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)

Truth


Source: Hartley Lin (formerly known by the pseudonym Ethan Rilly) is a cartoonist based in Montreal, Canada. Young Frances, the first collection from his ongoing comic book Pope Hats, won the 2019 Doug Wright Award for Best Book. He has drawn for The New Yorker, The Hollywood Reporter, Slate, Taddle Creek and HarperCollins. (via thisisn’thappiness)

Come back in next life as? A good novelist. A palm tree in Hawaii.

What is your idea of perfect happiness? Being at home, watching a good movie with my husband. Dining out with good friends.

What is your greatest fear? Fear.

Which living person do you most admire? Both Obamas.

What is the trait you most deplore in others? Bigotry. Narcissism.

What is your greatest extravagance? My Toto toilet.

What is your favorite journey? Coming home.

On what occasion do you lie? When it might hurt someone to tell the truth.

Which living person do you most despise? The one who thinks only of himself. (Fill in the blank.)

Which words or phrases do you most overuse? I’m so glad we had this time together.

What or who is the greatest love of your life? My husband.

Which talent would you most like to have? To play a mean piano. Also, to tap-dance like Eleanor Powell. (For those who are too young, check her out on YouTube.)

What is your current state of mind? Acceptance.

If you could change one thing about yourself, what would it be? My tendency to worry about the future if there’s nothing you can do about it.

What do you consider your greatest achievement? Career-wise, it would be being the first woman allowed to host a comedy variety show.

If you were to die and come back as a person or thing, what do you think it would be? Person: A good novelist. Thing: A palm tree in Hawaii.

If you could choose what to come back as, what would it be? My spoiled cat.

What is your most treasured possession? My late daughter’s cross necklace.

What do you regard as the lowest depth of misery? Hopelessness.

Where would you like to live? Right where I am.

What is your favorite occupation? Making people laugh.

What is your most marked characteristic? Optimism.

What is the quality you most like in a man? A sense of humor and kindness.

What is the quality you most like in a woman? A sense of humor and kindness.

What do you most value in your friends? A sense of humor and kindness.

Who are your favorite writers? John Steinbeck, Joan Didion, Stephen Sondheim, and lately, Randy Rainbow.

Who is your favorite hero of fiction? Atticus Finch.

Who are your heroes in real life? First responders. Caregivers.

What are your favorite names? Carrie, Jody, Erin, Kate, Zoey, Jack, Charlie.

What is it that you most dislike? Egotism and rudeness.

How would you like to die? In my sleep.

What is your motto? To be untouched by success and untroubled by failure.

~ Carol Burnett, from “Carol Burnett Answers the Proust Questionnaire” in Vanity Fair, June 17, 2020.


Portrait: Detroit Free Press. Carol Burnett @ The Golden Globes in 2016

Driving I-95 S. With Freddie.

Tuesday morning.

Early morning traffic is frictionless, commuters float down I-95 S.

It’s 42° F. It’s January.  Soft, light rain. Electronics somehow (?) sense that the windshield is damp, wipers flap intermittently. Miracle. All of it.

It’s quiet in the cabin.

No radio.

No talk shows.

No podcasts.

No playlists.

The soft hum of the engine. The shifting of the sole of my right shoe on the accelerator.

And, those pernicious bumpin’ Thoughts. [Read more…]

it never shuts up (never)

In case you haven’t noticed, you have a mental dialogue going on inside your head that never stops. It just keeps going and going. Have you ever wondered why it talks in there? How does it decide what to say and when to say it? How much of what it says turns out to be true? How much of what it says is even important?…If you’re smart, you’ll take the time to step back, examine this voice, and get to know it better. The problem is, you’re too close to be objective…Notice that the voice takes both sides of the conversation. It doesn’t care which side it takes, just as long as it gets to keep on talking…If you spend some time observing this mental voice, the first thing you will notice is that it never shuts up. When left to its own, it just talks. Imagine if you were to see someone walking around constantly talking to himself. You’d think he was strange…If you watch carefully, you’ll see that it’s just trying to find a comfortable place to rest. It will change sides in a moment if that seems to help. And it doesn’t even quiet down when it finds out that it’s wrong. It simply adjusts its viewpoint and keeps on going. If you pay attention, these mental patterns will become obvious to you. It’s actually a shocking realization when you first notice that your mind is constantly talking…

~ Michael A. Singer, from “Chapter 1: the voice inside your head” in the Untethered Soul: The Journey Beyond Yourself


Photo: Le bain ©️David McTanné (via Your Eyes Blaze Out)

It’s been a long day

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Notes:

It’s been a long day

paul-apalkin

Here is what I love about the brain:
How it remembers.
How it sews what soft it can
into a blanket for the nights
when I am cold with trouble.

~ Sean Patrick Mulroy, from “The Offering” in Tap Lit Mag (Fall/Winter 2016)

 


Notes:

Indulging in Easy

rest-relax-chill

I relish those spontaneous times when I decide to stroll with my wife and dog through the park near our home in Amsterdam. Or when I take time to read a novel for fun. Or when I stop for a lovely glass of wine along an outdoor cafe along the canal because it seems like the thing to do. How about just taking time to take time?

Ah, the infinite moments to enjoy, presented to us on the conveyor belt of our existence….

There are times when making no sense makes sense. Just being, hanging out, following the whim, the momentary inclination. How long can you indulge yourself, though, purely, without hesitation, doubt, or a troubled thought about what it should be troubled about…?

Stop! Do something else. Do nothing. Try it. Anything. It’s not about our doing.

~ David Allen, from Indulging in Easy


Note: Photo via Mennyfox55

Walking Cross-Town. With Thunderdome.

Night-Traveler-trying-to-locate-Broadway-and-Jefferson.-L.A.-Examiner-February-4-1953

The cross-walk.
The yellow cabs.
The street lights.
The cart vendor stacking his bananas.
Real things.

Yet, Upstairs, is the real show.
I turn the dials.
The brightness.
The contrast.
The tint.
And finally, the color.
The picture in picture is sharp, vivid.

I turn my attention to the World,
Gray, blurry, rushing.
A slide projector, click, click, click, click.

But the Tom-Toms beat in Thunderdome.
The Man swings his sticks.
He whips his shoulder-length hair back,
it’s sopping wet from perspiration, it rains. [Read more…]

Switchback: From Bliss and Back

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A vicious switchback,
the bliss of last Saturday Morning,
to a routine checkup with the Good Shepherd Vet,
to this.

I clench my jaw while he opens his.
The steroids, tiny pink buttons, are wrapped in lunch meat.
He swallows the care package whole, nose up, sniffing for more.
“Sit!”
He sits.
The medicine dissolves, his belly warms from the Buttons.
His glassy eyes look up drawing up Hirshfield’s Hope and Love:
“I know that hope is the hardest love we carry.” [Read more…]

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