At Sixes and Sevens

We are a family of four, but as a family in isolation during COVID-19, we are but three. Our younger daughter lives and works (currently from her home) in Los Angeles while our older daughter lives here in Maryland with us. She works from home most days so this social distancing has not been much of a change for her.

covid-19-handshake-alternatives-v3As three adults living together under one roof during this pandemic, we are getting along very well. For work purposes, we have established three separate and distinct work areas: Daughter #1 gets the small bedroom upstairs that she was already using as an office, hubby gets the den and the dog, and I get our home office, which is a small bedroom downstairs. The kitchen, dining room, and living room, all upstairs, are common areas where we congregate, while still keeping some space between us. We meet for lunch and afternoon coffee, but otherwise, we try to stay out of each other’s way. I am the outlier, the only one over 60, so we are being cautious because of the CDC guidelines for age, but I am not immuno-compromised and have no underlying health issues that are set forth for caution. Still, it’s best to be cautious given the devastating effects of this virus on some.

zoomI’m a full-time teacher and a part-time freelance writer, and my school is closed (as of now) through April 24, 2020. I’ve already spent two full weeks teaching online, via Google Classroom for the first week and a half, adding Zoom classes this past week. The Zoom classes I had on Thursday and Friday restored a sense of normalcy to this whole crazy situation. It was so wonderful seeing the faces of my students, 7th grade on Thursday and 8th grade on Friday. There was only a handful who didn’t log on to their scheduled Zoom class, basically the same percentage that could be absent any given school day.  In essence, those two thirty-minute classes were the best I’ve felt since my school closed on March 12, 2020. 

The rest of the time, up to and including this very moment, I have been at sixes and sevens. You may not be familiar with that saying, an old English idiom, but it means being in a state of confusion or disarray. During this self-isolation and school closure, I can certainly identify with this saying.

Richard_II_King_of_EnglandIts origin is not completely known, but it is thought to have originated in the 14th century, perhaps in a dice game, and early use in literature was by Chaucer in 1374, and later by Shakespeare in 1595 in his play Richard II, “But time will not permit: all is uneven, And everything is left at six and seven”.

H_m_s_pinafore_restorationGilbert & Sullivan used it in their 1878 comic opera H.M.S. Pinafore in the opening song of Act II, “Fair moon, to thee I sing, bright regent of the heavens, say, why is everything either at sixes or at sevens?”

In 1911, O. Henry published a collection of 25 short stories, for which he was a master, called Sixes and Sevens. He was certainly qualified to use it, being someone who was convicted on very sketchy evidence of embezzlement of a paltry $900 from the bank where he worked before becoming a writer. He was certainly at sixes and sevens for the three years he served in the Ohio Penitentiary. He had fourteen short stories published while imprisoned, under various pen names, but the pen name (and its origin which he refused to acknowledge) that stuck was O. H(io)(P)en(itentia)ry.

Eva PeronIn the late 70s, Andrew Lloyd Weber had Eva Perón use “at sixes and sevens” in the famous “Don’t Cry for Me Argentina” to describe her relationship with Juan Perón. 

It is an understatement that I am a creature of ritual and routine. The circumstances surrounding COVID-19 have stripped me of much of my ritual and routine, the very things that bring order to my daily life. With schools closed, but distance learning still going on, I feel completely at sixes and sevens. I’m at home 24-7, but I’m not on summer break, Christmas break, or Easter break. This week, week three of school closure, I am going to try to sort myself out by getting up at my regular weekday time, and following all my regular routines as though I was heading out the door at 7:15, my normal time.

I’m going to put on business casual clothes (one notch down from the professional attire I normally wear to school) and go to my classroom/home office and do lesson plans, prepare online materials, hold my Zoom classes, and grade research papers that have been submitted via Google Classroom. At the end of my school day, I’m going to shut it all down and go and cook a fabulous meal for my family and watch Jeopardy, my favorite way to relax. With a minimum of four weeks to go in our school closure, I can’t be at sixes and sevens another day longer.

 

Obsession: Calvin Klein Has Nothing on Me

Obsession: ob·ses·sion (əbˈseSHən) noun; plural noun: obsessions; (1) the state of being obsessed with someone or something. Ex: “she cared for him with a devotion bordering on obsession”; (2) an idea or thought that continually preoccupies or intrudes on a person’s mind. Ex: “he was in the grip of an obsession he was powerless to resist”. Synonyms: fixation, ruling/consuming passion, passion, mania, idée-fixe, compulsion, preoccupation, infatuation, addiction, fetish, craze, hobbyhorse.

I have a long history of becoming obsessed with a topic and holding onto it until I have sated my appetite by reading every single thing I can about it. This “condition” sometimes comes at the expense of attending a social obligation, having clean underwear, putting food in the refrigerator, taking even a modicum of exercise, and of course, engaging in real conversations with real people.

An analysis of my book bag after a trip to my public library would reflect one of two extremes: (1) 15-20 books, about half being non-fiction with each on a different topic or subject, and the other half being a mixture of classics, contemporary fiction, and young adult fiction; or (2) 15-20 books all on the exact same topic or subject. A quick glance at the bookshelves in several rooms of our house will also verify this.

When under the spell of one of my obsessions, it is all I want to talk about over dinner with my family, while in the car with one of my daughters, or while out with my husband walking the dog. It matters not at all that no one else in my family shares the obsession du jour or is in the least bit interested. Because they love me (or because I am very persuasive in wanting to talk about it), they listen and ask questions as though they cared. I love them for that.

Sir Arthur Conan DoyleWhile taking undergraduate and graduate courses to become certified to teach English (as my second career), I was taking an undergraduate class on world literature. My advisor for the certification program suggested I take it at my local community college, for convenience and cost savings. So, I was, by far, the oldest student in the room, and older than the professor as well. After reading a plethora of short stories and two novellas, all by foreign authors, we were given our final assignment: choose any international author and do a presentation on them. My husband strongly suggested I choose an author I was already covering in my middle school classroom to cut down on the research involved in the project. So, I did. I chose Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, the inventor of the great Sherlock Holmes. I was already quite familiar with Conan Doyle as a writer but I felt to do the project justice I should do a “bit” of research to round out his life story. Twelve books later I had my story: born in Edinburgh, went to medical school, worked as a ship’s doctor on a cargo ship, served as a medic during the Second Anglo Boer War, vehemently opposed to the atrocities committed by King Leopold in the Belgian Congo, became very interested in the occult and faeries, and yes, after being bored by his mediocre practice as an ophthalmologist, was the inventor of the great Sherlock Holmes. (My PowerPoint was well-received, and the afternoon tea of scones, cucumber sandwiches, and piping hot tea made to order in a college classroom didn’t hurt.)

Russian_Imperial_Family_1911When I first learned of the fate of the Romanov family, I spent months reading everything I could find at the public library. I was absolutely horrified at the thought of an entire family being executed en masse in 1918. The long-standing rumor that daughter Anastasia (Grand Duchess Anastasia Nikolaevna of Russia) had survived the brutal execution of the family kept the story alive for decades until finally, in 2007, her body was found and identified using DNA from England’s Prince Philip, who was a great-nephew of the last Tsarina. This did not stop me, however, from reading books written by the two famous Romanov imposters, Anna Anderson and Eugenia Smith, both of whom were confirmed to be unrelated to the Romanovs using the aforementioned DNA tests.

"The British royal family on the balcony of Buckingham Palace" by Carfax2 - Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons

“The British royal family on the balcony of Buckingham Palace” by Carfax2 – Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons”

As for the British royal family, well, that obsession is long-standing and shows no sign of slackening. With Prince William and his wife, Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge, and their now two beautiful children, the monarchy, and my obsession, is safe and secure. Within the boundaries of my obsession with the British royal family lies a specialized “sub-obsession” with the Duke and Duchess of Windsor, the “love story” that nearly brought down the monarchy but in doing so paved the way for the current monarch, Elizabeth II. An earlier essay also documented this obsession, How We Changed the World.

Since obsessions for me frequently spin-off these sub-obsessions, the Romanovs also “hatched” a sub-obsession with Fabergé eggs, the beautiful and intricately decorated and bejeweled “eggs” the Russian Imperial Family gave and received as presents at Easter time. I’ve read extensively on the eggs, jewelry, and other priceless art pieces created by PeHouse_of_Fabergé_-_Rose_Trellis_Eggter Carl Fabergé and his company. Only forty-eight eggs were made and of those forty-three remain. One year for my birthday I requested a jaunt to Richmond to visit the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts to see their collection of twelve. A documentary on the eggs and their creator, Faberge: A Life of Its Own, is currently touring movie theatres across the country, and I hope to have the opportunity to see that soon.

Along with millions of others, I am currently obsessed with Downton Abbey, the glorious creation of Julian Fellowes, whiDownton Abbey costume exhibitch dramatizes the upstairs and downstairs of life on an exquisite country estate in England. The series, with its sixth and final season (insert quiet sobbing here), will air in the US this fall. Since I also have an obsession with the Victorian Era, which gave me reason to study British country homes and the lives of the nobility, I was enthralled with this costume drama from the first five minutes of the very first episode, where Lord Grantham learns of the sinking of the Titanic and the loss of the future heir to his estate. For Christmas this past year, I asked for a trip to Wilmington, Delaware, to see an exhibit of costumes from the television show. Thank goodness my husband is tolerant of these road trips to feed these obsessions.

Books on Kennedy familyLest you think all of my obsessions emanate from across the pond, I have also been obsessed with the Kennedy family for most of my life. Aside from the political dynasty, there’s something about the highs and lows of that family, replete with its glorious successes and grave tragedies, which has always intrigued me. My collection of books about the Kennedy family takes up its very own shelf. I’ve traced Rose Fitzgerald Kennedy’s family history and that of the patriarch of the family, Joseph P. Kennedy, Sr. While President John F. Kennedy and his dazzling wife Jacqueline Bouvier Kennedy Onassis would garner enough material for a lifetime of reading, I’m equally as interested in JFK’s eight siblings. I’ve studied Rosemary Kennedy’s life story, including the tragic lobotomy which was supposed to have cured her of her mental disability when instead it institutionalized her for the remainder of her life. There’s the sad love story of Kathleen Kennedy Cavendish, widowed at the age of 28 when her husband, of the British nobility, died at the hands of a German sniper in 1944. She herself then perished in an airplane crash in France in 1948. With nine children and many, many grandchildren, the Kennedys have entered into many different arenas of public life. Their stories are fascinating to me.

In preparing for this essay I made a list of things that I have I’ve been obsessed with and read extensively on in search of knowledge and mastery of a subject: gardening; many, many different authors; cooking in general with jam-making being my current obsession; luxury yachts with Aristotle Onassis’s Christina O, in particular; tennis “grand slam” tournaments and some of that sport’s superstar players; Persian cats; famous gems and precious stones; royal families of Scandinavian countries, Japan, Saudi Arabia, and others; and many other things that I researched and devoured and moved on. I don’t necessarily have a shelf-full of books on all of these topics but I’ve read so much on them I am a dangerous opponent in several categories of the board game Trivial Pursuit. And don’t get me started on Jeopardy. That’s another essay entirely.