Monday Morning Wake-Up Call

Or is this what being home is like: home as a place from which the entire world is suddenly possible?

Hisham MatarThe Return: Fathers, Sons and the Land in Between


Image: Let’s Eat Cake

Evolution


Cover of The New Yorker Sept 21, 2020 issue by Artist Chris Ware: “I live in the quiet, relatively diverse, and leafy “village” of Oak Park, literally across the street from Chicago, and all summer long I’ve seen neighborhood almost-but-not-quite get-togethers, not unlike what I drew here…I think vastly more people still try to get along in America than not. Our cities aren’t exclusively anarchic blast zones, and the suburbs aren’t all xenophobic cloisters. Yet, now, the weather is cooling, and we’re all heading back inside to await the results of what will surely be the most contested election of our lifetimes. The real fear is what may result: not a democracy or a republic but something that somehow stifles both.”

Enfold Yourself in Small Comforts

The scent of sun-dried sheets fresh off the clothesline can completely change my state of mind. Like the sense of well-being that comes over me when a song from my youth is playing on the radio, the smell of line-dried sheets takes me home to Alabama, back to a time when all my beloved elders were still alive, still humming as they shook out a wad of damp bedsheets and pinned them to the line.

This summer I have repeatedly washed not just our sheets but also our 20-year-old matelassé coverlet, whose scalloped edges are now beginning to fray. I have washed the dust ruffle for possibly the first time in its entire existence. Once the linens are reassembled, I crawl between the sheets, breathe in, and feel the muscles across the top of my back begin to loosen. As my friend Serenity’s mother is fond of saying, “There are very few problems in this world that putting clean sheets on the bed won’t improve, even if just a little bit.”

These days it’s truly just a little bit, even when the clean sheets have been dried on a clothesline in the bright summer sun. Everyone I know is either suffering terribly or terribly worried about someone who is suffering. When will they ever find work? What if they get sick at work and can’t afford to take time off? What if they bring the virus home to the people they love? How will they work and also home-school their children? Will their parents die of the coronavirus? Will their parents die of loneliness before they can die of the coronavirus?

For months now, all my phone calls and texts and emails have begun, “How are you, really?” or “How is…?” Sometimes I’m the one who’s asking and sometimes I’m the one who’s being asked, but every exchange begins the same way.

Without even thinking about why, I engage in useless compensation. Bringing a few swallowtail caterpillars inside to save them from the red wasps. Repotting eight years’ worth of Mother’s Day orchids. Buying mask after mask, as though this color or this style or this pattern will somehow protect me and those I love. I am getting through these days primarily by way of magical thinking, and sheets billowing on a hot August wind are my talismans against fear and loss.

In June, after 25 years in this house, my husband set to work on our 70-year-old kitchen cabinets, chiseling out layers of paint, planing and sanding warped edges. When he was finished, the cabinet doors would close all the way, and stay closed, for the first time in decades. If you ask him why he went to all this trouble, he has no explanation beyond the obvious: For 25 years it needed to be done, and so he finally did it.

But I think it’s more than that. I think he was worrying about his lonesome father, quarantined in an efficiency apartment, and that’s why he fixed those cupboard doors. He was worrying about our oldest son’s pandemic wedding and our middle son’s new job as an essential worker. He was worrying about whether our youngest son’s university would make the inevitable decision to hold classes online before we had to sign a yearlong lease for an apartment our son might never set foot in. My husband can’t control any of those things, much less cure Covid-19, but he can by God make the kitchen cabinets stop flying open and knocking us in the head while we cook.

The other day, I posted a picture on Facebook of our masks drying on the clothesline. “At some point I’m going to have to stop buying masks with flowers on them,” I wrote. “I don’t know why I keep thinking a new mask with flowers on it will solve everything, but I keep thinking it anyway.”

My friends began to chime in. “In case you are wondering, ice cream doesn’t seem to solve anything either, but I’m still collecting data,” my friend Noni wrote. “I confess I have not picked up an iron in years, but I now iron our masks each week,” wrote Tina. “It’s important to get the pleats just right. For some reason.”

We know the reason. In Margaret Atwood’s 1969 debut novel, “The Edible Woman,” a character named Duncan copes with chaos by ironing: “I like flattening things out, getting rid of the wrinkles, it gives me something to do with my hands,” he says.

A few days later I was still thinking about Tina ironing those masks, so I asked, outright, what my Facebook friends are doing to manage their own anxieties. When I checked back a few hours later, there were more than 100 comments, and every one of them was a lesson, or at least a needed reminder, for me.

My friends are giving themselves difficult and absorbing assignments: reading classic novels, learning a new language or a challenging song on the guitar, working complicated puzzles. “I am doing so many puzzles because it feels good to put something back together again,” my friend Erica wrote.

They are throwing themselves into the domestic arts: preparing complex meals, learning to make paper flowers and, yes, ironing. “I’ve been ironing my pillowcases,” wrote Elizabeth. “They feel so crisp and cool on my poor menopausal cheeks.”

They are putting in a garden, in the suburban backyard or on the city balcony. They are feeding the birds and sometimes the turtles, rescuing orphaned opossums, walking in the woods. They are sitting on the porch — just sitting there, listening. At night they are going outside to look at the stars.

They are taking care of others — adopting puppies and lonely neighbors, coaching elderly aspiring writers via Zoom, breaking their own rules against pets in bed, taking the time to get to know their U.S. Mail carriers. They are meeting friends — outdoors and from a safe distance — and making a pact to talk about anything but the coronavirus. They are reveling in the slower pace of family life and falling in love with their partners all over again. My sister, who still lives in Alabama, is sending boxes of Chilton County peaches to faraway friends who have never before experienced the taste of heaven.

Tears welled up as I read their stories, and by the time I’d reached the end, I was openly weeping. It felt like nothing less than a blessing, in this hurt and hurtful time, to remember how creative human beings can be, how tender and how kind.

We may be in the middle of a story we don’t know how will end, or even whether it will end, but we are not helpless characters created and directed by an unseen novelist. We have the power, even in this Age of Anxiety, to enfold ourselves in small comforts, in the joy of tiny pleasures. We can walk out into the dark and look up at the sky. We can remind ourselves that the universe is so much bigger than this fretful, feverish world, and it is still expanding. And still filled with stars.

—  Margaret Renkl, “A Reminder to Enfold Yourself in Small Comforts” (NY Times, August 24, 2020)

Miniature Worlds

Tatsuya Tanaka is a master of turning everyday objects into miniature worlds that seem larger than life. He’s been doing it daily for almost a decade, and in the midst of the COVID pandemic, he’s started to integrate some all-too-familiar objects into his work. See more here: Photographer Turns Masks And Toilet Paper Into Intricate Miniature Worlds (3 Quarks Daily)

Sad


Back to School by Dave Pollot

Lightly Child, Lightly

We are looking for new spaces, but what we are really looking for is retreat, clarity, to escape our internal chaos.

For the days not to feel glued together.

— Kate ZambrenoDrifts: A Novel (Penguin, May 19, 2020)


Notes:

  • Photo: Image source here. (via Mennyfox55)
  • Post Title & Inspiration: Aldous Huxley: “It’s dark because you are trying too hard. Lightly child, lightly. Learn to do everything lightly. Yes, feel lightly even though you’re feeling deeply. Just lightly let things happen and lightly cope with them.”

Come on People.

I see them too.  Everywhere. As Marie Fazio explains in recent NYT article. On beaches. Floating in Ocean. In parking lots. On sidewalks. Gloves. Wipes. Kleenex. Masks.  Discarded everywhere. Sickening, really.  Come on People.


Experts say the risk of catching coronavirus from a discarded mask is minimal, but the litter is causing concern for other reasons: Used masks and gloves, which cannot be recycled, pose a problem for the environment.

Disposable masks and gloves aren’t necessarily better or worse than any other kind of litter, according to experts.

Like other waste, a mask could be mistaken for food by wildlife. Or a heavy rain could wash it into a storm drain or a river and eventually the ocean, posing a risk for marine ecosystems.

“It’s quite alarming where these are ending up,” said Gary Stokes, founder of OceansAsia, a marine conservation group. “It’s not just the beaches. We’re getting them out in nature, but also downtown; you see them on the streets, in the gutter, on public transport.”

In February, on a routine trip to the uninhabited Soko Islands off the coast of Hong Kong, Mr. Stokes collected around 70 masks along roughly 100 yards of beach.

“We’ve seen it already with whales and turtles with plastic bags, and with masks it’s the same thing,” he said. “Another piece of trash for the next generation.”

Like drinking bottles, fast-food containers and other plastic material that ends up in the ocean, masks collect algae, attracting small fish that in turn attract larger fish, he said. A dolphin or whale could mistake a mask for food, and the mask could get caught in the animal’s digestive tract, which could result in death.

Over time, plastics in the ocean can break down into smaller particles known as microplastics. Those particles become coated in toxic substances and are eaten or absorbed by marine life and could eventually make their way into human food, experts say.

Around eight million metric tons of plastics enter the ocean annually, according to research, and environmentalists fear that P.P.E. litter, as well as more home delivery packaging, will worsen the situation.

A University College London study found that if everyone in the United Kingdom wore a new disposable mask every day for a year, it would result in 66,000 metric tons of plastic waste, plus 57,000 metric tons of packaging…

~ Marie Fazio, from Your Used Mask Needs to Make It to the Trash Can.  They’re on beaches, in parking lots and on sidewalks. You probably won’t catch the coronavirus from a discarded mask, but the litter poses a risk to the environment. (NY Times, July 25, 2020)

T.G.I.F.: Riding Metro North


Working from home but missing Metro North.

(Source: u/czmanix. Thank you Ray.

Monday Morning Wake-Up Call

The Good News.

There’s no morning drive to Work. No 40 minute commute home in traffic.

There’s no one hour Metro North ride into the city for Manhattan meetings. No one hour return trip on packed commuter trains jostling for an open seat.  There’s no walk to/from the commuter trains in suffocating humidity.  As Jeffrey Eugenides puts it: “It was one of those humid days…you could feel it: the air wishing it was water.”

Today, the commute from Bed to Breakfast to Office is less than one minute. Air conditioning cools, a steady 71° degrees.

The Less Good News.

Work Hours: Up ~20% per day. Calls, emails, Zooms, conference calls. Add the pandemic anxiety to the tonic, and you have a giant Boa asphyxiating its prey, as I sit, sit, sit, and sit some more — from daybreak to late dinner, and again the next day, and the next and the next.  And the body, and the mind Scream: You’re sliding Pal, things gotta change. These Home Office walls are closing in.

The Pivot. [Read more…]

Tuesday, January 5, 1999

We’ve all heard of that future, and it sounds pretty lonely. In the next century, the line of thinking goes, everyone will work at home, shop at home, watch movies at home and communicate with all their friends through videophones and e- mail. It’s as if science and culture have progressed for one purpose only: to keep us from ever having to get out of our pajamas.

— Mick LaSalle, Chronicle Staff Writer in the San Francisco Chronicle, published Tuesday, January 5, 1999


Notes:

somos la luz

mural

“Jorge Rodríguez-Gerada spray painted a 27,000 s.f. giant mural as a public memorial dedicated to a doctor who died from COVID-19. Each life is important, unique and incalculable, especially during the global pandemic, and the work memorializes essential workers. The mural is titled ‘somos la luz’ – translated as ‘we are light.’” (Read more @ Design Boom)

Memorial Day 2020

The New York Times Front Page (May 24, 2020): “An Incalculable Loss.” America is fast approaching a grim milestone in the coronavirus outbreak — each figure here represents one of the nearly 100,000 lives lost so far. But a count reveals only so much. Memories, gathered from obituaries across the country, help us to reckon with what was lost.

One hundred thousand.

A number is an imperfect measure when applied to the human condition. A number provides an answer to how many, but it can never convey the individual arcs of life, the 100,000 ways of greeting the morning and saying goodnight…to share that closing prayer, that parting glass, that final hug.

One. Hundred. Thousand.

Don’t miss this story

 

Monday Morning Wake-Up Call

I want to reinstate a respect for soil. We must touch the soil. How many times do we touch our mobile phone every day? Maybe 100 times. How many times do we touch the soil? Hardly ever. We must give dignity to peasants, farmers and gardeners. We are all part of this healthy web of life maintained by soil. The Latin word humus means soil. The words human, humility and humus all come from the same root. When humans lose contact with soil, they are no longer humans.

Satish Kumar, from “The Link Between Soil, Soul and Society” (The Guardian)


Notes: Quote via Liquid Light and Running Trees. Photo – Soil by Alexandra

Running. With Other’s Service.

IMG_0165

5:09 a.m.

Long sleeved shirt. Lined sweatpants. Tuk.  Tuuuuuuuk. Gloves.

I synch up the straps on my Waist Pack, then inhale, and give it one more pull for extra measure. I exhale, and the straps dig into my belly. (Another reason why you need to run. And note the use ofWaist Pack’.  Men don’t run with Fanny Packs. And yet for some reason my lips form Fannnnnnnny. Not sure where this is going.)

I’m out the door.

41° F. Feels like 34° F. Brisk. Light Northern wind bites.

0.1 miles.  Garbage truck. Spot lights illuminate the back of the truck. Back breaking work. Rest of us sleeping. Drinking coffee. Reading the morning Paper. Meditating. Out for a run. And he’s taking out our trash.

0.6 miles. U.S. #1, aka Post Road. Three signs spaced about 50 feet apart. Food Drive. Darien, CT and people are hungry.  And like a spreading ink blot from a fountain pen, this morning’s run, in early light, turns dark, with a  replay of yesterday’s headlines.  “Covid-19 could detonate a ‘hunger pandemic.’ With millions at Risk.” “Food Banks Are Overrun, as Coronavirus Surges Demand…‘Never Seen Anything Like It’: Cars Line Up for Miles at Food Banks.” And, Kids Are Going Hungry Because of the Coronavirus. Children hungry. [Read more…]

Work From Home


Illustrator: Daniel Padure (via thisisn’thappiness)

Monday Morning Wake-Up Call?

And what a wonderful thing that artifice can be. Now that we are all working from home, amid the children, the toast crumbs and the laundry, we are realising that the pretence of an orderly life at the office is also a liberation. It allows each day to have its own architecture, its rhythms of departure and arrival. Putting on a perfectly ironed silk shirt or a crisp suit and leaving the house may be contrived but it is also, says Kellaway, “one of the beauties of working life…It allows us to be a different person. And we’re all so fed up with who we are, the opportunity to be someone else, someone a little bit more impressive, is just so tempting.” When such an escape is denied us, that allure may only grow.

Catherine Nixey, from “Death of the Office” in The Economist (June/July 2020)

 

Sunday Morning

A few weeks ago, during our first few days sequestered at home, my head was straining to explain to myself what it could all mean, or at least what could come out of it. I failed. The fog was too heavy. Now that things have become more quotidian, as things do eventually even in the most frightening wars, I am still unable to frame it all in any satisfying way.

Many are sure that life will never be the same. It is likely that some of us will make big changes, more of us will make a few changes, but I suspect most will return to the dance. Won’t there be a good argument to be made that the pandemic is proof that life vanishes in the most unexpected ways and so we must live big and live now? One of your own grandchildren has expressed that opinion.

Restrictions on movement are starting to relax in some places, and little by little the world will attempt to venture out toward normality. Even daydreaming of imminent freedom has many starting to forget the promises they recently made to the gods. The drive to process the impact of the pandemic on our deepest selves, and on the entire tribe, is waning. Even many among us who long to understand what has happened will be tempted to interpret it to our liking. Already shopping threatens to make a grand return as our favorite narcotic.

I’m still in a fog. It seems for now that I’ll have to wait for the masters, present and future, to metabolize the shared experience. I look forward to that day. A song, a poem, a movie or a novel will finally point me in the general direction of where my thoughts and feelings about this whole thing are buried. When I get there, I’m sure I’ll still have to do some of the digging myself.

In the meantime, the planet keeps turning and life is still mysterious, powerful and astonishing. Or as you used to say with fewer adjectives and more poetry, nobody teaches life anything.

~ Rodrigo Garcia, from “A Letter to My Father, Gabriel García Márquez” in The New York Times (May 6, 2020)


Notes: Portrait of Rodrigo Garcia via Alchetron.

Running. With Mother Goose.

6:10 a.m. 42° F. Nippy for May.

It’s been 6 days in a row, running that is.  Why? More on this another day, this surge of something.

There she is. Mother Goose. Same spot. Each morning, every morning. Sitting between the highway, the guard rail, and the retaining wall. Sick. She has to be sick. Does she sit here all day? 

She triggered a mini waterfall of the yesterday’s events.

3 p.m. conference call. Delicate personnel situation. I’m quiet, he explains. “Listen, I’m not vindictive, that’s not who I am. There was nothing malicious in….”  He’s a midwesterner, solemn, humble, truthful.  We wrap up the conversation. I thank the small group for providing me the background.  I close: “I know vindictive, and you ain’t vindictive. I see vindictive each morning in the mirror.” They laugh. I know, they know.

6:10 a.m. Yesterday’s morning run. 0.6 miles in. A lady walker, on the other side of the road, 100 feet ahead. Face mask on. She’s pointing her finger at me, scolding.

I turn off the music. You talking to me? I can hear her now.

“You need to wear a mask. You’re putting my life, and other lives in danger. 17% chance of virus being spread by runners without masks. You. Go Home and Put on a Mask.”

“Excuse me?” [Read more…]

We are all living the same moment.

Air is the gaseous substance of life. Sky is what we see of it. How it is framed. The mind’s eye’s way of giving it structure. Blue tent, sky-space, cobalt between heaving mountains.

Air is all over us, inside us, expelled by us, renewed by the operations of photosynthesis and the evaporation of ever-warmer seas.
Sky is ubiquity. It drives into us. We gulp weather. Yet we conceive of it as “out there,” “up there,” and apart from us. Sky is “scape,” a fictive reference point to which we cling, yet it also stands for the open space we come to know as an ever-expanding, cosmic whole…

It is spring as I write, and the world is locked down in a raging pandemic. We hold still while airborne germs wrapped in fat float and flap all around us, threatening our lives…

Sky is a living body, a lung that spews life. In China it is chi, a life force, or tianqi, “heaven’s breath.” In Greenland, it is sila, nature and consciousness. For the Navajo Nation, sky is Nitth’i, a benevolent spirit. The Crow, who live on the grasslands of Montana and Wyoming, call sky huche, meaning “wind that blows steadily at the foot of the mountain.” In Egypt, the dying summoned the god of air and said, “I have gone up to Shu; I have climbed the sunbeams.” …

Sky is nothing and everything: a blank that holds solar systems, locust swarms, heaven’s gates, kingfishers, and cosmos. It’s where the Big Bang flapped everything into being. Recently, 19 new interstellar asteroids were found orbiting the sun, and astronomers have uncovered the beauty of the asymmetrical universe, where the battle between matter and antimatter was waged. Matter and cosmic imperfection won out; otherwise, we wouldn’t exist. “Imperfection is our paradise,” a Buddhist teacher said…

Perhaps that’s the best way to think about the sky and the ways it binds and releases us. Looking up, we can all see the same things: the pink moon, sunrise’s glory, starlight, and the lovely, lonely curve of air. Our peripheral vision shapes what we think we are seeing. From my lookout on a moving dogsled, I’ve seen how the horizon’s silver stripe divides ice from air, mist from ocean, space from Earth, and dark from light as the blue tent floats down and softly covers us all.

~ Gretel Ehrlich, “We Are All Living the Same Moment” in The Atlantic (May 2, 2020)


Photo: DK, Cove Island Park, May 3, 6:43 am.

Running. With Incongruity.

Friday. Early afternoon. A crack between conference calls.

I run.

I’m up a whopping seven pounds since being sheltered in place. There are no barriers to entry, to the Fridge, to the pantry, to the potato chips. Or the counter tops, which on alternative days are lined with Susan’s Chocolate chip cookies, Zucchini loaves and Banana Bread.

I flip her an article: “Forget the Sourdough. Everybody’s Baking Banana Bread” and highlight the punch line:

Nervous about venturing into markets, many people are making do with ingredients at hand, including the moldering bananas. In the past month, banana bread beat out pancakes, brownies and pizza dough as the No. 1 searched-for recipe in the U.S. and world-wide, according to Google. The humble loaves are taking a star turn on Instagram and Twitter…. “The isolation stages of grief,” another said, are “denial, anger, banana bread.”

But I feel little of this. No grief. No denial. Little isolation. OK, maybe anger, ever-present, on slow boil.

And yet again, I’m out of step with the Pack, feeling none of the isolation, feeling none of the mid-winter-like cabin fever others are swamped in. [Read more…]

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