Let Me Not Forget

If we ever get through all of this…

“What do you want to continue doing, to remember, from all you’ve learned during the pandemic?”  An acquaintance of mine posed that question to several of us.  “What’s the most important thing?  And what have you done to take care of yourself through all of this?”

For me, the answers rose steadily and quickly:  The most important lesson I have learned from months of plague and lockdown, the one thing that I want to remember always and to continue, is appreciation. And the one vital thing I’ve learned to do to take care of myself is to intentionally express gratitude.

Never again do I want to look at a calendar and say to myself, “Great.  Five family and friend birthdays this month!  I’m not going to have any money or any weekends!”  Rather, I want to think joyously, “Time to be with the ones I love, gathered together, without masks, without fear; hugging, grabbing up the little ones to lift them high into the air, jubilant to be in one another’s company.”  I no longer want my sense of astonished wonder and absolute delight to be invoked only by astounding sunsets or exquisite rainbows or rare astrological phenomena (although I certainly don’t want to relinquish those experiences, either).  But I want to retain the lesson that we, all of us, have learned and sometimes still are learning from isolation: to value the most unpretentious enjoyments of daily life; all those things we had always taken for granted and then were suddenly denied.

I want to go to that restaurant a friend prefers, the one that I’m really not crazy about, and appreciate being out, having a meal together.  I want to be humbled by the opportunity to hug my family members.  And I want to know, in humility and gratitude, what it is to sit at the bedside of a sick friend, or to bring them meals or help with their housework, or to have the privilege of holding the hand of someone who is dying.

Put most simply, I never want to forget what it has been, still is, to not have these things.

And that is the crux of the matter, isn’t it?  We humans forget so easily.  Oh, we say we will remember—that history will not repeat itself, because we shall never forget, but we do.  Life moves on; we place one foot ahead of the other and walk away from the sad, the bad, the painful and uncomfortable memories.  We forget.

And it is for that reason that, every day that I am still privileged to go on walking this weary world, to breathe and live, I want to remember what it was to spend days in continual isolation while intentionally expressing gratitude.

I recall the long hours of lockdown, and the anguished, unbearable loneliness, as I recounted in “Surviving the Lockdown” (April 8, 2020).  As I waited vainly for an occasional e-mail, text or phone call from friends and family who did not, as I do, live alone; who did not even comprehend how desperately I needed communication, human contact of any type, I realized I had to find some way to make myself care about whether I survived.  And that way, it turned out to be, was not just to find, each day, something for which I was grateful, but to intentionally mark that gratitude in verbal or written form.

And so I found myself being grateful for all the time I had to catch up on long-neglected chores.  Without the excuse of social interaction to distract me, many of the things I’d been meaning to do forever, such as washing all the crystal in my china cabinet—those things were done at last.  On the rare occasions when I had to drive somewhere for necessary groceries or to care for an elderly family member, I was grateful for the lack of traffic.  A nervous driver always, tooling along roads that were almost empty was heaven to me!  I was grateful for my pets, as talking to and petting them sometimes kept me sane—and I told them so, sometimes weeping my loneliness into their furry coats.  These and so many other aspects of my life during lockdown I learned not to merely think about with gratitude, but to speak that gratitude aloud, or write it down; note it, with intention.  “I am grateful; I am grateful…”  Gratitude, I discovered, was a bridge from depression and angst to acceptance and peace.

And now, almost daily, I remind myself: Let me not forget.  Let me not forget appreciation and intentional gratitude.  Let these be the lessons that I take from the long and fearful months of isolation and anxiety.  Let me remember, always, what it has been and sometimes still it to not  have the simplest pleasures of daily life; to not have contact and communication with other human beings.  And let me now, having those things once more, be fully sensible of them, completely appreciative, and forever intentionally grateful.

If something in this post appealed to you, you might also enjoy “Three Things”, which you can locate by scrolling down to the Archives below.  You find it listed May 20, 2020.

 

Clickbait

When did mockery become an accepted standard of behavior?

When I was a young woman, both my grandmothers wore little cotton housedresses and soft leather shoes.  If they wore hosiery at all it was when they attended Sunday church services; most of the time, their veined legs, evidence of their years of childbearing and hard work, were bare. 

It never occurred to me to question or mock their “style” choices.  They were elderly women, wearing what they found comfortable.  That I didn’t find their clothing attractive or fashionable was not an issue; I respected them.  They’d lived through world wars and Spanish Flu; through the Great Depression and Richard Nixon and innumerable personal disasters,  both of them surviving it all with an intact sense of humor.  They deserved the right to dress and do as they pleased, without criticism.

Turn the world a few thousand times on its axis: I am now the old woman.  But the world has turned; respectful behavior towards one’s elders is no longer a given.  Those who have spent lifetimes working, paying their taxes, raising their young to adulthood and funding their educations, possibly doing military service, and generally being upright citizens and decent human beings are all too often the subject of contempt and impudence, with never this behavior more rampant than on the Net.

So it was with a sense of both trepidation and scorn that I have, a few times recently, tapped  on one of those “about Boomers” clickbaits. (Oddly, I have never seen a corresponding clickbait about Millennials, or Gens X/Y/Z—or, again, perhaps not odd, since they are the people writing this ludicrous material.  Their time will come, though.)

I have to admit, a few, if not more, of the “OMG!  They do/dress/eat/behave” complaints were spot on for me—guilty as charged, and not in the least regretful to admit it.  I do, for instance, still write in cursive rather than “normal” writing.  I shall continue to eschew the kindergarten printing and write as an adult, too.  So sorry you’re not educated enough to read it, youngsters.  Tell me, how do you read the signatures at the bottom of the Declaration of Independence, hmmmm?

In the most recent clickbait I so masochistically read, though, no fewer than half the remarks were geared toward clothing choices.  Virtually none of them applied to me, and the rest, well, my automatic response was, “Who cares?!  Why is this non-issue even being remarked upon?” Yes, I do find white socks with sandals to be rather an odd choice (if your feet are cold or you don’t like the feeling of sand, don’t wear the sandals), but it’s not really any of my business.  It’s their feet, after all.   

Footwear seemed to occupy the minds of the younger generation to an excessive degree. But then, those who have stood upon their own  metatarsals for only perhaps 25 to 30 years are probably unaware of the extraordinary pressure their bodies are exerting on that support system.  Given twice or more that length of time, they, too, will find that their footwear choices extend to comfort, not fashion, and that arthritic fingers find Velcro tabs so much easier to manipulate than laces.

The funniest entries regarded food, the most hilarious of which was, “They eat TOAST”.  Apparently, it did not occur to the youthful writers that their alternate breakfast suggestions–waffles, for instance–have also been available to those of my generation throughout our own and our parents’ and grandparents’, ad infinitum, lifetimes.  Toast is quick and easy to prepare, lends itself to an infinite variety of toppings, and is an excellent way to use up stale bread, not to mention tasty.  Why on earth do these blockheaded kids think it was invented, after all?

Another remark that sent me into gales of laughter was the complaint about Boomers buying their bread off the grocery shelves when “artisanal bread” was so much more delicious and enticing.  There speaks a person who is not yet a parent with three hungry kids needing sandwiches slapped together as quickly and inexpensively as possible!  Granted, I gave up spongy white Wonder bread along with my early childhood, but I’d like to see the average financially struggling parent try to fund “artisanal bread” enough for a houseful of famished children wanting lunch.

The clickbait criticized hairstyles, vacation choices (face it, kids, the reason some Boomers choose cruises is because, unlike your frenzied, financially precarious existence, they have the time and the money.  Jealous, much?) and countless other petty, ludicrous minutiae until I finally grew tired of waiting for all the ads to finish loading before I could click “Next” and exited the link.

But, in the end, I wasn’t left laughing, but with a sense of discouragement.  Why, I wondered, did any of this even matter?  Who were these individuals, the writers who took such glee in contempt and disdain, in derision and scorn, of other people?  Is the fate of our future world truly being placed in such pettish hands?

Sighing now, I think I will close this essay.  It’s time for breakfast, so I shall wander downstairs and pull the last two slices of non-artisanal oatmeal bread from the frig, where I will pop them into the toaster, and then smother them, perhaps with butter and blackberry jelly, or cream cheese and raspberry jam, or cinnamon sugar….

If you enjoyed this post, you might also like “Mindless Headlines”, which you can locate in the Archives, published June 5, 2018.  

Christmas in July: The Christmas Chandelier

Sometimes we have to defy those silly “rules” about what’s appropriate for a particular time or season.

Several years back, I was shopping in the late winter and happened upon a long- after-Christmas sale. A lone ornament caught my eye: a sparkly chandelier. It sported plastic crystal droplets and faintly-pink sparkles and fake candles; it was adorable and unusual and 75% off. So, although it had absolutely nothing in common with my then-red-and-gold themed Christmas tree, I bought the ornament.

The following Christmas season, I hung the pink chandelier ornament from the tip of my real dining room chandelier. Now, here I must pause to explain that I detest my dining room chandelier. It was there when I bought my little condo but, as I mentioned in Coloring Our World, the previous owner of my home had, shall we say, unusual taste in décor (read: no taste at all). Although obviously very expensive, the chandelier is totally out of place in my ivory and pink and Wedgwood blue dining room. One might say it resembles something borrowed from a medieval castle. One might…if one were being polite. But the darned thing serves its purpose—to light the room—and I am nothing if not thrifty and practical, so I have never replaced it. Nevertheless, I only tolerate the chandelier. I don’t really like it.

So hanging the shimmering little pink chandelier ornament from the tip of the medieval monstrosity was an act of defiance. It said, “This is what you’re supposed to look like, you ugly thing!”

IMG_20210420_124509382_HDR_1 (2)

Weeks later, as I was packing up all my holiday decorations (or, as I’ve always called it, “Taking Down the Christmas”), I missed the chandelier ornament. A day or two later, I discovered it still hanging from the tip of the feudal fake. I reached to remove it, but hesitated. I didn’t want to bother rustling up the correct box of Christmas decorations out in the garage; I didn’t feel like wrapping the ornament and putting it away. So I just left it dangling there, the chandelier-on-the-chandelier.

Of course, this wasn’t the first time some small bit of Christmas detritus had been overlooked during the post-Christmas cleanup. I recall the time that a plastic icicle lived an entire year in a plant pot where I stuck it after stumbling upon it days after the tree came down. Then there were the two small silver stars that I discovered in a corner, probably batted there by a marauding cat as playthings. I stuck them on wires and wore them as earrings.

But, returning to the chandelier, later that summer, as my young great niece and nephew, Mya and Kai, ate lunch with me one afternoon, Mya glanced at the glimmering little decoration and asked me, “Is that a Christmas ornament?” A bit abashed, I agreed that it was. I explained I’d forgotten to take it down in January and decided to just leave it up. “I like it,” Mya pronounced judiciously. “It’s sparkly!”

Enter the holiday season of 2020. Although I did not splash out on anything extra, I decorated early and fiercely, trying to brighten my spirits during the sadness of the lonely, anxiety-ridden pandemic Christmas. I brought out decorations that I hadn’t bothered with for years, when my motto had been, “If you put it up, you’re gonna have to take it down!” Now, in the Year From Hell, taking everything down a month hence seemed a small price to pay for having some light and beauty around my home. So the shimmering little chandelier came out of hiding once more and returned to the tip of the ugly lighting fixture.

But on January 2, sighing as I packed away holly garland and lights, tree skirt and ornaments and icicles and candles, I deliberately and with grave intent left the glistening little chandelier ornament hanging from the tip of my lighting fixture. Because it was bright. Because the house, stripped of all the holiday decorations, felt as bare and sorrowful and depressing as the continuing pandemic. Because that tiny bit of sparkling joy felt just a little bit like hope.

Hope… The hope that I will, next December, still be here to unpack all my Christmas things and splash them about the rooms once more. The hope, now showing promise, that the vaccine will bring an end to the horror and devastation of Covid-19. The faint and dimming hope that a new administration will be able to somehow mend the divisive anger and furious accusations of a divided American populace, unifying us once more. The hope that those I love will be safe and protected through whatever the year hurls at us.

So the little chandelier will remain hanging above my dining table for another year.

Because hope sparkles.

If this post resonated with you, you might also like “Taking Down the Christmas”,
which was posted January 3, 2018, or “Puffy Socks Finds a Home (Sort of a Pandemic Story)”, from June 17, 2020. Scroll down the page to the Archives link to locate them.

My Shabby Old Green Armchair

We imbue the physical objects in our orbit with worth, adding to them a value far beyond their price.

My old green armchair is on its last legs, almost literally. It is growing ever more shabby…and ever more comfortable and comforting. It is just an overstuffed chair, not even a recliner, but that scruffy old chair has been my salvation for at least 15 years. It’s the chair where I sit to read in the mornings, sunlight pouring in from the living room window behind me. It’s the chair where my cat Lilith comes to lounge across my chest as I sprawl in the laziest position, my feet propped on the leather hassock in front of me. It’s the chair where I collapsed, feverish, coughing and wheezing one December night in 2019, feeling sick enough to die after a long day spent at the hospital with my even-sicker Dad. It’s the chair where I cuddled my cranky little grandbaby, trying to soothe her to sleep as I watched her through the night. And it is the chair which I knelt beside to stroke and kiss my darling little black cat, Belladonna, who lay there so peacefully and quietly as she began her journey across the Rainbow Bridge.

The green armchair wasn’t new even when I bought it. In the early 2000s, I’d discovered a store which sold second-hand hotel furnishings—sturdy pieces which were still in good shape, usually disposed of because a business was remodeling. In the days before bed bugs had become a resurgent menace, these pieces were an excellent bargain. The furnishings had heavy-duty springs and were covered in substantial, sturdy fabrics; upholstery meant to last through the worst that careless guests could offer. Best of all, the pieces were within my limited price range. So I bought a set consisting of a sofa striped in bottle-green, rose pink and fawn, with two matching bottle-green chairs.

The sofa had already seen the most wear, but still lasted a good eight years; I finally disposed of it when moving from an apartment to my little condo. The two green armchairs, though, moved with me. Despite being a pair, one was a bit more worn than the other, and finally, its springs sagging, gave up the ghost. Prior to putting it out on the curb for heavy trash pickup, though, I removed the fabric from the seat. A bit of cutting and stitching turned the rescued cloth into slipcovers to disguise the worn arms and back of the remaining chair.

It is those covers which are themselves now beginning to show wear. Picked at by cat claws and rubbed a thousand times by my forearms (and, regrettably, my knees, as I’ve sat sideways on the cushion with my legs slung over the arms), the covers are growing shiny with use and knobbly with picked threads. When they go at last, there will be no reprieve for my shabby old green armchair. But saying farewell to it will be genuinely sad.

It’s strange how these little bits of household detritus worm their way into our hearts and memories and lives, becoming more than just the sum of their being. Yet it happens to everyone. A wall is not just a wall, but a record of a child’s growth; a stuffed animal not merely a toy, but the friend that comforted us throughout our childhood, and one whom we cannot bear to abandon. And, for me, a chair that is not simply an old, battered, and comfortable chair, but the foundation of a hundred precious and important memories. The more spiritual among us may scoff at this habit of making a material object something more than it seems, deriding our connection as a foolish physical attachment, and perhaps they are right. But there it is, nonetheless. The broken down beater that was one’s first car, or the too-small first apartment; the maple tree climbed by a succession of children, itself grown tall from nothing but a spindly little volunteer; the old rocking chair that comforted many a sick child—they mean something to us, these little incidentals in our lives. We imbue them with worth, and they take on a shining patina thereby.

It won’t be long before, one sad day, I’ll find myself dragging my battered old green armchair out through the garage to await the trash truck. Chairs can’t have souls, of course. But I will, nonetheless, pat it when I place it on the curb and tell it, “Well done, good and faithful servant. Well done.”

If you enjoyed this post, you might also like the essay, “My Blue Willow Tea Set”, which was posted June 26, 2018. Scroll down to the Archives link to locate it.

My Fitted Sheet Waterloo

Or, Tales of Perfectionism…

A few months ago, purchasing new bedsheets to fit over a tall mattress pad, I unwisely purchased some with a “boxer fit hem”.

Now, fitted sheets are no picnic to fold, as every householder knows (or there would not be so many YouTube videos explaining the process).  How in the hell new sheets come out of the package in such perfectly smooth, even rectangles is beyond comprehension.  The manufacturers must employ elves or gnomes or something of that ilk to tuck and fold and smooth them into pristine perfection.  But years of practice had given me the knack of at least getting regular fitted sheets into a semblance of order that would fit into the linen cupboard.

But these damn sheets with the “boxer fit” hem were my Folding Waterloo.  No matter what reiteration of “how to fold fitted sheets” I looked up, they came out into a messy pile of fabric that looked as if it had been wadded up any old way and then just shoved into the closet.

And this, as anyone who knows me, knows well–this is not me.  So not me.  If you look up “perfectionist” in the dictionary, my photo will be prominently displayed.

Never was my tendency to perfectionism more evident than during the preparations for my daughter’s wedding, when I became heavily invested in making centerpieces for the reception tables.  We’d chosen miniature lanterns with violet flameless candles, the lantern handles bedecked with bouquets of tiny ribbon roses and ferns and jeweled net butterflies, paired with tiny white birdcages filled with my daughter’s favorite miniature sunflowers, then tied with white organza ribbons and topped more of the butterflies. LanternBasket  I worked on those centerpieces for weeks during the summer preceding my daughter’s fall wedding.  Every bouquet, I believed, had to be just so.  Picture-perfect.  The exact mix of roses, babies’ breath, ferns, wire-and-net butterfly, and slender purple ribbons in impeccable bows.  I genuinely spent hours of my life making each of those bouquets absolutely flawless. I tied and re-tied the organza ribbons on the birdcages, carefully positioning each sunflower, gluing the butterflies to just that perfect position on the handles…

On the evening of the wedding reception, I watched as countless little girl guests untied the bouquets from the lanterns and carried them about or slid them onto their wrists as corsages, or festooned their hair and dresses with the flowers.  They plucked the butterflies off the lanterns to fling them into the air, laughing as they glided gently through the air before swooping and scooting across the dance floor.

Fortunately, my obstinate perfectionism does not extend so far as to prevent children from having a good time.  I found myself laughing aloud as happy little girls raced by me clutching flowers and butterflies—laughing at their joy, and laughing at myself, for the hours of slaving over those faultless miniature bouquets and ribbons.

And that, I suppose, is the rational divide between the innate perfectionism which so often trips me up, overtaking my common sense, and my ability to laugh at myself as I catch a glimpse of the larger picture.  No one, glancing at those centerpieces on the reception tables, would have seen anything more than they did: a sea of lavender light, glowing in the darkness, punctuated by the bright yellow of sunflowers.  All the blood, sweat and tears I poured into making those darned centerpieces so utterly flawless was quite unnecessary.  Nevertheless, I was justifiably proud of them.  Also nevertheless, I could not be put out when the centerpieces were disassembled by a tribe of rampaging children who were discovering the innate joy of making toys from of unexpected items; who were finding that this could be every bit as fun, or more so, than staring at a computer screen, no matter how new the game.

Despite what I learned on the evening of my daughter’s wedding reception, I don’t expect my OCD behavior to vanish anytime soon.  My house will continue to be a shining visage of cleanliness and order, so long as my strength to keep it so holds out.  I will still stress unnecessarily over all manner of tasks, and assign myself onerous responsibilities.

But I really don’t think I will ever learn how to fold those damn boxer-hem sheets.

If you enjoyed this post, you might also like “Controlling the Rainbow”, which can be found in the Archives from October 5, 2018.

I Told You So!

Then came Lockdown…

I admit it: I absolutely LOVE saying, “I told you so!” Love it, enjoy it, and particularly relish saying-not-saying-it with a very evil, falsely self-deprecating grin. Oh, I am usually tactful enough that I don’t actually say the words aloud. I just think them very, very loudly.

But I am hereby declaring, stating and announcing that I WAS RIGHT, I TOLD YOU SO, HA! SO THERE, YOU WACKADOODLES!

What I am (in my mad, gleeful dance of triumphant delight) referencing is my blog post of October 8, 2019, titled Apples to Oranges, the subject of which was that scurvy little mailing that I receive periodically from the local power company; the one which purports to tell me how well (or not) I’m doing in managing my power consumption.

As I pointed out in that earlier post, that unwelcome notice always explains that my power usage is being compared to “similar homes” within the area. It then continues on to state various methods (90% of which I am already doing, barring the quite ridiculous ones) by which I can reduce power consumption and so, one presumes, my bill.

But, as I also pointed out in that previous post, just one dynamic among the many factors which the Gods of Power Consumption fail, in their infinite wisdom, to take into consideration is whether all those people living in all those “similar homes” are (or at least were, prior to pandemic) usually out of the house for ten or more hours a day every weekday, as they go to work or attend school. Never once considered when the Electric Deities make their ridiculous calculations are whether those “similar homes” (which, as I also pointed out, ain’t so darned similar at all) are occupied daily, all day, most days, as mine is. Are the people who live in those homes present in their houses for long periods of time—retired, as I am, or stay-at-home parents of small children? Do the occupants of those houses regularly work from home and therefore are using lights and stoves and microwaves and TVs and computers and power tools and furnaces and air conditioners and whatever, at times when the majority of homes are sitting empty and idle—powered down—unplugged–evincing little draw upon the power grid?

Nope. Neighborhood location seemed to be only actual factor figured into their bogus calculations.

But then came Lockdown. Stay-at-Home orders. Families home together all day long: working from home, doing virtual schooling, cooking three meals daily, using lights and stoves and microwaves and TVs and computers and hair dryers and water heaters and the whole darned schmear the entire livelong day. Home. Consuming electricity. Just like those of us who are retired, or who are stay-at-home parents or who work from home on a regular basis.

Next began to roll out the news articles, one after another: the increase in utility consumption due to lockdown. Gas, water, electricity—all off the charts, over the top, as families whose homes usually sat empty and idle every weekday were occupied 24/7. Increases in electricity use of as much as 37% for some families.

And so, at last, the proof of the pudding. The prize in the Crackerjacks box. The reality in the show. For when the “how you’re doing” mailing appeared in my mailbox last fall–the one that should have encompassed mostly the period of lockdown–it carefully did not cover only those weary weeks of quarantine. Instead, it averaged the preceding multiple months. And I know, absolutely and unquestionably why: because all those who had previously been told how astoundingly slight their power consumption was would have received very bad news indeed, while we, the stay-at-homes, drawing constantly upon the power grid when so the majority of other homes usually sat empty and idle for hours daily, could no longer be told that our power consumption was, comparatively, merely “Good”, or even “Poor”. Instead, our usage would have had to have been recorded as (skirl of bagpipes, blare of bugles, ruffle of drums) great. GREAT. Wonderful. Fantastic!

Well, truth be told, my power consumption has always been great. The very fact that I could be told, time after time, that my usage, when compared to those empty and idle homes, was Good, when my own home was occupied all day long and drawing upon the grid (as well as the many other factors I mentioned in that earlier blog), meant that my careful use of electricity was actually, all along and every single darned day, just great. Cautious and sparing. Stupendous, in fact.

I’ve received several more “How’re You Doing” mailings, as the Divine Managers of All Power use the money that their customers pay them to print up and send out all these scurvy little missives telling us just what power-consuming-gluttons we customers are. Funny thing, though. Lockdown having ended, those mailings once again reverted to covering only the period of the most recent couple of months. Learn the game, change the rules…. I’m not that big a chump, guys. Onto you.

There are few things I like better than being proved right. Especially when it comes to besting a utility company.

If you enjoyed this post, you will probably really, really like Apples to Oranges, in the Archives on 10/08/2019!

Coloring Our World

Decorating schemes are entirely built upon personal preference–and in that, those of us who live alone have the advantage. We need not compromise!

A man I once dated had been divorced for a long while, and, consequently, had erased many memories of his ex-wife by redecorating his home in colors and styles that he preferred. While I knew from our first couple of dates that our relationship would not be long-lasting, his household color scheme alone would have been enough to make me bail on the association.

The worst room was, I recall, his kitchen. It had been painted precisely the shade of bottled mustard and enhanced with a strip of wallpaper border at the top: a coal-black background across which a frieze of golden pears and yellow apples danced. (Where, I still wonder, does anyone even find such a thing?)

It’s possibly needless to say that I experienced difficulty eating a meal in that room.

My own decorating tastes run to pale, rich, quiet colors: shades of ivory and shell pink, lavender and light teal, pale blue and mint green and peach. Since Boyfriend was in the market for a new home to ruin with his lack of taste, I accompanied him while he examined several model houses. Entering one, I found myself enchanted. The walls of the living room were brushed a medium lilac, while a wallpaper border along the top featured wisteria bunches amongst pale green vines on a white background. This room led into a glassed-in patio at one side, filled with white wicker furniture bearing cushions decorated with the wisteria-and-vines motif. I found the combination delightful. He thought it was nauseating.

And that, as I have pointed out many times previously in these blog posts, is perfectly okay. We are each entitled to our personal preferences. The real trick lies in maintaining the validity of one’s own stance while not belittling another’s choices (at least to their faces; in the privacy of one’s own mind is another matter!) By exercising tact, we refrain from making anyone feel that their selections are inadequate or unusual. When Boyfriend, immensely proud of the kitchen that I found so atrocious, extolled the brilliance of his color scheme, I merely remarked that it was “really bright”. I even smiled as I said it. (“Makes my eyes bleed,” was my preferred response, but I bit my tongue. Hard. I may even have drawn blood.)

Another date, stopping by my own condo for the first time, gazed about the lower floors done in my ivory/light brown/shell pink/bottle-green color scheme and remarked noncommittally, “It’s very feminine, isn’t it?” (Well, yes, of course. I live here alone, and I’m a woman.) But I took his actual meaning, and silently lauded him for his tact. Date had admirably overcome the hurdle of expressing his reservations without sounding overtly critical. He actually did a far better job than a female friend of mine. Her tastes run to brighter, deeper shades; she remarked that my color scheme reminded her of an 80s hotel.

Neither Date nor Boyfriend made it into the category of long-lived relationships, so their decorating preferences were really just a blip on the screen. But had there been any chance that I was going to continue seeing either one, I might have been just a touch more assertive in my reply, while still avoiding overt criticism—something along the lines of “Uh, well, to be quite honest, I really prefer softer colors, especially in a kitchen. Dark, bright colors make a kitchen feel very small and hot, I think.” Tactful, while nonetheless honestly acknowledging my own preferences, so that he might file them away for future reference. If Date had been someone I wanted to follow up on, I might have described to him the colors that my condo had originally been painted, while carefully noting his reaction: the living room in camouflage colors, flat khaki green and brown; the tiny half-bath in dark royal purple; the main bath in dried-blood scarlet and poison candy green; a kitchen the shade of Grey’s Poupon and the main bedroom in the darkest teal accented with pale violet and mustard. (Yeesh! The gallons and gallons of paint it took to overcome these shades does not bear remembering! Nor the fact that the young clerk at the paint store insistently debated my decision to use the “eggshell” finish paint, rather than semi-gloss. Once more, an instance of someone attempting to impose their preferences over my own.)

But, as I have pointed out before (and probably at nauseating length), the tendency to compel others to do/think/feel as we do seems to be genetically encoded somewhere in our DNA. No matter, though. I live alone, so I have absolute dominion over my decorating preferences. 80s hotel or not, I will eschew the elementary school Crayola palette and stick with the pale, soft, rich colors that I so love.

If you enjoyed this post, you might also like “Roses of the Soul”,
which you can find in the archives from December 16, 2017.

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.

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.