A Confession, An Overreaction, and Some Lemonade

I’m taking a moment to confess to you something – something I’m rightly a bit embarrassed about…

Facebook

You all know the relationship we (FB & I) share is quite complicated. It’s about as unhealthy a co-dependent relationship as they come. In fact, Netflix has a whole documentary about us – The Social Dilemma. Sure, you think it’s about you or your friends and family, but it’s actually my autobiography. All of it.

Y’see, I’ve been living and dying (mostly dying) by reactions (or lack thereof) to my posts.

Normally, that’s ok. I’m not a regular poster. In fact, I’m 100% certain the FB algorithm unceremoniously dumps me at the bottom of everyone’s feed troughs because of that lack of participation,. But that said, I get enough attention to keep me happy and to keep me coming back.

Then I started posting for the annual fundraiser for the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, and if you discount the link from the AFSP fundraiser page (which got a ton of attention – thank you, donors!!), I got no response. No really, none. I posted a link to my latest Big Blue Mess post about the cause and nothing. Over a three day period, only one reader came from FB when normally it’s the bulk of my readers. Weird, but ok. I marched on.

I thought, “maybe no one is responding because they’re completely over your sadness – over Jay – over talking about this subject year after year.” I was grasping at straws, trying in vain to fix something I couldn’t understand why it was broken. I decided to push the ridiculous incentives I picked to encourage people to donate hoping that might pick up some attention. Hey, they’re goofy! Who doesn’t like goofiness? “For $10 incentive you can receive a horrible watercolor portrait made by yours truly! A “disaster piece”!” I included samples of my dreadful paintings thinking I’d at least get a pity laugh or two. Nothing.

What the actual…?

My friend Anna stepped in after listening to several whine/rants (whants?) and reacted to those posts as did my friend Julie. Yay, two little reactions to each post. What the…?

I was taking it on the chin. Beyond wanting a reaction and wanting to raise funds for this cause, we’re talking still talking about a life-altering, devastating event, and we’re talking about Jay. My person. My FAVORITE person. The person I still like more than pretty much everyone else. The person for whom I would give up every thing I’ve gained these past 5 years – every friendship I’ve made – every adventure I’ve had – every opportunity I’ve been afforded to just have him walk through my door.

The lack of responses stung.

No one? Seriously??

The indignance of that question resonated through my core, and I chewed on it – really working up a solid mad.

…and that’s when I got a message from Anna this afternoon that basically went something like this. “Hey, I noticed when you’ve been posting that the notifications I receive say that you sent a message to me. I don’t know if this is it, but you might want to check to see who your audience is. I went back and looked – all of them were to Anna – not to “Public” or “Friends” or even “Friends; Except: (not that I would ever prevent someone on my feed from reading something, but y’know… ) I was embarrassed – so much energy spent on being upset over nothing. I thought about Occam’s Razor: Was it more likely that the usual FB suspects unexpectedly abandoned you because they suddenly didn’t want to hear about Jay OR that something went pear-shaped with your posts?

Ugh.

So, my feelings that live on my sleeve are now ironed back down – at least until my next irrational fit where I waste a lot of energy.

But hey, now that I’m sane again, have I mentioned that for $10 you can get an original disaster piece (or original haiku)?? All you have to do is donate that $10 to AFSP. Help make a difference!

Lemonade

Original Disaster-piece of My Sister-in-law – She’s a Florist! Get it?? There’s a flower!

The Big Blue Mess: Summer Edition

Over the weekend, I may have made a promise to my step-mom on her birthday. I put may in italics not to be cute, but because I’m genuinely not sure there was an actual agreement. It may have just been guilt ferrets™ (Kevin Hearne) scampering about and planting false memories. “Psst, kid. Don’t forget that promise you made. Remember? She never asked ya for nothin’ for her birthday before – not gift, nor flowers, nor card. Today? Today she just asked you for a story, – a simple story, toots. You wanna be her greatest disappointment in 2021? On her birthday?? Then welch on that promise. Yeah, I didn’t think so, kid. Best you start typin’.” See? Guilt ferrets™ – who also happen to sound like Johnny down the block – y’know, the guy who runs that craps game with the perpetual cigarette hanging out of his mouth – the worst! Ferrets. Am I right?

As I’ve said before, my posts are just updates for my friends and family.

So, with that in mind – here we go – for my step-mom on (or nearish) her birthday.

Welcome to: The Big Blue Mess: Summer Edition

Mid-May, two weeks after my second Covid shot, I had vacation plans: Celebrate my best-friend’s big 0 birthday in Chicago, and celebrate another good friend’s 0 birthday in the Dominican Republic. It was a great summer to have friends with destination 0 birthdays who could also tolerate me well enough to have me along to celebrate.

In Chicago, we pretty much stuck to the tourist’s version of the city. We haunted the Inner Loop with it’s reflective bean, it’s museums, and tours. I could do a blow-by-blow, but most of it could be summed up in a postcard or any “Visit Chicago” travel ad. So, let me hit the highlight reel of favorite things:

  • Bisa Butler’s incredible portraits in quilt at the Art Institute of Chicago
  • The architecture tour on the Chicago River
  • The spunky, super enthusiastic tour guide for the Gangsters and Ghost tour
  • Three Dots and a Dash with Seth
  • Amazing pizza!! (not casseroles!!!)
  • Chicago-style hot dogs (I confess, I thought they were going to be absolutely disgusting and probably introduce a mouthful of wrongness into my face before being unceremoniously chucked into a trash bin. There’s so much going on there. Pickles? Relish? Onions? TOMATO?! Why? I was wrong! They weren’t just good, they were great.)
  • My buddy Johnny Two Shovels and his lovely fiancée
  • Walking everywhere
  • The time I got to spend with my closest friend.

Chicago made me regret never leaving my comfort zone by picking up, and moving away from the safety of my state – from my town. It made me wish I could right that wrong today and take a leap (and of course, move back here almost immediately to avoid November through April because cold. Texas fact: temperatures dropping below say 42 degrees (brr) are rude, obscene and wholly unnecessary.

The trip was fantastic – something I needed.

A few weeks later, I headed to the Dominican Republic to stay at an all-inclusive resort.

About That

A couple of years ago, if you’d asked me what my favorite type of outdoor terrain to just “be” in was, I would have started with forests, then moved on to mountains, everything else, then desert, wading in bottomless tar pits, gator-filled marshes, and finally beaches – beaches rating a bit higher than they should because I lacked the imagination to come up with anything worse than marshes before having to end with “beaches”.

In my defense, I’ve really only been around the Gulf of Mexico, and let’s face it, the Gulf is just not pretty – not where I’m from.

Then I spent a day on a beach in Honduras, which was unexpectedly lovely and actually surprisingly fun. That was followed by an afternoon on the beach in Santa Monica, and finally there I was in the Dominican Republic looking out again at the Caribbean, and all I could think was “this is idyllic – no place I’d rather be.”

There’s really no way to describe the trip that wouldn’t make me sound very privileged or very white, so I’ll leave off most of the highlight reel and say I had a lovely time at a very lovely location. I was fortunate to be invited along with great people who made me laugh so hard I snorted a few times. But were I to list the highlights, they would be a bit odd and go like this (inside jokes intertwined with genuine moments):

  • The subterranean quarters beneath where Santiago’s family stayed
  • Studio 54 featuring every Quentin Tarantino film. Let’s face it, nothing says Studio 54 in it’s heyday quite like QT and zero disco music – just ask Liza, Halston, and Andy W. who all famously said at one point, “…And I will strike down upon thee with great vengeance and furious anger those who attempt to poison and destroy my brothers…” The 70’s – putting the groove in groovy. You’re doing it right, Dominican Republic! Just how I remembered!
  • The gigantic angel at 80’s night. Umm…
  • The Alabamians’ drunken drawled out request, “tell us more funny stuff!!” asked of my New Zealand friend after insisting she sounded English (she doesn’t).
  • Throuples
  • Darlin’ & El Gato “the cat” meoooowwww…
  • …y Mami y Papi
  • The Basilica Cathedral of Santa María la Menor – the oldest Church in the Americas
  • The Covid test to re-enter the US that I’m 99% sure was not a legitimate test, but hey, I got to come back home!
  • Global Entry – worth EVERY penny

Random Thoughts from the Trip

Driving through the Santo Domingo in our modern, clean and cool bus, we learned that the minimum wage is $200-$400/month and the average monthly wage is around $800/mo. Electrical wires dangled above in tangled and twisted nests. Trash littered the sides of the road as we drove on to the comfort of our compound within another compound – a playland.

Another Thought

When I arrived in the country, I honestly didn’t remember that we were in the country formerly known as Hispaniola, nor did I recall that it was here where Columbus first set shore in the Americas. I stood in the places where he stood, where his son later stood. No matter how you feel on the subject of Columbus and the aftermath of that “discovery” (the exploitation, the slavery, the mass genocide), you cannot deny that on that fateful day, the world changed. So for me to walk where he walked made me pause and reflect on the enormity of how one day, one simple action could change the course of the world. Over half a millennium later I stood there because of that one day, and the days that fell like dominoes thereafter.

There was something very appealing about being on this island; I didn’t want to leave. I wanted to explore. I wanted to just be.

As the Summer comes to a close and this Summer Edition wraps up, I find myself thinking about how much I miss being in this world – seeing, exploring, and discovering all the things with my people who make me a richer person.

Happy Birthday, CJ! – A post just for you. I’m glad you’re part of my world.

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 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.

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.

Author of Your Own Story

I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but there’s a lot happening out there as we enter into our 8th month of this pandemic. Whether we’re talking about the election, jobs, relationships, racial issues – there’s a great deal of uncertainty – anxiety as we’re faced with questions like “what happens next?” “Who are we when we re-emerge into this brave new world?”

Watching or reading the news, whether it’s from a major news outlet or a more easily digestible FB filter, it doesn’t look uplifting. Even Some Good News only had eight episodes before it was sold. Did the good news go away? Every day the news shows us a world that’s on fire both literally and figuratively. We’ve cloistered ourselves for months – afraid to move as we watch all of this unfold behind the lace curtains of our protected bubbles (if we’re fortunate enough to have them). We watch our nation struggle. We watch our friends and family struggle. We watch the social unrest and social injustice.

It’s easy to feel like the world has become unmoored.

We’ve changed our lives in ways we could have never imagined. We’ve lost that pep in our step. We approach life more cautiously – with greater trepidation – uncertain of our futures. It’s easy to feel helpless – to feel like you’re drowning and unable to make a change.

And that’s what I want to talk about. Change.

There’s a lot wrong in this world that we can’t fix, but what we absolutely can affect are things within our sphere of influence. I cannot fix complex issues like social unrest, but I absolutely can use my voice, and I can take steps at a local level to bring about change. I can choose to leave an unhealthy relationship, to find a more satisfying job, to ask for help when I struggle; that’s my personal sphere of influence. Your choices are within your own sphere of influence.

I know, change is scary. It represents leaving something comfortable – something familiar to step potentially into the unknown. It represents risk, and let’s face it, we can be pretty risk adverse. When confronted with the possibility, we run through the “what ifs.” It’s the “what ifs” that point to the possibility of face-planting failure that tend to get the most airtime in our thought bubbles. I mean, if we can just pump the breaks and sit in our comfortable world, even if that world is untenable, at least we aren’t risking the failure. Oh yeah, and we’re also not growing.

I think many of us have gotten into a bad habit of imaging the worst case scenario, but something I’ve started working on personally is imagining the best case scenario. What would it look like if I succeeded? What would it look like if I took the chance, put in the work, and then I was happy?

What would your life look like if you stuck your neck out and took that chance?

I sometimes think about the relationship I was in before I left it for Jay, and I did leave it for Jay. It was awful, but familiar. I was with a man who let me know regularly that I was a bad person and also that I was fairly unattractive, but hey, I’d probably make a good mom. Thanks? I knew that was wrong, that it damaged me, but it was easy – familiar. I was afraid that leaving would mean I was alone – that I’d lose my shot at having kids. I was afraid of all of the unknowns. The “what ifs” and a general sense of fear ground away at my resolve.

The chance I took on Jay was petrifying. It didn’t help that many friends and family members decided it would be a keen idea to compound that a bit, and honestly there were purely awful days. But in the end I had 17 amazing years with a person who believed I was great – who told me he loved me every single day. And on Jay’s last day, the one thing he did was make sure I was as protected as he could make me before he left. It was something the Victim Services volunteers kept repeating, “your husband really loved you – look at what he did to protect you.”

I can tell you this, when I decided to take that big risk, it was worth it – it was worth all of the years of laughter and love, and it was worth the sadness and heartache that followed. It was worth leaving a terrible situation with someone who was unkind to be in a loving relationship with someone who adored me – a person who built me up – a person who believed in me.

We need to stop sitting back and accepting where we are in our lives, because we’re too afraid, because we think we can’t affect change – that we’ll fail. We need to stop shouting into the wind hoping our voices will be heard or that someone will come save the day. We need to decide we are worth taking risks for – that we’re deserving. We need to decide it’s time to be comfortable with being uncomfortable and face our fears.

This quote has stuck with me since 8th grade (and I own that it may be a bit corny but it’s something I repeat regularly):

I must not fear. Fear is the mind-killer. Fear is the little-death that brings total obliteration. I will face my fear. I will permit it to pass over me and through me. And when it has gone past I will turn the inner eye to see its path. Where the fear has gone there will be nothing. Only I will remain.

Frank Herbert

Another quote I love:

Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, ‘Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous?’ Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won’t feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine, as children do. We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It’s not just in some of us; it’s in everyone. And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.

Marianne Williamson

Are you going to sit back and let the world pass you by, imprisoned by self-doubt with a beer in one hand and a foot in the grave? What is holding you back from shining? From living your best life?

You are not a character in your own novel, you are the author. What is your next scene? Do you make a stand? Do you find your voice? your resolve?

Don’t sit on the sidelines hoping for change. Reach down and find your strength, find your voice, face your fears, and be the change. Identify the steps you need to take, the tools you need, and move forward.

Dare to imagine a world where you succeed – where you’re happy.

You’re worth it.

I’m worth it.