Re-Watching My Fair Lady

I grew up loving Hollywood musicals. I still love the colorful, glorious, joyous, extravagance of them, but I see them with different eyes than I used to. I see the ways that they taught my young girl self to form her identity around life with men at the center. I see and think a lot differently than I did back then, I have more trouble just enjoying musicals, I have to think about them, the messages they reinforce, and the context in which they were made. Today I re-watched My Fair Lady, which could be aptly re titled Misogyny and Gaslighting: The Musical. The nice thing about My Fair Lady is that it is specifically designed to interrogate the power structures between men and women with a small side order of interrogating class structure. The hard part is that it was filmed in 1964, an era when American women couldn’t get bank accounts or credit cards without a man’s permission. So even while the film clearly positions Professor Higgins as an asshole and shows us that Eliza is trapped, even while it gives her a powerful song of declared freedom, all of that is undermined by the closing scene where she returns to him. Higgins doesn’t even turn to look at her, just asks after his slippers while she smiles. The film pulls its punch and reinforces a status quo where men get to be comfortable and women have to put up with it. Women, you can have your independent moment as long as you’re back in the house for slipper delivery.

As a text for discussing systemic misogyny, My Fair Lady is incredibly useful. Particularly since both the 1900’s era classism/misogyny and the 1960’s era misogyny are in there to talk about and discuss. Unfortunately it is one of the beloved movies from my childhood that I can’t share with my children and have them love it as I did. It would be a huge sociological discussion rather than a shared delight. (Though, to be fair, an hours-long sociological discussion with my kids is its own kind of delightful.) We’ll find other things to love together. I wonder how other issues-based musicals like South Pacific hold up. The ones like Seven Brides for Seven Brothers are hard for me to even enjoy anymore.

Drifting Through a Sunday Afternoon

I’m sitting here in the middle of a drifty Sunday afternoon, feeling like I ought to have something meaningful to write, but not quite being able to connect with my focused thoughts because I’ve been so successful at actually having a weekend instead of a sneak-in-all-the-tasks-between-pretending-I’m-taking-down-time. Weekends are something I’ve been nurturing in the past months, especially since all my days are spent at home and my work spaces are in the same physical location as my relaxation spaces. I drift from work into no-longer-working sometime in the afternoon. Then on Saturday and Sunday I don’t assign myself tasks. I’m free to do them if I bump into them, but I’m not pushing to get anything done. I can’t always have pleasantly drifty weekends, but during the times when I can’t have them, I try to hold the memory of their importance so that I don’t return to living an anxiety-and-task driven mode of being.

My life has had more appointments in it lately. This is a shift from last year when all the days felt long and formless. They’d been stripped of external structure by the pandemic shut downs. Most of that structure still hasn’t come back. I have no kids in school, no homework to monitor or oversee. My weekly church meetings are two half-hour web streams and a family blessing of the sacrament. I still only grocery shop once per week and have consolidated all my other errands. But over the months, I built a new structure to help me connect with people. I now have video visits with various communities and friends at fairly regular intervals. Seeing people is good, but it does mean that I am back to having time segmented into parts: Tuesday before appointment, Tuesday after appointment. But I don’t schedule appointments for Saturday or Sunday. It helps me remember what those long, formless days were like. It helps me to retain the lessons I learned from having all of my days be formless.

I wish I could write down my lessons from formless days into a clear list: Things I Learned From My Pandemic Summer. I can’t though. They’re all amorphous, nebulous. Sensations and feelings more than concrete thoughts. By shutting off all the ways I’d over extended myself, I learned what it felt like to be on balance in my center. While centered, I learned all the things I had waiting for me to grieve them, so I gave space/life/energy over to that grief process. I gave stretches of hours and days to let the feelings fully play out instead of processing emotion in stolen snatches of time between other obligations. I still think about how that felt now that I’m building a new network of time obligations out of the pieces of the old. Interesting that the time spent growing in a centered way has resulted in me being able to extend outward as far or farther than I used to reach in my former overextended mode. That’s a lesson I want to remember.

Perhaps someday I’ll find words for how I feel more whole now than I did a year ago, how I’m less afraid. So far any words I use feel like a thin layer of papier-mâché over a round balloon, describing the outline of the thing while not the fullness of it. For today, I’ll put down the words and drift through the rest of my Sunday afternoon.

Easter Thoughts

I don’t have any personal traditions surrounding Easter. I probably ought to since it is part of my religious tradition, but somehow the ones I used to have were all focused on providing an experience for my children rather than me forming a personal connection with the holy day. So when the kids stopped caring about egg coloring and Easter egg hunts, we also stopped having lessons about Christ’s resurrection. The two probably shouldn’t have been intertwined, but somehow one triggered the other. The other thing that led to an ebb in household Easter traditions was that some of my kids have stepped away from my religious tradition. We’ve found a good family balance now where all the beliefs are given space without imposition, but it means that creating a family experience out of a religious symbolic holiday is not something we do anymore. Christmas still works because we can all engage with the more secular trappings equally, but Easter always had a lighter touch on our lives. (This is a cultural oddity since from a purely religious standpoint the importance and spiritual weight of Easter is far greater than that of Christmas. Christmas is the promise of a Savior to come, Easter is the culmination of the atoning work of a Savior.) All of which is to say that I’m in the middle of a holiday with no particular plans for marking the day.

I did listen to the General Conference for my church which is a semi-annual broadcast that happens the first weekend in April and October. Sometimes the spring conference coincides with Easter, which it did this year. So I got to hear multiple people speak about the holiday, its personal meaning to them, and its larger significance. I particularly appreciated that the church chose Easter Sunday as a day to lean into the multi-national aspects of my church. The vast majority of the speakers gave pre-recorded talks from their home countries. For most of them English was not their first language. I loved hearing different sounds given to familiar words, and I marveled at the courage necessary to give a speech to a global audience in a secondary language.

For me Easter is deeply connected with the Spring bulbs that are blooming. It is hope for things to grow and thrive even after they’ve died or gone dormant. It is a calmness of spirit that rings like a clear tone inside me when I pause to listen to it. It is knowing that when I reach out to the divine, I connect with a source of strength larger than what I can carry inside me. It is a thread of hope that I can someday hug my grandparents again even though they died years ago. And yes, it is also in specific stories about Jesus Christ, His life, His death, His resurrection. I’ve seen some of those stories scoffed or ridiculed on the internet today. Not in the gentle meme jokes that someone inside the community makes for fellow believers to laugh together (I’ve seen and laughed at some of these too,) but sharp jokes aimed at Christianity as a powerful giant to be speared and taken down. Christianity is indeed a large and clumsy giant with very large footprints. It is sometimes leveraged harmfully. Yet it is also a source of personal strength and guidance to many people, and careless attempts to spear the giant can wound people.

Today I am not wounded. In fact, I feel profoundly healed and whole. The other day I was having a conversation with one of my kids about how the pandemic quieted all the noise in their lives. It removed all the options for schooling, volunteering, expanding outward, and forced them to sit with themselves. In that quiet they gained identity that they had lacked before. In many ways pandemic did the same for me. Today as I sit with the feeling of Easter and try to connect with God, I feel grateful for the lessons of the past year, I feel hope for how far I can fly once I’m fully free of the pandemic cocoon. Easter is a story of suffering, betrayal, pain, death, entombment, transformation, and re-emergence. It feels very relevant and important to me this year.

An Early Spring Garden Walk

Today it is 70 degrees out (21 celsius) which makes it a lovely day to walk in my gardens and see what is growing. The front flowerbeds have begun to put forth new growth. Soon these red peony shoots will turn green and leafy.

Dandelions are cheerfully growing in places where I don’t want to have dandelions.

I have my first tulip blooms.

The spring star flowers and grape hyacinths are out in force.

In fact, the grape hyacinths have started invading the lawn. I love it and put off the first mowing until after they’re done blooming.

Above the invasion of grape hyacinths, you can see the grape row. I need to trim it back and build a better structure for them to grow on. I should do that soon before the vines start to leaf out.

Another trimming project is this pear tree that I’m trying to rescue from blight. Those last tall branches will come off as soon as I figure out how to put the chain back on the pole saw. When it grows out again, we’ll be able to watch for blight and trim it out.

The apricot tree is in full bloom, though some of the blooms got caught by a freeze, so I had to pick a bloom cluster that didn’t have freeze damage.

The first daffodils have made their appearance

I’ve got a birdbath, wind chime, and bee hotel to put up now that the weather is nice. I’ve already got this stacker feeder to draw birds into my patio space. Some day I need to sit outside long enough to catch pictures of the goldfinches which have started coming around. They look so dapper in their spring colors.

The new garden bed next to the patio is getting ready to bloom.

Parts of it are blooming already. This is going to be lovely spot to sit in the warm weeks to come.

Spring always gives me joy. Thanks for coming on this walk with me.

Getting Vaccinated

The place was tucked away behind a gym, marked only by a sign that said “vaccine clinic” with an arrow. We had to park far out in the parking lot because the only available close spots were marked as being for the gym customers with signs atop those road construction barrels. A simple, practical way for the gym and the clinic to temporarily share. Six month from now the gym will still be there and the vaccine clinic will be gone. Mass vaccinations complete. The day was exceptionally windy, and tugged at the papers in my hand. Forms confirming my appointment and that I’m not likely to have an adverse reaction to the vaccine.

I did not expect the man at the clinic door to be wearing the fatigues of a national guardsman. Though as soon as I saw him, I realized that it made perfect sense to use personnel trained in discipline and service. He asked if we were there for our first or second shot, then waved us into the building to a table where a different guardsman looked at our papers. Then we walked down a hallway into the large warehouse space, aisles and lines defined by traffic cones topped with caution tape and tape markings on the floor. We moved from station to station, no chance to go astray. At each step a guardsman directed us to the next station. Nurse to read through the papers again and write some things down on the admin section. Guardsman to scan our IDs and print labels for us to carry forward. Guardsman to show us which table to sit at. Nurse to put a sticker on the form we brought with us and to schedule our second appointment. Guardsman to tell us which table to sit at next. Nurse to afix the second sticker onto vaccine cards which she hands to us and tell us about possible side effects from the Pfizer vaccine. Guardsman to send us to the next room and assign us a table. Two nurses, one for each of us, with alcohol swabs, needles, and bandaids. Then some nurses to send us into a forest of individual chairs, six feet apart, where we are to wait for fifteen minutes.

It is all very efficient, despite all the stops. Except for that last fifteen minutes, we never have to wait for more than a minute for any station. We never bunched up with other people. All of it tuned to get people through and back to their lives. I wonder if all the vaccine sites have developed a similar efficiency. Probably. Efficiency just sort of happens when people have to do the same thing hundreds of times in a day. For the guardsmen and medical personnel, this is their job. They’ll do the same thing tomorrow and the day after. I want to take pictures of it all. Record the extraordinary mundainity of it. All of the mass pushes for childhood vaccination happened before I was born. The only vaccinations I’ve known happen as part of regular doctor’s visits. This is something else. This is community mobilizing, collective effort, expense, and organization to save lives. My only participation being to pass through and get my shot without causing a disruption.

Today’s shots were for me and one of my adult children. Later this week I will return with the other two adult kids. Since I won’t be getting a shot, I’ll wait in the car. The clinic people don’t want or need an extra body in there, and my people will navigate the process just fine without me. They too will pass through and participate in this historical moment.

Six weeks from now, we’ll all be fully vaccinated. We’re already beginning to have conversations about what that means and doesn’t mean for our household. I really thought I would have more emotions about my vaccine day. Maybe I had them already. Maybe they’re out there waiting for me after my brain shifts out of dispassionate-analyse-this-moment mode. For today, the thing is done, and now I move onward to the next thing.

The Edges of Compassion

My friend was struggling with the fact that a person they trusted to tell about their depression told them “quit moping around and get proactive about their situation.” I found some words in response to my friend’s pain that I want to capture here, because I might need these words as a reminder when I am the one struggling:

It always hurts when you run up against the edges of another person’s ability to be compassionate. Leaves you cut and bleeding when you’re already limping around injured. The flaw lies in the other person’s limited capacity for compassion, not in the size of your need. When you are healed and strong again, you will be able to extend understanding for their lack. Right now, be self protective.

I’ve had times in my life when I was overflowing with pain, where I poured that pain into the ears of sympathetic people. Yet I also watched. Because as I was pouring, there would come a point where my listener would sit back and say something like “Wow. You’ve got a lot going on.” That was when I would stop pouring even if I still felt full. My listener was at capacity and if I continued to speak, they would behave in self protective ways that might hurt me.

I’ve also experienced this from the other side. I’ve been the person trying to help someone who is depressed, who can’t/won’t take simple steps to claw themselves toward less depression. That “can’t/won’t” is the hard bit. It isn’t easy to tell which is happening, not even from the inside. Sometimes we think we need sympathy, but the thing that gets us moving is being angry at someone for the lack of it. Other times we’re just sliced by the edges of another person’s capacity and the injury makes getting out of the pit that much harder.

It is all hard. And messy. With no clear map.

Yet, I was a person who had so much pain that it overflowed when I tried to keep it private, and I doled it out in swallowable portions to my friends willing to listen. Now I can have visits with friends instead of therapeutic outpourings of emotion. I can move through entire weeks without crying. Slowly, carefully, self-protectively I have pulled myself out of stress and depression. I am able to re-build relationships that faltered while I was struggling. I am in a place where I am able to work on expanding my capacity for compassion rather than needing to depend on capacity borrowed from others. I wonder if it would have been easier in the hard place if I’d known that there was an “after” that I was struggling and scratching my way toward.

Dreaming of Ocean

Last night I dreamed of open water. We went to the water hoping for solitude only to discover crowds of people everywhere. Relatives, friends, strangers, none of whom I dared approach, all of whom invaded the space I’d hoped to have. Then I found a vast expanse of bright blue devoid of people. The water was at a perfect temperature for me to wade waist deep without feeling cold. I was so pulled by the water that I didn’t even take time to change into a bathing suit and just let my clothes be wet, knowing I could dry them in the sun later. I walked in the water amid twisted, fantastical, beautiful trees. The light caught on these trees in ways that I photographed, and every photo was perfect.

I am awake now and I still feel the pull of that water. I catch my breath at the remembered beauty of those trees. Someday I will travel to an ocean again. Today I must content myself with my 1/3 acre of plants and trees just beginning to wake from winter’s sleep. Chilly gardening instead of sun-drenched water.

Event Planning in End-Stage Pandemic

I have a list of tasks for today. It is a reasonable list and sits in a row with the reasonable lists from earlier in the week. Most days I do most of the things on my lists because I’ve manage to size my obligations to fit into my available hours under ongoing pandemic quarantine. All of it carefully paced to be sustainable over the long haul. It is smart. Yet this week I feel stifled somehow. The hours feel long and I keep shying away from tasks on my list. Some of that is the normal anxiety I feel in the few days prior to teaching an online class. I love the concept of this one (Networking for People with Social Anxiety) yet I worry that I won’t be able to do the topic justice, that I’ll fail to provide my students with sufficient value for their expenditure of time and money. Teaching the class also requires me to expose my own social anxieties. In order to teach I have to be vulnerable, and that is scary. Anxiety over teaching on Saturday doesn’t fully explain my mind state today though.

So much of my pandemic experience has been learning to focus on the short term because long term had too many variables in it. This week has forced me to face that same necessity through the end of 2021. This seems to be the week when events I’m associated with for late summer and fall are making decisions or announcing decisions about their format for this year. For example, Gen Con has shifted their date to late September and announced that they’ll be running a hybrid show with in-person, online, and pop-up aspects. In light of their announcement, I, as a vendor for the show, have decisions to make about whether I’ll commit my crew to attending an in-person event. I have to sit here in March and stare across six months of unknown variables relating to vaccination, Covid variants, public behavior, transmission rates, re-infection rates, international travel blockages, and the hazards I don’t even know to look for. Weighing all of those question marks, I have to come up with a decision that I can stand behind. Each variable has its own freight of anxiety, it’s own catastrophization tree of possible terrible outcomes. My anxiety gnaws at it all, and the only way to quiet the anxiety is to keep my physical life small, controlled. Which then leads to me feeling worried that I’m letting anxiety dictate my life. Perhaps I should be brave instead of safe. But facing anxiety is exhausting, and I know that need to decide upon a path that I can maintain for at least the next six months.

Looking at the decisions in front of me, I’m fairly certain where I will land. And as I write that sentence my eyes tear up a little bit for the losses. Last year loss was imposed. Everything was canceled and I was relieved to just flow along the choices of others. I could be sad without having to be responsible for causing the sadness. This year, standing in this week, I know I’m going to have to choose loss. I will either watch others have an event I stayed home from, or experience months upon months of frazzling anxiety which will interfere with my ability to work and feel happiness.

The general tenor of public discussion is cautious rejoicing because we’re reaching the end of the pandemic. I wish I could join in that hopefulness, but I remember how it felt when everything was canceled. I worry that some of these bright plans for Fourth of July events and fall conventions will have to be canceled. My instinct is to take much smaller steps into a wider world rather than rushing to reclaim as much as possible as soon as possible. So I sit here with my choices, and I grieve for what they will cost me, and I worry that my instinct for caution will prevent others from having their full reclaiming of life. Perhaps this year should be met with bravery instead of caution. Perhaps caution will save us pain, stress, and loss. We can’t know yet. And that is hard.

Pandemiversary

Today is my Pandemiversary. One year ago today I knew that everything had changed and I was fairly certain there would be no going back. Even very early on, I was working through my emotions trying to set up a pandemic life I could be happy inside for a year or more. I cried for losses before many people knew there were losses. A year ago today WHO officially declared SARS-CoV-2 (Covid 19) to be a pandemic, Disneyland closed its doors, the NBA called off March Madness, and church meetings were canceled. Prior to this day last year I lived in a world where none of those things seemed possible, then suddenly I lived in a world where they were real. In the evening I made a quick run to the grocery store to pick up bread and felt the urgency and panic in my fellow shoppers. Did I even have a mask at that point? I can’t remember. We all stood in a long line, six feet apart, made anxious by the shelves picked bare. It would be months before supply chains adapted and the shelves were re-stocked again.

Yesterday Howard got his first dose of Covid-19 vaccine. The fact of that is a testament to scientists, lab workers, and manufacturers who, without taking any risky short cuts, pushed this vaccine into existence twice as fast as we believed possible. I scheduled the appointment the very day that he became eligible. Him being vaccinated reduces our load of fear because he was the most vulnerable of my household. We know that even after vaccination we need to be responsible for reducing risks to others. Our behavior probably won’t change much, but not having to carry that fear makes everything easier.

President Biden announced that he wants every American eligible to be vaccinated by May 1st. The state of Utah already announced that it will open up vaccinations to all adults on April 1st. These announcements sound like good news, they’re certainly good for my family, however I can’t help but feel that my country has elbowed its way to the front of the vaccination line. I have friends in Canada who will have to wait into August or September. For other areas of the world it will be even longer. This is not fair. Over and over the pandemic has shone a light onto all sorts of unfairness. So guilt will be mixed in with my gladness when I’m able to make appointments for my household to be vaccinated. We will be adding to herd immunity, but I hope that someone in some other place doesn’t have to pay the cost for our benefit. I have no say over how much vaccine gets shipped to which location in the world. I can only follow the directions of my local public health officials and show up to get my shot when they say it is my turn.

We still have a long road ahead. I think it will be 2022 before we can see what post-pandemic normal looks like. I know I will be careful in deciding which things get welcomed back into my life and when. I need to see what happens to case rates when vaccinations make people over-confident. I need to see what impact variants have. I need to see whether the vaccine effectiveness sticks around for longer than six months. We’ve entered a new phase, which is not the same as being cleared to go back to life as it was. That life is gone, whats next is something new. Vaccinations mean that I won’t feel a stab of guilt or fear each time I interact with someone in my pandemic bubble. It means I can again visit with a friend or two outdoors from several feet away. It means my 18yo can seek a job without being afraid he’s risking his dad’s life. It means we can begin to address the agoraphobia that some family members have developed without having to simultaneously face down pandemic panic. Maybe I can walk inside a church building at some point this year. I’m not ready for much more than this. Not until I see how the next months play out.

I wanted to mark today’s pandemiversary in some way, have some conscious recognition of the year just past. I’d half planned to have a fire in my firepit out on my pandemic patio. Then task followed task: car maintenance, shipping packages, listening to emotions, spending time watching a movie with Howard, laughing at cats, bringing in the mail, cooking shared food. It was all so normal, and the hours slipped away. Now it is cold and I don’t really want to venture outdoors to light a fire. But perhaps letting today be entirely ordinary is a better answer to pandemiversary than creating a ceremony. A year ago the world changed, today it just continued forward. I can’t think of any better evidence for our ability to overcome and survive whatever comes next.

The Owl

On Sunday morning I heard a blue jay yelling outside my front window. It is common to hear jays yell as they fly through the neighborhood, but the frequency and persistence of this yell declared “danger!” even to my uneducated human ears. I stepped outside to find the jay jumping in circles in one of my trees. A closer inspection showed me the small screech owl who was the focus of the blue jay’s ire. I waved off the jay so that the owl could sleep in peace. The owl elected to move to a different tree. All was calm… until the jay found the owl again.

This set the pattern for the entire day, quiet, interrupted by a jay screaming, me stepping out to chase off the blue jay, followed by a period of quiet. The jay was persistent. He not only came back again and again, he also attempted to gather other birds and jays to help him mob the owl. Chickadees, juncos, and finches all showed up to yell at the owl. Mostly the owl hunkered down, not taking flight, and not offering any returning attacks, even when the jay pecked at is feet.

I don’t know that the owl needed me to chase off the other birds, but I felt like attempting to defend him was important. Owls move through the world so quietly that getting to observe one in my own garden felt like a minor miracle. Particularly since his roosting spot let me get within five feet of him. These pictures were taken with a basic cell phone, that’s how close I got, but I was careful to watch his body language and back off when he seemed nervous about me. It was this careful balance, close enough that the other birds flew away, not close enough to cause the owl to take flight. There were several long stretches mid-afternoon where no birds came to disturb the peace.

When I talked about owl sitting on twitter, there was a side conversation about how blue jays can be real jerks. I suppose that is one interpretation of the jay’s behavior. Except, the jay was not wrong. The owl, even a small one, is a predator who will absolutely kill and eat other birds. Once night fell, the owl would have the advantage. During the day, with a crowd of birds, the day birds had a chance to drive the owl away from their territory. The entire nature play between the owl and the birds was each feathered creature following their instincts. When dark fell, the owl took off and I’m not likely to ever see him again.

I have one set of thoughts where I identify with the owl hunkered down in a place that was only sort of safe while bird around him yelled at him or pecked at his toes. I can draw parallels to social media experiences or pandemic. There is another set of thoughts about the birds who banded together to try to chase away a threat to their lives by grouping up and yelling about it, which feels parallel to protests and community actions I’ve seen in recent months. The blue jay was a leader / instigator, but all the birds played a part, and if they’d managed to get the owl to take flight, they could have driven him far away. As it is, he isn’t likely to pick my trees for his daytime roost again. I hold all of these thoughts loosely.

Mostly I look at the beautiful pictures of the owl and think about what a miracle he is. Look that those ear tufts! and those feet! I marvel that something so small could be alive. He flies about the world taking care of himself while I’m unaware. The world is full of such feathered miracles. The jays, chickadees, juncos, finches, and sparrows are all miracles too. My world is full of wonder, and I’m glad I got to see some of it up close for a day.