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.
I am a worrier. Always have been. When I was at 4H camp for two weeks every summer and I didn’t get a letter from my parents, I was certain they had moved and were never coming back for me. I worried if my parents argued that they were getting a divorce. I worried my best friend would decide to be best friends with someone else. I worried about fitting in. About asking for what I wanted. About being too happy because that’s when the boogeymen come out. As I get older the things I worry about have changed, certainly. And the shape of worry is different. Worry is for babies. Fear is for grownups. Every ache and pain is magnified, every palpitation is heart disease. But for me there is a far greater fear. And it is real. The fear of doing nothing. Not losing the weight I swore to lose a thousand times, even though a cardiologist recommended it. Not exercising enough even though, well, you know. Not working on my jewelry even though I used to love it and I have at least one commission and interest in others. This is not a new fear, certainly. It seems I’ve been sticking my head in the sand for as long as I can remember. Giving, as a professor and dear friend told me in college, a great 75%. This morning, my husband asked me to bring him something to the gym. I could have thrown on my gym clothes and worked out a little, but nope. I’m sitting in Starbucks talking to you guys. I know there’s something I need to figure out, but I can’t remember the last time I spoke with my therapist. I’d like to promise you that this is it. I’m going to get my s%#* together and do what needs to be done to make this next chapter of my life the best ever, but I have this, whadayacallit? Oh right fear! I have this fear that I never will. And of course, my inner child worries that all of you are tired of hearing the same things over and over again and are gonna take your toys and find a new best friend. So I’ll take it day by day. Today, I’m going to work a little. That’s all I’m promising for now. Tomorrow? I can’t even promise my head will still be attached. Losing My Mind
Getting older is different for everyone. You can look at two 60 year old women and in one, you see a vibrant, healthy woman, nicely dressed, happy and looking younger than her years. In the other, someone who maybe hasn’t fared so well. Health problems, emotional issues, poverty. Sometimes just the genetic lottery. And this 60 year old looks 80. And sometimes your assumptions about these two individuals is 100% wrong. That beautiful mature woman has lost her husband. She has cancer. She is smiling because she knows there’s a half full bottle of vodka at home. And that older looking woman having a little trouble getting around? Her sweet husband is carrying her purse. And she looks exhausted because she’s been helping her daughter with their first grand baby. And those wrinkles. They’re from laughing. It is so easy to make assumptions on who has the better life. And more importantly what makes a life better. More money, more toys, smoother skin, flatter tummies. I am definitely of the herd. I’ve been losing the same 20 pounds for as long as I can remember. I just bought an Apple Watch. Please. Don’t ask. And when the next iPhone comes out, Imma get it. But I am also more aware of the good that isn’t bought. I’m never gonna be skinny. Or rich. But my sweet husband is carrying my bags. And I can’t buy a car this year because, I’m going to Mexico to see my step grandchildren. And those wrinkles? They’re from laughing. Monster Under the Bed
Every once in a while, we are fortunate enough to see growth and change so profound, it can bring tears of joy to our eyes. Sometimes it is change within us, and sometimes not. I have always loved my brother and my sister both. My sister has lived her life embracing growth and change. My brother, not so much, and me, I’m sorta in the middle. I love to talk about how I wanna grow and change, but I don’t always walk the walk. But this particular story isn’t really about me. My brother has always been the funniest guy I know. Cuttingly funny. But for many years, not easy to get close to. I wanted his approval so much, just because it felt so hard to get. I always knew if push came to shove, he had my back, my sister’s back, even if he didn’t seem to like us much. Then something strange started to happen. It started with someone else’s dream, a theater company in our synagogue, and while I know for certain this little dream has enhanced many lives, for me the blessing is immeasurable. Putting aside the obvious, getting to do what I love, what I had hoped would be my career many years ago, I got to do what I love with my brother. And suddenly we were talking, and he was learning a little from me and the scales tipped a bit. I wasn’t seeking approval; I was doing something I love with someone I’d always loved, but didn’t really know. And as we sang and danced and made lifelong friends, we became friends. And throughout these years, I have watched him smile more, show his heart more, forgive more. My brother always had a rough relationship with my father even after he died, and when conversation about what people should or shouldn’t wear on the beach inevitably turned to speedos, of course we talked about my dad. My brother didn’t roll his eyes, or mutter under his breath. He spoke about my dad with respect, with forgiveness. He was able to see that for all his faults and quirks, my dad was a good man. For my brother, it had finally occurred to him that holding onto decades of anger and resentment was hurting him. My dad is gone. There is no one to sling the arrows at anymore. And the quiver is f#%^*ing heavy. He told my sister-in-law the other day that he was just going to be happy. And the lightness in his step, the smile that is quicker and less fleeting, the brother that has become one of my best friends, that makes me happy.
Years ago, when I worked at Red Lobster, (yes, I worked at Red Lobster. I was the Queen of Red Lobster), there would be nights when I would get so in the weeds that I would stand at the line waiting for something, and every synapse would shut down. I just could not figure out what to do next. I was a good waitress, a great waitress, but sometimes I just got overwhelmed. Those were usually the times I would snap at someone and they wouldn’t talk to me for months. I know, hard to believe, right? It’s almost 30 years later and I’m not a waitress any more. I’m marginally better at holding my tongue. I’ve found strengths and joys I didn’t expect. But. I’m overwhelmed. I’m in the weeds. I’m outta gas. See this?
This is the regulator for my acetylene tank. I finally found a place to exchange my empty tank for a full one. Weeks ago. By now, I should have attached this and started work on some commissions. I have not. See this?
Hasn’t moved since I started working on them in November. And of course, there is this.
This is the stationary bike I bought several months ago when my doctor told me I needed to lose weight. The only reason there are no clothes hanging off it is because my cleaning lady was here this morning. Oh, please. Like I’m the only one who has gym equipment that doubles as a coat rack. And didn’t I know that this is where we’d both end up? But I digress. It is obvious I am in a creative slump. I wish I could say it’s the first one. Not. And undoubtedly not the last. So. Here we are. Metal and machine whispering at me, taunting me. Daring me to rise above and create! Move! Break free of the slump, the inertia. Or I could just watch another rerun of Family Guy.