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!
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.
Beiing in quarantine has been an eye opener in a lot of ways. I make more money on unemployment than when I work. I’m a sore loser. I miss my cleaning lady. I am capable of change. Some things never change. Anyone who knows me even a little bit, knows that I love sitting on my ass, watching TV and eating an entire bag of M & M’s. So you would not be presumptuous if you assumed that after seven weeks of quarantine, I weigh 600 pounds and live in my bed. Astonishingly enough, I’ve lost 16 pounds, ride my stationary bike every night and have started working on my jewelry after a year of, well, not. Yea, me. But. Not seeing faces, gauging reactions, hearing inflections. This is especially hard for me. I am thin-skinned. Always have been. If I can’t see your face, I don’t know what you’re thinking. And if I don’t know what you’re thinking, I’m sure I’ve done something to piss you off. I got into a misunderstanding with someone I never fight with, because we were texting instead of talking face to face. I am envious of others. I feel left out. Not quite enough. Always have been. I listen to the amazing things all the moms are doing to make this crazy time ok for their kids. And a part of me feels left out. I am desperate to be the center of attention without anyone actually noticing what’s lacking, or crazy, or different. And yet. It also occurs to me that this tangle of nonsense is my drama. No one else’s. It has not gone unnoticed that I am looking for approval and validation from the great out there, and maybe I’m looking in the wrong place. Maybe, I need to stop trying to be the amazing women my friends are, and just be the amazing woman I already am. Maybe someday that sentence won’t make me roll my eyes and throw up in my mouth a little. If you untangle all the skinny crazy wires and twist them with other skinny little wires, before you know it, ya got a big piece of..well, ok, ya got a big piece of skinny little wires all twisted together. You get my point. All the tangled wires make us who we are. One at a time, they’re just a thing. But together? They are stronger, and more interesting because they’ve been twisted and torched and beaten with hammers. So. I’m going to focus on all the little skinny, crazy-ass wires that I’ve been blessed with and let everyone else twist their own wires anyway they want to. Fair warning, there may be fire and hammers.
Today is my birthday. I have posted many birthday rants in the last few years and as I turn 62, I feel a certain calm. Don’t be alarmed. I can’t stand that I’m old enough to be someone’s granny. I am still worried about our plane crashing on the way to Florida. I’m convinced my heart is failing and I have thyroid cancer, I had a temper tantrum when I got lost in Astoria, and I might have gotten another ticket for going through a double yellow light this morning. So, yea. I have not been replaced by a pod person. But. But. I am awash with the feeling that I am living my best life. I can honestly say, that not a lot has changed since my last post. I am still a bit stuck, creatively. But I know it’s there. Biding it’s time until it’s safe to come out. Weight loss is slow. Exercise? Meh. But. But. I am laughing. I am speaking out. I am loving. I am chewing scenery. I am dancing. I am learning what it means to be perfectly imperfect.
As we celebrate our New Year, I, like many others, look back and reflect on the past year, trying to figure out what I did that I’m proud of, what I accomplished, what I would do differently, what I can take away, good and bad, as a tool to live the sweetest life possible in the year to come. I had a lot of fun. I did a lot of traveling, I spent wonderful days with friends and family, I trod the boards and chewed the scenery with my theater family, I contributed to my synagogue. Sounds like a very sweet year, no? Well, yes. But as with any life, there’s always a little bitter with the sweet. There’s the obvious things, a loved one diagnosed with a life-changing illness, another losing a beloved pet. The slings and arrows both real and perceived, that if you think about it, add a strength of flavor and a spice to all that sugar. But I wouldn’t be who I am if I didn’t take a minute to wallow in the muck that is my own reality. I didn’t really accomplish a thing. I touched not a scrap of metal, not a breath of fire. I wielded no hammer, I created nothing. I got truly and helplessly stuck in a place I’ve long since grown weary of. I dwell in, as my friend, Ed, called it, “the warm, shitty place.” I swore, after my last checkup, that I would once and for all, lose the last 20 pounds and get healthy. I bought a stationary bike. I lost 10 pounds. I was working it! I hate the bike! I gained 5 pounds. It’s summer! I still hate the bike! I need a margarita! I gained another 2 pounds. I’ve garnered some interest in a couple of my pieces, how exciting! I don’t have time to create though, I’m too busy drinking margaritas!! I’ll worry about it after the summer when things calm down. In the meantime, can someone get me an adult beverage and a cheeseburger? Oh, but here come the holidays, and vacation and the Christmas Art show I do every year is around the corner and I no longer create because it’s fun, only as a means to a financial end. And I’m even more stuck than before. Oh wait! I did get a kickass tattoo!! And I’m putting off my annual physical because I’m too embarrassed to get on the scale, because seriously, every single person I know is climbing walls and flipping tires and I stand only when my Apple Watch tells me to. And my perception of myself is of a woman who is good at a lot of things, but great at nothing. A woman who is suddenly far older than she ever imagined and doesn’t have f$&^*ing forever to climb out of the muck. So. Imma back up a bit. I’m going to skip the Art Show this year. I’m going back to the beginning. When I picked up a big ass hammer and started pounding the crap out of an innocent piece of metal. When I created, not to sell, but to tell a story. My story. Shit and all.
I have never been one to embrace getting older, to cherish the wisdom I’ve gained. To trace each wrinkle as an experience and accept death as a continuation of life. I just cannot go there. I have been blessed with good genes that allow to me to look younger than I am and a fashion sense that while not inappropriate, clearly states F*^# you, I don’t care if you think I’m too old for overalls, I’m wearing them anyway. Interestingly enough, the one thing I have taken away from getting older is that when I catch myself in the mirror, overalls, tattoos, whatever, I’m not thinking somewhere in the back of my mind that I look ridiculous. I’m thinking I look adorable. This is quite the new concept for me. And I will admit that immediately following that thought is, but do others think I’m adorable? Quirky? Fun and Funky? Or just batshit crazy? Are they comparing me with the crazy old lady with a magenta beehive, blue eyeshadow and lipstick down to her chin? It’s hard to let go of old fears and feelings of shame. But it’s so freeing. I just got a shoulder tattoo. A kinda big, beautiful shoulder tattoo. Responses have ranged from “Beautiful!” to complete silence, with varying degrees of approval or disapproval in between. And for the first time in my memory, I just don’t care. I &@^*ing love this damn tattoo. Love it. Just as I’m sure the old magenta-haired dame loves her blue eyeshadow and circles of rouge. And while I still cannot comprehend a world in which I am old, infirm, or Heaven forbid, *whispering*, DEAD, I know that whether I embrace it or not, it comes for us all. And ya know what? I plan on being adorable right to the finish line.