While I was out

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You figure out you’re weird when you discover that what you experience, and what you thought was universal, is unique to you and maybe a few of your weird friends. I had no idea, when I was three, that other three-year-olds didn’t want Tonka car carriers for their birthdays. Seemed to me the kind of thing that all right-thinking little girls would ask for.

Being slow on the uptake, I didn’t really figure it out until I was an adult. Once you do figure it out, understanding your fellow man requires you to be able to accurately parse your own feelings and experiences. Is this universal? Or is this particular to me because I am weird?

If you’re going to write fiction, it is essential that you get this right. Jane Austen and Anthony Trollope did, and tapped our fundamental humanness. Phillip Roth, my candidate for the most overrated novelist of our time, often does not. I do not write fiction because I am very poor at figuring out which of my thoughts and feelings are shared by my fellow man, and which are unique to me and maybe a few of my weird friends. I make Phillip Roth look like Jane Austen.

I spent the last three days far from home, in Alabama. I left in the midst of some turmoil. Besides the usual chaos of home, garden, oysters, and livestock, we had a sick chicken. And, oh yeah, my father was in the cardiac ICU.

My parents were in the last week of their annual summer-long Cape Cod stay when my dad, who’d been experiencing some shortness of breath and fatigue, felt rotten enough to go to the doctor. For my father, who is fit and energetic, this was very rotten indeed. The doctor took one look at his EKG and called the ambulance.

Had my trip been a vacation, I would have cancelled. But it was a press trip, and canceling would have meant serious inconvenience and expense for the people who had invited me. Besides, it was a paying gig, and I’m trying to make a living here. My husband, my mother, and, from behind his oxygen mask, my father, encouraged me to go.

The fish camp that was my home away from home

I went. And I had a wonderful time.

Is it me, or do our immediate surroundings have a remarkable effect on what we’re thinking and feeling? I’m tempted to think that this is one of those universals, seeing as there’s an adage about it: Out of sight, out of mind.

I hope it’s universal, because the alternative is that I am particularly callous and cold-hearted. I sure hope I’m not the only one who blithely puts the troubles of those I love most on a back burner, just because I’m a thousand miles away.

It would seem to make some evolutionary sense. To be crippled by worry or sadness when there’s nothing you can do is not a recipe for well-being. Robust species probably find it easy to leave trouble behind. Cockroaches do it, no problem.

Color me robust.

When I came home, the sick chicken was better. She’s almost standing up, and she’s eating and drinking again. The trailer wheel, seized when I left, was fixed. Four of the lobster pots, overdue for pulling, had been retrieved. There were also six filets of bluefish brining and a sea bass ready for grilling.

And my father’s much better. He’s reading and laughing and inciting argument, just like he always does. When the cardiologist told him he’d have to have a rather bulky defibrillator implanted just under his left collarbone, he said, “Well, I guess my career as a porn star is over.”

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Comments

  1. Very glad to hear your dad is doing better – and don’t beat yourself up about being callous and cold-hearted – a change of surroundings does take your mind off things, and to a certain extent it is survival and self-protection kicking in, making you not over-think things sometimes.

  2. “Is it me, or do our immediate surroundings have a remarkable effect on what we’re thinking and feeling?”

    Yes, we do respond to changes with changes in our emotions. Evidence the introspection on gloomy days, the brightness quotient potential is raised on bright, sunny days with a light breeze.

    Books affect my moods, decisively; I had a Tarot deck, one of many some years ago, that I destroyed for the bad “vibrations.

    In the face of the challenges your father faced, as well, you made a deliberate decision and followed through — and it worked out OK. That is a tremendous boost to morale and to self confidence.

    Enjoy the day,

    Brad K.

  3. Glad to hear that all the news – even the news I wasn’t waiting on – is good news. Your father sounds like a riot. And from what very little I’ve read of Roth, I’m inclined to agree with you. Sabbath’s Theater pretty much put me off him for life.

  4. I was very sorry to hear (from Amanda- she was here for dinner Saturday night- we like her) that your dad was doing not so well, so I’m glad to hear that he’s better enough to crack jokes (oh he was serious? sorry). But I’m glad he’s better- that could have been scary.

    I’m also glad that your chicken is better, as does everything else seem to be.

    Don’t think that just because things and people did better while you were gone that maybe you should go away more often, though.

  5. I’m glad to hear that your father is on the mend. The world needs all the Haspels it can get. Good news on the chicken, too.

    We’re not a family of panickers or fussers either, but it doesn’t mean we don’t love each other and feel concern. However, I would ditch my husband in a NY minute if I thought all the stuff that needs doing would be fixed/achieved/tidied up when I returned. Magic!

  6. Glad your dad is OK. Tell him that in the studio, they’ll easily be able to take care of that defibrillator lump with a little makeup and extra chest hair.

  7. I’m so glad to hear that your father is going to be OK! Also, your little chicken! Heck, even the trailer wheel. That’s a tough situation to have been in. Knowing that your father was being tended to by your mum and Kevin, together (!) may have had something to do with your peace of mind, too.

    A few years ago, my mother suddenly fell into a coma. I lived 2,700 miles away and couldn’t get a flight. The only thing that saved my sanity (and probably my life) during that non-stop 25-hour drive to Miami was the fact that my best friend was kind enough to go to the hospital and stay with her and be my eyes and ears until I could get there. Had she not been willing or able to do that for me, I don’t know what I would have done.

    Having people you love and whom you trust to make good decisions in a real crisis is utterly priceless.

    Wishing your dad a very speedy recovery!