Jennifer LaRue

I write it as I see it.

Are you superstitious?

I am, and always have been.

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.

But it would make me very happy if you did.

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.

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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.

Every.

Single.

Thing.

I haven’t blogged for more than two weeks. I hate that, but I’ve been working insane hours — and, when I’m not working at my “day” job, I’ve been assiduously tackling life tasks that had mounted into an enormous, daunting burden and become crushing and overwhelming, keeping me from thinking straight, behaving like a decent human being, and sleeping well at night. I won’t go into detail, but the number of financial, logistical, and emotional challenges I’ve stared down and conquered in the past three weeks feels like more than I’d handled before in my whole life, at least in such a short bit of time. But now it’s mostly done, and I feel stronger and more secure than ever.

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For years my go-to anxiety dream has been a variation (and you wouldn’t BELIEVE the detailed, colorful, and convincing variations my subconscious mind conjures up!) on this theme: It’s time to leave our beach vacation, my companions/family are loading our vehicle to go home, and I realize, stricken, that in the entire week we’ve been there, I haven’t managed to get down to the beach or swim in the ocean. I try and try and try to remedy that, but I’m met with obstacle after obstacle. If it weren’t such a sad and worrisome panic each time, the vivid images and scenes my brain delivers might seem fascinating and entertaining. But in fact this is just my personal horror show. Every time I have this dream, I wake up sad and shaken, and it always takes time, and coffee, to steady myself.

This year, as I have mentioned, I decided not to venture to my beloved Ocean City, Maryland, for my equally beloved Jeep Week vacation in August. I’ve been being so careful since March, I just couldn’t see throwing caution to the wind. It made me sad, but I recognize that when it comes to COVID-19-related losses, mine was pretty minor.

The other night I completed a financial transaction that had been worrying me for months; it turned out just fine, as things you over-worry about tend to do. I listened to some music, danced around my living room, cuddled my cat, read for a while (Own Your Anxiety by Julian Brass; highly recommended!), and turned in for the night.

And the most miraculous miracle ensued.

The dream started the way it always does. But this time, I actually was able to make my way down to the beach. This beach, though, was more like a murky lake; the waters were dark and still, and there were mossy rocks and no sand. The mood among the beach-goers was subdued. Still, I asked a little girl who was hanging out with her family on the sloping shore if she would watch my beach towel, and I slipped into the slimy water. This was the beach I’d been given, and swimming in it was better than missing out altogether.

But as I splashed around, I discovered that there were different beaches up and down the shoreline. I left the brackish water in which I bathed and walked up the slope, then walked north until I came upon a white-sanded path that led to a sparkling shore and even more-sparkling ocean water, where waves crashed cheerfully, the sunlight picking highlights off each crest. I sprinted, dropping my towel ….

…and for the first time in decades, my customary, frustrating, stress-driven beach dream ended happily, with me frolicking in the surf, smiling so hard it hurt.

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Helen Reddy died this week. What a loss. I honestly didn’t and don’t know a lot about her, but, my goodness, has her “I Am Woman” ever been my anthem during the past few liberated, and liberating, years of my life. I am strong. I am invincible. I am woman.

Reddy’s death and my finally satisfying beach dream occurred on the same day.

I don’t believe in coincidence. The universe? It knows what it’s doing.

For years now I’ve posed a question to new acquaintances who I hope will become friends: If you had a choice, would you prefer to have a steady, stable life without a lot of major downs — but without the corresponding ups? Or would you rather ride a wild roller-coaster, experiencing plenty of downward spirals and deep lows that are balanced by exhilarating highs?

I’d estimate that 90 percent of the people I ask go for the smooth and steady ride.

But I have always maintained that I crave, thrive on, and embrace the roller-coaster ride. Maybe it’s the writer in me, but I find inspiration and excitement in the ups and downs, and the other, admittedly calmer and probably more healthful, way strikes me as mundane and boring. And, for better or worse, I tend to be attracted to others, men in particular, who want a good roller-coaster ride out of life.

I have to admit, though, that my life during the past five years has been like a roller-coaster ride gone awry, with no attendants, no seat belts — and, for the most part, nobody to share the ride with. So I’ve spent some time lately rethinking my stance. Might I be in a different, perhaps better, place today had I settled for the merry-go-round, or even maybe the bumper cars?

To recap (with my apologies to those of you who have been by my side every step of the way and might well be exhausted by following my journey), the past five years for me have entailed:

  • deciding to leave my 30-year marriage
  • actually getting divorced
  • moving from our family home to a little condo in Hartford
  • starting a new job, and shifting positions there every few years until I now find myself running virtual programs — something I never could have imagined when I got my M.A. in English lo those many years ago. Guess what? I LOVE it!!! Who knew?
  • dating like a crazy woman before entering a volatile, challenging, and ultimately damaging live-in relationship, which ended a couple of years ago but somehow keeps lingering on in unhappy ways
  • managing my multiple sclerosis, with which I was diagnosed almost 20 years ago
  • getting a handle on and taking serious charge of my finances, which five years ago were in a shambles
  • being diagnosed with breast cancer and choosing to have a bilateral mastectomy and reconstruction
  • and, now, like everyone else, coping with COVID-19

You’d think I’d want to take a break, right?

And, in some ways, yes, I’d like to settle down. For starters, I really would love to find a loving, caring partner with whom to share my life. But not just anyone; I need and want someone who is smart, talented, creative, funny, sexy, supportive, respectful, and just as passionate and engaged in life as I am.

I’d also like to find a more stable rhythm/balance between work, my writing, my family and friends, my yoga, and my day-to-day chores and obligations.

Those are things to work toward, for sure.

But even when I find that stability and security, I won’t be ready to tame things down. My spirit remains curious, inquisitive, and adventuresome, and I can’t bear the idea of being bored. So I guess, wittingly or not, I’ll keep finding my way into crazy situations — and finding my way out of or around them, too.

How about you? Are you a merry-go-round person, or do you choose a roller-coaster ride through life?

Yeah, yeah, yeah. Summer’s officially over, now that Labor Day’s behind us. Time to turn our attention to all things pumpkin-spiced, right?.

Nope. Not for me. Here in New England, we should have another week or three — and, with any luck, one or two more beyond that, even — of summerish weather.

I love every moment of summer, but I think I might love this bit most of all. Because throughout the summer, there’s pressure: Have a great Memorial Day! Have a wonderful 4th of July! Enjoy your Labor Day weekend!

But in these waning weeks of summer, as many folks’ focus shifts forward to fall, I stay in a summery frame of mind, finding things all the more pleasurable for not feeling compelled to demonstrate to anyone, including myself, that I’m have a really good time — even though I am.

I think of it as my secret summer.

It feels even more special to me this year: In many ways, we all had to reinvent our summers, and I have to say I admire the way so many of my friends, particularly those with young children and teens, stepped up to the plate and seemed to craft really awesome experiences for themselves and their families. As I look back over the pool-less, Ocean-City-less, date-less, and so-much-more-less past three months of my life, I’m struck not by sadness or regret but by the recognition that this summer’s fun and happiness ended up all the more fun and happy for my having had to use my imagination and work a little harder to make them happen.

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If COVID-19 has taught us nothing else, it’s been the value of living in the present moment. This surreal experience has delivered the most concrete and convincing evidence that living in the past is painful and futile, and living in the future is anxiety-producing and also futile. Making the most of the moment we live in, one moment at a time, is simply the only way to survive and thrive.

Still, I am acutely aware that one day soon summer, including my secret summer, will be over.

I honestly can’t bear to think about it.

So I won’t.

Stay gold, Ponyboy.

Summer is winding down, and soon, I hope, I’ll stop thinking about how much I miss the beach…. and the pool.

But I’ll still be missing New York City.

I know people who have ventured into the city in recent weeks and months. It’s very tempting: Surely I’d be safe with my mask and six-foot space in all directions, right?

But I’ve been too cautious for too long to be willing to take even the slightest risk. (Well, I’ve taken a tiny risk, here and there, but only when I was pretty damned sure there was really no risk at all, and the benefits far outweighed the worry.)

This is, admittedly, a lazy blog entry. But I’ve been dreaming of NYC lately, and it occurred to me to revisit the stories about the city that I’ve had the honor and privilege to write for The Washington Post Travel Section in recent years. Re-reading them has been a fun stroll down Memory Lane for me, and I’ve somehow regained a glimmer of hope that I, and you, will be safely able to go to Gotham again, soon.

It’s also served as a reminder of how much we take for granted — until it’s gone.

Happy reading! And let me know what your favorite places in NYC are, so maybe I can write about them one of these days!

https://www.washingtonpost.com/lifestyle/travel/an-odd-kind-of-museum-experience-in-new-york-city/2015/05/21/efff87d4-f825-11e4-9030-b4732caefe81_story.html

https://www.washingtonpost.com/lifestyle/travel/i-love-the-brooklyn-bridge-walk-across-it-and-you-will-too/2016/01/07/978658d0-a504-11e5-b53d-972e2751f433_story.html

https://www.washingtonpost.com/lifestyle/travel/soaking-up-manhattans-literary-history-a-book-lovers-barhopping-guide/2018/06/28/f699e910-7647-11e8-b4b7-308400242c2e_story.html

Do you remember the WonderWorks film of Ray Bradbury’s short story All Summer in a Day? I saw it when I was 11, and I have never forgot it.

The story’s about a girl who lived on Earth before moving to Venus; whereas Earth enjoyed frequent sunshine, on Venus, it rained constantly, and the sun appeared just for one hour every seven years. If you don’t know the story, I won’t ruin it for you. But, gosh, did it hit me hard.

The concept of all summer in a day sprang to my mind many times last week. I had months ago decided to cancel my annual trip to Ocean City, Maryland, for Ocean City Jeep Week, in favor of sticking close, and hopefully more safely, to home.

I briefly considered an extended self-pity party. But as many of us have learned in the past six months or so, what doesn’t kill us can in fact make us stronger — if we make up our minds to grow stronger.

In that spirit, I aimed for a week’s worth of easy, simple day trips and other low-key, local adventures. I invested in some camping equipment, and my son gave me a camp stove, a sleeping bag, and a camp toilet as an early birthday present.

I spent a delightful day walking on a new-to-me rails-to-trails path with my long-time pal David Griffin. My daughter Sophie and I took a delightful day trip (in her super-fancy, brand-new car!) to the Berkshires, where we spent the day with our hilarious and kind-hearted friend Mallory. I visited with the delightful Peter and Janet Cummings Good, whom I’ve known for decades but only recently reconnected with. (Let me tell you: they get more lovely all the time.) And I was delighted to be invited to test out my camping gear on the lawn of the beautiful beach home of my dearest friend, Elizabeth, and her husband Paul. After a hilarious, relaxing dip in the water with Elizabeth and a delicious dinner of fried whole-belly clams, I slept in my waterfront tent and felt like the luckiest person on earth.

The next morning, I fired up the camp stove and made what might well have been the best cup of coffee I’ve ever had in my life; I sipped it while sitting in my beach chair looking at and listening to the calm and peace of Long Island Sound. Then Paul made us a huge honkin’ breakfast.

It was all, well, delightful.

Honestly, I had the best summer vacation of my life.

But here’s the thing: it wasn’t the destinations. It wasn’t the activities. It wasn’t the food or the water or the sunshine or the breeze.

What made my modest vacation feel like all summer in, well, a week?

My friends.

My wonderful, awesome, loving, supportive friends.

Next year, who knows? Maybe I’ll go to Ocean City for Jeep Week. Or maybe I’ll choose to hang out here in Connecticut, surrounded by people I love and who clearly care for me.

That sounds like a very good deal to me.

Happy September 1, everyone! We still have Labor Day weekend ahead of us. Let’s make it the best one ever!

Among my current writing projects is one I’ve been mulling for several years: I am looking, not scientifically but purely anecdotally, into the ways in which the lyrics of pop songs of my youth (the 1960s and 1970s) influenced my own understanding of romance, love, sex, and relationships.

Allow me to summarize: It ain’t pretty.

I grew up thinking love was about holding hands, walking along the sand, laughing in the sun, always having fun, doing all those things without any strings to tie me down.

I didn’t understand that all of that was code for so many other, less lovely realities. There was so much sexism, narcissism, callousness, egotism, selfishness, and lack of character built into so many of the songs I loved, and sang along to, while growing up. But I had no idea. I thought the songs spoke the truth, and I could never understand why my experience never began to match up.

This is a huge topic for me, one that I have discussed with friends (including, not long ago, a lively gang on Facebook whose response encouraged me to actually pursue this project; thank you!) and others who share my feeling that the music we grew up with didn’t do us any favors in terms of understanding relationships.

So I’m throwing it out to you: which songs colored your understanding of romance and love? Did any of them get it right? Did any of them do you damage? And what wisdom might you offer to the younger you listening to those songs in your bedroom late at night, in the car on a summer evening, or dancing with your friends at a beer-soaked party?

I warn you, though: once you start looking closely at the lyrics of your beloved songs, you might not feel the same way about them ever again.

Anyone who knows me knows I am sickeningly optimistic and cheerful and upbeat and always looking on the bright side of life.

Anyone who knows me even better knows that’s a carefully cultivated habit, devised and adhered to by one of the most worried people on earth.

Though the past five months have been trying, indeed, for me, I have awoken every day counting my blessings, focusing on gratitude, and acknowledging that no matter how lonely, scared, and unsettled I may be, I remain among the luckiest people in the world.

I made up my very own mind to cancel my plans to drive to Ocean City, Maryland, for Jeep Week this week. I chose not to take the risks associated with that journey; I am sure that people down there are nowhere near as finicky about masking and social distancing as I and my fellow Connecticut residents have been, and no matter how much I long to swim in the waves and bask on the beach, it’s not worth throwing away all these months’ worth of vigilance for one week in the sun, salt air, and sand.

I was fully prepared to spend a week at home, feeling sorry for myself.

Instead, the most magical thing has happened.

Probably through some unknowable mechanism provided by the universe, every moment of my “staycation” has felt delightful and meaningful. I’ve talked to friends, taught yoga, lounged on the hammock, read the new issue of Bon Appetit and started a silly Nicholas Sparks novel. I’ve set up my new tent in anticipation of my new camping career; I put the rear wheel back on my bike after fearing that I’d never get that right. I’ve napped with my sweet kitten, grilled a nice steak, made a martini.

And in so doing, I’ve shown myself that all those platitudes are true. Happiness happens when you make it. Joy is in the appreciation of the moment. Life is good when you decide to make it good.

I sincerely hope that everyone taking part in Ocean City Jeep Week has a terrific time. I’m there in spirit — and my Jeep and I are having some awesome adventures of our own this week. Happy late August, you!