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
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.
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
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.
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
. . . and every day. When you have a seriously elfed up year, that’s pretty much how you roll.
There’s no way to candy cane sugarcoat this. If you were hoping for a ‘ho ho ho’ holiday, you’ll have to wait a year. Though hopefully we each found our share of happy moments, the year itself was an epic suck. Of course, we’ve all had a few-less than merry Christmases. In fact, many have seen some pretty tough entire years. But this one was definitely uncharted territory full of mask mandates, scary death tolls and toilet paper wars. One thing is sure, the year was certainly one for the books — and the holidays are its last chapter.
Will this be the year that creepily cheerful Elf-on-the-Shelf goes on strike? Who could blame him if he did? No matter how the halls are decked with sanitizer, the double-jointed imp might take a pass, leaving tired parents to explain why the obsequious little tattletale never showed. Then again, they might be a tad relieved that the little sucker decided to snooze the season out. Traditions die hard but, but given the year, if a sprite does show, I suspect it will be Chuckie.
No one ever promised a holly, jolly sugarplum world. Even the most glittering of holiday trees hide their share of crawly things among the branches — just to keep you on your toes. Somewhere, along life’s highway, Christmas carols hit a sour note, and our innocent beliefs in magical reindeers and sleighs go the way of childhood. This year, though, you have a hall pass from DIY’ing the perfect holiday. It’s just not that kind of year.
“There’ll be no more sorrow, no grief and pain and I’ll be happy Christmas once again” The Eagles
I have a pretty good idea about holidays that somehow aren’t all that. When my husband died a few years ago, two months before Christmas, it topped my list of terrible, no good, very bad times. This year, thanks to COVID-19, many will suffer their own heartbreaking holiday. To those who lost loved ones, every year thereafter will be Christmas 2.0. There’s no way to sidestep life-changing grief; no magic wand to erase a pandemic. But, I suspect those grieving loss this year from that pandemic would be the first to say, give every precaution your best shot. Giving up a holiday group hug for one year, skipping the major feast and trading in mistletoe for a mask, don’t seem like the biggest ask. Compared with a deadly viral alternative, missing one Norman Rockwell holiday seems like a piece of cake. Okay, maybe not fruitcake because that’s too easy, but you get the message.
“I never thought it was such a bad little tree. It’s not bad at all really. Maybe it just needs a little love.” Charlie Brown Christmas
I had some badass Christmas trees. In fact, one year my husband and I somehow dragged home a colossal 9 1/2 foot Frasier Fir, which was definitely a back-breaker but the best tree ever. The next year everything changed. When my guy died a few months before Christmas, it was hard to find merry anywhere. So I did the only thing I could do – I adapted. I made things manageable. I kept the most priceless traditions, launched some new and pitched the rest. First up – downsize all my supersize expectations – including the tree. A few things, however, were non-negotiable, and none more important than my eclectic collection of well-loved ornaments.
“Nothing ever seems too bad, too hard or too sad when you’ve got a Christmas tree in the living room.” Nora Roberts
Seriously, how could I part with Pinocchio from my Florence honeymoon, or the sequined, glitzy chatzkas lovingly made by my once grade school nuggets? And that lumpy stuffed star made in the blizzardy winter my BFF and I were heavily pregnant? Mended often, it still has a place near the shabby toy soldier from my childhood tree. Pictures of every kid and grand are absolute musts. That San Francisco trolley from the first travel review work trip I took solo after my husband left the building? Yes and yes. After all, trees may be small or artificial; emotions not so much.
This year, the Christmas tree is a wee bit more Charlie Brown. It happens. But, as life-changing events go, it doesn’t make the cut. In a crazy year like 2020, Christmas tree size is the least of your problems. COVID-19 is centerpiece of everything we do and think. Washing hands, staying socially distant and wearing a mask is the only way we can unwrap a healthier new year.
“Christmas is a box of tree ornaments that have become part of the family.” Charles Schultz
COVID is taking a big bite out of Thanksgiving this year. With cases surging across the country, even the turkeys are rethinking where to go. Trying to adhere to medical experts about how to handle Thanksgiving may not be easy but then, what is? Deciding to ditch a family holiday isn’t the most appetizing but it’s the most practical and loving in a time of pandemic. With facts spread on the table, my family peeps decided to celebrate within our own nest of people, those we live with all year long. Good plan. Of course, for me, and others widowed or single, a family bubble is a pod of one. I’m not saying suddenly-solo life is desperately lonely or stark, at least when you become used to it – or resigned, as the case may be. But, at times like these, when ‘who you co-habit with’ dictates your holiday place settings, it’s definitely a lot less inviting. (On the bright side, there are a lot less dishes to wash.)
Having become a sudden widow 5 years ago, I’m not a stranger to ‘home alone’. It was a gradual trip from shock and sadness to the ‘it is what it is’ mode today. Reluctantly, I became nearly comfortable in my very altered nest. Then the pandemic hit. Then, along with the rest of the world, everything became a giant fruit basket upset; a shitstorm of confusing resets and restarts. For those who felt the crushing loss of loved ones from COVID this year, it was a one-two punch. Alloted no traditional grieving time to adapt or adjust to a world beset by death and fear, those left behind sit where thanks and hope are hard to find.
Time, however, if not a healer, does allow us to adapt. It paves the twisted walk through the most traumatic of life experiences. But it offers no instruction book on how to battle an invisible, voracious predator. We bumbled through rules and remedies, written, rescinded and re-written every day. We saw medicine and politics clash in spectacularly wanting ways. People became deathly sick and many, many families saw loved ones leave, who never came back. With more than a quarter million people dead from this epidemic, families will have a glaringly empty holiday chair that we, who’ve lost our own loved ones, know too well.
“Keep some room in your heart for the unimaginable.” Mary Oliver
2020 was a wildfire (yep, we had them, too) and holidays didn’t fare well at all. Easter passed us by; ditto Mother’s Day. Thanksgiving, and most likely Christmas/Hanukkah, will join the year’s hit parade of ‘things that didn’t go as planned’ – or at all. The famous Norman Rockwell painting of family gathered around the big roasted bird isn’t on the menu this year. For most, this is a one-off holiday. Some feel secure that holidays will soon be returned intact, as normal as the proverbial apple pie. To others, those whose lives have been eternally altered, this year begins one of endless ‘new normals’ where things may never look the same.
The deadly losses this year makes ol’ Turkey Day seem like a nothing burger. Those desperately missing their ‘person’ wouldn’t question or argue what guidelines they need to obey to keep their loved one alive and safe. Remembering not being able to see or say goodbye to someone who might have been their world, would give world to save them. So here’s a thought: stuff the self-pity and pass the gratitude. If your family bubble comprises 2, 4 or 7, be thankful even with a nixed holiday invite list, you still have someone to talk to, laugh with and share the damn pumpkin pie, every day. This Turkey Day an anomaly but if we continue to test the limits, it maybe become the norm. Our choices matter.
“Our true person is outside of time and space. I’m every age I’ve ever been and so are you.” Anne Lamott
If age is just a number, we should be able to pick one we like — and stick with it. I mean, in the techno age, why not a birthday lottery? Choose a scratch off number under 50 and hold on to it. Unfortunately, nothing is that easy. Eventually, though, your birthday barcode comes up on that big jumbo-tron called life, and bingo – the gig is up.
It’s then we enter that magic garden where we see the sagging jawline, thinning hairline, beginning of a wrinkle under one eye and your boobs are certainly not getting any perkier. We worry about stuff we never did or maybe never will. We have more time to think, which, depending on the day, can be a good or bad thing. When another birthday is about to be ticked off the calendar, there’s no telling where your mind can go. Here’s where mine rolls today, just thinking that:
Despite the many late life Pollyanna slogans about getting older, my best dreams and aspirations are behind me (face palm) except of course, for my posterior, which now gets a lot fewer rave reviews.
It’s now a whole lot harder to remember what I ate last night — as well as simple words that seem always stuck on the tip of my tongue.
I once thought my elders’ morbid musings about how many more months and years were behind than ahead were a yawn, until today, when it’s all too obvious now how damn fast days go by.
No matter how many mistakes I or my children made, they will always be the best things I’ve ever done and who I love most in this world. That is, except maybe for their own kidlets, who I’d slay every dragon for, even knowing I’ll only see their future from my rear view mirror.
“Regrets, I’ve had (more than) a few” sang Frank Sinatra but pity parties and rant breakdowns can lead to the best breakthroughs. Actually, they are the true blessings of living in a grateful present.
Life isn’t fair and no one promised it would be. Pain, uncertainty, grief — all part of the package. But, if you’re blessed with tribes of people who love you, you hit the life lottery.
Sometimes the universe answers what your soul needs, though it’s not always a fun ride. But hard times can open our eyes, and expand our hearts allowing a comfort zone rebuild to help us find true north — inside ourselves.
The only person I can change – is myself. Period. Like that old saw about leading a horse to water, we can’t change anyone’s beliefs, behavior or thoughts but, if we cherish the currency of the relationship, it’s a win-win for all.
It’s okay to voice your values even if you surprise yourself. In these crazy, critical and game-changing times, standing up and speaking out for your beliefs isn’t just okay — it’s necessary. Go for it.
Expect the unexpected . . . then roll with it. (That’s the tricky part)
Long ago, in a lifetime far away, I wrote poetry. Reams and reams of the stuff. It wasn’t great stuff or that well written. It was just another way to try and make sense of the mangled, searching thoughts of a young mom, in late nights with little bodies soundly sleeping.
As women, we’ve gone through so many lives in the one we were given. In my case, I’ve gone through several last names in different married lives. I lost a wonderful young brother; I birthed three children. I was a harried young mom, baking like crazy, driving to piano lessons and soccer practices, scout meetings and school pickups. I dragged oranges to games, towels to swim team and lunches when they didn’t. I was very attached to church, kids and home – and I loved it all. That was one me.
One by one, the kidlets began to fly away and the house became emptier, dinners more of an afterthought and the washer, dryer and dishwasher less on overdrive. I jumped into the work world, both in-house and home office, built an advertising design business, which later added a partnership with a future husband. I suddenly found more time for friends and less time for introspection. And I loved it. That was another me.
The last child left, the weddings happened in succession and grandchildren began to arrive. Having been divorced for a number of years and dated at least my share on that roller coaster of single life, I struggled with money and self-esteem. One day, I found my perfect ‘Match’, love of my life — and married him. We worked together, loved our blended family together, jumping headfirst into the roles of grandparents with crazy adoration. There was of course, a thorn in the rose which showed up before we even said ‘I Do’. The elephant called cancer refused to be ignored, as it threw one curve ball after another into our happily ever after. Yet, we lived our life as best and big as we could and I loved it. It was yet another me.
One day, I came home from my first downward facing dog, Namaste session to find that my husband had suddenly passed from this planet. Many of you have experienced that shock, that trauma so I don’t have to tell you how it devastates in a nanosecond. I had to regroup, find my way out of the dark and into yet another ‘me’. I certainly didn’t love that renovation but, it had to happen. With no alternative, I became both the same and different, both old and new, both sad and happy. Ultimately, the realization that life still stubbornly stuck around in an army of friends, and my immeasurable treasure of kids and grands, I penned this not-so-perfect poem:
Wisdom never comes
in perfect doses.
It arrives unwitting
As a fragile wisp, or
Fed by truth
Pruned strong by life
Resist shallow wars
and good sense.
I am woman, not girl.
mother yet maiden
crone and child
passion and reason.
I am a survivor.
Use my shoulder,
My arms, my laughter.
If not welcomed,
I’ll gather all up
as I turn to leave.
I am not my past.
I’m not the wrong page,
But a new page.
Aging new book;
Reluctant new life.
I don’t melt.
I don’t flinch or run
Unless I am pushed.
And then I walk,
And then I cry
And then I learn.
Like my poetry, life is hardly perfect. It doesn’t always rhyme; sometimes, it even sucks. But, ah, when it works, when words or life pierce your soul, fill your heart or bring you gratitude, that’s everything and then some.
Forget rocking the cradle. It’s way beyond time that women rocked the system — and the Oval.
Play like a girl. Can it be that we’re finally serious about putting a woman in the Oval? Seriously, it’s been three hundred years, people. Don’t you think it’s about time we installed a woman in maison blanche? I admit I’ve been just a tiny bit outraged that, though women are the other half of the population, they still haven’t been able to sit behind the desk in the Oval. We still don’t have dibs on that resolute chair, but this year, VP is a really good start.
We pride ourselves on being an enlightened country, of having an advanced culture, yet other mainstream countries have boasted women leaders for decades. Where have ours been? Sure, we finally have women candidates but the welcome mat has repeatedly been left askew. The ERA amendment, a critical step towards equality, waits along with a host of other approved bills, to be passed. Yet, when it finally does, will it erase the mindset of ingrained patriarchy? I doubt it. Decades of bias and attacks on gender have never been felt by their male counterparts who’ve assumed leadership roles as their anointed right. Those who consistently vote for them apparently have never considered that the ‘hand that rocks the cradle’ would think more than twice before slamming it on the nuclear button.
We still think of a powerful man as a born leader and a powerful woman as an anomaly. Margaret Atwood
Helen of Troy. Indira Gandhi. Golda Meir. Margaret Thatcher. These iron maidens didn’t bring the warm and fuzzy. They brought their A-game, exactly what their countries needed in their time. They led their countries to war within a male hierarchy, conforming to values that allowed them to lead in the first place. Today’s Angela Merkel of Germany, New Zealand’s Jacinda Ardern, Finland’s Sanna Marin and the European Union’s Christine Lagarde know how it’s done because they, too, had to overcome gender bias. At times, they had to outmen the men – in heels.
I’d like our country to see for itself, in this critical moment in time, what we would look like with a woman in charge, even second in command. Seriously, do you think this country could do worse than the current appalling tidal wave of incompetence? Yet, blatant, ridiculous untruths and accusations are unleashed with abandon when a woman has the audacity to claim the same positions as men have taken for granted through the centuries. Minutes after this potential vice president was, the Facebook and Twitter universe were on fire with vile gender and racial attacks.
We are better than that – or should be.
More than 50 years ago, tiny Sri Lanka was the first to break the political gender barrier, India followed a few years later. As of November 2019, 15 women leaders serve their countries as president, prime minister or chancellor. Shocker, but those countries are thriving — and none of them are in the Americas. Today only 56 of 146 nations have a female head of government. The fact that we still have not reached that point, is in itself cause for a collective head scratching!
In business, there are still more leadership seats where the glass ceiling is neatly intact. Apparently, the idea of women as true equals seems as surreal as aliens landing in NYC. While it’s true we are hardly the only place in the world where patriarchy rules, we should be committed to putting equality, in all dimensions, on the menu. Even in my own little world, I saw lines drawn within the advertising agency my husband and I partnered jointly. I created and ran the business, was its creative arm, social media and promotion maven; my husband was the PR counsel. Yet, I had to constantly remind clients, who insisted on talking to ‘the owner, the boss’, that I was their person. Even in small business, it seems hard for people to accept that the person in charge isn’t a ‘he’.
Some leaders are born women. Geraldine Ferraro
If women did man the Oval (no pun in, perhaps infant mortality wouldn’t number among the highest in the civilized world. Maybe we’d think twice about 1% of the population having wallets equaling the worth of 3.6 billion people. A mom Potus might be more concerned about climate change that may very well end the world as we know it for our children. And as women, who represent 80% of consumers, a female leader might better address sustainability, food technologies and pharmaceuticals.
Every man on this planet was born of and nurtured by a woman. “Men can boast about occupying top slots in history’s long list of conquering maniacs, bloodthirsty tyrants, and genocidal thugs.” said Steven Pinker of Harvard University. “Women have been and will be a pacifying force. Traditional war is a man’s game.” Amen.
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”?
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.