To pause before, between … a musical interlude is needed

There’s a beautiful, melancholy Johnny Mercer song about the end of October and the memories that time of year calls up. “When October Goes” is one of my favorite sad-and-lovely songs. I kind of want one for the end of November, too. This moment just before December catapults us into the big year-ending flourish of Christmas and the new year, this limbo when I’m in the emotional sugar crash of coming home from a holiday with my family … it needs some kind of wistful, musical pause. I need some hand-holding into the wild ride that’s about to start.

Years ago during a family vacation to Dublin, my mother, sister, and I took a day trip a couple hours out of the city. The tour company we chose had drivers who were known for singing on the trips. We didn’t know that until it happened, and I’m glad we didn’t. If I’d heard anything about singing drivers, I’d for-sure have chosen another tour company … and I’d have missed one of my favorite experiences from that excellent trip.

On our ride back into the city, our lovely driver, Jimmy Doyle (yes, really), began to sing “Dublin in the Rare Oul Times.” His voice was low and mournful, and it so fit both the song and our moods as we watched the countryside go past after a long touring day. We weren’t melancholy exactly, but we were, too. Our trip was almost over, everything was beautiful and would soon be left behind and so yes, a pretty, melancholy serenade from a gruff bus driver with a gorgeous voice was beyond perfect.

That’s what I want to draw things to a close before I start playing all my Christmas music. Because yes, I have lots of holiday songs I can’t wait to start singing. I have an advent calendar from Diamine Ink that I can’t wait to start opening (can’t wait!). I have Christmas cookies to bake and swap. I have presents to wrap. I’m not trying to sink into any kind of melancholia, but I want to honor this, this little moment in between. I want Jimmy Doyle singing me from one space into the next.

Ring a ring a rosie as the light declines / I remember Dublin city in the rare oul times.

Happy Endings

Tonight I saw Suzan-Lori Parks’ Topdog/Underdog. I never saw the original production with Mos Def and Jeffrey Wright. I imagine it was magnificent.

I’ve never known the story of this play, so tonight was entirely fresh for me. Still, I knew that people really shouldn’t have been laughing — or at least not quite so uproariously — at certain turns in the plot. I knew very early on where we were headed.

Knowing didn’t make the experience any less powerful. Maybe gave it that much more weight. There are so many reasons that this story resonated deeply for me. But, beyond the feelings of personal connectedness with this story (which, of course, could not be less like anything in my own life, but still), there was the beautiful revelation of the actors’ performances.

Not surprise that Corey Hawkins and Yahya Abdul-Mateen II are good actors. I’ve known that for some time. But the nature of the play creates such an extraordinary space for two talents to expand in, so much room to stretch fully into the roles, into the electricity of playing off one another, into owning so much real estate on the stage.

I left needing some connection, some … something to shine its light on me. Not a happy ending. I don’t always need a happy ending. But something. My walk from the theater to the subway had no magic, however, and folks on my train were very drawn into themselves. I mean, of course, but I needed some energy from them, some of the random connection this city often tosses up.

And then we pulled into Dekalb. A bunch of people left the train. A man jumped up and crossed over to a seat A young woman had just vacated. He was shouting … because she’d left her fanny pack on the seat. She was walking away from the train, not hearing him or any of the other people who began shouting for her. Whatever was streaming through her earbuds did a good job of keeping her focused away from the train.

Trains don’t sit long in stations, so there wasn’t much time. Some people in the car told the guy to toss the bag onto the platform. A teenaged boy and I had left our seats and were standing in the doorway. We shouted almost in unison: “Lady with the green hat!” And she finally turned around and saw the man waving her bag in the air from the next door down the car. She ran over and grabbed it, the doors closed, and we continued on our way.

Thank you, my city. It was what I needed. I didn’t want to feel so anonymous in that moment and New York conjured up some we’re-all-family business for me.

What’s more, I’ve been that woman in the green hat. Years ago, I walked off a tram in Budapest without my purse. I ignored the shouts behind me and kept walking. Someone on that tram made the decision to fling my bag at me before the doors closed. And that lovely soul had a strong arm and great aim. My bag slammed into the back of my head, very definitely getting my attention. I was that woman just a few weeks ago. I took off my backpack at the grocery store and was walking away after checking out when the man behind me smacked my arm with my bag. I have been that woman a number of times between Budapest and Foodtown. And always, someone saves me from my foolishness.

So thank you again, my city. We’re all family, and I’m not in this alone. Wrapped in one random moment on a southbound express train. I’ll take it.

Isolated Impact

I’m thinking about ways isolation has chipped away at my social graces. Last week, I stepped into the elevator and met an adorable dog. I’ve never seen him before, and I was instantly charmed. He was kind of a beagle/Jack Russell/something, with the prettiest eyes! I immediately began talking to him through his people, two men I’ve never seen before, so I think they must be new/sort-of-new to the building. We parted as we came off the elevator, and only a couple of blocks later did I realize that I never actually spoke to the men, only to the dog. I didn’t introduce myself or try to interact with them in any way. I was just so focused on that sweet dog.

Today, I left for work and met the dog and his people again. I reintroduced myself to the dog and petted him for a minute or so, telling him how cute he is and how happy I was to see him again.

At least this time, I wished the men a nice day as I walked off.

I understand my focus on the dog — I love dogs — but usually I talk to the people, too. At least a little, even if it’s just to ask the dog’s name or breed. But I was so focused on that cute little guy that his people almost disappeared. I was happy to use them in my conversation with the dog, but talk? To them? Clearly not.

As I said above, I blame this on Covid, on the isolation of the last 2+ years. I haven’t had to maintain a regular practice in the social graces, haven’t had to remember how to behave with strangers. I’ve just puttered around tending to my own needs and maintaining a safe distance from everyone else.

This isn’t my behavior in every interaction with strangers these days. I still have some of my old niceties left, but my easier default definitely seems to be keeping interactions to a minimum. In my defense, I’ll add that neither of the dog’s people were wearing masks. I was wearing a mask. So maybe part of my behavior can be chalked up to not wanting their uncovered faces any closer to mine than they had to be? I’d lean into that as an excuse, but I know that’s not it, not the primary reason for my behavior. It’s really about me not being inclined to make nice with people.

I’m choosing to believe (hope against hope?) that all is not lost, that I’ll be able to relearn how to be “normal” with folks again, but it’s distressing to see how completely uninterested in connecting I am, how quickly I turn away from new people. One of my favorite things about living in this city has always been the random-and-fabulous encounters to be had with strangers. I don’t want that to be one more thing Covid has taken from me.


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Gratitude

I’m in Alaska at my writing residency. It’s lovely here, and I feel extraordinarily lucky to be here. My tourist day in town — the day before I came up to the residency itself — was studded with random moments when I’d be walking around and suddenly “Thank you,” would just bubble out of me. Out loud. Literally just saying it aloud as I walked on the beach, as I stood in the museum, as I sipped mead, as I stared up at the mountains. Thank you, thank you, thank you. I’ve never had gratitude burst out of me before. It’s a curious feeling. I’d like to experience it some more!

I’m here to write. I’m here, most specifically, to work on “Fat Talk” essays. I am determined to shape that series into a collection. And, while I haven’t been away from the project for long, I kind of have, too. I did some writing in November, but never cleaned it up and posted it. I’ve been thinking about the project, but haven’t gotten any words on paper.

So these two weeks are time to pull this project back to the front of my brain and see what’s what.

And that’s hard and stressful because a lot of what I want to write about it hard and stressful. Having to put into words the ways in which I have been mistreated is hard. Having to put into words the ways in which I have mistreated myself is harder. It’s good to be here to do this. To have time and silence to push through the rough pieces. To have a group of writers to sit with at dinner and feel embraced and heard. This. THis is why “thank you” just kept bubbling out of me on Saturday. The understanding and anticipation of the gift of this

I came up a day early so that I could recover from a 20-hour travel day and play tourist in Homer for a minute. I wish I could have come up a full week early. I enjoyed my day of wandering in the cold and rain, however. I was exhausted — arrived at 7:30 in the morning but couldn’t check into the hotel until 5, so I had to stay awake and do something all day. And I did. Walked on the beach, stared at the mountains, had a really good omelet, went to the very excellent and inspiring Pratt Museum — if you’re going to be in Homer, for-sure visit the Pratt. It’s small and lovely. After the museum, I walked over to the Sweetgale Meadworks to try mead for the first time. I sampled all the meads ( 😉 ) and even got pics of a visiting moose before it was time to head to the hotel. On the drive to the hotel, we passed a coffee klatch of bald eagles — six of them just hanging out on the beach. And then I discovered that I’m not too early for late daylight! I thought I’d miss the whole midnight sun extravaganza … and I will, but the sun sets after 10pm right now, so daylight just goes on and on. It’s magical.

Here are some pics from the last few days:

My first good look at Kachemak Bay, taken from the back deck of the hotel where I stayed the first night.
The flights of meads I sampled. The flight on the left had my favorites: Sweetgale, Nagoonberry, and Wildflower.
One of the two moose who came by the meadery as I was sipping mead.
The view from my hotel room … at about 9pm. Crazypants that it was still this bright out!
Hanging out at the Salty Dawg Saloon before heading out to the residency. (That Stella Cidre was good stuff!)
A piece of the view from my cabin window here at the residency. That’s Cook Inlet.
Running away to write. 10/10 highly recommend
A mated pair of Sandhill Cranes who were hanging around outside the main house when I walked up for breakfast yesterday.

And now it’s time to get back to work! ❤


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I want the drugs. I need the drugs. Give me the drugs.

I am vaxxed and boosted. I am, in fact, hoping that a second booster for oldsters like me will be approved before my trip in May. I want to be loaded up with all the protection I can get.

My doctor — because she is a sensible and responsible professional and not an alarmist hypochondriac, terrified of getting Covid — has been telling me each time I email her about a second booster that I need to wait, that a second boost hasn’t been approved yet, hasn’t been shown to be helpful/necessary. And, each time we talk, I nod and agree that it’s best to wait … while inside I am screaming: GET THE DRUGS INTO MY BODY!!!

It’s still interesting to me how pro-vaccine I am. Or, to be more precise, how pro this vaccine I am. When vaccine talk first started in 2020, I was pretty certain I would wait a good long while before getting a shot. I wanted to wait until a lot of people had been vaxxed before I offered up my own precious self for some drug that would have been tested for about twelve seconds before being touted as the answer to our prayers. Did I want a vaccine? Yes. Did I trust Big Pharma or Caligula’s administration? Not hardly. I already have a strong, evidence-based distrust of the medical profession. There was no way I was going to raise my hand for experimental drugs.

Ha.

Fast forward to the moment it became possible to get a shot. When I say I would have elbowed kittens, Mr. Rogers, and the Dalai Lama out of my way to get my first shot, believe me. I didn’t think twice about signing up.

Same with the booster. The moment I was eligible, I was online booking a shot for the next morning. I got to the pop-up vax spot before the staff, sitting outside closed, empty trailers ready to roll up my sleeve and get my dose.

My trust of the medical profession hasn’t grown by leaps and bounds. It hasn’t grown at all. My recently canceled surgery and the lack of care that has come in the wake of that mess have shown me that I can be assured that the medical profession still doesn’t care a whit for me.

Clearly, however, my fear of Covid is stronger than my distrust of doctors and drug companies. I am acutely aware of how likely I am to have a terrible time with Covid, how much more likely I am to die from it. That fear is what makes it easy for me to stay masked, easy for me to follow all the protocols (and wish other people would, too). That fear is what sent me hurtling toward my first Moderna shot, and what has me desperate for a second booster.

I just saw an article saying the Biden administration is pushing for second booster for people over 50, and I am so here for it! It hasn’t been approved yet, and there are good-sounding reasons to maybe wait … but none of those reasons are stronger than my fear, none of those reasons can drown out the drumbeat of GET THE DRUGS INTO MY BODY!!

Fingers crossed.


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