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Toying with Change

You won’t always stick the landing. Change is hard. It’s also inescapable. Growth, however, is optional.

Courtesy of Wallpaper Flare

Sometimes we choose change; sometimes it chooses us. And at times, it just yanks us by the hair, and drops us, kicking and screaming, into another place, job or life. Change has paid me a galaxy of visits, mostly when I wasn’t looking or planning on it. It’s nudged me in unexpected new directions — and thrown me directly into the deep end. Often, change was only a small part of the total package.

Even animated characters know a little bit about change. For nearly 25 years, Toy Story movies have boasted an evolving, merry band of comic toy misfits who just might make you forget they aren’t real. Chock full of psychological metaphors, Toy Story proves watching animated characters getting life lessons is a blast, though you might not know it from the tissues in my hand. That’s right, my friends, I cry at Pixar movies. In fact, I have a feeling that many of the characters in their movies are created specifically to suck out every emotion. Just add soul to the already heart grabbing assortment of beloved, remembered playthings, and you have the whole enchilada. You also have a nifty vehicle that both teaches kids and reminds adults of identifiable life lessons.

We can all remember our first day of school, though some of have to reach back a bit farther than others for that memory.  When 5 year old Bonnie, Toy Story’s little owner of Woody, Buzz and the gang, faces her first day of kindergarten, she’s terrified. Hoping to make her scary first not her worst day ever, floppy cowboy Woody sneaks into Bonnie’s backpack, hoping he’ll make her feel less alone. When her arts and crafts were stolen, it could have been traumatizing — if Woody hadn’t fished a plastic spork out of the trash helping to create googly-eyed, new kindergarten bud, Forky. This funky little runner gains all the attributes of humanity, yet can never quite leave behind the cozy security of his trash beginnings.

Like most parents, Woody puts Bonnie’s well being ahead of his own rapidly changing life. While he desperately wants to be her ‘number one toy’ again, he can also see the crayon writing on the wall that he’ll soon be an afterthought in her world. Ironically, pipe cleaner and popcicle stick Forky totally gets how Woody feels. As literal trash, not feeling important has always been his gig!

“Well, you watch them grow up and become a full person. And then they leave. They go off and do things you’ll never see. Don’t get me wrong, you still feel good about it. But then somehow you find yourself, after all those years sitting in a closet feeling…” Woody
“Useless?” Forky Yeah.” Woody
“Your purpose fulfilled?” Forky
“Exactly.” Woody

Listen closely and you can totally identify with Woody’s sadness and anxiety, hearing echoes of our own struggles with change. To every empty-nest parent, whose children don’t seem to need need them anymore, it strikes a painful chord. To every aging worker, feeling obsolete, and left behind in a rapidly, evolving techie world, it’s wincingly real. Like Woody, when faced with heavy life changes, we’re filled with questions. What do we do now? How do we feel when our own purpose, our ‘thing’, is winding down or disappearing before our eyes? What happens when our little world, where we knew every space and corner, begins to shrink? Are we still relevant?

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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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What If . . .

. . . everyone on earth jumped at the same time?

. . . tomatoes didn’t exist (think pizza)

. . . Rome actually hadn’t fallen?

. . . our religion was each other?

. . . the 2016 election went another way (oops – rhetorical)?

. . . we could be anything or anyone we wanted to be?

What if’s are funny things. They can spark change or regret. They answer curiosity – with more questions. They can also allow us to let our imaginations run wild, which might be my favorite part.

But, aside from worrying about never being an Italian girl never having tried a tomato, ‘what if’ those words could jumpstart a change we hadn’t thought of. Whether we crave a change in thinking, ideas or behavior, asking ‘what if’ opens our mind to whatever it can conceive, and that can be a world of possibility. The answer to ‘what if’ is also a powerful declaration of intention that can empower us and ignite our imagination. The right question is a diving board we jump off into options and opportunity.

“What if I fail? Oh, but my darling, what if you fly?”  Erin Hanson

On the other hand, ‘what if’ can also be a nifty way of keeping us stuck. Negative questions keep us stuck in the past, produce endless why’s and paralyzing regret. ‘What if I hadn’t changed jobs when I did?’ ‘What if I hadn’t gone on that first date?’ For months after my husband died suddenly, I tortured myself with questions like ‘What if I hadn’t left the house for that hour?’ ‘What if they hadn’t done that last procedure?’ ‘What if we made wrong decisions on treatments?’  No matter how I framed them, none of the answers would have changed what was ultimately not in our destiny. When we are pain, we look for anything to make it better but nothing there’s no answer will change the past and even if we could, that is not the best place to hang out.

Nobody’s got time for dat. Continue reading “What If . . .”