Envy: A painful or resentful awareness of an advantage enjoyed by another joined with a desire to possess the same advantage. ~Merriam Webster
We were getting a tour of a home in progress belonging to an acquaintance from school. Our kids were in class together and they were new to the neighborhood having moved from one beautiful home to another just months before. The first floor space was in disarray with couches pushed into a corner, other rooms were empty where work was still in progress. She invited me upstairs to take a look at the one room that had been completed, her closet. The closet where she stores her clothes and bags and shoes. I wondered how this could possibly be a feature to highlight in a house tour.
Today I am testing out a new (to me) writing tool called Ulysses. The why behind this is that I am attempting my first draft of a non-fiction book and I have a lot of miscellaneous writing for it scattered in various places and want to corral it into one spot. Ulysses was an option that was mentioned in the writing class I started earlier this month, the class that is supposed to help me tame the wild beast of my ideas and harness them into something possibly publishable, possibly not which is what the critical voice inside my head is telling me.
There are three areas on this version of Ulysses I find appealing because I use all three to write: My Novel, My Blog and My Diary. For the past year my online diary, or journal as I prefer to call it, has been contained using the website 750words.com and it has worked well for me, especially these last three months as I have committed to daily writing. It keeps track of my word count, makes sure I stick around for at least 750 words, and encourages me with a visual clue to track my days in a row streak. It also gives me the ability to look at my writing analytically (which I rarely use anymore). It tells me if I’m happy, sad, optimistic, looking toward the future or stuck in the past. It tells me if I’ve stayed in PG level words or if I’ve strayed to R rated material (as if!), whether I am obsessed with death, money or food. Pretty cool, right?
Considering it is 25 degrees here in upstate New York, that is an amazing feat! It dawned on me as I was doing my morning writing, reflecting on a writing retreat I took part in yesterday (more on that to come), that I hadn’t completed the assignment she had left us with yesterday afternoon in the minutes just before this country became chaotic and unimaginable. I could not believe the things that were happening on the screen I had tuned into as I was seeking to get an update on the fate of the Senate races in Georgia. Instead, what started out as a normal rite of passage, the certification of the votes for the next President, soon turned into anarchy and violence. So glued was I to the unfolding news that it took a text from my son reminding me he was done with school to rattle me back into my world.
The rest of the day went along, I moved away from the screen, into a book, into conversation with my son, back to my email where a teacher had responded to a note I had sent the day before. The school year hasn’t been without struggles and this teacher and my son have not had an easy relationship this year. She wants him to act a certain way (understandable), but he is bored and unchallenged and there is more stress than ever due to Covid so other options aren’t readily available. Feeling her response was terse, I tamped down the urge to respond in kind, something regretful, and so I put it away. The first response is not always the best, I have found. I decided to sleep on it.
One of my favorite things to do at year’s end is to look over the titles I lovingly devoured over the course of the year. Each January, I set up my challenge in GoodReads, based on my previous record and set a goal for the new year. It is my preferred social media platform where I interact with virtually no one but myself, scanning reviews, honing my list purely for my own pleasure. This year, I recently hit my goal of 80 and while not all of them are home runs, I’ve developed a good sense for picking winners based on a combination of referrals, recommendations, browsing and internet algorithms. My favorites, in no particular order, and not necessarily published in 2020, follow.
Untamed, by Glennon Doyle. OK, this was far and above my favorite read in 2020 and I inhaled it cover to cover in the space of two days, grudgingly putting it down to feed my son lunch and dinner in the early days of quarantine. It was galvanizing, awakening and full of useful information and I earmarked the pages on how to explain sex to your children. I am still trying to get up the courage to use the words I wished I could have come up with on my own. This was a book I purchased for my sisters and step-daughter. They were words I wanted every woman I knew to read.
This morning as I was driving my son to school, along empty roads that used to be bustling with the morning rush of the workforce and yellow school buses, there was a burning desire in me to turn back the clocks to a year ago when things were “normal”.
He had been doing viritual school for two weeks and I think we were both a little cranky for it. Had he even left the house over these past several days? Had he worn anything but pajama bottoms and a t-shirt emblazoned with his school logo because his face was all that would show up on the Zoom grid beside his classmates? I felt so sad for him and all that is being missed this year. The activities and friendships. The gradual gaining of autonomy that comes with getting older – the new responsiblities and freedom. Yet here we are anchored together more than ever.
It is only in the car that I see the full faces of other people, closed in their own little bubble of safety where the virus cannot break the barrier. Our routines have changed. When we leave the house it is to work or grocery shop or do some other small errand that cannot be done via the internet, and always behind a mask. How often do you forget your mask these days? It is part of the routine.
I live life most fully inside our house, wandering freely from room to room able to take in long, deep breaths as I go. There are the things I have always done like laundry and cooking and ironing but it is now also my gym and entertainment and social life too. Movies on a small screen, books on a Kindle. Girl’s nights on a browser and virtual clinking glasses.
In those brief moments in the car, driving by other maskless people, it is almost as if we were back to normal. We could meet up at the corner Starbucks and catch up over coffee. We could shake hands or hug or just simply smile.
It has been a while since I’ve written (on the blog) but it’s rarely far from my mind. The words have just disappeared again and even though I’m faithfully (well nearly faithfully) writing the “morning pages”, topics to write about with clarity or usefulness just don’t seem to be on the menu. And so when I was browsing at Target yesterday I picked up a small book called Burn After Writing and felt compelled to add it to my cart. This book ticks all the boxes for me: the cover was alluring, robins egg blue with the image of a red pack of matches front and center, the feel and size was perfect, the pages invitingly blank with simple writing prompts and the intro about engaging in honest assessment (for my eyes only) seemed a call to action at this particular moment in time.
Today I woke earlier than usual, trying to get back into some sort of morning routine again. I bundled in my robe, grabbed a deliciously hot coffee and made my way up to the loft I’d abandoned sometime last spring when the unending days of quarantine left me little space for tending to my own needs for routine. The first order of business was the 750 word sprint on 750words.com so I could get my daily check box that affirms I am writing. Then I opened the book and decided to start from the beginning. The questions were easy, no rigorous honesty needed yet, just a nostalgic meander through my younger years.
Living in hard times is nothing new. If you look back on history (and you need not go far), people have been presented with awful, horrific situations as bad or worse than what’s happening in modern day America, since the beginning of time. Floods, fires, pandemic, inequity, misogyny, racism, economic insecurity, climate change, partisan politics, to name a few. There are an abundance of examples of this in the Bible as well and on the morning after the news of another blow to 2020, the passing of Ruth Bader Ginsberg, I found myself looking to God for answers to my biggest, burning question: How can you send so much grief and angst to Your people in one year?!
Today is the day! It’s finally here. Although if it were a year ago, my sense of peace and serenity in this moment would be a little easier, not slightly clouded by a thought that something could go wrong. The first day of school.
Even as thoughts of possible COVID situations appear like unwanted wasps circling my head, I have been laser focused on this day for weeks, the day when one very important part of all our lives returns to some semblence of a different kind of normal. In-person school.
The pros and cons have been considered. The school plan studied, questioned and verified, giving weight to the decision to send our son back to school where he was a once thriving student who loved to learn. The year feels like the freshest start we have ever needed after months of home/online school, a dearth of activities to keep us occupied over the summer months, and spending altogether too much time together in close quarters.
The printer at work was giving me a run for my money last week. If it wasn’t callibrating, warming up or asking for new toner (it needed all four cartridges replaced in three days time), it was going into power save mode and to wake it up I had to open and close the paper tray several times which usually does the trick. More than once I simply turned it off, took a few deep breaths and turned it back on. And of course this is going to happen when the workload that requires a bunch of printing is at it’s height!
My job is not stressful. I work in the Faith Formation office at my Catholic church and spend most of my three day a week gig organizing for the in-person weekend mass as well as corraling volunteers to help give out communion in the parking lot. My favorite part is talking to parishioners who call to sign up for mass and I get to learn about the intricacies of their lives as I become a trusted listener.
For several months I have been consciously avoiding the news which isn’t easy when your husband turns on CNN before bed most evenings. Turn off the hearing aids and whala – no more news. The reason is mainly because I hate politics as much as Michelle Obama claims to and I do understand it is a necessary evil but the rhetoric of Trump’s campaign was really getting to me.
I decided to tune into the Democratic convention and thought it was well done. It kept my attention all four nights and the words spoken were a balm to the crushing, anxiety inducing rhetoric coming out of the White House these days. By the Friday morning after the convention I felt my anxiety lift as hope took over and that in a short time there would soon be adults running our country again. Optimism for our country’s future was on the upswing. And that’s when I started to tune into the news more.
Big mistake. Once again, Trump has managed to make my anxiety for our country soar. We need someone with feelings, empathy and heart leading us in these uncommon and hard times. He doesn’t seem to care the USA is number one in COVID deaths by a good percentage of the overall population and he keeps saying it’s going to “disappear”. He lives in a different world than the rest of us, I guess. He incites radical behavior, fueling the fires of unrest and blaming it all on Joe Biden who IS NOT PRESIDENT.
My optimism has faded as I read the latest polls which has Biden and Trump a bit too close for comfort. How do we live in a society that doesn’t care about equality and the health of our neighbors? How have Republicans let this man (and family) take over a party that didn’t used to be so radical? Who can we blame for all of this? The people who didn’t exercise their voting rights in 2016?
I have become used to gently rolling my eyes at my husband, a lifelong Republican, who feels it is his patriotic duty to gobble up all the books that lay bare the sins of Donald Trump. I do not wish to know how truly bad he is although I have more than an inkling. But when it came to hearing what Melania was about (because we have barely heard a peep from her in four years), I couldn’t help but be drawn to a New York Times article about the new book her former friend wrote. The last sentance of the article left me chilled. Melania claimed to her friend who was worried she was having a nervous breakdown that “You give people nervous breakdown, you don’t have it your own”. I, for one, do not wish to live in a country that promotes this kind of anxiety and I hope I am not the only one.