The audiologist looks to be about twenty. She’s also got a doctorate and trains audiology students. She understands the intricacies of sound, all about tone and volume and a dozen nuances normal people don’t know or care about. She does the remarkable work of activating and programming people’s cochlear implants. She is highly skilled, occupying a rare place in the hearing treatment world.
She is also oddly fascinated by me. Because I do things, she says. “It’s so good that you are still doing things.” I hear the word still, fold it into thirds, and put it in my pocket. Yes. I am still doing things.
We talk about the things I am doing and how, so often, there are situations where my hearing impairment risks embarrassment. I told her about going to a public hearing to speak a few weeks ago, before my new implant was up and running. When I realized my name would be called by someone on the far side of the room, I worried that I’d miss it and there was no one there to nudge me. Jan, he called your name.
“Oh, she said, I’d worry about being embarrassed.” But, as I told her, the choice then is to not go. Embarrassment on one hand, showing up as a flawed person on the other. And she appreciated this, over-appreciated it really, because she was fascinated that I still do things. Meanwhile, I marveled at how her deep technical knowledge left out the potential for acute embarrassment and humiliation that is such a centerpiece of hearing loss.
I don’t blame her. It’s not like all of us over here in hearing impaired world like to talk about it. I made a fool of myself last week.
When I left the audiologist’s office, I was glad that I was still doing things and that I was the object of a young person’s fascination. She’s really old and she’s still doing things. Maybe the young doctor will suspect that her other elderly patients are still doing things and ask them. Maybe she’ll be impressed at how tough and resilient we are – us old folks who soldiered through some really hideous mistakes and miscommunication so we could still do things.
Many of us are fascinating.
Forty years ago when we came to look at the house we now live in, the owner was sitting in the kitchen eating pancakes for dinner.
She told us that she’d split from her husband and her daughter was grown so she no longer needed a five- bedroom house with three bathrooms including one on the third floor with a cast iron porcelain bathtub. It is a mystery how such a thing was hoisted to the third floor in 1911. And why.
The house seemed enormous to me and out of our price range and so I lobbied for us to look in neighborhoods with newer and smaller houses. But my husband was undeterred. This, despite his residence at the time being an upper flat in a sketchy neighborhood which he shared with an illegal immigrant named Julietta. We were newly married but not living together. It’s complicated but it worked out okay.
I was living in a similarly undistinguished place – an upper flat in a boxy house on a street with no trees in a suburb adjoining the big city. I remember that it had a carpeted kitchen which I’d set up to have the ambience of Alice’s Restaurant’s kitchen. I was very big on Alice’s Restaurant and used her cookbook all the time. Alice said one should have an easy chair in the kitchen because that’s where everybody spent all their time. So, I found a cushioned chair with carved wooden arms at Goodwill and put it in the kitchen. I draped a blanket over it for when I was on the phone long hours with men who claimed to love me but really didn’t.
We ended up buying the house from the woman eating pancakes and raised four children here. The house gave us many rambunctious, joyful, heartbreaking years as houses do. The children are grown and gone now. We run into their pictures hanging on the wall all the time. And sometimes they come to visit and help us fix things. Everyone sits at the same places at the table, and I can feel them wondering how long we are going to stay here.
We had pancakes for lunch today which is what sparked all this reminiscing. I haven’t laid eyes on the cast iron porcelain bathtub on the third floor, probably in four or five months or years, not sure which. It makes me tired to look at it, well, even to think about it, its heaviness emblematic of what the entire house has become. I wish the woman who sold us the house forty years ago would come back and give me a talking to. She would tell me it’s time to go.
Hello. I am Swirl.
I am chagrined to say that yesterday I ate a lipstick.
I don’t even use lipstick or any kind of beauty aid. For obvious reasons.
I thought it was a white sausage. There are such things.
I didn’t eat it whole. I’m not a python.
I chewed it into little bits and then threw up the bits in the back yard on a pile of leaves.
It looked like art.
I fell off the writing beam hard. Suddenly, in what was undoubtedly an over-reaction to a monstrous building being constructed next door, I broke my pencil in half and retreated to the corner.
My very ambitious plan to write a book of short stories in a month in response to the encouragement and community of NaNoWriMo stalled out on the shoulder of a two-lane road next to a farm with a collapsing barn and a single very thin cow peering at me through the fence. Someone should feed that cow.
Today, I’m climbing back on the beam or finding a new pencil or feeding the cow staring at me and my stalled car. (Sometimes life is a festival of metaphors, and we need to accept that and not expect every metaphor to be in sync with the rest.) In any event, my plan for November was to write ten good stories set in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, a place where there has been much delight and occasional misery in my personal life, and which provides fertile ground for storytelling.
I had three stories starting out: Snow Door, Grady and Irene, and Darla and Fitz. Newly written this month are Heartache on Sable Lake and Gulliver’s Fish. That leaves eight stories to go.
As I was writing these stories and talking them over with my husband, he noted a couple of running themes. The first theme involved the husbands in the stories not having speaking parts, because they were dead, dying, or getting divorced. The second theme was the danger quotient. “Your stories always have a lot of peril.”
He has a keen eye, that guy.
So, I’m back at my post. Warming up by writing this blog and then diving into the second half of an impossibly ridiculous story about a woman wanting to put a hex on someone. There are already 839 words written so I can’t just cut it loose because it’s stupid. I have to find a path to brilliance.
Wish me luck.
I could do something useful.
I could scrape the mud off my boots, well, two pairs of boots sitting by the back door.
I could see if the laundry in the washer is ready for the dryer.
I could start a pot of soup, brush the cat, vacuum under the bed, pay bills. It’s always good to pay bills.
I could finish a ridiculous story I started about a woman putting a hex on the grotesque house next door, but I need more hex knowledge than I’ve managed to accumulate in seventy-five years.
It is pouring rain. The rain is so loud that it sounds like trucks coming down the street. I have a meeting tonight across town. I have a very good umbrella, something that wasn’t always true, and I don’t have to wait next to a lamp post for a bus. That’s lucky. I’d like to decline but I can’t because showing up is kind of a core belief, even when I’m floating around directionless. Now there’s thunder and lightning. Oh great.
Being at loose ends is not a sustainable approach to life. So, I’ll give this current episode a day or two to shake out and then I will firmly reattach to a purpose. It will be easier if I try to do that at nine o’clock in the morning rather than at four in the afternoon when it is already dark in Wisconsin and the day seems done before being half over.
So much aimlessness. So little time.
This is our new neighbor.
She’s having a hard time fitting in. We’ve tried to help her by suggesting that she scale down just a bit and maybe give the barn swallows some space to fly around.
That’s not true. We’ve only had one conversation and it was about property lines and zoning laws. The idea that we would become neighbors who call out to each other on a summer night to come over and help drink the last of the Barefoot box wine never came up. Never mind about loving each other’s dogs.
I wrote about this before and was vacation-home shamed by a reader. Fair enough, I thought. There are a lot worse things than having someone mess with your beach zen. “Why don’t you worry about a real problem, like homelessness?” Valid. Though I do worry about homelessness a fair amount, I could always do more.
The profundity of this giant house being built between two longtime friends is becoming clearer to me. It’s not about the view being wrecked or the general unpleasantness of having a hostile stranger move in. It’s not even about the new neighbor’s edict that our friend across the way can’t cross her property to visit us.
It is the baffling lack of regard for the community, for neighbors, for the environment, the jaw-dropping arrogance, the entitlement, the intimidation of public officials, the bullying. Is it all legal? Yes, at the same time that public officials will acknowledge that it’s a monstrosity. She can so she did. In spades.
This afternoon I walked down our dirt driveway with my husband and our two dogs. The driveway is two little lanes, a country road really, that we never graded and would never pave. Apples from our old trees litter the driveway and we notice they are better apples than last year, fewer spots, prettier. We leave them for the deer. We talk to a man from the township about where a water meter was put in and he is nice and helpful and I tell him I appreciate him coming to meet us. I don’t want him to think I’m difficult. I want to be the opposite of difficult – I want to be reasonable and thoughtful and part of the community. I’ve seen the other and I don’t want to be that.
We will get used to this. The lake is still in front of us. Our birdhouses. The endless sand and rocks. We will forget about the monstrosity if we don’t look at it. Meanwhile, yes, there is plenty more to do for people who are homeless. I’m mindful of that and will do my best.
If you’re a writer or if you hang around with writers, you have probably heard of NaNoWriMo. It’s National Novel Writing Month, also known as November.
Thousands of writers around the world are signed up to write 50,000 words toward a novel in November. Folks mark their progress every day. There are support groups and group writes and a ton of other writerly things to do and it is oddly fun and inspirational.
Two years ago, my husband and I wrote a novel, “Murder in Wilson Park,” during NaNoWriMo. It was an enormous amount of fun, incredibly challenging, and great to see our finished product. We didn’t do anything with it except publish the chapters here on Red’s Wrap and send PDF’s of the finished product to anyone who asked, but it was still an accomplishment. My old man and I wrote a novel together. Lordy. Who can say that?
This year, I’m writing a bunch of short stories, all taking place in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. My husband fires story ideas while we drive along U.S. 2 from Escanaba to the turn north on M-77 to Grand Marais. He has plot lines and characters lined up in his head waiting to find life on paper. It’s an amazing thing, sometimes tiring. I make a list of his story ideas, sometimes downplaying the elaborate backstories he creates for his characters but keeping them in mind nonetheless. He remembered the guy with the canoe carrier on the top of his station wagon made from logs and branches. I’d forgotten about him. But, yeah, he ended up being pretty central to yesterday’s story, “Heartache on Sable Lake.”
It’s early in November. If you’re a writer and you’d like a little extra nudge, check out NaNoWriMo. It’s pressure but pressure is good for a writer. Otherwise, we just sit around and talk about the old days.
I never took up fishing. I decided a couple of years ago that having a good cane pole and some nice new bobbers would really spruce up my life. I remembered my very short and very wide grandma in her house dress and a giant wide-brimmed straw hat kerplunking into her rowboat with her cane pole and a coffee can full of worms. It was a great memory but apparently not very inspirational.
An estate planning guide I looked at asked the question: who should be told of your death? This gave me pause since publishing an obit in the newspaper would only reach my ancient age peers who still read the paper and posting on Facebook would only get to whomever that day’s algorithm blesses. It’s weird finding out somebody you thought you knew and considered a friend died last year without telling you but I guess there’s no way around it.
Every morning I wake up to see the cat sitting on the radiator watching the sun rise. It is a best thing, not the best thing, but right up there.
My head is pretty healed but my ear is numb. Sound in the new implant is calming down and I often hear things with both ears at once and get surprised. Oh! I heard that! I still say “What?” very often, muscle memory, I think. But that will go away, everything is happening like they said it would. Bit by bit.
This is, despite the forecasts of sure doom, the best time of my life. As my long time friend said when we were talking about our rapidly advancing age, “You know, this doesn’t end well.” I suppose. But there is an enormous amount of freedom and power in being an old lady that nobody ever told me about. I wouldn’t have believed them anyway.
I had to get a head shot.
It had been a very long time, so long that I look like a different person in my last head shot. And the one before that, I looked like I was in kindergarten.
But something happened – a good thing – that required that I have a new head shot and so I called the photographer that I’ve known for thirty years. She insisted that the shot be outdoors. She had a favorite spot downtown. I wanted it to be in a park so there would be leaves in the background. She said it had to be an hour before sunset but those hours were always cloudy and sometimes rainy.
Finally, there was sun. I gave up the park idea and met her downtown. It was very cold – 35 degrees – and windy. I wore a blue sweater because my daughter who is learned in these things and never takes a bad picture told me to wear blue. “Don’t wear black, Mom,” she said, knowing that my closet is full of black clothes.
I met the photographer downtown at her favorite spot but the parking meter wouldn’t work and then she realized she’d forgotten a card for her camera and had to go fetch one and then the time was getting short because I had to go get my new implant turned on. But it was all okay because we were talking about everything, having known each other for so long, and she was telling me what to do, where to look, and always, again and again, to smile, which I never do in photos. But there was something about the sun and the wind and her telling me to smile more that just made me forget about myself.
There were a lot of great photos but this is one of my favorites. It isn’t terrible to be 75, sometimes it’s a joyous, beautiful thing. I’m glad that feeling, fleeting as it often is, got captured on film.