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LETTERS FROM WAKE ROBIN FARM

Glennon Doyle, My Take

A couple of weeks ago my husband asked me if I had heard of a writer named Glennon Doyle, because he was reading a big profile of her in The New Yorker magazine.  Well, I hadn't, but with a million and a half Instagram followers hanging on her every word, maybe I should have?

 

So I started her most recent book, Untamed, to see why so many people were drawn to her advice.  For a few chapters I was like, well, okay.  Her writing was punchy and readable and certainly much more fun than Eckart Tolle, whose classic, The Power of Now, had been my previous read.  She was good at setting up scenes, how she met and fell in love with soccer star Abby Wambach.

 

Apparently some readers have been upset by the ways she changed since her first books; they liked the Glennon who was saved from bulimia and alcoholism by Christianity, by getting married and becoming the mother of three children.  They didn't like the idea of ditching her husband for a woman and dismissing a lot of her own previous advice, particularly since they had taken so much of it so fervently to heart.

 

Well, I didn't have any problem with the lesbian relationship or ditching the paternalistic aspects of Christianity.  I didn't disagree with her ideas about being honest with yourself, living your most beautiful, most authentic life and all that. The causes and charities she directs her followers to support—immigrant children at the border—are important.  So I kept reading, entertained, only  brought up short occasionally by her hammer-on-the-head style of attributing quotes to herself and others that just don't sound like things people IRL would actually say. Canned sermons forced into dialogue grate on me.

 

Untamed was beginning to seem to me like an odd new hybrid.  We've long had a tradition of the trainwreck memoir, the author describing the trouble she got into and how she survived it, leaving the reader to take what she can from it by way of inspiration.  I'm thinking of  Anne Lamott's charming first memoir,  Operating Instructions, in which, with endearing self-deprecation, she describes her experience of having a baby on her own.  Another was  I'm Dancing As Fast As I Can, Barbara Gordon's  1980 memoir about her addiction to Valium. It was just her story, without further prescriptions for the reader.  I thought I was doing the same thing with Accidental Addict:  Reader, here's what happened to me when kindly, well-meaning doctors prescribed me Xanax and Oxycodone. Heads up!

 

Then we have our trusted  advice columnists—Dear Abby and Ann Landers, of course, and, more recently, Amy Dickinson and Carolyn Hax.  Cheryl  Strayed's  answered queries collected in Dear Sugar were particularly insightful, I thought.  But the advice of these women is valued because they have wisdom.  They seem intuitive.  In the case of the popular Brene Brown, her advice comes from years of research and interviews with other people.

 

But here's Glennon Doyle, all navel gazing. I suppose she intended to be disarmingly confessional in telling how she cheated at vote counting to be a  homecoming princess in high school.  I wasn't worried about the cheating, I just thought it was sad and baffling that she somehow thought being a homecoming princess was such a worthy goal in the first place. She's mistaken if she assumes the rest of us all started from a place as clueless as she did.

 

Now she lives her life at breakneck speed, writing it all down as fast as she can, with precious little time to look back and reflect and give events some perspective. Hey, she's pretty sure she's solved last week's problems; she'd better get it down and explain what she's learned.  People write her, "Oh, Glennon, what shall I do?" and then she tells  them.

 

One of her biggest tenets seems to be that we should live without caring what others think.  Okay, except nobody cares what others think more than Glennon, especially since she's commercialized her private life.   She says she's now strong, happy, and confident, but claims that makes it harder for other women to like her.  Somebody got up at one of her talks and said as much, and clearly that bothered her. She complains that women just can't like other strong, happy, and confident women.  Not true!  I admire them greatly and am always looking to befriend that kind of positive energy.  I just don't see her in this category.

 

Still, I kept reading along, a half-hour each morning on my Kindle while pedaling my stationary bike. If other younger women found her helpful and comforting (and that definitely seems to be the case) who was I to be so judgmental?

 

And then, in a chapter called Invaders, Glennon writes about her struggles with depression and anxiety and gives "five pro tips for those who live too high and too low."

 

1.       TAKE YOUR DAMN MEDS "Jesus loves me, this I know, for he gave me Lexapro." So cute.  If anybody judges you for taking  your prescribed medicine? "Tell them sweetly to fuck all the way off."

2.       KEEP TAKING YOUR DAMN MEDS  She likens going off meds because you're feeling better to folding up and throwing  away your  umbrella because it's not raining anymore.

 

Um, how about finding a way to get well enough mentally that once in awhile you can stand in the rain? Standing in the sunshine is more fun without the umbrella anyway.

 

Having struggled with the effects of having been on  Xanax, Oxycodone, and yes, Glennon, Lexapro, and resisting that "return to myself" she touts by going back on the meds, I want to say that I feel a lot more empowered by having healed myself than by having my doctors keep up the prescriptions.

 

I absolutely would not judge another woman for taking psych drugs if she felt she had to, but it seems to me that Glennon Doyle's defensiveness is just as judgmental in reverse.  It takes a whole book to explain how psych drugs can be bad for people in the long run, and Robert Whitaker did it beautifully in Anatomy of an Epidemic. Glennon Doyle is trying to be the patron saint of empowerment for women and then encourages them to stay drugged? Robert Whitaker asks how it is we came to be a society where something like a third of the women have been convinced they have a brain imbalance that needs "correcting" with pharmaceuticals. Wouldn't it be better to find out what it is about our lives that has so many of us so depressed?

 

Taking or not taking anti-depressants or anti-anxiety benzodiazepines is not a moral question.  It's not even a question of empowerment.  The question is, in the long run, are these drugs helping your precious brain or hurting it?  I know how I voted in my own case and I'm so glad.  I don't care if Glennon Doyle needs to take Lexapro or her pal Elizabeth Gilbert wants to reference the casual tossing back of Xanax as she did in Eat, Pray, Love , (which I remembered as I suffered the tortures of the damned in withdrawal from that poison) but she is in no position to be advising  women they should follow her lead and stay drugged. She's as judgmental of people trying to go off their Lexapro as she feels people are of her staying on it.

 

I imagine this beautiful, no doubt charismatic woman will continue to live her life in this very public way, and it's bound to be entertaining.  So watch if you want—she definitely wants you to—but please ask yourself if she really seems like a person worthy of providing the guidance you might seek.   

  

 

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Me Too, Meghan

I honestly never had a Me Too moment on the subject of sexual  abuse, but now I'm having one regarding suicide.

 

I like watching The Crown as much as the next person, but I haven't followed the Royal Family closely, and even with all the build-up, I didn't watch Oprah's recent  interview with Meghan and Harry.

 

But when reviews quoted Meghan as saying she'd felt she just didn't want to be alive anymore, I sat up straight.  Her words had the ring of truth.  In fact, they were the same ones I said to my husband more times than I care to remember: I just don't want to be alive anymore.  Thing is, I've been in that darkest of places and I know. You're not trying to threaten or  frighten people, you're not saying, If you don't do such and such I'm just gonna kill myself! No, you're only trying to say, Hey, this is the only way I know to express how bad I feel.  And if you feel this way, you're supposed to tell somebody, right? You're supposed to give people a chance to help?

 

But what if you try to put it into words, your despair, and people want to imply that you're a drama queen? Piers Morgan obviously does not have a clue how truly horrendous it is to feel you literally don't want to be alive.  Great Rx: a public mocking.

 

I'm not revealing any big secret here, the fact that I've suffered bouts of suicidal depression; I wrote all about it in Accidental Addict.  I know all about being in that dark place, and whatever combination of circumstances and chemical imbalances puts  a person in that pit, what she needs to climb out is loving support, not to be ignored or shunned. Not to be made to feel she is being difficult.  

 

Meghan is fortunate to have in Harry a husband with the courage to do the right thing and get her the hell out of England. To break away from what was supposed to be his own support system must have required extraordinary courage. I hope their speaking up will help others suffering in this way, and I wish for them a real life happy ending that a fairytale princess story obviously does not provide.

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Pandemic Blues

 

Nobody's trying to be poetic around here, but when I looked out this dreary morning and saw my little grandson's red wheelbarrow left down in the swale where brown flood waters rushed three weeks ago, this famous piece by William Carlos Williams came to mind:

 

so much depends

upon

 

a  red wheel

barrow

 

glazed with rain

water

 

beside the white

chickens

 

 

Well, our family's chickens all live in Portland, sheltered by a sturdy coop our daughter, Mary, built under the fir trees.  We haven't seen the gorgeous granddaughter who likes to help feed these chickens since August, and we have never yet been able to meet and hold in our arms her baby sister.

 

I'm sorry,  can anybody tell me what the big deal is about this poem?

 

 

 

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Impeachment Day Flood

As I write, Nancy Pelosi is explaining to the House why President Donald Trump ought to be impeached and, in the night, the Mary's River spilled its banks and flooded our lower meadow.  The new John Legend song comes to mind, the one which has become my private Pandemic/Trump-era anthem: "Never Break."

 

As the water rises

And the mountains shake

Our love will remain

We will never break.

 

Because here we are, still together, still watching history go by. We fell in love the Spring of the Kent State shootings, and bought our first TV the summer we were married, specifically to watch the 1974 Watergate trials.

 

This fine man I signed on with forty-seven years ago is not wasting time being romantic, though.  He's taking up the electric cords for the outside Christmas lights which we've been leaving on purely as a mental health measure.  He's worrying who's in charge of warning the occupants of the ever-growing sprawl of tents at the homeless encampments  two miles downstream in town that they'd  better move.  At Wake Robin Farm, though, his first priority, our four-year-old grandson, has just arrived to set up the wooden Brio trains.

 

As for the pandemic, our daughter-in-law, a vet in Portland, got her first shot yesterday, so we know the vaccines are out there.  We have hope.

 

Hang on, everybody! 

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Announcing Family Trees: a Novel of the Northwest, by Linda Crew

I'm happy to announce that my new book is finally out, available in both ebook and print editions through Bookbaby and on Amazon Kindle.  Other print-buying options through independent book stores and online sellers will be available February 1st.

 

No, I did not hunker down last Spring at the start of the pandemic and knock out Family Trees--I think most writers got the word about Shakespeare writing King Lear while he hid out from the plague--but the focused time at home did allow me to concentrate on finally finishing it.

 

I actually began work on this novel in 2009. That September to be exact.  If I got out a calendar I could probably nail the day and hour the story sparked to life in my brain. My husband and I had gone up to Dallas to attend a large church funeral for a logger who'd recently been working for us. A question I often ask myself when starting a book is whether it's really my story to tell.  Could there be someone better positioned? That hot afternoon as I watched slides of guys with their hunting trophies, it hit me that maybe I was the writer uniquely suited to tell a story set against the backdrop of Oregon's timberlands and the business of tree farming.  Because, look—I was in the middle of it all.  My first grade true love was cul-de-sac neighbor Bruce Shepherd, whose daddy logged in the area around Valsetz.  I'd grown up knowing the families who owned the timberlands, and now my husband and I were among those who tended small acreages of trees and knew each other through the Oregon Small Woodlands Association.

 

My parents took me camping and taught me to love the forests, but figured trees were for walking under, never for cutting down.  I don't think they ever quite understood why my husband and I would want to use planting and limbing trees as our excuse for being out there in the fresh air of the forest. Why not just go fishing and have happy-hour martinis at a lake-front campsite?  But now, here we are, card-carrying members of the Nature Conservancy, but also people who sometimes hire loggers to cut down a patch of trees.  Like I said, I'm in the middle of it all.

 

Family Trees  is set in 2009-2010, and I wrote it in real time so that the concerns of the day for my characters were true to the current issues. After a couple of years, my work on the story ended up being sidelined by real life and personal stories that felt more compelling for me to write, but when I revisited it a decade after I began, I found my beloved characters waiting for me, and I was newly intrigued by my pre-pandemic depiction of life in Benton County, Oregon. Now my job was only to improve the telling of the story, adding the nuances that only ten rather difficult years of living can add to a writer's sum of wisdom.

 

My characters feel like real people to me, and I've enjoyed spending time with them so much, it's hard to finally put them into the computer and hit SEND once and for all.  I've noticed, though, that characters only truly come to life when you commit them to the page and the bridge is formed between the writer and the reader.

 

So, it's time.  To let them live, I need to release these characters to the page and the  world.  A trusted writer friend once called Family Trees "a good read."  That was about 27 versions ago, so I hope my loving labors have done nothing but improve it in the interim.

 

This isolation has been rough. On everybody for their own reasons. They say it's going to be worse for awhile.  I'm hoping my book might serve as a comfort-food-type read for these coming dark days.

 

Hang on, everybody.  Stay well.  It's going to be the best Spring ever!

 

    

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Random Thoughts in Random Pandemic Times

Early in the summer I received an email from a frantic woman in Texas.  She was halfway through reading my memoir about prescription med withdrawal-- Accidental Addict--and had to know, DEMANDED to know: Was I well?  Honestly well?  She needed me to answer her immediately or she just couldn't go on.

 

Of course I was happy and grateful to be able to deliver the prompt reassurance that yes, despite the desperate depths of my illness in those years, I am now fully healed, and she will be too, given time. In our subsequent exchanges, I asked about the state of the pandemic in her area. She thought the whole thing had been exaggerated, and she was out the door to meet a friend for lunch at a restaurant.  I asked if she didn't find it pretty convincing  that  60,000 people had died, the tragic number at that point.  She didn't answer this directly, but in a later letter referred to my "fear of the Covid."

 

I wasn't afraid of Covid. I just believed it was real. And I've been determined from the start that I wasn't going to get it. I bring this up because it made me realize this was my first and only personal contact with a person outside the lovely bubble that is my own very blue Benton County, Oregon.

 

I'm proud to say we still have one of the lowest infection rates in the country.  Why?  Because we're a highly education and solidly Democratic population and nobody believed President Trump for one minute when he said we had nothing to worry about.  We hunkered down immediately and when masks were shown to be helpful, everybody started wearing them. That's it.  We are blessedly free of yahoos in jacked-up trucks, flying flags and Trump banners, mocking  masks and calling people chicken for trying to keep themselves and others safe.  In fact, my friends and I have noticed the handful of Trump lawn signs actually coming down in recent days.

 

As the lockdowns began in the spring, prescriptions for Xanax and other anti-anxiety medications soared, and I shuddered for those people who started desperately swallowing the poison.   Of course Xanax helps immeasurably right this minute, and who hasn't been freaked-out over everything this  crazy year has delivered? But I'm so hoping those folks stopped these meds after the recommended limit of two weeks and found other ways to cope; otherwise there is going to be hell to pay as a sizeable portion of our population who may have eluded  or survived Covid now go into benzodiazepine withdrawal.  Watch: It won't be long before people are posting reports that their benzo withdrawal is way worse than anything Covid anxiety or even Covid itself delivered.

 

A haunting parallel to the sufferings of benzo withdrawal  are stories from the so-called Covid "long-haulers" who can't seem to fully recover.  Neurological damage seems to be involved.  The chronic fatigue and brain fog they report sound eerily familiar to benzo survivors  and so much like what I went through after stopping Xanax.  These victims of Covid are appalled to still be sick after three or four months.  I was sick like this for several years.  Not interested in a repeat.

 

Damage to my precious brain is nothing I care to mess with, and as much as I miss restaurant lunches with friends, it's simply not worth the risk to me. The silver lining here is that my "long-haul" recovery from Xanax served as training for this pandemic lockdown.  I was actually more isolated in those times, being sick on my own, than I am now when everybody's going through this together, if separately.  My self-care plan of yoga first thing every single day without fail etc. was already firmly in place when all this hit, and "working my program" while I feel perfectly fine as opposed to  doing it while sick is a great contrast and serving me well.

 

The first order of business for our poor country  is to get rid of a President  who has made this whole thing drag on so much longer and be worse for so many people by insisting we pretend Covid isn't out there.  If ever the expression "blood on his hands" applied, it's here.

 

My heart breaks for the elderly who are locked in solitude and dying of isolation so that Donald Trump can keep up the fiction of his thriving economy.

 

Special place in Hell for him, I think.

 

Or jail.  

 

In the meantime, let's hunker down, wear masks, and get this over with.

    

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Lock Him Up

You probably don't need me to point out that President Donald Trump has come completely unhinged. He's always been a raging, narcissistic psychopath, but now he's a psychopath on steroids.  God help us!

 

When he started raging around about busting out of Walter Reed and claiming he felt better than he had in twenty years, I thought, Whoa, I know that feeling, and then on CNN, Dr. Sanjay Gupta remarked that people all over the country who've been on steroids are now nodding in understanding.

 

Yep.

 

I was in the middle of writing a rough draft of my memoir Wedding in Yangshuo when my doctor put me on a course of prednisone, a steroid, for a suspected ear infection. She warned me I might feel extra energetic.

 

Ha! I went completely manic. Instead of an eked-out thousand words a day, I wrote THREE thousand.  I didn't sleep.  The best part was that I knew I was brilliant. I was writing the greatest book ever written. It would be a lot like Eat, Pray, Love, I figured, and people would travel to my daughter-in-law's hometown in China and make her mother's charming little hotel famous!  But why stop there? It would probably improve the economy of all of Yangshuo!!! And oh, look, what a beautiful silk dress on the Johnny Was internet site!!!  I should buy it! !! It would be perfect for when  I walked the red carpet when my book was made into a movie!!!!! A movie that would probably win an Academy Award!!!!!!!!!!

 

Unlike Donald Trump, though, I was—even under the influence of these drugs—self-aware enough to suspect what was going on. I did not actually buy that dress. After one phone chat with my mother, I stopped calling people. I could hear myself sounding crazed. I didn't leave the house. I just rode that crazy bucking bronco around my office until the pre-arranged tapering doses ran out and I came back down. 

 

Reporting to my doctor later, she was alarmed. "Why didn't you tell me?" Well, I would have, if she'd phoned and asked, because I can't lie to save my soul. But she didn't. And, honestly?  I was having too much fun to complain. I felt a little sad when she said she was putting on my chart that I must never be given this stuff again. When I mourned that I had been so productive in my writing, she said, "Yeah, but was what you wrote any good? Because we had one guy on this stuff who wrote a lot and then he never quite came back."

 

They say a writer is somebody on whom nothing is lost, and I tried to pay attention to how all this was working as I lived it. Prednisone didn't give me any better words to use. It didn't provide a more interesting story to tell. What it did was allow me to get out of my own way.  I did not waste the time I—and many  writers, I suspect—usually do on beating  myself up with negativity. No way! With chemical permission to feel brilliantly confident, I just barreled on through and nailed down those words at three times the pace I normally would.

 

But Donald Trump. The guy is already crazed with his own grandiosity. He cannot hear the horror of the things he says.  Maybe he needed these drugs to save his life, but a mind like his, under the influence of drugs like this, has no business calling the shots from the oval office. It's dangerous. It's scary. Isn't there anybody back there who can stand up to him? Apparently not.

 

We should lock him up. And then VOTE HIM OUT. He talked about draining the swamp. Instead, with everybody around him dropping from Covid-19, they'll have to fumigate the White House.

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Fire on the Wind, Again

When I was young and we were just starting out the grand adventure of renovating Wake Robin Farm, I was constantly hurrying to finish projects.  I operated on a foolish notion of fixing things up "once and for all."  Life would start, I thought, when things were nice. Ha!

 

Now I know better.  It's the journey, not the destination, as they say. In recent years I've been reading a lot of Pema Chodron and the principles of Buddhism.  It all makes a lot of sense to me, relaxing into the inevitability of change, approaching each day in a spirit of curiosity rather than with a fixed To-Do list in hand, the day's score dropping to the extent it veers out of my control.

 

I love the idea of restoration, so when we built the little cabin I wrote about in Accidental Addict, I used salvaged porch posts from Aurora Mill Architectural Salvage. They look great, but sitting out there on that western facing ridge, the weather quickly takes a toll. Some weird fungus was even growing out of one of them.

 

Well, we've been trying to make lemonade during the pandemic, taking care of various  maintenance projects, so a few weeks back we went out to the cabin armed with tools and supplies and I got to work.  One post was just falling apart, with deep cracks.  A startled spider crawled out the top when I started scraping.  I used a lot of wood putty before even priming it.

 

"You know," I said to my husband,  "this thing is in such bad shape, I'm really just doing a stalling action."

 

But then I remembered: everything's a stalling action. Everything's growing, dying, building up, falling apart. So what? My assignment for the day was to be doing this job in pleasant weather with a beautiful view every time I looked up.  Nothing to gripe about. Moments to enjoy.

 

The trip to put the final green paint on the post was last Monday, September 7th, the day the historically unprecedented winds were predicted to blow into the Willamette Valley.  On the way home, my husband said maybe it would turn out like so many other weather predictions…not the big deal they were saying.  We got into a silly spat about how best to direct our energies the next day.  Should we go back to the forest property for more work the very next day?  It was one of those inane conversations which included a lot of lines such as "Well, I thought you said you wanted to blah blah blah," and "No, that's not what I said and don't we have the right to change our minds etc. etc." We were soon laughing it off, conscious of the ridiculousness of this debate, knowing we were just  needing  to blow off some  steam thanks to the stresses of the pandemic.

 

At 5:25 our daughter Mary texted from Portland:  You guys getting this smoke down there???? Super smoky and windy. Visibiltiy super low too.  Happened pretty quick.

 

Just about an hour later the smoke started pouring in here too, and that's the last we've seen of the blue sky.  Good thing we didn't spend any more time arguing about what to do the next day!  The universe had delivered our assignment, loud and clear: Stay in the house. So my husband's been canning his amazing produce and I've been working on my forthcoming novel, Family Trees.

 

We are now on our fifth day of living under a cloud of the very worst air on planet earth.  It's totally claustrophobic and reconfirms  for us how good we've had it during the pandemic up until now: even if we can't  be around other people, Herb and I could always go out to the garden or forests where we're happiest anyway. Now we're seeing first hand what apartment dwellers who have declined to be hoodwinked into complacentcy by the President have been experiencing for months.

 

Fresh air is a big deal to me.  I've never smoked a puff of anything in my life.  I'm thinking I probably wasn't the nicest daughter-in-law when we visited my husband's parents in LA. I couldn't get over standing on the beach and not being guaranteed a westerly blast of fresh, cool air.  I was appalled. Worse, for house guest manners, I probably said so. But I'm a fourth-generation Oregonian!  Land of the rose and sunshine, land of the summer breeze….

 

As I write, our pollution index in Corvallis is at 450, well into the hazardous zone.  I really can't stand this. It's making me crazy, thinking about all the people evacuating for their lives ahead of the flames, as well as the millions of people with their own personal stories of what they're trying to deal with in the choking smoke and the fear of Covid.  Children who can't go to school.  Old people who can't understand why they don't have visitors.  People of color faced with the choice of working in hazardous conditions or going without money for food. All of us cursed with the malevolent power and control of that sociopath, Donald J. Trump. 

 

The news reports and stories of the fires remind me so much of all the research I did for my book about the Tillamook Burn of 1933, Fire on the Wind. Both historic fires, the old and the current, were fanned by dry east winds. Those winds have stopped now and there's currently not a breath of breeze. I keep staring out the windows for movement in the leaves. We're just waiting--longing--for the winds to shift and come again from the West with blessed moisture. I keep thinking of a scrap of a medieval poem I used in Fire on the Wind:

 

O Western Wind, when wilt thou blow?

That the small rain down can fall

Christ! That my love were in my arms

And I in my bed again.

 

Yeah.  That.

Hang in there, everybody.

And be sure to vote Democratic.

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Death and Life in the Time of the Pandemic

Every family has its stories these days, the ways in which the Pandemic has become the dark and overwhelming backdrop against which life's major events must be played.  This is mine.

 

My 93-year-old mother passed away in May.  No, she did not die of Covid-19, but as with so many others in assisted living communities, the forced isolation clearly accelerated her mental and physical decline.  Introverts such as myself seem to be having an easier  time of staying home, but my mother, Marolyn Schumacher Welch Tarrant, was at the complete opposite end of the spectrum for needing to have others surrounding her, and isolation for her was basically a death sentence.  The longer  the need for social distancing continues, the more I'm glad she escaped early on.

 

Mom was famous for her love of throwing parties.  We're not talking fancy charity bashes to make the society pages; she just enjoyed getting people together.  Her annual neighborhood potlucks were legendary, and when she finally wrapped up decades of this hostessing gig, the local paper carried a big write-up.  I knew this about her, but it wasn't until I was sorting through old photo albums after her death that the theme of her lifelong love of parties really hit me.  Most striking was a group shot of a First Anniversary party she threw with a dozen friends in attendance.  Who does that for a wedding anniversary?  Well, my mother, of course—a  person for whom anything and everything was always an  excuse for a party.  I wonder how my father felt about this.  I sincerely hope he got his private party later!   

 

With a lifetime of successful party production behind her, it's no surprise mom wanted her memorial service to be party-like.  Upbeat, she said, with a Dixieland jazz band.  Well, as everyone who's lost a loved one in the past six months knows, the pandemic has changed everything.  For everybody.  Any kind of a service is tough to manage, a festive reception even harder.

 

I think my mother would have understood this, though.  One of her favorite sayings, which she stamped on the envelope of every card she mailed, was this:  We cannot change the course of the winds, but we can adjust our sails. Her other favorite advice was to try to make things fun.  Lemons?  Make lemonade. The fact that her parents always promised an ice cream cone following a trip to the doctor's for a shot made a big impression on her. She repeated that story to me many times, and never stopped priding herself on finding the potential ice cream cone in any less-than-wonderful situation.

 

She was only 19 when she married my father in 1946, the year half the young men in America came home from World War II to start the Baby Boom.  My parents had courted against the backdrop of war, with my mother planning the Corvallis High School dances, all carefully scheduled, she always told me, to coincide with my father's leaves.  Thanks to all manufacturing production going to the war effort and the sudden demand for wedding dresses that year, pickings were slim, and my mother always said she hated the one she had to settle for, claiming it was literally the only one available.

 

That poor, loathed dress had been in my cedar trunk for decades, and one day in the early months of our Pandemic lockdown, I was hit with an inspiration.  The pale blue Elsa dress I had made for my two-year-old granddaughter  out of her mother's  one prom gown had apparently been a hit, judging from the snips of video which were all I had to go by, given the limits of visiting during the lockdown.  Why not try the same with the wedding dress ?

 

I soon made the thrilling discovery that while the blue dress was the iconic gown for little girls wanting to belt out "Let It Go!" from Frozen, the sequel featured Elsa  wearing a dazzling white transformational dress  as she sings "Show Yourself!" So the "Spirit Dress" was actually a thing!  Mothers  were sewing these.  Companies were producing various versions. If you were rich but lacking imagination or creative ability, somebody on Etsy would  gladly sew one for your granddaughter for only  $400!

 

Well, count me in. I got busy. Send for the sequins, call in the Swarovski crystals, the silver piping, the glue-on jewels.  Make it a fun Pandemic Challenge Game by paying $8 for a 75 cent zipper just to stay home  from the fabric store.  The long net train on my mother's gown was perfect for Elsa's "sleeves," which is what they were calling the divided cape affair so crucial to this ensemble.  I painstakingly took my mother's wedding gown apart, handwashed each piece, recut Size 3 pieces from a vintage flower-girl dress pattern.  Then, day after day,  I sat and sewed on tiny beads, including a few from my husband's great-grandmother's handed-down collection, embellishments carefully snipped and saved from the fanciest dresses and now, after a hundred years, soon to once more sparkle in the light of day.

 

Hearing of my project, a friend commented she would not have the patience for this.  But patience had nothing to do with it!  This was fun. This was therapy.  I loved the personal nature of the transactions on Etsy and the idea these little businesses were out there shipping product to America's crafters.  Shout-out to SilverMoonMontana!  I felt a kinship with women around the country were quietly endeavoring to keep their sanity by sewing, quilting, knitting, beading, whatever came to hand. There was also, I must admit, however, a manic edge to my pursuit, as if I thought in adding bead after bead I could somehow solve the overwhelming problems of the world itself if only I could pull off this one small project to perfection.

 

My husband and I were in the tightest possible quarantine at this time, trying to keep Wake Robin Farm a safe haven for this granddaughter during the time her sister was being born in Portland. We couldn't wait to have this little girl here with us, and I was hoping the dress would provide a great distraction for any first-child-gets-set-aside angst.

 

But I was also working hard at tempering my expectations.  I knew the making of the dress was my therapy and it wasn't fair trying to dictate my granddaughter's reaction to it.  I believe most of us mothers goodheartedly set out to be the mothers to our daughters that we wanted, so I knew I was actually making this dress for the little girl I used to be, the child who still remembers the stabbing envy I felt when five-year-old Susie Cornell showed up at a costume party in a bride dress her grandmother made for her. Why wasn't anybody making a bride dress for me?

 

So imagine my delight when my granddaughter, incredibly talkative (Can't imagine where she got that!), started bonding to this dress while we were still driving her home to Wake Robin Farm on I-5. "You made a dress for me, Grammie?  And it's hanging right there for me when we get to the farm? Can I put it on before I do anything else?"

 

Yes! Absolutely! And that's what she did. Put it on and ever after had to be persuaded out of it. Danced and twirled, fascinated by the way the crystals caught the light and threw off bouncing reflections on the walls. I couldn't believe the huge emotional payoff as I watched her run barefoot across the sun-dappled backyard lawn, repeatedly imitating Elsa's two-footed stick-landing jump into the center of the spirit medallion to the powerful voice of Idina Menzel pouring out those lyrics.  Are you the one I've been waiting for all of my life……?   

 

Um, actually, yes!  Since you put it that way, yes, it sure looks like you are!

 

I am still watching the videos  I made, still stunned by  the privilege of having this adorable child here, running around our house and yard as if a beautiful doll had come to radiant life. After all these weeks of not being able to touch other human beings, to have this child curled in my arms as we watched the thrilling but non-scary parts of the Frozen movies was absolutely delicious. And so healing.  I could feel the flow of the cuddling hormone, oxcytocin, as she nestled close.

 

Now she's back home, learning to be a big sister, reportedly wearing the dress out for walks along the suburban streets of Portland which, no, is not a city entirely on fire or filled with tear gas as news clips might make you think.  

 

My mother had blue eyes and curly blond hair, just like her great-granddaughter.  I think she'd have gotten a big kick out of this child sashaying along in the spiffed-up wedding gown she herself had never liked, eliciting smiles from folks who look up from their frontyard gardens at this little person passing in her spangly finery, trailing her gown, singing her own song.

 

I hope so, Mom, because in the Time of the Pandemic, this seemed like the best I could do. And I promise, just like you would have wanted, we had fun.

 

 

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Mary Trump Speaks Up

Apparently many people are finding solace in reading books during the pandemic, and I certainly expected to.  When Oregon locked down in March, we bought a stack of hardbacks at our local independent, Grassroots Books, and while my husband has been through a dozen, I have been embarrassed that I just recently finished my first. I felt better when a dear friend, gobbling a book a day in a small room in San Francisco, pointed out that, here at Wake Robin Farm, I have no need to escape. And she's right.  Rather than seeking distraction, this beautiful time of the year here makes it easy to try for the living-in-the-moment thing.

 

While America's on fire with the virus and violence, and all around people are suffering, I'm feeling oddly optimistic. Surely we will be rid of Donald Trump shortly and can begin to build the better world we all want. I've read Fear, by Bob Woodward and one of the other more forgettable Trump titles, and when I heard Mary Trump was publishing her story, I was thinking I shouldn't waste another minute of my precious time letting this odious man occupy my brain space.

 

But then I saw the picture of Mary. Brown-haired—not blond or orange. Steely blue eyes. Serious looking. And hey, her name's Mary, the favorite name I gave my daughter.  And her mother—another persona non grata with the Trumps—is Linda.  And she has a PhD. in Psychology. I decided to read the book to honor her. If someone is bravely willing to speak up, I will listen. Exciting, knowing that as the book was downloading onto my Kindle in the wee hours of the July 14th publication day, it was doing the same in tens of thousands of other Kindles across the country.

 

Of course nobody has to read any of these books to hear the most salacious details. The press will help out with that. Everybody's heard by now, for example, that Trump paid somebody else to take his SATs. Big surprise.  But what Mary's book does that none of these other accomplish is to explain why this man is the way he is, how all his worst traits are so deeply embedded in him by birth and upbringing. For over three years now we've had to hear the talking heads repeatedly pleading for Trump to express more empathy, not be so tone deaf, just be honest about the pandemic and tell people to wear masks etc. It wouldn't take that much, they'd argue, for him to rise to his position as president. For myself, I've never been able to understand how anybody could hold out the slightest hope he would change. He can't say the right thing because he doesn't think the right thing.  He doesn't feel the right thing.  Mary Trump explains the hopelessness of imagining he will ever be any different.  She lays him bare, and calls out all the enablers who have helped make this reign of terror possible.

 

For people like me who are more interested in family dynamics than politics, Too Much and Never Enough makes a fascinating read. Sure, people will always be quick to say Trump's niece just wanted to make money writing a book. As if  anyone can write a book. (Trump can't. Never wrote any of his own.) Donald-like, they'll call her a little ingrate who already got plenty of money from being a Trump. But it's clear to me it's not about the money. It's  about being  a member of a patriarchal family where women are told to sit down and shut up and finally deciding you won't. I find her act of defiance in publishing this book thrilling. And Trump is already living up to his billing as a bully, dishing out the childish taunts: "She wasn't a family favorite. She was a mess. Our parents couldn't stand her etc."  In other words, get busy cowering because we will continue to shun you.

 

I loved Mary Trump's interview retort, that since Trump also called Nancy Pelosi a mess, she figured she's in good company. You are, Mary. So thanks for speaking up. Thanks for putting the good of the country over some sick notion of family loyalty.  Thanks for doing the right thing.

 

Which reminds me of words of comfort I've recently encountered from an unexpected source. Like most little girls in the country, my granddaughter is smitten with all things Frozen, and I've been listening to the soundtrack in order to be up to speed when she visits soon. These lines by Kristen Anderson-Lopez and Robert Lopez were written pre-pandemic, but seem hauntingly appropriate to one of the current prevailing moods in the country:

 

I won't look too far ahead
It's too much for me to take
But break it down to this next breath, this next step
This next choice is one that I can make
So I'll walk through this night
Stumbling blindly toward the light
And do the next right thing


And, with it done, what comes then?
When it's clear that everything will never be the same again
Then I'll make the choice to hear that voice
And do the next right thing

 

I wonder if any Republicans have little girls or granddaughters playing this music. If so, pay attention! Read Mary Trump's book. Believe her honest words. Face that you have shackled yourself to a fake sort of human being and forced us to bear the weight of his presidency. Nothing can be done to change Donald Trump, but is there any hope for you?  Just stop enabling Donald Trump--maybe the biggest mistake of your life--and do the next right thing. 

 

Of course, at this point, having passed up the chance to vote for his impeachment or ever stand up to this big baby of a tyrant in any way, all that may be left to you as the next right thing is to make a flying rat-leap off this sinking ship. 

 

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