These newsletters are world-gazing pursuits. In order to save myself, I had to mute this spinning sphere these last few months. Even the shortest interaction outside of my tiny life has zapped the last spark of energy in my soul. I felt like I was encased in concrete. I’m slowly finding the strength to peek out from my safe nest of a home, look around, and tell you what I see.
This edition — and the one that follows — is a jumble from Before and After, bits I scribbled over the months of October until now. It’s all the good things and all the bad things and all the confusion and all the weirdness of whatever all this is.
My father read everything I wrote since I started my blog in December 2010. I’m writing now as if he’s still reading.
A special thank you to all of you who reached out after my last newsletter. I read every one of your responses — each one a bit of glue to help hold me together.
I found some confetti in the woods on a path that leads to the beach. On the same walk, a fallen spruce cone joined my curated collection of Things I Found Outside.
The bossy blue jays that were missing all summer returned to eat the orange bittersweet berries on the tree at the corner of the deck. The robins congregating in their winter flocks followed. And a single out-of-season catbird has appeared alongside the red-headed house finches and the chickadees who fly like Aquaman through the air and the majestic cardinals and the song sparrows with their black patch on their chests and the super secretive titmice.
My mom turned 80. We had an ice cream party outside and I made big paper flowers I found on Pinterest. We also celebrated her reaching a major milestone after her cancer diagnosis five years ago. It was the same day we lost my mother-in-law, mourning and celebration mingling in the most confusing way.
We had a single fiery marshmallow sacrifice (as The Super Mr. coined it) with the moms before it got too cold and life fell apart. We also went to the drive-in.
We made two trips to New Jersey to clean out my mother-in-law’s house. The Super Mr. made a third. He was there when my dad died. And then he made two more trips. The last one brought my brother-in-law here to live with us.
I planted Erlicheer and Narcissus paperwhites. My All-Girl Amaryllis Team — Miss Dancing Queen, Miss Hot Lips, Miss Double Nymph, and Miss Tangerine Dream — have been in a continuous state of bloom for months. Miss Lagoon, the late bloomer, is still going. (Note: the best ones came from Dutch Grown.)
I bought hand warmers and some colorful beanies, thinking a winter outside might be possible.
I filled my niece’s advent calendar grab bag with soothing ointments and balms, rainbow makers, soap samplers, and a puzzle made from a photo I took of her in Jamaica. She sent me photos every time she opened one of the gifts. A little bit of joy each day.
I finally got my hair cut. It was all I did that day.
There was extreme chaos around the house — the deck that dominates three sides of the house was completely rebuilt, the ivy was stripped back and the yard cleaned up for the winter, the chimney was swept, and the downstairs apartment was cleaned out and prepared for my brother-in-law to move in. Four trees were taken down, including my beloved bird gymnasium. And then another one fell in a weird wind storm and was chopped up. I had the shades pulled shut for three weeks straight while all this activity swirled outside.
I bought tiny Japanese rice bran candles and a precious ceramic candle stand on which to burn them. I light one each month for my dad.
I’ve cried every day since November 20. It blindsides me. Sometimes I’m drowning in a soup of grief and rage — flailing and gasping for air. Other times my face just collapses in on itself, scrunching up for a few minutes until it passes. Lately it looks more like a stab of pain, a welling of tears, and a deep sigh.
Being a member of the unfortunate group, The Bereaved and Unvaccinated, has lead me to stop bearing witness to other people’s lives, especially those who have been relatively unimpacted by this pandemic. I call them The Safe. And some of them now are also The Vaccinated. The chasm between our experiences is so deep and so wide. I fake play along with the never-ending conversation about how hard it all is, yes wearing a mask is a pain isn’t it? while inside I am SCREAMING.
I started saving and freezing all my citrus peels. I then boil them with a small bundle of cloves and a cinnamon stick.
I finished things: a woven wool bowl that now holds my industrial strength noise-blocking earphones and my binoculars — a strange mix of me hiding from the world while seeking out a better view of it, a challenging Edward Hopper puzzle of a painting he did in Orleans at the spot where we wait for endless minutes at the stoplight in the summer, and 12 books plus 58 pages of Middlemarch (the inaugural selection for my Massive Tome Project of reading books over 750 pages in length.) I finished an online course about Mediterranean and Okinawan diets taught by Italians (pistachios are so much more appealing as pisTAKios.) I took part in the Winter Neighborhood Naturalist program through the Audubon — learning about snow and survival and animal tracks (PORCUPINE!). There were a lot of grief workshops on Zoom. And I’m currently learning to tell the brown birds apart in an online bird class.
Two hours of crying followed by ten hours of uninterrupted sleep. That’s what President Biden gave me. On the eve of his inauguration, my sister and I watched the national moment of acknowledgement with 500 other members of The Bereaved. It was cathartic and a turning point in my grief journey.
I pulled my tarot card for the year. Five of fucking pentacles or the “ill health and material loss” card.
I put my name in the hat — again — for a dune shack week. It was the most hopeful thing I did in months.
I’ve been thinking a lot about:
Something I read in Josh Radnor’s newsletter, Museletter. Yep, Ted from HIMYM. “Someone will get that.” We all think that, right? I’m working on being the someone who picks up the beach trash. Which someone might you become?
As a curious person, I’m forever learning tiny bits about things, but never making the effort to take a deep, deep dive into learning as much as I can about a topic. Inspired by my dad who was definitely a Ravenclaw and life-long cultivator of the deep dive, I made a list of things to study this year:
songbirds; native habit and pollinator gardening; animal tracking; mystery books; personal essay writing; the outer Cape and all it means to be local; the Caribbean (it’s culture, people, history); wind-shaped places like Sardinia, Scotland, Uruguay, Bretagne, and Lanzarote; the Blue Zone lifestyle; New Wave music; public art — especially in natural places; rescuing dogs; beans; the Portuguese language; tarot; the extended Star Wars universe; tahini; beachcombing; Ayurveda; seasonal living; disco music’s culture and influence
What’s on your list?
Also, here’s some stuff:
David Hockney: Drawing from Life exhibit at The Morgan Library & Museum. Take a virtual guided tour (you can sign up two weeks before the date.) Runs through the end of May.
The Daily Respite. Wondrous things like this every day in your inbox.
Nubya Garcia: Tiny Desk (Home) Concert. I guess this is what can happen when you actually like playing the saxophone (I hated it.)
An embarrassment of fantastic 80s podcasts: Wind of Change podcast. The Super Mr. and I listened to this wild ride of a story on one of our drives to Jersey. The premise: the Scorpions didn’t actually write “Wind of Change.” The CIA did. WHAT?? // Transmissions: The Definitive Story of Joy Division & New Order podcast. It took two years for them to put this extraordinary masterpiece together, includes interviews with all the surviving band members and legends like Bono. // The “Lost and Lonely” episode of Hit Parade. The story of my Teenage Missy years. It is a brilliant bit of nostalgia. // Lost Notes: 1980. I’ve been working my way through these fascinating episodes. The last one is about Grace Jones.
We’ve been watching all the shows you’ve been watching — my favorites: Dash & Lily (Netflix), The Queen’s Gambit (Netflix), The Flight Attendant (HBOMax), Lupin (Netflix), and Framing Britney Spears (Hulu).
And more than a few that maybe haven’t hit everyone’s radar: Dickinson (AppleTV+). Currently our favorite show — the modern soundtrack and contemporary cultural nods are fantastic! // Departure (Peacock). Archie Punjab, Christopher Plummer, and a compelling MI5-style airplane crash conspiracy theory story. // The Hardy Boys (Hulu). Old-fashioned mystery sleuthing, just like the books. // Alex Rider (IMDb through Prime). A great Super Spy series with a pacing that is NOT Tom-Cruise-in-your-face-I-need-to-catch-my-breath Hollywood action movie-style. // The Capture (Peacock). This is a Just Trust Me and Watch It spy thriller centered around the potential consequences of manipulated video footage. // Down the Hill: The Delphi Murders (HLM). A documentary companion to the podcast series about the girls who captured their killer on their iPhone before they died. STILL unsolved. // Behind Her Eyes (Netflix). Suspend your need for reality and just let the twists shock you. // Chef’s Table: BBQ (Netflix). Especially the Tootsie episode! // Stanley Tucci: Searching for Italy (CNN). Eat first. (We also re-watched Big Night.)
GoldenEye Bizot Bar Nova Mix. We’ve decided our first trip when the world is safe enough again will be to Jamaica. This is THE playlist. Over 3,000 songs. 24 hours of cool cat vibes from the coolest cat bar in all the Caribbean.
Also, Maluma’s 7 Días En Jamaica. Reggaeton is not reggae, but this was recorded in Jamaica, Ziggy Marley is featured, and some of the songs have a reggae beat.
A few local things:
Provincetown Art Association and Museum’s ArtTrek. PAAM hid 21 wine bottles all around town. Each bottle is connected to a prize (art! gift certificates! memberships!). I’ve been looking, but no luck yet.
Support local shellfish farmers: buy oysters at the weekly Wellfleet Shellfisherman’s Farmers Market. Pre-order required.
Cape Cod Ferments. Gardeners, pre-order some fermented fish fertilizer made from local fish waste from commercial fishing for your tomatoes!
Beanstock Mystery Bags. Local pickup only! Get three mystery bags of Beanstock Coffee for up to $15 off regular price. Ordering starts at 2:00 pm on Thursdays until they sell out.
Ramen Pop-up. Wednesdays at the Provincetown Brewing Company. Pre-order required (starts on Thursdays for the following week — they’ve been selling out within two days!)
The last word, according to Sarah Lazarovic:
Playlist: Acedia | Having spent the majority of my teen years locked in my room with Steven Patrick Morrissey, I know a thing or two about atmospheric mope music. I put together this soundtrack to my grief: