As the lockdown winds down and life begins to open up, I, like many others, am facing a crisis of faith. As horrible as this pandemic has been, it has been a period of calm for me. I answered to no one but myself. I needed to be nowhere and I created for only me. I didn’t stress about what I was missing, because we were all missing…something. And now? As we begin to remove our masks, I am suddenly afraid. What happens next? What do I do? Where do I go? I can’t live on the dole forever. I need a job. Don’t I? Can I keep living in this cocoon of calm and creativity, this bubble of peace, hiding behind a literal mask? Can I turn a quirk of fate into a life that resonates with joy? All of these questions have me a little stuck, loathe to leave behind the comfort of this quarantine life, but knowing I can’t stay. We all talk about the new normal. What is that supposed to look like for someone like me? Do I retire? Do I look for a new job? Do I sit around and hope my old job still exists? Or do I do neither of those and figure out what the life I really want to live for the next chapter looks like? Maybe it’s not just fear I’m feeling. Maybe it’s excitement, anticipation. Maybe it’s ok to be afraid, not for what we’ve missed, but about what’s to come.
A dear, wise and wonderful friend sent me a volunteer opportunity she believes I am perfect for. It involves coaching high school age students in under-resourced areas so that they can envision a brighter future. A worthy goal. I immediately got a stomach ache and knew in my soul it wasn’t for me as I have nothing to offer. Yes, I am, as she pointed out, a supporter. A cheerleader. I offer time. Interest. I make people feel valued and important. All good stuff. It does not make me coach worthy. I am aware of the gifts I possess. I’m funny. Creative. I act. I create jewelry. I write. I am pretty good at all of this. But interestingly enough, these gifts hide behind a mask. I create a character. A piece of art. A blog post. All of these express who I am without me doing the talking. I am, in person, not particularly articulate. I stuff things inside and mutter to myself instead of saying what I need to say, eventually blowing a gasket or making an ass of myself or both. I interrupt because I’m sure people will either lose interest or ignore me altogether. This is not news. Especially for the 6 people who actually read this blog. But, when I act? Or create a piece? When I write? I am something else. I am articulate and funny and real and I feel just a little bit ferocious. I remember talking about auditions with my nephew years ago. I hate, I mean hate them. I have never figured out how to show my best self in two minutes or less. Just give me the part. I will kick ass, I promise. Coaches of any stripe can’t hide behind a mask. They give of themselves freely and share their wisdom generously. What in the world would a timid, inarticulate, not particularly successful, completely self-absorbed woman with a raging self-esteem issue and a perpetual stomach ache have to offer that any young person would want to hear? So of course I sent in an application email. And even as I write this, my left eye is twitching and I feel like I might throw up. Pretty much like every other day. Maybe I’ll go solder a mask.
Mask of Comedy & Tragedy.
In this current world we live in, Zoom has been a life saver, a connection to those we love, to friends and loved ones, to religious community. There are more, let’s say, mature people who are still having some trouble navigating all this relatively new technology. We’ve all read the story about the gentleman who couldn’t figure out how to remove the kitty filter during a business meeting. Heh heh heh. There’s a lovely woman in a community I’m part of who tends to talk. A lot. The facilitator of our group has taken to starting every question with, “let’s hear from someone we HAVEN’T heard from.” So the other day, this person has her hand up and the tech support says, “So & So has her hand up”, and I hear, from someone else who obviously hasn’t figured out how to mute themselves, “Oy”. And I am looking around to see if anyone else heard it cause I want to laugh so bad. I, of course, am pretty dang tech savvy, so heh, heh, heh. A knee slapper. Well last night I participated in a wonderful program with my Sisterhood. It was informative and moving and inspiring and all those really good things. But, somewhere in the middle of it, I noticed a friend had her background blurred and I thought, “ooh, that’s cool, I wonder how she did that!” So, I briefly clicked on filters to see if I could find it, but no luck, so I clicked it off and turned my attention back to the event, only to notice that I had applied a very faint mustache to myself. Not a Groucho Marx mustache, more like a, she could really use a good waxing, mustache. So, I’m all “WTF, what do I do? What do I do? I don’t even know how I got it in the first place!” So, I’m sitting there covering my upper lip in what I hope is a look of intense concentration for a few seconds, before it occurred to me to just turn off my video and figure out how to turn off the filter. One of the many things I’ve come to know during this time is how much I don’t know. And really, so what? There’s always gonna be someone smarter than me, but I’m sure they’ve also run a whole load of laundry with no soap, or only noticed before getting ready for bed that they’ve been wearing their shirt inside out the whole day. But, I like to think I’m the only one special enough to give myself a ‘stache during a Zoom meeting.
“An elephant never forgets.” “I remember the first time I..(fill in the blank).” “It’s like riding a bicycle, you never forget.” As the years go by, I am stunned by how much I’ve forgotten. Whole swaths of my life are, not gone, exactly, but…kind of…you know…F*#% it, I forgot what I was trying to say. See what I did there? I have a friend on Facebook. Apparently I share a past with this person, experiences, mutual friends. We’ve been friends on social media for years. And to this day? I have, literally, no idea who they are. I mean none. Nothing. Bubkas. I feel terrible. This person was present in my life for a lot and I can’t remember. Or I was too full of my own drama to even make an effort to know who they were! How self-involved is that? I remember a friend from Pitt posting a program from a show we did together in the Studio Theater. And I looked at it thinking, “Was I in this show? I mean, I see my name, but, was I there?!” Whole shows. Whole epochs. Whole people. No wonder I can’t grow and move forward with any ease. If I put all the things I remember together to form a life, I’m like…six! The last High School reunion I went to was in 2016. It was my 40th. I was amazed at how few people I really knew. I was struck by the wonderful memories flying that I wasn’t part of. Don’t get me wrong, I do have great memories of really close friends. But I also know that there were experiences in my life that caused me a great deal of pain and humiliation. ( Don’t make me tell the peeing in my pants in junior high school story again!) I know that these experiences changed the way I viewed the world, well, my world. I was convinced, in my heart, that everyone was whispering about me and laughing at me and all I wanted to do was disappear. And I did. For years. I was always shy and gawky, but I no longer knew how to navigate my life safely. If I tell you my face is bright red and I’m a little teary even now, decades later? Not exaggerating. To this day, I have to tread lightly because I know it won’t be long before I either humiliate myself or hurt someone else, thereby humiliating myself even further. Quite the burden to carry through decades. And ironically? This, I never forget. Like riding a bicycle. And please, forgive me if I’ve already told you all this, I forget.
The Bicycle, or Blonde with a Flat, Commission
Dust off your lampshades, people! It’s that time again. It’s time for the Birthday blog! This year I’m turning 63. Who would have believed this time last year what the coming year would bring. Pandemics and unemployment. Fear and uncertainty. Racism and revolt. Protests and an election that brought us back from the brink of democratic destruction. Murder Hornets. Sarah Cooper. Randy Rainbow. No one could have imagined, when we heard of a virus way far away in a little town in China that has nothing to do with us, that we would be unable to hug our friends. Celebrate birthdays. Sing Karaoke. Go to a Show. Eat in restaurants. Raise your hands if you thought this would all be over in a few weeks. Yeah, me too. But, we are resilient. We have found ways to teach our children when they can’t go to school, earn a little bit of money while our employment future remains uncertain, keep healthy when gyms and dance classes are not a safe option. We share our conversations on Zoom, we tell people we love them a little more than we used to. And we look forward to the days when life goes back to normal. And the silver lining just might be that the new normal? It probably won’t look or feel quite like the old normal. If you had asked me what I would do if I couldn’t work, go out without a mask, travel, eat in a diner, or pretty much go anywhere for a year, I would have spiraled right into an anxiety attack. But I am fine. I’m more than fine. I’m working on my jewelry. I’m 34 pounds lighter than this time last year. I make my own coffee every day and I’ve embraced my air fryer. The new normal might mean we wear masks for the foreseeable future. Or wash our hands a lot. Or go to a show where every other seat is empty. And maybe we’ll work more from home even when we don’t have to because we know we can. And get puppies. And we’ll still tell the people we love how much they mean to us because we know that life can turn, and fall, and end on a dime. We cannot go back to the old normal, because we have all grown, and the old reality now fits like a cheap suit. But, if it makes you feel nostalgic, I will continue to worry about everything, feed my addiction to Yahtzee and Gunsmoke, interrupt others because I’m afraid if I don’t talk fast, people will get bored before I’m through, and blame everyone but me for whatever ails me. But I will do it with a lampshade on my head.
I am not you. I may spend my whole life trying to be you. Trying to have what you have. Be what you are. Accomplish what you have done. But I will never be you. Not being you is a double edged sword. I am not as pretty, as athletic, as rich or young as you. But I am not as lonely, as sad, as sick or frightened as you. Not being you is a double edged sword. I want your status, envy your wealth, crave your children. And I feel your sadness, wear your fear, carry your pain. I am not you. The hard part of not being you, is it is nearly impossible to be me. To delight, to relax, to live each day, just being me. Not wishing for your life, or taking on your pain. I have a life. I have plenty of pain. Why carry more burdens than I should? Why is it so hard to believe that every soul is given the joy and the pain that they are supposed to have. And to wish someone else’s joy for yourself, to take on pain that isn’t yours to take, isn’t fair to them and is an impossible burden on me. Yesterday was the 8th yahrzeit for my dad. And it occurred to me that wishing to be you? That means that all of those that came before me were irrelevant. Not quite good enough. Not as perfect as those that came before you. Because my nose? My Albert Einstein eyebrows? Dad. My red hair? My Grandma Cilly. My name? My great-grandma Channa. My anxiety, my impressive, if migrating, chest? Mom. But from them, I also got my brain, my sense of humor, my creativity, my empathy, my talent, my red hair! It is a new year. It is a week until I turn 63. That milestone brings its own joy and pain. I do so love being the center of attention. Joy. I’m a year older. Pain. See that? Just like any other day.
I cannot sleep. Everyone has a sleepless night now and then, but combine menopause and a pandemic schedule that requires me to go nowhere? Forget about it. I’m like a teenage boy. And as I lie awake, tossing, turning, playing Yahtzee on my phone, all of these mysterious and vagrant thoughts loop endlessly in my head, not the least of which is, I may have a bit of a gambling problem. Sorry, Digressing. Hang on a minute, Imma delete that Yahtzee app real quick. Ok, let’s just close the eyes. Deep breaths…Inhale in. Exhale out……Nope. Who am I kidding? I’ve got a good couple of hours before my brain will even consider taking a break. Hey, here’s an idea! Since I’m up, and you’re up…oh, sorry, were you asleep? Well, now that we’re both up, how’s about I share some of my thoughts with you? Ya know, a little stream of consciousness thing. What d’ya say? I’ll use bullets, they make everything look so professional, dontcha think? Yea, totally. Ok, here goes…
- The pieces I’m working on for a friend looked better in my head than in reality.
- I keep putting off that Excel assessment test on the job site ‘cause I’m not nearly as “proficient” as I say on my resume.
- I totally cannot die before Ralphie. He doesn’t know where anything is.
- Will there ever come a time when we go a whole day without wearing, washing, buying, or reading about masks?
- The only available COVID-19 vaccine in NY at this time appears to be in Plattsburgh. 276 miles isn’t that far….
- I wish it were time to get up, so I could have my coffee.
- I feel guilty about the fact that I love my “My Pillow”, cause the CEO is a douchewaffle.
- Lefty Lucy, Righty Tighty
- What, exactly, is wrong with people whose TP rolls under instead of over?
Should I go on? Wait, are you sleeping? Huh. It’s only 1:30! Well, ok. I’m fine by myself. I know, lemme show you something!
It’s a mess, right? It started off as a commission for a dear friend and it was literally a heartbeat away from being done, but when I was putting the final touches on it, it looked like two giant breasts. Breasts on a bracelet. Yep. Threw it in the scrap heap and started again. But ya see on the right side? Where it looks like the animals have started feeding? I used part of it for the bracelet that eventually graced the arm of my friend. What’s the point? I don’t f*^#ing know! It’s two in the morning!! Ok. The point. The moral. Well, I could unearth the old chestnut about beauty born out of something scarred and unacceptable. That’s always a good one, no? Nah. I just love looking at it. It’s like Chernobyl. It’s abandoned. Forlorn. But if you go there now? Still abandoned but literally covered in this lush greenery. It’s kind of amazing. Yup. Yup. K, Imma try to sleep now. Thanks for staying up with me. We’re both gonna look like two miles of Chernobyl tomorrow. It’s temporary.
What constitutes success? What is it, exactly, that you can look at and say, “Well done! Ya did good!” Certainly, there is the obvious. A fabulous career. Plenty of security. 2.5 beautiful, equally successful children. Perhaps fame, or the eternally youthful good looks that every “older” person seems to have only on commercials and soap operas. But is that it? Does that mean that if you don’t have at least two of the above, you are not a success? Or worse, you may even be a, *whisper*, failure?! As anyone who’s ever met me, or read a word I’ve written knows, I’m not any of those things. I haven’t yet found a paying career I love, I don’t have children of my own, I am not famous anywhere but in my own head, and it’s quite possible I will be living in a refrigerator box in the not too distant future. Am I a …failure?! My aunt called last night to tell me that my cousin got a promotion, and I couldn’t be happier or prouder. But when I got off the phone, I started to cry. WTF, what’s that about? I didn’t feel envy or resentment over his success. I was genuinely thrilled. It took me a second to figure out that the person I was feeling sorry for wasn’t me. It was my mom. I felt bad that she didn’t have a reason to call everyone up and brag…….Ok, now that I’ve written that down, let’s call bullshit bullshit. it’s pretty clear that it’s 10% about my mom and 90% about me. Fine, 100% about me. OK? Stop hocking me! I admit, I don’t always feel like the most successful person that ever lived. And looking back, I think that is a mantle I’ve worn since I was a kid. Why? Who the hell knows? Can I blame my parents? What’s the point? I’m not a child anymore, there is no more finger pointing necessary. There are many measures of success. Certainly there are the obvious. But what about the not so obvious? Are you loved? Do you love in return? Do you try to give back? To leave this world even a tiny bit better than it was before you got here? Do you make people laugh? Do you create something of beauty? (Remember, it only needs to be beautiful to you…) Do you learn something new? Do you teach another something new? Can you look back and see growth? Can you look inside of your perfectly imperfect self and say, “Well done! Ya did good!”
One of the side effects of getting older is…people leave us. Through divorce, distance, disappointment, death. The global crises we witness can be horrific, and they touch us, but softly and indirectly. Until they change their plans and smack us upside the head. A dear friend of ours died of COVID-19 today. Of course the pandemic has affected us like so many others. We’ve lost jobs, travel plans. We’ve spent too many special occasions apart, we’ve washed our hands until they are raw, but we survive. Until one of us didn’t. We are shocked and heartbroken, not the least because we cannot be there for the family. We cannot hug them, nor all of our friends who grieve with us. We have been smacked in the face. And all we can do is mourn our friend, and be there for the family, and wait for the sun to come up.
This year, admittedly, has been a ball breaker. Pandemics and Politics. Unemployment and Uncertainty, And for me, it’s also been a year of growth. Taking charge of my business, and my health. Losing 30 pounds. Cleaning my kitchen. I’ve been so fortunate to be healthy, able to scrape through this hellish year remarkably unscathed. And then, a stroke before midnight, I get sidelined. Nothing earth shattering. I got a “thank you for your interest in the position at *****, but…” email after a zoom screening interview with the HR person. I got past two screening emails, so it wasn’t my resume or my answers to the usual questions. It was me. I was uber prepared. I learned about the company, the founders, I asked what I thought were intelligent questions. I thought it went well enough to at least get a second interview. I was wrong, apparently. And me being me, I totally went there. It. Was. Me. I’m too old. I’m not hip enough. I’m not pretty enough. I’m not smart enough. It was me. I cried a little. I thanked her for letting me know. I cried a little more. And then, I decided WTF, I’ve already lost the job, so I sent another email asking her what they were looking for that I was lacking so I could be better prepared going forward. She may not answer, she may send a reply I don’t really want to hear, but for me, that question was a small victory. Something I would never have done before. So I’m still crying a little. But, as this hellish year comes to an end, I realize, of course it’s me. Me isn’t always going to be enough for everyone. I’m a work in progress, so, me will just have to do. Happy New Year to all of the Me’s out there. You are more than enough.