When Did You Become So Political?

An old friend recently asked, “When did you become so political?” I should have responded, “I can’t remember a time when I wasn’t.” Instead, I referenced my political science major at Boston College. I chose poli sci because of my immersion in political discussion from my earliest memories. Even then, I suppressed my liberalism to live in my father’s world. I never tipped my hand at political leanings, but that doesn’t mean I wasn’t “political.” 

I grew up in a family that ascribed to extreme political views, causing me to avoid discussing world affairs with anyone outside of our house. The only angle I fully knew was my father’s and I never totally bought into his perspective. Dad was a hawkish, Republican-leaning, pro-Vietnam, World War II veteran. As a captive audience, I spent the 1960s listening to his rants about the Commie pigs and the pinko hippies. I knew better than to comment or dissent, even if his views seemed a little out of whack. I never told my father he might be wrong because it never boded well for anyone who did. By the end of any verbal political scuff-up, the poor fool stuck enduring his harangue usually nodded and stared off into the distance, praying for spontaneous combustion or a serious case of diarrhea to force a speedy departure and end the tirade. 

Dad’s happiest days were spent serving in the Army Air Corps during World War II, and after the war, he found his niche when he joined American Legion Post 45. Rising to the rank of Commander, Dad considered the place his home and its rag-tag bunch of bar flies his family. On holidays like Patriots’ Day and Memorial Day, Dad marched in the local parades dressed in a para-military ensemble, complete with combat boots, a bayonet, and some fancy patriotic patches. He proudly wielded a ceremonial rifle that shot blanks in honor of those who gave the ultimate sacrifice.

My parents immersed me in a Vietnam-era family culture that glorified war. Dinner-time entertainment included a force-feeding of the evening news with every forkful of pork chops. Deep and foreboding, the voice of Walter Cronkite reading a play-by-play of that day’s casualties on the battlefields of Vietnam droned in the background. Pork chops and Vietnam. The gruesome and disturbing images of bombs exploding feet away from American servicemen linger in my mind. I often wonder why my parents didn’t reach over and turn off the tiny Motorola that sat on the kitchen counter. I think they believed the war was part of my education. I know now it was part of my indoctrination in the pillars of Dad’s political belief system: war was good and necessary to secure democracy and grow the economy.

I was a teenager when the next big political event made the headlines. The Watergate scandal threatened our nation’s election integrity, but my father denied the implications of Watergate, even after Richard Nixon resigned. I discovered my father possessed an off-kilter moral compass when he declared the burglars’ only crime was to get caught. I learned another lesson: when someone says, “I am not a crook,” they probably are. 

When Ronald Reagan announced his run for the presidency in 1979, Dad was as happy as a six-year-old on Christmas morning. Years earlier, Reagan had visited the General Electric plant where my father honed his razor-sharp, blue-collar conservatism over the course of a thirty-eight-year career. Dad shook Reagan’s hand, a story he told so many times and from so many angles, I was sure my father was a personal friend of the man. Reagan’s politics spoke to my father’s belief in American capitalism. Dad loved money and defended the idea of trickle-down economics as a solid theory that would make him rich. As a G.E. shareholder, what was good for the company was good for my father, his bank book, and his individualistic worldview. He took pride in his success as a working man and he never understood people who couldn’t make it in a country like the good ol’ U.S. of A. 

Dad’s favorite t-shirt displayed an image of an American flag and the caption, “These colors don’t run!” My father blindly supported our country and our government, as long as Republicans were in charge. According to him, Democrats were socialists who spent wildly on social service programs that enabled people, who just weren’t working hard enough, to live high off the hog with welfare and food stamps. He believed Republicans made sure those kinds of things wouldn’t happen. Republicans looked out for people like him–hard-working and patriotic. I saw things differently when I went to work as a school counselor in the late 1990s. I shared stories about my students and their parents and their challenges with my father. I tried to explain to him that some people need help and that helping them was vital to the economic health of America. He allowed me my opinion, especially once Bush became president. The topic was then moot, again. 

Dad died before the ridiculous folly that is now the Republican Party took shape. I wonder if he would have listened to my pre-2016 election warnings about how dangerous one man can be to civility, morality, ethics, and democracy, even if the candidate did espouse some of Dad’s values. I imagine conversations with my father about the former president and fantasize about him denouncing the man’s character and his style of governing. One thing Dad hated was nastiness and name-calling (aside from the Commies and Pinkos), and he would have never abided the former guy’s mimicking of a disabled man, his calls for the lynching of a vice president, or his professed love for insurrectionists. I try to discern what my father’s reaction would have been to the events of the last seven years as Trump infiltrated his party with corruption and lies. I doubt Dad would even recognize the remnants of his beloved Republican Party.

I never felt compelled to discuss politics in social settings until the election in 2016. When I voted for Clinton, I voted against her opponent more than to support her candidacy. After the four years of Trump’s shambolic reign, I changed my party affiliation from Unenrolled to Democrat, making the statement that I could never ascribe to a political party so full of hate and un-American behavior. I posted my political beliefs on Facebook and Twitter as a litmus test of values. I questioned the integrity of friends who defended the former president, his behavior, and his administration, especially the ones who saw nothing wrong with the path our government was on, the one that brought us to the brink of governmental collapse on January 6th, 2021. Many are no longer my friends.

My politics have caused me to become patriotic but my brand of patriotism is not of the flag-waving ilk. I refuse to wear anything that bears an American flag, not because I renounce America but because it has become a banner for a belief system. True patriotism isn’t violent, cruel, angry, racist, homophobic, or sexist, but many of those who consider themselves ‘patriots’ flaunt those prejudices under the banner of Old Glory. After seeing the American flag used as a weapon on the steps of our Capitol building, the flag represents a part of America I don’t want to be affiliated with. Our Republican legislators, flanked by American flags, pose with weapons and call for expanded and protected gun rights while mass shootings occur daily. I despise that America, the one that uses the flag as an offensive, personal statement. My political stance does not make me unpatriotic. Patriotism doesn’t require one to wave a flag. It does demand one to fight for the preservation of values and the defense of our freedoms.

As I observe the serious issues plaguing our country, I draw upon what I learned in history class to make sense of what is happening. I remember being taught that gerrymandering is bad, yet the redistricting of states to favor one political party over the other is now happening across the country, with the blessing of the Supreme Court. I read about the filibuster as a way to derail legislation popular with the electorate, and now I see how the practice cripples progress. Now I am learning new terms like ‘packing the courts’ and I know the impact of appointing judges who adhere to a political agenda–it caused the dismantling of women’s rights. Four years of a rogue administration damaged our country irreparably, causing us to ask, “Is it time to expand the Supreme Court and end the filibuster?” It’s worth considering.

When did I become so political? I always have been aware of the impact of politics on our country, from my earliest exposure courtesy of my father to my career working with families who struggle to survive, to finally declaring a political party at the age of sixty-one. I never imagined our country in decline and I’m sure my father didn’t either. Our country has become a victim of politics so divisively political they threaten to destroy its core values. To counteract the moral and political decay, we must speak our beliefs loudly, and if even one mind is changed by our voice, it was worth the risk.  

I guess I’ve always been political but now I am vocal, and that is the difference. 

Brooke Shields Reminds Us That Aging Is Indiscriminately Discriminatory

When the first pictures of Brooke Shields’ Jordache jeans campaign hit the media a few months ago, I took a moment to pose before my mirror in a similar stance as Shields, revealing a hint of breast. As I peered over my shoulder, the image staring back at me was nothing like Shields’ toned shoulders and the crease-free back. Instead, the reflection spat back the reality of being sixty-three. A fold in my skin, just below my bra line, caught my eye first. I studied the soft, squishy skin, replete with speckly age spots and sun damage. Perhaps if I, like Shields, benefited from intense five a.m. workouts, the unsightliness of sixty-three-year-old skin folds would have been minimized or even eradicated. Instead, they glared defiantly back at me, reminding me that a smooth back and a perky side breast mean little. The landslide of aging requires constant tamping down and demands time that some of us of a certain age choose to spend more productively. 

I think back to being fifty-six, the age that Shields is now. A mere seven years and a multitude of health and personal issues ago, I remember the feeling of empowerment she touts. I understand Shields’ comment that she possesses “a knowledge that comes with age.” At her age, I believed I was enlightened, too. My body gushed with bottomless productivity and energy bubbled inside me like a cauldron. The energy distracted me from the tug of impending mortality. Back then, retirement seemed so far in the distance that I gave it little thought. I knew my career and my meaningful contribution to the world-at-large had an expiration date, but it was years away. I had work to do, and some days, I even regretted there was no end in sight. My physique, pear-shaped and petite, suited my age, or so I thought. 

Now at sixty-three, the wisdom of my fifties, the “knowledge” of which Shields speaks, has been replaced with a full-on, five-alarm, in-your-face reality check. In the time since I reveled in being the best version of me, a fifty-something whose life experience fueled wisdom that helped reveal my full potential, I have accomplished many things. Three years ago, I retired from a career as an educator, started my own independent college counseling business, wrote the first draft of my memoir about being the child of hoarders, and began a graduate program in Creative Nonfiction. In between, I completed two intensive writing courses at GrubStreet in Boston. I resisted boredom by keeping busy. I also kept busy to silence the low-pitched wails of impending aging that lived in my head. The forward movement kept me alive. 

My body hasn’t gotten the message. It reminds me every day that, no matter what I do, it will work against me so I choose my commitments wisely. When I exercise, it is to maintain my health, not for my appearance. I look at the photos of Shields owning her fit fifty-six-year-old body. She flaunts her attributes, planting a flag on the surface of time, freezing the moment. She parades “her best self”–an ideal for all of us to admire, but few of us will ever attain. Knowing what I know now, the things my fifty-six-year-old self didn’t, time will catch up with all of us, and after sixty, the passage of time feels like a dragon’s hot breath on my neck. Life, it seems, moves at a speed faster than I ever imagined. 

As a society, we pledge to move away from judging others by their appearances. We say things like “beauty comes from within” and “weight is just a number,” but advertisements like the Jordache campaign only reinforce the ideas we outwardly spurn. For the rest of us who do not have the benefit of a trainer or the perfect raw material to begin with, publicizing images like Shields’ bare back and “side boob” demonstrates a callous tone-deafness that proves how far we haven’t come.

In a 2017 New York Times piece, Ashton Applewhite reinforced my concerns. “When women compete to “stay young,” we collude in our own disempowerment,” she wrote. “When we rank other women by age, we reinforce ageism, sexism, lookism and patriarchy.” 

Applewhite professed my belief that what lies within matters more than how we look. I took her comment to heart when she said, “Of course, aging brings wrenching losses, but it also confers authenticity, confidence, perspective, self-awareness (and my mother said her legs got better). Priorities are clearer. It’s easier to manage emotions. We want less. We care less about what people think, which is really liberating.” The claim that empowerment comes with age along with the ability to overlook what people think gives me hope. Then, along comes Brooke to blow up that theory. Thanks a lot, sweetie!

While Brooke flaunts an ideal, I live the reality of aches and pains, embrace wisdom borne of experience, and accept that looks are fleeting. I commend Ms. Shields for her self-awareness and her self-confidence, but without the intensive intervention she has enjoyed, the physical landslide will rev up and age will win in the end. Perhaps, fighting against the inevitable isn’t really so wise at all. 

For the love of Wordle

Every morning, there is a moment when I realize that’s it for sleep and I roll over and grab my phone. The new Wordle board opens and hope springs anew for that bull’s eye, hole in one, first try guess. I mean, it can’t be that difficult. How many five letter words can there be in the English language? 

As a logical person, I believe I have an edge in this game. As the letters become grayed out, logic intervenes. I am a whiz at analogies, earning me Mensa eligibility due to my high Miller Analogies score. Trust me, I’m no genius but I like games that require brain power, and for that reason, my son, Scott, pushed me into the world of Wordle. (He was also the person who alerted me to being “Mensa eligible.” I laughed in his face at the possibility.)

The text arrived back in early February. “Ma, have you tried Wordle yet? I think you’ll like it.” 

Scott and I have similar brains, quirks, and interests, which gives him insight into my basic likes and dislikes. I thought I meant it when I said, “Scott, I’m not getting involved in another game.”  

I’m already a slave to Words with Friends and Candy Crush Saga. My stats for those apps appall me. No human being should play enough words that they stretch 3 miles or 2,491 rounds of anything involving pretend candy. But I had no one to play Yahtzee or Boggle with. When Scott defected to Texas, my choices for playmates whittled down to my grandchildren and endless rounds of Go Fish and Old Maid using my original cartoony card decks from 1964. It’s bad enough I live next door to where I grew up but still using my nearly sixty-year-old toys? Talk about getting stuck!

I opened the Wordle app, just to see what all these posted Facebook scores were all about. I read the instructions and went at it. In four tries, I discerned the word of the day. I hit the share button and Scott’s name appeared at the top of my texting list. Adding the comment “Is this good?” I hit “SEND.” A few minutes later, Scott responded. “Well, you won but you really want to get three or less.” My golden bubble of success popped immediately. He has a knack for that. When your kid is so much like you, they know how to cut you to the quick. It’s a hazard of motherhood I tolerate for the sake of civilized communication.

The next morning, I opened the app and typed in “PARTY.” Three letters, one in the correct position, appeared. In three tries, all of the letters turned green. I shared the score. The kid’s response: “Good for you! It took me four today.” Vindicated, I played the next day and the next. Now on my fiftieth game, the preponderance of my scores hovers in the three-four word range, and I am proud to declare I have never lost yet. (I just knocked on wood. That was a jinx if I ever heard one.)

Wordle is a frustrating, intriguing, and challenging daily distraction. A salve for the soul weary from world events, it delays the inevitable dive into the Twitter rabbit hole for a few more minutes. It jars my brain into thinking mode. But what I love best about Wordle stems from its purpose as a conversation starter. From eighteen hundred miles away, my kid and I communicate, first about the scores of the day, and then about a million other things. I miss having him nearby but I appreciate Wordle for its contribution to family relations in a natural, unforced means of conveying news and affection.

Last week, he followed up his Wordle score text with  “Have you tried Quordle?” I shut him down immediately. “What the hell is that? No! I’m not getting involved in anything else!” I impressed myself with my forceful, adamant response. I’m sure he could hear my voice across the miles and he probably laughed. He knew it was a matter of time.

Yesterday, as I sat on the sofa with my nine-year-old grandson, Declan, we punched in letters and watched as they illuminated the Quordle screen. It was only a practice game but we shared the score with Uncle Scott. 

“Hey, it’s Dec, on Mami’s phone! Check this out!” 

“Well done, buddy!” 

I imagined Scott’s satisfaction, especially since he knew I was behind the Quordle success. With Dec as a decoy, I shamelessly demonstrated my lack of self-control when it comes to internet games and my commitment to the indoctrination of the next generation of people who play games, online and otherwise. 

I know the Wordle haters dread the daily Facebook scores friends share but the Italian mother in me appreciates Wordle for the unspoken service it performs keeping me in touch with my adult son, halfway across the country. It masks my cloying motherliness as it encourages our playful commentary and harmless competition. 

But I swear, that’s it. No more games. For now, at least.

What’s in a pronoun? Semantics and tone-deaf Catholicism

It’s never been easy to be a Roman Catholic. I’m used to “the look” I get from people when they find out I still go to church, or that I went to Catholic school, or I educated my kids in Catholic schools, or that my grandchildren are being educated in Catholic school. It’s the look that says, “Oh, you buy into organized religion,” or the one that reads, “I had no idea you were so gullible.” The look comes in many forms–a smirk, a chuckle, a hmmph. I know the intent and I consider the source. Their judgment doesn’t change what I do. I believe in God and I try to be a decent person, one who doesn’t judge someone for a different belief system or for not having any belief system at all. 

Allow me to clarify my brand of Catholicism. I do not consider the Church infallible. The Church is its own worst enemy by allowing the rule of men to outweigh the rule of God. As my son says, “The message is a good one, love God and love others. It’s the rest of the crap that sucks.” He’s right. Sadly, men in the Church hierarchy invent the crap that causes the rest of us to scratch our heads, stop going to church, or leave the Church entirely. 

The Church, it seems, is always finding itself on the wrong side of history. In the twelfth century, the church decreed that priests could not be married or have children, not for the reason of chastity but because the Church feared that any sons of the priest would inherit land when the priest died. From the middle ages on, corruption has plagued the Church. Wealthy men purchased indulgences, effectively buying their ways into heaven. Popes and bishops came into power illegitimately. In the present day, the Vatican and its henchmen invent man-made rules that have nothing to do with our personal relationships with God or the essence of our faith. And still, the powers that be, the hierarchy of the Roman Catholic church, fail to see how ridiculous it looks to the world outside of Catholicism.

In the past twenty years, the Church has made a real spectacle of itself with its most repulsive failing, the priest sex abuse scandal. The Church and a male-dominated ministry in the broader sense offered a potential hideout for pedophiles. These priests were well known to the higher-ups; still, they remained in parishes, where access to children enabled them to sexually abuse the most vulnerable. Cardinals and archbishops reassigned them after a few years to different parishes, increasing access to new vulnerable populations. For many of the parents of these kids, the Church was infallible, as were the priests. Children feared exposing the behavior, knowing their parents would never believe them. Herein lies the greater problem. The Church depends on our trust, even when the crowd in charge is untrustworthy and harmful.

In the past two weeks, a story has emerged from Arizona where a Catholic priest is accused of using improper verbiage in the rite of baptism. The Church dictates the words, “I baptize you…yada yada,” this priest said, “We baptize you…” The story might have ended there–a slap on the wrist for one man and a cautionary tale to stick to the script for all priests in the further administration of sacraments. Instead, the Church (the hierarchy–bishops, archbishops, and cardinals) has condemned this act, resulting in the invalidation of all of these baptisms. The Holy Water continued to trickle downstream when it was announced that everyone impacted by the “we baptize” debacle now had to re-receive any sacraments conferred after the botched baptisms. Invalid baptisms made everything else that followed null and void–penance, communion, confirmation, marriage. If the Catholic Church were an interstate highway, this mess would be a one-hundred car pile-up on an already icy 93 North, and like most accidents, a situation that is truly unnecessary and avoidable.

Now let’s pause for a moment and think about this situation logically. How was the priest’s error in judgment investigated? Did the Church request the videotapes from parents who surreptitiously captured the moment, never realizing the evidence would be their undoing? Catholics know that videoing these important life moments is often verboten. Talk about karma, or in this case, divine retribution. Did they interview the participants in these sacraments, forcing them to attest under oath at a tribunal to hearing “we,” not “I?” In this case, I recommend lying, even though it breaks a commandment because nothing good can come from answering a stupid question with an answer that only contributes to a stupider outcome.

Now we add to the mix similar situations in Oklahoma and Michigan, where priests are being investigated for their loose interpretation of what the Church is. These men also used the forbidden “we,” and “we” must now pay for their glaring error in judgment. I have no problem with the word “we” in the case of baptism. The nuns taught me Christ is the head of the Church and we, the devout, are the body. But now we are told that only the priest is the representative of Christ on earth and worthy to welcome someone into the faith. With this semantic foolishness, the Church is not only cutting off its nose to spite its face but accomplishing a full-on decapitation. And they wonder why numbers are declining?

Last week, my son and I discussed the baptism news story and I took note of his almost giddy reaction to the idea that he might have had a “we” baptism. He is typical of younger Catholics who have lapsed or moved on, never to return to the faith. He welcomed a loophole where all of his ties to the Church were negated. I don’t regret all the money spent on Catholic grammar school, high school, and college; I appreciate the intelligent conversations I have with him over the weaknesses in the Church and the need to question authority always, especially when it comes to the Catholic church. It’s a good reminder that the Church is run by men, tone-deaf ones at that, and not everyone hears the same off-key tune.

I attend Mass most Sundays, pushing the failings of the Church out of my mind for forty-five minutes. I avoid parish churches, preferring the teachings of the Franciscans to the narrowmindedness of mainstream Catholicism. The church I attend proclaims “All are welcome” in a banner over the door. The friars truly support “all:” spirituality groups for the LGBTQ community, a food pantry for the hungry, a homeless women’s health clinic, Latino and Haitian ministries, a youth ministry for young adults in their 20s and 30s, support for those struggling with addiction, homeless outreach, and ministries for senior citizen and veterans. For me, the most powerful is the Lazarus ministry where the homeless and those who have no one are given a proper burial. I have always wanted to attend these special Masses but I know I would be a puddle. Mass at St. Anthony’s Shrine often brings me to tears. It defines what I believe to be our mission as Catholics. I harken back to the words of Jesus as reported in the book of Matthew: Whatsoever you do to the least of my people, that you do unto me. In that place, for almost an hour, I am part of the greater “we,” not the hierarchical “I.” It’s why I remain a Catholic, as difficult as it is sometimes.

My son’s sentiment rings painfully true: The rest of it is crap. The semantic pettiness of the ‘we vs. I’ debacle turns people away from the Church. I hope data will be collected to track how many of these ‘negated Catholics’ choose to take the necessary steps to be ‘officially Catholic.’ Honestly, I wouldn’t bother. And they wonder why people are leaving the Church.

Uncle Sam, Dad, and Me: A Taxing Relationship

Tax time always reminds me of my father. When I was small, I watched as my father took on the task of “doing the taxes.” Every April 14th, he set himself up at the kitchen table with a pile of mishmashed documents, muttering swears under his breath as he scribbled, erased, and reworked the data.  Dad was the master of the loophole and fudging numbers, knowing exactly where to tweak a digit without fear of an audit. To his credit, he seldom got hauled in for an “accounting error.” Instead, he toyed with working for the Internal Revenue Service, going so far as to take the civil service test, pass it, interview, and ultimately decline the offer of employment. His work at the General Electric plant in Lynn, Massachusetts was far more lucrative than what the government paid, and since he worked the night shift, he could nap on the job. He knew he couldn’t snooze at his desk at the IRS, making his life as a blue-collared machinist preferable to a career dressed in a shirt and tie and sitting upright.

Dad’s professed acumen with a 1040 and its multiple schedules gave birth to a side gig. He did the taxes for most of the guys in “the shop,” my grandparents, and anyone who needed help navigating the convoluted forms. Again, he employed his skills–a little heavy on the charitable donations, a little less on the bank interest. It was the 60s, a simpler and less precise  time when the use of computers the size of an entire room had yet to manage the banking world. Paper, pen, adding machines, and old fashioned manual typewriters kept track of transactions. Dad easily snuck a few adjustments by the discerning eye of an auditor. He was clever, if not also a bit dishonest. I never questioned or doubted my father. To me, Dad’s shifty ways were normal.

Propping me on his knee, Dad showed me his calculations and how the numbers interacted to produce an amount of tax owed. I was probably only six-years-old the first time I flipped to the back of the IRS manual to find the chart, sliding my finger down the margin to my father’s income range, then moving to the right to the “Married Filing Jointly” column. Like magic, there was Dad’s tax liability. I remember giggling at this secret my father was letting me in on. For years to come, I sat at his side, learning to fill out the forms, curious about the process without ever knowing the life skill my father was teaching me. When we finished, he always gave me the extra, unused forms and I subjected more than a few of my dolls to my version of tax prep. Didn’t every kid do that?

This past Monday, I filed my taxes. It’s harder now to play the system, and being of a more honorable nature than Dad, I wouldn’t even try. Still, in the tradition of my father, I waited until the last minute to file and pay my bill. I heard my father’s voice clearly as I procrastinated:

 “Why the hell would you pay early if you owe them money? Keep the money in the bank until the very last minute and then write the check. Why give them use of your money when you could be making money on it yourself?”

Dad loved money: making it, saving it, investing it. He was shrewd and calculating. And maybe a little devious. 

In the 1990s, I assumed the responsibility for our family’s taxes–ours and my father’s. Dad sat beside me as Turbotax prompted me for the digits found in Box 1b and I typed the numbers on the computer keyboard as he read to me from his 1099’s–R, DIV, INT, OID. Dad watched in awe as the program whirred through the responses, giving us a real-time calculation at the top of the screen. I loved to hear him say, “Geeze, that’s amazing!” Dad loved technology but for him, this  bordered on miraculous.  In time, he just handed over his half-assed file of tax paperwork, leaving me to plow through his lousy recordkeeping system. Eventually, I just kept the books for him and me. As Dad passed the baton, he never doubted my abilities. He knew I was trained by the best, and now had a computer calculation to back me, in case I screwed up.

In a surprising shift, my father also had a slant on paying his due. I think about his words every year as I send off my small fortune in taxes owed to the IRS: 

“Never complain about paying your taxes. It means you have money to pay taxes on. Be grateful.”

And as much as it pains me to see my bank balance shrink every year, I know he was right. And for Dad’s tutelage and my good fortune, I am grateful.

Writing in the Time of Exile

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When I retired from my career in education to embark on my writing adventure, I never imagined that, within the year, the world would shut down. Since I already embraced partial seclusion in my writer’s world, I needed to make only minor adjustments to my routine to adhere to the social distancing advisories. Still, there are pitfalls to the solitary life, especially when you live with someone. While I self-quarantine, my husband continues to go to work, defeating my best efforts.

Tim’s job, procurement for a hospital group, requires his contribution to the supply chain. By his own admission, he is buying “everything” from “everywhere” to keep the health care workers up to their elbows in nitrile gloves. His employer is working to set him up with Work From Home (WHF), but for some reason, it’s taking longer than expected. In the meantime, I scream “wash your hands” every time he walks in the door and warn him if I get sick and die, the blood is on his hands. No pressure there.

As I wait for him to join me in my exile, I adapt. Blessed with a seeming immunity to writer’s block, I write prolifically and am making great progress on my memoir. Without distractions, my ability to tap into memory and make meaning of the events in my history flows unfettered. I miss my writer connections but my classes at Grub Street have gone ‘high tech’ with Zoom so I check in with the writing community regularly.  A new skill for me, Zoom has kept me connected and I pride myself on my mastery of the platform. My writing group employs Zoom as well to stay in touch and to share our pieces. It’s a new way to workshop but, as it has been said, necessity is the mother of invention. For my writing life, this seclusion works and I await a time when I will want to rejoin society. For now, I’m good.

Yet the life of isolation is not all sweetness and light. The lack of a schedule messes with my head. Once I get up, shower, get dressed, put the dog out, and throw a load of laundry, it’s a crapshoot. Having hours to myself forces me to wrangle with my tendency to be a little distractible (I can hear you all chuckling). I plan for the day, making lists of chores and other pressing matters like tax preparation and plant watering. Without the list, I would be even more unfocused that I am already. Without the list, I would continue my quest to plow through another seventeen hundred levels of Candy Crush or an additional twenty-five hundred games of Words With Friends. I would read a book or two from the stack on the table by the sofa. The list helps but its completion requires the fortitude to resist the siren song of distraction. Monday’s list still sits on the dining room table, partially crossed out. I didn’t say it was a perfect system.

The safe harbor of writing puts me in the chair and provides a singular activity that forces me to be productive. As I damn the list for my seat at the computer, I feel no guilt. I have a goal, my memoir, and I see progress. Grateful that my life has taken this direction, my passion for writing distracts me in a good way from the sad news of the exponential growth of the Coronavirus. I know that, by staying home, I am doing my part to stem the contagion. 

Time in a quiet place provides an opportunity to think as well. Seclusion has taught me that I am more of an introvert than I ever thought. Socializing via remote conferencing is sufficient contact to fulfill my need to see people. I’m not sure that is particularly a good thing but I do think that being still and shutting down the chaos offer a chance to reset. Some of the things that are happening in our world are beyond our control. I worry about people who are ill and dying, those who have lost their jobs, the crashing stock market, and the burgeoning emergency rooms. In the meantime, I write and wait to see how we all come out on the other side. In the meantime, I write.

Men in exile Aeschylus

The Perfect (Snow)Storm

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I purposely stayed away from supermarkets these past few days since I knew that it would be madness.  The weather people had been warning those of us in the greater Boston area that there was snow forecasted for Saturday so plan accordingly. Granted, the accumulation was predicted to be in the 1-3 inch range or worst case scenario, outside of 128 (the highway that for some reason is the line of demarcation in these situations), accumulations may top out at six inches; yet, I knew from experience that the stores would be chaos. As I took a quick assessment of my supplies of milk, bread, and booze, I decided that I most likely could survive until Sunday when the onslaught of the three inch deluge would be over. 

It would be a quick one, meteorologists said, over by midnight. And since the first flakes only started around three p.m, even at multiple inches an hour, which was unlikely, I could see that it was not going to be a big deal storm. In any case, the viewers were warned to stay home. It was treacherous! Dangerous conditions! Armageddon! Over time I have learned that the news people tend to exaggerate the onslaught in the cause of ratings and viewership so I resisted panic. In any case, I was happy to oblige. For me, it was a ‘perfect storm’.

I love snow, especially when I have no plans. For me, there is nothing more pleasant than a weekend storm, of the three to four inch variety, that deposits a perfect, glistening, white coating on the ground, shrubs, and trees – that I can look at from inside of the house. A glass of wine, a binge of a TV show on Netflix or Hulu, and fuzzy pajamas and I am fully equipped for the duration of the precipitation. I should mention that, while I love snow, I hate to go outside in it. I am a secret admirer, a closet snow junkie, who avoids interaction with the cold, wet stuff while adoring the beauty from a distance. 

As for winter activities, I have learned to ski, although I do not ski. I have ice skates, although I seldom skate. And I have a snow shovel, which I dodge using as much as possible. In the cause of skiing and skating, I adopted these skills not to be defeated by them. Both require being out in the cold. Both are not enjoyable and offer no appeal to me. Since shoveling requires no real skill, I have tried to identify as a dedicated shoveler, but I have failed. I thought about buying a pink shovel that I had seen at Reny’s in Damariscotta a few weeks ago but I knew that the purchase would not cure my aversion. When it comes to shoveling, like skiing and skating, I avoid it at all costs. Yet, the guilt that washes over me when I steal a glimpse of the entire family outside shoveling and cursing is enough to make me suck up my distaste for the activity and join in the ‘fun’. Dragging my heels while suiting up for the misery, I do my best to look like a team player. In the end, I am usually ready to make my grand contribution to the snow shoveling effort as close to completion as possible. It is a worthy attempt. That should count. And sometimes, I even make cocoa and a banana bread as a reward for everyone’s hard work, my contribution to the snow removal effort and a means to ease my conscience.

This Sunday morning, we woke up to the remains of a ‘perfect storm’ – a minor accumulation of the light and fluffy variety, easy to shovel, and falling on a weekend when there is no pressure to get up and out.  I reveled in the effects since the beauty of a freshly fallen, light blanket of snow fills me with such joy. Mid-morning, I heard voices outside and looked to see my husband and son-in-law as they chatted casually while pushing the light snow around. They seemed happy. I was happy, too. The pressure was off. It would not be necessary to join the chain gang of snow removal, avoiding a guilt trip. I poured another cup of coffee and settled in with a book, assuming a seat on the wing chair in the living room from which I had a clear view of the woods. Breathtakingly beautiful, the trees glistened as they donned their sparkling white coat. I imagine it’s cold out there, and a little wet. I wouldn’t know. And here was no need to find out. 

Guilt and the Art of Blogging

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Poor Mami! Since I embarked on my full-on memoir writing journey, my beloved blog is my very neglected and under-loved extension of me and I feel guilty.  With its inception in December 2017, Mami has been my focus and creative outlet.  I have dedicated myself to creating and promoting new Mamis on a regular basis. Over fifty blog entries have been read in seventeen countries, with over 1800 visitors to the site. Mami is my passion and my “baby”, but if lack of blogging was a case for mandated reporting, I would have called DCF on myself!

Guilt is something I come by honestly. As a Catholic, I feel guilty about everything. Instilled in my home and parochial school education, I live on the straight and narrow (most of the time) because of guilt.  And I don’t always see it as a negative. Guilt holds me to a higher standard. Because of guilt, I make my bed, send greeting cards, and empty the dishwasher. It’s a master motivator when plain old responsibility doesn’t quite do its job.  Without guilt, I would be a lot less productive most days and watch a lot more “Family Affair” and “Petticoat Junction” reruns. Instead, I keep busy. Guilt wrecks all of my best attempts at being idle.

My mother was really good at guilt. Laying it on nice and thick, she guilted me into just about everything I accomplished in my early life. In the end, I appreciate it.  As for my own children, the products of a different generation, they are less thankful and blame my parental guilt trip on their collective long standing anxiety.  I guess that the plan: guilt->anxiety->accomplish something.  The key is to not get stuck at “anxiety” and as Nike said, “Just do it!”

So here I am at the keyboard on a Monday morning, concerned that I haven’t written a Mami in a few weeks, banging out a short essay on “guilt”. Once again, without guilt, I would be doing any number of other things, such as scrolling through Facebook, liking pictures on Instagram, and playing with my bitmoji’s fall outfit. Instead, I write. And from here, I have a goal to generate ten pages of memoir writing before sundown. Goals and guilt go hand in hand. I have both, most of the time.

So for now, I write a Mami on a half-assed topic to allay my guilt. Nevertheless, my writing machine and my brain are revved for today’s marathon so I guess my guilt paid off once again.  And barring any disaster and a “That Girl” marathon, it looks like today may just a be one of those guiltily productive days.  At the very least, I wrote a Mami and I call that a guilt-free success!

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