My friend Martha Thomas died last week at 60 after a short, vicious experience with cancer. A seizure in January led to the diagnosis of a glioblastoma tumor in a part of her brain that would not permit surgery and made treatment unlikely to have results. She was living in Easton, Maryland, and at the time she fell ill I had not seen her for a while, with geography, pandemic, and the ups and downs of our long, complicated friendship all playing a role.
Trigger warning: If you don’t want to hear a very lucky and privileged person who should be making gratitude lists or at the very least doing something more useful than bitching about their pandemic experience bitch about their pandemic experience, you are advised to stop reading now.
Let us begin by recalling the story of Dorian Gray, as conceived in 1890 by the great playwright, poet and wit Oscar Wilde. Dorian was a hot young honey who sat for a life-size portrait by his painter friend Basil. Not long after the painting was completed, Dorian started hanging out with a crowd of hedonists, sensualists, and Eurotrash, and gradually began to pay the price of fast living. One hungover morning, staring blearily at his portrait, he realized that he would soon be growing old and ugly and yet the image in the painting would remain perfect. If only it could be the opposite! This wish became a curse, and over the years, as Dorian continued his carousing, he stayed young and beautiful while the image in the portrait grew blemished, haggard and hideous.
The world has changed a lot in the past couple decades, as you’ve surely noticed, and especially since about 2015, with #metoo and Black Lives Matter and the introduction of “they” as a singular pronoun and so much more. If you watch a television show or movie from the nineties or aughts, it’s almost unbelievable what was considered acceptable then. West Wing, which I am slowly working my way through for the first time, seems like it comes from another era altogether, when hordes of white men benevolently ran the world, and the media kept them honest, and a tiny handful of attractive women and black people brought them coffee.
Let’s get into the Wayback Machine and return to February 2006, when there was still a vibrant magazine industry. One of the many women’s magazines it included was called Redbook (founded in 1903, it made it all the way to 2019.) For the Valentine’s issue, this lucky freelancer was commissioned to write an article about amateur matchmaking — an art that was about to nearly disappear under an avalanche of dating sites and dating apps. For this, I was paid a now unthinkable $1/word.
So far my high hopes for 2021 seem like major magical thinking, though I guess there is still a lot of year left. I only wish I felt like the captain of my destiny. I wish I could let go of everything that sucked about last year and start fresh in a completely different place. Like a remote beach in Thailand, perhaps.
Probably there is some way that these aches could be translated into New Year’s resolutions — off to Thailand! someday! — but resolve is the thing I need to resolve about. I feel like a blob. I haven’t had that thought in a long time but I used to have it all day every day in my early adolescence, when everything about me, physically, mentally, and emotionally seemed to be a hopeless sloppy mess. It’s nice to feel connected to my younger self. Depression as nostalgia.
I have been dreaming often about my parents; last night I was going back and forth with my dad about mailing a box of books I left in the house on Dwight Drive. It amazes me how they live inside me forever, the way I Dream of Jeannie and Larry Hagman lived in the TV when I was seven, putting on their show for us once a week and never changing a bit. To think that the premise of that show was a grown woman living in a bottle wearing a velvet brocade brassiere, unloved love slave to an idiot astronaut, never using her magic powers to change her own life — oy. And how we adored this show! Who can believe it even existed in our lifetime?
If I were a character in a TV series, we might say my storyline has tanked. I mean, of course the entire cast is saddled with the pandemic plot, and many characters have been dealt tragedies that dwarf my own, but what the hell is going on with Marion Winik? Will they even bring her back next season?
We didn’t realize how many things would expire in 2020, did we? Where were the tiny numerals stamped on the restaurants, the stores, the jobs, the knees, the relationships?
— from last month’s column
I wrote those sentences about two weeks before my darling Beau — Beau Heinie Beau, Hein-Pooch, Beau-linsky, Bitty Hom Poo Chem, Poochadeen Mateen, Mon Peauché, more recently and who knows why, Pumpala (Pum Pum Pum) — a nearly sixteen-year-old black-and-tan miniature dachshund, left me for good, at 10:30 am, on Friday, September 18th, at the Aardmore Veterinary Hospital.
I have repeated the insane nicknames above so often they seem like actual words to me, and only when I try to spell them do I realize how far over the linguistic edge I have gone. (Speaking of silly names, didn’t it used to be called the Aardmore “Veterinarium”? I pictured dogs paddling around the squat brick building like furry four-legged fish, a few aardvarks in there, too.)
A few years ago, my son’s longtime girlfriend Shannon did a capstone project for her grad school program in design. The assignment was to come up with a novel idea for a non-profit organization and design all the graphics for it; at the end, a panel of professional designers came in to judge their presentations. Shannon’s group’s project was The Rescued Radish, a company that would go around to grocery stores and pick up all the older, less attractive, but still usable produce – the spotty bananas, the pock-marked peppers, the brown-edged lettuce, the frosty carrots – and take them to soup kitchens and food pantries and also sell them at a deep discount to impoverished college students and others living on ramen.
On July 14, 2020, my 2005 collection of essays, Above Us Only Sky, is being reissued by Counterpoint in both paper and digital editions. To the original essays, I’ve added 22 new ones, 17 of them written for this column. That’s why the new edition is dedicated to Baltimore Fishbowl founder and publisher Suzy Dunn – without her support, most of this new work would not exist. And you Fishbowl readers, you too get credit. Some writers produce masterpieces in isolation, but I can’t write 500 words without believing that somebody will read them, and soon.