Is there a word for female curmudgeon? The formal definition is a “bad-tempered person, especially an old one” and is unisex. I’m not one yet, but I’ve been flirting with the possibilities of allowing myself the luxury. This would require energy, maybe more energy than the daily decision to find something good about the day. That is the choice these days, isn’t it? I don’t know about you, but most days find me on a roller coaster of highs and lows that I’d rather not experience. I’m more of a lazy river kind of gal, and yet the universe has strapped me onto the Tower of Terror.
Pre-COVID, I would have done some the things that kept me cheerful while sick with Lyme: museums, movies, visiting friends, and the occasional trip. This is by no means the whole list, but it’s the one most affected by COVID. Joni Mitchell had it right, “you don’t know what you got ’til it’s gone.”
I have deep, strong inner resources. I’ve had to, with the challenges life has thrown me from an early age. This isn’t the place to get into that, but those of you who know me know that no matter what, I manage to see hope and joy in anything. Lately, though, curmudgeon-ness, or at least the freedom to let oneself become a grumpy hermit, happier alone than with people, is quite tempting. There is a word for this. It’s not even German! Apanthropy: An aversion to the company of men; a love of solitude. I suppose we could quibble about the use of ‘men’ in this sentence, but you get the gist. That’s what I’ve been experiencing, and it’s blossomed under the rich fertilizer of COVID.
The main problem with this scenario is that I’d actually have to say really shitty things aloud. I think this is one of the requirements to becoming a full-fledged curmudgeon. It could be this is why curmudgeon is associated with men more than women (don’t fight me on this. You know I’m right).
Although I care much, much, less what people think of me, it is not in my nature to hurt people, whether they are strangers, friends, or family. This may prevent me from earning the title curmudgeon. I’ll never say never, though. I could become one of those mean old ladies who says exactly what they think.
The pandemic has been hard on virtually every person I know. It doesn’t seem to matter if you are angry at having to wear a mask, or sad that you have lost loved ones, or sick of being isolated, or missing loved ones. I’m not sure any of us can comprehend what we’ve endured yet. I do know it has made me less tolerant. Things that would just slide by irritate the hell out of me, and it doesn’t seem to matter who or what it is. I’m positive I irritate the hell out of people, too. Our national zeitgeist is one of emotional exhaustion. I just had a head start on everybody else.
Most people are new to social isolation, being alone with themselves, or being forced into sharing close quarters with the same people for days, weeks, months on end. Our ability to move, to go anywhere is one of the privileges of living in a wealthy democracy.
Six years ago Lyme forced me to re-evaluate this privilege, but I was no stranger to being alone. I have always been content to be alone, and as the youngest child, that is a good thing. Both of my brothers were out of the house by the time I turned thirteen. My cousin Ginger lived with us for a few years after her parent’s divorce, so it was the two of us for a little while. From my sophomore year on, Mom and dad worked full time, so I was alone before and after school. I reveled in the solitude, happily eating dessert for breakfast, blasting my music and dancing with no one to bother me. I was never afraid, because at that time we had Charlie the Great Pyrenees who would have killed anyone who threatened me. I don’t say that lightly. Anyone who knew me then and came to my house could tell you how scary he could be.
I’m sure I was lonely at times. Who isn’t at that age, especially if it was a Friday night and you thought everyone else but you was out having a magnificent time. But even then, I had things to do. I read voraciously. I listened to music constantly. I tried sewing occasionally, and I baked things when the spirit moved me. I didn’t mind my own company back then and I don’t mind it now.
Then I got Lyme. Or rather, I’d had it for over a year and didn’t know it. When I started treatment, I was so sick I barely noticed my isolation. The first three years were the worst. I’m sure I lost friendships over this period, because virtually all of my energy was consumed with taking care of myself. I may have been a little prickly during this time. Really, who could blame me? People had no idea how I could be so sick for so long. Reconciling myself to chronic illness and trying to educate the people around me made me extremely grumpy.
And I grew used to being alone. Not just, you know, a day or two, but days and weeks of alone. I anticipate that the biggest problem for me in life after COVID will be returning to a social life, as in, will I want to? It’s hard to imagine the anticipation of going to, say, a new exhibition at the art museum, or a concert at Red Rocks. I’m pretty sure I’ll be excited over these things once again, I just can’t quite picture it. For now, though, I’ll put my scanty reserves into holding my tongue and trying to see the positives.