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.)

 

 

 

A Hard One…

We have all had them.

Holidays where loved ones shunned us. Times when dear friends died. Just those shitty times that we thought were going to be wonderful, but somehow turned out quite differently.

Well, yeah. Nothing horrible happened this year. I mean, 12 years ago, my middle sister had a fatal car wreck outside Atlanta, so this year was pretty tame.

Still and all – perspective and all that aside: middle son went “back home” this Thanksgiving. Let me clarify: two months after he graduated, our family moved 1500 miles away from where he grew up and graduated high school. Since then, he has come home to what – for all intents and purposes – is not home. This Thanksgiving, his dearest friend had her debutante ball, and he was invited. Her family, who has always loved my son, invited his attendance at this important family occasion. How could I object?

He got to see his middle and high school friends. Be a part of his dearest friend’s family. See his old teachers and mentors. I’m not mad.

My eldest son and his girlfriend had a baby earlier this month. I have a granddaughter. This Thanksgiving they wanted to do a “new family” thing. I get that. I have been there. Establish your own turf – what and how you want to mark the holidays and the passing of time. How can I object?

Youngest son is still at home. So, I guess he’s stuck. We had a fantastic meal that we prepared together. We watched movies. We talked. We made Christmas plans. Nothing to object to.

The funny thing is: I have always been the person who wanted some version of Clark Griswold’s holidays. I want a house crammed with people and pets and food and drink. I have never had that. Two marriages. Three kids. One grandchild. What I have always thought I wanted has never happened. But…

… it was a Thanksgiving with one person (a great person, don’t get me wrong!), and was a hard one. Well, it was hard for a minute. Then, it was pretty great once I remembered to embrace what is.

1We all get it – right? No one owes us anything. And, often the whole grass-is-greener scenario is all too real. But, think about this: if this first holiday of the season wasn’t exactly what you wanted: it’s ok. If it was a hard one: it’s ok. Things didn’t turn out how you wanted? It will be ok.

This holiday season, I resolve to embrace what is. Enjoy every person who is there. Enjoy every minute of every candle, carol, and cookie.

My hope for everyone who reads this is that during this holiday season – regardless of your religious and cultural ties  – you are able to take time and have love for all of those in your life.

Let go of preconceived notions and unrealistic demands. Just be. Let the happiness of the season –  the happiness of being alive – envelop you in its graciousness.

Peace.

 

Shhhh

images-4It was quiet. Otherworldly quiet this afternoon when son #3 (the only one at home) and I took a walk. I posited that the normal car noise pollution was cut enough to let us actually hear ourselves think as we wandered the neighborhood, dog on leash, food in bellies, and crisp air on our noses.

Some holidays create this preternatural silence: Christmas Eve, Easter morning, and Thanksgiving afternoon. Neighborhoods usually bustling with yard games, parents shuttling kids to sports, teens heading off to work or out with friends slow down. These activties are muffled in the weight of certain holidays.

It was nice, this silence. We chatted in breathy tones, as if to talk out loud would upset the natural order. We listened to our footsteps. Son even scolded the couple of cars that had the temerity to speed past. We needed silence. Quietude.

Every day these past few months have brought screaming news stories of partisan outrage, social horror, and politics as anything but usual. Don’t get me wrong – the outrage is warranted; the horror is real; and I don’t even know where politics begin and reality TV begins anymore. But, we have had a dearth of quiet – and we need that quiet.

We need to find space and time to calm our own minds and souls. We can’t fight every moment. We can’t read comments every waking minute. It’s a horrible cycle to get stuck in. Read – discuss – rage – comment – fret – fume – read more. And then someone fabulous seems to die.

Don’t get me wrong – there’s plenty wrong with the world and how things are going. And, if we are to live in this world, I think we have an obligation to be informed about it and make a difference where and when we can. However, I also know that we can’t stay stuck in fight-or-flight mode continually. A counselor once told me is that staying stuck in that fight-or-flight mindset has devastating physical and psychological effects on people. We have to find times and spaces to disengage from whatever is creating that conundrum.

We need silence. Unplug. Stay inside. Turn off. Go outside. Listen to nothing. Hear the beating of your heart. 56280158f47827df62b1c7033ec49d46Lay on the couch. Feel the whoosh of blood in your veins. Sit on the porch. Stretch the creaks in your joints. Feel. Breathe. Just be.

It’s likely been an eventful year for you. Possibly a rough year. Maybe a devastating year.

Don’t forget that silence is always available; we need only to welcome it.

 

 

I’m Afraid. Not.

Scene 1:

“You don’t want to move out west. There’s going to be a giant earthquake, and the elderly will be the first to die.”

What? That was the sum up of a friend’s assessment of my plan to get a PhD to eventually teach writing or direct a fountain-pen-on-papercommunity writing program in Oregon or Washington.

In two sentences he told me that I should be afraid, my dreams were foolish, and that I was old. My response was, “Well, I can’t live like that. We had an earthquake in Georgia a few years ago. There are accidents every day. I didn’t stop driving simply because my sister had a car wreck. Life goes on.”

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Scene 2:

Earlier this summer, there was a tragic attack in an Israeli market. Middle son was in Israel at the time; he had been in that market earlier the same day of the shooting. I had friends texting me frantically, asking if my son was okay. I had friends telling me I should insist he come home immediately.

That’s not a thing. I lived in the USSR in 1990-1991. Demonstrations, food lines, a metro stabbing were just a few of the things I was privy to. No. I texted my son. He was fine. I was fine. I wasn’t upset at all.

Sure, there are countries where danger is higher; wisdom is checking the warnings, being a smart traveler, and knowing how to be a citizen of the world. Middle son is fine and continued his travels to Rwanda and is presently in Uganda. Am I worried? Nope. He is living.

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Scene 3:

Back in May, youngest son texted me from school: “We are having a fire drill.”

Me: “Ok.”

Son: “I guess it was a bomb threat. We are at the park.”

Me: “Are teachers with you?’

Son: “Yes.”

Me: “Are you ok?”

Son: “Yes.”

Me: “Okay, see you after school.”

Youngest son was indignant; he felt I should have been worried. Outraged. Scared. I wasn’t. Maybe it was the 20+ years of teaching; maybe it was that I went to my classroom the day after Columbine and talked to kids about it; maybe (as he thought) I was too damn nonchalant. He has to learn how to navigate and live.

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2928da50e17ef551652939ba0f0f90dcYou see, I don’t believe that living in fear is any way to live. I don’t want my sons to think that traveling the world is a ticket to death. I don’t want live safely, thinking that I can’t move somewhere because there might be a geological event some time in the distant future. I don’t want to have dusty lists of regrets and shouldofs as company; I want friends, family, bright colors, open windows, and revolving doors.

Years ago I was conflicted about taking a high pressure job or staying in the classroom. My sister said to me, “Don’t be one of those wimpy people who never try.” (I took the job.) To me, staying home because something bad might happen is a guarantee of depression and hopelessness.

I want my days to be varied. I want my sons to see the world and try to new stuff. Risk is inherent in life. But, so many people act and live out of fear, that I, well, I fear for them. I know that many people are happily ensconced in their communities, friends, and jobs. That is their adventure; I am as supportive of them as I am of the traveler who wants to collect passport stamps. The only problem arises when living becomes so narrow because we are scared. And that – as my dad says – is no way to live.

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On Going to Pride: Outsiders and Disrupters

Let me introduce myself.

I’m a divorced woman.

I’m a poet and writer.

I’m a dog owner.

I’m a mother.

I’m a book reader.

I’m a sister.

I’m a broccoli-disliker and a nacho-lover.

I’m a music listener.

I’m a college graduate.

I’m a cat owner.

I’m an aunt.

I’m an educator.

I’m a traveler.

I’m a daughter.

I’m a TV watcher.

I’m a car driver.

I’m an exercise avoider, but I try to do it anyway.

I’m a grandma-to-be.

I’m straight.

I’m going to Pride today.

To the LGBTQ+ community: I am attending your event because I support everyone on their path – in love, life, career, safety, and community. Pride is not about me nor is it for me per se. I get that. To be really honest, I probably would not come out today on my own. My middle school son is gay, and he wants to come. So, I’m there to support him. I have college-age son who is gay, and so I’m there because I want him to be safe everywhere: on campus, in a club, walking down a street.

I read a couple of articles this week that suggested that because I’m straight, I do not understand what it is to be gay. Right. That’s true. As is the reverse. Being whoever you are is unique to you; we are lucky or blessed to find communities in which we can be ourselves and feel safe in doing so. And, for LGBTQ+ persons, that experience is rare, especially inside a society that finds it easier to look on those who are “other” as some kind of zoo exhibit. I am there (and I’m sure there are others) as a straight person who cares about the kind of world we have now and for the future.

To the would-be protesters and disrupters: Stay the fuck home. I would be willing to bet that the last community event that was held for a group you are a part of, no one protested or disrupted. When was the last time a group of anyone bounced into your gathering with mean-spirited signs, rude gestures, and yelling? I’d be willing to bet it was never. My mother and grandmother used to say, “If you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all.”  And, yeah, I get the tiredness of that cliché, but that doesn’t make it any less.

You are protesting who someone is. Think about that for a minute. No, really. Pause and think about it. You have actively sought out people in order to protest who they are. Your intent is what? To intimidate them into being who they are not? To drive them underground? To assuage some sort of undefined fear you have? How about I seek you out and protest that fact that you are heterosexual? Shall I throw epithets at you because you have brown hair? How’d you like threatening signage to greet you in your community because your family is third generation from Norway? Think about it. Stay home.

To everyone: if you have read this post, you realize that I am not digging into the myriad of serious issues around Pride and the LGBTQ+ community. I do not have authenticity of voice to do that. Sure, I could spend some sentences whining about how I’m an ally and now I read that the LGBTQ+ community objects to my being at Pride or wants to devalue me in some way or even downright doesn’t want me at Pride.  Wait, so if I feel marginalized and not included for who I am and how I’m living . . . whoa, did I just have a second of actually walking in someone else’s shoes?

Look back at my introductory list, you will find that whoever you are, you probably have more in common with me than you think.

Regardless of sexual identity, we all have things in common. And, if we can start with the things we all love and care about, I want to hope that the differences will fall away like so much dross at the end of the day.

Let’s try at least. Love.

Happy Pride to everyone.

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Gone to the Dogs

I did it again. I briefly ventured into the morass that is online dating. Interestingly, I saw many of the same faces, narrated by the same demands as I saw last year.

I read a good number of alarming sentences. “I spend a lot of time thinking about: the the-online-dating-ecosystem_50290b8d29fb4_w1500supper girl of my dreams.” No thanks, Hannibal.  There’s the vacuous: “I’m really good at: being with like-minded people.” No shit, Sherlock. How about Mr. Run-on: “Hi,my name is T, I’m divorced and am looking for a woman that will complete me,I enjoy the outdoors, fishing,I have a kawasaki 4×4 side by side to play in.” Paging Warriner’s First Edition. How about boring sexual innuendo man: “I’m really good at: wouldn’t u like to know?” No, no I would not.

Then, there’s the guy who messaged me who said he’s dominant, married, and just wants to chat with someone. When I told him to go chat with his wife he took umbrage to that. Still, he messaged me two more times; he was just begging to be blocked. There’s a host of scammers who can be spotted a mile away by anyone who took Linguistics 101 in college. And of course, those who use the same message for every email they send “Wasup?”; these guys occasionally get inventive: “Wasup? U dtf?”

Then, we have the screen names! Oh, the screen names! JoedaBoss. No, I was married to two of those. How about fordtuff? Nope, I’m looking for a date, not a car. Interested in papadan? I said date not dad. Niceguycr? If you have to say you’re a nice guy, I’m going to bet that you’re not.

image6So, yeah. The landscape is not that different than twelve or eighteen months ago. I closed the laptop and took my dog to the dog park. I walked around and Jasper frolicked with a boxer mix, two poodles of questionable parentage, a basset hound, and a host of mutts. Dogs of all sizes, shapes, abilities, and personalities sniffed each other, shared a water bowl, and ran around. They made friends. They grouped up and then dispersed. They were all happy. Oh sure, an occasional growl, but nothing that the breeze didn’t blow away.

Then it hit me.

We should take all the online dating sites offline and make dating parks in exactly the same model as dog parks. Large spaces to move around, sniff each other, and then move on or hang out a bit. We could walk around alone, in a pair, or in a group. We would all be required to bring a handler: you know, someone responsible to pick up our shit, make sure we behave, and put us on the leash if we act up. These handlers could walk a third of a mile track while the rest of us tried to make friends.

I know what you’re thinking: that’s a bar. Nope. This is outside. And only water allowed. If we have good handlers, they might bring training treats to give us if we come when we are called. And, at the end of the outing, everyone has to go home with their handler. No hookups allowed. Oh sure, you can exchange numbers or whatever, but that initial meeting is just that: a meeting. No overly contrived profiles. No screen names. No ridiculous cliches. No lists of demands. No promises of pampering.

Just people.

Meeting people.

Honestly.