Postcards, the making and doing edition

When I was student teaching, my cooperating teacher read Wilson Rawls’s Summer of the Monkeys aloud to her 8th grade students. This might be my Summer of the Naughty Dogs. Or, Summer of the Painted Paws. And Tongues.

Friday I painted all of the laundry room trim while carrying Rocky in his baby sling. Where there’s a will, there’s a way. He’s demanding human contact almost all of his waking hours. I am, in many ways, living a life similar to the one I lived when my children were babies and toddlers.

Only I’m 20 years older and geriatric dogs aren’t as adorable as my babies were. (Though they aren’t without their charms. See above.)

This week my friend S. came for a visit, and we talked of making things and the importance of doing so in times such as these. (Well, any time, but especially times such as these.) It’s good to ground ourselves in what we can do, when there is much we feel powerless to do.

She brought me raspberry jam that she’d made, and I decided that to properly honor the gift I needed to make something to eat it with. I found the easiest bread recipe (the only kind I can probably pull off). It’s in Tieghan Gerard’s Half Baked Harvest Super Simple, one of my current favorite cookbooks. (Recipe here.)

When my daughter saw the dough rising, she arched an eyebrow and said, “Oh, we’ve reached that stage now, have we?”

Yep, I’m a cliche. So be it. It tastes good.

Last spring (of ’19) my friends A & S (a different S) visited and brought me this little blueberry bush. It’s planted next to the ones that I already had, which have been keeping me in berries for weeks now.

I was so delighted to see that, after only one year, this little guy is also bearing fruit. I was friends with both A and S in high school, but they were not friends with each other. They later met in law school, and they’ve been close ever since. I moved away and lost touch with both of them, but thanks to the magic of social media we reunited about ten years ago. I just love that, the way these people I loved found each other and then found me again, and I now have a tangible symbol of that kind of magic growing in my yard and feeding me.

Speaking of feeding: Mother-daughter Naan pizzas. Although the bread dough recipe above is also a pizza dough recipe, my smart daughter turned me onto the idea of Naan flatbread as the perfect individual-sized pizza crust, which is even easier. As you can see, we have different ideas about what should go on a pizza. Mine has onion, garlic, and cherry tomatoes, all from our garden (along with feta and Mezzetta garlic-stuffed green olives). She favors red peppers and pepperoni. Maybe I’ll figure out how to grow peppers next year. Or maybe not. She likely won’t be here to eat them, and the reminder of this summer’s bounty of time with her, a gift I expect never to receive again, will make me sad and miss her.

Gardens can be tricky, in more ways than one.

We have added morning walks to our routine. Daisy walks the whole way, straining at her leash, impatient with the pace Rocky sets. He makes it about two blocks, tripping over his paws, and then I carry him for the remainder. He’s happy to walk, and then to be carried. He looks around, alert in my arms.

It’s good for me, too. On Wednesday I had a nice long chat with a neighbor I’d never met. A yard sign let me know that he has a child in Marine boot camp, so I stopped to talk when I saw him outside with his dog. It was good to be able to talk with someone who knows that experience, to be able to share some comfort from my vantage point several years ahead of his, and to see and feel how far my son and I have come since those weeks after he left home for that grueling trial by fire that scorched us both.

This is a different kind of making and doing. This spring, I almost got rid of the hammock. It’s a hassle when I need to mow the lawn, and for the past two years it’s gotten almost no use.

This week, temperatures were in the 90s every day. Monday and Tuesday it was 100. There’s something that’s an odd kind of wonderful about swinging, just a little, in a hammock through the heart of a hot afternoon. Something healing. I gave myself permission to do it. This is me making space for space.

I’m glad I decided to keep it.

This is a postcard from the past. It’s from a picnic my daughter and I and the dogs had one evening at the river in the last week of July, eleven years ago. It came up when I was looking for something else, the way things that haunt us often do.

I didn’t say this in my earlier cards, but it’s been a hard week. The heat. The increasing burden of the dogs. Work disappointments. Distance of several kinds from those I love. Camp Pendleton Marines dying in a training accident, and my son’s brief words about it: “It’s the job.” And then there were the things beyond just me, ways of this world I can neither change nor make peace with, and the weight of our collective pain. There was this photo, this message from the past that feels like a poem I cannot write about a future I don’t want to live.

What I would give to feel again the way I felt on that night, dogs kicking up sand as they ran in circles over it, my sprouting girl so pleased to have an evening alone with me. I can’t remember the last time I smiled the way I smiled when she turned the camera toward me.

On a day that I give into it all and do little more than sleep and eat and write these postcards, I wonder about the missives I send out into the world. Why does it matter to write snippets about bread and berries and walks and hammocks, as if such things matter in times such as these? Can it? Do they? If I write about the sweet and omit the bitter, am I delusional? Am I in denial? Am I bearing false witness if I crop loneliness and sorrow and fatigue out of my stories, or if I leave only their shadows at the edges of the margins?

Late that night a friend shares an essay, and Lyz Lenz reminds me that our stories in times such as these–all of them–are “a struggle of memory against forgetting.” They are “a struggle of nuance in the flat face of fascism.”

Reading, I understand what I often forget, and why I force myself to do joyful things even when they bring me little joy and why I write about them. It is a struggle to hold onto old joys in a new age of despair: To shape the dough, pick the berries, move the legs, still the body long enough to feel warm breeze against hot skin–and write about it. It is a struggle when such acts and the writing about them may feel trivial, inconsequential, or even self-indulgent. But they aren’t, and it isn’t.

To do such things and write about them, to remember what was sweet in the past and keep it present–even if flawed, even if lesser-than, even if the gesture feels cliched or hollow–so that it won’t disappear into some dark forest of the future, is a making-and-doing of the highest order.

As Lenz reminded me, when writers write they know: “At least I am still here.” And when we read their stories of living plot lines like our own, we know that we are, too.

12 thoughts on “Postcards, the making and doing edition

  1. Skye Leslie says:

    Maybe, in some way, many of us are returning to or living, with renewed interest, in the written word. I look forward, with great anticipation, to your writes. They lift me, enable me, sometimes, to reconsider and, often, spark a sense of camaraderie – that there is another in the world struggling to balance acts of hope against the struggle of the body politic.

    My cousin’s son-in-law – was in charge of the training of the young men whose sea vehicle overturned in the ocean. The possibility of the vehicle going upside down had been the focus of much practice of escape procedures. My cousin’s son in law is torn between twisting grief and the Marine stoicism of “it happens.” My father was a Marine. His experience within that organization had a deep and lasting impact on my life.

    I remember one visit to your home and meeting your little dogs. That visit seems so very long ago. Your dogs must have and continue to experience great care and love to have traveled with you for such a long time.

    Have a good week, Rita and many thanks for the provision of writing to which, of a Sunday, I look forward.

    With love ❤️

    Skye

    • Rita says:

      And I look forward to these notes from you. It’s so nice to reconnect. I remember that long-ago visit to my house. What a time that was for me, trying to turn that worn out place into a different kind of home for my kids and those dogs. Filling those walls with the spirit of all you strong women that day helped it feel more like the home we needed.

      I know a little bit about that Marine stoicism; got a glimpse of it in my son the other night. I’ll hold your cousin’s son-in-law in my thoughts, along with the mothers and fathers of the men who were lost. Just because they appear tough on the outside, it doesn’t mean they aren’t wounded on the inside. There is a Facebook Marine moms page, and the mother of one of men posted that she’d been visited by the Marine notification team, and I can’t stop thinking about how awful such a visit would be. The oldest of those lost was only 23; three were only 19. Two were from Oregon. My son was in a serious training accident earlier this year, and maybe that’s why this is hitting me hard. Or maybe because it just breaks through the illusion I’ve held (along with my breath) that he is safe because he’s not deployed. Of course, all of this connects to larger issues about how we treat so many of us as expendable.

      I appreciate the love.
      Rita

  2. Marian says:

    I’m so sorry it’s been a hard week, Rita. I sometimes think if I had known how hard it would be to have children out there in the world, I might not have had any. My heart aches for what you must have felt upon hearing about the accident with the Marines. Sending you a hug, Rita.

    This post (and the piece by Lyz Lenz) is making me wish I could drum up the courage to blog again. Your thoughts on writing have hit home with me, but while you’ve managed to write despite having all those thoughts about “why write?”, I haven’t. (Or, at least, I haven’t been able to write publicly; up to this week, I maintained a months-long, daily email correspondence with an IRL friend from my climate action group, and I’ve also kept up with my daily journaling. These writings have sparked all the same questions you’ve had—is this trivial, inconsequential, self-indulgent?—and yet I have managed to ignore them and keep going.) I think writing absolutely is “a making-and-doing of the highest order,” but I also think it’s not an act that is universally available. When I read Lenz’s essay, I was mentally preparing myself for her husband to find her lists. (And for the fallout that might have resulted.) Not everyone has the safety—or the courage—to write down the evidence. (And now that I’ve written that, I see how vital it is to speak and write BEFORE gas-lighting and fascism descends.) So there’s that, but there’s also the question of time. If bread-baking is cliché, then some lives are so filled with cliché that there is little time or energy for anything else. (That’s a blog post in and of itself.)

    I love the photo Grace took of you so many years ago. And I am amazed that you managed to paint trim while carrying Rocky in a baby sling.
    May this be a better week for you, Rita.
    xo Marian

    • Rita says:

      You know I would love it if you blogged again, but I also understand why you might not. I don’t think there’s any one right way to be a writer. I know there are some in my life puzzled about why I don’t try to be a “real” writer and just write here. We all have to find what works for us, and those limitations you write about are one of the reasons this is the solution I’ve landed upon for me. I know that when school resumes, mine will be a life so filled with cliche that I’ll be lucky to make a weekly post. At least I don’t have anyone in my personal life acting as censor (or worse).

      Painting while carrying Rocky was a challenge, for sure! But also, not as hard as you might think. Only got a little paint on the sling, and none on the dog, so…success?

      I think if we could know, before we have children, what it is to send them out into the world, we’d have a crisis brought about by the sudden decline in population. I have often joked, “I just wanted a baby…” but there’s more truth in that than I like to admit. I didn’t think deeply about what it really means to create a life. I suppose we might be hard-wired not to.

  3. TD says:

    “And when we read their stories of living plot lines like our own, we know that we are, too.” This is so true! I want to write more to you, Rita, about what you have shared in this postcard. I’m recovering from last Saturday’s Hurricane Hanna one anxiety triggers this week.
    I’m glad that you found space in your space to “just be” in your hammock and write about whatever is on your mind, the good and the not so great of life is all valuable as it is what makes us real people in everyday life. Thank you also for sharing photos of Precious Rockie.

    • Rita says:

      I am so sorry you are dealing with hurricanes! I hope that you are able to find ways to calm your anxiety, and that the weather calms, too.

      • TD says:

        Thank you, Rita. I do have a doctor’s prescription for severe anxiety. I also created a “Calm Down” kit of essential oils, aromatherapy candles and a bundle of relaxation music for mood, emotions and mind rest. And the new bed that flexes into all sorts of shapes for my body aches and discomfort is new to my “Calm Down” kit. I discovered a great surprise that it also had 3 message features and an underbed light, so no direct light into my eyes. And we are now in the calm week in between the next tropical storms as it ihurricane season..

        So what I wanted to say earlier this week is that I do know how exhausting caring for your Rockie dog in these late years and I will assure you that those walks and the carrying, the photo taking and the writing of it all is definitely the bond of love of a shared life. Hard, exhausting, guilt at times and the moments of the spark you see and feel of Rockie are worth every minute!

        Tomorrow is the one year date that my oldest dog passed. I still view pics and videos of my dog on my phone. That feeling of love and the bond of a dog is heartfelt.

        I often carry my Yorkie around on my left are doing all sorts of chores. She gets happy if I ask her if she wants to help me take out the trash. Sometimes I don’t even realize that she is sitting on my arm as I doing life.

        Even though this is a very hard trying time with Rockie… it is all worth it!

        I hear a lot of news about the schools and COVID. These are indeed challenging times for everyone. I hope you continue to write about this because this truly is a marking of an era and chartting times of such unknowns. It’s important to journal!!!

        Do what is best for you as you understand your life and situation the most. I will be thinking of you in the days ahead.

  4. Kari Wagner Hoban says:

    I am sorry it’s been a hard week. I thought of you when I heard about what happened at Camp Pendleton. But I don’t know what I would do without writing or writers in this time. I just wrote about this in today’s post, about how writers are saving me right now. About how the act of writing is saving me right now. How we will certainly look back at these posts and think, wow, how ever did we put our fingers to the keyboard and write such thought provoking words with all that bullshit going on around us?
    I love the Sue Monk Kidd quote (that is on the front page of my blog), “Stories have to be told, or they die, and when they die, we can’t remember who we are, or why we’re here.”

    I am so glad for your posts about your day to day. About the jam and bread. About the naan, the dogs walks, talking to your new neighbor, the hammock and your smile from another time.
    Don’t you ever think about not writing about it.

    Love you.
    Kari Wagner Hoban recently posted…Thirty-One Universal ThingsMy Profile

    • Rita says:

      Thank you, Kari. Love today’s post–wrote to you there.

      I think, for me, bullshit times are when I write the most. Writing is how I get through them.

  5. Kate says:

    I love your postcards, Rita and appreciate them so much. Especially in the last few weeks. I don’t have the energy now and it feels kind/friendly/hopeful to hear about the joy that you’ve wrested from your own hard time and know, maybe, that I might be able to return the favor down the line.

    Your posts the last couple of weeks have been a real gift. Sending virtual socially distant hugs of support.

    • Rita says:

      I have been wondering how you are–miss seeing posts from you. I’m sorry you’re not feeling as well as usual. I can relate, for sure. Yesterday was a good day, but today my body just doesn’t feel right. So tired of feeling tired. Look forward to hearing from you whenever/however you can write. Hugging you back.

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