It’s About a Dog

A few thoughts have been flitting around my head. They’re not the best thoughts, nor the most insightful, nor even the most original. They’re simply my thoughts in this moment – in this time – perfectly ordinary from a perfectly ordinary person whose blog you’ve chosen to read (and for that I am grateful).

The thoughts centered around the 5th anniversary of Jay’s death, just a little over a week ago – the first anniversary I didn’t sit in the last spot he lay at the time of his death pondering what the sky might have looked like that day – through those leaves. Did branches frame the pure blues of a clear day? Was the air still? It was the first anniversary I didn’t cry. The first anniversary I didn’t post a tribute on social media – a song (I Wanna Hold Your Hand by T.V. Carpio from Across the Universe a favorite – reliable – unrequited love usually capturing my mood) – a poem (e.e cummings [i carry your heart with me(i carry it in] – a photo… something, anything, to show my scars to the universe of friends and family so I am admired for being brave or strong or a survivor – support counted in likes, cares, or hearts. It was the first anniversary I didn’t talk to him. I didn’t care to.

I’ve lived in a coffin enshrined in the spaces he occupied over a lonely year.

I thought about how I wasn’t as sad.

Those thoughts wove into thoughts about social media – our best lives lived through limited characters and well composed photos. I thought about how my own personal well-curated narrative allows me to be an admired adventurer “…always up to something!” “…such an amazing life” – admired for my strength of character “…so strong!” “…so brave!” Applause I get for simply leaving the house and taking a photo. “Look at that drink!” “…that food!” “… that art!” Applause for understanding Jay’s struggle with mental illness and continuing to have his back. Applause for the nothings of an everyday life enhanced beautifully through prose, a well-placed word, a well-composed photo and the myths we create around seeing another’s story. “She’s so…”

I thought about the disservice we do – the unrealistic murals we paint and try to pass off as our well-lived realities. Our collective exteriors swathed in impossibly glorious hues – a cacophony of color that overwhelms the senses.

When a person dares a duller palette, we move quickly to course correct – “brown isn’t a color, perhaps a magenta, my friend? We need you to fall in line… don’t you feel better – just like everyone else.” A Stepford model applied to a vast virtual landscape. As an Oracle once said, “Here, take a cookie. I promise, by the time you’re done eating it, you’ll feel right as rain.” We feed on each other as we create a narrative more in sync with our peers, more out of sync with our realities –the best versions of ourselves.

Those thoughts stuck in my craw as I pushed past this anniversary. I didn’t want to post a lovely song or a meaningful poem on my social media, I wanted to flip a coffee table and scream at the universe instead – to say that while I understand that Jay’s death was related to mental illness that this year I wasn’t mad at his mental illness, I was mad at him. I wanted to say it in a way that was heard, that didn’t get shut down, where I wasn’t reminded “you are so strong” which to me amounts to congratulating me for sucking it up well – year after year – like a little trooper – not causing anyone distress.

I didn’t want to play the good, long suffering widow who lost her best friend. I wanted to yell – to be unforgiving – to demand that the universe sit down in front of me and explain itself.

The barely pent up frustration (trust me, it was pent up – it’s still more pent up than I’ll give myself permissions to share) came to a head when I returned the puppy I was fostering two days before the anniversary of Jay’s death. That perfect dog: fearless of sounds – firecrackers, thunderstorms, rain – they didn’t matter – loves car rides, all sticks, soft blankets, chasing things – great at hanging out while I worked, didn’t mind her crate, slept through the night – a grass shark, whose whole body said “wheeeee” as she dove through the blades over and over until she fell over on her back happily panting at the sky – on the Pill Bug’s “Most Wanted” for casually slaying (nomming) whole pill bug families. Eight weeks of pluck who loved chasing the kitty and would plop on her tush puzzled as to why the kitty kept running, when the kitty could now chase her. “Kitty! I’m over here. You chase me now?”

Four years before, a year and a week after Jay’s death, our dog passed away. Two days before the anniversary of his death this year, I took a dog back, because I couldn’t have her – because he wasn’t here to help.

After her plaintive whimpering-filled ride back to the shelter, I handed her back. There was a downpour.  I sat in the car moaning and shrieking pitifully.  Finally breaking. A sharp reminder of the things I cannot have, because of an event five years ago. The one condition I made when we first got together, “I will give up these things, but I get to have a dog.” But no, the deal I get is to give up everything.

I deleted all of her photos… all of her videos… I deleted posts on social media. My virtual equivalent of flipping a coffee table and setting it on fire.

I can try to make what I’m saying more palatable by talking about the stages of grief, but I think this more closely sums up how I feel.

My Experience with Grief

All of those thoughts on his anniversary.

So, instead of a lovely song, a poem, or sweet story commemorating a person whose death I’m supposed to understand, I can only offer what I’ve written – I offer these thoughts – this abject frustration – my honesty in this moment (the one you may want to think about claiming to admire) – this part of me that doesn’t understand.

An Electrical Storm Wrapped in a Tornado Concealed in a Tsunami: My First Day Back

After over a year of working from home, this past Thursday was my first day back in the office.

I was excited – a little bit anxious, but overall looking forward to the excuse to escape the house. Sorry house, you’re pretty great. We’re bros and stuff. (Err… I may be too old and the wrong gender to announce that, but there it is.) But you lack some things I need – namely co-workers or ANY people. (People – the often-overlooked base level in Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. Hey, don’t believe what you see on that pyramid graph – it was obviously created by artists who have an anti-relationship agenda. C’mon, food and water at the base level? Before people??? Are they kidding? Have they not heard of Soylent Green? People can and should be part of that base.)

I digress you say?

Let’s face it, my social interactions this past year have been limited to staring sadly out of the window eagerly hoping for trash day to come around again (why only the one day per week?) or bribing people to leave things at my door. (Dear Amazon, you didn’t need to send me notes or photos announcing a thing had been delivered. I knew. I really knew, but thank you – also, call me if you’d like some pro tips for composing more interesting photos – I feel your delivery team weren’t making any effort to create visually compelling package tableaus. Opportunities missed!)

Ahead of that first day, I called up my gym and renewed my membership. I have a well-established routine for going into the office that starts with a 5am stop at the gym. There I repeatedly step on things, push them, pull them, slam them, throw them, or pick them up and set them back down again before showering, fluffing, and heading off to work. Before that fateful return to work, I blissfully fantasized about all my choices. What would I choose? Were “all the things” an option? (Fast-forward: today my body is telling me that I did the things that make my glutes, quads, hamstrings, traps and lats excitedly scream, “You remembered us!!!! Hi, friend!!!” like a hyperactive attention-starved cheerleader.) I knew ultimately whatever I chose wouldn’t matter, I was just excited to go and see if anyone I knew was around and be in that space again. I even made a little post about it on Facebook ahead of going. Yay, gym! Celebrate with me!

That morning the alarm went off at 4am, which was quite rude and way too loud. (If someone could send me a sunrise alarm, that would be fantastic. I’d send a little thank you card and stuff.) I got up, threw on my gym clothes and loaded the car with various bags. (Actually, that part was a little out of control as I apparently thought “Why one bag, when MORE…. MANY MANY MORE would be even better!”)

Today was going to be the best day ever.

But before leaving the house, I had forgotten something….

I forgot that I live in (nay, star in) an ongoing, @#$!$^!-ing  I Love Lucy episode.

Y’see, I was nearly at the gym when I ran over something – something huge that I dragged along the highway – dragged an uncomfortable (and loud) amount of time (time can have sound levels – don’t judge). I exited, still heard it, although at some point it sounded “not quite as bad,” and I just sighed a bit. This was really not the way I wanted to start the day. I arrived in the gym parking lot, parked, looked underneath the car, saw nothing, and went inside. Here, I naively thought, “Whew, at least that’s over – probably dislodged the thing when I made that last corner. Good job me.” As I leave the gym, I think “Let’s get coffee! You deserve it! First day back!!” I drive the half block down the street to discover my Seattle’s Best coffee place is now called Jo’s and Jo clearly doesn’t believe people need coffee before 7am. Also, my car is still making that sound. I’m now in a dress and heels. I pull over, check the wheel wells, they look clear, then decide to look at the front end of the car. Obviously, the best way to do that in a dress and heels is to do a full plank in front of your car next to a busy street, because I’m hill folk and that’s how we do, I guess??? I discover the issue: a plastic piece is down (splash guard). I deduce it’s part of my car, because while in this plank I can’t rip it off despite giving it my all…multiple times. It’s a bit scuffed from being dragged around. I pulled myself off the ground (you’re welcome, Austin, Tx.) and made the decision to drag it a mile further to my mechanics. Hey, it’s not like it was going to get less scuffed.

I then confirmed my former boss wasn’t going into the office, then reached out to his deputy. These are the people who understand and accept that I live in the world’s longest sitcom and have grown accustom to my pre-7am “OMG! My world is on fire” calls that they rarely blink and are now desensitized to my morning dramatic upheavals. They’ve been there for some of my classic hits like calls where I state, “Hey, running late – forgot pants again” (because why would a person forget them only once?).

The call started off with a casual, calm Texas gal drawl, “Hi buddy, you in the office…?” then ramped into what my former boss (the one who likely later thanked the universe, Jesus and his mother, God rest her soul, that it was his telework day) describes as sounding like a “squeaky toy” when I become animated – and animated was an understatement that morning. In fact, marine biologists around the globe probably noted some strange behavior within dolphin pods as I squeaked out and rapid-fired the words that indicated I needed him to pick me up from the mechanics.

I was now in full-blown over-stimulated mode when I reached the office – pupils large, ears flattened and ready to pounce anyone who dared to say hello. Here’s where you need to show some pity for that first co-worker – a guy I hadn’t seen in over a year – a victim who only wanted to say, “Good morning.” Someone who’d probably forgotten what I was like with a much welcome absence of my verbal pattering and innocently thought, “This will be a normal exchange without event.” He was mistaken. I imagine he deeply regretted not bypassing my door before being forced to retreat to his office to avoid being sucked into the vortex of crazy I’d brought in. Sorry!  

As I reflected on the day, I lamented the dream I had of a calm/normal return to the workplace, then accepted that “calm” was never really an option for me. I was always going to roll in like an electrical storm wrapped in a tornado concealed in a tsunami that hid a kaiju monster on the hunt for a fresh city to level. It’s just my nature. I am the storm.

Hope your first days back were filled with an equal amount of sound and fury.

A Metaphor About a Rock

Hubris told me that I could take any topic thrown my way and spin it into a story.

“Beth, write a metaphor about a rock.”

I paused on “metaphor,” brain fumbling – a metaphor about a rock. “My writing relies on anecdotes,” I weakly protested. That’s always my fall back – anecdotes or rants – my writing go-to’s. I quickly spun the rolodex and plucked out a few stories featuring rocks:

  • When I was around 5, I firmly believed all rocks came from the Moon carried back to earth by the members of the Apollo 11 space mission, and I was quite distressed about the whole thing. Didn’t they realize that children were getting hurt because they were throwing these same rocks at one another? How could these American “heroes” be so irresponsible? I launched a complaint to my parents who thought I was absolutely adorable. It was that same short-sighted, patronizing attitude that likely drove the astronauts to bring back all those rocks in the first place. Adults were exhausting back then – they just didn’t take the growing rock crisis as it related to childhood rock injuries seriously enough. Why were they idolizing these monsters?
  • By 8th grade, I realized I had it all wrong – the astronauts had really opened the door for new collaborative ways to bring kids together. Each morning, the bus stop kids divided up, choosing respective sides, and would line up on opposite sides of the street. Rocks would rain down until the bus came into view. I’m not great at many things, but I can nail you with a rock when motivated (or just cranky). This likely explains archery – it turns out I naturally have a decent sight picture. Combine that with not being a morning person, and well… you get the idea. On a particular morning, where I probably wasn’t in the mood for a prolonged battle, I ended the day’s rock shelling by picking up a large rock and charging the other side in what could best be described as a determined run-waddle. Tossing the thing more than three feet would have been impossible; however, the results were undeniable – the other team scattered in fear. I returned to my side the victor for the day.  Thank you, astronauts! Who needs coffee to get you going? Adults were clearly doing things wrong.
  • Fast forward to Covid – that little thing that’s still going on that you may have heard of – that thing doubtlessly created by Netflix to keep you glued to your couch and away from hugging your grandmother. Why does Netflix hate your Meemaw?!?! Anyway… I was chatting with a friend, “I need a movie suggestion.” “Beth, this is easy. You’re kind of going through a Dwayne Johnson thing which is pretty ridiculous, but might I suggest one of those?” I watched Rampage. It was great – my kind of stupid – though, to my knowledge, astronauts had nothing to do with this particular Rock.

The rolodex stopped spinning, and that’s all I really had and they were anecdotes, not metaphors.

Rock as a metaphor.

I started thinking about rocks in metaphor – symbols of permanence, unwavering strength – immovable, unchanging, reliable, a challenge. I thought about Sisyphus and his eternal punishment to push his enchanted boulder. I thought of the punishment of the Titan Atlas – his burden to hold the celestial heavens (arguably a large group of rocks and a whole lot of vacuum).

Rocks as punishment was becoming a theme within my thoughts.

I mean, let’s be honest who doesn’t enjoy a good stoning? Ask any proponent of cannabis and you’re bound to find a fan or two.

I thought of telling a story about ripples in a pond as they form, then spread out once a stone is skipped. But that story is about the ripples, not the stone which now lays quietly on the bottom – no longer in the sun. In the metaphorical world, rocks really get a bum rap. While they occasionally get to shine – they never dance like light, make a splash like rain, rumble like thunder, or gently stroke a cheek like a breeze. They’re grounded. They’re slow to change.

Then I remembered…

  • a piece of quartz I have sitting on my computer, a reminder I will heal
  • stones from the Mediterranean, brought by a friend after their travels overseas
  • rocks from the Kingsland slab, one handed to me – a reminder of a quiet and beautiful day in a cool breeze – fish dancing in a stream
  • a discovered rock to start a garden

Symbols of time and friendship.

So, I offer this to a bard –

True friendships sometimes form through the heat of life – friendships that once opened, reveal something wholly unexpected and breathtaking. Some friendships are built over time – layer by layer – each day, each week, each year adding something new, something unexpected, while others come through a metamorphosis – as a person transitions from neighbor/classmate/colleague to friend. Each is unique… beautiful – made of the dust of stars.

I guess I owe thanks to a group of explorers who brought pieces of the Moon down to Earth – who brought you to me.

You are my rocks.

The Dust of Stars: From the Mediterranean to the Texas Hill Country

A New New Normal

At the beginning of March, the Governor of Texas (that little plot of land I live in) lifted the mask mandate and increased the capacity of all businesses in Texas to 100 percent. When I read that news, it sat there in the air like a bad Frito pie on a still day in August, and my brain did the thing it loves to do best when faced with potentially stressful information – it dumped a load of adrenaline into my system while screaming, “Throw up your hands, kids! It’s anxiety attack time!”

Quick housekeeping note: This isn’t a post about Governor Abbot’s decision. I believe we’re all reasonable people who have very passionate opinions, and I respect you enough that I’m not going to try to beat you over the head with mine. I mean, it’s pretty spot on, and definitely the right point of view, but I respect your right to be woefully misguided. See, don’t we all feel better?

Like I said, this post has nothing to do with where I stand on the mask/no-mask line, and more to do with the fact that in a year I’ve gone completely feral as social skills have devolved at an alarming rate.

 My thoughts over the year ran like this:

  • This is only going to last a couple of weeks – we’re doing our part! Our doors are marked. Break out the lentils and lamb!
  • Why has everyone gone weird about toilet paper?
  • Crap! I need to get on the hoarding bandwagon!
  • Do I really need a mask?
  • Ordering in is fun! I’m stimulating the economy one DQ Blizzard at a time! (Just kidding Jenn! Err… maybe not kidding)
  • Hrmm… ok, maybe this is over by Summer? I’ll plan a costume party!
  • Curbside margaritas? Yes, please!
  • I’d better tell the parents that the holidays are off.
  • If I mute my mic I can scream in meetings! Cathartic!
  • If I turn off my video feed, I can make faces in meetings, too!
  • Knocked out another series on Netflix!
  • Birthday trip to Big Bend cancelled; we’re killing everyone in West Texas.
  • No, I don’t want to talk to you on Christmas Day. Please, go away.

None of those thoughts are new or particularly unique to me. And actually the folks over at the blog The Dihedral did a much better/funnier job of summing up exactly how I feel and how things have changed in their recent and quite clever post Then and Now.

Like most, I went from hopeful for a quick return to normal, to feeling stabby everytime someone used the phrase “new normal.” It doesn’t matter how you brand it, it’s not normal. I’ve gone from sitting quietly and patiently in meetings, to standing up and pacing the room in big circles when they’re dragging or occur right after lunch. I started wearing flipflops and t-shirts regularly. Funny thing. It turns out I can still produce the same quality of work while wearing something that looks much dumber with matching dumb and uncomfortable shoes. Also, natural lighting and open windows are kind of nice.

How can Governor Abbot reasonably expect me to return? I can already picture that first day with that first post-lunch meeting as the presenter drones on and I’m expected to keep my seat with a placid look on my face. It’s going to be Hell. And considering that I have no facial control on a good day, pre-Covid and despite my very best efforts for a semblance of restraint, I know I’m still going to be rudely kicked under the conference table by my delightfully evil ginger midget colleague as she endeavors to get me back in line. Hrmm, I’m probably going to be expected to not refer to her in that way anymore either.  Something non-PC about referring to her as “evil” I suppose. No wonder I had that anxiety attack. The world is turning upside down again.

On a more serious note, this year I’ve been reminded of how important our community of friends and family is – how a simple hug can resonate through your soul and nearly drop you to your knees in tears – how real connection, that we had taken for granted for so long, is essential to our physical and emotional wellbeing.

I’ve adapted as needed. I have a gym in my living room. I moved out of my office to work where I can stare out of the front windows. (I’m now the Gladys Kravitz of the street – ask me about the rocket ship I’m certain the neighbors are building.) I’ve tried new things. I’ve gone back to old things. I’ve traveled. And while I arguably feel more comfortable than most, I declined two recent offers for larger gatherings. The idea of them makes me extremely anxious – even with vaccinations. (I’ve had my first.)

I’m nervous about returning to the world.

How will that look? How will it work?

That’s technically the end of this post. Stick around for a playlist.

During the summer, I was fairly distraught, so I asked friends for their best “f-you/I’ve got this” songs. I culled through the suggestions and put together a decent playlist. I’ve played it way too many times, so much so it’s become my Covid “woobie”. It’s also now one of my workout playlists. I also promised Jarod I’d share it, so really… this is for Jarod. I’m just a few (many) months late. 😊 Jarod, I’m putting asterisks by some of my favorites:

  • Rich, White, Straight Men – Kesha – (not recommended for RWSM)
  • F**k You – Lily Allen
  • Bye Bye – Jo-dee Messina
  • March March – The Chicks
  • Gone Gone Gone (Done Moved On) – Robert Plant & Alison Krauss
  • Angels of the Silences – Counting Crows
  • Work B**ch – Britney Spears
  • Go Your Own Way – The Cranberries
  • Oh Well – Pt. 1 – Fleetwood Mac
  • Sing a Song – Earth, Wind & Fire
  • All Night – Icona Pop
  • The Middle – Jimmy Eats World
  • Firework – Katy Perry
  • Basso Profundo** – DeVotchKa
  • Say What You Mean** – Lunachicks
  • Sheela-Na_Gig – PJ Harvey
  • F**k You** – Headstones
  • Stronger (What Doesn’t Kill You) – Kelly Clarkson
  • Blow Me (One Last Kiss)** – Pink
  • Come With Me Now – KONGOS
  • Nails, Hair, Hips, Heels – Todrick Hall
  • Boss Bitch** – Doja Cat
  • Love Bites (So Do I) – Halestorm
  • Make Me Wanna Die – The Pretty Reckless
  • U+Ur Hand – Pink
  • Blank Space** – I Prevail (a recent add after hearing their remake of Taylor Swift’s song)

The Story of a Texas Snowflake

You may have heard Texas had a little weather event over the last week. If you haven’t, due to cave dwelling, brace yourself. If you know a Texan, we’ve all got a story to share, and it’s kind of our birthright to tell a tale – spin a yarn – to tell that tale – just hold our beer (or margarita, or mojito – look, could you just hold it without questioning the content? Sheesh! So judgey!)

Ooh, so quick disclaimer: this is all what I think I know but am way too lazy to do a lot of fact checking or boning up on meteorological explanations. Basically, read at your own risk and enjoy a grain or two of salt with that.

Right – let’s get to the recap! Around February 11th, a cold front (arctic blast, polar vortex, Canadian Snow Circus) began making its way through our State. Everyone North of Texas giggled like their obnoxiously precocious younger (yet bigger – bigger than all y’all  (Alaska doesn’t count)) was finally getting a well-deserved weather reckoning. “Oh Texas, now you’ll know first hand what cold is really like.” I imagine everyone in the Panhandle gave a collective shrug, while the rest of us looked eagerly at our phones and thought “ooo, maybe more snow! Snow pics!!!”

Then we had a 133 car pile-up on a road in Ft. Worth which killed six. We reminded ourselves that: overpasses can be notoriously dangerous in icy conditions. We thought about the families and the first responders who had a heck of a time getting to many of those cars and we wished them all well.

Then the snow came. We ran outside and oo’ed. We saved the ahh’s once we retreated to the warmth of our homes after demonstrating our snow sculpting “skills”. Photos were uploaded into Facebook. Thumbs ups and “wow” faces were handed out by the hundreds and thousands in support.

News traveled around telling us we were taxing the electric system, unplug things or they’d have to start rolling blackouts. That turned into actual rolling blackouts. Unfortunately, the rolls became single flips – like a disinterested teen being told they must take out the trash. “Son, put down your game and go flip that very flat stone.” Those flips (plural) were really just a flip (singular), and everything stayed on “off”. The electric grid was too unstable to support “rolling”. In my cause, the water plant for my city lost electricity, so we also lost water. This is nearly everyone’s tale where I live. The only difference is really in the duration and outcome to pipes and water heaters. I had friends who were without power for a couple of days, while others who were without it for 3-5 days. 

It should be noted that there are a lot of places down here that only use electricity. They do not use gas (and we all know “fuel oil” in the South is like talking about unicorns and Chupacabra – not a real thing, especially here – except Chupacabra, they’re actually real – hide your goats). So, luxuries like turning on the oven to cook warm meals wasn’t a possibility for many, nor was leaving your residence if you didn’t leave earlier in the week.

The teasing from the North (all y’all) went from “it’s not that cold, you adorable little snowflakes” to “wait, what? How long have you been without heat and water? Your whole city?” Yeah. Whole cities.

Y’see, this was an abnormal weather event, and Texas doesn’t have the infrastructure for that. Though, I have heard our Governor is going to have a little chat with our energy provider soon.

That’s our collective story – the one you’re going to hear a lot from the folks around these parts.

But I want to add a bit here to talk about how fortunate I am. When the weather started turning, and I lost power, friends immediately started reaching out to give me updates on the situation in our neighborhood and to check on me. After I was without power for 24 hours, my friend John (one of the few people in my bubble) reassured me I wouldn’t be a burden, then drove to my house, picked me up, and hosted me at his place for three days. The first night, I was handed a heated blanket, and a cup of hot chocolate. A fluffy cat welcomed me by making sure I remained seated, and there was an unspoken, “you’re ok” in the air. I spent three days enjoying a warm house, hot showers, outstanding meals, good conversations, and a cooking lesson or three. I am so grateful for the hospitality that he and his son showed, and for getting to be counted as one of his civilian tank crew. (Which I have come to learn is both a compliment and maybe not so much, yet it still fits.)

It is sometimes easy for me to deep dive and tell myself a terrible narrative that sounds like “you will die alone – unloved and unremarked. That will be your story.” And while it has nothing to do with the reality of my life, and everything to do with continuing to mourn the loss of my husband, it sometimes feels absolutely real.

These past two weeks serve as a continued reminder that that is not my story – that I am surrounded by an amazing group of people, both family and friends, who love me very much and look after me.

Thank you all for checking on me and making sure I was safe. Huge thanks to John for accepting his Texas friend is a gigantic “snowflake” when it comes to cold (and might not fare well in a weather event alone) and providing safe harbor.

As for you, Punxsutawney Phil, well, you and I are going to have words. Groundhog to Texan.

This Time This Year…

This time last year…

I’d just started a new job.

I was excited. New opportunities. New place. New chapter. New people. Familiar faces. A fresh start. So much hope.

This time last year, in early February, I was planning for Valentine’s Day. A night out with a good friend who’d recently lost her husband. We’d dubbed ourselves “the widdlers” and we had a plan to enjoy a Galentine’s night with great food, strolling around downtown, standing on a roof top, taking in the city while listening to the faint strains of live music float up from the bars below. A perfect celebration for the less than perfect situations we found ourselves in.

The evening went beautifully. We toasted friendship. We reminisced. We celebrated. We hoped, and we dreamed.

The next morning, after retiring to her condo the night before to enjoy chocolate and wine, we headed out to volunteer. We spent the morning laughing and chatting with dozens of other volunteers while packing cases of food that would eventually be shipped out to communities in need.

It was a perfect weekend.

The photos are some of the last I have where I’m completely happy and at ease.

This time last year…

I was just laughing with a friend at a time when life was just a little bit easier – a little bit freer.

This time this year…

There are no plans other than enduring the sameness of the days.

Valentine’s Day will be like any other day during this pandemic – completely unremarkable – unheralded.

In the past I could always count on flowers– a card sitting on my desk next to some small plush toy declaring its fluffy devotion – a hug, and a big “I love YOU!” (that “you” was always capitalized)

This time this year I will stare out of my window – a less than exotic creature stuck in the world’s worst zoo. A place where blossoming traditions got tossed aside. A place where it’s more challenging to hope – more challenging to dream.

And the thing I miss the most – the thing I desire the most right now, in this moment – is not a nice meal (which I’d love), wine on a rooftop while listening to live music (which I’d greatly enjoy), or even a card (which I’d cherish) – it’s a hug – a real hug – the kind that envelops your whole soul. I want, more than anything else, someone to hold me.

Through all of this, it’s the number one thing I miss. The feel of another human being.

The Occasional Storm

It seems I never quite start a post at its beginning. You guys always get some sort of preamble, and well… today isn’t any different. I mean I hate to not be true to form. It would just be too confusing. I just gotta be me! So, here we go!

My goal this year is to write more, which isn’t to say I’ll post more – I just feel the need to blah on paper – to get some blahing out of my system. (FYI – “to blah” is a verb, and it’s also happens to be the best way to describe my writing (or talking) on any given day. I accept that.) It helps me process, especially when margarita-infused gab sessions are nowhere in the foreseeable future. Thus, more blahing in 2021 until someone gets me and my friends vaccines and a round of drinks. (Psst, could you also throw in some tortilla chips and creamy jalapeño? You’re a champ!)

I have a group of readers (friends/family) who follow a particular part of my journey relating to the loss of my husband, Jay. It hasn’t always been a scenic road. There have been plenty of potholes and ruts, but as time has marched forward the roads have straightened (though not entirely) – the ride has grown smoother (though still bumpy) – the sunrises over yawning fields becoming more spectacular. Yet still, the occasional sudden storm threatens the trip.

So I give you guys an anecdote from last week – just a rest stop at a tacky Bucc-ee’s knock-off.

In September I reached out to the local police department to request the case file on Jay’s death. I wanted to know how the events had unfolded before I arrived on the scene that day – a more complete picture. I was denied. The police department ruled that the information contained in the file might embarrass the parties involved. I wish I had the words or ability to describe the look that played across my face as I puzzled over the mere idea. “They’re worried Jay could be embarrassed? Seriously?” Not to be tacky, but I kinda felt we were long passed the “embarrassed” stage on this one.

Thankfully in our state, the police department couldn’t flat-out deny my request without getting our State Attorney General to weigh in on the matter and bless it. Well, the long and short of it was: the AG came back and basically said, “Embarrassed? are you kidding? No, we don’t believe Jay would be embarrassed,” except they used a lot of more professional sounding words and cited state code. So, on Friday I received the official word that the the documents related to Jay’s case were now available to me view and I did.

My picture of that day is more complete.

It brought me a sense of closure – not peace, but closure. The kind where your best friend has to jump in and basically say, “ok, your feelings are absolutely valid – feel your feels, but how about we walk that back a bit and reframe” but using best-friends words – the kind where your edges smooth a bit, your jaw loosens and you remember that blinking is kind of nice. The kind where you stop and decide that christening your new fire pit by throwing in some newly discovered kindling may actually be a bad idea.

It reminded me of how great the officers on the scene were and how grateful I was (and still am) to them – all the things they did to take care of me – all of the ways they protected me. It reminded me of how terrible some people could be, which may (speaking completely hypothetically here of course) have caused a loud, visceral, and somewhat explosive outburst where I may (again, hypothetical – you have no proof) have wished someone a great deal of ill that I eventually backed off of when I remembered that they are actually living their worst life. “A pox on your house!! Oh wow! Looks like you already have a few in the works. I mean if you got this, champ, I guess we’re cool. You just keep rolling with the poxes. Seems kind of pointless to wish one on you at this point so I’ll be over here. Have a great day!”

At the end of the day, reading the report reminded me of how far I’ve come, and how far I still need to go. It reinforced the value of true friendship when it comes to coping with complex issues. Let’s face it, we all need that person who tells us when to pump the brakes. It also drove home how important it is to have real conversations. If you think someone may be in crisis, then ask. You’re not going to put an idea in their head.

That is my storm. The clouds are beginning to move off, but the rain hasn’t quite subsided. Thankfully, I have friends with umbrellas.

Write

I begin each New Year with a tradition where I forego the blacked eyed peas, collard greens and cornbread and I make my way over to Neil Gaiman’s Journal to quietly enjoy his reflections and wishes for the New Year. While this simple action of ignoring the Southern tradition of bland peas, bitter greens and dry cornbread for the preferred words of Neil Gaiman likely brought on the pandemic, my taste buds and I stand firmly by my choice. My sincerest apologies, world! I should have taken one for the team. However, no one can express their thoughts or a New Year’s wish as eloquently as Neil Gaiman, in my opinion, and this year didn’t disappoint. (I’ll let you follow the link to discover for yourself.)

Reading his words and hearing them in the voice of Alan Rickman (for no explicable reason other than I quite like Alan Rickman’s voice), reminded me that I had intended to get a print of one of his New Year’s wishes. This caused a bit of a domino effect that ended with me typing the word “Write” on a blank post. It’s the first rule of Neil Gaiman’s “8 Rules of Writing” and it’s something I’ve avoided for a while. Thus, I find myself here with his first rule.

  1. Write

The word sat there alone in the ether for 16+ hours. A single word floating on an empty sea of white.

A simple yet bold word demanding more, and the words weren’t flowing. “Write.” I typed the word “Write” surely that was a solid start. Right? Though ostensibly simple, the task of writing seemed insurmountable. I stared blankly at the next steps. I was stuck. I am stuck.

  1. Put one word after another. Find the right word, put it down.
  2. Finish what you’re writing. Whatever you have to do to finish it, finish it.

So, here is my attempt to breach the gates and put something down. These are my words – my reflections on 2020. They are neither unique in their perspective nor particularly inspiring or enlightening. They simply represent one voice in a larger human choir.

Putting One Word After Another…

I saw a FB post this morning inviting people to “Share a picture from 2020 where you were completely happy and nothing else mattered in that moment.” I knew the photo I’d choose. It’s one taken from last February, I’m sitting across the table from my friend April at a restaurant called Sala & Betty. My chin is resting on my hand. I’m smiling. We’ve just had a good dinner and an even better conversation. It’s the photo I think of when I think, “here is the last time I felt happy.” It was taken nearly a year ago.

In that moment I’m vaguely aware of events happening around the globe, but truthfully I’m more interested in the fires that devastated Australia and completely fascinated by the prehistoric forest that was saved. I’m somewhat aware of Wuhan, thankful that my family and friends aren’t being called to work there in the moment (there had been several trips there the year before), but I don’t foresee what is coming (I can’t). I naively believe this is another H1N1 – something that people will be affected by but will ultimately become a footnote in the annals of virology, the WHO and the CDC.

I’m delightfully oblivious – just enjoying a normal night out. An event frozen in time.

Sala & Betty’s – February 2020

Several weeks later all the doors shut. I said goodbye to the gym, to swimming, to friends, to family, to game days crowded around my kitchen table, to costume party invitations, and to my first international overseas trip. I said goodbye to the things that brought me joy and a reluctant hello to solitude’s lonely embrace.

Over the past three plus years the strides I made towards accepting Jay’s death began to vanish. The pandemic rekindled my rage by the fourth anniversary. Jay should have been here.

Everyone in my immediate circle had a person to shelter with, I had no one. I only had everyone’s pity. I grieved loudly to no one as the house listened in silence – a Zoom call unable to replace the real need for human contact.

In a pandemic, pity does not make a great companion or confidante.

Everyone was (and still is) hurting in some way, and my suffering was no greater than anyone else’s; it was just different – unique to me. I hated to complain, but I still managed to find the time.

I stopped writing. Oh sure, you’ll find several posts. They’re mostly posts trying to remind people of the importance mental health issues and encourage support of the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention. But when it comes to the writing I enjoy doing – writing about the day-to-day humorous missteps of me (hey, I’m an adorkable goofball) – it wasn’t happening. My stories rely heavily on me interacting with this world – this same world we’ve been shut off from.

I lost my verve.

I lost that happy girl in the photo.

… or so I believed while in a knee-jerk moment trying to reflect on a time when I was truly happy.

But as I scrolled through my photos, searching for that photo, I discovered image after image of happy moments – reminders that while I started the pandemic alone, I never remained that way – a reminder that while the year has not been ideal, there has still been joy.

A Few Happy Moments in 2020

The Domino Effect

I started the year by reading Neil Gaiman’s words, which caused a cascade that lead me to purchase a print of my favorite quote – a wish for a better New Year, which lead to the purchase of his rules for writing that will hang near my computer as a reminder to “Write” this year – to put one word down followed by another.

Finish What You’re Writing

What began as a nearly empty page that simply said “Write” is now filled with words – one word following another. Were they the right words? Likely not, but I finished and that’s, oddly enough, a start.

In 2021 may you find and follow your dreams – live boldly and passionately as if there is no tomorrow, because if 2020 taught us anything it’s that there are no guarantees. Love with all your heart. Let people know how you feel.

And every now and again pause to rediscover those moments when you were “completely happy.”

In the end, the photo I chose was not the one of me in the restaurant, it was one where I’m standing on a mountain early in the morning – the air is crisp, the wind gently blowing across my face. I just received some great news – a smile plays across my face. I’m happy. It’s one of the many happy moments from 2020.

The Secret: A Treasure Hunt

In 1982, Byron Preiss buried 12 boxes around the US and Canada and published The Secret, a book containing clues in the form of illustrations and verses – puzzles to be solved. To date only three of the 12 treasure boxes have been recovered. The treasures were found in Cleveland, Chicago and Boston. Each box contains a key. Present the key and you receive a gemstone from Byron Preiss’ trust and join an elite circle of treasure hunters.

I wish I could tell you this was my story – that I heard about The Secret, poured over each verse, carefully studied every illustration scouring the images for clues, and hit all of the websites devoted to bringing closure to this ongoing mystery, but as a close friend always points out, “that ain’t me.” (Well, he actually says, “that ain’t you” meaning “me” – you get the idea.) I’m not that girl. Among my myriad shortcomings is a lack of patience. I want to deep dive into things for exactly one nanosecond and then immediately emerge with the answer. When we start ticking into the millisecond range, we’re now a millisecond closer to a coffee table being flipped. To put it another way, if my friends and I stood before a Sphinx and a riddle was thrown our way, we’d all be insta-murdered when I balled up my fists and bellowed back defiantly, “ain’t nobody got time for this…”

You can see where that attitude becomes challenging when you also happen to love a good puzzle. Anyway… when I first heard about this particular puzzle, or series of puzzles, thanks to Josh Gates’ (my TV show boyfriend – our love is real) series Expedition Unknown, I was intrigued. At the time only two puzzles had been solved, and me being me, I wanted to solve the rest. Unfortunately, as I mentioned before, this runs straight into the 100′ thick wall that is my impatience. I like things now, and if now isn’t good for you, we can compromise. How are you with now? Because now works for me. I’m good with now. (FYI, I once told Jay we could never be on a competitive show like The Amazing Race, because I would absolutely be the person America hated. There Jay would be showing infinite amounts of kindness and patience, offering words of encouragement and I’d be losing my mind over some perceived, likely easily overcome, obstacle. America would have felt terrible for him and in turn they’d want to light me on fire.)

Stupid, annoying character flaws!

But I know myself, and I knew if I wanted any of them solved, I had to lean on a strength – knowing my friends. There was one in particular who had (has!) all the right traits: brilliant mind, loves challenges, loves puzzles, loves adventures and has an infinite amount of patience. Also, they put up with me (big boon in a friend – give them props). I’m actually not all that easy. I can be a bit like Tigger when I get excited about someone or something. I’m oftentimes overwhelming (flaw?) and that’s precisely when I need someone who is calm for balance – someone who can put up with my early morning pounces that usually come in the form of a lot of words as I pitch my ideas. “Buddy! HI! I’m making words with my FACE!!!!! Now you do all the things!! Ok? Ok! Good talk! Off to get more caffeine! Make good choices! You’re the best!”

Hey, the friendship works. Yay!

Let’s Talk Treasure Hunts! Also, Good Morning! © Disney

I recruited this friend on this adventure. Hrmm “recruited” sounds like I joined in when in fact I really did a hand off. “Ok, you do the brilliant mind things, solve puzzles, keep me posted and I’m going to play cheer squad. GO YOU!!”

… and they did. They put in a lot of work – a lot. They put in a lot of analysis – a lot. They spent many an hour on this project, and now they’re releasing videos on their solves.

I know some of you are saying, “yeah, but everyone who has come up with a solution believes they’re right, and yet the puzzles haven’t been solved. How is this person any different?” My simple answers are these: 1) Those people aren’t this person, and 2) I believe in them with everything that I am. I don’t know how to quantify it or sell it to you other than to say: I just believe. Maybe that’s enough for you, and maybe it isn’t, but let me counter with my own question: What does it really hurt to believe?

Right now, with everything going on, we’re so cynical. Ok, who am I kidding? We’ve been cynical for awhile. It’s like we figured out the thing with Santa, and everything since has been a downhill garbage slide into a bottomless landfill.

We believe less.

We hope less.

We’re afraid to take chances. Hey, life might kick us in the gut, and we hate gut kicks.

That’s just sad.

So, I’m asking you to dare to believe – just for a moment.

Starting today my friend has posted their solves on YouTube (kind of slick looking, if I might say so). Take a peak. And if you’re in one of the areas, why not just go see if they’re right? What can it hurt? Because what if they’re right? How awesome would that be?

So, without further ado – their first and second solve.

To my beautiful friend Irina, this first one is in Montreal. Go grab a permit, a probe, a shovel, some friends and Buddy. Are you in?

Montreal Solve – Irina, go for it!!!
Wisconsin Solve

If you are successful, let us know. We want to hear about it. And even if you’re not, you had an adventure. You’re welcome!

Political Ideology & Tribalism

I don’t enjoy writing about politics. It’s one of those topics that I was taught not to discuss at the dinner table. Well, at least that’s what the Norman Rockwell families on TV and in the movies tried to teach me; however, my parents were always game. Yesterday, I wrote a post, and someone took exception to it, which is absolutely fine. Let’s talk openly about these things. I just wanted to share my response to their claim that this election is not about ideology, but is instead about decency and racism. It’s one of those rare moments that I’ll share my point of view on this matter.

Thank you for taking the time to drop by and leave a comment. I’m going to disagree with you; this is absolutely about ideologies especially when you demonize an entire group of people and paint them with such broad strokes. There’s a huge problem when you start looking at the other side (over 13 million people) and classifying them as “indecent” and “racist.” Are there indecent people on that side? Sure. Are there racists as well? Absolutely. But to think that there’s not any among the Democrats is woefully ignorant. So, if we can agree then that not everyone who votes Republican – not even a majority – is either indecent or a racist, then we can start looking at the reasons behind their votes. Why would a decent, non-racist person vote for a person who is distasteful? Most of my Republican friends do not like Trump personally. They’re very aware of who he is, and how he sounds, and they’re still not on the Antifa/QAnon party bus to crazy town. They can look past the cloud of ridiculous and outrageous tweets and point to the good they see in the direction of the country brought about by their party. Do I agree with them? It doesn’t matter, except it absolutely does if we want to understand where their frustration points are and how to address them – how to defeat them. There’s a myriad of reasons he received the nomination over Cruz, Rubio, and Kasich. We need to look at those reasons to understand the pulse of the nation, which pointed to some deep frustrations Republicans had then and currently have.

There’s a decent article from The Atlantic you might be interested in titled: Republicans Don’t Understand Democrats—And Democrats Don’t Understand Republicans

My point is this: We are not in an epic battle of Good vs. Evil and when we do start viewing the other side as “evil,” then we’re part of the larger problem – a problem where it becomes clear that we’re so entrenched in our own ideas and misconceptions that we are unwilling to see the other side beyond media soundbites.

Now, when we talk about friends and I’m assuming we’re talking about mine I will say this: My world is richer because I have people who think differently than I do. If my friends don’t agree with me on every issue or every belief I hold, that’s ok. It’s one of the great things about this world. I don’t need people to be in lockstep with my views in order to move through it. In fact, it’s better if we disagree on occasion so I can grow. Beyond that, I don’t need the garbage men to vote the way I do, I need them to remove waste from my streets. I don’t need the coffee barista to support my candidate, I need them to smile and hand me a great cup of coffee. And when it comes to my friends, I need them to laugh with me on my best days, support me on my worst, and listen to me when I say things like “Black Lives Matter”. I also need to listen to them when they express their counter view.

I will never subscribe to this type of tribalism – the type that closes all conversations – that believes in its rightness to the exclusion of others – that demonizes a group – that shuts down conversation – that is absolutely based on ideology, because you cannot hear the other side.

Today we walk into a new era. Let’s try to do it with grace and an open mind – one willing to listen to those we may not always understand.