Copy that.

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?

Continue reading “Toying with Change”
Grief is Grief, View from the Shoe

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.

Photo by rawpixel

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.

Continue reading “Out of Touch . . . Totally.”
Politics and other awkward stuff

The Year That Was

Confetti and noisemakers are so yesterday. But maybe that’s just me.; party animal was never in my DNA. Luckily, my husband was also more into cozy over carnival New Year festivities. Except for an early Chinese nosh, our couch, movies and snacks were our go-to gala though I admit funky party hats were occasionally worn on said couch. Some might think we were either too lazy or minus the imagination to celebrate the night with abandon. But, the cancer elephant in our room was more than enough excitement in our lives. It made more mucho sense to do happy over hoopla.

I suspect I’m plain not wired to do the full New Year’s monty. Having a low-key mindset is not such a bad thing, however. In fact, it came in handy in widowhood. Being able to ‘adapt’ to revelry without my handsome dude in the blue glitter top hat, was an asset. Come to think of it, my kids and married granddaughter must have also inherited some of the New Year homebody genes — so mea culpa in advance for that, guys.

What the new year brings to you depends a great deal on what you bring to it.” Vern McClellan

In the end, the New Year’s Eve ball will never need my help to make its descent into the next year. No liquor store will miss the sale of my one glass of wine and while my comfy jammies don’t fit the red carpet dress code, they are their own microfleece party. My snacks are obscenely healthy. And my out-of-control revelry consists of journaling, movie bingeing and phone gabbing with friends. It works.

When you give yourself space to think about the year that went bye-bye, all kinds of observations pass through your mind. Me? I think about the wide eyed, sweet little New Year’s baby who, by the end of each year, morphs into the weathered, tired Father Time. As each year closes, that long bearded dude passes the torch back to the diapered newbie who takes tentative steps into the next 365. Are we as innocently optimistic about a brand new year as that little tyke? Maybe not but I suspect none of us are ready to be a cynical Father Time either.

 “An optimist stays up until midnight to see a new year in; a pessimist stays up to make sure the old one leaves’”.  Bill Vaughn

Politics can tick us off big time. This past year, walls and homegrown gun deaths went up; morale and trust went down. The rich got mega richer while the poor still poorer. That daily crazy alone can make us doubt we’ll ever be spinning on an even axis again. But, things have a way of turning around. Finances, ditto. Illness? Grief? Those are the toughest of all. When either touch us with the heaviness of a well thrown brick, it’s hard to see any good in the year that passed. I get it. Boy, do I get it. It’s hard to be Pollyanna discovering a silver lining to anything that rips our heart out. Sometimes the digging is hard to find the beautiful moments, the ones that touch that same heart that is also broken.

Continue reading “The Year That Was”
View from the Shoe

Running from the Reaper

“We all gotta die sometime” Falsettos

Well, that’s a cheery thought. It might sound rudely uncomfortable, but mortality gets pretty real as we cross middle age. Somewhere along our birthday lines, we begin looking behind us and see the years are gaining. We look at the whole mortality thing as being on the clock, with a need to accomplish as much as we can before we punch out. If you want to carve another Trevi Fountain or invent the newest techno thingie, you better get started.

“Life asked Death, ‘Why do people love me but hate you?’ Death responded, ‘Because you are a beautiful lie and I am the painful truth.'”  Author unknown

America doesn’t handle death well. Sure, we visit graves, offer condolences and spend obscene amounts on funerals but death itself? Not so much. The word itself is a conversation non-starter, yet death is as real as birth, marriage, and life itself. Who really wants to open Pandora’s box? Who wants to get down and dirty about death, terminal illness or loss of someone you love? Yet, we can actually worry ourselves – to death over it. Constant anxiety and fear around death can itself be an inexorable jumpstart toward what we dread most.

Death. The word is anything but MEH. In fact, it’s pretty damn personal. A pub in Ireland decided to make that ‘taboo’ word a conversation starter.  While it may not exactly be ‘Cheers’, Death Cafe in Dublin is a place where no one gets drunk and everyone talks — about death. The conversations are pretty sobering but oddly they aren’t Noir either. Young and old, women and men, all get real about addressing the Grim Reaper, with the help of a cuppa, a pint and even some laughs.

Death is not the opposite of life but part of it. Haruki Murakami

When we think of our own demise, our questions are all pretty much the same. Will our kids and grandchildren be happy? Will our spouses be okay after we pass? Will I be remembered? No matter our thoughts, one thing is clear. Life is a one-way highway. There’s no reverse, no do-overs. That’s part of the the contract we made when we burst, screaming our lungs out, into this world. Unlike Benjamin Button, we don’t live backwards and no amount of anti-aging products or exercise will change that. We are just not designed to be immortal.

I’ve always been afraid of the unknown, and what’s bigger and more unknown than death? Besides, I love being in this world. In fact, I have no plans to leave – at least for awhile. But, as another birthday approaches, it’s clear there’s more road behind than in front. As we age, mortality becomes a verb. Still, I can’t picture my little world without me in it even as I know well, from losing people close to me, that the world does indeed continue to spin without us.

Do not go gentle into that good night. Rage, rage against the dying of the light. Dylan Thomas

My experience with death has run the gamut from my way-too-young-to-die 19 year old brother to my 94 year old father — with my younger-than-I-am-now husband in between. Still, I have no freakin’ answers about the grim reaper’s motives or how to prepare for his arrival. In fact, I wonder if fear of that arrival gives death even more power?

There’s also the little matter of control. I’ve never been drunk in my life. No, I’m not a weirdo or a paragon of virtue, just a neurotic control freak. Funny then, how the sudden losses and sharp detours in my life really made control a laughable idea. Still, humans are programmed to want control. Why else would we strive to be healthy, sleep 8 hours, and drive carefully? Ultimately, however, death just thumbs its nose and does its thing.

I’m not afraid of death. I just don’t want to be there when it happens. Woody Allen

It’s a given that none of us are getting out of this life alive. Duh. We each have an invisible expiration date stamped on our behinds when we are implanted in the womb. Luckily, that date is a mystery even in terminal illness. And seriously, would we really want to know if we could?

In the end (no pun intended) one thing is clear. Mortality gets closer every day. We get stiffer,  forget more and remember less. We live longer today but not always better. We touch up graying hair, Botox till we don’t recognize ourselves yet we can’t escape the inevitable. On the other hand, if we acknowledge the elephant in the room, days seem more important the less there are of them. Our priorities shift and we have more time to look at the world around us and at those we love. We express our hearts more honestly and openly. Life becomes simpler, more generous and thoughtful and if we’re lucky, we become more adaptable and content with our changed lives.

No matter how we look at it, no matter how long it takes — winter is coming.

Are you living your best life — NOW?

View from the Shoe

Letter to a Younger Me

Time traveling was never in my wheelhouse. Like it or not, we can never go can go back in time. Our life playbook has only one gear – forward. So since I’m already pretty far forward in mine/our life, kiddo. I thought 18 is a pretty good age to catch you up on a few things. I had to cross a lot of time zones to see the number you are now, but I thought it was time for a chat. Taking the long view (and it’s gets longer every day) there will never be a better time to let you know that no matter what – it’s all gonna be okay.

It won’t always be easy and you’re going to make a hell of a lot of mistakes. You’ll be pushed sometimes beyond your breaking point but you won’t break, I promise you. You won’t always be strong; but you’ll rock it when you need to. In moments you feel the most insecure, the most vulnerable, the most scared, those moments will also most shape you. When you think you’ve reached a dead end, a new path will open. When you feel most like a failure, you’re the closest to finding your center. Sometimes you’ll wonder if you’ll ever recover. You will.

Spoiler alert. The jury is still out on happily ever after but judging all that’s happened, the chances are iffy.  Your heart is going to be broken more than a few times. Trust me that you’ll feel a wee bit resentful that you skipped art school to put a husband through college. That choice will never feel dumber than after said husband exited stage left and you become a typing, filing single mom of three instead of the artist you thought you’d be. But kids grew up, jobs came and went and doors opened to new possibilities. You’ll discover gifts you didn’t know you had. Okay, your art will be less Michelangelo and more commercial illustration and graphic design, but, hey, you’ll be doing it. Your creative self will evolve as you do. And every time you get sucked into the stigma of missed college, a shelf full of creative awards will remind you that, while you did it backwards, you did it. Continue reading “Letter to a Younger Me”

Chick stuff

Seize the (Birth)Day

0-mCUEodc9AMkbMyenI’m not old, at least, that’s what I tell myself. The number on my driver’s license would have a snarky response, as well as the fact that I can’t clean both floors of the house in one morning flat anymore, would say different. And with another age showing up uninvited this weekend, I’d better make up the guest room because it’ll take up residence.

“Just remember, once you’re over the hill you begin to pick up speed.”  Charles Schulz foretold. In fact, some years those age numbers seem to actually burn rubber! Reminiscing with one of my Cub Scout grand boys, I told the tale of another scout and his Pinewood Derby adventure. Smart aleck mom that I was those years ago, I stuffed a fishing weight into the belly of my son’s little wooden hot rod before he sanded the heck out of the wood putty that covered it. Since there were no strict rules at the time, we were pretty free to think out of the box and did. Mixing creativity with built-in speed, he won the Derby handily that year. Made sense but doesn’t explain the acceleration that now propels birthdays so swiftly around the track. I’d say it was the junk in my trunk but oddly, the J-Lo butt has sailed and age-related gravity lightened that load. The only ballast left is the iPhone in my back pocket.

Gone are the Dixie cup ice cream and pin-the-tail games of kidlet birthday fetes. With life flashing before your eyes at an amazing rate, I’m darn lucky just to grab a brownie before the supply runs out. Watching my life replay at warp speed, gulp, it’s equal parts thriller, romantic comedy, chick flick, and tear jerker. I suspect it’s a lot like yours, give or take some emotional special effects. Whether or not I love everything that flashes on that big screen in my head, it all happened and it all made me who I am today, whoever that may be. But no matter how anyone would rate my life’s movie reel, it is entertaining, though not always in a good way.

Some day, we will all die, Snoopy,” said Charlie Brown.
Snoopy answered, “True. But on all the other days, we will not.”

I’d like to say ‘I’m not getting older; I’m getting better’ but I’d have to ask — at what? If the answer is perception, sensitivity, awareness, I’ll take it. After all, if the best years of a woman’s life are the 10 years between 39 and 40, I’m way past my expiration date anyway. I need to hold on to all the good stuff about this age and the numbers to come. Continue reading “Seize the (Birth)Day”