Let Me Entertain You

I like the blogs I like because they give me something: good writing, a laugh, or a glimpse of an engaging personality.  I like some of them because they make me “feel the feels,” as some in the writing community seem fond of saying.

I’m getting that “what have I done for you lately” feeling about this blog again. Unless I’m sure the writing is good enough, and the feeling of the feels will be carthartic enough, I’m going to pause the whinging about loneliness and isolation. No one wants to hear that crap from a woman who is safely sheltered with a roof over her head, a job, a full fridge and the company of an Angelic Daughter. Instead I’m determined to try to give you something, at least one of those things I listed, with every post.

After my Cryin’ Songs, I promised you a more upbeat playlist. So here’s Ridiculouswoman’s Bungee Chair Bouncing Playlist intended to provide a boost of energy and even silliness when 2 p.m. rolls around and you just want to fall off your bouncy bungee cord desk chair and take a nap, but you still have two hours of work to do. If the link doesn’t work I think you can just search for it by name. The embed code doesn’t seem to be working or I’m just not a good enough coder to make it work, but whatever. You’ll find the playlist if you want it.

I also updated 27 Things with 27 observations about things that changed because of , well, because of all this, that I don’t expect to change back after. And I believe in an after – there was some very preliminary, but hopeful, news this week, and I’m choosing to stay on the “look for the silver lining” side of things.

Suggestions for additional songs for the playlist are welcome. I’d love to hear from you about the music that keeps you going.

Until then, I remain,

Your bungee-chair-bouncing, foxes-in-the-backyard-watching, gleefully-overhearing-Angelic-Daughter-reading (I knew if she got bored enough she’d finally realize that there is always a friend in a book!), and very, very grateful,

Ridiculouswoman

The Isolation Age

I can’t explain why I started crying when Jackson Browne’s “The Load Out” came on my Spotify. Friday was the last day of my first full week of working from home (or “WFH” in my company’s shorthand – honestly, it took me a while not to see that as something naughty) and it’s going OK so far. For me, anyway.

We’re under a shelter-in-place order.  All “non-essential” businesses are closed. We’re to stay home except for absolutely essential errands, like picking up medicine or groceries. Most people in my community were already voluntarily practicing social distancing. But elsewhere, there were still the people who think they’re invincible, and don’t consider the impact their non-compliance could have on others. The Governor of Florida left it up to local officials to close beaches, and only announced that “the party’s over” on Thursday.  He still didn’t issue a statewide order to close beaches, but he did finally close bars. Somewhere along in there, the mayor of Miami and a senator from Florida both tested positive for COVID-19.

The poster child for hubris is going to be the kid who was quoted as saying, “If I get corona, I get corona. It’s not going to stop me from partying.” Well, you do that, dearie, if you want your Grandparents’ last words to you to be, “you killed us, you selfish little punk.”

Meanwhile, back at the the Ridiculous residence, I grew bored with my classical radio (and it takes a LOT to bore me with classical music) and a little too lulled by “Lute Music for Alchemists” on Spotify. So I clicked on an Eagle’s playlist.

The days of my youth rushed back – songs I played over and over without ever getting bored. I lived and breathed Jackson Browne, Linda Ronstadt, Dan Fogelberg, Emmylou Harris and the Eagles back then.

“The Load Out” is a song about what happens after the concert – when “the roadies take the stage” to pack up and get the band and the equipment moving toward the next show.

Some lines in the last verse go,

“People you got the power over what we do
You can sit there and wait, or you can pull us through…

The song moves right into “Stay,” with David Lindley coming out from behind his hair long enough to sing in falsetto, just like the original by Maurice Williams and the Zodiacs. Look it up.

Over the years, I’ve thought about that last verse. I’ve even imagined that it’s possible Jackson wrote it partly because of me.

Allow me to explain.

When I was in high school, I somehow scored third row seats for a Jackson Browne concert. I took my friend Mich (you remember this, Mich, I’m sure) and we sat there, two self-conscious teenage girls, mesmerized, unmoving and not singing along, through the whole concert. In our defense, the entire crowd was pretty subdued at a venue that was notoriously strict with rock acts. But we were paralyzed by proximity to the real, live Jackson Browne (look at that hair!)  The YouTube version up there is from 1978, probably just a year or two after we attended that concert. I spent a good part of high school trying to belt a verse of “Stay” like that amazing background singer. Wish I knew her name.

I haven’t been to a concert since without making a jackass of myself singing along, loudly, often in harmony. In three decades, I’ve only run into one band that seemed to disapprove. (click on “singalong). Oddly, it was an Eagles tribute band.

Yesterday, I started bawling on the line “just be sure you’ve got it all set to go, before you come for my piano…” That sent me right into the wayback machine.

I spent hours at the keyboard as a teenager, wailing songs by all the above listed ’70s artists.  But now, Angelic Daughter can’t take it.  She wants to sing by herself. Sometimes, in the car, I get away with harmonizing with her on “Brave.” We sound great together.

Maybe it was something about being stuck at home, unable to let off steam by singing and playing some of those oldies. Or maybe it was just knowing that I probably wouldn’t remember how to play them anymore, anyway.

HA! “The Load Out” just started on my Spotify daily mix. Cue lump in throat.

I believe in positive thinking. I believe in the force of will. So I’ve prepared a new “27 Things” list about what I like about working from home.

Grateful that I woke up this morning, and sending positive thoughts to you, to health care workers, to everyone who has lost a job and to every essential worker still going to theirs, I remain,

Your nostalgic, (quietly) ’70s singing,

Ridiculouswoman

Image by Harut Movsisyan from Pixabay

Shipwreck

Over the weekend, as I was polishing what I hope will be the final and definitive version of the query letter for my memoir, Detour in Cancerland, about caring for my husband as he faced his terminal illness, I heard a song I hadn’t heard in decades, and I heard it in a new and shattering way.

My book is about my ridiculous behavior during Mike’s illness – when some kind of temporary insanity gripped me and I developed an absurd infatuation with a carpenter 21 years my junior, who was in our house to build Mike the new and beautiful kitchen he should have had all along, the kitchen that I was desperate to give him before he died. This crush was some wild form of deflection or denial about what was happening – that Mike was dying, would definitely die, and leave our daughter and me, without him. Mike knew and understood that, and he forgave me for it, as I had forgiven him, over an over, for things that he had done that most women would have used as grounds for divorce.

As I was trying to condense the complexity of all this into a “hook” in the query letter, Spotify played me Heart Like a Wheel. I had only ever heard the Linda Ronstadt version of it, and not the recording by the writer, Kate McGarrigle, and her sister, Anna, so I was hearing that version for the first time that day.

As a lonely, self-pitying teenager – the fat, smart girl who was never asked to the prom – I played Ronstadt’s version (which omits the second verse, about death), over and over, a bazillion times. When I heard that second verse for the first time this past weekend, I suddenly understood the song from a completely different perspective – that of a person who had loved me, out there on that sinking ship, feeling alone and lost and full of regret. I felt my late husband’s love for me and our daughter tearing him apart, as cancer tore him from us, too soon, and how this love left him floundering on the sinking ship of his incurable, merciless disease:

“Some say a heart is just like a wheel
When you bend it, you can’t mend it
And my love for you is like a sinking ship
And my heart is like that ship out in mid ocean

They say that death is a tragedy
It comes once and it’s over
But my only wish is for that deep dark abyss
Cause what’s the use of living with no true lover

And it’s only love, and it’s only love
That can wreck a human being and turn him inside out
That can wreck a human being and turn him inside out

When harm is done no love can be won
I know this happens frequently
What I can’t understand
Oh please God hold my hand
Is why it should have happened to me

And it’s only love and it’s only love
And it’s only love and it’s only love
Only love, only love
Only love, only love”

Kate McGarrigle

Love can wreck a human being and turn him inside out.

No true lover.

For years, Mike and I both felt left without a true lover, for all the complicated, personal, tangled, hurtful reasons a long and difficult marriage can engender. But we stuck it out. And the toughest thing of all was that we found each other again with so little time left – each on our own sinking ship, out in the middle of an ocean of regret, reaching for each other one last time.

Our love survived the shipwreck, and carries on, a slow, steady current streaming through an ocean salted with pain and yearning.

Mike used to say he wanted to be buried at sea. I couldn’t, or didn’t know how, to do that for him. But after hearing that song in this new way after all these years, I’ll never get the image of Mike on a sinking ship, and me reaching toward him, but not able to save him, out of my head.

Staring at the sea in my mind’s eye, cherishing every piece of the wreckage, I remain,

your steadfast, loving, forgiving and forgiven,

Ridiculouswoman

Ship image by ArtTower from Pixabay

______________________________

I have updated my new page, “27 Things,” with a list about widowhood. My head’s been there these past few days, after that song, and revisiting the book and querying, and not knowing if I even want to anymore, and all of it.

I Wanna Dance with Somebody: or, No Crying at the Company Party, Please

“Oh, I wanna dance with somebody…” Right, Whitney, wail on!

“I wanna feel the HEAT with somebo-day-ay-ay…” You go!

“Oh, I wanna dance with somebody…” Yes, I think we’ve established that.

“with somebody who LOVES me….”

Oh shit.

Suddenly on the brink of tears in the middle of the company holiday party, because of an old Whitney Houston song?

The company, my new employer, has shown astonishing generosity and kindness to me in my scant one month’s time there. The very minute I learned of the company holiday party, I made a  reservation and arranged for care for Angelic Daughter. Couldn’t decide on a dress to wear, so I brought two: a beaded, flapper-style sequined cocktail dress, that cost a month’s rent thirty years ago, and a tasteful black and white ball gown with three-quarter sleeves, a collar and pockets(!) The kind lady at the dry cleaner’s got it hemmed in just four days, but I didn’t have time to alter the bodice, which was made for someone at least four inches taller than I. So to keep it from gaping in the front, I held the dress down with one hand behind my back when I approached the dance floor to bob and swish around a little.

There was an inordinate amount of rap shuffled with a few oldies, including the inevitable, the unavoidable, the ubiquitous, the eternal “Livin’ on a Prayer.” Much of the dancing from the young people was, I suspect, done “ironically.” But everyone was beautifully dressed, and truly seemed to be having a great time.

I was happily sitting alone, watching the merriment. I must have gotten up to head to the bar for a refill when, on the return trip to the table, that Whitney Houston song came on. I joined in the dancing…right up until that problematic lyric.

“….with sombody who LUUUUUVS me-eeee-eee-eee..”

The somebody who loved me has been dead for over 3 years.

I didn’t expect to dance with anyone at this party, and wasn’t upset about that. So it was a shock how instantly tears formed when that lyric hit me – exposing the stark loneliness of not having someone who loved me there with me.

Not that he would have danced. Mike was the embodiment of the stereotypical “white man dancing:”  stiff, awkward, no fluidity in the hips.

I sat down as soon as I realized what was happening – I was in danger of lapsing into tears in the middle of a festive, happy occasion. I got control of myself and held it together. No smeared mascara (and I was wearing mascara, and a thin streak of eyeliner, for the first time in something like twenty -five years. Astonishingly, I didn’t make a smudgy mess of it when I put it on.)

I talked to Mike as I assessed myself in the mirror before leaving the hotel room to go down to the ballroom.

“Not bad, huh, loves?”

I imagined him smiling approval.

I’m learning to live with loneliness, and to accept that it isn’t really ever going to go away. I have many wonderful new things in my life – the rooms I worked so hard to redecorate, the new job, Angelic Daughter’s amazing ability to adapt and gain independence and maintain a positive attitude in the midst of these changes. But Mike’s absence walks with me every step of the way. I think of it as a wise companion. I don’t get overexcited about much of anything, anymore, because that calm shadow reminds me how silly it is to dwell on fleeting nonsense in the presence of eternity.

Alone, again, here at my laptop, my wonderful old Vaio that Mike requisitioned from me almost as soon as I brought it home, I allow the tears to come. I thought this fourth Christmas without him would be easier.  The tree is set up in a different room, the new pattern of outside lights extends the classic swag I always hang across the front porch.

But it’s not easier. Mike is still every bit as gone, and we’re still every bit as alone.

I’m planning a very quiet holiday,  just the two of us at home, indulging in two quiet days of togetherness and rest, sitting with Mike’s absence.  Tears that may come are part of the deal. Happiness, when it emerges, will wrap itself around the tears, and around the absence and the sorrow. It may muffle them,  but I know now it can never make them disappear.

Blowing my nose, wiping my eyes and seeing Mike clearly, “regarding the tree,” as we used to do together, I remain,

Your quieter, older, slower, calmer, sadder but more grateful for each moment of smiles and tears,

Ridiculouswoman

 

 

Morning Has Broken

And then there’s this: that sky.

This is the way to throw off winter’s blanket –  lumps of snow, leaping down from the branches that shape them, making branch-shaped dents in the snow below, brightened under the blue. All that white will revert to green by the end of the day.

The female cardinal came to the kitchen door, hopping from the garden arch to the patio light, looking in at me, as if to ask for help; “please shake the snow off the bent cedars, my nest is at risk!”

I tell her it will melt soon, and it is melting fast. I can see her in there, bustling, making the necessary repairs.

And from the basement rumpus room I hear that my daughter has found a slow, brass instrumental recording of “Christ the Lord is Risen Today” that she is listening to on YouTube.

Which she follows up with her own exuberant rendition of “Take Me Out to the Ballgame.”

Well, now. Spring has sprung indeed.

I’m ready now.

Off to pay forty-five dollars more in state taxes than I will get back in federal but not getting bent out of shape about it because, honestly, look at that sky,

I remain,

Your snapping-out-of-it and looking beyond Thursday and Friday to promise of Sunday,

Ridiculouswoman

“Oversensitive” Is A Compliment, Mom

Never underestimate what an autistic person understands, or especially, remembers.

It is bound to be a helluva lot more than you think.

Even with an autistic person who is verbal, communication can be oblique, indirect, hinted. Somehow, the direct route got derailed in the brain, or entangled in what science has found are far more neural connections than “neurotypical” people have. There’s a LOT more going on in the brain of an autistic person than in a “typical” brain.

As our daughter matures, I am reminded of this daily, and often, I’m amazed.

How did she….? Where did that idea come from? I didn’t know she even know that word!

When I was writing the other day about missing Mike’s centering influence in our lives, I mentioned how he loved to discover new music, and how he and our daughter would learn a lot of great songs by artists I had never heard of before.

One of those was a Canadian singer-songwriter named Jann Arden. They started listening to her when our daughter was a toddler.

Thursday, I noticed she was listening to Jann Arden on her phone.

We hadn’t played Jann Arden in this house for more than ten years.

Suddenly, as I am writing about Mike finding new music, she starts listening to Jann Arden again?

The truth is, Jann Arden’s music was the soundtrack to the most painful period of our marriage, a time that had ongoing traumatic effects for the rest of our lives together.  But Mike had gotten our daughter so hooked on that music during that fraught time that I actually took it away, with the promise of return if she mastered an essential skill.

Denying an autistic child something they are attached to is agony.

But it worked.

It was also the beginning of the end of our listening to Arden’s music.

Until Thursday.

I’ve been writing about how we’ve been going through another wave of grief, unexpectedly, and how I tell her to hang on to the happy memories.

Was playing Jann Arden, within earshot, her way of telling me the sad memories are there, too? She remembers listening to Jann Arden with him, and she remembers me taking the music away and giving it back again after a week of painful deprivation.

She also remembers the wrenching, raging discord too often present in our marriage.

My Mother used to accuse me of being “oversensitive” when things other kids did or said upset me, or when I objected to her nit-picking about my hair, my clothes, my reading habit (“go outside!” – I realized she nagged me about this because she wanted to go outside) or my choice of activities, jobs or diets. When I explained I felt attacked, she called me “paranoid.”

Mom often started her criticism with, “what will people think of your Mother if you (wear that hairstyle, leave that job, eat that food…?)”

Not what would they think of her daughter, but what would they think of her.

It infuriated Mom when I called her on this – that her complaints and criticisms had more to do with her than me.

The idea that I might have some insight into the motivation behind her criticism offended her.

The idea of insight itself exasperated her, I think. Who needs insight when something needs doing. So stow your precious little feelings and don’t forget to unload the dishwasher. We’ll talk about your feelings later. As in never.

Mom saw sensitivity as a threat. Acknowledging undercurrents means uncovering pain. Lost father, lost brother, kid-thwarted career, lost mother. Regret.

She did not want to open that box.

Whatever she had packed away so tightly burst out of her occasionally, as tears or anger. But she wouldn’t say why.

Other than I had forgotten to unload the dishwasher, again.

Or that she felt unappreciated.

I wish my “oversensitivity” had been comforting to her, not annoying. Not a threat.

Sensitivity is receptivity to expressed emotion in people, or observable beauty in nature, music, dance, literature or art.

“Oversensitivity” is the ability to discern things unexpressed, unspoken, unseen, but present, meaningful, and worthy of discussion, or at least acknowledgement.

That’s a gift, Mom, not a problem.

A gift your granddaughter displays in the unique, sometimes heartbreaking ways she communicates what she has discerned, through whatever alchemy of receptivity her overconnected brain employs (sensing tiny blips of my neuroelectricity? or a disturbance in the local magnetic field? glancing over my shoulder?) as I sit here, writing about Mike and music and our lives together.

So thanks for the compliment, Mom, but it is your granddaughter who really deserves it.

Listening again, after a very long hiatus, to Jann Arden, and allowing myself to remember the pain that is the flipside of love, I remain,

Your “oversensitive”

Ridiculouswoman

Meta…for?

Split down the middle, but surviving.

New branches growing independently on either side.

“Things fall apart; the center cannot hold….”

I thought of myself as the center of our little family; I was the breadwinner, the Toilet-Unplugger, The Parent-Teacher Conferencer, the Finder of Doctors and Dentists, the Internet Impresariess and the Did-You-Brush-Your-Teeth Reminderer.

When not at work, my attention was split down the middle between Mike and our daughter, halfway between them in the house, trying to respond to each of them simultaneously.

I’d get home from work and play picture-card games with her until we’d eat the meal that Mike had prepared, ready hours earlier, when they’d get home from school, because he knew she’d be hungry.

After, he would wearily retreat to his room upstairs, to read, play over his chess games and wind down after what was typically more than a 12 hour day caring for, entertaining, feeding, cleaning up after, chauffeuring and comforting an autistic child.

He never complained (although he would rage if I tried to make her something different for dinner, something that included a green vegetable, since she had already eaten whatever he made right after school. His style was to make vats full of spaghetti and meatballs or chicken soup, and then expect us to eat them for three days running, until they were gone. Inexpensive, but not exactly variety-packed.)

He said he liked his job, taking care of her. He was really good at it, exhausting as it could frequently be.

He was Fun Dad. Director of Entertainment. Leader of “excursions,” usually with no cost other than gas for the car. He was a genius at finding fun things them to do, for free. He pedaled her along on the tandem bike. They visited parks and playgrounds. They often took drives just to listen to music in the car. He introduced her to bands and singer songwriters I had never heard of, and they listened to the ’70s, ’80s and ’90s station: she knows all the songs from our high school years through the early years of our marriage.

We hear them now and remember.

If you are a young adult who has lost a parent, what are you going to remember? Doctors’ offices and tooth brushing? Or rockin’ out in the car?

I thought I was the center?

Like that tree – at first I just thought, cool, split down the middle and still growing.

That must mean something. Take a pic.

Now, looking at the photo, I see the magnitude of the emptiness in the middle.  Not like an “I lost myself for years in marriage and mothering- I don’t who I am anymore! Woe is me!” crap metaphor.  I’ve always known who I am and I’ve always had a habit of being who I am quite a bit more forcefully than most people can tolerate.

Mike tolerated it. At first, he loved it.  For years he just put up with it. Then for a long time, he ignored it.  At the end, he came to love it again, when the finality of his illness dissolved the hard shell around me and revealed the innocent heart he first fell in love with, battered and patched, but still there. The heart now permanently exposed, worn on my sleeve. I couldn’t generate that shell again if I tried. I’m an open wound.

The metaphor is, of course, about the branches with no connecting trunk at the center.

The two of us trying to forge new lives without him, parallel lives, still growing, but disconnected from a center.

We look at each other across that gap and wonder, how could this have happened?

She keeps going over the day he died, as if repeating what happened could explain it, or make it hurt less.

It doesn’t.

I tell her we will miss him for the rest of our lives, but that he wouldn’t want us to be sad all the time – when we miss him, think about the happy times and it will feel like he is with us.

She doesn’t believe me.

Neither do I.

Things fall apart.

I tell her that we will still cry sometimes, that it is normal, that it is OK. It will pass.

Until it happens again.

Car crying, suddenly, on the way home after a good chorus rehearsal. Two pieces about the mysteries of death, but only one of them includes hope of resurrection – “de morte transire ad vitam.”

Sometimes I feel held together with twist-ties and tape, or made of wire, like an old-fashioned dress form – the vacant outline of a woman.

Wind goes right through me.

I’m always cold.

Kyrie eleison.

I’m so, so damn tired of being cold.

The sun is out, but our backyard rabbit won’t leave the shade.

nos ad lucem

-Ridiculouswoman