Where Can an Old Lady Get a Safe Non-Sexual Hug?

Did that question make you laugh? I get it, but I’m serious. For those of us who live alone, hugs are few and far between. Covid didn’t help. Now when I meet up with a hugger, they tend to ask first. “Do you do hugs?” What am I going to say? No! Don’t touch me? We wrap our arms around each other and hope our vaccines and immune systems are working.

Have you heard that people need hugs like they need food and air? No matter how old we are, we still need to be touched, to be held, just like we did when we were babies. In fact, I have read that we need at least four hugs a day. Some experts say we need 12. Show of hands: How many of us have had zero hugs today?

A Psychology Today article on the benefits of hugging says that hugging reduces stress, lowers blood pressure, boosts immune systems, and releases a pleasure hormone called oxytocin.

It’s no wonder so many of us long for a real hug, the kind where you both hold each other, no one holding back, no hurry to end it. You hug long enough to smell a hint of deodorant, soap or sweat, the mint on their breath. Even if their belt buckle is pushing into your stomach and your breasts feel squashed, you hold on because it feels so good.

Or at least that’s how I remember it.

People are suspicious of hugs these days. With Covid, it makes sense. But even before Covid, full-out hugs were outlawed in the workplace, between teachers and students, or in any situation where someone might cry, “Sexual abuse!” That’s a valid concern, even if the teacher just wants to cheer up a little kid who’s crying because his turtle died. Nope, at best, all they can give is a quick sideways squeeze. Or a fist bump, like a priest I used to know. We can’t blame any priest for wanting to avoid any suspicious touching after all the clergy abuse that has happened in the past.

But we need hugs. While being hugged, you feel held, loved, safe. It feels like home. My late husband Fred was famous for his hugs. When he hugged you, you knew you’d been truly hugged. My friend Terry does that, too. But Fred is gone, and I don’t see Terry very often.

So where is a girl supposed to get a hug? A Scoopwhoop.com post suggests that we find the the people who embrace with abandon and ask for hugs. We can also offer hugs to people who seem to need them, asking, “May I hug you?” But yes, these days, it’s not a simple question, and is a hug as good if you have to ask for it?

Wikihow has a post on how to hug in various situations. Do we really need instructions? Maybe after all this pandemic time, we do.

There are some hug substitutes one can try, such as weighted blankets, stuffed animals, and body pillows. You can wrap your arms around yourself and squeeze, but it’s not the same.

In some locations, you can hire a professional hugger. Read about it here: https://www.eatthis.com/professional-hugger/ And here: https://cuddlist.com/ and here: https://www.cuddlecomfort.com/ Is that weird? Would you ever hire a pro? Isn’t this a little like prostitution?

Check out this video of a little boy hugging residents at a nursing home. “Boy offers hugs to lonely senior citizens.” It will make you cry. You know those old people don’t get a lot of hugs.

Maybe the best way to get hugs is to give them. To a human. I hug my dog Annie all the time. She looks at me like what are you doing? She does not hug back.

In this time when Covid is still happening, we need to be careful. If you are blessed with a romantic partner, you have a built-in hug dispenser. Likewise with your children, except maybe for their teenage years. But if you live alone? All I can recommend is to hug where you feel comfortable. Offer a hug and you will usually get one back. It’s okay to say, “I need a hug.” We never outgrow the need to be touched.

Where do you get your hugs these days? Are you someone who initiates hugs or do you shy away from hugs? Who is the best hugger you know?

Photo by Marcus Aurelius on Pexels.com

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Is That You? You Look Different on Zoom

I parked at the community center in Keizer, Oregon last Sunday, climbed the stairs to the little theater where the Mid-Valley Poetry Society reading was happening and did a double-take. Is that T? And J? And  . . . ?

Oh my gosh. It was surreal. Many of the faces were familiar, but I had only seem them on my computer screen on Zoom. They towered over me or were smaller than I expected. They hugged or held back. They limped or bustled. It was like going into a blind date where you have only seen a photograph. In person, they look different. “John?” “Sue?” 

As people venture out of their pandemic hideaways, suddenly we’re three-dimensional, without the flattering lighting, the carefully arranged backdrop, and the option to turn the camera off. Now they can see all of us. When they saw me, did they think she’s heavier than I thought, and I didn’t know she wore glasses? 

I have made wonderful friends on Zoom, including people from all over the world. I feel like I know them, but it’s not the same. It’s a snapshot, not a rounded picture. As I learned last month when I attended a poetry convention in Ohio, meeting on Zoom is not like eating breakfast with other poets, noting how they choose cereal and fruit or pile on the pancakes, whether they are chirpy or sullen in the mornings. It’s not like meeting in the hallways, elevators, or swimming pool. Sure, you still get the words of the speakers, but you don’t connect as people. Mostly you’re staring at your own stupid face wondering why your hair looks so bad. 

Zoom has its advantages. I have talked to people in the UK, Australia and Dubai, as well as across the US,  whom I could probably never meet in person. It’s COVID-safe, much cheaper and easier than traveling, and somewhat anonymous. But we’re becoming a nation of screen people. Even when someone is standing right in front of us, we’re staring at our screens. We’re raising a generation of young people who don’t know how to socialize, how to sit with someone, look at them, and converse. They only know how to Zoom, and that’s sad.

I also discovered that performing in real life as opposed to Zoom is a whole different thing. My two poetry chapbooks were born during the pandemic. I have done readings on Zoom to promote them but none offline. When you’re reading on Zoom, you’re more focused on the technology and your own face than the audience. Because they are muted, you can’t hear if they laugh or cheer or gasp.  Nor can you hear any applause, just maybe catch a glimpse of waving hands. 

You don’t even know whether they’re listening. If you look at all the people in their squares, many are moving around, playing with their pets, or checking their phones. You’re background noise. I’m one of the worst offenders. I can’t sit still when I’m at home with an endless to-do list. And who’s to know if I’m checking email or washing dishes while I listen to your poems? 

But in the theater, meeting room or living room, the audience has to sit and pay attention. The performer can look out at them and see them listening. When I read at the open mic last weekend, the applause was like a loud rain after a long drought. So beautiful. I had to deal with a tricky microphone and blinding stage lighting, but just to stand there and proclaim my poems and feel my words going into the air felt so good. You don’t get that on Zoom. Now I’m longing to get up there with my guitar and sing. Church has been my only gig since March 2020.

I attended a conference in Ohio last month. It was a hybrid, in person and on Zoom. Giant screens showed the people attending online. They could see where the camera was aimed, but they couldn’t see all of us. They didn’t taste the food. They didn’t sit at the tables while we did the cut-up poem exercise, fighting over the scissors and glue sticks and laughing at the mess we were making. I ended up with a poem I liked. Did they? And who was there to admire it?

Sitting in the courtyard drinking wine, lounging on soft chairs close together and really listening to each other’s poems was a whole different experience from hearing them online. 

We don’t even realize everything COVID has taken from us. We have lost loved ones in the pandemic, yes, but we also have lost a way of life. It’s not over. This may only be a temporary break before we go back into isolation. The news is full of rising case numbers and new variants. Some cities are reinstating mask mandates. We all want the pandemic to be over. It isn’t, but we’re pouring out of our houses. We’re traveling, we’re meeting, we’re hugging. Stop? It’s like trying to put ketchup back in the bottle.

On my trips to California and Ohio last month, I found myself surrounded by strangers, mostly without masks. I had no way of knowing whether they were vaccinated, whether they were infected, whether they had just been with someone who was sick. If we get COVID, we get COVID seems to be the philosophy now. 

I suppose there’s a limit to how long we can sequester ourselves in fear before we have to crawl out and see what’s left, see who is left. 

Meanwhile, what a gift to walk into a room, see someone you’ve grown to admire on Zoom and fall into a hug. Oh my, they’re so tall. They’re so real. They’re so three-dimensional, with arms, legs, clothing, and warm skin. It’s not the same. It’s wonderful. 

Are you meeting Zoom friends in real life? What is it like for you?

Read about it:

“The Rise of Deja Zoom: Meeting Your Virtual Friends IRL” https://www.theatlantic.com/ideas/archive/2021/12/deja-zoom-pandemic-friendships-virtual/620869/

“Dating Over Zoom? Don’t Be Surprised If Those Online Sparks Fizzle in Person” https://theconversation.com/dating-over-zoom-dont-be-surprised-if-those-online-sparks-fizzle-in-person-138899

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Without My Mask, People Will See Me Talking to Myself

The gearshift became my mask hanger.

On Saturday, Oregon lifted its mask mandate. With exceptions for healthcare and public transportation, we don’t have to wear our COVID masks anymore. Of course, they said that before and then Omicron came. 

I took advantage of the break to wash my mask collection. They’re sitting around the laundry room drying like little puffy kites.

It was a joy to sing at church on Sunday sans mask. I joined St. Anthony’s just before the pandemic. There are some people whose lower faces I had never seen. Lips! We have lips. And we get to wear lipstick. Most of the mask era, I just did my eyes, if that. Why put on makeup that won’t show and will get all over your mask? Or dangly earrings that tangle in the elastic that goes over your ears?

How sweet to be able to sip water without moving a mask out of the way. To know people can see your smile. To not have our words muffled by the mask.

People can also see my frowns, my inappropriate laughs, my curses, and my counting madly on certain tricky piano songs. For two years, we have hidden behind our masks. It got to be a habit, and now everybody can see us. That will take some getting used to. 

Meanwhile, what was up with the woman coughing and coughing somewhere toward the back of the church? Considering all those unmasked people–and a few with masks–it was unnerving. In my little piano island, I feel somewhat safe. The Clavinova is so tall people can barely see me. The germs will have to work hard to get to me. But we’re all paranoid. A cough is not just a cough anymore. The paranoia is going to remain long after the virus finally slinks away. Meanwhile, my masks are clean and ready for the next onslaught.

Remember when only bank robbers wore masks? I remember trying to make a mask out of an old bandanna. Then the church ladies got busy making masks, and I acquired a full wardrobe to match my outfits. We even got “singing masks” that pooch out to allow more air in.

We looked down our noses at those who wore their masks under their noses, which defeats the purpose. We got used to masks hanging around people’s necks like a scarf. We got used to the absurdity of wearing a mask into a restaurant, taking it off to eat and drink, and putting it back on to leave, as if we weren’t breathing the whole time we dined. 

Remember when people were afraid to touch their mail, their groceries, or their dogs for fear they had COVID on them? 

Remember when everything was closed? Here on the Oregon coast, sawhorses blocked the entrances to the beaches. You couldn’t get a hotel room or eat in a restaurant. At the doctor’s office, you waited in your car till they called you. At our vet’s, we still wait in the car or near the car because the puppy gets excited and needs to get to the grass to take care of business. Hospitals and nursing homes still limit visitors. When will we feel safe enough to gather around a loved one’s beside?

I remember when I went to buy spa chemicals early in the pandemic. Customers weren’t allowed inside the store. A worker peeking out the half-open door asked what you wanted, passed it out to you, and took your money. Buying bromine tablets was like buying drugs or bootleg liquor. Weird times. There are little children for whom mask-wearing is normal. They have never lived without them. 

I often wonder what my father would think of all this if he hadn’t died just before the pandemic. He was born shortly after the big influenza epidemic. Two cousins lost both their parents to the flu. I wonder if any of their masks were tucked away in the old house on Branham Lane.

A hundred years later, we were wearing masks again. More than three million people worldwide have died of COVID-19. I knew and loved a few of them. People are still getting sick, but officials are playing the numbers game, betting that it will be okay this time if we remove our masks. We’ll see. 

Meanwhile, taking off my mask feels very similar to my dog Annie removing her protective cone. We’re both feeling a little naked these days. 

Are you unmasked, too? How does it feel? 

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We Survive January’s Storms and Carry On

No shame in wearing the cone of shame

It’s the last day of January. The holidays are already a fuzzy memory. What did I do for Christmas? New Years? Um . . .  

So far, 2022, despite the mellifluous sound of its numbers, has been a rotten SOB. 

  • Storms, storms, storms, with wind damage, roads collapsing, landslides and a lot of wet feet and wiping off the soggy dog. See earlier post.
  • Much worse storms elsewhere in the country causing destruction from which it may take years to recover. 
  • Insane Covid numbers and some people still refusing to get vaccinated. 
  • My brother-in-law died. My friend’s sister died. My sister-in-law’s uncle died of Covid after that branch of the family’s  Christmas celebration sent him and two others to the hospital. The others are okay now. 
  • Eight writing submissions have been rejected. (But two were accepted, so maybe that’s okay).
  • A tumor on my dog’s hip was diagnosed as cancer and then not and then maybe. After a month of blood and ooze from the ugliest-looking bump ever–think blood sausage–it was surgically removed. Her heart nearly stopped under the anesthesia, but the doctor was able to bring her back to a safe pulse rate. Now she has a huge, oozy incision with drains and smaller cuts around it. She has been wearing the big collar, aka cone of shame, for over a month and will continue for at least two more weeks. We are $3,000 into this now, but she’s worth it. Annie will be 14 on Feb. 16. That’s 98 in dog years.
  • My hot tub cover slipped while I was closing it one icy night and clobbered me in the head, giving me a headache and a two-inch cut from my hairline to my nose that just missed my eye. This led me into all kinds of dark thoughts about the danger of living alone. 
  • My annual doctor visit resulted in another pill to take and referrals to three different specialists. None of it is life-threatening, but it is all annoying and takes away from my writing time. Getting older is a drag, but there are still so many great things to do that I am not ready for the alternative.

So January has sucked, BUT there are good things. 

  • The cut on my forehead is healed and fading away. I did NOT get badly hurt by the hot tub cover. Since that incident, I have taken steps to make the cover much safer to deal with.
  • Post-surgery, Annie and I may finally see the end of this oozy mess and get rid of the cone of shame.
  • I have not gotten Covid. So far. With all my shots, if I do get it, I believe it won’t be too bad.
  • My new air fryer arrived on Thursday and I’m having fun trying new things in it. It’s pretty slick. I welcome your recipes and suggestions.
  • I am making great progress on my new novel, the sequel to Up Beaver Creek. Dare I confess that I love this book? I think you will, too. 
  • The bulbs are sprouting in my garden, which means spring is coming. 
  • I have wonderful friends, in-person and online. Annie does, too. She has more Facebook fans than I do, with over 100 reactions to my post about her surgery. 
  • A new episode of “The Gilded Age” will appear on HBOmax tonight. 
  • The tsunami that drifted over from Tonga Jan. 15 did not damage the Oregon Coast.
  • I’m still here, writing by the fireplace, dog at my side, guitar and piano nearby, forest out the window. Two hummingbirds just hovered at the window. God is good. 

Enough of me and mine. How has January been for you? 

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Swimming Out of the Pandemic Bubble for Thanksgiving

I push my card key into the slot and open the door. I inhale the scent of chlorine, feel the humid air on my skin. I bend down to feel the water in the pool. Warm. There is no one else here. I strip down to my bathing suit and ease in. Oh! I love being in the water. If I could live my whole life in water, I would. I love swimming, even though I’m not very good at it. After two years, do I remember how? 

I do. I go through my routine of breast strokes, back strokes and front crawl. I feel the chlorinated water pushing against my hands, feel the buoyancy of my feet on the concrete bottom. I lean back and float, giving control of every inch of my body to the water. It’s the only place I ever let go. I hope no one passes by and thinks I’m dead.

I’m writing this on Sunday night of Thanksgiving weekend. I have been overeating for days and wasn’t following my diet or my exercise resolutions before that. My old Walmart bathing suit is stretched out. I look like a turquoise walrus. My muscles remind me that I haven’t done these moves in a long time. My spine whispers, “You’ll be seeing the chiropractor this week.” But those are just body parts. My spirit is soothed and renewed.

I have had many firsts over the last nine days. My first trip outside Lincoln County, Oregon since Covid started. My first salad bar. My first elevator rides. I refuse to ride a boat, plane or train, but my car trip has placed me in contact with many people, mostly strangers, lined up at rest stop bathrooms, side-by-side tables at restaurants, in line at Target and other stores, and at the breakfast buffets in the motels where I have stayed. Is it safe? I don’t know. I have had three vaccine shots, the regular first two and a booster, but there’s a new variant floating around. 

I hadn’t seen most of my family in two years. The young great-nieces, nephews and cousins have grown from babies to little people with big personalities. They call me Aunt Sue or get confused and call me Grammy. They don’t remember me from before. But it is so exciting to get to know them now. 

The adults have changed, too. My brother has a full white beard now; he was clean-shaven when I saw him last. Some are heavier or thinner or look older. Some have changed jobs and residences. It was so good to see them, hug them, and talk, talk, talk, not over Zoom or Messenger or some other electronic program but sitting in the same room, hugging a child or a dog or drinking tea and eating pumpkin bread. 

I got to see my friend who moved to Livermore and be her “sis” again. Such a gift. 

I went home to San Jose and neighboring Santa Clara. I saw buildings that weren’t there before. I saw the monstrosity the new owners of my childhood home built in its place. I visited the cemetery where there are more names now on the wall where my parents’ ashes rest and around the loved ones whose bodies went into the ground. I was able to see and touch their gravestones and sit with them for a while. 

As always, getting away from home and the usual routine sparks new ideas and new resolutions. I’m going to lose weight, renovate my house, and get a grip on my schedule. I’m going to go back to the gym, do yoga, and swim at the rec center. I’m going to start calling my family and friends more often. But I can see it will take me a whole day just to go through my mail and figure out how much I spent on this trip. I’ll need to restock the refrigerator, wash my clothes and deal with all those work chores I put off because I was “out of town.” 

I’m writing this in my last motel of the trip, the Holiday Inn in Yreka. Nice hotel, but it’s in the middle of nowhere. Nothing else here but a truck stop where I got takeout Chinese food. The whole trip, I had hoped to swim. But the other pools were all outdoors, and it was too cold. When I saw this indoor pool, I knew I had to use it. 

Traffic has been thick the whole trip. I think a lot of people left home this holiday for the first time since COVID started. Will there be a new surge of people getting sick? It seems likely. So many people together, so many without masks. The pandemic is not over. We’re all tired of it. Mask-wearing is slipping. But we can never be sure we’re safe. I even wondered if somehow the virus could be in the water in that pool. It doesn’t seem logical, but I wondered.

It will be a long time before I can return to my home state, but I will treasure the memories and photos and the feel of that warm water against my body as I made my cumbersome way back and forth, the nearsighted, half deaf turquoise walrus full of Chinese food from the truck stop across the road.  

How did you spend Thanksgiving? Did you venture out of your COVID bubble? Tell us about it in the comments. 

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I Thought I was Making This Stuff Up–Tsunami Novel Predicts COVID

It’s November, known to some of us as NaNoWriMo, National Novel Writing Month. Hordes of writers commit to writing 50,000 or more words of fiction between November 1 and Nov. 30. That’s 1,667 words or the equivalent of about seven double-spaced pages every day, including weekends. I have started several times and pooped out, but in 2019, I spewed out more than 50,000 words for a sequel to my previous novel Up Beaver Creek. I didn’t finish the book. I had a bunch of pieces that didn’t quite go together. Then came COVID and a lot of other complications, including a nonfiction book that I did finish, so the sequel sat in a pile. Until now. This November I’m determined to pull it all together into a real novel. I’m not counting words. I find that doesn’t work for me. Sometimes an hour of thinking is more important than an hour of spewing random typing. But I am putting in the time.

I bring this up because one of the early chapters, written before any of us had heard the word COVID or had any inkling we’d find grocery store shelves empty of things like toilet paper and flour, turned out to be eerily prescient. In Up Beaver Creek, the long-predicted tsunami hit the Oregon coast, causing heavy damage and many deaths. Now we’re in the aftermath. Electricity is spotty, and supplies are low. When our heroine PD goes to the grocery store, this is what she finds. (No insult to J.C. Market, where I have been shopping for years. All is well there as far as I know, except they are missing a few items . . . )

The roar of a generator greets me as I get out of my car at the J.C. Market at 101 and Olive Street. Keeping the refrigerators and freezers going, I suppose. Since the Thanksgiving earthquake and tsunami, we have not had electricity, at least not that we could count on.

I open the door to dim lights and silence. No music coming through the speakers. Half the shelves are empty. Getting supplies is chancy these days. When something is in stock, we all want to grab a lot of it. But then somebody else would have to do without. We’re all learning to share. PD does not like sharing.

I pull out a cart, wincing at the noise as it separates from the others, and start down the vegetable aisle. Geez, not much there, hard to stay on my healthy-PD diet. Shriveled grapefruit, bruised apples, some artichokes I am sure have been there for a month. Pineapples, lumpy cantaloupes, potatoes, red onions, mushrooms someone probably gathered in the local forests—well, I could make something out of that. Meat? Brown-looking hamburger, questionable chicken, and a few whole salmon at $25 a pound. That’s the other thing. Prices are high. Supply and demand. When you really want an apple and you’re not sure you’ll see another one anytime soon, you’ll pay $4 for it.

Some enterprising folks have started braving the trip to less-damaged places in the Willamette Valley to pick up merchandise and sell it out of their trucks and car trunks. People line up to buy their wares. I’ve done it a time or two.

I toss a pound of ground beef and a sack of beans into the cart and hold my breath as I turn toward the paper aisle. Oh, thank God. TP. Not my favorite brand, just little four-packs of single ply, but hallelujah. $10? Whatever. At least I have a job to pay for it. Lots of people’s jobs got washed away with the tide.

It’s like that with everything. You can get something but not your favorite brand or flavor. Except for batteries. They haven’t had any of those in months.

And then she runs into a man who invites her to watch the sunrise with him . . .

Again, I had no idea a pandemic would hit us. I was just imagining what it would be like after a disaster. Who knew a whole different kind of tsunami was coming?

What do you think? Have you seen shortages where you shop? Do you expect things to get better or worse?

Have you read Up Beaver Creek? Books make good Christmas presents.

P.S. I’m getting my booster shot tomorrow. I tend to react badly. Wish me luck.

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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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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Unleashed and Remembering my prince

Tomorrow, April 23, marks the 10th anniversary of my husband Fred’s death of complications from Alzheimer’s Disease. Ten years! For two years before he died, he lived in a series of nursing homes. At the end, he did not know who I was. But oh, the years of love we had before that. As time goes by, it’s easier to celebrate the good and let go of the bad.

Since 2009, I have been living alone with my dog. When I named this blog and the subsequent book Unleashed in Oregon, I was not talking about that. I was thinking more of Fred and I escaping our lives in the Bay Area and being set free at the beach, sans jobs, history or family. I was thinking of my dogs. I was not thinking of being a widow. I didn’t expect that to happen so soon, that Fred would only enjoy our Oregon coast dream for six years before he got sick, for 15 before he died. And here I am, alone and unleashed, like a dog whose human partner unhooked her, walked away, and didn’t come back.

Annie is still here, thank God, but her time will come, too.

Living alone is not for sissies. A great deal has been made of living solo since the pandemic hit, but the truth is some of us were already doing it for a long time before that. Today, according to the U.S. Census Bureau, 35.7 million Americans live alone, 28% of households. That is up from 13% of households in 1960 and 23% in 1980.

Living alone is both wonderful and terrible. Wonderful for the freedom to eat, watch or do whatever you want. Terrible because there’s no one to hug, to talk to, or to help when the plumbing goes awry or a tree falls on the house. And yes, the pandemic makes it worse because all those social things we might do to plug the holes—clubs, choirs, gyms, yoga, concerts, meals, parties, classes, etc.–are not available. Nor does it feel safe to travel these days. I guess that’s why so many of my poet friends are writing about the birds and flowers in their yards.

Here on the blog, I’m going to be writing more about living alone because that’s what’s on my mind. I’m in the early stages of writing a book about it. If you who are reading this are also alone and would like to talk about it, feel free to email me at sufalick@gmail.com or start the discussion in the comments.

Many of us enjoy our solitude and are not necessarily lonely. But there are times when it gets tough. If you are not alone, think for a moment about what’s it’s like to see no other human being 24 hours a day. Experts say loneliness can be as bad for one’s health as smoking. It can lead to all kinds of health problems and cut years off one’s life. We’ll talk about that in another post. Meanwhile, if you know someone living alone and haven’t talked to them in a while, how about making a phone call?

Today I’ll be remembering Fred. He was the best thing that ever happened to me. He was smart, handsome, funny, loving, and just plain good. He treated me like a princess. In return, I did the best I could to love my prince, especially during his long illness. We had love. We were blessed. Rest in peace, dear Fred. We all miss you. I bought a good bottle of Cabernet Sauvignon, which I will open tomorrow night. I wish you were here to share it.

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Masked singers look forward to setting the music free

At our monthly music jam in South Beach, the talk was all about shots. Who has gotten the COVID vaccine, who has not, who is still trying to get an appointment? There were six of us. Turns out three are scheduled for our first shots this week, two are fully vaccinated, and one is still fighting the online registration system. The shots are so popular that you have to move quickly or you’re out. The first call I got came while I was driving to church. By the time I got there, all the slots were filled. The next time, I managed to respond within the first five minutes, so I got my appointment.

We are all hopeful that by the second Sunday in May we might be able to sing without masks. Oh, what a joy that would be.

You might wonder how we have continued to gather during the pandemic when we’ve been mostly in isolation. Some have opted to stay home, but the rest of us decided we could still jam with great precautions. We all wear masks, we sit far apart from each other, and we keep all the windows open, even in the cold days of winter. It’s not ideal, but we need music. Most other jams and open mics have been canceled. We have no gigs. Zoom singing doesn’t work.

I do play with the choir at St. Anthony’s Catholic Church, also masked and distanced, recording Masses for people to watch online, but I miss singing for live audiences and listening to other performers in bars, restaurants, or auditoriums. I miss festivals, with crowds gathered around booths and outdoor stages, with kids and dogs and everybody together . . . remember that? Imagine standing shoulder to shoulder, singing, sharing a mic, feeling each other’s breath on our faces. Imagine all the things we never thought were special until we couldn’t do them anymore.

Masks make it hard to sing. The notes get buried in the cloth. Months ago, our church choir was given masks made for singers, with plastic frames pushing them out enough for us to breathe. Regular masks suck into our mouths when we inhale and trap the air we exhale. Soon we’re choking. This is better. Not perfect. I get a headache every time I sing with the mask on. Even with a microphone, I find it difficult to sing loudly enough or articulate clearly enough. Little things like watching the director’s mouth to make sure we start together are not possible.

I forgot my mask when I arrived at the South Beach Community Center yesterday. I had so much to carry, with purse, music, guitar, mandolin and music stand. No one said anything until I realized my faux pas and ran out to the car to get my mask. (I hang my favorite masks off the gearshift. Some people use their mirrors. Where do you hang yours?) We all forget sometimes. I know I’m not the only one who takes a few steps, then claps her hand over her mouth. OMG, forgot my mask.

In the news, we hear about other parts of the U.S. canceling their mask mandates. We see pictures of “mask burnings.” It’s too soon. Too many people are still sick. Not enough have been vaccinated. In Oregon, we’re keeping our masks on for now. We just have to wait a little while longer.

Have you heard Dolly Parton’s parody of her hit song “Jolene”? “Vaccine, vaccine, vaccine, vaccine, I’m begging of you, please don’t hesitate . . .” Might as well have fun with it.

I sing mask-free at home. It feels good. But harmonizing with other people feels even better. Someday soon, the songs will ring out again, our mouths wide open to set the music free. Because all of us at the jam are now eligible for the vaccine due to age, occupation or special conditions, we are hopeful that two months from now, we can sing with uncovered mouths and see each other’s happy, relieved smiles.

Please, God, let it be true.

The South Beach open mic/jam happens on the second Sunday of the month from 3 to 5 p.m. at the South Beach Community Center, 3024 SE Ferry Slip Road, across from Aquarium Village. Bring your ax and your mask and join us. Wear something warm.

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