody is here to place blame (I think it was me). I do know I picked up one of the slices and took it outside to eat while talking on the phone. I took a few bites. It wasn’t delicious. It was undelicious, like fizzy. I put the rest of my piece into the compost. I mention the phone call so you will understand why I did not go back into the kitchen and discuss the fizzy nature of the watermelon with anyone else.

Later that same day, my dad and Dave took the kids swimming, or attempted to. On the way into the pool Sam vomited all over the walkway. He vomited again when he got home and again later that night. Repeatedly. It turns out that you can’t leave a melon out on the counter for days and then serve it to a child who likes melon.

I’m happy to have learned this lesson because yesterday while I was engaged in one of my least favorite weekdaily activities which is making school lunches for the kids, I saw some cantaloupe and thought: great! Someone other than me had also bought this melon and it was November. November is not melon time, everyone knows this. But the melon was bought and it was hard as a rock. It tasted like biting into celery without the strings.

Sometimes, if I cut into a hard avocado, I might leave it out on the counter for a day to soften before trying again. I guess that’s what I thought when I cut into the canteloupe. I’ll just leave it out here and it will improve, maybe. So I did. And then on Thursday, I picked it up and pressed my index finger into the orange flesh. It was softer. Great, I thought! It worked. I started to find a container to put slices of now softened canteloupe into the lunchboxes.

And then a voice from the unknown, somewhere in the soup that my mind has lately become, reminded me of another melon left on another counter. I think it wasn’t a voice, but maybe an aroma. I think what happened was that I also left some slices of cantaloupe on the counter to soften in a container and when I took the lid off I noticed a faint aroma.

The aroma was what reminded me of having poisoned my child only months prior. I took all of the slices and the remaining half of a melon and put them in the bucket for the compost. And when I carried them outside, it occurred to me that this was something I could share with the world. A pride that I can no longer be fooled by or be party to poisoning my own children with counter-sitting melons. You probably already knew this, but just in case.

The second thing I wanted to tell you about was the traffic light. There’s a new one. Every single time I pass it I think about humanity. Somebody knew there should be a light there. That sitting in a lefthand turn lane on a six-lane road that is crossing to a four-lane road with a bike path that goes across it and no left-turn arrow and no red hand for the pedestrians and bikers is a situation crying out for improvement. Somebody said something and then some other people agreed. And now there’s an arrow. I sat at that lefthand turn so many times, with no arrow, in the evening, with bikers and walkers and traffic. And now, I’m whistling a merry tune every time. Someone worked to make that safer.

Four times each week I get to celebrate that something is easier. Something is more peaceful, more thoughtfully designed. I don’t have to warn my kids each time before we get to that light that mommy needs to concentrate. I don’t have to concentrate. I just have to sit there and wait briefly for my own safe turn.

Why am I sharing this? Because it feels good to notice the work other people do to make things better.

Thank you beautiful stranger, whoever you are.

Emergence / Back to school (Pt 1)

Hi friends! I wrote this gigantic note to send you round about June 11 of this year. I thought about sending it, or something, for many, many weeks. It wasn’t ‘finished’ I told myself. I needed more time, I told myself. Well, here it is, just the same as it was, but much later. By calling it Part 1 I intend to convey that there will be a Part 2, at least, in which I plan to tell you about the new traffic light. And also some other things. But first, let’s travel in our time machines back to the end of school, just a few short months ago…

I received my second injection of the Moderna Covid-19 vaccine on May 12, 2021, seated in a booth at Charlie’s, a local dining establishment that I have yet to but certainly will someday patronize. This is where Mommy got her vaccine, I will say as we look around like people arriving in a new world sitting there together inside a building that is not our house. 

May 12 + 2 weeks = May 26

May 26 = Full vaccine effectiveness (approximately)

May 26 + 2 weeks = Yesterday

As of yesterday morning, I was still firmly entrenched in my highly monotonous while also shockingly unpredictable Covid lifestyle. Dave working from an old table set up in our bedroom. The two of us here all day every day together. No one leaving to go to work. No one leaving to see a friend. Sometimes we would drink coffee (the dog knows this as “mugs time”). Sometimes we would drink whiskey (the dog knows this as “crystal time”). Sometimes we would sit on the deck and listen to birds. 450 days worth of month after Covid month. Talking about cicadas or pipelines or political shenanigans of various stripes or migrating birds.

He would do the weekly grocery shopping, initially because he was deemed the more careful half (and I deemed myself the smarter half who was willing to not have to go to the grocery store anymore). But eventually, after 450 days, after my first dose of the vaccine, and then my second, and then the passage of four more weeks, why hadn’t I been to the grocery store, my regular grocery store, in 14 months?

But before we get into what changed yesterday, let’s catch up on a few highlights in roughly chronological order:

Covid vaccination, shot #2: When I arrived at Charlie’s there was one nurse giving shots and a short line of folks waiting. It turned out he (the nurse) had been there since 7:30 that morning (it was 2:30 pm) giving shot after shot after shot because the other two nurses had not ever arrived and the line had never stopped. The only thing I knew to do was to try to help that man laugh, and I’m pleased to say that it worked. 

I came home with a rapidly sore-ing shoulder and listened to Maggie play the piano while my eyes started closing (in broad daylight, that’s when I noticed Dave googling “reaction to Moderna vaccine”). I read several chapters of Pride and Prejudice and went to bed. I couldn’t figure out where to put my shoulder. I was overwarm but couldn’t take off the covers either. After a dozy but restless night, when Maggie touched my forehead her hand felt particularly cold. Low-grade fever. Made the children’s lunches (they got hot dogs and sliced apples that day), got back in bed, and stayed there until I had finished reading all of Pride and Prejudice. Walked downstairs. Ate some rice. Kids came home. Started watching Pride and Prejudice (BBC version, 6 hours). (Only day during all of Covid that I have watched daytime tv and also probably the only time I’ve chosen the film to be watched, except that one time we all watched Willow and the children were horrified when the dog/wolves chased, caught, and presumably ate the nice old woman at the start of the film. I tried to remember a time when seeing a nice old lady chased and eaten by dogs would have been shocking to me). Finished watching all six episodes of P+P and by the time it was over I was feeling pretty much like myself again. A little woozy on occasion but mostly no big deal.

Colonial pipeline. Incidentally (is it incidental? I think it is not), the morning that I was due to get my second shot, I received a text from my friend and neighbor. She had driven to multiple gas stations that morning and had had trouble finding fuel. If I wanted to be able to bring my children to school and back, I should check to make sure I had enough gas to last for a few days. Maybe we should consider carpooling to save gas in the meantime, even though it is currently frowned upon by the school due to Covid concerns, etc. 

(Sept 21 note: Shockingly, when I have mentioned Colonial Pipeline during recent conversations with friends about The End of Days, frequently they don’t know what I’m talking about. In May, Colonial Pipeline shut down the largest fuel pipeline in the U.S. leading to shortages across the East Coast, after hackers, affiliates of a Russia-linked cybercrime group known as DarkSide, gained access to their network through a single compromised password.)

“Our goal is to make money and not creating problems for society,” (per the DarkSide website). I totally relate guys. I too would like to both have money and also not creating social problems. Thankfully, DarkSide has announced that “From today, we introduce moderation and check each company that our partners want to encrypt to avoid social consequences in the future.”

Besides for the fact that these guys seem to think they have a legitimate business model (and maybe they do, that would be an interesting question to consider in the future. I mean, if they are going to attack companies that make money off of selling death chemicals through false marketing then, I don’t know, who being the bad guys?).

But I’m not here to question the particular business model at this moment. I’m here to talk about my carpool dilemmas at this juncture during the crisis of 2020/2021/TBD (aka what life is like now, even for people who used to think there was such thing as a bubble, which there still is but it is a less convenient and predictable bubble than it used to be but still a hell of a lot safer).

Bubblemom’s (that’s me) reaction to the pipeline thing: THIS CANNOT BE HAPPENING! MY KIDS ARE SUPPOSED TO BE IN SCHOOL FOR THE NEXT X WEEKS WITH NO SNOW DAYS, NO COVID SPIKES, NO EARLY SPRING ALLERGIES, NO MORE RANDOM HOLIDAYS, NO CAPITAL RIOTS THAT LEAD TO REMOTE SCHOOL, NO RUSSIAN-SPEAKING GANGSTERS DISRUPTING THE FLOW OF A SUBSTANCE WE BURN TO HEAT THE EARTH BUT ALSO MEANS I CAN GET MY KIDS TO SCHOOL FOR JUST A FEW CONSISTENT WEEKS OF THE YEAR.

4.4 million dollars in Bitcoin later everything was okay. Though Dave did drive around looking for gas one night, using more of our carefully guarded petrol than I was comfortable with while also not locating a supplier. I know I don’t need to mention the people putting gas in garbage bags and how that made me feel. I don’t know how that made me feel. 

There is a chance that the Colonial Pipeline is going to be feature prominently in my future writing. I considered moving somewhere we could live off grid. I thought about getting on my bicycle again (do I know how to put air in the tires?).

Ladies and gents, and also not ladies and not gents, we are living in a new era. The post-Colonial Pipeline era. Have you seen DarkSide’s website?

I copied this screenshot from the BBC. I hope writing that last sentence makes it legal to do so.

This is not from a Kurt Vonnegut novel.

It seems clear to me that we can no longer go on pretending that life can ever be predictable. Well, I guess that in itself is predictable though. We can predict with confidence that completely unexpected things will always continue happening day after day, things we just can’t plan for or be prepared for.

But let’s move on to Brood X cicadas: I haven’t googled this or anything but i’m told this is a wide-reaching but also bounded phenomenon. If you are missing out, here’s a synopsis: there are dead bugs EVERYWHERE. Also living bugs. They land in your hair and hold on with their sticky little claws. If you went out at night, around 10 pm, you could literally hear them emerging from the ground. I recorded it. It sounded sort of like someone unwrapping the cellophane from a box of frozen croissants. They climb up trees and at some point decide to split their back open and then sort of lie backwards as this very juicy white caterpillar thing with wings and dark spots that look like fake eyes and then flip over to get in the right direction so their wings can dry and then go somewhere else to hang out for a couple of weeks before starting to all sing in unison but not harmony. I also recorded that. This multi-pitched sound that starts before sunrise and goes on all… day… long. It’s fine and also quite loud. Then they die. Also they die while walking to the tree, trying to get up the tree, if their wings don’t open right, if something eats them, if a child becomes interested in science, if your husband wants to cook them, if they emerge somewhere that used to be wooded but now is a road, if your tires are the tallest place they can immediately find to climb, if something like a fungus eats their butt. 

I see them frolicking outside my window right now. Soon they will mate and die and then the eggs will drop down into what is now wooded and then live underground for 17 years before the next time. Where will I be then? I was in downtown DC last time. There were a few extra bugs around but my life then was not so attuned to the natural world. (I call them bugs with a sense of irony, as we all know they are technically ‘insects.’) I was working in nature conservation, but in other places, far away places, not watching the signs of nature daily out of my window.

I had already met Dave though, last time the cicadas came. I had recently met him and thought he was just a dashing British scientist who had too many shoes for a man. And now we are walking around in the dark harvesting cicadas that we have talked about cooking but not yet cooked. They are in the freezer.

End of the school year + human emergence: So tomorrow is the last day of school for my kids. Against my better judgment I agreed again this year to be a class parent. Organizing gifts for my nearest and dearest is not a strong suit, to say the least. My parents both still have an IOU for their 70th birthdays. So organizing a class gift = trauma. (Not really, for anyone on this list who is a former teacher for whom I was class parent, you are certainly an exception.)

School is ending and I have accepted responsibility to procure a gift for my son’s teacher, who I adore. Nothing short of my appreciation for this person, plus my lifelong fear of displeasing and not living up to the expectations of others, could have motivated me to leave my home in my one pair of real pants and enter “the real world” (meaning, not my home and not Trader Joe’s). 

Friends, I could definitely write a whole other thing about the three hours of my afternoon yesterday. There’s a lot to unpack. Let me try to share the highlights:

  • There are a lot of things available to buy in the real world that, when I don’t see them, I don’t need them. When I see them, I wonder if I need them. I mostly don’t, but this uses some of my decision power and I don’t have a whole lot to spare.
  • There are a lot of pictures of people who look happy or like coolly unhappy but smug and unsatisfied in just the way they desire to be and massive pictures of these people are all over the place, telling me stories about what life is or should be that are not the stories I choose to live by when I don’t see these pictures. Such pictures are confusing, especially when your daughter is with you and trying to figure out what a person is, what we aspire to as a culture, what gives life value.
  • You might buy a pack of fancy gum at REI because the mint is grown in the pacific northwest and when you get home wonder who is even going to eat that gum. Why? Why the gum? 
  • Target is like a ghost town. You walk in and don’t know where anything is and also shelves are both full and empty and it seems there is no one working there and is your daughter a child? The clothes for children look so small. Do they have a juniors department? What is a juniors department? She wants to buy a doll with her own money. This is the first time she’s been to a store since March of 2020 so you let her. You go through the self-checkout because again, no people seem to be working there. Is this the trend of the future? Robots will stack the shelves with whatever is available given global supply shortages and you will self checkout your one box of Rice Krispies and pornographic doll (details to follow)?
  • If you have to walk any distance on the sidewalk to get where you are going, this is confusing. You know you are vaccinated so you don’t really need a mask. Especially on the sidewalk. Except you didn’t take a shower and you are liking the anonymity of a mask, definitely. But then again the humidity. So sometimes you keep the mask on, so you can hide from the men sitting at the outdoor bar and freely using profanity and sometimes you take it off and think you might want to smile a friendly smile at the other living beings passing you but that also feels like a little too much. Then you go into the store and put your mask on, to keep others comfortable I guess. Also the sidewalk is uneven and you realize you haven’t done that much walking lately. 
  • If you are a woman, maybe also if you are a man, you might recognize that you have enjoyed not having to walk down the street and want to be not seen. This is a whole can of worms but not being in this situation for many months made me realize how uncomfortable I am – and have been – as a woman being in the world, see below for details of pornographic doll.
  • It all feels so crazy: what people wear, what we’re shown, the stories we’re told, the crowding, the so-much, the need, the excess and the lack, the hyper-sexualization.
  • Also I bought my favorite kind of rice cakes. 
  • And, don’t you think it would be funny if I told all the parents in my son’s class that the only kind of gift card left was for the Cheesecake Factory? I’ve been laughing all day about the idea of a $200 gift card to the Cheesecake Factory. I don’t know why. Maybe I just need something to laugh about.

So then I came home and Maggie had this new doll. She played with the doll for a while. Eventually all of the dolls clothes were removed. So we’ve got a nude doll. Except her earrings were still on. Also her knee-high black socks and tiny pink underpants (these two features are not removable). This doll has a tiny waist and large hips and a reasonably sized chest. She has blue and pink hair in braids (four) and a sort of Scandinavian thing, or maybe Indonesian, going on with a fancy arrangement of hair knots. She looks a bit like a huge-eyed anime stripper. This is the sexiest doll I’ve ever seen (or as Dave and I both remarked, maybe we’ve just been stuck inside for too long). My ten-year-old is holding this nude doll who she purchased today in the toy section at Target. I guess I don’t know how I felt. I mean, the doll is curvy so I think we’re supposed to support that. But she looks like a tiny sex doll.

I neither binge-ate ice cream sandwiches nor did I pour the world’s large gin and tonic. I sat in Maggie’s room with her and answered a million questions about my first boyfriend. If I ever rode in a car with a boy on a date. Bowling.

Dave has his interview for US citizenship tomorrow too, so we reviewed his citizenship questions. I’m wondering if you know one thing that Benjamin Franklin is well known for? Out of about 100 questions to become an American citizen that is one. I find that interesting. Susan B. Anthony is the only woman mentioned, though answers to two questions currently happen to be the names of females at this juncture of history. 

***

Now it is today. The last day of school. Pouring rain. Also the day of Dave’s citizenship interview. He just came back. He passed. Monday he will be a citizen of the US of A. Sam went to school with exceedingly careful instructions about delivery of the teacher’s gift. We role-played it over breakfast. The gift was placed in an extra layer of plastic bag protection and I showed him the envelope that does not contain a gift card to the Cheesecake Factory and pleaded, since I am not allowed to deliver the gift in person, that he suggest his teacher put the envelope somewhere safe on this rain-filled day where all of the assorted paperstuffs of a 2nd-grade year in which the parents haven’t set foot into the classroom are to be organized and somehow conveyed home in the arms of a gorgeous and highly distractible 8-year-old.

On his way out of the door this morning I said: Imagine you are Link and you have a very special mission. And he said: to deliver a gift to Zelda. And I said, yes, nodding vigorously.

I sit here in the pouring rain awaiting some confirmation that the bag, and in particular that envelope, made it safely to its destination. I will lavish him with praise.

School lunches: I know some of you are vegetarians, so I’m sorry in advance but I wanted to tell you one of the nicest things Dave has done for me in all of Covid. Making school lunches has always been tricky for me. No nuts so there is no PB and J. My kids don’t eat sandwiches (?!) and believe me I’ve tried the thing where you just send the food and let them go hungry if they won’t eat it. They go hungry. And there is a steep price to pay, and I feel that I’m the one who pays it. My kids will eat minestrone, they’ll eat kale and chickpeas, oatmeal, eggs and whole wheat toast. They eat salmon and they’ll even eat a raw oyster or two. But school lunch is different. There’s a playground when you’re done, there is conversation to be had, and it just isn’t a time for eating something creative. We had a bagel phase where they were eating bagels but that ended. We tried beans and rice. We’ve tried pasta. 

YES, it is a planning deficiency on my part. If I made a plan for the week and bought a variety of fresh fruits and made a fancy wrap in a tortilla, maybe. I don’t know. But Tuesday morning would come and I would see the lunch bags and want them to eat something but I couldn’t just send a bag of cookies. Enter the hot dog. A hot dog is a never fail lunch option. At first it was a one-time-a-week deal. The day that it was easy to make lunch. And then, about a month ago, Dave came back from the store with two sleeves of hot dogs. Unpacking the bags I saw them there and I think tears came to my eyes. I think I even hugged him at that point.

You think it is okay if I send them with hot dogs, more than once a week? 
Fill your boots, he might have said. That’s when I knew he really loved me.

(Note to feminists, et al.: Dave makes dinner at least half of the time and does all the grocery shopping, so I find this lunch-making arrangement is a pretty fair deal, in case you’re wondering why the burden falls on my shoulders).

This week the children have had three hot dogs. Well, for lunch that is. Hot dogs today, hot dogs yesterday. They are the fancy kind, grass fed, maybe even supporting regenerative agriculture. I don’t know. Whatever the associated ethical or health questions associated with this practice, I forgive myself. It’s okay Jennifer. You are doing your best.

We are doing our best. Heck, probably the DarkSide guys are doing their best.

Borrowing. Maggie had a trip for school, an overnight campout that is usually three nights but this time would be one, masked, with each child bringing a parent along. I signed Dave up knowing it would involve sleeping on the ground under a tarp in a heavily ticked area. Also he really likes birds. 

They had to drive out there and we own one car. Sam had to get to school and back while they were gone and as mentioned earlier we aren’t supposed to be carpooling. The obvious answer was to rent a car for two days, right? My hesitation upon checking out the rental option resulted from the exorbitant cost combined with the inconvenience of having to pick a car up and return it somewhere and also a tiny whisper of either ethics or inadequacy.

You… must… reach… out… to… a… human.

So I asked my neighbor. She could get him there, but not home. Okay, think girl, think. I think I checked rental car options again.

I texted a friend I haven’t seen or spoken to since the fall. I was horrified to do it. Both because I had been so out of touch and because I didn’t want to impose my possibly germ-ridden child or make her uncomfortable if she wanted to decline. Certain my request was both humiliating and unreasonable, I sent a similar message to a second friend. And then, at the moment of my greatest desperation, I sent a text to another neighbor who has always been friendly and I (gulp) asked her if she might have a car I could borrow for one hour one afternoon to pick my child up from school. It felt like a bold move, but my child isn’t supposed to be in cars with other children per school policy. I was confused but also desperate to have two days of eight hours each with no one else in my house. The first eight hours I would have had in 450 days.

These three messages out in the world, I sat in my chair rocking. How dare I impose on these people? Now they are super uncomfortable because they have to respond and deny my ridiculous requests. We should own two cars. I should have kept in touch with more people. I should have been different, better, something so that I could be a one-woman island. So that I don’t need anything from anybody!!!!

Text notification: We’d be happy to drive Sam home on Thursday
Second text notification: We’d love to bring Sam home Friday.
Third text notification: We have an old Camry that we aren’t using, want to borrow it for the whole time Dave is gone?
Knock on the door: Since we can’t bring Sam home, do you want to borrow our other car for the two days (second offer of borrowed car).
Another knock on the door: Here are the keys to the Camry.
Follow-up text: If the weather is bad on Friday and you don’t want to drive our car, let us know and we can pick Sam up.

I’ve written about this before. It was so hard to ask for help. It felt so… vulnerable. And it felt

SO

GOOD

to be supported. To feel support. All felt right with the world. I have people and people have me.

We had friends over for dinner last weekend for the first time since February of 2020. We grilled and sat outside.

We had forgotten how you do things. Dinner, which included tater tots, was not ready until about 8 pm. And it was one of the best nights ever. I said it then and I’ll say it now. Maybe the pipeline will stop working again. Maybe there will be a new variant. Maybe we’ll be inside for another 18 months. I don’t know. But last Saturday night we were sitting outside, it was not raining, we were eating and laughing with friends. I appreciated that night so much because I’m not sure, I’m not taking for granted, that it will always be possible. My enjoying it isn’t dependent on it happening again. Just that it is happening now.

Oh, one more thing that I also haven’t mentioned during the Covid Chronicles, but that, before whatever comes next, whatever phase we enter now where things are going to be changing in some unknown and unpredictable way, I would like to document. I haven’t told you about the man in the van: During much the Covid era, there is a man who has been living in a van next door to me. I can see the van right now, maybe 30 feet from my desk I would estimate. It’s a blue van and the top can open and there’s a bed up there. He can cook in the van too, I wasn’t sure but he can.

The van comes and goes. I don’t know where he goes. Something about Colorado. Vanman is about my age, a bit younger. He is a friend of the family who own the house next door and his van is in their driveway. I think he uses their wi-fi to work from the van. I’m so full of questions. Does his living in the van have anything to do with Covid, I’ve wondered. I’ve thought about living in my own van multiple times during the past 16 months. He’s been there all of this time, and I haven’t asked. 

I know his name, I say hi sometimes but we’ve never had a conversation. When he goes away, there’s an empty space in the driveway and, maybe because I don’t know where he’s gone or when he’ll come back, I feel like there is something missing.

Yesterday when the kids came home from school Sam ran upstairs to check the weather app on the iPad. He ran down excitedly asking me if I would come outside because there was a major thunderstorm on the way and he wanted to see if we could see the clouds. We could, a little. But the house was a mess, there were gifts to organize, dishes to put in the dishwasher, stuff to get ready for the last day of school. Sam stayed outside to watch the storm come in.

I loaded the dishwasher and wiped off the counters. I unpacked the backpacks. I thought about Sam. I thought about how hungry he is for interaction. How much time he spends at home drawing and reading and imagining. He hasn’t been able to play with friends after school. We are busy around here with Maggie’s homework or cooking or working or, I don’t know what.

I looked outside in the usual places. No Sam. I went back to the front yard and there he was, standing by the van. He was asking the vanman questions — where do you sleep? where do you cook? I heard the vanman answering him: well, one good thing about the van is that it encourages me to spend more time outside. It started to rain. Sam remained outside talking to the vanman. Sam, curious. Vanman, patient. Both of them seeming at peace with the water falling from the sky.

I felt happy. Held by the world.

I don’t have to be everything for Sam. I don’t have to engineer everything for Sam. Look, outside, there is the world. He is loving the world, and it is loving him back.

2021, so far

Hello lovely friends,

After a nonchalant reference to my absence from your inbox, today’s note begins with a list of topics I have imagined writing about over the past three months:

  • Completed list from December’s calendar/thankfulness project
  • 2020 review, 2021 intentions or something of that nature
  • Political hijinx, insurgencies, inaugurations, etc.
  • Breaking through my bathroom door with a sledgehammer
  • How the kids learned that sex is a real thing
  • What I’ve been doing lately, artiste updates
  • Covid one-year review
  • Legally driving
  • Black holes
  • Tidying, again
  • My 45th birthday
  • What am I doing here?

We’ll move through these one at a time.

Advent calendar. Graphic representation of completed project (top of each cell = what we were thankful for, bottom = what we gave):

I’ll be sharing more about this project in the late summer so anyone wanting to play along can do so for 2021. It was a beautiful way to conclude a difficult year and I hope to make it part of how I think about and share light in the world for the rest of my life. If you want to see and read the full list of what we were thankful for and what we shared with others, you can find it here. If you missed (or forgot) what this project was all about, that’s here.

2020 review. It was a sad year and a lonely year. It was a hard year and a scary year. Also I was very fortunate in 2020. I came out of the year knowing myself better than I did when it began.

2021 intentions. Keep going.
 
Political hijinx. I live 7 miles from the US Capitol (the building) and 3 miles from the Pentagon. There was a lot of helicopter traffic in January. Now there is less.

Hammer time. It was the weekend before the Inauguration, with all of Washington D.C. and its environs holding our breath for a potential second insurrection. The streets were eerily quiet, the news feeds were awash with speculation. The children were nestled all snug in their beds while helicopter rotors spun over their heads. Otis the dog ate a fungus or drank some giardia or swallowed a massive pine cone. This resulted in everyone in the house being certain that he was on the verge of death. He just stood there, facing the wall, moaning, or lying down after we had lowered him, moaning, with his bulging eyes staring at me like he expected me to know what to do. Then behaving like nothing was wrong when we took him to the vet for several x-rays and some pricey injections. (He once vomited an intact half of a grapefruit-sized spiked silicone chew toy. And then, about two months later, vomited the other half. So what I’m saying is that I shouldn’t have been surprised. But we really did think he probably wasn’t going to make it.)

That Sunday I “woke” (suggests sleep happened, but really morning came and I was) on the couch (for the second night) next to the still crying dog who couldn’t quite get up on his own. Drank some coffee. Followed the dog in the yard hoping he would poop so I could search for clues (he did, I did). It being a holiday weekend, what festive delight might we cook for breakfast? I mixed some biscuit dough, Sam cut out the rounds, Dave cooked the bacon. Breakfast almost ready, Dave announced he would “pop into the lou.” I scrambled the eggs, poured them into the pan with butter and some bacon fat when Maggie entered the kitchen, mildly flustered, to tell me that Dave was locked in the bathroom, could I please go upstairs. 

About an hour later, I’m holding something akin to a sledgehammer and breaking down the bathroom door while my son holds up the phone so that my brother and his wife can offer encouragement (e.g., “hit that door like someone’s coming for your kids!”) and advise on the best way to strike a 90-year-old solid wood door so that somehow the lock gives (yes, we tried other options first). Arm shaking (and still sore), feeling quite pleased with myself, we went downstairs and had our breakfast of cold eggs and cold biscuits and cold bacon. And then the kids flipped through the newspaper looking at photos of the events of January 6th, laughing at the bust of George Washington in the MAGA hat. Later that evening they pretended to be rioters dodging tear gas.

The Talk. I went to retrieve the children from school last week. Hopping into the car, my child asked if I knew of a video game called “The Sins.” No, I answered, feigning only casual curiosity, what is it like? 

Well, in the game you get a girlfriend or a boyfriend and you both take off your clothes and you lie down on a bed and rub your privates together.

In an incredulous tone, like I can’t believe what I’m hearing, I respond: So you are telling me there is a video game where you take your clothes off and lie down on a bed with someone and rub your privates together? (We are all laughing as I say this, but I’m kind of hoping this response will evade any further direct questioning at this somewhat inconvenient time.) We drive past a house that is being torn down. We pause for a moment to watch one wall crumble to the ground. The child continues: And kiss at the same time and kind of wriggle all around. Mom, what is sexing? Is it a real thing?

I’m not prepared, I never bought that book my friend recommended. I tried to open another book to a page I thought would elicit curiosity but that didn’t work. Now I’m stuck.

It’s a real thing, I say whereupon both children erupt in laughter.

Are you saying that people actually lie down without their clothes on and rub their privates together? Yes, I say from the front seat, merging into traffic.

Yes, people really do that.

I steered the conversation to dogs and birds and biology, mechanics, those topics seeming easier to cover while changing lanes and given the difficulty of eye contact. They pulled it back to specifics, my specifics, there were many questions, there was horror, there was laughing. I tried to navigate their understanding of ‘inappropriate’ and its relationship to ‘not good.’ I tried to balance “people do it because it is nice” with the idea that “it’s nice… but…” But what? It’s complicated? It was a tricky line to walk from the front seat of a Jetta Sportwagen. There’s more to share, I’ve written it down, but I’ll need to wait several years and get their permission first.

Artiste updates. In my 100 Rejections Project I’m up to 19 submissions and 18 rejections. I think the one submission that hasn’t been rejected is because the publication went under during Covid. 

I’ve mentioned in the past that I work as a freelance editor, but I haven’t shared the kinds of things I working on. Some of what I edit is this and in 2020 I started editing projects for other artistes including two books. I’ve also been doing more copywriting and ghostwriting and I had three pieces published in Forbes (But since it’s ghostwriting, I’ll have to keep those to myself, I think that’s the rule).

I am gaining fame across the internet on sites such as the gorgeous 118els.com and my friend Nick’s blog, Intrinsic:

Jennifer is a fellow Magpie (that’s my weekly creative’s group), but I would have loved this book even if I didn’t know her personally.  She is a fascinating human being: she has lunched with the Queen of Bhutan and had a rare katydid named after her, but her book, which is basically her blog from 2016-2018, is filled with the down-to-earth struggles of a mother of two young children, though that’s not what it’s primarily about.  I found myself nodding along and laughing out loud, sharing passages out loud with Lindsey (who also laughed out loud), and recognizing my own struggles.  Struggles like “How do I, as a thinking person, reconcile the need for festivity, fun, and fitting in, with the obvious waste of one-time-use glow sticks and halloween-themed tablecloths?” and  “Am I an egomaniac for wanting to share my thoughts with the world?”  I loved it, and I’m certain that you will, too.

I have posted my first ‘public’ song on Soundcloud. It’s not a new song but I have made some real progress in terms of accompanying myself on the piano and figuring out how to record a song from home.

One of the best parts of my 2020 was that I somewhat inadvertently met/joined/built a group of folks who also make a lot of different kinds of things (like me!) and that community of creative souls has been a gift. I helped to build an online gallery where we could see our work sitting together. Here’s a little bit about the group and the gallery. In addition to the song above, I have a poem and a short story in the current show. It feels amazing to have my work out in the world alongside this group of fellow artistes.

Covid 1-year review. My kids are in school today and they have been there, in person, for almost 50 days of the past year. My husband is upstairs in our bedroom where he has worked every weekday since one year ago. He used to travel for work sometimes. His ‘office’ is the only room in the house with both heat and a functionally closing door. My office is downstairs where the kids have been for the other 315+ days of the year. When a plumber came to our house, Otis the dog was blown away: people other than us can be in here? Maggie has remote piano lessons, remote dance. Sam hasn’t played soccer in a year. He just draws hundreds of pictures like this:

On Monday, the kids had in-person school and Dave had a random day off of work. We spent the first half of the day delivering broken appliances to the electronic waste recycling center, eating at a restaurant for the first time in a year (we were outside, they did not have heaters, and it was prohibitively cold), and ordering a new puzzle. It is not hyperbole to say that the day had the distinct feel of a vacation. Both of my parents have now had their first vaccine dose. One of my cousins tested positive this week. Several close friends have lost family members. I will never take hugging for granted again.

Legally driving. I have a legal drivers license again after 17 months of driving without one. I was told (source undisclosed) that you had a year after expiration to get a new license. There was sort of a grace period is what I thought. That was before Covid and the DMV closed and I did try, on occasion, to call or get an appointment, but it was tricky and I was not persistent. So I was pulled over for an expired emissions inspection sticker (I guess I thought we were still in the phase of letting those things slide) and luckily was not given a Class 2 misdemeanor or 6 months of jail time. And now I have both a legal license (7 years to go!) and all other necessary/relevant stickers/paperwork.

Black holes. Did you read about the galaxy that is missing it’s black hole? They aren’t sure where it is and also they think it might be hungry? I just don’t want you to be caught unawares, but hopefully nothing will happen with that until April or later.

Tidying again. Didn’t I do this already? Yes, but I never finished. Stuffed (one woman’s quest to reimagine our relationship to the material world, my next book) is still underway and I’m really loving how it is shaping up, what I’m learning. I think it is possible that it will be finished by the end of the year. If I publish it myself, like I did with the last book, it may even be available in book form by December.

My 45th birthday. In October, my kids having been home from school since March, the election days away and Covid numbers climbing again, I was eating cookies as a coping mechanism. Thus, on the day of my 45th birthday I was constipated and had painful hemorrhoids. Just days before my birthday I had pulled my hair into a ponytail, picked up a pair of scissors, and – clip – instant haircut. That morning I found the largest, stiffest, most wire-like chin hair I have ever seen on my person. I received a rejection letter for some poetry I had submitted and then I found the chin hair. And then I found a gray hair on my head, very long and markedly curly (quite distinct from the hair of my youth which is/was straight and fine) so I had visions of myself as an aged person with gray, curly nether hair all over my head. With the precision of a drunk surgeon I plucked both hairs from my head/face. I bought myself a new toothbrush (online, of course). Dave and the kids gave me a hoodie sweatshirt (the one I’m wearing now). In the evening, Dave prepared my favorite cocktail for me (bourbon plus a hint of amaretto with frozen strawberries instead of ice) and I sat outside and ate cheese and crackers. I made myself a chocolate soufflé. What made it a great birthday? I don’t know. But I know that it was.

Conclusion/summary. So there you have it. Many but not all of the things that I’ve had in my mind to write to you about over the past few months. I’m sorry to send so many words all at once rather than a more brief note monthly. Reading all of these words I wonder, why do you do this? Does it have value? Why are you putting these thoughts and details of your life on the internet? Who cares? How does it help?

Beats me. I know that I’m wanting and willing to help and I have a feeling that being real and talking about the quotidian, and not only the Big and Important questions, has value. We live our lives in these small matters, if they are small matters, and sometimes we live in a story that they should be a certain way that they aren’t and won’t be.

I know I’ve shared this quote before, but it seems as good a way to sign off as any other that I can think of:

May the accumulated wealth of our spirit continue to grow among us, so that each of us may enter, and be revived by, a vitality beyond his or her solitary powers.

Lewis Hyde, The Gift

With love to you all,

Jennifer


Hi! Thanks for reading! I’ve also written a book! (The Rise and Fall of Jenny Goodguts). You can learn more about my current work, including The Stuffed Project, or subscribe to the blog to get new posts directly in your inbox.

Twelfth month

It’s been a while since I last wrote to you. Some worldly events have taken place in the meantime. Elections, shenanigans, recounts, upticks, cancelled plans, people behaving badly, people behaving goodly, etc, and so on. I’m sure I’m missing things, to be honest I haven’t felt at the top of my game this month.

I started to write to you around the time of the election. I started to write to you before Thanksgiving. I started to write to you on Quantum Friday. Now it is December 5th. Only a few weeks left according to the cultural story of a ‘calendar’ that puts numbers on days and organizes them into blocks so that we can have a shared reference. We call this large block of smaller blocks 2020. And we have a few of the smaller blocks left until we say we are in a different larger block called 2021.

It was supposed to be an important year for the global commons. Big meetings were to take place all year to set ambitions for international climate policy, for protection of biodiversity. A culminating year and a year for new commitments. When the Convention on Biodiversity, for example, says: By 2020 we will… They then meet in 2020 and say, well did we? And what next?

I remember in January driving back to Alexandria from Alabama and thinking about this 2020 year which there were such high hopes set upon from the perspective of a global agenda (E.g., We’ll end deforestation by 2020!) And I thought: Lady, it’s 2020. It’s time. I don’t know what I meant, but I felt that there wasn’t time anymore to dilly dally. For me, for us. I wanted to channel some of the energy of the hope or the intention and use it to move me to something. To my small part in something.

I obviously don’t need to tell you what happened in the meantime to my hazy, yet well-intentioned visions of 2020.

I’m not going to expound too much on this, and I know 2020 has not been anything like anyone expected and there has been a lot of difficulty for all of us, much more for some than others, and absolutely no one is untouched. I feel a lot of frustration, though, with the ads or the memes or the storyline about how much 2020 has sucked. To me, those stories carry a message of how things are ‘supposed’ to be. But there is no supposed to be. This is what is, just like every day we are alive, and it might get better and it might get worse and we keep doing our best. There is no promise it will get better or that we are owed something different in life. That this is some aberration from clean and neat and controllable. Clean, predictable, controllable, in many ways, are an illusion we were sold.

What I am writing for, today, is to share something that is bringing me some joy and peace and showing me something that feels like possibility and hope here in the final weeks of what we call 2020.

On December 1st, I sat down with a large piece of paper. I did not purchase a special piece of paper that was just the right size, I found the largest piece of paper I had at home. I could have taped some paper together. That would have been good enough. I got out a pencil and a ruler. I sat down with Maggie and Sam. I showed them how I could measure the paper and use division to figure out how to divide it evenly to make 25 rectangles organized in rows of 7. A calendar. I wrote the numbers 1 to 25 in the boxes. An Advent calendar minus the chocolate or doors to open. No doors to open. We will make our own doors.

I had asked them, after Thanksgiving and on a day when they were talking about things they didn’t have, to make a list of things they were thankful to have. I asked for 5. Later that day, the focus on not having continuing, I asked them to make it 10. They wrote their lists.

With our grid in front of us, we looked at the lists. I explained my idea: We will choose one thing we are thankful for. And then we will find a way to share that thing with others who might not have it. We have a budget of $10 each day for 25 days to share something. What should we share first?

Of course the first big question was what about the chocolate? Won’t we get our chocolate. Yes, I said. We can still have chocolate. But in what form? What will the chocolate look like? When will we eat it? Fears were put to rest and it was emphasized: we have so much. We have so much. Let us use this month to think about sharing light. Spreading light. And I promise we will also eat some chocolate.

On the first day, it was a roundabout process and no one including me quite understood what we were doing. We had been for a walk in the woods the day before, Maggie had climbed a tree, she had a lot of insect bites. They were itchy. Somehow we started to talk about malaria. On our first day, the children decided they wanted to give malaria nets to protect children. Google time. We found an organization called Nothing But Nets. We read some of the stories of refugee families, families where the father had had malaria 300 times in his life, where children missed significant time in school because of malaria. The kids saw that $10 provided nets for 2 children. I said: our budget each day is $10, but if you want to do a job, like sweeping the deck, that can be a $10 job. We could give 4 nets. They swept the deck. That was also a learning experience about teamwork and project management. Sam especially wanted to read the stories and see the pictures of the people who now had nets. We decided, after the fact, that that day we were giving thanks for our health by sharing health with others.

On the second day, the kids chose to be thankful for our dog, Otis. We decided to support the Animal Welfare League of Alexandria and looked at their wishlist on Amazon. The kids wanted to send a dog bed and some baby food (they use it to feed the dogs medicine) but the total for these items was way higher than our daily budget. They mopped the kitchen and the dining room, they cleaned the kitchen cabinets, the bathroom vanity, the stairs. We read about raccoon rescue, hungry squirrels, we saw the photos of dogs and cats for adoption. We all agreed we’d like to find a way to volunteer there once it was possible again.

Here’s a thing. I always want to help. But I don’t know what to do. What is the BEST thing to do? What organization is working to solve the REAL problem. Teach a man to fish. Etc. That baby food I bought was made from chicken that was definitely not free-range.

I don’t have the answer. I don’t know the best, absolute most useful, perfect solution to whatever. Okay. But four kids who are alive on the Earth right now are going to sleep beneath a net and not get sick. One living creature who has probably not had a super amazing time in life so far will have a more comfortable night of sleep and take his medicine. I can share imperfectly. And as I do, I will learn more. I’m already learning more.

On the third day, the kids both came up with being thankful for trees. All on their own. We thought we would plant some trees. We found One Tree Planted where they say $1 given = 1 tree planted. We read all about what trees do for the atmosphere, for providing water, for livelihoods, for erosion, for habitat. We read about restoration in Haiti (where I told the kids my brother had spent some time helping people) (when the kids asked why the people in the photos in Haiti were frequently not smiling, this led to a very interesting conversation), we looked at how restoration in the Pacific Northwest is helping protect Orca whales, we looked at California because the kids knew about the wildfires, we looked at Appalachia because that’s closest to where we live, we looked at the Andes because Dave spent some time doing fieldwork there. The kids wanted to plant a tree in all of these places, and on the website you can choose to plant 2 trees here and 2 trees there.

As usual, we talked about what we could do with our $10. Two trees in five places. The kids washed all the sinks in the house, emptied the compost (a job they are not fond of) and we planted four trees in all five places.

This was an exciting day for me. It’s not hard! (I thought.) I want to plant trees for everyone! (I thought.) This is the best project I’ve ever done! (I thought.) We are learning so much!

Day 4 started off tricky. The kids could not agree about something to be thankful for. Eventually they chose Food. Let’s give to a food pantry they said. So we talked for a bit. What is it about food that you are thankful for, what do we want to share? Healthy food. We are thankful that we have healthy food that is grown in a healthy way that is good for us and also for the farmers and the Earth (we have recently watched both Kiss the Ground and The Biggest little Farm so this is on their minds). So we went to The Farmlink Project where they say $1 donated equals 10 pounds of food that, in part because of Covid, would not get to market otherwise, would have to be thrown out (and food waste is also a significant contributor to climate change, excellent comic about this link here) and here there are so many more people in our country without enough to eat right now. So $1 = 10 pounds of food = 8 meals. We did the math. The kids are a bit tired from all of the chores lately. With our $10 budget we can give 100 pounds of food (!) and 80 meals (!!). Okay, they said, let’s stick with $10 today. Well, I suggested, what about one small job. If you earn $2 extra that is 20 more pounds of food, 16 more meals for people who need food. They chose to do $8 worth of jobs and then when we sat down to make the donation they decided to give $1 of their own money each to round it up to 200 pounds of food and 160 meals.

I just found out in finding the links for this note, that today is World Soil Day, so clearly I will make a suggestion to the kids based on that fact. Otherwise, they have talked about giving thanks for toys next.

This project has been so interesting and has helped to put me into a very different frame of mind. I’m excited every day to see where the conversation will go, what we will learn together, what questions they will ask, what will spark their interest, what is being done in the world, how we can help, in a tiny way, but a way that feels concrete. I like that we can say: 4 nets, 20 trees, 160 meals, one dog bed. I know some of this is a bit of a fundraising gimmick. But I am not going to let the cynic in me win today. I am not going to not give because I don’t know the best place or because I am not sure which option is the most efficacious.

What if we all planted trees for each other in December? What would that be like? What would the world be like?

What if we all supported farmers and found ways for excess produce to get to the people who are hungry in November?

One dollar equals one tree. One dollar equals 8 meals.

Sam said to me after one conversation: If many people do one small thing, it becomes a big thing.

In hopefulness,

Jennifer


Hi! Thanks for reading! I’ve also written a book! (The Rise and Fall of Jenny Goodguts). You can learn more about my current work, including The Stuffed Project, or subscribe to the blog to get new posts directly in your inbox.

Gourds, and whatnot

Hi friends,

A few odds and ends to share here at the end of October 2020. 

I voted early and in person last week. It felt really weird and emotional. I’m still wearing my sticker (at this moment). I guess the truth is that this year has been so bizarre, with all of its plot twists and so much drama, real and manufactured, that I, while not prepared for it, have no expectation that the next month will proceed in any sensible, rational, or predictable way. I have no idea what is around the corner. But nothing that is around the corner is simple or easy.

One refrain that keeps occurring: we need to hold on less tightly to our identities and to the categories we assign to other people. We need bridges and to try to create opening. Nothing changes by dehumanizing anyone, except making the world less humane.

Whatever happens (gulp), I promise myself that I will keep trying.

Other than that my biggest news, I guess, is that Dave vacuumed the stairs that lead down to the basement, effectively reclaiming a whole new section of the house. Each time I walk up or down on that lofty, blue, hair-free carpet I feel, well, I think it’s accurate to say that it sparks joy.

Maggie was given an email account at school for corresponding with her teachers. Her account is limited to a set of approved addresses pending a future scholastic opportunity to learn about perverts. Don’t imagine she hasn’t tried to test the boundaries. This has led to rollicking fun as Maggie has lengthy email exchanges with her newest friend, Mail Delivery Subsystem, who disappointingly always replies in what she considers his characteristically cheeky fashion: with the exact same words over and over just to be aggravating. Apparently she has also been having conversations with the Zoom support robot or a pervert masquerading as such.

Halloween: Pretending and imagining is fun. I have always loved to dress up. I enjoy walking with a flashlight in the beautiful, crisp October night, seeing the pumpkins flickering, glowing from the inside. Going door to door in your own neighborhood (not this year!) connects you to the place and the real people living in the real houses on the real street where you are currently spending your life. Sharing and being shared with is important and life-giving. Traditions orient us to the seasons and help place our life into a rhythm.

There. I said some nice things about Halloween and did not focus on the fake spiderwebs, plastic skeletons, disembodied bloodshot eyeballs, malodorous polyester disguises, oversweetened child-labor chocolates of addiction, and the glorification of highly disturbing, psychologically questionable, money-making sickos that have haunted many of us since way too early in our 80’s childhood. I didn’t talk about the weird murder-glam that adorns my neighbors lawns. And I didn’t talk about how commercial Halloween seems to me now compared to when I used a garbage bag and some tape to dress like a California raisin and walk down the street with a pillowcase filled or filling with candy.

I will raise a question about the practice of trading kids a new toy in exchange for their candy (apparently this happens now). Yes, they don’t need all of the candy. They also don’t need a new toy. And, just maybe, providing one says: we always need new shit to be happy. Full disclosure (and because I’m perfect) we say: hey kids, all this candy is not good for your bodies, how about you pick 10-15 pieces (number has grown as they’ve gotten older) to keep and we’ll share the rest with people who don’t have any unhealthy candy (yes, it is also not good for their bodies). One child might mention her friend who is visited by the Great Pumpkin (an entity who visits on Halloween night and trades children candy for a toy, the latest addition to Santa Claus, The Easter Bunny, The Tooth Fairy, The Elf on the Shelf, and now this pumpkin guy who we are all supposed to share some cultural understanding of and not be weird about. Who are these random jokers coming into our homes? Why do we keep making more of them?) to which I respond: We have enough. We have more than enough. And then they eat a few pieces of candy and that’s that.

Corona? Dave is still at home all day every day. His dad is over 80 and lives alone in the UK so we wonder what will happen if his dad gets sick. Dave isn’t a US citizen yet (but paperwork has been submitted!) so if he leaves we aren’t sure he could come back, or when. The kids have gotten flu shots but Dave and I haven’t yet. Last week the kids had their first week of fully-masked, mostly outdoor, in-person school for a mostly full schedule. That means I’m sitting at home right now, quietly, sort of except that Dave is on a call and I can hear it, but mostly mumbly.

Sam got glasses yesterday so we are now officially a family of four-eyes. He put the glasses on and the lady at the optometrist asked him to look around and test his new vision. They had a charming display of hilarious dish towels near our seat. I guess they are diversifying their income stream due to Corona, so now they sell glasses, and dishtowels. The towel nearest to Sam was an adorable giraffe happily munching his lunch and Sam, proud of his new supersight, read its caption aloud: I eat the shit out of plants. He mispronounced “shit” the first time he read it aloud but the raucous laughter from every adult nearby indicated that he had hit on some mystical humor nirvana. He not only read that towel aloud 10-15 more times, jubilantly, but also the nearby towels that I don’t remember other than that one included the ‘f-bomb’ and also Sam says “bitch” like “beach.”

I have recently subscribed to Minimum Viable Planet: “an undepressing newsletter about how to fight climate change.” When I first came across the newsletter I felt appreciation and a sense of relief. She’s written a better version of what I imagined I might write and in a way that I find pleasurable (even delightful) to read. So if you like my occasional notes, and you don’t like doom and gloom but you give a crap, check it out. 

I’M FAMOUS!!! I was quoted in a blog post that also quoted Rumi:

Out beyond ideas of wrong doing and right doing there is a field—meet me there. ~Rumi

One of my favorite blogs is the Born Free Newsletter (here’s the one I was in) written by my friend Gail. It is brief, and warm, and I love the gentle way it opens me to thinking and being in the world.

I turned 45. I had a countdown, a very scaled-back version of my 40-til-40 that I blogged about way back at the beginning of the Jenaissance. It was a great countdown and actually a great birthday. I bought myself a new hoody sweatshirt and a new toothbrush. I drank some whiskey and ate cheese and crackers. And I made chocolate soufflé. The sweatshirt I bought was a disaster (color, fabric, sleeve ends with no elastic (?)), so Dave chose another one for me. Considering that he bought the original magenta hoody, his purchasing sweatshirt 2.0 felt appropriate and yes, I am currently wearing it. That’s why I’m still wearing my sticker.

Today is also our 13th wedding anniversary. No I would not have guessed anything at all about what life would be like today 13 years ago when I wore that fancy white dress in that big southern church. Dave will probably not read this, but he will make me a second cup of celebratory coffee later and we will order takeout from my favorite Italian restaurant and — if I wanted — he’d let me pick all the entrees. He might tease me about my soft clothes, but he has let me be myself and given me space to figure out who that is. It’s been a pretty good gig so far.

I’ll close today with some climate haiku.

We can restore soil
to sequester more carbon
it feels possible

Try to eat less beef
pasture raised is much better
these are important

Composting’s not hard
maybe your city does it
helps microbes to live

Some people even
use composting toilets but
that’s a tall order

Back to home/school

Oh my friends…

Here we are. September halfway gone. 2020 nothing like we imagined when we thought to ourself on New Year’s Day: I’m going to make 2020 the BEST YEAR EVER.

I left my home today (an incredibly rare occurrence. Since March 13th I’ve been out of the house on my own five times, and three of those times were to Trader Joe’s). This afternoon when homeschool ended I was feeling bold: a trip to the post office (to drop-off prepaid packages, no waiting in line) and then to the bank to get some cash, “just in case” (not exactly prepper cash, just enough to finally pay the kids their allowance rather than continuing to borrow their allowance out of their own wallets so that I have $2 to give them while also giving them a note, or adding on last week’s note, I O U $4 $6).

I brought a jar of change to the bank. While otherwise life bubbles along smoothly, our nation is undergoing a coin shortage. I thought to myself: today, I will be part of the solution. So I put the jar of change into the car in case I could turn it in at the bank and be a hero. But when I arrived, I found that only the ATM and drive thru were open, and usually they don’t take coin deposits through the drive thru (I didn’t check, truth be told). But all of these errands had only taken about 15 minutes and I was loving life out there on the open road. What to do? A flash of brilliance: I will go to the Coinstar at the Giant and turn in all of my coins. Why? Because heroes endure. So I drove to the Giant, quite excited about this new turn of events (mostly because it had occurred to me that I might write about my adventure). I arrived. Parked. Saw an older man get out of his lovely vintage Mustang not wearing a mask and walking towards the automatic doors splashed with a large sign: Masks Required. My brain asked questions. Maybe I’ll even walk in and buy some Claussen pickles, I thought. And then I walked into the store — well, first I tried to go in through the OUT door but that was embarrassing and then I walked in through the IN door, saw the “out of order” sign on the Coinstar machine and immediately circled to the OUT door at which point I knew that Mustang man thought I was insane. Walked straight to my car. Felt like crying, but did not.

Sitting in the car almost crying after failing to make an insignificant and questionably useful contribution to society reminded me of the other time, two weeks ago, when I finally loaded the car with the items, accumulating since March, deemed no longer necessary to our ‘new normal’. I drove to the Goodwill only to be turned away (mine was the second car turned away, the car two in front of me was successful in her quest to simplify) because there was no room left for additional donations. I did cry on that August afternoon.

After no more than a teacup of tears were shed I reminded myself that this is hardly front-line work. I can survive an unsuccessful trip to offload my excess shit. It just felt overwhelming, like nothing in this whole crazy world is working. NOT EVEN A GOODWILL DONATION?

I came home and ate some chips and hummus.

I still haven’t had the guts to try to return my overdue library books. I hope they meant it when they said fees are waived. Unless I can pay with the change….

***

I wrote this two weeks ago (but didn’t post) as a means of introducing you to the two newest members of our family:

Hello friends!
It’s been a couple of months since I last posted to the blog. Contrary to how it might seem to almost everyone I’ve ever known but haven’t spoken to since March, I and my family still exist. I told someone that I hadn’t seen a friend, in person, between March 13th and August 25th and that person seemed shocked. Which, in turn, shocked me. Wait, isn’t that what people are doing (I thought to myself). Haven’t we all been sitting inside or outside, but alone, I mean with only our spouse and children and dog, and possibly our parents or sibling, for the last six months?? Am I the only one who has left the house (except for minimal exercise in the form of very brief walks with the dog when guilt occasionally overcame me) three times since March (all three of those trips being to go to Trader Joe’s)? Am I the only one who wore the same pair of navy blue sweatpants every day for the months of June through August?

It turns out the answer is maybe. Perhaps I was just looking for a reason.

Summer is at an end. What have we done to prepare for at least one, likely four, and possibly an eternity of all living in very close proximity while all trying to … something, I don’t know, remind me what it is we are trying to do other than not read the news and make sure to eat (and not just chips and hummus)? So, in preparation for the new homeschool year, we have two new pets. I realized, after the fact, that assuming responsibility for two additional lifeforms, plus the dog, two kids, a non-traveling spouse, all here together in our American-small home was — it was not a moment of clarity.

Our neighbors had a suckerfish. Suckerfish eat other fish and our neighbors acquired some other fish so the suckerfish needed a new home. The daughter of the neighbors (she herself being a neighbor) knocked on our door and (through the mail slot because we are trying to fully ingrain one unnamed member’s antisocial behavior into all living creatures at our domicile) she offered me the fish. I didn’t know what to do. Oh no, I did know what to do. I told her: we don’t have a tank. Oh, we have an extra tank, she said. Okay, um, we don’t have any food. We have extra food. Well then, I thought, tank and food, sure, we can keep this thing alive for a while. How hard can it be?

Short story long, they didn’t have a tank. And a suckerfish has to have an oxygenated tank (why doesn’t a goldfish? I don’t know) so another neighbor went to the house of yet another neighbor who had some old aquarium equipment that turns out doesn’t all work together, it’s a hodgepodge of bits and pieces from a range of aquatic environments but would not serve to keep “Flippy” alive. So the father of the child who offered us the fish purchased a lovely aquarium after realizing that “Flippy” was going to be leaving his house to come to ours. So, hey, free aquarium and suckerfish. Flippy seems super happy here. He sleeps all day and hides and we never see him because he blends in to the back of the tank. I don’t know how much food he needs. We just sprinkle some in sometimes and I’m told he can also eat the algae that grows on the tank (well, it was a 7-year-old who told me) and is sort of self-sufficient. Stay tuned. I think his official name is “Flappy” (Sam had the honors) but I call him Flippy because that was the original proposal and also: Oh, have you met our fish, Flappy Hole?

All this happened because Maggie has been full court press for a hamster for the past two months. Why? I don’t know. But her father told her she could have one. So they chose a cage and a wheel and the little house and the food bowl and the shavings and the healthy seed mix and got it all set up and then went and purchased Sir Galahad last Friday. He is still alive which I wasn’t really expecting. (Update: He runs every night on his hamster wheel, which for the first two weeks was immobile due to excess of bedding material. It sounds like Rolling Thunder, all night. At least at any point in the night when I’m conscious and then again first thing in the morning. Where is he going? Why? Should I feel bad?) I’ve watched a few more YouTube videos than I would have preferred with a very knowledgeable young lady who seems to care a lot about hamsters. I do have some questions for her wardrobe team though. I don’t know who all these people are watching her videos (she has what some might consider an unwarranted number of followers). Is it all people who have hamsters? Or do some people just like to watch her talking about hamsters dressed in her crop top with the cleavage peep-hole? It’s confusing to me.

In summary: hiding from the world. Spent part of the summer in Alabama. Please don’t be offended that I didn’t call you while I was down there. I thought that was what we were all doing.

Not going to mention anything about the world circus.

Oh, I did see something I really liked: The Farmlink Project.

Remember when we were reading about all of the farms that couldn’t get produce to market so it was all going to waste? And then all of the people who needed food? Well, a couple of college kids started this project, supporting farmers, getting food to people. Thank you Farmlink Project.

What else? I’ve submitted 18 pieces of writing for publication. 13 rejections. 5 outstanding.

I’ve written a lot since February (I know it is not obvious based on the regularity of my blog posts).

I’ve started taking piano lessons again. Remotely of course. I think it is probably the best thing I have ever done for myself in my whole entire life.

I’ve also been writing haiku recently.

squirrels wear no pants
living free from questions like
when they were last washed

***

played Patience tonight
don’t care much for Axl’s voice
splendid whistling though

***

thank you for reading
Summer is gone and we are
all still in my house

Interdependence Day

Hi friends,

You may be surprised to learn that usually my catchy blog titles are the last thing I write before hitting ‘publish’ and sending my wisdom out to the generations. I sit here at the computer and then, as if by magic, I’m inspired by the cosmos. Take “Today is Wednesday” or “Day 15” as excellent examples of titles the universe has sent to me recently (while it feels recent, I see from a quick review that some time has passed).

Today, however, the title comes first. I don’t really have anything to say. I just wanted to write the words Interdependence Day.

(My problem here, in writing about American history, and any assessment of American government, is that my American history teacher subscribes to this blog. I’ve written about her before. High stakes.)

I think in celebrating independence we are celebrating the freedom to have self-determination. You are free to gather with whom you choose, free to live by and teach your children what you believe, free to use your voice, free to imagine new ways, free to invite others to join you. And we’re also celebrating what America represents, a bold experiment, the promise within a new form of democratic government where people, citizens and not subjects, could have a say in its decisions. And not only the few who inherited a seat at the table. Also, I feel appreciative, on this July 4th, for the checks and balances, the limits set to protect citizens and the system from too much power in any one of the governing.

We’ve built something worth protecting. Worth considering and understanding. But it won’t be protected, or strengthened, or meet its potential, with more independence.

According to Merriam-Webster independence means:

not subject to control by others

not requiring or relying on something else (not looking to others for one’s opinions or for guidance in conduct)

not requiring or relying on others (as for care or livelihood)

When I read these definitions, I think of my kids. They want to do it their way, they don’t want me always telling them what or how to do things. They love to imagine being orphans, self-reliant, longing for the day when they can eat as much ice cream as they want. And the older they get, and the more we trust them to base choices on available information, on safety, on health, with respect, the more choices they get to make. And the better the choices they make, measured by the outcome of those choices, the more the trust grows, and the more choices they get. At least I think that’s the idea.

As an adult, though, I know that saying “you’re not the boss of me” is not really effective people-skills. I also know that I do rely on and require others. I give and take, you give and take, that is how things work. And when I don’t give and take, when there’s no one to rely on for care or livelihood, when I don’t consult with others for guidance in conduct, when I’m not able to compromise for the sake of something larger than this moment of small freedom, therein lies madness.

Here’s the thing: we’re all in this together. When I use Round-up on my lawn, your children eat it in their Cheerios. Water isn’t independent. Climate isn’t independent. Viruses are not independent. Policies are not independent.

Government exists to keep us out of a free-for-all of person v person where might is right. If you think that government is broken, the only option is to fix it.

Ladies and gents, we have a lot of work to do. Part of it is a new declaration of independence, not about the personal freedom to wear offensive t-shirts, but from cultural norms that diminish health, imagination, possibility, and connection, systems that concentrate too much power in the hands of too few. Independence from being too immersed in media moving our emotions from low to low, from sorrow to anger to fear. From a fossil-fuel-based economy. From an economic system that concentrates extreme wealth for so few while leaving many lives, human and other, in desperate situations. From so many of us living our lives using so many drugs. From the crazy, crushing list of ridiculous expectations we have built around us. From charlatan priests using what should be spiritual to gain political power. Possibly from Amazon Prime.

And a declaration of interdependence. Building some trust. Sharing more in the understanding that in health lies strength, resilience. That health is about body, mind, and spirit, it is not measured only in bank notes. Maybe even shifting from filling our schedules so full with all of our accomplishments, on our and our children’s behalf, that there’s no room to take care of each other. Acknowledging that what we give our collective attention to grows.

Everyone I know is working hard and trying. Maybe we don’t need to do more. But maybe we can do different, help each other to imagine different.

We are together in this. And that can be a good thing.

Today is Wednesday

Dear friends,

Last Friday was my children’s final day of school for the year. Sam finished first grade with a class-wide game of Bingo via Zoom and Maggie with a 30-child Zoom followed by watching a movie together (on Zoom). She opted to leave before the movie so I can’t vouch for how well that went. Given that our internet connection was dropping on and off throughout the day/week/month, it was probably for the best (Comcast has sent us a new modem, we received it on Saturday, the day after school ended).

I had a few COVID stories to share, maybe I’ll start with those as a way of reminding us of a simpler time, three weeks ago, when all we were doing was trying to avoid spreading germs, wondering what we were going to do with our children all summer long, and worrying about an economic depression, with November, and Joe Biden’s health, looming like a terror in front of us. Remember the good old days?

And now we find ourselves worrying about white supremacist groups posing as ANTIFA on Twitter and instigating a move from the cities to the suburbs while we have conversations with friends and relatives about preppers and whether we were naive to never buy a gun.

I have never watched the show “Doomsday Preppers” but note that my spellcheck automatically changes ‘preppers’ to ‘peppers’ — so if you are amongst those who started watching the show because you thought it was about an end-of-days food, it would be understandable. Apparently the show, a platform for conspiracy theorists with potentially violent ideologies, was cancelled in response to a Change.org petition arguing that it was irresponsible for NatGeo to continue to air a program promoting “the extreme views of individuals on the fringes of society.” According to the petition, with 26% of American adults suffering from some form of mental illness, the risk was too great that a future episode might inspire violent action. The show was cancelled at the peak of its popularity in 2014.

As I write this, outside of my window the sun is shining. The trees are still, no breeze. The birds sound way happier than seems appropriate. The mountain laurel is blooming like nobody’s business and all that kale we planted what feels like only weeks ago is everywhere, as predicted.

So, before we move on to more distressing topics, I’d like to share a few bright spots.

First: Maggie, after reading My Side of the Mountain, has decided to move in to the large tree in our backyard. She wants to burn out the inside but we told her she has to wait until we are sure it is actually dead (this could take years, but I have not brought this to her attention). She has outfitted herself with several crackers, a pyrex container full of water (no, not a water bottle, an open pitcher that birds can share with her, yes, health issues), a bird book, a journal, a flashlight, and a few other odds and ends. She has spent the past two days outside, well past dark, when, for one reason or another we have been compelled to ask her to come in to sleep. She claims that she fell asleep in her ‘shelter’ the first night but with the possibilities of Lyme disease, West Nile, the Plague (I think that’s what fleas spread), and any other parasite-spread disease we told her she could try again but in a tent. Yesterday morning she insisted that she would collect all of her food for the day from the yard. She ate dandelion greens and mint leaves until about 2 o’clock (in addition to a few of her crackers) when she accepted a gift of hummus and chips that I left in a basket at her ‘door’.

She invited the rest of the family to a dinner party at her new home. She served us from a table she had made with a square of plywood and two pillars of bricks underneath. The meals were served on large leaves and consisted of a selection of mint leaves (this was the appetizer and dessert) and another leaf containing dandelion leaves and a few cherry tomatoes (these she had taken earlier in the day from the kitchen). Her brother raised the question of their provenance but happily ate his share. It was actually one of the nicest moments in the last three months, sitting in the backyard at the homemade table eating off of leaves. I think she is still wearing the same clothes and we probably need to do a serious tick check. But she was so happy out there, writing in her journal. She learned a lot about chipmunks and which birds we thought would actually be edible. She and Sam were hunting together with homemade spears (no animals were harmed in this adventure but had she unexpectedly caught a squirrel, we probably would have cooked it).

Second: I also wanted to tell you about Sam’s teacher visit. For context, we have been relatively isolated at our house since March 13. The kids have gone for bike rides with Dave. And we have gone hiking in quiet areas and socially distanced several times. I have not been the store once. Dave goes once a week and he also had to go the dentist when his crown fell off. Otherwise, we have not left, we have had no visitors, we have occasionally greeted neighbors as they passed our house. We have been fortunate that we can hole up here (get it, Hole up??) and contribute to decreasing the overall number of interactions in our local area.

So that means that my seven-year-old son has not had an in-person conversation with anyone but our family since March 13. And on Saturday, the day after school ended, his teacher asked if she could stop by our front yard to say hello. On Saturday morning, before she arrived, Sam ran upstairs to prepare. He selected his favorite Lucky Dog t-shirt. It’s green, with a picture of Snoopy holding a four-leaf clover (Sam was born on St. Patrick’s Day). Wearing his shirt he came downstairs: Mom, do you know where my tie is? He has this little blue clip-on tie, a hand-me-down from our neighbor. If my heart could have melted, it would have. Sam has a Corona-hawk haircut, two huge front teeth that are descending to take over his mouth and shift his face from my little boy to my not-little boy, and there he was in his Snoopy t-shirt with a tie clipped to the front to mark how special this occasion was to him.

Third: I’ve mentioned that my family has been reading Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings trilogy. We finished the third book on Thursday, the night before school ended. I think it took over ten minutes to make it through the last two pages. Dave would get halfway through a sentence and as understanding dawned, when it looked like what was about to happen was about to happen, they would interrupt: Wait, is Frodo…. Horrified. I thought you said…. I want Frodo to get married (etc etc). It was an emotional moment for all of us. But I was again reminded that naming my son after Samwise Gamgee was not a mistake.

Speaking of names brings up the reason for mentioning the books again. After we told Sam that we partially chose his name for Samwise in these books, he started referring to himself as Samwise Holegee. And then Maggie became Modo Baggins. In case you are not familiar with Middle Earth, Frodo is the hobbit whose task is to carry the ring of power to Mount Doom and destroy it and Samwise is his trusty sidekick in this errand. And in case you didn’t see what we did there, Samwise HOLEgee is a change from Samwise Gamgee and Modo Baggins is putting an “M” for Maggie in front of the name Frodo.

Of course at some point the question was raised over dinner, who is dad? It was pretty rapidly decided that he was “Dad-dalf the Grey.” Gandalf is the wizard, a valor, an angel-type who comes to Middle Earth to fight evil. He’s definitely the chief, all powerful good guy, wise and strong and fierce. They also occasionally considered ‘Dad-ragorn,’ this is the Viggo Mortenson character. The warrior/healer/king.

Oh, me? You may have rightly guessed that this whole reading adventure was my idea. That I’m the one who brought the books back from Alabama, who pulled them out at the beginning of the lockdown thinking this would be an enjoyable pastime while home together. What did my doting family immediately suggest in terms of a role for yours truly?

If past experience was any predictor of what was to come, I should have been prepared. But know that I was truly, and I mean this, wounded when the first suggestion, by my beloved children, was “Mollum” — that’s Gollum, a disgusting hairless large-eyed fish-man who is the story’s most pitiful and sad character. My spouse, love of my life, my darling heart, next suggested “Mauron” (pronounced Moron). He felt very proud of his cleverness. Again for those unfamiliar, Sauron is the big baddie. The supreme evil that doesn’t even have a form, he’s that bad. A giant menacing eye of doom. Of course the kids loved this. “Moron, Moron” they chanted at the table. My husband smiled and announced to all that I would probably be blogging about this later. Perhaps in recognition of this eventuality he quickly suggested that I could be Marwen. Does this guy even know me?????? ARWEN?? Sexist asshole. Arwen doesn’t do shit. What, I get to stay back in Rivendell hoping everything turns out and then give some jewelry to Frodo after he saves the world??? Thanks but no thanks. He said the name of another, more powerful, fairy woman who is at least super wise. No dice, Dippin.

I dubbed myself Mom Bombadil. Though I personally think I’m the Gandalf in this outfit. Since the initial conversations I have also been called the “Malrog” (evil fire creature), “Mimli” (at least a good guy but the only dwarf, kind of a brooding cave-dweller), and a “Mork” (the bright side of this being that “Dork” is funnier so Dave is occasionally relegated to bad guy status).

So that’s been happening around here.

And now we come to it. 

I wrote a poem on Sunday night.

protect them, I pray
from each other
or from themselves
help us to know how
to plant seeds of healing
help me find courage
if I lack the courage
not to hide in the safety
of oppression

The air is still and cool
here, quiet
I supplicate to the air
but help will not come
from breath
it is time

I read an article by Corinne Shatuck: 75 Things White People Can Do for Racial Justice. I did the first two things on the list. (Google to see if my local police department outfits on-duty police officers with body-worn cameras, it looks like the answer for Alexandria is yes. Google whether my city employs evidence-based police de-escalation trainings, it looks like the answer is yes but not for everyone, but I did not do an in-depth search).

Then I joined a book group that some folks at my children’s school are starting to read and discuss the book White Fragility by Robin DiAngelo.

I don’t know enough and I have not educated myself. Last winter I read Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehesi Coates. I highly recommend reading this, it is beautifully written and definitely shifted my way of seeing the world around me and to better understand, from a rational but also from an emotional viewpoint, the realities of life for people in America with skin that is pigmented differently from mine.

It is not acceptable that people paid to protect us all should not be held accountable, and should not know they will be held accountable. At the same time, I remember reading about the rate of Covid infection in the NYC Police Department. This sticks in my mind too.

From what I’ve been reading this week it seems that we have to fix the police accountability situation, the systemic racism situation, the police obtaining surplus battering rams from the military situation, the 50% of a municipal budget being for police situation, the whole Trump situation, the gross economic inequality situation, the white supremacy situation, the fact that people are afraid to give comment to the newspaper because of fear of reprisal situation.

With all of that said, in the wake of the past few months and all of the horrific news I’ve read and been more awash in than usual, I find America to be a beautiful place. Look at what we did. We stayed home to protect each other. We wear masks out of respect for each other. We walk next to each other to say that this cannot continue. We want a functional country, we are willing to give things up, to undergo hardship, to help each other, to take care of each other. We lack some kinds of leadership, but we have other kinds in droves. So many people thinking and working for good. Together. Trying to share strength and find solutions. We can help those people. We can be those people.

We don’t know how or when or where things will lead. So we have to find a way to live in hope, and not only in hope but in action and connection. Maybe that means that today you sit at a table in your backyard and eat dandelion greens that you are pretty sure your dog urinated on to help another human being learn the pleasure of giving and self-reliance. If you aren’t going to walk today, you can still listen and learn. You can reach out to anyone. Help anyone. In any way. It all adds up. The more we help, the more we listen, the more we share strength and compassion… Some say we are moving towards a new age of unity and these are growing pains to get there; last, groaning efforts to keep us from that future. Some say we are nearing the end-of-days. I don’t know. But you carry the ring to Mount Doom one step and one day at a time. You fight for what is good one small bit at a time, not knowing what is ahead, but knowing who you are and what you value. What has value. You work together with others to share your vision of what the world can be, and you share that through how you live, the choices you make, where you put your love and attention.

Today, I am putting my love and attention into sharing this with you.

With love,

Jennifer

May Day (may day)

I wrote some new poems about polar bears (they’re short):

The ice up here
I feel my dear
is not as near
as yesteryear

AND

My coat of white
is not so bright
after a fight
with a walrus

Maggie had a Zoom call for science class this week. Her classmates showed up for the call with clay or play-doh and the names of the planets written on cards. I had not seen the note, in one place but not three others where science assignments are posted, that mentioned needing a dough-like substance for one of the day’s activities. Had I seen it, my option would have been to make play-doh, possibly over the weekend, along with homeschooling both of my children, finishing work for a paid contract, dealing with my own grief and stress and emotions as well as that of two children separated from friends and normality (and a husband and an anxious dog).

I ask myself, is this a shortcoming? Am I using the current situation as an excuse to not do things because I’m fundamentally a lazy person? I’m taking the time to write this, shouldn’t I just buck up and make the play-doh instead? We could make some fun family memories: remember when we learned how to make play-doh that time, laughing and putting flour on each others noses in the kitchen while listening to music??

The other parents found the note, read it, and their children showed up, on time, dough and cards prepared. Dave and I are both scientists (well, I have a degree in science though now I write more about goddesses than photosynthesis, much to my partner’s approval and delight). I value science education and it was a thoughtful exercise in terms of learning outcomes. But even had I seen the note I would not have made the play-doh. Maggie signed off of the call early. There may be a hole in her understanding of the relative size of Mars to Neptune. I know that chasm still exists for me.

I’m thinking a lot these days about women and expectations. About the wine mom culture. About feminism and femininity. Who defines these and their purpose and what it all means for me, how I feel, how I behave, what I take on or don’t, how I evaluate and feel evaluated, what I allow myself to do, what I have not allowed.

I’m questioning the script that tells us that a drink is the earned reward at the end of a mind-numbing day. I don’t want a reward for getting through. I want a life that allows room for me to be. I have questions about the script and whether that kind of life is truly possible, or whether ads and self-help and some mythology about freedom are part of keeping us feeling worse because we can’t figure out how to be happy or ‘free’ when the economic realities for most people, the psychological power of marketing, and the deep need for belonging leave almost no room for anything other than what is (hello darkness my old friend).

I know many moms (and sometimes myself) who are reaching for the wine at the end of the day because it’s too much. My kid logged into a class yesterday with a bunch of kids who showed up with homemade play-doh. I am being absolutely sexist and assuming that in at least 90% of cases the mother was the one directing the play-doh to be made. Maybe she didn’t make it, but she was the one who knew it needed making and the one who printed the recipe and the one who put it on the counter and made sure it was made on time. Please forgive me if I have mischaracterized your particular situation. I speak only from my own limited experience.

Yes, there are a lot of amazing things we can do, things that are possible. But trying to do them all is not healthy. At least not for me. I feel like the crazy person in the room looking around at everyone who just made play-doh in the middle of a pandemic so our kids can sit for one hour on a Wednesday and make accurate scale models of the solar system, a rite of passage for all children since Cain and Abel. Probably for some parents the hour of childcare they get while the kid is engaged in a hands-on activity with a valuable learning outcome is worth the time to mix up a quick batch of dough (and wash the dishes). Play-doh does seem like tempting fate though in the midst of a virulent pandemic. The hands, the noses, the surfaces, the breathing… I know it’s just us here but.

I’ve seen a few articles about a new mode of feminism. Women (yes, actual women, I’ve seen pictures of them in colorful, flowing caftans and designer overalls) are foregoing their usual beautification regimens and experimenting with a rash new form of freedom. Short nails and bare lips. A revolution! The way I’ve seen it portrayed suggests that there has been a cultural norm that we have all bought into and now, oh my, how naughty or rebellious we might have roots that show. ROOTS!!!! I’m happy, or neutral, about the fact that some women are experiencing a new way of being that they find appealing or noteworthy. I have no comment on that really. What frustrates me (I guess) is the underlying signal about what normal womanhood is. Normally women care about these things because that’s what a woman is.

I guess what I’m resisting is the marketing around what is feminine. Feminine — to me — is a way of being, not a way of appearing. Feminine is more in how we approach the unknown, how we express vulnerability, our ability to be nurturing, to collaborate. And of course everyone has feminine energy, it is the balance to masculine energy (which we all have as well). I find it so constricting to think that my femininity, my womanliness, be shrunk to the shape of the ends of my fingers (which, for me, are better suited to growing plants and strumming chords than being smoothed and painted).

Apologies for jumping around here. My media feed tells me this is acceptable in a pandemic, there’s a reason it is hard to keep anything in my mind for very long. I can’t remember what it is.

A few things I’ve read lately that I’ve found very interesting:

Why Mommy Drinks (Today’s Parent) by Lauren Ferranti-Ballem

We are living in a Failed State (The Atlantic) by George Packer

Productivity is Not Working (Wired) by Laurie Penny

And in case you are wondering why you are sitting at home, disconnected from the world, the economy crashing around you while people start to talk about herd immunity and have raucous playdates all over town, I thought this was a very useful piece written by an actual epidemiologist about epidemiology.

‘I Promise. I Promise.’ You Can’t Cheat a Pandemic by Jonathan Smith

Yesterday during the time I was not making play-doh I stumbled upon a series of paintings called Hello Masterpiece. When you click the link, make sure that you look through the full group of all the paintings in the series. Mom, you have to click ‘next’ to go through the group of paintings (unless you are looking on your phone). I don’t want to ruin the surprise so I’m not giving hints. It’s worth it. A person’s creative responses to life can be so beautiful, so human.

I will be baking a carrot cake today. It is the third Hole family birthday during the lock-in, my second carrot cake. This one will have the traditional cream cheese frosting. I’ve also experimented with chocolate mousse (fail, added egg yolks too soon and used 100% cacao instead of semi-sweet). We ate it anyway, eggs are too precious these days to be wasted.

In my dream, we all work together to change the story. To celebrate the true beauty of women which is in how they contribute. To stop letting marketing define our values or choices. We connect in strength not in cynicism. We celebrate creativity. We take care of each other. We share more. We use less. We use our brains to come up with helpful rules that lead to a more virtuous loop where more people have what they need, are protected, feel safe. We make deposits into the Earth bank account instead of a steady stream of withdrawals. It’s possible. And we stop buying glow sticks.

Love to you all,

Jennifer

Peter Cottontail, et al.

My mostly abandoned bullet journal tells me that today is Corona Day 26. I think that means it is the 26th day my children have been home from school. I have remarked to several folks lately that time has changed to being marked by either awake or asleep, and coffee time, twice daily. Though the second is never as satisfying in reality as in imagination.

I felt uncomfortably aggravated today. A woman I know sent around a text message I have deleted that ran something like this: I know we are all crazy with Zoom calls and homeschool and (etc., etc.). Reading her message I thought, this sounds exactly like something she wrote a month ago (I know we are all crazy with carpool and soccer, etc., etc.). NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO. I refuse. I REFUSE. I’m not gonna do it. You cannot force me to be manic during my quarantine with your stories about how hectic everything is and how manic we all are. About doing it all and having it all or whatever expectations. NO. Also, if you sent me an email about a recipe exchange or an uplifting women’s empowerment exchange or any kind of email exchange where somebody is going to send me 25 somethings, I’m not doing it. I’m sorry I didn’t respond. (Thank you, very much, for being my friend.)

I also saw this a couple of days ago:

image

Later in the day I went online, to AmazonSmile, to frantically try to purchase something to put in an Easter basket. I’ve got nothing. No eggs to dye, no candy, no cute bunny-themed trinkets, no seed packets, no spring-themed books, no bubbles, no furry-animal covered pajamas. My kids were engaged in some undetermined and unusually/suspiciously quiet activity, and I was furtively trying to find things to put in my shopping cart that would arrive no later than Friday.

And as I looked at the sweatshop-sewn pajamas, having just watched John Oliver talking about fast fashion the previous night, this aggravating rainbow meme came to my mind. I took the items out of my basket.

This is a part of normal that is not worth rushing back to. I ordered each child some ‘grown-up’ watercolors, like mine, and a new sketch book. We have some plastic eggs in the attic and I have a few bits of candy leftover from Valentine’s Day (and yes still from Halloween) that I can put into the eggs. We have not been able to obtain white eggs, we will dye the dozen brown eggs we already have. We will use them to make deviled eggs afterwards but will not be able to share them with Libby’s family this year. The children have enough. And we will take the money we would have spent for the bunny-themed trinkets and use it to feed people or ease suffering in some way in the world.

I can’t change the world. I can’t make it the way I wish it would be. But I don’t have to follow the script. I can do it differently.

I drafted a letter from the Easter Bunny to my children. I have done nothing with it but here it is.

I’ve written a bunch of poetry this week (no poems are yet titled). Here are three poems:

#1

Opening the door to the built-in dining room cabinet
the one a realtor says gives character to an old house
with cracks in the basement
and a fireplace, still full of six-year-old ash,
a feature of such potential when first we imagined
our cheerful family
a baby and toddler, then,
round the glowing hearth

I remove, one by one, the Waterford goblets
a matrimonial gift, heavy and crystal,
the candles reflect like water on a sparkling day
on the one night each year we set them on the table,
half-filled with a cabernet franc or a zinfandel.
They glimmer there next to the Wedgewood, hand painted,
from my great-grandmother’s table,
the sterling candlesticks, carefully polished once each year
by my father for just this occasion.

I think it is their weight,
and also that they were store bought,
not parricide, grandmatricide, treachery,
a regret
a reminder of naiveté
a token of guilt
or a glint of anger.
What was the script?
An old-fashioned sitcom
that never looked anything like the truth?

Love purchased the Lismore nouveau,
wrapped them in thick white paper with a silver ribbon,
sent them to my parents’ house
from which they traveled to a multitude of apartments
and finally, the seventh packing,
to these cabinets
where most days they rest, shining decor,
unobserved, perfectly safe.

But on days like today
with no quiet moment,
when there is no space
and so much undone
I imagine holding a goblet
heavy, smooth, and cold
and one by one
my arm raises and, with all my strength,
they burst upon the limelight wall
no jubilation, but subtraction
one. crash. less. crash. thing.

I sweep them up,
shards in the trash.
I wait all week for the truck to come.
The bin is empty.
The cabinet more bare.
My fury spent.
Two hundred shelves
sixty-eight drawers
thirty cabinets
and four closets.
Only hurling crystal
the large bowl on the fragile stem
will bring pleasure
like biting into flesh, hard.

Not today,
I walk to the sink instead
the lunch dishes aren’t going to wash themselves.


#2

Not yet evolved from feeling thirst, my mouth or lips seek satiety.
The origin of what I need second only to oxygen, a mystery.
I was not born here and even back home
never thought to ask, where is the source of my life
which was then the Cahaba and now the Potomac.
My lips or tongue or cheeks,
when I am aware, infrequently,
send the signal and my hand moves a lever,
a brief sound of rushing and then relief
mixed sometimes with fear
of chemicals with names I cannot pronounce
or don’t want to.
After a day at the river’s edge we tell the children:
use soap.
I didn’t know they were bathing in the same water
we were trying to rinse off
where the snow melt and the stormwater
carry all of the other molecules,
not the two Hs and one O
but the other letters,
the ones we employ to keep going on like this.


#3

Tonight, loading the plates
medium face in on the left
smallest face in on the right
large in the back face in on the left
bowls behind the medium plates
I thought about Charles Dickens, father of ten,
served breakfast each morning at his tidy desk,
Mark Twain’s wife.
I thought of Jane Austen,
childless,
relieved of household duties by mother and sister,
of Charlotte Bronte
George Eliot
who based on the arrangement of their facial features
were provided educations superior to women of their day
when their fathers assumed they would never fulfill god’s intended destiny for our sex
instead they would teach little boys who might rise in the world
who, rich or poor, would not cook a meal
would not wash the dishes
would walk out with the other men
smoking a pipe
while the women, hidden and silent
slower or faster
bled to death

They cut my first child out, upside down and maybe it would have killed me at a different time, but not now.
Not quickly.
Not slowly either.
I have a dishwasher, and I don’t have to churn my own butter.
So what?
I’ll need to be my own fairy godmother
find my pumpkin
bake it into a coach.
And then what?
Intending no harm, Nick shared
goddam Bertrand Russell
“By death, by illness, by poverty, or by the voice of duty, we must learn, each one of us, that the world was not made for us, and that, however beautiful may be the things we crave, Fate may nevertheless forbid them. It is the part of courage, when misfortune comes, to bear without repining the ruin of our hopes, to turn away our thoughts from vain regrets. This degree of submission to power is not only just and right: it is the very gate of wisdom.”Fate will forbid
Fate does forbid
Fate has forbidden
But not all.
So, back to the ball
I get there,
full of my own power
that grew the pumpkin and baked the coach
that sheltered the mice and the lizards and kept them from the poison in the water
my dress is gentle armor
woven from thousands of blossoms that
I’ve tended with soil I’ve nurtured
with egg shells and coffee grounds I’ve collected to nourish this dead clay back to life
At the ball so much sparkles and shines
look what we can do what we’ve done
what we make what is possible
I pick up a lyre
I’ve learned how to play and I sing a song
with my lined eyes and imperfect complexion
the bits that bulge that haven’t always
and the bits that flop that didn’t used to
In the song we see the tables so full
and the glistening candelabra
the latest coaches
the fastest horses
and we figure out
what
we figure out
how to stop
to stop
and
slowly
quietly
lovingly
care-fully
to start.

I don’t lose a slipper,
I never needed one in the first place
just to find a way
uninvited for so long
still not invited, but maybe allowed
to get to the ball
to pick up the lyre
and,
without losing my head
by blade
or by ancient script,
to sing


In other news: I cut matching mohawks for Dave and Sam over the weekend. Maggie’s hair is also now ‘boy short’ (she wanted a mohawk but Dave convinced her otherwise. I was not far from a mohawk myself, let’s see how long this thing lasts). Otis is eight months old and weighs sixty pounds. He has taken to sleeping at the foot of the stairs during the day – I think this is so he can be as close as possible to as many members of the family as possible. We are reading The Fellowship of the Ring with the kids at night. It’s the best part of the day (after coffee). Dave is teaching the kids how to bird watch. We are getting some new perennials for a few garden beds we expanded over the weekend (we won plants at our school’s auction the weekend before the quarantine began). The kale we planted is going gangbusters. Other seeds have been ruthlessly abducted or disturbed by cheeky squirrels who don’t yet know how frequently we plot to eat them.

My friends, we’re doing the best we can. Please take good care of your gentle hearts, which may be hurting a lot right now. It won’t be like this forever and someday we will hug each other again. Read something beautiful, breathe outside, chew your food, and do your best to stop reading so much news. Love to you all.