Yesterday was a long day as we took an unexpected road trip to Southern NH. We avoid any travel through and around Boston especially, because basically the sprawl continues to creep. Ever further, bringing with it more waves of vehicles, including trucks of all sizes and kinds (the heavy equipment trucks are the scariest because who knows how much training the drivers even get, what with the CDL Driver shortage, and the rush to “get it done.”), literally blowing by us when we ourselves are admittedly already over the speed limit at 70-80mph. LOL, and if you saw the state of the roads, and the crumbling bridges you hold your breath on, and under, you wonder why in the name of heaven would there be talk of building more roads, new exits and so on, when we don’t even maintain what we have. No, travel in most of Massachusetts, and anyplace “progress” continues to encroach, is no longer an enjoyable pursuit like the old “Sunday drive.” Not much country left here in this state, and the bits that are left still see their share of amped up, impatient drivers blasting through a “shortcut” to another place. And, while it wasn’t rush hour, man, I tell ya, a road trip through and around Boston to go out of state to pick up your son after you bail him out of jail makes for one hair-raising kind of day. Huh, and that’s just the state of our roads. On my son’s most recent manic “adventure” last Labor Day weekend, he drove cross-country to California in a jalopy of a truck we truly believed wouldn’t make it, but did; and wandered the streets of L.A. for the better part of a month trying to get said truck back from the company that had towed it, while borrowing money to get by until he received his October check, at which time he rented a U-haul van and drove back home. It was a relief to know he was finally safe, even if it was just his RV in the woods. But where we live and its lack of public transportation, you really do need a car, especially if you live in the woods, and all this time we’ve been thinking he’s either borrowing a friend’s vehicle, or must’ve found another wreck to fix up, he’s been driving the frickin’ U-haul, with the idea he’d return it at some point. This is the reality of living with mental illness, whether your own, or a beloved family member’s, in this case both. I’m fortunate in that I’ve had lifelong insight, recognition and acceptance of my own. My son does not. Doesn’t recognize when he’s manic and delusional. Bipolar Disorder with Psychosis. Why couldn’t it just be plain old Major Depressive Disorder? At least it wouldn’t get him in so much trouble. So many of those who suffer from mental illness end up in the criminal justice system, and that in itself is a crime. Between the harrowing ride up to NH, our first hour locked in a cinder block cell-like waiting room, cell phones forbidden, no public rest rooms (we asked); finally asking if we could sit in our car (ring buzzer, speak through intercom, hope for prompt response — staff were polite and relatively prompt, I’ll give them that) because we were wearing our coats and still freezing in there, our dog was in the car, and at least we’d be somewhat comfortable while we waited another two hours for the one Bail Commissioner who travels the State posting bail for others to finish work elsewhere, as well as eat his lunch, before we were finally able to return home — during metro-Boston rush hour. It was a punishing day all-around, and a welcome relief to get home. Just another one of those days, not uncommon in the span of my lifetime so far.
There are many interior design styles people share here, from Scandinavian and Japanese austere, breezy California coastal, shabby chic thrifted, and the various accompanying tags #minimalist #coastalliving #cottagecore #grannycore and so on…Ours resembles none of the above. We live in an old house that was never in good shape from the beginning, and while we did what we could with it, there’s always something else to be done. I’ve mentioned the ceiling leak into our sitting room from our upstairs bathroom before, and when we had it repaired last summer, we knew the fix might only be temporary. It lasted a year before the re-patched corroded pipes began leaking again. So this year, we bit the bullet and the bathroom pipes will be totally replaced. Figured we may as well replace the toilet while we’re at it (leak is from sink and tub, not to worry!), so we’ve had the boxes with the replacement toilet and tank sitting in our space, along with the 5 gallon bucket we keep handy for leaks. We’re pretty used to it after it being here for several weeks now, and the boxes make serviceable end tables. The black plastic bucket — it sort of blends in anyway. Meanwhile since the plumber’s going to be here, we’re also going to replace the laundry sink he installed in the kitchen for us last summer when we had to replace that on short notice. The three basin restaurant sink with drain boards arrives today, and the faucet Friday. So that will also join its plumbing compatriots. Not sure when Graham will be available to get to any of it, he’s good about fitting us in where he can. It’s been a stellar year for contractors with no letup in sight, so we are thankful to have a couple who are accommodating. But that’s not all. We started having some air quality problems in our basement and have begun clearing it out. This means we’re spending as little time as possible down there and rather than hanging the clothes on the line we have downstairs (we don’t have a dryer), I now have them hanging across a pole on our front room ceiling. When you live like this for a while as we have, you can’t help but laugh because humor is sometimes all that keeps the curveballs bearable. Bearing that in mind, we’ve dubbed our interior design style a curious blend of Green Acres Core with a Schitts Creek Vibe. It does bring comfort to call it that, and like I’ve said before at least I have beautiful negligees to at least keep up some sort of appearance.
One of my favorite heroines, Zora Neale Hurston wrote the line “There are years that ask questions and years that answer.” Apparently it’s to do with the flow of creative life, but I can also see how it can apply to the days of our lives, our day to day flow and how we can be cruising along, blissfully unaware, perhaps on autopilot — and then — blindsided. A shattering blow. Friday was like that for my sister’s family. I didn’t see the text until yesterday morning when I went downstairs. Times like these, I want to hit stop motion, press pause, rewind…and return to that sweet spot before the world turned upside down. But I can’t — so I return to the book on tape I’ve been listening to intermittently, Suleika Jaouad’s “Between Two Kingdoms,” — Suleika, a recent college graduate, 23 years old, off beginning her adult life in an exciting city — and bam, hit with a gutting diagnosis. At the moment, our family remains in that in-between space of not knowing and not wanting to think or say what we’re afraid of, hoping and not daring to hope, that place no one wants to be in and everyone wants to stay in if it means living in this eternal moment of possibility just a little bit longer. For the next few days, there will be times we breathe, and times we hold our breath.
When I walk there’s much to experience that can set the tone for my day. The time of year and day can make a huge difference — tourist season, ferry schedules, landscapers, builders, rush hours — all of this plays into it. Some days are better than others, and I come home happy. Other days, while content, there may be underlying disappointment and irritation for any number of reasons, usually encountered on the walk. But not today.
We cut through different lanes on each walk, and today I wanted to go by what I call the Easter basket house — with their side garden full of yellow daffodils, lavender, pink, purple, etc. hyacinths, tulips, and a host of other spring bulbs. All they needed was a few bunnies and chickens to complete that giant basket overflowing with joy. There were ospreys, robins, starlings and geese, and shrubs blooming magenta and cherry blossom pink, and it was all a visual treat.
I even found delight in the Wonder Bread bag caught on a post, and yes it’s plastic, and yes it’s litter, two things I very much despise, but it was a lighthearted reminder of happy childhoods of bologna, PBJs and fluffernutters on puffy white bread, and all the other memories that go with that childhood — all inspired by a plastic piece of trash decorated with colorful, cheery polka dots.
What my dog taught me today. Some days I can be driven to distraction. Actually, the truth is…MOST days I can be. And I realized that today when I was settled in and relaxed over a task that can’t be rushed through. I tend to rush through my tasks. RushRushRush, I feel like we’ve been conditioned to rush. But I notice that when I slow down and can really give the specific task the attention it deserves, it can actually be an enjoyable thing. I learned this from my dog, Oonagh. A lot of nervous energy she has and she feeds off mine. And once I do actually settle down to the task at hand, she settles down to what she believes is her task — keeping me settled, and keeping a lookout on the world through the windows so we don’t have to.
Back to the daily rhythm of a familiar routine. A routine gives me an anchor as I make my way in the world, regardless of where I’ve landed. Daily walk. Tea. Meditation. Connection of some sort — whatever it takes, it can all help make a difference for ourselves, others, and how we move through the turbulent times of our lives.
Having a Louise Brooks moment these days. Louise, quintessential flapper, on why she would never write her memoirs:
“We flatter ourselves when we assume that we have restored the sexual integrity that was expurgated by the Victorians. It is true that many exposés are written to shock, to excite, to make money. But in serious books characters remain as baffling, as unknowable as ever…I too am unwilling to write the sexual truth that would make my life worth reading. I cannot unbuckle the Bible Belt.”
These twice a year time changes we do — forwards in Spring, backwards in Fall — feel so arbitrary and counterintuitive to me. Perhaps rather insolent on the part of the powers that be who instituted it in the first place. Measuring our days and seasons by the rhythms of the natural world (including my own biorhythms) makes more sense to me, and in the early days after a time change I tend to say “it’s really —— o’clock,” until I finally “feel” like it’s the time it’s now “supposed” to be. I find calling it “daylight savings time” to be pretty funny, like it’s some sort of special “time outside of time.” It‘s still the same amount of daylight every day, regardless of what a clock says. And what are we saving it for anyway? Where are we going to put it?
Orion Magazine is one of my favorite reads. A variety of thoughtful essays, poems and stories describing the wonders of our natural world and contemplating its impending loss. The following passage struck me this morning from Martha Lundin’s essay, “Siren Song,” about the storm that sank the Edmund Fitzgerald in Lake Superior back in 1975. I hear naming a ship after a man is considered bad luck. If anyone knows the answer, I’d love to know why. Here’s an outtake from the article:
“We name women who spend too much time with nature “Witch.” Dub her dangerous. Unpredictable. Call her “Other.” The land is something to fear or exploit. To be a witch is to love the natural world more than the things human hands have made. And so we burn her. Or we revere her. We tell stories about her to frighten children in the woods or the water. Though some of us may ask her for help. Or maybe just mercy.”
When I mention the Red Lion Inn to my friend, and suggest she join us on a future getaway there, she tells me it would probably just make her sad. Even though her John has been over four years gone, it’s a place she has said would just flood her with memories of him and the loss, and I agree, I imagine it would. I’d like to think I know how I’d feel, but we can’t ever really know until we’re in it. We can only imagine. So in the meantime, until I’m in that place, I like to think “what if?” about her mate…what if his spirit hangs out there, waiting for her, hoping she’ll revisit for the happy memories, and stay for a spell, to join him in the liminal space between the two worlds? I’ve been to that place. The Dreamtime. Seen my mother there, my aunts, a beloved great-uncle, dear friends. There are places we go, places we’ve been, that hold this enchantment. Red Lion is one of those places. It is haunted there, you know, at that old inn. The landscape around it is alive with ghosts. I believe by many ghosts, some happy, some sad. Perhaps there are others like John, who wait for their lovers to return and join them for occasional trysts dancing together between the realms. I’m telling you, it’s magic out there, and when it’s my turn to haunt or be haunted, I’m returning to the fourth floor, with its dusky stillness, where I can feel the moonlight as we glide along its beams and dance between the stars–