What a long, strange week it’s been

It was back to school week here, but not for me. When my last year’s boss sent me a picture of Cane in his classroom on the first day of school, I felt some hard FOMO. Or something that was sad. Or mad.

I remember standing in front of a room of new students, being lit up the way his face is in the photo, and I missed it. It made me sadmad about my body and its limitations, and the public education system and its limitations, and time and its limitations, and change–inevitable, relentless, unceasing change.

Then the queen of England died, which also made me feel sadmad–about history and colonialism and the disappearing of things that I know are problematic (at best) but still are the things I’ve known for my whole life and even though I know (I know) what’s wrong with them I want to cling to them because at least I know them, and because they are mine, and because so many of the emerging unknown things right now are so unsettling/terrifying/overflowing with potential doom.

I miss having feelings about collective events that are simpler than mine seem able to be any more.

I went to visit my parents in the middle of the week because I can do that now and because honest-to-frickin’-God I am so deeply weary of temperatures in the 90s/100s (speaking of unsettling/terrifying/overflowing-with-potential-doom change) and my aching body/heart was craving marine air and coolness. And my mom. Aren’t I so lucky that I could get in a car and drive to a place where I can comfortably wear pants? And to parents who are still here (when so many of my contemporaries have lost theirs) and still them, in the ways that matter most?

The earth literally moved while I was there. Something woke me in the early morning hours, and just as I was drifting back to sleep I heard a loud “whuump” sort of noise and the whole building shook. I’ve experienced one significant earthquake in my life, and I wondered if that’s what was happening. Nothing else did, though, and I went back to easy sleep.

On Friday I returned to Oregon, where, in my county, the combination of high heat and high winds and wildfires was so threatening that power was shut off in multiple high-risk areas. We did not lose power, for which I am grateful. I have so much to be grateful for, but damn it was hard not to feel the opposite when I stepped out of my car to hot, arid, blowing air. On Saturday we woke to eerily orange-grey skies and a bloody sun that looked like something out of a sci-fi movie with cheap special effects.

We closed on our new-to-us house in Louisiana. I tried to set up our utilities by phone early in the week, but was told that it could not happen unless I physically came into the city hall building and gave them a check–which, of course, I could not do. I felt like a modern-day carpetbagger. I felt weird. I thought a lot of thoughts about what it means to be a good steward and a good neighbor and a good person. I thought about privilege and gentrification and colonialism and history. I felt grateful for family who have been helping us through this process (and were able to go to city hall and give them a check) and who are the reason we’re doing what we are, but I also felt guilty. And excited. And happy. And anxious. And even a little sadmad. All at the same time.

We went to a movie, where we watched Brian de Palma’s 1980 thriller Dressed to Kill, which was horrifying in all the wrong ways. Not knowing any specifics about the plot, we thought it would be campy, nostalgic thriller fun, but the story centers on a “transexual” who murders women because of the character’s inner battle between their male and female selves. The male self emerges when sexually aroused and kills the female objects of their desire because they don’t want to be male. Or something like that. So, you know: transgender = psychopath. Also, sexual women die and/or are prostitutes who should expect to be degraded, and the mentally ill are demonic. It was horrible, and we found ourselves laughing in the wildly inappropriate way that people sometimes laugh at funerals.

Saturday, I made and froze tomato sauce using a recipe I got from Kate, after getting encouragement from Marian. It is a thing of amazement to me that I was able to make this using only ingredients I grew in our garden. My great-grandparents were farmers, but I grew up in the suburbs eating vegetables that came primarily from cans. I’m slowly developing skills my people once had but did not pass down.

Today I hope to make a pie with blackberries my mom and I picked from my parents’ yard. Their lower yard (see photo, above) is bordered by wild blackberries, and it’s been years since I have been able to time a visit with their ripening. I was sure I was too late again–they tend to peak in August–but we found many that were just right for harvesting. It was like picking blackberries always is; the most promising clumps are just out of reach, and you think “if only…” more than once. A few times you stretch your limits, grasping for what you can’t easily get to, and you curse yourself and the thicket when the brambles catch your sleeves and scratch your legs and prick the tender pads of your fingers. As always, for me, picking these berries reminded of the early August evening in 1981 when I went blackberry picking with my grandma, her sister, and a cousin. As we walked down to the railroad tracks near my grandparents’ house where the berries grew wild, my grandmother and great-aunt marched the way they had when they were on the VFW drill team, laughing at themselves and the embarrassment they were causing us younger ones, who wished fiercely that they would not be so weird in public. It’s an outing I remember so clearly because later that night they would take my grandfather to the hospital with what would turn out to be a fatal heart attack, and although I would later see my grandmother laugh again, eventually, I would never see her laugh quite like that again, ever.

I’m grateful for the memory. I’m grateful for the berries that always bring it back to me, even though their brambles scratch and snag and poke, and their fruit inevitably stains.

I’m grateful to be alive now, today, in a world that still has beautiful blue water that I can travel to. I’m grateful to have shelters near those I love most, with abundant food and means to preserve it. I’m grateful that some of the things that need to change do, eventually, and grateful that even though the ground trembles and the walls around me shake, sometimes (most times) nothing falls and I am able to to sleep, secure in my belief that in the morning I’ll be able to figure out what happened.

8 thoughts on “What a long, strange week it’s been

  1. Marian says:

    I’m glad you were able to get away from the FOMO and the heat and to go see your parents this past week, Rita. (And to come home with enough blackberries to make a pie.) I suspect there are a lot of people—even those who have never been teachers (I can’t be the only one, can I?)—who would look at that photo of Cane and experience a host of feelings that would fall under the umbrella of sadmad.

    The death of the Queen hit me harder than I had imagined it would. Like you, I see all the wrongs that have been perpetuated under the British monarchy, and yet there was much to admire about the person she was. Last evening one of our major political parties elected its new leader, and it struck me as incongruous that on the one hand this leader expressed admiration for the Queen’s lifetime of duty and service, and on the other hand promised to make Canada “the freest nation on Earth”—where the only thing that apparently matters is me, me, me and to hell with everyone else. (I think it’s been a long, strange week for us too, up north.)

    I’m so glad you made the tomato sauce, Rita. Those roasting pans look SO good!

    • Rita says:

      Oh, Marian. I’m so sorry to see such a candidate rising in Canada! I think many of us on this side of our shared border take comfort in thinking that things are different north of us. I can see how that so soon after the Queen’s passing would be unsettling. (I have the same mixed feelings about her.) I hope that such a crass, divisive candidate will not do to your population what Trump has done (and continues to do) to ours.

      I am so glad you encouraged me to pursue doing something with those tomatoes. I still do not have a chest freezer, but I put the sauce in bags. I hate using plastic, but it was a way for me to try this. Getting a freezer is now high on my list of things to pursue, so that I can freeze it in jars. (I will need more personal growth before I get brave enough to try canning.) It was SO satisfying to make sauce using only ingredients that we grew. And the sauce was so much better than anything I can buy. Thank you so much for the nudge.

  2. Ally Bean says:

    Yours was definitely a weird week. Mine was odd [rude people] but nowhere near as varied as yours. About visiting your parents, I’m glad you can still do that in person. It’s nothing to take for granted, not that you are.

    I, too, have found myself this week thinking “about privilege and gentrification and colonialism and history.” It’s a tangled web in my mind of enjoying the consistency of Queen Elizabeth’s reign during my whole life, but being unable to deny the damage that the English monarchy has done throughout history. Louisiana? You’re going there? Do tell
    Ally Bean recently posted…Alumni Directories & The Art Of MischievousnessMy Profile

    • Rita says:

      This, exactly: “It’s a tangled web in my mind of enjoying the consistency of Queen Elizabeth’s reign during my whole life, but being unable to deny the damage that the English monarchy has done throughout history.”

      I’m sorry to hear that rude people featured in your week. Other than some batshit crazy drivers on I-5 during my journey home, mine was free of that. I am thankful for that, as well as all the other things I wrote about.

      Cane is from Louisiana, and most of his family live within a few miles of each other in the southern part of the state. On a recent trip to visit them, we ended up buying a house. (Wrote about it a few posts back.) Our hope is to spend part of the year there when Cane is able to retire, which isn’t for a few more years. In the meantime, we’ll spend more time there in the summers than we’ve been able to. It’s an old project house, so we’ll need some time to restore/preserve it.

  3. Kate says:

    “I miss having feelings about collective events that are simpler than mine seem able to be any more.” and this “ I’m grateful that some of the things that need to change do, eventually, and grateful that even though the ground trembles and the walls around me shake, sometimes (most times) nothing falls and I am able to to sleep, secure in my belief that in the morning I’ll be able to figure out what happened.”

    I am so glad you got to go home to parents and cooler climes (we got another fall day and it’s GLORIOUS!!) and water. And I’m grateful you shared your stories here and taught me about both/and all those years ago. Even both/and gets both/anded these days. I often wish I didn’t have to hold two conflicting feelings in the same time – when I wish my mind (and the world) was an easier simpler place – but I’m grateful I’ve learned.

    I hope you have a good week, Rita.

    • Rita says:

      “Even both/and get both/anded these days.” For sure. I’m also grateful I’ve learned, though it’s sometimes painful. I’m grateful to have connections with others who get it. Get me. We’ll muddle through together, yeah?

      I hope you have a good week, too. Woke up to rain this morning, which feels like a benediction. Too late for the willow leaves that turned black in our foul air the past two days, but there are still far more that are green.

  4. Kari says:

    Your parents home is lovely. I am happy that you were able to get away, but I empathize with the fact that you miss teaching. I can only imagine the sadness you are feeling, and please know that I am sending you love as you work through it.

    It brings such joy to my heart to see my friends working on their gardens and preparing delicious meals with the produce they harvest. Even more, it makes my heart happy to see them collaborating with their friends online to prepare those meals. It feels as though we are all connected to one another.

    I guess that’s because we all are. ❤️
    Kari recently posted…What Was Your First Concert?My Profile

    • Rita says:

      We ARE all connected, and I love that, too.

      I am not that sad. It passed pretty quickly. I’m happy that Cane loves it and it works for him, and I’m happy for the experiences I got to have. Struggling through migraine and other ills this morning, I am feeling grateful that I don’t have to be standing in front of a room full of teen-agers today. #silverlinings

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