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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I’m Not Going Anywhere, But My Schedule is Full

I’ve never been so stir-crazy in my life. I want to get in my car and go somewhere, eat out, stay in motels, swim, work out at a gym, sip a beer while listening to live music, write in a coffee shop, and eat donuts with my friends after Mass. I want to sit in someone else’s house or ride in someone else’s car. I want to go into the vet’s office with my dog and to sing to my friends at the nursing homes. I want to jam with my musician friends. I’m so sick of Netflix and Zoom I could scream.

My calendar is loaded with events, nearly all of them online. The photo shows the Post-It version. I have the same information on my Google calendar, but I like to be able to see what’s coming up. I get great satisfaction out of peeling off a note and throwing it away once the activity is over.

Yesterday, I spent four and a half hours in Zoom meetings, first a reading for the upcoming issue of Presence, a Catholic poetry journal in which I’m blessed to have a poem. We had a wonderful group of poets from all over the United States. In normal times, Presence’s in-person readings are usually done on the East Coast, and I would not have been there. It was an honor.

That was followed up by an Oregon Poetry Association board meeting. We had a lot to talk about: money, membership, publications, and online events for the upcoming months. Stay tuned for information about readings in March and weekly workshops during April, National Poetry Month.

It was all good stuff, but I kept looking out my window at the almost-sunny afternoon that I was missing. Like my restless dog sighing in the doorway, I wanted out. It was Sunday. I’m supposed to be able to go out and play on Sundays.

The schedule continues to be busy with classes, readings and meetings. I have books to promote. Physical touring is out this year, so I need to get the word out online. Tomorrow I’m being interviewed for the UnRipe podcast out of Australia for childless women. Australia! Imagine that. A while back, I was part of a discussion by childless “elderwomen” that included women from Australia, Ireland, England, Ohio and Oregon. Listen here. How cool is that? As a result, I’m selling copies of Love or Children: When You Can’t Have Both in countries where I have never been. Very cool.

I can read my work at open mics or invited readings almost every night of the week. I can take workshops that would not have been possible pre-Zoom. I can go to Mass at many different churches via YouTube and attend concerts online.

And yet, I want out. I’m my father’s daughter. On Sunday afternoons after church, he’d tell us all to get in the car because we were “going for a ride.” Deep into his 90s, when he finally let me or my brother do the driving, he loved to just get in the car and go. Up in the mountains, down to the beach, through the old neighborhoods, it didn’t matter. He just wanted out. We often wound up dropping in on friends or family. In the time of COVID-19, we can’t do that anymore.

I thank God for the Internet. I don’t know how I would survive so much alone time without it, but I sure miss “real life.” How about you?

***

Annie the dog, featured here a lot lately with her two weeks in the hospital with Vestibular Disease, continues to get stronger and less dizzy, although she still falls a lot when she’s not on solid ground. She likes to dive into the bushes and wade in muddy water, and then she crashes. But she gets back up. Her bedsores are healing, and there’s nothing wrong with her appetite. We are scheduled for a follow-up vet appointment tomorrow. Thank you for all your love and prayers.

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It was a Dizzy Dog 2020 Christmas

How do I begin to tell this story when I don’t know how it ends?

Scene: Christmas afternoon. My friend Pat and I have finished our takeout dinner from the Drift Inn. We’re talking. She’s sitting on the sofa and I’m on the loveseat. Between us sprawls my big yellow dog, Annie, who has shared our feast and seems delighted to have both of her favorite people here.

The phone rings. I jump up. It’s my aunt calling from Santa Clara, California. Like Pat and I, she is a widow. Her kids live nearby, but thanks to COVID, she is spending the holiday alone with homemade chicken soup. As we’re talking, Annie goes to get off the loveseat and falls, her legs giving out under her. My heart stops. She gets up, falls again. Trying to get to the back door, she rises and falls repeatedly, finally makes it outside. I see her trying to go to the bathroom and falling. I have to get off the phone.

What follows is a nightmare. It’s raining hard. It’s almost dark. Annie keeps trying to walk and falling down. I don’t know what to do. I call the local vet’s office. This being Christmas, they’re closed. I can go to Corvallis, 55 miles away, or Springfield, a hundred miles away. I don’t like to drive the mountain roads in the dark, but this is my Annie, my life companion now that Fred is gone. I will do anything for her. I call Corvallis and tell them we’re coming. Now it’s completely dark. When I go back out, I find Annie huddled in the muddy space between the patio and the garden shed. I squeeze in, but she won’t move. I can’t lift her and I don’t want to drag her. We’re both soaked.

I can’t get her into the car alone. My friend Pat has vertigo and back issues and can’t help. I call my neighbors, Pat and Paula, and they come. They can’t lift Annie either. I bring out her big blue blanket and they wrap her like a burrito. Gradually we get her to the gate and into the Honda Element.

6:30 p.m. White-knuckle drive to Corvallis. The 24-hour vet is in a dark industrial area. Because of COVID, pet owners must sit in the parking lot while their pets are cared for. Young aides take Annie away on a gurney, and I sit for four hours, rain sheeting down my windows.

1:15 a.m. Christmas is over. They bring Annie out and lift her into the car. The doctor and I, masked, stand in the rain as she shares her diagnosis. Annie has severe arthritis and this thing I’d never heard of: Vestibular Disease, which looks like a stroke, but it’s a type of vertigo. She is dizzy, nauseated and leaning hard to the left. She doesn’t know which way is up. But it will pass in a few days, they say.

Dec. 26, 2:30 a.m. At home, Annie is still crashing and falling. She refuses to move past the doorway. We spend what’s left of the night in the living room lit by Christmas lights. Toward dawn, Annie begins to whine, moan and occasionally shriek. She can’t get up at all. She refuses food, water, and pills. It’s Saturday and the local vet is still closed. I call the vet in Corvallis. She says if things don’t improve, bring her back in.

2:30 p.m. Pat and I are sitting in my car outside the vet’s office again. We are not alone. Many dog and cat owners are doing the same thing. The techs run back and forth to transport animals and get forms signed. Annie is going to stay in the hospital this time, but we’re waiting for paperwork, to talk to the doctor, to pay. It begins to rain and blow again. Pat and I chat, read, eat the snacks we brought. On my phone, we watch part of the Zoom Mass we’re missing and sing along. It gets dark. Finally, we talk to the doctor, arrange for payment, and drive home. It’s not raining this time, but the oncoming headlights are blinding. When I get home, where there is no Annie, I fall apart. Pat holds me while I cry.

I spend Sunday on my own, take a solo walk, do chores, take a cake to my helpful neighbors and hug their big Lab, Harley. As with a human in the hospital in these COVID times, I can’t visit Annie. I can only wait for the doctors to call.

Monday morning: Annie is being moved out of the ICU. She is eating and drinking, but she still can’t stand up. Her neurological symptoms have not improved. Most dogs get better in a few days or a few weeks. Some don’t.

As I try to work, I keep thinking I hear Annie walking around or shaking her tags. I think I’ll see her in the doorway or on the loveseat. The quiet is deafening.

I don’t know what the future holds. I do know that my Facebook post on Annie’s situation has drawn 121 comments, and they’re still coming in. Annie has more fans than I do, and that’s fine with me. Please pray for us both. Thank you to everyone who has shown me so much love these last few days. Kudos to the Willamette Veterinary Hospital. Although farther than I’d like to drive, I do believe they’re giving her the best possible care.

Have you heard of Vestibular Disease? People can get it, too. In fact, my friend Pat has been suffering from vertigo for quite a while. I accused her of giving it to Annie. She was not amused.

Click here for some information on the condition.

Here’s a good video about it.

Be Merry, Be Healthy, Keep Singing

Merry Christmas, dear friends. Although this year has been a disaster and I can name lots of things that I miss–my family, hugs, eating out, in-person church, parties, swimming, lipstick, performing, live music, theater, travel, potlucks, new episodes of my favorite TV shows–I can also name quite a few things I’m grateful for this year. All of you who are reading this are right up at the top.

Sick as we all are of Zoom, it has allowed me to connect with people all over the world whom I would not usually be able to see without leaving home and traveling many miles. I have done readings and attended workshops that would have been impossible for me to get to in normal life. We are blessed to have technology that connects us in all kinds of ways. Yesterday, a friend who lives nearby but is staying home to avoid COVID video-called me via Facebook messenger. I didn’t even know that was possible, but it was great to talk to him.

Staying home has given me more time to read–81 books and counting this year–and to write. I was blessed with a poetry chapbook (The Widow at the Piano) that came out in March and a new book about childlessness, Love or Children: When You Can’t Have Both, that made its first appearance on December 7.

I have been lucky to still be able to sing and play at church for our recorded Masses at St. Anthony’s in Waldport. Most other musical outlets are closed, but I’m still singing for God, and I’m grateful.

I’m also thankful for Annie the dog and our long walks, for time to bake and try out new recipes, and time to connect by phone or online with people I can’t see in person. I’m grateful that the beach is still nearby.

It has been a hard year. I have lost nine friends in 2020 and may lose more before the year ends. I’m still grieving the loss of my father and the house I grew up in. Of course, I miss my husband, too. I know now why some old ladies weep so often. But we go on. As I write this, I have fresh-baked honey-oat bread to eat with homemade spinach soup and fruit salad for dinner, I’m reading a book I’m finding hard to put down–The Book of Longings by Sue Monk Kidd, and I still have more episodes of “Victoria” on Amazon Prime to watch. Plus, I actually got my bathrooms clean and my laundry done. I am blessed.

I wish you all the best possible holidays this year. If it can’t be the usual lollapalooza, enjoy the simple things, being with the people in your “bubble,” singing the songs, saying the prayers, eating the food, soaking in the decorations, and watching those corny Christmas movies.

I’m not good at making music videos. I’m embarrassed to say how many tries it took to make the one posted here and how many more tries it took to get it online, all the while having to listen to myself sing. Let’s just say, I don’t need to sing Silent Night again unless I can sing harmony with someone else.

Big socially distanced hugs,

Sue

Thanksgiving is Looking Different This Year

My brother Mike and I at Thanksgiving 2010. A lot has changed since then.

Thanksgiving is THIS WEEK. I made a mad dash to the J.C. Market yesterday for Thanksgiving cooking needs because I had just realized how close the holiday was. Now my turkey is in the refrigerator starting its long defrost. Bread pieces for stuffing wait on the counter. I’ve got potatoes, celery, apples, a bottle of chardonnay . . . my friend is bringing a pumpkin cake, cranberry sauce, corn casserole . . . it sounds like a regular Thanksgiving. But it won’t be.

Pat and I, both widows, are doing the day together. Our families are far away. Her son’s family is in Connecticut. Her daughter and son-in-law in California have COVID-19. My family is in California, too. In past years, I would drive to San Jose, spend a couple days with my father, then drive him to my brother’s place in Cathey’s Valley near Yosemite. That big house would fill with brothers, sisters, aunts, uncles and cousins. Babies, toddlers and older kids would be running around, along with several dogs. Football on TV. Cheese and crackers on the counter. Big tables laden with turkey, stuffing, ham, two kinds of potatoes, and more side dishes than I can name, plus three kinds of desserts. “Pass the gravy,” we’d hear. “Oh, this is so good.” “How’s it going up in Oregon?”

We would remember those who had passed on, drink a toast to them, hope they were having a good time in heaven.

After dinner, we’d stretch out in the living room, talk, watch TV, maybe go for a walk or a scenic drive. Later, there’d be turkey sandwiches and leftovers packed up for those who had to leave. We’d fall asleep full, not just with food, but love and family and gratitude.

When we were kids, my parents hosted most of the holidays. Somewhere I have pictures of all the grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins sitting around that big table, eating, joking, talking over each other. Somewhere are home movies of those times, taken by my dad as we sat blinded by the light. When asked to say grace, my mother’s father would say, “Grace! Let’s eat.”

In later years, my mother did say a real grace, and then we passed the food in both directions at once while people knocked bowls against each other. Someone might toss a roll to someone across the table. We were so sophisticated.

Holidays were never totally idyllic. Arguments broke out. People’s feelings got hurt. One year, my sister-in-law’s garbage disposal overflowed, and the men took turns on the floor trying to fix it. One year my mother’s oven didn’t work and the turkey was raw. In his later years, Grandpa hallucinated with dementia. Later, when my husband had Alzheimer’s, he was lost and confused all day. Toward the end of his life, my father sat silent, unable to hear much of what people said. But I also remember him smiling at his baby great-granddaughter, making faces at her.

Shoot, I’m going to cry. My father passed away last year. So many are gone. The youngest baby is walking and talking, and I haven’t seen her since before she could crawl.

Stupid COVID. Most years I worry about the weather driving to and from California in the winter. If it’s snowing at Siskiyou Pass, then I have to take the coast route, driving through wind, rain and mudslides. Not fun either way. But I haven’t made that drive since last Thanksgiving. After years of going back and forth, it’s strange. I haven’t left the Oregon coast since March.

I debated about going south for Thanksgiving, but ultimately decided I would stay home this year. When I called my brother to tell him, he already knew. The governors of both states had just locked everything down because of the latest surge in COVID cases.

Newscasters, government officials and doctors are all saying the same thing. Do not gather in a large group for Thanksgiving. Stay home. Keep it small. Don’t risk spreading COVID. I fear a lot of people will ignore that advice and spread the virus even more.

This is Pat’s first Thanksgiving without her husband, who died in July. It will be hard. Every first holiday is hard. My husband died the day before Easter. I went to Easter dinner at a friend’s house where I felt like an outsider with her family. They were all sorry my husband had passed, but they quickly went on to other subjects. I don’t blame them. No matter where you go, you feel like you’re from another planet when a loved one has just died.

Anyway, Pat and I, who have claimed each other as the sisters we never had, are planning a huge meal, to be followed by a movie. Maybe, if the weather cooperates, we’ll soak in the hot tub. Maybe we’ll Zoom call our families. Maybe we’ll cry a little. And we’ll eat leftovers for a week.

What are your plans, dear friends? How are they different this year?

Sitting in the Dark Without My Toys

OMG, is this the wildest November ever? The election, COVID, hurricanes, Zoom Thanksgiving. Is God pissed off or what?

What a weekend I had. It would have been enough to play and sing at St. Anthony’s in Waldport for two funerals in two days and then do a regular weekend Zoom Mass.

Friday we said goodbye to Phil Rilatos, a good guy whom I didn’t get to meet. Saturday, our Mass was for a beloved friend, Roy Robertson. Since he and his wife Mary Lee Scoville were musicians, we musicians turned out in force—as much as we could while following the COVID restrictions, masks, distancing, and limited numbers. When the barbershoppers sang the same song that Roy and his quartet sang for my husband’s funeral, I became a weepy mess. We all were. Roy was probably up in heaven grinning his gap-toothed grin and singing along.

So there was that.

And there was Gov. Brown’s announcement that Oregon would be going into a two-week lockdown starting Nov. 18 to try to stop the soaring numbers of COVID-19 cases.

But there was more. Thursday night into Friday morning, we had rain, lightning, and high winds. Early Thursday morning, on Birch Street–the only way in and out of our neighborhood–a tree fell on a power line, knocking out the electricity.

A long, dark day and night followed. Fifteen powerless hours, most of them spent huddled by the wood stove in my den. I wrote, played guitar, tried to read, made phone calls on the ancient Princess phone that still works, and ate cold food by candlelight.

Staring into the flames made me think about a lot of things. Being alone. Sitting around campfires with my friends. How much I depend on the distractions of cell phone, computer, TV, and all my other toys. How I should have bought more AA batteries.

The power returned at 8 p.m. Dazed by the light, I thanked God and the power company and eased back into regular life. That was Friday night.

Saturday we attended Roy’s funeral. Lots of tears. After my friend Pat and I ate a substandard lunch in a chilly restaurant where they were clearly starting to scale down staff and supplies for the coming shutdown, the St. Anthony’s choir did the second Mass.

Finally, at 5:00, I could go home. It was raining again, the wind blowing so hard we could barely stand in one place. But at home, I could eat a hot meal, watch TV, and hang out with Annie.

God had other plans. As I turned off 101, I noticed the lights were out. Swell. But there was more. Turning onto Birch, I faced a wall of fallen trees and dangling wires. I could not get home. I got out of the car and looked for a way to walk or crawl through, but it wasn’t safe.

I called 911. They said help was on the way.

How long would it take? Should I go to a motel? I had no other clothes, no pills, and my old dog Annie was alone.

Total darkness. Now my cell phone didn’t work. I had no one to talk to except God. I prayed.

It was too dark and spooky, and I was surrounded by trees that could fall. I drove up the highway to the South Beach Post Office where there was light and phone service. As I sat in the parking lot, rain sheeted down the windshield while wind pummeled my car. I was cold, hungry and starting to need a restroom. My black slacks were wet from walking out in the rain.

After a while, I drove back to my neighborhood and parked behind the big Public Works trucks. A guy in a yellow slicker told me they would try to clear the road enough to get a car through, but it would take a half hour or so.

I sat in my car, rain pouring, my hazard lights blinking lest someone unaware come barreling into the back of my Honda. I watched the green arrows blinking, watched the rain pouring down my windows. I prayed my house was okay, that none of my trees had fallen.

At 7:10, the yellow slicker guy told me I could drive through, carefully. And I was home! It was dark and cold, but I only cared that I was home. As much as I could see, everything looked fine. I built my fire, lighted my candles, scavenged dinner for me and Annie, and waited for daylight.

            Early Sunday, I heard chainsaws. At 11 a.m., the lights came on. It was dark for 18 ½ hours this time. I threw out most of the food in my refrigerator, glad I hadn’t found the energy to go shopping last week.

            Monday, I bought food at Fred Meyer to restock the fridge. The store was jammed with people stocking up for the shutdown. Toilet paper was disappearing fast. Here we go again.

            Do I trust the lights to stay on? No. The wind is blowing hard again today. But there’s a little patch of blue between the clouds. I’m just grateful to be here and so thankful for the workers who go out in the dark and the rain to clear the way for people like me to go home.

            So that was my weekend? How was yours?

Watching Old Movies and Sitting Still

Nathan Lane and Robin Williams in “The Birdcage”

Thanks to COVID-19, our network TV shows are gone, replaced by endless game shows, weird Zoom “best of” conglomerations, and reruns of shows I didn’t like in the first place. Since COVID hit, I have watched news and reruns of “The Big Bang Theory,” “Friends,” and “Sex and the City.” I did watch four seasons of the BBC series “Being Erica” via Amazon Prime, then turned around and watched some of it again, but I crave something new. The Democratic and Republican conventions, gag-inducing as they were, at least offered fresh content.

Now, I don’t watch TV all day. I work hard at my writing, read constantly, walk the dog every afternoon, and do my home and garden chores, but there comes a time when a person gets tired and just wants to be entertained.

The new TV season should be starting in September, but mostly it’s not. Production companies have gone on indefinite hiatus until it’s safe for people to get together again. As a musician with limited outlets these days, I feel for all those actors who have nowhere to act. At least I can still sing at church and in my living room.

This has been a weird season for me, not just because of COVID. I have restless leg syndrome, also known as Willis-Ekbom disease. The Restless Legs Syndrome Foundation describes it as a neurological syndrome that “causes an irresistible urge to move the legs or other parts of the body, often accompanied by unusual or unpleasant sensations that may be described as creeping, tugging or pulling.” It’s torture.

This is why you may see me getting up in the middle of a meeting, class or concert to stand in the back of the room or do yoga on the floor. I may be squirming in my chair, kicking off my shoes and massaging my feet, trying to stave off the inevitable need to get up. You cannot sit still, not for five minutes. At night, you can’t sleep because your legs keep wanting to move. Some people call us “Nightwalkers” because we’re up walking around at all hours, trying to get our legs to relax. Sometimes a hot bath helps. Sometimes nothing helps.

Experimenting with new medication in July led to the worst flare-up of my life. The side effects were bad, and it made my symptoms worse instead of better. Instead of mostly happening at night, it was 24/7. At its worst, I couldn’t sit, even to eat or play a song on the piano. My legs kicked involuntarily and threatened to give out when I was standing or walking.

That period led me to try CBD, aka a marijuana concoction which allegedly will not get you high but will make you feel better. I may be one of the few people my age who had never smoked pot, but there I was in the cannabis store choosing the raspberry gummies. The CBD didn’t stop my legs from acting up, but I felt a lot more mellow about it. Now I’m on a new drug that so far works great, but I can’t mix it with pot or alcohol. It’s a worthy sacrifice if it lets me be still.

Read more about restless legs syndrome at the RLS Foundation website, on the RLS Facebook group, or on my friend Judy Fleagle’s blog post on the subject. If you have this, too, I’m so sorry. Let’s stand in the back of the room together and dance.

Now that I can sit still again, praise God, I got the urge to watch something on my TV. But what? Old movies and older movies. I caught part of a 1957 movie with Elizabeth Taylor and Montgomery Clift. So corny. I watched a rerun of “Knocked Up,” in which Kathryn Heigl as a budding TV news personality who gets pregnant after a one-night stand. It’s dumb, but amusing. However, two of my favorites were on this weekend, “Fried Green Tomatoes” and “The Birdcage.” Such great acting, love, music, drama. It felt so good to just plotz on the couch and go back to favorite places with favorite people. Annie the dog, who follows me everywhere, was delighted that I stopped moving for a while.

There are real consequences of the pandemic—people dying, jobs lost, fear and loneliness. When I think about people dying in hospitals and nursing homes alone because their loved ones are not allowed in, it breaks my heart. But we all crave entertainment, and that has suffered, too. Oh, to sit in a darkened theater and watch the magic happen again.

God bless you all. I hope you’re well and at peace in this time of tremendous unrest and uncertainty. We’ll get through this. How are you entertaining yourselves? What movies can you watch again and again and never get tired of them?

Faces without COVID Masks are So 2019

mask embroidered
Seen on Facebook today. Why wear an ugly mask when you can wear this? Click here.

Remember back in March when the idea of wearing masks was new, and nobody who didn’t work in a hospital, doctor’s office, or construction site had one? That seems so long ago now. As we’re closing in on six months of the COVID-19 pandemic, I feel almost nostalgic for those days when I searched Google for ways to make my own mask out of whatever I had on hand. I remember trying to fold my old brown bandanna into a mask of sorts. It didn’t work out quite the way it did on YouTube. I looked around for old tee shirts, scarves, anything that would work in a pinch if I had to leave home.

 

It all happened so suddenly. A week before everything shut down, I took a mini-vacation through western Oregon with not a thought of masks or that in a week the places I was visiting would be closed. How spoiled we were then, walking around with bare faces, breathing freely, touching each other, hugging, shaking hands, eating from buffets, sitting so close our thighs touched. Oh man, are we still in the same year? The same century?

I also have vague memories of President Trump’s impeachment hearings, which seemed to be the biggest news at the time. I listened to the testimony for hours, day after day. And what came of it? Nothing.

We still have the same president, who declared early in the pandemic that he would not wear a mask, that he didn’t think it was a good look for him. Now, 5 million U.S. cases of COVID-19 later, he’s wearing a mask, too. Gold-plated and diamond encrusted, I imagine.

When I look at the old black and white photos of the 1918 flu epidemic, everyone seemed to be wearing plain white masks, likely just repurposed handkerchiefs. But this is 2020, and nothing is that simple anymore.

My first mask came from my friend Phyllis, who had switched from making pillows and stuffed animals for hospitalized kids to making masks. May I have one, please, I asked. She left it in a baggie on her screened porch for me to pick up, lest we make contact and infect each other. I left her a copy of one of my books in return.

For a little while, masks were as hard to buy as toilet paper and hand sanitizer, but within a few weeks, they were everywhere. Church ladies gave them away. Crafters started selling them online. My chiropractor started selling masks with his logo on them. Suddenly masks weren’t just masks. These little cummerbunds for your face were blank billboards to advertise your products, flaunt your talents, or promote your causes.

Via Facebook, I ordered a mask with a keyboard and music notation on it so everyone would know I was a musician. The company that does my postcards, mailing labels and such has offered to put my publishing company logo on a mask. I could have masks made with each of my book covers if I wanted to. Or maybe one with all the books!

Any day now, the charities that send me calendars and return address labels will start sending out masks. Here are your Christmas labels and your Santa Claus mask.

On Saturday, my friend gave me a mask with dogs on it. I can’t wait to wear it. Wait, did I just say that? I remember the first time I wore a mask to the grocery store, the blue one with pink flowers from Phyllis. I felt self-conscious and claustrophobic, like I wasn’t getting enough air. By the time I got to the car, I was shaking. I tore off the mask, drowned my hands in sanitizer, and sucked in oxygen, sure I was going to get COVID-19 anyway.

Now, it’s almost like a bare face is not completely dressed. I no longer need to wear makeup to go out. People can’t see it, and it stains the mask. Makeup is for Zoom meetings, not for in-person encounters. But I do try to match my mask with my outfit, just as I do my earrings, shoes, and purse.

I have six masks now, one for almost every day of the week, not that I go out every day. Masks do need washing, (by hand, not machine. I learned the hard way), and if you have eaten something potent, the mask will send your breath back in your face. Onions bad. Mints, good. Mexican for lunch? Wash that thing.

Masks have one drawback I could not overcome: singing. Some of my singing friends manage to sing with their masks on, but I couldn’t do it. When I launch into a song, the first thing I do is take a giant breath, and my mask choked off the air. It also slid around with the movement of my jaw. Most of us have heard horror stories about church choirs where COVID ran rampant. Singing (or shouting) reportedly pushes out more invisible virus droplets than other activities.

People watching our online Masses complained that the few of us who have been doing music were standing too close—farther than usual but not six feet–and not all of us were wearing masks. I ordered a face shield from Amazon last Tuesday. It arrived on Thursday. I look like a space monster in my shield, and it trashes my hair, but I can breathe and sing at the same time. The plastic bounces my voice back at me, and I can’t get at my own face to push my glasses up or take them off, to eat or drink, or to scratch my nose if it itches. But I can sing safely, so it’s worth it. As a bonus, I can wear lipstick and smile again.

When I take the shield off and let the wind fluff my hair, it feels so good. Was it only March that we could do this all the time? We had no idea how lucky we were.

How are you doing with masks? Do you have any special ones? How do you feel wearing them? Have you graduated to a shield? What will we do with these things when the pandemic is over?