Some Anniversaries Aren’t Worth Observing

I was told recently that an ex had written a Facebook post commemorating the 10th anniversary of our breakup. Apparently the post was quite dramatic (“Like his own personal opera playing to a packed house.”) and predictably uncomplimentary to me, quite overlooking the fact that he had let his boss, Andy Johnson, steal $3500 from me, and yet he continued to work for him. I mean, talk about not having your partner’s back.

Everyone sees their own version of history, I suppose. For me, that “fateful” anniversary came and went without me even realizing it. I don’t have it written on any calendar. It was before I was on Facebook, so I can’t even look back to see what I was posting at the time.

I’m not one to “celebrate” bad anniversaries. I don’t really get the point. “Twelve years ago today, I had my tonsils taken out with a rusty spoon!” That’s not my idea of a memory that’s worth the annual brain space. Any cake you would order for that event would have to be highly customized. And who wants to attend that pity party in the first place?

I also know someone who looks upon a certain date each year with dread because bad things always happen to him on that day. Um, can you say “self-fulfilling prophecy”? He gives the calendar, a purely human construct, entirely too much power over his life. And, dare I say it, he seems to think his life is a lot more significant than any of our lives are, from the perspective of the universe at large. If there really is some sort of fickle finger of fate, I suspect it has bigger fish to fry than keeping track of a bad luck anniversary for any particular individual.

You can’t happily move forward in your life if you’re constantly looking backward. If you’re focused on dredging up the past, you clearly aren’t happy with your present. Either way, it makes me sad for my ex. I hope someday he can move on. I hate the thought that he’s trapped back there in 2010, even though I have to admit that 2020 isn’t the best time to be living in for any of us.

If we were still talking, I’d urge him to set himself free of me. It’s clearly bogging him down, and I hate that for him. I mean, there were some happy memories there. If he can’t let go entirely, he’d be better off focusing on those things instead of the bad bits.

But really, he shouldn’t waste his time on me. I genuinely hope he has better things to do. Focus on goals, not on perceived failures. My advice would be to concentrate on the present, and the happy memories he can create with the loved ones he has in his life right now. Because it’s all so precious and fleeting. Life is a fragile as a soap bubble.

I’m grateful for all the past experiences that have shaped me, the good, the bad, and the ugly, but I try not to dwell on them. That’s one of the few good things about my brain getting foggier with age. If you have to write a memory down to remember it, maybe you should only write down the good stuff. Give yourself a sort of get out of jail free card. Don’t actively force unhappy memories upon yourself.

There’s too much going on in the here and now, and too many plans to make for the future, to waste time on the past. With each passing year, I become increasingly aware of how little time I have left. I want to savor the moment I’m in. I want to celebrate the triumphs, not the tragedies.

Yeah, I’m not perfect at taking this advice. I have good days and bad days. There’s bitter along with sweet. But I think I’m much better at it now than I was in times when I was surrounded by negativity.

Life is so amazingly good right now, pandemic notwithstanding. I think I’ll keep it.

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The Tail End of Depression

I’ve struggled with depression my entire life. It’s like having an unwanted roommate living in my head. No, that implies multiple personality. It’s more like a heavy, wet, woolen blanket that settles down over the top of me at unexpected times, for an unknown duration. And it blocks out the sunshine. Yeah. That’s it. And while the blanket is weighing me down, the air is the consistency of chocolate pudding, which makes it really hard to move.

So depression, for me, is a heavy, chocolate pudding-covered, sunshine-blocking, wet woolen blanket. One that nobody can see but me.

Jeez, that makes me sound unhinged. Ah, well. So be it.

But in a lot of ways, I’m really lucky. I hear that some depressed people can’t sleep. That must be horrific. Not me. When I’m depressed, I can sleep entire days away if given the opportunity. I actually look forward to it.

And some people live in a state of perpetual depression. What a nightmare that must be. Fortunately, my depression comes and goes like the tide, only with less predictability.

Because of that, there’s this sweet spot between depression and normalcy that I cherish. It’s always very abrupt and unexpected. One minute I’m plodding along, and the next… whoosh! The blanket gets whipped off, the sunshine dazzles me, and the air is fresh and clean. All tension and pressure is relieved. It’s like some blockage has been released. Blessed relief. The hills are alive with the sound of music. I get to embrace the normal again.

I have no idea what causes this mood conversion. I wish I did. It would be nice to be in greater control of my brain chemistry.

I’m glad I don’t go the opposite direction, though, into mania. That’s a roller coaster ride that I wouldn’t want to be on, because I bet the end of mania is like the very opposite of my sweet spot, and that would be my definition of hell.

On a brighter note, my depression has really made me appreciate those times when it’s not with me. I can’t imagine taking normalcy for granted. I will always know its value. I may not always have joy, but I’ll always have gratitude. And that’s a good thing.

I wrote this for those of you who can relate. Maybe you’re unable to express yourself in this arena, but need to hear your struggle put into words. Maybe you can share this post with loved ones who don’t quite understand. Regardless, please know that you’re not alone. I’m sending you some sunshine to see you through.

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It’s Okay to Ask for Help

Sometimes life can be overwhelming. Sometimes that shelf is too high for you to reach. Sometimes things require more strength than you can muster. Sometimes what is required is not something you know how to do. Sometimes you realize that acting on your own could make things worse. Sometimes you find yourself in a scary situation. When that’s the case for me, I ask for help. And that’s okay.

Asking for help does not mean that you’re weak. It does not mean that you’re a victim. It does not mean that you’re being manipulative. It simply means that you need help.

A true sign of weakness, in my opinion, is refusing to ask for or accept help when it’s obviously needed. If you’re going down for the third time, it’s foolish to drown because you’re simply too proud to ask for help. It’s so much more self-destructive to suffer in silence than it is to swallow your pride and reach out for assistance.

If no one ever needed help, then societies wouldn’t have been invented. Think of asking for help as the ultimate form of taking care of yourself. You should be proud of your ability to recognize that need and act upon it.

And helpers are amazing. There was a reason that Mr. Rogers said to look for them when you see something scary. Helpers are generous and kind and compassionate and caring. A true helper isn’t going to judge you for your need. They’re not going to think less of you. They are going to realize that someday they just might need help, too. And that, too, is okay.

The coolest thing about being a human is that your asking for help today does not preclude you from lending a helping hand tomorrow. So don’t let anyone make you feel like a victim. We all have good days and bad days. There’s no shame in that. The strength is in recognizing that fact.

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A Taste of Their Medicine

A few nights ago, I was driving home from work at 11 pm. I was mildly irritated to discover that a long section of the interstate was closed for some unknown reason. I would have to spend a good portion of my 25 mile commute on surface streets. Ah well, there was nothing for it but to settle in and endure a great deal of zigging and zagging through Seattle. Thank heavens for Google Maps.

I was wending my way through downtown when I turned a corner into the intersection of Bellevue and Olive, and suddenly found myself right in the middle of a protest march. About 200 people swelled into the intersection and surrounded my car. I couldn’t move forward. I couldn’t move back. I was trapped.

It was a peaceful enough protest. They weren’t doing any damage, but they did look angry. They were carrying signs, mostly related to defunding the police, and they were shouting, “No Trump! No KKK! No racist USA!”

I believe wholeheartedly in every one of those statements. I genuinely do. But these protesters didn’t know that. What they saw was some random white woman. It would be easy to think I’m part of the problem. And in essence, I am, since I’ve unwittingly propped up the status quo for my entire life.

So there I was, trapped in my car, desperately hoping that this crowd wouldn’t see me as the enemy. If they did, there’s nothing I could have done about it. Every movie I’ve ever seen where a car is surrounded by a mob flashed through my mind. They could have easily trashed my car or rolled it over. I was completely at their mercy.

I did the only thing I could think of to do. I called my husband. As if he could save me, 25 miles away. But it was good to hear his voice. At least he’d know why I didn’t come home if the worst happened.

The traffic light cycled at least 5 times, but I was going nowhere. My heart was pounding. I felt like I was going to throw up.

And then I had an even worse thought. If the cops showed up right now, this would probably turn into a riot, and there’d be teargas and rubber bullets. And I would be trapped in the thick of it, with nowhere to go. Oh, God, please don’t let the cops come right now.

Yeah. Let that sink in for a bit. I was terrified that the cops were going to show up.

At one point, the crowd started marching down the street, away from my car, which, in fact, no one had touched. I heaved a huge, shaky sigh of relief and prepared to move forward, out of the traffic snarl. But then, inexplicably, they all rushed back into the intersection and engulfed my car again. I felt like crying. I just wanted to go home.

That crowd felt like one big, organic, unpredictable entity to me. I didn’t know what was going to happen. And then finally, just like the parting of the red sea, the crowd separated and let traffic flow again. The incident probably only lasted 10 minutes, but to me it felt like an eternity.

I headed home, feeling nauseous from the adrenaline dump. I fought back tears as I merged onto the interstate south of town. I felt like I had survived something that I never expected to encounter.

And then I realized that this is what it must feel like to be black a lot of the time. At the mercy of the majority. Trapped. Afraid that you’ll be seen as the enemy. Terrified that the cops will come. Surrounded by the unpredictable. Misunderstood.

That night, the universe forced me to take a big old draught of the medicine that is poured down the throats of black people every single day, and I didn’t like it. Not even a little bit. In fact, it made me feel sick.

But in terms of enlightenment, it probably did me good.

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What’s Your Idea of Safety?

I heard an interesting discussion on NPR recently. A man was conducting a seminar, and he asked his audience to close their eyes and imagine what safety looks like. How does it smell, feel, and sound? Audience members were then asked to share their thoughts.

Someone said safety was making waffles on a Saturday morning for his kids. The smell of the melting butter. The sounds of the kids chattering away while sitting on stools at the kitchen counter.

Other people might think of safety as their warm bed, with its weighted blanket. The room is dimly lit. Everything is quiet.

It could be lying in your husband’s arms in a hammock. The smell of his aftershave. The sound of his snore.

Safety might be listening to Motown music during a backyard bar-b-cue with friends. The sound of burgers sizzling on the grill. The sun on your shoulders.

It might be lying in a field and gazing up at the stars. That feeling of the planet cradling you as it moves through space. Crickets chirping.

I’d probably say it was spooning with my dog. His warm, furry little body against mine. That moment when the day is done and you get to drift off to sleep.

The interesting thing is that the man was conducting his seminar with police officers. They had a variety of responses, along the lines of the above. After they shared, he said (I’m paraphrasing here), “Isn’t it interesting that none of you said that safety was being with a police officer? And most people, regardless of their occupation, wouldn’t think of a police officer when answering this question. Why is that?”

That’s a very good question. Police officers are supposed to be there to ensure the safety of the public. Yet at some point many of them started viewing us as the enemy, and we have responded in kind. Why? Until we can answer that question, we can’t fix things.

Just something to think about while you make your waffles.

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A Song for Those Who Come Later

I love doing thought experiments. Here’s one I made up on my drive to work today.

If we knew that the end was coming, that moment when all humanity would be gone from this planet, and you could leave one song behind for the aliens who would explore this tiny blue dot in space centuries later, one song to let them know as much as you could about who we had been, what would that song be?

For me, that’s easy. It would be In My Life by the Beatles. If you are the one person on the planet who hasn’t heard this song, you can listen to it here. And here are the lyrics:

There are places I remember
All my life, though some have changed
Some forever not for better
Some have gone and some remain
All these places have their moments
With lovers and friends I still can recall
Some are dead and some are living
In my life I’ve loved them all

But of all these friends and lovers
There is no one compares with you
And these memories lose their meaning
When I think of love as something new
Though I know I’ll never lose affection
For people and things that went before
I know I’ll often stop and think about them
In my life I love you more

Though I know I’ll never lose affection
For people and things that went before
I know I’ll often stop and think about them
In my life I love you more
In my life I love you more

It’s a simple song, really. But it goes deep into the heart of humanity. Any discerning alien could learn the following from it:

  • We could be nostalgic.

  • We also could be nomadic.

  • We struggled with change.

  • We knew how to love.

  • We cherished our friends.

  • Our lives were finite.

  • We deemed some people more worthy of love than others.

  • We had happy memories.

  • Those memories could be made bittersweet by the passage of time.

  • We liked to tell people when we felt they were special.

  • We were able to move on.

  • We appreciated the past, but we could also appreciate the present.

  • Some of us, a very lucky few, got to experience what it was like to be loved by someone more than that person had ever loved anyone else, ever.

  • The Beatles were one freakin’ amazing band.

I think that all of these things would be worth relaying to future aliens who would never have a chance to meet us in person. By the time they encountered our planet, all our buildings would have collapsed and been overgrown. Our books would have turned to dust. Our monuments would have crumbled. But these things, this stuff, was never the essence of who we were.

We were here. We loved. We thought a great deal about what truly matters. That is all.

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Be Careful What You Wish For

I understand why some people are longing for some rose-colored memory of what the past used to be like. A time when no one had to lock their doors and all the birthday cakes were made from scratch. A time when we were all content in our respective places, supposedly.

The present, for many of us, sucks. I can see why people would like to think that all of society’s ills could be cured by going back in some time machine to a period of former glory.

Nothing ever seems as awful in retrospect, after we’ve survived it. No one can truly remember the pain of childbirth, for example. If they could, we’d be a planet full of only children.

So many people wanted to Make America Great Again that they didn’t stop to think about the consequences. Now the past has rushed up to smack us in the face. We’re experiencing a pandemic not unlike the Spanish Flu of 1918 with no end in sight due to an utter lack of leadership, and 108,000 Americans dead at the time of this writing. We’re seeing unemployment like the Great Depression of the 1930’s, and are embroiled in riots like those of the 1970’s.

All those things were bad enough on their own. We get to go through them all rolled into one. Yay us.

I don’t know about you, but I’m tired.

good old days

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Unresolved Issues

A few years ago, long after someone I loved very much had died, I discovered that he had done something pretty much inexcusable. The thing is, what am I supposed to do with that? I can’t fight with him. I can’t hear his side of the story. I can’t kick his sorry butt out of my life. Having died, he’s pretty much trapped in amber, forever there, and yet not there. I’ll never know the full story. I’ll never know what possessed him to do something that awful.

And on the other side of the coin, when I was about 6 years old, in a fit of pique because my grandmother had broken a beloved toy of mine due to her failing vision, I called her stupid. And then she died shortly thereafter. I never got to apologize. It brings tears to my eyes whenever I think about it. It’s not like she did it on purpose. I hope she knew I was being a silly child. I hope she forgave me. I’ll never know.

I think the worst part of grief is the unfinished business. The things you never get to say. The things you never get to hear. The questions that will never be answered. Part of you seems forever frozen in time.

I’m thinking about this today, because I heard a great quote on Tales from the Loop, a TV show that I’m binge watching.

“Things are special because they don’t last.”

That’s very true. If we all lived forever, our relationships wouldn’t be special. They’d probably become tedious and we’d definitely take them for granted. There’d be no issues to resolve because we’d probably stop caring. We’d know each other so well that we’d have it all figured out, and nothing would really matter. Forever is a long time.

So I’m going to try to focus on the fact that there were special things in my unresolved relationships. There was good. I hope this will smooth out the amber that they are encased in in my heart. Because I hate having them surrounded by raw, jagged shards. It hurts.

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Spring Fever in the COVID Era

I just watched two people get into a shoving match on the sidewalk of my bridge. Apparently the masked one felt that the unmasked one had gotten too close. But now the cautious one just touched the incautious one with his hands. That was probably not the best idea.

I’ve also seen two women get into a shouting match over the last bag of flour at the grocery store. I thought they were going to throw down right on the spot. I beat a hasty retreat before the flour had a chance to fly.

I’ve had several absurd misunderstandings with friends on social media this past week. Some were a matter of me losing patience with ignorance that I’d normally let slide. In some cases I suspect alcohol was involved, and there’s no reasoning with that. Still others were the result of me shooting off my mouth and having to apologize afterward. It’s as if everyone’s nerves are on the surface of their skin.

This year’s spring fever is more about the fever and less about the spring. The usual excitement this time of year has turned into restlessness and frustration. Social distancing is turning into emotional distancing. People are really starting to lose the plot. I don’t know about you, but there’s only so much I can take.

We have to remember that we’re all afraid. Some of us fear for our lives, others fear for their livelihood. Many fear for both.

Many of us realize that the scary statistics only relate to confirmed cases, and not very many of us have been tested. Have you? I sure haven’t. That, and a lot of countries are under-reporting because they feel that the truth would make them look bad. And a lot of people are dying at home, and the health care system simply can’t keep track. No one really has a clue as to how flat the curve actually is.

No matter where you stand on the issue, one thing is certain: we all want this to be over. If only wishing could make it so. If only declarations from our so-called leaders would make COVID disappear. But there’s no happily ever after in our immediate future. This will not be a sprint or even a marathon. It will be a long, heavy slog.

We’re just going to have to make an extra effort to be patient with one another. We’re going to have to avoid shoving matches and flour fights. We need to engage in radical self-care. We need to realize that there’s no force on earth that will make the deniers do the same, so we’ll just have to give them a wide berth and hope that the fittest will survive.

And for those of us who feel we’re not coping by intestinal fortitude alone, there are resources out there, and I strongly urge you to take advantage of them. A longtime reader of this blog (Hi Lyn!) sent me a very useful link entitled COVID-19 and Your Mental Health, and it’s full of a ton of helpful advice and lists of organizations that are waiting to assist you. Please don’t hesitate to reach out.

We can do this. It may not be pretty and it definitely won’t be fun, but we can do this. I promise.

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Are We Living in a Dystopia?

According to the Online Etymology Dictionary, the word dystopia originally meant “displacement of an organ.” But the word, based on our current understanding as an “imaginary bad place”, was first used in a speech by J.S. Mill in 1868.

That this word is so young surprises me a great deal, because human beings have always been rather good at imagining the worst. The Merriam Webster Dictionary defines a dystopia as “an imagined world or society in which people lead wretched, dehumanized, fearful lives.” We’ve been either living such lives, or imagining them, for many centuries, it seems.

Thanks to our current pandemic, we are all definitely living fearful lives, and for those who are unable to work, life is becoming increasingly wretched. But have we become dehumanized? We have if you’re craving dried beans, toilet paper, or Purell, I suppose.

But I’m encouraged by the many ways we’ve come up with to remain connected to one another. I’m impressed that so many people are making some noise, every night, to thank health care workers. I love the number of people who are behaving responsibly by staying home and by wearing masks in public. I think, if anything, we’re more human than ever before.

I’ve always enjoyed reading dystopian novels. I like to be reminded about how good I have it, relatively speaking. It’s gratifying to see how resourceful people can be when they have to struggle to survive. I must admit, though, that I haven’t been able to appreciate this genre quite as much lately. Things are getting a little too real.

But I have to believe, for my own sanity if for nothing else, that we’re not in a dystopia yet. Our infrastructures are relatively intact. We have access to good information if we employ a bit of critical thinking. We may not always be able to eat exactly what we would like, but we definitely have access to food. Sane people haven’t felt the need to board up their windows and spend all their waking hours clutching shotguns. We still have Netflix.

We may be forever changed when we come out the other side of this, but I truly believe the majority of us will, indeed, come out the other side of this. Hopefully we’ll have learned how to better cope with the next crisis as a result.

Stay safe everybody. Wear masks. Wash your hands.

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