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Valentine’s Day. We’re doing it wrong.

Heart of Stone

My younger son went to the semi-formal with friends a few weeks ago. They dressed up, no dates, and had a great time dancing their asses off. There’s video. I’m not sharing.

My older son, who has a girlfriend, opted not to go. Their attitude was “been there, done that, thank you, next.” Since he is a senior, I’m guessing they’ll be more interested in prom when the time comes. I like that they made their own choices and that didn’t feel pressure to go or not to go.

I have always really hated Valentine’s Day because there is so much pressure and I see people all over beat themselves up for being alone from middle school onward. There was always so much drama over whether we would get a carnation from the right boy, even we even got on at all, and heaven help the ones who got one from the wrong boy.

As an adult, when I worked in the city, I used to see all these guys on their lunch breaks scrambling in CVS for a last minute card or a tacky pink stuffed animal. Why bother?

And then there are the folks spending a first Valentine’s Day alone after a break up. How hard that must be, and how it must seem that everyone else in the world is partnered up, even though that’s far from the truth. Torture by Hallmark holiday. So not fair.

For those of us who do have a partner, even going out to dinner with everyone else in the world creates unwanted pressure. If things aren’t perfect the occasion seems like an awful portent.

I don’t think I’ve ever really celebrated Valentine’s day. I’ve never been a really romantic person, and to start now would just make both of us laugh.

I don’t really regret my decision, but I wish now that I was able to make it fun for my kids when they were little like I’m able do with Christmas. I slogged it out year after year getting the kids to write out paper valentines for each of their classmates. They resented it, I resented it. They would come home with the little cartoonish cards or stickers from their classmates in a bag or a box and never look at them again. One year I even created handmade cards for 60 kids, but I never did anything for my boys at home. I should have. Whoever created “Galentine’s Day” and “Palentine’s Day” had the right idea (this is the first year I’ve heard of either), but they should all be on the same day.

Someone at this high school had the right idea. It’s fun, it’s inclusive and a little mysterious. More of this kind of thing, please.

My generation had to have a date to go to the Prom and there was so much drama and heartbreak and pressure around it. I’m so glad my kids are able to go with friends and just have fun. That’s the way Valentine’s Day should be.

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I Need a Word

I find myself in need of a word to describe the almost tangible feeling that I really should be in a different time or place than I actually am depending on things like the season, the feel of the air, or sometimes the time of day. It goes beyond nostalgia, even though that’s certainly part of it. If you are watching The Man in the High Castle, it feels a little like that alternate life, complete with memories that feel immediate.

Some examples:

Both our our kids were adopted at the same time of year, two years apart. We did our first trips for each child in March, and the trip to finalize each adoption was taken in late April. We were back home in Boston with T on May 1, and with P on May 5. For years afterward, when the light would really start to change, and there was the smallest hint of warmth in the air in very early spring, my husband and I would feel like we should be packing for St. Petersburg again. It took years for that feeling to dissipate.

Every September, probably really starting in late August, I feel this incredible pull to be on a college campus again. There is an enormous hole in my life because I am not taking a class, or teaching a class, or a part of a learning community. I think I first noticed this the year I took a couple of classes at Boston College. Walking around campus, I really felt like I belonged; not at BC specifically, but in an academic setting. That was over 20 years ago. I never did get to pursue a Ph.D. and I didn’t get to stay in the dream job that I had on a smaller campus (long, ugly story), so there’s that pull, mixed with tremendous resentment and regret.

More recently, I have been experiencing the certainty that if I stepped out of my house and got into my car, I really should be driving around the town I grew up in and the town where my grandparents lived instead of where I actually live, several hundred miles away.

The view from my grandparents’ place, Branford, CT, sometime in the 70s.

This is a weird one. I don’t really want to live in my old hometown anymore and most of my friends and cousins are no longer in the area. I’m constantly grateful I am not living surrounded by people who knew me when I was a teenager. There’s really nothing left for me there. I couldn’t afford it now, and with the exception of my senior year, my time there wasn’t that great (this is more about where my family was emotionally than anything to do with the town). What is the draw?

I wonder the extent to which the draw is regret. I suppose this is related to my cousin’s death a few weeks ago, and that visceral feeling of reaching out for a person slipping away from you too soon. My mother’s family went their separate ways after my grandmother died. I regret that we all lost touch for so long. I regret decisions our parents made, actions that my generation had no say in, and so many of us were left adrift without our anchors. After twenty years, I had only gotten to know my cousin again at her father’s funeral. As we always do, I assumed there would be other occasions to connect.

I wonder too, if the “should haves” in my life have that much power over me, that I can feel them physically, as sing posts, or perhaps even roadblocks. It is a question for therapy, when I’m finally able to start. My life is pretty good but the should haves in my life are enormous. How do I continue to make something meaningful and satisfying out of the path I did take?

Life on the Island · Uncategorized · Writing Life

Procrastibaking, So There!

It’s 3º. The high today was 5º. It snowed and slushed for the better part of yesterday and then it all froze. Walking is treacherous. If it wasn’t already Martin Luther King Day, school would likely be cancelled. Post-holiday winter is here.

For my friends in upstate NY, the upper-Midwest and Canada, I realize this is nothing. Honestly, I thought I was going to be one of those crusty curmudgeonly types who retired in Maine, but now I am undone by single degree weather and the howling wind.

Apple Walnut Bread

I can’t imagine commuting the way I used to right now. I worked mostly at home for so many years that it’s hard to remember what that’s like. I used to enjoy the commute. And the commuter rail used to be reasonably reliable. Now I don’t have the stamina for two hours door-to-door, a full day of work, and then another two hours for the journey home.

I can’t really do fourteen-hour days anymore, though I really do miss being in an office, being part of a team. I haven’t settled into a routine of my own as of yet. It is the hardest part of having ADD; routines don’t really stick.

Every so often, L will ask me how I’m feeling. After multiple trips to the hospital this summer and fall, he is now always on the lookout. Generally speaking, although the cold takes my breath away, I have been doing pretty well. The problem is though, I haven’t been doing very much.

I’ve been sleeping a lot. Whether that’s physical, or depression-related, or I just don’t want to get out of my warm bed, it’s hard to say. My days these past few weeks have been starting around 10 AM, unless I have a specific appointment. I have been reading a lot, which I guess is a good thing. I’ve been making a real attempt to set the phone / social media aside for most of the morning and read a real, physical, book.

I need to be writing more. I need to pick a direction and get moving. I have had the germ of a novel simmering in the back of my head for years, but it is really not going anywhere. I’ve had this eternal problem with it; the setting is more real in my head than the characters because the characters are based on real people and I’m afraid of them being too recognizable. I may just need to discard the whole thing and move on to what I thought would be my second project. Maybe I’ll come back to it when I get better at inventing people.

The rest of my days are often filled with managing medical appointments and chasing after prescriptions (which really should not be this hard to manage, how do seniors do it?).

In the meantime I took advantage of the fact that this cold weather makes me want to cook. A friend calls it procrastibaking, which, it turns out, is a real thing. I made apple-walnut bread for the first time (yum!) and chocolate pecan pie, which has become the new favorite around here. I also made a thing I’ve always called coq au vin, but is really like a chicken stew with white wine instead of red. It doesn’t reduce the way I’d like in a slow cooker, so I’m not doing it that way again. Cooking does make me feel like I’ve accomplished something anyway.

Politics · Uncategorized

New Year, New Candidates, Same Stupid Sexism.

It’s been a little more than 48 hours since Elizabeth Warren announced that she was formally exploring a run for President in 2020, and already we are questioning whether she’s “likable” enough. Politico even ran a column asking if Warren could avoid the Hillary Problem. It then proceeded to run with every negative gendered stereotype ever ascribed to Warren, Clinton, or Nancy Pelosi; as a matter of inquiry, of course.

Courtesy of Warren.senate.gov

In the coming weeks, the media is going to want to talk about Warren’s Harvard salary, her Native American claim, the tone of her voice, and other nonsense, content-free “analysis.” Look for “But her DNA” to become the new “But her emails.”

In a few months, we can expect the same kinds of reporting about Kamala Harris, Kirsten Gillibrand, and maybe even Amy Klobuchar. Because the media has learned nothing from their role in the 2016 election.

We are still rehashing what went wrong in 2016. It comes up every time there is movement from Special Prosecutor Mueller’s office. As the conspiracy picture slowly becomes more clear however, we still can’t absolve journalists and pundits of their malpractice when it came to covering Hillary Clinton. It continues today.

Former Hillary Clinton campaign manager Robby Mook captured it perfectly on Twitter:

Elizabeth Warren has a rich and complicated history of policy advocacy. She is a professor and a politician. She has the rare ability to describe complex banking and other regulation to the average consumer or voter in terms those of us not educated in these practices can understand. How much of that will be covered in the coming months and how much will we instead be subjected to articles highlighting how people feel about her?

Regardless of what candidates we are covering or supporting, we should be talking, in whatever media available to us, about policy priorities. What are the various healthcare proposals? What will they take to implement? What steps can be taken to rein in campaign spending and lobbying corruption? How much public money is being spent on privatization efforts, and what are the returns to the taxpayers? How do we connect immediate action on climate change to economic prosperity? What are the plans for combatting gerrymandering and voter suppression?

Too much time in the news cycle is spent not on the details of a bill, or a regulation, but on how people react to what they have been told it means by the politicians. We spend so much time on poll numbers, slicing data to illustrate and emphasize a divided electorate, and not enough on describing what a proposal really means to the people in the real world. It’s not just the politicians who are disconnected, it’s the media too.

Look, those of us who write about politics love the horserace. But the horserace is the environment, it’s not valuable information.

Are you writing about a candidate? Examine your language. Have you described the candidate’s outfit, or hairdo, smile, or some other personal attribute that would never be mentioned about a male? Do you find yourself using adjectives that are generally reserved for women? Why? Are you writing serious political analysis, or a piece for the Styles section? What policy questions have you asked or researched?

It will be a long road to November, 2020. We cannot afford the outrageous detours of 2016. Let’s do better.

Uncategorized

More Sparkle

Yesterday I got notification that this blog is a year old. I do actually remember setting everything up so that I would be ready to publish something on the first day of the 2018. I was really trying to make more time for writing in my life. I missed my old blog and wanted to start a new platform to reflect where I am now in middle age, instead of who I was as a relatively new mother. It’s just as well that I didn’t get the time to write very much at the beginning of the year. It turns out I’m not even the same person now that I was a year ago.

I’m not going to do the traditional rundown of the past year. Much of it was so awful, marked by personal sadness for me and cruelty in the larger world. I simply want to forget and move on. However, I’m choosing to look upon this year as a turning point, and it’s now my job to make sure that I keep moving in the direction that I want, first by defining it, and then by following it. I’m speaking here primarily of my career and what is to become of it, but there is also family and now my health to consider.

Hoping for More Sparkle.

I’m still looking for that thing that I can do to combat the attacks on our democracy that have occurred over the past few years. Illness has kept me from marching or protesting, but the best weapon I have are the words that I write. Trump’s win upended my faith in my own political analysis, and the speed of the destruction that his regime has wrought has made it hard to do what I used to be so good at – seeing the game a few steps ahead and predicting the next moves on the board.

Between the mid-term election results, the gradually increasing clarity about the connections among the Trump campaign, the Trump organization, Russian money laundering, and other mob ties, it feels possible that there will be an end to this. I’m starting to feel more comfortable writing about politics now. I just don’t have any platform other than this at the moment.

Tomorrow, L goes back to work and the boys go back to school. Tomorrow I have to start looking at my next career path, avenues for my writing, and get back on the road of being a “professional patient” for a while. My hope for 2019 for myself and any of my readers, is for projects worthy of your time and talents, and maybe even more sparkle to the coming year.

Community · Uncategorized

Relax, it’s All Done!

I have to say this was one of the better Christmases in recent memory. Several groups we typically exchanged gifts with agreed not to do gifts this year, cutting both the expense and the frantic shopping.

The boys got along reasonably well, even buying for each other for really the first time. There were no fights, no complaining.

I finished my Christmas Eve errands hours earlier than I usually do, and L stepped in to make cookies for the neighbors’ party so I didn’t have to scramble to get home in time to do it.

We all took the week off, though it is going by faster than I anticipated. Yesterday was crisp and cold, no higher than the freezing mark, but there was no wind so it wasn’t uncomfortable to go out and fill the bird feeders, and throw a stick for the dog.

Chickadees and doves and two kinds of woodpeckers swarmed the newly-filled feeders, perhaps gathering what they could before today’s rain. Later that night a pack of coyotes howled and yipped in the distance; their calls traveling easily through the thin, frigid air to our dog, who stood on alert for nearly an hour.

Today it is raining, and though, according to our weather station, it’s warmer, the winter damp can be paralyzing. I am fighting a cold, not a bad one; sore throat, congestion. However, I have pulled something in my shoulder, so even coughing hurts. It is a good excuse for a nap, and truly, I haven’t done much else.

Life right now is about managing my energy, trying not to run myself into the ground the way I used to. I was reading an article about how much of the emotional labor of the holidays falls on women, driven to perfection as so many of us are. When my nieces and nephews were small, I put a lot effort into finding the perfect personalized gift for each of them, running around from store to store and spending way too much money. I stopped being able to do that when I had kids of my own. Similarly, we used to travel all the way to Connecticut late on Christmas night after spending the evening with L’s extended family. A few years ago, we stopped doing any visits at all on Christmas Day and it’s been the best thing.

I realized the other day that this is why I keep my Christmas decorations up as long as I do. There are those who take their decorations down right after Christmas and put everything away. I don’t like to take things down until the “twelfth day” of Christmas because I don’t have time before Christmas to relax and enjoy the tree and the lights. Christmas morning, after all the presents have been opened, is when the season finally belongs to me and I want some time to enjoy it.

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Solstice

I have called this guy “The Druid” forever. He sits in a meadow in a state park within walking distance from my house. A few years ago, I found out he was supposed to be Mongolian, and once I read that, I could see it in his face. Still, to me he is a creature of the woods, and therefore a Druid.

Occasionally, I will walk down and look at him, trying to grasp a bit of that silent peace in which he resides.

Today, the winter solstice, would be a perfect day for such a visit, were it not for the rain and the wind keeping me indoors. It’s a dark day, the shortest day of the year, but starting tomorrow there will be steadily, though imperceptibly, more light.

The worst of the winter is yet to come; the harsh cold of January, the depression of February, and the never-ending damp, gray onslaught of March.  I will be home, not working and not talking to much of anyone throughout the day this winter.  I am really hoping to use that time to actually write. Last year, my main goal was to enter writing contests. I never got to a single entry because the personal, professional, and political hits to my health and psyche just kept coming. I really want 2019 to be different.

Rightly or wrongly, I took the fallout from this summer’s layoff as a signal that it was time to change my path. I had a decent career for 20 years, but most of it was not something I got into with intention. It’s time to change that. This is my actual intention, to learn the business of writing and get myself out there, and hopefully, as an added benefit, take some more steps toward building a new life.

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2018: Enough Already!

I really want to stop complaining about this year. I really want this year to stop giving me things to complain about.

2018 pretty much began with the death of my uncle/godfather in February. He was diagnosed with lung cancer and had begun treatment, but the cancer was really aggressive and he was gone in about three weeks. He happened to pass on the same day my father did almost 40 years ago.

I went down to his funeral and met up with his son and daughter, cousins I hadn’t seen since my own wedding. I spent a few hours at Heather’s house, met her husband and kids, and got a chance to catch up just a little. We’ve been interacting on Facebook along with several other cousins.

Earlier this month, Heather was diagnosed with liver cancer (she was not a drinker – I feel like I have to add that because it’s often the first thing that people think). She had surgery last week and passed away Sunday morning. I don’t have any more detail than that.

I am angry. That’s not my usual response to a loss, but this one really, really pissed me off. Heather was about 10 years younger than I am, she had two kids around my kids’ ages, she had a husband who adored her. I keep thinking about them all in their house trying to figure out how to move forward without her, living with the pain of an empty spot at the table, a wife and mother who is never coming home. It’s awful and I feel terrible for them all.

I remember that emptiness; that shapeless void that can’t be reached across. I remember that desperation to rewind the last few days and change things; the utter disbelief that someone who was so important to you could suddenly cease to exist.

This is an especially tough thing during the Christmas season. I can’t imagine what it’s like to associate this holiday with the death of a partner or parent.

I know I’m not the only one who has had an unbelievably shitty year. 2018 can suck it.

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Wait, Weren’t Things Supposed to be Getting Better?

Can I just get some sleep?

Well, if I thought I was going to have an easier time of it moving into this holiday season, I was mistaken. Since Thanksgiving, I’ve been in the hospital twice with Afib and breathing difficulties. Apparently this happens to a lot of people around the holidays because we eat more and the things we eat tend to have more salt and fat than our regular diets. Things got resolved fairly quickly, there have been medication adjustments, and I got a lot of reading done while I was there.  But oh, I just want some time to rest and recover. I’m taking a lot of naps.

I’ve been home about a week now and I am feeling stronger and less tired all the time. I’m still trying to figure out what a “normal day” is going to look like for me now that L is working and I’m not. I need to start Christmas shopping and sending cards. I’ve actually said no to a few things people have asked me to take on. I’m trying to keep from running myself into the ground as I tend to do by taking on too much and trying to keep it all together.

I guess the good news is that these episodes were not the results of panic attacks. This has been one of the hardest years of my adult life. I’m really hoping that I can maintain a calm, even keel going forward. My health depends on it.

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Thanksgiving

Ready

We traveled to my sister’s house outside of Washington DC for Thanksgiving. We were smarter this time and stopped for an overnight in Princeton, NJ, instead of trying to do the whole thing in one shot. When we were there three years ago, it took us 15 hours. This time we wisely planned for a break.

During this week of people expressing gratitude, I’ve been struggling a little bit. It’s been an extraordinarily hard year. Things appear to be on the upswing, I don’t feel quite so under siege as I have since this summer, but we are not out of the woods yet.

This Thanksgiving I’m happy that there were no major arguments, that my family has settled into a framework of letting each other live in our own spaces without trying to control each other through judgment and recriminations. We were able to experience this most American of holidays the way it was meant to be celebrated.

I forget what I was doing, something small to help with the prep, when I got to thinking about all those who were not or could not celebrate in this way. Whether because of hospitalization or incarceration, or socioeconomic circumstances, this holiday is not a ritual that all Americans celebrate, and even for some Native Americans it is a day of mourning.

I wish that we were better as a society at celebrating our stories and legends while acknowledging that our recognition of their impact is incomplete and often problematic. I’m thinking now of a pageant-type performance in primary school where we made and wore construction paper pilgrim hats and shoe buckles, along with multi-colored Indian headdresses. One of the songs for this show began “Pilgrims and Indians are friends…” It was appropriately simplistic for a Kindergartner or First-grader. We didn’t know any better; but how much of the darker side of this story did our parents in the audience know? Because of the way these myths have historically been taught, I’m guessing not much. I live near Salem, MA, a city steeped in this kind of history, but almost always taught from the White point of view. How can we do better for our next generations, when we ourselves have had much of this history hidden from us by our privilege?

Washington is an interesting place to be contemplating all of this, especially these days. Since the last time I was there, the National Museum of African American History & Culture opened. I’d been wanting to go there for some time and as it happened, my sister had arranged tickets for us for Thanksgiving morning.

It was interesting and I need to go back at a time when impatient kids are not waiting for me to read every word. We spent awful lot of time with the sports and music figures and less than what I’d hoped for on the politics.

I did find an answer to the question I’d wondered about since the museum first opened; the meaning of the design of the building. It’s shaped like an inverted pyramid and is reminiscent of a crown-like element in African art. But note the pyramid shape atop the Washington monument behind / beside it. That reflection is not an accident. The bronze-colored exterior is meant to invoke the traditional ironwork of African-Americans in the South. Beneath the metal is glass and when the sun shines in, the scrollwork creates intricate shadows on the interior walls. I think it’s one of the only Washington museums not to be constructed with a marble exterior.

On Friday My mother, sister, niece and I went to see the Rodarte exhibit at the National Museum of Women in the Arts. My sister is the art person, I had never heard of them, but they are sisters who, among other things, designed the white and black costumes for the Black Swan movie. We were all impressed by how tiny Natalie Portman’s waist must have been.

On Saturday we visited with L’s brother and sister-in-law and their kids. I always feel bad that we get all the way down there and don’t spend more time with them. The kids are closer in age to my boys than their cousins on my side of the family. We got to have breakfast and see their new house before starting the long journey home.

This is never an easy trip to do, but I am so glad for the opportunity to get out of the house and do something different. I needed the change of scenery.