The Names of Our Years

Now thoughtfully updated, this essay was originally posted in 2019.  What year will 2021 really be?

This morning, as I traced my fingers over the numbers at the top of the calendar, I realized: I know what year it is. I do. It is 2021.

But I don’t yet know what year it will be.

Many, perhaps most people do this, I’ve noticed. Throughout our lifetimes, the majority of years are remembered as the calendar year.  But that number often pales into insignificance as we give the year a verbal title recalling events pertinent to us: The Year Joe Died. The Year Haley Was Born. The Year of the Flood, the Wildfire, the Hurricane. The Year We Bought the House. The Year I Graduated.

These titles lend such richness and flavor to our memories that we often speak of them in just that way before stopping a beat—closing our eyes and searching our memories for a moment to recall the actual date of the occurrence: “The year the kids were married—oh, yeah, that was 2017.”

I have a flock of years like that in my recollection: arrows of memories winging their way through the skies of reminisce, named for events both traumatic or blessed, as I scroll through the chapters of my life—for that is how I think of them: chapter titles. Beneath each title unroll paragraphs tracing details and events quite unrelated, one would think, to that chapter title. Together, they comprise the book of my life, beginning with Chapter One: The Year I Was Born. (Perhaps the book might be titled: I Was Born: It Could Happen to Anybody!)

In these later years of my life, though, I’ve noticed more of a tendency to think only of verbal titles, rather than those numbers displayed so prominently at the top of the calendar page. And so I currently look back upon The Year I Retired, followed by The Year of the Cookbook. (That second odd title requires a touch of explanation, no doubt: That was the year when I told my cousin, proprietor of our late Grandmother Marie’s huge box of recipe cards, “Look here, Susie, you’re busy! You work, you have a teenage daughter. You’re never going to get around to copying those recipes for all of us. I’m retired; time is on my side. Lend me the cards, and I’ll transcribe them into a cookbook for everyone in the family.” And transcribe I did, through the course of one entire spring and summer, occasionally losing a bit of my mind in the process as I stumbled through difficult handwriting, missing information, and antique nomenclature that required hours of research to resolve.)

The laughable lunacy of The Year of the Cookbook was followed by further insanity during The Year of the Wedding, as I leapt into the preparations for the wedding of my  daughter.  It was a frustrating, amazing, exhausting, magnificent year, in which everything that could go wrong, did.  Despite all that, I somehow managed to help produce a marvelous, glorious wedding celebration for my beloved child.

Then came 2018: My Dickens Year. It was, genuinely, the best of times, the worst of times. I might have titled it “The Year of Cancer and of Morrigan’s Birth”, but it’s simpler just to recall it as My Dickens Year. Diagnosed with cancer in January, cured by surgery and prayer and natural treatments in March, and finally overwhelmed by breathtaking joy at the birth of my first grandchild in August, it was, beyond any measure, a year of the worst of times, a year of the best of times.

Yet 2019 continued to trace a similar path of instability, as I floundered in a haze of repeated shocks when friends and the children of friends passed away, one after another, without warning, while other loved ones experienced frightening declines.  Despite all of the sadness, though, I found each week punctuated by immeasurable delight as I thrilled to the pleasure of watching my granddaughter’s first year of life. I felt as if I was on a rollercoaster, flung from dizzying heights to indescribable depths.  2019, then, became My Rollercoaster Year, and I prayed for calm and peace to follow.

I was doomed to be disappointed, as were we all.  For 2020 happened, not just to me, but to each of us, all of us, everywhere, worldwide. To anyone who endured (and survived) it, the exquisite torture that was 2020 needs no explanation: The Year of the Pandemic.

So it was this morning, as I traced my fingers over the digits at the top of the paper calendar that I persist in using and enjoying despite a digital world, that I realized: I know what year it is. I do. I really do. It is 2021.

But, for the moment, I don’t yet know what year it will be.

If you enjoyed this post, you might also like “Paper Calendars”, which can be found in the archives from December 11, 2019.

Belladonna Night Moon

I invite everyone reading this essay to tell me, in the Comments section, about their own very best pet ever…because our beloved fur friends deserve to be remembered.

On a wall of my upstairs hallway hangs a framed poster from the 57th Annual Halloween Festival in Irvington, Indiana.

Irvington is a most unusual place.  Named for writer Washington Irving, author of  “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow”, the entire town is one large historical district.  Among its many claims to fame are the home where Sojourner Truth once spent a week as a guest; the building that housed a pharmacy which John Dillinger robbed; a stop along the route of the Lincoln Ghost Train; and the house where America’s first serial killer, H.H. Holmes, dismembered and buried a 10-year-old child.

With these and a dozen other tales of ghosts and fame and antiquities, Irvington, with some justification, goes a little bit nuts at Halloween.  Even during pandemic, Irvington’s famed Ghost Walks were held—somewhat subdued, but ending, as always, at the Lincoln Ghost Train corner.  And each year the festival sponsors a contest for artists to design the official Halloween poster.

Before it, regrettably, became a banal chain pancake house, I’d eaten at Dufours, the Dillinger-robbed-pharmacy-turned-café, and seen these Halloween posters adorning the walls.  All were marvelous, but my unquestioned favorite was the almost-photographic likeness of a black cat peering out from a background of orange-red sky and leafless black trees. Poster (3) It caught my attention because my own cat, Belladonna Night Moon, might have modeled for the painting, so much did she resemble the cat in the poster.  I yearned to own it, but the Halloween poster prints were always of a very limited run, expensive and rarely available.

But one spring my sister-in-law declared her preference for a birthday afternoon spent combing the fascinating small shops of Irvington.  In the midst of that expedition, I came across one of the last framed posters of the black cat.  With some trepidation, I asked the price.  Forty dollars.  Forty dollars?!  How could I justify spending that much money? I didn’t even have a place to hang it! But…it looked just like Bella.  My precious Bella, my best cat ever.  And the poster was a collector’s item.  How could I not buy it?  Fighting a swiftly-losing battle with the remnants of my common sense, I slapped down my credit card.

Hauling my prize home, I discovered the perfect space waiting in my upstairs hallway, and proudly hung what I now thought of as Bella’s portrait.

The real Belladonna Night Moon had come to me as a porch rescue: a half-starved, lost kitten found by a friend one cold November night.  After some minimal arm-twisting, I agreed to take the kitten.  It was a decision I would never regret.  Although not the brightest bulb in the shedBellMimi (2) (“The only thing she knows is, My name is Bella,” my daughter joked), Bella brimmed with good nature and sweetness…unless she was angry with me.  Then she would jump up on her back feet, and, displaying ‘jazz hands’, smack me on either side of my knee and run like hell.

She was a cat who came when called; who saw me to the door in the mornings and met me there when I came home at night.  When I could not sleep, she would lay stretched out beside me, my hand gently stroking her fat little tummy, until we both drifted off to dreams.  Despite her lack of brainpower, she ruled my other three cats as alpha, and they all but bowed to her.

But as time went on, it was obvious my little black cat wasn’t completely well.  Repeated bouts of respiratory infection and pneumonia robbed her of her meow; “Gak!” was the best she could manage.  Eye infections followed, and anorexia.  At last I received a diagnosis: FHV.  Feline herpes virus.  A disease which would flare any time the animal was stressed.  A disease for which there was no treatment, and no cure.

But I was not about to give up on my best baby cat, not without a fight.  Nursing her through repeated bouts of the virus, tempting her with exotic foods for the anorexia, we struggled on together for close to 18 years.  But thyroid disease and renal failure compounded her ailments.  Time after time in the final two years of her existence, I was sure that I had lost her.  Each time, valiant, determined, she rallied to experience months, then weeks, and finally days, of seeming wellness.  But at last, her strength failing, I knew it was time to give my sweet little friend rest.

I knelt beside her as, at the hands of an experienced and kind veterinarian, Bella went ever so gently across the Bridge. To the Ancient Egyptian afterworld of Amenti, I whispered to her, stroking her mink-soft fur; to the great Golden City of the Cats, Bubastis, where she would rest at the feet of the Goddess Bastet.

The next morning, heartbroken, I stood before my familiar Irvington Halloween poster and, perhaps for the first time, noted the date at the bottom of the print.  October 25, 2003.  Fifteen days before a starving kitten struggled onto a friend’s porch, and so into my life.  Perhaps the very day that she became lost—or went in search of me.

For any animal lover, there is always that one special pet who holds our heart cupped within their little paws.  On my wall, then, painted by the hand of an artist who never knew her, hangs a portrait of my little soul-mate cat, Bella.  Belladonna Night Moon, who sits at the feet of Goddess Bastet in the everlasting grainfields of Amenti.

Belladonna Night Moon
2003 – 2020

Again, I invite you to tell me in the Comments about YOUR best pet ever.  And if you enjoyed this post, you might also like “The Cat Who Thinks He Is a Dog”, which can be found in the archives from June 15, 2018.

Defining Your Word of the Year

§  I’ve used many Focus Words over the years, and I’ve learned to choose them very, very carefully!  §

I stopped making New Year’s resolutions nearly two decades ago. I saw no point in setting myself up for certain failure; it was simply depressing, and merely reinforced my bad opinion of myself. (I feel the same way about goals.  Goals are something I set just to prove to myself that I am a failure.  I don’t set goals anymore, either.)

For a long time prior to that decision, I’d followed Robert Fulghum’s sound advice: On New Year’s Day, I sat down and wrote a list of every good thing I’d done in the previous year, backdated it, and called it my resolutions. This was eminently satisfying for a number of years, even though I knew I was sort of missing the whole point.

So, casting about for some way to set myself some type of goal-yet-not-a-goal, I was struck by an idea: I could still forego a resolution, yet choose something—some character-building, life changing something, to focus on during the coming year.  Not a goal, I decided; a focus.  With that in mind, what if I chose just one word, one meaningful word, and attempted to concentrate on it throughout the coming year?  Not to accomplish it—simply keep it at the forefront of my mind, and make it active in my life.  One word was so little.  Surely I could do that much.

I liked the concept. One word, one focus, seemed like a challenge I could meet.  The trick, I realized, would be finding a way to make myself remember to focus on that word— to keep adding it to my life.  (Well, that, and picking my word in the first place.)

Amazingly, having come up with the concept, I found that my answers came easily.  I’d recently discovered that a lack of assertiveness had caused me a number of problems; assertiveness, then, seemed like a very good first focus word.  But how to keep it at the forefront of my mind?  How not to forget, not just the word itself, but the need to concentrate upon my focus word?  That was going to be the real challenge of my not-resolution.

During that first year, I found that tricking myself into remembering my focus word was the best way to go. I took post-its and scraps of note paper and proceeded to hide them throughout my home in places where I knew I would not find them to easily, yet was sure to look.  Since I wasn’t about to turn the heavy mattress on the bed more than once a year, one of the notes emblazoned with “My Focus This Year Is Assertiveness” was pushed into the thin hollow between the mattress and box springs.  Another went under the couch cushions—I had been known, from time to time, to actually lift them up and vacuum beneath them (or at least search for loose change).  And, yes, one note, slipped into a plastic bag, went into the bottom of the vegetable bin in the frig!

And, amazingly, it worked. I came across those notes again and again throughout that first year and was forced to keep my attention focused on becoming more assertive.  And while I cannot now say that it changed my life, I can say with certainty that being reminded to focus on assertiveness did make a difference.  By the end of the year, I knew that I still had a very long way to go on learning to be assertive, but I was no longer quite the wimp I’d been twelve months earlier, either.

I’ve used many Focus Words in the intervening years, and I’ve learned to choose them very, very carefully. The Universe, I’ve discovered, will cooperate with me—oh, yes, will it ever!  Choose Peace as a focus word, and every possible non-peaceful situation imaginable will be tossed at me like errant baseballs.  And, for the love of heaven, never, ever, choose Patience !

But, defiant in the face of overreaching myself, the focus word I chose for 2017 was Magnificent.

And it was.

Afterword: In 2018, the Word I chose was “Kindness”.  I was astounded to learn that kindness is not just something we extend to others, but that we must also, humbly and with gratitude, receive.  It is also something we must extend to ourselves.  Foolishly brave, in 2019 I selected the Word “Restful”.  Oh, dear! I did learn a much-needed lesson: that we choose our response to events.  In 2020, I chose the word “Recognition”.  I am still discovering all the unexpected ways in which that word has come to play in my existence.

I would love to know what Focus Word you select for 2021, if you would care to leave it in the Comments section.

The True Spirit of the Season

§   This year, my tradition of personally-created holiday cards was exceptionally difficult, as I tried to create something pertinent to the difficult reality of a Pandemic Christmas.  But I happily share that card now, not just with close friends and family, but with everyone who chooses to enjoy this blog. §

I’ve made my own Christmas cards for nearly three decades now, each year selecting a special photograph, graphic, or theme as my holiday greeting to family and friends.  And each year, as I do so, I remind myself that the true spirit of the season—genuine loving kindness—should continue not just until the last greeting card is tossed out with the wrapping paper, but throughout the year, and beyond. 

Whatever holiday you celebrate–Soyaluna, Diwali, Hanukkah, Christmas, Kwanzaa, Solstice, The Return of the Wandering Goddess, or the thousand others of which I know nothing–may it be blessed.

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Families, Holidays, and Chaos

§  In this perhaps the most divisive of years in America since our Civil War, I turn again to this essay, originally posted in 2017, and its theme of tolerance, kindness and courtesy–for what better behavior can we ever display?  §

Several years ago I stumbled across Dar William’s humorous and touching holiday song, “The Christians and the Pagans”. It was a good-natured glimpse into the utter chaos experienced by a  family of very dissimilar individuals, all trying to navigate their way through the minefield of a Christmas dinner without triggering nuclear meltdown.

I found it so delightful and thought-provoking that I forwarded the YouTube video link to most of my contacts. A few of them had encountered the song previously, but were glad to enjoy it again.  To others, as it had been to me, it was a revelation: a couple of laugh-out-loud verses woven into an authentic description of the bedlam relatives endure as they try to practice acceptance and caring for the sake of family at the holidays.

But, to my dismay, a couple of my contacts found the song very offensive. To say that I was bewildered at their reaction is an understatement.  This was a song about tolerance—about the triumph of love over personal differences—about the curiosity of children, as well as their inability to lie for the sake of tact (“The Emperor has no clothes!”)—about finding common ground in the midst of seeming contradictions.

Eventually it became clear to me that, for those who found the song distasteful, their rejection of it lay in the very fact that the song was, indeed, about tolerance: about a Christian family struggling to accept and love their non-Christian and unconventional relatives (it is implied, though never outright stated in the lyrics, that the young niece is in a lesbian partnership) at Christmastime. To some of my acquaintances, this concept—that Christians would willingly welcome the company of their non-Christian relatives at Christmas—was anathema.

It is a mindset that I cannot even begin to comprehend. I glory in the traditions of other cultures, so many of which celebrate a religious or secular holiday near the winter solstice.  Soyaluna, Diwali, Hanukkah, Christmas, Kwanzaa, Solstice, The Return of the Wandering Goddess…to me, they are all beautiful traditions, evocative of the universality of the human spirit reaching out to the Divine.  To reject loved ones because they have chosen a different faith (or even no faith at all) is, to my way of thinking, so far from the genuine practice of Christianity, as I understand it, that it boggles the mind.

I was simply stunned to learn that some of my Christian acquaintances thought that their non-Christian counterparts would be encouraged to “find Jesus” if they were cast out and treated as lepers; that they believed children should be shielded from the spiritual differences of those they encounter, instead of simply receiving an explanation as to why the family believes other faiths to be in error. I could not comprehend their feeling that families should not at least try to join together in love and caring at the holidays, no matter what their dissimilarities.

It’s always seemed to me that the surest way to draw others into one’s own belief system is to demonstrate, by the very life one lives, that it is a faith worth emulating. How, I found myself asking, how could shunning loved ones, subjecting them to rejection and disgust and dislike—how could that in any way inspire them to accept the faith of those who cast them out?  Wouldn’t such behavior just convince them that their own spiritual path was the more noble choice?

In a question between my own belief system of that of others, I will always choose the path of learning; never relying on rumor or medieval bad press or intentional misinformation, but seeking to know the genuine principles surrounding a belief system (or even atheism) in order to find the thread of commonality woven into all that is the human spirit.

But, no matter what they do or do not believe, all those who demonstrate love, acceptance, kindness, courtesy and tolerance will always be welcomed to a seat at my holiday table.

If you enjoyed this post, you might also like “Apples of Gold”, which may be found in the Archives dated November 20, 2019.

The Day I Had Nothing to Do

I often encounter an attitude from my still-working peers that retired people have time hanging from their hands like loops of yarn. I’m sorry to tell you this, but it just ain’t so! 

When I retired, multiple people, mostly those still working, warned me that I would often be bored.  However,  a long-retired relative gave me a very different warning: “Not only are you going to wonder how you ever got it all done before you retired, you’re not going to believe how much more there is to be done! It will suck you in!” I tucked her advice into the “Housework expands to fill all available time” file and promptly disregarded it.

Bad move.

She was right.

Following  a busy and stressful week, I woke on a recent Sunday morning pleasantly conscious that there was nothing I had to do.    As I stretched and swung my legs to the bedside rug, I congratulated myself on a “free” day.

And so I rose to immediately begin cleaning litter boxes, followed by feeding my complaining felines.  Necessary chores completed, I wandered upstairs to my computer, cup of tea in hand, to check my e-mail and read the news.  Then I wandered just as leisurely back downstairs to prepare breakfast and read a bit of my latest novel, sitting in my favorite battered green armchair by the living room window.  But that relaxation proved to be a mixed blessing, because the window looks out on my small rose garden.  Still blooming heavily at the start of autumn, the bushes looked awfully untidy.

An hour later, the roses were deadheaded and trimmed up a bit, the groundcover had been snipped back, and some dead hosta stems removed.  Carrying the detritus to the bin in the garage, I dropped a few leaves and stems on the garage floor.  Well, it wouldn’t hurt to move the car out and sweep the garage floor.  That done, though, I noted that the car mats could certainly use a vacuuming, and the whole interior of the car would look a bit better if it was cleaned of the pandemic-constant of disinfectant residue.  The windows inside were a touch smeary, too.  A bit of glass cleaner wouldn’t go amiss.  Oh, and before I drove the car back into the garage, I should run to the end of the driveway and grab the mail, still sitting in the mailbox since Saturday.

Returning the vacuum and cleaning sprays to the hall closet made me realize that I’d best get a bit of housework done: dishes to be washed, kitchen and bathroom floors to be swept.  Again responding to my pandemic-induced madness regarding cleanliness, those same bathroom surfaces should probably be disinfected. Although the floors had been thoroughly mopped four days previously, heaven alone knew what I might have tracked in since that time, so it wouldn’t hurt to fill the mop with solution and run it over just the traffic paths.  In fact, the carpet, also just vacuumed four days ago, should probably be vacuumed lightly along the traffic paths before the mopping was done, so nothing would track onto the hard floors.

Hauling the vacuum upstairs made me aware that my bed wasn’t yet made.  Just as well; the sheets needed to be changed.  I should change the towels in the bathrooms, too. Carrying these items downstairs to the washer, I noted that the medicine dispenser for my sick cat was sitting on the countertop and needed to be filled.  I really should do that now, and give her a dose, as well.  Oh, and the dispenser which held my vitamins and supplements was also awaiting a refill.  I should do that, too.  Drat, the mail was still sitting there on the countertop, unopened.  Ah, mostly junk…and bills.  Sigh.  Well, I should pay these bills.  And I really should update my budget spreadsheet.

While doing that update, though, it struck me that I had work to do for a friend, updating her business manuals and flyers.  Well, as long as the computer was booted, I might as well devote an hour to working on those.

But as I completed these chores, I glanced at my fingers on the keyboard, noticing that my cuticles were ragged and my nails all of differing lengths and badly shaped.  Hmmm, well, as I seemed to be finished with cleaning products for the day, it might be a good idea to tend to them, and give myself a quick pedicure, too.

By this time, it was now 5:00 p.m. An hour later, manicure and pedicure completed, I decided that I really should consider cooking dinner, since breakfast and then the leftovers that I’d reheated for lunch were beginning to seem a very long time ago.

Rinsing my dinner dishes and stacking them in the sink, I took a deep breath and called a halt.  Washing dishes could wait until morning.  I wanted to read my book again for a bit before trooping upstairs to have a shower and wash my hair and finally fall into bed, exhausted from my “free” day.

I really hope I don’t have too many more days with nothing to do.  I’m not sure I’d survive them.

If  you enjoyed this essay, you might also like “Clearing the Clutter”, which can be found in the Archives from January 15, 2020, or “Household Chores: Love ’em, Hate ’em”, published March 18, 2020.

When the Universe Says, “Let’s Kick ’em When They’re Down!”

§   When life is going well, it’s usually going very well indeed.  And then it all crashes and burns.  §

I read an article once which claimed a mathematical probability to “streaks” of good or bad luck.

And while I was definitely cutting class on the day God handed out the math brains, it doesn’t take a numerical genius to see that this is undeniably correct.

I’ve watched the Streak Effect time and again: in my own life, in the lives of relatives, in the lives of friends. When one’s days are going well, they are usually going very well indeed. It’s as though a benevolent Deity has bent down, placed a crown of stars upon one’s head, and whispered, “Life is good!”

And then it all crashes and burns. The snowball rolls downhill, becoming an avalanche. Everything that can possibly go wrong—as well as a few things that could not possibly go wrong—well, they go totally, absolutely, completely, unutterably wrong—and with a vengeance. We are left to wonder just what in the hell we’ve done to piss off God.

I recall a long-ago coworker who experienced what was, at the time, the very worst Bad Streak Effect I had ever witnessed: Her mother passed away, she was diagnosed with a serious illness, her spouse walked out, she was audited by the IRS, and her house caught fire—all in the space of a couple of months. Showing more strength of spirit and resilience than I could ever hope to find within myself, she not only survived the onslaught but eventually reached the other end of her dark tunnel, head unbowed and victorious.  She mourned her mother, got well, dusted her hands together saying, “Good riddance!” to her unsatisfactory spouse, got money back from the IRS after the audit, and used the insurance settlement to nicely remodel her somewhat substandard kitchen.  I heard someone ask this undaunted woman if her faith had gotten her through that dreadful time.  “Faith-schmaith!” she scoffed in reply. “It was sheer stubborn determination that none of this was going to take me out!”

I later related this story to a relative who was experiencing her own horrendous Bad Streak Effect: her oldest cat died, the youngest animal was diagnosed with incurable FIV, and the third required an expensive antibiotic; a storm brought down a truck-sized branch from her old oak tree, necessitating an expensive tree removal service; thugs invaded her garage, taking her lawn mower, and kicked in her front door to steal her jewelry armoire, letting her indoor-only pets escape through the open door; one cat, terrified, refused to come out from beneath the house for three days.  To add insult to injury, the stolen jewelry was, all of it, actually pieces that  had been given her to replace the theft of all her jewelry a few years earlier!

A Very Bad Streak.

More commonly, though, the Bad Streak Effect is just a compilation of worrisome, niggling, bothersome daily problems. Taken one by one, they would each be minor difficulties; irritating, but simple to solve. But when they crumble downward like the Twin Towers collapsing, it becomes almost impossible to dig oneself out from under the rubble of life. You break a tooth while chewing the unlikely culprit of a fettuccine noodle. Your regular dentist is on vacation. The emergency oral surgeon butchers your mouth. The surgeon’s office assistant miscodes the procedure, so your insurance denies the claim. Meanwhile, the site of the extracted tooth becomes infected. The one antibiotic to which you are not allergic is unavailable due to a shortage. And on and on….

Stranger still, it seems that one’s friends and family are often experiencing various stages of the Bad Streak Effect all at the same time. The people to whom one would usually turn for sympathy and support are unable to provide much of it because their own lives are a complete shambles. Conversely, though, there is always that one person in the group who is not only not enduring the Bad Streak Effect, but seems to be (for the moment, at least) Heaven’s Darling. This generally turns out to be the sole individual of one’s acquaintance who is completely self-involved and totally lacking in empathy, so that turning to them with a litany of woes essentially results in a metaphorical slap in the face and a long conversation about all the wonderful things happening in their own narcissistic little existence. (Take heart: The Good Streak Effect NEVER lasts. Their time is coming! And when the Bad Streak effect eventually wallops Heaven’s Darling, you can sit back, nodding and handing off tissues while they weep, all the while smiling secretly and evilly to yourself.)

I suppose the real point of all my rambling about The Streak Effect, though, is to acknowledge the fact that, Good Streak or Bad, the events never last. And while reminding oneself of this during a Good Streak can prove a cautionary tale, keeping it firmly in mind during a Bad Streak can help us keep calm and carry on—even when doing so feels like clawing one’s fingers into cracks in a perpendicular surface, hanging on for very dear life.

Because, no matter how bad the Bad Streak may be, it is, despite everything, a dear and special life.

If you enjoyed this post, you might also like “The Best Revenge, Part 2”, in the Archives from August 5, 2020.

Tales of the Office: Earn and Burn

§  We are about to begin another holiday season, where love, compassion and generosity of spirit should reign supreme. Well, just call me Ebeneezer!  §

I am an unsympathetic person, and terribly judgmental.  I’ve heard people tell me, quite without irony, that I am caring and kind and empathetic.  I shake my head in wonder.  They obviously don’t know me even half as well as I know myself!

As a perfect example of my lack of empathy, I recall the ungenerous, hypercritical attitude I held toward certain coworkers during my years working at an office.  These were the people who, the very minute they accumulated their monthly stipend of sick, vacation or personal time, were nowhere to be found, having taken a day off using the leave they’d just accrued.  Several of my coworkers demonstrated this behavior, but one in particular was the unrivalled Queen of what we termed “Earn and Burn”.  Each time she earned a day’s leave she bailed, leaving the work on her desk to be covered by her more responsible coworkers.

Oddly enough, had she been (as some of the Earn and Burners were forced to do) using her earned leave time so quickly for desperate need–her own or loved ones’ chronic illnesses; the needs of small children; other ordinary life crises, such as waiting on dilatory repairmen–well, had that been the case, my minimal amount of available empathy would have been decidedly engaged.  But it was not.  The Queen took each of her days for idle recreation.   Watching her coworkers struggle to deal with the problems caused by her constant absences, I fumed. There was nothing I could do about the situation so long as those in authority allowed her to get by with the behavior.  We all suspected that she must have known where some bodies were buried, for her supervisors, wimps to a man and a woman, turned a blind eye to her behavior. It appeared there were no consequences to her irresponsibility, for the Queen was never disciplined…at least not by the office.

The Universe, though—the Universe apparently had other ideas.

The Queen got sick.  Major, real, big time sick: weeks of hospitalization and further weeks of recovery.  And she had no leave time available to use.  She’d burned through all of it.

Oh, she was eligible for short-term disability leave, and it was granted.  But that essentially meant only that she would have a job waiting, if and when she recovered.  Since she had no leave time, her days off were all unpaid.

Our office, as it always did, pulled together to send get-well cards and a bouquet of flowers; some of the staff visited her at the hospital.  The work on her desk was divvied up among the other employees in her unit so she would not return to an avalanche of paperwork.  A cadre of staff members, perhaps hoping to be heard by those in authority,  complained loudly because our employer did not allow those with excess accumulated leave time to donate it to a coworker in need. 

Unsympathetic jerk that I am, I said not a word.  In point of fact, I had so much accumulated leave time that I could have taken off a good two months without losing a single cent of my salary.  But even if a donation policy had been in place, I wouldn’t have offered up so much as one lousy little hour to mitigate our coworker’s situation.  Her lack of available leave time was no one’s fault but her own, and I wouldn’t have tossed her a rope, let alone bent down to offer a hand helping her out of the hole she’d dug herself into. I am not so evil that I gloated over her troubles, but I certainly didn’t shed a tear over them, either.

Eventually, I was approached by several coworkers who felt we should take up a collection to assist the Queen financially during her time of desperate need.  As the Administrative Assistant for the office, this was my function; would I arrange it?  I smiled through very unsympathetic gritted teeth and agreed.

The staff came through marvelously, anteing up several hundred dollars.  I created a spreadsheet to track the contributions, sent bulletins out to the staff as the total increased, and finally arranged for two employees to deliver the cash in a card signed by everyone.

But my own contribution was decidedly ungenerous, unlike the large amounts happily tossed into the till by my coworkers.

I am, as I said, both lacking in empathy and terribly judgmental. Looking back through the lens of time to that office situation, I believe that, occasionally, that’s okay.  There are times when compassion, empathy and walking a mile in another’s moccasins are genuinely the order of the day.  But there are other times when one just has to put on the Tough Love mask and say, “Hey, you did this to yourself.” 

If you enjoyed this post, you might also like “Tales of the Office: Under the Weather”, which can be found in the Archives from July 15, 2020.

There Are No ‘Generations’

§  Each so-called generation consists of individuals–individuals who differ greatly from one another despite their shared experiences.  §

As I mentioned previously in the essay, “The Kindly Neighbor and the Generations”, I am so very tired of generation bashing. Each so-called generational group consists of individuals—individuals who differ greatly from one another despite their shared experiences. Nor do any of these supposed groups have a premium on dreadful or world-shaking events.  War, financial collapse, pestilence—all these and more comprise the experiences of every human being, no matter their birth year.

So it was with utter dismay that I came across what was perhaps the opening gun in Boomer Bashing, when I encountered the article, “Baby Boomers: Five Reasons They Are Our Worst Generation” written by Gene Marks in 2013.

I sat reading the article in shock and consternation.  Hardest of all for me as I read Mr. Marks’ hate-filled diatribe was that I in no way recognized the people he described.  Born myself in the 1950s, my friends range in age from 40 years younger than I, to 10 years older.  But of all of them, not one even begins to resemble the “tanned and healthy”, golf-playing, pension-collecting parasites retiring to sunny climes “on the backs” of their children, as described in his  article.  Those people may well exist, but I do not know them.

I found Mr. Marks’ view of the Boomer generation to be so unlike the individuals I know that the dichotomy was incomprehensible. The Boomers of my acquaintance bear the scars, physical and psychological, of their sojourn in Vietnam (or, in fact, they do not, having been among the many who died by their own hands after enduring that dreadful conflict and coming home to be spit upon and called baby killers.)  They spent years paying off the parental loans that helped put their Millennial offspring through college—money that might have gone toward their own retirement, yet was willingly paid to give their children the education that, often, they themselves had been denied. They fought for Obamacare, yes–because they, and often their children, were among the millions denied health insurance due to preexisting conditions.  They instituted Earth Day to raise awareness of climate change, opened recycling centers, forced through legislation to ban CFCs.  They patronized health food stores, trying to break the “white bread and sugar” cycle of eating on which they had been raised by their Silent Generation parents.  Barely more than teenagers, they were the White faces dotting the sea of Black Americans marching with Dr. King.  They were the strong, unflinching women who endured vicious treatment, slander and sexism in order to break their way into corporate America and the armed services.

One of the most difficult things of all for me to comprehend was his blaming of Medicare on Boomers.  The Medicare program was instituted in 1966.  At that time, the very oldest of Boomers was a mere age 20—not even legal, as the saying goes.  They had no hand in creating Medicare; it was put into place by the politicians of the so-called Greatest Generation, for their own benefit.  But even worse was, perhaps, his claim that Boomers are the final hold outs in racist, homophobic, and sexist behavior.  That statement brought me to bitter laughter, culminating in tears, as I reviewed the photographs and news reports of recent, horrific events in our country.  No, Mr. Marks: racism, xenophobia, homophobia and sexism are alive and well in the consciousness of Millennials/GenX, as well as Generations Y and Z.

Even more laughable was, perhaps, was his claim that the newest generations have healthier lifestyles—when obesity is rampant, and deaths from vaping, idiotic social media “challenges”,  and drug overdoses make daily headlines.

Mr. Marks lamented that, unfortunately, Boomers can’t just be shipped off to an island somewhere (sounds shockingly like, “Send ‘em back to Africa”, doesn’t it?), but rejoices that the generation of his parents is rapidly aging and will be dying off soon.  One can only imagine the happy dance he was doing when Covid-19, at least initially, began wreaking so much havoc among those 60 and older, killing them off at disproportionately greater rates.

Examining the irreconcilable differences between Mr. Marks’ view of the various Generations and the reality of the individuals who comprise those groups leads me to but one inescapable conclusion: There are no “Generations”.  There are only people—individuals, personalities, entities, characters—some good, some bad; some environmentally conscious, others not so; some self-centered, others empathetic; some working to make the world a better place, within their understanding of how it might be so; others striving to maintain the status quo. 

Nothing is gained, no progress is made, by laying blame, be it on a fictitious construct of a generational group, or any other entity, such as government or business.  Every human being inherits the problems created by those who preceded her or him, and may, if they have the strength of spirit, work to better those conditions for all.  For that is the way the world progresses: not by hatred, blame, and censure, but by acceptance of the hard work that must be done if we, and our tired world, are all to evolve and improve.

If you enjoyed this post, you might also like “The Kindly Neighbor and the Generations” to be found in the Archives from April 1, 2020.

The Dot Principle

Having survived the past four years in this nation, I will never again underestimate the power of The Dot Principle!

In June, 2015 the Supreme Court of the United States issued its landmark decision regarding the fundamental right of same-sex couples to marry.  This event was a hot topic of conversation the next day at the office where I worked.  At the time, I participated in a walking group; we spent our breaks and sometimes part of our lunch hours getting a bit of exercise by striding briskly through the wide halls and many stairwells of the Indiana state office building, happily (and noisily, according to my boss) gossiping as we did so.

On the morning in question, as it happened, only two of us were walking.  Turning to me with a bewildered look on her face, my walking partner—let’s call her Dot–remarked, “They said on the news last night that gay marriage is now the law in all 50 states.  But what about the other two?”

I was, of course, confused.  “The other two what?” 

“States.”

I’m certain my face  must have done that “eyes-rolling-to one side-lips-twisting” thing which indicates complete incredulity.  “Uh, Dot, there are only 50 states.  Forty-eight contiguous states, and Alaska and Hawaii.”

“But I’ve always heard there are 52,” she persisted.

“Uh, no.”  At her look of skepticism, I continued, “There’s the District of Columbia—DC,” I explained. “It is separate from the States. But not a state.  And there are possessions and territories. Puerto Rico, Guam, the Virgin Islands…”  I trailed off as she continued to look disbelieving.  “There are 50 stars on the flag, one for each State,” I persevered bravely, finally surrendering as Dot just shrugged.

Dot, a few years older than I (and I was nearing retirement), had, I believe, a couple of years of college under her belt; an Associates Degree, as opposed to my high school-only education.  She’d been born a citizen of the United States.  English was her natal language.

But she didn’t know how many States comprise the union.

I’ve looked back on that rather terrifying conversation many times in the past four years, realizing, “Not only do they walk among us, but they vote!”

I now apply “The Dot Principle” to about 75% of the comments I torture myself by reading at the close of articles when I check the news each morning.  (Do NOT ask me why I put myself through this.  I can only surmise that I am a masochist.)   In any case, I usually peruse the comments.  While doing so,  I remind myself that, not only are the Dots of this nation supremely ignorant, but they are astoundingly unafraid in displaying that ignorance to a cringing populace.  They are utterly confident in the correctness of their outrageous assertions.  No matter what facts are presented, the Dots will not be budged from their convictions, preferring their “alternative facts”.  Ill-spelled, and displaying mangled grammar and mutilated sentence structure, riddled with hateful name-calling and, above all, a dearth of knowledge and factual information, and inevitably peppered with ALL CAPS BECAUSE I’M SHOUTING AT YOU SINCE THAT WILL MAKE YOU BELIEVE ME, they troll the pathways of the Comments sections, providing cheap entertainment when one is not too aghast at the remarks to enjoy the show. 

The Dot Principle provided me just a smidgen of reassurance when I read, shocked and appalled, about the Q-Anon Conspiracy. As much as I enjoy a good conspiracy theory–and I really do enjoy them; some are quite masterful in their depositions, and nearly convincing–as much as I admire the enormous work that goes into constructing these mangled theories that fly in the face of reality and plain old common sense, I don’t genuinely find myself being sucked in.  I tell myself this means I am not a Dot; that I still have a few neurons firing, if not so many as I once had when young.

Having been in ascension for four long, painful years, the Dots of this nation are now stunned, brimming with new conspiracy theories, furious and disbelieving that their construct of reality has somehow crumbled, as that nail-biter of an election finally concluded with the overwhelming popular vote and electoral college selection of Joe Biden as 46th President of the United States of America.  Nevertheless, as I pointed out to a fuming and incredulous acquaintance, one could consider this just the swing of the pendulum.  “Give it four years, and, who knows—maybe you can elect Jared Kushner or Trump Jr. or Eric Trump or even, saints preserve us, Ivanka,” I suggested.  (On the other hand, maybe not, since I devoutly hope and expect that most of that crew of con men/women, slum lords, Hatch Act violators, and tax evaders will be languishing in prison.)

But having lived through the last four years in this nation, I will never again underestimate the power of The Dot Principle.

If you liked this post, you might also enjoy the essay, “The Benefit of the Doubt”, which you can locate in the Archives from July 31, 2019.