Is it too early to Christmas?
I have this urge to take out the Christmas decorations and put up the tree. I know it’s not even Thanksgiving yet, but I love the way the tree looks in the living room, how the lights give off that winter warmth and make the room feel all cozy. I like the spirit held within the decorations, the silly placing of the Christmas tablecloth and placemats, the lights around the picture window, the wreath on the door. It all makes me feel so good which is weird considering the stress I feel around the holidays. In an odd way, all of that reduces the stress because it reminds me of the good part of the holidays; the fun, the excitement, the feeling of warmth in the cold weather, the nostalgia that gives me the warm fuzzies.
I think this house needs a little bit of the warm fuzzies now. I hope my family doesn’t mind when I drag the Christmas tree out of the attic this weekend (yes, we do a fake tree) and start stringing lights around the window. I need the happiness the tree and decor bring out to combat the part of Christmas that gives me hives.
I know Todd doesn’t get the way my family treats holidays, especially Christmas. He grew up a different way. My family - being large, Italian and very close knit - makes a big deal out of the holidays and being together and celebrating. They also make a big deal out of gifts, something I liked less and less as I got older but still always play along with. I know it makes my parents happy to have the whole family there Christmas morning with a pile of gifts under the tree. It’s our tradition. Some years it has been hard to keep up with that tradition, and we’ve managed to come up with a solution that has us spending less money, but no matter how stressful getting there is, I absolutely love the tradition of Christmas morning, how it unfolds in the exact same way every year. No matter what is going on in our lives, what we’ve been through during the year, Christmas morning plays out consistently. It hasn’t changed since I was a kid. We head over to my parents’ bright and early, open our stockings, eat a big breakfast, open presents, eat whatever was left of breakfast, and then we go back to our respective homes to nap before we meet up at my parents’ again for a big dinner.
Some of that has been overwhelming for Todd as he comes from a home that always had a quiet Christmas, with the emphasis on spending time together rather than gift giving. I spent Christmas two years ago with his parents in California and it was one of the nicest holidays I ever had. It was peaceful and calming and so different from what I’m used to.
While I enjoyed the Todd-style Christmas very much, I still love the chaos and noise of my family’s way of celebrating. There’s no right way to do it. There’s just the way that’s right for your family. I just hope he gets why my family’s over-the-top, boisterous way of celebrating makes my heart happy as much as it made my heart happy to spend a quiet, pleasant Christmas in his family’s style.
I’m ready to take the tree out because I’m ready for my heart to be made happy. I need those lights. I need that stupid tablecloth. I need the mechanical Santa in the window. I need that tree to light up the living room at night with a coziness and warmth that only comes this time of year.
It might seem weird that in the midst of things being stressful and a little down around here that I want to celebrate. But really, what better time to find something to celebrate or lift the spirits? Putting up the tree, being excited about Christmas Day is my way of doing that.
Think of it as a version of comfort food.
So, bring it on. Happy holiday season.
(I’m totally going to be voted down on this, I know it)
A year ago we were facing the beginnings of Sandy. I’ve read my archives from those days and I just read my tweets from this time last year. Lots of jokes at the start, I had no idea what we were in for. And then suddenly the tweets turn serious. I still get a sinking feeling in my stomach when I think about the moment the power went out and how I foolishly thought it would come back on quick enough. Two weeks wasn’t quick enough. And even though we sustained no damage, those two weeks of being displaced caused a lot of havoc in our lives and played a role in things spiraling downward for me in a lot of ways. It was not a good time and thinking about it still causes me to get queasy.
A year ago I had a lot of writing gigs going on. It was a high time for me, writing wise. I thought it was the beginning of something grand but it turned out to be a fleeting high and that’s my own fault. I took on a lot and caved to the pressure of it. I gave myself the excuse of needing to work on my book in my spare time as a reason to not take more paying/deadline jobs and I let a lot of things fall by the wayside. I wonder what things would be like now if I just stuck it out instead of running from success like I always do - because success means a bigger chance of ensuing failure in my mind. My mind sucks.
A year ago things were different on the home front. We’re in a different place now but we’ve not let that affect our relationship or how we interact with each other and I’m grateful for that. There’s adversity but we’re dealing with it the best ways we know how - with love, patience, kindness and acceptance. Yea, things could be better. But as always, they could be worse. We won’t let that happen. Things will get better, things will pick up again and we’ll roll on as we do. Together.
A year ago I weighed considerably less than I do now. I partially blame Sandy for the weight spiral but I have to put a lot of the blame on myself. I’m now torn between forcing myself to get back into shape - something this depressive episode is keeping me from doing - or practice some self acceptance and learn to love myself the way I am. Hah. I’ve been trying to do that in various forms since grade school. Old dog, new tricks.
A year ago an agent said he was interested in my book but it needed a rewrite and structural changes. I put off working on that for a long time because the task was overwhelming. But now, with the help of a friend, I’m working hard at it, every single day and it’s all coming into focus now. I’m going to write the agent and ask if he’s still interested. Because I’m going to have a hell of a book to offer him.
A year ago I was happy. I still am. Despite the fact that things could be better, I’m still happy. I’m still mostly enjoying life (except when the bouts of depression get in the way but even though I try to work through it and not take what I do have for granted) and I have a lot to be thankful for. So here’s to still being happy despite all the shit life is known to throw at you.
It’s pretty stunning how much can change in a year. And how some things can remain the same at the same time. It’s the things that stay the same that are important. The love, the friendships, the smiles, the laughter, the small joys in every day life. Year in, year out, they are there and I can’t let the little worries or even the big worries get in the way of reveling in those fixed things.
Looking forward to seeing what I write a year after writing this. So much can happen. I’m hedging my bets on a good 2014.
My birthday is Sunday.
For the past few years I’d been in birthday dread mode as my 50th approached. Now that the milestone has come and gone and I’ll be turning 51, the dread is gone. I’ve reached the acceptance stage of aging.
Aging is a weird thing. If you live your life one day at a time, you don’t think about it too much. But in the dark of night, when you’re alone with your thoughts and those thoughts turn to the timeline of your life and you’re closer to a perceived end than the beginning, you will lie awake for hours staring at that end point.
Where once I was in a “What have I done with my life?” mode, I’ve moved on to “What will I do?” See, I’m not afraid of the end of the timeline. I’m not afraid of death. I’m afraid of not having enough time to do all the things I still want to do.
Hurry up and live.
That’s what has been running through my head. Hurry up and live.
I feel a sudden sense of urgency in each day. A need to make my days seem less mundane, less a series of tasks and more instances of enjoying all the small things life has to offer. Reveling in moments. Sunrises. The wind in your face. Your hand being held. Making someone smile. Listening to a kid tell a joke. The sound of the ocean breaking on the shore. Being with family. Enjoying a good meal.
But here’s the thing: I don’t want to hurry up and live. I feel like that’s doing it wrong, that my inner voice is leading me astray. By hurrying things up, by trying to cram so much into so little, I’m missing out on those things like the sunrises and the ocean. By thinking of all the things I want to do, I spend too much time planning and not enough time doing.
I’ve spent so much time focusing on the big things, thinking about the past and the future and what I have done and what I will do that I stopped focusing on today. How many days worth of life have I missed because I was worrying too much about what tomorrow would bring? How many of my own accomplishments did I not take enough pride in because I was concentrating on what I haven’t done instead of what I have done?
I’ve reached that proverbial hill in life and I’m now slowly walking on the downside of it. Downhill isn’t as simple as it sounds. It’s easy to lose your balance. It’s too easy to want to let the momentum carry you and before you know it you’ve passed a million things you should have looked at.
Hurry up and live.
I’ve got to slow down. I can’t slow down time but I can certainly make myself walk down this hill at a more leisurely pace so I can enjoy each step along the way, take in everything around me as I make my way down.
I’m going to be 51. I’m halfway across that imaginary timeline. Imagine if I still had half my life to live? It’s like having a second chance, being born again but with all the knowledge I’ve gained in the past 50 years.
The most important thing in all that knowledge is this: Do not hurry up and live. Take your time with it. Enjoy what’s in front of you. Stop looking so far into the future and so deep into the past. Be here now. Throw that imaginary timeline away and replace it with a calendar page that simply says “Today” then live for that. Because some day you are going to get to a place where you realize there are more years behind you than ahead of you and you’ll wonder where it all went and how it went so fast so when your mind tells you to hurry up and live, quiet that voice down. Tell it to go slow.
Aging is definitely a weird thing. I feel young until I remember I’m not then I feel old. And when I feel old I feel that “Oh my god I need to do stuff right now” urgency. I’m learning to quiet that voice down. I’m learning that even when I’m sitting on my couch watching a movie, I am doing stuff. I’m enjoying life. That’s something. I’m letting go that feeling of urgency, that no matter what I’m doing I should be doing something else, like I should be out exploring the rainforest or learning a new skill or skydiving instead of sitting in my backyard watching the clouds or listening to my nephew talk about Minecraft. But I shouldn’t be. Because that cloud watching, that listening, those are the things that give me pleasure. And while life is seemingly a series of tasks designed to take you from one stage to the next, it’s also a series of small pleasures if you let it be that for you.
All the small things. That’s my motto for my next 50 years. Not “hurry up and live.”
All the small things.
I’m giving up on music writing.
There are a lot of factors at play here. I need to concentrate on writing fresh stories for the 100 word stories magazine (and taking new pictures). I need to finish the edits/rewrites on my novel before the agent loses interest. And there are other things. Like the fact that there are hundreds of people 30 years younger than me doing it better than me. I’m not knee deep in the scene like they are. I don’t have the fierce willingness to knock down doors like they do. I don’t write like they do. Music journalism is a much different place today than it was when I first wanted to break into it. And now that I’m sort of in it, I don’t feel like I fit in. My narrative style and the things I’m willing to write about don’t coincide with what editors are looking for. In short, I feel old and in the way.
So. Giving that up. It hurts a little to give it up but it’s also a bit freeing. Imagine Wile E Coyote standing on the edge of a cliff, knowing that piece of earth he’s standing on is about to break off and have him plummet to a temporary death. He shrugs, accepts his fate and sighs as he hits the ground. That’s my music writing career going down in the form of a stupid yet stubborn cartoon coyote. And I guess I’m Road Runner, driving it to the edge of the cliff.
I know I can compete with the quality of writing that’s out there, but it’s not about that. I can’t give the content or style that’s wanted out in the music writing world.
In other words, I’m too old for this shit.
And I’ve got other endeavors on which to concentrate. So no big loss, giving up that dream.
No big deal.
None at all.
(gif of Wile E Coyote falling off a cliff, complete with sound effect)
Let go of some dreams. Hold on to others. Know when to give up and when to keep struggling. What will the struggle be worth in the end? If it’s not something greater than the struggle itself then fuck it. You can only hold on to so many dreams at one time, anyway. You can only grip so many plans in your balled up little fist before some of them fall away. Let them go. When they fall to the ground with a whistle and a thud, open your fist and see what remains. That’s what you have left. That’s what you should be chasing, struggling for. What you can fit in your hand. To dream of anything more than that is to water down your hopes, to spread yourself so thin you’re only giving the bare minimum to the each chase. Just let go, already. Figure out what’s attainable and what’s not. Figure out which thing you’re chasing is a never ending race to nowhere. Then just stop running after it. If every time you caught up to it you ended up winded and exhausted before it took off on you again, fuck it. Nothing is worth that. If the chase just leaves you tired and feeling worthless, you’re chasing something that’s not going to fulfill you in the end. Sure, chasing dreams is hard. But there comes a time when you have to carefully measure the pain against the gain and if the pain is winning, it’s just not the right thing for you. Why do that to yourself? Just let it go. There are other dreams to chase. other races to run, other goals to meet that won’t leave you feeling like you’ve had the wind sucked out of you. And when the letting go feels better than the running after, you know you’ve done the right thing.
The first time I put a pencil to paper with the intention of writing something other than homework, I was eight years old. I wanted to write a story but it was more than that. I wanted to write my feelings. I was going to write a story about a girl who had no friends. It was fiction, but that fiction a was thinly veiled confessional.
I remember the feeling of turning words into sentences, sentences into paragraphs, paragraphs into pages. There were maybe five pages written in my clumsy, too large handwriting, littered with smudged eraser marks, cross outs and words an eight year old girl should never have to write.
It was a sad story with no happy ending. But finishing that story was a wondrous event for me. I wrote something. I made up a world, characters, a story. I poured my feelings into words and made those words into something my emotions were not: tangible.
I wrote furiously after that. Story after story. Fragments of stories. Words, just words strung together in an effort to empty the dread in my stomach onto paper, to get it out of me and make it live somewhere else.
I’ve been writing almost my whole life. It’s a part of me. It defines who I am. It’s in my blood. And my blood is not flowing right now.
I am not writing.
I sit here frozen, afraid to write. Afraid to do the very thing that defines me. Afraid to make the blood flow again. I am dormant, I am still and the only thing moving within me is a dread and anxiety, similar to what I felt as an eight year old girl, the girl who was me before I learned how to spell out my dread with a pencil and paper.
I don’t know what to do with the anxiety I feel right now. I don’t know what to do with the dread. I don’t know what to do with the depression. I could write, but I can’t. I could spell it out in cryptic words, but I can’t. I want nothing more than to get a sheet of broad lined paper and stubby pencil and write in my clumsy handwriting everything I’m feeling, even if the words seem to be about someone else.
I want back that feeling I had at eight years old when I realized my words could take flight and make everything inside me tangible and real so I can examine and release it.
I want to write because I need to write. Because it’s who I am. And right now I don’t know who or where I am. I don’t have the words that help me tell that story.
All I have is the dread.
And these words I just wrote.
I guess I’m still writing.
I’m stressed out right now for reasons and I’m not sleeping and I just want to go six months into the future and see that everything’s going to be ok. I guess that’s too much to ask being that I don’t have a spare time machine laying around.
But then what if I did find a time machine and went into the future and everything wasn’t ok? Then I’d come back to the present even more worried and stressed. And I’d have to explain to people that I found a time machine and went into the future and they’d all just look at me like hahaha you’re so crazy, Michele.
Maybe I should stop thinking so hard about this and just be. Things work themselves out. Everything will be fine. Seeing into the future isn’t going to change the way things are now and honestly, things aren’t awful, I’m just stressing about things I have no control over and that’s probably the real issue, is that the things I worry about are not in my control.
Ah, working things out through writing stupid posts about them.
I don’t need a time machine. I need a “let it go” machine.
I’m in the worst writing slump of my life/career. I’ve got nothing. NOTHING. Zero. Zilch. Emptiness. A deep, dark void of nothingness. And whereas with previous experiences with severe writer’s block I’ve felt frustrated, I just feel sad right now. And worried. I worry that the well is dry forever. I worry that Forbes is going to fire me. I worry that all the previous pitches I made will come back with just a gif of someone laughing hysterically. I worry that I’ll never write anything good again. Every idea is gone. Words are unreachable. Sentences are a struggle.
Imagine this: A batter walks up to the plate. The pitcher just stands there. The batter just stands there. No one throws. No one swings. Nothing happens forever. That’s what this feels like. Me and my brain playing a game where progression is never made.
Writer’s slump. It’s a thing.
There are so many things I want to tell you, so many pitfalls I want you to avoid, but what would be the point? You wouldn’t listen to me, anyhow. You never were any good at taking advice. You listened, you nodded, you sometimes even agreed to take the advice to heart but you rarely put that into action. Even when you knew the advice was solid and given with your best interest in mind.
I don’t know if it’s my right to go back and tell you not to make the mistakes you made. Maybe those mistakes were supposed to be made. Maybe everything you did then has taken you on a path to where you are now and by helping you avoid some ghastly missteps I’ll screw all that up for you. Lord knows we’ve done enough screwing up already, you and I, so I think I should shut my mouth.
But I do want to tell you this: It turns out ok. It turns out ok except for the part where you agonize almost daily over the mistakes you made. I’m not sure why you do that to yourself, why you insist on reliving the past, on dwelling on what you did wrong. Everybody makes mistakes. Everybody goes off on a wrong path here or there. Everybody makes a terrible choice at some point in their life. You are not unique in that manner. You are not alone. I know, that doesn’t make it an easier to deal with the past but it should make you stop acting like you’re the only person in the world with regrets.
I really wish I could go back to those specific years - 1975, 1981, 1983, 1989, 1998, 2002, etc, - and whisper some words in your ear, an unseen entity sending out a warning. But you had your warning signs. You saw them yourself. And you did what you did anyway. So my interference probably wouldn’t matter. Maybe instead I should go back to those other years when you made decent decisions and quietly applaud you? Would that help?
This is what I can tell you, past self: I can tell you that you eventually learn from your mistakes. You change, you evolve, you rectify, you fix. You mature. You make more mistakes, sure. You make bigger and more emotionally expensive mistakes as you get older. That’s just life, girl. But you know what? You come through it all. You’re still standing. It’s 2013 and you’re not just still standing but you’re doing a damn fine job of it.
That’s all I want to tell you. I don’t want to tell you to not do the things you are about to do. I don’t want to tell you how to stop the juggernaut of destruction you set in motion because it would just screw up everything for now. Just know the juggernaut stops at some point. And you stopped it. You did that. You learned. You grew. You fixed. You did the best you could with what you had and you made it work eventually.
Go ahead and make those mistakes. I’m not going to stop you. It wouldn’t be fair. Because you have to learn how to live with your choices. That’s part of your evolvement. That’s part of freeing yourself from the past. If I took all those mistakes and choices away from you, you’d have learned nothing about saving yourself from yourself and the bad choices and mistakes would have just come later on. Whose to say what path you would take in lieu of those other choices? Whose to say my warning you would lead you down a safer, healthier path? Maybe it would just be more of the same.
I’m not going to give you any advice. I’m just going to let you live your life, live with the choices you make and learn to accept those choices later on, when your life is better and your head is clearer and you can clearly see that some of those mistakes, in retrospect, were not mistakes at all, but just life happening. Just, living. Being human.
So, past self, go forth and live. I’ll meet you somewhere in 2013 where I can just whisper in your ear “Good job being human. Keep making mistakes. Keep learning. Keep living. But stop reliving. I mean, you’ve got new mistakes to make. Those old ones are history. Let’s make better mistakes tomorrow.”