Dear Valentine,

I don’t want to start writing again. Not yet. Too many big changes. I need to regain my footing. I’m picky that way. I need things to be just so. I need a story to tell. At the same time, I miss it. I need to make an appointment with the sandman to get something done about these heavy-hooded eyes of mine. But I’m afraid it’s more than even he can handle (sigh).

Prompts are:

  • start writing again
  • change the words
  • persnickety
  • heavy-hooded eyes
  • more than he can handle
  • at the same time
Happy Valentine’s Day! Super Bowl! Olympics!

Ice Cream Truck

Not a prompt response. Just a happy post about the Ice Cream Truck coming ’round my neighborhood this summer.

Last night, for the first time in all the years I’ve lived in my neighborhood, an Ice Cream Truck drove through our condo and apartment lined streets. Every summer I hear the telltale chirpy tune coming from the surrounding single-family neighborhoods, so it was a pleasant surprise to hear it in our corner of the city. In fact, it brought more people out onto their decks and balconies than the Seahawks winning the Superbowl or the fantastic lightning storm a few years ago.

The sound of the Ice Cream Truck may make some cringe, but it always makes me smile, remembering a couple of chilhood summer vacations.

When I was around 7/8/9 years old, my parents and friends of theirs went in on a 2-week southern CA beach rental (when I recall the time, I’ve thought it a weird thing to do since we lived just a few miles up the coast and relatively close to the beaches. Wish my folks were still around to ask why, but I digress).

Our time was primarily spent on the beach, but once a week, an Ice Cream Truck would come around, and no matter what our parents said we ought to be doing, we would vehemently protest. We had to wait for the Ice Cream Truck. Inside. Quietly, expectantly. And then, from a great distance (OK, probably only 3 or so blocks away), we would hear the music box broadcast of “A Bicycle Built for Two”.

We ran out to the street and jumped and shouted as if we were frantically waving down a fire truck to put out a fire. The driver was brilliant. Each time, he’d make us freak out that maybe he didn’t see us. “Oh! Sorry,” he’d joke, “I almost didn’t see you guys!”

My favorite ice cream choice, to this day, is the Drumstick, simply because it reminds me of that Ice Cream Truck. And, years later, a college roommate drove an Ice Cream Truck during the summer, always keeping at least one Drumstick on hand in case I came around on her route.

Just sayin’, if you don’t know what is an Ice Cream Drumstick, then you don’t know what you’ve been missing. 🙂

PNW Coronavirus Chronicle #7: Do Whatcha Wanna

It’s a long list of back-logged prompts this time, both mine and UnOLWG’s:
I don’t want to; a town with no future; elegant or crude; a white gown; it’s “coo-pon”; are my seams straight?; community pool; cocktails; groovy; kick up your heels; a barroom in New Orleans; every week

Well, I’m fully vaccinated. It is not a fail-safe, I know, but I can’t stop feelin’ groovy, like strutting in a Mardi Gras parade behind a 2nd Line band blasting out “Do Whatcha Wanna”.

Parades aren’t allowed yet, so I instead celebrated with my first trip to the hair salon in 19 months. Kissed those long locks buh-bye and sent them on their way to being a wig for someone in need. The next treat was a meal inside a restaurant. Then, it will be a weekend road trip to see a dear friend and her new home. Every week, it is going to be something I haven’t done in the past 14 months.

I live on the other side of town from where the mass-vaccination site is set up, and I hadn’t been through downtown since the initial shelter-in-place order. At that time, it was every bit like driving through a ghost town. All that was missing was grass growing out of the cracks in sidewalks and trash drifting in the breeze. The shockingly eerie scene ignited the news media’s wild imagination, declaring the pandemic a harbinger of The End of City Life.

But driving through the city this time, regardless the continued restrictions, the downtown looked every bit back to normal. Crowds were out and about, traffic jams stifled every arterial, and lots of large “We’re Open!” signs plastered on storefronts. Though the past year unarguably demonstrates that an alternate universe is doable, people are nevertheless clamoring to get things back the way they were.

Take our condo complex’s pool. Last year we were not allowed to use it. I think it was overkill, but the county health department declared all community pools, public or private, closed. Whatever. Our residents didn’t care. They brought their beers and pitchers of Long Island Ice Tea to the patio to enjoy some appropriately distanced company in the summer’s sun. Hey, all it said was that the pool was closed. It didn’t say anything about sitting on the patio. An elegant solution to an absurd situation, if you ask me.

While the pandemic continues to lord over us, I expect we’ll continue to evaluate the pros and cons of conducting our lives “in-person” vs. “distanced”. At work, we occasionally discuss (in-person more and more these days) what “hybrid” presentations would look like for our programs. It’s funny to have to classify events, or give them terms. Imagine having to categorize a common event as, say, a wedding, as “in-person” or “hybrid” or “virtual”. It makes the assumption that events are always “in-person” feel strangely old-fashioned, like silk stockings with back seams.

Anyway, I don’t want to keep waxing philosophic. Suffice it to say that I will keep it smart and respect that the COVID-19 don’t care what any of us wants. I will, however, continue to climb out of the shell of 2020 to do whatever things we can get away with doing. Don’t need no coupons to incentivize me!

A Day Like Most Others

If it weren’t for the fact it was December 25th, the morning would be like most others this year: Home. Distanced. Alone. But, because it is not just another morning in 2020 but Christmas morning, I selected the “fireplace app” to play on the TV instead of the morning news program, and holiday music on the Mp3. I sat quietly with just the lights of my tree illuminating the room, drinking coffee laced with eggnog. When the time came, I packed up gifts and my annual offering of holiday cookies, then dressed in my Christmas sweater, poinsettia earrings, Santa Hat, and headed out to my sister’s.

As I neared her home, a sensation of feeling strangely normal came over me. It was a happy feeling, but just as a smile spread across my face, my throat tightened, and before I could take a deep breath, the tears exploded. Overwhelmed, and astonished by the rush of emotion, I pulled over to calm down.

I am proud how I’ve faced the challenge of the past year. But, as I tried to regain my composure, absently watching the traffic go by, I realized had not taken a single moment to acknowledge the anger and grief at being a hostage of this damned pandemic. Isolation and wariness of the physical proximity of others made doing something precedent, like going to my sister’s for Christmas, seem as though I was finally getting to embrace a long lost sweetheart.

I wiped my eyes and got back on the road. Once arrived at my sister’s, the absurd reality of this year came back into view and the memories of years past retreated into the outer edges of my mind.

Everyone was gathered in the front yard, well distanced from each other and masked. No one was allowed in the house, except its inhabitants. Each of us was given instruction how to access the bathroom, if needed, which was to walk around the side of the house to the back and use the powder room in the den downstairs (and to remember to leave the window in there open for ventilation). We left our gifts for each other on a folding table my brother-in-law centered in the middle of the yard. On another table in the driveway was a crockpot of piping hot chili (a significant downgrade from their usual huge and varied spread). We took turns opening our gifts while the rest of us ate our chili, remarking how glad we were for hot bowl of food against the near freezing temps.

As odd and awkward as the gathering was, it nevertheless had a festive vibe. People made jokes, shared stories and generally got caught up, just as we would typically do. Someone streamed a basketball game on their tablet, figuring out how to prop it up on the roof of their car in order for others to see. Everyone’s dogs romped and barked, giddy to be at their kind of party (outside, room to run without commandments to “sit!” or “lie down!” or the admonishment, “no! bad dog!”) A couple of the guys kicked a soccer ball back and forth in the street. Neighbors out for a walk stopped to say hello.

The cold eventually got to be too much. As a result, we agreed it was time to part, with a promise for a Zoom to be set up the following day to wish a Merry Christmas to the others not able to attend. I looked at my watch. I’d been there just under an hour. Shortest Christmas gathering, ever.

Back home, I did my best to keep the holiday spirit going. A nice nap on the couch while listening to holiday tunes, a little bit of reading, a couple of episodes of a favorite TV show while I ate dinner. Christmas night, in the hour or so just before bed, always felt something of a cross between an anticlimactic conclusion to a big production and a melancholy end to time well spent. This Christmas night was neither. It was just the end of another day, like the end to all the other days this year.

PNW Coronavirus Chronicle #6: Meditative Rose

Salvador Dali “Meditative Rose”

Sure, this year has been miserable. I am prone to the philosophical in such circumstances, and this year, I find a few things to ponder, others to celebrate and a couple to embrace.

One: “May you live in interesting times,” will no longer be a clever thing people say if we become accustomed to unprecidence and absurdity from here on out. What will define surreality, or an alternate universe if we do? Fun to speculate in fantasy fiction, but not so much to actually have to live.

Two: Being forced to stay away from others in turn forced me to get close to myself. I am no longer put off by taking a look inward. But, I do wonder at the long-term effect of actively avoiding others, considering that we are moving ever closer to the 1-year mark with only the smallest of hope of relief in the near future. So, I’m establishing a Zoom Gather Night for friends and family. It feels more engaging than just a phone call, and certainly more immediate and connective than email or texts. And, I hope to broaden that circle with new acquaintances. How? Good question!

Three: Masks. At first, I hated the thing. It was the closest I ever want to know what it is like to be claustrophobic. Now? The other day I had to laugh when I realized I still had my mask on well after I’d returned home. I look forward to not having to wear one, but I am glad I finally adapted.

Four: I am tired of the phrase, “the new normal.” I have no issue with its helpful intent: Accept that change is sometimes permanent. But, in regards to this year? I hope human history will prove out once again, and that this is more like a shift in direction rather than a new set of standards.

Five: What do I like about this past year? Oh, boy. A lot! That shift in direction I just mentioned has nevertheless brought about several things I find useful and positive. One is the irrefutable proof that working from home is productive. Hopefully my employer will keep it an option. The other is creativity. Bottom line, it’s my favorite thing about this year. Being forced to think creatively coupled with the challenge of problem solving on the fly has done more for my sense of well being than anything I’ve ever tried to chase away the blues. Well, except maybe music, singing and dancing. That works pretty good, too. 🙂

The (2? 3?) UnOLWG prompts this week are: couldn’t hardly breathe; Oh Boy; I got tired.

Pounds, Pence and Pesos

In response to my writing prompt

I started with a tarnished quarter, and then remembered a handful of British coins I found among my father’s things after he died. But, I’ll start with a 1000 Chilean Pesos bill.

We were in the process of packing to move to another office space when I found the bill tucked into the cover of a book. I asked my manager about it, but she had the book for so many years, she couldn’t remember where it even came from. We decided most of the books on the shelf could go to the local Friends of the Library book sale, but we should keep the odd find. It is now prominently pinned to the partition wall in our new office. 1997 is the year on it. The year I bought my condo. Also the year I had my first “real” full-time career oriented job. Six years on from my divorce, it had taken all that time to finally land on my feet. What I didn’t know was 1997 would not be the beginning of something wonderful, but the start of the next tumultuous phase of life.

1971 two-pence coin: That year I was in grade school in southern California and every bit youngest child of upper-middle class suburbanites. And a beach bum, if you can call a little girl that. A friend lived next to an access stairway down a steep cliff to a beach only locals knew about. I remember time spent on those beaches as the happiest of my childhood.

1984 sterling pound coin: College. I lived in an apartment with a roommate I barely knew at the time, but who would become one of my closest, life-long friends. By that year, I had figured college out, what I wanted from it, and had come to know myself well enough to lay out some personal boundaries in regards to family, friends and the boys who came sniffing around. I was not reckless, but I had no fear. I wasn’t a know-it-all, but I was confident, as only a person who has not yet been truly kicked about by life can be.

1990 five-pence coin: Yeah, well. The year I realized it was falling apart, and from which I was forced to rise from the proverbial ashes.

Which brings me to the tarnished quarter: 2000. Pushing 40 by then, I started that year in a strange juxtaposition of being very ill with the flu, but going in anyway for my first day at a new, exciting job. I was determined to keep moving forward, though exactly in which direction, I was not sure.

Looking back makes me think of that thing people ask: If you could go back in time, what would you tell your younger self? I used to shrug and say that I wouldn’t change a thing. But, now? Maybe it is because of the effect of this year’s constant state of crisis and spending so much time at home by myself that I can finally answer the question. (Smiling secretly to myself) I know exactly what I would say.

PNW Coronavirus Chronicle #5: Ten Days in September

It is said that it only takes ten days to two weeks to form a new habit or adapt to changed or different circumstances. I’ve been living a sound-proofed existence as a result of being completely shut-in for the past ten days due to hazardous wildfire smoke. The smoke now finally cleared, I reopened my windows, and it is as if I let the entire outside world come rushing in. I’d grown accustomed to my muted environment without realizing it. So much so, that I am astonished how novel and how loud the sound of bird song, falling rain, rustling leaves and cars driving by all seem. It’s as if I’ve entered a strange, noisy alien world. Hearing a person walk down the hill to the park across the street startled me, giving me a moment’s panic that someone was walking in my home.

I’ve not added a new chapter to my pandemic chronicle in recent months because I’ve been tongue-tied, or whatever the writerly term is. Not blocked. Just too agitated to express anything but frustration and anger. It’s why I don’t consider journaling therapeutic. Instead of a means of processing thoughts and feelings into some sort of positive result, I usually end up more anxious than when I began. So, I don’t write when I’m stressed. Well, that’s not entirely true. I don’t post what I write. There were 40 revisions to this post stewing in the Draft file since the first week in June.

I think what’s recently unbound me are two things: One, summer is my busy time at work but now that I’m in the home stretch with the end in sight and most of the work done, I’m less stressed and able to turn my attention elsewhere. Second, I have finally accepted the circumstances of the pandemic as the way things are and will be for a long while yet. I refuse to use the term “new normal,” because like all catchphrases, it is overused. Plus, I do believe there will be a time that we will return to “normal.” Yes, some things will not be as they once were as a result of this experience, but ultimately? We are social animals locked into generations of conditioning. While it may take just a couple of weeks to form a new habit, it would take eons to reprogram thousands of years of human nature.

End of a good read ennui

My mostly loose take (and, believe it or not, a true tale) on the past 2 weeks of Un-OLWG prompts

I finished a good summer read recently, and now have that peculiar ennui that comes from wishing a wonderful group of characters didn’t have to take their story and go. The author of this particular book deftly revealed a pretty serious subject with such empathy and generosity, that I felt warm and comforted, regardless all the trials, tribulations and gritty circumstances. I even hated that the woman who created fake twenty dollar bills and who stole the last bit of cash the protagonist had in the world had to leave the story.

Coming to the end of a good book is like being out on a lovely drive through the countryside on a beautiful Sunday afternoon, only to come to a full stop in some sort of cul de sac. Do you re-read the book right away, or do you go looking for another by the same author? Maybe choose a similar story by someone else? Or, maybe go looking for a TV or movie adaption?

I can never start another book for at least a couple of weeks after I’ve finished one that swept me away. I have to first stop wondering what the next chapters of the story might be, and then let the characters I came to love, go. In the meantime, like some sad-sack jilted lover, I wish the story never had to end.

(long sigh)

Prompts are: counterfeit twenty dollar bills; soft and low; written in books; let me go; a cul de sac; the way things sometimes are.

Folgerphobia. Or…Turbidus incertumque sine capulus

In response to Un-OLWG #164

Oh, I think I get it: It’s like a game of Jeopardy, yes? “What word did Sir Kerr use from that list of ‘23 Emotions People Feel, But Can’t Explain’ to tell the story?”

(BTW…Never mind the fact it’s right there in your post title. Yet another chapter and verse lesson from the book of “Never Before Morning Coffee.” So, just play along, OK?)

How about, “What is a word similar to ‘vellichor’ for a T&A dive bar?”  After all, the setting is a frequent “character” in your narratives, usually encased in some sort of melancholia. Definitely some sort of meanness or gritty-ness. Then, I thought perhaps the reverse of ‘énouement’ would be another close fit. Also, ‘opia’. ‘Chrysalism’ could be a very good fit for your bar settings.

After pondering over all that, I wondered if the Jeopardy question might be, “What is the backstory to, ‘C U Then’?” As in, your story is the backstory to mine? Thinking at the time you had linked to my last post, specifically, and not to my blog, in general, but more curiously — again, pre-coffee as the only excuse — not concerning myself with the fact that none of your characters’ names are the same as the ones in my story.

Whatever. It was fun to consider: Maybe ‘lachesism’? I thought some more on it. I can see how Chris could be struck with ‘exulansis’. I know I am, having started the story in the first place. Readers will certainly succumb to ‘andronitis’, or worse, ‘liberosis’ if the story can’t figure out the characters, or more importantly, a plot.

Anyway, while Chris probably also suffers from ‘nodus tollens’ and ‘altschmerz’, you will just have to live with your ‘ellipsism’ regarding “C U Then.”

And, just what is this all about, you ask? I shared a list of obscure words with TNKerr a couple of weeks ago, challenging him to use one in his weekly list of 3 prompts. He used ‘sonder’ to inspire his preamble story this week. Have a go yourself! See what inspires: .
If none of those suits, check out the Dictionary of Obscure Sorrows, from which the list probably was gleaned. My favorite, for our “Zoomed” times, is this one:

v. intr. feeling the tranquil pleasure of being near a gathering but not quite in it…feeling blissfully invisible yet still fully included, safe in the knowledge that everyone is together and everyone is okay, with all the thrill of being there without the burden of having to be. From Middle English “midden” a refuse heap that sits near a dwelling.

PNW Coronavirus Chronicle #4: A Silver Lining Between Two Angry Clouds

Since March 10th, the myriad of emotions and states of mind I’ve experienced exceed anything I’ve been through in a year. Maybe more. At first, I adapted fairly well to the stay at home order. But now, I’m stir crazy. I’m bored. I miss… so much. Variety. I miss variety in my days. While it’s hard to believe it’s been almost two months, I realize, because one day is exactly like the next, that that kind of monotony and solitude have the unreal ability of making time stand still.

I live near Seattle, and I work in the county to the north where the first COVID19 case in the U.S. was confirmed. It was a strange feeling to know I was living in the country’s first hotspot. At the time, everything was business as usual, which made it seem all the more strange, given the stories from China, Italy, South Korea and Spain. Then came our turn to shut down.

A really weird circumstance, but, honestly? It is not that dreadful. At the time, we thought it would only be a couple of weeks, three at most. To have two weeks to play at being the sought-after professional who makes their own rules and works from a home office? How fun! So, sure. Whatever. Let’s hunker down. Lets shop for groceries as if the snow storm of the decade is forecast. Make all our favorite meals and desserts. Step outside and take a deep breath and marvel at the empty streets. Anyone can make the best of things for a couple of weeks, especially if they aren’t actually homebound by 3-foot drifts of snow. Or, confronted with homeschooling. Or cooped up with a partner, spouse and restless children. Or laid off or furloughed. It’s the best of all worlds.

Then the mandates are extended and two weeks turns into a month, and then another month, and now, the end of May. Parks are closed. Events are cancelled. Shopping centers are shuttered. Businesses permanently close and jobs are lost so suddenly, it is as if all businesses were hit by a massive nuclear bomb. Masks go from being declared of no use to mandatory. Tempers rise. The conflict between life versus livelihood takes on a mythical, almost epic gravitas. Healthcare workers break corporate rules and speak out about the horror show they are living. The need is yesterday, but our bureaucracies are not built for crisis management. By the time the relief fund or the medical supplies are finally in someone’s hands, it is too little, and way too late.

Even a walk in your neighborhood is a stresser. Mine in the park across the street has become an irritating cross between a game of wack-a-mo and an obstacle course, as I weave and bob around people and dogs and blissfully unconscious children running this way and that. I dread a trip to the store and have taken up curbside pick up and home delivery.

So, the frightened and defiant stage protests. Leaders devolve into pissing matches. Politicians duke it out with scientists. Normally, this would be considered more of the same infuriating postering, but with what is actually at stake, these days it plays out as a clear and present danger. The stress of it all begins to dull and crack the gloss of your initial child’s play fantasy. It’s no longer a fun snow day.

All this came into play just after one of my family groups was bowled over by their own crisis. A relative, diagnosed in January with an aggressive cancer, was transported in an emergency air lift to an ICU unit the next state over just as all of this hit. For various non-covid, but legitimate reasons, their spouse could not leave home to be with them. Then all family is forced to stay away because of travel shutdown and fear of bringing the virus with them and infecting the others. The pressure and panic of it all proved too much. A very real, truly frightening meltdown took place. The whole thing a horrible and gut wrenching drama to have to witness, helplessly, from afar.

I appreciate the stories of people helping people during this universal crisis, pitching in where they can. But, to me, after all the emotions I’ve cycled through these past weeks, seeing people standing in doorways each night to applaud first responders, or leaving messages of encouragement with teddy bears in windows, or putting Christmas lights back up, or flying banners that read “We Got This!” seem naive and trite.

So, I take a deep breath and turn inward. I have to “fake it until I make it” in order to accept the audacity of hope that all will be fine, some day. I have to make myself smile: At that banner with words of encouragement, waving in the warm breeze. At the sign in the window made by a cheerful child’s hand in colorful crayon. At the odd sight in May of a lighted snowman and Santa Claus in the front lawn.

As I write this, I sit on my couch, gazing out the window, grateful that Mother Nature has awakened from her winter’s nap. A bright yellow daffodil, brilliant purple tulip and a sunny afternoon go a long way to lift a spirit.

I take another deep breath.

The phone rings with the call that my family member succumbed to their cancer, peacefully passing Sunday morning. There cannot be any gathering to honor their life, acknowledge their passing, nor bring comfort to the grieving.