Checking In

What a week, what a world — and there is so much more to come.

How are y’all doing? Some of you I know IRL, some of you I know only thru wordpress, but I feel an oddly strong connection. Some of you have gone silent in the blogging world since I started following you years ago, and I sometimes wonder about you. Are we all hanging in there?

Am I worried? Hell yes. Am I panicked? No. Am I worried about myself? No.

Social distancing and isolation play into my STRENGTHS. I am a little stressed about the anticipated increase in telephone conversations, but at least there is no threat to texting and emails. Although the husband and I just qualify as at risk because of our age, we have no preexisting lung issues (and, yes, I’m aware that it can turn deadly for anyone.) Of  course, there are many other people that I care about who are more vulnerable.

After the 9/11 bombings, I wondered what the future would be like for my children. And certainly those events changed the world, but perhaps not as much as I feared. I likely won’t live to see the most devastating effects of climate change if mankind continues on its present course, but my kids and grandkids probably will and I’m not proud of contributing to this future for them if and when it comes to pass, but at least there might still be time to make changes and to prepare. This pandemic feels like another event that will dramatically change the future landscape and it has me muttering, “what kind of a world have my grandsons inherited?” Sudden, deadly, paralyizing, world-changing. I don’t do well with things that are described with those adjectives. I’ve lived through a natural disaster (Hurricane Harvey) that felt like this, but the scope of the disaster was so much more limited – it affected MY world, but not the WHOLE world. Trusted, knowledgeable scientists, public officials, and journalists all warned us about Harvey. They told us what the worse-case scenario might be, and, indeed that was pretty much the scenario that came true for my area. So I worry about the worse-case scenarios for this pandemic, and I just hope that they don’t come true.

I’m thankful for my bookcases and my yarn stash. I’m thankful for the hours I spent curating my twitter feed so that it now provides the right mix of trusted news and entertainment. I’m thankful to not be responsible for any humans other than myself and, to a limited extent, the husband. I’m thankful that I had enough toilet paper before the panic buying started  (though future me will plan to keep a bottle of hand-sanitizer around.)

And, honestly, I’m thankful that we’re all in this together. Maybe, just maybe, the world will be a better place on the other side of this pandemic. Maybe humanity and community will triumph over power and politics. Maybe my grandsons will grow up in an even better world than their parents. Isn’t that what all humans have always wished for?

Stay safe, my friends. Be strong. I hope that wherever this finds you, it finds you well and calm and loved.

 

A hard part about being an adult

It’s an old story, oft repeated. Oh to be 16 so I can drive! Oh to be 18 so I can leave home! Oh to be 21 so I am a full-fledged adult and can do anything I damn well please! As parents, we celebrate as our children grow up. Their independence also means a new independence for us. We let them go and, if we’re lucky, they turn into friends as well as family. The reality, of course, is that adulting is hard. If we could let our children grow up but still somehow protect them from some of those hard parts, we would, but then they wouldn’t really be adults, would they?

D#2 had to do one of those really hard adult things this week.

Seven years ago, D#2 found her soulmate at the Houston Humane Society. Stella Arftois was well-cared for, but was dropped off at the Humane Society under somewhat mysterious circumstances. She was maybe 8 years old, was blind in one eye, and had one surgically reconstructed hip. She obviously had stories from her past that she was never able to tell.

This week, D#2 made the very hard, very adult decision to peacefully end Stella’s life and finally free her from the pain they’ve been controlling with medication for the last several years. As hard as it is, it’s really the final gift responsible dog owners can give to their beloved companions. Through job changes, moves, relationships, and a wedding, Stella has been there. It’s been a great seven years – you’ll be missed sweet Stellbell…and remembered always.

 

 

 

Echoes

echo

noun (1)

\ ˈe-(ˌ)kō
\ plural echoes also echos

1a : the repetition of a sound caused by reflection of sound waves
  b : the sound due to such reflection
2 : a repetition or imitation of another : reflection
3 : one who closely imitates or repeats another’s words, ideas, or acts
4 : a soft repetition of a musical phrase
5a : the repetition of a received radio signal due especially to reflection of part of the wave from an ionized layer of the atmosphere
b(1) : the reflection of transmitted radar signals by an object
(2) : the visual indication of this reflection on a radarscope echo
echoed; echoing\ ˈe-​(ˌ)kō-​iŋ
, ˈe-​kə-​wiŋ \

Definition of echo (Entry 2 of 4)

intransitive verb
1 : to resound with echoes
2 : to produce an echo

 

transitive verb
1a : repeat, imitatechildren echoing their teacher’s words
b : to restate in support or agreement his successor echoed his opinion
c : to be reminiscent of : evokemusic that echoes an earlier time
2 : to send back (a sound) by the reflection of sound waves

During this month of annual resolution making, I’ve noticed that some people like to choose a word of the year, something to focus on and guide them throughout the coming year, along with or in lieu of other resolutions. It sounds noble, but I know that trying to focus on just one word/concept for a whole year is way beyond my ability to concentrate and stay on task. Besides, sometimes you just have to let a word find you; for me, the word of the month is evidently “echo.”

The first book I read for the 2020 Tournament of Books was The Lost Children Archive by Valeria Luiselli. A family is taking a road trip. The woman and the man met each other while working on a sounds of New York City archival/documentary project. They married and formed a blended family of mother, her daughter, father, and his son. He focused on gathering ambient sounds around the city, her focus was the people of the city and their language. That work has concluded and they are both beginning new, independent projects. She is interested in documenting the border situation, specifically the situation of the many unaccompanied minors trying to reunite with family in the States. He is fascinated by the Apaches, so the family sets off on a road trip from NYC to Apacheria, the area of the southwest where the Apaches and chief Geronimo last lived as a free people.

‘Echoes’ is clearly not a primary theme of this novel, but I kept feeling their importance.  One of the family’s favorite places in NYC was a tunnel that was an excellent echo chamber. When questioned about why he needs to go to Apacheria and record there, the man explains that by capturing the sounds that are there today, he is capturing echoes of the past. A very important place in the Apache stories he tells to the children is Echo Canyon. The parents’ new, separate projects are echoing the dissolution of their marriage. The stories of the immigrant children and their travels are themselves an echo of the Indian relocations in the 1800s. The Apaches are important because they are the last of something and an echo is, by definition, the last sound.

The book has some other, excellent themes and it deserves a full blog post/review which I might eventually write, but for now I will at least tell you to go read it.

Then I started seeing stuff about Betelguese (pronounced Beetlejuice,) a star in Orion’s belt that is visibly fading – something that might be happening before a supernova. I know ‘echo’ technically has to do with sound, but that book got me thinking about ‘echo’ having something to do with time…and it if has to do with time, why not light? Betelgeuse is assumed to be roughly 500 light years away, its light therefore taking maybe 500 years to reach us. It could have blown the better part of itself to smithereens in the 14th century and we wouldn’t know it yet, but an echo of that explosion is still traveling in light waves toward earth.

Then I read another book for the tournament, On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous by Ocean Vuong. It is the story of a Vietnamese-American family, told as a letter from a young man to his mother, who probably will never be able to read it. So really it is a letter he is writing to himself, to explain his family and their history, to try to define for himself and his mother their own relationship, to let her (and the reader) see his family thru his own eyes – the eyes of an immigrant child being bullied, the eyes of a teenager finding love and acceptance, the eyes of a young man who succeeds both because of and in spite of his past. Because I was thinking about echoes, I saw again how the present is an echo of the past. Both his mother and grandmother deal with symptoms of PTSD and I saw all their struggles as fighting echos that just kept bouncing around in their brains.

I loved this book, too, though some might find the writing style a bit challenging or off-putting. It’s a letter in intent, but not in a traditional form. Vuong is a published poet, and at times the book flows more like free verse than prose; that’s not a criticism, the writing is beautiful. Although I found the book ultimately positive and redemptive, the tone echoes the title – briefly gorgeous.

Finally, I’ve been seeing echoes of my own thoughts, specifically about art and artists and appreciation thereof. Not that this is uncommon, but writing and posting about something clarifies it in my own brain and then I’m more apt to notice it elsewhere. So for now I’m hearing echoes everywhere. I wonder what word find me next…next…..next………next.

 

 

 

Artists

My Storyworth prompt this week is “Who are your favorite artists?” I was struggling to name a painter that would leap to the top of a “favorites” list and then I reminded myself that artist doesn’t have to mean a painter or a visual artist. So my simple answer is: Writers. My favorite artists are writers.

I am a story person. I like words that string together to form a story. I like music that sings a story. I like visual art that lets me see a story. And I also like art that has a story. It ties back to significant object theories. Things have more worth to people when they have other significance, more than any actual monetary value. This is why we over-value our own possessions and why estate sales are so depressing.

So what art have I chosen to decorate my home? Books, for one. I think bookcases are as necessary as chairs and tables. And visual art? There are photographs of family. There is an original, somewhat abstract painting of Chicago, by an unknown artist, that came from my parents. There is a poster from a museum our family visited in Denmark. There is a plate of recycled steel that someone weathered and called “art,” and the husband and I agreed. There is a painting by a high school friend of D#1 of a tree, that reminded D#2 of her favorite tree along the bayou, that we purchased at an auction benefitting another friend’s mission trip. There is some baseball art, there is some beer art, there is some embroidery done by family or friends. There is nothing famous, probably nothing anyone I know would even hang in their own homes, but it all has a story for me.

It feels as though my art appreciation has had its own life cycle. In childhood, it was all about exposure; visiting libraries and museums, learning about famous artists, listening to different types of music. I started with my parents’ likes and dislikes and began to build my own artistic tastes. Then I became a collector. I wanted every album by musicians I liked. I read everything I could find by John Steinbeck and collected first editions of his books. I collected pewter decorating pieces because I liked the simple lines and dull patina, in contrast to the fussy details and shine of the silver favored by my mother and grandmother. I became oh so opinionated about what I liked and didn’t. And now, in the waning stages of middle age, I feel like I am finally learning how essential creating and appreciating art is to being human. I’m feeling a desire to expose myself to more art, in all its forms. It’s ok to like what we like, but it’s not ok to simply dismiss everything else as worthless. Art is about feeling, about reaching and touching someplace beyond the physical senses; there is perhaps nothing more personal.

I’m no closer to a simple answer to the Storyworth prompt. My favorite artists can’t be listed because they sometimes can’t even be named. There are clues to them all over my house and the stories of my life, though. They are whoever is telling me the story my heart wants to listen to today.

Ending and beginning

Today is the last day of November, and my 30th consecutive day with a post on TFTB. It’s my first successful completion of Noblopomo in 3 or 4 tries. I’m still not sure what I’m doing with this blog, or what (if any) direction I want to take it in, but it has felt good to write here again. The next streak might be posting once a week for a month or once a month a for a year, but I don’t intend to let it go dark.

I’ve always been a fan of countdown activities. Before the weekly routine of school, calendar time is hard for kids to comprehend. So when the daughters were little, I would help them make paper countdown chains. They could remove one link from the paper chain every day as a way of knowing when something would happen, like dad returning from a business trip or us leaving on vacation.

As a kid myself, I loved advent calendars. Opening a little window every day until the scene was complete and it was Christmas! My parents made an advent calendar for the daughters. It’s a felt hanging depicting a toy store window. Every day in December you pull a small wooden toy ornament out of a numbered pocket and hang it in the window. It’s one of the few Christmas decorations that I put up every year, and it still makes me happy every day to hang up another toy.

This year I have two more advent “calendars” to enjoy. For the second season, the daughters have given me the Short Story Advent Calendar, 24 individually bound short stories in a neat little box. And a friend sent me 24 Days of Tea to enjoy thruout December. A cup of tea, a new short story, and a Christmas tradition – I’m really looking forward to beginning December.