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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Sick and Surrounded by TV Doctors

A bad flu-like reaction to my second shingles vaccine over the weekend gave me an excuse to do what I’ve been doing too much of lately, which is watching back-to-back reruns of the TV show “Grey’s Anatomy.” It’s so old that it’s new again.

On regular network TV, you have to wait a week between episodes. Plus you’ve got commercial breaks to wash dishes, knit a few rows, or talk to the other person in the room—or the dog if there isn’t a person. Now, on Netflix, it’s not even five seconds before the next episode starts, so you don’t have time to think about what else you could/should be doing. The show begins, you’re hooked again, and you think, well, maybe I’ll watch one more. I have to see if that guy with the pole through his chest survives.

This is messing up my mind. I dream about the doctors and the patients—the pole guy, the one with the pencil in his eye, the kid buried in cement, the conjoined twins, the violinist who can’t play anymore, the lady whose arm was hacked off. I see all those open chests with exposed hearts and blood spurting all over the surgeons’ yellow gowns.

I’m not getting any exercise when I’m watching. Not unless the phone rings, which is rare, or someone comes to the door, which they don’t because there’s a pandemic happening.

These characters are in my head. Most days, I’m not seeing any other people, except for writers on Zoom screens. The TV people are a lot prettier and more interesting. I’m fascinated by Meredith, Christina, Izzy, George, Alex, Bailey, the Chief, Derrick, Sloane, Calli, and the rest. Even though I know they’re actors, and I know they’re much older now, they’re more real to me than anybody else because I see them more often.

Boy, they have a lot of sex for people who work so many hours.

I’m a writer. I need to see real people living real lives. Otherwise, everything I write is going to sound like “Grey’s Anatomy.” But it’s still not quite safe to travel or hang out in groups.

When my husband Fred was dying, I watched “Little House on the Prairie” from start to finish on DVDs from Netflix. It comforted me. We all want to have parents like Ma and Pa and live in a small town where everybody loves each other. But the mechanics of the DVD required a pause between episodes, and you only got so many in an envelope. You couldn’t binge till your brains fell out.

This is not my first binge show. I watched umpteen episodes of “McLeod’s Daughters,” an Australian show about women cattle-ranching in the outback. Like “Grey’s,” it was best in the early years before the cast started changing and the plot got so convoluted it stopped making sense. But it was good.

I watched “Orange is the New Black” till I decided it was just too upsetting. I watched “Downton Abbey,” “The Crown,” “Call the Midwife,” “Grace and Frankie,” and “The Gilmore Girls.” I binged on “The Ranch,” in which almost every line included the F-word, but it had Sam Elliott and Ashton Kutcher. Binge-watching is so much easier than actually doing something, like calling an actual friend.

I try to tell myself it’s like reading a book I can’t put down, but I think there’s something more than that happening psychologically in this era of pandemic isolation, and I suspect it isn’t healthy. Check out “Three Ways TV Affects Your Health.”

Netflix offers 16 seasons of “Grey’s Anatomy.” There are so many episodes I could literally sit here for a month doing nothing but watching that one show. Friends keep recommending other TV shows and movies, but my fingers keep selecting “Grey’s.”

I used to stream my shows on my 7-inch Kindle Fire. While Annie was in the dog hospital in December, a friend gave me a smart TV. What a beautiful gift, but I am so hooked.

The other day, I caught my dog staring at the screen as if she was really paying attention. Seriously? Is she hooked, too?

What are you all binging on?

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Does Every Pandemic Week Feel the Same to You, Too?

COVID, COVID, COVID, vaccine, vaccine, vaccine, Biden, Biden, Biden. That’s all we hear anymore. A year ago, it was Trump, Trump, Trump. I understand that news outlets need to cover the most important stories, but aren’t other things still happening? Are we still fighting in Iran and Afghanistan, maybe in other countries, too? What happened to those places that got hit by hurricanes and wildfires last year? When are we going to get some new TV shows? When is American Idol going to come back? You know, important news.

Of course we want to keep informed about COVID and what our new president is up to, but shouldn’t somebody be covering the rest of the world, lest we look up one day and realize, shit, that happened and we totally missed it?

We get more information in our local paper, the News-Times, between the big ads for Thriftway and Power Ford. For example:

  • The cliff area in Newport known as Jump-Off Joe is falling into the sea. Huge landslide movement after last week’s storms (as opposed to this week’s storms) dissolved the sandstone cliffs.
  • We have a couple murder trials pending.
  • There’s the story of the truck that got stolen twice from a Lincoln City woman’s driveway. She got it back after the first theft. The next day, it was gone again.
  • Someone set the Presbyterian church in Newport on fire. Thank God firefighters caught it before there was too much damage.
  • The plans for when to bring students back to school keep changing.
  • Here’s another obituary for someone I knew, making me very sad.
  • And yes, they’re covering COVID and its vaccines, shots not coming to my age group anytime soon.

At least the local paper tries to mix it up.

So do I, but every week, it feels like it was trash day/laundry day/grocery day just a minute ago. I get up, pray, bathe, eat, write, walk the dog, do the Zoom du jour, binge-watch Netflix and Amazon Prime shows, play a little music, and fall asleep.

Things do change, but it’s slooooow. I offer some random news from the 97th Court lockdown:

  • Annie the dog, subject of several posts here lately, is much more stable now, but I don’t think she’ll ever recover completely from her holiday illness and hospital stay. Her head is still tilted to the left, her eye a little squinty. She tires quickly and seems afraid to be alone. But she’s back to dragging me down the street on our walks and refuses to turn around when I say it’s time to go home. I’m trying not to think about her future but to enjoy every moment with her.
  • I long to get out of this house. I want to see my family in California, Arizona and Washington. I still hate masks, which are not only uncomfortable but also make it twice as hard for hearing-impaired folks like me to figure out what people are saying, even with my hearing aids. But I totally understand why we need to wear masks and I’m grateful that most people are doing it these days. Isn’t it amazing how something we never even thought about a year ago is now available in all kinds of colors and designs and you can buy them by the dozen at the grocery store?
  • It’s a weird world where I don’t need makeup to leave the house because the mask covers half my face, but I do need my lipstick for Zoom events where I’m forced to look at myself on the screen. Board meetings, classes and readings, interviews, and open mics keep me on Zoom almost every day. It’s truly a wonderful thing being able to meet, hear, and read with writers from all over the world, people I would never meet in person, but I’m weary of staring at a boxes on a screen.
  • I’m reading at Coffee and Grief #19 on Sunday, Feb. 4, 7 p.m. PST. https://www.facebook.com/events/883771512396349. I have attended previous sessions and heard some amazing writers. Please join us. Bring Kleenex. The link is included in the Facebook post.
  • I will be the guest speaker for the Coast-Corvallis chapter meeting of Willamette Writers on Feb. 22 at 6:30 p.m. PST. Topic: Publishing 101. I will discuss the various ways to get your books published. Register at https://www.Willamettewriters.org. While you’re there, check out all the other workshops and chats you can join via Zoom, no matter where you live.
  • Next month, I will co-host a series of poetry readings on Tuesday nights by the winners of Oregon Poetry Association’s poetry contest. Stay tuned for details.  
  • I am putting together a new email list via Mail Chimp. That chimp and I aren’t totally getting along yet, but you should see a place below this post to click and get on the list. Sign up in February, and I will send you a copy of my book Shoes Full of Sand for free! If you already have it, God bless you. You may choose another book from my catalogue at suelick.com/books. Why? Why not? Thank you for reading this far. Send me an email at sufalick@gmail.com to let me know your choice.

Happy Groundhog’s Day. Pray for an early spring.

I invite your comments on any and all of this. How are you doing? Are you COVID-crazy yet?

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