How Can I Not Feel Hopeless When All the News is Bad?

How to Deliver Bad News That Builds Trust & Confidence -

(This piece was written in early May after a spate of bad news.)

This morning, after reading another Facebook post about the latest conspiracy theory, I decided that I had enough. Tucked between uplifting memes and videos of ‘birthday drive-bys,’ a collection of political rhetoric, medical advice, and vitriol have overtaken my feed. The news, fake or otherwise, is never good anymore and it flows rapidly and endlessly. My head spins with uncertainty and fear. My nightly dreams are plagued by images seen during the day, by ones that my imagination conjures up, and by a myriad of terrifying possibilities. My brain works overtime trying to make sense of it all. As a former school counselor, I recognize the signs of anxiety. I also acknowledge the need for self-care and an emotional timeout from the madness of the pandemic and the world as a whole.

Making a conscious decision to unplug isn’t easy. I am a junkie for information, even if it does give me agita and nightmares. Nonetheless, this morning, I placed my phone on the table with a pledge to give it, and myself, a rest. Instantaneously, the familiar ding of a text alert forced me to check the message. As I read the words, the same dread from which I craved escape assaulted my already frayed nerves. A friend shared the news that, last night, her dad had passed of the virus and, like most victims, he died alone. I consoled her as much as I could via a text message since I didn’t want to intrude with a phone call. Actually, I couldn’t handle the role of comforter without my own voice faltering. As I put my phone down, I sat back and absorbed the news. It was the second recent death too close to home. Another friend had lost her grandmother, a nursing home resident, to the virus yesterday. The loss, still fresh in my mind, weighed heavily on my spirit. No longer were these just stories on social media or on the governor’s daily briefings; now, the statistics had names and faces. The vicarious sadness which sprung from hearing strangers’ stories had morphed into raw, palpable despair.

Shockingly, my morning’s dose of grief had only begun. Less than an hour later, my phone rang. When I answered, I heard the shaky voice of one of my dearest friends on the line. Instinctively, I anticipated the worst. As she shared the sad news that her mom had also died from the virus last night, I listened in shock and disbelief.  As she recounted the story of her last contact with her mother, a one-sided conversation conducted via cellphone and facilitated by a compassionate nurse, she believes that she heard her mother say “I love you,” even though the words from her mother’s lips were an unintelligible mumble. My friend, a nurse herself, has lived the challenge and heartbreak of the virus in her daily work at a large Boston hospital, but this time was different. The loss of her mother has reframed her own reality as a caregiver. As a nurse in the time of COVID-19, she appreciates the anguish of the caregivers who comforted her mother in her last moments. Sadly, she also joins the ranks of those who have endured this kind of loss, experiencing the haunting regret that her mom died ‘alone.’ Her sentiments mirror those of thousands of families who have depended on others to help their loved ones pass peacefully, their hands held lovingly by proxy as they crossed over. 

For me, the deaths pile on top of each other like stones in a cairn, the weight of each immobilizing my ability to process all of the sadness. And even though I try to unplug from the noise of the world, the reality seems to find me. It invades the insulated world that I have tried to create, the place to which I retreat to protect myself from the fear, sadness, and hopelessness outside my front door and as close as my iPhone. In the end, I’m not sure that I will be able to hide.

I know one thing for certain: the news is never good anymore.

Put the Phone Down | The Appreciation Factor

You Say You Want to Socialize With Me, Then You Must Answer These Questions 3: Applying the Wisdom of Monty Python in the Day of Covid-19

My apologies to John Cleese, Eric Idle, et al. but now that we are just about ready to release the beast, the invisible viral one and the real human one, I feel compelled to lay down a few ground rules of engagement before we possibly cross the “Bridge of Death.” With the “invisible scourge,” the “hidden menace,” or whatever our ‘leaders’ call it marginally reeled in, the noodgy amongst us are clamoring for freedom. We have been locked up for months and people want out. I get that but, without sounding preachy, why the hell would I want to undo months of seclusion and germ suppression because I feel compelled to socialize? I have been careful, and admittedly a little neurotic, but I have stayed away from everyone. And I mean, everyone. I respect our first responders, our mail carriers, our delivery people, and all of those who have stuck their necks and immune systems out there on my behalf. I wear a mask in public, I wash down my grocery deliveries, and I stay the hell in. And honestly, I kinda like it.

I guess I’m wrong to expect the same of others. My bolder friends and family have braved the grocery stores, banks, and post offices over the past few months. I, on the other hand, have braved the jungle of Amazon, Whole Foods, and Drizly deliveries. But now it’s time to dip my toe into the potentially COVID-19 polluted waters and I am wary. With no real answers about contagion, immunity, and virus mutation from our leaders, am I being foolhardy to think that I can count on my fellow man to be as vigilant as I have been for the last ten weeks? From what I have seen so far, I worry that my fears are justified.

Yesterday, I allowed people into the inner sanctum of my pristine and germ-free bubble that is my home. Actually, I lie. My backyard was as close as they got. The earlier guests wore protective face coverings. Our evening guests did not. Even so, I know that each of them has been in contact with others who may be asymptomatic carriers. And now, my Coronavirus-free world is tainted. I toy with the idea of another fourteen-day decontaminating quarantine. To counteract my crazy, I pull myself together, striving to impose rationality on my run-away imagination. 

Irrationality comes in many varieties. When I think about the way Coronavirus spreads, I am reminded of the 1970s era commercial for Faberge Organics shampoo. The catchy “and they tell two friends, and so on, and so on…” effectively illustrates the exponential capabilities of the virus; hence, I wear a mask in your presence. I ask you to do the same. Others take it to another level. Think of the people that you confront on a walk down the street, both of you masked, yet that person darts across the street to avoid you like you are Typhoid Mary or Patient Zero. Far be it for me to judge, I see the point, even though the reaction is a bit extreme. Then, there are the others, like the callous, mask-less runner who passes you just a little too closely, their particulate invisibly assaulting your mucous membranes. This variety of human strives to prove a distrust of government, the media, the medical community, or just humanity by endangering others as they exercise the right to unencumbered mask-free breathing. Even if I am over-interpreting their intent, not adhering to our new world order is just ridiculous and honestly, rude. (But then again, hasn’t rude become the norm? That’s a topic for another Mami…)

Today is the ‘day after’ the day of the visitors and I am riddled with guilt. While we employed social distancing as a group and our gathering happened outside on our patio, I fear that some of our behaviors mocked the hard work that we, or at least I, have mastered in these weeks. I served my guests in small servings by couple. I began our visit with a mask at the ready, as did my husband,  but we were lone wolves in our small group of six. Self-conscious, I let down my guard and my mask. Although no one said anything, I had a sense that, by my guests’ standards, I was overreacting. I wonder if this is what we can expect in the months to come-perceived peer pressure and public shaming for being cautious. With my friends, I sensed judgment. We are Democrats. They are Republicans. Our levels of caution lay clearly on either side of party lines. It was unsettling. 

I’d like to think that I’m a bit more enlightened than the average non-believer in the threat of COVID-19. I watch PBS NewsHour, not Fox News. I am not terrified. I am informed. And I draw conclusions without politics. I listen to scientists like my dear friend, an epidemiologist who locked herself down in February. She saw what was coming and she didn’t wait for the ‘ok’ from the government to hunker down. She took matters into her own hands then and continues to declare that it will be a long time before all is well again. I believe her. And to visit with her, I use Zoom, and no one gets hurt.

Since most of my friends fall into a certain age group, not quite sixty-five or older but not that far off, I take the advice of experts very seriously. I don’t want to get sick, or pass on the virus unknowingly, and I’m pretty sure that a switch is not flicked at 65 making one more vulnerable. COVID-19 doesn’t ask to see my birth certificate. And I was one of the unlucky H1N1 victims ten years ago. Getting that kind of sick is no fun, whether one has pre-existing conditions, or not, or is a member of the ‘older than dirt’ category, officially or unofficially. It all sucks.

But I can’t stay in the house or my yard forever so I need every assurance that the people with whom I choose to interact are logical, sensible, and cautious. As for my “questions three,” I tear a page out of the Bridgekeeper’s book of interrogation from The Holy Grail, except my questions are a little different. I ask if you value your fellow man by wearing a mask for their safety. Next, what is your quest? My quest is clear-to stay well and not infect my family and friends, or any human being with whom I come into contact. Another question: Do we need to agree upon a set of expectations before we gather so that there is no confusion? Maybe then the rules will be clearer, at least in our small universes.

But maybe there is one more question that begs to be asked. Is it your rational mind, your need to buck those in positions of authority, or your political affiliation that drive your decision making in the time of Coronavirus?  Yes, we are tired of social distancing and some of us believe that the threat is overblown. Some of us don’t even believe there is a threat. Some of us follow the rules and trust the experts. In any case, your answer will help me to decide whether to have the Black Knight throw you into the ‘Gorge of Eternal Peril’, or choose the less violent self-preservative option, which is to continue my self-imposed exile. I may not like your answers to my questions but the choice to loosen the restrictions is mine and yours. Please don’t take it personally. We can agree to disagree. As for me, I will come out of my isolation again at some point but for now, I will choose my outings wisely and hope to stay well. The world, albeit a little different, will be there when I’m ready again to cross that bridge without fear.

Deliverance: How Junk Food and Wine Help Me Survive the Pandemic Despite My Best Intentions

Cheez It Stickers | Redbubble

The box of Cheez-its stands at attention on the counter. In the cabinet below, bags of Fritos and Late July tortilla chips await the call. I have assembled the troops and they are at the ready for that moment, the one that occurs more frequently as the days pass in lockdown. But that’s not how it always was.

When I embarked on this adventure, the one with the two-week itinerary, I had the best of intentions. Braving an outing to an actual store for the last time on March 14, I stocked up on the essentials: fruits, vegetables, bread, a few canned goods (just in case),  some frozen items, a bit of meat, and milk. Two weeks, they said. I replied with certainty to the charge. “I can handle that! You want me to stay at home? No problem. I have Netflix and Hulu and the staples. I’m good to go!”

At first, my husband continued going into the office and food was plentiful. Once he shifted to WFH (Work from Home…who knew?), I noticed a simultaneous deterioration of the stockpile. We ate together-breakfast, lunch, and dinner- and I cooked. Our full-blown meals, eaten with great ceremony (I even used cloth napkins to conserve the stock of paper ones), celebrated our time together in quarantine. A novelty, we enjoyed our time together, working side-by-side in our dining room now converted into Mission Control. It was surreal and bearable.

With the first extension of the shutdown, I assessed the situation. Peace continued in the WFH kingdom but, food-wise, things were getting depleted. Even the shelves in the basement, formerly stacked high with pasta, canned soups, and beer, were emptying out quickly. Spurning a trip to the store, I needed to find alternatives. My daughter suggested the local Wegman’s, which offered curbside pickup. While that sounded like a viable option, my first attempt proved futile. Availability was non-existent. In any case, actually going to the store was not an option. I had heard the stories:  the close quarters in the narrow aisles, and the shoppers, cum banditos, with their masks. The images terrified me as much as the virus.

Despite being a veteran of Amazon Prime, I had never purchased food from the service but, at this point, anything was fair game in the cause of fending off starvation. I filled my “cart” with abandon, adding multiples of things like Half and Half for my coffee. By now, my coffee was about all I had to give me a reason to live and I could not sacrifice my morning joe. Aside from hoarding coffee creamer, I restricted my buying to bread (a lovely, squishy, Sara Lee wheat disguised as a white), cereal, peppers, romaine, and other healthy choices. Amazon divided my purchases into two carts, Whole Foods or Amazon Fresh. I had entered a new dimension of buying and I loved every minute since it offered a bright spot and a fun diversion in this bleak situation.

However, as quickly as I filled my cart and was assigned a delivery time, I realized that I had forgotten a few things. With no option to adjust my order once submitted, I began a new cart. Every few hours, I thought of something else I needed or might need, and I clicked the magic “Add to Cart” button. The cart filled from ten items to fourteen items to twenty items, in no time. I questioned whether it was time to ‘say uncle’ and contain my spending, I clicked on “Proceed to Checkout”, confident and empowered by my online buying prowess. 

“There are no delivery times available. Check back later as times are released throughout the day.” Delivery: denied! Shaken but not deterred, I followed the directive and relentlessly checked for delivery times, first every hour, then every half hour, then every fifteen minutes. Lulled into a repetitive clicking loop, I circled around until, unexpectedly, a time was conferred upon me like a reward for my hard work. My unbridled excitement caused me to pick the first thing I saw – Sunday night from 9-11 p.m. It could have been 2-4 a.m. I was at the mercy of Amazon and I succumbed to its power over me and my survival.

However,  the process was not that innocent. Within the delivery denial process, Amazon has embedded a ‘point of purchase’ trap, thinly veiled as helping, and I fell headlong into the crevasse. Framed as one of those “In Case You Missed It” things, I navigated past a page that dangled an array of Jolly Ranchers, Cheetos, Diet Pepsi, and other goodies that I had resisted in the early days of the siege. Over time, the images chiseled away at my resolve, corrupting the purity of my “essential goods” and tipping my buying into the danger zone.

The process repeated itself over the next few weeks. I clicked, my cart filled, I was denied, I tossed in a box of Cheez-it. As I played the delivery time game, the cart grew in size, and junk, until I was offered a coveted delivery time. Alternating between Whole Foods and Amazon Prime, I imagined a time when the delivery people would pass each other on my front stairs, backing off from each other and giving each other a virtual ‘high five,’ while maintaining good social distancing. 

I proudly posted my success story on Facebook and my celebrity as a seasoned pandemic buyer ignited. As friends and family followed my lead, I became the Guru of Amazon Pandemic Buying. I fielded all manner of questions on the fine points of manipulating the system. While I’m not sure how much manipulation was involved, I will credit sheer luck for most of my prowess. Nevertheless, I reveled in my power at a time when I felt so very powerless.

Yesterday, I faced a new emergency. As I took a bottle of pinot grigio from the wine rack, I realized that we had only four bottles in reserve. I’m not proud to admit that what was once a relatively decent back stock of booze had diminished rather quickly during the lockdown. I sounded the alarm, calling on the Facebook Gods to return the favor of my expertise with advice on how to handle this dilemma. Suggestions ranging from using Drizly to arranging curbside pickup at Total Wine, to braving Wegman’s for their vast range of libation flooded my feed. Thinking quickly, I downloaded the Drizly app and went into full purchasing mode. Within a few hours, two large boxes of wine and beer arrived at our doorstep. The process was seamless, and given the quantity of booze we secured, I hope, but won’t guarantee, that this will be the last Drizly mission of mercy for the duration.

In five short weeks, everything we knew about our society and everyday reality has changed. I wonder just how much about our daily lives will return to some version of normal and how much of it will go away forever. Speaking for myself, I have a newfound respect for delivery people and online grocery buying. I won’t even broach the subject of Lysol wipes, another of my passions. I’m making the best of being told to stay home to help the greater good. I do feel a little guilty that my needs have shifted from necessities to “less essential” items like junk food and alcohol. But, in survival mode, I think I’m doing my best for me. Once this is over, my habits, like maintaining social distance and incessantly washing my hands, may have changed forever. In the meantime, as I ponder what will be and revel in the simple pleasures, I’ll pour another cup of coffee and eat the Cheez-its.

Got Beer? Drizly Delivers! – Motif

Decision Making in the Pandemic

51 Best decision quotes images | Decision quotes, Quotes ...

 

Back when I had a schedule, I followed a routine. Most days by seven a.m., I had showered, dressed, made my bed, caught up on all my Words With Friends and Candy Crush games, done a load of laundry, and glanced at my agenda to plan the rest of my days.  By eight-thirty, I had driven my grandchildren to school, gone to Mass, stopped by the Walgreens across from church, grabbed a newspaper, and chatted with the cashier, who had become a casual acquaintance.  After that, I listened to writers’ podcasts, wrote, read, did more laundry, and planned dinner. My day had a rhythm and my life had deadlines. I had to get things done without delay or else there wouldn’t be time for all of the things I needed to accomplish.

In a little more than two weeks, nothing has a deadline, except for the application to a writing program that I completed last evening. Preparing the application was the last vestige of structure that remained. Now, with my days truly wide open and all the time in the world on my hands, I can waste time like it was a life mission. My schedule of limiting screentime was blown days ago, with Verizon warning me that my phone use was up thirty-six percent last week. Really? I hadn’t noticed although I will admit that, as soon as Candy Crush tells me that I have full lives, I am compelled to kill them. For entertainment, I register for remote classes to see other people and chat intelligently. And for everything else, there’s always tomorrow.

Clothes that were one step away from Goodwill are now my working wardrobe. My biggest decision of the day is choosing between leggings and yoga pants. I didn’t realize just how many pairs of stretch pants I own! I shock myself with the ensembles that I wear on my “sanity walks” in the cemetery across the street. Color combinations that would offend the artistic eye and a fashionista’s sensibilities are my means of self-expression.  As for skincare, I dip into the stock of free samples from Lancome and Sephora in an effort to ration my expensive skin cream. I forgot just how much I enjoy the feeling and scent of Sunday Riley. It’s a brave new world for someone who prides herself on good grooming and tasteful dressing.

A few minutes ago, I changed my earrings from my 60th birthday diamond studs to my Christmas 2017 pearls.  I usually would have saved either for “special” but now I say, “whatever!” Prompted by the realization that I hadn’t thought about earrings in days. the decision nearly crippled me. Clearly, I am out of practice.  A lifetime and a pandemic ago, I would have barely considered the options. Now, my choice, one of the few I will make today, had a monumental impact on my day. Every time I pass a mirror, I am drawn to the pearls gracing my ears and I am uplifted. Joys are so fleeting in the face of disaster. Finding one is a moment of grace.

So in the meantime, I think I’ll go clean the bathroom. Or not. I guess that can wait until tomorrow. In fact, everything can wait until tomorrow for the foreseeable future. I also see that realization as a moment of grace. We may never again find ourselves fully in control of our tiny personal destinies as the world and its wellbeing dictates our larger movements. So read a book, watch Mrs. Maisel for the tenth time, eat the potato chips. Give yourself permission to make dumb decisions, the ones that we resist in our daily grind.

We can only hope that before long, our lives will return to some version of normal and we can look back at this era as “the time when time didn’t matter.” Stay well.

20 Most Inspiring Quotes About Time - TimeCamp

Etiquette 101 and Coronavirus: A Primer

Image result for etiquette

I remember the old days when I worried that someone was standing too close to me in an elevator or at the checkout stand. Back then, it had nothing to do with contagion. Instead, I just obsessed with the need for common courtesy. A dirty look or a step forward usually cured the complaint unless the person was a real numb-nut and took a step forward, too. It was a simpler time and the rules were squishy. Ah, those were the days.

In a short ten days, life has become one long, painful Seinfeld episode where the world is teeming with close talkers and germophobes who wander amongst us. On the other hand, we need to be hyper-aware of the Poppy’s who are “a little sloppy,” failing to sing all of Bohemian Rhapsody twice in order to ensure that their hands harbor not a shard of the sloughed-off virus. My own family, living next door, avoids me, claiming that they do not want to infect us old people, just in case. I know better. They are afraid we are carriers as well. In our family, Coronavirus has pit mother against daughter, with an accidental passing touch of hands causing a stampede to the kitchen sink for a good scrubbing. 

Nothing is simple. In the day of COVID-19, we search our consciences to decide whether or not leaving the house is an essential act. Walking out the front door requires papal absolution, even if we pledge to not look into another person’s eyes and promise to cross the street whenever a stranger comes into sight. But sometimes, a girl just needs to get outside. 

This morning, I took a walk in the woods near our house but before embarking on my trek, I dipsticked the potential for effective social distancing. From my living room window, high above the access road in the forest, without the impediment of leaves on the trees, I saw that the path was clear. Although it was only twenty-nine degrees, I needed air, and it was only 9:15 a.m. I could see that it was going to be a long day of self-imposed exile. Slipping my camera strap over my neck, I set off. 

A beautiful walk in nature, undisturbed by humans wielding the Coronavirus, was just what I needed. Meandering up the hill, I searched the bare branches for owls and hawks. I photographed the streaming sunlight through the trees, ducks cutting the surface of a peaceful ebb-free pond, and my white whale, the great blue heron. Peaceful and chilly, I reveled in the calm.

Deeper into the woods, a dog approached. My first thought: if this dog bites me, I can’t go to the Emergency Room or I will certainly get infected. I greeted the dog calmly and realized in seconds that he was a good boy, friendly and calm. I searched the road ahead for the owner. As I spied the man who was oblivious to my presence since he was looking at his phone and smoking a cigarette, I chose to make a U-turn. The path was narrow and my now inbred need to keep my distance kicked in. As lovely as the dog was, I abandoned him to his owner’s questionable attention.

As I turned around, a group of three, well-bundled up, loud, chatty people worked their way up the hill. I assessed my options. About fifteen feet ahead, I saw the small road that would take me out of harm’s way. I hastened my step and took the right turn that would bring me to safety. It wasn’t long before I heard footsteps behind me. One of the group had broken off and approached me, far to close for comfort. I shot the glance I use at the supermarket when my personal space is invaded. She retreated. In a time of powerlessness, I was momentarily powerful.

After my close encounter, I thought about the need for an etiquette book for appropriate behavior in a crisis such as this one.  I would call my manual, Coroniquette: Distance Living for the Pandemic. With all of the confusion around the meaning of  “social distancing,” people need rules, and maybe even laws, to define limits. Whether they read my handbook or not is another thing.  It’s a time when nothing is simple and depending on your fellow humans is touch and go.

In the meantime, my best advice is to stay safe and hold your loved ones six feet away. The life you save might be theirs. 

Image may contain: tree, outdoor, water and nature

Writing in the Time of Exile

Image result for quarantine

When I retired from my career in education to embark on my writing adventure, I never imagined that, within the year, the world would shut down. Since I already embraced partial seclusion in my writer’s world, I needed to make only minor adjustments to my routine to adhere to the social distancing advisories. Still, there are pitfalls to the solitary life, especially when you live with someone. While I self-quarantine, my husband continues to go to work, defeating my best efforts.

Tim’s job, procurement for a hospital group, requires his contribution to the supply chain. By his own admission, he is buying “everything” from “everywhere” to keep the health care workers up to their elbows in nitrile gloves. His employer is working to set him up with Work From Home (WHF), but for some reason, it’s taking longer than expected. In the meantime, I scream “wash your hands” every time he walks in the door and warn him if I get sick and die, the blood is on his hands. No pressure there.

As I wait for him to join me in my exile, I adapt. Blessed with a seeming immunity to writer’s block, I write prolifically and am making great progress on my memoir. Without distractions, my ability to tap into memory and make meaning of the events in my history flows unfettered. I miss my writer connections but my classes at Grub Street have gone ‘high tech’ with Zoom so I check in with the writing community regularly.  A new skill for me, Zoom has kept me connected and I pride myself on my mastery of the platform. My writing group employs Zoom as well to stay in touch and to share our pieces. It’s a new way to workshop but, as it has been said, necessity is the mother of invention. For my writing life, this seclusion works and I await a time when I will want to rejoin society. For now, I’m good.

Yet the life of isolation is not all sweetness and light. The lack of a schedule messes with my head. Once I get up, shower, get dressed, put the dog out, and throw a load of laundry, it’s a crapshoot. Having hours to myself forces me to wrangle with my tendency to be a little distractible (I can hear you all chuckling). I plan for the day, making lists of chores and other pressing matters like tax preparation and plant watering. Without the list, I would be even more unfocused that I am already. Without the list, I would continue my quest to plow through another seventeen hundred levels of Candy Crush or an additional twenty-five hundred games of Words With Friends. I would read a book or two from the stack on the table by the sofa. The list helps but its completion requires the fortitude to resist the siren song of distraction. Monday’s list still sits on the dining room table, partially crossed out. I didn’t say it was a perfect system.

The safe harbor of writing puts me in the chair and provides a singular activity that forces me to be productive. As I damn the list for my seat at the computer, I feel no guilt. I have a goal, my memoir, and I see progress. Grateful that my life has taken this direction, my passion for writing distracts me in a good way from the sad news of the exponential growth of the Coronavirus. I know that, by staying home, I am doing my part to stem the contagion. 

Time in a quiet place provides an opportunity to think as well. Seclusion has taught me that I am more of an introvert than I ever thought. Socializing via remote conferencing is sufficient contact to fulfill my need to see people. I’m not sure that is particularly a good thing but I do think that being still and shutting down the chaos offer a chance to reset. Some of the things that are happening in our world are beyond our control. I worry about people who are ill and dying, those who have lost their jobs, the crashing stock market, and the burgeoning emergency rooms. In the meantime, I write and wait to see how we all come out on the other side. In the meantime, I write.

Men in exile Aeschylus

When Tragedy Strikes, Humanity Awakens

Image result for for life and death are one

A little while ago, my Apple watch alerted me to a breaking news story.  Kobe Bryant, a renowned, retired basketball great, was killed in a helicopter crash in California. While I would never claim to be a sports fan (that would be a lie), I was familiar with the name, knew of his notoriety in the sport, and felt a pang of sorrow. When someone famous dies, I immediately think back to my own interaction with their craft or their accomplishments. I remember the same feeling of sadness when Princess Diana died, when John Lennon died, when David Bowie died. But the connection to a loss doesn’t require one to be a fan. I have come to understand that all it takes to feel sad in response to a tragedy is to be human.

When a celebrity dies, our idea of immortality is shattered. Kobe, Princess Diana, and others who have achieved great fame seem to be above the pitfalls of life and death. Their greatness supersedes any vulnerability and we expect them to live forever. The image that has been created of our idols makes them larger than life and certainly larger than death. The realization that they are human, just like us, jolts us back to reality.

In this world of social media hype, news alerts and their musical introduction smacking of urgency,  and bad news overload, any breaking news can trigger the pang in my gut, not just In the case of a tragedy befalling someone famous. I’ve gotten used to the sinking feeling inside whenever I hear of something tragic. I wait for more details: how many were killed in the earthquake in Turkey, how many animals were lost in the Australian fires, how many died in the most recent school shooting? Yet, while I worry about these outcomes, I fear that I have become a voyeur lost in this swirl of information. Perhaps the purity of my interest and concern is tainted by the need for details regarding the shock and gore of it all. And maybe, I have succumbed to the adage, “There but for the grace of God…”

The uncertainty we know in life causes the unpredictability of death. Choices we make, or others make, can cause our demise. Kobe chose to fly in a helicopter today but, for us, things as simple as merging on to the highway versus taking the surface roads can be our last decision. Another driver’s choice to text while driving can be the reason a parent or a child doesn’t return home one day. A lifetime of cigarette smoking may or may not result in deadly lung cancer. The possibility of being caught in the crossfire of gunshots or involved in an act of terrorism has become less of a long shot.  Life is full of pitfalls and ways to die. It’s a crap shoot, for sure.

To be human is to understand the fragility of being and remaining alive. When I hear people say that they wake up in the morning and thank God for another day, the thought gives me pause. I can’t really say I profess my thanks for not being dead in the morning; instead, I wonder if maybe we should be giving thanks for surviving at the end of any given day. Considering the minefield that is daily existence, it truly is an accomplishment to make it through to bedtime unscathed.

There must be a bigger plan, one that spares us until it is our turn. Tonight, Kobe Bryant will not kiss his children good night. I feel sad for him and for his family.  Yet, the initial shock of the news has already passed, as it does and, once the shock becomes a reality, life goes on for the rest of us. We are once again reminded that, while today may not be ‘the day’, we will each have a last day. It’s sobering, but death, like life, is a part of being human.

Image result for life's tragedy rob lowe

 

The Perfect (Snow)Storm

Image result for snow pictures woods

I purposely stayed away from supermarkets these past few days since I knew that it would be madness.  The weather people had been warning those of us in the greater Boston area that there was snow forecasted for Saturday so plan accordingly. Granted, the accumulation was predicted to be in the 1-3 inch range or worst case scenario, outside of 128 (the highway that for some reason is the line of demarcation in these situations), accumulations may top out at six inches; yet, I knew from experience that the stores would be chaos. As I took a quick assessment of my supplies of milk, bread, and booze, I decided that I most likely could survive until Sunday when the onslaught of the three inch deluge would be over. 

It would be a quick one, meteorologists said, over by midnight. And since the first flakes only started around three p.m, even at multiple inches an hour, which was unlikely, I could see that it was not going to be a big deal storm. In any case, the viewers were warned to stay home. It was treacherous! Dangerous conditions! Armageddon! Over time I have learned that the news people tend to exaggerate the onslaught in the cause of ratings and viewership so I resisted panic. In any case, I was happy to oblige. For me, it was a ‘perfect storm’.

I love snow, especially when I have no plans. For me, there is nothing more pleasant than a weekend storm, of the three to four inch variety, that deposits a perfect, glistening, white coating on the ground, shrubs, and trees – that I can look at from inside of the house. A glass of wine, a binge of a TV show on Netflix or Hulu, and fuzzy pajamas and I am fully equipped for the duration of the precipitation. I should mention that, while I love snow, I hate to go outside in it. I am a secret admirer, a closet snow junkie, who avoids interaction with the cold, wet stuff while adoring the beauty from a distance. 

As for winter activities, I have learned to ski, although I do not ski. I have ice skates, although I seldom skate. And I have a snow shovel, which I dodge using as much as possible. In the cause of skiing and skating, I adopted these skills not to be defeated by them. Both require being out in the cold. Both are not enjoyable and offer no appeal to me. Since shoveling requires no real skill, I have tried to identify as a dedicated shoveler, but I have failed. I thought about buying a pink shovel that I had seen at Reny’s in Damariscotta a few weeks ago but I knew that the purchase would not cure my aversion. When it comes to shoveling, like skiing and skating, I avoid it at all costs. Yet, the guilt that washes over me when I steal a glimpse of the entire family outside shoveling and cursing is enough to make me suck up my distaste for the activity and join in the ‘fun’. Dragging my heels while suiting up for the misery, I do my best to look like a team player. In the end, I am usually ready to make my grand contribution to the snow shoveling effort as close to completion as possible. It is a worthy attempt. That should count. And sometimes, I even make cocoa and a banana bread as a reward for everyone’s hard work, my contribution to the snow removal effort and a means to ease my conscience.

This Sunday morning, we woke up to the remains of a ‘perfect storm’ – a minor accumulation of the light and fluffy variety, easy to shovel, and falling on a weekend when there is no pressure to get up and out.  I reveled in the effects since the beauty of a freshly fallen, light blanket of snow fills me with such joy. Mid-morning, I heard voices outside and looked to see my husband and son-in-law as they chatted casually while pushing the light snow around. They seemed happy. I was happy, too. The pressure was off. It would not be necessary to join the chain gang of snow removal, avoiding a guilt trip. I poured another cup of coffee and settled in with a book, assuming a seat on the wing chair in the living room from which I had a clear view of the woods. Breathtakingly beautiful, the trees glistened as they donned their sparkling white coat. I imagine it’s cold out there, and a little wet. I wouldn’t know. And here was no need to find out. 

Christmas Cards: Is it time to “stamp” them out?

Image result for obligatory christmas card

It’s an improvement over last year. I actually have what I guess is called the “Christmas Spirit”. The decorations are up. I have started practicing carols on the piano. The calendar is full of upcoming parties, concerts, and events like tours of swish uber decorated houses in swanky neighborhoods. The scent of pine, generated by multiple holiday themed candles, lightly wafts through the house. Even the dog is wearing her Christmas attire, a red and white knitted sweater with the word “Joy” embroidered into the yarn. All is right in the Christmas Haven that is our home except for one thing: the dreaded task of sending Christmas cards.

Now it’s not like I haven’t developed a system to streamline the job. My hatred of the process forces me to maintain a detailed list of “Cards Sent” and “Cards Received” that dates back a number of years. The prior year’s receipts dictate who makes the cut for the following year’s mailing and any opportunity to thin the herd is more than welcome.  Labels are prepared at the end of the prior season to expedite the mailing process. I scour all of the websites – Shutterfly, Tiny Prints, Zazzle, Vistaprint – for the perfect layout and the most festive design that reflects “us”. Photos are staged during the year in the hopes that a viable pose from a vacation snapshot will adequately capture the joy of a year’s travel exploits. The most pristine snapshots of the lot are selected to adorn our pre-printed cards (saving me from writing out each one individually). An assembly line is formed. Stamps, return address labels, addressee labels, cards inserted, envelopes sealed. The final step is a trip to the post office, where adding to the burgeoning mailbox stuffed with other people’s seasonal greetings, requires brute force. Despite the well-developed, multi-step  method of card preparation, Christmas cards are still the most annoying part of Christmas. 

The displaying of the cards themselves is a badge of honor, a testimony to just how many friends we have. Over the years, I have purchased a number of gadgets designed to display the cards in a decorative manner. In the end, I usually just grab the scotch tape and stick them on the door frame between the kitchen and living room, where they are knocked off on a regular basis and then cease to stick since the carpet fibers have now stuck to the tape, rendering it useless. Eventually, there is an arbitrary point where the decision is made to resist the urge to reapply the cards to the display, as well as a cut off for new cards to be added. My apologies to the New Year’s card folk. You end up in a drawer, unseen and un-admired.  

Once the season is over, a decision must be made as to which cards to save and which to toss. I have some weird superstition (all my own) about throwing away pictures of people so any photo cards are saved from hitting the bin. Every year, a card or two is just too beautiful to toss. They join the photo cards, never to be seen again once added to the box labeled “Christmas Cards 2014-2019”. All this prepping, hanging, and sorting is a lot of work for such a tenuous applicability and a short shelf life.

With the advent of the internet and the wonders of social media, my opinion of the necessity of Christmas cards has changed. In the “old” days, photo Christmas cards were one way to ensure that you saw the growing and expanding families of friends far and wide. A means to check in with assorted work colleagues past, a card with a pleasant note, bringing the receiver up to date with adventures and milestones, was welcome and expected. And if you were lucky, you’d find the ever enjoyable “Christmas letter” (the precursor to the cleansed internet personae that we all now project) tucked inside the envelope. Now, instead, I open Facebook or log on to Instagram and there they are, all of them, and all of their kids, and every event from the past twelve months, cataloged for the world to see, making me truly question the worth of the traditional Christmas card.  It is quite possible that the purpose and value of the traditional Christmas card is now mute in 2019.

Maybe it’s because I haven’t taken a good picture since January, maybe I haven’t found the perfect Vistaprint layout, or maybe I’m just lazy, but I have no interest in sending Christmas cards this year. I am not being anti-social or anti-Christmas. I dread the whole exercise. And, in truth, I know everything about you already. But I will admit, selfishly, that I fear being that person left off other people’s Christmas card lists for 2020. I know that I am not the only one who keeps track. It works that way universally – no card from you, no card from me. Yet, I still like to open my mailbox and feast my eyes on multiple red and green envelopes. Hence, my decision in the case of Marie versus the Christmas card is not final. 

I anticipate a few more photo ops before it is too late for this year’s card to be designed and assembled so maybe there is hope for season’s greetings from me in a tangible paper form. But I wouldn’t count on it. And if you do get a card from me this year, consider yourself lucky and know that I expect one in return. I’d hate to delete you, but it’s the rule of Christmas card record keeping everywhere. And just in case I don’t produce a paper version of my wishes for you, consider this your card. 

 

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year to you and yours from me and mine.

 

Image result for miserable christmas cards        Image result for family doing better christmas card meme

Guilt and the Art of Blogging

Image result for guilt

Poor Mami! Since I embarked on my full-on memoir writing journey, my beloved blog is my very neglected and under-loved extension of me and I feel guilty.  With its inception in December 2017, Mami has been my focus and creative outlet.  I have dedicated myself to creating and promoting new Mamis on a regular basis. Over fifty blog entries have been read in seventeen countries, with over 1800 visitors to the site. Mami is my passion and my “baby”, but if lack of blogging was a case for mandated reporting, I would have called DCF on myself!

Guilt is something I come by honestly. As a Catholic, I feel guilty about everything. Instilled in my home and parochial school education, I live on the straight and narrow (most of the time) because of guilt.  And I don’t always see it as a negative. Guilt holds me to a higher standard. Because of guilt, I make my bed, send greeting cards, and empty the dishwasher. It’s a master motivator when plain old responsibility doesn’t quite do its job.  Without guilt, I would be a lot less productive most days and watch a lot more “Family Affair” and “Petticoat Junction” reruns. Instead, I keep busy. Guilt wrecks all of my best attempts at being idle.

My mother was really good at guilt. Laying it on nice and thick, she guilted me into just about everything I accomplished in my early life. In the end, I appreciate it.  As for my own children, the products of a different generation, they are less thankful and blame my parental guilt trip on their collective long standing anxiety.  I guess that the plan: guilt->anxiety->accomplish something.  The key is to not get stuck at “anxiety” and as Nike said, “Just do it!”

So here I am at the keyboard on a Monday morning, concerned that I haven’t written a Mami in a few weeks, banging out a short essay on “guilt”. Once again, without guilt, I would be doing any number of other things, such as scrolling through Facebook, liking pictures on Instagram, and playing with my bitmoji’s fall outfit. Instead, I write. And from here, I have a goal to generate ten pages of memoir writing before sundown. Goals and guilt go hand in hand. I have both, most of the time.

So for now, I write a Mami on a half-assed topic to allay my guilt. Nevertheless, my writing machine and my brain are revved for today’s marathon so I guess my guilt paid off once again.  And barring any disaster and a “That Girl” marathon, it looks like today may just a be one of those guiltily productive days.  At the very least, I wrote a Mami and I call that a guilt-free success!

Image result for guilt

 

 

Losing My Mind: A Weighty Conundrum

Image result for weight loss cartoon scale

When I got on the scale today, I had gained weight.  Since yesterday, that is.  I wasn’t shocked.  It was a number I had seen before in my collective two hundred pound lifetime weight loss. That’s not to say I was two hundred pounds overweight at any time – I just lost the same twenty-five pounds, repeatedly, for the past twenty-eight years.  My choices of vehicles to lose the girth ran the gamut of trends and organized movements that not only helped me to lose weight (maybe) but also made my wallet a bit lighter, too.  Meetings, books, online programs, and websites, all promoting the keys to being svelte, wonderfully thin and, less importantly for me, healthy, have taken up more of my time than I like to admit. Yet, I repeatedly continue to seek the cure for my compulsive need to eat, not eat, get skinny, and get fat.

I am proud to say I am a Lifetime Member of Weight Watchers, for what that’s worth. In truth, it’s worth the price of not paying for meetings, if you stay within a few pounds from your goal weight.  Given my stature, five feet if I stand up really tall, my goal weight from my very first attempt in 1991 was so low that, when reached, I could not put a morsel of food between my lips, let alone swallow.  I maintained this starvation mode for the better part of six months, until I needed to eat really badly.  Before I knew it, I had not only revisited the weight that brought me to WW initially, I surpassed it. I think back on the number, forty pounds from where I am now, and I chuckle. At the time, and at the age of 32, I was mortified. How could I have let myself go?  I was sure that people snickered and sneered that I had really packed it on.  Things got out of control when I fully committed to eating again. I crawled back to “the program” once I was twenty-two pounds over the restrictive, non-eating original goal set by the Weight Watchers program and eight pounds over my initial WW weigh in.  Willpower was not my strong suit, apparently.

My less than triumphant return to WW was repeated nearly every summer, and never again did I enjoy the benefit of meetings without a fee.  While on my ride of my pendulum swings and ups and downs, I saw the value in Weight Watchers but I just couldn’t sustain it. In the meantime, I tried no-carb, low-carb, high protein, fasting, and any other premise-of-the-month.  Some really worked: the South Beach Diet, for example, netted a fifteen pound loss in just two weeks. As long as I stayed away from carbs, I enjoyed a flat belly and suffered from constipation.  Then I had bread…and beer…and anything else not on the plan, and the numbers on the scale skyrocketed, once again.

A few years ago, I started Weight Watchers for the millionth time (ok, that’s an exaggeration), but this time I did it in earnest (again).  My husband, who also needed to drop thirty pounds, joined me. As his weight melted away with a few minor lifestyle changes, my numbers stagnated.  I would lose a few, gain some back, lose a few more, and gain some more back. The trajectory was downward but never as profound as his result. He was smug about his success, adding to my angst.  Yet, I minimally persisted.

As I sat in the meetings, I dissected the atmosphere and the business model. The room was filled with women, and a few men, all telling the same story that I lived. Yet, they returned, as had I, and I was more than intrigued so I invested in the company.

At the time, in late 2016, the stock was reasonably priced, trading in the low teens.  When I invest, I like to have an idea of the marketplace and the product and, clearly, there was value.  The company successfully reinvented itself repeatedly over the years, with ever adjusting “points” values and revamps to the program that seemed to appeal to the constituents.  My hunch was correct and my stock rose quickly, unlike my opposing minimal weight loss.  Broker friends called it the “Oprah” effect and my portfolio benefited with a healthy infusion of cash. Unlike Oprah, I was less successful on the weight loss front.  And not so curiously, as soon as I backed off from the program, my weight increased: concurrently, the stock price plummeted. Fortunately, I got out before I lost all of my profit but it was an interesting ride.  Update: The stock is still rock bottom and I am still overweight.

My revolving door at Weight Watchers continued until a few short months ago. The weight packs on, I go to the meetings, I change my evil ways, I lose, I eat normally again, and I gain. It’s the life cycle of my fat.  This time, I’ve come to embrace it. Maybe I was meant to be minimally overweight and happy.  If that’s the case, I’m good with it. Svelte is less important at my age since shallow is unbecoming in an older woman.  That’s my convenient theory.  At the very least, I am going on that premise for now while I enjoy my carbs – and if necessary, buy bigger clothes.

Image result for weight loss cartoon

Simpler times, simpler pleasures

Image may contain: one or more people, sky and outdoor

A few weeks ago, I spent a lovely weekend visiting friends in a beautiful area of Maine that’s a bit more down south that Downeast. Purchased just five years ago, the house in which Tim and I stay has become Dave and Gail’s hobby, passion, and occasional bane. A beautiful antique center entrance colonial built in 1834, the house is expansive with an extension that houses a kitchen and a spare multipurpose room (or as I call it, “my room”), and another further offshoot that is an embellished “barn” (the word ‘barn’ doesn’t do this structure justice). It is the epitome of New England living in a simpler time, with a modern tweak.   From an open window, the rushing sounds of the Sheepscot River, just across the road, soothe the soul of the weary city dweller.  For entertainment, we watch the colorful birds clustering at the multiple feeders outside of the kitchen window, an arrangement that Gail calls “Bird TV”.  Needless to say, we seize the opportunity to partake of the peace every time an invitation is extended.

As an added attraction, our visits north always include a ride on the Waterville, Wiscasset, and Farmington Railway, a living museum, and reconstructed railroad system assuming the pathways of a defunct means of transportation that was a lifeline to the area over one hundred years ago.  The trains we ride are originals, unearthed in storage throughout the country, or from donors who collect the vintage railcars and early steam engines. As the train rumbles through the woods and countryside, volunteers who are dedicated to the endeavor of restoring and retelling the history of the WW&F regale the passengers with stories that craft a portrait of a time long gone, but it all becomes so real in the telling of the tale.  At times, I find myself compelled to put my hand through their seemingly corporal bodies, but I resist. I know that these men are of this time; yet, their passion for this place and its history paint them ghost-like as if channeling specters of another era.

As I became lost in the bliss of days gone by, stark reality shook me from my reverie into 2019 consciousness.  After a dinner out in nearby Damariscotta, we embarked on the ride back to Head Tide, a good distance by city standards. An urgent alert on the screen of Tim’s BMW replaced the Sirius XM display and intruded on the streetlight-less ride.  The vehicle now in distress was my 60th birthday gift to my husband and the epitome of modern, complicated living.  Heated steering wheel, the ability to park itself, and the miracle of run-flat tires all promised a driving experience that was unsurpassed with its state of the art technology.  Now demanding attention,  one of the storied “run-flat” tires rapidly lost viability as air escaped into the night from its thirty-two pounds per square inch chamber.  Unspoken panic ensued as we watched the PSI numbers drop (picture Walmart’s falling prices).  Within minutes,  nerves won out over the chatter and the car fell silent.  Once back in the driveway at the house, we plucked the never-read manuals from the glove compartment and set about the business of seeking roadside assistance.

When I purchased the car, my salesman sang the praises of BMW and its customer care. With a promise of 24/7 coverage, he advised me to cancel AAA, since BMW would now be my safety net. In the heat of my emergency, I soon discovered that safety net had a big hole in the form of no roadside service on a Saturday night, or for that matter, Sunday.  The advice of the person at BMW: “Can you extend your trip until Monday and we can help you then?” Her non-answer, the equivalent of “Gee, that’s tough”, frustrated me and I told her as much.  After a fitful night of sleep, we arose the next morning, not quite ready for what the day would bring.

The Sunday morning weather could not have been nicer as I hoisted myself into the cab of the flatbed tow truck for the sixty-five mile trek to Saco, where AAA, my hole-free safety net that I, fortunately, had not canceled, had secured replacement tires. The tire on the Beemer was beyond repair with a massive gash in the sidewall. Since we didn’t have a spare (you don’t need those little details when you have these wonders of automotive advancement), there was no choice but an hour and a half in a flat-bed. The driver was a skilled storyteller, sharing tales of the road, the military, and life on the farm. His pleasantries made for a nice enough journey and the cab of the truck was moderately clean and comfortable, despite the broken seat belt fixture that impaled me for the entirety of the ride as well as leaving me unsecured. In any case, we were making progress, or at least, heading south, in the direction of home, with the little X1 in the rearview, secured and ready for its rubbery infusion.

Ah, but as for the tires? When you are greeted by the salesman at the destination with “Sorry, we don’t have run-flat tires here. They are too expensive to keep in stock. Can you stay in the area until tomorrow?”, your only option fizzles and you get a little crazy.  In a few short hours, we had heard a mantra repeated by every expert to whom we had spoken: “Run-flat tires – they’re great in theory.”  This theory, clearly tested, inspired a cleanse of the entire complement of run-flat tires on the car, resulting in four new high-performance tires of the less fancy variety.  At that point, we had run out of options. The cost for all four was comparable to the purchase of two run-flats and now we were outfitted with brand new, safe, and less complicated tires.  At the time, it seemed a little reactionary and extreme, but my instincts were correct and confirmed by my BMW dealer, to whom I ranted on Monday. He knew the mantra, too – “Run-flat tires are great in theory.”

All the while, I could see in my mind’s eye, my father, shaking his head, reminding me that what is sold to us as conveniences occasionally backfire.  At the same time, I remember that he also never owned a car with electric windows (what if you went into the water and the car shut off?), air conditioning (I just open the windows), or a credit card (I use cash).  In any case, I get his point. Sometimes, simpler is better, if not the best way to go.  When I brought the Beemer for service on this past Thursday, the litany of recalls and upgrades to the computer system made my head spin and required a day long commitment to the remedy.  I recounted the story of the now defunct run-flat tires to the service coordinator and the mantra rolled off his tongue – “Run-flat tires are great in theory.”  I hate that my father might have been right but I relent to his posthumous guilt trip.  Simple things, like riding the rails of the WW&F or crank windows, really appeal to me at the moment.

Today is another beautiful Sunday but this time I am sitting in my house, cowering from the heat outside, in air-conditioned comfort.  Now that’s a convenience that I refuse to relinquish.  The rest I can do without, or so I say at the moment. Nevertheless, I do wonder how the Beemer parks itself, but that’s a project for another day.

Image may contain: one or more people, tree, sky, outdoor and nature

The Reality of Living a Life of Fantasy

To my advantage or detriment, I am an extreme fantasist.  For me, it is not enough just to observe; some images inspire me to become part of the scene. Over the years, I have perfected the practice of designing experiences that remove me from the mundane and transport me out of my condition.  Finding inspiration in unconventional places, I look to my favorite characters, real and manufactured, and crave ways to share their experiences. I make a plan, address the details, and once there, I insert myself into the setting.  Since travel is often required, it’s an expensive hobby that is safe, fun, and habit forming; the material for my adventures is as close as my television or a People magazine.  With a little imagination and creativity, I make fantasy a reality.

Take the case of me and the British Royal Family: I am an expert.  Rabid for all things Windsor and beyond, I buy every magazine that alludes to a story within that will release another royal secret, with the knowledge gleaned enhancing my status as a Royal insider.  Royal weddings especially are my passion, having taken personal days off from work for one woman viewing parties that begin at three a.m. As an official nod to the nuptials, I completed the Kate and William celebration by hosting a Royal Wedding party for family and friends complete with Pims and sausage rolls.  Years later, I was beyond grateful when Harry and Meghan chose to marry on a Saturday since I didn’t miss any work on their behalf. Even better, I left my house at 5:30 a.m. that day with my entourage of likeminded friends in tow to attend a Royal Wedding Party at the Copley Plaza Hotel in Boston.  In my mind, my nifty fascinator, made of feathers and satin that matched my coat and dress perfectly and fancy enough for a stroll up the drive at Windsor Castle to the chapel, made me one with my “people”. I supped on a “Full English”, sipped champers, enjoyed a slice of wedding cake, and viewed the event remotely on the big screen in the ballroom. The experience transported me to a place in my imagination where I was myself a Royal, or at least an American version, thereof.

In addition to my Royal preoccupation, it is common knowledge in my circle of friends that I obsess over British and Irish television.  Once again, my interest tips into the blurred lines of fantasy and reality.  More peculiarly, I watch a daily British soap opera called Emmerdale.  While the show has been on the air since the early 70’s, I became a fan in 2005 during a trip to Ireland.  At 7 o’clock every evening (or 1900hrs, to the locals), ITV airs this iconic serial drama.  The Emmerdale theme transports me to the countryside near York and Leeds in the north of England.  In truth, I have designed entire vacations so that I can visit the sets where the show is filmed, deep in the Yorkshire Dales. Watching a foreign show in the U.S. can be a challenging affair and I keep abreast of the storylines with frequent trips to the U.K and Ireland, spoilers from Facebook groups, YouTube clips, and now with Britbox (there were a few other means by which to view shows, but since the legality is questionable, I will refrain).  Having brought my husband, Tim, into the Emmerdale flock, we often find ourselves chatting about the fate of a favorite character over dinner. Occasionally, the conversation begins with reference to a character’s name and, I, not ready for a foray into “fantasy” mode, have no idea to whom he is referring.  His response, “You know, David’s Alisha!”, jolts me into the “make-believe” and I contribute my opinions, hopes, and dreams for the storyline and the poor, unfortunate Alisha.  Escapism comes in many forms, and, for us, often it has a British accent. 

On our destination “Emmerdale” vacations, we strolled the streets of the town, taking pictures in front of the local, the Woolpack. We pulled pints behind the bar and took a seat in Rhona’s living room. We stepped inside St. Mary’s, the generic, non-denominational church that is the center of the community.  We paid our respects at the graveyard where many of the more unfortunate characters (those who are totally written out of the show) are buried.  We posed in front of the sign, “Emmerdale”, at the town limits, solidifying our belonging to the community at large, despite our American accents.  Duly noted by the young man at the concession (as we bought up the entire catalog of mugs, pens, magnets, and tote bags), he admitted that he doesn’t see many Americans at the attraction.  Tim, eager to spill the beans on our furtive viewing habits, spewed a few of our secrets until I kicked him vigorously, abruptly ending his confession.

Vacations to “Emmerdale” provide only one example of my fascination with manufactured reality requiring international travel.  A few years ago, on another trip to England and Wales, I designed a tour that focused solely on the locales of favorite, more accessible, television shows – that is, those on Netflix and Hulu.  Our visit to Wales, designed solely to ‘become one’ with our favorite Brit television characters, netted experiences that edged on the surreal. Tim and I recreated scenes from Gavin and Stacey in Barry Island, with a local sitting on the beach offering to help us recreate the final series episode by taking a photo of us sitting on the wall in front of the arcade where Nessa worked. And in spite of looking foolish, we took turns taking pictures of each other on the sidewalks in front of Gwen, Bryn, and Doris’ row houses. Back in Cardiff, we were surrounded by Weeping Angels and Daleks, and took a spin on the Tardis at the Doctor Who Experience. Moving on to Cornwall to the south, we walked in the footsteps of Doc Martin and Louisa on the Cornish streets of Port Wenn (Port Issac in reality).  More fun than we ever anticipated, the next year we were sure to visit the Cotswolds and the world of Midsomer Murders. Walking the deserted streets lined with houses donning thatched roofs and secreting budding crime, I could hear the mysteriously haunting theme music in my ears. I imagined the possibility of running into Barnaby and Troy on the case, or worse, the increased risk of being murdered at the hand of a cricket bat wielding lunatic. In any case, another box was ticked on my list of real life “pretend” experiences.

Not limited to things Brit, occasionally the depth of my immersion into my fantasy life even surprises me.  In a writing class not long ago, we were discussing writers, their styles, and their voice. I presented Carrie Bradshaw as my choice of a writer who had a particular style as she posed a question early on in her pieces, which became the catalyst of her musings.  A pall came over the class, with my teacher explaining gently to me that Carrie Bradshaw was not a real person.  Shocked on some weird level, I took the news badly.  While she may be the main character in the show, Sex and the City, in my mind, Carrie is a friend, of sorts.  She certainly is my “go-to” when I am looking for mindless entertainment.  More than occasionally, my six-season boxed set, along with the two movies of the same title, provide a respite from a stressful day or the background noise to a day of housework.  To me, Carrie is very real, as well as an inspiration, and a survivor.  And I follow her, or SJP, on Twitter – how much more real does it get?

While possibly perceived as foolish and trivial, my silly hobby offers an escape mechanism that requires a measure of creativity, detail orientation, and belief in a reality based in fiction.  Perhaps I take all of this imaginary reality too seriously; yet, each of these adventures and connections fuels my memories and are as accessible as closing my eyes, transporting and inserting me into a reality that suppresses the residue, distractions, and defeats of the day to day grind.  I am temporarily free of worries, immersing myself fully in the shallow waters of fantasy.  This distraction feeds my soul.  My quirky passion, harmless and consuming, entertains me. And as I plan my next vacation or afternoon of housework, I will look to my collection of the unreal for inspiration. Thankfully, the repertoire is as endless as my access to Hulu, Netflix, and the BBC, and as close as my imagination.

The Lost Art of Selflessness

 

hearse 1

When I visit Ireland every February, there are a few things that I can count on: the first “hit” of Irish air at 6 a.m. as I emerge from Arrivals at Shannon Airport, the first time I have to say “Mar-i Ca-hill-an” versus my usual flat American pronunciation, my first bag of Taytos, and my first really fresh pint of Guinness. Other things for which I yearn include driving on the wild Irish R and L roads (all on the “wrong side”, as Americans say), eating my first bowl of “vegetable soup and brown bread”, hearing the obituaries on Clare FM radio, and attending Mass spoken in a mixture of Latin phrases spoken in an Irish accent. Roman Catholic Mass in Ireland is truly a cultural experience, where occasionally one receives Communion at an altar rail and “Prayers of the Faithful” include pleas for things like “a reduction in the use of the Lord’s name in vain”.  I have to chuckle at the latter since Ireland is a country where  “Jaysus” is invoked at every turn and “Mother of God” punctuates many a sentence where the narrator conveys shock and dismay. But this time, church offered a very different and unexpected lesson.

As we walked to St. Brigid’s, just up the road from the inn where we were staying, the rain pelted us and we hustled to the churchyard. Clearly a popular Mass, parking was at a premium for those faithful who drove. But most interestingly, parked just outside of the door of the sanctuary, was a flower-filled hearse. Momentarily deterred, we pressed on and walked in mid-church, the congregation assembled and a casket prominently displayed before the altar.  With the pews full of mourners and townspeople, we made our way to the rear and mounted the stairs to the “Gallery” or as we Americans would say, “the balcony”.  In the gallery, we gazed upon the full church from, arguably, the best seats in the house.  As Mass proceeded, references to “Mary” and the “repose of her soul” were peppered in the priest’s comments and the church was heavy with sadness without visible emotion (the Irish don’t really do that).

As the priest mounted the pulpit to deliver his sermon, our voyeuristic urges to hear more about “Mary” and her life ignited.  Mary, it seems, was a wonderful person. But aren’t we all after we die! However, in Mary’s case, she epitomized the image of a saint on this earthly plane. As the priest shared the details of Mary’s life, we learned that Mary’s mother passed away when Mary was only fifteen years of age and Mary assumed the role of “mother” in the home, leaving school and raising her siblings. Years later, she married “Jack”, and she and Jack had five children of their own, to whom she dedicated her life. Sadly, Jack died at the age of forty-two, leaving Mary to raise her children alone. The priest expounded on the virtues that Mary possessed and the life of service to others that clearly defined Mary. Her family, now expanded to twelve grandchildren and eight great-grandchildren, all beneficiaries of Mary’s goodness, dabbed their eyes as they considered the virtuous soul now lost.

As the priest shifted his focus to her family, he acknowledged their dedication to their mother and grandmother and the fact that Mary remained at home, despite her declining health. Everyone pitched in and Mary’s care was delivered lovingly by those seated there today.  Hearing this approach to elder care, I felt a little sadness and some regret that I was not strong enough or had the time to deliver that same level of care to my own father.

As I sat there listening to the story of Mary, I wept. For Heaven’s sake, I didn’t know Mary, or even how she died, but Mary and her deep love and commitment struck a chord with me and I felt the loss of the experience of a simpler life. Despite the amazing opportunities that our American way of life affords us, I fear that we have sacrificed a deep connection to our families and our roots. We often hear that we should “live our lives” and when family life becomes complicated and presents challenges, find the geographic remedy and move away. Now when things get difficult, we turn inward to ensure that we are “taking care of ourselves” and “making ourselves a priority”.  Yoga and mindfulness to address the stress in our lives, and big cars and swish houses in desirable zip codes that cause the stress are the rewards and byproducts of our frenetic lives, motivating our view of success. But as I ponder the life of Mary, her selflessness was her success. It is her legacy. It is the lesson that she left behind, so well learned by those who so selflessly cared for her.

It has been two weeks since Mary’s funeral and I think of her often, and marvel that I cried for her, a total stranger who touched me in death because of the way she lived.  Rest well, Mary…

And as they go, it was a hell of a funeral! As the Irish would say, “She got a great send-off though, didn’t she?”

Image result for giving of ourselves st francis