On the Path

It’s nearly three weeks since I began taking that increased dose of the thyroid-boosting drug and, if I’m honest, nearly three weeks since I began also taking an antidepressant. Who knows whence cometh my help as the Bible says? Will it have come from those loving individuals who reacted to my last post? For sure. Will it have come as well from lifting up my eyes unto those hills that the Psalmist talks about, especially now that their trees have set their petticoats to flouncing? Very likely. And it also seems that the process of paying closer attention to everything outside myself will help. 

For example: 

The other night I sat parked next to a 75-foot section of bike path that emerges from a wooded glade to create a small ‘stage’ before disappearing back into the foliage. This path passes through a number of towns just north and west of Boston here, so in itself it is far from rural. In fact I found myself beside it in this parking lot because I had just met my grown daughter and her two babies for an early supper. And when I returned to my car afterward, the light of the May evening was just billowing so that I had to pause and watch as an ever-freshening stream of people passed. 

Here zipped past a whippet-thin cyclist curved like an apostrophe over his handlebars.

Now here came an identically dressed brace of young women, high-stepping like a couple of drum majors.

Now I watched a man lope by at an easy trot, plugged, like almost everyone I saw, into his ear buds.

As I sat I saw that for ten or 15 seconds at a stretch, the path would be empty. And the sky was so blue. And the light was so golden.

I watched as an older lady in a sari appeared. She paused as if winded, settled her fists on her hips, and called out repeatedly the name of an unseen child. It was like watching a play, for now, as if on cue, came the long-awaited child, a boy of perhaps five, zooming into sight on his little scooter to describe several small circles around his exasperated companion,  

I watched these folks and others for some 25 or 30 minutes. I would have gladly stayed another 30 but the light was now changing, growing both more luminous and more coppery and I knew I didn’t want to see it fade.

So instead I came home, tucked away the memory and remembered again that as the old Irish adage says, it is in the shelter of each other that the people live – and find freshly, every time, a sense of peace.

 

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Bouncy No More

I wanted to write something about Mothers Day last week but lately I have felt put off by the idea of even opening up a blank page to create a post, and now it’s been over three months. What has happened to me?

I had an invitation 30 minutes ago to speak before a journaling group.

I turned it down.

I turned down two other offers too, in the last few months. I’m just so tired of talking, tired of being a person who always speaks up, who thinks it’s her job to make it a ‘good class’ for the people around her, as if I did as a young teacher, eager to make every minute count. These days, I often sit through whole meetings without saying a word. I find I would much rather listen.

‘And this is OK’ I’ve told myself. ‘It’s an ebbing of ego is all, which can only be good’.

But now it comes back to me that near the end of my annual visit to my primary care physician last week, she asked me something as she was listening to my heart:

“So,” she said.  How’s the writing?”

I was slow to answer. “Well… I know I told you a year ago that I stopped producing the column…”

“I remember. But beyond that?”

“Beyond that, I…. I.. don’t write anymore.” The words alone caused me a pang.

“Oh, that’s just writer’s block,” she said cheerily. “It’ll pass!”

I looked down at my lap and remained silent then, leaving her to her tappings and palpatings. It was during that pause in the talk that a memory came back to me of an exchange I had had with some old old friends, my college roommates and co-member of the Class of a Thousand Years Ago, when we travelled to Italy together. Midway through the trip one of them said with a laugh, “So Terr, we just have to ask: What happened to that wicked wit we all remember? You’re just sort of … kind these days,” and laughed again, to show she loved me anyway.

Looking up from my lap I related this freshly remembered exchange to my doctor who took the stethoscope from her ears and looked me full in the face.

“Are you sleeping?” she asked.

“Sure,” I said. “In fact, most days I can hardly get up.”

“Listen to me,” she then said. “I get what your classmates meant. For more than two decades, every time you have come in here you’ve been practically bouncing, in high spirits, and full of stories. These last two visits I haven’t seen that. At all. I think we have to consider the possibility that you have dysthymia, a term for chronic low-grade depression.”

Normally I would have laughed, the way I did back in the 90s when she told me my bloodwork revealed hypothyroidism. “Hypothyroidism?” I had said. “What are the symptoms?” We looked up the condition on her computer and she swung the monitor around so I could see. “Low energy, sadness, sleep issues,” it read, along with 40 other unhappy signposts.

I was almost offended. “But you know me! “ I said back then. “Does my busy life sound as if it comes with any of these symptoms? And now you’re saying I have to take a pill every day for the rest of my life? What happens if I don’t?”

“If you don’t, you’re facing all of this and more,” she’d replied, indicating the screen.

So, these 25 years later, I take the Levoxyl, which is no big deal. Last Friday though, the bloodwork from this latest visit came back, indicating that my level of need has increased. She has upped my dosage therefore and I guess we’ll see. Either that does the trick or  I will need additional help.

In the meantime I want to aplogize to any of you out there who have been wondering if I’m still here. I am here. And from now on I’ll be taking some advice I learned from the Recovery movement and fake it til I make it, which means,  “performing actions that are known to be positive even if one is not necessarily comfortable with them.” In other words “the mind may be willing, but the emotions may not be there yet.”

I’ll do that now. I’ll fake it ’til I make it. I’ll try just ‘showing up’ which, after all, is what most people do every day, whether they feel like it or not.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

To Every Thing There is a Greeting Card

candy hearts

As the Good Book says ‘to every thing there is a season, and a piece of merchandising for every purpose under Heaven.’ This point was really driven home for on this special day of  February 14th, the day when guys all converge at a supermarket’s greeting card-and flower-displays to buy any card at all done in pinks or reds, any hunk of vegetation that could be construed as bouquet-like. I just saw one guy eyeing a bunch of broccoli, no word of a lie. I saw another slap down on the counter a bunch of roses so far past day-old they were brown at their every petal-edge. (“Hey, it’s the thought that counts!” he said to me, seeing me look first at his rusty bouquet, then up at him.)

“The Thought” is the part Americans evidently have trouble conveying – or so it would seem, judging by the sheer size of the greeting card industry.

What did we do before they had greeting cards to oil the social machinery? Can people even write letters anymore? If they could, they wouldn’t have on the shelves not just individual cards but a myriad categories for them, each set off with its own cardboard marker.

I visited four card shops this week. First off, there are categories within categories for birthdays, both the single digit, double digit and triple digit kind; also categories reading “29th,” “Brother-in-Law,” “Step Mom,” and the wonderfully convenient “Blank Inside.” Under the umbrella of cards meant to communicate general fondness, I found “You Are Perfection,” “I Want To Hold You Forever,” and “Suggestive” (sample card: a cartoon pig saying “Talk dirty to me” to another pig.) Also, “Hurry Home Tonight” (related to “Suggestive”) and “Keep Your Childish Wonder”

In a grouping I think of as “Troubled Waters,” you can find see “Let’s Work Things Out,” “I’m Sorry,” and “I Want You Back;” also “We’re Different but I Love You” (You Have a Tail?), “I Want to Know More” (Do You Have, Perhaps, an Udder?) and “Consider the Possibilities.” (The possibilities are clearly limitless.)

Equally, there were whole shelves devoted to Things Beginning: among them categories for cards dealing with “New Baby”,” “New Babies” “New Job,” and “New Venture;” also “New Home,” “Adoption,” “New Grandson,” and “Baby Boy Religious”.

There are categories called “Get Well”, “For Extended Illness” and “For Shaquille O’Neil” (No lie. And under this one was a lone card: “Shaq and I Heard You’re Not Feeling Well…..”) They also had “Extended Voyage,” “Encouragement,” and “Goodbye”; “Thank You”, “Cheer Up” and “Cope”; “Clean Your Room,” “You’re Feeling Yucky?,” and “God Bless Your Daughter”

I read lately of a service you can engage that will pick up your deceased in their van, treat him to a little hair gel and makeup, crate him up, and place him in a budget plot – all for a ‘mere’ $2,000. Pretty soon you’ll be able to avoid seeing the grieving family altogether. They’ll have drive-up windows where you can call up the dead person’s name electronically,  view his casket and be home and in your pjs room in 15 minutes. Even now you can just send a card, and several categories suggest themselves for this purpose. “Goodbye”; “Extended Voyage” and “New Venture” all come to mind.

But the best category for all who think rented words are any substitute for face-to-facing it with another human being? “Blank Inside.” It works on every level.

Al Fresco Freezing, FLA-Style

IMG_4771So any vacation’s a gamble, right? There’s the good and then there’s the bad. There’s the mini-bar stocked with every drink/snack you can think of but who can fork over 15 bucks for a fistful of almonds? Who can spend 20 bucks for a mouthwash-sized hit of bourbon? These days as the bellhop advised us, if you but touch, never mind take out, any of these treats, boom, you’re charged for it.

I however am always ready to take the bitter with the sweet. Also, my standards are pretty low. All I had hoped to do on this getaway weekend was bask like a salamander on a small sun-warmed patch of sand.

It didn’t happen that way though, of course it didn’t. When my mate and I arrived at this Florida’s Coast hotel it was downright NIPPY, with 30mph winds gusting to 50, such that when we went on that first afternoon to get some lunch at poolside eatery, two waiters dashed over and wrapped us in towels, heads and all. We looked like the poor souls in the lifeboats in Titanic. I thought David looked especially like this. “Jaaaack! Ja-a-a-a-ack!” I croaked at him in my best impersonation of Kate Winslet calling for her blue-eyed lad shortly before she has to watch him sink down and down into the icy North Sea.

Still, we were happy. From my point of view there could have been insects the size of butter plates bunny-hopping across the floor of our hotel room and I’d have stayed happy. We had fat terry cloth robes and fluffy white slippers and if we couldn’t quite SWIM, or even comfortably SIT in the poolside lounge chairs, we did have in our room both a Romeo-and-Juliet-style balcony as well as a big sliding door.

For intervals while we were down there, we got to visit some dear friends but we spent the rest of the time here in our pretty room, reading our books just inside that wide sliding door and every few minutes glancing up to take in the lapping wind-tossed beauty of that blue, blue Gulf of Mexico. Ah!

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The Dailiness

Always with the daily tasks of life! How they do bog us down and keep us from soaring up to the higher realms of thought!

For me these tasks include: 

(1) Inspecting my toenails to make sure they haven’t yet starting turning into hawk’s talons as they show every sign of trying to do. 

2) Putting my contacts in, never an easy chore since I need to be able to SEE my eyes to do that and how can I see them since without having them in I’m like one of those giant eyeless worms that live in deep undersea caverns? 

(3) Taking my contacts OUT again and doing it before 10pm. After that hour they seem to get velcroed by teensy invisible loops to  – what? – a series of teensy invisible hooks living on my eyes?  But if I give up on the task it will only be to wake three hours into Dreamtime clawing at my eyes like poor old Oedipus clawed at his upon learning that all this time that foxy chick he’d been sleeping was actually his mom.

So yes, it can be hard to keep up with the quotidian nature of our lives – unless, and this is a big unless…. you can figure out how to take pleasure in tracking them.

Me, I love to record my daily tasks. Give me a planner and I am one happy camper.

Here’s my planner for the week of the great freeze, which in our part of New England came accompanied with a whole lot of wind-borne snow. Look at those cancellations, ah! If there’s anything more fun than scheduling a task it’s discovering you don’t have to execute it!

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Then, once you have a few things in your planner you are ready to make your list. Here’s a list I made just last Sunday:

the list

Surprisingly I was able to actually DO all these jobs, right down to scoring some edamame at the Chinese restaurant without succumbing to the temptation of also ordering any of the ridiculously high-calorie Orange Chicken ‘n Cashew Shimmy. Even down to buying the forgivingly sized pants that I’ll need this week when I have two nasty-looking growths removed from the part of my back where my waistbands all hit.

The final satisfaction, of course, is writing down what you have done in a journal or a diary so that you can look back over time and be amazed at how much more productive you were in your 40s (or 30s, or 20s) than you are now.

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This entry comes from the week of that great cold and as I reread it here I see that I am now making entries quite different in kind from the entries I made in my diaries of yore, diaries I first began keeping the year I turned nine.

Ah but the tale of those diaries will have to be a tale for another day I fear, as it is now time to approach the highly magnified mirror I keep in the bathroom, face the music and tweeze out these two new comical chin hairs.:-)

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And So it Came

This year I got what for us was a good head start on Christmas. Three whole weeks before the day I bought the big tall tree, just as my son told me to do as he left for his post-Thanksgiving train: “Nine feet, remember!” he had called over his shoulder that Sunday night. And then, magically, there was this fine nine-footer riding home on the top of my car and what a beauty she looked to be, even though standing outside for 8 days still trussed in her plastic netting, she came to look less like a tree and more like an outsized tampon.

My problem is my mate sees putting up the tree not as a task but as a kind of whimsical ‘notion’, a project we might get to it if the time should ever seem right. I, meanwhile, am more of a fretter; I like to get a thing DONE if I know I have to do it. Even at 6 in the morning I’ll hop up and get our bed 90% made when he goes out to the porch to get  the paper – even if I know the both of us are likely to get back in it. David couldn’t be less like this. When I first met him as a college junior I distinctly remember him expressing the belief that if you postponed doing a thing long enough you might never have to do it at all, didn’t I realize that? Why write your paper early when who knows your professor might be dead by the time it’s due?

In our house putting up the Christmas tree falls into that same paper-writing category…

Every.

Single.

Year.

Finally though, we did tackle the joint task of wrestling the thing inside, which is when things started going a bit sideways:

For some reason I’m not as good as I used to be at reaching three feet in through those thick piney petticoats to hold the tree trunk stable AND SAY WHETHER OR NOT IT LOOKS STRAIGHT while far below me my man writhes around on the floor attempting to drive the stand’s long skewers into its trunk

We stepped back for a look. Suffice to say, the tree was listing badly, ’tilting,’ to use a more accurate word, every bit as much as this hardened little ball of PlayDoh we call Earth tilts on its axis.

“That’s good enough for now, David genially opined even as he ambled back to the coach and his waiting book. “We’ll wait for a big strong guy to come by,” he added, meaning somebody who could pull it straight up out of the stand while he once again coiled around the trunk to screw those long metal rods into its pink and tender flesh.

For three long days I racked my brain trying to come up with such a person, even as the tree’s top branches yearned beseechingly toward the topmost corner of the living room windows. I got so I couldn’t look at it. I stopped going into the living room altogether until in a flash it came to me: I actually did know a big strong guy, two big strong guys in fact, a couple of dear-to-me high school seniors.

I went and picked them up. My man dropped once more to the floor to loosen those long, long screws while they wrested the big heavy thing free, then held it straight up in the air for five long minutes while he made the necessary adjustments.

And so it was done. Three days later we put on the lights. Though we seemed to be short a string or two, they looked just fine to us, anyway no worse than if a very nimble chimp with a stepladder had put them on.

Then, two hours before the clock struck 12 to usher in Christmas Eve Day, our son arrived at South Station and, a brief Uber ride later, walked into our living room.

He smiled that certain forbearing smile your kids send your way once they’re grown.

“Nine feet tall!” I yelled hopefully.

“It’s nice,” he said in a musing sort of voice.

And do we mind that he undid the whole lighting job and did it again a better way? Not a bit. In fact now that I think of it his dad might have been right those many years ago after all. Maybe if I can learn to postpone things the way he does I can get out of it that whole Easter basket racket too. 🙂

our xmas tree goiter side in

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Good Times on The Year’s Best Holiday

a turkey knows when it's doneBack in the day, we used to get a free local turkey from my husband’s work for Thanksgiving and for some reason the thing was always huge, more like a pterodactyl than a domesticated fowl, so huge that one year we had to tie the oven door shut and brace a chair up against it to hold the beast inside. I remember too the year when, taking some bit of turkey-roasting advice I saw in the paper, I cooked our bird breast side down for the whole time, only to extract, at the end of six hours, a roasting pan containing something that resembled a skeletal sunken ship, a sort of scaffolding of bones perched over a world of turkey fat and what could just barely be described as meat. If memory serves, that was also the year the whole roasting pan shot out of the oven and onto the floor.

Ah, but does memory serve us very well, or are you, dear reader, not yet at the age where you tell a story about something that happened to you only to be wryly advised by a family member that no, actually that whole thing happened to her? Anyway, isn’t it better sometimes if we look ahead rather than looking back?

Who is to say?

I know my sister and I still love looking back at the Thanksgivings of early childhood in our household of five grownups, four of whom were female and all of whom could be seen laboring away in the kitchen for a whole week leading up to the big day. Our grandfather meanwhile, as the sole male among those aunts and great aunties and our mom and our pretty Aunt Grace, sat in his easy chair smoking a cigar and reading biographies of the great men of American history. Though come to think of it I do remember hearing about that one Thanksgiving eve, when he did what he had said he would try to do and actually brought home the turkey  –  still attired in its longjohns as you might put it, in the form of hundreds of soft under-feathers that took forever to pluck out.  “How did you ever manage?” my sister and I squeaked in delighted horror as young adults which we were when we first heard the tale. “Ha!” she replied. “Well, the first thing we did was pour a few stiff drinks!”)

That ease-taking grandfather is gone now, as are the ancient great aunties. Gone too is our merry Aunt Grace, and also our funny and irreverent mom. I have my own children now and they have children themselves and I write this from a house that at 10am bears no scent at all of the cooking of a turkey. We are to eat at the home of one of our daughters, and our duty is light duty: We’re bringing the beer and the wine and I am to make a salad (which is funny all by itself since really who eats salad on Thanksgiving? I mean, besides me and my strikingly slim, pure-foods-only sister-in-law?) Oh but wait I am almost forgetting! I am also to do the gravy because our daughter confesses herself shy about pulling off a good gravy and for sure I feel ready for that task. We’re going over to her house at 1:00 but I have already set out my full-length chef’s apron, as well as the special lump-defying  flour and the steel spatula for prying up the pan drippings. I have a pocketful of chicken bouillon cubes too in case we need to make gallons of the velvety stuff,  so I’m pretty sure I can do the task justice. Really all I need do is close my eyes and I can see – see  as if they were standing before me – the literal gravy-making movements of all those hard-working women in whose kitchen I spent one happy childhood.