Sit or Stand: How Do You Keep Your Back Happy?

Ernest Hemingway wrote standing up. Charles Dickens wrote standing up. Virginia Woolf wrote standing up. I can write standing up. Right?

We’ll see.

Convinced that sitting all day at my computer was killing my back, I set out to create a more permanent standing setup than planting my laptop on a rack on top of my sewing machine cabinet in the guest room or occasionally on the kitchen counter. After much measuring, planning, online ordering, and office rearranging, I now have in my official office a standup working arrangement. My desktop computer is an old Windows 7 model with all the brains in a box on the floor. Some of my USB cables were not long enough, so I had to change to a Bluetooth-connected printer (thank you, Pat) and order a wireless keyboard (I had worn off the L and the N anyway). I had to move my clock and my calendars so I could sort of see them, and I’m still figuring out where to put my mug-warmer, so I can sip my tea while I work without spilling it on the keyboard.

All of this rearranging required much standing, bending, lifting and crawling, delightful for my back. If you recall, last week, I was mostly lying down staring at the ceiling or the sky. But I’m doing much better, I was careful, and I’m seeing the chiropractor again today for one more tuneup.  

Standing here, I can look out at my back yard. Sunrise was so beautiful. I can check email and Facebook while on my feet. But I get tired. I wrote this morning’s poem sitting on the loveseat with the dog, and I’m sitting in my new raised “drafting” chair as I type this. But when I feel like it, I’ll stand for a while. I wonder if one thinks differently, if one writes differently standing vs. sitting. Does the body assume a fight or flight stance? What do you think?

I haven’t had a job that required much standing since I worked retail in college. I do remember how great it felt to sit down on my breaks. Since I went into the newspaper biz in my senior year, I have always worked seated. This is a privilege not granted to all workers. Think about all the people who spend all day on their feet: waitresses, cooks, nurses, assembly line workers, bank tellers, hairstylists, teachers, and more. A lot of us don’t even notice that these workers are standing all day, but they are.

It doesn’t take much research to learn that even with supportive shoes, cushioned surfaces, and occasional breaks, standing jobs take a toll on the body. In fact, they’re just as bad for your back as sitting all day. Check out these articles:

Standing All Day at Work May Take Toll on Health, WebMD News from HealthDay

10 jobs that keep you on your feet

Standing All Day for Work? Here’s How to Avoid Pain and Injury

So what do we do? I can testify that sitting all day trashes your back, especially if you’re hunched forward concentrating like I tend to do. You also get “lithographer’s spread” (fat butt) as my late father-in-law used to say. Standing uses more calories, so I’m hoping to lose a few pounds, but I can already tell I’ll only be standing off and on.

Our bodies are made to move. I believe the only logical conclusion is to not stay in any one position too long. So now I’m standing as I write this last bit. Up, down, up, down, keep it moving. I set a timer to both force myself to stay on task and to tell me when to get up and move.

There are people who sit on big rubber balls or run on treadmills while working. Amazon offers what looks like a stool on a rubber mount that keeps moving around. I don’t have the coordination for that, but I applaud their creativity.

How about you? How much time do you sit? Have you worked jobs where you had to stand all day? How did you deal with that? How do you keep your back happy? I look forward to your comments.

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What Do You Do When Your Back Goes Out and You can’t Stay in One Position for More than Five Minutes?

For one thing, you don’t post on your blog for three weeks in a row because all you can think about is your back, and that’s boring. I’m still getting things done, just . . . differently.

My back has gone bonkers. I just spent my third weekend babying it. The only semi-comfortable position is upside down with my back flat on the floor, the bed, or the deck. See photos. The world looks quite different in reverse. The clouds are gorgeous. The ceiling looks like a new world I’d like to explore. The dog is intrigued. She sniffs. Hmm. What’s going on? Then she barks until I take her out for a walk where I moan for a block, then turn her around, saying, “Mama has to go lie down.”

Please don’t send advice. I’m drowning in it. I’m seeing the chiropractor every other day. I just want to share some of the quirky things this has caused me to do:

* Binged the 8-episode series Clickbait, a mystery-thriller that kept me guessing right up to the surprise ending, which I watched in the wee hours this morning. Highly recommended.

* Watched “The Starling,” a movie with Melissa McCarthy, and “An Unfinished Life” with Robert Redford, Jennifer Lopez and Morgan Freeman. Both good. Put them on your list, too. I also watched some real stinkers, but I won’t mention them.

* Decided to rearrange my office again, ordered a table and a high-rise chair to go with my standing desk, coming Thursday, assembly required.

* Decided to digitize 50 years’ worth of sheet music and ordered a new tablet, coming tomorrow.

* Joined the Walmart shopping club for the free delivery.

* Sampled an online mandolin course, which now keeps telling me to start my first lesson.

* Shopped for guitars and cars. Now my computer is full of ads for both.

* Soaked in the hot tub for hours, trying out all the features on the control panel. If I could move my computer desk to the hot tub, I would stay there all day.

* Listened to a bazillion podcasts, most of them stupid.

* Zoomed countless poetry readings, changing location every few minutes. I honestly don’t know how I will ever sit still in a chair when COVID lets us meet in person again.

* Revised my memoir one more time, sitting, standing, and lying with my laptop on my belly.

* Planned landscaping and redecorating projects that I will undertake when I can move again.

* Continued playing music at church, where I was grateful Catholics change position a lot—sit, stand, kneel, walk up to Communion . . .  Stand up straight! I thought I was.

* Let the mail stack up and the dirty dishes wait.

* Thought about how maybe I can’t live here by myself anymore even though I love my place in the forest.

* Counted my blessings that I could still walk and move and plan even though it hurt. Lots of people can’t do those things.

Is it getting better? I’m honestly not sure. I’m not crawling around with two canes now, so that’s something. I can stand without screaming, but . . . I don’t know. I’m doing what I can to mitigate the effects of sitting at my computer all day, mostly by just not doing it. Hemingway wrote standing up, so I can, too. Meanwhile, the floor is calling me.

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The Day the Vacuum Cleaner Died

A Prose Poem

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The blue monster roars and the Labrador runs, slamming out the doggie door to hide under the pines. Why does her human not see the evil in its shining yellow grin, its long black tail, and its multiple mouths that chew and swallow everything, even live bugs and clumps of fur? Why does the woman not run and take shelter with the dog, quivering, skin against fur, until the monster goes away?

But wait. The beast has gone silent. The woman has it on its back. The woman curses as she pokes its innards with a long stick, a wire hanger, and then a plumber’s snake. Can the snake kill the beast? The dog is watching eagerly. Should she join the attack? She is old, and the monster’s hard skin would only hurt her teeth.

Look! The woman is dragging the beast out by its head, laying it on the patio deck. With her multi-headed screwdriver, she is taking it apart, pulling out its guts. She growls and grunts. She is covered with fur and dirt. She holds her back as if in pain, but she fights on.

At last, the beast is torn apart, eviscerated. Only the skeleton remains intact. The woman has slain the blue monster. Spent, she sits beside her kill as the dog, saved, runs across the yard, clatters onto the deck, and licks her savior’s dusty face.

**************

Yes, I killed it. Put it in the pile with all the mechanical things that have malfunctioned lately. Hot tub. Indoor-outdoor thermometer. The dehumidifier’s overflow light is on. The car’s service light is on. The Kindle warns of low battery. I found the watch I had lost for months, but the battery is dead and I can’t get the back off to replace it. I tried to move my window blinds from one window to another where the blinds were already broken and broke off the doo-hickey that holds them on. The computer keeps telling me it wants to install a new security thing that I’m afraid will destroy my online life . . .

I am a) not mechanical, b) not equipped with more than two hands, and c) so distracted I routinely forget I turned on the stove or the washing machine. I need a live-in helper. Not a husband or a lover. Not someone I need to take care of. I need someone of any age or gender who has the energy to see a problem and say, “I’ll take care of that for you” and then do it.

After waiting three days for three visits from a very strange pair of hot tub repair guys, one of them so crippled with a bad back I could feel his pain as he bent and squatted over the spa controls, they declared it healed. I put the hose in to fill it up Saturday morning, started writing and forgot it. It overflowed, and I had to drain the excess. Two days later, it overheated, the light flashing at 110 degrees. I played with the controls until it stopped, but now the water is 80 degrees and getting colder by the minute.  

I need a keeper. And a new vacuum cleaner. I think the old one choked on dog fur, which I pulled out of every orifice. Now it not only doesn’t suck up dirt and fur, but it won’t turn on. I killed it. Annie is overjoyed.

Have you ever hoped for a power failure to simplify your life? What mechanical things drive you nuts? Do you have a vacuum cleaner you love? What kind? Please share.

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Wandering Through the Rooms in my Dreams

Have you ever dreamed repeatedly about a house you have never lived in? I have. Usually it’s this elegant castle of a home where I keep discovering new rooms and there’s a secret door that leads down a flight of stairs to a plush sitting room I only show to special people. I have been there many times and wish I could stay.

But last night, it was a different house. Rustic. Splintered wood in need of sanding and paint. Some very old furniture that remained from a past owner. Fred and I were claiming it now. I don’t know if we had bought it or were about to.

Another woman might be obsessed with the kitchen or the bedrooms, but all I cared about was office space. Where will I write?

I had choices. First I claimed a small room off the living room. It had an ancient leather swivel chair and a vast wooden desk. I sat and spun. Oh, I could write here, I thought. But there was more to the house. We came to a huge office space in a refurbished garage. The windows were boarded up, but when we took off the covers, light poured in. This room had an enormous desk and rows and rows of shelves and plastic bins where I could store my books and my research. The garage door was still there, and I could open it on warm days.

I realized my husband, who had a tax preparation business, might want to choose one of these offices. I should not be selfish. When I’m writing, it doesn’t matter where I am. But as always, he was so generous he gave me my choice. I wanted the big one.

The living room was a shadowy blur. I never saw the kitchen or bedrooms or even a bathroom. Every inch of this house needed work, but oh, I wanted that office. Not only would I write, but people would come for salons and readings. I could taste the wine and the cheese and crackers.

In real life, I have a perfectly good office in a bedroom in my house in South Beach. It is crammed with my books and papers and the various tools I need for my work. Copies of my own books are stacked in Fred’s old office, along with mailing supplies. But the truth is I work all over the property, including the kitchen, living room, and back yard. Sometimes I write a word or two in the laundry room or the bathroom because the words don’t stop at the doorway where the dog lies waiting for attention. It’s odd that I don’t dream about my actual office. But I love those offices in my dreams. What does it mean?

Do you dream about houses? Are they places you have lived or places you have never seen? What rooms stand out for you? Where do you think this comes from?

***

For something totally quirky and fun, look at these artificial “shadows” created by an artist in Redwood City, California. Some of us used it as a poetry prompt this weekend, but all you need to do is enjoy them.

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A Modern-Day Tale of Two Viruses

This afternoon I got tested for COVID-19. Part of me wanted the test to be positive so I would know why I have had this killer headache for four days, but most of me wanted it to be negative so I could continue my life without having to quarantine. I needed groceries! I didn’t feel too sick, so if it was COVID, the vaccine was working.

I wracked my brain as to where I might have gotten the virus. I wore my mask everywhere. Did I get it at church? Unlikely because I was isolated at the piano with my mask on. Did I get it chatting with the neighbors while walking Annie? Shopping for groceries at Fred Meyer? Picking up my library book? I know one friend who has COVID right now, but I haven’t seen her for weeks. Was it the writer I had lunch with on Thursday? Nah. Well, maybe.

But my test was negative. No COVID. I still have the headache and a slight case of the sniffles, but maybe it’s just a plain old cold. Remember those?

The guy who administered the test was not very friendly. I felt like a leper. To all those who test positive, I wish I could give you a big old hug.  Meanwhile, I’ll be more cautious than before.

COVID is not the only kind of bug I have been dealing with. I got hacked. Last week I received a direct Facebook message from a musician friend with a link to a video. “Is this you in the video?” she asked. Well, I’m in quite a few videos because our church music gets uploaded on YouTube every week and I participate at least once a week in a Zoom literary reading or open mic that is recorded. So I figured, sure, it’s probably me. I’d like to see myself—come on, who doesn’t? So I clicked. It just brought me an error message. There was no video. Oh well, I thought, and went on with my business until that evening when friends started bombarding me with messages asking if my Facebook account had been “hacked.” Meaning someone had invaded my account and taken control of it.

Some days, I wish we could go back to typewriters and snail mail. Typewriters and paper only receive what you put into them. They don’t interrupt with thoughts of their own. Nor can what you put into them be stolen by people who aren’t even in the same state or country as you are. Nobody ever got “hacked” writing with a pen or typing on a typewriter.

All of my Facebook friends received the same message asking about the video. Don’t click on it, I said, but for some it was too late. They clicked, and now they too will be spreading the virus to all their friends. I can only change my password, apologize and warn people to be careful. I could quit Facebook, too, but as a writer living alone, I need the company and the connections.

The next day, while walking Annie, I received a text message on my phone from my credit card company that my account was locked. Uh-oh. The virus had spread. There was a link to click to resolve the situation. It’s good I was not at home and Annie was pulling too hard for me to mess with my phone. I had time to think wait, this might be a scam. It was. At home, I checked my account, and everything was fine. I went on a password-changing frenzy for all of my financial accounts.

I hate that this world has gotten to a point where you have to be constantly suspicious, where you can’t just pick up the phone and say “hello” without making sure the caller is someone you know, where you can’t click on any link that comes your way or accept every Facebook friend request. Nine out of ten of the requests I get are from hackers posing as friends or from handsome widowed men who are not real. Within minutes after accepting such friendships, my messages start spewing garbage.

I think things have settled down in the Internet world for the moment. I have not sent anyone a direct message or a friendship request since Thursday night, so if you get such a thing, it is not from me. If you receive a link from someone you do not know or from someone you do know who would not usually send you a link, DO NOT CLICK IT.

Have you had a COVID scare or a positive result? Feel free to share how that went? Have you been hacked on Facebook or elsewhere on the Internet? We can talk about that, too.

If you’re isolating yourself these days, check out the science fiction mini-series “Solos” on Amazon Prime. In each episode, the single character is alone, either by choice or not, and some pretty spooky stuff happens. Helen Mirren, Morgan Freeman, and Anne Hathaway are among the famous actors who appear.

In my isolation, I’m streaming a lot of shows. Best movie I have seen in ages: “Here Today” with Billy Crystal. Fascinating Renee Zellweger transformation: “The Same Kind of different as Me.” Dark and sure to make you cry: “News of the World” with Tom Hanks.

Click carefully, get your shots, and don’t go out without your mask. See you on Zoom.

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Writing the Alzheimer’s Experience

We are all worried about Covid, but there’s another illness running rampant through the population. More than 6 million Americans have Alzheimer’s disease (AD). One in three of us are likely to experience dementia in old age. Paid long-term care, whether in a facility or at home, costs more than $5,000 a month and is not covered by insurance. Scary? You bet.

As most readers know, my husband Fred died 10 years ago of complications from Alzheimer’s disease. He had started showing symptoms in late 2001, five and a half years after we left Silicon Valley for the good life in on the Oregon coast. It was subtle at first, a missed word here and there, trouble with the TV remote. But eventually I was forced to move him to a series of nursing homes. In the end, he didn’t know where he was or who I was. On his birthday last week, but for Alzheimer’s, he would have been 84.

As a writer, I had to write about it. Gravel Road Ahead, my chapbook released in 2019, shares our journey in poetry form. But I have been working on a prose memoir since the early days of Fred’s illness. It has taken many years, with more than one complete rewrite after I thought it was finished. This summer I embarked on another rewrite, working with an editor who has helped me see new possibilities and forced me to dive deep into the dark days, recreating the scenes with dialogue and details. Last week I finished that revision (for now) and started sending out my proposal and sample chapters to agents and editors.

People who aren’t in the book business keep expecting to see a published book any minute, but it’s a long process. Writing it is just Step One.

One requirement for a nonfiction book proposal is an annotated list of other books on the subject, with a few lines explaining why my book is better/different/worth sharing shelf space with them. As a result, I have read so many books on Alzheimer’s they’re all blurring together in my head. Each one forces me to relive my own experience with Fred and other loved ones.

Here are two I read last week.

Ann Davidson’s Alzheimers: A Love Story: One Year in My Husband’s Journey, published in 1996, is a beautiful love story that takes place in the Bay Area, familiar territory for me. Her husband Julian, a renowned Stanford professor, can no longer read or write or speak intelligibly. He can’t work anymore, but he feels as if he should be doing something. Ann struggles to keep him entertained and safe, but it isn’t easy. Still, there is so much love, and there are joyful moments.

In Susan Straley’s Alzheimer’s Trippin’ with George, one in a series of three books, Straley’s husband has similar problems, but her series of books compiled from her Trippin’ blog is a bit different. She and George are recumbent tricycle enthusiasts, riding alone and with their friends all over the country. Even deep into AD, they continue to ride. When George can’t operate his own trike anymore, they get a tandem one where she provides the muscle and direction. Her patience and strength are incredible. There are grim moments but many laughs, too. You might want to check out Straley’s blog. She’s a lot of fun.

I have more AD books to read, including newish books by Glen Campbell’s wife Kim and Ronald Reagan’s daughter Patti Davis. I’ll let you know how they are.

Check out the AlzAuthors group as well as the Alzheimer’s Association for book lists and more.

So many AD books have already been published, including many offering diets, exercises, and other techniques that allegedly cure or prevent AD (they don’t) and many offering help for caregivers. Does the world need another AD book? I hope so. Mine is about a lot more than Alzheimer’s, and I really want to share Fred’s story, preferably with a publisher who will do it justice. Fingers crossed.

Dementia is awful. I have seen too much of it with my family and friends. If you are going through it, big hugs to you. Let’s pray the latest drug breakthroughs provide relief so that future generations won’t have to worry about it.

Meanwhile, has anyone in your life been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s or another form of dementia? Would you be interested in reading the story of our journey through AD? Please share in the comments.

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. . . and then they heard a scream!

The most exciting thing in my life lately was the steroid shot I had in my foot to deal with the pain of plantar fasciitis, an inflammation of the ligament between the ball of the foot and the heel. I had tried ice, inserts in my shoes, and a little bit of stretching, but some mornings it hurt so bad I needed a cane to get from the bedroom to the kitchen. So I went back to the doctor. When he described the options, I decided one shot was better than weeks of pills or, God forbid, surgery.

I was wrong. We’re talking a long needle inserted for a long time exactly where it hurts the most. I screamed so loud that the people in the waiting room were probably wondering who was being killed. The doc slapped on a bandage and sent me on my way. He did not warn me that the medicine would keep me awake all night or that it would turn my face bright red. When I woke up the morning after the shot, my cheeks were on fire! It took about 24 hours to fade. The doc never responded to my email inquiry about whether this was normal. Dr. Google said it was common.

Plantar fasciitis turns out to be as common as athlete’s foot. When I posted about it on Facebook, my friends urged me to do stretching exercises to avoid needing another shot. I’m stretching, I’m stretching. Hold on a minute; let me stretch again. I also ordered a pair of shoes that another friend swears cured her plantar fasciitis. They’re expensive. I hope they work. If not, well, they’re purple, and that will be fun.

In a world where the Taliban has taken over Afghanistan, another earthquake has trashed Haiti, wildfires are burning up the West, and Covid patients are filling up the hospitals again, I’m grateful my only problem is wonky feet and a red face.

Pray for all the people hurting in this world. Keep stretching. Pray while you’re stretching. Here are some stretches to try. Have a good week and stay safe.

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I was singing ‘O Solo Mio’ again

O Solo Mio. For some reason, my family used to sporadically break out in that opening operatic line. We thought it meant “oh lonely me.” Sometimes we went on to sing “O Solo You-o,” which is of course not the correct words. They’re “Sta ‘nfronte a te.” In fact, we had the whole thing wrong. The song lyric is actually “O sole mio,” loosely translated as “my sunshine,” about how with the sun shining on her, the singer’s lover is more beautiful than ever. It’s an 1898 Neapolitan love song, which my parents probably heard sung by Mario Lanza back in the 1940s, and I have heard sung by Luciano Pavarotti, The Three Tenors, and others. But we got it wrong.

Did you know the same tune was used with different lyrics for two popular songs, “There’s No Tomorrow,” recorded by Dean Martin, and “It’s Now or Never,” recorded by Elvis Presley? I’ll bet you’ve got it in your head now.

At our house, “O Solo Mio” was probably sung with sarcasm in the same way my mom said, “Oh, pobrecito,” poor little thing,  or sometimes the Portuguese version, “pobrezinho,” when we kids complained. I grew up with a lot of sarcasm. But that’s between me and my shrink.

“O Solo Mio” ran through my head yesterday when I found myself alone at the South Beach community center, pacing its polished wood floor and sighing over the chairs in which no one was sitting. I threw a jam session and no one came. Story of my life. Luckily, I know how to amuse myself. I pulled out my guitar and played and sang, enjoying the fabulous acoustics. Then I played my mandolin, wishing I had memorized more than one whole song. I sounded wonderful. Who’s to say I didn’t?

The usual hosts of our monthly open mic/jam were on vacation. They gave me the key. Such power. We would do more folk and country and less rock under my watch. We would avoid songs I never learned by artists I never heard of because I stopped listening to the latest popular music in about 1980.

The day finally came. I stayed dressed in my church clothes, touched up my makeup and let myself into the magic kingdom of music.

Nobody came. I gave them an hour. I played and sang and played some more. Cars came and went, but the occupants crossed the street to tour the shops at Aquarium Village or to eat at Fishtails Cafe. A little after 4:00, I went home, walked the dog and went back to watching “Crazy Ex-Girlfriend” on Netflix (silly story, marvelous singing and dancing).

The South Beach community center was the place where I held a book launch in 2012 to which only one person came. That was for Childless by Marriage (many copies still available). I went all out with food, decorations, and stacks of my books for people to buy. I arranged rows of chairs for the audience.

Show time came. I sat alone in a folding chair and practiced what I would say. One middle-aged woman wandered in. I sat with her in the front row and recited my speech. She bought a book—how could she not? And then I was alone again, packing up my books and food, putting away the chairs and tables, and walking lonely down those stairs.

After years of officiating at activities for writers and musicians, I have learned that it’s difficult to get people out of their houses and into your event. They have other things to do. They don’t want to deal with the weather in winter or tourist traffic in summer. They think I could go to this thing or I could stay home in my comfy clothes and watch Netflix, take a nap, or get the laundry done. Now that Covid is ramping up again, won’t most of us opt to stay home?

People are difficult to move. Like my dog Annie. Sometimes when she decides she doesn’t want to go where I’m trying to lead her, she sets her legs and refuses to budge. It’s like trying to move a building or a bus. People are like that, too, and you can’t put a harness on them.

As for the singers and pickers who didn’t come yesterday, no worries. It’s August, and the weather was glorious. Who wouldn’t rather be outside enjoying it? The South Beach open mic will happen again on Sept. 12, 3 to 5 p.m. at 3024 SE Ferry Slip Road. Come on down.  

Question of the day: What motivates you to leave the house for activities you are not required to attend? Fun? Food? Company? Someone urging you to go? Fear that if you don’t show up, you’ll get assigned a task you don’t want? What makes you say, “I think I’ll stay home”?

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Music is a Gift That Must Be Shared

I was not thrilled to be at church yesterday morning at 8:15 to prepare for Mass. I wanted more sleep, my car’s tire light was on the whole way to St. Anthony’s in Waldport (low pressure, not a flat), and I was wiped out from volunteering at the Willamette Writers’ conference. Nor was I thrilled when I realized I’d be doing this Mass alone because guitar-playing, big-singing Tim was waylaid by a situation at home, and the other singer I had expected was not there to sing. But God gave me a voice to sing and a piano to play, so here I was, grateful I had taken time to practice.

Tim made it in eventually, and the Mass went well. Afterward, a man came up to tell us how grateful he was to hear our music. He broke into tears. “My wife just died two weeks ago,” he said. “Usually the 9:00 Mass is so quiet. I’m so glad to have music.” I clasped his hand, but he pulled away and left, clearly embarrassed to be weeping in public, even though he had every right to weep. “My husband died, too,” I called after him. But he was gone, and it was time to get ready for the 10:30 Mass.

As much as I hated getting up early and playing back-to-back Masses, I vowed to keep doing as much church music as I could for as long as I could. I used to get paid for it at my previous church. I don’t at St. Anthony’s. I don’t care. I don’t need the money; I need the music.

Music touches people. It heals and soothes. Not all music for all people. Hip-hop, for example, just annoys me, and I hate the meandering organ music sometimes played at funerals or before church services. Give me a good melody and an earnest voice, even if it isn’t perfect.

I’ll be 70 next year. What is this little old lady still doing behind a microphone? Until I was 30, I sang mostly in school and community choirs, but as 30 approached, I had an “if not now, when?” moment when I decided it was time to step out and start performing on my own. I still did the choir thing with The Valley Chorale in Sunnyvale, California, the Coastal Harmony Vocal Band in Pacifica, and the Billy Vogue Country Singers tour that was supposed to make us all famous–and didn’t, but I also took my originals and cover songs to art galleries, festivals, sidewalk markets, senior centers, nursing homes, garden tours, coffee shops, and stage shows of various sorts.

In the early days, I had a nylon-string guitar and no sound equipment. I was too chicken to play piano in public, but eventually I had a carload of gear and played guitar, mandolin and piano while continuing to sing. My late husband Fred was my roadie and my biggest fan. It’s not the same without him.

Did I ever make much money at it? Precious little. Ages ago, I decided I could not pursue two careers full-tilt at once, and I was a better writer than musician, so I would write for work and do music for God, my only goal to do as much of it as possible as well as I could.

COVID knocked out all in-person gigs. While some churches had no music at all, we were lucky to continue offering music at St. Anthony’s. For a while, we sang with masks on to pictures taped to the pews and a camera sharing the Mass via Zoom and YouTube. Gradually the restrictions eased. The people came back, and the masks came off. Now we may be looking another surge of the virus with renewed restrictions, but meanwhile, I’m still playing and singing.

I’m not the only one. One day last week, I felt really depressed. I had cried a few tears at my desk, asking God why I had to be alone. Then Facebook notified me of an “Open Your Hymnal” concert being offered live. Three Catholic singers offered healing songs and prayers. My tears dried. I grabbed my guitar and played along, watching their fingers to “read” the chords. I was comforted.

I hated getting up early for church. I hated driving all the way to Waldport with the tire light on because I didn’t have time to stop and there are no gas stations or tire shops between South Beach and Waldport. I still feel a little stage fright wherever I sing and play. But I love the music, and I thank God we could give something to that heartbroken man who just lost his wife.

Whatever your gift, let it shine. Someone needs it.

****

P.S. The monthly South Beach acoustic jam/open mic is happening Sunday, Aug. 8, from 3 to 5 p.m. at the South Beach Community Center, 3024 SE Ferry Slip Road, across from Pirate’s Plunder. Bring your instrument and join us.

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Bringing new life to the old desk–or what writers do to avoid writing

Four coats of paint, one tweaked back and one trip to the walk-in clinic later, I’ve got a new-looking desk in my office making all the other furniture look bad.

It all started a week ago when I looked around my office and decided to reorganize. It was too crowded, too-right-handed for this lefty, and did not project a good image on Zoom. Every surface was covered with papers, binders, books, and miscellaneous electronics gear, and that old desk behind me looked like it lost in a bar fight.

I have had that desk since I was a child doing my homework with fat pencils on binder paper. My Grandpa Al and Great-Uncle Tony made it for my Uncle Bob. When he grew up, it came down to me as the oldest grandchild. It sat in the corner of my bedroom where the two windows came together, lace curtains blowing in the breeze. I didn’t just do homework on that desk. I painted, sewed, played jacks, and wrote my first poems on it. That desk supported my first typewriter, a blue manual purchased with babysitting money for $100 from McWhorter’s Stationery.

The desk, which moved with me to 11 different homes, was scratched, nicked and stained. It had tooth marks along one side from a teething puppy or two. By the time I had moved all the junk off the desk, I had changed my plan. I could refinish it and not put back the junk I’d been storing in it and on it for decades, only the things I would actually use. The rest of the office could wait.

I photographed the desk and put the question to my Facebook friends: colored paint or wood stain? The majority voted for stain. Sounded right to me. After all, this is the desk where Uncle Bob kept his Archie comic books and school supplies when he was a boy. I should respect its 80-year history.

I’m an impatient person. After watching a couple YouTube videos, I activated Netflix’s “Virgin River” on the computer and started sanding the desk. Yes, in my office. By hand. Without gloves. I had barely begun when I shoved the sandpaper across the edge of the desk with extra gusto and felt intense pain. Multiple splinters poked out of my right index finger. Most were easy to remove, but I suspected there might be something left. I poked at the red spot with a sewing needle and tweezers, getting nothing but pain. Maybe I’d already gotten all the slivers. Maybe not. I went back to sanding and “Virgin River.”

In the morning, my finger was red and swollen and hurt like crazy. This is not a good thing for a musician. Or a writer. Typing hurt. I took my finger to the walk-in clinic at Samaritan Pacific Hospital in Newport. Our walk-in clinic is housed in a portable building where there aren’t enough chairs in the waiting room, everyone hears everyone else’s business, and you can wait for hours to be called. Other patients complained of earaches, sprained ankles, stomach pain, and dizziness. One wanted her second COVID shot and couldn’t get it. I just had a stupid sliver in my finger. Or, in medical terms, “foreign object under the skin.”

I spent all morning at the clinic. Called into an examining room. Waited. Vitals. Waited. Doc numbed the finger with three lidocaine shots. Waited. Extraction. Dr. W. dug out a sliver so big we both said, “Wow.” At least a third of an inch long. Soaked in antiseptic solution. Waited. Ointment. Bandage. Released with a red, puffy and useless index finger. Forget working. I took myself to lunch at the new restaurant at the Embarcadero. Slow service, best French fries ever. And then I went to the paint store.

“ Have you ever done this before?” asked the friendly salesman at Sherwin-Williams.

“No.”

“Well . . .”

He loaded me up with advice, paint, polyurethane coating, a natural bristle brush, paint thinner for cleanup, and a couple of stir sticks.

I moved the desk out to the deck for the actual painting. The salesman had warned me the stain would stink and that I shouldn’t inhale the fumes. Playing bluegrass music on my phone, hands protected by gloves, I stroked the paint on, watching the old wood transform. Two coats of “amaranth,” a dark brown blend of black, burgundy and maroon, two coats of polyurethane. Magic. The old desk looked new and shiny. I had stain on my arms, and cheeks and possibly in my hair.

The paint store guy had told me I needed to sand the polyurethane to get rid of the “boogers.” I didn’t see any boogers. Now if he’d said “bubbles” . . .

Four coats. Four nights of waiting for the desk to dry. Yesterday, I dragged it back into the office and put the drawers back in. It’s not perfect. I can see some streaks and some “boogers,” but it’s not bad for a first effort.

I spent the rest of the afternoon sorting all the junk that used to live in the desk. Out with the carbon paper, graph paper, and old checks from a bank that no longer exists. Out with the foot-long Santa Claus pen. Now, what should I do with a hundred pencils and three dozen pens? I’d better get writing, I guess.

I can still smell the stain. My finger hurts. When Annie and I passed my chiropractor-neighbor on our walk last night, I warned him I’d be calling for an appointment. But hey, it was worth it.

It’s time to write. But the old rocking chair’s looking pretty dinged up, and I still have some stain left . . .

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