Archive for August, 2020


The best thing of all is to be alone.  Just add up the fantasies: Farley Mowat hied himself to the Arctic, there to subsist by eating only mice, all to prove that wolves are benevolent creatures not begging lupicide.  What’s better than a tree house where a person is free to think and be whatever?  Ask any squirrel.  When there is no other to circumscribe reality, a being can be all that it truly wants to be.  My poet’s year in the Appalachian woodlands said it all for me.  As long as I could remain cabin-secure, steering clear of other humanity, the local fauna and I celebrated a gentle peace.  Whenever human society overstepped its bounds, and intruded on soul serenity, I ran.  I went to where there were no others so close to me as to assume I should be like them, think like them, define beauty like them—that was the place to be.

My Side of the Mountain is elegantly described in the book of that title: A young naturalist runs away from home and goes to live in a hollow tree with his raccoon.  He climbs a cliff, steals and trains a peregrine falcon fledgling so as a team they can hunt for food.  It’s the best of fantasies until it isn’t.   Like COVID19 which makes of every person an insular recluse, anything that drives a person to hide wrapped only in the solace of his own company is a problem: When my Uncle Wesson, chewing on his unlit cigar, undertook to find me, where was I?  Hiding under a bush of course—a good place where adult and frightful discussions might not be overheard.  When sent away to boarding school and Sister Rose Marie recoiled from my aggressive cuddling, where did I go to hide?  The attic of the convent was the perfect refuge, wrapped only in quiet cobwebs that cushioned consternation.  When my husband, Larry, and I wanted a respite from stupid corporate politics, it was waiting in a winter’s campground, where there were no bugs and no tourists.  There we found only silence and a place to remember why we had found each other in the first place.

Now with COVID running things, Larry has died a continent away in Washington State.  The surgery that would have placed a stent and might have saved him was held hostage by the logistics of the virus.  It fell under the definition of elective surgery, and as such, could not compete with others too stupid to get a vaccination and attempting to die that very day of the virus.  He finally got his surgery—too late—and departed my world.  I try to remember the things he did that made me crazy so I cannot miss him as much as I do, but it’s the delightful memories that arise, not the irritations and distractions. 

His tenor blended so sweetly with my soprano that it was pure happiness to make harmony together.  I can remember a Sunday service where we performed a duet, and I was terrified—like I always was—to be singing in front of a bunch of people.  We shared one piece of paper music, and as my hand shook, the music conjured a shimmy of its own.  That scared me even more, and I considered a dash out of the room trailing tears.  But Larry saved us.  His hand reached under mine to steady the music so that we could finish as a success.  There were tears, but they were in the congregation. They had shared our little drama, sharing our happiness.  The title of our song had been You’ll Never Walk Alone.  I didn’t—not that day.

Remembering happy times, I keep to my senior apartment, collecting comestibles once a calendar week from masked grocers and visiting a library that has re-awakened and is again lending books.  Without the food and the books I, too, would surely have given up.  The library’s new rules don’t charge for overdue returns, so I can borrow and return with equanimity.  I am like the near-sighted bibliophile in the Twilight Zone, who wakes to a world where all of humanity, save he, has succumbed.  He is left alone—triumphant—mounting a grand march up the front steps of his town library, he shouts, throws up his arms in giddy glee, and knocks off his glasses.  They tumble to the concrete and shatter.

Larry and I, matched introverts, adored our solitude, even with respect to each other.  It is a cruel and petty irony that we suffered a continent apart, in our separate sterile spaces, waiting for the virus to give up its collective tiny ghosts and leave us in relative health.  We too—separate and alone—waited to die.  Now it is I who must wait my turn to die alone.  Those friendly coronaviruses would gladly keep me company, but no thanks.

Absence makes the heart grow fonder is a wise old saying.  It knows all about Larry and me.  The same truth holds for all three of my long-suffering husbands.  I loved them all-the-better for having left them, all the more perfectly now that they are dead and gone.  Memories of shared happy times gather to remind me to value their sweet friendship and affection.

My present apartment allows pets, but only with a two hundred dollar bribe called a deposit.  Too cheap for that, I have taken up with a family of grey squirrels who populate the giant maple tree outside my balcony.  They don’t love me, but they are distinctly enamored of the plates of goodies I set out to entice them.  The landlady specifically cautioned me not to hang bird feeders, but she didn’t mention squirrel buffets.  It provides me hours of Katznjammer entertainment watching the squirrel family members compete for my offerings along with a Cardinal couple who also are asserting their rights to the feast.  Their antics remind me of my own lively kin.

The best lesson of COVID and its variants is specially designed for those of us who idealize solitude.  It is better wished for and ideated.  Experienced it leaves much to be desired.  My favorite wall art displays a ceramic oval that says simply, “PEACE.”  In this dead quiet space, un-jarred by any voice but the empty nattering of TV and Alexa, I haven’t been inspired to hang that lovely plaque advertising the romance of quietude.  Best it should hide behind my couch on the floor, where it cowers in the dark.  It should leave me to my fantasies of rambunctious family gatherings, along with memories of cringing under bed pillows, cushioning ear-drums from shrieking progeny who gallop as an intemperate horde down pristine hallways, an unruly mob of adored small persons.  These days I am left to fantasizing a furry coated cat to warm cold feet and purr away the bittersweet stillness of alone.

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Silly Me!

There’s something magic about advanced degrees.  They do confer a credibility of sorts, depending on the status of the outfit doing the conferring.  I was sitting, ruminating at my writer’s group, surrounded by the excessively educated, when it occurred to me that I was lacking.  My BS is a meager substitute.  What kind of crazy am I to think I could speak my meager truth in the presence of such august company?  At one point I collected a barrage of verbal assault by calling them ostentatiously educated.  I made the stupid assumption that a mutual love of writing would seamlessly bridge the chasm, but silly me, it was just a garden variety delusion of grandeur.

One mark of sanity is knowing your place.  People with dark skin in America know all about that.  Race oppression, gender oppression, and age oppression share more commonality than is generally understood.   I have a place at my Monday Morning Writer’s Group.  It is a place given to a crazy old lady who keeps nattering on about how she was once an engineer and inventor, but in spite of that strange preoccupation had no trouble attracting men.  Women aren’t inventors.  Everybody knows that.  Grandmas aren’t sexy.  Old women are sweet, harmless, and taken up with grand-babies, recipes, and stitchery.  They bring covered dishes to church suppers.  They have forgotten what sex is about, but remember, with clear fidelity, the result.  They tend toward the inappropriate in their commentary.  Don’t be surprised if “Don’t forget to wear a condom!” follows you out the door as you make a break for a dignified exit.

To know your place you must understand, not only your place but yourself.  There’s the rub.  We do all this writing to get a grip on who each of us really is; at least that’s why I do it.  The thing I have most feared has always been going crazy like my mother Mary Opal did when her world went off the rails.  But, silly me, that wasn’t to happen.  That isn’t my kind of crazy.  Mine is the kind that spells odd.  My son Lane calls me eccentric.  That works. 

An eccentric mass is fixed at a point some distance from the center of gravity of a rotating system.  When things go round, everything wobbles.  Is it the fault of the system?  Hardly.  It’s the poorly located addition to what was a nicely balanced agreement of coordinated masses that ruined everything.  How out of kilter is the wobble?  That depends on the mass of the object as well as its location.  The more the mass, the more the problem; the farther from center, the worse the effect.  It’s all neatly mathematic.  But going on like this is eccentric, so I’ll shut up.

When at Salem College, sniffing the bouquet of a liberal curriculum, I found out about normal human psychology as in Psych 101.  That was helpful, but even more interesting was Abnormal Psych, where I was sure to explore the tortured mentality of a daughter spawned by a paranoid schizophrenic mother and a bipolar genius father.  Just the thought of the match made me shudder in my sneakers.  As each chapter elucidated a new area of mental aberration, I was newly terrified.  This was surely the information that would give me a diagnosis and the hope of a cure.

I explained the quandary to my professor who suggested I just settle down and enjoy earning what was sure to be my A.  He said that in medical school would-be doctors typically try on each of the described anomalies before they just shrug and go on with their course-work.  I did learn that my tendency to analyze everything to death was called being obsessive.  That’s an accusation that could be leveled at Freud as he convinced the world of the universal need for psychoanalysis.  He too, liked to analyze everything.

Eventually I decided that the medical establishment was obsessive compulsive given their anal-retentive organization of such behavioral imperfections as the Mental Health International Classification of Diseases, otherwise known as ICD10 codes.  That leads me to a very healthy position vis-à-vis my place as a patient in a world of medics who are supposed to know.  If I am no more obsessive than they, why should I worry?

Well, at least I can worry about being anxiety ridden.  The most important thing I do is worry.  When analyzing any situation, the paramount concern is “what can go wrong.”  If anything can go wrong, it will.  That’s Murphy’s Law.  I assume it will, or at least must be anticipated and bulwarked against toward some marvelous, or at least acceptable, future disposition.  As a designer of systems, anxiety seems to be part of my self-definition.  I can’t defend against the accusation.  But anxiety is the least of maladies.  I don’t see things that aren’t there, or plot to attack enemies skulking in the fictive flights of fancy that lurk in my dream-time.  When the sun comes up, it’s time to get real.

Given all that, maybe my therapist is correct.  Maybe I’m not nuts, or not likely to so become.  Maybe I am just getting old and odd.  I can live with that and have a good time doing it.  I can quit worrying about going crazy and accept the fact that I have been a little bit off all along and just thought I was perfectly sane.  Silly me!

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