Two Lists

The breath-holding suspense of Election Day (which still continues)

 The horror of Borderline, latest of the interminable succession of mass shootings, (which never seem to stop)

The strong emotions surrounding Veterans Day’s (which feel particularly upsetting this year)

And the California fires so close to home (which, of course, still continue).

Mrs. Penfire’s head is spinning!

Mrs. Penfire would like to continue writing about her delightful sojourn in Italy with Mr. Penfire. But she cannot. For one reason, she’s too distracted with these more serious issues, worries, feelings, and concerns. And for another, it would feel too much like Nero fiddling (or in this case Mrs. Penfire fiddling around) while Rome (or, to be more accurate, California) burns.

The morning after Election Day, which left me feeling troubled and disappointed, I listened to a portion of the President’s sanguine (and seemingly delusional) remarks at his press conference, to feel (not for the first time) that either he or I was living in an alternate reality. I sat down and made a list of the issues that concern me: climate change and the environment; guns; healthcare; criminal justice; racism; immigration; the economy and the widening gap between uber rich and penniless/homeless; foreign affairs (warfare and crisis worldwide); the willynilly (it seems) deployment of our military personnel and inadequate (surely) services for our veterans; the controversies and conundrums surrounding education. This list simply brought forth another list as all these topics are interconnected with others: our dysfunctional political system; divisiveness of public discourse; the challenges facing the free press in this country—and everywhere; the twenty-four-hour news cycle; the hijacking of social media by unknown interlopers; challenges to reproductive freedom; intolerance around issues of gender identity; ways in which striving for political correctness are sparking the rewriting of history and the squelching of honest, open debate; religious extremism; the crisis of drug abuse; ongoing concerns about child abuse and sexual abuse; mental health; water; weather; trash and recycling; the quality and safety our food supply; materialism; militarism; refugees; warfare; overpopulation; nuclear weapons…. And on and on it goes. You know that list of worries. I’m sure you have one, too.

I’d like to press the off button on my brain. I’d like to think only about: finishing Jane Eyre for my book group next Tuesday night which decides once in a while that we should re-read and discuss one of the classics (in fact, I’d like to find the time to read the dozens of books I’ve piled up beside my bed, and the long list I’ve created of books I haven’t yet acquired but do want to read); I’d like to think just about things like going for walks, or visiting museums, or attending shows, or planning excursions, or going out to lunch or off on another trip with Mr. Penfire (and perhaps one or more of our grandchildren or daughters or friends); I’d like to spend my time trying new recipes; riding my newly acquired bicycle; going for a swim; going to a yoga or pilates class; sorting through our lifetime accumulation of pictures; working in my garden; getting a start on my Christmas shopping; organizing my closets…. You know that mythical “to do” list. I’m sure you have one of those, as well
We all, I think, have these two kinds of lists: First and most important (though I’ve listed it second above): the to do list—things we want our peaceful, ordinary, and relatively inconsequential lives to be all about—having the ways and means to spend our time enjoying the company of those we love. Second and, unfortunately, inescapable: the worries list—the problems we think need to be solved to make the world we inhabit a safe haven for doing the things on that to do list. Now that I think about it—both lists encompass “the pursuit of happiness.”

For me, there is a compulsion to cope with the to do list by doing, and to cope with the worries list not by worrying but by writing. The essays about travel to Italy, which I’ve been working on for the past few weeks, have been fun for me, totally enjoyable. Today, I’m realizing that my worries list is intruding on this project. The items on that list are dragging me out of Italy and back to grim reality . Perhaps, in the days ahead I will try to write about some of those topics, for writing is the way I attempt to make sense of things, at least in my own mind. Some might call my essays about the problems of the world futile, or pretentious, or silly. I would not be offended. But the fact is that for me, they are simply: writer’s therapy.