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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As Old Trees Fall, New Life Begins

Once so thick only a snake or rabbit could squeeze between the trees and shrubs, the wooded property beside mine fell prey to bulldozers in June 2022. In 12 days, it went from heavily forested to bare land, exposing my house and leaving robins, garter snakes, and white-tailed rabbits to find other homes. The new owner plans to build a house and eventually plant some new non-native trees.

For every tree that fell, I ached. It was a life ending. At the same time, I marveled at the increasing view of the sky and the sunset, of the moon and stars. I felt a warm comfort that my new neighbors arrived just a few days after I told God how worried I was about aging alone in my isolated house and put my future in His hands. Instead of being hidden away where no one could hear me if I called for help, I can now be seen by anyone coming down my street. When I walk on my deck now, instead of a wall of trees, I see my neighbors’ houses and all the way to the next road. I am exposed. No more naked hot-tubbing. When I wander out in my nightgown, people can see me. It’s a trade-off. The animals are adapting, and so will I. After all, someone cleared my property back in 1967 to build my house, and someone razed the orchards to build the neighborhood where I grew up. It’s what happens.

Yesterday, a big truck took the bulldozers away. The workers were gone. No more noise. In this lull before construction on the new neighbors’ house begins, Annie and I walked the cleared property, adding our footprints to the tracks of the heavy equipment. We found remnants of past lives: beer and soda bottles, pieces of shingles, a bit of rope, a flat football. We found the lid that blew off my compost bin in a storm years ago. We found a garter snake curled in the leaves that remain on my side of the property line. A gray and white bird I had never seen before sang from a tree in my yard, and a turkey vulture circled lazily in the warm air.

There was a particular alder tree I had asked the neighbor to save. No, he said. It has to go. The trunk remains, reddish gold. I counted the rings. About 35. It was a young tree, but as the neighbor said and as I could see from the fallen branches, it was rotten inside and would not have stood much longer. Its sister tree on my side of the property line reaches slim and leafy into the June sky. A yellow warbler darts between branches. So be it. Life is a book with many chapters. You can’t know the whole story unless you turn the page.

I still startle at the sight when I drive into my neighborhood. I will miss the blackberries I picked and baked into cobblers and muffins in past years. I will miss the rabbit that snuck out of the bushes for brief visits, but I also love the late-day sun that pours into parts of my house that have ever seen the sun before. Life goes on.

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Alonement: Have we forgotten how to be alone with ourselves?

There’s a red line on my computer screen under the word “alonement” because my computer does not recognize it as a word. Francesca Specter, a journalist from the UK, made it up. It means “quality time spent alone.” Now “alonement” is a book, a website, a podcast, a blog and apparently a “cultural movement.”

The idea behind this book is that people don’t know how to be alone anymore. We’re afraid of solo time without our screens to distract us. We need to learn the art of alonement. We need to take time out of our busy social lives and look up from our screens to make friends with the one person who will never leave us: ourselves!

At church, they would say the one who will never leave us is Jesus, but Specter is talking about me, myself and I. People are so uncomfortable spending time by themselves that in one study most chose electric shock over 15 minutes alone with nothing to do.

That’s how much we’re afraid of being alone.

I’m guilty of that fear of unstructured alone time. No, don’t shock me. I’ll sit and think or make up a song or something. Maybe I’ll pray. But there’s a good reason why I never go anywhere without a book, why I pull out my phone as soon as I hit the doctor’s waiting room, and I never leave home without my notebook. God forbid I have to sit somewhere with NOTHING TO DO.

I’m a childless widow. I live alone. My family is far away, and my best friend just moved to California. I’m alone probably 95 percent of the time. If you count Zoom meetings, maybe it’s maybe 85 percent. Most days, my phone only rings with robocalls, and no one comes to the door except plumbers and other workers.

But can I sit still in silence without a book or a project to work on? Can I just be? I can’t even last through a TV commercial without playing Spider solitaire on my phone or running out to the kitchen to wash my dishes. One might say I’m alone with my thoughts right now at the computer, but that’s not the same.

Specter’s book is helpful for people who have forgotten themselves in the rush of everything else in their lives. She falls into psychobabble for a bit, counseling readers to banish their inner critics who tell them they’re worthless (I don’t have that. Do you?) and become their own best cheerleader (“You’re great, you’re wonderful, you’re fine.” I knew that). But she offers some fine practical advice for getting comfortable being alone. Party of one? Own it and don’t let them give you that tiny table in the corner by the kitchen.

Specter is young, and so are the people she interviewed. What does a 28- or a 32-year-old know about being an elderly widow or widower living alone in an oversized, echoing family home or a senior apartment where the phone rarely rings and no one is coming to the door? Where trips to the grocery store or the doctor’s office are their big social events? That’s much different from telling your husband you’re going out for a walk, deciding to stay home on a Saturday night for a little “me time” or taking a Facebook break for a few hours. But we all need to find a balance between social time and alonement.

I wish I had more people around, but I have been doing things on my own for many years, while traveling on business, during my husbandless years, and just because I saw no reason not to. Apparently many people feel they can’t have fun without a buddy. Is that an issue for you? COVID aside, why not just grab the keys and go?

Alonement is an interesting concept. I invite you to check it out, especially if the idea of being alone scares you or makes you squirm.

Are you comfortable being alone? Would you go to dinner at a fine restaurant by yourself? Can you sit and do nothing? Does the idea of a little “alonement” sound good or terrifying? Please share in the comments.

Bad Pie: Baking Therapy Goes Awry

I don’t do pies. As a fussy child, I wouldn’t eat them at all. Something about the hardness of the crust and the softness of the insides. I grew out of that. Sort of. Given a choice, I will always choose cake. But these days, with so much time alone at home, sometimes I stop working, turn off Netflix and my online puzzles, and bake. I had purchased a box of prefab crust on a whim, and I had all these apples I had intended to eat for snacks, but I had eaten chocolate chip cookies instead, so . . . Below is the result, which led to deciding “Bad Pie” was a great title for a poem.

BTW, if I have to eat pie, I prefer marionberry or chocolate creme. How about you?

Bad Pie

I don’t know why I bought the boxed pie crust.
Seeking something different, I guess. I don’t
usually make pies. I’m more of a bread baker.
The box sat in the fridge for weeks while
the apples sagged a little more each day until
I decided to combine the two for breakfast.
How different is pie than a turnover, fritter
or coffee cake? It’s all pastry dough and fruit.

I dug deep in the cupboard for the Pyrex pan,
lay the box on its side to read the recipe:
Perfect Apple Pie. Surely Pillsbury knows.
Unroll the chilled crust and press it down flat.
Peel and slice the apples. Peel? What for?
Apple slices, granulated sugar, cinnamon,
nutmeg. Mix, spoon it into the crust. Gently
unroll the cover, fold and flute the edges.

Cut air holes. It’s an apple work of art.
Bake 40 to 45 minutes, stopping at 15
to shield the rim with foil. But the foil
keeps slipping off, and hot apple goo
bubbles through the holes, burning
my fingers. Still, inhale that luscious scent.
Do you smell that, I ask the dog. 
She’s licking the carpet, God knows why.

The table is set, the pie sufficiently cooled.
Hot tea steeping, I cut me a giant slice,
plunge in my fork. The apple spits out
of the burnt crust, its consistency
like the box it came in, the one with the
Perfect Apple Pie recipe. The peels,
separated from the fruit, stick to my teeth.
I should have made banana bread.

What did I do wrong? I pressed, sliced,
mixed, spooned, unrolled, and fluted.
I failed at foiling, I should have peeled,
but still . . . Now I have to eat this pie. 
I bought the crust, used all my apples.
I have no one to share it, thank the Lord.
They’d choke. I’m not a fan of apple pie.
But I eat it. An apple a day and all that. 

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Sometimes You Just Need More Hands

It sat in a bag on the floor of my garage for years, along with six bags of sand. After our Writers on the Edge group folded four years ago, as the last writer standing, I inherited this folding booth we bought to sell books at the Farmer’s Market. Get it out of my garage, said the woman who used it last. So I moved it to mine.

The bag looks like a golf bag, even has wheels, which is reasonable because the dang thing weighs more than my 75-pound dog.

One day while cleaning my garage during the COVID shutdown, I decided to take it out and set it up in my back yard. It would be fun to sit under the canopy enjoying the shade on a hot summer day.

This turned out to be another thing that’s nearly impossible to do alone, especially with my exceptional mechanical ability. It took me two days to set up my tent. Plus an extra trip to the chiropractor. I’m still celebrating replacing the spark plug in my lawnmower. I have a broken window blind hanging catawampus and a kitchen cabinet door also hanging awry. I ordered new curtains yesterday. Screwdriver in hand, I stared at the cabinet door for a while and decided I’d better call a professional.

But okay. Setting up this booth couldn’t be that hard. Other writers did it. I slid it out. White legs, blue cloth top. I carried it out to the far reaches of the lawn while the dog watched, curious about what her crazy housemate was up to now.

One two three four legs on the grass. Great, now push and lift and . . . nothing. There must be a trick. Were there instructions in the bag? No. Wait. A sticker on one white pipe said, “To open, hold and lift here.” I held, I lifted. Nothing moved, except maybe the beginning of a hernia. I pushed, I pulled. I raised the legs. I lowered the legs. I turned the whole thing sideways and upside down. It remained about four feet by four feet and about up to my neck as the cloth top flapped in the breeze.

Sweating, I ran in to trade my sweatshirt for a tank top and to check YouTube for instructions. They were there. YouTube has everything. So here’s these two guys in khaki pants and polo shirts, one on each side. They pull apart, lift up, and bazinga, there’s your booth. Apparently, this requires two people.

BUT I found another video for how to do it alone. Here we go. This guy put the booth up in his patio. He kept saying it would be easier with two people, but he seemed to have no problem. Legs, legs, legs, legs, get underneath, push, fasten down your canopy, and bazinga, here’s your booth.

Okay. I went outside, tried to get underneath. Lifted, pushed. Nothing moved.

I kept having this fantasy of someone showing up at my gate. They’d call, “Yoo-hoo!” and I’d answer “yoo-hoo!” back and invite them to help. We’d get it up, so to speak, in a jiffy, then sit in the shade on my plastic chairs, sipping iced tea or beer, whichever suited my helper.

It’s very quiet out here in the woods. Visitors are unlikely during these COVID times. I saw nobody but the dog, a butterfly and assorted bees. I surrendered. I toppled the structure, stuffed it back into the golf bag and shoved it under the table on my deck.

Meanwhile, I got my clippers and my leather gloves, forced open the stuck gate the gardeners had somehow forced open the other day and started clipping bushes like a madwoman, tossing vines onto the dog hovering nearby. She refused to move. Gosh, I was best entertainment she’d had in weeks. Somewhere under 20 years of wild growth was a raised garden bed bounded by yellow-painted brick. When we first moved in, I grew strawberries there and tried to grow vegetables—they were eaten by critters. Maybe I could try again. I was feeling the urge to garden.

Something bit my arm. Something snagged my leggings. I knew it was ridiculous trying to push back the forest. I didn’t care. I needed to accomplish something, preferably outside, away from the Zoomputer. When the compost cart was full and I could see a nice clear patch of dirt and enough brick to sit on, I decided to take a break. I couldn’t get the gate to latch so I stole a green bungee cord from the golf bag and wrapped it tight around the posts. Then I lay on the cool grass with the dog. It felt so good I considered staying there forever—or until winter, whichever came first.

How did you spend your Sunday?

 

Sheltering in Place Has Its Blessings

My house is not a bad place to be “social distancing.” It’s not like I’m stuck in a bomb shelter, a cave, or a jail cell. It’s a nice place with everything I need. Not only do I have food, shelter, and bathrooms with plenty of toilet paper and fancy soaps, but I have my dog, my musical instruments, my office, my WiFi, two TVs, a hot tub, and hiking trails galore.

I have paid lots of money to go write in places that weren’t half as comfortable. This is a great retreat house; it just needs a name. Alder Grove? Tall Spruce? Bear Haven? Robin’s Rest? Help me out here. Suggestions welcome.

Unlike some folks, I’m social distancing all the time. COVID-19 hasn’t changed that. Lacking husband, children, or nearby family, I am usually alone here. Except for my dog Annie, of course. She’s swell company, but her vocabulary is limited. So I’m kind of used to it. Also, I’m not bored. I have more to do than ever.

Most days, I still keep to my writing schedule, working till about 3:00, then going for a walk with Annie. Then a little more work, a little music, maybe some chores, dinner, and TV. Same old, same old. Except that I can’t go out to lunch, swim at the rec center, attend Mass with my friends, or hang out at the library. I can go to the grocery store, but it feels like walking into a war zone. Will I survive? We’ll see whether I get sick in the next two weeks.

I’ll be honest. Some days, I get depressed. I start to lose hope that this will ever end, that I will ever be with people, that anything I do is worth the effort. I worry that I’ll get sick and have no one to help me. But I come out of it after a few hours, look around and realize how blessed I am. Look at all the fun new things I get to do. For example:

  •  I can attend Mass online not only at my own church but at churches everywhere, even the Vatican.
  •  I can attend writing events online that would have been too far away to drive to and give myself a manicure while I’m listening to the speakers.
  •  I can watch concerts by my favorite artists performing from their living rooms. Have you discovered Facebook “watch parties?” OMG, there’s an endless supply.
  •  I can wear those clothes I wouldn’t dare wear in public.
  •  I have a good excuse to let my hair grow out.
  •  I can talk to friends on the phone for an hour at a time because none of us have anyplace to go.
  •  I can feel superior to those whining about being alone and say, “welcome to my life.”

I’m trying new stuff online, just like everybody else is. See me reading poems on Facebook and Instagram. I’ll be offering a song soon. I might try a video. And you can see me doing music at the St. Anthony’s video Masses for the last three weeks at Stanthonywaldport.org.

I know how lucky I am.

  • On the radio this morning, a pregnant woman talked about her fears of delivering at a hospital during this time of COVID-19. Will she be able to have anyone with her, even her husband? Will she or her baby catch the virus in a hospital full of people sick with it?
  • Friends with families in nursing homes are worried sick about them catching the virus. I am relieved that my father passed away before all this started. I can’t imagine how awful it would be for him with no visitors and no chance to come out of his room.
  • It has to be terrible for people who can’t visit their children or grandchildren or aging parents.
  • Those who work in “essential” jobs, especially healthcare, are in danger every day.
  • Those who have lost their income all of a sudden are rightly terrified about what’s going to happen.

God help them all. Let’s all pray for each other.

It’s just me and Annie here, and we’re okay so far.

Meanwhile, let’s all go to our rooms and play with our toys until the doctors say we can come out. Although we won’t gather for church on Easter, that doesn’t mean Jesus didn’t rise from the dead and come out of the tomb. We’ll get out, too, one of these days.

What are the good parts of this situation for you? Have you discovered some new ways of entertaining yourself? Please share.

 

Amid virus fears, we find new ways to reach out

St. Anthony faces

I lay in bed this morning long after I should have gotten up, listening to the news on NPR. Coronavirus, coronavirus, coronavirus. People dying, economy crashing, not enough medical equipment . . . Yikes. This morning, my Yahoo news feed led with “worldwide death toll more than 15,000. Dear God.

Yet I look out my office window and see the same trees and the same sky I see every day. I see my tulips and daffodils blooming in a riot of red, yellow and peach. I see a family of robins pecking at the lawn, which has grown lush and mossy from winter rain. Inside, it’s quiet except for the hum of the gas fireplace pouring out orange heat. My dog Annie dozes on the love seat. I’m not quite dressed yet, but there’s nothing unusual about that either. I have all day, no appointments, nowhere I have to go. If I stayed disconnected from the media, I would not know this was anything but another beautiful Oregon coast spring.

We have not been hit as hard here as other places, not yet. As of this morning, Monday, March 23, we have 161 known cases of the virus and five deaths in Oregon. But everyone knows these numbers are going to go up, way up. No one has tested positive here in Lincoln County, but very few people have been tested at all.

To the dismay of those Oregon coast folks trying so hard to stay apart from others, tourists, mostly young people, have come to the beach in droves, seemingly ignoring all the pleas to stay home and “shelter in place.” Some of the beaches up north have blocked access. Gov. Kate Brown is expected to close all the state parks today, on the premise that if they have nowhere to go, the visitors will go home. But that means we who live here can’t go to the parks either, and that hurts.

While I’m somewhat used to being alone, many are having a hard time with the isolation. My friend Bill is one of countless numbers who live in an assisted living facility, nursing home, etc. The residents are confined to their rooms. They are not allowed to go out, and visitors can’t come in. Their meals are left outside their doors. Sounds like prison to me. And yet, because they are the most likely to die if they get this virus, what choice is there?

Many folks who are not used to staying home are already experiencing cabin fever. I’ve got to admit I’m better equipped for this than my friends and relatives who are always on the go. Most days, I’m here by myself anyway. I’m just sticking to my routine—write until about 3:00, walk the dog, do chores, play music, watch TV. Same old, same old, except I can’t go out to lunch, and God knows I do love to go out to lunch.

Last week, I wrote this cheery post about surviving at home alone. Well, proving I’m human, that night I was singing a different tune when I got word that all of the Catholic churches in western Oregon were closed. No more Masses, potlucks, meetings, or Stations of the Cross. We wouldn’t even celebrate Easter together. I cried like somebody had died and then posted on Facebook about how lonely and miserable I was. My church was not only my spiritual home but my main social outlet.

But there’s good news in all of this. In response to my Facebook post, friends called and texted, and we connected more than we ever had before. Paying it back, I have been phone-visiting people, especially people I know are home alone, and we have had great talks. I’m experiencing more human connection than usual. I wish this virus had never happened, but I do see some good things coming out of it. I urge you to reach out by phone, email, letter, Facebook or whatever.

As for church, Fr. Joseph Hoang, our pastor at St. Anthony’s in Waldport decided he would videotape weekly Masses. Three of us did music for the first one. “Red” was altar server while his mom “Ice” operated the camera. We taped photos of the parishioners on the pews so we all felt less alone and Fr. Joseph had someone to preach to. I think we all got nervous with the camera on us, but it was wonderful.

Yesterday, I found countless church services online. I could “go to church” all day long. As it was, I attended two Catholic Masses and dropped in for parts of Lutheran and Baptist services. As the Internet keeps going, the possibilities for new types of connection are unlimited. What a gift. Back in the flu epidemic a hundred years ago, people were truly isolated. No TV, no Internet. Many didn’t have telephones yet. At best, they could write a letter or a send a telegram.

I worry about the same things as everyone else. How long will this go on? Will we not be able to get food and other necessities? Will people turn on each other? Will we break the Internet with everyone trying to work and go to school online? How many businesses will fold, and how many people will lose everything? More important, how many people will get sick and how many will die? Will it hit my loved ones? Will there not be enough doctors and nurses to help them? Will I get it?

Just a few weeks ago, we were living normal lives, and the news was all about Democrats and Republicans. My advice from last week stands. Turn off the TV, radio and Internet as much as you can. Connect with each other as much as possible. Get outside in nature. Find a project to pass the time. Pray. It will be over someday. Only God knows when, but it will.

How are you doing in this crazy time? Feel free to share in the comments.

 

 

 

Don’t Interrupt; I’m Talking to Myself

I talk to myself. All the time. Sometimes I direct my words to Annie the dog, but if I’m being honest, I have to admit she’s not paying attention. She tunes in for certain key words—eat, cookie, walk, snuggle, beach. The rest is just bla bla bla, a continuous hum like the refrigerator. If she needs to pay attention, she’ll hear one of those special words or detect the jingle of her leash. Besides, she’s busy listening for cats, squirrels, bears and other invaders.

So, I talk to myself. People always say it’s okay as long as you don’t answer yourself. Well, I do answer myself. Right? Right.

I live alone. Maybe that’s part of it. In public, I usually keep my mouth shut. But sometimes, I forget, which causes people to stare at me.

What do I talk about? Everything. Why did my French toast turn out so badly Saturday night? Should have used better bread. What am I going to wear to church this morning? I don’t know. Black pants? Probably.

It’s a constant running commentary. Am I really addressing it to myself though? I wonder about this, just like when I write in my journal and wonder who I’m writing it for? Am I writing to myself? To God? To an invisible confidante?

I do talk to God sometimes. I pray, I chat. But it’s different. I stop and call His name and say what I’ve got to say, then return to regular programming.

I also talk a lot to people who aren’t actually here. Uh-oh, you’re thinking, she’s completely lost it. No, no. I think I’m okay, but I tell people things I wish I could tell them in person if they were here, if they would listen, or if I had the courage.

I’m a writer. I write down my thoughts all the time. I usually speak them as I write, which is a good reason not to write at Starbucks or the library. I’m just constantly verbalizing. Is this nuts? Or is this a good way to work things out in my head?

I found some discussion of the matter online.

  • In this NBC news report, the experts insist talking to oneself is not only normal but good for us—if we do it correctly. Who knew there was a right and a wrong way to talk to oneself?
  • “Talking to Yourself: A Sign of Sanity” by Linda Sapadin, Ph.D., says much the same. Talk to yourself, but watch what you say.
  • And this Lifehack piece insists that those of us who blab to ourselves are smarter and better off for doing it. Ha.
  • But this article on WikiHow gives instructions on how to stop talking to yourself. Now, that’s crazy.

Let’s get back to Annie for a minute. Do you think she talks to herself? Sometimes in the backyard, she barks and barks. I assume she’s either warning off marauding squirrels or trying to connect with the other dogs in the neighborhood, but what if she’s just talking to herself? Or barking because she likes the sound of her own voice? Annie, who are you talking to?

Right now, I’m talking to you, dear reader. Do you talk to yourself? Is it really yourself you’re addressing or someone else? Who? Or should it be whom? Either way, do you think this is a problem? Please comment.

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

Dad update: Thank you all for your continuing concern about my father. He has made it through a whole week at the skilled nursing facility without a trip to the hospital. Fingers crossed. I’m back in Oregon and he’s still in the Bay Area, so our only contact is by phone—which kills me—but he sounds better than he has in ages. He still can’t get out of bed on his own, but he’s feeling better, which is something. He could use more visitors. Email or send me a private message on Facebook for details on where he is.

Some things you just can’t do alone

I’ve been thinking a lot about doing things alone. After all, I’m alone most of the time. It’s me talking to the dog the way Tom Hanks talks to Wilson the volleyball in that movie where he’s stranded on an island. At least the dog wags her tail, and I have discovered that if I wink at her, she will do her darndest to wink back, usually with both eyes. She will also yawn if I yawn. But if I start making funny faces, she just stares at me like I’m nuts, which is totally possible.

Anyway, I’m alone a lot. This April, it will be six years since I became a widow. It’s already eight years since Fred went to the nursing home. After so much time, being alone feels like my default situation.

No, don’t get all sorry for me. I do that enough for myself. Besides, I love not having to deal with another fussy human’s needs. Today I’m on a scientific quest which could lead to a longer project in the future. Let’s explore what you can and cannot do alone.

It’s like having two hands or just one. When I sprained my wrist a few years ago, I discovered it’s almost impossible to open a can, cut meat, hook a bra, or play the guitar with one hand.

You can play the harmonica with one hand or even no hands. You can eat a hamburger and fries with one hand. You can drive with one hand, preferably the right hand so you can turn the key and shift the gears. But open a bottle of beer? Not unless you smash it on the edge of the sink and drink around the jagged glass.

You can make love with one hand, but two hands are better.

All those one-handed things can be done if you have another person to help you. But what if you don’t? Let’s look at what you absolutely cannot do alone.

  • Get a hug
  • Make a baby
  • Sing a duet
  • Play football
  • Get a decent picture taken
  • Play Frisbee
  • Play Marco Polo
  • Water ski

Search online and you’ll find religious sites that eventually get to the fact that you need God. Agreed, but God won’t help me move my megaton TV to the other room (hint, hint) or hold the ladder while I clean the gutters.

You’ll also find various inspirational sites and go-get-‘em women’s sites that urge you to try going to a restaurant or a movie all by yourself because somehow it will make you a better person. No it won’t, but at least you’ll get to eat all the popcorn.

Some things you CAN do alone, but it’s not a good idea. I have done most of them.

  • Move furniture bigger than you are.
  • Eat an entire large pizza.
  • Hold a wine-tasting party.
  • Go hiking or rock-climbing
  • Drive way out into the wilderness where there’s nobody but bears and the guys from “Deliverance” and your cell phone doesn’t work.
  • Soak in a hot tub until you fall asleep and stay asleep until the rain wakes you up.

A lot of things, like eating out and going to a movie are just not as fun alone. Here’s an amusing page that talks about things you can do solo but would probably rather not.

And some things are good to do alone:

  • Think
  • Read
  • Sleep (actual sleep, not sex)
  • Pluck, shave, wax, nuke unwanted hairs.
  • Learn to play the violin.

I need your help with these lists. Add your suggestions in the comments. I really want to get a comprehensive list going, and Annie is no help at all. Wait, yes she is: Here’s something you cannot do alone: Get snuggled by someone who loves you. Annie, here I come.

Bad back: rest, ice, yoga, beans?

Rest.

Ice.

Heat.

Yoga.

Rest.

Chiropractor.

NO chiropractor.

Drugs.

Walk.

Rest.

Lie on a bag of beans.

What?

Everybody’s got advice for the person with the hurting back. That last suggestion came from my dad, who said Grandpa believed in the bean cure. Well, at least that wouldn’t give me indigestion, I responded. Anyway, I don’t have a bag of beans.

Back issues run in the family. My parents went to a chiropractor named Dr. Roy. I think he was about a hundred years old by the time he retired, and God knows what methods he used back in the olden days. I was in my 20s the first time my back went out. It happened after I lifted an enormous amplifier out of the back of my VW bug. I began a long acquaintance with Dr. Birdsong.

The last week has been a real bag of beans, thanks to my wonky back going full-out ballistic. I’m writing this standing, with my laptop on a file cabinet. Wait, my legs are tired. Now I’m sitting on a stool. Soon, I’ll be lying down. On my back. On my side. On the other side. There is no perfect position. Finishing this, I’ll be back at my desk, feeling my thighs go numb. And yes, this is an ergonomic chair! Back to Dr. Schones in two hours.

What did you do, everybody asks. I don’t know. Dr. S. says I waited too long to come in for an adjustment, making me ripe for this grand subluxation (where the bones shift out of alignment). I do know that most days the week before, I sat scrunched up at my desk for hours, fascinated by the project I was working on. Come the weekend, I cleaned house on Saturday and went on a yard-work binge on Sunday. Mowed, trimmed, cut, raked, swept, watered. I was so proud of myself. Monday morning I could not move.

In the worst of it, I had a hard time standing, especially from a sitting position. Ask my dog. I hollered every time at the red-hot pain of trying to unlock the muscles and bones that kept me from straightening up. Suddenly all those sit-coms where a character suddenly can’t move were not the least bit funny. I tried going sideways. I tried coming up from my knees. I tried sliding from a high seat to my feet.

Watching me get dressed would make a fun video. I sympathized with my dad, who had me putting on his socks and shoes after his hip replacement and who still can’t bend all the way down. A week earlier, I was doing yoga, but now I could not bend down or lift my feet up. I considered going barefoot, opted for flip-flops. These are the times that make living alone a challenge. If only Fred were still here to help me with my shoes, lift me up when I needed to stand, and say, “Oh, Babe,” when the pain brought tears to my eyes.

I canceled most activities. I watched far too much of the political conventions and the incessant TV conversations about Trump vs. Clinton. I read, I wrote, and I snuggled with my dog. I penned poems about the fragility of the human body. I prayed for healing.

I am healing. I have been going to the chiropractor. I have been icing my back. I have been trying to keep moving so that I don’t freeze up. It still hurts.I worry that it will never be right again, but Dr. S. assures me I just need to get everything in alignment and let the muscles and tendons get stronger. After today’s adjustment, I’ll feel the raw pain again, I’m sure. But every time I can freely move from sitting to standing, I celebrate. I have been through this before, and I’m sure it will happen again. It’s in the genes. Grandpa lay on beans. Dad went to Dr. Roy. My favorite thing is to lie on my back on the deck with my legs right-angled over the hot tub cover. Takes the pressure off my back. But it’s hard to type that way.

Have you heard the warnings about sitting too long? Google it, and scare yourself. We are a sedentary culture. We don’t move enough, and we pay for it. I see far too many young people limping along with hurting backs. Writers and other computer workers try various options. Standing desks. Kneeling desks. Treadmill desks. Timers to make them get up at regular intervals. Perching on an exercise ball. I love to write and revise. I love getting so involved I forget about time. But my body is paying for it.

Annie is enjoying my lazy life. Wherever I settle, she collapses next to me. It’s very comforting. Until she pretzels herself and licks her bottom. Nothing wrong with her back. She only sits when she wants me to give her food. And she nags me when it’s time for a walk. Dogs are definitely smarter than we are.

If you’re sitting right now, get up and be grateful that you can. If you can’t, I sympathize. I’ll share my hot tub with you.

Just hold the beans.

 

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