Man Plans and God Laughs

Are any of us doing what we thought we’d be doing this year? I’m thinking probably not. It’s like a nuclear bomb was dropped on 2020 and we’re dealing with the fallout.

I thought about that as I took this picture. My husband and I have accumulated a variety of mask designs, from the pretty to the comfortable to the fun to the professional. Before this year I never owned a reusable mask in my life, and I would have never guessed that these would become essentials that I’d need to function in society. The first mask I got in March (Or February? Time seems to have blended together this year.) was hard to come by, a horrible price gouge, and broke upon first use.

Now you can’t swing a dead cat without hitting a mask manufacturer. But be careful: some masks are more effective than others. A good way to test your mask’s effectiveness is the candle test. If you can blow out a candle while wearing your mask, it’s not effective. Learn more about that here.

Washing my mask has become a daily ritual. There’s always at least one mask hanging on my back porch. It has become the image that sums up this entire year for me. If you had asked me what I expected to be the iconic 2020 picture for me back in January, I would have probably said a selfie from our much anticipated (and ultimately cancelled) trip to Italy in May.

Man plans and God laughs.

00100lrPORTRAIT_00100_BURST20200901181339625_COVER

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I Should Have Been in Italy Today

I have reached the nadir (I hope) of my quarantine depression today. Because today, after thirty long years of trying, my plane should have been touching down at the Venice Marco Polo Airport. We had made the airline reservations. We had booked all our hotels and Airbnb’s and train tickets for a two week, Italian extravaganza.

We had planned to spend three glorious days in Venice, then cross the top of the country by train to visit the Cinque Terra, then go on down to Assisi, the hometown of St. Francis. From there, we’d have settled in to Sorrento, to use it as a hub to visit Naples, Pompeii, Herculaneum, Capri, and the Amalfi Coast, and then spend a few days in Rome before returning home.

And then, COVID-19. So close. So freakin’ close.

It’s not the first time that my Italy plans have been scuttled. Economic downturns, relationship breakups, and a relocation to the west coast that took all the Italy savings I had been putting away faithfully every month, for 10 ½ years, are some of the many disappointments I’ve experienced. But this time I had actually held the freakin’ tickets in my hands. I had written out the itinerary. I had read the guidebooks and watched everything Rick Steves had to say on the subject. We had even paid for a consultation with one of his staff. What could possibly go wrong?

Now I’m wondering if international travel of any kind will actually be viable ever again. I suspect this isn’t going to be the last pandemic. It certainly wasn’t the first.

I realize that I look like a privileged, bourgeois brat to be whining about this when people are dying and losing their jobs. I know that I have it so much better than so many people. I’m extremely lucky.

But it’s really hard not to be sad when I was supposed to be in Italy today. It feels like I’m in a state of mourning that no one will understand. It feels like I really have no legitimate right to be upset, and that makes it so much worse.

This trip would have generated a lot of blog posts, too. Maybe I’ll make some spaghetti for dinner and try not to cry into it. I suppose I could blog about that. Or maybe not.

Venice

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What Do You Want out of Life?

For the bulk of my life, when someone asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up, I wasn’t able to give a definitive answer. There are just too many possibilities. I found this question particularly stressful when I was between the ages of 15 and 29. I remember feeling as if I were at this great crossroads, and there were so many directions I could turn that I had absolutely no idea which way I should go.

Jeez. No pressure there.

It wasn’t until I was much older that I realized that I shouldn’t be focused on what I wanted to turn myself into. Instead, I should focus on what I wanted out of life. What do I need to be happy? Once I knew that, I could then formulate a plan to achieve these things. My becoming would be a natural outgrowth of my desires.

I’m not talking about material things, here. That’s not high on my list of priorities. Not that there is any right or wrong answer to the big question. If things are what you want out of life, you will take a very different journey than I will, and that’s okay.

What follows are the things I want out of life.

  • Serenity.

  • Contentment.

  • To love and be loved.

  • At least one decent travel opportunity per year.

  • Producing something that will last. A legacy, of sorts.

  • Leaving the planet ever so slightly better than I found it.

  • The opportunity to learn and grow as well as teach.

  • Peace and quiet.

  • A good night’s sleep more often than not.

  • A good hard laugh every once in a while.

  • Self-expression.

  • Access to pizza delivery.

So, dear reader, what do you want?

Serenity

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Making an Entrance

This is probably rather short notice, but have you thought about how you will be entering 2019? Think of it as a crowded room. How you enter it will make a difference as to how the year-long party will go for you.

Will you enter with energy and enthusiasm, or sneak in the back way and hope no one notices you? Both are legitimate ways to get from this year to next, but they’ll probably yield wildly different results. I suppose it depends on what you want to get out of the months to come.

Personally, I’ve never seen the point of getting roaring drunk and entering the year with a head splitting hangover. To me, that seems like starting yourself off thirty yards deep in your own endzone. But hey, we all make choices.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not advocating that you attend a great big New Year’s Party if you don’t want to. I never have. I’m a lot more low key than that. I’d rather not walk into 2019 feeling awkward and uncomfortable. That’s not a precedent I want to set.

No, I’m talking about the party of life in general. Do you have a plan? Do you have goals and intentions? (Forget about resolutions. How many people do you know who have stuck to those?) No, I’m talking about attitude. I’m talking about expectations. I’m talking about seizing the year!

I plan to enter this year with gratitude, joy, and anticipation. I want to have a wide open heart so that all my hopes and dreams can flow freely. I want this year to be one of hope and happiness.

So, Carpe Annum, dear reader! I hope you enter the year with a clear vision. I hope that you take some (measured) risks and have some adventures, and that this year yields everything you wish it will.

wicked_witch_of_the_east
Talk about making an entrance.

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Unexpected Cherries

I know someone who has been unhappy for quite some time. She couldn’t quite put her finger on it. She never even tried. She just assumed that this was the natural state of things; the cards she had been dealt, as it were.

And then she sold her house and moved elsewhere. And now she’s completely different. Rather than being isolated, she interacts with people. She also gets to see the most amazing things from her balcony. Parades. Fireworks. Choirs.

You might say she’s gotten her groove back. And it’s beautiful to see. She’s excited about life again. All’s right with the world.

The funny thing is, she didn’t make this move in an effort to find happiness per se. That result was just the unexpected cherry on top of the sundae. Isn’t that great?

I love it when things fall into place. I love it even more when that outcome is unplanned. May you have many unexpected cherries in your life, dear reader.

Cherry

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Ambition

It never occurred to me that going to college wasn’t mandatory. My mother had been drumming it into my head since the age of six. You will go to college. College was the next grade after 12th. That was what one did.

I don’t know why, but it shocked me that everyone didn’t feel that way. Many of my high school friends never went for higher education. They had other goals in life. Now I know that there’s nothing wrong with that.

It wasn’t until I met someone with no ambition at all that I realized how important goals truly are. This guy will probably always live in the same city. He’ll always have the same job, and the same struggles. He is so stuck in the past that he never looks toward the future. He works toward nothing. He looks forward to nothing. He never gets excited about anything. He has absolutely no imagination. He doesn’t want anything because he thinks he doesn’t deserve it. He never takes risks because he is too afraid of failure.

He is the most boring human being I’ve ever met. Being in his presence is depressing. I feel sorry for him. But I also have no respect for him.

Ambition is what makes life worth living. Striving for something is why you get out of bed in the morning. And your goals don’t have to be financial. That’s no yardstick to use to measure your life. Accumulation of stuff is meaningless. You goals should be about achieving something, or going somewhere, or creating something, or checking something off your bucket list. Those goals should be unique to you.

I’m not telling you what goals to have. I’m just saying, for heaven’s sake, have some. Otherwise, what’s the point?

ambition

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Making Plans

When you make plans for the future, you’re demonstrating a delightful amount of optimism. Because life is fragile. It can pop like a soap bubble at any time. I’ve seen that happen more than once.

John Lennon said, “Life is what happens while you are busy making other plans.”

Sorry, John. You know I love you. But I disagree. I think life is making plans. The alternative, making no plans at all, or sitting back and letting the world kind of wash over you, is a form of death.

We are not meant to live like moss on a tree. The fact that we feel the need for religion shows that we struggle with accepting fate. I don’t think we are meant to be so accepting. We are meant to be the architects of our own lives.

Plans give you purpose. Purpose is what makes life worth living. I find the best antidote for depression is having something to look forward to.

Even more evidence of optimism is making plans with someone. It says, “We’re in this for the long haul.” “I have great expectations for us.” “You are the person I want to spend time with.” “I have faith in our relationship.”

The only thing I can think of that’s better than anticipating your future is anticipating your future while holding someone’s hand.

planning-for-future

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A New Future

The older I get, the more people I know who are mourning the loss of a partner. Along with that, inevitably, comes the mourning of the loss of your future. Because couples make plans. That’s what they do. They have an image of what they’re working toward. When your partner dies or you get divorced, that image turns to dust.

That’s unsettling. Suddenly you have absolutely no idea where you are going. It is as if you’ve been blindfolded and spun in a circle. You spend a lot of time swinging your arms around in attempt to orient yourself and avoid crashing into things. And while you’re doing that, it seems as if the rest of the world is cruising merrily past you, intent upon one destination or another, not even having to rely on a GPS. You feel as though you can’t keep up. You’ve been left behind.

It can take many years before you’re able to find the strength turn your face toward the sun again. And when you do that, it feels really strange at first. What is this warmth I’m feeling? It feels good. Do I deserve to feel good? Should I feel guilty?

And then a funny thing happens. You start doing things that you like to do that you perhaps had abandoned because your partner wasn’t into them. And you stop doing things that you only did because your partner enjoyed them. In other words, you begin to take back your individuality.

Being an individual takes strength and courage. It takes confidence and creativity. At first you’re going to feel like a newborn giraffe. Not quite steady on your feet. A little confused about how you got here and why you’re suddenly towering over things that you never knew existed. The world will seem new.

But with any luck, one day you’ll wake up and you’ll realize that you’re actually kind of excited about the fact that the world seems new. Colors are brighter. Smells are more intriguing. Food has regained its flavor. Everything seems rife with possibilities.

And just like that, you begin to plan a brand new future. It may not look anything like the future you once imagined for yourself, but my wish for you is that it’s an adventure that you’re eager to begin. Onward!

the-future-is-ours

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Do You Have a History of…

Packing for a move is always an interesting experience. It gives you an opportunity to really look at all of your stuff. I often encounter things I had forgotten I have. And that makes me wonder why I still have those things. If I could live without them for this long, why am I holding on to them? The pressure is even more intense since I’m moving to a much smaller place with very little storage.

With each item, I have to ask myself, will I ever read this, wear this or use this ever again? No? Then out it goes.

Some things have sentimental value. I do have a right to a certain amount of clutter after 52 years of living. At least that’s what I tell myself.

But the things I struggle with most are the “someday” things. For example, I’ve kept that bag of printed cloth because someday I want to make a quilt. And I’ve kept my pottery tools because someday I want to take up pottery again. And that box of cables, wires, and adapters… well, you never know when they’ll come in handy.

That’s when I have to get all adult-y and say to myself, “Barb, do you have a history of quilt making? Do you see yourself with immense amounts of spare time to all of a sudden take up new hobbies? Do you have enough of a burning need for cables that their storage would offset the expense if you ever had to buy one of these obscure items?”

Adult-y Barb has allowed me to donate a lot of things to Goodwill. But I only listen to her sporadically. If you saw some of the crap I have hauled across the continent just because… well… who knows why… you’d laugh.

I have no idea why this purging of the superfluous is such a struggle for me. I know for a fact that the less junk I have surrounding me, the better I feel. What I really need is a good flame thrower. But don’t tell my homeowner’s insurance agent that I said that. And don’t get any ideas, either.

I’m about to walk into my kitchen and get rid of every single gadget I haven’t used in the past year. Because, while I’d like to imagine myself as someone who will throw dinner parties… Not so much. Wish me luck.

stuff
Kindly ignore the superfluous L.

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Puzzling

I kill quite a bit of time playing Magic Jigsaw Puzzles on my laptop. It keeps me out of trouble. And it allows me to stop mind grinding on things. Sometimes it just feels good to allow yourself to go on automatic pilot, you know?

The app provides you with a free puzzle of the day, and you never know what it’s going to be. To add to the excitement, they do not allow you to preview the image. It’s like completing a real life puzzle without having the benefit of the picture on the box.

Most of the time that’s not a problem. I can figure out what I’m assembling, more or less, rather quickly. Obviously that’s the sky. And there’s water. Or a building. Or the fur of some animal or other. The more I’ve completed, the easier it becomes. I wish all of life were like that.

But sometimes they’ll choose an image that is so abstract that I don’t know what I’m creating until the very last minute. Those days drive me crazy. I like to plan ahead. I like to see where I’m going. I prefer to apply a certain amount of logic to my actions. How else do you figure out what to do next?

I don’t know why those particular puzzles push me so far out of my comfort zone, because they’re actually a metaphor for life. The idea that we can anticipate what’s coming is pure illusion. Most of us like to stick to our routines, but those routines can be shattered in an instant. We think there’s a plan, made by us or by some spiritual entity, but really it’s all pretty freakin’ random.

I don’t like thinking about this very often, but life is truly a puzzle without the box.

Puzzle_pieces

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