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Cold Words Can Comfort

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Now is the winter of our discontent –

The opening line of Shakespeare’s Richard III’s soliloquy rattles ‘round my head once the glitter of the New Year has dimmed.

We’ve weathered some emotional and financial storms previous Januarys – both hubby and I lost our dear dads during this month, we’ve lost other friends and a favorite uncle, too. If the furnace, car, dishwasher or nearly anything mechanical goes kaput, it’s akin to Murphy’s Law that this will occur kick off our new year. Frankly, we’d like to tear this month off the calendar and start with February just to avoid the anniversaries.

We know we’re not alone in this January haze of loss, illness or frustration, the newspapers fill of obits and human misery.

sierra snow 2We’ve seen a lot of weather stack up over our dear Sierra pass this season and have dealt some with the wind, rain, ice, snow, fog and inversion. But, knock on wood, for us, the January Jinx hasn’t hit this year, aside from this head cold that has had me lying low and a few lame car repairs. Curled in my bed, reading while tethered to tissues and tonics, the sequence of authors tending to me have been (in order) William Faulkner, Willa Cather, Sinclair Lewis and Leif Enger. The latter three have set the mood of winter thusly:

Main StreetLewis in Main Street describes main characters Carol and Kennicott dashing before a Minnesota blizzard:

After a mile she saw that he was studying a dark cloud in the north. He urged the horses to the run. But she forgot his unusual haste in wonder at the tragic landscape. The pale snow, the prickles of old stubble, and the clumps of ragged brush faded into a gray obscurity. Under the hillocks were cold shadows. The willows about a farmhouse were agitated by the rising wind, and the patches of bare wood where the bark had peeled away were white as the flesh of a leper. The snowy slews were of a harsh flatness. The whole land was cruel, and a climbing cloud of slate–edged blackness dominated the sky… They were flying now, the carriage rocking on the hard ruts. The whole air suddenly crystallized into large damp flakes. The horses and the buffalo robe were covered with snow; her face was wet; the thin butt of the whip held a white ridge. The air became colder. The snowflakes were harder; they shot in level lines, clawing at her face. She could not see a hundred feet ahead.

Enger in Peace Like a River gives us a Reuben’s view of a another Minnesota storm season:Peace Like a River

You don’t give a chipped dime for December ’62, but it was an epic season, all the same, the drifts rising eventually past the kitchen windows and up to the very eaves. In the afternoons Swede and I, in layers of pants, would step from the highest snow bank onto the roof of the single-story addition, then climb to the peak and go skidding down the other side to land with a poof in the front yard.

Then Cather in her best-known novel My Antonia details the Nebraska prairie winter:

Winter comes down savagely over a little town on the prairie. The wind that sweeps in from the open country strips away all the leafy screens that hide one yard from another in summer, and the houses seem to draw closer together. The roofs, that looked so far away across the green tree-tops, now stare you in the face, and they are so much uglier than when thMy Antoniaeir angles were softened by vines and shrubs. In the morning when I was fighting my way to school against the wind, I couldn’t see anything but the road in front of me; but in the late afternoon, when I was coming home, the town looked bleak and desolate to me. The pale cold light of the winter sunset did not beautify – it was like the light of truth itself. When the smoky clouds hung low in the west and the red sun went down behind them, leaving a pink flush on the snowy roofs and the blue drifts, then the wind sprang up afresh, with a kind of bitter song, as if it said, ‘This is reality whether you like it not. All those frivolities of summer, the light and the shadow, the living mask of green that trembled over everything, they were lies and this is what was underneath. This is the truth.’ It was as if we were being punished for loving the loveliness of summer.

Dear authors, knowing you’ve been there, felt fright, desolation mixed with joy and consolation comforts me. Your thoughtful descriptions of the highs and lows of winter  helps me to remember and appreciate the coming of spring and New Life.

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I Could Tell You Some Stories

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Welcome to Los Angeleeees, Ms. Fink.

Welcome to Los Angeleeees, Ms. Fink.

Suddenly I had the urge to go back to college — to earn some new fangled degree or other that would  only take two semesters to accomplish — but it would be hard work and require me to live apart from home. Once there, I always found myself lost in vacant hallways lumbering up and down stairs lost and chancing that I would get to my dorm room.  That’s right: I said dorm room, after my first night class.

At forty-something years old, here I was back in the dorms, but somehow they were different from the dorms of my youth. To start with, the globes in the hallways had a dingy pink cast and the walls went from narrow to wide very quickly. Every unfamiliar doorway mocked me: “You’re new here. You don’t belong here.” I seemed to be travelling in circles and had to go down two flights before taking an elevator to send me up three flights and then down another half-rounded stair.

“Here it is,” I pant to myself after navigating this tortuous maze. I know it’s mine because it’s the only one where the door is wide open. This too, is so different from days gone by. Instead of two single beds with two closets, two desks and a sink, this room is like an Army barracks with row upon row of grey metal bunk beds. At the far end of the chamber are four regular single beds.

A push my way to that end and notice that the music in the room is not bad, mostly something classified as indy-pop, but to my dismay as soon as I could catch onto a tune, the song would change. This seemed the norm, and not some weak game of Music Wars where you would try to name the artist before the other dude, just two or three measures of song followed by another snipet of song.

Perhaps because of my age or maybe because of my charm (ha, ha), I have one of the single beds at the end of the lodging– no one above me and no bed springs to look at. That’s good because beat, I am and I just want to wash my face and lay down. Problem is someone else is at the sink before me and I just have to wait. Fine. I sit for a moment, trying to get the rhythm of the new song and notice twin blonde girls across the way. In an effort to set the stage for the coming year, I begin introductions when suddenly the two morph into four. Best not to stare, they probably get tired of that, especially with the pear-size birthmarks on various parts of their faces that they each seemed to be sporting. Plus, I’m afraid the next time I turn, there will be eight. Tough to get a bed in one of these places these days.

So I turn my attention back to the sink and realize that the person  washing up looks a lot like my old boss, Becky. That couldn’t be. This woman has a kerchief on her head to keep the hair off her forehead while she moisturizes her large Midwestern face. She brays at me, “Em! It’s you! I thought so.”

Let's catch up. Right now.

Let’s catch up. Right now.

What the….

She begins gabbering about her life and her jobs and why she is here and how long it how been, how many hand-knit sweaters she’d bought, and about her sons, the one that is gay and the one that is not, while I wash my own face while watching her eat a gallon of rocky-road ice cream.

“Oh dear. What a nightmare. College is not for me,” I think as I fly out of there like a tiger on fire. “I have to get home! My husband must miss me. It’s dark, but I can make it before midnight, I know. He’ll understand.

I look down and realize I am on a 16-foot-tall Christmas tree clinging to its top branches. I whomp its roller skates to move me down the darkening highway straight home. The powerlines a terrifying at this height, but still less than the Barton Fink atmosphere I had just left at this campus from Elm Street. While still moving at a reckless speed I force myself to leap to the ground as we (the tree and I) are on a collision course with the porte cochere of our vaulted apartment complex straight ahead.

People in the comley common dining room swivel their balloon-like heads around to see where the tree and I will crash, yet I am like Elastagirl from the Incredibles and plant the vault Olympic gymnist-style with barely a hesitation before the sprint to our home while blithely noting that my keys had splintered in the crash. Now at the door of apartment 404 with its walls of what? Pine. What? Rough hewn floors.  My man has already converted this into his Man Cave. I’m barely yesterday’s news.

“Where’s the bed?” I ask racing through our home, “Where the hell is the bed?”

My hubster Vic breezes in with our friend Todd. They were dressed in 49er shirts (not weird, like twin shirts, just fan shirts) and going to see a game or have a beer, or shoot, I don’t know play some pool. “Wait. I’m home,” I let go. “I’m home now. Where is the bed?”

“Silly girl,” Vic teased. “The bed is planted in the parking lot to look at the stars. You lay down out here,” whisking me away to the asphault field.

I implore from the in-the-parking-lot-bed-now, “I do not want this. It’s hot. I’m homeless. Stay. No game. My keys are lost.”

“Now THAT’s a problem,” Todd wisecracks. “That’s a loup-garou.”

Take a look around this dump. You're just a tourist with a typewriter, Barton, I live here.

Take a look around this dump. You’re just a tourist with a typewriter, Barton, I live here.

And this, ladies and gentlemen, is why you don’t want to take Nyquil after eating a banana. Geez.

Atlas Crumpled

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Here I stand – strong, impervious to the elements, meeting life and its challenges head-on – with the world (my world) resting on the tips of my fingers with everything balanced and fully aligned.

Look at me, Super Woman. I tackle new projects with zest in the workplace, relish home life with zeal; I am a paragon of calm under pressure. What, me? No, I haven’t been sick in a couple years – it’s something to do with my age I guess, the germs don’t care for me at all. I’m the Teflon of Moms, I don’t relinquish control of my body to illness.

Getting a whiff of a sore throat, I down Emergen-C ; a headache coming on, here comes plenty of water and sunglass therapy; what? A hint of fatigue — nothing that an extra 15 minutes of sleep can’t cure. It does seem impossible, but I am a rock. When the shit comes down, I’m holding the box of Kleenex for someone else.

See, there I am at church, holding the door for the old ladies, now at work, signing the “Get Well” card for Bob. I am thinking up new ways to share this staggering prosperity with others. “Just drink a lot of liquids, that’s what I do.” “Don’t let the little things stress you out – it’s not worth it.” “Get a grip, just sweat it out.”

Yesterday at work – 8 a.m.: A tickle at the base of my throat – it’s nothing.

10 a.m.: My ears have a soreness I can’t quite describe.

11 a.m.: Peculiar, my stomach isn’t quite settled.

12:15 p.m.: A halo from looking at my computer monitor.

12:30 p.m.: The sneeze of kingdom come to rattle the window.

No worries – just down the concoctions and live on the Nile, otherwise known as de-nial.

12:50 p.m.: Sudden, but slight, fatigue.

1:10 p.m.: Mild body muscle aches.

1:40 p.m.: A cold sweat  — Huh – better take notice now

2:10 p.m.: A crisis in the office, minor really, makes me edgy and off my game

Power through it – get the boxes, the bags, gather it up and get out to the car.

3 p.m.: Driving the car I feel the energy drain from me. Ay caramba.

Well, how did I get here?

3:30 p.m. I’m at the area high school for their party to collect food for homeless children. I find a couple of students who help me get the materials inside. Soon I’ll be on my way heading to the pharmacy, but “No,” the girls and moms say, “Stay. Help us to put the food in packs today.” Don’t they see? I’m dying. Impervious Mom has the sweat – I’m practically bathing in it –if my hair didn’t cover my ears they’d see their crimson color; I’m caught – I can’t leave. Don’t they see my eyes dilated? My skin may not be purple yet, but the pain and aches are causing internal bruising; concentration – I need it – “What is your name again?” they ask – I try to remember, it begins with an E, I think; words come from my mouth but I don’t hear them. They’re packing the food, but they need the boxes I move from one side of the cafeteria to the other and for some reason I keep looking for my purse, or is it the keys? Yes the keys – I need them, the boxes to the car they’re ready to load and can I carry a box? My arms are breaking, my breath is short. They ask me if they can carry the box, I say “Yes,” but I think, “Can’t they see?  I know I must look like sergeant Brody from Homeland stuck in lockdown with the joint chiefs of staff with a radioactive vest strapped on – I am paranoid and weak. I say good-bye and buy pudding and drugs at the store.

At home little Mo-mo has the same thing. I look at her in bed and say, “You poor thing.”

“Mom,” she says. “The sheets, they are burning me and itching me. Can I have new ones?”

Well sure thing – I’m Teflon aren’t I? But where are the sheets? What are sheets? Why are sheets? Somehow, yes I remember how, my husband how, he gets sheets and together we replace hers with clean ones.

Inside our room I peel off clothes, look at our bed all rumpled from last night, I could care less. I would lay on a turd right now if it would put me in a supine position. That’s more like it. Now here come the real aches – did they really beat me repeatedly with a stick? Why do my fingers feel like they’re bleeding? My word, do my eyeballs always ache when I move them to the right? I need my custard, no, I don’t eat custard – where is a hot water bottle?…delirious…I love the sound of Mandy Patinkin’s voice, not his singing, his speaking; will he come to me tell me I don’t have to go through with it. He’s so nice, so thoughtful, he assures me with that voice like butter,

"Now I Lay Me..."

“Now I Lay Me…”

I don’t have to have the electro-shock – the iron lung – the lobotomy. “Remember this,” I whisper, “That’s right, don’t let me forget this – I’m vulnerable –  I’m only human.”

Start with a New Page

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New year, new beginnings, new life.

New year, new beginnings, new life.

The days they do fly and here we stand at the third week of the year. That great post I had all written in my head to greet the baby new year — the one that was the overlay of new beginnings brightened by New Year’s weddings because I finished Eudora Welty’s Delta Wedding at the dawn, was to be a remembrance of the two New Year’s weddings — 20 years apart — that we’ve been honored to attend. I got bogged down choosing and sizing the art. Oh what a dandy that blog could have been. Too late.

Too late, too, was the comparison between our lives to Gulliver’s Travels as written by Jonathan Swift. Oh how the Lilliputians could so aptly have been compared to our Congress and lawmakers. It was pithy — or at least how I had blogged in my head on the backs of my eyelids while I drifted off to sleep.

My next  was an open letter to all the NFL bystanders — we patient partners who stand by while our TV rooms turn blue with the slang slung at Jim Nance and Joe Buck to quit blatantly  favoring the ref’s call for their perceived favorites. No need to write that one now — our team, the Niners are going all the way with the help of hometown hero Colin Kaepernick. Fist pump all the way!

A reason to cheer in the new year.

A reason to cheer in the new year.

Oh the riotous post about our small grey kitty who habitually spills unwatched beverages and has killed off two electronic devises in two weeks. And yet, by God, we still love that scamp. The theme boiling up was something about this unconditional animal love while trying to comprehend why we struggle to do the same for our fellow human friends and relations. That one was written as I drove to work, never making it to the tips of my fingers and onto the screen.

My next post was gunna be — am I just too old, too work-worn to go through yet another boss?   It’s me railing against change, against new systems or worrying about what the new expectations shall be. Am I “up” for it mentally to read the tea leaves of exactly what’s in the head of a new boss? What if the term out-sourced comes up? When in life do we ever stop having to justify our existence?  My allegory of the new and the old. The beginnings always and yet beginning again. Yep. That one, too, came in the night, when my mind wouldn’t stop racing the clock.

One for the books 2

New reads, new ideas, new worlds to explore.

But it’s One for the Books by Joe Queenan that has me sleeping through the night again. His newly published book about reading (a personal passion of mine) helped me re-set my thoughts. Writing of the state of reading today after examining his own patterns, interviewing 65 of his friends and relations and maligning everyone from book reviewers to English teachers, to some of the authors themselves, mostly he bemoans the time slipping away. Voracious in his reading (he reads up to 150 books a year), he’s yet to get through Eliot’s Middlemarch even while reading up to 40 books simultaneously and he hasn’t washed his windows in 17 years. And for him, that’s OK.

These January blogs will never see the light of day, never be fleshed out completely, but for me, this has been a most positive month. These blogs: I’ve thought them up, one by one; they’ve entertained me and I am not looking back. No, not I.