Category Archives: Mid-Life

How did I get to be this age?

It was a Slow Day

We’ve had 3 nor’eatahs here in Boston in the last several weeks, and we’re all kind of over it. Yes, we are tough and can take it. And yes, the time of the old, tough, reticient, New Englander is past. New Englanders 2.0 are tough, and we are also crabby, loud, and proud of it. So yeah, 3 storms in March are going to produce a lot of bellyaching — deal with it.

At least that’s how I was feeling. December’s sub-zero wind chills had sucker-punched me right out of the winter gate, and I never really recovered. So, to drag me through January and February, toss in a couple of 60-degree days just to be an asshat, and then lob at me 3 storms with snow, well, that is just poor manners. And while I know better than to sit up like an expectant puppy waiting for spring to come in March, 3 storms? Seriously? With a 4th and 5th on the way? What is this a freakin’ a Catholic family?

So that was the mind set I rolled into yoga class with on Sunday. But I’ve been at it for awhile, so I worked to stay in my body, stay in the moment, and do the poses as best as I could. But one by one the class, which is usually pretty good at pushing ourselves and going along when Patrice gives us the next harder move to try, started to poop out. The young man who usually can power through just about anything collapsed into child’s pose after three-legged dog pose. Another woman struggled with a relative easy pose, and when Patrice asked if her shoulder was bothering her, she just said it was the overall effort that was getting to her. And that’s when the class underwent a subtle shift as we all exhaled with relief at it being named. She added, “It’s a slow day.” Nods and silent agreement.

And being the rock star teacher that she is, Patrice shifted the class, just like that. We’d been doing upside down poses, so instead we sat and held quieter poses longer, just sitting with our slow day. Savasana, when you lay down at the end, came with blankets on our bodies and sandbags on our foreheads (sounds weird, feels great) and lasted longer than usual.

And that was it. It wasn’t a day to fight nature, winter, yoga, myself, or anything else. It was a slow day that got better by just. Being. Slow.

Photo credit: Marije Paternotte yoga.





It’s Your Life, Don’t You Forget

I’ve been thinking lately, which frankly, tends to get me in trouble. From more than one area of my life, I keep hearing from and about people who are having to push against family or societal pressure to succeed or define their life success in the very narrow way of school, career, marriage, house, kids. There may be stuff to achieve after this, I’m not sure. Or maybe once you get all that stuff, society leaves you alone to your mid-life crisis. The whole thing leaves me scratching my head. Although does it? That’s where the thinking comes in.

If you are an English major or other humanities major or an artist/creative of any kind, your career path will most likely be rather interesting, not terribly lucrative, and it will follow the beat of its own drummer. Mine certainly has, and it’s only been in the last 5 years that I have landed in a comfortable spot, where I actually get paid decent money to write things that matter most of the time and have a personal life too. I fell into the trap of sitting back and thinking, how do all these people get caught up in that narrow definition of success?

And then the bad movie special effects kick in, the calendar pages flip back, and the ominous narrator intones, “It was the 1980s — the height of the Ronald Reagan years and Gordon Gekko in the movie Wall Street declared that ‘greed is good’ … ”

My honor student status in high school made it seem like I was just as good at math and science as I was at English. But that says more about the quality of the school than my academic achievement. I do remember an emphasis on the practical, which translated to studying science in college. And that’s when I was exposed as a science and math fraud. My ass got consistently and sequentially kicked in Bio 101, 102, Chem 101, 102, and Calc 101, 102. This honor student was suddenly looking at C’s and Ds and a GPA that hovered around 2.5.

Sure, I got an A in my writing class, but that had been fun and easy. Somewhere along the way, I had picked up the idea that fun and easy was wrong. I thought life should involve suffering and be a hardscrabble scramble in order to “count.” This may be a stab in the dark, but I wonder if being raised Catholic and seeing Jesus hanging on the cross every week, which I was made to understand I was responsible for, had anything thing to do with that?


The idea that something being easy is not always the right way to go only makes sense if you’re trying to train for a marathon by running one fast mile and stopping. That’s too easy, and you ain’t gonna cross that finish line before dark.

So there I was at the end of freshman year, with a GPA on life support, but still invested in the idea of life being practical and hard. So I did what any dumb, sensible person would do and took up accounting. This turned out to be just as bad as the science classes and I was suffering, so I knew I must be on the right track. I did enjoy the guy I sat next to who loved accounting and was making methodical plans to work for what was then the Big 8 — although I think they are down to 4 now. I could have listened to his confident plans all day long, but I should have been paying more attention to the connection of his accounting joy and his success in the subject. Instead, I wrote poetry in class while the professor droned on about first in, last out, or last in, last out. I got another D.

As a super ironic aside, a number of years later I was the sole administrative person for a tiny nonprofit and got put in charge of the books with monthly help from an accountant. It took me a year of her visits to truly understand what happened to the numbers when I put them in the accounting software columns and they popped out on the balance sheet. I always came out of those day-long sessions with a huge headache. Once when I was really discouraged, she told me I understood the process better than most of the college accounting graduates they hired. That is a rather frightening thought, but I’m guessing these were not my joyful Big 8 guy, but people who were trying to be practical and pursue the narrow definition of success.  I wish them the best and no headaches.

At the end of sophomore year, with my GPA still in the toilet, I had no practical place left to go. I threw up my hands and gave in and became an English major. I suppose if I had gone to a small school with advisors who gave a flip, I would have clued in sooner, but what fun would that be? There’s something to be said for failing rather spectacularly to teach you something. And once I switched, for the first time school wasn’t a grim struggle, it was actually pleasant and even fun sometimes. Who knew?

And then I also learned the more valuable lesson not to care what people thought, because I knew I had tried and was confident that this was the only thing I was good at. Oh to be sure, I endured a fair amount of sneering. “English major! What are you going to do with that? Teach?” Which is actually also snubbing teachers, BTW. Journalism was also not my thing, so I concentrated on my own writing and fell into nonprofit administration as a source of income. Then I had to endure the “Oh, you’re a writer? What have you published?”

Did I always feel confident? Of course not, when you get that 5th, 10th, or 80th publication rejection, you kind of think, what the hell am I doing? But now I’m starting to understand that I had a couple of key advantages, which seemed like disadvantages at the time. One, early on in life, I learned I did not have strong enough skills in any area that would have put me on the society-endorsed path. Also I’m allergic to gray corporate cubes. So I had no other option than to figure out how to succeed with the writing skills I had. Two, I come from a working class background, which I tried to run from in college and after. It came with high expectations in the moment — do your chores, do well in school (or don’t bother me with teacher notes that you’re screwing up). And it also came with low expectations for a future life. And that turned out to be an extraordinary gift, that I am only now fully appreciating.

Benign neglect combined with being kid number 4 (which one are you?) allowed me to find my own path and define success in my own way. I do recall my father pressing some rather random career choices on my siblings, so here is a formal thank you to them for wearing him out first. By the time he got to me, benign neglect has set in.

Life isn’t easy, no matter what path you choose — even those who pick the society- and family-sanctioned path will struggle at some point, so you might as well put your effort towards the skills that are fun, easy, and worth your while.

To paraphrase a Catholic call at the end of the Mass, go in peace to love and serve the skills you have. It’s much better than a headache.

Photo credit: Still from the Talk Talk video, “It’s My Life.”

In Your 20s and Confused? Get Over It

I try to stay out of the internet fray. In my 20s I remember getting steamed over all the articles about about the baby boomers. You couldn’t pass a newspaper or magazine without seeing a headline about how many of them there are, their spending habits, who they were marrying, where they were choosing to live. And the TV shows! I let “Thirtysomething” piss me off every single week. (Apologies to my beloved sis who loved that show — love you!) There were way more of them than my Gen X, and it seemed to me they were just this giant vacuum cleaner of materialism sucking up all the resources in their path. The media coverage of it led them to think they were entitled to it. Meanwhile Gen Xers were left with their crumbs and dust and a string of Republican presidents to try to patch together a life. So, yeah, that’s why they call us cynical.

Did me getting pissy about it change anything? No. Did I manage to patch together a life? Yes. And maybe I could have done it faster if I hadn’t wasted so much energy getting my panties in a twist about them. Or maybe that’s just the nature of being a 20-year-old. Your fairly new life panties get twisted about stuff. You are at the start, and while you know the most you’ve known in your whole life, it’s still not actually that much. You have to figure it out as you go. One thing I learned from those years is that I am happier if I don’t get caught up in the media stories about stuff that is only a thing because they are writing about it. Sometimes it’s insightful or entertaining, but mostly it just makes you feel bad.

So I set up a bubble against what I think of as psuedo news stories (as opposed to fake news — that’s a different post). Pseudo news is: yes, it’s true that the boomers are a very large and influential generation; however, that fact alone does not make them news. Of course staying in the bubble was much easier when it was just print and TV. The internet pummels the bubble much more, and it’s inevitable that things slip through. Just retrieving my email on Comcast, I get pelted with clickbait headlines and pictures of people I don’t recognize, “ripping” other people I don’t recognize. But no matter, I’m older and crabbier now, so even when the bubble is breached, my alter ego Blanche takes a drag on her ciggie, downs a shot, and says we don’t give a flip. I get my real news elsewhere.

Except on rare occasions when my pissy 20-year-old is poked.

I read a story about how all the #metoo and attention on sexual abuse has got men in their 20s questioning their own behavior. That’s a good thing. The situation also seems to have men and women in their 20s allegedly confused about the rules of dating. The article earnestly quotes men and women who say they don’t know how to act, and interviews with concerned therapists who say their male clients are so befuddled they are afraid to even go on dates. Wah, wah, wah.

Cue eye roll. This, my friends, is pseudo news.

Just because you have more information about something, especially about sexuality and dating, don’t expect it to make things easier. In fact certain information will make it a lot harder. But that’s what is called “growth,” which often hurts like hell when you are going through it, but can make you a better person.

Twitter alert: Life is just awkward and uncomfortable, if you’re lucky. It can also be much, much worse. If it’s just awkward, count your blessing and move on. And if you happen to be a confident, focused 20-something, you will hit a confused patch at some point. There’s no skipping stages.

So forgive me if I’m rolling my eyes at the 20-somethings who are confused about dating. Since the cavemen were trying to hit cave women over the head as a way of asking them out, or hoping her brother was home instead, or she was more interested in gathering nuts and berries with the hot cave ladies, dating has always been confusing. More so when you’re 25, but it’s no picnic for anyone. If you work at it, you just get better at knowing your worth and what you want. And even when you do, you still sit across from your date and think, does he like me? Should I go home with him? Is spinach in his teeth and his collection of antique dentist equipment a deal breaker?

Wah, wah, you’re confused about dating. Welcome to Human 101. Now you’ve forced my hand, and I have to tell you a Story. One of those Older People Stories you hate, because who gives a flip about older people? Well, you brought it on yourself, so listen up.

When I was in college, my friends and I went to a frat party, and did all of the usual things one does at frat parties — drink, dance, and then sneak past the “Private Do Not Enter” sign in the stairway to raid the refrigerator on the 3rd floor when our drunken snackies set in. What? Like anything in a frat house is private, and BTW we were the ones in danger — it was food that 20-year old boys were pretending was edible. It was slim pickins, believe me, but we represented ourselves well.

Anywho, a very large, drunken frat brother named Quentin started dancing with me. As a nerdy, introverted woman, I had ZERO experience with boys. In high school I had an unrequited crush on a friend, and as a junior I went to the senior prom with THE king nerd of the class, pocket protector and all. He was a nice enough, but two shy nerds do not a make out session produce. Freshman year in college was no better. Another unrequited crush on a friend, and I had been hit on by a super awkward guy in a chem lab class (it mostly involved staring, so I have to take my friends’ word that he was hitting on me). Another friend had professed his like for me while he was drunk and I was trying to get him home safely. Not a super turn on. Oh, also, I had been told plenty of “scared straight to virginity” stories. And I was brought up Catholic. See? You think you have dating problems? Puh-leaze.

So there I am dancing to Micheal Jackson with Quentin; then a slow song came on, and I was enveloped by his gentle, yet giant bear-like arms, and suddenly there was a tongue in my mouth. A sloppy, drunk tongue, if I’m going to critique it 30 years later. Okaaaay. I was not really enjoying it, but here’s the thing. He was black, and I thought if I pulled away, he would think I was a racist. See? This is what I’m saying about awkward, stupid shit in your 20s. So I let it go on for a while, plotting my escape. I think he may have asked me if I wanted to go back to his room. So I took the opportunity to say, “Wait here, I just have to tell my friends.” I know, I know! Why not just say “No, thank you,” and move on? Because you’re 20, and you don’t know what the hell to do because Catechism never covered this, except to tell you never have sex. So all you are left with is to do dumb stuff like try to prove you are not a racist and running away.

So I ran off and found my friend Rosemary, who I unceremoniously grabbed and marched her home with me. And during the 20-minute walk home I was on a drunken, sobbing loop to her: Dance, tongue, big arms, he’s black, I’m not a racist, I just don’t like tongue in the first 5 minutes of a non-date; Dance, tongue…and on and on until we got home.

The next day found me immobilized with the double-whammy of physical and emotional hangovers. I sought out Rosemary to apologize and studiously avoided Quentin (who of course lived in my dorm). But here’s the thing:

Neither of them remembered anything about that night. Rosemary stared at me blankly during my apology and then laughed at me. At one point Quentin saw me, and I saw the same blank face. Had I gone to his dorm room, he would have surely had that face in the morning. Awkward.

The racism guilt lingered until finally my friend Sonia, who is black, told me to knock it off. So I did.

As the Who sings in “Another Tricky Day,” “You irritate me my friend, this is no social crisis … just another tricky day for you.”

I get it, it is confusing. We’ve all been there, and there is no magic way around life’s obstacles. Keep your good friends close, have an escape route, do your best to learn what you can from each awkward encounter. Oh, and stay off the internet. That thing will make you crazy.

Photo credit: Flashbak 

Top 6 Posts of 2017

Well, kids, looks like we made it through year 1 of the Cheeto flea, and that alone is worth celebrating. But even better would be to forget about him altogether. As you run the highlight reel of the past year in your mind, acknowledge the not-so-great stuff, but give priority to the good things — the people, places, and events that gave you a lift. I’m reminding myself as much as you on this one. I think of myself as a positive person, but I’ve been noticing that I can get focused on the one bad thing sitting amongst all the good stuff. So I’m going to try to keep an eye on that in 2018. I’m also feeling like my tank is empty, and, yes, I had a big year (as the posts below will attest), but most of the big things are past, so I also wonder if it’s real or a habit? I will keep an eye on that, too.

But for now, it’s time to look back a bit, take a deep breath, and head out to 2018.

6. The big news of the year was getting the kid launched, and it was official with this post. In the process, there were highs, lows, lots of wine, and a few moments of full-blown panic. But the deed got done with Mission Accomplished.

5. I reread this one, and thought, damn, that’s good! I’ve been feeling less than inspired lately to write. In keeping with my positive theme, I’m going to recall the words of a painter friend many years ago, when I was hit with my first case of writer’s block. I had just finished a bunch of essays and thought, now I’m ready for the next thing. But I wasn’t. The faucet had nary a trickle. He told me not to worry — I was merely filling up again. So, I’m going with that. Don’t know how long the filling will take, so be prepared for reruns if you’re a long time reader and for cool old stuff if you’re new. In any event, this piece reminded me that, yeah, I still have some writing mojo. Happy Anniversary.

4. That this one is in the top 6 makes me laugh. I thought it was just me, but apparently this was something a lot of people could relate to. For the love, Leave the Curtain Rods.

3. Because I have memory issues, er, I mean, I live in the moment like Eckhart Tolle. I’m a super advanced human, I swear. Anywho, I thought this one was about Cheeto flea, but it was more subtle than that. Either way, it never hurts to remember It’s a Marathon not a Sprint.

2. I just reread this one, and it reminded me I have a blog to finish about bystander intervention. Also, it reminded me that Life moved with me to my new apartment and is still sitting in my chair, giving me the look, and motioning me to get her another drink. Happy new year, bee-atch! Dammit!

1. Oh, Celine. I hope where ever you are, you have all the happiness you deserved when you walked among us. Goodbye My Friend.

So there it is, friends. I wish you all you healthy, hopeful new year. We can totally do this. We always do.

Jump Up, Jump Up and Get Down

About 3 years ago I saw a picture of myself, and I could no longer deny that the extra pounds I kept telling myself were only a few had set up permanent residence in my midsection and were expanding faster than a development of McMansions on sold-off farm land. I lost the weight the only way I knew how — slowly and changing one habit at a time. I was able to maintain my weight for quite a while, with the understanding that the McMansions would encroach eventually, even if I kept my eating and exercise routine the same. Thanks a lot, perimenopause; if ever get my hands on you, you are going to pay. Oh, wait, I already am paying. Grrrrr.

Of course, I wasn’t quite able to keep everything the same. It started with a month-long  IT project at work a year and a half ago, working every day and tethered to a small room. I added 5 pounds during that time and was only able to get rid of a few. Then this spring and summer was Kid Launchapoolza with graduation cake and parties and traveling to colleges to pick the One, then more traveling to the One for orientation, and then the trip to see the total eclipse in South Carolina (which was totally amazing.)

As you can imagine there was a lot of eating out and not a lot exercising going on. Then at the end of September I moved. So even if I hadn’t run off my will power like a crabby old man scaring kids out of his yard with a rake, it didn’t have a chance with the pots-are-packed-I’m-too-tired-to-cook-oooh-look-there’s-a-takeout-menu.

So here we are. More farm land has been sold and the McMansions are rising again, so it’s back to the grind.

Step 1) Look the McMansion straight in the window and don’t pretend it’s a tiny house.

Step 2) Lock down the food situation and get back on track. Of course, I decided to do that during the most stressful week at work before a big function. All I could think of was that scene from “Airplane!”: “Looks looks like I picked the wrong week to quit sniffing glue!” Indeed. I compromised and held the line on my eating, but not the wine. Baby steps. But that event is done, so now staying on track seems like a breeze. The alcohol is under a separate contract.

Step 3) More exercise. In the spring, I confidently told people that when the kid goes off to college, I’m most definitely going to add another day at the gym, another yoga class, I’ll have so much time!

Turns out the problem isn’t so much having time, as it is getting off your McMassion and actually doing it.

In the hunt for the yoga class, I realized I haven’t matured at all since I last wrote about how I’m like Jerry Seinfeld and his girlfriends. So much for my efforts to be a more open-minded, tolerant person. Which kind of negates all that yoga represents, so my apologies to the tradition and it’s more pure-hearted practitioners. I like my one Iyengar class, and I can’t seem to replicate it. There are 5 yoga studios in close proximity to my house, 2 within walking distance, and I can’t find a class to go to. It’s either too early, too late, too easy, too fast, too hot, too many people, too serious, too flippant, too…too.

The better bet is more exercise, and that’s only because I had a small breakthrough earlier this summer when a friend and I pulled out a jump rope and we started jumping. As in, tie one end to a pole and one person swings it while the other jumps. It was perfectly embarrassing. My brain still remembered being a 7-year-old jumping effortlessly and lightly. However, my 52-year-old body was like, “Um, say, what, now?” I was out of breath almost immediately. And after a number of false starts and trying to remember how the heck to do it, I had to lay down in the grass to recover.

It was the best day ever.

I had the little kid response: I’m going to get a jump rope! I’m going to jump every day! I’m going to be in great shape! And then I had the harried middle-aged response: I forgot about it.

That is until I saw a sign in my gym outlining the rules for jumping rope — Stay out of  doorways! Be mindful of those around you! Little kid got excited all over again–jump ropes! The adult in me hesitated. It was one thing to jump outside with a friend, and another to do it in a gym where people are increasing their cardio something or other with grim precision. The universe saw I could use a nudge, and a few days later I was on the train. It was packed and there was one open seat. The reason? The woman standing in front of it was resting a framed picture on it, and the women sitting next to the seat had laid her hoola hoop across it.

I made a beeline for it.

I first nicely asked Picture Woman to move her stuff. She did and also made a sour face and shrugged at Hoola Hoop Woman; as if to say, it’s her fault not mine. So I nicely asked her to move her hoola hoop, which she nicely did. I shot Picture Woman a look –the adult version of sticking my tongue out, and told Hoola Hoop Woman she could rest it on me. It’s not like it was going to fit in her lap. I never chat with people on the train, but how can you not chat with Hoola Hoop Woman? We talked about how fun hoola hoops are (she uses her for exercise), and the next thing I knew, I was telling her about the summer jump roping. She exclaimed it was great exercise and her friend had lost a lot of weight doing it. When she got off the train, hoola hoop in hand, she patted me on the shoulder and said, “You can do it!”

Technically, I haven’t added any exercise, just swapped stationary bike to jump rope. But I’ve started jumping at the gym and I am totally getting a hoola hoop. I just have to get off my McMassion and do it!


It’s Easy to Miss the Inspiration Around You

A few weeks ago, I went to see Kitty Dukakis discuss her book, Shock, about how electro-convulsive therapy (ECT) saved and continues to save her from debilitating depression. For any young ones out there, she is the wife of former Massachusetts Governor Michael Dukakis, (1975 to 1979 and 1983 to 1991). He was the governor when I first came to Boston in 1983, so I feel a nostalgic connection to them both. I was devastated when his bid for the White House in 1988 went down in flames, and George Bush, elder, won. Of course, time and perspective are everything, and I would not consider Bush that bad a thing right now.

But that’s a different post.

I thought it would be interesting, but I wasn’t dying to attend. A friend invited me, and at the last-minute he got stuck at work and couldn’t go. He asked me to go anyway and tell him about it. I’d had a hectic day myself, and I was tempted to go home to a cocoon of wine and binge watching “Will and Grace” reruns. But I didn’t want to disappoint him, so I decided to go, even though I left with just enough time to get there at the start, if nothing went wrong with the train.

Like that strategy ever worked.

I got a seat on the train and checked my watch — there was a good possibility I’d make it, so I turned contentedly to my book and settled in. Not long after, however, the lack of movement started to seep into my peripheral consciousness. I looked up and could see we were stuck in between stops. I wasn’t worried yet, as I knew this line often stopped briefly.

“Attention passengers, we’re standing by because of traffic ahead.” Actually it sounded more like, “crackle, hiss, pop, crackle standing pop, hiss, crackle, traffic crackle, hiss, pop, crackle.” But I’m fairly fluent in Boston subway speak, so I got it that we weren’t moving anytime soon.

Crap. Deep breath. Maybe it wouldn’t be too long. But we continued to stand still, and with each minute ticking away, I added a minute onto my arrival time. I began to hear the siren call of  wine and “Will and Grace” again. What’s the point of going if I’m going to miss half of it? I’d like to say that I put my big girl pants on and stayed the course. I did stay the course; however, it was more because waiting on the train was less work than figuring out how to get home from the line I was riding without having to backtrack or get out and walk to a different line.

Finally we lurched forward and moved along, and to my surprise, I was only 10 minutes late. Kitty was talking about her book, while I found a single seat in the filled up room. And in the next 50 minutes I was unexpectedly moved and inspired.

Kitty is turning 80 next month and he’s 84, but you’d never know it. In addition to writing two books and working on a third, she is also a tireless advocate for demystifying and destigmatizing ECT. She says most people equate it with electric shock in the 1975 movie, “One Flew over the Cuckoo’s Nest.” While she doesn’t deny it was used indiscriminately back then, in the past 40 years, the treatment has been refined and targeted to the point where Kitty goes in every 5-6 weeks for a maintenance 15-minute treatment. She discovered the hard way that if she stops, her depression comes back just as deep and devastating as ever. She and Mike run an ECT support group in their home, and welcome people who have had ECT treatment and those who are thinking of having it. It’s usually a last resort for deep depression that won’t respond to other types of treatment.

Kitty’s passion for helping people navigate ECT came through clearly, and I was happy to see Michael there too. I had a moment of “it’s cool being in the same room with well-known people” feeling. I don’t really know what I was expecting, but I did not expect the amount of tenderness and respect that passed between them. She’d turn to him to help her find a word or remember a fact, and he did the same with her. They finished each other’s sentences. All this with the back drop of what they had both suffered, mostly in the public eye, due to her alcohol addiction. Before she received ECT, it was the only way she could blot out the depression. When he described coming home one day and finding her passed out from alcohol on the floor, I welled up. He said he was at heart an optimistic person and kept hoping each treatment they tried would be the one. She experienced this depression for 17 years. That is some kind of badass optimism.

He said that he is still an optimistic person, even now, in our current political climate. “We’ve been through worse, and we’ll get through this.” Hearing an elder politician who’s been around the block or two and is still so clearly committed to service to others made me believe he could be right.

And he is committed. He is just as passionate about ECT as Kitty. You could see how disturbed he was when he noted that 20 military vets commit suicide a day, many with depression. He and Kitty have been working with the VA to offer ECT as a treatment option, and they are very close to setting up a pilot in Massachusetts that they hope could be a model for the rest of the country. During Michael’s 1988 presidential campaign he was made fun of because he still had a 20-year old snowblower that he used himself, he took the train to work as governor, and to this day he can be spotted in his neighborhood picking up trash. These may have played some part in his failure to reach the White House, but from where I sat, they were hallmarks of a life lived with intention.

Being in their presence was very powerful:  in their 80s, over coming alcoholism, depression, bitter political defeat. And still passionately working together to make things better for others, both one-on-one and on a bigger scale. Thank you to both of them for reminding me that we have been through worse, and we will get through this. And the way to do to it is head down, doing what you can small and large every day that makes a difference for someone. Some days you have to get off the delayed train to wine and Will and Grace. But when you can, it’s better to stay on the train and make use of where it leads you.

Visit Kitty’s educational ECT website to learn more.

Hope Is a Thing with Feathers

Or at least hope is a thing, my apologies to Emily Dickinson. I’d been running low and trying not to get too freaked out about it. Why am I so tired and drained? Why do I just want to go home and watch old reruns of “Will and Grace”? What is wrong with me? It can’t possibly be because I had a hectic summer launching the kid to college and then I moved myself. That’s ridiculous. I’m waaaaaay stronger, tougher, and more resilient than that. Ha!

I crack myself up sometimes.

Anyway, newsflash genius. Yes, that’s why. And being tired and drained leaves you more vulnerable to things like, say, Cheeto Flea antics. And that stranger on the subway who you are certain is giving you the stinkeye. They are definitely not having their own moment of “Why the hell do I just want to go home and watch ‘Will and Grace’ reruns?”.  That’s reserved for yours truly.

But then the feathered thing landed. My new neighborhood. It’s a real neighborhood, in a way I haven’t experienced since I left a similar place in 2001. Now that says more about me than the places I’ve been in the last 16 years. I witnessed plenty of people being neighborly, and I had my moments of neighborliness, and I learned a lot, but it never felt quite like home.

But this new place does. When I walk down the main street to do my errands, in less than I mile I have witnessed a man opening a door for a woman with a baby carriage and he wasn’t even going into the store. Three women chatting over the library books one had just taken out, any number of people in twos and threes standing on the sidewalk chatting like it’s Sesame Street. The guy in the minimart/liquor store around the corner from my house didn’t care that I went in there and bought 1 banana. Just 1. The helpful guy in the hardware store apologized because the bolts I bought weren’t as shiny as the sample I had. He gave me a discount.

What fresh heaven is this? Let’s be clear. This is not in the Midwest, where I’m led to believe this happens all the time. I’ve walked in a shopping mall in Iowa, and everyone said hi to me and it freaked me out. If I don’t know you, I’m good without a greeting. Don’t they get tired putting out all that friendliness?

No, this is appropriate friendliness. People who know each other are chatting (and not engaging me needlessly), and people in the stores are giving great customer service, and strangers are showing kindness and courtesy by opening doors for each other.

Relax, this is still Boston — in the morning, the road rage honking surpasses my old neighborhood, which is saying something. But I don’t have to drive to work, so I don’t care. And it helps me know this is real. Because I’m still pinching myself.

Cheeto Flea is running amok. The shootings continue unfettered with the NRA still saying more guns will solve the problem. Hate groups are oozing out of the woodwork like cockroaches coming out on a crumb-filled night.

But I’ve found a little piece of hope, civility, and poetry to keep moving forward. And a shout out to my friend Becky whose love for Emily Dickinson made me pay more attention to her poetry than I would have.

“Hope” is the thing with feathers –
That perches in the soul –
And sings the tune without the words –
And never stops – at all –
And sweetest – in the Gale – is heard –
And sore must be the storm –
That could abash the little Bird
That kept so many warm –
I’ve heard it in the chillest land –
And on the strangest Sea –
Yet – never – in Extremity,
It asked a crumb – of me.