Trying to Hold My Shit Together, but…

All that stuff we’re supposed to do to maintain our mental health can sometimes feel like pressure, one more thing we have to do. It’s crazy how in our world with the ubiquity of advice and opinion that things like “thankfulness” are “prescribed.” The idea of counting one’s blessings isn’t new, but being bombarded by “mindfulness” advice? The insistence on gratitude and so on can make a vulnerable person feel guilty for NOT feeling grateful all the time, for feeling angry, anxious, frightened, tired, resentful, — the whole rainbow of so-called human emotions.

I’ve been wondering how I dealt with everything so much better last year when things were, in many ways much worse. I don’t think I’m alone. I don’t think (we) animals are designed for a persistent crisis — in fact a crisis CAN’T be “persistent.” A persistent crisis is not a crisis; it’s life as we know it — like “living” with the plague (as Shakespeare and pals did so long ago) or The Bomb. That’s all it is. I feel more anxious than I have felt in years, more fearful of doing anything, even going hiking with a friend in a couple of hours. I woke up nauseated and sick to my stomach. Stress? Waking up 2 hours before the alarm just to be sure I’d be ready, but I packed my little day pack and filled my hydration bladder yesterday.

And painting and writing. I look around and see 900,000,000 other people painting, most of them do better work than I do. Why should I paint at all? And writing? What futility! I remember an acquaintance asking me, “Why would you write a book? What for?” It’s difficult to remember right now that painting and writing have always been MOST important to me and maintaining a happy engagement with life — but this “persistent crisis” saps our sensibility. 2020 was a challenge of hope; 2021 is something else, but I don’t know what. And what’s with this arbitrary demarcation of spaces of time other than a traditional acknowledgement of the passing seasons? That’s ALL it is, yet we enter a new year filled with expectations and hope even IF we don’t build up a bunch of resolutions.

So I’m painting anyway, nothing grand, just Christmas tree ornaments, but it’s tranquilizing and possibly good practice and and I sold a couple in my Etsy shop. That’s a little something.

This whole thing is nuts but here we are. Sorry for whining, but, you know, if this speaks to you at least you know you’re not alone. ❤

Someone asked for a link to my Etsy site. Here it is: https://www.etsy.com/shop/MarthaAnnKennedy

Going to the Mountains…

I’ve been spending a little time with the beans. I’ve harvested four pods for seeds and am ready for next year. The beans can’t read the forecast, but they know what’s happening. The days are shortening. The nights are getting cooler. They know more about what’s happening than I do, I’m sure. It’s OK. Maybe they’re tired? I don’t think so. In the places where Scarlet Emperor beans are indigenous and the seasons are less sharply divided, they grow all year. I learned today that they like high altitudes. They are South American mountain beans.

32 F = 0 C 😦


Apparently my town recently held a “Freedom Rally” objecting to the Governor’s vaccine mandate (though it isn’t the “governor’s mandate:” it’s an emergency mandate handed down by the Colorado Board of Health) for health care workers. Signs were “Not Anti-Vaxx. Anti-Mandate” and others, the normal, I mean usual, things. The REASON the CBH made this mandate is because the voluntary stragedy didn’t work. It wasn’t the “first case scenario” it was the “worst case scenario.” Our popular but to me despicable mayor joined in. Sigh…

“At an emergency rulemaking meeting on August 30, 2021, the Board recognized that approximately 30% of the healthcare workforce in facilities under its jurisdiction remained unvaccinated for COVID-19. Using prior Board rules mandating the flu vaccine as a “baseline” for the emergency regulations, the Board found that “[w]ith the rise in the Delta variant, ensuring that all workers in licensed healthcare facilities are vaccinated is one of the most effective means the state can take to protect public health, safety, and welfare of all Coloradans . . . .” (Source)

I’ve been trying to fully understand why I’m so incredibly disaffected. This kind of thing is definitely a big factor. How is it difficult to see the concrete evidence that people who get sick might die and that this can be prevented? Why is this a question of “freedom” and “rights”? Why isn’t it a question of loving thy neighbor?

From a 1918 newspaper… I especially like “Do not think you are entitled to special privileges.”

Anyway, I’m about to go out into the wider world today, to the beautiful town of Creede to see the annual quilt show. I’d better get moving. Yeah, I’ll be wearing a mask.

Everyone is Afraid

“Fear tells us nothing,” said a (serious) boyfriend one night over a supper I’d prepared us in my apartment near the University of Denver. I was on the threshold of divorcing the Immature X who didn’t live with me. I guess my boyfriend thought I was afraid of divorcing the Immature X. But what I feared was the Immature X (with good reason). It’s pretty fuzzy at this point.

I thought about that over the years, though. Did fear really “…tell us nothing”? I think fear is pretty informative.

BUT… Fear can certainly keep us from exploring to get answers to questions we really don’t want the answer to. We humans seem to envisage bad news more readily than good news.

A few years AFTER that, neither the Immature X nor the boyfriend in the picture, I was reading Hemingway. He writes a lot about fear, making the point that without fear we don’t need courage. The fearless person isn’t brave. Now I think that the person who appears fearless is probably terrified, defiant or stupid. It’s just the people who are NOT that person who think he’s fearless. Hemingway defined courage as, “Grace under pressure.” That worked for me.

Seven years ago I was 48 hours away from leaving California after living there for 30 years. I was leaving a house I loved in a place I loved (and still miss). If I’d had a real choice I wouldn’t have left, but I didn’t have a choice. Everyone around me at the time commented on my courage to take off alone across the desert to a town in which I didn’t know anyone and where I did not have a place to live. I kept trying to explain that it wasn’t courage; it was necessity, but I don’t think they understood that. One of my friends thought I was doing it to spite her!

You learn a lot about people when you’re under duress. People hate having their status quo messed up and will look for someone to blame before they’ll listen to what’s really going on.

The reality was that I was afraid of losing everything as I’d lost my job through no fault of my own. Time was NOT on my side ($$$$$$) and I had to GET OUT OF there. I wondered if everyone around me was so well placed that their lives couldn’t be upended. But the past year or so has shown that any life can be upended.

If I could talk to the boyfriend about fear now, I think it would be a very interesting conversation. The ONE thing he should have feared. he didn’t know about. I think danger is often like that. We face blind curves all the time. The unknown is just that. Knowledge is the only thing we have with which to face all the booby-traps and pitfalls. I guess it was yesterday I read about the two parents who died of Covid-19, leaving behind 5 kids, one of which is a newborn that neither parent ever saw and who remains unnamed. The reason those parents had not been vaccinated? “They wanted to know more about the vaccine before they had the shot.” I truly do not know how to feel about that other than that, in fact, I don’t have to feel anything about it other than sorry for their family. ❤

Excellent Blog Post from a Bike-rider and Occupational Therapist in a COVID Unit

“COVID cases are on the rise again and I just finished another tour of duty on the COVID units. Most of my patients this week were not vaccinated. I was vaccinated in December and January. While it is true that I am now magnetic, that’s just my personality and I was that way before the vaccine;) If you have seen the videos of people purporting to prove that the vaccine makes one magnetic, they are either more ignorant than I think they are, or they just blatantly dishonest. The videos show people sticking non-ferrous metals to their skin and claiming it is because the vaccine made them magnetic. I have duplicated that with a penny, bobby pin, paper clip, money clip, button, and a Post-It note. Only one of those would have stuck were magnetism at play. Lest you think I did anything heroic this week, I was safer in this gear (and the sanitation process I go through as I enter and leave each room) than you are if you go into a store, restaurant, or bar (especially if you don’t wear a mask, or anyone else in there doesn’t). You don’t know if you are near someone who is positive. I do.”

Covidiots

Yesterday I read a letter in the local paper written by a man whose wife was a nurse in a Covid unit in an even smaller and more remote part of Colorado. She’d treated a man who was a Covid denier, who subscribed to several conspiracy theories. He demanded the hospital remove his oxygen because Covid was a hoax and he didn’t trust the ventilator. He was dead in 20 minutes. The man writing the letter to my local paper was begging us in Monte Vista to care for one another by getting vaccinated.

I had lunch a couple days ago with an old friend who believes two OTHER old friends (who are pretty fucking stupid though not evil) that vaccines are bad, the Covid vaccine is particularly bad, and ultimately COVID-19 will (poof!) all go away. Her politics are farther left than mine. These friends are passionate anti-vaxxers. She explained to me that she spent a lot of time on Youtube watching virologists and she was better informed than most people as a result. I didn’t answer but I thought, “Who needs an expert like Dr. Fauci or YouTube or anything to tell them that life is better than death? Any crawling creature with a microscopic brain knows that.” 

And what kind of friend puts an idea, a mere belief, above the life of their friend?

I have a doctor friend who recently made the comment that the virus is real but also sensationalized. I agree with that. Trump did that, destroying peoples’ ability to calmly and rationally evaluate the situation even WITHOUT experts.

People seek out opinions that confirm their biases and their ignorance and don’t reflect inside themselves even for a moment, “What IF the virus is real? What IF I were to get it? Do I KNOW for sure it wouldn’t make me sick? Make my dad sick?” Erring on the side of caution only makes sense.(But many of these people believe that vaccines are reckless and dangerous).

Those who cite statistics as evidence against the potency of the virus are not even thinking that contracting the virus is not a game of craps. It’s two objects taken one at a time. The probability is not 1/6 or 1/12 or 1/10,000 but 50%, increasing with certain circumstances. I’m not smart, especially math smart, but I did get an A in math one quarter (in 8th grade) when we did irrational math and probability theorem.

It’s weird living around people who view themselves as members of a numberless herd and their life or death as a statistical problem. All this without even considering the various end results from death to permanent physical damage — all of which is unknown when a person contracts the virus.

I’ve been really blue for the past week or so, part of it is the injured shoulder (which is healing well) and the resulting bad sleep, part of it is a three day migraine, partly because I really don’t like being an elderly lady (I am), but some of my blues is related to the fact that part of me can’t believe this is still going on. I hate what I’ve had to learn about people in the pandemonium of the past 18 months.

I thought yesterday about the polio vaccine and how it was received by people — both literally(I had a shot and a sweet, cherry-flavored drink, both) and emotionally (Yay!!!!! Praise Jonas Salk!!!). I played with a couple of kids back then who’d had polio. One was in leg braces and used arm crutches. One of my cousins had also had it, and it was touch and go for a while. When she recovered, her growth had been stunted, and her legs were no longer straight. From THIS promontory I could only imagine the fear parents must have felt back then. And then, of course, President Roosevelt… Maybe if COVID 19 maimed children and disabled presidents it would be more believable?

I don’t know how this will eventually evolve. From time to time I notice the political shenanigans in Texas and Florida. My part of Colorado is full of people from Texas in summer — nice friendly people, but???

I’m very tired. I know I’m not alone.

A little light shone into this cave day-before-yesterday when a young woman watched my Youtube lecture on how to write a memoir and needed help understanding the Ppt. We had a conversation and it really helped her. It was that magic of teaching (again). I recently sent a friend a daily planner for teachers that says “Teaching Is the Greatest Act of Optimism.” I don’t know anything about the woman I helped with her homework other than she was trying to learn something. Right now that is worth so very very much.

The Times of our Lives are a Little Weird

We’re looking ahead at 6 days of cool weather and — gasp — rain. This is a very wonderful prognostication, as I’ve attempted to explain to Bear, not just for farmers but for us because it means that, maybe, probably, we can go out into the world at the time we like to. Sunset hikes/walks are lovely, but not the favorite for either of us.

What else?

Nothing. No more excitement, no road trips, no galleries to peruse. It’s OK. I know I’ll get better at this “normalcy” and it won’t drag me out when I go visit it. Truly, yesterday I felt like I’d returned from a long journey in another country.

And, while writing another Covid post isn’t my dream of a lovely morning, we’re having a flare up here in the San Luis Valley. I had the unpleasant discovery that only 23k of the eligible people who live here have had at least one shot. In my county it’s just under 40% and I’m fairly certain the other 60% will not be getting vaccinated. Some other counties have an even lower rate of vaccination and are enduring the flare up.

Things have gotten back to “normal” anyway, with small rodeos all over the place, and the big events that didn’t happen last year are happening this year. I was happy to hear the high school band practicing last week for the parade that’s part of the Ski (sky) Hi Stampede (rodeo, carnival and fair here in Monte Vista), but I also felt some concern. That so many people are ignoring science makes me feel bad for all the nurses and volunteers who’ve set up “Covid Events” all over Heaven trying to reach people. The reality is that there are plenty of people here — well, not all that many actual people here, but among the people here — who believe Trump won the election and all that goes with it.

The bizarre double-standard that has accompanied this is so weird. I used obscenities when responding to a tweet by my alleged congresswoman and for that Twitter banned me. I thought to myself, with Old 45 in mind, “If someone in power is tweeting abusive language that’s not using obscenities and is telling outright lies that affect people’s lives, that’s OK.” And I thought, “That bitch wears a Glock on her thigh, and she’s upset by my LANGUAGE?”

She’d posted a photo of a young man in an airport in Minnesota who was holding paperwork written in Spanish. She wrote, “The Border has moved all the way to Minnesota thanks to Biden’s failed border policies” or something very close to that. Well, first there IS a border with another country in Minnesota. Second, she didn’t know who that young man was. Here is my “offensive Tweet.”

When I clicked “Remove” I got a message telling me that if I did this again, I’d be permanently expunged, exiled, from Twitter. But IS that a punishment? I was tempted to attempt to do worse, but then I thought that’s like rising to the provocation of the playground bully and I deactivated my Twitter account. Of course, Twitter KNOWS it’s addictive and doesn’t delete an account until there’s been no activity for 30 days. That’s really not going to be a problem for me.

Some time over the past year I “moved” away. I don’t know how to explain that other than I started living as an ex-pat in this foreign country. I realized that as I drove over the mountain and saw again this beautiful valley that I love so much. I thought, “It’s you, me, and the dogs, valley.”

Meanwhile, I have to mow the lawn. “Thanks for hearing my confession,” as my friend Denis Joseph Francis Callahan would say after I listened to him rant. ❤

I just got a text, a little poem from a woman I met at the Refuge last year. We always meant to go for a walk together, but both of us were hesitant. Life is wonderful and yet very strange.

“Normal?”

Last night I read a CNN article written by a therapist — John Duffy — that described people who weren’t all that anxious to return to “normal” life after the pandemic was over. “These people thrived in pandemic isolation — and aren’t ready to return to ‘normal’ socializing.”

The writer essentially labeled such people as “socially anxious” and described it as a kind of pathology. Personally, I don’t think being reluctant to wander around in a world in which a deadly pandemic is flying around is pathological but definitively sane. I know that social avoidance CAN be a problem for people, but not all people who are not super eager to return to “normal” life are struggling with a mental health issue. One thing the article never mentioned was people like me who do things — enjoy things — that you just don’t do with a bunch of friends or out in the world.

I remember very well the night I typed the last word on the finished rough draft of my first novel, Martin of Gfenn. I had little time to work on it — an hour or so in the evening which made the finished (ha ha) draft very repetitive because I had to catch up where I’d left off. Anyhoo I shut down my computer (an old Apple) stood up and wondered where everybody was. I’d spent so much time with all these interesting people, the characters in my book, and now my house was completely empty. It was one of those moment in life when you think there should be champagne and a big celebration but my house was empty (except for six dogs). That’s when I realized that to write I’d have to accept a kind of solitude most people might never even know.

At the same time, I’d had this incredible experience that was impossible to share with anyone. I’d written a novel. I’d brought my story, my vision, for Martin (the character) into real life. I’d done the work, the immense research, all of it, the library time (back then). Because of my book, I KNEW people who’d lived in the 13th century. The experience catapulted me into a different Martha, but I couldn’t share that, either. I remember sitting in my living room thinking, “If you’re going to do that, you’re going to have to accept solitude.”

My mom had social anxiety and she was always afraid her kids would, too. It was one of the reasons she didn’t want her two artistic kids to be artists. “You’ll always be alone.” But she didn’t know. Maybe the great designer puts each of us together exactly right for who we are.

I don’t dispute that there are people with social anxiety and that maybe it’s a problem for them (it was for my mom because she wasn’t happy). But not all people who are less than eager for a return to “normal” life fit into that slot. I came to understand this when I was teaching. There were meetings in which NOTHING happened. Problems weren’t solved. Some people talked and some people didn’t. I seldom did. Then someone would end the meeting and invariably say, “This was a good meeting. Thank you so much for sharing your concerns.” They would point to a list they’d written while the talkers were talking.

Two things went through my mind. First, only the concerns of the people who’d spoken up were on that list. Second, the REAL reason for the meeting had nothing to do with solving problems. These people just needed to get in a room together and yammer at each other. The act itself was meaningful to them. For me it was a complete waste of time. When I felt something needed to be changed I’d go find the person who could change it and talk to them or write them so they could share my thoughts clearly and compellingly laid out rather than in an emotion-laden rambling rant.

Social anxiety or not, we’re stuck in the world with each other and extroversion is “normal.” Many an introvert (like me) has no particular social anxiety, it’s just that “out there” is tiring and requires effort that being alone probably requires for the extroverted. I have friends who’ve had significant stress during the past year because they have been precluded from doing the things that they love to do. They’ve engaged socially much more than I would (or did). For them the risk of NOT engaging was worse than the risk of getting ill.

“A year ago, most of us could not imagine a world in which we not only didn’t have to go to work, school, restaurants, concerts and churches, much less that any such activity would be forbidden. And my socially anxious clients have now been basking in a wholly false sense of security for the better part of a year.”

https://www.cnn.com/2021/04/09/health/social-anxiety-post-pandemic-life/index.html


In other words, the world in which the socially anxious are comfortable can’t last. They don’t own the world.

And then…in reality when I was 12, and had to give a prayer at church, in front of the congregation, I passed out, fell on the floor, humiliated myself and my mom. I was THAT afraid of public speaking. I knew even then that I could not live the life I wanted if I was that afraid to stand and say my say. I worked hard to overcome that. The moment I knew I HAD overcome that happened almost 40 years later, when, at the invitation of one of my students, I gave a lecture (one I’d given to this student’s class) on overcoming the fear of public speaking. There were 300 students in that room waiting to hear me. Some were there because it was required or extra credit for their communication class; some were there because they wanted some hope. They, too, knew they couldn’t go forward in their lives without overcoming that. I had a good slide show and a good speech. I also wore clothes in which my armpit sweat wouldn’t show because yes. I was terrified. But what’s the point of terror like that? There is none. It was a bit of an operation to set up and prepare, but…

I gave my speech. It was well accepted, applauded. Then, afterward, when nearly everyone had left and I was packing up my stuff, a young woman came to talk to me. She was so nervous her face was shaking, her hands were damp and shaky, too.

“Can I ask you something?” she ventured.

“Sure.”

“Did you REALLY get over being afraid?”

“No.” I slipped off my jacket. My pit stains went to my waist.

“How do you do it? I never imagined you were nervous.”

“I had something important to say,” I told her. “More important than how I felt when I started to speak. That’s my secret. I think of what I have to say and who needs to hear it. And, I prepare. And I know that whatever happens, it’s not going to kill me.”

She wrote all this down, no longer shaking. Then, “Thank you, thank you so much. I think you helped me.”

ONE person in that room NEEDED that message. Was her personality a pathology? No.

But after that…I gave several papers at conferences and all the normal things that were part of my life and job, but I was (with the exception of my book reading in 2019) never nervous again. Social anxiety — which I believe everyone has — is not “abnormal.” It’s human.

De-compressing, continued.

I spent the morning cleaning up half of the front yard before the wind came up. Tomorrow is supposed to be chilly again so Bear and I will be free. While few cranes remain in the Valley, a few flew over me this morning.

As I have been maybe subconsciously involved in decompressing from the past five years, and the last year in particular, I’m sometimes overcome with realizations of what’s happened and the emotions that go with them. Today it was the realization that more than half a million people died in this country from Covid-19. That’s an incomprehensible number. That statistic — like a lot of other things — I pushed down inside because there was nothing I could do about it, no way to change it, no way to understand, no useful way to express my anger at Trump for his cavalier handling of the virus (i.e.“And I said to my people, slow the testing down.” -Donald J Trump, April, 2020), no way to provide knowledge to the people — doctors and nurses — who were struggling to save lives and comprehend a new and unpredictable illness at the same time. How must they have felt when their ignorance led to deaths? And it did, through no fault of the doctors or nurses. When my cousin got sick, it was late enough in the disease’ trajectory that the hospital knew pretty well what to do.

A friend I was talking to earlier said, “Remember Anderson Cooper when the number hit 200,000? His face was red, he was so angry and so sad.”

I do remember that, though, like a lot of things over this past year, it was pushed away in the bin of “SEP” — the “somebody else’s problem” forcefield from the Hitchhiker’s Guide, a forcefield that renders things invisible. It’s a useful tool when there really is NOTHING you can do to ameliorate a situation or solve a problem and it’s really NOT your problem, but I’ve had to use it too much in the past 12 months. Along with the “problem” I hid my feelings from myself.

Yesterday morning, I went looking for my copy of Goethe’s Faust. My thought was to write about Easter as depicted in the opening act of the play. It’s beautiful and Eastery, but as soon as I started reading, I knew I wasn’t going to post about that on Easter, and I didn’t.

I haven’t read Faust in many years. As I plunged into it yesterday, I felt a real sense of calm. This is good work written by a man with serious questions struggling with fiction/drama using an ancient “hero” (Faust) to confront a lot of big questions. One of the questions early in the play is the limits of human knowledge. Faust’s father was a doctor (as is Faust) and when the public thanks him and his father (posthumously) for the good work they did in saving people from the plague, Faust backs away from their gratitude, telling his student, Wagner, that he is sure his father and he killed more people than they saved, not out of malice but out of their ignorance.

“The medicine was there, and though the patient died,
Nobody questioned: who got well?
In these same mountains, in this valley,
With hellish juice worse than the pest.
Though thousands died from poison that I myself would give
Yes, though they perished, I must live,
To hear the shameless killers blessed.”

It made me sad to read that.

If you know the story of Faust, he ended up selling his soul to the Devil to finally find out the ultimate truth behind the phenomena of nature. Christopher Marlowe’s Faust hasn’t stayed with me except as a good story well-told and entertaining. Goethe’s is, I think, more complex. Faust struggles with the fact that the Devil turns out to be a pretty superficial little shit who leads him into temptation without helping him understand anything or get closer to the answers he seeks.

Goethe’s love of nature shines in everything I’ve read, and so, here is this beautiful, resonant thing that is the truth about humans and why, maybe, we thank the doctor for having done the best he/she could and we move on, letting the dark pain emerge when and as it will. Anyway, it speaks for me as did the small group of late cranes calling out as they flew over me this morning, above the low clouds, where I could not see them.

“Our body grows no wings and cannot fly,
Yet it is innate in our race
That our feelings surge in us and long
When over us, lost in the azure space
The lark trills out her glorious song;
When over crags where fir trees quake
In icy winds, the eagle soars,
And over plains and over lakes,
The crane returns to homeward shores.”

Goethe, Faust Part I


Band-Aid

Communication is challenging, and yesterday I had some experiences that reminded me how difficult it is, maybe especially in writing, but I’m not sure about that. I think voice and 3D are fraught with dangers, too. I have a friend with an old Golden retriever. The dog is having trouble going up and down the small flights of stairs in my friend’s house. The friend is anxious that he’s going to have to put the dog to sleep soon.

I said, “I was thinking that B doesn’t get a lot of exercise. Maybe if you just started taking him on short walks he’d regain some muscle. It would help with his arthritis, too.” (I know this because I have arthritis.) My goal — to give my friend something positive to do with his dog that might help (and his dog might like). I got?

“Why are you always telling me what to do? I don’t want to argue.” I wasn’t telling him what to do, and I wasn’t arguing. BUT to assert that would lead to an argument AND whether or not he walked his dog wasn’t my business. I remembered again that, in one way or another, we’re all fucked up.

A couple more experiences like that via my blog yesterday, and, this morning I realized (again), “It’s very very difficult to make sense to other people. Everyone (me too) is in their own head, and we don’t always (ever?) understand what another person says.” That’s why we often think, “I wish I’d said this instead of that.” It’s possibly exacerbated because in the last year we’ve all lived a lot more in our own little worlds added to the increasingly polemical and aggressive social and political culture everywhere. So much of my social life has been here on this blog.

This morning the band-aid fell off the site of the vaccine, and I was happy to see it is a yellow band-aid with Daffy Duck on it. The side effects are a sore arm and a little tiredness. The backbone seems fine.

https://ragtagcommunity.wordpress.com/2021/02/21/rdp-sunday-backbone/