What’s for dinner? RICE again

When I get tired of books, of Netflix and YouTube, when the weather’s bad and I’m fed up with the clarinet or piccolo, there it is, four feet from my desk.  Waiting.  Deceptively forlorn, bright keys smiling in my direction.  On the lid, those dusky blue Henle editions that are so easy to read, that stay open and flat so nicely.  Just a little Schubert, the piano urges.   Ten minutes of Brahms.  A couple of blues licks.  Feed your soul and wiggle your fingers just a bit.

Last weekend I was in my bedroom, reading, and my left wrist suddenly started hurting.   Uh oh, I thought.  Too many octaves again.  By morning my forearm was swollen, and I couldn’t use my left hand without whimpering.  RICE (rest, ice, compression, elevation) is the first step always, so I applied an ice wrap and taped up the wrist.  Sonny and Dave, bless them, took over the household tasks for the day.   I closed the door to the piano room and tried to think happy thoughts about laying off all instruments for a few days.

I learned about RICE in the era of the dinosaurs (1980s-early 90s), which as you may recall was the age of aerobics.  Nothing beat the endorphin rush of whooping and jumping to a fast, thumping beat with 40 other people at Stacey G’s 5:30 High Impact class.  Never athletic as a child, I loved the gym.   With typical Aspie overkill, it wasn’t long before I’d earned a certification and started teaching classes myself.  At first a couple of classes a week, then a couple of classes a day, then more than that.

When my left foot and ankle started feeling a little sore, I pushed through the discomfort for a while.  Then the feeling morphed from twinges and soreness around workouts to unremitting pain.  A sports doctor at the gym diagnosed tendinitis, gave me a prescription for naproxen, and told me to RICE my foot for a couple of weeks.

The pills were amazing!  The very next day I taught my classes, ecstatic that I could jog and do jumping jacks and lunges without hurting.  However, jumping like an insane rabbit for forty-five minutes at a time rather than resting did significant damage to my ankle, resulting in a painless limp that lasted for more than six months.

Why did I ignore the R in RICE?  I could easily have taken off a few weeks.  But I was afraid that if I stopped, I’d never start again.  Worse, I didn’t know if I could replace the good feelings I got from aerobics from somewhere else.    The same worries afflicted me long after I’d moved on to other kinds of movement that kept me happy and active.

Like many musicians (and people who type a lot), I have tendinitis/overuse issues with my hands that flare up from time to time.   Practicing through a wrist sprain during one busy gig season led to a permanent readjustment of my relationship to the piano.   I’m better at clarinet, and it turned out I couldn’t do both full force.   Careful experimentation showed what I couldn’t do anymore (Beethoven, stride) versus what I could do sometimes, but not too much (Schubert, Brahms).  Also I learned what to do when I overdo (RICE at the first sign of trouble).

I trust my limits and stick to them better than I used to, but being stuck at home in the pandemic, it’s been easy to overdo.   I know better, but my first reactions when I have a flare continue to be panic and awfulizing.  The mind leaps straight from gotta get ice to my career is over!  What will I dooooo?    That help nothing, so I try to move  through those feelings and also the ensuing “why-me?” sulks to a less brooding place.  I think about  things and people that will keep the endorphins flowing.   I appreciate that I can lay off the dishes for a couple of days.  I lift my spirits with the most-loved songs from my aerobics days, the ones with the tempos cranked up to 144 beats per minute and the volume on way-too-loud.   I wave my hand in the air like I don’t care.  That works, for now.



38 Plays

Music to hear, why hear’st thou music sadly?  — Shakespeare, from Sonnet 8

Another pre-dawn.   I’ve been awake a couple of hours, worries and random thoughts skirling madly in my head.   The clock shows 4:30, and I wonder if it’s too soon to creep downstairs for coffee or whether I’ll disturb Dave.  I decide to go for it.  Dave’s awake, too.   We half-joke about yet another early-early a.m.  I get the coffee going and wonder if things will ever be normal again.

That was January, 2019.  Dave had been in a bicycle accident six weeks before that had, among other things, fractured his C2 vertebra.  He was still stuck in an uncomfortable hard neck brace, in pain much of the time, uncertain of how much function he’d regain.  I was deteriorating after six weeks of little sleep and lots of worry.   My usual comforts in trying times had utterly failed me.  Music-making was a chore.  I couldn’t bear talking to my friends.  Couldn’t concentrate long enough to make sense out of a TV show.  Lacked the energy to exercise.  Writing was limited to short, all-caps sentences in my journal, trying to shout down the what-ifs in my head.

How Shakespeare came into my mind, I’m not certain.  I studied English Lit in college, including Shakespeare, and seen some of the plays, but it had been some years since I’d read him.     Still, I had the Riverside Shakespeare book (Christmas gift from the ’80s) on the coffee table.  The plays, poems, sonnets, and learned commentary:  1,923 pages of capital-C Culture packed with small text and practically microscopic footnotes.  I couldn’t write.  Maybe I could read.

I decided to tackle all thirty-eight of Shakespeare’s plays (even the one whose authorship is disputed), in roughly chronological order, one per week.  I read scene by scene.  After each scene I wrote a summary and/or reaction.   Not literary, per se, but I did note craft elements like character development and plot.   After reading a play, I would find an online version and watch that.

I read in the dining room with the book open on a table-top music stand.  I read in doctors’ waiting rooms with the book propped on my knees.  I read in hospital cafeterias and at physical therapy appointments.  I read in bed in the wee hours of the morning.

Within a few weeks of starting this project, I started feeling…different.  To parse Shakespeare, at least for me, requires deep concentration, effort rewarded by the beauty and liveliness of the language as well as the plot twists.   Flexing my concentration muscles made my brain tired enough that I started sleeping better.  Sometimes I dreamed in iambic pentameter.  Conversation and dialogue became more enticing.   And eventually–around week 35–I found myself wanting to write again, and energy to try.

It’s 2020 and deja vu all over again, only now the world’s joined in the despair.   I go in and out of the guts to face a blank page.  A composer friend recently posted a Facebook status that he feels his identity has been destroyed by the pandemic; he can’t write.  That post generated responses about evenly divided between people who were writing because of the pandemic and those who felt blocked because of it.

Many of us have times when the muses abandon us; the trick may be to sneak behind the scenery and stalk them for a while.  Maybe you can’t write, but you can read.  Maybe you can’t read, but you can walk in the sunshine.  Maybe you can’t walk in the sunshine, but you can zombie-crawl towards something.

Let this sad int’rim like the ocean be

Which parts the shore, where two contracted new

Come daily to the banks, that when they see

Return of love, more blest may be the view; 

As call it winter, which being full of care, 

Makes summer’s welcome thrice more wish’d, more rare.  — Shakespeare, Sonnet 56




Content warning!  This post has a bunch of swears.  If salty language bugs you, this isn’t one you’ll want to read…


“I think we can get that movie for free,” says Sonny.

“I know,” says Dave, “but I rented it anyway.”

“How come?”

“Because when Samuel L. Jackson says I’ve had it, etc., I want to hear mother-fucking, not monkey-flipping.”

“Or Monday-Friday,” says Sonny.  Sonny’s not yet seen the movie (Dave has, several times), but one of his hobbies is watching YouTube movie commentary channels, so he knows all kinds of trivia about Snakes on a Plane.   Motherfucking overdubs: check!  “Snake” button on the microwave: check!

I chime in with my personal least favorite solution to movie profanity: replacing it with nothing at all.  Makes me wonder if I have suddenly gone deaf, or if we’ll need a new TV because the sound has stopped working.  Especially if I’m watching the kind of movie where swearing is a large portion of the dialogue.  (Of note,  Snakes on a Plane isn’t that kind of movie.  At 106 minutes long, the film contains just 90 instances of foul language, about 30 of them involving some variant of “fuck.”)

We’re in a mood for some cathartic cursing.  It’s been unseasonably cool most of the week, and we made it to the weekend only to be pranked by  Mother Nature:  snow overnight.   I Samuel L. Jacksoned a bit, myself, when I peeked outdoors this morning.

The arguments against swearing don’t persuade me:

 —  Swearing shows a lack of class/lack of imagination.  Truly well-bred folks swear like Shakespeare.  I read all of Shakespeare’s plays in 2019:  nobody can sling the shit like he does.  His level of inventive invective is unachievable by non-geniuses.  As well, people won’t like you much (Shakespearean swearing wounds and insults, which is not the way a lot of people use profanity).  Plus Shakespeare’s characters use a lot of garden-variety oaths like “marry,” and nobody seems to fault that.

 —  Think of the children!  I see no problem with modeling situational awareness so that kids know what kind of language is appropriate in a particular space.  Most children already understand this, but reinforcing doesn’t hurt.   However, it’s a strange notion that knowing the word “damn” will damage a child who hears that and worse every day on the playground, at the store, etc.

An article in the HuffPost, “People Who Swear May Be Happier, Healthier And More Honest,”* points out that many studies find that swearing has pluses.   These benefits include that swearing seems to improve exercise performance and pain tolerance and also helps people communicate their emotions.  (Especially if that emotion is “Shit, those burpees hurt like all fuck!”)   People who swear frequently may have higher IQs.  They may lie less.  As someone who swears at near-sailor levels,  I’d damn well like to believe that there’s at least a bit of truth in these studies.

When Samuel L. Jackson roars “Enough is enough!  I have had it with these motherfucking snakes on this motherfucking plane!” the three of us break into cheers and applause.  The living room warms and brightens.  HuffPost mentions that swearing can calm you down, as well.   So. dammit, fuck that shitty motherfuckin’ snow.


Flappy shoe

The new normal.  The phrase of the week, it seems, and an idea that makes people anxious.  Me, too, but as someone on the autistic spectrum, “normal” has always been more of an aspiration than an achievement.

Will social distancing have to last for months, maybe years?  A new normal of lines measured in six-foot-spaced strips of tape, no more handshakes or air kisses, faces made harder to read by masks or patchy internet connections?   It feels intimidating, but familiar…

[cranking up way-back machine: 3-2-1: go]

Growing up, at any one time I had a maximum of three pairs of shoes: church shoes, to be worn Sundays and with dresses and skirts, tennis shoes for gym class and playing outside, and school shoes (usually brown with glued-on rubber soles) for everything else.   Most years the school shoes lasted from September through June, by which time they were a little thin over the big toe and generally banged up.    August meant new school shoes every year, even after my feet stopped growing at age 13, until financial strains associated with my mother leaving home led to the need to stretch a pair of school shoes over my junior and senior years.

By mid September of senior year, the right shoe’s outsole began peeling away from the insole.  Just a bit, right at the toe-tips, like a smile just barely showing teeth.   My father cried most mornings; the trees turned from green into fire colors; my footwear deteriorated.    By the time leaves covered the sidewalks, my shoe was catching great crackly mouthfuls of them on every trudge to the bus stop.  When I sat with my legs crossed, I could wave my toe in the air and the outsole would flap, flap, flap against the ball of my foot.   

Walking became tricky and sometimes perilous.  I tried gluing the flap down, using clothespins to hold things together as it dried.  That typically worked for a day or two, but the insole and outsole seemed to get along as well as my parents did.  The separation could not be mended.

Papers from my mother’s lawyers got nailed to our front door; I made dinners; my sister and I kept the house cleaner than ever.  The left shoe followed the right shoe’s example, about a month behind it.    

I flapped and flopped through the halls of my high school for all of senior year.  My father got a new job in a new town; I got ready to move there and then go to college.  I was socially oblivious enough that I didn’t realize how weird my janky shoes must have seemed until years later when I started thinking about what normal meant and trying to figure out if normal was even a possibility for somebody like me.   Sometimes I would remember the shoes and feel embarrassed.

Later–all of these thoughts have come in stages–I realized that the shoes, despite their damaged state, still functioned okay.  My feet stayed warm, dry.   Protected.  There were more important things to adjust to in my life at that point than janky shoes.  When the new normal comes, you have to let bits of the old normal flap away.  

No shredded grass today

Want.  Chocolate.

My husband Dave remembers childhood Easters because his family would go to  church that day (and Christmas, their biannual visits) and then drive an hour to his aunt’s house for a big dinner featuring ham and tension.   My family moved a lot when I was a kid, never near enough a relative to visit without at least a six-hundred-mile drive.  Since we went to church every Sunday, another Sunday didn’t feel remarkable.   We didn’t dye eggs or hide and hunt them; we didn’t have money to buy new outfits;  we didn’t cook a feast.  My strongest Easter memory is of baskets, presented at breakfast, untouchable until after lunch, my stomach growling through every Easter sermon.

Once Sonny came along, I enjoyed making holiday rituals for him.  All of us are on the autistic spectrum, and it’s almost ridiculously easy to make a ritual: just do the thing at least three times.  Easter stumped us.  Neither Dave nor I wanted a Sunday of tense relatives and ham, and our pediatrician admonished us that serving up an enormous bucket-o-candy was borderline child abuse.  We wound up going for Easter baskets with toys and just a little candy.     Plus some chocolate for Mom and Dad.  Bite-sized Godiva or Ghirardelli bunnies, Cadbury eggs and the like.

Easter isn’t performed so massively or consistently in American culture as holidays like Christmas, Thanksgiving, Valentine’s Day, or the Fourth of July.   Movies, ads, TV shows, books…I can absorb the behavioral and emotional expectations for these holidays because there are so many models provided.  But Easter programming features mostly Bible-based narratives or televised church services, punctuated by an occasional Easter Bunny animated feature.   Easter-related ads don’t even show people most of the time, just animated sweets, or animals made of sweets, or animals delivering sweets.

Spring is here: eat some sugar.  That message does resonate…with me, at least.  The baskets I remember so fondly were stuffed with shredded green paper, studded with jelly beans and candy eggs wrapped in pastel-hued tinfoil and surrounding a large chocolate bunny.   Once I’d brushed off the “grass,” which tended to cling, I would start on the bunny’s ears, as the proper way to eat a chocolate bunny is always from the top down.  Cheap milk chocolate, brittle and going dusty around the edges; delicious.    Hollow if I’d been naughty the day my mother went shopping; solid if I’d been nice.

Easter is chocolate to me at the most basic level, although it’s packed on other meanings through time.  This year, with the somber mood induced by disease and death, I didn’t get any Easter candy.  Grocery trips have been few and cautious.  We discussed whether we should do Easter candy before my last store run, and we all agreed we should leave it off the list.

I thought that it wouldn’t bother me, but on Easter morning…it seemed such a waste of an opportunity to enjoy a comfort so small and valued.

Want.  Chocolate.

Pandemic diaries: The Walking Worried

It’s Friday morning, and I have that thing that’s going around.  Maybe you have it, too?  In our house it’s endemic, if not quite pandemic:  I’m terrified that my morning headache is the first symptom of COVID19.   I’ve contracted hypochondria.

I take last night’s wineglass downstairs and start the coffee.  Dave comes into the kitchen to fill Capone’s food bowl  before the meows get too menacing.   I notice that he’s maintaining a Capone-sized distance from me–that’s about three feet from whiskers to tail–which is all the social distancing our kitchen affords.   Trying to be casual, Dave touches the back of his wrist to his forehead.  Guess we both have the hypos today.

A cough after a workout.  A morning headache.  A room that seems chillier than usual.  A sore throat.   A bit of fatigue on carrying laundry upstairs.  More than two morning sneezes.  What, me worry?  Yup.

The news and our social feeds overflow with cautionary tales that start with mild symptoms and progress to ICU.  Anything less than tip-top creates a generalized uneasiness.  Actual physical discomfort has me wandering the house like Frodo before his big journey, muttering “Shall I ever look into that cabinet again, and who the heck stuck the juice glasses in there?”

Sonny is practicing bassoon, as he does most mornings.  He stops in the middle of an etude to cough.  Just a little cough.  Maybe he’s just clearing his throat.  I tiptoe to his door, glad that it’s closed so our germs can’t pass through.  “Are you feeling okay?”

“I’m fine, Mom.”

I deserve the italics; I ask Sonny this question almost every day.

Distraction is one way to deal with the worry, and it kind of works, but the best cure for the hypos is sleep.  Sadly, going straight back to bed doesn’t cut it, even on days when I have nothing on the schedule.   I start calculating how many hours it will be before a nap becomes possible.

Logistics are important.  In the wrong place or time, I’ll be too uncomfortable to get to sleep, or I’ll almost nod off but can’t get past the moment when the worries erupt.   There’s a recliner in the living room that would work, if nobody’s around eating lunch or watching TV or taking a class.

The coast being clear, I settle onto the napping chair.  Capone, the champion napper of the house, always knows when someone’s on the recliner and will casually walk through the living room to check out which lap is available.  Dave’s or Sonny’s?  Capone’s up in that chair lightning fast.  On seeing me, Capone flicks an ear and strolls away.

I don’t give up.  I arrange the cat’s favorite throw (red, plush) over my legs, set my book and water glass in easy reach, recline, and wait.  About ten minutes pass.   Fourteen pounds of feline whumps onto the the armrest.  One leg at a time, Capone settles himself into a comfortable position and demonstrates to me once again that all you need to do is close your eyes and purr.  I pass through the twilight floating state and into a real sleep.  When I wake, Capone is gone, but so are my headache and the panic.

Close your eyes and purr, my friends.


I love writing prompts.  This is a mildly controversial position in the writing world.  The contrarians argue that prompts bind creativity and turn us away from exploring the uncomfortable truths that may be causing writer’s block.   But once a project gets past the first verdant rush of preparation, once I’ve been trudging in the desert for a while, I need a break.  Things work better if I use that break to do prompts and exercises than if I  do nothing.  A prompt is the writerly equivalent to improvising over a chord progression during music practice.  Even if what comes out isn’t great or ground shaking, it keeps the process familiar and reduces the fear factor.

Prompts are easy to find online, and how-to writing books are typically loaded with them.    On a bad day, when I’ve chosen a prompt that doesn’t work for me, I rant about the exercise and throw down my pen.  On a better day, the prompt makes a connection or suggests a plot point.  On the best day, I’ve found the oasis, and the project is green again.

Here’s the prompt that gave me the most fun this week, from Creative Writing Exercises for Dummies by Maggie Hamand:  Write a short dialog that starts with…

What are you doing?

I’m ruminating.

 Does it hurt?  

Of course it doesn’t hurt.  I’m just chewing over my problems.

It looks like it hurts.  You’re hunched over.

You’d be hunched over, too, if your boss was off haggling and didn’t take the big load off your back.  I’m conserving my energy.   

And you’re breathing kind of funny.

I always breathe funny when someone interrupts my lunch.   

Maybe I could have a little, tiny nibble?  We could ruminate together.

Are you blind?  Can’t you see that I’m tied to this post, and there’s no room? Find your own post!  

You don’t have to be rude about it.

…  Does the wood always get stuck in your teeth like that?

It’s called texture, Dear.  An essential component of the gourmet post experience.    

It does look very tasty.

Look: I will spit in your eye if you don’t back off!  

Sorry, Darling.  I guess I’ll just pick at this straw, then.  All the way over here.  It’s a pity how straw goes straight to my hips.  Not enough fiber, apparently.  I read somewhere that posts are now considered a super food…

Not your diet again.  Eight gallons of water a day.   Apples only in moderation.  Straw wouldn’t be a problem for you if you didn’t graze so much.  

I’ve seen you snacking on straw plenty of times.

I’m not worried about my hips.  I’m quite happy with them, in fact.  

Shall I leave you a bit of the straw for after you’ve finished ruminating?  I’m not as hungry as I thought.

If you want to.  Sorry I was cross, Dear.  

I’ll just drop a bit…right…here, so you can bite at it easily…

No, not there!  (loud cracking sound)

Now you’ve done it!  You’ve broken my back!  

Darling, I am so terribly sorry.

Bit more room at the post, though.  I’ll just try the smallest sliver.


Question for the reader: If you tried some writing prompts this week, did you have a favorite?

Pandemic Diaries: Paranoia

What troubled times do to a restless mind:

Thursday: I’m taking Dave to the Mobil station on Main Street to pick up his car, which had conked out on a grocery run to Shaw’s (something amiss in the gear shift).

Our first turn is Smith Road, which is set at an angle to our street, so that its houses’ backyards border our backyards.  The fourth house on Smith is our back-neighbor.  Split-level, white, probably three bedrooms.  A couple of years back, new owners (we don’t know them, or most of our neighbors…the new suburban normal) put up one of those eight-foot, blinding white, plastic stockyard fences, just beyond our garden.   While ugly, at least this fence has withstood the New England weather.   Plenty of its cousins around town have segments flat on the ground or swaying at an angle after a bar brawl with a Nor’easter, but our back neighbors’ fence remains upright.   Once it’s summer, there will be  party lights strung along its top, and music, and people.  All the fun things.

Today four cars, side by side, noses out, crowd the driveway.   Five cars have parked on the street, with another car pulling to the curb as we pass.

“What’s going on there?”

“Where?” says Dave.

“All the cars.”

We speculate all the way to Main Street.  Is it remarkable, or just a little unusual?   Right now, in Massachusetts, everybody is supposed to stay home if possible, going out only to shop for essentials and to exercise, in which case we are to stay six feet away from each other.   Even if just one person per car was in that house, that’s something like 10 people.   Maybe three or four of them live at the house, but that’s still five or six visitors, in a smallish house.   Why would so many people would be gathered there?   It’s hard to imagine them staying the recommended safe distance, crammed inside inside.

Maybe it’s some kind of committee meeting, town or school or charity.  Or an emergency that needs a lot of contractors.   None of the cars had a business logo, though; they were cars and SUVs, not pickup trucks or vans.  Maybe it’s a church meeting, people trying to figure out how to broadcast their next service.   Maybe it’s people making sandwiches for the food pantry.  Or family members planning a funeral.  Maybe it’s a drug den (Dave says the cars are too nice), or people gathering for a party, but who would have a party these days?  Maybe everybody’s out in the backyard, meeting safely, muses Dave. We wouldn’t be able to see them because of the fence.  We could if we were home and looking from our bedroom window, I think.

I drop Dave at the repair shop and head back home, choosing the direct route down Main Street that makes me sad and sick, since it passes so many closed businesses, plus a few persevering, empty-parking-lotted restaurants with giant “WE DELIVER!” signs out front.

A question slips into my mind: are the cars a see-something, say-something situation?  Maybe I should be a snoopy spybaby and report my neighbors to the police.   Yes, this is paranoia, a shameful impulse.  The phone stays in my pocket.

Around 11 that evening, mind on other things, I’m wearing PJs, brushing my teeth, when lights flash across the bedroom window.  Our garden is pulsing red.   On Smith Road a couple of fire engines, lights flashing, no sirens…and an ambulance…are parked in front of our back-neighbor’s house.

Dave and I watch for a little bit, then pull the shades and go to bed.

In my dream I’m in the kitchen.  Outside there comes an enormous boom, followed by heat, smoke, and an orange glow that illuminates nothing.   I call and no one answers; I look but can’t find family or pets.  I know that I must get outside and yet, if I choose the wrong way out, I will die.

My racing heart jolts me out of the nightmare.   Too full of adrenaline even to think of sleep, I grab a glass of water and go to the window.  The garden is dark and silent.