Thirty years ago today, I was running an important meeting at work; as the PR director for The Wadsworth Atheneum in Hartford, Connecticut, I was in charge of a big chunk of the festivities marking the 150th anniversary of the oldest continuously operating public art museum in the nation. At this team meeting, we were working out logistics surrounding the impending visit from then First Lady Barbara Bush, who was coming to help us mark the occasion. I was to be the point person for her visit.
As the meeting hummed along, I was surprised by a knock at the conference room door — and more surprised to see my assistant (and dear friend) Monique poke her head in. When I met her at the half-opened door, she apologized for interrupting and handed me a pink phone-message slip addressed to me, Jennifer: “Call home.”
Monique had been right to interrupt. “Home” in this instance meant my parents, who lived in the house I’d grown up in in Rockville, Maryland. They would never think to call me during the work day — unless…. well, you know.
Monique took my place in the meeting as I rushed to my office. I closed the door and dialed, nervous. My parents, at ages 64 (Da) and 65 (Ma), weren’t exactly old. But they weren’t exactly young, either. My heart thumped as I waited for someone to pick up.
My mother sounded surprised to hear from me, but not the least bit alarmed or upset. When I explained why I was calling, she was flummoxed. Turns out they hadn’t in fact called me, didn’t need me to call home. Relieved, I chatted with her for a moment before she asked if I’d like to say hi to my father. Of course, I said. Why not?
True to form, Da was cheery and full of chit-chat. He read me a joke from Reader’s Digest, something about a little boy peeing. We shared a laugh and talked for another few minutes.
As we were hanging up, my father said, “I love you.”
And I said to my father, “I love you, too.”
That was a Thursday.
On Saturday morning, my then-husband and I were sleeping in when the phone rang. My husband answered. His face darkened, and he handed the phone to me, staying close, rubbing my back. “It’s your mother,” he whispered.
My mother, calling to tell me that my father was dead.
My parents had a strained marriage; they loved each other, but they weren’t a match made in heaven. After my brother and I left home and launched our own lives, friction festered, and the two became estranged. I’ll write more about that another time, but all that’s important for you to know now is that Ma and Da, Thelma and Charles, reconciled after their rockiest patch. That Friday, the day after our phone conversation, they had gone to a matinee — A River Runs Through It, I want to say — then stopped at our family’s all-time favorite dive/pizza place, Gentleman Jim’s, on Veirs Mill Road in Twinbrook. They ordered a pizza and a pitcher of beer. Once the beer arrived, my father, never one to miss a swig, said he was feeling little off and was going to step outside for a breath of fresh air.
Then my father, Charles John “Chic” LaRue, stood up, alive, and fell down, dead.
Gentleman Jim’s sent a rubbertree plant as a condolence.
When I returned to work after the funeral, I found a handwritten note from Barbara Bush on my desk. She said she knew how instrumental I had been in preparing for her visit, and she was very sorry not to have met me. Most of all, she wrote, she was sorry for the loss of my father. “He must have been a wonderful man, to have a daughter like you.”
Life went on, as life, mercifully, does.
But what about that phone message? The phone message that led to my being able, the day before he died, to tell my father that I loved him–and allowed me to hear him say, the day before he died, that he loved me? What was THAT all about?
Turns out a new intern had started working in the museum’s development office that week, so recently she hadn’t yet met the receptionist.
A new intern.
Rest in peace, Da. I miss you all the time, and, gosh, don’t I wish you could have known your wonderful grandkids Sophie and Charlie — and, now, your delightful great-granddaughter Mabel.
Kitty and Bathsheba have been, for both better and worse, my most constant companions during the past year, the Year of COVID-19. They are here in my one-bedroom condo when I wake up — Kitty curled up next to me, Bathsheba sleeping on top of me, her treasured fishing-rod toy by my side, a gift she brings to my bed every morning. They are here while I cook and eat, usually finding a way to share my meals. They are here when I dance, read, write, work, and clean. They are here when, inevitably, I cry. But they are also here, every day, to make me laugh out loud.
Kitty, a wizened border terrier (think Benji, but ancient), turned 16 on April 15. Bathsheba, a beautiful black cat born to a stray my colleague rescued from under the porch of The Mark Twain House, where we both work, turned a year old on March 29. Kitty’s been around for more than a quarter of my life, and Bathsheba is brand new, but they both are equally big parts of my life — and they both make me feel very important, indeed. I mean, how can you NOT feel important when your every move is noticed and tracked, when your attention and affection are constantly sought — and when, upon opening the bathroom door or returning to the condo after running errands, you see the two of them sitting side by side, staring, waiting to lay eyes on you again?
During the past year, I have spent, like most other people I know, endless hours talking. Talking on my iPhone. Talking on Zoom. Talking on MS Office Meeting, FaceTime, and Facebook Live.
And, most of all, talking to myself.
But the physical presence of these two creatures in my home has allowed me often to pretend I’m talking to them. Which has made for some absurd conversations — all of them one-sided. “We’ve got to do laundry today, okay?” “I have to get started on my taxes, you guys.” “I wish that dog across the hall would quit yapping, don’t you?”
Talking to pets can be gratifying: they pay close attention, for one thing. And your dog will never challenge or argue; your cat will never shrug and say, “So what?” But spending this intensely concentrated time with them as my main interlocutors, I’ve learned an important lesson about taliking: in conversation as on the dance floor, it takes two to tango.
Much as Kitty and Bathsheba are beloved, they are not, by definition, interlocutors. Ours are not conversations. There is no back and forth, which means no pushback, no disagreement — and especially no dismissive dismissal of my comments.
I kind of like that. In fact, I like it enough that I’m mildly concerned that I’m not going to love talking with fellow humans quite as much moving forward.
I am perhaps particularly sensitive to issues of being seen and heard. Not, of course, in the way that people of color are too often not seen, not heard in our society. But as a woman, I am accustomed to being talked down to, talked over during meetings, talked around as if my words — and the thoughts they express — are somehow less important than those of whatever man is doing the talking down, talking over, or talking around. This is of course infuriating on the face of it — even more so when, as is (I’m just being honest here) so often the case, I am smarter, more accomplished, more thoughtful, more creative, and more articulate than those who dismiss me and my words.
I am clearly not alone: the word “mansplaining” — one of the most perfect words for conveying its meaning that I know of — is not in common circulation by accident.
This routine dismissal in the workplace is not constant or universal. But it also has occurred with shameful frequency in my personal life: in both of my two major relationships, I have allowed myself to be out-talked, out-argued, and controlled by the words of men. These men were not smarter than I am. They weren’t more worldly or aware or educated. They just had louder voices and a ready willingness to use them to control.
Just before COVID kicked in, I was still picking through the dead ends of my last relationship and realizing, finally, that not only could I NOT weave them back together, I really didn’t WANT to. People tell you that the only healthy way to break free from a failed relationship (particularly one with a narcissist; more about that another time) is to go NC, for No Contact. When I finally, after many painful years and months, managed to go NC with this man, I began to find strength in the silence. When, coincidentally (though I’ve started to wonder whether ANYTHING is truly coincidental, or whether in fact the universe has everything planned out just so), the virus forced many of us into isolation, I learned to love my solitude. I learned to love being alone.
I learned, finally, to love myself.
I had made up my mind that I was not just fine but actually quite happy to live alone, to dine out alone, to travel alone, to meet the world, for the first time since I was a kid, on my own terms and explore it accordingly.
Can you guess what happened next?
A dear friend whom I’ve known for 30-odd years but haven’t seen in many moons contacted me in early January. She’d made a New Year’s resolution to be more intentional, to ACT on her good impulses rather than just experience them and let them drift away. So, she wondered, did I remember the man, another member of our circle of friends from way back then? I did, indeed; I’d had occasion, even, to interact with him through work a few times, and, a couple of years back, when my own relationship was violently imploding, I bumped into him at Whole Foods, where my first reaction was, wow, he’s CUTE. We chatted long enough for me to learn that his 30-year-marriage, like mine, had ended in divorce a few years earlier–and that he was in another relationship. I clearly remember standing in the parking lot at Whole Foods and thinking SHIT.
As it happens, my friend told me, his relationship, like my own post-divorce one, had ended. Would I be interested in meeting up with him to see if we might click? She’d have to check with him, too, but I appreciated that she’d talked to me first, and I hopped right on board.
That was four months ago. He and I did indeed click. We agreed to become a COVID pod, both exercising extraordinary caution not just for our own safety, as before, but for the other’s sake now and for the sake of spending time together, in real life, in person.
I admit I struggled for a few weeks, recognizing by now that I had grown addicted to the drama that defines a relationship with a narcissist but unsure how to make the transition from that dysfunction to this, well, this lovely function. Finally my daughter/best friend pointed out that if I didn’t get over the narcissistic dirtbag — which, to be honest, he was — I risked losing this opportunity to be with a truly wonderful, loving, caring, supportive, smart, funny, creative, sexy man.
I woke up right quick.
My boyfriend — gosh, it feels good to write that and even better to say it! — brings so much to our now-shared table. One of the most important things, to me, is that we talk. And when we talk, it’s on equal terms. He wants to hear what I say, and I want to know what’s on his mind. I say something, he listens, he replies in such a way that makes clear that he listened to and heard what I said, and if he doesn’t quite understand what I’m getting at, he’ll ask. When he says something, I do the same.
Which is not to say that we will never argue or disagree. I’m always suspicious when people say they’ve never had a fight with their partner. That suggests to me that they never talk about anything important or difficult, that they’re not interested in learning the other’s point of view and perhaps learning from it, and that their relationship is, sadly, bound to fail.
But when my guy and I do eventually disagree, I’m confident we’ll continue to speak with one another with love, respect, caring, and open-mindedness. And if, for whatever reason, that’s not happening, we’ll talk about that, too.
It’s still not easy for me to accept that things can work this way; at age 60, I’ve never really experienced such a thing, at least, not consistently. But I’m here to tell you, it feels mighty good to hear and be heard. I highly recommend it. In fact, I recommend it SO highly that I’m going to say right here and now that nobody — and particularly no woman — should settle for less. As I have learned, it’s far better to be by yourself, talking to your animals, than to be with the wrong person. It’s worth waiting for the right person.
Because when you’re with the wrong person, you’re always just talking to yourself, anyway. And, take it from me, that’s way better than being mansplained to — or worse.
If you haven’t yet found the right person to talk with — and you will, if you want to! — I hope you have, or can assemble, an entourage of your very own.
Do you have a mansplainer in your life? Are YOU a mansplainer? Share your experience with me and Corrective Shoes readers by taking my Mansplaining? poll, please!
A funny thing happened to me on April 2, 2001, kind of a belated April Fool’s joke: My neurologist told me I had multiple sclerosis.
For weeks I had found myself fervently praying that I had Lyme disease, whose symptoms sometimes mimic those of MS. No such luck. An MRI scan, a spinal tap and blood tests, none of them individually conclusive, together pointed to the fact that my body had decided to start attacking itself. Apparently thinking they are doing the right thing, certain misguided cells have taken it upon themselves to destroy the fatty myelin sheath that coats the nerve cells in my brain, leaving scars that prevent the nerves from doing their jobs.
Why, I wonder, couldn’t they attack the fatty cells in my thighs instead?
As it stands, I have to get used to the idea that my favorite organ is under siege, and that there’s not a lot I can do about it. Despite huge technical advances in the last decade, despite the introduction of new drugs that might help slow the disease’s course, despite the heroic efforts of doctors and researchers all over the world, MS remains poorly understood. Nobody knows what causes it. Nobody knows how to prevent it. And nobody knows how to make it stop.
That, my friends, is the lede of the story I wrote for The Washington Post health section in August, 2001, a few months after I was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis.
If you had told me then that, 20 years later, I’d be here to blog reflectively about an incident that had shaken my soul and scared the shit out of me and made me, for the first time, really reckon with the harsh facts of mortality and ability and cognitive function and the prospect of being a burden to my loved ones… well, I don’t think I would have done one thing differently, to be honest.
I am among the extremely lucky: my MS was diagnosed early, apparently, and my incredibly wonderful neurologist Stephen Conway — shoutout!!! — immediately prescribed daily (now thrice-weekly) injections of Copaxone (which I at first had to draw from a vial into a syringe before injecting, but which now comes in a handy pre-filled syringe), and, knock on wood, my MS has barely progressed. Like I said, I’ve been so very lucky.
In the meantime, so much has happened: my two amazing children have become two amazing adults, leading lives of which I am so proud I can hardly believe it. I have suffered from debilitating OCD — and recovered. I have suffered from all-consuming bulimia — and recovered. I have had breast cancer — and, so far, at least, I have survived. I have left a long marriage, moved into my very own home for the first time in my life.
Some might look at that and say, wow, she’s had a pretty rough time of it.
I look at that and think, wow, I am so very lucky — and so very grateful. I’ve found joy, strength, and inspiration in my independence. I’ve traveled alone, lived by my own rules, followed my own schedule, read when I want to read, frolicked in the ocean, and made so many dear friends along the way. Life, as they say, is good.
Since I wrote about my diagnosis, much has changed: whereas there were but four approved DMTs (disease-modifying therapies), including Copaxone, when I was diagnosed, there are now more than a dozen, and more are being developed and released all the time. Awareness and understanding of MS, a complex and confusing condition whose only consistency is its inconsistency, has increased by leaps and bounds, and the support network for people with MS and those who love and care for them has grown exponentially.
But, for all of that, multiple sclerosis remains an elusive, and for now incurable, disease.
I don’t make a practice of soliciting for charitable causes; the ones I believe in and support may not be the ones you believe in and support, and I don’t expect my friends to shell out their hard-earned money to help my pet causes. But just for today, on this 20th anniversary, because I honestly believe that it’s an honest, hardworking, and effective organization, I’m allowing myself the luxury of suggesting, if you are so inclined, to make a donation to the National MS Society. Not for me; I’m fine. But I think of all the young people (MS most typically is diagnosed among women ages 20 to 40; men with MS tend to suffer more challenging courses) receiving the diagnosis I received 20 years ago today, and I’d love to think the information they glean when they Google is far less grim than what I encountered way back then — and my heart just wants to help.
Before I close, I want to thank my daughter Sophie, my son Charles, and all the phenomenal friends and family members who’ve stood by my side throughout my journey.
I woke up very late this morning, luxuriating in a rare Saturday-morning sleep-in after a rare late Friday night, planning my day, my list of tasks long and including my pledge to write a blog entry about today’s being the vernal equinox, otherwise known as the first day of Spring. I don’t know about you, and all due respect to you Fall worshippers, but there are few calendar dates that bring more joy and hope to my heart.
So I was going to blog about my walk in Elizabeth Park, the sunshine, the blah blah blah observations that everyone’s making about this particular first day of Spring, a year after the last first day of Spring that now, in retrospect, seems to have engaged so many of us in such naive optimism and tricked us into believing things would get much better, soon.
But midway through my day, the phrase “Spring is a New Beginning” sprang to my mind. That is, of course, the title of Joan Walsh Anglund’s 1963 book about, well, Spring. I rushed to my bookcase, hoping hard that I still had my childhood copy. And, yes, there it was. Spring is a new beginning.
I opened the cover and read my own childishly rendered cursive inscription: “From Denny and Lillian.”
Denny and Lillian.
Denny and Lillian were a young, hopelessly fashionable, attractive, smart, and affectionate couple that came into my young life because one, or both, of them was/were a student of my father, Charles LaRue. I wish I knew more, but I simply don’t.
What I DO know is that handsome Denny and gorgeous Lillian had no children, and they gravitated toward me and my brother and made themselves part of our lives. They took us to the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C., for a performance of Peter and the Wolf; we were seated right behind members of the Kennedy family. On the way to the show, they allowed us to sample — this must have been around Christmas time, and I was probably about 10 years old — their home-made bourbon balls, from an airtight container they’d brought along. I loved Denny and Lillian with a passion and wanted to be just like them when I grew up.
And grow up, I did. When I was in college, I worked for Crown Books, at the Rockville, Maryland flagship store of one of the first, if not the very first, of the major discount-book chains that would soon overtake the nation. I have never been so happy in a job as I was at Crown Books; I loved unpacking the boxes, stocking the shelves, manning the cash register and memorizing the discount prices, and recommending — me, at age 20, recommending! — books to customers. It was a heady experience, and in many ways, I’ve never topped it.
I had known for some years by then that Denny and Lillian had split. My mother surmised that the divorce had resulted from Denny’s and Lillian’s diverging, conflicting desires and ideas about children: Denny, it seems, was in favor of zero population growth and did not want children, Ma said, and Lillian, well, she apparently felt differently.
One otherwise unremarkable afternoon at the Crown Books cash register, a woman came to the counter, wishing to pay for her purchase via check. I, the cashier, had to check her driver’s license, which I remember thinking was so silly, as this slight, demure woman with her hair held back by a plain scarf seemed unlikely to be trying to pull a fast one.
My breath caught when I saw her name. Lillian Pxxxxx.
I glanced at her across the counter, wanting to connect, sure that this was the Lillian of my youth. But something about her demeanor told me a reminder of our tiny sliver of shared past might not be welcome, might even be painful.
Regretting the opportunity to bring Lillian back into my life, I pretended I’d never seen her before.
Spring is a New Beginning is a tiny little book that takes less than three minutes to read, so, soon, I was ready to put it back on the shelf. As I prepared to do so, though, the dust jacket slipped, revealing an inscription I don’t think I’d ever seen until tonight, concealed, as it was, by the jacket flap. Why else would I have written, myself, that this was a gift from Denny and Lillian, unless they had neglected to make that clear themselves, leaving me to correct the record?
Lillian (clearly, this was written in a woman’s hand) had written, some 50 years ago, “For Jennifer, a little girl in the spring of life! From Denny and Lillian.”
I thought I was done with this blog entry. Really, I did.
But something compelled me to Google Joan Walsh Anglund, who wrote and illustrated not just Spring is a New Beginning but many other, similarly comforting, uplifting, and seminal books of my youth. I had kept track of her in recent years; as a Connecticut resident and prominent author, she was someone I’d have loved to have featured in one of the author talks I produce for The Mark Twain House & Museum.
My jaw literally dropped when I did my Google search.
Joan Walsh Anglund’s March 9 death at age 95 was reported by The Washington Post.
One year ago today, the staff of The Mark Twain House & Museum met in our 176-seat auditorium to address the fact that this COVID-19 thing was suddenly more serious and more threatening than we had allowed ourselves, individually or collectively, personally or institutionally, to imagine. We gathered in the auditorium instead of our regular meeting space because we recognized the need to be seated far from one another. We talked about the fact that we’d be working from home for the next few weeks and ironed out as many details as we could, not knowing how very many details remained to be ironed out. I remember sitting in the very back row — extra anxious, as a recent breast-cancer survivor and long-term multiple sclerosis contender, about my potentially higher risk of succumbing to this mysterious virus — and shouting out that we should publicize our 3D virtual reality house tour as a means of remaining connected with the public during our brief hiatus.
365 days later, thousands of people have taken that virtual tour — and we’re still mostly working from home.
We’re far from unique; the same story has played out and continues to play out in workplaces of all kinds and sizes across the U.S. and all over the world. I invoke it here only as a milestone, a moment to consider what this chunk of our lives actually might mean.
I have blogged about my pandemic experience and will continue to do so, even as my second dose of vaccine looms close and lessens the urgency of my musings. I’m going to write about my stalwart neighbors and friends, my newfound hobbies, the lovely new relationships that have blossomed during the past twelve months, and the company of my aged dog and youthful cat that has sustained me throughout these crazy days.
For tonight, though, on this unlikely anniversary, I reflect on this: What if we had known, a year ago, what we were all in for? What if we had known just how much loss we would suffer, how many hours we’d spend alone, how many ways we’d struggle to stay cheerful, healthy, and productive, how much of our lives we’d miss? Would we have believed anyone who might have told us? Could we have begun to understand how much more fully we’d appreciate simple things we once took for granted, how precious the sensations of skin touching skin, arms holding loved ones, lips kissing lips would become?
The short answer is, no. None of us could ever have imagined any of this. And that’s probably a good thing. Hope, wherever we could find it and whatever form it took, kept us going. As did a certain kind of ignorance, not exactly blissful, but perhaps protective.
But I wonder. One day, when life returns to what we once knew as “normal,” will we remember what we’ve learned from this singular year we have shared? And will we adapt, evolve, change, and grow accordingly?
Well, dear readers, it’s been a long time. Let me explain.
Sometimes you’re all gung-ho about a blog and keep at it for a few months and then just…. well, you just peter out.
That’s not what happened with me and Corrective Shoes.
I decided last fall that the world didn’t need, and surely wasn’t likely to pay much attention to, my potty little meanderings in the midst of the election season, at a time when the COVID-19 calamity had ceased to have any soft edges or funny angles and simply seemed grim. We were rounding into winter, never my easiest time of year under even the best circumstances, and I simply decided I had nothing to add to the conversation. I knew I’d come back when the time was right. And the time feels right, right now.
I lead a charmed life. I have two amazing adult children and an amazing son-in-law; they’re all smart and funny and independent and gainfully employed doing meaningful work. And, just today, they confessed that my musical tastes — in particular, the White Stripes songs I subjected them to when they were growing up — turn out to be not that bad, after all. Score one in the minor triumphs column!
I have a home that I love and work that fulfills me; I’m surrounded by the best, kindest, most supportive and loving friends imaginable. I have a sweet old terrier and an amazing black kitten. I have big stacks of books and an Instant Pot and a sunny balcony. I can hear the train whistle as it passes through Hartford but not feel the rattle of the tracks. I have gin martinis and Schitt’s Creek and Outlander; I play my vinyl records and dance in the evenings. I have Amazon Prime and buy myself frequent gifts. I don’t make much money, I don’t have one single thing you’d call fancy, I can’t afford elaborate vacations, but I have everything a gal could want, and much more.
At the most basic level, though, I have a home. I have nourishing food and clean, plentiful water. I have a flush toilet and a sink and shower, soap, shampoo, and clean clothes that smell like my favorite detergent. I have heat; I have a refrigerator and a stove and an oven. I have health insurance and excellent health care. I have a paycheck.
During the past year, I, like, I’m guessing, you, have faced many moments of despair, worry, depression, sadness, uncertainty, and fear.
Imagine facing all of those things without the benefit — the luxury, really — of those things we so easily take for granted. Home. Heat. Food. Water. Clothing. Love.
I try to remind myself how very lucky I am, how kind the universe has been to me, whenever I start feeling sorry for myself. Sometimes, though, I lose track of that. More often than I’d like, I find myself indulging in self-pity, sometimes even anger and resentment.
It’s been documented that, during this time of sheltering and working from home, the incidence of foot injuries, particularly stubbed toes, has risen. It makes sense: people are wandering around their homes barefoot pretty much all the time, making their poor bare toes increasingly vulnerable to jarring encounters with table legs and bedposts.
I’ve stubbed a toe or two during the past year, for sure. For me, though, this has been a long season of papercuts and hangnails. I don’t know whether I’m just noticing them more because, in isolation, my brain has fewer distractions, or I’ve actually been suffering more of these minor injuries than usual. I have no documentation to support this, of course, but I am convinced paper is cutting me and my hangnails are hanging way more than they used to.
And I think there’s a reason for that.
I’ve come to believe that every time I slice the web of my thumb on the razor-sharp edge of a manila folder, every time a hangnail catches a strand of hair while I’m showering, it’s a message from the universe. As I cycle through all the ugly emotions that papercuts and hangnails inspire, I eventually come to, why did this have to happen? Why is this happening to me? Why does this KEEP happening to me?
The answer, I’m convinced, is that hangnails and papercuts are the universe’s way of reminding me how very good I have it, how very lucky I am. Go on, it challenges me. Go ahead and feel sorry for yourself because you cut your finger and it made you wince.
I’ll be here, the universe tells me, once you get over it. Once you finally get over yourself.
For five years, now, I’ve been going and pushing and running myself so ragged I can barely breathe. It had to be that way, and I loved and thrived on the energy that, once mustered, gave me the fortitude to leave my 30-year marriage, move to my own home (for the first time in my life), start a new job, reframe and redefine all the relationships in my life, grapple with my finances, buy a Jeep, build a new life in the city, and experience more of life than I had ever imagined I could or would. It’s been a whirlwind, an emotional rollercoaster, a wild, wild ride. I wouldn’t trade it, or the lessons I have learned along the way, for anything.
One of those lessons, though, has come only recently, and it’s taken me quite a while to adjust to it and adapt accordingly. But I’ve finally learned that sometimes you have to just slow down and shut up and listen. Listen to the universe, and pay close and careful attention to what it’s trying to tell you.
For all its horrors and deprivations, COVID-19 has forced many of us to break our frantic, hectic cycles and pause to reflect. For me, COVID has coincided with a period during which, having had a constant influx of amorous engagements, I have no romantic prospects whatsoever. That, along with the COVID-imposed isolation, the end of summer, and the prospect of short, dark days and frigid weather, has driven me to what has felt like a very low point in my life, and I’ve found myself flailing about for ways to find a man, keep winter from driving me to depression, catch my breath when I feel like I’m gasping for air.
For the past few weeks, I’ve been suffering under the weight of enormous stress, from work, from my personal life, from whatever I did to hurt my low back a few weeks ago. It’s been pretty hard on me. But this weekend, I’ve finally had the first opportunity in recent memory to take a break, hang out all by myself, think my thoughts, drink my coffee, write in my journal, meditate, read, and take nap after nap. It’s felt strange, lazy, self-indulgent, scary, in a way.
But now realize that fallow period has been just what I needed. I needed to disengage, detach, drop off the rollercoaster.
And now, having done so, some lessons have emerged. In hopes that they might resonate or otherwise be helpful to you, I’ll share them here. Mind you, none of them is particularly original or groundbreaking; they’re pretty much all things you can read about in any self-help book you might order from Amazon. But I’ve also learned that those lessons are just words on a page until the moment arrives when they suddenly make sense and apply to your own life.
The universe is way smarter than any of us, and it has a pretty cool plan in mind. But to take advantage of that plan, you have to stop and listen and be truly, honestly, and entirely receptive to what the universe is trying to tell you. This requires trust and faith, which can take time to cultivate.
Hard work, ingenuity, planning, and entrepreneurship are essential to the process of making the most of your life. BUT they only pay off if, just as you’re working your hardest and plotting your plans, you acknowledge that you are simply not in control, and, more important, the act of trying to control circumstances and other people is futile and fruitless. All you can control is your own behavior — and your response to others’ behaviors. Period. Once you’ve got that straight, you can relax and, with a clearer sense of purpose, proceed with your plans.
You don’t need ANYBODY’s approval but your own. I’ve spent decades seeking approval from others, in all kinds of ways, in all kinds of settings, from all kinds of people. It’s the most pointless — even damaging — waste of time, energy, and emotion imaginable. Getting past that might be the single most important thing I’ve achieved for myself in the past five years.
Breathing fixes everything. From stress and anxiety to that crick in my hip to worry and fear and skepticism and worry…. taking time to sit down and do nothing but breathe, and focus on the act of breathing, is the antidote to almost anything that ails you. No, it can’t cure disease or make you rich or introduce you to the man of your dreams. But it makes everything easier to cope with — and, going back to how the universe operates, I’m increasingly confident that it opens doors to the places where you are meant to travel and ultimately reside.
I hope you’re not rolling your eyes at me by now! I promise next time to blog about something funny, okay? Until then, be well, be safe, and… breathe!
Not in walking-under-a-ladder sense; I mean, I OWN a black cat, for Pete’s sake.
But all my life, I’ve embraced superstition as a kind of protection against calamity. Though my intellect knows better, my heart has always held fast to the belief that if I embrace a superstition to keep something bad from happening, that something will not come to pass. It’s ridiculous, I know, but it’s been my talisman throughout my whole life. I’m not especially proud of it, but it is what it is, and it seems to have served me well over the years. Well, except for…. well, never mind.
More recently, I’ve been struck by the appearance in my life of written missives that seem magically to arrive at just the moment when I need to read them. This, too, is silly: I mean, how can the daily horoscope in The Hartford Courant have anything at all to do with what’s going on in my life? But, more often than not, and sometimes jaw-droppingly so, that little paragraph aimed at Sagittarians like me not only rings true but offers helpful advice.
Similarly, every morning I consult a book by Melody Beattie called The Language of Letting Go Journal. Based on Beattie’s book The Language of Letting Go, it offers a daily reflection and opportunity to reflect via journal entry. I am cycling through it for a second year, and I’m astounded at how, each day when I open it up, the same message it offered on the same date last year hits home once again. It’s not that I haven’t learned and grown, either; I think it’s precisely because I HAVE learned and grown that the same message has strong, but different, meaning to me a year later. It’s almost like it’s been waiting for me to be ready for it.
Most powerful of all, though, is an app a colleague recommended to me more than a year ago: The Pattern. To say it’s freaky how much The Pattern knows about my life, my heart, my mindset is an understatement; it really is almost scary. But it’s also extremely helpful to me, and when I read it I feel understood and supported.
I know some of you will have drifted away by now; I get it, and I probably would be rolling my eyes, too, if I hadn’t experienced these phenomena first-hand. But I have, and, as a pretty smart, pretty accomplished, kinda mature human being, I’m here to tell you that there’s something going on here.
And that something, I think, is the mysterious power of the universe to deliver exactly what each of us needs most, at the moment at which we need it most. All we have to do is keep our eyes, ears, and minds open enough to receive it when it’s delivered.
I’d love to hear your thoughts about all of this! Please share them in the comments!
I have never been a big fan of winter. In fact, for many years, the very thought of it depressed me, and I can remember many winters that seemed to drag on, cold and grey and depressing, for far longer than the three months they were rightfully allotted.
But I made up my mind years ago that, if I was going to live in New England (which I do, and plan to continue), I was going to have to find a way not to be miserable all winter long. Winter here lasts for about a third of the year, all told, and to be miserable all winter means resigning to being miserable for roughly one third of your life.
So I have found ways to embrace and adapt. Living in a condo, I don’t have a fireplace to cozy up in front of, but I do have a cozy home with plenty of blankets and pillows and warm beverages and books and a dog and a cat with whom to cuddle. I can cook comfort food; I can talk on the phone or Zoom in with friends and family. I can dance in my living room and practice yoga there, too. Best of all, I can watch the snow fall from my balcony — without any worries about shoveling or clearing snow from my car. It’s actually a pretty cushy deal, and I’m grateful for it.
The hardest part for me, as for so many others, is the shortness of the day. One of my favorite days is the winter solstice, when, after waking to darkness and having dinner in darkness and watching the sunny patch in between grow ever shorter, that process reverses, and, tiny increment by increment, the days begin to grow longer once again. That’s not quite two and a half months from now. We can make it till then, right?
This year, of course, will be more challenging for us all as we continue to cope with whatever COVID-19 decides to deliver. The uncertainty is as scary as the virus itself. My plan is to hunker in my bunker, buy a UV lamp, make sure my Amazon Prime subscription is up to date, and continue taking precautions to protect myself and others however I can.
Beyond that, though, I’ve come to realize that watching out for myself just isn’t enough. We’re all in this together, and when one of us falters, we all do. So, in keeping with my ongoing desire to be part of the solution, not part of the problem, I’m going to continue keeping an eye out for folks who might need a hand, a smile, a virtual hug, or whatever else it might take to brighten their day.
This all coincides, though, with my recent decision to take a break from social media. Living alone and being single, and having finally severed the last, sad snippets of my former relationship, I have found myself spending increasingly absurd amounts of time on Facebook and Instagram, checking and checking and posting and posting and reading between lines and seeking attention and begging to be heard and feeling elated by the Likes — and the Loves — and devastated when they don’t pile up in the numbers I crave, and especially when certain people whose attention I had come particularly to crave didn’t chime in.
A few days ago I arrived at my own personal tipping point, literally held my phone at arm’s length, and asked myself what the fuck I was doing. I posted an explanatory message on Facebook, stayed logged in long enough to wallow in the messages of love and support that my dear friends posted in response, then logged off of both my FB and my IG accounts.
The next morning marked the first time I can remember when I didn’t wake up and immediately check my socials. I didn’t log back on all day, or the next day, or the day after that.
And I have been astounded at how much better I feel.
Honestly, I’m shocked. I have slept better. I have had more energy. I’ve had more time to read books — three novels this week, my friends! I’ve been writing and getting stuff done around the house and meditating. I’ve even been drinking less booze. It feels kind of like a miracle to me. For those of you considering taking a break, consider this my hearty endorsement.
I’ve already learned that those friends who care enough and who want to stay in touch will do so; so many of you have reached out via text or e-mail or phone to make sure I’m okay, to reassure me that I’m doing the right thing and you support me, and to make actual PLANS to get together (at a safe, masked distance, of course). Again, it feels kind of miraculous, and I’m so grateful for this opportunity to learn more about my place in the world and those dear people in my orbit. I’m starting to believe that like most things (including people) in life, Facebook came along at a time when it was useful to me, and perhaps now the time has come when I don’t really need, or particularly want, it any more.
But here’s the catch: I’ve so been enjoying writing this little blog of mine, and I love hearing from folks who read it and have found something in it with which to connect. That is so gratifying, and it’s demonstrated to me that writing remains a rewarding means of connecting with my fellow humans.
But linking CORRECTIVE SHOES to my Facebook account has been my major means of sharing it with others. And if I’m not posting it on Facebook, I’m not sure how to share it with my friends and loved ones.
So, for now, I’ve logged back in, very briefly, just long enough to post this and let it cycle through my friends’ news feeds (or whatever FB calls that these days). If you want to keep reading what I write, perhaps you could take a moment to follow me here? I know that seems like a shameless and brazen grab for followers, but, really, that’s not where my heart is. I don’t make any money from this endeavor; I just do it to share my little thoughts with others. So, I’ll completely understand if you don’t choose to follow.
A few weeks ago one of my Facebook friends posted, for reasons I can’t recall, photos of Hugh Grant as a young man and as he looks nowadays.
Hugh Grant is my guilty pleasure, my favorite actor of all time, not necessarily for his outright skill and talent (which I think he has in abundance) but because he has always had a self-effacing way about himself, which only adds to his already alluring appeal. My film version of comfort food is a good Hugh Grant rom-com; I also have always loved his appearance on the Jay Leno show after he was caught being naughty with a prostitute.
Looking at the photos my friend posted, my knee-jerk reaction was to favor the one of the young, wrinkle-free Hugh.
But after a moment I realized that I actually find mature Hugh far more interesting and attractive. Yes, he has wrinkles and sagging skin and greying hair — but he has earned them. I appreciate that he has announced that he is “too old, ugly, and fat” to be the leading man in romantic comedies any longer.
And I beg to differ.
As a mature woman who has gravitated toward younger men in recent years, I’ve learned a lot. And one thing I’ve learned is that the wrinkles and bags we collect in life can go either way: They can either look and feel like beat-up old duffel bags that are heavy and cumbersome and drag our souls down, or they can be beautiful pieces of vintage luggage, with stickers representing the places we’ve been, the hotels we’ve slept in, the airlines we’ve traveled with. Brand-new, shiny suitcases are lovely, for sure. But give me one with a few dings and dents, each with a story behind it.
I am on a tight budget and mindful of the need to economize, but lately I’ve been allowing myself the guilty pleasure of eating out at my favorite local restaurants that offer patio service. I am all too aware that weather will soon make it impossible for me to patronize these places, except via take-out, so I’m doing all I can, while I can. The other night I enjoyed a delightful evening at Salute with my daughter and son-in-law. This evening, after a long walk around the West Hartford reservoir on an impossibly gorgeous autumn day, I stopped in at Tisane for a poke bowl and Black Sheep Manhattan.
I have said before and will say again that the COVID-19 crisis, for all the hurt and damage it has caused, has brought out the best in many people, in many ways, and has caused individuals, businesses, and institutions to rethink the way they do everything — often resulting in innovations that are huge improvements over what they’ve replaced. For instance, the QR-code menu. Why would we ever go back to printing, and sharing, physical menus? Better yet: the carry cup, which allows you to take your favorite cocktail home instead of rushing through it at the table. How sensible is THAT?
Sitting on the patio, I was struck by how impossibly important it felt to be out among people; I dined alone, but I exchanged greetings and glances with my fellow diners. My server remembered my drink of choice and had it ready for me in moments. Farmington Avenue was alive with its usual traffic, car and pedestrian, and a woman was shouting into her phone in the parking lot at the Wash Tub laundromat next door. The sun was golden, the air was cool and Burger-King fragrant. It felt magical and important.
And I realized how very much I’d come to take for granted. On my walk, I made a point to stay in the moment, look closely at the leaves and the sky and the water, inhale the scent of pine needles on the path warmed by the sun, enjoy the soft breath of the breeze on my skin. At the restaurant, I paid attention to the flirting couples, the laughing groups of friends, the taste and feel of every mouthful of my food and drink, the sideways glint of the setting sun.
If COVID-19 has taught me anything, it’s the value of life. Every moment, every breath, every sight, every smile, every wrinkle.