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I'm not much of a writer anymore, but here we go with a journal.
I'm a 62 63-year-old widow living in Madison, Wisconsin, with two adult kids who here go by Kid A and Kid B.
December 30, 2020 at 6:03pm
December 30, 2020 at 6:03pm
One beauty part about retiring is that I no longer have to deal with a lot of people. I also have some choice about which people I choose to deal with, which definitely wasn't the case when I was employed in retail. Yet even with that incredible advantage, that Get Out Of Jail Free card, people problems won't go away. And it seems to me that easy access to online chatter is a big part of the problem.

Dealing with other people has never been easy for me. Now it just keeps getting weirder and weirder. And it isn't just me saying so. With jobs, schools, community meetings, and all kinds of other stuff going online, all of us have had some adjusting to do. This thing was already coming at us like a drunken bull, but this last year so much human interaction has moved online. Hard to say whether it's changing our social skills or just plain ruining them. (Note: I don't mean this site. People here are much more likely to get to know each other than users of Facebook, Twitter, Reddit, Nextdoor, etc.)

I find myself in conversations that go something like:

ObviousStater: "The sky is blue."

CounterpointNerd: "That's a misrepresentation that many people fall for. Scientifically, the evidence shows sky color lies in a spectrum between lavender to medium turquoise. Here are links to five article that prove this."

EverythingIsFunnyGuy: "only if it's not cloudy LOL then its white accept if your on venus then its yellow lol SNORT"

HatesEverybodyGuy: "Youre all a bunch of *@^*!&ing idiots who obviously don't realize it's night more often than daytime meaning the sky is black. You should all *%&&(@+# yourselves and go kill yourselves while you're at it!Retards!"

CounterpointNerd: "It's clearly impossible for it to be night more than half the time. Next time do some research, Neanderthal."

… By which time ObviousStater (who may or may not be me) has slunk away and disabled notifications.

Under ordinary circumstances, I'd just ignore the whole mess. But right now all my volunteer work is cancelled, no shows are showing, eating out and most shopping are locked down, classes and activities are gone, the gym is closed, traveling and visiting are verboten, and you can't even go for a hike without having to dodge off the path if you want to follow social distancing protocols. I haven't even gotten my teeth cleaned by my lovely dental hygienist Sandy in almost a year. (Next month, Sandy, next month!)

I did find one new volunteer gardening job this summer, but it involves trying to work with people. People I've mostly met only online.

Cindy has been taking care of a modest planting of flowers around the Dixon Greenway sign for years, and hadn't been able to keep up with it lately. She advertised on Nextdoor for someone to please take over the project. I said I'd be happy to.

We agreed to meet at the park, which is two blocks from my house, at 6:00. At 5:57 I was getting ready to put on my contacts, grab my mask, and bike to the park, when the phone rang. It was Cindy, asking why I was late. I apologized profusely, even though I wasn't actually late. Skipped the contacts, skipped the mask because I can't wear it with glasses because it fogs them up and anyway we were going to be spaciously outside, and got down to the Greenway asap.

After berating me for being late and not having a mask, and me apologizing some more, Cindy filled me in about the garden. She wanted to hand the project over to me, even though she'd already given it to Megan, who had the paperwork, and Megan was probably going to be all upset and jealous, but Megan was too young and not committed and . . . . . .

"Whoa whoa whoa!" exclaimed my brain, "How is there so much drama involved with this simple little garden?"

But I nodded along with this whole spiel, because Cindy said she wanted to be done with the project, and Megan had never really been active with it.

For the next month, I spent half an hour per day weeding, which since it had been so neglected was the only way to get out all the reed canary grass and other weeds. I'd dig up a square foot of soil and it'd take five minutes just to extract all the grass rhizomes. Then on to the next foot. Then watering. Because it had been weed-choked for a couple years, it needed more plants, so I added some perennials divided from my own yard, and worked with the leader of a wildflower project nearby to get some seedlings they weren't using. The city dropped off some bark mulch, which I spread. All fine and dandy, exactly the kind of cooperative, work-at-your-own-pace volunteer job I was looking for.

But Cindy didn't actually want to give up control. She made appointments to meet me twice, but never showed up to either of them. Yet she kept bitching online about how she didn't like where I'd put various plants. After agreeing I should go ahead and accept the extra wildflowers from the other project, she turned around and told me not to plant most of them because she didn't like them after all. Meanwhile the mysterious Megan, who never showed up to any meetings and I have still never met, had all the paperwork. I contacted her online a bunch of times, giving her my address, offering to go to her place (wherever that is) to pick the papers up, but apparently all I've managed to do is make her feel guilty. I still don't have the paperwork, which means whatever resources and expectations the city has for such projects are still a mystery to me. And I have no idea what Cindy will want to do next year.

The beauty part about retiring was supposed to be that I wouldn't have to deal with this kind of nonsense anymore. I'm really good at getting things done, at working fast and saving money, but terrible at these kinds of people problems.
December 22, 2020 at 12:59pm
December 22, 2020 at 12:59pm
Winter is here. Everything outside is white and slippery. I still go out there every day, to run, to fill bird feeders, to go to the store, to bring in the last crops from the garden, etc. But much less outdoors until outdoors stops acting like a big, grouchy snowball.

I've just discovered that if I take the branch clippers out an shove aside the snow, I can use them to hack off a whole kale plant at the stem bottom. Bring it inside and stick it upside-down in the largest bowl available till most of the ice melts off, then rinse it, cut the leaves off, let them dry off a bit more, and save them in a plastic bag in the fridge. I'd never harvested anything but Brussels sprouts out from under the snow before, and thought a leaf crop would end up a sloppy, ruined mess. But as long as you don't cut leaves off the stalk until they've thawed out, they stay perky and fresh. The best kale I've ever grown, actually.

Still, winter means a lot more time indoors. I wonder about people who live in Wisconsin and paint all their rooms trendy shades of white. (Research box: This year these shades include Cloud, Chantilly, Swiss Coffee, and Strong White.) Everything is a white outside here half the year anyway. Why have neutral colors indoors? The people need color!

My bedroom is jade green, the living room is blue. The dining room is amber-shellaced wood. The kitchen is deep purple with gilt lettering. The back room is a baffling patchwork-wallpaper made of old children's books and quilting fabric and discontinued calendar pages, with lavendar trim with glitter sprinkled in, and big south- and east-facing windows. Kid A's room (now the memory room, with him off in Texas) is gray with white trim, with old pictures on the wall so it feels like a flashback. The utility room has a print of Miro's Singing Fish my dad gave me and pink, yellow, lavendar, and lime green trim against white (I don't totally hate white) walls. The bathroom a graded aqua from a deep bottom to a frothy-light top that makes you feel like you're under water. And everywhere plants plants plants, toys, art, washi tape, fixtures that resemble mythical creatures, things to read, cats, cat toys, and absolutely no curtains.

I'm sure when I die the kids will have to paint everything white before they can sell the house, but hey, at least I won't have died of depression.

December 15, 2020 at 1:18pm
December 15, 2020 at 1:18pm
I walked to the grocery store for the first time of the year. Grocery shopping always gets a lot more complicated for me in the winter, and this year more than ever.

Most of the year I'm able to bike and pack the groceries in baskets attached to the back, plus stray stuff in a backpack if necessary. But at some point the snow comes and doesn't want to go away, possibly until March or later.

Before I lived in Wisconsin, I used to think cities plowed the snow off their streets after a storm. Ha ha ha ha ha ha. I also used to think home and business owners removed the snow from their sidewalks and driveways. Hee hee hee.

What actually happens is the city sends a plow through the streets that mostly just runs over the snow and compacts it into a couple inches of ice, then spreads a little sand in a few random spots. This stuff gradually melts in the sun, over the course of weeks or months, but not much happens as long as the sky is overcast and/or the temps stay below twenty degrees. Car exhaust burns it off the busy streets, but I can't very well bike down the middle of those. Some people do bike all year, but I'm too chicken to swerve around on black ice. I've gone down on black ice in front of a car before, and that's not an experience I want to repeat. Plus I'm sixty-three, so falling on hard surfaces isn't great and is getting less great all the time.

So around this time every year, I grab the granny cart and walk the mile or so down to Woodman's. On the way there I can carry the granny cart over the unshoveled sidewalks and bumps of ice at the intersections, but on the way back I'm too loaded down to lift it over, so I just walk in the street. It's a busy enough street that a lot of ice is melted off, but I don't want to get hit by a car, so it's a lot of pulling the cart aside into snowdrifts when there's oncoming traffic.

This year everything's even more complicated. First because of social distancing on the sidewalk. Very few people here wear a mask outdoors. I don't either. It's not required, and it's not like there are big crowds walking around in winter, but there are a few people.

Second, I'm stuck with stores that are within walking distance there and back, because I'd just as soon stay away from the buses until the covid thing is over. Most years I can walk the nine miles to Trader Joe's and take the bus back, but hauling groceries another nine miles back home does not sound like my idea of fun, plus it would take a huge chunk out of the day.

And third, all the groceries have to go back in the shopping cart and rolled out into the parking lot to pack into the granny cart, because Woodman's still doesn't allow reusable grocery bags, even in the self-check lanes. Because they think somehow germs will waft off my shopping bags? It seems like if I were germy enough to have sick shopping bags, they'd be more likely to get sick from me than from a bag they don't even have to touch. But rules are rules, and I feel compelled to obey even stupid ones.

I keep having to remind myself that this whole covid mess will be over soon. The first vaccinations are here already for front-line healthcare workers, who if you ask me should also be getting a Nobel prize and Time persons of the year and, I don't know, all the lottery money or something.

Probably no vaccine for me anytime soon, though, as I'm in the lowest priority group.
December 12, 2020 at 6:30pm
December 12, 2020 at 6:30pm
I wrote about half of a story last week, but I don't see how I'm ever going to finish it.

The same thing happens to me most of the time when I try to write stories: the idea and characters and world are there, plus about half a plot, but the end just never seems to work out right. In my defense, about 90% of the published fiction I've read goes the same way, and you can double that for speculative fiction.

I "remember" the first story I ever "wrote." Quotey things because I don't actually remember hardly any of it, and it never got written down.

It was eighth grade science class, and the assignment was to read a science fiction book -- any science fiction book -- and give a five-minute oral book report. This should have been a slam-dunk for me because I used to read plenty of books, and a healthy percentage of them were science fiction or fantasy. In fact, it sounded so easy that I wasn't in any hurry about it. My dad took me down to the Pleasant Hill library over the weekend, and I got a book out of the young adult section that had an interesting blurb and a really cool cover.

But it turned out to have way more sex in it than I was expecting. Way, way more sex. Which would have been a very happy thing, except for having to stand up in front of my eighth grade science class with an oral book report. I wouldn't be able to give even a basic plot summary without sex coming into it.

Since there was no way in hell that was going to happen, I brought in the book, showed everybody the pretty cover, and spontaneously made up a story. Fictionalized fiction. I was up there rambling for four minutes or so, spewing fascinating world-building details, plot twists and bull. But then I noticed the teacher glancing up at the clock. My five minutes were almost up, and I'd barely even gotten started. I panicked and tossed an apocalyptic war into the mix.

"And then they all died."

At least it made everybody laugh.

But often enough my written stories have flailed around just as much trying to come to an end. It's so much more fun to start a story, to build a world, to throw another bone into the soup of a plot, than to bring the whole thing to a satisfying conclusion.

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