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.

A Simple Wish

May your coming year be filled with magic and dreams and good madness. I hope you read some fine books and kiss someone who thinks you’re wonderful, and don’t forget to make some art — write or draw or build or sing or live as only you can. And I hope, somewhere in the next year, you surprise yourself. –Neil Gaiman

At the beginning of 2017 I was given a box that held 260 colorful envelopes filled with notes/quotes/questions/advice from my friends and family. These lunchbox notes were to accompany me each day of work and were to be opened at lunch (thus, the name).  There were instructions directing me to open one first, and it ended up containing the quote above.  These, in turn, became the things I wanted to achieve – a list of what I wanted to accomplish throughout the year – a road map – a bucket list.

So, I wrote a little more. Maybe not sketches, as I’d planned. It turns out that in this political climate my attempts at satire have too sharp an edge to them. I started turning off NPR more (sorry guys, I still love you) and sang more, replacing the news with singing – each time I got into the car.  I even made it out to karaoke, something I hadn’t done in years, and belted out a little Lady Gaga, ABBA, and Kansas. I now have a baby stereo system in the house where I repeat the show daily. (To the delight of my neighbors, Elle King’s America’s Sweetheart is my current go-to.) I made some art, and sent cards off to friends and family. To surprise myself, I entered the Warrior Dash, and I can say I was in fact surprised in the end. This one set me back a bit, causing all of the things to stop, and me to momentarily forget the list.

As I grew stronger, I was able to dive back in – writing, singing, reading, laughing, and creating.  The only one left to tackle was “kiss someone who thinks [I’m] wonderful.” So, a month ago I decided “screw it” and I re-entered the online dating world to give it a more serious try.  I went on three dates over five days. André, of the infamous meltdown, was the first. See below for a recap.

The second was Todd. I have to admit that over the past three weeks I became a 16 year-old girl when it came to all things Todd – a distracted girly mess. One of my male friends joked, “hell, I’m starting to have a crush on Todd” thanks to all of my incessant Todd talk, usually followed by, “do you want to see his picture?” It was terrible, and kind of fun, and it reminded me of staying on the phone for hours in high school, of passing notes, of having my girlfriends spend the night, of listening to music in the darkness of my room, and of daydreaming. He was a reminder that I was still alive, and still able to be reduced to a blushy, giddy little girl mess.

I met Todd a day or two after the André-no-I-don’t-want-to-drive-to-Costco-for-the-great-gas-don’t-put-your-face-near-my-face incident. I went to his place, knowing my adopted big brothers would not be pleased for safety reasons, and watched him put together a doll house for his granddaughter. He was just as beautiful in person, and also very simple in ways I won’t be able to quite convey here.

A few highlights from that evening: He told me, “I’d totally mack with you, but I’ve had a lot of coffee, and I don’t like to kiss with coffee breath.” Wow, umm… I don’t think anyone has ever said they’d “mack” with me. I’m not sure I’ve “macked” with anyone. Maybe I’m not a macker? If we “macked” would this count towards my “…kiss someone who thinks you’re wonderful?” Gaiman didn’t say anything about “macking with someone.” Then Todd professed his love of the phrase “that’s what she said” and probably used it 15-20 different times. Apparently, she says a lot. Todd expressed with certainty that a whole comedy routine based on that line would quite possibly be the best stand-up comedy routine ever.  I’m not so sure. I threw in a few “that’s what she said” lines to make him happy, and he giggled gleefully (alliteration also makes him happy) while continuing to work on this dollhouse (a bit of a structural mess, but it also made him happy). I then turned the conversation to why he loved the town we’re in, because frankly it’s a sea of HOA’s to me, and I hoped he might have some insight that would make me see it differently. His response: “I’m near three strip clubs.” Oh… “Yeah, I love strip clubs and I would totally pay for you to get a lap dance.” At this I had to say, “That actually wouldn’t do anything for me, but thank you.” He smiled and offered up, “well, it would do something for me.” Ohhhh kay… (For any of you thinking a strip club birthday gift card might make the perfect gift, you should give that to someone else.) I got a tour of his apartment and the multiple 8″x10″ prom pictures proudly displayed on the walls. I have to confess, my prom pictures are still in the “vintage” envelope they came in. (Sorry David! I did put one in a photo album and used it for a #TBT thing on FB.)

We ended with a side hug, and I sighed… so pretty. There goes my 16 year old girl, and a 49 year old woman drove home – music blaring, while singing at the top of her lungs.

Two days later, I had coffee with the runner post my half marathon (where I did surprise myself). He was absolutely brilliant. Smart, engaging, a fantastic storyteller (and we all know how I love good stories), and I was none of those things in return. And while I recognize I’m not his type physically, he’s the kind of person who absolutely should be one of my friends. I was lamenting this to my aunt yesterday, and she kindly offered to call him up and explain how great I was.  “You know if you want me to, I’d do it,” which made me laugh. All I could picture was a call that might sound like, “Hi, this is Beth’s aunt. She’s really great; you’d really like her. I’m so proud of her. Anyway, she thinks you’re really neat. She has a lot of really neat friends, so if she thinks you’re neat, then there’s probably something special about you. You should really be her friend. I’m going to have a get together at Easter, and she knows she’s always welcome. You could come, too.” While I loved this idea, and it made my heart smile, I can only imagine how that would sound to a stranger. “Please reconsider being my niece’s friend. We love her.” I love my aunt, and I love that she was serious. Also, a side note to my friends: she really does think you guys are neat. Also, damnit, he was really cool.

So Neil, I failed a little when it came to living up to your New Year’s wishes.

While the year continued to hold a few more hardship, it was also one that was filled with magic, and dreams, and good madness. I read some fine books. I made some art – I wrote, I drew a little, I sang loudly and often, I laughed, and I surprised myself (half marathon!!).  I was surrounded with the best people. Old friends, new friends, and family… and though there were tears, there was more joy.

I plan to do more of that next year.  And maybe… just maybe… I’ll “mack” with someone who thinks I’m wonderful.

Dedication: This was for Tori who suggested I had another blog piece in me before the end of the year. Hears to you, kid!