You Oughta Be in Pictures

Hey, there. You know who you are. You’re the one smiling for your selfie, trying to catch your best side. Don’t worry; you’re not alone. Taking your best shot has become almost as common as breathing. If Instagram is any indication, with nearly 300 million selfies posted, it seems people are hooked on the art of being frozen in time  — or at least in a photo frame.

In 1839, Robert Cornelius took what people consider to be the first selfie. To be truthful, though, since it was a daguerreotype, all bets are off. Today, we humans take almost a trillion photos a year and, of that number, it would be hard to guess how many are insta self-portraits. The fact that we’ve become a selfie ‘culture’ says as much about us as the world we live in. Selfies are also a pretty good indicator of how we define ourselves, especially in the eyes of others.

“For me the subject of the picture is more important than the picture.” Diana Arbus

Psychologists define ‘looking glass self’ as how we view ourselves more through the lens of others than who we really are. Considering the amount of thought we put into capturing our best angle or light, that kind of makes sense. But does the image we take in seconds really reap what we crave or increase our self-worth? I’m not so sure. I suspect a selfie story is as quicksilver as the mood it’s taken in. Continue reading

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The Blue/Green-Eyed Travel Monster

I see you. Smiling faces peering over ship railings. Eyes squinting in the brilliant Italian sun.  Bodies sleek in scuba gear in the Galapagos. One more happy Facebook vacation picture — and the computer gets it.

Okay, I feel better now.

Somewhere among those Facebook pictures of a river cruise and toes in the sand, I ran dry. Don’t get me wrong. I’m more than happy for friends’ ability to get outta Dodge and realize their travel dreams, just as they’d be for me. When you’re livin’ the hard-earned dream, it’s only natural to share it – with everyone. Glimpsing a buddy trekking through the Grand Canyon can be an actual public service, right? (I’m kidding) Poring over gorgeous Instagram shots might be the only way I’ll ever get to see those magical sites. (Those pics also incite my inner wannabe fabulous photographer)

It’s a big world. We all want to press ESC and see all we can before the curtain closes. Travel is what we save for, and dream of. It jazzes us to check off each destination box, especially when it comes equipped with memories to relive again and again.  I know. I have pictures to prove it.

These days though, not so much.  Maybe that’s one reason the rolling visual travelogues on my Facebook timeline triggers me; but not for the reasons you might think. At first, even I thought the cheerful travel odysseys were a sneaky bazinga of all the places I may never see. But slowly I realized that’s only one piece of the missing. Maybe those barefoot in the sand toe shots, or glistening views of the Eiffel tower point up the sedentary chiaroscuro of a shadow life. Yet, hey, I’m not exactly STUCK to that couch; my life is pretty damn full. In fact, the only thing that needs changing is the empty space next to me, but that ship sailed when my husband left. So why the stupid pity party? Why, when I click those ‘hearts’ and ‘likes’ on friends’ vaca pics to parts known and unknown, do I sometimes feel so empty? And what’s with the wanderenvy? Continue reading

Letter to a Younger Me

Time traveling was never in my wheelhouse. Like it or not, we can never go can go back in time. Our life playbook has only one gear – forward. So since I’m already pretty far forward in mine/our life, kiddo. I thought 18 is a pretty good age to catch you up on a few things. I had to cross a lot of time zones to see the number you are now, but I thought it was time for a chat. Taking the long view (and it’s gets longer every day) there will never be a better time to let you know that no matter what – it’s all gonna be okay.

It won’t always be easy and you’re going to make a hell of a lot of mistakes. You’ll be pushed sometimes beyond your breaking point but you won’t break, I promise you. You won’t always be strong; but you’ll rock it when you need to. In moments you feel the most insecure, the most vulnerable, the most scared, those moments will also most shape you. When you think you’ve reached a dead end, a new path will open. When you feel most like a failure, you’re the closest to finding your center. Sometimes you’ll wonder if you’ll ever recover. You will.

Spoiler alert. The jury is still out on happily ever after but judging all that’s happened, the chances are iffy.  Your heart is going to be broken more than a few times. Trust me that you’ll feel a wee bit resentful that you skipped art school to put a husband through college. That choice will never feel dumber than after said husband exited stage left and you become a typing, filing single mom of three instead of the artist you thought you’d be. But kids grew up, jobs came and went and doors opened to new possibilities. You’ll discover gifts you didn’t know you had. Okay, your art will be less Michelangelo and more commercial illustration and graphic design, but, hey, you’ll be doing it. Your creative self will evolve as you do. And every time you get sucked into the stigma of missed college, a shelf full of creative awards will remind you that, while you did it backwards, you did it. Continue reading

Valentine. Schmalentine.

broken-heart-1175724_1280Once upon a time, the phrase ‘single Awareness Day’ seemed a pretty cool gotcha. When Valentines Day becomes a neon sign to solos that screams “Nope, not you”, re-framing the holiday doesn’t feel like that bad an idea. Depending on your frame of mind, this celebration of love can seem sensational, saccharine, or just plain sad.  This holiday of hearts can be a real kicker when you’re single. Valentine’s Day could use a slight makeover.

People exchange nearly 150 million Valentine’s Day cards a year, making heart day second only to Christmas in card-sending popularity. Legend has it that  Valentine was a martyred saint, which might have something to do with why the holiday seems especially sucky for a widow. It’s said the tradition of love greetings came began when the day’s namesake signed a note to a young girl he pined for ‘from your Valentine’. Ever since, kings, friends and lovers have exchanged tokens of affection. I’m quite sure, though, all those loving notes cost significantly less than $5.00 a pop ready-made.

Like everything else, Valentine’s Day was once a simpler — and cheaper time. I can still remember those tacky school mailboxes we glued together with bits of felt and wrapping paper to stuff cheery class cards in. Those were the days. We painstakingly wrote, what seemed like a million little cards to every classmate; then waited nervously for our own return windfall.

The love drama starts early. Continue reading

Seize the (Birth)Day

0-mCUEodc9AMkbMyenI’m not old, at least, that’s what I tell myself. The number on my driver’s license would have a snarky response, as well as the fact that I can’t clean both floors of the house in one morning flat anymore, would say different. And with another age showing up uninvited this weekend, I’d better make up the guest room because it’ll take up residence.

“Just remember, once you’re over the hill you begin to pick up speed.”  Charles Schulz foretold. In fact, some years those age numbers seem to actually burn rubber! Reminiscing with one of my Cub Scout grand boys, I told the tale of another scout and his Pinewood Derby adventure. Smart aleck mom that I was those years ago, I stuffed a fishing weight into the belly of my son’s little wooden hot rod before he sanded the heck out of the wood putty that covered it. Since there were no strict rules at the time, we were pretty free to think out of the box and did. Mixing creativity with built-in speed, he won the Derby handily that year. Made sense but doesn’t explain the acceleration that now propels birthdays so swiftly around the track. I’d say it was the junk in my trunk but oddly, the J-Lo butt has sailed and age-related gravity lightened that load. The only ballast left is the iPhone in my back pocket.

Gone are the Dixie cup ice cream and pin-the-tail games of kidlet birthday fetes. With life flashing before your eyes at an amazing rate, I’m darn lucky just to grab a brownie before the supply runs out. Watching my life replay at warp speed, gulp, it’s equal parts thriller, romantic comedy, chick flick, and tear jerker. I suspect it’s a lot like yours, give or take some emotional special effects. Whether or not I love everything that flashes on that big screen in my head, it all happened and it all made me who I am today, whoever that may be. But no matter how anyone would rate my life’s movie reel, it is entertaining, though not always in a good way.

Some day, we will all die, Snoopy,” said Charlie Brown.
Snoopy answered, “True. But on all the other days, we will not.”

I’d like to say ‘I’m not getting older; I’m getting better’ but I’d have to ask — at what? If the answer is perception, sensitivity, awareness, I’ll take it. After all, if the best years of a woman’s life are the 10 years between 39 and 40, I’m way past my expiration date anyway. I need to hold on to all the good stuff about this age and the numbers to come. Continue reading

Christmas 2.0

file-dec-07-4-22-39-pmBarely two months after my husband died last year, I insisted on picking out and dragging home a real Christmas tree myself. What was I thinking? Clearly I wasn’t. Surrounded by spirited couples and families choosing their own holiday tree, I stubbornly struggled to yank out one of those heavy green suckers. But smack in the middle of all those scented firs,  tears also threatened to spill over. Although I was more than grateful for the kindly sales guy who tied one lucky green adoptee to my car’s roof, the experience keenly reminded of my suddenly solo status.

Thanks to my grandson and loving son-in-law, the tree was retrieved from the roof and set in its rightful place. As I recounted this adventure to a widow friend of mine who had lost her husband the year before, she sympathetically also warned me that her second Christmas was actually worse than the first. Swell, I thought. That’s just perfect. Here I was thinking that no matter how hellish the first Christmas holiday would be without my merry Elf, I should look forward to the next being even worse.

With that second Christmas now a little more than two weeks away, I arrive a battered and hopefully bettered survivor of  my year of firsts. Strapped in the roller coaster I hadn’t bought a ticket for, I was too consumed by that ride to worry about what would happen the SECOND year. Yet, here I am.

My husband died barely two months before the season of jingle bells and holly last year. I don’t know if I was even breathing as I robotically threw myself into  Christmas decorating, cooking, and wrapping. I was determined to be sleepwalk-busy straight through the season. I even held a few brunches for some of the treasured pals who loved and lifted me through the long, ghastly weeks since the funeral. But I was on auto-pilot through it all and, when Christmas day finally arrived, it was clear the whole family was.  Younger grandkids were their irrepressible selves, though a tiny bit more sober. The older ones watched me for signs of meltdown, which I’m sure would have signaled their exit stage left. The adults were in their own unique spaces of grief yet all ate holiday ham, unwrapped gifts and were enveloped in the spirit of family despite being barely able to look at ‘the chair’ which somehow loomed even larger in its emptiness. Continue reading

“You Are You. Now isn’t that pleasant.”

winding_road

Dr. Seuss always nails it.

You are YOU — just a wee bit different than you were ‘before’.  The first time you check  the “widow” status on a form, have to change your emergency contact or start to say ‘honey, I’m home’ and realized no one is there, you are a different you. And it sucks. But it’s life now. Whether it happened with no warning or after months of dread, the title ‘widow’ is as foreign as if you shucked your identity for the Witness Protection Program. You feel  like you woke up on another planet — without rocket re-entry to your old life. This is it.

My husband is gone almost 10 months. I should be used to the title but ‘widow’ still doesn’t compute. To totally absorb it, means I need to accept the basic fact that my husband died and is never coming back. Before you think I’ve lost it entirely, of course I know he’s gone. I know he’s not just on a business trip; he’s not on a road trip. I get it.  I’m the one who found him that fateful night.

Cancer perched on the sidelines of every facet of our lives for years. Often sneaky, even silent, sometimes we ‘almost’ forgot it was even there. There were more emergent battles to fight. Debilitating treatment side-effects that dogged him constantly that we both knew would never leave. But sometimes even the most upsetting can be business as usual when you’re immersed in the day to day and you almost forget the gorilla waiting to pounce.  Continue reading