Quarantine Scenes

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“We Read to Know We’re Not Alone”

-Sir Anthony Hopkins,

as C.S. Lewis in the film Shadowlands

 

 

Last week, I was supposed to meet Joy Harjo, Poet Laureate of the United States, during our college’s annual arts and literary festival, Sensoria.  We had been anticipating her visit for months, then COVID 19 struck.

I listened to a podcast this morning featuring her work.  She reflected on the iconic song, “This Land is Your Land” by Woody Guthrie.  She remarked how this song is relevant, but the songwriter got one pivotal point wrong.  She explained, “What Woody Guthrie forgot is we ARE the land”.  

This quote struck me as a teacher.  I sympathize with our students, but my feeling is we ARE our students right now.  We are all in this together. I am not dealing with the magnitude of their pressures, however, I feel at one with them.  Their issues are different, but the feelings of uncertainty and collective grief are the same. I just read my students’ posts on our Blackboard Discussion Board and my heart just hurts.

I want to say to my students:  

I see you.  I am listening.  And, I love you. Is that too much?  I don’t care.  

I want to take this time to share a love letter to my students for their bravery, devotion to their families and their fight to stay in our course despite insurmountable challenges at this time. 

To my students who are parents:

I hear you when you say that you have kids at home and it is hard to concentrate.

I am with you when you say you are scared.

I can understand your raw frustration when your kids are screaming and fighting in the background of our WebEx chats.

In their own words:

“The part of adjusting when I am doing school work now is that my little one is hanging on my hip.  That is the biggest challenge. In a matter of 4 days, I have decided to follow the governor’s orders and stay home, to not only protect myself, but mainly my child who is under age 2. I had a job four days ago and now, I have lost my job. This is the biggest change adjusting to.  I am back to being a full time mom, with a child stuck indoors and finishing this semester. As far as how am I feeling, I think stressed is the perfect word.”

“My son and I do yard work and go hiking and kayaking to pass the time by.”

“If I was to worry it would be for my four-month-old little girl. The only thing I need from you all is to keep all of the frontline medical workers and first responders in your thoughts. They are the real heroes during this pandemic.”

To my students who are worried about their grades:

I hear you when you say you are not good at English- though I would argue that you are.

I am with you when you say you didn’t sign up for an online class and you are uncomfortable with technology.

I can understand when you say it’s hard to write about things right now.  My brain is also full of static.

In their own words:

“To be most sincere I’m not feeling that great. I’m a high school senior and all I wanted was to at least graduate after 12 years of hard work and endurance. I feel like the one thing that I have left has been taken from me and it has been very hard for me trying to figure out my life, from working.. making enough money to survive.”

“Dropping out of high school in the first half of junior year gives me a different perspective. I knew I was never going to experience walking across the aisle for a diploma, go to a prom, or enjoy being a senior. I also lost contact with a lot of friends from high school because I didn’t see them anymore. Going to CPCC everyday in a way fixed it, as I enjoyed seeing everyone on campus and because it is such a small campus, I feel like I knew everyone. Now, it feels like I dropped out all over again except this time, it wasn’t a choice.”

“I can agree with you about the grades. I was not doing so well with my chemistry class in person.  How am I supposed to do well online?”

To my students finding out they are suddenly unemployed:

I hear you when you say you are afraid you can’t pay your bills and you worry about putting food on the table for your children.

I am with you when you say your uncertainty is crushing.

I can understand your anxiety being at an all-time high.

In their own words:

“My job had to shut down, which has been the largest source of my stress because I now have no income. I am unable to file for unemployment because my job did not file taxes, so after learning that I will not be able to receive financial help by the government during this time, it added a lot of stress.” 

“I feel deeply for local businesses who have had to shut their doors because I am in the same boat. My job is owned and operated by all Vietnamese people whom I love deeply, but there is a large language barrier. My boss has been coming to me every day asking for updates on what is happening throughout the world and specifically our county because they do not understand the news. Over my time working with them, I have taught myself how to communicate effectively with them so I have been explaining what is going on. We have been shut down for over a week now and we thought it would be just for 2 weeks, but after the Governor’s update from last night, it will be for at least another 30 days. I had to tell my boss and co-workers this information and they were devastated and asked how can they could continue to afford to live and it broke my heart to have no answers for them.” 

“I am in a similar situation. I work with kids in an after school program, but because school is canceled there is no after school program, and I am currently jobless at the moment. The whole situation is less than ideal. I didn’t even get to say bye to the kids, I just had to up and leave.”

I am also very proud of my students for so many reasons. 

I am proud of your kindness and how you stand up for your fellow students.  From sharing recipes you found on Pinterest, to yoga websites, you have been there for each other.  When one of your classmates told us he was getting bullied for being of Asian descent during this crisis, you were tenacious in your support of him:

“I am also Asian and I feel a little afraid of going out in public.  Although, nothing bad has happened to me yet and hopefully never will.”

“Though I am not Asian, I go to a Chinese church.  Don’t worry. Most people here are very nice and even if someone is being mean to you for no reason, it is just because they’re not smart enough, so don’t concern yourself with that.” 

“We can use our written communication skills to encourage and uplift others. Not only through technology, but also the old-fashioned way of writing letters. Words are powerful. We all have the ability to support others during this time of uncertainty.” 

I am immensely proud of how you have used the research skills you have learned in our class to be able to find credible sources during this pandemic:

I think a lot of people who get their news from a single source are really missing the full picture, and I am glad for this course for helping me to understand that. For example, it is good to understand that the polls showing confirmed cases are not an accurate depiction of the spread of the virus, since we aren’t testing everybody that is sick.”

“This course has helped me to look for what information is actually reliable and what side of the story some news outlets may be leaving out. It also has helped me to ensure I am fact-checking information I hear from other people since many people are panicking and spreading false information. For example, I had heard from someone that pets can carry the virus and first took that as a fact, but when I was politely challenged by my sister, I looked into it more and found that the CDC has no evidence claiming that pets can carry the virus.”

“I have easily been able to identify false information, and even try to tell my parents they are receiving false information from certain sites, and they do not believe me!”

This student even called out a fellow student for using Twitter as their primary news source:

“Also I don’t think Twitter is the best place to get your news unless it comes from a well known and reliable source. It’s just more believable that way. Not to say that other lesser known news or information sources don’t have the potential to give out quality information. I wish you would have specified exactly what the bits of information are that you have gathered from Twitter and later compared to other news sources.”

I am proud that ALL of you called out people in your age group about not observing social distancing regulations.  You are getting a bad reputation in the media and it is not fair.  Not all millennials and members of Generation Y are irresponsible. Students, like you, are leading the way!

“It bothers me to see friends and people I know defying the guidelines and posting on Instagram saying “ItS cOrOnA TiMe” and “SoCiAl DiStAnCiNg” when people are dying and they are being selfish by unknowingly spreading the disease.

I think it is so unfortunate when you see videos of people on spring break or just out and about not taking any of this seriously. The longer people ignore the CDC and WHO, the longer we will all have to be in quarantine.”

“Nonetheless, having this time to stay at home has given me an opportunity to really settle into a more present lifestyle, something that I have been trying to improve upon as a student. I am grateful for the opportunity to stay home and spend more quality time with my family and build stronger routines for every aspect in life such as wellness, and self-care. Also, being allowed to continue our education online and finish the semester as strong as possible is also a blessing.”

“My family and I watch both American and Serbian news from home and it’s astounding how differently the virus is portrayed in different areas of the world. Over in Europe, there seems to be a much more urgent vibe to the situation and more panic, while in the US we have kept pretty calm about the situation up until now.”

But, some students observed efforts to work together during this crisis:

“This pandemic has affected almost every nation on the planet. What has been amazing to see is that nations and leaders that otherwise have been adversaries have reached out to one another to offer aid to fight this disease. Humanity is simply reaching out to others and offering help and support when it is needed most. I think that through this course, we all have a positive outlet for learning and furthering our education which is a productive use of time while our lives are all affected by this pandemic. Being that the course timelines and expectations have changed, it is important to reach out to other classmates when needed and to offer help when you have the chance.” 

“I think you hit the nail on the head when you said that we need to come together as a community. In times like these, we are really able to see how much our well being depends on the actions of those around us, and who we choose to have around us.”

“More than just being kind, which should be a trait that everyone has regardless, we need to rely on each other and lean on each other. Martin Luther King Jr. had a wonderful quote that is especially true in times like these, ‘Through our scientific and technological genius we have made of this world, a neighborhood. And now through our moral and ethical commitment, we must make of it a brotherhood. We must all learn to live together as brothers, or we will all perish together as fools.’”

Remember

By Joy Harjo

Remember the sky that you were born under,

know each of the star’s stories.

Remember the moon, know who she is.

Remember the sun’s birth at dawn, that is the

strongest point of time. Remember sundown

and the giving away to night.

Remember your birth, how your mother struggled

to give you form and breath. You are evidence of

her life, and her mother’s, and hers.

Remember your father. He is your life, also.

Remember the earth whose skin you are:

red earth, black earth, yellow earth, white earth

brown earth, we are earth.

Remember the plants, trees, animal life who all have their

tribes, their families, their histories, too. Talk to them,

listen to them. They are alive poems.

Remember the wind. Remember her voice. She knows the

origin of this universe.

Remember you are all people and all people

are you.

Remember you are this universe and this

universe is you.

Remember all is in motion, is growing, is you.

Remember language comes from this.

Remember the dance language is, that life is.

Remember.

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As mothers and daughters, we are connected to one another.  My mother is the bones of my spine, keeping me straight and true.  She is my blood, making sure it runs rich and strong.  She is the beating of my heart.

                                                                                        -Kristin Hannah

Mom would have been 79 years old today. 

I was feeling melancholy, remembering her special day would be coming and I found myself thinking about her hands. 

Mom’s hands were strong.  She could open up any jar in the house.  She was a dental hygienist for 40 years, so her hands were battle worn.  They worked in tight places all day long with sharp instruments and lifted heavy x-ray aprons.

Her strong hands were the only ones I wanted to rub my back when I was sick. When I had severe asthma growing up, her hands would pound on my back.  This was not an abusive situation. These were the 1970s where there were no inhalers like we use today. Mom’s hands methodically thumped on my back to release the pressure in my lungs and allowed me to breathe.

One day in elementary school, my teacher called me “dummy”.  Although this condemnation would hurt any child’s feelings, the wound was deeper because I had always liked this teacher for her hands.  They were like my mother’s. When I cried that night in my mother’s arms, I remember her saying, “No, honey. Our hands are different. Mine are the ones that are smacking her in the face for saying such a thing to a child.”  Always the fierce Irish mother.

I am not the only one that reveres her mother’s hands.  Fanny Singer, daughter of renowned chef Alice Waters, recounts memories of her mother’s hands in her memoir, Always Home:

“One of the most distinctive things about my mother is her hands, though I would imagine that the hands of anyone’s mother would seem distinctive to them.  Those are the hands, after all, that soothe us through so much of our childhood, that change our diapers, and swaddle us and hold us, and comb our hair, and apply unwanted sunscreen and antiseptic and band-aids.”

Singer also commented about the strength of her mother’s hands, “But, there is also something in the strength of her fingers – whether it is innate or from the years of kitchen work – that I find especially unusual.  In this, her hands are a sort of mirror of her determination.”

The author’s reverence for her beloved mother’s hands are surprisingly the same as mine:  “But if there’s a portrait of my mother’s hands that is most etched in my mind, it is the way she holds a piece of fruit as she deftly slips the skin from its flesh….The finger-feel, the knowledge in her fingertips, strikes me a singular, though I know it is the gift of many chefs:  determining the difference between lusciously yielding flesh and a fruit that is over the hill.”

My mother and I had similar hands and feet.  A bit of useless trivia, for sure. But when we were in hospice with Mom and the nurse asked us to continuously check to see if her hands or feet were turning blue – that would be an indication that the end was near- I couldn’t help seeing my own hands and feet.  Part of me was dying in that bed right along with her.  

That scene lead me to write this poem:

Heartbeat (Hands, Feet in Drumbeat)

Same hands,

Kneading meatballs together 

Same feet,

Walking in the sand

 

Same hands,

Waving goodbye, leaving for school

Same feet,

Strolling through London

 

Same hands, 

Admiring wedding bands

Same feet,

Fatigued from dancing

 

Same hands, 

Holding chubby baby hands

Same feet,

Running through the grass

Different hands, 

Full of IVs

 

Different feet,

Running through the ICU

 

Different hands, Different feet, 

Turning blue

 

Different hands, Different feet, 

Saying this final farewell

 

Different hands, different feet

Different…

Happy birthday, Mom.  I will miss you and love you forever.  You and your beautiful hands.  

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Excerpt from:  Singer, Fanny. Always Home. Knopf, 2020.

Drawing:  Special Bunny from Gail Adinolfi

Phone

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Let difficulty transform you. And it will.
In my experience, we just need help
In learning how not to run away.

                                                                     – Pema Chodron

 

 

I teach English at a local community college. Since our courses are now being delivered online, instructors needed to check on their students who have not logged into our courses to offer assistance. I did not anticipate what I encountered on the other end of the phone. These students helped to broaden my perspective and made me realize how much this pandemic has affected our community in different ways. Surprisingly, their stories dovetail with an article I read yesterday about the pandemic spurring feelings related to grief.

In the article, “That Discomfort You’re Feeling Is Grief”, Scott Berinato explained that what we are actually feeling is loss similar to grief. The stages of grief are denial, anger, bargaining, sadness and acceptance. Here are some observations of grief based on these conversations with my students:

Anger – anticipatory grief
“Anticipatory grief is that feeling we get about what the future holds when we’re uncertain. We feel it when someone gets a dire diagnosis….there is a storm coming” (Berinato).

I called student #1. She is an A student, but has not signed on to our class in a few weeks. When she answered the phone, chaos erupted in the background. A demanding voice shouted, “Who is on the phone? Hang up! Hang up!”. My student apologized and said she was closing her door. She explained that her mother is very fearful that this pandemic could cause her family to be deported. They are living in a state of utter fear that ICE agents will be at their door. She wondered if her mother would take any of them to the hospital if one of them became sick. The ragged fear in my student’s voice was palpable. All I wanted to do was give her peace, but I was just another person demanding something of her at the moment. I talked with her a while and just listened. It was cathartic and she thanked me for my time. That’s the least I could give her.

I thought about this student having to manage a very tough situation in her home. Stress can get magnified during times like these. And, if you are a parent, all you are concerned with is the health and welfare of your children. I felt for this mom in the background – scared and unsure – with the added stress of wondering whether or not she will be forced out of her home.

Sadness
I spoke with a single mom whose voice spoke volumes as soon as she answered the phone. Defeated is the best description I can offer. She sounded exhausted and explained she has 3 small children and she’s all alone in the house with them. She apologized and said she was sorry for not being in class. I assured her I would work with her, explained there are resources to help her and then asked her how she was feeling. We commisserated, but I am not so arrogant to think we are dealing with the same situation. I have older children and a husband who is a partner in this fight with me. This woman is all alone. We talked, laughed and she cried a bit. I believe I was one of the first adults she had spoken to in a while. I offered to talk with her again this week. We can lean on each other during this time, I told her. I just hope leaning is enough for this mom.

Denial
One of my younger students answered the phone, “What?!”. After identifying myself, she said “OK”. I told her I was there for her if she needs anything and she said, “I’ll log in today, if I get the chance.” She responded to me as though I was her nagging mother. I get it. I kind of am in this scenario. I assured her that was fine. Quite frankly, at the time I wanted to get off of the phone with her as much as she wanted to dispatch me. However, looking back on the conversation, I need to check myself and my knee-jerk reactions. I have to realize that we all deal with grief and stress in our own ways. I hope this student will allow me to help her complete our course. I will keep an eye on her just as I am doing with my other students.

So, what do we do for help? Berinato offers advice through an interview with an authority on grief, David Kessler.

Kessler says, “There is something powerful about naming this as grief. It helps us feel what’s inside of us. So many have told me in the past week, “I’m telling my coworkers I’m having a hard time,” or “I cried last night”. When you name it, you feel it and it moves through you. Emotions need motion…” (Berinato).

“Your work is to feel your sadness, fear and anger whether or not someone else is feeling something. Fighting it doesn’t help because your body is producing the feeling. If we allow feelings to happen, they’ll happen in an orderly way, and it empowers us. Then, we’re not victims” (Berinato).

Kessler goes on to explain feeling your feelings in an orderly way:
“Sometimes we try not to feel what we’re feeling because we have this image of a “gang of feelings”. If I feel sad and let it in, it will never go away… The truth is a feeling moves through us. We feel it and it goes and then we go on to the next feeling. There’s no gang out to get us….Let yourself feel the grief and keep going” (Berinato).

It is important we understand that people are living this altered state of self-distancing in very different ways. Reach out with love and compassion. Help as much as you can. We really have no idea what others are facing at this moment. I was lucky enough to be provided with a glimpse.

Special thanks to Jeannette Coggins for this article:

Berinato, Scott. “‘That Discomfort You’re Feeling Is Grief.’” Harvard Business Review, Mar. 2020, https://hbr.org/2020/03/that-discomfort-you’re-feeling-is-grief.

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Searching for JOMO

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Someone I loved
Once gave me
A box full of darkness.

It took me years
To understand
That this, too,
Was a gift.

                                                   – Mary Oliver

JOMO: acronym for “The Joy of Missing Out”

I am a homebody. I used to love it when we had snow days and couldn’t go out. The feeling of turning off the outside world and snuggling under a blanket was always something I craved. However, staying at home today has a very different tenor.

The reason to stay home now is not a choice, but a mandate. Stay home and be safe. There are few answers about how long we have to stay isolated. Also, there are few assurances that life will be the same when we emerge from our dwellings. The media does nothing but ramp up our stress and trigger our deepest fears.

Yet, I am searching for joy. Where is the JOMO = joy of missing out?

There are some examples:

  • A local drive-in movie theater opened its pasture for the season. The movie started with the national anthem.
  • Neighborhood social media sites are heavily populated with posts offering to help those who are sick or elderly. People offering to deliver food and medicine to those who are afraid or are otherwise housebound.
  • My dad came over the other day for a “window visit”. We greeted him at the front door window and bowed to one another, followed by “air hugs”. The kids were able to see their beloved Papa – we showed him how much the kittens have grown, and I was relieved to see his sweet smile again.
  • Our daughter took a virtual tour of Anne Frank’s house online. She was delighted as she just read The Diary of Anne Frank at school. She is going to take virtual tours of art galleries that her Nonna sent links to access.
  • One must not underestimate the power of a kitten resting on your lap to reset your mind and relieve your stress. Our kittens, Axel and Allie, have been relishing this time that we are home. They are different from other cats. They actually like us.
  • Our son played XBox with a family friend. This friend of his is more like family and it’s so nice to hear his voice on the line while they battled each other on Madden.
  • My husband and his culinary skills. I am so beyond grateful for his cooking talent. He is making the most fantastic and healthy meals for us. And, I am baking with the kids. We are all going to gain weight, but c’est la vie!
  • Slowing down with family – we have been playing board games, writing daily journal entries to keep an artifact of this time and looking through old family pictures. The stories that come from these pictures are teaching our kids their family’s history.

I know this appears all idyllic, but our lives are far from perfect right now. There are still sibling rivalries that have turned into epic battles due to stress. My husband and I have been irritable. I have put myself into time out on several occasions- finding solace in my bedroom with headphones on to just get some quiet.

But, I can’t help thinking how lucky we are. We have working appliances to cook our food, clean our clothes and keep us warm/cool in this changing time. Our water is clean and everyone is healthy. We have the ability to work from home, which I absolutely do not take for granted. My family and I do not have to leave my house to work or fight this virus. For that, I am truly grateful to all of those heroes who must do the hard work needed for us to stay safe.

I could end this post with some big pronouncement, but quite frankly, I have nothing. I have no answers, which as a mother and a teacher is frustrating. All I can think of doing is trying to remain calm through exercise, meditation and awareness of my actions. To help others – trying to be as understanding and patient as possible. To practice as George Saunders called it, “muscular kindness”.

Too often we underestimate the power of
A touch,
A smile,
A kind word,
A listening ear,
An honest compliment,
Or, the smallest act of caring,
All of which have the potential to turn a life around.

                                                                 – Leo Buscaglia

Critical Winter

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“In the midst of winter, I found there was, within me, an invincible summer. And that makes me happy. For it says that no matter how hard the world pushes against me, within me, there’s something stronger – something better, pushing right back.”

-Albert Camus

 

“What do you consider the most humane? – To spare someone shame.  What is the seal of liberation? – To no longer be ashamed in front of oneself.”

-Friedrich Nietzche

 

 

Today, I thanked my students, just for being there – for allowing me the privilege to teach them.  I realize that as teachers, we often forget the gratitude and focus on criticism. It is our job to judge.  We are paid to dole out feedback and award grades. And, our job description tends to make a person…well, critical.

But, how do we as educators, as writers, as humans, get beyond criticism to show people love while helping them get better?

A mentor of mine was talking about criticism the other day at lunch.  She said, “Criticism without compassion is brutality.” I sighed in response.  What a great quote! I asked her to elaborate and she said anyone can judge someone, but it is an art to give compassionate criticism.

I have always been criticism-adverse.  Really. Who isn’t? Any time I submit work to be published, the anxiety game is on.  And, I’m just waiting for the fallout. Or, the silence. Not sure which is worse.  

I blame my parents.  I was brought up with two supportive and very loving parents who guided me and made me feel like everything I did was wonderful.  Jokingly, I tell my friends I was brought up in a “Praise Parade”. Although I am beyond thankful to my parents for their unconditional love and support, they did not prepare me for the harsh world of receiving criticism.  

How does one take criticism well?  How can you make sure to spare a person’s heart, while providing sufficient and honest guidance to help him or her improve?  The interesting thing is I am a fervent practitioner of “Praise Parade” principles with my friends, family. Yet with my students, I tend to stray from the parade route.  I do acknowledge their growth and praise them for learning, but I may be a bit curt and technical in the feedback I give them. I acknowledge this mechanical style of feedback can be strident.

Just this morning, one student submitted her draft and said, “I know it’s not good, but I will take all of the tough criticism you can give me.  All I need is your help.” This plea proves that students relate education and coaching with shaming. Why not? This is probably all they have received in the past.  She assured me “she could take it”. Why do we have to take it – to brace ourselves for the onslaught of brutality?

There is a quote floating around social media by Larry Martinek that states, “Children don’t hate math.  What they hate is being confused, intimidated and embarrassed by math. With understanding comes passion, and with passion comes growth – a treasure is unlocked.”  English comes with the same kind of baggage. People feel intimidated by writing and have already deemed themselves failures before even walking into my classroom.

I do not have a definitive answer, but I have been thinking a lot about about criticism and want to employ these changes with my students.  I am reading a wonderful book, Atomic Habits by James Clear.  In it, he suggests, “Focusing on the overall system, rather than a single goal…an atomic habit refers to a tiny change, a marginal gain, a 1 percent improvement.  They are little habits that are part of a larger system. Just as atoms are the building blocks of molecules, atomic habits are the building blocks of remarkable results” (Clear 27). 

So, using this important book as a guide, let’s make a change.  Think about adding 1% of love into each criticism. The awareness of the person’s feelings, and leading with love and a sense of compassion can truly help a person become better at whatever task they are undertaking. 

I plan to infuse part of the proud tradition my parents started for me into my teaching.  I can still do the work of teaching/coaching, while charting onward with the “Praise Parade”.  

And, Joy Harjo, the Poet Laureate of the United States (who incidentally is coming to our campus in April), agrees with praise as protection of the soul:

Praise crazy.  Praise sad.

Praise the path on which we’re led.

Praise the roads on earth and water.

Praise the eater and the eaten.

Praise beginnings; praise the end.

Praise the song and praise the singer.

 

Praise the rain; it brings more rain.

Praise the rain; it brings more rain.

-Joy Harjo, Excerpt from “Praise the Rain”

 

Window

Window Christmas tree (2)

“The secret of Christmas is not the things you do

at Christmastime.  

But, the Christmas things you do, the whole year through.”

Sammy Cahn and Jimmy Van Heusen,

The Secret of Christmas

I took a picture this morning of our Christmas tree from the outside of our house looking in.  I imagined someone not being able to come home for Christmas, watching the joy and celebrations from afar or just out of reach. 

When I was growing up, my family was all about Christmas.  Christmas-mania hit the day after Thanksgiving. Dad would be testing the lights- screaming at the bulbs, willing them to turn on.  This could go on all day long. Mom would be organizing the ornaments, as you needed to place ones specifically on different parts of the tree.  Lots of ornaments were from places we had been on family vacations. Yes, it was quite a production. But, what a production! After being gone from New York for over 24 years, my friends from home still remember our Christmas trees in our living room and den windows.  

You see, we had two trees.  One was the “family’s” tree, the den one- that was all Mom’s.  The family tree was adorned with all the arts and crafts we kids brought home throughout the years – popsicle stick santas and macaroni wreaths abound!  The family tree was always my favorite tree as I viewed it as a celebration of our childhood history.

Mom’s tree was different.  It had a theme – either silver or blue – and had beautiful ornaments.  Although I viewed it as impersonal and a little too fancy, I get it now.  This was Mom’s tree. All Mom’s. And, she could do whatever the hell she wanted with it.  This resonates with me so much this Christmas as I am now a mom, and missing my mom we lost in 2016.  If I could have her back now, I would gladly give her whatever kind of tree she’d like. 

Christmas is different since she left us.  Sometimes, I stare at our tree and it reminds me of all we have lost.  It brings up searing feelings of loneliness and grief. However, two things have brought me out of my haze.  Obviously, the kids do not let me brood for long. However this year, a commercial (click here to view the commercial) and an article (click here for the article) made me remember what the Christmas season is all about. 

Invite them in, despite the recipe you burned, no matter the dirty house or sink full of dishes.  No one will remember these things. All of these imperfections make a home. The love and kindness will be the souvenirs.

General Store Sleds

RV Chronicles #4 – Travel Book

20191116_165526“You can see a war out there, or you can see a friendly place.  Or you can simply see and skip the words.”

-Charles Bowden, Some of the Dead are Still Breathing:  Living in the Future

So, this story is not an RV chronicle, but it is RV adjacent.

We were in New York City for the weekend.  Mark took the kids to an M&M store in Times Square.  I opted to go to a large independent bookstore in Chelsea to be amongst my people.  I love to go to independent bookstores because the staff are not only really friendly, but incredibly knowledgeable.  I wanted to find a travel book based on RV adventures. 

Although I didn’t find one, the person helping me showed me a book of essays entitled, Some of the Dead Are Still Breathing: Living in the Future by Charles Bowden.  I loved the title, so I that was an easy sell.  Then, she showed me some books by French authors traveling around the U.S.  I bought the one that was most critical of America, as I love a little snarky adventure.

When I approached the cashier, he looked at me with disdain.  It was as if he was saying with his eyes, Here she is.  Another middle-aged white lady.  What is the book of the day, ma’am?  Ah, Meditations on Menopause? Good choice.  It is a typical look and I have seen before.  The NYC intellectual look, I call it. I usually wilt when I see this look as I still have an “also-ran” attitude when it comes to NYC.  I am from Cortland, NY, which the New Yorkers view as basically, Canada. Definitely not New York. Although, as I have gotten older, I do not shrink much anymore.  I met his gaze head on.

As he was ringing up my purchases, he grabbed the Bowden book and asked, wide-eyed, “Where did you get this?”.  I looked around, my Catholic guilt showing, and said, “From the travel section?”. My statement was posed as a question because I was stunned by his.  Then he asked, “Who gave you this book?”. This time, I stared him right in the eye and said, “Someone who works here.” In my mind I was thinking, Listen, Skippy.  I don’t know what this is, but don’t try to pull anything on me.  I’m a New Yorker, too. Upstate New Yorker.  

I was relieved when he started gushing about the author.  His love for Bowden’s work made me just happy to be alive.  This kid went from sullen and dark, to sweet and puppy-ish in a matter of seconds.  He said, “Oh, do you want a bag?” and I responded, “Yes, the tote bag that I picked out before.”  He shook his head, apologized and blushed brightly like a Christmas ribbon.

I like to surprise people, and it’s even better when they surprise me.

When I left, I checked my Google Maps app.  It looked like I had a 15 minute walk ahead of me to our hotel.  No big deal. I started walking down Houston and then up 6th Avenue.  It was so great to walk in the city and see real life in front of me – men playing basketball, old couples walking arm in arm, kids in strollers.  Although it was only 33 degrees, I was feeling quite warm basking in the NY glow.  

I had been walking for a good 20 minutes and my face was starting to sting from the cold air.  I decided to double-check the hotel address. 827 6th Avenue, OK, and I am now at…..127. WHATTTTTT!!  So, I misread Google Maps. The directions from before were for driving distance, not walking. I was in for a 60-minute walk.  Ah, no big deal.

I kept an eye on the blocks as they rolled by – 200 block, 300 block….whew!!!

 I got to the hotel feeling pretty good about myself.  I had some cred after that walk, I tell you. I announced to the front desk staff that I just walked there from Little Italy.  I got a lot of accolades and we laughed about my Google Maps guffaw.

I remembered such an important lesson after these two situations.  Even though I am a control freak, I definitely enjoy the unexpected.

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