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/

Are You Different Now, Too?

As we move steadily forward to the moment when we sit in our car or sit on a chair and a masked person jabs a needle into our arms, step one on the road to the “return to normalcy,”I wonder, “Are you the same person you were in January 2020?” because I am not.

I’m pondering the ethics of signing up at two or more places for the vaccine so I can be sure to get it. Others do this; I haven’t. Why not? I was a little surprised to discover that I just don’t want it that badly. That led me into a chute of questions, notably, “Why not?” I’m not an anti-vaxxer or anything like that. I know I won’t get the “mark of the beast” from it (as some very far out there people actually believe). So what’s up?

My friends are eager to return to social interaction. I love my friends — truly — but? Am I THAT anti-social that I’d rather live with a deadly virus floating around than have house guests? Not hardly…but

I remember little Martha Ann who, after a day at school just wanted to go into her room and close the door. I remember an older version of that same girl who, on weekends, when the grading load was not burdensome, reveled in the thought on Friday night, “I get to do whatever I want.” The struggle to find solitude — productive solitude — has been a lifelong quest and these months with their restrictions actually seem to have given me PERMISSION to stay in my room. Finally.

Not like I haven’t gone out AT ALL. I have and it’s been great each time, but it’s different.

I’ve learned that:

1) Much as I love the kids, I don’t want to be their grandmother or anything like it. I don’t want the responsibility. I just want to talk to them when I come back from a walk with Bear.

2) I really like to paint and while some painters of the past have been pretty social about it, I don’t know how a studio artist like me is going to be that kind of artist. I have loved knowing that there won’t be any demands on me AT ALL while I’m painting. (I KNOW this is tied to my mom’s rather aggressive distaste for her kids going off by themselves and making art. She hated it and made sure it was never easy for my brother or for me. Childhood never ends completely in some of our life’s dimensions.)

3) I’ve always preferred communicating by writing to communicating by talking. The Pandemic has been great for that.

There’s more, but I’ll leave it here. So is it really about the vaccine or is it about not wanting to revert to the person I was before? In a way, it’s as if the world has had to follow the rules by which an introvert lives by nature.

But then, like everyone, I’m tired of this. Part of me just thinks, “If this is life now, OK, let’s just say so and get on with it.” The election was exhausting. The events after even worse. Maybe I’m experiencing the resignation that follows disillusionment, I don’t know.

So, I know about me but I sincerely want to hear about others. Have you seen changes in yourself or your life through this whole thing that you want to maintain?

Complex vs. Simple Compassion

“Love and compassion are necessities, not luxuries. Without them, humanity cannot survive.” Dalai Lama

Compassion is the key to everything, but as I had to learn the hard way, it doesn’t always feel good. I always thought of compassion as being nice to people, seeing their side, walking a mile in their shoes, but at a certain moment in my life I realized it might not mean “being nice” at all.

Being nice is easy. You do the nice thing and walk away feeling good about life the universe and everything — and ones self. But then…

My alcoholic brother.

“You think you’re being compassionate by taking care of him, paying his bills, listening to him on the phone, all of that, but it’s taking a huge toll on you, or why would you be here?”

My therapist.

“But I have to help my brother.”

“Who said? Are you helping him? Is he better because you pay his electric bills? Maybe you’re hurting him.”

I had a whole week to think about that — or hike and run about that.

I got my therapist’s point, and I even saw what I had to do, mechanically. I even saw that my “help” was just helping him NOT recover from alcoholism, and that if I really wanted to help him, I had to stop “helping” him. After that, it wasn’t just me mechanically not “helping” him any more. I had to deal with myself, and that has taken decades. I’ve thought a lot about compassion. Ultimately, compassion is self-care.

We live in a historical moment where compassion is simple. It doesn’t demand therapy or making the excruciating decision to let one’s glorious, talented, beloved little brother go wherever he has to go on his own. It just means we wear a mask when we’re around others to inhibit the spray of germs that issues from our mouths when we speak or breathe. Just this could keep businesses open, could keep people out of hospitals and could save lives. Heroic. But NOoooo. It’s political. Wearing masks inhibits our “freedom” and tramples our rights.

We call people heroes when they pull someone from a burning car wreck, save a child from drowning in a pool, give a kidney to a stranger, but here we are needing government officials to enforce behavior that would make all of us heroes if we just had the compassion to strap a stupid fucking piece of cloth across our nose and mouth.

Here are some smart words and thoughts from a kid.

https://ragtagcommunity.wordpress.com/2020/11/20/rdp-friday-compassion/

Island of Tranquility in the Midst of National Idiocy

The virus chugs on, the president denies he lost an election, 15 counties in Colorado go to the arbitrarily (?) designated “Level Red” which, when I looked it up only means:

According to the state, ‘level red’ indicates severe risk and is reserved for counties with high levels of transmission, hospitalizations, and positivity rates related to COVID-19. Under this level of restrictions, most indoor activities are prohibited or strictly limited. Among major changes with the shift to ‘level red’ includes a drop to 10 percent capacity at gyms and fitness centers, an 8 PM last call for alcohol, and the closure of indoor dining. 

Surprised that this “Level Red” wasn’t much of a “thing” I saw that we now have an additional level which is “Level Purple.” At that point people would be told to stay at home. It is “a level of more extreme risk than ‘level red’, reserved for counties where hospital capacity is at extreme risk of being overloaded.

I also learned yesterday that scientists have discerned that the virus probably DIDN’T originate in Wuhan, but somewhere in Italy. Va bene.

Such is life in America this morning, November 18, 2020. On a visceral level, since the beginning of this shit show, I’ve “thought,” “Avoid people as much as possible. Wear a mask if you must be around others.” Seems obvious to me, but for some it’s easier said than done.

That said, yesterday my neighbors and I took our little two-car caravan out to the Wildlife Refuge for a saunter. More cranes have arrived. It was a cloudless day with no wind. There was a couple there with a leashed dog so part of our walk was spent taking detours to avoid them. Bear really does not like other dogs. My friends are so amazing that they just went along with the bizarre little circuitous wandering we had to do at the beginning of the walk. It’s not like it was really punishment. We walked in splendor wherever we were.

As always, my neighbor’s husband and I were far behind the girls. We’re just slower. We noticed the girls had stopped ahead of us and were staring into a field. I knew why. There’s a big field with a small pond and the cranes LOVE it.

It was the time of the afternoon when the cranes go from the refuge to a barley field across the street so we were regaled with many large swoops of cranes taking off from this field, flying around us and off. We all stood there a long time watching the magic and talking about life right now. It was a beautiful afternoon, the kind you know belongs in a glass globe on a shelf so whenever you need a good day you can have it again.

https://ragtagcommunity.wordpress.com/2020/11/18/rdp-wednesday-visceral/

My Submission to a Local Literary Magazine

Tasked to write about “A year like no other,” this is what I submitted. It’ll be nice to see my grandfather’s story in print if they accept it. ❤

The Hole in the Ground

We’re surrounded, inundated, addicted to, swamped by, trampled under, a cacophony of noise, news, social media, opinion, some presented intelligently, logically, some mindless, emotion-driven noise. I keep very quiet about a lot of things right now in this world of absolute, black and white, all or nothing points of view. I miss calm and rationality, and I wonder if I miss something that never existed. Some of the people I love most espouse views I deplore. Out of love, I hold my peace. We’re all in the same boat there. From my perspective, facts and science are too often ignored in what I see as a rebellion against reality. These tiring puzzles swarm around us like yellow jackets at a hummingbird feeder. 

Now I’m tasked to write a story about “a year like no other.” I’ve thought about “our year,” of course, our hardships. The thing is, humanity has lived through worse. My parents and grandparents lived through worse.

I have photographs to prove it. They were the “typical” pioneer, westward moving people, starting in the seventeenth century when the first one was shipped to Barbados from Scotland as a prisoner of war and worked as slave on a sugar plantation. At some point, for some reason that I do not know, he got his freedom, moved to Maryland, set himself up as a tobacco farmer then slave-owning planter, had children, some of whom didn’t stay home, but pressed westward across the Cumberland Gap, and so it went. Others? Arrived at different times. Some, Mennonites from Switzerland, arrived in 1743 escaping decades of religious persecution. Others fled the “starvin’” in nineteenth century Ireland, others hunger in Sweden. It’s the story of a lot of us.

My mother’s parents left their farms in Iowa to settle in Montana in the early twentieth century. Among their notable achievements was the founding of the first cemetery in Belfry, Montana. Why? Because their little boy died of pneumonia. Childhood mortality was a common feature of life until, well, today. My heart-broken grandmother couldn’t bear to stay in the beautiful valley (through which runs a tributary to the Clark’s Fork of the Yellowstone River), so they moved east, to Montana’s high plains near Hardin, Montana. 

My grandmother — descendant of those Mennonites — and my grandfather — descendant of that Maryland planter — scraped out a life during the Great Depression. The whole family — parents and nine kids —  lived in a two-room log/sod house. They rented it and worked the farm for someone else. Down the road was the well where my grandmother filled the family cistern, a huge wooden barrel fixed to a sledge and pulled by the family’s two Percherons.

The horses were their livelihood. At one point, my grandmother supplemented what they made from the farm by driving the horse drawn school bus to pick up the farm kids and take them to school.

My grandmother and the horse-drawn schoolbus. Six of those kids are hers.

“At school, the town kids got hot chocolate for the snack,” my mom  — who was born in 1920 — used to tell me. “Because we were poor, they gave us vegetable soup. It wasn’t fair. We were poor, but we never went hungry. We lived on a farm. We had lots of vegetable soup, but we never had hot chocolate.” Their clothes were made of flour sacks and passed from kid to kid as were their shoes. My mom told the “uphill in the snow at forty below” stories, but I know the place, and those stories were true. Closing school for snow days or until it was 10 above zero? That wasn’t part of my mom’s life.

Every December, my grandfather read James Russell Lowell’s poem, “Snowbound” to his family, and got them through the winter by reading from Les Miserables by Victor Hugo every evening. Reading aloud and reciting poetry were their entertainment. They had no electricity.

Like any kid, I got sick of hearing my mom’s stories about the Depression, but they sank in. I grew up with a sense of gratitude for the advantages I’ve had, among them that my mom grew up in a family that valued education. 

My dad’s story was a little different. His granddad came over as a child from Ireland and ran away from home (Philadelphia) to work on ships that sailed the Great Lakes. He married a French/Finnish/Canadian woman and they ended up in Missoula, Montana, where they had two kids. My great-granddad was the sheriff of Missoula for quite a while. My granddad married the daughter of two Swedish immigrants. My grandmother’s mom, still in her 20s, died of diabetes, leaving behind three kids. My dad’s background was comparatively “urban” — his dad was a building contractor and store owner in Billings, Montana. My dad signed up for the army when he was 17, but he never saw action. His dad signed up, too and spent the war in the Aleutians. 

So here were these people — my people, all of our people — living ALL of this — drought, economic depression, world war, diseases with no cure, for which there was no vaccine, a world where stepping on a nail could kill people, where many had experienced the Spanish Flu epidemic, where kids died of polio or were crippled for life, living through the fear and deprivation brought by a World War. Like our world, it was a time of rapidly expanding technology (cars, typewriters, telephones, electricity, refrigeration, vaccines, antibiotics). I was always amazed that my Mennonite grandmother lived her whole rural, horse-driven life and then, in 1958, sat with six year-old me in a big easy chair to watch Sputnik on a black and white TV. She never got used to the telephone. When it rang she invariably jumped up and cried “Oh my Lord!” She sang hymns all day. 

In 1941 my grandfather (the descendant of the Maryland planter) wrote a short story that is a “photograph” of his world. It’s also the best short story I’ve ever read. Here it is:

The Hole in the Ground

S.A. Beall, Hardin, Montana, 1941:

Between my place and town there is a hole in the ground. A long time ago I noticed some boys digging. I stopped and looked. A small hole. They built a fire and I furnished the marshmallows. We roasted them and then they forgot the hole in the ground. Some played marbles and some flew their kites, but the next spring a new bunch of boys enlarged the hole, built a fire, I furnished the marshmallows and by then it was time to play marbles and fly their kites so year after year a new bunch of boys would enlarge the hole and finally we organized a club. We named it the hole in the ground. I was too old to dig so they elected me an honorary member with the title “Dad.” Every spring a new bunch of boys dig until the hole is big enough for a basement and then came Pearl Harbor. I would go to the depot to see the boys leave. Just boys they shout, “Bye Dad.”

S. A. Beal sometime in the 1950s with a cow and a calf, Billings, MT

So is this “a year like no other” or is it par for the course? I do know that thinking of the brave, tough, kind, enduring people from whom I’m descended has given me both hope and perspective when I head out the door to pick up my pre-ordered groceries, stuff a mask in my pocket, or meet my friends for a socially-distanced “Covid Tea Party” in which everyone brings their own drink. In those moments we suspend our moment and enjoy conversation and friendship and, when it’s over, we say, “That was wonderful. Thank you. We need this. It keeps us sane.” When it comes down to it, in our brief historical moment, the greatest gift we have is the love and friendship we bear for each other. 

“What? You didn’t write about the debate?”

Generally, The Washington Post series on coping with the pandemic has been pretty irrelevant to me. Today’s newsletter confirmed why. It ended with this:

“Maybe I sound a little like a retiree. Well, yeah! Retirees have a lot to teach younger people about future orientation. It’s not so much that older people plan fewer activities, writes Marc Wittmann in his book “Felt Time”; it’s that they plan them for a more immediate future — the same way people survive a crisis like this.”  (Hey sweet cheeks, we were not born retirees, but whatev’)

I guess the retiree “crisis” is the impending ultimate nap. Why do retirees “plan (activities) for a more immediate future…”? In my case it’s because I finally can BUT I always have. I’ve never been a person to plan for the long term. I guess I’ve never believed in the long term. I know people do plan like that, a lot of people, maybe even most.

The newsletter today advises people to set “small, achievable goals” for themselves. But isn’t that always a good idea? It also advises people to notice smaller things — like the plants growing on their daily walks. Isn’t that always a good idea? It also advises planning a “mini-vacation” every week — such as riding your bike in a different part of town so they have something to look forward to.

The thread in all of these is fighting the idea that there is no future, nothing to look forward to, black emptiness.

I get that, but I don’t believe that or, having grown up near Air Force bases during the Cold War inoculated me with that world view, I take it for granted, sort of “Yeah? So what else is new?”

I thought about the Cold War as I read this passage in the WP newsletter:

“But the pandemic is this ongoing monster,” said Alice Holman of the University of California at Irvine. In casual speech, “quarantine” no longer has much to do with local orders, or even literally staying inside. It’s a state of mind, an eternal present. “Quarantine” is a vacuum for plans deferred until “this is all over” — not that anyone can define this, all or over.

“We have this chronic underlying stressor that’s holding us hostage,” Holman said.


Plenty of people back then believed that was only a matter of time before WW III. A lot of those people had already lived through two world wars and didn’t see much prospect of that kind of human behavior stopping any time soon. Many people were authentically frightened and, as everyone knows, we had bomb drills at school and watched films that simulated what would have happened if the bomb dropped on Hiroshima had been dropped on some place in England (ie. white people). WW II hovered over the lives of Baby Boomers and the Cold War surrounded us with its impending apocalyptic doom. Scary books like On the Beach made that future very real and moreso when made into films.

The bomb itself was one thing. The worst part was the residual nuclear fallout, so people built shelters to protect themselves from the bomb itself in which they could stay long enough for the fallout to be gone. (Hello Chernobyl). My family lived 2 miles from the second most important target for Soviet bombs so we had a pretty cavalier perspective on the whole thing.

But it was there. A big difference between The Bomb and the pandemic is that the Cold War could be satirized (and was) and this disease cannot.

Meanwhile, those of you who have visited Estes Park and Rocky Mountain National Park in Colorado, Granby and Grand Lake, be grateful you saw it in its splendor because it is now on fire. I guess we Coloradans haven’t swept or raked our forests sufficiently, either.

https://ragtagcommunity.wordpress.com/2020/10/23/rdp-friday-impending/