Hmm Weekly for June 2, 2020

Tuesday is the Courtesy Laugh of the week

Hmm Weekly for June 2, 2020

A Space to Expand Into

By Emily C-D

I AM MORE worried about the local brush fires than coronavirus. Since February, when the world began to whisper of disease, I have been witness to repeated instances of arson around my home on the outskirts of San Miguel de Allende, Guanajuato in the Central Mexican Highlands. It has been terrifying and devastating to watch ten-foot-high flames consume a landscape that was already suffering from intense desertification. And yet the neighbors mostly take the fires in stride, because apparently it happens annually. I have only been living here a year, and am learning the drill. We smell smoke, sigh, fill buckets with water, and stand at the ready should any sparks come flying in on the wind to threaten our homes. As far as I have been able to figure from my personal investigations, while it is illegal to set these fires, landowners essentially have an incentive to do so, because they receive a discount on their property taxes if they can demonstrate that their plots of land are clean and orderly in appearance. Why scarred and charred is preferable to wild and alive, I cannot understand. Or they are burning everything down so that they might more easily construct another monotonous, unimaginative building that makes no effort to incorporate itself into what would be a gorgeous geography if it wasn’t constantly reduced to ashes.

In contrast to the apocalyptic view from my window of black and gray hills, coronavirus seems like an abstract concept that succeeded in emptying the streets of San Miguel but mostly has not noticeably affected my immediate landscape. The pandemic panorama of isolation is not exactly new to me. I was thrust into solitude seven years ago by an emotionally wrought pregnancy and a motherhood that quickly deteriorated into a single venture. I lived the experience in the industrial nowhere town of Celaya where I knew no one save my son’s father, and the lack of female accompaniment during that seminal moment of my womanhood I would recommend to no one. Eventually I moved to nearby San Miguel where I at least met some other young mothers who could sympathize with the fact that I mostly did not have time to socialize unless that meant sitting together in a catatonic stupor and watching our kids play. A year ago I found a place on the outskirts of town where dust devils spiral by and eagles soar overhead—physical isolation to take the seclusion of motherhood to a whole new level. The location has given me a space to expand into, a place to reconnect with myself and heal.

When I started hearing back in February the phrase “social distancing,” I thought it sounded stupid. I was in Mexico City the last weekend of that month and laughed with my friends that while European countries were already working on developing a vaccine, we in Mexico were dancing to the coronavirus cumbia. Two weeks later, the pandemic was declared and school was cancelled, which initially was exciting since I’ve never fully been convinced how I want to educate my son and I relished not having to align my activities with the school clock.  The novelty wore off, however; the boredom crept in, my son seemed to lose his drive and ability to entertain himself, and it has become increasingly difficult for me to get any work done unless I do so while he is asleep. An unfair situation of raising my son on my own has suddenly become close to impossible. Single women are raising children all over the world and I wonder, how are all of them dealing with this new complication to an already exhausting reality? School being cancelled indefinitely, or going virtual, is a completely insane idea. Forget about lost learning, I figure my son will absorb through osmosis many lessons from the current reality. I am lamenting the loss of childcare.

Luckily, as someone who has supported myself as an independent artist for the past fifteen years, I have had a lot of practice learning to scrape by and live on little. We eat beans and tortillas accompanied by cactus pads I harvest from the peripheries of our home. The rest of our veggies I get discount by buying direct from a local farm. Living in an area where everything is so dry and at risk of spontaneous combustion, I save the rinse water when I wash the dishes and dribble that onto my pots in the patio where I am sprouting native trees as a practice in patience and grand plans of reforestation. And I’ve been making my sculptures out of the scrap wood I’ve picked up at the burns and salvaged from sites where land has been cleared to build human dwellings.

Working with wood has spurred deep reflections on trees and our human relationship to them. As people who live around 50–100 years, it is difficult for us to comprehend what it means for a tree to live out its lifetime, which if left alone, can be centuries. These are beings who exist in a completely different time-span, and we would be wise to reflect on what we might learn from them if we tried to measure our minutes by the tick-tock of the wood clock. Suddenly, trapped in a pandemic, we are forced to do so. We have slowed down. And so freed from the confines of schedules and societal expectations, my son and I are staying up late to watch the stars come out, waking with the calls of the birds, and trying to expand our experience of time to do what needs to get done in the space of a day, letting ourselves grow into the moment and find peace in the place where we find ourselves.

Another Week, Another Hmm Weekly

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Ask The Sophist

Dear The Sophist,
I will start by pointing out that my question will not be worded as eloquently as those of your previous seekers of advice. It's almost as if they were all written by a professional; very intimidating.

I am now 45 years old. I've always been quick with a one-liner, and usually get more than a courtesy laugh. My sense of humor is very dry. I've recently noticed that when I land an above-average zinger at someone around the age of my daughters that I just get blank stares and occasional nervous looks. Have I reached peak dad-joke age without realizing it? Are kids now just not as funny as they used to be? I still kill in my own demographic and a few of the neighborhood kids still enjoy my company, but I'm concerned. I'd rather just stay quiet than be considered the weird guy.

My Kids Probably Hate Me

Dear Kiddo,
Witnessing the form on your backhand in your second sentence, The Sophist has no choice but to grant you your self-assessment. You are funny. Now what should you do with it? You didn't specify your daughters' age range—I'd have different guesses about why your jokes might bounce off third-graders than why they'd bounce off college sophomores—but we're not principally talking about your audience. We're talking about your feelings about how you perform.

As an adult zinger-flinger, especially of the dry variety, you are presumably well aware of how to triage your jokes for your listeners. If you're honestly funny (as we grant you are) you don't even have to think about it. The nervous new junior hire doesn't get the same treatment as the coworker who's been through two rounds of layoffs with you; you know the sales staff gets nervous about gallows humor. So: You make a witty remark, and a young person looks at you blankly—and you keep on making witty remarks to young people.

Congratulations! You're a Dad. If you would rather stay quiet for fear of seeming weird, you'd just stay quiet. Instead, you are training yourself in the mysterious yet natural art of doing a full-out pratfall while coolly watching yourself do it. I tell you this as someone who, at the wheel of a moving car on a country road in his mid-40s, found himself uttering the words, "Oh—Dear! Oh: deer! Oh, dear!" Shame is an affectation for the young. Let them laugh at you behind your back. Someday, when they get older, they'll understand you were laughing at you, too.

Don't forget to stretch your lower back,
The Sophist

Got something you need to justify to yourself, or to the world at  large? Other columnists are here to judge you, but The Sophist is here to tell you why you're right. Send your questions to, and get the answers you want.


This week’s thought is from Jane Scocca

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Spring, Part 13

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Bacon asterisk


WE KEEP TELLING you, and we’re not kidding, we will soon exhaust our selection of recipes for ancient but reproducible sandwiches, taken from The Up-To-Date Sandwich Book: 400 Ways to Make a Sandwich, by Eva Greene Fuller; 1909; McClurg and Co., Chicago, found in the public domain for the delectation of all.

Cut cold boiled Frankfurt sausage into the thinnest slices and place on slice of buttered white or rye bread; run a cucumber pickle through a meat chopper and sprinkle on top of sausage. Place another buttered slice over this.

Heat a tablespoonful of butter in a pan and add the juice of a lemon. Season with salt and pepper. To this gradually add a well beaten egg, thinned with sour cream, adding it slowly, stirring the while to prevent it from curdling. When it begins to thicken, remove and stir in enough ground peanuts to make a good spreading butter. In preparing sandwiches of this, cut bread thin, spread with the mayonnaise; and lay between the slices a crisp lettuce leaf. Cut the sandwiches in fancy shapes. Dainty for a noon-day luncheon.

A dainty cheese sandwich to serve at afternoon parties is made by placing the halves of an English walnut on either side of a square of cream cheese. Serve on a crisp lettuce leaf.

If you make one of these sandwiches, before you eat it, please send a picture to

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