I’ve always hated good-byes. Saying good-bye hurts. No matter the reason for the departure, that word signifies an ending, and endings are always hard.
We’ve been forced to say good-bye to our pre-virus lifestyle, whatever that was. Whether we and our families are directly affected by this virus, confronting death or illness, or we’re just staying home, healthy and impatient, our lives are definitely changed.
What to do? What not to do?
Advice abounds, online, in newspapers (does anyone out there get a real newspaper?), on the radio, TV, all the media. We’re bombarded with it…which seems right, since this is a war.
Confusion seems to be winning. Today from the internet:
“Sleeping badly while social distancing?” (Spoiler: I’m sleeping like a baby.) “Is going to the beach OK?” (Spoiler: it’s not.) “Economic devastation.” At least they’ll get my taxes.
Today’s worst stopped me in my reading tracks:
“Funerals go online.”
The article (from CNN) called this an “unthinkable new normal.” What will be the rest of our ‘new normal,’ I can’t help but wonder. This isn’t going to be over tomorrow. We’ll have lots of time to slide slowly, our heels dug in, toward our new normal.
And the best news I’ve heard (for the worst reason) in a long time:
“Satellite images show less pollution as corona virus shuts down public places.”
Yes! The canals of Venice have fish in them again! Dolphins are coming closer to the coast of Italy. Our rivers are cleaner. The planet is healing. All it took was for the planet’s deadliest virus — humans — to go away for a while.
Will we learn from that, going forward. Or will we slip back into our destructive, polluting ways?
Taxes are done. The world might be falling apart, but the government will get my money on April 15 (or at least will know it’s coming). I’m doing my bit to jumpstart the economy again, once this virus is history. Is there consolation in that tiny bit of normalcy?
I put away all the tax stuff and walked from my office, at the far end of the house, down the long hallway toward the kitchen, where I’d left my cell phone. As I approached, I heard its faint music, above the music from the radio.
My heart stirred! I quickened my pace. Broke into a run. Someone was calling! Calling me! For a minute, maybe a few, I wouldn’t be alone.
Being alone is our new normal, at least for a while. Shelter in place. Self-quarantine. Safe distance. 6 feet. 2 meters. No gatherings of more than 2 people.
I’ve lived alone for a long time. I’m single, I travel a lot, and most of my friends are at a distance. My kids live 600 miles away, my brother & cousins even farther. It’s a big world. I know alone. I do it well.
This is different.
Normally, when it’s business as usual, I get lots of calls every day. Book business. Cold calls. Requests for money, in one form or other. Occasionally, one of my kids, or a friend. I don’t run for any of them. So why did my pulse, and my pace, quicken when I heard my phone this afternoon?
This kind of alone is different. We all feel it. This one implies that it might be forever, maybe not for us, but for some of us. And that things will be different, after.
And we all have to make our peace with that.
My piano has gotten lots of use this week! As have my running shoes and the hang-board in the garage.
And my keyboard!
Imagination can be a terrible thing! Before I started climbing, I used to wonder what my son was up to, ‘out there,’ when he went on a climbing expedition somewhere in the world. What was his world like? What kind of risks was he taking? But doing it myself has calmed that overactive beast in my head. Knowing helps. Knowing keeps the fear at bay. But right now, we don’t know. That’s the hard part. We don’t know.
What have you been doing to cope? What gets you through living at home? Not being able to hug your kids, who are far away? Who are you hunkering down with? What tips can you share about how to tame the worry beast, the fear, the imagination.
Sharing, here, is almost like being together. And together, we’ll do just fine.
(Please share this site with anyone you know who might need or want to share with us, or us with them.)
Five doctors in Italy have died from CoVid 19, the Corona virus. Five doctors. The people we need the most, right now.
Tonight I played the piano. Really played. Attentive to every nuance, every note, each phrase, the placement of my fingers, the feel of each key. The way I used to. Today, I needed it. To block out virus, and politics, danger and desperation. Everything. At the last note of each piece — mostly Chopin and Mendelssohn this evening — I waited, remembering.
When you, Stasia and Alex, would go to bed, usually on a school night — can it really be that many years ago? — I would play the piano. The only time of day that was mine. The only time of any day when I could do something that just spoke to me, only to me, in the language I so needed to hear.
And at the end of each piece, as the last note or chord lingered, reminding us of what had just transpired, if the music had also spoken to you, Stasia, out of the darkened hallway I would hear a tiny, timid voice:
Our favorite word, sculpted from the sudden silence. Your favorite, because I always gave you what you wanted, “encore.” More. And mine, because music is a story that I gave to you both, my story, from my soul to yours, and your one perfect word said all that I needed to hear.
I hope that, after this tenuous, tumultuous time of pandemic and uncertainty, life always gives you ‘encore.’
I’ve been struggling to write something new here for weeks. Nothing sounded right, nothing struck the right note. Today, I finally figured out why.
As my son puts it in the latest news about the Honnold Foundation, “I’ve been struggling to write anything that doesn’t sound inconsequential in the face of a global pandemic.”
He’s right: we are inconsequential. Humans could disappear from the planet and the planet would keep on turning. It doesn’t need us. The converse is not true.
Have you been struggling to stay calm? To not break into tears at surprising moments during your day? To force yourself not to think about next month, or three months from now?
You’re not alone.
A little over a week ago, I put the finishing touches on my plans for the climbing trip of a lifetime — two and a half weeks, guides, partners, lodging, in some of the most beautiful climbing destinations in the western US. I’d tried for 10 years to make it happen, and finally, this year, it all came together.
And the Corona virus — CoVid 19 — made it all fall apart.
So I’m home instead, ‘sheltering in place’ as everyone should be doing, doing my best to flatten out the curve of this growing pandemic. Before it kills even more of us. Instead of climbing at the gym or on a crag in the Sierra, I walk my neighborhood. I run (or rather, I jog & walk; my new foot doesn’t like running yet). This is my new climbing gym:
This new life of mine, sequestered at home, alone, is not much different from my life of the past year. Fourteen months ago, my foot was taken apart and put back together, a massive surgery involving the sawing of several bones, fusing of bones, pins, plates, screws. Lots of horrible insults to the natural body.
For 4 months post-op, I was prisoner of my house, limited to what I could do while holding handlebars (knee scooter) or crutches. You can’t hold or carry anything that way. Couldn’t cook. If I managed to heat something in the microwave, I couldn’t carry it to the table. I was always hungry.
The books I’d stockpiled to read during recovery sat there, mocking my drug-addled brain. Couldn’t read, or email, or concentrate on anything screen-like. (Each time I tried to wean myself off the drugs, I discovered why I needed them!) My kids live 600 miles away. And apparently my local ‘friends’ were all waiting to hear from me on FB. One friend came, twice, and cooked me a meal. Those 2 days, I ate well, and gratefully.
I thought that this current ‘sheltering in place’ would be similar. I was wrong.
No matter how grim, hard or lonely my recovery from surgery was, I knew it would end. I’d be back on my feet, able once again to cook. To do laundry. To shop, read, check my e-mail or FB messages. To take out the garbage. By myself.
We don’t know how this pandemic is going to end. Or when. Or how many people will not live to see the end of it. It’s hard to not let those thoughts take over our minds, as we run through the empty streets or drive past stores that have nothing to sell.
When I was little, I used to laugh at my mother, who always wore white gloves when we left the house to go ‘into the city’ (from Queens into Manhattan, via the subway). I thought it was silly. She hated to touch the railings, the token machines, anything in the train cars. She’d had polio, as a child during that epidemic; she knew what we should all have been afraid of.
And now, here we are again. I don’t laugh about germs anymore. I wear my own gloves.
But our particular adaptability, as humans, is to rise above. To control those thoughts, and be happy anyway. So I’ll leave you with some of the happy things I saw on my run today, only 2 blocks from my house. I hope they bring a smile, and beat down the worrisome thoughts that seem to grow every time we turn on the TV or call up the news. And if that doesn’t work, just turn it all off and go outside and take a walk — guaranteed to lift your spirits.
This morning, I was supposed to go running. The weather is perfect. But all that work was waiting for me! — a book edit for my publisher in France, a manuscript waiting for completion in the U.S., an article due, an essay due, several business letters and calls I’ve been putting off, etc. The list goes on…and on…. If I went running, I would surely not get half the things done that needed to be done yesterday.
The argument in my head went on for a while. My body / health, vs. my work. Finally, I decided it would be counter-productive to go pounding around the neighborhood while all that work waited for me at home. I pulled out my lap-top and settled in.
Then my son called.
He was at the Vegas airport, on his way home from Denver to pack and leave tomorrow morning for Patagonia, at the tip of South America. Such is the schedule of a world-famous Oscar-winning rock climber.
Each time he leaves on an expedition, I know I might never see him again. I’ve had to make peace with that. All of us know this, of course, every day; newspapers are filled with headlines to prove it. Every time you cross the street, or leave your house…. But my son ups the ante on those odds, by quite a bit.
If I’d gone running this morning, I would have missed his call. (I don’t use my phone while running.) The odds being what they are, today could be the last time I’d ever get to talk with him. When he calls, I always answer.
If I’d been out in the street, running, I would have missed him.
What was it that argued louder in my head this morning to stay home? That mental discussion could have gone either way. This has happened so many times in my life, yet it always amazes me. Did I listen to my gut? Is there some Force out there, guiding things? Some guardian angel-type being making decisions for us, or pushing us toward those decisions? God, or whatever you call that concept? Cosmic circles?
Call it what you will, this has happened many times in my life. I argue with myself, one side wins, I regret the decision…and then I get a call, like today, or an opportunity, or something else happens that would not have happened if I’d chosen differently.
It’s here! Today! October 1, 2019! The 2nd edition of my French textbook was just published by Cognella Publishers in San Diego!
Allez! Foundations in Beginning French:
A labor of love, this is a book I used in my French classes at American River College for many years, in many forms. Everything in it has been tested and has proven to be immensely effective. My students were regularly surprised at how much French they could use by the end of each semester — always a nice surprise, especially for the teacher!
The first edition, published in 2016, was called
Je Parle Français…un peu:
So much work goes into writing a textbook! Usually there are several authors on a textbook, but I wrote this one alone, since it represents a totally different and very effective approach to teaching languages.
This year, 2019, saw the birth of 2 of my books —
The Sharp End of Life, published May 2019 by Mountaineers Books,
The end of so much work, for so many years!…
Time to get to work on the next book. . . . and the next. . .
When I was a kid, I went to grammar school. The kids in my neighborhood who went to public school called it elementary. But the nuns called ours grammar school – and the name was well-deserved.
Every year, we studied our language and its structure. We learned the parts of speech and how they go together. We diagrammed sentences. We took words apart and studied how they were put together. Every year, for eight years.
The result is predictable: my friends now all turn to me when they have questions about English.
Schools now do such a disservice to our kids! Grammar is touched on, a little, but mostly they learn ‘whole language’ or how to ‘express themselves.’ Both of those are important, of course – but only later; how can you possibly express yourself well if you don’t know anything about the words you’re using? That’s like trying to build a house if you don’t know what a nail is.
Most of my community college students arrived in my foreign language classes ignorant of their own language, English. They got angry – justifiably – when they discovered how much had been withheld from them in school. It’s not their fault that we have to waste our foreign-language class time explaining English to them; a couple of years (or even a few semesters!) of grammar in 3rd or 4th grade is obviously not enough study time to allow anyone to master their native language!
Everyone knows that English is the national language in the US, even if it isn’t legislated. Every immigrant who comes here knows they need to master English to get ahead. Yet most of my ESL students (those learning English as a foreign language) know far more about English than my American students. How unfair is that?
Is it a deliberate scheme on the part of our government and school districts, to keep us ignorant and thus easily governable? If so, it’s working perfectly. If not, it needs to be addressed. Soon!
The other day, as I was leaving a friend’s house, I commented on a small child’s school desk that sat next to the front door, the kind made of wood on a wrought iron frame, with a seat that folds up or down, and an inkwell in the upper right corner of the desk.
I mentioned that I sat at such a desk all through my 8 years of grammar school (what’s now called elementary school). She was amazed.
“I bought this at an antique store!” she exclaimed.
Yep, that’s me – an antique. But not that old! Only in the U.S. would we call a 60-or-so-year-old desk an antique.
The rest of the world has a much grander grasp of time. The U.S., though, is a baby. A teenager. We have only a few hundred years of history. The blink of an eye. So anything remotely old seems, to us, ‘antique.’ In Europe, school kids have to memorize thousands of years of monarchs, wars, architecture, religions, etc. A mind-boggling amount of information, for an American. When they find out how little we have to memorize over here, on this side of the Atlantic, they’re always jealous…and a bit condescending.
When I moved to California (from New York), I was taken aback by the road sign I saw as my new husband and I drove towards Folsom. “Visit historic Folsom,” it said. Founded in 1856, it’s only been a city since 1946. The house I grew up in was way older than that!
An antique? Not quite. It was just my school desk. 🙂
How’s your equilibrium? About 10 blogs ago I wrote about “Balance and Goals”. Lately, often, I find my mind going back there. Balance is so important!…in so many ways.
A few months ago, I had foot surgery to correct several lifelong bone deformities. The massive event included sawing bone in several places, fusing bones, adding a titanium plate, long and short screws and several incisions. The surgeon took my foot apart and put it back together, better.
Normally I don’t dwell on health issues here. But health is a tricky concept. What does ‘healthy’ mean, for you?
For me, it always meant being able to do all the activities that feed my soul, that make me whole. Running. Biking. Hiking. Climbing. Walking/striding miles and miles…. I’ve been lucky that my life had never been interrupted by my body’s demands.
If I knew how all this was going to end, I wouldn’t mind a few months of forced inactivity. A bit of vacation! But that’s the kicker — not knowing. Will I ever be able to walk normally again? Not a given. Will the titanium plate ever stop hurting? Will I ever run again, ever be able to squeeze my foot into a climbing shoe again, and depend on my toes to hold onto a tiny chip of rock to push me higher? Can’t even imagine it, right now.
There’s very little certainty in life. I know that. But not knowing if I’ll ever have my life back…that’s hard.
Have you ever been down with a long-term injury or illness? How do you deal with the not knowing? The interminable, unending waiting, and hoping? It’s been almost 6 months now. Getting hard to maintain hope….
Happy flag day! Happy Father’s Day! – two holidays that have always blended together, for me.
My father was a Veteran of World War II. He, and all the other men I knew who had been in that war, never talked about it. He had lots of funny stories about the men he served with and some of their antics. About how beautiful Paris was. About the strange cultures he encountered in North Africa. But never about the war.
He was a patriot. He truly loved this country and what it represented everywhere he went. He proudly wore a red poppy
in his lapel each Memorial Day. He never missed the opportunity to vote. He studied our government and the people who work in it, closely and regularly. He talked about it with anyone who would let him. If you’d told him he was a patriot, he would have waved away your words and said something like, “I’m just a citizen.”
Being from a family of immigrants, he understood the underdog. Having grown up in Hell’s Kitchen, he knew poverty and under-privilege. And having served in the war in places so poor most of us here can’t imagine, he knew that the poorest immigrant in America can have a far better life than many ordinary people in other parts of the world.
He was a patriot – but not jingoistic. He would never have uttered the words “America first”, since he’d seen first-hand in Europe what can come of such thinking. He would have been appalled by some of the vitriol being spewed by politicians on television and on line. Disregard for facts or common sense or decency on the part of our leaders angered him.
Humility, compassion and intelligence were his guidelines, in politics as in life. If only we could bring those traits back to our political landscape!
For this Flag Day and Father’s Day, I hope that my father’s life’s guidelines – humility, compassion and intelligence – will once again guide our national discourse toward a future he would have been proud of.