A month of grumpy gratitude 2020: days 12 through 14, movies, lots of movies

There were long stretches in our 20’s and 30’s when Anthony and I watched at least 10 new-to-us movies a week, no exaggeration. We would probably still do it if we could, if jobs and children and living in Wisconsin didn’t intervene. We saw nearly every movie available in every theater in the Washington, D.C. area, including the art houses and foreign film venues. We rented movies with and without friends, drinking and ranting. We stayed up into the middle of the night watching oldies on rerun channels. We marathoned Bogart, noir, Kurosawa, Eastwood, rom-coms, Merchant Ivory, Bergman, trash action, Japanese anime. We didn’t worry about previews; we avoided them if possible. Even a bad movie is pretty good if you have no idea what it’s about before it starts.

I’ve searched my blog and it appears that, incredibly, I’ve never shared this story here: we watched The Matrix blind, having never seen a single trailer for it. I remember simply hearing that a new Keanu Reeves movie was out, called Matrix. Anthony rolled his eyes as I keened excitedly about Keanu, and then he grudgingly went to the theater with me. We had no idea what was going on plot-wise, and it was spectacular. (Anthony’s guilty pleasure is Point Break, and we both enjoy John Wick, so it looks like Keanu finally won him over.)

Oddly enough, my kids don’t seem to be very into cinema. They don’t even want to watch Christmas movies with us, which we’ve been doing relentlessly since Thanksgiving. I don’t get it. Movies offer so much escapism and imagination, and dramatized opportunities for cathartic release. Jesse and Nick don’t seem to want much to do with that scene.

But today Jesse came out of school, flopped into the car, and announced, “I wanna watch some Jim Carrey films.”

In parenthood, you learn to roll with the inexplicable punches.

She had seen a youtube vid during a break at school, showing Carrey’s best improv moments in films. I told her a bit about his weird sense of humor — I thought of Dumb and Dumber, The Truman Show, Liar Liar, In Living Color. I know he made some reasonably good films, and I used to be really entertained by him. But he’s a particular brand of strong cheese, like Will Ferrell or Eddie Murphy, and I eventually wearied of his style.

We got home and looked him up on IMDB. We settled on Ace Ventura Pet Detective, for a first watch. Anthony rented it on Amazon and… I couldn’t do it. I didn’t feel like watching that kind of stupid tonight. I hung out in the kitchen for a while and then went upstairs and lay in bed, playing stupid casual games on my phone.

But I couldn’t avoid the sounds. First there were the weird noises Jim Carrey himself makes, which, without visual inputs, are truly bizarre. And then… there was Jesse.

Just a couple hours earlier, she had told me she was sad for no reason. This is very common for her, a function perhaps of clinical depression, anxiety, the alienation and loneliness that accompany her mental health disabilities, being 15, the year 2020. When she says it – “Mom, I feel sad for no reason” – it doesn’t come across passionate or desperate. She seems more fatalistic, wistful even, and tired.

I should have grown used to her expressing this feeling by now, but it still kicks me in the gut every time. It feels like there’s nothing I can do for her. But I have a mantra, when she’ll listen. Go do something to distract yourself. Go outside. Look up. Read a book. Draw. Make music. Watch a movie. I love you.

Tonight, the movie magic happened. She wandered around the house in embarrassment during the most humiliating scenes. I lazed on the bed, listening to her giggle, comment, groan, squeal, and laugh. The sound of her light-hearted enjoyment landed on my ears like a soft snowfall that leaves me smiling, but with a small sense of awe – just a little bit bracing, peaceful, and very beautiful.

A month of grumpy gratitude 2020: days 8 through 11, because efficiency and consolidation are good

When I sit down at my computer, I always start with the same thing – open the news and scan. It’s not a healthy habit. I usually hit up WaPo, NY Times, NPR, and frequently BBC and the Guardian; and at least a few times a week I visit Fox News, just to see how the other half hallucinates. I would keep an eye on the Wall Street Journal, but they have a strict paywall and I don’t want to give them money.

If I was a pulled-together buddha-person, I would set aside a specific time each day when I allow myself to read the news, so that the rest of the time I could be peaceful and emotionally blank. Instead, I’m a disheveled masochist. These days, reading the news all day long means feeling angry, anxious, and slightly terrified all day long. I have long internal ranting monologues about COVID-19, voters being disenfranchised, the gaslighting of America by the GOP, all the lies of the right-wing conspiracy machinery, global warming, universal access to healthcare (or more rightly, the lack thereof), poverty and wealth disparity, the fact that Americans no longer seem to remember that capitalism and free markets aren’t one and the same thing, police brutality, gun culture, racism, on and on and on.

The last few days have been especially focused and bad for me, as I watch things go down with the presidential election. Gaslighting is a word that rattles through my head over and over. “Stop the Steal” indeed. Some A-hole in Texas – who happens to be under federal indictment – thinks he should have the right to cancel my vote in Wisconsin and give the choice instead to the GOP legislature that has gerrymandered itself into permanent power here. (side note: the GOP legislature here wants to give itself the power to decide who gets a COVID-19 vaccine and when. Hey, yeah, that’s not politicizing public health.) Almost a quarter of the members of our national House of Representatives, and seventeen state attorneys general (that’s a full third of our states), have joined the Texas A-hole in this quest. It is literally shocking to me. They have come out: their singular goal is for Trump to be president come February, no matter what, democracy be damned.

The threat to our nation and constitution isn’t from some mythical monster the GOP and Fox News imagine and brandish, some apparently giant brain capable of manipulating a nation-wide election to give the Democratic presidential candidate a fake 7-million-vote lead but unable to wrest control of important state houses out of the hands of the GOP. There really is a threat, but the real threat is the GOP’s willingness to do and say anything, literally anything without reference to reality or truth, to hold onto power. Complacency is not an option right now, and yet folks all around me are all chill, hey it’ll all work out, we’re winning, the election will hold and the Supreme Court …

Do you remember Kavanagh? You trust the future of our republic to a guy like him?

And why is our federal government, aka OMG-that-man-is-our-president, rushing to execute people?? Is it an implied threat? Is it just… mean? It’s certainly not pro-life. It’s brutal and awful and I hate it.

Tip of the iceberg. I can’t go down this rabbit hole right now. How am I supposed to hunt gratitude? It feels cloying and false today, as it did yesterday and the day before and…

Well. Today I will reboot. I will make gingerbread and mince pies. I will smile and bake. I will hug my kids and watch Christmas movies. I will take a nap.

I will be grateful that, for now at least, I still live in a nation where I can still say these things without having too much fear that I’ll be jailed or killed for saying them. I guess we’ll see if that holds true in the years to come.

A month of grumpy gratitude 2020: day 6 oopsie, day 7 chainsaw

I’m certain I was grateful for something yesterday. It was probably (once again) that I don’t make a living with this blog, and my 17 followers are understanding when I let them down. Or maybe it was the tacos I was grateful for. Tacos always qualify for gratitude.

Well never mind. On to day 7.

The back half of our property is part of some woods that run through the neighborhood. Sadly, a vast majority of the trees are stately ash, and the emerald ash borer plague has killed them all.

There they stood, towering for decades, tall and slender, being perfectly happy ash trees and offering homes to whatever creatures came, and then the miserable little invading bug came along and did this to them, just under the bark:

That ribbony damage completely destroys the tree’s ability to deliver nutrients and water up the trunk. Ash trees attacked by the emerald borer typically die standing, and quite suddenly. There’s no evidence they’re dying, until they’re dead.

This year the ash in our yard finally gave up their ghosts. As summer came into full bloom, they offered no leaves. They just stood there, tall and proud and naked, and dead. Before the leaves fell off our other trees – a couple oaks, a handful of maples, maybe a walnut, a few I haven’t bothered to identify — I went around and marked the dead ash with spray paint. Look at all the trees that have died.

It turns out yellow spray paint doesn’t stand out as well as neon pink, but maybe you can make out the exes.

Look at this enormous beauty (a badly placed owl box is about 10 feet up its trunk) that has been a centerpiece of our woods. The photo doesn’t do it justice. It’s about 80 feet tall and probably over a hundred years old, ramrod straight with an enormous canopy. Also 100% dead, thanks to a tiny pest.

We got estimates to take down our dead ash trees. It will cost us $5000 for the three really big ones between our home and our neighbor (look closely and you will see one of them leaning hard left, up by the houses). Large equipment will be involved to protect the houses from total destruction. It will take an additional $10,000 to bring a crew for three days’ labor in the back woods, and see how much they can get done.

[insert whatever “shock and awe” emojis work for you]

So we bought a chain saw. We aren’t newbs, at least. We used to have one when we owned 18 acres of woods, our first home. Using the chain saw was terrifying even when we were 30 years old, but it allowed us to take down dead trees and collect firewood. I never actually peed my pants from fear, but I came close several times.

We agreed not to touch the trees around the houses, or the big beauty with the owl box, which is at least three feet in diameter — pros are needed for that. But we figure we can fell trees that aren’t in danger of falling on houses or power lines. We started small and did okay. (“Small” is a term of art here, referring to trunk diameter and not height. Each of the trees we’re taking down is forest-grown to at least 60 feet tall.)

So far, we’ve felled and bucked two trees successfully. Firewood for the future!

Just a dozen or so more to go.

I cut down a third tree, but apparently did not place my starting wedge in the right direction. It looked like a perfect wedge to me, a nice pacman removal on the correct side of the tree. But when I cut the final cut from the other side, the tree missed my directional goal by at least 30 degrees, tipped barely over, and nestled itself snugly against another dead ash tree. Why. After we stared in dismay for a bit, and waited to see if the weight might just naturally crack them both over (it didn’t), and scratched our heads, Anthony went over to the second tree and went at it with the chain saw until it cracked under the weight of the tree leaning on it.

The sound of their mutual collapse was so loud that our neighbor came out to make sure we were okay. Physically, we were fine. But the emotional scars will never really heal. I was standing about 30 feet away from Anthony when he cut far enough through the second trunk that both trees went down, starting with really frightening crunching and snapping and cracking noises, and terminating with a sonic boom when the trunks hit the ground. As this short series of events commenced, Anthony turned toward me and we made eye contact, both of us radiating quiet terror. I waved him toward me in a small panic, but it was a useless gesture. He was already trotting with high-stepping feet through the brush toward me. We watched in mesmerized distress as the trees (slowly at first, but with really impressive acceleration) crashed to the ground.

Here was what we saw when it was all over.

It looks so innocent in these photos, so simple, just some trees down in some woods. Don’t be fooled. It took a lot of incompetence and fear to achieve this look. Our chainsaw is 18 inches of pure terror.

Working with a chainsaw is frightening, period. The good news is, I’m less afraid when I use it myself than I am when I watch Anthony using it. Love is a powerful source of fear and perspective. And each time Anthony comes away from a cut in one piece, all limbs and head still attached, physically unharmed, I am filled with profound, sigh-inducing, relief-filled gratitude.

A month of grumpy gratitude 2020: day 5, refi

Three weeks and two days ago, Anthony and I were chatting about how low interest rates are and how we should really refinance our home mortgage. Anthony, the real estate finance professor, said, “We should try Rocket Mortgage.”

This meant nothing to me. He explained that it’s a Quicken loan product. He got sort of hummy and bouncy, the way he gets when he’s enthused about something. We would pay a little bit more for this mortgage and we might not get the absolute rock-bottom rate we could hunt for through a human broker, but it was supposed to be extremely low-hassle, and almost exclusively on-line. He wanted to check it out and see how it works.

So I googled Rocket Mortgage. It was fairly easy to navigate the webpage and identify options and see how low the rate could get by paying points, but then we had to decide what product to select. I threw up my hands and shrugged, because how am I supposed to know? Enter the college professor. “Hold on!” announced Anthony in a hummy, energized sort of way as he ran downstairs to his desk to retrieve his massive Texas Instruments T-800 human-cyborg financial calculator.

He quickly conducted an incremental cash flow analysis, barking out questions to me as I sat in front of my laptop, blinking. “What’s our remaining principal! What’s our current interest rate! What’s our monthly payment! What are the estimated fees and closing costs! What’s the interest rate offer with no points for 15 years! Is there any relationship between the quantum description of reality and the reality we perceive! How long will we remain in this house!” His fingers moved in a blur over the human-cyborg calculator, as he ran some equations and determined what the return on investment is for refinancing depending on how much in points we pay and how long we keep the mortgage and fees and the holding period —

(Yes, Anthony is standing next to me right now, dictating that. Well, most of it. Incremental cash flow analysis, pffffhthfhttht, Carla’s retention level = .001 percent)

— and then he announced, “PAY THE POINTS.”

Five minutes later, we had completed and submitted the initial application. A few minutes after that, I got an email telling me what to do next. By the next day, I had received a text from some lady in another state who was managing our application. I uploaded and entered all the documentation and information they needed. It wasn’t much. It took Anthony and me about half an hour of effort, over the course of several lazy days, to get it all done. The hardest part was calling our insurance company and having them hand-hold me through accessing an on-line account so I could download a declaration sheet to give Rocket – and the only reason that was hard is because I’m an incompetent fool.

That was it. No appraisal (all that’s on Zillow now anyway, isn’t it?), no demands for bank statements and asset lists and photos of our children and dogs.

Then we waited while Rocket verified Anthony’s employment and did whatever a mortgage lender does. We got occasional texts and emails telling us about how things were going, what we needed to do or look at, and so on. Then I got a text telling us to schedule our closing, and a link to the closing agent’s website. There, we created accounts and were able to peruse all the closing documents well ahead of our formal closing date and time. We’ve closed on seven mortgages, I believe, and have never been given closing documents ahead of time in a way that allowed us to review them meaningfully. It was a definite first.

This morning, we e-signed all the closing documents, and then a closing agent came to our house with the few things we needed to reality-blue-pen sign. She was masked, we were masked, and it took literally five minutes. Done. Three weeks and two days, from application to closing.

I know this reads like a product endorsement. And I suppose it is, but that’s inadvertent. And just to be clear, I won’t know that this was a success until I’m certain our prior mortgage has been properly paid off. I also believe that we ended up paying more than we might have through a traditional broker. But boy, was it worth it, because I only had to be in the presence of another human being for five minutes. I didn’t have to endure sales pitches, or numbers being thrown around that meant nothing to me, or an hour being handed 300 sheets of paper I’d never seen before containing numbers I’d never seen before, or an appraiser coming into our house and poke around in our figurative underwear drawers. It was glorious for an antisocial beast like me.

Having my husband get weird with his calculator was an excellent bonus.

Grateful.

A month of grumpy gratitude 2020: day 4, cranberries and canning

I’m a fan of fresh cranberries, but they’re only really available for a couple months each year. When I see them in season, I admit I get a little excited. I like to make cranberry sauce, and a quick cranberry-walnut cake, and cranberry cinnamon yeasted bread. I like to use the cranberry syrup in drinks, like lemonade. Or a cosmo, which is what I’m enjoying right now. Tonight I just dropped an actually cranberry from a jar of sauce into the top of my drink. So pretty and red, like the pupil of an evil eye.

This past summer, I finally got a proper canning pot and rack. We put in some new garden boxes last spring, and I fantasized about putting up food from my own dirt for winter. I was no doubt inspired by feelings of looming apocalypse, in the face of COVID-19. I anticipated some extra tomatoes from our garden and I thought I’d make salsa, and can some whole tomatoes for winter, and that sort of thing. I never did put any tomatoes in jars, but I made a bunch of pickles with cucumbers from the garden. A fruit truck pulled through town and I bought a couple huge boxes of peaches and blueberries from Georgia or someplace like that (no fake blueberries or fraudulent peaches in the lot, I swear, they were legit), so I made blueberry jam and blueberry syrup, and I canned peaches in syrup and also canned some of the peach syrup.

When cranberries appeared on my grocery produce shelves a few weeks before Thanksgiving this year, I experienced my usual excitement. I bought some and made cake and bread, and I wondered what special odd ingredients I would put in my cranberry sauce this year. A good week or more passed before I realized that I could… CAN MY CRANBERRY SAUCE.

This epiphany made me giggle and clasp my hands together and hop up and down, as I imagined grilling a steak in summer and putting my own, actual homemade cranberry sauce on it. So that’s what I did around Thanksgiving time, I canned a bunch of cranberry sauce and syrup.

Here, let me show you how good they look.

Canned cranberries in dank cellar closet

Oh oh, here are a few more that didn’t fit on the top shelf, and next to them are some of my other home-canned goods.

Pickles, canned peaches, blueberry jam, cranberries, and some nasty rhubarb paste. In dank cellar closet.

You might notice that there’s a one-off jar perched atop beautiful peaches, looking awfully gross. That, my friend, is rhubarb jam. Maybe it’s rhubarb peach. I don’t remember, and I’m bad about labelling. I better work on that. Anyway, I’m afraid to open it and try it, because it looks nasty. But we grew the rhubarb in our yard, and I suspect it’ll taste fine. I think I also spy some mango chili jam. Huh. I forgot about that. Good thing I took this pic.

Right, so I’m grateful today about the canning equipment and cranberries and the canned goodness in my dank cellar. I’ll probably forget what I canned and when I canned it, and someday a few years from now I’ll probably pop one of these babies open and give myself salmonella poisoning, or botulism, or whatever it is that kills us when we eat badly canned foods. But until then: grateful.

A month of grumpy gratitude 2020: day 3, tech savvy

Back in 1986, as a junior at Oberlin College, I got a work-study job as the secretary’s assistant in the Chemistry Department. This was a prized position. I would no longer have to to put on a hair net to tend the lunch salad bar at the African Heritage House dining facility. Never again would I be part of the breakfast dish crew at Dascomb dining hall, dipping my frozen-numb fingers into half-drunk cups of warm coffee coming through the clean up line (a common practice for our cleaning crew), while the rich students who didn’t need to work headed off to their glorious job-free days. The breakfast crew was fun, but the work sucked. (Thankful Anthony doesn’t mind doing dishes these days.)

The secretary and the chemistry professors were delightful and kind. They quickly learned that I was a piano performance major, and that I could type about 160 words per minute, and that I could do some basic coding in Pascal and knew how to use WordStar on the library mainframe. They had a Mac – one of the early boxy things – and they encouraged me to learn how to use it. I touched my first mouse, and I experienced the magic of stuff on the screen looking exactly like what would come out on the printer. I became the chem department’s go-to person for putting their exams into a computer document, complete with complicated equations using symbols and greek letters. It was not easy at first, but I got good at it. (Thankful Anthony knows how to word-process his own equations these days.)

In my year off between college and law school, I moved to Silicon Valley and found contract work – back then we called it temping. I quickly landed a long-term temp position at Apple, of all places. I suspect they chose me because I actually knew how to use a mouse. I learned about Apple and its products, and I got my own Mac. Having a mouse made me pretty cutting edge. And I made FOURTEEN DOLLARS AND HOUR! In 1988, that was pretty darn amazing. I don’t know if I could find a job in 2020 that pays me that well. (Thankful I don’t have to job hunt right now.)

Decades have passed since then, and it has been all downhill on the tech front. I am officially that middle-aged person who really hasn’t moved forward with technology. I mean, I know how to use WordPress at some basic level, but look at this blog. It’s not a site; it’s shite. (Thankful I’m not trying to make a living by blogging.)

The sad thing is, I’m trying to have a new webpage created for an organization I’m involved with, and the poor friend who agreed to help me (aka, to actually do it) may be getting wise to my incompetence and technology-terror. I hope he’ll bear with me. (Thankful for friends who put up with me.)

Fortunately, I don’t need to be tech savvy to use a lot of 21st century tech. I love my iPhone, which has become a binky filled with my contacts, calendars, casual games, shopping apps, photos, music, audiobooks… and instant access to a veritable universe of information. I love Zoom, which allowed us to see our extended family on Thanksgiving. I love my integrated Apple products, even if they do all go off when someone calls — my Macbook laptop, my phone, my iMac, and an iPad mini ding-a-linging madly all over the house, like the imagined cacaphony of a clockmaker’s shop on every hour. It’s occasionally unnerving, but I’ve mostly grown used to it. I love that I can break or lose one Apple device, and my entire life’s worth is still available to me on all the other devices. I love our Roku box, which magically allows us to stream just about anything we want without watching ads. I love my fitbit watch, which gives me my heart rate and uses GPS to map my routes and distances when I exercise. I love our electric car, with a winter range of less than 100 miles, because anyway, who needs to drive any further than that during winter in Wisconsin?

In this pandemic year, all this technology that people rail at intermittently — with various claims that it destroys our lives and brains and relationships — seems to be pretty critical to keeping things going, from jobs to school to shopping to relationships to a lot of things in between. (Thankful my kids’ schools have gone mostly virtual.)

Oh! speaking of destroying brains. Anthony announced yesterday that his fitbit literally recorded him as being asleep a couple nights ago, when we know he was awake because he was sitting next to me watching a movie. I think there’s something delightfully meta about one piece of tech declaring that a different piece of tech has put Anthony to sleep.

Anyway, I know I’m selling my information soul to a bunch of tech devils all over the world, but I’ve plugged my nose and jumped head first into this stuff. I may not know how to use modern technology and software in any sophisticated way, but that’s okay. I’m grateful that Big Tech has dumbed it all down enough that even a fool like me can get a lot out of it.

A month of grumpy gratitude 2020: day 2, Pooh

For the past couple weeks I’ve been reading the Winnie-the-Pooh books to Nick at bedtime. At eleven years old, Nick was mortified when I pulled out the large “complete works” hardbound collection. Pooh is for little kids, he explained, as he rolled his eyes in embarrassment. He sighed and groaned through the first chapter or two, but by the time we got to the Heffalump hunt, he was snorting and giggling along with me. We’re in the midst of getting to know Tigger now. Tonight, Tigger got stuck in a tree. What a goofball.

There’s such silliness to Pooh and gang. For me, that silliness was lost in the Disney animation, which unfortunately defines Pooh for too many people. The movie failed to give Pooh the growly voice and Piglet the squeaky voice described by Milne, in my own mind. It deadened the creative imagination inspired by the stories.

I first read the Pooh books aloud in college, to Anthony as we droused in bed in the evenings. I also read the Lord of the Rings trilogy to him, and a few other novels. But it was Pooh who first unveiled something in Anthony that I never anticipated in a grown young man — a silliness, a love of childhood, and an acceptance of the simpleton in me. We giggled together, we pondered human nature, we shed a few tears when Christopher Robin grew up. We fell deeply in love in those days, and the Pooh stories are woven into our love.

I gave those ridiculous creatures the voices I imagined: Pooh growled, Piglet squeaked, Roo squeaked even higher. Owl spoke in a deep English hoot, Rabbit in a Georgia accent, Eeyore in a groaning existential drone. I composed tunes for Pooh’s poems, and sang them to Anthony when we read together.

As I was reading aloud to Nick tonight, we came to a poem Pooh was humming, and I sang it. The tune was simple and old — one I composed 35 years ago in college, as I lay in bed next to Anthony. I still remember most of the tunes. They burble up unexpectedly as I cross paths with the poems in the stories, deep memories bridging back to a time when I discovered that friendship and love could win over loneliness. And so I realize that, when I read these stories of Pooh to Nick, I’m also sharing with him his parents’ love story.

Quite a gift from a silly old bear.

A month of grumpy gratitude 2020: day 1, getting started

Does it count as an annual tradition if I do something two years in a row?

I hope so, because calling something an annual tradition gives it so much more heft. So, it’s time to begin my annual tradition of daily grumpy gratitude during the month of December.

It hardly needs saying that this is a hard year for gratitude. 2020 sucks.

I don’t want to feel too grateful for the really big things. I don’t want to be too grateful for evading COVID19 so far, because nearly one and a half million humans have fallen to it. I don’t want to feel too grateful for the financial and familial stability I’ve been lucky enough to maintain, because so many humans have not been so lucky. That sort of gratitude feels more like… rubbing less fortunate folks’ noses in it. It feels less grateful and more grating. It feels ugly to experience anything more than simple relief.

So never mind that.

As I start this year’s gratitude journey, I was expecting it to be much easier, given how well therapy is going and the amount of energy I put into working on the gratitude thing. (Granted, it’s not a huge amount of energy, but it’s definitely non-trivial.) Gratitude would flow from my fingers and lift me in billowing clouds of puffy joy and beatific peacefulness. La la la la happy happy love love.

Yet as I sit here, stewing, I find myself right back where I’ve always been: feeling kind of pissy about the whole gratitude thing. It’s still a graft on my more permanent state of mind, hard-wired to cynicism, bitterness, and a general sense that people suck and I hate people. How can one look at the state of affairs in 2020 and feel any differently?

Well, there’s nothing for it but to wade in. Today I will raise my white flag of gratitude into the whistling winds of 2020 and say… I’m grateful that I haven’t screamed at my kids as much as I might have during this pandemic. In fact, I’ve hardly screamed at all, which is a significant bit of anecdotal evidence suggesting regular therapy really can change a person. I’m grateful that, although both my kids have expressed some heart-breaking existential thoughts involving their own potential (and in their own minds, possibly desirable) deaths, neither has attempted anything; and I’m right here, stuck in this house with them in quarantine lock-down, ready to pounce if any scary shit goes down.

There. Day one is done.

adventures from the homefront, COVID-19 edition, episode 19: anniversaries

Today is my 27th wedding anniversary, and this year both Anthony and I turn 54. So we’ve officially been married half our lives. To say the wedding was an afterthought isn’t quite right – it was a profound event in which we celebrated our love with friends and family (and some strangers), and we had fun and cried and all that, but it didn’t change our devotion.  We had made our lifelong commitment to each other, in our hearts and behaviors, long before a wedding.

A half-life ago, the US economy was just starting to think about pulling out of a deep recession in the wake of Reagan’s devastating trickle-down economic policies. Institutionalized apartheid still existed in South Africa.  I was never going to have kids. Newt Gingrich was talking hypocritically about “family values” and really getting me riled up.  We were listening to Rage Against the Machine and the Cranberries and Soundgarden and Billy Bragg. 9/11 hadn’t yet happened, and the US hadn’t yet been dragged into a long-term war on false pretenses.  Dreamers couldn’t dream legally. It was unimaginable that a conservative justice would write a Supreme Court decision declaring a constitutional right to marriage for all humans, LGBTQ and otherwise. It had been only three years since the passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act.  I could never have imagined a silver-spooned, half-baked business man-turned reality TV star becoming our president by blowing racist dog whistles.  And I had never heard of Juneteenth as an important date. I had no idea I was getting married on the celebration day for the end of slavery in America.

Somehow, despite knowing of Juneteenth for some years now, I never made that date connection until this year. I don’t even understand how in the world I missed it.  I guess I just wasn’t paying attention; but also perhaps American education and news hadn’t brought it to my attention, or even worse had hidden it. But I know it now.

COVID-19, and the anti-police-brutality peaceful protest movement that’s sweeping across America, have made 2020 one crazy year.  I hope we’re all listening, growing,  and eventually healing.  I hope I’ve thought about race issues with an open heart through the years, and now I hope I can think more deeply and more clearly about these things.  I hope I’ve done right things to support social justice and parity and to fight discrimination and hate and violence, and now I hope I can do more and better right things in pursuit of a better world.  I hope I’ve believed in and supported our individual responsibility to community, in terms of social justice and physical and mental wellness, and now I hope I can learn to do more to be a responsible human being.

I’m learning slowly, ever so slowly, that I can be a good and useful person already, and also be a person who needs to improve and change in fundamental ways. This is apparently a hard lesson for a lot of us, especially when it comes to race in America.  But of course, we can’t grow into wisdom without admitting to our ignorance and mistakes. I can be strong enough to listen when someone tells me I’ve messed up — in the words I’ve chosen, in the actions I’ve taken —  and then work towards a more informed, more effective space.  I’m working on it.

Meanwhile, in the microcosm of my personal life, COVID-19 quarantining has created space to rediscover my husband.  Anthony and I have used the extra time we’ve had in the past few months to jump into old sandboxes together.

We’ve started hitting golf balls again — after a 16 year hiatus on my part! — and even have played a couple of 9-hole rounds on a par-three course. Anthony and I used to be avid, passionate golfers. Every weekend we played, weather permitting.  We would hit the driving range at least a couple times a week after work.  Our vacations were often golf vacations.  We would go to Myrtle Beach, an east coast golf Mecca, and play 14 courses in 7 days. When we visited family, we brought our clubs.

A round of golf was space away from all the worries of our jobs and world news.  We could spend 5 hours on a course together, pottering about on green surfaces, whacking balls, chatting and holding hands. Nothing could really come between us except our own grumpiness.

I felt surprisingly anxious about swinging a club again, but it turned out to be a lot like riding a bicycle. Being out there with Anthony has brought up an unexpected sense of peaceful contentment in me.  (When we’re out there. Still grumpy elsewhere.)

We’ve also been working in the yard like mad. We’ve built and filled raised vegetable bed boxes; hauled 18 cubic yards of fill dirt, garden dirt, and mulch from here to there; dug trenches to drain a huge temporary pond that forms every spring, and built a walkway into the middle of said pond so Anthony can use a sump pump on it; split plants, moved plants, and installed new plants in old and new beds; cleared half an acre of invasive buckthorn and garlic mustard; and weeded and weeded and weeded.

A couple days ago, we spent four hours digging up a bed of hostas on a steep hillside out back.  The soil there is pretty poor and weedy, and we had a couple cubic yards of bulk garden soil waiting to find a final resting place.  So we dug out about 50 mostly-mature hostas in an area that’s about 15- to 20-feet square, and carefully weeded. Then we carted the new soil from out front into the back yard, one heaping wheelbarrow trip after another, and spread it all over the area.  Then we put all the hostas back.  As Anthony said in the evening: four hours of exhausting labor, and nothing has changed.

But it was still a good four hours.  Anthony and I trooped around together, dug together, stared at our beloved plants and gardens together, paused for water together, grumbled together about our various middle-aged aches and pains, chatted together about politics and culture and life in 2020.  It was a pretty good metaphor for our marriage — getting shit done, one moment at a time, mostly right by each other’s side, content to be together.

As with the wider world, in the little world of my love story with Anthony, I’ve learned that I can be a good partner and friend while also being profoundly imperfect. I’m lucky to have found a mate who understands and accepts that about me.  I’m working on being strong enough to listen when he tells me hard things. I know Anthony is too.

Twenty seven years after I got married, and 401 years after slavery arrived on the shores of my nation, there’s still hope. I guess.  In this Age of Trump and racist dog whistles, I have to work hard to remind myself that we have taken small steps forward. But I’m ready for us to leap.

 

adventures from the homefront, COVID-19 edition, episode 18: fatigue

Some time in the last week or two, I’ve hit a wall.  More often than not, I feel more tired than I should, more grumpy, more impatient, more blank, more frustrated, more disheveled, more disorganized.  I’m getting angry at the kids when I shouldn’t.  I’m not organizing solid activities for them, and I’m feeling guilty about pushing them to do anything because life is already so stressful for them right now.  Making healthy meals feels like a heavy chore instead of a joy.  Most evenings, I stick in my AirPods and try to disappear from my family for a while – listening to music and sewing masks by myself, lying in bed by myself and staring at a device.  I don’t even want the dogs around me in those moments.

Oh sure, we still do fun stuff. We’re gardening, we’ve got flowers and vegetables sprouting aplenty. We’ve been hitting the driving range, we ride our bikes, we go to the lake. Yadda yadda.  But it feels often like I’m just going through the motions.

I remember this feeling from a few years ago, when I was in a deep depression and couldn’t get out of bed some days. It scares me. I don’t want to go through it again.

I am blessed with solid health insurance and the means to continue working with my therapist, Dr. G.  We talk every couple of weeks by phone, in the age of COVID-19.  I told him yesterday about how I’m feeling. It’s a change, because up until now I’ve been feeling pretty solid in 2020.  After I blathered for a while, he said, “It’s a common feeling right now.”

Mental health people are calling it “coronavirus fatigue.” It’s a thing. People are exhausted emotionally.

Coronavirus. The divisive and hostile state of American politics, and a president with no capacity to lead with empathy and compassion. Distance learning for our kids, and all the frustrations and changes that has entailed. The armed protests by white cammo-people over quarantine, met with a patient, restrained police response. The largely-peaceful protests inspired by Mr. Floyd’s killing, met with police and paramilitary violence. Families stuck together for unreasonable amounts of time without access to other important friendships and colleagues… There is a whole lot to process right now. It is legitimately overwhelming.

I stared out the window as Dr. G spoke about the phenomenon of coronavirus fatigue. I finally remarked, “So I don’t have to feel like a failure right now? I can give myself a break for feeling this way?”

Silly Carla.  All the years and all the reads and all the therapies and all the workshops and all the advocacy and still, it’s so hard to give myself compassion.

Dr. G reminded me of the basics.  Continue with self care, even if it feels selfish. It’s not.  Get rest. Find space for yourself. Continue teaching your kids your values. You have the authority as a parent to do that.  Continue trying and doing.

I will keep trying and doing, I told myself.  I am telling this to myself this morning, as I sit here. Technically, I know this sort of self talk can make a difference, but it feels silly and hard when I’m stuck in a rut.  Still, I will keep trying and doing.

A few weeks ago, Jesse put her foot through a window in her bedroom and gave herself a wicked cut that required a trip to urgent care.  The kick was the expression of an obsession and a tic.  As she said to me later, “That window has been bothering me for a long time now.”

She tried to hide the gash on her foot, but there was so much blood it was impossible.  Even as we rushed her to urgent care, she insisted that we shouldn’t. “I don’t deserve it,” she said. “I can take care of this myself.”

She was stoic and pretended it didn’t hurt.

When we tended to the wound in the days that followed, she would often remark to me that she didn’t deserve the attention. She did it to herself. She deserved to suffer.

I told Jesse over and over, you don’t deserve to suffer.  I love you.  I want you to stop hurting yourself.

It is very, very hard to see my daughter express such thoughts.  It is even harder to recognize in them a reflection of my own habit of self-punishment, but I have to stare into the mirror and ask big questions.  I’ve done my share of weeping about it.  I know that this hangs over me and is one of the reasons I’m low on juice and resilience these days.

And I know I’m not alone in this vast world of a million-billion-zillion human beings.  We are all suffering together right now, but also we have the power to carry each other through.

Hey listen, if you’re suffering, please don’t do it alone. Don’t harm yourself, don’t tell yourself that your humanity matters less than someone else’s. Don’t let your rage and exhaustion own you, if you can fight it. Don’t let false shame stop you from seeking help. Call someone, anyone. Here are some numbers.

National Hopeline Network
(800) SUICIDE

National Suicide Prevention Lifeline
(800) 273-TALK (8255)

National Youth Crisis Hotline
(800) 442-HOPE (4673)

Poison Control
(800) 222-1222

National Institute on Drug Abuse Hotline
(800) 662-4357

National Help Line for Substance Abuse
(800) 262-2463

National Domestic Violence Hotline
(800) 799-7233

National US Child Abuse Hotline
(800) 422-4453