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Queer Eye

One vestige of my darker days, the framed photo of James Van Der Zee’s Prohibition Era poster, top left. But see how she is surrounded by light?

I’m going to tell you a horrible story, about a young man who sings on the subway to supplement his income. I know it’s true because I heard it from the relative he told it to. He makes a meager wage at a day job, and he’s talented. So he’s been singing on the subway for a few years. He tested positive for Covid the other day, and he kept on singing on the train.

“On the platform?” I asked, “or on the train?” As if one were better. Which it might be.

On the train–in the cars!” she shrieked. My first thought was, You should turn him in! She went on to say that she told him, “That’s unconscionable! You should be arrested!”

And I went on to think, with snap judgment and barely a shred of equanimity (but notably, with some compassion): No wonder New York City cases have exploded. Because that one naive young man, pursuing his dreams oblivious to the stark reality of this ongoing pandemic, probably infected dozens if not hundreds of innocent subway riders, many of whom may have infected 3 or more others. Our busker was a super-spreader event all by himself. Like potentially thousands, or millions, of other people across the country, either oblivious to the truth or arrogantly “done with Covid,” as my cousin proclaimed he would be once ski season started.

Ski season started, and a week later he found himself symptomatic, awaiting results of a PCR test. Did he have it, or was it just a cold? (That’s another thorny existential worry these days, for another day.) I’ll probably never know; I doubt he’d admit it. And there’s fuckall I can do about any of this ignorance.

This came in a text just now, synchronistically articulating my perspective. See more satire from Brittlestar.

So that’s my rant for the day. Sleazeweasel wants me to give outrage and gratitude “equal consideration.” He worried when I seemed stuck in gratitude for a whole year. I don’t think he’s been paying attention! Brilliant though he is, he seems to have missed the essence of my personal gratitude challenge: I was mired in outrage and despair for most of my adult life. My personal gratitude epiphany saved me, gave me back the joy and meaning of my youth, when everything that happened was a new gift. Now I understand what Brother Steindl-Rast was talking about. Having practiced focusing on gratitude instead of humanity’s dark side, immersing myself in gratitude for an entire year, I brought some balance to my perceptions, gaining the capacity to hold light as well as dark, to see reality through a less distorted lens. Gratitude has helped me achieve the equanimity I’ve been seeking for decades.

Meanwhile, I’m grateful for SNOW! More than we’ve seen at one time in a couple of years, I think. I was grateful to wake up alive, and find deep snow at last; grateful to see sweet does bedded down under the junipers just beyond the patio. Grateful for good neighbors of any species, and greeting one gliding by on skis in the drifted driveway.

Grateful for cheesos, a simple, delicious hot lunch after arduous maintenance shoveling and brushing…

And finally, I’m grateful today for Queer Eye, a ‘season interrupted,’ now back on Netflix. The first episode was shot in March 2020, and lockdown prevented the final act, so that was filmed in May 2021. The featured mother’s father had died, as well as her daughter’s husband. (In a weird way, the pandemic has presented a global ‘Compassion Challenge’–let that take off on social media!)

The transformation of Terri was profound and complete. The Fab 5 had given the family tools to heal relationships and weather their own brutal challenges just in the nick of time. Yet another feel-good series from the loving heart of gay culture to lift everyone’s spirits. I’m grateful for satire, laughter, gay men, snow, compassion, equanimity, and seeing truth clearly, among many other things in this new year.

Joy and Sorrow

I was awakened this morning by a soft kangaroo kick in my face, two little furry-toed feet practically in my mouth as Topaz stretched out on her back alongside me. I’m grateful for the little purrball snuggling in the morning. She’s still not quite right in the head, and we may go get her eyes and ears examined next week in Montrose, as none of those seem to be functioning the way they should. But she’s otherwise almost back to normal, and I’m grateful for that.

So simple, so delicious: a homemade roll toasted, slathered with mayo and Swiss cheese and broiled briefly, then topped with homemade bread&butter pickles. I’m grateful for lunch, and especially for ‘the cheese sandwich.’

I’m grateful for the delightful diversion provided by this charming puzzle full of exquisite detail both in the artwork and in the laser cut. I used to enjoy doing these puzzles with other people sometimes, before the pandemic. It’s an intimate act to sit heads bent close over a puzzle table, singing along to music or chatting amiably, passing each other pieces that fit with the different sections we’re working, cheering each other on. I also used to enjoy doing them alone, so I’m grateful that my pleasure hasn’t been diminished with my cautious solitude.

I learned recently of several more Covid infections in vaccinated friends, so I’m even more grateful for getting the booster. I watched with deep emotion the trailer for the new documentary “The First Wave.” As a culture, perhaps as a species, we are about to drop all precautions and pretend that this ongoing pandemic isn’t happening, despite the evidence of what we see and know. Why? Because we’re tired of it; we want to get back to normal. Like that’s ever gonna happen. This stunning film chronicles four early months in 2020, and filmmaker Matthew Heineman told The Guardian, “One of the greatest tragedies of Covid is that we as a general public were so shielded from the realities of what was happening…. If it was easier for journalists and film-makers to get inside hospitals and to show the public how this was all actually going down, how people were dying and the horror of what was happening, I think it would have changed the narrative…. It saddens me that this issue that could have brought our country together further divided us, that truth and science became politicised.”

And for a refreshing change of pace, because we must also experience joy as well as outrage, check out the Comedy Wildlife Photography Awards from NPR, guaranteed to put a smile on your face. My favorite is the “Majestic and Graceful Bald Eagle.” Maybe. I’m grateful for Kathleen for many reasons, including finding this in my inbox this morning.

Everyone Survived

I’m grateful for another puzzle. Last night I dropped into the delightful magical realism of “San Miguel de Allende.”

Not even noon and I had a long list already of things I’m grateful for today: Waking up alive and spooning a purring kitty, swimming bare legs in cool sheets, not having to jump out of bed right away to take any dog out for a walk; stepping outside into a brisk sun morning, flowers on Stellar’s grave, saying a prayer for him that makes me feel a tiny bit better, sun for the solar panels, hot coffee, Telesangha, a new puzzle. Then I drove twenty minutes to a fairly well-stocked grocery store where I could also get a Covid booster. I’m posting early today, anticipating that by evening I’ll be very, very sleepy…

I’m grateful for the clever charm of this puzzle, and the whimsical genius of the cut-designer.

Driving home from shopping, I was pondering my gratitude for a seamless errand run: in and out of Farm Runners where they had everything I wanted, close parking at City Market, an uneventful booster shot from friendly pharmacy staff, and a trunk full of groceries. I was grateful to see many more people wearing masks in the store, grateful I can afford to feed myself, grateful for all the hands, hearts, and minds that went into supplying the grocery store from the growers and makers of the foods I purchased, to the drivers and lifters and the infrastructure that made it all get to this little out of the way store, to the roads and those who built and maintain the roads… I was happily contemplating all these things, when, just around the curve by the big red barn, I witnessed a horrific accident unfold.

Fifty yards ahead, an SUV was apparently turning around, pulling from the shoulder onto the highway right in front of the southbound pickup truck in front of me. The truck braked and swerved as the SUV continued to turn across into the northbound lane. I pulled over and pulled out my phone as soon as I saw the truck clip the front of the SUV, which got pushed aside. It didn’t look too bad at that point. But the truck continued off the road down a shallow bank, and then it got really ugly as the truck seemed to roll over several directions all at once, parts of it flying off into the highway with fresh each impact. The truck came to rest. It was smashed to bits. By that time I had 911 on the phone. “Is the truck on its wheels?” the dispatcher asked. I wondered why she asked that, but was happy to say that it was.

The SUV pulled over on the intersecting road. A middle-aged woman got out. By the time I had finished describing what where when, the young man driving the pickup had also gotten out. I was immensely grateful to see him on his feet and inspecting the damage, so grateful that everyone survived. They both began to remove debris from the road. I was grateful for a cell phone and service, grateful there was no blood, no need to administer first aid. There was a lot of oncoming traffic, which slowed and passed around. Another guy pulled over and got out. I waited awhile to make sure there was nothing more I could do, then drove on home, experiencing the very human reaction of feeling grateful that, this time, it wasn’t me.

I drove very carefully. I thought about how radically different today turned out for both of those people than either of them expected, how each of them suffered trauma in their different ways, and I felt deep empathy for both of them. I was very grateful to get home to my quiet little life in my quiet little house in my quiet little yard.

Stellar’s Last Days: a Stroke?

It was a beautiful morning. I’m grateful that Stellar and I got to enjoy a half-hour ramble off our usual trails, just for a change of pace. He’s doing really well considering he suffered some sort of neurological incident last weekend. You can tell by looking at his left eye, how both lids droop. It was just my best guess, until Karen asked Dr. Dave to check out this and a couple other pictures. His response was:

“The issue would appear to be a neurological one. The two most likely causes are stroke and a viral infection of the nerve supplying the eyelid. Other possibilities are a tumor near the nerve, or a traumatic incident to the nerve. Similar lesions in the brain can cause  signs as seen here. In any case palliative care is probably the treatment of choice as there are possibilities of recovery with no treatment.”

I am so grateful for the support and input from these friends, who despite such busy lives of their own took time to consider my concerns for my dear dog. I’m grateful for the bonds of community and friendship, that can lay dormant for a long time and wake when needed at a moment’s notice.

Meanwhile, we’re still contending with the hindquarter weakness, notably in his right leg, which tends to turn out and is often unable to straighten under him. But he’s a stoic, noble animal, and he keeps dragging himself up and out whenever I ask if he wants to go for a walk. Once he’s out the gate his nose takes over, and he joyfully sniffs his way through the woods, intermittently looking back for me and adjusting his course to mine. I’m grateful for his perseverance, his devoted companionship, and his unconditional love and acceptance.

I’m grateful for the beauty around me, whenever I take time to turn my attention to it. This evening, sun lighting the sprinkler caught my eye. Though the camera couldn’t quite capture the glitter of it.
I’m grateful for this and all the other trees I live among. I’m grateful for trees in general, and for all the new scientific insights and understandings currently arising about just how sentient and interconnected they are. As my heart breaks for all beings in the path of wildfires, I feel especially concerned for and attached to the idea of the giant sequoias now threatened by the Paradise Fire in Sequoia National Park. I’m grateful, though, that this little patch of trees where I live survived another day without burning up.

Being Here, Now

I’m grateful today simply for being here. Here, as opposed to anywhere else I might have been on this date, this anniversary.

NPR reported today that a sizable number of people who witnessed the Twin Towers attack continue to suffer PTSD, depression, and other mental health issues. The report mentioned human resilience, also, but what struck me was the limited scope of the research, which surveyed only people in the vicinity of New York City. There must be millions more people across the country, and the world, who still suffer mental health impacts from witnessing that horror. Not to mention those millions suffering the global fallout of the forever wars that started that morning.

I reflected this morning, from the serenity of my garden, that so many of the choices I’ve made over the last twenty years are a direct result of being near the Pentagon on 9/11/01, and watching live both on TV and from the back porch, the explosive birth pangs of this new world disorder. I thought about how far I’ve come, how much I’ve changed, and how long it took afterwards to even begin to claw my way out of the despair that seized me on that day. There were a few hours that morning that I feared I could die there, and never see home again; an interlude of terror when no one knew what might happen next.

My parents lived next to an Army Air Base, and sometime that morning, even as I stood on their back patio watching smoke from the Pentagon darken the sky, the roar of jets and helicopters began just beyond beyond the woods, and continued nonstop 24-7 for the next week as I remained grounded there. I felt I had just experienced the beginning of World War III, or as it’s now more aptly referred to, ‘the Forever Wars.’ The ramifications also took a surprising turn into domestic discord as well. 9/11 is the trauma that keeps on triggering.

Eventually I made it home. I was numb for many years. Eventually, my life took a turn toward toward the mindfulness and gratitude I find myself practicing today, but it wasn’t easy and there were many detours along the way. In this place, on this day, I am keenly aware of how loss and suffering lay the groundwork for kindness and compassion. I am grateful for being here, now, and not anywhere else.

Insects

I’m grateful for insects of all stripes and sizes, from the tiniest kitchen ants to the fattest bumblebee, the most dramatic dragonflies to the most humble butterflies, like the juniper hairstreak–which I’ve seen none of this summer. I miss them. Nor was there a single Mourning Cloak. Ironic. There haven’t been as many moths at night, either. Nor bumblebees, nor honeybees, and the very few dragonflies I’ve seen have been in the phoebes’ beaks. Come to think of it, there haven’t been as many spiders in the house as usual, just the same annoying black flies. And even the flies, those massive hatches that used to happen certain seasons, I’ve not seen for a few years.

I’m grateful that we’ve never had a huge mosquito problem here, and that I’ve never gotten a tick bite at Mirador. Grateful that fleas have never plagued my pets as they used to in Florida. But this recent dearth of insects has me horrified. I’ve mentioned a few times in past years that bees have come later than they used to, in fewer numbers. But with my all-too-human capacity for denial, I’ve noticed, mourned, and moved on to the next soothing delight. Flowers; what bees there are; chocolate…

I’m grateful that I’ve spent a year intensively cultivating equanimity, coming to terms with the future I’ve known my entire life was inescapable. I saw it in dreams when I was still in single digits. I’m grateful that since I was a child, I’ve been friends with most insects, saving spiders and flies from my mother’s swatter, carrying them gently outside; avoiding stepping on ants; refusing to pin butterflies. I’m grateful that through the years I’ve paid attention to insects, noticed and cared about them. I grieve the insect apocalypse for so many reasons. I weep for the wild world, large and small.

Gratitude

Grateful for the desert willow’s resilience, for the doe’s tranquility browsing the yard, and for the fence that protects my garden investments from her.

Have I mentioned lately the point of this commitment? I chanced to have a conversation with a young conservationist the other day, and she mentioned grief. Grief is one of the most appropriate emotions for any of us to be holding, juggling, however we choose to acknowledge it. Gratitude is another. The two complement each other: they are antidotes and catalysts at the same time, grief and gratitude. Whichever one you start with can lead you to the other, particularly if you start with grief. From my particular world view, grief and gratitude are the most appropriate emotions for anyone aware of the climate crisis. [trigger alert: these links are not for the faint of heart.]

So I’m grateful for the mental fortitude I’ve cultivated this past year, and my whole life, really; grateful that I can put myself in perspective with the world at last, after decades of exploring the relationship. I am content to be a small pebble in a small pond, causing small ripples. I am sitting in the teepee, watching the giant blue planet approach. I am grateful for every moment of beauty and grace that I can be aware of, as the moments of this fleeting life flow through me.

I’m grateful for the second clutch of phoebes, chicks about a week old and just today visible above the rim of the new nest, on the right side of the platform.

Each Day

Some days make me feel just as wide-eyed as these little dogs; in fact, most days do, practicing gratitude. I’m grateful today for the opportunity to do chihuahua for a little while; for clearing the air despite the smoke; for getting my hands on some chicks that are all named Dinner; for perspective on some of my less healthy habits; for connection with family and friends; and for the courage to open and play my dusty piano again after years.

I’m grateful that last night’s fireworks over the reservoir didn’t go rogue and cause a blaze, and that no one was stupid enough to celebrate Pioneer Days with home pyrotechnics; I’m grateful that wildfire smoke remains distant and we can still breathe here, albeit with extra sneezing, coughing, and just a hint of nose blood. I’m grateful for each day with breathable air, knowing that fire is certain this summer and location of fire uncertain. A new fire south of Salt Lake has consumed more than ten thousand acres in less than a day, and another four-day old fire near Moab exploded today. Seeing a sky like this evening’s reminds me not only of last summer’s horrendous smoke, but of the tragic summer of 1994, when the Wake Fire in our valley burnt three thousand acres in a couple of days; its impact was quickly eclipsed on its third day by the Storm King fire near Glenwood Springs that blew up and killed fourteen firefighters. Everything we hold dear is so tenuous.

Not only because of wildfire, of course, or the slow-moving catastrophe that is climate chaos, but because impermanence is the nature of all things. Our evening walk was especially poignant in the coppery glow of the smoky sunset: Not only from the oppressive weight of the big picture, but the looming loss of the very personal was readily apparent in dear Stellar’s feeble gait. We turned around before the first gate and he hobbled back in to his comfy bed for the night. I’m grateful for each day that we both wake up alive, and I don’t have to make that horrible decision to call his time. I’m grateful for the mindfulness practice that allows me to enjoy our remaining time together, to recognize that one bad day is often followed by a few good ones, and to accept the inevitable end of both our lives. I’m grateful for the inspiration and motivation that comes from knowing that “Death is certain, time of death uncertain.”

Resilience

Four inches of fresh snow this morning was mostly melted by midday. I’m grateful for spring snows, which bring lots of moisture, and very little stress compared to winter snows, knowing there’s no need to shovel or plow because it will melt soon enough. Grateful Stellar was able to walk this morning.

I’m grateful for resilience, his and mine. Stellar slid into another bout of inexplicable diarrhea that started yesterday morning but wasn’t conclusively an issue until after dark, as usual. Why does it always strike them at night?

I’m grateful that I remembered the potty pads I keep for Biko, and remembered my brilliant idea of a sheet path to the door in time to protect the rugs, and had a brand new case of paper towels on hand to line the path for the next run(s). I stayed up late monitoring the situation, then had to get up a few times in the night to let him out and clean up. I’m grateful I had Imodium in the medicine cabinet from the Shitstorm a year ago, grateful I remembered it was there, grateful it seems to have settled things by midday.

I’m grateful I had brown rice in the pantry, and a box of organic chicken broth, so I could fill his tummy and keep him hydrated.

I’m grateful for mindfulness practice every day, but especially today. Under the tender tutelage of Mindful Life Program founders Mark and Laura since last summer, I’ve been learning more about meditation, motivation, and meaning than I have in all my years of casual study and dedicated interest. I’ve begun to fully embody qualities like patience and compassion, which may come easily to some people but have taken me years of practice. I keep my attention trained, for the most part, on what matters, and don’t let my mind drag me off into what ifs or if onlys.

In this way, I was able to remain calm as the gravity of this episode sunk in, recognizing that it’s happened before, we got through it before, and he was just fine (as fine as possible with his bad back end) before; that it was likely it would resolve in a couple of days and we’d go back to our normal, peaceful routine. I was able to accept that this is how it is right now. Further, I had confidence that if all wasn’t well later, and his health took a dark turn, I could handle it. Resilience. So I didn’t fret, I got up when I had to, slept lightly, did what I could do to mitigate mess and cleaned up when necessary, all with unruffled patience and a heart full of unconditional love for my dear companion. I tended and rested through the day, and by evening, all does seem well, neither of us much worse for wear. I’m so grateful that I could hold this unfortunate event in perspective, respond appropriately, and still enjoy many aspects of a quiet, calm snowy Sunday.

While poor Stellar ate gruel, for example, I cooked myself a delicious huevo ranchero, including homemade tortilla, salsa, and hot sauce, and a Bad Dog Ranch happy chicken egg. Resilience allows me to rise to an unfortunate occasion and make the best of what’s left in a day.

The Vaccines

Grateful again today to see the happy little crocuses blooming more and bigger than yesterday. Soon will be bees!

I haven’t gotten one yet – I’m too young! – but I know a lot of people who have. I hang out with older friends, alway have. I’m an old soul. Hee! Well, whatever the reason, a lot of my friends are over 65, over 70, over 75, and a lot of them have gotten their shot or shots. I signed up on the county waiting list yesterday. The group I’m assigned by age is supposed to start getting shots in the next week or two. I’m not chomping at the bit for it, but I’ll be glad to get it. It will be the first adult vaccination I remember taking. I’m not anti-vax, I got them all when I was young, and I turned out okay. Despite having the measles, Rubella, scarlet fever, and some other stuff. I was exposed to TB quite young, resulting in a permanent positive test and more chest x-rays than were good for me, until I put my foot down and said, No more! It’s just the way it is!

That might have been an early case of my accepting things the way they are: While I still fought most things I couldn’t control, I did accept that I would always test positive for TB, that I couldn’t donate blood because of that, that I couldn’t pursue a Hospice career, that my lungs would always be a little bit more vulnerable than most. Anyway, I’ve gotten my fair share of vaccinations: I remember eating sugar cubes for polio, and how we used to compare smallpox scars on our upper arms, for years, decades, after we got our smallpox inoculations, so much more than a simple stick in the arm! I don’t think I can see mine anymore, can you? But I have never gotten a flu shot, or yet a shingles vaccine. However, I’m getting in line for a Covid vaccination.

It won’t ameliorate my vigilance overnight, or likely ever, but it will give me a sense of some shielding when I have to go out in public. Hopefully I won’t get so stressed about going to the Crawford post office, or the idea of setting foot in Hotchkiss City Market, both notorious for maskless customers. Having the vaccine in me will allow me to relax more when someone comes over for some reason, and maybe let me host a cookout or two this summer, or even some retreats. A majority where I live don’t take it seriously. I do. And I’m grateful that most of my friends have gotten one or both of their shots and are safer, and that I’m next in line, and that science prevailed in last year’s battle of world views, so that finally vaccines are pouring into circulation, and most people I care about have the good sense to get them. I can only pray that our good choices on our own behalf are sufficient to stem the spread of Covid19 and save at least ourselves.