A Hard Rain’s gonna fall, with the sun to come…

…”What did you see, my blue-eyed son, what did you see, my darling young one? I saw a newborn baby with wolves all around it…” -Bob Dylan

Good afternoon, friends! Yes, it’s 1:06, and yes, I have popped open a beverage. Don’t judge me. If a piece of your heart just drove away in a loaded, unwieldy moving van, I wouldn’t judge you. Unless you chose a drink unworthy of your sorrow, but there’s too many of those to name. I assure you, mine is up to the job, the name of which is “Smuggler.” A silky-sweet imperial stout put out by the Nashville brewery Bearded Iris, a lovely place which now employs our eldest son in its production. He’s gone from making stellar cider to stellar beer, which, besides music, was his goal.

Nashville. Such a vibrant city that has remained so, in spite of last year: a destructive hurricane, a beast called Covid, and a bombing that took out a good portion of downtown. Ya gotta admire that resilience, as well as being jammed-with-talent, fun, and every kind of quality music you can imagine. Now it’s claiming our younger son too. Not for musical purposes, although like his brother he has a fine voice. No, this is about forging a new path. A new job, apartment, co-workers, the whole shebang, and though it pains me to say it, a new home. Let me tell you, it’s been one hard-earned journey.

I’ve written numerous times before about Danny’s previous academic struggles, as many of you well know. When I think back, I’m not sure how we even made it through. I feel like I was like that Facebook meme that shows the bedraggled chicken missing feathers. She’s got a broken beak, with one eye up and another down, and the caption reads, “I’m doing fine. How about you?” It really was like that, a lot of the time. Dreading a school or teacher email, a conference full of “if only Danny would ______,” (pay attention, FOCUS, be organized, stop talking, being silly, turn IN WORK, the list of fill-in-the-blank options interminable). I’ve been there, done that, and have no wish to re-hash. I guess I’m recalling it now, in a weak attempt to justify why letting go is so tricky.

Because it’s hard to retire the mama bear’s claws, isn’t it? In addition to swigging potions at an unreasonable hour, I’ve been listening to music, my other therapy. Enter Bob Dylan. Now, I admit I don’t like listening to Bob sing. At all. However, I do like other people covering his songs. Two of the members of Walk off the Earth do an incredible job with “A Hard Rain’s Gonna Fall,” of which the lyrics are shown here. You-tube it and listen. Word has it that Bob wrote the song about the threat of war between Russia and the US back in the day, but like all excellent songwriting, the lyrics are wide open for interpretation. For me, when I hear, “I’ve stepped on the side of twelve misty mountains, I’ve walked and I’ve crawled on six crooked highways, I’ve stepped in the middle of seven sad forests…” I actually picture myself doing those things to pull my kid out of the quicksand mud that was school.

Take the words above, “What did you see, my blue-eyed son, what did you see, my darling young one? For I saw a newborn baby with wild wolves all around it.” When I hear that, I see myself standing in front of him, a vulnerable child, a mere seven year old thinking he’s already failed, and I’m snarling at all those arrogant authority figures who have made him think that way. Whose thoughtless words and actions I wanted to chew up and spit back at them. I know it sounds ridiculously melodramatic, but if you haven’t experienced it, you can’t imagine what it’s like. And not just once, but for years. He and I have talked about this, about how it could have been different if I’d have homeschooled him. Today, particularly in the current climate, I would do it. Protests or not. But as in all of life, there are always trade-offs. One of them would’ve been that he wouldn’t have formed the strong bond he had with his best friend, Mat.

Ah, yes, Mat. Sweet, funny, deeply loyal. Much like Danny himself. They were life rafts for each other in the shitstorm that is the existence for kids that “need help”, as evidenced by one asshat teacher. This fu@#stick actually announced in front of the class, “Here’s the Chapter five test for you guys. Oh, except for you, Danny, and Mat. Here are your exams. Do you need Mrs. Shuler to read them to you?” I wish I could say this was an exaggeration, but it wasn’t. That MF-er is lucky I didn’t murder him. In fact, my ears are turning red just thinking of it, so perhaps a big drag of Smuggler is in order to cool off.

Okay. Better.

As I’ve detailed before in other pieces, from almost the minute their lives were released from that educational jail, the chains came slamming back from the weight of loss. Mat was killed in a car accident a month before turning twenty-one, and I watched helplessly as my son grappled with this senseless blow. Again, I had to reign in the instinct to run in and rescue. Friendships hadn’t come easily to him, and I fretted at the magnitude of this gap. In the end I had to trust. To trust he possessed the fortitude to heal and go forth in a way Mat would be proud. To trust that God had his back. And you know what? He did it. He showed up, partially by getting his own place and by working hard at his job. To the average snob, stocking grocery store shelves for six years and not asking his parents for money might not seem like much, but he was determined not to be a failure-to-launch stoner in his high school home’s basement. By avoiding that fate he already exceeded what I’m sure many of him teachers predicted for him.

When his supervisors declined to give him a shot at management with no reasonable explanation, other than vague excuses anyone could see through, I felt that warrior in me momentarily surface. “I should go in there and give them a what-for!” I growled at the dinner table. “Is this how you reward years of an employee’s dedicated service, no calling in sick, working crazy hours? Those SOB’s!” He looked at me as though I’d grown a third eye. Of course, I wasn’t serious. But don’t think it didn’t cross my mind.

In truth, I was secretly relieved. I thought if he’d gotten a promotion he’d probably get stuck here, in a job and geographical area that isn’t exactly bursting with young people ready to socialize. I mean, it happens all the time. Hope and promise become a distant memory, as “lifers” dutifully clock in and out because they were too scared to take a leap of faith years before. When Danny applied and was hired for a job as a Dr. Pepper distributor in Nashville, we were all excited. Here’s a chance. An opportunity to go where there’s no preconceptions, nobody he has a history with, and….far from the clutches of this clucking mother hen. It’s the normal order of development. Roots and wings and all that. Logic dictates it. But I literally could not help myself when I asked his brother if he would ‘drive him around” when he first arrived in town. Sean gave me the third eye look and said, “Um, what do you mean? He’s twenty-six.” I laughed and said, “yes, I know, but he is still used to small-town stoplights, and these people are the most unhinged drivers on the planet here.” (Which, I’m sorry, is true). He just shook his head and probably thought Danny wasn’t getting out of Michigan fast enough.

He doesn’t know yet. Heck, neither of them do. About with the coming of a baby, comes the forever wearing your heart on your sleeve part, and the constant worry. The worry simply changes along with the offspring. From choking, to when will he talk, to when will he stop talking, to will he meet a nice girl, to college or not, to setting out on their own and the hundreds of ways those choices can implode. Add that in with a child who won’t “fit in the box” (nor would I force him in). Can you blame me for my hovering?

Well, I suppose you can, because overprotectiveness does have the potential to go off the rails. I don’t write this post as an attempt to win “Attagirl!” comments. In the name of all that is Holy, do not tell me how fantastic of a mom I am. I’m not. I faltered so much, did too much, did too little, I’m sure in all the ways that mattered. I write about it because writing is my way to express emotions and to make connections. Right now I’ve got a bunch of feels. Who am I, if I’m not fighting for him? Who am I, if I’m not making mostaccoli and chocolate chip bars, and buying watermelon Propel, because those are his favorites when he stops by? Who will we go to Mug Club with, that we like as much as him? (Okay, we’ve got some suitable stand-ins, but you get the gist).

Milestones like this also mean you revisit those life lessons you were supposed to impart. A long time ago I bought a fancy little book with butcher block type paper, and the title was, “Did I Ever Tell You?” It’s filled with these gorgeous plant illustrations, accompanied by sentences like, “Hyacinth is for hope. I hope I told you somewhere along the way to stand up for what is right.” I’m making that up, because I don’t know where the hell that book is, but that’s how it went. My intent was to give it to Sean at graduation. Maybe I did. I hope so, because my daughter-in-law would love it. Anyway, these thoughts float around. Did we tell him enough about insurance? IRA’s? Changing his sheets more than once a year? I used to work with pregnant teens, so pretty sure I covered the “use condoms” one. Ad-nauseum. Still, we probably left out a lot.

These are the days that we parents prepare for, watching our hatchlings fly. It has to be according to their timeline, and not ours, and it might be one filled with a lot of turbulence. For all my mournful musings I am thrilled. To see him (and his brother) thrive in whatever ways they decide are right for them is the end game. It’s worth every sleepless night, every dirty sock left on the floor and every teeth-gnashing moment of anxiety. The last couple of days, I must have told him a half-dozen times to use the blindspot mirrors and stay in the right lane when he drives that truck. “I know, mom, I know!” Exasperation in every syllable. Be patient with me, I wanted to say. Mama bear instincts die hard, even harder when they’ve had so damned much honing and practice.

Friends, thank you for all the prayers and well wishes you’ve sent our way on this next chapter. As of the consumption of this pint, my cub has arrived safely and is fervently unpacking, and his beloved felines survived the journey intact. My belly is beginning to unclench, thank God. Good things await, once I can see through this glossy film in my eyes. You young mamas, hold on tight, and don’t ever regret going to bat for your baby when it’s called for. Nobody else will do it for them, until a day like this comes, when you realize they’ve learned to do it without you. And that’s a win-win, all around.

CHEERS!

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It’s not dark yet

“There’s not even room enough to be anywhere

Not dark yet,

But it’s gettin’ there…

Well my sense of humanity is going down the drain,

Behind every beautiful thing, there’s been some kind of pain…”  —-Bob Dylan

God, I love that song.  Don’t look up Bob’s version, either.  Look up “Not Dark Yet,” on Youtube, with Alison Moorer and her sister Shelby Lynn.  They are INCREDIBLE.

So, warning: this post is probably not a feel-good one, but if you follow along with me you may recognize many of my blog entries are not always mood-lifters.  I process through my writing, and this is what’s in my hot-flash-addled brain these days.  By the way, menopause and masks are not a good combo, in case you were wondering.

Good morning, friends. Today’s post is brought to you not by beer but by coffee.  It’s happened before, believe it or not.  Although I am now reminded of a bottle of coffee porter our friends dropped off the other day that I won’t hesitate to break open.  I never in my wildest dreams would have thought beer and coffee flavors would go together…but trust me, they do.  Porters are roasty and so is good coffee.  Enough said.  There’s also a dark chocolate bar those same friends gave me that would compliment this menu.  A breakfast of champions, right?  Let me just roll my over-caloried  and alcohol soaked self right out of April, where it’s been Groundhog day every day.  Here’s what I’ve become: Get up.  Coffee and toast.  Maybe shower, maybe not.  Maybe change clothes, maybe not.  Check email, Facebook, and current rants about corona. Deal with animals and check for evidence of poop, puke, and pee throughout the house.  Decide what will be for dinner.  Maybe write.   Think about doing zoom yoga and decide not to.  Walk.  Clean, then bake and eat hordes of butter-laden items.  Walk dog.  Check for pee again.  Make dinner and take pictures of dinner.  Dishes.  Drink.  Watch latest shelter-in-place- show, in between checking social media rants again.  Go to bed.

Sound familiar? Many of you are homeschooling and working, in addition to all of this. It’s hard, and so is the relentless monotony.  Also, I’m not joking about the animal excretions part.  Having two geriatric pets guarantees this clean-up is part of my routine now; as is nature’s miracle, Skout’s honor laundry additive, smelly kidney-helpful cat food, homeopathic drops, an extra litter box, pee pads, and arthritis meds.  Scarily,  this is possibly my future, too.  The other day I looked at the dog’s gray hair and bowlegged gait, and I announced to my husband, “Everyone’s old in this house!”  He didn’t disagree.

Most of you have seen those posts, “Take advantage of this new time!  Be at one with your spouse and your cadre of ever-growing children! Play board games and cook eight course meals! Re-evaluate your life, your inner glow, your neglected goals! Be grateful for family!”  I try, I really do.  I’ll bet you’re trying, too.  And I’m already over it, sorry to say.

Having an “empath” personality, which I do, sounds like hippy guru type stuff.  Very in touch with the universe and all that. Which I guess might be true, but it also means it’s extremely difficult to turn the thoughts off:  “I hate what this virus is doing to divide our country even more”, “I hate not seeing my family and friends, and my live music,” “I hate what’s happening to our small businesses,” “I hate that people are in nursing homes all alone,” “I hate that everyone is paralyzed with fear at the idea of touching another person,””I hate that kids are glued to computers more than ever, can’t see their friends, and might be cooped up with maniacal family members…” It goes on and on in a loop.

Sorry.  I did warn you.

It occurred to me that part of the virus-fueled fear I mentioned above, is closely related to our relationship with death. Maybe that sounds too obvious, but what isn’t obvious to many is how unskilled we are at grasping the reality of death happening.  Everything in our culture is geared toward how to stall and prevent it.  I believe the majority of us get a big fat zero at “being comfortable” at the inevitability.  Of course, with good reason.  We’re wired to fight for survival.  The older you get, though, (theoretically), the more at peace with the afterlife one becomes.

I learned so much about death when I took a hospice volunteer training years ago.  This was before I began losing family members in what felt like a three year plague.  When that plague hit I remembered what Hospice taught about dying.  I remembered that it’s natural, that we should take control of the process as much as we can, to see that it happens peacefully and with minimal suffering.  For ourselves, and our loved ones.  I think that’s what’s so terrifying for the world at this point.  A disease like Covid-19 attacks our choices, our say in how to carry on, and how we might die.  My preferred method sure as hell isn’t laying with a ventilator behind a partition, petrified that I might be infecting the nurses taking care of me.  My personal mini-pandemic a few years back resulted in me clarifying what I DIDN’T want for myself when that time came, and to make sure others were aware too.  So when I think about my end I’m not really afraid, unless it’s that above hospital scenario.  If I knew tomorrow would be my last day on earth, there are two things I would regret: missing out on grandparent-hood, and not finishing my #@$damned book.  No pressure on the kiddos, but I hereby put my writer friend Kris in charge of finishing the manuscript if I don’t.  She’d make a fine author.  I might have to will her a lifetime of coffee porters to see it to the finish.

Here’s the eternal, painful, predicament: the deeper the connection, the harder the loss.  But what else would we do?  Not have the experience?  It’s certainly tempting to take a pass after a pet dies.  Who can stand the thought of going through that over and over?  My son and daughter-in-law are in this anguish as I speak.  Yesterday, their kitty of seven years named Beatrice passed away quite traumatically.  Black and white, docile, chubby, and agreeable Bea, with her rotund belly and disproportionately tiny head.  She enjoyed sitting in boxes too small and lounging on the windowsill, but most of all she liked laps with blankets.  Unlike most cats, she was decidedly ungraceful, making us all laugh with her failed attempts to land jumps.  But also unlike a lot of finicky felines, she was cuddly and loving as could be.  As fate would cruelly have it, one minute she was there, the next she was not, and we are all heartbroken.  I can’t stop crying as I think of her, and my daughter-in-law trying to help her.  Although it’s on another level, this kind of jarring loss is comparable to that of a violent crash.  The unexpected shock, vs. the long, downward decline everyone dreads.  And always, always, the question that haunts: was there something else that could’ve been done?  The answer for people who wonder this is almost always no, but asking it means you loved, and you cared.

It hurts.  Living hurts, I guess, if you do it right.

It all stings deeply, whether its the old, young, animal, human, and if the demise is fast or slow.  I feel the effect is magnified during a time when we’re forbidden from having contact except through a screen.  I’m sad in a myriad of ways due to the last couple of months, and although I may want to drink through it, I won’t make the mistake of clamping down or denying it, and you shouldn’t either.  Why are the tears we shed from an onion chemically different than ones shed from grief?  There’s a reason why God made us in this fashion.  Not to be overly dramatic, but this limbo we are in is like a mourning, and we should treat it as such.  It’s when we wallow endlessly and obsess in our despair that we need a change to take place.

Ready for my one paragraph of positive prose?  I think I detect a pattern in my blog writing.

There is light coming, like shards of sun peeking through the blinds.  Logically, we know this.  Spring is here, and so are the blooms that give us joy.  Babies will be born, kittens and puppies will frolic and be adopted and help heal aching holes, and there are bluebirds nesting in my twenty-something year old box.  Orioles will come to feast on the fruit and grape jelly, dazzling in their orange and black glory.  I have to tell you how much I cherish those birds.  In elementary school, my son Danny brought home a mother’s day card with the word mother in an acronym. The other words for the letters were typical adjectives describing me, clearly suggested by a teacher.  With one exception.  For the E in mother, he wrote, “E is for eager to see oreal birds.”  I was so glad his teacher never corrected his spelling, making it that much dearer.  And never have I been more eager to hear their lovely warbling than I am right now.

Along with nature, in the coming months some shops and pubs will emerge unscathed, while delicious beer will be made, and concerts will be held again.  We will get to kiss and hug without personal protection equipment, and even if so and so says we shouldn’t yet, I will do it anyway.

I’ll be okay.  I’m even going camping this weekend, where 6 feet away friends and a campfire await.  It’s not dark yet.  And that was more than one paragraph of good news.

Cheers, friends. Until we can meet in person, send a little love or good vibes toward the famed rainbow bridge that just welcomed another furbaby, and the two humans who loved her the most.  Rest in peace, sweet Bea.

 

 

 

 

 

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The End Times have arrived

Wow, ya’ll.  (I can say ya’ll legitimately, because my son and daughter in law live in Nashville, and so will I.  Sooner rather than later).  It’s been a long time since my last post, so let it be a warning I’ve got something important to say.  Just kidding.  I don’t, not really, but I wanted to pontificate longer than a facebook forum would allow me.  I should be working on my novel, but lately I can’t seem to string more than a paragraph together in one sitting.  So, here we are.

Tonight’s consumption is fueled by local brewery Haymarket: an IPA named Aleister.  Crisp, with just a hint of hops.  Not too grape-fruity, which is the standard by which I rate all but black IPA’s. And a couple days ago I made hubby go out and buy it, because they were featuring a six pack for six dollar special. That, my friend, is cheap in the craft beer world, but like every single brewery and restaurant in the United States right this minute, they are scrambling.  Scrambling to figure out what in the hell they need to do to balance the bills, their employees’ needs, and the safety of the public.  And still make the good stuff in there somewhere.  All in the meager and unforgiving timespan of a week.  The Michigan beer industry generates MILLIONS of dollars into our state.  Am I selfishly wishing to preserve it?  Yes, but not just for me.  There’s all the infrastructure affected, of course, from the suppliers, to the brewers, servers, kids to feed, mortgages..I could go on and on.  It’s the same story all over.  I’m aware we need healthy people to drink the beer.  We also need an economy in which to live.  Can’t have one without the other.

What is causing this unprecedented state of affairs?  Well, unless you just woke up from a coma or crawled out from under a rock, the world is in the grip of a pandemic caused by a dangerous disease called coronavirus. What we don’t know about it far outweights what we do, which is that it’s highly infectious, kills old people, people with deficient lungs, people with underlying and immune-compromised conditions, and…then there’s this.  We are also told it doesn’t kill most people, but that it will cause utter chaos in hospitals.  And you could carry it unbeknownst to you, and kill your grandma and grandpa or somebody else’s, because there’s a horrifically long incubation period.  There.  That’s my thumbnail sketch, if I ever look back.  Kindly do not message me with whatever aspect I left out.  I’m already aware my memory is precarious, and within twelve-ish days, everyone is already on operation covid overload.

Basically everywhere on the developed planet, schools and colleges are closed, businesses shuttered, people are to avoid contact with anyone not in their household, and nobody is to go anywhere unless they have to.  All in an attempt to slow the progression and not overwhelm medical facilities.  This makes sense to me in theory.  It doesn’t mean I like the new rules, but then again, only the weirdos claiming they’ve waited all their lives for this moment do.  Make no mistake, they’re out there.  I’ve seen their memes and posts celebrating “permission” to hibernate.

Here’s some of what I hate about the current situation.  I might add there’s nothing particularly unique about my rantings, nor is it a comprehensive list.

Then, later, if I’m feeling charitable, I might give a plug for the positives.

I’ve bitched before about kids and teens being chained to their phones and technology.  They substitute and over-use media platforms instead of face-to-face contact, and have been doing so long before this outbreak.  Now, it’s all they’ve got.  God knows how much sexting is happening now, how many genital pictures exchanged.  At least, I think to myself, they can’t get pregnant.  There is a chance, however minute, that after this nightmare is over they will be so lonely for a friend’s physical presence, that the almighty screens could diminish in appeal.  Phone sex has to be a poor substitute.  I’m guessing.

How about the complete disappearance of all live music?  I feel like in this house, we’ve been cut off at the knees.  This isn’t an exaggeration.  For a myriad of reasons live music is our lifeblood, and after awhile you-tube gets old.  So with all concerts and gigs cancelled, musicians are trying to keep their livelihood going with livestream appearances.  For a minute there seemed to be a glimmer of hope.  Alas, it was quickly snuffed out, as our experiences thus far have been fraught with technical difficulties.  Due to all the buffering it was like watching those Asian Godzilla b-movies, when the actor’s mouth wasn’t moving the same time as the dialogue. Whose mouth WAS moving was my husband’s, bellowing profanity at the computer and tv screens.  Not only that, but the performers looked and acted disappointingly like…us.  Wearing pajamas, un-showered, no make-up, half drunk in their messy living areas or bedrooms.  One female singer literally smoked a joint in between songs and sat cross legged and made no sense from that point on.  Another guy I am fairly sure was recording from his mom’s badly lit basement.  It wasn’t pretty.

I will say, the one upside to the gigs playing to an unseen audience, is that you don’t have the annoying side-talkers there, ruining the show.  Oh, and I could watch in MY sweats.  So, I guess that’s two upsides.  I joined Patreon to help support one particularly favorite musician, but it’s a mere raindrop compared to the hordes left out to dry.  As if hoofing around the country trying to make a buck with your guitar and heartfelt lyrics wasn’t hard enough in the first place.  Not to mention, trying to get young people off the couch and out of their bubbles. They’ll be so neck deep in their snapchat and Instagram after this I wonder if they’ll ever resurface.  They did make it to Florida for spring break, though, which I found mildly amusing, as well as feeling a tinge of envy.  People clucked and fussed, but are we that surprised?  People in their twenties think they’re invincible and as a general rule, aren’t exactly known for their selflessness.  And, they want to party.  Hell, I want to party.  Now apparently some of them have tested covid positive.  Possibly a lesson was learned.  Possibly not.

The we have the politics.  Before and during this unsettling time, Pete Buttigieg and Tulsi Gabbard were thrown under the bus, (the only two Dems I would’ve voted for), and this was a bummer.  Meanwhile, Trump is digging his own grave every time he opens his mouth (which you may or may not be rooting for), and Senators have been outed for insider trading as the rest of us watch our own stocks wither and die.  Is it any wonder Americans have been so frustrated with those in office?  Accusations as to how the virus coulda shoulda been or be handled fly faster than an intern trying to get away from Joe Biden’s massaging fingers.  Don’t even get me started on him.  It’s sad, actually, to see the clips of him looking confused and inept.  I don’t get it.  Is his family really on board with him as President?

If we thought party lines might be softened now in an effort to achieve solidarity, we are sorely mistaken.  With these new restrictions in place our freak flags are flying.  There’s the extreme ends of the spectrum, of course.  Marky Marxist is screaming about sheeple caving to a Communist regime, Socialist know-it-all Sally is shouting at shoppers to staythefuckhome, and Militant a-holes Mac and Morgan are stocking up and decimating store shelves of water, Gatorade, instant rice, and you-know-what.  Then there are the moderates (like me), in the middle somewhere, complaining about salons closing, trying to feed everyone and deliver toilet paper like an underground railroad.

When it comes down to it, most of us are probably a mix of all of these components.  We’re attempting to do the right thing in scary, unknown territory.  And stumbling.  I joined a couple of Facebook help/aid groups specific to our area. Unfortunately…even THAT turns into a shitshow of opinions.  The good soul moderators have a fulltime job just closing threads off to the mudslinging.  One of the sites showcases which restaurants are still offering curbside service, etcetera.  More than a few chimed in on this “Buy/support Local” group with wagging fingers at the ready.  “All these drive-through, take-out options don’t sound like social distancing to me.  All those hands touching the food!”  (As if being at the store is that different).  When an EMT driver commented he’d have a hard time if drive thru-s closed, he was told he should “make his own lunch.” Jesus, Mary and Joseph.  This is the kind of nitpicking nonsense we do not need right now.

Like many states, Michigan has the “essential businesses and services only” order in effect.  It took less than a day for the arguing and debating to begin about what/who is deemed “essential.”  One area laundromat posted they were open and following appropriate sanitation and protocols, and Joe Schmo had to skewer them to the wall.

“There should be ONE laundromat for our whole area!  This is why this virus is spreading!”

Says the guy as he loads his lovely, operable Whirlpool unit in his home, blissfully unaware that with 1,600 square miles in Berrien County to encase (yes, some of it is water, but still), one laundromat would be a mob scene.  And a throbbing petri-dish.  Let’s not forget to ask, who would decide WHICH lucky laundromat gets the grand prize?  It’s enough to un-join the groups, and I don’t want to do that, because I want to help.  I want to help as I read the posts of the frantic parents thrown into homeschooling with about one hour’s notice, where these situations carry the same ends of the behavior spectrum.  You’ve got over-the-top mom Annie, spending every free minute making color-coded schedule posters that would put Sherwin Williams’ paint chart to shame. There was a father I could only assume was near tears on one site.  He said, “I’ve organized everything I can think of.  I’ve asked my kids how they want to learn, what subjects they always wanted to know more about, and they just stare at me dead-eyed!”  A long-time homeschooling mom gently referred to this period as “unschooling,” where kids used to having every minute regimented are at a loss.  It takes time, she assured him.  Someone hand that well-meaning mama and dad some weed.  Soon.

Passed out at the other end is loosey-goosey Lori, chugging a bottle of wine while throwing pinterest-generated worksheets at her brood of house-destroying monsters.  She’s given up after a week and a half.  It’s enough for me to want to dive into my old Parents-as-Teachers bins, which are loaded with activities, and offer to come by and have fun again.  But, there’s that damned six feet mandate.  Don’t tell me to take to the internet with it, either.  Some things cannot be translated to the screen.

There are those parents in the middle, too, shuffling along and waiting for April 13th in vain.  All joking aside, though, it’s the ones dealing with true addiction, food scarcity and other dysfunctional lifestyles that are worrisome.  Trust me, I saw this firsthand.  It’s bad when the world is spinning as it should.  When it’s in turmoil, I can’t even think about what those kids’ lives might be like.  There were times when I knew my coming to visit a family was the only thing they looked forward to that week.  This isn’t a humblebrag.  I know it because they openly told me.  I’m sure it’s the same for the elderly, mentally ill, or fragile folks who might have certain services suspended now.  These are the populations who are desperate risk due to enforced isolation.

So, let’s get to the good, before I get too snarly or end up crying in my beer for real.

Isn’t it wonderful how we’re checking on our friends and neighbors?  And the fact there’s going to be a baby boom in November and December?  We’re also re-discovering nature, going to parks and preserves we didn’t make or have time for before.  We’ve created networks providing vital connections regarding unemployment and area resources, ones I believe will flourish long after corona has departed.  We are appreciating teachers, healthcare professionals, and our families more.  We’ve cast a grateful eye on convenience store clerks, janitors, child care workers, maintenance crews, fast-food workers.  Maybe you won’t dismiss the employee working in a grocery store so casually after this.  Or a truck driver, or a construction worker.  Where would Nashville and surrounding areas be without them right now, as many of their facilities lay in ruin?  Every sector I mentioned is truly the backbone of our country, and I wish to God this would be reflected permanently.  Not just in pay, but in status and lasting respect.  It’s sad it takes national hysteria to unearth the hidden gems right under our eyes.  We need to pay attention to those “essentials” every day.

It could be that this craziness will result in a major mind-shift not only in our nation, but in the world.  On many fronts.  We can only hope.

Be well, friends.  There’s gonna be so much celebrating when this is over.  Until then, check on your middle-aged female pals.  We are not coping well with our shaggy gray roots, our unkempt nails, and rapidly expanding waistlines.

Cheers!

 

 

 

 

 

 

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My Own Worst Enemy

…”I’m the sound of money washing down the drain,

I’m the pack of lies, baby, that keeps you sane,

I am your one true love that sleeps with someone else,

I am your Nemesis,

Baby I’m life, sweet life, itself…”

….Nemesis, by David Gray

Good afternoon, friends. Today’s post is accompanied by a delicious brew called “Michigan Stout,” put out by the delicious brewery Tapistry. Every ingredient has been culled from Michigan in some form, a concept you foodies out there go orgasmic for. Me, I don’t really care if the vine the hops come from is from Alaska as long as it tastes good. But I guess the Michigan ingredient thing IS kinda cool, and the bottle itself is way cool. Let me assure you this stout is very, very good, and it’s also fortunate that I don’t think twice about drinking something that looks like motor oil ( thanks for that description, Kristin K.). Plus, it’s a bomber! And I’m alone! Which means I can drink twenty two ounces all to myself. I know what you’re thinking. Uh-oh…drinking alone, isn’t that a warning sign? Well, I’d share if you were here with me. Which you kind of are, if you’re reading this. And anyway, I’m having….one of those days.

The lyrics above are from one of my favorite songs and songwriters, David Gray. And when I went for my daily trek with my pain-in-the-ass dog, I kept listening, because it hit so close to home. How many different ways do you feel overwhelmed by your every effort? More importantly, because of what you tell yourself?

This post is really dedicated to we “creative types”, but honestly, it doesn’t matter. I think every one of us has been gripped by the demons of self-doubt at one time or another. Well, except for my husband. How I have envied him for his lack of second guessing and his seemingly effortless confidence in his abilities and decisions. He just charges forward and doesn’t look back, and yet he is the least arrogant person I know. That, my friends, must be a gift from above, because I am sure the forces that fill one’s mind with uncertainty are from below.

So. I’m sort of in the throes of a head-banging thing with my writing. Most of you know I have embarked on a novel, and everyone close to me is very supportive. “That’s so great! You’re so talented! Good for you for going for it!” All comments appreciated and duly noted. But in the meantime, I’ve been hacking away at this monster (I’m calling it that today), for over a year. I’m more than halfway through a first draft, but have revised it a million different ways already, which you’re not supposed to do. You are advised by writing pros to just write, write, write, and get to the end. Then, go back and revise. Well, I can’t. I must have enough OCD in me that if something is off to me, I’m like a shark with a piece of a surfer in its mouth. I won’t let it go. So it’s back to my notebook and my computer to delete and move and re-do and obsess over scenes, ad-nauseum. And I feel such a lack of progress as a result.

This isn’t atypical, mind you. I belong to enough writer groups to know this is par for the course, and so is what I am feeling right now. Which is, namely, thinking I’m f$&$ing crazy for thinking I can do this. That spending hours sweating over paragraphs and dialogue is the most colossal waste of time known to Man, while wondering who in the f%#k is EVER going to read this other than my four friends and family, let alone find an agent, a publisher, a way to market it, etc. The negativity catapults if I find myself blocked, too. I start thinking, “you can’t do this because you’re too stupid. Only SMART people can put plots together that are engaging best sellers. You can’t even remember what you had for breakfast today, let alone get characters and story lines straight. You’re an imposter and an idiot all in one.”

I know, boo-hoo. Writers and artists in general are notorious for their insecurity, their narcissistic whining, weirdness, and inability to produce genius works without being soused or high, or heartbroken. Like all stereotypes, there is probably a grain of truth in there somewhere. I keep thinking I’m like the guy on TV…” I don’t ALWAYS drink when I write, but when I do, it’s…craft beer.” Now, c’mon. Don’t get all worried. If I drank whenever I wrote, I’d be half in the bag by ten AM. And back in bed.

I don’t know. I think the appeal of substances lies in their ability to kick out inhibitions and let inspiration in. Because artists are desperate for inspiration, wherever we can find it. And we are desperate to beat down the beast known as Resistance. Yes, there is a term for the self-induced head-banging I described above. Through one of my writer’s groups I discovered the author Steven Pressman, who wrote a book called, “The War of Art.” It’s a quick read, a fascinating book and I highly recommend it. Not just for artists, but for anyone who struggles with believing in themselves and their endeavors. So he coined the term,”Resistance,” as an evil force that has the strength to bury us, if we let it.  It is “the enemy within,” whose aim is to prevent us from doing our work. He doesn’t call it satanic, but he comes close.

In the book, the author refers to Hitler. Did you know that he wanted to be an artist? Neither  did I. He apparently had an inheritance and moved to Vienna, applying to the Academy of Fine Arts and went…nowhere. Pressman says, “Resistance beat him. It was easier to start World War two, than it was for him to face a blank canvas.”

Wow, I think. That must be some powerful thing, I think. And it is.

Resistance comes in the form of believing I am delusional for this undertaking, that I should just chuck this whole damned manuscript and go bartend and learn how to pole dance or something.  It comes in the form of dismissing any accolades, such as getting published in an anthology, and dismissing any positive reinforcements. In my defense, I will say this much: it’s not in my makeup to enjoy attention or praise, and I fear I have passed this down to my adorable sons. They don’t care for it, either. Perhaps there is a nirvana where humility meets assertiveness. Let us hope.

In any case I can’t let this Resistance force consume me, and if you have similar issues, you shouldn’t either. So I will use one of my weapons against this, which is prayer, to soldier on. I also believe in the power of my current story more than anything I’ve ever done, even as I get an ache from the head bang. I truly think it’s bigger than any of my little petty complaints, because its coming from a source that I can’t comprehend. And so maybe this belief will be my salvation. For I sit down day after day and not only am I trying to tune out Resistance, but the constant distractions of animals, Facebook and email. The good news is I have at least gotten myself disciplined to looking at electronic items twice a day only, so that’s a start.

I am at the end of my pint now,  and so it signals the end of my post. I ask for your prayers, if that’s your thing, to give me strength to continue on this journey. And if not, send some good karma my way.  May your heart be bigger than the thoughts that threaten to defeat you, my friends. A healthy bomber is a hell of a good defense, by the way.

Cheers!

 

 

 

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One of my best dreaming partners…

  • Well we busted out of class, had to get away from those fools, we learned more from a three minute record baby than we ever learned in school…you say you’re tired and you just want to close your eyes and follow your dreams down…well we made a promise we swore we’d always remember …no retreat baby, no surrender… “No Surrender,” by Bruce Springsteen

Hello, friends. Tonight’s brew as I write is a perfect porter called “Henry,” made by Transient Artisan Ales in Bridgman, Michigan. Henry may have made an appearance here before, because he really is the phenomenal winter beverage. Strong, coffee-ish, meant to ward off chills, induce hibernation, and of course, take the edge off. I could use a little de-edging, couldn’t you? Uh-oh, you’re thinking. Here she goes again. In all fairness, it should be clear by now that my blog is probably more like a therapy diary than a stream of literary masterpieces, but I don’t apologize. It’s good for me to write something other than my novel-in-the-making. And I appreciate all seven to maybe twenty of you who are reading this. I really do.

I have a sneaky suspicion those lyrics above have also made a previous appearance here, but I’m too lazy to check and besides, it shows how meaningful they are. When I you-tubed Bruce to get a refresher of the song, it was a clip from the 80’s. Bruce is famous for talking about a song before singing it, which I love, and he said he wrote the song because of his friendship with bandmate Steve Van Zandt. He said, “I don’t think life means much if you don’t have dreams. This song is for one of my best dreaming partners, Stevie.” This blog entry is about one of my best friends and dreaming partners too, and her name is Diana. Danusia, (Duh-noosh-a) if you want to know her Polish nickname.

I met Diana probably in second or third grade, but we became good friends in fourth. We were placed in a “high-level” reading group (and it’s a sad but true fact that I reached my pinnacle of school accomplishments that year. Never again was I high level anything, unless you count band). We were with three other boys in the reading group: Jack Peterson, Mike Kjergaard, and Dave White, and I can safely say it was the most memorable year of my mostly forgettable K through twelve education. We had a dynamic teacher, Mr. Harrington, who created classroom stations in which he let us perform plays, watch television, and make art. The creme-de-la-creme was when he took us CAMPING at the end of the year. Can you imagine taking twenty-something fourth graders on such an excursion? We loved it, and him. But what I loved even more was finding a lifelong friend in this sweet, extremely shy, curly blonde-haired little Polish girl.

I can’t pin down exactly why the bond seemed immediate and lasted beyond that fateful year. We did both love drawing, reading, and playing with our Sunshine families (they were like Amish Barbie dolls, with babies and long calico dresses). We literally spent hours coloring houses and horses and I would give anything to have kept some of those beauties. We never were together in the same class like that again; instead it was random classes like English or gym. I can’t begin to detail here all the school-age memories involving her, as there are so many, but we agree on one unwavering truth: neither one of us would be the person we are today, had it not been for the other.

She says that I saved her back then, but from what I still don’t know. Maybe I shielded her from a few things, maybe I knew she was sensitive and naive’ and she needed someone to have her back. As for me, I believe being exposed to her family at a young age opened my nine-year-old-mind to the concept that different could be wonderful. I tasted and gorged on foreign food like pierogi and other dumplings, pastries that defied all description, all while being fascinated by this rough, guttural-sounding language that rolled off my bilingual friend’s tongue effortlessly. I learned later that her mother Czeslawa had been a cook in Poland, and I was a more than willing customer. Her parents were the classic portrait of the immigrant’s story; smart, persistent, and the hardest-working people on the planet. They left a Communist regime for a better life, enduring challenges the average Joe could never understand. (How would you like to learn English by watching the game show, “The Price is Right’?) And unlike so many natural-born citizens here, Augustin Kras and his wife revered and respected the country that offered opportunities they could only dream about in their homeland.

Diana, of course, wanted mothing more than to fit in and have American parents, while I probably would’ve traded my white-bread life for her mother’s carb-fest cooking in a heartbeat. We knew absolutely zero about appreciating what one had right in front of them. Then, at least. Eventually, as it is known to do, adolescence and young adulthood came. It came with all its’ hurts, brutalities, and yearnings for a future outside of the po-dunk small town we felt trapped in. We’d lose ourselves in romance novels and fantasize of the perfect existence, without weird or mean parents or boys (who morphed to men) that crushed us and let us down. Unsurprisingly, the solution and solace for our youthful pains was music. Specifically, Bruce’s.

The man could tell a story like no other, express every passion and agony you ever felt as if he were inside your head. We were clueless, hopelessly insecure and dramatic, but his lyrics were a lifeline telling us that maybe we weren’t alone in our struggles. Somebody out there GOT US. If you’ve seen the movie “Blinded By the Light,” (highly recommend!) the main character’s tale is exactly how we thought about Bruce and his music. He was a savior in the form of a record, and we held on for dear life. We listened to my brother’s copy of “The River,” over and over, Bruce’s mournful cries echoing our own. I’m pretty sure my brother bought me my own vinyl so he could get his back.

He followed us even as our paths diverged after high school. I fled to Texas, to live with a mutual friend and “experience” all that I thought had been denied to me at the ripe old age of nineteen. In reality it was waitressing on the night shift, wild partying, and scrounging for change in the couch cushions to eat lunch. Fun, I guess, but not sustainable, and I missed my friends and home. One day I got the mail and nearly passed out. It was a postcard from Diana with a picture of Bruce on the front, and on the back she’d written, “I’ve got tickets to his Alpine Valley, Wisconsin show, and one of them is yours if you want it!” My heart jumped in my chest like I’d been raised from the dead. I knew without hesitation I was going and wouldn’t have the money to return. I scraped together all the cash I had, hugged my thankfully understanding friend, bought a greyhound ticket to Michigan City, Indiana, and never looked back. I wish I still had that postcard.

The concert was magical, in all the ways it is to see your idol in the flesh. This was the summer of 1984, right before the peak of his “Born in the USA” fame, and venues were not sold out yet. Our seats were way off to the right, with sky high speakers sitting in front of four empty rows ahead. There was a tiny platform to walk out around them, and he did just that. He walked around the speakers, singing, and he smiled and looked right at two girls jumping frantically, delirious with joy. For those brief seconds our lives were complete.

Nobody believes us when we say this happened, that we made eye contact with The Boss, but it did, and we KNOW it did. It’s sealed in our memories like King Tut’s tomb, a pivotal picture that neither time nor illness can erase. It’s right up there with saying “I do,” or seeing our babies for the first time. Golden highlights to treasure.

Sadly, time marched on, careless of such sentimentalities, and so did we. Diana had a firm vision of herself as an FBI agent, and went off to Michigan State University to see it through. As it happened, she came pretty close, with a degree in criminalistics and a fulfilling job as a forensic toxicologist. She was CSI before it was ever CSI on television. Meanwhile I stumbled around, envious of her drive, determination and fierce intelligence, and wishing I had those traits too. I’d followed her and our other friend to MSU, somehow managing to graduate and then promptly becoming pregnant. Needless to say this resulted in a wide U-turn, a turn I would still take again but it had consequences in terms of my attention. Funny how adulthood has a way of screwing with childhood declarations. Those pesky events like geographical distances, marriages, jobs and babies help kick them to dead last in priorities, and when you swore you’d never let months go by without seeing each other, suddenly it’s years. There were school reunions, though, something many people scoff at and find repulsive, but we looked forward to them. We could finally have a reason to meet up and revive bonds once more. I know I’m incredibly grateful for those times.

I had another reason to be grateful when Diana (yes, again!) snagged tickets to see Bruce and the E-Street Band on their 2016 tour. She didn’t send me a postcard, because this time around I actually had a phone and a number she could call, but I was just as excited as the first time. They were tickets IN THE PIT, which meant we couldn’t sit down, but we could possibly get close to the stage. And by God, we did. We fifty-somethings muscled and elbowed our way up there and guess what? During the song ‘Badlands”, we shook Bruce’s sweaty, clammy hand, and we touched his famous motorcycle boots. She cried, and I laughed and hugged her. It was another precious moment sent straight to euphoric memories storage. We’d come full circle, making physical contact with a musician who’d brought us so much, and brought us together as well. Not to mention, the gift of another three and a half hour marathon concert. How many sixty-five-year-olds do you know who can put it out there like he does, night after night? Hell, you can’t even get today’s performers to fork over an hour and a half, and that’s with an intermission. And I’ll bet they’re not agile enough to precariously maneuver around speakers so they can acknowledge screaming teenage fans, either.

Fast forward to a few weeks ago. Our very good mutual friend Tracy called to tell me tests had detected a tumor in Diana’s brain. More tests and surgical removal followed, and I was gripped with a need to be close to her. Yes, to make up for all the lost time the years had stolen, but to also lend support in any way I could. I had always admired Diana’s strength. This time I wanted her to lean on us, her friends. She did, and God willing, will continue to.

I visited with her and her family, and did what I do, which is get groceries and cook. They were all profoundly, even ridiculously, grateful. Their reactions made me feel validated, like maybe I had skills after all. I mean, obviously you acquire knowledge as you get older, but you downplay it by assuming everyone can do the same things. Not so. Not everyone has the time or desire for such, and these differences are what makes the world go round.

We had lots of long talks, and she was close to tears much of the time, apologetic for all manner of things, most of them imagined. I told her she had nothing to be sorry about. I had probably retreated more over time as I watched my friends’ careers and bank accounts skyrocket, while I changed diapers and achieved nothing. I felt judged for my choices, but it was more in my own head than in reality. At some point, thank God, I learned that life comparisons are not only toxic but completely misleading. We all have our crosses to bear, do we not? The proof is in that MRI or x-ray bearing bad news. The irony here is that Diana’s profession has been all about death. Murders, suicides, car crashes, child trafficking, child abuse, cancer, heart attacks, strokes. You think of a way to die, she has analyzed it, and much of it not pretty.

She has seen the sad math of the statistics regarding her type of cancer. Everyone who loves her has. but for right now they are only scary numbers. She’s a scrapper, and she’s stubborn as hell. We’re hoping it serves her well in the battle ahead. As you might guess, the lyrics of “No retreat, no surrender,” have loaded meaning now.

Over coffee in her spacious and bright living room, we reminisced. We laughed at our younger selves, how arrogant our worldviews were, and how life itself takes care of that. We talked about more bucket list dreams. She wants to finish seeing the handful of states she’s yet to visit, I want to go to Alaska and out west to the Grand Canyon. One thing at the top of the list is to take families and friends to New Jersey and do our own “Blinded By the Light” pilgrimage. We’ll hit all the big Bruce spots. The Stone Pony, especially, because if we’re lucky, we’ll hear real live music. He’s been to known to pop in there impromptu, in case you were unaware. I don’t need to tell you what this would mean if that were to occur on our watch.

Whenever a crisis like this hits, I think most of us are shaken into finally believing that tomorrow isn’t promised. We make vows to stop procrastinating, to stop waiting for the ideal time to quit the job, move, have the baby, and as soon as life returns to normal they’re abandoned. Until the next loss, the next regret, and it’s back to the same old platitudes. If we really want to honor the person we miss or are in threat of losing, we stop talking and DO the thing, whatever it is. Take the trip. Say yes more than no. Forgive people and move on. Say what you need to say and walk/run/ travel while you still can. So what if a few, if not many, of those decisions might be clunkers? We learn and let go. We don’t become paralyzed by fear. Hard to do but so worth it in the end.

Friends, I hope you have, or have had, at least one dreaming partner in your life; a relationship or relationships that withstand benign neglect and the cruelties of time, in whom you can reveal your truest, most imperfect self and feel safe, and loved, and who can make you laugh or cry until your sides hurt. If so, count yourself as blessed.

Now, you’ll have to excuse me. I need to google who’s playing at the Stone Pony this summer, and as we know, the trip isn’t going to plan itself. Wish us luck that we will all be in good form for it, and maybe, just maybe, we get a glimpse of our working-man musical hero one more time.

Cheers!

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