I am learning a little bit about grace through this whole experience of having the flu and having a week packed with engagements. First, grace starts out in gracelessness and whining. On the phone to Marci: "I'm s-i-i-i-c-c-k-k-!" Hack, hack, cough, cough. To my Dad. To C. To my housemates. Pity me, pity me, I feel like crap. My head hurts, my body hurts, I'm burning up. Hack hack hack, spew spew, sweat, sweat. Sleep.
Then: get up. A half an hour before the assigned time. Wash up. Take some daytime formula Wal-Phed. C comes over, looking concerned. Put on a nice shirt. A little lip gloss. Go to his house, eat dinner, lie down until the last minute. Walk into Black Oak and see the people and the flu is gone. So happy to see everyone, when they ask "How are you?" I don't say "Sick," but answer truthfully, "Great!"
I don't even cough through the whole reading, which is delivered in a voice half an octave deeper than usual. I can feel myself sweating profusely up there--fever or hot flash--I don't know and it doesn't really matter. I just focus on the goodness of the people who showed up, this reading series that Joyce Jenkins and Richard Seilberg worked so valiantly to put together, my gratitude at being able to share the crop of new poems--and the poems themselves, that want to live in the world.
Later, lots of hugs. I don't hold back. I'm not coughing or sneezing, I don't feel contagious. My co-reader, Robin Becker, feels instantly familiar, like an old friend. Short, pugnacious, Jewish, butch: I recognize her. I like her poems.
C is there for me the whole time and drives me home afterwards: Driving Miss Ali, I joke, but I feel funny taking so much from him because he works full time at a demanding job and he gets tired himself. But it's so good to have his hand in mine throughout this week. "I feel fine," I say. "It might hit you later," he says. I lie down in bed and the hacking starts again. Get up, slug some Ny-Quil, pass out.
The next day I try to go to work. Four classes at the high school. Midway through the first one I realize I'm not going to make it. I have very little voice. I feel like I'm going to pass out. I tell the teacher and she begs me to stay through the second class--I'm supposed to be covering all four of her classes that day--so that she can figure out something to do for the last two. I barely make it through the second class--coughing, hacking and sitting down to keep from falling over. The car drives itself back to my house. I fall into a sweaty coma on the bed.
Wake up hours later. C had bought tickets to see Marion McPartland ages ago, had planned this special double date with two of his best friends. I get up, take a shower, put on a nice shirt and make-up. I loook good. Meet him and his friends in Jack London Square, go to dinner. His friends are great. We talk about food, houses, kids, education, music, and theatre. Not about being sick. I feel slightly outside of my own body, but I keep squeezing C's hand and he keeps me anchored.
Marion McP is a revelation. Eighty-nine years old, stooped and artritic in one leg, ("Don't look," she says,) her voice is ageless, dry, elegant, cool, just like on the radio. She has such an easy, laid-back personality, no fuss, just adjusts the mic a little on top of the piano and starts playing. Her music is young, fresh, unforced. Nothing about her is forced. That is the essence of grace. Not to force the work, just to do it. Not to "try" to do it, twisting and teeth-clenching, but just to do it.
I drove myself home and fell into bed. This morning I almost thought I could go to work and teach first graders. I wanted to. Calling in sick means I have to pay for it down the line. But I realize the only way I can get through this flu thing is to just pick one thing I'm going to do each day and do it. Today it's taking the computer in to get fixed and going to the bank and this blog. (Okay, I know, that's three things. I can count.) Enough.
It took me all morning to get out of the house, one step at a time, pausing to pull some dandelions that had grown to be as tall as I am (I don't think they are officially called "dandelions" anymore at that height.) And--I realize this is indelicate to mention in a public blog, but since it's mostly close friends and family who read this I'll say my period started in the middle of the McPartland concert. So here's the glamorous life of the playwright; flu-ridden, bleeding, getting on a plane to Detroit (after tomorrow's MFA graduation at New College which I wouldn't miss, I am so excited for my advisee Storm!)