Sunday, December 31, 2023

The old year is out

and the new year is so new it hasn’t even started yet. 

A friend says instead of making resolutions, we should choose a word for the year and her word is Wellness. I like this word. After a year of not-so-good health news, I could use more of it. Here is something I’ve learned about learning about scary health news. First, there is a gut punch. Next, a scurrying around online for more information, after which you think, Okay, I can do this, 

and then you do this. (Public service announcement: if you notice a weird spot on your shoulder that was never there before and it doesn’t go away for five months, schedule an appointment with your dermatologist.)  

My husband’s word is Connections and I like this word too. Over the past year I have been reconnecting with old friends and I’m making new connections with new friends. I also do the Connections puzzle in the New York Times puzzle section every day. Have you done that? It’s a puzzle with sixteen words and you have to figure out how to group them. Some days it is very tricky. Some days you can’t figure it out and you want to fling your phone across the room. It’s fun! 

I’ve also been making a lot of connections in my therapy, uncovering the past and having lightbulb moments about how much I’ve carried into the present (talk about gut punches!) and working to break old, unhealthy patterns. It’s hard, but I recommend it. 

(Another Public Service Announcement: It is called the Three C’s. And it refers to how to approach being in a relationship with a person who has an addiction, but I think it could also include anyone you love who has a mental illness or is struggling from dealing with their own trauma. You can’t Cure them. You didn’t Cause the problem. You can’t Control the situation.) 

(I am thinking about having this tattooed on my arm so I will never forget it.)

My word for the year is Trust. One of my therapy gut punches was learning that I don’t trust people. This lack of trust extends to the world. And it extends to myself. But I would like break this pattern. Times are scary. There’s war and illness and climate emergencies and another crazy election looming, and then you add in health screenings on top of it and who knows what is going to happen in the new year. 

But I trust that I—we can do this, whatever comes our way, and together, old friends and new, we will make it through.

Sunday, December 24, 2023

It's quiet in the house

and for the moment, I am the only one awake. Six people, three dogs. Three kinds of coffee to be made. Food for the vegans and the carnivores. We have enough pillows but bring your own blankets. Yesterday my mother-in-law and daughter and I made multiple desserts. Here is a secret about Linda’s famous chocolate chip and m&m cookies and don’t tell her I told you. It’s the recipe on the back of the chocolate chip package. Except, after you add the package of chocolate chips, you throw in an entire bag of m&ms. Honestly, I didn’t think there was enough cookie batter to contain this much chocolate candy. But Linda proved me wrong! 

We also made the longtime favorite rum cake and a new recipe, vegan chocolate truffles, which we decide taste like chocolate brownies (secret ingredient: dates). We did not make the Danish potato sausage this year, a decades old family tradition that used to halfway freak out the kids, with the special-ordered sheep intestine casings and the raw pork. I never thought I’d say this, but I kinda miss the annual stuffing of the potato sausage, the kitchen turned into a science lab, the counters a biohazard. It’s the connection, though, to the past 

and to the people who passed it on, and do we really want this tradition to end with us? Maybe we will resurrect this recipe next year. For now, we have the cookies and the rum cake and vegan chocolate truffles, the familiar Christmas carols, the jigsaw puzzle in partially completed chunks on the dining room table. Home is where the hearts are

and sometimes all the hearts aren't home and there are several new hearts. I don't know what I am trying to say. It's early and I haven't had my coffee yet because the coffee machine is loud and people are sleeping in the other room. Last night the dogs arrived, one a dear friend and the other a first time guest. My own dog was not having an easy time of it, but eventually she quit anxious-drooling and greeted the company. Now everyone is friends. 

More guests (people, not dogs) are coming in tonight, some who have never visited us over the holidays, so we will have to bring them up to speed. Where we keep the towels and help yourself to the variety of desserts. I can already hear the laughing and the barking, some singer from the past singing about how she's rockin' around the Christmas tree and having sentimental feelings about people telling her to be jolly. 

I have never had someone tell me specifically to be jolly, but I hear her on the sentimental feelings part or whatever that feeling is where you ache so painfully over the people who aren't here and at the same time feel you might burst with gratitude and love for the ones who are.

But for now, the house is quiet except for the old house creakings, and somewhere upstairs, the soft patter of a dog. 


Sunday, December 17, 2023

Guests are coming and the house is a mess

with unwrapped presents piled on the dining room table, a stack of lovely Christmas cards from family and friends strewn all over the counter. Which reminds me, if I want to send out cards, I'd better get on it. Or is it too late? Time moves along in weird bursts, so that one minute it is August

and suddenly, we are heading toward Thanksgiving, and Boom

Thanksgiving is in the rearview mirror. Maybe it's the weather. Too mild and creepily sunny for Ohio and how is it December? I build a holiday playlist to get in the proper mood, the Charlie Brown Christmas and the Judy Garland song that makes me want to cry about how someday soon we all will be together, 

and I want to believe this, but what does "soon" mean in this new reality of mine with the weird time bursts? Yesterday, when I was looking for where I stored the Christmas cards, I stumbled on old family photos and went down that rabbit hole for a couple of hours, the kids at various ages posing in front of various Christmas trees, a cat we once had, a dog, people we love, loved, but now they are gone from us. 

A first year without them. A fifth year. A fiftieth. We had no time at all with them. We had all the time in the world. What I want 

is to pin time down and pin myself in it. All of my loved ones in one place, but in every time and with every cat and dog. Until then, Judy Garland says we will have to muddle through somehow. But enough with that sad song.

This year I am amending what I want, starting today as I clear off the dining room table and wrap the presents. Send out the Christmas cards. Clean up the messy house to make room for the people who are traveling to see us. Have faith that we can check in on the ones who are celebrating elsewhere.  

Here and now is all we have and I can't bear to miss a moment of it. 

Sunday, December 10, 2023

What did I read this year? (I don't remember)

So, thank goodness I kept a list. 

Otherwise, I REALLY wouldn't have remembered, and even with the list, it's a little tricky for me. One of the books, Remember: The Science of Memory and the Art of Forgetting by Lisa Genova, basically says that forgetting is our default. We're not meant to remember everything. At least I think this is what the books says, and from what I can remember, I liked this book. 

Other books I remember liking, in no particular order: 

Angel of Rome by Jess Walter. This collection of short stories is so well written and clever. One story still stands out to me. An older couple is having an emotional discussion in a diner and realizes halfway through that a nearby customer has been writing down every word they say. Turns out he's a student who's been given an assignment to record dialogue. The story takes off from there and it's somehow both hilarious and heartbreaking. 

Girls of a Tender Age, a memoir by Mary-Ann Tirone Smith. This book came across my desk at the library and piqued my interest because the woman grew up very close to where I did. Her story centers around a little girl in her classroom who was murdered and how the neighborhood quickly and disturbingly moved on from the trauma. 

Manhattan Beach by Jennifer Egan. I don't typically read historical fiction, but this one, set during World War II and featuring a female diver in the navy and a mobster and how their lives intersect, quickly drew me in. I read this one because I had the opportunity to hear the author speak and everyone in the audience kept mentioning this book and how amazing it was and how did she write it, and her answer was fascinating. It took her years and most of it had to be completely rewritten and the whole time she thought she'd never be able to pull it off. But she did.

Demon Copperhead by Barbara Kingsolver. A retelling of David Copperfield, set during the rise of the opioid epidemic in Appalachia. You've probably heard about this book (it won the Pulitzer Prize) and it has the look of something dense and difficult, but I promise you, it is not. Open it and read the first page and the charming voice of the main character will immediately win you over. 

Body Work: The Radical Power of Personal Narrative by Melissa Febos. I've been reading a ton of memoirs lately but this one hit me hard. Part memoir about trauma and part How to Write a Memoir about Trauma. If you're someone who happens to be interested in that topic, this is a must read.

Winter Recipes from the Collective, poems by Louise Gluck. I don't read enough poetry anymore but once upon a time, I thought I wanted to be a poet and this book reminded me why. 

Pineapple Street by Jenny Jackson. Funny, smart and kind of absurd story about a wealthy family in our nutty society. 

The Guest by Emma Cline. Oh my God I am still thinking about the ending of this book. What happened??!! I read some reviews (because of course I had to see what other people were saying) and one reviewer said it was the most anxiety-provoking book she'd ever read. I agree! I also was extremely annoyed by the ending, and my writer point of view is that it's a lazy cop out. But from a reader point of view...well, I'm still thinking about the damn book. 

The Postcard by Anne Berest. Another book I was hesitant to pick up because of how dense-looking it is. And it's a translation from French. And it's a book about the Holocaust, and I wasn't sure I was up for it. But I'm so glad I gave it a chance. At the core, it's a mystery. A woman receives a postcard in the mail with the names of her murdered family members written on it. No return address. No idea who could've sent it or why. This book has a gut-wrenching story at the core but somehow there is hope and something beautiful at the end. 

Unbroken: The Trauma Response Is Never Wrong, and Other Things You Need to Know to Take Back Your Life by Catherine McDonald. This isn't that groundbreaking of a book. And it didn't tell me anything I didn't already know about trauma through all of my reading and therapy. But...there is a story the author tells at the end that broke me apart and glued me back together in a way that all of my reading and therapy hadn't quite been able to do. 

I will never forget it. 


Sunday, December 3, 2023

I don't want anything

is something I used to say, when someone would ask me what I wanted for my birthday, for Christmas. I have everything I need, is what I was thinking. And if there was something I really wanted, I could buy it for myself. 

But recognizing that other people were trying to check me off their lists, I might throw out a suggestion. Say, slippers. 

And then I would get the slippers, and it would feel silly to me. Like, why are we all doing this, going through the gift motions, sending each other our suggestions, often very specific ones, with sizes and styles and helpful Amazon links? And never mind all of the waste and the rampant consumerism and who needs more stuff stuffing up their houses. So, when someone asked me what I wanted, my husband, for example, I'd say, I don't want anything, and he'd get upset, and I couldn't understand why. 

We were locked in this gift-giving/no-gift-giving dance for years, some years with him throwing up his hands in weary resignation and not getting me anything. Some years with him buying the slippers and wrapping them in front of me and making a show of putting them under the tree.  

But the truth is it wasn't all about my stance on waste and rampant consumerism, or how, in general, I believe we as a culture have too much stuff. There was more swirling around under the murky surface of my not-wanting. Money, being the big one, 

and how in the early years of our marriage, I was stressed out by debts and bills, and why not take myself and any gifts for me off the list? Which goes even deeper into an old childhood self, who was keenly aware that there was no money, so don't bother asking, and if you are given a gift, then you must be eternally grateful for it, 

and isn't it so much easier to not want anything.

What I was never taking into account, though, was how much I enjoy giving other people gifts. Last year I turned gift-buying for my husband into a mini scavenger hunt of sorts, seeing what I could find by only browsing in the shops within walking distance of our house. I had a blast putting together a cactus for him in the cactus making shop and choosing a model car kit in the hobby store and stumbling onto a set of glass beakers in a thrift store that I realized would look perfect lined up on the windowsill by his desk. My only exception to the within-walking-distance rule was the tickets I get for him every year to the Car Show, which I know he loves, and isn't that what all of this is about? 

The little charge of delight as someone you love opens a gift you've picked out specially for them. 

And then it suddenly occurred to me that this is what my husband has wanted to do for me, and here I've been denying him all these years. 

All of this is to say that I really don't want anything. Except for one thing. His delight. My delight. As we choose each other's gifts. As we share them with each other.