It’s automatic

Part of the Isolation Journals, Day 31. Prompt by Suleika Jaouad.

Bad title. Sorry. This prompt is interesting because there is pretty much no prompt… Hm. I guess it’s nice to have the freedom, but I really like structure. I’ve heard a little of automatic writing but am more familiar with stream of consciousness. Very similar.

The news is always so bleak lately. I saw protesters who wanted to go back to work and groaned because everything is still so uncertain. Massachusetts fortunately isn’t opening up ahead of itself. Coronavirus is still very widespread and the lack of activity in this state reflects it. Lately, every time I see a delivery truck going up the street, I get giddy. Then there will be a package on our doorstep if the truck is there for us. Boring things like toilet paper and soap are so exciting.

As I hear a dog bark, I’m reminded of how hard it is for our dog, Maggie. She is a Jack Russell Terrier who loves to play with other dogs. She usually attends a daycare weekly on Fridays to get her socializing with her species, but since the outbreak, she hasn’t gone. We take her for walks at an empty plaza and often see other dogs walking there. She and the other dogs look at each other excitedly, wanting to play, but they can’t. They transfer too many germs between each other, and they are pets, thus will be petted. We, her humans have even been avoiding petting other dogs, and other dogs can carry germs which we would give to each other. It’s very hard because we do really like other dogs, and we do want Maggie to have a social life, but it’s too risky right now.

I am really hoping this doesn’t ruin her psyche in the long run. I hope she will still be social with other dogs and other people. I’m worried about my brother too, who is finishing up his first year of college online. He liked being on campus and attending chapel hours for credit, but he can’t do any of that now. He was having a hard time transitioning, and he felt lonely often, as I did in college. We told him to be more proactive about socializing, and he was trying for a bit, but then the outbreak happened, and it was no longer as easy to stay in touch with his fellow students.

This post is taking a bleak turn, like a lot of my others, but instead of getting as destitute as I usually get at the conclusion, I’m just going to stop here.

The Isolation Time Capsule

Part of the Isolation Journals, Day 30. Prompt by Suleika Jaouad.

Easiest way to do this exercise seems to be a list, so here are the contents:

  • The cute face masks I bought from Etsy, one with cherries against a navy background and the other with lemons against a white background
  • The Lands’ End shorts with lemons against a white background that is a very close match in pattern with the mask. I may wear them together when the weather gets warmer
  • The face masks our neighbor sewed for us out of old striped neckties
  • The wheat sourdough bread another neighbor baked for us after she bought too much flour
  • The previously abandoned pizza stone my dad now uses weekly
  • A bottle of Freeman anti-stress dead sea minerals clay mask, not because it directly relates to current affairs but because when news broke out back in February that CVS was running out of face masks, this is the type of product I thought they meant
  • A flash drive with several of the video games where I progressed
  • The various bottles of hand sanitizer which my mom scoped kingdom come for
  • The various packs of toilet paper which my mom scoped kingdom come for
  • The herbal teas with immunity support, including ingredients like turmeric, lime, ginger, elderberry, and echinacea
  • The headbands that hold ear-supported face masks further down the face, giving ears a break
  • A tube of lip balm. Normally I wear lipstick daily along with color for my eyes, but often now all I wear is some balm.

My deepest desires

Part of the Isolation Journals, Day 29. Prompt by Maggie Rogers.

Admittedly, I am an honest person, to an extent. I can be private and neglect to disclose some things, but I do believe I am nonetheless truthful. Still, my desires have shifted dramatically in the past month or so. At first, I wanted a job that would get me out of this boring house. While I still want that, I know it might not be attainable. My state is still at its peak in Covid 19, so more places are hiring remotely.

Further, I would really like a paying job in some editorial aspect. I did pitch this one story to several publications, one is interested, but they will not provide compensation, which I don’t always mind as long as my piece garners recognition. However, it has been difficult for me to focus on the topic which I proposed. Part of me is simply lackadaisical from dealing with a constant news cycle of mostly pandemic-related things, though another part of me does want to do it and might even be able to angle the story around our current affairs. I had written a few paragraphs and asked the editor for guidance, but surprisingly, while she writes very eloquent articles in her publication, her email correspondence is very brief and terse.

When considering how I feel today, I want this cloudy, numb mindset to seize. In some instances it had been helpful, as I’ve started to drop these pesky arguments with family much swifter, but often I feel like it’s negating my proactivity. I am behind on my unemployment claims, behind on my work search, behind on the novel I am reading, and behind on the classes I am taking through Coursera. They are two psychology classes I am taking for free to give me some feeling of progress. They are just for my own benefit really, as I am not on the certification track for either. The novel I am reading, by the way, is A Northern Light by Jennifer Connelly, an aspiring teenage journalist who assisted in uncovering a murder at the hotel where she works, based on a real-life crime in 1906.

I definitely wanted some routine, and I am grateful for the Isolation Journals for giving me that. The remainder of my wants will likely come in due time.

It starts with a push

Part of the Isolation Journals, Day 28. Prompt by Ayodele Casel.

Too  often, I get overly comfortable. When I had training wheels on my bike, I was just that. For a while, I didn’t see the demand to get them removed. I enjoyed the extra cushion. Balance was hard for me, why did anyone have to do it?

But after a while, I would see other children on the playgrounds with their two-wheelers. Were they faster? Could they steer the bike at narrower angles? It seemed they could, but partly I thought it was their skill that did these things, not the amount of wheels. I did try to go faster on my training wheels, and I tried to do those itty-bitty twists and turns, but it seemed the frame of my vehicle just wasn’t narrow enough.

At around six years old, I finally got interested in having my training wheels removed. There was a bit of delay in accomplishing this. My parents thought of training me on their own, but instead they enrolled me in some lessons through a pediatric occupational, physical, and speech therapy place where I attended. The woman who ran the group was someone I knew, as I had taken a few OT lessons with her before. She taught us how to fall off the bike first, which my mother believed was a genius method.

I stood upright on the bike, with my legs touching the ground, lifted one leg off the ground, and then pushed it down once again, with a parent or guardian holding my handles if I needed. We’d do this for about ten intervals, then switch over to the other side. This gave me the thing I desired: comfort. In addition, we did the classic pedaling and having a parent or guardian hold your seat upward to assist balance.

After only around three of the four lessons at the practice, I had it figured out, as did a few of the other students. Our therapist was very impressed, and assigned us to swirl around the courtyard independently while she worked with the remaining students who needed some guidance. Before long, I could go just as fast as the other two-wheelers at the park, and could even make those itty-bitty squiggly paths, just like what you’d make while ice-skating.

I got a lot more enjoyment out of bicycling once my training wheels were removed. I covered more ground and went much longer distances. Soon, our parents started to go biking with us at some paths, and we would get our bikes upgraded every couple of years, adding speeds, brakes, and other gadgets. Regrettably, we haven’t been biking in a long while, and it’s a shame. It taught me a lot about the basics of courtesy, athleticism, and balance. Hopefully my family and I will pick up the habit again sometime in the near future.

Thin Places: Peacefield

Part of the Isolation Journals, Day 27. Prompt by Jordan Kisner.

My parents are native Bostonians, but they moved to the small city of Quincy early in their marriage and raised my siblings and I there. It’s about five miles south of Boston. It’s also perhaps just as historically significant as Boston, or perhaps even more. It was the residence of some important families who shaped the American Revolution and early formation of the country: the Adams family, the Hancock family, and the Quincy family, the last of which contains the city’s namesake, Colonel John Quincy, and grandfather to first lady Abigail Adams.

Growing up, my mother would often take my siblings and I to the garden of the Adams family at their mansion in Quincy Center, Peacefield. It began when my sister and I sat in our stroller as tots, and we would continue on when our little brother was born, and  he then alone rode the stroller. It’s always been an impressive, sprawling spot. Neatly trimmed hedges form several pathways to display rows and rows of flowers. While it was and continues to be a rite of passage for Quincy schoolchildren to attend a field trip touring the interior of the mansion, my siblings and I being no exception, there was always something special about the garden.

When the house’s famous founding residents lived there, people’s occupations were vast and varied. John Adams was no different from anyone else of his time. He made a living as a lawyer, farmer, politician, activist, and minister. Of course, legalities, politics, activism, and ministry are much easier to quantify and explain in the history books, but his farming is where he tended a majority of his livelihood. Thus, I always wonder about the lineage of the garden at the house as it is presently. Maybe the flowers were descended from the original flowers John and Abigail grew when they built the house? It would be neat to test it, but I’m unsure how to trace the genealogy of flora, let alone flora from over 200 years ago. Further, while flora has species and genus names, they do not have personal forenames and surnames like people do, so labeling a tree like that would be difficult.

The house was occupied by the family for nearly four generations, and I always wonder how their garden changed over the years. Did Abigail select some blooms and tend to them? I feel as though she would. What were her favorites? There had to have been some more vegetables and fruit when this was first planted, correct? Did they crossbreed and create hybrids? I wonder if when John Quincy Adams and Louisa Catherine Adams became the owners, they made any changes from John and Abigail’s original lineup. When John Quincy and Louisa Catherine left the house to their son and his wife, did they change the lineup once more? When the family finally sold the residence to the National Park Service in 1946, what did the NPS add? Any kind of scents and fragrances that were uncharacteristic of the family to tend?

Whenever my mom would take us on this stroll through the garden, she would pinch off the withered blooms from the plants, “deadheading.” We would put them in our pockets, with the sound of the dried out seeds crinkling as we walked. Hydrangeas, hyacinths, poppies, marigolds, sunflowers, you name it. We’d take it to save and enable these existing flowers to bloom better and look better. We would then add these remains to our own garden at home, crunching them in our fists to break up and spread the seeds. I’d then see the plant sprout, and wonder if this plant’s ancestor had been loved by Abigail and John and their children, and their grandchildren, and so on. Had their ancestor seen bloodshed, Redcoat soldiers raiding homes? Lynchings, tar-and-featherings, and other strange corporal punishment? Was their ancestor plucked for use as a fragrance or herbal remedy? Pressed in a large textbook? Cut as a corsage or boutonniere? How did the Adams family even acquire it? Did they purchase them as saplings or seeds? At a greenhouse? Handed down through relatives, neighbors, and friends?

Often, I am unsure if my own genealogy is noteworthy and famous in any right, but I can at least say there’s a high likelihood that our residential garden is.

Giving it up for Lent

Part of the Isolation Journals, Day 26. Prompt by Priya Parker.

I was raised in Roman Catholicism, and consider myself to still be part of the community today, despite how lapsed my engagement currently is. I remember attending CCD/Faith Formation weekly, and much of the later part of the year was dedicated to discussing Lent and Easter. For several of my early years of Faith Formation, I was part of the Wednesday sessions, which was very fortunate as during those years my class would get to attend a prayer service and receive our ashes for Ash Wednesday to mark the beginning of Lent, forty days of resistance before Easter. It’s meant to emulate Jesus’s forty days in the desert where he was tempted by the Devil.

Catholics commonly vow to give something up for Lent, usually a poor habit, or inversely, vow to do a good one more often. One year, I gave up all hard candies, lozenges, and gum. That was an incredibly difficult one, but I did it. Other times I vowed to make my bed more, clean up a little more, cut out crackers, chips, and other temptations. One year I gave up the “Big Three” social media sites, Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. Since that year, I mostly kicked the habit of Twitter and Instagram. I had updated there sporadically since then, but not nearly as much as I had before. I was glad to be rid of that itch to check them, as between the three Twitter and Instagram made me the most unhappy. They were the bigger magnets for jealousy, negativity, and general spite (not that Facebook is entirely immune to that, but I appreciate the allowance to customize what you can view while saving face and maintaining your friends list). This year I attempted to keep in touch with friends more often, as I’ve been out of work and school and it’s been hard to stay in the loop, but with the Covid-19 pandemic I did not get to accomplish this vow to the capacity which I desired.

It’s a little like a New Year’s resolution but with a more digestible period of time, as you have a designated start and end time. More importantly, it’s cutting back instead of fully cutting something out, which is less daunting. I imagine an exercise like this would be helpful even for non-Catholics if they want to change those pesky behaviors.

The grand finale, Easter, has varied over the years. We generally receive a basket of candy and have a feast. Sometimes a brunch, sometimes a dinner. We celebrate the Resurrection and our own willpower and how it emulates that of Christ’s. Finally, we remain steadfast throughout the Easter Octave, awaiting later celebrations like Pentecost and the May crowning and procession of Mary.

The value of persimmon

Part of the Isolation Journals, Day 25. Prompt by Dinah Lenny.

Professional prospects have been fickle for a long while for those with newly-earned bachelor’s degrees, and I was no different in 2018. I was employed throughout my education, of course, but my call center job only allowed their fundraisers to be students at the university, and my internship was at a small nonprofit with a sole employee and the remainder of its staff were volunteers and unpaid interns. I did apply to be a manager at the company that operates these call centers, and the steady hours would allow me time to sit on a nonprofit board or do anything else for enrichment, I thought.

While I did accept an interview for management, my candidacy was swiftly rejected. I applied elsewhere, as an admin assistant, an account executive, a copywriter, a sales development representative, and many others. An interview here, a rejection there, but I had been a bachelor for nearly a month and a half, and couldn’t land much anything. I decided to seek outside a daytime office job and applied to the Sears at my local mall for a role in the fine jewelry department. I recalled a few summers earlier interviewing at the same place for around twenty different roles in softlines, but was rejected after a handful of days. This time, I interviewed and got the job on the spot. Some drug testing and computer training for a few, but within a week’s time, I was on the sales floor.

Sears is notably a struggling company nowadays, but it didn’t phase me early on. After all, my university had been the runt of the litter of a network of five state-run university campuses late in my college years. They were faced with debt, uncertain funding, and lack of clear vision in a new 25-year development plan. Meanwhile, our flagship sister school acquired more attention and love from the university president and other higher administration actors, even acquiring the campus of a newly dissolved Christian liberal arts college, despite the fact it was in closer vicinity to my own school, though I digress.

Sears was different. They downsized from the two-and-half story place my family and I had known throughout our lives and reduced it to one-and-half, a ground floor and basement. The second floor was technically still Sears’ property, but it was leased out to another retailer (this has been done to several Sears stores as a means to make extra money, as our CEO/chairman, Eddie Lampert, is more versed in real estate and struggles in maximizing retail potential). But one thing remained the same, my meal breaks. A sold thirty-minute chunk usually placed in the middle of my shift was something I had nearly every day.

During these breaks, I noticed another routine: this strange fruit being toted in several of my coworkers’ lunch bags. It looks a little like a tomato outside, but the resemblance stops once you pierce its flesh. It’s juicier, veinier, and pitted. It’s more golden-orange in color, and it smells sweeter. Persimmon. I knew it. I’d only seen animated renderings of it in my favorite handheld game, Animal Crossing: New Leaf, where I could find it on an island separated from my town, then I’d plant them as trees on my town to maximize value and the appetite of my residents. My character in the game had eaten a persimmon, but I could not taste through her. So I asked about them through my coworkers.

A few bought them at Stop and Shop or Shaw’s/Star Market, where my family typically shopped, but I never remembered seeing persimmons there. A few mentioned they were cheaper at some local Chinese/Asian markets, which I kept in mind. One friend shared half hers with me, and I thought it tasted both peach and apple-like. I told my family about how crazy the “office” was for these things, and my dad surprised me with his remarks.

“I grew up eating them,” he said. “My grandmother gave them to us. Sometimes she made sugar cookies with little persimmon pieces inside. They were pretty good.” My dad’s grandmother was Sicilian. I knew persimmons were a foreign fruit, but still, them being foreign doesn’t necessarily make them uncommon. Pineapples, avocados, mangoes, kiwis, and kale all seem to get much more attention. But I hadn’t realized they touched down in Italy. My coworkers were a diverse bunch, and all the persimmon munchers especially so. Columbia, Philippines, Albania, Trinidad, Haiti, Cape Verde, Portugal, China…some had come of age in the US, partly or entirely, others hadn’t. Seems like persimmons were transcending the world and Americans were missing out. I envied both my dad and mom who had grandparents from “the old country,” though for my mom’s side, that country was Ireland. My own grandparents had done a decent job explaining my cultural origins to us, but a lot was lost with time, practicality, and preferences.

I once went out to eat at a diner and was confused as to what black pudding was, and the waitress informed me it was pork sausage composed not of meat, but blood. Yuck. I told my maternal grandfather about this, and he recalled his father enjoying it often. During a holiday I explained to my maternal grandmother how popular persimmons are at work meals, and she remembered the cookies her mother made, whose recipe somehow never transcended generations onward. But perhaps it will one day.

In December 2019, I received a new job offer at a telemedicine company, full-time, in an office, on a contract. I wrestled with the decision, but I decided to resign from Sears. I was getting weary working until 11pm so often, as hours were extended for Christmas, I didn’t want to work from 10am to 6pm Christmas Eve, and problems with care plans, web orders, inventory maintenance, poor equipment, and dwindling staff across nearly every department proved increasing difficulty in being an optimal saleslady. I thought of reducing my hours to solely weekends or simply as needed, but didn’t want to bother with the negotiation as to how, and feared this new job would make me too exhausted to do anything. I only provided around a week’s notice, but explained the contract’s timing as reason. Remarkably, my boss received the news well.

My birthday happened the following month and the dinner and dessert presented to us by my family were exquisite as always. My mom gifted me a new corduroy and denim coat, courtesy of both parents, of course, and my dad got me a persimmon, the one pictured here. The persimmon is more than its image because it is one of the few discussions I’d have about my recent job that wasn’t in varied frustration, but simple bewilderment. It was affirmation that my family listens to me. Certainly, it’s a symbol that there is sweetness even among uncertainty.

(Also, this was domestically grown but still  $4.99 per piece…)

Amazing grace and the power of breath

Part of the Isolation Journals, Day 24, Prompt by Colleen Farrell. https://tinyurl.comw/y9gwcqff

When we were in first grade, our teacher taught us yoga. It’s the earliest memory I have of optimizing our breath amid our surroundings. No doubt I’d been taught to inhale/exhale prior to first grade, but yoga was different because you were doing something alongside the deep breaths. Shaping your body like a tree, a donkey, a cat, a dog, a rag doll, a river… She sometimes played some nature sounds on a tape deck to lie down, relax, and visualize as meditation. Other times she would guide us into a serendipitous scene with a text she recited orally to us. Even then, I knew to cherish the air pumping through our lungs. I’d had bronchitis before. My siblings were asthmatic and I’d seen their attacks. They were scary, especially when it happened to our little brother. My sister and I were four and five years old when he was born, respectively. He was our baby, the first one we really knew.

My breath would change with my worries. I feared being lost, alone in a separate room. I was the oldest sibling, so finding someone marginally wiser to tease and challenge my fears out of me and generally keep close watch wasn’t easy. That could go to my parents, but they had jobs and other things to do. My quick wisps of anxiety began to form.

My guidance counselors and therapists have helped over the years. One suggested I hum or whistle a song when afraid. I don’t know the mechanics of how it works, but I guess the breath pattern of forming a melody is very dissimilar to the frightened panting I knew, so this allowed worries to dissipate.

I joined my church youth choir in part to give me other things to do besides worry. The subject in missal, hymnal music was actually pretty similar to some of my fears. I was very scared of ghosts, but the ghosts in Catholic doctrine are kind and powerful. They don’t make eerie noises in the public bathroom just for the thrill of it. They call upon their righteous and tell them to spread the Good News, and carry the Good Deeds.

Now in my twenties, my sleep pattern is sporadic after having previous employment and homework completed near midnight. While I’m not much of a formal singer any longer, I remember to do the diaphragmatic breathing to decrease my stressors and ease into relaxation.

Collecting Places: Nantasket Beach

Part of the Isolation Journals, Day 23, Prompt by Stephanie Danler.

  • Salty air
  • Wisps of sand in the breeze
  • Defunct amusement park, Paragon Park, was once in the area, and my parents used to visit there alongside the beach in the summers
  • Paragon Carousel is the only remaining attraction from the amusement park. We used to ride it often after visiting the beach.
  • There is a snack bar nearby. My siblings and I used to love getting Snow Cones with a gumball at the bottom.
  • Parents would bring a picnic of sandwiches, seltzer, watermelon, cantaloupe, chips, crackers, etc.
  • We would sometimes walk to the ice cream parlor near the carousel. They had “Lobster Tracks,” a flavor much like Moose Tracks but with red-colored chocolate pieces
  • We have family friends who use a vacation house near the beach, and we’d visit a private, residential area away from the main beach. An ice cream truck makes stops nearby often.
  • There are several restaurants across the street. I usually want fish and chips after a day of swimming.
  • The warm, low tidal pools.
  • Dripping cool, partially wet sand on my body and the ground. I loved the circular designs. They reminded me of an Eastern Orthodox basilica or Hindu mausoleum.
  • The tides and salt made me feel weightless. It was at this beach that I realized I didn’t need pool shoes or water wings anymore.
  • When I got older, we would get iced coffee or tea on the way home at Cumberland Farms
  • The cold water, especially after rainy and snowy New England winters and springs
  • Seaweed tangling my ankles
  • Little minnows and crabs in the tidal pools