Josna Rege

444. Mind Cleanup

In Aging, blogs and blogging, Family, Food, Music, people, reflections, seasons on October 30, 2019 at 9:34 pm

By this time of year I’m pretty ragged around the edges and this year those edges feel raggedier than usual. It’s late October, with a full month to go until Thanksgiving and six weeks until classes end. Student essays are getting the better of me and sleep deprivation has become my default mode. Thank goodness Daylight Savings Time is ending this weekend and we’ll gain another precious hour. There’s such a fog churning around in the world at large and in my own head that I can’t see my way forward, not even to make a To Do list. Even our usually peaceful neighbourhood has turned against me: there’s a machine outside the bedroom window that has been grinding down the stump of our neighbor’s tree since the crack of dawn, and with it, my head. So I thought I’d try something that Epi, a fellow-blogger I met during the A-Z blog-a-day challenge last April, does from time to time: a mind cleanup.

The World
Authoritarian rulers are sprouting up and clampdowns coming down everywhere you look: India: Modi and Kashmir; Britain: Boris and Brexit; the U.S.: Trump and just about everything; Turkey (and the U.S.): Erdogan and the Kurds; Brazil: Bolsonaro and the Amazon burning; Russia and Putin, Poland and Duda, the Philippines and Duterte, the list goes on. But so are the mass protests: in Lebanon, Sudan, Hong Kong, Haiti, Ecuador Chile, Iraq, London and, close to home, Puerto Rico; the people cannot be kept down and neither should we. Here’s the Clash, with (Working for the) Clampdown, an anthemic song that inspired us in the 1980s. (I just learnt that word, anthemic, from Patti Smith, talking about her 1978 Because the Night (belongs to Lovers).

Mass protests against army rule in Sudan (AFP/Getty Image)

My Life
I’m chronically behind with everything, my best efforts making only small nibbles round the edges of things. (Speaking of nibbling around the edges, here’s a crab nibbling at a cherry; a distracting youtube video that is making the rounds.) There’s little to show for all the late nights and all-nighters but small inroads into the backlog. I feel like the woman in the Grimms’ fairytale Rumpelstiltskin, charged to spin an impossible heap of straw into gold overnight or lose her firstborn child. (By the way, one of my earliest stories on Tell Me Another was called Rumpelstiltskin, about a recurring nightmare from my childhood.)

Driving
Thank goodness for my new (gently used) hybrid car, which transports me to work and back on my long commute with a minimum of effort on my part; so easy to drive that it almost feels like a self-driving car.

Students
Students keep one honest. They are young and hardworking and they have expectations. One strives to meet them. My first-year students are currently writing about environmental citizenship and climate justice. Apparently, they tell me, they weren’t taught about climate change in school, so now they’re shocked to find that we’re facing a climate emergency. As I get older, I wonder if I seem to them like someone from another planet. Well aware of my oddness, I notice myself performing it, and fear becoming a caricature of myself. But then I retort to myself, “Well, and why not? Why should not old women be mad?”

Friends
Visits: This has been a season of traveling and of visits. In September, I took a flying trip to University of East Anglia in Norwich, England for a conference marking my favorite writer Doris Lessing’s birth centenary. The conference, which must rightfully claim a post of its own, was held in the Julian Study Centre, named after Julian of Norwich, that 14th-century anchorite who was the first woman to publish a book in English, Revelations of Divine Love. I taught excerpts from this collection of mystical devotions a couple of years ago in a Women and Literature course. But what is the most associated in my mind with Julian of Norwich is this song, The Bells of Norwich, her words set to music by Sydney Carter. Its refrain: “All shall be well again, I know.” And indeed, all was well when, before the conference, I squeezed in a short visit with my cousin Lesley, and afterwards, took the bus to the my cousin Sue and spent a precious weekend with her before the long journey home.

Later in September, our friend Sabine, who lovingly hosted me five years ago, graced us with a visit from Bremen, Germany; so did Hayat and Joseph, whom we met in 1977, protesting the construction of the Seabrook Nuclear Power Station. We attended their wedding, way back in the mists of time, and Hayat has been a voice of wisdom and encouragement at major turning points in my life. In early October, we had a reunion of our cohort from a Co-op House in college, 17 of us in a beautiful house on the Kennebec estuary in Maine, a place where rivers meet the sea, a place to reflect on beginnings and ends. We cooked together as we used to, caught up with each other after nearly 45 years, and reflected on shared values and experiences with old friends and agemates. Most recently, just last weekend, a visit from Tamara, who lives in North London walking distance from where my mother was born, and who has known me and Mum since before I was two years old and before she was thirty. A series of jam-packed weekends followed by all-nighters to catch up with grading.

Losses: In the world, there has been the death of beloved Baltimore Congressman Elijah Cummings, who has been mourned deeply by his family, former Presidents, and the entire nation. At home in India, earlier this month, our family lost my atya/aunt, my father’s elder sister Kumud Rege. At times like this one feels so far away. Just the other day Rohna Shoul, our old friend Mark’s amazing mother, breathed her last, and we have yet to take it in. And this weekend we gather to remember my friend Ann, who died too young just a few months ago. That line from John Prine’s Angel from Mongomery comes yet again to mind: the years just flow by/like a broken-down dam. But so does that place where the river meets the sea.

Food
I’m not much of a cook in the term-time; it is Andrew who has been experimenting this fall with delicious new recipes. But it has been a good year for apples, and thanks to all the apples Andrew rescued from old trees on the UMass campus, I have made German apple pancake, an old favorite from The Vegetarian Epicure, four times in the past month. (Here’s a TMA story about the importance of cookbooks in the first decade after our immigration to the United States.) Other seasonal foods we have enjoyed this month, thanks to the Simple Gifts Farm: delicata squash, peppers, and basil pesto.

Weather
Stormy, with an “event” a couple of weeks ago called a bomb cyclone which cut off the power for awhile and downed trees and tree limbs everywhere. Our garden wasn’t spared, and one massive treetop knocked down the bird feeder but stopped just short of the house when it got caught up in another tree. Now the logs from the fallen tree trunk are stacked neatly in a pile, the house plants are in for the winter, and the garden is awash with coppery-yellow maple leaves.

Fall Festivals
Last weekend was Diwali, festival of Light and celebration of a new year. We had a quiet day, lighting candles for our parents and absent family members. But in a week our local Indian organization will celebrate Diwali and I must face the ordeal of dancing with the women, who have been practicing a choreographed number for weeks. So have I, but with my two left feet (and as a leftie I can say that) I’m still light years away from knowing the moves. The rehearsals remind me of all the times I messed up in dance performances in my childhood and youth. Can I master it in time or will I embarrass myself yet again on the stage?

For Halloween tomorrow, Andrew has been carving a Cheshire Cat pumpkin. We have our trick-or-treat candy ready for the children of the neighborhood and I’m looking forward to them; though I’m hoping that they don’t eat us out of the mini-dark chocolate Kit-Kats, since I’ve hidden away the all-natural Halloween fruit gummies for myself. But if they go, we’ll still have the roasted pumpkin seeds.

Work
Good news at work today: my sabbatical proposal has been approved, and I should know next week whether or not it has been funded. So, inshallah, this time next year I should be preparing to celebrate Diwali in India.

After a delicious dinner (salad, basil pesto, green beans, and butternut squash pasta in the shape of little pumpkins), I’m preparing to take the plunge back into the pile of student essays, fortified with a cup of tea (Sainsbury’s, Fair Trade) thanks to Tamara. I’m still tired, and ragged, and know it’s going to be a very long evening, but I feel thankful. And calmer. Let the winter come and go/All shall be well again, I know.

O Saraswati, Goddess of Learning, help me clear and strengthen my wayward mind.  

 

Tell Me Another (Contents to Date)

Chronological Table of Contents

  1. dearest josna, thanks for having me appear under “nice visits”! i so enjoyed it myself, and your company, and miss your kindness and your house already…i don’t know how to upload images, dinosaur that i am. so i leave it with words: here is my gorgeous bunch of fall flowers for you, for power and comfort.like you say, my place has flowers around all the time, and my kitchen on this day is full of them…hugs s

    • Thank you for the flowers, Sabine. I can see your sunny, book-filled, flower-filled apartment in my mind’s eye. I’m sitting with student papers looking out at the birds of the feeder. Hard frost last night–saw a squirrel skating on the ice in the bird bath this morning as it pierced through with its beak to get a drink. Love, J

  2. We used to hear a lot about the ‘silent majority’, the bunch of conservative (with a small ‘c’) US voters who apparently never said boo to a goose in the second half of the 20th century. Well, social media and vox pops have rendered them not so silent as they spout their nonsensical political clichés and conspiracy theories in the face of irrefutable logic and impending catastrophe.

    So, all I can say is thank goodness there is another not-so-silent bunch of responsible citizens in many of the countries you mention who demonstrate, complain and declaim in favour of rationality, social justice and the survival of not just the richest. Hope ever looms.

    Enjoyed reading your other news too, but I’ve already said too much on just one topic you’ve covered so I’ll stop there! 🙂

    • Thank you, Chris. Yes! And well put, as usual. Very thankful for the many voices of sanity that continue to make themselves heard above the cacophony of the tyrannical and intolerant majority.

  3. As chaotic as the world is right now, I am thankful to know that you know a song with such a
    comforting ending. Somehow that lifted my slagging spirits ever so slightly today. Thank you,
    dear friend!

    • That is very good to hear, dear Marianne. “Simple Gifts” is another one that has that quiet power–and so many of the songs that you taught me and that we have sung together.

  4. If I recall correctly you mentioned your students were around 17 / 18 years old, right? Imagine never having been challenged to think about the state of the environment before in your life… Wow. Just wow.

    I remember my favorite teachers were the unconventional ones. The ones that told me unexpected things and motivated me to formulate my own ideals. The ones you were allowed to disagree with (up to a certain extent).

    I imagine you to be one of those!

    • Thanks, Epi, I hope I’m not too didactic in the classroom, though I’m pretty opinionated out of it. Yes, it does seem impossible, doesn’t it? Some of the students seem to have come from communities in climate change denial. It’s also worrying that primary education doesn’t have climate change as an essential component. It’s something I plan to find out from our Education department.

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