Sunday, March 29, 2020

I know what I know.

Last night, while I was making dinner, I used a salad spinner that I bought at the 99Cent Store in Silver Lake back in 1992.

While I was making the salad, we were listen to Paul Simon’s Graceland. The album had been mentioned in an LA Times article featuring albums to listen to during this time of hunkering down. My husband is trying to find some structure. Reading the newspaper and taking part in all the offerings of communal engagement is one way to do that.

Graceland makes me think of my freshman year of college when a dear friend sent me the cassette and I listened to it approximately one million times. When I listened to Paul Simon’s sweet voice last night, I marveled at his magnificent metaphors and wept a little as I stirred the risotto. My own son will be a college freshman in the fall. How is this possible?

It is possible because time passes and that is one thing we know.

I’ve been keeping track of the things I know and using them as anchors or stepping stones. Or maybe a better metaphor is the planks in a swaying, decrepit suspension bridge. I’m not looking down at the chasm. I’m keeping my eyes up and I’m putting my feet down on the the known when I can.

Here’s what I know right now: last night, my son did the supper dishes while Prince sang “Let’s go Crazy.”

Yes. Let’s. (But just a little.) Because here’s what I also know: there is milk and cereal for breakfast. There is bread and butter for toast. My dog is out of his skin with joy when I pull the leash from the closet even if a few moments later, he’s dragging his feet on the trail. He’s willing and reluctant and so am I in so many ways.

I know my boy will go to college. One of these as yet unvisited, untested places will be a vessel to hold my kid, a petri dish of experimentation and growth and magical transformation.

And if it’s not. Perhaps, later, when he leaves the dorm and strikes out on his own and he moves into a place that seems a little run down, but the landlord says it’s okay to paint the wood floor and it’s okay to have a cat and it’s okay to leave the windows open all night, then this is where he’ll start to grow.

Or, maybe, (and this is where I get all hopeful,) he’s growing now.

My daughter has used this time to transform her bedroom from the space of a kid to the space of a young woman. (She will be so grossed out by that sentence when/if she reads it and that’s okay with me.) She’s painted white over the pale blue of six years ago, and, yesterday, I helped cram a menagerie of stuffed animals into an oversized, black plastic bag. Though I have a strange aversion to plush, and have been trying (with little success) for years to limit the collection of stuffed animals, it was hard to press the flat of my hand over these cheery familiar faces. I looked away from their bright plastic eyes and let this collection of childhood friends become one cumbersome body that we lugged down the stairs and crammed into a bin in the garage. I sat on the bin to get the lid to close.

I saved two old friends. A squirrel named Squirrel and a bedraggled tarsier named Little Freak. Liberated from the anonymity of the pre-school toy box, Squirrel lived a flamboyant life in my daughter’s company. His companion, Little Freak was given numerous hairstyles and was loved into a grubby, matted nub. Did I save them because they were the most eccentric of the animals? Because their diminutive stature reminds me that my towering daughter once had the smallest of hands? Was it the curious light in Squirrel’s button eyes or the windblown ear-hair of Little Freak?

I can’t know.

Tuesday, March 24, 2020

Washing hands

"I've never in my life read so many articles about hand washing," my husband says.

He's already reminded me to watch my pace. And I've reminded him to get the spots under his wedding band.

"Ah," he says, "Another peril of marriage."

He bumps my hip with his.

Our soap smalls like basil or maybe parsley or cranberry or jasmine or lavender. In every room, in a dish, or pumped from a bottle, the manufactured smells of out of doors.

In the actual out of doors, nature cranks up Spring.

Mock orange, eucalyptus, mown grass and, last night, like a breath blown all the way from my 1970s childhood: fluid and hamburgers and cigarette smoke.
These communal smells conjured forbidden gestures.
Licked fingers.
The sharing of lit tobacco from lip to lip.
Unwashed hands brushing.

Monday, March 23, 2020

All we can do.

A few days ago, I thought, hey, I’m going to start blogging again. And I did. One time.

But there are so many hours in the day, you say. And to that I say yes. I’ve been filling these hours with walking and writing and cooking and reading and sitting on the sofa and watching television. I’ve given up asking the dogs not to sit on the sofa and they are so happy. I’ve done a bunch of laundry and wiped down all high-touch surfaces. I am doing these things and, I imagine, you are doing these things, too. And for all of us, the days have stretched and merged.

Yesterday morning, I was sitting on my sofa with the morning papers (2 on Sunday) and I was also checking my phone every five seconds and I posted a picture of my first walk of the day and also a beautiful poem by the amazing and necessary Jane Hirshfield, whose new book, “Ledger,” has just come out. You can read a review of the book here.  You can read the gorgeous poem itself, here.

When I posed the question “What going on for you?” people answered with descriptions of meal preparation and toddler meditation. I read about virtual baby showers and the pulling of weeds. Friends spent their day working on getting out the vote and thinking of things to do with an excess of Swiss chard. Songs were being sung, television was being watched, books were being read.

My husband has nearly finished the second of two 1000-piece jigsaw puzzles. My daughter learned the moves to a new tik-tok dance. My son has built a cathedral in MineCraft. I have baked a vegan bread pudding that delighted even my most carnivorous family member.

We are all doing so much.

We are doing all we can do to get through this.

Tuesday, March 17, 2020

Thoughts of HOME

The last time I went to a theater, COVID-19 was in the news, but at this point, (just under two weeks ago,) it was still possible to step out of a cool evening into the warmth of a crowded and well lit lobby and not feel overwhelmed by thoughts of the virus.

We saw Geoff Sobelle’s “Home,” a performance that nearly defies description. Prior to attending an event, my husband will sometimes ask, “Is it a play? Or a piece?” He needs to know what he’s getting into. He needs time to prepare. “Home” was a little of both.

We sat together in the dark and watched the magic unfold. A door opened. A wall was built. A bed appeared. It’s hard to describe this show without ruining it. I don’t want to ruin it because it feels like an expression of faith to imagine that you might, one day, buy a ticket and take your seat amidst friends and strangers in a quiet space. It is an optimistic assumption that you will have a chance to see this show and experience it for yourself.

As a high school student, I considered the theater my home. That space was so critical to my identity that, even with the burden of three decades on my shoulders, I could still sit at a table with my eyes closed and draw for you a map of the Performing Arts Center at Manzano High School in Albuquerque, New Mexico. I imagine my pen travelling from the last row in the house to the tiny dressing rooms just off stage right. The front of the stage was high enough to encourage sitting with dangled legs. The curtains were heavy and velvet. The scuffed sound tiles around the house phone, just off stage left, where I leaned my shoulder and pressed the receiver into my ear, is where I heard my stepmother read aloud the words of my college acceptance letter.

Geoff Sobelle asked us to consider the definition of home. He asks us to imagine the life of a house. What happened before you lived in your house? What will happen after? He showed us the daily rituals that, year after year, create a union of continuity among the residents.

The virus asks me to stay in my house. At home, we practice rituals of social distancing, while continuing to perform the rituals of ordinary life. The rest of the world is distant, but sometimes it feels that we are on top of each other. Every day my husband and our two teens create our own performance. We make schedules, prepare food. We try to work and study. We walk the empty streets of the neighborhood or we run on the treadmill in our garage. At meals, we laugh a lot. We sit at the table together for longer than we have in some time. We let ourselves be held by the order of placemats and forks and knives.

My son is waiting to hear from colleges. The end of his senior year of high school is being held on line. A few days ago, he showed me the Minecraft model he was building of the sanctuary where his graduation would be held. “The CDC is limiting gatherings,” he said. “Just in case we need to go virtual…” He showed me the rows of empty seats, and the arches and doorways. He walked me through the space and I marveled at the way the light streamed through the stained glass. “I wanted to put the sun where the light would stream right through the big windows,” he told me.    

There was a graduation in Geoff Sobelle’s “Home.” A member of the audience played the role in cap and gown. Other audience members were given a bridal veil, a baby, a funeral. The rituals of our lives take place when and where they can. They bloom out from our homes like scarves pulled from a magician’s sleeve and then, in times like this (have we ever had times like this?), fold back into the most familiar of places.

Today I took a pencil and wrote on a piece of paper: Breakfast. Walk. Be creative. Lunch. More work. Read. Prepare dinner. Rest.