Card Parade

I was particularly impressed by birthday cards I received this year. Or maybe I’m particularly impressed every year and just forget how impressed I am, year after year…after year…But look:

Right??? And look:

Just the other day I was up on a patio chair reaching for one of the hummingbird feeders to take it down for servicing. Before I could unhook it, a hummer buzzed over to within maybe 2 inches of my face. Clearly he was telling me: NOT YET. He dipped his beak to the feeder’s fake flower, and drank. His purple head was like shimmering velvet. Pretty sure he was Anna’s Hummingbird. Will consult my Sibley’s. It was a thrilling experience. Luckily I’m not so old, yet, that I can’t hold my balance on a patio Adirondack. The hummer’s boldness, a good 10 seconds worth, was not lost on me.

Finally, who doesn’t love Parisian cats? No. One.

Bonne chance et surtout, bonne redaction!(accent on the ‘e’)

PB.

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SCBWI Winter Conference

I’m “here”! Full day today. Especially looking forward to the agent panel. Also have made new Twitter friends. Will be phenomenal to attend in real life one day.
Yours in info dumps,
PB

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Revising Is Writing

That’s it. That’s the post.

Revising. Is. Writing.

Also: When I remember that revising IS writing? It’s like I’ve downed a small shot glass of caffeine. Or at least an Americano. Pen, fingers liven up.

In conclusion: Here is a cat (fastened to my leg as I work)

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Dam Break! (Shaman Edition)

Not at all far from my new home in the Santa Clarita Valley are chunky ruins of the St. Francis Dam, once a major reservoir for Los Angeles.

Before

March 12, 1928, the dam collapsed.

The sudden freedom of 12.4 billion gallons of water produced a roar that must have been beyond terrifying, punctuated by the Gods-Of-Thunder boom/crack of giant boulders carried along with the deluge, smashing together as easily kids pitting marbles against marbles. 7 minutes after the break, the reservoir the dam had supported was empty.

Over 400 people died, many bodies never recovered. The wall of water was 50 feet high (120 feet high when getting started), 2 miles wide. It gushed down San Francisquito Canyon and into the Santa Clara River, coursing west through Fillmore and Santa Paula (basically the route of today’s 126 FWY) to Ventura, emptying into the Pacific Ocean.

After

I first read about the dam break on a plaque in Harey Carey Sr.’s gardens, a brief powerwalk from my hood. I was so overwhelmed by the sad tale I plunked at a table in Mr. Carey’s front yard and thought about the disaster for a while. The table, now my new out-of-the-house writing spot, is near the wash down which the dam’s waters first surged, taking out Mr. Carey’s trading post and the couple who ran it.

Harry Carey Sr. and family weren’t home at the time of the break. Nor were the 40 or so Navajo Native Americans who tended Carey’s sprawling ranch and provided goods for the trading post. The Navajo had vacated the area on the advice of their shaman, who knew the flood was coming. The Navajo packed up, trekked all the way to Arizona to escape the horror.

Did the shaman warn the Careys? Or was it a coincidence they weren’t home?

St. Francis chunk. Mulholland did this.

Did the shaman warn the couple running the trading post? Or the dam keeper and his family, the flood’s first victims? Perhaps many locals were given the opportunity to save themselves. It seems Papa Dam Keeper was at the dam that evening, right before the break. Did he believe the shaman? Is that why he was out so late? In the dark? Was he hunting for cracks? His body, and that of his 6 year old son, were never found.

If a local shaman warned me my house was in the path of a deadly dam break, would I listen? If a stranger knocked on my door and told me, if a psychic from one of those TV infomercial ‘hotlines’ called me up with a dire warning, if a relative, a dear friend, or even my spouse sounded an alarm–would I listen?

Current newspaper headlines regarding the surge of COVID in my golden state are terrifying–yet our governor has us partially ‘reopening’…Who to listen to?

Some people are always worth listening to, aren’t they? Even if I don’t agree with them 100% of the time, or if I’ll never actually meet them in person. And some people are not (worth listening to).

As a mother, I heed my intuition as it relates to parenting, and isn’t intuition the birth of poetry, or all 9 muses in 1, or the wellspring of knowledge? And, as we’ve been told ad nauseum: knowledge is power. Isn’t it?

Mr. Carey’s front yard

Fitting my mask in place and calling it quits for today, although I will return to Mr. Carey’s front yard with my laptop.

Yours in listening,

PB

Dam photos: Stearns, H.T. USGS.
“Chunk” photo: photographer unknown.

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Happy Inauguration Day

The future is bright! Finally. Also: #catsforbidenharris

Also: birds
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SCBWI Winter 2021

I’m going. Are you?

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Happy New Year!

NYE we went around the dinner table, each of us (husband, teen, me) listing anything we’d like to accomplish in 2021. Our teen shocked the heck out of his parents by stating he’d like to learn how to cook things besides scrambled eggs. “Cooking will be a useful tool in life”–direct quote. I guess helping me make the maple glaze for the NYE salmon steaks resonated with him, big time. Right on.

Chef at work

It’s bittersweet dismantling Christmas–until this year, I didn’t truly comprehend just how REAL Christmas cheer is–but I’m looking forward to 2021, to our country improving, to seeing family, sharing meals with friends, all the way to decorating 12/21’s tree with extended family present. And I look forward to cooking with my son.

Also, finishing Bridgerton on Netflix will be fantastic as it’s distracting me from my writing.

Yours in hope over fear and wild bells ringing out (yearly gratitude for Tennyson),

PB

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Aaaand: Christmas!

Countdown over! A certain teen is happy about this. The cats could care less.
The dog just wants to be loved and wants us to pretend he is tiny enough
to fit in our laps. Not.

The Teen, Shadow, Mittens & Tucker

May your days be merry and bright (and sometimes rainy if you’re in California) and may January be a mere blink away. Stay safe. Stay healthy. Hope over fear.
Joyeux Noel!

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Christmas Countdown (w/Cats)

1 day to Christmas!

SHADOW & MITTENS

All is calm and super bright. The kits watch for birds and sunning lizards. 80+ degrees the other day, extra dry as we experience our Christmas La Nina. Wishing for rain this winter–we could use it!
Joyeux Noel!

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Christmas Countdown (w/Cats)

Two!

SHADOW & DIGORY

Christmas miracles are real (see previous post)!
Celebrating our 14th wedding anniversary today by ordering take-out dinner from locally owned Wolf Creek.
Don’t forget to look at Jupiter & Saturn!
Joyeux Noel!

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Christmas Countdown (w/Cats)

Three!

Shadow & Digory

Digory doesn’t like company under the tree. It is his tree, his alone. Shadow, however, doesn’t care.
Joyeux Noel!

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Christmas Countdown (w/Cats)

Four!

DIGORY

Digs thinks he’s invisible when he’s under the tree. The second it’s up and decorated and the lights are on, he heads to his favorite spot. We’ll see him again next year.
Joyeux Noel!

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Christmas Countdown (w/Cats)

Five!

MITTENS

If there ever was a Christmas Princess, it’s Mittens. And yet–her perfection is not limited to Christmas, spanning simply every holiday–obviously. You might be amazed, though, when you see her ‘play’ sparring with her brother, Shadow. She makes his fur fly. Literally (but then he doesn’t play fair, especially when lunging, fangs out, for her neck).
Joyeux Noel!

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Christmas Countdown (w/Cats)

SIX (see below)!

SHADOW

Days 12, 11, 10, 9, 8 and 7 are missing as I was too busy for this idea to light up my brain. Better late than never?
Because: CATS
Joyeux Noel!

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Writing & Covid

Pulling a Trumbo.

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Note-to-Self (Pandemic Edition)

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TG Countdown

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Memoir

Years ago, the Santa Barbara Independent published an essay of mine titled ‘When Reagan Came To Town’, in which I ratted out my mother’s dysfunctional/anger-riddled/bullying (all this despite being a pot-head) live-in lover for calling the police from our kitchen phone and threatening to shoot down security helicopters endlessly circling the neighborhood as then-President Reagan visited our nearby hospital. Secret Service were at our house within minutes, greeted at the front door by my beautiful mother dressed in a bright orange tube top and cut-off Bermuda blue jean shorts. I guess her garb and tan, slender limbs, Olivia Newton John frosted, feathered locks and big-smile did the trick: Our house was not searched, the perp not flushed from the shed in the backyard where he cowered with his cannabis. As teenaged-me stood behind my mother, listening to her cheery spiel about some mistake being made, not our phone, not our house, I sent get him vibes to the men, hoping the horror of living with a scumbag was about to be removed from our lives for good.

Unfortunately my vibes couldn’t penetrate mirrored aviator glasses: My mom’s perp hung out for another 10 years, although her children did not. One left at 16. I left at 17. Another left at 17. And the baby ran away when she was 14 to live with her best friend across town.

My mother passed away a year ago. I’d like to type out the memories that keep arriving, but I’m not sure grief-rage-memoir-writing in a pandemic is possible. I’ve turned to a small stack of books for help:

  1. Bird By Bird, Anne Lamott. Yes, we all know this book. I’ve read it 3 times and am back for more layered profundity and comfort.
  2. The Situation And The Story, Vivian Gornick
  3. The Liars’ Club, Mary Karr (can’t believe I haven’t read this)
  4. Lit, Mary Karr

In addition to the Reagan essay, I have others stuffed in a plastic box under the guestroom bed.

Pretty sure I’m in the process of pulling up my big girl pants and opening the box.

Yours in hailing the dysfunctional past with books, caffeine-induced courage and a therapist,

PB

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TG: NO

11/13/2020: Booked local dog-friendly hotel room for in-laws and their pups. “TG at picnic table in park”, I said when I called my MIL for TG plans approval, which she gave. “Same at Christmas!” I said, screaming now. “All holiday risks solved! TG for hotels and their sanitary measures! OMG!”

I had to lie down. Husband and son brought gifts.

Then, suddenly: 11/14/2020: Scrolled Twitter, watched Maddow.

OMEFHAFMH, I whispered.

My 80-year-old MIL can do headstands. But–spry, not spry, headstands or senior aerobics–what is the point of squatting in sagebrush to pee on your way to see loved ones if you’re simply driving 2+ hours into deadly contagion?

Fortunately my MIL is not only spry, but ratiocinationally inclined. So when my husband and I canceled TG, my MIL confessed that she and Popups had been thinking along those lines, too–hesitant to tell us for fear of disappointing us.

Once all was cancelled, I lamented: We could’ve watched Jumanji2!”

“Next time,” my MIL said, a woman who’s voice over the phone carries a chronically nascent smile. It’s one of her most comforting traits.

Next time

Yours in keeping family and friends as safe as possible this encroaching holiday season,

PB.

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Relief Is Palpable (BIDEN/HARRIS2020 WIN EDITION)

“Dogs and cats living together!”
–Ghostbusters

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Debate Night Finale

This time, you feed your tween at the kitchen table, not in his bedroom, perhaps because it is the last ‘debate’, hopefully the last time a thug will have the opportunity to one-on-one malign a better man in front of America, because after January the thug will be traveling to jail, or preferably one of the very cages he’s confined all those children to for the last 4 years.

Perhaps you want your tween to hear some of the ‘debate’—although he’s pretty obsessed with his Nintentdo Switch game and stuffing his mouth with cheese tortellini and you don’t invite him to join you on the couch.

And you’re pretty sure you don’t invite him to join you on the couch because you don’t want him damaged by the lying thug. And yet you also want him to hear the lying thug because you don’t want him to be damaged by the lying thug.

You plop on the couch and cocoon in your blanket with no appetite and glare at the TV in the family room which is also part of the kitchen and within sight of the kitchen table and your blissfully eating/playing tween—your fingers white knuckled around a bottle of sparkling water.

You turn up the TV’s volume.

The ‘debate’ begins just as your spouse arrives.

WHERE’S THE FLY! you yell, gesticulating at the TV and your spouse high-fives the tween and sets his briefcase on a barstool and helps himself to dinner, joins you on the couch, kisses your cheek before his first bite of tortellini and tells you:

Everything’s going to be all right.

He is reminding you of your self-proclaimed mantra you’ve been self-proclaiming since the magic-making fly appeared on the fake VP’s head.

Everything’s going to be all right.

WHY AREN’T THEY MUTING HIM! you shout and your husband suggests to the tween that he take his dinner upstairs.

Your tween lingers by his parents before bolting.

Crazy, your tween says.

Right? his dad concurs.

Everything’s going to be all right, you mumble.

What’s that, Mom? your tween asks.

EVERYTHING’S GOING TO BE ALL RIGHT!

Your tween knows the current times are unprecedented. He distance learns. He wears a mask when walking the dogs around the neighborhood. He sees his friends on Discord or FaceTiming while Robloxing. He reminds his mother to wash her hands when returning from Trader Joe’s, which makes her dab tears of gratefulness from her eyes once her hands are dry.

Can’t wait until I can vote, your tween says and galumphs upstairs.

You share a tender glance with your husband because it was yesterday that the tween was a tow-headed toddler and next month he’ll graduate into teenage status and voting will be an option for him the next time you blink your eyes and suddenly you and your spouse are holding hands.

Sometimes, you see Alec Baldwin doing his impression of the fake president doing an impression of himself. You wince when Joe does. Your eyes, too, pop with wonderment at the dumpster-fire depths your country has reached. When Joe glances at the audience, you presume he is sharing an OMG UNREAL, RIGHT? moment with his wife.

cocooning blanket

But this time, you practice not panicking. There is simply no more time to panic. Early voting has reached record breaking heights. You have voted. It is time to pull up your big girl pants, knock off shouting anything except GO JOE and simply support your country. When you feel your BP rise, you vibe Joe your mantra.

Everything’s going to be all right, you vibe to the next President of the United States.

You scream-cheer with the rest of America when Joe gives his concluding message. When Jill Biden appears in her tropical print dress with matching mask and glides swiftly by the thug and that lady that doesn’t like to touch him, you cheer louder and keep on when Jill wraps her husband in her arms.  

Pretty sure Emma Thompson will play Jill in the movie.

Yours in everything will be all right,

PB

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A Voter’s Tale

Sunday morning, after obsessively researching my local candidates and measures, filling in my mail-in ballot, packing it in its envelope, I turned the envelope over, moistened the seal with a sponge, pressed the seal home, grabbed a pen and:

SIGNED ON THE ADDRESS LINE.

😢

Despite the gigantic RED X indicating where my signature belonged, I signed on the:

Address

Line

I felt like Shelly Long in THE SHINING when she’s running around the hotel waving the knife inexpertly, sobbing as she witnesses fresh horrors around every creepy corner.

I grilled my spouse: WILL THIS RUIN MY VOTE!

He couldn’t say.

I Googled SIGNING MAIL-IN BALLOT ON ADDRESS LINE–only to find I’m the only person in America’s history of mail-in ballot voting to have done such a thing.

I went to lavote.net and ordered a new mail-in ballot, worrying that if the new ballot didn’t arrive in time I would have to go to the polls and use a:

voting machine.

So I’m one of those who mix up their lefts and rights. I can get you there, if I’m driving. If I tell you how to get there? Even if I’m driving? You will go right instead of left and we will arrive in foreign lands.

If I have to use a voting machine? Terrified I will swerve right instead of left.

!!!

By Tuesday, my new ballot had not arrived and my Shelly Long THE SHINING face had taken over 24/7. It finally dawned on Shelly to call lavote.net, which is what I should have done in the first place.

“Cross off your signature in the address line,” the voter-lady instructed. “Initial the cross-off. Then,” she continued calmly, “put in your address, and most importantly,” she said, “sign the line following the big RED X.”

“I ordered another ballot,” I wailed. “If it comes, am I screwed? HAVE I MESSED UP MY CHANCE TO VOTE!”

“You get another ballot in the mail? Rip it up, honey,” the voter-lady said. “That way they won’t come and take you away in metal handcuffs.”

And she laughed. I don’t know for how long. My mind was stuck on metal handcuffs. Metal. I would have said silver handcuffs, or just handcuffs, but she said metal handcuffs. Fascinating.

“Everything’s okay, honey,” the voter-lady said eventually. “Go vote. Hopefully your official ballot box won’t get set on fire. But if that happens,” she laughed, “just give us a call.”

Don’t be me. Don’t miss the GIANT RED X on your mail-in voting ballot. I know you won’t? But:

Don’t.

Yours in keeping voting simple,

PB

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Debate: Part 2 (Fly Edition)

That you feel total confidence about the evening’s outcome irks you because you know from experience (parties, weddings, Masterpiece Theatre, vacations thwarted by pandemics) that 100% confidence only invites disaster.

You zoom to the grocery store for comfort-food ingredients and, once home, pile beans, chunks of purple onion and olives on top of tortilla chips in your favorite inherited baking dish, empty packets of grated cheese over everything, declare nachos and shove the dish in the oven. You wipe your brow with a Queen’s Jubilee tea towel and devour the sour cream you purchased, spooning it into your mouth with your fingers while declaring to air everything wrong with the world.

And then you grab a napkin and try pulling yourself together.

When you appear in your tween’s bedroom doorway with a cheerful Ta Da, he barely acknowledges you, deep, deep in his video game, mumbles over there as though you feed him dinner in his room with his beloved video games every night, though this is only the 2nd time in his lifetime you’ve allowed him to eat dinner while playing video games, and you’re a little stung, but also burdened by the 100% confidence that can only lead to disaster, so you forgive your tween and leave his plate of food on a pillow shaped like a storm trooper’s head and you rush downstairs and plop on the couch and activate your BP cuff and it begins.

Again.

But this time:

  1. You don’t pace the downstairs for the duration of the debate
  2. You fling your BP cuff to the couch cushions with a wild laugh
  3. You clap and cheer like a kid might for Wonder Woman, your bare feet up on the ottoman you share with a small white dog annoyed by your vocals.  

True: You wish her words annihilated the pale ghoul 1 plexiglass barrier away from giving her a deadly virus–but you 100% do not feel the same panic and outrage as when watching the spluttering orange ghoul last week.

And then: The Moment.

THE moment you will never forget, for the rest of your odd little life.

The moment you will explain, tomorrow, ad nauseum to your tween.

The moment you will share with your sisters, soul sisters, sisters of sisters of sisters of strangers, and the Travelocity operator refusing to give you your vacation refund.

The moment you will pass down to your grandkids, should you be fortunate enough to live long enough to meet them (you are an older mom, after all), with strict suggestions they pass the moment down to their children and so on, in writing, perhaps, maybe your own writing, or theirs, whatever works, etc, ad nauseum.  

The utterly unbleachable moment.

This moment: sends you into body-paralyzing wonder.

Of all the indoor evening venues, of all the exquisitely timed, random, perfect timings that have occurred in history (fill in the blanks), of all the pale ghouls in all the troubled worldyou–and entire populations–watched 1 fly land on 1 particular grease-haloed head of Covid-suffering hair–right as the hair’s owner lied, to billions.

Your husband returns home to find you cocooned in the 2 minutes and few seconds it takes for the fly to regale the planet. Your husband drops his briefcase to the tile and stares at the TV, muttering: Close your mouth, babe, before you swallow a fly.

Your husband helps himself to nachos, joins you on the couch, your face Francois Truffaut’s in Close Encounters of the Third Kind, when he steps forward to greet the alien. My God, you whisper, your hand gliding to your cell phone and the second the fly departs the debate, you’re on Twitter. You scroll quickly, discovering the fly already has several Twitter accounts. Twitter explodes with the same awe you experienced and suddenly it’s difficult to respond when you hear voices calling your name.

Around midnight, you surface.

Your house is quiet.

Your small white dog snores.

And there is peace, my darling, in your particular portion of nation roiled.

You climb the stairs to bed, your pets following.

The next morning?

Your ballot arrives.

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BP 148/80 (VOTE EDITION)

You make dinner early for your small, by American family standards, family–a guy, your tween-guy you would die for, and you–except you shove your dinner portion into the freezer.

And hurry upstairs.

HERE! you declare with a carny-smile and bowlful of crockpot BBQ chicken that’s been the source of your home’s major fragrance for the last few hours and he, your tween-guy you would die for, tears his eyes from his computer screen, cries WHAT THE HECK as he takes the bowl, knowing something’s up because you have forbidden him from ever eating meals in his bedroom while playing a video game. His delight in this taboo you are encouraging him to violate, that he believes you are, for this moment, a ‘cool mom’, activates your colossal, juicy-love heart. You place your hand on your chest as though about to recite the Pledge of Allegiance. You blow him a kiss. Twiddle fingers with a reassuring nod he acknowledges with skepticism and a dash of suspicion, but accepts.

You rush downstairs.

You grab your blood pressure cuff from the butler’s pantry’s secret drawer, plop on the couch and turn on the TV, wondering if your face looks as desperate as you feel: A heady-lead inner-devastation, a fast-encroaching, dismally lit Dadaist wasteland, aging you.

But then a water-logged-orange enters your living room, and another form that looks and acts human strides elegantly to a podium. You respond to this form’s wave to the camera with a hopeful wave of your own, as ready as you’ll ever be.

And the birth of a nation begins.

Immediately you realize stillness is not an option and begin pacing the downstairs of your home, listening to the TV.

You are pacing when your other guy arrives. You gesture at his dinner on the counter and he gets it, knows the survival of your small family depends on your pacing and you’re grateful he knows this—but then it is obvious he can stay seated on the couch as he eats. Can, in fact, eat. Benignly. And well. As though eating while watching a cooking show. Or maybe Bugs Bunny.

Your BP cuff tightens on your wrist.

You are outside, on the back patio, silent-screaming at the hummingbird feeder and indigenous growth on the hill behind your fence rising into a star-pinged horizon and of course that’s when it happens: The bloated orange admits to committing a heinous crime and you miss it.

Oh! No! You!

Your guy yells. You rush inside and he explains the horror as you grab your phone and look it up on social media and it’s there, the clip is already there (!!!), people amazing you, how their fingers have mutated into the quickness of little fish evading the homemade nets of evil children.

You watch the clip and pump the BP cuff. You can’t breathe: An entire country blocks your lungs. Air cannot slip by Florida’s iron thrust, the gritty-gritty mass of Texas, or your own red hot state, California.

NO, you say, elongating the word like they do in the movies, scaring your guy: He spits out a mouthful of BBQ chicken and you throw a roll of paper towels at him, perhaps an attempt at emphasizing irony.

From here on out you never pace out of sight/earshot of the TV, which is now the size of the TV screen the woman in Attack of the 50 Foot Woman purchased for her personal viewing before she was exterminated.

Your tween-guy you would die for galumphs downstairs and asks what the heck is going on and you let your other guy explain as explaining anything comes easier to him than you and you’re grateful—if you open your mouth you will regurgitate red ribbons from every Greek tragedy, or worse: You will regurgitate Medea, whole.

You pace for your tween-guy you would die for. You pace for Greta. George. Breonna. You pace for your parakeets and your organic face cream. You pace for the planet—including that lady exposed on social media for ripping down a facemask display in Target in her weird, shrieky style…Or maybe not her.

And when it’s over and your tween-guy is back upstairs, brushing his teeth, locating his PJ’s, you grip your other guy’s hands and he pulls you onto the couch as he tells you that he knows and you tell him you know he knows and that you know you know he knows that you know how he feels, too.

You hold hands and watch aftermath on the TV. You’ve not held hands like this in some time. You both experience a reupholstered (the pricy kind) wonder. And when your guy suggests you breathe, you give it a shot.

And even though the birth of a country is cruel, tampered with, never over, and even though there’s a rattle in your throat and your arteries might explode, air fills your lungs.

You breathe.

Your country lets you.

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Learning In The Time Of Covid (Coursera Wesleyan U edition)

My book-recs arrive from: author-friends; writers I heart on social media; my 3 sisters/avid-readers; always Claire’s recs on WORD BY WORD. Thank you, Claire. You suggest so many writing worlds that shouldn’t, ever, be missed.

In this basically word-of-mouth vein, I learned of Wesleyan University’s Coursera. You can enroll in courses free for 7 days, after that you are charged $49/month and may unsubscribe at any time.

I enrolled in a creative writing course taught by Amity Gaige.

And now I have a writing assignment due–shortly.

So Amity Gaige is a writer who also happens to be an excellent teacher. This is apparent in the first minutes of her course. She is well-spoken, clear, a confident speaker, interested in her subject and interesting to listen to. We are lucky to have her as a teacher, you and I. Especially when that teacher has you reading DH Lawrence for an assignment.

When was the last time you read DH Lawrence? It’s been quite a while for me and I appreciated every second of ‘Odour Of Chrysanthemums’. I don’t remember ever reading it in college. Such a pleasure to savor and ruminate on a short story masterpiece.

A book rec from me: ‘Sea Wife’, by Amity Gaige. Pretty much all of my booky friends and definitely my sisters and my 2 soul sisters have read or are reading. My husband also read it and we’ve had some great discussions about the married main characters. Don’t miss it.

Yours in positive recs,

PB

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