Tuesday, May 26, 2020

Small bits

I am participating in the
 Slice of Life.  
All participants are writing about one moment, one part of their day, 
on Tuesdays.
Thank you, Two Writing Teachers!

It now feels almost normal to keep six feet separation from others, wash my hands and face frequently, and wear a mask when I leave my home. Here in the Washington, D.C. metro area, pretty much everyone continues to follow the guidelines for sheltering in place and social distancing, due to the fact that we continue to have many new COVID-19 cases each day. There is some good news in that these numbers are beginning to plateau, although a more marked decrease would be a true cause for celebration.

Here's a brief reflection on three small things that are true at my home these days....

1.  My stockpile of "first response" virus weapons on the kitchen counter: a bin of freshly-laundered masks, disinfectant wipes, individually-wrapped ones for any errands, and tissues. These supplies are always out - right near the sink, right as you enter my house, right at the ready. We have back ups in a cabinet, should this supply dwindle. Once upon a time, I did my best to keep the counter clear, clean, and decluttered; now, it is as if I have a small shrine at one end. 

The first line of defense for coronavirus: my kitchen counter.

2. Book stacks, at the ready. These are not books I am reading; no, these books are prepped to be the perfect height for video calls. I have a stack of books on my living room coffee table, where we sit for virtual church services. I have a stack of books in the spare bedroom, "my home office," where I do all my virtual teaching. There is a third stack of books near the cozy chair in my bedroom, for social calls with friends. Each of these books stacks just seems part of the room decor, at this point.

My living room coffee table, with books ready for "Zoom church services."

3. There's been a significant increase in animal sightings. Are we simply more aware? Is this because we are home in one place and able to take more notice? Have they always been there? The backyard birds have been amazing to watch, with many having regular routines when they visit our yard. I've challenged myself to learn their individual sounds, using The Cornell Lab of Ornithology website as a reference tool.

When we walk down one particular street, we invariably see an albino squirrel...I don't think I have ever seen one of those before, and now I can find this little guy almost daily.

Then, of course, there are deer. Just yesterday, we had a funny experience. Tony was in the backyard, trying to shoo a doe from the yard (we are doing our best to keep them from eating our tomato plants, which have just started to flower and seem to be particularly attractive to deer). He was frustrated by the deer's bold refusal to leave, as she just stood there looking back at him, when he felt a soft brushing against his bare leg - and jumped when he found two small fawns looking up at him!  Mother did not want to abandon her children.

Last but not least of the animal sightings, we believe we've found a favorite nesting spot of a great blue heron at a nearby creek..this seems special. The heron flew directly over us the other day, swooping low, seemingly comfortable and at ease to be near us. Later, looking up the possible meaning of this connection, I loved this reminder:

The Heron comes to us with a message of meditate and contemplate. You are exactly where you need to be right now in this moment! When this graceful bird crosses your path, stop and think - just pause. Sometimes that is all we need to do when we are in the middle of a chaotic situation or a difficult decision.

Wednesday, May 20, 2020

Not Built Like That

This is Day 5 of the May "Open Write" on Sarah Donovan's Ethical ELA.  
Today,  Kimberly Johnson references the book by Marlo Thomas, The Right Words at the Right Time and suggests we think about when someone's words have inspired us. I immediately remembered something my father shared with me, when I was 12 years old.

Not Built Like That

Dad heard my muffled cries
in the middle of the night, and
squeezed in next to me,
on the bottom bunk,
to hear what was wrong.
He responded with conviction and comfort,
“Oh, hon, that will never happen to you,
you aren’t built like that.”
I knew instantly, he was right.

This one miserable month,
when I was twelve years old,
I witnessed both
my mother and her mother
break with reality.
full-on psychotic madness,
followed by

By day, I was strong.
In the middle of the night,  
as the frightening images replayed,
I crumbled.
I knew,
I was next.
Only daughter, me.
Yes, I was next.
I knew.

I had solved an enormous,
terrifying puzzle
in the middle of the night, and
Dad convinced me 
my solution was wrong.
The dots did not connect.

Consoled, I went back to sleep, and
this sweet reassurance lasted
years and years,
until I was a parent myself, and
I realized,
with both understanding and appreciation,
Dad couldn’t possibly have known
I wasn't built like that.

Right words, right time.

Tuesday, May 19, 2020

Wild Morning Glory

I'm participating in a 5-day "Open Write" on Sarah Donovan's Ethical ELA.  
Today,  Kimberly Johnson inspires us with the 32nd stanza of Walt Whitman's "Song of Myself" in Leaves of Grass, which begins

I think I could turn and live with animals,

We had no restrictions or forms for our writing...except the simple suggestion to begin 'I think I could turn.'

Wild Morning Glory

I think I could turn into
wild morning glory,
I’d get out and go visiting,
weaving my way into
everyone’s garden.
I’d get up nice and close,
climbing within and about,
defying the recommended six foot distance.
I’d feel them tug on me,
so many hands reaching for me, and
I’d have not a fear in the world.
I’d get up nice and close,
burst into flower for my favorite people,
simply strangle every plant of
those folks who get under my skin.
There’d be no secrets from me,
as I sneak in and around.
I will go on and on and on,
find my way someplace new every day,
never give up,
even come back the next day
after being pried loose and away.
I’d be the bane of everyone’s existence, yet
most certainly,

I’d feel connected.

Stainless Steel Sunrise

I am participating in the
 Slice of Life.  
All participants are writing about one moment, one part of their day, 
on Tuesdays.
Thank you, Two Writing Teachers!

I've been writing more poetry in recent weeks...there's something about this pandemic that has made poetry writing very attractive, very soothing for me. 

Today, all I have is a poem...this one poured out after my morning walk...

Stainless Steel Sunrise

A stainless steel sunrise,
bright, and fixed in the sky,
a utilitarian day ahead.
All I want to do is curl up in the fetal position and
be alone in a dark room,
but the day beckons like required surgery.
I must get through it.
Let’s begin with a slow walk
beneath the weeping willow branches
stretching over the path,
feel their soft, surprising caress
across the neck and shoulders.
Notice how the wind picks up,
swoops my hair high,
shifting it from one side to another,
back and forth,
stretching me to let go.
Witness the Black-eyed Susan that has
pushed through the crack in the concrete,
fearless and not to be denied.
Smile at the small dog following his owner,
being coaxed along on his leash,
and know
I am not the only one
who finds today hard.

Monday, May 18, 2020

The Sleepover

I'm participating in a 5-day "Open Write" on Sarah Donovan's Ethical ELA.  
Today,  Kimberly Johnson introduced us to Jason Reynolds who shares about a death in his verse, The Way I Felt...we were encouraged to write one, as well. Jason Reynolds' poem was so powerful, I simply could not go deep. I decided to go light and happy.

The Sleepover

The way I felt
when you invited me
to a sleepover
     lifted by

You are four years old,
irrepressible, and
including me,
your teacher.

How did you say it?
"When this 'kona-viwus' is gone,
I want you to come to
my sleepover.
We'll play hide-and-seek, and
Guess Who? and
eat fruit snacks.
I miss you."

in this time of isolation,
I felt

Sunday, May 17, 2020

Bud to blossom

I'm participating in a 5-day "Open Write" on Sarah Donovan's Ethical ELA.  
Today,  Kimberly Johnson inspires us to channel Jericho Brown and his invention of a poetry form he calls "Duplex." I found his poetry writing to be extraordinary - and the prompt to be extremely challenging...which he describes as follows:

Here are the boundaries:
Write a ghazal that is also a sonnet that is also a blues poem of 14 lines, giving each line 9 to 11 syllables.
The first line is echoed in the last line.
The second line of the poem should change our impression of the first line in an unexpected way.
The second line is echoed and becomes the third line.
The fourth line of the poem should change our impression of the third line in an unexpected way.
This continues until the penultimate line becomes the first line of the couplet that leads to the final (and first) line.
For the variations of repeated lines, it is useful to think of the a a’ b scheme of the blues form.   

So, here goes...my first attempt at a "Duplex." I don't believe this will be my last...I found this form to be truly inspiring.

Bud to Blossom

Time is to life as bud is to blossom,
with possible wither or grow.

Is it possible to grow while withering?
Her gentle kiss, while I read, told me so.

Her gentle kiss, while I read, made me glow.
This toddler seeks only our love and laughter.

This toddler knows only our love and laughter,
though we feel loss, walls, and isolation.

Through our loss, walls, and isolation,
this sense that time has been stolen from us.

While we know that time has been stolen,
she's outside, picking flowers in the grass.

Outside, holding flowers from grass, I know
time is to life as bud is to blossom.

Saturday, May 16, 2020

No Longer Yours

I'm participating in a 5-day "Open Write" on Sarah Donovan's Ethical ELA.  
Today's writing inspiration is from Kimberly Johnson, who shares about Joe Brainard and his writing of "short anaphoristic snippets of memories, all beginning with the words, 'I Remember,' thus defining a new poetic form."

I wrote this poem after a recent conversation with my Dad, who has increasing dementia and memory loss.

No Longer Yours

I remember
your words of wisdom,
“When you’re working hard, and enjoying it at the same time,
it’s wonderful, there’s no better feeling, I think.”

I remember
encouraging you to share
stories of your work.

I remember
you could not recall.

I remember
offering threads,
“you rode your bicycle to the waterfront, to check on the shipbuilding,”
“you shipped out to sea for six months, the day before Mark was born,”
“you served in Saigon, as the war drew to a close.”

I remember
the wonder in your eyes,
your gentle response,
“That’s pretty interesting, what’s going on in that head of yours.”

I remember thinking
these are no longer your memories,

Tuesday, May 12, 2020

Zooming through

I am participating in the
 Slice of Life.  
All participants are writing about one moment, one part of their day, 
on Tuesdays.
Thank you, Two Writing Teachers!

"Maureen, would you go and get me a cranberry cocktail?," my father asked me. Cranberry 'cocktail' is non-alcoholic and a nursing home favorite - half cranberry juice and half ginger ale; at age 90, he's earned the right to drink as many of these as he wants.

The only problem was, I was on a video call with him when he asked for one! 

Dad is isolated in a nursing home in Maine, and I am sheltering-in-place in Maryland. It is really hard not to be able to visit him, and each passing week of this pandemic makes me a little more depressed, as I think, realistically, will I see him again? How will it ever feel 'safe' enough to enter his nursing home, before a vaccine is made? Will it ever feel fair to his caregivers and their families, to have visitors entering the facility on a regular basis? How long will it take to make a vaccine? 

About three weeks ago, the Activities Director at Dad's home arranged for families to make video calls to their loved ones. What a blessing this has been! Although it had been many weeks since I had seen him, that first video chat revealed my Dad in much the condition as he was when I saw him last: sleepy, his face set in a frown (always!), yet good color, healthy, clean, and relaxed. 

Dad has some vision impairment, he's hard of hearing, plus he has a little dementia (as a result of Parkinson's). He can be very confused about some things (for example, he often talks about my Mom as if she is still alive). I wondered how successful video calls would be, against these odds, but, honestly, they are a very good way to connect. When he asked me to get him a cranberry cocktail, I realized he was mistaking my image for the real thing - how great is that? The Activities Director immediately said, "I'll go get you that drink; we'll let you talk to your daughter. You don't get to see her much!" I loved how he took Dad's request seriously and in stride. 

The Activities Director is quick to make technical adjustments with each call - when Dad had trouble hearing, he got head phones; when Dad rejected these, he connected speakers to the tablet. The speakers are phenomenal, giving such great sound, and making him think I am right there with him.

One call, Dad asked me very seriously: 
"What's your evaluation of Mom?"

He had slipped back in time. 

Background story - Mom suffered from mental illness and Dad spent years asking me this same question, as if to get reassurance that she was doing well. Often, I think, he was seeking a 'pat on the back' because she always refused any and all medical help; Dad didn't fight her about this, and simply took care of her himself. If I responded, "she seems great," then I was effectively saying he was doing well by her.

Mom died a year and a half ago, so "What's your evaluation of Mom?" is a very odd question these days.

I responded gently, "I think she's calm. I think she's missing you."

He nodded his head, resignedly...perhaps, understanding.

Then I said, "What's your evaluation of you?"

He said, "What?"

I repeated the question.

He said, "I'm sad." 

Ah, isn't that the truth? Aren't we all? Isn't this hard? How are we supposed to feel anything other than sad these days?

I decided to be silly and give him a taste of his own medicine - 

"Well then, my Dad always says, you have to stand on your head and turn your frown upside down." 

This made him chuckle. 
Which I call a win.

Just like I do with my preschoolers, I have to take Dad exactly as he is, in whatever mood I find him. The Activities Director does a great job "transitioning" Dad to the call, getting him ready a few minutes beforehand, trying to get him excited and alert. It doesn't always work out. Our last video chat, he had absolutely zero interest in talking to me. He looked off to the side, not acknowledging my voice at all; I asked question after question, trying to joke with him, compliment him, using up pretty much everything in my "bag of tricks." Then I said, "Gee, Dad, you are really making me 'up' my entertainment game, today; I guess you really aren't in the mood to talk." Dad turned his face right to the screen and said, "Would you allow me to go downstairs and get a cup of coffee? Bye, Maureen."


That's called, 'being shown the door.'

Every call brings an anecdote, some surprising little nugget, a shared moment together. I am truly thankful to have the ability to video chat. 

It is so good to see him.

Tony and I "zooming" with Dad.

Tuesday, May 5, 2020

Peregrine Falcon

I am participating in the
 Slice of Life.  
All participants are writing about one moment, one part of their day, 
on Tuesdays.
Thank you, Two Writing Teachers!

It was an absolutely gorgeous spring day, perfect for a long walk. I headed down to my favorite nature path. Just as I came around one bend, I saw this amazing bird standing on the very edge of the grass, almost on the path. I froze in my place, not wanting to disturb it. I was standing about  50 yards away from the bird. It was about 15, maybe 17 inches tall. It had long wings, and these, plus the feathers down its back, were blue-grey, with specks of white, almost dotted; its breast was largely white, with orange or rust spots. It had a black, roundish head, with yellowed eyes, reminding me a little of an owl. Was it an owl? Was it some kind of owl that I had never seen? What a gorgeous bird, so distinct. I kept looking, still frozen, fearing it would fly away if I moved any nearer. Why didn't I bring my phone/camera on this walk? I needed to remember what I was seeing. Wait, was it hurt? It moved ever so slowly from leg to leg. We stood there together - separate - for a few minutes. I noticed its sharp beak, the sharp talons on its feet. Wait, maybe this was some sort of hawk? Hmm. Maybe I need to just give it space.

So I walked back the other direction, headed home, and came back with my camera, some 20 minutes later. The bird was gone, of course.

Back at home, I entered the bird's description into the old "Google Search bar," and made my way through lots of bird pictures and descriptions. I believe the bird I saw was a peregrine falcon

In all likelihood, it had just wounded some bird or small mammal, and was waiting to pounce again, when I happened upon the scene.

According to The Cornell Lab,
"In cities, they are masterful at catching pigeons."
"They often sit on high perches, waiting for the right opportunity to make their aerial assault."

Something tells me that falcon was as alert to me as I was to it, and therefore it paused in its deadly process.

I'm sure as soon as I turned around and headed home, it finished its work. That is the nature of this bird of prey, yes?

In what ways do we act as birds of prey?
Who is highly-focused, determined, ruthless?
Are there human birds of prey?

I can't help but see an analogy between this bird of prey and our current government. I am so horrified by the intentional work being done to undermine so much of what I believe is right, and, especially, how those in power are taking advantage of opportunities like this pandemic. Look at these headlines from recent weeks:

Trump administration uses pandemic to push far-right agenda

During coronavirus, the Trump administration environmental rollbacks continue

Well-connected Trump alumni benefit from coronavirus

Before COVID-19, Trump aide sought to use disease to close borders

Trump's temporary halt to immigration is part of larger plan, Stephen Miller says

Red states are exploiting coronavirus to ban abortion

Senate Republicans to push ahead on judges over Democratic objections

I will stop here; it was just too easy to find these headlines. It's as if the Trump administration has sent out a secret memo, "Quick, no one is paying attention...let's grab this opportunity right now and make all our ugly desires happen." They are sneaky, they are focused, and they are lying in wait...watching for the perfect opportunity to strike. COVID-19 gives them excellent cover. This is what my daily newspaper reading reveals...and why I find myself wanting to read the paper less during this time of shelter-in-place.

This is no time to stop paying attention.

Look how the administration spreads blame at this difficult time, using racist, divisive language and diatribe about China, cheering on the militias who protest the shelter-in-place rules, mocking and belittling others, especially women. Look at which watchdog or non-sycophant staff is being ousted or demoted on a Friday evening. Look at who is profiting during this pandemic.

Look at what those in power find time to do and what they don't do.
Look at their subterfuge.
Look at their focus.

This is purposeful cruelty. This is blatant disregard for those that truly need help.

We must all be on high alert. We must interrupt these human birds of prey, freeze them in their tracks. We need to make sure that this administration knows we are here. We must continue to protest, to speak up, and to question. We must keep our focus on what we treasure, what we value, and do not lose sight. There is so much at stake.

The peregrine falcon - this is nature, this is the way the world works, let falcons be falcons.

These human birds of prey - we have to stop them.