Watching Handmaid’s Tale on a rainy afternoon. Praise be.
Adam Grant recently wrote an article about languishing (NYT April 19, 2021)
It wasn’t burnout — we still had energy. It wasn’t depression — we didn’t feel hopeless. We just felt somewhat joyless and aimless. It turns out there’s a name for that: languishing. Languishing is a sense of stagnation and emptiness. It feels as if you’re muddling through your days, looking at your life through a foggy windshield. And it might be the dominant emotion of 2021.
Here I was…thinking I was suffering from ennui, French word for “a feeling of listlessness and dissatisfaction arising from a lack of occupation or excitement.” You can only pronounce the word correctly if you’re sitting in front of a Paris brasserie in the rain with a café au lait in front of you and the Eiffel Tower over there. That’s true.
Actually, I’m among the fortunate, the pandemic wasn’t particularly traumatic for me; my mood held up most of the time (in no small part due to my new house—thanks Michele and Steven). But for just a few weeks in March and to a lesser degree in April I did experience some of all of the above. And it was confusing. Hey, things are better…I can travel, my job will return, no one’s ill, I’m visiting—even without a mask in appropriate situations…so why so little energy, why dissatisfied? Languishing topped off with ennui.
And now they’re gone. Both of them. Did I mention it rained today? My manuscript is in good hands. The grant is submitted. Our art center will open in a couple of months. I have plane tickets and train tickets. My little yards have prettily greened up. And it rained. And June will outlast Gilead. Praise be.
As I read of the latest mass shooting I was thinking that soon we would all know someone killed or injured by a gun and I felt the urge to once again post a rant about the deadly American disease of gun-love.
Then I suddenly remembered, for the first time in a long while, my early encounter with an angry man with a gun. I was six-years-old when my mom was shot. She wasn’t dangerously injured so it became a minor piece of family lore—but it really wasn’t minor at all. It’s just that in America we’ve always accepted angry or careless or stupid or fearful men with their very own much-loved weapons of mass destruction.
Here’s the story I once wrote about mom getting shot.
Once a German shot Mom.
Herald-Review, Grand Rapids, MN: January 3, 1945—Mrs. Swan Neset of Nore Township was seriously injured when struck by a load of fine shot fired by a man shooting at a stray dog.
The big round table covered with red-checked oilcloth, clear blue plates with white bread, butter, the last piece of apple pie, a half-eaten dried beef sandwich, almost-empty coffee cups. Windows covered with the thick shine of ice. Wood-burning cookstove, black coffee simmered down to tar in a banged up old pan.
Mom’s sitting slumped over by the table, she’s crying and talking and trying to cut the leg off her shot-riddled chore pants so she can tend to her wounds. She was milking cows at Grandma’s and, as she and our big brown shepherd Pal walked home, mom carrying a lantern, Gus Senkpiel shot her. Commotion reigns. Dad’s gone to borrow a car for the trip to the doctor’s. Robert and I are crouched under the table where we are close to mom but out of the way. We are more bewildered than fearful. I clearly remember the confusion and how it seemed Robert and I could help. We would find a car and drive mom to Dr. Palmer’s. Robert (age two!) could operate the things on the floor and I would steer and we would save mom. Please stop crying mom.
The man who shot mom was a grouchy German transplant living in the midst of a community of Norwegian immigrants near the end of WWII when Norway was occupied by Germany. When he shot through the trees at flickering lantern light he knew what he was doing. He was hurting my family. He had been angry ever since dad pounded two planks in the shape of a V (for Victory) on our garage door, which faced Gus’ house, and painted them white, the better to show up against black tarpaper.
The sheriff came the next day and Gus said he thought he was shooting at a dog or maybe wolves. Mom refused to press charges. All of her life, she carried much of the shot in her leg because the doctor said it was safest to leave it in. It caused some pain over the years but was never debilitating. And it never seemed like a big deal. How strange it that?
My dad and mom both hated guns so those nasty little (or big) killing tools had never yet appeared in our house. My brother would go through a fairly lengthy phase of gun-love but he never seemed to be engaging in collecting for purposes of making himself feel more manly…while the rest of us never really liked it, gun-worship was such an accepted part of the culture that we hardly noticed it was ever-present. We did not yet comprehend that it was societal poison, a threat to the very fabric of what we innocently thought of as the ‘American way of life’ which represented safety and security for all. Didn’t it?
As previous rants have attested, I loath guns. I am trying to work out my own explanation of how America came to be the Land of Gun-Love above every other emblem for which we could have stood? We aren’t the only racist country, the only country that had a frontier, the only country with lot of guns available. Yet no other country worships them, is ready to sacrifice their children for those tools designed solely for killing. What in the world are we thinking?
How I became a fan of Prince Philip and why I am mourning his death more than might be expected…I discovered he was caring, kind and thoughtful with his mother, Princess Alice of Battenberg, throughout her rather unusual life. Exactly how every boy should be! This is totally unlike the relationship depicted in The Crown so if the Netflix hit is that wrong about the Prince than I’m inclined to look upon it all as pure fiction and stop watching…which in all fairness to Netflix, they say it is…but I watched for what I thought was a semblance of truth. Because, to be honest, I have always been fascinated by the British Royal Family. No idea why. I say it’s because I’m something of a history buff but maybe it’s more about the drama…or the love stories…or the murder mysteries…or the castles and foggy hills and warm beer and crumpets filling in the lines.
I was introduced to Princess Alice of Greece, Philip’s mother, by Netflix’ ‘Crown’ and became a fan because of one of my favorite quotes of all times about aging. “One of the few joys of being as old as we both are is that it’s not our problem,” Princess Alice says. “There came a moment, around the time I turned 70, when it dawned on me I was no longer a participant, rather a spectator … then it’s just a matter of waiting and not getting in the way.”
That describes the aging process better than anything I’ve ever read. We can substitute different numbers for ‘70’ (in fact I would up it quite a bit) but it is what happens.
Back to Princess Alice, her boy Philip and my current Alice obsession. While in California, appreciating my son, I finished Alice: Princess Andrew of Greece by Hugo Vickers, a historian and expert on the British Royal Family. I still enjoy European history (and I include the UK in that category) and Kings and Queens were a rather big piece of that for quite some time. The thing about the Brits or European royalty in general is that they’re practically all related to each other through Queen Victoria, the 19th century queen who bore nine children.
Princess Alice was Queen Victoria’s great-grandchild, part of the Greek royal family (who were mostly Danes and Germans) and participant in a most dramatic life. She lived through two world wars, frequently working as a nurse on the front lines, and suffered some form of mental illness, usually diagnosed as schizophrenia. Phillip was her youngest child and for much of his life she was missing in action as the war nurse, in an institution or occupied in her later years with the Christian Sisterhood of Martha and Mary which she founded in 1949. She was not an attentive mother to say the least.
Throughout her life however her son Phillip saw to her well-being, bailing her out of multiple dramas, financial crises, and keeping a watchful and, judging from his letters, loving eye on her. Makes me appreciate my sons who keep just such a kindly eye on me. Mothers and sons.
Good to know Covid didn’t alter that weird state of existence called ‘Monday.’ I am most anxious to return to work, to normalcy, to complaining about Monday. Of course work…as in required hours and pay checks and counting vaca hours hasn’t returned…but as I was stressing about the ‘shuttered venue operators grant’ which, if we apply and are among the selected, will enable North Fourth to get its mojo back and pay the light bill for awhile, it felt quite Monday-like. Wish us luck… and all of the other performing arts spaces in the world.
Life is proceeding reasonably…with just a small memory of sand between my toes at Ocean Beach a few short days ago. Closets organized for first time since I moved last November…after all why arrange and tidy closets when you’re not wearing any hanging-up or folding-neatly kind of clothes?
The best thing though is the dining room. The new slightly-strange, geographically-interesting and maximally-comfortable dining room. Thanks to bro Robert, sister Marsha, son Steven for new paint, rug, table and chairs. And all those mounted travel photos so nicely displayed…the better to enjoy with one’s morning oatmeal. I suppose I’ll eventually get tired of having them all around me (though they are restricted to the dining room) but since I’ve spent much of my energy and income these last years ‘on location’ around the world it’s good to have the memories nearby.
Places are medicine for nearly all that ails me: Far places, foreign places, home places, warm places, cold places, as my passport will attest…most places. But a couple of them are special of course: California, Minnesota.
Yes, I did climb Black Mountain and posted the photos to prove it. Such a relief to get that pesky ‘old’ issue out of the way for another year. There were other highlights before winging my way back home so just a few more pics and comments before real life completely takes over.
Being a dedicated fan of Nordstrom’s and IKEA, I visited of course, arriving with loosely filled suitcases for that very purpose. Jeans…new jeans…. There were lots of pricey sweat pants and shirts but I’ve moved beyond that old pandemic look (so 2020) to the elegance of white jeans and a raggedy ‘free people’ shirt. And black placemats and $2 pillows at IKEA. And since IKEA’s new goal is to make stuff that lasts forever, just think my great-great-grandchildren can inherit these very items.
But enough about indoors. A walk on the beach and visit with friends topped off the CAfix. The next morning Sandra left for a month in the Philippines where she is establishing an environmental/religious sanctuary on her family land; I came home to organize closets and write a grant.
Check in here with Dr. California.
Remember I am not old-old until I cannot climb Black Mountain in Penasquitos, San Diego County, CA on my birthday. So. Today. Up the mountain (Black, not Everest, but why quibble). Done. Phew. Another brilliant day in my new positive energetic engaged post-covid life… I know some of this new perky-ish attitude might be classified as ‘whistling in the dark’ but surely beats my moaning of late.
To celebrate my great athletic achievement I’m posting a whole album of me and my mountain. Sorry. I promise not to be so self-centered (100 pics of me, 6 of the landscape, and one of my mostly-Norwegian Sherpa) again until April 2022.
I do not believe in miracle cures…from dieties or diets or doctors. Perhaps though, California might provide just such a thing. Whether it’s family or travel or the sight of water or a few days of steroids…I have definitely broken out of covid prison. Haven’t woken up in a state of deep depression for three day (okay so my morning mournfulness only lasts a little while, nevertheless I was very tired of months of it).
I’ve been in Visalia with grandchildren and son Scott. Chatting, laughing, eating, lounging…a perfect way to spend a birthday. Now back in San Diego, resting up for Black Mountain, shopping, and a beach-walk before returning renewed, restored, revitalized…a whole bunch of re- words. It, in fact, is remarkable how much better I feel.
Reading everything about depressions stemming from pandemic life, I’ve maintained some skepticism. Asking myself what I have to be personally unhappy about with healthy family and friends, a job that probably will return someday, future travel, the Sleaze gone from the White House, etc. I’ve moved to a new house and completed a book. ‘I have no right to feel sorry for myself when there are so many around the world in dire straits,’ I’ve said. But I guess, deep down, rational gratitude couldn’t overcome unwarranted melancholy. But NOW….
Some photos then…
I declare my pandemic year over. It officially started — for me — when the State of New Mexico gave North Fourth two days to close down. March 13, 2020. Oh sure, a lot of bad things had already occurred and more are sure to happen after today. But I’m vaccinated, masked, haven’t hung out in a crowded bar for a goodly number of years and I’m way too old to start again now…so think I’ll be okay.
And TODAY I’m older again…but surprisingly happier than I’ve been in awhile. Can’t quite figure this out. Or maybe I can. I fly away from New Mexico for the first time since returning from the Stan countries and Turkey, fall of 2019. What a relief to discover traveling is like riding a bicycle…once you’ve learned how to do it the skill always returns. I was exhausted from bad sleep and and general stress when I got back on my Southwest steed but by the time I was in San Diego, sitting at Scott’s house, eating fried rice, and gazing out at their freeway, runway, harbour view I felt like a new human. No small thing thing as one approaches birthdays of ever-greater oldness.
Yesterday Scott and I drove here to Visalia where Ashley and Steven live; Ashley paying off student loans in her first professional gig as a PA, Steven developing his IT life. They have a new house and are adapting to life in the San Joaquin Valley instead of their natural habitat on the coast. I really do have extraordinarily wonderful children and grandchildren (not to forget siblings, Robert and Marsha of course). Do I seem to you to be more appreciative of life and family than normal this morning. Well, that’s what getting back into the world does for one….
My Black Mountain Climb to prove I’m not old-old was put off to Monday when back in SD. I’m a little concerned this year since I didn’t get to test myself last birthday. Black Mountain is not Everest so it should be fine…I say nervously. Visalia is not exactly good walking territory…begin flat, full of cows, and 90 degrees in the afternoon. But how perfect to be here. Ashley and Steven are full of opinions/life/prospects/intelligence that young adults (medium-young) possess, and Teresa’s driving down from San Francisco for the night and Scott, the dad, is being kind and less-insulting (in a good way) than usual to dear old mom.
So here’s to real life and its own set of pleasures and catastrophes without viruses ruling. I also say nervously.
WordPress has changed their format so I’m going to see if I can actually still post something.
I’m determined to post every single April Day…even if the next one might have to include a lot of photos of leafless almond (?) trees and grapevines and stockyards with bored cattle and a leftover trump sign from the drive over.
Be back later…from all the day’s partying…as one must do to celebrate surviving a pandemic year without work and travel…and being brave enough to get back on that plane…(especially since it was Boeing-made)…I’ll perhaps post more photos. Me in the pool in my bikini. Maybe not that one. Maybe this one. Me and my Ponytail. After all these years…and too late to be a cheerleader.
March 13, 2020. The day the State of NM closed down the North Fourth Art Center and the first day of my pandemic year…or P-2020 as I like to call it. Almost a year ago.
I don’t feel well this morning, nothing serious, just…somber. Why?
P-2020 didn’t impose any real hardships on anyone among my friends and family. With reasonably good health, ongoing jobs or unemployment, lots of books and all those murder mystery series on our devices we made it through.
So is this T-2021 (Transition year 2021). It’s okay so far. The election and its rays of hope, vaccines completed for the family elders, cautious visits from California son and granddaughter, thinking of back to work and travel days ahead, visits with friends with whole faces. All good isn’t it?
Then why do I feel like weeping? It might not be just garden-variety Monday morning (without work) gloom. It might be existential angst. Seriously.
In recent years, when asked about my belief system I’ve often said I’m an existentialist, playing fast and loose with the formal definitions (of which there seem to be many) and simply defining it as my belief that our actual existence is everything. It affords large or small choices for each of us and those choices, whether to be good or bad, ambitious or lazy, curious or indifferent, restless or calm define who we are, how we relate to each other and the world. They define life.
I actually perused a couple of books from college days this morning and, enhanced by a bit of googling, here are a few lines about existentialism and why I’m a sad but authentic existentialist this morning.
First the original European model: Existentialism … centers on the lived experience of the thinking, feeling, acting individual. In the view of the existentialist, the individual’s starting point has been called the existential angst, ‘a sense of dread, disorientation, confusion, or anxiety in the face of an apparently meaningless or absurd world.’ Soren Kierkegaard, always cited as one of the founders of existentialism, said that each of us, not society or religion, is responsible for giving meaning to our own lives. Only I can decide whether to live my life ‘passionately and sincerely’ in other words, ‘authentically.’
Then the American version: In a textbook from my social work student days, Existential Psychotherapy by Irvin D. Yalom, the author describes how the American definition of existentialism diverges from the European model portrayed above. In the U.S. the belief in “expansiveness, optimism, limitless horizons, and pragmatism” substantially alters the imported form of existential thought, Yalom claims.
This morning I am deep in the European version — probably because I didn’t sleep well, my stomach hurts…oh yeah, and I’m old and cranky…and the world is in big trouble. Possibly another hour on the couch with a trusty detective novel, some stomach-approved healthful soup for lunch and doing laundry will switch me over to happiness in my American existence.
And there’s the rub. The conflict between Old World reality and the New World con. Tomorrow I’ll have transported myself back into ‘expansiveness…optimism…blah blah blah. And pretty pictures.