The cottage was set back from the street, not at all gingerbread as you might expect. No dwarfs or princesses resided in the bright kitchen where a woman with waist-length crone gray hair, sat at a rhythmically circling wheel. “I need to spin. Someone’s collecting the skeins tomorrow.”
I asked about doctor’s visits for a study of healthcare options at Stanford. She answered, skeptical that yearly physicals made much difference. All the while her fingers moved in a subtle dance pulling the fluff of wool into ivory yarn.
“This is what keeps me healthy,” she said. “This magic wheel heals.”
The walls are thin. After my mom and I argue, I meet her neighbor in the rec room and it seems she’s heard everything. What I said about wishing my mother wouldn’t move because her memory is bad. Because it takes time to make friends. Because she’s not old furniture for my sister to rearrange when it suits her.
Mom depends on my sister. I live in another state.
The neighbor said, “My daughter bought across town. She wanted me to find a place close by, but I stayed put. People are nice here. I depend more on myself, now.”
After a day at the easel, Rippl-Rónai relaxes with a view into the Parisian streets. He’s nearly fifty. He’s colored a blue tablecloth red. Seeing the world in patches of paint stiffened textures like corn on canvass. A new facture. Rough like the times. Fractured like a world before war.
Four years later, the Father of Modern Hungarian Art will be interned in a displaced person’s camp. Paris Interior, will be displayed in San Francisco, then lost in America until 1924. Conflict, pandemic flu. His art reflecting unrest, impatient crowds, and French Soldiers Marching. A tired, then hopeful, 1920 seems almost normal.
Imagine the painter after a day at the easel in a room, now salon not studio. Le dejeuner cleared from the red tablecloth. He looks outside. A foreigner in Paris. Homesick for Hungary. Hopeful for himself, for his talent, and with good reason. He will become the Father of Modern Hungarian Art.
But not before he is tested. He will be interned in a displaced person’s camp as the Great War begins. Paris Interior, on exhibit in San Francisco, will be detained as enemy property, spoils. War, pandemic flu, it will be years before the world rights itself. Have faith.
“I don’t say women’s rights—I say the constitutional principle of the equal citizenship stature of men and women.” ― Ruth Bader Ginsburg
“the greatest menace to freedom is an inert people; …public discussion is a political duty; and… should be a fundamental principle of the American government.” ― Brandeis concurring with Holmes in Whitney vs. California, 1927
“He (Nabokov) used words to paint pictures. Even today, when I read, I notice with pleasure when an author has chosen a particular word, a particular place, for the picture it will convey to the reader.” ― Ruth Bader Ginsburg
Quotations from Goodreads in a review of Ginsburg’s book, My Own Words (2016)
The silver lining in our Covid story almost didn’t happen. My son responded to a Facebook post. A Michigan friend, who was stationed in Afghanistan, posted a message from a Sacramento friend who had housing for herself, but not her pets. Through social media, they spanned the world to locate a fostering contact point.
It was a risk. Little was known about animal-human transmission, so we were leery of the multiple moves the dogs had made on their way to us. Potential virus vectors. But when Max noses in or Kohnan sings opera, I’m glad we took the chance.
John Lewis was buried this week in Atlanta. He grew up in Troy, Alabama, where using a public library was for whites only in 1956. Sixteen years old, he sent the city council a letter, the first of many times he protested Jim Crow.
Arrested 45 times in civil rights demonstrations, he was known for making “good trouble.” Also for mobilizing political action with the phrase, “We’re going to march.” In 1987, he marched into Congress representing Atlanta.
Can’t stomach an unfair legal system? Can’t accept people getting arrested for exercising the First Amendment? Stand with John Lewis’s legacy. Support change. Vote justice.
For the past month, a Tarot card that means reprieve has consistently found its way into my weekly story prompt. Sometimes it defines the question. Sometimes it’s the unknown quantity that might determine the outcome. Either way, reprieve is in the cards.
I find this comforting. Whether a reprieve from a broken Washington, a reprieve through self-knowledge or a reprieve via creative insight, all of it seems good. And I see this theme cropping up in places besides my Celtic Cross spreads. My writing group met on Zoom this week. We are normally very disciplined, sticking to the text of the pieces we are discussing, offering useful comments about improving our stories. This week, the sense of loss evoked in the writing provoked a different response that reverberated through the group.
I find myself wondering how much of it was the fictional stories we reviewed and how much of it was the proximity of loss all around us that bled into our comments. In e-mails after the group, one member revealed that a family member had died of the virus. Another commented that we may need to be prepared for more losses as this pandemic runs its course. And though it is unusual to discuss personal issues in our group, the underlying impetus for much writing is personal loss.
My husband tells a story that may be germane here. A friend of his from college, an English major, saw his first snow during his freshman year at an Eastern college. They were walking across campus, white flakes drifting into piles of white flakes. The African student said, “You know that snow means death.” Such a normal phenomenon across most of the United States is a literary symbol which becomes potent when it overcomes the barriers that we erect against it. Heated buildings, roaring fires, protective snow gear, all the ways that man overcomes nature. Until, as in Jack London’s To Build a Fire, nature overcomes man.
As a culture, we have celebrated rugged individualism. We’ve gone into the wilderness, positive that we would return, sure of being protected from the worst by our pluck, ingenuity, entrepreneurship and free market economy. But some things require a group and to be a group, we need to pull together. We need to listen to the advice of people who know more than we do. That means finding some other song to sing besides America First.
We do need America to come together, but that’s not enough. The virus is here. The means to fight it are spread around the world. Isolation is the first defense. But cooperation can’t be far behind or we risk freezing to death as a result of our own stubborn denial regarding the risks. And unlike a man freezing in the wild, we will take others with us if we can’t admit that we need each other.
There are two versions of To Build a Fire. In one version, the protagonist dies. In the other, he sustains frostbite and becomes a wiser person. We could use a little wisdom as we fight our battle with nature. Reprieve is in the cards, the question is how we go about making that happen and how much damage we sustain before the pandemic is over.