I know the idea of a slice is to take a small moment, to capture a scene or some bit from my day that wants to be written. I’m enjoying the March Challenge with Two Writing Teachers. However, writing on my blog the past few days has been about trying to pretend I’m in the room with some kids and offer lessons in drawings comics. Very beginner, free stuff, not aimed at a final project as much as offered for enjoyment. It might be good to see what feelings show up on index cards doing quick drawing, especially in these tricky times for our emotions.
Doing this project has required some creative retrofitting of my art table to be a media studio.
An old Websters Unabridged Dictionary served to raise up the phone holder on a suction cup, an item which never worked in my car, but now is my camera anchor.
This has been a turnout from my regular illustrating, in which I take a photo from my neighborhood of someone out walking, biking, etc. and transpose it into a watercolor sketch in which the people become rabbits.
My inspiration came from Lynda Barry’s book, Making Comics and my desire to contribute a resource to the San Jose Area Writing Project website that students and teachers might enjoy.
Comics seems frivolous in a way. But they are a quick way of getting storied down, recognizing truth and stirring up a bit of laughter.
I was sitting up in bed before the alarm this morning, scrolling through some Tweets. [this is now possible to do of a morning because I have stopped following/blocked most politicians including the President].
I tapped a cat picture on @RiseUpWorkingClass and the video blasted an agitated, angry yowl from a pacing feline. My big gray cat raised his head on alert and the younger, small cat jumped up from her position at my feet to stand next to Smoky. I tried to show her the screen, that it was just a picture, but her kitty brain was already convinced an unfriendly animal had rushed into our house. Both cats on their feet, with hair standing up.
I quickly clicked off the video when I saw their instant alarm. I used soothing words and petted the big cat. The kitten was having none of this although she did look me in the face with her huge green eyes. Not smelling clear and present danger, the big grey settled back down. But not Alphie. She was expecting something to come down the hall into the bedroom.
Her tail was still fluffed big like a squirrel. I’d never seen this. I reached to give her a little pet and she jumped as if captured by the thing. Smoky tucked his head down and closed his eyes.
I waited, watching Alphie. She waited. Expecting the manifestation of the sound her brain had clearly told her was a hostile cat. It took at least 5 or 6 minutes to stop reacting to little movements and the ideas in her tiny cat mind. She’d settle then remember. “Smart,” I thought.
While the first panic of my cats was not funny, Alphie’s aftermath was amusing. I was calming but teasing, “Hey, do you want to be in a cat video? Get hold of yourself, Alphie.”
I got up to make tea and they followed into the kitchen, expecting food as soon as the kettle was on the stove. As cats returned to normal mode, I was thinking how the little scenario was an analogy, or picture story, of what happens in our brains.
The thought, maybe with an online image, enters our brain. It is a scary fear, maybe not clearly verbalized, but loaded with danger. That’s the cat clip starting. Then our autonomic nervous system goes on full tilt. That’s both my cats jumping up, hair raised and eyes wide. Even as the thought with visual image passes on through our conscious brain, the wake of hormones and stimulants is tracing through our entire body. That’s the kitten still looking for the attacker.
Long after the input — be it an image or a self-generated thought — fades we are still in the grip of nerve reactions as chemicals race in our blood stream and our memory replays the danger. That’s the tail still fluffed out.
So, fear is in itself a scary thing. And I realize how easy it is these days to let the unworded, sub-thoughts and danger messages from the media play into our minds.
I have cut way back on the news as I think second-hand trauma is real. And I’m well enough informed now on how to shelter in place and manage my home during this pandemic. At this point, anyway.
What the cat scenario gave me this morning is compassion for us. All of us. Fear sweeps into our center, takes hold of our being, temporarily makes us do very defensive things. Then, it may pass and drop us like embarrassed kittens when there was no real danger.
That little wild-eyed puffed up skinny kitten looked like me, perhaps like you, as the next wave of bad news rolled in.
How calming and beautiful it was after tea to go out front to dig weeds in the sunshine and fresh air. Physical work and contact with the earth. Literally, grounded. Ha ha.
I hope you are finding ways to fill your heart and mind with peace.
It is now Day 16 of the 13th Annual Slice of Life Story Challenge.
Or, When Self-Isolating Turns On Itself
Mid-month, I’m looking forward to daily writing, sharing and commenting, grateful for the challenge, and more so for the humanity that writing encourages. It is my tenth day of self isolating, which is a recent, unexpected challenge for many of us, in addition to our writing challenge. The first couple days were glorious, relaxing. Then what? Worry didn’t get sani-wiped off the surfaces?
Yesterday, our Governor Newsom [CA] asked people over 65 to stay home. This numeric label made me feel old, put in a class I hadn’t identified with. I hadn’t thought of myself as at risk at 72, because I enjoy relatively good health. But then, there are those allergies and sinus troubles. Who knows what a more walloping case of the flu than I had in January might bring? And the protection thing is not about me: It is about us. Still, it would be very inconvenient to die right now.
I’m the caretaker for my elderly mother, who most definitely is at risk for several medical reasons. I don’t want to feel vulnerable myself because I have someone depending on me. I could say I feel trapped, but that isn’t quite it. Parental protective, yes.
I’m writing into this because I am not sure what I think. I’m keeping my fingers going on the keyboard because I have lost out on sleep the past couple of days and my general sense of well-being is dampened. This warping has got to be worry.
And digging underneath worry I find the fearful feeling of inadequacy for the task of managing mom’s health care if her COPD worsens or if she falls ill again [not fully recuperated from her February cough]. I try to give myself some credit, because I’ve made it through several major health episodes, but not in isolation. Not so much on my own.
And underneath feeling inadequate and unprepared is this sense of betrayal. I didn’t sign up for this. I didn’t take it on as something to do alone. I’m taking this isolation too seriously, perhaps.
We have a caretaker who comes in three mornings weekly, so for now I am not without assistance and M. is good company for mom. M. tells me this morning that the local medical facility nearby is setting up for emergency treatment for people with COPD, to avoid sending them to ER. Well, at least I know a resource nearby if mom were to need oxygen.
The thing is, I tell myself as I keep typing, Mom may sound worse than she actually is. What about your fright yesterday when she couldn’t/didn’t awaken until noon? Then later she dressed and went out for a walk! Worry exaggerates. Perhaps my concern is darkened by wanting to feel in control. That usually brings out the not-so-good aspects of my personality. Schedules all out of kilter, or disappearing. Mealtimes random or not at all. This could bring that creature out of the basement trying to put law and order back into daily life. Shudder. Not her.
Why am I not able to just switch on the peace and happiness button and everything goes back to how it was? [Um, because real life doesn’t work that way?] When I was content with weakness. When I was content with the way things are. Were. Right. This is right now; that was then.
When I was just being in the moment and living my life, without trying to make it significant. Maybe this is what growth feels like. Maybe some of the healing is in taking the nasty medicine.
I think I’ll drop the burden for today. I’ll willfully trust that the Universe, or my better self, whomever or whatever, will steer through this storm.
I’ll just return to drawing and water color and do the chores that are needed, and otherwise calm down. It helps sometimes to write into a tangle of feelings. Even if they are grimy and not so pretty.
I opened my tailgater Traeger to smoke marinated salmon fillets in the patch of sunshine mid morning. I had ventured out to buy groceries then made coffee for mom. She wanted to sit up and drink coffee but couldn’t wake up. [I don’t know how long she stayed awake last night] This is a bit concerning because sitting up with the Sunday SF Chronicle and her coffee is one of the high points of the week for my 91 year old mom.
I’d lifted the cover and started the warm up with cherry wood pellets when I saw her. Just below the handle by the little bucket that catches drips. Shiny and black.
I took the hose streaming on jet and she dropped down into the bucket, flashing her hourglass pattern. “Can I drown her?” I wondered. She was webbing back up out of the bucket to rest on the side of the grill, so I took my sandal and smushed her. Rubbed it in the gravel and washed with the hose.
Then I spread out the tarp grill cover and kicked away all the white webby nests that were built along the edge.
Meanwhile the grill heated up and I began the smoking process on the salmon. I kept my breathing steady as post black widow adreniline hit, after having remaining calm shopping at a full house in Whole Foods first thing this morning. I came home, wiped everything down and checked in on mom.
Still sleeping, poor dear. We got morning pills and some cough medicine down before she wanted to lie back down. She went to the bathroom and had a couple sips of coffee, then sank back into sleep.
She coughs once in awhile. The doctor visit 10 days ago showed her lungs are clear. Not pneumonia. She had the flu in February after my bout in January. She’s just weakening daily.
The grey cloud cover is back. The smoker continues to cook the salmon. Mom gets up for the bathroom and I’m going to see if she wants her coffee and something to eat.
My sharp moments of fear and worry can be dealt with. And I can breathe and stay steady. But I can’t hold back the rain.