These days I spend a lot of time alone. I need the space and I enjoy it. For a seemingly social, friendly, engaged person, I’ve always had hermit tendencies. When Michael was alive, we were often hermits together. We each had our own interests and spent lots of hours, next to each other, but pursuing individual activities. In a way, I guess that made me a good candidate for my unexpectedly early widowhood. In elementary school in Iowa, and I think in Illinois as well, there was a place on our report cards that said: Makes good use of time. I always got a positive check in that box. I think that for the most part, I am making good use of this new time, despite the absence of my big, crazy guy who isn’t sitting in his proper place in our living room. Perhaps too much use of my time, especially brain time.
Without the interaction of other people, my mind has been running amok. I’ve been taking classes, swimming, writing this blog, writing a book and archiving Michael’s writing. I had my DNA analyzed and am in contact with relatives on my dad’s side of our family for the first time. Somehow I’m now actively involved in planning my 50th high school reunion, coming later this fall.
I’ve seen every movie nominated for best picture this year. I watched my tennis hero, Roger Federer win the Australian Open, live, even though he was playing in the middle of the night. I’ve managed to watch almost every Olympic event, although I’ll admit, I read whenever curling is televised.
And speaking of reading, I’m doing lots of it. Online reading, books, and for the first time in a long while, magazines. I’m still checking out current cancer research. After conquering the medical websites and learning that I could understand what I thought was beyond my skills, I’ve gotten used to paying attention to where research is going. I’m trying to do art, crossword puzzles and to discover something beautiful every day. I’m moving along at a pretty fast clip, always aware that counting on unlimited time is a concept I put behind me when Michael received his miserable prognosis. Living in the now. Despite the somewhat frenetic pace, some of my activities have built-in periods of stillness and quiet. Listening to music relaxes me and I’ve learned to do ten minute meditations to make sure my head doesn’t explode.
My biggest personal assignment has been rereading all the journals I’ve written since I was a young girl. Reliving your life in undeniable black and white is a challenge. I’ve been embarrassed, surprised, ashamed, proud, emotionally moved and everything in between. Sometimes I can only read them in small doses as I try to digest how I got to where I am. I remember a lot, but understanding many relationships I had and how they changed or disappeared over time has been stunning. Although recognizing that I have the same key problems as I did 45 years ago is disheartening, I know that my skills at dealing with them have improved. I wrote only whatever I felt was necessary back then, so there are gaps in time. What was once one way, somehow became another way. I’m missing pieces of documentation which might help explain things better. I know that having saved this stuff is a good thing. But sometimes I feel weary doing so much contemplating of my insides.
But here’s what this is really about. I am a political person and have been for as long as I can remember. I don’t exist in a void. What happens in the culture around me and the broader one of the world affects me. I don’t occupy a small mental space. No matter what the circumstances of my little daily life, I’ve always thought about the bigger picture. Where do I fit? What can I do? When the issues felt too big, I made up my mind to stretch out my arms and spin around-whatever I could touch I would try to improve. I tried to break the big picture into manageable pieces, so I could feel like I was making some kind of contribution, that I could be a positive force to combat some of the negatives in our society. Negatives too numerous to squish into some little blog post. Family illness, personal crisis and even death have never stopped me from paying attention to what’s going on out there. I’ve never understood how some people manage to stay in their bubbles, detached from anything that doesn’t immediately affect their daily lives. I feel like everything affects mine. One of Michael’s favorite lines about me was that he’d learned that as long as there was someone somewhere who was oppressed, abused or troubled, that I would be too. So I have an overly developed sense of empathy. I guess that made me a drag sometimes. Oh well.
I’m reading what I wrote over 40 years ago. “The totalitarian forces of this society have created fear and madness in the individual and in the mass. Our red, white and blue bicentennial year, ostensibly a celebration of 200 years of freedom is a black comedy extravaganza. Those people up there, at the top with their power and the money, celebrate in their joy of self-delusion.” Thud.
I don’t feel any differently today than I did back then. In fact, I feel worse. The toxicity of our social and political climate is overwhelming. Each day is crazier than the previous one. For a long time I’ve wondered if it would’ve been easier to have Michael die if Trump hadn’t been elected. I think so and thinking that is just mind boggling. I’ve never felt like any president has been my idea of perfect, but obviously everything is relative. The lunacy of this administration and the flood of over the top stupidity and narcissism feels like sitting under an elephant. It’s hard to breathe. The most recent high school massacre and the response from the NRA, the Trump administration and the absurdists on the right have booted me over the edge. The idea spread by bots or whoever the hell they are, that the kids who’ve been galvanized into action about automatic weapons are paid actors enrages me. The systematic gamesmanship in the political arena is abhorrent. The crowd of actors is up at the top, the Romneys and Rubios and all the other hypocrites whose principles morph at the drop of a hat. Not that I ever thought they had real principles. These political hacks are nothing but expedient, always. They are for sale, twenty four hours a day to the highest bidder. Am I jaded? Yeah. That doesn’t mean I’ve given up the fight. It just means that I’m not a fool.
I worry for these kids. What will be left for them? Can they sustain the energy to keep up the fight? Ending Vietnam took years. Civil rights remain a problem. Our environmental strides are being cast aside. I can’t even begin to talk about women’s rights, the unending siege. Watching people like Wayne LaPierre be applauded for their primitive world views makes me despair. The cultural divisions are so deep. I want to stand with these kids. I want to keep pushing back. But I’ll admit, my anger is getting worse and so is my frustration. I saw Black Panther today. A unique film with unusual vision. Many positive social and political messages. The film’s central themes felt optimistic.
There are people out there who are hopeful. I wish they’d drop by and hang out with me. Before my rage and bitterness eat me alive. That’s what this is really about. If Michael was alive, he’d feel the same way and know that yeah, as long as there is this much wrong, I’m going to be one angry, hot mess.