Bet your sweet bippy it’s here

Last night’s getting lost walking around our own neighborhood in a snowstorm  —

because none of us had our glasses on, 

critiquing varied holiday light and blow up displays and mistaking one yard scene for Santa’s coffin and gravestone, 

considering walking straight through a stranger’s house Ferris Bueller-style after being surprised to find ourselves at the unhelpful end of a very long cul-de-sac, 

wet mask encrusting with ice as my pockets fill up with snow, 

staying up late (PAST 10 PM), 

dusted Jack Russell in rust-orange coat,

yelling “CAR” and “GAME ON” and employing the buddy system,

under the last full moon of our bloated zombie year,

and it’s like cocaine is falling from the sky for how exhilarated it makes me but exponentially more exciting in that it won’t likely ruin my life,

and I can’t stop thinking about Erdrich’s Future Home of the Living God and her wrenching depiction in retrospect of the last snow and not fully appreciating it before anyone could know it would be the last snow and then I wonder if I’ll have to keep moving north until all winter is over forever,

a friend saying, “I may be succumbing,”

feeling both ancient and newborn having barely wiped my eyelashes before they’re covered again,

a dancing blow-up snowman with a Halloween skeleton still hanging from the tree over his head spinning in the gusting snow and aren’t we all just walking around with skeletons hanging idly over our heads,

cackling into the wind because it hasn’t yet bested us and we still have snow and friends and a new year is imminent

— slid in a scant 50 hours before the deadline — sorry — “lifeline” (thanks, Rod), to clinch a respectable ranking on my Impossibly Best Hours of 2020.

For v. Against

Yesterday I left the house mid afternoon to pay a visit to a dog. It was finally mercifully cold in a way that will not be ignored, a state of weather that brings me a molecular peace I cannot fully describe. Winter walking is high maintenance and I come correct. My orange coat is for below fifty degrees and above 20 degrees (while my blue coat is for below 20 degrees), my thinner cap is both warm enough and fits nicely under my earphones, my plaid scarf is small enough to tuck into both the high neck of my coat and my pocket should I find it too warm. In addition to the clothing, tolerating the out of doors when it is below forty degrees means, for me, something on which to blow my nose, and in This Our Year of COVID it means a cough drop or two in case I am in public and find, in terror, I need to cough. And a mask of course. Always a mask. 

This route is highly trafficked by vehicles but for a full mile I passed no other pedestrians. Passed the grocery store, passed the intersection, passed the elementary school, passed the playground, passed the field in a bucket valley where we played glow-in-the-dark frisbee, and saw not a single person. 

Lately I’ve been trying to listen attentively to a new-to-me piece of music every day, so I loaded up Bill Orcutt’s Odds Against Tomorrow. Orcutt had been recommended to me many a time by my bandmate Neal and for some reason ended up in a bin in my brain reserved for Someday, Whenever. Yesterday was someday, whenever. The long and short of it is that the record is a dream of a heaven I want to live in. It’s Dylan Thomas’ Child’s Christmas in Wales. It’s the Tree of Life. It may not be Lake Michigan, but it’s definitely a lake in Michigan.

So there I am on Whites Road in my bubble of transporting guitar — far from the only bubble proximal to anything called Whites — and remembrance of night frisbee and on my way in the cold to pet a friend who happens to be a dog then swinging by the bookstore to maybe buy my 2021 calendar, an errand I wholeheartedly enjoy. I’m floating on magic. My nose turns on like a faucet. I pull off my soggy mask and stuff it in my pocket while I blow my nose again and again and again. Bill Orcutt plays Moon River and I remember standing around my friend’s grave with a small group of his family and friends and singing Moon River to his newly buried ashes. I forget to put my mask back on.

Past the golf course as I approach the stop light a man rounds the corner. He’s older, seventies maybe, and wears expensive and thorough winter gear — a silver gray puffy coat, waterproof pants, a performance fleece hat, boots with a sturdy if pristine tread. I admire his preparedness, smile at him. A fleece neck gaiter obstructs the bottom half of his face but I can see that he is saying something to me. I pull the earphone away from my ear and say, “Pardon?”

“You should wear a mask!” He is yelling through the gaiter and I see now the knotty vein trickling down his forehead. I don’t have the context to tell if his anger is sudden or if I’ve just entered its room as it was ongoing.

Of course he’s right that I should wear a mask. I usually do. I want to say to him that I have been so careful, that I have not hugged my parents this year, that I have only hugged my child once and that was when their grandfather passed away, that I cared for my mother for months while wearing a mask and keeping the windows open and the air purifiers on full blast  and slept in hotels while BYOB (bringing your own bedding) so that I could go home to my immune compromised partner and not kiss him for weeks because just in case. I want to say that I simply forgot in that moment, had only just been blowing my nose and hadn’t replaced it, would not want to endanger him or whomever it is that he loves and hopes to protect. 

I want to say those things but instead because he is a man and he is yelling at me I scoff and say, “I am outside and nowhere near you,” because I am a far deeper well than my best intentions and are we ever fully healed?

And now on days between 20 and 50 degrees when he is out and catches a glimpse of a bright orange coat he will see not a woman enjoying a winter walk, exploring new music, grieving a friend, anticipating a friendly dog exchange, but an asshole who indignantly refused to wear a mask. And, however bizarro that orange-coated asshole alter-me is to the reality of my pandemic year, he will be right.

Thatsa lotta ham!

On a walk this afternoon I passed a UPS guy heading up a driveway with a hand truck loaded with 6 honey-baked hams. He flashed me what I perceived to be a coy smile. By the grace of brain chemicals or my nightly prayers to Dolly Parton it occurred to me in just the nick of time that there is no tone in which “Thatsa lotta ham!” won’t seem sexual. Pickle narrowly averted.

Today I texted a friend for help and went into a shame spiral during the few minutes it took for them to respond, flagellated myself for not finishing an essay draft, didn’t do enough laundry, didn’t even put a dent in a new project I prioritized to start today, flayed myself for not finishing the revisions on a short story, have put off doing yoga even though I know it will vastly improve both my day and my life, got irritated for no actual reason at all, second (third fourth fifth)-guessed my value as a partner (friend parent person), sulked about Christmas, went into a new and improved shame spiral about feeling sorry for myself when people are dying alone from COVID and people are dying from trying to save them.

Then I did more laundry, went for a walk, was inspired by a guy with hams, listened to the Amélie soundtrack, lit the Dolly Parton candle my kid gave me, remembered this picture of the stained-glass banana a friend gave me for my birthday, thought about how long it would take me to explain why this stained-glass banana is enormously significant to me and how I’m not sure I could, thought about the time Chafe and I were walking and I was puzzling out a prospective story and I said I don’t even know how you would go about making that work and then he said You would probably have to write it to find out, thought about how fiction is a resource, remembered that action absorbs anxiety, and got back to work.

Thatsa lotta ham!

Hoping only hurts a little

(I really hope I am not alone in this but) Why do I not know how to walk toward someone on the street after 47 years of passing people on streets? Why do I not know where to look or when to make eye contact or for how long? Why does it get harder the closer we get? It feels as though we should by now have figured out a standard operating procedure for strangers crossing paths, such as not making eye contact till the final moment then a glance and an eyebrow raise and an upward chin nod, or maybe a nod when you’re within the range of focus and then a disconnection of eye contact. This feels like something the French and the Japanese probably have figured out that Americans have too many conflicting puritanical and xenophobic tendencies to reconcile. Or probably folks who live in big cities have this down, they have their patterns of touchpoint because they pass tens of people every day, whereas I pass maybe four. It’s probably easier to keep one’s eyes to one’s self, to default to no greeting whatsoever, but that feels like setting a baseline expectation of disconnection, too cold and lonely for sustaining life.

I can’t be alone in missing whole human faces in front of me in physical space. After embracing denial for the first six or so months of isolation, missing things is sneaking back in, twinging my heart. But missing in 2020 feels more like honoring than lacking. 

I didn’t play music during the month of October. A month is a long time for me to not play music and the lack had left me feeling squeezed out and empty. Prior to pandemic the band I’ve been in for many years was preparing to make a new record, honing songs and chiseling out time to escape to the wild north to record and stick our toes in Superior; and the other band I’m in had just played our first show and were getting feet under us. And then there was the Great Pause. Chafe and I have continued to write and play together, a luxury no doubt, but we’re starved for that regular raucous communion of drums and loud guitars, the alchemy of togetherness, why harmony makes us feel like we suddenly have more nerve endings. Like in the moment the back-up singers come in here at around 1:50, I’m reminded we can be better together, that together is a better state. As we begin to end this year I’m conceiving of a 2021 in which we are less virtually together and more actually together. Here’s hoping, and hoping never hurts (or when it does it only hurts a little).