People whine, or more modernly "whinge," about new words. About the new ways of using old words. They want to nail down English, make it hold still. Like a dead language, like Latin. But English is alive, recklessly sprouting new words for old things, new words that meant old things but with a new twist, old words used new ways, and new words for new things.
I used to be deep in the whirlpool of new words, so close that I was one with it. I was plugged-in when plugged-in was added to the dictionary. A new word would appear in my mind seamlessly as it shot across the tongues of my friends and the pages of books and newspapers. Far out. Fab. Groovy. Outta sight. Righteous. Bummer. Gimmie some skin. Hang loose. Ecosystems. Whole systems. Spaceship Earth. Zero population. Wild edibles. Amerika. Dig it.
Later, I was there in my little suit and scarf when Materiel Management booted out the Purchasing Department and Human Resources took over the Personnel Office. I ran spritely beside adware, subfolder, brain dump, microbrew, the n-word, and biodiversity. I was hot when chill out was a thing.
But somehow, slowly, almost imperceptibly, some words started outpacing me. A new word for stealing, “gank,” (as in “you ganked my X-Box”) came and went without me. Polyamorous slipped by me unnoticed but woo-woo didn’t.
Then one day I was shocked to discover that garden ecosystems were old hat, replaced by the swankier permaculture. Gen Xer’s had axed that old-school talk and broadened the idea. By renaming it, they claimed the concept, took it away from the hippies-turned-Boomers. I resisted. I didn’t want to use that new, pretentious word. Then I realized this is how a person grows old. One step at a time out of sync as the words dance and mutate until they have all rushed ahead and left you behind with a curly old lady perm and frumpy clothes.
No longer yogurt, sourdough, and sauerkraut; it’s wild fermentation.
It’s not you are what you eat, it’s the microbiome.
New and redefined words swirl up like mosquitoes on a hot summer night from the internet, the news, movies, and conversations. Has it always been this fast? Have words always been this fleet-footed but we didn’t know how to measure?
“Are you going to temp that?”
The Oxford English Dictionary (which keeps track of a thousand years of English and some 600,000 current and obsolete words) has added more than 4,000 new words since the beginning of 2019. And I think they are behind. I know I am.
It took me forever to fully understand the ridiculously simple word, “meme.”
And “litigate” challenges me as it populates the news, mirroring the contentiousness of our society, as in this sentence from the New York Times: “Racism is litigated over and over again when another video depicting another atrocity comes to light.” Litigate in my mind has always meant to decide in a court of law. But now its archaic meaning, to dispute, has been re-embraced. Who started that?
Bitchface. Clapback. Nothingburger. Shade. Throwing shade. Meme. Tropes. Dog whistle. Salty. Troll. Dox. The singular They. Woke. Lynching. White fragility. Infodemic. Hashtag.
They rush toward me, not just as new words but as signs of seismic changes. The world shifting beneath me like the proverbial quicksand from which Lassie had to rescue Timmy on television back in my childhood.
The cheerful slant of spring sunlight is coming through the kitchen window. It plays across the covered mound of bread dough rising in my well-scratched, old Pyrex glass mixing bowl. The rest of the afternoon will be punctuated with kneading, punching down, and patiently waiting for rises. By oiled black cast iron pans. The aroma of baking bread will fill the house as the sun sets.
This sudden bout of bread making follows a week of industry. Painting, mending, cleaning, pruning, and weeding with great determination and gusto.
Now I’m trying to resuscitate my blog.
You might think it’s corona virus hunkering.
But it’s not. This is my emergence. Not hunkering at all. The tackling of chores put off after months of hunkering to do another rewrite of my new book, Random Resistance. This version, 3.5, required eight months of hunkering.
Since I started this novel in June of 2015 (a month before Leave the Dogs at Home was published by IU Press, a year before I had surgery and radiation for breast cancer) there have been several manuscript hunkerings.
The first draft was finished in a daze from a concussion after being knocked silly by a distracted driver in a left-turning car bowled me over as I was crossing the street on an October evening in 2016. I thought that draft was magnificent, at least while I was writing it. Later I realized, thanks to some honest readers, that it was anything but. Still, all but one reader thought idea had merit; it was worth the slash and burn of total revision. Worth the hunkering.
I have loved the book. Hated it. I have put it aside. Gave up writing all together for a bit.
I have taken travel breaks. To Istanbul and Athens. To Russia, China, and Europe. To Paris twice with my daughter. Paused to help my sister when she had a couple of strokes. Sagged while saying goodbye to my dogs Lila and Diggity, my cat Cirrus.
Put my all of the rest of my life aside to work on it. Gave up all of my other writing to write it. Papered my office with diagrams of the story arc and post-it note character pathways. Lived with winding stacks of books and thick files. Renewed subscriptions to newspaper archives many times.
I’m not complaining. I like myself best when I’m writing. When I’m a crazy woman up until three in the morning, wandering, writing, researching, muttering, rewriting. My head full of the story, the images, the music, the passion. Dreaming about it. Eating it. Breathing it. Writing it.
And now Random Resistance is in the hands of an able editor, releasing me to finally do my reservoir of neglected chores as the rest of the world hunkers down.
Random Resistance is a story about the time that made this time.
Here's a glimpse:
When an impassioned protester calls a Chicago abortion clinic volunteer escort, Connie Borders, by name, tells her he knows where she lives, and threatens to expose her of being a murderess, she foolishly shrugs him off. She knows all about protest drama from when the outrageous hippies and Vietnam protesters were making headlines. When Connie left conservative Indianapolis to hitchhike to California to be part of the coolness that was sweeping the country. Back when abortion was illegal.
There were just a few short years when people truly believed they were going to change things for the better. Believed in their music as a social binder. Together they could stop the war, make abortions legal; pull communities out of poverty. bring real equality to our society. There was a real sense of optimism and hope that the country, the world, was on the cusp of a new system of love, trust, and brotherhood. We talked about eco systems, and you are what you eat.
But we all know that was a pipe dream. Life went on pretty much as it had before. A few things changed, but the big picture did not. The hippies cut their hair and got mortgages.
And today, we are so far, far away from the ideals of equality and peoplehood. So polarized that we can’t even agree to hunker down together.
It makes me want to hunker down. Except, I’m loving the freedom from hunkering.
I know that the manuscript will come back soon from the editor. Marked up. Full of questions. A whole new season of slashing and burning before me. A demand for me to turn my back on spring, and probably summer too, and hunker down to get version 4.0 done.
A big part of me wants to resist. To skip ahead in my life, go play. I have other projects. Trips to plan and take. La la la.
But, I’ve got too much invested. When Random Resistance returns to me, I will hunker down.
It was a helluva thunderstorm last night.
I was lost in a good book about perfume and murder in Paris, in my PJs nested in my comfy bed when the rain began pelting the window and the thunder booms started echoing. I snuggled in, pulling up my favorite light green feather comforter, and read on, feeling safe and happy in the pool of the soft light from the lamp by the bed, the iPhone plugged in on the night stand, and my dog Lila snoring at the end of the bed.
Then there was a crashing sound.
I hate crashing sounds. No good has ever come from a crashing sound.
This one was loud and dull, came several times, and then stopped. Tree limbs on the deck or on the car? Blown over something somewhere now a broken mess?
Before I knew it, I was out of bed, heading down the stairs, dreading what I might find. I stopped at the base of stairway to listen and think about from what direction the sound had come.
I turned on the dining room lights and the front porch light, opened the door, walked out, looking for storm damage.
That’s when I heard the footsteps on the deck. And a muffled voice.
My front porch is connected to a small deck on one side of the house. There’s a latched gate between two. Footsteps on the deck meant that someone had unlatched the gate and was just around the corner.
My heart raced. I ran inside, locking the door behind me. Then the dull crashing sound came again. A thumping really. At the double glass French doors that open onto the deck. Without thinking, I switched on the deck light. And there on the other side was someone.
Right on the other side of the glass. Standing under the eave out of the rain. A thin young woman. Straight blond hair. A pink jacket with fancy leather stitching on both sides. A phone to her ear. Looking directly at me.
“Get out of here,” I shouted. She had no response, as if the sound didn’t travel through the glass. She threw herself against the door and tried to open it.
My mind flooded with the memories of a woman who walked in my unlocked front door one Saturday afternoon in Cincinnati some 30 years ago. Walked in as if she owned the place. Said she was being pursued by murderers. Refused to leave. We tussled. She was strong and scary, broke away from me and ran up the stairs to my bedroom, laid on my bed. Vomited. Ranting the whole time. I finally was able to get on the phone in the kitchen to call the police while Emily (who was just a teenager) kept track of her. I was worried that murderers would come barging in the front door any time to kill her. I’d seen that happen before in Chicago some 50 years ago during another house break in. But they didn’t and cops came, got her, knew her. She was off her meds, she had done this before. “You should keep your door locked they told me.”
So I do, mostly. But not always. But lately, since my car has been rummaged through a couple times over the past year, I’ve started checking the doors and the car to be sure they are locked before I go to bed. I miss the days when I didn’t need to lock the door. There’s a imprudent part of me that thinks that since I have a dog, people won’t come in. Crazy people don’t care about dogs though. And Lila would be the first to run from a crazy person. In fact, she was upstairs sleeping while this current crazy person was right on the other side of the glass, slamming her body into it.
I should have called 911 right then. But I forgot about doing that and instead got my sturdy Alaskan Diamond Willow stick from where it leans against a cabinet in the living room. I held it up with both hands like baseball bat, showing her that I’d be glad to wallop her on the head with it, and made a fierce face. “Get!” I shouted, pointing toward the little gate and the front porch. “Get out of here. Go home.”
She looked at me blandly. Again as if she couldn’t hear or see me. Behind her, a wide bolt of lightning split the night sky and lingered vibrating forever, driving electricity into the earth.
I threatened her with my stick again.
A smirk crept across her face and struck fear me. “I’ve got a crazy here,” I heard her say into her phone. Then, looking directly at me through the glass door, she spoke into the phone in a tiny voice, “Help me, help me, help me.”
My body tingled with fear, my mind throbbed with the surreality of this. The two of us standing body to body with glass between us. I was so vulnerable and visible. I had to get away and be safe, out of the light.
I turned off the deck and dining rooms lights, put the stick on the breakfast bar, and ran upstairs to call 911, But I forgot to turn off the light in the stairway where a newly installed LED super bright floodlight bulb illuminates the entire world. She could still see in, and she resumed throwing her weight against the glass door. Over and over.
What was happening, what did the person look like, did I know her, had I ever seen her before, what was my phone and address, asked the woman who answered the 911 call. I replied quickly and nervously, my heart in my throat, from the landing, afraid to make the turn to the downstairs where she could see me, the blazing light still on and me too thick to turn it off.
“She’s banging on the door hard,” I said over and over, nearly matching the rhythm of the thumping. There are police nearby I was told. Don’t go downstairs. Don’t open the door. Stay on the phone with me until the police get there.
The slamming stopped. I crept down the steps and saw her turn away from the door. Will she leave before the cops come? Will I seem like a crazy old lady when they arrive?
Then I heard her open the screen door on the front porch and try the knob of the front door. Thank god I had relocked the door. I could hear her say into the phone, “It’s locked.”
On my phone, the 911 operator says the police are out front right now, but don’t open the door until I tell you. I open the blinds of the front door, and there she is. The screen door open, her hand on the knob trying again and again to open it. We look at each other through the glass.
Then she turns. A tall uniformed man is behind her. I tell the operator and open the door.
Immediately the cop tells me to close the door. I see a woman officer with a blond ponytail come up on the porch through the blinds. The operator asks me if I am okay and we hang up.
There’s a big, loud conversation on the porch that I can only hear part of, mostly what the cops say. Do you know where you are? No. You are not even close to there. Show me your ID. A real ID. A debt card is not a real ID. The woman who lives is 75 years old, do you have a friend that’s 75 years old? You are causing yourself trouble. Is that your roommate on the phone? Let me talk.
Eventually, a wet young policeman came in through the deck door to write down the facts in a narrow lined notebook. I turned on the light in the dining room so he can see to write and I tell him my tale. Another pokes his head in to see if I wanted to press trespassing charges. When I said no, he disappears. Then the question of do I want her to be arrested if she ever comes back. My mind refuses to decide, the question seems so weird. I ask the officer for a recommendation, and he says that’s what he would do. So I say yes. I asked him if I did the right thing, calling 911. He says yes, and leaves.
Meanwhile out on the porch, things are de-escalating. I open the front door. The tall officer, and the woman officer are on either side of the young woman. He tells me they have called a cab for her and asks if it’s okay for them wait on the porch out of the rain for it to come. And could I close the door, close the blinds, but leave on the porch light.
So I do.
I’m inside alone, my bare feet damp from the water that’s been left on the rugs, standing there with all my cells on alert. I sure as heck can’t go back to bed yet.
I hear the cop ask the young woman if she wants to sit down. Peering through the side of the blinds on the door, I see her on the porch swing.
“Thank you, thank you,’ she says in an exhausted voice. “I know. I just want to go home.”
I hear the officer ask if he should call her roommate who was on the phone. And her reply that that wasn’t her roommate, and his simple “Oh.” Then would she like him to give her a ride home. I hear her say yes, if he’s allowed to do that.
I hear their footsteps on the porch steps. Crack the blind. See the dark police car drive away.
It’s so quiet. The storm has subsided.
Lila comes downstairs to smell the police footprints. I turn out the porch light. Somehow, I feel left out. Uncomfortably invisible. Funny, since that was what I'd wanted to be earlier. Then I feel guilty. If I’d had my wits about me, I could have calmed her down and driven her home myself. But, I guess calling the police, and them doing it, was a better idea.
I pee, go back to bed, and can’t sleep. I’m supposed to get up early to go to a symposium at IU in the morning, but it’s 2 a.m. now. The image of the wet, lost young woman on my porch saying into her phone, “Help me, help me, help me” resurfaces. How she didn't seem drunk, she was eerily alert. And the physical memory of my fear. I was scared of her. A young, skinny, lost, wet woman. Afraid that if I opened the door, she’d be wild inside, that she’d hurt me, a not-even close-thank-you-very-much-to-a-75-year-old-woman. I feel weak. I feel stupid. I scold myself for not making good decisions quickly, for my lack of focus. Digging into big fat slices of humble pie. The silly Diamond Willow stick. Why did I agree to the trespassing thing? What would have happened if she'd been a more fierce intruder? Could someone come through those glass doors?
Then worse, I think of what might have happened to her if I’d been successful in shooing her off the deck, the porch, out into the storm. Of never found Lauren Spierer, the wee hours video image of her walking on bare feet in the alley. And murdered Crystal Grubb, her head bashed in, body found in the corn field. Of Hannah Wilson, snatched from town, her body dumped out on Plum Creek Road. Would I have read in tomorrow’s paper about of the body of this young woman found in the little creek that runs by my house?
I wondered if she’d been dark-skinned, black-haired instead of being a cute light-skinned woman in stylish clothes would she have been given the gracious ride home by the police? Would the situation de-escalated?
It was long time before I went to sleep. And when I awoke, I felt uselessly haunted by this incident. Unresolved and resolved at the same time. I could have shaken off this whole thing by going to the symposium, but I blew it off.
My mind is full.
That’s why I can’t get around to revising my book manuscript.
Every time a little space opens I stuff it with something new.
Scan the minutes of the last Historic Preservation Commission and consider going to meetings. Brush up on my French, or learn Spanish beyond the most rudimentary level. Mend a sheet. Change my mind about saturated fats. Go to Athens and Istanbul. Have a cold and binge watch a Turkish soap opera. Wash and paint the front porch. Read one or three of the gazillion books stacked around the house and the National Geographics and New Yorkers too. Make garden revisions. Write a letter to city council members about granny flats. Get my bike going and take long rides. Go to the movies. Make mayonnaise. Plan next year's trip to Paris.
Write a blog post.
Anything but revise the manuscript.
It sits in a sturdy faux leather ring binder I bought on eBay years ago. All 82,782 words spread over 331 pages that have, according to Word, already been edited 232 hours and 34 minutes (and this is a second draft, so add to that the 122 hours and 33 minutes of the first draft). But I'm whining. That's only some 44 days of full-time work.
I tell myself that when the weather gets really hot then I will be able to sit in my chair in my air conditioned office for the long hours required to get this material up to snuff. Butt In Chair.
But the truth is, I’m in a rocky relationship with this book. Foremost, I love it passionately and that causes all kinds of problems. I never loved Leave the Dogs at Home, so I could brutally beat it up, slice and dice it, no problem. But because I love this book, it scares me. I worry that my beloved is no good. That my affections are ill spent. What if I open it again, and it is terrible?
And, unlike Leave the Dogs, this book, tentatively and poorly named Counter Groove, isn’t finding its own way yet through the world of publishing. Leave the Dogs, even in its worst, most discombobulated state, was loved. It attracted mentors and grants. I had to run to keep up with it. The Dogs had a destiny from the get-go. So far, this work is searching for its path. Still, it took five years of revisions for The Dogs to get there. And I can remember that agony, that madness. Do I want to succumb? Blot out almost everything else and submerge myself? Is there any other way to do it?
Earlier this week, I was thinking about getting a cat. My last two cats have lived about 20 years. If I live 20 years to age 88, I will have outlived generations of women in my family who have all expired between the ages of 83 and 86. Would the poor cat find herself ancient and alone?
Some say I’m healthier and will live longer. My annuity company doesn't think so. Online longevity calculators put me at 95. But they don't know about my long-gone rotten appendix and gall bladder. The nasty DCIS cells dug out and radiated last year.
All this longevity thinking led me to the familiar zone of pondering how I’m spending my ever-dwindling time and my ever degenerating memory. Twenty years is 7,305 days. What's 44 days? Less than 1%.
The thick binder of pages must be opened. The pencil must get busy. The revision must begin. the papers must be stuck on the wall. The madness must be welcomed. I cannot abandon my beloved because I’m afraid it won’t get a lift under its wings. I have to open the windows and doors, let the wind in.
It was early in the evening on a day that had been a little off-kilter when I saw her coming down the sidewalk of downtown Lexington, Kentucky.
It was an overnight step on my way to Virginia for the little May book tour. I’d always wanted to explore the city, so I booked a pricey room at an old inn since I was indulging myself before an unwanted surgery that I would have at the end of the tour.
On the way down through Southern Indiana on SR 37, a two lane road that wound through fields of golden ragwort and miniature towns, I begin to fret over my haircut. Obsess really. A fairly new cut for me. It’s asymmetrical and loosely based on the haircut of Claire Underwood, a ruthless strategist on the Netflix series House of Cards. I’d tried wearing my hair long, up in buns and French twists, but it’s too thin and the style made me look like an old lady (which, of course, I am). I wanted something more modern, more radical. Something that rocked. And this haircut did. I even had blue streaks in it. But I blew the follow up trim (it can be hard to replicate the original cut, easy to lose that je ne sais quoi of the new cut). I’d been late to the appointment. So my stylist was rushed. She asked me how long in the back. I told her to just do whatever.
I should have said short. It was frumpy and too long in the back. I wanted to look as good as an old lady could for the book tour.
So when I got to Lexington, I Google Mapped for the hair salon closest to the inn and lucked into a stylist in between appointments to get the back cut short, short, short! Don’t touch the sides or front, don’t use hair thinning shears or razors; I want a good scissor cut. I showed her photos of Claire Underwood’s hair cut pulled up online on my phone. And I got want I wanted.
But the rest of the day I couldn’t quite get my way. My room at the inn felt very tired, the furniture not antique but just cheap, beat, old stuff, the carpet looked like it was from the 90s, and the bedspread was one of those awful things that you don’t even what to touch but have to take it off and put it in the corner. The inn had a restaurant but it seemed pretentious yet uncomfortable, the fatty food expensive.
I wandered the few blocks to downtown Lexington. I stopped at a brew pub, sat in a black padded swivel chair at a long bar facing a brick wall with oversized posters. The music was loud. Several minutes went by without a bartender even glancing my way, despite my hip haircut with the short short back. So I left. I walked and walked and walked, harassed over and over by the same drunk panhandler. Nothing looked good. I ended up at another little brew pub close the inn. Had a local beer, some bar food, and an odd, depressing conversation with man who sold furnishings to universities about his iron sculpture business that failed even though celebrities had purchased his work.
Before turning in for the evening the next day's drive to Lexington, Virginia, I began to think about my breakfast. I’m picky about breakfast. I don’t need a lot, but I want a healthy one. Yogurt with fresh fruit is nice. The inn’s restaurant offered a yogurt on their breakfast menu for 10 dollars. Nope. That won’t do. So I walked a few blocks to a little store on Short Street called Shorty’s and bought a little container of semi-fake, fruity yogurt, a banana, and a bag of local granola.
And this is when I saw her. On the way back to the inn.
Walking toward me. She had this dramatic, kick-ass asymmetrical haircut and was wearing a white t-shirt printed with a large black “United.” She looked at me as the distance between us shortened and smiled nervously. I was focused on her hair cut and how cool she looked. She had a rebellious but not callous vibe; somewhere in her 20s I guessed. I smiled back. When we grew even on the sidewalk, she stopped to speak to me.
That’s when I saw that the shaved side of her head wasn’t a cool, rebel cut. It had a heartbreaking arc of metal surgical staples that must have spanned four inches.
She asked me if I could help her.
She explained that she’d just had brain surgery. Well, that sure was obvious. I recognized those staples from Jim’s brain surgery, the one he had when his lung cancer spread there, just a few months before he died.
She showed me a catheter port on the taped to back of her hand and told me she was doing cycles of both chemo and radiation. She was so tired, and it was hard to think clearly. She was forgetting stuff. And for some reason her credit card didn’t work at the gas station, and she was out of gas. So she had left her car at the station and started walking to see if she could beg some cash for gas. There weren’t many people on the sidewalk and so far, all that had happened was that some guy had cussed her out.
This was no drunk panhandler.
She looked completely fatigued, so so weary. I asked her to sit down on some nearby steps with me. She’d had seizures at work, that’s how they’d discovered the cancer. And she was trying to keep her job, but it was hard. They’d taken out a chuck of her brain about the size of fist. And there was still more cancer in her brain that was harder remove. If the chemo and radiation didn’t work, then they would do a second operation.
The size of a fist. That’s what my oncology surgeon had told me. I had abnormal cells in my left breast that were the size of a fist. Is this taught in medical school? How to describe the size of tumors. Big as a thumb. As a fist. What would be bigger? A foot?
I almost never carry much cash. But because I was traveling, I had some. I pulled out my wallet and handed her a twenty. She looked down, paused, and then said. “It’ll take 35 to fill up the tank. Maybe by the time I need gas again I’ll have figured out what’s wrong with my credit card.”
I gave her another twenty.
And I told her about my breast fist. Beyond my closest friends and family, she was the first person I’d told. And about Jim’s cancer. And we talked for quite a while about how things just come from nowhere.
She wanted to pay me back, send me a check. I told her no. Then she asked if she could give it my church. I told her to just help someone else when they need it. She stood to walk back in the direction she had come. “Live each day as it comes,” she said me before she left. “I’m keeping you in my prayers.”
I can’t get her out of my mind. Every time I think about my hair cut now, I see her instead of the merciless Claire Underwood. And I feel lucky.
My fist, once removed, turned out to only have a section of bad cells in the size of a tiny fingernail, as described by my surgeon as she held out her small Asian pinkie finger. Low-risk pre-cancer. I don’t need radiation. No chemo. Even though today my chest looks like a gruesome patchwork quilt, it will heal.
But I bet this young woman won’t be as lucky.
Winter is slipping away, and it hasn’t even really started yet. I can feel it. Before you know it, those daffodils will be popping up and courting me, calling me outside, and I will not be ready.
I love winter. But not why you might think.
Yes, the raspberry canes turn purple, and the browns and grays of the landscape are as subtle and layered as a finely turned Stanley Kunitz poem.
Yes, the sharp clarity of air inhaled clears the viruses and muck of summer from my brain.
Yes, the night stars are as crisp as jewels in the dark sky.
Yes the flannel sheets are cozy, the wood fires are toasty, and the stews are satisfyingly tribal.
But it's the interiors of winter that I love. That's where the warm and broad luscious world of words lives. Cold, sleet, ice, dreary? I never really notice once I let myself go. And I always want to let go before I can.
The yearn for an unbroken fall forward into all the words I can’t get to when I’m digging in the garden or putting up jars of lime blueberry jam is palpable.
It's an impossible situation. I can never get to all the words in any winter (they are so short!) and each winter's already too big allotment of words always expands beyond all expectations as ideas spring off into wild directions, so every spring starts with me undone. Over the summer, words pile up - books unread, New Yorkers and Harper's stuffed and stacked in corners, articles bookmarked in my browser.
The descent into words isn't just a day or two here and there. Not just a few hours. It's a whole indulgent, obsessive, unaware-of-the-world-around-me stretch that is never long enough.
I’m mid-fall right now, a free, wide-armed collapse into the ideas of others and the notions that burst out of my fingers dancing in response across the keyboard. But I stay in mid-fall for so long. Not really totally immersed, and it pains me.
Already November has evaporated. Okay, it was a very mild November, and I was outside. But today was a chilly December 1. And even though it was a disciplined day with some decent progress on my novel and a couple lovely and brain shifting dips into the worlds of Edward O. Wilson and Alexander James Thom, and some good reading over lunch, the day was still taken by half with the clamor of practicalities.
Bake bread . . . do yoga . . . finish finances and put away papers . . . record movies for Cabo vacation . . . make plans to go the art bazaar at the UU church on Friday . . . empty the dishwasher . . .
And I can see more coming right at me. A swelling barrel-wave of fall stoppers: the making of truffles to send off in Christmas packages, trips to the post office, not the mention the holiday jerky and cherry chocolates or the wrapping of presents and general partying. Things I love.
So, I can never quite complete the immersive fall that I need - the time when no chores or complicated recipes or Facebook scanning are of any interest, and everywhere are only the cascades and eddies of words and the explosions of ideas - until after the New Year.
And then I’ve only got about two months (taking a week off to laze on the beach in Cabo) to do what is really a year’s worth of study and writing before the light starts to change and those damned crocus nod their lovely heads.
Tomorrow the balance will shift; it has to, because winter is almost over already.
I’ve been a really good girl this week. It might seem boring to you, but holy cow! look at what I got done:
~The new book manuscript has expanded by 20 or so pages.
~I have reduced myself by about 4 pounds by simply not overeating.
~A few items have been crossed off my to-do list. New insurance for house and car. New drug plan I hopefully will never use for Medicare. Scheduled my "Welcome to Medicare" preventive visit for January.
~A big section of my tightly packed storage closet under the stairs was opened up when I realized that I may never go camping again and gave all my gear to my daughter.
~I managed to visit a book club that had read Leave the Dogs at Home and not make a fool of myself.
~To help me keep my character Connie in my new manuscript in context, I read a 1969 issue of Zap Comix, the little red Quotations from Chairman Mao Tse-Tung book, and big chucks of books and articles about the Weatherman bombings in the 1970s. AND I joyfully did a little off-topic reading in the rolling and unrolling essays in The Faraway Nearby by Rebecca Solnit - book I’ve been meaning to read for over a year.
~I dedicated a few hours each day to promoting Leave the Dogs at Home and prodding others to chat it up.
~I’ve maintained a healthy balance between sit-your-butt-in-the chair focus and get-your-butt-moving walks, leaf-sweeping, and bicycle riding. I haven’t eaten too much chocolate or had too much beer or tipped back more than one glass of wine in the evening. I’ve kept a happy balance between bread, meat and veggies.
~I figured out how to make my computer quit misbehaving, again.
~I finally wrote a blog post.
True, not everything is perfect.
There is a stack of Paris books and artifacts on the upstairs couch that’s been there over a month. Recipes, magazines, and who knows what are scattered on the dining room table and kitchen counters that really need to be scrubbed down. And, my desk. It's a hot mess.
Out overall, it feels wonderful. This structured life is good for me. My brain is charged and sparky. My gut is less gassy and burny. And Shit is gettin' done.
But that fringe of mess around the house? That's a rebellion brewing in the alleyways of my being. A small collection of cells who want to just go screw around. They’ve started protesting. Marching the back streets with signs held high and chanting, “Hell no we won’t go.”
If I ignore the rebels they will come with pitchforks and sharpened hoes to break down the static structure of my days. Blockade the progress of the new book with day dreaming. Sabotage my balanced diet by gobbling the stacks of cookies I take to my book events.
So this is my secret plan: Give in, just a little. Let the rebels run freely, maybe for a whole day, wear them out so they will go sleep like dogs after a day of romping in the woods. Because without them, without their wild, dynamic chaos, the clamp of structure would closes everything down, and I would have to abandon all for complete rebellion.
Tuesday was Arbogast feast day. I was so busy, I forgot to celebrate. I almost always forget. You'd think I'd remember, because the 21st is also my father's birthday, a memory rich with vats of homemade ice cream and plates heavy with thick-sliced tomatoes. oh well.
Instead I will give a nod to my 5th great grandfather, Michael who, with his wife Elizabeth, started up the Arbogast clan that arose from Virginia. Michael immigrated from Cologne, Germany where he was born in 1734. He arrived on the Speedwell in Philadelphia at age 17, parents and siblings all dead, and threaded his way through the big mountains west of the Shenandoah Valley to Highland County in 1758. These days, Arbogast is known as a "good valley name" and the graveyards are full of Arbogast tombstones, unlike Indiana.
Immigrants from Germany, England and Ireland (plus a few folks wooed from Pennsylvania) were the ones who felled the trees in Virginia to made way for the farms, and to pay off their passage. He was naturalized in 1770, patented 130 acres there in 1773 and added more acreage over the years. He married a natural born Virginian and fathered two rarely noted daughters and seven oft-noted sons (several of whom served in the American Revolution).
He died at age 79. In his will, he left his wife "one-third possession of at the time of my decease for and during her natural life time and her to keep possession of the dwelling house where in I live during the said period of her life and the adjoining to said house and all the under of following articles: to-wit, her bed and furniture, one pot, one baskin, one dish, two plates, two spoons, one fleish fork, one laddle, one kettle, one coffee pot, two teacups and saucers, one set of knives and forks, lisc (?) tin cups, two chairs, one large chest, one spinning wheel, one wool wheel, one pair wool cards, one pair cotton cards, the table in the house, all her books, her saddle and bridle, one tin bucket, three coolers for milk, two head sheep, two of my best milk cows, one horse creature, of not less value than fifteen pounds currant money, all her clothes, and the mulatto girl named Nancy."
I hope things worked out okay for Nancy.
My 4th great grandfather, David Arbogast. and his brother Michael, and "their heirs from them" were excluded. Maybe they had already received their shares when emigrating on to the east, or maybe there just wasn't enough room in Virginia for all of those big Arbogast personalities. Michael moved over the mountain to establish Arbovale, now part of West Virginia. David moved to Indiana, leaving his twin brother behind.
David, who with his wife Elizabeth had five sons and four daughters, died at 109 years of age in Andersonville, in Posey Township - about two hours away in the northwest corner of Franklin County. Originally known as Ceylon, was laid out in 1837 by Fletcher Tevis, and renamed in 1849 after Thomas Anderson, a tavern owner. David was living in Virginia when he was 49, and it looks like all the kids moved with him, so the next 50 years surely were interesting.
Last weekend I was at the Midwest Renewable Energy Fair in Custer, Wisconsin. Someplace I would never be except for the influence of my honey, Steve. He’s a solar, energy-efficient kind of guy and hanging with him lands me in curious places.
In 15 white tents set on the high meadow grounds of the ReNew the Earth Institute, the fair is a 3-day solar energy affair at heart. Solar panels, solar batteries, solar racking systems, solar ovens, solar cars, solar motorcycles, and off-grid technologies - with heaping side helpings of sustainability, farming, alternative construction methods, aquaculture, herbal medicine, kombucha-making seminars and workshops. All digested with the help of beet burgers, organic prairie brats, and pizza baked in cob ovens and washed down with glass pints of Central Waters solar-brewed beer.
It was more hip than the John Hartman festival last month in Bean Blossom. Dreadlocks abounded. Alternative funk-rock bands and frog choruses played on stages. You could donate $10 and get a free bucket of compost made from the collected waste of last year’s fair. There was a distinct Changing the World charge in the air, both implicit and spoken. There was even an ad in the program from a financial advisor wanting people to invest to Change the World.
Keynote speaker Jon Wellinghoff, Immediate Past Chairman of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC), talked about the net metering war between utilities and those providing solar to the grid. He warned about the electrical grid being vulnerable to terrorist attack. Right at the very end of his speech he predicted that new technology changes will force policy change.
The next day, Amy Goodman, (host and executive producer of Democracy Now! - the independent, news program you can see around here on Free Speech TV or listen to on WFHB) welcomed us in the main tent to “the sanctuary of dissent.” In promotion of her book (The Silenced Majority - Stories of Uprisings, Occupations, Resistance, and Hope written with her husband Denis Moynihan) she told stories about the voices of ordinary people standing up to corporate and government power - and refusing to be silent. When “people speak for themselves, when people speak from their own experience, it breaks down bigotry,” she said. Not to agree, but to get to an understanding of where someone is coming from. “And that's where peace begins.”
She talked about Pope Francis in his stunning encyclical on the environment and climate change, calling for swift action to save the planet from environmental ruin, urging world leaders to listen and for a change of the throwaway consumer culture.
She quoted Nelson Mandela: “It always seems impossible until it is done.”
“There is a hunger for communication, for democracy,” she said before raising her hand in a V-ed peace sign at the end of her speech.
My little radial heart quickened and went pit-pat.
It was susceptible. For the past few months I’ve been researching the political movements of the 1960s and early 70s for the new novel I’m writing. Half of my dining room table is covered with era books about social dissent and alternative living ideas. I’ve been watching radical documentaries and movies. Built a hippies board on Pinterest. My young heroine Connie Borders - who lives in my heart and head - wants, more than anything, to be part of Changing the World.
I left the Energy Fair feeling as if I need to re-engage with Changing the World.
It’s not a new feeling for me. It’s been banging around inside since I retired five years ago and am free from the scowls of clients and bosses to do and think whatever I damned well please.
I have friends who are pure activists, despite their jobs. They write letters to congress. They protest. They post outrage on Facebook. But I was never that brave, or pure.
Is my old revolutionary spunk renewable? I have tried a couple times to get involved. I’m not interested in Changing the World on the grand scale. I want things in my sphere of influence. To be a good neighbor and to live local. If we all did that, it would be Changing the World.
So I gave it up.
But when I got home from Wisconsin, the next night was a member-owner’s meeting about the financial crisis the BloomingFoods coop is facing. I decided to go, just to listen. The board chair reminded us that Changing the World was the reason the coop was started decades ago. And now, the coop world is changing.
Soon I found myself, Amy Goodman and Connie Borders standing invisibly next to me, speaking out. Pleading for a return to the philosophy of affordable food and a transparency with the comments and feedback of members. Afterwards, I was urged by a neighbor to attend a coop Community Linkage Committee meeting.
I was resistant at first.
It’s the same night as Green Drinks where big issues are brought to the local level and served with cold craft beer. But the next day was studded with conversations about the BloomingFoods situation. Soon I found myself suggesting to others that they attend the coop meeting. And I realized that my thin tie to Changing the World, my philosophy of living locally and being a good neighbor, dictates attendance at the coop meeting.
So I am going.
Riffs inspired by books, articles, and winds that sweep into my life.