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The Deepest Cut

The literal translations of the French expression “ras le bol” means “shave the bowl.” Pronounced “RALL BULL,” the French say this to express “That’s it, I can’t take it anymore.” My elegant Parisian friend Nicole explained the origin of the phrase: someone having a haircut with a bowl on his head, a cut that is going none too well and thus the command to shave the bowl.

I reached “ras le bol” yesterday after not having had a haircut for nearly a year. My extreme youth means I need to wait my turn for the vaccine until summer, and I thought I could be patient until then and endure my long, stringy, witchy locks.

My late sister made a living for a time as a hair stylist, and I still have her shears. I’ve never used them, but they are razor sharp even after all this time. Fed up, I took them to my wild mane and chopped off at least 8 inches. Don’t look too closely at the hatchet job.

It felt like an unburdening, and gave me a sense of fortitude to wait until I can see and hug friends, take a hike in the local hills, go out without worrying, and resume mundane pleasures like browsing the library shelves.

What about you? Have you had any “ras le bol” moments lately, either Covid related or not? And what did you do if so?

A Long Time Gone

My sister is gone 33 years today, absent from my life now for as long as she walked this earth. She was 33 when she died.

A collapsed Catholic, I borrow liberally from the Jewish tradition of lighting a yahrzeit candle. I lit the small flame this morning that will burn for the next 24 hours.E

Every year on this date one of my sister’s dear friends sends me a message, saying she is thinking of Mary, and sometimes she shares a memory of something they laughed about together. Today she wrote that she wishes Mary were here to talk to “especially with the way the world is these days.” It always makes me cry, reawakened loss mingled with gratitude that someone else still remembers her and misses her as much as I do.

Today would be a good day to get in touch with someone you haven’t talked with in a while, listen to what is going on in their life, and let them know what they mean to you.

2020 Was for the Birds

            

On January 2 in in Black Canyon Heritage Park in Arizona, we spotted a vermillion flycatcher. At the start of an exhilarating road trip to mark the milestone of David’s retirement, we perceived the brilliant red bird as a good omen for 2020. We were sure the year would be different, special, punctuated by welcome changes.

Later in the year David joked bitterly that if he ever saw a vermillion flycatcher again, he would shoot it. Shall we say the year hasn’t quite turned out as expected?

Home since March and venturing out only for groceries and walks in the neighborhood and nearby parks, we have attempted to heed poet Mary Oliver’s advice: “Pay attention. Be astonished. Tell about it.”

Here are some of the astonishing birds we saw (with my apology for less-than-stellar photography in many instances).

American Dipper
Clapper Rail
Egyptian Goose
Great Blue Heron
Great-Horned Owls
Pin-Tailed Wydah
Scaly-Breasted Munia
Sharp-Shinned Hawk
Snowy Egret

Wishing you all a new year that is astonishing only in ways you love.

Christmas Is What You Make It

Here is my mother on the cover of Parents magazine in December 1935. She told the story of posing weekly for the painting at age 12, miming a choir girl, mouth open, eyes fixed on the firmament. She was paid $5 and a box of chocolates, very decent wages for the day. I can’t remember the story of how she came to be on the cover, although vaguely recollect her saying that the painter was a family friend.

Parents no longer features paintings on its covers, nor children who have passed out of baby stage. But the other headlines from 1935 could be current: the cradle to college trip, family fun, home management. There’s even a nod to fathers, which seems progressive for an era when children were largely women’s business.

And as in 1935, Christmas and other winter holidays this month will indeed be what we make it. For too many, this season will be the first without a loved one they lost this year. For those dealing with the empty place at the table, the call they can’t make, the gift that can’t be sent, prayers, love, and compassion.

For whatever you make of the season this year, taking place in these dark times, I wish you peace, comfort, and hope.

Nothing Like a Quick Quarter-Century

. . . to drive home the truth that our time on this earth is so very fleeting, and gather ye rosebuds while ye may.

Christopher is 25 today. It seems the mere blink of an eye since he arrived—calm, alert, curious, with an early, prolific vocabulary that would startle people.  

The pandemic put the kibosh on celebrating his 25th with him. However, this is a simple inconvenience in a time when so many have lost so much more.

We’ll miss the ritual cake and presents, but will concentrate instead of being thankful that we savored every second with him when he was little.

Which Side Are You On? Election Day 2020 Playlist

     

Here we are, people, days away. How will you monitor election results? To avoid newscasters’ self-important jawboning, I’ll watch the returns with the sound off. Here’s a partial playlist of the music I’ll listen to instead.

May the best man and woman win.

Patti Smith                          People Have the Power

John Lennon                      Power to the People/Just Gimme Some Truth

Public Enemy                     Fight the Power

Judy Collins                         Bread and Roses

Michel Teló                         Ai Se Eu Te Pego

The Pogues                        Sunny Side of the Street

Black 47                             Funky Ceili

John Philip Sousa             Stars and Stripes Forever

Bob Dylan                           Chimes of Freedom

John Prine                           Your Flag Decal Won’t Get You Into Heaven

Anymore

Rosanne Cash                    Crawl Into the Promised Land

Pete Seeger                       Which Side Are You On?

Bruce Springsteen           Philadelphia

Gil Scott-Heron                 The Revolution Will Not Be Televised

Common                             Glory

Odetta                                  Oh Freedom

Staples Singers                  People Get Ready

Mario Rojas                        Cross That Line

Creedence                          Fortunate Son

Billy Strings Dust in a Baggie

Kenrick Lamar For Free?

A Grim Pronouncement

“Seven weeks from today.” That’s the first thing I said to David this morning.

He considered me for moment before he said, “You’re not going to make it.” I had to laugh in spite of myself.

Yes, I’ve been just the slightest bit worked up about the election.

But to keep from disintegrating from sheer anxiety and to prove David’s dire prediction untrue, I’ve been chipping in every payday to the Arballo, Biden/Harris, Gideon, Harrison, Kelly, Mangone and McGrath campaigns.

Phil Arballo and Kim Mangone are running for Congress in California to unseat toadies Devin Nunes and Kevin McCarthy, respectively. Sarah Gideon faces Susan “I’m Concerned” Collins in the Maine Senate race, Jaime Harrison is gaining ground against the fawning Lindsay Graham in South Carolina, former astronaut and Gabby Gifford’s spouse Mark Kelly is taking on Martha “Build the Wall” McSally in Arizona, and Amy McGrath aims to deny “Moscow Mitch” McConnell a seventh Senate term in my native Kentucky.

Oh, and we’re counting on Biden/Harris to decontaminate the White House after four years of Agent Orange.

Have a few bucks to spare? Chip in to the candidate of your choice today. No donation is too small.

I’m sending postcards to voters, too.

How about you? What are you doing in the run-up to the election to stay focused, calm, and hopeful?

I Was a Stranger

Here are the boarded-up front doors of St. Barnabas Catholic Church in our neighborhood. According to our local Next Door site, homeless people were sleeping on the steps and there was a report of someone with a knife, (which I could neither confirm nor prove untrue).

The sight of the boarded-up doors shocked me. Didn’t anyone think through the incongruity of the chirpy “Welcome!” sign posted on the barricade?

More important, what happened to Matthew 25?

For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in.

Was barring the doors the only solution?

Before leaving St. Barnabas in 2007, I spent 16 years in the parish as an RCIA sponsor, lector, parent board member and facilitator of the weekly Scripture study group. If I were still involved, I’d speak up about these horrible optics and suggest a special collection for hotel vouchers, clothing, and food instead of plywood.

But as an outsider, I can only feel appalled by the hostility and small-mindedness represented by these closed doors.

Long Overdue

I drove to the Michelle Obama Library today for “contactless pickup” of books I’d reserved months ago and to return the passel of books we’d checked out just before all the libraries shut down in March.

My new books:

  • The Actress by Irish writer Anne Enright, which I’m very excited to read.
  • The Night Watchman by Louise Erdrich, another writer I like a lot.

I returned these seriously overdue books—all late fines suspended—that had been on our shelves so long that it felt like we owned them:

  • The 20th Century in Poetry, editors Michael Hulse and Simon Rae. This chronological collection of more than 400 poems from 1900 to 2000 sustained me early in the lockdown, when I had trouble concentrating. I could pay sufficient attention to read a few poems every night. The editors’ notes on historical context made otherwise inaccessible poems jump into sharp focus. Along with reading old favorites, I was pleased to discover poems that were entirely fresh to me.
  • They Called Us Enemy by George Takei. Wonderful graphic memoir of Takei’s childhood in WWII internment camps. Takei noted recently that he hears more whining about wearing masks today than he heard altogether about anything while he and his family were imprisoned.
  • The Far Field by Madhuri Vijay. If you haven’t read this brilliant first novel set in Bangalore and in a remote Kashmir village, do.
  • Nutshell by Ian McEwan. I read this novel narrated by an unborn child a few years ago. It was David’s turn this time, and he loved it.
  • Secrets of the Savannah by Mark and Delia Owens. Yes, that Delia Owens of Crawdads   This one, like Crawdads, was meh.  Don’t @ me.
  • The Sweetest Fruits by Monique Truong. I liked Truong’s Bitter in the Mouth better than this one.
  • Before and After by Judy Christie and Lisa Wingate. Stories of orphans who survived the corrupt Tennessee Children’s Home Society. Wingate’s novel, Before We Were Yours, is a fictionalized account; this is the real deal.
  • Inland by Téa Obreht. Who knew there were camels in the Wild West? Inland didn’t hold my attention like The Tiger’s Wife did, but that was likely due to my diminished powers of concentration, and not the book.
  • Chop Suey Nation by Ann Hui. Great history of “chop suey” restaurants in Canada. Made me hungry at a time when I can’t eat anything.
  • The Bohemians: Mark Twain and the San Francisco Writers Who Reinvented American Literature by Ben Tarnoff. David and Christopher read this one. Apropos, as Christopher returned to San Francisco today to restart his new life there after quarantining for almost three months with us.

What are you reading? What, or whom, are you saying goodbye to these days?

 

Lentils, Military Weaponry, and a Meltdown

queen eliz

Fifty-nine days ago, I pinned a quote from Queen Elizabeth’s speech about coronavirus on the refrigerator: “I hope in the years to come, everyone will be able to look back with pride at how they responded to this challenge.” At that time, we were already 26 days into the quarantine.

I’d managed fairly well up until this point but today the frozen lentils took me over the edge. In this ghastly week of protests, curfews, looting, the military gassing its own citizens, and the horrible echo of George Floyd’s last words, strange that mere legumes would be my undoing.

Overheard as I worked in my home office at 1 p.m. today:

“That’s a disaster waiting to happen. If your hand slips . . . .”

I should have stayed put, but went into the kitchen to investigate.

A clump of frozen lentil curry the size of a soccer ball lay in a glass bowl on the counter. My son was attempting to stab it with his KA-BAR knife, a Marine Corps weapon capable of lethal damage.

“What are you doing?”

“I’m trying to cut this apart.”

“Stop,” I said irritably. “Just heat all of it up.”

My son stubbornly insisted that no, it was too much.

My husband observed from the dining room, a one-man Greek chorus.

When I stepped forward to interfere and take the glass bowl, my 6’5” son body checked me and blocked my reaching it.

That’s when 85 days of stress, worry, confinement, overwork and anguish burst forth. I bellowed “STOP” at full throttle, picked up a weighty cast iron skillet and brought it down violently on the counter, making a godawful clatter. By this time, my son had ducked, perhaps fearing that I was going to hurl the skillet. I wasn’t, knowing the Queen would have drawn the line at that.

I wasn’t finished, however. “I’m trying to work,” I screamed. “When I say, ‘stop’ I mean stop!” At this point my husband was advising that perhaps I should be the one to stop, but I was not to be deterred. “Have some respect!” I roared at both of them.

It should be noted that while yelling, I was transferring the frozen curry into a pan, adding a bit of water, putting it on the stove, and setting a low flame so it could defrost and heat slowly.

The rituals of feeding the family are reflexive, even during a collapse.