Chicken leg and superleg; or, Change

SOMETHING SO EXCITING HAS HAPPENED! For me. My broken foot has healed to the point where I am allowed to take the orthopedic boot off from time to time. And in the house, I can move around on a lighter foot support called an air stirrup.

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For 5 weeks I have been the person clomping along like Long John Silver. Ducks startle and fly when they hear me coming on the sidewalk around the neighborhood lake. Our pets tuck their tails safely underneath their prone bodies when I pegleg into a room.

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I feel much freer now. But something funny has happened: when I take off the orthotic boot, you can see a dramatic difference in the thickness of each of my calves. (I will spare you this sight.) Helen and I are calling my new look chickenleg (the weak, atrophied one), and superleg (oh, yeah, the powerhouse). Don’t even make me kick you with superleg. 🙂

It is strange how much things change where you can’t see it happening.

For instance, Amos took on the job of reorganizing and cleaning the bookshelf next to the dinner table.

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When I have the time and energy, I love this job. It’s like sorting your friends into catagories. Do you organize by type? By size? Alphabetically? By weight? How much can you get through before it becomes overwhelming and you have to take a nap?

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I was away at church practicing while Amos worked, and when I got home I was astonished at the result – I could hardly recognize the books we had when the location of every single one had been changed. Even some of the covers looked different sitting between new shelfmates!

The change reveals things I thought I had (but don’t), and things I didn’t think I have (but do.)

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In these last Texas days of spring rain before we arrive reluctantly at the punishing summer heat, I put the houseplants outside for a day. When we brought them back in, one had change to being home for a large stinkbug. She was enormous.

Wait, I must digress. Here is another example of change where you can’t see it: I have spent a lifetime defaulting to male pronouns, I think largely due to my age and the fundamentalist culture in which I was raised that elevates men above women. For most of my life I have referred anthropomorphically to every inanimate object, natural creature, and children’s toy as ‘he’; Mr. Mosquito, Mr. Cat, Mr. Mushroom, Mr. Slinky Dog, Mr. Houseplant. (And, I understand, anthropomorphic naming is crazy in and of itself, but in my defense I live and work with many children.) This default to male pronouns has been pointed out to me by none other than my own enlightened daughters. So now, if I have the chance to refer to something in a gendered way, I say ‘she’. On purpose. I am even trying occasionally to refer to God this way.

Back to the stinkbug.

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Helen noticed her bowlegging across the window, and we agreed to allow it to live there in the kitchen window and not tell Amos. (Because then there would be screaming and running.)

Each morning the stinkbug would move to a different plant on the window, working methodically through her terrain-mapping work. About a week later Helen noted her dry carcass lying in the bottom groove of the window.

More change. The quiet death of insects. Mostly in unseen places.

I went to bed last night thinking about my foot and music and pandemic safely precautions, and woke up to news reports from Minnesota of fire and anger and people pulling at the civic fabric, fighting for justice. This is the type of thing that makes me feel helpless. Things had changed (or maybe not changed! maybe that is the very problem) while I slept and did not watch.

And finishing my own preparations for the day, I walked through the house, noting many sleeping forms and one alert middle-schooler awake and glued to a Simpsons episode on the gaming TV in the garage.

And Abbey was lying in her bed texting with tears in her eyes. Somehow in places where I cannot see the cautious and responsible oldest daughter is changing into a person training herself to fight for social justice.

I sit on the edge of the bed, careful with tea and orthotic boot and her long limbs entangled in the blanket I made for her while I was waiting 19 years ago for her to be born. She starts talking in a low voice about George Floyd (we honor him and say his name out loud) and angry tears fall. How can we be accepting things as white people that are denied to people of color? What can we do in the face of things that are widespread, that are systemic, that are so ridiculously, incredibly bad? How on earth can we be so safe and others be in such great danger?

“I am so tired of this. I’m angry that I can’t change it. I want to know what I could change that would make things be different.” Abbey says this to me. I have tears of my own; I mirror her frustration at our white privilege and the difficulty of knowing where to go and what to say. We are lucky to live in a neighborhood with as many people of color as white; I know these people are a blessing to me at the same time that I know their sons and daughters are apt to be treated in a way that mine will not. I would like to try to treat all these children as equals – sometimes their own acceptance and consistent behavior to each other is the best teacher for me.

We will both do the small things. The small things with as much great love as we can. Like Mother Teresa; we can do no great things; we can only do small things with great love. We will keep trying for the great love. And asking for things to change where we cannot see. Let that change we want to see be something that can start inside…

-Katie

 

Ball of confusion

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Helen has a cat with whom she is particularly affectionate named Mochi. This cat loathes almost everyone in our household, including the dog and the hedgehog. She regularly comes silently, panther-like, to the edge of the parental bed at, say, 2 am… or 3 am… or both…. and pierces all sleep with earsplitting, yowling demands for food. She brings tiny voles into Amos’s room and drops them purposefully where he will almost step on them and scream. Abbey picks her up, and she plants both paws on Abbey’s front and stares balefully into eyes with ears swiveled back, refusing to touch any more human than absolutely necessary.

But Mochi loves Helen. In pre-Covid times, they had a ritual where Helen would return home from school at 3:30, and Mochi would come running to be held and rub her face against the side of Helen’s head, purring.

Helen decided to try this with her mask and discovered that Mochi finds it hugely confusing. The taste/smell/feel of her favorite human is off! Cat outrage! Note the look of alarm below. Obviously the face of a beast planning protests and a snarky letter to the editor.

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-Katie

Clothes make the man

James: “I’m not sure how to plan my hospital shift this afternoon. I need to go there in work clothes, check in at the chaplain’s office (which is now a different building than it used to be), then go to this other building to get scrubs for my shift, and then back to the chaplains’ office to plan visits and review the requests for my shift… What do I do with my work clothes?”

Helen: “You could just go to the hospital naked.”

Me: “But then you would have to change your strategy.” (This is a 10-year ongoing family joke; if you go anywhere naked you have to change your strategy. For whatever. You just have to. Your previous strategy-that-included-clothing won’t work. I think this started with a Mark Twain comment that clothes make the man because naked people have little to no influence on society.)

James: “Well, this may be the perfect time to do it because everyone is wearing masks! No one will know who I am!”

Me: “Ooo, I’m sure that will work well. Who is that masked man driving a car in wearing nothing but a watch?!”

Helen: “People will be very surprised, Dad.”

James: “Possibly too surprised. Maybe I need a gym bag. I think I’ll keep clothing as the Plan A.”

Little known side effect of Corona quarantine; increased nudity.

-Katie

 

Cali Saigon

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In Richardson there’s a place called the Cali Saigon mall. It’s different than most malls I’ve ever been too; there are nail shops, phone stores, herbal medicine shops, restaurants, a travel agency, and a large grocery store all in the same building. It is a delightful place. We recently ran out of ramen (and noodles are crucial around here!) so James and I had a car date to visit the grocery store. Due to quarantine, only the grocery store part was open.

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I would buy more things from here if I could read the labels.

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There is an extensive fish counter. Much larger than the other meat sections.

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some are dead…

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and some a little fresher… the employees behind the counter will catch, behead, and fillet your choice.

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And this is the Year of the Rat. There is a display at the front of the mall featuring utterly charming and unrealistic rats.

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-Katie

Senior letters

This week I wrote letters to seniors. I work as an accompanist in a public school, which means I play the piano for kids in choir, band, and theater at different times of the year. To be good at this job, you are aiming for a weird combination of Van Cliburn and Julia Roberts as the Mom in the movie “Wonder”; you want to be good enough to sound good while the choir/band/theater kid sings or plays their way through any one of thousands of pages of music, but at the same time you want to be kind and supportive and play in a way where you don’t stand out, and you cover up any random mistake they might make. Or, OK, let’s just admit it, play in a way that makes the hardworking kid shine and the inept kid look not bad.

I needed music really badly in high school. I’m not a full-time teacher so I don’t know the kids well enough to know which ones might need music, like I did. My goal is to treat each person with the knowledge that they are important and their music is important.

And in pursuit of that somewhat lofty goal, I get to encounter a lot of quirky, funny, independent, loopy, brilliant, average, extraordinary people. Who are between 14 and 19 years old. This is my fourth year at this job and I have accompanied a few of them for concerts, solos, competition, audition, or musical theater four years in a row.

So when the message showed up in my inbox about the deadline for senior letters, I made a list of the students I wanted to be able to say goodbye to.

I wrote to a trumpet kid who volunteered reluctantly for every musical thing his buddies did. All those buddies had a standing joke about a vein that stood out in his forehead when he played, and none of them wanted to have to play without him joking between pieces.

I wrote to a trombone player who was in every event he could be for four solid years, with enough enthusiasm to fuel a train for every single one. I knew it was going to be a great evening/performance/event if that dude was bobbing in his seat to the music right in front of the piano.

I wrote to a troublemaker who was always skipping choir class and surprised me every time I heard him alone with the sweetness of his voice; I wrote to a conscientious and dedicated singer who I think felt underappreciated; I wrote to a kid whose family has come here from Africa and he totally shreds on the electric bass mostly playing by ear; I wrote to a kid whose family is from India, took family vacations to China and had the best swag in the whole choir; I wrote to another trumpet player who was phenomenal and serious and constantly doubting himself.

And when I got to the end of the list (which was longer than I thought it was going to be) the last kid was CL.

CL was a Theater emphasis student. I accompanied him 3 times for a yearly required musical theater audition. I struggle to find a way to say this; he sang like I play sports. Which is to say, not at all. Nobody asks me to play a game of soccer or basketball once a year, (since the outcome would be purely painful for all involved!), and I would probably crawl under the bleachers to get away from the venue. This kid is braver than I am. I’d play the music. He’d speak-sing through the notes, both of us working as hard as we could find a range in which our two noises could co-exist.

I could tell you a lot of other things about him. He has beautiful curly hair he teases upward. He has a savage sense of style. He is a good friend, masterfully sarcastic, compassionate where you can’t see it, politically savvy, calm amid drama, and likes candy. (Well, who doesn’t, really?) I know these things because he was stage manager for a show I accompanied, and both of us spent hours and hours preparing and putting on that performance (along with 40 of our closest friends, relatives, and fellow students). 

This is what I’m trying to tell you: he’d come to those auditions dreading them every step of the way. He’d stand by the piano and force himself to breath, just like they all do, praying he didn’t miss the entrance. And through sheer force of will he would, without being able to match pitch, get through a 32-bar cut of a Broadway number.

That’s just brave. Hands down.

But here’s the magic. There would be a catch of breath, or occasionally more than one , where something inside him would suddenly own the stage. A gesture, a movement of his head, the raise of an eyebrow. An acknowledgement that he was not meeting ANY of the requirements for doing this the ‘right’ way, and a defiant insistence that his ability to act could STILL carry what was happening. To hell with you; not only will I refuse to be shamed, I will transgress with purpose. To redefine the situation, to break the expectation and offer an alternate beauty; this kind of courage inspires me beyond words. He believes (rightly) that his own self is important enough to command attention even when the music is not excellent.

I suspect there are larger stages for his courage than public school choir rooms and high school musical theater auditions. If you can learn to take something as your own in the middle of forced or unpleasant duty, and more than that seize love and purpose out of  dull rule-driven requirements, you have power beyond imagining. You have the ability to make your own life belong to you.

His courage matters.

I tell him this. I try to tell each of them this. Even if it only affects one person at a time (and, in this case, me!), it is still a powerful force in the world for good.

Thank you, CL. Blessings and good luck to you wherever you go.

Love, Mrs. Jarrett

-Katie

 

Morning prayer

I attended a study group (via Zoom) last night on a subject which I found difficult and painful.

There are a lot of things about my religious background which I hate.

All of my experiences belong to me and are part of who I am. My story belongs to me and what I have learned and what I feel is a form of power, if I choose to use it as such.

One person in the study brought up their practice of morning prayer, and the best morning prayer I know right now is from Padraig O’Tuama. He says this:

“Neither I nor the poets I love found the keys to the kingdom of prayer and we cannot force God to stumble over us where we sit. But I know that it’s a good idea to sit anyway. So every morning I sit, I kneel, waiting, making friends with the habit of listening, hoping that I’m being listened to. There, I greet God in my own disorder. I say hello to my chaos, my unmade decisions, my unmade bed, my desire and my trouble. I say hello to distraction and privilege, I greet the day and I greet my beloved and bewildering Jesus. I recognise and greet my burdens, my luck, my controlled and uncontrollable story. I greet my untold stories, my unfolding story, my unloved body, my own love, my own body. I greet the things I think will happen and I say hello to everything I do not know about the day. I greet my own small world and I hope that I can meet the bigger world that day. I greet my story and hope that I can forget my story during the day, and hope that I can hear some stories, and greet some surprising stories during the long day ahead. I greet God, and I greet the God who is more God than the God I greet. / Hello to you all, I say, as the sun rises above the chimneys of North Belfast. / Hello.”

Pretty amazing.

Katie

Surprise frog

Well, I would say the title explains it all.

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The weirdest thing is that he was just suddenly laying in the hall after prayers! We had walked up and down that hall 10,000 times through the day! And suddenly there was a frog. We have no official ‘wet’ areas in our neighborhood, but there is a crik which fills when it rains one street over. I supposed that might have been his original home.

(Here is a Texas question: do you know the difference between a crik and a creek? A crik is a fold in the earth which fills and runs with water when it rains. A creek is a waterpath usually connected to a larger body. Just sayin’.)

We assumed he was dead, but there was some convulsing when we tried to nudge him into the rescue bucket. Which was very sad, because he was missing a limb. He was put respectfully into the backyard to reach an ultimate end. Probably hastened by the cat.

-Katie

Surprise bird

Yesterday everyone was going about their business in the middle of the afternoon and suddenly a loud series of screams came from the living room.

Where the striped cat was found, screaming blue jay clenched firmly in jaw. Helen, without a second thought, seized the cat and lifted her up, causing the cat’s mouth to open just slightly and the bird, like a flash, flew across the room, smashed straight into the opposite wall, pooped a large amount of poo which trickled down the wall, and fell senseless to the ground.

At which point the cat began to squirm in Helen’s arms, issuing strangled little yowls of desire. Helen held the beast even more tightly, Abbey ran to get a bucket and broom, and the girls gently swept the bird into a bucket. (You may be wondering: where are the strapping resourceful boys in your household? Do they not rescue everyone from predatory cats and wild birds? And the short answer is generally no. They do not.)

The girls took the bucket outside and gently tipped it against the ground so the bird slid out. The bird stood up weakly, shaking from claw to beak. It took a few moments, standing this way, twitching its wings. The girls murmured encouragement to it through the glass of the backdoor, accompanied by the cat, winding herself around and around legs, begging to go outside and finish the job.

And then the bird took off and flew away.

And James used a few of our carefully rationed Lysol wipes to clean bird poo off the living room wall. That resourceful man.

-Katie

Picnic

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The week after I hurt my foot we all had adjusting to do, so we did 3 nights of fast food dinners instead of our usual 1 night. Nobody seemed to mind this very much.

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The weather was particularly beautiful the night we got Taco Bell so we picnicked outside and I read Harry Potter while people ate.

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Eating dinner from paper wrappers on the ground makes you feel adventurous and resourceful. Like camping.

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Having dinner and a story is a fun practice, too. Something to enjoy with two different senses at the same time.

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-Katie