As I hear from friends and loved ones who are struggling with unknowns and not able to pay bills and they worry about their mortgages or rent or losing clients... I can't help but flash back to my twenties.
Granted, it was different. The world was open for business; I was just broke and irresponsible. A huge difference, there. But maybe the experiences and the lessons can be of use...here and now. Circumstances change - reasons and causes differ - but broke and uncertain is broke and uncertain. It's scary for anyone.
I've always worked. We were one of those families that lived on a posh street, in a middle-upper class neighborhood, and went to great public school - and also, went to St Pat's in Glen Cove for trash bags full of used clothing (you could fill a bag for $5.00.) My father, a Vietnam Vet, worked hard, assimilating back into life as best he could, my mother took care of the kids and the house, and they stretched the cash as far as they could. We even roasted our own Cheerios in a skillet and would smuggle them into the movies for snacks - instead of buying overpriced popcorn. When you don't have a lot, you live within your means. You scrap, you get creative, you make it work. They did what they had to and i couldn't wait to earn my own money, I won't lie. I wanted to work. And to be sure, my childhood sounds like a dream compared to some others. I wasn't born to drug addicts or left homeless or in an impoverished country with no resources to help me, or anything else that would be more dire. I was just... hustling with less, somewhere in NY. We were okay.
I babysat, early on. Back then, I made about $3/hour. I stashed it away for a year and bought a pair of Guess jeans. I was hot stuff in those jeans, make no mistake. I earned them. I loved those jeans.
In high school, I tried all sorts of things. I did cold-calls for a chiropractor once - it lasted a day. I hated myself doing this work, I got stomach sick. Not for me. I was a terrible conniver. Next, I worked in a boat shop, boxing up parts to ship out to people with boats, I imagine. Great people, basic work. I broke the vacuum, I think. I made a couple of bucks for a while and was glad for the experience.
Later, after graduation, I made the move to Glen Cove, and stayed with the Italian side of the family. Glen Cove is Little Calabria, if you didn't know. At least it used to be. My mother grew up there, and I moved in with her and the man who would become my stepfather. He's the one who found me work down the block, at Blockbuster Video. He just walked in..."hey, hey. My daughter needs a job." (He's Sicilian, so...there you go. )
I loved the job. I loved the movies. I started by running a cash register and putting VHS tapes on the shelves. Late nights, overnight inventory shifts, lots of labor, low wages with no benefits - but I made lasting friendships and had such good times. Memories for life. Friends for life. Diners became a mainstay. When you get out of work at 2am, what else is open?
I stopped going to school for a while. I just wanted to work, I was having fun and making money. My grades were terrible, I wasn't showing up to classes, I was still a school screw-up. I enjoyed working. I loved saving money and watching it grow. So, I un-enrolled for a while.
In summers, I would hop on the truck with my stepfather. He had his CDL and worked for nurseries and oil companies and would drive these enormous rigs all over the coast, delivering goods. And I would ride with him, in my ball cap and jeans and t-shirt and a 19-year-old puss on my face, and earn my way through the summer. We stopped at the deli, super-early, before sunrise, and got our signature bacon-egg-and-cheese-on-a-roll...and I'd get a large iced coffee. For the road. I threw bags of Speedy Dry on my shoulder, I carried potted plants, bottles of motor oil, all kinds of things. Labor, real physical labor. For about $20/day. I was glad to get it.
Old men would tip me, $.50, $1.00, "go get a cup of coffee..." they'd say. I'd roll my eyes. And my stepfather would say, "be nice, say thank you. He doesn't owe you anything." So, I did. I learned to be gracious. He was right, that's $1.00 I didn't have before. Every bit counts. I scrapped back then, for everything that I had. I bought my first car, a beat up old Chevy, a red Chevy Cavalier, with the roof-fabric falling down, for $500, matched by $500 by my folks, I think. Used, from a dealer somewhere on Hempstead Turnpike. I loved that car. I took good care of it. I learned about dipsticks and checking oil and idiot lights and gauges and spark plugs. Maintenance. I learned about taking care of things that you value. At this point, I worked to pay for my own car insurance, my own :coughs: beeper/pager and early model cell phone (it was the size of a shoe, with a carrot for an antenna, for Pete's sake.) But I earned them and paid for them, they were mine. I ate simply, and not very well. I stretched my money.
Later, I moved to Boston with some girlfriends - amazing women that I'm still in touch with, today. We got transfers to a Blockbuster on Mass Ave, close to the hospital. Great view of the Pru Center. Assistant Managers, all of us. I loved the town. I loved the vibe. Our apartment housed a soccer team of Irish boys... one of them got drunk and urinated on my bedroom window, from a floor up. (We were out in Allston, on a bar brawl. It was never, ever quiet - except maybe at 3 - 4 am.) So many stories...many not worth repeating. I lived on Ramen (I'd buy cases in bulk, they'd be $.25/cup.) Grilled cheese sandwiches. Instant coffee. Tap water. Candy bars. Cheap booze. I lived very, very simply and was very unhealthy. Going to the doctor for anything would cost me a fortune. I'd have to borrow money. So, I just didn't do anything dangerous. I didn't ski or run or play sports, for fear of getting hurt and not being able to pay the bill. It's a terrifying thing to know that medical care isn't available for you, if you don't have the right job or the right insurance. That getting sick could bankrupt you. I lasted four months in Boston, I was home by Christmas. I knew nothing about managing money, sound decision making, how important nutrition and exercise were for my health... I thought it was all genetic and that what I ate was irrelevant. One of many lies I'd believed throughout my life.
Christmas, 1999, I was back home. I was in a deep, dark hole. I had left school. I left my job. I sold all my belongings, including my guitar and my car to get to Boston, to follow my dream... and I was home again, with nothing. Starting over. Humbled, lonely, a bit broken and desperate. The world as I knew it...had stopped. I was stuck at home, with nothing but family and my senses. More sandwiches. More sacrificing and simple living. I did odd jobs for money. I regrouped. I stayed with family as long as possible, and counted myself lucky to have tried and true blood family that got me though anything. They always have. I decided, at this low-point, that shift work in retail wasn't going to cut it, long-term. I was made for more. And I soon began designing my life, intentionally. Consciously. Reading, absorbing, learning, and gaining insight. Empowering myself, from virtually nothing. Thank God for family.
That's when I went back to school - on purpose. I had done the blue collar thing. I hustled, I got my hands dirty, I earned my keep, I did the blood, sweat, tears thing. I knew I was tough. I knew I had grit. I knew I could survive on very little and take hand-me-downs and borrow and pay back and make ends meet. But I was smart, if unfocused. So, I went back to school. My Pops let me borrow his car, a powder blue, gigantic old T-Bird with rear-wheel drive. It was terrible in snow, and I got stuck a few times. But I got through it all. Somehow.
In-between classes, somewhere in those years, I worked to help set up the Kohl's in Westbury, on 25A for a while. I had never "set up" a brand new department store - I was fascinated. I was in college then, at NCC (Nassau Community College.) AAS in Marketing & Advertising, minoring in English. I got to see everything I was learning in action: merchandising, product placement, suggestive selling, all of it. I think I left before the store opened... I went on a date with a team leader and it got weird. (Don't mix business and pleasure, it never works.) I don't remember much about him... but that he borrowed a super-clean car with "new car" scent sprayed everywhere, wore one of those corny horn necklaces, and that he loved Depeche Mode. Nice guy, but no fireworks.
I switched to Liberal Arts, because I fell more smitten with English, with each course. I was writing and journaling and reading, voraciously. I soon finished my degree, moved onto to a SUNY school, and finished the last two years in American Studies and Women's Studies. I won honors, I shocked absolutely everyone - because it was the right time for me. That's all. I wanted to be there. I was committed. I was doing it for the right reasons, I had a future in mind. I was looking forward... not spinning my wheels going nowhere fast.
The course load at SUNY was a lot, and I stopped working. I became a full time student, and did chores for money, again. I did laundry for money so I could go out once a week and shoot pool. I took better care of my body, I learned about wellness and nutrition and yoga. I was on the path toward self-care.
Fast-forward to the present - I'm nearly 15 years into a career as a Public Reference Librarian. I love what I do. I help people get what they need, I form relationships with folks in my community. I'm healthy. I have medical insurance through the state. I've discovered that I have hypothyroidism, and need to follow certain protocols to feel good. I discovered that I have an anxiety condition, and needed to learn certain tools and meditation techniques and mental health practices to function at my best. All of these things that I didn't know about... were there, percolating, keeping me from a well-lived life as I scrambled and reacted my way through those years. I'm glad I took the time to unravel and understand myself. I'm glad for those years that led to it.
And now, I get to inspire people, connect people, share information, maintain collections that nurture the dreams or livelihoods of others. I get to connect with kids struggling in school who saw the world how I did once... and steer them toward an education or a trade or a creative dream... something to believe in. It's gratifying, it's meaningful, it's rewarding, to me. It's good money and paid medical, and I worked the first half of my life without those things, in the dirt, so believe me when I say... I cherish it and all the work I put in toward getting here.
And I only say all of this, I only share these bits of my past, my work-history, my lean, sandwich years, to suggest that... if you're in the dark right now - and so many people are - it could be a blessing in disguise. To look deeply into who you are, what your life looks like. The choices you've made, until now. What you truly envision for yourself, and do you... have a vision? Or do you just show up in your life, day after day, reacting blindly, without asking questions? Is it easier to curse the "system..." rather than asking questions about yourself and your life and your choices? Of course, it's easier to blame. But the deep-dark can be a place to start anew. To allow reinvention, to become a greater version of who you are, to pull out your best, when you're at your worst. If you have that foundation, if you're lucky enough to have support behind you. If you can get out and past it, every brick you lay down becomes a piece of empowerment, in your own story. A story to share back, later.
Every step, a journey toward who you get to be. And on and on.
Realistically, you're not going to enroll in expensive classes if you can't pay rent right now. That's real and I get that. But you've got the world wide web at your fingertips, maybe. You've got free tutorials and classes everywhere right now, as companies and schools open their learning modules up for all to use and learn from - FREE - many of them. Right now; but not forever. Delayed tuitions. Deep discounts. Opportunities.
You can use your library resources to learn a new skill, to get proficient on computers and comfortable with technology. You can find ways to sell or generate content online, you can earn CEUs for free, through classes and webinars, you can find companies that are hiring people to work from home. You can skill-up, in this time, if you believe that you can. You can empower yourself to grow grit through it all, to level up in some way. You can focus your energy on learning and improving, not just trolling and worrying. It's a choice, though it's hard sometimes. And we all cope in different ways. It's scary and hard and challenging and the usual opportunities aren't there - because we're on lockdown. It's not easy, at all. I know that.
But it's possible, with the right mindset.
"Do what you can, with what you have, from where you are." - Theodore Roosevelt
And there are free ways, right now, to get the mental health counseling that you might need, to help you through. There are so many ways to go about getting help and motivation and direction, right now, if you're willing to learn or adapt and put the shield down. That doesn't make it fair or right or easy. All of this is uncertain and difficult. There's no question. But we can stay in the mud and dwell upon it, or start building a way out, regardless of circumstance. There's always a choice - to be resourceful and scrappy and positive about it - or not. We could sit in the mess and wait for it to rain miracles. (Pssst... it usually doesn't happen that way. Give the miracle a head-start, and get involved.)
You can live on less, you can borrow, you can reach out to friends and family, you can practice simple things to get you through, one day at a time. You can practice self-care. You can try to sell off things on eBay that you don't need anymore. None of it is easy - to be considering financial health, on top of everything else. But that doesn't mean that you can't dig out. And it doesn't mean that you have to give in to misery. We've all had sandwich years, most of us. It's where we learn resilience.
I've personally never been more grateful to be in a position where I can work from home, maintain my life and expenses, and to keep finding ways to be of service. And service can get repetitious sometimes. It's not that glamorous, it's not going to make me wealthy, it won't get me a Lamborghini or a mansion in the Hamptons, it won't make me famous. But it gets me peace of mind. It serves my soul. It teaches me leadership and community and patience and compassion.
And in times of crisis, I'm exactly where I'm supposed to be, and every turn in my life, every year of eating sandwiches and turning in coins for bills, and collecting soda bottles and riding big rigs in summer when my friends were at Jones Beach... they inform my present, and my perspective. And I hope to pass all of this onto my son through these days. That we don't waste things. That we're grateful for what we have and we take care of it. We learn to garden and grow things, from scratch. We learn to cook and prepare food, simply, with what we have. We share when we have extra, because people shared with us... when we had nothing. It goes on and on, it's the way of things.
"Tutte le strade portano a Roma," - or "All roads lead to Rome."
We're all walking through this life together, whether we choose to accept it or not. We are all part of the same system - one world - hyperconnected and inseparable. And we ought to take care of each other, because we're all in it together. And we'll be alright.
The Simple Dollar
You Tube Tutorial
Dream Grow - Social Media Marketing
https://www.creativelive.com (deep discounts at present!)
There are tons and tons more out there worth finding... give yourself a boost. Get tech-savvy.
Post-dinner musing... sipping a Blanc. It's what I got. A bit sweet and chilled. It's rather nice.
I don't often talk about politics. But, we're entering the season of fake Facebook profiles with political slants making their voices heard. I can smell it. I can see it. I block and delete them.
But it's an election year, despite all the rest. And who've we got?
You know, George Washington had no desire, nor plan, to become President. He didn't seek it out, he was reluctant. They chose him, and he chose to serve, out of a commitment toward Duty to his new country. He didn't want to, he just... couldn't *not* serve. And I get it.
That Office used to hold such meaning and integrity. In the Reagan years, I remember sitting in school and pouring over my White House official booklet, that I sent away for. Just a magazine, a guide to the rooms. I loved his style. His empathy. His mannerisms. And his dealings with Gorbachev felt inspired and full of hope.
"Tear down this wall!" I watched it live, on TV. I still get chills. Good chills.
He was the first President that I can remember knowing about. And during that time, I was excited about Washington. Proud of my country. And of my President. He came with his own economic plans, and moves toward peace, ending the Cold War. He had wit and compassion and intellect and the camera loved him. I adored him and cried when he was shot.
Later, I voted for Clinton. He was smart, he played the sax, he had a sense of humor and charm and reminded me of the Kennedys and that whole vibe. I was in high school, and couldn't be bothered with the rest. But I liked what he stood for, as I saw it then. I threw up on my mouth when Monica Lewinsky shared her story. My hero fell off the mantle.
Next, I voted for Gore, and I saw the whole dimpled chads and recounts and corruption and I lost interest in following politics for a while. Disheartened. My vote didn't matter...? I still followed Gore and more importantly, I followed climate. He loved Mother Earth as much as I did.
2008 was a good year. It was the first year that I felt how I felt... when Reagan was President. Alive, hopeful, engaged, interested and patriotic, again. It became clear that I was leaning toward being a Democrat. I loved the Obamas and still do. I miss their presence and Grace in the White House.
This last election, I voted for Jill Stein - she was my pick. These days, I vote my heart, I vote for who I think will best realize my dreams and represent us. Represent the future. Our future, my son's son's future. "A Better World for Our kids." Forward thinking and better use of our resources - long-term. Better decisions and long-game thinking. Sustainable. Honest.
But leadership. Leadership for the sake of leadership, because free people need and want it. Not control, not manipulation, not gas-lighting, not blindsiding, not big sales, not deep pockets and special interests and petty mudslinging and big medicine and big pharma and big oil.
Leadership. Service. Guidance. Role models. Solutions. Sound decisions. Compassion.
The American People used to be the primary interest. Personal progress and social betterment were the motivators; not greed. Not in the beginning. A free country, far from corruption and feudalism and all that we escaped in coming here to found this country. To revolt and start anew. Free, from oppressors. Not judged and ostracized for our beliefs or creed or heritage. Equal beings, united in a common purpose in a new land. And we didn't do it right, back then. We hurt people and we weren't respectful, in many ways. We weren't perfect; though highly ambitious. But we learn as we go, I would hope.
It was always a good idea, this little country of ours. So many states, working together, with such values and passion for the pursuit... of a well-lived life. "Life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness..."
Oh America, I do miss you, sometimes. 🇺🇸
Goodnight, folks. I hope you're getting through okay. I hope you're staying home and letting science do its work, for our sake. For our health and longevity. It's hard right now, and there's a lot to stress about. But there's a lot of beauty to notice, too. And not just Mother Nature, but oh, she is shining, right now. Beautifully.
But human beings... oh, do we rally. How we come together. How we care for each other. How we love.
It's only been twelve days, since the schools closed. And then the libraries, then the businesses, and everything else began to close their doors, too. Most of them, anyway. Twelve days, and it feels like a different reality, in so many ways.
We had some collective denial, at first. We joked and made fun:
"...hey...don't forget to wash yer hands, haha..." But, uncertainty lingered beneath.
A few more days went by, and we stopped laughing, but still didn't really take it too seriously.
"It's not all that bad... we're not Italy... most people are fine... it's just like the flu..."
And so many continued to gather, to crowd, to assemble...despite dire warnings against it. Officials at all places of government were putting out mixed messages at different times, in different communities, in different states.
A few more days went by, and the local cases doubled, quickly. Tripled, maybe.
Each day, the mystique around the virus grew more ominous than the next. The fear grew. That's it, really. The fear really took hold of our psyche. Every story we heard about the illness. Every cough, a cause for concern. Every sniffle; every symptom.
It reminded me a bit of trying to conceive (which took us, my ex-husband and I, about a year.) And each month, I'd play this game: every symptom was scrutinized and obsessed over. I have a pimple, could that mean...?!? I got dizzy today, maybe this is it? It feels like that now, in ways, except that the pending diagnosis is not a joyful one, but a frightening one. Could it just be a sinus infection, a stomach bug, the regular flu, allergies... there is so much in the air, as it is. Or could it be..."covid?"
And we're on alert...shoulders in our ears, some of us. Oblivious, some of us. Calm inside the storm, some of us. But the fear...when not properly managed and confronted... fear can turn the human being into an ugly creature: anger, jealousy, greed, cruelty, depression, and despair can all grow outward, from fear.
And we must meet it, head on. So, what does it stem from?
And so it goes.
There is a lot of fear and some days it hangs heavier in the air than the contagion, itself.
And it's real. And it's okay to be scared and afraid or downhearted and sad or lonely. Feelings are natural and normal. They're human. And I think to by-pass them completely is detrimental, overall. When heavy emotion gets stuck inside, it wreaks havoc upon us - in our minds, in our hearts, in our bodies, in our ability to trust, in our overall outlook and perspective. It's okay to feel it, but we shouldn't stay there.
It's easy to shrug and pretend it's not happening, if you're far from the effects of this virus. I admit, I walked that line for a few days. But day by day, I let the world in. Slowly. The reality. The grief. The collective pain. And I think an evolving people on an evolving planet ought to feel things with each other. As one. We ought to process, together, as much as we can. We need to face the shadows and walk through them, graciously, with kindness and altruism and a good work ethic and a bit of faith. Faith in something...whatever you prefer. There's no wrong answer when it comes to faith, as long as you don't cause another person intentional harm in your practice. What matters most is how we act, I think. How we behave toward one another in these times.
But to push right past it all, I think, helps no one. There is great meaning and medicine to found in these times. The trick though, is to be aware and alert to what is going on, yet also to stay calm and present to your life. To each moment, as it arises. To look around your life and find the good - and elevate it, even as we all go through this crisis, together. And beauty looks different on different days to different people.
Always, in life, there will be fear and terrible things to focus on, if we so choose. Always, in life, there will be beautiful and sacred things to notice and celebrate, as well. And we have these moments, to choose our experiences, if we can just get out of the way of our incessant thoughts and reactions.
We've got these magical moments to slow down into, to feel into, to connect to, deeply. To ask questions, to consider what we might learn, to reflect on the human story, so far... and when have we been here, before? And what did we do, then, and did it work? Why and why not? And how might we grow and become better and not repeat past mistakes? How could we honor our history - good, bad, and ugly - and take its lessons in stride, to become a healthier, kinder, more efficient, more devoted people? Devoted to each other, to our resources, to all the other beings on this planet? How do we get through this moment in the story... with Grace, with resilience, and in such a way that generations later the text books will remember us with gratitude, for having done the right things for our/their futures?
Big questions, certainly. And we have big opportunities to study them. And I think we ought to. We ought to learn and course-correct as we go. We are conscious and creative human beings with wildly beating hearts and intelligent and powerful minds and we can do incredible things together. We're all lit from the same spark of life, initially. And when we remember that, oh...what we're capable of.
Uncertain times, for sure...but I have great hope for what lies on the other side of all of this.
And on a lighter note...
Today, we played in the yard. A soccer ball and a net, lots of green grass, a fresh Spring breeze, the sounds of children playing in their yards throughout the neighborhood - it was exquisite. And it's not lost on me, how lucky we are to live in such a place: a warm house in the suburbs, with a big yard, and trees, and sky, and toys to play with. Our own private oasis in the storm. And when we came back inside, as we washed up and I began to get things together to make some dinner (which I LOVE, I never have the time to do this... it's usually take-out or grill-it and chill) - I began to think about my grandmothers.
On my father's side (British-Celtic-Canadian-Nordic) - my grandma hustled Avon, when I knew her. She schlepped me around, on calls, sometimes, and was the epitome of a shark. She'd literally open the catalog to the lipsticks in someone's living room, while I waited on a chair, and say something like, "by some of these, I can earn something extra...no, these, here..." and they'd just do it, they didn't know how to say no. She was tough, so tough. She had a grit about her. But she earned it. When my father was a kid, both she and my grandpa worked at the local airplane manufacturers. They took the bus - one worked the day shift, one the night shift. They went into Republic, or Grumman, and worked the line making airplane parts for the war effort. Everyone worked for the war effort, it seemed.
We rallied, we came together, we fought the foe, together. The United States of America. United. Individual, but empowered, together, toward a common good, and it was not easily won - a nation of the people, by the people, for the people (Gettysburg Address, November 19, 1863). And in crisis - states band together, and countries band with allies and wars are won - together.
Grandma was a working wife and mother with four boys to feed and lived through the Depression. She told stories of going to the butcher and asking for the scrap-cuts, the chewy cuts, the cheapest pieces...and she'd stretch it and make it work. Fishing in the bay for dinner - snappers. Growing gardens for fresh vegetables and berries. Canning and preserving in the off-seasons, using every bit of everything because it was hard to come by. The humility, the gratitude, for the simplest things... it wasn't lost on me. She was resourceful, because she had to be, and it lasted the rest of her life.
On my mother's side (Italian-French-Greek): Mimi grew up in an Italian Catholic household with four sisters. All she ever wanted was to go to college, to learn, to absorb the world, but she couldn't. In her family, women were raised to become wives - they learned to cook, to clean, to take care of a husband. And she married, and spent many years in a life that wasn't really her own. She'd been poor, she'd struggled, she'd held her tongue. But later, she found freedom. With four children at home, she started working in the city. My own mother became a caretaker for her siblings. They all sacrificed. And when times were hard, they did the same sorts of things: they went to the markets and got the cheapest cuts, some beans, whatever they could afford.
And through both of these women, both gone now, their stories get to live on in my memory. They struggled, early on. They went without. They ate to live, and not vice-versa.
Grandma knew that a big ol' pat of butter on the vegetables meant that we'd get more nutrition from them. I never knew if that was true, but I trusted it. Later, as an adult, I looked it up. She was right. Many nutrients in our foods are fat-soluble and can't be absorbed without fats. Like butter. Thanks, Grandma. Mimi would demolish chicken bones... she'd eat the wing or drumstick, clean - to the bone, then suck the marrow out of the ends and even crunch the cartilage. We shudder at the thought, right? But she was getting nutrients from it. Waste nothing.
Living through World War II taught them great lessons about portions, health, needs vs wants, planning and preserving, the value of hard work, humility, the magic of random generosity and the kindness of strangers.
And maybe...here, now... we can pay attention. We can learn. We can't go to the store and get everything that we're used to getting right now. Not right away. We're unaccustomed. We're used to instant access. Now, now, now. But we can evaluate our true needs. We can focus on essentials: food, health, shelter. And PS, many people live like this everyday...
But there are rich lessons from our past that we can tap into - to get through these days.
And that might be the most important lesson of all, right now...
How many times in your life have you wished for things to slow down? What you would do? Something around the house, or would you write something, learn a new skill, take a course? Or maybe you're like me and simply wanted a break...to catch your breath and relax and rest and simply enjoy your life with your kids more?
Well, if not now...when?
Stay kind out there... stay healthy. Stay home. xo :cheers:
Throwback Thursday... I found this old Word doc that never seemed to make it to my old blog. And I cozied up, reading it through, and it reminded me about why I first fell in love with books, with ephemera, with history and information, in general... I thought I'd share it with you.
"As a librarian, I am constantly surrounded by books. And I love that – the feel of them, the smell of the crisp pages on a brand new book. We recently got something new on physics and quarks, and I’m not even exaggerating when I say that the pages smell like grapefruit. A lovely blend of citrus and something pulpy…like cardboard or wet oak. These pages are delicious. The words aren’t bad either. But I digress.
I met a wonderful gentleman who has been bringing us boxes of precious books from his father’s house: he had quite a well-kept library of his own, was a war veteran, and has donated many World War II titles to us. We are always grateful for donations, but I appreciate them so much more when I learn about the people and stories behind them. When someone hands me a box of books and their eyes fill, and they say: “He loved these books, he loved to read, and he’d want them to be read again…” Well, I fill up as well. The books become humanized, they come alive with stories and a feeling of their own. I believe a memory, an essence of the reader, imprints upon the books.
In the second delivery we received from this man, I found something unique: “Letters in a Box.” I looked it up in the county-wide catalog and then, the worldwide catalog – no one else had it. Odd, I thought. And then…I got excited. Something rare, something special. I did a little Internet searching and made a discovery: the book was compiled of handwritten letters by Robert L. Stone, who was not only a First Lieutenant in the South Pacific during World War II, but also led as an accomplished executive in corporations such as: Hertz, Colombia Pictures, and a few well-known television companies. Quite a resume. And an inspiring human being with a wonderful story to tell.
What really struck me – the magic here, as I see it – is that only six-hundred copies of this book were printed. They were given out to family and friends; shipped from a small school, with the help of students and the local Post Office in Williamstown, Massachusetts. Six-hundred copies – printed nearly two-hundred miles away. And here it is; in my hands. I am grateful to become acquainted with it. Its pages smell a bit like gasoline, metal, and wood pulp, but in a good way – as if it had been read in the garage while re-fabricating an old ’57 Chevy, in the summertime, while nursing an ice cold beer – a fresh pile of sawdust on the cement floor from an earlier project.
Olfactory pleasures aside, this volume is an absolute treasure trove of scanned postcards, handwritten letters, memories, photographs and newspaper clippings. Primary, first-hand, WWII source material, folks, the kind that we are losing access to more quickly than I would care to admit. Now, I am not one to run up and down the streets praising the idea of war, but men in my family have served and I love and appreciate them. And I respect and appreciate the history of the aircraft, the roles the bombardiers played, the stories and emotion and struggle that these people went through – so far from home. Many of them not even coming home. This book is a moving tribute, put together by a very dedicated and caring family; honoring the life and legacy of their fascinating, hardworking, and memorable father. I am smitten with it. And while I do want to squirrel it away for myself, I feel that it needs to be read and shared. It will be added to the collection and I’m happy to give it a home, where it will be read by many.
At the end of the book, tucked in the back pages inconspicuously… was a bookmark made in Topeka, Kansas. Wounded Warrior Project. This is an amazing project and they have a great approach to long-term post-war recovery. I had heard the name before, but it slipped my mind and never came up again. Until now. An important reminder to not just study and learn from the past, but to take care of our veterans in the present.
Veterans of war, here and abroad, past and present… thank you for your service. You are not forgotten."
I later recorded an episode of The Jelly that discussed veterans of wartime; it's always been a paradox of a subject for me, since childhood.
I hope you all enjoyed the holidays, and if not... hang in there! The madness is almost over!
It's almost January. I had a wonderful Christmas, spent cherished time with family, and ate too many sweets. :facepalm: So good though.
I am on Day One of a refreshing cleanse, and boy, do I need it. Reset. All I want is lettuce, I'm not kidding. I'm turning into a cookie. It's like that old episode of the Cosby show where Bill lets Theo drink as much as he wants...and he gets so sick of it, he just has no interest in drinking, ever again. It's like that, but sugar.
Anyway. Take care of yourselves. Read books. Stay kind.
It's been a long few days.
First, I nearly collapsed in the car, after leaving urgent care for an excruciating headache, fatigue, and when what my son calls "too-hard boogers." :shrugs: #momlife
Antibiotics in my bag, I called in sick to work and had to stop at the store for some goodies: Sambucol (elderberry/zinc/Vitamin C gummies that I SWEAR by...) a bath bomb, cuz, well... I knew there would be a good soak. Broth, all the broth. And fresh veggies for homemade soups. A large branch of fresh ginger root. I stocked up on all the recovery stuff.
I got back to the car, after packing the trunk, and nearly fainted behind the wheel. "I am burnt out," I kept thinking. "It's too much, it's all too much...I do too much, still..."
"How did I get here? Again?"
I thought that I had learned to take care of myself pretty well, and yet, I felt worn out, exhausted, lethargic, really low in mood...and I couldn't figure out why. I surrendered to rest.
Next, my little boy (6 years old) woke up with even worse symptoms. I took him to the pediatrician... Flu B. So, forced break-down. Slower. Using up sick time, which I hate doing. But sometimes, we must. Snuggles, kids' movies, soup, tea, tissues, and so much sleep. I was glad for it, believe it or not. I needed the break.
Days go by, fevers reduce, as they do... viruses cycle out, and energy begins to return.
And in the downtime, with nothing expected of me, and nowhere to go... I found myself in the kitchen. Making more soups. Baking (?!). Cleaning countertops and washing dishes and breathing in all that good steam. It was wonderful.
We made Gluten-Free Chocolate-Cinnamon Banana Bread (photos above...I had no chocolate chips, so I split the batter in two, and mixed cocoa powder into one, then marbled them in the same way. Decent result. Not as creamy/chocolatey. But decent.)
And something so utterly simple began to settle in... I don't really cook anymore. I blend, I mix, I prep, I grill, I "throw-together." I scurry. I hurry. I rush.
I used to love to bake. To dream up something tasty and recreate it, and try it out. Somewhere along the line, I got accustomed to fast n easy: salads, shakes, bars, and bought food. There's nothing wrong with this, really. I make healthy choices there, too.
But... I remember how much I cherished the time in the kitchen, in the days when I used to have so much of it: warm and cozy, something always cooking, a stocked fridge with healthy choices, always. Always on my feet, cooking or washing or organizing, and absolutely loving it. Music playing. Dancing, mixing, dancing, chopping, dancing, measuring. Family walking through, talking, discussing, coming together, hatching new ideas. The kitchen was always the center of the house for me: it's where all the great ideas happened, where the best meals were made, where the cookies were tasted.
Where we gathered.
The women in my household, in my extended family, always gathered in the kitchen - it was a sacred space. Recipes were shared, sauce was simmered, chops were spice-dusted and thrown on the BBQ out back. And the children, often, too (not BBQ'd but I mean to say that they would also gather in the kitchen.)
And so, here I was... shaking and making, feeling groovy, and my son was beaming. "May I please have more juice, Mama?" :cough, cough: "Mama, I love you..." Calm. Well-Mannered. Coloring and word-searching. Relaxed. I smiled and wondered how I'd allowed myself to get so busy that moments like this felt rare and special, when they should be the norm.
Slow. Simple. And a wave of deeply familiar and soothing nostalgia washed over me. I took a breath and exhaled... Home. A simmering kitchen just feels like... home.
And how desperately I wanted that same feeling of... home. For my son.
And I took a deep look into my schedule, my work life, my health priorities, my creative pursuits, just everything. And I began to map it out, again. (This is something I do often, but at a minimum, once a year.) I saw that writing books was incredibly time consuming, supporting my books was as well. And I looked hard at what my life (and the life of my son) really, truly needed to thrive.
And it was...less. I didn't need more of anything, but time. Space. Freedom to move and be and wash veggies and bake tasty banana bread and stick to workout routines and craft a slick budget and stellar experiences for 2020. I didn't feel the bursting need to "say" anything. But to do things. For me. For family. For home.
And I heard that voice inside, again. The one I always hear when I slow way, way down:
"You're allowed to take care of yourself. In fact, you ought to. You really need to."
So, I vowed to take a break from hard-core writing, deep-diving, exploring, and trigger-busting. I'd done it. I'd let my heart lead me full-circle, from this kitchen, around the country, through my murky past, and right back here... to my home. My heart.
It's a rather rebellious act for a recovering people-pleaser to opt out and insist on simple and inward-searching things like self-care, home re-organization, new shelf-liners in cabinets, and streamlined budgets and financial goals. It's not so exciting. It's not very flashy. It's not very loud and awe-inspiring.
But it's steady and fulfilling. It's cozy and inspiring, in small ways. It's healing and rejuvenating. An old house, and the items within it, is a treasure trove of learning, just waiting to tell it's secrets.
How very audacious I feel, rolling my shoulders back, knowing of my other talents, and simply saying, "no." Not right now. I have other pressing matters and more worthwhile priorities. And it's all okay.
I've cut my screen-time and social media time way, way down for the week. And I've basically been utilizing my work-self at home. I'm librarian-ing everything, and it feels so, so good. Old ceramics have no use way up on the top shelf, where they can't be accessed. Just like any good piece of information: it's of no use, unless we can access it. Utilize it. Allow it serve us, in some way.
So, Winter into Spring, and maybe for the whole of 2020... is dedicated to self-care and home life. Of course, I still journal daily, so any insights and nuggets of wisdom that I find along the way will either be blogged or written in silence, for later. Maybe another book down the line, maybe not.
But no chasing for me. Just standing. Here. Now. And...making that lemonade.
Until next time... I hope you're well. I hope you're taking care of yourself and not running yourself into the ground. It's so easy too, these days.
Thanks for listening.
I've been sorting, moving, and constructing new things, lately.
I stumbled upon a treasure trove: old notebooks and binders from school days... I've come across things like this before. Piles of old sheet music from Sam Ash or All Music. A random ziplock bag of guitar picks. Napkins with names and beeper/pager numbers from Munchaba Lounge or LIBC or New York Ave (a bar that always had great (ok, mediocre) live music from local bands...) or some equivalent. Paradise Rock Club or The Kells, if in Bean Town. Any number of sticky-floor, dimly lit dives with bad PAs and red solo cups, in the village. My mind went back to Culture Club, Pac-Man, Debbie, Tiffany, Boy George. Max Headroom. Marty McFly. All that jazz.
And these notebooks. Again. Always, always, smitten and longing for the unseen and out of grasp. I think I was just born with a poet's heart. And I can't help but notice how it's fallen out of fashion, these days.
Some of my favorite music was played in the key of melancholy. Sinatra was the king of melancholy. I was in a jazz club once, in the city, blabbing about heartbreak and life and all the rest and how that side of me was dead. The music-writing side. That I listened, I enjoyed, but I couldn't write. And this old guy, who could've been a sax player for Dorsey or something, looked at me and said... "you never let the blue out, babygirl. It'll fester until you sing the blue notes..." or something like that. It always stuck with me. The shadows. The dark. The blue. The minors. They have to find air to dissipate.
And these days, with the world the way it is, and the way it feels, we all want to feel good. And I do, a lot of the time. I hack my perspective by noticing the beautiful things, kind things, sacred things, and lingering in them. But, I just like to wander through the old days, they feel like warm, cozy, worn-in sweatshirts with faded, pitted elbows. In only the best way.
And I leaf through all of this and every lyric still resonates and has a note beneath it. Still. 25 years. The melody remains. What is it about music? What is this thing, that can etch itself so deeply into our minds and consciousness? Connect us like this? Like a time machine, it can put us right back into an emotional moment or memory. It's some sort of special language and one that I'm glad I get to participate in.
Mm. Nostalgia. Childhood. Naiveté. Dreaming and bliss and unfettered imaginings and endless infatuations and has it all changed so much, or do we stifle it all, beneath collared shirts and desks and very grown up activities and drop-offs and pickups and matured behaviors and ways of moving and being in the world?
Truth? I still "crush."
I think it's part of the human condition, if you're having any fun, single or not. To muse. Aimlessly, freely, it churns the restitched pieces of my poet's heart back into rhyme or rhythm, sometimes. I soak it up, like bourbon into a dry piece of shortbread. There can be great inspiration in sweet abstraction. There always has been, for me. It's where the art lives. Where the magic lives. Where hope and wonder and adventure and traveling to new places lives.
So it is, with most artists I know or know of. Dreamers, all.
I must say, before any others I may have mused about, there was Dave. I found him in '94. Look at this. We all went. The local kids. We all talked about it. He was it, man. I still don't know the actual words to some of the songs...so, so stylized. "............take these chances...leave them simply, absotimbly..." Yeah, I have no clue. I should Google it. But I loved every minute, regardless. Those first few bars of Ants Marching were electric. An anthem. Like a call to worship. So, so good. Still. I just put it on YouTube, actually.
It always feels cathartic to look back and reminisce. I'm a sucker for nostalgia. I still go to diners. I stalk old sweet shops, especially the ones with vintage soda-shop counters. I obsessed about Colony Records, in Manhattan, for years. I heard that it closed. I pouted. I survived.
But the nineties. I was finishing high school. Bangs.
Oh, and this girl... my Brandy girl. Best-est. Dog. Ever. Cold nose. Hot breath. And that thump, thump, thumping tail when she refused to get up, but still showed her excitement... here's me and my pooch and my shiny, saturated with light, big face.
And trouble. And going out. And Webster Hall and bad dates and Parliaments and crashing weird parties...I believe this was a random Lions Club benefit, or something, and we wanted the free beer. I remember protesting this picture, because I wanted to hide my smoking habit. No, no, no...oh the horror.
You're welcome..."life is demanding, without understanding..." - Ace of Base
I've got so much. Boxes and piles of nostalgia, steeped in music, feeling, a chaotic life, upside-down beliefs, and journals that tell a much richer, deeper, hidden story. I was this girl, here...and I was a lost and searching artist, in the wee small hours. When I was alone with my guitar or keyboard, or journals, or a walkman and jazz standards and Frankie, and liner notes from albums, and usually a tall can of Pringles and some Nerds. I lived on absolute garbage, back then. (Not proud, I wasn't very healthy.)
Anyhow. I hope you've enjoyed the trip down memory lane. Fun times. A mess, I was. I think we all were. Waiting train wrecks, counting the years until life smacked us around enough to show us what's what.
No regrets. I like it here. Forty-something has its perks, too. Maybe we can't nosh on snacks and booze all night with a Pepto-chaser at dawn and then hit the gym before work, anymore... but we've got other talents. We've got some wisdom. We've earned some stripes. We've tried some things. We've loved, lost, and maybe loved again, some of us.
It's not even half-time. So much game left. I feel like I kinda get myself now. Okay, I'm ready, life. Let's do this. That first forty was a warm up...
Goodnight. I hope your Saturday was spectacular. If you went out, I hope you tore it up and had great fun with good people and ate all the good food. I hope you tried that thing you never try and always say you're gonna. If you stayed in, I hope Netflix or your book or your lover or your dinner was amazing. And if you had lots of laundry put away, a great kid to play with and snuggle with, and you got things organized and clothes to donate, well, you're just amazing.
"...lights down, you up and die..."
Can't believe how much more this song means, now that I've looked up the lyrics.
Wow, Dave. Yeah. They all do it the same way.
Mother. Librarian. Storyteller.