Thursday, September 29, 2022

Dash


            When you go to a cemetery, you see on a headstone, under the deceased’s name, something like “1943 – 2022.” Let’s focus on the dash between the dates.

 

            Basically, the tombstone is clear and specific about the year when you were born and the year you died. Everything in between – your whole life full of events, from baby life to childhood, school, marriage(s), children, career, honors, losses . . .. I’ll stop the list now, as you know what I mean. But somehow all of that gets summarized as a dash. That’s it: a dash.

 

            I imagine that a thousand years from now when our lives as individuals melt into the soup of time, that dash will be about right. But for us, now, it seems a bit brief. Rushed.

 

            The word “dash” has a lot of different meanings. I won’t go into all of the ways the punctuation mark can be used – suffice it to say, it’s informal. One of my professors or colleagues referred to it as “the debutante dash” – his way of saying it was not suited for serious writing. (I’ve been using it a lot ever since I heard that.) None of the definitions of “dash” that I found in my brief search quite fit its use in “1943 – 2022.” This leaves me free to explore some options.

 

            I think of the “dash” as a very fast run, as in the 100-yard dash or a dash to catch a bus. But if that dash somehow summarizes what happened between 1943 and 2022, then perhaps it’s time to examine the quality of your life-experience. Are you spending your time dashing from one thing to another – catching a plane, getting a job done, getting to work on time, working through a long to-do list, meeting your various commitments? One advantage of being retired is that there is quite a bit less dashing about. We don’t even have to dash home to catch a favorite television program. It is probably no coincidence that all that dashing about often leads to having your hopes dashed? Yes, there is a feeling of achievement, but still . . ..

 

            I found this from Ellen Goodman:

 

Normal is . . . getting dressed in clothes that you buy for work, driving through traffic in a car that you are still paying for, in order to get to a job that you need so you can pay for the clothes, car, and especially, the house that you leave empty all day in order to afford to live in it.

 

Also:    “Why are you beating your head against the wall?”

            “Because it feels so good when I stop.”

 

            Then, there is the “dash of salt” or some other spice to add an appealing new flavor to a recipe. It may be that one way to keep from dashing the quality of your life is to stop dashing about and take in a dash of some new flavor to the recipe of your life. Easily said, I know, and I’m not very good at novelty (I’m not very dashing), but fortunately I have a dash of Kim to spice things up. 

Thursday, September 22, 2022

Unintended Self-Parody


            You know what caricature portraits are – cartoon versions that exaggerate certain distinguishing features of the subject in ways that are amusing, if not always flattering. Caricatures do not only exist as drawings.

 

            When I was teaching, I observed that many of my veteran colleagues had become a joke version of themselves, with some of their mannerisms exaggerated. This was not done on purpose. It’s apparently something that just happens. I noticed colleagues who exaggerated their tough-guy approach to discipline, or a “students-are-my-buddies” attempt to deny aging, or flirtation with the same goal, or the “I’m still a jock” swagger. Then there’s the obsession with tardiness, or the “I’m too intellectual to be teaching high school” or “I never got out of high school” mannerisms.

 

            The term “unintended self-parody” is not one I coined. It was, I believe, first applied to writers whose habitual style became so exaggerated that it turned into a joke. Think of e e cummings becoming too e e cummings, or lusty-busty historical romances with too much bodice-ripping, or rom-com movies that become a predictable joke, or of many Hallmark cards (though some I really admire). Think of some rock lyrics, or of political speeches, or the blurred very fast spoken warnings tacked onto the end of some television commercials. I have simply expanded the term to include people.

 

            Lately I’ve noticed that this does not only apply to aging teachers, and as a matter of fact, the aged are not the only people who are demonstrating unintended self-parody. In fact, I first thought of this blog subject when I saw a group of wealthy and loudly chattering blond “Karens” outside a shop in Harbor Springs. They did not know they had become self-caricatures.

 

            At this point I should mention people I know as examples, but for obvious reasons I decline to do so. Why not use them as examples? you ask, confident that you would not find yourself described. Well, the term includes “unintended,” which is very close to “unaware.”

 

            I frequently see myself surrounded by caricatures, by cartoons. Some of the obvious examples are in our political dramas (sit-coms, if they weren’t so serious), and costumed young people, some salespeople, but also some aggressive customers, or non-athletic people wearing shirts of their favorite sport teams, and quite possibly some Canadians, but also in some of the folks we meet at our garage sale, other people we’ve known for a long time, even some family members. But no, not you.  Just to make sure, you might want to check with your husband or wife . . ..

 

            Sometimes when I look in the mirror I see a self-parody: That can’t really be how I look! Who changed all my mirrors to fun-house mirrors, exaggerating a few comical features, adding hair in unwanted places, making me slouch. And Kim saw her reflection in the mirror and said, “Who’s that old lady? She looks like Humpty Dumpty!”

 

            Other unintended self-parodies:

 

·      old guy struggling with his three tv remotes

·      standing in front of the refrigerator with the door open, staring at the full shelves

·      driving 45 mph on the highway where the speed limit is 55

·      telling the same five jokes, again, hoping the audience has changed

·      wearing my Jeep sweatshirt while masquerading as the kind of off-road guy who needs a Jeep for rough terrain.

·      standing in the kitchen with a confused look on my face

·      my cartoon costume: baggy grampa pants, t-shirt with stretched-out collar, sweatshirt, slip-on shoes. This, despite Kim's efforts . . ..

 

            It occurs to me, reading over what I have written, that it might also qualify as an Unintended Self-Parody.

Thursday, September 15, 2022

Again


            I have written here before about autumn, which has long been my favorite season. Why? For years I welcomed the return of cool weather after my non-air-conditioned summers. But more than that, I’ve always looked forward to the first days of school, where I would have new opportunities to educate a fresh crop of students by throwing them off-balance and asking them to think a bit harder about what they thought they knew, or what they thought they couldn’t do. But it’s more than that. 

 

            Fall, like spring, is a transitional season, and we are taking part in the transition. We have moved the kayak and paddleboards into the garage. We have taken down the screens – also moved to the garage. We trimmed back the daylilies, and some other flowers whose names I have unsurprisingly forgotten. We decided to leave several kinds of flowers untrimmed because birds like the seeds. This week we put up our bird feeders and welcomed our old friends, the chickadees and nuthatches – Kim has counted 20 different species here in September. Our hummingbirds are still here, and we will leave that feeder up for a while for hummers passing through from Canada. I checked out my small inventory of snow shovels, though we don’t expect any until November 1. We discussed when to bring in the removable section of our new deck-dock (as we call it), and we made room in garage for our classic wooden Adirondack chairs. On Friday I put on a white “summer shirt” for our farewell drinks with Rick and Sandy, who have now headed for California, and their dock is now stacked on the shore. Monday we enjoyed a cool rainy morning as a way to underscore the transition away from summer’s warmth.

 

            We are also making plans for next year. Kim is collecting seeds from cosmos (bright yellow flower) to be planted in in April, and we looked up our other garden plants that we plan to prune in late winter / early spring. We (Kim) decided to move the rattlesnake master (yes, that’s a flowering plant) along with other plants for next year’s garden. We decided to get an April load of wood chips for our paths and garden mulch, which means pitchfork and wheelbarrow time for me, which I’m looking forward to. We arranged for a painter to put a preservative/stain on our porches, steps to the beach, and the deck/dock. And we are planning more outings next summer – trips to Whitefish Point in the Upper Peninsula, a major birding spot, plus more day trips for birds and butterflies as Kim’s very gradual recovery continues.

 

            Autumn engages us in cyclical time rather than linear time. Linear time moves in one direction, and we know where that ends up. Cyclical time is profoundly different, as it takes us through a pattern of recurrent events – the hours of the day with habitual or ritual patterns, the calendar with its recurring holidays, this blog every Thursday, the seasons of the year, sports seasons, birthdays (cyclical if you ignore the higher numbers). These cycles help me feel like I am escaping from time’s grip, though the analogy to water’s circling the drain comes to mind. I have written about this before – in fact, I may write about cyclical time every year.

 

            As an antidote to “circling the drain,” read Keats’ “To Autumn,” which begins, “Season of mists and mellow fruitfulness . . .” and concludes, “And gathering swallows twitter in the skies.” Read the whole lovely thing.

 

 

Thursday, September 8, 2022

Another Puzzle


            I finished another jigsaw puzzle this week, a gift from Genne’ – a map of Michigan featuring cartoon-like drawings associated with different areas in the state. It felt good to do the puzzle and even better to be done. It brought to mind a previous post from January 2020:

 

Puzzle

 

            A friend texted us recently to apologize for not getting back to us sooner, explaining that she has been very busy at work.

 

            “I’ve been busy, too,” I told her, “working on a jigsaw puzzle.”

 

            Why work on a jigsaw puzzle? Good question, I suppose, especially when I see Kim so busy doing real work – cooking, cleaning, laundry, etc. Yes, I do some real work, too, most of it involving snow, but my jigsaw puzzle contribution to our functioning home carries with it a seasoning of guilt. I’ve told Kim several times that one thing I really enjoy is being useful. This puzzle is not that one thing.

 

            Kim has been great about it – not giving me any static about wasting my time. Occasionally she will walk by the puzzle and put in a couple of pieces. (As it turns out, all colors of blue are not the same, and dark blue is not the same color as black.) Keep in mind—to give you a feel for the speed at which I operate—that I’ve been “working” on this puzzle for about a month. Kim has also offered, several times, to help by putting the unfinished puzzle back in the box.

 

            I am proud to say that I put together the entire outside border, and I ended up with two extra pieces with straight sides. 

 

            What causes puzzle-pleasure? It may be a deep enjoyment of creating order. The world seems to be a mess, a jumble of pieces, in so many ways: the Middle East, the planet’s health, domestic politics, just to mention a few. There is not a lot I can do, in the British phrase, to “sort things out” in those areas. But I can do that with my puzzle pieces sprawled on the table. Kim suggests that I can also create order by cleaning up the top of my desk.

 

            At least, I think I can create order out of my puzzle pieces. My progress, already slow, is getting slower, and I do have to find a place for those straight-edged pieces. Pretty much all that remains are about a hundred nearly identical black-ish pieces. I’ve started to think of excuses: I bought the puzzle used, and maybe somebody deliberately messed with the pieces, and that’s why I’m stuck.

 

THIS JUST IN:

 

            After realizing that a number of pieces were missing, we scrapped the puzzle and dumped the pieces back in the box, headed for recycling. It feels really, really good having done this – another way to bring order to my world. Kim, as usual, was right.

 

 

            I did actually finish my Michigan puzzle, with help from Max, a ten-year-old neighbor. It is giving me a feeling of satisfaction. It’s done. Finished. Right. Everything is in its proper place. Kim can do this by fixing a meal or making a bed. I do it by finishing a puzzle. Much of the world is a mess – the larger world, of course, but also some aspects our smaller world: struggling family members, cobwebs, weeds, trees needing trimming, door needing repair, unreturned phone calls, etc. But the puzzle is done! 

Thursday, September 1, 2022

What’s Next?

 

            We learned on Friday that Kim’s bone scan showed that her cancer status is “unchanged,” with “no new sites of disease.” Splendid news, to be sure. And yet her pain in her knees, legs and feet also remains unchanged. Thanks to exercises suggested by her physical therapist, and by Genne’, her mobility has improved, but the pain, along with the fatigue that accompanies it, continues. It’s been seven months with this pain. She has had two doctors, a nurse, and two physical therapists suggest that she get an MRI, but she can’t get anyone to order one. The best hope on the horizon is that her primary care physician scheduled a telephone appointment in two weeks to talk about it. That two weeks elapsed, she made her request, and now we wait, probably from our insurance, to hear about an appointment. Indeed, time moves slowly when the pain is so extreme.

 

            We are considering the possibility that this pain, probably a consequence of arthritis along with whatever the MRI will reveal, will be with Kim for as long as she lives. It may get worse. With that in mind, we are looking into lifestyle adjustments in the near future. Kim’s pain is accompanied by fatigue, and the combination makes it hard for her to exercise her creativity, or even to go for walks in pursuit of birds and butterflies. We have had a lot of conversations beginning with, “If I get worse . . . “ or, “If living here becomes too much . . .,” or, “When I die . . ..”

 

            The first thing to go may be my new Jeep. It sits high off the ground, and Kim has to struggle to get into it using the grips we had installed along with the running board. She has lost about three inches in height in the last year or two. I trust we will be able to work something out with our Jeep dealer. I like my Jeep, but I have never loved a car, so this will not be difficult for me – if it is necessary.

 

            Then there is the issue of where we will live. We would love to stay here in the Bark House, of course, but that involves a lot of work, in the house and garden/woods/landscape. We know there are resources available, and we do have someone helping with the cleaning, but our outdoor work involves much more than mowing a lawn and raking leaves. Besides, Kim and I both enjoy working outside, and we try to limit ourselves to one hour per day, but if you know Kim (and me, to a lesser extent), you know how that goes. It’s the pain that makes her stop.

 

            And it would be appealing, especially in the winter, to have a place in Traverse City where we do most of our grocery and medical errands. Driving home at night in the winter is not appealing, and our sense of isolation is intense when all of our neighbors have fled to warmer climates. We enjoy visits from family and friends, but we also enjoy it when it’s just the two of us. An in-town option would be nice. The condos we have visited online are uninspiring, though we are spoiled by where we live now.

 

            So, last week we visited Cordia, an assisted living facility located in the former mental institution where we used to own a condo. The place featured some very appealing things, such as two meals a day in their almost-gourmet restaurant, housekeeping services, laundering bed linens, local transportation, use of a gym, library, art room and salon, etc. But a quick tour made it clear that we could not come close to affording what it would cost to rent a unit that was anywhere near big enough for us. Cordia might be a possibility if and when we sold our house on Torch Lake, but we aren’t ready to do that – at least, not yet. So, we are planning on living here, with whatever help we need and can find.

 

            Whatever the near future brings, we know we will need less stuff, so we are running a pretty much full-time garage sale, hauling more things out there daily. It feels good, and we know we will never run out of stuff.

 

            Our plans are up in the air because of uncertainties of Kim’s health and the certainties of our aging. Amid all the uncertainties, amid the dark conversations about death, I keep returning to my favorite poem, one I have loved (I can love a poem, but not a car.) since I discovered it in high school: Matthew Arnold’s “Dover Beach.” Especially heartening is the opening of the last stanza: “Ah, love, let us be true / To one another!” This, despite whatever is going on in the larger world and the uncertainties of our own little world.

 

            

 

 

 

 

 

Thursday, August 25, 2022

Blue Apron


            Our neighbors, Rick and Sandy, gave us five free meals from Blue Apron. The way the company works, if you subscribe, is that you select from their menu offerings and then they send you the ingredients through FedEx, all premeasured with clearly written instructions, including some photos. Follow the instructions and you have a meal in less than an hour.

 

            We were skeptical at first, but our situation has changed. Yes, we can get all the ingredients at the grocery store, but we are getting older, and it helps not to have to hunt for things we’ve never heard of, probably in more than one store, or to worry about what to do with the bottle of anything once you have used the three tablespoons in the recipe. Blue Apron sends us the exact right amount, so there is no need to measure. Convenience is a big plus.

 

            We also enjoyed our Blue Apron meals because they taste great – at least, the few we have tried. And they introduced us to new things, such as bok choi or roasted radishes. A lot of the vegetables were roasted, some of which ended up in salads. Yum.

 

            Kim and I also enjoyed the process of working together in the kitchen. Usually that meant I would be reading the directions aloud, turning on the oven, washing and drying the fresh vegetables, and maybe even chopping or dicing them, and putting the trimmings into our compost bucket. By our third Blue Apron experience, Kim even let me get near the stove.

 

            And yet . . . we have cancelled our subscription. Why? The packaging. To keep the meat or fish fresh it has to be kept cold, which means the box is insulated and some sort of cooling source has to be included in the box. The insulated cardboard is, we think, too complex a combination for the recyclers to handle, but the real problem is the frozen gelatinous material in plastic bags. The recycling instructions are to let it thoroughly thaw out before dumping it down the drain, but we just don’t want that stuff in our septic system. And all of those carefully pre-measured ingredients, including the delicious sauces, come in little plastic bags. We are not big fans of plastic, and we realize that not all plastic can be readily recycled. We ended up taking most of our Blue Apron packaging to our recycling dumpster about 15 miles from our house, but we don’t feel good about asking the folks going through what we dumped to deal with those bags of gel. And then there’s all the energy involved in getting the meals to our door.

 

            Our decision to unsubscribe has created some very mixed feelings. Yes, what we decided is good for the planet, and it’s important that we take even a small step to do our share. It feels “right,” despite all the positives we had experienced. On the other hand, I think of all the shit that goes down the drain and into our septic system, all the small items like used toothpaste tubes that I send to the landfill, and I think of the gas mileage of the Jeep I am leasing. What a small difference our little Blue Apron decision means to the planet! Does our contribution to environmental organizations offset that Blue Apron coolant? Maybe we could just get a delivery once a month instead of once a week.

 

            Three days after writing the above, I decided to renew my Blue Apron subscription. My research (JFGI) led me to conclude that the packaging could largely be recycled, and the gel could safely go down the drain if we thawed it thoroughly. Perhaps this is the kind of rationalization that is leading to the decline of our planet. I just don’t know. But I do hope that this might be a small step toward easing Kim’s late-afternoon fatigue, and I may even learn to cook. 

Thursday, August 18, 2022

Sack

 

            Kim and I have collaborated on a number of projects. “Fish Crow,” pictured below, is one of them.

 




Here is the text of the poem in case you can’t read it in the photo:

 

            Sack

 

How I love the paper sack:

The roar of paper when you pack

It full of lovely scavenged scraps

For works of art that cry, “perhaps.”

 

How I love its humble brown –

Unbleached, undyed: the art of down

To earth. Its folds and wrinkles feel

So unpretentious and so real.

 

            When I started to write this blog post, I thought it was going to be a celebration of Kim and my collaboration in many areas of our life. Kim built the nest, took the photos, collected the feathers and papers, and arranged and mounted everything. I wrote the poem.


            Then I thought it was going to be a discourse on finding significance, even beauty, in even the most humble and insignificant things.

 

            And now I think the collage is about growing old. The rugged beauty of the Fish Crow is part of that very real experience.