Where Has All the Good Food Gone? – 7/17/2018
Back when I was married (and fat), I fancied myself a halfway decent cook.
My repertoire basically consisted of deep-fried chicken, pasta with alfredo sauce (extra cheesy!), and sandwiches. It seemed like a pretty wide variety to me—but mostly because heavy, fatty foods like those were all my ex-husband and I ate.
I look back now, of course, and I cringe—not just because my diet was so awful but because I had the palate of a nine-year-old.
Once I was divorced and no longer required to cook for someone whose idea of “too fancy” food was chicken sautéed in a pan (instead of deep-fried in oil), I learned a bit more about cooking. Not only did I lose almost 50 pounds, but I came to realize that there’s a lot more to food than pasta slathered in cheese.
The thing is, as I’ve developed my food knowledge and expanded my culinary horizons, the rest of the world (outside of the Food Network, at least) seems to have gone the opposite way. The more I go out to restaurants with friends, the more I realize that NOBODY seems to know very much about food anymore.
I can’t speak for all of America, but here where I live in New Jersey, among the people I’ve met, almost no one cooks anymore. Even the women I know who have children at home get takeout or go to restaurants for almost ALL of their meals. The only thing they might have at home is a snack (prepackaged and bought at the store, of course).
Now, that wouldn’t be so disturbing in and of itself, but what I’ve noticed is this: The more you eat takeout food, the less you’re able to distinguish GOOD food from BAD food. It all seems to bleed together in your mind, the same way takeout food bleeds together in that Styrofoam carrier. Eventually, your only standards are: Good = You don’t have to cook, and Bad = Not having something quick and easy to shovel down your gullet.
Just as an example, take a Meetup group I attend. These nice, intelligent women in their 40s and 50s have been meeting about every other week or so for over a year and a half, to have lunch together at different restaurants. In all that time, of all the restaurants we’ve tried, I found only a single one tolerable. Not great, mind you, but tolerable.
Now, you could say that I’m just a complainer, but I’m not (my rants here notwithstanding). In fact, I tend to give a little extra credit to food when I didn’t have to prepare it (probably because, in my mind, my own homemade food can never be “good enough” or “special” in any way).
So, if the dish I cook on an average Tuesday night puts the restaurant’s $25 salad or $40 pasta dish to shame? I’m not the one at fault.
And it’s not just the bad food—or the exorbitant price—that bothers me. It’s the fact that I’m the only one in the group who ever seems to notice that the food isn’t good. I’m the only one who can tell that the rubbery chicken has been microwaved and that the restaurant substituted feta when the menu specified bleu cheese.
I work hard not to be negative, but how can I rave about the “amazing” food when I’m supposed to be eating the menu-advertised roasted red peppers and they’ve served me grape tomatoes instead? If even the CHEF can’t tell what’s what, I guess it’s no surprise the diners have no clue.
But food is an important part of everyday life—even more important than sex (which you can live without; trust me ☹). So, why are we, as a society, so ignorant about it (and getting worse with every passing year)?
Why are we settling for crappy, frozen foods in restaurants (and paying as if we’re being served farm-fresh, expertly prepared cuisine)? When are we going to wake up and demand something more?
The longer we all stay clueless and accept lousy food (because we don’t know enough about cooking to tell the difference), the easier it will be for restaurants to keep scamming us. And they ARE scamming us.
Let’s stop settling. Food isn’t just fuel to keep you alive. It can also be one of the most exquisite pleasures of the human experience. And you have to know the difference between garbage and gourmet before you can enjoy it.
Okay, rant over. But please join me. It’s lonely out here in this food desert.
Writing and the Green-Eyed Monster – 7/10/2018
I’ll admit it.
Whenever I hear about some writer getting an amazing contract, receiving a massive advance, winning an award, or even getting a halfway decent book review from some random stranger on Amazon, I feel jealous.
No, it’s more than that. I seethe with envy.
The jealousy tears me up inside, wondering why that can’t be me. I work hard. I do my best. So, when is it going to be MY turn to pen that New York Times bestseller or get that million-dollar royalty check?
When I finally stop whining and start looking at things objectively again, I come to grips with the truth: I’ll probably never be “that” writer, the one with the fancy book on some exclusive list or winning an esteemed prize.
My work? Is just a lot more modest than that.
And that’s okay.
What I realize (when I stop seething and start thinking like a normal person) is that I’m not the only writer who feels jealous of other writers. In fact, I would wager that there’s someone out there right now who is jealous of ME (or would be, if they had any clue who I am).
I mean, why not? I’ve been published (fairly often), I get to write (at least a little) every day, and I enjoy the luxury of making (some) money from my writing. Not all writers—not even most—can say that.
What I’m finally starting to learn is that it’s stupid to be jealous of other people and their success. It’s impossible to measure YOUR success by looking at someone else’s accomplishments.
Maybe the goal should be to remove other people from the equation and simply strive to make your past self jealous of the life you’re living now.
And my past self? Is seething.
On Mutts – 7/3/2018
My friend and fellow Blydyn Square Books author Everett De Morier has a theory when it comes to dogs.
He says a purebred dog is carefully created to DO something—whether the job in question is retrieving or hunting or, in the case of the two pugs I had for 15 years, behaving like the Asian royalty they are and being waited on hand and foot by their human.
A mutt, on the other hand, has no specific function programmed into its genes and, therefore, Everett says, it can just be a DOG.
Until I met my new dog, Rosco, I had no direct evidence of the accuracy of Everett’s theory in practice. But now? Call me a convert.
To get technical, Rosco is what they call a chug—a deliberate mix between a pug and a chihuahua. But no matter what fancy name you give a dog made from two different breeds—Labradoodle, Puggle, Chug—let’s face the facts: It’s a mutt.
And I couldn’t be happier with my little mutt.
Don’t get me wrong: My pugs, Caesar and Chip, were great dogs. I loved them more than any human parent could ever love an actual child (I’m intense like that 😊). But they were a LOT of work.
Bred to be lapdogs, pampered and praised, my pugs refused to do much of anything beyond eating and resting, no matter how much I might want them to do it.
Sit? Only if there’s a snack involved, thank you.
Go for a walk? Only if it was THEIR idea and the weather was neither rainy nor above 60 degrees Fahrenheit.
Besides being picky about what commands they’d deign to obey, they also demanded homemade food and absolutely refused to eat anything store-bought. I spent hours every week creating a gourmet concoction of chicken, sweet potatoes, broth, and vegetables that would rival the entrees in most of the restaurants I’ve tried lately.
My pugs were not exactly dogs.
They were, in more than just the sappy sense, my children. They didn’t exist to please me, like people expect a dog to do. Instead, it was MY role to please THEM.
And for 15 years, I had no idea that our relationship was in any way abnormal. When I’d complain about how difficult it was taking care of dogs, people would give me odd looks. It’s only now, in the “Age of Rosco,” that I’ve learned not all dogs require more work than your day job.
My little mutt Rosco? Is a whole different story.
His entire life (even after only knowing me and my dad, with whom I live, for about a month) is about making his humans happy.
From the time he gets up in the morning, crying and freaking out in sheer ecstasy at the mere sight of me in the kitchen, upset because he can’t quite kiss and hug me enough, until the time he crashes into sleep at night, his whole day is about looking for ways to make our lives richer and fuller.
Sure, his ideas for improving my life may differ a bit from mine—like, say, the walking. I already get plenty of exercise and could probably do without Rosco forcing me into an extra 3 to 4 miles a day. And I have to admit, it wouldn’t be my first choice to have a smelly dog tongue bathing my face every time I try to sit down and read.
But the point is, Rosco means well and everything in his brain is focused on making his humans happy. Being a source of unconditional love is his one and only job, and he does it extremely well.
Plus, he eats dry kibble straight out of the bag—no muss, no fuss, and no sweet potatoes. Victory!
So, kudos, Everett De Morier. Your mutt theory? Is right on the money.
You can read more about Everett’s theories on dogs, food, and other vital topics at his website—www.everettdemorier.com—and in his soon-to-be-published collection of essays, The Invention of Everything: Insights on Life, Food, and One Good Thermos (available for preorder at https://www.amazon.com/Invention-Everything-Insights-Life-Thermos-ebook/dp/B07F228C89/ref=sr_1_2?ie=UTF8&qid=1530616100&sr=8-2&keywords=everett+de+morier).
On Dogs, Death, and Betrayal – 6/26/2018
I have a new dog.
Now, in most homes, a new pet is cause for celebration—a new family member to love and enjoy. And yes, there IS some of that. Rosco (my new two-year-old chug—that’s a pug/chihuahua mix) is a great little guy.
But for me, there’s sadness behind the novelty and the joy, because it’s only been a little over a year since my pugs, Caesar and Chipper, died.
Even as I write this, I have to stop myself from referring to Caesar and Chip as my “real” dogs. But somewhere deep down inside me, that’s exactly what they were.
No—they were more than that. They were more than pets to me. They were my best friends, my children—the only children I’m ever going to have.
And because they meant so much to me, Rosco’s arrival has left me feeling ambivalent, torn.
Because here’s what I can’t help but think:
If I love Rosco, it means that Caesar and Chip never mattered.
Intellectually, of course, I know this is nonsense.
Nothing can or ever will change how much I loved my “real” dogs (there it is again). But even when I tell myself how silly I’m being, I can’t help but feel that letting myself care about a new dog is a betrayal of the old ones.
I get how stupid that is. According to this logic, no widow could ever remarry, no parent could have a child after losing one, no goldfish could be replaced (or maybe even upgraded to a hamster). But the heart is not a logical organ, and right now, it’s my heart that’s doing the thinking, not my brain.
I know these feelings will fade over time. I’ll feel less like bursting into tears every time Rosco climbs on my lap and gives me a kiss. I won’t feel the need to offer a silent apology every time I pass the photo of my pugs that I keep on my dresser.
Eventually, Rosco will be a normal part of my everyday life and that will be okay.
But for now, I’m betraying my children—and that doesn’t seem okay.
Still, I can’t help liking the new guy. I mean, how can you NOT fall for a face as goofy as his?
Yeah, I think Rosco and I will be just fine. We just need a little time.
Being Ernest Hemingway – 6/19/2018
Please note: I wrote this (and did the “experiment”) a few months ago. I am NOT in imminent danger of alcohol poisoning, nor do I need to be enrolled in a substance abuse program. Got that? Okay, then, read on. 😊
Today, I’m going to be Hemingway, using alcohol in an attempt to unleash the creative muse. And also writing mostly in short sentences. Probably because you can only manage short sentences when you’re drunk.
Let’s see how it goes.
You (that is, I, but let’s experience this together, shall we?) pour a glass of wine.
It’s cheap stuff, out of the box. You don’t need anything fancier when the point is to alter your consciousness, not complement the taste of fine food.
Your nose gets in on it first—and it’s not good. Wine always smells like vinegar at first, to me, at least. Or sometimes like feet. Vinegar is better.
It TASTES better than it smells (thank God!). A little, anyway.
Better than the taste is the warmth—the flood of well-being and hope, the sense that anything is possible—that happens the moment the first sip of wine travels down your esophagus.
That’s when the switch flips and it’s all you can do NOT to take another sip. So, you take one.
But the magic is gone. Now you’re just wondering what happened. How can you get back that momentary feeling of power and possibility?
So, you keep drinking, even though the sensation is gone.
The wine goes down easily, too easily. After that first sip, the rest of the glass is like water, but the thirst you feel never quite gets quenched.
It’s at this stage where you realize how easy it must be for some people to become alcoholics. You thank the heavens at this point that you’re NOT actually Hemingway (because if you were, you’d be searching for a gun pretty soon).
The sleepiness sets in next, not even halfway through the first glass of wine. Your eyes feel tight around the edges, and if you wear contacts, like I do, they MUST COME OUT SOON!
Things start to get hazy and everything seems like a little too much of a hassle.
Cook dinner? No, thanks. I’m not all that hungry.
Go inside to use the bathroom? Uh-uh. This bush over here looks good enough.
Go out? Nah. I’m fine zoned out right here in front of the TV tonight.
Everything feels stiff, almost plasticized, like the world has been dipped in a thin coat of shellac.
This is also the stage where you’ll want to pee. Avoid it. Break the seal too soon and you’ll never stop running to the toilet (or back to that bush).
On to glasses two and three:
You spill a little as you pour—just on your hand, but it’s a sign of things to come. Your reflexes are already off. You’re not yourself. Do NOT attempt a cartwheel now. Trust me.
This is the danger zone. You can stop drinking now and be just fine or you can settle in and commit to the ride.
College kids and alcoholics? Head straight for Stage Four.
You can’t write by hand anymore—or drive, or work any sort of machinery. You might still THINK you’re okay, but you’re not.
For those of us who just drink too much once in a while (or as part of a writing experiment), this is the point where we know we should stop, but we think the whole night be end up being “special” if we keep going. So we—that is, you—do.
Writers (like Hemingway, I imagine) reach Stage Four and think we’ll suddenly make a breakthrough and figure out how to pen the Great American Novel.
Artists? Swear this will be the night they produce their finest masterpiece.
I imagine musicians think this is the evening they’ll write the song that changes the whole world.
But instead, whoever you are, you end up watching TV, playing games on a tablet or phone, or flipping aimlessly through magazines.
The truth is, you can’t create when you’re this fuzzy, no matter what they tell you about Hemingway. There’s a reason his books are all about the same repetitive “man” stuff. You can’t come up with new ideas when you’ve reached Stage Four (or beyond).
So, you keep drinking, pass the time, and either drink some water to try to ward off the hangover or head directly for Stage Five.
One more drink! One more!
You say this every 15 minutes or so, honestly believing that each drink will be the last, but you feel that compulsion, that magic (or so it seems, in Stage Five), and you keep going.
If you’re normally on the reserved side, you become the life of the party. If you’re normal, you may become a bit of a slut. If you’re already a slut, you’re likely to end up in some serial killer’s van.
Avoid Stage Five, because of all of this and also because it’s inevitably followed by Stage Six.
All of it for longer than you believe is humanly possible—and for WAY longer than you spent drinking (which is inherently unfair).
When you look at it this way, you can’t help but wonder what the point is in drinking at all. Basically, it’s 2 minutes of magic followed by several hours of avoiding reality (and not in that GOOD way we writers have—by writing an alternative reality), followed by hours (or even a full day) of complete and utter physical misery.
Sorry, Ernest. I don’t think liquor is the best writing tool on the market. From now on, I think I’ll stick to green tea.
Can’t We Please Speed Things Up? – 6/12/2018
I always hear people say that the world moves too fast and how much they wish they could slow things down, stop and smell the roses, yada yada yada.
To me? The world feels like the slowest turtle ever to walk the Earth, plodding along at a pace too slow to be seen with the naked eye.
At least a thousand times a day, I find myself screaming silently at the world around me: “Hurry up already!”
I admit, I’m an irritable person, so it stands to reason that even a slight delay—that slow-loading web page, that always-running-behind lunch buddy—would grind my nerves.
But honestly, who has time for this nonsense?
I go to fill my water bottle and have to wait (yes, I count—blame my OCD, but I count just about everything) 30 whole seconds!
I log on to Twitter to post my daily quote about writing and have to wait an ungodly 10 seconds for the site to load.
I go for my run in the morning and have to wait DECADES while the idiot in the white SUV (who has clearly not had his first coffee of the day) to cruise past before I can cross the road. Hey, buddy, here’s a clue: I shouldn’t be RUNNING faster than you are DRIVING!
Most days, I feel like I’m the only person (or thing) on Earth moving at normal speed and everyone and everything else is in a perpetual state of slow motion. Hell, sometimes it seems more like NO motion.
I’m not entirely impatient, I assure you. I once sat in a bank for almost 5 hours while the incompetent staff attempted to sign me up for a new checking account and I never uttered a word of complaint or, you know, killed anyone.
I just don’t like to waste my time—and losing 30 seconds at the water cooler? That’s a waste of time.
The thing is, the Poland Spring water cooler can’t help itself. It’s been engineered a certain way and can’t physically operate any faster.
But those of you, my friends, who are creeping along the highway at 30 miles an hour in the fast lane (always in the fast lane!) or taking up the whole sidewalk and barely inching forward while I struggle to find a way around you? You DO have a choice.
I have so much to do and time is not my friend. I’m working hard to make this ugly world of ours a better, more beautiful place. And I’m not asking anyone to get off their butts and help. I’m only asking you to be considerate and not slow ME down.
Consider this: Maybe the reason the world seems like it’s moving so fast is because YOU are moving so slowly. Trust me: We’ll all enjoy smelling the roses a lot more after all the work is done, so please step off the path and let me get on with it. You’ll thank me later. 😊
Lady with an Ermine – 6/5/2018
One of my favorite pieces of artwork has always been Leonardo da Vinci’s painting Lady with an Ermine.
I’m not sure why I like it so much. Maybe it’s because I love da Vinci himself. Leonardo was the ultimate Renaissance Man—dabbling in everything from the art he’s best known for to scientific inventions to theater and athletics.
As someone who grew up nerdy and completely hopeless in sports, I always dreamed of being the kind of well-rounded cultural and physical dynamo our pal Leonardo was.
My reverence for the Renaissance Man is probably why I do so many things (with far less success than da Vinci, I’ll be the first to admit): writing, studying languages, learning about art and architecture, and trying to find my athletic side (these days, I’m a passable runner).
I’ve even tried my hand at painting, like Leonardo himself (with rather disastrous results). But at least I know now that I’m not a painter.
I’m better as a critic.
For example, I have to note that Lady with an Ermine is, in my opinion, not quite perfect. The woman’s hand, for starters, is an almost comical claw that reminds me of a rubber prop for some kid’s Halloween costume. Sure, it’s better than anything I could ever do, but it’s not the most exquisitely rendered hand in history—not by a long shot.
And maybe that’s something else I love about the painting. Even magnificent Leonardo didn’t always hit it out of the park. His finished product was, on occasion, less than brilliant (even if he himself was always pretty brilliant). But even when he didn’t achieve perfection, he didn’t quit; he didn’t (like so many of us) stick to doing only the things he was good at.
For good or for bad, Leonardo continued to dabble, to try, to learn and grow, in any field that interested him.
Shouldn’t we all be doing the same?
I hate when people say we need to specialize, choose a path, avoid being a dilettante. Life isn’t a restaurant with just one fixed course on the menu that you have to eat forever.
No. Life is a never-ending buffet and our job is to try everything that looks good—even if not every single one works out. The point isn’t to be perfect. The point is to enjoy every minute we get as much as we can. Just like Leonardo.
Sleep and M: An Unhappy Friendship – 5/29/2018
I’ve never been a good sleeper.
Even as a child, I don’t recall ever feeling well rested in the morning, and when people talk about “waking up,” I hardly know what they mean. I’m rarely asleep long enough to “wake.” I’m lucky to drift in half-sleep long enough to have part of a disturbing dream before jolting back to consciousness.
Needless to say, I live life in a pretty groggy state. You know how you feel at the end of a really hard day, or after crying for hours? How your eyes feel so heavy, it’s a battle to keep them open? That’s how I feel all the time. Only I know if I let my eyes close, my brain will instantly kick into high gear, preventing me from falling asleep.
I’m like one of those dolls—you know the kind. When you lay the doll down, the eyes close, and when you stand it up, they open. Only for me, it’s more like: Stand up, eyes want to close; lie down, eyes pop open.
It’s not an easy way to live.
I’ve been through all the medical tests—sleep studies, drug trials, behavioral and environmental modifications. Nothing has ever worked.
All the doctors can tell me is that, for some unknown reason, I get over 3 times less deep sleep per night than the average person. Most of the time, if I fall asleep at all, I get stuck in REM sleep and wake up for good before I ever reach the deep-sleep stage.
That’s why I’m tired all the time.
In my whole life, I remember only one night—one blissful, never-to-be-repeated night—of good, uninterrupted, restful sleep.
It was at a crummy motel halfway through a road trip from Pennsylvania to Texas, somewhere in the backwoods of Tennessee. I’d been up (like usual) since before dawn, but maybe all the driving I had done—for hours, through pounding rain, over the winding and hilly roads of Tennessee—was what made the difference.
I slept. And it was phenomenal.
That was 8 years ago and I still think about the night—so perfect (despite the smelly motel room with its moldy shower)—just about every day.
I can’t help but envy all you “normal” people who get at least a few hours of real sleep most, if not all, nights. Gotta say it: I kind of hate you!
My biggest regret is that I can’t drive over treacherous, mountainous roads every day. I might actually turn into an ordinary person, sleeping soundly every night.
I wonder if there are any job openings to become one of those ice-road truckers? That sort of thing might just do the trick.
S.A.D. – 5/23/2018
Lots of people get depressed during the cold winter months—so many, in fact, that there’s a name for it: seasonal affective disorder, or SAD.
Me? I’m the opposite.
I thrive during the dark days of winter but slowly peter down to an inevitable depression every year as the days grown longer and hotter.
Maybe it’s the fact that I hate the warm, sticky weather.
Maybe I hate all that extra sunlight, which keeps me at work (and awake) even more than I’m already inclined to be.
Or maybe this time around, it has something to do with the fact that today marks a year since my precious pug Chip was brutally attacked (and killed) by our neighbor’s dog.
Whatever the cause, I can report that this dip in my state of mind happens every year, without fail. And the only surefire cure? Autumn.
It doesn’t help the situation that this year, we had a particularly brutal winter and a rainier than average March and April, which screwed up my usual running schedule and left me feeling even more off-kilter than I would in an ordinary spring. I’m fighting my way back now, but it’s not easy.
For now, all I can say is, I miss you, Old Man Winter. No matter how much everybody else complains about your blustery ways, you’ll always have a fan in me.
On “Spring” Cleaning – 5/19/2018
I was throwing out all my hoarded-up paper and assorted and sundry trash, trying to get myself organized, and vacuuming behind those tough-to-move pieces of furniture the other day when something occurred to me:
Why do we do SPRING cleaning?
I’m not saying we shouldn’t clean in the spring. Truth be told, I think we ought to be cleaning at least a little bit every single day, not just once a YEAR! 😊
What I’m asking is: Wouldn’t FALL cleaning make more sense?
Hear me out.
We have this cultural compulsion when the flowers bloom and the air gets warmer to open the windows and sweep out the dust to celebrate the change in the weather.
And that’s fantastic.
But wouldn’t it logically make more sense to do all that cleaning and airing and scrubbing in the autumn? You know, right before we shut ourselves up in our airtight houses, surrounded by all our dust and filth?
So, join me, won’t you, in praise of FALL cleaning. If you’re only planning to scrape the accumulated mud off your floor and the egg off your frying pan once a year, you might as well do it in October instead of right now. At least maybe the scent of spring tulips and hydrangeas drifting in from outside will mask your stench and let you skip the spring cleaning.
Living Life and Saving the World – 5/15/2018
Sometimes I feel like I’m not exactly living my life.
Sure, I’m breathing, eating, moving—I am ALIVE. There’s no question there. But many days, when I stop to think about it, I realize there are few times when I DO anything that has a real impact on the world.
As much as I love writing and editing, and I DO believe I play a valuable role in protecting the sanctity of the written word (and, I hope, making the world a slightly more beautiful or at least interesting place with all the words I put out there), I’m not exactly Alexander the Great, am I?
I’m not conquering lands, building an empire, or creating a legacy to last for thousands of years.
On the other hand, I’m also not slaughtering villagers, spreading disease, or enslaving the masses, so I suppose there’s a balance involved when it comes to living an impactful life.
All I’m saying is, sometimes I feel like I should be doing . . . MORE.
Instead of reading about other people’s exploits or watching the people on the screen save the world, I feel like I should be getting out there and having a few adventures of my own.
But let’s be honest: Who has the energy or the time? Between running, yoga, working at least 12 hours a day, keeping up with my zillion hobbies, and trying to maintain at least some semblance of a social life, there’s very little time (or motivation) left over for me to use to invade Persia—or even write a second daily haiku poem.
I guess the lesson is that we all affect the world in our own way and we have to learn to be happy with our unique (if tiny) role. And for the most part, I’m happy with mine. It may not be quite as exciting as, say, putting down a Mongol horde, but I like to think making books has some value.
Of course, if you happen to spot a rampaging Mongol (or other) horde, give me a shout. Maybe I’ll have enough energy after editing this history textbook to ride on out and save civilization. Just this once.
A Slave to My Stomach – 5/9/2018
Some days, it occurs to me that my entire life pretty much revolves around food.
Now, before you sign me up for Overeaters Anonymous, let me clarify that, for the most part, I tend to eat pretty healthy, and I work out more or less every day, so this is not some kind of cry for help. It’s just an observation.
I get up in the morning and the first thing on my mind (after my run, of course) is tea.
Yes, I know tea is not food, but it IS something you put in your stomach, so I think it counts, because my body does NOT let me start the day without it.
While I drink my huge pot of green tea, I think about what I’m going to eat for breakfast. (I do other stuff, too, but no matter how productive I am while I’m trying to get my head together and start the day, the idea of breakfast is always there, nagging at me).
After tea (and breakfast—which is usually something fairly light, like a yogurt parfait with berries and granola), I get to work. As much as I love what I do, it still takes less than an hour before my mind is drifting away from the project at hand and back to—you guessed it—food.
“What’s for lunch?” my stomach demands, usually with a little growl (as if we didn’t just eat our weight in mixed-berry yogurt).
If I don’t have an answer that my body likes, along with a planned time to EAT the lunch in question, I will be so distracted all morning, I might as well just abandon work entirely.
Now, no matter what time I eat breakfast—whether it’s 5:00 or 9:30 a.m.—I’m still starving by 11:00, because in my head, that’s the best possible time to eat lunch. Don’t ask me why. I couldn’t tell you.
So, at 11:00, I take a short break from work and eat my lunch, which (even while I’m eating) gets my stomach wondering about what we might be having for dinner. Really, it never quite ends.
Thankfully, I learned about these food-based idiosyncrasies of mine a long time ago and I’ve figured out some ways to work around them.
For example, I always plan my dinners for the week on Sunday, so in most cases, I can easily remind my nagging, annoying stomach exactly what home-cooked delight it can expect to enjoy at 5:00. (If I try to push back dinner any later than that, I’m pretty sure my body would force me to gnaw off my own foot to avoid starvation—that’s how hungry it always thinks it is.)
Knowing what I’m going to eat and when is the only way I can shut my stomach up and let my brain (you know, the part of my body that actually holds our whole life together) get some stuff done.
It’s not an easy way to live, but I don’t seem to have much of a choice.
I guess I should just be grateful that my body is generally satisfied with vegetables and hummus, chicken breast and fish, and other foods that are fairly good for me. There was a time when things were different and my stomach was nagging me not just to EAT, but to eat mozzarella sticks and chicken finger baskets with fries. Things could be a lot worse.
Now, what was on the menu for lunch again? Ugh . . .
Body Versus Mind – 5/1/2018
Sometimes I think my body is sabotaging me.
I love to DO things—run, write, read, learn, cook, hang out with friends, and, of course work (mostly work). I may, in fact, be a bit of a workaholic. The more projects on my plate, the happier I feel. In some strange way, I think I like the feeling of being ever so slightly overwhelmed.
But the me who likes that feeling seems to exist only in my mind. My body? Is a different story.
My body seems to like to do absolutely nothing (except eat—a LOT). And every time my brain and I get ourselves good and excited about all the books we have to read and the projects we have to edit, my body decides to get sick.
Usually, it’s just a touch of the sniffles, a dull headache, or an overwhelming sense of fatigue—nothing life-threatening. I admit, it doesn’t take much to throw me off my game (after all, I haven’t had a full night’s sleep in years, maybe decades, so it’s easy to make me feel like I just can’t go on).
When my body pulls one of its stunts, I always end up—for at least a day—crashed out on the couch, barely able to move (other than to get more food many, many times), until my lazy body gets its fill of nothingness and lets the rest of me get some stuff done.
Now, before you say I should proactively let myself take a break now and then, so my body won’t feel the need to shut down, let me tell you: I do.
I’ve always done my best to listen to my body and take care of whatever it needs, in terms of food, exercise, plenty of water, and rest. My body pretty much always gets its way.
I just wish it would return the favor once in a while!
Is the Universe Evil or Does It Just Hate Me? – 4/24/2018
I live in a perpetual state of annoyedness (if that’s even a real word—I’m too annoyed right now to bother looking it up.)
They always say don’t sweat the small stuff, but trust me, when EVERY little thing in your life (and pretty much every big thing, too) tends to go wrong every day of every week of every—well, you get my drift—you’d start sweating it whether you wanted to or not.
Just this morning, for example, I was taking a shower and, as I watched, my razor—which was sitting perfectly still, not being touched by me OR the water stream—decided to leap off the shelf, several inches straight up into the air (apparently, to gather speed), and then flew straight down to the floor to slice my foot.
Little things like that—jars inexplicably flying out of the fridge and breaking when I’m nowhere near them, books sliding off perfectly flat shelves even when there’s NOT an earthquake in progress—happen to me all the time.
Basically, around me, the laws of physics and gravity are suspended if it means God or the universe can find a funny new way to upset me. I’m sure it’s all quite hilarious to other people, but when you’ve been living this way for forty-some years, it stops being a joke pretty fast.
Here’s the thing: I’ve always liked the idea of karma. You get what you deserve based on how you behave. There’s a certain cosmic justice to the notion that simply makes sense.
But if there IS karma, then clearly, I must have been Hitler in a previous life, because I seem to be suffering a thousand little tortures every day, yet (to my knowledge) I’ve never harmed another person in THIS life. Honestly, I even feel guilty killing bugs.
So, if there’s no karma, then it must be a random universe.
But that doesn’t work when you use my life as the test, either, because if everything were truly random, then occasionally, once in a great while at least, something good would happen to me, even if it was only by accident. The fact that it never does tells me things are NOT random, and that I really am being punished.
But for what? I’ve known a lot of people in my day and, I have to say, I haven’t known a whole lot of kind or good people.
Which makes me wonder: Am I being punished for being GOOD?
Maybe what I think of as “good”—being nice to others, being generous with my time and money (what little I have), feeling compassion, avoiding hurting anyone, working hard to make a contribution to society, staying out of petty (or large) squabbles, and trying to take care of myself in body and mind—is, in fact, what the universe considers evil. And that, in my opinion, would make the UNIVERSE evil.
It’s the only thing that makes sense when I put all the variables together.
Then again, maybe the fact that I haven’t slept more than an hour a night in over three months has left me feeling a tad hypersensitive to all the nasty people out there and the zillion little minor irritations that surround me every day, and so I’m starting to come up with bizarre philosophical explanations for how things work that don’t have any basis in reality.
I think the universe must just be evil.
The Missing Piece (Or, Why I Love to Shop) – 4/17/2018
I’m not a hoarder or a shopaholic.
Before I go any further, I need to establish that right up front. I’m neither of those things, but I admit, I CAN understand the impulse.
See, I do love to shop. But it’s not about spending money or being materialistic or wanting to keep up with some mysterious Joneses.
For me? Shopping is a way to change my life.
Wait, let me rephrase that.
When I go shopping—whether it’s to an outlet mall or flea market or just for a weekly grocery run—I’m always convinced that THIS shopping trip will be the one, the one where I finally find that missing piece from my life. I’ll buy it (whatever it might be), and then suddenly, magically, everything will fall into place and my life will be perfect.
Now, it doesn’t take a trained psychologist to know that there IS no missing piece—at least, there’s no missing piece “out there,” waiting to be bought at the garage sale down the street.
No, no. I get it. The “missing piece” is inside of me—or, rather, it’s missing FROM inside me and the only way to fill it and finally live that “perfect life” (that is, beyond realizing that such a thing doesn’t exist) is to acknowledge all my hopes and dreams and loves and disappointments, work through it all, and become a fully self-actualized human being.
I totally understand that. And I also know that creating a “perfect life” takes effort.
These days, however, I have way too much other work on my schedule, so until I have a little free time to spend self-actualizing, I think I’ll take the lazy way out and just do a little shopping, because sometimes, the anticipation of finding the perfect thing is almost as good as actually getting it.
Want to meet me at the mall?
In Defense of “Loneliness” – 4/10/2018
Why do people always assume that someone who’s alone a lot must be lonely?
Take me, for example.
I lead what most people would consider a lonely life.
I spend most of my time alone—reading, writing, working. My idea of a “fun” night is curling up with a book and a glass of wine, not heading out to some loud restaurant with a bunch of people so I can struggle to hear them talk over the clamor of the crowd and the boom of the piped-in music.
To most other people, that sounds pathetic. I know. And I’m aware that people pity me. They tell me I need to “break out of my rut,” “make some friends,” “take up a hobby.”
The thing is, I already DO all those things; I just tend to do them on my own.
Break out of my rut? I’m not in a rut. How could I be? This week alone, through the power of my imagination, combined with the written word and a little bit of Netflix, I solved murders across America and observed mountain gorillas in Africa with Dian Fossey.
That? Can hardly be called a rut.
Make some friends? Oh, sure. Let me make some friends like the ones I already have, who make me pay more than my share when we got out to lunch and spend the whole time we’re out chewing my ear off with boring tales about their boring kids (whom I’ve never even met), never once expressing any interest in what I might be doing.
The friends I’ve made in my novels—the ones I read and the ones I write—treat me better than those I know in real life, so why be treated badly when I can be alone and be happy?
Take up a hobby? Ha! I do more hobbies before breakfast than you’ve done your whole life, scoffers.
I run; I do yoga; I study Italian, Spanish, Mandarin, Latin, and ancient Greek; I have memorized the Period Table of Elements; I am well versed in the finer parts of mythology—both Greco-Roman and Egyptian; I study art and architecture; I learn about history (especially Tudor England, the Italian Renaissance, and ancient Egypt, though I’ve recently started to explore Byzantium); and I’m a proficient cook, actively engaged in an ongoing exploration of the cuisines of the world.
Trust me, I am not lacking when it comes to entertainment.
I just prefer to be alone.
I know I’m a nerd, and I don’t mind being the person other people laugh at. Those people? Don’t get it. I have led a THOUSAND lives, thanks to the “lonely” way I live. Those other people who think I’m wasting my life are the ones who are doing it wrong. 🙂
In Praise of (Occasional) Excess – 4/3/2018
Anybody who knows me knows I love my routine. I do best when I can plan my day (and week, month, year, and—you know—entire life).
At least once a year, though, things come up and kind of throw me off my game. The most predictable of these events is my birthday, which happens in the middle of March. This year was no exception.
Now, I love my birthday. I’m pretty much as bad as a (bratty) small child, expecting special treatment, lots of cake and gifts, and basically for everyone to recognize my birthday as the equivalent of a federal holiday (which, I argue, it SHOULD be). I try not to get TOO disappointed when all that stuff doesn’t happen.
To make up for other people’s complete and utter failure to treat my special day with the reverence it deserves, I do whatever it takes to make my OWN birthday rock. I’ll get myself a little gift, treat myself to a day of shopping, bake (or buy) my own celebratory cake, and take a day or two off work to devote all to enjoying my birthday.
The thing is, my body and brain do NOT enjoy the break all that birthday activity forces me to take from my usual routine—and they rebel against the change by more or less shutting down.
For days after my birthday, it’s all I can do to get out of bed, eat anything besides chocolate and Marshmallow Peeps (another downside of my birthday, which always falls during the Easter shopping season), and not feel completely depressed.
I used to think the depression was related to getting older, which can mess with anybody’s head. But the truth is, I’m in better shape now, at forty-six, than I’ve ever been, both mentally and physically. The truth is, I don’t care (much) about getting older.
For me, the emotional crash has to do with the lack of routine—and, more specifically (and philosophically), with the fact that around my birthday, I make an abrupt and excessive turn away from the joy that I normally take in PRODUCING and instead become wholly devoted to CONSUMING.
Yup, Birthday Me is a consumer extraordinaire:
I consume things—buying clothes, books, whatever I can afford (which, fortunately, I suppose, isn’t often all that much!).
And I consume food—in fact, I recall one birthday in recent years where I demanded to eat every meal out at three of my favorite restaurants and I annoyed my boyfriend the whole day by singing (to the tune of that old Lesley Gore song “It’s My Party”): “It’s my birthday, and I’ll eat if I want to, eat if I want to, eat if I want to . . .”
I’m not (too) ashamed of it.
Granted, we all know excess isn’t good for your body or your soul. But a little splurge now and then is actually probably (almost healthy). And for me, I try to keep it down to once a year around my birthday (though the Christmas season DOES tend to try to get in on the game as well—I’m working on that).
But being TOO obsessed with consuming more, more, more—the way I get around my birthday—is really just not me.
And my body knows it, so it does whatever it takes to bring me back: to my routine, to my morning run, to working too much (because I love it, not just because I have to).
Every year, my workaholic body reins in my shopaholic/overeater alter ego and brings us all back into alignment, back to normal life, back to where we all belong.
But cheer up, Birthday Me. Only eleven months and one week before you get to come out and play.
The Mystery of Easter – 4/1/2018
I like to think that we live in a reasonably logical world, but every year at Easter time, I realize there’s almost no rhyme or reason when it comes to people’s behavior.
Case in point? Easter dinner.
Now, Easter, as we all know, is a celebration of the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. And Jesus Christ was . . . a devout Jew.
That means, obviously, that Jesus adhered to all the strict laws of kosher food preparation and restrictions. And one of the biggest taboos for Jews who keep kosher is pork.
So, why is it that every year, Christians all over the world rush to the grocery store to buy . . . ham???
You see, in my family, we usually ate turkey at Easter, mostly because I hate the stench of ham so much, I refused even to taste it before I was twenty-four years old (and that’s when I realized I’d been right all along—ham truly is a vile concoction!).
It was only after I became an adult that I noticed all these silly Christians celebrating the savior’s sacrifice by cooking a meal that Jesus, the presumed guest of honor, COULD NOT EVEN EAT!
It makes no sense at all, and I can’t help but think that if I were Jesus, I’d be a little bit peeved. (Then again, I DO tend to get ticked off in general a lot more than Jesus ever did.)
So, I implore you. Be logical, be kosher, and skip the bizarre and profoundly nonsensical Easter ham this year (mostly so I don’t have to endure the rancid smell of dozens of hams cooking from the open windows of every home in my neighborhood).
Thanking you in advance. Happy Easter!
The Italian Hot Dog – 3/27/2018
I had my first Italian hot dog the other night, and I just have one question to ask: How drunk was the person who came up with THAT idea?
I can almost hear the tipsy thought process behind it:
First, let’s take a giant piece of bread that would actually be better suited for an extra-large gyro than a hot dog or sausage of any kind.
Then we’ll add a teeny, tiny, withered hot dog ALL the way down in the bottom of the roll—the smaller, the better.
If possible, the wiener should look as wrinkled and decrepit as one of those ancient movie-theater hot dogs that have been on the rotating spit for decades. And be sure it doesn’t taste any better than it looks—that’s critical!
Add just a hint of mustard—you don’t want to overwhelm anybody with, you know, flavor. Make sure the mustard coats the hot dog JUST enough so it slides around the roll, preventing the eater from biting it, but not enough so it actually tastes good.
Next, let’s slop on a couple of slimy pieces of onion and a little bit of almost-raw green pepper. And again, be sure not to season anything. Flavor is NOT your friend.
Finally, let’s top the whole thing off with something REALLY tasty: half a pound of greasy, undercooked, sliced potatoes. Don’t you DARE add any salt or pepper! They MUST be flavored solely by old fryer grease. Yup, potatoes—just the thing you want to bite into through a thick piece of bread. Yum.
I can’t imagine that the Italian hot dog could have been developed in any other way. It’s simply not a rational set of ingredients to put together I’m still fighting the heartburn, even now, the next morning.
What sober person would come up with or eat such a thing? The answer is no sober person would.
It occurs to me now that maybe drinking is the key: Maybe you can only enjoy an Italian hot dog if you, too, are as hammered as the person who created it.
I guess that’s something to think about the next time my dad suggests Italian hot dogs for dinner. . . .
Just Let Me Be Me (Or, Benjamin Franklin Was Right) – 3/20/2018
Why do people always feel the need to tell you what you’re doing wrong?
I mean, even when I’m doing well—taking care of my editing business, writing books, running most days, eating well, doing everything right—there always seems to be someone hiding around the corner, ready to pounce with some words of wisdom about how I can do “better.”
The other night, the person with the good intentions was my dad (sorry, Dad!).
I was doing my usual nighttime routine, shutting things down and saying goodnight before heading off to my place to go to bed, when I made the mistake of mentioning that I was feeling particularly tired.
Now, here’s the thing: For starters, it’s perfectly normal to feel tired after a long day full of exercise and hard work. On top of that, I was suffering from my . . . ahem . . . shall we say, female troubles? So, I was feeling just a hint drained (no pun intended).
That, of course, was NOT something I was about to share with my 75-year-old father, which meant I had to endure a lecture on how I’m tired because I get up too early and how I really need to change my routine (read: my entire life) so I can be more “like other people.”
Um—in case nobody else has noticed? Most “other people” these days are kind of idiots and/or jerks. And besides, what’s wrong with the way I live?
Sure, I may keep hours that others consider a little bit odd. I’m up well before dawn so I can go for a run, leaving me with plenty of morning hours (my most alert and productive time) for writing and other work, and I’m in bed by 9:00 p.m. so I can get up and do it all over again the next day.
That may sound crazy to the average 21st-century American, but if I get to choose (and I DO, thanks very much!), I think I’d rather follow the habits of an American from a different century: Benjamin Franklin, who famously extolled the virtues of “early to bed, early to rise.” If I have to pick a role model, I’d rather it be Ben Franklin than the people hanging around the local bar at 1:00 a.m. on a Tuesday night. Just saying . . .
So, Dad, no offense, but you can keep your advice to yourself. And that goes for everybody else. I may not be “normal,” but I’m doing just fine.
On Animal Cruelty, Human Trauma, and Why I Hate Sarah McLachlan – 3/13/2018
Anybody who’s read this blog with any regularity probably already knows how much I love animals. My two pugs, who died over this past year, were my whole world and I miss them every day.
But it’s not just my own pets that I loved. I’m crazy about pretty much all animals.
I’m that weirdo crying in the office over some sappy video where a crippled dachshund gets a new lease on life when somebody donates one of those wheelie things.
I watch all the silly videos: the clumsy cats falling off tables or trying to squash themselves into too-small boxes, birds talking like people or dancing to hip-hop tunes, dogs barking along with the radio. I love them all.
What I hate? Are those horrible commercials and posts on social media about animal cruelty, like that famous one—you know it: the one with the Sarah McLachlan song that always seems to pop up out of nowhere when you’re trying to enjoy a nice, mindless episode of cheesy reality TV.
Here’s the thing: Even a quick glimpse of one of those anti-cruelty ads absolutely scars an overly sensitive animal lover like me, so much so that I keep seeing even the most fleeting image over and over and over in my mind for days, weeks, even years after the fact.
What the people who post these things seem not to realize is that I’m already on their side. Making ME feel horrible isn’t helping the cause; it’s only piling a little human on top of what the animals are already suffering.
It has ZERO effect on the kind of bastard who would willingly harm an animal. In fact, I can’t help but think that those kinds of awful images might almost serve as “cruelty porn” for people who think it’s cool to treat animals badly.
Basically, those ads change nobody’s mind and actually make things worse.
So please, I’m begging you: Stop putting these things up in places I can’t avoid—like at random in my Facebook feed or halfway through the rerun of Restaurant: Impossible I’m watching while doing my best to relax for once in my life.
I promise, I’ll send you all my money to help prevent cruelty to animals if you just promise to stop engaging in cruelty to ME first.
Do we have a deal?
I Beat Myself Up—and I Like It – 3/6/2018
People who know me well often tell me that I can be a little too negative.
They say I’m quick to spot even the slightest problem and call attention to it, making an immediate global declaration that everything sucks and all people are ___ (fill in the blank with the appropriate word for the situation at hand: morons, jerks, etc.).
I won’t go so far as to say these so-called friends of mine are wrong. I AM an editor, after all, and part of what makes me so good at my job is my uncanny ability to pick out the tiniest mistake—and fix it, if possible.
So I won’t deny that I DO see the bad stuff—and there’s plenty of bad stuff to point out in this world. Even if I really let myself go wild, I’d barely scratch the surface.
What I DO take issue with is the implication that I’m somehow harder on other people than I am on myself, or that I think I’m “above” the fray.
Quite the opposite.
If my friends and family could hear what goes on inside my head? They’d be begging for mercy. FROM me and FOR me.
If I’m a tough critic, then I’m also my own biggest victim.
It occurred to me this morning, when I was berating myself for almost putting away the batteries I’d just bought without first taking out the two I needed for my running headlamp, that I yell at myself pretty much all day long.
“What are you, an idiot?” I’ll think. “How can you forget to flush the toilet?” (Mind you, I’ll still be standing in the bathroom, hand poised above the flush knob when I think this—I’m VERY quick to jump on myself.)
So, yeah, I’m hard on myself, but I think it’s a good thing.
By cutting myself down BEFORE I screw up, I prevent a lot of errors from happening. If I DIDN’T yell at myself while still in the bathroom, I’d probably forget to flush half the time and I’d wander around with toilet paper dragging from my shoes.
As someone who tends to get lost in thought (mostly because I’m constantly thinking about my work), it’s all too easy to get distracted. I NEED to beat myself up so I don’t accidentally, you know, burn the house down or something.
Here’s the thing: No matter how often I make fun of myself or call myself an imbecile, I don’t actually think I’m stupid or an airhead or worthless. Overworked? Sure. Maybe a little bit ADHD? Absolutely. But if anything, I tend to think that I pretty much rock.
And here’s why: I know I’m making fewer mistakes in general than the average person, who is cruising along, mindlessly putting away those new batteries and then having to double-back to get them later.
Somehow, there seems to be a weird inverse relationship going on between my internal nastiness and my positive attitude. The more severely I berate myself, the higher my self-esteem; meanwhile, other people rarely seem to correct themselves (as evidenced by all the obvious mistakes I see them making every day), yet they’re always crying about how they feel lousy and sad and unworthy of love.
Maybe that’s the trick: By calling YOURSELF a moron, when you know perfectly well that you’re plenty smart, you create some sort of shield. Nothing can hurt you because you’ve already thrown the worst the world has to offer at yourself and come out unscathed.
Whatever the psychological reason behind the phenomenon, I’m grateful for it, because I pretty much feel terrific most days. Even if I CAN be a bit of a dummy sometimes.
In Praise of Routine – 2/27/2018
People are always telling me to break out of my “rut,” to mix things up, that there’s nothing to be gained from doing the same basic routine every day, week after week, year after year.
Those people? Are morons.
Just for the record: Routine is NOT a four-letter word. It’s not something to avoid for fear you’ll stagnate or turn into a boring person.
You know what’s boring? Lazy people who never DO anything. And you know who has no time to be lazy? People with a routine. Like me.
These past few years, since I turned 40 and started realizing that this is NOT a dress rehearsal and I’d better get started living NOW rather than waiting for some indeterminate “later,” I’ve noticed that I absolutely THRIVE on routine. In fact, I kind of fall apart when my routine has to be broken for too long.
Take the first few weeks of this year, for example.
In my area (central/northern New Jersey), we had a prolonged cold snap for weeks, which left the roads a mess (because the snow and ice just kept building and never got a chance to melt). Between that and the subfreezing temperatures, I was forced to stay inside, skipping my usual morning outdoor run—which has become the cornerstone of my daily routine.
And I went CRAZY!!!
Deprived of my run (even with other cardio workouts filling in so I could keep burning those calories), I felt depressed, spaced-out, confused, not like myself at all.
I stopped getting even a little bit of decent sleep (not that I ever get much!) and I found myself ready to burst into tears at the slightest provocation (and no, it was NOT just PMS! 😊).
I think the body and the mind like to know what to expect each day. Routine makes you feel safe, leaving room for you to focus on other, bigger things.
For me, routine makes it possible to get more done than anybody I know. There are days (like today) when I know for a fact that I did more before 6:00 a.m. than my best friend has done so far this week. Routine keeps me moving, driven, productive.
It’s kind of like how they always say that great minds like Einstein wore the same clothes every day to free up their intellectual energy for larger pursuits. I’m not saying I’m Einstein, but I totally get it: Following the same general routine—morning run, shower, breakfast, whatever it might be—lets you stop worrying about what comes next and gives you the chance to put your brain to good use.
Don’t get me wrong: Even I DO change things up every now and then. Lunch or dinner with friends, a day out at the park, a little bit of shopping, a much-needed vacation: Sometimes you have to do something different just to recharge your batteries—and to remind yourself why routine is such a good thing. Even the greatest vacation would get old eventually—and that’s when the body longs for home. And routine, for me, is home.
Caesar: In Memoriam – 2/21/2018
A year ago today, I had to say good-bye to my pug Caesar.
He was almost 15 and had been suffering from crippling arthritis for years (not to mention he’d gone both deaf and blind). It wasn’t like I didn’t know my time with him was running out.
But it still came as a shock that day, last year, when I came home and found that, even with his heavy-duty pain meds, he couldn’t even walk across the lawn. He just hurt too much.
I had already pushed it out of my mind how, that same morning, he had had trouble finding his way to the kitchen (his favorite room) to eat his breakfast (one of his three favorite meals—my boy could EAT!).
Or how, again that very same day, after wolfing down his food, he had become so disoriented trying to find his way back to his bed that he had stepped, full on, into his water bowl, soaking himself—and, judging from the look on his sweet wrinkly face, scaring himself a little bit, too.
Putting all those things together, I knew it was time for me to let him go. Keeping him around—confused, afraid, in constant pain—might have been a comfort for me, but not for him.
And he deserved whatever comfort I could give him, because he had been MY comfort—through marriage, jobs, divorce, success, and failure—for all the years of his life.
So, I did what was right for him, if not for me. And even now, a whole year later, I still feel a flash of alarm, of physical pain, every time I realize he’s not here anymore.
He’s not waiting at the top of the stairs for me to come and give him his dinner or to drag him outside for one of the walks he hated so much (even before he was in pain—he had never been much for exercise!).
Not having him here is a shock that doesn’t seem to be going away. Then again, I guess that shouldn’t be a surprise. Caesar was probably the closest thing I’ll ever have to the love of my life, and they say true love stories never end.
The Joys of Poverty – 2/13/2018
I didn’t grow up poor. We weren’t rich, but we certainly weren’t poor, so even if I pouted at times (like, I imagine, most kids do), in reality, I rarely wanted for anything.
Poor came later, after a bad man and a bad divorce in a bad economy.
I’m still poor, more or less—certainly poor by my former standards, back when I was a fancy executive editor and paid the bills ahead of schedule every month, never even thinking about whether there was enough in my account to cover them.
I remember actually feeling ANNOYED at the office on payday, when some assistant from human resources would come around and pass out our paychecks, which (because I worried so little about money) just felt like one more errand to run (a trip to the bank).
I laugh at that old me now. If she had seen what was coming, she would have jumped for joy every time the poor HR kid came to her office—and she would have held onto those paychecks like grim death.
Things change, and now I think—and worry—about money all the time. Will there be enough? Do I have enough set aside in case there’s some kind of emergency? What if this month’s car insurance bill is higher than usual? What if, what if, what if . . . ?
But here’s the thing: In a weird way, I’m grateful for this experience, this poverty (which I really hope is only a temporary bump in the road of life).
It’s made me stronger, sure, but it’s also made me realize just how little I actually need to be happy—again, more or less. I’ve learned that there is more than one way to define “rich,” or even “enough.”
And, although the old (almost rich) me would stare in horror at how “deprived” this new me is, I can’t help but feel satisfied. I have enough. I AM enough. And I can handle anything that comes my way.
On Blue Herons and Mothers: In Memoriam – 2/8/2018
Every year on this date, through some bizarre miracle (or coincidence, depending on your attitude toward the unexplained), I seem to spot a great blue heron—that is, every year since 2011, when my mom’s best friend, our longtime next-door neighbor, the woman I grew up thinking of as my “second mother,” died.
Joanie was a part of my life for as long as I could remember. She’d been there for all the big (and many of the little) moments of my life: from first eyeglasses to first dates, from my engagement to my wedding to my divorce.
She was a drinking buddy when I turned twenty-one, and she helped me get my first “real” job after college.
She was even the one who, to my extreme embarrassment, took me to the emergency room with a severe urinary tract infection that the doctor blamed on . . . ahem . . . activities with my long-term boyfriend and (yes, I’m quoting) “all that pounding.”
The fact that I didn’t die of shame right on the spot should demonstrate just how close a relationship Joanie and I shared.
Joanie was a second mother, but the kind of mother I didn’t have to worry (too much) about disappointing. She had her own kid to be disappointed in. In other words, she had the influence of a maternal figure combined with the easygoing nature of a friend—the best of both worlds.
When she died after a long battle with cancer, I was living temporarily in Texas, and I couldn’t afford to fly home for the funeral. I bawled my eyes out down there in Dallas while everybody else up here in New Jersey got the chance to say good-bye.
I felt guilty about it for a year—until, on the anniversary of her death, I saw a great blue heron, a bird that, for some reason I can’t really explain, I had always associated with Joanie.
I knew, somehow, that she wasn’t mad I hadn’t made it to the funeral, and I finally managed to stop beating myself up. In retrospect, I shouldn’t have needed the silly bird (which has reappeared each year since) to tell me Joanie wasn’t angry—she had certainly forgiven me for worse things than being poor over the years. She was always cool like that.
And I really, really miss her.
I’m just grateful I still have my “first mother” around, now that my second mother is gone. Mom may lack some of Joanie’s laidback, casual attitude (at least when it comes to me and my screwups!), but she’s pretty frigging cool, too.
On Groundhogs, Seasons, and the Power of Change – 2/2/2018
It’s Groundhog Day, and though I don’t necessarily trust the meteorological forecast of a large rodent, I imagine it can’t be much worse than the never-accurate predictions I get from the Weather Channel app on my tablet.
But I don’t want to talk about rodents—either the groundhog or the weatherman variety.
I want to talk about change.
If you get down to it, Groundhog Day is only a holiday because it marks a turning point. The pagans called it Imbolc, and it marked the day when everybody collectively agreed they could see the light at the end of winter’s long tunnel and they knew spring was coming soon.
Now, anybody who’s read my blog this year knows I’m kind of a fan of winter—or, at least, the way the cold weather makes my poor, overworked brain feel like it can work a little faster than it does during the hot, muggy summer.
But today? I realize that it’s not so much WINTER that I embrace every year but CHANGE: the changing calendar at the New Year, my changing body and attitude as I carry out my goals, and, of course, the changing seasons (which, luckily, we get to experience here where I live in New Jersey).
I always hear about how much people fear and hate change, doing anything they can to keep things exactly the same in their lives, and I find myself thinking: Are they crazy?
Me? I love change. Can’t get enough.
At least once every six months, I feel compelled to move my furniture around into some new arrangement. Even that kind of small change makes me feel empowered, like anything is possible.
I’m always starting some kind of new self-improvement plan or taking a class because, no matter how well I might be doing, I always fervently believe I can still change for the better.
Change may be my oldest and very best friend.
And as much as other people seem to cringe when they hear that things might be changing, the truth is, they’re fooling themselves. Whether they realize it or not, they love change, too.
Just look at Groundhog Day—when people go nuts counting down the days left until spring. That little transition from winter snow to spring flowers? Hate to break it to you, folks: It’s change.
And change is a wonderful thing.
Time Flies When You’re Having Fun – 1/30/2018
It’s the end of the first month of this “New Year” (which is no longer all that new) and I can’t help but wonder: Where DID the time go?
I know it’s true that we perceive time as passing faster as we get older and I (basically) understand the neurological factors that cause the phenomenon. The thing is, understanding why it happens doesn’t make it any less disconcerting!
I remember being a kid, maybe nine or ten, and saying to my mother: “Don’t you just feel like you’ve been alive FOREVER? I do and I’m young. You? You’re ANCIENT!”
Now that I’m “ancient” myself, I completely comprehend and appreciate the dirty look my mother gave me that day.
But time going by faster these days isn’t all in my mind. Well, okay, technically, it is. I know there are still the standard 24 hours in each day and all that.
What I mean to say is that I really DO have less time these days. And by that, I mean “free time”: time to relax, sleep, be with friends, and basically enjoy the kind of leisure-dominated life I led as a child.
Which makes me wonder: Does the perception of time change based on what you’re doing with it?
As a kid, when all you do is play (and go to school once in a while), time seems like an ocean—a never-ending, massive body of water spread out beyond any limit that the eye can see.
But as a grownup, when you’re working and cleaning and cooking and trying to squeeze in exercise and hobbies and friends and, you know, eating and breathing? Time’s like a fast-moving stream of water flowing out of a small bottle—and you can see just how little of the water is left before it’s all gone.
Maybe the key is to take a cue from children and just . . . slow . . . things . . . down.
Maybe time would seem to move a little more slowly if we took a bit more of a break every now and then (which is unlikely in my case—my last vacation was my honeymoon, all the way back in March 2000).
The thing is, I love what I do and I’m glad I have so much on my plate and I adore the feeling of being absolutely exhausted—both mentally and physically—at the end of another hugely productive day.
So, I guess I just have to accept that time is going to keep rushing past and enjoy what I do with the hours I have, trying not to let that rapidly emptying water bottle give me the willies. At least not too much.
But all you normal people out there: Maybe try a nice vacation or a little time spent relaxing. Let me know if it helps.
Yeah, I’m Bitter—So What? – 1/23/2018
People are always saying to let things go, to forgive (for yourself, if not for person who did something wrong).
But there are some hurts that just can’t be forgiven. Some things you just can’t let go of, because if you did, if you let them fly off into the universe like the seeds of a dandelion puff, you would alter the balance of karma and turn the scales toward evil for the rest of eternity.
Some hurts? Need to be cherished and held tight for the sake of the greater good.
And what my ex-husband did is one of those hurts.
He ruined everything. He stole from me—not just my money and my home (though he took all that, yes), but my peace of mind, my security, my credit score (which is still in the toilet 10 years later), and, really, my whole sense of who I am and what the world is like.
I had always been the kind of dorky, optimistic girl who (contrary to all experience) believed I could do anything, that the world was (at least in general) a fair(ish) place, and that I would receive in proportion to what I gave—for good or for bad.
But when he left on a whim and took everything I had worked my whole life for with him (leaving me with two dogs, a cat, and only the sad 20-dollar-bill I happened to have in my wallet), he changed me.
I’m still (somehow, believe it or not) an optimist. But I don’t trust the world—or most of the people in it—without LOTS of evidence of good intentions.
I can’t believe things are fair or that I get back what I give out—because after all the kindness, generosity, and hard work I’ve put out (both to my ex and to most of the people around me), I rarely seem to receive anything that feels much better than a kick in the face.
To change someone’s entire worldview that deeply, the way my ex did? Is pure evil. And he doesn’t deserve to be forgiven for that.
Sure, I try to move on, to keep the focus on the positive, to not him ruin my life anymore. And I’ve come a LONG way from where I was in those early years after he left, when every day was a struggle just to get out of bed and find something, anything, to think about other than what he did.
I may not have forgiven him, but over time, I HAVE forgiven myself for falling prey to him. And that’s progress, in my book.
I know I can still be bitter and exaggerate how crappy my life is (hence, the “kick in the face” remark). But it doesn’t happen often, not anymore.
But this week is my ex’s birthday. That’s he’s on my mind, and that’s why the bitterness has come creeping back around, looking for a little extra attention. And though there’s a little tiny part of me that fervently hopes this will be the jerk’s last birthday, a bigger part knows being angry isn’t the answer.
I’ve learned that much. The only way to get revenge on someone like my ex really IS to live well (even if that seems like the biggest cliché in the world). And living well is precisely what I intend to do.
On Comfort Foods – 1/16/2018
I may be a little bit weird. I get that. I seem to be the only person in the world (except for people who love snow—yuck!) who actually likes this time of year.
But for me, loving winter isn’t really about the weather. It’s about the food.
Here’s the thing: I’m a healthy eater (mostly) and just about everything I cook (and I cook almost all of my meals) is good for me. But what I’ve learned over the past five years is that you can cook healthy and still get your comfort food fix.
And this time of year? Is a comfort food BONANZA!!!
Gooey, creamy, cheesy pasta dishes. Piping hot casseroles straight out of the oven. Oven-roasted vegetables, caramelized to perfection. Slow-cooked soups and stews you can set up in the morning and savor smelling throughout the house all day long.
Winter is the best!
Something about summer (and the fact that the kitchen becomes a hundred degrees by dinnertime) just isn’t conducive to good eating. And please don’t chime in with all that “fresh veggies” and “grilling” nonsense—there is absolutely no contest between a homemade baked ziti and a stupid grilled kabob!
So, join me, won’t you? As much as everyone’s complaining these days, winter isn’t actually going to last forever. Enjoy those comfort foods while you still can. You’ll have to drag out that darn grill before you even know it.
Hooray for Winter! – 1/9/2018
I love this time of year.
I know, I know. Most people think I’m crazy. What’s to love about subzero temperatures, icy roads, and darkness setting in at 5:00 p.m.?
I boldly answer: Everything.
Okay, I’ll admit—the snow and ice kind of do stink, and I hate having to check the temperature before going out for my run so I know if there’s a danger I might lose a limb to frostbite along the way.
But the rest of it, the winter, this time of year? Is glorious!
First off, it’s still early in the New Year, so if you’re anything like me, you should still be feeling all kinds of motivated and excited to achieve your New Year goals. It’ll be another couple of weeks before even the laziest resolution-maker will abandon the effort entirely!
If you’re doing well with your resolutions, like I am at this early stage in the game, you’re eating right, exercising daily, getting plenty of sleep (okay, the truth is I almost never sleep, but I DO try), and doing all the right things for your body, mind, and spirit.
And all that should feel great (hooray!).
Second, it’s cold outside. And for me, that always makes my brain feel quick and active, ready to take on any challenge. In summer, when it’s hot? I feel like my brain is melting, barely able to function at all, so I love the winter for letting me feel smart again.
Third—and I know this will be unpopular—I kind of LOVE that it gets dark early.
See, I’m a little bit of a workaholic. Always have been. In my mind, if the sun is in the sky, if there’s even a hint of daylight left, I need to be working. (Another reason I hate summer—I never get even the tiniest break from the daily grind!) I thoroughly appreciate the winter sun going down early, releasing me from my heavy burden, setting me free.
I’m always astonished when I hear people complaining about suffering from seasonal affective disorder (SAD), feeling lousy and depressed because of the lack of light at this time of year. Me? I’m like the Energizer Bunny every January—I just can’t get enough activity!
So, winter, feel free to stick around a little while, at least here in my neck of the woods. You’re making me very happy.
My New Year’s Resolutions – 1/1/2018
I am a planner. Always have been.
The only thing I enjoy more than getting stuff done is making extensive lists of things I PLAN to get done.
For a chronic list-maker like me, this time of year is pure joy: The New Year gives you a blank slate, ready to be filled up with tasks and plans and, of course, the inevitable New Year’s resolutions.
Only I don’t call them resolutions. I call them New Year goals instead because, to me, goals are positive things that you strive to achieve, whereas the word resolution seems to imply that something is wrong with you and needs to be fixed.
I may be flawed, but I’m not broken, and I DON’T need fixing. But I DO have goals. Lots of them.
The problem is, I have a tendency to overestimate the amount of stuff I can realistically get done. Sure, I’m a pretty productive person. This year, just as an example, my goal was to read at least 75 books. I read 110. I’m no slouch. 😊
But sometimes I have a little TOO much faith in my ability to radically (and instantly) improve my life.
I remember, back when I was about 50 pounds overweight, setting a New Year goal to lose those 50 pounds within 6 months—and then having to set the exact same goal the following year (only now it was 60 pounds because instead of losing the weight, I’d gained even more!).
There’s something to be said for “slow and steady wins the race,” especially for weight loss and fitness, and when I finally eased up on myself and stopped focusing on the number on the scale, setting goals for exercise and nutrition instead, I lost the weight and kept it off.
Unfortunately, my brain never got the memo that I should probably be using the same technique I used for weight loss in the rest of my goal-setting life, which means I still tend to overreach.
This past year, I set a total of 22 goals for myself (which, I’m sorry to say, was actually my attempt to improve upon 2016’s disastrous 45 goals, few of which I achieved!).
Among those 22 goals were the obvious things, like maintaining my weight, running at least 20 miles a week, doing more yoga, reading more books, and forcing myself out of my hermit-like existence to connect with friends and family now and then.
I can objectively say that I achieved 16 of my 22 goals for 2017, and I can’t decide if that’s good or bad. It’s more than half, better than average, but still, I can’t help feeling a little bit like a big fat failure.
And so, for 2018, I’m taking a cue from weight-loss me (as opposed to crazy list-making me) and putting one goal at the top of my list: to be kinder to myself.
This year, I’ll try to be more realistic, using everything I’ve learned from my many years of setting (and achieving—or failing to achieve) goals.
I’ll follow the age-old advice to make my goals SMART: specific, measurable, achievable, relevant/realistic, and time-bound.
I’ll stick to the big things I really want to do, the things that make me happy, instead of burdening myself with extra work when I know I’m already much too busy.
And I won’t put “Meditate daily” on my list (for the fourth year in a row), because it’s about time for me to face the fact that I have monkey mind and I’ll just never one of those peaceful people enjoying enlightenment in the lotus position—and that’s okay. There are other ways to become enlightened, and I’ll find mine eventually.
This year, I will put myself first and I’ll be proud of every little victory, no matter how silly it might seem to someone else. These New Year goals are for me and only for me.
And that is okay, too.
Wishing you all a happy, healthy, and goal-filled New Year!
And So This Is Christmas . . . 12/22/2017
It’s almost Christmas and I’ve been thinking a lot about Christmases past and how much emphasis I always seem to put on this one day to be the anchor for my whole year—kind of like a little kid waiting impatiently for Santa to come, even in March when the rest of us are anticipating spring flowers.
I’m still almost that bad.
Of course, a lot of the time, I find myself feeling a little bit empty as Christmas passes—partly because it’s just not as magical as it used to be when I was a child (if I’m not deluding myself with false memories) and partly because I just don’t like seeing certain things change.
It’s pathetic, I know, but I miss the way Christmas USED to be, and I wish it didn’t have to be any different (of course, that would also mean I’d still be eight years old and stuck perpetually in grade school, which would REALLY stink!).
I have so many memories of Christmas traditions:
- Every year my family would host a party on Christmas Eve—sometimes with five people, sometimes with fifty (we could never quite be sure). We’d exchange gifts with our neighbors from across the street, our closest family friends, and it would feel like a sneak preview of the bounty to come the next morning after Santa had arrived.
- We’d put up the tree and all the decorations on what I dubbed “Holiday Spirit Day,” usually the first Saturday in December. We’d start early in the morning and work all day, something that became a lot more fun when (after I became an adult) we lubricated the process with copious servings of Bloody Marys.
- I had my own rules for Christmas morning: I never sneaked even the tiniest peek at the presents under the tree until it was officially time to open everything (because even a glimpse of a pack of socks hanging out of my stocking would somehow ruin the whole experience!).
- Watching people open the gifts I had painstakingly chosen for them (or, often, made myself), hoping my efforts would pay off, was almost as much fun as unwrapping my own presents (which I did slowly, savoring every moment).
Christmas is different now. It’s still a nice time of year, but it’s not a mysterious and mystical event like it was during my childhood—or even, I’ll admit, right up through my mid-thirties.
Poverty (after my divorce my ex-husband taking all my money) changed things. Though my family, growing up, was never exactly rich, there had always been enough, and I suppose you never realize how rich you are until everything you had has been taken away!
I know Christmas isn’t supposed to be about “stuff,” but when you go a few Christmases without anything—no gifts, no special dinner, no parties, not even that pack of socks in your stocking—you can’t help but miss the “stuff” just a little.
And maybe that’s what soured me on the holidays over the past few years. But not entirely. I still love Christmas, and what’s more important, I’ve come to realize that I can’t—and shouldn’t—rely on other people to make the holiday special for me. Like everything else in life, Christmas has to be our own responsibility.
So, this year, I’ve made my own merry little Christmas (as the song says).
I made my “tree” out of books (which are plentiful and therefore more or less free in an editor’s house!).
I bought myself just enough gifts—enough “stuff”—to make it feel like a special day (and not some ordinary trip to the grocery store).
I sent my cards, I watched the cheesy Christmas specials on TV, and I sang the carols at full volume (but only when I’ve been alone in my car—my gift to humanity, so that others can have a merry Christmas, one without my terrible singing!).
And that? Is good enough for me.
Sometimes I think you have to redefine your concept of “plenty,” of what you consider enough, acceptable. Maybe my standards are a bit lower these days than they used to be. And maybe that’s not a bad thing.
My Christmas may be small, but it’ll be merry. And that’s what’s really important.
Christmas Cards – 12/14/17
I’m mailing out my Christmas cards today.
That means I spent hours last night, painstakingly choosing the perfect card from the five different styles I purchased so each and every recipient on my list will get exactly the right one.
After all, you can’t send a card with Jesus in the manger to your Jewish friends or that card with the menorah on it to your neighborhood nun.
Jewish, Christian, whatever—it doesn’t matter. If you’re in my book with a valid mailing address, you get a card from me (at least, if I can afford the postage that year—stamps ain’t cheap and a freelance writer’s budget doesn’t always stretch very far).
I send Christmas cards every year. And I’ll tell you: It was a LOT more fun when I used to do it with a glass (okay, a bottle) of red wine. Now that I’m trying to be healthier, the worst thing I drink at the holidays (at least when I’m alone) is a stiff mug of hot chocolate—and it does NOT take the edge off that cramp you get from writing out dozens of cards by hand the way wine used to do.
So why do I do it?
I’d like to say it’s for the friendship, the love, the pure holiday spirit filling my being. But if anything, the feeling I get from sending Christmas cards is pretty much the opposite of love. Almost nobody, other than my mother (who doesn’t count—no offense, Mom!), ever bothers to send me a card in return.
Even people who used to send me a card back when I was married have stopped now—almost like I’m no longer worth the 49-cent stamp (when did THAT happen, by the way?!?).
Gotta say—it makes a person feel terrific.
So, do I send Christmas cards out of a sense of tradition?
Maybe a little. I DO like tradition. I love the idea of certain things having meaning for you, being important enough to do over and over again, year after year (even if other people think they’re silly).
But if my cards were JUST about tradition, I’d still be sending them only to the same ten people I did back when I was in grade school (and a lot of those folks are dead . . .). So, no, it’s not just about tradition for me.
Then why do I do it?
Because it makes me feel good.
I know, I know. It sounds crazy. I just told you how rejected I feel when I don’t get cards back and how frustrating, painful, and time-consuming the process of getting the cards ready to mail can be.
How in the world does any of that make me feel GOOD?
I guess it’s the same way exercise makes me feel good. Or eating healthy. Both of those things are a pain in the butt, but I do them anyway.
I do my Christmas cards for myself (not for anybody else, not even the people whose names get I hand-write on the envelopes). I send them because they make me feel good.
So join me, won’t you? Send a Christmas card this year. It may not make you feel as awesome as a 5-mile run, but it WILL make you feel good. Especially if you have some wine . . .
Christmas Shopping (Or, Why I’m Being Selfish This Year) – 12/6/2017
It’s Christmas shopping time, for normal people, at least. And the more I see those “Buy your wife a car” or “Your kids NEED this toy” commercials on TV, the more I realize that I didn’t do Christmas shopping this year the way other people do. Maybe I never have.
My Christmas shopping? Has been done since before Halloween.
That means those hyped-up holiday commercials have no effect on me. Which is just as well, because I couldn’t afford to buy anybody a Lexus with a red bow on the roof (even if I wanted to), and I don’t have any kids screaming bloody murder at me to get them this year’s fad toy (whatever that is—I’m out of the loop and grateful for it!).
Even back when I was married and making plenty of money at my old job (before the economy fell apart and I got divorced and lost everything), I was never exactly an orthodox Christmas shopper.
I hate crowds, I hate parking lots, and standing in line for anything at any time absolutely makes me cringe. Honestly, if I needed a kidney and it required waiting in line outside a Best Buy for more than three minutes, there’s a decent chance I’d opt for death.
So, back when I had tons of people (and dozens, if not hundreds, of gifts) on my Christmas list each year, I made sure to get my shopping done early and (if possible) online.
The last time I remember being in a mall at Christmastime, I was around 21, had a high fever, and kept my mom entertained spouting lines from Christmas Vacation (“What did I say, nipple?”) while my sister waited in an endless line to buy a scarf for our grandmother.
I learned my lesson and never did it again.
Usually, like this year, I would have all my gifts bought and waiting in a closet by Halloween, and I was ready to wrap by the day after Thanksgiving (any earlier and you pretty much become one of those people who starts celebrating Christmas in July, and I have to draw the line somewhere).
Over the years, between divorce, death, moving, and the thousand little complications that bring people in and out of your life, the number of people on my list has grown shorter (which is a good thing).
In fact, this year, by mutual agreement with friends and family, the only person I had to buy a gift for, besides my ten-year-old niece, was—myself.
You read that right. I am the only person on my shopping list this year.
Hear me out. I assure you, I’m not a heartless monster or some kind of “Bah, humbug!” Scrooge who hates Christmas.
Quite the opposite. Christmas is my favorite time of year—always has been, probably always will be.
When people say things like “Christmas is for children,” I want to punch them directly in the throat.
Because Christmas? Is for ME, no matter how old I get! It’s for everybody, as long as they carry the magic of the season in their heart. (See? Now I sound like Scrooge, but AFTER he meets the Ghost of Christmas Future.)
The reason I’m not shopping for other people this year is a simple one: It’s been a tough year—financially (like it always is for a freelance writer in a world that no longer values the written word), physically (I took a bad fall running over the summer and am still sporting an UGLY sore/scar on my knee), and emotionally (both of my sweet little dogs died this year—one of them after being viciously attacked by a neighborhood jerk’s dog).
If anybody has a right to feel like skipping Christmas this year, it’s me.
But I realized even before the summer was over that I DIDN’T want to skip. Not at all.
As sad as I find the idea of spending the holidays without my beloved dogs for the first time, I could never let the season pass by without savoring all my favorite things about it: the decorations, the carols, sending Christmas cards (even if I rarely get one back), the food (especially the cookies), and of course, the presents.
But doing all those things takes money, and it came down to a choice:
Buy a crappy little token gift for everybody I love and forget about all the rest of the things I love about the holidays, or let everybody else off the hook, focus on enjoying time together (instead of just stuff—which we can all just buy for ourselves anyway), and only spend money on the things I wanted most this Christmas.
Maybe it’s selfish, but here’s the thing: So what?
The older I get, the more I realize how important it is to take care of myself first. It’s one of those “Put your oxygen mask on before helping those around you” kind of situations. I’m of no use to anybody if I’m not healthy and happy.
And this Christmas? I intend to be happy.
And I wish everybody out there the same!
The End of NaNoWriMo – 11/30/2017
Every year, by the end of November, I find myself sitting on a mountain of words—more than 50,000 of them, thanks to the magic of National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo).
What are you supposed to do with all those words?
That should be the easy part, at least in theory. The geniuses behind NaNoWriMo figure that if you make it through the challenge successfully, then you have the rough draft of a full novel, ready to be cleaned up and polished (like the turd it likely is!).
Of course, the reality is that 50,000 words would be a VERY short novel, and I’m nothing if not longwinded, so the truth of the matter is that what I have here at the end of November is, maybe, two-thirds of a novel (more like half, if I’m being honest).
I’m also left with a grueling case of carpal tunnel syndrome and an aversion to writing in all its forms, after doing almost nothing BUT writing for a month.
The last thing I want to do right now is keep going with this book and these characters (all of whom I hate at this point, which makes me understand exactly what George R. R. Martin is thinking when he systematically kills off all those Game of Thrones characters …).
It’s kind of like spending a week with a close friend, stuck in a hotel room because you made the tragic error of choosing the Caribbean resort during hurricane season: By the end of that week, you pretty much want to kill her—or at the very least, never see her again.
That’s how I feel about writing: I. Never. Want. To. Do. It. Again.
But the middle of next month, when I’m busy wrapping gifts and mailing Christmas cards and stressing out over the holiday menu, writing will start (again) to look like the escape it’s supposed to be.
And then I’ll go back—little by little. I’ll eke out a sentence a day, a paragraph here and there, until the drive to create seizes me again and I have no choice but to finish what I started here in November.
And then? I’ll have a novel on my hands.
So, thank you, NaNoWriMo. I’ll see you next year.
Another Thanksgiving, Another Memory – 11/22/2017
Tomorrow is Thanksgiving.
Maybe I’m getting old, maybe I’m just feeling sappy and nostalgic, or maybe I just have some free time on my hands because I don’t have to cook the dinner this year, but I’ve been thinking a lot about Thanksgivings past.
I have so many memories—good and bad—tied up in this holiday. Here are just a few:
- Each year in elementary school, on the Wednesday before Thanksgiving, we had a half-day, but we only had class until around 10:00. Then they brought us down to the cafeteria and showed us a movie—something appropriate for kids our age (and our time, the late 1970s/early 1980s), like Escape from Witch Mountain or That Darn Cat (the original). When the movie was over, they served us Burger King, brought in from the local fast-food joint, before sending us home for the holiday weekend. To this day, I can’t pass a Burger King without thinking fondly of those Thanksgiving Eve burgers.
- In middle school, my favorite teacher made us write an essay describing our family’s Thanksgiving traditions. In composing mine, I unwittingly pissed off my mother by mentioning that she spent the predawn hours of the holiday not only prepping the turkey feast but buffing away any speck of dust from the furniture, in anticipation of the guests we invited each year (I’m not sure how that’s an insult, but she certainly took it as one!).
- In high school, my on-again/off-again boyfriend dumped me after one of our standard (and spectacular) blowup fights right after the Thanksgiving Day football game. I had to walk home, crying and alone, in the cold holiday rain. Do I need to mention that we kissed and made up before nightfall, only to break up yet again the following weekend? Ah, young love.
- In college, when I was finally (sort of) seen as a grownup, I was allowed not only to have wine with the official Thanksgiving dinner, but I also sat up with my mom and her best friend, our neighbor Joanie, the night before the holiday, talking and laughing and playing drinking games. Even now, all these years later, I often feel a hankering to play a round of Three-Man on the night before Thanksgiving …
- And then there was the year my grandmother died on the day before Thanksgiving, and we all said it was because she just didn’t want to have to decide whose house to go to for dinner that year. Sometimes death really DOES seem easier than dealing with family.
So many memories—and you get to add a new one to the collection every year. I wonder if I’ll be looking back wistfully on tomorrow’s events in another couple of decades.
I hope so.
Downtime (Or, When Not to Fight the Laziness) – 11/18/2017
Some days? I just get lazy.
Take last Tuesday, for example.
I woke up at my usual time, around 4:00 a.m. (although I should say that the phrase “waking up” doesn’t really apply to me—I almost never sleep for more than an hour at a stretch, so there’s rarely any kind of “deep sleep” to “wake up” FROM . . .).
Anyway, I woke up, looked at the clock, and rolled over, knowing I had a decision to make.
Sleep or run? (Sometimes the choice is sleep or WRITE. . . .)
It’s the same choice I have to make every morning, and most days, the decision is simple: Drag my exhausted, sleep-deprived butt out of bed and get out there for my run.
It’s a simple choice because on the days when I run, when I do the “right” thing, when I don’t give in to the lazy streak that hides out there in the back of my mind, I feel better.
Even when I haven’t slept a wink (again), when I have a touch of the sniffles, when I’m overworked and underpaid, I feel good—great, even—when I force myself out there and act like the person I want to be. She may not be perfect, the person I want to be, but she’s a heck of a lot better than the person who curls back up in bed and pretends to be asleep.
But there are other days when the choice isn’t so easy to make. And even though I know I’ll never get back to sleep (and that making any attempt to do so is pure folly), even though I know I’ll feel like garbage all day long if I stay there in my warm and cozy bed for even a minute longer, I can’t make myself get up.
On those days, the laziness is like a snowball rolling downhill, getting bigger and bigger and knocking down every healthy option in its path.
Do one thing wrong—like skipping my morning run—and it’s nearly impossible to avoid other “bad” behavior, like eating a whole bag of Swedish fish or sugary granola bars or whatever nutrition-less piece of empty calories happens to catch my eye.
It’ll also be harder than usual to do the everyday things that are normally so easy—like, you know, my job (which is to write and to read).
All day long, I’ll fight the urge to stretch out on the couch and “rest my eyes” (or just abandon life entirely for the day and get back into bed, even if it means more tossing and turning, just like I do at night).
I’ll wander around in a foggy haze, wondering what happened to all that motivation I felt just—when? Yesterday? On lazy days, it feels like forever since I had any energy at all.
But here’s the thing: I’ve learned to accept it, my laziness. In a weird way, I’ve come to see it almost as a friend.
Because in truth? It’s NOT laziness.
It’s my body telling me I need just a little bit of downtime.
You can’t keep going the way I do—working out, reading and writing and editing for long hours, driving yourself to do more, day after day after day—without eventually breaking down.
Last winter, I ignored my laziness, tried to fight it, and ended up with a knee injury that kept me from working out (or doing much else) for over a month.
So now, I’ve learned to listen to my body, which (to my surprise) is a LOT smarter than my brain.
My body—and my laziness—tell me when I need to rest. And they also get me back out there—better, stronger, faster—the very first thing tomorrow morning.
Making Art (Or, How NaNoWriMo Is Going So Far) – 11/15/2017
As I’ve mentioned before, I’m deep in the midst of National Novel Writing Month, working hard to crank out 50,000 words between November 1 and November 30. I’m well on my way—and I noticed that my protagonist (a writer like me) had something kind of interesting to say (which, I realized, was just ME talking to, and about … well, ME).
Here’s an excerpt:
I think people picture writers sitting in a room alone, searching their brains (and maybe the thesaurus) for the perfect word before writing so much as a line. But it’s not like that, at least not for me.
Well, okay, the alone part is dead-on. Ba-dum-bump.
But I don’t spend a lot of time (any, really) trying to pick the exact right word. I don’t try to make “art.” I just try to put the story that’s playing kind of like a movie in my head down on paper so other people can see it, too. It doesn’t matter if the words are just right—only that the essence of the story is there, for me and for anybody who comes by and reads it.
There are two schools of thought (maybe more) among writers: 1) those who make “art” and need to be inspired, and 2) those who write garbage-y first drafts but tell good stories. I like to think (or hope) I fall into the second category.
I “just write” and I don’t care if it’s “just right.” I scribble, I curse, I ignore the conventions of grammar and maybe even human decency (because you can clean that stuff up later).
I do NOT make art.
The art? Is IN the making. The art is DOING it, creating something that nobody else bothered to make. And to me, that’s more artistic than even the most beautifully rendered sentence in history.
Feeling Like a Writer, or: My Journey to Little House on the Prairie – 11/7/2017
It’s Election Day and while everybody else is ranting about politics and violence and the terrible state of affairs here in America, I thought I’d take a step back and talk about something completely different, something innocent and simple: the first time I felt like a writer.
I was in elementary school. I’m not sure what grade—maybe third? Hard to say, now that I’m getting old and those early memories seem to be getting fuzzy around the edges sometimes.
I’d already written plenty of times before. I mean, I liked to write and make up stories from the time I could hold a pen, and I dreamed that someday one of my books would be there on the shelves of the library for everyone to see (wonder when THAT’s going to happen…).
In first grade, I wrote a (painfully cheesy) story about a baby deer and its parents (cleverly titled “Baby and His Parents”—titles have never been my strong suit, and frankly, they still aren’t!). The story was published as part of an anthology of creative writing by local kids. It wasn’t exactly the New York Times Bestseller List, but for a seven-year-old, it was pretty cool.
But even so, it didn’t make me feel like a writer (whatever that meant). That feeling came later, with another story that I wrote for a school assignment.
I remember the worksheet our teacher gave us to introduce the project. Those were the days (the early 1980s) of handouts mimeographed (not photocopied or printed out or read on iPads) on damp yellow paper with indigo blue ink that left smudges on your fingers.
The handout had a paragraph on top describing the task—to write a story about time travel—and maybe 10 blank lines at the bottom, where the student was expected to write the story.
Everybody else in the class eked out the bare minimum (writing as largely as possible to fill up those sad 10 lines). But I was longwinded as usual. When I was done, my story came to nearly 50 pages—typed (thanks, Mom, for humoring me and serving as my typist as if I were, in fact, a REAL writer and not just a pretentious grade-schooler).
Unlike everybody else, I not only wrote way too much, but I also wrote about the past.
My classmates all wanted to use the project, their very own time-travel opportunity, to go to the future. They dreamed of living like the Jetsons. But me? I wanted to travel back in time and spend a few days with Laura Ingalls Wilder in the Little House on the Prairie.
For me, it was mostly about the clothes. Back then, I assumed that by the year 2017, we’d all be wearing ugly silver jumpsuits and speeding around space. Not exactly my cup of tea. And frankly, I’ll take a calico prairie dress over a Star Trek–style coverall outfit any day!
But really, the reason I wrote so much was because, for the first time, I realized that I could be anywhere, anyone, in any time—just by writing about it. It was more than a free vacation. It was a whole new life.
Creating a different world for yourself, making things YOUR way—that’s what it meant to be a REAL writer. I had discovered the key to the clubhouse.
And sure, I’ll admit the obvious truth: Writing has never been so easy since then, but it IS still just as rewarding. It has to be. No person who’s even reasonably sane would keep doing it otherwise.
My Book Launch – 11/1/2017
My novel is being published today, and I honestly don’t know how I feel about that.
It’s not my first book. I actually counted all the books I’ve ever written the other day while I was having a bit of an OCD moment and I realized I’ve written 18. I’m pretty sure I know people who have never READ 18 books, much less written them, so I guess I should feel pretty good about the accomplishment.
Of course, that’s just the writing part, not the publishing. Of the 18 books I’ve managed to finish writing—to reach that victory line where you get to type “The End” (only to have your editor delete it because it’s old-fashioned and a little cheesy)—only a handful have actually been published.
Seven of the published ones were young adult nonfiction books—the kind of thing you’d take out of the library if you had to write a report in seventh grade, back in the olden days before kids just plagiarized Wikipedia instead of actually, you know, LEARNING anything.
But one of the published books was my first novel—Eye of Horace. I was so proud of it, so thrilled to finally have something published that meant more to me than another paltry freelance writing paycheck.
And basically, nobody read it.
I know, I know. I shouldn’t be whining.
Most writers would just be happy to have a real book with their name on it and leave it at that. They wouldn’t care so much about whether anybody actually READ the stupid thing.
But still. It would’ve been nice.
For me—for most writers, I think (I hope)—the truth is that being a writer isn’t about the readers or finding a publisher or any of the end-goal stuff. It’s about the writing.
We HAVE to write, just like we have to read. Words are as essential to our survival as water and oxygen. So we keep up with it, all the words and the writing and the typing, even if we don’t really seem to be getting anywhere.
People always say life is supposed to be about the journey, not the destination. And for a writer (at least, for me), that’s very true.
You do it because you just can’t do anything else and you don’t care (or you pretend not to care) about book sales and reviews and all those accolades that OTHER writers seem to be getting.
You just keep writing.
But when you get the chance, you DO still beg people to read your book. So here’s my plug: My new novel, The Birds of Brookside Manor, is now available on Amazon, bn.com, Kobo, and “where good books are sold.”
Plus, there’s a launch party (a virtual one, which, for a shy person like me is the best kind because it means I don’t have to leave home!) this week, on Saturday, 11/4, on Facebook. Sign up to “attend” and you can win some cool free stuff!
NaNoWriMo, Here I Come! – 10/31/2017
I may have mentioned before that I’m doing National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) this year.
In case you’re one of the few readers/writers left out there who hasn’t heard of it, the goal of NaNoWriMo is to write a 50,000-word (or more) novel between November 1 and November 30.
I first discovered this amazing (free, nonprofit) program (https://nanowrimo.org/) back in 2005. I’d just started freelancing again, and I found myself with all those hours on my hands that I used to waste sitting in Philadelphia commuter traffic five days a week.
I know, I know. Most people would just get some extra sleep, not try to write an “extra” 50,000 words for no good reason.
But I quickly found out that there IS a good reason.
The reason is: You get stuff written. And really, isn’t that every writer’s goal?
Believe it or not, completing the NaNoWriMo challenge is a lot easier than you might think.
Fifty thousand words may seem like an ocean—deep and unfathomable—to a nonwriter, but anybody who’s been at this dreadful, wonderful job for more than a few hours knows perfectly well that 50,000 words are chump change.
You can crank them out in 30 days without any problem, even while showing up faithfully to your regular job and still seeing your family (if you really want to!). You just need to set aside a little time every day and, even more important, be willing to write absolute crap.
Here’s the thing: I used to be one of those writers who labored over every syllable, carefully weighing the merits of “a” versus “the.” And I never finished writing a single damn book.
With NaNoWriMo, you have no time to agonize over the “right” word. ANY word will do—at least for the first draft. And as an editor, I can tell you frankly that even the best first draft is still a total piece of garbage, so why torture yourself? Just write.
To me, NaNoWriMo represents freedom. It murders your Inner Critic and lets you JUST DO IT (to use an awful Nike cliché—something that is perfectly acceptable in a first draft, after all).
Just get the words down and worry about whether they’re any good later. That’s what editing is for anyway (and I’ll be the first to admit I’m a better editor than I am a writer, so why not use my skills to their best advantage?).
In the years since I first tried National Novel Writing Month, I’ve successfully completed the 50,000-word challenge eight times (and written several additional books in the “off-season”). This year’s NaNoWriMo, which begins in a few short hours, will be my lucky number nine (barring any unforeseen tragedies, of course).
It’s time to stretch my typing fingers and shake the cobwebs out of my imagination. I have another shitty novel to write.
Where Has All the Talent Gone? – 10/28/2017
For a much as I read, you’d think the words would—I don’t know—TOUCH me more often than they do.
It’s the end of October and my Goodreads Reading Challenge counter tells me I’ve read 100 books so far this year.
And in all that reading, how many books have made me laugh out loud (I mean REALLY laugh, not a generic LOL)? How many made me cry? How many—to put it frankly—made me feel anything at all?
Every now and then, there IS a book that makes me sit up and take notice and say to myself, “Wow. I wish I could write like that.” But it doesn’t happen often.
Like so many people these days (I hope!), I find myself starved for any glimmer of talent, constantly wishing I could spot some accomplishment that seems extraordinary, larger than life—not just in writing, but in ANY aspect of human existence.
So much today seems mundane, boring, not even worth of notice.
Most of the books I read are exactly the same: barely worth the paper (or screen) they’re printed on. They’re loaded with grammatical errors and typos (even those produced by the big publishing houses—shame on you, Big Five!), and the stories are trite and pointless. And because I read so much, I can’t help but wonder if I’m wasting all that time.
Here’s the thing: I work my butt off: with my writing, with my editing, with pretty much everything I do. Yet I fully recognize that I will never be one of those rare geniuses I’m searching for—which, really, makes it all the more depressing that I can’t seem to find anything out there that’s . . . well . . . genius.
And sure, there are books and authors I love, such as my fellow Blydyn Square Books author Everett De Morier, for instance; or novelist Chris Bohjalian, whose books often make me gasp out loud (would that be GOL?) at some unexpected plot twist; or Jen Lancaster, who never fails to make me pee my pants just a little because I laugh so hard.
But, as seems to be the case in all facets of life nowadays, these glimpses, these moments of awe and wonder at someone else’s pure talent, are much too few and far between.
But I’m keeping my eyes open.
Words Words Words – 10/21/2017
My head is spinning. It’s all words, words, words these days.
I know that’s probably true for any writer, but I’m an editor, too, so sometimes it’s hard to figure out where my words stop and somebody else’s begin.
And, as if I don’t have enough words in my life already, Blydyn Square Books (my publisher) wants me to blog. God, that’s such a goofy word, blog, and if feels SO 2005. Plus, there’s the whole who-cares-what-I’m-up-to aspect of the thing…
But here goes.
Just to give you a hint of all the words in my life right now, here’s a sampling of what I’ve done so far today (bear in mind it’s only 1 p.m. as I write this):
- Got up at to run at 4:30 a.m. (while listening to Stendhal’s The Red and the Black as part of my 2017 New Year’s Resolution to read all those classics I somehow managed to miss along the way, which I can do while I run—thank you, Librivox!)
- Edited a couple of chapters of someone else’s novel, which was actually very good (a rarity!), but it filled my head with beautiful words that seem to be haunting me (a good sign for the author, who is clearly talented, but not so good for my poor, exhausted brain)
- Edited several chapters of a painfully dull, awkwardly stilted nonfiction educational book (unfortunately, THOSE are the kind of words that pay most of the bills around here)
And now it’s time for my own words, and I have to decide what to do first:
Research the book I’m planning to write for this year’s National Novel Writing Month, coming up in November?
Struggle to eke out a few coherent paragraphs on my tortured work in progress?
Read a little (because what writer doesn’t like to pretend that time spent curled up with a good book counts as “research”)?
Or maybe just pop a few aspirin and lie down with a cool cloth over my eyes to nurse the migraine all these words have given me.
Bring on the Bayer.