This morning a customer didn’t bother to tell me his name, just went straight to spelling it.
Yeah, it was one of THOSE names. Not as confounding as some, but definitely not one I would have gotten right without having him spell it out.
My sister and I grew up with a maiden name we always had to spell.
Now she’s a Jones and I’m a Smith!
On the other end of the phone my customer laughed with me, and then said, “Mine’s Italian. It means ‘eat goat’.”
I couldn’t help myself. “That’s awesome! EAT GOAT.”
Next time someone upsets me, that’s what I’ll say. “Hey! You. Eat goat!”
I have a tenant who has a very long name with very few vowels that ends in -wczyk. It occurs to me that he has never said his name to me either. It’s like a secret password that only the chosen can know…
In my maiden-name days, that’s how I used to screen for telemarketers: if a caller correctly pronounced the name, I didn’t immediately hang up. “Smith” doesn’t lend itself to that kind of screening…
Although there was the one time a phlebotomist labeling my blood sample asked me how to spell it. I was so taken aback I just blurted “Smith!” again, because isn’t that word self-explanatory for a native speaker of English?
…that somehow connected the thing you WERE doing with the thing you find yourself doing NOW?
If you’re like me, that rabbit trail may take several days to loop around to its starting point (assuming it even does). But if you’re one of those Focused People With Organized Heads who completes an entire task before taking up the next, you may not understand how it works. So let me illustrate with a simple example: Reading the newspaper. And… We’re off!
I am reading the New York Times on my tablet, scanning today’s headlines to see what I “should” know—when I see an article on the sidebar about “What the Great Pandemic Novels Teach Us“—and I’m a reader and intrigued and stuck at home during a pandemic, so of course I have to check that out!
…and the article references Daniel DeFoe’s book, A Journal of the Plague Year. Which I’ve never heard of, despite having done a fair bit of research on Robinson Crusoe’s island (for a novel I’m stuck in the middle of writing) so of course I have to check that out! I open the Apple Book Store…
…to search for DeFoe’s book and find it (with notes! Yay, we like notes) for $2.99, so I charge it to my Apple account. But while I’m here…
…I just have to look through the “Special Offers & Free” section, because they cycle new things into that listing every couple of days, and you never know what awesome book-you-wanted-to-read might surface there for a couple bucks. See, just like this: here’s Call the Midwife by Jennifer Worth, which I totally want to read because my mom got me watching the BBC series when she visited a couple months ago. So I buy that too.
…and then I just have to take a second to assign my two new purchases to categories I’ve made up in my iBooks (because yes, there’s a touch of OCD here too)…
…and I realize I don’t have a category for “Medical Practice, Midwifery” in my Book Buddy app (where I track and tag everything I read) so I pick up my phone (because I’m faster typing on that screen than the iPad) and open the Book Buddy app to add the category.
…and I realize that one of the books I’m currently reading (I’m midway through one on audiobook, because I can listen while I do stuff like clean the kitchen; and one actual paper book, which I can read during the daytime; and one on my iPad because I can read in bed without bothering my husband with a light on; and one other one on my iPad because I thought of it yesterday and started to read it) is not listed in the “Currently Reading” status on my Book Buddy.
…which makes me wonder if I’ve tagged it yet on GoodReads (where I also track what I’m reading, because it’s got that social aspect, and it’s keeping count of my reading goal for the year) so I go there and update that app as well.
…and when I close my GoodReads app, I can see that little red badge in the corner of my FaceBook app that tells me I’ve probably gotten some laughs or comments on my daily installment of the “Captain’s Log” in Social Lockdown—so of course I have to check that out!
…which reminds me that I haven’t done a post yet today, so I open my photos (I take photos of stuff ALL the time, even when I pretty much haven’t left the house for a month) to find a fresh one that I can wrap a wry comment or a silly story around. So I get that posted. (Are you curious? It was a photo of the newly resurrected Sports Page—and I mean PAGE, singular—in our local rural-Oregon paper. Three articles: WNBA draft, “Social Fish-tancing” for anglers, and QUAIL CALLING. Apparently that’s a thing. Which pretty well illustrates the reasons for discontinuing sports coverage in the first place.)
…and while I was sending that photo to FaceBook, the banner notification phased across my screen with an incoming email from my boss in Portland so I go open that…
…to discover that she might be misreading the break-down of employee hours I just sent her, so I trot into my home-office and sit at the computer where I can pull up the entire payroll spreadsheet and type out a clearer explanation of who’s doing what.
…and I close my spreadsheet and ask myself, “What was I doing, anyway?”
Oh that’s right—I found the book of Call the Midwife, which made me kind of want to see another episode. So I put on my tennis shoes and get on the treadmill (which has a TV right in front of it for just this purpose—and this is when and where I watch the “chick flick” stuff my husband is not excited about) and watch another episode.
…and then I jump through the shower and put on some clean clothes (still no bra!—I’m working from home, baby!) which reminds me I should start some laundry (because I only own so many yoga pants—maybe I should look on Amazon for more) and the laundry is right next to the bathroom I meant to clean today, so I’ll get that done while I’m here, and I think I’ve earned myself a soda…
…which I pop open while I ask myself, “What was I doing, anyway?”
Oh that’s right—there was that Plague book I wanted to read! So I pull it up on my iPad and start to read. [This is the one part of the narrative where I actually stay put for a few hours. I have turned OFF all the notifications (new emails, FaceBook comments, text messages) that could come up on this screen, BECAUSE I use it to read.]
I’ve started to highlight descriptions and sections of the book that feel applicable to today, to people’s responses to the Coronavirus pandemic. So I start to think that it would be interesting to juxtapose excerpts of DeFoe’s book (talking about the Plague) against photos and headlines and graphs from today’s news.
…so I sit down at my computer again and start a new blog post in WordPress, where I can play around with the concept—and I type a few excerpts from DeFoe into text blocks. Now I just need the right current graphics to put alongside.
…so I start Googling images for “Trump downplays virus” (to go with DeFoe’s observation that the initial presence of the Plague in London was kept from the “publick” as much as possible). I’m playing with possibilities (about a dozen tabs now open on my browser), and a few of the images feature tweets directly by Trump…
…and I figure I could go right to the source, so I pull up Twitter and start scrolling down Trump’s timeline. (And scrolling. And scrolling. And scrolling. And I stop to see how far back I’ve gotten, and it’s yesterday. Aw, hell.) I mess around with blog formatting (WordPress has a new interface I haven’t mastered) for about forty minutes until I’m tired of working with this text block, so I shift gears and begin working on an introduction to the post, writing to set the scene for 1665 London and the Plague…
…until I hit a lull in the word-flow, and I think about putting a contemporary illustration alongside the introduction, and it seems there was a painting from the Louvre that really fascinated me when we were there, when I was nine years old, maybe I even bought a postcard of it… I start Googling for a Plague painting in the Louvre, and I don’t find it, but I DO find one that I definitely had in postcard form—a whole desperate family on a raft, struggling and waving for help…
Wait a minute, I totally remember this painting as being about The Flood—you know, the Noah one—but its title is “Raft of the Medusa,” which isn’t Biblical at all, so now I have to go read up on what this painting is actually about (a scandalous French shipwreck caused by an incompetent ship’s captain, what?!) and I wonder where I got my original idea, and why I was so fascinated by this particular painting that I would recognize it so immediately today. (In other circumstances I might have hypothesized that my nine-year-old self was titillated by the penis in the foreground… But after two full days of walking through the Louvre, I’m pretty sure I was penised out.)
I’m staring at this painting on my computer screen with two dozen tabs lining its top, and I’m tired of fiddling with the Plague post, and I ask myself, “What was I doing, anyway?”
Oh, yeah—I was reading the Times!
So—six hours later—I go back to my very first tab and begin again to scan the headlines.
And THAT,Ladies and Gentlemen, is how we read our news!
As a kid I often imagined my bedroom into a boat. I planned to sail away in solitude and self-sufficiency…
I would stockpile “important” things in my room—often things I wasn’t allowed to have in my room (food!)—in preparation for my imaginary cast-off, and I would invest quite a lot of thought into (and derive quite a lot of pleasure from) this made-up scenario of having everything I wanted within reach at once. Before the word “Prepper” was even invented, I was practicing it with my play.
Fast-forward some decades, and I get to play “Boat” for real. Setting aside for a moment the horrifying reason why FOUR BILLION people are Playing Boat, I’m kind of acting out a kid-fantasy here. And—Bonus!—the invention of the Internet in the interim makes it even easier to “nest” contentedly in my home.
I feel that same sense of harbored hideaway–though the “important” items have shifted in form.
Forty years ago I was curating a different set of belongings, a different perspective of priorities–though with some definite overlaps. Back then I gathered up my teddy bear Toots, my blanket Pinky, my Nancy Drew collection, my diary, “Mr. Sketch” scented markers, flashlight and sleeping bag, Fisher-Price medical kit, a Triple-A “triptic” flip-book of maps, the contraband snacks… The Lutheran hymnal (filched from my parents’ shelf under the misapprehension that this was the “holy-and-important” church-book)…
My Kodak Instamatic camera and our Fisher Price tape-recorder (because even though I didn’t yet know the word “journalist,” I wanted to document my expedition)…
And stationery. I intended to write home.
Why am I reminiscing about this? Because suddenly we are living in the 2020 Pandemic, and we are SUPPOSED to Play Boat, all of us. Stock up with whatever you consider “essentials” and stay self-sufficient while hunkering down at home. We “go ashore” to provision (properly masked, gloved, wiped, and sanitized) and then we stay aboard our own boats. With only our own shipmates.
Toilet-paper jokes abound: this has been THE “panic purchase.” Inexplicably.
(By the way, that plaque was in my bathroom before the Great TP Privation of 2020. Just think: we can tell our awe-struck grandkids how toilet paper used to be so expendable we’d festoon teachers’ whole yards with it!)
Fortunately, I do have TP. And coffee. And laundry soap, eggs, deodorant, coffee creamer, kitty litter, prescription meds. Mini “Cutie” oranges. We haven’t been to the grocery store for more than two weeks, so the bananas are gone. And I’m out of Diet Dr. Pepper.
But we do have a new electric teapot, and we’re trying different teas. We have two-player games. I walk, in increments of time measured by “Outlander” episodes (I promised I’d ONLY watch when I’m on the treadmill!—Yes, I bribe myself). I have a “puzzle mat” to roll up an in-progress jigsaw and preserve its pieces from our cats. I’m working my way through archives of New York Times crosswords and a cache of logic puzzles on my iPad.
And hey, Toots is still aboard!–>
And LOTS of books.
No stationery, perhaps, but still an urge to write.
I’ve been posting blurbs on FaceBook every day, jokingly labeling them as entries in a “Captain’s Log”— carrying on my game of imagining my home into a boat. (An anchored boat, to be sure; my Google Maps cheerfully reported I traveled six miles in March.) It’s a string of the little goofy observations about Isolation Life (Day Twenty-Seven, by the way)….
Like trying to swipe open my grocery list at the store but my phone’s “facial recognition” doesn’t work with the mask. Or that our 2020 Home Projects list is unexpectedly done—so now what? Or how my mom & I exchanged pics of our propped-up feet and TV screens, watching the same Netflix show “together.” Or that my daily social life consists of greeting the mailman and UPS guy through my glass door. Or which is the more important protective gear when we took the motorcycle to the store: the helmet, or the mask? Or the difficulty of conveying an emotion with the “masked” emoticon. Or What the hell DAY is it? (With the follow-up: why would it matter?)
On the high seas of the nineteenth century, a cry of “Sail ho!” on a whaleship often augured a GAM–a social ritual of pulling alongside another ship to exchange news and mail.
But what is a gam? You might wear out your index-finger running up and down the columns of dictionaries, and never find the word. Dr. Johnson never attained to that erudition; Noah Webster’s ark does not hold it. Nevertheless, this same expressive word has now for many years been in constant use among some fifteen thousand true born Yankees. Certainly, it needs a definition, and should be incorporated into the Lexicon.
Herman Melville’s Moby Dick
These days, of course, you can find the word in twenty seconds on Dictionary.com or practically any glossary short of UrbanDictionary’s. And if you pause there with your hand on that mouse… You are, in fact, possessed of the mechanism of the modern gam. (Possessed by it, perhaps—but that’s a whole different conversation.) That’s right, let’s hear it for Zoom gams, because my boat-ride could feel a lot more isolated than it does.
Hey, girl, turn around and say something to that silent person you just passed. She needs a smile. And while you’re at it, tell her she has beautiful hands, because that will make her think of playing her piano, and she’s been missing her music without realizing it. Oh, and by the way, I’ve lined up your next motorcycle for you—you’ll find out about it when you talk to Carrie during book-study. You’re welcome. Love, God
Wouldn’t that be convenient? None of this praying-for-guidance or listening for subtle answers. I’m a literal-minded person; I want instructions dammit! Surely the Almighty Creator of All Things could tap into my cell-service without any problem.
So okay, God has NOT been blowing up my phone. But you know what? He HAS been blowing up my life lately in all kinds of ways. And the guy can make himself heard!
I found myself telling a total stranger (except now he’s not a total stranger anymore—he’s my friend Anne’s landlord) that “God had told me” to ask him about rental properties. While he was buying tile and I was giving him his veteran’s discount at Home Depot. That’s just crazy. What’s crazier is that he didn’t call me crazy. His response? “I believe.”
Now I’ve just finished saying that I don’t have some special dialed-in bat-channel to God. I’m only just Me.
So Anne asked me yesterday, “HOW does God talk to you? How do you know?” Well, all I have to offer are stories. And she knows some of them—they’re about her.
Anne and I used to hang out two and a half years ago, when Jon and I were just married and she and I were both struggling to get Sober again. Her number has stayed in my phone—but we hadn’t talked, or even messaged, for a couple years. Until I took a nap recently and dreamed she called me. And woke up feeling convicted that I needed to reach out. No logic to that impulse, but I texted her. Got nothing back. Kept texting. Again, no logical reason to keep pinging someone who wasn’t responding—but something was telling me to. It was weeks later that she did call me, checking herself into a crisis center with nowhere to go afterward and no one to pick up her calls.
She’s Clean. But she’s broken. And my text messages were the only recent incoming activity on her phone. Left to myself, I had no reason to contact her. So I can only figure God told me to.
Let me take a moment here to tell you (with her permission) a little about Anne. She’s just 31 years old, a disabled combat vet whose complex PTSD and social anxieties stem from horrific traumas in her childhood and her civilian adult life, some of those very fresh. She has lived under bridges, she has thrown herself off a bridge in Portland, she has drowned in her own life countless times and is still (however reluctantly) here to tell the tale. She jumps out of her skin if anyone touches her or makes a sudden move in her direction, rendering her miserably frazzled and disconnected in settings like our church, where everyone wants to welcome her by hugging. One side of her sports an impish smile and a from-the-gut laugh you can’t help but join, while another side of her manifests in stricken expressions and panicked breathing in the face of the overwhelming requirements of simple daily living. She lives in a constant state of fear and anxiety, and sometimes only her OCD (with its attendant attention-to-details) keeps her going with any semblance of togetherness. Her outlook combines deep thinking and childlike curiosity—when we read Bible together I walk away feeling sheepish that I’d never thought to ask the questions she does.
If I had to pick out one defining characteristic that shapes Anne’s life, it would be the fact that she does NOT. Trust. Anyone. No one feels safe to her. Not counselors. Not pastors. Not medical professionals. Not the VA. Not acquaintances. Not family. It’s not “paranoia” on her part; her life experiences have trained her that not even a mother can be trusted to be safe.
That’s Anne. Traumatized, broken, barely functioning, and absolutely alone. Even her service dog was separated from her when she lost her housing in early July.
So when she asked me yesterday how God “talks” to me, I reminded her of the odd impulse that started me texting her in mid-June. Like God was setting something up when he knew she was about to need it.
Even as she acknowledged the point, she was frowning that she doesn’t think God sends her that kind of message. “You don’t think so?” I challenged her. “Then tell me why you decided to trust me.”
That trust has grown with baby-steps, each promise-from-me coming with a reminder that I haven’t broken a promise yet. They’ve mostly been small promises (“I’ll stay with you in the ER,” “I’ll find out how your dog is doing,” “I’ll call you on my lunch break”) but she started out so sure she couldn’t believe them…
The other day she let me stand behind her and braid her hair. If you know Anne, you know that’s an even bigger deal than the Power of Attorney she signed authorizing me to help her straighten out some issues with the VA. So: “Tell me why you decided to trust me,” I demanded in yesterday’s conversation.
She drew her eyebrows down and looked at me sideways and admitted, “Something just told me I should trust you.”
“Well there you go. God told me to call you, and told you to trust me, and here we are.”
Where-we-are includes that she’s been living in the garage section of our fifth wheel for several weeks while we’ve been searching high and low for new housing for her. It’s not a “renter’s market” here, and although she has a perfect rental-history and guaranteed income (disability), her credit sucks. We couldn’t find her anything.
Enter Ed, chatting me up while buying tile from me at Home Depot. I inexplicably asked him what he knows about rental properties (thank you, God, for the nudge) and he answered that he has one. He’s just finishing up renovating it (hence the tile) and it would be available in about a week. So I told him about Anne. And I’m thinking God told him something, because the next day we were meeting him at his sweet little rental-house with hardwood floors and bright open windows and sturdy old trees lining the front. No credit-check necessary. She can have her service dog back with her.
Anne is still raw, and fresh to the practice of trusting people (or God, for that matter). She won’t fully believe it until she has the keys in hand. But she’s trying to. And she’s tentatively “letting in” some people besides me. Not all the way in, but she’s opening that door and building a belief that maybe there ARE some people who can be trusted. It wouldn’t take much to make her snap those doors shut… But I’m trusting God has this in hand. I still wish he’d text and TELL me so… But he seems to know what he’s doing.
This week’s metrics might be miles (on the motorcycle) or meters (SCUBA diving)… Or we might just measure the days in smiles! Whatever the maps and the dive tables have to say about it, we’ve been purely enjoying…
Whenever we get to this part of the country, a requisite stop is Gracie’s Sea Hag for a bread-bowl of their exquisite clam chowder… And since Gracie’s is in Depoe Bay 60 Miles north of our campground, it was the perfect excuse yesterday to climb on the motorcycle and enjoy the delicious curvy coastal highway 101, with its ocean views and salt-tanged air. Sea-spray on my motorcycle visor—that’s definitely one version of heaven.
We spent almost six hours taking in the sights and sounds of that 120-mile round-trip, hopping off the bike to walk beaches, poke through tide pools, climb bridges, and visit my favorite lighthouse (same one that’s tattooed on my arm with my daughter’s name, which means “shining light”). And (being the coffee-aholics that we are) to order a “fog lifter” at Espresso 101 in Waldport.
We ducked into a gift shop in Depoe Bay to buy a pair of tourist sweatshirts (mine says “Highway 101”!) which we promptly put on over the sweatshirts we were already wearing. We’d both unthinkingly brought the bike-jackets we’ve been wearing all summer—and while mesh is a blessing in Boise’s 100-degree heat, it’s maybe a bit TOO breezy for here…
High Tide hit around 5:00, at which point we were back in camp industriously duct-taping dollar-store plastic tablecloths over the truck seats so we could drive from one dive site to the next in our squelching wetsuits… The real picture (which I DON’T have) would be the pair of us squishing our way up the campground shower-trail in full get-up to rinse the saltwater out of our dive gear. But I’m getting ahead of myself—first we went diving.
There’s a converted fish ladder on Florence’s North Jetty with cement steps that make for easy entry and exit in dive gear. Let me just stop here and say that the water here is COLD. But oh so worth it. Pulsating jellies, skittering fish, and CRABS all over. If we’d picked up a shellfish license we could have brought home dinner and then some. Then back to camp for hot showers and a roaring fire, with a clothesline full of wetsuits dancing in the lantern-light…
This morning we took the motorcycle in the other direction on the 101, south as far as Bandon… where we walked around the waterfront boardwalk with helmet in one hand and a coffee in the other, and where we improbably ran into Jon’s boss! We stopped in Coos Bay on the way back and ordered a clam basket and fish’n’chips at the Floating Fish Market, and I ogled the Lady Washington and Hawaiian Chieftain—tall ships under full sail—as we rode out of the harbor.
Right now Jon is splitting firewood and rolling his eyes at me for sitting here by the fire with my phone (his has been in “airplane mode” the whole trip)… But I’m happy that I can blog from my phone (yes, even from the back of the bike if I want to). I’m happy that my tummy is full of clams and my head is full of ocean views. I’m happy that my bike-jacket pocket is full of wave-worn shell fragments. I’m so happy that my face is full of smile, just sitting here. And THAT’s the proper metric for a vacation.
I usually start any travel with a carefully-planned itinerary, complete with reservations and budgeted activities. My journal pages ahead of a trip will be filled with addresses and prices and confirmation numbers… But yesterday we climbed into our truck with just a map and our coffee and our camping and diving gear, hooked up the motorcycle trailer, and headed for the Oregon Coast!
We’d been planning to spend our vacation-week doing some Idaho camping, but Friday morning Jon told me he’d take me to the ocean instead. WOOHOO!! (Don’t get me wrong—I do love our Idaho… But WOOHOO!!)
So here we are on an entirely UNplanned adventure. Entirely OUT of character for me, but I couldn’t be happier. All week my FaceBook page had been popping up “one year ago” pictures of our LAST trip to the coast, and I’ll admit they were making me wistful…
Even without pre-planning, we scored a first-night campsite with a view of the Florence marina and bridge, and this morning we settled into the state park campground where we got a spot for the rest of the week. Couldn’t have done better if I HAD planned it.
We’ve unloaded the bike and taken her for an exploratory spin across the bridge and through Florence. We’ve scouted the North Jetty and identified our dive entrance. We’ve picked up SCUBA gear on our way through Eugene. We’ve had our first seafood dinner at an off-the-beaten-path diner full of locals (always a good sign for an eating establishment—and it was so good we went back for breakfast). We’ve stood on the sand dunes and breathed in the ocean-air. I’ve probably posted two dozen photos to FaceBook—everything from the sailboats and king heron at the marina to the ripening blackberries growing at our campsite, the view crossing the bridge on the motorcycle… And this one. It’s my “happy camper” face.
I joked in a post last year that “you never see a motorcycle parked outside a psychiatrist’s office,” but last week that’s exactly where I parked my bike. So okay—riding a motorcycle doesn’t actually cancel out my need for mental-health meds, but it sure does put a grin on my face. A manager said this week that I’ve been glowing since I started showing up to work with helmet in hand.
We made the decision a few months ago to trade in my BMW1200 for a smaller, lighter bike, so I’m the tickled new owner of a shiny red Yamaha V-Star 650. The Beemer (beauty though it was, and as sweet as my hubby was to buy it for me) was just too much bike for this Rookie Rider. I never got over being scared of the bike, and I never “graduated” to riding by myself. Jon tailed after me like a security blanket every time I took it out, and it felt like a big production every time. I was starting to associate a feeling of dread with pulling on my motorcycle boots, which is never how I’d felt about riding before!
So we posted the BMW on Craigslist this spring, and I was sitting with a friend when a text came in inquiring about it. I apologized for interrupting our conversation to respond, and explained the situation… Whereupon she asked me if I were looking for a bike! She’s a missionary in Thailand, just back in the states to visit her daughters, and her bike has been in storage for a few years. Not running—but hey, I’m married to a mechanic. Long story short, we trailered this bike home from her storage a week later.
I came home from work the next day to find her stripped to her frame, and my kitchen counter strewn with bike-bits. Mr. Mechanic worked his magic, and days later I was testing her out, up and down the rows of our RV park. Days later we had her registered and I took her out on the road. Days later, after Jon had followed me to church and work, I went to work by myself. Days later I was pulling up across town in front of my AA home group. With a shit-eating grin beneath the helmet.
I’m still a rookie, but I’m riding now! To work. To AA. To the dentist. To church. To Starbucks. And yes, to the psychiatrist.
Yesterday we hit triple-digit temperatures, and the parking-lot pavement still radiated heat when I came out of Home Depot at ten p.m. The first breath of cool air I’d felt all day was the wind on my face at fifty miles an hour riding home under the moon. I’m just about ready to bet it wasn’t my lights or my reflective gear that made me visible as I rode. I’m pretty sure it was my GLOW.