Privilege Blog

Baselines, Or, Saturday Morning at 9:22am

In the week of February 20th I strained my Achilles tendon. On March 20th my mom died. Both events hurt, both are fully survivable. I don’t mean to sound heartless–I understand they may twinge for the rest of my life. I’m just one of those people who has only two gears, cheerful, logical, albeit prone to hurry and irritation – or overwhelmed with emotion so strong I can barely talk. Life demands Gear One.

Today is April 20th. What I want most right now is to get back to baseline. I’m hoping all of you have a baseline, a regular. A rhythm to your days that feels comfortable, all stresses and strains within bounds. It’s a privilege, I think, to live in relative stability. We can stand on the shoulder of the road and try to make sense of all that rushes by.

In the past two months my house had gotten so dirty you had to wade through the dust bunnies. Carpenter ants  started chewing on beams and leaving piles of sawdust in corners. My roses budded out, then 800 million aphids arrived, along with every odd fungus you can imagine. Butterflies can still barely find the vervain in my side yard, so buried is in in thistles and weeds.

(Edited to add, for transparency, I have also drunk three times more wine and eaten twelve times more cheese this last month than usual. I loosened the corset, if you will, time to lace it back up. If you think this is very WASPy of me you are correct.)

In the last two weeks I have started physical therapy, vacuumed the whole house at least once, cleaned my stove top while wearing rubber gloves, and asked the gardeners to pull out my poor dead Pieris japonica. I still can’t press my foot very hard on a shovel.

In moments like this I am prone to say to myself, “OK then,” draw myself up, look around, and put out both hands as though I were a mime in a mimed box. Assume that’s happened.

Baseline also means I will reply to comments here again. And I will tell you have a wonderful weekend and ask about your baseline. Is it in your sights right now? Onward.

44 Responses

  1. Here in Missouri we’re having a glorious spring! Today is a perfect April day — cloudless skies, a slight breeze and mercury rising to a high of 70, which makes it the perfect day to mow the grass for the first time this year.

    On my 25 acres of fields, meadows and woods I leave the woods to the deer, let a neighbor hay one of the fields and mow five acres of what’s left with a six-foot zero-turn Kubota mower. The effort required to make the mower lines straight harnesses my inner OCD urges, and on a day like this sunshine feels like the best antidepressant in the solar system.

    After lunch I’ll head back out. Life is good again.


    P.S. I hasten to say there’s more to me than mowing, but for half of the year it’s a big part.

    1. @Ann in Missouri, That sounds absolutely wonderful, both the weather and the 25 acres. There’s little I cherish so much as an open view. I have no doubt you’ve got other facets than mowing, but I agree we should always make ourselves clear. xoxox.

  2. While I’m very, very glad you’re on the mend, as it were, I would note that while life may demand Gear One, life doesn’t always get what it wants any more than we do. ;-) (in other words, it is okay to be swamped occasionally, and then resurface.)

    How is Project Eat Good Food going? (I partly ask because eating good food can help with all kinds of healing, and I would like all kinds of healing for you.)

    Over here, my baseline has been wibbling around in some weird ways – some of the strangleholds on function and enjoyment that chronic illness has imposed have loosened slightly, while others are still holding firm, and while I am in a distinctly unpleasant place just at present, I have reason to suspect that it is a temporary unpleasant place, and have no idea what possibilities there might be on the other side of the unpleasant place. So, hope – but guarded hope, because I wish to be pleased with what I get, and it is unlikely that I’ll get everything back, as it were, and it’s possible that after the dip I may just have the same function levels that have been a baseline for 7+ years rather than the “bonus” that I had for a few weeks before the dip. But: maybe more than I’ve had for years? Or maybe not. We’ll see. It is a waiting-and-enduring time, but a waiting-and-enduring time with the possibility of hope out the other end.

    1. @KC, I agree. I even feel that I am ready to resurface now in part because I so wholly submerged. Operation Good Food was in good shape before all this, I am now creeping my way back to split peas, chard, and sweet potatoes. I’m very sorry for your chronic illness, you sound very wise about however. I hope for the best possible baseline news.

  3. Very glad that you cut yourself a break this last month or two. It sounds like you are in a good spot, as the song says, to – figuratively, at least – pick yourself up, dust yourself off, and start all over again, with your new normal. It sounds like Easter and its celebration of renewal and rebirth is coming at just the right time.

    1. @MJ, It is an Easter. I was reminded the other day of the final words, “It is finished.” That is how it felt. xoxox.

  4. I was so pleased to read your post and to know you felt able to reconnect. I’m in the U.K. and so enjoy reading about your life. When thongs get too much I think of Churchill and his mantra “ Kerp buggering on …” which takes a lot of doing sometimes. Chin up.
    Best Wishes,

  5. You’ve had two major life events…these both contribute to negatively altering your “baseline” It takes time to heal the injury and to get over the raw grief of losing your mother. Now is a time to take things easy, be gentle with yourself, lean on others and if you feel the need to eat something naughty or have a few glasses of wine so be it.
    Fear not, your baseline will return, it might be slightly different than it was before but that’s OK too.

    1. @Leslie Lord, Thank you. It’s funny, it’s a very organic shift right now, like an inner optimism telling me to buck up. I think I am comforted by my own self-discipline, if that makes sense, as much as at first I was eased by a lack thereof.

      Yes, the baseline will be forever different but I want to own it whatever it is. xox.

  6. I have found that I can’t return to the old baseline. I’m slowly laying the foundations of a new one on top of the old one. It’s not a better baseline or a even a worse one. It’s the one that I hope will serve me well with this new paradigm. That’s the thing with these new paradigms. You don’t have much damn choice but to rebuild. And I’ve come to realize that my smug insistence that my children leaving the home for good wasn’t a big deal was precisely not a big deal because my mothering skills and needs, (and I am, at heart a maternal person) were nicely met by my mother’s needs as she grew older. So now with the kids grown up and functioning like full-fledged adults and my mother onto wherever one goes (I suspect in her case it’s at a hotel in heaven next to the Hawaiian ocean and she has a mai tail in one hand and is feeding a bunch of stray dogs with the other), I am left with me. And my husband, of course. I saw the Monet show at the de Young this morning. More gardening and ambitious gardening is now a brick in the foundation of my new baseline. Hope you can see it before it leaves. Wonderful show.

    1. @Claire, So much is said here, in what’s unsaid. I hope your mother is enjoying her mai tai right now. And yes I know it’s noon in Hawaii. I have found that gardening soaks up some of the maternal instincts, as does my husband for that matter, but not all. I am sorry your mother is gone, and I hope your new baselines brings you joy, and gardenias maybe. Or whatever flora you prefer.

  7. I’m very happy to hear from you! I think that says it better than anything that will follow. You have some very articulate writers in your blog. There words inspire me as well.



    1. @luci, Thank you. It’s nice to be on the way back. And the writers here inspire me too, that’s why I so wanted to muster again.

  8. For much of my life I’ve had two basic states: “wallow” and “just get on with it”, which sounds harsh but is really usually a really happy although impatient state. At some point in the wallow, a switch flips and I am ready to be back to the other state, but it is just not happening as easily right now. I’ve had some minor but annoying issues that are slowing my progress to where I want to be, and might mean a shift in what that idea even means. Adaptation. So a switch has flipped here and I am ready to get on with it, although I don’t yet know quite what that will mean. I am interpreting what I read as a similar process…

    Anyway it is good to hear from you, and to learn that you want to get back to baseline. The switch has flipped although the path might not be as clear as you want. Life will go as it does, and we will attempt to keep up, as we do.

    1. @Mardel, Good to hear from you too. There is an adaptation, we move back to baseline and our concept of baseline moves towards us I suppose. Sorry you’ve had minor annoying issues, when those pile up they can be so frustrating.

  9. Dear Lisa, it would be easier to recover if it weren’t for the injury. This is like a heavy chain around your neck preventing you from getting into the regular activities you might undertake to work through the energy of the emotions in your body. Being forced to reduce activity and keep still at such a time is like a torture in itself. I tore a medial ligament in my knee last year and was so frustrated by the reduced activity, it really got to me. I put on weight, among other things. Fortunately it got better with treatment and physio, and is no longer an issue, but it was slow going. Even though we feel 25 inside, our rate of cellular renewal reminds us otherwise. I find when I can be busy ‘homemaking’ (cleaning, pottering, tidying, fixing, ironing etc) or walking, and listening to a riveting podcast or audio book, I am at my happiest baseline, and these activities give me comfort and meaning, and allow me to work out any negative emotions and create a calm sense of order, despite the world going to hell in a hand basket. Like your mimed window or box – It’s peaceful in here, it’s orderly in here. So, what to do? Pay people if you must, to help you create the order. For me, the interior of my home is like my emotional interior. If it is out of order, so am I and vice versa. Not all people are like this, these are only my standards, but the way the world has recently embraced the Marie Kondo experience, it does say that people want to create a haven of order in which to seek refuge from the world. My back recently ‘went out’ – not a slipped disk, just a muscular thing due to poor core strength and the news our daughter will be moving back into our Empy Nest for a while , I believe it was a somatic reaction to the news that she would be bringing her chaos into our newly arranged preretirement blissfully arranged routines and tidy home. Still, here she is. With dog. We are learning to suck it up, and I am having physical treatment – about to get on the floor and do my exercises so I can move for the next few hours to once again bring peace and order to what is left of our sanctuary while she is out at work and husband at golf. A wise person once said that the only certainty in life is that there is constant change. We have to remember to be like the willow and bend in the wind for it we get brittle, we’ll break. I am contemplating this for myself as I take the time to write to you, this is as much for me as it is you. I am going to try hard to take my own advice. Blessings and peace, and may you find your new baseline as I too am trying to uncover mine from the rubble. Xxxxx

    1. @TJ, You are so right. It drives me crazy to be so minimally mobile. My husband and I walk together for exercise, I miss it so much. It’s encouraging to hear your injury got better and I’m happy for you. I can only imagine what it would be like to have a chaotic adult child move home, the conflicted feelings. Again you are right, peace in the house has a huge impact. And you know I called a maid service because it got so bad but they quoted me a price that seemed 3 times what was reasonable and I just couldn’t bring myself to overpay so egregiously so I have just started doing it myself bit by bit.

  10. Sometimes after life events, a new baseline is formed. I like to think life experiences make us better and stronger in the long run. We do not always choose these experiences. I wonder, do they choose us? I’m glad to hear you are on the mend. Spring is here in NE. Our trees are leafing and magnolias are blooming. I see Spring as rebirth. Wipe the slate clean and start anew.

  11. Glad you are reaching for baseline. We are moving so mine of the pre ious 5 years is out the window before i reestablish in our new home. So trying to manage base mine free for a few more months. Tomorrow I’ll divide dahlia bulbs and pack some & plant some. Then packing clothes, tea, cutlery…my son (14) is on an 4 day trip to DC and that feels very uncomfortable. Tuesday we fly to warmth…

    1. @JB, Five years and then a move to a new climate – that is a new baseline. I would imagine you’d want to keep your family close, they are that slender thread of continuity that will spin up strong once you are established.

  12. I like “baseline” as a concept. We talk a lot around my house about getting back to “normal” but baseline feels somehow more attainable or at least, possible. In August, my 16-year-old daughter was diagnosed with cancer in her liver and lungs. Boom. She’d been complaining about back pain but the doctor thought she had pulled a muscle playing volleyball. Then one day she had a pain in her side and we took her to the ER thinking she had appendicitis. Rare cancer. No one could have predicted it. We’ve been on the train of hardcore chemo and hospital stays ever since. Her lungs are now clear and we (likely) are just weeks away from her going on the liver transplant list. And there is the glimpse of an “after” ahead of us. But our lives are all out of shape from what they were before. We’ve adjusted to this “new normal.” We know how to ask for the egg crate so that we can sleep on the hard couch in her hospital room and we bring blankets, pillows, a portable speaker and our Amazon Fire Stick to bingewatch Brooklyn 99 or The Good Place. When we’re at home we have a whiteboard where my husband writes down her meds in the morning and we check them off throughout the day. Before she got diagnosed, she took the train everywhere, she played multiple sports, her dad and I did many speaking dates out of town. Is that old baseline possible? Or do we even want it like that anymore- our cancer world is slower in some ways and quieter and there is closeness here. But getting back to a baseline and away from our heightened state, that I gravitate toward. Apologies for the dump. I guess that misery loves company and all that. I hope you are both taking care and taking steps. This human thing ain’t easy.

    1. @AnneL, I am so sorry to hear about your daughter, she sounds like such an active person and to find it’s a rare cancer. Baseline would be gone. I have a vivid picture of your hospital baseline, the comforts you’ve learned to put in place. I can imagine the closeness and also how heightened your perceptions.

      But the news about her lungs is so good. I cross my fingers and send you all the best for her liver transplant, I can only imagine that everyone who reads this blog and sees your story will do the same. Please don’t apologize. This human thing is anything but easy and keeping each other company is all I really know of that helps. Love to you and to your family.

  13. I’m so glad to hear you’re finding your way back to a baseline that works. Travelling right now, mine has been barely visible, but as we’re settling into our temporary home in Bordeaux, in a familiar neighbourhood, with less need to hurry out and see the sights, I’m beginning to establish the routines that comfort. Some beloved good people in my life have been experiencing some really difficult stuff (F**K Cancer and all that, one Ewing’s Sarcoma, one brain tumour, one prostate, and most recently T3 colorectal) and a beloved former colleague, whom I saw fit and alive and lovely, his intelligence and compassion shining brightly just this past December, died of a heart attack a few days before our flight. It seems there are always events that might overwhelm us and knock the baseline forever out of reach, but also always reminders of how finite our time — and that of our loved ones– is, so that it’s well worth the effort of making our way back — or of shifting the goalposts enough, as you once commented on my post, that we can reach them, if you’ll forgive a mixed sports metaphor.
    And for Annel, above, my brother and sister-in-law is going through something similar, except that his son is a decade or so older, and father to a little girl who was born about the same as her dad’s diagnosis. Like you, they’ve refashioned their baseline — the continuity I see is that they support their child’s needs (of course, differently for an adult child with a spouse and child, but still) — with no confidence about what the future may hold, they carry on daily to parent with so much strength, concentrating on the practical to keep them going. I admire you all so much. Take care.

    1. @frances, I am so sorry for the illness in your family. I send my love to you and through you to them. I love thinking of you in Bordeaux, a home away from home, an extended baseline. I hope you’re having a really nice time.

  14. Welcome back to Baseline. In a difficult year, reaching it is a personal victory and its important to celebrate those victories.
    About digging….have you tried a Soil ripper? It resembles a steel pole with four claws at the end. Using the handle, you twist it into the dirt to make a hole. Ankle strength is not required but you do need some arm muscles. LOWEs sells the Corona SoilRipper for under $30.
    Wishing you peace.

    1. @Karen Gaylin, Arm muscles I can still claim, to an extent, thanks for the little pink free weights I’ve kept by my sofa;). Maybe I should make the investment. It would liberate me to do my own planting, it really would. Thank you.

  15. Stability as a privilege…yes, that makes sense. I hope you’re able to get back to a baseline that feels good for you soon. I’m a creature of habit, and crave a sense of “normalcy” in my routine and emotions.

    1. @Susan B., I’m feeling much better. Not to say I don’t burst into tears when I pass Mom’s place, or wince when I’ve been walking too long, but I can feel cheerful again. Thank you. I can imagine you both crave that sense of “normalcy” and provide it to others. xox

  16. A painful physical injury can keep us down and prolong the grieving process. I’m sorry that it has been such a difficult time. I’m glad you gave yourself a break with the household chores, but maybe you should treat yourself to a cleaning service once in a while. I am a bit older than you are, but having my house cleaned once a month makes all the difference in many ways. We need to take care of ourselves.

    1. @E.Jane, I would love to use a cleaning service but the commercial ones out here are absurdly expensive, and I’ve had bad luck with the individual housecleaner I’ve been introduced to via my personal network.

  17. My mother died last August with Parkinson’s, she was wheelchair bound and suffered from PD related dementia. I related strongly to so many of the stories you told of your journey with your mother and with the story of her death. It has been nine months and I still have no words that can adequately express my sympathy to you but like you, life has demanded Gear One. Although I placed one foot in front of the other I have done so in a fog that I could not have anticipated and with a heart so heavy. This spring I found my way out of the fog in my yard and in my garden. I look forward to breaking the pattern of too much wine and too much cheese and not enough yoga that have been haunting me since last August. Progress has been slow but I am determined and my baseline is in sight. Life is too short not to be enjoyed but still not a day goes by that I don’t think of a question that I wish I could ask my mother. Love and Hugs to you and be gentle as you find your way back.

    1. @Gay Schiff, I am glad your baseline is now in sight. I am so sorry your mom’s death brought fog, and thank goodness for gardens. Love and hugs to you too, and thank you for your kind words.

  18. I am glad to hear you are moving towards you baseline, old or modified. According to my experience, grief may move in waves, it may even become overwhelming again on occasion. But having found the baseline once can give some confidence to find it again in the future. And over time, the waves of grief become smaller, and the lapses between them longer. All the best to you.

  19. It has been the most beautiful Easter weekend here and the temperatures are those of summer so we had friends round for lunch on Saturday – old friends, long lunch – as our daughter was home from Birmingham for a few days. My husband has discovered a New York-based radio show that plays continuous jazz, so that is burbling away downstairs as he sits outside in the garden which I set about yesterday – our peculiar spring temps mean that my plants were very hit-and-miss this year and the place looked a mess. And now I sit, listening to birds outside, doing very little indeed. There is chocolate and the remains of a cake, plus the leftovers from our lunch to be used up so we just schlep to the fridge and back again. Just a few miles up the road our moor has been on fire all weekend but all is green loveliness here. The thing about baseline is that when you return to it there has been a subtle shift that means you never truly get back to how it was – no bad thing. And there does come that point in great sadness or difficulty where you do just heave yourself up again and start over because that is what you have to do, awful as things may be. I do try now to live without regret as much as possible and to dig around till I find a shiny side, even if it is a bit tarnished. I’m too old to rage, rage all the time now. When I was younger, if I had written that, I would have thought: don’t tempt Fate! But now I just think: me? really, you’d single me out? for refusing to be miserable and negative but to prefer living in hope?

  20. I think stability is a privilege. A friend teaches low-income children, and they are constantly losing their homes due to poverty or family members to early deaths due to lack of health care. Few really expect to grow up. Those of us who have been lucky enough to grow up, despite the many bumps in the road, should be grateful. Like others who have written here my baseline shifted with chronic illness that has required constant adjustment, and sometimes I have dust bunnies and sometimes I don’t. Just make friends with them!

    1. @Lynn, I was thinking of the kindergarten kids I worked with in my volunteering, how they moved around, went back to Mexico, came back to the USA, lived with their mother, lived with their grandmother, the men in their family often in and out of jail. How they used almost all their capacity in simply coping with the instability of their days. I am so sorry about your illness. That must sometimes take all your capacity too.

  21. I find that the older I get, the harder it is to have a prolonged period of baseline or routine. It’s very frustrating for me.

    But like you, it’s something I always keep trying to come back to, and trying hard not to get so upset when it’s not as I’ve hoped it would be, or stay.

    1. @KSL, That’s so true about aging. I often think of it as going down the stairs. Sometimes you stay for a while on a landing, but there is always that next step down and it often happens when you don’t expect it.

  22. This made me laugh because whenever I have been hit with something (good or bad), there comes a point at which I audibly take a deep breath and say “Okay.” Nobody else in my family does it.

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