Accepting more than Expecting

champagne-and-chocolates1On Valentine’s Days past I have written about loving oneself, one’s friends, one’s family, one’s pets. I have written – convincingly, if I do say so myself – about how love is all around. That we don’t need flowers, hearts, champagne, and chocolates from a spouse/boyfriend/girlfriend/partner to make us happy. I wrote these things so well that I believed them year-round – for a decade or more.

Until this year.

For some reason this year, I expected well wishes to come pouring in. I thought I’d have some flowers. A champagne toast. At least an overpriced Hallmark greeting. Nope. Didn’t happen.

Perhaps it was the 50th birthday induced hangover? Lots of well wishes there, so the same would surely continue? Well, that’s not what happened. Dad and Mom sent a chocolate treat. Nothing from the sons. Nothing – not even a text – from a couple of friends who I thought would send a greeting at the very least. And, for the first time in recent memory there was a person from whom I really hoped for a greeting. Nothing doing.

I fell into a funk. A pretty deep funk. My disappointment was aided by the fact that I have had a terrible cold that has morphed into what seems to be the flu. My discouragement was enlarged by the fact that being sick has prevented me from going to the gym, so endorphins are nowhere to be found. This whole bummer of a holiday was compounded by the fact that youngest son decided to be a full-on teenager today.

So, what happened? Why, after a decade of preaching the virtues of treating myself and loving my friends, have I found myself in tearful disappointment at the end of the day on Valentine’s Day?

I had a friend in college who spent every Valentine’s Day – classes or not; frat party or no – in bed all day in her sweats, crying. I don’t clearly remember why. A broken heart, a returned ring, and general abandonment all played roles in her yearly depression. I don’t know what she thought was going to happen. Did she have a Gatsbyesque hope that the past would repeat itself and all would be set right? Was she waiting for a fairy godmother to wave a wand and cure whatever ailed her mid-February heart? what-screws-us-up-most-in-life-is-the-picture-in-our-head-of-how-its-supposed-to-be

It was all – for her back then, as it was for me today – a matter of expectations. And, if you are finding yourself in a Netflix and no champagne Valentine’s evening, perhaps it is the same for you. Did you expect something that didn’t happen? Was someone supposed to treat you and failed?  If we expect things that we can’t make happen or if we are unable communicate those needs to someone else who wants to make things happen, we set ourselves up for disappointment.

America has a thing with holidays – especially those that mean consumer indulgence. America has a way of making sure that we all know that someone else is having a better, bigger, happier holiday than we are. Most of us tow that line, buy into the commercials and the competition. I feel like that’s what I did this year.

For whatever off-kilter reasons, I expected things from the world on this February 14; I made up scenarios rather than living life. I constructed a way it was supposed to be, and that was my recipe for disaster. Now, as soon as I get over this cold, I will get to the gym, adjust my outlook, and go – as my mom used to say – onward and upward.

Until then, remember that I have been right in the past:  Love yourself. Love your friends, family, pets, and neighbors. Tell them you care. Show them you are there for them. Make every day one filled with more accepting and less expecting.

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More than a Blue Moon

More than a decade ago, my sister called me before she left for a professional conference. I wasn’t home. She left a message. I heard the message, and I decided I’d just talk to her when she got back from the conference.

Yesterday was my birthday. Along with all the Facebook-prompted well wishes, I was the glad recipient of other birthday greetings throughout the day. Friends sent texts. One friend sent flowers. Another sent balloons. Yet another took me out to lunch. I received chocolates. Youngest son tagged along tolerantly while I wandered through my favorite book store. There were a few presents, some cake, a flute too many of champagne. It felt good to realize that people were thinking of me; that others cared; that some went out of their way and incurred expense on my behalf. I felt special.

blue-moon-treeThen, as I am wont to do, I got to thinking. And then overthinking: why don’t we do such things for others that we care about on a regular basis? Why should well wishes, Facebook-prompted or not, be limited to a birthday? Don’t we want our friends and loved ones to know what they mean to us? To feel special?

I know: life moves fast. The news bombards us. Traffic stalls. Budgets are tight. People get sick. Dogs have to be walked. There’s laundry to do. And supper to plan. Cats throw up.  Oh, and work. The kids need transporting. I own a vacuum cleaner for a reason. I need to make summer plans at the beginning of February. And, youngest son has a vocal concert. Then . . . then . . . then . . . sometimes I have so much to do that I do nothing. Still and all, it’s easy to be distracted by the tyranny of the urgent.

But maybe you’re different.

You likely think of others more readily than I. Maybe you make the unexpected phone call because you want to hear a smile. You send greeting cards on time for anniversaries and birthdays.  Are you the person who picks up a scone for a colleague who you know is struggling?  You might even be one of those grand romantic gesture people, standing outside with a portable stereo over your head a la John Cusack. Perhaps you simply answer the phone instead of checking to see who is calling and groaning and hitting the “decline” button.

We all want to feel remembered, answered, cared for: it’s natural. I wonder if I can do a better job of this: caring for others in the way they need. I wonder if I can listen to people’s hearts better. Might I help someone feel special? Maybe I can take a breath and really hear what someone is trying to say to me.  Can I return calls promptly instead of spending time crafting an apology about why I didn’t call back?

Maybe I can.

Maybe I won’t miss anyone else’s last call.

 

 

Obligatory 50 List

Hello Everyone. I’m Laura. I will be fifty in a week.

I know nothing for sure.

This is a list of things that I’m pretty sure about as I turn a half a century old.

  1. Diversity is good.
  2. If shoes are uncomfortable in the store, they will be uncomfortable at home.
  3. Some people are worth the extra effort. Some are not.
  4. Go for a walk.
  5. Don’t forget the music – there’s always time for music.
  6. Computers are great. Manual typewriters are also excellent.
  7. Don’t buy clothes with the idea you will diet into them. Bodies change.
  8. The movies are never as good as the books.
  9. The beach. Enough said.
  10. Go to a museum even if you think you’ll hate it. You probably won’t.
  11. Learning a language is a good idea.
  12. The banjo is a grossly underrated instrument.
  13. Exercise is a good idea.
  14. Wine is a nice way to end a long day.
  15. Find books you love and buy them in hardcover.
  16. When in doubt – make a bowl of spaghetti and listen to music.
  17. Find the person who makes you smile when he kisses you. Kiss him. Often.
  18. Complaining doesn’t help.
  19. Loyalty may not be valued by everyone.
  20. Surprises can be wonderful. Stay open to them.
  21. It doesn’t matter what Oprah says to read; choose your own books. Just read.
  22. We have to take care of each other.
  23. Dogs should be trained; I’m not super at this.
  24. Go to happy hour.
  25. Open the windows as often as possible.
  26. Being part of a good couple is better than being alone.
  27. Being alone is better than being part of a bad couple.
  28. Call back. That person might not be there tomorrow.
  29. Drag shows do not start on time.
  30. Keep an on-going list of gifts to get people; when an occasion arises – you’re all set.
  31. Do not buy ill-fitting bras.
  32. The mountains are calling to you. Go there.
  33. It’s important to value yourself.
  34. Plan but stay flexible. Stay flexible but plan.
  35. Listen to people’s hearts.
  36. There is tragedy in the world. Do not get used to it.
  37. Nobody knows what happens when we die. Not for sure.
  38. Treating those you love is not a mistake.
  39. Playing cards with children is an exercise in patience.
  40. Expectations create divides that can be hard to bridge.
  41. Go out to eat. Somewhere good. Don’t go to bad restaurants.
  42. Get up early and stay up late to see the meteor showers.
  43. Beauty can be found everywhere if we look hard enough.
  44. High school show choir is fantastic.
  45. Children are valuable.
  46. Birthdays are a privilege. We will always want one more.
  47. Most days are tuna fish and corn chips – and, that’s okay.
  48. It is okay to feel sad.
  49. Doing something artistic opens up your soul to the universe.
  50. You know – you just never know.

Peace.

Choices.

There is a dark at the end of the tunnel of this week for many of us. The looming transition of power worries or horrifies 4245115019_68ff9e4355many people in our country. I have read real news; I have seen the memes; I have watched some speeches. I’m among the scared and horrified. There is a scarcity of joy in much of this country; even for much of the world as January 20 approaches.

There isn’t anything I can do to stop January 20 from coming, but I can do things in real life. I can engage in purposeful activities to manifest joy for others and for myself. I can make a difference for my community; I can be a source of comfort for friends and neighbors. I can make choices.

I am part of groups: a writing group and an activism group. Both address equality, creativity, social justice, understanding, and the power of voice. By conversing with and learning from others, I can check my perspective, broaden my horizon, engage with others in social justice. I can also support others in their creative lives.

I have signed up to get training (not sure a 20 year teaching vet needs it, but…it’s required, so okay) to teach English and assist with cultural information for refugee populations in my community. I have lived abroad, and it’s not easy when you choose do this, much less when you flee for your life to a country where some neighbors may not want you to be there. I choose to help marginalized families.

Poverty is everywhere, and I can’t solve that problem; but years ago my sister and I gave my parents a Kiva loan as a present, and I continue to reinvest it in women’s businesses.  Our measly contribution has been reloaned in five different countries to support five different businesses, including a bar and a sewing shop. I have a friend who sponsors and visits two children in other countries. Choices to support others in our world.

From an early age, I learned that love is love. It doesn’t matter who you love. People are damn lucky to find someone to love who loves them back –  gender, shape, color, geography, culture – none of that matters. I celebrate your love with you, and I will fight for your love with you.

bbd9a73ca9d14cf9647799c6d308a325At any given moment, I can make a choice to make someone’s life better. I can make a choice to speak out. I can make a choice to support others. I can make a choice to love.

Can I let someone with two items go in front of me at the grocery store and then pay for my 23 things? Yes. Would I make a road trip snack pack for a friend who is traveling to take care of an ill parent? Sure. Will I support my friends’ successes and happinesses without envy? Yep. Might I sit in the hospital room while you doze and recover from surgery? Absolutely. Should we hold hands and talk earnestly about what matters to us? Always. Little things perhaps, in light of the world’s precarious situation, but every bit of good helps.

As David Foster Wallace suggested, the day-in and day-out of adult life is filled with frustrating crap  – regardless of and sometimes because of who is in Washington – but, we can choose what we do.

What are you going to do?

Choose.

 

 

 

 

The Five Decade List: Update #1

Well, it is the third day of 2017, and I have completed two items from my list. I’ve also started two others (but, I’ll talk about those another time.)

One of my list items was to attend a University of Iowa men’s basketball game. Done. January first, I was excited to attend e2d4d12010eea61d26fca938dc7b30abthe Hawkeyes-Wolverine basketball game with my new dear friend who graduated from Michigan. So, we couldn’t lose. Someone would win.

The people who won were us: great seats;  fantastic company; a close game throughout; and, an overtime victory for my Hawkeyes.

Then, on the second of January, youngest son and I went bowling. I bowled 299 – in three games. Youngest son bowled somewhat less than that. We had snacks and drinks, and enjoyed hanging out together.

So, who cares? Why write about this?

The reflection is this: it doesn’t matter who wins. It’s all about the people you do things with and the memories that you make.

Sure, it was great that Iowa won. But, I applauded when Michigan made a good play. And, new dear friend gamely joined in being the “O” in the I-O-W-A chant that the pep squad led. We were enjoying the time, each other, and the experience. No need to be a rabid fan; no need for trash talk.

On the other hand, trash talk is totally appropriate when one bowls with a 15 year-old male. He deserves it, and he dishes it right back, and it’s all in good fun. Youngest son is incapable of bowling without root beer and french fries, and that’s fine with me. When he thinks back to his middle school days, I want him to think of these times fondly.

Building memories: we all do it. And, this year, I’m striving to do it more purposefully and more joyfully with friends and family.

 

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The Five Decade List

2017 is here. That means I will turn fifty this year. I was not, as youngest son suggested, born in 1953. Still, where has the 50th-birthday-cake8time gone? What have I been doing all these years?

Oh, playing with dolls; learning to drive; being with friends; getting married; getting unmarried; sleeping; working; listening to music; changing diapers; making supper; taking showers; exercising; mourning loss; working some more; listening to people; avoiding responsibility; scooping the cat box; admitting defeat; walking the dog; embracing love; wondering about the future.

As I look at this looming milestone, I am alternately proud of myself and embarrassed. I think of the different iterations I have effected in my life, and I think, “Wow, I’m pretty resilient and great. ” Other days I look back, and think, “What the fuck was I thinking?” Some days I feel like I’m 92 and other days, I am certain I can’t be older than 10. It’s life.

A few years ago, I was feeling very old. Very sad. Washed up. Dark. I even began wondering how soon is too soon to move into an old folks’ home. Many people bemoan milestone birthdays and seek to hide from well wishes and the inevitable comments about how much older or younger they are than their interlocutor. Some people even hide from cake!

Not me. I’m taking a different approach.

I am currently brainstorming 50 things to do this year. These activities range in scope, and may or may not include other people. A few samples: go on a Habitat for Humanity build; see a musical; go parasailing; visit my aunt and uncle; be open to a relationship; read a book a month; write fifty new poems.

A friend messaged me this morning, sharing her intention for the new year. She has chosen a word to define her intentions in multiple areas of her life. I like it.

My approach is to intentionally experience at least fifty different, familiar and unfamiliar facets of life through my list, and to reflect meaningfully on them through the year. I want to grow, learn, and become.

Oh, and I want cake.

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At A Loss

Twelve years ago, December 2,  my middle sister died the day before her 35th birthday. From injuries sustained in a single car wreck outside of Atlanta.

amy-johnson1That’s the nice way to put it. That’s what people want to hear. And, generally, they don’t want to hear details or see tears. Their I’m-so-sorrys are meant well but salve nothing. But 144 months after the fact, I have some perspective. Of course, that doesn’t make things easier; I can still occasionally hear a news story or think a funny thought and want to share it with her – and, then, catch myself with a “Well, damn.”

Still, middle sister would be proud to know that her niece and nephews (two of whom she never met) occasionally call me by her name. And that my sons remember the international fiend fests they had with her – including her cursing of the tofu when it popped in the wok and burned her. And that youngest sister and I send each other Young Ones quotes or Seinfeld references at will.

The past two weeks, though, have been more than hard on some of my friends. Daughters, sisters, wives died. Specifically, three people whom I knew or knew tangentially lost their lives in separate events. Their relatives cannot laugh yet; they are sitting in the fire of grief. Those flames bite at you: when you wake up in the morning and the thought you have is, “something isn’t quite right” and then you remember and the tears come. Those flames scorch when you feel anger at someone who is alive while your person has died. Those flames burn and burn when you can’t stop yourself from thinking, “but, what if…”

I have no advice on how to get through grief. There is no magic spell; no easy way; it’s a road with sharp turns, glass and tacks strewn everywhere, and lots and lots of fog. And even if it never really ends, the fog eventually lifts.

joan-didion-quotes-14436I have advice, though, for those of us who surround those who are sitting in that fire. Don’t try to put it out. The searing pain of grief must be experienced by those whose loved one has died. Sit with them. Avoid platitudes and preaching. Hold their hand. Make sure they eat – or at least drink some tea. Admit you don’t know why. Don’t be embarrassed by tears – those tears will eventually calm the flames. Cry with them.

You know, there’s no magic spell here, either, except to be there. Share happy memories. Agree a lot. Listen. Make more tea.

The holidays can be hard enough without death; add that in, and man, the holidays can take a dark, dark turn. Make space for yourself whether you’re dealing with death or standing in the gap for someone whose loved one has died. Things may not get better, but we do not stay mired. We cannot stay mired. Hope might not spring eternal, but it does spring. And, even life-altering sadness evolves.

Peace.

(For KR, GV, PH and all those who love them.)