Bohemian Rhapsody

You Look Like Your Dog Just Died

23

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 Farewell to Knees

6

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.

A Little Good News for Once

6

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.

Greeting Cards for All Occasions

5


I used to think the most unbearable feeling in the world was being misunderstood. Now I am misunderstood so often that it must be I who misunderstands. Most problematically, I seem to misunderstand myself.  The big thing that’s happening now, where white people who didn’t think they were racist are finding out they actually are? That is happening to me, and not just on the social justice front. In the end, it may turn out I was a very deluded Shetland pony or a Catholic nun in the grip of a fever dream.

Things to Do in Quarantine

1

Last month I got a whole column out of the idea that I had nothing to say, and I still feel that way, only more so. The mental disconnect continues. Perhaps you know what I mean.

I found myself thinking about something the poet William Stafford wrote in his essay, A Way of Writing. “A writer is not so much someone who has something to say as someone who has found a process that will bring about new things he would not have thought of if he had not started to say them.” In this month of blankness and difficulties, I searched for such a process to guide my way. Stafford’s own approach, daily writing pages, seemed unlikely as I felt unable to put together even one honest sentence.

The Dog Days of Quarantine

17


In the face of a bizarre disaster that has derailed daily life everywhere, in the face of isolation, fear, disappointment, and a constant flood of bad news, a spring-green fuse of creative energy is sizzling and popping all over the world. The memes and parodies, the YouTubes and TikToks, the Italians singing to each other from their balconies, the New Yorkers pounding pots at 7 pm. The Getty Museum art challenge, the family in London with their adorable rendition of Les Mis, the spandexed mom doing her Jane Fonda workout to I Will Survive. The Israeli woman in dark glasses ranting in Hebrew about online elementary school.

Some Pretty Bad Things I Did A Long Time Ago

1

In the late 1980s, after struggling for years to write fiction and poetry, I stumbled on the possibilities of the personal essay. I was inspired and energized by the possibility of telling the truth about my life and experiences. It was a challenge to see how honest I could really be – how far I would go. There were things it seemed impossible to discuss in public. What the hell, I thought, and did it anyway. And once I did, I experienced the redemptive and sometimes thrilling powers of confession, which is what this essay celebrates. Later, after “Telling” became the title essay of my first collection from Random House, I experienced some of the less fun aspects of baring one’s life and soul, like being criticized for being exhibitionistic and seeking only to shock. Reading this essay 30-plus years later, I think I may in fact have gone a little overboard. Welcome to the “Oy Vey” edition of Telling, with illustrations.

With Jane, in Spain: Director’s Cut (or 10 reasons to go to Sevilla)

2
Your typical ceiling n Moorish wonderland.

Toward the end of winter break, my daughter Jane and I took a one-week trip to Sevilla, Spain, with a detour to another Andalusian all-star, Granada. In the olden days, I would have written a piece called Ten Reasons to Go To Sevilla or Thirty-Six Hours in Sevilla or What’s New in Sevilla for a newspaper or magazine travel section; unfortunately, here in 2020 both my freelance career and print-media travel sections have fallen on hard times. But you know me, I gotta write it down. And now it turns out, Jane’s gotta take pictures of it. And so the spunky little Ten Reasons story lives on, with about twice as many words as I would have had in the days of ink and paper.

Baltimore Holiday Report

6

I don’t know if I’m going soft in my old age or what, but I didn’t hate the holidays at all this year. From the morning I ran outside barefoot in my bathrobe to give the garbage men a twenty-dollar bill, it was just one sweet moment after another. Since my children don’t live here anymore, it was lovely to have a couple of them return. Jane helped me get the Christmas tree and Vince found Chanukah candles for 89 cents a box. Then I cooked their favorite dishes as they sat side by side on the couch joyously playing Mario Kart on the Nintendo Switch. Hayes and Maria were in Ecuador with her family but showed up on Facetime at key moments.

Another Baltimore Dog Story: The Trials of Lea

3

My neighbor Pam has three wild boys, and all have begged for years to get a dog. Particularly Rocco, the middle one, a born animal lover. But who will take care of this dog? asked Pam, knowing perfectly well who it would be. Sorry boys, no dog. It’s already too much around here.

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