Sunday, May 31, 2020

Not Everything Deserves A Reaction

Be still.  Observe.  Learn.  Not everything deserves a reaction.

I am a Reactor.  I go straight from noticing a situation to just freakin' acting.  Not a lot of thought involved.  Sometimes, if there's a handle around, you bet I'm going to fly off it.  

This isn't such a bad thing when something has fallen from a counter or shelf and is about to hit the floor, or a kid or other type person is in imminent danger.  But it's a negative thing in less dire situations, and it could probably also lead to a bar-fight.

Over the last stretch of time, like the last year or so, many phrases about not being so quick to react:

Pause for the cause
Put yourself on a three-second delay
Take a breath
The lion does not turn her head for every little dog that barks along its path

And my favorite right now:
Be still.  Observe.  Learn.  Not everything deserves a reaction.

That one really struck me because so often, it feels like punishment to me when I don't "get to" react.  And if it's put in the frame of whether or not something deserves a reaction, not reacting starts to feel more like a privilege than a punishment.  

What a power-move, when it's put to me that way.  

So there it is.  Instead of looking at not giving a reaction to something being a punishment, there's power in deciding to be still, observe, and learn.  

There's power in deciding what deserves a reaction, what deserves my energy.  Or your energy.  

Saturday, May 30, 2020

Head in the Clouds, Heart on My Sleeve

When the clouds look like this, who can blame me for having my head in them?
I've always been a person who has her head in the clouds, literally and figuratively.  I always look up, reading the sky, whether the story is written in clouds, contrails, or the Stars of the Cosmos.  

That probably says a lot about who I am as a person.  I'm a daydreamer.  A romantic.  Most of the time, I have no trouble owning those things.  A daydreamer has a heck of an imagination, and imagination has gotten me out of countless jellies of a jam.  

I don't think it's always served me so well to wear my heart on my sleeve as much as I do. It leaves me feeling a little exposed sometimes, and when I've worn my heart on my sleeve as much as I do, it has left me open to being hurt, either on purpose or inadvertently.  

There are malicious people around, obviously, who get their jollies out of seeing just how miserable they can make someone else.  And people who wear their hearts on their sleeves are easy pickens.  Guaranteed results.  They're easy to write off as the jerks they are.  They set out to use something about you against you, and they hit their mark, and they are truly turds for doing so.

The ones that really take the breath away from someone like me are those who have no malicious intent; they might feel the same things as someone who wears it on their sleeve, but they might not know what to do with that.  They might not know how to communicate the emotions, for whatever reason.  They might not even be on the same map as emotions.

And it makes someone wears their heart on their sleeve feel like an over-reactor, honestly.  That they're too sensitive.  We get told that a lot by people.  After a while, it makes a heart-on-sleeve-wearer feel like some kind of freakazoid.  I know I've wished I could be more stoic.  

I'm not hard-wired that way, though, and there's probably good reason for that.  I don't know what I'd do with all my time, if I weren't caring too much and then feeling stupid for caring too much.  And, too, I think that eventually our tribe finds us.  The birds of a feather we're meant to flock together with find us, one by one.  

So I'll stay right the way I am, head in the clouds, heart on my sleeve, with my eyes and soul on the lookout for my tribe!

Friday, May 29, 2020

Dear Class of 2020

Hats off to ya, Class of 2020!
Friends, tonight was supposed to be graduation at our little gem of a high school on a hill in the middle of nowhere.  The place would have been packed. 

The thing about graduation is that they're kind of the same every year.  They follow a time-tested formula.  The faces, hairstyles, shoes, and class colors change, but for decades, everybody knew what to expect from a high school graduation.

And yet, each high school graduation was also uniquely of-the-moment for the class it was honoring.

This year, though.  Whoa.  Some schools are doing Drive-Thru graduations.  Some, like ours, opted for a virtual ceremony.  I think ours will be broadcast tonight. 

There was no win-win way to go about celebrating the Class of 2020.  It was going to feel like a short-change, no matter what.  That doesn't mean we shouldn't try.

I think if there's anything Being The Class of 2020 should impart on the people who are The Class of 2020 is that this year has given you a crash-course in making the most of what you've been dealt.  You can, and are certainly well within your rights to stomp your feet and rail at the heavens that All of This has gone down during Your Year.  COVID-19 wiped away better than a quarter of your Senior Year.  It took away your Senior Trip.  Obliterated Prom.  Irrevocably changed the Graduation that you'd envisioned and expected back when you began your final year of high school last fall. 

None of us knows how this is going to turn out.  Not even the adultiest of adults among us can even venture a guess about what kind of world we're sending you out into as you leave high school behind.  We've never seen anything like this.

You have every right to throw a bit of a fit over all of this.  Shed some tears.  Get mad.  maybe you've already done this.  Don't expect that to be a one-and-done kind of deal-e-oh.  Grief isn't a straight line from Grief to Fine.  It's a scribble.  Palimpsests and palimpsests of pain and healing and more pain and healing, layered over one another. You'll think you moved past all this, and be hit out of the blue by a fresh wave.  A memory of something that never got to happen.  A stray and impossible wish.  Most adults have this.  We grieve our youth and all the things, friends, and people we've lost since.  We grieve dreams we once had and the versions of ourselves we held before Life took hold of us and altered the courses we thought we were on.

But as I sit here thinking of the Class of 2020, I mourn that you didn't get to experience the Big Moments that sweeten some of that bitter at high school's end.  My heart breaks for you.

And yet.

Maybe that heart break and heartache ought to be dialed back to a more manageable volume.  Let's swing this all around and get a different angle.

Remember what I said about graduations and senior years following a familiar formula.  There are milestones we pass, rituals we carry out.  It isn't just our rituals and big moments that follow a familiar pattern.  Those patterns kind of take intellectual pressure off us.  They're a framework, and all we have to do is climb up the frame like ivy.  The ivy doesn't think about where it's growing.  It just follows its armature up and up.  Everything besides that frame is just Variations on a Theme. 

Way back when I graduated from high school, then college, then graduate school, all the graduation speakers talked about how they needed us and our fresh, young perspective.  They talked about how we were young and full of hope and energy and we were going to Change Things.  Things needed radical reimagining.  And we were going to be the people who radically reimagined and radically reengineered.

Nope.  My generation has changed the world some, but not as much as we'd hoped.  Not as much as the ones who came before us hoped.  We fall into patterns.  We fall into the patterns of our parents and grandparents.  I guarantee that the Class of 2000 heard "We need you and your Energy, your Imaginations, your Ideas..."  Just the same as the Classes of 1980, 1960, 1940, and 1920 heard it.  I think this is where some of our intergenerational friction comes into play.  At this ripe moment, when we're leaping from adolescence into adulthood, there's so much potential, and our elder statesmen adults are at points in their lives that they realize they didn't quite live up to their complete potential, so they want to live vicariously through the next generation.  "Finish our work."  That's a lot to put on an 18-year-old kid. 

We've spent generations as a society doing things kind of the same, over and over and over again, in an endless cycle.  "It has happened before, and it will happen again."  Sometimes there's a really big Black Swan that comes out and disrupts... wars, pandemics, economic collapse... but rarely do we get something that shocks the system enough to really reset.  And we really did need a reset.  The way things were before wasn't working all that great.  It was better than it is now, but there was a lot wrong, too.  And we were so gridlocked in it, we couldn't get ourselves out.

Class of 2020, everything that's happening right now, during Your Year might still feel like a curse, especially when you're thinking of everything you didn't get to do because of it.  But what if it's actually a Gift?

What if this is the moment where Everything Changes?  What if the world is finally shocked enough to shock us out of our ingrained patterns, and you get to lead the way?  You're kind of in a unique position in that you're just starting out, and we're all just starting over.  In whatever the New Normal is, we're all going to be beginners, in a way.  You hold as much expertise and authority as the rest of us do. 

Own the audacity to have optimism that This Time, Everything Is Going To Be Different and Better Than It Was Before.  Nothing changes until something changes, and we established adults have muddled through trying to get new results from the same old practices for long enough.  Straighten your shoulders, raise your chins, look us all in the eyes and own your place in this world. We need you.  We need your help.  We need your youthful exuberance.  We need your fresh ideas.  We need your strength.  We need your resilience.

My Dear Class of 2020, you stand to gain far more than what has been taken from you.  Have your moments of grief, and then Rise Up.  Be brave and bold.  Make mistakes. Learn from them.  Fail upward. Do not let the present storm make you hide in the dark and wait for a better time for you to let us know you're here and ready. 

Now, more than ever, we need your light. 

Hats off to you, Class of 2020!

Thursday, May 28, 2020

It's the Last Day of School!

Next school year, I don't think I'll be as happy with the "Yay" stickers for days off school  Apparently they're a jinx!
Well, Friends, it's Thursday, May 28, 2020.  The last scheduled day of school for my second grader.  Last August, when I filled out my calendar for this year, I colored each square on the grid for each day off from school and marked it with a "Yay!" sticker.

Isn't it funny how quickly the "Yay!" turned into "Oh, boy.  What day is it again?!  It's Blursday, right?  I bet it's Blursday."

And now here we are.  We've had so many days off from school that when I saw Possible Make-Up Day on the 29th, I just laughed and laughed.  Days off from school became not special real quick. 

Now we're staring down the barrel of Summer Vacation, and the Uncertainty that surrounds the start of 2020-2021...what's the re-opening of school going to look like?  Will school re-open?  Are we all going to be distance learners?  Will we get to return, only to have to go into another quarantine from mid-October until... oh, let's say just after Thanksgiving?  ('Rona's comin' back for a Second Wave, yo!)

If we turned COVID vocabulary into a drinking game, would we all be more wasted than a college freshman at a frat party the first weekend of school on the word "Uncertainty" alone?

No.  I'm not as Excited by this particular Last Day of School as I would have been if the school year had been able to play out the way we all thought it would, back when I decorated that calendar.  You aren't as excited by this particular Last Day of School, either, Friend.  Everything is all disrupted.  It doesn't really feel like we earned it this year. 

Still, it IS the Last Day of School, and tomorrow will be the First Day of Summer Vacation.  And Summer Vacation is all boogered up, too.  All the festivals and rallies and shows and concerts and probably, if your family is like mine, the trips: went with the wind...

We're going to be summering at Bastille Blake this year.  We had planned to go to the American Motors Homecoming shindig out in Kenosha, Wisconsin this summer, but that got postponed to another year, as did the AMO convention that we weren't going to go to, because it was in Denver.  And as much as we love our house, my daughter and I haven't left it a whole lot during Primary Quarantine 2020.  A summer of much the same is going to feel like Xtreme Staycationing, which I am sure is going to become a series on HGTV before too awful long.  That guy from HouseHunters could host it.  He seems personable, and he knows how to make giant tissue-paper flowers.

Here's the thing.  The kids have already been away from each other for about as long as a regular summer vacation lasts.  Hopefully as Summer Vacation 2020 progresses, we can enjoy a little time between Primary Quarantine and a shadowy possibility of General Quarantine in late October, early November.  Hopefully we can start getting together and tone down the distancing.  I'm sure we flattened some curves as we flatlined our social lives, but I am also sure that it's done more of a number on our kids' mental health than we can ascertain right now. 

So here's to the Last Day of School: 2020. 

I hope Brighter Days are ahead of us, in every possible way.

Wednesday, May 27, 2020

It Hasn't Been All Bad, I Guess

Workout-wise, I'm being a lot more consistent and persistent than I was last year.
Don't get me wrong.  So far, 2020 has been a dumpster-fire of disastrously epic proportions.  I don't have to explain why, because you've been here for it, too, Babies.  Have you ever!

Yesterday while I was working out in my gym, though, I happened to glance up at the paper pictured on the left here.  I keep track of every workout I do in my logbook, and last year, I started keeping track of each month, figuring up the percentage of days I worked out.

For a reputed mathophobe, I really do get all hot-and-bothered by analytics, to a degree.  I track everything in that workout log of mine, for instance.  Calories burned each workout, max heart rate, average heart rate, how much time I spend in each heart rate zone, time spent.  Then I take that data at the end of each workout and figure percents.  I've never known why I do this, really.  It isn't like I do anything with the data beyond that.  As I fill the pages of each workout log I make, it gives me a sense of accomplishment, I guess, especially because the results of my hard work in the gym don't always show on the scale or in my appearance.  At least I can go back to the logs and see I did something, and therefore, I should keep going. 

Yesterday, it hit me why I transfer the monthly days worked out to paper and why I happened to hang that paper up at the front of my workout space this time.  Like I said, I've felt like 2020 has been a wasted year.  I took two weeks off from the gym recently- the last week of April and the first week of May.  I have been beating myself up for that fourteen-day slide ever since.  I keep on keepin' on, but I also keep on kickin' myself for taking that time off, for no good reason, other than I just couldn't wrap my head around gymming it then.

I was right in the middle of puddle-jumpers yesterday morning, something I hate, and I glanced at that sheet of paper.  I noticed that despite everything 2020 has brought, I am way ahead from a consistency perspective than I was at this time in 2019.  And if I had tracked data this way in 2017 and 2018, I'd be way ahead of what I was in those years, too.  I know I would. 

Before 2019, I'd start out strong in January, usually, then get sick in February at some point, giving myself permission to take off weeks at a time as I recovered from whatever illness I contracted.  Then in the summer, I'd go along fairly well until we'd go on vacation and lose all sense of ambition.  I'd pick up the gym again right around the time school would be starting, because Back to School is a natural time to begin again.  I'd chug along pretty well until either injury or illness would knock me out sometime in October.  And by the time you're into the "Ber" months, you might as well just pack it in until New Year's, because you've got the HallowThanksMas series of holidays and all the prep and travel and frenzy that surrounds that time of year. 

This year, I have stayed the course far better than I have in recent memory.  Probably the last 10 years, anyway.  And I'm glad I obsessively kept that data and posted it where I could see it yesterday morning, because it reminded me that I've had my setbacks and my falling-downs, but ultimately, I'm trending upwards.  And if that's all I get out of this kind of data that I'm collecting and processing about myself, it's worth the extra time at the end of a workout that I spend, writing it all down.  I have proof that I can see with my eyes and my brain that I am doing something right and I'm making progress. 

This helps me keep on keepin' on. 

Which is what I plan to do.  In the gym, as well as in Life. 

How 'bout it?

Tuesday, May 26, 2020

Consider the Dandelion

Looks like good supply of wishes to me!
In my yard just now, I see hundreds and hundreds of white-headed dandelions, and nearly as many yellow flowers. I just mowed that thing last Thursday, and with all the yellow and white sticking up into the air, it makes me feel like I didn't do a darn thing. 

And yet, I don't resent those dandelions.  When I walk outside with the dog, I can hear the buzz of bees.  Bees like dandelions.  We should do more for bees of the honey and bumble variety.  (Not so much with the jerkface bees like wasps, hornets, and yellowjackets.  Those bitches are on their own!)

Here's another thing about dandelions.  Some people see them as weeds.  I see the dandelions in my yard as a garden of wishes.  Did you ever pick a diaphanous white dandelion and blow the fluffy white seeds into the air, make a wish, and watch them float away on the breeze?

There you go.  I have acres of wishes.

And I know what you're thinking.  When you blow those seeds, you're letting them go and plant new dandelions, and oh, my gawd, now we're going to have more of those things to deal with!!!


I could go after a woman-versus-nature battle royale, digging and spraying and eradicating these super-resilient yellow flowers.  A lot of people do.  They break up the rolling green of a lush lawn like nobody's business.  Maybe if I owned a golf course or the like, I wouldn't want dandelions there.  My yard, though?  Let 'em be.  I like the dandelions in my yard.  I've decided they're wishing-flowers. 

Here's the thing about wishes.  I make a wish with the dandelion, and blow the seeds, and dozens more seeds go out into the air and land in the dirt and can grow into more dandelions.  More wishing flowers.  And the pattern repeats.  I can follow up my first wish with dozens of other wishes, down other paths and rabbit holes.  I can go as far into the wishing as I want.

Wishes aren't anything, though, without action.  They're just wishes.  If I shift the meaning of "wish" to "intention," and I pull a white fluffy dandelion and give it a puff of air with that wish or intention in my mind, I like to think of it that I've planted the seeds of something big that could happen.  If I then go and start taking action on that wish.  Then I can go out in a few days and pick another dandelion, and whisper a follow up wish for what I want to make happen next.  I give the flower a breath of air, the seeds and my intentions take flight, and I go and take another action.
The pattern repeats. 

Before I know it, I've gotten my Wish.  I've dreamed it, I've spoken about it, I've taken action, I've followed up, dreamed more dreams around that Wish, planted more seeds.  And just like that, Wish Granted.  Dream Come True.

All I needed was a lawn full of dandelion wishing-flowers and a lot of work and persistence.  No magic wands or knights in shining armor or fairy godmothers needed, because I can be all those things to myself.  And so can you, Friends.  Look at those dandelions and how you act around a wish a little differently, and the world starts looking a lot more hopeful.

Monday, May 25, 2020

A Different Kind of Memorial Day

Quiet reflection at the USS Arizona Memorial in Pearl Harbor
Memorial Day and all its tradition was always the kickoff to Summer.

It's a different kind of Memorial Day this year.  There are no parades and flags and marching bands.  No honor guards.  No ceremonies in cemeteries with lots of people turning out. 

It doesn't feel right, even if it's the right thing to do.  Maybe. 

I feel like this is opening the door for a big can of something to walk through and explode all over everything, but that is not my intent.  I just have some type of feeling around staying away from parades and ceremonies and twenty-one gun salutes on the day we remember the men and women who died to secure our freedom after weeks and months of raging debate over what freedom is, and have we lost it. What would those Fallen Brave have to say about all of this that's happened over the past few months?  I really don't know. 

I just know I get the most sinister feeling in my gut and my heart when I drive past one of those LED signs along the bigger highways admonishing motorists that "Face Coverings Are Mandatory In Public." 

Still, the focus today shouldn't be on divisiveness or partisanship or politics.  Today is a day we are meant to remember that our flag is not moved by the wind when it waves.  Our flag is moved by the last breath of every patriot who died to establish and protect our nation and our freedom. 
Although the parades and ceremonies are quieted for this year, and the crowds will stay away, Quarantine and COVID-19 can't prevent us from remembering the Fallen Brave.  Remember their sacrifice.

Sunday, May 24, 2020

But I Kind of Got Comfortable

As much as I've railed against Pandemic Purgatory, last night, my husband, daughter, and I were sitting at the table and he said he kind of didn't want to go back to work.  And I get it.  I'm kind of bummed that he's going back to work Tuesday, too.

Things were off around here during Pandemic Purgatory.  Things that weren't great before Pandemic Purgatory were magnified by it, but we reshuffled and resettled into a routine that started to feel comfortable, just the same. A source of much discomfort around the shut-down was not knowing how long it would last.

Back in March, we were told this was a pause.  That implied that like pausing a show on the TV, it'd be in the same place it was when we hit pause.  We all know how that turned out.  As we emerge from the Pause, though, we aren't in the same place as we were two months ago.  Things look familiar enough, but so different that it's a bit jarring.  I talked yesterday about how I'm having a hard time visiting the places I haven't been to since Before, because of all the plexiglass and distancing measures and masks.  I'm not whining.  I like having the option to be able to go to stores and fetch take-out.  It's just it isn't the same.  It's like the TV switched our episode to the Twilight Zone version of the episode we were living in.

And then there's all the not great we've been working on during Pandemic Purgatory.  I guess I was figuring since we had nothing but time, we had nothing but Time.  But we've come to the end of it, and now all I feel is regret for not working harder to get it all sewn up and resolved while we had nothing but time.  Make hay while the sun shines, right?  But it's that way in Real Life, too, isn't it?  We think we have all the time in the world, until we don't have all the time anymore.

But when you're in Pandemic Purgatory, you don't necessarily feel like recognizing that.  Maybe that's why I got so comfortable during all of this.  I always think I have more time than I do, and when I run out, there's always something left on the table, begging for resolution.

I railed against the change imposed by the shut-downs, and I'm looking about Getting Back At Life with some dread and resentment and a dollop of sorrow, too.  No matter which way I drive on Change Boulevard, I really resist it.

At least in that way, New Normal is pretty much the same as the Artist Formerly Known as Normal!

Saturday, May 23, 2020

Going Green and the New Normal

As with everything else this spring, I have so many mixed feelings about this.
Hi Friends!  Well, the news came down last night that a whole bunch of counties in Pennsylvania, mine included, are going "Green" on Friday the Twenty-Ninth. 

This is the news we've been waiting for, all this time, and yet, it doesn't quite feel like a Victory.  Check out the graphic, which I got from the Warren County Times Observer.  The first line says "Not a return to the way things were, but changing behavior for a new normal."

That New Normal thing.  I don't know.  I know I've bandied about those words on this very blog myself, but they're sounding a little foreboding to me in this context. 

New Normal.

There's nothing even remotely normal about New Normal, it seems.  We're going around with half our faces covered, staying two yards from one another.  We had a tendency to misunderstand each other effectively enough when we could see each other's facial expressions and stand close enough not to have to use enhanced indoor voices.  The capacity for misunderstanding while we're all in masks out in public is boundless. 

I have to be honest.  I'm having a really hard time reconciling this New Strange superimposed over The Way Things Used To Be.  Last night, we ordered from one of our favorite pizza places, and since we had my vehicle and my mask was the only one on board, I went in to pick dinner up for us.  This was a place that Before Coronavirus, you could either sit down or take out.  Last night, the tables were all taped off, as they have been, I assume, ever since this started.  I haven't been in there, all this time.  There was a big plexiglass shield in front of the counter where the register is, and a clear shower curtain hangs to protect the curved part of the operation.  It's a smallish space inside, so when I arrived, there was a masked woman standing just outside the door.  She explained she was standing out there in the drizzle because she felt it was too crowded inside for her to be able to practice proper social distance. 

Since she was technically ahead of me in line, I felt like I would have been a giant jerkface for stepping inside, even if I had every intention of making sure she went ahead of me.  And then one of the town cops was on his way in, and he said to the both of us "You don't have to wait outside." 

That was all I needed to hear, and I followed him in.  So did my line-mate, although she looked visibly uncomfortable. There were a lot of people in there.  There was no real rhyme or reason to how people were queued, but it seemed to be working out.  Until another woman came through the door and looked at everybody and said "Are you all waiting?"  We all said we were, of course.  I wondered if she meant "Are you all waiting to order, or are you waiting for your food?" because otherwise, that just seems like one of those questions that would get you a sign handed to you from Bill Engvall. 

And then.  She went up to the counter and ordered 3 slices, ahead of everyone who was waiting to order or announce that we were there to pick up orders that we phoned in, and the woman who was paying at the register turned to me and said "WEREN'T YOU NEXT?!"

"No," I said, indicating the woman who'd been waiting outside the door when I stepped in front of the building.  "She was.  But it's okay."

"Well, no it's not!" said the woman paying at the register.

I let it go.  Next up was my line-mate, and as she stepped to the register, I stepped up to the counter, six feet away from her and kind of directed everybody into a more efficient queueing process to try to prevent more awkward moments like that from happening, at least while my particular cohort was in there.  And all was well as I left, I think. 

I'm not telling that story because I think I saved the day or anything.  The real heroes of last night were behind the counter, slinging pizza and subs and wings like manic champs.  All I did was try to take some of the awkward and confusion out of the way everybody was trying to herd around.  I know the woman who accidentally jumped the line seriously accidentally did it.  But I could see that the woman who was already paying at the counter was on-edge, and sensed that others were on-edge, too.  I was on-edge myself, but Trying Real Hard.  Another version of me, Before, From Another Time, would have jumped on the line-jumper just like Payin' Lady did.  And I should mention that at Age 41, I was one of the younger people waiting.  These all would have been Adultier Adults I would have been looking to for guidance in other situations.

Is this what the New Normal is going to be?  Masked and high-strung as all get-out?

I hope not.  I hope that as Things relax, so do we.  We've all had over two months of being wrapped too tight.  We're worrying about incomes and the economy and mental health.  COVID-19 and all its accessories have taken tolls on every single one of us; no one is unscathed, even the people who seem to be sailing along unaffected.  They've got their own stuff going on, and COVID and shut-down ramifications certainly factor in. 

Mental health is a real concern. 

That on-edge feeling I mentioned?  That snappishness?  Something I have learned from interacting with people and really reflecting on myself and my own actions ... okay, ruminating on myself and my own actions ... snappishness isn't the thing itself.  When someone's snapping and not having a lot of patience with those around them, there's something else going on.  Stress.  Who among is isn't stressed right now?  Tension.  Sorrow.  Fatigue.  Worry.

The magical thing- and I serve that up with an eyeroll so huge I think I sprained my eyeball muscles just now- the magical thing about it is that we might not even realize how stressed or tense or sorrowful or grieving or tired or worried we really are.  We might not even realize we're being snappish.  That's kind of the point of it, isn't it?  Snap is a quick action in the moment, the critter-brain rearing up and barking and biting before you can think and stop it.  You just sense that you're feeling some type of way, and it isn't right.

Snappish is probably a little more contagious than any virus.  There's no incubation period - you can catch it and spread it pretty instantaneously.  Masks don't filter it out.  In fact, I think the masks are causing some anxiety in people, and anxiety can make us snappish.

So as we're kind of emerging from Pandemic Purgatory, I feel like we're entering a Post-Pandemic Purgatory, with this Going Green and the New Normal.  I think the "New" part acknowledges that nothing about this is normal at all.  It's still messed up as cluck.  And I'm so conflicted about resisting "New Normal" or falling into line, because AT LEAST they're not saying "stay home as much as possible, at all costs" anymore.  At least we have that.

When I said "New Normal," I guess I was speaking to a reset of things that sucked about Normal that we accepted but were not working.  Relying on other countries for most of our manufacturing.  That had become Normal, and it isn't right.  The way farmers are pretty much screwed- they work the hardest and see the smallest financial reward for their efforts.  A healthcare system that's really sick-care, no matter what red tape you tie it up in and the label you stick on it.  A justice system that's so far out of whack that I wonder if Lady Justice wears a blindfold because she just can't bear to see the perversion anymore.  A broken education system in which the people who are actual experts are treated like idiots and the idiots at the top who have no clue how anything works are calling the shots.  A legal system where the people making and dictating the rules have the least bit of knowledge or common sense about how freakin' anything works.  The New Normal my heart hoped for from this reset orbited around those things.  And maybe, maybe, maybe... those things take time.  But I feel like the longer it takes to make something else, the more it's just the same old turds wrapped in shinier tinfoil and labeled with "New" and we're just supposed to be thrilled that they Changed!

As we creep cautiously from our Coronabunkers, we're seeing that there's just rubble left of the way things were.  This "reset" the most optimistic of us hoped the shutdown would be (and I was one of them at the Beginning) was more like a wildfire, and instead of cleaning out the undergrowth and scrub and making way or Good New, right now it feels like all that's left is rubble to sift through.  I drive past parks where I'd like to take my daughter, and they're all taped off like crime scenes.  The few places I've gone into during this, they're familiar enough, but modified to the point that they feel like surreal hellscapes. 

Phase Red, Phase Yellow have taken such a toll on so much.  Mental health.  Relationships.  Stability.  Certainty.  Security.  Our Humanity.

These are the things we've lost in the fire.

I hope we can get over the Awkward and Discomfort that we are certain to experience as we Go Green.  New Normal, at least in this sense, is hopefully a transition period, where we can start to stretch back out and relax a bit.  Hopefully take the lessons we've (again, hopefully) learned from the Coronafire, sift through the rubble, pick out the good bits, let the stuff that wasn't working and hasn't worked scatter to the four winds, and allow new growth. 

Just be kind out there, Friends.  Even as we give people space in the social distance sense, try to give your fellow humans space when they misunderstand or are snappish or awkward right now.  Give yourself the space, too. 

Friday, May 22, 2020

Let's Do the Timewarp Again

Sunrise earlier this week.  No "dawned on me" pun intended, probably!  But let's run with it!
It dawned on me that this weekend is Memorial Day Weekend.  I mean, I've been aware, because there's always a calendar within my line of sight, it seems, and I can look on the date and see "Memorial Day" in little letters on the bottom of Monday's square on each grid, but it isn't really resonating with me. 

It feels like when I'd see a school calendar before Zoe went to school.  I'd see the dates and understand that they were significant to someone, but they didn't apply to me.  It's like the whole entire experience of the Calendar right now does not apply. 

There was always some excitement around Memorial Day Weekend.  There was the solemnity of Memorial Day ceremonies and the fun of seeing friends and family who'd come into town for the long weekend.  There was the anticipation of The Last Day of School, which was right around the corner. 

This year, it's felt like we've been stuck in March, all this time, just sliding around to various points in that month.  Even the weather has been squirrelier than usual, like it's been stuck in March, all this time, as well.  It's fitting for 2020.  And I think that when the more May-appropriate weather hits us next week, like the weather app says it will, it's going to feel like we timewarped.  Straight from mid-March to late-May. 

I have a sneaking hope that once the chronological calendar catches up with the COVIDCalendar, and we reach the spot where school would have been out for summer anyway, things might feel a little less odd in the day-to-day.  I'm hoping we'll all be able to have things to look forward to again.

In the meantime, we have this messed-up Memorial Day Weekend coming up, where nothing is normal, and the "New Normal" is anything but. 

Thursday, May 21, 2020

Sometimes I Feel I've Got To Run Away

Bang!  Zoom!  Send me to The Moon!
Remember that "Tainted Love" song from Soft Cell - or Marilyn Manson, if you like covers? (I like 'em both.)

Sometimes I feel I've got to 
Run away
I've got to
Get away...

I feel that in my soul!  

Not for any dark, awful reason.  It just feels like we've been on an extended staycation, all up in each other's business, and there are no separate corners to retreat to.  

We're over two months into this, and while some restrictions have been lifted, things are still weird and in this half-life shut-downy kind of mode.  I haven't been many places.  I've driven to the school and been as far in as the entryway to drop off papers.  I've been through a few drive-thrus and inside one McDonald's to order to-go.  I've picked up medicines at the vet's.  All of these places that were so normal as to be banal to me Before feel odd and a little foreboding, like a Twilight Zone version of themselves.  I didn't like being in those places this way.  I haven't been to a store since March 14.  That is something I used to look forward to, even if it was grocery shopping.  My husband has been doing that, piecemeal, because he's already out and about for work.  

He's been doing all the running to places.  Zoe and I stay home.  There are no leisurely strolls around Target for us right now.  No trips to Wegmans or the Mall.  She and I used to like to be on the go when she wasn't in school.  But we stay home right now.  I can't be taking an eight-year-old into a grocery store.  I've seen the judgy posts on social media around people who do that, and the arguments that ensue, because maybe the other parent is at work or maybe the parent is single and you have to bring your kid into the store either way, because you can't leave them in the car, or you'll get arrested.  

It wears on the soul, though, staying home so aggressively when you're used to getting out of the bubble at least once or twice a week for whatever reason. But I'd almost rather stay home and remember the way places used to be, instead of venturing out right now much, and seeing this half-life we're all living.  I guess that's a luxury I have, even if it doesn't feel that way.

There's no telling how much longer this is going to go on.  That's what's messing with me, like when you're stuck on hold with Verizon or the health insurance company, and you don't know when you're going to get to speak to an agent, because they're experience a higher than expected call volume (they ALWAYS are experiencing a higher than expected call volume, aren't they?)  No matter how long you actually spend waiting for an agent to pick up, if you don't know how long it's going to be until then, every minute feels like it lasts eighty-four years.  

That's how Pandemic Purgatory has felt.  

So sometimes I feel I've got to run away.  I've got to get away from this twisted Twilight Zone version of reality we're living in right now.  The utterly bonkers thing is that there really isn't anywhere to run to right now.  

Still, all this time, with no place to go.  

What a time to be alive.

It'll be a long time before I take for granted the banality of going into a grocery store or McDonalds and not seeing masks and plexiglass shields and feeling the fear and paranoia in the air.  I really do not want to get used to this particular phase of All This.

Friends, optimism ebbs and grows, especially with me lately.  I still believe our best days are ahead and someday, Pandemic Purgatory will be just a story we all tell and a lesson we all learn from (hopefully).  Until tomorrow, be good to yourselves.

Wednesday, May 20, 2020

Concentrating During COVID

Following a thought is like trying to find a flashlight in a nebula for me right now.
Back when Sparkling Isolation and Widespread Shutdown began, I had far higher hopes for the way I'd handle it and stay optimistic and productive than I actually delivered on.   Honestly, I didn't really get out too awful much myself, in the days before.  I thought the departure from the grind would be a good reset for everyone, and we could emerge from it bright-eyed and recharged.

And I was counting on myself to be far, far more productive than I have been.  Other people were cleaning their houses.  I have sat right in the middle of the floor and stared with despair at the clutter, paralyzed by not knowing where to start and not trusting that I'll see it through to the end.  I've started reading books, only to find my attention grow cold mid-sentence and off I wander.  I started craft projects I haven't picked back up. 

And the writing?

In the old days, it was nothing for me to sit down and start writing in the morning and have close to twenty or twenty-five pages written over the course of the day.  No sweat.

I haven't done much of that since everything shut down.  Facebook posts.  This blog.  And there are days when it takes me far longer to churn out this blog than it should.

Some days, I get to the end of the day and have no idea what I accomplished, other than it feels like inside my head, there's a squirrel riding a unicycle while juggling knives, and the thing I accomplished is not letting that squirrel out of my head to run out into the world and up somebody's leg.

Thing is, I'm having a super-hard time concentrating during COVID.  Following a thought or a task to the end right now is like trying to find a flashlight in a field of stars.

Apparently this isn't so weird.  It's Pandemic Anxiety.  And this doesn't look like crumpling up in a corner and breathing into a paper bag.  It looks like not being able to concentrate or maybe eat or sleep very well.  It looks like underlying tension and stress that you can't really place, but you know it's there.

I think a lot of us are feeling Pandemic Anxiety and trying to find flashlights in fields of stars right now.  I would argue that Pandemic Anxiety is a pandemic in its own right.  This is what it looks like to concentrate (or not) during COVID. It's hard to have patience when you're all balled up with anxiety.  We're all discovering that, if we didn't know it before.  But patience is what we all need right now, for others and for ourselves.  We don't need to be crushin' it, killin' it, or particularly winning, other than counting it as a Win as long as we see the next day.

There'll be time when this is all over to crush it, kill it, and win at whatever game we'll be playing then.

Tuesday, May 19, 2020

For the Life of Me, I Cannot Remember

2019 had me stress-eating ice cream straight from the carton.  For the life of me, I can't remember why, right now.
I've been reading the articles in all the 2019 The Week magazines I've been behind on.  I do the puzzle-page as soon as the mags hit my mailbox, and then leave the newsy stuff for when I have time.  And as it's not usually super-great fabulous news, I procrastinate on reading the newsier articles.  So here I am, halfway through the fifth month of 2020, reading about 2019.

On New Year's Eve 2019, it felt like such a relief that 2019 was coming to a close and we were getting to start on 2020.  We were all saying how optimistic we were for the start of 2020.  Good riddance to 2019.

For the life of me, I cannot remember what it was about 2019 that made reaching the finish line feel like such a relief. I remember while we were going through it, it felt like a wild ride.  But for weeks now... like eight of them, I've really pondered what it was about 2019 that had us all weirded out.  It has me asking "Weren't we just precious?!" 

Nothing 2019 had for us holds a candle to what hell broke loose in 2020.

I'll tell you what, though.  I can't be letting myself stress-eat here in 2020 like I did at the end of 2019.  I was rolling on pretty well on diet, exercise, and weight-loss in the first two and a half months of this year.  And then Sparkling Isolation (now known as Pandemic Purgatory) happened.  And I remembered I love Nutella.  For the early weeks of This Whole Thing, I put it on my "essential grocery" list, along with milk, eggs, cheese, apples, vegetables, and coffee beans.  Those little retail-store-size jars were coming home, and I'd eat them like pudding, one spoonful at a time. 

So I found on Amazon that they have 6 pound tubs of Nutella, for a far more reasonable price-per-ounce.  And it was even more reasonable if a kid were to buy two of those tubs.  The description said for Food Service, but I think they just didn't have time to change the description to "For Food Service or Pandemic Purgatory."  So I clicked "buy it now!" and celebrated with a big spoon of Nutella as soon as it got here!

You know, a two-tablespoon serving of Nutella packs a 200-calorie punch.  You can eat a whole bowl of ice cream for 200 calories! 

Still love the stuff, though.

I've put away a lot of Nutella in the last two months.  Nutella is way more intense than ice cream, but 2020 has been so, so much more intense than 2019 was.  But I've got to stop it with self-medicating with the Nutella.  I don't want to have to buy bigger Pandemic Purgatory Pants. 

For the life of me, I cannot remember what made us think 2019 was so bad, now that we're living in the surreal world of 2020.  I just hope to All That Is Good and Holy that when we (finally) get to the end of 2020, and get sort of kind of into 2021, that no fresh hell breaks loose to make us wonder what we thought was so bad about 2020.  Because I'm not sure any of our tickers could take it!

Monday, May 18, 2020

Sixth Grade Camping Trip: Part Three: We Got To Shoot Things With Guns and Bow-n-Arrows!

This confirmed indoor girl can still appreciate the beauty of Outside.
So despite our cold, rainy weather, and the sneaking suspicion that the School had to do some serious arm-twisting to make sure there were enough chaperones to take my class on our Sixth Grade Camping Trip (because we were the Worst Ever, and nobody ever let us forget it), we did get to do and learn a lot of cool things that I don't think the general population of kids gets to do and learn these days, especially not in the setting of public schools or their field trips.

In fact, sometime over the last couple decades, the Sixth Grade Camping Trip at my elementary school was discontinued in favor of an overnight trip to Pittsburgh.  At least I think that's where the kids get to go.  I think that's a cool trip, too, because these kids LIVE in a rural area and maybe a lot of them camp and do outdoorsy things with their folks, and a lot of kids from around here don't have the opportunity to see a city.  Pittsburgh is a smallish, very friendly city.  We always say it's like a really big small town.  They need to see that part of the world, too.

Even so, I kind of mourn the discontinuation of the Sixth Grade Camping Trip, even for a bunch of country kids like my classmates and me.  Even if kids get to do that kind of stuff with their families, there's something different about getting to experience something like that with a whole bunch of kids your own age.  It's a chance to see your friends and classmates in a different setting for a sustained period of time.

Way back in 1990, on our Sixth Grade Camping Trip, we learned some survival skills, like making shelter from a big plastic garbage bag.  We learned to steep tea from boiled sumac buds.  We probably learned how to start a fire with varying degrees of help from matches, lighter fluid, and rubbing two sticks together.  I actually don't remember.  But maybe nobody let me near the fire-making.  The chaperones were no fools.  We learned Orienteering.  To this day, I'm still surprised I was any good at that.

We got to paddle canoes around the pond at the Scout Preserve.  And of course, we learned to make lanyards out of plastic lacing.  I think it's the law that if you're at a camp-type event, you have to learn how to make plastic lacing lanyards.

We also learned Archery, which was a preview for girls' gym at the High School.  On the Camping Trip, everybody shot bows and arrows.  They were just simple long-bows, not the kind with pulleys.  But it was a little bit empowering to learn how to shoot a target with a bow-and-arrow.  I'm pretty sure they don't do Archery at Public School anymore.

The thing that horrified my more cosmopolitan associates when I would tell about the Camping Trip was that they let a bunch of eleven-and-twelve year-olds shoot targets with real rifles.  .22s.  In fact, most of us took Hunter's Safety in Sixth Grade, and many of us had been hunting and fired rifles even before the Camping Trip.  We had learned to respect firearms and behave safely around them.

It's such a hot-button issue now that I don't think there's much room even to have a conversation around this, let alone let kids do some target practice on a school-sponsored field trip.  And this isn't me being political.  Please don't set me on fire.  It's just an observation that thirty years ago, we took it for granted that we'd be practicing shooting entry-level firearms on a sixth grade camping trip, and now, we take it for granted that we aren't even going to talk about doing such a thing, even here in the Country.

The world has changed.

So.  The Sixth Grade Camping Trip of 1990.  Even with the cold, stormy, sleepless nights and the cold, wet feet, and the persistent mist and drizzle and all-out torrential rain, I think my class made some really good lifelong memories on that trip.  We formed some special bonds, even if we didn't realize it back then.  Our chaperones did a phenomenal job with the conditions they were operating under.

And.  Despite being the Worst Class Ever to Go Through the Children's School, I cannot think of a more Best Collection of People to Go Through School With than my classmates in the Sixth Grade Class of 1990, and the Senior Class of 1996.  We didn't get blue skies and sunny weather and heaps of praise, and yet here we are.  We turned out pretty fab, in spite of it all.

Sunday, May 17, 2020

Sixth Grade Camping Trip: Part Two: Stormy Weathah!

This is an exaggeration of how cold it was on 1990's 6th Grade Camping Trip... but not much of one!
They say that "What doesn't kill ya makes ya stronger."  I don't know about all that.  It's probably true.  In the case of the Sixth Grade Camping Trip of 1990, and the weather we had for it, I think the saying should be revised to say, "What doesn't kill ya gives ya a complex."

Because you see, like I mentioned yesterday, after the Sixth Grade Camping Trip of 1990, The Weather was never just small-talk for any of us in my class again.

We had cold, cold weather on our Sixth Grade Camping Trip.  Rain.  So much rain.  Both nights of the camping trip, it rained.  Torrential downpours, even!  The first of the two nights it rained so hard that the roofs of the tents were bowed down with water.  We were told that the tents wouldn't leak as long as we didn't touch them when there was water bowing them down.

That's like telling a kid not to pop a zit.

Anyway, on the second night of the camping trip, we didn't have to worry about rainwater bowing down on those cotton canvas tents, because there was a thunderstorm with lots of wind that blew open tents.  On the bright side, the wind also blew the water right off tent roofs!

When it wasn't raining, we were treated to a constant cool, cool mist, much like one would imagine is the case in Scotland.  We learned to paddle canoes in the mist and drizzle.  We really got something out of our garbage-bag shelters during our survival and orienteering modules.  We fired rifles and bows and arrows while squinting through intermittent raindrops.

We didn't have campfire activities when it got dark, because of the cold and the rain.  Our chaperones had to find alternative activities for us to do besides campfire activities.  They made it look as though they'd planned on us having our singalongs inside, all along, and that putting on skits in our campsite groups was just a part of a camping trip.  They did a really good job of keeping us entertained during those three rainy days.

As for me and my classmates, the rain and the cold were the things that stand out most prominently for us about that trip.  Someone will always comment about how they will never forget how cold and wet their feet got on that trip.  I remember I came home with one of the worst colds of my life and spent the post-camping trip weekend, which was sunny and hot, hot, hot, by the way, holed up in the living room chair, with cold medicine and VapORub and a nose that felt like it was stuffed with hardened concrete.

The cold and rain gave my class a complex, I think.  Field trips weren't plentiful when we got to High School, at least not the kind where the entire class piled on a bus and went somewhere.  Seventh Grade's trip to the Buffalo Zoo was the last time.  It was a drizzly May day.

Our Senior Trip was the next field trip that perpetuated our collective complex.  Just like was the case for our Sixth Grade Camping Trip, the class ahead of us had beautiful weather for their trip to Virginia Beach.  In fact, kids from our year from other schools had beautiful weather at the beach the week before we got there, as we learned from the locals as we blew into town.

My class?  We had gray skies and temperatures in the fifties.  Rain.  Drizzle.  Persistent mist.  We followed up the rainy beach with a rainy trip to Busch Gardens.  Skies were gray.  There was drizzle.  Persistent mist.  The first day we toured Washington DC, we had to look through raindrops running down the charter bus windows.  We were all soggy and a little miserable in our obligatory picture taken on the steps of the Capitol Building.  The only nice weather we had was the last day of the trip, and we were only in town for half the day, before we headed for home.

It always felt like something of a metaphor for the whole way things went for my class.  I think it definitely left a mark on us all.

But the Sixth Grade Camping Trip wasn't all cold weather and rain.  We got to do a lot of cool stuff that Kids These Days do not get to do on school trips, usually.  But that's a story for another day.

How about tomorrow?

Saturday, May 16, 2020

Sixth Grade Camping Trip: Part One: Introduction to Camping!

If you flip your canoe, remember there's air that you can breath up in the capsized boat, until you get it righted.
This is something hard to believe that we have to believe because it's true: On this day THIRTY YEARS AGO, my class went on our Sixth Grade Camping Trip at Elk Lick Scout Preserve.  May 16, 17, and 18, 1990. 

All spring long, we looked forward to three sun-and-fun-filled days at the camp to bid a fond farewell to our Sixth Grade Year, even though, at certain points through the school-year, it was dangled in front of us that we were such a bad class that maybe we wouldn't get to go on the camping trip after all.  A lot of the longtime Sixth Grade Camping Trip chaperones bailed on going on the camping trip our year, again, because we were "so bad."  It was a scramble, getting other teachers talked into going with us on the Camping Trip, but eventually, our way to days in the wilderness was paved, and we had our small village of chaperones, and we had meetings about the camping trip in the weeks leading up to the actual event.

We got to choose our own tent-mates.  We'd be grouped into three groups.  I don't remember what the other two were, but my tent-mate and I were in Iroquois.  Our groups would be our families for the duration of the camping trip.  Kind of like the Houses at Hogwarts, but with less being said about our character than Hogwarts Houses hint at. We'd be spending the most time in our groups while we'd do chores around the campground, and learn about things like orienteering and canoeing and shooting bows and rifles.  We'd be doing some crafts and picking up some survival skills, all in these groups. 

It bears taking a moment to focus on those tents up in the campsites.  They weren't terrible tents.  We didn't have to build them ourselves.  They were blue-gray cotton-canvas tents supported by metal pipes fashioned into the shape of a tent.  They closed by tying them.  They had wood floors and cots upon which we put the sleeping bags we brought from home. 

If this sounds like a description of a Boy Scout Campsite worded by a confirmed Indoor Girl... well... I am extremely Indoorsy.

Anyway, we were told that if we had to go to the bathroom in the night, we had to bring our flashlights and our tentmates, because it was a walk all the way down the hill to the communal bathroom that all the sites shared.  And there was wildlife in them thar woods that surrounded us.  I mean, we were a bunch of country kids taken from our homes in the country to a countrier version of country, and we'd be sleeping at a Boy Scout camp in cotton canvas tents with wood floors.  I don't think any of us were particularly wary of the wildlife we could encounter.  We'd all grown up with a respect for Nature, I think, since there was no escaping it.  But we did get the message that if we had to Go in the night, we had to take a tentmate, for safety.

This would translate to use later, when we were college students, especially for the girls, as the rule of not going to a frat party alone.  Always take a friend or a roommate.  You don't want to encounter any wildlife without backup.

Those tents, we were told as we stood in a circle outside them in the chilly drizzle, they wouldn't leak, as long as we didn't touch 'em.  But if it rained in the night, and we got it in our heads to touch the walls or ceiling of our tents, then they'd leak. 

Down in that communal bathroom building, it was divided for boys in one section of the building, and girls in the other section.  There were real bathroom stalls with flushing toilets.  That's a plus.  And communal showers, just like the ones we had and hated in the locker rooms at school.  If I have a take-home from fourth, fifth, and sixth grade gym class, it's that all of us went out of our ways to not have to take a shower after gym class, even though the gym teachers made it a mandatory thing, and we each had to take turns being the shower snitch who was supposed to report on classmates who didn't shower after gym class.  And I have to hand it to my class.  We stood in solidarity against the tyranny of the mandatory shower in elementary school.  Every shower snitch, even rule-followin' Me, would report everybody showered, even though we DIDN'T.  Because those mandatory, communal showers were some kind of bullshit, right there.  And that is a hill I am STILL prepared to die on.

Those communal showers on the camping trip dispensed mostly warm water, though, water that felt luxuriously warm given the circumstances, and on the two mornings we woke up at the campground, we'd all take a hot-lap around that communal shower, because that was our best chance at getting warm for the day.  Kinda.

We ate hot meals in the camp mess hall.  That building would serve as the center of the camping trip.  We ate there and did crafts in there, and had skits and played games in there.  We had our sing-alongs in the building, instead of around a fire out by the pond.

I'll always remember one of the teachers, a kindergarten teacher who was still fairly new to our school and who was put in charge of the canoes on that pond- I remember her telling us that if we flipped our canoes in the pond, to remember that there was air up inside the flipped canoe that we could breathe until we got the canoe righted.  That bit of information has stuck with me for thirty years.

I can count on one hand the number of times I've been in a canoe over the last 30 years.  Never flipped one.  But it's good to know where the air is, should it happen.

We were told that we'd be given time to swim weather permitting, but otherwise, we weren't to go into the pond past our knees in depth, unless we flipped said canoes.  It turned out that nobody tried to go in the water more than knee-deep, and the one pair whose canoe flipped did not do it on purpose.  Nobody wanted to go into that water!

I think that on the first day of the Camping Trip, as we settled in for a Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday full of outdoorsy, wildernessy fun, we all still had high hopes for the last field trip of our elementary school years.  It started out a little cold and drizzly, but it can't rain forever, can it?

Well, that's a story for another day.  After the Sixth Grade Camping Trip of 1990, The Weather was never just a "small talk" topic for me or my class, and I'll tell you all about it, Tomorrow.

See you then.

Friday, May 15, 2020

When Poetry Was Magnetic

Poem written in 2020 with a 1998 Magnetic Poetry Kit.
The other day, I stumbled across the Magnetic Poetry Kit I bought in 1998.  It was one of my first purchases from Amazon, in fact.  They were all the rage for a few years in the Late 1990s, and I happened to be studying Creative Writing and had to take poetry workshops in order to graduate. 

I think I got to the MPK to try to turn myself into a poet.  I always could appreciate poetry, but as a poet myself, I suck harder than a Dyson.  I could never really get into a poetic mindset.  There were some places I just refused to go.  My poetry workshop mates didn't seem to have the hangups I had, subject-wise or creatively.  And I think I bought the MPK to try to break through some of those blocks and hangups.

To be honest, the Magnetic Poetry Kit never really did it for me.  I got frustrated sorting through all the little magnetic words, flipping them all face-up to see what I was working with.  And then I'd get frustrated by the limitations.  And I couldn't escape the fact that I totally sucked at poetry and was an utter fraud, even having the audacity to call myself a Creative Writing Major.  Because.  Everybody was more talented and less uptight than I was.

Even so, I never got rid of the MPK.  It was nearby all the times I've moved since I acquired the kit.  That's kind of a miracle, given that I've lost things that I used.  They're up in the cardboard box monolith that I took up in the attic in 2007 when we moved in here, and we left those moving boxes to unpack after our big open house we were having, to showcase our renovation crew's work.  Those boxes still haven't been unpacked.  They're like Andy Warhol's Time Capsules, at this point.

But somehow, that MPK got unpacked, and has been waiting for me to rediscover it in a bookshelf, all these years. 

The other day, I decided to give the thing a spin again.  Pandemic Purgatory does weird things to you when you know you have noplace to go.  I patiently turned over all the words.  I didn't try sorting them, because I was getting flashes of serendipity as I handled each tiny magnet.  Phrases were starting to take shape, so I started sticking them to the metal bulletin board I commandeered for this project. 

After over an hour, I had the poem pictured.  Something I noticed while crafting my Magnetic Poem is that while there are lots of little magnetic words included, there is not a limitless supply of all the words.  You have to be judicious and choosy.  It's extremely limiting, but where that used to frustrate me, it was oddly liberating.  I'm not entirely sure the poem makes sense, and that's okay.  I am picking up on some type of undertone in the poem, but have decided it is not for me to analyze.  I was the Creator.  Someone else can analyze.

I also found myself wanting to branch off and take this magnetic poem to paper to expand it.  I must might, still.  But I had some other things to do, and I am not a poet, and it's my policy not to revise anything until at least the next day, preferably when I'm in something of a petulant and pissy mood, so that it's far easier to kill the darlings for the sake of a stronger piece.  I've always been a heartless and fearless reviser, to be honest.

In case you can't read the Magnetic Poetry Kit poem, here it is, capitalized and punctuated as I would have, if the MPK allowed.  Don't worry if it doesn't make any sense to you.  It doesn't really make a lot of sense to me, either, and I think this is one of those times when I can let someone else divine possible meaning:

Winter Shadow Moon Goddess
dressed in delicate diamond fluff
a vision of blue glass
white hot blood
and rust
Mother of Storm
Friend of frantic Wind
and crazed Iron Rain
soars cool above
the weak repulsive symphony
of these bitter whispers
and black wax dreams
leaves behind sweet mad time
a gift for the Void
takes her place
in the raw delirious Sky
to Fly
to Shine

-AprilB 5.13.2020

Thursday, May 14, 2020

Planning Ahead Is a Luxury

Detail from my wall calendar, which in April 2020 had all colors, no code, because there was no-place to go.
In LBC (Life Before COVID), I was an avid planner-aheader.  I would be at the doctor or dentist or salon or mammogram place and always, always, always set up my next appointment before I walked out of the building from the appointment I just completed.  I do the same with Zoe's appointments and the dog's appointments, as well.  Then I'd put the appointment in my iCal, and when I got home, I'd write the new appointment on the wall-calendar and also in my planner.  Of course the appointment card would get snapped and kept in my photos on my phone, and the original would get stapled to the calendar on the appropriate month.  Just in case.

I never got into fancy planners with breaking out stencils and stuff.  I do a little bit of color-coding by who the appointment or event is centered around.  Nothing too crazy.  And I use stickers to pretty up a page on the calendar or in my planner, more for my own amusement than for meaning.  I have a system that works for me.  I don't forget an appointment, if I have it written on the calendar and backed up with iCal. 

Something about having a planned-ahead plan really does it for me.

Over the last few days, I've been going through my iCal schedule, seeing what's on the horizon, and I've scrolled through appointments that have been missed because the places I'd go for the appointments have been shut down.  I've noticed upcoming appointments that I made in LBC that have butted up against appointments with my therapist, that I can serve here at home, and calls for my schooling that I do here at home. 

Those appointments are all in the future, maybe by a couple months, even, but seeing those remnants of LBC next to evidence of Life Right Now sort of gave me a moment's pause. 

The appointment that really stopped me was Zoe's appointment with her ENT in July.  The last time we were there, it was March 10th.  Things were starting to get a little spooky up around Buffalo, but it really seemed like Life would go on as normal, despite all this Coronavirus talk.  Seriously.  I made her next appointment for July.  We talked about how, if the tubes in her ears didn't come out on their own between March and July, we'd have to schedule her for surgery in the fall to have them taken out.  It's been two years already, since they were placed. 

In a box-within-a-box kind of scenario, that discussion really messed with me on March 10th.  I didn't like the uncertainty of not knowing whether those ear-tubes would come out on their own.  I didn't like having to wait until July to know if we'd have to schedule surgery for the Fall. 

And now I'm wondering if we'll even have the appointment in July, and if we don't, then what?

It's funny.  Two months ago, on March 14, I figured things would be all back to the way they usually are by March 28.  Certainly by May 14.  We're Two Months into this thing.  It feels like Two Forevers.  As I sit here, looking ahead Two Months into July, I just don't know what to count on anymore, other than what's right in front of my face.

Back at the beginning of all this, there was a lot of talk about what the Pause was trying to teach us.  To live in the moment.  To appreciate.  To not take life for granted.  I haven't seen a lot of that talk lately.  I think I haven't seen that talk at all, now that I think about it.  We've all descended into a big funk, and I don't blame us.  When the present day feels like all the days in the recent past, and LBC feels like somebody else's life, you get a little sick of trying to find a lesson.  You just feel like Phil Connors in Groundhog Day, right around the time when he starts getting dark.  We're Dark Phil.  Just don't take the toaster to the tub. 

Ol' Phil eventually got himself righted and started to learn new things while he was Groundhog Daying it.  His ticket out of Purgatory was Getting It Right.  Karma, not Coronavirus.  Everybody's got their opinions on what's going to be our ticket out of Pandemic Purgatory- stay home and flatten the curve more, reopen, murder wasps...  Who knows?

What I do know is that planning ahead and being able to take for granted that the plans will come to pass as scheduled seems like a distant luxury.  A different life we hear tell about.  I'm looking forward to the day I can write stuff on my calendar and anticipate following through with those things written, instead of having to add an asterisk to that day and say "cancelled."

I look forward to having the luxury of getting to Plan Ahead again.  For sure.

Wednesday, May 13, 2020

And Just Like That...

L-R: 8/21/2019; 3/13/2020; 5/11/2020
On Monday, I took Zoe's last homework packet back to the school, and I think that effectively ended her Second Grade Year. 

What a whimper-ending to a school year that started with a bang. 

For the last two years, the last day of school was Something.  Zoe would leave in the morning on the bus and return home after a half-day of celebrating with her friends and teachers.  She'd come home with her things she accumulated at school over the last 180 weekdays.  We'd be in a mindset of Ready for Summer.

Well, this year, we didn't know the end was the End.  Take a gander at the accompanying photos.  The first one on the left was the First Day of School.  Zoe was going through a phase where she was absolutely fascinated with all things Hogwarts, and she wanted to wear a uniform like Hermione Granger would wear on the first day of school.

That second picture, the one in the middle- that was taken on the last Normal Day- hilariously Friday the 13th of March, just before we went to the bus stop.  Fridays in Second Grade were Farm Fridays, and the kids were encouraged to dress for the farm.  We didn't know that was going to be the Last Day she and her friends stepped foot inside that school. 

Maybe if we had, I would have strewn glitter around in that second picture.

That last picture, I took on Monday, after I'd taken the packet of homework to the school and left it.  I saw a classmate of mine, who was also at school.  We were both behind masks.  There were no teachers, no excited students.  The school should be abuzz this time of year, because it's almost summer vacation!

So I guess that Monday, May 11 was Zoe's last day of being a second grader.

Just like that. 

Tuesday, May 12, 2020

When I Say Normal...

I want this time of day to feel optimistic to me again.
Because times are what they are at the present juncture of Space and Time and Us, a kid can take a lot of flack for wishing to be "back to Normal," because there's an inevitable refrain from the chorus that "Normal wasn't working!"

And I get it.  The old Normal wasn't working.  Life wasn't fair and the world was a shit-show and people were assholes.  And right now, people are assholes, the world is a shit-show, and life isn't fair... but with COVID-19's specter hanging over us.  There's an exhausting emotional aerosol in the air that sets us on edge and makes us ugly toward one another.  

When I say I want to get back to Normal, what I the mean is that I want to be able to go out and about and not feel like I'm out in the hall without a pass in high school.  I'd like not to have to wear a mask or see everyone else wearing masks.  I'd like not to have feelings of anxiety and panic as they relate to paper products and how much I have left in my house.  

I'd like not to have to worry about whether or not there'll be enough food for us all, come winter.  Think of all the meat-processing plants shut down in the Midwest right now.  Think of all the news-stories of crops being plowed under because there's nobody to pick them and nobody to process them into canned food or frozen food.  In the Northeast, canned and frozen is what helps us survive comfortably in the long winters.  

I'd like to be able to just pick up and go to the grocery store and have the biggest worry be that I remembered my reusable bags.  

I'd like to be able to go to Target and just wander around like I do, and buy nonessential things just nonchalantly, and not feel like an asshole for doing so. 

I'd like to be able to watch this season's hockey teams play.  It'd be Playoffs right now.  

Yeah, it'd also be kind of rad to be able to go get a haircut.  This isn't something I'd take to the streets or the steps of the Capitol to protest, because when I hear the voices of the Scared, it really is petty to put split ends ahead of Saving Lives.  

But holy shit.  

I think that in addition to hair and nail salons and dentists offices and schools, the "If It Bleeds, It Leads" news media should have had to be shut down during this quarantine, as well.  It isn't the bad news that bothers me; it's that the bad news is all there is.  Bad news gets attention, attention gets advertising, and advertising is where the money is.  They've got us whipped up into a frenzy.  

And I hope there's a special place in hell for Social Media Fear-Mongers.  People.  Just because you read it online, doesn't make it true.  Just because someone's wearing scrubs, or a white labcoat, it doesn't mean they're a doctor.  It doesn't mean they have any authority at all to say the things they're saying.  It's likely those people are just after their fifteen minutes.  There are a lot of sick othertruckers in this world who have zero f*cks in their pockets to give about Truth or What's Right, so long as it gets them attention.

I want to get back to Normal, where there's some excitement in the air when the Back to School stuff turns up in the stores after July 4th.  Heck.  I want to get back to Normal where we can celebrate things like July 4th with parades and fireworks and picnics.

I want to get back to Normal where we're allowed to have a sense of humor.  We haven't had that in a while.  It used to be fun to laugh.

When I say "Normal," I want this reptilian Fear that has us all by the throat to go away.  I want us to be better than we were before, and I think we will be, for a while.  I hope it sticks, after this present cataclysm.  

I'm not looking for a fight when I voice my desire for Normal.  When I say "Normal," I mean I want it to be the opposite of whatever the hell this oddness is that we're existing in right now, with no option to Just Get Weirder.

That's all, Friends.  

Monday, May 11, 2020


Also, it snowed this weekend.  It's May, if you've lost track.
When COVID-19 shut everything down, I railed against it.  During the initial two weeks of closure, I colored the days black on our home-calendar, and used every glittery poop emoji sticker in my daughter's Justice sticker collection, to illustrate our feelings about the two-week shut-down.  There were also bio-hazard stickers in that collection.  We stuck those to the calendar, too, for the days of March 16- March 27th. 

It felt like the walls were closing in with the sudden stoppage of routine, of Zoe being ripped from in-person school, and my husband being told he couldn't practice dentistry.  I wondered if we'd all kill each other by the end of those first two weeks. 

I was still feeling the Hate as the second round of Kick-the-Closure-Can was announced.  We'd be down until April 9th.  But Zoe and I sat down and colored those closed-school days in rainbow, added glitter stickers.  We made the days look festive.  We figured we might as well hold onto Hope.  April 9th was supposed to be a half-day of school.  It was the Thursday before Easter.  That wouldn't be so bad.  Ease back into it with a half-day, then a weekend. 

You know the rest.  You're living it, too.  Everything shut down, indefinitely. 

You've been walking this Journey Through the Emotional Jungle right along with me, Friends.  I've had my good days where I can be chipper and try to buoy everyone up.  I've had my days where I've been wishing for a comet to swing by, so I could grab its tail and swing on off this planet.  I've had a lot of in-between days, where I'm just glad to exist to see the next day.  I've had days that I've felt almost normal.  I've spent swaths of days in the Dark, letting the mean-girl voices in my own head hurt my feelings.  I've had days where I've been Very Angry, felt Rage building up in my core like lava.

I think we're all experiencing some version of the same emotional loop, Friends.  Hopefully, maybe thank goodness we're not all on Very Angry on the same day.  Hopefully some of us can be Fairly Chipper on some days, to balance out the Dark, Twisty, Very Angry. 

On Friday, the Podunk Portion of PA went on Yellow Status.  Our Governor is adorable in his efforts to color-code a situation like your pal AprilBee.  He has neither the panache nor the whimsy nor the balls to give Pennsylvanians a true Color-Coded Situation experience the way I could.  But that's a rant for another time.  We have Red, Yella, and Green.  Red was the Utter Lockdown.  Yellow is Lockdown Lite, and Green is All Bets Are Off.  And I am sure like me, you're noticing some room for some nuance, and the addition of a few more colors in this plan. 

Without crying too much about our specific Blues, even though we were told the dentist's office can open back up, the wording in the lack of guideline hamstrings us almost as much as or more as the "Emergencies Only" order we've been operating under for the last couple months.  The Yellow Light opens up so many cans of worms, so many unwinnable situations. 

Don't misunderstand me.  I'm sitting here, boiling, thinking about all of this.  I'm overwhelmed and paralyzed, trying to come up with helpful suggestions for my husband, who's shouldering this on his own.  We just need more information.  There's so much at stake, reopening, and we don't know what's what.  We just need more information. 

So for the next couple weeks, at least, we're still pacing the floor and living under the same parameters as we did when we were in the Red Phase.

Red and Resigned.  That's how I feel overall, mostly.  Just like in traffic, the yellow lockdown light is awkward.  Do we stay or do we go?  Speed up to try to beat the red or jam on the brakes?  There are risks and rewards to both, but the rewards don't feel very rewardy right now.  So we're opting for More of the Same until we have further information.  And I'm just resigned to that.  Resigned.  This is what it is.  No sense struggling against it.

If you're also in a ho-hum mood this Monday, and wondering if you're experiencing "Resignation," you're not alone.  Just thought you should know.