Mask Milksop

Query (or impertinent question, depending on how you look at it): do anti-maskers teach their kids to sneeze into their elbows? Or do they just let them let it rip, and let the droplets fall as they may?

Do they mind being sneezed or coughed on? Do they understand how colds are transmitted from one person to another?

If they do understand how a sneeze or a cough could pass on a cold, why won’t they wear a mask to avoid passing on COVID-19? Can it be that even with 2 million dead globally, nearly 400,000 in the US alone, these people still don’t believe it’s real??

Logic, it would seem, has nothing to do with it. Apparently, you can’t fight magical thinking with science, or even common sense.

It didn’t occur to me to take a picture of the maskless woman in the grocery store. It probably wouldn’t have occurred to me even if I wasn’t rushing quickly in the opposite direction, as fast as I could, without knocking other shoppers down.

The manager asked me as I was checking out how I was doing. I said, OK, except for the maskless woman.

The manager said “maybe I have an extra one” and went to deal with the situation. I didn’t hear any shouting, so either maskless woman couldn’t be found, or had already left.

Or–unlikely, but possible–maskless woman accepted a mask from the manager.

As I was stumping angrily back to my car, pushing my now full cart, I imagined myself saying, “Hey, Typhoid Mary! Smile for the camera! You’re about to get Twitter shamed!”

But I don’t do stuff like that. I’m not one of those people so tethered to social media that I think about documenting each of the multiple affronts of daily living we all encounter.

Driving home, still wearing my two masks, one with a filter inside, I thought about how, each week, my church’s pastor recites this benediction at the end of the Facebook church service:

“And now may you go in peace, rendering no one evil for evil, but instead, make the choice to be a source of God’s light and God’s love in this lifetime.”

The store manager did exactly that – the first thing she thought of was to offer the maskless woman a mask.

I’m not hopeful that a person who spends the better part of an hour strolling VERRRRYY SLOWLY through a grocery store without wearing a mask would accept one when offered.

But it’s worth a try.

When I encountered the maskless woman, I backed up. WAAAAAY back, in my double mask with filter inside.

The weird thing was, this woman didn’t look angry or defiant.

She looked confused.

Which made me think that there might be an explanation for why she wasn’t wearing a mask that didn’t require me to think of her as a profoundly inconsiderate, uncaring, ignorant, selfish, science denier.

Perhaps she has a medical condition. Maybe she’s autistic, and the wearing a mask is like tactile torture to her.

Or maybe she’s had a stroke, or she has an intellectual disability that makes it hard for her to remember to wear a mask, or difficult to understand why she should.

Taking that store manager (an exceptionally calm woman, given the fact she’s been managing a grocery store throughout this pandemic) as an example, I’m going to bring a few extra masks with me next time. And, at the risk of being berated by a defiant maskhole just itching for a fight, I won’t be a milksop. I’ll offer a maskless person a mask.

“It looks like you forgot your mask. Here’s one you can have!” I’ll chirp cheerfully.

I’ll leave the mask on an a shelf within view but several more than 6 feet away, and walk away.

I will refrain from asking why the person thinks they are exempt from the rules, and why they don’t give a crap about the possibility they could cause someone else in the store to get sick and even die.

Not that I won’t be thinking it, but still. I’ll try to keep my mind open to other possible explanations.

Then I’ll go home and try to forget about it while I anxiously cross the next 14 days off the calendar, quelling panic at every tiny cough, as I have done this whole time after every encounter with a maskless person.

At this point I’m just praying that, along with everyone who has made it this far, I make it far enough to get vaccinated.

And that the anti-maskers, many of whom are probably also anti-vaxers, will come to their senses, and get vaccinated too.

Until then, I remain,

your anxious, hypochondriacal, trying to do the “one day at a time” thing,

Ridiculouswoman

Image by Markus Winkler from Pixabay

“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

Socrates Was a Bad Ass

When I went on hiatus in June, I said I was going to shut up and listen, and try to figure out something positive to do.

And then everything just kept getting worse. And then it got inspiring, and then it got worse again. Now we’re all just starring in our own versions of Groundhog Day, praying for time to move faster, for leaders who can think and care about something other than themselves, for safety and relief and help for health care and other essential workers, and for a return of common human decency and compassion.

Before the pandemic, when the shouting matches were mostly about immigration, not masks, I attended a town hall meeting held by my congressional representative. There were shouting people there. Fortunately, my seventh grade social studies teacher was presiding: she has held the post of town president for years, and has lost none of her fearsome, teacherly formidability. Her stentorian call to order and threat to expel misbehavers quelled the noise.

After the meeting, I encountered one of the shouters – the female half of a husband-wife team of shouters, and I asked her, “if you came across a person dying of thirst in the middle of the road, would you ask them if they were a citizen before you gave them a drink of water?” She said no.

When I reminded her that her obviously European heritage (this was before we had the “Karen” meme, but this lady was an aged, fearful, trembling, supercharged Karen presumably of the red-hatted type) meant that her family all started here as immigrants, she could barely contain her rage, shouting “No! THEY WERE SETTLERS!”

Let’s just let that land for a minute.

I haven’t figured out how to engage in useful dialog with shouting, red hatted, mask-free types yet, but I have recognized two things I can do: I can write, and I can ask good, and possibly challenging or impertinent, questions.

Before you say this is a cop out, that I should be out there in a yellow shirt with a Wall of Moms, let me say that I mostly agree with you, but circumstances require my presence at home.

I don’t flatter myself that anything I write or any questions I ask could possibly inspire change on a grand, or even micro, scale, but they might be helpful, or cathartic, or amusing, or thought-provoking, at least.

The writing is for readers who need a laugh, or need to “feel the feels,” as many in the writing community seem to like to say.

The questions will be offered in the hope of spurring discourse, or at least reflection, for long enough to get whoever reads them to stop shouting and think – perhaps, for example, about the existence of Native Americans, Madam “settler?”

When I started this blog I promised no politics. This was about working through grief, focusing on gratitude and being generous with love and laughter. But it was also supposed to be, in part, about letting go of fear, and being courageous enough to be who I am – vulnerabilities, imperfections, impertinence and all.

In a distant other life, in law school and around the dinner table with my long-departed Dad, I was taught by the Socratic method – my law professors, or my dad, would ask a series of questions designed to lead me toward a solution to a problem, or a point of view, or a realization of a fact I hadn’t seen before.

As we’ve seen time and again, people in power don’t like to be led down paths of self-examination, and they don’t like to be asked questions that expose their weaknesses and their lies. That didn’t end well for Socrates.

But his method of teaching survived. And asking questions isn’t just for teaching – it’s also for learning. So I’m going to ask questions from time to time, here – I’ll probably write about questions I wish others had asked, perhaps at Senate hearings (yellow card! politics!) or of people who refuse to wear masks (masks are NOT politics – just basic human compassion and decency – oh, wait, we’re talking about asking people who refuse to wear masks why they won’t behave with basic human compassion and decency) or directed toward people who can magically think their way into believing that a pandemic that has sickened over 17.3 million people and killed 674,000 globally (as of ten minutes before I’m writing this, according to Google), is a hoax.

So here are my first two questions:

How is populated land “settled?”

and

Are individual rights and the common good mutually exclusive?

Discuss.

Good to be back, doing what I hope will be some small good. I remain,

Your mask-wearing, hand-washing, fretful, and nowhere near as brave as I’d like to be,

Ridiculouswoman.

Image by Arek Socha from Pixabay