My life.

I have not written for quite a while. Something drowns my thoughts, these days. I grieve our nation — the pandemic of COVID-19, the epidemic of Blacks dying at the hands of the police. The refusal of the Administration to do anything about either. Indeed, while the pandemic rages on, the Administration seeks to finally get rid of Obamacare — especially the provisions that require insurers to not consider pre-existing conditions. Just think of the two million-plus people who have been diagnosed with COVID-19. How are they going to get insurance? Not to mention all the people who will lose their coverage immediately.

The plans that federal employees get do not discriminate on the basis of a pre-existing conditions. If they did, I would be unable to get coverage. Suppose the administration changes those plans? I would not put it past the bastards. All they care about is their friends in various industries making money.

And the other epidemic. I can’t march — tendonitis in my Achilles — so I give money to organizations such as Black Lives Matter. It doesn’t seem enough, somehow.

On a more personal note, I am recovering from a root canal. During the lockdown, I put off seeing the dentist. When I did, he sent me to an endodontist. I asked him if it was an emergency, and he said “Three months ago, yes; three weeks ago, no.” (The endodontist told me that during lockdown they were seeing people that they would normally have sent to the ER.) I looked at the x-ray and said, “Wow, it looks like the infection is impinging on the bone.” “Oh, no,” he answered, “the infection is in the bone.”

Two hours later, I was sent on my way in pain and a thousand bucks poorer. (Dental insurance only covered forty percent.) Complications have meant antibiotics, which I hate.

I am just grateful I have dental insurance, and the resources to pay for the work. Had I not gotten the tooth seen to, I could have gotten very, very sick. (It’s possible to die from an abcessed tooth.) I have another root canal that I need to get done in a couple of weeks, but that is not as bad.

This could have been avoided except for COVID. When the tooth first started bothering me (not really hurting much, just uncomfortable), the dentist was only taking emergency patients, which I didn’t think I was. When they opened the office up, my first attempt was rebuffed because I was running a fever. I got a negative COVID-19 test, and the fever abated (I was put on an antibiotic by my doctor for an unrelated condition), but that cost me a week. (Looking back, the fever was probably caused by my tooth infection.) Had it not been for COVID-19 I would have been seen probably a month before I actually was.

The tooth is still hurting several days after the procedure (hence the antibiotics). I find myself remarkably chill about it; normally I would be catastrophizing like mad. What will be with this will be.

I am disappointed that the Rocket Scientist and I could not go out for our anniversary. And my tooth pain meant I could eat little of the wonderful paella he made, including lobster tails. It’s been thirty-seven years! That deserves lobster. And paella was reminiscent of all the trips to Spain that we have taken over the years. (Did you know that the thirty-seventh-anniversary gift is “books”? Guess what I gave him.)

I have finally accepted the fact that life will not return to “normal” for a long time, if ever. My job is to do the best with the situation I have been given.

And try not to be so consumed with grief I cannot get anything done.

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Such a work of God is man.

I went to the orthopedist the morning, where they took x-rays. I went to the dentist this afternoon, where they took more (and panoramic) x-rays.

I looked at the pictures and was struck again how beautiful x-rays are. The beautiful tracery of the zygomatic arch. The elegance of the metatarsals. The fine line — almost invisible — that shows where I broke my ankle my junior year in college. The shadows of ligaments and tendons and the roots of teeth.

Then I thought about those other x-rays. The x-rays of a man suffocating as a cop kneels on his neck for nearly nine minutes, well after the man was gone? The x-rays of a  woman shot in her own home while she slept? The x-rays of the men shot fleeing — one from white supremacist vigilantes and the other from a cop who then proclaimed with satisfaction “I got him”? What must those look like?

Humans are such fragile things. We do not loom like mountains or tower like trees. We do not run like antelopes or swim like dolphins. Tigers are stronger than us, as are polar bears. The only advantage we have is that which we have made for ourselves. And too often we turn that advantage against each other.

And too often that advantage is turned against people who in the moment cannot fight back, and too often by cops against those who they have sworn to protect and serve. Like George Floyd. Like Breonna Taylor. Like Auhmad Aberey. Like Rayshard Brooks.

Unless something very unusual happens, I will not die of violence. I almost certainly will not die of violence at the hands of the police — at least nor deliberately. Barring auto accident, my x-rays will look pretty much as they are now.

Everyone should be vouchsafed that.

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Black Lives Matter.

I will not be writing here about the current protests*, other than possibly the photo-op at St. John’s, and that only because I have identified as Episcopalian. (Short version: by forcing peaceful protesters — and clergy — off of a church’s property, Trump violated St. John’s free expression of religion.)

I have written about my privilege. I have written about my experience as a white woman from the South seeing Selma.

But now? It’s my turn to listen. It’s not about me.

*Facebook is another thing altogether, as is writing to my Senators, Representative, Governor, County Supervisor, and every member of the City Council to investigate and take whatever steps necessary to fix the problem, including reducing the militarism of the police.

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Quarantine food.

In the last few weeks, in addition to more regular fare (i.e. things we normally make), I have had:

  • Homemade sourdough English muffins
  • Homemade sourdough bread bowls for soup
  • Crepes: savory buckwheat and white bananas foster sweet crepes
  • Homemade white bread (we have not bought bread in weeks)
  • Salad made with lettuce from our garden
  • Lamb shoulder chops marinated in Pandemic Porter (our latest home-brew) and spices (my favorite)
  • Home fries to go with the lamb chops
  • Homemade sourdough hamburger buns
  • The aforementioned Pandemic Porter
  • Homemade chicken and dumplings
  • Homemade pasta
  • Homemade empanadas

We may be quarantined, but we are eating pretty well.

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My song.

Most of us have songs that creep around the borders of our psyche. Usually, they are songs associated with an event, or a person, or a place. I have a bunch of them, ranging from life events (“I Miss the Mountains,” from the musical “Next to Normal”) to places (“Changes in Latitudes, Changes in Attitudes” — or anything by Jimmy Buffett, really) to people (“For Emily, Wherever I May Find Her,” by Simon and Garfunkel).

But there is one song that I have come to think of as my song. It’s not associated with any particular place, or person, or event. I have no idea when it became so ingrained in my soul. It just is.

Blue canary in the outlet by the light switch….

That’s right. “Birdhouse in Your Soul” by They Might Be Giants. It finds its way on to many of my playlists. It is on my “Five Songs to Take to a Desert Island” list. One of my best Christmas presents ever was when the Rocket Scientist gave me a blue canary night light and spent the next day re-wiring the light switch so it had an outlet next to it. I do, indeed, have a blue canary in the outlet by the light switch.

This song makes me irrationally happy.

What are your happy songs?

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Staying alive.

Once again, on Friday I did not go to Costco, even though the Rocket Scientist did. I am stuck in this damned house for a long time yet. Even after things “reopen” around here, given my co-morbidities, I need to be very careful what activities I undertake.

I hate this. It’s summer — it’s horrible — one of the ways I cope is to go to the beach. I can’t do that. (At least not yet.) I want to just go somewhere — anywhere — and I can’t. I have tendinitis so I can’t even go on long walks.

I don’t really care about me. I’m willing to risk getting COVID-19 if I can just get out of this house.

But I can’t. I can’t risk my family’s health. I can’t risk making them say goodbye to me over the phone. I have a responsibility to not cause them grief If I can.

I can’t risk other people’s lives. I can’t risk giving the virus to some poor grocery clerk who doesn’t have the economic choice to shelter in place. Railfan used to be a grocery clerk, and I can imagine him having to choose between keeping his job and safeguarding his health.

And I can’t risk putting some poor nurse or doctor through what the medical staff above went through. I can’t risk giving them yet another fatality to cope with. I can’t risk giving them this disease.

I owe it to the memory of my Mom, the best nurse I know.

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Things are beginning to open up in a lot of the country. Not in my neck of the woods — or at least not by much. I’m okay with this, because I think opening up will cause a spike in cases and therefore in deaths.

I’ve been coping, though. Oddly, since I usually have trouble with summer. Maybe developing the coping skills for the coronavirus has helped.

I fall into the high-risk category: asthma, history of occasional bronchitis, pneumonia twice in the past six years, including one three years ago that landed me in the hospital. My family isn’t allowing me to do so much as go to the grocery store. I have some tendinitis in both ankles, probably exacerbated by my insistence in January that by God I was going all around San Cristobal if it killed me. I am probably never going to see the Galapagos again in my lifetime, so I was going to see as much as I could. I had a four-footed cane and walked very slowly, and spent one of our days there on a boat and swimming. But the tendonitis means long walks or hikes (both of which are legally allowed) are not going to happen. Hence I am stuck in the house, except for occasional car rides to help preserve my sanity. (I still can’t go to the beach because it is outside the allowable distance.)

And I may be for some time. “Opening up” does not decrease my risk should I develop the virus. If I am called into work this fall I may have to make some difficult decisions.

In the meantime, I have developed a couple of coping strategies:

  • I dress and shower every day. And by dress, I mean real clothes, not pajamas or sweatpants. It sounds like a no-brainer, but I see a lot of videos of people in sweats.
  • I wear earrings often. (Although that is as much a matter of retaining muscle memory; my tremors have gotten so terrible that most everyday activities are difficult. Wearing earrings helps me keep the skill of putting in earrings.)
  • I have started an “Art of the Day” post in my Facebook. I get great joy out of acting as “curator.” I have done this every day for six weeks and intend to continue, for my sake, mostly.
  • I do occasional intellectual work. A friend had me contribute citations for a post he was doing on the difference between Obama’s response to Ebola and Trump’s response to COVID-19. I enjoyed it greatly. I mean to do more of that.
  • The friend of mine who runs trivia on Monday nights (currently on hiatus, like everything else) posts a “Quarantrivia” video. It’s a little thing, but I look forward to it every day. I’ve even contributed a few.
  • My friend Jane resurrected the “Drink of the Week” club we had in college. The group meets over video, of course — and because it has been advertised in other alumna FB pages it gets a lot of different alumnae participating. It allows me to have contact with people outside my household.
  • I don’t drink too much.
  • If I binge on TV, I don’t binge on things that I know will stress me out. (No Tiger Kings, for example). I find myself binging on old movies and Ken Burns’ documentaries. (And lately Great Performances has been showing Broadway shows: I’ve seen 42nd Street and Kinkyboots, and have The Sound of Music on DVR. Also, I have been watching a lot of horse racing.
  • I try to let go of outcomes. Most days I can’t (I wouldn’t be me if I did not care deeply about the world), but I try not to worry too much.

The Rocket Scientist is coping by home brewing, gardening, and baking. We now can drink bottles of our “Pandemic Porter,” and last night we had a salad made of lettuce from our garden, and we have not bought a loaf of bread in weeks. (He’s working from home, and has a lot more interaction with people.) In some ways, this is a throwback to when he was in graduate school, when we gardened and made our own bread. (We started home brewing a bit later.)

There are some compensations to being stuck together:

  • The aforementioned homemade bread.
  • Dinner together every night.
  • No restaurant food — fast or otherwise — means I have been slowly losing a little weight.
  • I rediscovered how much I like to play backgammon. (Nobody will play Trivial Pursuit with me, but I am working on getting people here to play other board games.)
  • Being with people who for the most part I like being around. (I worry about The Red-Headed Menace who is stuck in a small room with only one other roomate in his apartment.)

So that’s how I’m getting by. How about you?

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During quarantine, I have started an “Art of the Day” project on my Facebook. I think people enjoy it, and it makes me happy. I find myself spending a lot of time trawling through museum websites to get art. My hope is to have a mix of genres (landscape, portraiture, etc.) and pictures that people have seen as well as art they may not be familiar with. (I didn’t want this to be a “greatest hits” project. True, there is a lot of art that I am familiar with that others may not be…)

I was looking at the Van Gogh Museum collection today. Naturally, I got to thinking about Vincent’s life.

By all accounts, and historical analyses, Vincent was mentally ill. He spent time in institutions, and ended his life with a revolver shot to the chest.

I know all that. You see the madness in the painting. No one bought them because they could not see what the madman saw.

Yet Vincent captured something about life, about color, about form that was more real than mere realism. We gravitate to his paintings because their beauty touches us, and makes us think about the reality we know, and the reality he knew. The intensely yellow sunflowers. The twisting irises. The swirling stars above the black cypresses. The sad faces of the peasants and the townspeople. The deep, deep blue sky above the church with the diverging paths. And yes, in the end, the crows circling above the frantically waving wheat.

I wonder if the convergence killed him, that what he saw in the world was too much for the world. Maybe the difference between what he experienced and what he could communicate to the others that refused to listen became too much. Maybe it simply became unbearable. Death would seem the only way out.

Vincent’s death was a tragedy. Vincent’s life and his art were gifts.

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Every parent who whines about their kids being out of school, who posts cutesy videos on YouTube about how hard it is to get by without a lot of wine….

Better damn well be working for better pay for teachers and especially day-care workers. Furthermore…

They damn well better never, ever, ever make fun of or disrespect stay-at-home parents EVER again.

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One of my brothers lives in one of the reddest of red states. He works in an “essential industry” (not healthcare) so he has no option to stay at home. If he stays at home he loses his job (and possible his health insurance). My other brother (who lives in a somewhat red state) likewise works in a field where working from home is simply not possible.

I have heard a bit of snark on the left about how the refusal of some governors to put out shelter in place orders, or the insistence of some fools to ignore or protest those orders, will result in some sort of massive dying off of people who really deserve what they get. (I’ve heard “Getting idiots out of the gene pool” or “Darwinism at work.”)

That’s not how pandemics work. Yes, the failure to put in place SIP orders will result in a larger death toll. But it is not a given that the people who will get sick and die support the governor’s actions. Yes, the people who are protesting are being foolish, but that doesn’t mean that they will feel the brunt of this.

Pandemics don’t care who they hit. Some of these people will be totally asymptomatic, and some will simply shed virus before they get sick. They will infect their parents and their neighbors. If they go to the hospital, they may infect their nurses or doctors. They will infect everyday people.

People like my brothers.

When I was in high school, I learned about the Social Darwinist movement in the late 19th and early to mid 20th century. Death among the poor was simply “survival of the fittest.” The disabled were subjected to forced sterilization lest there be generations of “cripples” or “morons.” The distinguising figure of Social Darwinism was lack of empathy and lack of recognition of shared humanity.

You tell me how what we on the left are doing is any different. You tell me how we are doing anything but celebrating potential death, simply because the people who are acting as death’s angels have political views that differ from ours.

Yes, some of them are abhorrent people. They wear MAGA hats and wave confederate flags. They are being egged on and used by the most corrupt elected official in the history of this country. They are being used by the forces of disruption and hatred.

But we can disagree with them — despise them, even — without wishing death upon them. Let the other side engage in this sort of reprehensible behavior.

We should strive to be better than that.

Believe me, I get how hard it is. Wasn’t I the person who said not ten days ago that I pray for Donald Trump to get coronavirus and die? But I also said, at the time, that I felt that that showed a damaged soul. I am working to do better, be a better person But maybe our collective souls have been hurt enough by these people that we can’t muster the empathy that even they should receive. Maybe empathy is an emotion that arises out of the privilege I have as a white woman in a blue state whose governor took swift action.

I understand that I can afford empathy for the Confederate flag wavers and the MAGA hat wearers. But if you can’t have empathy for them, please have empathy for those around them. Have empathy for healthcare workers. Have empathy for grocery clerks. Have empathy for “essential workers,” who are being forced to risk their health and lives and those of their families, even in the reddest of red states, and who are often severely underpaid even. Have empathy for the people in red states who are simply going about their lives.

Have empathy for my brothers.

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Double Features

So, when this all started I was going to write an hour a day. Clearly, this has not happened. But I have not spent all my time binging on Tiger King, which seems to be all the rage. The large number of my friends who are watching it aside, it sounds like a perfectly dreadful show.

No, I have spent hours trawling through Google Arts & Culture Collections, gaining JPEGs for my “Art of the Day” project. At first I simply selected works I was familiar with (the week before my birthday was a “greatest hits” list), but I have decided to show works that neither I nor my FB friends know. (There are quite a number that I know that they do not — my obsession with art museums is coming in handy.) I really would like doing this as long as at least a few people like it.

I have about 250 artworks selected. I have them separated into figurative drawings, landscapes, portraits, still life, etc. I have a few statues and buildings. Some of the art I associate with specific times of years (Van Eyck’s Annunciation will be the picture for the first Sunday of Advent), but beyond that I want to have a mix of different types of art (not have only landscapes during June, e.g.). I want to have modern and Renaissance, Italian and French and Dutch, and so on. I have to confess that I am less than enthralled by Abstract Expressionism or mythological or historical scenes, but I am working on it.

It has been a blast. I probably should stop for a while, or I will end up with more than I need. I can resume later.

In the meantime, I can binge on something… I have a lot of movies DVRd. Let’s see…

A Lerner and Loewe double feature: Gigi and My Fair Lady. (I really wish I could have a Kander and Ebb double feature: Cabaret and Chicago)

An Akira Kurosawa double feature: Rashomon and Throne of Blood

An Alfred Hitchock mini-festival: Rope, Rear Window, The Birds, and Vertigo

I have a bunch of silents by Alice Guy-Blache, as well as a documentary about her.

A Humphrey Bogart double feature: The Maltese Falcon and Casablanca

A “revised version” of a much-loved movie: The Shop Around the Corner and You’ve Got Mail

The “scare your socks off” double feature: Nosferatu (the 1922 silent version) and The Haunting

The actress I love to hate (Meg Ryan): You’ve Got Mail and When Harry Met Sally

Show business: The Producers, Hail Caesar!, and Shakespeare in Love (no, really)

For that matter, Shakespeare: Shakespeare in Love and Much Ado About Nothing

Rock: A Hard Day’s Night and Woodstock

And that covers about half my movies. Citizen Kane, Some Like It Hot, The Princess Bride, Singin’ In the Rain, The Wizard of Oz….

Time to start watching.

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Madame is in house.

(Many years ago, when this blog was on Blogger rather than WordPress, I had a similar post talking about the history of my nom de trivia. I seem to be repeating myself a lot lately. Sorry. Most of you haven’t been reading me for ten years, so would not have seen the earlier post.)

I have started an “Art of the Day” project on my Facebook timeline. Each day I post a different picture — usually, but not always, a painting. (I have, however, shown the Lewis chessmen and a Faberge egg.) This week, since my birthday is on Friday, I am going to show some of my very favorite paintings, the paintings I would be willing to go out of my way to a museum to see. (With two exceptions: I have already posted “Nighthawks” by Edward Hopper and “The Milkmaid” by Johannes Vermeer, which may be my favorite painting of all.)

One painting I will post this week is not really one of my favorite paintings — it’s not even my favorite portrait — but a portrait of one my favorite historical figures, and an intellectual hero of mine. Anna Louise Germaine Necker de Stael led an adventurous, fascinating, exciting life, and falls into the category of “why isn’t this woman better known?”

Many people are working to get more recognition of all the women in STEM fields that have been ignored: Rosalind Franklin, Ada Lovelace, Grace Hopper, Lise Meitner, etc. This is a good and very necessary thing. However, women in other fields have not gotten their due, either.

Germaine Necker de Stael — usually referred to as Madame de Stael, was a late eighteenth and early nineteenth century intellectual badass. She influenced political thought for decades, even after her death. She ran the best salons in all of Europe and was friends with the brightest cognoscenti. She furthered the spread of Romanticism. She had three kids who survived to adulthood (as well as two daughters who died in infancy), and it is thought they were by two different lovers. (Gotta love the French.) That’s only a part of her life.

Today, most people remember her (if they remember her at all) for her quite quotable observations of people. Most notably, she once said “The more I see of men, the better I like my dogs.” (To be honest, I don’t speak French, so I am not sure if she meant people or males. Either way, it’s a great quote.)

Two centuries later — the early nineties — AOL came into existence. The Rocket Scientist and I were early adopters: I still remember getting messages saying “We’ve added our 50,000 member!” As a relief from the stress of parenting two young children, I became a host in the Trivia chat room. It was a lot of fun: in addition the actual hosting, I had to write games, which was intellectually challenging. I ran a game named (rather prosaically) Trivia with Pat and one that was dedicated exclusively to history called The Time Machine. (Pro-tip: depending upon how you word the question, everything becomes about history.)

I wanted to run a game on more serious lines. As I define it, trivia are things people might or might not know, but generally speaking are things people really don’t need to know. I wanted to run a game about information, things that people should have already learned, in my opinion. (For example, in my other games I would never ask about the Kristallnacht, but in this game I did, mainly because people need to know about it. I hoped, probably unrealistically, that those who didn’t know what I was talking about would go find out.)

I needed an alter ego. Madame after the indefatigable Madame de Stael–how could I not? I needed an name (after all, Madame is merely an honorific). I had recently watched a miniseries on the life of Guiseppe Verdi. I was taken by his second wife, an opera singer named Guiseppina Strepponi. She did end up marrying him (after they had been living together, much to the consternation of the small Italian town they were living in). After that, she was Signora Verdi.

Thus was Madame Verdi’s Information Parlor born. It ran for a little while, until I was overwhelmed by the stress of caring for a pre-schooler and a toddler, one of which had special needs. I was sad to let the gig go, but writing the games took too much time, and as AOL’s numbers increased it became more difficult to get into the chat room and the regulars were often crowded out.

I kept the name though. I had an email address that incorporated it, and when I started playing trivia, that was the name I played under. (At least when I was playing by myself; I have played under several team names when playing with others.) I even have a t-shirt with my team name and a picture of Madame de Stael on it.

I like her. Madame Verdi is smarter than I am, and tougher, and oftentimes snarkier. She knows what she’s doing — or least seems to. She tries to be nice to people however; no matter what persona I adopt that matters to me a great deal.

I hope she’ll be around a long time.

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Good Friday Prayers.

Today is Good Friday, one of the holiest days of the Christian calendar, the day when, according to Christian theology, Christ was crucified. For the first time in years I opened up the Book of Common Prayer and looked at the Liturgy for Good Friday.

The Anglican tradition has a lengthy set of prayers for this day. Some of them are easier than others: praying for the hungry and homeless, the destitute and oppressed; the sick and wounded; those in loneliness, fear, and anguish; those who face temptation, doubt, and despair; the sorrowful and bereaved; prisoners and captives, and those in mortal danger.

There are a set of prayers about people being called to the church, which I mentally ignore, except for the last one: it is a prayer for those who persecute others in the name of Christ, that God would open their hearts to the truth, and lead them to faith and obedience. This is my favorite prayer in the Book of Common Prayer, although I wish they had an explicit prayer for those who have been persecuted in the name of Christ.

But there is one set of prayers that draws me up short. The Liturgy calls on us to pray

For the President of the United States,

For the Congress and the Supreme Court,

For the Members and Representatives of the United Nations

For all who serve the common good

Whoa. Talk about difficult. Okay, I have no problem praying for the Representatives of the United Nations. May God give them health and wisdom. I have no problem praying for those who serve the common good — there are a lot of them out there.

But Donald Trump? Mike Pence? Mitch McConnell? These men do not serve the common good and have shown themselves impervious to attempts tp correct their corrupt ways. If anything, they have gotten even more brazen in their efforts to continue their unprincipled power grab as time goes on.

My brain keeps praying for Trump and McConnell, though: it keeps praying they get coronavirus and die. In as painful way as possible. I find myself praying for Brett Kavanaugh and Neil Gorsuch to get coronavirus and die, too, although in a gentle, painless manner.

I keep feeling these are improper prayers, and I think that praying for death for someone shows a damaged soul.

But right now it’s all I can manage about these men.

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One side effect of this quarantine is how much more I see of my friends on Facebook. Not that I am spending more time on Facebook (if anything a bit less) but they are spending more. (Probably due to to increased time at home, given the quarantine.) And the more I read their posts (including what they link to) the more I realize that…

My friends are awesome.

Not merely in the “Great” or “Terrific” sense of the word but in the deeper “fills me with awe” meaning. They are those other things as well, but what I like about them most is the way they live in the world.

They are variously funny, thoughtful, compassionate, gentle, honest, fascinatingly creative, righteously angry, appropriately sarcastic. Some of them are spiritual, but not the empty spirituality of some (not all) organized religion. Even those who are religious are respectful of those who are not.

They want the world to be a better place.

I can’t think of a better group of people to be friends with.

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You may notice a slight change in my profile. My good friend from college, Jane*, has been insisting for a while now that I remove the word “former” in front of “lawyer.”

“You think like a lawyer,” she said. “You write like a lawyer. You think and write differently than you did before you went to law school. Face it, you’re going to be a lawyer until the day you die.”

She may be right. In any case, I promised her I would I would change my profile. It’s nice to have people appreciate my writing.

Now If I could only remember to proofread like a lawyer.

*Jane is a litigator. I think she’s wonderful, but I would never want to face her in a courtroom.

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This is war… sort of.

In the first World War people bought war bonds and planted gardens. (Some of those bond drives — especially in Philadelphia — themselves proved fatal to civilians who got the H1N1 flu there.)

In World War II, people went without sugar and stockings and a great many other things and planted gardens.

There have been four wars since then (five if you count Afghanistan and Iraq as separate wars). We’ve have never been asked to sacrifice in any of them — except for the troops and their families, of course.

We’re in a war now, or at least Donald Trump thinks of himself as “war president.” We might as well be in a war; people are hurt, people are dying, people are facing the loss of jobs and businesses. Even people who are fortunate to have a safe income during this emergency are stranded at home, away from friends and family. Our hospitals — especially in New York — are being slammed.

Not all of us are acting like we’re in a war, of course. Of course, there are people hoarding. There is the medical equivalent of war-profiteering. Behind the scenes, the guy running the response thinks that because he has spent a few weeks studying the issue he is more of an expert than doctors and epidemiologists.

One big difference between WW II and now? We have no leadership. With a crisis of this magnitude…

We need Franklin Roosevelt.

We got Donald Trump.

We need Winston Churchill.

We got Donald Trump.

We need John F. Kennedy.

We got Donald Trump.

We could even use Ronald Reagan, and definitely Barack Obama.

We got Donald Trump.

We have a President who, rather than work with the states to mitigate the worst of this crisis and save countless lives, indulges his vanity. He reduces supplies to states such as New York and Michigan, whose governors are critical of him, while giving Florida, a state he favors because the governor is his lackey, all they ask for and more.

We have a President who “leads from behind,” telling states that the federal government is “back-up.”

We have a President who played down or dismissed the pandemic as a hoax even as the first cases were cropping in the US. Whose Administration sent PPEs and masks to China even as it was clear to scientists that we were facing a disaster in the making here at home.

We could use FDR, telling us during the Great Depression that all we have to fear is fear itself. We could use Winston Churchill, urging us to be strong in our fight against the enemy. We could use JFK, telling us to find an answer “not because it is easy, but because it is hard.”

Instead, we have Donald Trump.

May God have mercy on us all.

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This is one of my favorite paintings, the portrait of George Harley Drummond by Sir Henry Raeburn.

It’s not a significant painting. I’m sure if you drew up a list of the top hundred paintings in the world, it wouldn’t be on there. Even on a list of the top thousand. Maybe in the top ten thousand.

The first time I saw it I was wandering the British section of the Metropolitan Museum of Art. I looked at the museum note next to the painting:

“The foreshortened view of the grazing bay horse is the most complex part of the composition, though not the most important. It is curious, therefore, that the animal’s hindquarters should be so prominently displayed.”

I started giggling, because really, the fact that the horse’s hindquarters are prominent is not curious at all. (I once showed the painting to a fourteen-year-old and asked him what he thought the painter was trying to convey and he answered without hesitation that “the guy was a horse’s ass.”)

I sat on a nearby bench giggling. A very serious couple came by, so I stopped giggling, so as not to disturb them. I still had a huge silly grin on my face. They looked briefly at the picture, and then (although I was not giggling anymore) glared at me. If looks could kill, I would be pushing up daisies. I was breaking the unwritten rule of art museums: always be serious. I know making noise is disruptive to other people, but just sitting there, smiling? They found my mere presence problematic.

I drew two conclusions from this incident:

Lesson One: Art is all about communication.

Art should make you feel, or think, or maybe just observe. It’s not something to be marked off of some list (saw the Mona Lisa, check! Saw the Venus de Milo, check! Saw the Sistine Chapel ceiling, check!). The artist is speaking to you.

Not all art speaks to me, of course. But artists that don’t speak to me (Mark Rothko, say) may speak to you. And some works by artists I normally don’t like draw forth unexpected emotions in me. I am not a Picasso fan, but Guernica made me cry. Salvador Dali’s work, for the most part, I look on with a shrug, but some of his religious paintings make me feel something like reverence. I emphatically dislike Jeff Koontz’s work, except Puppy, which makes me inordinately happy and which is the screen saver on my phone.

I was in the Museum of Modern Art once, during an exhibition of Gerhard Richter’s work. I rounded a corner and came across a series of paintings of black and white newspaper pictures of young women. I read the title, Student Nurses, and didn’t need to read the further description. They were paintings of the newspaper pictures of the young women murdered by Richard Speck in Chicago in 1968. In addition to making me feel sad, it caused me to think about the commodification of tragedy. And about how the victims of mass murder aren’t remembered while the killers become household names. And how these young women had gained a fleeting fame that they would never have had if they had lived.

An older couple came by, looked at the description, shrugged and moved on. I was appalled — how could they not find that moving? — but in retrospect, the paintings didn’t speak to them. That’s okay.

And it’s okay for me to laugh at the portrait of George Harley Drummond, too.

Oh, that second lesson? It was this:

Two large apple martinis at the bar in the Met is probably one large apple martini too many.

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Good things.

The sky is blue — the color of the statice in Fourth of July flower arrangements.

It’s 65F outside, the perfect temperature.

I have homemade empanadas for lunch.

I have Fevertree Ginger Beer in the garage.

I have a functioning car.

I have mini-carnations of a riot of color before me on my table.

I have a cat curled up on the sofa that likes to watch dog shows with me.

I have The Story of Film and Ken Burns’ Country Music and Casablanca and Citizen Kane and Woodstock (the director’s cut) all at my disposal.

I have Trivia on Monday nights.

And so on.

Sometimes I think the only way to survive all of this is to occasionally look around. Yes, we feel like our country is on a precipice. Yes, it hasn’t rained enough this winter in California. Yes, I’m not working, for reasons mostly beyond my control, and I am worried about the effect that has on both my finances and my psyche.

But there is art. There is music. There is friendship.

There is love.

We’re going to get through all of this; we have to believe that. And in the meantime, we have to occasionally be aware of the good.

What’s good in your life?

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John Scalzi has ideas about how people treat books, because, well of course he does.

Looking at his (actually Anne Fadiman’s) grid, I have been all of them from Lawful Good (uses leather or other proper bookmarks) to Chaotic Evil (rips out pages as they uses them). One on occasion, I destroyed a copy of Absolom, Absolom (which I hated — and I do NOT want to hear from all of you who think it’s a great novel) by ripping each page into one-inch strips still attached to the spine, all the while repeating “I don’t hate the South….I don’t hate the South…” (the last line of the book). I was riding on the bus from MIT to Wellesley, and in my defense, I had undiagnosed bronchitis and was running a 102F fever.

Mostly, though, I agree with the commenter on Scalzi’s post that books are tools. Yes, like all tools they should be cared for, but they should not be treated as objects of reverence.

Once, in a Scripture class, the leader ripped a page out of a Bible, accomponied by gasps from several of the students. “It’s the words that matter; not the paper and print. Anything else is idolatry..”

Aside from specific items with historical significance (Gutenberg Bibles, original copies of the Federalist Papers) or personal import (family bibles with births, deaths, and marriages; my signed copy of Alton Brown’s first book, which has personal history tied up in it), I pretty much agree with that statement.

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No words. NO WORDS.

Sometimes you can see it. You can see the car running the red-light, the truck hydroplaning as its semi-trailer jackknifes its way through all the lanes of the freeway, the train as it starts to derail. You can see; nevertheless you feel powerless and horrified. Knowing doesn’t make it better; does not ease the grief and pain.

Our democracy has slid along a terrible, terrible road. I look at the senators who voted to acquit Donald Trump and I want to scream “How?!? Why?!?” Especially those who admitted he was guilty but opined that “the voters should decide.”

That’s not the voters’ job; it was YOURS. You took an oath to protect the Constitution from enemies foreign and domestic. The Constitution that said that a president should be removed for “high crimes and misdemeanors.” You listened and accepted an argument that the President can do ANYTHING while in office. God only know what he will do next. He’s talking about finding a way to charge John Bolton — the man who stood up to him — with a crime. How long before he goes after Nancy Pelosi? Or Adam Schiff, who so ably prosecuted the case against him?

And God bless Mitt Romney. He took his oath seriously. There are some on the left that are downplaying Romney’s action, saying he did nothing other than what he should have done. They’re wrong; unlike Democrats who voted to convict, Romney can expect payback from his party, and I would be very surprised if he were not receiving serious death threats. For the Republicans who viewed this as a partisan exercise, Romney stabbed them in the back.

I know that I — we — will rise from this determined to take our country back. We will fight — we may not win — but by God we’re not going down quietly.

But right now, I grieve.

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