a trip to IKEA

I know it may seem as if I have fallen off the face of the earth lately because I’ve posted less often than usual but I am still here.

Well, not my usual “here” as I am in London visiting daughter E and her family. Yesterday, E and granddaughter JG took us to IKEA for the first time. While there are IKEAs in the US, none of them are near our home. E was explaining that in some places, like Germany, rentals tend to have just the four walls so stores like IKEA offer furnishings for whole rooms as a package.

We ate lunch there. Of course, I had to try the Swedish meatballs. They reminded me a bit of the Swedish meatballs my mom used to make using a recipe from her Swedish neighbor. None of this putting sour cream in the gravy nonsense!

I’m still struggling a bit with jet lag but slept almost normal hours last night. Today is the first day of the half-term break for granddaughter ABC and for son-in-law L. We are hoping to do a bit of sight-seeing next week, although we may try to do gardens and outdoor venues as much as possible. We need to stay COVID-free if at all possible!

I’ll try to get some posts out in the coming days. I had intended to write a post about the mass shooting in Buffalo but then the Texas school shooting happened so I need to expand somewhat.

Stay tuned…

SoCS: inbox

Sigh. If I’m ever going to clear out my inbox, I need to stop doing this and go back to that.
*****
This extremely brief Stream of Consciousness Saturday post is in response to Linda’ s prompt “clear.” Join us! Find out more here: https://lindaghill.com/2022/05/20/the-friday-reminder-and-prompt-for-socs-may-21-2022/

upcoming reunion

Later this week, I will travel to Northampton, Massachusetts to attend my fortieth reunion at Smith College. We only found out on March first that our reunion would be on campus rather than virtual, so a lot of direct preparation was done relatively quickly and closer to the event than in prior iterations.

One unexpected task that fell to me was updating our class website. I was lucky that it was built on the WordPress platform, although it was still using the classic rather than the block editor. Fortunately, I have been blogging long enough that I had experience with the older editor, although it did take a fair amount of reaching into my memory banks to resurrect some of the particulars. It was also good that there were templates in place from our reunion five years ago so that I didn’t have to build from scratch.

I am fortunate to live close enough to drive, so I didn’t have to worry about plane reservations. I did decide to come into town a day early to see some friends who live in the area before reunion begins. Due to pandemic protocols, the campus is not open to the public as it usually is, so it made sense to see friends before and then stay on campus exclusively once reunion begins.

All alums and guests had to prove they are vaccinated and boosted to register to attend. Many of the activities and meals will be held outdoors with masks in use for indoor events other than while eating and drinking. Campus will be very busy because our reunion coincides with commencement weekend this year, so the seniors and their guests, along with students who are participating in or working for the festivities and staff members, will be thronging the buildings and grounds. (It could be worse. All reunions used to be held on commencement weekend. Now, only some are with the rest happening the following weekend.)

I’m working on final preparations for packing. I have to remember to bring an all-white outfit for the Ivy Day parade and ceremony, one of the very-long-standing traditions of the College. I’ll need to be prepared for the changeable weather of a New England spring. I also need to be prepared to deal with my new orthodontia, which is causing more than a little anxiety.

The most fraught thing is trying to decide what to bring for one of our class events. We are having an open mic-style reading of things from our student days. I’ve known for months that this was planned but I was in no mood to look back that far. Our class theme is “Writing Our Next Chapter” and I would have much preferred looking forward, but I recently decided that I should look for something to add to the event.

B helped me excavate some of my old memorabilia boxes. To my shock, I found some papers going back to elementary school, including a poetry journal that I had thought was lost long ago. There were some high school papers, too. I read an interview assignment that a friend and I had done in journalism class our senior year. The bulk of the papers were from college, though. Note books from some of my most important classes. Music I had written for theory and composition classes. Yellow books for midterm exams and blue books for finals. Final papers carefully typed on corrasable bond.

I had hoped to find some of my letters but their whereabouts are still a mystery. I did, though, find the one notebook that I thought might have something from my college years worth sharing – a journal that I was assigned to keep as part of an adult psychology course I took the fall semester of my senior year.

The journal was designed to be self-reflective, as well as responding to course readings and discussions, so I thought I might find something personally substantive rather than just academic to share. Something that represented who I was at twenty-one. Something that would be authentic but not totally mortifying in hindsight.

And I did.

Before I go on, I should explain what that semester was like for me. I was taking adult psychology and a course on women and philosophy, an early foray into what eventually evolved into the women and gender studies department. I chose these courses in hopes of learning things that would be helpful to me in my life after graduation. I was also taking a seminar in music composition and preparing for my senior recital, a full-length organ program on stage at John M. Greene Hall. B and I were engaged and our wedding was already planned at Smith a few weeks after my commencement. I was very much in a preparatory mode for my future “adult” life.

And then, things happened.

There were two unexpected deaths in October. The first was a classmate who was killed in a plane accident over October break. The second was B’s grandfather, his last remaining grandparent. Then, at Thanksgiving in late November, B had a bad car accident, as in, his car wound up on its roof in an icy, but thankfully shallow, river. He wasn’t injured but we were both traumatized at how close he came to disaster.

So, here I am, forty-and-a-half years later reading this journal…

I was surprised by how astute I was in my analysis, by how much of what I consider to be my core identity now was already there. The high school interview I found in the memorabilia box described me as “serious”; my college friends would most likely have used that word, too. The advantage I have looking back now is that I can recognize the role of my level of introversion, my need to ponder extensively before I speak, my discomfort at speaking in groups, my penchant for wanting to understand and integrate everything, what I now recognize as the gifts of being an INFJ and an HSP but what I thought of then as traits I could change if I just tried hard and long enough.

I had forgotten how painfully aware I was of these things about myself and how I congratulated myself when I managed to cover them in social situations. Over the ensuing decades, I would get more practiced at this but my core has remained the same. Just in the last few years, when introversion has been more in public view with books like Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking by Susan Cain, I’ve come to understand that there isn’t any shame in being who I am. As I’ve weathered the final years of my parents’ lives and the pandemic, it’s become more evident to me that I need to take my inherent nature into account as I plan my “next chapters”. While there will always be some situations in which I need to make myself heard in a large group discussion or react quickly to an event, I will try to tailor most of my activities to play to my strengths and not waste energy on pretending to be someone who is outgoing and quick on my feet.

I am comforted by knowing that I had the same core at twenty-one that I have at sixty-one and that I understood more about myself at that age than I expected. I suppose that some people might be perturbed to discover such resonance with their younger selves, as though it meant that they hadn’t learned anything or grown over the decades. For me, though, I recognize that I have grown and changed and learned from my experience, all while staying true to my authentic core as a person.

I look at this journal now with what I hope are wiser eyes than the somewhat bleary ones of a college senior scrawling long-hand in a notebook, getting ready to graduate, marry, move to a new state, and deal with any number of unexpected things.

I hope I’m wise enough now to choose a passage to share at reunion that gives a sense of who I was then and still am today.

JC’s Confessions #23

In the first few seasons of The Late Show, Stephen Colbert did a recurring skit, then a best-selling book, called Midnight Confessions, in which he “confesses” to his audience with the disclaimer that he isn’t sure these things are really sins but that he does “feel bad about them.” While Stephen and his writers are famously funny, I am not, so my JC’s Confessions will be somewhat more serious reflections, but they will be things that I feel bad about. Stephen’s audience always forgives him at the end of the segment; I’m not expecting that – and these aren’t really sins – but comments are always welcome.

JC

National Poetry Month Edition:

I’ve been struggling to regain my sense of myself as a poet.

This is ironic because, when I first turned to poetry as a means of self-expression ten or so years ago, I didn’t have any problem calling myself a poet. I was writing poems, so I was a poet. I remember early on reading a short essay from a person who had an MFA in poetry, had published at least one book, and was editing a poetry journal, but couldn’t bring himself to say that he was a poet because he wasn’t suffering for his art. I was perplexed.

I managed to still think of myself as a poet through the labyrinth of dealing with years of family health and caretaking issues. I was still writing and workshopping and doing residencies with the Boiler House Poets Collective and doing sessions with the Binghamton Poetry Project and Broome County Arts Council. I wasn’t submitting to journals as much as I should have, but I did put together two manuscripts, one chapbook and one full-length collection, which I started submitting to contests and publishers. In recent months, I have also been submitting individual poems to journals more often.

Perhaps I had forgotten the level of rejection that is inherent in the submission process. Some of the recent rejections I have received with manuscripts have chosen one for publication from a field of 800-900. I mean, do the math. Somehow, though, even knowing that the odds are not remotely in my favor has not shielded me from questioning whether I am a publishable poet, or even a poet at all.

Meanwhile, several of my poet-friends have published or are in the process of publishing their first books. I’m very happy for them and buy and help promote their work but it makes me wonder what is wrong with me that I’m only garnering a long list of rejections. What does it say about me that, when I see publication credits for other poets, I can often mentally tick off which of their presses have rejected me?

Things are better these past few weeks. The publications of my work for an Ekphrastic Review challenge and in Wilderness House Literary Review buoyed me through the latest round of journal and manuscript rejections that the spring has brought. I’ve participated in National Poetry Month projects with the Broome County and Tioga Arts Councils. Binghamton Poetry Project has been having their spring workshops, so I’ve been working on craft and writing from their prompts, once or twice a week. I’ve even gotten several unsolicited comments from my blog posts, saying that I am a good writer, which is somehow still encouraging of my sense as a poet. Writing is writing, whatever the form.

The question is whether I can keep my re-discovered sense of my identity as a poet from being buried by the avalanche of rejections that are sure to come. When I first set a goal of publishing a book by the time I was sixty, a goal that I failed to meet, I told myself that it didn’t matter if I ever published a book. After all, it’s not that I write for a living.

It would be best if I can get back to concentrating on reaching people with my work within my community sphere. I do consider myself to be an accessible, community poet. If I can do that, then I could look at publishing in a broader context as a bonus if it happens, not as a measure of my worth as a poet.

Please remind me when I am in doubt again.

sadly, again

Yesterday was Holocaust Remembrance Day, a yearly reminder of massive cruelty and death and an attempt at genocide against the Jewish people during World War II.

It is common to say “never again” but we have continued to see civil wars and government/military actions against civilians and particular groups across the world over these intervening decades, a list so long I will not attempt to compile it here.

Presently, most of the world is watching in horror as Putin’s invasion of Ukraine continues. Because of modern technology and press and residents on the ground, we see the bodies of civilians left in the streets, the cities bombed into rubble, the mass graves. We hear the first-hand accounts of survivors of what they have witnessed and endured, including rape, kidnapping, and torture.

So far, the condemnation of the the vast majority of countries in the United Nations General Assembly, wide-ranging sanctions against Russia, and supplying military and humanitarian aid to Ukraine have not stopped Putin’s aggression and escalation of atrocities. Over and over, Russia has said they will allow ceasefires and humanitarian corridors for evacuation of civilians and for aid to those who are staying but they have never followed through.

In recent days, United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres met in person with Russian Federation President Vladimir Putin. Putin has agreed “in principle” to UN and International Red Cross involvement in humanitarian aid and evacuation of civilians from the besieged city of Mariupol. Talks are ongoing but there is at least hope that there will be some relief for civilians soon.

Meanwhile, Russia is continuing its saber-rattling, signaling that it wants to sweep from eastern Ukraine across the entire south along the Black Sea and into the neighboring country of Moldova. It is also threatening the countries who are aiding Ukraine and sanctioning Russia with retaliation and possible use of weapons of mass destruction. There is already massive evidence that Russia has violated many international laws and even committed war crimes, but, so far, the international community has not been able to stop the war, death, and destruction.

One tool that the UN has is action by the Security Council but Russia is a permanent member with veto power and has blocked all efforts at this. This week, there has been a resolution adopted by the General Assembly which will require any of the five permanent member states who exercises a Security Council veto to appear within ten days before the General Assembly so that all member states can scrutinize and comment on the veto. While they can’t override the veto, it’s at least a public and official action.

Here is a three-paragraph quote from the United Nations story linked above:

“Noting that all Member States had given the Council the primary responsibility for the maintenance of international peace and security, and agreed that it acts on their behalf, he [Liechtenstein’s Ambassador, Christian Wenaweser] underscored that the veto power comes with the responsibility to work to achieve ‘the purposes and principles of the UN Charter at all times‘.

“ ‘We are, therefore, of the view that the membership as a whole should be given a voice when the Security Council is unable to act, in accordance with this Assembly’s functions and powers reflected in the Charter,’ particularly Article 10, he said.

“Article 10 spells out that the Assembly may discuss any questions or matters within the scope of the Charter or the powers and functions of any organs provided for within it, and, except as provided in Article 12, ‘may make recommendations to the Members of the United Nations or to the Security Council or to both on any such questions or matters.’ ”

Meanwhile, we are all watching and hearing about the immense suffering and death every day and trying to be supportive but realizing that we don’t have the power to end this war with a just peace. Part of the tension is not knowing what the next day or week or month will bring.

I was not alive during World War II but wonder if the feelings of apprehension and helplessness are similar to what people felt then. The difference now is that we have much greater access to accurate information in near-real time than was available then. We don’t have to wait for the liberation of concentration camps to see the full extent of the horrors as we did with the Holocaust. We can see the bodies of executed civilians in the streets; the bombed hospitals, schools, and apartment buildings; the mass graves. We can hear the stories of women who were raped by soldiers, civilians injured by Russian bullets or bombs, people who are trying to survive without food or water in besieged cities.

It’s not “never again.” It’s now. In Ukraine. In Afghanistan. In Ethiopia. In South Sudan. In Syria. In Yemen. In too many places to list them all.

Perhaps “never again” at this point is a call to never again turn away from those who are suffering, to never again say it is someone else’s problem, to never again stay silent in the face of injustice and destruction.

A call to refuse to surrender to hopelessness that there will ever be an end to war and violence. A call to make that hope into reality.

One-Liner Wednesday: taking sides

We must always take sides. Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim.

Elie Wiesel

Join us for Linda’s One-Liner Wednesdays! Find out more here: https://lindaghill.com/2022/04/27/one-liner-wednesday-bring-back-confucius/

Pfizer study exit

As you many recall, spouse B, daughter T, and I have all been participants in the Pfizer/BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine Phase III clinical trial since summer of 2020. B and T received the vaccine while I was in the placebo group, although I received the vaccine through the trial after the emergency use authorization came through. All three of us continued in the study of third doses.

I had hoped that Pfizer would extend our study to include fourth doses but they have decided not to do so. After researching and discussion with family and medical practitioners, I have chosen to end my participation in the trial early in order to receive a fourth shot, which I did on Saturday.

In the US at this point, government and public health officials are not making COVID policy as much as providing information for individual decision-making. I admit that this is frustrating as community behavior is so important with pandemics in general and the increasingly contagious omicron variants in particular. Emphasis has also shifted away from individual infection rates and toward making sure there aren’t enough serious infections to cause the health system to collapse.

My priority is still to try to avert infection. I don’t want to be sick if I can help it. While rates of hospitalization and death are low among those vaxxed and boosted, serious cases are still possible. While some are lucky to have no or mild symptoms, many still feel like they are suffering the worst flu/virus ever, being out of commission for at last a week. I am also concerned about the risk of long COVID, estimated to affect as much as thirty percent to over forty percent of total cases. Vaccination is estimated to halve the risk. (Please note that definitions of long COVID and the risk factors are currently in flux. As more data are collected and analyzed, these estimates will likely change.) Due to some factors in my family history, I may be at increased risk for developing long COVID. I also know that COVID infection can cause severe flares in people with interstitial cystitis, which I have.

I am very concerned about the possibility of inadvertently infecting others, including my family. I also have several immunocompromised friends who I want to protect.

Infection rates are high in my county now. I am continuing to mask in public and am back to avoiding crowds, including church services, concerts, and plays. Even with the high case counts here, most people are not taking precautions so I am being extra careful.

The boost to resistance to infection is likely to be short-lived, only a few weeks, but this is a critical time for me to have that extra protection. In mid-May, I am travelling to Northampton, Massachusetts to attend my 40th reunion at Smith College. The protocols there are strict, including mandatory vaccination and boosters, indoor masking, and many outdoor activities, so I feel relatively safe attending.

Ten days after my return, B, T, and I will travel to London, UK to visit daughter E and her family. Again, we will be very cautious with our behavior to avoid infection. We also want to protect our family, especially granddaughters ABC and JG who are too young to be vaccinated. JG is even too young to mask.

I’m happy to report that my side effects from my fourth shot have been mild, mostly a sore arm and a bit of tiredness.

I am grateful to Meridian Clinical Research who handled the trial locally and to Pfizer and BioNTech for developing the vaccine and getting it out to so many people so quickly. I am happy to have been of service by participating in the trial and stand ready to participate in additional clinical trials as they become available.

I will close with my accustomed plea for people to do all they can to end the pandemic with whatever means are available to them – vaccines, distancing, masking, avoiding crowds, increasing ventilation, etc. The pandemic is not over and our lack of attention only increases the possibility of new variants and extends the length of time before SARS-CoV-2 becomes endemic.

Tioga Arts Council reading

Following up from this post about the National Poetry Month events with the Tioga Arts Council, I’m pleased to say that the reading yesterday at their gallery in Owego (NY) was a great success!

We had six poets, including my friends Merrill Oliver Douglas and Jessica Dubey, who each read a poem by another poet and one of our own. The selections were varied and I was introduced to some poets who were new to me.

We then heard from several people who are working with poetry in translation. Being able to translate poetry into a different language is an art form in and of itself and we were treated to hearing poems that were originally written in Bosnian, Slovene, and German. We even got to hear the poet Adin Ljuca read his work in Bosnian! Thanks to Erin Riddle, who coordinated that part of the program.

And thanks again to Christina Di Stefano for her leadership of the Tioga Arts Council, for her inclusion of poets and writers along with the visual and performing artists, for her gracious introductions at the reading, and for all the organizing that brought us together.

SoCS: two

I have two sisters.

Two daughters.

Two granddaughters.

I had two parents, but they are both gone now. A few days ago, we observed the first wedding anniversary for them since Paco died last September. They celebrated 65 anniversaries together and this year would have been 68.

I can’t start recording all my losses. Too many.

I will instead, today, cherish the pairs that I still have with me.
*****
Linda’s prompt for Stream of Consciousness Saturday this week is “too/to/two.” Join us! Find out more here: https://lindaghill.com/2022/04/22/the-friday-reminder-and-prompt-for-socs-april-23-2022/

One-Liner Wednesday: last April

Revisiting last year’s Broome County Arts Council’s recorded readings for National Poetry Month, with Yours Truly in week three: https://broomearts.org/education/the-gift-of-poets/

Join us for Linda’s One-Liner Wednesdays! Find out more here: https://lindaghill.com/2022/04/20/one-liner-wednesday-love-and-compassion/

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