I think of February as the Month of Unknowing, because there was still so much I didn’t know and because there was so much that our elected officials did know, but chose to forget or ignore — to un-know. And that “unnocence” has cost thousands of lives and jobs, shattered health and families, and riven our country even further apart. I am trying to be hopeful that with a new administration in the White House and vaccinations in arms, we’ll be able to mend some of these rifts, but I do think we can’t expect politicians to take care of these problems unless we keep our eye on them and do some of the work ourselves. So be nice and play well with others, people.
Meanwhile, back to 2020.
The first of February, 2019, was the day my mother went to the hospital, the day we learned how ill she was, the day we were told she had little time to live. My mother, who had been an actress, had always wanted to play Hamlet; I always thought she should would have been a magnificent Cleopatra. At her funeral service, I quoted from the end of Enobarbus’ speech (the one about the barge) and, on the anniversary of the beginning of the end, my Shakespeare app served up the lines I quoted:
What do I make of this coincidence? Not much. It neither comforts nor upsets me. But I do think coincidences are usually kind of neat.
February also started off with a repeat trip to the Monet exhibit. We were lucky to get to go twice, but I happily would have gone a dozen times. I’d seen a few Monets here and there before, but this exhibition made me understand Monet’s genius and artistry and feel the emotion in his paintings. Suddenly his work wasn’t just another pretty face.
I hadn’t known that Monet had worked as a cartoonist. This drawing reminds me of my grandfather:
Grandpa is the adult in the middle.
Many of the same paintings made me stop and re-contemplate them,
but the second time, others got more of my attention than they did the first time through.
This is a scene of the beach of Trouville, which reminds me of Gigi.
My new plan for our yard (which is a little larger than the frame of this painting):
I was, again, often taken by the details in the paintings.
Some of the paintings reminded me of California.
It was almost impossible to get my camera to catch the colours accurately.
After the exhibit, we stepped out into an evening that was almost as beautiful as the paintings.
We walked over to Civic Center Park. It was one of those evenings when the sky changed measurably from moment to moment and each change was more striking than the last. (The Capitol was lit red for Women’s Heart Health, a good cause, but against the clouds, it did look a little ominous.)
It was the sort of sky that made me think of the word “firmament.”
Civic Center Park has a rather splendid colonnade,
one that was set off by the glorious beauties of that evening’s show.
The evening display ended on a somewhat ominous tone:
There were quiet days: more sunrises,
And then another trip, this one eastward, to Kansas.
No going over misty mountains this time. Those were left behind for the stretching plains of Eastern Colorado and Western Kansas.
There was an odd, event-horizon sort of sunset.
The cardinals were still living in the yard.
There were lambent sunsets.
There was a full moon.
The creek near us tried to catch it.
So did the trees.
The climbing ivy made some of the trees look green.
I did some cooking.
There were more sunsets.
I thought about my parents.
I rambled around at night.
The moon started to wane.
I rambled around during the day.
And then I headed home. The plane took off several hours late. This time the sunset was less event horizon, more nuclear:
And I was back to the view from my front door:
The old moon in the new moon’s arms.
I was still riding the bus, running errands, going to appointments, visiting the book store.
My indoor plants started to sense the coming of Spring.
The sun and moon did more of that rising-and-setting thing they do.
So it is another new year. I am having a hard time saying “Happy New Year” because, honestly, it isn’t. I hear everyone saying “Thank God 2020 is over!” but there’s been no miraculous, overnight transformation of the situations in which we all find ourselves. The Atrocity is still in the White House; McConnell still makes the Senate the Graveyard for legislation; COVID-19 runs rampant through the planet; here in the U.S., too many people refuse to wear masks or maintain a safe distance from others; people are hungry and homeless and losing health and hope. I think I shall feel a new year has started at noon on the twentieth, when Joe Biden takes the oath of office and the Atrocity in the White House has left the building. Maybe the end of the year will be happy, but right now, all I can wish us all is that we survive the first part of 2021. Then let’s see where we are.
Meanwhile, I have been going through my photos from last year. I take photographs as a way to remind myself to notice the world, to see the beauty, the memorable, the stirring aspects my small space, as a way to distract myself from my depression. Sometimes it even works. I have monkeys-and-typewriters¹ approach to photography: I figure that if I take enough photos, statistically, some of them have to be half-way decent. It’s one of the few theories I have that seems to pan out.
If you like, come with me on a review of what I chose to see through my cameras last year. Here are some of my photos from January. I have come to think of it as the Pre-Pandemic Month, because even though SARS-CoV-2 was making its still insidious way into almost every corner of every country, we had no idea that there would soon be a pandemic. I was too busy hoping against experience that our president’s impeachment would lead to his removal from office.
One the first day of 2020, I went out into the world beyond my yard. I saw mountains,
and the ponds along my bus route.
There were graceful wisps of clouds and the moon up early in the day-lit sky.
I was out with my family, and we lingered until evening. The mall was still decorated for the season,
and the star that’s lit on the the mountainside every year was still shining over the town.
Our tradition is to visit the Boulder Book Store on New Year’s to take advantage of their Readers’ Guild inventory sale. We did not go this year, and I find missing that visit to my happy place has sharply reminded me of how my life has changed.
We went out for dinner. We sat inside a restaurant. We didn’t worry about it.
I tracked the phases of the moon.
I tracked the changes to the pond (note the ice and all the geese).
I watched the sun set. And I watched the moon rise…
AND THEN — I went to the Monet Exhibit at the art museum. It was astonishing —
especially the details.
I saw a whole — shoot, I can’t find the word (stupid aphasia; I’ve had it since the time I was on Prednisone years ago) — phase? group? category? set? of Monet’s work of which I had been completely unaware: the winter scenes:
I don’t have the artistic vocabulary to describe techniques or effects properly, but what struck me about these paintings were the co-existing qualities, the way they were simultaneously subdued yet vibrant, misted in frost while brightened by it, exciting and calming. The chill of the icy blues was almost palpable, but so was the warmth of the coral tones.
Some of these qualities were apparent in other paintings,
One prosaic note about the exhibition: the paintings were so numerous and the galleries so extensive that it took up two levels in the museum and, half-way through, visitors were allowed to take a bathroom pass, leave the exhibit, and return. I’ve never been to a show where one was allowed back in after leaving. My only complaint about the experience is that the museum was very firm in its policy of not letting me take any of the paintings home.
I haven’t figured out how to make movies work in my site, but I think if you click the link below, it will show you one of the “trees” on display in downtown Denver that evening:
It rose in a burnt-yellow colour, but brightened as it climbed the sky.
One of the books I got at the Book Store sale was Take Me With You, by Andrea Gibson:
I’m not entirely sure to what genre it belongs; it was on a sale cart. But several of the author’s observations stayed with me. This one seemed apt enough when I read it, but in retrospect, it now seems absolutely prescient:
I think, after last year and the beginning of this, we are going to have to learn to to say this and then find ways to speak our revival.
Some random shots of what caught my eye:
We took a trip to San Diego for a family gathering.
(“Far over the misty mountains cold To dungeons deep and caverns old We must away, ere break of day, To find our long-forgotten gold.” —J.R.R. Tolkien)
And spent a bit of time at the beach (though not long enough).
I saw this person walking along the beach for quite a while, collecting things in a basket. I wish I had known how to approach her (?) and ask about her gatherings without being forward. I feel there’s a story in this photo.
Look where we went:
Proof I really was on the Surprise.
Unfortunately, it was being renovated, so I didn’t get a lot of good pictures.
Back over the Misty Mountains…
to the familiar light of home.
We attended the symphony. It’s almost frightening to think how dangerously reckless we were to go somewhere in such a crowd, but, like almost everyone, we had no idea was coming.
There were the usual interplays of light and shadow, real and metaphorical,
Sorry about the long hiatus – again.* My accustomed afflictions raised their unlovely heads — again. You’d think they’d get bored with this game, but no; they are constant companions, committed to keeping me off kilter.
What energy I have had has gone into writing more Get Out The Vote letters, this time for the Georgia Senate run-off races. (Just when we thought is was safe to go back in the water….) For now, I am writing letters for Vote Forward:
These letters have to go out ON the seventh of December. Apparently that’s a magic date. I’ve managed to write one hundred so far, and will plug away as best I can until the seventh. If anyone wants to join in, I believe it’s not too late to sign up and download letters of your own. (If you’re a fountain-pen user, invest in some sugarcane copy paper. It’s much more welcoming to fountain-pen ink than run-of-the-mill copy paper.)
I have no idea whether there’s a chance that the Democrats might take those Georgia seats; in fact, I rather doubt it. But if they don’t, I have no idea whether our new president will be able to effect any meaningful change or get any useful legislation passed. So I’m writing.
And in the midst of the pandemic and the politics and the personal perturbations, there was Thanksgiving week. When I was a kid, Thanksgiving was a simple holiday, purportedly celebrating the amity between Indians and the settlers in the “New” World. Now the day is rightly complicated by the realization that the stories we were told as children were heavily skewed to support the colonial hegemony about to displace, enslave, and murder the indigenous populations, to justify the actions of the white people who would corral in reservations the Native Americans who survived, while attempting to eradicate cultures, languages, and identities of the civilizations that were here for millennia before any Europeans stumbled upon these shores. And yet my family celebrates the day because it is a family occasion — except not this year. And that was hard. Zoom just doesn’t replace prescence.
Moreover, this week, for us, held the anniversary of the death of my husband’s mother, the wedding anniversary of my parents, and the birthday of my mother, so it was a week of remembrance.
And here I must segue into a mention of an app that provides me with a Shakespeare quotation for each day. Why do I have such an app? Well, aside from the fact that everyone should have such an app, my mother was a Shakespearean actress at the Pasadena Playhouse in her youth and she passed on her love of Shakespeare to me. I majored in English lit, emphasis in Renaissance drama, and so, between my mother and my major, I must have this app. It often serves up eerily appropriate passages, like fortune cookies that seem to have an uncanny awareness of what is happening in the lives of those who area about to consume them.
And so, into this poignant week, on the very birthday of my mom, the daily Shakespeare quotation was
which pretty much sums up the last eighteen months for my family.
*A perpetual question is whether to apologize for something that isn’t my fault. I certainly didn’t choose to have depression or M.E., and a number of my fellow-sufferers say we should not apologize because doing so makes it seem that we are choosing not to do whatever it was we were supposed to have been doing. Nevertheless, these conditions affect other people, too. So, in case there’s anyone out there who might have been kind enough to hope that I would have posted something new sooner: apologies.
I didn’t used to be a particularly political person. I was raised in a moderate family; my parents never voted a party line. Growing up and into early adulthood, I didn’t find politics particularly consuming, though I have been an avid, informed voter since I turned eighteen. Until relatively recently, I was able to understand both sides of political points of view. The irony is, now that I am eager to become more involved, to do more to return our country to some kind of sensible, civil normalcy, my own health issues and the pandemic limit what I can do.
But the Sierra Club gave me an option that allowed me to help get out the vote from home, when I had the energy to do so, even in the middle of the night: writing letters to voters who tend to vote on Election Day, rather than during early voting.
I had hoped to write an even hundred, but we were told to print rather than to use cursive because so many people can no longer read running script. I hadn’t done any extended printing for maybe twenty years, when my second child was learning to write. I had to think about each letter as I wrote it and I could feel different muscles in my hand, ones that had become accustomed to a life of ease and indolence, coming into play. I was surprised how much printing slowed me down. I managed to write only seventy-five of these letters (they came in sets of twenty-five), so I was a little disappointed with my output, but am still very grateful have found a way to have, I hope, persuaded some more people to vote.
If you’re eligible to vote here in the United States and haven’t done so yet, please pleasePLEASE find your ballot if one was mailed to you and send it in or get out and vote in person. Lives hang in the balance.
Note to fountain pen users: After I wrote my first set of
letters, I realized that I wanted more fountain-pen-friendly paper on which to print out these letters. I found recommendations for sugarcane paper on BestFountainPen.com, reddit.com, and MountainOfInk.com (see the comments section for MoI). I got a ream and it was a vast improvement. Not only did my inks show their sheen and shading nicely on this paper (not to Tomoe River levels, but still noticeable), but also, when I used the paper in the copier, the print was both sharper and darker. I’m pretty happy about it. The brand I got was Treefree from Staples.
(For what it’s worth, this post contains no affiliate links, no one asked me to post my opinions, and the opinions here are my own.)
Another Open Letter to Colorado Senator Cory Gardner
Senator Cory Gardner 1961 Stout Street, Suite #12-300 Denver, Colorado 80294
5 October, 2020
I see that you voted for the bill calling for the Justice Department to to withdraw its support for the lawsuit that would end the Affordable Healthcare Act. I also see that you have introduced your own bill that putatively would protect those of us with pre-existing conditions. I thank you for your vote and hope that it portends a turn toward listening to and caring about the needs and opinions of your constituents.
However, your record of voting against the ACA makes this vote suspect. After the election, if you are returned to the Senate or during the liminal period between the election and the Senate’s new term, will you continue to support the ACA? Your own brief bill, which at first glance seems so promising, does not guarantee that insurers must accept applicants with pre-existing conditions, nor does it it spell out what kinds of coverage a plan must provide, nor does it contain a provision forbidding discrimination based on gender or sex. There are too many loopholes to bolster the impression you seem to want to cultivate that you are ready to stand up for health care and affordable insurance for all of us.
The most effective way to convince us that you do, in fact, care about the lives and health of your constituents, and of all inhabitants of the United States (we’re all too connected, as COVID-19 has taught us, to pretend that we need only be concerned with the health of our neighbours) is to oppose seating a new Supreme Court justice before the Inauguration. The push to put Amy Coney Barrett on the highest bench in the land before the tenth of November is motivated by the intention to destroy the act that has brought affordable insurance to millions of Americans. Commit to voting only for a nominee who will support not just the ACA, but who will also protect women’s health by preserving our reproductive choices, including our right to control our bodies, our lives, and our destinies through access to safe, affordable, and legal abortions.
If you vote for the Justice Department to step away from the legal challenge that is trying to eradicate the Affordable Healthcare Act, but also vote to confirm a new Supreme Court justice to sit in Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s seat, a justice who will strike down the ACA and overturn Roe v. Wade, then you are merely attempting to have your cake and eat it, too.
Preamble I want to take back the word ruminate. The Online Etymology Dictionary explains that the word “ruminate (v.)” dating from the 1530s, means “’to turn over in the mind,’ also ‘to chew cud’ (1540s), from Latin ruminatus, past participle of ruminare ‘to chew the cud; turn over in the mind,’ from rumen (genitive ruminis) ‘gullet,’ of uncertain origin.” Merriam-Webster Online gives the definition of ruminate as
transitive verb 1: to go over in the mind repeatedly and often casually or slowly 2: to chew repeatedly for an extended period intransitive verb 1: to chew again what has been chewed slightly and swallowed : chew the cud 2: to engage in contemplation : REFLECT
But psychology — and in general I have real respect and genuine gratitude for the healing and support psychology and psychotherapists provide; if I kept a gratitude journal, my therapist’s name would be on every page — has come near to ruining this abundantly apt word that perfectly expresses the way many of us need or choose to take the time to ponder and deliberate rather than hasten to judge or get embroiled in the consequences of an ill-considered decision. Psychology, as a field, has decided ruminate should mean obsessively thinking about whatever is bothering one, over and over, round and round… ¹
I think one of the reasons that this definition has become popular, not only among psychologists, but in the general public as well, is that we have such short attention spans and have come to prize speed over all else. We rush to embrace technology that robs us of our privacy, we don’t stay to watch the credits after a movie (unless there’s an added scene), we expect to know the results of every election before the votes are all counted.
Take a breath, people.
Being ruminative used to be a positive attribute, one that indicated one was a careful, thoughtful person, not inclined to fling one’s self pell-mell off a cliff. Now it is a weakness, a character flaw that indicates one brings one’s misfortunes upon one’s self because one can’t control one’s thoughts.
Join me in my mission. Let’s rescue ruminate. Start using it in its proper sense. Fling it with abandon into your philosophical conversations: “I was ruminating upon the meaning of life the other day and wondering just what 42 really has to do with it.” If someone tries to push you into making a snap decision, say, “You know, in order to give you the thoughtful answer you
deserve, I need to ruminate on that for a day or two.” When next asked to describe yourself, pause for a moment,then declare, “I am an attentive, measured sort of person with a ruminative cast to my mind.” (Just don’t tell anyone you’re a ruminant. That will totally undermine our goal.)
And after we save ruminate, we’re coming back for you, enable.
Every so often, the New Yorker slips a suggestion for an archived article into the inbox of my e-mail. That how I came across Andrew Solomon’s article, “Anatomy of Melancholy,” that appeared in New Yorker’s January 12, 1998 issue. It’s a pretty harrowing description of the depths down to which depression can pull person and of the biases that still pertain when it comes to admitting to others or to ourselves that we have a mental illness and, worse, might be so “weak” as to need chemical (or electrical) interventions. As I moved through the essay, I came upon this proffered bit of wisdom:
Accuracy of perception is not an evolutionary priority. Too optimistic a world view results in foolish risk-taking, but moderate optimism gives you a strong selective advantage. “Normal human thought and perception,“ Shelley Taylor writes in her 1989 book, Positive Illusions, “is marked not by accuracy but by positive self-enhancing illusions about the self, the world, and the future. Moreover…these illusions are not merely characteristic of human thought; they appear actually to be adaptive.” As she notes, “The mildly depressed appear to have more accurate views of themselves, the world, and the future than normal people. [They] clearly lack the illusions that in normal people promote mental health and buffer them against setbacks.”
So — why are those of us with depression and accurate perceptions the ones who are mentally ill, while the “normies” with their illusions are the ones who are considered sane? Why are we the ones who are seen as less evolved? Am I the only one who thinks this assessment is a little bit off?
In a recent car commercial, actor and apparent guru Matthew
McConaughey ruminates (see how easy it is just to slip the word right into a sentence?) out loud about the process of identity formation.
“Knowin’ who we are is hard — it’s hard. Eliminatin’ who you
are not, first, and you’re gonna find yourself where ya need to be.”
OK, first: shouldn’t the thrust of the first sentence — the search for identity — lead to a statement about finding out who one is rather than where one is? I guess that’s what happens when one infuses manufactured sagacity into an advert for a vehicle. And never mind the lack of parallel structure in the second sentence.
But what I keep thinking is, “What if we, as is recommended by Mr. McConaughey, eliminate all the people we are not, only to realize there’s no one left?” That’s kind of who-where I keep finding myself.
An ethical dilemma: At the recommendation of a friend, I picked up Change Your Brain, Change Your Life, by Daniel G. Amen. M.D. I haven’t read very far into it, but so far there are some sensible observations about the practicality of having one’s brain scanned for damage so one knows whether medical or psychotherapeutic remedies are most likely to be beneficial. However, on page twenty-nine, our friend the doctor discusses things that hurt the brain and things that help the brain. Under malign influences, Dr. Amen notes that “even spending time with unhealthy people [is] bad for the brain.” OK: I can see how that can work; we are the company we keep.
In the next paragraph, Dr. Amen lists things that can boost the brain. This list includes the point that “In many ways, the best thing you can do for your brain is to spend time with healthy people. As we will see, they are contagious. I often say the fastest way to get healthy is to find the healthiest person you can stand and then spend as much time around him or her as possible.” That also makes sense.
Aside from the difficulties of fulfilling this prescription in our COVID-19-riddled age — and you may already see the problem here — consider this: Let’s say I’m a healthy person. I know an unhealthy person, someone with, say, depression, someone who would immensely benefit from spending time with me. Yet if I do spend time with that person, I’ll be engaged in an activity that will be detrimental to my own grey matter. On the other hand, if I choose to protect myself by shunning the depressed person, I’m selfishly depriving her or him of my beneficial “contagion” and preventing that person from attaining the flourishing cerebrum she or he deserves. (Unless, of course, that person has been ruminating. In that case, she or he deserves all the melancholy that infests her or his soul. [That’s an example how NOT to use the word ruminating.]) I’m either allowing harm to come to myself or withholding aid from another, which makes me a pretty lousy human being, and knowing that I’m a pretty lousy human will depress me.
Now let’s imagine that I am the unhealthy person, and I know a tremendously healthy person, in whose salubrious presence I never fail to rally. I have a lot of time on my hands. I easily could spend days with this person and notably sharpen my dulled mental functions and ameliorate my debilitating mood. However, by latching on to this bloom-imparting person, I will be causing harm to that individual’s well-being and will likely disrupt her or his equilibrium. That would make me an insensitive parasite, sucking the life out of someone for my own ends, and being such a draining leech would make me feel horrible and depressed.
So what to do? I hate lose-lose, damned-if-you-do-or-don’t, caught-between-Scylla-and-a-hard-place options.
Revenge Bedtime Procrastination, which has a much more beautiful name in Chinese (the literal translation for revenge bedtime procrastination means “suffering through the night vengefully.”), is a phenomena unique to people who feel out of control in their daily lives, so we refuse to go to sleep early, to exert some control over our lives, and to enjoy some quiet time alone, when the rest of our people are sleeping.
I should confess, straight up, that I am, by nature, a night owl. It runs in the family. But I love both this concept and its name. Between the depression and the M.E. and the State of the Union, I’m having an increasingly hard time getting any sleep. I just wish being AWAKE YES I’M AWAKE YES I DO KNOW WHAT TIME IT IS OH ISN’T THAT A LOVELY SUNRISE? would wreak some actual vengeance on the conditions and people who are responsible for my near-insomnia.
I hope, dear reader, that my ruminations provide some conceptual cud for your synapses to masticate at the pace of your choosing. And don’t forget: enable is still waiting for us… _____________________________________
TRIGGER WARNINGS: The following post deals with miscarriage, mental illness, the consequences of denying women the right to an abortion, racism, violence, and murder.
Kansas is an odd place. In many ways, it is very conservative, but it has some of the more liberal abortions laws in the country. Back in the early 1990s when Dr. George Tiller’s clinic was besieged by Operation Rescue protestors, my mother was one of the counter-protestors who stood to protect the clinic and its clients, even though the clinic had been bombed in 1986 and the threats of violence from people who called themselves pro-life were constant and real. In 1993, Dr. Tiller was shot in both arms, and in May 2009, he was murdered in his church while welcoming congregants to services.¹
The battle carried over to the op-ed pages of the Wichita Eagle. My mother showed up there, too, in this letter to the editor she wrote in response to a young woman making a case for adoption. One additional note: in her letter, my mother uses the racist term “mongoloid,” which was, for a time, the descriptor used for people with Down’s syndrome. I do not excuse her usage, but would like it noted that she quickly became aware of the hurtful nature of the word, and quit using it shortly after she wrote this letter.
Most women who have an abortion do so to save their lives, their sanity, their health, their jobs and finances, their family’s well-being. Vote for choice.