So here I am in my usual daily mode, mostly by myself, headphones in, listening to music which generally helps me keep the lid on my busy brain. And occasionally, on my unpredictable emotions. For days I’ve been trying to draw some threads together for a blog I just decided to set aside, about two minutes ago. I think that one will be provocative. Its title is “Lust,” which in and of itself, is likely to pique some interest. Despite that, I’m trying to address more complicated issues than the word implies. Unfortunately, I’m utterly distracted right now, too much to give the topic the attention it deserves. Writer’s block? Kind of. I suppose that professionals can sit down and write their way through these moments. They know how to do their work no matter how diverted they become. I could do that when I was working at my job. But this writing I do, albeit challenging, is supposed to be my pleasure. In recent weeks, I haven’t been feeling it. So I thought I’d just let myself unleash the stream of thoughts I’ve been muddling through, if for no other reason than to keep myself from getting stale. And so, in no particular order, I’m spilling some of the aches in my brain.
About the music. For as long as I can remember, music has been an integral part of my daily life. Although I never played an instrument, I grew up in household where there was always singing. Someone gave me a little transistor radio when I was eleven, which I pressed against my ear at night, listening to Chicago’s WLS radio throughout my adolescence. And then one day, my dad brought a record player home from Polk Brothers where he worked in the credit department. I don’t know where the early albums came from but they were a diverse bunch. I listened to Mahalia Jackson, The Brothers Four, The Vince Guaraldi Trio, Joan Baez and Mantovani. As a teenager I got Beatles records, The Supremes and The Temptations, The Byrds and the Monkees. Most people who love music have special songs that are reminders of good times and bad ones, the songs that elicit all the romantic, wistful feelings along with the toxic ones. I met Michael in the summer of 1971 and moved in with him in April, 1972 at age twenty. In the almost 50 years since then, we spent the first 45 sharing too many songs to name. When he died almost 5 years ago, there were a few I wasn’t able to listen to without crumpling in grief. Because I can identify a song at the first note, I could quickly fast forward through my music app to avoid those. But I couldn’t predict that Danny’s Song, released in 1971, a song not in our meaningful catalog, would have a devastating emotional effect on me. Killer lyrics. So the other day I was busy in my kitchen, preparing a farewell feast for our dear friends who were departing for Canada to live near their only son, his wife and their baby granddaughter. Our boys have been incredibly close since they were only two years old, well over thirty years now. And that damn song started. I thought that maybe I could get through it but I was wrong. The hostess sobbing over the kitchen sink. Yep. Music really works for me.
I honestly don’t know if I’ll ever be able to listen to these three CDs Michael made for me before he died.
Then there were these stunners I found last year when I finally got around to clearing out his computer. In December, 2013 when we were surprised by a dreadful relapse from his cancer remission, he started a few playlists under one of his nicknames for me. Maybe he forgot about them during his chemo. What a fabulous find, years later. Michael remains the gift that keeps on giving. I don’t know if I can listen to them but I can read his private messages to me forever. Ah, I digress.
So then there’s my car, a seventeen year old Honda. Maybe that seems pretty old but actually, it only has 129,000 miles on it. My last car, a Camry had been driven 217,000 miles before I finally gave it up. I don’t really care about cars as anything other than a way to get me where I need to go. Years ago my dad told me they were wasting assets and I agreed. But in the past few months, I’ve been going to my mechanic on a pretty regular basis with one problem after another. I know a certain amount of maintenance and expense is normal but some of this crate’s issues have been scary, leaving me powerless in an intersection, unable to shift any gears, for example. Right now I have a mystery problem which is unresolved after throwing more cash at it. And I really trust my mechanic who’s done well for me even though he is mystified by my laissez-faire auto attitude. I really don’t want to buy a car right now. The supply chain issues have created a seller’s market. At my age, and as not a member of the rich widow group, I don’t want to spend a ton of money that’s basically like flushing equity down the drain. So I waver and stew, irritated that something this irrelevant has taken up space in my head. People who were living an average life in Ukraine are fleeing devastation and death, with no clue where they’re going, who they might lose and where they’ll wind up with absolutely nothing but the clothes on their backs. Cars? Really?
And then there’s the dog. After months of wavering, after being petless for 10 months, the longest time I’d been without a dog since I was 18 years old, I got a five month old puppy. I really had mixed emotions about taking on a baby. It’s been over twenty years since I trained a young dog. After the dog of my life died in 2015, we got a twelve year old rescue which reminded Michael of his favorite childhood dog. She had all kinds of issues and died shortly after he did in 2017. I was too lonely then. I went to a shelter and adopted another old dog, almost nine, who’d had a tough life. She knew nothing about being a pet. She was more a project than a companion; in our years together she never licked me once, even when I covered my hand in peanut butter. But we had an amicable life until she died in early 2021. I sat with my ambivalence for months, unsure of whether I had enough emotional bandwidth left in me to love anyone or anything new. Periodically I checked the shelters and when Lily appeared, I made my move quickly, certain that she’d be scooped up fast. She’s really smart and very sweet. However, she urinates whenever anyone enters the house. Her excitement is attached to her bladder control or lack thereof. Worse than that, so far she’s proving to be an inveterate digger. I’ve lived in the same house since 1978 and have poured my love and energy into creating a pollinators’ paradise in addition to an herb and vegetable garden. As we aged, Michael and I planned defensive moves which would spare our tired bodies from excessive and unnecessary work. This little dog who’s supposed to provide my comfort, is digging huge holes everywhere. Her favorite pastime is plowing her way through the mounds of mulch I’ve spread to control the weed population, until she gets to the fabric that’s my first line of defense. She tears the cloth into strips and rips through the yard, gleefully strewing them everywhere. Each day I pick them up, go to the garden shop, buy eight two-cubic feet bags of new mulch and hurl them onto her latest area of destruction. With the warmer weather and softer ground, she’s way ahead of me. We play a lot of fetching games with sticks and balls in an effort to keep her occupied. Do I need to put some sheep out there so she’s always busy? I hope I don’t sink into a terrible case of buyer’s remorse. I want this to be easier. Plus the people who’ve mowed my lawn for the last five years just quit, saying that they needed to trim their commitments, pun intended. My family offered to take over that piece of my yard work but I declined. I can’t think of how terrible I’d feel if they were too busy to get to my job which might lead to annoyance or resentment between us. Busy young families have their own stuff to do. Having managed my mom’s life during my own years in that time of life stalks me, a constant reminder that boundaries are important. I think that being used to living in a partnership wherein decisions were made together is one of the worst parts of being alone. That buck always stops here.
Then there’s the huge stuff like cancer. During the Obama administration, then Vice-President Biden was focused on finding a cure, driven partly by the loss of his son who died of the dreaded brain cancer, glioblastoma. I have a family member going through the dismal and ultimately failed treatment for that dark disease right now. We all know her time alive is coming to an end. I’ve already gone through several cancer deaths. Currently I have several friends coping with cancer treatment which can buy more life, albeit no total cures. Biden has reintroduced his Cancer Moonshot initiative during this administration. But despite some progress, there’s a long way to go. As I age it feels like every day someone I know is getting diagnosed with a life-threatening condition. That’s how life works if you’re lucky enough to get older. For those of us still relatively healthy, it’s hard to watch and hard not to wonder when your turn is coming.
Of course all my niggling problems pale in comparison to the horror unfolding in Ukraine. I was born six years after World War II ended. My education about that history is seared into my brain. Vietnam was a major construct in my view of war in the world as a young teenager and young woman. But it looked nothing like these current images that, absent modern architectural accents and vehicles, are still shockingly reminiscent of the ground war photos I remember so well from WWII. I find it difficult to turn away from the news, partly because I believe in bearing witness and partly because I’m so fearful and uncertain about where this nightmare is going. I think it informs my lack of focus. But it makes me feel terrible to try writing my philosophical ideas and my autobiographical tales when so many lives are being devastated. I feel helpless. Except for sharing my opinions and throwing small amounts of money at relief organizations, it’s hard to know what to do. Since this war began, I’ve been posting a painting by Ukrainian artists every day on my Facebook page. A reminder that there is beauty and power in art. I’ll close this ramble with one of them. Perhaps the venting of my daily woes will free me up to go back to my intent for this blog. I hope I can get back there. Otherwise the bad people win.