Notes from the Edge

Carrie Fisher wrote these words for Meryl Streep to say as a fictionalized version of herself in the semi-autobiographical film Postcards from the Edge:

I can’t feel my life.  I look around and I know so much of it is good…but I just can’t believe it…I don’t want my life to imitate art.  I want my life to be art.

Those lines are condensed from a climactic speech where a perennially snide, yet terribly insecure and newly sober actress for the first time admits she realizes how fortunate she is to be alive and to have opportunities in which to thrive.

an eye opener

It was an embarrassingly honest bit of contemporary self-parody 30 years ago. 

I mean, who is truly going to feel sorry for a talented young woman born into a wealthy show business family whose real life inspiration played Princess Leia in Star Wars?

But who knew it would have additional resonance all these decades later where so many of us are walking around wringing our hands over what our 2021 lives are, are not, or may never be?

The very same people who could have predicted that both Princess Leia AND the actress who played her would also be gone.

Stop that!

It doesn’t help that the news gives us daily warnings that the Covid Monster we assumed we were beginning to slay is actually still lurking just outside our door and ingeniously getting even closer.  

The latest tidbit is that the viral load for those infected with its new and improved Delta variant is ONE THOUSAND TIMES higher than its original and almost TWICE as CONTAGIOUS.

This reminds me of another line from another even more classic film, The Wizard of Oz.  After her house accidentally drops on the Wicked Witch of the East and that witch’s evil sister stands before her, an already nervous Dorothy is immediately warned by her friend Glinda that:

This is the Wicked Witch of the West.  And SHE’S WORSE THAN THE OTHER ONE!!

I’LL GET YOU MY PRETTY!

Considering film is our best cultural representation of what it’s like to be human, it shouldn’t be at all surprising that so many of us are in our current emotional states.

Well, I for one, had to take at least a partial step back from all of it this week.  There is nothing clever nor particularly profound about this decision except, well, I had to do anything but intermittently freak out amid, well, intermittently freaking out.

And as someone once told me, sometimes it’s better to do something, or anything, than nothing.

(Note:  I think it was a therapist who gave me that advice but I can’t be entirely sure I actually didn’t once read it in some old Carrie Fisher interview).

… or maybe it was Gary.

In any event, since I wasn’t up for volunteering in a space where I would be around anyone or anything I didn’t know (or anything or anyone who wasn’t vaccine certified), I chose to go back to the one constant in my life that has almost never let me down – friends.

One day I had an outside lunch with a buddy who I’ve known for over FORTY YEARS and haven’t seen in two.  Another evening was spent with two guys I haven’t seen in person in three years but have known for THIRTY. 

Another close friend I first met in 1982 is here for the summer and we’ve had a bunch of get-togethers.  I’ve also had a ton of long conversations with family members and others close to me that I haven’t talked to in a while. 

And now I’m all verklempt

I even – and I know this is shocking – made it a point to actually pay more attention to the person I see every day of my life – my HUSBAND – and actually make it a priority to LISTEN to what he had to say before I SAID anything.

The latter might not seem like a lot but, well… okay… the long married/long term couples will tell you…

I can’t tell you any of these was a panacea aka CURE for what’s been lurking outside my door, or yours, but it did help – A LOT. 

At least for a while.  Until it didn’t.

It was at that time that I reached out to even more people and began to listen and look around at my surroundings.

And breathe. 

It’s been too long Johnny

That helped too.  A bit.  At which time, things got somewhat anxious again and I started to write stuff.  Not a lot but enough to get me through some rough hours.  As it has so many times, through so many decades before.

And when that lost its effect I even went for a run and…worked out?!!??  A bunch of times.  That, in turn, bought me a whole bunch of extra, non-worrying hours.   Much as it hurt and I didn’t want to do it.

Oh, and it also brought….appreciation.

I’m kidding… I think

See, at the end of the day what you realize is that any life at all is art, woefully imperfect and consistently stressful, daunting and even haunting, though it may be.

I wish I could cure Covid but I can’t.  I wish I could thoroughly avoid Covid but, practically speaking, it’s impossible and not advisable. 

Though what I can do, and all of us can do, is live our lives with some meaning AND with the people that make us laugh and make us happy, and not let it poison so much of what is good about living at all.

It’s not a perfect art but, as Ms. Fisher observed all those decades ago, that’s not what life’s about anyway.

She also once famously said:

Instant gratification takes too long.

Amen to that, also.

Meryl Streep – “I’m Checking Out” from Postcards from the Edge

SCRATCH! THAT! ITCH!

It’s amazing how much I want to touch my face.  Like, all the time and everywhere.

Most especially, I want to rub my eyes.  But REALLY rub them good and hard so they will never itch again.

Though while we’re on the subject, I really, REALLY want to spend a good hour scratching my nose.  I don’t have a particular spot because the tingling shifts all the time. First it’s on the outside, then on the inside and then on the top and the bottom of every side.

Cue Macaulay Culkin scream

Which is to say nothing of my mouth and my ears.  If I weren’t eating everything in sight (Note: Not that there’s very much) or spending so many hours listening for updates and warnings on cable news, they’d bother me even more.  That said, when those orifii (Note: Alternate plural for orifices) are not engaged it’s pure hell to resist the urge to, well, manhandle them in some every way.

In the age of COVID-19 self-quarantine/social distancing/pandemic land we’re not supposed to do a lot.  But touching your face is among those at the top of the list of the WORST things to do.

It’s easy to understand why.  The virus’ entry point is through any open membrane into your body exposed in everyday life.  If you don’t live in a nudist colony, your face is Iwo Jima.

Or, if you don’t like war metaphors, you can think of it as a potentially fatal petri dish.

This is how I used to think about my acne-ridden face all through adolescence so for me that’s not a far reach.  It’s more like a golden oldie.

Unless, of course, there is another way to think about this.

When I stop to ponder what I’ve just written only one word comes to my mind – insanity.  It’s that kind of neuroticism I spent most of my adult life trying to undo through every means possible.

Totally normal now

In particular, many years and tens of thousands of dollars of therapy come to mind. Let’s not even get into all the bad relationship choices, inappropriate acting out by any means necessary or the sheer abject solitary terror and loneliness.

So I’ll be damned if I’m going to let Covi drag me back now.  Nor do I want you going down your own personal rabbit hole, however more creative yours might be. (Note: though I doubt it).

Take those personal victories where you can get them

The crazy part of this face stuff is not the admonition to keep our hands and everything else away from that particular part of our person.  Instead, it’s the absolutism with which we tell it to ourselves and shout it out to the world.

It’s true, you don’t want to be in an office, a public space or anywhere else and put your fingers where they shouldn’t be (Note:  Good advice, even without a plague).

But if you’re at home alone and you’ve just washed your hands for 20 seconds with soap and warm water, well —

HAVE AT IT!!!

Me, right now

Truly.  If you’re healthy nothing will happen to you.  How could it?  You’ve just disinfected (aka killed the virus) the means by which your death sentence will mutate.

Yes, I’ve exaggerated for dramatic effect.  COVID-19 is not a death sentence for most.  But for many, it’s not fun.  And for many more other than yourself, it could be if you pass it on.

But you want to be mindful.  And you want to be rational or you will kill the very reason you want to stay alive to begin with.

And when in doubt, I just remember Jon Hamm is OK

TODAY.

Fine, today’s not so great, even if you do like your house.  Nevertheless it’s all we’ve got for now.  In actuality, it’s all we’ve ever had.  It’s just, well, it didn’t always seem that way, did it?

I don’t know about you but I don’t want to f-ck up today for myself more than outside circumstances already have.

This occurred to me this morning after I came back from a lovely morning walk with my dog, Rosie, took off her collar and leash, gave her a treat, took off my jacket and put it in the laundry room, scrubbed my hands thoroughly and then nearly slapped myself silly for having the urge to….itch the outside of my nostril with my bare finger.

Do I want to die, I thought for a split second.

RESISTANCE IS FUTILE!

And then I sneezed, confirming pretty soon I would die.  In fact, it was imminent.  Never mind that it’s the height of allergy season and I haven’t had my bi-weekly allergy shot in weeks.   And that Rosie had decided this a.m. to sniff every tree, shrub, flower (Note: But no people, NEVER people) in sight.

Then suddenly I stopped.  Maybe it was all that therapy or perhaps it was Rosie’s look at the crazy person in her kitchen.

But something in that moment made me ponder my runaway train thought processes, wash my hands one more time for good measure (Note: You never can be too careful), and then SCRATCH AWAY.

NEED MORE HANDS!

EVERYWHERE.

And I do mean everywhere.

(Note: Use your imagination).

What have I done?

In closing, all I’m saying is this:

You don’t have to scratch every itch you have but there is no point to any of this if you simply exist in a scratch free prison of your own making.

DO NOT take this as in invitation to party in the South Beach of your choice with your favorite teen or twentysomething.

But DO find a way to party on your own….with clean hands.

Bee Gees – “Stayin Alive”