Widows and Germ Freaks

By definition, a pandemic affects everyone on the planet. Synchronicity has been powerfully present – scarcity (toilet paper, disinfectant wipes, food, money, jobs) and distractions (sourdough bread, home improvement, sports with cardboard fans, political vitriol) afflict us all. As I was ruminating on a post about how we’re all widows and germ freaks now, the New York Times published a piece about declining social skills caused by isolation. Synchronicity.

People are still dying, behind glass, while their families helplessly watch on tablets, speaking final words through phones held by brave and compassionate nurses. This plague makes new widows and widowers every day. There are coronavirus orphans, and babies born during this time are dubbed “coronials.”

I hear fewer people using the phrase “back to normal” lately. It’s sinking in now. After a pandemic, there is no “back to normal.” In that sense, we’re all widows now. Doorknobs and light switches, the sound of a sneeze, offices with sealed windows, crowded concert halls – none of these will ever feel “normal” again, even after a safe, effective and adequately tested vaccine emerges. We’re all germ freaks now. I don’t expect consciousness of sources of contagion to go away for anyone who has measured their relationships in 6-foot circles, or washed their hands for two rounds of Happy Birthday, umpteen times a day. Who of us will ever hear that birthday song the same way again?

We’re all widows now, too, in a sense – grieving for a life that was supposed to be, but has vanished. School will never be the same. “Learning pods” may become permanent for those that can afford them. Those that can’t must send their kids, wearing masks they’ll never be able to keep on over their noses for a full school day, into classrooms where they’ll be seated at desks spaced 6 feet apart, surrounded by plexiglass. What kind of learning is that? Learning that laughter and singing and holding hands with your friends are dangerous? How are these kids going to carry that message into their future lives? There is grief for play and joy, displaced by sterile, lonely, fearful childhoods.

Grieving young adults behave wantonly, in total denial, feeling cheated of their “right to paaaartay!,” risking each others’ lives by packing themselves into illegal or unauthorized gatherings, resulting in colleges and universities reporting thousands of new cases. Dorms shut down, classes go back online. College isn’t what it was supposed to be, and may never be whatever that was again.

I take no solace in knowing that so many people now understand the permanence of grief. In my case, it’s carrying the weight of memories of Mike, the good and the bad, every minute of every day. There are triggers everywhere, especially at home, where we’ve been holed up for six months. It’s not that I think about him all the time – I don’t – but the “presence of absence” hangs around me like a shawl.

The “Lost Generation” emerged from the horrors of World War I only to confront a pandemic of their own, one hundred years ago. They were also faced with a president, Warren G. Harding, who was was pro-business, anti-international organizations, and anti-immigration. Three years into his presidency, Harding died, and his administration was revealed as the most corrupt in American history, up to that time. Harding appointees sold government medical supplies to private contractors, and benefited from loans and gifts in exchange for directing oil leases to cronies in the famous Teapot Dome scandal. The echoes are deafening. Harding campaigned on returning to “normalcy.” He succeed only in proving that there are some kinds of “normalcy” we could all do without. No wonder so many of the lost generation writers decamped to Paris.

Will this present generation, a century later, robbed of innocence by 9/11 and of proms and graduations and big happy weddings by a pandemic, turn into another “lost generation,” living for the moment because they expect the next moment to be worse?

I hold on to examples of these young adults’ resilience, leadership, and compassion. Their zeal for justice, equality, dignity, and environmental responsibility is undeniable. They give me hope.

We widows and germ freaks can’t recreate the “before” in whatever our “after” is going to be, if we survive. But we can learn from all this to be kinder, to respect integrity, to appreciate competence, and to be humble in the face of irrefutable scientific facts. We can move forward together with decency.

Naked Emperors, living in houses of cards, always eventually crumble. In the ashes of the chaos they created, those they duped and those whose worst fears they realized are left to clean up the mess together, and move on.

Hunkering with hope, I remain,

Your masked, sanitized, socially distanced, trying-to-stay-positive-while-grieving-with-Angelic-Daughter,

Ridiculouswoman

Image by Daniel Langezaal from Pixabay

Hot for Handyman

Apparently it isn’t just me.  Falling in love with your carpenter (electrician, handyman, whatever) is a thing. (Spoilers coming).

Kate Reddy, Allison Pearson’s protagonist in How Hard Can It Be? (sequel to I Don’t Know How She Does It – women of a certain age will enjoy both) has flashes of lust for her kind handyman, or as much of him as is visible sticking out from under whatever he is crawling around fixing. Grace, from Grace and Frankie (Netflix), the story of two older women whose husbands leave them – for each other – after 40 years of marriage, fell in love with her remodeling contractor years before, while still married. After I had begun writing my memoir of kitchen remodeling and falling in love with the Bulgarian while caring for my terminally ill husband, I read Wally Lamb’s I Know This Much Is True, where there is a brief but striking, and very moving (to me) portrayal of how the central character, Dominick, reacts to his Mother’s terminal diagnosis by deciding to remodel her kitchen, and a more in-depth portrayal of his life trying to manage care for his mentally ill twin brother.

Kate’s handyman knew long before Kate did that her husband was cheating on her. Grace actually consummates her love for the long-lost-and-found contractor, but he is caring for a wife with dementia. And the Mother in Lamb’s book puts a stop to the kitchen remodeling project after her son removes just the first panel of wainscotting, asking for something smaller – time and companionship – an ice cream sundae, instead.

The lives of these fictional characters resonate with me, because aspects of their imaginary experience reflect my real experience, and help me feel less alone.

I studied Jung in college, including the idea of “synchronicity:” that “meaningful coincidences” or simultaneous thinking occur between people who have no real connection to each other.  I got deeply into the idea of archetypes and the “collective unconscious.” Later in my life I experienced a kind of real-time “collective unconscious,” when performing improvisation – we called it the “group mind.”

I’ve written before, I think, about how I don’t believe in coincidences. I think people come in and out of each other’s lives for a reason, and that we encounter animals, things and events in our daily lives that signify more than just their objective descriptions. Those “events” may include the sudden impulse to turn on the TV or radio, or change the channel, only to find a song, or a program, or a line of dialogue that has special, surprisingly familiar meaning. Mike used to refer to the energy behind all this as “the gods,” and we would share with each other frequently what we thought otherwise unremarkable things were trying to tell us.

One thing the universe sure as hell is telling me is that “hot handyman” is an archetype, and there’s synchronicity going on about older women, cancer, grief, loss and resilience. It’s saying jump-start the stalled querying, Annie, and go for it. Collect rejections for your memoir proudly and keep going, because older women are having a significant moment. “The gods” (that loving, creative energy that Wayne Dyer talked about on those PBS specials) have hit the reset button on the the archetypes of the “widow” and the “crone” and freed older women to reinvent and redefine how they are perceived and what they can, and will, do. And what Grace and Frankie do in the two and a half or so seasons I’ve binge-watched so far, with lots more to go, is variously hilarious, shocking, and empowering.

I’m halfway through the first year of my 7th decade, and I never felt better. I’ve got a fantastic job and a great new haircut that makes me feel fab (and I don’t even care about how it reveals the bald spots – it’s so easy – just skwunch and go!) I haven’t been working out since I started the job, but I have a cool stand-up desk and make a point of taking the stairs a few times daily. I’m hoping to get back to the dumbbells next week.

Angelic Daughter is still having a very hard time processing the things I say about “carrying our sadness about Dad with us while moving forward to have happy lives.” Sad and happy, simultaneously? Hell, it’s hard enough for me to understand. But we’ve got things settled so she’ll be getting out more, meeting new friends, looked after by kind people at a place that is bright, beautiful, and welcoming. She’ll have lots to do to keep her busy, and, I think, happy, while I’m at work. Whew. Cue great night’s sleep and corresponding ten years off face, plus a few points shaved off the blood pressure.

Now where’s the handyman?

With hope, I remain, your

Ridiculouswoman

Image (I cropped it) by skeeze from Pixabay

Divestiture, Episode 4: Life is a Harold

I first came across the idea of “synchronicity,” that thing where lots of people all over the planet seem to start thinking about the same thing at the same time, when I became interested in Jung, back in college. (I think the Police song came later. I think.)

As an improviser (after college, but still many years ago) I would experience a kind of synchronicity with my fellow players, when everybody seems to share the same insight or have the same thought or impulse at the same moment. It’s called the “group mind.”

The team I was on performed the “Harold,” from the early days of long-form improvisation. “Harold” is a thirty-minute (or so) performance involving games, scenes and monologues, in rounds of three. Each “scene” would return twice after its first appearance, with each repetition layering over, often in subtle or surprising ways that only come together at the end, on what came before.

It doesn’t work if any of the players try to predetermine or “script” what happens next. It only works if everyone is working off everyone else, and the next thing that happens, happens only because of whatever has happened before.

This sense that everything that happens is somehow connected to everything that happened before has been a theme in my life, and probably in yours, if you stop to think about it. You’ll suddenly remember a past part of your life that seems to have circled back around, but at a new and more mature or complex level. Like standing on a long spiral staircase, looking down at the previous circles of your life.

In my latest round of tidying up, getting rid of piles of old crap that oppress me now, a few moments of this helix-shaped laddering of life hit me in odd and unexpected ways. Which is kind of how it is supposed to work. To wit:

• Someone on one of the Facebook groups I participate in replied to a comment of mine by saying it was “en pointe” – and I said (truthfully) that “Ha! I used to dance “en pointe!” The next day, what did I find in the closet? A box full of old pointe shoes (really, really beat up pointe shoes) that I had saved from my teen years, and forgotten about. Smiled, and tossed them.

• Because I am having a period-style dress made to wear at an upcoming event celebrating the era of my favorite books, I suddenly remembered a dress I had made for myself, by hand. Again, back in college – I was flat broke, but I was one of the soprano soloists in “Messiah” for the Christmas concert, and I didn’t have a dress. So I went out and bought some really cheap red satin (which scandalized the orchestra, angry, I guess, that they had to wear the uniform “concert black.”) IMG_20180910_164019.jpgI ripped apart a sundress that fit me well, to use as a pattern. I laid the satin out on my dorm room floor, and came up with a way to make a criss-crossed bodice that formed cap sleeves without having to cut and sew sleeves separately. I attached that to a long, bias-cut skirt that came to a point in front. Except when I was done, one side of the skirt was shorter than and kind of off-center to the other. So I improvised a ruffle on that side, by hand again, to even it out. I loved that dress and was proud of designing it and sewing it together in a marathon all-nighter, a week or so before the concert. I couldn’t remember what I’d done with it. And what did I find in the closet? There it was, in the very bottom of a box, underneath old college papers, exam books (really? Why on earth did I save those?) and programs from recitals and performances long past. Tossed the exam books and papers, kept the programs and the dress.

• Very recently I wrote about my late husband Mike’s journals and what they revealed to me, after he died. And what did I find in the closet? A journal of my own that I had forgotten existed, that chronicled the first days and weeks of our romance – how we met, where we went together in those giddy, dizzying first days and weeks, and, sadly, how early in our relationship we started fighting. I found the earliest poems – written for me or read to me. My journal consumed only about 15% of the blank book it was written in, blazing briefly with the astonishment of those long, wild first days of love – a love that too quickly sank way down, beneath the surface, submerged for decades under the responsibilities of child-rearing and the stress of a long and difficult marriage; the love that returned to us in a profound, mature and painfully poignant way, at the end.

There’s nothing sentimental about improvisation. It’s there and then it’s not. It’s ephemeral. You can’t recreate a great “Harold.” You can only experience it while it is happening, and maybe remember how great it made you feel while you were in the midst of it.

Not unlike life.

Still tidying up, I remain,

Your loyal, devoted, moving onward one-cleaned-out-closet-at-a-time,

Ridiculouswoman