12/16/18 Glen Campbell: I’ll Be Me

(As with all film reviews on this blog, full spoilers are provided throughout.)

For Glen Campbell fans, and for people who don’t recognize his work at all, this is a wonderful worthwhile movie about family coming together in adversity, and the life-affirming power of music.

First, a word of warning to sensitive souls. (And this may be why more people haven’t watched this film.) You deserve to have someone supportive on hand to watch this with you, or to talk with after. That’s if you’ve lost your Mom or Dad or both, or if your parents were disappointed at how you turned out, or if they didn’t have the bandwidth for closure, or if they lived with dementia and any of the possible accompanying ailments, or if you are left behind to work hard on sorting out what happened, and the meaning of it all, and what’s left, and where you go from here.

With all that said, we get to go join the Campbells on their sofa.
Mr. Glen Campbell and Mrs. Kim Campbell are tucked in together, enjoying old home movies. Here’s a young man with a toddler, a young man hitting a golf shot and then leaping with joy, a young man playing in the snow with a young woman.
On the sofa, Glen is fascinated by it all, reciting the Zen koan “Who is that??” in curious eagerness. It looks like a comforting ritual where the best-loved things of the past are back with us, always amazing and always fresh and new.
Kim gladly gives him the good news, key after key to the whole mystery: the child is your daughter; the young woman was your second wife for 16 years; the young man is you.
“Me??” he exclaims happily. “All right — I’ll be me!”

The film cuts to Glen’s wonderful guitar work on the Mason Williams song “Classical Gas,” with a rapid visual of his many many lifetime achievements and publicity shots. It’s an eye- and ear-catching treat for his decades of fans, culminating at its peak with…

Glen all alone, in a white corridor, talking to himself like Donald Duck.
“Is there no END to this man’s talent?” he quacks.
“Is there no beginning?” Kim quips right back, forging along up ahead, leading the way to an office.

Glen has just released his new album, “Ghost on the Canvas.” He is committed to promoting the record for several weeks of tours.
But first they are here in the white hallway, at the Mayo Clinic. Clinicians spare not one iota of distraction over their patient’s celebrity status or his constant jokes. They smile kindly at his patter and charm, but they are brisk and efficient and concerned, preparing for his brain scan testing. Then he is left alone to sit quietly in an exam room. Without an audience, he drops the joking and sings to himself. But the lyrics seem to be melting together; he has to improvise them as he goes.
Across the room, Kim’s voice floats over and laces in with his, gently placing the right words in their places.
Glen is pleased. “You sing it,” he urges. When she takes the lead in the song, he can relax and close his eyes.

Then the brain scans are ready, and their neurologist has some questions to ask.
What year is this?
What time of year — spring, summer, fall, winter?
What year were you born? (Glen correctly names “1936,” but then changes his answer.)
How old are you? (Kim slips him a musical hint, gently humming the phrase “SEVENTY SIX trombones led the big parade.” He looks puzzled.)
Who was the first president?
Where are you, and why? What kind of place is this?
The doctor gives him four words: “apple,” “Mr. Johnson,” “charity,” and “tunnel.” Can he repeat them back?
Kim watches with a resolute smile and widening eyes.
Glen cheerfully brushes aside the questions, explaining that he does not need to know all those excess details; when something comes along which is genuinely important, why “Then I take care of it!”
The doctor explains gently that this test, combined with the brain scans and their view of a shrinking hippocampus, indicate that Glen’s memory issues are caused by Alzheimer’s.
Glen is amazed; he’d been thinking that by discarding peripheral memory details, he was acting responsibly — cleaning house to make room for what matters most. (There is some truth to this. As we grow older, there is a priority shift away from keeping up with surrounding distractions, toward the preservation of memories which carry more meaning.)

What to do now?

Glen and his family make two remarkable decisions. They will make his diagnosis public. And, they will try to go on with the five-week tour.

They start by preparing for an opening performance on “The Tonight Show” with Jay Leno, supported by a backup band including Glen’s two sons and daughter, and managed in every detail by Kim. Glen however spends rehearsal time grabbing instruments away from others to give pointers on how to play, or insisting on new key and tempo arrangements. On “The Tonight Show” stage, minutes before the show begins, Kim instructs Glen to stay within a marked circle on the floor, because otherwise he will be out of camera range. “NO!” he replies, wandering nervously around the studio. “I will stand anywhere I want!”

The show begins; at the sound of applause, Glen lights up and bursts into song perfectly on cue. In a casual manner, he saunters at ease on the stage, staying exactly within the circle and finishing the song with relaxed masterful aplomb. The audience is overjoyed.

The audience remains overjoyed — for 151 sold out concerts, in 18 months across America. It’s a musical feat that has other celebrity musicians in awe. How does he do it? The medical team is equally mystified: Glen’s tests show continuing brain decline; the doctors can’t fathom how he is still able to perform at all. One neurologist ponders an intriguing possibility: functions no longer performed by the damaged part of Glen’s brain may have been taken over in a “spreading effect” by the brain areas responsible for music — areas innately strong and powerfully developed from a lifetime of constant practice. Can it be, that extraordinary musical ability and muscle memory is compensating for and even restoring some aspects of his quality of life, at least for a while?

During filming, there was apparently some criticism that the family were putting Glen on display for money or their own fame; but the best response to that is the obvious joy he finds in performing. Even for someone who never followed Glen Campbell’s work, the concert scenes are a pleasure — sterling finesse and ardent best efforts and humorous warmth. The sound of cheering, and the visual cue of audience members waving and standing to applaud, activates such positive stimulus in Glen’s mind that he has to shake his head and stroke it before playing. During “Try a Little Kindness,” relying upon a teleprompter for his lyrics, he delights listeners by reading his own cue out loud: “Glen! Play long guitar solo here!” then dutifully attacking the solo to a blazing finish. When encouraged by audience applause after a song, he obligingly starts the song over again; the audience doesn’t mind at all. One staunch supporter makes the point that if Glen wants to sing “Wichita Lineman” twice, why not let him? (“Who gives a rat’s ass?”) When a backstage fan expresses ardent homage, Glen shows the same signature charm that he would to any fan, who in this case is Paul McCartney. At one point Glen wants to introduce the band to the audience, but realizes to his dismay that this task would involve remembering the names of his own children. (Daughter Ashley salvages the moment and his feelings, assuring Dad that the band will take care of the introductions later.) But when Ashley steps forward and plays the opening notes of “Dueling Banjoes,” Glen leaps in with guitar and superbly honed sense of musical synergy; the two of them are off and flying in a beautiful feat of call and response, a communion far deeper than the memory of names.

Any caregiver for a loved one with Alzheimer’s may see all these good times and feel regrets, thinking “Isn’t there more I could have done for Dad? What if I’d played chess with him all day, or helped him make his paper hats, or whatever gave him joy? Would he have lived longer too? Would I have made him happy?”

But not every Dad (or Mom) has a lifetime of focused flat-out effort on his life gift, doing what he loves best. Not everyone has developed an inner island of competence which is so well liked and welcomed. Not everyone has the capable fully supportive spouse sharing the same strong religious faith and sense of humor and physical attraction (Perhaps Kim’s own training with the Radio City Rockettes helped fuel her impressive stamina, precision, and responsiveness.). Not everyone has grown children who can dedicate 18 months of their lives full time. Not everyone has the worldwide support and high esteem, the money, the youthful physical fitness, the top-of-the-line medical team, the ingrained social charm and showmanship, the unbeatably confident determined light-hearted attitude. Not every person with dementia gets to stay in their home for as long as Glen did. Not all can live in a familiar tour bus, with the same loyal bus operator husband-wife team of 30 years, traveling with familiar favorite people and rehearsing familiar music with them all day long, surrounded by unconditional love. (During one clip of speeches about the extent of Alzheimer’s and the need for more research funding, my movie partner drew on her family caregiver experience to remark how nice it would be, if some of those millions in medical research money could be spent on basic care, respite activities, therapy, and amenities for quality of life.)

With respect and dignity for its subject, the film still spells out in calm plain terms the milestones of Glen’s affliction and its impact on the family. Kim is calmly frank with the doctor, mentioning the effect on their marriage, and her accommodations to his increasing resistance to everyday personal tasks. (As one of the 1,000 workarounds used by caregivers, Kim figures out that Glen’s resistance to taking showers is motivated in good part by hypersensitivity to cold; to coax him into the bathroom she uses a hair dryer to provide comforting warmth during the process.) Glen as the young man leaping for joy on the golf course becomes Glen who relies upon the game as a supportive ritual with a long-term trusted golf partner, then becomes Glen needing his golf partner to choose the correct club for him. Weeks later Glen is swinging a golf club in self-defense, shouting at his family, accusing the golf partner of stealing all his clubs (Kim patiently points out to him over and over that all the clubs are right there in plain sight — at Glen’s bedside, where he arranged them himself.). Glen quips at one point that he has cried, and he has laughed — and that “laughing is a hell of a lot better”; but when asked whether he ever feels blue, his face melts into profound sadness. “Yes,” he admits. And he sits speechless and wide-eyed beside Ashley as she speaks to Congress about Alzheimer funding, sharing her sorrow that to her father, any day, she will be no one and mean nothing. (Ashley later worked her grief into this beautiful tribute song Ashley Campbell – Remembering (Single Version))

The tour ends with Glen’s performance at his Lifetime Achievement Award. Next day, asked about the event, he can name without hesitation which song he performed; but he isn’t able to answer what the event was, or what people were doing there. By the end of the film, he is no longer able to understand any spoken words, to follow any conversation about any topic. But in the closing scene, in the studio with his old team of musicians of the Wrecking Crew, he can still sing the haunting tribute to Kim, “I’m Not Gonna Miss You.”

After the time recorded in the film, Glen lived for years, passing away at the age of 81. There is no film about the circumstances which forced the Campbells to finally place him in memory care, or about how hard that path was for Glen and his family. The caregivers who watch the movie can probably imagine it for themselves.

Beautifully packaged in uplifting concert footage, this is a gentle respectful portrayal of courageous people who love each other, joining forces and finding gladness in small moments on the valiant little tour bus of their lives. Much more than a musical tribute, “I’ll Be Me” tackles a much greater task. As pointed out in the film, the story is meant to break barriers of isolation and sorrow, to let families living with Alzheimer’s feel seen and heard and appreciated, to know that wherever the path may lead, they are not touring all alone.

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12/1/2018: Ukrainian Music: Yuriy Fedynsky (Юрій Фединський)

Photograph from Thomson Reuters, Business Insider article 8.24.18

Yuriy Fedynsky  builds, plays, and teaches traditional musical instruments. With a  background in classical piano, living in North Carolina he heard his grandmother and mother speak Ukrainian, and felt inspired to learn the language and to travel to Ukraine to reconnect with the family’s history. There he learned about traditional instruments like the torban, kobza, and bandura, played with techniques and repertoires in danger of being forgotten entirely. He began searching out any surviving examples of these instruments as they existed a century ago, before the development of factory production, steel strings, and modern music styles. He apprenticed as an instrument maker, and began collaborating with traditional musicians. Now in Ukraine he teaches instrument making and music, and researches traditional songs and styles of playing. Along the way he has created a new life as what he calls a repatriot. It’s someone who has not bid farewell to America, but who has created a new family and settled roots in the original homeland — rebuilding a small house, setting up the workshop, and now raising food on their farm. 

In this video clip he talks about his work, and with Mrs. Fedynsky performs an akathist-style hymn “Iисусе Прекрасный,” or Jesus Most Beautiful (The words are from Psalm 4 by Dmitrii of Rostov):
Fedynskij Music Workshop in Kriachkivka · Ukraїner

This autumn Yuriy has been touring across America with a sample of all three instruments, playing at small church and home concerts free of charge, supported and promoted by spontaneous American hospitality as he takes himself from town to town. At a cozy meeting for local Ukrainian speakers, he demonstrated a full range of styles and songs, and explained the instruments’ acoustic properties, historical connections, and place in Ukrainian society. We in the audience were spellbound at his celestial music, soaring vocals, cultural knowledge, and story telling. The one-hour concert ran over two and a half hours; Yuriy was all delighted sweetness and good humor as we badgered him for more songs, bombarded him with questions, snapped up his recorded CDs, and tried playing the instruments ourselves. (One knowledgeable audience member even brought his own bandura, and the two performed a lovely spontaneous duet.) Listeners came away discussing their eagerness to follow his work on Facebook, and watch for his next tour.

What a blessing! We experienced a radiant artist — someone alight with purpose in his faith in God and service to his family, to his adopted village, to Ukrainian culture, and to his students from around the world. His vision, and his parting wish for us, was that we would go and be part of this worldwide movement: people from any country who resurrect traditional cultures and handwork to connect with and heal their own communities.  

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11/30/18: Manger Scenes

There’s an exhibit in town of 500 or so Nativity scenes from 120 countries. Some are family heirlooms; many were brought back by missionaries the world over. I walked in out of a windswept rain for a look, and gosh — what a sight. The hall glowed with warm color, papered over with countless Nativity Christmas cards. Then arranged by continent on several tiers of velvet-wrapped shelving, the creches were all flocked in together, all perfectly arranged, in a pageant of colors and textures. It’s one family’s labor of love for the past 27 years; generations of relatives store the pieces all year in their homes, then spend days of work with setup, arranging, and greeting the visitors with sugar cookies and tea.

Some scenes looked especially valuable, in cut glass and ceramic and metal. But most were handmade with materials and costumes and styles of their countries of origin. That sincere integrity, bringing the best one has to offer, gave the exhibit its emotional appeal.

Comic book art from what we as kids called “the funny papers.” The Gasoline Alley strip has been running since 1918.
nativity 2

String, either fine crochet or perhaps the kind of hand-tatting done by my grandmother with a small tatting spindle in hand.nativity 5

Nuts, pods, dried flowers
nativity 3

Amish Baby Jesus all swaddled in his black suit and little black hat. The practical Magi bring gifts of milk bottle, vegetables, and a chicken. Amish dolls are made without faces; that honors the First Commandment warning against graven images, and just might give little girls more scope for their imaginations.
nativity 4

Lesotho woolen work, and what looks to me like an Ethiopian icon with Amharic lettering:
nativity 6

It was good to see and ponder such a fond custom, reworked and interpreted with a fresh eye and sincere handiwork from so many traditions.

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Back Through the Looking Glass

Thanksgiving Day was fine.
Going to church, gathering fallen leaves and flowers to make little bouquets for the neighbors, writing holiday cards, learning a new Sacred Harp song (“Sweet Solitude,”  Hannah More, 1835), learning how to tune & play a scale on a mountain dulcimer, brisk walk to the cemetery in hard rain, dinner, then tucking into flannel jammies with a rediscovered book that I loved as a little girl, about Catholic saints.

Then over the weekend a confetti of invitations rolled in. Lots! Out of nowhere!
There wasn’t even time to take in all that popularity. So I went to just three occasions, with beautiful families in beautiful homes. I got to go and watch friends in really solid marriages, and their parents and kids and friends flocking in together with kisses and hugs and telling their stories and joking around. The food was great; how do people think up such wonderful recipes? And the homes were a treat to the eye, photos and heirlooms and artwork and china and silver and carpets created and handed down for generations.

Then it was back here to Tuffet Central, to think it all over.
After being in among these couples and witnessing a little of life in community, now even three days later it’s still an adjustment being alone again. It’s making everything feel hard; waking up and going to work and going to sleep and getting the chores done. I went diving in to the holiday sweets all over the office, and a lot of health progress went right out the window.

Gee, where’s the lesson in all this?
To dress up and appear at these wonderful occasions and to support my friends at their life celebrations and to be grateful is a real gift of God, part of healthy mature living. Maybe healthy and mature people can do it all the time. It was beautiful, but somehow I forgot — socializing is not companionship. They’re two different things. Maybe for a little while I shouldn’t go through the looking glass and watch other people’s family holidays.

By tonight I needed drastic cheering up. So I visited a new library for some good books, then came home and fixed a cup of green tea, and cooked up lunch for tomorrow — greens & vegetables with a dab of tinned salmon and some extra ginger and garlic and tomato sauce. While it cooked I practiced my new song.

Say, maybe I’ll take the new song and the bowed psaltery to work tomorrow and try playing it where the acoustics are good, in our parking garage. Then I’ve been wanting to start a holiday gift basket collection for our wonderful cleaning crew who work so hard. There’s an essay to finish for the colleague I’m nominating for this year’s achievement award. Then there’s a neighbor nearby who lost her husband, I’ve been meaning to write her a letter and enclose a photo of her lovely Memory Garden from last summer.

There’s no better day for it all than to start right in tomorrow.

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Thanksgiving 11.22.18

The day began with gentle sunny breaks for the walk to church.
This afternoon was supposed to be a long prayer stroll along the shore. But half an hour away from home the wind rose and grew chilly, and the heavens opened.
At the cemetery, this Pieta memorial with Ginkgo tree looks surprisingly serene, considering how hard the rain was falling.
Thanksgiving Walk 11.22.18

To take the picture I pulled my rain slicker hood far up and out, then positioned the cell phone inside the slicker so that only the camera lens was peeking up and over the collar of my sweatshirt. After that one snapshot, the downpour was getting stronger. I hurried for the bus stop to keep the phone from getting damp in my waist pack. What a pleasure to get home to dry clothes.

Here is Thanksgiving dinner.
Thanksgiving 11.22.18
My wonderful enterprising Chinese-American neighbors planted potatoes last spring in our community garden. Then they invited me to join in for the potato harvest. We picked a shopping bag full, and then in great good humor they handed the bag to me and cheerfully refused to take any potatoes for themselves! With careful washing and trimming, and some steam, these turned out tender and very sweet. The other bowl is Brussels sprouts, with a portion of red beans, red cabbage, and daikon radish pickles. There are sweet potatoes steaming up right now. Then for dessert there are dried fruits and nuts, clementines, and some dark chocolate. Now to knock on my neighbor’s door and invite her to come share…

Wishing everyone a beautiful blessed holiday…

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Fast Food

“Be not forgetful to entertain strangers: for thereby some have entertained angels unawares.”
— Letter to the Hebrews, 13:2

The fast food restaurant has always been around, I suppose, with its franchises and logo and color scheme and ads. It never dawned on me to notice, or to walk in. Well, until last week.

I needed a public rest room in the middle of the city. Surprise! Public rest rooms aren’t really around any more. And this was after 5:00 on Veterans’ Day, so a ten-block round trip expedition determined that even the public library was closed. Hm. I hiked past chic shoe and jewelry shops, wondering what to do. I could walk a mile over to the room where I was staying, and then a mile back. But I was already running late in an unfamiliar neighborhood. It was getting dark and cold.

(Later, a wise local gave me a tip: just stroll casually in to the rest room at any fine hotel! But at the time that didn’t dawn on me.) Instead, I spotted the fast food restaurant and walked in, and up to the hard-working Counter Associate.

“Hello,” I greeted him. “Can I just, like, buy a $5 gift card and go use the rest room?”

“Excuse me please?” the young man asked, with just a hint of lilt in his intonation. Courteous, attentive, pleasant looking. Bright intelligent eyes clicking through my enigmatic question.

No wonder. I realized to my chagrin that my question did not in fact make intuitive logical sense. (The lady wants a gift card for the rest room? Is our bathroom full of GIFTS?)
I tried again. “I would like to use your rest room. But I do not need to actually buy anything. So may I just buy a gift card instead?” It’s understandable that businesses spend time and money cleaning their premises; they need to save the rest rooms for people who are actually customers. Besides, a gift card would be useful for any of the many people outside, sitting on the street, asking for pocket change.

The young man made a snap decision. At a low discreet angle he showed me a laminated card with four digits, then pointed upward and over. “Code, for upstairs,” he said. Lilt of intonation again.

I made a snap decision too, about his intonation. Was that Slavic? Maybe. Was it polite to ask? Maybe not. This may have been wrong on my part, it may have been tactless even, but I switched to Russian. “Góspodi Vas Blagosloví, Lord Bless You,” I said, clasping my hands, and ran upstairs.

Soon I was back downstairs. Before heading out the door I caught the young man’s eye over the waiting line of customers, and waved goodbye.
He motioned me to stop. With a quick word to his co-workers he sped through the restaurant to catch up with me.

“Please, about the code,” he apologized, in clear cultured very polite Russian. “We are not trying to make things difficult for anybody. It is just that there have been incidents with people using the bathroom. People who have serious difficulties.”

“Vsio poniátno, totally understandable,” I said, thanking him for his help.

“Now. Look,” he said quietly. “What can I bring you? Coffee? Some food?”

“What?? Oh! Why — no, I’m fine. Honestly. That was all I needed.”

“Seriously,” he assured me. “It’s really all right — I’ll pay; it’s my treat. Anything you like! Please. Come; sit down, have a hot meal.”

At first I felt mortified for troubling him. But mostly I was profoundly touched. What royal hospitality, from a hard-working person to a total stranger!

That was a long day, by then. All-night plane flight, jet lag, a plumbing overflow that required all my cleverness to set right in the house where I was staying, eight hours of walking, running four hours late for a dinner invitation in the suburbs, a cell phone that had just died (containing the directions I needed, to find the friends in said suburbs), an hour spent looking for a rest room, a head cold coming on, temperature falling fast, and now standing here in my favorite travel clothes — comfy hem-frayed hoody sweatshirt, and jumbo khaki duffle bag from the Army Navy surplus store that closed in 1984.
No wonder this attentive tactful young man thought that the older lady might be a little down on her luck but was too proud to admit it!

(Next day I telephoned Corporate with the store number and address, to name and praise their young colleague. I post-mailed them a thank you letter too, for his personnel file. True, for his sake I changed the story a bit, telling them only that I went in asking for directions, and that he took me aside to make sure that this slightly distraught traveler was okay and didn’t need him to summon further help. I added that I work in medical education, and that this man’s vigilance, respectful behavior, and quick thinking were just the qualities taught by our faculty to future health care providers. And after a quick look through their company story and food philosophy, I promised them that on my next trip in the spring I’ll go back to that restaurant and will actually buy myself dinner.)

But meanwhile, feeling deeply blessed by this astonishing kindness, I thanked the young man profusely, took a good look at the name on his badge, excused myself, and galloped off toward the subway.
Then, just before running in to the station, I suddenly remembered: in my pocket was a little souvenir from home, a keepsake for my hosts in the suburbs. What good luck!
I ran back to the fast food restaurant.
My benefactor was still at the counter, poetry in motion, whipping out beverages and burgers.
I waited in line for my turn.

Vot moi spútnik, Here is my traveling companion,” I explained. “And now, it can travel with you.” I slipped him the little gift face down, then backed off into the crowd.

He picked up the keepsake and turned it over, and blinked with wide eyes.
It was the Russian Orthodox icon of the Trinity, by Andrey Rublëv. It was sealed with the label Spasí i Sokhraní, Save and Protect, and a Trinity prayer in Slavonic. The icon portrays the three strangers in Genesis 18, who visited Patriarch Abraham. Abraham welcomed them in, not knowing he was really entertaining three angels.

That little icon found the right home. It’s a symbol of hospitality at its purest (which just happens to be a classically Russian national virtue): an attentive look, a kind word. Side order of fries, offered from a generous heart.

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How Was Your Weekend?

The Question. It’s all over America.

And every region has its own. It’s the first thing people ask, right after saying hello. They can ask the same familiar folks day after day, or use it to establish a relationship with a person they’ve just met. James and Deborah Fallows give regional examples of The Question in their book Our Towns. (My favorite was “How’s your mama & them?” in parts of Louisiana where there is a chance that a new acquaintance might actually know your mother.) When I visited rural Maine, it was “Got family here?” In Kansas, church-going people have asked me “Where do you fellowship?” In Boston there was “How was the parking out there?” or “How ’bout them Sox?”

At our office, it’s “How Was Your Weekend?”
The point seems to be “We all made it back! F Troop all present and accounted for.” It’s a light friendly ritual.

Does anybody else have a hard time with this?
Me, on Monday morning I show up and log in — completely absorbed with plans for the day and week, spreadsheets and priority lists and process management procedures.

Then, someone with the best intentions asks “How was your weekend?”
My chain of thought snaps. Looking up from a spreadsheet, I give the questioner a perplexed look. Weekend? Which time interval from Friday evening to Monday before breakfast? How much detail would people like? In what amount of time? What level of factual or emotional honesty? What would they like to hear?

Etiquette says that all I have to do is smile. Say that it was nice and restful.
Except around here, “Fine, thank you,” is not enough of an answer.
The followup will be “Did you do something fun? Spend it with family?”
And in these parts, the questioner will share that he/she and his/her spouse went hiking, or rock climbing, or kayaking, or skiing. (It’s a big outdoorsy town. People run around excelling at sports I’ve never even heard of.)

And to be fair, on Mondays it is a blessing just to have a conducive job, with co-workers who are friendly and who greet me.
So to hold up my end of the dialogue, sometimes on Sunday I rehearse a news bit to offer. “Thank you; I updated my advance directive medical paperwork. And you?” Usually that sort of pastime earns a laugh and perhaps a concerned look. So sometimes I try asking The Question first. Then I can just take in the gladness in stories and photos of real people with real lives: the new baby, the family reunion, the overnight boat cruise and B&B with someone special, the movie with the grandkids. And even when their lives have troubles, everybody shares it together. It sounds like a good way to live.

I should have this ritual down pat by now.
But every Question brings another cold chill of sadness, and anxiety about not fitting in to office conversations. And my every smile and “Fine” reply feels like another layer of clear turtle-wax, burying over a personality that would like to be real. Some day if an actual potential let’s-do-everyday-life-including-weekends person ever shows up, how will he or she even know that under all this clear wax varnish there is me?

The other day, a super-bright enthusiastic new young colleague asked me. But this time, the high-gloss smile cracked under the weight of accumulated truth.
“Sad. Weekends are hard. I’m sorry; just trying to focus on Monday here.”
“Okay OKAY!” He hurried away, and I felt sorry for saying the wrong thing and making the office a little less bright because of it.

And now, by repeated popular demand, here is my weekend.

One new social gathering or more, to strike up conversations with new people and take an interest in them.
Chores: grocery shopping, cooking, ironing, balancing checkbook.
Long walk.
Getting ready for Monday.
Research emotional intelligence and social bonding, and how to get some.

Then, bedtime before the leaf sweeper truck passes by the window at 8:45 pm.
The leaf sweeper is a mournful sound. It marks the end of the weekend, and the end of one more chance to forge new permanent social connections. So the idea is to be in bed and halfway asleep before the leaf sweeper passes by.

Now there’s an answer: “It was great, thanks. This week I beat the leaf sweeper!”
How would that sound around the water cooler?

Update: After writing this I went to work early next day.
One of the top brass authority figures was there early too. He’s a military officer retired, tall imposing yet friendly guy who walks super fast leaning forward like he’s braving a head wind. He said “How was your weekend?”

For some reason, this time I actually answered the question, throwing my hands in the air and getting vehement about life and the meaning of it all.

He surprised me then. He stood there with wide eyes and listened to the whole outburst and said “That sounds very hard. I am so sorry.”
I went over and gave him a slappy patty shoulder hug.
He said “That was actually the idea I had in mind too. Everybody ought to get a hug sometimes.”
I thanked him for listening.
He said “My first reaction was ‘Gee, I better make sure I never ask her THAT again.’ But you know what? After talking to you, I will be here at the office on Monday mornings to ask that same question every week, just to check up on you and see how you are doing.”
He probably will, too.

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