Coronavirusdiary #3: Soft monotony

If week 1 of this event was a whole lot of shock and awe (and, with new information and changes in ways of life coming almost every day, it was), week 2 was, for me, mostly soft monotony. I’m no longer waking and reminding myself of our new reality; I’ve so quickly adjusted to the new normal that I slip into consciousness each morning as easily as I do the fuzzy socks I’m now likely to wear all day long.

Yes, there’s been a low-level thrum of anxiety beating through all the week’s moments (including in my dreams, which have been filled with missed flights, searches for things that can’t be found, and more than one predatory chase from which I woke with adrenalin coursing through my body), but I have been in my own home, with plenty of heat, light, food, internet access, and toilet paper. (No, I didn’t hoard. I did buy one pack a week for several weeks in a row starting in February, though.)

I have the company of another person much of the time, and I am in regular communication with those who are far away. Zoom happy hour with two close friends has become a new routine. Even the grocery store has become a more reasonable place. Because I still have my job and a guaranteed paycheck, I’m not worrying about how to pay for my mortgage, utilities, or groceries. Because my children are grown, I’m not trying to care for small humans in the midst of either economic free-fall or expectations to work from home. All in all, the waking hours of my week were comfortable as the flannel jammie pants I’ve been wearing more than I probably should.

(click on image for recipe; I added mild Italian sausage, green onions, and parsley)

Because last week was our regularly-scheduled spring break, things felt strangely normal, despite not leaving my house for 7 days straight. Which was strange, because things are definitely not normal. I mean, at least, it seems they aren’t, from the things I’ve been reading online. It all feels a little unreal, though, here in self-isolation land. I don’t know anyone who is sick. Most of the people I know haven’t lost their jobs. I know things are very, very dire in some places and for some people, but it hasn’t directly touched me. Yet, I suppose.

I spent a fair amount of time reading about the experiences of those who have been touched. (Slammed, more like it.) When I am living much of my life in pajama pants, bearing witness feels like the very least I can do. I do it, too, to ground myself in reality, to remember why we really do need to stay away from each other and keep our businesses closed. I tell myself that the relative calm I’m feeling is a sign that those things are working, evidence not that we should let up, but that we should stay the course. Because it would be easy to feel, in my place where I can’t directly observe what’s happening, that maybe all of this isn’t that bad and that maybe we’ve over-reacted.

Like others in similar circumstances, my week was full of mundane things, many of which brought me joy. I finally finished the bedroom painting project I started early in week 1 but abandoned when migraine took me out for a few days. I tried new recipes. I worked on some art. I did some writing and reading. I slept more than I usually get to and watched more TV than I usually do. I had long conversations with people I love. I did some deep cleaning in the wake of the bedroom project, which somehow seemed to get the whole house dirty. It was not hard to be home all week. I didn’t get bored or restless. In fact, I ran out of time to do all the things I’d hoped to.

How can it be that, in this time of pandemic, I feel healthier than I have in months?

Sometime mid-week, I remembered the spring when I missed about a month of school for a hysterectomy. At the time, the surgery felt like a choice, a procedure that, perhaps, didn’t absolutely need to happen, and I remembered a quiet moment by myself when I admitted that part of why I was choosing it was that I desperately wanted to step out of my life for a bit. I was teaching full time, raising two second-graders, in a marriage that was becoming untenable. I was exhausted all the time. I understood that there was something terribly wrong in this–that I could even think that I would choose major surgery to remove an entire system of my body (faulty as it was) just to get a break–but there it was. The idea of being in the hospital felt easier than that of being in my usual daily life. And, as it happened, it was, even with pain and complications and a spouse who did not see me until the day he came to take me home.

It has been easy to see the parallels between that time and the one I’m now living through. I would never choose what’s happening now, but at the same time, I have been grateful for the break. In spite of everything, my life these past two weeks has been easier than it would otherwise have been. It seems that there is something terribly wrong in that, too.

There is another shift coming as we move into week 3, though. Monday I return to working, though I still don’t really know what work is going to look like. I know it will be done from home. I’m sure Zoom meetings will figure prominently. I’m waiting for more information from those who have more power than me to determine what things are going to look like. I’m not feeling anxious about that because I’m just so grateful that my job–no matter what it will consist of–is secure right now. I’m aware that as this goes on and we begin to feel long-term economic impacts, that could change. I’m not worrying about any of that right now, though. I’m doing my best to stay grounded in the day I’m in.

All in all, the days I’ve been in have melded into a dreamy bubble. Days drifted by, or I drifted through them. Somehow, there was a large sense of drift. It feels wrong or dangerous to say that out loud, to share pretty pictures of my time in refuge. As I do, I feel superstitious fears rising up in me, based in irrational beliefs that if we draw attention to our good fortune, the gods or fate or spiteful humans will do something to ruin it. It feels callous or shallow to do so when others are suffering, and maybe it is.

Or maybe, instead, you might read my story and wonder, as I have been, why it can’t be everyone’s. It feels fundamentally wrong to me that I have had it as relatively easy as I have, when others are sacrificing so much–especially our healthcare workers, and those who stock our shelves and pump our gas and do the work we’ve all realized, in new ways, is essential.

I have been thankful over and over again that I have not had to work the past two weeks or worry about immediate income loss because it has allowed me time and space to process what is happening and keep my anxiety low-grade rather than acute. More importantly, it has allowed me to do what our scientists and public health officials have been pleading with us to do: stay home.

I know life can never be entirely fair, but why, in a country with as much wealth as we have, has our public health system failed so dramatically and so many of us had to worry about how we’re going to pay rent and take care of ourselves if we get sick? It’s not that way in other countries, where lower-wage workers don’t live so close the bone, and where laid off workers and their employers are receiving more funds than ours will to keep their economies afloat. Why is it that way here?

And, if more people could have spent the past weeks the way I have–sequestered at home, not feeling the need to leave to pay bills–perhaps the virus could be managed and contained to reasonable levels in every state in our country (as we seem to be doing here in Oregon), reducing the tremendous and inequitable impact on not only our health care systems, but on our healthcare workers.

Coming up on the end of week two, it’s seeming to me that there is more than one type of impact curve that we could be flattening.


“We have lost it all”: The shock felt by millions of unemployed Americans
For the millions of Americans who found themselves without a job in recent weeks, the sharp and painful change brought a profound sense of disorientation. They were going about their lives, bartending, cleaning, managing events, waiting tables, loading luggage and teaching yoga. And then suddenly they were in free fall, grabbing at any financial help they could find, which in many states this week remained locked away behind crashing websites and overloaded phone lines.

April bills loom. The economy hangs on how many are left unpaid.
The 11-year economic expansion left record low unemployment, but it did less to ensure financial stability. The Federal Reserve reported last year that four in 10 Americans would have difficulty covering an unexpected expense of $400.

If Oregonians stay home, state hospitals appear capable of handling coronavirus burden
New modeling released Thursday by the Oregon Health Authority shows the state’s hospital system appears capable of handling the coronavirus cases that are expected in the next month. But that’s just a planning estimate and assumes that nine out of 10 Oregonians stay home.

“We know that is going to be very hard to achieve in the short-term and probably hasn’t been achieved,” said Dean Sidelinger, Oregon’s state epidemiologist, “and will be very difficult to achieve in the long term.

“We know that the only way to get that curve to be flat or go down is aggressive action that people listen to.”

The billions that countries are spending to fight Covid-19
(Includes a long list of links to articles that share information about aid that various countries are providing for their citizens)

Coronavirusdiary #2: opportunity and sacrifice

A year ago this week I was in Komiža, a tiny town on the tiny island of Vis, in Croatia. I’d gone there with the women of my family–my mother, my daughter, my god-mother, and four cousins. We all share the DNA of my great-grandmother, who immigrated to the United States from Komiža when she was a teenager, just a little more than 100 years ago.

It took three planes, one shuttle, one ferry, one bus, and 24 hours to get to there. Eight of us from three generations came from four different points of origin; I met my daughter in Munich, and we joined the others at the airport in Split. It was dark when we stepped off the bus and met the woman who owned the rooms we’d rented. We followed her into the center of town, a sandstone-paved plaza bordered on one side by a row of old buildings and on the other by water.

As I followed along, suitcase wheels bumping over the stones, my chest tightened, my stomach fluttered, and tears formed. It will sound corny and cliche, and maybe I was just exhausted, but it felt as if something in my core recognized the place, and had been longing for it. It felt like home.

That week, with so many of the women who have been central to my life, is one I haven’t written about here. I wrote some words then, but it all felt too big to capture, and I never published the post I started. To be in the town my great-grandmother grew up in, to see a small cemetery filled with the names that filled our childhoods, to spy across the plaza a man who was a doppelgänger for a cousin, to hear all around us the language that our elders used when they didn’t want us to know what they were saying–it gave me a new understanding of my great-grandmother because I knew in a different, visceral way all that she had given up when she left that place for a new life in a foreign country.

(Our great-grandmother’s maiden name, before it was changed to Evich at Ellis Island.)

When we were in Komiža, we were able to meet with a cousin who still lives there. We asked him why so many of the town’s residents had left in the early 1900’s. Was it war? we wondered. “No,” he said, he didn’t think so. “Just, more opportunity. Some left early and sent back pictures from California, with cars and nice clothes.”

(From my great-grandmother’s photo album)

I have written before about the types of pain that have bound the women in my family as surely as our genetics have. Last fall, I met one of my cousins for dinner, just the two of us, and we talked about my daughter and her impending graduation from college. “Until now, I’ve been the only woman in our family to do that,” I said, hesitantly. It’s a fact I’ve had such conflicted feelings about, mostly guilt (of the survivor type). I’d never said it out loud to anyone else in the family.

“I know,” said my cousin, who had had to drop out of high school when pregnant with her first child. “It’s a big deal.” I felt such relief, to be able to talk about this fact of our family and what it meant.

Not long after that conversation, it was decided that my mother and I would attend my daughter’s commencement ceremony together, just the two of us. We would travel to Washington, DC as we did this week three years ago, when my daughter was a freshman.

She’d gone there all on her own, knowing no one, having never even stepped foot on campus. Of the options she’d had to choose from, it felt like the one with the most opportunity. It was a gutsy thing to do, in some ways not unlike leaving the only country she’d ever known. Of course, she wasn’t giving up anything like the things my great-grandmother and millions of other immigrants have given up, but she was going far away to live in new cultures, with none of her friends and family, embarking on an experience unlike any of ours who’d come before her, which meant she had no one close to guide her through it.

Although my own college experience was fundamentally different, it was enough alike that I knew she wouldn’t come back to us the same girl she’d been when she left, and that it would create more than one kind of distance between us. That’s proven to be true, and so her graduation ceremony was one I wanted to attend with just my mother, another one of the bright women in my family who didn’t get to to go to college, and the only person I know who might know all of what my daughter’s graduation means to me.

All graduations are important to the families of those who have supported the graduating child, but my daughter’s graduation means even more to me now that I have been to Komiža, now that I understand more deeply all that my great-grandmother gave up to provide everything that has made the coming moment possible: history, language, family, friends, place. She left as a teen-ager, and she only returned once, when she was in her 70s. I wonder now what role the trauma that she and all those she knew must have endured played in creating the traumas that have marked everyone in the generations that followed. Have all the things we all lost been worth the things we gained? How do you balance such an equation?

Of course, that trip and that ceremony are canceled now. My daughter is in Sweden, finishing her studies remotely in the country she hopes to make her home after she graduates. I don’t know when I’ll see her again. I knew, when she left my home four years ago, that she would never really return–but I had no idea how far she was going to travel, in every way that one might. In this week of so many kinds of loss for so many people, all over the world, it feels wrong or self-indulgent to mourn the loss of this experience that my mother, daughter, and I were going to share. We are all healthy, and safe, and well, and that same survivor’s guilt makes me feel as if I shouldn’t express sadness about anything.

But I know that the grief is deeper than the loss of a ceremony or a trip. It is about the tangle of all the things that ceremony and trip represented: opportunity, achievement, sacrifice, and hope that spans generations. It is about all the things we lose and gain as we try to make better lives for ourselves and those we love. It is about the questions we are facing and will face in the context of our pandemic, as politicians this week float the idea that our elderly should sacrifice themselves to maintain “our way of life.”

As I remember the village I was in a year ago today, and all that those who came before me sacrificed and endured so that I can live the life I have, I am thinking a lot about ways of life and what we should fight to preserve and what we might let go. What struck me most about Komiža was a way of life I recognized from my childhood, a tightly woven, easy, intergenerational one. Old men sat in chairs on the plaza and children zoomed around them on bikes and rollerblades, and in the early evenings multiple generations of families would gather in a tavern before dinner, children, parents, and grandparents drinking and talking and laughing together. There was no helicopter parenting, perhaps because everyone seemed to know everyone else, and it reminded me of childhood visits to Bellingham, Washington, where so many who came from Komiža settled. My great-grandmother lived with my grandparents on the south side of town, where all the Slavs lived, and every visit to the grocery store or walk through the neighborhood seemed to include a conversation with someone whose last name matched one of those on the headstones in the Komiža cemetery. When we’d meet and my grandmother would introduce me, I wasn’t just her grand-daughter Rita; I was “Marianne’s girl,” and everyone knew who my mother, Marianne, was. I felt known in a way that I never did in my own suburban home town.

I suppose, to many of us living in cities in the US, the way of life in Komiža might feel small or lesser-than, but it reminded me of the best parts of my childhood, and in its harbor and coffee shop and market I felt a grief that seemed as unreasonable as any I am feeling now. Seeing all that my great-grandparents had left behind, I felt cheated of a different kind of life I might have had, which made no sense because it never could have been mine; if they had never left the village, I would never have been born. But grief isn’t always logical, is it?

For a long time now, our way of life hasn’t been working so well for me and for many of those I know. In a devastating essay about caring for a husband with COVID-19, a mother tells her daughter that they are living in a dystopian story now, and the daughter answers: “Lots of people already did.” As I have been living a slower, smaller life these past two weeks, despite all the fear and uncertainty, I have felt other things I’ve been longing for: connection, purpose, a focus on things that truly matter. I have felt, paradoxically in this moment of great unease, an easiness that comes from having enough sleep, from eating in a healthy way, from the release of pressures to do and look and be in ways that are irrelevant right now.

In the days and weeks to come, we’ll all be making choices about how to best preserve ways of life and what we’re willing to sacrifice and for whom. I hope we’ll all think long and hard about the multiple ways in which opportunity can present itself, and that the cost of cars and nice clothes and all manner of things is far more than the numbers on their price tags.

This week’s dots:

What I learned when my husband got sick with coronavirus: “On one of the worst nights, I stay next to the bed, rubbing his body through the piled-on blankets, trying to comfort him. I hear myself start to hum, low, the only song I would: the song both my mother and my grandmother used to sing to me.”

Grieving the losses of coronavirus: “As a therapist, I always say that there’s no hierarchy of pain — pain is pain. Suffering shouldn’t be ranked, because pain is not a contest. I believe, too, that there’s no hierarchy of grief. When we rank our losses, when we validate some and minimize others, many people are left alone to grieve what then become their silent losses.”

That discomfort you’re feeling is grief: “I did not want to stop at acceptance when I experienced some personal grief. I wanted meaning in those darkest hours. And I do believe we find light in those times. …I believe we will continue to find meaning now and when this is over.”

Burnout isn’t just in your head. It’s in your circumstances: “The heart of burnout is emotional exhaustion — feeling so depleted and drained by your job that you have nothing left to give. In the U.S., over half of employees feel burned out at least some of the time. It doesn’t just hurt our productivity — it can harm our mental and physical health, too. There’s evidence linking burnout to weakened immune systems and even cardiovascular disease. It’s no wonder that burnout has been declared an occupational syndrome by the World Health Organization.”

The coronavirus pandemic illustrates the failings of capitalism: “Trump’s right about one thing: It is definitely the story of capitalism. And while we are still reeling from the shock to our everyday lives, we should look at some of these huge changes to our routines as a possible — even hopeful — new normal.”

Pok Pok’s Andy Ricker shuts down completely and sounds an alarm: “In Portland, the virus is here. Believe me, it is everywhere. I might have it, you might have it, we don’t know. We have got to stay home to minimize the damage and sickness and death. We’ve all got to do this thing that modern society is not used to. We’ve never had to make this kind of massive sacrifice, ever. We have to stop fucking around making TikToks and get serious.

Bay area is flattening the curve: “The latest such experiment is Shelter-in-Place, which the Bay Area was the first to institute in the entire country, without any federal support or mandate. So, I decided to take a look at how this experiment has played out. And so far, the numbers seem to indicate that this was not only a wise decision, but will help us come out of this far quicker than anyone else (provided we can limit people travelling into or outside of the bay area and continue to maintain social distancing).”

Coronavirusdiary #1

A teacher friend on Facebook shared an article about a history professor at the University of Virginia who suggested to his students that they keep a diary of this time. In answer to the question of why it might be important for people to write their experiences down, he said:

Our normal days in the now-suddenly-distant past may well have often dulled us into just getting through them. Our sudden lives now stop us, and lead us to wonder about our experiences and our feelings on many passing moments.

This [project] will, of course, not be routine writing and composing. That’s the point. There is much that all of us and each of us have already experienced in the past few weeks that is shocking, unexpected, unpredictable, unknowable, new; much that we have not felt before and not seen. What is it like to live today knowing that we do not know what tomorrow and the day after will bring? 

When I consider the distance of the days between my post last Sunday and this Sunday, it feels too much to capture. And, honestly, I don’t want to even try. This feels like an experience that needs to be recorded in something more like a poem than an essay–in telling images and moments, rather than in lengthy exposition and cataloging of official happenings. There will be voluminous documentation, I’m sure, of the macro. But I’ve always been much more interested in the micro–in how enormous events play out in the minutiae of individual lives.

Zoom happy hour, social distancing style
Bedroom painting project (still not finished)
Garage-organization project, days 1-3
Grocery shopping in an economically poor neighborhood (mine) in the time of pandemic

How are you doing? we ask each other (through text, messaging, phone calls, zoom calls).

How are we doing? It feels as if many of us had a day of reckoning this week–a day in which we understood, in a deeper way, the ramifications of what is happening. For me, it came on Wednesday. I woke sometime in the night the way I have in the direct wake of other life-altering events, forgetting for a brief moment that life was no longer as I knew it, and then suddenly remembering that my earth had slipped off its axis. The coronavirus, I thought, and then remembered that I wasn’t going to be getting up and going to school, that my daughter wasn’t returning from Sweden, that our markets are crashing, that small businesses are failing, that friends are out of work, that people are dying and going to die, that I could not go visit my parents or go see a movie or eat at my favorite restaurants or get my haircut or see my friends or or or… I felt the kind of need to ground myself in a new reality that I have felt when people died, when a marriage ended, when my children left home. Things are both exactly the same and very much not the same, and I’m off-balance, wobbly on my feet. The coronavirus, I thought, grounding myself in the reality that there is no solid ground to our reality right now.

How are you doing? I am trying to get the cognitive dissonance to settle down. All weekend after our schools close I stay home and read the news stories on my computer, the charts and graphs with curves that need to flatten, the pleas from those in Italy to do things differently than they did, and I share the stories and I tag them #stayhome, but then early in the week I get in my car to do something essential and I see the road filled with cars, the sidewalks filled with people who are not keeping their distance from one another, and the stories and charts and graphs feel unreal. Why am I not at work when all these other people are? Where are they all going? What’s really real? On my return from the dentist (essential), I impulsively run into the craft store for embroidery floss because it’s still open, because I need things to do with my hands, because I tell myself I can do it safely. I wear gloves. I feel guilty. I am guilty. Forgive me, I think. Maybe it’s OK, I think. It feels essential to me, right now. I touch nothing but the floss I put in my basket. Please let this be OK, I think. I am a hypocrite, I think, as I strip off the gloves before touching the steering wheel.

How are you doing? Tears well easily, and frequently, and always they surprise me. They come the day my mother emails to tell me that she’s accepted that she will not be able to make the trip to DC to see my daughter graduate from college, and I see she has not yet reached the obvious (but still not officially announced) conclusion that there will be no commencement ceremony. The day she calls me to say that she’s canceled both our flights and our hotel reservation. The afternoon I watch my high school friends on Facebook mourn the death of our beloved choir teacher, killed by the virus. The morning my friend whose college-student daughter can’t get out of Peru sends me a picture of her child’s smiling host family, celebrating their own young daughter’s birthday in quarantine. When she tells me that the family told her daughter, “you are our family now.” Multiple times while reading a YA novel about a Seattle girl whose life is shattered by a tragedy, and how runs across the whole country as she tries to both escape and control the trauma she can neither control nor escape. They come right now, as I type these words and remember each of these moments.

How are you doing? Early in the week I am drifting, floundering. I lose big parts of days doing…what? I’m not sure. I start projects and don’t finish them. I buy food in case I can’t later, including treats I normally wouldn’t, but right now I have little desire to eat. I watch people around me mobilize into action that looks almost manic, but maybe that’s just in comparison to me, who is floating. I lose two days to headache because it’s not that bad (I tell myself) and because I don’t take my meds because I am afraid I might run out and be unable to get more. I finally take them, and as the fog clears I can see that it was bad, worse than I’d allowed myself to acknowledge. I write. I think about what it is that most needs doing, and how it feels impossible that “nothing” might be the right answer to the question, even as it feels like it probably is. I try to pay attention–pay attention!–to the ordinary pleasures that remain, so that I might not be kicking myself in the future the way I am now about not fully noticing and appreciating the night two weekends ago we went out for dinner and a movie, even though I suspected at the time that it might be the last time we did it for awhile. I can’t even remember now where we ate. I long to remember where we ate.

Near the end of the week, we go out to take a walk through a favorite walking neighborhood. The businesses on the neighborhood’s commercial street are dark, the curbs usually lined end-to-end with cars only dotted with them. We see that a pizza place at the end of the block is still open for take-out, and it feels like a wondrous gift.

“Oh, let’s order some,” I say. “It’s Friday night, remember?” I say, as if Friday still means what it did a week ago. So we do, and it feels so good, to do something so ordinary in this extraordinary time. We tell them we’ll be there in an hour to pick up the pizza, and we walk in the day’s waning sunshine. I take photos for my house embroidery project, and we note plants and flowers in other yards we’d like to add to ours.

In front of one of the houses is a giant sequoia, and I stop to look up through its branches. I take a photo, trying to capture how the tree’s arms look like infinity, or the face of a god, or a puzzle whose pieces I could never sort. Everything feels so much bigger and older than I will ever be, all the world’s mystery and power and wonder embodied into this one thing, right here, on an ordinary sidewalk in Portland on a Friday evening in March, the end of week one of our pandemic. I snap a photo, sure it will be like all the other photos I’ve taken looking up into the limbs of trees, a disappointing mishmash of shadow and lines that don’t at all capture what I felt when I clicked the shutter.

But this time, some kind of wonderful happens when I shoot, which I discover not long after, sitting at the kitchen table and eating the pizza, which tastes better than any pizza has tasted in a long time. The photo looks almost more like a painting than a photo, and it’s there, all of it, just as I saw it. It’s like magic, the way the tree–our lives now–are half in shadow, half in light, a beautiful thickety maze that stretches up and up as far as we can see.

Your turn

I would love to hear about your week. Please share in the comments, or link to your own diary if it’s digital.

Hey, Parents and Teachers

I see you all, scrambling so hard.

I see your schedules for study and reading and exercise. I see you sharing your digital resources, not hoarding a single scrap of anything that might help someone else help their kids. Heck, every once in awhile I chime in, too, throwing a helpful URL into the ring where you’re all fighting to hang onto something that feels right, if not normal.

Sometime in the past day or two, though, I started wondering if maybe you all need a different kind of lifeline. So I’m offering this one:

In the fall of 2005, my twins were in second grade, and their teachers began what would end up being the second-longest teachers’ strike in Oregon history. Their dad and I were both teachers in another district, so we were still working. We didn’t have a good daycare backup, and we were (of course) on the side of their teachers, and so we prepared to buck up and hunker down for however long a haul it might be. Somehow.

Just a few days in, home with the kids, my husband decided that now was as good a time as any for him to tear up the vinyl in front of our dishwasher and finally find out what was creating a growing bump in the floor. We’d had a dishwasher guy out who said there were no leaks, so we knew it wasn’t the washer.

I didn’t understand the implications of the photo he emailed me that morning–what all that black stuff underneath the vinyl was. By the end of the day, however, through a series of emails and phone calls, I knew I was only going to have a few minutes to pack up anything we might need for the night because the black stuff was mold and we had to get out of the house.

I didn’t try to make my kids do any schoolwork that night. It was all still a bit of an adventure. Each of the few days after that, though, revealed a new level of not-normal and not-adventure. Long story short: Two-thirds of the ground level of our house was full of mold. We’d have to move out while a crew removed the flooring and a good chunk of drywall from our kitchen, dining room, and family room. All of the kitchen cabinets had to come out. Machines would have to run 24/7 for weeks to dry everything out, and then we’d have to rebuild.

This was all going to take awhile. And the teachers were still on strike.

The vacation condo we’d gone to “for just a few nights” was going to be home for…who knows how long? We tried to settle into a “new normal” in which my kids were not living in their house, without most of their things, and not going to school. They were 8 years old.

Some days they went to school with me, sitting at desks next to my high-schoolers, pretending to do “work” I’d given them. Some days they went with their dad. As the days turned into a week, and then another week, I started to get anxious about all the school they were missing. They were in second grade! A crucial year for reading and math! For everything!

After dinner, I’d sit with them at our not-ours kitchen table and write out math problems. Addition and subtraction with multiple digit numbers. I stumbled over trying to conceptually explain tens and hundreds and borrowing, which my bright children rather stubbornly (it seemed to me) refused to understand. For several nights, our already-stressful days ended with more stress.

Finally, one evening, my daughter gave me a talking-to.

“Mommy,” she said, with what I could see was a great deal of patience, “I know you are a teacher, but I don’t want you to be my teacher. You are Mommy, and that’s all I want you to be.”

I looked at her, and it was as if I were really seeing her for the first time since everything had started falling apart.

“OK,” I said. Fair enough.

I decided that we all had enough to contend with as it was, and I pushed the math papers aside with as much relief as both small sets of relaxing shoulders expressed.

The strike was not insignificant. Our kids missed school for a month, and re-entry wasn’t easy. But 15 years out, I can look back and tell you that my kids would not have been better off if I’d insisted on continuing my efforts to teach them what I thought they needed to learn.

I was so in the thick of stress from worrying about money and the house and trying to keep everything as normal as possible that I couldn’t see the stress my kids were under, too–and that nothing I might do would make anything feel normal.

After that evening, we came home (to not-home), ate dinner together, and sometimes played games and sometimes watched movies. We read books before bed, and snuggled, and tried to enjoy living in a place that others went to for vacations. We didn’t know when anything was going to end; days kept being added to projections for when we could move home, and the strike just kept going on and on. So I finally stopped worrying about it, because there was nothing I could do, anyway. I knew we’d be back to normal eventually, no matter what I might do or not do, and that the kids were going to be all right as long as they felt loved and safe.

As it turned out, the old normal never really came back. It was a good six months or more before all of the repair was done on the house, and we made so many changes in the process that it never really felt like our old home again. It was a nice one, but a different one. By the time the house was whole again, all the cracks in the foundation of my marriage had widened to chasms we would not be able to fix. Those weeks in the condo were some of the last in what I now think of as our life before, and I am glad that the memories I have of that time are mostly sweet ones.

The second-grade girl who resisted my math instruction became a high-school student who exhausted her school’s math offerings by the end of her junior year. So, presumably, no harm, no foul from the second-grade delay in learning how to add and subtract. She’s now a college senior who was in Sweden when her school announced that it was going all-digital for the remainder of this year (and–oh, yeah, come move all your stuff out NOW), and was still there two days later when the US announced it was closing the border to travelers from Europe. She’s still there, trying to finish her thesis and work remotely for her jobs that have that as an option and get answers from her financial aid office and attend her online classes virtually from a different time zone with sometimes spotty internet connection, all while trying to wrap her head around the reality that she may never see some of her friends again and that she can’t make any solid plans for her life after graduation. Yesterday she let me know that one of her housemates now has a fever and a cough.

So, to all you parents and teachers: I feel for you. You keep doing what you need to do, however it seems best to do it. A pandemic is not a mold infestation or a teachers’ strike, and what we’re living through is a whole other level of not-normal. But maybe that’s even more reason to stop and take a deep breath, and take a good, hard look at everything around your children/students. Maybe instead of focusing on all the things your kids/students aren’t getting right now that you think you must provide, focus on them and what they’re telling you they really need. There are all kinds of ways to learn, and maybe, right now, there are more important things for them to know than anything they might typically learn while sitting at a desk or in a circle at carpet time.

With love and respect,

Some Dots

Homeschooling while working from home during a global pandemic bingo (because laughing right now is really important, and humor has a way of making a wicked-serious point)

Working from home with kids? Survive the quarantine with these proven tips… (from a former teaching colleague who’s funny and smart and wise as hell)

The case for shutting schools down instead of moving them online (because while No Child Left Behind resulted in really bad policy and practices, our solutions need to consider every child’s needs and resources)

An open letter to high school seniors (from Louisiana’s Teacher of the Year)

GBSD home learning resources, grades K-5 (I really like the game board format of these resources, and I like the mix of digital and non-digital activities. This might have worked a whole lot better than anything I tried back in 2005.)

Facts about the unschooling philosophy of education (what better time than now to reconsider everything you might think about teaching and learning?)

It’s still snowing (metaphorically this time)

I’m writing these words on Thursday morning, less than a week into our “extended spring break.” Half the contents of my garage are in my driveway. Yesterday afternoon seemed like a good time to pull everything out and finally organize that space.

Why? Maybe because we can. Maybe because the sun was shining. Maybe so we could feel a little bit of normal for an hour.

This new, changing-by-the-day normal is the new normal. What started sinking in yesterday is that we won’t be going back to the old one. My psyche is shifting into a lower gear, one to carry me through a long haul. What I know about roads and going down them is that you can’t ever really go back, once you’ve gone a certain distance.

I have been thinking the past few days about the snowstorm of December ’08. I was living on Mt. Hood then, near the Sandy River. It was a few days before Christmas, the first after my divorce, and my children were going to be spending the holiday with their dad. He and I lived within walking distance of each other, so I knew they were close, but still. It was not an easy time.

The snow was coming down. I was sewing Christmas stockings for the kids, new ones for our new house. George Bailey and Mary and Mr. Potter were keeping me company. In a few days my parents would be visiting, and we would be celebrating our Christmas a day after everyone else, but it was fine. It would all be OK. I’m OK, I thought to myself, more than once.

Late that evening, one of the dogs whined to be let out on the back deck. The French doors opened in, so I had no trouble opening the door–but, oh! There were at least two feet of snow in front of it! We lived at the base of the mountain, at only 1,000 feet, so in my 15 years of living there I’d never seen anything quite like it.

The dog–a miniature Daschund–gave me a bit of a side-eye. I looked for something I could use to scrape away a small space in which she could pee.

It felt unreal, somehow. How had all that snow fallen without my being aware of it?

I didn’t understand in that moment what the snow would mean. I didn’t know that it had fallen all over the region, and that life was going to grind to mostly a halt, Christmas or no Christmas. I didn’t know that I would be alone there for a few days. I didn’t know how I would come to rely on the television and the internet and its connections with others to keep me feeling OK. I didn’t know how angry and powerless I was going to feel when my ex-husband ignored the travel advisories and took our children several hours up I-5 to retrieve their older sister, rather than letting them stay with me. I didn’t know that my parents were going to have to cancel their plans to come see us the day after Christmas.

I only came to understand those things gradually, over the course of a few days, and I didn’t fully understand the implications of my position until the power went out. At that point, I was low on food. No power meant I had no heat. My car was trapped in my garage behind a wall of snow, and I didn’t even have a snow shovel. No power also meant no internet, and so no way of communicating with the people who had kept me tethered to something that felt like normalcy.

When I finally understood those things–all of them–after days of living alone and working so hard to be OK in that solitude, I kind of lost it.

I bundled myself up and trudged down to the river, a constant source of solace in those years of my life coming undone. I was utterly alone, nothing but snow and trees and water all around. I sunk into the snow, wondering how my life had come to this, that I would be alone without heat or food or someone to meet these challenges with me, and I howled the kind of tears I’ve only known a few times in my life.

When I finally got up to leave–because tears always stop, eventually, and we always have to keep moving, don’t we?–one foot slipped out of my boot and the other didn’t move at all. I stood there, ridiculous, balancing on one leg, trying to dislodge my boot, and I fell over, icy snow biting my face. What the fuck was I doing? No one knew where I was. What if I did something even more stupid and got hurt and couldn’t get back up through the short path through the woods? I cried some more.

I don’t remember how I got those boots unstuck, but I did. And I marched my cold, wet ass back to my dark, cold house with nearly empty cupboards and faced the truth that I was supremely ill-equipped to live on the mountain by myself. So I was going to get the hell out.

I didn’t have a snow shovel, but my ex-husband did and he wasn’t home. I loaded up my two tiny dogs in a tobaggen (why? who knows? snow-crazy, maybe) and started to make my way to the house that had once been mine but was now only his. I was going to dig that car out of the garage and ignore the travel advisories myself.

As I crossed Barlow Trail Road–originally part of the Oregon Trail–and entered what had been, only months before, my street, Hideaway Lane, I saw a wondrous site: my old neighbor Shari’s 4-wheel drive rig idling in her driveway, exhaust wafting skyward.

“Are you going down the mountain?” I called to her.

Yes, she was. And yes, I could have a ride.

I hurried home, packed a bag, grabbed the dogs some food and blankets, and I was ready in minutes. I decided she could take me to the school where I taught. It was in town, within walking distance of restaurants. The school had a health sciences program, with an equipped hospital room, which meant there was a bed I could sleep in. There was power. I would be fine.

“Are you sure?” Sherri asked as she dropped the dogs and me off outside the building.

“Yes, I’ll be OK,” I assured her. I was taking care of myself, dammit. I was figuring it out. I thought of all the times my children’s father had told me that I’d never have survived the Oregon Trail, and my resolve hardened. I was not going to be a victim, crying alone in my cold, dark house with no food.

A half-hour later the city of Gresham closed down, which meant that all the restaurants and stores closed. All I had to eat were leftovers from the Red Robin lunch I’d had with Shari. The school, shut down for the winter break, wasn’t much warmer than my house had been.

I cried again.

Eventually, I abandoned both pride and my resolve to go it alone and called a friend, who got on a bus and came and rescued me. (I couldn’t manage the two dogs and all of our things on the bus by myself.) I spent Christmas with him and his daughter, the first of what would end up being many that we shared. It was not the Christmas I expected, at all. It was not the one I wanted. But I was grateful for it. Deeply grateful. The greatest gift was, perhaps, that first night at his apartment, when he filled the tub with hot water and brought me a glass of wine and I felt such profound relief to know that I was no longer all on my own, even if just for a day or two.

Things went back to normal, sort of. The snow melted. My children safely returned. My parents eventually made it to my house, where we all opened presents and watched movies, and it felt a lot like Christmas, even though it was days late. It would be a while before I realized that I’d changed in those howling minutes I’d lived on the snow-covered beach, face-to-face with my ineptitude and a solitude I’d never known.

What’s happening now feels not unlike that snowstorm, and I wonder where in the sequence of events and understanding I am. A week ago, I think, I was not unlike the woman who sat sewing Christmas stockings, unaware of the snow piling high around her shelter. I mean, I knew it was snowing. But now, like then, it’s been a little breath-taking to see how fast and hard it’s fallen, and how it continues to accumulate.

Wishing all of you who read here good health (mental and physical) and the sense I didn’t have in 2008 to know that no one can really go it alone (even as we must physically separate). Let’s help each other make it down this road together.

A few dots from writers I found strangely comforting yesterday:

The world we once lived in has vanished

The ghost of normalcy lingering past its time

Figuring forward in an uncertain universe

A post about the thing with feathers

Well, what does one say after the year that was last week?

In the midst of our schools closing, a multiple-day migraine, a child in Europe whose east-coast university has shut down and wants her to move her belongings out, and a clogged kitchen sink line, I re-arranged my living room. I spent an entire evening reconsidering the objects on my fireplace mantel. I bought paint to re-paint the bedroom I painted in December. I put a lot of stitches into a canvas while I watched stupid things on TV that made me feel nostalgic for 2010.

Before I left work on Friday, hoping that we really will return in two weeks but knowing that we likely won’t, I checked out a bagful of books from our school library. Good thing, because Saturday morning I woke to the news that our public libraries are shutting down, which somehow hit me harder than anything else had. Perhaps because libraries are my church, and if ever there was a time a person might need church, it’s now. In the absence of such, I am planning a garage re-organization project, which I’ll start just as soon as it stops snowing.

Because it is freaking snowing, in Portland, Oregon, in the middle of March.

(Well, it was on Saturday morning when I was writing this post.)

Which leads me to ask:

My daughter is staying put in Europe for I don’t know how long, and we reminded ourselves this morning that humor is a key item in anyone’s apocalypse survival kit. As are toilet paper, pasta, and ways to keep productively busy.

Ever since reading Digital Minimalism a few weeks back, I’ve curtailed my social media consumption (going so far as to remove the apps from my phone), but as the wheels started flying off the bus on Friday I found my feeds to be a place of comfort. It was good to hear from people I know and love. It was good to see sound information being shared. It was good to laugh. It was good to be reminded of what can be best in us, rather than what’s so often worst.

Mostly, it was heartening to realize that my feed was full of messages that all said some version of this: We need to do what we’re doing and bear the costs of these actions not to reduce our own risks, but to reduce the risks to others. The ratio of those messages to photos of empty toilet paper aisle shelves was about a million to one, and for the first time in a long time I’ve felt something I’d almost forgotten the feeling of: Hope.

As I’m watching the world around me shift to accommodate the shape of something we’ve never experienced here, there is something that feels almost holy in this moment. I have been thinking for a long time that it would probably take some kind of disaster to turn us around on the path we’ve been hurtling down. That is the opportunity inherent in this unfolding disaster that will touch all of us in some way, if it hasn’t already.

My deep, fervent hope today is that this will propel us to remember how inter-connected we all are, to reach out to each other rather than erect walls between us, to uphold ideas and ideals that have always been the best part of us, and to act more from love than from fear.

We’ll all have to figure out the best ways for us to do that. Right now, I’m focused on staying home as much as possible and supporting those in my personal circle without creating more risk for those outside it. I might write here more often, once I get a little equilibrium back. Mostly, though, you can probably find me (but please, don’t come too close looking) painting a wall or cleaning a garage or stabbing canvas with a needle or sharing something through Facebook–a tidbit of useful information or something funny to make you smile.

Because it has always been true that we also serve, who only stand and wait.


Hope is the thing with feathers

Sonnet 19: When I consider how my light is spent

Stopping by woods on a snowy evening

A post in which the F-word appears. Repeatedly.

What a week, eh?

Maybe I’d have had more time to write something that matters more than this post will if I hadn’t spent so many minutes of it washing my hands. With most of the US coronavirus deaths happening just a few hours north of us and with a local school temporarily closing its doors due to a positive case in the household of a school employee, the epidemic and its possible (likely?) impacts has felt both wildly imminent and strangely distant. Most of us are all still going about our daily lives just as we always have–except, with more handwashing. I work in a school, where our custodian now wipes down my door handle and light switch daily. The idea that we might face a prolonged time not at school feels unreal, as does the idea that the daily wipe down is going to have much impact on whether or not we do.

In the meantime, it became clear this week that we will once again have as our president a doddering old white man, just in case anyone is still maybe on the fence about the idea that we are a patriarchal white supremacy. Yeah, yeah, yeah I’m gonna vote to remove the orange white guy (vote blue no matter who!), but goddamnfuckit I am so angry.

You wouldn’t know it to look at me. I mean, I’m one of those reasonable, smart, educated, competent, hard-working white women who believed for most of my life that all we had to do was work hard and know the necessary things and be good at what we do and EVERYTHING WOULD WORK OUT. Five+ decades of training and grooming and pruning leaves its mark, and so those who know me IRL (or even online) probably haven’t seen the rage that’s boiling on the inside. And who am I kidding to think that anyone really cares about the rage of a white, middle-class, middle-aged woman? I mean, sometimes even I kind of hate most of us, so, I get it–all of it. Moving on…

Aside from washing my hands of things (both literally and figuratively) this week, and trying to do good work at work, and paying bills, and being as good a mom, partner, daughter, and friend as I could manage, I didn’t do a whole lot of reading or thinking or writing. I didn’t make it to the gym, either, but I did take a two-mile walk one sunny afternoon and on another one I filled up the compost bin with the weird, wormy-looking things a giant tree drops all over my yard, which sounds like work but didn’t feel like work. I think I’m abandoning self-care that feels like work. At least until I can let up on the handwashing.

What I did this week instead was bust out needle and thread. I found a book about stitching on canvas, something that’s never occurred to me as a possibility. Why? I don’t know why. Too busy following the rules, maybe–not that this is such a ground-breaking or wild idea. I had a grubby old canvas from some long-abandoned earlier project lying around, so I covered it with the only acrylic paint I had that wasn’t a globby, chunky mess and I drew a house (from a photo from another long-abandoned earlier project) on it, and I started stitching. At the end of my days I did not read or write; I watched TV that made me feel good (season 3 of Better Things and season 1 of HGTV’s Home Town, the juxtaposition of which probably says more about my inner state than any of the words I’m writing here) and stabbed that canvas repeatedly with a needle.

At work I had a conversation with a colleague about the idea of decolonizing education, the topic of a workshop she recently attended. We explored what that might look like in practice and planned a research unit for her students with that idea as our foundation. We talked about what people who have endured colonization have done to endure it and, as much as possible, be OK in it. We talked about how, in the aftermath of the 2016 presidential election, so many white women were so freaked out. I shared that I was one of them, but that I have realized since then that the people of color I was talking with in those early days and weeks of the current administration were not freaking out.

My colleague, a woman of color, just smiled. “Yes,” she said.

“I realize now,” I said, “that for them, what was happening was bad, but also business as usual.”

“Yes,” she said, still smiling.

“And I think,” I said, “the problem for white people, maybe especially white women of my generation, is that we haven’t ever had to develop such coping mechanisms, not really. We don’t know how to be OK in the presence of truly knowing the ways in which we are powerless against forces that don’t care about us and are using their power against us. Because we haven’t really seen it until now.”

“Yes,” she said, still smiling. It was a kind smile. Maybe the kind you give a child, but maybe not. It’s hard for me to know.

Maybe it’s not a coincidence that I am returning to a craft of my childhood to help me cope with all kinds of things. Honestly, I don’t really care to explore that idea too deeply. It’s not a particularly interesting one and the answer to the question inherent in it doesn’t really matter.

My needlework doesn’t have to mean anything. It doesn’t have to be good (a good thing, because it’s not really) or do good in some way that extends beyond me. It is not going to be the beginning of some life- or world-altering something, and I’m not going to become a craftivist. Because I don’t think cross-stitching “fuck the patriarchy” on pillows and such is going to do much to end it. Although, maybe it’s activism if it helps others endure it. I dunno. I don’t think my embroidery is going to either heal anyone or inspire them to revolt, which is OK because that’s not what it has to do.

All the embroidery has to do is keep me going. Because even if the world doesn’t much care for or about hard-working, competent women who actually know what the fuck they are talking about and have a fucking plan to fucking get things done (like take care of sick people and educate kids and maybe not kill the planet), we know that we need to keep going. We know we have to take care of ourselves so we can keep holding shit together for the people who are depending upon us to do so (which includes ourselves). And because life is short and to abandon the joys we can extract from it, even in the shadow of pandemics and bloviating old white men, is to give said men even more power over us than that which they’ve taken.

And why in the fuck would we want to do that?

A few dots…

Something to watch: Warren: Just a Little Longer… (“Persist.”)

Something to look at: A photographer’s parents wave farewell (“At the end of their daughter’s visits, like countless other mothers and fathers in the suburbs, Dikeman’s parents would stand outside the house to send her off while she got in her car and drove away. One day in 1991, she thought to photograph them in this pose, moved by a mounting awareness that the peaceful years would not last forever.”)

Something to short read: Anne Lamott on Forgiveness, Self-Forgiveness, and the Relationship Between Brokenness and Joy (“This is how most of us are — stripped down to the bone, living along a thin sliver of what we can bear and control, until life or a friend or disaster nudges us into baby steps of expansion. We’re all both irritating and a comfort, our insides both hard and gentle, our hearts both atrophied and pure.”)

Something to long read: Erosion: Essays of Undoing (“People often ask us how we can stay buoyant in the face of loss, and I don’t know what to say except the world is so beautiful even as it burns, even as those we love leave us, even as we witness the ravaging of land and species, especially as we witness the brutal injustices and deep divisions in this country…”)

Also, I’m growing things.

6 sentences

This week I came across an essay that will stay with me awhile. It’s framed by six sentences that John Paul Brammer can’t forget. Not because they are attached to milestones or life-changing events, but because they

“…accidentally reveal too much—about the person who spoke them, or about the person who heard them, or about the relationship they share. They illustrate private worlds, bring us into exhilarating contact with another person’s depths. Their inexplicable survival is proof of their importance, their holiness.”

Brammer says that these are not sentences we choose, but sentences that choose us, and that he wishes he could know everybody’s.

Naturally, I started thinking about what my sentences might be. I started thinking about how a whole memoir might be written in this way, small vignettes anchored by a line of dialogue that–like a poem–reveals a novel’s worth of words in a few lines.

I hoped to write up all six of mine, but I could only develop two by today, and neither feels as if it is completely done. But here they are:

“Who do you think you are?”

I was in sixth grade, in the principal’s office. Mr. Driver was a beefy, ruddy-faced man. According to those who would know, he was comfortable wielding a paddle. No one liked him. One day he appeared in my classroom door and summoned me. Following him down the breezeway, I tried to predict what our meeting would be about. I was a good student, a good kid. A rule follower, perhaps to a fault. Was I being taken to his office to receive some kind of recognition or other good news? What could it be? Because, surely, I could not be in any kind of trouble.

I’m not sure if our conversation actually opened with “Who do you think you are?” but in my memory it did, and I was as surprised and shocked as I would have been if he’d slapped me.

“Who do you think you are?” is never a question. It is always an accusation, and a weapon.

By the time he was done dressing me down about my arrogance and inflated sense of importance, which, he assured me, were unwarranted, I knew that my teacher and the school librarian had shared grievances of mine with him, among them my outrage when, as a punishment for some students vandalizing bathrooms, all of us were denied access to them other than at recess time. This punishment violated all my ideas about fairness and basic rights.

“I know you’re one of the students throwing those toilet paper wads on the bathroom ceiling,” he said somewhere in the middle of his tirade.

I wasn’t, but I was too flooded with shame to say anything. I had thought my conversations were confidential. I had trusted those other two adults and the relationships I thought I had with them. If they thought there was something so wrong with me that I needed this reprimand, perhaps there was. Or perhaps I had been wrong about who they were to me, which indicated a different kind of failing on my part.

Who did I think I was?

Before I went into his office, I thought I was a girl who understood the world and my place in it. When I left, I knew I wasn’t.

“Grandpa’s hard.”

I didn’t tell my dad about Mr. Driver until I was well into high school.

I grew up in a home where getting in trouble at school meant getting in bigger trouble at home, so I didn’t dare. As my daughter said about my dad when she was just a little girl, “Grandpa’s hard.”

“Hard” can mean firm. It can mean rigid. It can mean difficult. It can mean exacting. When I was young, he got angry once when I told him that I “forgot to remember” something I was supposed to do, more angry at my words than at my failure to do whatever it was I’d forgotten.

“Don’t make excuses like that,” he said. “Just say that you didn’t do it.”

Another time, when I was a teen-ager, in response to something I can no longer remember, he said, “You might be the dumbest smart person I know.” That sounds cruel. Certainly not kind, and I suppose that’s partly why the words have stayed with me even though the story attached to them is gone.

It was more than that, though–or maybe, just not as simple as that. I remember pondering the idea that one could be a dumb smart person. What did that mean, really? And how might that be different from being the smartest dumb person? I thought I could feel a compliment inside his hard words, sort of.

I’ve come to realize that, like my own words, my dad’s are not always understood, which means that he is not always understood. For years I nursed resentment over his reaction to my 7th grade report card, in which I had all A’s, except for a B in English. He studied it in his recliner after dinner the day I brought it home, his face serious. Finally, he said:

“Why’d you get a B in English?”

Really? All those A’s, and all he could say something about was the B? Really?

What I heard in his question was disappointment and judgement and a demand for perfection. I shrugged, bitter that he didn’t appreciate a report card other parents would be thrilled with.

It wasn’t until a few years ago that I told him how much that moment had bothered me, so much so that I still remembered it. He was dumbfounded to learn that his words had had the impact they did. “I was just surprised,” he said. “English was always your best subject. I didn’t understand why you’d gotten a B in that.”


I could see, then, how I’d been dumb in that moment he questioned me about my report card. I could see, too, the wondering within his proclamation that I was the dumbest smart person he knew. He was genuinely perplexed by some of the things I did and didn’t do, a puzzlement I now understand because I have a child of my own who is wicked smart and whose teen-age years were filled with choices I could not, for the life of me, comprehend.

Maybe it was then that I more deeply understood his reaction when I finally told him about Mr. Driver and the way he’d pulled me into his office to take me down a peg. We were driving to a family holiday gathering, and we were reminiscing about earlier years, and it felt safe to float that story from the back seat, enough in the past that it might now be a funny one.

“Why didn’t you tell us?” he asked. I admitted that I had been afraid to.

“Oh, Rita,” he said. “I wish you’d told me. I would have gone in and talked to him.” He looked straight ahead, at the road. I could see his jaw twitching beneath his cheek. He shook his head. “That was just wrong for him to do that to you.” A pause, and then, again: “I wish you would have told me.”

At the time, I felt vindication for my earlier hurt feelings, and also relief that I wasn’t “in trouble” with my dad. I was long past a grounding or some other kind of punishment, but I still wanted his approval. Now, though, I see a different meaning in his words. I see that he was telling me that it wasn’t a funny story, and that he was sorry not to have been more understood by me, so that he could have done something to make what happened right.

“Hard” can mean firm, and rigid, and difficult, and exacting. It can also mean strong and unyielding. My dad, like his love, is hard.


The rest of my sentences are listed below, and I’ve got seven total, not six. Although I didn’t see a thread or story between them initially, I do now. It wasn’t until digging into the piece just above that I added the seventh sentence to my list. I’ll need it to tell the story completely.

The remaining sentences:

  • “My love life is wonderful, and I haven’t been drinking.”
  • “It’s important to be a finisher.”
  • “I hope you’ll remember that this is mostly your own personal tragedy.”
  • “Don’t ever think that anything is wasted on you.”
  • “What kind of hard do you want?”

While I was showering (where some of my best writing happens) and trying to figure out which sentence in the story about my dad most revealed the essential truth about him and me, I saw that the vignette contained multiple sentences I can’t forget:

  • Why’d you get a B?
  • You’re the dumbest smart person I know.
  • Grandpa’s hard.
  • I forgot to remember.

Now I’m thinking about using this idea of unforgettable sentences as a tool to work the other way round: What if we start with a memory and before we even write a word of it, we just think about the memorable utterances of its characters?

Mostly what I’m thinking about, though, is the value of exercises and models. Any model can generate a prompt or exercise, and prompts are great for taking us into stories we didn’t even know we wanted to tell.

Your turn:

I’d love to hear six of your sentences. Like Brammer, I’m now curious about everyone’s sentences.