I seem to be going through a poetry phase, which isn’t a bad thing. Berryman’s poem below has been running through my head lately as I’ve been trying to keep in touch with people over assorted devices and apps, across all this expanding time and distance, through the phone and letters, just like all The Experts say we’re supposed to do. The poem, “Dream Song 14,” was one my mother quoted a lot when I was young. She mostly tossed out the first seven lines. Have a read:
The reason my mother liked this poem is that she was, indeed, bored. She found being a parent often boring (which is not to say that she found us boring, but the allure of diapers; laundry; square meals; schlepping us to school, to piano lessons, to doctors’ appointments; catering to our feverish demands when we were ill — somehow escaped her). And, unlike Berryman’s Henry (honestly, I’m kind of unclear about the relationship between the poet and Henry, even after a bit of reading around the ‘Net), my mother had no qualms about saying so.
To be fair, my mother inculcated in us, her children, some decent Inner Resources. She did so mostly by opening one door or the other and saying, “GO OUTSIDE,” and then leaving us to figure out what to do when we got there. But she also taught us how to throw balls and make mud pies (the trick is not to use too much water) and expected us to climb as high as possible in trees.
When we couldn’t play outside (often because of smog), we had clay and blocks and Lego and crayons and paper and I don’t remember anyone ever complaining about the mess. Our folks also had no problems about our covering the floor with pillows and blankets and doing indoor gymnastics, though they did get a bit nervous when we slid down the stairs on pieces of cardboard.
We weren’t constant hoodlums; we also played quietly in our rooms, alone or together (I spent hours reading), and grew up in a civilized era when we could do our homework every night and still have time to watch lots of sitcoms — Gilligan’s Island, The Brady Bunch, I Dream of Jeannie, I Love Lucy. Inner Resources.
So what does any of this have to do with the pandemic? Well, as I attempt to keep in touch with friends and family, I find these lovely people asking me questions such as “What’s new?” and “What have you been doing?” And I find myself answering “Not much” and “Laundry, paying bills, making dinner, napping.” One might assume that I am bored. But the truth is that I am not. “After all, the sky flashes…”
“the great sea yearns…”
“we ourselves flash and yearn…”
(this is as flashy as I get).
And I don’t find literature, especially great literature, boring.
Also, I have this blog where I can range around the scattered ideas that ping madly in my head. Inner Resources.
So what’s my problem? As I said, I’m not bored. The problem is that I am boring. Most people want to hear about the hassles of working from home (I’m not working right now) or about ventures outside the house (I’m staying put) or about dealing with family (my folks are dead, my kids are grown). I think about Henry Higgins’ admonition to Eliza Doolittle, his “strict orders as to her behavior. She’s to keep to two subjects: the weather and everybody’s health–Fine day and How do you do, you know–and not to let herself go on things in general. That will be safe.”** Everybody’s health is of course the first subject discussed and, if no one has COVID, disposed of. Discussion of the weather currently seems to be insultingly banal. Politics is either too risky or too distressing. I’m not sure how to get conversations properly balanced these days. Most don’t want to hear me read John Berryman or Richard Wilbur or Anne Sexton and then ramble on about their poems. Maybe you don’t either, yet here we are together.
**Henry’s mother presciently responds, “Safe! To talk about our health! about our insides! perhaps about our outsides! How could you be so silly, Henry?” And of course Eliza ends up telling the genteel gathering about how her aunt “come through diphtheria right enough the year before. I saw her with my own eyes. Fairly blue with it, she was. They all thought she was dead; but my father he kept ladling gin down her throat til she came to so sudden that she bit the bowl off the spoon.… What call would a woman with that strength in her have to die of influenza? What become of her new straw hat that should have come to me? Somebody pinched it; and what I say is, them as pinched it done her in.”
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.)
Back in April of this year, the National Geographic magazine for Earth Day was a double-sided issue. One cover bore the title, “How We Lost the Planet”; the flip-side offered “How We Saved the World.” The issue pretty much embodies how I exist these days: in a constant state of flipping between despair and hope.
Today, here in Colorado, the smoke from our own fires mixed with that from California. Early in the afternoon, the air reminded me of growing up in L.A. in the ‘sixties and early ‘seventies. We had “smog days” when we couldn’t go outside, when recess was held indoors and we played “Thumbs Up, Seven Up,” sitting at our desks with our heads down and a thumb up while a classmate would go around and tap a set of kids on the thumb. Once these children were chosen, we would be allowed to pick up our heads while the selected seven tried to guess who had tapped them. It was every bit as exciting as it sounds.
But even on the days when we allowed to play outside, our chests would hurt and sometimes we couldn’t get a full breath. We didn’t think too much about it; that was all we knew. But our parents did and for a while there were effective efforts to mitigate air pollution. The air in L.A.got better, as it did in other cities in America.
Today, my lungs thought they were right back in the L.A. of my youth. Breathing ached; my throat felt scoured; my head ached; my stomach turned sour. And however poor the conditions are here, they are fractionally as awful as California’s.
My husband and I had planned a drive today, just to get out of the house. We made it up high enough to be away from the smoke briefly, but most of the time the cab of the truck was smoke-imbued.
It was difficult to come back down where the smoke blanketed everything like fog, and nothing like fog.
By early afternoon, I was no longer thinking of Los Angeles; I was thinking of Pompeii.
Wildfires are far from the only disasters caused by global warming. Plastic is raining down across the country, including in our delicate, protected preserves; hurricane season is far more dangerous now. The disdain for science so proudly promulgated by politicians and voters will cost us our lovely planet and guess what? There’s not room for all of us on the International Space Station.
In addition, a lot of us are going to be denied the opportunity to be grandparents because of climate change. The next generations are reluctant to bring children into a world that might not be around long enough for their children to live to old age or that will mean they have to live in a wasteland. I don’t have an effective counter-argument for them.
The setting sun and the moon have been orange and lurid for weeks now.
But this evening was the sun was new kind of eerie.
And tonight — tonight the moon is red, a mourning red, an angry crimson.
So vote for our lives, for our home, for our environment, for the continuation of our species, for leaders who will push us to evolve into stewards of the Earth. Vote. Please vote.
Union of Concerned Scientists. “The Connection Between Climate Change and Wildfires.” Updated March 11, 2020.
Gavin Newsom on climate change and California’s wildfires. August 20, 2020.
Please write your senators, your congressional representatives, your secretaries of state, and your state attorneys general to urge them to keep voting safe and accessible and to stand up to everyone who is trying to undermine the postal service. Public pressure matters. Apply some daily.
Well, I’ve had a difficult two months, with my M.E. surging. Hot weather, whether I’m out in it or not, often makes it worse. We seem to be cooling off a bit now, despite the fires here in Colorado. I did finish up Rivka’s story; Meredith is thinking about rounding out Emma’s portion with a story of her own. So for anyone who is wondering how this tale concludes (spoiler: no one dies), read on: