U is for Um

U is for Um

I just looked at my blog statistics.  94 people checked my blog yesterday.*  But who are these people?  Few leave “likes” or messages.  I do not understand the blogging world.  I am in it only reluctantly.  Someday when I have a book to promote I may promote the blog more, but I am not very enthusiastic about doing all the things you’re supposed to do to be a writer these days.  I won’t join Twitter.  I have my limits.

This anonymous reading is gratifying and mysterious.  Hello, anonymous readers!  Feel free to leave a like, or a message, or even a didn’t like.

Um.  Searching for an Edward Gorey image for my last entry led me into his world, which is a lovely sort of macabre.  I’m glad eccentrics exist.

Every March, Smith College holds a bulb show in its greenhouses, just when we are thirsting for color at the end of winter.  They put it all together this year, but closed down a day or two after opening because of the pandemic.  They put together a virtual tour, but what I missed was the intense smell of daffodils and hyacinth the overwhelms you when you first walk into that greenhouse.

Anyway, one year there was an Edward Gorey theme, with lots of black and white backdrops to the bright colors of tulips and daffodils.  Black curtains and even a black pond, with the tiny hands of a drowning nurse peeked out.  The juxtaposition of Gorey sketches and lush flowers seemed incongruous, but was strangely satisfying, like Gorey’s work itself.  Google wanted to tell me a lot about Gorey, but I resisted.  I don’t want to be an expert on Gorey.  Just as I don’t care about knowing all the names of the flowers in the bulb show.  I just want to take it in.

*Oh wait.  I just looked at the weird little charts on my blog stats page.  There were only four visitors, but 94 VIEWS of my many blog entries.  Someone read a lot of Alice Knox Eaton yesterday.  I hope you enjoyed!  My busiest day was Day 1 of this blog challenge, with 42 visitors.

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T is for Torpor

Torpor, noun:  a state of physical or mental inactivity; lethargy.

Yep.  My pandemic go-to state.  It’s also a good word, that excites me a little and makes me less torporous.  Torporish?  Neither are actual words.  But this word play energizes me, a little, though I am lying in my torpor position, a little less slouched than sometimes, in my comfy chair.  Enjoy freshly washed hair and clean clothes.  Less torporous than usual.

I thought I was going to write about turpitude, another great word, but it turns out I didn’t know its real meaning.  I thought it was a kind of torpor.  Google says it’s simply depravity and wickedness, but if you add the adjective moral to it, it’s a legal concept.  Who knew?  Probably lots of people, but not me.  Moral turpitude is “an act or behavior that gravely violates the sentiment or accepted standard of the community.”

I imagine depraved and wicked people languidly violating norms, like Edward Gorey characters.  Turpitude just sounds so lazy.

Google word play.  It’s all I’ve got today.  Pandemic blues.

Gorey

From Edward Gorey’s 1968 book The Blue Aspic
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S is for Semantics

I keep seeing articles that assert that what we are experiencing is grief.  I resist, feel growly.  I don’t like being told what it is I’m feeling.  And this doesn’t feel like grief.

Disorientation, foggy headedness, lethargy, mixed with gratitude that I have a steady paycheck, mixed with guilt that I kind of like having to stay at home.  I have some fear when I go out into the world, shopping, confined with people, but I am comforted by articles that say the chances of getting the virus from shopping is fairly low, especially if the proper precautions are taken.

This is not grief.  This is limbo.

The people living in the hot spots may certainly be experiencing grief.  I won’t look away from the photos of the trucks in New York City being loaded with bodies.  I won’t look away from the numbers.  But I won’t claim grief for myself when others grieve deeply.  I have not lost much yet.

I know grief.  Grief was pure and stark when my mother died.  The finality of death astounded me.  The retracing of every action I took in organizing her care when she was slipping away.  The enormous love she held for me, a cloud of comfort I didn’t know sustained me through every day, suddenly gone.  The ways she had irritated me became irrelevant; the ways she loved me were all that mattered.  And she was gone, gone, not coming back.

I remember the little smile she gave me a few days before she died, still loving me through the hard work of dying.  How it filled me.  How I needed her and never knew I did.

That was fifteen years ago, and the pain has subsided, though I miss hearing what she would have to say about pandemic, science, Trump.  She may have seen Obama give his speech at the 2004 Democratic convention, his launch into national prominence, but she cast her last ballot, absentee from the nursing home, for John Kerry that fall.  She never saw the Obamas in the White House.  In 2008 we had to figure out who to vote for without her, and ever since.

This was, this is, boundless, bottomless grief, losing a great love like the love of my mother for me, for all of us in her family, her love and unfailing curiosity about the world.  This was loss.

I know grief may be coming, for me.  People are dying.  But I won’t claim grief while others have so much to grieve.

It is good to name enormous feelings and phenomena.  Shell shock became survivor’s guilt became Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder.  PTSD became evident in more than just soldiers.  It is good to name and know and identify.

But this isn’t grief.  It’s a fog.  It’s surviving, mixed with gratitude that I have so much—an income, walks every day in spring green, escape into stories on Netflix and in books.

It’s limbo, anxiety, waiting.  Grief is on the other side.  No need to rush to claim it.  It will come.

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R is for Restless

What new can be said for being stuck at home?  Everyone’s commenting on it.  The quarantine blogs could become part of a historical record of this time.  Hard to write about something you’re in the middle of.

The days consist of Zoom and snacking and a daily dog walk.  Computer games and binge watching and worry.  News and no news and too much news.  Concern that yet again, we rely on the people at the bottom of the economic ladder to keep us going.

Masks and hand sanitizer and putting things off, like eyebrow shaping, hip replacement surgery, dying your hair.  Showering whenever because when does it matter?  Moving from couch to bed to table.  Yearning for sleep but insomniac at night, sleepy in the afternoons.

When does restless become restful?  That ticking need, exaggerated by caffeine, to Do Something.  My Zoom yoga class got interrupted by a bad internet connection.  As I tried to reconnect, getting up off the floor to sit at my computer, I felt my stretched muscles pulling me to stay with it.  So I got back on the floor and improvised my own ending—a few favorite poses, warrior two, triangle, then sweet shavasana.  Then to a work Zoom meeting, internet restored, holding on to my yoga zen.

Then nap.

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Q is for Quacumpaug

The Narragansett Indians called it Quacumpaug Pond, the settlers called it Schoolhouse Pond because they built a schoolhouse to assimilate the Indians there.  I can’t find the meaning of Quacumpaug on the Internet.  My second cousins were members of a lodge on this pond; they called their lodge Quacumpaug, the Narragansett name, but the members were all white.  In the 1980’s, the Narragansetts reclaimed the land and the lodge too; a few years later the lodge burned down.

I visited Quacumpaug with my cousins once when I was very young.  I compared it to Pausacaco, the lodge we went to every year on another lake, and found it reassuringly familiar, yet with exciting differences.  At the end of the long pier extending into the pond, the water was still shallow, with a sandy bottom, so you had to be careful jumping in. The sandy bottom was a plus; no murky bottom with bloodsuckers like at Pausacaco.  But I gave Pausacaco a check mark for deeper water that allowed us to dive in.

I believe strongly in the right of Native American tribal groups to reclaim lost lands.  The lodge our family goes to, Pausacaco, sits on Pausacaco Pond, or Carr Pond as it appears on maps.  There are only two other houses on the pond, and only one is visible from the porch.  If you go out to the middle of the lake, you can see the third house, now a private dwelling, that has the same architectural structure as Pausacaco.  It used to be called Medicine Lodge, because it was founded by a group of doctors from Providence.

It seems plausible that the Narragansetts could reclaim Pausacaco too, as they did Quacumpaug.  My cousins, who are now members of Pausacaco, still mourn the loss of the lodge of their childhood.  Pausacaco’s membership is still all white.  I notice a confluence of blue eyes at our annual meeting every spring.  My siblings and I fear losing Pausacaco to fire—it burnt down and was rebuilt in 1922.  We must consider the possibility of loss to the land’s previous inhabitants.  Our little haven, hemmed in by Route 1 and Route 1A to the east and west, and Route 138 to the north, sits in its quiet spot amid a hubbub of tourism and second homes near Narragansett Bay.  We hope that its relatively small acreage makes it less desirable for reclamation.  We hope to hang onto our white privilege.

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Collier’s, 1910.
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Pausacaco

Named for a Narragansett word meaning “abounding in bats,” Pausacaco (pronounced paw-sah-KAW-ko) is a wooden lodge with a wide, inviting porch overlooking a small lake.  My grandfather’s two brothers and five other men built the lodge in 1906.  In the early twentieth century, Rhode Island was dotted with dozens of lodges like Pausacaco, built and maintained by professional men from Providence.  The lodge had no electricity and no running water, relying on a well system accessed by an old hand pump in the kitchen.

1922.  My mother’s earliest memory—a blackened chimney over smoking embers. She and her father step out of their Model A to see the wreckage of the house his family built, the house where she was conceived, the place where he poured all his spare energy.  The chimney rises against the sky, pale in early morning, and beyond it the lake laps blue, oblivious.  All that water, just feet from the lodge, useless in the face of a raging oil stove.  No one got hurt, but Paul is responsible—his guests lit the stove.

Ellen, at 3, knows only that Pausacaco, the place where she and Sally play, where her family retreats from the hubbub of Cambridge, lies before her, a pile of smoking timbers.  The woods look the same, with their two paths in opposite directions from the house, and she wonders if the outhouses have burned at the end of each path.  The lake looks the same, inviting her, though it is too cold to swim.  But the house is simply gone.

The morning of the fire, Paul had risen early with some departing guests.  He had let someone else start up the stove, and with the guests on their way, he and another friend take a canoe out onto the lake.  When they get to the middle of the lake, they hear odd crackling sounds.  They turn back to the lodge and see leaping flames.  In seconds, the outlines of the house disappear.  By the time they paddle back, furiously, futilely, most of the house has fallen in on itself.  Guests in their pajamas stand far back from the flames.  Someone has driven to town to summon the fire department, but when the engines arrive, there is nothing to save, just a few large beams, which the firemen don’t bother with, the same beams Ellen sees smoking the next day when her father brings her down from Cambridge in the Model A.

Paul, frantic with guilt, throws himself into remaking the lodge in every loving detail.  The Pausacaco founders raise the money to rebuild in short order, appealing to the lodge’s many loyal visitors.  Expert craftsmen donate their time to recreate beveled cabinet doors and locking window frames.  In a little over four months, a new structure rises up, identical to the one that disappeared.  Ellen sometimes doubts her memory of that moment with her father, driving down to the lodge at first daylight.  But someone took a photograph, and there it is:  the charred chimney, alone against a blank space of sky.  The photo hangs on the landing of the rebuilt house, next to the framed 1922 newspaper story with photos of the familiar fireplace, and the headline, “The Fire That Built a House.”  She cannot tell which of her memories of the house come from before the fire and which after, so she chooses the dividing line of the black chimney as her first one.

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O is for SpirOgraph

The gears are shaped like jagged O’s.

We lost one of our Spirograph wheels, the third one from the corner, the best size.  Spirograph engrossed me for hours at a time, and losing a wheel was a deep disappointment.

I must have been a dastardly child.  One day at my friend Amy’s house, we were playing with her Spirograph set, and I snagged her wheel in the size I lost.  When we were putting it away, she accused me and I smugly denied the theft.  She said that’s the same one that you’re missing.  You took it.  I said, no, it’s that other size, pointing to the size just below.  But she knew.  I was aware of the wheel poking into my stomach through my pants pocket.

I felt satisfied at home with my now complete Spirograph set.  But after that first flurry of play, one season perhaps, I don’t recall returning to Spirograph much.

I found an old Spirograph at a tag sale decades later, and brought it home for my kids.  It was a hit, but I was haunted by my theft of Amy’s wheel.  I thought of it every time I played.

Recently, on Facebook, Amy and I had a short exchange that led her to reminisce about playing Spirograph with me for hours.  I immediately private messaged her with my true confession.  She had no memory of it.  I wasn’t always that nice to Amy, but she doesn’t seem to remember that either.  The little crimes of childhood haunt only selectively.

spirograph

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N is for Nosie Nellie

When I was eight or nine, I wrote and illustrated a full-color, stapled-bound book entitled Nosie Nellie.  Nosie Nellie and her friend Naughty Nancy, drawn wearing skirts and large bows in their hair, are confident, opinionated girls—empowered, one might say.  In Chapter 1, they visit a woman’s house and destroy her doll collection.  My illustration of the hacked-up dolls emanates the glee of destruction, and the horror of a hapless adult.  I do not dwell on the consequences of this act.  In Chapter 2, Nellie and Nancy encounter two boys, whom they dismiss as “show-offs.”  Fittingly, the boys are hypermasculine in their appearance, wearing football uniforms, complete with padded shoulders and helmets.  The boys take chase, but the girls outwit them by hiding in a bush.

I love this book, and the eight-year-old Alice who wrote it, listing her other book titles inside the front cover—Lazy Linda, Pete the Pig, Cat and Mouse.  (I never wrote those books.)  I love the vision I had for myself as an author.  I do not recall showing the book to my mother or to anyone, but I do recall the pleasure of its making.

My first feminist manifesto.

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Lena and Mama and cigarettes and beer

L and M

It’s hard to write during a pandemic.  I am skipping days.  The deaths are getting closer.  A student’s grandmother.  A scholar I met last fall at a conference and have known in an online forum for years.  A lovely, generous, compassionate and learned man.

But I will try L and M.

Lena and Mama.  Lena is stuck here during the pandemic.  She came to help us move and her employer, who provides her housing, is making it difficult for her to return.  So we both zoom and work from home.  I like having her here; my apocalyptic visions as I raised my two children always involved scenarios in which I was separated from my children and had to find my way back to them.  They were little in these visions and I worried, but how they are grown and I know where they are.  Liza is with a wonderful family who are taking good care of her (even today, her 20th birthday).  And Lena and Scott and I are settling into our new smaller space.  It’s also cleaner and newer and we got rid of a lot of junk, so it feels nice.  I like hanging out at home, so I can forget about the pandemic from time to time.  But I don’t like working from home, zoom meetings, zoom classes, grading online.  I am at the computer far too much every day.  It’s making me more committed to reading physical books, but still.  It’s hard.  As it is for all of us, and I remember to be grateful that I have a steady paycheck.  I got my contract for next year in the mail yesterday.  More security.  We are lucky.

During these weeks, Lena has told a story, twice, once to me and once to Scott in my earshot, that I find peculiar.  She says she remembers the exact moment she switched from calling us Mommy and Daddy to Mama and Dada.  In her mind, at 7 or 8, Mommy and Daddy were babyish and Mama and Dada were not.  She says she was in the hammock and she called me Mama, and then she said, “Did you hear that?  I called you Mama instead of Mommy,” and I said, “Okay.”  I vaguely remember such a thing, and I remember fleetingly wondering why she had switched.  To me, Dada is something toddlers say before they can put together more varied syllables.  But to Lena, it was a moment of being more of a big kid.

Kids’ minds are so peculiar.

Another riff on L&M’s.

My dad smoked L&M’s, and my mom and I would buy them by the carton at Heinen’s, our local grocery store in Shaker Heights.  My mom would ask me to retrieve them from a low shelf in the checkout line.  I liked the sleek packaging, the simple red and white with a hint of gold, the long lines of the L and the M.  I must have absorbed some TV commercial telling me that smoking was sophisticated, back when TV aired cigarette commercials.

I only have one other specific memory of shopping inside Heinen’s.  (I remember the outside, with the numbered tags on our car window and on the cart we left for a grocery boy to wheel to our car and unload—and picking the number tags on the way out of the store.  Childhood wonder imbues the most mundane of items with magic—the large oval tag that hooked onto the cart, the smaller round tag for our window, both dark red with white numbers concave in the nubby rubber covering on the plastic tags.)  That other memory is shopping with my father, his first time after the motor scooter accident he and my mother were in that nearly killed them both.  She was still stuck on the couch in a cast, but he was able to walk again after three weeks in traction.  And he bought a 12-pack of beer.  I can see the red and white packaging over the stout brown bottles, shoddy cardboard and rough design, nothing like the sleek L&M’s.  I don’t remember the brand, but I remember the sudden sick feeling in my stomach that spread throughout my body, knowing he was going to drink again.  And I remember his encouraging smile, trying to get me to go along.  That feeling of powerlessness.

L and M for Lena and Mama is a much nicer story, for me, and I hope I’ve given that to her.  Oh, I know I have.

L&M

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K is for Knoxes

Kerro and I grew up playing cards, board games, pick up sticks, barrel of monkeys, you name it.  We are the two youngest siblings of four, and our older sisters weren’t that interested.  We were intensely competitive, which sucked for me, since I am younger.  A favorite story is the day Kerro punched me in the mouth while we were playing Junior Executive, and I ripped his fist open with my braces.  We don’t come to blows anymore, and he found Junior Executive on eBay and sent it to me, early enough that I could enjoy it with my own children.

He is about to call me for a game of Settlers of Catan.  He is setting up the board and his laptop focused on the board, my cards in a holder so he can’t see them.  We will play via Google Meet (Google Meat, as we prefer to dub it).  I will roll my own dice, but he has to do all the other work.

We are over 60, but we are kids.  Whatever.  It’s a pandemic.

an hour or so later

We split two games of Settlers. My neck started to hurt from craning at the screen, but my neck hurts when we play in person too.

Along with my sister Fanny, Kerro is a middle child, sandwiched between youngest me and oldest Isabella.  Fanny and Kerro don’t make waves.  They adapt.  They conciliate.  They leave the drama for me and Isabella.  Mostly me.

That’s in the present tense, but I have tired of hogging the drama, so sometimes I delegate it to others.  Not to Kerro and Fanny though.

It’s Fanny’s birthday today.  She is a senior citizen, 65, and I am sure that I am lying when I write that.  Now I am living that cliché of being a young person in an older person’s body.  I hang onto the young feisty me, even though I love naps.  Well, I have always loved naps, but I need them more now.

Fanny, like Isabella, recently became a grandmother.  She lives across town from her new granddaughter Rei, but of course she cannot go see her.  She facetimes with her every day though.

Everything is surreal, getting older, the pandemic, facetiming like the Jetsons.

Scan-005

Christmas 1961.

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