Thank You, Jes—Angela. <3

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I watched a lot of television as a child. One of my deepest memories is lying on the living room couch, sick from school, and watching Happy Days. It wasn’t this particular episode, but I actually watched live as Fonzie jumped the shark. I wonder when my own teenagers use that phrase if they know where it came from or if they realize that Mom and Dad were there when history was made.

Consequently, when I think back on my childhood television watching it is blended together. I can’t distinguish how old I was when I watched certain things. Was it in elementary school? High school? College? And the plethora of genres and actors are infinitely uncountable.

I went through an Abbott and Costello phase. A Claudette Colbert phase. Katherine Hepburn. Cary Grant. Grace Kelly. Harrison Ford. Nancy Drew & Hardy Boys. Simon & Simon. Matlock and Murder, She Wrote. Lou Grant. The list goes on and on. I even wrote Star Wars fan fiction, which I hope is buried deeply in an abyss somewhere never to be found again.

I was especially drawn to shows about detectives, lawyers, and writers. If they were all three, well, that was the ultimate trifecta jackpot.

One of my favorites was Murder, She Wrote starring Angela Lansbury. I have always continued to admire her and follow her career as much as possible. In reading celebrations of her life, I’ve learned new things, although while they sound new, they also sound familiar. Perhaps I’ve heard them before and they sit in the back of my brain waiting for the reminders.

Two stand out in particular. Her daughter had fallen in with the wrong crowd and was abusing drugs, being encouraged to steal from her family. Angela moved the entire family to Ireland. The person influencing her daughter? Charles Manson. The second to stand out was that Angela hired, and even wrote specific characters for specific actors so that they would get their acting hours in to remain eligible for their union benefits. She was good people.

I was much younger than the core demographic for the show, but I was drawn in, to the stories, the characters, and the writing – both Jessica Fletcher’s writing as well as the writing of the show itself. I would find myself being able to anticipate plot points and guessing who the murderer might be and why I thought that. This is one of the reasons I love Only Murders in the Building so much. It gives me the same interactive feeling of being a part of the show.

With Murder, She Wrote since I was so much younger than Jessica, I had something to look forward to; something to attain, to reach for. She started writing later in life – a middle age that was far off for me – and so it was never an impossible dream, but something to sit on in patience; to strive for.

The picture I’ve used of Angela Lansbury as Jessica Fletcher epitomizes my idea of a writer. I sit at my dining room table right now, clicking and clacking my keyboard as the words form on the screen. Where the sink and window are behind her, mine are within my field of vision, a tea kettle quietly bubbling, its blue light illuminating its base in place of Jessica’s tall, silver coffee pot. Next to me, there is a cup and a straw of Diet Coke, but it is often hot tea. I have papers and pens, pencils, and markers strewn about the surface of the table, a three-hole hole puncher, a pencil case, a church bulletin, a handful of bills, and of course, I’m wearing my glasses. It’s as if the fantasy life of Jessica Fletcher has come alive for me here.

And it is alive. I’m teaching a writing class, I’m writing a book, among other things, I’m drinking something full of caffeine, and I’m moving onto the next sentence, the next paragraph, the next chapter.

I’ve been thinking a lot about chapters lately, but that needs another sheet of paper, and the groceries need buying. Maybe I still have a little Jessica Fletcher in me after all.

Thank you Jessica. And thank you, Angela Lansbury. Rest well.

Update on Mental Health Madness

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Be careful when complaining about all the commitments you have scheduled and listed out. As of last night, I have no commitments, zero, nada, zilch. None.

The spoiler is that I have covid. I suppose the good news is that those new-found allergies are not allergies, which I will appreciate more next spring. For anyone interested in the less-than-sordid details, read on:

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Count Me Out, October

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The last prompt for this season’s memoir writing class was Count Me Out. I have finally had enough inspiration to attempt to write something. I am, however afraid that it will only be a list of grievances, but October has been a shitshow, sometimes literally, so please bear with me.

It has been a long time since I’ve felt so overwhelmingly despaired. I’m not in an emergency depressive state, but I am at the point where I can’t actively wonder what’s next in fear that the powers that be will take that as a challenge.

My response?

Count me out.

We began the month with the first two days having my daughter home sick from school. By October 1st and 2nd, she was finishing a week at home despite being better and except for lacking a negative covid test (which came on Friday) could have gone back to school.

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How Fully Immunized Feels

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It’s been an entire week (and one day) since I’ve been fully immunized. Two and Two. (That’s two doses followed by two weeks for maximum protection.) I know that we’re still waiting for a determination as to whether we’ll need a booster shot or if that potential booster shot would be yearly but that’s for Future Me to worry about.

The question for Present Me is: How do I feel?

After the initial bout of second dose side effects that went away after almost three days, I’m fine. No aches, no pains, no fevers; back to my normal.

More importantly, I’m relieved and that relief is palpable. I’m down to regular levels of stress and anxiety and that in itself is a relief.

There’s a lightness in the air that wasn’t there a few weeks ago. It’s like the weight of the world was lifted off of our collective shoulders. I see it wherever I look. More people in the stores, the restaurants, and on the roads. (Honestly, I didn’t miss the traffic. At all.) People are more apt to talk and smile behind their masks rather than be hesitant and step away. At least in the places I’ve been there’s a feeling of we’re all in this together.

My writing group is getting back together – still outdoors, but most of us are now fully vaccinated. My retreat house is doing hybrid retreats with some attending in-house and some over Zoom. I’ve done both, and while I love Zoom and will continue to attend over Zoom, I miss the atmosphere of the retreat house that I really can’t get at home with a house full of people (even when those people are being relatively cooperative). I go to church in person at least once a week and I’m thinking about returning on Sundays.

We’re talking about hugging friends again.

We’re talking about visiting family.

My husband went out Friday night for a work dinner and Sunday morning went for his first dose of the vaccine.

My son is planning on seeing Black Widow in the movie theatre. I’m still a little hesitant, but by July I may feel differently, and in five weeks he’ll be fully vaccinated.

I don’t know, however, how I feel about a return to what was considered “normal”. I don’t know if I want to go back to what was routine a little more than a year ago. While my calendar is filling up again, I’m thinking twice about what I want to spend my time on and I’m starting to say no to some things.

I also noticed that throughout the pandemic, my children’s principal (at the high school) emailed us (all parents) a minimum of once a week to keep us up to date and updated on what was going on at the high school with not only covid-related notices, but regular school information. This would have never happened without the pandemic. At the high school level, you don’t hear from the teachers or principal unless there’s a problem. I found this communication to be a positive and welcome practice, and I respect and appreciate the extra time that it takes for the principal to maintain this level of involvement with parents in addition to their regular duties.

I would never say that this has been a blessing – it hasn’t, and for the majority of the country, it hasn’t in tragic and profound ways – but we’ve been very blessed and I recognize the privilege we have with my husband working from home and my younger children being able to continue school at home with a minimum of change. We’ve spent more time together, watched streaming movies, went on drives, cooked more, and have been well overall.

As a first responder and frontline health care worker respectively, my oldest son and his girlfriend never stopped working and were the first in our family to receive the vaccine. For any parent, their children’s health and safety comes before their own, and I was relieved when they were one of the first in our state to be eligible.

What I want to do now is remember and not dismiss the tragedy of the past year but also take from it the positives that we’ve encountered and move forward with intention.

COVID Vaccine Update

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It’s been one week since I received my first dose of the Pfizer vaccine. I go for my second dose in two weeks. I can’t believe how excited I’ve been to be part of an evergrowing group of vaccinated people. The one thing I will not miss about the pandemic is the overriding anxiety that saturated every aspect of my being for the last year.

After what I described in the update and edit last week, I had no noticeable side effects. After a couple of days, the injection site was sensitive to touch and there was a slight bump there, but nothing not consistent with any other vaccine I’ve gotten before.

I will continue to wear my mask, probably two. I’ve been doubling the masks since late winter when the variants became more prevalent in the US.

The vaccine may not keep us from getting covid but our symptoms and illness will be much more mild than without the vaccine.

A very important reminder: You cannot get the covid virus from getting the vaccine. There is no virus contained in the vaccine itself.

Read up on the different vaccine options. You will probably not be given a choice as to which one you get – it is simply a matter of which vaccine is available at your vaccine site.

When you are eligible to get yours, get it!

Mental Health Monday, Part 1

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Three days late, so there will be two MHM posts today. Don’t applaud; it’s not great.

I feel an obligation to post what I intend to post. I have a planner, I do research, I write, I link, I take photos, and I really enjoy it even as I give myself deadlines, and perhaps miss a few.

These last several weeks have been a struggle (for so many people) and what I’ve encouraged myself to do is to do what I offer others: take a deep breath, take a few moments to myself, spend some time outside.

Today I delivered a bread starter to my friend and she asked if I had a few minutes. Kind of. Do you want to take a walk? I umm’ed, but I also said sure. It was hot, my face mask was stuck to my face, my glasses were fogged, but we walked and talked, keeping our distance, and it was nice. It wasn’t Facebook or Zoom.

This is the new normal, I guess.

Sometimes maintaining your mental health is just letting go and doing what can be done while keeping the stress as low as possible.

Stopping for a break, doing nothing is not lazy; it’s not even doing nothing. It’s just as important as eating and sleeping. Fit it in.

I will have two more posts today. One is the regular mental health Monday and one is a quick plug for an online event with Pope Francis.

Stay well.

What Have I Done Today?

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What have I done today? Today, being a reflection of one day last week, April 2, 2020 to be precise. It is (was) day 18 of self-isolation/”quarantine” for our family. That is the official count since we last went out to dinner and our kids last had in-person school, which is not a phrase that comes readily from fingertips to keyboard or off the tongue. In that time, we have managed to come to some sort of happy (?) medium between the four of us who live in this house. Some days have blended into others, some pjs were worn a bit too long, too many video games, streaming services, and DVDs were played and watched, not enough fresh air, and way, way, way too many emails were received from every single email list I’ve been on for the last ten years telling me how they are addressing the COVID-19 situation in their establishments as well as many, many restaurants offering me free delivery or curbside pick up despite the fact that I am very much not in their delivery area.

But we’re all handling this in our own ways; some better than others.

As every day becomes some version of it’s Friday again as well as a Groundhog Day reboot, I thought I’d spend one day listing all of my activities or the less than active happenings as it were.

I decided to would share it here for others to see that we’re almost all coping with the same issues: limited resources, homeschooling our kids, working from home, trying to be useful, and often not succeeding, and then feeling guilty about that. Why haven’t I cleaned out my closets? Why haven’t I planted my garden? How can we possibly use that much toilet paper in a week?! No, I don’t know what’s for dinner; what are you making?

I absolutely recognize my privilege and am ever grateful in that I have a home, my children are safe, and my husband continues to work from our home. He had already been working from home for a number of years, initially requesting it because of some medical limitations for me after my third child was born. Eventually, it became his regular job to work from home. I do know how lucky we are despite having the worry that this may situation may stop or change before the quarantine is over. Time will tell.

For all of us.

I began that Thursday as I begin every day, by waking up. I have an alarm set for 8:30 from Sunday to Thursday. I set the alarm so I can “attend” Mass online. It’s hard to have an excuse not to be there when the commute is literally sitting up in bed and turning on my Kindle. In addition to masses four days a week, my parish priest is also doing FB Live storytime for the younger parishioners (but I tune in every week, and enjoy every minute of it!), our office manager is offering a weekly reflection on FB Live as well, and we’ve had soup deliveries on Wednesday for the last three weeks. Sadly, they end when Lent does. I couldn’t be more proud of my church and how they’ve handled this pandemic from the beginning in March, keeping everyone informed and faith filled, keeping our community despite the physical distance.

So, my alarm goes off at 8:30, and my day begins.

8:30am – Wake up.

8:30 – 9am – Checked email, Facebook, Twitter. Saved screenshots and links for COVID-19 information posts to get to later.

I take my morning medicine.

9am – Facebook Live. Since this is Thursday, there is no daily mass, but my friend and godmother who is the office manager for my church gave a wonderfully lovely Lenten reflection. She’s doing another one this week as well.

About 9:45/10am – I begin listening to my podcasts: What a Day from Crooked Media and Stay Tuned with Preet Bharara.

After that it’s time for breakfast, which sadly won’t come to me: a French toast bagel, toasted with melted butter.

I began reading a new book – The Boston Massacre (because clearly this is a lighter subject than what we’re living through right now.)

I went back on Facebook until …

11:30am – I watched New York’s Governor Cuomo’s daily briefing. I find his briefings calming and informative; also honest. I watch it every day that I am able to, and no, I do not watch the President’s daily briefing because those are the exact opposite of calming, informative, and honest. I screenshot many of the Governor’s slides to post on Facebook.

I cooked the meat and sauce and layered the lasagna in my crock pot for dinner.

When dinner was set up to cook for the rest of the day, I cropped the slides from the governor’s briefing and posted them on my Facebook page. (Several people have told me that they appreciate it, and it makes me feel as though I am doing something productive, something of a public service, even if it’s only in my mind.)

I then had Lunch with a Diet Coke followed by a snack. On my notes page that I kept the running diary, I didn’t write down what I had for lunch and snack, so I have no idea what it was. We’ve had sliced turkey and cheese in the house for sandwiches, we have ramen, macaroni & cheese, and often leftovers to have for lunch, so really it’s anybody’s guess what it might have been.

About now, I’ve begun to flag. I’m always tired since this situation has begun, not always physically, but I feel a constant level of worn out. My brain is going a mile a minute, but I am also paralyzed with uselessness.

I go back on my Kindle: Facebook, Twitter, some games. Things that I don’t need to think about because my brain just won’t slow down.

Clearly, I’m not writing. 😦

Emails.

My daughter was on Facetime with her friends and I heard her giggling and laughing hysterically. It resounded down from her room, and I stood at the bottom of the stairs, and just enjoyed it. It was a welcome sound; one that I haven’t heard for what seems like a long time, and I relished in it.

When the lasagna was ready, my son and I made homemade garlic bread. It was delicious.

We ate our dinner, which was also delicious. We’ve been cooking a lot!

After dinner, I had some yummy Mango Dragonfruit sherbet that my husband picked up for me as a surprise when he went out to get milk.

I read Governor Cuomo’s email that he sends nightly, which caught me up since his morning briefing. Again, positive and reassuring.

9pm – The Rachel Maddow Show. She is visibly upset with the federal government’s response. I am also upset. Disappointed. Embarrassed.

I don’t know if I just realized it while watching Maddow but I did not get dressed today. PJs feel almost like business casual as quarantine time ticks by. It’s quite nearly another universe.

After dinner, I clean up the dishes. I didn’t wash them though, just got them scraped and into (or near) the sink. At the moment, there’s too many for me to get started emotionally. I don’t mind doing the dishes, but I need to really feel it.

I went to bed; not to sleep, but to read.

Then I promptly fell asleep.

I woke up at 1am and went on Twitter where Alt_Immi‘s post set my teeth on edge. He had retweeted a 9 minute video of Russel Honore’, who commanded federal troops in New Orleans after Katrina, and who had a lot to say about the Defense Production Act and the “leadership” of Jared Kushner.

I became enraged, which kept me from sleeping.

I took my nightly medicine (which I’m really supposed to take around 11pm), and then I went to bed for real. Mostly.

I know that tomorrow will probably go about the same except with the addition of a shower and minus meat (since [as of this diary’s writing] tomorrow is Friday!)

This whole thing is horrifying and demoralizing.

As the following Tweet says, this is why we cried when he won. No lie.

We will get through this. Together.

Blog and Personal Update

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I wanted to update my readers on what’s been happening since my last post.

We’ve been taking this pandemic seriously for some time in our house. I had been forcing my family to wash their hands when they returned from school or shopping or outside of our home for a number of weeks. Our church had eliminated handshaking for the sign of peace, and receiving communion from the chalice. I told my daughter that she couldn’t go to her friend’s birthday party, which I truly hated doing. (The mom ended up postponing.)

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Gifts

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On Friday, I talked a bit about my mother-in-law and the life she led. We were lucky to see her as often as we did, with her traveling to us by bus or once in a while by train before her accident three years ago, and our traveling to see her as often as we could. She lived about two hundred-fifty miles away from us so it was a long drive, but well worth it.

We were visiting her the last week in June. We had waited for the kids to get out of school, and down we went. We had no idea that she would be gone before we left for home. There’s being sick in the hospital and there’s sick in the hospital, heading to rehab to regain mobility and since she was the latter we were already making summer plans to visit again when she passed away.

She was able to have seen her three children and three of her six grandchildren. She admired my daughter’s outfits, which I mentioned on Friday were inspired by her own free spirit and her grandmother’s. She asked us about visiting my parents’ graves and bringing rocks from her garden. (Leaving rocks on gravestones is a Jewish tradition that we followed whenever we were at the cemetery.)

My mother-in-law grew up during World War II in and around Belfast to a Catholic mother and a Protestant father. I mention this again because it influenced her lack of use for the Church. She had seen too much. Even as her kids went to catechism, her opinions on the bureaucracy remained.

When I told her of my decision to join the Catholic Church and be baptized, she was nothing but supportive. She immediately went into her dresser and gave me the prayer book pictured above. She said she wondered why she kept it all these years; now she knew why.

On another visit, she gave me the keychain/folder that is also pictured above. I don’t know that she ever carried it seriously in her purse, but it was the most perfect piece of religious kitsch that I’ve had the pleasure of seeing.

She also gave me a little confirmation statue of Jesus and a girl that she happened to have, probably from one of her beloved garage sales, still in an old, dusty box.

Despite no love for the physical church that she remembered, she supported my new found faith and asked me about it whenever we were together. She enjoyed looking at my Easter Vigil photos from my baptism, confirmation and first communion.

No matter what she thought, everyone had their own path to follow and she encouraged them in it, always.

50-5 – Writing Through the Years

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With my memoir writing workshop beginning again for the spring, I am being inspired to write more than ever. During the last four weeks I’ve been taking a contemplative retreat that has not only let me delve deeper into myself, but subconsciously has allowed me to see how much my writing is a part of all of me. This season’s memoir workshop has the theme of Emotions, and our first two prompts have been Joy and Hope.

In thinking back to my history as a writer, I am reminded of my first fan fictions. I hadn’t known until recent years that what I had written in high school had a genre and that it was called fan fiction. They were all self-insert, Mary Sues, but you do have to start somewhere.

Star Trek and Green Arrow were probably the shortest lived as far as fan fiction writing; more like an ongoing daydream that storied in my head. My fan writings really began with a back and forth letter writing between two characters in The White Shadow. I wrote in a composition notebook and I remember tearing out the pages and folding them in half, filing them somewhere where they remain hidden or lost forever. I was the only one who ever read them, and I can only hope that I will continue to be the only one to read them.

That was probably pre-high school. High school brought on Duran Duran fic and cosplay. Click, whirr is the sound that a camera makes, at least according to Nick Rhodes. I was the wayward photographer, and we often wrote alternate chapters, passing them back and forth through college. I wrote a terrible murder mystery involving the band on tour. Well, I guess it wasn’t that terrible. But it definitely wasn’t that good.

I took creative writing and journalism in high school. They provided a good mix, and they are probably the reason that I eventually took this memoir class in 2012. All writing is good practice. Prompts and free writes are gifts to any genre.

In the years that followed, different experiences led to different writings. Dungeons & Dragons led to Top Secret and other role playing games. I wrote about my TS character, Monique Jonquille, a French spy getting into dangerous situations and making her way in the world of intrigue and espionage. That was the kind of research that I had to do in person; no internet, but that was the kind of stuff that gets your browser history investigated. I spent hours in the library. No, I am not a serial killer; I’m a writer.

As a child I kept a diary – very pink with very large letters and i’s dotted with hearts. I never really kept a real journal like people do today, except when I travel or go on retreat. On my first trip to the UK I kept a daily journal, recording what we’d done for the day, what we planned to do. I drew the constellations, and the little phrases that my friend and I came up with as a secret language.

My friend and I used that journal, and our time traveling by the train to write our next D&D adventure. That would be my first running a game, and I still remember most of our plans. I also still have the glass bottle that we used for one of the rituals. Green glass with a copper metal screw cap. I can’t remember the name of the alcohol, but I do remember that it tasted like cough syrup. Yuck.

The SCA led to medieval research as well as editing and publishing a newsletter. Fiction came then also, much better than my teenage stuff, but not much more than more self-inserts. Wales, camping, travel, archery, costuming, medieval history, languages, so many things to learn. It’s like being a contestant on Jeopardy – you know a little about a lot of things, and most of it sticks with you. I was a Jane of all trades.

As I teacher I wrote curriculums and published an educational newsletter. I did both without a computer. Boy, how times have changed.

After my son was born, I began to write for a parenting newspaper. I muddled through but in reality it gave me the impetus to see what I was really good at: essays. Anecdotes, thoughts written out, how-to’s, travel advice and travel yarns. I might even have a couple of books in me if I can muster up the confidence to let myself be myself and just let the writing take over.

I returned to fan fiction, although at the time in 2008, I thought it was all new to me. it really was like learning a new language – fan fiction was a new language with its shorthand and tags. Harry Potter was my first and still my true fan fiction love. I’ve moved on and adapted to Doctor Who, Supernatural, The Walking Dead, as well as meta – the analysis, discussion, and opinion of the source material. My meta has focused on Supernatural and The Walking Dead, although I have thrown in an Orphan Black or two.

Fan fiction is almost mainstream today. It’s a community. It’s a support group. It’s feedback. It’s family.

It’s not at all what I could have envisioned in the 1980s of my middle and high school years or even of my college years. When your calling envelops you, you can get buried under or you can start folding the pleats and making sense of the ensuing enveloping.

When I began looking into a major for college, I wanted to be a writer. I wasn’t sure how to study that, but it was what I wanted. My mother felt that I should do something else; writing would always be there for me. I studied political science and pre-law, and I made a great group of friends from that course of study. And I still continued to write: science-fiction, fantasy, poetry, lists of all manner and topic.

In some ways, this writing thing feels too late. In others, I feel that it is never too late, but it is hard to hold onto that feeling. It takes a lot of energy to hold onto that.

I took a social science class that had to do with history, genealogy, and the family. We had to write a paper about our family. The year I started college my great-grandmother had died that spring; my Bubbi as everyone called her. I chose to write about the four generations of women in my family: my great-grandmother, my grandmother, my mother, and me. I interviewed my grandmother and my mother, and they helped me with my Bubbi’s answers. I went through my mother’s answers more than once, and every time I re-read it I’m always surprised that she wanted to be a writer. Why wold she tell me to do something else if that was her dream? I don’t think it was anything bad, it was just not a way to make a living. It could be a hobby, but not a real job.

Well, I’m trying to teach my kids to follow their dreams. Yes, even the one who wants to be a youtuber. There’s something to be said for doing what you love.

As I near my fiftieth birthday, I wonder what my next writing switch will be, what I will evolve into next. It’s fascinating from this end of it.