Thursday, April 2, 2020

My Life in 50 Objects, 2: Vermont


[In October 2018, I posted the first of what I intended to be a series. As you can see, I'm good at starting projects, but not so good at continuing and completing them. Let's see how much I can get done in April. Not poems, but writing nonetheless. 
             I don’t know yet whether there will be as many as 50 objects or more than 50. We’ll how it develops. What I am aiming for is to describe the objects in my apartment and why I have kept them, what they mean to me, so that after I’m gone (which I don’t expect to be any time soon) my younger relatives won’t be able to say, “Why did she keep this old thing?” My mother said she would do that for her jewelry, but she never did.]
             This painting and the photos are from Vermont. My Uncle Ben painted the house that he and my Aunt Nita bought in 1960, when he started teaching history at Goddard College. The house is in the village of Adamant, a few miles north of Montpelier, in the town of Calais (pronounced callous). Built around 1840, that same house is in the old photo (below), taken somewhere between 1890 and 1910, judging from the women’s clothing. Nita found it in the upstairs storage room, and she may have known the names of the people in it, but I don’t.
            It’s actually a photo of a photo; I’m guessing the original was in poor shape, and Nita wanted to make sure she had a survivable version. The sapling next to the woman on the right is the big maple on the right edge of the painting. I wonder if the grandchild or great-grandchild of the baby in the carriage is the person who sold the house to Ben and Nita.
            Between the trees and the house in the painting is a grassy drive, up a slight incline from the dirt road, nameless as far as I know. The snowy photo (left) was taken looking down that drive toward the road and the fields, a beaver pond, and hill beyond, in November 1995. I was housesitting, while Nita had gone to Paris to visit old friends and spend the pension money she had earned while working in Paris in the 1950s. (She had worked there for about six years and accumulated a small amount of pension, but she could only collect and spend it in France.) By this time, she and Ben had
been divorced for 10 or 12 years (a long, somewhat tawdry story for another time), but after long bargaining she got to keep the house, and as she was my mother’s sister, she’s the relative we kept in touch with. I was just a couple of years into writing the first draft of a novel (that still sits in very old Word files in my computer) and took the opportunity to turn feeding Nita’s cat into my own private writing retreat.
           The final photo is from inside the kitchen (the room behind the porch to the left in the photo and painting). The dancing cats is an ironwork, probably made by someone Nita and Ben knew. And the tree outside beyond the window is the larger maple on the left side of the painting. (I've tried to avoid the reflections from the glazing on these last two photos, but not entirely successful, and that's why they are at an angle.)

            Jack and I began visiting Ben and Nita for a week, or two or three, almost every summer from 1967 until 1997, when Nita died. (I’ve never been quite sure who or what I missed more, Aunt Nita or her house.) The house was sold to a friend and neighbor, whose son now lives there. For a time, after Nita was diagnosed with lung cancer, I thought of asking her to leave me the house, contemplating turning it into a writing retreat. The New England Culinary Institute was just down the road; perhaps they could provide meals. One of the upstairs bedrooms was big, with lots of light; perhaps it would suit a visual artist. But then I thought of how much rewiring would need to be done, for phones and for computers, as well as making Internet service available. I would either have to live there or be an absentee landlord, and neither choice was appealing.
            My sister would have loved living in that house, but she never developed a relationship with Nita and Ben. That was partly because Ben intimidated her. He had written a rather unflattering portrait of her in his first book, Down and Out in Academia, and my parents never quite forgave him. At the time, I thought it was fairly accurate, and I must have already realized that writers use whatever is in front of them for whatever purpose they want. Your only defense, if you don’t like what they’ve written about you or yours, is to write your own version.
(To be continued)

Wednesday, April 1, 2020

The New Television


            If any of you read my March 1 post, you know that I need a new TV. Last weekend I ordered one online from Best Buy and it arrived today. (The HDMI cable I need for the cable box is scheduled to arrive tomorrow.) I carefully opened the cardboard box, with gloves, then lifted out the television and its accessories: power cord, legs, screws to attach the legs, remote, and printed User Manual. I examined the Quick Setup page, examined the small screws, examined the legs. How the legs were supposed to attach was not immediately clear, but once I figured it out, it looked simple.
            But. The screws are only about half an inch long, and the space they will fit into is deeper than that, and the screw is meant to go all the way in. How can I do this? Ideally, I need someone holding a flashlight behind me so I can see (and if I’d taken a photo, it would be easier to show you than to describe it). I drop the screw into the hole on the leg, point the end of the screw into the hole on the TV, and start turning, and turning and turning and turning. But the screw never catches, and I can’t really see what’s happening or what’s going wrong. I try a few more times, and then give up. This can’t be that hard. There must be some trick. I’ll call the manufacturer.
            I call Samsung. I am on hold for almost an hour. (I’m reading a book, so the time is not wasted.) While still on hold, I decide to try again. This time, it works. After about five minutes, the legs are tightly attached. I set up the set on its table, attach the power cord, and plug it is. I’ll wait for the HDMI cable before I start trying to make it work for real.

Tuesday, March 31, 2020

SOL31: A Walk in the City


            I took a walk today in early evening. The sun was momentarily bright, then fell below thick clouds over New Jersey. Very few people are on the sidewalk along Riverside Drive. A runner goes by the car lane, but there are no cars. A doorman stands by the curb, waits, six feet away, until I pass, then returns to his post by his building’s entrance. I am the only person wearing a mask on this stretch. Where there is scaffolding and the sidewalk is narrow, I walk in the street. I cross the Drive to walk alongside the park. The sun shines golden on the Hudson River. A city bus passes, and it feels shocking that people are still on public transit while I am not. I sit on a bench facing the river. Usually I sit facing the wide path to watch people going by, but I don’t want to see anyone walk too close to me. Most of the the playgrounds are closed with a Caution sign that playground equipment is not sanitized. One playground has a family. A young man walks by wearing a mask. A bicyclist has a boombox putting out calming music.
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Monday, March 30, 2020

SOL30: Missing Jack


            My husband died four years ago. He would not have liked this current pandemic. Even though he’d fallen on the ice two years before that and become partially disabled, he still went out to walk around the block every day with a cane or a walker. Neither one of those devices would have given him the agility to move aside if someone was walking toward him closer than the mandated six feet.
            Would he have continued to go out to walk? How irascible would he have been if he’d felt unable to go out to walk? (Before his fall he'd gone to the gym almost every day.) On the other hand, he would have insisted that we get a replacement TV as soon as the old one broke (see March 1 post). I finally ordered one from Best Buy today. The webpage says it will be delivered by Thursday. We’ll see how that works out.
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I’m participating in the 13th annual Slice of Life Challenge over at Two Writing Teachers. This is day 30 of the 31-day challenge.  It’s not too late to make space for daily writing in a community that is encouraging, enthusiastic, and eager to read what you have to slice about.  Join in!

Sunday, March 29, 2020

SOL29: Zooming Poetry


            Yesterday  I was in my first Zoom gathering. The Women Writers in Bloom Poetry Salon, created and organized by the incomparable JP Howad, met on Zoom for three hours, and it was amazing. More than 60 people were online and in the room, with JP, and her experienced Zoomer, Cynthia Matick, hosting. We didn’t have the usual check-in, where we go around the table, ID ourselves, and say what kind of writing we do, because when we meet in person there are usually 15 to 25 people. But via Zoom, we could have participants who are far-flung.
            The Salon had a short workshop, in which we wrote to a prompt, then went into breakout groups to share what we wrote and speak to each other. JP also gave us a second prompt to do on our own time. Then we had three featured poets reading from their new work: Rosebud Ben-Oni, turn around, BRXGHT XYXS; Roya Marsh, dayliGht; and DaMaris Hill, A Bound Woman Is a Dangerous Thing . Their work is powerful and moving. And following the features, we had a brief open mic. All in all, it was an energizing and moving afternoon, not as good as if we’d met face to face, but way better than sitting alone in our homes.
            The first prompt was to write a autobiographical praise poem by completing each of the following lines:
first name
who is
daughter/son of
who loves
who can’t stand
who needs
who feels
who fears
who would like to see
who/how I live
last name
            Here’s what I wrote:
Sonia;
who is old (in the best sense);
daughter of Leah;
who loves her friends and family, the world, my music, books,  and dancing, and baseball;
who can’t stand my country’s “leader” who is incapable of leading;
who needs contact with other people;
who feels optimistic and pessimistic at the same time;
who fears the effects of this pandemicon everyone, every way in which all people on this earth live;
who would like to see common sense and rationality and humility and tolerance overcome fear and hate;
who lives in the moment while connecte to the the past and hopeful for the future;
Robbins
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I’m participating in the 13th annual Slice of Life Challenge over at Two Writing Teachers. This is day 29 of the 31-day challenge.  It’s not too late to make space for daily writing in a community that is encouraging, enthusiastic, and eager to read what you have to slice about.  Join in!

Friday, March 27, 2020

SOL28: Missed a Day


            I couldn’t find myself a moment to sit and reflect yesterday, so I’ll do yesterday’s slice today.
            I had my usual freelance copyediting of short book reviews, cleaning up files for the magazine I work for and getting them ready for the next stage by 1 p.m. But there were an unusual number of cases where I had to go back to editors for second go-rounds. In one case, a sentence had four “how”s introducing examples, which I hadn’t noticed the first time because of other questions. In another case, the editor had deleted an entire review because he didn’t know how to answer his supervisor’s editorial question; I offered a suggestion that was accepted, but undeleting the review created a whole mess of other problems that took time to fix. There was more.
            And in the middle of this work, I got an e-mail that the staff copyeditor was out that day because his mother was in the hospital, in the ICU, probably with Covid-19. That stopped everything for me, mentally, emotionally. This is the closest the disease has come. I work from home, so I’m not afraid of being infected. But my colleague is young and just got married, and I hope his mother pulls through and is one of the 85% of older people who get well.
            It was the nearness of the disease that paralyzed my slicing, I think. I would like to have missed this day entirely. In fact, let’s skip this entire year.

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I’m participating in the 13th annual Slice of Life Challenge over at Two Writing Teachers. This is day 28 of the 31-day challenge.  It’s not too late to make space for daily writing in a community that is encouraging, enthusiastic, and eager to read what you have to slice about.  Join in!

Thursday, March 26, 2020

SOL26: Online Grocery Shopping


            For years, my neighbors have been getting their groceries from Fresh Direct. The boxes pile up in the lobby, and I wonder how they can be so busy they cannot walk the three short blocks to our local supermarket.
            In the time of social distancing, however, I do not want to go to the store. My supermarket now has a shopping hour set aside for those of us extra-careful of our health, but it’s 7-8 a.m., a time I am usually still asleep, and not being a morning person, I hesitate to try this.
            So yesterday, I decided to try the online order world and have that local store deliver. I registered for an account and started scrolling through the choices. It was strange. Nothing was organized like the store, that is, items that were the same but different sizes or different brands were not grouped together, so what I at first thought were duplicates I realized after a while were just different package sizes or brands. Also, there was no way to know whether the items showing up on the webpage were indeed in stock. There were Chlorox sanitizing wipes, so I clicked on them, but they did not arrive. Neither did the Hass avocado or the pound of flounder filet.
            Most annoying, the rotisserie chicken I wanted (okay, I could have roasted a chicken myself, but I’ve done enough cooking in the past two weeks, and this store’s rotisserie chicken is quite good), I could not find it in the Prepacked Food selection. I called the store, and the woman I spoke with said she saw it on the second page. I went to the second page. It was not there. Fortunately, she said she would add it to my order, which I had already placed. And BTW, when I placed the order around 5 p.m., the only delivery time I was allowed to click on was the next day, though I was given a lot of time slots, of 45 minutes each, for delivery.
            At 9 p.m. last night, the doorman buzzed. My delivery was there. I unpacked, so the missing items were not charged, and everything else was there, including the rotisserie chicken. However, one of the two cans of tomatoes was badly dented, and while organic, they weren't the low-salt variety I wanted. (I’m not sure I could have chosen them from the webpage.) Also, I didn’t know I was ordering organic lemons and limes. But all the fresh produce looked good.
            The verdict: ordering online is better than nothing, but not an experience I am likely to continue after this pandemic is over.
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I’m participating in the 13th annual Slice of Life Challenge over at Two Writing Teachers. This is day 26 of the 31-day challenge.  It’s not too late to make space for daily writing in a community that is encouraging, enthusiastic, and eager to read what you have to slice about.  Join in!

Wednesday, March 25, 2020

SOL25: Making Art?


            Trying to amuse myself at home, I took all these magnets I’ve gotten in donation solicitations from the New York Public Library and made a tiled image.

And now the front pages of the New York Times, since Thursday, March 5, through Sunday, March 22. When I taught copyediting, I liked to have collections of headlines to show headline-writing judgment and styles. I’m not keeping the actual pages now that I have the photos, but it’s interesting to see what news was highlighted early on. The banner headlines are less frequent this week, so far, And I’ll post this week’s collection next Sunday.

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I’m participating in the 13th annual Slice of Life Challenge over at Two Writing Teachers. This is day 25 of the 31-day challenge.  It’s not too late to make space for daily writing in a community that is encouraging, enthusiastic, and eager to read what you have to slice about.  Join in!

Tuesday, March 24, 2020

SOL24: Word of the Year?


            I’ve been noticing certain terms in my journal I never used before: “respiratory droplets,” “social distancing,” “Zoom” (the website). Then I thought of the American Dialect Society.
           The AmericanDialect Society chooses a Word of the Year at its annual conference in January. (Last year’s word was “singular they,” and it being the end of a decade, they chose “(my) pronoun” as the word of the decade. Okay, they’re not always single words: alternative facts and milkshake duck have also been winners.)
            So what will be the word/phrase of this year? “pandemic”? “coronavirus”? “COVid-19”? My suggestions above? I hope it won’t be “social collapse” or “depression.” The Society takes nominations all year long at woty@americandialect.org. (Can't seem to make this a clickable link, but you can always copy and paste.) Here’s your chance to weigh in.
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I’m participating in the 13th annual Slice of Life Challenge over at Two Writing Teachers. This is day 24 of the 31-day challenge.  It’s not too late to make space for daily writing in a community that is encouraging, enthusiastic, and eager to read what you have to slice about.  Join in!

Monday, March 23, 2020

SOL23: Coronavirus Side Effect


            A friend is leaving New York. Not permanently. At least I hope not permanently. Two of her three adult children, and four of her grandchildren, live in Philadelphia suburbs, and they’ve persuaded her to come down to be near them for the duration. She didn’t really want to go. She likes her own apartment—even though it’s small and has been afflicted with mice recently—but it’s where she’s lived for more than 10 years, and she likes to be in her own space.
            But life has become really difficult for her, and she’s a worrier. She lives on the second floor of a small building, with no doorman and no elevator. She has had groceries delivered, but feels anxious about having to be so close to the delivery person, and then she has to carry everything up the stairs. She’s still teaching, and now doing it from home, so she can do that anywhere.
            We met almost 30 years ago, in a seminar. She was going through a divorce, and when I started a seminar on motherhood, she was one of the first person I invited. Then she was the first person I invited to join a women’s group, a sort of consciousness-raising group, on women, aging, and sex. She lives nearby, so we have lunch occasionally beyond our monthly women’s group.
            The social distancing, we haven’t seen each other so often, and I will try to recreate the women’s group via Zoom. But knowing she will be physically distant is different.
            I know she’ll be back when this is all over (but who knows when that will be), and I hope she stays here, even after her planned retirement in a couple of years.
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I’m participating in the 13th annual Slice of Life Challenge over at Two Writing Teachers. This is day 23 of the 31-day challenge.  It’s not too late to make space for daily writing in a community that is encouraging, enthusiastic, and eager to read what you have to slice about.  Join in!

Sunday, March 22, 2020

SOL22: Zoom-ing In

            I finally succeeded in my Zoom lesson. One of my book group participants has a Zoom site she uses for teaching her graduate students, and we are planning to hold our next group virtually. But my initial test run was not auspicious.
            I clicked on the link to her Zoom group from my Firefox browser on my Mac laptop, and got what I considered a snippy autoreply, that my microphone was not accessible and I should try a “standard” browser, like Chrome. Now, I think Firefox is a perfectly standard browser, so why couldn’t I use it? And a friend has used Zoom with Firefox, so I know it’s possible.
            Poking around Firefox’s settings, I found a place where I should be able to give permission for my mic to be accessible to a website. I pasted in the URL for the Zoom room, but Firefox didn’t accept any URL. Hmmm...
            Okay, I downloaded Chrome. Now I could get into the Zoom room, but when the window to test my mic opened up and I said my test words, I didn’t hear anything back. Poking around in Chrome’s settings, I couldn’t find a way to allow the mic to work.
            I e-mailed back and forth with S., the Zoom host, last night, but we never got together. Today, I decided to try again. I clicked on the link and a window opened with “Launching...” appearing on the screen. It was there for about a minute and still nothing was happening. Then I noticed a line at the bottom saying that if Zoom didn’t open right away, “click here,” which I did (feeling a bit like Alice in Wonderland being advised “eat me”). This time, a new window opened asking if I wanted to join, and I clicked yes. And immediately, S. appeared on my screen, and we were talking back and forth. It worked!
            S. said she’d kept her Zoom session open, and maybe that was what led to success, that the host has to have her session open for others to log in. We played around with some of the features, like Gallery View vs. Speaker View, and I discovered that one can “Hide” one’s own image if you don’t want to watch yourself.
            If you have any tips on Zoom use, do pass them on.
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I’m participating in the 13th annual Slice of Life Challenge over at Two Writing Teachers. This is day 22 of the 31-day challenge.  It’s not too late to make space for daily writing in a community that is encouraging, enthusiastic, and eager to read what you have to slice about.  Join in!


Saturday, March 21, 2020

SOL21: Calling the President


            Today I decided to call the White House to express my disappointment in the president. At first I was going to e-mail, but the e-mail form requires that I leave my phone number, and I don’t want to do that.
            The website shows two numbers, one for Comments, one for the Switchboard. I called the Comments number and got a recording that said I can only leave a comment between 9 a.m. and 4 p.m., Monday-Friday. This of course is ridiculous, since a recording can accept calls 24/7. So I called the Switchboard.
           I got a recording there as well, but a human voice answered in the middle of the recording, and when I started to leave my message (that it’s not helpful for the president, in response to a question about how he would reassure the American people, to say among other things “Who knows” and “Let’s see what happens”), she interrupted to say I should call the Comments number. As she was trying to give me that number, I interrupted, raising my voice because I was now getting quite angry, “I called that number and it’s only accepting comments during office hours, and that is ridiculous during a National Emergency.” And then I hung up.
            Usually, it's not good to get angry at switchboard operators; whatever the problem is, it’s not their fault. But this time? I hope they are getting lots and lots and lots of angry calls. And reporting that up the chain of command.
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I’m participating in the 13th annual Slice of Life Challenge over at Two Writing Teachers. This is day 21 of the 31-day challenge.  It’s not too late to make space for daily writing in a community that is encouraging, enthusiastic, and eager to read what you have to slice about.  Join in!

Friday, March 20, 2020

SOL20: Talking Religion


            Today has been such a patchwork that it’s hard to know what to pick out as my slice. But it’s what I’m in the midst of right now that I will report on.
            Last spring, I met a young woman who had come to New York City as part of a Focus on the Family antiabortion event. A few hundred people filled a couple of blocks of Times Square. I had come as part of a counterprotest, since I support women’s right to making their own reproductive decisions without legislation telling them what to do. I always want to talk to people who are so vociferously against abortion about my own abortion experience, because it is one that rarely is talked about. (I was 48 when I had my only abortion, and don’t even get counted in the statistics, which usually report on women ages 15 to 45.)
            I got into conversation with this woman who had come from the Midwest with her family, which included her young teenage daughter who she had had at 18. She had had a hard time when her daughter’s father left her, but becoming “born again” had helped her get her life together. Her life was very different from mine, but we were interested in each other. We exchanged e-mail addresses, and have since exchanged e-mails.
            Today she sent me an e-mail, partly inspired by the coronavirus, because it prompted her to want to evangelize me. She worries about offending me, and I worry about offending her with my response. Because I have spent a couple of hours this evening writing to her about my feelings about religion and why I will never believe as she does, but still respect her right to her beliefs. And I hope she can respect my right to my beliefs even if that means, for her, that we will not meet after death.
            So that’s my slice for today—and I am still in the middle of it.
            Be healthy, everyone.
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I’m participating in the 13th annual Slice of Life Challenge over at Two Writing Teachers. This is day 20 of the 31-day challenge.  It’s not too late to make space for daily writing in a community that is encouraging, enthusiastic, and eager to read what you have to slice about.  Join in!

Thursday, March 19, 2020

SOL19: Canceled Events


            I’m a member of the Museum of Modern Art and the Film Forum, so I get their calendars in the mail, and collect calendars from other institutions (Symphony Space, Center for Jewish History, Independent Film Center) just in case I want to see some event or other.
            But with so many institutions closed for social distancing, some of these calendars are listing events that will never happen. Maybe they’ll be postponed to future dates. But some of the exhibits at the museums will be gone because their end dates fall in the closed period. The multimedia installation “Handles” by the Korean artist Haegue Yang closes in mid-April; fortunately, I have seen this. But will the museum reopen by May 17 so I can see the textile exhibit, “Taking a Thread for a Walk”? Or by May 9, for the retrospective of Dorothea Lange’s photographs? I hope so, but who knows at this point.
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I’m participating in the 13th annual Slice of Life Challenge over at Two Writing Teachers. This is day 19 of the 31-day challenge.  It’s not too late to make space for daily writing in a community that is encouraging, enthusiastic, and eager to read what you have to slice about.  Join in!

Wednesday, March 18, 2020

SOL18: Why Can’t I Read Everything?


            I still get the print edition of the New York Times delivered to my door. Lately, the newspaper has been including special sections, often only in the print version, and if it was something I wanted to read, I would put them aside. But who has time to read all that one wants to read?
            This morning, I looked at the pile on the kitchen table and sorted through it. If I haven’t read them yet, will I ever, even with the enforced time at home the next few or several weeks? Here’s what I found.
this year
January 26, “One Nation, Tracked”: This one is about the smartphone data industry. 
from 2019
January 19, “The Choice”: The New York Times Editorial Board interviews with the nine remaining candidates as of mid-January. Since it’s narrowed to two, and soon might be only Biden, I can check out the websites for positions on issues.
last year
November 3, “The Twitter Presidency” and “The American Road Trip”: If I don’t finish looking at the first one today, it gets tossed. The other one is about gauging the mood of the country, and there are plenty of articles in the online paper.
October 13, “These Voters Represent All of America”: a focus group of almost 100 people, who get brief comments on a range of issues. Why am I not one of them?
August 11, “Woodstock at 50”: I wasn’t there, but I have the double album.
April 28, “Better Versions of You”: This is “adapted” from a short story in a collection by Ted Chiang. I’ll look for the original at the library.
April 7, “Internetting with Amanda Hess”: The writer is the internet critic for the Times.
March 28, “1969: The Mets”: A commemoration of the 50th anniversary of the Mets’ first World Series season. I have group of Mets fans I hang out with once a year and this will go into their collection of memorabilia.
March 15, “Museums”: Twice a year the Times does a section highlighting major exhibits in museums around the country and even the world.
March 4, “Ethical AI”: I want to read this, but will I?
January 20, “A Woman’s Rights”: This collects a series of articles the Times ran on women’s reproductive freedom
January 17, “The Women of the 117th Congress”: Photos and very brief bios of all the women in the current Congress. Does this belong in a library somewhere?
2018
December 30, “In Case You Missed It”: Collects important stories readers might have missed in the cacophony of news in the past few years.
June 3, “Goals: Fitness for Everyone”: It seems like a good idea to keep this, but if I haven’t put it with my gym stuff, it isn’t going to be of any use.

            So would you keep, as in read, any of these? Help me decide what to keep and what to toss.
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Tuesday, March 17, 2020

SOL17: Pandemic No Place for a Hypochondriac


            I am a person who is very sensitive to how my body feels, yet have no interest or aptitude for medicine. This tends to make me hyperaware, and hyperanxious, about pains, aches, twinges, with only my logical mind to interpret them.
            At least I know this about myself, so I tend to not go to my doctor every time I’m worrying because I don’t want to be the person who cried “wolf.” And then  I worry that I’ll  miss the symptom that I really should have worried about.
            While I was awake in the middle of the night last night, the headline for this post popped into my mind. It probably deserves an essay, but I will work on that later. For now, this is only my slice. A loaf may come later.
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I’m participating in the 13th annual Slice of Life Challenge over at Two Writing Teachers. This is day 17 of the 31-day challenge.  It’s not too late to make space for daily writing in a community that is encouraging, enthusiastic, and eager to read what you have to slice about.  Join in!