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The Way It Is

Sunday, May 8, 2016

 Not sure I've let the blog idle for this long before...can it be 17 days since my last post?

The world spins madly on.

I had to smile at a comment left on my last post, from Anonymous.  Anonymous is sometimes not very nice to me, but I liked this one. Made me feel missed.

Ok Julie,

...where the frickyfrack are you?!...   :-( 

Well, let's see. I took a left turn at Beset and wound up in Fraught. Re-routed, drove around in curlicues and ended up with a cloud of steam coming out from under my hood just outside Overwhelmed. Ever been there?

It all started when I gave seven talks in 8 days, trying to maximize my time in the Boston area, April 23-May 1. I drove alone for 2430 miles, all of them in pouring rain. I had a most marvelous time and showed a lot of people a good time, too. I saw two of my sisters and a niece, spent precious wonderful time with Phoebe and Corey and Hodge and John,  saw my artist friends at my show opening, made it to Mt. Auburn Cemetery five times in 8 days (!!), ate too much,  saw many many tulips and daffodils, and gave a talk every day. Practically sold out of books, and came home with money. Beautiful! The way it should be.

I got home on Monday night, May 2, and by that Wednesday I had the car unloaded, all the laundry done and was packing the car solid to the ceiling again with books and gear for my trip to the New River Birding and Nature Festival in West Virginia. This would be the 14th keynote in a row I've given for this festival, each one of them different. And on Saturday night Bill and I and an assemblage of professional musicians hurriedly put together would provide three hours of very fun music.
Once again, probably more than should ever be packed into a Subaru. Batman sitting, ready to roll, between the front seats.

So I'm driving down to the festival on Thursday afternoon with Liam and Chet and I ask my son to hand me some Quaker Oat Squares because I'm famished. Instead he asks if we can open a bag of popcorn. And before you know it I'm eating it, dammit, knowing I shouldn't, and I'm being careful but the bag is getting down to seeds and sticks, and a single old maid has found its way like a tiny smartbomb to a molar on the left side of my mouth, the opposite side from the two new crowns I just got in mid-April, and there is a terrible cracking sound and suddenly I am cursing and drooling and holding a shiny little quarter of my tooth in my hand. And that little pearly item, my friends, is another $2400 down the drain, the third time in less than a month that this has happened. You do the math. I can't stand to.

I do not like getting root canals. I do not like getting crowns. I do not like the sight, sound, or scent of needles and drills, gutta percha or epoxy, and whatever else it takes to keep some remnant of my own teeth in my head and functional. Every cent I've made in the last two months of frantic bookselling and shipping and talking has gone straight into my mouth. This has necessitated a sort of mental hauling about, to where I'm OK with working like a freaking stevedore, hoisting, packing and shipping or hauling, multiple times, more than 600 copies of my book (each one of which weighs 3.5 lb.), just so I can afford to  repair my precious, suddenly obsolete and crumbling teeth. 

As a side benefit, I suddenly and viscerally understand why so many people who live in my depressed area of Ohio have so few teeth. Because if you can't afford to pay to have root canals and crowns, your only alternative is to have them pulled. So when they crack around 45-year-old silver fillings, they get pulled, because most of my neighbors don't happen to have an extra $2400 lying around for such luxuries as fake porcelain crowns on pulpless teeth. 

Ever have a song just pop up and run through your head? I don't know if this is true for everyone, but the ones that cycle in my brain generally have something to tell me. The song on Repeat Play in my head as I struggle to accept my reality,  figure out how to effect this attitudinal hauling about:

 Bruce Hornsby's "The Way It Is." 

It came out the summer my mother lost her eyesight to macular degeneration; the summer my dad's hypertension got so bad he would just turn red and boil over; the summer we rolled along to Iowa with me, suddenly in charge and surprised to be behind the wheel at 28.  On that trip, it sank in on me like a dagger that neither one of my heretofore reliable parents was roadworthy any more, and it was up to me to take care of them now. That my mother, who kept saying she didn't like the new prescription she'd just gotten in her glasses, was entering a kind of personal visual hell that would rob her of her freedom to drive, take from her the simple but vital pleasure of reading herself to sleep; of joyfully walking three brisk miles a day; of seeing or recognizing her own children's faces. I wound up driving them to and from Virginia to Iowa for what would be our last trip together. It was the summer of 1986. I didn't know it was our last trip together, of course; one is rarely given to know such things.  But it was big for me, this sudden overturning of the iceberg of my childhood.  My parents were suddenly, irreversibly mortal, in need of my help, and looking down a road they'd never wanted to see. How could this be?

I remember "The Way It Is" and Hornsby's "Mandolin Rain" coming up on the radio again and again, and I'd turn it up when they did, because Mom and Dad liked them both. And I gloried in the unexpected pleasure of their liking music I liked, and I listened hard to the lyrics as the miles clicked away in the ta-dunk, ta-dunk of Illinois and Indiana's crappy highway pavement. And we sped at 70 mph across the state I didn't know I'd adopt as my own only six years later, when I married a man I had yet to meet. 

Standing in line, marking time Waiting for the welfare dime 
Cause they can't buy a job
A man in a silk suit hurries by, catches the poor old lady's eye
Just for fun he says, "Get a job."

I think Bruce Hornsby is in my head so I remember that not everyone can begin to afford to save their teeth. I think he's telling me that I'm the man in the silk suit here, and I'd better be thankful I can even consider having this level of dental work done. I don't think it's an accident that the song running through my head is one my parents and I shared. 

And I don't think it's an accident that I found, by what seemed like a blind online search, an endodontist who is also an artist and bird lover, who came to my talk in Columbus; who gave my books to his wife and daughter; who, when I texted him, called me right back as I drove and wept, peeled me gently off the ceiling, and said he'd fit me in Tuesday, fix that tooth so I can push on to another weekend-long festival commitment in Utah on Thursday.  

I think Dad put the song in my head, and sweet longsuffering Ida, who also loved popcorn and spent so much time in the chair getting her teeth repaired, found Dr. Murrin and pointed me toward him. And then she grabbed him by the ear and whispered that he had someone special here, and he'd better take good care of her.

 I can't prove it, but I don't need to, because I know this to be true.


Glad you are back! I was beginning to wonder. it too obvious to
Here's hoping nothing else takes a bite out of your hard earned income.

all I can say is two things:

beware the flax seeds- they really are inedible unless you have the jaw/teeth of a mastodon

and that J.Alfred Proofrock poem- ... "Do I dare to eat a peach?" (because I will graze a tooth on the pit and all hell will break loose...)

I'm glad you're back. Your blog posts are always honest, fun, entertaining, soul searching, and thought provoking. If misery loves company then scoot over. In the past year I've had thousands of dollars of dental work, neuropathy diagnosed in both feet (not good if you're a long distance hiker) and dislocated a shoulder after a fall. We both have decided to keep on keeping on. The other alternative isn't so attractive.

Oh Julie... my heart sank when I realized what that was in your hand. Sending all sort of good juju dental love your way for an uncomplicated fix, and reveling in the joy of your finding the wonderful Dr. Murrin who will see you through. XO

How could you ever appreciate all the blessings in your life without the occasional teeth (literally) biting you in the ass? Your blog brings much brightness and inspiration...thanks,Julie ;-)

Posted by Anonymous May 9, 2016 at 3:47 AM

I'm sitting right there with you on the dental cash drain. I hope we're both done with the expensive and painful experiences of emergency dental work!

Wishing you bird blessings as spring turns to summer.

I'm sorry about your tooth, but I'm glad to know that you and yours are okay. I was really starting to worry there!

When my mom died (from Alzheimer's), the song that I kept hearing on the radio (and in my head, on repeat) was The Way by Fastball. It somehow gave me comfort every time I heard it. Just for extra creepiness points, it came on the radio just as we were driving away from scattering her ashes.

Your poor teeth, why is it they don't last as long as the rest of us. (I am the owner of a row of implants which replaced teeth that has been filled, root-canaled, and crowned.)

Glad to have you posting again. Hope the trip is good.

Oh, Julie, how yucky. BTW I think the phrase you are reaching for vis-a-vis the bottom of the popcorn bag is "stems and seeds." As in down to stem and seeds again. It is very funny to say that to a group of 30-somethings and have them realize that I wasn't always an old lady.

So nice to see you in Concord! Maybe next time you'll have time for a Monadnock walkabout.

Two years before my son was due to start college and when my daughter was already at college, and every cent was designated to "education", I got to spend the equivalent of a year's college tuition on my teeth. The sad part was that some of it was replacing crowns another dentist had put in. Since then I haven't had to have any more work done. A good dentist is worth his or her weight in porcelain crowns. Hang in there!

Love me some Bruce Hornsby! Lots of memories from road trips in the late 80s/early 90s with him on the radio.

Just listened to your interview with Margaret Roach on her podcast. Really fun to hear some interesting stories from your writing about Baby Birds!

So glad you're back and all is relatively well...and that you made the 2000+ mile drive without incident. My heart dropped when I realized your hand held a piece of tooth. Agree with commenter Bill about your blog posts. They are a boost of the soul for me. Thank you. Am so glad you're being guided by your parents and I can't help but think there's some God-work in there too; you've got a team. Kim in PA

Is that your ENTIRE excuse? I'm just glad you are still alive after all that. Welcome back.

Welcome back, Julie! Your hectic schedule explains my book delay. I gave the first one away to a bird lover who just had surgery to remove a small tumor on her brain-I knew she would love it. I then ordered one directly from you to replace it. Can't wait to get the one signed by you! Take care of yourself!

Posted by Janet W. May 9, 2016 at 3:21 PM

BEWARE of chia seeds, They are not pets that live in between our teeth. TAKE a DEEP Breath. Everyone deserves a break sometimes.

As my dear husband said this week, aging makes us pay attention. To what we have, to what is there. To know that it is a limited experience and that we must get busy with what we really want to do.

Hope your tooth is all fixed and it's the last of the crowns for a while.


I am undergoing lots of dental work at present, choosing extractions over root canals and getting new fillings where the old ones have become a ruination. An implant is in my future. It is all expensive! Please feel better soon, we miss you and dear Chet.

All of us "of a certain age", victims of the primitive dentistry of the 50's and 60's, face these challenges. Remember, three generations ago, people did not outlive their teeth! It's not the popcorn's fault--you get x-many chews on an old filling, and then, BAM, it breaks, whether you're eating yogurt or chewing a rib bone. I'm so glad your kids are of the generation where
they've never even known a filling, let alone all this repair-work-to-fix-the-old-repair-work. Just be glad you've been able to keep up with it, even if it takes most of your resources. Last December, we were hit with property taxes $4500, a new A/C
unit, $4700, and Ken's broken crown $3200, all in the same month. By the end of the month, I was buying our groceries on the "Credit Card that is Never to be Used!" But, we made it, the sun has come out, and we have our health and happiness. What're you gonna do?
With love,


I am discovering that some of those crowns can eventually break. :(

You are fabulous, Julie. I heard your talk at the Harvard Natural History Museum and introduced myself after, as I had you sign books for 2 of my friends. Your post here continues what I so liked about your talk and so like all the time about your books and blogposts, i.e.. that you exude human warmth and it is a wonderful thing. Thank you for sharing yourself with your readers.

Hi Julie--I'm one of the Clan of the Comebackers. So glad to meet you here, and enjoy your words, your stories, your art, and your spirit. In spite of what inspired this post it is delightful, and I look forward to getting to know you. So sorry about your dental woes.

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