Pandemic Thanksgiving Rules

I went back and re-read my post, The Good China, or, The Thanksgiving Rules from a few years ago. So much of it seems alien now. Watching real parades with real crowds. Pledging to do “thankful Thursdays” and write a thank-you note a week to someone who wasn’t expecting it. Yeah, like that happened. The stress of learning how to be a single parent of a young adult with autism, coupled with worrying about getting a job, getting a dangerous job, quitting that job, and it taking a long time to find another one, saw those plans fall by the wayside.

But something I never abandoned, even this year, the endless pandemic year, was my commitment to The Thanksgiving Rules. They’re simple, really – give Thanksgiving its due, before you deck the halls and fa-la-la.

Here’s an illustrated guide:

Thanksgiving Day

Day AFTER Thanksgiving:

And the garlands are up, and the lights are hung outside.

I confess to bending a little this year on the the “no Christmas music until after Thanksgiving” because Christmas music makes Angelic Daughter so happy. She created that cute collection of Christmas thingamabobs, artfully giving the Mary, Joseph and baby Jesus center stage.

We didn’t gather together with any family this year. But Angelic Daughter and I had a peaceful, restful, and delicious Thanksgiving, which is feeding us for the remainder of the weekend.

And as I was preparing the meal, on my feet all day for two days, just to do up what’s traditional for us, including whole berry, homemade cranberry sauce:

Angelic Daughter said to me, “we should give food to people.”

“Yes, honey, we should. I’ll find out when the pantry is open for donations.”

There’s a food pantry two blocks from my house. I haven’t seen lines of cars around the block for that one, but I’m sure they’re seeing their share of desperate people.

So in midst of thankfulness for our extraordinary blessings and good luck (I have a job, we have a home, we have clothes on our back and heat that works) I’ll empty that plastic prepper bin I have in the basement and haul those canned goods to the pantry. And if there’s a chance to give a family a Christmas meal, I’ll fill a bag for that. It ain’t much, but it’s something.

We can be good to one another as we crawl our way to 2021.

Tonight at music time, the hour before bed when Angelic Daughter and I just sit in the dark together, listening, we’ll bust out the Christmas music and enter the season of waiting and hope. Out of darkness comes light. Let’s all get there together.

Wishing you a good work-from-home job, a roof over your head, food in your pantry and heat that works, I remain,

Your wondering-how-advent-could-be-here-already-and-totally-unprepared-for-Christmas-gift-shopping-but-turning-on-the-Christmas-tunes-anyway,

Ridiculouswoman

High Hopes

Back in the middle of the previous century, Frank Sinatra had a hit called “High Hopes.” The lyrics start with an ant trying to move a rubber tree plant – among other impossible feats of determination.

Just what makes that little old ant
Think he’ll move that rubber tree plant
Anyone knows an ant, can’t
Move a rubber tree plant

But he’s got high hopes
He’s got high hopes
He’s got high apple pie
In the sky hopes

On family road trips in the Chevy Falcon (bench seats, no seat belts that I can remember) we loved when that song came on the radio, especially the choruses, because the last line repeats three times and it was fun to sing along:

So any time your gettin’ low
‘Stead of lettin’ go
Just remember that ant
Oops, there goes another rubber tree plant
!
Oops, there goes another rubber tree plant!
Oops, there goes another rubber tree plant!

When the first lockdown in my state began, we talked about “flattening the curve.” For the most part, we achieved it. But people took liberties when things loosened up a bit, and then all the bickering and denials and maskholes appeared, and then things got exponentially worse through the summer on every front, and now we’re all exhausted right when we need to really toughen up and gut this damn thing out. Health care workers are cracking, and in some areas, the health care system is on the brink of collapse.

When I saw photos and video of yet another unmasked superspreader event in D.C. yesterday, it was all I could do not to scream “why don’t you go back to your double-wide and fry something!” If I had been there as a counter-protester, and succumbed to temptation, I’m sure I would have gotten the same treatment Candace Bergen did after she yelled that line in Sweet Home Alabama – Reese Witherspoon decked her.

This perpetually combative state of fury and frustration has taken its toll, and threatens to destroy the last shred of civility I could muster.

I won’t give up. I want to find something to hang on to, some way to keep going, some example of courage or determination or resilience or kindness, that health care and other essential workers display daily.

That fox up there in the image? One day I was astonished to see him leap to the top of that wood fence, and trot confidently along the top of it, toward my neighbor’s front yard.

Another day, he came sniffing around the chicken coop (I said “sorry dude, they’re long gone”). I roared and “made myself big,” putting my hands up and stomping on the deck. I was concerned about Angelic Daughter, who likes to sit out on the deck (when it was warm enough just a few weeks ago) and enjoy the back yard. The foxes around here have been unnervingly bold lately.

I kept yelling at the fox.

Then he did this:

That is not something I thought foxes could do.

He seemed to decide the tree wasn’t his best exit route, and jumped down, running toward the chicken coop again. I yelled at him again, and he ran straight for that chain link fence.

And jumped over it.

He’s big for a fox, but I didn’t think a jump to three times as high as he was long was possible. That’s determination.

I hope when this damn pandemic is over, I can jump the fences between me and people who disagree with me. My high hopes, inspired by that high jumping fox, are that I’ll be able to treat people I disagree with civilly, even when it’s impossible to “respect” their point of view.

Back when I worked an advocate for intellectual freedom, I would frequently get yelled at on the phone by people who thought the organization I worked for was trying to corrupt young minds by making books they disagreed with available. (Callers were people who believed that books like The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe, by famed Christian thinker C.S. Lewis, was un-Christian, because it depicted magic).

I’d let them yell it out (sometimes holding the phone at arm’s length), and then I’d say, “I may not be able to make you happy, but I can give you some information that might help you understand our position.” Then I’d explain that their freedom to read about and express their beliefs was only protected if the same freedom extended to those on the opposite side.

Sometimes, it worked.

Maybe it still could.

Hopeful, I remain,

Your not-a-Pollyanna-but-determined-to-get-through-to-better-days,

Ridiculouswoman

P.S. – I’ve updated my 27 Things page with a new listicle. Hope you get a kick out of it.

“Used Fictitiously”: A Non-toxic Love Challenge

(I’ve been roiling around with this for six weeks, writing, rewriting, ranting, editing – cutting, restoring, cutting again – alternately feeling angry and bold, then timid and scared, and finally, resigned. I just want to just get this off my chest so I can get back to being stressed out about the far more important stuff happening next week and then get back to regular blogging).

Bestselling author Sue Miller’s recently released novel, Monogamy, is about a widow named Annie from Chicago (but living in Cambridge, Massachusetts), who discovers her late husband had been unfaithful to her. The husband, Graham, is described as a big man with a deep voice, who is, as the character Annie says, “more than a foot taller than she was … Ridiculous, really.”

Reviewers loved Monogamy.

I hated it.

But maybe that’s because I’m a widow named Anne from the northern suburbs of Chicago, who knew her husband had been unfaithful to her, and who fell in love with a big man with a deep voice, partly because of the way he called me “Annie.”

I’ve been blogging about that since October 2017. In January 2018, in an earlier version of a post called, “The Bulgarian,” I described him (the man I fell in love with) as “at least a foot taller” than me. I’ve got a screen shot of it (thanks, WordPress), but I’ll skip it here.

I named my blog “Ridiculouswoman” in part because of the absurdity of my attraction to the Bulgarian. I blogged about writing a memoir telling the story of falling for him while caring for my terminally ill husband. My book was finished in the fall of 2018. I began sending out queries on it in December of that year.

I found Monogamy by accident, when the New York Times book review caught my eye. I had never heard of Sue Miller before I bought Monogamy and read it (with a screaming yellow highlighter in my hand) because I felt I had to. I was shocked, chilled, and pissed off. I made a nine-page, two column document listing side-by-side all the names, scenes, descriptions and phrases in Monogamy that seemed very like, and in some cases were identical, to things in my blog, my memoir, my home and my life.

A snippet of a Los Angeles Times review quoted on the book jacket of Monogamy says, “reading it is like experiencing a passage in our own lives.”

No shit.

I’ll spare you any further recitation of details from my nine-pager. There’s no point. Monogamy has the usual disclaimer:

“Names, characters, places and incidents are products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously and are not to be construed as real. Any resemblance to actual events, locales, organizations, or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.”

Plus, the coincidental details I recognize are woven into a story that is very different than mine, with many more characters and relationships. Some, like that Los Angeles Times reviewer, would argue that Miller’s ability to make me recognize my real life in her fictional book is what makes Miller a great writer.

I beg to differ.

There are many reasons I hate Miller’s book that have nothing to do with its similarities to my writing and my life, but a lot to do with the dissimilarities between Miller’s fictional depiction of love and widowhood and my actual experience of them.  

When my husband Mike died, this real Annie tried to close his eyes, and asked the hospice nurse to help get him dressed. I kept Mike’s cancer hats, and pressed them to my face because they still smelled like him.

Miller’s fictional Annie decided not to try to get her husband dressed after he dies in his sleep (not after 20 months of pain and struggle and heartbreak and caregiving), because she thought it didn’t matter. At one point, she presses one of his shirts to her face to take in her dead husband’s smell, while simultaneously thinking to herself what a cliché it was, “how many times she had read it and seen it in films.”

How kind, to describe that genuine gesture of aching grief, as a “cliché.” (It’s also surprising, because Miller wrote a memoir about losing her father to Alzheimer’s disease. She knows something about caregiving and loss. I’d expect more compassion).

The theme of my blog and memoir, and, seemingly, of Monogamy, is forgiveness, self-awareness, and the rediscovery of love. But how Miller handles that theme toward the end of the book is cringeworthy.

Spoiler alert

After her husband’s death, on her way home from a disillusioning encounter with a man she had flirted with in her past, the fictional Annie slips on an icy street, bangs her head, and when she comes to in the hospital, ta-da! Presto change-o! She suddenly remembers she loved her husband!

I found that scene insulting to me and to other widows who lived and worked through long and difficult marriages, finding ways to keep loving and forgiving, for decades. Mike and I did the hard work of forgiving each other, and we rediscovered enduring love, through the unfolding tragedy of Mike’s decline and death. Real widows don’t need the absurd, desperate, damn-I-need-to-figure-out-a-way-to-end-this-novel device of a slip-n-fall to knock them into remembering they loved their husbands.

So how do I react to all this in the spirit of this blog, with love and laughter?

I’m opting for gratitude. Yep, I’m grateful. Monogamy has made me hate my memoir. Seriously, I’m relieved. My story is true, sad, and funny, but I have doubts now about whether it needs to be told. It feels like 300 pages of “too much information.”

Yet even if I didn’t have doubts about my book, I have no doubts whatsoever that, because of Monogamy, there’s no hope in pitching and querying my memoir anymore. In this case, fiction outruns truth, especially because the fiction is by a longstanding, bestselling author. Lesson learned.

It’s time for me to start writing my next book. Maybe I’ll try a novel. I’ll use this lesson -use it fictitiously, of course – as inspiration.

Ready to move on, but wanting the 23 bucks back that I spent to read Miller’s damn book, I remain,

Your real widow Annie from the suburbs of Chicago who fell in love with a big man with a deep voice who was “at least a foot taller” than she, who didn’t need a head injury to remember she loved her husband,  

Ridiculouswoman

Image by skeeze from Pixabay