Thank You, 2016

It’s 2017. We made it around the sun and we still exist, so that’s something to celebrate. Before we put 2016 to rest though, let’s talk about the gift that was last year.

I know this is an unpopular view. A lot of terrible things happened in 2016. We continued the steady march toward our planet’s destruction. We decided to replace an amazing president with a horrifying one. Celebrities who we all loved died. There were way too many horrendous people doing horrendous things to other people. It’s been hard. On top of that, I know I’m not the only one who struggled this year. I see you all. Despite being gifted with some wonderful moments—new jobs, great trips, opportunities to celebrate love with the people I love, tons of nachos—my brain wasn’t particularly kind to me. Sometimes life is like that. Everyone is happy to step out of this hole of a year and leave it behind, and I am too, but hear me out.

Here’s the gift of 2016: we can move forward as the strong, amazing humans we now know we are. 2016 gave us an opportunity. The year was like a bad horror film, where half the world had just exclaimed, “Well, it can’t possibly get any worse than this.” And then, of course, it did. But as long as no one else utters those words, we can start the painful process of crawling out of the woods away from the monsters. It’s not going to be easy, because it’s still dark and monsters are really great at hiding behind trees, but we can get moving.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not painting these terrors in a rose light. I don’t believe that even bad things happen for a reason, unless the reason is that people make terrible choices or chance can be cruel. I don’t think 2016 was somehow fated to be terrible, so we’d all be able to grow. But we can decide this floor is a good place to stand up and plant our feet.

I’m holding my ground here, so 2017 better take notice. I’ve informed the less-kind half of my brain that she is no longer allowed to take up so much space. She’ll have something to say about that, I’m sure, but I’m forcing her to move to the basement apartment. My mind has really good tenant laws, so I can’t evict her, but I can make her feel like an unwelcome guest by stomping on the floors and playing my music too loudly.

I don’t want to set myself up for failure, so I’m not making any drastic resolutions this year. I’m just going to slap 2016 in the face and move along. And, you know what, it would feel terrible to slap something great in the face, so thank you, 2016, for being just terrible enough. Thank you for letting us show you just how badass we really are. Thank you for reminding us that we are strong. We took you on, and we’re still spinning. And what are you up to? Literally nothing. Because you’re gone.

Let’s all just be glad we aren’t on Neptune. This year would have lasted nearly 165 times as long as it did on Earth. We’re strong, but I don’t know if we’re that strong. Also, the storms are insane, there’s no oxygen, and the average temperature is always around -350°. So it could be worse.

Farewell, 2016. You weren’t great to me, but you’re going to make a great step stool.

Bit by Bit

My body is literally falling apart. I know I’m getting older, but I didn’t think it would hit so hard, so fast. I’m like a cellphone right at that two year mark—battery dying, power button failing, screen cracked. Someone is going to need to order a replacement soon.

Here are the pieces of me that are currently not functioning properly:

1. My teeth. I had to get a whole bunch of fillings because apparently I hate myself and I wanted someone to drill into my face for a couple hours. PSA: Floss. Just do it.

2. My left wrist and elbow. My wrist and elbow turn out to be a moderately effective tools for breaking a fall, but the move is not without sacrifice.

Dave and I were on a run to try and find this new fancy soccer field near us. We were kicking around the ball, and I tried to steal it from him at an inopportune time—that time being while he was on his phone and we were running on uneven bricks. I fell. I maintain that it was his fault and not the fault of my lack of coordination, inexperience playing any kind of sport with a ball, or the treacherous terrain. He maintains that it was an unfortunate accident. I think we all know who is right.

3. My right wrist and forearm. Same incident, but for this one the fence was the culprit. It had it out for me from the start. Dirty, rotten fence.

4. My left knee and hip. Same incident, obviously. It was the gift that kept on giving. Note to all: If you feel like collapsing on the ground, avoid jagged bricks.

5. My head. It’s been pounding since this morning, either from the drilling into my face earlier or the drilling into the ground in front of my house all day. Or it might be the twelve men yelling outside my door about the gas lines. I don’t know. No one else seems to understand when it’s gloomy outside, it’s quiet time. People just keep on going about their business, like they don’t even care about my plans for the day.

I guess this is just what happens when you’re old and clumsy. I need to start thinking ahead. I better buy one of those informercial wheelchairs that I can ride around the Grand Canyon.

Higher and Higher

When I was younger my mom used to scold me for climbing on the counters to get stuff out of the high cupboards. I obviously never stopped, because I’m short and I need things.

When I was home a few weeks ago, she asked me to get something from a shelf above the fridge, knowing full well I am the same size as always and have not developed Inspector Gadget arms. So I went for it. She watched—without comment—as I climbed up on the counter, reached across the fridge, and handed the thing down to her.

Either the world is falling apart or everything is finally falling into place. I haven’t decided yet, but I know something’s up. I’ll fill you guys in when I have more evidence.

Hardcore Oldcore

Tonight I officially turned 83. I spent the evening listening to musical soundtracks from the 50s and 60s and putting together a puzzle. On a puzzle mat. Wrapped in blanket to protect myself from the winter draft. I bet if I’d checked my pockets at the time they’d be filled with used tissues and cough drops. This was all after I’d completed my very strenuous exercise routine of the day: taking a brisk walk after dinner. I even changed into sneakers before the endeavor because I wanted to be sure I didn’t hurt my feet.

I know I’m only settling into who I’ve always been—an old lady trapped in the body of a not-quite-so-old lady. I remember once being at a party at my parents’ friends’ house. Their home was the epitome of fun. They had a pool, a trampoline, and a hot tub. It seems unimaginable that any home could be gifted with all three of these, but this place was built to be a haven of happy. I think it was willed into existence for the sole purpose of bringing people together to laugh and eat and dance. There was a garage full of strange off-road vehicles that my sister and I were never allowed in. There was always rock music blasting through the speakers. But, most importantly, there was a policy of wild freedom and unabashed love—instilled by one of my parents’ oldest friends, the ultimate matriarch and an unparalleled embracer. It was the best place to be a kid. And yet, it was there I was first told I was, at my core, not quite a kid at all.

This couple had plenty of these parties and, at each one, I would try my best at the beginning to keep up with the other kids. I loved the trampoline, and I was happy in the pool, but I’d inevitably end up back in the garage, standing at the knees of the adults, or in the living room, sitting at their feet. It was easier there. I could hide in plain sight, listening to their conversations and quietly cataloging all the new information. One night I was standing at the bottom of the garage steps while a group chatted away. In the middle of the discussion, another of my parents’ friends—one with a bellowing laugh and a penchant for bright Hawaiian shirts—turned and looked down at me. He told me, seriously but kindly, that I had an old soul—a claim that would seem contrived if it hadn’t come from a member of this tie-dye wearing, long-haired, heavy-hugging crew. He said he could see the little adult in me, my mind always turning.

At the time, it embarrassed me—the acknowledgement of my presence even more than the statement. It may have seemed like a compliment, but I knew all the cool kids were out bouncing on the trampoline or jumping back and forth between the pool and the hot tub. And now I knew it wasn’t just me who realized I wasn’t with them. I didn’t respond. I filed it away in the brain folder where I kept things adults said that I didn’t completely understand. There it stayed, waiting for other notes to slide up next to it. And the rest of them came. I read books while other kids played with dolls. Put that next to the original “not quite a kid” file. I saved my money instead of spending it on candy. Slide that right up there with the others. I fell in love with classic movies. Slot that in right behind the last one. I got teased for putting on the Motown radio station when a friend came over to play. Another entry to log. Eventually there was enough material on the subject to warrant a separate folder, and there was no denying the truth.

Decades later, that friend came up to me at a wedding. He repeated what he’d told me when I was five and said he remembered the way I used to stand nearby, quietly listening to their conversations instead of running around with the other kids. This time, I nodded along with him. The folder of proof that I had really always been an old lady was bursting and there was no retreat from the facts. Plus, YouTube videos of old men dancing at raves and grandmothers playing pranks on their grandchildren had taught me that growing old is mostly about boldly embracing your true self. I told him I remembered those moments too, and then I walked over to the DJ in my sensible dancing shoes and requested “You Can’t Hurry Love.”

Sandstorm

I’m feeling creatively stifled, but, in a rare practice of self-discipline, here I am. They say to write what you know, so I’m going to write about the sand that has taken up residence inside me. It’s been sneaking in slowly, filling up the cracks in my skin, grain by grain. I try hard to keep those tiny fissures open just in case a little ray of inspiration wants to wiggle its way through. I do handstands to shake the dust loose. But not today. Today the cracks are stuffed full.

The little construction workers who live in my belly are trying to smash open the windows of their home. They’re chipping away with tiny pick axes, covering their tiny heads with tiny yellow helmets. They’re singing miner tunes and eating lunch from tiny buckets on their union-mandated breaks.

But sand is persistence. It hides under the mats in your car and inside the seams of your swimsuit. It flies through the sky, invisible until it finds its way into your eye. You think it’s just breeze and up comes a storm.

If I can’t shake it loose, I’ll have to wait it out. Eventually, lightening will strike and it’ll all turn to glass. Or the construction workers will finally buck up and get the job done. Either way.

Millennial Meals

Today I added yet another line to the list of things that prove how old I really am. I was reading some nonsense on the internet and came across a list of restaurants serving ridiculously deconstructed meals. They were all classic dishes with a twist—the twist being that the restaurants don’t actually make any meals for you. You can get a salad consisting of one giant lettuce leaf and a bowl of dressing. Or a pasta with every ingredient in separate mason jars. Or a fruit crumble spread across a wooden board.

It’s nonsense. I am totally uninterested in paying someone to not make me a meal. That’s just a really, really expensive grocery store, and that box in my life has already been checked by Whole Foods, thank you very much.

In conclusion, I am old. I am not hip enough to be interested in fancy food trends. Also, my pockets are full of tissues and I have to turn up the volume on my TV to an unreasonably high level.

Spaghetti Dreams

Yesterday I watched a video of a baby falling asleep while eating spaghetti. He was so dedicated to achieving maximum pasta consumption that he kept half waking up from his dazed state to stuff more carbs in his face. Due to his being a baby with developing motor skills and his extreme sleepiness, he was covered in tomato sauce.

I also watched a bunch of videos of baby goats. Goats treating a farm store like a personal jungle gym. Goats gently head butting cats. Goats jumping onto giant swings. These little creatures were fitting more exuberant activity into 36 seconds than I usually do in a week.

And then I realized I’m not living up to my full potential.

I could be eating spaghetti as I fall asleep. I could be jumping and swinging from place to place instead of this boring walking deal I’ve always got going on. I could be head butting cats out of love. (Just kidding, I would never do that. Cats are cray and can’t be trusted.) I could be leaping through life like a little farm animal.

Ok, to be honest, that’s all beginning to sound pretty exhausting. I’m going to start with the pasta in bed situation and then reassess. I think that’s where my real potential lies, and it’s important to be truthful when evaluating your strengths and weaknesses.

 

 

Yesterday and Tomorrow

People

We know what hate, fear, and anger breed. We knew it before yesterday night. We know because to really battle against something, you have to see it. Look it in the face. Today it’s in our path, but we’ll keep pushing up against it until it cracks and crumbles.
 
To the women I love: We will do what we’ve always done—day after day, year after year. Recognize the threat and try our best to step around it. Get up every morning, wade through the horrors, and rebuild the world around us.
 
To my friends, all you beautifully unique, diverse, wonderful humans: We will not let a stranger, no matter how powerful, or a mass, no matter how large, tell us our value. We know who we are. We hold our worth and we will support one another as we clasp tightly to our hard-won rights.
 
To all my fellow fighters: We know this struggle. We will keep moving. Let the mantra of one of us echo in our minds when we begin to falter: “The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.”
 
Let’s not forget that before us, there were others who were denied. We stand on their shoulders and someone will stand on ours. Let’s rise tall and be strong, so she can get a good foothold.

Sick Day

sneeze

I caught a bug this week. I wasn’t feeling great yesterday, so I missed a day of sharing why we should all be excited about voting on November 8th. Hopefully I didn’t make any of you turn back on your mental path to the polls. Something has been going around my office. It decided, after I’d had a few sleepless nights, I’d be a good host. I disagreed, but it’s a bad listener. I’m sure I won’t get much sicker, but if I did, it would be little more than an inconvenience. See, I have health insurance. If I go to the doctor, I give them only a copay. If I get a bunch of tests done, I don’t pay a fee. If I need a prescription, I hand them my card. Both Dave and I are on plans with our employers, but that hasn’t always been the case. I’ve had a few short spans of time without insurance and Dave has had even more. It was in our days of invincible youth, so we weren’t worried, but we should have been. We laughed about it as we crossed a dangerous street or ate suspect food. Thankfully, we didn’t have any disasters during those months. There were avoided check-ups, well-used stashes of Dayquil, and bowls of soup—but no disasters.

I would have benefited from the Affordable Care Act’s requirement that parents be allowed to keep children up to the age of 26 on their plans. My parent’s more generous government policy helped for awhile, but once I graduated from college, I was booted from that one as well. Dave got shown the door long before. That particular change came too late for us, but the others might not have. Now, I’m not allowed to be charged more by insurance companies because I’m a woman. Preventative health care includes women’s care more broadly than it used to. I can’t be denied insurance based on a pre-existing condition and I can’t be denied my insurance benefits just because I got too sick too many times that year. So far, none of that has changed my life, but that’s because I’m lucky.

The Act isn’t perfect. There were a lot of compromises made to get it passed. Insurance companies can still make strange and financially motivated decisions about what types of care are necessary. The policies are confusing, allowing for loopholes and high expense limits for patients. People are still falling into massive debt when they get sick. Every week, I see a GoFundMe site for a family who’s been hit by a medical emergency. Their tragic stories made even more tragic by the fact that they have to reach out to their friends and family to pay for the treatment. I’m all for the village mentality, but we already have a village meant to do that job—it’s called insurance. We’re all supposed to pitch in so that, when any one of us needs help, it’s there.

Trump has repeated over and over again that one of the first things he’ll do if he wins the presidency will be to repeal Obamacare. Obama’s opposition loves to hate on the bill, never mind that many of its issues came from the forced compromises. Trump would like to start from scratch, pulling 24 year old’s off their parents insurance and taking away birth control from women across the country. He doesn’t say that out loud, of course, but that’s what it would mean. All those people who have gotten insurance since the bill’s passing? Now uninsured. All those women living in states without a Planned Parenthood? No more free cancer screenings. The people that now have Medicaid because of expanded limits? Back to high cost, low coverage plans.

I think we can all agree this sounds pretty terrible. Luckily, a bit of this is up to us. We can vote for the candidate who is hellbent on pulling us backward or we can vote for the candidate with the goal of moving us forward.

 

Risky Roasting

dangerousmarshmallows

When Dave and I were staying in Olympic National Park, we roasted a lot of marshmallows. I feel like it’s required on a camping trip, and I wasn’t about to skirt an honored American tradition. The problem was, unlike the forests I’m used to in Michigan, the rainforest of the Pacific Northwest didn’t offer any quality roasting sticks. We’re resourceful, so we made it work, but with varying degrees of success.

One night, I was looking around our campsite for a nice specimen. I didn’t spot anything, and I was feeling impatient, so I just grabbed something that looked about the right size. I brought it back to the campfire and stuck a marshmallow on the end. The stick seemed a little extra pokey, but it was dark and I was focused on the important task of roasting. It takes a lot of care to get it just right and then accidentally set the whole thing on fire.

At one point, I went to adjust the stick in my hand and noticed that what I thought were just sharp knobs were actually really sharp thorns. Like, really sharp. I didn’t stop roasting, obviously, but I tried to be very careful. I stabbed myself with a thorn approximately thirteen seconds later.

It got stuck, because rain forests have really intense plants. I pulled out most of it, but I could feel the sting of that choice for a week. The marshmallows tasted great though.