I’m angry that I must wear a mask because so many people in this country are cultists of the most benighted sort; swilling down the anti-vax Kool-Aid. To make myself feel better, here’s a rant and a book recommendation.
Don’t know about you, but my impending sense of doom is impending again. There have been the months here and there when it seemed that my ‘three horsemen of the apocalypse’ had unsaddled, letting the rest of us get a good night’s sleep…no such luck.
I keep referring to my three doom-bringers as covid, climate and Nazis, but it’s a little more complicated than that: It means pandemics of ill health stemming from the crap in our air and soil and water (and the reality of healthcare being just one more capitalist enterprise); it means that we obsessively-consuming humans have managed to force the earth into terminal decline; it means the uglier sentiments of populism all over the world—most obvious to us in the cult-of-trump—but it’s rising wherever there are white men longing for a mythical past of unchecked control. Truthfully though, there are equally deadly systems of inhumanity in countries with leaders of every race, culture, ethnicity, religion…wherever men (mostly men) are greedy, frightened; lack knowledge and morals. There…my rant for the week is done. I don’t really feel any better unfortunately…still doomish.
Now for the book review. Notes from an Apocalypse by Mark O’Connell. I am only about a third of the way in, but I so very highly recommend this book. First of all, O’Connell has a wry, self-depreciating, and … how to describe it … smart-while-silly sense of humor. He’s an Irishman which may explain this irreverent and dark perspective on the state of the world. Notes is a look at some forms of end-of-the-worldism or, stated more elegantly, civilizational collapse; I’m only through the ‘preppers’ and into ‘luxury survivalists’ but it was a perfect way to spend a semi-sleepless night. Really. Don’t know about you, but when I can’t sleep, I think of what awful things could happen to my family, or how and when I’ll die, or whether the world can survive any of my three-horsemen scenarios, and other unhappy thoughts. So I may as well be reading about end-times—personal and global—as considered by a curious, thoughtful, and oh-so funny guy. Who knew the ‘apocalypse’ could lull me to sleep with a smile.
A new day. Busy. Perhaps I’ll sleep tonight.
Everything is blooming most recklessly; if it were voices
instead of colors, there would be an unbelievable shrieking
into the heart of the night. (Rainer Maria Rilke)
Color is a prime ingredient of every single thing we see and a big part of our language…but it doesn’t get credit for how ‘primary’ it is. I’m a little bit obsessed with color. I have a lovely book titled On Color (David Scott Kastan and Stephen Farthing) and just acquired a new one, as yet unread, The Secret Lives of Color (Kassia St. Clair). The latter described thusly, “The unforgettable, unknown history of colors and the vivid stories behind them.”
Sister-in-law Marsha is a gardener par excellence, especially of flowers she plants and waters and weeds and nurtures in plots and pots all around their Minnesota house. I think of it as growing colors. How about a series of photos of them enlarged and mounted for a wall here and there, I thought. Walls of primary colors.
I don’t have the idea perfected yet but here are a few starting photos. The concept was to have pure color…the flower as color rather than as its whole being.
It was May 3, 2021 and we were emerging from the pandemic—when last I wrote. Now it is August 1, 2021 and we are…what? I am as confused by life as everyone one else right now. So here’s a back-to-blog-world post about my very own pandemic-free month…kind of like ‘what I did on my summer vacation’ but with the expectation that I’m returning to the new-normal…you know, the socially-distanced, when can-I-take-another-trip normal. Hope many of you had the pleasure of a month or two off before you started worrying again. Between covid, climate and the nazis, it’s not so easy to find that month.
Never mind all of that. For the entire beautiful mask-free, up-home, lake, woodtick, walleye and family month of June 2021 I WAS HOME.
Before I wax profound when sharing photos from out at the old place…or visiting elderly cousins…or getting my road-trip mojo back…or Buddy and the flowers and the birthday, here’s a light-hearted opening.
There are two of us. Minnesota Marge who used to live in New Mexico, and New Mexico Marj, who’s a Minnesotan, but has lived in New Mexico for lo, so very many years. We remain buddies from long-ago Democratic party campaigns in Albuquerque, and later hanging out in the Twin Cities during my bouts of living ‘back home.’
It was a week after flying into Hibbing, Minnesota on June 1st, throwing my mask in the back seat, not to put it back on until walking back into the airport in Minneapolis one month later, and after spending some good talking, dog-petting, eating, lazing about time with Robert, Marsha, and Buddy. I headed out to meet Minnesota Marge at a cabin-at-the-lake just outside of Motley, Minnesota. You must understand, for Minnesotans, going to a cabin at the lake in the northwoods in summertime is sacred. More than work, home, church, school, Vikings games, maybe even more than hunting season…it is sacred.
The sad story behind all of this is the Nesets didn’t own a cabin at the lake or have the financial wherewithal to rent one if we had wanted to, so there is that small stain against our Minnesota-bona fides. In fact this would be one of my few trips to that magic realm (The Kingdom of Cabin-on-the-Lake) in my lengthy life. You can imagine I was excited!
The pictures tell the story. Pale bodies near water. Eating Walleye, sympathizing with turtle giving birth, water and more water. Strawberry-Rhubarb cake baked by Marge’s friend, Mike. Minnesota Lake Summer Friends Home.
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. In all fairness to Netflix, they ask us to remember it is fiction…but I watched for what I thought was a semblance of truth…always remember, big grains of salt with every serving of everything. To be personally honest, I have always been fascinated by the British Royal Family. No idea why but I say it’s because I’m something of a history buff. Maybe it’s really 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 a 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. 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 but since I’ve spent much of my energy and income these last years traipsing 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 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 simply a few days away from the regular routine…I have definitely broken out of covid prison. Haven’t awoken in a state of deep depression for three days (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, and 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. Hey, right now though, it is all better.
Some photos then…