Dear The Middle Class,
Hey, it’s Ta. It’s been awhile, you’re right. We need to talk. Don your conversation poncho. This is gonna get messy.
Yesterday, the guy at work I talk to about gardening said a thing.
Me: I’m coming around to your way of thinking and might plant some peas soon.
Ken: Mine go in tomorrow.
He was looking at me side-eyed and my breath caught for a second. Yes, we’ve had an unusually mild winter after a series of unusually warm winters, but the general rule in New Jersey is: plant after Mothers Day. I’ve been planting more than a month earlier, but we’re in the first two weeks of March, and that seems different. I thought that over, and this morning, I took out my seed stash and began planting my garden.
As recently as yesterday, shoppers across the U.S. faced long lines, empty shelves and close contact with hundreds of their closest friends. Middle Class people, accustomed to picking up groceries here and there and when it was convenient, are thunderstruck that they can’t just tool around their local and fill an empty pantry they should have kept stocked all along. Their panic buying is applying pressure to underprivileged people of all sorts and the working poor especially, since store shelves are already empty when a paycheck clears. I buy toilet paper by the case because I have the attention span of a goldfish and a strong desire not to run out, so I figure into the shortages just as much as you do. Essentially, we suck for making tough lives tougher.
So here’s the thing: think down the road a month or so. You can’t stock up on fresh vegetables, and to get them, you’re going to have to grocery shop somehow, once again placing pressure on people who don’t need to be on the receiving end of your shit.
If you have property, a lawn, a yard, you need to take some responsibility for yourself and your needs. Instead of emptying grocery store shelves, get your ass to the garden store, buy some tools, seeds and organic fertilizer. Then: turn over your lawn and plant. In four weeks, you can have lettuce and spinach. In eight weeks, you can have new potatoes. Eight weeks from now is the middle of May, and approximately Mothers Day. Newsflash: you’re going to need to eat, and you’ll be able to dig up food in your yard.
If you’re about to say, “Ta darling, that’s all well and good, but I don’t really enjoy gardening and dirty under my nails makes me feel so not-Middle Class.” You know what? Fuck you. Get a shovel. Get some seeds and convince yourself you’re growing artisanal spinach, if that helps. But fucking do it. You don’t need a lawn. You need vegetables. Grow them yourself.
If you’re even thinking about saying, “Ta, you know I would but I don’t know how,” take a deep breath and a step back, because no one has time for your helplessness. It is not adorable. Open up YouTube and fucking LEARN. If you live where blizzards are still making your winter miserable, you can start seeds in growing medium so you’re ready when the weather cooperates.
Don’t argue with me. Don’t waste your time or mine. Get yourself to the garden store, stock up and plant your own food. It’s truly the least you can do to help other people in a time of pandemic.
The classes I’m taking are a study in contrasts. One features interesting subject matter, engaged classmates and a professor who appears to be winging it. Anything could happen. I could watch my Grade Point Average rise or drop like a rock. In the other class, the subject matter is interesting some days and unfathomable on others, I have no contact with classmates and my instructor has prepared for this semester for years. My first exam in this class is later this week. Anything could happen. I could be Queen of This Here Thing or turn up in a chicken suit.
Ladies and gentlemen, start your Magic 8 Balls.
My spring classes started a couple of weeks ago, and it’s been a piquant adventure. I’m taking a class called Youth & Work, in which the first assignment was to write about our first jobs and what we learned from it. Some of my classmates were still working their first jobs because they only just took one. Some started working when they were 14. All of them found something positive to say about a job that probably sucked and was in some way illegal. My first job was writing a weekly column in the local paper about girls’ sports in maybe 1979, and I sucked at it, and what I learned was that everyone was concerned about something, and I had no idea what that was. But I learned I shouldn’t be in the newspaper business! Will I pass this class? Film at 11!
My other class is Intro to Formal Reasoning and it’s like learning to speak another language. Do you speak a language besides English? Good for you, showoff! I’m struggling with the vocabulary, ideas and a desire to flip the bird at Aristotle, who most assuredly does not give a shit that, to me, argument forms sound like pre-teens looking for ten bucks for the mall. To make matters weirder, though the textbook’s author took great pains to update quizzes for contemporary examples, he did not screen for his white privilege, so yesterday, I wrote to the instructor to say, “Blah blah blah racist doing racism, please do not with that, kthnx!” Will I pass this class? Consult your Magic8Ball!
In about three weeks, I should have some sense of how desperate I’ll be to meet deadlines while I work a full-time job at the unnamed university while navigating the complexities of my extended families’ politics as gardening season approaches. Or I might lose my mind. Will I climb a tree? Wear plaid with checks? Glue on my slingbacks?
No one knows!
Annual report time!
To recap: this quirky business started out as the Cat Blanket Project. The Lovely Georg, Ceiling Cat Remember Her With Fishy Treats, asked friends to knit or crochet blankets for animal shelters, which I did. But then people from all over – possibly including you – sent me yarn in large boxes; other agencies/organizations asked for yarny help. So! You trusted me with art supplies. This is what I did with them in 2014, in 2015, in 2016.
After last year, my priorities shifted. In February, a friend mentioned he wasn’t writing his dissertation because when he was at home, he couldn’t finish anything. I thought, ‘Every night, I sit on the couch and work on my projects.’ He said he could never take online classes because he needed the in-person pressure to get work done. I thought, ‘Sometimes I’d rather chew off my foot than go to class.’ The further thought occurred that taking online classes at the unnamed university where I work would mean sitting on the couch at night and reading about art. How bad could that be? If this worked out, it had real potential. I might actually finish a freaking degree.
To test this theory last summer, I took a class called Feminist Practices, read interesting stuff, saw an absolutely great movie, wrote a whole bunch and panicked each time I didn’t understand the technology. In the end, I got an A, and registered for two more classes for the fall semester, in which I also earned As. As you might imagine, this cut into my crocheting time in a big way. That turned out to be genius when the cat shelter I’ve been sending blankets and toys to had so many extra they were sent to a different shelter, where – hooray! – they were needed. The shelter sent a thank you note!
What did I actually accomplish? This year, I sent 25 blankets and 35 toys to the cat shelter in NY State. Thank you for trusting me with yarn! Cats will be warm and have toys! Since I seem to have overwhelmed the tiny shelter, I will look around this year to find a local group that needs blankets and toys.
Last year, I joined the felt-tip army for PostcardsToVoters.org’s Democratic Get Out the Vote campaigns. As I said in last year’s book report:
 was a crucial year in the history of our country and I started writing postcards to overcome my despair. Writing each postcard was an act of desperate hope in the beginning, and then the candidates I was writing for began to win races. I won’t lie. I needed them to win. I needed them to win enough that I wrote 405 postcards last year, putting a crimp in my 2018 crocheting schedule and making my hands, which don’t work well on a good day, feel like reheated crap.
Good news, Poor Impulsives! My hands now work a little better. Though I have been limited for a couple of decades now to writing no more than a sentence at a time by hand, writing a sentence at a time is brilliant for writing postcards! In 2019, I wrote 2,330 #postcardstovoters. My favorite campaigns were for Vote By Mail efforts in Florida because I’m goddamn sick and tired of reading accounts of overarmed assholes turning up at polling places to intimidate participants in participatory democracy.
If you happen to be disgusted with current events and inspired to spend more time at the post office, go to Postcards To Voters and enlist in a resistance effort with real results. The presidential election of 2020 is the single most important election of our lives. Now is the time to find your preferred form of activism and push.
Seriously, now is the time. A year from now, show me your annual report.
Change is in the air! I’m bringing all my annual projects to their conclusions and sending out packages, so the blog’s annual report should come sooner than later. My studies will shift this year, as I’m planning to focus on core requirements for a degree, as opposed to studying anything I fucking wanted to, and there might be math. I am very bad at math and, when other people talk about numbers, I hear, “Meow meow meow – meow – meow!” That’s also why I’ve had an accountant do my taxes since the eighties and try to never talk to him. He is nice, though! Should I mail him tuna?
In other news, our living arrangements may change since my father-in-law is 90 and stubborn and his wife may be terrible. Plenty of people would say I am terrible, so your mileage may vary.
I might be terrible, we cannot be sure. That does not mean other people are not engaged in other kinds of terriblosity we cannot see from a distance; in this case, from two states away. Do I have reading glasses for that?
In my family, circumstances cannot continue as they have, so stuff is definitely going to change. For the better? For the worse? Nobody is that kind of genius. Suspense is killing you! Or me. It’s hard to tell us apart sometimes.
So Happy 2020! Are you sure you’re you?
Tomorrow is my grandson Panky’s twelfth birthday. That seems outlandish to me, but there we are. Tempis, as my grandmother Edith said through clenched teeth to dawdling children, is fugiting.
It dawned on me recently that I am approximately the same age Edith was when her husband died. She stopped traveling, stopped going to big events, shows and parties. I was 15 and couldn’t understand it. I understand it even less now. Why didn’t she wait a decent interval and go full Hello, Dolly? Surely there was a Horace Vandergelder out there waiting for fabulous her, and I’m sorry she didn’t look for him.
Panky’s a bright kid, and he doesn’t think about me much unless he’s actively trying to circumvent my house rules. I think about him a lot, in part because he might be a little too bright. A friend is plugged into the Jeopardy! hive mind, so I asked him what those folks recommended as gifts for smart kids. They came up with a few ideas, like Raspberry Pi. He’ll learn about computers by building one, and this is good because he talks ad nauseum about how his generation is all about technology. Yes, I told him I was a teen all about technology when blowdryers were brand new, but he did not seem impressed. That’s because he didn’t grow up in his grandmother’s beauty salon in the seventies, where matronly ladies sat under furniture-size hair dryers, thumbing through celebrity gossip magazines, for whole Saturday afternoons. Stylists smoked Virginia Slims and emptied cans of hairspray into mile-high coifs. It’s a miracle salons didn’t explode six days a week. Obviously, I’m anxious for Panky to outsmart our dumb history.
Twelve. Being twelve is awful. It’s one of those years of your life you’d rather forget. How do you make it better for someone else?
For over a year and probably more like two, the blog’s hosting service has sent me odd letters and charged me for disk space overages. At least a couple of times, Siobhan and I tried to figure out what the hell the hosting service was on about, but we didn’t get anywhere. Eventually, the fees started to get weird. It wasn’t a lot of money, but the letters made it sound like deleting sections of the blog was my only hope. I didn’t write a word or post many pictures, and I moped about it. Yesterday, I called up the service and asked the representative to explain it to me using very tiny words.
Eventually, I understood that 14 years of blogging takes up 537 mb (or MB, ya got me there) of space in an account budgeted for 500. I asked for the next size up and the hosting service gave me 2000. To celebrate, here is another picture.
So I’m back now. Took two classes this fall at the unnamed university where I’ve worked for 33 years. Last Sunday, I turned in my last assignments and now I want to do nothing but sit under a pile of cats and sip an adult beverage through a swirly straw. And blog. I’m gonna blog.
You may recall my Dad died in 2007 on April Fool’s Day, which under other circumstances would have amused him greatly. Mom and Dad didn’t like one another much and divorced while dinosaurs roamed the earth and I was in middle school. Much to everyone’s surprise, including hers, Mom died a few weeks ago – on April Fool’s Day, which would have made Dad laugh and Mom reeeeeeeeally mad.
Of my siblings, I look the most like her, but not a whole lot. Our coloring is completely different, for one thing. For another, she resembled a blond Elizabeth Taylor, and I do not. Thus, it was unusual that at the funeral home viewing, with Mom laid out in the casket and everything, a mourner who has known me since I was a child approached me with trepidation, gasped and called me by my mother’s name, “…Lucy?”
“Shh!” I said, “Only you can see me.” I told her I was me, Domenica, but she didn’t let go of me for quite a while. The next day at the church service, Mom’s college friends couldn’t wait to show me a binder of pictures of their lives through the years, by which I mean the entire assembly behind me waited while I stood nervously in a doorway, glancing at pictures of my mother as a young coed, sitting in a tree.
Three days later, we all drove up to Cape Cod for the burial. In New Jersey, we left spring behind to find the end of winter in Massachusetts, for which almost no one was prepared. Mom wanted to be buried next to her mother. Her first cousin found a burial plot in the family cemetery. Next thing we knew, we were sitting and standing in a cold, wind-swept graveyard full of our ancestors and the Black, female minister from the Cape Cod church in which Mom, Daria and I were baptized before the invention of rope, when the minister certainly was neither Black nor female. But change is here, and now, and sometimes for the best.
Mom was diagnosed with bipolar disorder just over a year and a half ago, but a friend assured me Mom had suffered depressive and manic episodes for decades. Her depression I had seen, but I never saw manic behavior until these last few years. In her manic episodes, her sharp mind was somehow even sharper and she outwitted our efforts to get her help over and over again. Her anxiety made her postpone surgery she desperately needed, and waiting too long ultimately cost her her life. I’ve mentioned before the impact untreated mental illness has had on my life and the lives of my family members and friends. This did not have to happen. If Mom had gotten treatment for her anxiety and bipolar disorder, she might have lived to a ripe old age.
You might think this is a sad story, and in one way it is. Mom had a very rough childhood, and if ours was a society that invested in the physical and mental health of children, maybe Mom’s life would have been different and even healthier. On the other hand, at the funeral home, photo displays my sisters put together overnight showed a life in which my mother was smiling, active, athletic, singing, surrounded by family and friends, traveling, modeling silly outfits and dancing. Mom had a tough internal life she balanced with a life spent in happy motion.
Maybe the best thing we can do is keep moving.