Lately the days seem to be melting into each other. A combination of the impossibly relentless news cycle, flipping from climate change, to Afghanistan, to voter suppression, coupled with the unending Covid madness, mask wars, rising infections and people ingesting horse de-wormers rather than getting vaccinated, is enough to blur time, at least for me. That big picture is never out of my thoughts, nor do I want it to be. Bearing witness to what’s happening is as natural to me as breathing. Even though I’m not liking much of what I’m seeing, at my age, a new habit of turning away is unlikely. At the same time, I’m aware of the desultory slippage of time that comes from being weighted down by all the worries. I know worrying is unproductive. So how do you establish the balance between responsible, attentive citizenship and mental health management? I’m working on it. I don’t like this weird blending of days into one another. So I decided to track one day, to prove to myself that there is still some semblance of normalcy. One caveat – for the past several days, I’ve been in the midst of having both my house and garage roofs done, for the second time in four years. Hail damage was discovered after a leak appeared in my garage – it’s taken months to get the contractors out to my house as there are so many people in my community who experienced the same problem. When the roofers arrived, subjecting me to constant banging, the hurling of materials into my garden, and ultimately disconnecting my satellite dish for five days, I’ll admit I felt irritable. But here goes. The first photo of my day was the one above, when I saw the wispy clouds floating past my bathroom window.
After getting myself organized, I went out to run some errands. I look up frequently because I’m obsessed with cloud formations. I’ve been that way all my life. The thought that I’m taking the same photos every day crosses my mind occasionally, but truly, I’m always awed by the beauty of the ever-changing wide skies on display in the Midwest. Sometimes I think about the wind currents moving the clouds along and other times I marvel at the fact that the earth is rotating slowly beneath my feet. Maybe the clouds I’m seeing will hang together as they are and wind up catching someone else’s attention miles away from me. The idle thoughts that drift through your mind like the clouds overhead.
Parked in front of my destination pharmacy was the only vehicle I’ve ever coveted. I’ve never really cared much about cars. My attitude has always been utilitarian – I just wanted a safe, reliable method of transportation. But some years ago when I first saw this lemon yellow Thunderbird convertible, I was consumed by desire. Such a simple, sleek design. I imagined myself tooling around town with the top down, my hair blowing around. This car makes me think that if you gently pulled the steering wheel toward you, you’d slowly ascend into those cloud clusters high above, suddenly airborne and free as a bird. I’ve seen a powder blue one, along with a red, a black and a gray, but the yellow is the one I’d choose if I wasn’t practical. Next life.
Before moving on I caught a few more cloud shots. I drove around for a couple of minutes to get them, making sure music was blaring during my brief foray into the beautiful park that provides the backdrop for the most relaxing part of my day, lap swim.
Being the person who shows up first for the limited lap swim hours is one of my favorite things. For those moments I get to pretend that the whole pool is mine. Of course there are the young adorable lifeguards with whom I chat daily. Hanging out with them is instructive for all of us. I get to hear about how they look at the world which helps me understand the actual pulse of these kids who are going to inherit the world people in my generation will be leaving behind. And I get to tell them all kinds of stories, in addition to offering unsolicited advice and opinions in the hope of broadening their outlook. I think it’s a win-win situation.
The pool is a meditative place. I usually get the bulk of my laps done before people I know arrive so I’m deeply immersed in my mind as well as the water. Often I’m looking at the birds and butterflies overhead, while watching bees, wasps and damselflies swoop down for a quick drink as they go about their business. Occasionally they need to be scooped back onto the pool deck when they overshoot the ledges and flounder in front of my face. But mostly I’m in my memories of Michael because we were in that space so often, as twentysomethings, as parents and as grandparents. I’m so happy I had the foresight to snap a shot of him just before he submerged himself in a pool a year or so before he died. The sensation of his presence is palpable when I’m in the water, as if at any moment he’ll pop up in front of me with a crooked part in his hair, one eye closed against the sun and his teasing delight at having startled me. This is my favorite part of the day, even the ones that have blended together.
After pool time, weather permitting, I spend time outside. Lately, weather permitting has a broader definition for me. I draw sustenance from the natural world. My yard and garden, the results of four decades of laboring in the dirt, are designed to attract pollinators. I love birds, so interspersed throughout my space, which I’m willing to admit is too large for one person to maintain, are multiple seed and suet feeders along with a nectar feeder for the hummingbirds. I want to be out there. The long slogs of triple digit temperatures and wilting humidity have made for an uncomfortable summer. I go out to work only to find myself driven back inside, soaked with sweat and filthy. My tolerance for these conditions has definitely receded. Back in the old days, I could push myself for hours, no matter how gross I felt. Not now. I’m good for maybe two hours. On this day, I chose to split time between looking for flying visitors, grumbling about the roof debris and pulling some weeds. Watering my garden has been almost a daily event as we alternate between totally dry stretches and the occasional rain torrent. First, the roof collateral damage and time in the front yard.
I always like the bad news first. I wandered around my yard, dodging debris which was being randomly tossed from above with no warning. I took photos to document the mess. I tried hard to remember that this would all end, that stuff was unimportant in the long run, and that smashed perennials will very likely come back strong next year. I spent time hunting for stray roofing nails as well as regular ones, hoping to protect my car tires and my feet. Stepping on a roofing nail is no fun. Somehow they sneakily emerge, years after the roofing job is over. Truly, I did worry about the crew working in miserable conditions. A miserable, difficult job. I yanked a few weeds and then decided to look around for what is always pleasant, despite the heat.
Moments like these are spectacular. I’m invested in continuing to create and sustain a welcoming environment that will support these delicate creatures who are threatened by climate change and habitat loss. I feel great when they show up individually so I’m joyous when they arrive together or en masse.
The next part of the day took me to the backyard. Occasionally I’ll sit for a bit in a chair on my little deck. I do best when I pop headphones in my ears for several hours, listening to an eclectic collection of artists and genres on Pandora. The familiar tunes lead me on what is, for the most part, a kaleidoscopic tour of my past, from childhood to recent years. I’m happy to be exposed to music that’s new to me as well. One of my goals is to stay culturally current and fresh. Being stuck at some point long ago is not, in my opinion, conducive to continued personal growth. I don’t want to be stale. While I sit, I play scrabble games, as many as I can get. Word games keep my brain nimble. After awhile, I’m back to checking out my garden and its visitors.
I think being in this space must be comparable to the benefits of what is referred to as forest bathing. Although I note urban sounds in the background, I’m mostly away from those distractions. I’m still thinking, but my attention is directed to thoughts of what I can do to improve this haven. I’m also trying to identify insects I can’t name, learning to distinguish the slight differences between male and female butterflies and comparing this year’s visitors to last year’s. My version of a job with a purpose. Small scale backyard science.
By late afternoon, I’m in my house. I catch up with the day’s news. I read a lot, do my homework based on the day’s thoughts and discoveries, and I write. A lot. I feel sorry for my kids, thinking of all the journals which await them when I’m gone. Unless I have a dinner arrangement, I keep things simple. I scrounge around for whatever food is around. I’m kind of cooked out after years of meal preparation, although to be fair, Michael carried a lot of that responsibility from the middle of our life until his end. Unless I have family with me, which stimulates some deep-seated maternal gastronomic response, I can be satisfied with a bowl of cereal.
I’ve attended a number of online classes and seminars, signing up for a new one just recently. Most evenings, I’m just home. I chat with family and friends, binge watch television shows and continue to tackle assignments I’ve given myself, sorting through the accumulations of over forty years of living in the same house. I’ll knit a bit, a great hobby that makes you feel like you’re doing something while you’re doing almost nothing. An art project here and there and the next thing I know, I’ve found a full day. When I retreat to my bedroom, I still call out to my endless partner, and ultimately, read until I can’t any more. Then sleep comes. For the moment, this is my day which I’ve separated from the fog of all the pandemic ones which feel so the same. Eventually, I hope for more variety. Right now, I just feel satisfied that I can recognize the components that separated yesterday from today.