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…

My 40th reunion at Smith

Last week, I attended my fortieth reunion at Smith College in Northampton, Massachusetts. For those who may not be familiar, Smith is a women’s liberal arts college, chartered in 1871, one of the traditional Seven Sisters, five of whom remain as women’s colleges.

I came into town a day early in order to meet up with an alumna friend who lives in Northampton and graduated a year before me. Her sister was a member of my class and passed away in fall 2020. I was honored to be able to commemorate her at the Service of Remembrance during our reunion. My ’81 friend and I enjoyed hours of conversation on her front porch, followed by dinner on the porch at Mulino’s, an Italian restaurant that did not exist back in my student days.

I stayed at the historic Hotel Northampton, which has fun features like a mail slot near the elevators on each floor that connects to a large brass mailbox on the main floor for pick-up by the postal service every morning. I also got to do a bit of shopping at Thorne’s Marketplace, a collection of local shops and restaurants housed in a grand historic building. Thorne’s was a fairly new undertaking back in my undergrad days and I’m glad to see that it continues to thrive. I bought some cards and gifts and books and made two trips to Herrell’s ice cream shop. I got a sampler each time, so I got to enjoy eight – count ’em, eight! – of their delicious homemade flavors. This will surprise no one that knows me. I also got to have lunch at Fitzwilly’s, a restaurant/bar that was also relatively new during my student days. I had mac ‘n cheese that featured fresh asparagus from a farm in nearby Hadley. I love asparagus, which is one of the glories of spring in New England; it reminds me of going with my parents to harvest a patch near my father’s hydro station, a remnant of a garden from an old company-owned house that had been torn down.

On Thursday afternoon, I went up to campus for the duration of reunion. Because of the pandemic, everyone had to have proof of vaccination and boosting to register and many of the meals and events were held outdoors. Indoor events were masked, except while eating and drinking. I immediately met up with some of my ’82 friends and the celebration began!

One of the things about Smith reunions – and Smith alums in general – is that we somehow manage to have meaningful conversations with each other at the drop of a hat. Perhaps because of our shared liberal arts background, we are engaged with a broad range of topics across current affairs, public policy, arts and culture, and on and on. Of course, the deepest conversations happen with our close friends but there is a lot of sharing of ideas with acquaintances, too. In retrospect, I wish I had prepared a succinct answer to the question “What do you do?” Lacking a shorthand reply, like “I’m a lawyer, working for this government agency” or “I teach at such-and-such school”, I found myself stumbling to explain forty years of my life in any brief, comprehensible way.

Unlike the vast majority of my classmates, I’ve done little paid work in my life. I’ve devoted many years to being a caregiver of both elder and younger generations, with more than our share of medical issues. I’ve volunteered in church music and liturgical ministry and facilitated a spiritual book study group. During my daughters’ years in public school I served on curriculum committees and shared decision making teams and helped design the honors program at the high school. I joined NETWORK, a national Catholic social justice lobby, in 2000 to advocate for social justice. I was part of the anti-fracking movement in New York which finally achieved an administrative and later legislative ban in our state; this led to ongoing involvement in the fight for climate and environmental justice. There is my writing life, as a blogger and poet.

This does not condense into an easy answer to “What do you do?” but it does constitute the bulk of my adult life, which would not have been as rich and varied were it not for my Smith education. The ideal of a liberal arts education is that you “learn how to learn.” By studying across the spectrum of academic disciplines, one absorbs different approaches to real-life issues, enabling critically sound and creative solutions that promote well-being for ourselves and others and for our environment.

Maybe I should have replied, “Just forty years of being liberal-artsy.”

The other thing that I hadn’t quite prepared myself for was the flood of family memories. Because it was only an hour-ish drive to campus, my parents visited often for concerts and events. They were there for my recitals in Helen Hills Hills Chapel and John M. Greene Hall. They visited at Haven House where I lived all four of my years on campus. There were there, of course, at B and my wedding, a few weeks after commencement with the reception at the Alumnae House. This reunion was the first time since their deaths that I was back on campus and missing them added another layer to the strange mix of familiarity and difference that the passage of forty years brings. For example, I thought about my parents when we were attending the remembrance service, sitting in rows of chairs where the pews had once stood. The pews were removed years ago to allow for more flexible use of the space but their absence felt strangely current when I remembered B and my parents there in the front pews on either side for our wedding.

I also found myself missing my mother in particular among the spring flowers. We were blessed with unusually warm weather for mid-May and the flowers and trees were blooming simultaneously and profusely in response. The scent of the lilacs between the President’s House and the Quad, where we were staying, was so overwhelming I nearly choked. There were lily-of-the valley in bloom, which are Nana’s birth flower. What would have been her 90th birthday was the day after reunion and the third anniversary of her death is a few days from now.

I’m grateful to have been among friends who could support me with this grief aspect. Many of us have lost our parents now, with some still in the phase of dealing with their final years and indeterminate endpoint. As classmates, we were also dealing with the deaths of more of our ’82ers, adding to the list that, sadly, began during our senior year when we lost one classmate in a plane accident and a second to cancer. That’s why I and some friends always make a point to attend the service of remembrance during reunion. We want to honor our departed ones and their importance in our lives, even if they left us long ago. After the service, we visited the memorial tree planted beside the chapel in honor of our classmate Beth. We took a photo which we will send to her mother, who I know finds comfort that we remember her all these decades after her death.

While the central activity in reunion is visiting friends, there are plenty of other things to keep us busy. Some are long-standing traditions, such as Ivy Day when the alums, wearing white, parade between rows of the graduating seniors, also wearing white and carrying red roses, welcoming them into the community of alumnae. The night before commencement, the central campus is illuminated with Japanese lanterns. People stroll among them with live music in several locations.

There are also a number of lectures, receptions, and concerts. The President gave an update on the state of the college. Everyone is very excited that grants are replacing loans in financial aid packages at Smith, making an education possible without graduating in debt. Smith also highlights its accessibility for students who are the first generation in their family to attend college. That was my situation forty years ago but it was not recognized in the way it is today. I also attended two lectures of interest. One was how the Botanic Gardens are being re-imagined in keeping with the UN Sustainable Development Goals and best practices for preserving species in the face of climate change, all with an eye toward education and social/environmental justice. The other was about the transition of campus to ground-source heating and cooling, which will be a major contributor to Smith being carbon-neutral by 2030 without making extensive use of purchased off-sets. I was particularly interested in this because of the projects we have done at our home to reduce our carbon footprint and because my church is in the process of drawing up a strategic plan to reduce or eliminate our use of fossil fuels.

Besides college activities, we had a few opportunities just for our class. I alluded to one in this post – an open mic event to read something from our college years. I chose a passage from my adult psychology course journal about my experience coming from a tiny town to Smith. A few of us had brought something with us but we had time to do additional sharing which was fun. Our class theme for Reunion was “Writing Our Next Chapter” and I appreciated that our futures also came into that discussion.

We were also honored to have a preview screening of Where I Became, a documentary about South African students who came to Smith during apartheid. Our classmate Jane Dawson Shang is co-producer and shared some of her experiences making the film. When it becomes publicly available, I will surely share that information here at Top of JC’s Mind so everyone can see the remarkable story of these women.

Reunions at Smith are always exhilarating but exhausting. I had originally planned to attend commencement on Sunday morning but opted for quiet conversation with friends. Walking 17-20,ooo steps a day for three days straight in hot. humid weather proved to be a bit much for my feet and ankles, which swelled rather impressively.

It also meant that my reunion experience ended with what is always most important, sharing with friends in a place that was instrumental to our lives. I hope to see some of them and return to campus before our next reunion.

Five years seems too long to wait.

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.

orthodontia

I’ve spent years dealing with other people’s orthodontia. Spouse B in his twenties needed braces to correct his bite and preserve his teeth for the long haul. Both of our daughters inherited his jaw and went through an assortment of jaw growth appliances, full wires, headgear, and retainers.

I did a lot of traipsing people to appointments and making soft foods and supervising tooth hygiene and such, but never had to directly deal with orthodontia myself.

Until now.

My mouth has always been small for my teeth. I had to have all four of my impacted wisdom teeth removed surgically because there was nowhere for them to go. My bite had been good in my younger years, so I hadn’t had to worry about braces, but, as I’ve aged, my teeth have moved and crowded together in such a way that my bite is affected. In order to preserve my teeth for what we are hoping will be another couple of decades, I needed to take action.

Last week, I started treatment with the Invisalign system. Several weeks before, my dentist’s office had taken a series of digital photos and measurements, which Invisalign used to create fifteen pairs of clear aligners which will gradually shift the teeth into their new positions. Each set is worn for two to three weeks. There are little pegs bonded to some of my teeth to help keep the aligners in place, although they fit pretty tightly on their own. The system is designed for the aligners to be worn at least 20-22 hours a day. They need to be removed to eat or drink anything other than cool to room temperature water.

Adjusting to this is…a process.

I’m finding that taking the liners in and out is subject to a fairly steep learning curve. By design, the liners are tightly fit and put pressure on the teeth to shift them, so there is a fair amount of finesse required to get them out and then snapped back in place. As you can imagine, the teeth of a 61-year-old are not especially inclined to move quickly in a new direction and will probably noticeably loosen a bit to accomplish this, but these first few days are causing considerable discomfort, especially during the removal and insertion process, while brushing, and while eating. Due to my particular problems, biting into anything with my front teeth is not possible at the moment.

My mouth is fairly comfortable when the liners are in, so I am minimizing the number of times I have them out. Fortunately, I often only eat twice a day and don’t snack or drink anything other than water between meals, so I’m cutting down on the amount of pain. I’m trying not to catastrophize this initial adjustment period as indicative of the eight to nine months of expected treatment time. I spoke with the dentist’s office yesterday and, while I seem to be on the more severe side of the discomfort scale, they expect that I will get adjusted soon and then be more in line with the usual day or two of discomfort when progressing to a new set of liners.

We did decide to adjust when I would make that move due to a personal commitment. Rather than moving to set two next Wednesday night, I am going to delay to the following Sunday. As it happens, I will be travelling to Northampton, Massachusetts, that Wednesday to attend my fortieth reunion at Smith College. There will be lots of group meals and receptions and some longer periods of time when my liners will need to be out, so it’s best to not have the extra pain and complication of a new set of liners thrown in on top of that.

I’m also hoping that I will be more adept at getting the liners in and out by then. My goal is to get to the point where I can accomplish this in under a minute. Now, it can take several (uncomfortable) minutes in front of a sink and mirror, which may be difficult, or at least embarrassing, to engineer on a campus with thousands of soon-to-be-graduates, students, staff, alums, and guests.

I am nothing if not persistent, so I will keep working on this adjustment and deal with whatever complications come my way. This trip to Northampton will be a trial run for travelling with Invisalign because B, T, and I will be heading to London late in May to visit daughter E and family. We will be there for granddaughter ABC’s fifth birthday in early June.

At least, birthday cake is easy to chew!

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.

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/

Covid red again

Like many places around the world, COVID cases are rising here in Broome County, New York (USA), so much so that we are once again in the highest risk category from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Technically, the high risk category is now orange, not red, but I used red in the title of this post because it seems to be yet another “code red” to me.

Broome County is in one of the red zones with the Covid Act Now site that I use regularly. Our current rating is “very high,” the fourth of five levels. Our seven day average is 50.2 daily cases per 100,000 residents. This figure is likely an undercount, as not all people who test positive with a home test are contacting the health department or a medical professional to report the case or seek advice and treatment. UPDATE 4/19/22: The Covid Act Now site is now using the (much less useful) CDC rating system. Fortunately, the more granular data by neighborhood is still available, as are statistics like percentage of population with booster shots.

There are a number of factors involved in the current rise in cases. Our vaccinated and boosted rate is only 35.5% so we have many vulnerable people. (While it’s true that boosted people are still vulnerable to infection, they are much less likely to fall seriously ill with COVID.) It is also likely that we have cases of two new omicron subvariants that have recently emerged in central New York. While information is still being gathered, these may be even more wildly contagious than the previous versions of omicron.

You would think that our government officials would be re-instituting indoor mask mandates, but they have yet to do so. This is what I feared would happen. When the mandates were lifted, politicians and public health experts said they were doing it to give people a break while cases were relatively low so that they could bring mandates back if we had another surge, but only a few jurisdictions, like the city of Philadelphia, are actually following through.

Instead, government officials are relying on individuals to make their own decisions. The problem is that the majority of people in the US are not seeking out credible information about the risks in their localities. As a participant in the Pfizer/BioNTech COVID vaccine trial, I have been following the science closely. Discussions with my personal medical team have reinforced the wisdom of trying to avoid or, at least, continue to postpone infection. Nearly all the public health goals at this point are aimed at reducing serious infection, hospitalization, and mortality, but I also want to avoid illness, infecting others, experiencing long-COVID, and developing complications. I had continued to wear a KF94 mask in public and avoid crowds as much as possible, including singing masked for this performance and this video. With our current infection levels, we will most likely return to take-out dining only.

I did attend Easter Vigil last night, as I knew that it would not be very crowded, unlike the services today. I was masked but the majority of attendees were not. I admit that I cringed when I heard some very loud coughing jags near the back of the church. I was sitting near the front, so I was very far away from them, but I realize that many people are infected without knowingly being in close contact.

The ease of the spread of COVID was brought home to us over the last couple of weeks. B had gone into the office for the first time in over two years because they were having a new product launch. There was only a fraction of the workforce there, all of whom were vaxxed and boosted. Despite that, B got a message three days later that a co-worker with whom he had been conversing had developed symptoms and tested positive. B immediately masked at home and kept his distance from T and I. He did not go out in public and did self-testing. I am happy to report that we are now over ten days from his exposure with no symptoms or positive test, so he is in the clear, but the story illustrates how easily one can be exposed and risk unwittingly infecting others.

I’m not sure what additional actions I may need to take for my and my family’s protection. If the numbers stay this high, I may forgo attending mass in person and return to televised or recorded services until the numbers are better. I will probably try to speak to the local researchers in charge of the Pfizer vaccine trial to see if they are planning to offer a fourth shot to those fifty and older. The CDC has opened the option for our age group to receive a fourth dose but we need to follow the study protocols to remain enrolled in the study which is still ongoing with weekly symptom checks and periodic blood draws to check antibody levels, etc. B and daughter T received their third dose last July, while I received mine in October. We are all well beyond the four-month interval to be eligible for a fourth shot, although T is not old enough to qualify. At this point, we probably have decent protection against hospitalization but not not much against infection. It’s hard to say for sure, though, because B and T are part of the data set on which such findings are based. (I’m a bit behind them because I was part of the placebo group in the initial phase of the study, so I was vaccinated and boosted later than they were.)

I am hoping that this wave in the Northeast will pass quickly. I always hope for surges to pass quickly to reduce suffering but I have an additional personal reason this time. I am scheduled to attend my 40th reunion at Smith College beginning on May 12th. It’s the first time since 2019 the event will be held in person. It’s planned in a cautious way, with all participants required to be vaxxed and boosted, many events being held outdoors, and indoor masking requirements in place except while eating or drinking. Even with a surge, we should be okay to go ahead but it will be less stressful if the surge has passed by then.

So, once again, fingers crossed. I’m doing what I can to keep myself, my family, and my community safe. I urge all of you to stay informed from credible sources in your area and take whatever steps you can with vaccination, masks, testing, medications, etc. to get the virus levels down and protect public health and your own.

We know what can happen if we don’t pay attention and act. The United States is closing in on a million known COVID-19 deaths. It’s already a stunning level of tragedy here and around the world. Please do all you can.

Five Poems in Wilderness House Literary Review!

I am pleased and excited to share the link to the latest quarterly issue of Wilderness House Literary Review, which features five of my poems. Many thanks to poetry editor Ravi Yelamanchili and the whole team at WHLR for including me in their spring issue. If you are reading this in Spring, 2022, you can access the current issue at the link above; scroll down to the Poetry section to find Joanne Corey in the list of poets and click, which will take you to my work. If it is beyond that, you can find the issue through the cumulative index as Volume 17.1 – Spring 2022. While you are there, browse the WHLR archive for poetry, essays, art, fiction, and book reviews going back to Spring 2006. You’re sure to find something that will fascinate and delight you!

I thought I’d use this post to give some background on the poems and submission process. As folks who have been following Top of JC’s Mind for a while know, the last few years have been challenging for me as my family navigated the difficult last years of B’s mom and my parents, as well as the joy of welcoming a new generation to our family coupled with the complications of having them live across an ocean from us with the pandemic adding another layer of stress.

Because of all that, I was sandwiching in writing in a rather haphazard way and not concentrating on submissions. When I did begin making myself do the fraught work of preparing submissions, I concentrated on sending out my chapbook and collection manuscripts rather than journal submissions. Usually, a goodly number of poems in a manuscript have already been published in journals and I knew that I needed to get individual poems published as journal publications are the backbone of sharing poetry. Knowing that I was struggling with doing journal submissions, my wise poet-friend Merrill Oliver Douglas counseled me to choose five poems that I liked and send them out to a bunch of journals without stressing over style or if the poems related to each other or any of the other things that were keeping me paralyzed. I did that in early February. I chose to submit to WHLR because they were one of the first journals to publish my work back in Fall, 2015, just as I was getting more deliberate about publishing my poetry and just before we entered into our intensive phase with elder care. I thought there might be one or two of the five that would interest them but I was shocked and amazed that they accepted all five. (Being a good poetry citizen, I immediately withdrew the poems from all other journals to which I had submitted them.)

The rest of this post will give some of the background to the poems. You can choose to read them first, using the links in the first paragraph, or read the rest of the post first and the poems afterwards. I’ll write about the poems in the order in which they appear.

Starting off with a trigger warning, especially for family and friends who may not be ready to read “We probably should have taken off”, which is about the death of my father, known here as Paco. I wrote the first draft in the middle of the night while I was at the Boiler House Poets Collective residency only a couple of weeks after Paco’s death and workshopped it there. I did revisions and workshopped it again with the Grapevine Poets in October – and then couldn’t bear to look at it again for several months. I did the final edits in order to send it out this winter because I knew from the reaction of the poets who had seen the drafts that it was a strong poem. It’s sometimes hard for me to tell objectively when something is strong if it is also close to me emotionally. I had originally written this poem by hand in a journal and tried to replicate the spacing I had used when I put it into the computer. The use of white space seemed to fit the mood of the poem and is a frequently employed device in contemporary poetry, although some online journals advise against it because it can be hard to replicate in their publishing software. My original rendition is probably even “spacier” than the published version due to being on a larger page.

“Sprague Suite” is an ekphrastic poem based on the exhibit Transition: Decade of Decision, Sprague Electric>>MASS MoCA, 1989-1999 by Christopher Gillooly, which was on display there in 2018. When I was at our Boiler House residency that year, I felt as if it was my second home. I was drawn to it because it told the history of the former industrial site which is now home to the Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art. I am from the North Adams area, so I also have a personal perspective on that history. The six sections of “Sprague Suite” relate to Sprague Electric, which occupied the site for several decades until 1986, manufacturing capacitors. For fun, I also played a bit with form in this poem. Sections I and VI are haiku and II and V are tanka. III and IV are my go-to, free verse. “Industrial Buddha”, the title of section V, is the name of a collage sculpture of found objects that was part of the exhibit. This poem is part of my full-length poetry collection which is currently submitted to several contests and publishers.

“In my purse” began as a Binghamton Poetry Project prompt in fall of 2020. We were studying list poems and the power of juxtaposition. I’m a fan of list poems and had written several previously. When we write from prompts, we only have about ten minutes to draft, so the poems tend to be relatively short. There is also so little time to plan or ponder that words often fall onto the page in unexpected ways, which is perfect for a list poem where juxtaposition is everything. Thinking this quickly-generated draft had potential, I decided to workshop it with Grapevine and revise it to send out to journals. I’m so happy it has found a home at Wilderness House Literary Review!

“Zoom Wedding – October 4, 2020” also began as a Binghamton Poetry Project prompt in summer 2020. We were to begin a poem with a line from Ocean Vuong’s searing “Aubade with Burning City” about the final evacuation from Saigon in 1975. We were, however, to take our poem in a different direction. I chose the line, “He fills a teacup with champagne, brings it to her lips.” Given that we were then in the early months of the pandemic with public health rules making large gatherings impossible, I recast the line to open the story of a couple forced to cancel a long-planned June wedding and instead hold it in October via Zoom, which, for future readers who might see this after Zoom has been merged, renamed, or supplanted by newer technologies, is a video conferencing platform that gained ascendency when everything from business meetings to church services to family gatherings had to be cancelled or held virtually instead of in person. I began the draft during our BPP session and finished it the next day. I workshopped it with the Grapevine Poets, but then set it aside. I made some revisions in order to send it out this winter. I wasn’t sure if it would appeal to anyone as most people are trying to move beyond the pandemic, even though it hasn’t ended. Thankfully, with vaccines and treatments available, in-person gatherings are much safer in 2022 than they were in 2020.

“Monroe Bridge Mail” was drafted in May 2021 as I prepared to go on a private writing retreat back to North Adams to finish the manuscript which I referenced in the “Sprague Suite” section above. While I went to high school in North Adams, my actual hometown is Monroe Bridge, then home to about two hundred people, about twenty miles distant. I wanted to have some more Monroe Bridge poems in the collection, so I wrote this about our post office. I chose to employ a more conversational, storyteller mode, with long sentences and asides. It is a lot of fun to read aloud, which I had the opportunity to do at the Vestal Museum last summer.

Whew! Long post. If you have made it this far, thank you and congratulations! Please feel free to comment below. I love to know what people are thinking about my poems and/or posts.

JC’s Confessions #22

In the first few seasons of The Late Show, Stephen Colbert did a recurring skit, now 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

I have never seen any of The Godfather movies and hope I never do.

I have seen (more) clips (than I care to) enough to know that it is way, way, way beyond my level of tolerance for violence.

As an Italian-American on my mother’s side, I shudder at the stereotyping of being part of the Mafia when that is such a small segment of the Italian-American experience, certainly totally divorced from my family’s life in rural New England.

Because this is the fiftieth anniversary of the first film in the trilogy, there have been pieces in the media galore about the significance of the films, the references that have become part of modern parlance, and, surprisingly, a lot of people claiming that they understood what it was to become an adult because of The Godfather.

I think I managed that last part on my own without the movie, thank you very much.

I know that love and commitment to family are eminently possible without violence and that threatening or injuring or killing someone is not the way to solve problems.

In the movie You’ve Got Mail, Tom Hanks’s character, in trying to coach Meg Ryan’s character about business, quotes lessons from The Godfather frequently, including “It’s not personal – it’s business.”

And maybe that is the root of the problem for me – and perhaps the reason I would not make it in the business world. To me, everything is personal. If I’m going to watch a movie, it will affect me personally and violence, especially fictionalized violence, is not something I want to let rattle around in my mind.

So, perhaps, I have broken my own JC’s Confessions rule in that I don’t actually feel bad about not having seen The Godfather. Let’s just consider it my own tiny, countercultural protest.

(Cue dramatic music)

memorial

Daughter T and I have been preparing memorials to honor Nana and Paco (my parents) and brought them to the building in the memorial park where their cremains are inurned a couple of days ago.

The memorial for Nana is one of her favorite bud vases filled with lily-of-the-valley, which was her birth flower. She always loved them and we would pick bouquets of them every year to bring to her for Mother’s Day and her birthday. Shortly after we bought our home in the late ’80s, we dug some pips from spouse B’s and my childhood yards and transplanted them. As lily-of-the-valley spread aggressively, we now have a large patch in our backyard and they always bloom in mid-May. The flowers in Nana’s vase now have to be artificial as fresh flowers aren’t allowed but it means there will always be a reminder of May near her grave.

Paco’s memorial was created by granddaughter T. She took an empty Irish whiskey bottle and filled it with a rainbow of origami birds. Paco was not a big drinker but he was Irish and Nana used to always make him a Blarney cake which featured Irish whiskey around St. Patrick’s Day and his birthday in March. T meticulously folded 320 tiny origami birds to fill the bottle with the colors of the rainbow. It reminds me of this photo of Paco’s trip of a lifetime to Ireland, inserted into the brief window after Nana’s death but before the pandemic descended.

Paco and an Irish rainbow

It was also the first time for Trinity to visit since the placement of a service medallion for Paco, a bronze replica of a triangularly folded US flag with the inscription “Veteran U.S. Navy”. Paco had served as a Navy SeaBee (Construction Battalion) in both the Second World War and the Korean Conflict. He didn’t talk about his service that much when we were young, but in retirement he often wore a SeaBees cap when he was out and about. It was touching that folks would thank him for his service all those decades later.

Yesterday would have been Paco’s 97th birthday. With spring arriving, the bulk of the estate work done, and our memorials placed, I’m beginning to feel a bit more settled and at peace than I have for a long time. Nana and Paco are eternally reunited and remembered with love, flowers, and a rainbow.

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