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LIFE AS A COMMA

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How many times in our lives has something happened to stop us in our tracks? How often does a sudden illness, death of someone we love or loss of a job or home, kneecap us at the most basic level? Those events often put the brakes on our ideas of what the future should be – or if it even can be. That’s where the comma comes in.

Events come along in everyone’s life, both good and bad, that feel monumental. We fall in love, get the perfect job, get married, lose loved ones, get promoted, get divorced, have kids, move to a new home, get fired… the list goes on and on. These occasions can seem like mistakes or miracles, but no matter how they are received, they make us pause and consider.

“Life is a series of commas, not periods.” Matthew McConaughey

Experiences are all personal. What feels huge to us, may be business as usual for someone else. What might drop us like a rock, can be just a blip in the life of another. Depending on the circumstance, the event can feel like an ending, a bleak finality or a turning point where we are forced to move in another direction. We are either stuck, feeling that things will forever exist in this new context or find challenge to look outward, hopefully to find a new meaning to the story. If I have a choice between period and comma, I choose a comma.

Life is about change. It’s fluid, unpredictable and sometimes, even batshit crazy. Like a basket of fruit, even the best of times can turn but, conversely, bad stuff will usually get better. Okay, it may not get better the way we chose when we put in our order. But, as I told my kids when they were little, if Santa doesn’t get you what was on your list, he probably knew of something even better. If you’ve lived through wish lists spawned by Sears Christmas Toy catalogs, you know exactly what I mean.

“There comes a time when you have to choose between turning the page — and closing the book” Josh Jameson

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What’s Old — is New Again.

2020 was one hell of a year. But, if you’re waiting for a sparkly new one to start, well, you might have to wait awhile.

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An unrelenting pandemic. Shocking violence in the US Capitol. Devastating forest fires. Desert locusts. Murder hornets and the craziest, scariest year of politics anyone has ever witnessed. No wonder we’re jonesing for whatever will stop our brains from melting, even better something to ground our souls. It doesn’t seem to matter what the calendar says. From everything we see and read, 2021 looks a lot like the same stuff, different day.

With COVID-19 still raging across the nation, especially after holidays where masks and mandates were often ignored, the virus isn’t even close to being controlled. The early days of 2021 make clear the real loss of jobs, businesses and savings, as well as the scope of food insecurity in our land of plenty. In the face of all the grief, loss and disillusionment, we badly need to find the flip side – and hope it’s a whole lot better.

“The world is on a bumpy journey to a new destination – and a new normal.” Mohamed El-Erian

In a country where a pandemic is still a runaway train, every day is a challenge. Vaccines are here, but hardly everywhere. Oh, sure they’re rolling out but more like a stagecoach than an Acela. In fact, even after you get the mighty jab, you’ll still need distance, masks and hygiene to complete the COVID puzzle. To people who have hissy fits over mask wearing, get the heck over it – now. We all want our lives back. But, living ‘normal-ish’ again will take a lot longer if we continue to set virus forest fires by still living large instead of adhering to pandemic mandates. It’s more than time we understand the simple fact that what hurts one, hurts all. If we don’t, a spanking new, COVID free year will be a long time coming.

So, what do we do in the meantime? When everything seems bleak, even the smallest positivity seems a heavy lift. It’s weird to feel torn between yearning for family hug marathons and being Pollyanna-resigned to the nest of my house but, there you go. What would a positive reset look like? And what could we do to help it along? We could start with thinking out of the box —and outside of ourselves. Nengajo might be a cool first step. Say what? Cousin to our Christmas cards, this nifty Japanese thank-you custom is a nice way to show gratitude. Sent to friends and family at the beginning of a new year, these colorful notes express our appreciation for all they’ve done to look out for us with kindness or help during the shitshow year we just put to bed.

“What the new year brings to you may depend a great deal on what you bring to the new year.” Vern McClellan

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2020. Bye, Felicia.

As years go, you know you sucked, right? Unfortunately, 2020, you also left a lot of leftover road, so I suspect you won’t be in the rear view mirror any time soon.

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I doubt that there’s anyone who isn’t damn happy to wave the past year goodbye. We don’t need to doomscroll to remember just how awful it actually was. Yet, looking back in history, as years go, 2020 wasn’t even the worst — and COVID-19 isn’t the first pandemic to sweep the globe. It’s just the newest. This world has survived the Black Death, Spanish Flu, world wars and, as we step lightly into 2021, new strains of the virus are finding their way to unsuspecting victims. Yes, the vaccine troops have arrived to wage medicinal war on the pandemic, but it’s far from V-Day for the Virus, so the jury will be out for awhile on 2021.

“A new chapter. A new verse. Or the same old story? Ultimately, we write it. The choice is ours.” Alex Morritt

Now, I certainly didn’t mean to puncture the New Year bubble; just take it down a peg. If we open the door to nuovo anno with our eyes wide open, we are more likely to accept what comes without sticker shock, then recalibrate expectations. 2020 forced us to tweak our lives and ways of thinking in a dizzying kaleidoscope of ways, many of which will make us better, and more resilient, pandemic or not. Travel, work, holidays, even the most mundane of things, turned life on its head, forcing us to sink or swim. Most of us who could – swam. We took a good look at our priorities, and realized, unsurprisingly, that the lack of concerts and in-theater movies were a whole lot less important than giant hugs from our loved ones. We adjusted Zoom screens for work at home, and discovered hobbies we never knew we had a yen for. Who knew homemade sourdough bread would be a ‘thing’? A self-identified extrovert, even I discovered I was way more than okay with being quietly nested. I mean, who knew?

Nothing raises anxiety levels more than a worldwide pandemic that’s deadly enough to kill more than 350,000 people. New cases, new deaths every day brought depression, paranoia, grief, and exhaustion. And each of us reacted in different ways. Some of us rebelled, defied or ignored what was clearly happening all around us or we went with the flow, armed with a good dose of inner strength and outer compassion. We reverted to unhappy factory default settings, becoming the whiny, irritable, poor-me worst in the toolbox. Yet some, even in just as tough situations, strove every day toward positivity, generosity and optimism. Some suffered from depression, homelessness and hunger while too many struggled just to survive the virus, grief, loss of jobs and income. Though traumatic situations are never invited, when they crudely insinuate themselves into our lives we still can choose how to meet them.

“Year’s end is neither the end nor the beginning but a going on, with all the wisdom that experience instills in us” Hal Borland

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SWIPE RIGHT. WRITE LEFT.

What if left-handers are the normal ones — and righties look awkward? I mean, did you ever hear southpaws say with surprise “Wow, I didn’t know you were right-handed”?

Photo by Kelly Sikkema on Unsplash

Southpaws. Lefties. Scrammies. History wasn’t always kind to us left-handers. Seen as evil, sinister, we were even accused in the Middle Ages of being witches. Anything ‘left’ was never right. Salt was thrown over left shoulders because that’s where ghosts lurk. Getting out of bed on the ‘wrong side’ meant stepping out, left foot first. Greeks and Romans wore rings on their left hands to fend off evil spirits, which might seem weird since that’s also our wedding ring hand. The Incas thought left-handers had magical healing powers while Eskimos believed we were sorcerers. Schools came equipped with a good old wooden ruler, smacked against your hand in hopes that eventually you’d do the ‘right’ thing. (Not how I roll) The ‘Right’ hand of God. Your right hand man. Left handed was assigned to compliments and of course those darn clumsy feet.

Hellooooo. Left-handers are not extinct. In fact, we number 11% of the population, are twice as common in twins, and count for 20% of Mensa members. At least 4 of the last 7 US presidents have been left-handed, as well as luminaries like Mark Twain, Madame Curie, Nicola Tesla, Aristotle, Mozart, Napoleon and Mother Teresa. Right handed people were thought to be left brained, and left handed the opposite. Of recent years, that’s pretty much been proved a myth. It’s also been said that we left-handers use both sides of our brains in ‘unusual’ ways. Cool. That might explain my life! On the other hand, it’s also been suspected that we lefties have a higher risk for breast cancer, schizophrenia, Parkinson’s , allergies (thank you, ragweed) sleep problems, and early death. None that, of course, has been proven either but still, not the winning powerball ticket.

Red-haired people are thought to be rare, ‘unusual’, yet I have ginger daughter and two grandsons. We can’t trace the genetic heredity of their hair any more than we can find a reason for familial left-handedness. It just is. That being said, it doesn’t mean growing up southpaw is always a piece of cake. Things righties take for granted in everyday life can be inconvenient, painful, or even dangerous for southpaws. Scissors, spiral notebooks were definitely designed to torture. If tennis was your game, you figured out quickly the sport comes with only half the options than those of your right-handed counterparts. If crocheting is your jam, good luck finding left-handed directions for that next lopsided sweater. On the other hand, ever notice that all Star Wars Storm Troopers are lefties? Not sure what superpower that gives them but I’ll take it.  

As an artist, how do you think charcoal, pencils or pastels went? Yup, about like that. I found out, late in the game that, instead of the scraps of paper I shoved under my hand to avoid inevitable smearing, there was an actual ‘bridge’ some clever artist invented. Still, it was amusing to hear people’s faux shock that I actually was capable of drawing altogether, as if being left handed  painted me unable to do more than use a computer mouse. Though I’m hardly planting myself on the same planet of genius, I’m thinking Leonardo DaVinci managed pretty damn well as a left-hander, no? I could blame being left handed on having poor spatial judgement, however, since I’ve never able to park less than 5 feet from the curb, but it’s probably my bad.

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LIFE is a one-way ticket.

There are no do-overs or instant replays. This is not a dress rehearsal so, for God’s sake, do things that matter.

You only live once. Yeah, we know. We don’t need an in-your-face acronym to remind us, nor Mae West’s nifty, ad nauseum admonition that if we do that livin’ right, once is enough. That’s a big ask. What if we do life wrong? What if we pass up chances? What if the boxes we check off, as years go on, are those of regret?

Well, as they say – that’s life. There’s zero chance that we won’t make mistakes during this time on the planet. Regrets are just part of the ribbon tied package. Decisions we made, and those we didn’t. Words we said and those we never got to say. Still, if we judge our life solely on our mistakes, we miss the whole boatload of what we did right. Hell, even the fact that we did anything at all.

“Life is short, if you turn around you might miss it.” Ferris Bueller

Living life by a catchphrase can have a few flaws. YOLO doesn’t give us permission to run wild through our human years, acting dumb, drunk and clueless. It isn’t just one long Instagram worthy moment. It’s also not a green light to indulge with privilege, or disregard the innate gifts of health and heart you arrived here with. If you spend moolah like there’s no tomorrow and realize that, oops, indeed, there is, it will suck to know you burned through your bank account, right?

At its core, I think YOLO’s sister phrase might be Carpe Diem – seize the day. After all, your life is packed with days to seize. Knowing we come with a one way ticket with an expiration date, maybe we should plan on making each day the best we can. Chase our hopes. Seize each day. Live our lives to the fullest.

One day your life will flash before your eyes. Make sure it’s worth watching.

We’ve lived these last months within the frightening uncertainy of a pandemic that’s taken more than 100,000 people in our country in the blink of an eye. They had no time to consider if their YOLO was enough. COVID-19 gave them no choice in the matter. But, while we still have time, are still healthy and aware of all this world can hold, we still have time to stick the landing.

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Out of Touch . . . Totally.

Welcome to the pandemic version of ‘home alone’, a place where stillness has a roaring sound, and touch is a thing of the past. We are embracing a new normal – without the embrace.

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As SNL’s Roseann Rosannadanna used to say, “It’s always something”.  Sometimes, that ‘something’, creeps up so sneakily you don’t even notice it until it pokes you on the shoulder. You might have thought it was in the rear view, then, bam — whiplash. Like your very own Pennywise, the shapeshifting clown, it feeds on what gets to you most. It gets under your skin because it’s there that this particular taunting creature, called ‘loss of touch’, lives. 

Yep, loss of touch is a thing. Humans need to be touched. When our arms and cheeks are stroked, nerve cells release boatloads of happy-making endorphins. Simple cuddling can slow the heart rate, and speed up digestion, helping our immune system to be its best self. We instinctively look to hold hands when we’re frightened. We put our arms around each other to comfort; kiss one another to show affection. We need touch to feel safe, anchored — and seen. But, those of us who live alone are on our own – literally. In a time of grief, of quarantine, we go without touch of another human for weeks and months. Stuck in the middle of today’s epidemic ‘touch starvation’, mental health professionals see depression, insomnia and anxiety issues in unprecedented numbers.

Why talk about skin hunger now, when it’s dwarfed by people dying in shocking numbers from a worldwide pandemic, and fear pulses beneath every face mask? Even with an epidemic raging across the globe, we are each quarantined in our own small worlds. Our thoughts, emotions, and feelings still live and grow there. Most have partners, kids that share their quarantine and touch may not be an issue. But domestic violence also finds fertile ground in quarantine and loneliness, anxiety and depression make no distinction between households. Whatever was lacking, lost or thought to be quieted, now has a loud voice and things like absence of touch takes on new life.

Too often we underestimate the power of a touch. Leo Buscaglia

When I was first widowed, disjointed emotion and grief were in strong competition. My thoughts centered on coping with the worst trauma of my life. Sudden loss of the person you thought you’d go through time can do that. I assumed nothing, from that point on, that life could throw at me could be worse. In fact, I was pretend badass enough that not even a scary car accident a year later could knock me over. But, when the fog cleared, I realized the elephant in the room was a spouse’s touch I’d no longer feel. Funny how simple neck massages and hand holding can kneecap you. But loss of intimate touch, the kind that says ‘You’re mine. I have your back. I love you” leaves a lasting mark.

To any grieving person, distance is not a new concept. In fact, it’s probably the hardest consequence of loss. The distance of sound, touch and connection gets only wider between us and the person no longer in our world. When we were younger, in the midst of busy lives and busy households raising kids, we barely gave ‘touch’ a thought. We had plenty of it, whether we wanted it or not. Yes, I do remember those times I thought “Puleeese stop poking me” to kids or dogs anxious for attention. Back then, our tapped-out selves yearned for the utopia of sublime peace; maybe even an undisturbed month — alone. I get it. I lived it.

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WORDLESS WEDNESDAY

Signs of the pandemic times.

In our neighborhoods, in the city, in our own homes, signs are all around us that we are ‘not in Kansas’ these difficult days. We are physically separated but together in our common fears, hopes and desire to help, to do good in whatever ways we can to help those heroes who are doing what we cannot.

I invite you to post your OWN images below of what life around you looks like around these historic and critical times!

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The SILENT SPRING of a Pandemic

The world, as we know it, will change. So will we.

Photo by Claire Mueller, UnSplash

Change is pretty much innate to living. No matter how evolved and enlightened we think we are, nothing is more intrinsic to nature and humanity than change. From hurricanes and earthquakes to fires and pandemics, nature can transform our world in a nanosecond. We can try to control it but nature will always tell us who’s boss. The current pandemic is deadly proof that when humanity and nature collide, things will change and not in a good way.  Hello, COVID-19.

Scheduling a big family reunion? Nada. An out of town vaca? Nope. Planning dinner with friends? Well, dining out – is out. Those quick little errands will have to wait, too, maybe for quite awhile. Being ‘up close and personal’ has become a little too personal – and risky. (And no one misses hugging more than an Italian girl!) We’ve entered a Rod Serling universe and we can’t just change the channel. Social distancing has become a thing, the ONLY thing that can help slow the spread of the virus and save lives. Will it eliminate risk? No, but it’s critical to lessening the upward curve, a curve that can lead to worst case scenarios.

We change jobs, houses and hairstyles but changes that create sudden empty shelves and streets, one that mandates social isolation? No, there’s nothing ‘normal’ about this kind of change. Our connected society is suddenly off balance. Schools, parks, stores, and jobs are shut down. Stocks have been in free fall. Healthcare workers are begging for beds, supplies, and critical equipment. Why wouldn’t we be upset, anxious as hell and complain about all we take for granted being put on hold? But, if we can be resilient enough to manage a few weeks sheltering in place to care for ourselves and one another, we will do more than just wade through a pandemic. We will have learned, like the Velveteen Rabbit, to be ‘real’.

A few months ago, I wrote a blog about ‘first world problems’, and while being in isolation certainly isn’t a walk in the park, for most it’s hardly ‘worst case scenario’ either. We can feel depressed and anxious when we look at our daily lives and barely recognize them. Other than missing hugging and smooching my kids, grands and friends like crazy, I may be luckier than most. Working remotely for many years was a type of training wheels for living in place. And often, after my husband’s procedures, we hunkered down for an isolated recuperation. That’s not to say, I’m also spoiled with the ability to hop in my car and run to the library, post office, and grocery when the mood or need hits. Those times will come again and when they do, I’ll consider them with different eyes.

An avid reader of the WW2 period, (go figure) helps me put a little perspective to these current times. There is little comparison to the rationing, blackouts and terrifying bomb shelter life people endured during those long years. The spirit of community, embracing uncertainty and the greater good shown in that era is an enduring example of how people ramp up in times of crisis. With fear and sacrifice as constant companions, people kept living each day, as best they possibly could. What their ‘can do’ spirit, resilience and sense of gratitude accomplished earned them the title ‘the Greatest Generation’. We’ve only experienced a drastically changed lifestyle for less than two weeks. What will future generations say about us?

When COVID-19 eventually lessens its stranglehold, the country will slowly return to a new normal. But, in some areas, the more things change the more they remain the same. The wealthiest 5%, remain at the head of the line, to be saved once again with bailouts, while the other 80% will struggle exponentially from job loss, and financial difficulties. Some will still have no healthcare, live from paycheck to paycheck, often in abject poverty. Those people will see complaints about missing happy hours, gym time or trips to the mall as alien as those of another planet. In a country divided by affluence and lack of it, political party, race and gender, this pandemic is proof illness does not discriminate; only the way we treat it.

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MARCH On.

For some, March is a springboard to a blooming new season. For others it’s a slippery slide into grief or depression.

March was always the stuff of angry lions — and I’m not talking about the weather. The month’s windy grayness matched somber memories of my brother, whose birthday and death day at 19 forever book-ended it with shrouded memories. That is, until the year a kooky March wind blew in the guy who would become my husband. That year, March saw a first date in the restaurant that became ‘ours’ for every important celebration. One year later, that month saw a courthouse wedding, totally off script, but when the cancer dragon rudely inserts itself and you need new health insurance, you ad lib. But, since we were crazy romantics, a few weeks later, we also squeezed in both church wedding and casually cool reception, complete with rubber ducks swimming in a margarita fountain. Go figure.

With happier new markers in place, I was able to feng shui the month with brighter bookends. Yes, far too soon Death did come again to end this happily ever after but at least it picked a different month. This is not about how the story ended, however. It’s about things can be revised, with new defaults. If we allow ourselves, we can often see clearly how much a month can really hold, how everything can change according to how we view it and how we embrace it. Time can be inhabited with both good — and painful memories; love and loss, joy and tears. Happy times are no less happy when they are joined by the sad. As both lion and lamb, they can inhabit the same space and, while they are polar opposites, they are part of the same equation.

March is a month of expectation. Emily Dickinson

The flip side of joy is pain. That’s life’s eternal dichotomy. No one complains when the pendulum swings the fun way, when life seems perfect and all in our little world is balanced on its axis, spinning merrily along. But when it hands us things that really suck, things we are helpless to change, whoa! Yet, that IS life; the conundrum of all things good and bad. Like a seasonal temperature inversion, a peaceful, balmy day can morph into a hair wrecking windy storm in a nanosecond. And just as quickly the sea calms, the weighty fog lifts and, if we pay attention, we just might see the big picture with stunning clarity. We find our aha moments.

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Kids. The Footprints You Leave Behind

Raising kids is not a walk in the park. They keep you young, they keep you humble — and they call you on your crap.

“A hundred years from now it won’t matter what sort of house I lived in, or kind of car I drove but, the world may be different because I was important to the life of a child.”

Between escalating birthdays and widowhood, I reflect on a lot these days on both the meaning — and brevity of life. The noisy, giggling, sibling rivalry days inherent in raising small children that seemed never ending — but did. The torch passed and now those babies are parental units themselves, running on the same relentless parental hamster wheel of schedules, homework, errands and laundry that once filled my days.

Looking back, though, there is nothing I wouldn’t do to be smack in the middle of those worrywart, race-against-the-clock days, and the babies who inhabited them. The days you lug oranges to soccer games, cupcakes to birthday parties and stayed up nights sewing Halloween costumes end. And suddenly, you’re crying at graduations, toasting an engagement and in the blink of an eye, another generation is on the way. You pass the baton. Long feverish nights, endless science projects, little league games and wee hours of waiting for cars to pull in driveways are now in your adult babies’ hands.

Children are the living messages we send to a time we will not see. Neil Postman

Children change our lives. They toss them in a hectic blender of love, worry and crazy, then rearrange them incredulously inside people who become adults themselves. Like many in my generation, I was barely 21 when I had my first child. I dove headfirst into cribs and spit up baby food with no nostalgia about lost single days of island hopping, because there was none. Today’s moms trade successful careers, first single apartments and free wheeling travel memories for marriage and child-raising. They bring life experience, and a taste of fulfillment to their babies while others like me bring still young(ish) enthusiasm and a reasonable amount of energy to race lively grandchildren. Standing on the flip side of motherhood, I can totally appreciate both sides of that same coin.

From the minute those squalling little bodies are placed in our arms, our lives are never the same. As they grow, we will do every crazy, exhausting thing we can to try to keep those nuggets safe, healthy and happy. I remember when I, and my neighbor/best bud, went on a no-nitrate, no additive ban, convinced we would rule as health-conscious moms. Unfortunately, boycotting hot dogs, Wonder Bread, and bologna demoted us to the bottom rung of our kids’ food hit parade. Though still suspicious of Marshmallow fluff and Taylor ham, we eventually sold out to hot dogs, but, to our credit, they were turkey so…

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