Pandemic and the Plague: I Read Camus

In the midst of the quarantined life in the pretty garden created by the gardener and in the house with our six sweet cats, I’ve been reading The Plague by the existentialist Albert Camus since March 20 and just finished yesterday. I don’t know why it took me so long except that I am too exhausted to read at night and can only read 20 minutes a day, tops. It feels as if I have always been reading this book. It was first published as La Peste in France in 1947 and then in English in 1948.

I don’t think the novel is scaring me, although I am plagued (sorry) with dreams and nightmares that poke the surface of my consciousness every morning.

As I’ve read, I’ve highlighted passages (percentages are where quotes can be found in my Kindle version) that resonated with me from today’s pandemic. The translation I selected was by Stuart Gilbert. Here are some of the quotes with my “annotations” or questions:

“Thus the first thing that plague brought to our town was exile . . . . that sensation of a void within which never left us, that irrational longing to hark back to the past or else to speed up the march of time, and those keen shafts of memory that stung like fire.” 23%

  • Does that sound familiar? A weird void that just won’t fill in, no matter how much chocolate or wine you feed it. A desperate longing to get this over with once and for all?! Wash our hands of it, so to speak.

“And though the narrator experienced only the common form of exile, he cannot forget the case of those who, like Rambert the journalist and a good many others, had to endure an aggravated deprivation, since, being travelers caught by the plague and forced to stay where they were, they were cut off both from the person with whom they wanted to be and from their homes as well.” 24%

  • Do you ever have strong feelings of sympathy for people who didn’t get to quarantine where they are most comfortable? Or with the person they most want to be with? Awful. I am cut off from my kids, like so many, but at least I am here with the gardener and our cats.

“Looking at them, you had an impression that for the first time in their lives they were becoming, as some would say, weather-conscious. A burst of sunshine was enough to make them seem delighted with the world, while rainy days gave a dark cast to their faces and their mood.” 24%

  • As soon as I felt locked in, I started desperately searching for sunshine so I could get some of it on my bare skin. I hadn’t had this feeling since I was a kid in Michigan, desperate to feel the warm sun on my skin that had been buried under dry epidermis layers and woolens. The gardener intensified his radar searches for weather forecasts.

“But the gaunt, idle cranes on the wharves, tip-carts lying on their sides, neglected heaps of sacks and barrels–all testified that commerce, too, had died of plague. ” 25%

  • Yup, most businesses are tipped over, lying on their sides, and beginning to rot.

“Their first reaction, for instance, was to abuse the authorities.” 25%

  • Haha, we all do it. And mainly for good reason. I blame every politician and government employee/appointee involved over the last hundred years since the government has been responsible for protecting us from a pandemic at least since the last pandemic. But they didn’t. Not one of them. They washed their hands.

“Nevertheless, many continued hoping that the epidemic would soon die out and they and their families be spared. Thus they felt under no obligation to make any change in their habits as yet. Plague was for them an unwelcome visitant, bound to take its leave one day as unexpectedly as it had come.” 30%

  • Most of us are probably still in this phase. But those of us who have lost someone or watched someone suffer with the disease have gone beyond that one.

“At first the fact of being cut off from the outside world was accepted with a more or less good grace, much as people would have put up with any other temporary inconvenience that interfered with only a few of their habits. But, now they had abruptly become aware that they were undergoing a sort of incarceration under that blue dome of sky, already beginning to sizzle in the fires of summer, they had a vague sensation that their whole lives were threatened by the present turn of events . . . .” 32%

  • As it gets warmer and we get closer to the beginning of summer, more and more people are going to start “chompin’ at the bit.” And will feel more desperate. Let’s hope it doesn’t go that far.

“[T]he way in which, in the very midst of catastrophe, offices could go on functioning serenely and take initiatives of no immediate relevance, and often unknown to the highest authority, purely and simply because they had been created originally for this purpose.” 35%

  • Oh man, when I run up against the dumbest bureaucracy still operating at molasses-speed, it makes me angry.

“Now and again a gunshot was heard; the special detailed to destroy cats and dogs, as possible carriers of infection, was at work.” 36%

  • In the United States this “disposal” generally takes the form of dumping animals outside and at shelters. Stories are that it has been more like in the book in certain areas of China.

“‘However, you think . . . that the plague has its good side; it opens men’s eyes and forces them to take thought?'” 41%

  • Do you hear people talk about the positive aspects of the pandemic? Do you feel weird about thinking about the “good side” of something catastrophic?

“‘We’re short of equipment. In all the armies of the world a shortage of equipment is usually compensated for by manpower. But we’re short of man-power, too.'” 49%

  • We’ve heard a lot about this!

“The plague victim died away from his family and the customary vigil beside the dead body was forbidden, with the result that a person dying in the evening spent the night alone, and those who died in the daytime were promptly buried.” 56%

  • And this: people are dying alone, without their families or friends, and then their bodies are zipped into plastic bags. Wash hands.

“It is true that the actual number of deaths showed no increase. But it seemed that plague had settled in for good at its most virulent, and it took its daily toll of deaths with the punctual zeal of a good civil servant. Theoretically, and in the view of the authorities, this was a hopeful sign. The fact that the graph after its long rising curve had flattened out seemed to many . . . resassuring . . . . the old doctor reminded him that the future remained uncertain; history proved that epidemics have a way of recrudescing when least expected.” 75%

  • This analysis could be a conversation about our current pandemic.
” . . . and to state quite simply what we learn in time of pestilence: that there are more things to admire in men than to despise.”
  •  For an existentialist and for the writer of one of my favorite (and very dark) novels, The Stranger, this is quite an upbeat ending.

I have asked myself if it’s been helpful to me to read The Plague. When I am reading it I feel it is because I can contextualize that all the reactions to Covid 19 are typical of a pandemic, especially in a modern era. Camus’ story was based on, I believe, a 19th century case of plague, but he set the story in a vague period in the 20th century. Why is this understanding of the “typicality” of our reactions good for me? How does it help me? Maybe that is only part of it. Maybe by reading a story of the bubonic plague in France in the mid-20th century I can displace some of my emotions about our plight and our future onto this fictional world created by Camus. The book takes on some of my emotional burden, in a way.

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Did watching Outbreak do that, too? Hah, maybe. I watched that movie on my iPad because the gardener didn’t want to see it.

As we wait and wait for I am not entirely sure what (because the experts really do not know–they just hope) I am grateful that we are not sick and that our cats are also ok for now.  I wish I were taking advantage of National Poetry Month, but I have been too busy and too exhausted. I have written one more poem. I will try again this week! Please stay safe, everyone.

How do you handle the burden of your emotions over the Covid-19 pandemic?

 

 

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Reporting In, Part 2

This week has been difficult for me because the gardener and I are self-employed and our businesses are shut down temporarily for the pandemic. I spent my week dealing with the resulting issues with nobody to call for advice.

So today I am reeling from a week of that. And frustrated by all the stuff I didn’t get to do that I wanted to do. But I did keep up with tweeting for the shelter (takes longer than it would seem to as I have to collect the info first) and other animal work.

I hope that I get to work on my Scraps scrapbook and write and go for walks this week.

On top of the government and bank crap, the gardener has been damn grumpy.  Anybody else living with someone who is grumpy during the pandemic?

Today I will give you a couple of photos of the grump’s handiwork in the yard .

Both these photos are at the wall we share with the neighbor.

The flower wheel was made by my father, and I think I’ve posted a photo of it before. The metal flowers are fading, but I sort of enjoy seeing them become different shades over time.

I sure hope that I get to do some writing before National Poetry Month is over.

By the way, Poetry in the Time of Coronavirus is now available for purchase through Amazon. Why should you buy it other than reading a lot of poems about a Very Timely Subject? Because the purchase price goes toward both Doctors Without Borders and Partners In Health! The poets are from all over the world and from all age groups, even a 7 year old! Makes me tear up to think about it. POETRY IN THE TIME OF CORONAVIRUS

Hope your week is good enough and, most importantly, that you and yours are well.

Sending LOVE!!!

 

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Let’s Keep National Poetry Month in Mind

If we keep National Poetry Month in mind throughout April maybe it will take the edge off social distancing through April 30. As for Arizona, we were put on a stay-at-home order on Monday that is to last through April.

So: National Poetry Month. For the second year in a row, I like the poster. For years I couldn’t stand the posters, then last year they had a contest and chose a design by a high school student. And it was great.

They did the same thing this year, and I love the result. The assignment was to submit artwork that incorporated line(s) from the poem “Remember” by current U. S. Poet Laureate Joy Harjo that “reflected a celebration of the art of poetry.”

This poster was designed by Samantha Aikman, a 10th grader.

Honorable mention went to senior Kai Huie:

It is also National Poetry Writing Month or NaPoWriMo. Try your hand at writing a poem a day!

So happy April. And HAPPY 16TH BIRTHDAY TO TIGER QUEENIE PRINCESS MIMI JOSEFINA.

Nobody can do resting bitch face like my little princess

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Reporting In

Reporting in from the pandemic, as I sort of promised last week. Not going too stir crazy yet, although my concerns about all the changes to our collective and individual as-planned futures has me a bit shocked.

I wrote a few poems about the Thing happening to us, as I mentioned last week, but have agonized over a weird about-what? poem all week on and off. One of my pandemic poems is coming out in the anthology Poetry in the Time of Coronavirus, ed. G. A. Cuddy. I read a bit of it for PITTOC, and they posted it on their Instagram account. I reposted it on my Instagram account. The poem is called “Another Elephant Poem,” of course related to the elephant in the room.

Another one of my pandemic poems was published by Headline Poetry and Press: Monkey Mind

I would not call either one of these poems uplifting. They simply are. The third poem I sent out to a journal so we’ll see: that poem is a bit more upbeat.

On a positive note, Hermione Wilds reads one of my pre-pandemic poems on Youtube.

You know that video found on Instagram that I mentioned above?  I kid you not: I absolutely did not have this many wrinkles, bloatings, and sags before March. Yes, I am getting older, and my face is showing it. But, WOW, what a difference a month makes. I have not been sleeping well. Rather than having insomnia, I have been sleeping, but my sleep has been plagued by nightmares. One night the dream went on forEVER, with me trying to social distance and people not allowing it. No matter where I went, people crowded up around me.

Is that creepy or what, that I am apparently now afraid of people?!

Now here are some good doings.

Funny: at the cats’ dinner time I shut our bedroom door so Sloopy Anne doesn’t run in there after dinner. She likes to lie in wait for us, but she can’t sleep with us because she and Tiger get jealous of each other–and Tiger gets to sleep with us. So now the second I try to sneak to the bedroom door, Sloopy Anne anticipates and races me for the door. I keep trying to figure out ways to trick her, but she is ON to me. Pretty cute.

Making: I wrote a story about a fabric scrap for a page in my SCRAPS scrapbook. The edits took me all week. I might make two pages out of this one because the story is so long. Or I might just insert the story inside a pocket or somesuch and keep it all to one page. I haven’t started making the page yet, so I will have to see how it turns out.

Content: I’m so blessed to have my cats. I am celebrating Pear’s birthday today. She turns 20. I will celebrate Tiger’s birthday this week, too. She turns 16. They are the oldest of my six. All but Perry are seniors. As my poem “Monkey Mind” mentions, I wish everyone who is lockdowned or isolating had pets to give them love.

 

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Advice from Pauline

Beginning perhaps on Friday I developed a strong urge not to blog today. Monday is usually my day, but Monday had no appeal any longer. Suddenly, I didn’t feel as if I had anything to say. The news had wrung me dry.

Anything that crossed my mind seemed as if it had already been said in a way that I would never be able to muster with my brain fried, diced, and served.

Then Pauline responded to my comment on her blog The Contented Crafter.

I was looking at a post from you on IG [Instagram] about making elderberry syrup and my phone rang – and I never got back to it. I know you have a very different governmental system to ours and it does sound very hard for all my friends there. Here we have a woman in charge and it’s showing. People and health first. We know it will be a struggle later on when the virus has been held in check, but personally I hope it means we will change our ways of living, our expectations, our emissions, our stuff, our disinterest in those who have less, the generally disadvantaged, the third world countries, the dispossessed peoples of the world. I hope we will plant more trees, use no plastics, clean the oceans and care for our animals better. I hope there will be a new normal and we will embrace the positive in that – whatever it is. In the meantime we will make tasty goodies in our kitchens, from fruits and vegetables grown in our own gardens, to help our own wellbeing – and that of our pets. We will laugh at ourselves and laugh with each other and this will raise our immunity levels. We will strive every day to look for the good things that are being done and enacted and shared – lets walk through this together and share and support and make the world a smaller, friendlier, safer place for a while. I think this will make a great deal of difference. Thank you for coming over Luanne, all the way from Phoenix too – which sounds so exotic to me 🙂 I hope the Gardener is well and all the kitties too. Keep posting – just about what you are making and how you are feeling and what made you happy and laugh, or sad and cry today….. and I will too. xoxo

You see what I mean about somebody else saying it better than I could do. Notice what she wrote at the end: Keep posting–just about what you are making and how you are feeling and what made you happy and laugh, or sad and cry today. WOWSA!!! And she will, too :).

So that is what I am writing about today.

I did make elderberry syrup to boost the immune system of the gardener, the daughter, the future SIL, and myself.

I don’t spend a lot of time or money on “supplements” and other immune boosters or cures, as a rule. Well, not a rule. Haha. When I try something I end up using it once or twice and then it sits in the cupboard. And I don’t usually make it myself. But this time it seemed important to make it myself. That way I know all the ingredients that go into it. It smells quite medicinal when it’s cooking, but the taste was quite good. I used cinnamon and ginger, but I did not use cloves as I am not very fond of cloves.

I felt as if I was channeling my women ancestors while I made the syrup. Caring for my family with my own hands, putting love into the medicine along with the honey.

What else did I make? I made chicken breasts with the lemons from my friend’s tree and the rosemary from my bush. I cooked sauerkraut and, instead of throwing away the juice as usual, we drank it. The gardener’s uncle used to drink sauerkraut juice every day and swore by it as a health drink. It also is supposed to be an immune booster. I admit the cooking of the sauerkraut is just because I love it that way: with natural sugar, paprika, pepper.

 

I

I wish I could say that I made some more pages for my fabric Scrap scrapbook, but although I meant to, time got away from me. Trust me, I NEVER don’t have anything to do. I’ve added sitting out in the sun on every day with sun. It’s helpful emotionally and maybe physically. I wrote another poem this week, but it stinks. I made a little herb garden so that I can have fresh herbs without having to run to the store.

I am learning to need a little less, use a little more of everything, and put more thought into all I do.

What made me happy and/or laugh?

My cats, of course. Perry is especially cuddly lately, and I think he senses my anxiety. Pear and Tiger wants to be with me all the time. The other three are their own usual selves. At least I hope they are. I hope they don’t have hidden anxiety. They all give me lots of love and security, and occasionally, make me laugh pretty hard.

My daughter started an Instagram account for her puppy. You can see Riley at rileysblackbook. Now I get a little dose of Riley every day, although I can’t go over to their place in actuality.

Some of the memes and videos on Facebook that friends share make me happy or laugh. The bunny who wants to be a herding dog was one of my favorites this week. See it here: Bunny has been watching the dog herd

Restarting my “fill in the gaps” project for genealogy that I post over at The Family Kalamazoo blog. It forces me to focus, but I don’t have to be as creative as when writing a poem. And these days, I really want to get a rudimentary structure of family history done and sent digitally to all the younger family members. Just in case.

What makes me sad is watching young people crowding the beaches and parks, sassing the police who try to move them along, and putting themselves and everyone in danger. What makes me sad is that my mom lives alone and has to isolate and to keep from going crazy she still socializes with 3 of her neighbors. Who can blame her?

What makes me sad is watching videos from Italy about the patients and healthcare workers. The doctors who came out of retirement to die at the hands of Covid-19.

But the videos of all the music coming from the people make me teary in a bittersweet way.

Another bittersweet for me has to do with the shelter animals. Mostly, I am terrified for the animals as sad reports come in about people abandoning or euthanizing animals out of ignorance. The shelters had to cancel all their fundraisers. And the staff and volunteers have to risk their own lives to work at the shelters, taking care of the animals. There was a bonded pair of senior kitties I REALLY wanted to foster. But it turns out it wasn’t right for us right now. So instead I took on another task for the shelter. I am now “womanning” their Twitter account. So come follow along at Home Fur Good.

How do YOU feel? What makes you happy and sad these days?

Stay safe and keep growing. That’s my new motto.

 

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Artist’s Way in the Time of Coronavirus

I didn’t really think I’d still be writing about Covid-19 or coronavirus this week. Trying not to think ahead to next week.

Have you been hearing about/seeing the best and worst in people this past week? So many stories about TP being stolen out of grocery carts, etc. But on NextDoor app, there are so many kind people offering to pick up meds and groceries for seniors and people with health issues–or even just for people afraid to go into the stores.

I picked up stuff for my kids and a friend. Then on a family chat when I joked about only have one bag of BBQ Lays and not much Tito’s in the bottle, my daughter and her fiance delivered those as a gift to me (they were at the grocery store where they found no potatoes, no onions, no eggs, and almost no meat).

My friend knew we couldn’t get eggs, so she bought eggs for me and for my daughter at Costco. When we picked it up, she had a bag of lemons from her tree for us, but wouldn’t come out the door to get the egg money, so I had to put it in the doormat. LOL

Times have not gotten bad yet. Just annoying.

I’ll move on to other topics, but it’s kind of hard to keep the Virus from intruding.

Remember when I started The Artist’s Way program? I read the book, worked Morning Pages, and Artist Dates. I also joined an in-person group. By the way, I found a little interview with Julia Cameron (the book author and creator of the program) on her blog. An Interview with Julia Cameron

Without going into the whole story of what has gone on for me with the program, I’d like to mention a few points that arise from where I’m “at” right now.

  • Morning pages are being used for what food we are eating for dinner based on what we have in the house and so that we don’t use up all the good stuff first.
  • Artist Dates are the things I can do from home: movies, books, crafts, etc.
  • I just gave my regrets for the in-person meeting this month.
  • How great to have more time to write and craft. Yes, my head is spinning in every direction. My focus is awful. BUT, if I can’t pull it together to write something, how could I withstand an ACTUAL problem? I have written two poems so far.

I am lucky in that I have six cats at home. But it does mean I’ve had to make sure I have enough cat food and litter to last two weeks. The kitties don’t know why Mom and Dad are home more, but they sure do like it–especially after we left them for so long while we were in Costa Rica.

Stay safe everyone. If you are lucky enough to work from home as I am, I hope you can squeeze in more of what you want to do in place of your commute time!

HUGS AND STAY SAFE

P.S. The photo was taken by the gardener (hence, the finger in the left side of the image LOL) at a festival we drove through in a small town in Costa Rica. Needless to say, festivals are now off-limits to all of us.

 

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Coronabub

Warning: crabby writer here.

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There are so many wonderful examples to the contrary. But they remain the minority.

What am I talking about?

Trustworthiness in humans. The coronabub (coronavirus hubbub) has made this clear to me. First there are the accounts you hear on TV and read online. Some experts say just go about your business, but wash your hands  a lot. Other reports say that those 60+ and/or with compromised immune systems (also heart or lung disease, etc.) should stay in their own homes and eschew even family events. Still other reports predict gloom and doom.

Because I am in the 60+ group and have had some lung issues in the past as an adult (also as a kid I was a magnet for every respiratory disease around), I am trying to pretend I am a crocodile that people want to stay away from (see photo below). I plan to be careful when I am out. But other people are not that careful. They still go to events where hundreds or thousands of people are attending. Even my own husband is not that careful when it comes to sanitizing and still doesn’t understand the concept of soap as necessity. He believes that big companies sold us on the idea of soap for them to reap the profits. So how does me being careful keep me safe if others I come in contact with are not careful?

The gardener calls me Howey Anne, after Howard Hughes and his infamous germaphobia. I would say that is a little extreme because I am not that paranoid. You have to consider the source. Person who thinks soap is unimportant thinks I am a germaphobe. Get it?

But I don’t like germs. I blame Oprah for an episode she filmed a long time ago about the germs in hotel rooms and your own shower head. ICK.

This coronavirus thing is causing me a lot of anxiety. I suppose it isn’t mentally healthy for me to be trying to keep my hands away from my face (an impossible task) and to be thinking about germs all the time.

I offer no comfort. Sorry if that’s what you need right now.

The gardener and I just got back from Guanacaste, Costa Rica. The first night we were there, the maid service left a tiny bottle of hand sanitizer in my room. I clung to it for the rest of the trip as if it were the last canteen of water in an unpopulated Sahara in a 1930s movie. It allowed me to fly home through two airplanes and four airports.

The trip was not the best, to tell you the truth. Coronavirus was only part of it. The worst was that the resort had accidentally cancelled our reservation back in September, but our travel agent never knew it. I am too tired from thinking about germs to tell you much about the trip, but the animals were fabulous, the Costa Ricans were nice, and the rest of it was not so great.

Then there was the driver who tried to scam us to the tune of $149 in Houston, the Houston hotel whose shuttle was out of commission but they neglected to tell us, and the bank that ripped our mortgage check and sent it back saying it was “torn in the mail” (LIE), thus dinging our credit. I mean, I could probably come up with a really long list like this. People just suck sometimes.

There are all the sad stories I read on Facebook about animals abandoned, neglected, and abused by humans. It never gets better.

The person who knowingly took his/her coronavirus ass to an event with hundreds of people.

I heard some people are stealing masks from hospitals. WTF!

Who would ever trust a human?

But without trust, where are we? We cannot live alone. It is impossible to be completely self-sufficient. What we do impacts others as well as ourselves. We can’t make it different. But we can try to do our best. In the worst of times, we need to be the best we can be.

Don’t brazen it out and go to major events and then drag your germs to other, more vulnerable people. Imagine being stuck in a nursing home right now–you can’t leave, but once coronavirus enters your facility, you would feel targeted. So be kind and think of other people.

OK, pretty sure my readers didn’t need that, but you might want to remind others!

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As far as photos of Costa Rica go, I have started (slowly) posting some on my Instagram account: catpoems.  Check them out if you’re interested!

Also, University of Chicago-based Memoryhouse Magazine has published my Whitman tribute poem, “Out of the Cradle.” It refers to “Out of the Cradle Endlessly Rocking,” and the last two words are used as the initial letters for the lines of the poem. This issue, called “Rattle,” is a good one. You can find it here.

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I hope when I check back in here next Monday for my next post, the coronabub has burst, and all is back to normal.

Crocodile on the Palo Verde River, Guanacaste, Costa Rica

 

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Poem up at Entropy: Lots of Birds Going On

I am tickled that my poem “Noah and the Middle School Marching Band” has been published by the wonderful journal Entropy for their BIRDS series, and it’s accompanied by art by my friend Mary Stebbins Taitt, artist and naturalist. Mary and I met through Cowbird, a site where we both used to publish stories.

Here is a sample from the poem:

Look at them come. Godwits

and bushtits, catbirds and black-

crested titmice, I tickle their feet​

to move them along a little faster.​

Click the poem title to read the poem and see the accompanying art: NOAH AND THE MIDDLE SCHOOL MARCHING BAND

When I asked Mary if she would like to have one of her pieces accompany my poem, I was amazed at how many birds she had worked on.

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Noah is my favorite Bible character.

“Noah and the Dove” by Judith Klausner

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MY GOODREADS REVIEW OF A NEW POETRY COLLECTION, Mesmerizingly Sadly Beautiful by Matthew Lippman:

I am writing my feelings and thoughts about Lippman’s new collection while they are still fresh, but when I don’t have time to write a thorough review that does it justice. This is a mesmerizing (and sadly) beautiful book. These poems are the epitome of Lippman’s big-hearted writing. I could imagine him with his big aching heart carried outside his body while he wrote these poems. Nobody creates FEELING from a poem like he does. Feelings of love and sadness are all intertwined here. You can’t have love without sadness and you can’t have sadness without love. Read this book, everyone! This is a book that can save us from our over-thinking and our despair.

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I will be taking a blog break for a week or so (therefore, I closed comments here). See you when I return and stay safe, healthy, and calm in the meantime!

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Cinthia Ritchie’s Malnourished is a Tour de Force

Cinthia Ritchie, BRAG your book!  Start posting reviews or parts of reviews of your new memoir Malnourished on your blog cinthiaritchie.com because after I wrote mine I went on Amazon and saw some great reviews over there.

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Take a look at Cinthia’s book by clicking the image. It will take you to where you can purchase the book on Amazon AND where you can read reviews. This book is fabulous. It’s the kind of book that, if you’re a writer, makes you jealous because she gets it so right, word by word, white space by white space, chapter by chapter. Malnourished is a TOUR DE FORCE. No kidding.

I wrote a review that I will post on Amazon and Goodreads. It doesn’t do the book justice AT ALL. if you want to read a better review, read Carla McGill’s over on Amazon.

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Cinthia Ritchie’s memoir Malnourished is a strange and beautiful trek into the heart of a family. Ritchie has three sisters, and all four girls/women have been tragically affected by their upbringing in a home with a predatory stepfather, a mother who will not see the truth, and a deceased father.

While Ritchie’s sister’s death from anorexia is the catalyst for the book, the subject is Ritchie’s survival story. She shares how she and her sister Deena grew up together, how their relationship expanded and contracted over time, how she and Deena diverged in their responses to life, and where they were similar. While Ritchie claims never to have been an anorexic, she has a complicated relationship with food. Ritchie has exhibited starvation and other dangerous symptoms of emotional distress and control over her body. In this memoir, Ritchie manages to open up a space where we can think, discuss, soul-search human relationships with food as emotionally-charged metaphor and how that power plays out on our bodies.

Reading this story gave me insight into how personalities and desires are shaped by experience. For example, Ritchie is a serious runner who craves being outdoors. By reading Malnourished, I was able to feel what it would be like to need to run, to sleep outside under the stars. A small bedroom offers no place for a child to run from a menace that lurks inside the house, one which makes the walls complicit with the stepfather.

What I’ve written here might sound like Ritchie explains all this in the book. While she does reflect on her experiences, her gorgeous, lyrical writing does not “tell” the reader, so much as allow the reader into her world to figure things out for herself. Most importantly, Ritchie’s generosity in baring herself for scrutiny and understanding is such a gift to every reader.

Malnourished is not a comfortable read. It’s a work of art that nudges readers from our comfortable seats, from the comforting ways our minds purposefully arrange our interior landscapes. The beauty of the way Ritchie arranges her words will keep you going even through the darkest passages.

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Felix still has an upper respiratory infection. The vet says that it can last three weeks. Because he has to stay in the bedroom all this time (isolation), I have a lot of anxiety about him being lonely. Poor baby. Please send him healing vibes so he gets well soon and can be let out of the bedroom!

I started experimenting with writing weird poems about everyday subjects and objects, inspired by reading Matthew Lippman’s new poetry collection Mesmerizingly Sadly Beautiful. I’m not even done reading it yet!

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My Poor Baby Fefe

My boy Fefe has been sick for days. I am taking him to the vet this morning for the diagnosis.

This was Felix a day before he got sick.

By the next day he was sneezing. You see, Perry had sneezed for a full week before that, but he wasn’t really sick, and his sneeze had already disappeared.

So when Felix began sneezing I wasn’t too worried. I went away on Friday for most of the day, and by the time I got home late afternoon, he was holding his mouth open and looking very odd.

My vet, who is a wonderful person who does a lot of work for the shelter animals, said to bring him right over. Although they were fully booked, the vet examined him in back. At that time he wasn’t sure if he was dealing with an infection of the mouth and/or an upper respiratory infection–and the treatments are different. So they gave me an appointment for Monday morning, hoping the symptoms would shake out by then.

They shook out late that night when I became convinced Felix had a pretty bad URI.

I isolated Felix because I am terrified of Pear (who is now 20) getting sick. The gardener set up a humidifier for him because Google says a humidifier helps cats with URIs. I also have had to hand feed him food–and not his hated prescription urinary diet, but Weruva salmon (nice and stinky), Temptations treats, and Inaba Churu scallop-flavored creamy treats.

Please send prayers, hugs, vibes, and virtual pets to my dear boy! (Yes, he’s the one that had the urinary blockage last August!)

On a writing note: I have been revising as I can this week. It’s been hard to fit in in, so I try to grab at least 30 minutes to revise. Better than nothing.

Hope we all have a healthy, peaceful week!

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