Out of Sugar, Again!

March 13: I made plans for my small space:

  – Reactivate the blog! 

– Take an online class!

– Practice piccolo every day!

– Reorganize all closets!!

– Finish some worthy books!

– Get in shape!

– Make all the lemons into lemonade!

But the lemons keep piling on.   How to keep the lemonade factory going when I’m running low on sugar, not to mention pitchers and ice, plus maybe I’ve lost my taste for lemonade?

The blog’s going, kind of, but my novel is neglected.  I’m slogging through my online class at half the planned speed.  Capone the cat is happy that the piccolo has been uncaged just twice.  My closets are looking pretty good, but my pants are way too tight and getting tighter.

Every morning I kick through lemons, ankle-deep, to reach the armchair where I write down the daily numbers, the horrible surprises and inevitabilities.   I brush lemons off the notebook, uncap my pen, and search for the wrong kinds of reasons: justifications to delay, to slow down, to conserve my energy–for what?   The day when this is over, and I will have nothing to show for these weeks (or–shudder–months)?

It’s a long pattern.  At age 14, I reacted to the undeniable tragedy and shock of my first piano teacher dying unexpectedly by taking a 22-year hiatus between my second piano lesson and the third.  When Sonny was born, another break, about 16 years, while we all adjusted to life on the autistic spectrum.  In 2018, I took another rest from writing after my husband Dave was in an accident that left him with a broken neck; the writing gap lasted three times as long as Dave’s rehab.

I’m not sure I can change the stress response, but I think I could shorten the intervals between these lemon-shaped cycles of dormancy, disgust, preparation, activity, and decline.   Every weekday can be New Year, week one, when I energetically write and check off plans and lists.   Knowing that I’ll I fade by Friday, on Saturday I’ll prep for New Year’s Eve, heaping lemons into decorative bowls, and on Sunday I’ll slice lemons and slip them into festive, deadly drinks (no sugar required).  At midnight, we’ll throw more lemons at the moon and howl late into the night.


Pandemic diaries: Huntress

Just after dawn, the gray sky dribbling rain, I set out.  Quiet, wary.  Ready.  And, of course, gloved.

The prey once was plentiful and easy to find, so common that I would turn in disgust from a specimen that had the wrong ply or color.  So harmless that I would grab for it with my bare hands.  Ah, well. Everything is different now, and there’s no use in reminiscing about the good old days of three weeks past.  My family’s needs are in the present.  

Last night it was my husband Dave’s turn to forage.  The vector from our den to BJ’s produced  one bare shelf after another.   I’ve plotted a snakier route towards the store of last resort (WalMart).  First stop is the closest drugstore.  Not too many cars in the lot, a positive sign…Immediately followed by a negative sign, specifically, a notice on the door informing the public that the store, formerly a 24-hour go-to, will now open at nine a.m.

It’s too early in the hunt to swear, but I do anyway.

My route takes me to gas station stores (no luck) and little convenience stores where you can buy Lottery tickets, cupcakes, smokes, and wine at a little after seven a.m., should you be so inclined and not too snobby about the wine.    A few days into the panic, Dave found the rolls that we’ve been using at a convenience store on Main Street where he buys his ice cream.  That’ll last us, we said.   But we’ll be out by tomorrow.

I walk into the seventh, or maybe the eighth or ninth, store.  Third town of the morning.   Each store puts the paper products in a different place, but I’m spotting them faster, given all the practice I’ve had today.  I spy tissues and grab a couple of boxes (this is our backup plan) and in my peripheral vision notice a white block down the way.   Mirage?  There are two other customers in the store, so I try to cloak my intentions by sidling casually towards my destination while darting glances towards my rivals to make sure they’re still preoccupied with their Lottery picks and cigarettes.

Reader:  it was not a mirage.  It was two shelves loaded with six-packs of bargain bathroom tissue.

The war in my heart begins as I try to decide how much to buy and how much to leave for the next desperate Hunter.  Eventually I spring for two of the packages, 12 rolls in total.

My struggles are not over.  I smile as the store owner rings up my purchases and charges me $27 for two packs of toilet paper and two boxes of tissues, bare my teeth and move huffily away from the man who parks himself next to me at the same register so that the other clerk can hand him his Pick Five.  Back in the car, I hide my score under a blanket so that no one will do a smash and grab while I buy some eggs—at last, there are eggs—at the grocery store.

At long last, I return home to a hero’s welcome.

Still Life Goes On

For Christmas, 2019, I suggested that my husband give me something I’d noticed in the Barnes and Noble bargain section, a coffee table book called Musee D’Orsay, with text by Valentin Grivet.  The Musee d’Orsay is a relatively young museum (it opened in 1986) in Paris which features art from 1848 through 1914.   Because it used to be a train station, and because of its narrow focus, it’s a manageable size…that is, you can see much of the collection in an afternoon’s visit, at least theoretically.  As I made my way through rooms packed with works by Degas, Monet, Van Gogh, Cezanne, Gaugin, etc., I kept having to stop and catch my breath, but I still caught a lot of it.

Christmas morning: Dave came through.   I decided to read this book from cover to cover.   That’s a relatively new thing for me, but I’m trying to use what I have.  I’m reading the books in the pile, listening to the CDs, playing through the sonatas, emptying all of the shampoo bottles.  And, of course, Writing In The Empty Notebooks.  The book lived on my nightstand, and I reviewed a few pages a day, starting at the beginning and going through to Fin (page 271).   I looked at the pictures and read the blurbs about them, not trying to understand, just focusing.

Disclaimer: I know almost nothing about art.  I have no artistic talent.  I enjoy museums–any travel involves a museum visit–and have a couple of real-artist friends, but my last formal art class was general art in sixth grade, once a week.  The  teacher was unimpressed with my stick people.   Dave and I have gone to a couple of paint-while-you-drink bars in the past few years.  That was fun, but my results were pathetic.

I enjoyed the book, as it combined pretty pictures with memories of Paris in June, our lovely long weekend, and anything that took me for a few moments away from the dark winter mornings.  Then, about a month in, something weird happened.

Driving home from dropping Dave off at the T one morning, the dawn sky pulled me into itself, grading from dark blue to light, golden at the very edges, the tree branches glistening with ice droplets, the telephone wires with a few birds perched on them.  Another day I was captured by the view from my bedroom window:  houses curving up the hill along with the road, rectangles of soft beige and rust, the irregular, dark greens of bushes, the brown spiky trees, the dormant yellow grass.   There were paintings everywhere I looked.  The world was vivid, beautiful, interesting.  Also: framed and controlled.

This weird vision-thing lasted for weeks, then faded.   I finished the book in February and thought I’d maybe begin sometime on one of our other coffee table books.

This morning, mid March, Dave and Sonny went to Sonny’s college dorm to clean out his room.  We had scheduled an appointment for 10 a.m.–social distancing in the pandemic making this paramount–a few days ago.   At noon they were back home, and I helped them unload the car.  Laundry detergent, bags of chips, a precious roll of toilet paper, sheets and blankets, cooking utensils, and the like were dumped in the living room and redistributed to the appropriate places in the house.  I felt overwhelmed with disappointment as the realities of a canceled senior semester hit again: no recital, no graduation ceremony, no period to this 22-year parenting project launching into its next phase.   Plenty of anger, as well.   We spread Sonny’s dishes over the kitchen counter, Dave and I washing and drying them and putting them back into our cabinets–suddenly we have more than three dinner plates!–and the scene arranged itself in my mind into a Still Life, beauty and order and a narrative flow.  Trying to manage the messiness of this life.


Pandemic Diaries: Life in the Lemonade Factory

Making dinner on the first day of spring with my husband and son: a comfort food extravaganza of ribs in barbecue sauce plus stuffing.   It’s cold and rainy outside, but at least it’s still light after five p.m. now.   CNN on the TV in the adjacent family room, so that we can catch up on the latest grim statistics before my husband turns to his sports-yelling shows.  Suddenly there’s a thump and rattle from outside.  We rush to a window: the turkeys are back.  A flock, more than 20 birds, moving slowly through our yard.

The males bob their heads with every leisurely step, their wattles wobbling.   The females–a little smaller, less bouncy–take slightly faster, daintier steps.  The flock moves down our driveway, heading in no particular hurry for our green spaces, including the wooden-fenced front yard where our dog used to play.   Fences are no obstacle to a turkey, as these birds can fly and jump just fine.   I was dumbfounded the first time I saw a  line of turkeys navigating our fence.  They flutter-jumped up to the top rail, balanced briefly, then plummeted to the other side, letting gravity rather than wings do that work.  There was something penguin-like about it.

Sonny’s car is in the driveway, and for a moment we wonder if the thump was a turkey slamming into it.   Mating season is spring, maybe some turkeys were fighting?  The window by  the kitchen sink shows the real reason: there are two turkeys in our cherry tree.  The cherry tree is just outside the window, putting the turkeys at eye level with us.   I’ve seen more than a dozen robins in this tree on occasion–hungry robins can strip every cherry off the tree in a matter of minutes–plus lots of other birds, but turkeys are not robins.  The arrival of the turkeys functions as a stress test for the tree, and the branches are trembling and bowed close to the ground.  The turkeys don’t seem to notice, and snap cherry after cherry.

Plump and happy and out for a stroll.   They could be a PSA for social distancing, as they travel and forage spread out at least a wing’s-length apart.   For a minute we put aside the news, except that now Wolf Blitzer catches our attention with news that another border is being closed.

“How long do you think it’s going to be before we get a shelter in place order?” I wonder.  “How will they enforce it?”

The Border Patrol is here already,” says Sonny, pointing to the turkeys outside, and for some reason this cracks us up and we laugh and laugh.   


Writing prompt (for anyone who wants to play along):  what’s outside your window today?

Cobwebs All the Way Down?

The great notebook home-shop produced three beauties:  a blank book bound in teal suede, and another blank book with an Arts and Crafts pattern embossed on a soft black cover, and a spiral notebook with a peacock design.

Blank page after blank page.    Originality seems beyond me for the moment, but I know there must be a cliche that could provide a direction.    Is writing “just like riding a bike”?  In that case I’m in trouble.  I have, indeed, forgotten how to ride a bike.  Also gone from my skill set:  how to do long division, how to conjugate German verbs, the name of the cross street to my childhood home, and a host of other stuff.

Writing may be more of a habit than a skill.  Maybe I’m just out of condition.  After all, I have been emailing and commenting in various forums for years, just not working crappy first drafts into something readable.

A different cliche is in order.  “Back in the saddle again”?  Too reminiscent of bike riding.  I think of the stationary bike (at least I can “ride” this one) in the basement, which is frankly a bit dusty.  Hmmm… “cleaning off the cobwebs”?  Brush them off—or maybe something more vigorous, like the panicked dance I do when I run face first into a cobweb in the basement—jazz hands and all—and I’m good to go.

Unless…What if it’s just cobwebs, all the way down?

Terrifying thought.  Maybe a better understanding of cobwebs will help? …   Thanks, Google!    Cobwebs are not merely dust, although they are dust-covered.  The humble house spider (fancy Latin name: Theridiidae—and the black widow is a house spider, so not always so humble) spins a web and then abandons it for a location closer to its favorite restaurant.  Cobwebs are sometimes the fragments of a full web, sometimes a single strand that gets a spider from here to there.  The sticky strands trap particles floating by, becoming heavy with dust, lint, and pollen.

Therefore, cleaning out the cobwebs—or clearing out the cobwebs, there are several variations of the phrase—takes more than basement ballet.   Ideally one needs a paper towel and cleaner.   Well, howdy-do, guess who has 10 rolls of paper towels and three bottles of Clorox in the house right now, thanks to the pandemic?

Dangling from ceilings, lurking in corners, stretching across windowpanes: I’ll track the cobwebs down.  That’ll take me to some interesting places.

Home shopping

Like many people in mid March, 2020, COVID-19 prevention measures have left me dealing with the prospect of weeks (if not months) spent at home.   Almost every gig has been canceled or postponed.  My son’s college has moved classes online until April, and my husband’s been ordered to work from home as well.

I’ve soothed the disappointment by lolling in front of the TV and computer, commiserating remotely with other performer friends, and playing games.  This strategy has proved problematic.  Screen life is only relaxing for me if it comes after a bunch of work.  Once it moves from dessert to the main course… well, of course I’ll consume it  (I don’t turn down dessert), but I feel queasy and dissatisfied, not happy and full.

I’ve made a schedule to keep myself busy: practicing, household chores, business stuff I always put off because there’s no time and I don’t like to do it, research, exercise, tackling my big pile of books to be read.

However, a big goal this year has been writing more and getting back into the writing habit.  Part of this project involved finding places to write that weren’t my house.  I don’t exactly mind writing here, but it can feel claustrophobic and not stimulating enough.  I like just a bit of distraction when I write.   Watching people at the library, bookstore, or coffee shop, eavesdropping a little, having an occasional conversation, makes the sentences flow more easily,   Now the library’s closed for the next couple of weeks, and the whole social-distance thing has turned the benefits of coffee shop-writing into risks.   As for the bookstore…unless Barnes and Noble starts stocking toilet paper, I probably won’t be visiting for a while.

I’m attacking the problem through shopping…my closets.  Not the ones with clothes, but the ones with stationary products.   It’s always fun to write in a new notebook or to play around organizing files into binders, making dioramas of stickers and stick people, etc.  I have several “stores” to visit: closets in the family room and my study;  also some places that aren’t technically closets, such as the storage drawer under my bed, a couple of bookcases, and even the basement, where there are a couple of notebooks on the table next to my exercise bike.  Over the years I’ve collected everything from fancy leather-bound acid-free paper journals to single-subject spiral notebooks with vicious coils that work their way loose of the paper and stab your fingers when you try to adjust them back.   The notebooks are scattered through the house on the principle that a great thought might strike at any time, right?  Many are pristine, as great thoughts have been fewer and farther between than I would like, but others are filled in a little bit or a lot.

It’s more like digging through the bargain bin at the Dollar Store than contemplating the beautifully displayed journal shelves at Barnes and Noble, but it will do.  Today I’m foraging for a couple of beautiful blanks.   Tomorrow I’ll figure out some novel writing locations and start filling those pages.  Driveway composition?  It’s a possibility.