The Art of Napping in a Pandemic and Other Disorganized Thoughts

As my family and I enter our 4th month of quarantine, I have to say we’re doing well. When I say well, I mean that we’re all relatively healthy and we have not murdered each other in our sleep. It’s a small house, but each person has their office/hangout/project space clearly demarcated. We check in with one another briefly throughout the day and then we go back to talking to our friends, work, teachers. The last few weeks have been the longest period of stability our family has had in a great while. No medical emergencies, no dying pets, no late nights dealing with chemo drug side effects, no urgency whatsoever.

2020MrsCardinalI’ve been letting myself unravel. The house is messier and I’ve don’t flip out when two minutes after doing all the dishes, dirty dishes mysteriously appear on the counter tops. Projects lay undisturbed for days. I’ve built myself a fortress of books, all carefully piled off-screen. I’ve spent hours in the yard taking 4,523 pictures of plants and birds and bugs. I’ve taken to manically humming King George’s “You’ll Be Back” from Hamilton when I work. Da da da dat daaaaa dat da da da da ya da.

Writing is a desert. Tumbleweeds blow through where my creative urges used to roam. A swarm of anxieties have stripped the bones clean.

Oddities spring up. I gave myself a buzz cut for the hell of it. I’ve always wanted to try it. I look like a lumpy, silver cantaloupe. It’s unflattering, but feels wonderful.

2020RobinFrenchI’ve gotten back to working out regularly. I have a lot of workout equipment from my taekwondo days. Last week, I dragged out the heavy bag and hung it in the garage. I wrapped my hands, put on gloves, and went to town on the bag. My anxiety levels are much lower this week.

*****

In the middle of all this, unexpected joys lighten the day. My local library finally opened for curbside pickup of requested books. I always have long list of hold requests and due to the pandemic, many of the books requested were from the early part of the year.

I was notified that my first hold had come in: Pale Rider: The Spanish Flu of 1918 and How it Changed the World by Laura Spinney. Argh. I wasn’t sure that I wanted to read one more damned thing about pandemics. The book has been oddly reassuring. All this nuttiness, with the politicization of even the most basic public health measures has happened before.

2020ToadIn 1918, there was a revolt about vaccines, people ignored social distancing, refused to wear masks. It didn’t turn out particularly well for many of them. I feel like somewhere down the line, in the history books that follow, the present day yahoos will be immortalized as idiots and gaslighters. And that is my bittersweet pill to anticipate.

*****

A sense of time has been lost. Days and weeks go by, barely acknowledged. I am reminded of a TV sci-fi episode where the crew is stuck in a time dilation field in space or Groundhog Day with Bill Murray – every day is the same, with only slight variations as we gradually learn to expand our world in this bubble.

*****

2020RedRose2One of my anxieties was that my daughter would be going back to school in the fall. While she is not immunocompromised, she is definitely immuno-curious. With a chemo drug used for rare tumors, there are a lot of unknown factors and she’s picked up two viruses in the last six months. She attends a public high school with 1600 students. Fortunately, she was accepted into a state university program for her junior year and all of the fall courses will be online. I can breathe a little easier.

It is this kind of thing that alternately makes me feel happy and guilty. I know that this pandemic is having an unequal effect on people. I know that the choices we’ve been able to make for our family are not choices that everyone is able to make. I also know that risk assessment is different for everyone. This is, of course, the problem. This pandemic will last longer, the economic impact will be greater, and the enmity we have towards each other will be exacerbated, because it seems like we’re working towards diametrically opposed ends.

*****

2020Coreopsis2I’ve taken to napping in the early afternoon. I lower the shades in the study, put on an audiobook or podcast, lean back in my chair, prop up my feet, and snort myself awake 20 minutes later. It’s lovely. I always said I wasn’t a napper. Now I’m a fully committed one. On my way to these siestas, I listen to David Sedaris read Calypso or the podcast The Stacks (if you’re a book lover, this podcast is fantastic). It amazes me how little it takes to feel those moments of joy. It’s as if you’ve told the world, have yourself a seat, I’ll get back to you in 20. It seems to make life just a little more manageable.

What are you doing during the pandemic?

What helps you deal with anxiety?

What has given you joy?

Insolent Joy

Today I’m going to be daring. I am, in the middle of a global pandemic, national and local rioting, personal sorrows and tribulations, going to write about joy. The last 8+ years, this blog has been a bit of a chronicle. For much of the last couple of years, I’ve felt like a woman of constant sorrows. It would be an easier place to stay, short term. Over the long term, should I become less practiced at experiencing pleasure, joy, light, it will ruin my health, perhaps my relationships, and will fill me with regret at the time wasted. We do not know what tomorrow brings. There is only today. And today, I’m going to focus on joy.

amenonmememeIt’s a fine balance between refreshing the inner sanctum and recognizing the pain in the world. It is possible to do both. I know I could break and then I’ll be no good to anyone. And I want to be useful in this world, not just a handwringer or an ostrich. I have some basic tenets to keep myself from going off the deep end (and these coincide with how I deal with depression).

Deal with Your Own Reality

SparrowatFeederI should be protesting. I should be volunteering. I should, should, should… I have these thoughts fifty times a day. My reality is that I’m exhausted. My reality is that I have big worries on my plate inside my own house. My reality is that I’m barely figuring out how to help myself, much less anyone else. I need to accept that I have limitations. Once I do that, then I can figure out how to help someone else on terms that I can meet.

And I did.

Help Someone Else

Through Pandemic of Love, an organization that connects people in need with people who can help, I was able to help out a family hit economically by the pandemic. On top of that, they were living in an area where the riots had blown through. They’d just gotten back from cleaning up some of the mess. I asked “What are you most worried about this morning?” and I was able to offer help. The beauty of helping someone is that it is never entirely altruistic. It takes you out of your self, out of your own sorrows.

Look for Beauty

BeeI’m learning photography the hard way. For all these years of gardening, I decided I’d learn how to take pictures. I got the kit. I have the instruction manual. I am awful. Enjoy as I start seeding pictures into the blog. Look for the blurry and slightly blurry plants, ghost birds, off-centered bees, and flowers I can’t remember the names of. Enjoy. I know I will.

I’ve been listening to Traci K. Smith on The Slowdown podcast. I’ll be the first one to admit that I don’t take in as much poetry as I should, considering my love of language. These snippets of living language have been inspiring and comforting. I turn to books that are balm for the soul like Ross Gay’s The Book of Delights or a collection called Poems to Live by in Uncertain Times. I’ve also watched Some Good News (hosted by The Office’s John Krasinski) and listen to the Kind World podcasts. Anything to balance out the onslaught of bad news.

Keeping up with the news, or not.

As glued as I’ve been to the news, I’m focused on learning. So far, I’ve learned that there are more whackadoodle conspiracy theorists posing as normal humans than I first suspected. The fact that they’ve remained hidden as long as they have is suspicious. I think it might have to do with Cornflakes, a confederate battlefield, and pitching signals – especially the right ear tug.

dandelionI’ve met a lot of racists in my life, but I’ve never met someone who belonged to an antifa organization. I’m an organization of one, decidedly against facism. That this president wants me to be designated a terrorist seems right on point for 2020. He’s Tweeting from his bunker, which I imagine to be full of toilet paper, blaring televisions, and blubbering sycophants.

Watching the news, drinking in the feeds, trying to sort the loons from the dimwits, it really can make a reasonable person quite nuts. If you’ve hit the angry, spluttery stage (me about three years ago), time to step back and give yourself a break. Let your brain settle into normalcy, use good judgment, call a friend, take a nap, do a logic puzzle. Then when you return to the news, you’ll realize how absolutely nuts the world is and stagger off the grid for even longer.

In the face of uncertainty and anger…

There is something revolutionary about focusing on solutions, on what we want as a society and doing things that help that. There’s no point in arguing with people who are proud of their accidents of birth – in what country, with a particular skin color, with whatever anatomical arrangement. There’s a lot of weird braggadocio on the internet. That’s how they’ve chosen to see themselves and how they classify others. That’s not your problem.

GaliumEven though we’re being pummeled with political rhetoric, life is not politics. Your minute-to-minute isn’t red or blue. It’s who you are as a rational, compassionate human being. You get to be that. This is why I think of it as insolent joy. It’s defiant. People would like you to be unhappy. They’re unhappy and they can’t think of any other way around that than to ensure that others are miserable as well. You can be impassioned about the world. You can work to make a difference. But you don’t have to be miserable 24/7. No victory will happen with that kind of energy.

Holy cow. I’ve talked myself into being uber-positive. Sometimes people like me make me sick. It’s how I do my pep talks to myself – I write to you. I’ve been in the dumps a long time and the world is not about to lend me a hand out of that. We rescue ourselves, we rescue each other – that’s really all the world has to be.

Notes from a Non-Essential Life

Our family has been in “quarantine” for approximately five weeks, leaving only for grocery pickup, and medical emergencies. Work, school, meetings, and music lessons have all been conducted online. We wash our groceries. Door knobs are cleaned regularly. I still touch my face constantly.

*****

When all this began, I was filled with ambition. I was going to write blog posts a couple times a week, maybe run a contest, and get reconnected with other bloggers. Our house was going to be cleaned from top to bottom. I’d get my garden seedlings ready. We’d finish our deck and teach our daughter to drive. Maybe I’d get my curse of a novel edited and revised. I’d get on a regular exercise plan, maybe knock off some extra weight.

canstockphoto11545997Instead, I play “spin-the-bad-news-wheel” rolling from one news source to another. I’m rage-reading Twitter. A good day is one in which I shower and make one family meal. These days, I think about the repetitive pacing of animals in the zoo. Early in the morning, I walk my neighborhood – nearly the same route every day, in order to avoid other humans. The days all run together to the point that I’ve taken to writing the day and date on my whiteboard.

And yet, we’re safe (a relative term). We are able to get by financially. We have access to food and water and electricity. We have solid internet. Our home is a comforting sanctuary. We are among the fortunate.

*****

Between my daughter’s medical emergencies and the overwhelming news outside our front door, there are days though, when I feel the undercurrent of anxiety. Some nights I wake up, thinking that I hear someone crying out. I toss and turn and the following day is a blur.

canstockphoto8969152I return to the toolbox – meditation, exercise, gardening, writing. Halfhearted attempts at best. I even tried to add a little ritual here and there. During meditation, I decided to try some old incense. Buddhists do it. They seem serene. If serene means filling your house with acrid smoke that smells like an ashtray on fire, then I’m zen itself.

New tools. A Nintendo Switch video game that we gave to our daughter for her 16th birthday. Now our entire family spends time each day building a rapacious island dynasty in Animal Crossing. There is something quite calming about traveling to a remote island, stripping it of all its resources and running away. Virtual colonialism. My family of origin is British, so perhaps there is a genetic component.

As I express my concern about the lessons the game teaches, my daughter rolls her eyes. Mom ruins everything. I don’t want to brag, but I’m good at taking perfectly benign entertainment and deconstructing in such a way that you can’t help but feel guilt. I think it really adds another layer to the game.

*****

I didn’t think I could do it – writing at home with other human beings in the house. For years, I regarded solitude as necessary to writing. I’m a well-trained caregiver. Any noise or movement and I’m immediately alerted to potential need. I’m being forced to unlearn this mentality. In fact, my family would damn well appreciate it if I would stop checking in with them every hour.

My study has two doors, which creates a shortcut to the kitchen. I’ve had to learn to shut both doors. We all now use door knob signs to indicate “Video Call” or “Writing: Please do not disturb”. I also need NO – I do not know if we have any parmesan left or I know you are bored, but I’m not going to entertain you. They think I am writing a lot.

canstockphoto15046720The upside to the pandemic is (and I say that, acutely aware of my privilege at the moment) that the Gotham Writers Workshop is offering some of their classes via Zoom. These are classes in NYC that I would have never been able to attend. I’m taking a fiction writing course focusing on short stories and a course to complete the first draft of a novel. It’s been an interesting experience, but more importantly, connected me with other writers and feedback on my work.

I’m feeling very writerly these days. This week, I listened to my short story be critiqued six ways to Sunday, shortly after I received two short story rejections. One of those rejections was a kind note from the publication editor. I have surprised myself by being able to handle both critique and rejection well. I don’t think I could have handled it when I was younger. You know, last year.

*****

To admit to any moments of joy or happiness feels wrong. I know there is suffering and grieving and injustice in the world. I know that I’m a resident and user of services in a system that supports inequality as a feature, not a bug. This was the way before the pandemic and will likely be the way after. Like most crises, we see revealed before us that the “gaps” are canyons, that imagination is desperately needed everywhere – education, government, employment, public spaces, media, and relationships.

I want to think about the world differently. I want, after all of this is over, for the world canstockphoto8183571to be different. Maturing, evolving, kinder, with a sense that we truly are all in this together. I don’t fool myself, though. I knew after the 2012 Sandy Hook murders of school children and staff when nothing changed, that my country was its own worst enemy. And here we are, forced to watch as our government, led by cynical ignorance, fumbles about with our lives.

What I want for and of this world is of no account. I am a non-essential citizen. I started this post writing about perspective. As a nonbeliever in gods, I’ve arrived at a point just past nihilism: if nothing matters, then everything can matter or, to be more precise, I get to decide what matters to me. Kindness, curiosity, and learning still matter to me. I’m not particularly adept at any of those things, but that’s the path I am trying to trod. Same as it ever was.

This is My Brain Not on Drugs

I’m writing this in a coffee shop. It might not have been the best day to attempt writing in a public space. I knew that my senses were on an acute bender when I went to the Y to get a workout this morning.

I was overwhelmed by the musty smell that concrete buildings sometimes have on a rainy day. Then I had to switch treadmills because the manual button to change speeds (for interval running) wasn’t responsive enough. Then I noticed the seam of my sock was off and I could feel it with every foot strike. In front of me was the flapping, fleshy face of the president popping up on the nonstop TV screens. My treadmill started making a clickclickclick sound as I increased speed. The woman next to me was wearing some sort of musky perfume that made my stomach uneasy. Sensory overload.

There is, I suppose, a diagnosis that would roll up all my sensitivities into a nice neat package that could be ameloriated/dulled/cured by drugs/meditation/emotional eating. That I’m oversensitive to most drugs is not ironic – just a fact. When I got put under for an endoscopic invasion a few weeks ago, I awoke irritably to two women hollering in my face and shaking me to wake up. I did not want my nap, which was acanstockphoto2383460bout seven years overdue, interrupted. This caused some concern on their part. I want to yell “See, I told you!” in response to people who have suggested medication might not be a bad thing for me. They’ve also apparently never heard me wax on about how much I enjoyed Percocet – a brief time in my medical history when I loved everyone and everything right up to the moment the prescription ran out.

Acute senses are sometimes a curse. My family thinks so. Life would be slightly better for them if I didn’t enter every room with “What’s that smell?” People would appreciate it, too, if I remembered them by their names instead of their quirks, smells, lisps, twitches. I do my best not to call them by their idiosyncrasies. Because calling someone one-who-picks-at-their-teeth or the-guy-who-smells-of-mothballs is apparently bad form. This heightened awareness and observation isn’t just irritants. It’s lovely eye crinkles that deepen a laugh or smile. It’s the smell of lilacs floating across a yard. It’s the house not blowing up next to us, because I alert the gas company (true story). It’s also likely what makes me a better writer than I would otherwise be.

canstockphoto60321094Perhaps I’m at the point in life where rationalization seems a whole lot easier than making a change. I can smell leaves burning a mile away, while simultaneously noticing there are two different species of birds calling back and forth, and that the man going by on his bike, playing “A Mighty Fortress is Our God” out of little speaker, is on his third pass (I ain’t converting, old man). I’ve finally rationalized that it is a gift, although there are days when I wonder how I function. But I do and I live on to write about the things that flood my brain.

Politics

canstockphoto33544039The media is framing the 2020 election already. Dinosaurs duking it out (and yes, the President is a Tyrannosaurus Rex. Come on, with those hands, it’s too easy). Biden is a Gallimimus (a dinosaur generically known as a “chicken mimic”). Initially I thought that the only thing that would make the race more exciting would be betting pools on who croaked first. But that wouldn’t be exciting. The runner-ups to the Shitty American contest would be Pence and Sanders. You’d have to go two teams deep to find an unfossilized politician with a slightly original idea who wasn’t handsy or repressed or spitting on himself when he spoke. This is going to be another long year/decade.

TMI

I’m all for authenticity and honesty. To a point. Lately I’ve seen conversations floating about the internet regarding how people wash in the shower. This is where I slam my laptop shut in disgust. For two reasons: 1) How you wash in the shower is not any of my damned business. 2) See number one. Most of the time people start these public conversations so they can feel some sense of superiority, goad others into defending themselves, or gain views for exaggerating minutiae into contagious attention. There are things worth talking about because they cause people shame or pain and being brought into the light of day serves to free them. Whether you wash your bits and pieces in a certain order or with a washcloth or loofah is not interesting or elucidating. It does say something about the person who starts that public conversation. I don’t know what, but I’m sure they’ll tell us.

It’s Not Joyce or David Foster Wallace, But Close

44161076I’ll fess up. I’m reading that damned Mueller Report. There are several factors complicating my reading sessions. It’s boring, I’m not a lawyer, and it is not going to change my mind about the current occupant in the White House. Still, I trudge on because neither a sycophantic Attorney General nor a befuddled media are going to “spin” it for me. I’ll see for myself what’s what – and still not know much more than I did before reading this Asshole Odyssey.

P.S. – Remember a while back when I wrote that post about not swearing? Yeah, it didn’t quite take.

Mulchsplainer

I am persistent, but not great at most things in my life. This applies to writing, gardening, running, sleeping (not the no-brainer it used to be). I resist giving up in the face of imperfection. My garden is a rambling, disorganized experiment. I spend hours there, filthy from head to toe, and it still looks like the owners have been on vacation. For months. It’s right in our front yard, where everyone can see, including the man who keeps biking by and yelling at me that I need to mulch. Surprisingly, this is not the same man who bikes by playing hymns down our street. I do live in an interesting neighborhood.

canstockphoto3556994It occurred to me how important it is to love something you’re bad at. I love to run, but I’m not good at it. My face stays red for hours after. I look as graceful as a gazelle if a gazelle were 30 pounds overweight, had knock knees, and clutched its chest every half mile or so. Still, I do it, because it gives me a bizarre kind of joy. And bizarre joy is so much better than regular joy, because it’s all yours and completely inexplicable to others.

Have a Joyful Week!

The Green Study’s “Positively Happy Nice Story” Contest: Honorable Mention

An Honorable Mention goes to Cathy over at Healing Through Connection. Her essay “Don’t Give Up!” made me think about caregivers in any capacity and how important it is to reconnect with joy on a regular basis in order to continue caring for others.

She was sent a Green Study Coffee Mug, a unnecessary Minnesota postcard and I donated $25 to the American Red Cross on her behalf.

Don’t Give Up!

By Catherine Cheng, MD at Healing Through Connection

We could not have planned a more uplifting conclusion to our workshop if we tried.

canstockphoto4619305Eileen and Liz, my rock star colleagues from New Mexico and I, presented a seminar on institutional strategies for physician well-being at the International Conference on Physician Health last month.  The two of them have done this for a while.  They generously invited me to participate this time, as we had collaborated on a Grand Rounds series on physician wellness last year.  This was day two of the conference and we were already jubilant from communing with Our People, the Tribe of Healers trying to heal our profession.

We had the data.  Investing in physician well-being improves patient care, decreases physician errors, and increases patient satisfaction.  We knew it would be a friendly audience.  Still, we struggled to frame a role play exercise that would reliably help our colleagues make the case to their leaders that funding programs in physician health would ‘pay off.’  We came up with cases.  We had a back-up plan in case nobody volunteered.  But how could we really engage the crowd?  Most people loathe role play, especially before a group of strangers.

I had ideas to break the ice.  We could preface the exercise with communication techniques from two of my favorite TED talks.  The first was by Nancy Duarte: The Secret Structure of Great Talks.  A core tenet of any great presentation, she says, is to make the audience the hero.  We must engage our leaders with a call to adventure, inviting them to embark on a journey of discovery and triumph, leaving them with a sense of empowerment, ready to heed the call to action.  As a primary care physician, it struck me that this approach resembles counseling patients on health behavior change using motivational interviewing.  Rather than coming at our leaders with complaints and demands, we can instead come alongside them with observations and counsel.  This method would tap our deep capacities for empathy and connection, which were core values endorsed throughout the conference already.

The second practice, based on the talk commonly referred to as “Power Posing” by Amy Cuddy, would help people feel more confident while presenting to leadership.  Cuddy’s research shows that taking more expansive, upright postures helps people feel more powerful, and improves performance in high pressure situations, such as job interviews.  I stood like Wonder Woman in front of my hotel mirror for ten minutes before my presentation at the University of New Mexico last year, and I am convinced it helped me stay grounded and self-assured throughout my talk.  We could have the whole audience power pose before the role play!

When Eileen finished presenting the wealth of evidence for promoting physician well-being, it was my turn to inspire workshop attendees.  I wanted to light the fires of excitement, spark their imaginations, and help them bear the flames of commitment home to engage their leaders.  I mustered my own passion for clear, strong, confident communication.  We were here to empower one another, and I was going to lead by example.

chengpost2The audience responded with enthusiasm and joy.  We did one short role play, and then people just started openly sharing.  Some asked for practical advice, like how do we actually bring it up in a meeting?  Others told us what had already worked for them, such as aligning physician well-being with existing strategic plans around improving patient safety and decreasing physician turnover.  The overwhelming atmosphere in the room radiated generosity, collaboration, and shared mission.  It felt warm and hopeful.

As time ran out, Ted stood up and asked to make one last comment.  “Don’t give up,” he said.  He had been doing this work for twelve years, since before the phrase ‘physician well-being’ existed.  He had witnessed the evolution of technology and its deleterious impact on our work and our relationships.  This gave him the perspective we all needed.  He testified to the turning of the tide, the rising swell of attention and dedication to buoy physicians up from the undertow of burnout.  He, the veteran physician advocate, told us three that our workshop made his registration fee for the whole conference worthwhile.  He could not have offered a higher compliment.  Liz, Eileen and I stepped out that afternoon each feeling a little taller, a little more like Wonder Woman.

Ironically, prior to the conference, I had given up on my leaders.  But my own presentation taught me a new lesson in humility and partnership.  I have since re-engaged, and I feel hopeful again.chengpost1

Don’t give up.

Stay on the Path.

We can make a difference.

We will change the world.

Congratulations Dr. Cheng!

Here’s a Healing Through Connection sampler:

Who Are You and Why Have You Come?

AtoZChallenge: Every Day a Revolution

So You Want to Lose Weight: The Four A’s of Goal Setting

The Green Study’s “Positively Happy Nice Story” Contest: Honorable Mention

canstockphoto14284461An Honorable Mention goes to Bill over at pinklightsabre. His essay “The Expectations of Joy” reminds us to recognize joy in the moment it happens, because it can so often be fleeting.

He was sent a Green Study Coffee Mug, a goofy Minnesota postcard and I donated $25 to the American Red Cross on his behalf.

 The Expectations of Joy

By Bill at pinklightsabre

Joy is so rare and unexpected, on the opposite side of dread, which by definition seems to last longer. It’s why it’s so hard to find on Christmas morning or your wedding day because you expect it, but joy comes on its own terms. It’s like something you spot outside your window but by the time you go for your camera, it’s gone. And it doesn’t photograph well, you have to be there.

There was my uncle Frank who lived alone, never married, worked the post office, dressed in camo vests and khakis, bright orange hunter’s caps. I saw him maybe once a year growing up and the last time, a couple years ago when he was too old to drive, when Dawn and I had to give him a ride home, a good hour and a half through the folds of Scranton and Wilkes-Barre, eastern Pennsylvania.

It was Eastertime and there was a lot of food and drinking, and we decided around 9 it was time to go. My dad and his brother warned me not to listen to Frank give advice about the route. The route was pretty clear, but Frank would try to tell us otherwise.

canstockphoto15356468We got in the car and put Frank in the back, who was maybe early 80s then. Dawn drove, and we started small talk with Frank. It was about the towns and roads and interstate, the past construction projects, what had changed. Frank started deviating from the route as expected, and I went to hush him, to tamp him down, but Dawn agreed to follow his direction. It occurred to us in the front seat that this was about all Frank had left, his memory of how to get home, and could we allow him some bit of control over that.

The family was worried about Frank but not in an actionable sense. They said his plumbing had gone out so he was using a coffee can to pee in and going to the grocery store to do the rest. There was a sinkhole in his front yard they had taped off (all the houses were built on or near mining excavations, it seemed).

When we neared his house it was pushing 10:30 but Frank offered we could stop for a pizza, he’d buy, they were open another half an hour still. But we’d eaten all day and really just wanted to get home, and declined. We waited for Frank to make his way into the house and turn on some lights and off we went back to the interstate, the way we intended to go, that saved us about 15 minutes.

It had gotten so that I saw Frank about once every five years now. He was the same, a bit knobby with big, marbly eyes and whiskers, balding, but a good smile, still the same. I remembered him as a kid around Christmas, he would show up with presents he’d wrapped himself, a lot of Scotch tape, and it seemed strange receiving gifts from him, we were so disjointed, we weren’t really close.

The gifts were always practical things he’d gotten at Sears or Penney’s (tube socks, underwear, sometimes a belt), and I’d catch Frank flushing up and looking away, smiling, when I opened them. I think it was a bit of joy he felt then, though small. I thought about it and wished we had stopped for pizza maybe, but joy is like that too, it can’t be manufactured or revised, it comes and goes.

canstockphoto6034965I was on the beach at the lake near our house with my dog throwing the ball, watching her waggle her tail, stretch, how the digits in her paws extend in the pebbles, how dogs seem to smile. There was the time when I was working my boss asked in a mid-year review what brought me joy in my job (it was a popular word at the time), and the silence became lifelike between us, I filled it with half-truths, and what followed felt like dread but it’s true, once you go down that far it’s like touching the bottom of a pool, and maybe then you can work your way up.

We were in a conference room no bigger than a telephone booth, with just a phone, a clock, a table and two chairs, and it had the feel of whatever vagueness or tension preceded us the meeting before. And we left our own for the next occupants.

My joy comes from writing, payback for all the wonder I see in the world, a way of honoring it. Like joy, it feels best when you expect less, to not put too much on it. And maybe that’s why it feels so good, once it’s revealed, joy turns its back to visit someone else.

Congratulations Bill!

Enjoy a little pinklightsabre sampler:

That Last Christmas in Cork

Closure, cynosure

How the Rock Bands Formed the Alps