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.
One of the side effects of being quarantined is an even greater presence on social media. Now, I’ve always been a complete Facebook whore, even before Covid 19, but now? I’m all over it. I appreciate the downside of pretty much all social media. It’s completely anti-social. It’s mostly half truths. And anything you buy from a Facebook ad is probably coming from China. But. I was an invisible kid. By choice. I was shy. Gawky. Didn’t make friends easily and couldn’t figure out that it was ok for my best friend to have other friends. It didn’t mean they loved me less. So I stayed hidden, only coming out periodically to spectacularly humiliate myself in some way and then retreat again. The results of this were that I missed out on a lot. The passage of time has helped. A little. I still hate making phone calls because I’m pretty sure no one wants to talk to me. So I text everyone instead. That way I can’t see their eyes rolling. I’m colossally non-confrontational and simultaneously pissed off at everyone and everything. I feel like an impostor half the time and the other half, I don’t remember. So. All of a sudden there are these platforms where I can pretty much be whoever I want. I’m this badass, creative, hilarious person who may or may not actually exist. I’m an actress! An artist! A writer! I have friends who love me. Who support me…Wait a minute. I am an actress. An artist. A writer. I have friends who love me and support me. It’s a little bit chicken/egg. Did social media create this badass? Or was she here all the time?
I have spent my whole life pissing people off. I don’t intend to. I just let stuff simmer and fester, escaping in an occasional mutter, creating ongoing arguments in my head until something is said that pushes my defense button and BOOM! i remember my mom telling me once that I wasn’t a very nice person. Ouch. You read all the time about people who don’t care about others, who step on anyone on their way up the ladder, who basically could care less what other people think. I straddle this precarious divide between being bitchy and bossy and whiny and annoying and really wanting everyone to like me. I’m basically a spoiled 8 year old. I seem to lack the wisdom and confidence and sense of control that comes with adulthood. The ability to say how I feel with kindness and grace. And even as I’ve worked hard over the years to develop these skills, I have literally no clue if I’m doing anything right. I made a loved one mad. I think. I’m not even sure because they don’t seem to be talking to me. I did something that they didn’t agree with. I did what I could to make it right. I felt that the manner in which this loved one called me on my mistake was unduly harsh. So I told them how I felt about it. And whether it was the original mistake or the fact that I expressed my feelings afterwards, this loved one isn’t talking to me. Now, that’s just a lot of backstory. A little visual aid if you will. I am now perched, once again on that rickety blame fence. I’m never completely sure what side I belong on. The side where I made a mistake, corrected it and was honest with someone I cared about, or the side where I’m an ass and should have just said, “Sorry” and assumed it was all my fault, cause, well, it usually is. This is a tricky balancing act. I’ve been wrong enough times that I no longer trust my own judgement. I know the difference between right and wrong. Don’t steal. Be kind. Tell the truth. Don’t kill anyone. Don’t covet your neighbor’s…well, you get it. The big stuff. It’s the subtle stuff I don’t seem to have a handle on. I construct these scenarios in which I am always right, until I’m not. Have I hurt someone’s feelings? Have I snapped at someone for no reason? Have I made a joke that might hurt someone? Have I gotten defensive when I could just be calm? Yes. I try and make it right. But how peaceful it would be if I could do it right the first time and get off that f*$# ing fence.
When I left my job on March 17th, we all thought it would be for a couple of weeks and it would all be over. Now, almost 7 months later, I still don’t have a “job”, my house is filthy, and I arrange my errands according to the alternate side of the street parking schedule. But I have a life I never dreamed of. Somehow, instead of the me that sits in front of the television getting only the amount of exercise it takes to click the remote or walk to and from the refrigerator, a different me has emerged out of this horrible time. A me that weighs 29 pounds less than when the quarantine began. A me that exercises every day. Yes. You heard that right. Every. Day. A me that took the reins of what I jokingly called my “business”, and actively worked. Every day. Building up inventory, getting professional pictures taken and redoing my website…”Cut! Caryn, that was great, really great! But could we try that again? There’s something missing, I don’t quite believe it. Ok, folks… Quarantine, Take 2. Rolling!” Ok. All of the above is true. I have loved being home. I have lost 29 pounds, and exercise every day and have reached my WW goal, and made my business a priority. But then I had to have my appendix out over Labor Day weekend. Minor. I’m home, recovering, taking it easy. Not working. Not Exercising. Just giving myself the chance to get well. And I find myself really anxious. And this anxious is very familiar. I had the same anxiety when I broke my wrist and was home for a week. Also minor. Not life threatening. But both of these experiences push some buttons. For “Get catastrophically ill” press 1. For “Get old, so no matter how healthy you are, you will be in and out of the hospital for the rest of your life”, press 2. For “Die”, stay on the line and the next representative will be right with you. Even before the surgery, there would be times I would be marching along with my Walk at Home program, feeling healthy, and the monkey in my head is chattering. “What’s the point? You’re old. Like it makes any difference, you’re gonna die. Well. As soon as the next representative is free.” I have always had a fear of getting old and sick and facing the end of my life. Even in my 20’s and 30’s, I would sigh happily and think, if I live until 85, I have at least this many years left. Can you imagine, how at 62, a nutcase like me is going to spiral with the knowledge that, barring a scientific miracle, I have less years in front of me than behind me? I get stomach pains when I catch an old episode of Gunsmoke. But, all of this angst doesn’t change the facts. I have enough spark to lose 29 pounds. To exercise. To create and exhibit work that brings me joy, and some people will actually spend money for. To make people laugh, to bare my fierce and flawed heart. So, it’s clear that I will just have to trudge through the anxiety. Allow myself this week or two to heal and then get back to work. Rolling!
Life. A Bracelet in 6 Acts.
This is an epic fail. It happens. A lot. It can’t be fixed, so it will be “sold for parts”. Bits and pieces of it will go into other pieces. It’s frustrating AF but it does carry its perverse silver lining. All mistakes help us learn what to do and what not to do the next time. But here’s the tricky part. At least for me. What is the lesson and how do I learn it without spiraling into the dreaded “I suck, why am I not as good as (Insert Name/s Here)” quicksand. I have been flailing around in this pit since childhood. I go into something 75% and am shocked and mortified when I don’t get the accolades I expected. And then, I start with the “I suck…”well, you know the rest. And then. I quit. I am not a professional actress, not because I don’t have the talent, but because I wanted to be a working actress with only half the work. And the response was lukewarm so…I quit. I am fortunate enough to be part of a group of women in my synagogue who are diverse, and accomplished and talented. And I find myself more often than not feeling less than. Not because I don’t have anything to offer, but because I don’t yet know how to offer it. Or even what “IT” is. Perhaps that is the lesson. No one becomes a master of anything without hard work and asking for help. Maybe instead of being heartbroken when I don’t go from A to Z in 5 minutes, I need to explore the rest of the alphabet. To figure out what my “IT” is. And to fling it joyfully in the world’s face, epic fails and all. And the biggest lesson of all? To learn from all the amazing women in our lives. Not to be them.