Monday, June 29, 2020

My World Part VIII

I went to the dentist today for three fillings in three places. One of them was replacing a filling that crumbled in my mouth while the office was closed for COVID. The other two were due to neglect on my part, but also, as Indigo Bunting mentioned today, the wind's fault.*

Because "summer school" is over as of last Thursday, I scheduled it for today at 9, knowing that it might knock me flat for the rest of the day.

It did. I sailed through two of them but the third, my strong-ass dental nerves broke through and the dentist, apologizing many times, had to re-numb me in several rounds more of Novocaine or whatever they use now. Out of my peripheral vision I could see the large metal syringe and I knew I was doomed.

I got home at 10:30, changed into pajamas, and slept until 3:30. I am only now upright, and that's because my phone wouldn't let me comment on IB's post that included the footnote below. I took a damned 5 hour nap and ate up Monday.

I could not be more pleased.

*There must be someone who isn’t me to blame. “‘If it was the wind,’ said Owl, considering the matter, ‘then it wasn’t Pooh’s fault. No blame can be attached to him.’”

Sunday, June 28, 2020

My World Part VII

Because it's not all whining and bitching and kvetching.

My World Part VI: Brief Epilogue to Part V

I wrote to my cousin and told him the beach photo was making me crazy jealous.

"Yeah," he wrote back, "We do have great sunsets here."

I then told him he looked happy and that made me happy to see. Several hours later he replied to my comment.

Learn to ignore what the photographer saw, isn't that how the Pet Shop Boys song goes? I am, we are very lucky right now but happy doesn't really tell the story. NYC is horrifying. We are lucky we got out and could collect ourselves here. I've had to furlough 5 people and now I lie awake at night worried about how those families will put food on the table too. I've had 10 friends hospitalized with COVID and 4 of them died. I don't know what's going to happen next and I'm terrified, my line of work doesn't matter, I mean fashion? Fucked. Interior design I might be able to keep working at if anyone is left to care about interior design after this. But I'm strong and I can work and I think I can make it somehow. What about you, how is your family and job? 

God I love him so much and it reminded me of a friend who once said if you take a group of women, have them write down their problems on slips of paper and put them in a bowl to pass around and choose from, when everyone goes home they will go home with their own problems. Other people's problems are too hard.

I'm jealous of the good parts of his life but I know I couldn't handle the hard parts. Xoxo Joe.

Saturday, June 27, 2020

Names from the other side

I write about my dad's family most often because they are large personalities and although my relationships there are complex, they are not as toxic as the ones on my mom's side. It also helps that genetics run strong on the Blake side, all my cousins and their children look like replicas of uncles and grandfathers and great-great-grandmothers. My mother's genes show up in one of my siblings alone, and that's just Colleen's brown eyes. So it is easy to turn my back and ignore them. Healthy, actually. But here are a few thoughts on names.

My grandmother's next oldest sibling is Emily. She was always Emily--her full name was Emily Elizabeth Broadhead. When she married, however, and got a copy of her birth certificate that her father had filled out, she realized that all this time she was actually Elizabeth Emily Broadhead.

Broadhead. It felt like a joke name for the longest time, like one of those medieval names given to point out gross bodily features. Then I started learning archery and saw it differently. So I looked it up. It is an old English name, unlikely to be connected to arrows, but it also has nothing to do with fat foreheads. It is a geographic name, referring to a broad round hill.

The Broadheads, at least the thread that led to me, had several children: Overton, John, James Carr, Archie, Roy, Emily/Elizabeth, Harold, and my grandmother Edith. Their parents were Overton and Mazie. Mazie was an Aiken, two generations from Northern Ireland, the part of Northern Ireland where you can likely see Scotland from your house. Aiken = Adkins.

My mom's father's family are Wibbenmeyers. All the Wibbenmeyers are related and all of them came over at the same time to the same little town in Southeast Missouri, having sent a priest ahead of them to see if it was a worthwhile move. They immigrated first and second class, through New Orleans. All German all the time, marrying other Germans and more Germans for several generations, with heavy names like Christiana and Josephine and Theodosia. Then my great-grandfather Theodore married Emma Rose Donnelly and broke the trend. Her family had been in America for 50 years (more famine refugees), mostly upstate New York. Her mother was a Sarah and she named her oldest Sarah Jo.

I was a Sarah then as well, but just like Elizabeth Emily, I always went by my middle name. I dropped Sarah when I married, in favor of my maiden name in the middle. When I divorced, my lawyer cautioned me against taking Sarah up as a first name for legal reasons (I'd had to do a complicated name change in 2016 already because of the first name disappearing). Could I take it as a middle name?

It didn't feel like mine anymore and I didn't really want it. So I took Sparrow instead and scandalized my former hippie mother who never called me Sarah anyway.

My World Part V in Five Parts

The Beginnings

I was supposed to go to Florida at the end of March, an adult vacation, just two of us, no kids, no parents, no obligations to anyone except ourselves.

Instead I stayed in St. Louis and was filled with obligation after obligation. My job became a series of essentially bullshit tasks. Grocery shopping was exhausting and stressful. My kids went through waves of deep sadness and deeper boredom.

I dreamed of the beach. I haven't been on a beach in years, perhaps a decade. That whole last week of March I kept thinking "I'm supposed to be on a beach."

The Sustained Boredom

But no. No beach, and no bars and no libraries and no eating out and no casual friendship chatting and holy shit I was losing my mind in April and May.

I did things--I built Leo a bed. I started a garden. I supported Sophia's baking ventures. I read my first romance novel. I watched a lot of Netflix.

And I didn't do things--I no longer had a 45 minute one way commute. I didn't have to brace for my job each day. I didn't waste money on anything. I didn't engage with negative people online or in person.

The Boundless Ennui and Limbo

But as the summer began, the uncertainty of the near and distant future started to take a toll. The headaches are back. I am losing energy required to do basic things as I try to bolster my daughters' moods and keep everything together. I have to cheerlead myself through basic self-care every morning.

The Goddamned Turning Point

On top of that, Sophia got a flat tire this afternoon, I had to interact with my ex-husband and his girlfriend because somehow all three of us were required to change a fucking tire, I have a paper to write for the last class I need to move lanes on the salary scale, it's humid as fuck, the grass needs cutting, the dog needs shaving, I am lonely and bored and frustrated.

Today my favorite cousin posted this.

He and his partner are in the Hamptons, where they have been weathering the NYC Covid-19 storm with perfect hair and two designer dogs. They are fortunate to have a friend with a house and were given free range this whole spring. 



Le Denouement

There is no untying yet. I am still with a matted poodle and a weedy front yard and not enough beer in the fridge and no beach. No sunsets, no perfect hair, nothing but this. Day after day.

I'm going to go do what must be done. Which in this case is nothing sinister. I think there's a bathroom that needs cleaning and somebody sometime has to make dinner. 

Friday, June 26, 2020

My World Part IV

I didn't know the phone number but I picked up anyway. He introduced and connected himself to the parish school where Leo attends and he'd gotten my name from a mutual acquaintance. He's the lead architect/site manager for the school construction project, taking a 1930s cobbled together building with too many entrances and creating an obvious front entrance and proper office

Would I be interested in rebuilding some stained glass windows inset in doors for the school?

Sure I would.

Imposter Syndrome raging, I went up to school and took a look. They were totally in my wheelhouse. This was something I knew how to do. But they wanted safety glass on each side. I called the experts I knew (a local art glass company) and they made suggestions as if I knew what I was doing in general.

I wrote a proposal with real numbers.

They accepted it.

The architect had questions that made me realize I did know what I was doing after all--like, he asked, "now, do your measurements including the caning?"

When there is no caning. The lead is called came, not cane.

Or he asked, "this will be glass, right, not plastic?"

Of course it will. I wouldn't build a window out of colored plastic. Luckily I was on the phone and he couldn't see me roll my eyes.

So now I'm in charge of building six windows and setting them into giant wooden doors along with thin laminate glass that a local company is cutting to size for me.

Because of course I am.

Also drinking coffee. Because.

My World Part III

I sew. I've been quilting since I was 12 and I dabble in clothing construction here and there. Because of this I am often called upon to do tasks that don't fall into my normal sewing repertoire. I recovered a canvas lawn chair that a partner teacher used in her classroom. I've made curtains out of towels for a guest bathroom. Repaired headliner in a friend's car. Not really the same thing as quilting liturgical art for my church or making another triple Irish chain for a child's bed. But these are things I learn and figure out and can do. I am always willing to try.

Now people suddenly needed masks and there I was, willing to try. My first prototype was clunky and hard to breathe through. My sister sent me a pattern she used. I spent time trying to figure out nose piece metal things, coating floral wire, then trying pipe cleaners, whatever I had around the house since everything was closed and canceled. Then Sheet Metal Workers Local 36 got some donated aluminum and had their apprentices cut metal strips for nose pieces that they put in a lockbox outside their front doors for free. The same training school that made my metal toolbox I got on that Labor Day's parade so long ago.

I went through the first 50 I picked up, thinking I was actually taking too many. But people started asking me for masks and now it looks like we will need more masks as time goes on and children go back to school and so today I went and picked up another 100 metal strips. 

I use quilter's cotton, which I have in large quantities. But I ran out of the little bit of elastic I had after only a few masks. I did non-stretch loops out of ribbon for faces I could measure (my family) but I was at a loss as to what to do for outside folks. 

After brainstorming a bit, I went to the store and bought a large pack of little girls' underwear. Sat on my couch watching netflix and picked stitches until I had plenty of pastel elastic.

A friend's sister asked about hair covers (she works in an ancillary healthcare job in a hospital) and I borrowed my sister's wig stand and devised something.

I can turn out 2 masks in about 10 minutes. It's easier to make them two at a time. I'm running low on elastic and I might actually buy more underwear because it is sadly cheaper that way and the color is fun.

This is what I do now.

Thursday, June 25, 2020

My World Part II

My father was in IBEW Local 1. My grandfather was in AMFA. I have uncles who were boilermakers and ironworkers and one who was in the other airline machinists' union, IAMAW. Further back I have all of the St. Louis bricklayers standing behind me, their blood running through my veins. This was literally all background noise until I lived with John and learned the inner workings of his union, LiUNA Local 42.

Without seeking it out, I got an education in union history, politics, future, pride, and failures. Anytime he got too tired handling his past in my safe quiet house that gave him nightmares and flashbacks, we would talk concrete or we would talk unions. The quilt I made him, in the blank spaces, are three leaf clovers and the number 42. It was important to him and became important to me.

When I knew him, I worked in the Catholic schools and unionization was forbidden. Don't even get me started on the hypocrisy of this. But once I was let go (partially because of no checks and balances that a union could provide), I found myself luckily in a new job with much better pay, benefits, and an optional union membership. I joined, thinking of my young friend who had died that summer and I toasted to him when my membership card arrived in the mail.

It didn't matter that year or the next year or even this past year. Our jobs are on a three year cycle, or rather, we are on a one year contract basis but the agreement about our salaries, benefits, working conditions, hiring, firing, and so forth is on a three year cycle. And that cycle is up.

Negotiations fell through and we are without a resolution and the district has refused mediation.

I don't know what will happen, and right now, where I am in the salary ladder, I'm good even if nothing changes from last cycle. And part of me was like "it's fine either way, life is really stressful right now".

But then John came nagging me in my head. John and Rich and Edward and Ned and Daniel and Kelly and Glennon and Patrick. All the dead men, a few living men, many who bear my name, who stood on picket lines the past 100 years.

So I wore red for ed last week, picketed outside the central offices right before the board meeting which of course is closed to the public because Covid. I don't know if the press we got will be enough to sour the taxpaying public on the district's money hoarding during this, the perfect rainy day to use that rainy day fund, but I'm glad I went. I'm glad I stood out there with my sign and waved at cars and got tired and my knee got sore and I went home sweaty and totally done wearing that damned mask but I showed up.

For like, the first time. If I'm going to be honest. I showed up and I didn't let all those people in my head down. Cheers, John.
Looking west, about 200 of us

Walking a Narrow Way

This was a post I was supposed to do back in May and I am ashamed I did not but here I am, delayed but not yet canceled. Another repost rewrite from 2016.

North Carolina is balanced at the end of the next switchback. I kept telling myself that as I walked further and further up the ridiculously named "Low Gap" Trail. Low gap my ass. Tennessee was killing me with switchbacks like staircases.

This seemed like such a good idea. When we told the guys in the raft that we were going to try it, these men, these scruffy men who lead float trips full of girl scouts down this river every day all summer long, looked at us and told us that was quite a big bite to take.

 North Carolina is at the top of the next switchback. I can do this. I can do this because I don't have a lot but I do have stamina. I persevere. If I can do 52 hours of labor with that crazy Maeve I can walk to North Carolina.

 North Carolina wasn't at the top of the next switchback. Or the next. We kept walking, my traveling companions including Sophia who was smiling at me mildly as I kept saying, "no, I can go further." I can keep at it. I can keep going. I can do it. I can do this. I am more than this.

 I could see the change in the light as we curved around on the last switchback. Finally the last one. I saw it but I didn't believe it. I kept my eyes on the steep rocky ground, these hiking boots that could keep their own blog steadily moving me up. This. Mountain. And then there we were.

She sits on a big gray rock/takes off her boots and socks/not knowing what/she will do next/just starts to cry (Jimmy Buffett)

I hike because it calms my brain. I can feel the synapses refocus and reorganize. I hike because damn it, I'm tired, I'm over 40, my brain won't leave me alone, and all I want to do most days is crawl back into bed but I won't. I won't do it. I can't do it. So I hike.

This hike obliterated me. Because we got to North Carolina and we weren't done. Not even. Walking the border between North Carolina and Tennessee, walking that oldest footpath, it was easier than Low Gap, but it was haunted.

So many footsteps on that narrow little trail. It felt more like a pilgrimage than anything I've ever done before. The path was so narrow. How could it be so narrow? All those feet, all year long, walking this path. And it was one person wide.

Some days I drive to errands or stand in my garden with the hose or clean a bathroom and I think, someone is there right now. Someone is walking that path right now. Someone, tonight, is sleeping along the border of North Carolina and Tennessee and looking at the stars I saw that June. That I hope to see again. And walk under and breathe, the world so big and that path so narrow.

My World Part I

In the spirit of Indigo Bunting's Covid Notes.

My tattoos, except one, were all done by the same artist. I have one done by another guy, but all came from the same shop, which I have recommended to friends and priests and my brother's daughter who got one for her 18th birthday. I trusted my guy and I trusted where he works.

I have recently found out that while my guy is still a stand-up guy, shy and unassuming behind his neck and knuckle tattoos and quiet laugh and true artist's eye, the shop is not. It's in a neighborhood that is one of those up-and-coming strips in the city like a lot of St. Louis has experienced at one time or another, in the 1970s and 80s, boarded up and abandoned. Then the gay bars moved in and then the classy gay bars moved in and a few immigrant-run restaurants and then a local brewery and so forth. The tattoo place fit in with vibe of the street, with tacos and beers and rough ladies bars and 50-something buttoned-up gay mens' lounges and a Himalayan buffet across the street. Classy condos started going up and gentrification was well on its way.

The tattoo shop was one of those co-ops with several owners, who also owned several other places on the same strip. Part of what was moving the neighborhood forward, if you looked at it from the surface like I did when I stopped in to see if my guy could schedule me for more work. But one of the owners and one of the tattoo artists were recently called out on social media for a variety of terrible things. Drugging women at a club and raping them was the main accusation, which hit the news and I assume is moving forward with law enforcement. The tattoo artist, it turns out, inked his name into women's tattoos without permission. Gross stuff.

My tattoo place this week posted on Instagram, my guy's hand scraping the window paint off, both the men's names. He'd obviously taken control of the Instagram account and was in damage control mode. The other owners were scrambling to cut the one guy out and the artist was fired. Today, he posted again.

He admitted that while he had no knowledge of what was happening, he was part of the silence, the covert action, that allowed for this unsafe space and these terrible men to continue their terrible acts. And he set out a 6 point plan to begin to rectify the situation, including cover-ups for anyone who had received a tattoo from one of the accused. Then he said he needed to go be with his wife and daughter and he would post again tomorrow.

I hate that this has happened at a place where I felt completely safe and recommended highly to other people, other women, young women. I hate that my guy and the four other artists who did not commit any bad acts are cleaning up this mess. I am proud that they are, though, instead of circling wagons and deleting accounts and victim-blaming, which seems to be the name of the game these days, maybe all days.

I was just talking to Maggie about how both of us need more ink, and how I was going to give my guy a call. I'm going to let the dust settle a bit but I'm going back. My oldest daughter doesn't think I should: "You are rewarding them for doing the bare minimum."

Maybe I am. But I'm a huge fan of the simple thought: "We do what we can. When we know better, we do better." My guy and his coworkers may have put their heads down and let things happen around them, but now they know better, and I think in doing better, they are doing right.


Funny, as I write this, Blackbird by the Beatles is on, apropos to the current situation my nation keeps finding itself in. You were only waiting for this moment to arise.

But I'm going to do a repost rewrite to dip my foot back in the pool.


A shearwater is a bird. It's a sea bird, nothing that amazing in appearance. Sooty brown (there is a species, in fact, called the Sooty Shearwater), a crooked beak, black eye. You've probably never heard of it. It wouldn't make you turn your head. If I ever saw one in person I'd probably think, "gull" and go back to what I was doing, and I like birding.

Growing up near the Gulf, gulls are a nuisance bird. The pigeons of the seashore.

The shearwater, though, is more than just a brown sea bird. It migrates more every year than any other bird--thousands of miles from northern Europe to South America, for instance, some in a figure-8 pattern, or infinity, back and forth through their lives, tens of thousands of miles each year. 

Often going days without eating to reach its destination, it can dive hundreds of feet into the seawater to catch fish. It is long-lived, too, with the oldest banded bird at over 55 years old in the wild. How many hundreds of thousands of miles that single bird has logged.

Shearwaters fly in a cruciform shape, tilting their long wings to catch the breeze. Their name comes from the habit of gliding on stiff wings along the troughs of waves, making its migration just a bit easier.

This bird found a niche in my brain years ago. Its tenacity, resilience, and stamina covered up in almost complete anonymity, flying across oceans all year long while I walk this solid earth unthinking.

It fades in, I'm sure, with other sea birds, like gulls, hovering above the fishing boats, all looking the same.

But this one, this one is different.

This one is alive in a way that others are not.

This one has a story.