Back in Cambridge she stopped at Formaggio, the fancy neighborhood shop for cheeses—cheeses and crackers and several kinds of olives. They had cherry tomatoes that looked nice in the produce section, so she got those too, and a few other things for a light dinner tonight.
Standing in line to check out, she was mindlessly looking over at the flowers displayed in the corner of the shop. There were tulips, lilacs, peonies, irises. Gorgeous she thought. Hopeful, as spring flowers always are. She’d get some. For the party, of course. p 69-70 from Sue Miller’s forthcoming book, Monogamy
The Teeny Tiny Summer of 2020 Bucket List~
A movie at the drive-in
A picnic with food from the Lebanon Farmers’ Market
A picnic with food from the Woodstock Farmers’ Market
A floral bouquet from Cedar Circle
Foods to eat: watermelon, potato salad, baked beans, corn on the cob, strawberry rhubarb croustade, zucchini cake, homemade ice cream and tomato toast
I didn’t know that I would make a Bucket List this year, but it felt wrong not to. The point is to make a list of favorite summer things that I hope to do. Making the list is its own special joy. So I pared it back—way back.
Good news! We’ve done all but two of them so far. Ordinarily we would put some pie-in-the-sky hopes and dreams on the list. The ones where we keep our fingers crossed that the stars will align. That seemed too cruel, because honestly, it all seems out of reach.
And yet we are lucky. So blessed. Each time I take my bike out to visit the lake, there’s a certain stretch of wide open road where I feel like I’m flying and I think, “I am the luckiest girl in the world.” But then I come home and the reality of it hits, either I’m gearing up for a day at work, or I’m squeezing more work into the hours at home I would normally be trying to forget work exists. Sadly, email requests for books seem to follow wherever you try to hide. My life has become a fulfillment center.
It has shrunk from what it once was. It’s changed and morphed and shape-shifted into this current permutation. Some days I hold it up to the light and inspect it all over because I think I came home from the store with the wrong life. I scrutinize it, give it a good sniff and realize it’s easier to keep it than to try and make what is advertised as a “hassle-free” return. Perhaps I will discover this one is better than the one I had…
We live in a beautiful, old house and we are healthy and able-bodied. Thankfully all still employed. The outside world and the threat of catching the virus scares me, so we hardly ever go out. It seems that there are other people in the world trying to have life as normal, which includes visiting bars, shopping and vacations. I wish they would be more cautious and stay home. M brings food from the grocery for us, we make an essential errand run occasionally, and otherwise we just make do. There are the special picnics, and a socially distant visit with a friend every now and then— but anything else feels like much too much.
I think about Annie, the character from Sue Miller’s new book, and her excitement over the food she was buying for the party. That, of course, leads me to think of our beloved Clarissa Dalloway, choosing to buy those flowers for herself. This year I have spent much more time outside in the backyard garden. Most nights I go out for a slug check. It’s almost become part of my bedtime routine, caring for those begonias. I have bought probably one too many plants at the garden centers, but being there, outside surrounded by plants, and then buying something verdant to take home, just fills me the way nothing else can right now. I don’t know why I feel the need to nurture even more things, but the blossoms are worth all my energy and attention. Taking out the camera and capturing those vivid colors and the way the petals unfurl, is the key to my crumbling heart.
I have never been a person who finds joy in hosting and entertaining. That isn’t something I’ve been grieving these past couple of months, though I know there are some people who miss it desperately. And I hope that someday there will be opportunities for parties and gatherings and all degrees of merriment. I like having our quiet meals in the backyard. Eating there, at a small table just the right size for the three of us, is something we’ve been striving for this summer. Sometimes it’s sandwiches, sometimes we grill, and sometimes it’s Picnic Dinner—my favorite. That’s a plate with assorted meats and cheeses—including the stinky one that comes in a crock that I adore. Another plate with crackers and bread. A little bowl with olives, maybe black and green if we’re feeling fancy. And then some sort of sparkling lemonade. That it’s the three of us, since T is back home with us for a bit, makes it feel so much like an unexpected gift. Each time we sit, I think, “Let me remember this.”
This is my particular joy, maybe it’s like yours, or maybe yours looks completely different. The key, I guess is to figure out what you are needing (craving, desiring) and how to tweak what’s available so that it pleases you. I have lowered and lowered my expectations these past few months, and I feel oh so fortunate that lowering is an option. I don’t need to go out really, but I do need things that bring me happiness. I wish that for you: wonder and delight. Discovering some of that right now could maybe help keep you from slipping out over the edge.
I know that is not the case for everyone. Not everyone has the power to look away. People are being evicted, they’re sick or dying. Some are headed back to work environments that feel unsafe to them. All I know is to try and do my best in the situation I’m given, so that it will hopefully, albeit incrementally, improve.
Until then, I read. Especially on Sunday morning in bed. I pile the books around me and they spill over to M’s side. I dip in and out of several books, whatever suits my mood. I read to experience other lives—some who struggle more than others, some who seem to have it easy in life. I read about other places, other times. My physical life appears to have gotten smaller, but perhaps my imagined life and my awareness of the world around me is becoming ever so much more vast. For now, that’s enough.
Dear a, your word for next week is bath.