Tuesday, March 31, 2020

SOL 20 Slice #31: The end?

I am participating in the
All participants are sharing stories about moments in their lives, writing 
 every day for the month of March 2020.
Thank you, Two Writing Teachers!

It seems appropriate to end this Slice of Life Story Challenge of 2020 with a focus on my favorite book: Roget's International Thesaurus, Third Edition (1962). This was a gift from my father, when I went away to college - though, to clarify, is it called a gift when you have borrowed it for so long, that it just gets caught up in your belongings and no one is really the wiser? 

Dad showed me how the thesaurus worked when I was about ten years old...and perhaps that's why I fell in love with this book: it needed directions! You didn't just pick it up and start reading; no, you went right to the back, found the word you were thinking about, looked for its unique numeric code, and then flipped back to the front part of the book until you found that number in the sequence. Why would you do this? To find a whole other world of additional words that were similar in meaning...to find synonyms

It still strikes me as such a fanciful and whimsical idea for a book: think of a word, follow a trail to other words that are nearly the same, and get ready to go on numerous other tangents, along the way. 

I loved everything about this tome. As a young girl, my favorite feature was the fore edge [FYI - I just now looked up this term] of the pages...these had hollowed semicircle indentations, to make it easier to turn to the section you needed. I had never seen these on any other book. They seemed elegant, special, stylish, refined, sophisticated, ingenious - ah, you get the idea.
My writing nook, with Roget's.

I liked that Roget's had a special place on Dad's desk, right next to the dictionary. I like that he signed his name in the front of the book, in black marker. I like to think about my father writing, that he was fascinated enough about words that he bought himself a thesaurus. Wow. I have no memories of him writing for anything other than work (he was a naval officer), though, I remember he did enjoy writing letters to family. I liked that he had this book to expand his word choice; I thought that conveyed a certain respect for writing itself - to seek help and information, to make your writing better.

Even though I can look up synonyms on Google, I still enjoy looking them up in my Roget's. There is something very grounding about this.

There's something very grounding about this Slice of Life Challenge every March, and, particularly, this March, 2020. We have held each other up, we have shared our stories, and we have documented our personal history of this pandemic. I am so appreciative of this writing community, and I thought I'd let Roget's explain. The Slice of Life Story Challenge provided me with:

a very special place

Thank you, one and all, for your writing and your comments. You have made me a better writer! I hope we meet up again on Tuesdays, for weekly slicing.

My favorite page from Eric Carle's "Slowly, Slowly, Slowly" Said the Sloth; clearly Mr. Carle had a thesaurus!

Monday, March 30, 2020

SOL20 Slice #30: Where is he now?

I am participating in the
All participants are sharing stories about moments in their lives, writing 
 every day for the month of March 2020.
Thank you, Two Writing Teachers!

I woke this morning with a certain homeless young man on my mind, wondering how he is managing to survive this time of quarantine and isolation.

Where is he now?
Walking home from the metro,
past the stores,
he always finds me.
Just a dollar for some food,
Just a dollar,
that's all.
The sad glisten of his eyes and 
the nervous movements of his body,
tell me differently.

Walking home from the metro,
he moves into my path,
always reminding me,
seeming 'of me.'
I am pulled to engage, 
to not engage,
to know more,
to keep my distance,
to talk,
to be afraid, and
afraid is more powerful.

Walking home from the metro,
I wonder,
what if I had told him 
about the clinic, 
only one block away?
How we sat together in circle,
everyone shared their pain,
the ordeals,
the addictions,
the stories that gave me trembles,
and kept me praying?

Walking home from the metro,
he finds me, and I, him.
Is he sleeping on someone's couch?
Or on the streets?
Where is his family?
Where is he hunkered down?
Is his Mom somewhere, worried?
Is she worn out from the grief
of the journey?
Where is he now?

Sunday, March 29, 2020

SOL20 Slice #29: Dread

I am participating in the
 Slice of Life Story Challenge (SOL20).  
All participants are sharing stories about moments in their lives, writing 
 every day for the month of March 2020.
Thank you, Two Writing Teachers!

Laying on my bunk in the cabin, I was wide awake and terrified. Every detail of the ghost story that the older girls had shared around the campfire earlier in the evening was now omnipresent in my mind. Every exaggerated, imaginative depiction that I had laughed at earlier, sitting next to peers, now seemed very plausible and real, alone, in the dark of night. I listened to my roommates' uneven breathing. One girl had a cold, and her breaths would catch and then rattle, unpredictably, intermittently. My image was of this big, thick, dark green, slimy, amorphous monster that came out in the middle of moonless nights, just like this night. It would quietly creep, almost flow, across the surroundings. It would pass under the thin opening at the base of a door, and spread out into our cabins, and across our bodies. It was a green so dark that it was impossible to see without moon and stars to provide a light. Sometimes it suffocated you. Sometimes it just passed over you, leaving a deep green stain across your face. In my bunk that night, I knew the wind through the branches of the trees was IT, coming. That cracking noise...IT! Was it near?  Perhaps it had just bumped into something...maybe that was just the sound of its weight, as it slithered along. Was it repelled by light? If you had a flashlight, could you ward it off? Why didn't I ask this before? I pulled the thin cover up over my head and just waited, paralyzed, impotent, helpless. At some point, exhausted, I fell asleep.

Honestly, I believe this is my only take-away from my brief stint in the Girl Scouts. I have long heard many more honorable things about this organization, but I only remember that night-time dread, while participating in a one night sleepaway camp in the woods. 

Even though some fifty years have gone by, I can still conjure up that creepy monster; I am all too familiar with that ominous dread.

It's back.

We just got word that COVID-19 has made its way into the nursing homes of two folks we love. One, up in Maine, my Dad (age 90) - a fellow resident was suspected to have the disease several days ago, and was immediately isolated, and the test just came back positive; every resident in the home is now isolated in their own rooms. Two, my sister-in-law's mother (age 93) -  her roommate was diagnosed with the disease, here in Maryland; the beloved caregiver was sent home on a two-week quarantine; the mother is now isolated in her own room, showing no signs of having the infection.

No visitors are allowed in. No family members are allowed to visit. 

Doctors and staff are present.

Until they get sick or exposed.

I wonder if nursing homes are kind of making it up as they go? Do they feel paralyzed and impotent, just lying in wait for this disease? I know I do.

My sister-in-law was able to sneak over to the outside of her mother's first-floor room and hang paper hearts all over this exterior window  - "I love you, Mom." She says her Mom gave her a big smile and a wave. 

Dad's on the second floor of a complex, making this loving action near impossible. I smile at the thought of "doing a John Cusack" (in Say Anything) and bringing a boom box underneath his window, blasting his favorite songs. Dad would want to hear Willie Nelson and Jim Croce. 

I am filled with dread. I think dread necessarily involves a lack of knowledge, an eerie prediction, some fatalism, but always - YOU. DO. NOT. KNOW. IF. IT. WILL. HAPPEN.

I laughed with delight, in fact, at this clip from CNN on this past Friday (March 27, 2020):

Meanwhile, a 101-year-old man was released from hospital after recovering from the coronavirus, Gloria Lisi, the deputy mayor of the Italian city of Rimini, has said.
The man, who has been named only as "Mr. P," was admitted to hospital in Rimini, northeast Italy, last week after testing positive for Covid-19 and left the hospital on Thursday.
Lisi said his "truly extraordinary" recovery gave "hope for the future."

As I write into this sense of dread that is growing in me, I must say - I'm not surprised or afraid that Dad will die. I mean, seriously, he is 90. I think if I were to speak about 'fears of dying of this virus' they would center around losing younger, healthier family members and friends. My Dad has had a long, full life. My dread is about how this plays out in real life - this deeply sad image of dying alone. No matter your age. The effect of having this virus, of being in proximity to someone with the virus, means that you will be acutely isolated. You will suffer alone. All by yourself.

Yes, that's it: I find that I am perseverating on the image of these two much-loved people being so alone right now. So alone. 

What gives them peace while they are hunkered down and waiting it out? I hope my Dad is lost somewhere on memory lane, remembering all those times when he felt strong and happy, thinking about silly antics of the past. Maybe he's even well-trained for this time of isolation, having spent so much time on submarines, away from all the physical space and pleasures of our world.

It helps to think he's laughing.

Saturday, March 28, 2020

SOL20 Slice #28: Influenced

I am participating in the
 Slice of Life Story Challenge (SOL20).  
All participants are sharing stories about moments in their lives, writing 
 every day for the month of March 2020.
Thank you, Two Writing Teachers!

Waking gently, softly.
Lingering in bed.
Laying quietly.
His breaths.
White noise of sound machine.
Rain trickling down the gutters.
No alarm.
No hustle.
Just slowly emerging.
Holding onto the last vestiges of a dream.
Breath taking, breathtaking.

This is a gift,
these leisurely mornings, 
this soft start to each day.

This poem just appeared to me this morning, as I started another quiet day during this coronavirus pandemic.  In recent years, as I have weighed the pros and cons of continuing to teach, the most simple and yet strident complaint is my early morning wakeup. I have truly resented that alarm clock and its horrid ring at 5 a.m. I live in the suburbs and teach in the city; I use mass transit; all this means: I must get up early. It is the nature of the beast, as it were. 

A couple of weeks ago, back when things were normal, I sat down with my head of school and talked about possible future plans. What if I left full-time classroom teaching and moved into something part-time for the school? I shared some ideas and felt pretty excited by her receptiveness. I feel ready for a change. I would like more time for writing and more time with my husband, who has been retired for some four years now. I have both health and energy, and I love working with preschoolers, so I really don't want to say goodbye to all of it, just yet. We talked at length on a Thursday; the next day schools were closed due to coronavirus.

These slow mornings are  

I cannot imagine returning to a daily morning alarm.

Friday, March 27, 2020

SOL20 Slice #27: Moments that Mattered

I am participating in the
 Slice of Life Story Challenge (SOL20).  
All participants are sharing stories about moments in their lives, writing 
 every day for the month of March 2020.
Thank you, Two Writing Teachers!

Six word poems, describing new normal.

Busy day ends, almost forgot post!

Isolation is actually busy and demanding.

So much uncertainty about this virus.

Washing my hands all day long.

Son visits, stays six feet away.

We share together but no hugs.

Change clothes for walks, not work.

Pajamas not seen on video screen.

Spend hours creating video, looks amateur.

Virtual classroom requires so much thinking.

I miss leading with my heart.

So many new tools to learn. 

Tender video calls with my preschoolers.

Office hours too restrictive - call anytime!

Preschool FaceTime means views of ceilings.

Laughter, love, caring through tiny screen.

Preschooler says "love you!", hangs up.

Notice cilantro in teeth after video.

What day and time is this?

Weekends and workdays seem so alike.

Could be worse, could be worse.

I know that I am blessed.

Moments that mattered, in small bits.

Thursday, March 26, 2020

SOL20 Slice #26: Recalibrating

I am participating in the
All participants are sharing stories about moments in their lives, writing 
 every day for the month of March 2020.
Thank you, Two Writing Teachers!

I remember, years ago, taking a drive with my husband and tween-age son to investigate a new interstate that had just opened, after years of delays and construction setbacks. It was designed to be more environmentally friendly, and we were curious to see it. We turned on our dashboard's GPS device, and made our way to the new route. When we turned onto the new highway, the GPS went wild - the 'gal inside' began stammering "recalibrating! recalibrating." The GPS had not been updated for this new highway, and from its perspective, the road did not exist. Perhaps it imagined we were driving quite fast over fields and across creeks. Lady GPS threw one command after another, "Turn left onto, make a u-turn, take the next...", as she tried valiantly to get us back onto familiar terrain. We laughed so hard at this GPS voice, and its confusion. I wondered, geez, if she cares so much about us, shouldn't she send some rescue vehicles? Well, she didn't care, of course, because she was simply a computer, detached and unfeeling, following the codes she had been given. If you don't want to listen to the GPS voice, you simply turn it off.

With this virtual learning, we have entered into a whole new world of communication and collaboration. In a way, we are all becoming computers - our communication can be stopped, started, sequenced as needed. 

It's a whole new world for team work. How do you connect deeply in this artificial framework? 

I guess I am in mourning.

I am trying to get used to not seeing my families every day, as they drop off and pick up their preschoolers. I miss all those little 'in the moment' conversations that revealed so much, and created such a loving, caring bond between all of us. I am trying to imagine what my preschoolers' day is even like, logging on to video read-alouds, pre-recorded morning meetings, and links to lessons. Ugh. 

I am grateful that this pandemic is happening in an age of so many virtual opportunities, such as "Zoom," and "Google Hangout," but the coordination and planning is challenging. One needs to think many steps ahead, and accept the 'waiting' and the disconnects.

I am trying to get used to not seeing my colleagues' faces, and not getting those visual cues as to what's on their minds, how they are feeling. I am trying to get excited about potential topics and opportunities, to brainstorm in this new reality, and I have to do this without human connection. Of course, the whole notion of accountability has changed, too. We're not showing up for a normal teaching shift...we actually have "office hours," and we have to collaborate without being physically together.  We're all at different places in terms of maturity, professionalism, emotional response to the pandemic itself, and ability to self-motivate. 

When you think about it -
No one has to answer the cell phone.
The number flashes on the screen, alerting you to who is there.
The text tells you it's her.
You can answer or ignore, deal with it now, deal with it later, or delete it entirely.
Everything is on Google Drive, ready for you to look at it, review, edit, whenever you please. Nothing really has to be done together.
Unless you choose to do so.

Everything is slowed down. Everything is stalled. My neighbor shared how he had to go to his office to work on something proprietary, something that he was not permitted to take home as work. He gave colleagues a heads up that he was going in to work very early, and he did what needed doing, carefully working all by himself. Hours later, perhaps even the next day, his supervisor came in to review the work he had done, and he, too, worked carefully, all by himself; then my neighbor was told that the work was ready for his additional input. So, my neighbor will be heading back to the office. At a separate time, of course. Alone.

We are all recalibrating.

Wednesday, March 25, 2020

SOL20 Slice #25: Mud for the Muddle

I am participating in the
 Slice of Life Story Challenge (SOL20).  
All participants are sharing stories about moments in their lives, writing 
 every day for the month of March 2020.
Thank you, Two Writing Teachers!

Walking has been such a restorative outlet for me over these past (how long has it been? six months? oh, only 12 days?) many days of isolation and physical distancing. I am blessed to live near a walking path that is adjacent to a creek. Dirt, rocks, water, trees, varied terrain...ahhh! A daily walk in nature is transformative, taking me out of my mental muddle, giving me peace and hope. Mud for the muddle! Ha! Today's slice is simply photos of some of this beauty, taken during this time of coronavirus. Plus, an acrostic...just for the play of it.

Called to be in nature
Ordinary four walls won't do
Run, walk, keeping six feet apart
Options are few but
Nature heals
Allowing me to remember the beauty and diversity of our world, and
Visual evidence that I am not separate, but connected
I am not the be all and the end all, my problems are
Really small. In fact they
Usually get even smaller or outright disappear after a 
Short or long walk in the woods.

Tuesday, March 24, 2020

SOL20 Slice #24: Moving

I am participating in the
 Slice of Life Story Challenge (SOL20).  
All participants are sharing stories about moments in their lives, writing 
 every day for the month of March 2020.
Thank you, Two Writing Teachers!

Early one morning, this enormous, long truck pulled up in front of our flat little duplex on the naval base in South Carolina, and four big, muscled men climbed out. They came into our home and started moving all our things. They wore jeans and white t-shirts. They were loud, and moved quickly and purposefully. One man had long hair, pulled back in a ponytail. One man had a beard and a pack of cigarettes rolled up in his sleeve. Their relaxed, somewhat disheveled look was so different from the Navy men that were my entire world until then.

I was five years old when they turned my world upside down. They moved all the big things first, the sofa, the headboards, the dining room table. They worked in pairs and alone, lifting furniture around the bend in the hallway, down the small front steps, and loading them into the back of the truck. One man dropped the end of a dresser he was moving, and it landed on his foot. He let out a loud "DAMN!," to which my Dad snapped - "Knock it off! There's kids around here!"

Everything was going. There were cardboard boxes everywhere, so many boxes, and they were packed up quickly, folded closed, and taped shut. The long-haired mover grabbed a doll from the floor of my bedroom, and threw it into a box he was packing. I cried "No!" and grabbed the doll in a tight hug, just before the box was closed. He smiled and began speaking to me like Donald Duck, with an "Ah, Phooey!" Dad overheard him and said, "Get to work, there's lots to do."

Now vigilant, I ran and quickly grabbed my beloved blanket from the foot of my bed. I clutched these two treasures, the blanket and the doll. I watched in wide-eyed wonder the rapid work around me. Everything was changing, everything was falling apart. These men worked all day, sweat glistening on their faces and soaking their clothes. Dad gave them cold bottles of Coke. In the end, they slammed the door of the truck closed, locked it, shook my Dad's hand, and drove away. With everything. These men just showed up and packed our stuff and ignored my protests.

I remember,
the truck came, and
everything went.

Dad promised that I would see it all again, another day. Soon. He assured me that this would be fun, that new and exciting things awaited, after our move.

All that was left was the station wagon, and it was stuffed to the brim with so many suitcases, bags, pillows, and treasures, plus five children, ages 0-10, Dad and Mom, and my blanket and my doll. These last two never left my arms. We drove up the coast, miles and miles of road. Dad and Mom drank coffee from thermoses and we ate sandwiches wrapped in wax paper, with chips. I didn't know where we were headed. I was along for the ride.

We made another home, in Connecticut. It was different in so many ways; rather than that small, flat home on the military base, we moved to a big old Victorian fixer-upper with three floors, a cellar, and a leaky, steep roof, "off-base," in town. Those first few days, we slept on the floor of the empty house, waiting for our things, watching for the truck.

Finally, it arrived, more or less. There was a small rip in the back of the sofa, a new scratch on the dining room table. Several boxes were already open, with a mish-mash of contents. I remember Dad laughing at a packed ashtray, with his cigar ashes still in it, carefully wrapped in sheets of newsprint, and he asked, "Now, what was the point of that?"

There were some things that never made it north. One box of our belongings was entirely gone, and other boxes had been picked through, with select things taken.

I had my blanket and my doll, though.

These days of dramatic change and loss are not unlike that time way back when. 
I don't know where I'm headed.
I don't know what comes next.
I am that little girl who is
to a new,
mysterious, and,
hope beyond hope,
possibly magical

I've always been able to see next as better, to see hope in the future.

What do I love that's been put away in a moving box, for some unforeseeable time?
What's in a moving box that I may not see again? 
What's gone forever?
What moving boxes fill me with hope? 
What's been put away that I would go the extra mile to find?
What is the blanket and the doll that I am holding onto tightly, right now? 
What soothes me, in this in-between time?

Monday, March 23, 2020

SOL20 Slice #23: Somewhere new

I am participating in the
 Slice of Life Story Challenge (SOL20).  
All participants are sharing stories about moments in their lives, writing 
 every day for the month of March 2020.
Thank you, Two Writing Teachers!

Somewhere New

This time of isolation, 
physical distancing, 
pandemic and unknown, 
happened so abruptly,
as if 
a stripping,
a shattering,
a mad, impulsive, wild tossing,
of all that we are.
and all those we know and love,
and all the things we do and care about,
and everything that matters, 
are like the small flecks of pretend precipitation
in someone's snow globe that 
has been randomly grabbed and shaken. 
We get to wait and 
watch ourselves land,
somewhere new.

Sunday, March 22, 2020

SOL20 Slice #22: Here's to you, Dad

I am participating in the
 Slice of Life Story Challenge (SOL20).  
All participants are sharing stories about moments in their lives, writing 
 every day for the month of March 2020.
Thank you, Two Writing Teachers!

I visit my 90 year old father regularly, and had a trip planned for the end of this week, along with two of my brothers - we were all excited to get together, and see him. Obviously, the trip is cancelled. Here I am, isolated in my home in Maryland, and Dad is isolated in his nursing home in Maine. He's very much on my mind. My oldest brother lives just a mile from the home, but that proximity isn't an advantage these days - the nursing home is closed to all visitors, as the staff tries its very best to keep out coronavirus. It is very hard, but we are just letting Dad be, trusting the nursing staff that he is doing well and that he enjoys the daily routine. He's hard of hearing, with limited vision, and the beginnings of dementia...to try to do a phone call or set up a Skype visit is incomprehensible to him; it leaves him confused and agitated. At their suggestion, we're trying to be content with simply reaching out to the nursing staff regularly, and hearing about how he is doing.

I have no doubt that Dad is doing better with this time apart than we are. He has the advantage of time being very whimsical.

On the last day of my most recent visit, I found him sitting quietly in his room in his wheelchair. I sensed he was brooding, and I bent down to give him a light kiss on his forehead, with a gentle, "Hi, Dad." He said, "What do you think Mom will do? She has to meet with the psychiatrist before she gets out, and she is refusing to do so."
Ah, time traveling.
I played right along, although Mom died a year and a half ago - "She doesn't much like to talk to psychiatrists, right?"
Him, "Oh no."
I fished for memories. "How many different hospitals has she been in? There was northern Virginia, and Charleston. Was she ever in the hospital in New Hampshire?"
Him, "I don't remember."
Me, again, softly, desiring so much more - "Did she ever talk to you about her mental issues?"
Him, "Oh, no way,  no way!" and then he just slipped into a quiet fog.

We sat quietly together in the silence.

After a few minutes, he announced - "Let's see what everybody's up to, " and wheeled himself over to the dining area and right up in the center of everyone. His new pals. I join in the fun. To sit alongside these folks in the nursing home is to travel in myriad directions, not unlike a preschool classroom, where some are present, others have wandered in their minds to someplace altogether different, and others seem to have one foot in both places. Everyone feels what they feel very strongly, right then and there, and there's an insistent undercurrent of 'hey! why don't you take care of this!! Yes, just like preschool. My biggest takeaway, the one that warms my heart during this time of isolation: Dad's happy these days. He is accepting of his lot in life, and seems to be more or less at peace with the nursing home.

Amusingly, he is very attracted to this sharp-tongued, acerbic, crusty gal who seems to not take any nonsense from him or anyone on staff. She spews sarcasm and random complaints and wonderings. When I said goodbye to him, he was seated right next to her, wheelchair to wheelchair, holding her hand. Is her edgy way, her cold, distant manner, reminiscent of Mom? Or does he like that she is feisty, with some life in her, that jumps out and sparkles, just like him? I hope she is making him chuckle.

An invaluable gift of this time of isolation is the recognition, once again, that I am not in control. I am passing through, doing the best I can, with what I've been given, with hopes for more, and goals of my own. The reality is: us. We are so interconnected, dependent on one another. We need each other. We move forward together. We trust. Dad's figured this out in these last few years. I'm seeing it now, too. This, with some deep cleansing breaths, leads to a sense of floating, a softening, and acceptance.

Saturday, March 21, 2020

SOL20 Slice #21: Taking a Trip

I am participating in the
 Slice of Life Story Challenge (SOL20).  
All participants are sharing stories about moments in their lives, writing 
 every day for the month of March 2020.
Thank you, Two Writing Teachers!

I just went on an unplanned, unscheduled trip and had so much fun. I visited several far away places, though isolated within the confines of my house. It's Saturday, and I have declared to myself that this weekend day must feel different than the preceding five days of virtual teaching and confinement: I will dabble in drawing. I will get out my drawing pencils and sketch a bit. I haven't done this in ages. This coronavirus gives me the gift of time, to pursue a hobby. 

My pastel drawing of my house
This desire was instigated by one of my preschoolers, during a Facetime call yesterday, who asked - What's that picture, Ms. Ingram?
I had forgotten that you can see 'everything' during a phone call like this! Thankfully, it was simply a picture I had drawn many years ago.
Oh, that - it's my house.
Your house?
Preschoolers don't entirely understand this virtual thing we are doing these days. I heard the incredulity in her voice - as if she wondered how I could possibly have any picture on my wall that she hadn't already seen. In all likelihood, she imagined me holed up in the school classroom, while only she was away at home.

Years ago, we moved as a family to Little Rock, Arkansas, due to a temporary assignment through my husband's work. Two years and temporary meant that I substitute-taught (oh, this was hard!), and - for sanity - I indulged myself in a 'drawing with pastels' class at the Arkansas Arts Center. I loved this class so much, that I signed up for the same class over and over again, several semesters in a row, connecting with the same fabulous teacher (Endia Gomez) and community of artists. One drawing I did was the one my preschool friend noticed - I missed my home in Maryland so much during that time in Arkansas, that I literally drew it.

So, thanks, preschool friend, for reminding me that I could take this time, in this new wilderness, to work daily on some favorite, forgotten pastimes. Hey, I could try to draw Frog! (My grandchild's nickname.) I am missing her! I don't know the first thing about drawing real people. I can draw a cartoon or two. What was the name of that amazing artist that did huge, poster-size pencil portraits of people's faces? He taught at the University of Arkansas in Little Rock? He was my art teacher's professor. He spoke with us, we were able to see an extraordinary exhibit of his work? The drawings were so detailed and finely done, they looked like large-scale black and white photographs - until you got very, very close and could see the pencil strokes. Oh, those were amazing! 

I wandered a bit on the internet, trying to find him. Then I headed to the cabinet where I store my journals, to find the ones from 2004-2006...yes, I went down a rabbit hole...

Now, fully two hours have gone by, and I never could find that artist's name. He is so clear in my heart and mind, but I cannot get the name. I have come up empty-handed, and I still haven't taken out my drawing tools, but, geez, I just had fun! I traveled in my mind, and there's something to be said for that, right?

I think I'll get in touch with my pastels teacher! Something else to pursue during these endless days ahead, right?

Happy Saturday, Slicers! Day 9 in isolation.

Friday, March 20, 2020

SOL20 Slice #20: The neighbor

I am participating in the
 Slice of Life Story Challenge (SOL20).  
All participants are sharing stories about moments in their lives, writing 
 every day for the month of March 2020.
Thank you, Two Writing Teachers!

We only saw him when the lawn needed to be mowed. He seemed to wait until the last possible minute, working doubly hard, sweating and grunting, as he pushed the mower through the too high grass. Soon after he moved in, perhaps the very first time he mowed his lawn, my husband said hello and introduced himself; we learned his name was George and that he was a network engineer. He was our new backyard neighbor. 

We didn't learn much more; he wasn't very chatty. We decided he lived alone. Certainly, no one else in his home ever ventured out back. Landscaping tasks were totally ignored, and, over time, we watched the dwarf blue spruce and other ornamental treasures become totally encased in weedy vines. Unlike the previous owner, he was not a gardener, he was not an outdoors guy.

Every now and again, I'd be in my front yard, weeding, at the end of the day, and I would see him drive by in his blue BMW, making his way around the block, so that he could approach his house from the adjacent side of the street and pull right into his driveway. He was particular like that. I always waved hello.

The years went by.

In time, we realized that the yard was so overgrown that there was no longer any grass to mow. We hadn't seen George in a long time. His yard was a forest of common morning glory, oriental bittersweet, English ivy, "mile a minute vine," porcelain berry, and, we feared, poison ivy vines. We could no longer even see the dwarf blue spruce. Many of the vines grew thick like ropes, reaching high into the sugar maple tree that divided our two yards. The vines grew every which way and all about, climbing onto our shed and fence, encroaching into our yard. We kept trimming everything right at the property line, stopping the vines' progress. A family of deer took refuge in his yard, munching on the vines and the berries, and often jumped over the fence and into our yard. They must have been sleeping under all the brambles in the long forgotten yard, perfectly hidden and camouflaged. 

This was too much. 
This was neglect. 
We needed to talk to George. 

We walked around the block, to his house, only to find a foreclosure sign.

There was no George in the backyard house anymore.

This week, the new owner began cleaning up the backyard. My husband went over to say hello, and learned that he is going to rent the house out. He buys houses and rents them. He hopes to rent to a family. He hired three young, teenage boys who attacked that yard with energy, pulling and cutting and raking the debris. Their approach was akin to throwing all your living room clutter into the front hall closet when company comes - they never dug for any roots, they simply grabbed and tossed, not even wearing any gardening gloves. After three days of hard work, the yard is visibly transformed. There are no vines hanging down from trees. The dwarf blue spruce is much taller than we remembered, and beautiful, a centerpiece to the yard. There's no place for deer to hide. 

We were superficial neighbors.

When you know more about the weeds than you do about the inhabitants, something's wrong.
When you know all about the plants and the deer and the property line, but not about your neighbor, something's wrong.

We have to do better this time. We have to be better neighbors.

Thursday, March 19, 2020

SOL20 Slice #19: Sleep-deprived

I am participating in the
 Slice of Life Story Challenge (SOL20).  
All participants are sharing stories about moments in their lives, writing 
 every day for the month of March 2020.
Thank you, Two Writing Teachers!

At a recent appointment, my doctor asked "How much sleep do you get?" I'm one of the lucky ones, I told her - I easily sleep for eight hours. I don't have trouble sleeping. I sleep deeply, and on many a night, I sleep right through. The teaching week is a challenge for me, because the alarm goes off in the five o'clock hour, and a good night sleep means getting into bed about 9pm, which is hard for me. Weekends become a time of delightful catch up.

My husband is quite the opposite. He likes to stay up late, and then he sleeps only four or five hours, and he is wide awake. Years and years ago, recognizing these differences, we set up the small room next to our bedroom as his room, his second room, his wide-awake place. When he wakes up during the night, he moves to this back room and gets comfortable on the sofa. He 'unwinds' again through reading a book, writing, or a movie on television, and then, before the sun comes up, he'll fall asleep again for a short nap. He lives a nocturnal life that I do not see.

He's also a big napper, a daily pleasure for him during retirement - and something I asked him not to share about, when I would come home from teaching so fatigued and sleep-deprived. I'm happy for him to keep that a secret!

I just had a happy flash on my granddaughter, "Frog" ...I think she may take after me in this sleep thing. She loves to sleep! At 16 months now, when she finds herself tired from all the doing at the end of the day, she walks to the bathroom for her toothbrush - signaling to her family that we need to get this bedtime show on the road. She has a sweet bedtime ritual of a book and some hugs and kisses, and then she is down for the night, not to be heard from for another twelve hours.

My doctor introduced the notion that my sleep patterns may change now that I am in menopause. Hmm. Hope not, I thought. Why bring that up? I wasn't too concerned. There might even be a silver lining, if it happens. I figure a middle-of-the-night wake up would be great for writing, right? I wonder what's on my mind during the night?

NEWS FLASH: All of my sleep habits as described above can now be labeled:

"The Time Before Isolation."

I am no longer sleeping through the night. We're only one week into this new normal, and I have trouble knowing what day it is and what time of day it is, most of the time. I am trying to keep myself on a schedule; I've been going to sleep at a more or less regular time.

I think I'm doing all the right things:

- not using my phone/computer/technology for an hour or two before bed.
- getting exercise, especially "active minutes," as my Fitbit calls them.
- slowing down, meditating, being mindful.

But, wow, something has changed. Last night, I felt absolutely wired after I laid down for the night, and I do not drink caffeine. Every new horror from the day raced around and around in my head:

We're going to throw 1 trillion dollars at this!
Let's watch our national debt go through the roof!
We're going to live this way for 18 months!
Let's cancel primaries! [Hey, what about that November election!]
What about all those people who are the working poor?!
What about those working part-time at several jobs, work that has all but evaporated in just a few days?!
What has happened to our children's ability just to play?!
What is happening to our schools?!
How do young families juggle work and childcare simultaneously?!

I tried to relax. I practiced breathing deeply. I did some anxiety-reducing moves that I learned from a workshop years ago - one example: lay on your back, then wiggle and stretch every part of your body, slowly, sequentially, starting at your toes, moving up your body. In theory, I am asleep before I get to my head. In theory, I don't repeat this practice several times in a row.

After about an hour of alertness, the next thing I knew I was waking up - and the clock said 4:15 am. Oh no! My mind was right back, racing:

Our favorite restaurants and hair salons and yoga studios are going to close for good!
Her wedding celebration cannot happen!
We might not be able to go on that big family trip this June!
Who's actually doing some big thinking right now?
How does it make sense to close borders to an invisible threat, that knows no walls?
Hey, how much more REACTIVE can we be as a government?!
How am I supposed to have trust?
Why does every message from this administration seem like a racist and superficial fix?
Who is putting any big thought into actual planning for the future?!
Look at the state of our healthcare system! Look how our politicians have piddled around on this issue for so many years now.
How can we be so unprepared for this!?
How does this country survive this?

This early morning wakeup has happened for the past several days. I have gotten up and started writing,
writing until I am sleepy again, and
then gone back to bed.

Writing into the fear,
writing until I am tired,
not finding any solutions.

Although I am writing more,
I do not like this new sleep pattern.

Maybe I have entered, "Menopausolation"?


I love sleep. My life has the tendency to fall apart when I'm awake, you know?
-- Ernest Hemingway

Wednesday, March 18, 2020

SOL20 Slice #18: A walk

I am participating in the
 Slice of Life Story Challenge (SOL20).  
All participants are sharing stories about moments in their lives, writing 
 every day for the month of March 2020.
Thank you, Two Writing Teachers!

There's something about
the grey of the day,
the mournful cry of an anonymous bird,
the need to step around dog mess that someone
didn't scoop,
so many solitary figures walking on the bike path
in the middle of a work day,
the brown, curled leaves on so many trees that
missed a winter
and so
never fell away,
there's something about all this,
that makes me want to return home from my walk
and lose myself
in a carton of chocolate ice cream.

Melancholy wind chimes
aged copper
sing in the breeze
stop me and restart me.

I see her stretch to hold her mother's hand
as she toddles beside her,
I hear him laugh as he rides fast
down the hill
on his scooter,
Now I hear the creek babble,
l see the early cherry blossoms,
the yellow and orange daffodils,
I breathe in deeply,
the fresh and fragrant new spring air,
and think
maybe I just need a cup of tea
on the porch.

going out of my mind,
getting out of my head,
finding hope,
on a walk.

Tuesday, March 17, 2020

SOL20 Slice #17: Everything is virtual

I am participating in the
All participants are sharing stories about moments in their lives, writing 
 every day for the month of March 2020.
Thank you, Two Writing Teachers!

It's St. Patrick's day, so I'm thinking of limericks.

There once was a big old pandemic
With a reach that was so systemic
We were all forced indoors
Spouse, children, and chores
And tasked to pursue academics.

I don't know about you, but my head is bursting from all the new learning I am doing, trying to do everything virtually! I participated in an IEP remotely - how do business people do these conference calls all the time? That was just a nutty experience, trying to listen to and hear from individual folks, and trying to concentrate with all the background noise.

I had this idea to read a book to the preschoolers, so that they might see my face, feel a connection from their teacher, as they hunkered down in isolation with their families. Simple, right? Make a video and put it on my class page. Oh my, this was a technical challenge for me, involving missteps and confusion.

I'm also trying to call my little sweeties on a regular basis. I've never really needed such frequent access to their telephone numbers, so I decided to create a phone list for easy access in my cellphone...well, this was much harder than it should have been. Now, I've sent out messages, and families are responding with their preferred numbers and the best times to get in touch with them...adding these individual details to my group list has just about put me over the edge!

Simple, ordinary tasks are taking me so long to do because they are done differently under these circumstances. Who knew that isolation and alone time would be so demanding?

A parent texted me about the challenges of this time of isolation with their preschooler. Their routines are totally out of whack. It is clear, already, that this time with family is not a vacation, not a weekend, not pure fun. This is hard. It's only Tuesday!

Last night on PBS News Hour, Dr. Asaf Bitton noted we're creating "a new social compact by coming together by staying apart."

I need to remember this is new for all of us. I must work on my self-talk. There is no need to feel as if I'm not doing something fast enough, or I'm doing it wrong, or I'm not doing enough.

I need to remember:
This is hard.
This is new.
This will take time.

I'll be okay, we'll be okay.

Happy St. Patrick's Day!!

There once was a writer named Maureen
Who loved to be quiet and unseen
Along came this virus
With its plan to hide us
She was alone so much that she screamed!

Monday, March 16, 2020

SOL20 Slice #16: Day Four

I am participating in the
 Slice of Life Story Challenge (SOL20).  
All participants are sharing stories about moments in their lives, writing 
 every day for the month of March 2020.
Thank you, Two Writing Teachers!

It's hitting me - I am living in a dystopia, and I have long avoided dystopias. I remember reading Brave New World by Aldous Huxley for my high school English class, and I was so troubled and distressed by it. Chilling, yes, I found it chilling.

Yet, here I am, now: unsettled, unnerved, unclear.

I'm waiting for something to arrive, visit, and depart that I cannot see or feel or smell or experience in any way except foreshadowing.

There are so many strange signs of its impending: creating virtual learning for my preschoolers (what?), nothing but empty shelves at my grocery store (am I really seeing this?), cancelled flights for vacation (are you kidding me?), the world around me shutting down (c'mon, that's closed, too?!), and yes, he's 90 and he is your father, but no one is allowed into the nursing home to visit (how can this be?!!).

And this is just day FOUR of this coronavirus isolation.

All the above is my intro to a simple poem for today:

Day Four

I stepped outside
in the early morning dark
to feel the ground.
The moon is half today.
Someone sliced it
right down the middle.
The world is half today.
No work.
No school.
No seats too close.
No church.
No parties.
No food in the stores.
No touch.
Everyone, alone.
I am not half.
I am still I.
I think.

Sunday, March 15, 2020

SOL20 Slice #15: Gifts of song

I am participating in the
 Slice of Life Story Challenge (SOL20).  
All participants are sharing stories about moments in their lives, writing 
 every day for the month of March 2020.
Thank you, Two Writing Teachers!

We found out the day before, the memorial service inside the church was cancelled. The repast to follow, also inside, was cancelled. There would be only a brief service in the cemetery, at the gravesite. The widower, although only in his 60s, has a serious chronic medical condition, making him vulnerable to coronavirus; it simply wasn't wise to go on with the traditional service. At some unknown later date, we will all be back to normal, and we will celebrate her again.

There we all were, maybe 50 of us?, gathered underneath a popup canopy at the top of a hill in the cemetery, on a very chilly afternoon. The service was perfunctory. The chaplain's voice was monotone, dull, artificial; he was going through the motions, following a scripted ritual; it was clear - he didn't know her. Everyone was pretty quiet, lost in their own thoughts. As a result of the thin fabric of my dressy clothing, the shade of the canopy, and the all-consuming sadness that permeated the air, I was shivering...I simply could not get warm. I worried about my husband, seated right at my side; he's only a very few days into recovery from surgery. We were determined to be here, we needed to support our dear friend; our immediate complaints were minor compared to the pain she had dealt with all her life, living with sickle cell anemia. She lived 68 years...that is a beautiful thing. No, not long enough, yet she never imagined a long life. There is that. 

I remember her exclaiming, 
"I never thought I'd see 40! Praise God!" 
"I never thought I'd see 50! Praise God!" 
"I never thought I'd see 60! Praise God!"

The chaplain concluded his prayers and invited people to say a few words about her. There was silence all around. No one moved for a few moments. Then, the 30-something year old son of another good friend stood up in front of us, hands over his eyes, trying to shield tears, and he choked out how she had always been so kind to him. He was so visibly sad, a woman moved from her seat and handed him a tissue. Someone called out, patiently, comfortingly, "take your time, it's okay."  He continued, sharing that he had known her all his life; she was friends with his parents since before he was born...he would see her at his parents' parties, and she was always patient and loving, always asking after him, interested in him. With regained composure, he said, "I want to offer a song." Then, he let out the most beautiful a capella rendition of Deep River, his deep baritone voice bursting out of his fragile being. What a gift, that song! 

I think this is what is meant by a moment of grace.
So beautiful. 

And grace wasn't over.

One woman let out the most heartfelt sob, at the conclusion of his song. Others, clapped. I heard an "Oh, my!" 

Followed by a moment of silence, as if people were processing the miracle that had just occurred.

Then, a Ghanian woman - the older sister of our deceased friend - began to sing, in her native language. I have no idea what was being sung, but it began quietly, like a whisper, and then rose in volume and beauty, and other women joined in with her, harmonizing. This radiant song filled the air for many minutes, another extraordinary gift of song, from the heart.

Through song, the service shifted from something ordinary and formulaic, to a very personal remembrance of this loving woman, this woman we loved.

What a blessing to have been present for this.
What a blessing to have known my friend.