Atta Boy! Atta Girl!

Long-married couples with dogs joke that they ought to greet their partner with all the enthusiasm and love with which they greet their dog — at least now and again. “Oh HELLO! How’s my big boy? Are you such a good boy?”

On this morning’s walk I realized that it wouldn’t kill me to praise myself with the same enthusiasm that I praise my dog — at least now and again.

Finn doesn’t react to Marmaduke dog from the brown duplex. “YES! What a good boy!”
I restrain my tongue recently at a couple of critical junctures. “YES! Atta girl!”

Two loud city buses lumber past and Finn doesn’t lunge. “YES! What a good boy!”
I take off my semi-decent pants and new sweater before bleaching the toilets. “Atta girl, Dee!”

Finn lifts the paw irritated by a piece of salt. “YES! Good, good boy! How smart you are!”
I start following query and MSWL hashtags on twitter. “Smart move, Dee! Keep at it!”

(MSWL stands for Manuscript Wish List. It’s a good resource for finding out what kind of books agents are interested in).

You get the idea.

Meanwhile, the slow down of sewing continues. Same with taking pictures. I hope this is some sort of mild seasonal arrhythmia or a function of writing-focus. But it’s weird and disorienting.

I backed and basted a small geometric study in vibrant colors and started quilting it. It’s crib-sized but I don’t expect grandchildren any time soon or perhaps ever, so why?

That’s the winter talking. Don’t mind me.

You wrote a post in spite of feeling mute and grey. ATTA GIRL! You have nothing, really, to report, but you reached out. Good, good girl!

 

Canine company

Look who has settled into his big blue bed on this rainy day! Finn usually spends the morning downstairs while I write, only traipsing up here when my husband delivers a second cup of coffee. My zoom-mates know to expect them.

I didn’t manage to bustle out the door for a walk this morning. It feels like a day to cocoon.

Cocooning is a luxury, a laziness, and a way to preserve health. I don’t know how to think about it anymore. All this isolation, even partnered and filled with canine company, might be getting to me.

It might also be a good day to whittle down the pile of papers next to the computer. Already a clipboard of novel-related notes surfaced.

A clipboard! Gawd.

On the top page clipped to that clipboard, I found a quote that feels relevant to today, to our time: Grief … is a form of moral intelligence and even wisdom.” Terry Patten, A New Republic of the Heart.

Phrases from the novel Pamela

Handling disappointment

My adoration for the quilts of Bisa Butler and the pandemic began at roughly the same time. If you haven’t discovered her yet, you must, because she is a once-in-a-generation quilter.

Butler’s work is absolutely stunning, in construction, scale, color, and subject matter.

Her quilts document Black life with exuberant patterning and such an incredible ability to render faces and clothing without resorting to paint that she continually reminds viewers that they are 100% cloth. You squint agog wondering, How on earth does she do it?

She’s like Kehinde Wiley tripping on acid.

Not that long ago, I vowed to myself, “When this is all over, I’m gonna see her quilts even if I have to travel to Chicago or Memphis to do so.”

So it might surprise you to learn that I just ordered a book showcasing her portraits rather than truck a few miles down Route 9 to see one of her pieces. A neighbor even lent me her MFA member card so that I could be admitted at no coast.

And still I’m not going.

Is it yesterday’s colonoscopy stopping me? Maybe. At the endoscopy center, there were half a dozen nurses, several doctors, an anesthesiology assistant or two, secretaries, and other patients. They managed risk expertly — everyone wore masks, curtains divided the gurneys, a careful protocol determined who came into the building and when. Still that feels like enough potential exposure for one week.

(P.S. Everything’s fine).

More delays in the editing process mean that I will finally spend two solid weeks polishing a query letter (not like creative writing at all!) and building a functional list of agents. I should have done this a year ago! I signed up for QueryTracker and will look into Submittable and Duotrope, two other literary submission programs. I’m going to be ready to aim and fire the second I get the last batch of edits.

Otherwise, I’ll just kill myself. I can’t keep doing this.

(I’m JOKING).

The situation reminds me of something I read in some book or other on happiness. It has really stayed with me, unlike the author and title of the book. It said something along the lines of this: except for the loss of a partner or a child, almost no disappointments result in significant changes in happiness five years out.

So in other words, if this book never sees the light of day, five years from now I’ll be dead — oops — I mean, my happiness quotient will be roughly the same as it is today.

This reminder is oddly comforting and in no way promotes defeatism.

All of this today makes me feel the fragility of life. It’s so important to breathe, and to be kind to one another, and to make haste slowly.

 

 

Advice from an old lady

Before I get to the more general advice, let me dispense some cautionary advice relative to COVID. I’ve been reading one horror story after another about hospitals being overrun and depending on whom you believe, a health care system on the verge of collapse or already fully collapsed.

In that vein: stay off of ladders; keep your knives sharp; exercise care going up and down stairs and getting in and out of the shower; get your groceries delivered — or if not, certainly cut out all non-essential shopping for a month; do not get drunk (according to my brother some huge percent of ER admissions are alcohol-related); save your heart attack for the summer; take all your meds; shovel snow in brief intervals or hire someone else to do it; get grippers for your boots; stay off motorcycles.

In other words, now is not the time to cut yourself or take a bad fall.

Now for some more general old lady advice. I’d love to hear yours!

Roll spine before getting out of bed

In winter, put hemp salve up the nose to keep tissues soft

Open all mail from Social Security promptly

Buy the nicest face products you can afford

Heating pads are a way of life

Sprinkle critical items around the house: charging cords (plugged in); reading glasses; writing instruments (I like Bic Medium points, blue); dental floss

Make every bath a salt bath — regular Epsom salts for the average day, scented Epsom salts for a little treat, and fizzy bath bombs for a bigger treat (I pull my bath bombs out of the water halfway through their fizz to extend use).

Invest in good walking boots and comfy shoes that have a little style to them.

Scarves and earrings can dress up a wardrobe of plain shirts

If your size or stature is hard to fit, when you discover a pair of pants or top that is flattering and comfortable, immediately buy two more in other colors (I wish I had learned this decades ago)

Enjoy food!

To counter this, I don’t eat breakfast, take a statin, and walk every day. Every once in a while I’ll eliminate gluten, dairy, and/or sugar for a while. Sometimes years.

(I haven’t quite worked this one out and have struggled with an extra ten pounds for about four years).

Dogs! Cats! Need I say more?

A heavy bamboo blanket turns a couch into a haven. Upstairs, I now sleep under a weighted blanket as well. It took some trial and error to figure it out, but now that I’ve got it, I can’t imagine sleeping without it!

Stay in touch with friends.

The white underwing

I happed upon this image just before a writing session. Here’s most of what I wrote.

Up, anxious, sitting on the pot. Above the bathroom curtain’s ruffle, I can see a section of the night sky. A wedge of moon travels above Linshaw’s roof and into the netted shadows of their massive copper beech.

That tree, part sentinel, part cautionary tale, is hundreds of years old. It was a sapling during the small pox epidemic of the late 1700’s. It grabbed sky in one direction and earth in the other when the Fugitive Slave Act was passed. Horses and a stream wandered nearby.

The beech was bigger yet at the Emancipation Proclamation. By the time of the Spanish flu perhaps the twin trunks had established themselves.

The white planked house is old too, but not nearly as old as the tree. I like to think that old Abraham Jackson sited the foundation with due regard for the tree, a tree which was still in its youth but already punctuating his property with its mighty grace.

The moon in her delicate variety is older yet, so old that a different scale of time is required. The coal-to-diamond scale. The asteroid-encounter scale.

All I can think about during my brief viewing of the night sky is how insular I’ve become. A life apart from the wonder of puddles and their up-side-down worlds. Apart from trout and hummingbirds. Apart from the cleansing sweep of cold night air in the lungs.

Oh I go outside, but my walks with the dog are more like mail delivery than adventure. Making the rounds. A chance to take stock of all the closed blinds and to wonder why so few structures ever show any signs of life.

When I lived on the other side of the state in the Berkshires all I had to do was raise my head off the pillow and gaze out my eastern window to be transported. Sheep’s Heaven Mountain. The mountain’s name whispered: time passes, time passes. Not that long ago the wooded hill was bare and dotted with sheep.

Here the horizon is rooved. One neighbor painted their house a bright yellow this year. At first I wondered about their choice but today I look out and its yolky warmth is welcome in all the grey.

All the grey can dull the senses. Maybe that’s why the news photo of a snowy owl in Washington, DC captivated me this morning. She’d made her way south from her usual haunts. She could be yet another signal of the drastic climate change we’re all so busily — in one way or another — trying to ignore.

But when I spy her fluffed up against the cold atop a statue of Themis, a figure representing freedom and justice, I like to think she stands for something else. That she augurs change. I like to think that when she lifts her wings and reveals their white undersides, we are meant to notice and in noticing, act.

I don’t believe the arc of the moral universe necessarily bends toward justice. There are too many ways we can fail. But this bird perched on the head of a goddess carrying the sword of justice lets me think we have a chance. A chance to make things right. A chance to live up to our promise and to atone for our sins. Not because I say so, but because a solitary owl, mysterious and commanding, has told me so.